Skip to main content

EU: Justice Opt-outs

Volume 757: debated on Thursday 4 December 2014


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what recent discussions they have had with the Government of the Republic of Ireland on the United Kingdom’s justice opt-outs under the Lisbon Treaty.

My Lords, on 20 November, the Prime Minister notified the Council of the UK’s wish to rejoin 35 EU police and criminal justice measures listed in Command Paper 8897. On 1 December, decisions were adopted by the European Commission and Council formally approving this application. Ministers have been in regular contact with their Irish counterparts throughout the process and the Home Secretary wrote thanking the Irish Justice Minister earlier this week.

I thank my noble friend for that Answer. Given that the Irish wisely kept miles away from the bizarre pantomime of opt out and then opt back in unleashed on the British Parliament by the two Conservative Secretaries of State, contrary to the advice of the European Union Select Committee, would my noble friend not agree that now the important thing is to emphasise the list of the renewed opt-ins, particularly the European arrest warrant, which is critical to the successful co-operation of the Irish and British police?

My noble friend is right that it is critical to have the European arrest warrant in place to avoid any operational gap—which we did as a result of the documents being deposited and agreed on 1 December. It is important that that continues, as is the case with all 35 measures. It is also good that we have retained and repatriated powers from the 100 that we did not opt into.

My Lords, in the matter of the opt-outs, while it is gratifying to know that the Government have been keeping in touch with the Irish authorities, sadly they have not always succeeded in fulfilling their duties to this House. After repeated failures on deadlines, in a letter that reached me within the hour the Government have now admitted that in relation to the decision of 1 December, which is welcome in substance, they broke the scrutiny resolution. When the European Union Committee had already written to assert its right to demand an Oral Statement consequent on this failure of the process, why are the Government now apparently resisting or refusing to make one? Is it not high time that the Government realised that it is as useless as it is impertinent for them to seek to avoid continuing embarrassment by putting their head in the sand?

Obviously, we take the noble Lord’s criticisms extremely seriously, given his position. I know that he does not raise these issues lightly. We also take seriously our obligations, set out in the appendix to the Companion, on scrutiny reserve powers. I urge him to accept that exceptional factors were at play in this instance, relating to the objections that were lodged by the Spanish, the Poles and the Austrians in July, which we did not anticipate. This then coincided with the recess period. The Spanish objections were listed only on 7 November and we needed to avoid an operational gap. That was why, in these exceptional circumstances, the Home Secretary had to take the decision to override scrutiny—which she did not do lightly. She did so to avoid people being at risk through the European arrest warrant not being in place. We have met the chairs and the work will be ongoing to ensure that this does not happen again.

But, my Lords, very early on in our debates about opt in and opt out, I asked the Minister which other countries the Government had discussed this with. I was told from the Dispatch Box that there was no need to discuss this with any other country; it was a matter for the UK Government. On the matter of substance, how many of the measures that the UK has now permanently opted out of in policing and criminal justice were relevant to the UK, were actually being used and had any value to the UK?

The noble Baroness says that we were not engaging in discussions, but these discussions through the working groups were absolutely ongoing all the time. That was the reason why we secured the improvements which we got through to the European arrest warrant in terms of proportionality, dual criminality and avoiding lengthy pre-trial detentions. In terms of every single one of the 135 measures, again, we set out very clearly in Command Paper 8671, which was laid before your Lordships’ House in July 2013, our view as to what the application was and whether it was necessary. From that, we took the view that 35 were necessary; that was why the Prime Minister wrote in July last year.

Can my noble friend explain to me, as someone who voted for the Maastricht treaty on the basis of an assurance that justice and home affairs would always remain within the jurisdiction of this Parliament, why, instead of opting into the European arrest warrant, we could not simply have made a bilateral arrangement with the rest of the EU?

I obviously acknowledge the fact that we both voted for the Maastricht treaty. We were both in another place at the time and were part of the Government who did that. I recognise that that was the right thing to do, but the reality is that the pass was sold on this in the 2009 signing of the Lisbon treaty. That is, we have to live in the real world, as we are now, and keep our borders safe. It was good that the opt-in on justice and home affairs was negotiated to be included by the previous Government, but it was this Government who actually took it and have exercised it in this regard.

But does the noble Lord not recognise that if in fact we went back to a system of bilateral arrangements between this country and other countries concerning extradition, the process would be longer, more difficult and more expensive than operating the European arrest warrant?

The noble Lord is absolutely right. Let us imagine the process just in relation to the original Question and what it would mean for negotiations with the Republic of Ireland: we would be back to the bad old days of highly politicised extradition proceedings. We do not want to go down that route; that is why we have taken the decision that we have.

Concerning the JHA opt-outs, can the Minister confirm that the Government will make an Oral Statement to the House on compliance with the House’s scrutiny reserve resolution, as requested by the EU Select Committee?

The current plan is that in normal procedures on matters of this nature, we would issue a Written Ministerial Statement. It is of course up to Members of your Lordships’ House to seek further debate, should they wish it, but we have already had an extraordinary amount of debate on these issues. On 12 November there was a majority of 426 in the other place; they discussed it again on 20 November; we discussed and debated it on 19 November. I think that at some point, people need to say that we need to move on.