With permission, I would like to make a statement on the decision whether the UK should opt out of those EU police and criminal justice measures adopted before the Lisbon treaty came into force.
As hon. Members will be aware, this is a stand-alone decision that the Government are required to make under the terms of the Lisbon treaty by 31 May 2014, with that decision taking effect on 1 December of that year. It covers about 130 measures, some of which it is clearly in our national interest to remain part of, but if we wish to remain bound by only some of the measures, we must exercise our opt-out from them all en masse and seek to rejoin those that we judge to be in our national interest.
The Government have committed to a vote in this House and the other place before formally deciding on the matter. We shall honour that commitment in full. Next week, hon. Members will have the opportunity to debate and vote on this approach. Following our discussions in Europe, another vote will be held on the final list of measures that the UK will formally apply to rejoin.
Let me briefly set out the rationale by which the Government have approached the decision. We believe the UK should opt out of the measures in question for reasons of principle, policy and pragmatism and that we should seek to rejoin only those measures that help us co-operate with our European neighbours to combat cross-border crime and keep our country safe.
On principle, I am firmly of the belief that the UK’s international relations in policing and criminal justice are first and foremost a matter for Her Majesty’s Government. In policy terms, the UK has and will continue to have the ability to choose whether it should opt in to any new proposal in the field of justice and home affairs. It is therefore right that we take the opportunity to consider whether we wish to retain the measures that were joined by the previous Government and to decide on a case-by-case basis whether we are willing to allow the European Court of Justice to exercise jurisdiction over them in future.
Finally, the Government are being pragmatic. I have said before that we will not leave the UK open to the threat of infraction and fines which run into many millions of pounds by remaining bound by measures we simply cannot implement in time. That would be senseless. In a number of areas, the measures relate to minimum standards in substantive criminal law. Even before their adoption, the UK already met or exceeded the vast majority of these standards and will continue to do so whether or not we are bound by them.
As people have become more mobile in recent years, so too has crime. The Government have sought and listened carefully to the views of our law enforcement agencies which combat it. We understand that some of the measures covered by this decision are important tools that they need to protect the British public. The Government have identified 35 measures which we will seek to rejoin in the national interest.
That set of measures, on which we propose to begin our discussions with the European Commission and other member states, is laid out in Command Paper 8671, which is published today. I want to be clear: what must happen next is a process of negotiation with the European Commission and other member states, and those negotiations will determine the final list of measures we formally apply to rejoin. But we promised that we would set out these measures clearly and give hon. Members time to consider them before asking them to vote—and that is what we have done.
One of the measures we will seek to rejoin, and on which I know many hon. Members have strong views, is the European arrest warrant. I agree with our law enforcement agencies that the arrest warrant is a valuable tool in returning offenders to the UK. Its predecessor, the 1957 European convention on extradition, had serious drawbacks. The arrest warrant has helped us to secure and accelerate successful extradition procedures, as shown by the case of Osman Hussain, one of the failed London bombers of July 2005, who was extradited back to the UK from Italy in less than eight weeks. More recently, Jeremy Forrest, the teacher who was sentenced last month for absconding to France with one of his pupils, was extradited back to the UK less than three weeks after his arrest.
Since 2009 alone, the arrest warrant has been used to extradite from the UK 57 suspects for child sex offences, 86 for rape and 105 for murder. In the same period, 63 suspects for child sex offences, 27 for rape and 44 for murder were extradited back to Britain to face charges. A number of these suspects would probably have not been extradited back to Britain without the arrest warrant. We owe it to their victims, and to their loved ones, to bring these people to justice. However, the European arrest warrant has its problems, too, as hon. Members have eloquently explained in this House. The last Government had eight years to address these concerns, and did nothing; this Government have taken action. I am today proposing additional safeguards to rectify these problems and increase the protections offered to those wanted for extradition, particularly British citizens.
A number of hon. Members have explained how European arrest warrants have been issued disproportionately for very minor offences. I will address this by amending the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill, which is in Committee, to ensure that an arrest warrant can be refused for minor crimes. This should stop cases such as that of Patrick Connor, who was extradited because he and two friends were found in possession of four counterfeit banknotes.
We will also work with other states to enforce their fines and ensure that in future, where possible, the European investigation order is used instead of the European arrest warrant. This would allow police forces and prosecutors to share evidence and information without requiring the extradition of a suspect at the investigative stage.
Other hon. Members have expressed concerns about lengthy and avoidable pre-trial detention. I will amend our Extradition Act 2003 to ensure that people in the UK can be extradited under the European arrest warrant only when the requesting state has already made a decision to charge and a decision to try, unless that person’s presence is required in that jurisdiction for those decisions to be made. Many Members, particularly my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield North (Nick de Bois), will recall the case of Andrew Symeou, who spent 10 months in pre-trial detention, and a further nine months on bail, in Greece, only to be acquitted. The change that I am introducing would have allowed Andrew Symeou to raise, in his extradition hearing, the issue of whether a decision to charge him and a decision to try him had been taken. It would likely have prevented his extradition at the stage he was surrendered—and, quite possibly, altogether. We will also implement the European supervision order to make it easier for people such as Mr Symeou to be bailed back to the UK.
Other hon. Members are concerned about people being extradited for conduct that is not criminal in British law. I will amend our law to make it clear that in cases where part of the conduct took place in the UK, and is not criminal here, the judge must refuse extradition for that conduct. I also intend to make better use of existing safeguards to provide further protections. I will ensure that people who consent to extradition do not lose their right not to be prosecuted for other offences, reducing costs and delays. We propose that the prisoner transfer framework decision be used to its fullest extent, so that UK citizens extradited and convicted can be returned to serve their sentence here.
Where a UK national has been convicted and sentenced abroad, for example in their absence, and is now the subject of a European arrest warrant, we will ask, with their permission, for the warrant to be withdrawn, and will use the prisoner transfer arrangements instead. This change could have prevented the extraditions of Michael Binnington and Luke Atkinson, who were sent to Cyprus only to be returned to the UK six months later.
To prevent other extraditions occurring at all, I intend either to allow the temporary transfer of a consenting person, so that they can be interviewed by the issuing state’s authorities, or to allow those authorities to do that through such means as video conferencing while the person is in the UK. Where people are innocent, this should lead to the extradition request being withdrawn. These are all changes that can be made in UK law, and that could have been made by the Opposition during their time in government. Co-operation on cross-border crime is vital, but we must also safeguard the rights of British citizens, and the changes that we propose will do that.
Before I conclude, I am conscious that hon. Members want to know our approach to the new Europol regulation. I fully recognise the excellent work of Europol and its British director, Rob Wainwright. Hon. Members may recall Operation Golf, a joint operation led by Europol and the Metropolitan police, which cracked down on a human trafficking gang operating in llford, and which led to the release of 28 trafficked children and the arrest of 126 suspects. It is for such reasons that we propose rejoining the existing Europol measure.
On the new proposal, the Government have today tabled a motion that will be the basis of a Lidington-style debate on the Floor of the House next week, following the debate and vote on the plan that I have outlined today. That motion states that we should opt in, post adoption, provided that Europol is not given the power to direct national law enforcement agencies to initiate investigations or share data that conflict with our national security.
For reasons of policy, principle and pragmatism, I believe that it is in the national interest to exercise the United Kingdom’s opt-out, and rejoin a much smaller set of measures that help us to co-operate with our European neighbours in the fight against serious and organised crime. I also believe that Her Majesty’s Government must strike the right balance between supporting law enforcement and protecting our traditional liberties. What I have outlined today will achieve both those goals, and I commend this statement to the House.
So, after three years of briefing and trying to brandish her anti-European credentials, the Home Secretary has been forced to admit the truth: Britain does need the European arrest warrant, it does need joint investigation teams, Europol, the exchange of criminal records and help to tackle online child abuse. Why, then, did she and Members of her party all vote against all those measures just four weeks ago? Why has it taken the Home Secretary three years to realise that we do not want to go back to the days of the costa del crime, when British criminals could flee to Spain or European criminals could find safe haven here?
Last year the Government briefed The Sun that they would opt out of the European arrest warrant, opt out of the European evidence warrant and opt out of action against counterfeiting. Now the right hon. Lady admits that she needs them and she is going to do the opposite. The Prime Minister described the European arrest warrant as “highly objectionable” and the Fresh Start group wanted to stay out of everything, but the Home Secretary has had to admit what we and the police have argued from the start—we need the European arrest warrant in the fight against crime. We agree with reforming the European arrest warrant to make it proportionate, but as she has just shown, she does not need to opt out of working with Europe in order to do that.
The Home Secretary said very little in her statement about what she wants to opt out of or why, so let us look at the detail. Some of those measures have been replaced already, some do not operate any more, some we have never used anyway and do not have to, and others are just agreements to co-operate and we will carry on co-operating anyway. She is opting out of a directory of specialist counter-terror officers, which no longer exists anyway; a temporary system of dealing with counterfeit documents, which has been replaced anyway; a load of rules applying specifically to Portugal, Spain and Croatia, which do not apply in the UK; and a directory of contacts of extradition experts in each country. This is hardly a triumph of repatriation.
The Home Secretary has tried to play Britannia, clothing herself in the Union Jack, parading powers that she is repatriating from Brussels, but where is the substance? The truth is that she is not wearing a flag; it is simply a fig leaf. As for next week’s vote, she told the House that this was
“an important decision, and not one that we should rush into lightly”—[Official Report, 12 June 2013; Vol. 564, c. 421.]
Yet she wants Parliament to vote on her proposals in six days’ time. She promised the European Scrutiny Committee and the Home Affairs Committee that they would be able to scrutinise the list and she has given them three working days to do so. She has been thinking about it for three years.
We will look at the right hon. Lady’s list and her motion for next week, but this is the wrong strategy—the wrong way to make serious policy on crime and justice. Where are the guarantees that we will be able to opt back into the serious measures we need, even the 35 measures that she supports? Where is the guarantee that we will be able to opt back into the European arrest warrant, the data sharing and the criminal records that she has now admitted we need? Presumably she has those guarantees. She told the House that she was starting negotiations with the Commission last October, so given how much is at stake in the fight against crime, I presume she has done a deal with the European Commissioner that we will definitely be able to opt back into those measures. Where is it?
Ministers have said that this will be a difficult negotiation, and we must not put those important powers at risk for the sake of opting out of a few contact lists. We must not make it easier for European criminals to hide here if we lose the European arrest warrant. We have just spent eight years trying to get rid of Abu Qatada. We do not want to make it easier for European criminals to stay here, so let the Home Secretary answer just two questions: will we be able to opt back into the European arrest warrant? Has she got a guarantee that we will be able to do so, and if we do not get that guarantee, will she ditch her whole opt-out plan? Without those guarantees this is a dangerous strategy that puts the fight against crime at risk.
The Home Secretary is putting politics before the fight against crime, but this is not a game. Crime does not stop at the channel. This is about whether we can stop dangerous criminals fleeing abroad and whether we can send foreign criminals back to face justice at home. This is about whether we can work with Europe on trafficking and child abuse, so where is the guarantee that this Home Secretary is not putting that serious fight against crime at risk?
Oh dear, oh dear. The right hon. Lady had an opportunity to come to the House and enter into a serious exchange about our ability to operate on a cross-border basis, catch criminals, and keep British citizens safe. She also had the opportunity to indicate whether the Opposition believe it right that we give greater safeguards and protections to British citizens in the operation of the European arrest warrant. Instead, we got a rant that did nothing other than expose the considerable confusion that lies at the heart of the Labour party on this issue.
The right hon. Lady asks whether we have guarantees for the negotiation, and complains about the negotiation process. Who negotiated this opt-out in the Lisbon treaty? It was not either of the coalition parties; the Labour party negotiated the opt-out, so any failings in how it operates are entirely down to the previous Labour Government—[Interruption.]
The right hon. Lady referred to a motion tabled by the Opposition in an Opposition day debate, and identified seven measures that she said it was necessary to rejoin. What about measures such as the European supervision order or those to do with removing criminals’ assets? Are those powers not important as well? They are on our list, but they were not on that of the right hon. Lady.
Finally, I failed to hear in the right hon. Lady’s comments whether those on the Labour party Front Bench support the decision to opt out—a decision available only because her Government negotiated it in the first place. We believe it is absolutely right to exercise that opt-out, and to negotiate and rejoin those measures that are important for cross-border operations and co-operation between our police forces. Labour Members may come to the House and the right hon. Lady may stand up, foam at the mouth and rant at the Government about these measures, but it is high time she put her position on the line and made clear what her party will do in the debate next week.
My right hon. Friend’s statement simply aggravates concerns that the European Scrutiny Committee has expressed since her October statement. Why has the Committee been consistently denied the information and consultation that it, the Justice Committee and the Home Affairs Committee were promised? We have been given neither proper time nor opportunity to consider these matters. We shall be meeting tomorrow and considering those questions in line with Standing Orders, and we shall then decide what action to take.
We brought the proposals forward now because it is right that we have time to negotiate with the European Commission. As I indicated in my statement, there will be further opportunity for the House to consider the list of measures that we negotiate with the European Commission. I say to my hon. Friend and to other right hon. and hon. Members who chair the Committees to which he referred that the total list of measures has been available for those Committees to consider for some considerable time. The Government are indicating today which measures we wish to seek to rejoin. There will be a debate next week in the House and an opportunity to vote on that. As I have indicated, there will be further consideration and a vote at a later stage.
To coin an immediate phrase, “Oh dear, oh dear”—a statement today. In view of the Home Secretary’s remarks about the criminal justice system being primarily for this House—I cannot disagree with that in the light of the judgment at Strasbourg today on a measure that I took to make life mean life—is it not appropriate, as has just been requested, to give Members more time to consider what she has said before holding the debate scheduled for next week? Or is this just a straight political ploy, rather than a statesmanlike approach to an important issue?
This House will have time to consider the opt-out and the measures we seek to rejoin. Not only will there be a debate next week, but there will be further opportunity to comment on and discuss in the House those measures we are negotiating to rejoin with the European Commission.
I congratulate the Home Secretary on her statement; it is good to hear her being so positive about the benefits of key measures such as Europol, Eurojust and the European arrest warrant, and she is right to opt back into those. I was also pleased to hear about the implementation of the European supervision order. Will she let the House know the timetable for that and say whether it can be introduced in the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill?
The European supervision order is one measure we will seek to rejoin, but there must be a negotiation process with the European Commission and other member states before it is possible to ensure that we are able to rejoin the measures we wish to rejoin. I am afraid the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill will not be a vehicle for the European supervision order.
Yesterday I joined others in elevating the Home Secretary to sainthood over the Abu Qatada decision, but I am afraid her halo has slipped a little. There is nothing wrong with a pick-and-mix Europe as far as the justice and home affairs agenda is concerned, but I agree wholeheartedly with the Chairman of the European Scrutiny Committee, the hon. Member for Stone (Mr Cash): I think it shows disrespect for the Committees of this House, and for Parliament when we do not have the opportunity to consider which measures the Government wish to opt in or out of.
It is not sufficient to say there will be a debate next Monday. We have been waiting for five months for this decision. Five Chairs of Select Committees wrote to the Home Secretary and the Minister for Europe and we received nothing until today. I urge her to delay the decision to hold a vote on Monday, and to allow the Committees to examine the issue carefully. She is due to appear before the Home Affairs Committee on Tuesday, so let us scrutinise this issue properly. I am sure she will get the result she wants because I am sure she will be able to make the arguments. Rushing this decision when she has more than eight or nine months in which to make it and inform the Commission is too hasty.
I recall the remarks made by the right hon. Gentleman yesterday when I made the statement about Abu Qatada’s deportation. I also recall that I said it was most unusual for the Home Office to receive such praise, and that I assumed normal service would be resumed quickly, as indeed it has been. Let me say to the right hon. Gentleman what I said to my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Mr Cash), who chairs the European Scrutiny Committee. There will be an opportunity to debate this issue next week, and a further opportunity for the House to consider the measures we seek to rejoin. All Select Committees of this House have known the list of measures that the Government have been considering, and they have had the opportunity to look at them and give an opinion.
I thank the Home Secretary for coming to the House and making this statement, and for taking on board the views of the all-party group on human trafficking about the requirement to have joint investigation teams, and for highlighting Operation Golf in her statement. I am struggling with the rush to which the right hon. Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz) just referred. Will we have a first bite of the cherry next week with a debate, and then consider individual measures later after the Select Committees have reported? If not, I am not entirely sure—it appears that the Executive are bouncing Parliament.
I apologise; I referred to this in my answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Stone. The reason for coming forward now is that we are able to start formal negotiation with the European Commission and other member states on those measures we seek to rejoin. Had we not been doing that, we would have significantly reduced our ability in time terms to hold those negotiations with the European Commission.
My constituents are particularly concerned about the 90% of prisoners repatriated from the UK under the European arrest warrant who are foreign nationals. Will the Secretary of State make a categorical assurance that under the arrangements she proposes there will be no delay in repatriating those foreign nationals from our prisons? We understand there have been considerable delays recently, and that numbers of those going have not been as good as they should have been.
The hon. Lady refers in general to the question of foreign national prisoners and their removal from the UK. Of course, that covers those who are EU citizens and those who are from outside the EU. With regard to EU citizens, the prisoner transfer framework decision gives us the opportunity to work with other member states on a bilateral basis to ensure that we can repatriate UK citizens to serve their sentences here and remove their nationals from the UK to serve their sentences abroad. That is what we intend to do.
The Home Secretary asserts that rejoining the 35 measures will be in our national interest. Where is the evidence for that? Is there a cost-benefit analysis? How does that fit in with the balance of competences review? Will we be asked next week to endorse that approach, rather than just receiving the information?
I have published today in the Command Paper the explanatory memorandum, which sets out the measures we are looking to rejoin—it refers to the others as well—and explains what each is about. The debate will be about the Government’s position of opting out and then seeking to rejoin the 35 measures. That will enable us to enter into proper negotiations with the European Commission and other member states. I believe that it is right that we seek to rejoin measures that enable us to co-operate on a cross-border basis in dealing with cross-border crime and keeping people safe.
The Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (James Brokenshire), has spoken with the Minister for Justice in Northern Ireland and we have started discussions on the implications for Northern Ireland.
My hon. Friend is right in that rejoining measures means that they will come under the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice, which is why we have given such careful thought and consideration to the list of measures we are seeking to rejoin, but it is possible for this Parliament to make decisions in UK law that change the way the European arrest warrant operates and give us some of the safeguards that many Members of this House feel other EU member states have had, for example in relation to proportionality. As I said in my statement, I am only sorry that the previous Labour Government did not do that when they had the opportunity.
The Home Secretary referred to Operation Golf and the human trafficking operation, which was carried out by some individuals in Ilford. Will she take this opportunity to make it absolutely clear that it is essential that we remain within Europol and that any move to take this country away from the European Union would damage that co-operation?
As I am sure the hon. Gentleman is aware, the European Commission has brought forward a proposal for a new regulation relating to Europol. We propose to opt back into the current Europol regulation. The new regulation would allow the possibility that Europol could in future direct police forces across Europe, and notably our police forces, in order to undertake investigations, so they could be mandated by Europol at the centre. We believe in operational independence for our police forces here in the UK and are not prepared to see Europol being able to mandate them.
The decision to which the Home Secretary referred today in her welcome statement was made under the terms of the Lisbon treaty. How do those relate to the wholesale renegotiation of our relationship with the EU that a Conservative Government are pursuing?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend, because he enables me to answer the earlier question from my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr Chope) on the balance of competences work. We absolutely have the opportunity to take this decision on the pre-Lisbon justice and home affairs measures, but of course that is separate from the wider negotiation that the Conservative party is guaranteeing to undertake leading up to the in/out referendum, on which many Government Members voted after last Friday’s debate on the private Member’s Bill. A further negotiation will look at the wider issues, based on the balance of competences work currently being undertaken.
I very much welcome the Government’s decision to opt out en masse and then decide item by item on whether to opt back in, which I see as a rejection of ever closer union, but how will we deal with the matters post negotiation? If there are 35 items that the Government propose to opt back into, will we vote item by item, because the Government might well succeed in their objectives in some of them but not in others? Rather than simply having a vote on a lump, would it not be much better to give us individual choices, and would that not also strengthen the Home Secretary’s position?
The decision on the form that any further vote will take in relation to these matters post negotiation is yet to be taken by the relevant House authorities and business managers. I welcome the hon. Gentleman’s opening remarks. Perhaps he might like to try to persuade his Front Benchers to be as clear in their position on the opt-out.
I wonder whether my right hon. Friend has forgotten the coalition agreement, which states:
“We will ensure that there is no further transfer of sovereignty or powers over the course of the next Parliament.”
Anything that we opt back into comes under the European Court of Justice, the European Parliament and might be subject to qualified majority voting. All those three items are a surrender of sovereignty, and therefore her statement is disappointing to many people.
The Secretary of State will know that there is great unhappiness in Scotland among the Scottish Government and Police Scotland about the opt-out. The Scottish Government have expressed their disappointment about the lack of consultation and raised concerns about the uncertainty and instability it will cause. Why should Scotland’s safety be compromised because of this Government’s Euro-obsession? Can the Scottish Government opt out of this Government’s moves to opt out of this European measure should they wish to do so?
As with Northern Ireland, my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary has been in touch with the Minister responsible for Justice in Scotland and is discussing with him the implications for Scotland. It would appear that the Scottish National party’s only answer to everything is to opt out, to be separate and different and not to be part of anything. In fact, as we know, the measures that we have decided to seek to rejoin are of benefit to the whole United Kingdom.
I support my right hon. Friend’s stance in relation to the European arrest warrant, which is an important tool in fighting serious crime, although clearly, as the Government recognise, it needs amendment. If the test relates to the national interest and the stance on supranational institutions, does she share my concern about today’s decision by the European Court of Human Rights in relation to whole-life tariffs, which will take away from this House of Commons and our own courts the decision on the crucial matter of whether life should mean life?
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. Not only Members of this House but the public will be dismayed at the decision that has come from the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights on whether it is possible for life genuinely to mean life. It is also a surprising decision, given that last year the Court decided in a number of extradition cases that it was possible to extradite on the basis of potential life sentences without parole—so today’s judgment is contrary to the decision it took last year.
Fighting organised crime and terrorism in Northern Ireland is important. Extradition from the Republic of Ireland is now entirely reliant on the European arrest warrant. I understand that Irish domestic legislation to allow extradition to the UK has been repealed. Can the Secretary of State confirm that the Justice Minister in Northern Ireland and, indeed, his counterpart in the Republic of Ireland are extremely concerned about the impact that this opt-out will have on the fight against crime and terrorism in Ireland in general?
As I have said, we have already started discussions on this issue with the Justice Minister in Northern Ireland, and I have had previous discussions with the Minister for Justice and Equality in the Republic of Ireland about the exercise of the opt-out. On the hon. Lady’s specific point about extraditions being subject to the European arrest warrant, we are proposing to opt back into that, albeit with safeguards for British citizens so that we can ensure that the problems that have arisen in the exercise of the EAW do not arise in future.
Surely everyone who is concerned about cross-border crime should welcome the Home Secretary’s announcement, including members of the Lords EU Committee, who, like the rest of us, have had plenty of time to consider these issues. Will she endorse the statement made by Rob Wainwright, the director of Europol, when he said to that Committee that
“It would increase the risk of serious crimes…going undetected…in the UK”
if the UK were not a member of Europol?
I have made our position clear on Europol. We value the work that it does. Rob Wainwright is a very good director of Europol. We will opt into Europol as it currently exists. However, we also value the operational independence of our police. I do not think it right that the new regulation could lead to a situation where Europol would be mandating British police officers to investigate certain matters and to share certain data that could compromise our national security. We will make it clear that we will opt in post-adoption of the Europol measure provided that those concerns have been dealt with.
Any change in the situation does not kick in until 1 December 2014, so in the interim there would be no change in the operation of the European arrest warrant. It will be necessary for us, as part of our discussions with the European Commission, to discuss the transitional arrangements. Of course we will want to ensure that, where we are opting back into a measure, the transition is as seamless as possible.
Would the safeguards that the Home Secretary has proposed concerning the European arrest warrant have protected my constituent, Michael Turner, who spent four months in a Hungarian jail without charge after his business closed owing £18,000—a case that in this country would have been handled in the small claims court?
I believe that the measures that I intend to put through in the amendments to the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill would indeed have dealt with that situation, because we would have made it clear that where the requesting state had not taken the decision to charge and to try an individual, that individual would not be extradited unless their physical presence was necessary in order to charge and try them. In many of the cases that we have seen, individuals would not have needed to be extradited to the requesting country.
May I give the Home Secretary another opportunity to answer the question from my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Steve McCabe)? If the European Commission says that we cannot opt back into the European arrest warrant in the way that she would like, will she ditch her blanket opt-out?
The hon. Gentleman and the hon. Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Steve McCabe) seem to be suggesting that we are putting conditions on to our opting back into the European arrest warrant. We will request that we can negotiate to opt into a number of measures, including the European arrest warrant. We can make the changes that we are making to the European arrest warrant in UK law, and that could have been done by the previous Labour Government had they chosen to do so.
This is a major strategic decision for Britain, and a lot of hard work has gone into it, which is very welcome. However, expecting Parliament to vote on it next week is unrealistic for hon. Members and Committees, given the need to look not only at individual measures such as the very important EAW safeguards that she proposes but at the package as a whole. May I urge her to allow consultation over the summer and to have Parliament debate and vote on it when we return in the autumn?
I recognise my hon. Friend’s interest in this issue and his expertise on these matters. It is right for us to be able to take a decision such that we can start the more formal negotiations with the European Commission and with other member states. I believe that it is in our interests to be able to rejoin a number of measures, and starting the negotiations now will enhance our ability to do so.
Some of us are trying to work out whether there might be an element more of figment than fig leaf about what we have just heard. Can the Secretary of State help us to understand the difference between the opt-out measures and the opt-in measures by explaining whether, when Northern Ireland citizens find themselves detained by Spanish police at an airport, only to be confronted by MI5 officers making nefarious propositions with menaces, those actions are covered under opt-in measures or under proposed opt-out measures?
I congratulate the Home Secretary on the statement and on her decisions on this matter. Can she confirm two things? First, is not this the first time that 100 measures are being clawed back to the United Kingdom, rather than giving powers over to Europe, thanks to her decision and this Government’s decision? Secondly, is it not right that the European arrest warrant, which I have criticised in the past, is now able to be supported because her decision to make these fundamental changes will make it a totally different thing from what it is now, and people will not be able to be extradited for stealing a wheelbarrow? [Interruption.]
I thank my hon. Friend, who is absolutely right about the European arrest warrant. That is the whole point about bringing forward the amendments to the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill. I hope that the Opposition will support those amendments. They have indicated that they would be willing to see reform to the European arrest warrant, but we wait to see what their position will actually be.
On my hon. Friend’s first point, yes, taking the decision on the opt-out from nearly 100 measures is important. It is part of the approach that this Government have taken. The Prime Minister exercised the veto for the first time. We have committed to work on the balance of competences, and of course as the Conservative party we are committed to a much wider renegotiation. [Interruption.]
The Home Secretary gave some good examples of how the European arrest warrant has worked very effectively in bringing people to justice in the UK, and that is what the public will be concerned about. However, I understand that the European Commission has said that there is a risk that her proposals will be
“complex, time-consuming, leave a lot of legal uncertainty and a lot of problems.”
What does she say in response to those criticisms? May I press her again on the balance of what is best for the UK? If her negotiations prove unsuccessful, will she drop her plans for the blanket opt-out?
The Government have made a very clear decision that we will opt out from these measures and seek to rejoin a number of them, the list of which is with the Command Paper that I have published today. Yes, we will have to go into negotiations with not only the European Commission but with other member states. I believe that other member states are keen to see the United Kingdom as a part of certain of the measures that we are proposing to rejoin, but we will be entering those negotiations over the coming months.
I am pleased that the Home Secretary has, at long last, recognised the importance of a European arrest warrant and, indeed, other measures. I am glad, too, that she has had the strength to stand up to her Eurosceptic Back Benchers. However, I take the point that we need to have a reasonable discussion in this House with a proper amount of time—a commitment given by the Minister for Europe some time ago.
I take the view that this House should be sovereign in all these matters, but on those measures that it is proposed we opt back into and be subject to EU control, does the Home Secretary agree with the evidence given last year to the Sub-Committee of the European Union Committee in the other place that the practical effect of the European Court of Justice gaining full jurisdiction in this area is that the European Court of Justice may interpret these measures expansively and beyond the scope originally intended?
The fact that measures will be subject to the European Court of Justice is one of the main issues that has led to our very careful consideration of which we propose to seek to rejoin. It is important that the Government’s position is to look practically at those matters that we believe to be in the national interest with regard to ensuring that we can continue to fight cross-border crime and keep people safe. It is on that basis that we propose to seek to rejoin some measures.
I am sure that the Home Secretary will be aware of the excellent working relationship between the Police Service of Northern Ireland and the Garda Siochana across the border in the Republic of Ireland, particularly in tackling serious criminal activity such as terrorism and fuel laundering. Is she able to give guarantees that that excellent working relationship will not be damaged in any way by the measures that she has announced?
The hon. Lady is absolutely right to refer to the excellent working relationship between the Garda and the PSNI, which has resulted in many benefits over recent months and years. There is absolutely no reason why the Government’s decision on the 2014 opt-out should do anything to damage that relationship. Indeed, I am sure that the decision that we wish to rejoin the European arrest warrant will be welcomed.
I welcome the Home Secretary’s statement. I have been lobbying very hard for the block opt-out to be enacted, but does she understand the concerns of some of us on the Back Benches about the activist nature of the European Court of Justice? We have only to consider the Metock case in Ireland, which led to that member state having to change its immigration rules domestically, to understand why there is such concern. I look forward to taking part in the debate.
I thank my hon. Friend, who is absolutely right, and I recognise the concerns that he and other Members have raised about the European Court of Justice. Of course, it is not just another member state that has to abide by the implications of the Metock judgment; we all have to abide by them. There has been an increase in sham marriages following that judgment—it related to the rights of those married to EU nationals—and we now have to deal with that issue. One of the reasons we have considered these measures very carefully is the question of the operation of the European Court of Justice. As I have said, however, the measures that we wish to rejoin are those that will be of benefit and I believe that they are in our national interest.
I, too, thank the Home Secretary for her statement. The Abu Qatada situation is very much in the news and is a good reason why we cannot subscribe to European regulations. Does the Secretary of State share my concern and that of many other Members that opting into some of the EU crime measures may give scope for some people to play the system and for more European interference in national security, which cannot be tolerated?
We are absolutely clear that it is not in the competence of the European Commission or the European Union to interfere in matters of national security. Those are sovereign matters that remain with the member states. I think it is right, however, that on those measures where cross-border co-operation will help us in the fight against crime—as has been the case with some of them—we should seek to continue to be part of them.
No, the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice should not lead to that. The European arrest warrant in itself, of course, enables people to be extradited rather more quickly than under the previous arrangements. What is crucial with regard to the measures that I have outlined today, and those that I will outline in the amendments that will be tabled to the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill, is that we should give British citizens the protections and safeguards that will enable the European arrest warrant to be operated in such a way that it overcomes the problems that Members have identified in the past.
Will Ministers meet Andrew Symeou and his family—constituents of my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield North (Nick de Bois), who is away with the Justice Committee—and ensure that the EAW safeguards pass the Symeou test to ensure that UK citizens are not thrown into European jails for months on end on the basis of such flimsy evidence?
Yes, I would be happy to do that. Home Office officials have looked very carefully at the Andrew Symeou case to ensure that our proposals in the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill meet the concerns resulting from it. I have discussed the measures with my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield North and, as I have told him and I am now happy to tell my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, Southgate (Mr Burrowes), we would be happy to meet the family to go through them.
The Home Secretary will know that there are almost 11,000 foreign national offenders in our prisons, many of whom come from EU countries. One of the very few really good things to come from the European Union was the EU-wide compulsory prisoner transfer agreement enabling us to send these people back to their country of origin. Sadly, only 14 of the 28 member states have signed up to it. Will the Home Secretary do all she can to encourage other countries to sign up, especially Romania and Bulgaria before the transitional controls are ended at the end of this year?
I can give my hon. Friend the assurance that I and my right hon. Friend the Justice Secretary are both very keen to be able to use the prisoner transfer agreement to the maximum possible extent. Indeed, as I have indicated with regard to some aspects of the European arrest warrant, I think it is right that we use the prisoner transfer agreement, for example, to bring UK citizens who have been sentenced elsewhere in the EU back to serve their sentence here. We will work to ensure that we can increase the number of agreements with other member states for the transfer of prisoners.