Skip to main content

Eurojust and the European Public Prosecutor’s Office

Volume 569: debated on Tuesday 29 October 2013

[Relevant Document: 15th Report from the European Scrutiny Committee, HC 83-xv, Chapters 2 and 3.]

I beg to move,

That this House takes note of European Union Documents No. 12566/13, a draft Regulation on the European Union Agency for Criminal Justice Co-operation (Eurojust), and No. 12558/13 and Addenda 1 and 2, a draft Regulation on the establishment of a European Public Prosecutor’s Office (EPPO); agrees with the Government that the UK should not opt in to the draft Regulation on the Eurojust at this time and should conduct a thorough review of the final agreed text to inform active consideration of opting into the Eurojust Regulation, post adoption, in consultation with Parliament; and further agrees with the Government that the UK should not participate in the establishment of any European Public Prosecutor’s Office.

On 17 July, the European Commission formally proposed the establishment of a European public prosecutor’s office and reforms to the existing European Union body, Eurojust. This triggered the UK’s opt-in protocol. The Government have been clear that we will not participate in the EPPO. As is clear from the motion, the Government also recommend that we should not opt into the new Eurojust proposal at the start of negotiations, but should conduct a thorough review of the final agreed text to inform active consideration of opting in post-adoption.

As the coalition agreement makes plain, we will put the United Kingdom’s national interest at the heart of every decision that we make on whether to participate in new European Union crime and policing measures. Our law enforcement and prosecution agencies must work closely with their counterparts in other European countries to combat the threat of cross-border crime. That does not mean, however, that we should sign up to new EU legislation that is not in the UK’s national interest.

I am sure that the House is clear about our position on the European public prosecutor’s office. As was established during a thorough debate in the House only a week ago, the Commission’s EPPO proposal is fundamentally flawed on many levels, not least in failing to pass the subsidiarity test. I am pleased to say that there has now been a sufficient number of votes in member states’ national Parliaments—including the House of Commons last week and the other place last night—to result in the issue of what is termed a yellow card, which means that the Commission is now required to review its proposal.

I welcome what the Minister has just said about the number of votes that will ensure that a review will take place. Will he confirm that, if the Government were minded to proceed with the opt-in—which I am glad they are not—that would require the endorsement of the British people, given the provision that any extra powers going to Brussels requires their endorsement through a referendum?

That is absolutely correct. The proposal for the creation of a European public prosecutor was framed specifically in those terms, and it would therefore require the endorsement of the public. I think that that is because, owing to the significant impact that it would have on the criminal justice system, the change would be so significant and fundamental—for reasons that I shall explain shortly—that it would require the backing not just not of Parliament but of the public.

The flaws in the EPPO proposal frame the context in which we must also consider the Eurojust proposal. The reforms proposed to Eurojust would involve deep connections with the EPPO, because the legal base for the EPPO requires it to be created “from Eurojust”. The Commission has sought to reflect that by creating operational, management and administrative links between the two bodies. That includes the exchange of data, including personal data; automatic cross-checking of data held on each body’s IT system; and Eurojust’s treating any request for support from the EPPO as if it had been received from a national competent authority.

At a time when we do not know what the EPPO will look like—given that the Commission must now review its proposal following the yellow card—let alone how the relationship between it and Eurojust might ultimately be defined in either text, it would be irresponsible in the extreme for us to risk binding ourselves to the European public prosecutor through our participation in the new Eurojust proposal. That would be a needless risk, given that we can review our place in Eurojust on its adoption.

Does the Minister not think it particularly unfortunate that when the functions performed by Eurojust are so necessary and so valuable, our ability to co-operate in that mechanism should be impaired by its becoming interlocked with a proposal with which we disagree?

That is an important point. As my right hon. Friend will know, the Government believe that the existing structure for Eurojust works well, and provides for effective practical co-operation in dealing with cross-border criminality. I shall develop that point further during my speech.

We also need to consider what the coalition programme says about preserving the integrity of our criminal justice system when deciding whether to opt into a new justice and home affairs proposal. The new Eurojust proposal would create mandatory powers for national members—powers that would allow it to require coercive measures at a national level. This House will already be aware that we have expressed concerns about any such powers being granted to Europol, the EU police agency, and our concerns hold true in this regard too. The proposed text goes further in explicitly requiring that those based in The Hague would be able to insist that national authorities take investigative measures in certain circumstances. That could, for example, include requiring them to issue a search warrant in the UK. That would cut across the division of responsibilities and separation of powers between police and prosecutors in England and Wales and Northern Ireland. It also fails to take into account the role of the independent judiciary in ensuring that certain coercive measures are granted to police in appropriate circumstances. Moreover, the proposals would conflict with the role of the Lord Advocate in Scotland, who has the sole, ultimate responsibility for determining investigative action in Scotland. That would be undermined by the proposed powers.

These are not matters of mere technicality. They are about fundamental aspects of our systems of law and would require wholesale and unjustified changes in order to be implemented. They would also conflict with the principle that operational decisions are best made as close to the operational level as possible, and would disrupt the operational independence of our law enforcement officials and prosecutors.

Has the Republic of Ireland agreed to sign up to Eurojust and the European public prosecutor’s office, in which case can the Minister assure the House that the UK’s reluctance to agree to either of them would have no negative impact on the very good working relationships between the Garda Siochana in the Republic of Ireland and the Police Service of Northern Ireland?

The hon. Lady makes an important point. The Republic of Ireland has said it will not be opting into the new Eurojust measure at this point in time because of concerns it has. That underlines that the UK is not in any way isolated on this matter. There are genuine and real concerns about the Eurojust measure, in large measure because of the interconnection with the EPPO. Various Parliaments around the EU do not support this measure, as shown by the yellow card having been issued in relation to the EPPO proposal.

I am grateful to the Minister for being so clear in identifying real problems with both proposals, and I urge him to dig in. We do not want these changes and I am glad he is standing up for us.

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for the support he offers for the Government position. We have clearly set out genuine and real issues in relation to both these measures challenging some of the fundamental principles and aspects of our criminal justice system.

We also have concerns about the risks of reducing member states’ influence under the proposal’s revised governance arrangements. For example, the Commission has proposed the creation of an executive board with a very narrow composition, including the Commission itself, that would, among other things,

“prepare the decisions to be adopted by the College”—

the college being the body on which all member state national members of Eurojust sit. Moreover, the Commission has not proposed the creation of a management board along the lines of that which oversees Europol, which we think is better suited to effective governance of such agencies. In short, the proposal’s governance arrangements are unsound.

Fundamentally, we do not consider that the new Eurojust proposal is even needed at this time. The current legislation is still undergoing a peer evaluation which will not complete until next year, and the Commission has not put forward a convincing case as to why the new proposal is needed. There is not even a specific impact assessment from the Commission for its Eurojust proposal.

The Minister mentioned the Lord Advocate of Scotland. What discussions has the Minister had with the Scottish Government and other devolved Administrations? What did they say to him about the Eurojust proposals?

Consultation has taken place with the Scottish Government and with the devolved Administration in Northern Ireland to keep them apprised of the examination of this measure and to highlight the significant issues at stake. From the outset, this Government have made clear their opposition to a European public prosecutor’s office, for the reasons I have enunciated this evening. I do not think that there is any surprise about the steps that have been taken or, because of the fundamental nature of the objections that I have highlighted, any fundamental objection to the proposals I am setting out and to our seeking the House’s authorisation in the manner we are tonight.

The only rationale for the Eurojust proposal seems to be that in order for an EPPO proposal to be brought forward the Commission had to take into account the treaty requirement for it to be established “from Eurojust”. Our law enforcement agencies and prosecutors already work closely with Eurojust as it currently operates; this House will be aware that we are part of the current agency. They value the support it provides, but they must retain discretion to make decisions at a national level. Indeed, the Government value the current Eurojust arrangements, which support judicial co-operation arrangements, helping to co-ordinate serious cross-border crime investigations and prosecutions. The case of the murders in Annecy in France in early September 2012 demonstrates the value of the current Eurojust arrangements. The UK and French national desks at Eurojust were instrumental in co-ordinating activity that led to a joint investigation team, and in clarifying the legal and procedural options in each country. That is why we are seeking to rejoin those arrangements as part of the 2014 opt-out decision.

We also take seriously our commitment to tackling fraud against the EU’s budget, but we believe that the most effective approach is prevention, not the creation of a new EU prosecutor. The UK has a zero-tolerance approach to all fraud, with robust management controls and payment systems in place that seek to prevent incidences of EU fraud. We have welcomed recently agreed changes to EU payment procedures and the reform of OLAF, the EU’s anti-fraud office, to improve the reporting systems and investigations. Once they are fully in place, they will support existing and future UK investigations and prosecutions.

The Commission’s approach with the proposals under consideration today is, therefore, unnecessary and, as I have set out, the content raises substantial concerns. That leads us to conclude that we should not participate in the new Eurojust proposal at the start of negotiations. We will instead undertake to play an active role in negotiations on both Eurojust and the EPPO, seeking amendments to the Eurojust regulation to meet our needs while engaging in discussions on the EPPO to protect against any attempt to bypass our non-participation through the back door of Eurojust. At the end of negotiations, we will thoroughly review the Eurojust final text and actively consider opting in—in consultation with Parliament—on the basis of that final assessment.

If the final text remained unacceptable and we were not able to participate in it, there would obviously be risks for our longer-term participation in Eurojust. Depending on what was finally agreed, an assessment would need to be made on whether we could remain within the old arrangements, subject to the outcome of the separate work on the 2014 decision, or whether the institutions would seek to eject us from Eurojust and we would need to seek alternate co-operation arrangements. Given that we do not expect to have sight of the final text much before the middle of 2015, it is hard to speculate on the final outcome, particularly in the light of the recent developments of the yellow card having been issued in relation to the measure for the EPPO. What I can reiterate is that we will work to get the text into a place where it is able to meet our significant concerns.

Over the considerable period in which the subject can be discussed, can we not seek allies among our fellow member states from those who recognise that different legal systems with different distributions of powers within them must be recognised by any EU-wide arrangement and that the text should therefore be changed?

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for his contribution and I know that he was consistent on that point during our debate on subsidiarity last week. That view has been expressed by a large number of national Parliaments across the EU and it is now for the Commission to reflect on that message in the context of subsidiarity and on whether there are more appropriate ways, as we would argue, to deal with the issue of combating fraud in the EU.

As I have already said, Ireland has announced its intention not to exercise its opt-in to the new Eurojust proposal at the start of negotiations and, of course, Denmark cannot participate in post-Lisbon justice and home affairs measures such as this. All member states have a shared interest in ensuring that the final proposals work with all member states’ criminal justice systems, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Sir Alan Beith) has said, rather than adopting the Commission’s unworkable one-size-fits-all approach.

Let me conclude by making clear our commitment to the current Eurojust arrangements and our intention to negotiate to protect those arrangements, and our view that as the proposal stands it poses too high a risk to our criminal justice systems to opt in at this stage. Today’s motion is in the national interest and I urge the House to support it.

I thank the Minister for his characteristically thorough and detailed explanation of the motion.

Tonight the House is discussing the two issues of European co-operation on justice and home affairs: Eurojust and the European public prosecutor’s office. If anyone is feeling a sense of déjà-vu, that is because the House discussed the EPPO this time last week. Indeed, there was a rare moment of unity when those on both sides of the House agreed with the Government, the previous Government and the European Scrutiny Committee that the creation of the EPPO did not meet the test of subsidiarity and that the UK should therefore opt out. In government, Labour secured an opt-out from the EPPO and in opposition we support the Government in continuing to use that opt-out. We have also heard that the yellow card has now been issued.

Given the degree of unity in the House and as we debated it at length last week, I do not intend to dwell on the subject of the EPPO. I note what the Minister said about the links between the EPPO and Eurojust, but I think that we should particularly consider Eurojust.

To recap, Eurojust was established in 2002 and in 2001 the EU Commission conceived its role as

“facilitating cooperation between Member States and contributing to proper coordination of prosecutions in the area of serious, and organised, crime.”

Its concern is so-called “annex 1” crimes such as drug trafficking, human trafficking, terrorism and financial crimes. Those are serious crimes that constantly evolve and adapt. Increasingly, they cross borders and require co-operation between different jurisdictions. The importance of Eurojust to the UK is underlined by the fact that there have been 1,459 requests from EU member states for co-operation with Britain through Eurojust since 2003, with 190 requests made in 2012 alone. It is therefore a little disconcerting to see the Government playing the hokey cokey—we are in at the moment, but now we are opting out although, in principle, we might be back in again in the future.

The primary functions of Eurojust have been and will continue to be the facilitation of co-operation between member states. Eurojust is required to respond to any request from a member state and to facilitate co-operation. That role means that Eurojust must inform member states of investigations and prosecutions that are occurring in a different member state but affect the member state; assist the competent authorities of the member states in the co-ordination of investigations and prosecutions; provide assistance to improve co-operation between member states; co-operate and consult with the European judicial network in criminal matters; and provide operational, technical and financial support to member states’ cross-border operations and investigations, including joint investigation teams.

The key thing to remember is that Eurojust seeks to support member states in conducting investigations, unlike the EPPO, which seeks to undertake the prosecutions itself. The distinction is vital and the aim of the British Government should be to continue that element of Eurojust.

The hon. Lady talked about the hokey cokey of the Government’s position. Can she be clear whether the Opposition advocate that the UK opt in now, based on the draft regulation as it stands, with all the supra-national transfers of power entailed in it?

I shall come later in my remarks to what I think the Government should have been doing leading up to this point—making sure that the aspects that they were concerned about were discussed. I shall put a series of questions to the Minister about how many conversations and dialogues took place with the EU to try to get the regulation in a form that was more acceptable to the Government.

As Eurojust is based on co-operation, it places obligations on members to co-operate with joint investigations, and these obligations are set to increase. I shall come back to that. If the Government are serious about tackling human trafficking, terrorism or financial crime, for example, they need to be serious about working with European partners, but I am concerned that the Government seem to be sitting on the sidelines. Their current position appears to be that they would like the UK to stay in Eurojust as it is now, but they are content to let everyone else get on with a new Eurojust, which they are not part of, but which they hope they might get back into in the future. What we should do is work with our European partners to get a Eurojust system that works for us.

I find it difficult to take the hon. Lady’s point in respect of what the Government are doing. Is she implying that we should opt in now, without knowing what will be in the regulation, in order to seek to influence it?

I shall come on to some of the issues that the Government should have been considering in the lead-up to the motion today, but we will not oppose the motion. However, we have questions about how we got to this point and whether there could have been a proper negotiation with Eurojust that we might have supported. We have never supported the EPPO. That was very clear in the debate that we had last week.

Has the hon. Lady ever tried to have a conversation on these issues with Commissioner Reding? It is very much like talking to a brick wall which, if it is moving at all, is moving away from one’s own position. If she had ever had such a conversation, she would understand the difficulty that the Government might have on occasion.

Clearly, I am not in government, so I am not in a position to have such conversations, but it is important that the Opposition raise questions about what the Government have been talking to their EU partners about and whether they have been able to form any of the alliances that other hon. Members have mentioned to get the best possible way forward.

Do the hon. Lady and her party agree that we do not want more transfers of power over our criminal justice system to the EU and that we wish to protect our common law traditions?

As I just said, we are interested in trying to deal with crimes such as human trafficking, financial fraud and the serious organised crimes that go across borders, which are not about what is happening in the UK but are Europe-wide and global. We should make sure that we have procedures in place to ensure co-operation where it is useful.

The three main aims of the reforms are, as we understand it, to increase democratic accountability to member states’ legislatures; to increase efficiency through more streamlined management structures; and to improve EU member states’ effectiveness in the increasingly globalised fight against organised crime. All are laudable aims with which I am sure we all agree. Equally laudable is the aim of increasing our effectiveness in tackling cross-border crime. The Government’s current objections can be divided into those that need working through, which we recognise, and those that, I suggest, appear to be spurious.

The major change, and the one that we recognise poses the biggest challenge, is the appointment of the national member. Under the proposed reform, member states will second a national member—a prosecutor, judge or police officer—to work full time at Eurojust. Member states will grant national members the power to fulfil the task conferred on them by the Eurojust regulation. That means national members, once appointed, will bear responsibility for ensuring that their member states co-operate with Eurojust, including through legal assistance, information exchanges, liaising with international bodies and assisting in joint investigation teams. National members, working with other competent authorities from member states, will also:

“a) order investigative measures;

b) authorise and coordinate controlled deliveries in the Member State in accordance with national legislation.”

The Opposition accept that the appointment of national members represents a big step up for the role of Eurojust. We fully recognise that it is not acceptable for the national member to be in a position of oversight over the UK criminal justice system. I reiterate that we do not support any move to cede prosecuting powers to the EU, either to the EPPO or through some mechanism of Eurojust. However, we would like to see the Government attempt to reconcile those proposals with the current set-up in our criminal justice system.

The Government appear concerned that, as currently formulated, the proposals could allow Eurojust to order investigations, or even prosecutions, that duplicate efforts already under way in the UK. Prosecutions in the UK of course require the consent of the Director of Public Prosecutions, while investigation of most of the crimes listed in annex 1 are the responsibility of the newly formed National Crime Agency. Perhaps the Minister will explain what work is being done to look at the possibility of drawing the national member from one of those bodies and work on the basis of a memorandum of understanding to ensure that the UK retains sovereignty over our systems while improving cross-border co-operation. As has been mentioned, special arrangements will need to be put in place for Scotland.

Unfortunately, special arrangements will also have to be considered for Northern Ireland, because the National Crime Agency’s jurisdiction cannot be extended in full to Northern Ireland as a result of opposition from two parties, Sinn Fein and the Social Democratic and Labour party. It is most unfortunate indeed.

The hon. Lady is right that the National Crime Agency does not cover Northern Ireland. I am grateful to her for reminding me.

The Commission envisages a special relationship between the EPPO and Eurojust, as I mentioned at the beginning and as the Minister set out. Of course we need to ensure that countries that are not involved in the EPPO—it is clear that the UK will not be, and others have already declared that they will be opting out—can still enjoy the co-operation of Eurojust without being drawn into the EPPO, which we all agree is a bad idea.

The Opposition have less sympathy for some of the other concerns that the Minister put forward, particularly his concern about the European convention on human rights. It might be helpful if he explained that a little more. Our major concern remains that the Government seem prepared to allow the rest of Europe to go along with these matters without us being at the table.

With respect, the hon. Lady has still not answered the question that my hon. Friend the Member for Rochester and Strood (Mark Reckless) asked: does she advocate opting in now, and therefore being locked in?

I think that I made it very clear to the hon. Gentleman that we will not be opposing the motion this evening, but we have questions on what the Government have been doing up to now to ensure that this is not the only avenue open to them, and whether we might have been able to get some agreement before we ended up where we are today. Our major concern remains that the Government seem to have been prepared to allow the rest of Europe to go along without us, and instead of working for reforms that protect the rights of the UK they are allowing the rest of the European Union to set up an agreement that works for it and then saying, “We’ll make a decision later.”

I have a few questions I would like the Minister to respond to, either in his winding-up speech or in writing. What work is being done to look at how a national member could be appointed for the UK? Is there any mileage in that proposal? Will the Minister confirm the timetable? According to the European Scrutiny Committee, the deadline is 21 November, but the Minister has suggested, both in written evidence to the Committee and in the House, that the Government will wait until at least 2014, possibly later. Does the deadline of 21 November still stand?

Will the Minister clearly confirm the Government’s position on the current Eurojust arrangements? It is a little disconcerting that the motion does not contain a commitment to maintain the current arrangements and agreements, even though the Home Secretary indicated to the Home Affairs Committee that that is the Government’s desired outcome. Is that correct?

I am happy to clarify that the existing Eurojust measure was on the list of 35 measures that we would seek to opt back into following the exercise of our block opt-out. Obviously, they are being analysed by the relevant Select Committees, so we will await their determination before taking further action.

I am grateful to the Minister for that clarification.

When did the Government actually get around to raising concerns about the structure of Eurojust and the EPPO at EU level? Those concerns are set out in a memorandum dated 7 August 2013, but surely the Government’s efforts to secure a better outcome began before that. The Government had various chances to discuss Eurojust’s future with the Commission, so did they raise those concerns?

For example, a strategic seminar entitled, “Eurojust and the Lisbon treaty: Toward more effective action”, was held in Bruges in September 2010. Did the Government raise then any of the concerns that they are raising now? There was another opportunity to discuss Eurojust’s future at an event marking its 10th anniversary at the European Council in February 2012. A Eurojust and Academy of European Law conference called “Ten years of Eurojust: Operational Achievements and Future Challenges” was held at The Hague in November 2012. Were the concerns raised then?

On 18 October 2012, the Commission consulted member state experts and others about a possible reform of Eurojust. According to the Commission:

“The meeting generally supported improving Eurojust’s governance structure and efficiency.”

What did the UK representatives say at that meeting? The Commission then instigated a consultation on the strengthening of Eurojust. What issues did the Government raise?

What improvements to Eurojust have the Government been pushing for? We all support more effective co-operation on cross-border action against serious crime and it would be helpful to know what work the UK Government have been doing to lead that agenda at European level. It would be good to see the UK setting the agenda, as was the case under the previous Government, rather than watching what happens and complaining when it does not reflect the specific interests of the UK.

Finally, on the justice and home affairs opt-out in general, the Government have found time tonight, as they did last week, for a debate on the Floor of the House, which is to be welcomed. On both occasions, the Government have raised the issue of the opt-out, which is widely supported with regard to the EPPO, but other, more controversial areas of it also warrant proper discussion. As the Minister has said, we are waiting for various Select Committees to publish reports. Will he reiterate the Government’s assurances that time will be made available for a full debate on those reports on the Floor of the House?

I agree with the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Diana Johnson) on one point and disagree with her on another. I agree that there should be a debate on the Floor of the House when the three Select Committees publish their reports. They will provide important guidance to the Government in their negotiations. Where I disagree with her is that it is not sufficient for her to say, “Even if it were true, I would not have started from here.” The question still has to be asked whether the Labour party would, if it had had the opportunity, have opted in to the Eurojust proposal or not. She conspicuously failed to answer that question, except in a way that suggested that she had been given a narrow mandate by somebody in authority in the Labour party.

I start from the proposition that Eurojust is essential and that the European public prosecutor most certainly is not. For the one to get in the way of the other is harmful. Anyone who looked at the documentation for this debate and the excellent work of the European Scrutiny Committee would readily concede that there are many complexities to this matter. However, at its heart, there is a simple issue, which is that whereas cross-border crime requires an effective apparatus that takes advantage of our being in the European Union—we want to maintain those arrangements and it would be greatly contrary to Britain’s interests not to be part of them—the creation of the European public prosecutor is neither necessary nor, in the opinion of many of us, even desirable. That it should stand in the way of British participation and the participation of other countries in Eurojust is seriously harmful.

There are two ways in which the situation that we are confronted with creates difficulties for any British Government, of whatever party political composition. The first is that the proposals on the European public prosecutor and on Eurojust are interlocking. The draft directive on Eurojust incorporates the European public prosecutor so extensively that it makes the position of a state that wants one and not the other very difficult.

The second is that the mandatory powers that are given to national members of Eurojust fly in the face of arrangements in the United Kingdom. Of course, the arrangements throughout the United Kingdom are not uniform. The arrangements in England, Wales and Northern Ireland are quite different from those in Scotland. In Scotland, the Lord Advocate and the procurator fiscal can direct investigations. There is a clear separation between investigation and prosecution in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. Those differences need to be respected. If we can respect those differences in the United Kingdom, surely the European Union can respect the fact that the same objectives can be achieved by different legal systems.

Does the right hon. Gentleman share the concern of many in this House, including the Minister, over the data that are collected by the Commission, which show that the conviction rate in the UK is 23%, when in reality it is about 75%? The data that the Commission collects centrally go against what we are trying to do.

There are many dangers in playing with those statistics. Not least, the objective of a 100% conviction rate seems to undervalue the ability of the court to determine that evidence is not sufficient to support conviction and punishment. We expect our courts to throw out cases that do not have a sound evidential basis. The whole statistical exercise is potentially dangerous and misleading.

I speak for the Liberal Democrats, rather than for the Justice Committee, because, oddly enough, this is a home affairs power rather than a justice power, and there is no doubt that we want to be in Eurojust. We do not want Eurojust to be complicated by the wholly different proposal for a European public prosecutor, and we do not want Britain’s participation to be impaired in any way.

The motion is carefully worded. It asserts that

“the UK should not opt in to the draft Regulation on the Eurojust at this time and should conduct a thorough review of the final agreed text to inform active consideration of opting into the Eurojust Regulation, post adoption”.

That wording is most ingeniously crafted. What I want it to mean is that we will make substantial efforts to ensure that we get a Eurojust regulation that meets our needs and those of a number of other member states that share our concerns and that can be allies in putting this matter right, so that there can be no doubt about our future co-operation in these arrangements, which greatly assist us in dealing with cross-border crime and catching up with fleeing criminals who dodge around the nations of Europe. That is of immense importance to us. I look forward to the Government’s active involvement in trying to get the Eurojust proposal right so that we can opt in to it in due course.

This motion must be considered in the context of the EU’s wider ambitions for a single policy on justice and home affairs. As mentioned earlier, the EU Justice Commissioner and vice-president, Viviane Reding, has a huge stake in this matter, and in a far-reaching speech last month she spoke about the considerable momentum towards developing a pan-European criminal code and institutions, replete with a European justice Minister—I dare say Ms Reding has a candidate in mind—and with detailed monitoring and sanctioning powers at Commission level. Those include new powers to uphold EU fundamental rights—a sort of triplication of the human rights legal framework, bearing in mind Strasbourg’s role in the Human Rights Act 1998 and UK jurisdiction, and an expanded role for the European Court of Justice. That is the clear ambition within the Commission and the broader EU. With that in mind, this is also a critical juncture for Britain. We remain poised to exercise our crime and policing opt-out under the Lisbon treaty. It is therefore the right moment—an important crossroads, perhaps—to think strategically about Britain’s criminal justice co-operation in the EU.

On the specifics of the motion, I fully support the Government’s intention not to be part of the European public prosecutor’s office. That initiative is obviously—transparently—a preliminary stepping stone towards a much more far-reaching EU prosecutor, and it must be nipped in the bud. Although it is limited, at least on the surface, to countering fraud against the EU, under current terms the EPPO would take powers away from Eurojust. It would have the power to compel UK police to hand over evidence, and to order UK prosecutors to take action. Through its relationship with Eurojust, it could place wider burdens of co-operation on member states. The scope of those obligations will, of course, be decided by the Commission, and ultimately by the European Court. As the Minister has said, we must stay out of such a measure. I welcome the Government’s decision and the Minister’s clarity of purpose and position.

We ought to emphasise the positive and we should preserve and retain our national criminal justice system. That system is steeped in a very different tradition from the civil, continental tradition, and in a different set of values. As hon. Members have already said, it is also steeped in a different functional division of law enforcement powers that enshrines a uniquely British conception of justice—one that is firm but fair.

The Eurojust regulation is a more finely balanced question. I worked in The Hague and with Eurojust, which has done important work in recent years serving as a college of co-operating national prosecutors. Personally, as the Minister has said, I would prefer it to have continued down that route and in its current form, but the new regulation gives the Commission a seat on a new executive board and places a duty on Eurojust to forge a special relationship with the EPPO. It also imposes additional stronger duties of information sharing on member states, including the UK if it signs up.

The EU Select Committee has highlighted the new powers given to representatives at Eurojust to bypass national authorities in order to process requests for sharing information or evidence, and I pay tribute to its excellent work. Again, all that would be interpreted and enforced by the Commission and the European Court, while increasing our contribution to the EU budget. I note that the Minister and the Government share those concerns and do not intend to opt in at this time. However, they leave open the prospect of “active consideration” of the case for opting in when the final text is agreed.

The Opposition position on this matter is totally hopeless. They recognise the defects in the regulation and accept the motion that the Government have put before the House. They know the Government are actively resisting the supranational elements and creeping supranational character that some seek to impose on Eurojust, yet they criticise the Government for not being in the negotiation now. Such negotiation would, of course, mean that we were irreversibly tied in to the new regime if it cannot be changed. That is utterly untenable and the kind of thing one hears only from the Opposition.

If hon. Members want to be churlish, they might question why the Government are rightly critical of the proposals, yet rather more enthusiastic about them for the future. I am not sure why that is, but I will limit myself to seeking confirmation from the Minister that the House will have an opportunity to debate and vote in advance of any later decision.

I am happy to assure my hon. Friend that, if there were a subsequent recommendation to opt back in on the final approved text, I would envisage the process we are going through tonight being replicated. I can confirm to him that we are keeping the option open to opt back in at that later stage precisely for the operational reasons to which he alludes—the benefits of Eurojust as it is currently constructed.

I thank the Minister for setting out the Government’s position with admirable clarity.

Given that we are discussing the substance of Eurojust and its evolution, I want to take this opportunity to ask more broadly what strategic thinking has been done on our wider future justice and home affairs relationship. What consultations has the UK had with the Commission and other member states on renegotiating Britain’s wider relationship with the EU in that critical area? It is right to assess each regulation or measure case by case, on its individual merits and substance, in a sober and pragmatic way—the Minister has done that cogently this evening—but, at the same time, we need to look to the bigger picture and the longer-term horizon.

I worry that we will drift into a disjointed, albeit bespoke, relationship with Eurojust and the wider JHA framework almost by default, annoying our European partners without satisfying our national interest, risking the worst of all worlds. Would it not be better to grasp the nettle and spell out proactively, on the front foot, what strategic JHA relationship we want, and why that will serve the EU’s interest as well as the British national interest? In my view, that means a British commitment to be a good operational partner, with all the resources, know-how and expertise we bring to the game, but without sacrificing democratic control over such a sensitive area of national policy. It means saying to our European friends that our co-operation within Eurojust will improve operationally as trust and confidence develop, but that we cannot accept any further transfers of authority or control to the supranational level.

When my hon. Friend was a witness in the Home Affairs Committee, he recommended that, in respect of Europol, we might want to adopt the Frontex model. Does he believe that that could be an appropriate model for Eurojust?

My hon. Friend is, as ever, spot on. Each area is fundamentally functionally different, but Frontex shows that countries do not have to be formal members that have signed up in a formal way to be active operational partners. We have heard that from the head of Frontex. It is at least a starting point for evolving our relationship with Eurojust and Europol. If, as I suspect, others within the Commission and member states want to go down the federalising route, that option should be clearly discussed now. We should be on the front foot, and not ashamed or beguiled from talking about it.

We need to make it clear that we cannot accept any further transfers of authority, or the salami-slicing of national democratic authority—that is what we are seeing in the attempts to upgrade Eurojust and Europol. Will there ever be a better moment to have that candid but constructive conversation with our EU partners? I doubt it. Government Members have a commitment to renegotiate our relationship with the EU and to put the renegotiated deal to the British people in a referendum. We know that the British people care. According to a ComRes poll for Open Europe last year, repatriating UK control over crime and policing ranks fourth on the public’s list of priorities for renegotiation. That is very high compared with the other priorities surveyed. We also know that there is significant scepticism among the wider public at large on whether any politicians keep their promises on Europe.

The Labour party is responsible for that haemorrhaging of trust. The Government have a genuine chance to rebuild public trust. That ought to start with the decisions we are taking now and over the next six months on crime and policing, underscored by a two-pronged strategic approach to our future JHA relationship with the EU—one that pledges the full operational co-operation of a strategic ally but defends the return of full democratic control, which the British people want and expect.

It is a pleasure to speak in this debate and to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Esher and Walton (Mr Raab). His arguments were well put and I completely agree with them. I will try not to copy him too much, but he nailed the point that this measure is completely tied to the European public prosecutor’s office. It is a building block of it, and a morphing of what Eurojust was originally set up to do, taking it much further than any of us in this House would like.

In last week’s debate, we did not get to the issue of what exactly the European public prosecutor’s office is, probably because the Minister asked us not to stray into that territory. According to the European Union, the European public prosecutor’s office will be a

“prosecution office of the European Union with exclusive competence for investigating, prosecuting and bringing to judgment crimes against the EU budget.”

Those last few words are the most important.

For the best part of two decades, the European Commission’s budget has not received a positive statement of assurance from the European Court of Auditors. A lot of money is wasted in maladministration, but a large sum also disappears through fraud, which has caused consternation in some circles for some time. People have, in the past, blown the whistle on areas where money has been filtered away illegally. The problem goes back to before 1999. Those of us who were involved in European affairs back then will remember that the Jacques Santer Commission fell in 1999 because of a scandal involving a failure to chase down fraud, and the ignoring of whistleblowers and internal fraud. When the Commission fell, there was marked panic in European circles and a committee of independent experts was set up. That reported in March 1999 and again in September 1999 after the European elections of that year.

Before 1999, there was an anti-fraud organisation in the European Commission called UCLAF, which after 1999 morphed into a similar anti-fraud organisation called OLAF. Its job was to chase down fraud, both internal and external, and to protect the financial interests of communities in and across the European Union. It was a simple transfer of powers from UCLAF to OLAF—alas, several members of staff also made the transfer—but OLAF did not really succeed in doing its job of chasing fraud for some time. Indeed, it tended to chase whistleblowers before it actually chased fraudsters who chose to defraud the European Union.

All the time, the fraud figures for the European Union kept climbing. Some say it was as high as €500 million, although some would say it was even more. The question for this debate is why the big leap from having an anti-fraud office, which already has the powers to do the job within the context of the existing treaties, to something that would take a huge amount of powers away from member states. Why the huge powergrab?

Alongside the proposal for a European public prosecutor’s office, the Commission has also published a communication on its ideas for OLAF in the future. It plans to table legislative proposals to alter the OLAF regulation in due course. As it happens, the Council and the European Parliament have only just agreed a revision to the 1999 OLAF regulation, which has been more than 10 years in the making. A key aim of that is to strengthen OLAF, the anti-fraud office of the European Union, and its investigative capabilities, and also to provide greater safeguards for those being investigated. The Commission’s proposals for the European public prosecutor’s office, however, would entail OLAF losing the powers to conduct investigations into fraud against the EU budget and being limited to investigations on other irregularities involving EU funds and misconduct or crimes committed by EU personnel that do not have a financial impact. It is gutting powers, which the European public prosecutor would use, from an existing body, because it wants an EPPO with more powers. It is the precursor to this area of criminal justice that my hon. Friend the Member for Esher and Walton talked about. The European Scrutiny Committee, of which I am a member, noted the proposal to amend OLAF regulation and concluded:

“We are disappointed to see that so soon after reform of OLAF’s regulatory framework has been agreed, the Commission, without waiting to see the impact of that reform, is suggesting further legislation including the creation of an EPPO. The Commission refers to this pre-emptive approach to policy-making and legislative reform somewhat euphemistically as ‘step-by-step’ when it seems more like leaps and bounds.”

This is a case of leaps and bounds. We would have to change a number of things that we hold dear in our common law system. We have no arrest without evidence. The European public prosecutor will operate under a system of corpus juris, so that one can be arrested without evidence. We do not hold suspects for more than a fixed and limited time unless charges are presented in open court. Under corpus juris, a person can be held indefinitely. In our system, we believe we have the right to face one’s accuser and see evidence. Under corpus juris, the accuser may be anonymous and no right for the accused to see the evidence exists. We like to be tried by lay magistrates in most cases, have the right to trial of a jury of one’s peers and have an adversarial model. That is not the case under corpus juris, where a person is tried by professional judges, there is no right to trial by jury and there is an inquisitorial model. We like an open court. It is a closed court under corpus juris. We like the presumption of innocence until proven guilty.

The phrase corpus juris is rather misleading—all it means is “body of law”. The hon. Gentleman is right to point out that our system is different and provides safeguards in a different way, but it would be foolish if we were to look at the rest of Europe and say that they do not have any rights because their system of enshrining them is different from ours.

I fully accept that fact. I am just trying to outline what this big change would mean when, according to the European Commission’s figures, it is just—it is a big sum—meant to protect €500 million-worth of fraud against the EU budget. Is this a proportionate change that we would like to see? I would argue that it is not.

Various people have come forward with individual cases regarding the difference between how the system operates now and how it would operate under a European public prosecutor. In one case, OLAF transferred information to the German and Bulgarian authorities relating to German and Bulgarian nationals who allegedly worked to defraud an EU agricultural and rural development fund scheme. Whereas the German proceedings led to a conviction, the proceedings in Bulgaria ended in acquittal—the current system led to different results in a cross-border case. The argument for a European public prosecutor is that it would have made a difference by ensuring consistency of investigation and prosecution in those countries, changing the nature of prosecution within a member state.

Another example relates to cigarette smuggling from the Czech Republic into Germany. The German criminal court used telephone tapping records obtained by the Czech police as evidence to convict the suspect. Although that evidence was obtained lawfully according to Czech law, the defence lawyer argued that without a court order authorising the telephone tapping, the evidence was inadmissible in the German court. It comes to a certain point when one wonders whether a supranational body such as the European public prosecutor could ask for the phone tapping of a British national on a matter that might not be deemed worthy of phone tapping in the UK.

This is a big step forward and we should note that it is all about a power grab from the European Commission, or a power grab from Viviane Reding, the European Commissioner for Justice. We should be very wary of where she goes from here. The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Diana Johnson) asked what discussions could be had, but having discussions with Viviane Reding can be very difficult, because she is completely focused on delivering an area of criminal justice for the EU. It is a ridiculous idea that cannot work, but were it to work, it would mean a complete change in how we do law in this country, and one that most of us in this place would fight to the death.

It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friends the Members for Daventry (Chris Heaton-Harris) and for Esher and Walton (Mr Raab), with whom I am in almost entire agreement.

As a brief aside, if the House will indulge me, I think one can take back the divergence between our legal system and that of the continent to the Fourth Lateran Council and Innocent III’s view that it was wrong for priests to stand and bless trial by combat. From that, our different systems developed.

On the substance of the documents in front of us, the key is that the Lisbon treaty provided that a European public prosecutor’s office should be developed from Eurojust, which article 86(1) stated could go ahead by enhanced co-operation. In coming forward with these proposals, therefore, the Commission is starting from a very good treaty base, from its point of view. Fortunately, however, we have an equally good treaty base for rejecting it—our ability to opt in or not. I raise the flag of concern about what this whole process is about, and I urge the Government, regardless of the negotiations, not to opt in at the end of them, because it is all about creating a single form of justice within the EU, as my hon. Friend the Member for Daventry said.

The degree of competence being created for Eurojust is extremely wide and is set out in annex 1 of the documents before us, which lists the forms of serious crime that Eurojust is competent to deal with in accordance with article 3(1). I will read the list out, as that has not yet been done, because it is important to understand how all-encompassing the list is: organised crime; terrorism; drug trafficking; money laundering; corruption; crime against the financial interests of the union; murder, grievous bodily injury, kidnapping, illegal restraint and hostage taking; sexual abuse and sexual exploitation of women and children, child pornography and solicitation of children for sexual purposes; racism and xenophobia; organised robbery; motor vehicle crime; swindling and fraud; racketeering and extortion; counterfeiting and product piracy; forgery of administrative documents and trafficking therein; forgery of money and means of payment; computer crime; insider dealing and financial market manipulation; illegal immigrant smuggling; trafficking in human beings; illicit trade in human organs and tissue; illicit trafficking in hormonal substances and other growth promoters; illicit trafficking in cultural goods, including antiquities and works of art; illicit trafficking in arms, ammunition and explosives; illicit trafficking in endangered animal species; illicit trafficking in endangered plant species and varieties; environmental crime; ship-source pollution; crime connected with nuclear and radioactive substances; and genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes. While some of those are undoubtedly extremely serious and have cross-border connotations, others are essentially national crimes that are most unlikely to have any international connotations. Tiresome though it might be, if one’s car radio is stolen, it is hard to see how that motor crime would have a particular effect on the good people of Luxembourg.

The list goes on, because the proposed regulation coming from the EU allows Eurojust to cover related criminal offences, so it has the ability to go further than this already extensive list. I would argue that the Eurojust proposal contains a very wide set of competences and that Eurojust has significant power of its own. It can exercise its tasks at the request of the competent authorities of member states or, crucially, on its own initiative; it does not require a member state to intervene to set the wheels in motion that would lead to investigations taking place.

The Commission sets out in its document that competent national authorities shall respond without undue delay to Eurojust’s requests and opinions made under article 4, which sets out the basis on which they may make such requests. What is being proposed will give Eurojust a very wide set of competences and an ability to demand responses. I am well aware that the Government’s concern over the directive is that there may be orders coming from member states to direct investigations in the UK and that they believe that that would be unsatisfactory. Eurojust itself does not get that direct power, but it is not very far from it, because national authorities have to respond without undue delay. Although they can cite operational reasons of an unspecified kind as to why they will not provide co-operation, that will be justiciable by the Court of Justice of the European Union. That seems to me to be a very major extension of the competence of the European Union into the criminal justice field.

On the composition of Eurojust—I may have misunderstood this—it is surprising that it is not composed according to the ordinary rules of qualified majority voting, but by simple majority of the members of the college. The members of the college will be one representative of each member state, each of whom will have, according to article 10, a single vote. It would mean that the UK, if we were to opt in to this set of proposals, could be outvoted without even having the benefit of the extra weighting to our vote. The college is set up to maximise the power of the centre against the countries. The proposals give enormously wide control to Eurojust even if the Government’s queries on direct orders from other members and the relationship with the European public prosecutor’s office are answered. That is a fundamental step in reversing—you will be horrified to hear, Madam Deputy Speaker— the differences that developed in 1215 with the Fourth Lateran Council.

We have had a full and lively debate, characterised in customary fashion by the contribution of my hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset (Jacob Rees-Mogg). He, like others, set out a number of the significant concerns that are held not only by the Government, but by Members across the House about the Commission’s proposals for a European public prosecutor’s office and the construction of Eurojust.

This country derives real benefits from its participation in the current Eurojust, which is about practical co-operation; from collaboration; and from the number of cases that have been assisted by the establishment of joint investigation teams. But that does not mean that we should now opt in to a new measure that is clearly so fundamentally flawed because of the intrinsic link to the European public prosecutor’s office. Some of these significant issues have been highlighted in the impact they would have on our criminal justice system.

The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Diana Johnson) was critical of the system of the block opt-out and of having to opt out and then opt in before dealing with new EU measures such as those we are debating this evening. This was precisely the structure that her Government negotiated. If she is unhappy with this system, she needs to look to herself and to her hon. Friends who were party to the construction of the mechanism.

The hon. Lady highlighted and questioned the date of 21 November. I can say very simply that that is the latest date on which the UK would be able to exercise its opt in. It is three months from the publication of the last language version of the relevant regulation, which is the time period referred to. She also highlighted some concerns about fundamental rights. I draw her attention to the explanatory memorandum, which was signed by the Minister for Immigration on 7 August and sets out the fundamental rights analysis. That will explain to her the issues she highlighted.

Questions have been raised about the national member. Indeed, the hon. Lady asked whether we should negotiate a better position for the national member, and whether the Government would express their concern in respect of Eurojust and the European public prosecutor’s office. She mentioned the 10th anniversary of Eurojust. I was there and made those very points at that time. Indeed, one of the first things that I said at the first Justice and Home Affairs Council I attended following the election of this Government was that we would not participate in the European public prosecutor’s office. I can therefore assure her that we have consistently made our views plain on the lack of a need for a European public prosecutor’s office. We believe that there are more practical ways of dealing with these issues.

The right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Sir Alan Beith) talked about the separation of powers. That is intrinsic to the question. My hon. Friend the Member for Esher and Walton (Mr Raab) made a point about how supranational organisations cut across the fundamental building blocks in our criminal justice system. That is why it is right that, if the House approves the motion tonight, we will not be opting in to the measures.

We note that the various Committees will be publishing their reports on the block opt-out, and we look forward to receiving them. The Government have committed to holding a further debate in the House on the final proposals for opting back in, in respect of the 2014 block opt-out. Further work is taking place on the balance of competences, and it will continue. My hon. Friend the Member for Esher and Walton talked about where competence should lie, and that question is informed by the ongoing work. We are taking evidence to inform the broader debate, but that should be seen as distinct from the exercise of the Government’s treaty right in respect of the 2014 decision.

My hon. Friend the Member for Daventry (Chris Heaton-Harris) mentioned the position of OLAF, the European fraud office. It is unfortunate that we have only recently seen proposals on the practical use of that office, but we believe that certain practical steps should be pursued as a result of their recent publication. My hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset mentioned issues of competence, and the need for us to look carefully at any final agreed text that emerges in relation to Eurojust.

Given the yellow card that has been issued in relation to the European public prosecutor’s office, and the strong message that has been sent by a number of member states’ Parliaments in respect of this proposal, the Commission will need to reflect on this matter very carefully. It will also need to think about the Eurojust proposal, because of the interrelationship between the two. We will keep the House and the Select Committees updated as this matter progresses, but I very much hope that, in the light of the clear message from hon. Members tonight, the House will support the motion.

Question put and agreed to.


That this House takes note of European Union Documents No. 12566/13, a draft Regulation on the European Union Agency for Criminal Justice Co-operation (Eurojust), and No. 12558/13 and Addenda 1 and 2, a draft Regulation on the establishment of a European Public Prosecutor’s Office (EPPO); agrees with the Government that the UK should not opt in to the draft Regulation on the Eurojust at this time and should conduct a thorough review of the final agreed text to inform active consideration of opting into the Eurojust Regulation, post adoption, in consultation with Parliament; and further agrees with the Government that the UK should not participate in the establishment of any European Public Prosecutor’s Office.