[Relevant documents: The Tenth Report, HC 41-x (paragraph 8), and the Fifteenth Report, HC 41-xv (paragraph 2), of the European Scrutiny Committee, Session 2006-07.]
I beg to move,
That this House takes note of European Union Documents No. 16932/06, Commission Communication on a European Programme for Critical Infrastructure Protection, and No. 16933/06 and ADDs 1-2, Draft Council Directive on the identification and designation of European Critical Infrastructure and the assessment of the need to improve their protection; and supports the Government’s intention to secure adoption of these documents in Council, subject to a satisfactory resolution of outstanding concerns.
It is right and proper, I think, that there is a European dimension to these matters, but only some of them. I shall dwell in a moment on what the concerns are. Our critical national infrastructure consists clearly of the key components and assets without which essential services cannot be delivered to the UK. It includes energy, food, water, health, emergency services, finance, transport, government and public services and telecommunications.
The Government rightly place great importance on ensuring that our critical national infrastructure is highly protected. The formation in February this year of the Centre for the Protection of National Infrastructure, which resulted from a merger of the National Security Advice Centre and the National Infrastructure Security Co-ordination Centre, demonstrated our commitment. Being more than simply the sum of its parts, the CPNI provides professional protection advice on all forms of threat to our critical national infrastructure owners and operators.
It is becoming increasingly clear that there exists an extensive network of interdependencies among not just the UK’s critical national infrastructure, but that of our international partners. The loss of critical infrastructure in one country has the potential to have severe effects in another. The loss of power supply can hinder emergency services or transport, for example, and these knock-on effects are able to continue across borders. Following human error, an overload of the electricity transmission system in Germany in November 2006 resulted in some 50 million EU citizens losing power in Germany, Austria, France, Belgium, Italy, Spain and Portugal.
The Commission’s European programme for critical infrastructure protection, known as EPCIP, partly responds to a political call to improve the protection of critical infrastructure across Europe, following the terrorist attacks in Madrid and London. It was agreed at the June 2004 European Council that measures needed to be taken to protect critical infrastructure in the EU.
Does my hon. Friend accept that there is a significant difference between national matters such as water and sewerage and those that have international significance, such as the transport of energy across borders? The latter might involve nuclear power stations, on which events in neighbouring states could have an impact. Should not we focus on matters that are genuinely international, rather than on those that have merely national significance?
If my hon. Friend will bear with me, I will come to that point in a moment. First, however, it is important to explain the contextual background that brings us to where we are today.
The EPCIP communication sets out a voluntary framework, including an EU action plan, support for the national protection programmes, and extensive research funded from the €137 million financial perspective. The draft directive provides the one binding aspect of the programme, establishing a uniform approach to identifying and designating European critical infrastructure and assessing the need to improve protection standards. For this process, the directive considers critical infrastructures to be essential service providers and certain hazardous sites with the potential for cross-border impact. The programme as a whole offers EU-wide benefits, and will therefore also benefit the UK. I will come to the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Luton, North (Kelvin Hopkins) in a moment.
Events such as the power failure in Germany demonstrate that any country could be significantly affected by incidents in other member states. We need to understand that, with more than 1.6 million UK citizens living in other EU countries and relying on the critical infrastructures of those member states, we have a vested interest in ensuring that there are high standards of protection in those countries as well as our own. We must also bear in mind the broader point about the activities of British business interests in the European Union.
As the motion implies, however, while the Government note the documents, our support for their adoption is subject to the satisfactory resolution of outstanding concerns with certain elements of the directive, which we are trying to resolve through negotiations in the civil protection working group in Brussels. Our concerns include the criteria for defining European critical infrastructure, the absence of the consent clause that appeared in earlier drafts, the security of information provided as part of the protection of national infrastructure, and the imposition of legal requirements for owners and operators to produce operator security plans and appoint security liaison officers.
Our concern about the designation of European critical infrastructure is to ensure, as my hon. Friend has suggested, that only infrastructures that are truly European and critical are designated. Given that this is all about European critical infrastructure, it is entirely reasonable that the infrastructures should be critical and European, but we are having some difficulties with where the documents are at in that regard at the moment. In order to achieve a satisfactory outcome, the Government would like to tighten the criteria for defining European critical infrastructure. For example, we are seeking a definition based on a significant level of impact to Europe that would result from the destruction or disruption of the infrastructure.
Early drafts of the proposed directive included references to member states providing their consent to infrastructures on their territory being designated as European critical infrastructure, but the consent clause does not appear in the present draft. The Government would prefer to see the inclusion of such a clause, to prevent the identification of European critical infrastructure in the United Kingdom that we do not believe is appropriate. This relates to the point raised by my hon. Friend. Such a move could allay some of our concerns arising from the proposed definition of European critical infrastructure and ensure that only truly critical infrastructure is covered, and that it would be truly European in the sense that its disruption would impact on three or more countries, which we think is the appropriate number.
The Minister highlights the area of greatest concern. Could the Government give us a list of the bilateral or multilateral arrangements relating to these matters—for example, a French-UK energy interconnector, or certain Irish-UK links? Obviously, where existing national agreements between European Union countries are sufficient, we will not need a new European structure to cover them. Do Ministers have some sort of base list of these arrangements?
I suspect that we do not. Such bilateral or multilateral arrangements might exist across government in a range of Departments, but I have not seen any, save for those that are of concern to the Home Office regarding national security and critical infrastructure protection. I am not going to pass on those lists, because I would argue strongly that they do not belong in this domain. I will certainly pursue the hon. Gentleman’s inquiry, however. There might be lists of such arrangements relating to the gas, electricity and other energy sectors, which might be dealt with by the Department of Trade and Industry, of which I am unaware. If there are, and if I can have them produced for the House, I will do so.
In seeking to ensure that only projects that are critical and that can genuinely be classified as transnational in character are subject to this provision, is the Minister relying on the subsidiarity and proportionality provisions in existing European treaties the better to aid and abet his case? I hope that he will correct me if I am wrong , but is the corollary that, if he is unsuccessful, the danger exists that a new item will be lumped into the acquis communautaire against our wishes and in violation of our interests?
As with most of these matters, this goes in part towards the whole debate about subsidiarity. I am sure that this will be part of our deliberations this afternoon. The root of the binding elements of these documents is article 308—which is of itself a matter for debate—which requires unanimity. So this is not just about subsidiarity and all that that entails; it is about the fact that this provision has to be agreed unanimously, given its legal root in the compulsory and binding element.
I will give way first to my hon. Friend, just in the interest of the to and fro.
The Minister mentioned article 308, and I am sure that other people will do so. Under paragraph 2 of article 3, the Commission wishes to identify the sectors to which the provision will apply. The Government want the matter to go through commitology, which would then pass it through the Council under qualified majority voting. If there was a dispute, the European Court of Justice, rather than the democratic or political process, would then decide on the matter. So we would be passing the decision on the sectors in which the provision will apply out of our hands and to the European Court of Justice.
Yes, but only at the point at which there was a dispute about what sectors and specific sites should be included. That naturally follows from securing in the early stages the definition we want about the binding and non-binding elements of the directive. I do not think that I am mistaken in saying that going down the route that leads ultimately to the European Court would be a natural follow-through from the binding elements, if they are secured. We say clearly in the motion that we will not support those elements unless our outstanding concerns are addressed. That sounds terribly complicated, but I am sure that my hon. Friend fully understands, given his expertise in these matters.
The Minister mentioned article 308, which, as he will know, is used to introduce exceptional measures when no other treaty provision is available. He will also know that it contains a requirement that the measures be undertaken
“in the course of the operation of the common market”.
What possible connection can there be between national security measures and the common market? Is not this another example of the Commission trying to expand its powers and of the Government yet again giving way and going along with them? As the Minister has already conceded, the Government have a veto.
I agree with the right hon. Gentleman, save for his rather churlish points at the end, which I entirely expect from him but do not accept. As I said to the European Scrutiny Committee, and as will emerge from our deliberations, we are perfectly comfortable with the use of article 308. In the first instance, the matter is not one of national security, although it has national security dimensions, but the functioning and protection of critical elements of the infrastructure throughout the European Union to sustain markets must be a valid part of the pursuance of the integrity and cohesion of the common market, which is why the article 308 route is appropriate. I take his point, which is not just made by those who detract from all that is great and glorious in the European Union, that article 308 is used constantly as the thin end of a rather fat wedge to get more and more into either competence generally or the acquis communautaire, as the hon. Member for Buckingham (John Bercow) suggested. The argument is perfectly valid, but not one that we accept in these circumstances.
In relation to the point of my hon. Friend the Member for Luton, North about the definition, and the hope that a directive and binding agreement on European critical infrastructure was concerned mostly with, first, infrastructure, secondly, infrastructure that was critical and, thirdly, infrastructure that was European—however that is defined, and we defined it as impacting on three or more countries—the consent clause that was in the earlier draft is not in the current one. With regard to the crucial point about the meeting of national security and wider infrastructure concerns and the security of information passed on in that regard, while article 296 of the treaty enables us to withhold information that could be detrimental to national security, the security of information that we do provide must be guaranteed. Various methods are already used for the provision of operator security plans and the appointment of security liaison officers, and the Government believe that the directive should reflect the existing situation, to minimise the burden of the measures on industry, regulators and government.
As the motion states, we support the principle of raising protection standards of critical infrastructure in Europe. It is in our interests to see such protection increased and, through the EPCIP framework, to support member states in establishing and improving their critical national infrastructure protection programmes. None the less, it is recognised by all that the provision of protective security for critical infrastructure is a national responsibility and must remain so. That is our starting point. As my hon. Friend the Member for Luton, North said, that is why the definition is so important, as are the other concerns that I have outlined.
In so far as it is possible, it would greatly assist our deliberations to move from the realm of metaphysical abstraction to that of concrete example. That is not entirely straightforward, but if the Minister, in pursuance of his argument, gave the House examples of what the Commission might envisage as falling within its remit, with which the Government disagree, our deliberations would be invested with a much greater sense of realism and practicality. In short, will he give some examples of what the Commission wants and we do not?
In relation to matters European, I have learned that woe betide the Minister who seeks to mind-read the Commission. If we believe the right hon. Member for Wells (Mr. Heathcoat-Amory), anything that could remotely be described as infrastructure would be included. In some circumstances, the interconnectivity of the energy network on continental Europe is by definition much more pronounced than that of ours. The oft-quoted example of the accident that led to the German power system failing, and the implications for a huge element of the European power network, is a good one. But whether that should lead to an enthusiasm for telling each member state to get its act together in order better to protect its national infrastructure, or to elements being defined as critical and European, is exactly the point that the debate has reached. I will not even begin to pretend that I have a list of examples that I think that the Commission is considering. That is why the definition is so important.
The Minister mentioned national responsibilities. Does the directive extend to international negotiations? He will know that once a directive is implemented domestically, it gives the Commission and the EU sole—or, in Euro-speak, exclusive—competence in negotiations between member states and countries outside the European Union. Can he specifically assure us that, after the directive is implemented, our ability to negotiate and conclude agreements about security and infrastructure assets with third parties will not be inhibited?
As I understand the matter, the hon. Gentleman’s description of a directive is valid in relation to the binding elements. Much of the directive and the documents behind it, however, are entirely voluntary. That is why—I was going to say “unusually”, but I will not say that—the hon. Member for North Southwark and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes) made a clear point in relation to what my hon. Friend the Member for Luton, North said about the definition. Where the protection of such infrastructure can be achieved bilaterally, multilaterally or on a sectoral basis, in areas that are not, as we would define them, either European, critical or infrastructure, that is where the competence is and should remain. That is why the definition is so important. I think that the right hon. Member for Wells made a good point about the binding elements—people will tell me if it is otherwise—and that is why we have concerns, which remain concerns and which we hope will be resolved. In relation to the timetable, there was enthusiasm to deal with the matter at the June Council. Given all the to-ing and fro-ing of negotiations, however, that is unlikely to be the case. I also take the right hon. Gentleman’s wider point that there are ways in which a nation state can make multilateral and bilateral agreements, below the European level, to protect its national infrastructure.
To follow up my earlier intervention and that of the hon. Member for Buckingham (John Bercow), given that the documents that we have seen include a section that, it says, sets out the EU justification for the programme, including the growing number of member states preparing their own approaches to critical infrastructure, the need to eliminate weak links, and the additional costs implied, I hope that the Minister will go back to the Commission and say, “You think this is justified. Now give us the examples that show that we need this now.” Without examples, the argument is theoretical, and the case is not strongly made.
In part, I make no apology for being theoretical, as, with the best will in the world, I cannot and will not debate or show entirely the UK’s negotiating hand on the Floor of the House. I have tried to articulate as much as possible our concerns, which remain. That is why, although we welcome the document, we do not want it adopted unless or until those concerns are recognised. I take the hon. Gentleman’s general point, however.
May I be helpful in following what the hon. Member for Buckingham (John Bercow) said about examples? Can we have something between the hard examples, in our practical, pragmatic British way, and the Euro-speak metaphysics at the other extreme, and consider a hierarchy of risks? Nuclear power stations pose a serious risk to life, and disruption of energy supply might pose a serious risk to an economy, at least for a period. When the toilets do not work in a locality, however, that is not a serious risk. Even in Euro-speak, there is what might be recognised as a hierarchy of risks.
I hope that I can safely assure the House that toilets—or lavatories, as we are supposed to call them, if we do not want to be at the wrong end of a class war, or inverse class war—will not figure in critical European structure. The lavatories would have to be quite important to be critical, European—as we would define it—and, more widely, infrastructure.
While we are in the land of the abstract and the metaphysical, that is not just because of the binding elements, but at least partly because, while I do not agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk (Michael Connarty) that all this is about national security rather than markets—I think my point about infrastructure was well made—the supporting documents, partly covered by what was said by the hon. Member for North Southwark and Bermondsey, contain exhortations about what nation states need to do to develop their own infrastructure, on their own terms, to the level of public protection that we would all desire.
Will my hon. Friend give way?
I was just deprecating my hon. Friend’s extrapolation from article 308 in connection with national security. There are elements of national security relating to our infrastructure—although I hasten to add that they would not necessarily cover toilets—that are a matter for the United Kingdom, and have a heavy red line around them.
As I think will be clear to anyone who has read the original Commission proposal, the Green Paper and indeed the directive, although the Commission’s list of elements on which it wants a common European position includes postal services—which are not obviously critical to security—it also includes armed forces. I know that the proposal by the Commission was rebuffed by the Government, and I hope that it will not appear again, because it was over-ambitious; but what about the channel tunnel? It is a critical piece of infrastructure linking two countries, and only two countries. Would the Government draw a red line around that, and say that they would not allow it to be ruled on by the Commission or the European Court of Justice?
As I have said, our starting definition of the European element of European critical infrastructure is a critical piece of infrastructure that would have an immediate impact on three or more European countries. Let me return to what was said by the hon. Member for North Southwark and Bermondsey. There is plenty that the United Kingdom and France can do, should do and are doing bilaterally to protect the channel tunnel that, in my view at least, falls outside a directive of this kind and the definition of European critical infrastructure within it.
With that, I commend the motion to the House.
The Minister has commended the motion to the House, but with a degree of scepticism and lack of enthusiasm that I find refreshing. I hope that he will be as sceptical and as questioning when he comes to negotiate with his European counterparts over the further deliberations on this set of instruments.
I am grateful to the Chairman of the European Scrutiny Committee, the hon. Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk (Michael Connarty), for initiating the debate. Although not many of his Committee colleagues are here, I think it important for the Government to experience head-on the feeling of the House as a whole about this issue.
Something that has already emerged in the debate—partly from the remarks of the hon. Member for Luton, North (Kelvin Hopkins) and those of the hon. Member for North Southwark and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes), but also from those of my right hon. Friend the Member for Wells (Mr. Heathcoat-Amory) and my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (John Bercow)—is the cultural difference between the Westminster and the European systems for creating legislation. What we see in this great volume before us is a set of fairly vague proposals which, although no doubt benignly motivated, lack the detail that we commonly expect in a piece of British parliamentary legislation. It is important for the Government to remember that when they negotiate with the Commission.
The timing of today’s debate may be fortuitous or it may be deliberate, but it coincides with the conclusion of what has become known as the Crevice trial at the Old Bailey, at which a number of dangerous conspirators were convicted of involvement in acts relating to and preparatory for terrorism. It is possible that had those men succeeded in their endeavours, hundreds or even more people would have been killed and the institutions and infrastructures of our country placed under huge strain. Let us hope, although I fear it will be a forlorn hope, that the long sentences given to the defendants will deter others of similar mind and intention, and that the measures we are discussing will—in one form or another, but not necessarily as set out in the documents—be implemented and placed in a state of readiness, but never activated in response to a threat to the critical infrastructure of a number of European Union member states.
The Crevice trial provides us with some useful lessons about threats to our national security and our national infrastructure. The definition of critical infrastructure in the documents before us is:
“Those facilities and networks, services and property the destruction of which would have a serious impact on the health, safety, security or economic well-being of citizens or the effective functioning of government in the member states. Such infrastructure includes systems for electricity and gas production and distribution, telephone exchanges and other communications systems, sewage plants, food distribution and key government services.”
It is surely the duty of the Government in every member state to identify all facilities and services which come within that wide definition, and I trust that our Government—irrespective of the events made public through the recent trial, and regardless of the outrages of 7 July 2005 and what might have happened on 21 July—have done exactly that.
It is clear that the House does not need a list comprising the infrastructure. However, given what we now know about the information relating to the Crevice defendants which was known in advance of 7 July 2005 by our security services and the police, we need to be assured that the Home Office and its Ministers—especially the Home Secretary—will ensure that the fullest possible inquiry is undertaken by an independent figure of some standing into the events, failures and mishaps that have now been revealed.
We know, for example, that there were six good-quality photos of Sidique Khan, although the Intelligence and Security Committee was told that there was just one poor-quality photograph. First we were told by the ISC that identities were unknown—
Order. The hon. and learned Gentleman knows better than to talk about the Crevice trial in the context of these documents. He must not stray too far.
You may have been temporarily distracted, Mr. Speaker. What I am suggesting is that the Crevice trial dealt with infrastructure. It dealt with an attack, or a threatened attack, on our infrastructure.
Order. The hon. and learned Gentleman is really pushing the boat out now. We know that the trial related to infrastructure, but his speech must relate to what we are discussing, which is more specific than that. According to the case that he has made, we could discuss practically anything, but we cannot do that today.
Well, there we are. I am sure that you are entirely right, Mr. Speaker. I shall endeavour to resist the urge to talk about parts of the infrastructure of this country, although we are a European member state and are affected by what is in the documents.
The European Scrutiny Committee found the Minister’s written official response to the documents “less than wholly reassuring”. It stated:
“In this connection, we recall that the European Council on 17 and 18 June 2004 called on the Council to prepare an overall strategy to enhance the protection of critical infrastructures ‘on the basis of a coordinated approach by the SG/HR5 and the Commission’. In circumstances where the role of the Council’s Counter-Terrorism Coordinator is not even mentioned in the Commission’s proposals, we find it open to question how far there has been any ‘coordinated’ approach of the kind referred to by the European Council…. As such, the measure is concerned essentially with national security and any internal market effects are, in our view, merely incidental. In our view, these incidental economic effects cannot be relied on to justify Community involvement in the maintenance of national security.”
It seems to all of us, I suspect, that attacks on our infrastructure do not simply constitute natural disasters such as floods and storms, or the pollution of main freshwater or sea water channels. We are talking about attacks on infrastructure in its widest sense—the definition given in the documents. I will not pursue my discussion of the lessons that the House could learn from the 2005 terrorist attacks, because that would fall outside your ruling, Mr. Speaker, but I ask Members—and particularly the Minister when he goes to Europe to have further discussions—to keep in the back of their minds when addressing this matter what I would have said.
I had intended to say that the matters that I may not discuss are of relevance to the matters before us today, as no discussion of critical infrastructure in the European context can avoid the real and present threat to our own infrastructure and the imperative for this Government to take all necessary steps to maintain it, to protect it, to repair it and, in so far as its degradation will affect our EU neighbours, to ensure that we liaise and co-operate effectively with them to plan for that contingency.
Not all EU states have been attacked by terrorists, but several have. Not all EU states have a growing number of immigrants from countries, societies and traditions that find our institutions, societal norms and national characteristics strange and even inimical, but several do. Not all EU states play a world, extra-European or extra-regional role in trading, diplomatic and military terms to the extent that our country does, but all of them, no matter how large or small, are potentially vulnerable to attacks on their infrastructures, and both individually and collectively we must pay heed to the attacks that we have endured over the past 40 years, in order to prepare for yet further attacks and be in a position to deal with them. In respect of such attacks, it is not a question of if, but of when. We would be foolish not to have contingency plans in place.
However, the documents imply a yet further increase in EU competence over the affairs of member states. The hon. Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk and his Committee have done us a signal service by introducing this debate. In an intervention on the Minister, the hon. Gentleman referred pointedly—and with relevance and accuracy, which the Government should acknowledge—to crucial issues relating to qualified majority voting and absolute majorities in respect of the subject we are discussing. My right hon. Friend the Member for Wells, who was one of the two negotiators on behalf of this Parliament on the future of the EU, is only too well aware of such issues.
European critical infrastructure—ECI—degradation is covered by the proposals; the EU should govern matters if at least two members are affected, it is said. It is suggested that a European plan for critical infrastructure protection—EPCIP—should be drawn up which will identify, among other things, critical infrastructure and produce a common approach to its protection and information sharing.
My hon. and learned Friend has referred to a voluntary approach. He will know—this follows from his earlier remarks—that there are security assets and facilities both in this country and in other countries that we would prefer not to declare, for security reasons. Is he aware that under the draft directive we would have to declare not only those assets, but draw up and operate a security plan and appoint a security liaison officer, all of which would presumably be public? Would it not be a grave threat to our internal security if all of that were known as provided for under a directive, and if the final arbiter of that were the European Court of Justice?
My right hon. Friend points to a matter that I hope will be thoroughly negotiated out of these documents by the Minister. [Interruption.] The Minister says from a sedentary position that my right hon. Friend is wrong. Well, my right hon. Friend has referred directly to the document in question. [Interruption.] He is now holding it up for the Minister’s edification. I shall allow my right hon. Friend and the Minister to have private discussions behind the Speaker’s Chair, but the point that my right hon. Friend makes is entirely valid. There are assets and infrastructures that we own nationally and there are assets and infrastructures that we jointly own or in respect of which we are tenants in common through, for example, NATO and certain aspects of the EU, and which should not become the subject of open-air discussion. It alarms me to think that our foreign policy and our counter-terrorism policy might be subjected to debate or decision of the ECJ, and I trust that that also alarms the Minister.
As I have said, it is suggested in the documents that a European plan for critical infrastructure protection should be drawn up and that it should identify, among other things, critical infrastructure and produce a common approach to its protection and information sharing. That is of relevance to the point my right hon. Friend made a moment ago. I might have misunderstood the nature of EU critical infrastructure while at the same time having a clear understanding of the delicate nature of our own national infrastructure, but it seems to me—I do not mean to sound complacent, as no one could be so given the attacks on our country over the past 40 years—that as we are an island we might have some geographical protection from attacks on other EU states’ water systems, electricity grids, telephone and communications systems and key Government services.
That point is not a case of relying on the sentiment behind the pre-war London newspaper headline, “Fog over channel: Europe cut off”, but I understand that in continental Europe other factors might apply. The Benelux countries, France and Germany, France and Italy, France and Spain and the Baltic countries—to give just a few obvious examples—will have integrated infrastructures that far outstretch the examples that apply to the United Kingdom, such as the channel tunnel, the shipping traffic between the UK and Europe, and the services shared by Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.
The hon. Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk mentioned the channel tunnel. It is a subject that will cause some debate. From one point of view the channel tunnel looks like a bilateral infrastructure between France and the UK, but the manufacturers of, for example, Belgium, Italy or Spain who wish to export goods from their country to ours via road or rail might say that it affects more than two countries within the EU, and that therefore it is an EU infrastructure asset which ought to come under the control of the directives. I foresee endless discussion in dark committee rooms in Europe of such matters.
Of course, we know that attacks on food supplies, or attacks on, or interference with, the internet and electronic communication systems or the banking and financial sectors at a strategic level can have a cross-border effect, regardless of whether they are the result of terrorist activity or natural causes such as storms and floods. To destroy the London stock exchange is to damage the global trade in financial instruments; to poison the Rhine is to damage the natural environment—river, sea and land based—in many countries; and to corrupt the immigration authorities of one member state will have a knock-on effect on other EU states. However, I question whether we need to raise the need for sensible, thoughtful, well planned international co-operation at a multilateral or bilateral level to the level of having an EU institution with all the expenditure, directives, regulations and bureaucracy—and infrastructure—that these documents urge upon us.
How, for example, do we define whether a particular piece of infrastructure is critical to the EU as a whole, or to at least two states, or only to one? We cannot do that without creating endless directives following endless committee meetings in several locations, at which the representatives of member state Governments and the Commission argue about whether country A’s sewerage system is of European significance whereas country B’s telephone system is only of national significance.
The documents tell us that EPCIP
“will be an ongoing process”.
We need have no doubt of that. We are also told that its action plan will have three work streams, that there will be a critical infrastructure warning information network or CIWIN, and that there will be expert groups. There will be a CIP—critical infrastructure protection—information-sharing process and an identification of interdependencies. There will be national critical infrastructures, contingency planning and an external dimension, and there will be an “all hazard” approach—which would be a fitting description of the present jostling for the leadership and deputy leadership of the Labour party.
There is no doubt that those matters, when stripped of the jargon, are sensible things to think about and deal with, but I am concerned that we should not as a country or a Government allow ourselves to be distracted with yet further EU navel gazing when we have plenty to do at home to provide better national security of all types and when there is so much that we can do bilaterally and multilaterally in discrete areas to protect our vital infrastructures.
Terrorism, even outside the confines of the Crevice trial, is universally to be condemned and all of us, in and out of the EU, must take steps to prevent it and to create conditions that do not allow it to thrive or to take hold. However, we should not allow these documents and the policies that lie behind them to dilute our resources and efforts, no matter that we are acutely aware that an approach that goes beyond terrorism is in other jurisdictions appropriate, and more immediately so.
Our primary, if not our total, focus must be on counter-terrorism and on protecting our constitutional framework, national institutions and liberties, as citizens of this parliamentary democracy. We must have the confidence to realise and understand that, despite the attacks we have seen from the IRA, al-Qaeda and so-called animal rights activists, the systems of Government, Parliament and local authorities and our emergency and public services are resilient and robust and, more importantly, democratically accountable. I do not denigrate the motives behind the policies outlined in these documents, but I do question their utility.
I urge the Government to be strong in their EU discussions, and to ensure that we arrive at a scheme that is relevant, proportionate and cost-effective. The concerns outlined by the Minister, which we share, should be taken on board by his counterparts when he travels to Europe to meet them.
I have to tell the Minister that my one disappointment with the motion is that, at a time when there is so much to be negotiated and so much is left unanswered in our correspondence—and will remain unanswered even after today’s debate—it does not simply say that we “take note” of the documents and of the Government’s position. Rather, it says that this House
“supports the Government’s intention to secure adoption of these documents in Council, subject to a satisfactory resolution of outstanding concerns.”
Despite the work of my European Scrutiny Committee, which took this issue very seriously, and the Minister’s original, very detailed explanatory memorandum of 12 February, there remain many unknowns regarding what the Government will cede. They have certainly moved from their original position when we first looked at the directive, having, of course, considered the Green Paper for almost two years. In the explanatory memorandum of 19 February, they seemed to be adopting a firm position. However, a letter of 9 March to the Committee in response to our further inquiries appeared to indicate what I define as Government slide—a phenomenon that I have noticed repeatedly through my work on the Committee. That is in contrast to the original directive, which was an example of Commission creep. The Commission wants to creep into power; meanwhile, between 19 February and 9 March the Government appear to have shifted position, and to now be willing in their negotiations to slide out of power.
I come to the reasons why the Committee wanted this issue to be debated on the Floor of the House. Our main concern was that what is proposed is the adoption of a legally binding European Council directive in what we consider a sensitive field. We felt that this was legally doubtful and questionable in principle. Our second concern was the extensive role that the Commission has allocated to itself. As has been said, neither the so-called counter-terrorism co-ordinator’s name nor his position was included in the Commission’s proposal. It intends that it shall put together a committee of the Commission to oversee this process. That concerned us greatly.
The third problem is that there is not just a possibility but a probability of the extension of Community competence into the field of national security. There is no doubt that if that proposal goes ahead, it will affect bilateral agreements and infrastructures; in fact, it is Commission creep into the field of national security. We felt that that proposal should not be agreed to before being debated in the House.
In the February explanatory memorandum, the Minister discussed the European Programme for Critical Infrastructure Protection, which will probably be referred to for ever by Eurocrats as EPCIP; as a result, no one will know what it means. The memorandum recognised that bilateral co-operation between states was to be encouraged, but we shared the Government’s concern, which they expressed strongly, that EPCIP should not cover bilateral arrangements. In that regard, the Government referred to the channel tunnel and to cross-border co-operation between the UK and Ireland, as the hon. Member for North Southwark and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes) said.
Our Committee felt that there was no reason for the Commission to be involved in these matters. However, its starting point was that bilateral agreements were not outwith EPCIP. The Government are resisting that view, but they are asking us today to approve their signing up to the document, subject to negotiations. However, the Minister has said nothing today that would satisfy my Committee that lines in the sand have been drawn that we will not allow the Commission to cross. That is very worrying, given that we have been asked not just to note that the Government are negotiating, but to support them.
We have debated this issue and we have given the House its best chance to influence the Government. The Government will then be left to negotiate whatever they wish to negotiate at the final stage in the European Council.
Does the hon. Gentleman find this situation perhaps a little disappointing? Assuming that his Committee had reached a completely different conclusion from the content of the documents and had advised the House to vote against the “take note” motion, it would have made little difference. The Government are independently able to carry on doing what they think best, irrespective of the advice of his Committee.
I hope that we do not get to the point of voting. I hope that the Government will take on board the fact that when we say we support them, we support them. Hopefully, the House will support them too, on the basis that the motion includes the phrase
“subject to a satisfactory resolution of outstanding concerns.”
Those concerns are those expressed in February’s explanatory memorandum, and not the weaker position that, sadly, seemed to be indicated by the Government’s strong support for proceeding with the directive, as expressed in the letter of 9 March. As I said, we sensed Government slide, of which the explanatory memorandum gave no indication. I hope that the Government will vigorously defend their position as outlined in the February explanatory memorandum, and that they will not perform an about-turn on any of these issues when they enter into negotiations.
The Committee also asked whether the adoption of the directive is necessary or justified. The arguments for a legally binding directive under the terms of article 308 of the European Community treaty are unconvincing. We studied that article extensively and we will publish a report on it shortly. We are clear that in our view, there is no need for legally binding rules in the sensitive area of designating infrastructure; however, and as I pointed out, that is what will happen. The Government said that they want the proposal to be dealt with through commitology, and in such a way that it is passed by qualified majority voting in the Council. If there was a dispute, the matter would then be ruled on by the European Court of Justice. Our Government would be unable to go against that ruling, and they could be forced into positions that they did not originally wish to adopt, and to which they did not originally think that they had ceded.
We believe that it is wrong for the Commission to be allowed to use infraction procedures in respect of any European country, and particularly this one, which has a highly developed national security policy. However, the Commission would go to the European Court of Justice if there were any dispute. Why could the objective of creating a common procedure for designating critical infrastructure not have been achieved by voluntary co-operation between member states? That is how we have advanced in the past. It is a good idea to have guidelines, benchmarks and some form of sanctions or penalties. It is also a good idea to have incentives throughout the EU. We may have reservations about some of the countries in the EU and their ability to meet the standards, but we should be aiding and abetting them, not giving power to the Commission to rule over our standards in the future.
We will always dispute with the Government, the Commission and the Council the legal basis of article 308, because on many issues it has nothing to do with the common market. Our Committee was certainly concerned by the throw-away lines about competitiveness and cost at the end of certain sections, so that it could be argued that it was a competition question: it is not. It is a justification for using an original clause that was entirely about the common market to force through several items so that the Commission gets its way.
We questioned the consequences of adopting a legally binding European directive on this issue in our report on 21 March. We were worried that it would lead to unpredictable legal obligations being imposed on the UK. The Minister questioned the definition of European critical infrastructure, the disclosure of information, and the legal obligations imposed to produce operator security plans and appoint security liaison officers. In the explanatory memorandum, the Government appeared to take a firm stand against all of those issues, but each would fall to be determined and interpreted by the European Court of Justice. In other words, every objection that the Government have put up could be overruled by the ECJ. That could happen if the Commission took infraction proceedings against a Government who are resisting the imposition of the Commission’s will, which could lead to very unpredictable results. We question whether the Government should make any concessions that would take risks in that area. In security terms, we need to be firm, to be sure of our ground, to know where our authority lies, to know that we can call on that authority at any time and that it has not been given to another party. That is another reason why we wanted the debate.
The Minister confirmed that the adoption of the European directive would affect the UK’s ability to conclude agreements with third-party countries—the question asked in this debate today—for example, with the United States. It is clear that giving competence to the Commission means ceding competence from one’s own Government to make agreements without the permission of the Commission. We have always thought that that was an unnecessary downside to any agreement to give power on issues on which we should retain it. Unless the Minister is telling us that that is a clear red line and he will not sign up to the directive unless there is clear agreement that the UK can conclude agreements with non-EU countries on a bilateral basis, we would be taking a grave risk.
The Minister has told the Committee that “it is not considered” that the directive would affect the UK’s ability to make agreements with third-party countries on the exchange of information and techniques for protecting infrastructure, but he did not provide the authority for that conclusion in any correspondence. A matter that would fall to be determined by the ECJ is one of the imponderables. We do not know whether the ECJ would rule that we still had that power or did not have that power. The question for my Committee was: why put the present freedom and power of the UK to make agreements with third parties at risk by adopting the directive?
After eight years as a member of the Committee, and five years as a member of a Standing Committee before that, I know that entering into such legal obligations may have unpredictable results in the future. Why should Britain risk our present freedom to make bilateral security arrangements and decide what sensitive information we choose to share? I have not heard any argument as to why we should give up either of those two vital powers. I cannot see what the UK can possibly gain by accepting the directive, and that was the unanimous view of the Committee across all parties.
I am a member of the Committee and I endorse everything that the hon. Gentleman says. However, does he accept that sometimes the Government have a tendency, when they know that something has a European character to it, to be too relaxed about allowing things that they would do better to resist?
On this occasion, I fundamentally agree with the hon. Gentleman. The Government do not need to do this. It would strengthen the European Union as a body if it resisted it and renegotiated a different arrangement under which countries that had problems with their infrastructure, and questionable security and capacity, entered into agreements guided, aided and controlled by the Commission. Those countries that have the competence, as the UK and many others already have, to look after their own security, could agree a set of guidelines, standards and aspirations that they could try to match, but it would not need to be binding. That would be a much stronger EU agreement. It would focus on where assistance is required and stop the Commission interfering where it is not needed. I can assure the Minister that the Commission will use its power whenever it can, just to show that it is in charge. It wants to be in charge of, not assisting on, many issues on which it would be better not to be involved.
Why do we need legally binding rules designating what infrastructure is critical to a member state? It was an expressed concern of the Minister in the explanatory memorandum, but I have heard no indication that their imposition will be resisted to the point at which we will not sign the directive. The Minister asks us to support him signing the directive, but we are not sure what negotiating points could stall that signature. I hope that he will tell us that much more clearly and leave the House, and those who read the report of this debate, with some security. Why could the objective of creating a common procedure for designating critical infrastructure not have been achieved by voluntary co-operation between the member states? I have heard no answer to that question.
My conclusion is that the legislation might lead to an extension of European community competence into the field of national security. That should not be agreed until the House has had a chance to debate it and is convinced that vital safeguards for the UK’s sovereign national security would not be ceded to the Commission. I would like the Minister to assure us that when he goes to the negotiations, he will not sign up to the directive until he can convince the House that he did not cede too much on the issue of our national security.
The House certainly has highs and lows. We have had the high drama, intensity and complete transparency of Prime Minister’s questions, and then we come to this debate, which is—unless one has engaged with the subject matter—probably miles from the immediate thoughts of most people. I came to the subject fresh, because it would normally fall to my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. Clegg) to participate in this debate, but he cannot be here today. I looked at the issue from first principles and have ended up with a huge amount of reading over the last week. Thanks to my keen and enthusiastic assistant, I understand the issues at least to some degree.
I am glad that we are having this debate. I agree with the hon. Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk (Michael Connarty) that it is right that we should have a European Scrutiny Committee and that it is able to say, as it did on this issue, when something is legally and politically important and should be debated on the Floor of the House. The numbers present may be small, but that is related more to other factors in the British political firmament than to the importance of the issue.
This is an important issue because we are talking about what used to be called emergency planning. Everyone realises now that local government needs to undertake emergency planning, for all the sad but familiar reasons. When the Greater London authority was set up, there was a long debate about the arrangements in London. Similar debates about how to keep the capital and the country safe took place after 9/11, and such questions are back on the agenda after the events of July a couple of years ago.
Emergency planning is the Government’s rightful responsibility, and the Home Office has traditionally taken the lead in its work with other Departments. I understand the Minister when he says that he is not at liberty to share some information to do with planning in respect of terrorist threats to our infrastructure.
Some threats have been evident for years. For example, the IRA attacked Canary Wharf as it was being built, and we have heard about the plans to attack the Ministry of Sound night club in my constituency. However, I am talking about something different—that is, threats to the sewerage system, or to the water or gas supply. Those are important matters, and I am glad that the House has an opportunity to express its views.
In our report, we state:
“We have considerable misgivings over the adoption of an EC directive in this area”.
Our function is to judge whether something is of legal or political importance. We go on to say that we believe the directive to be
“of doubtful legality and questionable in principle. We note that the proposal is made under Article 308 EC, but it does not appear to us that a measure which is concerned essentially with the national security of Member States is a matter falling within the EC treaty at all, and still less under article 308”.
I hope to make a few remarks later on about article 308. However, even though he has come to the job rather late in the day, does the hon. Gentleman accept that the matter is very serious? There is no need for hysteria, but does he agree that it has implications for national security?
I do agree about that, and I want to deal next with article 308. It states:
“If action by the Community should prove necessary to attain, in the course of the operation of the common market, one of the objectives of the Community, and this Treaty has not provided the necessary powers, the Council shall, acting unanimously on a proposal from the Commission and after consulting the European Parliament, take the appropriate measures.”
In June 2004, the Council of Ministers asked the Commission to come up with a proposal in respect of EU infrastructure. In other words, the bureaucrats did not initiate this, the politicians did. The Council of Ministers is free to say that it is not going to agree the Commission proposal, with the result that the whole thing has come round full circle and the matter is up for negotiation. The Government will “take note” of this debate, in the way that our procedures allow, but they also have the right under article 8 to veto the outcome. If the UK decides that the proposal should be taken no further, it can act alone to prevent that from happening.
Does article 308 justify the motion before us? The House of Lords Committee that looked at this matter said that we should not get fixated by article 308 and that we should look at the substance of the motion. The advice that I have been given is that Parliament has accepted similar measures proposed under article 308, and I look forward to the forthcoming report from the European Scrutiny Committee.
These are serious matters. Article 308 is the EU’s instrument to cover “anything else extra”, and we must be careful to ensure that what it is used to introduce is justified. I am not going to argue that the proposals before us cannot work under article 308, although I notice that the European Scrutiny Committee believes that the Government have not made their case about that.
I come now to the substance of the motion. The Minister was helpful in his responses to interventions, and I want to pick up on a couple of matters that he mentioned. He made it clear that the proposal is justified only if we are talking about matters that are European, critical and to do with infrastructure. That may be a tautology, but it is true. However, I want to put it on record that I share what I believe is the common view of the House about last December’s draft directive definition of EU “critical infrastructures”. It states:
“‘European Critical Infrastructure’ means critical infrastructures the disruption or destruction of which would significantly affect two or more Member States, or a single Member State if the critical infrastructure is located in another Member State.”
We believe that that provision is too generous, as it is not sufficient that only two member states are affected. Earlier, I gave the example of the UK and Ireland. We have a common interest in some matters, especially in respect of Northern Ireland, and other bilateral agreements cover energy, transport and so on.
The hon. Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk mentioned the much more interesting debate to be had about whether the Eurotunnel involves two member states or more than two. I believe that disruption to the Eurotunnel would significantly affect more than two member states. For instance, the tunnel goes to Belgium as well as to France, but disruption would have onward consequences for the transport of goods throughout the EU. That would mean that more than three countries would have an interest, and that is why we need a higher threshold than just two member states.
I also agree that the UK occupies a position that is entirely different from the one occupied by many other countries. For instance, the Benelux countries share many aspects of infrastructure, and a new member state such as Poland may well get some power from the Czech Republic, or vice versa. Countries that are adjacent territorially, with no water between them, are much more likely to share elements of infrastructure, transport and so on. Indeed, that is likely to be common, and the situation between the UK and Ireland, or Cyprus and Malta, is likely to be much less common. I therefore hope that Ministers will negotiate a higher threshold.
The motion asks us to support
“the Government’s intention to secure adoption of these documents in Council, subject to a satisfactory resolution of outstanding concerns.”
That is rather a catch-all wording—and I am being generous to the Minister by saying so. It more or less says that the Government have made a request, the Commission has made a proposal, and this is how far we have got. The motion then asks the House to give the nod to further negotiations to secure a satisfactory outcome. To be blunt, a lot of work remains to be done, and the Minister is right to suggest that it is unlikely to be completed in June, especially as we are already in May.
I want to make a couple of final points. Earlier, we had an interesting discussion about the fact that the motion deals with something theoretical, but it was clear that the House was also interested in the specifics. It is important to realise that much work has been done in some sectors, as listed in the supporting papers provided by the European Commission. For instance, work has been done in the IT sector on public electronic communications networks, and in the health sector on epidemiological surveillance and control of communicable diseases.
Work has also been done in the financial sector on euro retail payment systems. Such matters can be seen as part of the infrastructure, as the sudden collapse of the ability to perform bank transactions across Europe would have implications for the financial sector, in which London has a huge interest. Work has been done in the transport sector on ship and port facility security, maritime security and civil aviation security. It is not as though nothing has been done.
There are many bilateral aspects already, and clearly the Government have thought about them. The Home Office is in the lead, but the issues are cross-governmental; the critical infrastructure sectors listed in the annexe show how broad they are—energy, nuclear industry, ICT, water, food, health, financial matters, transport, chemical industry, space and research facilities. That substantive list shows that the matter is at a slightly higher macro-level than the provision of public toilets across the EU—although I realise that the Minister was joking. Like him, I have been involved in London politics for many years. We have not yet got the provision of public facilities in London sorted, so we can hardly teach anybody else how to do it. There is work to be done much nearer home.
The proposal is that if there were a directive it would include non-binding and binding measures. That mix is probably right if we can reach agreement about the binding measures—by definition, it would then be up to us to opt into the others rather than being committed to them. Colleagues in the Lords who have studied the proposal from their perspective as Members of the European Parliament warn us that we must not get into an over-bureaucratic system. The current proposal seems far too extensive, complex and bureaucratic. To take one example, there may be a need for participation in
“critical information protection expert groups at EU level”—
but that simply means that it would be good to have somebody from each country who knows what they are talking about and can work out what we need to do. That is sensible and civil servants should be working on that aspect. Information-sharing is good, but we must do it in the least bureaucratic and most practical way possible.
I end with the conclusion we have already reached. Most of the specific proposals appear perfectly feasible through co-operation, information exchange and best practice. That seems to cover most of the needs and expectations. Subsidiarity and proportionality mean that we should not try to give the EU more functions and responsibility than it needs. We must do what we can in this country. The UK, as a group of islands, is more likely to resolve these matters nationally than on a cross-EU basis, but if there is a need for legislation—after all, a directive is EU legislation, with which we have to comply—people have to make a case for it.
If the measure is on the agenda, it is because Governments have asked for it to be there because they were worried about terrorism or the risk to European energy supplies. As the Minister said in his intervention, this is not only about our people in this country; Britons are working, living and studying all over the EU, as are people from all the other EU countries. We have a collective responsibility to look after the European Union countries properly, but only inasmuch as it needs to be done on a more than national or more than bilateral level should it be a matter for the EU. I hope that Ministers will proceed accordingly and negotiate only a measure that is simple, straightforward and the minimum required to deliver the perfectly reasonable objectives that they asked the Commission to consider a few years ago.
First, I make a small apology. I have only recently been appointed to the European Scrutiny Committee and was not party to its discussions. However, I have read the paper prepared for the debate and I have listened carefully to the speeches of other Members. They very much reflect my own feelings; there seems to be consensus that we must take a much firmer line with the Commission and the Council of Ministers, so I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister, in his typically robust way, will do so. I hope that he will take particular note of what my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk (Michael Connarty) said, because he went to the nub of the issue.
The Minister’s first response to the communication was robust. He stated that
“responsibility for national critical infrastructure is a national responsibility and, secondly, that protection of European Critical Infrastructure is the responsibility of the Member State within which the infrastructure is located”.
That strong statement seemed to have the Committee’s support, but when a series of questions was put to the Minister in writing, his response was less robust. I thought that perhaps someone had toned down his replies, because they did not want them to be too non-communautaire.
I have had some experience of European committees in Brussels—although not at the elevated level of the Council of Ministers—so I know about the style; one does not raise issues strongly. One listens to the reports and then goes away—possibly for a splendid Brussels lunch. However, in my time I was one of the awkward squad, who always asked the difficult questions in what seemed to be regarded as the British way; we say, “Excuse me, Mr. Chairman, but isn’t there a problem?” and other people look round in surprise that anybody should have raised an issue.
I am confident that my hon. Friend the Minister will be one of the awkward squad and that he will raise the issues that have been set out in the debate and speak robustly not just for Britain’s interests but for common sense, which suggests that many of the areas covered by the phrase “critical infrastructure” are not that critical—at least to Europe as a whole, although they might be critical for the interests of a particular nation state. Some things are critical and of serious interest; for example, nuclear power generation poses appalling risks to life if things go wrong, so there is clearly an international interest in it. We are heavily dependent on the supply of gas from Russia via a pipeline going through Germany, so we should take a great interest in that. With other Members, I recently attended a meeting in the House at which a German academic read a paper that suggested that Germany was working closely with Russia to make sure that gas went through Germany, because the Germans wanted to maintain a strong interest in the control of the gas supply. As we saw, Russia made life uncomfortable for Ukraine over gas supplies, so those aspects of critical infrastructure give rise to serious issues in which we and our European colleagues have an interest.
The key is to make sure that there is a hierarchy of risk and interests, but we should not get into deep water over—shall we say?—water, which is much more of a national provision. By and large, water is not transported between nation states, certainly not to Britain. Although the Welsh might complain that they are supplying water to us in England, we are still—I think—the same nation state. Some aspects can be put to one side, because they should not be covered. I have mentioned the areas of interest.
The proposals make a powerful case for nation states such as Britain to generate as much of their own energy as possible and to become less dependent on supplies from other parts of the world that are sometimes unstable and may not be friendly towards us in future. There is a powerful case for generating electricity safely and securely through tidal barrages, especially across the Severn and Thames estuaries, offshore wind farms, microgeneration and combined heat and power. Locally supplied generation and microgeneration is much less vulnerable to the risks we have been debating. Europe-wide structures for energy are much more vulnerable than local, domestic and microgeneration. My hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, South (Alan Simpson) speaks on the subject frequently and he is absolutely right to emphasise the importance of looking to renewable sources, and I urge Ministers especially to consider those that are local, micro, national and less vulnerable. Perhaps that goes rather wider of the debate than you might wish, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but it is an important issue.
I look forward to my hon. Friend the Minister coming back from Europe having secured a common-sense agreement, having got positive answers to all the issues raised here and by the European Scrutiny Committee, and having spoken for the British national interest and for common sense.
As I indicated in an intervention on the Chairman of the Committee earlier, to a certain extent my concern turns on the manner in which these decisions tend to get taken by Government. I am not going to engage in a hostile confrontation with the Minister over this matter. As much as anything, it is a matter of attitude. The problem is as follows. Albeit that in 2004 the Council of Ministers asked for these questions to be considered, the reality is that in terms of the critical mass of the institutional changes, the attitude of mind—which is that everything should be Europeanised because that is the nature of the underlying concept of the European constitution, which has by no means been given up—means that all matters and questions of legal capacity have to be decided against the background of an assumption. That assumption is that if a choice has to be made, it would be better made at a European level than otherwise.
There is also the issue of terrorism, which the Committee has stressed in this context, noting the fact that it had not been dealt with properly in relation to the role of the European Union counter-terrorism co-ordinator, Mr. de Vries, who was brought into the issue somewhat late in the day. The fact is that there are often decisions—particularly in relation to matters of national security—where the question of why something is being done is in lower case. It is something that emerges only in the course of a debate of this kind. Of course, it is precisely because the European Scrutiny Committee is so diligent and accurate in its analysis—given our expert advisers and legal advisers—that we are in a position to be able to challenge the assumptions on which things otherwise would simply roll forward. For example, in some other countries—the Minister might take note of this—[Interruption.] The Minister is wandering around the House like a caged lion. I do not know whether he is a lion or a mouse.
I was speaking to the Deputy Speaker. I was not prowling about like any sort of lion.
The Minister might find it quite useful to hear some of the arguments—
Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
No. The Minister might find it quite useful to listen to some of the arguments of those of us who have a little more experience than he does of some of these matters and the way in which the European Union has functioned. The plain fact is that the question of creeping competence, of which this matter is a good example, is the reason why not I by myself as the Member for Stone on his own, but the whole of the European Scrutiny Committee—the majority whose members come from the Minister’s own party—has come to the conclusion that it is important that this matter should be debated on the Floor of the House. The Committee has come to that conclusion responsibly and on the basis of considered advice.
I understand the restlessness of the Minister, but it would not do him much harm to listen to what is being said. Wandering around in that way clearly indicated that he was not interested in a word that was being uttered. He might just bear in mind that we are talking about national security and about the failure of the Government to be completely transparent about the connection between the proposals and terrorism. The bottom line is that the use of article 308—in relation to which the Minister says that protecting critical infrastructure
“will further a number of Community objectives”—
is an example of the very point that I am making. A gap is being filled in order to enhance the Europeanisation of this issue, which is of direct importance, as the Committee says in its report, to the fundamental question of national security. If we do not control our own national security, the Government are betraying this country in the context of what the Committee recommended. We on the Committee said:
“We consider that these issues are of such importance to the fundamental duty of any government to ensure national security that they ought to be debated on the Floor of the House and we so recommend.”
We are debating the issues. The Minister knows in advance that there will not be a Division on this question, so, as I said before, he might just as well have given us a better explanation of the basis on which a satisfactory resolution of the outstanding concerns will be delivered. Time is running out, so I want to get on the record—[Interruption.] I was unable to be here then, but I know enough about the subject matter—and I am on the Committee—to know that the issue is of great importance, which is why we are debating it.
When we are talking about things such as the channel tunnel and other things that are susceptible to terrorist attacks, it does not matter what the Government may wish to put forward by way of an argument that the issues should be dealt with at the European level. Those issues are essentially a matter of national security. As we say in our report, it is a fundamental necessity that we retain control over these matters. That is why we want them to be debated. There is no need for me to go into all the detail. I am sure that the civil servants and the members of the European Commission will look at that. The important and simple point is that the Government, as usual—
It being one and a half hours after the commencement of proceedings on the motion, Mr. Deputy Speaker put the Question already proposed from the Chair, pursuant to Standing Order No. 16(1).
Question agreed to.
That this House takes note of European Union Documents No. 16932/06, Commission Communication on a European Programme for Critical Infrastructure Protection, and No. 16933/06 and ADDs 1-2, Draft Council Directive on the identification and designation of European Critical Infrastructure and the assessment of the need to improve their protection; and supports the Government’s intention to secure adoption of these documents in Council, subject to a satisfactory resolution of outstanding concerns.
WELFARE REFORM BILL (PROGRAMME) (No. 4)
Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 83A(7),
That the following provisions shall apply to the Welfare Reform Bill for the purpose of supplementing the Orders of 24th July 2006, in the last Session of Parliament, 12th October 2006 and 9th January 2007 (Welfare Reform Bill (Programme), Welfare Reform Bill (Programme) (No. 2) and Welfare Reform Bill (Programme) (No. 3)):
Consideration of Lords Amendments
1. Proceedings on consideration of Lords Amendments shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion three hours after their commencement at this day’s sitting.
2. Any further message from the Lords may be considered forthwith without any Question being put.
3. The proceedings on any further Message from the Lords shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion one hour after their commencement.—[Mr. Roy.]
Question agreed to.