[Relevant documents: Twenty-first Report from the European Scrutiny Committee, Session 2013-14, The UK’s block opt-out of pre-Lisbon criminal law and policing measures, HC 683, and the Government Response, HC 978; Seventeenth Report from the European Scrutiny Committee, The UK’s block opt-out decision: summary and update Report, HC 762; Nineteenth Report from the European Scrutiny Committee, Documents considered by the Committee on 5 November 2014, HC 219-xviii; Ninth Report from the Home Affairs Committee, Session 2013-14, 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, Session 2013-14, Ministry of Justice measures in the JHA block opt-out, HC 605, and the Government Response, HC 972; First Joint Report from the European Scrutiny, Home Affairs and Justice Committees, Session 2013-14, The Government’s response to the Committee’s Reports on the 2014 block opt-out decision, HC 1177]
I beg to move,
That this House endorses the Government’s formal application to rejoin 35 European Union Justice and Home Affairs measures, including the European Arrest Warrant.
This is a very clear motion. In fact, it is a bit of a Ronseal motion—it does what it says on the tin. It means that today we can support 35 measures, not just 11, and it includes the three words that we were promised: “European Arrest Warrant”. It includes other measures, too: football banning orders, confiscation orders, joint investigation teams, criminal records sharing, and border information sharing so that we can secure our borders. Those are important measures, because crime does not stop at our borders—criminals do not stop when they get to the channel. I had hoped that the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary would be able to sign the motion, but the Home Secretary has written to me to say that she will vote for it. I am glad that she has decided to support our motion, although it would of course have been so much easier if she had just been straightforward in the first place.
This motion is almost exactly the same as the one tabled in the House of Lords. While we got to vote on only 11 measures, the other place was offered a vote on all 35. Here is the revealing statement by the Minister in the Lords:
“the Government have amended the Motion to put beyond doubt that we see tonight’s debate and decision…as on the whole package of 35 measures that the Government will seek to rejoin in the national interest.”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 17 November 2014; Vol. 757, c. 328.]
While we were denied our chance to vote in the elected Commons on the European arrest warrant, the Government decided to assuage the doubts of the House of Lords. They decided to do that last Tuesday. Just 24 hours after the mess in the House of Commons, they decided to change the motion in the Lords—so why not do it for us?
I will give way to the Home Secretary if she can give us any good reason why she did not come back to this House last week and table a new motion, as she had in the other place. She was prepared to do it there, so why not come and do it here? No reason is being given. We were happy to do it for her, however, because she promised us a vote on the European arrest warrant. She said that the vote will be
“on the whole package of 35 measures—including the Arrest Warrant”.
The Prime Minister promised us a vote on the European arrest warrant. He said that
“we are going to have a vote…before the Rochester by-election”.—[Official Report, 29 October 2014; Vol. 587, c. 301.]
We understand that the Home Secretary has a rather contemptuous view of the Prime Minister’s promises. He promised democracy in policing; she delivered 13% turnouts. He promised, “no ifs, no buts”, that he would meet his net migration target. The net migration target is going right back up, and the Home Secretary said that it was not a promise, but a “comment”. Labour Members are glad to be able to help the Prime Minister to meet his promises to the British Parliament. It looks as though we are doing a rather better job than the Home Secretary of helping him to meet his promises.
Look, some of us kind of lost the will to live on all this last week, and I think if we go through all this procedural stuff again today we will seriously lose the will to live. I think we have all had our fun. Will the shadow Home Secretary now move on to the substance of the European arrest warrant so that we can sort it once and for all, have a vote, and go home? I think we would all be grateful if we could just do that.
The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. The Home Secretary has deprived him of his will to live, so I feel sorry for him, but he is right that we need to get on to the huge amount of substance in this debate.
I must say that the most startling thing of all in the chaos of last week’s debate was not the betrayal of promises or even the contempt for Parliament, but seeing the Chief Whip and the Home Secretary having to sit next to each other on the Government Front Bench and having to talk to each other for a change.
Does my right hon. Friend share my surprise that the intervention by the right hon. Member for Banbury (Sir Tony Baldry) was not to thank her for giving the House the opportunity to demonstrate the good faith of the Prime Minister? The Prime Minister said—quite clearly, I think—that there would be a vote on a specific measure, so I look forward to interventions by Conservative Members thanking her for giving them such an opportunity, not passing that over as if it had never been said.
I am sure that Conservative Members are all deeply grateful to us, which is why they have come to the Chamber to join the debate today.
We still do not know whether it was the Chief Whip or the Home Secretary who made so much of a mess of last week. In June, the Chief Whip said of the Home Secretary that she
“lacked intellectual firepower and quick wit”.
He said that “she has no friends”, and with amazing prescience, he said that
“she can’t even gain the support of her colleagues”.
That makes two of them, because the Chief Whip is on a roll. He nearly lost a vote—he came within 10 votes of doing so—last week. The man who is supposed to be working the bars of Westminster lost a vote on pubs this week. The man who is supposed to be holding the parliamentary Conservative party together has managed to mislay two MPs. When he was appointed, he said that his new job was
“to ensure the right people are in the right place”.
It is just a shame that they were in the wrong Lobby.
Order. I appreciate that the right hon. Lady is making some very important and interesting points, but I should remind her, lest she stray too far, that the motion is about the Government’s formal application to rejoin 35 European justice and home affairs measures. I am sure that she will address her remarks to the motion.
You are exactly right, Madam Deputy Speaker. This is in fact the debate that we should have had last week. It is a debate about 35 different measures, including the European arrest warrant. It covers the 11 measures that we voted for last time, but also the 24 measures on which we did not have the chance to vote last time.
Those measures include a series of different things. We need the supervision order, under which a UK national could spend time in the UK pending trial, rather than in a foreign jail, to rectify the rare cases in which that happens. Joint investigation teams are needed to tackle cross-border crime, as was shown by Operation Golf, in which co-operation between the Met and Europol and data sharing stopped child-trafficking rings that were bringing teenagers to London to be raped and forced into prostitution. We need co-ordination on the freezing and seizing of the assets of organised criminals and terrorists. We support continued co-operation on confiscation orders and freezing orders. We need to exchange criminal records. Pilots in London have shown that a significant proportion of foreign nationals arrested already have convictions abroad.
Operation Golf was conducted in my constituency, and I hope to talk about it if I get the chance to speak. It would not have been possible without co-operation between the British and Romanian authorities, including on the Romanians’ subsequent use of an extradition warrant. Is it not wrong—in fact, disgraceful—that we did not have an opportunity to discuss the joint investigation teams during the previous debate?
My hon. Friend is right. It would have been so simple to cover those measures in the initial debate on a straightforward motion tabled by the Government. I think that it is unprecedented that the Opposition table what should be a Government motion and ask the Government to vote with us on the very measures that they supported in the first place.
The 24 measures include football banning orders, which we welcome, to stop hooligans travelling to matches in Europe. We need to participate in Eurojust to gather evidence on cross-border crime. We need Europol to support and co-ordinate cross-border investigations. We need co-operation to prevent drug trafficking, and we need the European Police College to share best practice.
I am most grateful to my right hon. Friend for giving way and hope that she will excuse me for interrupting her. She is clearly on a roll, because I cannot remember a time on which the Home Secretary has written to my right hon. Friend to say that she will support one of her measures. When the Select Committee on Home Affairs considered the matter, we suggested that the vote should have happened much earlier and that the House should have voted to give the Government a mandate to negotiate, rather than it being left to the last moment. Does my right hon. Friend agree that we should really have discussed these matters a long time before?
My right hon. Friend is right. The truth is that the Home Secretary’s handling of the whole thing has been chaotic from start to finish. We have had no proper opportunity to debate the subject and have a vote at the right time and we have had confusion about when we were going to have the votes at the wrong time. We had parliamentary confusion, votes in chaos, Tory MPs scuttling back from their dinners, champagne banquets abandoned and a humiliated Prime Minister returning to the House of Commons with his tails between his legs.
I think I heard the right hon. Lady say just a few moments ago that one of the measures she wanted to debate was the European Police College. Perhaps she has not noticed that CEPOL is not in the list of 35 measures that the Government are rejoining, because it has been “Lisbon-ised” and does not need to be in the list. It falls out of the opt-out altogether.
The Home Secretary knows that an awful lot of the measures she has removed from the 35 are in fact measures that she plans to continue to co-operate with. There is a whole series of different aspects of guidance and pledges for co-operation across the policing and Eurojust world that she plans to continue to co-operate with. However, she has told her Back Benchers that she will not co-operate with them at all so that she can promise them a grand repatriation, when in fact it is the equivalent of repatriating the “Yellow Pages”.
My right hon. Friend knows that this is really about co-operation across Europe to bring thousands of villains to account. How can we have faith in the Government if they cannot even co-operate with their colleagues in the House of Lords so that we can have the same debate, or give us enough time to consider the right thing to do, instead of this complete farce built on a hoax?
My hon. Friend makes an important point. I heard somebody on the Government Front Bench muttering that there are different procedures in the House of Lords—different procedures that mean that they are allowed to vote on 35 measures, but we are allowed to vote on only 11? I have never heard anything so ludicrous.
The Home Secretary has been ducking and diving on this issue from the start. There are important measures in the 35 that we should be supporting and debating, and too many times the Home Secretary has tried to duck having a vote on them. The Schengen Information System II is vital and necessary. The recent Public Accounts Committee report that set out that there had been a 70% increase in delays in asylum claims also pointed out that the British Government have less information about criminals crossing our borders than other countries, and that is because we are not part of SIS II. The Home Secretary has not been able to join SIS II because she has been so busy renegotiating her opt-in, opt-out hokey-cokey for the sake of pandering to her Eurosceptic Back Benchers. We should be part of SIS II and we should be voting for it today.
The Association of Chief Police Officers has described the European arrest warrant as “an essential weapon”. Distinguished legal figures, including the former president of the Supreme Court, have argued that Britain also risks becoming a safe haven for fugitives from justice, a handful of them British citizens but the vast majority foreign nationals wanted for crimes elsewhere in Europe. They are right. For example, Zakaria Chadili from France was alleged to have travelled to Syria in late 2013 and undergone a month of training with a proscribed organisation. Instead of returning to France, he came to the UK and the French police wanted to arrest him. Between his first court appearance on 9 May and the orders for extradition on 13 June were just a few days, and he was surrendered on 25 June. In a similar case from 1995, before the European arrest warrant, Rachid Ramda, an Algerian national, was arrested in the UK in connection with a terrorist attack on the Paris transport system and it took 10 years to extradite him back to France.
The statistics are clear: the European arrest warrant helps us to deport foreign criminals and terrorists. More than 1,000 people were removed because of an arrest warrant last year. Of those people, 43 were UK nationals, eight of whom were connected to child sex offences. Since 2009, 500 people have been brought back to the UK to face British justice, including suspected child sex offenders and those suspected of murder, rape and drug trafficking, and more than 4,000 people have been removed, including more than 100 for murder, more than 300 for serious violence, more than 400 for drug trafficking and more than 500 for robbery. The arrest warrant helps us to bring to justice people who have committed heinous crimes in the UK and who should be facing British justice, and people who have committed crimes abroad, whom we want to deport from this country to face justice at home.
My right hon. Friend is being generous in giving way. Swansea has the most overcrowded prison in Britain. Does she agree that this measure is very important because, over the past five years, it has meant that 5,000 people have been removed from Britain to face justice abroad, with only 5% of the total moving in the other direction? Unless we continue using it, we will have an even greater crisis in our prisons because they will be full of foreign criminals.
My hon. Friend is right. We do not want people to be stuck in British prisons when they should be facing trial and justice abroad. It would not be fair on victims of crime if we denied them justice because we did not have the procedures in place to ensure that people faced the courts. We do not want British families to be left without justice. We do not want the UK to be a safe haven for dangerous criminals.
It was right that the arrest warrant should have been reformed. We have supported the reforms that have been passed by this Government and have backed further reforms in Europe. The European Commission has concluded that
“it is essential that all Member States apply a proportionality test, including those jurisdictions where prosecution is mandatory.”
The Polish Parliament has taken through legislation that follows those principles.
Crime does not stop at the channel. That is why it is right that we should have the chance to show our support, right across the House, for the measures today.
Will the right hon. Lady concede that the European Union is not a sufficient basis on which to make such judgments? What about countries such as Turkey, Canada, Australia and the United States? What is so special about the European Union that the arrest warrant should apply specifically to it, rather than to the rest of the world?
The point is that the European Union provides us with opportunities to be able better to fight crime and get justice for British citizens and citizens right across Europe. It is good that we can ensure that our police forces can co-operate more effectively with other police forces across Europe, whether they are dealing with trafficking, drug smuggling or child protection. There are so many crimes that cross borders and so many criminals who cross borders that we think it is a good thing to be part of Europe and to have the opportunity to work more closely with other European countries to deliver that.
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right to set out the benefits of cross-border co-operation with other crime-fighting agencies across Europe, but is not the real issue one of democracy, in that elected Members of the House of Commons, whichever side of the debate they are on, have not been given the opportunity to have a say on these issues? Is not the reason behind that that it will show the deep schism on the Conservative Benches on the issue of Europe?
That, in the end, is what it comes down to. Sadly, too many Conservative Members do not want to vote for something just because it has the word “Europe” in the title. That is what Conservative Front Benchers have been running scared of. It is why they have ducked and dived around to avoid having the debates that the Select Committees have called for, to avoid having the votes that they promised, and to avoid having an honest discussion about what the measures are. The ridiculous thing about it is that the vast majority of Members of this House supported the 11 measures the Government allowed us to vote on last week. There is strong support and consent for the measures. There should be an opportunity for us to send a strong signal to the courts and everybody across Europe that this House is strongly in favour of the measures, including the European arrest warrant.
I just want to place on record the fact that the Select Committee on Justice, although it was severely critical of the Government’s handling of the matter from the beginning, has supported the five measures that the Government wish to opt into. I am pleased that my right hon. and hon. Friends in the Government have been firm in their determination to opt in.
That is the bizarre thing about this whole situation. We had the opportunity to demonstrate the House’s support for these measures to everyone, particularly the courts—we know that Eurosceptics have made challenges in the courts to any aspect of legislation that they can challenge. Why do we allow them to do that without having a vote that shows the House’s strong support for the measures? The right hon. Gentleman is right that Select Committees have supported them, and the debate in the other place also showed support. Many Lords who strongly objected to the process that had been followed, even in that House, said that they supported the measures and wanted the opportunity to signal that support. We need to send that important signal, whether on football banning orders, the European arrest warrant or the other co-operation measures, and we now have the opportunity to do that.
We need co-operation to stop international crimes such as human trafficking and online child pornography, and to protect people and get justice for victims. So last week, I told the Home Secretary that I would support her motion. Today, I am glad she has said that she will support mine. These are unusual circumstances, and there were many other issues that we would have been keen to debate this afternoon, from the bedroom tax to the national health service. However, we thought it was right to ensure that the House had the opportunity to meet the Prime Minister’s promises and demonstrate its support for these crucial international crime-fighting measures. We need to demonstrate the strong support throughout the House for co-operation with Europe. We have the opportunity today to have a straightforward vote on the European arrest warrant and European co-operation measures, and to do what it says on the tin, even though the word “Europe” is in the title. I hope that the whole House will support the motion.
We return to an issue that has been much debated in the House. Last Monday was the sixth time that it was debated on the Floor of the House since the Government announced that they were minded to exercise the opt-out in October 2012. We had debates that month, in June and July 2013, and in April, July and November this year. The Government have published two Command Papers providing the House with the provisional and final lists of measures that we are seeking to rejoin, and with full impact assessments on the final list. We have responded to four parliamentary inquiries on the matter and to the joint report of the European Scrutiny, Home Affairs and Justice Committees in April. I am grateful for the scrutiny that those Committees and other hon. Members have given to this important matter, and I am happy to return to it today.
This is an issue that the shadow Home Secretary judges so important that she curtailed debate about it last week; so urgent that she strung it along for another week; and such an issue of principle that she is determined to try to score political points about it even though we agree on the substance of it.
As the Justice Secretary and I made clear to the House last week, and as I made clear to the right hon. Lady in an open letter the day before, the Government saw last Monday’s debate and vote as being about the whole package of 35 measures, including the arrest warrant, that we want the UK to remain part of in the national interest.
Will the Home Secretary clear up for the benefit of the House the simple fact that there was no reference to the European arrest warrant in the Government’s motion in the House of Commons last week, but there was in the motion in the House of Lords? Will she please explain why that was the case?
What I have just said about our view of the debate—[Interruption.] Perhaps the hon. Gentleman would like to be a little patient and wait for my answer to his question. As I have made clear, we felt that the debate was on the 35 measures, and Mr Speaker made clear that hon. Members could speak about all those measures in the debate. In the House of Lords it is open to the Government to amend an affirmative motion—something not open to the Government in the House of Commons—so when the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire Moorlands (Karen Bradley), said that there were different procedures, she was absolutely right.
Last week we had the opportunity for a full day’s debate. The hon. Members for Ilford South (Mike Gapes) and for Denton and Reddish (Andrew Gwynne) complained about a lack of debate last Monday, but that was because the shadow Home Secretary moved a motion that cut short the whole debate. We are now able to debate today’s motion, and as the right hon. Lady has made clear, there is nothing in it for the Government to disagree with, so we will support it.
Does the Home Secretary think that the wording of the motion last week was in the spirit of what her Back Benchers understood when the Prime Minister offered a debate and vote on the European arrest warrant? Did it reflect what he said to the House of Commons, and does she think her Back Benchers believed that?
I am clear that there was no requirement on the Government to bring the measures, other than those in the regulations, to the House, or to hold a debate on the Floor of the House on those regulations. There would normally have been an hour and a half debate upstairs in Committee, but we chose to bring it to the Floor of the House and to use a business motion to extend the debate. We chose to say to the House that we were clear that because the debate was about only those measures in the regulations that required a legislative instrument, we would nevertheless be bound by the vote on the whole package of measures, including the European arrest warrant.
Is the Home Secretary surprised, as I am, that the shadow Home Secretary’s speech was all about procedure, not the policy area? She did not mention the fact that one major concern of a number of us on the Government Benches is that we are ceding powers to the European Court of Justice for the first time, and therefore taking away some parliamentary supremacy. I would like to hear the Home Secretary’s views on that.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right and I am well aware that for a number of right hon. and hon. Friends the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice is key. I have been clear—as I was in previous debates—that the issue of our relationship with the European Court of Justice should be in the work that we will do as a Conservative Government after next May’s election to renegotiate our relationship with the European Union. That, of course, is not in the motion tabled by the right hon. Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper) today, and there is no reference to it or to the overall opt-out issue.
I think I am right in quoting the right hon. Lady as saying that the opt-out was an opt-in, opt-out “hokey cokey”. I remind her that that opt-in, opt-out hokey cokey was negotiated by the previous Labour Government. I am not sure from her comments whether she now supports our decision to exercise the opt-out, which, as I have said, the Labour Government negotiated, voted against last year, and have never said whether or not they would use. Is she congratulating the Government on successful negotiations in Europe and bringing back a deal that is good for the UK? Does support for our package mean that she supports the return of around 100 powers from Brussels and the largest repatriation of powers since this country joined the EU?
I am pleased that today’s motion supports all 35 measures, because last time the Opposition called a debate on this matter in June last year they highlighted only seven measures that they wanted us to rejoin. The list did not include Eurojust, which the right hon. Lady has now said that she supports, or the prisoner transfer framework decision, which allows us to send foreign criminals home to serve their sentences. It also left off the asset recovery office, which allows law enforcement to pursue the criminal proceeds of crime.
I will give way to my hon. Friend in a moment. We were very clear that the only measures that needed legislative motions in this House were those in the regulations. We would be bound by the vote on those regulations as a vote on all the other measures in the package of 35. As I have said, this is the sixth debate we have had on this matter.
As my right hon. Friend knows, I accused her and the Government last week of chicanery, which, put another way, means relying on legal quibbles to try to achieve an objective. The fact is—I am sure she will accept it—that these issues involve the application of the European charter of fundamental rights. In that context, is she now going to tell us that the charter of fundamental rights does apply to the United Kingdom?
I am tempted to say to my hon. Friend that I suspect he knows more about legal quibbles, and has more experience of them, than I do. I have to say to him that the view the Government take on the charter of fundamental rights is the same view. We are consistent in that view: we consider it to be declaratory only and we do not consider that it applies to the United Kingdom. I know he has a different view on this, but that is the consistent view the Government have taken on this matter.
The Home Secretary now says that her position is that she does not actually have to offer the House of Commons a vote on anything and therefore we should be grateful for the 11 measures we got to vote on last week. When did she say that to Parliament? Is it not the truth that she said repeatedly, over many months, that she would give the House a vote on the measures? She did not say that she would not give the House a vote because she did not have to; she said she would give the House a vote. If she has changed her position, why did she not say that before?
The right hon. Lady really needs to understand the difference between a requirement on the Government to bring a vote to this House and a decision by the Government to bring a vote to this House, which we did last Monday. I also say to her that for most people looking at these measures, the issues are whether they are important measures for the Government to opt back into and whether they are important measures for law enforcement. It sounds as though we have absolutely the same opinion on that and I would be happy to be able to get on to questions about the measures themselves.
On the opt-out from the charter of fundamental rights, this is not a matter of political opinion anymore, because Justice Mostyn has made it very clear that our opt-out does not apply. Whatever one’s view on the implications of that, it leads to the argument, at least in this House, that we should be sceptical about opt-ins and the relationship with the EU on these matters. There is a constant salami slicing of both our opt-outs and our democratic control.
My hon. Friend has made a considerable study of these matters, as the House is aware, but I have to say to him the same thing I said to my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Sir William Cash): the Government’s position on the charter of fundamental rights has not changed. We have maintained a consistent position and our position is not changing.
I must say that many of my constituents who take a great interest in this issue will be very frustrated that the Labour party seems only to want to discuss process and not talk about the really important issues. My right hon. Friend will recall that recently I raised with her the concern of my constituents who found themselves living alongside a convicted murderer from Latvia, about whom they had no idea and nor did the local police. Does my right hon. Friend agree with my constituents that it would be absurd not to opt back into the system for sharing information on criminal records? Does she also agree that, if anything, the system needs to be more rigorous and comprehensive to be more useful?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Opting back into the European criminal records information system, which is one of the 35 measures we wish to opt back into, and to the exchange of criminal records is very important. We need to enhance our ability to exchange criminal records with other member states. Going back into Schengen information system II will also enable us to have more information of this sort at the border. We are doing a project with the Latvians and one or two other member states to improve our ability to deal with these issues, but there are challenges. For example, some countries have a different attitude from us to criminal records—in some countries, as soon as somebody is out of prison, effectively there is no criminal record—and as part of our discussions, we have to deal with those differences if we are to do what we all want to do, which is keep people safe.
I welcome the fact that the Opposition agree with the Government’s position on opting back into the 35 measures. It is a pleasure to agree with the right hon. Lady so often in one week: I understand the Labour party thinks that immigration was too high and out of control under the last Government; that it was a mistake not to have the full transitional controls to stop significant migration from the new member states; and that we must take action to reform European free movement rules. As a final step, perhaps she could ensure that her party agrees with the Conservative party’s commitment to an in/out referendum so that we can get on with the good work of negotiating a better deal for the British people.
The fact I quoted is absolutely correct: net migration is down by a quarter from its peak under the last Labour Government. Furthermore, net migration from outside the EU is down to the levels of the late 1990s—something that never happened under the last Labour Government and has only happened because of the action taken by this Government to control immigration.
I welcome the opportunity to reiterate the Government’s support for the package of 35 measures, including the arrest warrant, which help us to tackle serious crime and keep this country safe. I think that the right hon. Lady’s commitment to the arrest warrant would carry more weight if, when in government, she and her party had taken action to address the concern that many people raised about how it was being operated—concerns that were eroding the public’s trust in this important measure.
Since 2010, we have made the important reforms that the Opposition failed to make in the previous eight years, and our law enforcement and prosecution agencies, the devolved Administrations, the Extradition Law Committee in the House of Lords and other experts, including the Lord Chief Justice, all wish us to continue to use the arrest warrant to bring offenders to justice and keep our country safe. That is not the arrest warrant bequeathed to us by Labour, but the arrest warrant that now has proper protection for those wanted for extradition, including British citizens. We have taken positive action to address the issues that have caused people such concern.
How confident is my right hon. Friend that after 1 December, when the Court of Justice of the European Union will decide whether an arrest warrant issued by another member state is valid, the protections brought into domestic British law will prove to be robust?
The Home Secretary has mentioned the importance of contact with the devolved Administrations and police services in other parts of the UK. What contact has she had on these issues with the Justice Minister in Northern Ireland and the Police Service of Northern Ireland?
There has been considerable contact with the Justice Minister in Northern Ireland; there has been contact with all the devolved Administrations on this matter. I have personally had a discussion with the Justice Minister in the Republic of Ireland about it. If the hon. Gentleman will be a little patient, I will refer to the difference that the EAW makes to extradition as between the Republic of Ireland and the United Kingdom. That is an important issue, and if we were to come out of the EAW, it would be a matter of concern both to the Justice Minister in Northern Ireland and to the Justice Minister in the Republic of Ireland.
Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the valuable improvements she has made to the arrest warrant were achieved by negotiations with other member states—they were Europe-wide—and that we were strongly supported by, for example, the German Government who also had concerns about the proportionality of the arrest warrant and by many member states regarding the problem of the Polish constitutional position, which did not fit in with everybody else’s. All this was sorted out in a perfectly friendly negotiation, led very much by my right hon. Friend, and its enforcement would be guaranteed by the jurisdiction of the European Court of law if that were ever called upon, which is very unlikely. Better that, however, than 28 separate Supreme Courts putting their interpretation on the rules that we have now sorted out.
My right hon. and learned Friend is right that we have had discussions with other member states on the European arrest warrant. Indeed, some other member states, notably Poland, will take steps themselves to change the way in which they approach this particular issue in their legislation. That would mean fewer trivial or smaller cases resulting from the European arrest warrant. The changes we have made are, of course, changes we have made in domestic legislation here in the United Kingdom. The House has had the opportunity to vote on them and to put them through.
Further to the point made by our hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset (Jacob Rees-Mogg), I do not think that he and I have quite the same touching faith as my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke) in the European Court of Justice. Is it not the case that however we see the ECJ interpreting things now, by opting into this European arrest warrant now, we do so in perpetuity and we will for ever be subject to the jurisdiction of the ECJ—unless we leave the European Community? What upsets and concerns so many Conservative Members, and indeed people across the country, is that we are surrendering a power to the ECJ over which we have no control whatever. It is a surrender of sovereignty that many of us just feel unable to accommodate, even though we understand the forceful argument on security that the Home Secretary makes.
Let me say to my hon. Friend, as I did to a previous intervention, that I fully accept the concerns that a number of right hon. and hon. Members have about the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice, but this is not an issue confined to the measures we are considering today. As part of the opt-out/opt-in decisions we take for measures brought forward in the justice and home affairs area post-the Lisbon treaty, we look at the question of jurisdiction because the jurisdiction of the ECJ applies to those measures as well. We have opted in to a number of measures on the basis that a balanced judgment of the importance of those measures and the benefits they bring outweighs the concerns that my hon. Friend has raised. He uses the term “in perpetuity”, but as I said, if we have a Conservative Government after May 2015, we will have the opportunity to renegotiate a relationship with the European Union and a number of issues can be dealt with within that. Both the Prime Minister and I have indicated that we think free movement should be included within it, and I believe that our relationship with the European Court of Justice is another candidate for consideration in those negotiations.
The Home Secretary—who has not given way to me until now—has just said that she is in favour of opting back into the 35 measures. A moment earlier, she said “If you vote Conservative, we may end up with a renegotiation”, which implied that she would reconsider whether to support those 35 measures. Which is it?
I have made clear my view that our relationship with the European Court of Justice could well be one of the measures that should be part of the renegotiation and part of the process of looking again at our relationship with the European Union, which would happen after the election of a Conservative Government in May 2015, leading to an in-out referendum by the end of 2017. I hope that that is now clear to the hon. Gentleman.
I want to discuss some of the issues surrounding the European arrest warrant, given the degree of concern that it has raised among Members in the past. One such issue is that of lengthy pre-trial detention, which was highlighted by the case of Andrew Symeou—a case that has been championed relentlessly by my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield North (Nick de Bois) in the interests of his constituent and his constituent’s family. Our reforms of the arrest warrant mean that, when the requesting country is not trial-ready, we will not extradite people. Had the measures that we have now passed been in place at the time, they would have allowed Mr Symeou to raise, in his extradition hearing, the question of whether a decision to charge him and a decision to try him had been made. It is very likely that they would have prevented his extradition at the stage at which he was due to be surrendered, and could have prevented it altogether.
We have reformed the arrest warrant to make it possible for cases to be heard in the requesting country before an extradition hearing, either by video conference or by temporary transfer, with the consent of the person concerned. That may lead to a withdrawal of the arrest warrant in some cases. We have also reformed it so that British citizens, and others, can no longer be extradited for minor offences. The reform came into effect in July, and has already resulted in the turning down of 21 arrest warrants. That has freed police and court time so that more serious matters can be dealt with, and, crucially, has protected individuals from the sledgehammer of extradition for minor offences.
The Government have reformed the rules on dual criminality to ensure that an arrest warrant must be refused if all or part of the conduct for which a person is wanted took place in the UK and is not a criminal offence in this country. The National Crime Agency is now refusing arrest warrants when it is obvious that the dual criminality test has not been met. It has done so 59 times since our reforms came into force in July.
Our reforms have been implemented, and they are already making a difference. I believe that the arrest warrant is operating more fairly, and it is British judges who have the final say on whether or not to extradite people. As my right hon. Friend the Member for North East Hampshire (Mr Arbuthnot)—whose wife is an extradition judge—said last week,
“The suggestion that there is no judicial oversight of European arrest warrants in this country is nonsense.”—[Official Report, 10 November 2014; Vol. 587, c. 1228.]
That is absolutely right, and, thanks to our reforms, British judges are now better able to protect the interests of British citizens.
I am also pleased to have the opportunity to remind the House of a few of the problems involved in the alternative system of extradition that we would have to fall back on if we were not part of the arrest warrant, namely the 1957 Council of Europe convention on extradition. First, returning to that convention would require changes to domestic legislation in a number of member states. While we would be able to control our own legislative urgency, we would not be able to control what other member states did. For some, it would take months or even years to make the necessary legislative changes. The Netherlands, for example, has made it clear to us that it would take at least 18 months for it to change its domestic legislation, which would mean that UK criminals could travel to Holland with impunity and vice versa. That would have made the UK a virtual “safe haven” for some of Europe’s most dangerous criminals, and would have allowed UK criminals to hide from the law, which is certainly not an option that appeals to me.
Secondly, using the convention would mean a return to the days when extradition requests were sent to Ireland, perhaps more in hope than in expectation. Before the introduction of the arrest warrant, fewer than 10% of our requests to Ireland for individuals connected with terrorism resulted in their being returned to this country. Members should compare that with the present situation. We are not aware of a single request to Ireland for terrorism-related offences that has been refused. That is surely why—as I said earlier—the authorities in both Dublin and Belfast are such strong supporters of the arrest warrant and our continued participation in it.
Does the Home Secretary accept that the comparison she is making is not a fair one, given that many of the extradition requests that were made to the Irish Republic were turned down often on political grounds? Of course, those grounds have now been removed because of the constitutional changes that have been made recently.
I understand that the political scenario has changed over the years, but the Justice Minister in Belfast and the Justice Minister in Dublin in the Republic of Ireland have been keen to impress on the Government their concern to ensure that the UK remained in the European arrest warrant, precisely because it now provides a much smoother and easier process to enable extraditions to take place successfully.
I apologise to the hon. Gentleman but I cannot remember whether he was in the Chamber for the debate a week ago on Monday. However, I made exactly these sorts of argument in that debate. Other right hon. and hon. Members would have been able to express their concerns about or support for the European arrest warrant had that debate not been curtailed by his Front-Bench team.
We have not yet notified the European Union. [Interruption.] Someone says, “Why?” It is partly because the timetable has not required us to notify the European Union by that point.
Thirdly, under the convention, we would return to a system where 22 other member states would not extradite their own nationals to the UK and where, owing to constitutional bars, there would be no hope of that situation changing for some countries. In the last five years alone, those 22 states have extradited 105 of their own nationals to us to stand trial. That would end if we returned to the 1957 convention, and victims, and their families, would suffer as a result.
The convention would also mean that, if there is a long delay between the offence occurring and the extradition request being made, extradition can be refused because of the length of time that has passed under a state’s statute of limitations.
May I first give a concrete example of that? Last month, Philip Gordon Knowles was jailed for eight years after being found guilty of four counts of gross indecency with a boy under the age of 14 and eight counts of indecent assault on a girl under the age of 16 in the St Helens area in the 1970s. His conviction followed his extradition from Spain using the arrest warrant. In an earlier age, Knowles would have escaped justice. Under the 1957 European convention on extradition, the length of time that had passed between his offences and his extradition being requested would have rendered him immune to prosecution by the Spanish authorities, and he could not have been extradited. It is thanks to the arrest warrant that Knowles is now behind bars.
I thank the Home Secretary for giving way to me a second time. She has made two cases—the reason for opting in and what would happen if we went back to the 1957 protocols—but there were other choices. A couple of years ago, there was the chance to try to have a bilateral treaty with the EU, or indeed individual member states within it. Equally, as the treaties stand, there are transitional arrangements under which the current arrangements could continue. Could she comment on those? I know that the commonly held view in her Department was that the transitional arrangements would be quite short, but I have gathered from the European Commission that they could go on for quite some time. I would appreciate her view on that.
My hon. Friend has raised two important points. I will address both of them. He refers to the temporary transitional extension. The option that is proposed to extend that transitional period for a significant time would require secondary legislation to override the primary treaty right of the UK to opt out of measures and would effectively override the opt-out itself. That is a precedent that no one would want to set. A transitional decision is proposed by the European Commission. We have no vote on its adoption. We would have no power to amend the drafting of the decision and it could extend to all 135 measures and make them subject to ECJ jurisdiction to boot. That would effectively hand over our power on this matter to Brussels, which would determine it for us. I think that that would run entirely counter to our aim of bringing powers back from Brussels.
The other point is that it has been clear in discussions we have been having with the European Commission that the purpose of the transition arrangement was, for a very limited period, potentially to ensure that while the process of opting in was taking place there was no operational gap, so that we would make sure there was no point at which it was possible for somebody to claim that an arrest warrant, for example, was no longer operational as a result of the decisions we had taken.
In relation to the suggestion that we could have negotiated a separate treaty with the European Commission, reference is often made to the Danish position on that, but in fact that is different as the Danes have no alternative option for participating in the JHA measures. Protocol 36, the opting-out decision protocol, sets out our ability to opt out and to rejoin these JHA measures, so it puts us in a different position. The EC argues that that provides us with an adequate ability to go into these measures, and therefore renders a third-country agreement unnecessary.
Given my hon. Friend’s interest in European Court of Justice jurisdiction, the other point I would make is that in all the measures Denmark has negotiated separate arrangements on with the EC, it has been required to submit itself to the jurisdiction of the ECJ. That has been the price of getting the negotiated agreement with the European Commission, so I really do not think it is an option that resolves the issues my hon. Friend and others have concerns about.
My right hon. Friend’s speech is taking a long time because it is so interesting and important. Following on from the intervention of my hon. Friend the Member for Daventry (Chris Heaton-Harris), I wanted to say that there are three points the Home Secretary has just mentioned where Her Majesty’s Government have negotiated with the Commission and have accepted the Commission’s no as authoritative without really pushing. This does not bode particularly well for an attempt to renegotiate the treaties after the next election.
The fact is that we have been able to go into the negotiation with the European Commission and other member states, wanting to rejoin 35 measures, and the package we have brought back is rejoining 35 measures and not more measures. Many people said to us, “You will not be able to negotiate 35 measures. The European Commission and other member states will require you to join more measures.” They have not done so. The negotiation in that sense was successful, and contrary to what my hon. Friend says, I think that bodes well for the future.
I want to say a little more about some of the other 35 measures. I have mentioned already that they include important tools such as SIS II, the second generation Schengen information system. We are scheduled to join it shortly. It further strengthens our ability to detect foreign criminals at the border, including individuals wanted in their own countries for serious crimes such as rape and murder.
When the UK connects to the system, we will gain access to 51 million alerts, including on individuals who pose a very real security risk, such as foreign fighters who have travelled to Syria and Iraq and who could pose a serious risk to this country on their return. It is a tool that I am sure the whole House will want us to have at our disposal.
The package of measures also includes the Council decision on child pornography, which ensures that international co-operation to tackle this abhorrent crime is prioritised and that collective pressure is put on internet companies to tackle the disgusting crime of online child sex abuse wherever it takes place.
The package also includes Europol, which does excellent work to tackle cross-border crimes—under its British director, Rob Wainwright—and Eurojust, which often operates hand and glove with Europol, such as during the horsemeat scandal early last year. As I have already said, the package includes the European criminal record information system—ECRIS—as well, which has dramatically increased the number of criminal record checks on foreign nationals, and also the prisoner transfer framework decision, which helps us to remove foreign criminals from British jails.
The package also includes joint investigation teams, which allow our police and their European counterparts to co-operate in cross-border operations, such as Operation Birkhill which saw five criminals sentenced to a total of 36 years’ imprisonment this summer for their involvement in the degrading trafficking of over 120 women from Hungary, the Czech Republic and Poland into the UK.
These are all vital measures which the Government were clear we should remain part of in the national interest. We have exercised the opt-out, which the Labour party negotiated but voted against using. We have brought back some 100 powers from Brussels which the Labour party gave away. We have negotiated a good deal to remain part of a much smaller package of 35 measures in the national interest, despite being told by the Labour party that we should have sought “guarantees” that they did not bother to negotiate into the Lisbon treaty.
It is this Government who are providing leadership on European issues. We have cut the EU’s budget, secured an exemption from the new EU bank bail-out fund, vetoed a new treaty and secured a position of real influence in the Commission. That is leadership—an issue I know the Labour party might not want to discuss at the moment. Where this Government are leading, I am happy to see the Opposition follow, so I am glad to have the support of the right hon. Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford today, but given her party’s failure to reform the arrest warrant, her opposition to our exercising the opt-out, her refusal to back the repatriation of powers and her continued efforts to deny the British people their say through an in/out referendum, it is clear that the Labour party can never provide the leadership that this country needs on Europe.
I thank the shadow Home Secretary, my right hon. Friend the Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper), for giving the House this opportunity to discuss the European arrest warrant. I know that others claim we discussed it last week, but frankly the proceedings then were totally shambolic. Bearing in mind the fact that the Home Affairs Committee published its report on this matter on 29 October last year, in which it called on the Government to ensure that Parliament had as much say in this process as possible, it is a huge disappointment that it is only now—12 days before 1 December, the date on which we have to opt in—that Parliament has a real opportunity to discuss these matters.
I am an admirer of the Home Secretary and of her work on the landscape of policing. When she leaves her office when Parliament ends on 30 March, she will be able to point to the real changes she has made in that area. I have to say to her, however, that this has not been the Home Office’s finest hour. We had a real opportunity last week to give Members the chance to discuss the European arrest warrant, but that was not possible because of the shenanigans surrounding the motion and the vote.
The Home Affairs Select Committee has done a splendid job, but will the right hon. Gentleman also acknowledge the fact that the Justice Committee—not to mention the European Scrutiny Committee—has played a pivotal role in ensuring that we have at least examined these matters?
I was just about to say that. I do not want this to sound like self-congratulation—[Hon. Members: “Oh yes you do!”] Oh, all right—I do! I concede that point. To have united the three Chairs of the Select Committees and all their members, given their different politics and personalities, is a unique achievement for any Government. I am minded to join those on the two Front Benches in the Division Lobby to support the motion, if only to see the Home Secretary and the shadow Home Secretary in the same Lobby at the same time—I am not sure who will get there first—but I shall not be voting tonight. I am sure that my extra vote would not count for much anyway, given that the motion will be passed, but this is the only way I have of expressing my exasperation at the insufficient time we have had to discuss these matters or to look in real detail at the European arrest warrant.
The Home Secretary is right to say that there have been changes since we started last year, but those changes do not go far enough to deal with the kinds of issues that were raised in the Select Committee by several Members, including the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice, the right hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling), and the hon. Members for Enfield North (Nick de Bois) and for South Dorset (Richard Drax), all of whom came and talked about specific examples.
I am not against the principle of the European arrest warrant. The Home Secretary and the shadow Home Secretary have made a powerful case in support of that principle. The problem lies in the practicalities involved and the difficulty in exercising any control—we have none—over jurisdictions in other countries. Poland has been mentioned. We have had more European arrest warrant requests from Poland—2,400—than from any other country in Europe. The Home Secretary says that Poland is changing its legislation.
Of course if the Poles want the Poles back, they should have them back. The problem is that Poland is issuing these arrest warrants because it does not do so when it is prosecution-ready; a judge has no jurisdiction in these matters and these things are just issued, no matter what the case is. We cannot intervene in Polish legislation to try to change that position. The right hon. Gentleman talks about Poland having the Poles back. There are 1,000 Polish people in our prisons as foreign national prisoners and if Poland wanted them back I am sure the Home Secretary would be delighted to send them back to Poland. However, they are still in our prisons.
The fact is that these practicalities do stand in the way of justice. As Lady Hale said in the case of PH, HH and FK, this rests, in the end, with the other national countries of the European Union; it does not rest with us. So no matter what we do in the House today, those practical difficulties remain. I know that successive Governments have tried hard to change the situation, but we cannot intervene in the legislation of other countries. That is why we get these absurd cases where European arrest warrants are issued for people without the need to hand them out. The figures show that 28% of people arrested in our country are foreign nationals, half of whom are from the European Union. The cost of executing a European arrest warrant is £20,000—it costs that each time. The figures for arrests and surrenders show 5,184 arrests and 4,005 surrenders, so we are talking about 1,179 more arrests than surrenders.
That is why we needed an early debate on this matter. We do not need to go right up to the wire, with 12 days to go before the end of these discussions. Parliament, especially constituency MPs, who have real issues to raise, should have had the opportunity to raise this matter before. I am sorry that the Government did not listen to what my Committee said clearly a year ago, in paragraphs 85 and 87 of its report. Paragraph 87 stated:
this was a year ago—
“we have been disappointed with the extent and timeliness of the Government’s involvement of Parliament in scrutinising the 2014 opt-out and proposed opt-in. We hope that it will engage more constructively with Parliament for the remainder of this process.”
Now, with 12 days to go, we have our first real debate on this issue, thanks to the shadow Home Secretary tabling this motion.
We have just been told by the Home Secretary that she has not even notified the European Union that we are going to opt in. Bearing in mind the paperwork involved and the way in which the Home Office deals with its paperwork, I have a suggestion to make to the right hon. Lady: when she signs her letter, she should give it to the hon. Members for Hexham (Guy Opperman) and for Meon Valley (George Hollingbery), who are sitting behind her, and make sure that they take it straight to the European Union headquarters in Brussels. Otherwise, given the history of the Home Office, this deadline will be missed, like so many others.
I hope the Home Secretary will, in her wind-up, further reassure the House that the points made by Members of this House in their evidence to my Select Committee and the reports the three Select Committees have issued will be taken even more seriously than they have been in the past.
It is always a privilege to follow the Chairman of the Home Affairs Committee, the right hon. Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz). It is an unusual experience for me to be able wholeheartedly to support a Labour party Opposition day motion and a unique opportunity to support such a motion that entirely and in every detail endorses Government policy. It thereby makes two things clear: the success of the Home Secretary’s negotiating skills in arriving at the right package of measures into which we need to opt back to keep Britain’s streets safer; and the success of the Government’s policy of maintaining a pragmatic and sensible use of European Union institutions and powers to help the people of this country. The overarching issue before us today is why we are opting back into these 35 measures, particularly the European arrest warrant.
I am conscious that many of my hon. Friends have detailed objections to the way in which the warrant has worked in the past, and to the alternatives. But it is worth starting with the overriding point that if we set the word “European” aside for a moment—I know that that is difficult—this is an international arrest warrant. As such, what it does is simply speed up the work of the police and the courts. It means that criminals and terrorists, once they are caught, can either be brought back to Britain for crimes committed abroad or be removed from this country to face justice elsewhere in Europe, so saving time and money in our prison system.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for giving way. Of course it is not a perfect agreement, but does he agree that it is a lot better than what went before, whereby it used to take 10 years in some cases to extradite criminals who had left our shores and whom we wanted back. Equally, if we have criminals from overseas who are on our territory, then of course we should send them back quickly to their own countries.
I entirely agree with my hon. and learned Friend. Indeed, it is the speed of operation of the European arrest warrant that is one of the most significant improvements over what was there before. I simply invite the House to consider this for a second or two not as a European issue but as a public safety issue. We live in an increasingly dangerous world in which criminals operate on an international scale and in which this country is a particular target not just for international terrorists but for serious criminals of all types. The three biggest and fastest growing international crimes are the trafficking of guns, drugs and people across frontiers, which is precisely why we need international measures such as the European arrest warrant to make us safe.
My hon. Friend is wise in his decision. We have had some facts and figures that back up both his judgment and the judgment of the Home Secretary and the shadow Home Secretary. Over the past five years, slightly more than 5,000 people have been extradited from the UK to Europe after an arrest warrant was issued. They include suspects wanted for 124 murders, more than 100 rapes, nearly 500 serious assaults, and in connection with seven terrorism cases. For those who rightly worry about the fate of British citizens, only 217 of those 5,000 were British—just 4.3% of the total.
Since 2009, the arrest warrant has also seen 647 people returned to this country to face justice, including 51 suspected killers, 80 suspected paedophiles, 46 suspected violent thugs and one wanted terrorist. The warrant works both ways and it works effectively. Without the arrest warrant, there are 22 EU member states that could refuse to extradite their own nationals to the UK, including Spain, France and Germany, so it does act in the safety of our country and our citizens as well. The question for those who oppose the European arrest warrant is: can it be worth putting the safety of our fellow citizens at risk a bit more than it is now for the genuine constitutional concerns that they have? I hope that even those who are against our opting back into the European arrest warrant will admit that not opting in would put the safety of our fellow citizens in this country at greater risk. They might well say that that would be worth while, but I hope that they acknowledge that fact, given the surprising unanimity about it among experts in law enforcement and criminal justice.
We can all agree that looking out for our security is the job of the police and the intelligence agencies but, as my right hon. Friend demonstrated so valuably in his campaign against identity cards and 90 days’ detention without charge, it is our job to scrutinise what goes on.
I absolutely agree. As my hon. Friend knows, I am not an uncritical admirer of everything that the police do, and nor do I take on board what they say as a matter of course, but I am struck by the words of some of the best police officers throughout Europe. Keith Bristow, the head of the National Crime Agency, says:
“The European Arrest Warrant is by far the best way”
of bringing criminals back to the UK to face justice. As we have heard, Rob Wainwright, the director of Europol—a Brit—has said that
“the European Arrest Warrant has resulted in one of the most dramatic improvements of international law enforcement in recent times”.
We should take such views seriously.
The best objection to the EAW has always been the cases of British citizens who have been extradited—perhaps wrongly—and held for long periods. I accept that such cases have been the subject of many effective campaigns, including that of my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, Southgate (Mr Burrowes). However, the context of the debate has changed, as we now have reform under the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014. One of the biggest changes since the measures came into effect in July is that there have been a significant number of judicial refusals of arrest warrants, which represents a significant step forward for preserving the safety of our constituents who might have fallen victim to judicial or policing mistakes made in other European jurisdictions.
Given such progress, I urge those who oppose our opting back into the EAW to acknowledge that their essential objection is the fact that this is the “European” arrest warrant. There is a danger that the debate gets taken away from law and order. We need extradition treaties with other countries, and the alternatives to the warrant are much slower and less effective. Some treaties do not work satisfactorily, such as that we signed with the US, a democracy with a perfectly good judicial system, so it is clearly not true that the European Union and the European arrest warrant cause unique problems.
Crime fighting is an aspect of life in which instinctive, habitual, institutional co-operation among European countries makes life better for everyone who lives in them. We all agree that that is true for free trade and protecting the environment, and it is also true for crime fighting. The measure improves British citizens’ safety and quality of life, which is why I support the motion and the Government’s policy.
I congratulate the shadow Home Secretary on putting before the House a simple and straightforward motion. This difficult and complicated issue involves sovereignty, international crime and the future of the European Union, so it is right that elected Members—even those of us who do not agree with the shadow Home Secretary—can vote on such a straightforward motion.
If the debate was just about the improvements that the Government have made to the European arrest warrant, it might be possible to vote for it, although as my right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz) pointed out, many of those improvements do not go as far as they should. If this was simply a matter of the speed of getting through the judicial process, it would be easy to vote for it, for the reasons given by the right hon. Member for Ashford (Damian Green). But it goes much deeper than that. There are justices and injustices involved.
I do not know how to balance the injustices suffered by some people against the undoubted benefits derived from the European arrest warrant. How do we say to Symeou, Dark, Hainsworth, the Kings, Dines and other people who have suffered injustices, “Your injustice under the European arrest warrant is worth going through because it enables us to bring other criminals to court more quickly”? We cannot balance things that way. If we could, I would be interested to know what metric could be used.
The basic issue is not the speed of justice or improvements to the EAW. It is the fact that by entering the European arrest warrant system, we are giving recognition to courts throughout the European Union and passing sovereignty over to the European Court of Justice. To anybody who has read the accession documents just on Croatia—the same comments could be applied to Romania, Bulgaria and a number of other European countries—it is almost beyond dispute that those countries do not have a criminal justice system like ours. Theirs is subject to corruption and political interference, yet we are saying that the European arrest warrant procedure agreed in those countries will be recognised and followed through in this country.
I do not see how we can honour what has been honoured in this country for nearly 800 years—habeas corpus—when we allow British citizens to be taken by foreign courts that are subject to political interference and corruption, and locked up without the evidence being produced.
It is not as though nothing is being done about that. The group of states against corruption, of which the UK is a very strong member, is doing work on these very issues—on corruption in courts and in Parliaments. It is going through the countries that the hon. Gentleman is talking about, reporting on these issues, highlighting them and pressing the Governments.
That is a fair point, but anyone who had been locked up in Romania or Croatia would not be pleased to hear that the situation will improve at some time in the future. The debate is among British politicians who are pragmatic; the arguments put forward by the Home Secretary and the shadow Home Secretary were powerful, pragmatic arguments about how there would be immediate benefit, but that is not the argument going on in the rest of the European Union.
Like many of the changes in the European Union, acceptance of the European arrest warrant is seen as a way of furthering integration. We are not entering into arrangements for the European prosecutor’s role, but I can almost guarantee—as much as one can guarantee anything in future—that in four, five, six or seven years’ time we will have adopted the European arrest warrant, this country will be in Eurojust and it will not look right if we are not in the European prosecutor system. We may well get a decision from the European Court of Justice that says, in effect, that we have to be in the European prosecutor system.
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right, and that might be one of the arguments used to drag us into the process. The European Union is a thin-end-of-the-wedge organisation; once it has started, it will move on to further integration.
The right hon. Member for Ashford made a powerful case, as have many Members, for dealing with international crime and keeping terrorism out of the country, which we all want—there is nobody in the House who does not want to deal with international terrorism—but what we have with the European arrest warrant is Hobson’s choice: we must either take what is put before us or have a poorer system, in pragmatic terms, in the short term. If the Government are serious about renegotiating our position in Europe, they should not be giving up negotiating positions like this. We should be asking for a better position, rather than saying, “Yes, we’ll go along with that because there is nothing else available.”
The right hon. Member for Ashford also made the point that many of our crime-fighting agencies, such as the police and the security services, like the European arrest warrant. They do not always follow the rules themselves, but our security services have for some time preferred to have terrorists in London, rather than elsewhere, so that they can watch them. I think that is a bad policy, but I mention it because I do not think that we should always take at face value what is said by police forces and the security services.
I will finish with a powerful point made by the shadow Home Secretary in the previous debate that I think is worthy of an answer. She said that the fact that there have been miscarriages of justice under the European arrest warrant does not mean that we should get rid of it. We do not remove the police’s power of arrest just because they sometimes abuse it. That is absolutely right, but it does not mean that, when opting into something, we should not look for something better than what we are getting from the European arrest warrant.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Blackley and Broughton (Graham Stringer) and, I must say, rather refreshing, because I agreed with every word he said—it was common sense from start to finish.
Earlier this month I visited my constituent Colin Dines, a retired recorder and a man of impeccable character. He was issued a European arrest warrant in 2010 after being accused of a tendentious, tenuous involvement in a telecoms fraud in Italy. He has never been interviewed by the Italian authorities, which would at least have given him a chance to clear his name, and he has never been given the opportunity to present evidence showing his innocence. The key Italian suspects were all acquitted a long time ago.
Despite the incompetence of the Italians and the manifest innocence of my constituent, he has languished under the threat of prison for four and a half years. The case limps on with no resolution in sight, with Colin stuck in legal limbo. It has cost his family an enormous sum of money. Colin suffered a stroke just days before he was due to be surrendered to face either an Italian jail or possibly house arrest, and that was the only reason why the warrant was temporarily suspended.
That case brings shame on British justice, but it is not an isolated case—they are all too frequent. Do not take the word of a politician on that; listen to this country’s most senior criminal judge, the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Thomas. He has stated publicly that the problems are systemic because fast-track European arrest warrant extradition assumes common standards of justice across Europe. We all know that is a sham, whether it is the Greek or Italian systems, let alone the post-Soviet systems in place in central and eastern Europe.
We all agree in this House that EU extradition is vital to fight crime, so a rather false choice is being put up—the hon. Member for Blackley and Broughton summed that up rather well. The truth is that what we object to is the scattergun approach under the European arrest warrant, which devastates the lives of too many innocent people. Let us remember what this House was set up to do: defend innocent people from bullying by arbitrary rulers. If we believe in British justice, we cannot allow that to continue—not for the price of returning a few criminals, or even many criminals. I would like to hear from all those who have been making that very utilitarian argument how many innocent people should be sacrificed for the return of 10 or 20 criminals, because that is the false choice that they are putting up.
My hon. Friend is making an excellent speech. Does he agree that, basically, the reason the Government are giving in to these proposals is that they have an inclination towards, if not an obsession with, making sure that we stay within the framework of European law as it is prescribed rather than looking at the fundamental changes that are needed?
I thank the Chairman of the European Scrutiny Committee, who makes a valid point that I will come on to address. There is certainly an element of truth in what he describes.
I want to pay tribute to the changes that the Government have made. I recognise that some additional checks have been introduced. However, as Fair Trials International—we should bear in mind that it has handled these cases—and, today, Liberty have made clear, those checks are wholly and woefully inadequate to stop the flow of injustices. The proportionality test is too skewed in favour of extradition; the safeguard to prevent “hit and hope” warrants is too flimsy; there is nothing to deal with mistaken identity; and, perversely, appeal rights were weakened, not strengthened. We never got a chance to scrutinise those measures on the Floor of the House, because they were slipped through in Committee. That is a shame, because I, and colleagues, would have wanted to be able to try to strengthen the safeguards. It should have been debated on the Floor of the House on Report. I twice tried to table amendments, but we were given no time.
It is crystal clear from the rising volume of EAWs that Britain receives that we will have more problems ahead. This year the number of EAWs we received reached almost 8,000—a record number. With this broad net, it is almost inevitable that more and more innocent Britons will face rough justice and be caught within it, and, as a result, be subject to Kafkaesque courts and gruesome prison conditions.
I do not think that the checks are inadequate: I know that they are, because since July, when they came into force, I have been contacted directly by another victim, Keith Hainsworth, a 64-year-old tutor of ancient Greek. In July, with his wife, he visited the Peloponnese region of Greece, where they pottered around ruins and old churches, at the time of a local forest fire. The couple’s hire car was spotted in the vicinity—by a well-known local mischief-maker, as it subsequently turned out when they got to court—and on the strength of that alone, out of the blue, he was arrested in October in France under an EAW on his way back from a weekend away in Paris. He was apprehended by British customs officials who took his passport. He was denied basic rights. He spent a month under house arrest in France. He was surrendered to the Greeks to be held in awful conditions for 30 hours. He was charged for a bottle of water. That is what you get as a Brit abroad in some of these jails. When he finally faced a Greek judge, the court was in almost comic disarray at the farce that had come before it and dropped the case immediately, but not without Keith Hainsworth and his family having been traumatised and subjected to a legal bill of £40,000. Let us ask ourselves how many of our constituents could afford to pay that. If it can happen to him, it can happen to anyone, and nothing in the new legislation will stop it.
I want to pick up on a point made by the former Justice Secretary, my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke), who is no longer in his place. Ministers have been very candid in saying that there has been no renegotiation of the EU framework decision because there is no renegotiation to be had. It is clear that there is no possibility of revising the framework decision. I might take a different view if there were, but that is not on the cards. That tells us that we have a stark choice: either we opt out and negotiate a bespoke extradition treaty with the EU, as one member not 27, that allows streamlined extradition—no one wants to go back to the bureaucracy of the past—but with proper safeguards, or, mark my words, we will continue to hang our constituents and British citizens out to dry. The Home Secretary made it very clear today that there is a legal basis on which to do that; the issue is political will, on our side and on the EU side.
We have heard a string of scare stories about the operational cliff edge that police would face if we opt out, but no one is suggesting that we opt out and do nothing. That is not a serious suggestion by anyone in this House, so we do not need to dwell on it for too long. If someone wants to intervene on me, I would be happy to take a question on that. We cannot have it both ways. It cannot be suggested that Britain would somehow become a safe haven for the worst criminals if we are outside the EAW, when that is precisely why all our EU partners have a strong mutual interest in agreeing a new extradition relationship, as long as we had made our position clear.
This debate is not just about extradition; it is about something far bigger. Everyone wants strong operational co-operation with our EU partners, but we are a global nation and we should be able to do that, as we do with many partners from around the world, without sacrificing democratic control. Why is it only with our EU partners that giving up democratic control, whether to the ECJ or to harmonise laws, is the strict red-line condition on co-operation, when it is not such a condition with the Australians, the Canadians or the Americans?
The long-term direction of travel is very clear, as Viviane Reding set out in a speech for the Commission last year.
I take my hon. Friend’s point, but it does not matter how many people agree—or how many law enforcement people stand up and do the bidding of whoever—because our job is to scrutinise the proposals. I must tell him that very few people who support opting in have given me examples of victims to whom they have spoken. When I sat on the Joint Committee on Human Rights, I spoke to a range of victims, and others now approach me regularly. What has been lost in this debate is not only their voice, which is why it is so important that we are having the debate, but the systemic nature of the problems.
In the time available, I want briefly to make it clear that the direction of travel is very obvious. The Commission makes no secret of the fact that we are heading towards a pan-European code and an EU public prosecutor, with the ECJ presiding and ultimate accountability being to an EU Justice Minister. We see such stepping stones being paved in the package of measures that we are opting in to. We see it with the new EU public prosecutor, and Jonathan Fisher QC has made it clear that our opt-out from it is in tatters and is already ineffective. If we do not take this opportunity to step back, when will we get a better moment to renegotiate our relationship in this vital area?
Well, Madam Deputy Speaker, that certainly was some night last week, wasn’t it? It was the great European arrest warrant debate that never was, and the night we apparently passed something as important as the European arrest warrant by proxy. In my 14 years as a Member of Parliament, there are certain things I thought I would say in the House of Commons, but I thought that asking Mr Speaker that “the Question, That the Question be not now put, be now put” was something belonging to a Monty Python sketch, not to a Hansard report of the House of Commons. I wondered how all that would appear to my constituents, but they loved it. They thought that it was surreal comedy at its finest, to the extent that one of them asked, “Is it like that every night, Pete? If it is, I would never have voted to leave this place.” Here we are: we are all back in our seats—like déjà vu—all over again, only this time we have an actual vote on the European arrest warrant to accompany the debate.
The Tory obsession with European exit has taken us to the very point of withdrawing from a process that ensures the effective transfer of foreign criminals to face justice. Listening to some Conservative Members—I have a great deal of fondness and respect for some of them—it seems to me that anything prefixed with the word “European” is viewed with maximum suspicion, and that anything involving European co-operation and EU nations working together is to be resisted at all costs. Let us be clear that that is what this is all about. This has absolutely nothing to do with the most effective and convenient way of ensuring that criminals are brought to justice, but everything to do with keeping Europe out of any role in the institutional affairs of the United Kingdom.
I want to come on to that point, and I will mention a particular case about the use of the European arrest warrant that concerns me.
What are the Government doing about this growing Euroscepticism? They are in and out of the home affairs chapter as though they were doing the hokey cokey at the UKIP Christmas party—first we are in, then we are out, then we shake it all about like a “kipper” in a Kent by-election. This may or may not be a really good day for the Government to have a debate about the European arrest warrant. We have the Rochester and Strood by-election soon, and, as it looks like the Tories will be overwhelmingly defeated, the rebellion this evening will be minimised. However, this debate will also suggest to Farage, the rest of UKIP and the Euro-exiters that the Government are still in thrall to the European Union.
The Government are doing the right thing tonight in not opposing the motion, and I support them, but I encourage them to take on the “kippers” a bit more than they do, rather than pandering to them. See what pandering to UKIP has done: the Government’s opinion rating has gone down faster than a UKIP comment at an equalities convention. Now this monstrous race to the bottom on EU exit has been joined by the Labour party. It is getting stuck in, too, but all it needs to do is have a look at what has happened to the Conservative party. Do not pander to UKIP; take it on. It is the only way to do it. Our stock is rising in Scotland because we are prepared to take on the anti-European agenda and this nonsense about immigration. Is it not time that the Conservative Government and the Labour party started to take on UKIP rather than pandering to its members?
That is a ridiculous point. We want what all other member states of the European Union have, which is equal membership of the European Union. We want the same as Denmark, Ireland, Austria and Finland. It is very simple.
The UK is now heading towards the European exit door like a stumbling drunk, cursing incomprehensibly. A bemused Europe watches, not knowing whether to sing “Please Don’t Go” or breathe a sigh of relief because it will soon be relieved of the surly, semi-detached, self-obsessed member. This is a UK with one foot already out of Europe and it looks like it will take my nation with it.
I cannot give way to the right hon. and learned Gentleman, as I have no more time in which to do so.
We were supposed to be a family of nations—that is what we were told in the independence referendum—and to be equal partners within the United Kingdom, yet big brother England will drag my nation out of Europe against its will. We are like a small brother, to be scolded and told what is good for us.
I have no more time to take interventions.
That is the reality for Scotland in Europe. We value our place in Europe and see support for Europe way beyond what is happening in the rest of the United Kingdom. The European arrest warrant is critical for Scotland and we value it. We do not have the ridiculous and absurd examples that are given of insignificant and inappropriate cases. The European arrest warrant has worked for us in 600 cases involving Scotland and fellow member states of the European Union. We have our own distinct legal jurisdiction. We have our own Procurator Fiscal Service and our own Faculty of Advocates, as well as our own Law Society of Scotland. They all support the European arrest warrant. Is it not appalling that the Government could not even be bothered to lift the phone to tell the Scottish Government that they would be withdrawing from the home affairs chapter of the European Union? There were hardly any conversations with Scottish Ministers or even Scottish officials about the renegotiation for opting back into some of these measures—
I cannot give way to the right hon. and learned Gentleman. I have already said to him that I have no more time.
This is what we see again and again: disrespect for all the Assemblies across the United Kingdom. There is no consultation and no discussion; we are just expected to fall in line.
I cannot give way as I have no more time.
I want to address a point about one important case in Scotland. A Polish national, Grzegorz Gamla, was convicted last December of the murder of Maciej Ciania in Leith. He was arrested by the Polish authorities within five hours of a European arrest warrant being issued. We do not have any of the silly, insignificant and unsubstantial cases that others have cited, and I think that is because we have our own jurisdiction in Scotland and because of how we look at these matters. This is not the European arrest warrant’s fault, but it might be the fault of how the Ministry of Justice looks at such matters. Perhaps it should be looking at its own procedures to see whether they can be addressed properly.
In Scotland, we do not share the Euro-hostility that seems to pervade this House and the UKIPification of the UK in which Master Farage pulls all the strings and those on the Tory Front Bench dance along. The UKIPification of the UK is almost complete. The hon. Member for Clacton (Douglas Carswell) is in his place. He will be joined by his friend on Thursday. I do not know how many other Conservative Members will resign, but I suspect it will be quite a few.
My country is going to be dragged out of the European Union against its will because of the Euro-hostility in this place. We observe these things, but we want no part in them. We are being dragged out against our will. I just wish that the Conservatives would take on UKIP, stop pandering to it and stand up for their own values, rather than for the values of the hon. Member for Clacton and his party.
Of course we want law and order and security—that goes without saying. The question that we are faced with at last, despite the shambles of last week, is whether we are effectively bending the knee to European dogma, the charter of fundamental rights and the European Court of Justice.
The reason I shall vote against the motion is simple: I put the issue of miscarriages of justice ahead of the other issues that have been addressed. I ask the Government the following questions. What about fair trials? What about political and judicial corruption in some European countries? What about habeas corpus? What would hon. Members think if they or their families were subjected to the miscarriages of justice that we have heard about today? I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Esher and Walton (Mr Raab) for his tenacity and to my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield North (Nick de Bois) and the hon. Member for Blackley and Broughton (Graham Stringer) for what they have said.
As I said earlier, what is so special about the EU in respect of these questions, when Turkey may well become a hotbed of terrorism? What about the rest of the world?
This issue smacks to me of the case of Liversidge v. Anderson in the 1940s, which related to emergency regulation 18B. It became clear that what was really at stake was the question of the state versus the individual. Eventually, after four years of agonising, the courts accepted that there had been a massive miscarriage of justice. I believe that such cases will become increasingly common when we accept the irreversible—other than through the repeal or amendment of the European Communities Act 1972—commitment to these procedures.
If we were confronted with a Bill containing these measures, it would go through all the stages of consideration and could be amended. We are denied that because the measures are contained in European regulations. We are conceding sovereignty over a significant area of criminal law to European institutions. The key role of interpretation will pass from the UK Supreme Court to the European Court of Justice. The Spanish discovered recently in the Melloni case that the European arrest warrant can undermine the human rights protections in their own constitution.
I raised the question of the EU charter of fundamental rights with the Home Secretary. I remind her that the matter has already been adjudicated on by the courts. It is implemented under section 3 of the 1972 Act. That section must be amended to adjust that imposition on the UK, its Parliament and its courts.
There is the question of this being a pan-European system. Law and order and public safety have been the common themes put forward by the Government, as though they should override all other considerations, such as the sovereignty of Parliament and the protection of the rights and civil liberties of the individual. Under the enactments that we have made on behalf of the voters who send us here, we do not send our Members of Parliament to Brussels.
The EAW is a mutual recognition measure. It relies on a parity of standards of justice that does not exist universally. The lack of that parity of standards would become even more pronounced if the EU expanded to include countries such as Albania. The EU itself reported on the unacceptable levels of corruption in the Albanian justice system as part of its pre-candidature due diligence.
The changes that were made to the European arrest warrant in the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014 have yet to be proven. We do not know what would happen in cases such as those of Turner, Symeou, Dark and Mann, and the case of Ashya King came after the reforms. That was the case I referred to the other day, in which a poor child suffering from a brain tumour was separated from its parents, who were put in handcuffs under this outrageous miscarriage of justice.
I have a great deal of respect for the Chair of the European Scrutiny Committee, but surely the point about the Ashya King arrest warrant is that it was issued by the British authorities. If my hon. Friend is going to complain about the issuing of an arrest warrant by a British authority, he has to look at the whole British justice system. That mistake surely had little to do with the European arrest warrant and was due to the British authorities.
I also respect my hon. Friend, who sits on the European Scrutiny Committee, but my point is simple: the British authorities, in line with a continuing stream of human rights consciousness such as the Human Rights Act, the charter and the rest of it, were insufficiently vigilant. The case should have been rejected. That is the problem—the pervasive atmosphere of compliance with those things, and the European arrest warrant is part of that attitude.
I will go further and say that in their handling of this process, the Government have completely failed to honour their repeated undertakings that they would enable Parliament to vote on the entire package of measures that they propose to rejoin. So much has been said so well by so many Members, but I wish finally to say this. Rejoining the measures in question without proper and explicit parliamentary consent would be lawful, just as it would be possible to go to war, for instance, without explicit parliamentary consent. However, the Government should reflect on the fact that we are standing up for the individual who is affected and victimised by this miscarriage of justice. The vote is going to go against us today, we know that, but in taking this course of action the Government will have exercised their prerogative Executive powers by merely sending a letter. As I said to the Home Secretary last week, that undermines the democratic legitimacy of their decision.
It is of course a great pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Stone (Sir William Cash), on whose Committee I serve but whose views I do not share. He is a great champion of sovereignty and a sceptic of Europe, but we need to balance the issue of where decisions are made against the protection of our citizens. Let us think about the numbers: under the European arrest warrant over the past five years, 5,000 criminals who would otherwise be cluttering up our own justice system and prisons have been removed from the UK to face justice. At worst, in a world of disconnection from Europe, we would not have the information we needed to know that our citizens were at risk from foreign criminals, who might be rapists, terrorists or murderers. In the balance, despite what he says about individual cases, it is clearly right for Britain to protect itself from such criminals and not to allow his obsession to endanger British citizens.
The hon. Gentleman may know that I was in a debate the other day on, I think, Radio 5 Live. One of the people representing the police on these matters said that the European arrest warrant would “save us the bother” of having to go through an extended extradition procedure. Those were the words he used—it would “save us the bother”. That is what worries me.
My understanding is that the statistics show that extradition now takes an average of 49 days, but it took a year before we were in the European arrest warrant system. The hon. Gentleman has to bear in mind the fact that each criminal would spend an extra 45 weeks in Britain without that system. There would be no transfer of information, so we would be a safe haven for criminals and have more and more foreign criminals. We are already at risk, and that in turn would put British people at greater risk. These enormous risks to life and limb should not be tolerated because of people’s particular political angst over Europe, and particularly those who—I do not include the hon. Gentleman in this—are driven by fear, prejudice and concern about UKIP breathing down their political necks. We should put the safety of people in Britain first.
My right hon. Friend the shadow Home Secretary has already gone through the farcical pantomime that we experienced last Monday when the Home Secretary—who has now endorsed today’s motion, which is similar to that in the Lords—would not allow a wider debate. I know that the hon. Member for Stone would ideally like to have gone through all 35 measures, but we should at least have had a debate in the round. Only the generosity of Mr Speaker, who pointed out that we were considering specifically 11 measures and not 35, although he would allow discussion of the European arrest warrant, would have enabled us to talk about it had the debate gone ahead.
It is extremely important to talk about the European arrest warrant and all the other measures. Somebody might own a house in the UK and be charged in Spain, and we might want their assets to be confiscated here; or we might want a list of convictions to be passed on so that sentences can be carried out properly in other countries in the light of previous convictions. We might want a supervision order so that UK citizens can be bailed in the UK rather than having to stay abroad, or a prisoner transfer so that people can serve custody at home. All those things are good for Britain. People from UKIP might not think that such measures are good for Britain, but they protect British people by enabling them to serve their custody in Britain, and ensuring that our jails are not clogged up with foreign criminals.
I am concerned about some of the politics of this, and that the fear and cowardice of the Home Secretary in not confronting the House of Commons with the 35 measures directly was born out of fear of UKIP. We basically have a party born of the austerity created by the Conservatives, which then blames immigration for the economic poverty inflicted on people by the Tories. The Government give UKIP credibility by saying that we will have a referendum, making out that Britain could survive outside Europe, and then they say, “Oh, we’ll reform it first”, which implies that Europe as it stands is not worth being part of. The Government are feeding the monster of UKIP and it will be the tiger that devours them.
I shall support the Government’s position on the European arrest warrant, which I believe to be desirable and necessary pragmatically. However, this debate would not have been necessary if we had not made what in my view was the grave error of merging the justice and home affairs third pillar into the main architecture of the European Union treaties. There is no doubt that doing that locks us into something that might cause us difficulties if in future we find it is not working properly. I have always had great sympathy with my hon. Friends on the Government Benches and elsewhere who have concerns about that. Logically they are right to do so, even though I will disagree with them tonight. Simply to gloss over that issue is not satisfactory.
That is a point well made. Everybody knows that the European Union is not perfect, that mistakes have been made and that we need reform. That is about co-operative engagement to do things that are sensible not just for the citizens of Britain but for those of Europe.
To leave would be to expose us to criminals, terrorists, rapists and child abusers, and that appears to be a cost that those from UKIP and elsewhere think worth paying. I do not think we could look at the mothers and fathers of people who had been killed by villains if those crimes could have been prevented by co-operation—and all in the name of prejudice from UKIP and others.
Across Europe there are something like 3,600 organised groups involved in drugs, trafficking children or terror, and they need to be confronted. There is no point pretending that we exist in some sort of fish and chip shop Britain, floating away in splendid isolation where villains cannot jump on board. If we pull ourselves out of the European arrest warrant, we could be a safe haven for them. People have made much of individual cases. We know from individual cases—Hussein Osman, the 21/7 bomber who was brought to justice from Italy thanks to the European arrest warrant; Jeremy Forrestt, the teacher who abducted a schoolgirl and took her to France and was brought back; and Jason McKay who murdered his girlfriend and went to Poland—that there is an endless list of villains who have been brought to justice by the co-operation of our emerging civilisation in Europe.
This matter is enormously important to people across the UK. I think we all agree with subsidiarity and with taking decisions at the most local level possible. However, decisions should not be taken at the cost of deaths, molestation, abuse, trafficking or terror threats—that would be completely ridiculous. I have no hesitation in supporting the motion.
I want to make a few brief points. In July, significant reforms were introduced to procedures in respect of the European arrest warrant. There is now clearly a test for proportionality, so that UK police forces are not going to execute European arrest warrants for trivial or minor crimes that would not receive a custodial sentence here. It is also necessary to be able to demonstrate dual criminality; in other words, the European arrest warrant will not be executed if the offence is not also a crime in the United Kingdom. The judge being requested to issue the European arrest warrant also has to be satisfied as to the readiness of the case or, in other words, that the case is ready to go to trial and that the European arrest warrant is not simply being used as a means of detaining people indefinitely or going on some sort of fishing expedition. People are therefore only going to be extradited if the offences are serious, if the authorities elsewhere are ready to proceed and if the matters in question are also crimes here in the UK.
Since 2009, 221 people have been extradited by Thames Valley police under a European arrest warrant. This year, Thames Valley police have extradited five high-risk offenders from the United Kingdom. They are people wanted for the most serious offences, including murder, terrorism offences, armed robbery, serious assault and firearms offences. Significant extraditions in 2014 by Thames Valley police include a Polish individual wanted for grievous bodily harm and aggravated burglary in Poland. This individual had numerous convictions for violent offences. Because he was assessed as high risk, the warrant was received, processed and executed within 24 hours, thus removing a potential offender and providing reassurance to the community. Indeed, our local community in the Thames Valley has clearly been safeguarded by this person’s removal from the UK.
An individual wanted for taking part in the murder of two youths in Milton Keynes was arrested in Holland under the provisions of a European arrest warrant. He was extradited back to the UK, where he now awaits trial. Since July, Thames Valley police have also collected one suspect under the provision of a European arrest warrant for fraud offences that had a criminal benefit of some £150,000. The European arrest warrant is being used to help to keep us safe by removing foreign criminals from our communities. That is an important point. The House has to remember that, of those extradited from the UK under the European arrest warrant, the overall majority are foreign nationals.
The Metropolitan police show that 95% of the nearly 1,500 criminal suspects, including murderers and rapists, who fled to London to avoid facing justice overseas but have been extradited over the past five years under the European arrest warrant, were foreign nationals. Some 95% of the warrants applied to foreign nationals. Of the 1,500 criminal suspects in the Met police area—including 45 alleged killers, 35 men wanted for rape, 25 accused of child sex offences, 30 suspected armed robbers, two alleged terrorists, 130 people wanted for drug trafficking and 252 people accused of fraud—only 67, or less than 5% of the total, were Britons. This is largely about ensuring that criminals cannot flee to the UK and use it is a safe haven.
As Lord Howard of Lympne, a former Home Secretary and no great supporter of the EU, observed:
“I hope that Parliament will endorse the Government’s sensible approach… Justice delayed, too often, is justice denied… I have seen the benefits of the Arrest Warrant, and expressed concerns about its shortcomings. Now that this Government has acted to address those shortcomings, it should continue to be a tool at the disposal of our law enforcement agencies.”
The arrest warrant meant that Hussain Osman, one of the failed July 2005 London bombers, who fled to Italy, could be brought back to Britain for trial in just 56 days. By contrast, the man who masterminded the Paris metro attack in 1995, which killed eight people, was able to shelter in London for 10 years before he could be extradited, because the warrant was not in force at the time. I do not think that any Member wants any part of the UK to be a safe haven for foreign criminals.
Prior to the EAW, I can remember spending hours at Horseferry Road magistrates court and elsewhere arguing the case, while defendants were able to delay extradition because we needed individual extradition treaties with individual countries. We now have a working proportionality filter: a UK judge is required to consider whether extradition would be disproportionate; and if a person is wanted for prosecution, a judge has to take into account the seriousness of the conduct, the likely penalty and the possibility of the relevant foreign authorities taking less coercive measures than extradition. Furthermore, the Government sought to curb any lengthy pre-trial detentions, so in cases where someone is wanted for trial abroad, extradition can go ahead only where the issuing state has made a decision to charge and try that person.
I think that the Government are right to push ahead with the EAW. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has rightly warned that abandoning it would undermine the fight against crime and risk turning Britain into a haven for fugitives, and I hope that the whole House will vote on the pragmatic grounds of public safety, rather than playing politics. The well-being and safety of our constituents are too important.
Order. Such is the heat of the debate and the number and length of interventions, which have caused speeches to be much longer—in order, but much longer—than the limit I set, that I am afraid I now must reduce the time limit to four minutes.
It is a pleasure to follow the pro-European views of the right hon. Member for Banbury (Sir Tony Baldry). I agree with everything he said and wish to reiterate one of the points he made: of the 4,000 criminals arrested in this country under the EAW, 95% were foreign nationals. We need to make that point. The EAW is a mechanism to get bad people out of our country to be put on trial and then, I hope, convicted for crimes carried out usually in other countries. By contrast, under the “reckless” position put forward yesterday, good people—Polish plumbers and their families—would be deported to other European countries, while, presumably, the criminals, after we have left the EU, would not be, because we would not be part of the EAW. That is the position of the party that claims to be speaking in the national interest; in fact, it is doing the exact opposite.
We benefit from immigration. EU migrants have made a great contribution to our country over many years. Our prosperity has been increased by the higher economic growth that resulted from nationals of the A8 accession countries coming here to work on our bus and transport systems, our health service, our shops and retail establishments, as architects and teachers and in all kinds of other occupations—even as priests. I have an excellent Catholic priest in my constituency who now runs morning services for the English-speaking community and afternoon services for the Poles and Lithuanians. We are benefiting from the migration of Europeans to our country, but at the same time we have to work with other Europeans in the interests of our country.
In my remaining time, let me say a few brief words about Operation Golf, which I mentioned in an intervention on the Home Secretary. The Europol website has a section called “Operational Successes”. Operation Golf is the first of a list of many dealing with different countries. Operation Golf was a joint investigation team operation by the Metropolitan police and the Romanian national police. It targeted Romanian organised crime; it led to the arrest of 126 individuals and the searching of 16 addresses in Ilford, most of them in my constituency; and it led to the freeing of a large number of children who were being used in organised begging gangs.
This operation went on between 2007 and 2010. In 2011, the Romanian authorities used the European arrest warrants to get the extradition of a man described as a “real life Fagin”. This man, Nelu Stoian, was extradited to Romania along with others to be prosecuted for their crimes. That would not have been possible without the external arrangements we have and the European arrest warrant. We should be proud of the fact that we are part of that, and we should recognise that it benefits our country.
I want to bring the House’s attention back to the excellent speech from the hon. Member for Blackley and Broughton (Graham Stringer). He touched on the central issue—the most difficult issue for me—which is the mutual recognition of other legal systems. I am puzzled about why the Opposition should be so devoted to sweeping aside any consideration of something so important for our liberty and our due processes.
The problem is mutual recognition, so let me draw attention to the dire events taking place in Perugia. This is uncomfortable for me because I am an admirer of Italy. An English girl was murdered there. The question of guilt ran through three trials, and the return to Italy of the American involved is being sought again. This is not a judicial system with which we are familiar. It is one that, painfully, did not come to a resolution. The hon. Member for Blackley and Broughton was right that mutual recognition is not equal standards, so people such as me feel it to be a degradation of our own legal system to be placed in such a position where we have no control over the liberty and freedoms of our own citizens. That is the key point for me.
The Labour party had a Prime Minister who was absolutely convinced that without 90 days of pre-trial detention the state would fall. It was the Labour party that put an end to that nonsense, and the Labour party not going along with 90 days of pre-trial detention, which resulted from the hysteria of Ministers and a Prime Minister, was one of the most exhilarating moments I have seen in this House. I commend the Labour party for that. Why, then, does it not stand up for our own legal system, which protects the liberty of each one of us who enjoys either the jurisdiction of Scotland or our own common law. That is what I am worried about—that the Labour party, which has used the law creatively to advance our liberties, is now prepared to cast away that essential control over the liberty and freedoms of the citizens of the United Kingdom.
The motion proposes “That this House endorses” the Government’s application to opt back into the European arrest warrant. We should not do so. Mine is the only party to state unequivocally that we should not do so: there is 100% agreement on this Bench. [Laughter.] For all their huffing and puffing, those on the two Front Benches are at one on this issue. They are willing to opt to hand more powers over to Europe, and to hand over United Kingdom citizens to be extradited without evidence.
We need extradition. It is right and proper that those who are accused of crimes in one jurisdiction can be transferred from another to face justice, and I recognise the points made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper). We do indeed need cross-border co-operation; I just happen to think that the European arrest warrant is a bad way of arranging it. As the Baker review put it in 2011, the basis of the European arrest warrant is an
“acceptance of a foreign warrant by national judicial authorities without an inquiry into the facts”.
That makes a system of “tick box” extradition inevitable. Provided that the forms are filled in correctly, and irrespective of the strength of the evidence against the defendant, judicial authorities must permit extradition.
Defenders of the European arrest warrant like to cite the new “proportionality test”, as if that would suddenly put right all that has already been found to be wrong with the system. It will not. What is needed is not a proportionality test, but a testing of the evidence in a British court. What is so objectionable about this measure is the lack of an evidential test. The “E word” is not “Europe”, but “evidence”.
The European arrest warrant is built on the fallacy that the different justice systems in the European Union are the same—on the idea of “mutual recognition”. The justice systems in individual member states are not the same. In some member states, public prosecutors are able to exercise a wide degree of latitude, of discretion, before bringing charges; others, such as Poland, have far less discretion. In some legal systems, such as our own, there is a very strong presumption of innocence; in others, the presumption is less strong.
Back in December 2002, before he led the opposition to the European arrest warrant, the right hon. Member for Witney (Mr Cameron) told the House that if we signed up to it
“we will be taking other…judicial systems on trust.”
Indeed. The right hon. Member for Witney also said that he found
“the European arrest warrant highly objectionable”. —[Official Report, 9 December 2002; Vol. 396, c. 107-8.]
Writing in The Daily Telegraph the other day, a former leader of my former party, Lord Howard, helpfully reminded everyone that, in opposition, he and his party had opposed the introduction of the European arrest warrant. Indeed they did. Parties do one thing in opposition, and another thing in office.
This is not merely a question of whether to opt back into the European arrest warrant. It is also a question of credibility: the credibility of the Government Front Bench. The Government say that they oppose a federal Europe, yet today they are lining up to vote to federalise the system of extradition. They claim to want to return powers to Britain, yet today they will cheerfully vote to hand them away.
The British left once understood what was wrong with this. It was thrilling to hear my hon. Friend the Member for Blackley and Broughton (Graham Stringer) speak so eloquently and so powerfully. The British left would once have sided with individual liberty and against the power of the Euro-elites. My former colleagues should have the backbone to stand up to a Home Office Minister who is in the pockets of Home Office mandarins, and I hope that they will do so.
We have seen Labour at its most opportunistic and cynical. The shadow Home Secretary, the right hon. Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper) complained vociferously about the lack of time given to this matter, but it was the Labour Government who negotiated the infamous Lisbon treaty, and did not call for any debate on the Floor of the House. If it had been left up to Labour, there would have been no time at all for a debate on the Floor of the House, and the matter would have been dealt with by an obscure Committee upstairs over a 90-minute period. Yet Labour Members now cynically suggest that there is not enough time, despite having had six opportunities here in the Chamber.
Labour Members have also complained that there has not been enough time for this debate. Last Monday, they used an arcane procedure—it can be found on page 404 of “Erskine May”—to curtail debate. They attempt to convince people that there has been insufficient debate when they have cut hours of it short using an archaic procedure.
In a moment, if I may.
This is not a debate about Europe; it is a debate about law and order. I spoke out in the Home Affairs Committee and in the Chamber against the European arrest warrant’s earlier manifestations, but there have been changes, which make a significant difference. For 15 years, before I came to this House, as a barrister in criminal practice, I fought for justice for individuals. It is my hope and intention to continue to do so from this place, but the reality is that the changes that have been made are significant.
Under Labour, British citizens were extradited for disproportionately minor offences. We have changed the law to allow an arrest warrant to be refused in respect of minor offences. Under Labour, people could be extradited for conduct in the UK that was not against the law of this country. We have changed that, too, so that that can no longer happen.
Under Labour, people were detained for long periods overseas before they were charged or stood trial. That was wrong. We have changed the law again to stop that unfairness. Under Labour, people were worried about arrest warrants being issued purely for investigatory purposes, rather than for prosecutions, so we have changed that. Under Labour, people were concerned about the prospect of being charged with offences over and above those specified in their arrest warrant if they chose to consent to extradition, and we have changed that, too. So it is a different creature. It is a different matter altogether.
Many issues have been raised by hon. Members, including eloquently by my hon. Friend the Member for Esher and Walton (Mr Raab), but they must bear it in mind that over 95% of those extradited are foreign nationals. There are miscarriages of justice, about which it is painful to hear and which I have spent my life fighting against, but there are miscarriages everywhere. It is not the European arrest warrant that is being objected to in those remarks; often, it is extradition itself that people are unhappy with. I remind hon. Members that the Home Secretary has made changes to the extradition process as well—I cite the forum bar in that respect. Therefore, we are talking about different creatures.
Did my hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset (Jacob Rees-Mogg) wish to intervene?
I consider myself a Eurosceptic and I do not wish to see such a slippery slope. I wish to see criminals brought to justice. Like my hon. Friend, I do not wish to see people being allowed to use this jurisdiction as though it were a safe haven for criminals and people at large.
As a consequence of those issues, I have been satisfied that the European arrest warrant in its current manifestation provides safeguards. They are never going to be perfect. Sadly, we do not have a perfect system. No such system exists where it is operated by human beings because we are not perfect. There will occasionally be miscarriages of justice, but to wipe out the whole process of expedition that now exists, because of the arrangements that have been made, seems illogical, unnecessary and not to be in the wider interests of justice. Therefore, I support the Government and their measures on this matter.
I am a Eurosceptic of the first order and voted no in 1975, when a lot of now UKIP members were voting to stay in the Common Market, so it may surprise the hon. Member for Clacton (Douglas Carswell) and indeed the Whips Office that I am supporting the opt in to the arrest warrant. Before the Whips celebrate a sinner repenting, I say to them that this is certainly the last occasion I shall be supporting a European matter.
That is an intervention that could be made only by my hon. Friend.
I value the sovereignty of Parliament and the supremacy of the courts, so it may surprise Members that I have come to this conclusion, but in recent weeks I have heard and read many fine words, including contributions to the debates today and last week. I have listened with great interest to learned contributions from lawyers and Select Committee Chairmen and to good constitutional arguments and instinctively I tend to support them, but on this occasion, as with everything, it is a question of balance. One of the roles we perform here in this Chamber is to articulate the concerns of those we represent, and on this matter, although I represent an area that is by a large margin Eurosceptic, I am quite certain I am speaking for my constituents, because—[Interruption.] I am speaking for them because this is an arrangement that allows for speedy extradition, and in the modern world the aim must be to protect my constituents from the threats of terrorism and a whole range of serious criminals.
As has already been said in the debate, this is a law and order issue. My reservations are laid to rest when I note the comments of my right hon. Friend the Justice Secretary, who said in this House on 7 April:
“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.”—[Official Report, 7 April 2014; Vol. 579, c. 93.]
I share those views, but—[Interruption.] I share those views, but I ask whether it is beneficial to make it easier to tackle cross-border crime, and of course the answer is yes, and whether it is beneficial for our law enforcement agencies to make it easier to bring serious international criminals to justice, and of course the answer is yes.
It is unacceptable that attempts at extradition should go on year after year after year. Justice delayed is justice denied.
No, I must continue.
Action has been taken to ensure that an arrest warrant cannot be used for minor offences. An arrest warrant will also be refused if all or part of the alleged crime took place in the UK and it is not a criminal offence in the UK.
The shadow Home Secretary, the right hon. Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper), said that many issues could have been debated today, and I am staggered that an Opposition should use their Opposition time to debate a motion in support of the Government. They have a whole range of issues that they could mention. It is somewhat bizarre that with this motion, when 500 or so of us are going to troop through the Lobby in favour, they choose their time to highlight their own weaknesses. Their weakness is of course that they have no coherent alternative to the current Government’s economic policies.
I reaffirm my opposition to membership of the EU, but I have always taken the view that—[Interruption.] I have always taken the view that while we are a member of that organisation, we should use its structures and powers to benefit this country. [Interruption.] We may as well say we are not going to accept its money if it wants to give us a grant from the social fund or wherever. [Interruption.] My original opposition to the then Common Market and to what has evolved from that has always been one of sovereignty, but I recognise that sovereignty given away by this House can be reclaimed by this House; otherwise there would be no point in discussing a referendum or debating such issues. So on this occasion I support the Government’s decision. [Interruption.] It is a wise one, it is in the best interests of those I represent, it is on a law and order issue, and it is one I fully support.
Order. Before I call the next speaker, I do not expect to hear you, Mr Carswell, continually shouting across the Chamber at Members who are speaking, as you just did to the previous speaker. Just because you are sitting further away from me than you did in the past does not mean I cannot hear you, and I would be grateful if you listened to the debate.
It is a great privilege to follow a true Eurosceptic.
In my brief contribution I do not intend to expand on my concerns about the individual measures. In fact, I would welcome a number of the individual measures in this package if we were able to have the final say on them in this House and in our judicial system. But I worry about it happening in one sweep with little debate about the principle of why we are taking away parliamentary and judicial sovereignty in the area of justice and home affairs and allowing the European Court of Justice to have the final say. I am a bit surprised that that did not rate a mention in the shadow Home Secretary’s opening speech, given that it is such a big issue.
To help me to prove my point about the direction of travel that justice and home affairs matters are taking in the European Commission, I should like to quote the former European Commission vice-president, Viviane Reding. She has said:
“In the space of just a few years,”—
since the three pillars were collapsed—
“justice policy has come into the limelight of European Union activity—comparable to the boost given to the single market in the 1990s. We have come a long way, but there is more to do to develop a true European area of Justice”.
We do not talk much about that in the House. The closest we came to having a proper discussion on it was when we were talking about the European public prosecutor’s office in our debates on the European Union Act 2011, in which we discussed referendum locks. I think that all the parties agreed that that was an area of concern and a red line that we would not cross—all the parties bar the Lib Dems, of course. Now, however, the establishment of the policy is part of the EU area of justice. We must not mistake the direction in which we are heading.
Why am I concerned about giving Europe the ability to enact and police legislation in this area? Most of the EU operates under a different system of law from ours, and I do not believe that the European Commission is the body that should be making the UK’s and England’s criminal law. The European Court of Justice should not have the ability to override the primacy of this Parliament or of the English judiciary in these areas. The ECJ has become so prominent because almost everything the European Union does tends to become legally binding and eventually subject to review by EU judges or national courts acting on their behalf. That reflects a European tendency to move difficult political conflicts, such as the eurozone crisis and the EU’s 2013 fiscal compact, away from ministerial gatherings and towards apolitical groups of national experts, the legal realm and the courts.
Member states are discussing plans for a European public prosecutor, which may be created among a core group of countries under the Lisbon treaty. The European Parliament is helping to design jail sentences for rogue traders and people who do wrong in financial institutions, and the European Commission will start taking EU Governments to court over criminal justice standards from December 2014 onwards.
The EU now has well over 150 mainly framework decisions in the area of justice and home affairs, many of which involve intergovernmental accords. The Commission cannot yet enforce those accords and EU nationals cannot yet claim rights based on them. However, the Lisbon treaty allows framework decisions to be enforced before the courts in the same manner as single market legislation, but only after December 2014—the same time as our proposed block opt-in. We are not even opting back in to the justice and home affairs system as it operates today; we are opting in to something quite new. None the less, the ECJ has already produced around 50 judgments to do with police and justice co-operation. That is because 19 member states have already voluntarily accepted the Court’s jurisdiction, to enable their own courts be clear as to the exact scope and meaning of each individual EU crime and policing agreement. December 2014, which is just a couple of weeks away, will still represent a watershed. The ECJ will start to create a jurisprudence in an area that really should be a matter for the British courts, the British Parliament and British justice. I am afraid that I shall have to vote against the motion this evening.
I find myself utterly at one with my hon. Friend the Member for Cleethorpes (Martin Vickers) on this matter. I support the Government on these issues because it is the first duty of any Government to protect their citizens. It is in that spirit that I support the motion, notwithstanding any concerns that we might have about our relationship with Europe or the sovereignty of this House. In our increasingly interconnected world, criminal activity recognises no international boundaries. Consequently, the need for international co-operation in the fight against crime is essential if we are to keep our people safe.
I appreciate, and am sympathetic to, the sincere concerns that have been expressed by colleagues, but for me this is about practicality and I am satisfied that the Government have exercised their right to opt in only to those measures that will enhance the operational capacity of our law enforcement agencies. The simple truth is this: it is very easy for a wanted criminal simply to leg it to the Costa del Sol or scuttle across the channel. I want our law enforcement agencies to get their hands on these people—people who are plotting terrorism and people who are engaged in serious crime.
As hon. Members know, I represent a constituency that has significant port interests, as does my hon. Friend the Member for Cleethorpes. That perhaps explains why we may be more naturally Eurosceptic on many issues, but on this one we are influenced by hard-headed pragmatism about what needs to be done to tackle international crime.
My hon. Friend says that it is very easy for people to get from one country to another and that we need to do something about these crimes. Surely the solution would be to make it much harder to get from one country to another. What we should be doing is stopping this free movement of people which is allowing all these criminals to come through our border controls daily with impunity. Surely that is what we should be dealing with.
Order. We are very short of time, and I am trying to protect the hon. Lady and the hon. Member for North East Somerset (Jacob Rees-Mogg), who has been waiting patiently to speak. Taking interventions from people, however eminent, who have just entered the Chamber in the past few minutes would not really be fair on the final speakers.
Thank you for that, Madam Deputy Speaker. All I would say is that often such people are evading our border controls, so it is a lot more complicated than my hon. Friend says.
I have witnessed at first hand, in the ports in my constituency, just how difficult it is for Border Force and for the police to tackle the activities of serious and well-organised international criminal gangs, and that work relies on international co-operation. Members will recall that only last summer a metal container containing a number of fleeing Afghan Sikhs was intercepted at Tilbury. Anyone who spends an amount of time in a poorly ventilated metal container is dicing with death—they are playing Russian roulette with their life. They have to be desperate to do that and there are people willing to exploit that desperation and make considerable sums out of them. We are not going to be able to tackle that kind of people trafficking without having good, strong international co-operation. In witnessing that incident, it was impressive to see how quickly arrests were made, and that was very much due to the co-operation between law enforcement agencies in the various ports that that container had travelled through. In that event, the perpetrators came from within our own jurisdiction, but that is not always the case. Such people trafficking is happening every day, and we have to get a lot sharper and smarter at dealing with it. These measures will be an important tool in doing so.
I am grateful for the changes the Government have made to the European arrest warrant, which go a long way to tackling many of the concerns that have been expressed in this debate about people’s liberties and the need to make sure that people will not be extradited for offences that would not be offences in this country. I feel strongly that we will be vigilant about that, that we will make sure the process continues to operate in a way that underlines the need for justice, and that we will always be vigilant in protecting the liberties of our own subjects. The reality is that the EAW will be deployed only in dealing with the most serious crime—murder, manslaughter, rape, terrorism, war crimes and people trafficking. Much as I dislike the EU, I am not going to get in the way of justice for victims of such offences, and let perverts and murderers walk free.
There are some outside this House who would rather engage in an ideological war about Europe than do what is necessary to keep our people safe—I am not in that category. If I thought these measures were not necessary, I would not support them. There is a very real debate to be had about our relationship with Europe, and it is one that Conservative Members are determined to have before letting the people decide in a referendum. In the meantime, lets give our law enforcement agencies the tools they need to do the job to keep us safe.
May I begin by thanking the shadow Home Secretary for bringing forward this debate? In a wonderful spirit of bipartisanship, she has spared the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary their honour. Thanks to the right hon. Lady, the Prime Minister’s promise to have a debate on the European arrest warrant has been met. That shows an admirable, broad-minded, good-spiritedness although we are still some time from Christmas. I will not dwell unduly on the procedures, as those were covered quite thoroughly last week, other than to remind the House of what was said in the other place on Monday. The dissatisfaction is not limited to this Chamber. My noble Friend Lord Boswell, who is not a hard-nosed, hatchet-faced Eurosceptic, said:
“The problem now is a handling issue. The Government—particularly the Home Office—seem to be crippled by fear. Instead of encouraging a frank debate and a clear vote on their decision, they have resorted to undignified and ultimately self-defeating procedural dodges.”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 17 November 2014; Vol. 757, c. 333.]
That is an extraordinary statement to be made in their lordships’ House, which is a much less aggressive, more kindly place than this Chamber sometimes.
I want to move on to the substance of the issue. With seven seconds for each of the 35 articles into which we are opting, I will not try to cover every one of them; I feel obliged to stick to the arrest warrant and answer the point that the arrest warrant is not essential to extradition. It is perfectly possible to have extradition arrangements either with the European Union or with individual nation states, as we do with the United States of America. That is then outside the ambit of the European Court of Justice. It is the Court of Justice of the European Union that is at the heart of the matter. Constitutionally, it is the real problem, because all our safeguards are speculative—the Home Secretary admits that herself. It has not yet been judged by the Court of Justice as to whether those safeguards will be upheld, and there is no appetite within Europe for reforming the basis of the arrest warrant. I am glad to see the Home Secretary returning to her place.
In evidence given to the European Scrutiny Committee, it was made clear that efforts to rewrite the details of the arrest warrant to put in some of the protections did not meet with any support. When a representative of the Commission gave evidence to the Lords’ Extradition Law Committee, she said that there was no willingness to transform the arrest warrant to bring in those safeguards. The European Court of Justice, an ambitious court that has historically extended its powers to cover an increasing number of areas, will be in charge of how extradition from this country takes place from 1 December. That is very dangerous, because it risks some of those things that we in this country hold most dear; it risks people being extradited to countries that do not have habeas corpus.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Habeas corpus is at risk. We also risk bringing in the European public prosecutor, because if that body is created—and it is under discussion—we will find that it can get the member states that join to issue arrest warrants, circumventing the protection that we have in our own law and the referendum lock. Of absolutely crucial importance is this issue of mutual recognition. Once we start with mutual recognition, we then set similar standards, and our justice will have crept away. The arrest warrant is very dangerous; it is against Tory party policy. The procedure has been dreadful and we should defeat it this evening.
I appreciate the fact that we have had this debate. The Labour party, Her Majesty’s Opposition, called this debate because we believe that the House of Commons should be given a chance to speak, to debate, and ultimately to vote on and, I hope, endorse the principles behind the European arrest warrant. The Government Front-Bench team might disagree with this, but we did have a shambles of a debate not one week ago. By calling this debate in Opposition time, we have served a purpose. I am grateful to the hon. Member for North East Somerset (Jacob Rees-Mogg) for acknowledging that; we are here to help. The Government and the Liberal Democrats agree with the motion. Half the Conservative Back Benchers agree with the motion, as do the vast majority of Opposition Members, so it is important that we proceed with the policy.
I have only a few moments to speak so, if I may, I would like to make some progress.
Getting to this point has involved a long and tortuous procedure, as the Home Secretary recognised. My right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz), who is no longer in the Chamber, said that his Committee published a report on the matter on 29 October 2013, and we are now only 12 days away from 1 December 2014. The matter has been debated by the Justice Committee and the European Scrutiny Committee, under the chairmanship of the hon. Member for Stone (Sir William Cash).
The process by which we have got where we are today has been a shambles. I was pleased that the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) reminded us of his contribution to last week’s debate of claiming to move “That the Question, That be Question be not now put, be now put,” which is second in parliamentary history only to when I wore a top hat on the Opposition Back Benches to make a point of order during a Division some 20 years ago.
Hon. Members have set out several reasons why we should not sign up to the European arrest warrant and the other measures. They have said that doing so represents a transfer of power and that that subjugates UK law. They have said that UK standards of justice will not be met, that the warrant has the word “European” in its name, and that extradition should be dealt with in individual treaties. We also heard the serious point that innocent people may face an unfair procedure in a foreign court, which was cited by my hon. Friend the Member for Blackley and Broughton (Graham Stringer) and the hon. Member for Esher and Walton (Mr Raab), who has a great deal of experience of these matters, as well as the hon. Members for Stone, for Aldridge-Brownhills (Sir Richard Shepherd) and for Daventry (Chris Heaton-Harris). The hon. Member for Clacton (Douglas Carswell), who is also no longer in the Chamber, pledged UKIP’s 100% support for opposing the motion—it was extremely satisfactory that he agreed with himself.
Such strong points demonstrate that there are genuine issues, which I do not decry. It is important that we consider them, but I disagree with the points made. I take the view of my right hon. Friend the Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper), as hon. Members would expect, but I also respect the views of my hon. Friends the Members for Swansea West (Geraint Davies) and for Ilford South (Mike Gapes), the right hon. Member for Banbury (Sir Tony Baldry) and the hon. Member for Thurrock (Jackie Doyle-Price), who all pointed out that the measure is about bringing criminals to justice.
I confess that I do not often agree with the hon. Member for Northampton North (Michael Ellis), but he made the valuable point that changes have been made. I can let him into a secret: we supported those changes during their passage through Parliament and we did so because we know, like the right hon. Member for Ashford (Damian Green) and others, that the measure means that foreign national criminals will be deported back to their home countries to face justice, that criminals will face trial here, and that there will be justice for victims against whom heinous crimes have been committed. I welcomed the contribution of the hon. Member for Cleethorpes (Martin Vickers), who put his latent Euroscepticism to one side for a moment to recognise that the issue is about crime, not Europe, and about bringing criminals to justice to ensure that they spend time in prison, not on sun loungers in Spain.
With respect, my hon. Friend has not been in the Chamber throughout the debate. I have only two more minutes in which to speak, and as I did not take an intervention from the hon. Member for Stone, who has been present for the entire debate, I hope that my hon. Friend understands that I must be fair and not give way.
The Labour party believes strongly in retaining the European arrest warrant and the other measures to keep our communities safe, to protect our borders and to stop criminals from fleeing justice. More than 1,000 foreign criminals were deported last year under the European arrest warrant for drug trafficking, murder, fraud, child sex offences and rape. As we have heard from Members on both sides of the House, this is about co-operating with European partners to ensure that people who have committed these serious crimes do not get away with them. Senior members of the Association of Chief Police Officers and police officers working for international agencies such as Interpol recognise the importance of dealing with such crimes. Fugitive teacher Jeremy Forrest, who fled to France with a schoolgirl, was extradited to England on a European arrest warrant in September 2012. Hussain Osman, who tried to blow up the centre of London in a terror attack, was brought back from Italy and is now serving 40 years in prison as a consequence of the European arrest warrant. Jason McKay, as my hon. Friend the Member for Swansea West mentioned, was extradited from Poland within two weeks of murdering his partner—justice for a murdered woman.
Ordinarily I would, but I have literally one minute left.
We support joint investigation teams, the exchange of criminal records, Europol, combating international child pornography and tackling international football hooliganism. Those are the measures that we have put before the House in the motion. Members, even those who have spoken against the European arrest warrant, must recognise that the Metropolitan police have dealt with 1,457 cases under the European arrest warrant over the past four years. For my local police force, North Wales police, the figure is 33; for the local force of the hon. Member for Cleethorpes, Humberside police, it is 83; and for the local force of the hon. Member for Stone, Staffordshire police, it is 52.
This is not a tool for having an argument about Europe. The points made by Members who oppose the European arrest warrant have a validity that needs to be examined and discussed, but they are points that need to be got over, because this is about crime, bringing people to justice and ensuring that this House sends a strong signal to criminals that we support the European arrest warrant and will sign up to those 35 measures before 1 December.
I am grateful to all Members who have spoken. I know that many are frustrated that they did not get an opportunity, as they had expected, to do so last week. I am therefore glad that the Opposition have given back the hours they took away from the House when they decided to play politics with the matter then. I will try to address the points that have been made, but before doing so I will make a few of my own. Like my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, I welcome the opportunity to stand here and reiterate this Government’s support for the package of 35 measures, including the arrest warrant, that help us tackle serious crimes and keep this country safe.
I am afraid not, because I am really short of time.
I know that many hon. Members have concerns about the way the arrest warrant, in particular, has operated since the Labour party first signed us up to it more than a decade ago. That is why we will remain part not of the arrest warrant of old, but of a reformed arrest warrant, with greater protections for British citizens and others. The changes that this Government have made through the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014 mean that the arrest warrant is no longer the one operated under the Labour party.
First, this Government have changed the law to ensure that arrest warrants are refused for those suspected of minor offences. A British judge now considers whether the alleged offence and likely penalty is sufficient to make someone’s extradition proportionate, and it is a British judge who considers whether measures less coercive than extradition are available to foreign authorities.
Secondly, the Government have clarified the rules on dual criminality to ensure that an arrest warrant must be refused if all or part of the conduct for which a person is wanted took place in the UK and is not a criminal offence in this country. The National Crime Agency is now refusing arrest warrants where it is obvious that the dual criminality test has not been met, and it has done so 59 times since our reforms came into force in July.
Thirdly, the Government have changed the law to ensure that the issuing state must be trial-ready before individuals can be extradited. That will help to prevent lengthy periods of pre-trial detention, which I know have concerned some Members, as they have the Government. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield North (Nick de Bois), who has campaigned so hard on that. It is the example of his constituent, Mr Andrew Symeou, that has resulted in the change we have made. All those changes have been made to UK law and came into effect earlier this year. Our reforms are based on existing laws and practices in other member states, and they are already making an important difference to the operation of the arrest warrant.
The right hon. Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz), the Chair of the Home Affairs Committee, who I know will not be voting today, commented on the amount of debate there has been on the subject. It is worth pointing out that Ministers have spent more than 10 hours giving oral evidence to Committees and have answered almost 350 parliamentary questions on this matter. Since October 2012, Ministers have spent at least 18 hours debating or answering questions on the subject in this House, and at least 10 hours in the other place, and that does not include the three hours here this evening.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Damian Green), who has significant experience in dealing with these matters as a former colleague of mine in the Home Office, explained that this is an international arrest warrant that speeds up the process of finding and extraditing criminals. He made an extremely important point, because this is a public safety issue. He talked about trafficking being one of the biggest crimes that we face today—trafficking of drugs, of firearms, and of people. I know from my experience as the Minister with responsibility for modern slavery that the trafficking charities are incredibly keen for Britain to stay part of the arrest warrant mechanism because they know that it is so important in making sure that we tackle this heinous crime. He made a point that is worth repeating—that of the 5,000 people extradited from the UK under an arrest warrant, fewer than 5% are UK nationals. Furthermore, many member states do not extradite their own citizens. We must bear that in mind when we are considering whether it is appropriate not to be part of this arrest warrant mechanism.
The hon. Member for Blackley and Broughton (Graham Stringer) raised ECJ jurisdiction, as did my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Beaconsfield (Mr Grieve) and my hon. Friend the Member for Daventry (Chris Heaton-Harris). It is important to remind the House that Labour signed us up to the Lisbon treaty without a referendum. Labour is responsible for the position that we find ourselves in today, and we have to work within it. The important thing is that we protect our constituents—our citizens—in working within the constraints of the mechanisms arranged by Labour.
I pay credit to my hon. Friend the Member for Esher and Walton (Mr Raab), because I know how hard he has worked on this matter and how much time he spends on dealing with it. I want to clarify the point he made about the Lord Chief Justice. The Lord Chief Justice wrote in a letter dated 10 November that he considered paragraph 20 of the European Union Committee report on this matter to be the correct interpretation of the situation. The report says that if the UK were to leave the EAW,
“it is highly unlikely that these alternative arrangements”—
the arrangements that this Government have put in place—
“would address all the criticisms directed at the EAW. Furthermore, it is inevitable that the extradition process would become more protracted and cumbersome, potentially undermining public safety.”
The hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) talked about the position of the Scottish Executive. I remind him that as a result of significant discussions that Ministers have conducted with the Scottish Government, this Government decided to join the European judicial network rather than the European genocide network because the Scottish Government specifically wanted us to be part of that, and we listened and made sure that we were part of it.
My hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Sir William Cash)—my constituency next-door neighbour—is an expert on all matters EU. I have enjoyed many of his local speeches and comments about the EU. He asked what is special about the EU. My answer is that we need the best extradition arrangements we can have. We should not turn our back on the opportunity to have great extradition arrangements, where they are available, just because Europe is involved.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Sir Tony Baldry) has significant experience of extraditions under the old system. His examples from the Thames valley region really brought home how important this matter is.
The hon. Member for Clacton (Douglas Carswell), who has not returned to his seat, said that there was 100% agreement within his party. I hope he spoke to its economics spokesman before he made those comments, because he may find that that is not the case.
I want to make a point about prima facie evidence. It is not a requirement under the 1957 extradition convention that requesting states provide prima facie evidence when submitting a request. Therefore, leaving the arrest warrant and reverting to the 1957 convention would not have meant that all requests had to be accompanied by prima facie evidence.
Hon. Members have made many other good points. I was pleased to hear my hon. Friend the Member for Cleethorpes (Martin Vickers) say that this is about law and order and working within the rules of the EU as they stand at the moment.
That this House endorses the Government’s formal application to rejoin 35 European Union Justice and Home Affairs measures, including the European Arrest Warrant.