I inform the House that I have selected amendments (c) and (b) in the names of the Leader of the Opposition and the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Sir Alan Beith). It might help the House if I explain that I shall invite the movers of those amendments to move them, formally or otherwise—formally, I expect—at the conclusion of debate. The selected amendments may therefore be addressed in the course of the debate.
I beg to move,
That this House believes that the UK should opt out of all EU police and criminal justice measures adopted before December 2009 and seek to rejoin measures where it is in the national interest to do so and invites the European Scrutiny Committee, the Home Affairs Select Committee and the Justice Select Committee to submit relevant reports before the end of October, before the Government opens formal discussions with the Commission, Council and other Member States on the set of measures in Command Paper 8671, prior to the Government’s formal application to rejoin measures in accordance with Article10(5) of Protocol 36 to the TFEU.
For 40 years, ever since the United Kingdom entered what was then just a Common Market, power flowed in one direction—from this country and this place, which ought to be sovereign but in practice is often not, to the institutions of the European Union. Since the referendum in 1975, not once was the consent of the British people sought or given for a series of treaties that gave more and more power to Europe.
The Government’s decision, which I announced in a statement last week, to opt out of around 130 European justice and home affairs measures, before seeking to opt back into those measures that we believe work in the national interest, will be the first time in the history of our membership of the European Union that we have taken such a set of powers back from Brussels. Let us be clear that, however complicated the issues we are about to debate—I will soon come to those issues—we are first and foremost talking about bringing powers back home. That is something—
Will my hon. Friend allow me to finish my sentence? He is quick off the mark, as he always is on these matters.
That is something that should be celebrated by anybody who cares about national sovereignty, democracy and the role of this place in making the laws of our country.
I am very grateful to my right hon. Friend for giving way to me so early on. Is it not unfortunately the case that 43 of the measures are, in effect, defunct anyway, that the ones we opt back into come under the European Court of Justice, and that that is a much bigger give-away of power than the relatively minor removal of powers that is happening under the opt-out?
I am sure that I do not need to remind my hon. Friend, given his attention to detail in these matters, that were we not voting and deciding to opt out of the number of measures we are proposing to opt out of, we would find ourselves subject to all these measures, all of which would be subject to the European Court of Justice.
Let me be clear: this should not be a one-off event before usual service resumes. This Government have made sure that never again will a Prime Minister sign away sovereignty in a European treaty without a referendum. We in the Conservative party have made clear our intent to negotiate a new relationship with the European Union which will then be put to the British people in an in/out referendum. Of course, it is too early to be specific about the changes we will seek in that negotiation, but I am clear that the decision to opt out of these justice and home affairs measures in 2014 does not leave us with the ideal settlement—far from it. Significant problems still need to be addressed, such as the interpretation and enforcement of free movement rules, the creative way in which measures agreed by nation states are subsequently interpreted, and the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice.
I am most grateful to the Home Secretary. May I thank her for engaging in a fruitful discussion about the motion with me and the Chairman of the European Scrutiny Committee? The Chairman of the Liaison Committee was abroad, so he could not be part of those discussions. Will the Home Secretary confirm that she really needs a vote of the House today in order to start her negotiations? Would it not be far better to have the scrutiny of the Select Committees, for which she allows until 31 October in her motion, and then have a vote that gives her the mandate she seeks?
The point is that this is a two-stage process. It has been made clear to us by the European Commission that it will not start the discussions about certain aspects of our proposals—for example, looking at transitional arrangements—until it is clear that the UK intends to opt out. That is why it is necessary for the Government to exercise the opt-out. In a little while, I will explain the commitments that were made to Parliament, which we are indeed abiding by today, but there will be a second opportunity for Parliament to vote on the number and content of any measures that we seek to opt into. The Government have given their current indication of what we think those measures should be. As our motion says, we look forward to the scrutiny by the European Scrutiny Committee and the two other Select Committees, which will inform our judgment before we enter formal negotiations.
I thank my right hon. Friend, who is being very generous. I welcome her words about the importance of this House maintaining control over these matters, but we lose control over them in perpetuity if we opt back into any of the measures. That therefore represents a permanent transfer of sovereignty that the current situation does not represent. Do I take it from her comments on the renegotiation that what the coalition agrees to opt back into would not be subject to renegotiation by a future Conservative Government? It would seem rather incredible to believe that a British Prime Minister could opt into something in one Parliament and then in the next Parliament go back and say, “No, we want to opt out again after all.”
The whole point about the renegotiation that we as the Conservative party have announced we will be undertaking is that we achieve a new settlement in terms of the relationship between the United Kingdom and the European Union. We have our views on the future of the European Union as well. Those views have been very ably expressed by the Prime Minister in speeches that he has made. As part of that renegotiation, it would be odd indeed, and colleagues would question it, if the Conservative party, as part of its commitment, said, “We will renegotiate, but not these bits.” We will renegotiate the United Kingdom’s relationship with the European Union. I should add, in response to my hon. Friend the Member for Rochester and Strood (Mark Reckless), who asked about the opt-out, that the House of Lords will also debate this matter on Monday.
My hon. Friend may find it rather strange that we have to opt out and then try to opt back in, but that is precisely because of the system that was negotiated by the previous Labour Government. It is not possible for us to opt out of every measure apart from, for example, the European arrest warrant; as I will explain, we have to opt out of everything and then choose to opt into some measures.
The Home Secretary is being extremely generous in giving way. Those of us who are keen to see some of the opt-ins are very concerned about the time gap between the opt-out and the opt-in. Will she assure us that it will be as brief as possible, particularly so that, for example, Rob Wainwright, the director of Europol, does not accidentally lose his job because we are out for a few minutes?
My hon. Friend raises a very important and valid point. It is our intention––and we expect to be able––to work with the European Commission in order to ensure that the transition period for any measures that we want to opt back into is as smooth and as short as possible. It is clear that the Commission will not start properly to look at those transition arrangements until we are clear that we are going to opt out and then try to opt back in.
An opt-out from all the measures would be very popular on the Conservative side in this House and outside. That is what we want to do, because we do not trust Europe to boss us around and take our democracy from us. Why not vote for the opt-out today and then vote on any possible opt-back-ins after the consultation and consideration at a later day?
I am most grateful to my right hon. Friend for giving way. Her response to the hon. Member for Cambridge (Dr Huppert) seemed to suggest that the speed with which he advocates the sorting out of the opt-ins might truncate the amount of scrutiny that is needed. I thought, as a result of the amendment tabled by me and other Select Committee Chairmen to the original motion, we had established that progress had been made on that point. Will my right hon. Friend make the situation clear?
I am happy to make it clear and sorry if my remarks to my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge led my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Mr Cash) to interpret my response in that way, because that was certainly not my intention. I will specify more clearly the process as I see it in due course.
I have been extremely generous to Members. I may be prepared to take some interventions later in my speech, but I want to make some progress.
Before I took a number of interventions, I mentioned the European Court of Justice. I also want to refer to the European Court of Human Rights, which contradicts laws passed by our Parliament, overrules judgments made by our courts, and interprets the articles of the original convention on human rights in an expansionist way. That is totally unacceptable. I therefore believe that we also have to consider very carefully this country’s relationship with Strasbourg as well as our relationship with Brussels. Indeed, my right hon. Friend the Justice Secretary is working on that particular issue.
Before I turn to the policy detail of the 2014 decision, I want to address the role of Parliament in making it. I know hon. Members have had some concerns about this, and I hope I can provide some reassurance, including to my hon. Friend the Member for Stone, the Chairman of the European Scrutiny Committee, about the process we will undertake.
Under the terms of the Lisbon treaty, which the previous Government signed in 2007, the United Kingdom has until 31 May 2014 to decide whether to opt out of about 130 justice and home affairs measures covered by the treaty. If we do, the opt-out will come into effect on 1 December 2014. As I have indicated in response to earlier interventions, it is not possible to opt out of individual measures. The opt-out must be exercised en masse, after which we may seek to rejoin any measures in which we would like to participate. This would be subject to negotiation with the European Commission and other member states. As I confirmed in my statement last week, the Government intend to exercise the opt-out. We then plan to seek to rejoin a limited set of measures that underpin practical co-operation in the fight against crime.
The Government have always said that we will give Parliament time to scrutinise that decision properly. In his statement in January 2011—
I have not explained the point yet, so I suggest that the hon. Gentleman waits to hear what I am going to say.
In his statement in January 2011, the Minister for Europe, my right hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Mr Lidington) said:
“Parliament should have the right to give its view on a decision of such importance. The Government therefore commit to a vote in both Houses of Parliament before they make a formal decision on whether they wish to opt out.”—[Official Report, 20 January 2011; Vol. 521, c. 51WS.]
Today’s vote is the fulfilment of that commitment. It is, as the wording of the motion makes clear, the vote on whether the Government should exercise the right to opt out. The decision about which measures the UK should seek to rejoin is separate, so there will be a second, separate vote on that matter. We have published that set of measures, along with explanatory memorandums, in Command Paper 8671, last week.
The Home Secretary quoted the Minister for Europe’s statement of January 2011, but she did not mention that he went on to say:
“The Government will conduct further consultations on the arrangements for this vote, in particular with the European Scrutiny Committees, and the Commons and Lords Home Affairs and Justice Select Committees”.—[Official Report, 20 January 2011; Vol. 521, c. 51WS.]
Will she tell us whether those discussions took place, as promised two years ago?
We are going to ensure, as the motion suggests, that the Scrutiny Committee and the two Select Committees have the opportunity properly to scrutinise the set of measures, and there will be two votes in the House. We have always been clear that Parliament and its Committees should have adequate time to scrutinise the set of measures. That work does not need to be done before today’s vote, because today’s vote is about the decision to exercise the opt-out.
I am grateful to the right hon. Lady. I can confirm that I was consulted about the voting arrangements, but that was only last week and it took place by telephone because I was out of the country. That consultation took place only a week ago. What happened to the commitment that, by February this year, the Committees would be given explanatory memorandums on which to base their work on the opt-ins?
I have already said to the right hon. Gentleman and to others who have raised the issue of the explanatory memorandums that I am sorry that it was not possible to produce them at an earlier date. We have looked at the time available for scrutiny by the Select Committees and the Scrutiny Committee, and for the second vote on the potential measures that we might choose to opt back into. The explanatory memorandums were made available last week, and they are available to the Committees in their consideration of any measures that the Government should opt into or seek to rejoin. That information has now been made available and I hope that it will be able to inform the Committees’ considerations.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend on asking us to vote on this opt-out today, but I am a little confused about the question of opting back in. We on this side do not like block votes, so will we be able to vote on each individual measure when we decide whether to opt back into them?
The decision on the form that that vote will take has not yet been made, but I am well aware of the views of some Members on that matter.
I said in my statement last week:
“Following our discussions in Europe, another vote will be held on the final list of measures that the UK will formally apply to rejoin.”—[Official Report, 9 July 2013; Vol. 566, c. 177.]
But, to make this commitment absolutely crystal clear, and to reassure hon. Members who were worried about the role of the Committees in scrutinising the Government’s plans to rejoin the selected measures, we have listened to the points that were raised—I was grateful to the Chairmen of the European Scrutiny Committee and the Home Affairs Select Committee for the conversations that I had with them; the Chairman of the Justice Committee was indeed abroad—and we have tabled a new motion for today’s debate. That new motion explicitly invites the European Scrutiny Committee and the Home Affairs and Justice Committees to submit reports before the end of October, in advance of the Government opening formal discussions with the European Commission and other member states. I therefore hope the new motion will receive wide support from hon. Members across the House.
I am grateful to the Home Secretary for giving way to a Scottish Member. To clarify, if reports are being produced for the Committees, will those Committees be asked to produce individual responses? If they produce individual responses, does it not make sense to have individual votes on particular items, rather than simply taking them in a lump?
My right hon. Friend has set out the timetable, but under the relevant paragraph of the protocol there is no opt-in to those measures that the United Kingdom wants to opt into until 2 December 2014. Indeed, there is no indication that the Commission has to negotiate before that date because of the way the article is framed. Has the Commission indicated that it will negotiate with the UK Government on those measures we wish to opt back into?
The Commission is clear that any work that would be undertaken would take place before that date, but it wants to be clear that the UK Government have decided to opt out. Without that it is not possible to have proper discussions on proposals to opt back in.
A vote today on the decision to exercise the opt-out will show other European nations that the Government have the support of Parliament in exercising the opt-out, it will give the Government a strong hand in our negotiations with the EU, and it will show that we are serious about bringing powers back home. It will allow us to start informal discussions with the Commission and other member states, but no formal negotiations will begin until the Committees have done their work. The House will, of course, vote again on the final list of measures that we will formally apply to opt back into.
I am grateful to the right hon. Lady for finally giving way to a Member from a minority party—the hon. Member for Belfast East (Naomi Long) is waiting too. The Home Secretary has said on several occasions that she is speaking on behalf of the whole United Kingdom when it comes to these measures, but she will know that there is great unhappiness in the Scottish Government, Police Scotland, and the whole legal profession about this opt-out. Why was there so little consultation with the Scottish Government, why did they know nothing about this until last week, and why is she indulging in such UKIP-ery?
It is not the case that the Scottish Government knew nothing about this until last week. The Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (James Brokenshire), visited Scotland in January and met the Justice Secretary, Kenny MacAskill, and ACPO Scotland. He also visited Northern Ireland and met the Justice Minister, David Ford, to discuss these issues in relation to Northern Ireland.
Will the Home Secretary confirm, as she failed to do last week when I questioned her on this matter, that the Justice Minister in Northern Ireland is not reassured by what he has heard in discussions with the Home Office about the operation of the European arrest warrant?
As I believe I said last week during my statement in response to a similar question from the hon. Lady, I am aware that concern has been expressed about the European arrest warrant because of the importance—I intend to refer to this a little later—of the operation of that arrest warrant between the United Kingdom, and particularly between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. A lot of concern expressed previously was when it was thought that the Government would not propose to try to opt back into the European arrest warrant. Of course we must have further discussions with relevant Ministers in Northern Ireland on this matter.
I turn now to the substance of the debate. The Government will exercise the opt-out, but as I announced last week and have said today, we propose to seek to opt back into 35 measures where we believe it is in the national interest to participate. My right hon. Friends the Secretary of State for Justice, the Minister for Government Policy and the Minister for Europe and I have listened to the views of the law enforcement agencies, have considered the civil liberties of British subjects and have been mindful of how the European institutions, particularly the Court of Justice, operate, and to borrow a phrase coined by my hon. Friend the Member for Esher and Walton (Mr Raab), who has particular knowledge of and expertise in these matters, we have pursued a policy of seeking “co-operation not control”—for example, it is not for Europe to impose minimum standards on our police and criminal justice system. There are therefore more than 20 minimum standards measures that we will not seek to rejoin.
Likewise, we should not pretend that all these measures facilitate cross-border co-operation; they do not. Where they do not—as with the measure on counterfeiting, for example—we will not seek to opt back in. Furthermore, the last Government signed us up to the Prum decisions on the identification of DNA, fingerprint and vehicle registration documents, but then did nothing to implement them. Rejoining now would leave the UK open to a fine that would run into millions of pounds, so we will not rejoin those measures. Lastly, I want to make it absolutely clear that we will do nothing that leads to the establishment of a European public prosecutor or anything akin to a European police force.
I welcome the points that my right hon. Friend has just made. Will she bear it in mind that this is part of the EU’s overall ambition to establish an area of freedom, security and justice in which the European institutions, not this House, take the decisions, and European Courts, not our courts, take the legal decisions?
My hon. Friend is right to be concerned about the indications of some of the intentions about the future of Europe. We have made it clear—it is in our coalition agreement—that we will not support anything that, for example, establishes a European public prosecutor, which we do not believe is the right way to go. Furthermore, on the new Europol regulation, which I will mention later and on which we will have a further debate tonight led by the security Minister, the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (James Brokenshire), we do not wish, as I said, to do anything that leads to anything akin to a European police force.
We have concluded, however, that some of the measures in the opt-out decision help us to tackle crime and keep our country safe, and we should therefore seek to opt back into them. We believe that there are 35 such measures, as I indicated last week. I will deal first with the most controversial of the measures we plan to opt back into: the European arrest warrant. It is a controversial measure because, although we clearly need strong extradition arrangements in place to see justice done, when extradition arrangements are wrong, they can have a detrimental effect on our civil liberties. Hon Members, especially my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, Southgate (Mr Burrowes), will remember that last year I stopped the extradition of Gary McKinnon and then secured changes to the operation of our extradition arrangements with the United States.
I believe that the operation of the European arrest warrant is in similar need of change, which is why I propose new safeguards to increase the protection offered to those wanted for extradition through the European arrest warrant. First, as I indicated earlier, the Government have tabled amendments to the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill, which is currently in Committee in this House, to ensure that an arrest warrant can be refused for minor crimes. Secondly, we will work with other member states to enforce their fines and ensure that, where possible, an investigation order is used instead of an arrest warrant, meaning that police forces and prosecutors would share evidence and information without requiring the extradition of a suspect at the investigative stage.
Thirdly, I will amend extradition legislation to ensure that people in the UK can only be extradited under the European arrest warrant when the requesting member 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. Fourthly, I will amend our law to make it clear that in cases where part of the alleged conduct took place in the UK and where that conduct is not criminal here, the judge must refuse extradition for that conduct. Fifthly, I want to ensure that people who consent to extradition do not lose their right not to be prosecuted for other offences.
Sixthly, we propose that the prisoner transfer framework decision should be used to its fullest extent so that British subjects extradited and convicted can be returned to serve their sentence here. Seventhly, where a British subject has been convicted and sentenced abroad—for example, in their absence—and is the subject of an arrest warrant, we will ask, with their permission, for the warrant to be withdrawn and will use the prisoner transfer arrangements instead. Eighthly, I plan 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 them to do this through means such as video-conferencing in the UK. Where the suspect is innocent, this should lead to the extradition request being withdrawn.
Those are all changes that can be made in our own law, and which could have been made at any time by the Labour party.
I am most grateful to my right hon. Friend and I apologise for not being here at the outset. The safeguards she mentions, which we intend to enshrine in English law, are welcome. However, the European arrest warrant will become subject to the European Court of Justice. What assurances can she give the House that the safeguards will not be challengeable by the European Court of Justice, and therefore annulled?
My hon. Friend is right that if we opt back into the European arrest warrant it will be subject to the European Court of Justice. However, I suggest he look at other EU countries that already have similar measures, certainly in terms of proportionality, and operate them without any question of whether it is right for them to be so operated. I believe it is possible for us to put these measures into our law and do so in a way that provides extra safeguards for British citizens. Many of the changes reflect the policies of other member states, which means we can have confidence in their durability. Co-operation across borders in the fight against crime is vital, but it must not come at the expense of the civil liberties of British subjects. I believe that the Government’s programme of reform will get the balance right.
I will make just a little more progress and then give way to my right hon. Friend.
It is important to remember that we need robust extradition arrangements in place. Since 2009 alone, the arrest warrant has been used to extradite from the United Kingdom 57 suspects for child sex offences, 86 for rape and 105 for murder. In the same period, 63 suspected child sex offenders, 27 suspected rapists and 44 suspected murderers were extradited back to Britain to face charges. A number of those suspects would probably never have been extradited back to Britain without the arrest warrant.
Hon. Members are understandably concerned about the constitutional implications of the changes, but I support my right hon. Friend’s stance. Is it not important to reflect on the implications of not participating in the European arrest warrant? Having separate arrangements with all 28 countries of the EU would tie the hands of our own law enforcement agencies and make it harder for them to bring potentially serious criminals to justice, increasing cost and delay. Should we not focus on the benefits of some multinational co-operation, as well as some of the risks?
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. He refers to delay, and there are very good examples of the EAW enabling speedier extradition. Hussain Osman, one of the failed 21/7 bombers from 2005, was extradited back to this country from Italy in less than eight weeks. As I indicated earlier in response to an intervention, the authorities in Northern Ireland tell us that the arrest warrant, together with other measures, plays an important role in underpinning their work with the Republic of Ireland in tackling the constant threat of terrorism. My right hon. Friend is absolutely right that those who say we should not be taking these measures and should not participate in the arrest warrant—I recognise and respect that some hon. Members are against our participation in the arrest warrant—need to say what they would do to secure the return to Britain of terrorist suspects who deserve to face justice, or to prevent foreign criminals evading justice by hiding in Britain. As long as we have adequate safeguards to protect the civil liberties of British subjects, we need robust extradition arrangements with other European countries, and that is what the arrest warrant gives us.
Of course some countries negotiate arrangements with other countries—indeed, we have individual arrangements with countries outside the EU —but if we had to negotiate separate bilateral agreements with all 27 other member states, why does my hon. Friend think that they would work any better than the arrest warrant? Would that suddenly improve the level of justice in certain countries or speed up the system? On the contrary; I think it would be likely to slow it down. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Arundel and South Downs (Nick Herbert) said, all sorts of problems with speed and cost could ensue, and we would risk being unable to bring foreign nationals back here to the United Kingdom.
I have been discussing with other member states the operation of the European arrest warrant and the possibility of some changes being made to it. Some member states are looking at the way they operate the European arrest warrant and may change some of their legislation to make it better for us in terms of proportionality. We are talking to other member states that might also be taking powers to introduce proportionality in a way that reduces the number of trivial crimes for which European arrest warrants are issued into the United Kingdom.
A few moments ago my right hon. Friend talked about a number of serious offenders whom she said might not have been extradited were it not for the arrest warrant. As that seems to be part of her positive case for opting into the arrest warrant, can she be clear what the difference is—for those of us who are perhaps not experts in this area—between the arrest warrant and other extradition arrangements?
Following the introduction of the European arrest warrant, there is a clear difference between the extradition arrangements in Europe now and those that previously existed, which came under the banner of the Council of Europe. One of the key issues is the level of delay that occurs; the European arrest warrant can be exercised much more quickly. I cited the case of the failed 21/7 bomber who was extradited from Italy in eight weeks. Before the introduction of the European arrest warrant, that could have taken a considerable period of time—many months and potentially years. The ability to extradite more quickly is one of the advantages of the European arrest warrant.
The difficulty has always been the concept of the mutual recognition of different legal systems. The assumption is that we are working on the same premises, but we are not doing that across Europe. All the evidence given to the Joint Committee on Human Rights—whose opinion I hope my right hon. Friend will ask for as well—was about the victims of the system as it works now. Why can we have mutual recognition of legal systems that many people across Europe do not think are equivalent to ours in terms of standards of justice and court procedure?
My hon. Friend raises an important point. It is exactly that issue in a number of areas—for example, pre-trial detention—that right hon. and hon. Members have raised as a key concern about the operation of the European arrest warrant. There are member states that have been extraditing individuals before they have properly investigated the case and before they have the evidence to charge and try them. That has often led to British citizens waiting for many months in jails abroad while the investigation took place. It is why one of the changes I wish to make to the operation of the European arrest warrant here in the UK would enable judges to discharge the extradition request if the requesting country had not taken a decision to charge and a decision to try the individual.
I am grateful to the Home Secretary, who has been generous in taking a considerable number of interventions. I would like to reinforce her point about the time it took before the European arrest warrant. I think even the hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Sir Richard Shepherd) would accept that the French jurisdiction was a reasonable place to which to extradite people, but will the Home Secretary confirm that before the European arrest warrant, we had one case that took nine years? With the frustrations in that case—and not only those of Ministers—and the damage it did not only to the relationship with France but to the course of justice, it was common sense to try to get a better system operating across Europe.
The right hon. Gentleman has put the point very well, and I am sure the whole House has listened to the example he provided. It is exactly such examples that make me think it right for us to ensure that we have a system that is better to operate. As he says, this is not only about relationships between Governments, but about the course of justice. That is why we want to ensure the more suitable, proper and swifter extradition arrangements that the EAW provides.
I said that our proposed list of measures for opting in was chosen because the measures would improve the practical fight against crime and the co-operation to achieve it. We of course await the views of the Scrutiny Committee and the Select Committees, but, for example, we want our law enforcement agencies to be able to establish joint investigation teams with colleagues in other European countries; we plan to rejoin the European supervision order, which allows British subjects to be bailed back to the UK rather than spend months and months abroad awaiting trial; and the second-generation Schengen information system—a new way of sharing law enforcement alerts throughout Europe—has the capacity to bring significant savings to our criminal justice system, as well as make it easier to identify foreign criminals. Again, this is just a question of practical co-operation, so the Government plan to join the database. I hope the House will see from the list of measures that the vast majority of what the Government propose to opt back into is uncontroversial, and based on the very sensible principle of “co-operation not control”.
I want to reiterate the Government’s position on Europol. As I mentioned earlier, the House will debate its future later tonight. The Government believe that Europol does excellent work under its British director, Rob Wainwright, which is why we propose to rejoin Europol in its existing form as part of the 2014 decision. There is a separate decision to be taken about Europol, and tonight’s debate will not be about the organisation in its current form but in its proposed future form. As things stand, the Commission proposes to change Europol’s governance and powers, potentially allowing it to direct national police forces and requiring us to share sensitive intelligence crucial to our national security. I believe that would be entirely unacceptable. These powers are unnecessary and would undermine our way of policing—and Europol has not even asked for them. The motive of the Commission appears to be nothing more than state-building. That is why we will not opt into the new Europol regulation and will never do so until those concerns have been put beyond doubt.
Some of my hon. Friends have been keen for me to address the question of the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice. I have mentioned it already, but let me look at the issue once again. Between 1995 and the end of November 2009, 136 measures in the field of police and criminal justice were adopted in Brussels under the so-called third pillar. This meant that they were not the usual EU Acts and were not subject to either Commission enforcement powers or the full jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice. As a result, we could not be told by others that we had not implemented things properly and we could not be fined millions of pounds as a result. There were no European Court rulings that bound us, and we had a veto in negotiations.
When the last Government signed the Lisbon treaty, they changed the constitutional basis of the European Union, giving more powers over police and criminal justice matters to European institutions, and removing our veto in police and criminal justice. Now, at the end of a five-year transitional period on 1 December 2014, these pre-Lisbon measures become subject to Commission enforcement powers and the full jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice.
In fact, the whole justice and home affairs structure since Lisbon takes too much control away from elected national Governments. The Commission or the Council propose a measure, and the UK has the right to decide not to opt in, but if we decide that the measure is in the national interest and we do opt in, we are subject not only to qualified majority voting in the Council but to co-legislation rules in which the European Parliament is considered to be an equal to the Council of Ministers. Elected national Governments are sidelined—and that is before we even consider the role of the European Court of Justice in interpreting the measure once it becomes binding.
Is the Home Secretary aware of the European Union Act 2011 in the context of what is required for a referendum? Section 4(1)(i) refers to
“the conferring on an EU institution or body of power to impose a requirement or obligation on the United Kingdom”;
while (j) refers to
“the conferring on an EU institution or body of new or extended power to impose sanctions on the United Kingdom”.
Surely an opt-in to the various 35 measures will do that and should trigger a referendum.
Let me give my hon. Friend the answer that I gave when the matter was last raised with me. I do not believe that opting back into these measures would trigger a referendum under the powers that the Government have. However, I think Members should welcome the Government’s statement that no future United Kingdom Government will sign a treaty unless a suitable vote is held among the British people.
The issues involving justice and home affairs to which I referred earlier are being considered in the Government’s “balance of competences” review. Undoubtedly the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice will need to be considered when, after the election, a future Conservative Government renegotiate Britain’s relationship with the European Union; but the choice that is before us now is binary. We are a coalition Government with no mandate to seek a renegotiation of our relationship with Europe. We must make a choice about whether, having exercised our right to opt out of these measures, we should seek to opt back into any of them—knowing that we would be subject to the junction of the European Court of Justice—if we think that they are in the national interest.
I acknowledge the risks involved in being subject to the European Court, but when it comes to the arrest warrant, I am also aware of the very significant risks of having no framework within which we can extradite criminals to and from Britain. Let me repeat that anyone who says that ECJ jurisdiction is too high a price must say how they would cope without that extradition framework.
It would be remiss of me to participate in the debate without highlighting the absurdity of the position of Labour Members. They have attacked our decision to exercise the opt-out, but it was the last Government who negotiated the opt-out in the first place. Their amendment demands that we opt into various specific measures, but the former Home Secretary the right hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle (Alan Johnson) admits that the reason for our having to opt out of all these measures en masse is the failure of Labour’s negotiating strategy.
Labour Members now admit that the arrest warrant is in need of reform, but they did not do a thing to change its operation when they were in office. They question our negotiating strategy, but it was they who did not just sign us up to the Lisbon treaty but wanted to sign the constitutional treaty that went before it. They imply that somehow the Government are not tough on crime, but our police reforms are working, and crime is falling. They have no policies, no ideas, and nothing to say. They are completely and utterly irrelevant.
Let me end as I began, by reminding the House what this debate is about. It is about the fact that, for the first time in 40 years, a British Government are bringing powers back from Brussels. Of course we should not stop there, and, like many members of my party, I am impatient for more. That is one reason why it is so important for us to have a Conservative majority Government at the next election. Even as a coalition, however, this Government have delivered the first ever cut in a European budget, have vetoed a European treaty, and have put into law a clear guarantee that no more powers will pass to Europe without a referendum of the British people; and now we are bringing powers back home.
A vote in favour of the Government’s motion will send a clear signal to the Commission and the other member states that Britain is serious about bringing powers back home, and it will strengthen our negotiating position in Brussels. The House will have an opportunity in future to vote on the final list of measures that we will seek to rejoin, but a vote in favour of the motion today is a vote in favour of exercising the opt-out. I therefore call on Members on both sides of the House to support the motion, and to vote with the Government.
There is a serious debate to be had about European crime and justice, about how we should tackle cross-border crime, and about where we should work with Europe and where we should operate alone. On many issues we will agree with the Government, and on some we will not. There is clearly disagreement within the Government, and within the Conservative party.
These issues are extremely important, and Parliament needs to hold a serious debate before being asked to reach a conclusion, but that is not what is happening today. Instead, the House of Commons is being asked to endorse the Home Secretary’s plan for an opt-out, and her negotiating strategy in relation to opting back in, less than a week after she set out her plan. She has had three years in which to think about the opt-out, and she gave the House three working days before calling for this vote.
The Select Committees have repeatedly asked the Home Secretary for the lists of measures, and have not been given them. She produced them only on Tuesday. When we called a debate on the European arrest warrant some weeks ago, she said:
“This is an important decision, and not one that we should rush into lightly”.—[Official Report, 12 June 2013; Vol. 564, c. 421.]
So why is she rushing the House today? Why was this debate arranged by an emergency business statement? Ten days ago the Leader of the House said the business for today would be the Defence Reform Bill. What changed in less than a week? What made this an emergency that could not have been planned many weeks, if not many months, ahead?
Members have had no chance to seek the views of law enforcement experts on the list the Home Secretary has set out, no chance to seek the views of European and constitutional experts on the implications, no chance to find out whether transitional arrangements will be needed and what risks might be attached to them, and no chance to explore the financial penalty to Britain of pulling out. There has also been no chance for those who have concerns about the European arrest warrant to assess the impact of her reforms, and also no chance for those who support the European arrest warrant, as we do, to make sure that it will not be put at risk by those transitional arrangements or by opposition from the Commission in the negotiations.
And why do we need a vote today to endorse the Home Secretary’s plan? She does not need it to start negotiations. In fact she told the House of Commons in October that negotiations had already started. She does not need it to start the formal process with the Commission either. In fact her own motion—the second and latest motion, which she tabled in even more of a rush than the first one when it became clear that she was facing difficulties and opposition—says the Select Committees shall report
“before the end of October, before the Government opens formal discussions with the Commission, Council and other Member States”.
If she is not going to start formal negotiations until October, why on earth is there such a rush to endorse her strategy today?
The Home Secretary has not told us what status the Select Committee reports will have, or whether she might change her list once they have reported. She has said that there might be another vote in October once the Select Committees have reported, in which case why are we having this initial vote now? This looks like a bounce—an attempt to bounce Parliament; an attempt to get a rushed endorsement of her strategy without Parliament having a proper chance to consider what is going on. If she was serious about the parliamentary scrutiny to which she belatedly made reference in her second motion, she would agree that this vote on the Government’s strategy should be delayed and maximum scope should be given to the Select Committees to look both at opt-out and opt-in.
My right hon. Friend has suggested that there may be an attempt to bounce the House into making this decision, but does she think there is a possibility that the Conservative party Government want to have as little debate as possible on this issue because of divisions within the Conservatives’ own ranks?
My hon. Friend is right that that is what it looks like. Why else would there have been such late notice that we were going to have this debate at all today? We have had plenty of discussions over many months about the European arrest warrant and the opt-in, opt-out process. Everybody has known that this was coming, so why was this the subject for an emergency business statement? We have had very few emergency business statements in this Parliament, yet this somehow qualified for one. That raises questions as to whether this was about political party management rather than having proper respect for the House.
I am going to come on to the substance because our view is that we should not be opting out without proper guarantees and assurances in place about the key measures we think it is vital to be opted into.
Let me turn to the substance of the plan. Clearly, without time for scrutiny it is hard for the House to take a view on the mix of measures and the overall plan. I welcome the Home Secretary’s proposal to opt back into some of the measures, and I am glad she has ignored the Eurosceptic voices and has chosen to support the European arrest warrant. She is right about the seriousness of the cases in which it has been applied, and to support the arrest of Arunas Cervinskas, returned from Britain to Ireland after his attempted rape and serious assault of an 18-year-old girl, and the arrest only a few days ago of Mark Lilley, who was found hidden in a luxury Spanish villa after 13 years on the run for drug smuggling and dealing. He will soon be back in the UK to face his long prison sentence. Then there is the example that the Home Secretary used last week and again today of Hussain Osman, who was extradited back to the UK, after attempting to blow up a tube train, in less than two months. She is right to say that we cannot go back to the days when it took 10 years to extradite a terror suspect to France or when it took 11 years to get Ronnie Knight back from the costa del crime.
I am glad, too, that the Home Secretary has ignored the Eurosceptic voices and decided to support joint investigation teams; she has decided to support Operation Golf, in which 126 suspects from a Romanian crime gang were arrested for benefit fraud, money laundering and child neglect, and more than 270 trafficking victims were saved. We cannot go back to the days when foreign crime gangs were untouchable, allowed to damage our society or cause serious harm to victims. So I am glad that she has decided to ignore the Eurosceptic Back Benchers—to ignore the Fresh Start group—and instead to agree with the arguments made by Labour Members, by the police and by the Liberal Democrats.
I am glad, too, that the Home Secretary has accepted the exchange of criminal records, Eurojust, the co-operation to protect personal data, the co-operation to combat child pornography and measures on football hooliganism. She has come a long way since the Prime Minister described the European arrest warrant as “highly objectionable”. I am very pleased that the Home Secretary and the Prime Minister have done a U-turn on this; it is a shame that it has taken them so long.
Let me turn to some of the measures that the Home Secretary wants to opt out of—again, it is very hard to take a view without full scrutiny of the measures that the Government have set out.
Before the right hon. Lady goes through her list, will she give us some understanding of why the Labour Government left us with this block opt-out, binary choice rather than allowing us to pursue the measures on an intergovernmental basis, without the oversight of the European Court of Justice, in the way successfully negotiated by Denmark?
I am not sure that Denmark and the opt-out negotiations is the best possible example to refer to, because Denmark’s experience of going through its opt-out and opt-in process was that it was turned down by the Commission on some of the measures it wanted to opt back into. I want to come on to deal with that point shortly.
We have said before that it is right to look at the proposals in the opt-out and we have no objection to the principle of opt-outs. Indeed, the Labour party negotiated the opt-out in the first place. However, it is also right to make sure that proper assurances and guarantees are in place for the key measures that we believe—and we now understand the Home Secretary believes—we should stay part of.
Does the shadow Home Secretary accept that if we opt in to a fundamental measure such as the European arrest warrant, some future Home Secretary could find an ECJ judgment that fundamentally went against the view of this House and that Home Secretary’s ability to conduct criminal justice properly, and they would be unable to do anything about it?
The right hon. Gentleman is right to say that opting into the EAW does mean it will be subject to the ECJ, but I have to say to him that the importance of the EAW, not only to our crime-fighting and to British police forces, but to victims is so immense that it would be highly irresponsible, against the national interest and against the interests of victims of crime to opt out of it. I understand his views, and it is important that he should have the opportunity to express them, but I just disagree with him on this matter, given the serious cases we have seen. About 900 suspected foreign criminals are extradited to other European countries each year as a result of the EAW being in place. Without the EAW it would take far longer to be able to send back the suspected criminals who ought to be returned, be it to their home country or to the countries in which they are alleged to have committed serious crimes, in order to be tried and to face justice.
But all the uncertainty the right hon. Lady cites about the ability to opt back into some of these JHA policies stems from the fact that we had this block opt-out that the previous Government negotiated. What did they think were the advantages of a block opt-out as opposed to an optional opt-out on a case-by-case basis?
The negotiations took place to secure the best possible deal and flexibility for the UK at the time, and it was right to do so. The hon. Gentleman signed the letter opposing all the opt-ins, and I understand where he is coming from. He should be able to express that view, but again, I disagree with him about the importance of these measures for fighting crime and protecting victims.
As we are going to keep coming back to this issue, is it not fair to admit that the block opt-out was the price that the other member states extracted to allow us an opt-out at all? We have discovered how difficult that is, and the suggestion that it would be easy to opt back in item by item may run into exactly the same difficulties.
My hon. Friend makes a really important point. Indeed, those concerns were raised by the House of Lords in its detailed and thorough report on the opt-out and opt-in process about the risks in the negotiating process. That is why it is important—I shall come on to this—to have those proper assurances in place and to have proper information about the attitude of other European member states across the Council and about the attitude of the Commission. I shall give way to the hon. Member for North East Somerset (Jacob Rees-Mogg) if he still wants to intervene, but then I wish to make progress.
Accepting that it is important that there are extradition arrangements with other countries, does the right hon. Lady not think that it would be possible—since Lisbon, the European Union has legal personality—to negotiate an agreement between the United Kingdom and the EU that covers this, but is not justiciable in the European Court of Justice?
The Government have said that that would not be possible and that they would have to go back to the previous convention. Under that extradition convention, we experienced some long delays, including taking 10 years to send a suspected terrorist back to France. I do not think that is acceptable, and I do not think that the public would think that it was acceptable for us to have a French terrorist, or someone wanted in France, in this country and being unable to send him back quickly to face trial and to face justice.
We still do not know whether the right hon. Lady is in favour of opting out or not—it sounds like not.
Yes, it might be more difficult to extradite some people from the European Union to this country, or it might be easier if we had a bilateral agreement. Were we to maintain sovereign control of all our extradition arrangements we would be able both to extradite whomsoever we liked and to deport them, and we cannot do that if we are more and more subject to the European Court of Justice.
In fact, having sovereign arrangements with no ability to extradite without having to go through a very long, legal process that may last 10 years does not help us to get rid of the suspected criminals whom we want to send back to Europe, and it does not help us to bring back to Britain the suspected criminals who have fled abroad. For very many years, people fled to the costa del crime, and Britain was unable to bring them back.
I shall make some progress, as I want to refer to the points that hon. Members have made about the measures that the Home Secretary wants to opt out of. Again, it is hard to take a full view without proper scrutiny and without Select Committees being able to look at this. The Prime Minister described this last week as
“a massive transfer of powers”.
The Home Secretary has described it as an historic moment, and said that we should celebrate the sovereignty involved in this particular opt-out process and in the Command Paper that she published last week. But we should look at the details in the explanatory memorandum of some of the things that we would opt out of. Britain would no longer be expected to have a good practice guide on mutual legal assistance in criminal matters, but we will keep one anyway as part of other plans for the European investigation order. Nor will we sign up to the European judicial network, which offers a point of contact in each country for judicial queries, but that, too, will still happen anyway, again because of the European investigation order. We will not sign up to having someone to act as a contact point for cross-border allegations of corruption, but UK bodies plan to do so anyway. We will not sign up to receive a directory of specialist counter-terrorism officers, but we are already doing it so we will carry on doing so. I suspect somebody will send it to us in the post anyway. We will not sign up to a whole series of accession measures which apply to other countries and did not cover us anyway. Time and again we are opting out of dozens of measures that either do not operate any more or cover areas where we plan to carry on regardless, whether we are in or out.
There is a whole series of measures in respect of which it will make no difference whether we are in them or out of them. We have no objection to opting out of a series of redundant measures. However, there must be proper assurances and guarantees about the measures that we need to opt back into. Rather than a massive transfer of powers, this is, as the Prime Minister said, more like a massive transfer of hot air. There is not the substance in this to justify the Home Secretary’s parade of historic significance and celebration of sovereignty.
Although the Home Secretary has not set out any major benefits from opting out of these measures, we know that there are risks to the serious measures where even she now admits we need to opt back in. She has no guarantees in place and no assurances from the Commission or the Council that at least on the most important measures—the arrest warrant, data sharing, joint investigations—we will be able to opt back in. She will know that the House of Lords pointed out that when Denmark exercised its opt-out,
“the Commission had frequently refused permission for the Danes to conclude agreements in certain areas”.
Nor has she any guarantee on the timetable or, for example, whether we will simultaneously be able to opt back into the European arrest warrant, whether there will be a gap in its operation, or whether complex or risky transitional arrangements will need to be negotiated.
Given how important the Home Secretary herself has said the European arrest warrant and various other measures are, surely it is important to ensure that there is no gap in operation. She can provide no assurance for the police that there will no interruption, therefore, of their use of the arrest warrant. The House of Lords report also said that
“the Government have not provided us with even a summary of the reactions of the other Member States to the Government’s intention to exercise the opt-out”
“may be critical in assessing the potential success or otherwise”
of the UK’s negotiation to rejoin particular measures. Surely on these most important measures she should seek assurances from the Commission and the Council before she asks this House to opt out.
I am grateful to the shadow Home Secretary for giving way; I was in contest with her in the days when I was shadow Attorney-General and she was in government. She will recall the 17th report of the European Scrutiny Committee in 2001 and she will also recall that there was very severe criticism by that Committee of the manner in which this was all done with respect to the European arrest warrant. If she does not remember, no doubt she can look it up. With respect to the proposal before the House and the official Opposition amendment, how does she reconcile the words in that amendment with article 10 of protocol 36? I am sure she will remember what that says.
As always, I bow to the detail of the hon. Gentleman’s memory. I confess that it is true—I cannot remember the details on page 37 of the 17th report of the European Scrutiny Committee from 2001, though I am sure that if I gave way to him again, he could quote precisely to me, line by line, the detail of its conclusions.
Our position is simple. We think the European arrest warrant is so important that we should be getting assurances. We should be doing as the House of Lords suggested. We should be getting the summary of reactions of the other member states to the Government’s intention. We should be getting assurances from the Commission that it will look favourably on getting us back into the European arrest warrant simultaneously and that we do not have a gap in operation.
Basically, the European Scrutiny Committee, under the chairmanship of the Government at that time, said:
“The presentation of radically changed texts in the last days of a Presidency, with calls for their immediate adoption, does not appear to us to be an appropriate way of determining changes at EU level to the criminal law…The legislative process should be open and transparent and not one of secret bargaining.”
The hon. Gentleman probably does need to recognise that things have moved on slightly since 2001, and there are some important issues for us to resolve today.
As I said, we have no objection to the opt-out in principle. We did negotiate the option in practice. Nor do we have any objection to opting out of a series of redundant or superseded measures, which the UK does not participate in anyway. But we do have serious objections to going ahead with an opt-out without the assurances about the serious measures that we need to opt into. We have serious objections, too, to being asked in the House of Commons to adopt and endorse a half-formed strategy, which may or may not change by October.
The Home Secretary is asking the House of Commons to endorse her opt-out, to endorse her opt-in, to accept that a possible future Conservative Government will opt-out again, and to recognise that Select Committees may still shake it all about anyway. This is a massive game of hokey cokey. She is asking us to vote for the hokey and for the cokey, the hocus and the pocus, the smoke and the mirrors, and it is not an honest debate with Parliament about the important issues of crime and justice. The Home Secretary is asking for a blank cheque from the House of Commons today: a blank cheque on which of the measures she will end up opting back into; a blank cheque for European negotiations with no guarantees in place for the police. To those who want bigger changes in the relationship with Europe, she says, “Vote to opt out, and don’t worry yourselves about the detail to opt back in.” To those who support crime fighting, she says, “Vote to opt out, then leave me to negotiate. It will be fine.” There is no real substance for those who want to opt out, and a lot of risk and uncertainty for those who want to opt back into the series of measures.
This is a parliamentary charade: a promise of a massive transfer of powers that is not real; a promise that European crime-fighting powers are safe with no guarantees; a call to endorse the Home Secretary’s strategy with no proper scrutiny; and a vote that could wait until October. That is why we will not support her strategy tonight.
Today’s debate should be about the very future of the United Kingdom’s democracy. I and many of my right hon. and hon. Friends believe that one of the great duties of a state is to settle on a fair and strong criminal law and to ensure that the crime-fighting resources are put in to maintain that law. We also believe that, in an increasingly global world of criminal activity, those functions can be properly discharged by the Home Secretary in Cabinet and by the police forces of our country only if we have proper co-operation and collaboration arrangements with other countries abroad. We need those co-operation arrangements, not just with other European countries in the European Union or the few countries in Europe not in the European Union, but with every country around the world. I am pleased to say that thanks to successive Governments and Home Secretaries we do have in place a set of pretty good arrangements with the major countries, and we have demonstrated our ability to negotiate successful arrangements for extradition and mutual crime fighting with those countries that are not in the European Union and to find ways of doing that with countries in the European Union.
Let me make it clear at the outset that those of us who do not wish to opt back in to European criminal justice measures are no more soft on crime than anyone else in the House. We believe that there can be an alternative way of ensuring proper co-operation and collaboration with France, Germany and the other leading European Union countries, just as we have those successful co-operation arrangements with countries that are outside the European Union.
Our objection to any of these measures, including the European arrest warrant, is not necessarily about the measure itself, and certainly not its purpose, but about the way in which the institutional structure is developed to back up the measure. We are trying to protect our democracy, this Parliament and future Home Secretaries from the event that the European Court of Justice, once we have opted into any of these measures, can use that opt-in as a device for making good criminal law in Brussels and in the Court that this House and the British people might fundamentally disagree with.
The right hon. Gentleman talks about alternatives to some of these measures. Is he aware of the formal evidence given by the police, who said that alternatives to the European arrest warrant
“would result in fewer extraditions, longer delays, higher costs, more offenders evading justice and increased risk to public safety”?
Does he accept that that is the police’s advice?
Of course we can find police and others who take the hon. Gentleman’s view, but I think that it is putting very different weights in the balance. He is giving us an immediate topical problem of view, and I am giving him something fundamental about a national democratic state and the future good government of our country. When I weigh those in the balance, there is no issue for me; of course we must protect our national democracy and then work away at any imperfections there might be in the cross-border arrangements because we have put democracy first.
If the right hon. Gentleman is challenging the fundamental idea of an international arrest warrant operating among the 28 member states, is my maths correct that he would have to replace it with 784 bilateral extradition treaties, and that is just on one of these justice and home affairs measures?
My maths tells me that there are far fewer countries in the European Union than in the rest of the world, and we manage to have pretty good arrangements with the rest of the world. I have every confidence in the ability of the current and future Home Secretaries to restore our bilateral arrangements with the other 27 members of the European Union just as surely as we have bilateral arrangements with most of the other 200 countries in the world. The hon. Gentleman will remember that there was a time before this country was in the European Union, and certainly before we were in this current set of criminal justice arrangements, when we had perfectly good working relationships. I am sure that he and I would have liked them to be improved—one can always improve and make progress—but he should not be so defeatist about the ability of our Ministers and civil servants to defend Britain’s interests and come up with a good answer.
The right hon. Gentleman suggests that it would be perfectly fine to abandon the European arrest warrant and rely on bilateral arrangements because we have such wonderful arrangements with so many other countries in the world. The Russian Federation, for instance, is covered by the previous version of the EAW, the European convention on extradition, but we have not managed to get Mr Lugovoy back, have we?
To find a country where there is a problem does not disprove my case. My case is that if there is good will—[Interruption.] The hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) seems about to allege that all members of the European Union cannot be trusted and that we can do a deal only with the Commission. I have more faith in France and Germany than he does. I think that it would be in France’s and Germany’s interests, should Britain opt out of the European arrest warrant, to put in place really good arrangements, because they will want them to operate for them in Britain just as surely as Britain needs the arrangements to operate in France and Germany. As someone who does not like centralised European government arrangements, I find that I am often warm-hearted towards, and supportive of, the French and Germans and believe that we can make very good arrangements with them because it is in our mutual interests to do so. It is the rapid pro-Europeans who so dislike our French and German partners that they say that it all has to be bound up in central European government because we cannot trust France and Germany to come to a sensible arrangement with us over these important matters.
What is it about our country that these people do not like? What is it about our national democracy that they wish to tear down? A previous Government negotiated in good faith the third pillar arrangements for criminal justice. The idea of the third pillar was that, yes, we wanted enhanced co-operation and collaboration with our nearest neighbours, and of course I accept that there are more likely to be issues with France, Belgium and Holland, because they are very close, than with countries in Asia, so there is a reason for enhanced collaboration. We worked out a system in which we could have better procedures, enhanced collaboration and more co-operation, based on the mutual agreement of the states involved, not based on an independent united states of Europe Government, which is emerging as a result of this and other exercises but not from an independent court where there is no democratic accountability to the British people.
In recent months, we have had case after case from the European Court of Human Rights that this country and the British people have deeply disliked. There is very little we can do about that. If we give further enhanced powers to the European Court of Justice, we will have another series of such decisions from the European Court of Justice that we do not like. All major political parties will have to go to the electorate, shrug their shoulders and say, “We can do nothing about it. We still expect our salaries and to sit in the Parliament of the United Kingdom, but don’t expect us to revise this. We no longer run the criminal law and can no longer change the law in the way you want or expect. That is now settled in Brussels. Even your MEPs probably won’t be able to sort it out because the European Court of Justice is supreme above all elected officials and can provide the motor for making decisions on these crucial matters.”
The case before us today is very simple. Those who vote for opt-ins vote for European centralised justice and for the uncertainty of the European Court of Justice, which will in due course make decisions that the British people and their elected representatives cannot tolerate. Those who vote for opt-ins vote because they do not like this country’s democracy and they vote themselves out of a job.
Those of us who vote for the opt-out, and nothing but the opt-out, vote for the reverse. We vote for the House to take the responsibility. We vote to trust successive Home Secretaries. We vote to trust the judgment of the British people to judge their Governments and Home Secretaries, elect those who do a good job and throw out of office those who do a bad job. That is a true democratic system.
I do not want to live in a country where criminal justice has been transferred to independent experts abroad whom we cannot sack or influence. I do not want to go to my electors and say, “As a result of the vote we have had tonight and what happened subsequently, another major power of this country’s democracy has been seceded to the European Union in perpetuity in such a way that we can never get it back.”
It is a simple issue. I urge the House to vote for the opt-outs and against the opt-ins.
It is always a pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr Redwood) on a subject about which he knows so much and speaks with such passion.
My primary interest in contributing to this debate is to talk about the process that has been adopted and speak in support of the amendment tabled in the name of the Chairs of the Liaison Committee, the European Scrutiny Committee, the Backbench Business Committee, myself and others. However, I should also say that it is pretty rare—I am trying to think of a single other such occasion—for many of the Chairs of the Select Committees to come together in this way to amend a Government motion.
Our amendment has had to change over the past 48 hours or so because the Government’s motion changed. I should thank the Home Secretary for engaging with the Select Committee Chairs following her statement to the House on Tuesday. The Government’s original motion did not allow for any scrutiny by Select Committees before a vote of the House. The new motion, which the right hon. Lady tabled on Friday, allows for scrutiny and permits the Select Committees to scrutinise the Government’s proposals so that the House can vote on the matter at the end of October.
I say “permits the Select Committees”, but throughout the process the Government have always said that scrutiny by the Select Committees was of paramount importance in dealing with this issue. In fact, in a letter to the Chair of the European Scrutiny Committee on 15 October 2012, Lord Boswell said:
“This Government has done its utmost to ensure that Parliament has the time properly to scrutinise our decisions relating to the European Union and that its views are taken into account.”
On 20 January last year, the Minister for Europe said this in a written statement: “I hope that today I have conveyed to the House not only the Government’s full commitment to holding a vote on the 2014 decision in this House and the other place, but the importance that we will accord to Parliament in the process leading up to that vote.” I was therefore very surprised, when I heard the Home Secretary’s statement on Tuesday, to find that the Select Committees had, in a sense, been shunted to one side and not been given the opportunity to scrutinise the Government’s decision.
I accept that this is a long and difficult process. Anyone who has served as Minister for Europe—I see quite a few former Ministers for Europe dotted around the Chamber—will know that dealing with the European Union is not a piece of cake. It takes a huge amount of time and effort to get one’s negotiating stance together, especially when one is putting forward a view that will not be accepted by our European colleagues. However, if the Government have had a long discussion about these matters, the Home Secretary can expect the Select Committees to want to scrutinise them. The Justice, Home Affairs and European Scrutiny Committees all have right hon. and hon. Members—I see here the hon. Members for Rochester and Strood (Mark Reckless) and for Cambridge (Dr Huppert) and my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Steve McCabe)—who are seeking to ensure that their views are put forward.
As a result of the Government’s decision last Tuesday, of which we had absolutely no notice, we have had to change the business that the Committee had agreed in order to pursue this when we come back in September. There will be only two sitting weeks in September to scrutinise every one of these proposals. Then there is the natural break for the party conferences, and the House will also come back for two weeks in October. By and large, Select Committees, sit once a week. Their members are very reluctant to sit more than once a week because they are all assiduous Members of this House who have other things to do, usually serving on other Committees. That means that if we devote all our time to this cause, we will have just four sittings in which we can scrutinise the proposals.
As the Home Secretary knows, a lot of business is going on in the Home Office. I do not have to tell her that, because she is one of the most active Home Secretaries making structural changes to how policing, immigration and counter-terrorism are dealt with. She has set the Select Committee on Home Affairs a huge amount of work over the past three years. We will have to put that to one side in order to spend our time scrutinising these proposals. I am sure that that will also apply to members of the other Committees.
Today’s motion still does not give us enough time. There is not enough time before 31 October to be able to do justice to the kinds of things that the right hon. Member for Wokingham talked about—not just individual matters but fundamental issues of principle. However, we will do our best. As I promised the Home Secretary last week when I met her, the Home Affairs Committee, subject of course to the views of its members, will have a report for her by the end of October, but to do so by then will be extremely tough.
My question to the Home Secretary is this: why should we have a vote tonight, given that we got these proposals only on Tuesday last week? What is the point of asking the House to deliberate on these matters before the Committees have had the opportunity to discuss and to scrutinise them? She says that she needs a mandate in order to be able to show the Commission that the House is prepared to opt out.
Is not the motion somewhat confused between two distinct issues: first, whether we should exercise the block opt-out; and secondly, what we may or may not then want to opt back into? Would not the right thing to do tonight be just to vote on the block opt-out, as per the amendment that I believe the right hon. Gentleman has tabled with the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Sir Alan Beith)?
The best course of action would have been to take note of what the Government have done without making a decision as that would have given the whole House an opportunity to come to a view that these matters need to be scrutinised.
Of course, we need to opt out of some of the measures, for the reasons given by the hon. Member for North East Somerset (Jacob Rees-Mogg), the shadow Home Secretary my right hon. Friend the Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper) and others. Some of the measures are obsolete and, to be frank, I did not know that until I heard about it today. I have not had the chance to look through the measures and I am not sure that every other Member has, either.
I would have preferred a take-note motion and not a Division over something that I think the House as a whole supports: the need for us to look again at European legislation and to decide very carefully whether or not we want to opt into some of the measures again. The Home Secretary has missed that opportunity so, sadly, we will divide, which I think will send mixed messages to the European Union about what this House really intends.
I have a point of substance about the European arrest warrant. I have heard what my right hon. Friend the shadow Home Secretary has said, but I am concerned about the way in which the warrant operates. I am particularly concerned about those cases mentioned by right hon. and hon. Members that highlight the disproportionate way in which other countries deal with it compared with what we do. We have more surrenders than arrests and it is better for our European partners than it is for us, according to Home Office statistics.
I accept all the cases that have been mentioned by my right hon. Friend the shadow Home Secretary and the Home Secretary; I think the Front Benchers agree on them. On the very serious cases, we need co-operation with our European partners. It would not be practicable to negotiate with each one.
The problem, however, rests with the judiciary in some of these countries, including Poland. So many of the cases in this country relate to Poland and are very minor. I read of someone who had the European arrest warrant issued against him because he had stolen a wheelbarrow. Another person who gave false information when obtaining a loan of only £200 from a Polish bank has also been subject to the European arrest warrant. Our courts are being clogged up because of judicial decisions. I had hoped that our Committee could have gone to Poland to meet its chief justice to try to understand exactly why this is happening, but we will not have the time to do that now, because this House goes into recess in four days’ time and we will not be back until September.
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for the way in which he is making the very important case for our mutual amendment. Does he accept that one of the real problems is not just the question, as the Home Secretary has said, of whether our own laws would be involved and whether we would be able to make appropriate amendments in this House, but that the definition of judicial authority is absent from the European arrest warrant? I suspect that that is the reason why it is so difficult to deal with the examples the right hon. Gentleman has given. It is a question not of whether we can amend the laws in this House, but of whether the European arrest warrant itself does the job of creating proper judicial authorities.
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. I want to give the Home Secretary the benefit of the doubt. The proposals she has announced today may represent the right approach to deal with the issues raised by the hon. Member for Esher and Walton (Mr Raab) and others, and her amendments to domestic law may be sufficient, but we do not know whether that is the case, because we need time to consider her proposals. Unless there is engagement with the judiciary in other countries, anything we do in our domestic law will, to be frank, not make any difference.
I understand the right hon. Gentleman’s point, but the Government also need time to negotiate these opt-ins if they are to get them right, so the longer his Committee has to deliberate on these matters, the more difficult it makes it for the Government. I am on the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee and we frequently meet twice a week. This is a very important issue, so could his Committee not just commit, for this short period, to that extra day a week in order to get the job done effectively?
I thank the Chair of the Select Committee for giving way. Just to show that we are indeed doing the work, perhaps he could put that point to us on Wednesday, as we are also meeting then. We are meeting twice a week at the moment, and we can continue to do so.
The hon. Gentleman is one of the most assiduous attenders of the Home Affairs Select Committee, and yes, we are meeting twice this week. Tomorrow, we are taking evidence from the Home Secretary. The perfect time for us to begin our inquiry would have been the point at which she gave evidence to the Committee, but before having this vote. I can give her notice that we will be asking her about these matters tomorrow, although I am sure that she knows that already, bearing in mind the composition of the Committee. That is the approach we should have taken. There is no need for this mad rush or for instant decisions. Why do we need to rush this through the House and get it all over with before the summer recess? I see no reason to do that, given that we have until 1 December 2014 to vote on the matter.
Has my right hon. Friend reflected on what it would do to the Home Secretary’s credibility if she were to press on with telling Europe what she was going to opt back into, only for the Select Committee and the House subsequently to come to a different view? Would not that entirely undermine her negotiating position?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. It is nonsense to suggest that the other member states of the European Union somehow do not know what happens in this House, do not read Hansard, do not have access to BBC Parliament and therefore have no idea what the Home Secretary has done so far, and that all this will come as a total surprise to them on 31 October. Of course everyone is aware of where the Home Secretary stands. UKRep has been prepared for the negotiations, and everyone knows what this Government want to opt into and out of.
We have here an opportunity for the House to move in one direction, just as we did on the private Member’s Bill that was introduced by the hon. Member for Stockton South (James Wharton). No Member voted against his Bill. That sent a clear message to the country and to the rest of the EU that something had to be done on EU reform. Similarly, we could send one strong, powerful message if we did not have a vote today. I hope that, having listened to this debate, the Home Secretary will accept the amendment that has, most unusually, been tabled by most of the Chairs who sit on the Liaison Committee. That would strengthen her hand enormously in the negotiations.
This has been a classic example of scrutiny going wrong, not from the point of view of the European Scrutiny Committee, the Home Affairs Committee or the Justice Committee, but from the point of view of the way in which the Government have handled it. We have been through these matters over the past week, and they are being given a great deal of consideration. I am glad to say that we have had the opportunity to meet the Home Secretary, as the right hon. Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz) described. She has listened, and made changes to the original motion, which would have severely prejudiced the scrutiny by this House that takes place in line with the principles that my right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (Mr Redwood) set out. Those principles are fundamental to the running of our affairs in this House that relate to the European Union. There was a danger that the scrutiny process set up under the requirements of our Standing Orders was going to be completely bypassed, but the Home Secretary has listened and we have made some progress.
There is another amendment, to which the right hon. Member for Leicester East referred, and I urge the Government to accept it. If they do not do so, I strongly urge Members on both sides of the House to vote for it. It would be unfortunate if the Government were obdurate and said that they were not prepared to accept it, in opposition to the views not only of three Select Committee Chairmen but of many others who form part of the Liaison Committee, who I have reason to believe would want to support the amendment.
The Government’s motion states that they would
“seek to rejoin measures where it is in the national interest to do so”.
As it happens, at this juncture nobody is in a position to form a judgment about what is or is not in the national interest because the scrutiny process has not taken place. If we are to have a scrutiny process that means anything, combining the three views of the respective Select Committees, it is simply not possible or practical for a decision to be taken until those matters have been properly considered.
The hon. Member for Rochester and Strood (Mark Reckless), who serves on the Home Affairs Committee with me, is heavily wrong in this case, but that is not what I wished to say. Does the hon. Member for Stone (Mr Cash) believe that one cannot hold a position on something until it has been through a Select Committee? Select Committees do wonderful work but there are other ways to find things out. Not every single decision of this House goes through a Select Committee—that might be a bit slow.
If that were the case for scrutiny, I would simply refer the hon. Gentleman to the Standing Orders of this House that make it crystal clear that the scrutiny process must be as good as it possibly can be. Indeed, there is an inquiry into the scrutiny process to improve it even further in line with concerns that have been expressed by the House on a number of occasions. The process is also being reviewed throughout Europe through the Conference of Community and European Affairs Committees of Parliaments of the European Union. Everybody is anxious to ensure that European scrutiny takes place properly, precisely because of the democratic basis on which such decisions must be taken.
My hon. Friend the Member for Rochester and Strood (Mark Reckless) does not look completely overwhelmed at being told that he is heavily wrong by the hon. Member for Cambridge (Dr Huppert), but never mind that. Before my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Mr Cash) moves away from the issue of national interest, is it not part of our national interest for our law to be determined in this House of Commons and subject to the jurisdiction of our judges rather than European judges?
Indeed, and I personally take that view, which lies at the heart of the matter that I raised with the right hon. Member for Leicester East. The expression “judicial authority” leaves a great deal to be desired and has given rise to a lot of problems not only in this country but elsewhere throughout Europe. It is not just a question of whether we adjust our domestic law in certain respects, but of whether the European arrest warrant can properly fulfil the judicial role allocated to it. As I said earlier, other matters such as dual criminality must also be considered. Many questions looked at in 2001 were, as the shadow Home Secretary knows, considered by the European Scrutiny Committee, although she was not over-anxious to go into the detail. No doubt she will when she has an opportunity to come back into the Chamber, and she is very welcome to do that later on.
As the right hon. Member for Leicester East said, the original motion was withdrawn but it did not mention the role in this process of the European Scrutiny, Home Affairs and Justice Committees, despite repeated promises that those Committees would be consulted. There were also undertakings that we would be given explanatory memorandums on measures covered by the opt-out by the middle of February. In my view, and that of my Committee as a whole, the Government’s failure to provide explanatory memorandums in line with their timetable has been the major factor impeding Select Committee consideration of the block opt-out.
The history of those various exchanges and undertakings is set out in our report, “The 2014 block opt-out—engaging with Parliament”—that has been seriously lacking—which is tagged in this debate along with the Government’s response.
In my view, the way the European Scrutiny Committee and the other Committees have jointly sought information from the Government is an excellent example of the various elements of the scrutiny process working together in a consistent and co-ordinated manner. In that context, the fact that the Government’s revised motion does not provide for a scrutiny stage to be concluded by the end of October is to be welcomed. The amendment to the revised motion, which we have tabled jointly, centres on the scrutiny process and aims to ensure that the Select Committees can undertake meaningful scrutiny of the Government’s proposals. I hope that the Government will listen to that.
As Chairs of these Committees, we are concerned that the inclusion of the words
“on the set of measures in Command Paper 8671”
is likely, implicitly or explicitly, to endorse the Government’s list of 35. The amendment would simply leave out these words, so as to avoid a prejudgment of the Committee’s conclusions. That was the substance of the point made by the right hon. Member for Leicester East.
The Command Paper sets out, very late in the day, various lists, proposals, explanatory memorandums and the rest of it, effectively bouncing the Committees and shunting straight past the scrutiny process, in defiance of the promises and undertakings given months ago. The Chairs are deeply concerned about this attempt to push the scrutiny process to one side. The European Scrutiny Committee, which I Chair, has a specific job to do under Standing Orders that cannot be brushed aside by the Government or anybody else. Those are the Standing Orders of the House. The other two Committees will want to look at policy questions, but we consider proposals more on a document-by-document basis, and there are 130-odd of them, so the matter has to be dealt with within the framework of Standing Orders.
I look to the Justice Secretary, who is sitting on the Front Bench, knowing in my heart that he wants to ensure that the scrutiny process works effectively, and I invite him, in consultation with the Home Secretary, to accept our amendment and put in place that proper scrutiny process. There is no great hurry. What puzzles many Members is why an attempt has been made to bounce the House, as it were; we are puzzled about why this had to be rushed, and we have had no explanation. We simply do not understand the reasons. We do not see why there has to be a vote either. Many people think there should not be one.
In January, the European Scrutiny Committee requested that the relevant Committees should have sight of the Government’s impact assessments on the various measures under consideration. Will the Home Secretary and the Justice Secretary supply us with this information as soon as possible? It is all part of the scrutiny process. If the Government really want transparent and democratic systems that work in the interests of those whom we have the honour to represent, it is essential that we do this properly.
This is driven not by hostility, but by basic common sense: it helps the democratic process and the working between the Government and the Select Committee system, whose role has been enhanced recently, to work with the grain. That is the point: this has been working against the grain. I know that my right hon. Friends the Justice Secretary and the Home Secretary, not to mention the Prime Minister, are conscious of these questions. If mistakes were made in trying to rush and not give scrutiny the opportunities that are needed in the interests of those whom we serve, it is essential to get this right. I urge them strongly to accept the amendment in the name of the Chairmen of those Committees, and on which the Chairmen of other Committees have expressed an interest too.
The Opposition’s amendment is a rather curious state of affairs, something to which I referred when I intervened on the shadow Home Secretary. I simply put it on the record like this: the full sequence would be that the United Kingdom would have to notify its block opt-out decision six months before it could notify which measures it would seek to opt back into. The specific order is clearly set out—I was not trying to bounce the right hon. Lady—in article 10 of protocol 36, and has been confirmed by the Commission in response to a question from the European Parliament. We know what the sequence should be, so it would not be possible for the Government to notify the European institutions of their intention to exercise the block opt-out once, to use the wording of the amendment, those institutions
“have committed to the UK’s ongoing participation”
in the measures concerned. There is something wrong with the wording of the Opposition’s amendment, because it does not fit with article 10 of protocol 36. Anyone can make a pedantic point, but this goes to the heart of article 10 of protocol 36.
But article 10 of protocol 36 also says that the Commission will, wherever possible, seek to ensure that there is a maximum degree of participation by the United Kingdom in any measures it wants to opt into. The difficulty arises in that sometimes the precise package of measures may not be a package of measures that works as far as the Commission is concerned— the point Commissioner Reding has already made to the Justice Secretary in private conversation.
I do not know about these private conversations, and I do not know whether Prism has been at work to enable the hon. Gentleman to know what they consisted of. [Interruption.] Oh, he told you. Well, be that as it may, the fact is that article 10 of protocol 36 is clear, and has been confirmed by the Commission as such in a response to a question in the European Parliament. I will leave it at that, but it would be strange for us—I am talking about the House as a whole—to end up voting for an amendment tabled by the official Opposition, with all the expertise at their disposal, that was inherently wrong.
My hon. Friend is making an important technical point, but is there not a more fundamental objection? The Opposition’s amendment is tantamount to saying that we must first ask the permission of the European Commission before we can exercise the treaty right that we have for this opt-out. It is basically saying that we should wait and see what the Commission thinks before we make a decision.
I am very attracted to amendment (b), standing in the name of my hon. Friend and the other two Committee Chairmen. I note that we have three senior Committee Chairmen, all of different parties, supporting it, and I think I heard those on the Labour Front Bench implying that they, too, supported it. Can my hon. Friend say whether this is now the view of the House?
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. As I understand it, the Justice Secretary just nodded to the assertion made by the hon. Gentleman. I think he was assenting to the Government’s acceptance of the amendment tabled in the name of the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Sir Alan Beith). If so, I would have thought it would be in order for the Justice Secretary to make that view known for the whole House.
Surprisingly enough, there are no private conversations in the Chamber; Members are supposed to have them outside. That is not a point of order for me, in the sense that I saw no indication—and have heard no indication—of the Government’s attitude to the amendments, unless the Justice Secretary wants to correct me, although he is not obliged to.
Further to that point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. It might be helpful to the House to say—as I was intending to in my winding-up speech, but this will stop everybody making the point all the way through the debate—that we will accept the amendment standing in the names of my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Mr Cash), my right hon. Friend the Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Sir Alan Beith) and the right hon. Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz).
Sir Alan, you were just fractionally ahead of me. I seem to recollect that Mr Speaker said that the amendments would be formally moved at the end of the debate. Perhaps this is an indication that we should have the Government opening and closing a debate before we actually have that debate, so that we know where we stand. Mr Bryant, thank you very much for your point of order—
I really have no more to add, because this has been a highly satisfactory, if slightly informal, way of proceeding. I am extremely glad that the Justice Secretary has said that the Government will accept amendment (b), because it demonstrates that, even in the inquisitorial system that we have, accountability and good sense can run together.
The decision before us this evening is important—I think. I say that because the significance of the Government’s accepting amendment (b) is taking a little while to sink in, but we shall see.
This is an important debate. I do not approach this issue in an ideological way. This is not about whether we are for Europe or against Europe; it is about whether we come to a balanced decision that is in the best interests of the United Kingdom. I have to be honest: I have some reservations about the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice. I well remember the discussions inside Government when Labour was in power about whether we should dismantle the third pillar and go along with the suggestion that it should incorporated in the treaty on the institutions of the European Union as a whole. I still have some reservations and concerns about that.
It is also important to recognise just how significant the measures we are debating are, particularly with regard to the European arrest warrant. Whatever concerns we might have—for example, about the European Court of Justice—it is important for us to look practically at what the practitioners in the field say. I am thinking in particular of the police. It is very significant indeed that the Association of Chief Police Officers has said quite emphatically just how important the European arrest warrant is in tackling international crime.
It is worth looking at the hard-core statistics and recognising that the UK has deported more than 4,000 criminals under the European arrest warrant, 95% of whom are foreign nationals removed from the UK. At the same time, more than 600 alleged criminals have been returned to the UK to face British justice for crimes committed here. It is important to recognise what ACPO emphatically said in its evidence to the House of Lords EU Committee. The summation put the position of ACPO, and indeed many others, very well:
“The majority of our witnesses considered the EAW to be an important PCJ measure that brought benefits to the United Kingdom. They said that it had led to the creation of a more efficient, simpler, quicker, cheaper, more reliable and less political system of extradition”.
That is a very important statement, and I think anyone genuinely concerned about tackling international crime effectively should be wary about rejecting such concerted advice. It is important for us to recognise that, but that is not to say that the European arrest warrant is perfect—far from it.
Many people in the evidence sessions held in the House of Lords indicated that there was room for improvement. It is significant that the Home Secretary specified in her statement this afternoon a number of unilateral measures that the British Government would like to take to improve the workings of the EAW. I would suggest, however, that it is not simply a question of us wanting to improve the EAW. As the Home Secretary said in response to my question, it is important to have a dialogue with individual member states, but it is also important to have a dialogue inside the institutions of the European Union. That is why I am concerned that the general rhetoric and bellicose attitude of this Government towards things European does not put them in a good position to negotiate inside the tent practical arrangements relating to the EAW and many other matters.
One of the main concerns is that there are many minor infringements. The Chairman of the Home Affairs Select Committee referred to the example of the Polish wheelbarrow theft. That provides a clear practical example of where people realise that systems such as this need to be changed. A number of practical points have been put forward, and I think Members should examine them very carefully.
Genuine concern has been expressed about the practical workings of the EAW, but the central point I want to make this afternoon is that the nature of crime has changed markedly over the last few years. We all realise we live in a global economy, but we are also seeing international crime the like of which we have never seen before. The trend towards the internationalisation of criminality is, frankly, likely to continue. I well remember asking the then chief constable of Gwent, “Where is the focal point for criminal planning and masterminding in Gwent?” and the answer was that it was “in the Balkans”. That brought home to me a very practical sense that if we are serious about neighbourhood policing and tackling criminality in our own areas, we have to be concerned not just about the national picture but about the international picture, too. The European Union, and the European arrest warrant in particular, represents a very positive step towards addressing this practical reality.
As I say, practical reality is of primary concern, and it has to be placed against other measures about which we might not be so enthusiastic, such as the increasing jurisdiction and powers of the European Court of Justice. However, on balance, I am confident that we should support the proposal to opt into the measures.
The Government gave the clear impression that there would be far more consultation and debate in the House than has actually taken place. I intervened on the Home Secretary earlier when she quoted a statement made back in January 2011 by the Minister for Europe, who stated categorically that the Government would conduct further consultation on the arrangements for the vote and that, in particular, there would be consultation with the European Scrutiny, Home Affairs and Justice Committees in both Houses. In fairness to the Minister, it must be said that he recognised the significance of the vote and the need to go into all the fine detail that is inherent in these measures; but sadly, notwithstanding the apparent concession that was made a few moments ago, the Government do not seem inclined to embrace the spirit of what he said. I regret that, because I think it would be most unfortunate if the impression were given that the House was being bounced into a decision, and that we were engaged in a process that we did not wholly understand because of its contradictory nature—what with “in-out, in-out” and all the rest of it.
What we need is straightforwardness and transparency. We need a full appreciation of the complexities of the issues, and a balanced, measured response to the pros and cons with which we are faced. I think that the debate represents a small step in that direction, but I hope very much that the Government will take on board, in particular, what has been said by the Chairs of the Select Committees.
As I said earlier, this is an important issue, and no Member in any part of the House should approach it from either a pro-Europe or an anti-Europe standpoint. We must consider the pros and cons, we must recognise the reality of the modern world in which we live, and we must reach a balanced decision on whether these measures —particularly the one relating to the European arrest warrant—will help or hinder the fight against crime. Personally, I have no doubt that they will help.
It is a pleasure to speak in the debate, and to congratulate the Home Secretary. I welcomed the announcement that she made last Tuesday, which has given us a chance to work out how to get the details right. I see today as the first step in that process, to be followed by scrutiny by the Select Committees. I look forward particularly to working with the Home Affairs Committee. I think that it will be possible for us to be both pragmatic and well-informed, and to get everything done in time.
Although, as I have said, I supported the Home Secretary’s statement, I did not observe complete support from her own side, although I am pleased to say that a few Members have supported her very sensible position.
There may have been less than full support for the statement from Conservative Members because, at the time, we thought that we were dealing with a Command Paper and a decision to opt back into the European arrest warrant. Now that we have heard from the Secretary of State for Justice that that is no longer the case, many of us are rather happier.
I am delighted that the hon. Gentleman is happy, although on occasion he may not be entirely accurate.
We have discussed a number of measures that the Liberal Democrats, for example, would not opt into, and I shall say more about some of them later. However, I still believe that the European arrest warrant is absolutely right, and I was pleased to hear the Home Secretary extol its virtues. I hope that she will continue to do so, and that the Select Committee will continue to support a reformed arrest warrant.
What we just heard from the hon. Member for Rochester and Strood (Mark Reckless), and what we heard earlier from the right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr Redwood) and the hon. Member for Stone (Mr Cash), illustrated the tendency of some Members to do exactly what we were urged not to do by the hon. Member for Caerphilly (Wayne David): the tendency to be so obsessed with Europe that crime, justice and all the other issues that we ought to care about—and about which our constituents actually care—fall by the wayside.
I agree that this is not about Europe. It is about Britain; it is about the British citizens. I invite the hon. Gentleman to consider a case in Staffordshire. A constituent of one of my neighbouring Members of Parliament was convicted in Italy of murder and was sentenced to 15 years in absentia, but was not even in Italy when the murder was committed.
The hon. Gentleman is certainly making a point, but I am not sure that it is entirely the point. Justice systems all around the world make errors. The British justice system has convicted people, only for those convictions to be overturned on appeal. I do not claim that justice is perfect, but I do claim that an obsession with European issues weakens our focus on policing and crime, which are what we should be focusing on. I do not know the circumstances of the case the hon. Gentleman mentions, and it is entirely possible errors were made, but that does not mean we should not work with Europe or continue with the justice and home affairs co-operation we currently have.
I just wish to point out to the hon. Member for Stone (Mr Cash) that when Russia tried to extradite a man from the UK for supposedly murdering a Russian Orthodox priest, the said Russian Orthodox priest gave evidence in the case in London, thereby proving he had not been murdered.
I would be delighted to pass that on, and I am sure the two hon. Gentlemen could have a separate conversation about the matter. There are a wealth of individual cases, some of which I looked at when I was on the Joint Committee on Human Rights, but the obsession with Europe that runs through the Conservative party—or, to rephrase that, through many elements of the Conservative party—is deeply alarming. I am pleased we have managed to get sensible comments from Conservative Ministers on the Front Bench about our need to work with Europe. As crime becomes more international and people can travel more, it is important that we are able to share information.
If we were to ask the public whether they want criminals brought back here to face justice, I do not think many of them—other than the hon. Member for Stone (Mr Cash)—would immediately start talking about the powers of the ECJ. I simply do not believe that is the main issue.
We are not where we should be yet, however. We have this very odd, very convoluted, very complex process, and many of us think it would be much simpler if it had not been negotiated in the form that it was, with the very complex opt-out followed by an opt-in process. I do not think any Member would say that was the best way to proceed. It may or may not have been the best that could be achieved—I do not know the details—but it is certainly very complex, and I and my colleagues will be very happy to work with the Home Secretary and to keep the pressure on her to make sure the negotiations to opt back in are successful. That will be a complex and difficult task, however.
That is why it is also very important to make sure that nothing goes wrong. We do not want to end up accidentally not being able to get back into things we need to be in; for example, we do not want to end up having to be out of Europol for a brief period, which would mean that Europol director, Rob Wainwright—a Brit—could not continue in his role.
The Lords European Union Committee has conducted detailed scrutiny of this and has produced a detailed report. In April it concluded that it was not convinced a compelling case had been made to opt out. I have to say I agree with it. I think it would be far easier, far cleaner and far simpler not to exercise the opt-out at all. I would love to know how much is being spent in time, in effort and in getting a huge number of civil servants and lawyers to go through the details of all of this, and what the overall benefits would be.
It is absolutely true that, as many Members have said, some of the items under discussion are outdated or irrelevant, and that they simply do not matter. We should weigh that against the massive cost and the time that would be taken in this House and elsewhere in going through them all and making a decision.
I take the hon. Gentleman’s point on board, but is he aware that even the Centre for European Reform, a think-tank far closer to his views on these issues than mine, has said that our continued involvement with these JHA powers should be conditional on a fundamental reform of the European arrest warrant?
I agree that the European arrest warrant needs to be reformed. I have said so in many debates in this place. When I was on the Joint Committee on Human Rights, we produced a list of some of the reforms there should be. The European arrest warrant should be fixed and reformed. That is a different question, however, from the one about whether we should exercise this opt-out and go through the complex, tortuous process of opting back in again. I would prefer not to do that. I would prefer to stay as we are. I do not see any measure that actively causes us harm which we plan to get out of, but I accept that that decision has been taken, that the Home Secretary and the Conservatives are keen to exercise that opt-out, and that many of the things we will end up leaving are not very significant measures. I completely accept that and am committed to making sure that we keep the ones that are most essential for the continued protection of British citizens. That is my focus.
What about the provision on the exchange of DNA? This country has a vast database, relative to the rather limited ones in most EU countries. Is that not one issue, at least, where the hon. Gentleman’s commitment to civil liberties outshines his Europhilia?
That is indeed an issue I have more concern about. As I have said to the hon. Gentleman twice now, I do not think we should do everything that Europe wants; one example is on the rather ridiculous idea about olive oil not being able to be stored properly. That was a quickly shot down, silly story; it was certainly nothing that any of us would want to see. I hope that he will share some Europhilia with us at some point in future debates. I am pleased that this Government are reducing the amount of DNA that is kept—we had a hard fight on that.
I am pleased that in the set of things published in that Command Paper, which I hope will be the basis of the set—I would perhaps like to see even more in it—are the key measures that Liberal Democrats negotiated. In a previous Opposition day debate on this, I set out some red lines that I would want to see. I am pleased that every one of them has been met by these new approaches and that the preliminary decision includes all the list of the key EU crime-fighting measures recommended to us by the Association of Chief Police Officers. Before the hon. Gentleman rises, may I say that he knows we share a belief that ACPO, as a private limited company, is not the arbiter of what should and should not be done? We will debate that later, but it is useful to hear expert advice from the police, in whatever form they happen to put it.
We have seen many cases showing how important the European arrest warrant is. Mark Lilley, one of Britain’s most wanted men, was captured on 8 July at his villa in Spain, and he is the 51st fugitive to have been arrested of the 65 identified under Operation Captura, an initiative launched by the Serious Organised Crime Agency in 2006 to work with Spanish law enforcement to capture UK suspects thought to be hiding in Spain. That was not, and could not be, done before. Roger Critchell, director of operations at Crimestoppers, said:
“We are extremely relieved that this dangerous drug-dealer has been arrested and will be made to face justice.”
Why would anybody want to make it harder to bring somebody like that back to face justice?
The EAW also means that criminals hiding out in this country do not stay here. It will be easier to get foreign criminals off our streets and back to their states for the crimes that they have committed there. Since 2009, 4,005 criminal suspects have been deported from the UK to other EU countries, and it was good to hear the Home Secretary refer to that. Fifty-seven deportations were for child sex offences, 414 for drug trafficking, 86 for rape and 105 for murder. Does any right hon. or hon. Member really think we should be making it harder for these people to face the justice they deserve?
If the hon. Gentleman is suggesting that the EAW could spread out to more and more countries, there is something to be said for that. I am not sure that that is entirely the argument he would wish to be making. There are very many countries with which we simply have no extradition relationships; we do not have a treaty, and we have no mechanism for sending people back to them or for getting people back whom we would like to see. That is unacceptable, and we should certainly be focusing on reducing that gap, rather than creating an entirely new one.
We do need a reformed EAW. That has been discussed and I think it is agreed by everybody here. It is not right that Poland summons so many people. I understand that that happens because in Polish law the police do not have the jurisdiction and the freedom to decide that something is too trivial to proceed with, and we should look at safeguards in that regard.
I am also pleased that, as an improvement to the EAW, the Home Secretary has agreed that Britain will sign up to the European supervision order. That will mean that when British citizens are arrested overseas they can be bailed and allowed to await trial at home. Andrew Symeou spent 10 months in pre-trial detention and a further nine months on bail in Greece, only then to be acquitted. That could all have been avoided if he had been able to spend that time on bail back in the UK. Similarly, EU nationals who come to the UK and commit crimes can be bailed back to their home countries, which will free up space in our prisons, as well as being better for those people themselves.
It is right that we work with our European partners. The UK is a leader in the field of crime and policing, and we should also be leading in Europe, not trying to run away from it. The UK Government made security and stability key priorities for their presidency of the EU in 2005, pushing ahead with EU action on counter-terrorism, people trafficking, migration and enhancing EU-wide police co-operation—things this House should support. With cross-border crime becoming ever more sophisticated, when we help Europe, we very much help ourselves. The director of Europol, Rob Wainwright, will continue to do the excellent work he is doing, co-ordinating cross-border investigations and leading teams that pull together the resources and information of multiple member states. The importance of Europol cannot be understated. It has been instrumental in the case of Madeleine McCann and many others, and to lose that expertise would be tragic.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his comments. I hope that the intervening period would be one of these nominal, legal fictions—a minute or something —and during that time we could just not notice the problem he describes. If the time period were long, we would have exactly that problem.
Europol has been instrumental. It has had a huge number of cases, more than 1,300 in the UK, which have included dealing with the world’s largest online paedophile network in Operation Rescue, which led to 184 arrests and 230 sexually exploited children being protected. That is yet another good thing we should want to support. Eurojust will help us work together, allowing cross-border cases to be focused much more effectively. A joint investigating team was set up following the murder of three members of the al-Hilli family and cyclist Sylvain Mollier in 2012 in France, allowing the French gendarmes and the Surrey police officers to work together, to deal with confusions over national laws and processes, and to maximise their capacity. This list goes on and on; we benefit from these key measures.
I am very pleased with this list of 35 measures. It is the right way to go, and I think we can scrutinise them. We should consider some of the ones that did not quite make the cut and decide whether they would benefit us or are things we could live without. I congratulate the Home Secretary on standing firm before her own party, I look forward to the scrutiny that we will all carry out, and I commend the motion to the House.
I am pleased to have an opportunity to participate briefly in this debate. I want primarily to address the issue of the EAW, which is of particular concern in Northern Ireland because of the close co-operation required between the justice Departments in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland in tackling terrorism and serious organised crime, on behalf of not just Northern Ireland, but the rest of the United Kingdom.
I recognise that the Home Secretary has clearly stated her intention to opt back into the EAW, but I remain concerned at the impact of opting out without any certainty on opting back in. It may be possible for the UK to opt back into certain measures on an ad-hoc basis, but that will not be automatic and it will need authorisation from the EU. If the UK does opt back into a measure, it will have to accept re-entry criteria and the rules of the Commission and Court. Those things have to be taken into account.
The Home Secretary was unable to give the assurance sought by the hon. Member for Cambridge (Dr Huppert) as it is not in her gift to say that we will definitely be able to opt back in; it will be for the EU to decide, in negotiation with the UK. I accept that the intention is to opt back in quickly and smoothly, but it is not possible at this point to be assured on that. The uncertainty may not matter on measures where we do not need or want to opt back in, but it is dangerous on measures that are important to this country and its security—the EAW is one such measure.
As I have indicated, there are continuing concerns in Northern Ireland about the potential opt-out from a number of key areas, particularly the EAW, and the collective impact that will have on cross-border working with the Irish Republic, in particular, and with other states. The Police Service of Northern Ireland has been very vocal in its opposition to the UK’s opting out of a number of important measures and considers it vital that the UK opts back into them as soon as possible. That view was also reflected in the ACPO paper mentioned by other Members.
The House of Lords European Union Committee report was published on 23 April, after the Committee had taken evidence from a wide range of sources. In summary, its conclusions echo the concerns that stakeholders and criminal justice practitioners in Northern Ireland have outlined. Of primary concern is the risk to the EAW; the Committee believed that that was the single most important of the measures subject to the opt-out decision. The Committee was not persuaded that alternative arrangements would address the criticisms directed at the existing European arrest warrant arrangements, and believed that it would
“inevitably render the extradition process more protracted and cumbersome, potentially undermining public safety.”
The Committee also believed that the best way to achieve improvements to the EAW system was through negotiations with other member states from within. While I welcome the fact that the Secretary of State says that she is pursuing that matter, I remain concerned about the opt-out. I suspect that we would all agree that there are flaws in the EAW—I believe, however, that it worked reasonably well, and the evidence is that it did so—and deficiencies have been identified, including proportionality and the time that some nationals have spent in other jurisdictions on remand following extradition. We would all wish to see those matters reformed and addressed, but the opt-out could have significant repercussions both for the internal security of the United Kingdom and for the administration of criminal justice in the UK, and it could reduce our influence over this area of EU policy.
If the European arrest warrant did not apply, is the hon. Lady suggesting that the close relationship between the police in the Republic of Ireland and the Police Service of Northern Ireland will be gravely affected, and they would not be able to exchange people as necessary?
If the hon. Gentleman is patient, I shall come on to the specific problems that will occur if the EAW does not operate continuously. There are indeed challenges to that co-operation which are not about will but about means and process.
From a Northern Ireland perspective, this is of particular importance. Since the EAW came into force in January 2004, the PSNI has received about 265 EAWs for action in Northern Ireland, and 50 EAWs have been issued for action outside the UK. Of those 50, about 31, or 60%, have been sent to the Republic of Ireland. The PSNI believes that there are some areas in the process that could benefit from review, but overall it has said that it
“has proven to be an effective mechanism for ensuring the administration of justice across the EU jurisdiction.”
The Crown Solicitor’s Office believes that the EAW system
“works very successfully. When operated properly it can be speedy, effective and fair.”
Neither the PSNI nor the CSO believe that the UK should withdraw in any way from the current arrangement, and the pressures on the PSNI, the Public Prosecution Service and CSO manpower and costs would increase if we did so. The PSNI and the CSO are concerned about the likely alternatives to the EAW. If the UK withdrew from that system, under the designation by which member states that operate the system are regarded, we would become a category 2 state, as opposed to category 1. Extradition would then have to operate by way of formal requests from the UK Government to other countries through bilateral treaties or under the European convention on extradition. Such requests are more time-consuming to prepare and may involve the sending of witnesses to foreign jurisdictions to give evidence, possibly at significant cost.
With respect to the impact on north-south relations and north-south co-operation, which was raised by the hon. Member for Beckenham (Bob Stewart), before the introduction of the EAW, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland followed the system known as the “backing of warrants”, which allowed an arrest warrant issued in one jurisdiction to be passed to police and endorsed or backed by a judge or magistrate in the area where the subject of the warrant lived. The Backing of Warrants (Republic of Ireland) Act 1965 was repealed by section 218(a) and schedule 3 of the Extradition Act 2003. There is no reason to assume that the Irish authorities would be willing to return to such a system. The land border between the two jurisdictions necessitates speedy arrangements that may no longer be available if the European convention or a bilateral treaty were the basis of the extradition relationship. I hope that that answers the hon. Gentleman’s question, because it is a significant issue. Indeed, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Defence in the Republic of Ireland, in discussions with the Minister of Justice for Northern Ireland, has expressed concern about its impact, given the repeal of legislation that facilitated north-south extradition arrangements.
Crucially, however, Alan Shatter TD has just given up the chair of the EU Council on Justice and Home Affairs, and is therefore exceptionally well placed to gauge the Commission’s appetite for negotiating terms with the UK to opt back in. His clear and continuing concern about the opt-out should sound a note of caution for those who believe that an opt-in will be simple and straightforward. I understand that this is a reserved matter, but even when matters are reserved decisions made by the UK Government can impact on the criminal justice system in devolved settings, and nowhere more so than Northern Ireland, given that we have a land border with the Republic of Ireland and thus a vested interest in close co-operation.
The cross-border dimension is unique in the UK, and important to us. Cross-border co-operation is essential in tackling security threats and organised crime, not only in Northern Ireland but across the whole of the United Kingdom. Of the third pillar measures, the possible opt-out from the EAW is the one that causes most alarm among all stakeholders in the Government, but it creates real uncertainty if we opt out without knowing that we can opt back in or that that will be a seamless process.
I put a question to the Secretary of State after her statement last week, and she said that the matter had been discussed with the Minister of Justice for Northern Ireland. However, she did not respond directly to my invitation to confirm that the Minister remained extremely concerned about any interruption to the operation of the EAW, and the impact that that would have on the justice system in Northern Ireland. It is important to talk to the Minister of Justice, and I hope that Home Office Ministers will recognise that listening and responding to what they hear in those conversations is of equal importance.
In response to my intervention today, the Home Secretary suggested that concerns arose only from the point where the Government indicated that they were going to opt out, but had not stated clearly that they intended to opt back in. That is not the case, however, and I put that on the record. Northern Irish Ministers remain concerned even though the opt-in is the Government’s stated intention. That has not allayed concerns, and there is serious uncertainty about the ability to opt in and about any delay in the opt-in process.
The hon. Lady says that the intention to opt back in to the EAW has been stated by the Government, but does she accept that with the acceptance of the amendment tabled by my right hon. Friend the Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Sir Alan Beith), that will no longer be something stated by this Parliament?
I accept that that is the case, which causes me concern and, indeed, it will cause my colleagues in Northern Ireland even more concern. It would therefore be helpful if the Government could provide reassurance on that matter at the end of the debate. Any suggestion that we may choose not to opt back in would have significant consequences for north-south co-operation on justice matters in Northern Ireland.
The EAW has helped to bring offenders to justice, including those charged with serious and organised crime. The best way to effect the required improvements is to do so from within, not from outside. More than 60% of EAWs issued in Northern Ireland are for extradition from the Republic of Ireland so, in closing, I would simply ask what plans Her Majesty’s Government have to renegotiate an opt-in. How confident are the Government of success in that regard, given the reservations that have been expressed today and, indeed, given the concerns, I believe, of the Minister for Justice, Equality and Defence and of the Minister of Justice in Northern Ireland? Do the Government have the necessary support from other member states to be able to do this, and what happens if they do not succeed? What is the fall-back position? Will they try to negotiate individual arrangements with 28 states, and what appetite do those states have for entering into that negotiation?
Those are unanswered questions and points of risk in the process, and I simply ask that the Minister take the opportunity, first, to allay our concerns about the amendment that has been accepted, which will obliterate Parliament’s commitment to opt back in, and, secondly, to provide answers to those specific questions so that we understand what plan B is if the opt-in does not work out as intended.
I rise on behalf of the Liaison Committee and the Justice Committee, both of which I chair, to speak to amendment (b), which I can do very much more briefly now that the Justice Secretary has indicated that it will be accepted, although I need to explain why we tabled it. It takes something, as the right hon. Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz) said, to bring together on matters European the right hon. Gentleman and myself, whose views are not so different on these issues, and the hon. Member for Stone (Mr Cash). That arose from the way in which the Government have gone about this process, which is not the way that they said they would go about it. However, in two moves—in a two-step—over the past five days, the Government have sought to respond to our concerns, and I very much welcome that.
The original change that was made last week was specifically to endorse the role of Select Committees in considering the Government’s proposals as to which measures we should opt back into. The reason that we were not happy with the wording which then emerged, which was a considerable improvement on the Government’s first motion, was that it appeared to us that the words would restrict the Committees’ ability to argue for the inclusion of measures not on the list or the exclusion of measures that were on the list. Our understanding had been that specific confirmation of the list was a matter for the second debate and vote, after the Committees had considered the issues raised by the Government’s statement of what they were minded to do on the various opt-in possibilities.
There has been argument about that from two Members who devote a great deal of time to the issue and I am reluctant to become the arbiter of this argument. All we sought to secure in our capacity as Committee Chairs was that the Committees’ ability to do the job was not inhibited and could not be restricted by someone pointing to the wording and saying, “You can’t discuss that possibility. It’s outwith your reach.” What the Government had made clear all along and made clear again to me in a telephone call last week while I was away with the Justice Committee was that there is to be a second-stage process as originally envisaged, and at that stage there will be confirmation of what is at present clear Government policy as to what the list is, following consideration of the representations and views that may be put forward by any of the relevant Committees.
I do not believe that in seeking to meet the Committees’ wishes and excluding those words, the Government are seeking to change their policy. They are simply making it clear that the procedure is an open one in which Committees can put forward their representations, whether they support the list or seek variations in it.
I confirm that that is the case, but let me be clear that what the Home Secretary said about the need for this House to take a view was that it is not a legal but a political issue. The European Commission has made it clear that it will not engage in a discussion or a negotiation until we make clear the view of the Government and this Parliament. That is what the Home Secretary said in her speech and that remains the Government’s position.
We would have been in a happier and more comfortable position had the Government carried out their original intention to deliver memorandums to the Committees by February of this year, followed as soon as possible by more detailed impact assessments. That was not done. The Committees had been led to believe that it would be done so they waited and waited for those things to appear, so that they could start their consideration on the basis of clear information about what the Government had been advised and which way their thinking was going.
We have an end of consideration date at the end of October, which is clear in the motion and emerged from discussions between Committee Chairs and the Government. It was not our ideal timetable, which would have started back in February, but that is where we are now.
What we have to consider now is how best the Select Committees can do their job in drawing the attention of the House and the Government to any concerns they might have about opt-ins that are on the list and opt-outs—or not-opt-ins, if that is the right phrase—that they might wish to consider. It is for the Committees, as Ministers have confirmed, to decide how they will go about this task, but a timetable has been set.
There is still more information which can usefully be given to Committees in the form of a more detailed impact assessment than is contained, for example, in the Command Paper. We are entitled to continue to seek that, and if we do not get it, awkward questions will be asked of Ministers when they come before the Committee, in order to elicit the information that we need. Our purpose, which will be fulfilled by the exclusion of these words, was to give the Committees of the House the scope to which they are entitled, which the Government from the beginning said they would have, in order to consider these matters before the final decision is made.
May I ask the Select Committee Chairman a question about how the three Committees will divvy up responsibilities? The Government have submitted not one memorandum but five—three from one Minister and one from each of the others. There might be confusion for the House if there were three reports that did not coincide.
Committees are well accustomed to dealing with overlap of responsibility. The Liaison Committee is also well accustomed to assisting in sorting out any problems that overlap may generate. There are issues that fall within Home Affairs which are of interest to the Justice Committee, such as Eurojust. We will find ways of dealing with that, even in a compressed time scale. I welcome the Government’s acceptance that in the letter as well as the spirit they should recognise that Select Committees of this House have a right and a duty to advise the House on the basis of open consideration without undue restriction.
Like a number of other Members, I am not clear exactly what the Home Secretary thinks she is trying to achieve today. She says the vote will be a signal to our European partners, but where in the opt-out arrangements is there any requirement to have such a vote at this stage? Unless she intends to ignore the reports of the various Select Committees and the calls from Back Benchers to let us, item by item, decide on the measures that we want to opt back into, all we can possibly be signalling today is our intention to exercise the block opt-out and an intention to try to opt back into some unspecified measures. So I am not clear about the reason for the vote now. The Minister suggested that it was for political reasons. I wonder whether it is more to do with the proximity of the Conservative party conference.
Will the Minister clarify the exact date for notifying plans to opt out? The Government say it is 31 May, but I have seen other calculations that challenge that date. I am conscious that Home Office officials have had trouble with European dates and deadlines in the past, so may we be clear about the exact date?
I intervened on the Home Secretary and asked her if she would be notifying immediately, to which she said yes. It was then suggested that there is to be a House of Lords vote on Monday, so it would be immediately after that. Surely that gives enough margin of error.
I was talking about the date the Government were specifying, but that does leave a bit of time, I concede that.
One of the things that I would like to know before we conclude the debate is what estimate the Government have made of the possible costs of cessation of participation under article 10(4). Throughout the now discarded Command Paper the Government merely repeat the view that they consider the economic impacts to be negligible, but unless we have some idea of how they arrive at those figures, we could be asked to vote for a blank cheque today. I am not quite as comfortable with that as others might be.
I am also worried about the implications for security and organised crime. Article 40 of the Schengen convention of June 1985 covers surveillance and assistance across borders, but the Government’s own Command Paper acknowledges that opting out of article 40 will leave us reliant on international letters of request. It goes on to point out that there would be no way to compel other states to respond to international letters of request.
Any transitional arrangements made following the opt-out are made by the Commission and the Council without the UK, so what will happen if the transitional arrangements are not acceptable? As I understand it, we are talking about 30 measures on issues decided by the Council and the Commission, and they are subject to qualified majority voting. The measures that apply to the Schengen agreement are subject to unanimity with a veto, and we have all seen that the veto can be exercised in Europe. It would be helpful if we could have some further explanation on what consideration has been given to these factors.
The hon. Gentleman is making a very good case for a much simpler system that does not involve the clumsy and risky process of opting out of the things that we want to opt into, and then having to opt back into them. Does he now regret that his Government landed us with this precise system?
I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman was in his place when I raised this point earlier, but that is what the other member states forced on us at the time. I would be first to concede that it is not an acceptable arrangement, but it highlights how difficult it might be to opt back in without any difficulty. Has the hon. Gentleman considered that?
There seems to be some question about whether we will opt back in to the European arrest warrant. The Government indicated earlier today that we would seek to opt back in, but I could not miss the hon. Member for Rochester and Strood (Mark Reckless) celebrating the decision to accept amendment (b), which means that there is now no guarantee that we will seek to opt back in. In any event, at the point that we opt out, the Government’s intention is to fall back on the 1957 Council of Europe convention. Even the Government’s own Command Paper acknowledges that there are difficulties and shortcomings with that approach. Like the hon. Member for Belfast East (Naomi Long), I am worried that having opted out we will find ourselves without the power to bring major criminals to justice. That is an atrocious state of affairs.
I am slightly perplexed by the view of the hon. Member for Cambridge (Dr Huppert) that we can have a notional opt-out on Europol. I do not know what his coalition partners would make of this, but he seems to think that we can opt out for a matter of hours, and then opt back in. I cannot believe that a single person in the country would think that a worthwhile state of affairs. It would involve an inordinate amount of time and energy for very little. I have to assume that optimistic though the hon. Gentleman is—it is quite likely that once we opt out of Europol we will be allowed back in; I have no doubt about that—his hopes of keeping the present occupant of the job in his post is slim indeed.
What consideration have the Government given to article 10(5) of protocol 36, which I understand specifies overarching conditions regarding the opt-out, and that Commission members need to be satisfied that there is nothing in the UK’s behaviour in making the decision to opt out and then seeking to opt back in that will affect the practical operability of the measures. That will play an important part. Two things occur to me. The first is that it was not quite so easy for Denmark to opt back in. Secondly, how will we maintain the positions that we hold within some of these European institutions while we are no longer part of them? One of the prices that we have to pay for the opt-out may be to diminish rather than strengthen British influence within some of those institutions.
These are all matters worthy of some consideration and scrutiny. I cannot understand why the Home Secretary, on such a matter where one would have thought she needed quite a few allies, is not trying to find greater consensus. It would not be difficult to get agreement in the House that we should now exercise the block opt-out. It is a cumbersome process, but it would not be difficult. I do not see why we are not then using the time available to let Parliament and the Select Committees reach maximum agreement on what we want to opt back into. The Home Secretary opening negotiations and then finding herself in a position where Parliament does not agree with her will hardly strengthen her hand. Rather it will weaken her position. It would be much easier to make requests for transitional arrangements if there were a clear, strong body of opinion behind her in the House. At the moment, since we are not sure what she will try to opt back into and how many of her Back Benchers will support her or undermine her, it is difficult to know which transitional measures we should be getting behind her on. I fear that she is putting the political needs of her party ahead of the need to get this right.
The Home Secretary’s motion is the right motion, introduced in the right way at the right time, although I am somewhat relieved by the Justice Secretary’s acceptance today of amendment (b). I am also relieved that the Foreign Affairs Committee does not seem to be involved in the consultation process, as we have a heavy programme between now and the end of October, and for the life of me I could not see how we would fit in another report.
Across Europe, there is a growing and widespread concern about the direction of Europe. Those who have the bad luck to live in the eurozone have little choice but to live with the mistakes made by their leaders. But those of us outside the eurozone have a golden chance in the next four years to mould an EU that keeps the benefits of the single market, but in rejecting ever-closer union allows us to shed the burdens and inefficiencies that we find so alien to our Anglo-Saxon identity.
Ironically, much of the resentment against the EU arises from judicial decisions of the European Court of Human Rights, which is outside the EU. I put on the record that the Home Secretary has my full support in reviewing membership of the human rights convention, which now seems to be getting an interpretation that could never, ever have been envisaged by its founders.
There is growing dissatisfaction with efforts to harmonise the EU justice systems, which should be focusing like a laser beam on fighting the international crime that swirls around us. We are right to be opting out of the justice and security chapter, and right to be prepared to renegotiate those parts where it is in our national interests to do so. I for one will be watching those negotiations with interest, as they could well be a pointer to the negotiation of a new settlement in 2015. The trick is to build alliances in the negotiations much as we did in the successful negotiation of the banking union agreement last December.
Turning to the European arrest warrant, like other Members who have spoken, I believe that it is right to retain our involvement in that process. As we debate the flaws or merits of the EAW, we do well to recall what promoted both it and the growth of non-EU extradition treaties in the first place: the growing threat of international terrorism. The EAW ensures that dangerous suspects who threaten our security or commit crimes on British soil are held to account by our jurisdiction. Its fundamental aim is to serve the national interest, and it has already been proven to do just that. We lose its effectiveness at our peril.
The EAW has enabled a faster, simpler and more cost-effective extradition process for convicted offenders and criminal suspects right across Europe, and the statistics back that up. Before the EAW was introduced in 2004, extradition took, on average, a year. Today that has been cut to an average of 48 days, or 16 days if the suspect agrees to surrender. Since the EAW was introduced the number of extraditions has increased significantly, and it continues to rise year on year. Since 2009 we have issued around 150 warrants each year so that people suspected of committing crimes on British soil can be brought to justice. The number of suspected criminals who have been extradited to European countries over the same period has risen from 772 to over 1,000, and that includes sex offenders, rapists and murderers.
Almost all those suspected criminals—this is the important point—are non-UK fugitives seeking to avoid justice in their own countries. Over the past four years there have been 4,005 extradition requests from EU member states, of which only 181 were for the extradition of UK nationals, which is fewer than 5%, so 95% of those applications were for foreign nationals. When the hon. Members for Belfast East (Naomi Long) and for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Steve McCabe) ask what will happen in the interim period and whether the other members will renegotiate, I must say that it is highly unlikely that they will forgo the opportunity to get those several thousand fugitives who are using this country for sanctuary.
I am sure that the hon. Gentleman is right and that those countries will have their reasons, but it is also highly unlikely that in those circumstances they would be terribly willing to entertain the changes to the European arrest warrant that some of his hon. Friends are seeking.
My assessment is that most of the cases are so serious that the measures on triviality and proportionality will have no impact whatsoever, and I am quite confident that the other nations will agree. Indeed, they might look at their own position in order to have some sort of parallel agreement.
There are several high-profile extradition cases for which we have the EAW to thank. A number of Members have mentioned the bomber Hussain Osman, who plotted the unsuccessful 21/7 bombing attacks on the London underground. He was extradited back to the UK from Italy in less than eight weeks. Let us compare that with the Algerian Rashid Ramda, who had been granted refugee status. He was wanted in connection with a terrorist attack on the Paris metro in 1995 that killed and injured dozens of people. It took 10 years to extradite him from the United Kingdom to France. In the climate in which we operate, we need to react fast to terrorist threats.
In my book, the European arrest warrant is a victory for justice, for victims and for law-abiding citizens in the UK. Of course we must recognise its shortcomings, which need to be fixed, and I welcome the Government’s decision to address those in the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill.
I applaud the Home Secretary’s resolve to seek to rejoin the European arrest warrant after opting out of all 133 EU law and order measures in the Lisbon treaty. I must confess that I am disappointed that her pragmatic strategy to help us fight EU-wide organised crime and terrorism has provoked so much controversy. She recognises that the EAW creates a more efficient, simpler, quicker, cheaper, more reliable and less political system of extradition. It increases the mutual trust between member states and their enforcement agencies.
Without the EAW, the victims of crime would get a poorer deal, as we would have to rely on the 1957 Council of Europe convention on extradition and bilateral agreements. They are inefficient, slow and expensive, and they, too, would suffer from all the faults identified in the European arrest warrant. They would result in fewer and slower extraditions, which would be worse for suspects and victims. We would return to the bad old days when British criminals could flee to European capitals and find safe haven. The chairman of the Bar Council, no less, has said that losing the European arrest warrant
“would directly threaten law and order in the UK.”
The chief executive of the Law Society has said that opting out
“could have significant negative implications for the administration of justice in the UK.”
To all those who are ideologically opposed to the EU project—I respect their positions—I say that this is not about losing our sovereignty to the EU. It is not advocating a closer political union with the EU. Under the EAW, unlike its predecessor, EU member states can no longer refuse to extradite their citizens on grounds of nationality. Extradition no longer requires a political decision for a suspect to be handed over. The European arrest warrant is not a political instrument; it is an instrument that works in the interests of justice and in our national interest, and if we fight and lose it, we will jeopardise the fight against serious cross-border crime. Let us not play politics with this very serious issue.
I begin by welcoming the revised motion tabled by the Government and their acceptance of the amendment from the Chair of the Justice Committee, which I think reflects well on the role that each of the Select Committee Chairs has played and on the Government’s preparedness to listen to the views of Select Committees. As a member of the European Scrutiny Committee and the Home Affairs Committee, I look forward to taking part in the scrutiny that we now understand will take place.
I cannot separate the question of the European arrest warrant, or the other measures that the Government have announced they intend to opt into, from the European area of freedom, security and justice. My view on these matters is determined by my view of the European Union’s so-called area. I do not believe that it is a question of simply looking at individual measures and deciding whether opting in or out or co-operating here or there is in the national interest; my view is that the national interest is a question of this House and this Parliament determining the laws to which we are to be made subject.
I have heard the case that has been made for the European arrest warrant. It might be that, on balance, it is helpful in co-operation, but I do not know about that. If one accepted that view, one would have to ignore the many cases that have been brought to attention where it has been used disproportionately, for example for the theft of a piglet, a pudding, a wheelbarrow, as we heard earlier, or some wardrobe doors.
There are also cases in which the extradition of UK citizens from this country has been sought by European Union member states in which the standards of justice to which they have been exposed have been well below those that we would expect to see in this country. That includes people being put on trial for very serious offences, having already been acquitted of those offences, only to be told much later that the whole charge against them was to be dropped. There is a long list of such cases in which the European arrest warrant has gone wrong, and they have been well documented, and I think that was reflected in the critical testimony that Lord Justice Thomas, the senior extradition judge, gave the review on extradition led by Mr Justice Scott Baker.
It has been interesting to hear in the debate how the civil liberties guns have in some cases fallen silent as the guns for pro-European integration have been fired on all cylinders. Even if one accepted that, on balance, the European arrest warrant was a good thing and that it was necessary in fighting serious crime and bringing serious criminals and terrorists to justice—we have certainly heard a long list of those cases produced—heaven help us if it occurs to those serious criminals and terrorists to move from a European Union country to a non-member state because, on the basis of what we have heard today, it would seem impossible to bring about their extradition unless the European arrest warrant was involved, which it would not be in those cases.
Even if we accept that, the question is whether we should be part of the European area of freedom, security and justice at all. There will be those who say that that would be a good thing, that it would help to fight crime and that we should sign up to it lock, stock and barrel. I think that if the Opposition were honest, that would be their stated position—their underlying position, at any rate. I notice that no dissent is coming from the Opposition Benches to that last comment.
However, if we sign up lock, stock and barrel, or to individual measures in the area of freedom, security and justice—including, obviously, the 35 suggested measures—we will, in each case, be handing legislative and judicial supremacy to the European Union institutions and the European Court of Justice. That means that voters in this country will no longer be determining through their choice of Government the laws to which they are subject; instead, the law will be made through EU processes, with the European Commission having the right to initiate proposals, and qualified majority voting and co-decision operating at a European level. In such cases, British courts can be overridden by a European Court.
I note in passing a point well made in an intervention from my hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset (Jacob Rees-Mogg): henceforth we would be subject to the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice and the infringement procedure of the European Commission in respect of whatever measures we decided to opt into. I find that curious, particularly in light of the cases that have arisen in the past week as a result of this country’s being subject to the overriding jurisdiction of a European Court—another European Court admittedly, but a European Court none the less. Those cases have been an example of what happens when we sign up to supranational jurisdictions. What frustration have our voters felt over the years over the case of Mr Abu Qatada and the repeated occasions on which—
If we establish that we are participating in a body of European law or any international law, we obviously need some kind of jurisdiction process to judge whether those laws—not all laws—are being fairly applied. Otherwise, every member state would make up the rules as they went along. Presumably, the hon. Gentleman would be the first in line to accuse other countries of not sticking to the rules.
The hon. Gentleman should be aware of the frustration felt in the House, which led the Government to say that they were leaving open the option of leaving the European Court of Human Rights altogether. Such was their frustration, which, obviously, he does not feel. The frustration is that British courts and the Supreme Court of this country have been overridden by a supranational jurisdiction. Through the measures under discussion, we would be signing up to more supranational jurisdiction. Heaven knows how much more frustration the voters of this country will feel in the future when that jurisdiction is exercised as it has just been.
I am afraid the hon. Gentleman is hopelessly mixing up his European Courts. The European Court of Human Rights has nothing to do with the fair application of European Union law; we abide by it through our own choice by virtue of our membership of the European convention on human rights.
The hon. Gentleman is being less than fair, as I made it clear that I was referring to another European Court. My point is about supranational jurisdiction conferred on courts outside this country. That applies in this case because we are signing up to the European Court of Justice’s jurisdiction, just as we are signed up to the jurisdiction of the European Court of Human Rights. That means that British courts and the will of the British people as expressed through this Parliament can be overridden.
One can add to the case of Abu Qatada the frustration that voters have felt over whole-life sentences no longer being allowed as a result of the European Court of Human Rights. There are multifarious other cases as well.
I felt I should intervene on my hon. Friend following the intervention from my hon. Friend the Member for Cheltenham (Martin Horwood). I do not think the European Court of Human Rights can dictate to our courts. In the Abu Hamza case, it said that the nine injunctions were not binding on our courts. They are certainly not binding on this Parliament. If the Government choose to act on them because of the ministerial code, that is for the Government, but the injunctions are not binding on our courts or Parliament.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. He will reflect, as I do, on the position taken by the Government in light of that fact. However, the European Court of Justice will have authority over this country in the case of the measures under discussion. Its decisions will be final and beyond appeal, and we will have to abide by them if they go against us. We are voluntarily subjecting ourselves to that jurisdiction.
Those who want us to be part of the European area of freedom, security and justice should be under no illusions as to the extent of the European Union’s ambition to take away sovereignty from this Parliament in that field. That is, after all, one of the specific objectives spelled out in the EU treaty:
“The Union shall offer its citizens an area of freedom, security and justice without internal frontiers”.
There are those who say that instead of signing up to the EU area of freedom, security and justice, we can pick and choose which individual measures we should adhere to and suggest that they stand on their own merits rather than being part of the EU system as a whole. In a way, that is choosing to dine à la carte from the EU menu. However, the problem with dining à la carte is that if someone keeps on doing it, they end up trying everything on the menu.