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European Union (Croatian Accession and Irish Protocol) Bill

Volume 552: debated on Tuesday 6 November 2012

[Relevant document: The Seventeenth Report from the European Scrutiny Committee, on Croatia: monitoring the accession process, HC 86-xvii.]

Second reading

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

I convey the regrets of my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary who is unable to attend today’s debate. As you know, Mr Speaker, he is in Laos attending to official business on behalf of Her Majesty’s Government.

The Bill provides for parliamentary approval of the Croatian accession treaty and for a protocol on the concerns of the Irish people, the so-called Irish protocol, which is to be added to European Union treaties. The Bill also provides for the secondary legislation that will be required to apply transitional immigration controls on Croatian nationals exercising their right to free movement once Croatia accedes to the European Union.

I very much welcome those transitional immigration controls that will be imposed for the accession of Croatia. We learned from that mistake in 2004 when countries from elsewhere in eastern Europe joined the European Union, and I support the Government’s actions.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his comments. I hope to say more about the transitional controls later, but he will have observed that the Minister for Immigration, my hon. Friend the Member for Forest of Dean (Mr Harper), is here, and I can assure him that the Home Office and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office are working hand in glove on the preparation for Croatian succession.

For many years, EU enlargement has enjoyed firm cross-party support in the House. We can look back to the premiership of the noble Lady Baroness Thatcher to see support being expressed for enlargement covering the newly enfranchised democracies beyond what was once the iron curtain, at a time when it was not fashionable or even believed feasible that those countries of central and eastern Europe could become full members of the European family of nations. Today, for the countries of the western Balkans, including Croatia, that process of accession provides a means of entrenching political stability, democratic institutions, the rule of law and human rights —traditions and values that that part of our continent needs but which were crushed for much of the last 100 years.

I endorse the Minister’s comments. May I invite him to underline that the accession agreement foresees not only the points that he has made but the fact that on accession Croatia will nominate a commissioner, take up a seat on the Council of Ministers and have 12 MEPs?

The hon. Gentleman is right. Our support should not only be about what Europe is or ought to be; I also want to stress the point that enlargement, and Croatia’s accession in particular, is firmly in our national interest.

Just to clarify, as well as the rights and responsibilities that will come to Croatia if we pass this accession Bill, is it also correct that it will have to join the Schengen area and eventually become part of the eurozone, with the agreement that it will join the euro?

Croatia’s accession treaty provides for it to join the Schengen area and the eurozone, but, as the hon. Gentleman knows well, if Croatia is to join either it will be required to meet some further tests. It is already understood in Zagreb and throughout the Schengen area that it will be at least two years before Croatia can contemplate a successful application. I know from the debates on the bids by Bulgaria and Romania to join the Schengen area that the current members look carefully at the strength of internal and external controls over immigration and asylum before they concede the much greater rights of freedom of movement and freedom from all kinds of border checks that go with Schengen membership.

The Minister referred to Romanian and Bulgarian accession. He will recall that before they joined the EU in 2007 they had to clear various hurdles and various parts of their economy had to be shown to be compatible with the EU, but at that juncture there was only a very limited stipulation stating that, if they failed to do so, their accession would simply be delayed by 12 months. Will he go into detail about precisely what hurdles Croatia will have to clear, particularly any penalties if it fails to meet economic requirements?

I want to come to that in greater detail later, but I can say now that the process that Croatia has gone through has been much more demanding than what was expected of Romania and Bulgaria or earlier accession states. One lesson that EU member states drew from the experience of Romanian and Bulgarian accession was that we needed to invent an additional category of accession conditions covering justice and fundamental rights measures. That is now embodied in chapter 23 of the accession process. Those things that, in the case of Romania and Bulgaria, ended up being addressed—in my view, rather unhappily, in terms of the actions of all sides—through the co-operation and verification mechanism post-accession have, in the case of Croatia, been addressed upfront.

We have learned further lessons from Croatia’s accession process. Although chapter 23 has been a significant advance, we recognise that, as we look forward to an accession process that in the Government’s view should embrace all the countries of the western Balkans, we need to find a way of ensuring not only that the accession process provides incentives for, and insists upon, rigorous reforms of the administrative and judicial life of an applicant country but that the applicant country has the opportunity to establish a clear track record of implementing those reforms. With the decision earlier this year to open accession negotiations with Montenegro, a new approach has been introduced under which those chapter 23 measures—and, for that matter, the chapter 24 measures applying to home affairs matters—will be dealt with first. The objective is to open those negotiating chapters early on, to see those reforms under way and then to hold those chapters open until the end of the process, so that it becomes a question not only of seeing reforms enacted but of seeing a consistent track record.

I hope that the Minister will forgive me, but his answer prompts a further question. He referred to the coalition Government’s support for other nations in the western Balkans joining the EU in due course. Would the same apply to Serbia, assuming that Croatia was happy about it and assuming that Serbia wished to join and met all the guidelines? Would the Government approve that too?

Yes, we have made it clear—my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary repeated this in Belgrade in the past couple of weeks—that we support Serbia’s ambitions to join the EU. It is also, however, important that while remaining vigorous supporters of EU enlargement we remain committed to rigorous accession criteria. That is in the interest of the candidate countries and of the integrity of the EU.

My constituency is home to some Bosnian Muslims. The accession of Croatia will erect a much more significant border between Croatia and the other Balkan countries—setting Montenegro aside—particularly the significant ones to the south, Serbia and Bosnia. Before Serbia attains accession, which might be many years ahead, the relationship may change. Does the Minister have any thoughts about how that relationship might change in the future?

I hope that the requirement to police the external EU border between Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina will provide an additional incentive to political leaders in the latter to commit themselves with greater energy to the task of political and economic reform, particularly political reform and reconciliation, which is needed if they, too, are to qualify for EU membership.

One of the sadnesses about the western Balkans today is that Bosnia and Herzegovina, which a few years ago saw itself as at the head of the queue of potential new members of the European Union, has now fallen behind not only Croatia, but Montenegro in that race. I want to see Bosnia and Herzegovina move towards EU membership, and for that matter NATO membership too. I hope that one impact of Croatian accession is that people and leaders in Bosnia and Herzegovina will see that they need to commit themselves with renewed energy and vigour.

The United Kingdom’s interest in Croatian accession lies partly in the fact that we have a national interest in the long-term political stability of the western Balkans, and partly in the fact that there are economic benefits to expanding the single market. Our trade with the eastern and central European countries continues to grow. To give the House one example, United Kingdom exports to the “emerging Europe” countries of central Europe have trebled over the past 10 years, reaching around £16 billion in 2011. More recently, in the first quarter of this year our exports to countries in the east of Europe have increased by no less than 28%, so in economic terms, amidst the current financial crisis, the project of EU enlargement remains as relevant now as it ever has been to our economic as well as our political interests.

Following the ratification of Croatia’s accession treaty by all 27 EU member states, Croatia is expected to join the EU on 1 July 2013. Meanwhile, we expect Croatia to sustain the momentum of six years of significant reform, particularly on judiciary and fundamental rights issues, so that it meets fully all EU requirements by the time of accession. This is something to which I know the Croatian Government are committed. When I visited Zagreb in July this year to discuss the ongoing reform progress, I was impressed with the dedication in evidence, particularly from the Foreign Minister and the Justice Minister of Croatia. They are very aware of the challenges that face their country and they are keen to prove to us as their neighbours and friends, and to their own citizens, that they can make a success of accession. It is on that basis that we look forward to welcoming Croatia to the EU as the 28th member state.

Is that not a rather pious hope? Once Croatia is a member, if it decides to resile from the commitments, what actions can be taken? What actions have been taken as Hungary has departed from the standards that we would expect from a member of the European Union? The answer is none.

There are within the treaties articles that can be invoked. For example, if a member state departs from fundamental standards of human rights and democratic values that are embodied in the articles of the treaty, ultimately its full rights as an EU member can be suspended. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Moray (Angus Robertson) reminds me that when a far right party entered the Government of Austria a few years ago, Austria found that it started to get frozen out of normal EU business. So although they may be blunt instruments that are in the treaties, the instruments are there.

There is a provision in the pre-accession monitoring arrangements under which, if Croatia fails to deliver on what she has promised, the Council is entitled to take all necessary measures to deal with the situation. That might, for example, mean that if Croatia were to fail to carry through the necessary market reforms of its shipbuilding sector—I do not expect that—certain EU financial benefits could be withheld until those reforms had been implemented. I do not think we are as lacking in sticks as the hon. Member for Blackley and Broughton (Graham Stringer) suggests.

Let me say this, then I will give way. Croatia has applied for European Union membership both because it sees this as of symbolic political importance and its leaders want to entrench democratic values, human rights and the rule of law in their country, and because Croatia sees some significant economic benefits to participation in the single market. Croatia also wants to move on and apply for Schengen membership. The one thing that Croatia’s leaders know is that if they were to depart from the promises that they have given, their chances of benefiting in the way they hope and their people expect would be reduced accordingly. That remains a powerful motive.

The Minister has led on to the question that I wished to ask. He mentioned application for Schengen and cross-border rights, but the Schengen acquis requires countries to sign up to a great deal of immigration and co-operation in cross-border law and other aspects. Is it expected that the Schengen acquis will be put in place part by part before the application, or is Croatia not expected to do anything in relation to those things? That is relevant as we struggle with opt-ins and opt-outs.

What Croatia has to do is what was set out in the negotiating chapters, particularly in chapter 24, to equip itself to deal with the responsibilities of European Union membership. I shall say a little about the borders issue later to try to address those comments. Membership of Schengen requires Croatia and any other member of Schengen to go further. The pace at which any reforms specific to Schengen are introduced and implemented is a matter between Croatia and the Schengen members. It is difficult for me as a Minister for a country that has chosen to stay outside Schengen and has no intention of joining it to try to prescribe what the pathway should be for Croatia’s hopes to join the Schengen agreement.

In its report the European Scrutiny Committee made a number of criticisms of the Commission’s and the Government’s conclusions about the readiness of Croatia to join the European Union. The Government will of course reply formally to the report of the Scrutiny Committee in due course, but as the Committee has chosen to tag its report to the debate today, I thought it might be helpful to respond to the main thrust of the Committee’s criticisms now, during the debate. We will have other opportunities during later stages of the Bill to explore the points that my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Mr Cash) and his Committee raised, and as I said there will be a formal Government response to the Committee in due course.

I shall try to deal briefly with three or four of the main issues raised by the Committee in its conclusions. Let me take first the issue of war crimes, both co-operation with the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia and domestic war crimes. On co-operation with the tribunal, I want to stress that not just the United Kingdom but the European Commission and the tribunal itself believe that Croatia is fully co-operating with the tribunal. Indeed, the chief prosecutor, Mr Brammertz, has now said that he sees no need for him to visit Zagreb again and he has taken the decision to wind down the status of the tribunal’s office in Croatia. On 3 May this year, while visiting Zagreb, Mr Brammertz said that there were “no outstanding issues” that might burden relations between Croatia and ICTY. On 7 June, in a statement to the UN Security Council, he said:

“The Office of the Prosecutor continues to rely on Croatia’s cooperation to efficiently complete trials and appeals. In the current reporting period (as at 14 May 2012), the Office sent 18 requests for assistance to Croatia. The Croatian authorities have given timely and adequate responses to the requests made and it has provided access to witnesses and evidence as required. The Office will continue to rely on Croatia’s cooperation in upcoming trials and appeals.”

The chief prosecutor, who in the past has been critical of what he saw as shortcomings in Croatia’s level of co-operation with him, has now said that in his view Croatia has co-operated, and continues to do so, in the way he would rightly expect.

The issue of domestic war crimes is a difficult one. One need only look to our own country’s history in Northern Ireland to see how difficult it can be to get to the truth about some of the most vile murders. There are about 1,200 cases on file relating to domestic war crimes in Croatia, but we need to break that total down into three categories. There are about 400 cases for which trials are pending, about 400 where the accused cannot be found and a further 400 or so where the indictments are in a pre-investigative phase but the perpetrator is unknown—it is believed, on the basis of evidence, that a war crime might have been committed but no individual or group of named individuals can be cited as having been responsible. The average length of a trial for a domestic war crime is about six to seven months.

In 2010, four specialised chambers were established to deal with domestic war crimes. In May 2011, new legislation took effect to require the transfer of outstanding cases to those chambers and, in the autumn of 2011, new judges were appointed to those specialist tribunals. So far, 87 cases have been transferred to the specialist tribunals. The Government’s view is that progress has been too slow and that the Croatians need to devote more resources to that work. Our assessment is that the commitments Croatia made can be described as “almost complete” but that more progress is still required. We are confident, given the commitments we have had from the Croatian Justice Ministry, that that acceleration will have taken place by the time we reach the expected accession date.

Some of that progress is simply about procedural reforms: new listing priorities have now been established; prosecutorial standards are being applied better; there is, importantly, improved co-operation between the Croatian and Serbian authorities in investigating war crimes; and the Croatian side has submitted a draft agreement between those two countries for co-operation in the prosecution of such cases. The Commission has said that more still needs to be done to secure the attendance and protection of witnesses, who might well fear for their safety when giving evidence in this kind of case. We think that progress has been slower than it ought to have been but are confident about the seriousness with which the Croatian authorities are taking it.

I will move on to borders and address the point that the former Chair of the European Scrutiny Committee, the hon. Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk (Michael Connarty), made in his earlier intervention. Croatia has been making good progress. She already has 81 fully operational border crossing points and has given assurances that the necessary infrastructure and technology will be in place to support those crossing points and ensure strong border management by the time she accedes to the EU. The most important outstanding element is the need to provide formal border crossing points in the Neum corridor, which is the very narrow stretch of Bosnian territory that divides Croatia. The Croatians have told us that they are on course to complete the border crossing points in that important area next spring.

After Croatian accession, of course, there will continue to be border controls between Croatia and its European Union neighbours. Because Croatia will not join Schengen straight away, those neighbouring countries that are EU member states already will maintain their border controls with Croatia, so any third-country national who got into Croatian territory, whether before or after EU accession, would still be subject to the same level of controls in a country such as Slovenia, and certainly in the United Kingdom, as they are today. I will add that one key advantage for us of Croatia’s accession is that she will come within the scope of the Eurodac regulation and the Dublin agreement on returns and readmissions, which will be helpful to us in the case of any people who manage to get through and abuse the asylum system and need to be returned to Croatia.

There will obviously be a seven-year transition period on economic migration from Croatia. Can the Minister tell the House—this is a general point relating also to Romania and Bulgaria—whether it would be possible under British law for us to extend that transition period if we think that is right for Britain?

The answer is that we cannot go beyond the period for transitional controls laid down in the treaties. I will say a little more about arrangements for Croatia later. For Romania and Bulgaria, we have extended the transitional controls for the maximum period committed and they have to come to an end by the end of 2013.

May I add a rider to the Minister’s answer? This is without a “notwithstanding” clause to the European Communities Act 1972, but this Parliament could of course do that if it wanted to.

This Parliament can of course pass any legislation it wishes to. In that sense, what my hon. Friend says is constitutionally correct, although I in no way want to mislead him into thinking that the Government intend to introduce such an amendment to the 1972 Act.

My right hon. Friend, far from disappointing me, has enlivened me to rise, and I do so for this very good reason: this is the first time, as far as I am aware, that any Minister has conceded from the Dispatch Box that the constitutional principle of the “notwithstanding” formula is valid. I was delighted to hear what he had to say.

My hon. Friend is tempting me dangerously far from the scope of the debate, but I simply refer him to the happy day we spent in Parliament debating the sovereignty clause of what became the European Union Act 2011. If he looks at Hansard, I think he will find that I stated very clearly that if Parliament wanted to amend the 1972 Act at any stage, it is open for it to do so but—

Order. The right hon. Gentleman is a most earnest and assiduous member of Her Majesty’s Government, but the safest path for him to tread is in the direction of Croatia and the borders thereto.

I am grateful for that rescue, Mr Speaker. I want to move on to one other element of the Committee’s criticisms.

I understand that there has been a long-standing dispute about moneys held in the Ljubljanska banca in Slovenia which, it is suggested, belong to Croatia. Has that issue been resolved?

I discussed that with both the Slovenian and Croatian Governments when I was visiting Ljubljana and Zagreb earlier this year. We encourage both countries to find a bilateral solution. It is clearly not for the United Kingdom to lay down how that should be done, but they need to find a bilateral agreement that is in accord with the various international treaties to which the two countries are party. We hope that they succeed in the very near future.

The Committee was critical of the Government’s assessment that Croatia was making good progress with the reform of the judiciary and the courts. I am conscious that I have given way a lot and that other Members want to speak, but I want to deal with the most egregious element of the problems with the legal system in Croatia: the backlog of civil cases, to which the Committee drew particular attention.

The backlog in criminal cases in Croatia has fallen for some time and continues to fall, and we ought to pay tribute to the work that the Croatians have done to achieve that. They are still finding it a battle to reduce the backlog in civil cases, but it is important that we should not be misled by grand totals of the number of civil cases before the courts.

According to the figures that I have for the first half of 2012, roughly 844,000 new civil cases reached the Croatian courts; in the same period, roughly 836,000 cases were resolved. Although the total number of cases pending increased slightly, it would be wrong to think that 800,000-plus cases simply sat there in the “pending” tray and never moved. The truth is far from that. There has been a reduction in the backlogs in respect of the older cases—those over 10 years old or over three years old. The Croatians have also assigned a significant number of additional judges to focus on the backlog. Again, although we accept that further work needs to be done, we think that Croatia has made good progress and is committed to completing it. We do not believe that that is a reason to delay its accession.

I move on to migration. Croatia has a modest population of about 4.5 million. The potential impact of Croatian migration is relatively small, but we know that appropriate immigration controls are crucial for stability in our labour market, particularly in the current economic climate. Recently, the Home Office published its intention to impose transitional controls on Croatian workers in line with the Government’s policy to impose such controls on workers from all new member states, under the terms provided for in their accession treaties.

The accession treaty for Croatia sets out the framework within which member states may apply transitional controls to Croatian nationals who wish to work in their country. That framework is as follows. During the first two years following accession, the existing 27 member states can apply either national immigration controls or those resulting from bilateral agreements to regulate access to their labour market by Croatian nationals.

From the third year to the fifth year, member states have the option either to continue to apply the same controls as in the previous two years or, if they choose, to grant Croatian nationals the right to move and work freely, in accordance with European Union law. For the fifth year, member states must grant Croatian nationals the right to move and work freely in accordance with EU law. However, if member states find that they are subject to serious disturbance of their domestic labour markets—this has to be an evidence-based assessment of the kind that we seek from the Migration Advisory Committee—those member states may choose to continue to apply controls for a further two years, taking us up to a seven-year maximum period after accession, having first notified the European Commission.

The Home Office will be bringing forward detailed regulations on the transitional controls early in 2013, so the House will have the chance to debate the detail of those ahead of Croatia’s planned accession date. However, the Government’s intention is that for the first two years at least we would continue with the current arrangements under which Croatian nationals who would qualify to come and work here under the points-based system would be allowed to do so, although we do not envisage further relaxation beyond that.

For decades since independence, there have been associations between the former Yugoslavia and the subsequent nations. There are decades of experience of citizens from that part of the world working in Germany and Austria as Gastarbeiter. Based on that assessment, do the Government agree that when the free movement of labour comes into force, those citizens are most likely to travel to countries with which there is an historic association—in the first instance, Germany and Austria?

The hon. Gentleman is right. According to our figures for 2011, about 2,000 Croatians emigrated to other EU member states and half of those went to Germany. UKBA figures for 2011 show that only 115 Croatian nationals were admitted to the United Kingdom to work.

I appreciate the Minister’s argument about the small number of those likely to immigrate legally. The problem is that the equivalent-sized country of Moldova, which has a population of 4.5 million, has a trafficking record similar to that of a country with 50 million people. It is used as a gateway. The problem is not legal migration but whether there is a prospect of the mafia—for want of a better word—of the Balkan states using Croatia as a gateway for people trafficking. That would be the concern. Are the police in Croatia up to dealing with such an influx?

That is a perfectly fair question, but I assure the hon. Gentleman that there is no evidence at the moment that Croatia is being used by traffickers as he says has happened in Moldova. However, people traffickers are extremely professional, well organised multinational businesses. We have to be vigilant and continue to work closely with the Croatian authorities, trying to provide the practical advice, support and training that we have been giving them as they carry out their immigration, asylum, judicial and administrative reforms, so that their own systems are up to scratch in ensuring that they cannot be exploited by traffickers. The Croatian Government would not want that to happen, and nor would we.

Now I want to talk briefly about the Irish protocol. The addition of the Irish protocol to the EU treaties does not have a significant impact for the United Kingdom. It relates to a series of guarantees given to the Irish people as a condition of their ratification of the Lisbon treaty, but it does not change the substance or application of the treaty. It confirms the interpretation of a number of its provisions in relation to the Irish constitution. Helpfully, the Irish interpretation of the Lisbon treaty aligns with our own.

I invite the Minister to take the opportunity to acknowledge that the Irish protocol underlines the rights of member states to set their own tax rates. The Irish Government sought that important guarantee. However, that rings true not just for the Irish Republic but for all member states of the European Union in future, which is welcome.

It is very welcome that the Irish protocol makes that assertion about tax sovereignty, which is in line with our own interpretation of the Lisbon treaty and previous European Union treaties. The Irish protocol also confirms that neither the charter of fundamental rights nor the Lisbon treaty in the area of freedom, security and justice affects the scope and applicability of the Irish constitution as regards the right to life, protection of the family and protection of rights in respect of education. It confirms that the Union’s action on the international stage, particularly under common security and defence policy arrangements, does not prejudice the security and defence policy of individual member states or the obligations of any individual member states. It also deals with other matters specific to Ireland, such as its long-standing position of military neutrality. It was formally agreed by Heads of State and Governments of the 27 member states in June 2009. It amounts to a guarantee in international law that the concerns raised in Ireland were unaffected by the entry into force of the Lisbon treaty. Once all 27 countries have formally ratified the Irish protocol, it becomes binding in terms of the European Union as well as of international law.

The Government’s original intention had been that we might include with this legislation a comparable but differently worded protocol as regards the Czech Republic. That is still stalled in the Brussels decision-making process. The European Parliament has yet to produce an opinion on the Czech protocol, and until that has come out of the Brussels negotiations it would be premature for us to think about bringing forward legislation here in Parliament.

I wonder whether, while negotiating the Irish protocol and the Czech protocol, Her Majesty’s Government considered repatriating any powers to the United Kingdom which could have been part of this treaty negotiation.

As I said, the protocol was negotiated in 2009, so I fear that my hon. Friend’s challenge has to be for my predecessors in office who are now on the Opposition side of the House. Nothing would have been served in terms of the United Kingdom’s interest by our now saying that we would block ratification of the Irish protocol unless we obtained some concession of our own, because the thing at stake would not have been the ratification of the Lisbon treaty but the ratification of the Irish protocol, to which we have no objection and which is wanted by one of those countries with which we have an extremely close bilateral relationship.

Does the Minister accept that the protocol confirms the pre-existing sphere of competence of Ireland under its own constitution, further supplemented by the confirmation in relation to neutrality?

I wanted my right hon. Friend to confirm, as I think he has, that it was open to the UK, as with any treaty negotiation, to use this as an opportunity to negotiate for our own interests, but the Government decided on this occasion that it was not worth doing so.

The point of principle that my hon. Friend makes is certainly right—that during a treaty negotiation it is open to any member state to withhold its consent unless it receives a concession that it is seeking. Obviously, during such a negotiation every member state has to calculate where its national interest lies and what kind of bargain it wants to achieve. However, this is now water under the bridge, as these events took place before the previous general election.

No, the Minister is wrong. What a member state tries to do, across the piece and over a period of time, is to decide what its main priorities may be. That does not mean that every time a treaty is coming up, it decides to put yet another thing on the table. Indeed, I would argue that the problem with the Government’s current approach is that they are trying to fight the European Union on too many fronts at the same time and will not secure any of their intended outcomes.

Order. I am aware that the hon. Gentleman has only just come in, but we do need shorter interventions. I know that he gets carried away, but I am sure that he will be shorter in future.

I am not going to get drawn into a historical battle about my predecessors’ record in office. I would argue that the previous Government were too reluctant to use the leverage that we had from negotiations at the time of the Lisbon treaty, but that is a matter that the House can debate and historians will no doubt wish to comment on in future, and I do not want to spend further time on it today.

The measure before us will provide for the accession of Croatia to the European Union, thus marking another step in the Government’s long-held support—this country’s long-held support under successive Governments—for the enlargement of the European Union. Enlargement has been a project whereby the European Union has benefited from the United Kingdom’s ideas, engagement, and—dare I say it?— leadership over many years and under successive Administrations.

If we compare the history of Europe in the 20 years since the fall of the Berlin wall with the 20 years following the treaty of Versailles, drawing a contrast between, in the earlier period, a time when fragile new democracies collapsed under the strain of domestic political tension, dictatorship and invasion, and, in the 20 years just passed, a time when we have seen democracy, the rule of law and human rights entrenched in ever more countries on our continent, we can see the advantage that European Union enlargement has brought, and we can be proud of our own nation’s contribution to that process. In that spirit, I ask the House to support the Bill’s Second Reading.

Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker.

I will attempt to be relatively brief, or at least briefer than the Europe Minister, in order to allow my colleagues and others to speak.

The Opposition welcome the Bill, which will, first, give effect in UK law to the treaty on the accession of the Republic of Croatia to the European Union and provide parliamentary approval of that treaty; and, secondly, provide approval for the so-called Irish protocol, which gives specific guarantees to the Irish people regarding the extent and application of the Lisbon treaty and safeguards Ireland’s right to decide its own policies on the right to life, family and education, taxation, and Irish neutrality.

With regard to the accession treaty, there is, as the Europe Minister underlined, cross-party support for enlargement of the European Union in this House, and that has long been the case. This support is based on both the political and the economic case for enlargement. The process of EU accession has provided, and continues to provide, an incentive for peace, democratisation, economic reform, the promotion of human rights, and the development of anti-discrimination legislation. That is the clear political case for enlargement. The Nobel peace prize committee rightly recognised that the EU has played a vital role in unifying a continent ravaged by wars and inspired peace and democracy beyond its borders.

In terms of the economic case, again I find myself in agreement with the Europe Minister. It is clearly in the UK’s national interest for British companies to have access to the largest single market in the world, with some 500 million consumers, and for that market to continue to grow with enlargement. We are confident that British businesses will find new opportunities in a reformed Croatian economy.

When the Labour party was in government, we supported the accession path for the western Balkans. Since the end of the bloody conflict in the former Yugoslavia and the signing of the Dayton accords, which took place only some 17 years ago, there has been remarkable progress. We were strong supporters of Slovenia’s accession in 2004. Croatia started accession negotiations in the same year and those negotiations were concluded in June last year. Croatia has transposed the 35 chapters of European law into its national legislation, and that is no mean feat. We welcome the transformation of Croatia’s society, economy and democracy that adopting these laws has brought about, although we still have concerns about progress in certain respects; I will come to those later.

In December last year, the accession treaty was signed by Croatia and all 27 member states, and it was approved by the European Parliament. Parliaments in all other member states are now debating the accession treaty and going through the process of ratification, as are we, and 16 member states have so far ratified it.

In the run-up to accession, Croatia has “active observer status.” Its 12 observer MEPs are allowed to speak but not vote in the European Parliament, and it has the same rights on Council working groups and Commission committees. The Commission’s recent enlargement report, published last month, set out three areas in which Croatia must do more—competition, judiciary and fundamental rights, and security and justice.

This time last year a debate in this House looked specifically at Croatia’s progress on chapter 23 of that report—judiciary and fundamental rights—and several right hon. and hon. Members made the point that we should learn lessons from previous rounds of enlargement. It is important that the momentum Croatia has built up does not stall, and that progress is made before accession. We must avoid the European Union having to put in place a co-operation and verification mechanism to monitor areas that have not seen sufficient progress prior to accession. I am therefore happy to see that pre-accession monitoring is ongoing in Croatia, and we are expecting a further report from the European Commission some time in the new year—spring, I believe —and before Croatia’s expected accession on 1 July.

When in government, the Labour party led the way in putting pressure on Croatia and all states in the western Balkans to engage fully with the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia to bring war criminals to justice. Indeed, chapter 23 of the report was opened so late because at the time the Labour Government judged that they needed that leverage to ensure the Croatian Government co-operated fully with the ICTY. I think we were right to do so, and all outstanding fugitives wanted by the tribunal are now on trial in The Hague.

In April last year, former military commanders, Ante Gotovina and Mladen Markac, were sentenced by the Court for their role in the war. Those convictions show that justice has been done, and that the international community can and will pursue the perpetrators of war crimes. Engaging constructively with the Court is a test of Croatia’s willingness to draw a line under its past and look towards a brighter future within the EU.

The European Commission also highlighted that increased effort is needed to strengthen the rule of law, improve the judicial system and fight corruption. There is still significant concern over the extent of corruption at both local level within the public procurement process and in some state-owned companies.

The hon. Lady will know that another very important European debate was to take place in Westminster Hall this afternoon, but the lead speaker did not turn up. Does the hon. Lady have any excuse for why that happened and why hon. Members did not get that debate?

Order. That has no relevance to this debate, and hon. Members should know a little better than trying to embarrass each other. Surely we have better manners.

I remind the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) that today’s debate is about Croatia’s accession to the European Union. Should other states wish to join, there will be debates in this House and Parliaments around the EU about that accession, and I am sure that conditions will be attached. I am sure there will be future opportunities to debate the subject to which the hon. Gentleman refers, even if that is not in order today.

To return to the subject, there is concern about conflicts of interest and the funding of political parties and electoral campaigns in Croatia. The European Commission has recommended that a conflict of interest commission “be established without delay”, and the Opposition support that demand. On competition policy, Croatia has taken positive steps to strengthen its anti-trust laws, but further progress is needed in relation to state aid in the steel and shipbuilding industries. As the Europe Minister said earlier, progress is also needed in restructuring the Croatian shipbuilding industry.

On border security, notwithstanding the Minister for Europe’s earlier remarks, Croatia will at some point assume responsibility for the EU’s south-eastern border. What happens on that border will directly impact on the rest of the EU, and indeed the UK, in terms of preventing illegal immigrants from entering the EU, and breaking up and stopping human trafficking—my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk (Michael Connarty) referred to that issue. Croatia’s role in those areas will be vital, and we therefore welcome increased co-operation between Croatia and its neighbours. I welcome what the Europe Minister has said about the UK’s assistance in that area.

More widely, Croatia has taken positive steps towards accession in a number of areas, which should be welcomed. The police force and courts have undergone important reforms. A new police law has raised standards and removed political pressure, and respect and protection for human rights—in particular LGBT rights—has improved. During the debate in the House last year, I raised the issue of LGBT rights in Croatia, and expressed concern that a gay rights parade in Split had been attacked with no intervention or protection from the police. I am pleased to say that since that debate, gay pride events in Split and Zagreb have taken place peacefully and been protected. The European Commission and MEPs have continued to put pressure on the Croatian Government, and in particular I put on the record my thanks to Michael Cashman, a Labour MEP who has continued to put pressure on that Government for those welcome improvements.

I am sure the hon. Lady would want to join me in paying tribute to the strong personal commitment of Vesna Pusic, the Croatian Foreign Minister, who has made it something of a priority to see that Croatia makes good on its pledges and obligations concerning civil rights of the kind mentioned by the hon. Lady.

I welcome that intervention, and the commitment of the Croatian Foreign Minister in that area.

Clause 4 of the Bill provides

“a regulation-making power to make provision on the entitlement of Croatian workers to work and reside in the UK;”

and I welcome the further clarification provided by the Europe Minister. The Opposition believe that the Government should implement the maximum transition period for Croatian nationals who want to come to the UK to work, as we did when in government with the accession of Romania and Bulgaria.

As I stated in a European Scrutiny Committee debate earlier this year, the Labour party fully supports the Irish protocol, which it helped to negotiate when in office. We value the continued partnership between the UK and the Republic of Ireland, and recognise the special relationship that our two countries share. As we have heard from the Minister, the draft Irish protocol contains safeguards for Ireland on the right to life, family and education, taxation, and Irish neutrality, and it provides a clarification on the application of the treaty on the functioning of the European Union, and the treaty on the European Union, and does not change the content of these treaties. We welcome that clarification, and support the Irish protocol as part of the Bill.

In conclusion, Croatia’s preparations to join the European Union have been more thorough than in previous accessions. An impressive range of reforms have been introduced and valuable lessons have been learned from previous accessions. Croatia’s accession to the EU will send a signal to the rest of the Balkan countries that their future belongs in the EU, and it will provide encouragement and incentives to those Governments not to let up on the pace of reform, but to root out corruption, reform their political and judicial systems, and modernise their economies.

May I say what a particular pleasure it is to see that the Prime Minister, in his wisdom, has tabled a motion for 7 pm so that this debate may continue “until any hour”? It is always reassuring when European debates are not limited by an unnecessary constraint on time, although I note that having done that, the Prime Minister has left the country. Perhaps he does not want to hear hon. Members’ full ruminations on this subject.

I begin by commiserating with Croatia, which has decided that it wishes to join the European Union—an organisation that others may be looking to get out of if they possibly can. One always has a certain sympathy with nations that gained their freedom not so long ago and now wish to hand it over to another body and organisation.

I refer hon. Members to the report by the European Scrutiny Committee, which the Minister touched on. It concerns me that, once again, the European Union is not learning from experience. It always thinks that countries may be ready for something, yet it comes as a nasty shock when those self-same countries are not ready. We saw that with monetary union, which the EU pushed on member states that were not conceivably ready to join. It said that there was an efficient system afterwards to ensure that countries would be brought into line, and that everything would be made to work ex post facto, but that is precisely what did not happen. We see the same with Romania and Bulgaria, which are constantly found to be in breach of their commitments. The European Scrutiny Committee has highlighted various issues, some of which go beyond the Minister’s remarks, while others reiterate his points about the difficulties of Croatia’s membership of the EU.

I would highlight Croatia’s 2,000 mile border. My concern is not Croatia’s 4 million population, but that lots of people can get through a border, as we have seen in Greece. Unless a country has a rigorous system of citizenship in the first place, people can establish rights to be members of it, or pretend to have done so. Once they are inside the EU, they can come waltzing into England without so much as a by-your-leave, as they can into Scotland—I am pleased to see so many of our friends from the Scottish nationalist party in the Chamber for the debate.

Not nationalist? I do apologise.

If a country has weak borders, it undermines the free movement of people within Europe.

There has been discussion in recent years of the possibility of passport controls at internal borders. If there were, and if everyone had to carry a passport if they were not a resident of a country, we would solve some of that problem.

I am very reluctant to see controls on the free movement of people within the UK. We ought to have secure borders, and the extension of the EU has weakened our border controls and allowed member states to give their citizenship away. One recent case is Hungary, which sells citizenship. If Hungarian citizenship is sold, UK citizenship is also effectively sold, because people will have the free right to move and settle here. In due course of time, when the provisional practices that apply to countries such as Croatia, Bulgaria and Romania end, their citizens will also be able to work here.

That ought to concern us. I agree with my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, who has said that we need to look at the whole question of the free movement of people, because of certain extraordinary anomalies within it, which were highlighted on “The World Tonight” on Radio 4 last night. The programme explained the difficulties that UK citizens have in bringing in a dependant who is not an EU national. However, a member of another EU nation state who is resident in the UK can bring in a dependant who is not an EU national.

One could argue that the structures of the free movement of people in the EU are in fact racist, because they deny the right of people from Commonwealth countries, who are often non-white, and who have very close associations with the UK, to come here, when people within the EU, with whom we sometimes have very little connection, can come here. We must therefore look at the free movement of people of the EU. It used to be a rich man’s club, but it is a European man’s, and indeed woman’s, club that excludes members of the Commonwealth who are not also EU members, who are often not white. This is a serious question for us to think about. Is the basis of the free movement of people within the EU fundamentally a racist principle? We need to consider whether seven years will be enough for Croatia, and whether we should amend British law to restore controls over immigration that are fair to people across the world, and that do not discriminate favourably towards Europeans but unfavourably towards others.

Croatia might not be ready to join and might fail to meet the requirements of the EU. On tackling corruption, the Commission is concerned that only three people have been found guilty of abuse of office. The Commission states:

“The implementation of the Law on the Police should be ensured, in particular to depoliticise the police and increase professionalism”.

The fact that that problem has not been tackled is a difficulty. What if we cannot have confidence in the police in a country that is about to join? Even if it is not part of Schengen, it will be part of the European arrest warrant arrangements, but it does not have a de-politicised police force or one that has been made sufficiently professional. Are we really, after the middle of next year, going to allow British subjects to be arrested on the say-so of a Croatian court, when Croatia has a police force in which even the European Commission does not have confidence?

The European Scrutiny Committee report shows that what is sought from Bulgaria and Romania is not happening. The same applies to some extent to Croatia. Is there an autonomously functioning and stable judiciary? That, too, relates to justice and home affairs agreements. We allow the judiciary of foreign countries to have an effect on subjects of Her Majesty going about their business in the UK, but countries that are joining the EU do not meet basic standards. The report states that we have not seen

“concrete cases of indictments, trials and convictions regarding high-level corruption and organised crime”.

We are therefore concerned that the state is corrupt at the highest level, yet we are allowing it to join before the problems are sorted out. That is once again the triumph of hope over experience—can letting them in and hoping to sort it out possibly be the right way forward when we have so many commitments through joint recognition of standards in fellow member states? We are also concerned that Croatia does not have

“a legal system capable of implementing the laws in an independent and efficient way.”

We must be more careful and prudent. Widening is a good thing—it is splendid to have a wider rather than a deeper EU—and it is good thing that newly emerged democracies have been able to come into the EU fold. However, when we have so many commitments to the EU that can be enforced upon us by foreign countries, is it right that we should let them in before the requirements have been met or without installing protections for ourselves by amending the treaties? I therefore have concerns that the opportunity to negotiate repatriations of power to the UK that could protect us from some of the inadequacies of the Croatian state before it joins the EU has not been taken—whether by the previous Government or this one is beside the point.

In that context, it is worth looking at what Ireland has done. As we know, Ireland was bullied by the EU into voting twice. That was a classic example of the EU believing in democracy for others but not for itself. It is a question of it saying, “Vote as often as you like until you give the right answer, and then you don’t need to vote again.”

The problem is not only with the application of the principles of democracy, but with the rule of law, as we will debate later. The EU makes the law, claims it has a legal framework for the rule of law, and then breaks European rules itself.

I agree with my hon. Friend. There is a problem with how the rule of law applies across the EU. How can the EU have a rule of law when it allows in countries that do not meet the basic tests of being free of corruption and of having a properly functioning judiciary? They can then apply their law to our citizens. Surely that cannot be just or in line with the rule of law.

On the concessions Ireland received, I give my wholehearted support for what the Prime Minister said in 2009, when he thought it was a good idea to do what the Irish did and to get concessions for the UK. In his brilliant speech, he said he wanted

“the return of Britain’s opt-out from social and employment legislation in those areas which have proved most damaging to our economy and public services, for example the aspects of the Working Time Directive which are causing real problems in the NHS and the Fire Service”.

I agree with him, but we should have brought those powers back in the negotiation on the treaty we are debating. He also said he wanted a “complete opt-out” from the EU’s charter of fundamental rights, and was once again absolutely right. The Minister for Europe ought to go back to our European friends and say, “This is what the Prime Minister wanted in the treaty, so perhaps we could have it.” The Prime Minister also said he wanted to limit

“the European Court of Justice’s jurisdiction over criminal law to its pre-Lisbon level, and”


“that only British authorities can initiate criminal investigations in Britain”.

The Prime Minister showed brilliant prescience. He knew what this country needed and what it ought to get back. The Bill could have brought it back, because we could have said to our European partners that we will not agree to Croatia’s entry or Ireland’s protocols if we are not given—[Interruption.] You are looking as if you were doubtful that my remarks would be relevant to the subject matter at hand, Mr Deputy Speaker. I can assure you that—

I am grateful to you, Mr Deputy Speaker. How lucky it is that there is unlimited time for this particular debate.

The Irish have shown with their protocol that it can be done. In fact, this is an exciting opportunity for this country. The Bill will be taken, and will be amendable by, a Committee of the whole House, and there has been much rejoicing at the conversion of the Labour party to deep, true-blooded, thorough-going Euroscepticism.

I assure the hon. Gentleman that Labour remains a pro-European party. On Croatian accession and the Irish protocol, does he seriously think that his Government could withhold support for the Bill and negotiate and repatriate all the things that he has just mentioned? I do not think that he believes that to be a realistic prospect, because he is far too sensible.

I am grateful to the hon. Lady, who is as flattering and charming as always, but it is good enough for the Irish, who got some serious concessions. The concession on taxation is a very important one. It establishes that taxation is not to be set at the European level. In fact, it is clever of the Irish to have got it, because Lisbon is bringing in an awful lot of things by the back door and the Irish have managed to close that back door, or the stable door as one may like to call it.

Is the hon. Gentleman telling the House that the Irish have been more adept and a bit more clever than the UK in playing their hand in Europe?

I know it is implausible that the Irish could have been more adept than people living in Na h-Eileanan an Iar, but they did indeed manage to get something by virtue of having a proper democracy that required a referendum on the treaty of Lisbon, to which the Irish people had the sense in the first instance to say no, but then they were bullied by Europe into saying yes at a later stage, with some guarantees. If we had had a referendum, I think that the British Government might have been able to get some pretty serious guarantees.

The hon. Member for Wolverhampton North East (Emma Reynolds) asked whether I really believe that the Government could have negotiated concessions for the United Kingdom. Yes, I absolutely do, because the European Union wants the Lisbon treaty to function fully; the Lisbon treaty only functions fully with the Irish agreement, because it had to be agreed by unanimity; the Irish agreement was conditional on the protocols given in the Croatian accession treaty; and therefore it follows that if the United Kingdom had insisted on concessions to us that would have let the Lisbon treaty carry on for everybody else, we would have been in a very strong negotiating position to achieve them. That is probably still the case.

I want to return to the general rejoicing at the socialists having become a new Eurosceptic party, as, of course, they were, rather less successfully, under Michael Foot not so many years ago. As a Eurosceptic party, they voted last week to stop spending more money in the European Union. It occurs to me that the Bill could be amended to say that it will come into effect only at the point at which our full rebate—which was given away by our Labour friends when they were last in government—is restored. Now that the Labour party is so committed to cutting expenditure in the European Union, it would almost certainly be willing to support such an amendment, so we can use this Bill on the Floor of the House to achieve the reduction in spending that so many Members of this House showed that they wanted last week. Indeed, I think it is the united will of the Conservative party that less money should go to Europe.

Is there not a deeper point to the Bill? Although expansion has genuine economic and political benefits, the United Kingdom’s influence is being diminished. Under qualified majority voting we will have less influence. Another country will also be a recipient of funds, as opposed to a donor, so our position is weakened.

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. He makes a crucial point, which we will discuss further in our second debate, in which we will see that eurozone votes, as a qualified majority, are able to outvote everybody else, which seriously diminishes the UK’s voting power, as does this Bill. By adding another member state, we will go from 17 to 18 recipient, mendicant countries and 10 that pay in. It also means that one more part of the qualified majority will be against us and for more spending and for the ratchet of Europe.

We need to be very cautious about what we do when we do not get anything in return—that is my main point. I am quite happy to welcome other nations to the European Union, if they really want to join. I understand that the Scottish nationalists might want to rejoin. I thought that the great argument for Scottish nationalism was that they would be free from Europe as well, but that is not the way they are going. We are not getting anything in return.

To clarify for the hon. Gentleman, the point of the 2014 referendum will be to transfer political power pertaining to Scotland from Westminster to Edinburgh.

Order. May I tell the hon. Gentleman that he does not need to respond to that intervention, because he need only address the Bill?

Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. I was merely going to say, “From Westminster to Brussels,” but never mind—that will be debated at a later point.

The crux of the matter is that this was an opportunity for Her Majesty’s Government to ensure that we improved matters with regard to the free movement of people, extended the time for which that could be implemented, and asked the right questions about whether Croatia is ready to join and then delayed that until the right time. We are taking a risk with home affairs and justice by allowing this to go through and by recognising the Croatian justice system when it may not yet be fit. We are not taking the opportunity that the Irish have taken. We should do what the Prime Minister said in 2009 and use every single treaty negotiation to reinforce the repatriation of powers and to ensure that the United Kingdom can govern herself.

This Bill is a great opportunity, because it is required to be passed unanimously by all member states of the European Union. We have an opportunity to tag on a budget-related concession to our ratification of the Bill, to ensure that article 312(4) of the treaty on the functioning of the European Union does not automatically kick in to force a rise in EU expenditure when the British people and many others want it to be cut. Let us give this Bill a Second Reading, but let us amend it in the Committee of the whole House to put British interests first.

Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker, for my temporary promotion to speaking on behalf of the Opposition in this debate, which is not, unfortunately, something that has ever been, or is likely to be, accorded to me by those who run my party. Some would say that it is their loss, but it is my great pleasure to speak in support of my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton North East (Emma Reynolds), who is my party’s Front-Bench representative and has been assiduous in her work and done a great job since she took over the brief.

I see this debate in three parts. The first is about whether the UK Parliament supports Croatia’s membership of the European Union. I hope that hon. Members—apart from those who may demur from the wish of any country to join the European Union—would not want to deny Croatia or, indeed, the European Union the benefits that they will get as a result of further enlargement. In that spirit, I hope that hon. Members will support the proposal.

As my hon. Friend will know, I have been a strong pro-European all my political life, but I am very worried that yet another country is coming in from eastern Europe without a great democratic tradition. Hungary seems to be breaking every rule of a modern democracy, yet the European Union does nothing about it. I am getting more concerned about—

Order. The hon. Gentleman has only just walked in and the usual courtesy is to listen to a little bit of the debate before intervening. We also need shorter interventions. I call Michael Connarty—it is up to you whether you answer.

I understand the emotions that are running among those who have been pro-EU in their —[Interruption.]

Order. The hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman) should know better than to challenge the Chair. It is not my fault that he may have been somewhere else in the House. If his preference is to be on a Committee rather than here, that is his choice, but he should not expect to walk in and intervene in that way.

I was on a Statutory Instrument Committee upstairs, and I have every right as a Member of Parliament to intervene on my colleague.

What I have said is that it is discourteous to other Members of this House not to have listened a little bit to debate, but instead to walk in and intervene straight away. That is my ruling.

I repeat: I understand that people who have been supportive of the EU process over many years are now expressing great concerns. Those concerns have been expressed in the European Parliament, and they are certainly expressed at great length in the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, on the basis of human rights, as some of the issues in Hungary are a challenge in that respect. The question for us today is not what the EU should do about Hungary, however, but what we should do in relation to Croatia’s application to join the European Union.

As hon. Members know, I work on behalf of this Parliament as a member of the Labour delegation in the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. In fact, I work in the committee on culture, science, education and media, which is chaired by Mr Gvozden—I believe that is the correct pronunciation—Flego, who is a professor from Croatia. He is very dedicated to human rights; in fact, a number of his colleagues are leading the way in challenging their Government to come up to the standards we require in the European Union and to support the application. The problem—the hon. Member for North East Somerset (Jacob Rees-Mogg) alluded to this—is that this treaty is one of the ones that, when the Government introduced the European Union Act 2011 and said that they would renegotiate the terms and relationship with the EU in this Parliament, was listed as not requiring a referendum because it is an accession treaty. That is a great pity, because the accession treaty not only allows Croatia to enter, but allows protocols to be added to the Lisbon treaty—that is, to amend it.

It is a great regret for many people in this country that we did not take the Lisbon treaty to a referendum, as we would have had to do if it were a constitutional treaty. Hon. Members will recall that when I chaired the European Scrutiny Committee and we reported on this matter, we came to the conclusion that the Lisbon treaty was not much different from the constitution, apart from a few flags, bunting and anthems. Really, it maybe should have been decided then whether a referendum was required. It will always be a great point of contention with the British people—and, I think people in this Chamber—that we did not get that clarified at the time.

I should remind the hon. Gentleman that the Conservative party voted en masse for a referendum on that treaty.

I remember the unity of the Conservative party at that time, although most people have forgotten about it, given the number of attacks that the hon. Gentleman has led on his own Government. In fact, if that unity had continued, we would not have seen the ridiculous situation of him and others joining the Labour party last week to vote down his Government on an issue to do with the EU. It might have been better for his party if it had remained unified; for us, it has exposed the faultline that runs through the parties.

On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. Just for the record, it was a Conservative amendment that the Labour party supported.

As the hon. Gentleman well knows, that is not a point of order. The other thing is that we are getting distracted from what is before us. Rather than being tempted into discussing the decisions of a previous House many years ago, let us get back to Croatia and Ireland.

The point has been made that there should be a wider mandate in deciding whether the treaty should go through. It should not just rest with this House. As you have said, Mr Deputy Speaker, that has been decided before, but the Bill contains provisions on the Irish protocol, which, as has been pointed out, provides only a clarification. It is the same protocol that the UK got in the original Lisbon treaty, but as was pointed out in many debates and in many legal opinions that we received in the Committee, all it stated was what was already in existence—that every country has the right to its own Bank and that no country will lose any rights that it already has because of the Lisbon treaty coming into force.

The protocol did not change anything, but if the Irish people require that reassurance, that is fine. However, it does trigger a change in the Lisbon treaty, and a change in a major treaty should, in reality, be required to be put to the British people—if, as has been pointed out, we are also to get the credibility of the Irish people. They may not do things they like; indeed, I remember when the Irish delegation came to tell us that because Ireland was a small country—one of my colleagues, the leader of the Scottish National party, was at the meeting when they said this—it had to do what Europe wanted, whereas the UK was a big country that could argue its corner much more strongly. The protocol will make no difference to the situation in Ireland, but it is in the Bill and it changes the treaty.

If the hon. Gentleman believes that Ireland does not have clout because it is a small country, can he explain why we are discussing an Irish protocol today?

The simple point is that it is because unanimity is required for an accession treaty. Clearly the concession was given to Ireland, and the concession for the Czech Republic is still being debated. However, as for what happened in the Lisbon treaty, I take our Irish colleagues’ word for it, because they are the people who have to live day in, day out with the consequences of what is being forced on their Government, citizens and industries by the European Union, because of the European Union’s decision on the present crisis. That is the context in which they were speaking.

Let me return to the question of whether Croatia is fit to be a member of the European Union at this time, which has taken up a lot of the Committee’s time and was referred to by the hon. Member for North East Somerset. As he is in the party of the majority, I would have thought that he would put on record the context and the comments that were made throughout the whole process. For example, when the Minister came to us in March, he said:

“It is important that the Commission’s Comprehensive Monitoring Report in the Autumn is able to reflect significant further progress”.

That was the offer to us, as it were, to say that things were not going particularly well in Croatia on coming together on the aspirations we had. We talked strongly in our Committee about the need for conditionality, because Romania and Bulgaria did not accede with the conditions met. In fact, in many instances they slipped back from the original agreements once they were in. That was a point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Blackley and Broughton (Graham Stringer)—and possibly the Member behind me—who intervened to say that once a country is in the European Union, very little can be done to make it speed up. The temptation for economic advancement from the European Union is slipping away as the crisis in Europe becomes more and more of a problem; therefore, the European Union has less and less of a carrot to offer countries, and it would appear that it is not willing to use sticks in the way that might be encouraging to those countries either.

At that time we waited for that report, which duly came to us. The report was not one to fill members of my Committee with joy and pleasure, because it was full of criticism of the Croatian position. It was quite true that some advances had been made, but the report also said, for example, that Croatia needed to

“Complete the adoption of related by-laws, to ensure the implementation of the police law,”

so there were problems in police law. The report said:

“While Croatia’s preparations in the field of migration and asylum are nearly complete, the government still needs to finalise and adopt the new migration strategy,”


“While border police staffing targets have nearly been met and training continues, Croatia needs to achieve the established recruitment target for border police for 2012”—

this is the autumn report for 2012 we are talking about. The report also talks about the integrated border management plan, which is vital, as the Minister admitted, because of the strange situation whereby a piece of Bosnia splits Croatia in half, so that two borders face each other with another country in the middle, which is a real faultline.

I want to draw the attention of the House to some of the points in the final report of the Committee, for 2012-13, which was considered by the Committee on 24 October. That is the most recent document that we have, and people should take the trouble to read it. I want to highlight some of the deep concerns expressed by the Committee. Paragraph 1.82 states:

“Addressing impunity clearly remains a major challenge, with the majority of war crimes yet to be successfully prosecuted”.

One of the basic demands of the Balkan countries is that they co-operate fully with the International Criminal Court. It is a matter of concern that, when they come into the European Union, there would be no pressure on them to continue in the desired direction. Perhaps it is only the temptation of membership that makes them focus on this issue. The report continues goes on to state that

“further measures are needed to facilitate the protection and attendance of witnesses.”

A country cannot get prosecutions without witness protection, and it cannot therefore be a country that is fully co-operating with the International Criminal Court.

I have mentioned trafficking, and I shall go into more detail in a moment. Paragraph 1.83 of the report states that the Commission has noted

“in particular that training for judges, prosecutors and others dealing with trafficking needs to be improved, and that sentencing in this area is very low compared to other types of organised crime.”

I recall a comment by a senior police officer in the UK, who caused a great scandal by telling a woman police inspector who tried to pursue a human trafficking case, “We don’t do human trafficking here. We do burglary and violence.” The worry is that Croatia does not see human trafficking as a major problem, but it is certainly a major problem for those who are trafficked.

Paragraph 1.84 of the report states:

“Tackling the scope for corruption in Croatia also still requires much work.”

That was in October, after the matter had been considered by the Minister and his Department, and by our own senior officials who give us evidence and support in our Committee. These warnings cannot be ignored. The paragraph goes on:

“Croatia has not efficiently implemented all legal measures to prevent conflict of interest. Local-level corruption needs attention, particularly in public procurement.”

Corruption is an endemic problem. It comes from the former Soviet Union countries, and it must be properly addressed. Paragraph 1.85 states:

“Croatia needs to ensure that a strong system is in place to prevent corruption in state-owned companies.”

Again and again, we are getting strong warning signals that Croatia is not yet in a good place to enter the European Union.

Paragraph 1.86, in reference to our call for conditionality, states that

“the Commission is still seeking of both Bulgaria and Romania: an autonomously functioning, stable judiciary, which is able to detect and sanction conflicts of interests, corruption and organised crime and preserve the rule of law”.

Those were conditions for Bulgaria and Romania in 2007, yet both were allowed in without meeting their conditionality provisions. We still do not believe that those conditions are being correctly met by Croatia. The Commission is also seeking

“concrete cases of indictments, trials and convictions regarding high-level corruption and organised crime”—

of which there is still no evidence—

“and a legal system capable of implementing the laws in an independent and efficient way…That state has clearly not yet been attained in Croatia. It is doubtful that it will be prior to accession. Yet, despite the demonstrable ineffectiveness of post-accession monitoring, that now seems the only option open to the EU.”

It is as though we are heading for the only doorway, but that doorway will not lead to reality for the people of Croatia, and we must be concerned about that. I aspire to seeing Croatia joining the EU and becoming part of the wider family of Europe. I do not have confidence, however, that when it gets in, its lifestyle and its approach to the issues that we are discussing will be better than they were before it joined the EU. The factor that is changing things is the attraction of going into the EU, but that will be lost once Croatia goes through that door.

I want to raise the matter of human trafficking, because I think that people are blind to what is going on. I want to talk about human trafficking for slavery as well as that for prostitution and sexual abuse, which is massive. The latest figures, which I read in a pamphlet entitled “This Immoral Trade”, suggest that 27 million people are in some kind of slavery around the world. That situation is not helped by what we know is going on, through our work with the EU group, Parliamentarians Against Human Trafficking. That work is based on the work of the Human Trafficking Foundation, which is based here in London and should be commended.

Concern has been expressed that there is trafficking from Montenegro and Bosnia into Croatia. Although the numbers involved are relatively small, this appears to show the inability of the authorities to protect the victims. There is also a question about trafficking from Turkey through Bosnia. The Human Trafficking Foundation in London has gathered quite a lot of statistics on that matter. In many places, the movement is not only into Europe but into the middle east, which illustrates a new way of targeting people for exploitation. I would like the Minister to tell us what he has been doing with the Croatian Government to make them more aware of the growing number of people being trafficked through Croatia into Europe.

Reference has also been made to Slovenia in this regard. It has a weird situation, in that it grants 300 artistic dance visas every year. The women involved turn out to be employed in strip clubs and brothels in Europe, having come through Slovenia. That is a bogus use of such visas to help traffickers, and we wonder whether these subjects will be discussed. Will the Minister reassure us that, if Croatia comes into the EU, he will encourage it to join the organisation that I have just mentioned, Parliamentarians Against Human Trafficking? It could then join us and other European countries in trying to stop this vile trade.

I am worried by the lack of awareness of judges in this context, and by the low tariffs being applied in cases of trafficking because of the low status afforded to the activity. We need assurances that the accession process will mean that Croatia will have to sign up to the directives on human trafficking and on the exploitation and sexual abuse of children.

Turning to the final point in my three-part analysis, I want to know what lessons have been learned from the process. Article 49 of the treaty on the functioning of the European Union, which deals with a country applying to join the EU, states:

“The conditions of admission and the adjustments to the Treaties on which the Union is founded, which such admission entails, shall be the subject of an agreement between the Member States and the applicant State. This agreement shall be submitted for ratification by all the contracting States in accordance with their respective constitutional requirements.”

That is what we are doing today. When the Minister was asked about Schengen, he said that an application to join Schengen would be expected from Croatia within a couple of years, but he did not say whether there would be an obligation on it to join. I should like clarification on that point, and I imagine that colleagues from the various parties and constituencies in Scotland would as well, as this is a hot subject. Would an accession country have to join Schengen, and what would the conditions be?

There is another question to which we have not had a clear answer. At the moment, we are torturing ourselves over various parts of the acquis communautaire and the Amsterdam treaty, including the opt-ins and opt-outs. For me, the significant thing about 2014 will not be the anniversary of some battle that took place at Bannockburn, down the road from where I used to be a councillor in Stirling. It is that we will have to decide—I believe we have to take the actual decision in 2013—whether to opt out en bloc from all the co-operation that we have set up on policing and immigration—all the things that are fundamental to the Amsterdam treaty and are part of Schengen—that give us a unified rule of law that protects all our citizens and takes on those who wish to damage their lives. In that situation, would the acquis have to be signed up to piece by piece, or could Croatia just sit there for two years and then say, “Let’s not make an application for Schengen; let us not bother; it is too much trouble. Our people will get the right to travel after four or five years in any case, without Ministers having to sign up to Schengen”? The Minister has not clarified that.

We do not know what the conditions are. Can a country really say yes to join the EU, but not bother applying to join Schengen two years hence—or must it join Schengen? This issue is important for this country, for Croatia and for the future debates that will take place about other countries that wish to break away from one country and then reapply for membership of the EU.

I think it is important that we get some answers in the context of Croatia. I would be deeply concerned if the Minister told me that Croatia need not apply for Schengen membership in a couple of years’ time—that it does not need to apply. The attraction is that its citizens will be able to travel, but we hear that so few of them travel in any case. Will they not bother? Will they not become part of the wider protection system that I always thought Schengen was about—throwing a ring around the European Union to protect our citizens from the lack of rule of law, and to co-operate across citizenships and across the police and other authorities.

In the finality, I welcome Croatia coming into the European Union, but I do not do so blindly. I worry that those who drive the machine that is the European Commission want enlargement at any cost—regardless of the fact that it might bring in more problems. We have got to stop the Commission from doing this. Unfortunately, from the reports we have had from the Minister and from our Committee, it seems that we have not done well enough as yet—but I will vote for the Bill.

I very much endorse the concluding remarks of the hon. Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk (Michael Connarty), and I agree, too, with many of the remarks made by my hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset (Jacob Rees-Mogg).

The real question is whether Croatia should become part of the European Union. I think it is a matter for Croatia. If it wants to apply, as far as I am concerned, it is that country’s affair. It also affects us, and the comments in our European Scrutiny Committee report stand on the record, so nothing further needs to be said that has not been said already. I believe, however, that if Europe enlarges and includes Croatia, it will simply be yet another example of the manner in which—as the hon. Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk and my hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset have said—the whole of the European Union is enlarged without regard to the impact it will have.

I take a simple view about this issue. I believe that the European Union is, as I have said in many previous debates, at a crossroads. I think that a fundamental change is taking place within the EU, and I believe, as the vote on the EU budget indicated, that this is increasingly recognised on both sides of the House. I have also picked this up from other member states, when I go to meetings of COSAC—the Conference of Parliamentary Committees for Union Affairs of Parliaments of the European Union—as Chairman of the European Scrutiny Committee.

Croatia will have become a member of the European Union as it now is and, no doubt, even if there were to be a fundamental shift in the relationship between ourselves and other member states, it would continue to remain a member in some shape or form of the new European Union, which I am absolutely certain is being created in people’s minds, although it has not yet got into the formalities of the arrangements.

I do not really need to say any more at this time. I wish the people of Croatia well; actually, I wish the European Union well, too, but the truth is that the current arrangements are in need of very substantial change. I think that change is going to come and I do not think that anything can stop it. As I said to the Prime Minister the other day, the tectonic plates have moved—they are not merely moving—so the question is: what is the tsunami that will follow? The Croatian accession is something I can live with, but I believe that it will be caught up in the fundamental changes that I am certain are in the process of being achieved even as we speak.

It is always a pleasure to follow the hon. Members for Stone (Mr Cash) and for Linlithgow and East Falkirk (Michael Connarty), as we served together in the European Scrutiny Committee for over a decade. I am delighted to participate in today’s debate—first, because of a connection I have with Croatia that goes back 21 years to when I was given one of my first journalistic assignments as a new, young and keen journalist working in Vienna. I was sent down to Croatia to report from the front line of the Croatian civil war. It was a bizarre experience. Many right hon. and hon. Members will have been to Vienna—a splendid city. I found it remarkable that it was possible to get into a car and drive for three hours to the border crossing at Spielfeld—shortly after the Austrian army had stationed tanks to stop any incursion from the then former Yugoslavia, although Slovenia had declared independence by that stage—and then to cross the border and drive for another two hours through Zagreb and just past it to the city of Karlovac, which was the front line in the war at that stage. I was there to interview refugees and others in Croatia for a broadcast that was intended to bring home the realities of the situation in Croatia for the purposes of the largest charitable collection for refugees in the former Yugoslavia, Nachbar in Not or Neighbours in Need, which was in the process of being established.

Let me pass on a couple of recollections. It should be borne in mind that this was only 21 years ago. I recall talking to a priest outside his church, and asking him where the front line was. He replied “Right there”, indicating the corner of the very street on which we were standing, and suggested that it would probably be a good idea for me to get off the pavement and out of the firing line. Shortly after that, I spoke to a group of women who had just arrived from just south of Karlovac, which was then occupied, after being forced to leave their homes. The fate of their husbands and children was uncertain: they did not know whether they had been taken into captivity or worse, and they were understandably beside themselves with worry.

There I was, in my early twenties, having just driven down a motorway from a western European country into the middle of what was a circumstance of total horror for people living in Croatia. Now, only 21 years later, here we are, discussing the pros and cons—or rather just the pros, given that, as far as I am aware, no one opposes it—of allowing Croatia to join us and the other European Union member states. We have not really discussed the fact that Slovenia has been, very successfully, a member of the EU since 2004. Looking back at what has happened in both Slovenia and Croatia, which will shortly be in the EU together, is breathtaking.

I am strongly in favour of Croatia’s membership, which has already been voted on in the European Parliament. The result there was overwhelming, and I welcome it. All four groups of which most of us are part—the European People’s party, the Social Democrats, the Liberals in the European Parliament and the Greens-European Free Alliance—voted almost unanimously in favour of Croatia’s accession.

I want to take up some of the observations made by the hon. Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk. There are a number of important points to be made about Croatian accession. There is still work to be done. I suggest that anyone who is interested in the subject should consult the House of Commons Library research paper 12/64, and also the recent European Scrutiny Committee report entitled “Croatia: monitoring the accession process”. All the Committee’s members have been looking closely at issues on which further progress is required, notably those relating to judiciary and fundamental rights.

Pages 8 and 9 of the House of Commons research document deal with questions that I think should be put on the record. It states that

“a detailed new negotiating chapter on judiciary and fundamental rights… applied… to Croatia”


“31 ‘benchmarks’ (compared with between three and six for most other chapters), covering”

areas such as

“judicial transparency, impartiality and efficiency; corruption and organised crime; minority and other rights; refugee return issues; and full cooperation with the ICTY”

—the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia.

Those are all very important, but specific reforms that are still needed between now and accession, as has been pointed out by the European Commission. On 10 October, only last month, it produced findings on Croatia, pointing out that specific reforms are still needed in respect of: implementing and advancing measures set out in September 2012 for increasing the efficiency of the judiciary and reducing the court backlog—that was addressed by the Minister for Europe—and adopting the new enforcement legislation, in order to ensure the execution of court decisions and reduce the backlog of enforcement cases. The number of civil, commercial and enforcement cases outstanding in the courts has increased in 2012. The Minister made the point that a large number of cases have been dealt with, but more cases have come into the queue and that is not a good indication of the sustainability of implemented reforms.

I have not yet heard any mention of the fact that post-accession safeguard clauses are in place. It is important to understand them, because there are many concerns about Bulgarian and Romanian membership and what has happened subsequently. That is a prism through which we must understand the position on Croatia, because the monitoring mechanisms for Bulgaria and Romania are not being replicated in relation to Croatia. However, three safeguard clauses and various transitional provisions in Croatia’s accession treaty can apply for several years after accession. They are designed to deal with difficulties that might be encountered after membership and are as follows: a general economic safeguard clause; a specific internal market safeguard clause; and specific justice and home affairs safeguard clauses. I know that the Minister is listening closely so perhaps he will help us by setting out the Government’s position on whether there is full confidence that the safeguard clauses will deliver what everybody requires from Croatia.

It is also worth noting that queries about Croatia’s accession have also been raised in the Parliaments of other member states. Within the past month, there have been pretty outspoken commentaries from the president of Germany’s Bundestag, Norbert Lammert, the chairman of the European committee in the Bundestag, Gunther Krichbaum and the SPD’s European spokesperson, Michael Roth. They are not Europhobes—they are not anti-European in any way—but they have asked a series of questions, so it is important that we should examine the points they have made.

We should also note that in reaction to those points other senior figures in Europe have intervened to suggest that the concerns are not everything they have been cracked up to be. Thus, European Parliament president Martin Schulz has intervened subsequent to those views being expressed from the Bundestag, and in recent weeks the European Parliament’s rapporteur on Croatian accession, Hannes Swoboda, has said that

“new obstacles should not be created for Croatia. There are some issues which Croatia must solve, and it is feasible. Enthusiasm in Europe for Croatia's entry in mid-2013 should not wane. I am absolutely certain that Croatia will be in in mid-2013, a small portion of work remains to be done, but one should be serious and not set new obstacles”.

That is helpful in putting into perspective where the outstanding issues lie.

Like me, the hon. Gentleman is a great enthusiast for countries that wish to take on the mantle of European Union citizenship, but is he not playing it a little light? He is quoting someone from the European establishment, which is determined to have a greater Europe that it will administer. The worry is that when Croatia comes in, its citizens will find that the people who should protect them will start to slide back and the life they hoped to have will not be realised.

The hon. Gentleman makes a good point but this is not simply about the citizens of Croatia. It is also about all other EU citizens; we are talking about the impact on other EU citizens who will be in Croatia in the future. That is why these provisions are important to citizens here and there and why I asked the Minister for Europe to clarify the point about the safeguards. I agree with the hon. Gentleman entirely and everybody—citizens of Croatia and everybody else in the EU—wants to be reassured that the uniform minimum standards will be upheld everywhere. That is, after all, the advantage of the European Union.

Now that I have spoken about Croatia, I want to touch on the matter of the Irish protocol. I intervened to ask for clarification on the point about tax-varying powers, which are very important to the Irish Republic. It shows that as a small member state of the European Union, Ireland has been able to influence the process by seeking protocols and clarification on such important subjects. If they were unimportant, we would not be discussing them. Every single member state of the European Union is discussing in its Parliament the priorities of the Irish Government, as we are today.

Rather than concentrating on tax, I want briefly to mention Ireland’s defence and security priorities. It is important to acknowledge that Ireland views the protocol as very important in its maintaining its peacekeeping role and traditions and we should take the opportunity to reflect on that. Why? In my 11 years in this place, I have never heard anybody pay tribute to the scale of Ireland’s contribution to the United Nations. There have been 56,000 individual missions to 54 different UN peacekeeping operations. That service has not been without cost. To date, 85 members of Irish defence forces have given their lives in the cause of world peace.

The high standing of the Irish defence forces in UN peacekeeping is reflected in the senior positions that have been held by Irish military personnel: force commander in Cyprus; force commander on the Syria-Israel border; force commander in Lebanon; chief of staff in the United Nations; troop supervision organisation in the middle east and in Liberia; and chief military observer on the India-Pakistan border. Most recently, of course, we saw the European Union’s endeavours to deal with the genocide in and its impact on the countries neighbouring Darfur, which was commanded by Irish Lieutenant General Patrick Nash, who was the EU’s operational commander to Chad and the Central African Republic in 2008. In addition, an Irish general commanded the multinational task force centre in Kosovo in 2007 and defence forces officers serve in key positions in UN headquarters in New York. The importance of the protocol and Ireland’s UN commitments have been underscored by Tanaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs Eamon Gilmore, who stressed the triple-lock of approval for international missions involving the UN, the Irish Government and Dail Eireann.

Today we are affirming those priorities and that is a good thing. It is good to reflect on the contribution made by Ireland to the EU and the UN. It is also good to reflect on the role of smaller countries, both those in the EU and those that are joining. The Minister helpfully clarified that Croatia, a country with a population of fewer than 5 million, will join other EU member states of similar size, that is, Denmark, Finland and Slovakia. He confirmed that it will have 12 MEPs, a commissioner —an important role, as we all know how powerful the Commission is—and seven votes in the Council of Ministers. In addition, Croat nationals will take up important EU posts, with Commission plans to hire 249 Croat officials, one of whom will serve as a director general. That is extremely beneficial for Croatia.

Let me contrast that with the position of another European nation with a population of 5 million that is entitled to only half the Croatian entitlement of MEPs, has no right to nominate a commissioner and has no guaranteed votes in the Council of Ministers. That nation, of course, is Scotland and I look forward to Scotland having full membership rights after the 2014 independence referendum. Unlike Croatia—perhaps I can clarify accession mechanisms in response to the intervention made by the hon. Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk—Scotland would assume its membership from within the European Union, as recently outlined by the honorary director general of the European Commission, Graham Avery.

I shall make my point, then give the hon. Gentleman an opportunity to respond. I listened with great interest to what he said, and I am now clarifying the matter that he raised in the debate.

In recent parliamentary evidence, Graham Avery said:

“Scotland’s 5 million people, having been members of the EU for 40 years, have acquired rights as European citizens; for practical and political reasons, they could not—”

Order. The hon. Gentleman knows as well as I do that passing reference is one thing, but we will end up in a major debate. He is not where he was when he began speaking on this subject. There was much that was great in his history of Croatia, but I do not need to hear the history of Scotland.

I am grateful, Mr Deputy Speaker. [Interruption.] If I can respond to Mr Deputy Speaker and say that I was pleased to be able to discuss the different ways in which nations plan to accede to the EU. It is a simple statement of fact that there is a different position for those within the EU and those who are outside it.

Has the hon. Gentleman received the legal advice that the Scottish First Minister has clearly not received?

Order. Two Members cannot be on their feet at the same time. We will end up with three of us on our feet.

If the intervention by the hon. Member for Caerphilly (Wayne David) is in order, Mr Deputy Speaker—[Interruption.] It is not in order, in which case I am disappointed that I will not be able to complete the answer as I would wish.

Having read the opinion—it has been given in writing, I think, to the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs—on the question of Scotland’s accession, has the hon. Gentleman read the other 13 submissions that contradict Mr Avery and do not take the same position, to say—

Order. I know that Mr Robertson wants to get back on to the subject, and that no hon. Member wants to distract him. He is not a man who is easily distracted.

You are very kind, Mr Deputy Speaker. I am disappointed that the hon. Members for Linlithgow and East Falkirk and for Caerphilly (Wayne David) have been ruled out of order when trying to mention Scotland in the way that they did. However, they had an opportunity to take part in the Westminster Hall debate earlier this afternoon. Unfortunately, they were not able—

Order. I have been very generous, but I am not going to be as generous now. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman wants to contribute a lot more to the debate, and we do not want to open up a debate about Westminster Hall. That is something that we are not going to do.

I shall conclude, Mr Deputy Speaker, by saying that I think that a nation of nearly 5 million— Croatia—joining the EU in 2013 is a good thing. It is good for the citizens of Croatia, and it is good for citizens in the rest of the European Union. We need to reflect on unresolved issues. Trafficking is a very serious matter, and there is a long track record in the European Scrutiny Committee of Members who care deeply about it. I commend the non-governmental organisation that the hon. Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk cited. We need to obtain assurances on those issues. It is important not only for the citizens of Croatia and the rest of the European Union but for those people who may be trafficked in future through any EU member state, which is why I again appeal to the Minister to take the opportunity to clarify the fact that the safeguards are of the highest standards and that we can have confidence in them.

We can look forward to Croatia’s membership. I reflect that I have not heard a single intervention today to suggest that it is a bad thing for this nation of 5 million people to take its seat at the top table in agreement with the Croatian Government. It is a gain in sovereignty for it to be able to take part directly in the EU, not just in the Council of Ministers, but with 12 MEPs in the European Parliament and a commissioner playing an important role. That bodes well for Croatia and for the western Balkans, leading to greater confidence in peace and stability in the region. We should send a strong message to other nations, whether Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia or others, that the door remains open to them. We are in favour of further enlargement. Beyond the issue of Croatia, reflecting on the fact that the Irish protocol is something that the Irish Government and people thought was important, Europe has listened. The protocol and the assurances within it—

This is my peroration. The protocol and the assurances relating to tax-varying powers are welcome, and for that reason, my right hon. and hon. Friends will support the measure as it proceeds through Parliament.

It is always a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Moray (Angus Robertson). I am sure that throughout the debate we will have a few flashpoints over our differences in interpretation of the treaties, and the lessons of the Bill.

It is a testament to how far Croatia has progressed in the past nine years since it first applied for EU membership that we are being asked to approve the Bill that will ratify its likely accession to the EU as the 28th member state on 1 July 2013. Whereas 20 years ago it was recovering from the aftermath of the conflict with Serbia, the siege of Dubrovnik and the break-up of Yugoslavia, Croatia now has exciting plans to diversify its economy and invest in energy and tourism, and is cutting its deficit to under 4% of GDP, albeit in a period of somewhat patchy economic growth.

Although members of the European Scrutiny Committee are right to point to the further progress that needs to be made on judicial reform, the elimination of corruption in state-owned companies and the detection of crime, and that more must be done to bring suspected remaining war criminals to justice, it is also fitting that we now ratify the accession treaty signed on 9 December 2011, following 18 other EU member states that have done so, or have voted to do so, since February.

In January, some two thirds of those voting in Croatia’s referendum supported its accession to the EU as a means of embedding the rule of law and democratic values, and as a route to prosperity. There are, as hon. Members have mentioned, still some outstanding issues in connection with the ratification of the accession treaty by Slovenia, which has indicated that an agreement with Croatia over debts arising from the collapse of Ljubljanska banka in the 1990s still has to be reached.

Croatia proceeded through the 35 chapters of accession in the period of just more than five years, prior to the Commission’s making a favourable recommendation on its membership status. The political criteria required Croatia to ensure the stability of institutions guaranteeing democracy, the rule of law, human rights and respect for, and protection of, minorities. The economic criteria require the existence of a functioning market economy, as well as the capacity to cope with competitive pressure and market forces within the EU.

The acquis criterion refers to the ability to take on the obligations of membership arising from the treaties and the Union’s legislation—the acquis—including adherence to the aims of political, economic and monetary union, which would mean in due course Croatia adopting the euro as its currency, as under article 5 of the accession treaty it has no opt-out from participation in economic and monetary union. Indeed, no other accession state has had an opt-out, and no newly acceding or re-acceding member state would be likely to have one in future either.

The Commission’s monitoring report from last month found real progress being made on many fronts, although further attention had to be paid to the protection rights for LGBT people, the selection of new judges and prosecutors, and rooting out corruption in public procurement. On asylum and immigration policy, Croatia shows a good level of compatibility with the EU acquis, although further progress is required on visa requirements. As a new member state that will have to sign up in due course to the Schengen acquis, further work before entry to the Union will be required with regard to the free transit agreement with Bosnia and Herzegovina.

It is interesting to note that the record for the shortest period from application to accession in the history of the EU was Slovakia, which completed all stages within two and a half years. Croatia’s accession process, which has taken five years, compares relatively favourably with that. Of course, the example of Slovakia’s accession is a cautionary tale for all states intending to accede or re-accede that believe the process to be a mere formality. As we know from remarks by the Commission, the President of the EU Council and the FCO, that would not be the case for any state seeking accession or re-accession.

Croatia had to make speedy progress in several areas of the accession process, demonstrating the standard that the EU expects of new aspirant member states or—dare I say it?—parts of member states that decide to separate and form new entities that might seek entry to the EU. This debate is instructive, therefore, not only because of what Croatia had to do to satisfy the entry criteria or what other aspirant states, such as Serbia or Turkey, might have to do in the future, but in terms of what Scotland might have to do to become a member state if it votes for separation in 2014.

The first area where Croatia had to make significant reforms was in relation to the creation of an independent central bank. The EU Council issued a draft common position on the progress of the access negotiations with Croatia in 2009 in which it commented extensively on the advances made in the administrative capacities and remit of Croatia’s central bank, the HNB. It noted that during the financial crisis of 2008 the bank adopted prudential measures regarding reserve requirements and foreign currency liquidity requirements. In particular, it reduced the reserve requirements from 17% to 14%, decreased the foreign currency liquidity ratio from 28.5% to 20% and raised banks’ maximum allowed open foreign exchange positions. The HNB has been designated by the Council as the component supervisory authority for electronic money institutions—a vital step in ensuring financial stability, which is a prerequisite of EU entry.

The Council also accorded significant importance to the capacity of the central bank in its foreign currency liquidity requirements. Croatia has implemented regulations aligning it with the EU acquis on the new capital framework, the supervision of electronic money institutions, the winding up and reorganisation of credit institutions, the supplementary supervision of financial conglomerates and deposit guarantee schemes, and the enforcement of prudential requirements. Croatia required all this financial infrastructure before the Commission recommended that it be accepted for entry.

Let us apply the example of Croatia to the debate on other potential aspirant countries seeking accession or re-accession. Such a state, if it did not have its own central bank, would have to rely on another sovereign country’s central bank in order to harden or relax financial rules and requirements.

Order. We are drifting. I have pulled up other Members for doing the same. We need to stick to the subject in hand, rather than turning to other areas of accession.

It does not follow from the EU’s deliberations with Croatia that Croatia’s offering another state’s central bank would have been acceptable to the EU in order to obtain the Commission’s recommendation for approval. That has intriguing lessons for future accessions and re-accessions. That is the implication of the Bill.

Croatia, through the State Agency for Deposit Insurance and Bank Rehabilitation, can guarantee bank deposits. It made significant improvements to this scheme in anticipation of complying with EU directive 94/19/EC, which specifies that all member states must have in place a safety net for bank depositors. It cannot be a criterion, then, for future accession or re-accession countries to fail to have a system to protect bank deposits. That is the implication that comes from Croatia’s accession process and which is reflected in the Bill.

The obvious question arises—the FCO mentioned this in a statement on Thursday—of how, if part of the EU were put into limbo, it could possibly meet the terms of such an EU directive, having no independent central bank, no machinery to guarantee bank deposits and having to rely on the central bank of another state to guarantee bank deposits. Those are all implications that come from Croatia’s accession process.

The lessons of the negotiations for any new aspirant state highlight the following issues: does it have its own financial services regulator or would it seek to continue with the current regulatory framework, which would be conducted by another state? What would be the governance arrangements for any financial services regulator? What degree of independence from Government would that have? What institution would be prepared to stand behind financial services firms with large deposits or policy holder liabilities? Indeed, how would it be possible to provide lender of last resort facilities without assuming regulatory control over financial transactions such as mortgages, insurance and even pensions? All these are issues that arise out of the Bill and the accession process that Croatia went through.

Finally, a framework to wind up failing or failed banks is required. In Croatia’s case, in chapter 9 of the 2009 common position document, the EU welcomed the alignment of Croatia’s legislation to the EU acquis with regard to bank accounts, branch accounts and the re-organisation and winding up of banks. In addition, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, in its 2010 to 2013 strategy for Croatia, considered the securities market regulator highly effective in pursuing complex cases. All those steps were essential in showing compliance with the EU acquis in order for Croatia’s application for membership to be accepted.

With reference to the rights of EU citizenship being conferred on Croatians joining the EU, it is appropriate that the Bill permits a phasing in of the right to work. The Minister was right to say that the UK should make use of the flexibility that allows up to seven years before full free movement rights will apply to Croatian nationals in the UK, as was the case with the accession of Bulgaria and Romania to the EU earlier.

The Opposition support future enlargement on the proper criteria. We note the applications made by Serbia, Montenegro and Turkey. Serbia was granted candidate status on 1 March this year, but has been advised by the EU that it can commence formal accession negotiations only if progress is made on the status of Kosovo and its future relations with Kosovo.

The Bill is important for Croatia’s relations with the rest of the EU and the outside world. In demonstrating that a country engaged in a bloody conflict two decades ago can emerge and be in a position to join the EU now, it shows the powerful benefits of full membership of the EU—benefits that go far beyond being a member of the European Free Trade Association. Simply being a member of that institution could render a country liable to be a net contributor to the EU budget but without any influence over how it is spent, and to be bound by the rules of the single market but with no ability to shape those rules. It was interesting that we had some figures this morning from the recent past of Scottish politics advising that a separate Scottish state should, instead of seeking EU membership, seek membership of EFTA instead—

On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. Would I be right in remembering your ruling to Members of the House that the debate should be about Croatia, not Scotland?

That is not a point of order, but the hon. Gentleman is absolutely correct. I have mentioned to Mr Bain that I need him to come to order on Croatia. I am sure he will do that, in the same way as other Members did who drifted when we pulled them back into order. That is where Mr Bain is now going.

Indeed, that demonstrates Croatia’s wise decision to join the EU proper rather than seeking membership only of the European Free Trade Association, given the clear advantages that will accrue to its people when it becomes a full EU member state.

Furthermore, the Bill demonstrates precisely what states must do and the entry criteria with which they must comply before becoming members of the EU. I congratulate the people of Croatia on the progress they have made and welcome their entry next year. However, I also believe that it demonstrates the value of membership of the United Kingdom, the votes we have as a member of the EU Council and the ability to influence key decisions. That is a real benefit, and one that I and Opposition Members would not wish to see Scotland lose in coming years.

I am grateful for the opportunity to contribute briefly to the debate—possibly more briefly than I had anticipated, given your recent ruling, Mr Deputy Speaker. Debates on the EU in this House often focus on our membership, and rightly so, but I think that it is important that, as the UK is a member state, we also engage with the wider issues, so I am pleased that we are debating Croatia’s accession.

As my hon. Friend the shadow Europe Minister and other Members have said, we support Croatian accession and EU enlargement more widely, provided that the proper criteria are met. With every new country that joins, the single market is widened and new markets are opened up for our exports. That can only be good for business across the UK and for our economy as a whole. However, it is very important that we ensure that candidate countries are ready to join before accession. Although Bulgaria and Romania were granted conditional accession, that turned out perhaps not to be a good model, and I think it is right that it was not repeated in Croatia’s case.

Given Croatia’s difficult not-too-distant history, and that of the wider Balkans region, I am particularly pleased that we are debating such progress and such a positive step. The EU has developed and progressed significantly since its relatively modest beginnings after the second world war, and Croatia’s accession reminds us of the power of the EU in moving on from conflict and as a mechanism for countries working together for positive aims. As we have heard, Croatia will be the second state from the former Yugoslavia to join the EU, and I very much hope that others will make progress towards membership.

Over the past 10 years or so, I have visited Croatia and other Balkan countries a number of times, sometimes on holiday and sometimes as part of a visiting group of political representatives, both as a Member of Parliament and before I was elected. I continue to be interested in the region, its progress and the challenges it faces. Earlier this year I joined other hon. Members from both sides of the House on a visit to Bosnia. Although she is not present, I want to thank the hon. Member for Redditch (Karen Lumley) and her office for arranging what was a very informative trip, and also for her good company.

I had previously visited Bosnia about 10 years ago, and at the time I was struck by the sense of optimism and hope for the future. I must say that I encountered quite a different and much less optimistic mood when I visited this year. I came home with renewed interest in what is happening in that country and a deep sense that we need to pay much more attention to Bosnia’s situation. At times, the situation in that country has seemed intractable, and I fear that it might get harder to resolve. I hope that we can support other countries in the region to move forward alongside Croatia.

Hon. Members will be aware that this has not been an easy process for Croatia. From the creation of its Ministry of European Integration in 1998 and the submission of its formal application for membership in 2003, it appears, hopefully, that the people of Croatia will finally be granted EU membership by July 2013, ending a 15-year journey. However, there is still work to be done by the Croatian Government to ensure that they are ready to finalise accession, most notably in relation to security of the new EU border that they will control.

I have crossed the border from Slovenia into Croatia; the Minister mentioned the border crossing, which is where the narrow strip of Bosnia juts into Croatia. I have also crossed from Croatia into Montenegro. I thought I might end up spending longer than I wanted at that crossing; as we approached from Dubrovnik, my now husband stalled the car and we went kangarooing into the checkpoint with rather a lot of noise and commotion—not really what people want to do as they approach a border checkpoint. For whatever reason, however, the officers simply checked our passports and waved us through; I assume that they thought that no one who was up to no good would make such a dramatic entrance.

Notwithstanding the border issue, membership of the EU will make a real difference to Croatians, enshrining basic rights and principles, opening up Europe to them and signing them up to the single market. Given the history and struggles of their country, that is a significant step as it progresses into the future.

I am conscious, Mr Deputy Speaker, of your remarks about comments concerning other countries that might accede to the EU and I know that you are aware of the ongoing debate about that issue. What is not helpful in that debate are baseless assertions from the Scottish Government that continuing seamless membership of the EU is guaranteed. That has been discredited by clear statements from the current President of the EU Commission. It will have taken Croatia 10 years to meet the criteria necessary to join the EU, from negotiating issues relating to its financial regulatory system to its external political relationship. I do not think that people in Croatia would have put up with the leaders of their country misleading the public about the legal advice on membership of the EU as we have seen the Scottish First Minister do.

Order. As I have made clear, we do not want to drift. I know that the hon. Lady is making comparisons, but I am sure that the people of Croatia are not discussing Scotland, just as we will not.

Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker.

A new country needs to establish itself and the appropriate institutions, and Croatia has shown how difficult that process can be. I am sure that that will be a lesson for all new states seeking to join the EU. EU membership is not automatic and is not easy to obtain, but after significant progress in the past 15 years, I very much support the Bill and look forward to welcoming Croatia’s accession to the EU next summer.

My comments will be brief and I assure you, Mr Deputy Speaker, that I will not mention Scotland.

If we are honest with ourselves, the European Union often comes in for justifiable criticism these days, particularly on the Floor of the House. However, in many ways it has been a success story, given how the single market has developed and become successful—and will become more successful in future, I hope. It has also been successful in having been one of the contributory factors to western Europe not experiencing a war since the two we saw in the last century.

The big exception is the Balkans, of course. I well remember the appalling loss of life that occurred in the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s and the European Union being unable or unwilling to do anything—relying on NATO and the Americans in particular to intervene to ensure peace and eventual stability in that region of Europe. If there is an eloquent testimony for the need for the European Union to work collectively to ensure that such a thing never happens again, it is the experience of the former Yugoslavia. Linked to that is the third big achievement of the European Union—its gradual increase in size, from its original six members to today’s 27, and we are looking further afield. That is a tremendous success for the European Union. It speaks volumes about how the EU is often perceived by people outside it, rather than ourselves within it, as something worth belonging to. That momentum will continue, albeit in a different way, into the future.

I welcome the Bill. As hon. Members have said, the whole process of Croatia coming closer to the European family has been quite a long one; it has taken at least 10 years. It is important for us to recognise that lessons have been learned from the previous enlargement processes. In particular, the Minister referred to the process by which Romania and Bulgaria joined the European Union, as did Slovakia. Looking at it objectively, things could have been done better in relation to those member states, where the struggle to create a fair and open justice system still has some way to go. I think that the lessons have been learned and are reflected in how Croatia’s accession has been approached. To Croatia’s credit, many of the difficult experiences of the recent past have been confronted by apprehending and bringing to justice war criminals, and that process needs to continue. Painful though it is for some elements in the country, it is important for that process to be firmly set in stone and ongoing.

As a major trading nation, it is important that we do everything possible to open up the Balkans to trade and to establish effective market mechanisms. Croatia has gone through quite a lot of economic difficulty over the past few years, and things are far from easy today. Nevertheless, we need to support its people as much as possible in making sure that they get over the difficulties they have experienced and complete the transition to a fully market-oriented economy, albeit one with social responsibilities.

It is important, too, to recognise that we live in a world that is becoming increasingly integrated—we live in a global economy, as is often said—but we are also seeing the free movement of people around the globe in an unprecedented way. I well remember receiving a briefing from a chief constable in Gwent in which, when I asked him where the major source of crime in Gwent emanated from, he said that it was the Balkans. That brought the point home graphically. Although he might not have been thinking specifically of Croatia, he highlighted the fact that while we are often concerned about tackling the problems in our country, we have to be aware that many of them begin elsewhere. International crime—Members have referred to the trafficking of human beings—is clearly a case in point.

One of the foremost concerns expressed by Members is immigration. Those concerns must be recognised. The Government have correctly said that secondary legislation will be introduced to ensure that we have an effective transition period prior to the free movement of labour, but it is worth bearing it in mind that we have lessons to learn. For example, Lithuania is a relatively small country that is less populous than Croatia, and it has been estimated that the number of Lithuanians resident in the United Kingdom has increased from 14,000 to 128,000. I am not against the free movement of peoples, and I am not against Lithuanians or Croatians coming to live in this country if they have work to do and can contribute to our economy, but we must be careful to ensure that we have in place the proper infrastructure so that those people are fully integrated and the necessary facilities so that they are supported as they should be. Will the Minister provide reassurances about the anticipated number of people who will seek residence in the United Kingdom once Croatia has full EU membership and the transitional period has come to an end?

I hope that Croatia’s accession will not be the end of the beginning of the process of enlargement, but that it will lead to future enlargement. Iceland has been mentioned, as has Turkey for many years. Unfortunately, Turkey has not made good progress recently, but it is nevertheless a key state for consideration. In the western Balkans I hope that the good example of Croatia—and Slovenia before it—will be noted by other states. As the Minister said, it is unfortunate that Bosnia and Herzegovina’s likely membership of the EU has slipped back, but we must be as encouraging as possible to ensure that it, too, has the prospect of joining the European family. Labour Members, and I hope Government Members, welcome this Bill and, with all necessary safeguards and caveats, we look forward to Croatia becoming a member of that European family.

First, I apologise to Members on both Front Benches for arriving late to this debate; I was somewhat caught out by the change in timetabling that has taken place, and no disrespect was intended. Like my fellow Celt who spoke before me, I shall not be tempted into matters domestic in terms of Scotland, not least because of my role on behalf of the Liberal Democrats and the Better Together campaign. Indeed, I will be talking about little else for the next two years, so I consider this debate a burst of the oxygen of freedom that will not be with me for much longer.

I have listened to your constructive admonitions, Mr Deputy Speaker, about the dangers of straying off topic. However, I cannot help recalling anecdotally that when the right hon. and learned Member for Kensington (Sir Malcolm Rifkind) occupied the office of Europe Minister in Mrs Thatcher’s Government, a rather sudden reshuffle saw George Younger become Secretary of State for Defence, and the right hon. and learned Member for Kensington be appointed Secretary of State for Scotland. The following weekend the Scottish Constitutional Convention was launched. The late, great Donald Dewar spoke as shadow Scottish Secretary, and he reflected on the ever-disputatious state of British politics, and Scottish politics in particular, as evinced on that occasion by the absence of the SNP.

The new Secretary of State for Scotland looked around and thought of what he had been dealing with in eastern Europe and its emergent democracies, and all the turmoil, chaos and upheaval. He was now unexpectedly and suddenly appointed Secretary of State for Scotland, but he must have looked at his previous job and thought how much easier life was when he had only the rest of the world to worry about, and not Scotland. I think that will be the fate of several of us over the next couple of years.

I want to look at this issue not just from the perspective of the House of Commons, but, together with others in the Chamber, at a wider Europe as represented in the Council of Europe—I know the hon. Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk (Michael Connarty) will have spoken about that earlier in the debate. In welcoming Croatia’s accession in due course, it is worth bearing in mind the role that Croatia has already played as a valuable ally in continuing tough times, for us and for our other international obligations. For example, it has contributed 320 troops to the international security assistance force in Afghanistan, which speaks strongly and well. It has contributed to peacekeeping and associated activities in Libya and elsewhere in the world. It has demonstrated its internationalist credentials, and we are right to pay tribute to that today.

The Government was recently defeated in a contentious vote in the House of Commons. It was pointed out to me that each and every Liberal Democrat MP was present and—unbelievably—all voted for the coalition, I think for the first time. We voted on the losing side; it was the reverse Midas touch that we always bring to great parliamentary occasions.

It is worth bearing in mind the bottom line as far as Croatia is concerned. Political agreement was reached by the Council that the cost of accession to the EU should, in the current financial perspective, be met within existing headings—in other words, it should be budget neutral. At a time of such contention about the budget, it is only correct and proper that we put that agreement on the record. Although the next multi-annual financial framework—the term rolls off the tongue—has yet to be agreed, the benchmark has been set by how this accession has been handled. The UK played a role within the Council of Europe in assuring it. If Conservative Members are as worked up as they were last week, they might want to give credit where it is due, and approve of the financial implications of this accession.

The hon. Member for Glasgow Springburn—[Interruption.] Is that correct?

I was near enough. I have represented constituencies such as Ross, Skye and Inverness West, or Ross, Cromarty and Skye. Single title constituencies always have me scratching my head.

As the hon. Member for Glasgow North East (Mr Bain) has said, the negotiations were successful. The political and social distance travelled in just a couple of decades is immense—that is not a long time, and Croatia is not far distant from us in global terms. Nevertheless, the accession negotiations were tough. Croatia was the first country to negotiate under the new chapter 23—tough new rules on judicial reform and fundamental freedoms that were introduced at European level as a result of the lessons learned from the Romanian and Bulgarian accessions.

Therefore, the European institutions have acquitted themselves well in dealing with Croatian accession both politically and in terms of financial prudence, and according to the founding principles of Europe, which follow from the founding principles of the Council of Europe—human rights, the rule of law and democracy. We hear so much that is negative, so it is worth putting those things on the record.

On the Irish dimension of the Bill, it is worth stressing that the protocol does not change the content or application of the treaties. Indeed, the European Council conclusions adopted in 2009 confirm that the guarantees given to the Irish, which form the subject of the protocol,

“will clarify, but not change either the content or the application of the Treaty of Lisbon.”

The conclusions also state that the contents

“will in no way alter the relationship between the EU and its Member States”

and are

“fully compatible with the Treaty of Lisbon and will not necessitate any re-ratification of that Treaty”.

Those who might be tempted down another diversionary line—another fault line in parliamentary politics—might wonder whether the Bill could be used to prise open the argument over the repatriation of other powers, but the answer is most definitely non, non, non. That was made crystal clear some three years ago, but it is worth underscoring in the debate.

When the Conservatives were in power alone back in the ’80s, with very large majorities and Mrs Thatcher at the helm, the Foreign Office and Prime Minister argued in support of the enlargement of Europe. Many of us who came at the argument from an instinctively pro-European point of view believed that the Conservatives supported the widening of Europe to prevent the deepening of Europe. It was a colossal political misreading. It was not, perhaps, as colossal as Mrs Thatcher’s instinctive initial opposition to the reunification of Germany, but it was of that order—a classic Conservative misreading of the way in which Europe would develop.

As we have seen over the 20 to 25 years since then, the widening of Europe has necessitated, in so many respects, a further deepening, resulting in a European Union, or a European Community or Common Market, as it was initially known. It began with six members, now has more than two dozen, and is likely to have many more. Common sense alone suggests that one does not have to be a constitutional lawyer to see that a deepening and a greater democratic process at the core of that deepening are needed if those individual component parts, the member states, as well as the overarching body itself are to function effectively. Croatia and what will follow in its slipstream in coming years, in tandem with the ongoing arguments about the fate of the single currency, mean that there will have to be further European deepening in many respects if the institutions of Europe are to serve their purpose. If the House of Commons passes this Bill, it would show that it supports that purpose, and I would welcome that.

With the leave of the House, Mr Deputy Speaker, I want to reflect briefly on our wide-ranging debate on the Bill. Indeed, it has been so wide ranging that at one point I wondered whether we were going to embark on a full-blown debate about the UK and its constituent parts, but we managed to avoid that.

The hon. Member for North East Somerset (Jacob Rees-Mogg) made a characteristically long speech, while the hon. Member for Stone (Mr Cash) made an uncharacteristically short speech. My hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk (Michael Connarty) stressed the need for conditionality for new accession states and for co-operation between our Government and the Croatian Government on preventing human trafficking. The hon. Member for Moray (Angus Robertson) spoke about his time in the former Yugoslav Republic, as it then was, during the conflict and described the progress in both Slovenia and Croatia, rightly, as breathtaking. My hon. Friends the Members for Glasgow North East (Mr Bain), for West Dunbartonshire (Gemma Doyle) and for Caerphilly (Wayne David) all stressed that the Croatian experience demonstrates that the accession of new member states is by no means a straightforward process. It is lengthy and, rightly, thorough, and that should be borne in mind for future reference. Last but not least, the right hon. Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber (Mr Kennedy) rightly put on record the contribution that Croatia is already making to the international community and to international efforts, not least the 320 troops in Afghanistan and its contribution to peacekeeping in Libya. He also stressed, importantly, the budget neutrality of Croatian accession.

The vast majority of right hon. and hon. Members who have spoken are in favour of Croatia’s accession. It is certainly true that progress needs to be made in some areas, such as those highlighted in the recent European Commission report, but progress has been made in many other areas. For that reason, the Opposition support the Second Reading of the Bill.

With the leave of the House, Mr Deputy Speaker, I would like to reply briefly to some of the points that have been made. I thank Members of all parties who have taken part in the debate. Although a number of criticisms have been made of the stage that Croatia has reached in preparing for EU accession, there has been pretty nigh universal support for the principle that Croatia should be welcomed as a full member of the European Union.

Let me deal first with the points that have been made about the Irish protocol. I was asked why no referendum was required under the European Union Act 2011. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber (Mr Kennedy) said just now, the truth is that the protocol is declaratory. It changes neither the content nor the application of the EU treaties. The European Council conclusions of June 2009 said that the protocol was

“fully compatible with the Treaty of Lisbon and will not necessitate any re-ratification of that Treaty”.

That was at the heart of the formal opinion set out by my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary in his statement on 2 July this year, in which he explained why, having examined the protocol, as required under the 2011 Act, he had concluded that it fell within one of the exempt categories of legislation.

I should say to the hon. Member for Moray (Angus Robertson) that while I completely accept—and not just in respect of the Irish protocol—that the smaller EU members play a vital and welcome role in the functioning of the European Union, he will also, I am sure, have taken note of the fact that, between Croatia’s application and accession, 10 years elapsed before all the details were sorted out and accession arrangements put in place.

The right hon. Gentleman will forgive me; I think the House would want me to make progress.

My hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset (Jacob Rees-Mogg) asked about the lack of action on a police law. In about a week to eight days’ time—well ahead of the proposed Committee stage of the Bill—I will make available to the Committees and in the Library the detailed tables in respect of chapter 23, which was the supporting basis for the report, which the Committees have seen. Those tables are with the Ministry of Justice at the moment. As we did in April, we will make those tables available to the House following the Commission’s October report, and I undertake to do so in good time before the Committee stage.

To deal with the point my hon. Friend made, progress on the police law could be said to have fallen victim to the democratic process. The previous Croatian Government, led by the HDZ, passed a law on the recruitment of police officers shortly before the Croatian general election. After a new Government were elected in Zagreb, they wanted to consider the position and decided that they wished to repeal the law. They have now had detailed discussions with the European Commission and decided to go ahead with the previous law, subject to some amendments. The details of the police law are finalised and we expect everything to be in place well ahead of Croatia’s expected accession date.

The hon. Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk (Michael Connarty) asked about the risks of trafficking, a subject in which he has taken a long and detailed interest. We have not identified any victims of trafficking from Croatia in the United Kingdom. Indeed, the 2011 report by the US State Department, which ranks countries in terms of their capacity to tackle trafficking and protect victims, designated Croatia as a tier 1 country, alongside the United Kingdom. The evidence suggests that Croatia already has a robust system in place, but clearly we will want to work with the Croatians to ensure that that remains the case. Countries close to Croatia, such as Kosovo and Albania, are indeed source countries for traffickers. The Croatian Government are fully aware of the risks and are committed to strengthening measures to tackle trafficking. For example, Croatia intends to continue training border staff and police. A training programme on trafficking in human beings has been drafted and will be implemented as part of the border police training system. We believe that Croatia is on track to meet its commitment to tackling human trafficking.

The hon. Gentleman also asked about the need for border management. The EU monitoring reports released in April and October highlighted delays in implementing the infrastructure and equipment required for the integrated border management programme. That will be addressed as part of pre-accession monitoring, but in the meantime Croatia continues to make progress. As at August this year, the national border management information system was live at 81 border crossing points, which represents significant progress on 2011, when only 37 were so equipped. In 2011, Croatia apprehended 3,461 illegal migrants, a significant increase on the 1,946 apprehended in 2010. The total number of border officers is now 6,017, of which 4,647 are at the external border. Croatia plans to recruit 406 additional border officers before the end of the year.

The hon. Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk asked whether Croatia would be obliged to join Schengen. The act of accession provides for much of the Schengen acquis to apply to, and be binding on, Croatia from the date of her accession, but the actual lifting of border controls to other Schengen area member states will not take place at the time of Croatia’s accession. That will take place later, following a separate Council decision, and it will happen only if Croatia meets the requirements of the Schengen evaluation procedures to the satisfaction of the Commission and the existing Schengen area member states.

The hon. Member for Moray asked about the post-accession measures. Articles 38 and 39, relating to safeguards to the single market and to chapters 23 and 24, can indeed be invoked after accession, as well as before it under the special pre-accession monitoring arrangements.

In answer to a further point raised by the hon. Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk, the conflict of interests commission is in the process of being established, and we expect it to have been established before the end of the year. One reason for the delay is that the Croatian Government have decided to be completely transparent about the process, and they have interviewed every one of the more than 200 applicants for the post involved.

[Official Report, 12 November 2012, Vol. 553, c. 1-2MC.]I shall perhaps have an opportunity to say more about the general issue of anti-corruption measures when we reach the further stages of the Bill. Today, I would simply say that we are now seeing action being taken in high-profile cases, with convictions secured against a former Prime Minister, a former economy Minister and a former defence Minister. At the lower level, too, the Croatian bureau for combating corruption and organised crime has issued indictments against 257 people, secured 209 judgments including 205 convictions, and launched 191 new investigations, all between January and August 2012. Again, that is evidence of the determination of the Croatians to push forward and deliver on their promises to take rigorous measures against corruption.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber rightly referred to the part that Croatia has played in contributing to the international security assistance force operations in Afghanistan. I also look forward to the prospect of Croatia, as a full member of the European Union, serving as a role model for the other countries of the western Balkans and, through her own diplomatic and political activity, leading them towards full integration with the European family of nations, as well as strengthening the institutions that provide for democracy, the rule of law and human rights for everybody. Although there is still work to be done in the months leading up to accession, this Government believe that Croatia has achieved remarkable progress. She is on track to deliver on her promises by the date of accession, and that is why we have brought the Bill to the House and ask the House to support it tonight.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time.

European Union (Croatian Accession and Irish Protocol) Bill (Programme)

Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 83A(7)),

That the following provisions shall apply to the European Union (Croatian Accession and Irish Protocol) Bill:


1. The Bill shall be committed to a Committee of the whole House.

Proceedings in Committee, on Consideration and Third Reading

2. Proceedings in Committee, any proceedings on Consideration and proceedings on Third Reading shall be taken in one day in accordance with the following provisions of this Order.

3. Proceedings in Committee and any proceedings on Consideration shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion one hour before the moment of interruption on the day on which those proceedings are commenced.

4. Proceedings on Third Reading shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion at the moment of interruption on that day.

Programming committee

5. Standing Order No. 83B (Programming committees) shall not apply to the proceedings on the Bill in Committee of the whole House, to any proceedings on Consideration or to proceedings on Third Reading.

Other proceedings

6. Any other proceedings on the Bill (including any proceedings on consideration of Lords Amendments or on any further messages from the Lords) may be programmed.—(Joseph Johnson.)

Question agreed to.