I beg to move,
That this House believes that amongst other EU police, justice and home affairs measures, the UK should remain part of the European Arrest Warrant, the Schengen Information System II, Joint Investigations Teams, EU Council decision 2000/375/JHA on combating internet child pornography, EU Council decision 2002/348/JHA on international football security co-operation, Exchange of Criminal Records and Europol; supports reform to improve the operation of the European Arrest Warrant; and notes that without these measures the UK’s efforts to fight crime and ensure internal national security would be adversely affected.
Before speaking to the motion, I want to welcome the agreement of the Jordanian Parliament today to the treaty that the Home Secretary has negotiated, which we hope will speed the departure of Abu Qatada.
Today’s debate is about fighting cross-border crime. It is about whether the Home Secretary and the Prime Minister are going to back the police and victims in the fight against cross-border crime or whether they are going to back the Eurosceptics on their own Back Benches who oppose things simply because they have the word “Europe” in the title. It is about whether the Prime Minister and Home Secretary are prepared to show leadership in the national interest, as Downing street claimed it would do in last week’s briefing, or whether they will cave in again. It is about what the Government believe is or is not important in the fight against crime.
We are still in the dark about the Government’s view on European co-operation, justice and home affairs. We all know that crime does not stop at the channel; criminals do not stop at our borders. There are an estimated 3,600 organised gangs operating across Europe, and they are involved in things such as drugs, human trafficking, online child exploitation and theft. We know, too, that as people trade and travel more than ever, cross-border crime is likely to keep increasing—whether we are inside the European Union or outside it. The police need to be able to keep up. That means they have to be able to deal with European police forces and they have to have a legal framework within which to operate, pursue and share evidence on a legal basis.
We have said very clearly that we think a blanket opt-out, which means losing things such as the European arrest warrant or important data co-operation, would present a serious problem. Let me set this out in today’s debate. We know, for example, of the case of an 18-year-old student who was beaten until her eye sockets shattered in an attempted rape in Ireland. Her attacker, Arunas Cervinskas, left Ireland for London, but was returned by the Met three weeks after his European arrest warrant was issued. He is now serving an eight-year sentence in an Irish prison. That was the result of the arrest warrant and European police co-operation.
What is the Government’s position on this? Last year, the Prime Minister said:
“we will be exercising that opt-out”;
the Deputy Prime Minister then said, “No, we won’t”; and the Home Secretary said that
“the Government’s current thinking is that we will opt out of all pre-Lisbon police and criminal justice measures and then negotiate”—[Official Report, 15 October 2012; Vol. 551, c. 35.]
to opt back in. We know that Conservative Back Benchers have made their view clear: they want to opt out of the lot and do not want to opt back in to any of them. A letter signed by more than 100 Tory MPs says we should opt out of 130 of them. They certainly want out of the European arrest warrant, but what does the Home Secretary think? We have silence from her on what she thinks.
The Government were given plenty of time to look at all the measures, see whether any of them were redundant and make up their minds. Instead, they are leaving it to the last minute, dithering and putting at risk important measures in the fight against crime, creating immense uncertainty for our police forces. They are still not telling us what their view is on some of the most important measures of all—data sharing, criminal records or the European arrest warrant, for example.
I am very grateful that the right hon. Lady is so attentive. Why does she not understand that what we want is to have democratic accountability to the British people through this House of Commons? We want these things done by agreement between our country and the European Union, but not under European law. Her party gave away 138 vetoes over crucial policy areas, which makes it very difficult to govern this country democratically.
I wonder whether the right hon. Gentleman is really aware of the detailed implications of what he has said. He is arguing for a huge number of different bureaucratic arrangements with every country, whether on extradition or on legal frameworks. Let me give him an example of how the current framework operates. James Hurley, who was convicted of killing a police officer and escaped from custody, was returned two years ago under a European arrest warrant, and is now back in a British prison.
The right hon. Lady keeps talking about these awful situations as though the only possibility were some Europe-wide collective agreement under the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice. Does she not accept that it is perfectly possible for there to be extradition agreements between different countries that do not become subject to the European Court?
It is indeed possible for there to be a huge number of extradition agreements that take long periods to negotiate. Let me give the hon. Lady one example. Before we had the European arrest warrant—when we simply had separately negotiated extradition arrangements—it took 10 years to extradite a suspected terrorist from Britain to France. That is the consequence of the kind of haphazard framework that the hon. Lady wants us to adopt. Meanwhile, we have a European arrest warrant that allows decisions to be made swiftly, and to be made in the interests of the victims of crime.
The right hon. Lady may recall several cases in which British citizens have been caught up in arrest warrants, including one in Staffordshire, where someone was found guilty in absentia and given a monumentally long prison sentence although he was not remotely connected with the murder concerned. There are serious questions to be asked about whether the judiciary, as it is described, is actually run by politicians in certain cases.
The hon. Gentleman has made an important point. When the European Union Committee in the House of Lords was considering precisely these issues, and discussing cases in which there had been allegations of injustice, it commented:
“these arose from the consequences of extradition, including long periods of pre-trial detention in poor prison conditions, which could occur under any alternative system of extradition. Relying upon alternative extradition arrangements is highly unlikely to address the criticisms directed at the EAW and would inevitably render the extradition process more protracted and cumbersome, potentially undermining public safety.”
I will give way to the hon. Gentleman, but I must make a bit of progress first.
We have been struggling to find out what the Government are actually doing, and what their position actually is on these important measures. Today’s edition of The Guardian gave us some clues. It states that the Prime Minister is expected to opt into 30 to 40 measures, that a deal is being done by the Chief Secretary to the Treasury and the Minister for Government Policy, the right hon. Member for West Dorset (Mr Letwin), who sits in the Cabinet Office, and that
“the Tories want to opt back in to no more than 29”
so that they can say that they opted out of 100.
“The Lib Dems, who had been pressing for… 70…recently settled on a figure of about 45.
Ministers are planning to split the difference between 45 and 29, meaning the coalition will sign up to about 35 of the measures.”
This, it appears, is a numbers game. It is no way to decide on serious issues that affect the fight against crime and future justice for victims. However, we think it excellent that the Government have handed over negotiations to the right hon. Member for West Dorset. We recall that the last time the Prime Minister tried that, in relation to Leveson, the Cabinet Office Minister came over to our place and allowed us to draft the policy. We are quite happy to do that again if the Government cannot sort it out.
I realise that my right hon. Friend would quite like the right hon. Member for West Dorset (Mr Letwin) to be involved in these discussions, but I am a bit perplexed by the situation. Such an important question should really involve the Home Secretary. Does my right hon. Friend not agree that the Home Secretary should be there making the deals, rather than the Cabinet Office and the Treasury?
I agree with my right hon. Friend. The issue is immensely important and there must be a question about where the Home Secretary is in these discussions. Where is the voice for British policing? Where is the voice for law enforcement? Where is the voice for British victims? If she is not being heard on behalf of the police and of victims, she is letting them down.
Let me consider some of the key measures that the Government are threatening to opt out of. The police have said that the most important to them is the European arrest warrant, which gives them the power to arrest people here who are wanted for crimes back home, gives the courts the power to send them swiftly home to face justice, means that police forces abroad will act to arrest suspected criminals who have fled from justice here and means that courts across Europe can send those suspects swiftly back.
The teacher who ran off to France with a pupil was arrested under the warrant and returned within weeks. The man who tried to blow up the tube at Shepherd’s Bush was quickly returned from Italy. However, as I told the hon. Member for South Northamptonshire (Andrea Leadsom), it took 10 years of legal wrangling to send a suspected terrorist back to France before the European arrest warrant was introduced.
Will my right hon. Friend resist the urges of the Government parties to play the game of trying to broker how many measures they can opt in or out of? She is absolutely right to raise the issue of counter-terrorism. Is she aware that about 10% of the work of Europol is related to counter-terrorism? Is that not the compelling reason why we must keep these arrangements in place?
My hon. Friend is right, because terrorists do not respect international borders; they work across them. We know that many of the growing threats to this country involve cross-border crime or terrorism and that is why the police and those who seek to protect us must have the powers and tools to work across borders.
Let me give another example of the use of the European arrest warrant. The Salford armed robber, Andrew Moran, was found hiding in a villa in Alicante just four weeks ago. He had escaped from court after being convicted some years ago, but when the Spanish police found him they were able to arrest him straight away under a European arrest warrant. Let us turn back the clock to Ronnie Knight, the east end armed robber who fled to Spain before the days of the European arrest warrant. He did not have to change his appearance or his identity or hide behind the walls of a villa; he could wander around and do as he liked, because we had no means of getting the Spanish police to arrest him or the Spanish courts to send him home. He was able to open an Indian restaurant and a nightclub, ignoring British justice and the victims of crime.
The right hon. Lady is absolutely right to highlight the importance of the European arrest warrant and we in the Liberal Democrats wholeheartedly want to see it kept. Does she agree that there have been cases in which it has been misused and that it could be improved by a proportionality test and the new Eurobail proposals, which could avoid problems such as Mr Symeou having to spend time in Greece? We must ensure that it works properly.
I agree with the hon. Gentleman. Some aspects of the warrant should be improved and reformed and there are other areas of European co-operation that we should seek to improve. For example, we should ensure that the European arrest warrant is not used for too many minor crimes. We should also work with other European countries to ensure that when people become victims or suspects of crime abroad, they can be assured of proper legal support and justice. But it is still better to stay in and argue for reform than to pull out of the European arrest warrant when it is so important to our police and to victims.
The Prime Minister has said in the past that the European arrest warrant is highly objectionable, yet the Association of Chief Police Officers has said that opting out of it means
“higher costs, more offenders evading justice and increased risk to public safety.”
What is the Home Secretary’s view? Are we in or out of the arrest warrant? In or out? In the last year alone, Britain sent 900 people back to other countries under an arrest warrant, 95% of whom were foreign nationals. The Home Secretary makes great play of complaining that she cannot send back enough foreign criminals, but now she wants to make it harder to send back people suspected of serious crimes abroad—why?
The European arrest warrant—in or out? The prisoner transfer framework—in or out? That is the one that means we can transfer prisoners back to their home country without their consent. What about the Home Secretary’s position on joint investigation teams, which have helped to stop a human trafficking ring bringing young Czech women into Britain for prostitution and rape. Thirty-three victims were found and nine people were convicted as a result of a joint investigation team. A similar operation undertaken with the Romanian police stopped a gang trafficking children into the UK and meant that victims were protected. So joint investigation teams—in or out? What about sharing criminal records? The UK has received more than 500 notifications of British citizens convicted in other EU member states who need to go on the sex offenders register here at home. I am happy to give way to the Home Secretary if she will stand up and tell us whether she supports the sharing of information about sexual offences so that people can be put on the sex offenders register here. Yes or no? In or out? [Interruption.] Again we have silence from the Home Secretary, who cannot tell us, whether it be on sharing criminal records or on the European arrest warrant, what the Government’s position is on these vital measures.
The Opposition motion refers to eight specific measures out of the 135 or so, so I just want to clarify the Labour party’s position: is it advocating the exercise of the block opt-out and then selectively opting back in, or is it saying that there should be no exercise of the block opt-out at all?
The Home Secretary has not yet told us whether she actually has a workable way to do that, and we wait to see whether she has a workable way to deliver that at all. She has said that she wants a blanket opt-out, but most of her Back Benchers want to opt out of the lot and not opt back into anything. Our clear view is that we should not have a blanket opt-out that puts at risk the European arrest warrant and the crucial things needed for the fight against crime.
On criminal records, is the Home Secretary in or out? Again we have no answer from her. Sharing alerts on suspected criminals, or trafficking or kidnapping victims, crossing borders—in or out? Minimum standards for tackling online child exploitation—in or out? Information sharing on football hooligans—in or out? Co-operating on seizing criminals’ assets—in or out? Taking account of foreign convictions in court cases—in or out? Working with other countries on dealing with international genocide and war crimes—in or out?
I will give way to the hon. Lady if she can tell me about any of those. I understand that her view is to opt out of all of them and then simply on each measure to negotiate individually a separate agreement with every single country. That is her position. Perhaps she can tell me whether she has had any success persuading the Home Secretary of her position or whether the Home Secretary simply does not have a view on any of these matters.
The right hon. Lady can always intervene on me when it is my debate and my motion, but this is her motion, so I am asking her something. Presumably she is aware that the only alternative is to opt out en bloc—that was the negotiation that her Government agreed when they were in power. So does she intend to opt out en bloc and then opt back into certain measures—if so, which ones? Or does she not intend to opt out at all? She is speaking as though we have the alternative of simply picking and choosing, but she knows, or should know, that that is not the case.
I think that the hon. Lady in not in fact clear about what the position is, because she does not know what she is actually going to be able to opt back into. When Denmark tried to opt out and then opt back into a series of measures half its requests to opt back into measures were refused. That is why we do not believe that anything should be done to jeopardise the European arrest warrant, the data sharing and many of the other measures that I have set out today.
Two different positions are coming from Government Members at the moment. We have a simple position from the Back Benchers, which is that they just want to opt out of everything, and we have a blank sheet of paper from the Front Benchers, whereby they seem to hint that they might opt back into a few things but they will not tell us which. I can tell the House very clearly that, on the European arrest warrant, we should be in. We think that we should be in when it comes to proposals to take account of foreign convictions in our court cases, and when it comes to working with other countries on international genocide, yet we have heard nothing from Government Members on which of these vital measures they support, and on whether they have any workable way of opting back into the proposals.
The House of Lords European Union Committee looked at all this in some detail, and it says:
“The European Arrest Warrant is the single most important of the measures which are subject to the opt-out decision…opting out would have significant adverse negative repercussions for the internal security of the UK and the administration of criminal justice in the UK”,
so why are the Government doing this? The truth is that none of these questions is about crime or justice. All the points that Government Members are raising are about Europe, and the anxiety and hysteria about Europe among Back Benchers. Those Back Benchers want to ditch all European crime and security co-operation, which the police say is vital, and the work that children’s charities say helps victims.
The Government’s amendment to the motion says that they are looking at the issue, but that we should not worry because there will be a vote before any opt-out is exercised. It would be helpful if they could clarify whether there will be any vote on opting back in again, or whether they are simply planning to have a vote on opting out. They should also tell us today whether they know if they will be able to opt back into any of the measures, and which ones they think are so important that they should not be put at risk.
The truth is that this is not about crime; this is about politics. This is not about helping victims; it is about division on Europe. For the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary to give in to their Back Benchers, who simply want to oppose all things European, would be shameful. It would be ignoring the evidence and expert advice. It would be helping criminals and betraying victims. That is why we are holding this debate and this vote today.
I want to remind the House what this is really all about. I have an e-mail from Beatrice Jones—the mother of Moira Jones—who set up the Moira Fund to help families. She first got in contact with my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle (Alan Johnson), the former Home Secretary, who passed on her concerns to me, and I have spoken to her. She says:
“I have been appalled to read that a group of Tory MPs is putting pressure on the Prime Minister to use his right to pull out of EU crime and policing, including the EU arrest warrant. You may remember that my beloved daughter Moira Jones was assaulted, abducted, and savagely raped and murdered by an EU national who was allowed to come here in spite of a long criminal record of violence. He fled the country but because of the dedication and determination of Strathclyde police along with the cooperation of the Slovakian police, he was arrested and extradited back to this country. We know that because of much work at the Home Office, with the Border Agency, and with the implementation of the ECRIS”—
the European criminal records information system—
“there is more cooperation and information between a much greater number of EU states….We want it to go much further so that another murder like Moira’s cannot occur and we did think that things were moving slowly in the right direction.
To read of this backward step is simply awful. As long as EU nationals are allowed to freely enter the UK and vice versa, then EU police cooperation is essential for the safety of all. The current system needs further development not to be disbanded.
Clearly there are those around who have no conception of what it is to lose a daughter in truly horrific circumstances. We continue to struggle and I have persisted in trying to bring about change…But there are things that with the best will in the world, we cannot do….If there is anyway you can do anything to highlight our concerns, I implore you in Moira’s name to do what you can.”
That is why we are holding this debate today.
I beg to move an amendment, to leave out from ‘House’ to end and add
‘believes that the decision on exercising the UK’s opt out from EU former third pillar measures should be taken in the national interest, with consideration given to how a measure contributes to public safety and security, whether practical co-operation is underpinned by the measure, and whether there would be a detrimental impact on such co-operation if pursued by other mechanisms; and welcomes the commitment made by the Minister for Europe on 20 January 2011 to a vote in both Houses of Parliament before the Government makes a formal decision on whether it wishes to opt out.’.
Let me first set out some of the background to this important issue, because judging from the speech that we have just heard, there seems to be some confusion among Opposition Members. Under the terms of the Lisbon treaty, which the Opposition signed up to, the United Kingdom must decide by the end of May 2014 whether we opt out of, or remain bound by, roughly 130 EU police and criminal justice measures that were adopted before the Lisbon treaty came into force. I provided a full list of those measures to the House on 21 May. The Government are required, under the treaty, to reach a final decision by 31 May 2014, with that decision taking effect on 1 December 2014.
Let me also set out the commitment that this Government have made on this matter. On 20 January 2011 my right hon. Friend the Minister for Europe set out in a written ministerial statement that a vote would be held in both Houses of Parliament before the Government make a formal decision on whether they wish to opt out. That remains the Government position and I am happy today to reiterate our commitment to hold a vote on this matter. That is why I urge the House to reject the Opposition motion as premature, and support the Government’s amendment.
The Home Secretary knows that there has been considerable correspondence from the European Scrutiny Committee to the Government at all levels asking them to list those measures that they intend to opt into. We have the practical problem of how that will be done. Will we be able to vote to opt in or opt out knowing exactly and in detail what the Government will then opt back into before the vote is taken?
The Government have repeatedly said that they want to engage with Select Committees as part of the process, but still, many months after they were promised, we do not have the explanatory memorandums, and Committees are not in a position to factor into their work the consideration that will be required to inform the vote that the Home Secretary has just referred to.
I recognise the point that my right hon. Friend makes. We will supply the Select Committees with explanatory memorandums and the list of measures that the Government propose to opt back into, and we will also discuss with relevant Committees how the vote will be taken in Parliament.
Given the importance of the European arrest warrant, to avoid any confusion or misunderstanding and to achieve maximum clarity, will the Home Secretary say here and now that it is the Government’s intention to opt into the European arrest warrant because she recognises that it is so important to this country?
I hope that part of the consultation will be with the devolved Parliaments, because the Home Secretary will know of the very real concern from the Scottish Government and from Police Scotland about the loss of the European arrest warrant. The Justice Secretary said that could have appalling consequences for Scottish justice. Will the Home Secretary make sure that she consults properly and listens carefully to what Scotland has to say on the matter?
The hon. Gentleman has slightly pre-empted something that I was going to say a little later in my speech, so I will bring it forward in answer to his question. Following my announcement in October, Ministers have engaged with the devolved Administrations and their operational partners. The Minister responsible for security has visited both Scotland and Northern Ireland. There is, of course, a particular issue in relation to Northern Ireland and we are aware of the importance of taking into account any implications that the 2014 decision might have for policing, given the land border with the Republic of Ireland, and we will continue to work with both the Northern Ireland Executive and the Irish Government to ensure that those matters are fully considered.
Have negotiations on the measures that the Home Secretary hopes to opt back into commenced or is she planning to wait until December 2014 and then seek to opt into various measures? Has she had any indication which ones our European partners will accept?
I had hoped that the hon. Gentleman might have listened to the remarks I made earlier in my speech, when I made it clear that a decision by the Government has to be taken by 31 May 2014, while 1 December 2014 is the date by which the opt-out takes final effect, so by definition any negotiations in relation to opt-in must take place before that takes effect.
This is an important decision, and not one that we should rush into lightly, despite the entreaties of the Opposition. I want to make it clear that no final decision has been made on this matter.
I will move on to the principles that the Government will follow when looking at each and every measure and considering whether to opt back in. In her speech, the right hon. Lady made something of an issue about the timetable and asked why we had not yet come to a decision. I refer her to the remarks of the former Home Secretary, Jacqui Smith, in the debate on the Lisbon treaty in 2008. She said that
“on the whole body of police, criminal and judicial measures that are transferred, it is our decision—six months before that five-year period finishes—as to whether we want to continue in those measures, if they have not been renegotiated or repealed during that time. We will make that decision on the basis of whether continuing in those measures, with ECJ jurisdiction, is in the national interest. We have negotiated the ability to make that decision and we have negotiated that transitional period.”—[Official Report, 29 January 2008; Vol. 471, c. 175.]
That is precisely what this Government are following.
My statement on 15 October last year set out the Government’s approach: we intend to opt out of all police and criminal justice measures that pre-date the Lisbon treaty and then negotiate with the Commission and other member states to opt back into those individual measures that it is in our national interest to rejoin. That remains the Government’s position.
As I explained in a letter to the Chair of the European Scrutiny Committee, my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Mr Cash), in November last year, we will consider how a measure contributes to public safety and security, whether practical co-operation is underpinned by it, and whether there would be a detrimental impact on such co-operation if it was pursued by other means. We will also consider the impact of each measure on our civil rights and traditional liberties.
The Home Affairs Committee certainly looks forward to receiving the list when the Home Secretary has it ready. There is a measure on her desk at the moment concerning Europol that is not related to the opt-in/opt-out issue. It is very important that we sign up to it, because it affects the governance of that organisation, and I know that she is a supporter of Rob Wainwright and Europol. Is she now in a position to sign up to that new regulation?
The right hon. Gentleman is right that the Commission has brought forward some new proposals relating to Europol. Some parts of the proposals cause concern to the Government, and indeed those of most member states across the European Union, but there will be a debate in this House—at the beginning of July, I believe—on whether the Government propose to opt back into that measure. The scrutiny is continuing, but obviously the Government will make clear our position when the debate takes place.
My hon. Friend makes a good point. It was not at all clear from the shadow Home Secretary’s speech what the Labour party’s position is on this. Does it wish to exercise the opt-out it negotiated, or does it wish to be bound by all the measures? We are at a loss to know where it stands on the issue. I am also at a loss to see what she can object to in the approach I have just set out regarding the policies and principles we will follow in looking at every single measure. It involves exercising a treaty right that was negotiated by the previous Government. Why on earth did they bother negotiating it if they were not going to use it? The Labour party, when in government, laid the paving stones, but it criticises us for walking down them. I am at even more of a loss in trying to untangle the Opposition’s position from the confusion of today’s debate.
On the subject of the Labour party, I think that we need to reassure the public, because the shadow Home Secretary gave a series of grisly examples of murders, people being beaten up and eye sockets being staved in. The implication is that if we are not part of the European arrest warrant none of the perpetrators would be dealt with. Can we at least have a sensible debate and say that those people could be dealt with after reciprocal arrangements are made?
My hon. Friend is correct that we have extradition treaties with other countries that are not members of the European Union, and we had extradition arrangements before the European arrest warrant came into place. However, as I set out earlier, we will look at each measure to determine whether it contributes to public safety and security, whether practical co-operation is underpinned by it and whether there would be a detrimental impact on such co-operation if it was pursued by other means. I think that those are entirely sensible principles on which to base the proposals that the Government will bring forward in due course.
Will the Home Secretary also take into account the impact that all these things have on British democracy? Some of us are deeply worried that Ministers do not have enough powers and cannot be accountable to this House because they can be trumped by perverse European Court of Justice judgments.
My right hon. Friend is right. In looking at these decisions, we have to bear in mind the fact of ECJ jurisdiction, which will now be applicable to these measures but was not when they were originally established. I have to say that one of the more interesting exchanges I have seen this afternoon raised the idea of the shadow Home Secretary being tempted by my right hon. Friend. [Interruption.] I think that I had better move swiftly on.
We are now in complete confusion as to whether the Opposition want to exercise the opt-out and whether they want to change anything about our justice and home affairs arrangements. If they do not want to change anything, why does their motion refer to reforming the European arrest warrant? In their motion they list seven measures that they think we should be opting back into, but the right hon. Lady raised other measures that she implied we should opt back into. She talked about party politics. I am afraid that the only party politics lie in calling this debate, and it is the Opposition who want to put narrow politics before the national interest.
The shadow Home Secretary suggests that our approach, which her own Government set in train, will play into the hands of criminals. That is an outrageous accusation. As Home Secretary, I am absolutely clear in my duty to protect the United Kingdom against crime and terrorism and to keep our borders secure. She said that crime does not stop at the borders, and she is absolutely right. That is exactly why this Government are creating the National Crime Agency, which will be a powerful crime-fighting body that deals with crime across borders, particularly serious organised and complex crime. The UK is a sovereign nation, and we must not carelessly hand over more and more powers to the European Commission or the European Court of Justice.
It is clearly important that law enforcers have the tools they need to work with our European neighbours and protect the British public. That is why we have been listening to the views of law enforcement and other criminal justice agencies on this matter. The Justice Secretary and I have met representatives from the Association of Chief Police Offices, the Serious Organised Crime Agency, the Metropolitan Police, Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs, the National Crime Agency, the security services, and the Serious Fraud Office, as well as the Director of Public Prosecutions. We are listening to, and taking seriously, what those on the front line have to say. As I said, we have also had discussions with the devolved Administrations. But this is a decision for the Government to take, and we will not absolve ourselves of that responsibility by delegating the decision to others as the Opposition apparently wish us to.
As I have said to this House previously, under the terms of the treaty signed by Labour, the UK, as my hon. Friend the Member for South Northamptonshire (Andrea Leadsom) said, cannot pick and choose the measures from which we wish to opt out. The shadow Home Secretary may well prefer that we could, but thanks to her party’s negotiation we can only opt out en masse and then seek to rejoin individual measures. Operational experience shows that some of the pre-Lisbon measures are useful, while some are less so and some are now entirely defunct. For example, one measure establishes a directory on organised crime competences that was closed by Europol in February 2012. Although the directory is closed, it remains a measure subject to the 2014 decision under which, arguably, member states are still obliged to update their contributions to it. We do not see any reason to subject this measure to formal enforcement powers. Some other measures have not been implemented and doing so would require considerable time and money. Not being ready by 1 December 2014 would immediately open the UK up to substantial risk of infraction and the very real risk of being fined millions of pounds.
The Home Secretary is well aware of the position. In fact, her own Government are making quite a hue and cry about the fact that the European Commission can strike out any of these things as redundant and has been doing so for the past three or four years. Regarding this nonsense about being trapped in some directory that does not exist any more, it is very simple: the European Commission can simply strike it out, as it has on many occasions. She might like to consult the Europe Minister, who could inform her of the facts.
The Home Secretary is right to refer to that particular directory as being defunct. Arguably, therefore, it is relatively harmless. If she has such a precise view on that measure, will she tell us her view on the European arrest warrant? That, not all the defunct directories, is the central subject of the motion and the most important measure at stake. ACPO has said how crucial it is and it has been used in countless different criminal cases. Why does the Home Secretary seem to be the only person who does not have a view on the European arrest warrant?
Sadly, the right hon. Lady does not seem to understand what the decision is about and, therefore, what her debate is about. Her debate is about the fact that her Government negotiated a situation in which we can either opt out of all the measures and then try to opt back in, or opt into all the measures.
I have been very open that it would not be appropriate to opt into any measure that we think would take considerable time and money. We will not be in a position to immediately rejoin Prüm, which requires member states to allow the reciprocal searching of their databases for DNA profiles, vehicle registration data and fingerprints, because implementing it fully will take years and require substantial funding. The previous Government estimated that it would cost more than £30 million back in 2007—that figure may well be higher now—and they subsequently did nothing to implement it.
The shadow Home Secretary’s spurious accusations about the Government’s European policy seem to be a cover for the confusion on her own Benches. I note that in response to a number of interventions she did not clearly state what her own policy is. It seems to be to negotiate an opt-out but not exercise it and to sign up to costly measures such as Prüm but not implement them. That is not the sort of leadership that the United Kingdom needs in Europe.
It may help the Home Secretary to know that in its submission to the House of Lords European Union Committee, ACPO reckoned that only 13 of the 135 measures were vital for law enforcement. Is she aware of that and does it not cast a shadow on the spurious law enforcement claims of the Opposition?
ACPO said a number of things. It also said that opting out of the European arrest warrant
“would result in fewer extraditions, longer delays, higher costs, more offenders evading justice and increased risk to public safety.”
We should take all of ACPO’s advice, not just some of it.
I say to my hon. Friend that, given that I have not published a list, he is not in a position to know which parts of ACPO’s advice I have listened to or not. What I have said is that I have listened to ACPO’s advice and it is absolutely clear that it thinks that a very limited number of measures are beneficial to policing and that a significant number are of no practical benefit whatsoever. We have also listened to a number of other organisations with relevant experience in this particular field.
The Government have been clear that we must consider the full impact of ECJ jurisdiction on each of these measures. The European Union Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding has made it clear that the old third pillar often led to outcomes at the lowest common denominator, mostly in order to secure unanimity. The vast majority of these measures were not negotiated with ECJ jurisdiction in mind, and the drafting often reflects that. We should be very careful about allowing the ECJ to interpret such measures.
Why do I say that? Because it is for this House to write the UK’s laws. For example, where Parliament agrees with the judgment of the UK Supreme Court, Parliament can pass a law to make its will clear and remedy the effect of that judgment. However, judgments passed down in Luxembourg by the European Court cannot be addressed in this way. Instead, they require a change to EU law, which cannot be brought about by the UK alone. That is an important point for us to consider.
In the Metock case, for example, the European Court of Justice made a ruling that extended free movement rights to illegal migrants if they are married to a European economic area national who is exercising those rights. Since the Metock judgment, we have seen a steady increase in sham marriages involving EEA nationals. However, the UK cannot fix that issue alone, despite there being agreement on both sides of the House.
Let me be clear: I am not saying that there is never a role for the European Court of Justice. If that was the case, we would never opt into any new measures. However, as a question of policy, we need carefully to consider the Court’s ability to interfere in our criminal justice system and weigh that against any benefits that the measure may bring.
As the shadow Home Secretary has said on quite a few occasions, the opt-out decision involves the European arrest warrant. I know that that measure is of particular interest to many Members. Let me start by refuting the fatuous suggestion that we would consider opting out of it simply because it has the word “European” in its title. The Government are looking at each measure on its merits and nothing else. When the case is made that a measure is in our national interest, we will participate in it. As I have said previously, we will consider how each measure contributes to public safety and security; whether practical co-operation is underpinned by it; and whether there would be a detrimental impact on such co-operation if we pursued it by other mechanisms before making a final decision. The European arrest warrant is no different in that respect.
The arrest warrant has had some success in streamlining the extradition process within the EU. The shadow Home Secretary referred to the arrest last month of Andrew Moran, one of Britain’s most wanted fugitives, by the Spanish police. However, as I set out in my statement in October, there have also been problems. The Government are concerned about the disproportionate use of the arrest warrant for trivial offences and its potential use for action in the United Kingdom in relation to activity that is not considered to be a crime in the UK. We also have concerns about the lengthy pre-trial detention of British citizens overseas.
The motion and the shadow Home Secretary’s response to my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (Dr Huppert) suggest that the Opposition finally share our concerns about the European arrest warrant and would like to see its operation reformed. If that is the case, the whole Government welcome the admission that Labour got it wrong on the European arrest warrant and I am glad that we will have its new-found support if we wish to make any changes in that regard.
We may not have had much clarity from the Opposition today, but I am grateful for the opportunity to hear the views of Parliament on this important matter. This Government, more than any before us, have done our utmost to ensure that Parliament has the time to scrutinise our decisions relating to the European Union and that its views are taken into account. As I have said, we have made a commitment to hold a vote in both Houses of Parliament before we take a final decision on the opt-out. That vote will take place in good time before May 2014. However, I remind hon. Members that current and forthcoming proposals in the EU will have an effect on the 2014 decision.
I am not able to set a date for the right hon. Gentleman. I recognise his enthusiasm for seeing the explanatory memorandum, but we are still looking at the structure of the list of measures that we want to opt back into.
The Chair of the Home Affairs Committee mentioned the new Europol regulation, which is a good example of the way in which the measures in the 2014 list are being affected. The existing Europol regulation is on the list, but we must decide whether to opt into the new regulation proposed by the European Commission by the end of July. Ultimately, our decision on whether to participate in the new proposal, either at the outset or post-adoption, will determine our long-term participation in Europol. The Government have offered a Lidington-style debate on the opt-in decision. That is a new parliamentary term that I am sure the Clerks will put into Standing Orders at an appropriate time. The debate will be held in the House on 3 July and I look forward to hearing the views of Parliament on that issue.
Similarly, we expect the Commission to publish proposals on Eurojust and a European public prosecutor’s office shortly. Again, we will have opt-in decisions to make. However, I remind all Members that the coalition agreement could not be clearer on this point: we will not participate in the creation of a new and needless pan-European public prosecutor. That is out of the question.
What we have heard today from the shadow Home Secretary is another example of her carping while the Government get on with the reforms our country needs. She was the one who said we could not cut police budgets without crime going up, and she was wrong. She was the one who argued against the Winsor review, and she was wrong. She was the one who opposed our immigration reforms, which have already cut net migration by more than a third—she was wrong. On measure after measure, the shadow Home Secretary has been left on her own, moaning from the sidelines.
The decision on exercising the UK’s opt-out will be taken in the national interest, with questions of public safety and security, and practical co-operation uppermost in our minds. I am delighted to reiterate the commitment made by the Minister for Europe in 2011 to a vote in both Houses of Parliament before the Government make a formal decision. In the meantime, the country needs a careful, considered and constructive debate, not the sound and fury we have heard from those on the Opposition Benches today.
The Whips will be pleased to know that I support the motion, but I do not have too much problem with the amendment. The problem is the timing of the amendment because it deals with generalities when we need to start talking about specifics, particularly if the Home Secretary’s pledge that this should be a matter for Parliament to decide is to be honoured. Truth to tell, the opt-out in article 10 to protocol 36 was negotiated as an insurance policy to give us the time and ability to look at all the measures. We must remember that police and criminal justice issues were not part of the European Union until the Maastricht treaty—which was agreed by the previous Conservative Government—introduced them, and even then there was no competency for the European Court of Justice. That was a big change, and if we could have negotiated the option to look at each individual policy and decide whether to stay in or out we would have done, but that was unachievable. No other country is subject to article 10 to protocol 36, and the transition we managed to achieve is exclusive to this country.
We are in a process of considering how we deal with this crucial matter. The Home Secretary mentioned that we were getting confused about the timetable. I heard no confusion about that from my right hon. Friend the shadow Home Secretary, but the Prime Minister was certainly confused. On 28 September 2012 he said that the opt-out decision had to be made before the end of the year, and he added:
“We’ll be exercising that opt-out.”
Soon afterwards in October, the Home Secretary came to the House of Commons to clarify that and say that the Government’s “current thinking” was towards an opt-out.
In terms of a parliamentary process—remembering that Scotland and Northern Ireland have separate legal jurisdictions—there was no consultation whatsoever with the Director of Public Prosecutions, the Scottish Government, or the Northern Ireland Administration, let alone with Committees of this House, before the Home Secretary announced that Government thinking was to opt out. Given how the process started—the Prime Minister getting the deadline wrong, and the Home Secretary’s lack of any consultation before saying where Government thinking was leading—you will forgive us, Mr Speaker, for having a certain concern about how it is going.
In July last year, the Foreign Secretary announced a review of competencies between the UK and the EU. Again, we are concerned about how that process is being dealt with, and I struggle to think of the kind of competencies that such a review will address—indeed, there is a fair amount of suspicion that this is some kind of Wilsonian trick. Leaving that aside, one would think that such things would be relevant to the 130 measures to which we must opt in or out. However, the process for the balance of competencies will begin looking at police and criminal justice measures in spring or autumn 2014, after the deadline for the decision to opt in or out has passed. That, to me, is incomprehensible.
We are, therefore, left with extreme concern about how the current thinking came about and about the absence of proper input from Parliament. Nine months have passed since the Home Secretary’s statement to the House. Apart from a couple of minor points I picked up in her speech today, the position remains exactly as it was nine months ago.
The House of Lords Select Committee on the European Union has produced a splendid report, but without any information from Her Majesty’s Government on the measures they might seek to rejoin when they exercise the opt-out. Conservative Members make a valid point about the importance the Opposition place on the European arrest warrant. In a sense, the suspicion, which might be valid, is that the Opposition would accept the other 129 measures just to keep the precious EAW, and that we believe the EAW is that important. However, we have not heard from the Opposition Benches—[Interruption.] I am sorry, I should have said Conservative Benches. We have not heard from Conservative Members their equivalent to the EAW if they opt out completely. If they read the motion from Her Majesty’s Opposition, they will see that we think a number of measures are important. However, I do not get any sense of what measure is worth risking our being unable to opt back in to all 130 measures. Why is the Government’s thinking to opt out rather than to opt in?
My point is that the Government came to the conclusion that they are minded to opt out. We have no idea where that thinking came from—there was no consultation with anyone. It is just as valid for the Government to be minded to opt in, but we have no sense of what big issue prevents them from doing so.
The Home Secretary said in October and has repeated today that some of the measures are useful, some are less useful, and some are now defunct, but she has never defined which measures are useful. There was a small concession in her speech, but the House of Lords EU Committee—an important Committee of the democratic process—had to do its work completely in the dark, with no sense of what was useful, what was not useful or what was defunct. Eventually, she gave three examples to the Committee of defunct measures, but as my right hon. Friend the shadow Home Secretary has said, if the measures are defunct, they are harmless, and we need not worry about them because they will be weeded out and tidied up. The defunct measures are not the important part of the debate; the important part is on useful or not useful measures.
In its report, the House of Lords Committee, which is not the Labour party—in fact, most members of the Committee have been hostile to the Labour party throughout their political careers—states:
“The most effective way for the UK to cooperate with other Member States is to remain engaged in the existing EU measures in this area.”
The Committee’s current thinking, therefore, is to opt in to those measures. It says that clearly and backs it up with strong arguments—it interviewed a cross-section of people, including the Home Secretary.
The Christmas quiz is this: what is the common theme to all 130 measures? They were all agreed by unanimity. They were all agreed under a system where the UK had the veto. They were all then brought before this House and were agreed by various Committees—my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk (Michael Connarty) was the Chair of one of them—to be scrutinised. Not a single one of the 130 measures was foisted on the UK against our will by a hostile European Administration. Even if the Euro myth of creating a superstate with an integrated criminal law, as propagated by some of the swivel-eyed loonies, were true, nothing in the 130 measures would contribute towards that aim. In fact, the opposite is the case: the vast majority relate to a mutual recognition of the diverse systems throughout the European Union.
There is as good an argument for the Government to be thinking about moving towards opting in as opting out, but I am persuadable. I just want to know where the Government stand as we get closer to 2014. I want the Justice Committee and the Home Affairs Committee to consider the matter. I want the arguments to be revealed.
My main concern is the European arrest warrant. I overcame minor antipathy to the other 129 measures to keep it. If we pull out and try to renegotiate, we will be in a much weaker position. The case has been made not just in the House of Lords Committee, but in the Scott Baker report commissioned by the Home Secretary herself. There are things we could do to improve the warrant—a proportionality test was a major issue raised by Scott Baker. I have to say, however, that adopting the European supervision order that would allow British citizens to be supervised in the UK until the trial in the requesting member state is being held would go an awful long way to meeting the objections of Scott Baker and of others on both sides of the House.
Politics is about the personal more than anything else. The shadow Home Secretary mentioned the savage murder of Moira Jones. I met her mother Beatrice when I was Home Secretary. The current Home Secretary would have had the same difficult job to do. When I met Beatrice Jones, she pointed out to me that the murderer of her daughter fled this country immediately. A European arrest warrant was issued 14 days later. Two days after that, he was arrested in Slovakia and brought to justice. I promised Mrs Jones that I would do my best to ensure that the European arrest warrant remains. I plan to keep that promise.
It is a pleasure to speak in this welcome debate. We all know that the ability to invoke the block opt-out was negotiated as part of the Lisbon treaty—on which we did not have a vote—by the previous Labour Government. According to the refreshed Government list deposited in Parliament last month, 127 EU laws currently fall under the block opt-out. They are gradually being eaten away, so we will have fewer to debate by next May. They include the European arrest warrant, which has been mentioned and to which I will come in a moment, and legislation defining various criminal offences and rules for associated penalties. There are many measures—with 127 laws, that is to be expected—which is why it is important to have this sort of debate on the Floor of the House to enable the House to inform the Home Secretary and others on the Front Bench of its thinking. I therefore welcome the Opposition’s giving us the time to talk about this issue today.
Under the arrangements introduced by the Lisbon treaty, the UK has to opt out of all these EU laws en masse—it cannot opt out selectively. If the UK wants to opt out, it must notify the EU of its wish to do so by 31 May 2014 at the very latest, so we have plenty of time for this debate. If the UK does not opt out, under the EU treaties it will become bound by these laws indefinitely—there is no subsequent opportunity to opt out. Furthermore, from December 2014, the European Court of Justice will for the first time gain full jurisdiction over these laws under a change introduced by the Lisbon treaty, meaning that the European Commission could take the UK to the Court for what it believed to be a breach of one of these laws. Consequent rulings from the Court would be binding. In addition, the Court could rule on questions about the interpretation of these laws referred to it by UK courts—rulings that would then be applied by British judges.
Why is that an issue? It was raised by the House of Lords European Union Committee, and one particular case illustrates the great concern about the Court’s judicial activism: the Metock case in 2008. Four nationals of a non-EU state applied for asylum in Ireland, but their applications were rejected. In the meantime, however, the men had married women from other EU states, exercising free movement rights in Ireland, and they reapplied. The Irish Government refused each application, their regulations stating that the rights under the free movement directive did not apply to family members, unless they were already a lawful resident in another member state and seeking to enter Ireland with an EU national or to join an EU citizen in Ireland. The Grand Chamber of the European Court ruled that national legislation could not require the third country national spouse of an EEC citizen to have been a permanently lawful resident in another member state and therefore that they could benefit from the free movement directive. In other words, this highly controversial ruling rewrote EU law and Irish immigration law, so there is a reason to be concerned about the possibility of the Court’s being involved in such decisions.
If the UK invokes the opt-out, the European treaties allow our country to apply to opt back into particular EU laws covered by it. For most of these laws, a UK application to rejoin would be first considered by the European Commission, but if the Commission did not approve UK readmission, the Council of Ministers could decide, by qualified majority voting among member states bound by the relevant law, to admit the UK. For the remaining laws, which are considered part of the Schengen body of law, a UK application to rejoin is decided by unanimity in the Council, without formal Commission involvement. Opting back in is irreversible. If the UK is readmitted by the EU institutions, it could not opt out of the relevant laws again and the Court would have full jurisdiction over the laws concerned. That is why we have to tackle this sensibly and probably deal with each of the 127 measures in turn.
The hon. Gentleman and I are both members of the European Scrutiny Committee, but he has the advantage on me, in that he was a Member of the European Parliament, and he has obviously looked closely at what happens. It is always a deal, and the question of opting out of something permanently would be balanced by the fact that other countries might wish us to be in it for their advantage—even if we might think it to our disadvantage. In those situations, is it not likely that we would have to do deals and opt into things, such as what he has just illustrated, to get what we want on other things? Is it not time to talk about that sensibly in the European Scrutiny Committee and in the Lords Committee, instead of this smoke and mirrors? We do not have long between now and then to have those kinds of debate and to advise the Government about whether it would be advantageous to do the sorts of deals they might be faced with in the future.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his point. He will know that a Home Office Minister gave evidence to our Committee when we talked about that. We were doing our job on that Committee and trying to prise out of the Government, quite legitimately, what the position would be. That is why I have no issue with this debate.
The Government have said that some of the EU laws subject to the block opt-out are obsolete, and I thought I would list some of them for the benefit of Opposition Members, because there are more than three of them. First, there is the joint action 96/747/JHA on the creation of the directory that the Home Secretary mentioned. There are various laws under the block opt-out that have little or nothing to do with cross-border co-operation. They include framework decision 2000/383/JHA, which defines the criminal offence of currency counterfeiting and sets rules and attendant penalties, and framework decision 2003/568/JHA on corruption in the private sector, which requires member states to criminalise intentionally
“requesting or receiving an undue advantage of any kind,”
and so on. These are not great big European deals or blockbusters; they are things that we can take or leave. Indeed, it is questionable whether they needed to be decided at the European level in the first place.
Numerous EU laws requiring member states to criminalise particular actions oblige them to punish such offences with
“effective, proportionate and dissuasive criminal penalties”—
an ambiguous phrase that is massively open to interpretation and causes some concern. If the UK deems it necessary to change its criminal law to facilitate cross-border co-operation, we are perfectly able to do so through our own democratic processes. We do not have to sign up to EU control to do so.
Other EU laws under the block opt-out purport to establish cross-border co-operation. In some cases, laws that sound as though they would be useful do not seem to be so in practice. For example, the Government have said that the UK has not sent any requests to other member states to freeze suspected criminal assets or evidence under framework decision 2003/577/JHA since it was adopted more than a decade ago. There are several laws under the block opt-out that the UK has so far declined to implement fully, sometimes on grounds of cost. They include Prüm decisions, as we heard earlier, which involve the police sharing information such as fingerprints and DNA—perhaps the precursor to a European Prism programme or something like that. In other cases, such as the European arrest warrant, the laws on cross-border co-operation do not have sufficient safeguards for the rights of British citizens. In too many cases, British people have been arrested in the UK under the European arrest warrant and extradited to other EU countries, where they have ended up suffering serious injustices owing to foreseeable problems with the domestic criminal justice systems in those countries.
There are a number of problems with the European arrest warrant, which have been highlighted by many other countries. The stats are quite simple. Nearly 1,000 requests for a European arrest warrant are issued each month. In 2009, the Serious Organised Crime Agency here in the UK received 4,004 requests for a European arrest warrant to be issued. To put that in context, between 2003 and 2009, the UK extradited 63 people to the United States, whereas in 2009-10, the UK extradited 699 individuals to the EU. Perhaps there is a problem with what the warrants are being issued for, which causes a great deal of concern out there in civil society. The fundamental problem for people such as me is the extension of powers to the European Court of Justice. Given our experience of this matter nationally and internationally, we should be wary about that extension.
Let me try to bust some of the myths about this issue. There is a myth that if we do not opt in, we will lose all co-operation with EU partners on crime and policing. By opting out en bloc, we avoid sacrificing UK democratic control over 127 crime and policing measures to the European Commission and European Court of Justice. We can opt back into those measures that serve the UK national interest. This is an opportunity to re-cast our relationship, so that it is based on practical law enforcement co-operation but is not part of the EU Commission’s drive towards a single EU criminal code, enforced by a European public prosecutor and the European Court of Justice. I can remember debates in the European Parliament nearly a decade ago in which a single European criminal code and a European public prosecutor were talked about very seriously.
Another myth is that the UK needs to give the European Commission and European Court of Justice the last word on UK crime and policing policy to strengthen public safety. One of the UK’s closest security relationship is with the United States, yet we do not give the FBI or the US Supreme Court supranational control over our policy making, so why should do the same we in this case? Another myth is that we could lose vital areas of co-operation such as data sharing on criminal records. That is rubbish. We have always co-operated on those matters.
In that case, we might have to exchange criminal records; and I am sure that he has bought many. When I arrived in Parliament in 2001, the police in this country were crying out for the exchange of criminal records with countries such as Poland that subsequently became members of the European Union, particularly in relation to child sex offenders. Does the hon. Gentleman acknowledge that that situation has now completely changed?
That is a fair point that I take on board in this debate.
I am slightly concerned by the Opposition’s tendency to say that we would be unable to extradite to European countries if we opted out of these measures, or that each extradition case would take 10 years. I believe that we could consider opting back into the European arrest warrant, but only after it had been reformed so that it no longer sacrificed UK citizens to face incompetent justice systems, as in the Colin Dines case; corrupt police, as in the Andrew Symeou case; or appalling prisons, as in a number of cases. We should seek to reform the European arrest warrant, and then have a sensible debate about whether we should opt back into it once it had been reformed. A number of other European countries want to reform it, including Germany, France and the Netherlands. Picking up on the point made by the hon. Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk (Michael Connarty), I do not think that our EU partners would want to lose such a major partner as the UK in a field in which we have unique expertise, intelligence and experience.
That is exactly what this Government are doing, so I have no issue with that point, or with what the Government are doing.
There is concern that the opt-out is all about ideological hostility to the European Union. I do not accept that, especially coming from Labour Members. The last Government signed up to a vast array of measures without putting in place any proper means of empirically assessing or evaluating their benefits to this country. They simply signed away power after power. I actually think it is quite nice to see this Government properly scrutinising an important decision on policing and criminal measures in this way. I welcome this debate and I look forward to its continuing over the next year or so. I also look forward to voting on these proposals, because it is right that this Parliament should eventually decide for itself whether we have the block opt-out or not.
I had the privilege of serving in Her Majesty’s Government for three years as a Minister in the Home Office, negotiating justice and home affairs issues to ensure that our country was a safer place. I had the great privilege of working with the Home Secretary’s two immediate predecessors, both of whom were excellent Home Secretaries who had the interests of the public very much at heart. I therefore have enormous respect for the position of Home Secretary, and I extend that respect to any incumbent in the role because I know the challenges they face. I believed this Home Secretary when, on taking on the job, she said that she took her role of protecting the public very seriously. I therefore have to ask why she is playing such games with the safety of the British public in her approach to the opt-out on justice and home affairs issues. Is this an example of dog-whistle politics as she burnishes her credentials in preparation for taking over from the Prime Minister in due course? If so, she is not doing very well today, given that not many of her Eurosceptic friends have even bothered to attend the debate or listen to her speech.
We need to look closely at the proposals. The hon. Member for Daventry (Chris Heaton-Harris) talked about the rights of British citizens in relation to these EU measures. I want to talk about the rights of British victims, which should be at the heart of what any Home Secretary does. If we were to opt out of all the justice and home affairs measures, we could in theory opt back into certain mechanisms. However, it is important to make it clear that that is not an automatic right. Because so many EU member states rightly support the European arrest warrant, there is a strong likelihood that they would agree to a UK opt-in on that particular issue.
Let us be clear about what the Government are saying to us. They are not clear on a lot of points, but on one thing they are quite clear. The Prime Minister, the Home Secretary and many other Conservatives on both the Back and the Front Benches are telling us that they will negotiate, or renegotiate, an entry into the European arrest warrant on more favourable terms, or stay out of it. At least, that is what the hints we have heard suggest—nothing very concrete, but that is what has come through in numerous debates in this House.
The reality, however, is that the treaty does not allow for automatically amending the European arrest warrant. We know that it is popular among other EU member states and it has been hard fought for and hard negotiated. As the hon. Member for Daventry highlighted and as others have said, there is a mood for change here and there in how the arrest warrant works, but that is much better done by all 27 nations working together in justice and home affairs Councils and negotiating together to make any amendments. That is better than the UK going it alone, but the UK going it alone is the sort of dog whistle approach that this Government adopt, ensuring that they talk in any language that will appeal to the Eurosceptic Back Benchers of the Conservative party rather than talk about the safety of the British public.
I want to confirm that my hon. Friend’s analysis is accurate. Along with other members of the European Scrutiny Committee, I have just returned from Lithuania where the Lithuanians were being harangued by the hon. Member for Stone (Mr Cash) about how everyone in Europe was turning against the EU, how we are all going to withdraw and he gave the example of the opt outs. They could not believe that any UK parliamentarian could talk about withdrawing from what, as my hon. Friend says, was a hard-negotiated agreement.
Absolutely. In my three years of negotiations, I was certainly struck by how positive other EU member states were in comparison with our Eurosceptic parliamentarians about the benefits of being members of Europe. We need to be really clear that there is no guarantee that we will be able to amend and then opt back in later. Even if that were to happen, there is no timetable for it, and we could be left uncovered for a period of time. We would have to negotiate 26 separate treaties with our EU colleagues. I cannot see them being very positive about that. Even when we were in government, I was told many times by my European colleagues that the UK was trying to have its cake and eat it. Through detailed and hard-working negotiation across government, however, we made sure that we got the best deal we could for the British public. My personal view is that we need to opt in; we need to amend, if necessary, on a cross-EU 27-member-state basis.
I am still puzzled about why the Home Secretary is lending her name to this risky game and why we are seeing such strong anti-European rhetoric from the Prime Minister. Perhaps it is all about Conservative Back Benchers and the threat to this Government of the UK Independence party. This Home Secretary and this Prime Minister are gambling with the security of the British public and the rights of victims—and we need to make that crystal clear.
That brings me to the other part of this coalition Government. The Liberal Democrats are now a party of government. That sometimes seems difficult to believe, but it is the case. We hear very little from Lib Dem Members, so I was heartened to hear from the hon. Member for Cambridge (Dr Huppert) that he is pro the European arrest warrant. That is not the impression I gained about Liberal Democrats in my full eight years in Parliament, so it is great to hear that and I look forward to his speech. He has talked about making some technical amendments, so the question for the hon. Gentleman when he stands up to speak on behalf of his party tonight is, “will they or won’t they?” Will the Lib Dems support the rights of British victims by voting with us, or will they sit on the fence as they often do and hedge their bets?
The UK’s reputation in Europe is also put very much at risk by this approach. Over the years, we have built up a strong reputation as good negotiators, using our influence in a positive way—for the UK in Europe, but also for Europe more widely. The Home Secretary has not really answered the questions about the support and role of the devolved Administrations. When I was negotiating for the Government, I would be accompanied by members of those devolved Administrations who would be at our side as we discussed and negotiated. What sort of discussions has the Home Secretary had?
I do not have time to go into all the measures today, but it is important that Prüm was mentioned. There were arguments about how it was handled and how the technical and IT administration was carried out, but it will nevertheless introduce important protections. At present, those in this country who, in a global world, employ people from abroad do not know much about where those people have come from, and do not know whether they have criminal records. Proper data exchange can make our country a safer place.
It would be good to know when the House of Commons will vote on the opt-out. As many Members have pointed out, we are within a year of making a final decision, and we shall need to discuss the issue at length. There are barely six weeks before the summer recess, and we shall want to look at the details of the Government’s proposals. I should have thought that, in three years, the Government would have got further than they have. We need to see full details of the opt-in measures; when will we see those? How will the Liberal Democrats vote? That is another important question, which I hope will be answered by the hon. Member for Cambridge. Finally, what is the Home Secretary doing to protect victims?
We are not a teenage debating society. We are talking about real, serious measures that would protect or threaten the British public and other citizens in Europe. We need to ensure that the debate continues beyond today, and that we winkle out of the Government much more detail than they have been prepared to offer on this occasion.
Order. I did not impose a time limit on Back-Bench speeches, because I hoped that self-discipline would suffice, and in significant measure it has. Let me simply point out that five Members are seeking to catch my eye, and there is less than half an hour left, so the self-denying ordinance is now especially important.
I find myself in a very unusual and difficult position: I agree with the right hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle (Alan Johnson). I do not know whether he or I should be more alarmed by that, because we do not often agree when we discuss things.
I believe that the European police and judicial co-operation legislation structure has been good for Britain over the last 15 years, and I should like us to continue to be involved with it as much as possible. I think it a shame that we have the oddities of the Lisbon treaty. The right hon. Gentleman talked about the problems involved in negotiation. It would be much better not to have the block opt-out, but we are where we are. It is a shame that we were not left with something easier to work with.
What do the public think? Seventy-seven per cent. of them think that the UK should work “very closely” or “fairly closely” with the EU on counter-terrorism, policing and border security, while only 9% think that we should not. I am sure that the Members—most of them on the Government Benches—who always argue that we should listen to the public’s views on Europe would agree that we should listen to them in this instance, and hence stay firmly involved. Some of those on the Eurosceptic fringe have concerns, but I disagree with them. I believe that working with Europe helps us to extradite foreign criminals and bring back those who are suspected or convicted of crimes, and enables us to share information, intelligence and best practice. However, the deadline is approaching.
My current position is that it seems much cleaner, much easier and much simpler not to opt out at all. If we did not opt out, we would not have to go through the negotiation, there would not be the risk of not being able to get back in, and we would not face the potential costs of doing so. The Home Secretary rightly observed that some of the measures were useful, some were less so and some were defunct. That is true, but we can cope with the defunct ones. We do not have to worry too much about them. I was disappointed that the shadow Home Secretary did not take that line, although the right hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle did. However, I realise that the Home Secretary cannot simply do as I suggest, because of her problems within her own party. It is therefore appropriate for us to look at the details, and to focus on the most important aspects.
We must listen to the experts, such as the Association of Chief Police Officers. A senior former police and security chief has said that pulling out of many of these measures risks putting national security, public safety, and the UK’s reputation and international leadership in this area at risk. Commander Allan Gibson of ACPO has said:
“When you need to have someone arrested abroad, it”—
use of the European arrest warrant—
“is a simpler, faster and more certain process of getting a person before your courts. The police service benefits from that. It is much easier than what went before.”
That has been said many times, and I agree wholeheartedly. I definitely want us to remain within the European arrest warrant.
It is interesting to see some—although not all—Conservatives who pride themselves on being tough on crime taking a very “soft on crime” approach in this instance. It is a great pleasure for me to be able to take the “tough on crime” line quite clearly and distinctly, because this does matter. The European arrest warrant has been used in many cases, some of which have already been mentioned. For instance, Hussain Osman, one of the individuals involved in the attempted bombings in July 2005, was brought back from Italy under the arrest warrant.
The European arrest warrant could certainly be improved. It is not perfect and I agree with many of the criticisms levelled at it. It is clear that we need a proportionality test and I think we should go ahead with the Eurobail approach to allow foreign criminals to be extradited to their home countries on bail while awaiting trial. That would mean that British citizens awaiting trial overseas could spend that time here and that foreign citizens awaiting trial could go back to their home countries before coming back. Those sound like sensible improvements and I think that we should have them. If we stay inside those systems, we can improve them and have a European arrest warrant that is much better.
Procedures such as Europol and Eurojust are key. For me, the absolute red lines are the European arrest warrant, Europol and Eurojust. That is one reason I prefer the Government amendment as a way towards my vision, because the motion completely omits Eurojust from the list. Although they both offer a way forward, I slightly prefer the one that sets out the procedures rather than just a list.
It would be harder to negotiate on some of these matters externally, given the tenor of the interactions between the Government and other European countries, and it is important to work with people on a more friendly basis from within the circle rather than from outside it. Eurojust is not often talked about, but it offers us huge benefits. Some 29 joint investigation teams involving Eurojust have made a huge difference to the safety of our country. How would we do that work if we were to opt out?
The hon. Member for Hackney South and Shoreditch (Meg Hillier) asked for some clear positions. I hope that I have been as clear as possible—and certainly clearer than some—that we must be in the European arrest warrant, Europol and Eurojust and that the European arrest warrant must be improved to make it more workable to support British citizens and others. So many other things are important: customs co-operation, the European criminal records information system, financial penalties, Schengen II, the European police training college—the list goes on and on. I agree with those who have mentioned dealing with child pornography, the subject of our earlier debate, and football disorder. We should be taking a lead.
We must consider the debate without some of the hyperbole that has drifted in. This is not a question of whether we should be in or out of the EU—that is a completely different discussion, which we will have—but of whether we want our country to be safe and secure and to be able to co-operate to achieve that. My position and that of my party is clear.
I started my speech with a slightly awkward confession, when I said that I agreed with the right hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle. I must say that I think the Home Secretary will get this one right. I think that when we have the final list she will listen to the powerful advice given by the police, the security chiefs and this House and will agree that we need to stay in the European arrest warrant, in Europol and in Eurojust. I look forward to voting for that when she does.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Cambridge (Dr Huppert) who, along with other Members of the Select Committee on Home Affairs, will consider the list of opt-ins and opt-outs when the Home Secretary eventually sends it to the Committee, to the Select Committee on Justice and to the European Scrutiny Committee. I agree with a lot of what he said. International co-operation in the EU is vital and Europol and Eurojust are important. I have just returned from a visit to Europol and was very impressed by the work done by Rob Wainwright and his team. I am glad that the Home Secretary is giving the House another opportunity to debate the issue in July before she decides whether to sign the important regulation that will allow us to be part of framing the next steps for Europol.
I congratulate the former Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney South and Shoreditch (Meg Hillier), and the former Home Secretary, my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle (Alan Johnson), on all the work they have done. My thanks go more than to anyone else to the shadow Home Secretary, my right hon. Friend the Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper), for giving us the chance to discuss this measure in her precious Opposition time—and to do so in prime time, rather than at the end of the day, which is when we normally discuss European issues. I repeat what all other right hon. and hon. Members have said about the importance of data-sharing, of knowing who is coming into our country and who is going out and of ensuring that those who have committed crimes and need to be returned to their country are returned as quickly as possible.
European co-operation also means that if there are problems with certain measures, we should consider them. There are problems with the European arrest warrant, although not with the principle or vision behind the scheme. We certainly need it, for the reasons given by the shadow Home Secretary. The difficulties are that some EU countries are issuing European arrest warrants for fairly trivial offences and at the moment each extradition under the European arrest warrant costs £18,000. The total cost to the British public in 2012 of actioning these warrants was £27 million, and figures from the Council of Europe showed that other European countries made 6,760 extradition requests to Britain in 2011—that is more than 130 a week, representing a 48% rise year on year.
I am not sure whether the hon. Member for Esher and Walton (Mr Raab) will speak in this debate, but since he came into the House he has highlighted the importance of this issue, and other right hon. and hon. Members from across the House have given specific examples of when their constituents have not been, in their view, fairly treated by the operation of the European arrest warrant.
In the same 12 months when the 48% year-on-year rise took place, the United Kingdom made just 205 requests for suspects wanted for crimes here and only 99 were handed over. Poland generates four in every 10 arrest warrants sent to Britain, and there has been an example of someone being extradited back to Poland and charged with stealing a wheelbarrow. I do not know whether that justifies £18,000 of taxpayers’ money, but it seems like a lot of judicial time and expense for something fairly trivial. I am glad that the motion talks about not only supporting the European arrest warrant, but reforming it, because asking individual countries such as Poland to think carefully about what they are doing is extremely important.
My right hon. Friend is making an interesting speech. Does he accept that one of the problems from Poland is that the Polish prosecution service does not have the discretion not to prosecute? Does he also accept that the work going on within the European Union with Poland has led to a 40% reduction in applications? Their number is still too high, but it is declining.
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right about that and it explains why part of the process is to talk to these countries and bilaterally engage, not on how they could improve their system, because that would be too patronising, but by explaining the effect their system is having on our country. That is why I welcomed your recent historic visit to Romania, Mr Speaker, when you were the first Speaker of the House of Commons to address the Romanian Parliament in session. The importance of your visit and of the discussions that my right hon. Friend has mentioned is that we can try to persuade other EU countries of the need to co-operate. With Romania, that came through Operation Golf; it came through smashing those gangs that had ensured that so many young Romanian women and men had been trafficked. If we do not have this dialogue, it cannot work.
There are a few months left before this Government bring the measures before the Select Committees. I know that it is the Home Secretary’s decision, but the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, the hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (James Brokenshire), is very assiduous, and I know he enjoys appearing before the Home Affairs Committee—and we enjoy having him—so I say to him that we would prefer that not to be done the week before the House votes, as is sometimes the case. Until I raised the issue of Europol with the Home Secretary she had not replied to my letter and told me that there was going to be a debate on Europol in the first week of July.
I am sorry if I sound like the hon. Member for Stone (Mr Cash)—perhaps I am turning into him—but the issue is that Parliament cannot scrutinise the measures in the European Parliament, and that is why the EU gets such a bad name: we get these measures in the British House of Commons far too late, we do not have enough time to debate them, only the usual suspects turn up at the debate and people think there is something wrong with all of us just because we want to talk about European issues. The best way to avoid that is to let us have this list quickly.
We are deciding on our programme in the Home Affairs Committee and we are going to visit Poland to talk to the Polish chief justice and others, including the judges. These are the people who are issuing the European arrest warrants in such numbers—as I said, 40% of these warrants come from Poland. We can arrange all that only if we know when the list will come to us. I hope that when the Minister winds up we will have a decision on that.
I regret the nature of the amendment, because the Opposition motion is a genuine attempt to help the coalition. It would have been helpful if the Home Secretary had revealed, as we have done, the key measures that she supports. This distasteful horse-trading to see if there is some compromise, or a handful of measures that the Government can agree on, is a very funny way to handle the issue of crime and security. If the Government accepted our motion, they would be agreeing to the European arrest warrant, but of course they cannot, because the last Conservative manifesto was against it. That is why the Home Secretary is having to duck and dive. The Government would be supporting joint investigation teams; agreeing to joint action on internet child pornography, which worries so many of us; and agreeing to joint action on drugs, people trafficking and football security—all things that we should be able to support.
Nearly 10% of Europol’s work involves counter-terrorism, and the UK is involved in more than 200 Europol investigations into organised crime and terrorism. Surely that is right. I want concerted action to tackle the 3,500 or so criminal gangs active across Europe. They do not recognise national boundaries, and we should not be obstacles to cross-border action to deal with those people.
The Government’s position is riddled with inconsistencies. Government Members say that it does not matter if the European arrest warrant is lost, because extradition can be organised through the 1957 Council of Europe convention, but that would require decisions to be taken by Governments, not judges, and that is the very role that the Home Secretary wants to give up in relation to extradition.
Of course, the UK has already opted into post-Lisbon measures concerning the sexual exploitation of children and procedural safeguards for suspects and victims. Will we end up being obliged to agree to assist in the investigation of particular crimes at the request of EU states, but unable to make arrests or share key information at vital points in the inquiries?
If the coalition cannot decide on its position soon, we will have to opt out of all the measures and rely on the approval of 26 other countries to let us opt back in on a case-by-case basis. What happens if the anti-European hysteria makes opting back in much more difficult? The Government risk placing the needs of the coalition and Tory Eurosceptics ahead of the security and justice concerns of the people of this country.
I welcome the Home Secretary’s speech and the broad strategic approach that she outlined. For my part, I want Britain to be a strong operational partner in Europe, but I do not believe that we need to give up democratic control over such a vital policy area to achieve that. We should consider all measures against the criteria of the UK’s national interest.
Few would object to European-wide criminal record checks to protect the public, but signing up for pan-European data sharing on every ordinary citizen is Orwellian and dangerous. As the UK’s surveillance of its people has expanded, data sharing with EU Governments has exposed the innocent to far greater risk. The classic case is that of Peter Hamkin, a Liverpool bartender wrongly arrested in 2003 for murdering an Italian woman because of a botched DNA match. He never set foot in Italy. New EU regulations risk a flood of such cases. Brussels wants foreign police to have access to the details of 38 million motorists on the UK Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency database, as well as DNA and fingerprint records. Even the Commission concedes in its impact assessment that systemic flaws could lead to false matches sucking the innocent into foreign investigations. Everyone has been so sensitive about this, but the raw truth is that I do not trust the criminal justice systems or safeguards in many EU countries; I am thinking particularly of some of those on the periphery of the EU, but also some of the long-standing members.
According to the Association of Chief Police Officers, only 29 of the 135 EU measures that are subject to the block opt-out benefit UK law enforcement at all, and of those only 13 are vital. Far from enhancing law enforcement, the vast majority of measures that the previous Government signed Britain up to were utterly pointless. That is what ACPO’s evidence means. [Interruption.] It clearly does, but I will not take an intervention because of the time. We do not need to be part of efforts to harmonise national law in areas such as drugs or corruption, and certainly not in areas that cover free speech.
The EU spews out legislation, but where is the evidence that it delivers? The previous Government never had proper impact assessments or evaluations of it. Let us take one example—the six laws on corruption under the EU. Transparency International says that EU standards have barely budged over a decade. In fact, corruption got worse in 10 countries. Then there was the push on criminal justice standards, whereas Fair Trials International found that violations of pre-trial rights trebled across the EU in the past four years and unfair trials doubled. Hyperactive supranational legislation has proved a fig leaf for the lack of national institutional capacity building that really raises standards of justice for all Europe’s citizens.
I spent three years in the Foreign Office in The Hague monitoring Europol and Eurojust. I have no problem at all with a college of prosecutors or police officers engaging in practical authority-to-authority co-operation, but that is a snapshot of the present, and the question is where all this is leading. There is already a new EU regulation on Europol and one is expected on Eurojust. They are clearly envisaged by the Commission—I have the draft policy papers here—as stepping stones towards a pan-European criminal code enforced by Europol and Eurojust, backed up and interpreted by the European Court of Justice. We need to look not just at the current state of co-operation, but where this is headed.
The most controversial measure is, of course, the European arrest warrant. I understand entirely that police rely on it and I understand that it has expedited process, but Commander Gibson of the Metropolitan police has highlighted the fact that
“resources are stretched dealing with the amount of EAWs we receive”,
because the regime is utterly lopsided. The number of hon. Members who complain about the lopsided nature of US extradition, yet turn a blind eye, because of their Europhilia, to the EAW is quite remarkable, so let me give them the facts. For every EAW that Britain issued in 2011, we got 33 back. We receive a third of all European arrest warrants.
I know from many cases—that of Andrew Symeou and in my own constituency the case of Colin Dines—the extremely rough justice that perfectly innocent people have been through. Why? Because we cannot trust the justice systems in many countries. It is not just the new members. Italy and Greece have incompetent justice systems and appalling prison conditions, and we are and have been hanging our citizens out to dry for far too long. We need reform and the strongest way to press for reform is to opt out and, as a condition of opting back in, to insist on a number of basic safeguards. The proportionality test has been mentioned, and there are other safeguards.
The EAW is supposed to allow hit-and-hope warrants that involve extradition for the purposes of investigation, rather than prosecution. That happens all the time. I have proposed amendments, which Members in all parts of the House thought would be a good idea, to enact in UK law a basic safeguard to make sure that extradition under the EAW can take place only in a case that is trial-ready, for prosecution and not for investigation, yet we have never achieved that. If we want to exercise some leverage over our European partners, who get much more out of the system reciprocally than we do—I accept that there is a strong law enforcement advantage to the UK—we should use our leverage from the block opt-out to press for those reforms.
We should not take into account only what the police say. We do not live in a police state. Their view is very important, but we should also take into account the views of the most senior extradition judge in this country, Lord Justice Thomas, who told the Baker review that the EAW system has become “unworkable”, that unfairness is a “huge problem” and that there is widespread consensus among the judges in northern Europe that this is a problem, but there is obviously great sensitivity, and sensibilities, among some of the Mediterranean countries.
Beyond the individual cost-benefit analysis of these measures, we need to grasp the big picture and the long term. EU Commission President José Manuel Barroso has made it clear that he wants a pan-European criminal code, enforced by the Commission and the European Court, and an EU public prosecutor. If we want to preserve our common law system and democratic oversight in this vitally sensitive area, is now the right time to seek broader and more flexible arrangements for co-operation?
That is why this specific opt-out decision should not be divorced from the need to renegotiate Britain’s wider justice and home affairs relationship. There are plenty of precedents. We are not a full-blown member of Frontex, but its executive director has said
“we do not see any difference between our UK colleagues and the others”.
That is a good example of where we co-operate operationally but do not need to be signed up, lock, stock and barrel, with the cessation of democratic prerogatives that that involves.
The way this has been presented as some kind of life-threatening problem for UK law enforcement is incredible, when one thinks of our relationship with authorities outside Europe. The strategic alliance group, which includes Britain, the US, Canada, New Zealand and Australia, collaborates on cybercrime and intelligence under a non-binding framework. Frankly, Brussels is the odd one out in insisting on a Faustian bargain that requires us to sacrifice democratic control as the price of co-operation.
The ideologues in this debate are not those calling for a renegotiation in justice and home affairs, based on operational co-operation rather than supranational control, but the dogmatic Europhiles who would blindly sacrifice British standards of justice and democratic accountability when the law enforcement case is so utterly weak.
I will try to make some brief comments in the short time available. I walked up and down many streets in Hyndburn and Haslingden during the recent county council elections, and it was clear to me that many people are unaware of how important the European arrest warrant is, so this debate is welcome. Among those constituents who had some knowledge of the EAW, there was universal support for it.
As my right hon. Friend the shadow Home Secretary and my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Steve McCabe) have pointed out, there are some 3,600 organised criminal gangs active in the EU, and they are involved in drugs, human trafficking, online child exploitation and theft. Cross-border crime is a reality, and we need 21st-century tools to meet the challenge.
We all remember Spain’s costa del crime, where British nationals wanted for serious crimes would simply buy a luxury pad and put their feet up, safe in the knowledge that they were beyond the reach of UK law. In 2002 the BBC suggested that some 230 criminals were hiding out in Spain. How things have changed! Last month The Daily Telegraph ran a story with the headline, “Why Spain’s Costa del Crime is now the worst place to go on the run”. It reported:
“Once a land of Ferraris, cocaine and women, it was the flashy destination of choice for the most notorious fugitives of Britain’s underworld. Now, as the arrest of Andrew Moran shows, Spain’s ‘Costa del Crime’ is the worst place to go on the run”.
These are important issues for our national security and public safety. Sadly for my constituents, the Government have stated that they will opt out of everything but have not been clear about which measures they will opt back into. Their position, in my view, is utterly confused. My constituents are concerned that opting out of these measures will affect public safety. Sadly, the Conservatives seem to be in hock to their Europhobic Back Benchers, who prioritise getting rid of anything with the word “Europe” in the title regardless of what value it has.
Policing and criminal justice co-operation strengthens our national security and means we can identify dangerous people coming into the UK. As the hon. Member for Cambridge (Dr Huppert) highlighted, Hussain Osman, who was identified as a suspect in the failed bomb attack at Hammersmith tube station on 21 July 2005, was extradited on a European arrest warrant and sentenced to 40 years’ imprisonment. According to David Anderson QC, the independent reviewer of terrorism legislation, there are a number of EU
“measures relevant to counter-terrorism that are considered by SO15 to be essential tools”.
We must be mindful—this has been commented on already—that 10% of Europol’s work is related to counter-terrorism.
It is crucial to our future that there are strong powers to tackle cross-border crime and prevent criminals from using the UK as a haven. My right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz) mentioned Operation Golf, which involved the Metropolitan police and the Romanian national police and tackled a Romanian gang that was trafficking children into the UK for the commission of crime. It resulted in the arrest of 126 suspects for a wide range of offences, including human trafficking, benefit fraud, theft, money laundering and child neglect, and 272 trafficking victims were identified.
Over 600 criminals have been returned to the UK to face British justice for crimes they have committed here. Over 500 UK nationals convicted of sex offences in other EU states since 2006 are now managed in the UK within the sex offender management system, including paedophiles who without EU co-operation on crime may well have escaped justice. Exchanging criminal records is crucial to discovering serious offenders who have come to the attention of the police. Operation Veerde, a joint collaboration between the UK and the Czech Republic on human trafficking and rape of young women, resulted in 33 victims being located in the Czech Republic and nine suspects indicted and convicted in England on behalf of both states.
Combating internet child pornography has been part of collaborative EU policing. ACPO has said that the Schengen information system is a vital measure that the UK is already heavily committed to, and as such it is vital that we opt back into it. Easy access to this information will enable the UK to exchange information across Europe in real time in order to fight cross-border crime and rapidly repatriate UK criminals who have fled to other EU countries. This is not just about capturing British criminals who are attempting to hide within the EU. The UK has deported over 4,000 criminals under the EU arrest warrant, 95 of whom are foreign nationals removed from the UK. That is a considerable number of foreign prisoners who no longer languish in British prisons.
My constituents will suffer if polluted anti-European politics result in this Government withdrawing from effective EU cross-border policing measures. That risks sex offenders, child traffickers and violent criminals, as well as foreign criminals, escaping justice and could result in their being on the streets of my constituency and all other hon. Members’ constituencies.
This has been an interesting debate, although we are absolutely none the wiser about the Government’s policy. I am delighted that the Home Secretary has come back into the Chamber; perhaps she will be able to provide us with some answers later.
Last year the Prime Minister said that he would be exercising the opt-out, then the Deputy Prime Minister disagreed, and then the Home Secretary said that the Government’s current thinking was to opt out. We have therefore tabled an Opposition motion to try to tease out the Government’s position and precisely what they intend to do, because we know that this is a matter of national security. The Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, the hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (James Brokenshire), was absolutely right when he said not long ago that we should not be naive about the process of renegotiation if we want to opt out and then opt back in. As he said, the Commission would attach conditions—for instance, it might allow us to join groups of related measures, some of which we like while others we might not.
Our view is that thus far this has been a pretty shabby process. When we tried to enable the House to debate the European arrest warrant during the progress of the Crime and Courts Bill, Government Ministers and Back Benchers talked out the debate so that we never managed to discuss the matter at all. All the relevant Committees in this House and in the House of Lords have complained that they have been given negligible information by the Government. We have been given no clarity of any kind as to what measures they might be considering opting into—not even a clear idea on their final resolution of whether they intend to opt out in general—and we had no clarity today.
We still have no clarity about what kind of votes we are going to have. The Home Secretary trumpeted the fact that last year the Europe Minister, who is in his place, charming chap that he is, said that we would have a vote in both Houses. However, he did not say whether they would be binding votes—just that they would be votes before the Government made their final decision. He did not say whether the votes would be on a list of what we are to opt into and opt out of. He did not say whether they would be on amendable motions. He did not say what would happen if one House voted one way and the other House voted the other.
The truth is that a double tug of war is going on, as we know from The Guardian today. The first is between the two sides of the Government—the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives. It is great that the man who actually boasts of having invented the poll tax when he worked at No. 10 under Mrs Thatcher is now in charge of these negotiations as the Minister for Government Policy. The other tug of war is between Conservative Members, some of them on the ultra-right and some on the moderate right. Some might be referred to historically as the H-block—the Heaton-Harris and Hannan end of the Conservative party. It reminds me of the Old Testament—two women claim that a baby is theirs and it is only when Solomon says that the baby should be cut in half that one of them owns up. I am worried that the Government’s policy-making process means that they are simply playing a numbers game in which they spin different things to different parts of the media and the end result will be that British security will lose out.
It is all pretty sad, really, because historically the United Kingdom has led and campaigned for greater co-operation on many of these issues in the European Union. It is a simple matter of fact that ease of travel, faster telecommunications and the ability to send money from one country to another much faster mean that no country is hermetically sealed any more. Indeed, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper) has said, criminality does not stop at the channel. When I first typed out that sentence, it said, “does not stop at the Chanel”, which is rather different.
On joint investigation teams, our advances in recent years and the increased number of such teams mean that we are able to tackle forms of criminality that we were never able to deal with before.
The Association of Chief Police Officers has been mentioned many times. I accept the point made by the hon. Member for Esher and Walton (Mr Raab) that, just because a police officer says something, that does not necessarily mean that we need to put it into law. However, ACPO has pointed out:
“The presence of fugitives from justice fleeing to the UK is a significant public safety issue.”
It stands to reason that if we make it more difficult for people to be extradited from this country by resiling from the European arrest warrant, we will, in effect, open ourselves up to the danger of being a haven for them.
I will not give way, because we have very little time left and the hon. Gentleman took up quite a large amount of time himself.
I believe that the European arrest warrant is invaluable. As my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney South and Shoreditch (Meg Hillier) has said, it is invaluable for victims apart from anything else. Without it, ACPO says that
“It is not just foreign criminals who would sit for years in UK jails. UK court cases would stall for many years as we waited to get our fugitives back, robbing their victims of the chance for justice to be served.”
Similarly, the hon. Member for Cambridge (Dr Huppert) referred to the case of Hussain Osman, who planted a bomb on 21 July 2005 which, thank God, did not go off. Within eight days he had been arrested, having gone through Paris to Rome, and by September he was back in this country, thanks to the European arrest warrant. Without it, such a process might take up to 10 years in future. That is precisely the kind of thing that we want to avoid.
We have only to look at the statistics for 2011-12. Sometimes the hon. Member for Esher and Walton—whom I respect enormously in many regards, but not in what he says about this—often suggests that this is all about British citizens being extradited, but the vast majority of people surrendered from and to the UK under the European arrest warrant are not British. In 2011-12, Government statistics show that 922 people were extradited from the UK, just 32 of whom were British nationals. They were not extradited to the kinds of countries referred to by the hon. Gentleman: eight went to Ireland, six to the Netherlands and five each to Spain and France. The flow in the other direction was similar: 17 from Ireland and the Netherlands, and 14 from Spain. Of the extraditions, 50 were for homicide, 20 for rape and 90 for robbery. The thought that we might surrender the European arrest warrant and have no sure knowledge of what would stand in its place must be of serious concern to everybody in the country.
The hon. Member for Daventry (Chris Heaton-Harris), charming though he is, was quite casual about whether there would be an alternative to the European arrest warrant, but all the work of the Lords Committee, the Bar Council and others suggests that we might have to rely on the 1957 convention, which would not solve any single one of the problems with the European arrest warrant that the hon. Member for Esher and Walton referred to. In fact, it would make many of them considerably worse, because it would lead to a longer process and people like Andrew Symeou might end up being imprisoned. Bilateral agreements, for which the hon. Member for South Northamptonshire (Andrea Leadsom) has argued—she is not present, but she leads the charge for many of the more ardent Eurosceptics—would not help either. As my hon. Friend the Member for Hyndburn (Graham Jones) said, there is a danger that we will create a new version of the costa del crime in this country.
There are measures other than the European arrest warrant that we think are vital to our national security. The Schengen information system, the second incarnation of which is not yet fully in place, will mean that every country in the EU will be able to access real-time information on anybody who is of interest to the criminal justice system of any other country at their border and elsewhere. That is an important system and it covers 23 of the measures that we are discussing.
David Anderson QC, the independent reviewer of terrorism legislation, said that SO15 considers many of the measures that we are talking about to be essential in tackling terrorism. The hon. Member for Esher and Walton mentioned one person who made his concerns about the European arrest warrant known to the Baker review. However, I point out to hon. Members who are deeply troubled by the European arrest warrant that the Baker review said clearly:
“we believe that the European arrest warrant scheme has worked reasonably well.”
I will still not give way to the hon. Gentleman because hon. Members wish to hear from the Minister.
I will end by making one further point. I know that there are many pragmatic, sensible pro-Europeans on the Government Benches. Sometimes they remind me of Nicodemus in the New Testament, who was only able to visit Jesus at night because he did not want to own up to his Jewish colleagues on the Sanhedrin about his real views. I can see some of those sensible pro-Europeans now and I am tempted to name them—to out them. Of course, there are plenty of Liberal Members who are sometimes sensible. There are also plenty of Conservatives. It is just a shame that they dare not own up to their true views.
I hope that what comes out of this process is a proper consultation with all the Select Committees and a proper list that does not come out only on the day after the end of May 2014—we know that the Home Secretary is not very good at getting her dates right. I hope that we have a proper process whereby everybody in the House can declare their commitment to the systems that work well in the national interest, and that there is an amendable motion for which all Members can vote.
Before I respond to the points that have been made by various Members, it is important in the short time that I have to restate a few simple points to ensure that this debate is understood and placed in its proper context, particularly in the light of the last contribution and some of the other contributions this afternoon and evening.
First, the decision that the previous Administration left us to make is whether to exercise the opt-out by 31 May 2014. The Opposition motion and a number of the contributions this evening have given the impression that this is a rushed decision. Before coming to a final view on such an important matter, the Government must be satisfied that they have worked through all the options, understood the implications of them, provided Parliament with as much information as is practical and given Members the chance to debate the issues in an informed way. That is the proper way for a Government to conduct business and that is precisely what we are committed to doing.
Secondly, I remind Members that some 130 measures are subject to this decision, not just the handful named in the Opposition motion. While the Opposition may view those measures as the most important ones that are subject to the decision—although in the light of the contributions this evening, I am not so sure about that—I do not agree that we should single out individual measures when making the large opt-out decision. Instead, we should look at the measures in the round. That is to say, we should consider all 130 or so of them. We must take a decision based purely on what is in the national interest.
My right hon. Friends the Home Secretary and the Justice Secretary have been consistently clear to this House and in evidence to the other place that the Government’s current thinking is that we should opt out of all pre-Lisbon policing and criminal justice measures, but seek to rejoin measures where it is in the national interest to do so. The Government have given a clear commitment, reiterated today by the Home Secretary, to hold a vote on the matter before any formal decision to opt out is made.
I am proud to be a member of a Government who have done so much to allow Parliament to scrutinise EU matters more fully than ever before, and who are allowing a vote on such an important matter. When such an unambiguous commitment has been made and repeated by the Government, I am not clear what benefit is to be gained by holding a vote on a motion that only partially deals with this matter. Surely it is better to welcome the Government’s commitment to a vote, and for the Government to ensure that any vote takes place in a fully informed manner.
The decision on exercising the UK’s opt-out will be taken in the national interest. After contributions from hon. Members, including the hon. Member for Hackney South and Shoreditch (Meg Hillier), let me say clearly that this is not about playing games or not acting responsibly—something the Home Secretary made crystal clear in her contribution this afternoon. Consideration will be given to how a measure contributes to public safety and security, whether practical co-operation is underpinned by the measure, and whether there would be a detrimental effect on such co-operation if pursued by other mechanisms. That is the correct and measured approach the Government will take.
Important contributions have been made this afternoon, and my hon. Friend the Member for Daventry (Chris Heaton-Harris) highlighted the impact of European Court of Justice jurisdiction. Much of the third-pillar legislation was made to the lowest common denominator in order to secure unanimity, and it was not negotiated with European Court of Justice jurisdiction in mind. Much of the drafting reflects that and is not of a high standard. Indeed, some of it is ambiguous and could lend itself to expansive interpretation by the Court—a point effectively made by my hon. Friend. He also referred to the Metock case that highlights the issues involved and why this matter must be considered so carefully.
My hon. Friend the Member for Esher and Walton (Mr Raab) highlighted evidence from the Association of Chief Police Officers which said that 55 of the measures in the basket have no practical effect, and that is why the evidence presented must be weighed carefully. The right hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle (Alan Johnson) highlighted the balance of competences review, but that is a separate matter concerning modifications to treaties. The issue currently before the House concerns the utilisation of a measure in an existing treaty.
The hon. Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Steve McCabe) seemed to imply that there was no room for practical co-operation, but there absolutely is. Much of our co-operation to fight crime and terrorism does not depend on EU-level instruments. Indeed, our operational partners co-operate closely on a daily basis and that will not change. We have been clear throughout this process that where there is a case for practical co-operation with other European partners, the Government will support it.
Some hon. Members, including the Chair of the Home Affairs Committee, highlighted Europol. Obviously, the Commission has published a new measure and there will be a separate debate on that at the start of July. Therefore, our decisions on Europol will clearly be framed in the context of the new measure and existing measures that fall within the basket. We also expect the publication of new instruments in relation to Eurojust.
Order. The question is—[Interruption.] I do not think we need any help from you, Mr Browne. Thank you. You are very good at giving advice, but we do not need it.
Question put forthwith, That the question be now put.
Question agreed to.
Question put accordingly (Standing Order No. 31(2)), That the original words stand part of the Question.
Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 31(2)), That the proposed words be there added.
Question agreed to.
The Deputy Speaker declared the main Question, as amended, to be agreed to (Standing Order No. 31(2)).
That this House believes that the decision on exercising the UK’s opt out from EU former third pillar measures should be taken in the national interest, with consideration given to how a measure contributes to public safety and security, whether practical co operation is underpinned by the measure, and whether there would be a detrimental impact on such co-operation if pursued by other mechanisms; and welcomes the commitment made by the Minister for Europe on 20 January 2011 to a vote in both Houses of Parliament before the Government makes a formal decision on whether it wishes to opt out.