Considered in Committee
[Dawn Primarolo in the Chair]
Approval of Croatian Accession Treaty
I beg to move amendment 6, in page 1, line 7, after ‘approved’, insert
‘, except for those provisions requiring the full application by the United Kingdom in respect of the Republic of Croatia, seven years after Croatian accession, of EU law on the free movement of workers’.
On Second Reading, referring to the report of the European Scrutiny Committee on the Croatian accession procedure—“Croatia: monitoring the accession process”—the Minister said:
“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”.—[Official Report, 6 November 2012; Vol. 552, c. 762.]
It appears that it is thanks only to the fairly modest, minor and small amendments tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset (Jacob Rees-Mogg), who is not in his place, and me that the Committee has the opportunity this afternoon to discuss anything at all at this stage of the Bill’s progress. I hope that, if for no other reason, the Minister will welcome this debate and the amendments that have been tabled.
Although the Government have made it clear that they intend to take whatever measures they can to stop an influx of Croatian workers during the seven-year transitional period, the risk of such an influx after the transitional period has elapsed nevertheless remains. The amendment would provide a solution to that problem.
Under European Union law, as soon as accession takes place, Croatian nationals will have the right to move to and live in the United Kingdom if they are self-employed, or have sickness insurance cover and “sufficient resources” for themselves and their family members
“not to become a burden on the social assistance system of the host Member State”.
I lived in central Europe for some time. When this matter was last discussed, I asked whether the Government shared my impression that the country most associated with the departure of citizens of the former Yugoslavia to work elsewhere, perhaps as Gastarbeiter, was either Germany or Austria. Given that that is also the background to Croatian accession, does the hon. Gentleman not agree that Croatian citizens wishing to live and work elsewhere in the European Union are most likely to choose the countries with which they have long-standing historical and economic ties—Germany and Austria? If so, how can he possibly believe that there is likely to be, in any circumstances, an “influx” of Croatian citizens into the United Kingdom?
I will deal with that point more fully later in my speech, but let me respond to it briefly now. The hon. Gentleman may be right in saying that there are other countries that are closer geographically or with which Croatians have historical links, to which they will wish to move. Nevertheless, this country’s economic position, and the fact that the most widely spoken second language of Croatians is not German but English, provides evidence that there is—I shall use the word that I used earlier—a risk that some Croatians will want to move to the United Kingdom. We do not know how many there will be, and I shall say more about that later as well.
Under the Government’s proposals, Croatian citizens will be in exactly the same position as citizens of Romania and Bulgaria. They will be part of the transition process, and they will be able to work here only if there is a job for them to do. They will apply for registration cards, and if they are students they will be given certificates of eligibility. It will not be a case of their simply turning up and working; there are very severe restrictions, as I know from representations that I have received. In view of that, why is the hon. Gentleman fearful that a whole lot of people will suddenly arrive and start trying to work?
Again, I will come to that point later in my speech, but, again, I will respond to it briefly. We know that following earlier accessions the number of people coming to work in this country, or to seek work, has significantly exceeded the original estimate.
As I said earlier, during the transitional arrangements EU nationals will have the right to come here if they are self-employed, or have sickness insurance cover and sufficient resources to ensure that they do not become a burden on
“the social assistance system of the host Member State”.
Certain family members—spouses, dependent children, children under 21, and dependent parents and grandparents of a Croatian meeting either of those criteria—will also have the right to live in the United Kingdom.
The hon. Gentleman is talking about the risks, but of course there are opportunities as well. Is not the experience of many countries with warm Mediterranean coastlines that rather a lot of British people end up moving to them, taking advantage of the business and cultural opportunities that European Union membership brings for both countries?
I am sure you would not wish me to be drawn off the subject of Croatia, Madam Deputy Speaker. My hon. Friend may well be right about that, although none of my constituents have expressed to me a desire to go to look for work in Croatia. They may all have a secret desire to do that, but I am not aware of a great number of my constituents seeking that opportunity at the moment.
We know what happened when Romania and Bulgaria joined the European Union in 2007. According to the Home Office’s impact assessment, the number of national insurance numbers issued to Bulgarians and Romanians increased by 560% and 710% respectively two years after accession. We do not have the precise figures, but it is likely that a number of those will have been Romanians and Bulgarians working in the UK under the seasonal agricultural worker scheme and the sector-based scheme, which the current Government have stated will not be open to Croatians.
Moving for work is likely to be the reason why most Croatians will want to emigrate to the UK, and this amendment focuses on worker immigration. Let us be clear that after the seven-year period has elapsed the UK will have to apply full EU law on the free movement of workers. So a Croatian could move to the UK and compete with a British national for any job, and a Croatian so employed would have the right to reside in the UK. Of course, it is not purely the number of Croatians seeking work that would boost the number of people living within our shores, because the worker could bring their spouse, their children under the age of 21, together with any other dependent children, and their dependent parents and grandparents. While all those parents have the right to reside in the UK under EU law, they would all be entitled to equal treatment with British citizens, unless EU law stated otherwise. Of course that would include access to state welfare.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree—perhaps he does not—that Croatia has the potential to be a tourist destination similar to Spain 20 or 30 years ago? If so, there is every possibility that more people will want to go from the United Kingdom to Croatia because of job opportunities and because the countries around it have stable economies.
The hon. Gentleman may well be right that lots of UK nationals will want to visit Croatia. All the evidence suggests that its desirability as a destination is increasing for UK holidaymakers, but that strays from my concern about the need to protect workers in this country. Once full EU law applies, a Croatian national, together with their family members, could move to and stay in the UK if they were looking for work. The Government already grant EU immigrants in the UK looking for work access to income-related jobseeker’s allowance. If a Croatian had been employed in the UK for 12 months continuously but had then lost their job, they would retain their right to reside in the UK indefinitely, provided they registered as a jobseeker. A Croatian would acquire the same right to reside if, having been in work, they then decided to take up vocational training. It would be fair to ask how many Croatians are likely to arrive on this basis. Unfortunately, even the Home Office’s impact assessment states that it has no “robust estimates” of the likely number of Croatian immigrants after accession, so no realistic estimate can be made—in other words, we simply do not know.
It has been suggested, including by the hon. Member for Moray (Angus Robertson), that the evidence points to the fact that most Croatian migrant workers will be attracted to Germany. However, as the Home Office impact assessment points out, the most widely spoken second language in Croatia is not German, but English.
Will the hon. Gentleman concede that the most widely spoken second language among Croatians who have been prepared to move thus far and live, work and have businesses elsewhere, and who are likely to attract people from Croatia to work elsewhere, is German, and that they are in the German-speaking countries of Austria and Germany?
I do not know whether that is true or not, because I do not know the respective numbers. Even if one assumes, for the purposes of this debate, that it is true, it does not detract from what the position may be in the future if, as is more than likely, Croatia accedes to the European Union and its nationals have a new framework within which to examine their options. They may well, for a variety of reasons, choose to come to this country. It is reasonable to assume that once the UK is forced—we have no choice in this matter at the moment—to drop the transitional arrangements, our country could become a very attractive destination for those Croatians who have gone to the trouble of learning English as their second language.
We can also make a useful comparison with what happened after Lithuania, a country with a population some 20% smaller than Croatia, joined the EU in 2004. The Home Office estimates that about 134,000 Lithuanians are now living in the UK. Of course the major factor in determining whether a significant number of Croatians decide to move to the UK is probably the state of the Croatian economy relative to our own. The EU’s own figures from EUROSTAT show that unemployment in Croatia is running at about 15%, which is almost double the UK’s level. World Bank figures show that Croatia’s gross national income per capita in 2011 was equivalent to $13,850, compared with a UK figure of $37,780.
If I understand the hon. Gentleman properly, he is talking about what will happen after the seven-year transition period, and those statistics will be tremendously inaccurate by then. It is unlikely that he will be able to produce statistics that predict the levels of unemployment in our country and Croatia seven years after accession.
The hon. Lady makes a valid point. The position at the end of the seven-year transitional period will indeed be relevant, although of course we can only consider the statistics we have now. There might well be—who knows—some miracle growth in the Croatian economy as a result of it joining the European Union that leads to the complete transformation of its economy. If we consider the situation with other economies in the European Union, we can see that that idea stretches the bounds of credulity a little.
The hon. Gentleman has looked at the subject very closely so I am sure he will have considered the experience of Croatia’s neighbour, which is, of course, Slovenia, a former constituent part of Yugoslavia. Does he concede that in recent years the economic upswing in Slovenia has been remarkable?
The hon. Gentleman makes a fair point. There might be a sudden upswing in Croatia’s economy. However, rather than running the risk that there might not be such an upturn, the amendment would leave it open for this country to put in place a different set of criteria to ensure that the transitional arrangements could be kept in place until we were sure that the upturn had happened, rather than when we merely thought that it might happen.
I am not clear about the hon. Gentleman’s arguments. Is he suggesting a further transitional period? He is obviously not suggesting no transitional period, even though his amendment makes it clear that he wants the clause approved without the transitional arrangements. Is he arguing for a longer period?
To be clear on the implications of the amendment, if it were passed, does the hon. Gentleman agree that it would put a stop to Croatia’s membership of the European Union because we would effectively have to go back and renegotiate the whole package for Croatia to enter the EU? It would effectively put an end to that membership.
One can only surmise that that might be the case; I have no doubt that our European neighbours might be more than happy to agree to my suggestions. That prompts a question: if the Government were unable to deliver what is, in the scale of European affairs, a minor adjustment to the arrangements governing member states, how on earth would they ever be able to repatriate the powers Members on both sides of the House talk about so often? I do not want to go down that road, but I was asked the question, Madam Deputy Speaker—
A fact that is as worrying as the difference between the comparative present wealth—I accept that I am using the current statistics—of Croatia and the UK is EUROSTAT’s prediction that the Croatian economy will contract by 1.9% this year and will not grow at all next year whereas UK growth will be just under 1% next year. All the evidence points to the fact that the UK could well prove to be an attractive destination for Croatians looking for work, for better paid work or for any job so that they have the opportunity to improve their command of the English language.
When one considers the various measures the Government have taken to control the numbers of immigrants coming to the UK from outside the EU, is it not logical that we should now start at least to question whether placing a simple arbitrary time limit on the restrictions that apply to migrant workers from accession countries to the EU is enough? Would it not make sense when there are significant imbalances between the relative economic positions of would-be new entrants and the UK for more rigorous restrictions to be applied as long as those disparities exist?
Our first duty must be to protect the interests of British workers. It does not make logical sense for the Government to argue for stricter controls on immigration on the one hand while agreeing to new EU treaties that will almost certainly lead to thousands and perhaps tens of thousands more workers arriving in the UK on the other.
Once again, the hon. Gentleman seems to assume that the traffic will be entirely one way and to be obsessed with the idea that Croatians would have to come to this country to learn English. He does not look like someone who goes clubbing regularly in Malaga, Ibiza or Ayia Napa—perhaps it would broaden his horizons—but all those places were probably in disadvantageous economic situations relative to the United Kingdom to start with. Accession offered an opportunity for kids to go clubbing and on holiday, for British businesses to invest, for British jobs to be created and for wealth to be created for British companies. These things can work reciprocally, and that is the opportunity that Croatia might offer to this country, too.
My hon. Friend makes a fair point and I have no wish to do anything to prevent UK nationals from travelling to Croatia if they want to. It is for the Croatians to determine who they want to allow into their country and the conditions they want to impose on people who want to visit or remain within their borders. I am saying that I think that the vast majority of British nationals would want our Government to do exactly the same thing. Indeed, that is what the Government are doing for the rest of the world, but somehow, when it comes to the EU, an entirely different set of rules and regulations apply.
On that basis, I commend my amendment to the House.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Bury North (Mr Nuttall). All his speeches on EU matters have reflected his close interest on this subject, and it is right that he should bring his concerns to the House before Croatia’s accession. I do not agree with what he said, but he has every right to express his views and to have the House debate their merits.
I congratulate the Minister for Europe and the Government on how they have conducted the negotiations that mean that Croatia will become the 28th member of the European Union. As a former Minister for Europe whose responsibility was the EU enlargement that brought in the first major set of accession countries since the reunification of Europe after the fall of the Berlin wall, I know how difficult these negotiations are. We had to visit quite a number of countries, and I am sure the Minister has had to do the same, but at least we are dealing now with just Croatia. It must have been a very difficult task and I congratulate him on what he has done. It is right that we should focus on the amount of money that the EU has given Croatia; I think that about €1 billion have been given in support. So Croatia is ready for accession and we look forward to welcoming it.
The amendment tabled by the hon. Member for Bury North deals with immigration, which is always a contentious subject in the House, but in recent years EU migration to the UK has also become contentious. I should place on record my belief that the arrival of eastern European migrants in this country has made Britain a better place. They have contributed enormously to our country, helped our economy, provided new skills and brought in an enviable work ethic. Not all of them, incidentally, have arrived in huge numbers and then decided to stay. Some, of course, have stayed; some have returned to their countries of origin.
Enormous numbers of Poles, we were told, were coming to flood our towns and cities, take our jobs, take over our pubs and take our women—or whatever the saying is when foreigners arrive in a different country. That did not happen. The myths put about by some tabloid newspapers did not materialise. In fact, those immigrants have been model citizens contributing to our country in cities such as Bristol, Leicester and London. We welcome them and we welcome what they have done.
We need to have the argument on EU migration in the context of what has happened before. If we focus almost exclusively on all the negative aspects of EU migration, we miss the real importance of enlargement and the way in which these countries have made the European Union stronger and wider, and have created more jobs in our country. I think that as a result of Croatia coming in, exports from our country to Croatia will increase, as they have done to other EU countries.
I want to examine two aspects of what the hon. Member for Bury North said. The House needs to know that his arguments were directed against the whole notion of Britain being in the European Union, rather than just against letting little Croatia in. He makes arguments much deeper than the ones about enlargement, and those are for another day. As the House knows, I favour an in/out referendum because it gives the British people the opportunity to have their say on this and other issues, so on that matter I am on the same side as the hon. Gentleman, and I supported his Bill when he put it before the House.
If we look at the immigration issue and are sensible about it, however, we will find that we are limited anyway in extending transitional arrangements beyond what has been agreed by the Government. When the Minister replies, he will be able to tell us whether we are right or wrong, but the seven-year transition is the same arrangement as we had for Romanians and Bulgarians. That has not been a huge success, if I may say so. I have had representations from the Romanian and Bulgarian ambassadors about the length of time it takes for their citizens to exercise their treaty rights in order, for example, to get their permits to work in this country—their worker registration cards.
The fact is that it now takes between eight and nine months for a Romanian citizen to write to the UK Border Agency and get approval to work here. I do not believe that this helps our reputation as a country that welcomes people from the EU who want to come here and work legitimately. We are not talking about people coming to work here illegally, or about people who do not wish to comply with the law of this land. We are talking about people who want to pay their tax and national insurance, want to be part of Britain and want to comply with the law. They are having to wait up to eight months just to get their cases seen to by the UKBA.
Opening up the can of worms that is the UKBA is not the purpose of today’s proceedings, but interestingly, according to the report of the chief inspector last week, he discovered that at one stage last year 100,000 letters from MPs, applicants and solicitors were left unopened in Liverpool. Some of the applications from Romanian and Bulgarian citizens to come into this country may well have been among those letters, which could explain why things have taken so long, but the fact is that it takes the UKBA a very long time to process such applications.
I hope that as well as telling us whether the transition period can be extended, as the hon. Member for Bury North would like, the Minister can give us an assurance that once Croatia comes in, if its citizens wish to apply for their certificates and accession documents in order to work here, the process will be smooth and efficient
I did not quite get the point that the hon. Member for Bury North was making about English as a second language. In countries such as Romania and Bulgaria, English is a second language. The Romanian, Bulgarian and Croatian citizens whom I have met speak English beautifully. I am not saying that every single Romanian, Bulgarian and Croatian is expert at speaking English, but I did not understand the hon. Gentleman’s point. He will find that they understand and speak our language extremely well. If they want to live and work here, they make a big effort to learn English so that they can speak it well and get jobs in this country.
I would be interested to know, perhaps not today but at another time, what the hon. Gentleman meant. I find that all those who have come from eastern Europe—Poland, Hungary and others in the first wave of accession countries, right the way through to Croatia—want to be able to come here, settle in, integrate and be part of our country, in the same way as the 1 million British citizens who currently live and work in mainland Europe, if I may call it that, are able to contribute to the economies of Poland, Romania, Croatia and France. Over 1 million British citizens and their dependants live in the European Union and work there, but I do not see those countries and those Parliaments having the kind of arguments that we sometimes have here about those who come from EU countries.
As I have pointed out on a number of occasions, in around 2008-09 the largest group of people who entered the UK, numbering around 85,000, were UK citizens returning home when things got difficult on the European mainland.
I agree entirely.
To say that there are no skills shortages in this country in the sectors where some of those from the accession countries have come to work is completely wrong. Speeches that I have heard from the Scottish National party and its leader, for example, acknowledge a shortage of people for a number of skilled jobs. I have heard them say in their speeches that they want to encourage people to come to Scotland in order to work there. Such shortages exist in various parts of the country, where people will be most welcome to come and work in those sectors.
Does not the right hon. Gentleman agree that it is a little odd that the about-to-be Governor of the Bank of England, who is a Canadian subject of Her Majesty, will have to jump through lots of hoops in order to work here, whereas someone from an EU member state can simply come here as they wish? Surely my hon. Friend the Member for Bury North (Mr Nuttall) is right that we should keep more restrictions.
I am glad that the hon. Gentleman raises that point, because I understand that the new Governor of the Bank of England will apply for British citizenship, but if he has to wait as long as most people have to wait, his term will have expired before he gets it. Unfortunately, he is already married with two children and so cannot marry an EU citizen in order to get here more quickly. Otherwise, he could become an EU citizen and would not need to apply for British citizenship. Anyway, the hon. Gentleman is trying to distract me into a debate on the merits of citizenship applications, but I will not be tempted, even though I have huge respect for him and his great knowledge of the subject.
This is about exercising treaty rights. The Government have decided to have a seven-year transition period, as the previous Government did with regard to Romania and Bulgaria, uncomfortable though that was, and I think that is the right and sensible course of action. When a country joins the European Union, if it is to be the kind of European Union I want us to belong to, every country and every citizen should ultimately be treated equally. Sadly, some EU citizens are treated differently because they happen to come from certain countries, which I think is wrong.
I appreciate the sincerity, honesty and principles of the hon. Member for Bury North, who was against the treaty in the first place, but once a country signs up to a treaty and successive Governments have endorsed it—the British people have not done so since we entered the EU, which is why I favour a referendum—they sign up to all of it. That is the least the Government can do to protect the labour market, but at the end of the seven years the transitional arrangements will lapse, as they will for Romania and Bulgaria on 31 December 2013, and rightly so in my view.
The Home Secretary announced that she was looking carefully at those arrangements for Romania and Bulgaria and could extend the transition period, but I knew that of course that would never happen. Her view on this aspect of policy, which is that emergency measures could be introduced to prevent people from Greece or Italy coming here if there is a crisis in those countries, has come to nothing. She wrote to me and mentioned work going on, but not much work can be done on laws that we have signed unless we break our work on the treaties. I am absolutely certain that the Foreign Office’s view on such emergency arrangements is different from that of the Home Office because, funnily enough, I have seen no such proposals come before the House to try to stop Greek citizens, for example, coming here. That would be very difficult, if not impossible, to do. All we can do with accession countries is give them a seven-year transition.
I very much agree with the point my right hon. Friend is making, as he knows, but I think that we must be frank with ourselves and recognise that one of the problems in this debate is what happened in 2003, when the Home Office grossly underestimated the number of migrants who would come here from the 10 accession countries. I think that explains in part why many people in this House and beyond are concerned about the enlargement agenda. We must recognise that we got the figures wrong and learn the lessons from that.
My hon. Friend, who had a distinguished career as a Member of the European Parliament, is absolutely right. We must have that debate. The Home Office got it wrong on that occasion, but I do not think that any of us clever people sitting in the House of Commons got it right either. Nobody predicted that there would be a flood of people, to use the tabloid expression, rushing into this country. They were boom times, when people were willing to open the United Kingdom’s doors and allow people into the country.
Immigration will always be an emotive and difficult subject. As we speak, the Mayor of London is in Mumbai telling the Government that all their facts and figures on student immigration are wrong. However, we have limited control over EU migration, which is why it has been raised today. The only possible control that the Government could introduce was the seven-year transition, and they are right to introduce it.
Ultimately, however, we have to be fair to EU colleagues and say that if their citizens wish to come here to work, we will process their applications for work permits and accession documents quickly. That is the deal that ought to be done by a nation that, as the Prime Minister said yesterday, is the beneficiary of what my hon. Friend the Member for Caerphilly (Wayne David) did when he was an MEP, what shadow Ministers did when they were on the Government Front Bench and what others did in the 13 years of the Labour Government: they built up alliances with countries such as Poland, Hungary and the other accession countries. They will not forget the stand taken by our country in allowing their citizens to come here to work.
I think that it is absolutely right that we have these transitional arrangements, but let us also understand the fundamental principle: if we sign up to a treaty, we have to abide by its words and ensure that, in doing so, we are fair to the other citizens of Europe and treat them as equally as possible.
It is a great pleasure to follow my right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz). He is right to point out that the issue of economic migrants coming here from other European Union countries is a sensitive one. It is something that always comes up in the context of new accessions, and in the case of Croatia, as we have seen with the amendment, it has come up again.
The Opposition are in favour of applying a maximum transition period of seven years to the free movement of people coming from Croatia, which is what we applied, when in government, in the case of Romania and Bulgaria. However, the amendment refers to the period beyond the seven-year transition, and I think that we need to bear in mind the context. As the hon. Member for Moray (Angus Robertson) has already pointed out, the Croatian people have strong links with Germany and Austria and it is not yet clear whether the Governments of those two countries will impose transitional periods—it is open to them not to. Given that Germany’s economy is doing incredibly well, especially compared with our own, and given that unemployment there is very low indeed, it might decide not to impose a transition period or to impose a period shorter than the full seven years.
It is also worth bearing it in mind that there are 4.4 million people in Croatia, so it will not be a large member state. I ask the hon. Member for Bury North (Mr Nuttall) not to underestimate the Croatian people or be complacent about our own economic growth. He talked about the relative difference between our unemployment and theirs. Our unemployment, to my mind, is still too high, and their unemployment rate is currently higher than ours. However, if we consider previous accession countries, such as Poland, which has avoided recession, let alone a double-dip recession, or Slovenia, whose economy has been transformed and whose prosperity is to be admired, as the hon. Member for Moray pointed out, we see that it is somewhat complacent and perhaps misleading to suggest that after the seven-year period the Croatian economy will not have improved and that the unemployment rate will not have fallen. I think that we should view the matter in that context.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester East pointed out that as a member of the European Union and a signatory to the European treaties, the UK has rights and responsibilities, and one of the responsibilities is to abide by the rules of those treaties. One of the principles of the founding treaties is the so-called four freedoms—the free movement of people, capital, goods and services. The accession treaty before us is a negotiation among all the member states of the European Union and the new member state of Croatia, and the seven-year transition period that is negotiated within that framework is a derogation from the principles in the European treaties. If the amendment tabled by the hon. Member for Bury North were to be passed—which is highly unlikely, but let us say it is for the sake of argument—then it would either scupper the accession treaty altogether or put us in a situation in which our Government could be taken to court by the European Commission or another member state.
Does the hon. Lady agree that it would be helpful if the Minister clarified, perhaps on the basis of legal advice, that that would indeed be the consequence of the amendment? This is not just a debating point about something that we think is a good idea or that we disagree with; it could have a fundamental impact on Croatia’s potential accession to the European Union, which would be very serious.
I am sorry to disagree with the hon. Lady, but I remind her that the Bill includes the protocol for Ireland, which was to allow the Irish not to ratify the Lisbon treaty and then to do so at a later date with certain guarantees. As it is possible to do that for Ireland, a protocol to a future treaty could allow amendments passed by this House to be incorporated, allowing Croatia to accede in the normal manner.
I respectfully disagree with the hon. Gentleman. The accession treaty with Croatia has been negotiated in good faith, and its conditions and provisions state that an existing member state has the option to put in place a transition period of up to seven years. Labour Members are in favour of the treaty; indeed, there is cross-party support for the accession of Croatia. If we were to pass the amendment—again, that is highly unlikely since I do not see a great mass of supporters on the Government Benches—I believe, although I would welcome clarification, that that would derail the accession process because we are considering an accession treaty with a temporary derogation with regard to the free movement of people.
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for giving way again, because this is an important point that is worth following through. The treaties are not treaties until they have been ratified by the normal constitutional process of all the member states. If, in the normal constitutional process, a reservation with the treaty is found, that can lead to amendments being brought forward later, as with Ireland. There is clear precedent for that within the European Union.
There is no clear precedent with regard to the accession of new member states. I believe that such a provision goes against the accession treaty with Croatia that has been negotiated with the 26 other member states and our Government. An amendment of this kind would send us back to the start of negotiations. All 16 member states that have already approved the treaty, and we and the remaining member states, would have to go back to the drawing board, along with Croatia, yet again to reopen what has been a very long and arduous process—a thorough process, and rightly so—for Croatia in its negotiations to join the European Union. This is not like the Irish protocol. It is not a post-factual situation—it has to apply from now on—and it is part of the accession treaty that we are discussing. We cannot just alter it and expect something to happen in future that would help us. I totally disagree with the hon. Gentleman.
I would welcome clarification of this matter, given that Opposition Front Benchers do not have a whole army of Foreign Office civil servants to help us—
I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Bury North (Mr Nuttall) for tabling the amendment. He was prompted to so by the seriousness of these issues, and the right hon. Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz) rightly complimented him on that.
The issues that my hon. Friend spoke about are very important, and I can give him one immediate reassurance. He feared that this might be the last time that Parliament could discuss potential migration from Croatia and, indeed, other aspects of Croatia’s accession process, but there will be at least two further opportunities. First, next year, probably in the spring, the Home Office will bring forward the statutory instrument to provide the detail on and to implement the transitional arrangements on migration. That legislative instrument will have to be dealt with by the affirmative procedure, so I would expect a debate in a statutory instrument Committee, attendance at which is open to any Member of the House, and subsequent approval to be given by the House as a whole in the normal way, as for any other statutory instrument.
Secondly, next March we are expecting the European Commission to publish its third and final interim report on monitoring how Croatia has made progress with the various accession chapters of the negotiating process. That report will be subject to the normal parliamentary scrutiny process. It will go to the European Scrutiny Committee, and it will be open to the Committee, if it so chooses, to refer it for debate on the Floor of the House or in a European Committee.
Is that not the real issue? The reports from the European Commission that we have before us are full of hope, but they say, in effect, that Croatia is not compliant and that in some areas it is going backwards. The big issue on immigration is not what the hon. Member for Bury North (Mr Nuttall) talked about; it is that the new EU boundary with Bosnia is insecure. Beyond the Report stage, this House will not have a full chance to debate the Commission’s third report.
It will be for the European Scrutiny Committee to choose whether to refer the Commission’s third report for debate in the House. As I said on Second Reading, the Croatian Government have made enormous progress towards implementing their integrated border management plan and establishing on the EU external border a system of fully operational border control posts, which are part of its accession process. The key outstanding issue is the Neum corridor, where a small part of Bosnia and Herzegovina divides two pieces of Croatian territory. However, matters are now well under way to put the border control posts in place and to make available the relevant technology and trained staff. It is not just the Commission’s view, but that of the British Government, too, that Croatia is fully on course to meet the obligations into which she has entered.
Could the right hon. Gentleman clear up a matter of fact? The House of Commons research paper states:
“A further issue is weaknesses in border management: Croatia’s border with Bosnia and Herzegovina will be one of the longest in Europe, posing challenges to EU security, and Croatia has so far made only moderate progression.”
Footnote 42 notes that that information came from the European Commission on 10 October 2012, which was not long ago. The Commission is clearly saying that progress is not being made, which is in direct conflict with what the right hon. Gentleman is saying.
We debated this at some length on Second Reading, but I will take advice and might give a detailed answer later in today’s proceedings.
In response to the point raised by the right hon. Member for Leicester East, we acknowledge that there have been unacceptable delays to the processing of applications from Romanian and Bulgarian citizens. The UK Border Agency has taken action to provide additional staff resources to deal with that and is confident that the Government’s published target standards for turning around such applications will be met by the new year.
I hope the Committee will forgive me if this has been covered in earlier debates when I was not present, but is it true that if Croatia acceded to the European Union, it would be easier for the International Criminal Court to serve an indictment on an alleged war criminal who happened to be Croatian than is currently the case because Croatia is not a member of the European Union?
I am not certain about the position of the International Criminal Court, but I will either respond to that question later in the debate or write to my hon. Friend. What I will say is that, in the context of this amendment, which relates to migration, once Croatia has become a full member of the European Union, the normal EU arrangements to combat illegal migration and to secure the return of illegal migrants, overstayers and others will become fully operational. As I hope to say if I reach the later stages of my planned remarks, there is already evidence that Croatia has been very energetic in preparing for those new duties and in implementing a system for dealing with illegal third-country migrants, and that will be to the benefit of every European Union member state.
Perhaps it would be helpful if I followed up on the intervention by the hon. Member for Beckenham (Bob Stewart) on the potential arrest of a European Union citizen. That, of course, would be subject to the existing procedures for a European arrest warrant, which, indeed, would be beneficial in trying to deal with serious crime, including international war crimes. Would that not underline the total folly of a member of the European Union walking away from a commitment to use European arrest warrants, which the current Tory Government are considering doing?
I am not going to get drawn into a further debate about the 2014 opt-in, opt-out decision on justice and home affairs. As the Government have pledged, there will be ample opportunities to debate that at length in the House.
I think that everybody in the House shares the concerns of my hon. Friend the Member for Bury North about the need to ensure the appropriate management of potential labour market risks, particularly at a time when there are serious tensions in the UK labour market. At the same time, we have to acknowledge that the principle of freedom of movement has given enormous opportunities to British citizens. Roughly 1 million British people live and/or work in other member states of the European Union at present.
The Government have been clear from the start that we intend, as a matter of course, to impose transitional controls on workers from any new member state. In the case of Croatia, we have concluded that these restrictions should be as rigorous as the terms of the accession treaty allow and should provide no greater level of access than that already enjoyed by Croatian workers prior to their joining the European Union. That would put Croatian citizens on a par with workers from Romania and Bulgaria, who are subject to such vigorous control already.
Let me be clear about what the existing provisions make possible. The powers in the treaty provide for member states to apply transitional control to workers for at least five years, with a review after the first two years, at which time member states are required to notify the Commission whether they intend to maintain transitional restrictions beyond the first two-year period. After five years, those controls may be extended by a further two years in the event of serious labour market disturbance or threat thereof, bringing the total to seven years. The powers in the treaty provide controls that can be imposed robustly and meet the UK’s stated commitment to impose transitional controls for an appropriate period without undermining our long-standing and principled support for EU enlargement. These controls cannot be extended beyond the seven-year period.
I am afraid that it will disappoint my hon. Friend that the provisions for transitional restrictions on migration from Croatia in annexe V(2) of Croatia’s accession treaty make it very clear that the controls are derogations from the articles in the treaty on the functioning of the European Union, which provide for the free movement of people between different member states in order to exercise treaty rights under European law.
My hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset (Jacob Rees-Mogg) asks what could happen if the Committee agrees the amendment. The United Kingdom could be in breach of the free movement principles in the EU treaties, which could lead to the UK being infracted by the European Commission. The accession treaty would stand, provided that we and other member states went on to ratify it, but the UK would be in breach of it.
The Irish protocol, to which my hon. Friend alluded, was a different beast. It is important to recall that Ireland’s ratification of the Lisbon treaty awaited the outcome of their second referendum, which in turn followed the negotiation of the Irish protocol by EU Heads of State and Government, but the text of the treaty did not change by one word between the first and second Irish referendum. Ireland went on to ratify the Lisbon treaty as it had originally been agreed before the Irish protocol was finalised and had been through the Brussels process, and, as is happening here and elsewhere in Europe, before its ratification by the 27 member states according to their respective national procedures. The Irish protocol is a very different question.
Applying the amendment to line 7 on page 1 of the Bill would make it say that the accession treaty would be approved,
“except for those provisions requiring the full application”.
It would, therefore, be a conditional approval of the treaty and I do not believe that the European Court of Justice could rule us in breach of treaty obligations, because Croatia would not have them until the treaty was ratified under our normal constitutional procedures, which, thanks to the European Act 2011—which the Minister presided over—require an Act of Parliament that is unqualified.
I simply do not think that we can have 27 countries agreeing unanimously on a treaty text and committing themselves to ratifying it, only for 26 countries to ratify it while one country chooses to do so up to a point and not ratify one particular element. My hon. Friend was right in his earlier intervention that it is legally and constitutionally possible for a separate protocol or derogation to be negotiated at the time of an accession treaty to exempt one or more member states from particular obligations. However, that has not happened with any other accession treaty hitherto.
The United Kingdom, under successive Governments, has been committed to the enlargement of the European Union since Margaret Thatcher championed the idea when the iron curtain began to crumble. I remain, in that respect, an enthusiastic Thatcherite. The entrenchment of not just free and open markets, but, even more importantly, the rule of law and democratic institutions in eastern and central Europe that has been brought by enlargement has been of benefit to the long-term strategic interests of the UK, as well as being in the interests of Europe as a whole.
Possibly by millions of people, in every constituency in this country. It is right that Parliament should be seen to be paying close attention to those concerns, which are being ably expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Bury North in supporting the amendment.
Croatia has a small population of only 4.5 million people. The levels of emigration from Croatia to EU member states are currently very low. The official Croatian statistics suggest that in 2011, about 2,000 Croatians migrated to EU member states. The hon. Member for Moray (Angus Robertson) is right that half those people went to Germany and that a fair number of the others went to Austria.
The UK Border Agency’s statistics state that in 2011, 115 Croatian nationals were admitted to the UK for the purposes of employment. Of course, those 115 people will have had to meet the same tests as anybody else who comes here from a third country anywhere else in the world. They will have had to apply successfully under the points system or perhaps as a person of independent means. If we look at the patterns of migration from Croatia and the history of Croatian migration to this country, and set that in the context of a small country with a small population, the Government judge that there is little risk of a mass migration of Croatian nationals to these shores when the seven-year transitional period is up.
I do not think that the travel is likely to be one-way. For example, several thousand British people are now resident in Bulgaria, largely because the Black sea coast is an attractive place in which to settle and is less expensive than the parts of Spain and the western Mediterranean that had previously been fashionable. I can envisage the Adriatic coastline of Croatia becoming a magnet for people from elsewhere in Europe who are seeking a warmer climate in which to settle. I therefore do not think that freedom of movement will be exercised in one direction only.
In conclusion, the accession treaty, which has been signed by all member states already, provides for only a temporary imposition of transitional controls up to a maximum of seven years. It is not possible to extend transitional controls on Croatian nationals beyond the seven-year period. The Government’s careful judgment is that the existing flexibility provided by the accession treaty will protect the stability of the United Kingdom labour market as we would wish. I hope that, having heard the assurances that I have given, my hon. Friend the Member for Bury North will choose not to press his amendment.
We have had a useful and interesting debate on the amendment. I thank the right hon. Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz), who is not in his place, the hon. Member for Wolverhampton North East (Emma Reynolds), the Minister and all the Members who have intervened.
I suspect that the Government’s view on this matter and the stance that is widely taken by Members will only add to the concerns of many of my constituents and, as the Minister has said, of people across the United Kingdom.
No, they have not. However, I often receive representations about immigration in general and difficulties with finding work. I will be honest and say that nobody has said that they are worried about Croatia specifically, but people have said that they are concerned about what will happen if large numbers of people from other countries come to this country and about how that will affect them. That particularly affects people who feel that they are competing for jobs with people who have come to this country from abroad.
This has been a useful debate. However, the stance of the Government and of many Members will add to the concerns of my many constituents and the many millions of people throughout the country who think that our membership of the EU is damaging the interests of the UK and that we would be better off if we left it. I share that view. The further this country becomes entangled in the tentacles of the EU, the more it hastens the day when a majority of people in the UK vote to leave it. The accession of Croatia and the extra migrants that it brings will be another drop in the British people’s growing puddle, reservoir or ocean of discontent with the EU.
I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Clause 1 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Approval of Irish Protocol
Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.
This is a crucial clause because of what it shows about the potential of our relationship with the European Union, and our ability to negotiate and change that relationship. As stated in the Bill’s explanatory notes, the Irish protocol
“agreed that the concerns of the Irish people in respect of the Lisbon Treaty relating to taxation policy, the right to life, education and the family, and Ireland’s traditional policy of military neutrality would be addressed to the mutual satisfaction of Ireland and the other Member States”.
That does not change a word of the Lisbon treaty, but it clarifies the law so that Ireland knows it has a slightly different relationship with the EU, and clarifies any rulings that might be made in future by the European Court of Justice. It allowed Ireland, which said no to the Lisbon treaty in a referendum, to put the question back to the Irish people, who then said yes in a referendum. Coming as it does at this stage, that is important as a reminder that every accession treaty is a full-blown treaty of the European Union, and has the ability to amend any of the previous treaties that led to the creation of the European Union, including what is now the treaty on the European Union and the treaty on the functioning of the European Union. Both those treaties can be amended by accession treaties, or by any future treaties of the European Union.
We must consider the position of the United Kingdom, and the growing dissatisfaction with our membership of the EU and how things are currently carried out—I have a great deal of sympathy with what my hon. Friend the Member for Bury North (Mr Nuttall) said about the growing reservoir of discontent with the European Union. With the accession treaty—and, indeed, with any future accession treaties—we had the ability to renegotiate our position and get to something with which the British people feel comfortable, rather than the current situation.
When considering the Irish protocol we must understand how thorough it is and what it includes for Ireland. It goes to some fundamental parts of what Europe is about, including the “right to life” that Ireland wishes to preserve but was concerned the EU was taking within its ambit. It was something Irish electors thought was under attack. On taxation policy, we know that negotiations on the multi-annual financial framework have looked to change the EU’s revenue-raising powers, and during the discussion about own resources they looked at whether there should be a financial transaction tax or a change in how the European Union is funded through value added tax. Proposals for a single corporation tax across the European Union would be allowable under current treaties if agreed on unanimously. Ireland has sensibly achieved a clear, legally binding opt-out of movements in that direction, and clarified its position.
The protocol covers education and the family. Education is not really a matter that should be the responsibility of the European Union. The EU is extending its talons into areas with which it was never intended to be involved. It extends its powers—its competences—into areas that those who voted in the 1975 referendum never conceivably thought would have anything to do with the European Union. Instead, the powers were the rights and responsibilities of the House and those sent to Parliament to represent the people of the United Kingdom, rather than powers to be given to a multinational body. It is interesting that the Irish felt it necessary to have a clear protocol to state that such matters are not to be decided at European level, as they did on military neutrality. Military neutrality is important for the UK, which still has a substantial Army, Navy and Air Force—one of the most important in the world—which we do not want to be subsumed within a European Union defence force. We want to maintain our independence, and Irish clarity on the matter is helpful.
My central point is that the Government could have negotiated opt-outs on a swathe of European policy in the form of treaty amendments that would have been fully binding, fully recognised within European law, and would have begun to resettle our relationship with the European Union. For various reasons, the Irish Government decided to do that and the British Government did not. It may be that, considering the crisis through which the European Union is going, they believed it was not the right time for such renegotiation.
The original intention was to have a Czech protocol at the same time as the Irish protocol, but the fact that it was slightly more contentious than the Irish protocol completely stalled the process. Does the hon. Gentleman appreciate that if we had tried some kind of wholesale renegotiation of our relationship with Europe, there is no way we would be discussing that issue now and the whole process would be mired in controversy for many years?
I wish my hon. Friend would have more confidence in his own great country. We are a little bigger than the Czech Republic and a little more important, even though it is a most highly esteemed country. We make a massive contribution to the European Union budget, and we should be using our power, authority and position to get for the British people what the Irish Government have got for the Irish.
I was hoping to come to that when we discuss the point at which the Bill comes into force, and it may be best if I hold my fire until then, lest the Chair rule me out of order. I want to focus on the essence of European treaties: every European treaty, whether an accession treaty or the treaty of Lisbon, has exactly the same legal standing. Anything that is added to it has the proper force of an agreement across the European Union and validity in European law. We should never again lose the opportunity to renegotiate the repatriation of powers to this country when a treaty is going through the European Union. There are any number of powers that we wish to recapture—working time directives are a mere start—and we should do that because if Ireland can, so could we.
I often agree with the hon. Gentleman, but I do not today. These protocols are Euro-fudge and what the Irish Government received through the protocol was not really threatened. His argument seems to be that the European Union in its present shape can be reformed by treaty negotiation, which could be done with any treaty. I simply do not believe that is possible and I would be interested to hear his reflections on that.
I am extremely sympathetic to what the hon. Gentleman says and I may be too optimistic about what can be done. There is, however, a disjuncture between what the protocols say and what it is said that they say. The Bill’s explanatory notes state:
“The Irish Protocol clarifies, but does not change”,
but if it does not change anything at all, why on earth was there need for a protocol? Was it a question of bullying Ireland to vote a second time? If it was, that is deeply disgraceful and shows something very rotten at the heart of a European Union that holds democracy in such contempt that when it gets a result it does not like it says, “Well, you must do this again and we will bully you until you give the answer that we, the panjandrums of the European Union, want.”
For once, I am being charitable to the European Union and assuming that when a protocol is agreed, it means something genuine and is a real protection in areas of competence-creep within the European Union. It might be strictly accurate to say that the things for which Ireland has been given its protocol are not currently covered by detailed regulations of the EU or by detailed parts of the Lisbon treaty. The protocol, however, gives Ireland further security. If judgments of the ECJ begin to expand the competences of the treaties, which they have done in the past—as we would understand it, the ECJ is an essentially political rather than legalistic court—Ireland can revert to the protocol.
The symbolic importance of the protocol is great. It shows that a country can push a little bit of a wedge underneath the collapsing portcullis of the EU—once a country is under it, it cannot get back out. The protocol has given Ireland a measure of release from, and clarification on, the Lisbon treaty. The UK could do more because we are a stronger player within Europe and contribute a substantial part of the budget, as I said to my hon. Friend the Member for Cheltenham (Martin Horwood). We ought to use our negotiating heft to try to get back powers that, as most hon. Members recognise, the British people want. We should begin a serious renegotiation and say to the EU, “Look, when the next treaty comes through, we want more than Ireland had. We want something that is powerful and strong, and that allows us—the British people—to make our laws for ourselves via Parliament rather than constantly doing so via Europe.” This is a great opportunity for the Government to build on that precedent to the advantage of our country.
I want to reiterate what I said on Second Reading about the Opposition’s support for the Irish protocol, which the Labour Government helped to negotiate. As the hon. Member for North East Somerset (Jacob Rees-Mogg) said, the protocol clarifies but does not amend the Lisbon treaty. It contains assurances that Ireland retains decision-making rights on the right to life, on family and education, on taxation, and on Irish neutrality. It was the Labour Government’s judgment at the time and it is the Opposition’s judgment now that the Irish people have rightly been offered those assurances on the application of the Lisbon treaty.
Finally, I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Blackley and Broughton (Graham Stringer). The protocol does not reform the EU and is not a renegotiation of the EU-Ireland relationship. It also does not repatriate power from the EU to Ireland.
Clause 2 provides parliamentary approval for the purposes of section 2 of the European Union Act 2011 for a proposed protocol to be annexed to the treaty on the EU and the treaty on the functioning of the EU following the concerns of the Irish people in relation to the treaty of Lisbon; that has become known in shorthand as the Irish protocol. The clause also confirms, as required by section 2(3) of the 2011 Act, that no referendum is required under that Act for the Irish protocol to be ratified by the UK.
In June 2009, the Heads of State and Government of the 27 EU member states adopted a formal decision on the concerns of the Irish people about the treaty of Lisbon. The decision gave a legal guarantee, binding in international law, that certain matters of concern to the Irish people would be unaffected by the entry into force of the treaty of Lisbon. As my hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset (Jacob Rees-Mogg) said, those matters included taxation policy, policy on the right to life, policies on education and the family, and Ireland’s traditional policy of military neutrality. It was noted in the June 2009 European Council conclusions that the content of the decision is fully compatible with the treaty of Lisbon and does not necessitate any re-ratification of the treaty.
The Heads of State and Government also agreed in June 2009 that, at the time of the conclusion of the next accession treaty, the provisions of the decision would be set out in a protocol to be attached to the EU treaties. The effect is to ensure that the guarantees given to the Irish during the Lisbon ratification process will have full treaty status and be binding in EU law.
Although it is true that the Irish protocol clarifies and does not change either the content or application of the Lisbon treaty, and in no way alters the relationship between the EU and its member states, it has a positive effect, as my hon. Friend has pointed out. The consequence of all member states ratifying the protocol is that it will have full treaty status. In effect, it is added, as a protocol, to the list of EU treaties and is binding in EU law. Although it is declaratory and clarificatory in purpose, the declaration and clarification take the form of something that can be justiciable in future litigation at the European Court of Justice, as my hon. Friend said.
Will the Minister therefore help me? If two cases appear before the ECJ—one for the UK; one for Ireland—is it open to the ECJ to rule differently because the protocol applies to Ireland but not to the UK? Does the clarification limit the ECJ’s jurisdiction over Ireland but not over the UK?
No, the treaties apply equally to every member state unless an explicit derogation or opt-out is laid down in a protocol or in the body of a treaty—that is the case with the UK’s and Denmark’s right not to join the euro. In this case, the Irish protocol does not provide an opt-out or derogation. Instead, it serves as a formal justiciable clarification of certain provisions of the treaty that apply equally to all member states of the EU. In the hypothetical case that my hon. Friend describes, it would be for the UK or any other member state to cite the protocol in support of its arguments.
Yes, that clarification is of benefit to every member state, should such litigation be necessary in future.
The protocol was adopted at an intergovernmental conference in Brussels on 16 May 2012 and signed by all 27 member states. It must now be ratified by them before it can formally enter into force. As I have said, I believe that the clarifications that are provided square with the UK’s interpretation of the treaties; I support what my hon. Friend has said on this. The protocol is therefore helpful to us, and I commend it and clause 2 to the Committee.
Question put and agreed to.
Clause 2 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Clause 3 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Freedom of movement for Croatian nationals as workers
Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.
I am sorry to trouble the scorers again, Mr Crausby. I hope I will not be the only one trying to be the Mr Pietersen of the Committee for this afternoon’s proceedings. My batting pace would never be quite as fast as his—I am probably more of a Mr Boycott, particularly when it comes to anything to do with the European Union.
The transition arrangements for the free movement of people are an important part of the treaty. What is important here is that the time has come for us to recognise that we need to look at whether the free movement of people is something the United Kingdom can any longer support. The commitments we have made to our immigration policy throughout the European Union have made a nonsense of the rest of our immigration policy. We discovered that yesterday, when we asked a very distinguished person to come and be the head of one of the most important institutions of our country. He will have to queue up in Croydon, even though he is married to a British lady, his children are British subjects and he is a subject of the Queen. If he were coming from Croatia, he would be subject to transition arrangements that would make it a good deal easier for him to come here. That does not seem to be a sensible way of establishing our immigration policy.
There are two problems: first, the number of people who have the right to reside and work here from the European Union, which is legion; and the very tight controls that we have to have on everybody else in the world to make the system vaguely work at all. It is out of balance that countries with which we have much closer and longer standing associations than Croatia—I think, of course, of India, Canada, Australia, South Africa and Zimbabwe—and with which we have had intimate relationships, do not have the transition arrangements to allow their people to come and work here. They have to go through an extremely arduous and onerous process. Even if their grandparents were British citizens, they find it very difficult to get here. On the other hand, if they come from member states of the EU they can just waltz in, or if they cannot waltz in, they can come in under transition arrangements. After a mere seven years at the most, they will be able to come in freely. This has become disproportionate.
In that sense, enlargement has created a problem for Europe. In other ways, enlargement is much to be welcomed, and I agreed with the Minister when he quoted the noble Baroness—something that should be done in this Chamber more often to reinforce any argument that is being made. We have found that there are simply too many people who are eligible to reside here. Transition arrangements are not really enough. They ameliorate to some extent the problem of Croatia, but Croatia is not the problem. As we have already discussed, there are only a little more than 4 million people in Croatia, and unless they were all going to come here and leave Croatia empty for us to go and have our holiday homes there as the Minister suggested, there would not be any real immigration problem from Croatia. It is what has happened in the past, and the effect that that has had on other nations with which we are friendly and with which we have long-term relationships and historic ties, that I am referring to.
I am pleased that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Home Department has decided to look into this to see whether the free movement of people is something we can continue to cope with. I think that we cannot, and as we reform our relationship with Europe, it is one of the aspects of the European Union—I accept that it is a fundamental aspect—to which we can no longer subscribe.
Clause 4 provides a regulation-making power to make provision on the entitlement of Croatian workers to work and reside in the UK. We believe that the Government should implement the maximum transition period for Croatian nationals, as we did with the accession of Romania and Bulgaria. I welcome the Minister’s commitment on Second Reading to bring detailed regulations on the transitional controls.
The clause is all about workers. When the hon. Lady’s party was in Government, it also allowed transitional arrangements for benefits. Would she like to say something about whether that was a good idea, particularly in relation to Croatian nationals in that transitional period who come here to work and are then made unemployed? What does she believe the policy should be when it comes to their welfare claiming rights?
The previous Government looked at this issue, and the current Government have also tried to raise it. It is a concern for people across the country—it was raised with me during the 2010 election campaign—and I am sure the Minister will have something to say about it. In terms of treaty obligations on the freedom of movement, nationals from other EU member states who come here to work have certain rights and responsibilities. It is certainly true that some of those rights, benefits and payments, from which nationals benefit, although only after a qualifying period, are a concern. We tried to change them when in government, but European treaties and European law prevented us from doing so, and I think the current Government are having the same problems.
The clause deals with the free movement of people, but the hon. Member for North East Somerset (Jacob Rees-Mogg) took the opportunity to make a wider point. Regardless of one’s point of view, it is certainly true that if a change were made it would require a substantial and wholesale amendment of the founding treaties. The 26 other member states—soon to be 27—would have their own opinions on that. Such a renegotiation would be long and difficult if the Government were to attempt to embark on it.
Clause 4 outlines, in its various subsections, how the transitional regulations will be structured. I do not propose, unless the Committee presses me, to go through each subsection in detail this afternoon. Suffice it to say that the Home Office will come forward in 2013 with a statutory instrument to implement the transitional regulations. I am sure that there will be ample opportunity at that point for the House to examine in detail exactly what those arrangements propose and how effective they will be in practice. They will no doubt go to a statutory instrument Committee and then to the House of Commons as a whole.
My hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset (Jacob Rees-Mogg) used the debate on clause 4 to open up broader concerns about freedom of movement. There is no doubt that this issue troubles a lot of people, as he and my hon. Friend the Member for Bury North (Mr Nuttall) pointed out. I do not want to go overboard on this point. However, the fact that transitional controls were not imposed on the previous groups of countries joining the EU, along with the fact that the number of people who were thought likely to come from those countries to the UK was underestimated—the estimates were wrong by a considerable margin—has sapped public confidence in the principle of freedom of movement. It is therefore right that we should say clearly not just that rigorous transitional controls will be employed in the case of Croatia, but that it would be our intention to apply transitional controls to the full extent permitted to any future new accession country to the European Union. That is both right and a way of providing reassurance to our citizens.
People are understandably worried when they see suggestions that the principle of freedom of movement is being interpreted in a way that stretches beyond the rights set out in the treaty—primarily, the right to work and to seek work—and is at risk of being abused by people moving to gain from a more generous welfare system in an EU member state.
My hon. Friend is right that those things undermine confidence in the system, despite the fact that freedom of movement has brought significant benefits not only to British citizens working and living elsewhere in Europe, but to British employers and consumers, who have made free use of the advantages of freedom of movement in terms of the skilled people coming to this country. I can assure him that this Government, along with other Governments, take these risks seriously and are concerned about potential abuses of freedom of movement. My hon. Friends in the Department for Work and Pensions have been talking to their counterparts in other member states about that point. The Government intend to pursue the matter and take it very seriously. I hope that that did not lead me too far from the content of the debate and that it provides my hon. Friends with a measure of reassurance.
I am sorry to interject, but as Labour seems to recognise this concern—such recognition has been lacking in the past—perhaps it is time to have a full and frank debate about it, especially in terms of welfare claimants and the cost to the NHS of people who possibly would not have been here had there been similar transitional arrangements in the past. Is there a chance, through informal channels, of starting a sensible debate?
The Government are always willing to listen to constructive ideas, from whichever side of the House they come. We have announced the review of the balance of competences. When my right hon. Friend the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary launched it, he said that we would welcome contributions and proposals from interest groups throughout British society and political parties on both sides of the House. If anybody wants to propose a way of limiting potential abuses of freedom of movement, they would be welcome to do so.
Just for the record, as I set out earlier, what the hon. Member for Daventry (Chris Heaton-Harris) says is simply not true. When the Labour party was in government, we were very concerned about welfare payments being made when they perhaps should not have been, especially when it came to child benefit. Our Ministers made representations about that to European institutions and tried to do something about it, but to be perfectly frank, we hit a brick wall—and that is exactly what this Government are finding too. There is no difference between our parties on this issue.
I thank the Minister for giving way, as I know he wants to conclude. He said he did not want to go through the clause subsection by subsection, but will he take the opportunity to clarify the different applicable maximums between England and Wales, on one hand, and Scotland and Northern Ireland on the other? Some of his hon. Friends may feel that those of more dodgy intent could be motivated to stay in England and Wales, rather than Scotland or Northern Ireland.
This boils down to differences in the legal systems operating in different parts of the United Kingdom. I presume that the hon. Gentleman is referring to subsections (4) to (6).
Subsection (4) provides that an offence by virtue of these regulations will be a summary offence and that any fines or prison sentences imposed will not exceed the applicable maximum levels or terms on the relevant scale. Subsections (5) and (6) provide clarity on the maximum prison terms applicable for these offences and the differences between maximum terms of imprisonment in England and Wales, and Scotland and Northern Ireland. For England and Wales, the maximum possible prison term is 51 weeks. For Scotland and Northern Ireland, the maximum possible prison term for an employee or a deception offence is three months, whereas for an employer this stands at six months.
Subsection (6) further clarifies that if the offences were committed in England and Wales before the commencement of section 154(1) of the Criminal Justice Act 2003, they will be liable for the same penalties previously outlined for Scotland and Northern Ireland—three and six months respectively—but, as the Committee will know, section 154(1) has not yet commenced, so the applicable maximums for the whole United Kingdom will remain at three and six months respectively for the time being. I hope that that provides the hon. Gentleman with the assurance he seeks.
We have had an interesting debate on some of the concerns in the Committee and the country about the freedom of movement, but I think there has also been a consensus in support of transitional regulations. I therefore commend the clause to the Committee.
Question put and agreed to.
Clause 4 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Orders under section 4: Parliamentary control.
With this it will be convenient to discuss the following: amendment 5, page 4, line 7, at end insert—
‘( ) The House of Commons may amend a draft of an instrument laid before it under subsection (1), insofar as that draft contains regulations pursuant to section 4. A draft so amended may be taken as the draft laid before each House of Parliament under subsection (1).
Amendment 2, page 4, line 8, leave out subsections (2) and (3).
Clause stand part.
Amendments 1 and 2 are straightforward. I am sure that Her Majesty’s Government, in their amazing wisdom, will consider these issues from their fine position of understanding, benevolence and kindliness. The Minister for Europe—that great Minister of parliamentary scrutiny of matters European Union, who is to the scrutiny of European matters what Simon de Montfort was to the House of Commons appearing in the first place—knows, in his bold way, that the better the scrutiny, the better the legislation.
My amendments, which are modest and humble, would make a small improvement to the House’s scrutiny of the regulations introduced under clause 4. That clause has just passed without a voice being raised against it; none the less, it raises important questions about the penalties in different parts of the UK, as we have just discovered, and under it Ministers will be able to make regulations. Amendment 2 would simply take something out of the Bill. It would simplify the legislation. I thought we were all in favour of making our laws clear and easy for the average elector—those outside the inner workings of the House—to understand.
The amendments would allow Her Majesty’s Opposition, who I hope will join me on this occasion, better to hold the Government to account and ensure that Members were able to address our constituents’ grievances more effectively and swiftly by making further amendments, after the initial statutory instruments were introduced, subject to the affirmative, rather than the negative, procedure. That would enable us to turn up, as I am sure we all would, at the statutory instrument Committees debating the regulations.
I hoped that the hon. Gentleman was going to find some link between the de Montforts and Somerset, which would have been more helpful. I am not opposed to people coming over from Europe, although I do not have any Norman blood, as far as I am aware. However, we are wandering slightly from the point.
Amendments 1 and 2 would simply ensure that the affirmative procedure was followed and would marginally improve parliamentary scrutiny—they would not change the world, but they would add a little to parliamentary scrutiny. I meant the compliments I paid to the Minister and his commitment to parliamentary scrutiny, which has been exemplary. The European Union Act 2011, which we passed to ensure the rights of Parliament, was an important advance in protecting this country from European activities passing through without anybody really knowing about them. When the rules are changed, they should be changed in the same way as they are first introduced, because sometimes a change can be more important than the initial introduction. For example, a new Government might want to adjust things or not continue with them for as long, and could do so via a statutory instrument, with a limited form of negative control.
I hope that the Government will support my amendment 5. I hope that the Opposition will, too, because we may not lose the next election, in which case things might be changed by a similar Government, and my amendments would give them a way to hold Her Majesty’s Government to better account. I am proposing modest, easy, humble, simplifying, gentle, but marginally improving amendments, which I hope in their wisdom the Minister and Her Majesty’s Government will accept.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Crausby.
My amendment 5 is also a minor and modest amendment. For the avoidance of doubt, it is perfectly compatible with amendments 1 and 2, standing in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset (Jacob Rees-Mogg). There is absolutely no reason why the Government should not accept his amendments and my minor amendment. My amendment would open the way for the draft regulations laid by the Government—pursuant to what will in due course become section 4 of the Act—to be amended by this House. As anyone who has looked at the Bill will be aware, clause 4 is by some way the longest clause—indeed, it is longer than the rest of the Bill put together. The regulations that are brought forward might all be perfectly in order, and it might be that they cannot be improved on in any way, shape or form. Knowing the Minister’s skill and intelligence in such matters, I have absolutely no doubt that that will be the case. However, we are all human, and it is just possible that a tiny little matter somewhere in those regulations—which will undoubtedly be fairly lengthy and detailed—might need amending. My amendment 5 would give this House the flexibility to amend the draft regulations, rather than simply having the option of accepting or rejecting them in their entirety. It is a minor, modest and humble amendment, and I hope that the Government and the Opposition will support it.
I appreciate that the hon. Members for North East Somerset (Jacob Rees-Mogg) and for Bury North (Mr Nuttall) are seeking to improve parliamentary scrutiny of these matters by providing for the use of the affirmative procedure for any statutory instrument arising from clause 4. I very much look forward to the Minister’s response. Given that the Government do not seem to have much business for us to scrutinise at the moment, surely there might be time for such provision. I did not go through the Lobby once last week—to my disappointment—so we would welcome any move towards increased parliamentary scrutiny and we await the Minister’s response with bated breath.
The purpose of amendments 1 and 2 is to require that any regulations to implement the transitional restrictions pursuant to clause 4 be subject to the affirmative resolution procedure. Amendment 5, standing in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Bury North (Mr Nuttall), would give Parliament the opportunity to amend the initial set of regulations on transitional controls. By contrast, the Bill as drafted would require that the initial regulations made pursuant to clause 4 be subject to the affirmative resolution procedure, but that subsequent regulations, if any, be subject to the negative resolution procedure. That would provide Parliament with the opportunity to give or deny approval, but not to amend the regulations.
I have to say that I was moved by the tribute paid to me—a quite undeserved tribute—by my hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset (Jacob Rees-Mogg). Not only am I deeply conscious that he is steeped in the history of this country’s constitution, but I was at school long enough ago to have been taught the history of English liberties, the place of the Provisions of Oxford and the role of Simon de Montfort as one of the founding fathers of Parliament—it was something I learned about at a very early age. I do not know whether his tribute was intended to be ever so slightly barbed—
I would not impute that to my hon. Friend, but I was conscious of the fact that Simon de Montfort, despite his contribution to our constitutional developments, ended up being slain at the battle of Evesham, after which his body was hacked apart and the various portions sent to please those members of the nobility who had taken the lead in supporting Prince Edward against him. Although I have absolute confidence in the generosity of spirit with which my hon. Friend spoke, I hope I can count on him to speak for all members of the European Scrutiny Committee and on others to adopt a different role towards de Montfort than he has taken today.
I have thought carefully about the amendments that my hon. Friends have proposed. The initial regulations that we intend to make pursuant to clause 4 would set out in detail the scheme of restrictions to be applied to Croatian nationals. They would set out the circumstances under which a Croatian national may be authorised to take employment and the penalties that may be applied for any breach of the restrictions. It is clearly appropriate that there should be a presumption that such regulations, setting out a broad scheme of controls and penalties, should require the positive approval of the House. We are therefore providing for the affirmative resolution procedure. However, any subsequent regulations pursuant to clause 4 are likely to be different in character and to have only a limited and technical purpose. For example, it may become necessary to make technical adjustments to the regulations to reflect European Court of Justice case law on the exercise of free movement rights or to adjust the circumstances in which work authorisation may be given, to reflect particular labour market circumstances.
Let us look at the precedent of the regulations applied to Bulgarian and Romanian nationals, recalling that our intention is to apply the same transitional regime to Croatian migrants as already applies to migrants from those two countries. There have been subsequent amendments to the original regulations, but to address minor and technical issues. For example, further amendments to the regulations have referred to arrangements for students undertaking employment during their holidays or vocational employment linked to their studies. Those amendments have brought the treatment of such students into line with the treatment extended to third-country nationals. There have also been technical changes to the arrangements for family members of Bulgarian and Romanian workers, which the treaty required be lifted once the restrictions had been in force for two years.
Those were matters concerned with responding to legal issues about the proper administration of restrictions, as they arose, rather than matters pertaining to their general shape and force. Equally, it might prove necessary to make amendments to the initial regulations simply in order to ensure that they take account of changes made to the controls applied to third-country nationals. I do not think it is proportionate that amendment of the regulations to deal with this kind of technical issue should require the affirmative resolution procedure.
Of course, if a future hypothetical Government were, through sleight of hand, to use the negative resolution procedure to make a more substantive change to the character of the transitional regulations—which I am sure that this Government would not do—I am confident that the political reaction in the House of Commons would be such as to require, through a prayer tabled under the normal procedures of the House, a debate and vote in Committee and then in the House as a whole. It is unlikely that such a major amendment would be brought forward, however, and there are sufficient safeguards in our proposals. It is probable, however, that there will be a need for minor and technical amendments to be made. The negative resolution procedure accords with the precedent adopted in respect of previous accessions and it is proportionate to the case.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bury North tabled amendment 5, which would allow Parliament to amend the secondary legislation. He will know that the procedure that he is proposing does not fall within the normal forms of House approval. I do not blame him for raising the subject; it has cropped up in more than one debate since I have been a Member of Parliament. However, it would be wrong to use the Bill as an occasion for adopting what would amount to a significant precedent in how Parliament holds the Government to account. There might be a case for what he is proposing, but it would best be addressed, if it is going to be, as a matter of general principle rather than in this way.
Under our current procedure, secondary legislation is not subjected to the type of line-by-line scrutiny and the possibility of amendment that we afford to primary legislation. The affirmative process, which we are suggesting for the first set of regulations, requires a motion in favour in both Houses before the regulations can be made. The House will be able to reject the draft statutory instrument if it is not content with it. The Government believe that that is an appropriate level of scrutiny, and that the use of the negative resolution procedure for what are likely to be minor and technical amendments is also proportionate to the probable course of events. I hope that, having heard those assurances, my hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset will be willing to withdraw his amendment.
I have listened to the Minister with great care. The problem with comparing anybody to the great figures of history is that so many of them came to a sticky end. That does not, however, undermine the valour of their actions before they met their sticky end. It is the way of politics nowadays that people are reshuffled, whereas in olden times they were rather more finally dealt with. This is perhaps one respect in which I am a moderniser, in that I am glad and reassured that political careers now end more gently than they did in times gone by. I was comparing my right hon. Friend the Minister to Simon de Montfort at the height of his powers when he was successfully commanding the country and advancing democracy.
The mood of the Committee today suggests that it would probably not vote in support of my amendment, and I shall therefore seek leave to withdraw it. However, I would just add that, to use an old cliché, a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush. It would be an advantage to place in the legislation a requirement for the affirmative resolution procedure, because we cannot guarantee what future Governments will do or, more particularly, what the European Court of Justice will do. The Minister referred to that possibility. There is a risk that the Court could make a highly political judgment that would change the regulations or cause them to be changed by the Government. That could allow the Government to use the negative resolution procedure, because the decision had come from the ECJ, without giving the House the opportunity to debate a genuinely important political matter. I regret that Her Majesty’s Government are not going to accept my proposal, but I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Clause 5 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Extent, commencement and short title
I beg to move amendment 4, page 4, line 15, leave out subsection (2) and insert—
‘(2) This Act comes into force in accordance with the following provisions—
(a) Section 1 comes into force on the day after the following conditions are fulfilled—
(i) in each House of Parliament a Minister of the Crown moves a motion that the House approves the coming into force of section 1, and
(ii) each House agrees to the motion without amendment,
(b) the other provisions of this Act come into force on the day on which this Act is passed.’.
This will be the last amendment to be discussed in Committee. It would enable the House to revisit the question of whether Croatia was ready to join the EU before this Bill ratifying the accession treaty came into effect. The Minister made it clear on Second Reading that the accession process that Croatia had followed had involved more rigorous demands than those placed on Romania or Bulgaria, or any of the earlier accession states. However, I think it is accepted on all sides that, unless things have changed dramatically since the Second Reading debate, Croatia has not yet fulfilled all that is expected of it. Much progress has clearly been made, and that is to be welcomed, but more undoubtedly remains to be done.
The European Commission is continuing its monitoring process, and the Minister mentioned that a further report was expected next spring. He provided the more accurate date of next March for its delivery, and we expect it to be the final report. On Croatia’s progress in dealing with domestic war crimes, the Minister said on Second Reading that the Government’s assessment was “almost complete”, but that more work was still required. The amendment would allow the House the opportunity to assess whether Croatia had made further progress and whether the process had been completed.
On the Croatian civil justice system, the Minister said on Second Reading that despite a significant number of additional judges being appointed to focus on the backlog of outstanding civil cases, the number of such cases had increased. About 844,000 new cases had been brought before the civil courts during the first half of 2012, and only 836,00 cases had been resolved during that period. In fact, not only was the backlog not being reduced, it was getting worse.
The Minister said—I quote him for the sake of accuracy—that
“although we accept that further work needs to be done, we think that Croatia has made good progress”.—[Official Report, 6 November 2012; Vol. 552, c. 765.]
It has been claimed that the process is almost complete, yet it is claimed also that further work needs to be done. My amendment would allow the House, perhaps early next year, to determine whether progress had been made, whether progress continues to be made or whether the backlog in civil cases has begun to reduce.
I hope this fairly minor amendment will find favour with the Government and, indeed, among Members on both sides of the Committee.
Let me draw the Committee’s attention to the conclusion of the European Scrutiny Committee’s report, entitled “Croatia: monitoring the accession process”. Paragraph 1.89 states:
“Logically, the House should not be asked to ratify the accession treaty until the pre-accession monitoring has been completed, and it has been demonstrated that Croatia is indeed fully prepared.”
I concur completely with that conclusion, and my amendment gives the House of Commons the opportunity to be able to confirm for itself that all is in order before this Bill is passed. I commend it to the Committee.
I think the amendment is excellent, worthy of the whole Committee’s support. Although enlargement is a very good thing—I agreed with the Minister when he set out the advantages and confirmed that bringing new member states in has been beneficial to the United Kingdom—countries need to be ready for it. We know, however, that some countries that have acceded have not been ready: their criminal justice systems have not been ready; their procedures against corruption have not been fully thought through; and the independence of their judiciary could not be guaranteed. With Croatia, there are even questions relating to the independence of the police, and some difficulties in passing legislation to ensure that the police are politically independent.
I therefore view it as a good thing that Parliament should have a further opportunity to approve the Bill before it is enacted. I know that there are other ways of doing that. It is, I suppose, a gratifying thought that the Bill could be vetoed and that the Queen could exercise her ancient power not to approve it. I say that as we approach the 300th anniversary of when that last happened. It would restore an historic precedent if the Government were to decide that Croatia was not ready to join and that the Bill should be vetoed. I think that the Norman French would be “la Reine s’avisera”, or the Queen will take advice—words that have not been used since the reign of Queen Anne—and this would allow further deliberation on the Bill.
It would probably be better in this more democratic age, compared with the reign of Her late Majesty Queen Anne, to have a parliamentary process that would be the final authorisation of the ratification of the treaty under our normal constitutional processes, as set out in the European treaty. That would be preferable to using a rather antiquated, if perhaps romantic, way of delaying the Bill’s coming into law. No doubt the Government will say that they could delay handing in the instruments of ratification of the treaty to the European community, but again that does not seem to me to be an ideal way of proceeding. If doubts remain about Croatia’s readiness to join, the decision should be a parliamentary one rather than a prerogative one. Failing to hand in the instruments of ratification is in many ways much the same as vetoing the Bill outright. It is using the royal prerogative rather than a parliamentary procedure.
I therefore think that my hon. Friend the Member for Bury North (Mr Nuttall) has come up with an excellent amendment—much better than the one I tabled, which was tabled out of a concern that Croatia will change the way the budget of the European Union operates. I wonder whether it is sensible to allow a new member state to join when we are using roll-over budgets. It strikes me as a risk that by the middle of next year, we might have an unstable procedure of financing the European Union—one that relies on the fall-back position set out in the treaty rather than on an new multi-annual financial framework—which would put a strain on the EU’s ability to meet the commitments it has made to Croatia by allowing it to become a member, and would leave confusion and dissatisfaction on all sides. It would be better to have the multi-annual financial framework in place before the formal ratification of the treaties went through.
I hope that the Government will think carefully about the amendment and about the process they are going to adopt. The amendment proposed by my hon. Friend the Member for Bury North would allow this House and, indeed, the other place to reconsider the eligibility of Croatia to join the EU and whether it was suitable under the circumstances prevailing at the time—if, for example, the multi-annual financial framework had not been agreed or, indeed, if there were some other problem. Between now and next May, who knows whether Greece and possibly even Germany along with Finland and all sorts of countries might have left the euro, deciding that it was kaput—a German word, I believe, which I occasionally use in this Chamber, as allowed by “Erskine May”, which grants the odd quotation of foreign words? We could find that we have agreed this magnificent Act of Parliament, written on the finest vellum, signed in the finest ink, but that it proves ineffective because circumstances will have changed and there is no fall-back position other than a rather heavy-handed use of the prerogative power to prevent the instrument of ratification that we have approved going further along the line, leaving us having approved Croatia’s membership when there are all these other factors that might make it unsuitable.
The European Scrutiny Committee was looking at whether Croatia is, in fact, ready to join. I am not the greatest admirer of the European Union, and allowing countries that are a little bit corrupt and a little bit fishy to join gives me an opportunity to criticise the EU a bit more and to say, “Look, we are letting in dodgy types and corrupt Governments”. We could be letting in people with judicial systems that are not right, yet still benefit from the European arrest warrant. I am thus speaking against my own interest as a critic of the European Union, but it shows how broad-minded and sympathetic I am to the Government in supporting the amendment. It secures and provides ballast for the Government, allowing them to proceed with confidence and panache in getting Croatia to become a member, making it certain that when the documents are finally lodged, everyone is happy that Croatia will fit in with the EU—like the final piece of the jigsaw that people fear they lost behind the sofa but has finally been found, rather than one that is a bit dog-eared and bent that needs to be pushed or squeezed in. I hope that the Government will, in their wisdom and thoughtfulness, accept the amendment because it will protect and help them.
My hon. Friend is making a strong case for changing the way in which we deal with a country’s accession. I assume that he is keen for the amendments to be adopted and to govern the way in which we deal with future accessions that could be far more controversial even than Croatia’s.
My hon. Friend is entirely right. It is important to set a precedent in this instance. I do not usually like new precedents; I think that they are rather dangerous. One always wants to find an historic precedent to which one can refer. On this occasion, however, it may be right to set the new precedent of securing the certainty that a country constitutes that smooth piece, with its corners just so, which can be inserted into the jigsaw that is the European Union.
It seems to me that a Government who are as good and as great as this Government—a coalition Government who see these matters in a broad and rounded way—will want to agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Bury North, because surely it is very important that when Croatia joins, Croatia is ready to join. We have found before when we have let countries join early that it is much, much harder to solve the problems when they are in than it was before they were in. Once they are in, they benefit from all that comes from the European treaties. Before they are in, they are of course supplicants, and the power rests with the European Union to decide whether to admit them. It is unquestionably sound and prudent to follow the recommendation of my hon. Friend and to put this final brake on the process, so that it goes ahead only when we are comfortable that the Croatians have really got their act together.
It might be sensible to delegate consideration of this matter to the European Scrutiny Committee, so ably chaired by my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Mr Cash), who would be able to bring all his knowledge and wisdom to the decision on whether Croatia had met the tests set by the European Union. Otherwise, we shall sow the wind and reap the whirlwind. We shall once again see a European Union that is fiddling its own rules to get what it wants. We shall say “Look what this European Union does: it sets down these rules, it sets down these conditions, it sets down these terms, but once they become inconvenient, it casts them aside and forgets them in order to be able to do what it wanted to do in the first place.”
It is the British Government and the British people who have the backbone and the strength of mind to ensure sure that the European Union is held properly to account, and to ensure that we have a chance to make it do what it says it is going to do, rather than wandering off on the path of allowing countries that are not fit to join to join early.
This is an important amendment, and it is right for it to be discussed properly. As has already been said today, we need to learn from the experience of the enlargement process in a number of respects, but I think it particularly important for us to learn from the experience of the negotiations and preparations relating to the membership of Bulgaria and, to some extent, Slovakia. It has been acknowledged widely, if not as publicly as we would have liked, that not enough care and attention was involved in the preparations in Bulgaria, particularly with regard to justice and home affairs. I think that the Commission and, indeed, the Council have learnt the lessons of that.
I was slightly concerned to read, before I came into the Chamber, a statement from Štefan Füle, the European Commissioner responsible for enlargement and European neighbourhood policy. After visiting Croatia, he said that he thought that there was more work to be done before Croatia entered the EU on 1 July 2013. As we have heard, the final monitoring report of the European Commission is due to be published in the spring, but Commissioner Füle clearly stated that it would be wrong to think that all the work in Croatia had been done and that it is simply a question of our going through the mechanics of approving the accession treaty.
In Commissioner Füle’s view—and no one knows better than he does—major work still needs to be done in Croatia, particularly in regard to competition policy, judicial reform and fundamental rights, justice, freedom and security, and the translation of the acquis into domestic law. He also said that additional efforts needed to be made to improve a number of the chapters that have been negotiated, such as those applying to agriculture, the environment, and the preparations that are necessary for the effective utilisation of the structural funds. In other words, he believes that a fair amount of work remains to be done during the next few months to ensure that Croatia is in an effective state to comply with the stipulations for membership of the European Union. It worried me slightly that he listed such a large number of areas in which further work was needed. He also said that he hoped that further regional issues would be addressed, and that he looked forward to a final resolution of problems relating to relationships between Croatia and its neighbours.
It is important for us not to give the impression that everything is hunky-dory. Much work does indeed need to be done, and I think that the monitoring report will prove to be very important when it is published in the spring. As has already been said, the European Scrutiny Committee, aware that the report would be forthcoming next year, suggested that full consent ought not to be given until we had seen a final, definitive evaluation of the point that Croatia has reached in its preparations.
I should like the Minister to respond to what Commissioner Füle has said. He concluded that he and the Commission were confident that the work was genuinely in progress and would be completed in its entirety and on time, and I imagine that the Minister is also confident of that, but I should like to ask him a question. Let us suppose—unlikely though it is—that, as a result of, for instance, political crisis or institutional trauma, the work was not done. What would happen then? How would the Government respond if, for whatever reason, the Croatian Government decided to say “Thus far and no further”, irrespective of the commitments and promises that they had given? How, indeed, would the European Union respond?
I thank the hon. Member for Bury North (Mr Nuttall) for tabling the amendment. I think that it is important and needs to be discussed, and I genuinely look forward to hearing what the Minister has to say in response to the points that have been made.
The accession process for Croatia has certainly been more rigorous and demanding than those for previous accessions, as the hon. Member for Bury North (Mr Nuttall) pointed out. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Caerphilly (Wayne David) on the importance of learning lessons from previous enlargements. We want to avoid the situation in which we found ourselves in respect of Romania and Bulgaria, where a co-operation and verification procedure had to be introduced post-enlargement to monitor progress in a specific area.
I know that the hon. Member for North East Somerset (Jacob Rees-Mogg), the brand-new moderniser, is trying to be helpful, as ever, in his support for the amendment, but I am not sure how helpful the amendment will be. I know that 16 member states have already ratified Croatia’s accession, but let us say for the sake of argument that all member states passed a similar amendment. In that situation, Croatia’s accession would be delayed greatly. That would be regrettable, as Croatia has built up a certain momentum towards accession. There are still areas where we want to see more progress but, as has been stated, the European Commission’s final report in March will set out the progress that has been made in those areas about which hon. Members across the House have concerns. If the amendment were to be passed, it would delay the process unnecessarily and it could have a negative impact on that momentum. We encourage the Government and the Commission to monitor closely the progress in those areas, especially as they relate to the judiciary and fundamental rights, but we do not think the amendment is necessary, as we want to sustain the momentum.
Clause 6(1) makes provision for the territorial extent of the Bill. It extends to the whole of the United Kingdom. Subsection (2) indicates the intention that the Bill, should it be granted Royal Assent, will come into force immediately, and subsection (3) provides for the short title.
The purpose of the amendment tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Bury North (Mr Nuttall) is to delay the entry into force of a specific clause. The amendment would require a motion in both Houses before clause 1, the element of the Bill providing approval for the Croatian accession treaty, could enter into force. I must say plainly to the Committee that in the Government’s view delaying Croatia’s accession to the EU, as proposed in the amendment, would not be helpful to the UK in securing its objectives in EU enlargement policy and it might cause some damage to our interests overall. I intend to respond in detail to the points raised about some of the outstanding questions in respect of Croatia’s progress towards meeting the Commission’s benchmarks in the various accession chapters.
I start by saying that the Government have, as my hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset (Jacob Rees-Mogg) pointed out earlier, enhanced the role that Parliament has played in the approval of EU decision making through the European Union Act 2011. The Scrutiny Committees in this place and in the other place have also followed the Commission’s monitoring reports on Croatia’s progress towards accession. The Government’s judgment, on the basis both of the Commission’s successive monitoring reports and of our own bilateral engagement, is that Croatia is on track to be ready in full to accede to the EU on 1 July 2013. The Croatian Government have already responded positively to the October call for action on the remaining areas by preparing an action plan to address outstanding concerns, as they did in response to the Commission’s monitoring report in April. The treaty also includes a range of safeguard measures that could be imposed, both before and after accession, in specific areas where reforms were not complete. For example, the Commission is empowered under the accession treaty to recover all state aids paid by the Croatian Government to state-owned shipyards if Croatia does not meet EU requirements under chapter 8, on competition, by the time of accession.
As my hon. Friend said, the Government always have the option, as a final resort, in the wholly unexpected event of Croatia not being ready, of holding back from depositing the instrument of ratification. In reality, if there were such a crisis—if some new Administration in Croatia did not commit themselves to the accession process with the enthusiasm that we see from the current Croatian Government—that would not just be a matter for the United Kingdom; it would be a matter for a very large number of member states and for the EU institutions.
We do not expect to need to use those safeguards. In answer to the point made by the hon. Member for Caerphilly (Wayne David), let me say that I have talked to Commissioner Füle about Croatian accession as well as to members of his team in the Commission. We need to emphasise that while the Commission is doing its job in going through the fine print of what Croatia has done and checking to what extent it has met the benchmarks laid down for it, Commissioner Füle personally and the accession team he leads remain very confident that although more needs to be done between now and July, Croatia is on track to be ready for accession at the date set down for it to join the European Union.
The hon. Gentleman also mentioned Štefan Füle’s comments about regional issues. As he knows—this came up on Second Reading—there are some outstanding issues with Slovenia, in particular, but the solution does not lie wholly in Croatia’s hands. A long-standing banking dispute going back to the break-up of the former Yugoslavia is still unresolved and the UK continues to urge both Slovenia and Croatia to find a way forward to settle that bilateral dispute in a way that respects the relevant international agreements. We have also said—this applies not only to Croatia but to other accessions—that bilateral disputes should not be used as an excuse to block progress when a candidate country is meeting its accession benchmarks.
We agree with Commissioner Füle that there is more work to be done. We have supported him in urging the Croatian leadership at the most senior levels to keep up its work to complete the outstanding tasks. The Croatian Government assured Commissioner Füle when he visited Croatia on 25 and 26 November that of the 10 key issues that the Commission had highlighted, work on seven would be completed by the end of 2012 and on the remaining three by the end of January 2013. Those assurances and the knowledge of how far Croatia has come and how committed its Government are to delivering in full on their obligations cause both Commissioner Füle and the UK Government to be confident that Croatia is in the right place to have crossed those hurdles by July 2013.
As a number of hon. Members have said, the accession process has been much more rigorous for Croatia than it was for Bulgaria and Romania, and because of that Croatia is better prepared for membership than those two countries were before their accession. The level of transparency and accountability in the Croatian judiciary has increased significantly over the reform period, institutions have been established and continue to develop to verify assets and conflicts of interest, and noteworthy progress has been made on investigations of and convictions for high-level corruption, most recently with the conviction of the former Prime Minister, Ivo Sanader, who was convicted of corruption and sentenced to 10 years’ imprisonment. There could be little more by way of a clear demonstration of the independence of the Croatian courts and of Croatia’s determination to show clearly to her future partners that no one is exempt from an independent judicial process and rigorous laws against corruption.
My hon. Friends raised a number of more detailed questions about Croatia’s readiness for membership. I want to try to respond to them, as they all involved serious matters. Let me first take the question of the police, to which my hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset referred. In the run-up to the December 2011 general election in Croatia, one of the last acts of the outgoing Government was to approve a package of amendments to the police Act, which was seen as allowing for political influence in the promotion of officers. Following the election of the current Government, the new Interior Minister attempted to introduce changes to the amendments, drawing on his own experience as a previous police director general, to create a system that was demonstrably based on merit and transparency. However, the European Commission expressed concern with certain details of the new law, and the United Kingdom raised the need for consultation with the Commission to ensure that Croatia embedded reforms and conformed with the EU acquis. The Croatian Government therefore delayed their domestic legislation process to take account of the Commission’s recommendations and to bring their own reforms into line with EU best practice.
The Commission has now approved proposed amendments to Croatia’s police law and we understand that these will be finalised and adopted by the end of the year, but already on the basis of the police Act in Croatia, further byelaws have been adopted, including a code of ethics for officers, the appointment of a director general of the police, and various ordinances on the conduct of officers and procedures.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bury North spoke about the pressures on the Croatian system of civil justice, and he is right to say that between December 2011 and June 2012 the number of unresolved cases in the civil justice system rose by 0.6% from 827,102 to 832,919, but it would be a mistake for the Committee to look at those totals and make the assumption that nothing had changed. Those are aggregate figures that conceal very significant changes and significant improvements.
What happened overall was that more new cases came into the Croatian civil justice system than were resolved by the Croatian civil justice system, but if we look at the old cases, we see that during that six-month period the number of cases that were more than 10 years old fell by nearly 5%, and the number of cases that were more than three years old fell by more than 4%, so we can honestly say that Croatia made good progress. The Croatian Government have introduced measures such as a new enforcement Act, new powers for their financial agency to recover fines, a new courts Act, new civil procedure and penal procedure codes to improve case management within the Croatian court system, and modern IT systems to help the courts transact their business more efficiently.
Finally, on budgets, it is true that the Commission has said that it wants €15 billion more in the multi-annual financial framework compared with its original proposals, and that that €15 billion includes €10 billion supposedly earmarked for Croatia. Our position all along has been that although Croatia should be entitled to funding on the same basis as other member states once it joins the EU, the EU budget must look for priorities and savings have to be found to accommodate additional expenditure. The position set out by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister remains as he expressed it yesterday: we are going into these negotiations determined that the outcome we will accept will be a cut or at most a real-terms freeze in the EU budget.
I believe that further enlargement of the EU will help to promote the security, stability and prosperity of Europe and of the United Kingdom; that the expansion of the single market will benefit this country by bringing increased trade opportunities to a wider market; and that bringing Croatia into that single market will benefit the opportunities for UK business.
I am grateful for that guidance, Mr Crausby. I have some details on that matter and will be happy to speak about it on Third Reading.
Member states signed the Croatian accession treaty with the firm intention that it should be ratified by 1 July 2013. We believe that new member states should be able to join the EU when they have fulfilled their commitments as part of the tough and demanding accession process and are ready to take on the obligations of membership. Given the progress Croatia has made and the transparent commitment of its Government to completing the reforms that are still outstanding, we think there is no reason to delay this legislation coming into force and that we can be confident, on the basis of evidence, that Croatia will be ready. We should be eager to grasp the opportunities for the United Kingdom, both political and commercial, that stem from EU enlargement. Therefore, I think it is right to ask my hon. Friend the Member for Bury North to withdraw his amendment and for the House to support clause 6 as it stands.
I have listened carefully to the Minister and to the debate. I must say that if Croatia is as ready for accession as the Minister would have us believe, my proposed amendment would not hold that up. Croatia would complete all the requirements put on it and would be able to satisfy Members of this House, and when a Minister of the Crown laid an order before us we would happily pass it. However, I heard what the Minister said and feel that my hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset (Jacob Rees-Mogg) and I, despite the views we have put forward, are perhaps in a minority in the Committee, so I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Clause 6 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
The Deputy Speaker resumed the Chair.
Bill reported, without amendment.
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.
I thank all right hon. and hon. Members who have participated in our debates on the Bill. It is hard to single out individual Members, but I would like, as always, to express my thanks to the members of the European Scrutiny Committee for their work, particularly the Chair, my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Mr Cash), and my hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset (Jacob Rees-Mogg). In this afternoon’s debate and throughout our proceedings my hon. Friend the Member for Bury North (Mr Nuttall) has been active, concerned and sincere in the questions and challenges he has posed to those on the Front Bench. I would like to thank the hon. Member for Wolverhampton North East (Emma Reynolds) for her support for the Bill and that of the official Opposition. I also wish to put on the record my gratitude for the outstanding work of Government officials not only in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, but in the Home Office and the Ministry of Justice, in putting together this legislation.
The enlargement of the European Union and the establishment of the single market are two of the EU’s greatest achievements. Both are initiatives for which the United Kingdom can claim considerable responsibility and in which it can take great pride. The EU, alongside NATO, has been an instrument of peace and reconciliation that has helped to spread and entrench democracy and the rule of law across Europe, including swathes of our continent where those traditions and values were crushed for most of the 20th century. The single market has opened up prosperity and opportunity to hundreds of millions of people, to the mutual benefit of us all.
That is why the United Kingdom supports further, conditions-based enlargement. Croatia’s accession will further demonstrate the transformative power of enlargement, marking the historic moment at which the first of the western Balkan countries that were involved in the wars of the 1990s as Yugoslavia broke up joins. Croatia’s accession negotiations were closed in June 2011 following six years of significant reform. As I have explained, Croatia has faced the most demanding and challenging negotiations of any candidate country. As my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary made clear when he visited the Balkans this October, the Government fully support the ambitions not only of Croatia but of all countries of the western Balkans one day to join the European Union. That is a further reason why we believe that it is so important that Croatia’s accession is a success; it is blazing a trail that we hope that other countries of the western Balkans will, in due course, follow.
When I talk to Bulgarian and Romanian Ministers, they are the first to say that the current situation is deeply unsatisfactory. They feel at times that they are treated as second-class members of the EU, while other member states feel that the standards required at the time of accession were not fully met; hence we have the co-operation and verification mechanism. It is to the credit of Štefan Füle and the European Commission that they have learned from that experience. Chapter 23, in particular, was created explicitly to avoid any repetition of what happened with Romania and Bulgaria.
We have strengthened things even further in the light of our experience with Croatia. The policy now adopted by all member states and the Commission is that for future candidates, beginning with Montenegro, chapters 23 and 24 will be addressed first in any accession process, opened early but then kept open until practically the end. That means that justice and home affairs reforms, including impartial administration of policing, will be taken through national Parliaments and put into law. It also means that as the years of accession negotiations continue, we will see a track record built up so that at the end nobody can be in any doubt that the criteria have been met and that the country concerned is truly committed and ready for the obligations of membership.
That brings me on to the questions from Members on both sides of the House as to whether Croatia is ready. I will not repeat what I said during our debate on the last group of amendments, but I do want to respond to the comments of the hon. Member for Blackley and Broughton (Graham Stringer) about Croatia’s record in dealing with immigration and the management of its immigration and asylum systems and border controls.
Croatia has made substantial progress to deliver the necessary reforms required in border management and migration policy. The implementation of Croatia’s new immigration Act began in January, bringing migration legislation in line with that in other European countries. Croatia is already co-operating both with its immediate neighbours and with the EU on the return of illegal migrants and has apprehended 2,370 illegal migrants during this monitoring period. Croatia drafted a new migration strategy in July. We expect it to be finalised by the end of the year and adopted in early 2103.
In 2006, Croatia adopted an integrated border management action plan. This provided a comprehensive framework for the preparation of the external border once it joined the European Union, and it has kept its priorities under review and has been ready to amend them as it has moved towards accession. Croatia already has 81 fully functioning border crossing points. We have made it clear, as has the European Commission, that completion of the remaining BCPs is a priority and the Croatian Minister of the Interior has given us an assurance that they will be completed.
Although there is still work to be done over the next few months, Croatia has put in place strong foundations to manage migratory pressures. The most crucial outstanding requirement is the reconstruction of the two land border crossings at Klek and Zaton Doli in the new corridor between Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina. Intensive work is now under way to ensure that those border crossings and the other outstanding BCPs are complete prior to accession, and our understanding is that the work on the outstanding BCPs will be completed and delivered next spring, ahead of Croatia’s planned accession date.
Our judgment is that there is no cause to fear that Croatian accession will lead to an impact on the United Kingdom through illegal migration, asylum or human trafficking. Let me explain our reasons for that judgment. First, there will continue to be border controls between Croatia and neighbouring EU countries after accession. This will continue until Croatia fully implements the Schengen acquis, which is subject to its own evaluation process. As a result, third-country nationals will continue to be subject to the same levels of controls after accession if they seek to leave Croatian territory to go to another EU member state. There is not expected to be any significant increase in illegal immigration to the UK as a consequence of Croatia’s accession.
Secondly, Croatia does not present a high risk to the UK as either a source or transit country for illegal migration. Thirdly, we have not identified any victims of trafficking from Croatia in the UK. As I noted on Second Reading, in 2011, the US State Department’s “Trafficking in Persons Report”, 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. That means that Croatia is viewed as fully compliant with the minimum standards of the US’s Trafficking Victims Protection Act, so again I think we have good reason to be confident about Croatia’s record.
The Commission’s monitoring helpfully identifies those issues that remain outstanding, but it is also clear that the Commission expects Croatia to be ready on time and we share that assessment. Following the publication of the Commission’s October report, the Croatian Government prepared an action plan, a copy of which has been shared with the two parliamentary scrutiny Committees. That action plan was a clear indication that the Croatian Government have grasped what they need to do, and it is now up to them to deliver.
The Government support EU enlargement and the benefits it will bring to the UK. We are in favour of Croatia joining the EU, we believe that it is well on its way to demonstrating its readiness to join the European Union and we are fully confident that it will be ready by next July. The impact that Croatian accession will have in promoting stability and sending a message of hope across the western Balkans should be welcomed by every party in this House. I commend the Bill, and its Third Reading, to the House.
As I said on Second Reading, the Opposition welcome the Bill and support the accession of Croatia to the European Union and the ratification of the Irish protocol.
As we did in government, we support enlargement, provided that candidate countries fulfil the conditions of membership. I echo the Minister in saying that across Europe’s frontiers, the process of European Union accession has provided and continues to provide an incentive for democratisation, economic and political reform, trade liberalisation, and the promotion of human rights.
As has been noted in today’s debate and on Second Reading, Croatia’s accession process has been rigorous and demanding. Indeed, it has been more rigorous and demanding than for previous accessions. Croatia has made remarkable progress, especially given the backdrop of the violent and bloody conflict in the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s.
In terms of the UK’s national interests, the economic case for enlargement is clear. If candidate countries fulfil the conditions of membership, it is very much in our national interests to enlarge the European Union’s single market—the largest single market in the world—for British businesses, and to expand the size and power of the European Union. The larger the single market of the European Union, the heavier its collective weight and the more powerful it will be in prising open markets such as India, Mercosur, Canada, Singapore and Japan and in negotiating beneficial free trade agreements with them.
Croatia has successfully transposed 35 chapters of European Union law into its national legislation and it continues to make progress in the reform of its economy and judiciary. As I outlined on Second Reading, we continue to have concerns about some aspects of the implementation of the reforms, particularly in the areas of competition, the judiciary and fundamental rights, and security and justice. However, we are confident, as has been stated by the European Commission, that by the time of its accession in July, Croatia will have met the necessary requirements of the acquis and will therefore be ready to join the European Union. To ensure that that happens, the momentum must continue into next year until accession on 1 July 2013.
From our experience of previous accessions to the European Union, we know how important it is that the Commission and member states continue to support and monitor a candidate country’s progress right up to its accession. We welcome the Commission’s commitment to publish its final report next March. We want to avoid a situation in which the EU has to put in place co-operation and verification mechanisms to monitor progress post-enlargement. To that end, I encourage the Government and the Commission to continue to support Croatia over the next few months.
The Irish protocol provides a clarification of the application of the treaty of Lisbon. It does not amend the treaty or repatriate powers from the European Union to Ireland. As the Minister set out in Committee, the provisions of the clarification apply equally to every member state. The protocol is valuable because it provides assurances to the Irish people in specific areas of concern regarding the application of the Lisbon treaty. It contains safeguards on the right to life, family and education, and on taxation and Irish neutrality, meaning that Ireland retains decision making in those areas.
In conclusion, the Labour party supports the Bill and its progress through the House. We look forward to welcoming Croatia, when it is ready, on its accession on 1 July next year.
May I begin by reciprocating the kind thanks from my right hon. Friend the Minister? When debating with him and the hon. Member for Wolverhampton North East (Emma Reynolds), every day is like a jubilee year in which we have the chance to discuss these great and important European matters. It brings joy not only to all of us in the Chamber, but no doubt to the many millions who are watching our deliberations on the Parliament channel.
I remind the House of the process that has brought us to the European Union (Croatian Accession and Irish Protocol) Bill. Thanks to the European Union Act 2011, we have a clear, proper and detailed process through which to work that allows detailed parliamentary scrutiny of any European decision. That is important and extraordinarily welcome because it ensures that things cannot be gently pushed through or run through on the nod on a quiet Thursday afternoon when no one is around, and it ensures that on a full-blown Tuesday, people are in the Chamber listening, paying attention and tabling amendments. Sometimes those amendments are not agreed with, which is a pity and at times shows a disappointing view of the world, but none the less, the House is allowed to do its proper job, as will be the case in another place. I am grateful to the Minister for piloting through Parliament the 2011 Act that allows us to do this part of our work today.
The second point I wish to reiterate is that the Irish protocol we are approving shows what can be done with treaty amendments. As the hon. Member for Wolverhampton North East said, it may be merely a clarification or tidying-up exercise, but it required every member state to agree to the protocol, in order to get the Irish ratification of the Lisbon treaty that was so desperately needed after it was rejected the first time. What Ireland can do, surely the United Kingdom can also do—and with greater strength and success. We must use the mechanism of renegotiation to create a European Union that we want and with which we can live. If we do that, the European Union will be better not only for us but for the continentals as well.
Finally, after all that has been said in this debate about Croatia, its qualities and whether it is fit for membership of the European Union, I want to welcome it into the club—the Carlton club of international organisations. Broadening and widening the EU has been welcome and good for this country and for the type of Europe that has developed. There was the risk of a narrowly focused French-style Europe—if I may use such language in the Chamber, Mr Deputy Speaker—that was essentially protectionist and inward looking. Although broadening out has had its problems, and there were failures to ensure the strict application of proper procedures as countries joined the EU, we have none the less been able to push for a more open-looking Europe. It is not a Europe without faults, but it certainly has advantages.
Although the number of people who came to the UK under previous accession treaties may have got out of control, the individuals who arrived brought much good with them. I particularly rejoice that so many Polish people who arrived are my co-religionists, and Catholic churches throughout the country are bursting at the seams. In that sense, broadening the EU brings much to be welcomed—Croatia is another Catholic country, so it is another one for the papists, I am glad to say.
But—and there is a but—we should take seriously the warning of Croatia joining. Federal unions that stretch beyond what the people within them will accept have a tendency to collapse, and to collapse violently. When we consider how the EU is constructed, we must remember what happened with Yugoslavia. If we try to force together peoples who do not form a natural unit of democracy, and if rules and regulations are enforced upon them by unelected and dishonest judges, and by a corrupt bureaucracy that cannot sign off its accounts, we risk creating such dissatisfaction that we undermine the peace we were trying to bring in the first place by the widening and deepening of that union.
Although we welcome Croatia into the club, we, as the UK, should be very conscious that the EU, which is not a democratic body, risks overreaching itself and losing the faith and confidence of the British people. It could find that its end, if it is not reformed, is a disagreeable one, and one that has deep-seated problems within it. We should be challenging it and dealing with it as we get a better settlement for the UK. That will help to create a Europe that might be more stable and long-lasting than the bureaucratic, centralised version we currently have.
In these times when the EU is strongly criticised in this Chamber and more often outside—sometimes correctly, sometimes incorrectly—it is important for us to focus, every so often, on its two great pivotal achievements, to which the Minister referred. First, the single market has been an undeniable success. Britain was an early advocate of the single market and remains an advocate of the process of completing it. The second great achievement is the process of enlargement. With the single market, enlargement has been part of the lifeblood of the EU—it has given it direction and momentum. Let us not forget that the process has led from the original six member states of the iron and steel community coming together to the step-by-step enlargement of the EU to 27 member states. Before too long, there will be 28. Taken together, those two pivotal developments have helped to shape the EU as it is today, which, in my vision, is an association of independent sovereign states that from time to time pool their sovereignty in their mutual best interests. If those two principles continue to loom large at the centre of the EU, it will be a force for good and prosperity in this world, despite its difficulties and need of reform.
Hon. Members have had a good debate on Croatia’s membership of the EU. Croatia expressed an interest in joining the EU some 10 years ago and has gradually built up momentum. It is now very close to joining the EU, and it is important to reflect on why Croatia is so keen to do so. Let us not forget that in the 1990s, the former Yugoslavia was ripped apart by the most horrendous conflict in modern Europe. Slovenia led the way out of that, preparing to join the EU, and has been followed by Croatia. It is important that people there know that we understand the experience that they have had which has led to their being so firmly committed to the principle of European co-operation.
I am also glad that the EU has learned lessons from that process of preparation and enlargement. There have been numerous references, with regard to Slovakia, and, later, Bulgaria and Romania, to insufficient preparation before accession and how those countries would implement their verbal commitments, particularly on justice and home affairs. I think that those lessons have been learnt in the way the process has been conducted with Croatia.
We had a good Second Reading debate, in which I was pleased to participate, and a very good Committee stage today. The ghost of Simon de Montfort has hovered over the Chamber at numerous points. My historical hero, however, is not Simon de Montfort but Gilbert de Clare, another Frenchman. As I am sure hon. Members know—certainly, the Minister knows it well—he built Caerphilly castle. Gilbert de Clare, an Englishman by adoption, a Welshman by conquest and a Norman by lineage, well personifies the need for us to learn the lessons of the past and to work together in European co-operation.
We had a good debate, particularly on Second Reading, on free movement. I am glad that hon. Members tabled their amendments on the Floor of the House so we could debate them properly. The issue of free movement of peoples is a concern to our constituents—let us be absolutely clear about that. These issues cannot be swept under the carpet. We have to debate them honestly, fairly and rationally, and I believe that we have done so. I am pleased that the Government have opted for the maximum transitional period on the free movement of labour from Croatia.
We also had a good debate on whether there should be a delay in agreeing to the accession of Croatia, and whether it would be appropriate to abide by the recommendation of the European Scrutiny Committee that we should ensure that all the i’s are dotted and the t’s are crossed before we move towards the accession of Croatia. I was glad to hear the categorical assurance the Minister for Europe gave a moment ago. I am pleased to hear that that in part echoes the views of the European Commissioner responsible, Mr Füle. The Croatian Government have to be complimented on the strength of the commitments they have given. There is no doubt in my mind that they are not hollow words. They mean what they say and will introduce all the necessary measures asked of them in the coming months.
We are moving towards the end of this process, but I believe that enlargement remains a central driving force of the EU. I hope that when Croatia becomes a member of the European Union on 1 July 2013, it will be not simply a country marking the end of a process, but a staging post. I hope that the agenda will move forward with regard to Iceland, and to Turkey, although there are significant difficulties with those negotiations. I hope, too, that for the western Balkans, the negotiations and discussions leading to membership will gather momentum. I am concerned that things are not so positive with regard to Bosnia and Herzegovina. Nevertheless, I hope that there will be progress, as I hope there will be with other countries, particularly Serbia and Montenegro.
Finally, as the Minister for Europe correctly said, in some ways it is significant that the other week, the former Croatian Prime Minister Ivo Sanader was sentenced to 10 years’ imprisonment for taking bribes from two foreign countries. That would be a difficult and traumatic experience for any country. It shows, on the one hand, that work remains to be done in Croatia on reforms and tackling corruption, but on the other hand, it shows the determination there to ensure that these abuses and crimes are tackled effectively, strongly and quickly. It is a clear indication that Croatia is well on its way to becoming a successful Member of the EU, and I hope that this country will continue to do whatever it can to ensure that that process comes to fruition.
I congratulate the Minister and his team on shepherding this small but potentially tricky Bill through the House so far—assuming nothing goes wrong in the closing minutes. The debate has been well conducted: it has been mature and thoughtful, including from the ultramontane Benches of the Conservative party behind me. Having said that, I think the hon. Member for North East Somerset (Jacob Rees-Mogg) slightly lost the plot by appearing to compare the EU with the Yugoslavia of Slobodan Milosevic. I think that most people’s reading of Yugoslav history would be that during that violent period the Balkans suffered not from too much liberal internationalism, but from too much conservative nationalism.
Okay, but the violence broke out some time after Tito’s death. It was the explosion of nationalism at that point which contributed to the violence. The point is that Tito did not implement the proper freedoms and democracy in the way that western Europe recognised, and that allowed for the explosion of nationalism. I am not claiming that Tito was a liberal.
That is the whole point. The fact that Tito enforced a false union that people did not want led to exactly what the EU is now trying to stop. That is the argument: if we squeeze people into a situation they do not like, it will end unpleasantly. Regardless of the comparisons, though, we agree on the broad principle.
At the risk of deviating into a discussion about Croatian history, I would say that some of the nationalist tendencies, particularly in Croatia, dated from well back into the second world war. It was the overhang of nationalisms that had been around for 100 years and more that exploded, whereas the spirit of liberal internationalism, which could be characterised by EU membership, is more likely to provide a peaceful avenue out of such conflict in the future.
I shall return to the subject at hand, as I am sure you would want me to do, Mr Deputy Speaker. By and large, this has been a thoughtful and considered debate without some of the unhelpful grandstanding we occasionally see on EU business. I hope that that sets a precedent for future discussion of EU business.
On the Irish protocol, the Bill sets an important precedent. It is a model of how a pro-European country can nevertheless adopt a flexible and pragmatic approach to European competences and powers, and—to put it the other way around—shows that we do not have to be anti-European or xenophobic and nationalistic to win what might be regarded as concessions and special considerations from fellow European Governments. That is a model that the UK, in particular, should bear in mind over the coming months and years.
On the main substance of the Bill, which is Croatian accession, the accession process has provided an enormously important opportunity for Croatia to develop its own democracy and its approach to justice and home affairs issues. For Britain and other European countries, it offers the opportunity to form an ever-stronger partnership with Croatia, including an opportunity for British investment, jobs, business and, in due course, perhaps for British migration to Croatia, as we discussed in Committee. However, it is clear that there is still work to be done in Croatia. I am sure that the day it was confirmed that Croatia was in full compliance with the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia was an important and historic one, but it did not go down entirely well with the Croatian public. There are still political and legislative hurdles to be overcome in Croatia.
The hon. and gallant Gentleman makes an important point of which he obviously has expert knowledge.
It is a testament to the hard work of European and Croatian officials and Ministers that so much progress has been made—indeed, it is really a testament to the capability of the European Union accession process to improve people’s lives. I would express some regret that Croatia’s border disputes with Slovenia, a European Union nation, and other, non-European Union Balkan nations have not been fully resolved in advance of accession. In that respect, we do not seem to have entirely learnt the lesson of Cyprus. I hope that in future European Governments will start to try to insist that, as part of the accession process, any outstanding border disputes should be fully resolved before accession takes place. That will be important for the other Balkan nations, let alone for more distant and even more challenging situations in countries such as Georgia, if their aspirations to European Union membership ever became a serious process. It is important to use the opportunities that accession offers us to resolve disputes—border and territorial disputes in particular—and make progress on all those fronts.
Bringing yet another nation into the family of the European Union also helps to fulfil the positive vision of a continent united not really by rules, bureaucracy and treaties, but by values—by freedom and democracy. Croatia’s 20th century was as troubled as any country’s in Europe, with three major periods of conflict and bloodshed. It is something to celebrate that its 21st century is going to see it taking its rightful place in a stable federation of free democracies. We will all strive together as Europeans to make Europe a place of peace, freedom and sustainable prosperity. It is a matter of pride that Croatia is taking its place in that process.
Like the hon. Member for North East Somerset (Jacob Rees-Mogg), I rise with unexpected and particular joy, because I think this is the first time the Whips have asked me to make a speech about Europe. This is not a usual occurrence, and I doubt they will be pleased with what I have to say.
Like the hon. Member for Cheltenham (Martin Horwood) and others, one cannot but wish Croatia well. It has had a terrible and bloody history within living memory, and I certainly wish it well in its progress towards democracy.
I want to make two main points. The first is about the relationship of this country and this Government with Europe and what Croatia’s accession means in the light of that policy, and the second is about the details of its accession. In relationship to the European Union as a whole, the Government have shown themselves in this debate to be quite schizophrenic. My hon. Friend the Member for Caerphilly (Wayne David) and the Minister for Europe—I thank him for his courtesy on Second Reading and in Committee, and for answering the questions I asked—offered an analysis of the European Union that might have been appropriate in 1972 and 1975, and even in the early 1990s, after the collapse of the iron curtain. That European Union was described as a free market of sovereign democratic countries coming together under the full freedoms of a European Union in which democracy had been pooled. I have to say to my hon. Friend the Member for Caerphilly, however, that the concept of pooled democracy is, in philosophy, a category mistake. If we pool sovereignty, we lose sovereignty. The concept of pooling is not consistent with the concept of sovereignty.
The view exists that the European Union is progressing and supporting democracy in areas that were at war or previously had no democracy, and that free trade will take care of everything else, but we can see what is actually happening in Europe. We hear the Prime Minister telling us that he is going to fight until his last breath, almost, over the European budget. We hear that the European bureaucrats and some of the European countries are living in a parallel universe. We can see that the creation of the euro has led to deflation, unemployment and a lack of democracy in the eurozone, and we can see the Brussels bureaucracy wanting to take more control for itself.
In fact, we can see a European Union in crisis, and it is difficult for this country to know exactly how to respond to that issue. I believe that, rather than accepting the Panglossian view that all is well within the EU, it is time to be seriously awkward. Perhaps the Bill presents one of many opportunities for us to be that. The European Union is going in a very different direction from the one in which the Prime Minister, the Minister for Europe and those on my Front Bench want. We want to bring more powers back to the House of Commons and to the Government. We want to see more of a free trade association and less power going to the European bureaucracy. We certainly do not want a fiscal union, a banking union, or the much closer integration that seems likely within the eurozone. That would present a serious threat to the City of London, which, depending on the state of the economy, can account for about 15% of our economy. If we do not want those things to happen, we need to state clearly where we want to go. I do not believe that we want to go—
I am grateful for your guidance, Mr Deputy Speaker.
In looking at what was happening generally in the European Union, I was simply asking, in relation to Croatia’s accession, whether we should continue to adopt an attitude that might have been appropriate 30 years ago but probably is not now. If we want to get some sovereignty back, and if we want to pay less into the European Union, we should negotiate hard at every opportunity, as the hon. Member for North East Somerset said. I do not see the point of being communautaire and good Europeans at one table, then going into the next room and saying that we are not good Europeans and that our objective is completely different. Every treaty and negotiation presents an opportunity to put forward our view.
I also have to say that the Conservative Members who moved amendments were in a minority, as there is a consensus in the House on Europe. It is worrying for our democracy, however, that that consensus is so at odds with public opinion outside, which is profoundly sceptical about deepening and enlarging the European Union, and cries out for its own say in a referendum—not on a specific issue such as Croatian accession, but on basic principles such as the public voting us in to pass laws and to represent them in this place. Should we really have passed so much power and sovereignty to the European Union?
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that my hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset (Jacob Rees-Mogg) made an excellent speech about the potential impact of the accession of Croatia? Unusually, however, there was a flaw in my hon. Friend’s argument when he compared the accession of Croatia to joining the Carlton club. The Carlton club is a fine institution for people of a certain political leaning to enjoy good company, but all the members pay into the club to join the club. It appears to me, however, that the only people willing to join the European Union are those who are paid to join it. What sort of a club is it when one has to be paid to join?
I bow to the hon. Gentleman’s greater knowledge of the Carlton club than I have or am ever likely to have in future. My guess is, though, that his analogy is accurate.
Let me finish on the detail of the Croatian accession. I think there is a fundamental problem in the Government’s arguments. I have good will and everybody should have good will towards Croatia, but it is absolutely clear that the country does not meet the criteria for entry at present. What we are being asked, then, is to believe that if we agree to the treaty now, changes will take place.
There is some history to draw upon, and not just the mistakes that have been mentioned throughout the debate in respect of Romania and Bulgaria. Countries sometimes reform and improve, yet go backwards. Hungary is a clear example, because it is moving away from the rule of law. If it had been carrying on as it is at present it is doubtful that it would have been allowed into the European Union, so to ask the House to agree to something that does not comply with the criteria now on the basis that it will be compliant in the future is, I believe, an act of faith and optimism that is not justified.
I leave Members with this thought. We have had debates in Westminster Hall and in this Chamber about the benefits and disbenefits of the European arrest warrant. In agreeing to Croatia becoming part of the European Union, allowing a country that currently has very poor judicial standards and a very poor judiciary, albeit one that it is trying to improve, we are giving that country the power to arrest British citizens very quickly. I worry about that. It can be problematic enough in France, Germany and other EU countries when people are arrested in this country for things that are not against this country’s law, but those countries at least have well established, albeit different, judicial systems to our own. Croatia, however, does not have that, so it might well leave some of our citizens vulnerable to the European arrest warrant.
I wish Croatia well. There is clearly a huge consensus here for its joining coming the European Union, but I worry about our relationship with the EU and I also worry that Croatia, when it becomes a full member, will not have met all the criteria.