[Relevant documents: Twenty-first Report from the European Scrutiny Committee, on the UK’s block opt-out of pre-Lisbon criminal law and policing measures, HC 683, and the Government response, HC 978; Ninth Report from the Home Affairs Committee, on Pre-Lisbon Treaty EU police and criminal justice measures: the UK’s opt-in decision, HC 615, and the Government response, HC 954; Eighth Report from the Justice Committee, on Ministry of Justice measures in the JHA block opt-out, HC 605, and the Government response, HC 972; and First Joint Report from the European Scrutiny, Home Affairs and Justice Committees, on the Government’s response to the Committees’ Reports on the 2014 block opt-out decision, HC 1177.]
I beg to move,
That this House has considered the UK’s 2014 justice and home affairs opt-out decision.
We return once more to the important issue of the United Kingdom’s opt-out decision in relation to justice and home affairs matters under the Lisbon treaty—an issue that not only raises important questions about the protection of individual rights, but directly affects our law enforcement agencies’ ability to work with their EU counterparts to keep British citizens safe. It is an issue in which a number of right hon. and hon. Members have taken a keen interest, and the Government are grateful to them for their work in this area so far, not least the Select Committees on Home Affairs and on Justice and the European Scrutiny Committee, before all of which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Justice and I have appeared on a number of occasions.
Those Committees have produced many valuable reports on the 2014 opt-outs. Their most recent was a joint report that was published on 26 March, in which they expressed the view that the Government have not engaged properly with Parliament on this issue. We deeply regret that they take that view and respectfully disagree. The Government have strongly supported and, indeed, encouraged Parliament’s scrutiny of this important matter from the very start of the process. I made an initial statement in October 2012 because the Government considered it important to communicate their proposed direction of travel at an early stage to enable scrutiny of the position to take place. That was in line with standard practice on EU police and criminal justice matters.
Since then, the Government have invited the Committees to play their part in this important work and have supported them in doing so. Well over 12 hours of ministerial time have been committed to giving evidence before the Committees. The Government have also submitted written evidence to inquiries and corresponded with the Committees on a regular basis. In addition, we have answered more than 300 parliamentary questions on this matter.
None the less, we take the Committees’ disappointment seriously. In the light of their disappointment and the views of other right hon. and hon. Members, the Government have allocated time this afternoon for the House to debate this important issue once again.
It is very unusual for three Committees of the House to agree on every single word of a joint report, which is what we did. The point that the three Committees made—the Chairman of the European Scrutiny Committee is here and he can make his own points on this—was that it was important for Parliament to deliberate on this matter before the package was put in place, rather than afterwards, which would give Parliament very little time for proper discussion. That is why we felt that it was important to deal with this matter at the earliest opportunity. We are grateful to the Home Secretary for giving us this time.
I am grateful to the Chairman of the Home Affairs Committee for setting out the reason behind the joint report from the three Committees. I will go on to explain exactly where we are in the process. He talks about the package coming before the House before it is adopted. We have made it very clear that there will be another opportunity for Parliament to debate the matter and vote on it.
I should remind the House of the background and the stage in proceedings we have reached. Under the terms of the Lisbon treaty, which the Labour Government signed in 2007, the UK had a specific and limited period of time to opt out of roughly 130 justice and home affairs measures covered by the treaty. That opt-out—Labour negotiated it, but never made it clear whether it would use it—had to be exercised en bloc, and before 31 May this year. Last July, the Government informed the House that we intended to exercise the UK’s opt-out. After debates in both Houses, Parliament voted for us to do so.
Accordingly, on 24 July 2013, the Prime Minister wrote to the then President of the Council of Ministers, informing her that the UK had exercised its right to opt-out from all pre-Lisbon police and criminal justice measures. That decision is irreversible, and will come into effect on 1 December 2014.
Paragraph 85 of the Home Affairs Committee’s ninth report, which dealt with the matter, states:
“The Government should…be explicit on what would happen if the proposed opt-in could not be agreed”—
in other words, they should be explicit on what would happen if the negotiations failed. That did not get a substantive response. Will the Home Secretary be explicitly clear about what will happen if the Government fail to agree the opt-in terms?
I will refer to one or two specific measures in relation to that, but as I have just indicated to the House, the Government have exercised the block opt-out. It is open to us to seek to rejoin any of the individual measures covered by it. If we do not negotiate to rejoin those measures, we will no longer be part of them from 1 December 2014.
When I came to the House last July, I explained that my ministerial colleagues and I had concluded that a number of the measures subject to the opt-out decision added value in the fight against crime and the pursuit of justice, and that it would therefore be in our national interest to seek to rejoin them. We believe that there are only a limited number of such measures—we set those out in Command Paper 8671 for the House to see before it voted on our decision to exercise the opt-out.
They were always separate decisions, and the Government have always been clear that Parliament and its Committees should have adequate time to scrutinise both. To make that explicit, we listened to the concerns of hon. Members, and particularly to the Chairmen of the Committees to which I have referred, and amended the motion for last July’s debate to invite the European Scrutiny Committee, the Home Affairs Committee and the Justice Committee to submit reports before the Government opened formal discussions with the European Commission, the Council and other member states.
I endorse what the Chairman of the Home Affairs Committee said with one qualification. It is not just a question of whether Parliament is given the opportunity to deliberate before decisions are taken behind closed doors, but a question of whether Parliament is, in effect, being asked to rubber stamp something that has already been decided in negotiations behind those closed doors. The problem is one of the matter therefore being hidden from the searching gaze of the public and Parliament itself.
Of course, by definition, the Government’s role is negotiating with the parties I have just indicated—the Council, the Commission and the member states—on those measures to which they agree it is possible for us to opt back into. That process, which takes some time, has been put in motion. I will describe where we are a little later but, by definition, the process must be undertaken by the Government. We have been clear that we will come back to Parliament, which will have the opportunity to debate and vote on the package of measures.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Mr Cash) is well aware, we have indicated the measures on which we wish to opt back in. The discussions are in place with the European Commission and the other member states as to their views—whether or not they wish the UK to opt back in—and any other matters they wish to discuss with us as part of that negotiation.
The Government have always seen this clearly as a number of measures, some of which interlink and relate to one another. Therefore, they are part of a package in relation to our ability better to protect the public and ensure that our law enforcement agencies have the powers that we consider they need.
The Government will not bring forward legislation to the House on this matter, because that is not necessary. We will put before the House a package of measures that, following discussions with the European Commission, we believe we should be rejoining.
We responded to the Select Committees when they submitted their reports. I am sure that their work will inform the speeches we will hear in today’s debate.
I said that I would indicate what progress we had made in the negotiations. Everybody will of course understand that the nature of a negotiation is such that it is a poor negotiating strategy to reveal one’s hand in public while a deal is still being done. Detailed and constructive discussions are taking place with the European Commission and other member states. There are a great many processes and technical matters to discuss, but we are all keen to avoid the operational gap for our law enforcement agencies that will ensue if we have not settled the matter before 1 December, when, as I indicated earlier, the UK’s opt-out takes full effect. Our aim is therefore to reach an “in principle” deal well ahead of that date, and, as I have already indicated, to return to Parliament for a further vote before formally seeking to rejoin measures in the national interest.
I am most grateful to the Home Secretary for giving way a second time. Has she seen reference made to a note by the Greek presidency that was published by Statewatch—it was leaked; it was not published by the presidency—that the United Kingdom needs to have its re-opting list agreed by June 2014; in other words, before the parliamentary recess? Has she seen that note and is that the case? Do we have to get all our priorities ready by then?
I am aware of a number of reports in the press in relation to documents that, it is claimed, have been leaked as part of the discussions that have been taking place. The timetable I have set out is very clear. On 1 December, having exercised the opt-out, we will no longer be part of any of the roughly 130 measures covered by the opt-out protocol. If, before that date, we have not negotiated the package, had the parliamentary debate and vote, and been able to agree the formal terms for returning to those measures that we choose to opt back into, then we will be out of those measures. It is that date that sets an end-point for us on when we want to be able to ensure we can opt back in.
The Home Secretary is always very generous to me; I have never complained about her generosity and magnanimity. I just want to go back to the question I asked last time, because I do not think she understood fully what I meant. I understand that the motion before the House will not be legislation—it will not be an Act of Parliament or secondary legislation—so will it just be an amendable motion that the Government can then completely and utterly ignore?
It will be an opportunity for this House to debate on the basis of a motion that the Government will bring forward. By definition, we have not yet put that motion into place, so the hon. Gentleman may just have to wait and see the nature of the motion when it is brought before this House. The Government have been clear that Parliament should be able to exercise the opportunity to give its views on the discussions we have had with the European Commission and member states in relation to the measure that we choose to opt into. We have been clear throughout this process that Parliament will be given a vote on the final list of measures. I am happy to confirm, as I have done already on a number of occasions in the limited time that I have been speaking, that that will be the case.
While the negotiations continue, I realise that hon. Members want to debate and comment on some of the specific measures that the Government identified in Command paper 8671 as being in our national interest to rejoin. Chief among them is the European arrest warrant. I know that this measure arouses particular feeling in the House. We clearly need strong extradition arrangements in place to see criminals convicted and justice done, but when extradition arrangements are wrong, they can cause misery to suspects and their families, and risk miscarriages of justice.
The previous Labour Government had eight years to address the concerns that people raised in respect of the European arrest warrant, but they did nothing. Where they failed to act, this Government have legislated to implement new safeguards to increase the protection offered to those wanted for extradition, particularly British citizens. The concrete steps taken by the Government in the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014 will tackle the operational deficiencies of the arrest warrant head on.
Our changes will protect the fundamental rights of British citizens by allowing arrest warrants that are issued for disproportionate offences to be refused; they will address the understandable concerns that many people had about lengthy pre-trial detention; they will help to ensure that British nationals will not be extradited when the prosecuting authorities are still investigating offences; and they will help to ensure that people cannot be extradited for conduct that takes place in the United Kingdom and is not against the law of this land.
I am grateful to the Home Secretary for many of the changes that are being made, but, as she knows, I have specific knowledge as a result of the experience of my constituent Andrew Symeou, and I feel obliged to make a point that he made recently when being interviewed about the changes. Although steps have been taken to prevent people from being held for unnecessary periods when a case is not trial-ready, he is certain that the Greek authorities lied in his case, and that there is nothing to prevent them from doing so again.
My hon. Friend’s constituent has particular experience of the operation of the European arrest warrant, and my hon. Friend has been assiduous in drawing attention to that case and to the case for change. However, it will be possible for the process that determines whether a case is trial-ready to take place in the courts here in the United Kingdom, and for decisions to be made there. I am confident that proper consideration will be given to evidence given by the authorities in Greece or other member states concerning the preparedness of the case.
My right hon. Friend has set out the safeguards that will apply to the European arrest warrant, which, as she knows, is of huge concern to many people in this country. One of the fears that we all have is that all the measures into which she wishes to opt will be subject to the European Court of Justice. How certain can she be that those safeguards will be upheld by the Court?
It is true that the measures that we opt back into will be subject to the European Court of Justice, but I take some confidence from the fact that other member states have already introduced measures that are similar to a number of the measures that we are introducing in our own legislation. It is noticeable, for instance, that some member states are more able to deal with the proportionality issue than we have been so far. I think it a pity that the last Government did not introduce such measures, but we recognised the extent of the concern that was being expressed and the fact that it was possible for us to act, which we have done. We made changes to the way in which extradition works—in the face of some resistance—in order to protect British citizens in respect of extradition to the United States, and we have now legislated to change the operation of the European arrest warrant in the UK and enhance the protections that British citizens enjoy. The Labour Government dithered, but we have acted to protect British citizens from injustice at home and abroad.
I have made a number of improvements. The most obvious one is the introduction of the forum bar. That was not entirely popular on either side of the Atlantic, but we did it because we felt that it was right. I believe that it is an important safeguard in relation to the extradition of British citizens outside the European Union.
I believe that our reforms will make an important difference to the European arrest warrant. It is, of course, in our national interest to have an effective extradition system, and no other extradition system would be as effective.
Before my right hon. Friend leaves the subject of proportionality, may I ask whether she has seen reports in today’s papers about a meeting of the Council of Ministers at which the French and Germans have indicated that they do not think that the proportionality test meets the requirements of European law?
I am aware of the report in today’s press, but I do not think that it referred to a Council of Ministers meeting. It may have referred to a document that possibly had been leaked from the European Commission. I say to my hon. Friend that, as I have made very clear, there are matters for discussion and matters for negotiation that we have to undertake as we go through this process, but other member states do have within their own systems a greater ability to deal with issues such as proportionality, and I think it is right that we have taken powers ourselves in our own legislation to do that.
Returning to my point, I think it is in our national interest to have an effective extradition system in place and no other extradition system would be as effective. We owe it to the victims of crime, and their families, to return the alleged perpetrators of serious crimes to this country and ensure that they face justice. There are many examples of that, of which I will cite only a few.
The arrest warrant recently helped the British authorities to secure the extradition and conviction of Francis Paul Cullen, a former priest who sexually assaulted seven children before spending more than two decades on the run in Spain. Thanks to the European arrest warrant, he will now swap the Spanish sun for a 15-year term in a British jail.
Our law enforcement agencies are clear that the arrest warrant has helped them to secure the return of dangerous criminals to face justice in the UK—criminals who under the old regime might not have been returned to answer for their crimes, including David Heiss from Germany and Florian Baboi from Romania.
David Heiss viciously murdered a British student, Matthew Pyke—originally from Stowmarket in Suffolk—in Nottingham in September 2008, stabbing him 86 times. Heiss was arrested on a European arrest warrant at his home in Germany a month after the offence and was surrendered to the UK the month after that. He has since been sentenced to a minimum of 18 years in prison. Before the European arrest warrant, Germany did not surrender its own nationals; indeed, there was a constitutional bar to its doing so, so it is clear that in this case the arrest warrant made a real difference.
In how many of the recent cases is the European arrest warrant making extradition quicker, rather than facilitating it when it would not have happened under existing arrangements? The Home Secretary has given one very powerful case, but quantitatively how many cases are we talking about because the argument has been made that actually we would face a cliff edge and just not get fugitives back rather than get them back a little bit slower?
The argument I make in relation to the European arrest warrant is on both those aspects of its operation. I have just cited a case where there was an issue of whether an individual would have been able to be extradited back to the UK had we not had the European arrest warrant. There are other cases where it is a matter of fact that the European arrest warrant has been able to be exercised more quickly on average than extraditions were before the EAW was in place. So it is not just that there are people who would not come back unless we had the EAW; it is that it also smoothes the process and makes this quicker and brings people here to justice quicker.
The Home Secretary has given us a number of indications of concerns that have arisen in some member states. Is she conscious of the fact that the French have said the UK requirements risk imposing an undue burden on other member states, that the Germans raise serious doubts about compatibility with European law, that Spain says the Legal Service should give its opinion and that the Dutch have said that there are a number of fundamental and practical problems? Is it not all rather running into the sand?
No it is not, and I have to say to my hon. Friend that he is not party to the discussions that we are party to, but I am interested that he mentions Germany because it is one of the countries that has a greater ability to deal with the proportionality issue than the United Kingdom. As I say, there are other member states who have themselves already, either automatically because of their constitution or because they have taken powers, taken steps to ensure they can deal with the very issues we are dealing with in the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act I referred to earlier.
Florian Baboi is a Romanian national who was returned to the UK from Romania under an arrest warrant to stand trial for the murder of David McArthur in Birmingham in August 2011. He was found guilty in May 2012 and sentenced to life in prison. That is another case where the EAW has helped to bring dangerous offenders to justice.
So it is unsurprising that the Association of Chief Police Officers’ evidence to the Home Affairs Committee made clear its view that the arrest warrant is an “essential weapon” in the fight against serious criminality. This view was echoed by the outgoing Director of Public Prosecutions, who was clear that the streamlined process of the arrest warrant makes it easier to bring serious criminals back to face justice. I agree wholeheartedly with those assessments.
The Home Secretary is absolutely right to highlight the huge importance of the European arrest warrant. I am constantly surprised by people who are so fanatically anti-European that they would jeopardise our safety by trying to opt out of it. Is she aware that, last Friday, the Daily Mail wrote about a case involving Magdalena Ferkova, who was brought back to this country using the European arrest warrant? If even the Daily Mail is happy about it, there must be something to be said for it.
Today’s debate has probably generated a first in parliamentary history: my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (Dr Huppert) praising the Daily Mail in a debate in the House of Commons.
I want to turn now to some of the other important measures that the Government are proposing that we should rejoin. We are seeking to rejoin the European supervision order, which allows British subjects to be bailed back to the UK rather than spending many months abroad awaiting trial. My hon. Friend the Member for Enfield North (Nick de Bois) will be particularly aware of the benefits that this could have brought in the case of Andrew Symeou, to which he alluded earlier. I am sure that the whole House also wants to see foreign national offenders sent back to their own country. The prisoner transfer framework decision provides for non-consent-based transfers throughout the European Union, and the Government want to opt back into that measure and send criminals back home.
We also want our law enforcement agencies to be able to establish joint investigation teams with colleagues in other European countries. Hon. Members might ask why we want this to happen. I cite Operation Rico, the biggest-ever operation against so-called boiler-room fraud, which is precisely the kind of practical co-operation we want to encourage. Thanks to the excellent work of our National Crime Agency and its Spanish colleagues, there have been 83 arrests in Spain alone, and 18 in the UK. It is also quite clear that many other EU member states and their law enforcement agencies rely on measures of this sort to provide the necessary framework for practical co-operation in the fight against crime. In most instances, bilateral agreements would simply not work as effectively and our co-operation would suffer.
We therefore owe it to the victims of crime, both here and abroad, to ensure that such co-operation can continue unhindered. We owe it to the elderly who have been scammed out of their life savings, and to the hard-working people who have been conned into dodgy investments by fraudsters and had their hard-earned money shamefully spent on flashy watches, sharp suits and fast cars. I want to protect victims of crime, and I am determined to give our law enforcement the tools they need to do that.
The Government’s policy is clear. We have exercised the United Kingdom’s opt-out and are negotiating to rejoin a limited number of measures where we believe that it is in the national interest to do so.
I wonder whether the Home Secretary is going to mention any of the other 35 opt-in measures, including the European police college. Will she explain why it is necessary to have such a college when we have separate police forces in each of our sovereign states? What is the purpose behind it?
My hon. Friend is referring to CEPOL, which has been based at Bramshill in the United Kingdom in recent years. CEPOL is an organisation that encourages and facilitates cross-border co-operation between police forces. The European Commission recently proposed a measure to enhance and increase the ability of CEPOL to operate in relation to the training of individual police forces. The United Kingdom resisted that measure, as did other member states, and it is no longer going ahead.
As I was saying, this Government are very clear about the measures that we wish to rejoin, just as we have been clear about the opt-outs that we have exercised. Sadly, however, we are no clearer about the position of the Labour party. Some have called the Opposition’s policy inconsistent and incoherent, but I think it could be more carefully described as involving confusion and chaos. Labour signed up to the Lisbon treaty without giving the people of Britain a vote and without giving this House a say, and we must recall that the former Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath (Mr Brown), flew in alone and under the cover of darkness to sign it. That tells us a great deal about his belief in it. That treaty contained an opt-out, but Labour never explained whether it would use it.
All the evidence suggests that Labour does not share the determination of this Government to reduce the control Brussels has on our criminal justice system. Because even after negotiating their opt-out, the last Labour Government signed us up, by way of unanimity, to another 30 or so measures. In fact, virtually all the measures covered by the Lisbon treaty and this opt-out decision were agreed by unanimity by Labour during its time in office. So are we to assume that it would rather we had remained bound by all 130 of them than exercise our opt-out and seek to rejoin the limited number we have identified? If not, why did it agree to the measures in the first place? But if so, why did it negotiate an opt-out? As I say, it is confusion and chaos.
Sadly, the Opposition day debate Labour called in June last year did nothing to clear up the mystery of Labour’s position, because the motion highlighted only seven measures the UK should “remain” part of. It was not clear whether that meant Labour would have exercised the opt-out and left all the measures other than those seven, such as Eurojust, a measure that the police and prosecutors deem vital to continuing our co-operation with our EU partners. Another such measure is the prisoner transfer framework decision, to which I have referred and which allows us to pack foreign national offenders back off home. I suspect that the Labour party would rather we did not know, unless of course the right hon. Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper) is going to reveal all in her response to this afternoon’s debate. Having negotiated an opt-out from all the measures the Labour Government signed our country up to in the first place, when this Government chose to exercise that opt-out, the right hon. Lady and her party voted against it—again, I say confusion and chaos.
I repeat that the position of this Government is clear: we have exercised the opt-out, we support the return of powers from Brussels to the UK and we support acting in the national interest by rejoining a limited number of measures that protect British citizens and the victims of crime. That is consistent with our approach to the European Union as a whole. The EU needs fundamental change, and under the Conservatives Britain is leading the way in delivering that change. At home, we have made the difficult decisions in the national interest to secure Britain’s economic future—now it is time to protect Britain’s interests in Europe. The Prime Minister has already taken tough action to stand up for Britain in Europe by cutting the EU budget, saving British taxpayers over £8 billion; vetoing a new EU fiscal treaty which did not guarantee a level playing field for British businesses; and refusing to spend British taxes on bailing out the euro.
Only the Conservatives have a credible plan to reshape Britain’s relationship with the European Union and to put this to the British people in an in-out referendum by the end of 2017. [Interruption.] The right hon. Lady may laugh, but the Labour party opposes this plan and will not give the British people their say. Labour has no policies and no ideas, and that is not the sort of leadership the United Kingdom needs in Europe. The leadership it needs in Europe is the leadership we are giving it, with the clarity we are giving to return powers from Brussels to the United Kingdom, but to take other decisions to opt back into measures that are firmly and clearly in our national interest.
Today’s debate is one that the Home Secretary and Justice Secretary did not want to have. They have been forced into it by the three Select Committees because time and again they have tried to avoid coming to Parliament, avoid providing information to Parliament and avoid having a vote. The Select Committee on Home Affairs told them:
“we have been disappointed with the extent and timeliness of the Government’s involvement of Parliament”.
The European Scrutiny Committee described the Government’s approach as
“a serious omission as well as a missed opportunity to inform the debate in Parliament and beyond.”
The Select Committee on Justice summed up its report by saying
“we criticise the ‘cavalier fashion’ in which Parliament has been treated.”
The Home Secretary was in cavalier mode again today, because although she announced the opt-out in July last year and the Select Committees reports came out in October—we can presume that she has been negotiating since then—we had today no update on the progress of the negotiations, no sense of the timetable and no sense of when the vote will be called. We have to wonder what the Home Secretary has to hide. The truth is that she is hiding because this whole opt-out, opt-in is a massive con. She has done a U-turn again on the main measures, and is opting out and opting back in to them again. The only measures she is staying out of are ones that were largely redundant in any case, and what she is doing is a complex negotiation with our European partners, which is playing games with European security co-operation: “We’ll pull the arrest warrant out; we’ll put the arrest warrant back in. We’ll in out, in out, shake it all about. Play the opt-out hokey cokey, and you turn around. That’s what it’s all about.”
I must say to the hon. Lady that we do not think that it is a muddle to have co-operation with European police forces to bring criminals to justice and to provide victims with justice. I know that the Fresh Start group, of which she is a leading member, thought that we should replace all of this with a new international treaty. The Chair of the European Scrutiny Committee and many Government Back Benchers wanted to opt out and stay out of everything. The last time we debated the subject, a queue of Members stood up to say how much they wanted us to opt out and stay out of not just the European arrest warrant but all the major measures.
The Home Secretary has boasted a lot about giving the people a referendum, but up until the last general election, her party refused the British people a referendum, and we are the only political party that ever gave the British people a referendum on Europe.
I hope that the right hon. Lady will agree with me. Does she recall that the former Prime Minister, Tony Blair, in an answer to my right hon. Friend the Member for Hitchin and Harpenden (Mr Lilley) when reporting on the agreement of the Lisbon treaty, said that his reasons for not giving a referendum were that there was an opt-out to justice and home affairs, and an opt out to the charter of fundamental rights. As the latter opt-out is non-existent and the former opt-out is being given up, is it not now time for a referendum?
The hon. Gentleman seemed to be opting out and opting in all over the place there. The problem with the opt-out that he wanted is that, by the time we have opted back in to the main measures, it will not really be there at all. Here is what the Prime Minister said about these measures. He described the European arrest warrant as “highly objectionable” and the Home Secretary’s package, which is before us today, as a massive “transfer of powers”.
The Home Secretary said that it was
“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.”
She described it as
“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.”—[Official Report, 15 July 2013; Vol. 566, c. 770.]
So what does she want us to celebrate today? The truth is that the Home Secretary now wants us to opt back into the important measures again—thank goodness. Finally she has listened to reason. I was delighted to hear her list many of the cases in which the European arrest warrant has been used—rightly used—and needed; in fact, they were many of the examples that Labour Members were putting to her 12 months ago when she was refusing to listen. Finally, she has listened to the police, who have said that many of the measures, if we opt out and stay out of them, would let criminals run free. She has listened to the victims who feared that they would be denied justice. Finally, she has listened on cases such as that of Jason McKay, who was extradited from Poland within two weeks for murdering his partner. Under the old extradition arrangements, it would have taken several years to get him back to face justice for a murdered woman. So yes, she has rightly done a U-turn on the European arrest warrant, joint investigation teams, Schengen information sharing and co-operation over online child abuse.
The Home Secretary is right to admit 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. She is right to support the deportation of thousands of foreign suspects to their home countries to face charges. I agree that co-operation is needed in a whole series of different areas. We are glad, too, that the Home Secretary has accepted the need for the exchange of criminal records, Eurojust, the co-operation to protect personal data and measures on football hooliganism. We cannot go back to the days when foreign criminal gangs were untouchable and criminals were able to seek sanctuary on the continent. I am glad that the Home Secretary has decided to ignore her Back-Bench colleagues and the Fresh Start group and to listen instead to Labour, the Liberal Democrats, the police and victims of crime.
What is left that the Home Secretary wants us to remain opted out from? What is the massive transfer of powers—the historic transfer, the repatriation—that the Home Secretary wants us to celebrate today? We will not be signed up to some joint proceedings on driving licences, but they are not in force and are out of date. We will not be signed up to a directory on international organised crime, but it was closed down two years ago. We will not sign up to the guidance on the payment of informers, but we will carry on following it. We will not sign up to guidelines on working with other countries on drug trafficking, but we will carry on doing that anyway. We will not sign up to measures on cybercrime and mutual legal assistance, because they have all been superseded by other measures to which we have signed up instead. We will not sign up to minimum standards on bribery, but we will still meet them because the Bribery Act 2010 is still in place. We will not sign up to measures to tackle racism, but we will still meet them because we have hate crime legislation in place. We will not sign up to measures on accession, because they never applied to us in the first place. And we will not sign up to receive a directory of specialist counter-terrorism officers, but someone will probably send it to us in the post.
That is it. That is the historic transfer of powers that the Home Secretary boasted about—the great liberation from Europe and the great cause for celebration that she promised us when we last debated these matters. We have the power not to do a whole series of things we plan to carry on doing anyway, the power not to follow guidance we already follow, the power not to take action we already take, the power not to meet standards we already meet, the power not to do things that everyone else has already stopped doing and the power not to do a whole series of things we want to do anyway. This is her historic moment. She said it would be a first in the history of our membership of the EU; she wanted it to be her Churchill moment. Churchill? Only if it is the nodding dog in the back of the car.
This is a political charade. Now that we are playing charades, will the Home Secretary at least reassure us that she is not doing any lasting damage? Can she assure us that, for the sake of a few opt-outs, the warrants will not be lost?
I must say that I am baffled that the right hon. Gentleman could consider a bit of guidance on this and a bit of a directory on that to be a huge, powerful thing in relation to criminal justice—[Interruption.] Oh, he is talking about the European arrest warrant. On that point, I think that he and I simply disagree. He would like us not to be able swiftly to deport foreign suspects to their home country to stand charge. He would like us not to be able swiftly to bring back to this country those who are suspected of serious crimes and need to face justice. Before we had the European arrest warrant, we waited years to get back the people we needed to have charged with serious crimes.
Unfortunately, the right hon. Gentleman wants us to sign huge numbers of different extradition treaties when the extradition treaties and arrangements we had before the European arrest warrant took years. I do not think that that is fair on the victims of crime who want to see justice done.
On the European arrest warrant, is there not also an obligation on member states to consider their own legislation and ensure that they are not issuing such warrants for trivial matters? Poland, for example, issued 3,809 European arrest warrants, clogging up our courts. That is where we should be negotiating to ensure that member states also understand their responsibilities.
My right hon. Friend makes an important point. We have said that we should argue within Europe for reforms to the way in which the European arrest warrant system works to make sure that it is properly proportionate. We must recognise that this is partly about the people we want to return to this country so that they can stand trial here. It is also about our not harbouring criminals from abroad who have come here and who should go back to their home country to stand trial. He is right that the system needs to work effectively, which means having that debate in Europe with other European countries about the reforms that we hope they will make. There has been considerable interest from many other countries in making such reforms. We need assurances from Ministers that we will have guarantees that we can immediately opt back into the European arrest warrant and important measures on 1 December, when the opt-out is given legal effect, and we want to know whether other member states have agreed to the plan.
The right hon. Lady gave a useful list of the fluff and nonsense that we are opting out of, but one thing that we are not opting back into is the European judicial network, which is an important body that helps to prosecute European arrest warrant cases. Does the Labour party have any view about what we should do about that to ensure that we can opt back in?
The hon. Gentleman points to a series of areas where the Government have proposed opting out or where it is not clear why they want to opt out and what the benefits are of doing so. We gather, too, that the Austrians, the Germans, the Spanish and the French have all called for the UK to opt into other measures as part of the negotiations. In addition to the list of 35 measures that the Home Secretary wants to opt back into, they list a further 13. The Home Secretary and the Justice Secretary should tell us whether they support those 13 measures or whether they will make them a red-line issue and call a halt to the negotiations if other countries insist on them so that a deal can be negotiated by 1 December.
The British head of Europol, Rob Wainwright, is worried about Britain opting out of some of the Europol regulations, because the new ones that the Home Secretary is prepared to support are not ready yet. He told the Select Committee on Home Affairs:
“I don’t think it is likely the new regulation will enter into force before December 2014 so there is likely to be a gap and, if there are not sufficient transitional measures in the meantime, then those accompanying eight measures would leave a gap, frankly, in terms of UK capability to carry out its work against international organised crime and terrorism.”
The Home Secretary should tell the House what she is doing about that, because it sounds serious and concerning. Has she put those measures back on her list to opt back into, and has she drawn up transitional measures?
We need to know, too, how much time and diplomatic resources the negotiation has taken up. For the remainder of the negotiating period, Italy will hold the presidency of the Council, and we understand that the Home Secretary is trying to persuade the Italian Government to make this a major priority and allow time for the European Council to negotiate. She should tell us if she really sees that as the top priority for the Council, and how many of her officials have to work on the issue, as opposed to the more substantial matters on which we should argue for reforms, such as changing the rules so that we do not have to pay child benefit and child tax credit for children abroad; or changing the rules on free movement for new accession states; or revisiting the posting of workers directive to strengthen protection for workers; or other things that would be worthwhile reforms in Europe. Instead, they are working on the power to opt out of a guidance document that we already follow. This is one of the most incredible examples of the gap between rhetoric and reality that the Government have come up with.
We debated this last year when we had the vote. We do not object to the opt-out in principle. We negotiated it so that Britain would have more time to look closely at the measures. We said last year that the most important thing was to be in the European arrest warrant. We said then that we would not exercise the opt-out without guarantees that we could opt back into the European arrest warrant and other measures.
In the end, this is about serious measures. Crime does not stop at the border, and criminals do not stop at the channel. Fighting crime and getting justice for victims depend on co-operation across our borders. Most people in Britain want our police and intelligence services to work with other forces abroad to share information, to track down dangerous offenders, to rescue abducted children and to stop online child abuse.
I want the House to hear the words of Beatrice Jones, who was the mother of Moira Jones, of whom I have spoken before in the House. She said:
“I have been appalled to read that a group of Tory MPs is putting pressure on the Prime Minister to use his right to pull out of EU crime and policing, including the EU arrest warrant. You may remember that my beloved daughter Moira Jones was assaulted, abducted, and savagely raped and murdered by an EU national who was allowed to come here . . . He fled the country but because of the dedication and determination of Strathclyde police, along with the cooperation of the Slovakian police, he was arrested and extradited back to this country. . . there is more cooperation and information between a much greater number of EU states . . . We want it to go much further so that another murder like Moira’s cannot occur . . . EU police cooperation is essential for the safety of all.”
That, in the end, is what this debate should be all about. The Home Secretary should be proud of that co-operation. The hard work of police forces across Europe and the commitment of victims groups working across Europe—that is what we should be celebrating and applauding today.
Before I get into the substance of the arguments on the matter before us, I would like to refer to the letter that the Chairmen of the European Scrutiny Committee, the Home Affairs Committee and the Justice Committee received yesterday. It is addressed to each of us and it comes from the Secretary of State for Justice and the Home Secretary. It begins by saying that they would like to express their gratitude for the continued work of our Committees with regard to the 2014 opt-out decision. It then says:
“We have noted and considered your joint report. We deeply regret your collective view that the Government’s engagement has not been satisfactory on this matter. However, our view on the Government’s engagement with Parliament has not changed.”
There we have it. The letter goes on to say:
“As you will know, we intend to hold a general debate on Government time on 7 April”—
that is today. The letter continues:
“For the avoidance of doubt, we reaffirm our commitment to hold a second vote in both Houses of Parliament before making a formal application to rejoin any measures.”
However, it may be noted that that does not state that the second vote would take place before the negotiations have been finalised. I will come on to that in my subsequent remarks.
The difficulty that we face is that this matter has, to a very considerable extent, been a poor substitute for the debate that the European Scrutiny, Home Affairs and Justice Committees requested. This is the first time ever that all members of three independent, all-party Select Committees have unanimously agreed to a joint report on an unprecedented scale. The debate would give Parliament a genuine say and vote in determining which measures the Government should seek to rejoin before—I repeat, before—embarking on negotiations with the Commission and Council.
The motion that we are invited to support today merely refers to the consideration of the United Kingdom’s
“2014 justice and home affairs opt-out decision.”
That decision was considered in Parliament last July, when the Government secured a majority for their recommendation to exercise the UK’s block opt-out of around 130 pre-Lisbon police and criminal justice measures. The real question for us now, surely, is what the Government—a coalition Government who are largely taking account of considerations on EU matters which have been pushed forward by members of the Liberal Democrat party—will do about the 35 matters that are now up for rejoining.
The Prime Minister formally notified the Council of the UK’s decision to exercise the block opt-out on 24 July 2013. All the measures subject to that block opt-out will, as a result, cease to apply to the United Kingdom on 1 December 2014, unless, crucially, the United Kingdom submits a formal application to rejoin some of them.
Command Paper 8671, which was published merely a matter of days before the debate last July, includes a list of 35 measures that the Government say they seek to rejoin. I have to say, without prejudice to my differences of opinion with the shadow Home Secretary, that some of the cases that she put forward demonstrate that the issues are, in many instances, not quite as substantial as some might have imagined.
The motion that the Government wanted the House to approve last July would have endorsed the Government’s recommendation to enter into formal negotiations with the Commission and the Council on the list of the 35 measures, pre-empting any further consideration of the content and significance of those measures by the House and its Select Committees.
The Home Secretary came to the Floor of the House and I said at the time that I thought she was making the problem considerably worse by what she was saying. My intervention as Chairman of the European Scrutiny Committee, together with the Chairmen of the Home Affairs and Justice Committees, ensured that the House had the opportunity to consider the matter further, and was informed by the reports that all three Committees undertook to produce.
The need for further detailed consideration by Parliament cannot be doubted. The report by my Committee concluded that the list of measures was “incoherent”, and that it bore all the hallmarks of coalition politics rather than a serious analysis of the merits of each measure, or a careful balancing of the benefits of participation in extremely sensitive areas affecting fairness, liberty and justice, which are and should be accorded to individual United Kingdom citizens, and that the benefits of that participation should be set against the risks associated with accepting the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice.
Indeed, and not only that. Those people are no longer able to have recourse to our courts system in the same way that they would have done because the European Court of Justice, once it has made an adjudication and a judgment, binds our Supreme Court. Moreover, under section 3 of the European Communities Act 1972, it also binds this Parliament. That is why, with respect to the charter of fundamental rights, we said in a report that we published only last week that the situation was so serious. We voluntarily entered into the Act in 1972, and I emphasise the word “voluntarily” because what is entered into voluntarily can be adjusted later. Those two features led us to conclude, in respect of the conflict on the perception of the charter of fundamental rights, that the then Prime Minister, who specifically stated on 27 June 2007 that it was absolutely clear that the charter of fundamental rights was an opt-out, was wrong. Furthermore, he was not only wrong but, in effect, contradicted by the Attorney-General of the time when he gave evidence to us only a few weeks ago.
The consequence of this, which is extremely serious, is that we have an Act of Parliament that is covered in confusion, with some judges saying one thing and other judges saying another. As there is no doubt that the charter applies to the United Kingdom, the only way of dealing with this is not, with respect to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Justice, by having another legal challenge, as he proposes, but by amending the 1972 Act, because the situation is so serious that we have to bring in primary legislation in order to get it right in the interests of the people of this country. All the rights contained in the charter overlap with rights of the sort that people in this country, as citizens of the United Kingdom, would expect to be accorded to them. These are the kinds of matters that arise in respect of what we are considering as a result of the whole question of the 35 measures.
The hon. Gentleman is right. One of the key issues now is how many opt-ins there should be. I would probably err on the side of there being more than 35. He probably errs on the side of there being fewer than 35. The Commission might want to say that there have to be 53, or none. Who knows what the end result of all this will be? What I do not understand—perhaps he will be able to explain it, because he knows the Home Secretary’s mind better than I do—is why on earth the Government would not want an amendable motion to be presented to the House before they start the negotiation so that they know beforehand that they have Parliament behind them.
I am rather attracted to the idea of an amendable motion. Indeed, in effect, I have just said so myself. If we have a vote beforehand, the coalition Government will know what Parliament thinks.
The Home Secretary clearly indicated that the Government must have a free hand in entering into these negotiations. In an intervention, I mentioned the complications involved in this and its rejection, or apparent rejection, by several countries. I referred to Spain, Germany, France and Holland, and there are others that say that the matter should be put to a referendum. The situation is so complex, and running so far into the sand, that it would be a good idea, in these very special circumstances, to discuss the question of a block opt-out. It is very important that Parliament should be given the opportunity to vote on an amendable motion before the negotiations are concluded. It is particularly important as we get down to discussing the finer detail of precisely what should be done in the interests of fairness, liberty and justice for individual citizens, who will be bound by these Court decisions against which there will be no appeal. Unless this is subject to an amendment of the 1972 Act, there will be no way of retrieving the situation to protect those citizens.
I am very exercised about the application of the role of the European Court of Justice. As my hon. Friend will know, I asked the Home Secretary to what extent the safeguards she has secured with regard to the European arrest warrant will be respected by the ECJ. Does he have a view on that?
Yes, I am deeply concerned about the matters that my hon. Friend raises. Indeed, the whole question of the role of the European Court of Justice is a matter of great concern, not only in this country but in many other countries of the European Union. I will not go all the way down the route of discussing the role of the Court. However, there are issues about who is qualified to be members of the Court and whether members of our own Supreme Court are entirely satisfied with the nature of the decisions that come out of it, just as they are concerned about questions regarding the European Court of Human Rights.
The reports of all three Committees are tagged to today’s debate, as is a joint report castigating the Government for their refusal to allow Parliament a debate and vote on the measures the United Kingdom should seek to rejoin before negotiations begin with the European Union institutions.
I presume the hon. Gentleman would accept that it is much harder for someone to negotiate when their hands are tied. Will he reassure me that he is not trying to ensure that we leave everything by making all the negotiations so difficult that they simply cannot be brought home? Is that what he is trying to achieve?
What I am saying is that voting in this House is a test of our democracy. We have already had ample opportunity to consider the ramifications of the block opt-out and we now know the 35 matters in question. Given the importance of those issues to UK citizens, those who represent their individual constituencies in this House should now have the opportunity to vote on them. That is a matter of principle and it is also a matter of democracy. Once the decisions become irrevocable, the reality is that they will be binding, through the European Communities Act 1972, in a way that would not be the case if this were a general debate about home affairs policy. This debate is tied to the role of the European Court of Justice, against which there is no appeal.
Why have the Government set their face against an open, transparent and informed debate and vote on these measures before negotiations are concluded? In the absence of any convincing explanation from the Government—I say with great respect to the Secretaries of State that we have not had one—we are compelled to conclude that the risk of unravelling a carefully crafted coalition deal weighs more heavily than the desire for democratic accountability. Such an approach is inimical to this House’s European scrutiny system, which is based on our Standing Orders and on early analysis and assessment of the legal and policy implications of EU policies and legislation so that Parliament has a genuine opportunity to influence not only the Government’s position in negotiations, but their outcome as well.
In this case, however, the position is reversed. As I said in an intervention, Parliament will simply be asked to rubber stamp the outcome of negotiations that are being held behind closed doors and hidden from the searching gaze of the public and Parliament. Negotiations are being held behind closed doors not only by the Council of Ministers and the European institutions, but by the coalition itself. We do not know the basis on which these decisions have been reached. It is a double whammy.
The hon. Gentleman needs to forget about the Liberals, because there is a big elephant sitting in the room and its name is Nigel. Does the hon. Gentleman think that growing support for the UK Independence party has been a factor in the way in which this process has evolved?
I do not think so. The driving force behind the arguments being made by the Conservative part of the coalition from the Back Benches is based on objective analysis in the interests of democracy, transparency and accountability in Parliament. Mr Farage cannot deliver anything, because he does not have one Member of Parliament. He cannot change one word of legislation—he can do nothing about any of this. I know that the situation is uncomfortable for the Secretaries of State at this moment in time, but I know for a fact that they will agree emphatically that the United Kingdom Independence party can achieve absolutely nothing. They know perfectly well that Conservative Back Benchers can achieve something. As in relation to many other European matters, Conservative Back Benchers can, by doing what we are doing now—working towards, we hope, a listening Government and listening Secretaries of State—achieve the results that we need, in the interests of the country as a whole. I hope that that answers the hon. Gentleman’s very useful question.
Let us be in no doubt about that, as my right hon. Friend and distinguished colleague says—and more power to his elbow.
Let us for a moment return to first principles and remind ourselves why the United Kingdom, alone among member states, has a block opt-out. In this context, it is worth remembering that we do not of course have a written constitution, and that gives us flexibility, unlike every other member state. We are not therefore insular or isolationist in taking such a view; as I know both Secretaries of State will appreciate, we are exercising our democratic right to express our views in a free forum—this House of Commons, to which we are elected to represent our constituents—and, as Chairmen of three significant Select Committees, we have worked together on an all-party basis to agree a view on a matter of such importance.
United Kingdom Governments of all political persuasions have been wary of extending the full jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice to EU police and criminal justice measures—that has been true of Governments of all parties—because they have recognised that conferring primacy on a court beyond the jurisdiction of the United Kingdom, and of our Supreme Court and of this Parliament, is a very profound and grave constitutional step.
Whatever views may be expressed in the debate—some will perhaps advocate opting back in to a far wider range of measures, while others will say, “None at all”; and when it comes to the vote, there may be splits and fragmentations in political parties on both sides of the House—I say to the Secretaries of State that surely we can all agree on the significance of the negotiations on which the Government are about to embark and the vital need for Parliament to have a genuine say and vote at the right time, before the negotiations have been concluded, on a matter of profound practical and constitutional significance, which bears very heavily on the liberty of the subject. What matters now is not what we have opted out of, but what measures we propose to rejoin. I ask my right hon. Friends to consider this very carefully: this is the time for the Government to think again.
On the basis of the leaks and information about the discussions that come through to us in various shapes and forms, I have referred to what has been happening in many countries throughout the European Union, and I understand that very little headway has been made in negotiations so far. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary shakes her head. Perhaps she would like to get up and tell us that everything is going fine.
I trust that today’s debate will cause the Government to think again and allow Parliament to vote on these important measures before the negotiations are concluded. This matter of principle needs to be settled not after the horse has bolted, but now, so I tell my right hon. Friends that this is the moment. This serious matter is of grave concern to many of our citizens, and this is the time to think again.
It is a pleasure to follow the Chairman of the European Scrutiny Committee, the hon. Member for Stone (Mr Cash). I thank the Government for allowing us the opportunity to have this debate today, and I thank the Home Secretary for the way in which she began the process of constructing a dialogue with Parliament. The Chairs of the three Select Committees—myself, the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Sir Alan Beith) and the Chairman of the European Scrutiny Committee—met the Home Secretary when the process began, and we agreed what I thought was a timetable to enable Parliament to express its views on these important matters.
Both Parliament and the Government stuck to that timetable. The Home Secretary wanted parliamentary scrutiny through the Select Committees by the end of October. We did our best to ensure that our reports were agreed by then, and we presented our reports to the Government with the expectation—although I accept that there was no promise—that Parliament would be able to vote on the measures before the Government began their negotiations. The Home Secretary has strongly expressed her feeling that Parliament needs to vote on something. In other words, let her get on with the negotiations, let us see where we go, let us look at the direction of travel and, once the package is ready, Members may determine whether they support it.
The personalities of the three Select Committees, not just their members but their Chairs, are quite different. They are not people we can get together and expect agreement from on every word of every report, but all three Committees, and all three Chairs, agreed unanimously that Parliament should not only debate the matter but vote on it.
Only the usual suspects are here today, with the exception of my right hon. Friend the Member for Tooting (Sadiq Khan), who has taken time off from preparing for the London marathon next week to attend this marathon session. I suspect that if there was a vote at the end of these proceedings, we would have had a much better attendance and Members on both sides of the House would have come forward to express their views.
The Government have said that the three Select Committees have deliberated and produced reports. The hon. Member for Esher and Walton (Mr Raab) tabled 125 questions, so he ranks alongside the Select Committees as far as scrutiny is concerned. That is probably enough to enable the Government to know the direction of travel and to complete the negotiations, but I do not think it is enough, and neither does the Home Affairs Committee. We feel that a vote today would have been the best way to give the Home Secretary the mandate that she needs to go to the Council of Ministers and to other European Justice and Home Affairs meetings to discuss the measures that she does or does not want to opt into. I am sure she is a very strong negotiator. She is before the Home Affairs Committee tomorrow, and I am sure she will put up a robust performance, as she always does, but she would have given an even better performance before the Council of Ministers and her various European colleagues if she had had the backing of the whole House.
I was concerned to read the note that was recently issued by the current presidency of the Council of Ministers, to which I referred in my intervention on the Home Secretary. Statewatch has published what it says is a note from Greece, which currently holds the presidency:
“Due to national procedures with the UK Parliament, the Presidency is of the understanding that the UK Government would need to finalise its position on the re-opting list by June 2014, so that these national internal procedures can take place before the UK parliament’s summer recess. Therefore, it would be appropriate that the list of acts which will be subject to re-opting in be ‘politically’ agreed by June.”
Of course, that is not a note from the Cabinet or a leak from the Home Office. It comes, apparently, from the presidency. Perhaps there is a misunderstanding about the way in which we work. The Home Secretary has said today that she will get her list ready by December and that Parliament will then have an opportunity to vote. Given that Parliament is not usually given a great deal of time to deliberate such matters, I imagine that once the measures have been agreed, there will not be a huge amount of notice before Members come to the House and vote on these issues.
The Minister for Europe, in a written ministerial statement on 20 January, said:
“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,”—
that has been re-emphasised by the Home Secretary today—
“but the importance that we will accord to Parliament in the process leading up to that vote.”
If there was a need to know the view of Parliament, it is contained in the joint report. The three Committees decided that the best course of action would be to have a good debate on the Floor and for individual Members to decide, in their own way, what they wished to vote on. I am quite certain that when this matter comes before the House, I will vote in a different way from some members of the Home Affairs Committee, because we have not taken a view on every single measure. One point that we have put before the House is that we think it vital, even if the Government decide to put the whole package before the House, that we have a vote on the European arrest warrant.
I do not believe that we have got it right with the changes to the European arrest warrant that the Home Secretary has announced. I support the European arrest warrant. I think, for the reasons given by both Front Benchers, that it is a vital tool when dealing with people who have committed terrible crimes. The Home Secretary mentioned one case in which somebody had stabbed someone 86 times. Of course it is right that we have a quick power that enables us to ask a colleague in the European Union to hand over someone who is suspected of committing a crime of that seriousness, and that that person should arrive as soon as possible. The shadow Home Secretary is absolutely right to support the European arrest warrant.
However, time and again Members of this House have raised worries, including in evidence to the Home Affairs Committee, that the European arrest warrant has not been used very well in a number of cases. The hon. Member for Enfield North (Nick de Bois) has spoken about the Andrew Symeou case. The Select Committee heard evidence from the constituent of the hon. Member for South Dorset (Richard Drax), Michael Turner, who was extradited to Hungary and incarcerated for month after month, but never faced any charges. We were therefore very concerned about the practicalities of what was proposed.
The Home Secretary said in her evidence to the Home Affairs Committee that she felt that she had made the changes that were necessary to deal with the concerns of Members of this House through the proportionality test. However, the evidence given by a number of individuals, some of whom were from Germany, indicated that that was not enough to protect a citizen who was the subject of a European arrest warrant that was issued for frivolous reasons.
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for the work that he is doing. Like him, I think that it is fundamental that the House has a vote on the European arrest warrant. It is a very flawed device. My big worry is that it is this House that must be the fount of our liberties and our criminal justice, not a foreign court.
That is a very important point. We need to be able to debate these issues and vote on them. The European arrest warrant is one such example.
The Government estimate that the unit cost of executing an incoming European arrest warrant in the United Kingdom is approximately £20,000. If we round up the 999 requests that were received in 2011, the estimated cost was £20 million. Some of the figures are extraordinary. Poland issued 3,809 arrest warrants. I had promised not to mention the arrest warrant issued for the man accused of stealing a wheelbarrow but cannot resist. Another example was a warrant for a man who absconded from a Polish prison while on day release. There was another warrant for someone alleged to have been involved in a minor drug offence. Another man subject to a warrant had given false details on an application for a £200 bank loan that, in fact, had already been paid off. They were all the subject of a European arrest warrant—there were 3,809 arrest warrants from Poland alone.
The number of surrenders from all countries to those 3,809 arrest warrants was 930. The UK issued 205 arrest warrants—we have a better surrenders record at 99. Germany issued 2,138 arrest warrants and had 855 surrenders. The total number of European arrest warrants received by member states is higher. Germany received 14,034 requests under the European arrest warrant scheme, the UK received 6,760, and Poland received only 296.
I travelled to Poland and met officials. I asked prosecutors why Poland kept issuing European arrest warrants for crimes that would not be regarded as very serious in our country—we would certainly not issue the EAW for such crimes. The prosecutors were very open, saying that issuing warrants was required by the law. If a judge issues a European arrest warrant in Poland, the Polish police are obliged to execute it, telephone the authorities in the UK, Germany or another country, and ensure that the warrants are executed. They were looking at ways in which they could limit the issuing of warrants. A much better use of the Home Secretary’s time would be to negotiate with some of those countries and tell them that they would make their cause much easier for us to follow, and make the European arrest warrant easier for us to defend, if they did something about their domestic law, as we have done. I am saying not that we are a model, but that we are doing extremely well in using the arrest warrants only for the most serious cases—those that the Home Secretary and shadow Home Secretary have described.
I would have liked the opportunity to vote on the Europol regulations. As the House knows, 3,600 internationally active organised crime gangs operate in Europe. We need Europol. We have a British head of Europol— Rob Wainwright. He was re-appointed by the Home Secretary and appointed by the previous Government. Mr Wainwright does an excellent job. We need to be in Europol and need to opt back in to that arrangement. That would enable us to be part of trying to deal with those very serious issues occurring all over Europe.
There are other examples, such as the measures dealing with the criminal records information system. We need to share such information but cannot at the moment because of the issues we are discussing. Members of the House would have liked the opportunity to discuss those matters and vote on them.
Although we will not be allowed a vote in the House tonight, I hope the Home Secretary will look again at the reports of the three Select Committees and allow hon. Members a vote as soon as possible. I hope that, when she winds up the debate, she will tell us whether the timetable set by the presidency is the right one—should we make our decisions politically by June, before the recess, and vote on them in December?—because that will give the House a clearer view as to how to proceed.
It is a pleasure, as always, to follow the right hon. Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz), the Chair of the Home Affairs Committee. I do not agree with him on our membership of the European Union, but I agree with him that the British people should have a say on the matter. That is something I want to address this afternoon.
It is welcome that the Government have, for once, made available Government time—not Backbench Business Committee time—for a debate on the Government’s opt-out decision, and I welcome, and happily support, the Government’s decision to opt out of the 128 measures. I do not support the opting in side of it: we should just leave that where we are. We have opted out and that is good enough for me. I suspect that millions of our citizens will find it rather strange that, at a time when all the debate in the country is about pulling powers back from Europe, we are going to unilaterally, without anybody putting their arm up our backs, opt in to giving the European Union more powers over our affairs.
Those who voted for the Conservative side of the coalition Government back in 2010 will be particularly surprised by this decision. They will have voted, in May 2010, for a Conservative manifesto that had commitments relating to Europe that were largely based on the speech given on 4 November 2009 by the present Prime Minister, the then Leader of Her Majesty’s loyal Opposition, entitled “A Europe policy that people can believe in”. Of course, millions of people did believe in it. After calling for the repatriation of various powers to turn back
“the steady and unaccountable intrusion of the European Union into almost every aspect of our lives”,
the Leader of the Opposition, as the present Prime Minister then was, called for an opt-out of aspects of social and employment legislation, a complete opt-out from the charter of fundamental rights, and negotiations to return powers over criminal justice matters. He said:
“We must be sure that the measures included in the Lisbon Treaty will not bring creeping control over our criminal justice system by EU judges. We will want to prevent EU judges gaining steadily greater control over our criminal justice system by negotiating an arrangement which would protect it. That will mean limiting the European Court of Justice’s jurisdiction over criminal law to its pre-Lisbon level, and ensuring that only British authorities can initiate criminal investigations in Britain.”
That is the Europe policy that many people did believe in. They, like me, will be surprised that the Government are proposing to opt in to 35 of the 128 measures over which the Government have exercised their opt-out. Although that is significantly fewer than the 93 in respect of which the opt-out will remain, 41 of those 93 are essentially irrelevant to the United Kingdom, and the Government themselves admit that many of the other 52 will have very little impact on the UK.
So what is my perspective? Millions of people in this country have already decided, as I have, that the country would be better off outside the European Union, and many millions of others are biding their time. They are waiting to see what the outcome of the Prime Minister’s negotiations with our European partners will be. Back in the early 1970s, those who were around and old enough to be conscious of what was going on in the political world thought that we were entering into a free-trade arrangement with our European partners, and that is what they want us to return to. I suspect that the fact that we are now proposing to opt back into matters relating to justice and home affairs—an entire area of policy which they never dreamt would one day be subject to the control of a foreign body and a foreign court—will only add to the millions of people who have already decided that the United Kingdom would be better off outside the European Union.
I think that this decision should be made on a “policy area by policy area” basis. I know that that might mean 35 separate votes, but so what? I agree with the Select Committees which have said that the issue is so important to the affairs of our country that if that is what it takes, that is what our Parliament should be able to do. Whatever mechanism is used, however—whether it is a single, en bloc vote or a series of separate votes—I am absolutely sure that if the outcome is a decision to opt back into 35 of the measures, or some other number, many of our fellow citizens will decide that that is the final straw. They will note our irrevocable decision to cede to a foreign court powers that govern the lives of people in this country, and will conclude that the best thing that they can do is vote Conservative in the next general election, and then, when they have their say in a referendum in 2017, vote—as I will—for this country to leave the European Union.
In the House, one always “follows the hon. Gentleman”, which often highlights differing views. It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Bury North (Mr Nuttall) on this occasion. He and I have almost diametrically opposite views when it comes to issues such as this, but I enjoyed his speech nevertheless.
In her opening speech, the Home Secretary produced a list of countries, some of which were of great interest to me, for it is always fascinating to hear about our bilateral relationships with some of our friends in Europe; but she did not refer to one nation that is a bit closer to home. My nation, Scotland, did not receive a single mention. Indeed, not one of the devolved Parliaments and Assemblies was considered important enough for the Secretary of State to mention. It should never be forgotten that we have our own judicial system in Scotland, and that we are responsible for the delivery of justice and home affairs there.
I think it reasonable to say—and I will say it to the Home Secretary, who is still present—that this opt-out is not particularly popular in Scotland. What it has in fact managed to do is unite the Scottish Government, the whole of Scotland’s legal community, all the police enforcement agencies and all the civil rights institutions in opposition. There is probably no issue that has managed to unite all those different and divergent sectors in Scotland ever before. That is how unpopular this opt-out is in Scotland. The bottom line is that we overwhelmingly do not want this opt-out in Scotland and we remain very concerned for the security and safety of our citizens in Scotland if this opt-out is pursued. We are very much concerned about the cavalier attitude of this Government in opting out of this chapter and their hope that they can selectively just opt back into the important measures that help keep people in our respective nations safe. We do not share the Government’s Eurosceptic agenda that informs this political decision and we despair at the self-defeating nonsense of all of this.
Even though we do not want this, however, and even though it is overwhelmingly opposed, Scotland will get it. That is just the way it works. The UK Government decide what they will do on behalf of the rest of the nations and Assemblies in the UK and that is what will happen.
This is the difference between me and the hon. Gentleman: he wants to opt out of Europe and be a little Englander, all self-enclosed in a joyous new future he would propose for his nation, whereas we want to reach out—we want to share with the rest of our fellow citizens across Europe all the wonderful benefits of EU membership and EU entry. That is what we will secure in Scotland and thank goodness we will not be part of the rest of the United Kingdom, pulling in one direction under the UKIP-informed political orthodoxy that is starting to emerge here. We will do it in our own way and we will reflect our own particular political values when it comes to EU membership. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising that topic.
We are going to get this measure in Scotland even though we feel it is not in the best interests of the communities we represent, but, as the hon. Gentleman alluded to, this will end soon when we have the referendum in September. No longer will we have our devolved responsibilities dictated by this Government. The Secretary of State will have seen the correspondence from the Scottish Ministers—the screeds of concerns, the evidence from the Scottish Parliament’s Justice Committee—but she will of course ignore them. That is what happens; we put forward our concerns and they are first ignored and then binned. This is what this Government still laughingly call the respect agenda.
Colleagues in the Scottish Government have stated repeatedly to UK Ministers the value we place on EU police and justice co-operation measures. We have pointed out that we have our own distinct legal system that needs to be dealt with differently, and we have our own processes of bringing serious criminals to justice and our own particular European partnerships for tackling growing levels of cross-border crime.
For us, the measures in the home affairs and justice chapter are extremely important. They are not something to barter in a game of Eurosceptic or Russian roulette with UKIP. They are measures that ensure that people accused of serious crimes are brought to justice quickly and efficiently. Unlike this Government, we very much support the sharing of information between police forces. We want to see improved joint investigations of cross-border crimes. We think it is a good thing to have better identification of people using false documents and the efficient transfer of criminals back to their own countries.
This has been done with no or little consultation. Scottish Ministers have repeatedly written to explain the possible implications of this decision on Scotland’s devolved justice system and to state clearly their very strong preference to remain fully opted into these measures, but the Government simply brought forward their intention to proceed with this opt-out without even a cursory discussion with the devolved institutions. That just is not good enough any more.
The lack of real discussion and the failure to listen to the devolved Administrations demonstrate this Government’s Eurosceptic arrogance at its worst. We all know why they are doing this. It is all because of the threat of UKIP at the polls, so they have got to be seen to be doing something—anything—about the big Brussels bogeyman.
It would be as well just to have Nigel Farage on the Front Bench trying to get this through. Of course UKIP has not got a Member in the House, but it pulls the strings in the House all the time, and this Government just respond by taking that agenda up. I do not know who will win the battle of the Eurosceptics, but it looks as though UKIP is going to win the battle of the European election polls in May. The point is that you cannot out-UKIP UKIP; they are the masters of Euroscepticism. This Government will never beat them in their race to the bottom to try and be harder on Europe and try to scare people out of Europe more and more. We do not do UKIP in Scotland—we barely do Tory; we have only one Tory Member of Parliament—yet we are going to be dragged into this Euro race to the bottom as the parties attempt to win Eurosceptic votes in the May elections.
The Government say that they are going to opt out of the home affairs chapter, only to opt back into the important stuff. The stuff that they will not opt back into is mostly dead and never used, as the right hon. Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper) said, but we could be put into a dangerous period of limbo—a gap during which the important stuff will not apply—that could diminish our security and safety. We have been forced to opt out of everything, including important measures for investigating cross-border crimes and bringing serious, organised criminals to justice.
Those measures include the European arrest warrant, which has been the focus of most of the debate today. Yes, the Government say that they will opt back into the European arrest warrant, but there will almost certainly be a lag period, and that is what concerns us the most. We know that there are those on the Tory Back Benches who do not like the European arrest warrant; we have heard from them today, and they remain disappointed that the Government will seek to opt back into the measure. For them, the warrant is a totem of EU badness—something that sums up Brussels, and must go—whereas to us, it is central to European justice and security, and to the safety of our communities. It has done a great deal to bring dangerous criminals to justice.
I suspect that opposition to the European arrest warrant is based on Euroscepticism, but our experience of it in Scotland is totally different. We have heard today of the example of Moira Jones. The European arrest warrant was instrumental in securing the conviction of her murderer, in that it allowed clothing and other property to be seized before it could be destroyed. That helped to lead to a successful prosecution. The speed with which extraditions take place is important, and long-drawn-out processes can be avoided only by using the warrant. We have none of the issues with the warrant that have been mentioned by other hon. Members. It has been particularly successful in Scotland, and it is something that all our law enforcement agencies welcome.
I shall give the House another example of how the European arrest warrant is working for us in Scotland. In January 2012, Grzegorz Gamla committed a violent attack and murder in Edinburgh. He was arrested within five hours of the issuing of the arrest warrant. That was achieved through the European arrest warrant system, but it was also facilitated by direct contact between Scottish prosecutors and the authorities in Poland under the European judicial network, which the Government say that they will not opt back into. Those two cases show how the ability to act incredibly swiftly using the arrest warrant allowed the criminal process to proceed much more quickly than it would otherwise have done.
There are other important Europe-wide security and policing arrangements from which we might find ourselves excluded for an unspecified period. We have heard about membership of Europol and Eurojust, for example, as well as practical police and judicial co-operation measures and joint investigative teams. The Government have said that they will opt back into most of the important stuff, but they are not seeking to opt back into the European judicial network, which underpins much of the good work of the European arrest warrant. We have been told by Scotland’s police and legal community that that network is invaluable to Scotland, but once again, the concerns expressed by our legal community have been overlooked.
This is all so unnecessary, and it represents a real threat to security and safety in Scotland. We do not share the ingrained Euroscepticism that now infects this Government at the highest level, and we refuse to have our political agenda determined by the threat of UKIP in the polls. The bottom line is that any gap between opt-out and rejoining has to be kept to a minimum. The longer the gaps and transition periods that have to be dealt with, the greater the likelihood of the problems that we have been discussing occurring.
Our preference would have been not to have the opt-out in the first place, but we are part of a UK that barely listens to us and that is pursuing an almost opposite set of political values and a different political agenda from ours. This will be resolved in September when we vote yes overwhelmingly in the independence referendum and Scotland gets what it wants on these issues, at which point we will secure our membership of the European Union on our terms.
I start by commending my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary for her courage in tackling this problem, which stems from the previous Government’s failure to give the British people their say on whether Britain should sign up to the Lisbon treaty. That were really the background to today’s debate: the previous Government negotiated, in the Lisbon treaty, the potential for Britain to opt out of the justice and home affairs measures, and that is what the Home Secretary made her announcement about last year. The problem is that, as with all EU matters, this goes to the heart of the democratic accountability of the EU and the issues relating to national sovereignty in Britain, which give people in this country so much concern today.
I am one of the co-founders of the Fresh Start project, which was established in 2011 to examine in detail what could make the EU more globally competitive, more democratically accountable and more flexible. The justice and home affairs question profoundly affects issues of democratic accountability and flexibility. We are in a halfway house where we have invoked our opt-out on pre-Lisbon-treaty measures and are now trying to opt back in to 35 of them which we consider very important for British national interests.
My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary said when she announced that she was going to look at exercising the opt-out that
“we will consider not just opt-ins and opt-outs but the other opportunities and options that are available.”—[Official Report, 15 October 2012; Vol. 551, c. 41.]
She has said:
“First, the Government could apply to rejoin measures within the scope of the 2014 decision”—
which is the block opt-out, and that is indeed what she is doing.
“Secondly, the Government believes that in some cases it would be possible to rely on pre-existing Council of Europe Conventions or bilateral treaties….Thirdly, in some cases it may be possible to negotiate bilateral treaties with each Member State or with the EU that would effectively replace the instruments in question…. Fourthly, in some cases there may simply be no need for any such agreement to be in place in order for there to be cooperation.”
The difficult position the UK finds itself in relates to the block opt-out and what happens once we have signed back up to 35 measures. In written evidence supplied at the end of 2012 to the relevant Sub-Committees of the House of Lords European Union Committee, the Government stated that the “practical effect” of the ECJ “gaining full jurisdiction” in the areas of the “re-opted in” measures
“after the transitional period—
from 1 December 2014—
“is that the ECJ may interpret these measures expansively and beyond the scope originally intended. This concern is compounded by the fact that the ECJ has previously ruled in the area of Justice and Home Affairs in unexpected and unhelpful ways from a UK perspective. For example, in 2008 in the Metock case, the Court made a ruling which extends free movement rights to illegal migrants if they are married to an EEA national who is exercising free movement rights. Since the Metock judgment we have seen a steady increase in sham marriages involving EEA nationals.”
It should also be noted that the ECJ would start applying its human rights jurisprudence, drawing on the EU’s charter of fundamental rights, to the UK criminal justice system within the areas falling under EU policing and criminal justice laws that bind the UK. It is, therefore, extraordinarily difficult to decide what exactly Britain should do in its best national interest on these justice and home affairs measures. Of course the Home Secretary has decided that it is in our national interest to opt back in to 35 of them, and I suspect that she has decided that in great part as a result of the clear advice from the House of Lords European Union Committee, which said in 2012:
“We recognise the theoretical possibility for the United Kingdom to conclude multiple bilateral and multilateral agreements with the other Member States, in place of some existing EU measures, and that other Member States would have an interest in putting effective mechanisms in place. But this would be a time-consuming and uncertain process, with the only claimed benefit being tailor-made arrangements excluding the CJEU’s jurisdiction. In some cases new bilateral agreements would be dependent on the legislative timetable of the other Member States, which may accord them a low priority.”
It went on to say:
“We consider that the most effective way for the United Kingdom to cooperate with other Member States is to remain engaged in the existing EU measures in this area.”
I am hugely enjoying my hon. Friend’s speech. Is she saying that the House of Lords, in its great wisdom, has come to the conclusion that it is better to sacrifice an important part of our constitution for the administrative convenience of our bureaucracy, because to address matters one by one would give it too much work?
Actually, yes, my hon. Friend is right. I made a similar point to members of the scrutiny Committee. He is right that there is an element of, “This is all too difficult, so we should not embark on it.” I have had such points made to me by other officials in this place, who seem to say that, as this is all so difficult, we should opt back in to existing measures. If that were the case, it would be entirely unacceptable.
Let me quote the European Union Committee:
“If the United Kingdom reverted to Council of Europe Conventions instead of the equivalent EU measures, this would raise legal complications, and could also result in more cumbersome, expensive and weaker procedures. It would also weaken the ability of the United Kingdom’s police and law enforcement authorities to cooperate with the equivalent authorities in other Member States regarding cross-border crime.”
In other words, it concluded that it would be easier and probably more successful for the UK to opt back in to JHA under the current terms, having opted out of all those other measures that Opposition Members have been keen to point out are not terribly important or relevant anyway. That is possibly the right step for the time being, but there are bigger issues at stake: democratic accountability to the British people, and flexibility.
Under the eurozone fiscal crisis, it became very apparent that eurozone members needed to move to greater fiscal integration, European banking union and, potentially, down the road towards a federal states of Europe. Opinion polls, discussions in this House and even Opposition Members have made it clear that Britain’s national sovereignty should remain intact, and that we do not intend at any time soon either to join the euro or to move on to the path of greater fiscal union or, indeed, a federal states of Europe.
With that thought in mind, it seems that the status quo in the EU is simply not an option. Right across the European Union, the democratic legitimacy of the EU is wafer thin. We will see in the European elections in May what European citizens—if there were such a thing, which there is not; it is merely shorthand for the citizens of EU member states—think about the ever closer union in the EU. I suspect that we will find that they also reject the concept of a federal states of Europe. That has profound implications for what we do here in this Chamber. When the Prime Minister comes to look at the fundamental reform that will be in Britain’s much better interest, he should look at the area of justice and home affairs with a view to considering whether we can undertake bilateral or multilateral agreements with EU member states or with the EU as a legal entity, which it is now under the Lisbon treaty. Of course, the advantage of having bilateral treaties with the EU rather than opting into justice and home affairs is that things would be easier for Britain as a uniquely different member state with common law practice rather than a written constitution, even if those agreements were worded in precisely the same terms as the European arrest warrant or the Europol and Eurojust directives, as the European Court of Justice would not have jurisdiction over them and they would not be able to be changed under qualified majority voting without the say so of this House.
The area of justice and home affairs goes to the heart of the democratic accountability of the European Union and ought to be a key focus for the Prime Minister’s review of how Britain can achieve a better settlement within the European Union once our party has won the 2015 general election.
That was a good joke at the end.
It seems to me that there are an awful lot of ironies in this debate. The biggest irony of the lot must be that last week the Deputy Prime Minister and the leader of the UK Independence party got themselves all in a lather about the European Union, as apparently the whole country is fixated on this issue, yet the attendance in the Chamber this afternoon is remarkably poor, considering that this is an issue that many have described as vital to British liberties and so on.
The second irony is that even as we are talking about democratic accountability, as the hon. Member for South Northamptonshire (Andrea Leadsom) just did, the Government have tabled a motion on the Order Paper which will mean that Mr Speaker cannot call an amendment to the Queen’s Speech. The hon. Lady may want to sign an amendment to that motion later today—[Interruption.] I am sure that the hon. Member for Bury North (Mr Nuttall), if he has not signed it yet—[Interruption.] He has signed it.
It is an irony, is it not, Madam Deputy Speaker—I do not expect you to answer this rhetorical question—that these two things are being debated at the same time? We are condemning Europe for not being an elected organisation and for the democratic unaccountability of the Commission and all the rest of it, even though we have Members of the House of Lords who have never put themselves up for election—except when they were Members of the House of Commons, before they went down there to take the Whip. We condemn the European Union for its lack of democratic accountability, and then the processes we use in this place to debate precisely what we should do about opting in or out of the justice and home affairs segments are put forward in a way that is wholly undemocratic and are used as a means of the Government trying to mask the fact that they cannot unite those on their Benches.
There is a third great irony that I have really loved. It is fascinating to watch so many Conservative Members of Parliament holding their noses throughout their speeches on the European Union. There is a permanent state of holding one’s nose exercised by Conservative MPs around the country. I was in High Wycombe last week, and the hon. Member for Wycombe (Steve Baker) held his nose magnificently throughout all the discussions of the policy on the EU. The first question was about whether there was any real chance of renegotiating the treaties with the EU, and he started off by saying, broadly speaking, “Well…um…it is…um…I support the Government’s policy—until such time as I shan’t.” As I understand it, that is basically the speech made by all the Conservatives who have spoken thus far, apart from the hon. Member for Bury North, who did not go that far. He is not even holding his nose; he is just announcing that there is a smell out there and that he does not support the direction the Government are going in.
I do not start from an ideological position on all this. It seems to me that there is a pragmatic question about whether it is in the interests of pursuing justice for the people of our country that we should associate and co-operate and to what degree we should do so with other countries in the European Union. That pragmatism must be informed by the fact that it is now far easier for people to travel abroad within the European Union. One in four Brits goes to Spain every year and one in six goes to Greece every year. The number of British people who come into contact with the criminal justice system of other countries within the European Union has therefore dramatically increased.
One statistic that is not often mentioned by Mr Farage is that the country with the largest number of its citizens living elsewhere within the European Union is not Poland, Germany or France, but the United Kingdom. Anything we can do to ensure that justice is available in other EU countries and that justice is secured for people in this country must be to their benefit.
The hon. Gentleman must accept that that argument does not stack up. Let us look at the number of people who travel to the United States or Mexico every year. Is he seriously suggesting that there ought to be some common justice system among those states as well? He is arguing from a weak position.
No, I am not. The hon. Lady complained that the Government and Members of the House of Lords advanced their argument on the European arrest warrant only because it was more convenient and practical. I am trying to suggest that convenience and practicality are three quarters of the point. In the end, it is in the interests of British people.
I shall take the American point as an example. When the new extradition treaty was agreed between the UK and the United States of America, despite the fact that the American Government—the President—had negotiated the treaty, it was a significant problem that the legislature had to put it in place. We moved much more quickly in this country to ratify the treaty than the Americans, and there was a period when the provisions were not perfectly equal between the two countries and when people such as the hon. Lady who argued that there was an imbalance were right. That is no longer the case, because both countries have implemented the measure.
My point to the hon. Lady is that long before we had the European arrest warrant, a Conservative Government under Mrs Thatcher were painfully aware of the problems of not having a proper extradition system across the whole European Union, where most British people do most of their travelling. That is why we had Ronnie Biggs and many others stuck on the costa del crime in Spain. Franco would not extradite anyone.
I realised that there might be some clever soul in the Chamber. The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right, but there were plenty of other British fugitives from justice who only had to go abroad to evade justice in this country, and we needed a better system of extradition to be able to get British nationals back to the UK to face justice and, for that matter, to do something similar for nationals of other countries.
I would say to Members who regularly say that this is about protecting British people from poor judicial systems in other European countries that, in the main, we bring non-UK citizens back to the UK to make sure that there is justice for families who have lost a loved one or who face some form of injustice. I wholly disagree with the ideological position adopted by some Government Members, because it is pragmatic to have a single system that works across the whole of the EU. I also think that it is a triumph that, despite the fact that the Napoleonic code and English common law are completely different systems, we can work, broadly speaking, in a united way.
My point was not that we should not be party to the European arrest warrant; nor was it about the convenience of being in or out of it. It was about the method by which we are party to it. In other words, do we do it via a bilateral treaty which, as the hon. Gentleman rightly pointed out, we have with the United States, or should we opt in to justice and home affairs, which come under the jurisdiction of the European Court and can be changed under qualified majority voting without any say-so from the House?
I understand the point that the hon. Lady makes, but the problem for her argument is that that option is not available. For that matter, why would we want to say that members of the European Union, which includes two members of the Commonwealth, can all sit around a table and discuss the European arrest warrant, but we will only be able to sign up to it on a bilateral basis? That makes no sense and it is not a system that other members of the European Union will sign up to.
There is a further point, which is my concern about the process that the Government have adopted: we may get to December and not have any new agreed system in place. I know many members of the European Commission want a new system. Some countries in Europe are so profoundly irritated by the way the United Kingdom has been playing its hand over the past few years and are so concerned about the long-term direction of Conservative members of the Government in particular that they would quite like to punish Britain. I fear that we will not have the opt-ins in place by the time the opt-outs have come into force, and as the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) said, we may well have a substantial period when there is nothing in place. That could raise very significant legal issues about how we would subsequently resolve that, and it would also put us in the difficult and embarrassing position of having to say to our citizens, “We’re sorry. We are not able to extradite back to this country because we opted out and we have not managed to get the opt-in back in place.”
The provisions on opting back in are not very clear. The one thing that is clear is who has to pay, which is the United Kingdom. That is the one thing that is absolutely clear. We do not even get to decide how much—the costs are decided by the European Commission.
My anxiety is that the Commission could well say, and has effectively said in some of its public pronouncements thus far, “Well, it’s very interesting that you are interested in 35 opt-in measures, but those 35 are contingent upon at least 18 others”—some of which have been listed in the Home Affairs Committee report. The European Commission may at that point come back to us and say, “We’re sorry. It’s 53 or nothing.” Then we will face a difficult problem, especially as we enter a general election.
The main point that I want to make is about process. As I said, it is somewhat ironic that many Government Members have, for understandable reasons, argued the issues surrounding democratic accountability. The problem is that I do not know what the Government are going to allow us to vote on. The Secretary of State said that it would not be legislation, so we know that it is not going to be a Bill that goes through two Houses, and it is not going to be a statutory instrument either. I do not think it is going to be a treaty, unless she brings us a treaty that has already been signed, but that seems extraordinary to me. I therefore presume it will be some kind of motion.
We have already seen what the Government are trying to do in relation to the Queen’s Speech by not allowing the House to consider an amendment other than one tabled by the Leader of the Opposition. I presume that is largely because any other amendment that was tabled might relate to the European Union and a referendum. I am suspicious about what the Government are going to present to us and the timeliness of that.
There is probably broad agreement about the number of measures that we would like to opt back in to. It is probably slightly bigger than the Government’s list—about 45 or 50—but the House should take a view before the Government start their negotiations. The worst of all possible situations would be the Government coming forward with an unamendable motion which we simply voted on, almost like a statutory instrument. That would unite both ends—the people who would like to see more opt-ins and those who would like to see no opt-ins. In a sense, that is exactly what happened after the American war of independence, when the Earl of Shelburne lost the treaty negotiations on the preliminaries for the treaty with the Americans. My anxiety is that then the Government do not have a leg to stand on in their negotiations with the European Union.
I hope that the Government will make it clear that we will have a debate in the House before the summer recess in plenty of time for them to negotiate with the European Union. That would not tie their hands. They should make sure that the motion is amendable, so that if people want to vote on whether the European arrest warrant is in or out, they can do so, or on any of the other measures, perhaps packaged in some way—I do not mind. A clear list should come out of the House. How can we possibly preach to Europe about democratic accountability and the importance of what happens in this House if we have not done properly in this House what we should have done in the first place? I will vote for a longer list than the hon. Member for Bury North. I may vote for the same list as the Lord Chancellor—I am not sure—but certainly for a shorter list than the shadow Lord Chancellor. But in the end that should be a decision for the whole House. It should not be stage-managed and organised in backroom deals by the Whips so that the House cannot make a proper decision.
It is a pleasure to be called to speak, after a characteristically entertaining contribution by the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant). I agreed with a lot, though not quite everything, of what he said. It is also interesting to speak after the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart), who made a fantastically strong case for the benefits of staying inside larger organisations. It was an excellent case for why Scotland should remain with the United Kingdom. I congratulate him on making such a strong case here, and I look forward to hearing it elsewhere.
It is good that there is general agreement among the three Front-Bench spokesmen of the three main parties, and indeed the Scottish nationalists and others, that the UK needs to remain opted in to many of these measures—the most significant ones. That is very important and I am pleased to have seen it. I pay tribute to both the Home Secretary and the Lord Chancellor for resisting some of the siren calls from their Back Benchers. They understand the importance of these measures and it is important that they stick with that.
I have a number of fears about where we might head. One, which I hope can be addressed, is the fear of a gap—that there may be a pause between us pulling out and going back in—and the consequences that that would have. This was mentioned earlier. There are some provisions for temporary measures and so on, but what would happen to the head of Europol, who is a Brit? Can he continue as head of Europol if we are outside, whether for a minute or a month? Would that cause problems? Would anybody agree to temporary transitional arrangements if that meant that the person in charge came from a country that was not part of Europol? That is a big worry.
The bigger worry, however, is that we might accidentally fall out of all these measures without that being the intention of the vast majority of the House. That could be because negotiations fail and we simply cannot reach an agreement—there was much in what the hon. Member for Rhondda said about the concern that many of our European partners have about our attitude to European co-operation. What happens if someone tries to cause trouble and we cannot close the negotiations? That also applies to other suggestions. If we have a formal, fixed vote before negotiations, that will make it incredibly hard to have a proper negotiation. There are a number of core measures. There are also a number of peripheral measures. If this House says, “These are the absolute lines,” it makes it very hard to create a proper negotiation—actually to have a discussion with the European Union. That could lead us to falling out unintentionally.
I am aware of what happened in the House on the issue of military intervention in Syria. There was a proposal from the Prime Minister to have military intervention without UN approval, and there was a proposal from the Leader of the Opposition to have military intervention without UN approval. There was a small group across various parties—about 50 of us—who did not want intervention without approval, but because neither side would agree with the other’s version of the wording, our small band won. I am delighted about that, but I would not want the small band of people who want us to be out of all these measures to win because of a disagreement between the two sides.
My hon. Friend is right on the technicality that there would have been a second vote, but the principle ensconced in both was to have military intervention without the UN approval that some of us wanted. However, that is not the subject at the heart of this debate.
I share the concerns expressed about whether the whole effort has been worth while. The shadow Home Secretary is not in her place. I do not always agree with her, but I did agree when she said that the things we will not remain opted in to are, generally speaking, the less important ones. They are the ones that do not matter; they are more trivial. That is by design, but it also means that the entire balance will not have been changed as a result of this. The Home Affairs Committee agreed unanimously that if the Government proceed with the option as proposed, it will not result in any repatriation of powers. Some of us think that is a good thing—that collaboration and co-operation are worth having—but others have concerns. Has it been worth the huge amount of parliamentary, ministerial and official time and effort in negotiating with partners to achieve what will probably—hopefully—be a very small effect?
It is important to highlight why this matters. We have had a great deal of discussion about process, but we should remember why it is important. Our work with our partners in this area of policing and criminal justice is one of the great benefits of European Union membership. There are other benefits—on trade, free movement and a stronger voice on the international stage—but that ability to share information to catch UK criminals on the run and to bring them back to face justice at home, and to fight international terrorism and crimes such as child abuse, come from our participation in the European Union’s justice and home affairs measures. Europol is an incredibly important element in the fight against organised crime. We would suffer badly if we lost that. Cases such as Operation Rescue involved huge co-operation with 12 other countries, with Europol playing a critical role in intelligence and analytical support which resulted in the safeguarding of at least 230 children worldwide, 60 of whom were in the United Kingdom, and the arrest of more than 180 offenders, 121 of whom were arrested in the UK. That is the sort of thing that would be put at risk by those who are simply allergic to anything that mentions the word “Europe”, and there are a number on the Conservative Back Benches, though fortunately not on the Front Bench. We do take that lead. It is not a coincidence that the head of Europol is a Briton.
The hon. Gentleman raises the question of those people for whom the word “Europe” evokes all kinds of spectres. [Interruption.] Well, he got very close to it. He is only repeating Bismarck in the late 19th century, when he said, “Whenever anybody uses the word ‘Europe’, I then realise what they are up to.”
I thank the hon. Gentleman for that enlightening quote. He can choose to describe himself how he likes.
It is strange that the Home Office, while trying to stay within Europol, has created ambiguity about the relationship with Europol by, for example, not opting in to other measures. I want the Government to have flexibility on these things so that they can take many of the other Europol measures and not be bound too tightly by the exact details of a vote here. It will make it very strange. As the Home Affairs Committee highlighted, that runs contrary to the logic of the Government’s stated policy.
We get huge benefits from the European arrest warrant. The Association of Chief Police Officers—it nears the end of its career but it continues for now at least to speak for senior police officers—has highlighted that relying on alternative arrangements to the European arrest warrant
“would result in fewer extraditions, longer delays, higher costs, more offenders evading justice and increased risk to public safety.”
That is what has to be set against the allergy that many have to this issue.
Keir Starmer, former Director of Public Prosecutions, said that failure to opt in could lead to an
“uncertain, cumbersome and fragmented approach, which is likely to have a damaging impact on the prosecution of crime in England and Wales.
That is what has to be addressed by those who want us just to leave the EAW. I am glad that Ministers have taken a sensible line on this. We need to reform the European arrest warrant, but we are better off for having it. For example, the Government’s Command Paper highlights that an extradition now takes on average three months, whereas it takes about 10 months for countries that are not covered by the EAW. That is a substantial change, and some people would not be extradited at all. Those who want to go back to the old framework would slow down the process of justice in some cases and stop it in others.
Of course, we need to make some changes to the EAW, and I pay tribute to the principled stance taken by the hon. Member for Esher and Walton (Mr Raab), who I do not think is allergic to this. He has some detailed, thought-through concerns about a number of aspects, and I hope we will hear thoughtful comments from him later.
Changes have been made. For example, the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014 made some changes to extradition to ensure that our courts can take greater account of these matters, and the judge will have to consider the seriousness of the offence and the likely sentence. Changes are also happening within Europe to try to make the situation better and to deal with cases where people might face a long period of pre-trial detention. Many of our Members of the European Parliament have been working on this. In particular, Sarah Ludford—Baroness Ludford—has been successful in securing a majority in the European Parliament for a package of EU-wide reforms of the European arrest warrant. These recommendations are important. They propose the inclusion of an EU-wide human rights safeguard clause preventing miscarriages of justice, and measures to improve standards of detention, specifically pre-trial detention. I hope that the European Commission and this Government will make sure that these reforms happen by coming up with proposals to enact them that we then get into law.
If we want to benefit from these tools and change them so that they work for Britain, we obviously have to be there at the table leading the negotiations. If we walk out, we give up on any chance of doing that, leaving our citizens vulnerable at home or when they go holidaying or working in Europe. Crime crosses borders and so must we. That means co-operation, information exchange, and justice systems that match our own high standards. We should opt in to these measures and make sure that we do not accidentally walk out, because that is the key to achieving this effectively and efficiently. I hope that the Home Secretary and the Lord Chancellor will successfully conclude these negotiations, and that my fears of our sleepwalking out of them do not come to pass, because that is the best thing for Britain.
The hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant), who speaks extremely interestingly on these matters and sometimes challenges the Eurosceptics, was, as always, on good form. However, he made a mistake in not wanting to talk about ideology and principles, because we need to start with first principles—what we think of as the idea of the state and the sovereignty that that state has.
For me, the very essence of a state is its ability to maintain law and order. From that, it follows that its justice system and policing are at the heart of what it means to be an independent nation state, and that when those things are given away, the country involved is becoming part of a larger state and no longer maintaining its independence. That is why these opt-ins and opt-outs are of such considerable importance to the sovereignty of this nation and, indeed, to the credibility of the Conservative party as a party that considers itself to be Eurosceptic. They are also important in relation to the promises given in the coalition agreement, which said that
“no further powers should be transferred to Brussels without a referendum”
“we will ensure that there is no further transfer of sovereignty or powers over the course of the next Parliament.”
We now have an area on which we are going to transfer very substantial powers to Europe. There is a debate to be had about what is the status quo as regards the opting out and then opting in. The current situation, however, is that what we have agreed to is not justiciable in the European Court of Justice, nor can enforcement action be taken by the European Commission. Those two important qualifiers mean that what we have agreed to is not part of the acquis communautaire but is a matter entirely in the hands of this country. Under the Lisbon treaty, we had an opt-out from all these measures that has duly been exercised. The Government have argued that the exercise of that opt-out was, in itself, a repatriation of powers, but that is wrong, because in fact these powers had not been ceded. Tony Blair, the Prime Minister who agreed to Lisbon, though he did not sign it, was quite clear about that in the statement that he gave when presenting the treaty to this House. I have already quoted the answer he gave to my right hon. Friend the Member for Hitchin and Harpenden (Mr Lilley) when explaining that a referendum was not necessary as we had not ceded justice and home affairs powers because they were subject to an opt-out, as was the charter of fundamental rights. Therefore, at the point at which Lisbon was agreed to, he was clear that these powers remained vested in the United Kingdom, and it is only with the opting back in that they are being transferred.
What the Government propose as regards opting back into these 35 measures is a clear breach of the coalition agreement and entirely contra to Conservative party policy. I would go further and say that any effort to renegotiate looks faintly absurd if we are arguing for the repatriation of powers from Europe, and intend to put that to the vote through a referendum, yet immediately before beginning the renegotiation process we have decided that we will cede a major part of our powers to the European Union. As I said at the outset, the heart of the matter is that justice and home affairs—law and order—are part of the vital structure of a state, and if one is not in control of the vital structures of one’s state, one does not have sovereignty.
If we opt into any of these measures and they are justiciable by the European Court of Justice, we are, through that act itself, ceding sovereignty to the European Union, because it is part of building up a single state.
What does a state have that makes it a state? What is the essence of a state? At least one important part is the ability to control law and order. We are opting back into the things that are most clearly creating the powers of a federal state of the united states of Europe—a single state that is the European Union. That will mean that we are no longer a member of an international organisation like any other, such as the United Nations or NATO, from which it would be easy to withdraw, should we wish, although I am not suggesting for a moment that we do so.
Of the 35 areas that we are asking to opt back into, three illustrate the fundamental importance of the sovereignty issue. The first of those is the European arrest warrant. The decision over who can arrest a nation state’s citizens must be an essential right of that nation state in determining this exceptional power that it gives to its police officers. In our case, the power that constables who hold the Queen’s warrant have to restrict somebody’s freedom comes directly from the Crown as part of the expression of the power of the state. To decide that an arrest can be determined abroad without any of the necessary British legal procedures involved is a move very firmly towards a federal state. Crucially, the question of who is or is not arrested will no longer be determined by a British court but by the European Court of Justice, over which we have no absolute control. We may have one justice there, but it is not a court to which we send ambassadors; it is a court that is independent in its exercise of European law as opposed to British law.
The hon. Gentleman has fallen into uncharacteristically misleading language. Over what court does he think we do have control? We send to the European Court of Justice judges just like those we have in our own courts, and we do not purport to control them from this House.
My right hon. Friend is fully aware that Parliament can overrule any court in this country by an Act of Parliament. That is how our constitution works; it is the absolute essence of our constitution and our democracy. He, of all people, must know that. We have in this House, and together with the House of Lords, the ability to change the law if there has been a judgment that is alien to our understanding of how the law should be enforced. That is simply not the case as regards the European Court of Justice. It is a court that is outside the control not of Parliament but of the people of the United Kingdom, whose rights are being given up. The arrest warrant would be handed over as part of the creation of a state.
Tied in with this is Europol. Europol, in its current form, is limited, but once we have signed up to this measure, its development will be subject to the qualified majority vote. Europol exists to provide support and assistance to member states in the fight against organised crime and drug trafficking. What are we doing in this regard? Are we setting up the very beginnings of a federal bureau of investigation? Are we starting to say that we will have a police force in Europe with a power that goes across national borders? Are we therefore saying that British subjects may be subject to a law that this country has not agreed to—indeed, we may even vote against it—and that has emanated from a judicial system that is not controlled by the democratic will of the British people?
That ties in with Eurojust, which is about creating mutual legal assistance to aid investigations and prosecutions and how judicial action in a cross-border case should take place. What is happening? We are creating an arrest warrant, the beginnings of a European police force and Eurojust, which will allow co-operation in a judicial and prosecutorial capacity. That is not a million miles away from creating a European public prosecutor, which for some reason is singled out as the one thing that is a bridge too far and that we must never have without a referendum, but everything that is being put in place makes that the next logical step. If we do this, it would be no surprise if a future Government said, “We have the arrest warrant, Europol and Eurojust, so surely we don’t need a referendum to have a public prosecutor, because that is the next thing we should do.” This is further evidence of the creation of a European federal state.
The argument in favour of this measure is that it will help ensure that criminals get caught. Everyone is in favour of that: of course we want criminals to be brought to justice. Is there not, however, an ancient view of British justice that it is better for 100 guilty men to go free—I say “men” deliberately, because women very rarely commit crimes that get them sent to prison, much less so than men, and I do not want to upset any hon. Ladies—than for one innocent man to go to prison? That seems to be at the essence of our understanding of justice. This is about risking our belief in justice for the convenience of the Administration.
Is it not that the worst argument of all that their noble lordships have produced a report saying that public officials are too idle to do their jobs properly for us to have a system of bilateral negotiations? I know that our public officials are among the greatest and hardest working people in the land. When one sees them arrayed in front of us, one knows that they would be willing to burn the midnight oil and act in the nation’s interest to ensure that we have those bilateral agreements. Although it has not yet been done, there is nothing in European law to prevent a member state from having an agreement with the body of the European Union. The European Commission does not want that to happen, but that is a very different question from whether or not it is legal. It could easily be done by a relatively simple treaty change, if it is not provided for in the current treaties.
In my view, it would be judiciable in our own courts and, like any other international agreement, we would be free to withdraw from it. It would not come under the European Communities Act 1972. I do not wish to cede power to the European Court of Justice, because that would be the means by which we would give up our independence as a nation state. If it is not our judges—who are subject to our democratic control—who make decisions, we will not be able to run our own affairs.
I want to continue with the point I was making about the United Kingdom’s understanding of justice. I think we get too tied up with the convenience of the law enforcement bodies. Of course, the views of the police should be taken very seriously, but they ought not to be writing the law of the land—they should be enforcing it as it is determined by this House and their lordships. One of the measures that the Government wish to opt back into is that of mutual recognition of judgments given in absentia. Page 57 of the European Scrutiny Committee’s report notes the Government’s view that the
“Framework Decision ensures that fewer criminals will be able to evade justice by arguing that their conviction was unfair”,
but what if their conviction was unfair? Surely we should not be depriving our fellow citizens of the right to argue that a conviction in absentia was unfair when it could have been. That must be an essential protection for the state to provide its nationals, and to take it away would be a fundamental error.
What we have and have not opted into is a relatively random collection of parts. I agreed with the shadow Home Secretary, the right hon. Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper), in her mocking of some of the measures we are not opting back into. On the opt-ins, including that of taking account of convictions in EU member states in the course of new criminal proceedings, page 53 of the ESC’s report notes:
“The principle of taking into account overseas convictions in the same way as domestic ones exists in UK domestic law”
“The mutual recognition principle it sets out is already recognised in statute and common law in the UK. Opting back in to this EU measure would introduce full Court of Justice jurisdiction into this area of UK criminal law, with unpredictable results.”
What is happening here? We are opting into something that already happens and that can continue to happen. All we are changing is that other European countries do not have to take into account our decisions, but they may if they want to—they are not prevented from doing so. Crucially, however, we are bringing the European Court of Justice into it. Therefore, if a judge were to pass sentence on somebody who had committed a crime abroad and the European Court of Justice deemed that it had not properly taken into account the previous conviction, sentencing in the United Kingdom could end up being a matter for the European Court of Justice. Does Her Majesty’s Government realise that, although some of these things appear superficially to be unnecessary and broadly irrelevant, they are agreeing to major transfers of sovereignty to the European Union?
My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary said in her introductory speech that several hundred questions have been tabled. I am delighted that my hon. Friend the Minister for Security and Immigration has just come into the Chamber, because he, poor man, had to reply to the many dozens of questions that I tabled. I thank him for the diligence with which he replied to my questions about the measures that the Government decided not to opt back into. Of those 95 measures, 43 were irrelevant, so there was no point asking any questions about them. I asked about the remaining 52, of which 24 turned out to be implemented already without any change; 11 had been de facto implemented with no change; two had been implemented and never used; and two had not been implemented. As the shadow Home Secretary rightly said, most of what we are not opting back into is, effectively, unimportant and irrelevant and cannot honestly be described as a reclaim of British sovereignty, because, as I said in my opening remarks, that sovereignty was never ceded in the first place, because the matters remained entirely under the jurisdiction of the British courts, the British House of Commons and their lordships.
I will quote the details of one of those matters in order to give a flavour of what is going on. Council decision 2005/387/JHA on the information exchange, risk-assessment and control of new psychoactive substances has been implemented to the required standard by the UK and, according to the response I received from my hon. Friend the Minister for Security and Immigration:
“Co-operation and information exchange with other member states and EU bodies will not change as a result of opting out of this measure.”—[Official Report, 17 October 2013; Vol. 568, c. 823W.]
That has been broadly true of the overwhelming majority of the measures we have opted out of.
We therefore have this opt-out—the previous Labour Government, in a desire to get away from a referendum, negotiated it—which fortunately came to the benefit or aid of this coalition Government, who have used it. They looked at it, but they undoubtedly had a political problem. One part of the coalition is made up of Europhiles red in tooth and claw—although my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (Dr Huppert) does not necessarily look red in tooth and claw, he adopts that position on the European Union—who want an enlarged European organisation. They may quibble with me about whether it is a single state, but they want to see powers with Europe, because they believe that that is an advantage to the nation. They met the Conservative view—it has now been the Conservative view for a long time—that we do not want more powers to be ceded to the European Union. It was negotiated in the coalition agreement that no further powers would be passed to the European Union.
The time came to exercise the opt-out—it had to be exercised before the end of this year, 1 December 2014—and last year it was duly exercised. We are therefore in the happy position, the paradise, of no longer subscribing to any of the measures. That would be a happy place to stay, but the Government, throwing away the coalition agreement and abandoning what unites the Tory party, have decided to give away the things that most certainly create, build up and advance the federal European state that so many of us wish not to see. That contradicts the Prime Minister’s effort of renegotiation, as well as past statements by Conservative Ministers and politicians throughout the Front and Back Benches. It would be a grave error to opt into all 35 measures. It is against the national interest, and to do it for administrative convenience—because we cannot get officials to do the work—is a shameful way to treat our hard-working and admirable officials, who would all be delighted to do the work to preserve the independence of our country.
I must first explain to the House that I had to leave during the middle of this debate, after the opening speeches, to speak in a discussion upstairs about a statutory instrument that directly affects my constituency.
I have the pleasure of following the hon. Member for North East Somerset (Jacob Rees-Mogg). It is a pleasure because of his eloquence, but eloquence and judgment do not always walk together, and on some matters he is simply wrong, including about the European arrest warrant. My belief is that if 100 criminals go free in the absence of the European arrest warrant, that would be an extremely bad state of affairs for our constituents. That is entirely separate from the question of ensuring that no innocent person is convicted in our courts. Long may we strive to achieve that second objective.
One measure that we are opting into ensures that people do not have to be detained in foreign prisons, but can be returned to the United Kingdom to serve under bail conditions in the United Kingdom. That is another reason why I think that we should look at the measures individually and decide which are in the national interest and beneficial to our citizens because they afford some protection to our citizens abroad or because they help to protect our citizens in this country from criminals who flee elsewhere having done terrible harm.
I want to make a little progress.
I want primarily to speak about the Justice Committee’s work on this matter, but I cannot forbear to mention that the Government have handled their relationship with Parliament very badly in this regard. This debate is a somewhat belated and limited response to the view of the three Committees that there should have been an early opportunity to debate and vote on the measures so that the Government knew the House’s views, with that being supported by impact assessments at an early stage—we still have not had any—and a much earlier indication of the Government’s intentions.
There have indeed been intensive discussions. The hon. Member for North East Somerset implied that they took place at a table with all the Conservatives on one side and all the Liberal Democrats on the other. I know that it was more complicated than that on several issues, as I am sure the Justice Secretary is well aware.
I want to turn to the measures for which the Ministry of Justice is responsible, and on which the Justice Committee reported. Of the total of 16 such measures, the Government propose that the UK should rejoin seven. Our report examines the case for and against rejoining all 16 measures, and we concluded in broad support of the Government’s approach. There are six mutual recognition measures—on financial penalties, previous convictions, prisoner transfer, probation measures, judgments in absentia and the European supervision order, to which I referred a moment ago—and the Government propose to rejoin them all, except for the probation measures framework decision.
We agreed that the Government was right, in the national interest and in the interests of effective cross-border co-operation in criminal justice, to seek to rejoin five of the measures. The Government support particularly strongly the UK’s participation in the prisoner transfer framework decision, stating that a top priority is to reduce the number of foreign nationals in UK prisons, while the decision is also an important part of the overall reform package of the European arrest warrant. My support for the European arrest warrant is accompanied by the belief that it was right to take active steps in various areas to try to reform it and make it better serve its purpose.
One of the five measures, the European supervision order, enables a defendant or suspect under non-custodial pre-trial bail or other supervision to be returned to their home member state to await trial there. It would not of course apply to people granted unconditional bail, who would be free to return to their home member state in any case. We urged the Government to implement the measure without further delay, and their response stated that they intended to do so as soon as practicable.
On the probation measures framework decision, which provides a basis for mutual recognition and supervision of suspended sentences, post-custodial licences and community sentences, we noted the Government’s concerns about its practical operability, but we stated:
“In view of the potential value of the Framework Decision we consider that the Government should pursue the matter in their negotiations on the opt-in list to see whether these concerns can be dealt with. We would not wish to rule out participation in the measure if concerns about its drafting can be overcome as part of the forthcoming negotiation process or at a later stage.”
In their response, the Government spelled out in more detail their objections to the measure, including that it falls within the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice, while saying that they support the measure in principle. I still hope that they will make some effort to deal with some of the practical difficulties, because the measure may be of real benefit.
There are six minimum standards measures, which set out EU-wide minimum penalties and sanctions for corruption involving officials, counterfeiting of the euro, fraud and counterfeiting of non-cash means of payment, and corruption in the private sector. Two of the measures will be replaced by a new directive, covering counterfeiting of the euro, which the UK has decided not to opt into. The Government do not propose to rejoin any of the remaining four measures. They pointed out that we already at least meet the minimum standards, and rejected the arguments that were put to us in evidence that leaving the measures could cause reputational damage. We stated that
“the arguments for opting into the…minimum standards measures are primarily symbolic, and our view is that those arguments do not outweigh the disadvantages of bringing wide areas of criminal justice in the UK unnecessarily into the jurisdiction of the Court of Justice of the European Union.”
The remaining four measures under the aegis of the Ministry of Justice comprise one on data protection in police and judicial co-operation, one on a data protection secretariat, a Schengen agreement on road traffic offences and a measure on conflicts of jurisdiction. The Government propose to rejoin the first two, but not the last two. We broadly agreed with the Government’s line, although we stated that the arguments were finely balanced as to whether the UK should rejoin the framework decision on settlement of conflicts of jurisdiction, because it provides a framework of guidance for member states to put in place to protect against parallel legal proceedings on the same matters being taken in different member states. The Government’s position, which they maintained in their response, was that it had no additional practical value because best practice arrangements are already in place.
Our broad conclusion was to support the Government’s choice of opt-ins on Ministry of Justice measures. The Government closely coincide with our views. Those views are on the record for the consideration of the House to which we report, and it remains a matter of regret to me that we were not able to register our views in the House earlier and in a more concrete way. However, this debate has been a useful means of reminding the Government about where it has support, where there are differences of view and, in particular, where the Select Committees charged with such responsibilities have looked carefully at the measures and given their advice.
It is a pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Sir Alan Beith). We have not reached the same conclusion, but I pay tribute to the work of his Select Committee, and indeed to the work of all the Select Committees that have provided the reports that have invaluably informed this debate. I agree with the point that has been consistently made on the critical role of parliamentary scrutiny in all of this. Whatever our view on the measures and the direction that Britain should take, the measures are clearly substantive and important.
I welcome the Government’s exercise of the block opt-out, which is critical. I am surprised by the great lengths that Opposition Members, so few of whom remain in their place, have taken to trash the opt-out that they negotiated and to highlight all its flaws. Time and again, rather than setting out their position on the substance, they are at pains to point out their failure to negotiate, and to rubbish the product of their negotiations before the previous election.
It is important that we scrutinise the substance of this area of UK-EU relations, both because of its effect on policy and because the public care about it. For all the slavish pro-EU noises that we have heard from Labour and Liberal Democrat colleagues, their argument is clearly not taking effect with the British public. A ComRes poll for Open Europe towards the end of last year found that crime and policing is the fourth most important area that the British public want renegotiated with Europe. The top area is immigration, so two of the top four measures for renegotiation, according to the British public, who we know overwhelmingly back renegotiation, are justice and home affairs measures. If Conservative Members are just a bunch of crazies and are missing something, other Members must struggle to explain why they have failed to win over public opinion. Why do the public so strongly think that justice and home affairs is an area that needs to be reconsidered? It is important that we look at the package as a whole and at individual measures through the cold, hard lens of the British national interest.
My opening point is that the lack of proper empirical evaluation of the effectiveness of many JHA measures has been an endemic problem across successive Administrations, but particularly under the previous Government. In comparison with the way in which UK policy and legislation works, whether we are for or against the measures, we do not have a proper understanding of how the measures operate in practice. The right hon. Gentleman referred in a rather cavalier way to hundreds of criminals going free if we do not sign up to the European arrest warrant. I will take an intervention if he can explain where that figure comes from, because I do not think it is based on concrete evidence.
I was referring to the remarks of the hon. Member for North East Somerset (Jacob Rees-Mogg), who used the rather tired saying that it is better for 100 individuals to go free than for one innocent man to be convicted. My argument is that it would not be acceptable for 100 people to go free because we do not have the European arrest warrant, but we should also ensure that innocent people are not convicted.
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his intervention. He is the Chair of the Justice Committee, which has investigated the measure, but I am still not clear on the public protection shortfall, in empirical terms, if we do not sign up to the European arrest warrant and instead look for alternative arrangements, which I know would be slower. The Home Secretary referred to a case relating to the German constitution, but what is the empirical evaluation of the quantitative size of the public protection shortfall for which the European arrest warrant caters? I am none the wiser. I appreciate that the police would love to have fast-track extradition, but I will not nod police powers through the House that have been requested by the Association of Chief Police Officers, or by anyone else for that matter. In the same way, I would happily join forces with Liberal Democrat colleagues to face down police requests for things such as ID cards or extended powers of pre-charge detention. We need to consider the merits of each proposal.
ACPO’s evidence to the House of Lords European Union Committee has been regularly cited, and that evidence recommends that it is vital to opt back in to only 13 of 135 EU crime and policing measures. I do not suggest that we should take that at face value, but it is extraordinary that only 13 measures are regarded as being of any tangible law enforcement value. That highlights the unthinking way in which the previous Government signed up to EU measures, and they are now saying that the current Government are proposing only to opt out of trivial measures. The real question is why the previous Government signed us up to stuff that is trivial, redundant and irrelevant, not least because the trajectory of EU justice and home affairs is, sooner or later, going to encompass the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice, which we know can turn seemingly irrelevant or peripheral measures into something damaging for national democracies. At the other end of the scale, it shows how much pointless legislation comes out of the EU if the police, who are regarded as the most zealous advocates of EU crime and policing, are advocating that we opt back in only to such a small proportion of the measures covered by the Lisbon treaty opt-in.
I pay tribute to the 21st report of the European Scrutiny Committee. I agree with all the points on the risk of giving jurisdiction to the European Court of Justice, because we would end up doing for crime and policing what the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg has done for deportation powers and prisoner voting and is looking to do for whole-life tariffs. We should be very cautious about that.
The Home Affairs Committee’s ninth report contains some important analysis of the European arrest warrant, which it describes as “fundamentally flawed.” It is worth noting that that backs up the evidence from Britain’s most senior High Court extradition judge, Lord Justice Thomas, to the independent Baker review of extradition. Lord Justice Thomas said that the European arrest warrant has become “unworkable.” I will read out in full some quotes from Britain’s most senior extradition judge, because this is not a right-wing excursion or some rabid anti-European ideology; it is from someone who considers such cases week in, week out. In his evidence to the Baker review, Lord Justice Thomas said:
“Looking at the 27—I’ve said this to many people—this system becomes unworkable in the end… politically there is a huge problem. There is quite a lot of strong judicial feeling on this subject”—
the European arrest warrant—
“in northern Europe that both the judges and politicians in other countries need to put the resources into their systems to bring them up to standard… We’re all agreed there’s an undoubted problem, as the cases sent in by Fair Trials International illustrate. If you talk to anyone, there’s obviously a problem… One of the problems with the way in which a lot of European criminal justice legislation has emerged is that it presupposes a kind of mutual confidence and common standards that actually don’t exist.”
That is Britain’s most senior extradition judge.
Previous speakers, particularly my hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset (Jacob Rees-Mogg), spoke about considering not only a snapshot of current co-operation but the future vision of where EU justice and home affairs co-operation is heading. I entirely agree with that analysis. We need to think of the long term, not just the short term. I know that many hon. Members are rightly fixated on the time lag and the time gap, whether we have enough time to do anything else and whether we will find ourselves, having opted out, not opting back in to measures, but at this juncture we ought to look to a long-term settlement of Britain’s relationship with Europe in the important area of crime and policing.
I fear the creeping supranationalism that is undoubtedly coming. We cannot read the text of the regulations, whether on Europol or Eurojust, not to mention the wider remit of the European Court of Justice, without seeing that that is happening. We would have to be blind not to accept that. There is a new draft regulation that would strengthen Europol’s power to demand that national police forces initiate investigations by whittling away the national right to say no. There is similar strengthening of powers to demand data from national Governments with less ability for those Governments to say no. There is increasing supranational management of the running of Europol. Of course, if we opt back in, all of that is subject to the overriding jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice, rather than the British Supreme Court. I always find it fascinating that Opposition Members, including the shadow Justice Secretary, who set up the British Supreme Court, are now so willing and eager to give away its right to have the last word not only on matters affecting law enforcement and public safety but on matters affecting British citizens.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I was going to come on to the other areas of creeping supranationalism.
The same is true of Eurojust. Although Britain will not opt in to the European Public Prosecutor’s Office—I very much welcome the fact that Ministers have made that clear—if one looks at the fine print, which the Deputy Prime Minister always encourages us to do, the new Eurojust regulation encourages close co-operation with the EPPO through the back door. If we opt back in to the Eurojust regulation, we will therefore have a close relationship of support for the EPPO. That is something else that needs to be looked at.
Even here at home, outside the political arena, we have had a timely warning from the High Court, and from Mr Justice Mostyn in particular, about the risks of creeping supranationalism. The last Government, to great fanfare, negotiated the British opt-out from the charter of fundamental rights. However, we found out from a case in the High Court in November 2013 that that counts for nothing. Again, so that I cannot be accused of spinning the language, I will refer directly to what Mr Justice Mostyn said. In respect of the opt-out he said:
“it is absolutely clear that the contracting parties agreed that the Charter did not create one single further justiciable right in our domestic courts. The assertion in the…protocol that no new rights are created seems to me to be a misleading product of political compromise because on any view the Charter enunciates a host of new rights which are not expressly found in the European Convention on Human Rights signed in Rome in 1950.”
“However, my view that the effect of the seventh protocol is to prevent any new justiciable rights from being created is not one shared by the Court of Justice of the European Union in Luxembourg.”
He went on to say:
“The constitutional significance of this decision can hardly be overstated.”
That is a timely warning from another senior British judge about what is actually happening.
If we listen to our colleagues, partners and friends in the European Union, they are telling us the same thing loud and clear. Viviane Reding, the vice-president of the European Commission and the Justice Commissioner, made it very clear in a speech in Brussels on 4 September 2013 that the EU wishes to acquire the powers of a nation state in the rule of law area. She said explicitly that the EU needs a formal justice Minister and stronger powers to police national criminal justice systems, including
“detailed monitoring and sanctioning powers”.
We must not only look at the snapshot of measures that are before us now, but ask whether in five or 10 years’ time we will find ourselves enmeshed in a common pan-European justice system over which we have lost substantial democratic control. On the evidence, the answer is almost certainly yes.
I want to talk about the European arrest warrant in particular because, between the two poles of UKIP, which suggests that we should just opt out en masse, and our Labour and Liberal Democrat colleagues in this House, who suggest that there is nothing wrong with it, there is a common-sense—dare I say it—third way or at least a middle course. That is to have binding treaty relations on extradition, but to ensure that we have safeguards in place to protect British citizens. We must not make the Faustian bargain that was debated by the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed and my hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset of sacrificing a few innocent people to snag a few guilty fugitives.
If one looks at the data, one finds that the number of European arrest warrants that are received by the UK has trebled since 2004. The latest figures on warrants issued from the first quarter of 2013 showed that the UK receives 33 warrants for every one that it serves. A number of colleagues on the Liberal Democrat and Labour Benches have talked about the lop-sided nature of UK-US extradition, but that is nothing compared with the European arrest warrant, empirically and factually. One cannot take issue with the lack of reciprocity in our extradition relations with the US and not see the same problem in the European arrest warrant. One Briton is surrendered each week. That is up from five per year in 2004.
I accept that we needed a more streamlined process than existed before. I accept that we need a treaty basis for that. We ought to get to a stage where we can talk about reform of the European arrest warrant. I do not think that we will achieve that if we opt back in at this stage.
Of course it could be reached. I was a Foreign Office lawyer for six years. I would love to obsess, fixate and opine on all the legal niceties, but this is about political will. Ultimately, these issues come down to political will.
Many Members have quoted ACPO’s submission on the importance of the European arrest warrant. I accept that it has been very clear about that. However, as I said earlier, it has not been able to assess how many fugitives would go free if we did not opt back in to the European arrest warrant, but went down an alternative route. That is the Achilles heel in its argument. In fairness to ACPO, if one reads on from the statement that the hon. Member for Cambridge (Dr Huppert) read out, it says:
“That said, extradition did exist before 2004 and so it could operate without it”—
that is, without the European arrest warrant—
“as it does with non-EU states.”
The idea that we would face a cliff edge and that fugitives would go free left, right and centre—we have the tabloid scare stories about terrorist suspects and paedophiles—is nonsense. The only way in which that could happen would be if the EU was prepared to cut off its nose to spite its face and refuse to have any extradition relations with us at all. What possible interest would it have in doing that?
I listened carefully to the police evidence, as I think has been borne out by my comments today. I also want to look at the non-police evidence. Fair Trials International has given evidence at length about the miscarriages of justice that have taken place. The appalling miscarriage of justice in the Andrew Symeou case, in terms of both the incompetence of the Greek system and the gruesome jail conditions that he ended up in, are passed by very glibly by those who suggest that we should opt straight back in or that we should opt back in and then somehow reform the system without having the leverage that we have now.
I have the constituency case of Colin Dines, who is subject to a European arrest warrant that alleges his involvement in a mass telecoms fraud involving the Mafia back in Italy. No evidence has been presented of his links to that crime. No attempt has been made to come to the UK to interview him, to get his side of the story or to see if the matter can be straightened out. In the process, with the stress and the strain, he has suffered a stroke, only to find out that the case is crumbling and that the substantive charges look very likely to be dropped or, at least, that a face-saving way out will be found by the Italian authorities. There are other cases, such as those of Edmond Arapi and Deborah Dark.
I respect the Liberal Democrat position on the European arrest warrant, but when I heard the Deputy Prime Minister, in the Farage-Clegg debate, dismissing the Symeou case as “fantasy”, it was deeply disappointing. It was right that he subsequently corrected his position on the Symeou case. As someone who has met the family of Mr Symeou and the other victims to whom I have referred and who still sees the Dines family, who continue to suffer from the European arrest warrant, I find the glib dismissal of a civil liberties issue by the Liberal Democrats difficult to reconcile with their supposed advocacy of British freedom.
I am glad that I took that intervention. The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right.
We need to work out the best way to reform the European arrest warrant through national legislation and by renegotiating the EU framework decision or, better still, by opting out and pursuing a bilateral treaty, which would mean that the British Supreme Court had the last word on the fate of British citizens. We ought to have a sensible debate about all of that.
I note that the Liberal Democrats’ answer to the problems of the European arrest warrant is another EU directive on the rights of the accused. A Liberal Democrat would say that, the answer to defects in EU law is always more EU law, but we must consider the systemic lack of judicial capacity and the lack of standards in some countries—I have mentioned Italy and Greece, which are not new EU member states, so heaven help people if they end up in the Romanian or Bulgarian justice systems or, worse still, in one of their jails. I welcome the hon. Gentleman’s intervention, but I do not understand how swiftly the Liberal Democrats have sold the freedom and civil liberties of British citizens because of their slavish adherence to EU dogma and the idea that ever more EU integration must be a good thing. We should not accept the Faustian bargain whereby we sacrifice a few British citizens to lock up a few extra criminals. That is not my idea of British justice. It is not what millions in this country fought for in world wars. It is not the tradition of this country dating back to Magna Carta.
We have options—that is critical—whether falling back on the Council of Europe conventions, which are not foolproof, or taking advantage of the legal personality of the EU to negotiate bespoke legal arrangements that do not fall within the ECJ jurisdiction. Hon. Members have referred to transitional arrangements, which could buy us some time. All of those are the common-sense middle ground we should be aiming for. There is absolutely no reason why a single serious criminal fugitive would go free if we considered such arrangements. To suggest otherwise is ridiculous scaremongering.
I have one final point to make on the European arrest warrant. There are reports in The Daily Telegraph today that Spain and France will not even countenance Britain adopting a proportionality test in UK law, even though the framework decision allows that. What chance would we have of renegotiating the framework decision after we opt in if they object to that now? Our leverage is at this point in time. We should take full advantage of it to achieve the best deal for British citizens.
The case I want to make is for operational co-operation with our EU friends without ceding democratic control. Britain has—by far, overall—the finest intelligence and law enforcement assets in the EU. The EU has legal personality, so it is much easier to negotiate justice and home affairs agreements. I have asked parliamentary questions on this. The EU has countless, by which I mean a good 10 or dozen, justice and home affairs international agreements with third countries. We have the precedent of Frontex—we are not a full member but co-operate on an administrative basis, which works incredibly well. We need to avoid the creeping supra-nationalism of the EU in justice and home affairs.
For all the talk of EU justice and home affairs safeguarding British law enforcement, the raw fact is that EU JHA has severely undermined our power to protect the British public by removing or deporting serious criminals. That will only get worse in the years ahead.
I want to be very careful in not passing judgment about any arrest warrant on my hon. Friend that may be pending, not least with the Select Committee on Defence hustings looming, but my understanding is that the Interpol red notice is more of an alert than a binding warrant for surrender.
We need to look not only at what is going on within the EU. It is suggested that EU law provides best practice, and yet one might get a different view if one asks a senior Swiss diplomat, as I did recently at the Fresh Start project, which was organised by my hon. Friend the Member for South Northamptonshire (Andrea Leadsom). I asked the senior Swiss diplomat: “When you look at the whole area of EU justice and home affairs and at crime and policing, is there anything that you miss or want?” He said, “Absolutely nothing. The reality is that good law enforcement is done by the phone—by good operational contacts. It is a question of how you make things work in practice. It is not done by hyperactive legislation.” I then asked a senior US diplomat whether the US would ever consider sacrificing so much democratic control over law enforcement in its relations with any neighbour in north or south America, and whether the US would ever go down that route if it is such a great idea for the EU and Britain. They said: “Absolutely no chance.” No other region of the world is remotely thinking about enhancing the integration of law and ceding democratic control in justice and home affairs.
I understand that the crude political tendency is to dress up Euroscepticism, or any substantive critique or analysis, as the product of an insular, little-Englander mentality, but when we look globally, we see that no one else is going down that route. Why is Britain not taking into account the best practice from around the world, including in our Commonwealth partners such as Australia and New Zealand, and in the US and Canada? Why are we not looking at our excellent law enforcement relations with those countries? Why is the EU always presented as having the best law enforcement relations in the world when that does not seem to be based on any empirical evidence?
We should take advantage of the power we have in the Lisbon treaty to reform our relationship with the EU in the vital area of justice and home affairs. This is an important strategic crossroads for Britain. If we do not reform justice and home affairs now, using that important treaty lever, when will we do so? We always have promises of jam tomorrow. Such a reform would be an important precursor and complement to the wider EU negotiation that the Prime Minister has very wisely said Britain needs.
It is incredibly important that we take this opportunity to stand up for the liberty of British citizens, and for the democratic prerogatives of the House and the people who send us here. If we cannot have operational co-operation without ceding democratic control, we should have the courage of our convictions and say no. I want strong law enforcement and operational co-operation with our EU partners, but not at any price.
It is a privilege and an honour to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Esher and Walton (Mr Raab). He spent six years as a Foreign Office lawyer and has a family back story that is perhaps more exotic than that of many on the Government Benches. Over the past half hour, he has, with his searing intellect, differentiated the small print, which he understands as well if not better than anyone in the House, from the key principles, which he enunciated. In particular, he concluded that we can achieve outside EU structures, albeit slightly more slowly in a few instances, what we can achieve within them, but without the downsides to liberty and democracy that are implied if we remain within those structures. He has done us a great service.
My hon. Friend spoke of the European arrest warrant. I felt that he spoke from the current centre of gravity within the Conservative party. He mentioned that the Home Affairs Committee, on which I sit, concluded that the EAW was “fundamentally flawed”, but did not mention that the Liberal Democrat member of that Committee, my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (Dr Huppert), voted to remove the word “fundamentally” from our report. I am delighted that Conservative members voted that proposal down unanimously.
It was instructive to hear from my right hon. Friend the Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Sir Alan Beith). I intervened on him to ask how many people he would be prepared to see kept in custody wrongfully in order, supposedly, to bring 100 guilty people to justice, but he did not answer. He has great hopes that there will be some new EU directive that will stop all those bad things happening and properly protect everyone’s rights: as long as we legislate, people will be protected in practice and we need worry ourselves no more. However, we also heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield North (Nick de Bois), whose constituent, Andrew Symeou, came to the Home Affairs Committee. My hon. Friend said that the proposals will not work and cannot be trusted, and that they will be judiciable by the European Court of Justice and subject to the proposals of the European Commission. As my hon. Friend the Member for Esher and Walton said, the problems that have been seen in the old member states may be not just replicated but worse in the new member states. How many people would the Liberal Democrats be prepared to see wrongfully imprisoned to get 100 crooks bang to rights? Alas, there are no Liberal Democrats here to answer my question. They tell us that they believe in the civil liberties of the British citizen, but when it comes down to it they always put the European Union and their belief in Europe, right or wrong, before the liberties of the British citizen.
Today, we debate a motion on an opt-out. We have heard an awful lot of discussion on what we might opt into, but the motion actually reads:
“That this House has considered the UK’s 2014 justice and home affairs opt-out decision.”
It is important to understand that the opt-out has been agreed. Parliament has voted to exercise the opt-out. All this talk about opt-ins is speculative. We may or may not opt back into some, any, or none of these measures—that remains to be seen. The status quo ante is that we have opted out, we have exercised it and that we have that great repatriation of powers. We will have to see whether it will be undone, or whether it will be maintained.
The great worry of my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge, who is not in his place, is that we may sleepwalk, or accidently fall, out of the measures he would like to be in. I think he underestimates the degree of planning that went into delinking the two matters. A number of motions and draft motions were put on the Order Paper, and others were discussed between the coalition parties. Ultimately, the motion we voted on was to exercise the mass opt-out. There has been no decision by the House to approve any measures to opt back in. I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed, because the amour propre of Select Committees was also involved. The result of the decisions to which my right hon. Friend the Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed and my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge signed up was that the mass opt-out and any opt-ins were delinked. Crucially, one came before the other.
My hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge seemed to be concerned that there might not be agreement in this House on what we might opt back into. One fear was that, as he sees it, the Labour party might play political games and that it would like us to opt back into more than the Government might wish. If, as with the Syria vote, Labour Members vote for their own motion or amendment, rather than voting for the Government motion, and it fails, there might be no agreement on any set of measures to opt back in to. The Home Secretary told us about her negotiations with her European partners and the Commission. Have there been negotiations with those on the Opposition Front Bench on whether they will support the package the Government put before the House, or does she believe that she has enough votes from Government Members to drive through measures to integrate this country into the European Union in a way that we have not seen before?
My hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge worries that this may come unstuck if the Government cannot reach agreement on what the measures should be. There has been discussion and there may be understanding but, as the Home Secretary rightly says, we do not know what we will be able to negotiate until we go through the process. We read in The Daily Telegraph today the concerns of a number of our partners about even a very modest proportionality test for the European arrest warrant. There will have to be further discussions between Conservatives and Liberal Democrats on whether an agreement can be reached in the coalition on what the Government want to opt back into and what is put before this House as a motion.
Those discussions and any decisions are likely to come after 22 May, when we consult the electorate in the European and local elections. That is when our constituents will have their chance to pass judgment on politicians, and, in particular, on the self-proclaimed “party of in”, which has made great play of these supposedly co-operative measures. The president of ACPO is quoted, and reference is made to whatever the police want. I remember the previous Prime Minister Tony Blair saying that if the police ask for something, there is nothing that any responsible Prime Minister can do except to give it to them. That, surely, is the definition of a police state.
We hear about the ACPO evidence, but I understand that people in ACPO have been fighting to avoid this portfolio. When Sir Hugh Orde talks about the ACPO position on EU matters—he may continue doing so for at least the next few months—it is not because the police consider them to be so terribly important that Sir Hugh must talk about them, but, I fear, it is because other chief constables have learnt the lessons from the noble Lord Blair. If they intrude into politics and tell the public and politicians that they have to vote a certain way so that they can lock people up for 90 days without charge—to say nothing of police vans festooned with “Vote Labour” stickers—there will be a backlash, because the police should not get involved in politics to that degree.
Unfortunately, with the European investigation order and the new statute for Europol, we have the prospect of our police being ordered what to do by politico-judicial structures in other EU countries where the separation of politics and operational policing is not what it is in this country. Do we, as a country, want to make a trade-off that allows British citizens to be arrested on the say-so of magistrates in Greece or Bulgaria and locked up for many months, if not years, in prisons that do not meet the standards that we in this country consider to be acceptable? Fundamentally, that is a matter for us as politicians, not the police.
Many examples have been given of perceived injustices as a result of the European arrest warrant being applied in other countries. For example, is my hon. Friend aware that, under the European arrest warrant, a man from a neighbouring Staffordshire constituency was convicted in Italy, in absentia, for a murder that he could not have committed, because he was serving in a restaurant at the time, and sentenced to 15 years? It is definitely not just a one-way street.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for drawing that example to the attention of the House. It goes to show that in principle we cannot sign up to the European arrest warrant, because we do not have a sufficient degree of trust in the similarity and protections of all EU 27 judicial and policing systems to allow us to do that. People in our country deserve and have had, over centuries, protections that are greater than those now offered within the European arrest warrant. It is for that reason that I hope and believe it is still possible that we will choose not to opt back into it.
The Home Secretary has given her view, but there are many views in the Conservative party. Those views are held not just on the Back Benches, but, I know, deep in the most senior levels of Government. I ask that we listen to the electorate. Once the electorate, on 22 May, passes its judgment on the “party of in”, and on how weak their arguments are, with the Deputy Prime Minister just recycling arguments he has picked up without giving any liberal thought as to what they are or what the principles should be, we will see that this is not what the people in this country want. Ultimately, we still have the right to make a different decision. What we have seen with the opt-out we have already made is that the opt-ins are still to come. One analogy that Members, at least in my party, may find instructive is with regard to what happened over the AV referendum and the boundary changes. We agreed, in good faith, to give the Liberal Democrats their referendum on AV. In return, they agreed to later give us boundaries that would give fair representation across constituencies. They banked their AV referendum, and then did not give us the boundaries that there was, at the very least, an understanding that they would give.
I would argue that the mass opt-out equates to the AV referendum in that analogy. I do not think that we would have any more reason to agree later to opt in to matters in which we do not believe because of that opt-out than the Liberal Democrats had to give us our boundaries because they secured their AV referendum; and I think that after 22 May, we will be in a different political situation.
Does my hon. Friend agree that this issue is of such constitutional importance that it might be better to delay it until after a general election? If we did not exercise the opt-ins, and if the Liberal Democrats left the coalition and we had an early election, there would be no great harm in that.
My hon. Friend has made a very sensible point. I think that, as we get nearer to the election, we need to differentiate between what we believe in as Conservatives and what we have been forced to agree to by the need to be in harness with the Liberal Democrats. Given that they have not fulfilled their promises to us, and as we discover in the course of our negotiations with our European partners that we may not be able to secure protections in every area in which we would like to secure them, we shall have to consider, in those new circumstances, the balance of the opt-ins that are proposed, and decide whether we, as Conservatives, wish to agree to them.
There is yet another example. The Liberal Democrats and the Labour party agreed to allow the European Union (Referendum) Bill, presented by my hon. Friend the Member for Stockton South (James Wharton), to complete its passage in the House of Commons, but when it reached the House of Lords, those same two parties made certain that it would not be passed, and we now understand that the Liberal Democrats are refusing to allow a money resolution to be tabled in respect of any future Bill that may be subject to the Parliament Acts.
The hon. Gentleman is becoming awfully exercised about the Liberal Democrats, but the party about which he should be most concerned is UKIP, because it will probably trounce the Conservatives in the European elections. What will the Conservatives do in that event?
The debate is about the opt-out, Mr Deputy Speaker, and other Members have spoken at length about what we might opt back into. I merely suggest to the House that, having opted out, we should not opt back into anything. A number of arguments support that view, but I believe that the most important argument is that anything that we opt back into will be judiciable by the European Court of Justice, and will be subject to the decisions and the enforcement of the European Commission. It is for that reason that the Home Affairs Committee concluded unanimously:
“If the Government proceeds with the opt-in as proposed, we note that it will not result in any repatriation of powers. Indeed, the increased jurisdiction of the ECJ may result in a net flow of powers in the opposite direction.”
We in the Conservative party, at least, have set our face against that, because we believe in bringing powers back from the European Union and, ultimately, putting the choice to the British people in a referendum. It would be entirely inconsistent with that if, having exercised this opt-out, we sought to push through opt-ins as a result of which the European Court of Justice and the European Commission took charge of areas that had previously been intergovernmental.
In 1990, our party negotiated the pillar structure of the European Union, but the Lisbon treaty puts an end to those pillars, becoming the “tree” that has stemmed from the earlier Dutch draft. We said that we would change Europe, and that there would be subsidiarity and intergovernmental pillars, but that will end if these opt-ins take place, and the European institutions and integrationists will have won. We have already voted to exercise the mass opt-out. We should leave things as they are, and then let the British people decide.
We have had a very good debate, which has lasted for nearly four hours. We heard 11 speeches from Back Benchers, most of them parliamentarians who take their role as members of the legislature very seriously. They hold the Executive of today to account, they held the last Executive to account, and I dare say that they will hold future Executives to account as well. Three of them were Chairs of Select Committees, and I shall say more about their important contributions shortly.
Keeping the citizens of our country safe is one of the biggest challenges that any Government face. Increasingly, in the modern world of mobile populations and ever-changing technology, criminals take no notice of national boundaries. That is why cross-border co-operation is becoming ever more crucial in the fight against crime, and why today’s debate has been so serious. What we have been discussing is the extent to which we, as a country, believe that co-operation with our European partners is in the best interests of the fight against crime.
Unfortunately, what was already a complex debate on justice and home affairs issues is being made more complex by the Government’s deep-rooted anxieties about all things European. What should be a cool, calm and rational debate about measures designed to help the fight against crime risks being overshadowed by the Conservative party’s wider palpitations about the European Union. Nevertheless, today’s debate has been good-humoured, and many serious points have been made. I trust that the Government will respond to them, as they surely must.
Labour Members have made it clear that we do not oppose the principle of opt-outs. That is why we negotiated the power in the first place. The various Select Committee reports have confirmed that some of the original measures are redundant in any event, and that it would make no difference whether we were in some of them or not. My right hon. Friend the Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper) listed a number of those measures.
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that on 27 June 2007—the very day on which he handed the reins of power to his successor—the former Prime Minister Mr Tony Blair stated that it was absolutely clear that we had an opt-out from the charter of fundamental rights, and also from justice and home affairs? What he did not mention was the fact that the overall system contained a power to rejoin.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for reminding us all of his excellent memory of historical facts and dates. I am afraid that I cannot comment on that particular remark by Tony Blair, although I can comment on most of his remarks.
There is clearly concern about the way in which the Government have gone about seeking—or rather not seeking—the views of Parliament, and the lack of votes on this matter. Today we heard from three Select Committee Chairs: the hon. Member for Stone (Mr Cash), the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Sir Alan Beith), and my right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz). I shall not repeat the unprecedented criticisms of the Government’s approach by not one but three Select Committees, namely the European Scrutiny Committee, the Home Affairs Committee and the Justice Committee. The hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) expressed concern about the lack of consultation with the Scottish Government, and a number of other Members in all parts of the House referred to the lack of scrutiny being given to the decisions on which the Government are embarking.
Labour Members will approach the substance of the issues on the basis of what will help us in the fight against crime, rather than what will help us to ensure that our Back Benchers are soothed and reassured, which has been the Government’s approach. I wait to hear what the Justice Secretary has to say on the issues that have been raised today, but I live in hope that, rather than hearing the usual EU-bashing or ECHR-trashing, we shall hear a considered response to the important issues raised by Government Back Benchers and, indeed, by other Members in all parts of the House.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford has already described in detail our views on many of the measures that the Government are proposing to opt back into. Let me now touch briefly on some of the measures that fall into my own area of responsibility. They were dealt with in the Justice Committee’s report, and, today, in the excellent speech of its Chair, the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed.
The Government propose to opt back in to five of the six mutual recognition measures, which we welcome. On the financial penalties framework decision, it is right that member states collect financial penalties regardless of which country the offender lives in. There should be no hiding place for offenders just because they live in a different country from where their crime was committed. The measure has been used considerably over the last few years. The Justice Committee confirmed that in just the short period between June 2010 and September 2012 we received penalties collected by other member states of £90,000 and collected for other members £50,000 in penalties.
On the previous convictions framework decision, courts must take account of a defendant’s previous conviction in other member states. Even the Justice Secretary has conceded that this measure was needed and is not part of a Europeanisation of our justice system, but is in fact central to our efforts in fighting crime. This is a key tool in helping us to fight crime and allowing our courts to have access to information from other member states on previous convictions.
Prison transfers are a massive issue, and not only within the European Union. Just last week Jamaica refused to ratify a transfer agreement with the UK which would have seen many of the Jamaicans behind bars in our jails sent back home to serve their sentences. We know it costs around £40,000 a year to keep someone in a UK prison, and with more than 10,000 foreign nationals behind bars—1 in 8 of the whole prison population—that represents a cost of £400 million a year to keep foreign criminals in British jails. If for nothing else, for purely financial reasons we should be doing more to send back to their home countries those foreign nationals who have committed crimes on our soil. The Prime Minister made big and wild promises back in 2010 personally to intervene to send back tens of thousands of criminals, but that is yet another broken promise to add to the long list. Since then, only a handful have been returned to their home countries.
To be fair, I accept that there are difficulties in negotiating prisoner transfer agreements with other countries. The setting up of the EU prisoner transfer framework, signed in November 2008 and brought into force in December 2011, was not a walk in the park, and I sympathise with the problems all Governments have had in negotiating these agreements. However, with about one third of all foreign nationals in our prisons being from the EU, this ought to make a difference to the numbers behind bars. I note that the Justice Committee reports that more needs to be done, and the Justice Secretary might want to tell us about some of the problems he has been having in negotiating these agreements in relation to the opt-in.
It would also be useful if the Justice Secretary were to tell us what else he is doing to make sure other member countries are stepping up to the plate on this issue. To date, too many are not playing a full part in the scheme, meaning that the scheme as originally planned and the agreement that has been signed have not borne the fruit we all would have liked to see.
The Government also propose to opt back into the judgments in absentia framework decision and the European supervision order, both of which play a key role in stopping criminals evading justice and allowing citizens to be returned to their home country for a period of non-custodial pre-trial supervision. Out of the mutual recognition instruments, the only measure the Government have chosen not to opt back into is the probation measures framework decision, but from reading the explanation given by Ministers it is clear that there is not a principled objection to this framework decision; there is rather a concern about how it might operate in practice. Will the Justice Secretary tell us more about his views on where the concerns may lie in practice rather than in principle?
Unfortunately, I did not have time to give notice that I would participate in this debate; we only got notice of it yesterday.
I have a constituent whose father went to the courts in this country under the European arrest warrant and was told that the EAW was not to be enacted here and it was not valid. He thought he was free and he travelled to the Netherlands with his wife, but was arrested on arriving there. He is now in Poland. He is a seriously ill man in hospital, but it would appear that the Government have not put in place measures to allow the courts of this country to make a decision on an EAW and then to make it clear to other countries that they do not believe it to be valid. It gives people in this country the odd feeling that they are not likely to be arrested throughout Europe under an EAW which can then still be enacted elsewhere.
My hon. Friend gives one of the many examples of how there can be problems operating the EAW in practice. We hope that during the course of the negotiations on the changes to which the Home Secretary referred, some of the problems that have been shown in real time are addressed.
The Government have chosen not to rejoin all six of the minimum standard measures. They cover corruption involving officials; counterfeiting of the euro—there are two on this; fraud; counterfeiting of non-cash means of payment; and corruption in the private sector. In these cases, the Government argue that UK law is already of a sufficiently high standard to meet or exceed the requirements. My right hon. Friend the shadow Home Secretary went through some of the other areas the Government have chosen not to opt back into, which are redundant because of the progress made over the past few years.
The Chairs of the European Scrutiny Committee, the Home Affairs Committee and the Justice Committee reminded us that for the first time in history three Select Committees have come together with a joint report, all expressing unhappiness with how the Government have approached the process of the opt-out and opt-in. I am not going to rehearse the points they made. They have concerns about the lack of impact assessments, the fact that there is no motion that can be amended let alone voted on, and the fact that colleagues in the House of Commons will not get a chance to debate and vote on the measures the Government decide to opt into or out of until it is too late.
The hon. Member for Bury North (Mr Nuttall) made an honest and refreshing speech about the different perspective he has from those who speak on behalf of his party in government. He explained his support for the opt-out and not the opt-in. His speech was followed by the most different speech we could have heard. The hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire explained his unhappiness about the fact that the Government had not consulted the Scottish Government. He lives in hope that the referendum in September may lead to a different perspective for the people of Scotland, but he also, in a weird part of his speech, sought to argue that we are better together with the EU but that Scotland was not better together with the rest of the UK. That was an interesting argument.
The hon. Member for South Northamptonshire (Andrea Leadsom) made a very interesting speech, too. She is one of the founders of the Fresh Start group and expressed concern about the lack of democratic accountability and flexibility, and referred to the House of Lords scrutiny Committee. I agreed with her when she said that the status quo with the EU is not an option, however. She made a useful speech.
My hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) was scathing in his critique of the Government, which is nothing less than we would all expect. He talked about his concerns about the priorities and processes by which we got to where we are, and he repeated the question he posed in the Home Secretary’s speech about what Parliament would be allowed to vote on and when. He referred to the options the Government have—primary legislation, a statutory instrument, a treaty or a motion with the ability for it to be amended or not.
I am not sure whether the Home Secretary and the Justice Secretary should be worried that the hon. Member for Cambridge (Dr Huppert) said he agreed with and supported the approach they were taking. He mentioned his concerns about the impact on Europol in particular if there was any time lag, and also about the benefits of co-operation.
The hon. Member for North East Somerset (Jacob Rees-Mogg) will not thank me for saying this, but I thoroughly enjoyed his speech. He said he was speaking up for the authentic voice of the Eurosceptic Conservative party, and he reminded us of his analysis of whether the opt-in would be a transfer of power and why in his view that demands a referendum. He argued that, because the European Commission and the ECJ were now in play, that should involve a transfer of power. I am sure that the Justice Secretary will respond directly to that point.
I also enjoyed the speech from the hon. Member for Esher and Walton (Mr Raab), who used his six years’ experience as a Foreign Office lawyer to explain why he felt that these matters were more about political will than about the advice given by civil servants. He gave examples of some of the real-life cases that had been challenged as a consequence of the European arrest warrant. I hope that we can seek improvement now that we have that empirical evidence. He challenged all of us to provide empirical evidence to persuade the British public of the need for better co-operation with our European partners. That is a challenge that we all need to take up, especially in the light of the Deputy Prime Minister having been trounced by Nigel Farage in their two recent debates. We need to have the facts at our fingertips when we have this debate.
The hon. Member for Rochester and Strood (Mark Reckless) also made an interesting speech. He reminded us of what I am sure he will not mind me calling the miscarriages of justice in the past few years as a consequence of the European arrest warrant. He was scathing in his attack on the approach to the European Union taken by his friends, the Liberal Democrats. I am sure he will not mind me saying that we expect nothing less from him.
We have had a good debate, which has lasted just over four hours. A lot of questions have been asked, and I look forward to hearing the answers from the Justice Secretary over the next 15 minutes. Let us hope he can finally answer them.
I should like to start by expressing my thanks to all those who have spoken in the debate today. I shall address some of the points that they have raised, but I should first like to make a couple of observations.
My views on matters European are well known. British justice is the envy of the world, and I will not countenance any attempt to replace it with a pan-European justice system. It would be entirely wrong for Britain to hand over control of Justice and Home Affairs entirely to the European Union or its Court of Justice and, under this Government, that is not going to happen. Those who were here for the debate a couple of weeks ago on the three recent proposals from the Commission will have heard us putting forward this Government’s intentions loud and clear on matters that we all believe would be an unnecessary and unwarranted intrusion on our justice system.
If I may, I shall answer that question by setting out for my hon. Friend where we stand.
The House will be aware that more than 130 justice and home affairs measures were due to come under the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice in December 2014, as a result of the Lisbon treaty signed by the previous Government. It is important to point out to my hon. Friends that this Government have secured the opt-out. Had we not been able to reach agreement on that, we would have been required under the terms of the treaty to participate in all those 130-plus measures. The opt-out has been a significant step—[Interruption.] I hear chuckles from the Opposition Benches, but I have to say that, although we have heard complaints and criticism from them this afternoon, it was the Labour Government who set up the process. They negotiated the opt-out, but they now appear to be trying to disown what they did, and to claim that the process we are now going through is nothing to do with them. It was they who negotiated the process, and it was they who set out the way in which we would have to address these issues. Their arguments on this are therefore completely bankrupt.
The Lisbon treaty clearly paved the way for the creation of a European justice area, and that system is now beginning to take shape. The European Commission is pushing ahead, with the latest justice scorecard just one signal of its intent. My hon. Friend the Member for Esher and Walton (Mr Raab) talked about some of the things that the Commissioner had been doing recently. She was explicit earlier this year when she said:
“We need a true political union. To me this means that we need to build a United States of Europe”.
She has set out her ambition to have a common justice area by 2020. Let me be clear: that is not something I want, it is not something the British people want, and with the Conservatives in government, it is not something this country will ever sign up to. Indeed, I trust that no future Government of any political persuasion would take this country down that route, despite the Opposition’s rather mealy-mouthed answers today on where they stand on these matters.
That is why it was important that the Prime Minister exercised our opt-out in July last year to ensure that Britain did not become part of a common European justice system, and that is why we continue to assert our right to opt out when Brussels brings forward new legislation in this area. This Government are protecting our national interest and standing up for Britain, whereas Labour typically just ran up the white flag over many years.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend the Lord High Chancellor for giving way, not least because we are relying on him, as the last bastion, to stop this happening. The problem seems to be that we have opted out of 98 things that do not matter, and that some of the 35 things that we are opting back into matter enormously. To call that a repatriation of powers is terminological inexactitude.
I set out clearly to the House at the start of this process where I believe we stand. We are absolutely set against the creation of a European justice area and against the Europeanisation of our laws, but we also have a duty to our citizens to fight international crime, and I do not want us to be outside the battle against it. Earlier, my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary set out clearly the message that she has received from groups involved in fighting organised crime about the need to take the necessary measures to do so. She has clearly and robustly set out what she believes to be in the UK national interest on that front.
The shadow Justice Secretary, the right hon. Member for Tooting (Sadiq Khan), talked about the challenge posed by foreign national offenders, and I want us to be part of pan-European arrangements to return foreign national offenders as quickly as possible. He said that he hoped I was not going to give the House what I think he called another rant against the ECHR. I would simply draw the House’s attention to one or two recent Court decisions taken under the European Court of Human Rights framework that have actually prevented us from sending prisoners back to other countries. I hope that that situation will change very soon.
My right hon. Friend might recall giving evidence to the European Scrutiny Committee in respect of the charter of fundamental rights, which has a significant overlap in relation to the rights of the citizen and which, of course, relates indirectly to the European convention on human rights. This is very special, however, because Labour actually wanted to prevent the charter of fundamental rights from applying in the United Kingdom and took what the then Prime Minister described as a clear opt-out. However, my right hon. Friend knows that we now have an Act of Parliament saying one thing and a Court of Justice ruling saying another. What is he going to do about that? Is he going to adopt our proposal to amend the European Communities Act?
Let us be clear: what the last Government said about the charter of fundamental rights was simply an untruth. There are many quotes in which they clearly talked about an opt-out from the charter, but that opt-out does not exist. We on the Government Benches have our differences on aspects of human rights law, but there is unity across the coalition on the role and presence of the charter of fundamental rights. None of us wishes to see it become part of UK law, and none of us wishes the ambitions of some in Brussels who talk about it being extended into national law come to pass. We will resist that absolutely. As my hon. Friend knows, we are testing the current legal position in the courts, and I have no doubt that I will be giving further evidence on this subject to his Committee in the near future.
I am sure that we will debate the charter of fundamental rights report, which divided the European Scrutiny Committee when it was finally read. To return to a question I asked earlier: why are the Government still in the situation where a UK court can decide that a European arrest warrant is not valid and that the person does not have to return to the country demanding their return—in the case I am interested in, that country is Poland—but when they leave the UK to go on holiday elsewhere in Europe, it appears that the Government have not put in place the ability to have that judgment recognised in other countries. I have a constituent whose father is very ill, and who is now in Poland, having been arrested in the Netherlands—
I say to the hon. Gentleman that it would not be right for me to deal with a constituency case at the Dispatch Box. I suggest he write to the Home Secretary about that. I am still confused as to what he wants, however. He appears to be expressing scepticism about the European arrest warrant, but his party’s policy is to rejoin it. I am confused about what the Opposition really want. We have set out a clear view for Parliament, but we still do not know where the Labour party stands on all this.
I am grateful, too, for the excellent work done by the European Scrutiny Committee, the Justice Committee and the Home Affairs Committee, not only through their extremely thorough and thought-provoking reports, but through the contributions their members have made on the Floor of this House. Their work has been and will continue to be important in informing the Government’s view as this process proceeds. May I express my particular thanks to the Chair of the Justice Committee for his analysis of the decisions we took earlier? Extremely important issues are involved and we gave them careful thought, and I am glad that his report recognised the process we have gone through and that he felt we had reached the right decisions in that area.
Let me touch briefly on the issue of the amount of time provided to this House, which a lot of right hon. and hon. Members have raised today. Last summer, we gave this House a clear opportunity, which it took, to support the Government’s decision in principle to exercise the opt-out, and I am grateful to the House for giving us that support. We will come back to the House at the conclusion of the negotiations with the Commission and the Council to offer the House the further opportunity to endorse or reject what we are doing. If this House rejects what we are doing, clearly it will not be possible for us to return to the Commission and simply override the view of this House. We will of course give this House an opportunity to vote and decide what should happen, but I do think the House needs to give the Government the opportunity to negotiate unfettered by a fixed mandate, because these are complex issues and we need to reach the right decisions in the interests of this country. That is what we are seeking to do.
We will discuss the detail of that motion in due course, but of course we will give the House the opportunity to express a very clear view on the conclusion of the negotiations that we have reached. That is what we said at the start and it is what we will deliver.
We have been through detailed discussions both with the Select Committees and within the Government. We are now going through detailed discussions with the Commission and we will return with the conclusions in due course.
There is one group the Justice Secretary has not had any discussions with: the devolved Parliaments and Assemblies. Given that this has such a significant impact on our delivery of devolved services, why has he not listened to the Government in Scotland and the devolved Assemblies in Wales and Northern Ireland?
With respect, what the hon. Gentleman says is simply not right. We have had extensive discussions with the devolved Assemblies. The Minister for Security and Immigration has had detailed discussions with the devolved Assemblies, I have been involved in detailed discussions with the devolved Administrations and I believe the Home Secretary has had discussions. We have had extensive discussions and will no doubt continue to do so. We discuss issues with our counterparts in Edinburgh and in Northern Ireland all the time, and we will continue to do so.
Let me deal with the specific issues raised in this debate. The shadow Home Secretary began for the Opposition, and I am still at a loss to know whether Labour supports the list of 35 measures: whether Labour supports what we are putting forward or wants to see a different list. It is absolutely unclear what the Labour party’s view is; we heard a long diatribe from her and a long list of accusations, but no clear policies from the other side. We heard much the same from the shadow Justice Secretary, but I give him credit for picking out one or two measures on the Justice side that he did support, although he did not say whether he supported the minimum standards measures decision we had taken. One way or another, at the end of this debate we have little idea what the Opposition stand for.
My hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Mr Cash) made a typically knowledgeable contribution. He talked about the importance of the issue of European Court of Justice jurisdiction and about the charter of fundamental rights, which is doubtless an issue he and I will return to and discuss extensively. We share the aspiration, aim and absolute clear goal that the charter will not become part of national law in this country. We heard from the Chairman of the Home Affairs Committee, who is no longer in his place. He talked about the timetable as we work towards 1 December. We need to be very clear that a timetable is already set out for us, as envisaged in the treaty signed by the previous Government, and we are working towards that date of 1 December. We need time to complete the negotiations and, on the back of those, formally apply to the Commission to rejoin the measures. That is precisely where we stand; that is the approach we are taking and it is the approach envisaged in the agreement reached by the previous Government.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bury North (Mr Nuttall) does not want to opt in to any of these measures. I would simply remind him that we secured agreement to exercise the opt-out in the first place. Were we not in that position, we would now face the situation of opting in to all these measures or remaining in all of them. The hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) set out his concerns about the issue of discussions with the devolved Assemblies, mentioning them again a few moments ago. He made a strong statement, which I suspect had a little more to do with certain campaigning taking place in Scotland than with this debate. The bit I did not understand was that he was talking about the risks he alleged this Government were taking with our relationships within the European Union, yet he and his party are going down a route whereby it is far from clear that if they are successful—heaven forbid—in September, they will even be a part of the European Union. I do not understand how he possibly squares that circle.
We heard a thoughtful speech from my hon. Friend the Member for South Northamptonshire (Andrea Leadsom), who has done valuable work in the Fresh Start group. I understand her concern about the ability of international courts to extend their jurisprudence. She also made the point about the charter of fundamental rights, and it is very important that we keep a close watch on that issue and resist any attempts to extend its remit. We know that there is a divide in opinions between the Government and the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant), and he made an impassioned speech about the need for more and more integration. He set out clear differences between us and him, although he could not tell the difference between Spain and Brazil in his comments. It was a typically robust contribution that highlighted to us why there remain some significant divisions across the Floor of the House on Britain’s future in the European Union.
The hon. Member for Cambridge (Dr Huppert) expressed fears about a gap between the discussion taking place now, what happens after 1 December and the continued provision in areas such as the European arrest warrant. I would simply remind him of what Professor Steven Peers said about the issue of the time frame for the next few months in evidence to the Home Affairs Committee on 10 September:
“There certainly ought to be enough time. I would say it would not be the Government’s fault if there is no decision in time by December next year. It would be some kind of political difficulty that the Council and the Commission have dreamed up.”
I am confident, as is the Home Secretary and those involved in the negotiating team, that there is time, will and a desire on the part of other member states to ensure that there is a smooth transition and we can get this done without the gap that the hon. Gentleman is afraid of.
My hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset (Jacob Rees-Mogg) rightly again highlighted the issue of the ECJ at the centre of the debate, and I suspect that we will have further lively discussions about it as the months go by. The right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Sir Alan Beith) had examined the issue of justice measures and talked about probation, as did the shadow Justice Secretary. There are genuine issues relating to the drafting of the probation directive which make it difficult for us to consider at this moment the concept that we would release this to the jurisdiction of the European Court. I have no intention of going forward with an opt-in under the current wording, as that could cause all kinds of complications for our rules on deportations, in respect of somebody deported to another country who then had to be repatriated because their probation conditions were breached. At the moment we believe the measure is flawed and we have therefore decided it cannot be in the list of things to opt back in to.
My hon. Friend the Member for Esher and Walton gave a thoughtful contribution in which he talked about the “cold, hard lens” of national interest. That is certainly what has guided us, particularly in respect of the discussions the Home Secretary has had with law enforcement bodies about the need to say that there are things they believe need to be in place in order for us to ensure we can provide proper protection for our citizens. Some strong recommendations have been made by those organisations, which she articulated clearly in her remarks this afternoon. Lastly, my hon. Friend the Member for Rochester and Strood (Mark Reckless) was clear about his views about opting in to these measures. I simply remind him that we have opted out already and the decision to exercise the opt-out is a major step forward for the country; otherwise we would have had no option but to end up with 133 different measures.
So, for reasons of policy, principle and pragmatism, the Government have exercised the opt-out in the national interest. We have decided that it is in our national interest to co-operate in measures that help combat cross-border crime and keep our country safe. That is what we are negotiating for in Brussels and it is what we aim to deliver. It is a coherent package that we aim to bring back to Parliament for a vote before the UK formally makes any application to rejoin later this year. It is very much in that national interest that my hon. Friend the Member for Esher and Walton talked about. It has guided us in these discussions and in discussions across the coalition.
We have had long discussions across Government about how best to shape the right package for the country. Inevitably, we have had those discussions. We now have a package that provides a sensible balance between a number of different factors and different interests, which is why we have brought that package to the House for consideration. It is why we brought it to the House last summer and why we have set it out in our negotiations on the future of our participation in these measures.
I am grateful to the Lord Chancellor for giving way once again; he is being enormously generous. The Deputy Prime Minister has said that in coalition the issue of collective responsibility has to be treated differently. Accepting that as a new constitutional principle, which I would not normally do, but for these purposes accepting it, will the Lord Chancellor give us his own personal view?
Madam Deputy Speaker might deem me to be out of order if I followed too far down that route tonight. No doubt we can have that discussion over a beer some time.
We have a sensible package. We have sought to operate in the national interest and to reflect the views of the law enforcement community about what it needs to fight organised crime. I am clear that I do not want, and will not tolerate, the idea of us becoming part of a Europeanised justice system. I will continue to pursue that in my dealings with the European Union—in our interactions over things such as the justice scorecard. Equally, it is important to understand the task that the Home Office faces in dealing with international crime and in ensuring that it can combat organised crime. I am talking about some of the most abhorrent offences, such as human trafficking, that are a real challenge to all of us across the whole of Europe. We need to have enough protection to enable us to take part in genuine international collaboration on those issues. That is why we have placed this package before the House.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered the UK’s 2014 justice and home affairs opt-out decision.