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EU: Justice Opt-ins

Volume 757: debated on Wednesday 10 December 2014


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what are their plans for resisting further extensions of United Kingdom opt-ins to a European corpus juris.

My Lords, there is no proposal for a European corpus juris. Any proposals to extend EU jurisdiction in criminal law would be subject to the UK’s existing justice and home affairs opt-in, which allows us to choose whether we take part. Those decisions are taken in full consultation with Parliament.

My Lords, with the 35 opt-ins to the European criminal law now in place, and with the powers that the European court has to make law, are we not now in very real danger of losing the presumption of innocence, the jury system, case law and habeas corpus?

We have been very clear that, as the treaty of Lisbon states, the presumption as regards criminal law should be that we operate by mutual recognition rather than harmonisation. We have taken very clear steps to say that, because we have the ability to opt in under the Lisbon treaty, we exercise that choice. That is the reason why the Prime Minister decided to opt out of 135 measures before opting back in to 35; otherwise, European Court of Justice jurisdiction would have extended to all of those. Therefore I recognise the noble Lord’s point, but the Prime Minister is arguing our case well.

My Lords, will the Minister not agree that, now that the Government have successfully rejoined the 35 key measures, it would make more sense to concentrate on some of the measures that we have in principle opted into but which have not yet completed their negotiating track? Can he therefore say what progress the Government are making in dislodging the blockage by the European Parliament on the passenger name record directive, which would be of great assistance in dealing with terrorism?

I do not have a direct answer on that, but I think that in principle what the noble Lord says is absolutely right. We have made our position clear and argued our case, and have avoided an operational gap by the decision we took on 1 December. Now we ought to get on and make sure that the measures we have opted into work well. However, I will write to him on that point.

My Lords, is not the depressing and worrying thing about the noble Lord’s Question that it is so ideological? It implies that when we look at legislation we ought first of all to be concerned about whether it is classified as European or as British legislation, rather than whether it is necessary, fair, reasonable and in the national interest. I think the whole House is united in appreciating the value of the European single market, but we would never have had a single market had we not passed the Single European Act, which I believe the noble Lord may have voted for in his time. Would it not be very reassuring if he could retrieve somehow the open-mindedness and pragmatism of his youth?

I disagree with the presumption that the Question was ideological. This is a matter of practical steps, case by case. That is why we think there is a case, in terms of securing our borders, for the European arrest warrant. We would be part of that. We would also be part of measures to tackle modern-day slavery and of cross-border legislation against cyberattack, but we will not be part of other things. I think that is very practical and pragmatic.

My Lords, forgive me, but we have not yet heard from the Liberal Democrat Benches, so we shall hear from the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, first. We have plenty of time for other noble Lords to participate in this Question.

Can the Minister confirm that the famous corpus juris was in fact purely an academic research report, not a European Commission proposal? Its only product has been the idea of a European public prosecutor, in which the UK is not participating. Can he further confirm that all other EU action against crime is firmly founded on mutual recognition, as promoted by the UK, and that there is no European jurisdiction or European criminal code?

That is absolutely right. The noble Baroness has great expertise in the workings of Europe, and the report to which we are referring is just an academic report, not a Commission proposal.

The Government are rejoining 35 EU justice and home affairs measures. My noble friend Lady Smith of Basildon asked questions of the Government—raised, I believe, on four previous occasions—about how many of the justice and home affairs measures that the Government have opted out of have any value, or even apply to the UK, how many were being used in an operation prior to the opt-out decision and how many were harmful to the interests of the UK. Again my noble friend’s questions were not answered, which rather supports the point made by the Chairman of the EU Committee in the same debate, about the need for the Home Office to take parliamentary scrutiny and accountability seriously. Will the Minister now answer those questions, or is there a grim determination to ensure that, for these particular questions on opt-outs, the Government Dispatch Box will remain an answer-free zone?

It would help if the noble Lord had actually listened to the previous debates. On Monday we had the very same question: his noble friend Lady Smith asked me that question. I replied by referring her to Command Papers 8897 and 8671, which set out in exhaustive detail—enough even to satisfy the level of scrutiny on the opposition Benches—what our position is on every single one of those matters.

My Lords, we read in the papers this weekend that our right honourable friend the Prime Minister had assured the Turks that he was in favour of their accession to the European Union. Does the Minister know whether he told the Turks that they would have to accept in whole, completely and absolutely, corpus juris?

They would have to accept the acquis communautaire—that is for sure—before doing that. That is the position they are in.

My Lords, will the Minister accept the grateful thanks of the United Kingdom Independence Party for the powers that the Government have already ceded to the corrupt and profligate octopus in Brussels? Are not those powers among the reasons for UKIP’s support from so many real people in this country?

In terms of the ideology referred to in the previous question, that is exactly where the ideology comes from. That sort of approach taken towards Brussels would make our people less safe, because we would not be able to secure our borders as we do and we would not be able to co-operate on crime and law enforcement measures. All those things would put the people of this country at risk. That is ideology; this is pragmatism.