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European Court of Justice: Jurisdiction

Volume 737: debated on Wednesday 20 June 2012


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they will exercise their right, as agreed in the Lisbon Treaty, to opt out of the extension to the United Kingdom from December 2014 of the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice over crime and policing laws.

My Lords, the Government are considering carefully the many different factors involved in this decision and its implications. I am aware of the level of interest in the decision, which we have to make by the end of May 2014. We want to ensure that both Houses of Parliament have the opportunity for a full debate and vote on the issue.

I thank the Minister for his considered reply. However, does he agree that we now have the opportunity, at this critical time for the EU’s future, to confirm our opt-out from the EU’s overall control of our policing and justice system? I am sure he appreciates that to opt in would be the final surrender of our sovereignty. Our Ministry of Justice would become largely redundant as the ECJ became our supreme court. We would effectively become a province in the republic of Europe. Will the Minister confirm that the Government are well aware of the severity of this choice for our nation and will inform the wider public accordingly?

My Lords, as I said in my original Answer, we are committed to making a decision by May 2014. It is a very important decision and we understand its severity. That is why we have committed ourselves to a debate in both Houses of Parliament, followed by a vote. In the end, the decision will be based on what is in the interests of the United Kingdom. My right honourable friend has given that assurance.

My Lords, the Minister will recognise that in January 2011, when committing the Government to a vote in both Houses on Protocol 36, the Minister for Europe said in another place:

“The Government will conduct further consultations on the arrangements for this vote, in particular with the European Scrutiny Committees, and the Commons and Lords Home Affairs and Justice Select Committees and a further announcement will be made in due course”.—[Official Report, Commons, 20/1/11; col. 51WS.]

Will the Minister say what sort of consultations they have in mind and what their timing will be? Does he agree that all these consultations need to take place in a deliberate and fully transparent way if the subsequent vote in both Houses is to be conducted on a sound evidential basis?

My Lords, the precise words that the noble Lord used about the Government conducting further consultations—I could go on—are in front of me in my brief. I agree with them and that is what we committed ourselves to in January 2011. How we conduct those arrangements will be a matter for discussions in the appropriate place at the appropriate time between the European Scrutiny Committees and the Commons and Lords Home Affairs and Justice Select Committees. We need to discuss these things with a number of different committees. I make it clear to the House and the noble Lord today how seriously we take this and why we think it vital that we eventually have that debate and vote in both Houses.

My Lords, when the Government come to make this important decision, will they recognise that ordinary British citizens are less inclined to be concerned about abstract notions of sovereignty than about the ways in which they will be protected when they are in other European countries? There are very cogent arguments in favour of European harmonisation in these areas.

My Lords, there are arguments and ordinary citizens would accept some of them. However, ordinary citizens would also accept that some things are better looked after by our own Parliament back in the United Kingdom. That is why we will make the appropriate decision at the appropriate time, after we have listened to both Houses and voted on the matter.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that there is a great deal of and a great variety of cross-border crime? If he does, does he also agree that it is important that the UK puts itself into a position where we have most influence and the greatest opportunity for leadership?

My Lords, again I totally agree with my noble friend on that matter. But it means that we have to make very difficult decisions at the time about what is precisely in the United Kingdom’s national interest. We will not make a decision on all 133 measures before that. There might be individual measures, as my noble friend will be aware, on which we might have to make a decision before then. But as a totality we will leave this to 2014.

Will the Minister confirm that the Government have no intention of opting out of the European arrest warrant, which, for all its faults, is still the best way to ensure that criminals—some of whom commit very serious offences, including terrorism —are brought to justice in this country?

My Lords, the European arrest warrant was one of those matters agreed to before 2009. Therefore, it is covered by what we are discussing today. As I have said, we will make our decision at the appropriate time in 2014. It might be that we feel that in the national interest we do want to opt out of it; it might be that we do not. But I think that we will leave that to another day.

My Lords, of the 133 measures mentioned by the noble Lord, which were still outstanding before our opt-out last December, does he accept that the Government have already opted in to eight of the most important? Can he therefore give the House an assurance that the Government will not opt into these measures one by one so that there is very little to opt out of when we come to the end of May 2014?

My Lords, as I think I made clear, I do not want to go through all 133 measures at this stage. The House would not like it at Question Time and it would not be an appropriate use of the limited time I have. We will make appropriate decisions on some of them beforehand if it is appropriate but the larger number is a matter for 2014.

My Lords, will the Minister confirm that there is more than one view on this side of the House and that the way in which we should discuss this should be as unemotional and as factual as possible, and that we do not help the argument by bringing what can only be called extreme views into the discussion?

My Lords, to put it very simply, I agree with my noble friend that there is more than one view on this side of the House. There is possibly more than one view on the other side of the House and more than one view in all corners of the House. I agree with every aspect of what my noble friend has said.