Thursday 20 April 2017
[Steve McCabe in the Chair]
Emissions and Vehicle Type Approval
I beg to move,
That this House has considered the Third Report of the Transport Committee, Volkswagen emissions scandal and vehicle type approval, HC 69, and the Government Response, HC 699.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr McCabe.
In September 2015, the American non-governmental organisation the International Council on Clean Transportation discovered that Volkswagen had been cheating on emissions tests around the world. The purpose of such tests is to ensure that vehicles comply with standards on nitrogen oxides—a poisonous emission. Volkswagen eventually admitted that its cheating started in 2006. Defeat device software was installed so that emissions were reduced only when the vehicle was being tested in the laboratory and did not reflect what happened on the road. The consequence was 11 million VW vehicles worldwide—1.2 million of them in the UK —pumping out poisonous gases at many times the acceptable level. This is an issue of consumer confidence and public health. Emissions standards exist to protect our health; each year, in the UK alone, nitrogen oxides cause 23,000 premature deaths.
The Select Committee on Transport was determined to find out what had happened. In October 2015 we first heard evidence from Paul Willis, the managing director of Volkswagen UK. It quickly became apparent that this was not just a case of one rogue company—it exposed deficiencies in the vehicle testing process. We launched our inquiry into VW emissions and vehicle type approval in November 2015. Our report published in July 2016 made findings in three major areas.
First, Volkswagen showed a cynical disregard in its treatment of European customers. We were astonished to hear Volkswagen apologise for what it had done, and subsequently deny that it had done anything wrong. Its continuing refusal to provide UK customers with any compensation remains deeply unfair. Secondly, the vehicle type approval process was not fit for purpose; riddled with conflicts of interest, its inadequacy meant that VW was able to cheat the emissions standards for years without detection. Thirdly, much needed to be done to improve the emissions tests overall. Like the type approval process, emissions standards have undergone review at EU level, but before the emissions scandal they had been allowed to become hopelessly out of sync with developments in vehicle technology.
We have continued to pursue this issue as regards Volkswagen’s culpability for its deception and in pressing for fair treatment of its UK customers. Doing so raises the question of the adequacy, or inadequacy, of the action of UK authorities.
I am listening carefully to the hon. Lady’s impressive speech. Does she agree that the Government are out of pocket because a higher level of vehicle excise duty should have been paid? The vehicles were not as environmentally friendly as they were made out to be, so, in addition to the claims of individual consumers who were misled, the Government are short of tax revenue, which we desperately need for public services. Does she agree?
I certainly do. Indeed, I will refer to compensation later, because it relates to the taxpayer, and the Government, as well as to individuals who had purchased vehicles. The hon. Gentleman makes an important point.
We have continued to pursue this issue both as regards VW’s culpability for deception and in order to seek fair treatment of its customers and, indeed, the taxpayer. Let us look at what happened. Volkswagen’s response to the uncovering of the scandal in the UK has been pitiful. I regret that the Department for Transport has so far been unable to convert its strong words condemning VW’s behaviour into action that delivers concrete benefits for customers and the public, including fair compensation for both.
When Mr Willis first gave evidence to us, and when he came in January 2016, he told us that Volkswagen was committed to uncovering what had happened and making sure it never happened again, and the company apologised for its action. Indeed, if I recall, I do not think that Mr Willis and the company stopped apologising for what it had done for much of the session. We were told that it had hired the law firm Jones Day to investigate and produce a report that would be made public. We were told that the investigation involved 450 people looking through the equivalent of 50 million books. Great importance was attached to that; indeed, Mr Willis told us that he declined to answer a number of our questions because the issues would be dealt with in the Jones Day report that was to be made public and that we would clearly then have access to.
When we questioned the same Mr Willis in Committee two months ago we heard an entirely different story. He assured us that the Jones Day findings were contained in the statement of facts published by the United States Department of Justice as part of its deal with Volkswagen —a document that is 29 pages long—and told us that no other Jones Day findings would be published at all. He implied that a report might not even exist; it might just be this statement of facts—29 pages and not to be published. It stretches credulity that the findings of such an extensive investigation can be summarised in 29 pages. The statement of facts produced for the US Justice Department focuses on events in the USA, and Volkswagen itself repeatedly stated that the events in Europe are entirely different.
We pursued Mr Willis further to seek clarification of a number of points. One was that he appeared to speak in direct contradiction to the evidence given to us by the Minister, who followed him in the evidence session. We received a written response from Mr Willis. That response was not to my or the Committee’s satisfaction; it did not clarify the issue. I have therefore written, on the Committee’s behalf, to Hans Dieter Pötsch, chairman of VW’s supervisory board, seeking further information and, I hope, clarification of where the truth lies.
After so much effort, Volkswagen’s refusal to release in full the findings of the report that we were told so clearly would be published is deeply suspicious. I wonder what the company has to hide and why it is doing this. Mr Willis had told us at an earlier point that it was “implausible” that a senior Volkswagen employee would have known about the defeat devices; indeed, we were told that the scandal originated with a few rogue engineers. Clearly, that view is not shared by the American and German authorities, which are actively investigating several senior VW employees. Oliver Schmidt, who gave evidence to our Committee last year, is among those now being investigated in the States—a situation that hardly inspires confidence.
If VW’s position is that the scandal was caused by a few rogue engineers, it must release the full Jones Day findings to prove that contention. If VW refuses to do so, I ask the Department to act. I recognise that the Department has asked for the Jones Day report, but as far as I am aware, it has not been produced. Will the Minister update us on his efforts to secure the full Jones Day findings and place them in the public domain? Also, what discussions has he held with his American counterparts about the possibility of sharing the information already given to the US judicial system?
Compensation for UK customers is a critical issue. Mr Willis was full of apologies on the company’s behalf when he first gave evidence in 2015, but since then, his tune has changed dramatically. In fact, it is now VW’s position, as Mr Willis stated to us in Committee a short time ago, that the company has done nothing wrong in the UK or the rest of Europe and that therefore no compensation is due.
That is treating the UK with contempt. I remind hon. Members of the position on compensation in other countries. In the US, Volkswagen has agreed to provide each owner with between $5,000 and $10,000, while a deal agreed in Canada will give owners between $4,000 and $6,000 US. Here, they will get nothing at all. Why has no action been taken by the Department for Transport, the Serious Fraud Office or the Competition and Markets Authority? I have asked that question in the past and been told that the issues were being considered, but as far as I am aware, no action has been taken; I hope that the Minister can give me the latest information.
A few moments ago, the hon. Member for South West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous) raised the issue of compensation. Can the Minister update us on whether he has secured the additional £1 million that he demanded from Volkswagen? That is one of the issues over which we are in dispute with Mr Willis: the Minister told us that the company had not given the Department what it asked for, but Mr Willis appeared to tell us that it had. We are still trying to clarify that issue through correspondence, so if the Minister could help us on it when he replies, it would assist us very much.
I would also be grateful for an update on European Commission proceedings. The officials who appeared before the Committee in February spoke of an ongoing dialogue. What has that delivered, and what action will be taken? I am aware that the Commission proposes to take action against the UK Government for failing to act in relation to its responsibilities to enforce appropriate standards; it would be helpful to know the current position.
I will briefly address the technical measures implemented by Volkswagen in the wake of the emissions scandal. Again, Mr Willis recently told the Transport Committee that the fix had no impact on real-world emissions, and we were told that nothing was wrong. He was asked why, if nothing was wrong, the vehicles were being fixed, and we were told that the sole reason was to ease customers’ minds about how vehicles had got through the testing programme—the company is spending money on so-called fixing, but the company did nothing wrong and is doing it only to ease customers’ minds. I find that completely implausible. That cannot be the situation. We are also told that the technical measure had no impact on vehicles’ performance. I said to Mr Willis that if that was correct, surely he would have provided a warranty to cover the technical measure. I know that the Department has been seeking that warranty, but as far as I am aware, the company has done nothing.
I receive numerous communications almost daily from members of the public who report that their vehicle has been impaired since they had the fix applied. A closed Facebook group bringing together people who have been affected now has 1,400 members. Many have told me about the stress of suddenly finding that their vehicle was not working after the measure was applied. They relayed instances of the vehicle going into limp mode, or not going above a certain speed; in one case, it happened on a motorway, and other cars had to swerve to avoid a collision. In many instances, when customers raised concerns, they were told that it was a coincidence and asked to pay hundreds or even thousands of pounds for the fault created by the so-called fix to be investigated and put right.
Mr Willis told the Committee that he would give us an assurance on that matter and said that it could not be the case, but that the company would investigate free of charge all reasonable concerns raised by VW owners after the fix was applied. I suspect that Mr Willis’s definition of “reasonable” might differ from his customers’. Will the Department monitor what happens in that regard?
The scandal was not only a case of a rogue company; it could never have happened if the regulatory structures for vehicle type approval had been adequate. We must remember that the cheating was uncovered not by a regulator, but by a US non-governmental organisation, the International Council on Clean Transportation. European Community whole vehicle type approval is the process ensuring that vehicles meet the relevant environmental, safety and security standards. An approval authority—in the UK, the Vehicle Certification Agency—certifies that the vehicles meet the relevant standards. Approval authorities work on the basis of information collected by technical services organisations that witness the test and collate the information.
As well as being an approval authority, the VCA provides technical services to manufacturers. The Committee concluded that that constitutes marking one’s own homework; it is a clear conflict of interests. In addition, the VCA competes with other European approval and technical services agencies across Europe for business from car manufacturers. The incentive to be unduly lenient on car manufacturers is clear. That conflict of interest works against consumers and ultimately damages public health.
In their response to our report, the Minister told us of various measures being considered to manage potential conflicts of interest, including more independent assurance and audit and increased training for emissions engineers. We were also told that an end-to-end review of the technical service process was taking place. Can the Minister update us on the outcome of that review? What plans have been put in place for type approval as part of the Brexit negotiations? We currently use European standards; what will happen after Brexit? Is that part of the negotiations? Is it expected that the UK and EU countries will continue to accept vehicles type approved by one another? How will it work?
Our report emphasised the importance of in-service surveillance, or the process of spot-checking vehicles on the road to ensure that their pollution performance is still within an acceptable range. The Minister told us that a new, robust system of in-service surveillance was being implemented, which is to be welcomed, but in the first instance, that surveillance will focus on new vehicles entering the market. Can the Minister update us on the performance of the new market surveillance unit? What progress has been made in ensuring that that unit operates beyond new vehicles?
A gap exists between real-world emissions and those emitted in the laboratory; it is the result of developments in technology and flexibilities allowed in the test procedure. Can the Minister update us on the progress of setting the final requirements for Euro standards? Is he satisfied that they are sufficiently robust? The Department told us that it had written to the European Commission to press for further improvements. What has the response been?
A year and a half after the emissions scandal came to light, Volkswagen has still not been held to account. Instead of providing the information, compensation and warranties that have reasonably been requested of it, Volkswagen maintains that it has done nothing wrong. Surely it is time that the Minister committed to using the powers available to him.
The scandal goes much further than Volkswagen. In the course of our inquiry, it became abundantly clear that the type approval system and emissions standards were not fit for purpose. Their support for manufacturers at the expense of ordinary people, consumers and public health was well known, but nothing was done about it before the emissions scandal erupted. I ask the Minister today for clear information on how the situation has improved.
The Volkswagen emissions scandal was shocking, but it has shone a light on deficiencies in the testing process. UK consumers are being treated with contempt. What action is the Minister taking to correct this outrageous situation?
I shall speak only briefly, because the speech by the hon. Member for Liverpool, Riverside (Mrs Ellman), the Chair of the Transport Committee, was all-encompassing and forensic in its detailed examination of the issue.
The Minister, his Parliamentary Private Secretary—my hon. Friend the Member for Finchley and Golders Green (Mike Freer)—and I all believe in free enterprise and salute what business does to pay for public services. However, that is not a blank cheque from the Conservative Benches. As the Prime Minister has said eloquently on a number of occasions, we believe in holding business to account and in holding it to high standards. Given what the Chair of the Transport Committee said, there are genuine questions to be asked. Why are Canadian and American consumers already receiving compensation, while UK consumers are not? Indeed, in my view the Government are out of pocket because of the tax revenue they should have received.
We all know that there is a huge need for infrastructure investment for the ultra-low emission vehicles of the future. I know that the Minister is passionate about the subject. He shares my desire to roll out new-energy vehicles—as they are called in China—across the country. That roll-out will require considerable public investment. Volkswagen is Europe’s largest car manufacturer; it is not a poor company. I would like to see UK consumers being put back in pocket, the Government receiving the tax revenue they have lost, and a contribution made towards the infrastructure that this country will need in order to roll out the clean-energy vehicles of the future.
I have great confidence in my right hon. Friend the Minister. He is indeed a friend; he is a fine Minister and cares deeply about his briefs. He will have been as concerned as I was to hear the report that the hon. Member for Liverpool, Riverside put before the House in such an exemplary manner today.
It is a pleasure to appear under your chairmanship, Mr McCabe. I congratulate the hon. Member for Liverpool, Riverside (Mrs Ellman) and her Committee on its excellent report. Her speech set out lucidly the problems that have been uncovered.
Clearly the actions of the company in this matter are utterly reprehensible and have seriously undermined confidence in a company that was previously a byword for reliability. In particular, the actions of Mr Willis before the Committee will have done nothing for Volkswagen’s future reputation in the UK and probably further afield. Nobody would argue with the Government’s response to the report when it states:
“The Government strongly agrees with the Committee that the actions of Volkswagen were completely unacceptable and is also concerned by Volkswagen’s more recent statements that underplay the severity of its cheating.”
The hon. Member for South West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous) alluded to the fact that in Canada and the United States the company has come up with money and compensated consumers. He also mentioned the loss of tax revenue and perhaps vehicle excise duty, but I suggest that the impact on the public purse has been much wider. Because emissions have been much higher than we were led to believe, there will have been an impact on public health. Addressing that impact will have been funded by the taxpayer throughout the United Kingdom. Volkswagen’s actions have put people’s health in danger and caused greater Government expenditure, and the Government should take that into account in dealing with the matter. The same situation will apply in many countries throughout Europe that have a public health service.
The emissions scandal also feeds into the current debate about the future of diesel vehicles and their impact on air quality in our cities. Clearly, in order to have a rational debate on the matter, we need confidence in the data about the level, as well as the impact, of emissions. The actions of the company have destroyed much of the confidence about the levels of emissions that have actually been generated. Strangely enough, I received an email this week on that very subject from a constituent, Neil, who has a diesel vehicle:
“For the past two decades I have driven a diesel car, on the advice that this type of fuel was the best environmental choice. I am now in the position of being considered the demon of the roads owing to the pollution—particulates and nitrogen oxide—released by these cars. This is due to the car companies’ fraudulent use of pollution cheating systems… I would like to be sure that I will not be the one who ends up footing the bill to change my polluting diesel. Are there any UK schemes being planned to help people like me, who are victims of this scam?”
Perhaps the Minister might care to elucidate. That email illustrates that ordinary people who have tried to do the right thing and get vehicles that are less polluting have ended up with vehicles that appear to be even greater polluters than the petrol cars they drove before. That undermines public confidence and our efforts to reduce our emissions and clean up our air. Volkswagen cannot escape responsibility for what it has done.
I note that the Government response to the report states:
“We found no evidence that other manufacturers we tested were using a cycle recognition device like Volkswagen.”
That may be so, but it has become apparent since the Volkswagen scandal broke that many manufacturers have been using devices to similarly reduce or hide the true emissions of their vehicles. For example, The Guardian reported last year on concerns about Mercedes-Benz, Honda, Mazda and Mitsubishi, and the American magazine Road and Track reported on concerns about some of the same companies, as well as Opel, several American manufacturers, Fiat, PSA and Renault. It also reported that a class action had been instigated in the US against Mercedes-Benz. The scandal may go much wider than just Volkswagen. We have no idea what impact it has had on consumers in the UK or on air quality in many of our major cities.
All of that shows that we face a very large-scale and widespread problem with the data claimed by motor manufacturers, as the hon. Member for Liverpool, Riverside alluded to. Owners of diesel vehicles have been put in an impossible position. I would be interested to hear the Minister’s comments on whether the Department has looked at the wider issue and at manufacturers other than Volkswagen to ascertain the true extent of the problem. It seems to me that tackling Volkswagen is a start, but unless we get to the heart of the problem, find out how large it is and tackle it with all manufacturers, we will face an ongoing and serious problem for consumers and public health.
The Committee’s report and the hon. Lady’s speech have rightly drawn attention to the difference in the approach taken by Volkswagen in the US and Europe. Again, few would dispute recommendation 3:
“Volkswagen’s treatment of customers in Europe compared to its treatment of customers in the US is deeply unfair.”
The Competition and Markets Authority was alluded to, but the Government response makes the point that the CMA has no powers to intervene, as the vehicles concerned are mostly vehicles sold prior to the CMA getting appropriate powers. Given that all this apparently goes back to 2006, that is a heck of a number of vehicles on our roads that are affected.
The Government now talk of joint action with prosecutors across Europe. Can the Minister say whether that will continue? Obviously we are in the process of negotiating withdrawal from the European Union. Will that have an impact on any such action? I suspect that this is not going to be sorted in the next few months, so it may well have an impact in the future. Comment has also been made on the possibility of action under the Sale of Goods Act 1979.
Is there a reason why the United Kingdom and European legal systems should necessarily be so much slower than the American and Canadian ones? Drivers in those two countries have already received compensation. If that can happen in north America—somewhere that takes jurisprudence extremely seriously—surely it can happen in the United Kingdom and Europe in the same type of timescale?
I see absolutely no reason why it cannot. Obviously the American consumer organisations are slightly different from our own and seem to be better at getting things into court and sorted out much more quickly than is the case under our system, but that should not be the case. Volkswagen, which clearly reacted quickly to the problem it had in the United States—presumably because of the damage to its reputation and market share in the US—should have done the same in Europe. That prompts the question as to why Volkswagen thought that it did not need to do that in Europe.
It is imperative that the UK, along with other European jurisdictions, takes action to show that they are not immune from what is happening in the United States. We must put consumer rights at the heart of this, as well as taxpayers’ rights, because the taxpayer faces a huge and ongoing bill, probably for many decades, due to what has happened over the last few years.
I was commenting earlier about the possibility of action under the Sale of Goods Act 1979. I was a solicitor before I came to this place—some years ago now, admittedly—and that is not an easy route for individuals to take. The Government note they are not privy to the terms of the contracts between individual owners and the company, but many individual owners will have contracts with the third parties who sold them the cars and will not generally have contracts directly with the company, although some may, depending on the type of contract.
However, the most problematic area is simply the impracticability of any individual car owner taking on a massive multinational such as Volkswagen in the civil courts. Such actions are not cheap at the best of times and when such a huge technical issue is involved, the costs are likely to escalate quickly. Also, whatever the sum that an individual may be claiming, there is an incentive for the multinational company to fight the case, because it is not dealing with just one such case but potentially thousands of such cases. There would be a real David and Goliath battle, and it is difficult to see how any individual would have any chance of success.
The hon. Gentleman is making some very pertinent and interesting points. The change in Volkswagen’s attitude towards the Committee, from the first time they appeared before us to the last time, two months ago, was dramatic. Initially, they were full of apologies, but on the last occasion they said they had done nothing wrong. I can only feel that that is because they believe that they have got away with this and will not be challenged. Does he agree that that makes it even more important that the Department for Transport considers its powers to challenge, so that individuals are not left isolated and vulnerable?
I was just about to make that very point. It is not within the power of the individual to take on these companies. It seemed clear to me from Mr Willis’s attitude when he last appeared before the Committee that Volkswagen would try to defend its actions, if it says it has done nothing wrong, which would leave the individual consumer in an impossible position. It will only be by Governments—not only in the UK but in other European nations—acting together and going after the company, and making certain that there is a compensation scheme akin to the one that has existed in the United States and Canada, to compensate ordinary victims of this scandal in the United Kingdom.
This is not an isolated case; there are other scandals in the motor industry. For example, there is the Vauxhall Zafira, which kept bursting into flames. The motor industry is an important industry in many parts of the United Kingdom and it may well become even more important as things progress. However, it must get its house in order, because if these scandals continue, there will be a great loss of confidence in many of these vehicles among ordinary consumers. I would ask the Minister to consider that and also to say whether he has discussed with other European jurisdictions the possibility of a joint and multilateral approach to getting a consumer compensation scheme to cover the European Union, or at least several countries together.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship once again, Mr McCabe.
I start by congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Riverside (Mrs Ellman), who has pursued this issue with characteristic vigour in her role as the Chair of the Transport Committee. It is absolutely right that we are having this debate on the back of the Committee’s report, because since the case broke back in September 2015 we have had Committee hearings, and the issue has been raised frequently at Transport questions; I am sure the Minister remembers those exchanges. Today, however, is a welcome opportunity to hear from the Government what they intend to do about it.
This issue is extremely important and we must ensure that our efforts to hold Volkswagen to account are not side-tracked, either by Brexit, which seems to be all-consuming for some parts of Government, or by the imminent general election. It is also important because the relationship between emissions and air quality is a fundamental issue—we discussed air quality in this Chamber only yesterday. It is increasingly clear to us that despite the Minister’s warm assurances that air quality overall is improving, parts of the country are suffering an air quality crisis, which in some places is literally choking some of our towns and cities. I have no doubt that Members from all parties are looking forward to the Government publishing their third attempt at an air quality strategy soon, particularly because a High Court judge described their last two efforts as “woefully inadequate.”
There are two distinct issues that we are discussing today that feed into the air quality crisis: first, the accuracy of emissions testing, and secondly, as we have heard, there is VW, which, despite the relative leniency of the EU testing regime, actively distorted its tests. I was greatly taken by the comments of the hon. Member for South West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous) about how recompense could perhaps be made by one of these major companies so as to improve our air quality in the future.
It has been known for a while now that emissions tests are inaccurate. Given the challenges of technology and the importance of getting the variables as similar as possible for all tests, it should have been clear earlier that there was a yawning gap between the laboratory tests and the emissions produced in real driving conditions. Despite what the Government say, it is hard not to conclude that there has been significant dragging of heels in facing up to this matter.
I have been told that, prior to the VW case in July 2015, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs was briefing Members of the European Parliament to oppose measures on real driving emissions testing, and it is still not clear to us whether the DFT was consulted on that issue. Perhaps we can be told whether it was consulted or not. It was only when the VW scandal became a concern for the wider public and attracted publicity that the Government were compelled to act and support the changes to the EU testing regime last year.
A highly critical European Parliament commission of inquiry concluded last month that EU member states, including the UK, strongly opposed the more ambitious proposal by the Commission for conformity factors for limits on oxides of nitrogen. The commission of inquiry also said that it remained “debatable” whether conformity factors in the new real driving emissions procedures were justifiable from a technical perspective, given that several independent tests on Euro 6 cars are already achievable under existing standards. The commission also recognised that there are standards in the world that are much stricter than those in Europe. We know that EU car manufacturers already place diesel cars on the US market that must comply with the NOx limits in the US, which are much lower than in the EU, so it can be done.
It is crucial the Government are not complacent about any of this. For the sake of public health, we cannot afford to have open-ended emissions breaches. As well as advocating for research into measuring capabilities, there must be a constant review of the regime to ensure that manufacturers do not find ways of avoiding limits through other means, and that is putting it kindly.
In the longer term, the Government must be a leader outside the EU and press for a whole new approach that focuses entirely on real-life driving scenarios. Will the Minister set out his plans for reviewing the mechanisms? Will he commit to bringing down the conformity factor as soon as possible? Will he set out his plans on type approval outside of the EU and tell us what they are? The Government said in response to the Transport Committee report that they are
“considering new research to develop ideas for real world testing of CO2”
and other pollutants. Where has that research got to? Will he make clear his party’s commitments on air quality domestically? I have to say, I felt he did not set out the full detail in this Chamber yesterday. Will the strategy include investment in greener buses and public transport? Will it include a review of plug-in grants and excise duty rates for electric vehicles? Will it include measures to reduce other barriers to electric vehicle uptake? Will it include extending clean air zones to more local authorities?
Of course, the public outrage is around the VW scandal. What VW did undermined not only trust in VW, but public trust in the whole automotive industry. A year and a half on since the case, we have seen a settlement of almost $15 billion for mis-selling nearly 500,000 vehicles to US customers, but in the UK there have been neither financial nor legal penalties to VW for the deception of 1.2 million vehicle owners. The Transport Committee has rightly been damning of the Department for Transport’s ambivalence towards the legality of VW’s actions, despite the strong words in the media recognising that the Department took five months before seeking preliminary legal advice on a prosecution. I strongly endorse the demands made by my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Riverside, particularly on disclosing the data that seem to have been available in America, but not here. It is very important that we know.
The Government still have questions to answer, particularly on what they knew before 2015, what they have done besides the type-approval changes and what their plans are to actually hold VW’s feet to the fire, rather than just promising to do so. Before the scandal broke in the US, the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre raised concerns over the possible use of defeat devices back in 2013. Why was such an allegation not followed up? The Government have since established a market surveillance unit within the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency, but the European Parliament report suggests that failure to organise a surveillance system beforehand constitutes a contravention of EU law and maladministration. Does the Minister therefore expect legal proceedings from the Commission to continue? How is the Department for Transport progressing with introducing requirements for manufacturers to disclose their emissions control strategies? Will that be affected by any interventions by the European Union?
Despite talk of steely fists and velvet gloves from the Minister in previous debates and monthly meetings with the Department, it seems that VW has not budged an inch in recompensing drivers in our country. Any technical changes that VW is voluntarily carrying out are supposedly to remove any doubt from customers’ minds and are promised not to affect vehicle performance, fuel consumption or driveability, but that is not the experience of some drivers, as we have heard. As my hon. Friend said, if nothing is wrong, why is VW doing that? What is the cost of letting VW sort out these problems in its own time? Can the Minister outline where we have got to with VW?
There are other concerns that the Government must address too. Despite years of false emissions data, written answers to shadow Transport Ministers suggest that the Treasury has found no miscalculation of VED rates. That point was raised by the hon. Member for South West Bedfordshire. The Government are clearly out of pocket. Can the Minister confirm that that is the case and tell us what he is doing about it? What other avenues has he considered in seeking remuneration from VW? We know that he has been in touch with the criminal counsel, but he has so far chosen not to disclose advice in order to avoid undermining ongoing investigations. When was the last time he sought advice? Can he share with us any more on that? Finally, he visited Germany last month to discuss the matter with counterparts. What was the outcome of those talks?
In conclusion, we have a lot of questions, to which I hope we will get answers. The development of an accurate emissions testing regime is fundamental to improving air quality and public health and must be a priority for the Department. The Government must now give strong support to reducing conformity factors and strive for a better testing regime. They must also outline their plans on air quality and emissions reductions. On VW, it really is time for the Minister to assure not just this House, but vehicle owners and those suffering poor air quality that he has more than strong words to offer. We need action, and we need results. I trust he will not disappoint.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr McCabe. I congratulate the Chair of the Transport Committee, the hon. Member for Liverpool, Riverside (Mrs Ellman), on securing this important debate and bringing this subject to our attention once again. Let me be clear—I apologise if this is repetition, but repetition from one’s own mouth always seems like re-affirmation or re-emphasis; repetition only seems to come from other people’s mouths—that the Government continue to take this matter extremely seriously.
As you would expect, Mr McCabe, I want to deal with a number of the specific points raised in the debate, but if I may, I will first address a couple of the issues raised by the hon. Member for Cambridge (Daniel Zeichner) in his remarks, which preceded my contribution. I do not want to be distracted from the main subject of the debate, and you would not allow me to be, Mr McCabe, but air quality is relevant, and we debated it yesterday in this place. The hon. Gentleman asked a number of specific questions. He will understand if I am circumspect about the exact details of what the draft plan on which we will consult will look like, but I am prepared to say —it is right that I am open with him and this Chamber—that I think it is important that public transport is part of our response to the air quality challenge.
My view, which I have made crystal clear in the Department, is that if we can get fleet purchasing and public transport, including buses and taxis, in a better place in respect of emissions—by that I mean getting those kind of vehicles moving to a low-emission metric, although I have no fixed idea of exactly what that might look like—we can make quite a significant difference in the worst-affected areas in particular. He will know that we have taken a zonal approach in the past, and I see no reason why that should change fundamentally.
That is not to say that air quality is not a national concern. The policy will, of course, be a national policy, but it will be focused on the zones where air quality is at its worst, because we know that air quality is closely related to wellbeing. It has a deleterious effect on health, particularly for vulnerable people—the sick, young children, elderly people and so on—and its effects are exaggerated in urban places, unsurprisingly, because of the density of traffic and population and the coincidence that that brings.
Similarly, the hon. Gentleman knows that that plan will be a matter for consultation. A draft will be published, and we will consult widely on that draft with Members of this House, local authorities in the worst-affected areas and others who have interests in this business. We are genuinely open-minded about that. I have worked very closely with my colleagues in the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. I have been meeting weekly with my hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk Coastal (Dr Coffey), which is a great pleasure in itself, but is also a productive, professional business. She and I have engaged our officials to ensure that we get a joined-up approach to this issue.
Of course, DEFRA leads on air quality, but as transport is so salient in finding the right solutions, we are very conscious that there has to be a close association between DEFRA’s perspective and ours, and that of other Government Departments. We have been in close liaison and association with them too. It will be an open-minded approach, founded on a clear determination to do the right thing.
Mr McCabe, we did not enjoy the pleasure of your chairmanship yesterday, so I hope you will not mind if I inform you and others of what I said then. It is absolutely my view that we must not, in our determined efforts to tackle air quality, disadvantage those who are already worse off—I am thinking in particular of the less well-off drivers of older diesel vehicles. We have to be careful that an unintended consequence of any otherwise efficacious policy should not put those people into a very difficult position indeed. Yesterday, in the debate secured by my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Neil Parish), we talked about a targeted scrappage scheme, as that was the case he made. I say now what I said to him: of course, we always welcome contributions to the discussion. He made his contribution and that will be fed into our work and our thinking. If one is to have a genuine, open-minded consultation, one must take into account a range of views and opinions, ideas and schemes. Forgive me for repeating—but that did not sound any worse than it did yesterday, at least not from my perspective.
The other matter that the hon. Member for Cambridge raised, and quite properly so, was the upcoming changes to testing. It is important to be crystal clear about what the new emission tests are and why they matter. The changes introduce a compliance criterion that is defined as a conformity factor. The conformity factor is the ratio of emissions recorded during the real world test, which is the limit on the laboratory test that must not be exceeded during the real world, on-road testing.
In the proposal, the requirement for the real driving emission tests is phased in in a two-step process, to allow manufacturers time to bring compliant products to the market. Step one mandates a conformity factor of 2.1 for all new model types by 2017. Step two achieves full compliance with Euro 6 standards for all new model types in January 2020, with an additional conformity factor margin of 0.5 to take into account measurement uncertainties. That proposal means that after 2019 all new models brought to the market must meet the Euro 6 limits in the real world tests. That is the bottom line, with a margin for measurement error of the test equipment. The hon. Gentleman asked what the UK’s position had been on that. I can tell him, and I think he will be reassured, that the UK pushed very hard in the negotiations for the introduction of those changes on the timescale I have described. We were anxious to make sure that there was no delay in moving to those real world tests.
That point gives me an opportunity to deal with some of the specific matters raised by the hon. Member for Liverpool, Riverside and others and to say a word about how we got to where we are on air quality and emissions. I do not see the air quality challenge as a partisan matter, taking it as read that Members across the House take it seriously. Bluntly, the challenge has been compromised, and I would go so far as to say worsened, by the failure of the EU vehicle emissions regulations to deliver the anticipated reductions in air pollution—we know that now—and by neglect and cheating by some diesel car makers to avoid reducing emissions as they were supposed to. The pollution limits in EU law agreed under the Labour Government in directive 2008/50/EC were based on the assumptions that improvements in vehicle technology were deliverable. Although it is true that in the UK we meet the majority of our air quality limits, it has become clear that, like 17 other countries, we breach annual targets for nitrogen dioxide.
Yesterday I committed to make available to those who were in the Chamber then—my hon. Friend the Member for South West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous) is one of them, and the hon. Member for Cambridge is another—the breakdown of the sources of that gas by transport type, which includes shipping, trains and all kinds of other sources. I will make that available to other Members present today, as I think it will be helpful in informing future consideration. However, we are certain, and other Members of the House will be too, that diesel vehicles are a significant part of the problem. They are not the only part, but they are significant. It is right that the hon. Gentleman emphasised buses and other vehicles, because we often think that is about only cars. It is about not just cars but light goods vehicles, HGVs, buses and so on.
The failure of Euro standards and the failure therefore of the anticipated improvements to air quality are a pressing problem across Europe. I hesitate to say it is a scandal, but I would say that it is a fundamental failure of the approach of the EU. As in so many other areas of our national life, we have been injuriously affected by the European Union. How wonderful that we will not have to face that prospect in the future as we leave.
I am sure that the EU is not without fault, but national Governments are responsible for their own certification systems, and our certification system and the type approval process has been found severely wanting. I hope that the Minister will tell us in due course what he as Minister in this country is going to do about that.
The hon. Lady is of course right, and I will say more about that. She will know that some of the work we have been doing domestically, as well as that which we have been doing to change assumptions pan-nationally, is born of the fact that we agree with her that we can and must do more. Although it is true that a contributory factor to the problem has been the failure of the standards, she is right to say that there are other things that we do and can do better.
Let me move to the substance of today’s debate. A good starting point would be to begin where the hon. Lady began, which is with what Volkswagen actually did. Benjamin Disraeli said:
“Circumstances are beyond human control, but our conduct is in our own power.”
In our judgment, Volkswagen used a defeat device, as defined by EU regulation. The cycle recognition software that VW employed in the course of the albeit imperfect tests, which I described earlier, was a defeat device. We do not consider that any of the exceptions to the prohibition of defeat devices apply here, or that Volkswagen has established any justification for the use of that device. We do not think there is any get-out-of-jail card for Volkswagen, despite what it claimed or said to the Transport Committee. On that basis, the Department’s view is that Volkswagen used a prohibited device. I have been consistently clear that Volkswagen must therefore face appropriate consequences for the manipulation of those emission tests, and I am confident that progress is being made in the jurisdictions where the major wrongdoing occurred.
A number of contributors to this debate asked me about the work we are doing across jurisdictions, including Germany, for obvious reasons, and the USA. We intend to discuss this further with US and German counterparts. We have also been working with the European Union, because a number of EU countries were affected by the consequences. We plan, wherever we can and at whatever point, to ensure that the action that is taken by others is consistent with the action we take. We will not be laggards. Far from it: we want to encourage that sort of joint approach at every opportunity. Those discussions are continuing, and I hope they will be productive.
The issue of EU-wide action was also raised. I have to say that, at this juncture, the EU as a body does not seem to have moved with any great enthusiasm, and certainly not with any alacrity. That is why we plan to engage particularly with German counterparts. That is where the wrongdoing largely took place and where much of the evidence lies, as the Secretary of State said when questioned previously. Action across national boundaries would be the most effective approach. To be clear, it is not the only action we should take, but it is an important part of the determined approach we intend to continue to adopt.
My hon. Friend may have heard—I heard about it recently—that we are going to have a general election. The problem with that, in terms of the business of Government—he knows this well as a former very distinguished Minister with whom I worked very closely in office—is that it limits what Ministers can do and say. I have to be cautious in setting out an immediate timetable, given the events that are going to take place over the coming weeks. While this House is sitting—I remain a Minister through the election process—I will press my officials very hard, not least as a result of this debate, to ensure that there is no hesitation or undue delay within the bounds that I mentioned.
My hon. Friend is right—I can see where his mind is going—that we must not have a couple of months in which nothing happens. That would not be right. As much as I can, I will continue the work and reinvigorate my officials—I do that every day, but I will do so with even more vehemence than I usually exercise—to ensure that the eventuality that he postulated would be unhelpful does not come to pass.
I have been very anxious and determined to press Volkswagen executives consistently in person and in writing to address many of the outstanding issues that were raised by the hon. Member for Liverpool, Riverside. I have brought with me a list of occasions on which officials or Ministers have met or written to Volkswagen over recent weeks and months. It goes back to the very beginning of this sorry tale. I see no harm in setting out that chronology for Members. I will not read it out because it is quite exhaustive, but I will make information available about what we have done and when we have done it. Let it suffice to say for the purposes of this debate that the Secretary of State and I have met Volkswagen on many occasions and written to it on many more. My officials have been engaged with it steadily and determinedly to bring about many of the things that hon. Members call for.
It is right, as William Morris says, that
“all men should have work to do which shall be worth doing”.
I think this is work worth doing, because it is in the interests of the consumers who were adversely affected by the means I have described, who bought cars in good faith believing one thing, and who found that they were dealing with a very different product from the one they imagined they purchased.
There is disappointment in this House—it was reflected in the comments of the hon. Member for Liverpool, Riverside and is shared by the Government—about the lack of remorse and appreciation of the gravity of the deception that has been displayed by Volkswagen, not least in Mr Willis’s appearance before the Transport Committee on the same day that I gave evidence.
Let me go back to the start of this sorry business to fully explain where we are now and the progress we have made. If I do not, someone, perhaps the hon. Member for Cambridge, will rise to their feet with speed and say, “It’s all very well. You’ve had all these meetings, John”—well, he wouldn’t in fact say “John”, because you wouldn’t have it, Mr McCabe—“but what have you achieved?” Just weeks after Volkswagen’s supercherie actions were discovered, the Department launched an emissions-testing programme to understand whether there was widespread cheating across the industry. Alongside the Vehicle Certification Agency, we tested many of the UK’s most popular diesel cars. We were the first European country to publish a report of that kind in April 2016, with Germany, France and several others following shortly afterwards. The programme found no evidence that any manufacturers we tested other than Volkswagen had utilised prohibited defeat devices to manipulate emissions tests to gain a vehicle’s type approval.
It was clear to me then and remains so now that taxpayers should not have to foot the bill for the testing programme. Volkswagen’s actions cast doubt on the integrity of the whole industry and, following meetings and repeated requests, the company reimbursed my Department with £1.1 million. That was an important victory for the UK taxpayer. The money is being used for three important areas of work, which I want the Chamber to know about: first, to increase the UK’s capacity and capability to test real-world emissions, which is a response to a question and a point made by the Select Committee Chair, the hon. Member for Liverpool, Riverside, and the Opposition Front-Bench spokesman, the hon. Member for Cambridge; secondly, to increase the air quality fund, allowing us to provide funding for a city council’s HGV fleet to be retrofitted with emissions reduction technology, to reduce emissions in that location; and, thirdly, further investment to encourage the uptake of ultra-low emissions vehicles.
But we are not stopping there. Mr Willis may believe what C.S. Lewis did not—that an “explanation of cause” is a “justification by reason”—but I too do not. I am therefore pressing Volkswagen for a further £1 million to fund the first year of the new market surveillance unit. The Department set up that unit in the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency in the wake of the VW scandal to source and test vehicles to ensure that they comply with the law. We will of course continue to be completely transparent on matters relating to that testing and, as I said previously but am happy to repeat, we will publish the results of this year’s programme when we have fully analysed the results. It is right for us to be as open and transparent about that to provide the further reassurance that Members have sought in this debate.
The new unit will provide essential ongoing reassurance to motorists and the wider public, and useful information to the Government and the House. In all my meetings and correspondence with the Volkswagen managing director and management board, I have been absolutely clear that the Government expect that further £1 million. I have emphasised that we will be relentless in our pursuit of the money, because we would not have been spending it had it not been for Volkswagen.
On a point of clarity, given that the welcome reimbursement of the Government by Volkswagen presumably means the company has conceded that there is an error and a problem, why can there not be similar good news for all the vehicle owners who also need compensation?
I agree. I believe that the consumers affected by the scandal should be compensated. I have called on the company to offer UK consumers a similar package to that given to their US counterparts—the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for South West Bedfordshire. The company will claim again, as it already has, that the United States has a different legal system with different requirements, and that that is somehow a justification for not doing what I have just called for. However, I think that the company has an ethical responsibility to do so.
We need a fair outcome for UK vehicle owners. To that end I have met legal firms that are considering taking action against Volkswagen on behalf of affected customers. I am now actively considering ways in which we can support the firms to optimise the chances of their claims succeeding—those discussions are ongoing. My officials are speaking to vehicle owners’ legal representatives, and I am happy to meet those people again. I encourage the owners of affected vehicles to look carefully at the actions the legal firms are taking and to consider whether it is right for them to join them. Compensation, far from being off the agenda, is still very high on my agenda for the reasons I have given.
Let us not forget that the issue has, as I said, left people with vehicles that they bought on one assumption but now know not to fit the bill. At the technical level, it is important that the consumers affected have their cars fixed. Volkswagen has developed technical solutions to remove the cycle recognition strategy for vehicles across their four affected brands. We have of course not relied on Volkswagen’s opinion that the solutions are appropriate, but have performed our own checks to verify the accuracy of the company’s claims and the efficacy of the devices.
As the original approval authority in the UK, the Vehicle Certification Agency has direct responsibility for signing off the Skoda technical solutions. The VCA checks that vehicle emissions, such as nitrogen oxides and carbon monoxide, and vehicle noise remain below the legal limits. As part of the testing, the VCA also checks for any adverse effect on CO2 emissions and maximum rated engine power. I am aware that those factors have been of serious concern to affected consumers and I want to reassure people that we are closely monitoring the issue.
I have pressed Volkswagen to ensure that it implements those technical solutions as soon as possible. As of 10 April, Volkswagen had applied the fix to approximately 592,000 of the 1.2 million affected vehicles in the UK. It has put extra resources into the process as a direct result, in my view, of the pressure that I have exerted on it. I told the company I wanted that done quickly, properly, efficiently and conveniently for the customer. We are making progress, but the Department’s officials are monitoring the process carefully. I asked Volkswagen for regular updates on progress, which we are getting.
Of the seven technical solution clusters that Skoda proposed to the VCA, we have so far signed off two. Since then we have been made aware of concerns that the durability of the emissions regulation system may be adversely affected by the technical solution. The Department’s technical experts have frequently requested—I have been to meetings with Volkswagen about this—detailed information from Volkswagen, which it has often taken far too long to provide. As a result, we have had to delay the sign-off of the remaining vehicles while we continue to assess the evidence presented so far.
Separately, we are pressing Volkswagen to provide UK customers of the four VW brands that have the technical upgrade applied with a meaningful statement of its goodwill policy. Volkswagen must provide a meaningful statement of its goodwill policy—I repeat that for the sake of emphasis, though I do not want to become a creature of habit in employing the device of repetition. The company must investigate any complaints that arise from the service action, taking appropriate measures to rectify them swiftly and appropriately.
I am exceedingly grateful, as the Minister is being very generous in giving way. Obviously, Volkswagen sells cars all around Europe. Is the Minister aware whether Volkswagen’s dealings with France, Spain, Italy or Denmark are at the same level as ours? Are such countries managing to get a better deal from Volkswagen, or are we all chugging along at the same sort of level? If he does not know the answer now—it was a bit unfair to spring the question on him—perhaps he will kindly put a letter in the post to the Members present.
I have been a Conservative Front Bencher for 18 years and a Minister since 2010. I did not know this immediately, but it did not take me long to work out that when one does not know an answer it is better to say that one does not know; so, I do not know the answer. We are working with our counterparts across Europe, but I do not know specifically what questions have been asked in the particular area of concern my hon. Friend raises. I will happily check that speedily and let him, the Chairman of the Select Committee and the Opposition spokesman know. My hon. Friend is right that, as I said earlier, our work will be better if it is consistent with the approaches adopted by other countries in similar circumstances so that consumers here know that they are getting all that they should and so that we learn from one another about how we handle this matter. He can be confident that the answer will be provided to him with great speed, given the imminent events to which I referred briefly earlier.
I urge any consumers who are not satisfied with their vehicle or the service they have received to contact the Volkswagen customer services department immediately. I have had a personal reassurance from Volkswagen Group’s managing director that he will investigate personally—I emphasise that strongly—any complaint about the technical solution on a case-by-case basis. I fully expect that commitment to be honoured. It is time for the company to demonstrate that it is serious about looking after existing customers, not just those who are about to purchase a new vehicle.
Of course I recognise that Volkswagen cannot be held responsible for everything, as I said to the managing director. If something goes wrong with someone’s vehicle, they cannot first claim that it has something to do with the technical fix. If the issue was entirely unrelated, that would not be right or fair. But where there is any doubt about the origin of the issue, Volkswagen must definitively rule out that it could have been caused by the fix. The idea that Volkswagen knew nothing—that it had not the merest inkling—at the outset about the fact that there was a problem is just incredible, and “incredible” is the best way of describing the evidence that was given to the Select Committee. The burden must not be borne by consumers. I want to ensure that UK consumers are treated fairly and receive the service they deserve.
Volkswagen also continues to disappoint in its own investigation into what went wrong with the company. Given the governance and accountability that one would expect in a large multinational company, that should be straightforward. In answer to numerous questions from the Transport Committee, as the hon. Member for Liverpool, Riverside said, Mr Willis repeatedly responded that we will have to wait until the Jones Day report is published. I do not know whether Mr Willis is an imaginant, prone to ideas entirely at odds with what other people might conclude, but it is not unreasonable— rather, it is entirely sensible, moderate and measured—to expect Volkswagen to publish the results of the Jones Day investigation. To claim that a report never existed is beyond incredible.
Volkswagen instead provided the Department with a copy of an agreed statement of facts drafted for the purpose of the plea agreement between it and the US Department of Justice. It suggests that that statement gives an overview of Jones Day’s findings, which is of course impossible to verify without access to the complete report. That is unacceptable, and it has been a key issue in the three letters I have written to the managing director of Volkswagen since I gave evidence to the Transport Committee in February, to which I am still awaiting a full reply. Looking to the future, I reassure the hon. Lady and others that the Government are committed to taking action on vehicle emissions testing to restore consumer confidence and deliver our wider air quality and climate objectives.
The hon. Lady raised the VCA, which has more than 30 years’ experience in testing and certifying vehicles and their systems and components for the UK Government. The VCA is striving to ensure that it continues to take a robust approach to the approval process that delivers the highest rigour and independence.
I have spoken about the changes to real driving emissions. I am happy to provide further information about that should any Member present wish me to do so. It may be worth my writing again to the Select Committee Chairman to re-emphasise the points that I made about that during our considerations.
As we come to the end of this short debate, I conclude by making clear that the Government continue to challenge Volkswagen’s unacceptable view that it does not need to compensate British motorists who have been affected by its manipulation of emissions tests. Ruskin said that endurance is nobler than strength, and my enduring determination is to ensure that we not only closely monitor the progress of Volkswagen’s implementation of technical upgrades and oversee that it deals appropriately with issues and complaints related to those changes, but press for it to do what it should have done all along: admit its failure and offer recompense for it. It is, in the end, as straightforward as that.
W. B. Yeats said that we should not
“wait to strike till the iron is hot; but make it hot by striking.”
I believe that the introduction of the Government’s market surveillance unit, the more rigorous approach that is being finalised for type approval testing and the implementation of real driving emissions testing will greatly improve our air quality and minimise the possibility of manufacturers doing what this large and, it seems to me, careless company did. As I said yesterday, Governments can be a force for good. The Government must, on this occasion, with a steely fist and an iron will, be a force for good and call Volkswagen to order.
All hon. Members have made important points about the scandalous behaviour of Volkswagen and the broken testing and type approval system. I am encouraged by the Minister’s response about the work that he has done, and I urge him to continue it so that individuals and the taxpayer receive compensation and the promised fix. I ask him to keep pursuing the Jones Day report and, so far as he is able to, to enable its publication, because it contains vital information. It is a shame on Volkswagen, a major international company, that it seeks even to deny the existence of a report that could expose the horror of its shortcomings.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered the Third Report of the Transport Committee, Volkswagen emissions scandal and vehicle type approval, HC 69, and the Government response, HC 699.
European Arrest Warrant
[Mr Nigel Evans in the Chair]
I beg to move,
That this House has considered the European Arrest Warrant.
Mr Evans, you will be aware that back in January this year, there was a debate on the issue of Brexit and security, and I was one of a number of Members of Parliament who raised concerns about the European arrest warrant. It is fair to say that people had widely different opinions, but I gleaned that a number shared my concerns, and I went before the Backbench Business Committee to ask if we could discuss the matter. The Committee was very kind and gave its approval, on the basis that quite a few people might want to speak.
Unfortunately, since then I have been rather overtaken by events, and there are not quite as many speakers here as I initially expected—it’s a strange old thing, politics. However, quite a few Members of the House have feelings one way or another about this issue. We have known each other a long time, Mr Evans, and frankly, I could string out what I have to say for an hour or so, but there are one or two other people here who want to speak, so I will not do that. As a result, I suspect this may be a shorter debate than we originally expected.
The European arrest warrant was brought in following the September 2001 terrorist attacks, to ensure the safety of the public by enabling countries to swiftly bring criminals to justice within the EAW area. I would be the first person to acknowledge that criminals cross borders and that we need a system that enables us to bring them to justice if they flee overseas. The principle of the European arrest warrant marked a huge step forward from the days when parts of Spain were known as the Costa del Crime, with serious criminals living quite openly in the sun and avoiding justice.
I spent nine years as a special constable in London. During that time, I arrested quite a number of people, mainly for less serious, low-level offences. A high proportion of those people were foreign nationals. In general, as a proponent of law and order, I am instinctively supportive of the principle of a European arrest warrant. It is very efficient, and I wonder whether it is sometimes too efficient. Once the arrest warrant has been submitted by a country that is part of the scheme, it is almost certain that the individual named on the warrant will be extradited to the country that has issued it.
That is fine, and it is what was intended, but there is one obvious problem: in order for the European arrest warrant to be seen as fair, it is imperative that the standards of justice in all the countries signed up to it are of an equally high level. If that is not the case, it is irrefutable that we pay a price for judicial convenience. The price will be paid through an erosion of our own legal protections. That is a key point that I want to make to the Minister, and I would like him to hold that thought for a moment and try to answer this question. Does he accept that for the EAW to be fair, we must have equitable standards of justice in all the nations that are taking part? I suggest that we cannot be confident that standards of justice in all member states meet the standards we would accept in the UK.
Over the last 10 years or so—including while I served on the Home Affairs Committee, chaired at the time by the right hon. Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz)—I have visited various countries in Europe, through the police scheme and more recently through the Council of Europe. Overall, I have no doubt that standards are very high indeed. I have been a couple of times to Germany and the Netherlands and have been out on patrol with the police officers there. I have been into their detention centres. I must admit that in some instances, I thought the standards were rather too high, considering the people involved, but that is a subject for another debate. I am not suggesting that there are low standards across Europe—far from it. However, it is a slightly mixed picture.
There was a very high-profile case that resulted in a book, which Members may have seen. It involved Andrew Symeou, who is from Wales. He was extradited to Greece and spent time in prison there, facing 20 years for a murder he did not commit, following a completely unacceptable investigation against him. I recommend the book for more details about that. He was unable to avoid extradition and spending time in a Greek prison because, as I said earlier, once the EAW is triggered against a British citizen, a British court has almost no choice but to carry it through.
About three years ago I visited Greece with the Council of Europe. Among other things, I went into a police station in Athens that was being used to house foreign nationals—essentially, people who had committed immigration offences. I entered an area that was little more than half the size of the hall we are in now, and there were about 20 people in there. They were housed in there with little chance to get out and have exercise and no natural light at all; the conditions were absolutely appalling. I was told that they were being kept in there for up to a year, for immigration offences.
I am not soft on these things. I have spoken out many times in favour and support of strong controls on immigration and ensuring that the rules are followed, but I thought those were completely unacceptable conditions in which to keep people. I said so to the police officers who were with me, and privately they said they absolutely agreed; that is why they were showing me and an official from the Council of Europe those horrendous conditions. They said, “We want you to tell people about this, because we don’t think it’s right either.” In fact, some of the people in that cell asked if I could help them to be moved into a Greek prison. When people are asking to be put into a Greek prison because the conditions they are in are so bad, something is very wrong indeed.
Those conditions would be totally unacceptable in any sort of British institution or a police station. However, as things stand, a Greek court could issue a European arrest warrant against a British citizen without any standard of evidence that would be acceptable in the UK, and that citizen could be thrown into the kind of facility that I visited. The case of Andrew Symeou proves that I am not making a hypothetical statement; that situation has already happened.
Greece is not the only country about which I and many others have concerns. In Portugal there was the case of Garry Mann, who was arrested, tried and convicted within 48 hours for allegedly taking part in a riot. He had not in fact been involved. He was released, but there was subsequently a demand, which I think came through a separate court, for him to return to Portugal and serve a two-year sentence. He was not even provided with the basic facilities that we would take for granted—for example, the interpretation facilities that are standard throughout Britain, or having a lawyer; he was given access to a lawyer five minutes before his trial began.
In Italy there was the case of Edmond Arapi, detailed on the Fair Trials website. He was convicted of murder in his absence in 2006, even though at the time of the murder, he was working in a restaurant in Staffordshire. There were numerous witnesses to say that, and the court seemed to accept that on the day he was nowhere near the country in question. The murder was supposed to have taken place in Italy, but he was working in the UK, and yet he went through years of hell and faced a strong possibility that he would be extradited to Italy to serve a 16-year sentence. Italy, of course, is one of the wealthier countries in the European Union and one where we might expect higher standards to apply.
It is, however, Bulgaria and Romania that I think deserve much greater scrutiny. On this, I am at one with the European Commission, which is scrutinising those countries and has put them on to a monitoring procedure. I have copies here of the most recent reports on Bulgaria and Romania, which are widely available online, and I will sum up some of what is in them. Bulgaria has been subject to the European Commission’s co-operation and verification mechanism, and the Commission has said that the country’s justice system is failing in a number of areas.
On judicial reform, Bulgaria’s Supreme Judicial Council, which is tasked with ensuring the independence of the judiciary, is mired in in-fighting over allegations of a lack of objectivity, political interference and undue external influence. The report says that there has been
“little progress in establishing fairness and transparency”
of the council’s decisions, and that there still needs to be a
“broader commitment of all state actors to judicial independence”.
The report goes on to say that
“criminal procedures in Bulgaria continue to present serious problems for the effective prosecution of complex cases”,
and that corruption remains a “significant challenge”, extending from the local level up to high-ranking officials. Those are the European Commission’s words, and one could read a lot into “significant challenge”.
There is a similar situation in Romania. The Commission stated that judicial reform and corruption are still a cause for concern. The process of selection of candidates for the employment of senior judges and prosecutors does not allow for a clear, open and transparent procedure, and there have been allegations of political appointees.
Romanian prison conditions are a persistent issue, with assurances that have been given to the British Government on the poor treatment of extradited prisoners being breached. I have not been into one of the prisons. Recently, there was the death in custody of an elderly Romanian newspaper owner, Dan Adamescu, who had been critical of the Government in his newspaper. He was denied medical treatment after falling ill, in a process that was described by the former President of Romania as judicial murder. That should be setting alarm bells ringing for the authorities here in the UK.
There are several ongoing cases at the moment, which I will not mention, that involve European arrest warrants being issued against people who are either British or living in Britain and facing extradition to Romania. I think people will watch those cases very carefully. We have a situation in which The Guardian, the New Statesman, the Freedom Association and the Henry Jackson Society all agree with each other that what is going on at the moment in Romania is unacceptable. When we get four bodies and publications such as those in agreement on something, it is time to take notice.
If it transpires that under the current scheme the British Government are unable to ensure that British residents who have not been found guilty of any crime cannot be guaranteed British standards of justice, I respectfully suggest to the Minister that we will have a moral imperative to use Brexit to draft a new European arrest warrant system that will continue to allow people to be extradited if we are confident that standards of justice in the countries they are being extradited to match ours, but will recognise the importance of protecting the legal rights of British citizens and ensure that such rights are upheld at all times wherever citizens face criminal charges. That is all I want to say; I look forward to the Minister’s reply.
It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Evans, and a great pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Monmouth (David T. C. Davies). We are taking part in a very important debate. He may have lamented the fact that there are so few Members here, but it is the quality of the debate that counts. The hon. Member for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East (Stuart C. McDonald) and I may be regarded as usual suspects at debates such as this, but the Minister and shadow Minister have to be here.
The hon. Member for Monmouth was missed on the Home Affairs Committee when I was chairing it. He went on to chair his own Committee with great distinction. I hope he will continue to do that in the next Parliament. He has raised an important subject. I fully support the concept behind the European arrest warrant. It was right that the previous Labour Government signed up to it. It was a mechanism by which those who had been responsible for criminal offences in one country could almost immediately be transported without question to another country, so the concept and the principle are right. The hon. Member for Monmouth gave examples of the Costa del Crime, as it was sometimes referred to in Spain, where people ran away to hide from the authorities in this country.
However, what I have seen in the operation of the European arrest warrant is that the current capacity of the warrant still causes concern, because in certain cases—the hon Gentleman has talked about some; I will refer to others—it tramples on the rights of individuals. I accept the important principle of the European arrest warrant, which is an integral part of our involvement in the European Union, which, as we know, will come to an end by 19 March 2019, if not sooner. It is a part of our being involved in the justice and home affairs agenda of the European Union.
The Minister has a task when he returns. I hope he will again return to the same post after the next election, because he has done the job extremely well in the time that he has been the Minister for Policing, although we still do not have a police funding formula, but we will leave that to another debate. The measures are complicated and they need to be dealt with carefully. We need the arrest warrant to be a critical part of our negotiations with the EU.
I am surprised that the hon. Member for Monmouth, who is one of Parliament’s leading Brexiteers, did not put the issue at the forefront of his speech, because, if we come out of the European Union, as we will—the people have voted for us to come out—we will also have to come out of the European arrest warrant, unless a great deal is done by the Minister or the Home Secretary to ensure we remain a part of it. That is why this debate is so important. It sets a strategy as to what we expect Ministers to do. If they come to an arrangement whereby we remain part of the EAW—I do not know how they will do that under the current arrangements—and if we do a deal that gives us the benefits of the EAW, the problems with it, as eloquently set out by the hon. Gentleman, need to be addressed.
Of course there are benefits from the European arrest warrant. It enables us to track down criminals. In London, 28% of those arrested are foreign nationals, half of whom are EU nationals. We therefore commend the success of the European arrest warrant so far. When the shadow Minister for Policing comes to speak in this debate—I have heard her speak on this subject in the Chamber, and she made one of the best speeches that I have seen her give—I am sure she will tell us of all the successes, as will the Minister. However, the problem is that it is a disproportionate measure at the moment. The United Kingdom receives disproportionately more warrants than it issues. Not only does that undermine the credibility of the system, but it is extremely costly to the taxpayer.
In 2015—the Minister might have more accurate or up-to-date figures—the United Kingdom issued 228 requests for arrest to other EU member states. In that same year, 12,613 requests were sent by EU member states to the United Kingdom. Between 2009 and 2016, 55,838 requests were sent to the United Kingdom; 10,532 arrests were made in the United Kingdom; and 7,436 surrenders were made here. However, in that period 2009 to 2016, the United Kingdom sent only 1,424 requests; 916 arrests were made on our behalf; and only 800 surrenders were made to us. That therefore points to the disproportionate nature of the way in which the European arrest warrant has operated. That is why this is such a good opportunity for the Government to be able to negotiate a better deal with the European Union. I hope this will be very much a part of what is going to happen when we look at the justice and home affairs agenda.
The hon. Member for Monmouth gave us examples of individuals and miscarriages of justice. Deborah Dark, a British woman, was pursued across Europe because of an EAW issued by France, although she had been cleared of drug charges years previously. Other cases include that of Michael Turner and Jason McGoldrick, who were extradited under a European arrest warrant in 2009. These men were ably supported by the hon. Member for South Dorset (Richard Drax) after being imprisoned in Hungary without trial in a process that continued for eight years.
There are other examples, but my point is that, if we have reached a situation in which the warrant is used against citizens conducting their lawful business because of mistakes in other countries, that really affects them. It is no good the other country’s apologising at the end and saying “I am sorry; we got the wrong person,” or “We should never have arrested this individual.” The fact is that that damage remains with the individuals for years to come. Edmond Arapi, an Albanian chef, was arrested while arriving at Gatwick airport in June 2009. An EAW had been issued after he was tried and convicted in his absence by a court in Genoa for carrying out a murder in Italy. He was to face a sentence of 16 years in prison. He possessed documentary evidence to prove his innocence but he was held in Wandsworth prison for two weeks before being granted bail. He was subjected to 12 court appearances before the Italian court admitted that it had sought the arrest of the wrong person, following a brief check of Mr Arapi’s fingerprints. That is a classic example of where the EAW has gone wrong.
I agree with the points the right hon. Gentleman is making. Does he agree that another problem is that British nationals who are extradited to countries in the EAW area cannot get bail because they do not habitually reside in those countries? They are denied a right that would be almost automatic in the UK.
The hon. Gentleman is right. Because of the different jurisdictions, legislation and applications of law in those countries, it is extremely difficult. The people who really benefit from the European arrest warrant are the highly paid lawyers—I declare an interest as a non-practising barrister, and I have never done an extradition case—who do well partly out of the uncertainty that people face. When they are told they are about to be arrested, obviously they seek legal advice. They may have to pay a huge amount of money and may in the end not even face charges.
What the issue boils down to is that the automatic transmission of people is the problem—the lack of a test allowing the courts in this country to look carefully at what is happening. I know, although I have not seen his speech, that in replying the Minister will definitely and correctly claim credit for the fact that, when she was Home Secretary, the Prime Minister introduced a bar that had to be reached before people could be extradited. There is no doubt that a court test is now applied, but it is not high enough and it does not give the protection required.
The hon. Member for Monmouth does a terrific job in his official capacity as a special constable—it is one of my dreams that one day on the tube I will meet him in his full regalia. He has visited places in the EAW area and says that some of them have better detention facilities than ours. I cannot believe that, because we are the best in the world, and I am extremely jealous to think that any other country’s detention facilities are better.
I had better gently point out that I was asked to resign a year or so ago because the rules had changed and the British Transport police decided they did not want a serving Member of Parliament as a special constable, so we shall not be meeting on the tube in that capacity.
That is a huge loss to British policing. I will not say it is because of the cuts, because obviously there was an ethical issue, but the hon. Gentleman will be missed, and I hope there will be an opportunity for Parliament to acknowledge his great success. We must put up a plaque or something to recognise his great achievement. He will be sorely missed by British policing and we will look carefully at the next set of crime figures to see whether they have gone up as a result of his retirement.
I have one final point—I hope the Minister will cover it because there is time—about foreign national offenders, including some in our prisons and some subject to the European arrest warrant. I cannot understand why that great invention that allows people to be transferred immediately before they have been convicted of any offence has prevented the European Union from taking back its own nationals from our prisons. The latest figures show that there are 4,217 EU offenders in the UK, costing £169 million a year to the British taxpayer. The top three countries are Poland, with 983, Ireland with 764 and Romania with 635. The EAW is a device by which nationals can be removed immediately, without any restraint, subject to the limited bar that the Prime Minister introduced when she was Home Secretary, but all those foreign national offenders are sitting in our prisons and cannot be removed to other countries, although they cost the taxpayer a huge amount of money. I hope that, at the very least, the Minister will tell us what is happening, and that it will be that there is light at the end of the tunnel with respect to offenders and those who have been arrested.
Unlike other Members present for the debate—I know that the Chair is impartial, so we will not mention how he voted—I did not see many opportunities in Brexit, but in the present instance we have a big opportunity to go into the negotiations and iron out the problems. I am for keeping the principle of the European arrest warrant, but we should iron out the difficulties that obviously exist, so that we can reassure parliamentary colleagues, many of whom have raised the matter of the EAW in the past, that, post-March 2019, we will have a good system that recognises the need to arrest criminals, but that also recognises the rights of people who have committed no offence and who, under the present process are, in all innocence, being arrested. Let us keep the benefits and reduce the burdens.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Evans, and to follow the right hon. Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz), who as ever speaks incredibly knowledgeably on such topics. I welcome the debate and thank the hon. Member for Monmouth (David T. C. Davies) for bringing it to the Chamber. The Scottish National party is fully behind the idea of a European arrest warrant and wants the UK to continue to participate in the scheme if that is at all possible. However, the hon. Gentleman has done us—all six of us—a favour by bringing the topic here for debate and highlighting important flaws in the scheme. I believe that there are key questions that the Government must address, about how they will seek to secure continuing participation in the EAW scheme or at least something similar.
The UK was of course hugely influential in shaping the EAW system. It has brought welcome benefits for law enforcement agencies and victims of crime. As the hon. Gentleman said, it does so by simplifying matters and speeding up the repatriation of suspects and criminals from other EU countries so that they can face justice. In the old days, when extradition proceeded under the 1957 European convention on extradition, it took an average of 18 months to extradite someone. Under the current system it takes 15 days in uncontested cases and 45 days if a case is contested. Today it takes three times as long to extradite from EU countries as from outside the EU. Some countries would previously have refused to extradite their nationals at all.
The hon. Gentleman is nevertheless right to remind us that, while the system often works perfectly well, it is not without flaws. There have been too many cases, some of which have been highlighted today, where the use of warrants has been frankly ridiculous. That stems from the fact that a proportionality test is not applied in some states as it is in others, such as the UK and Germany. That is behind quite a lot of the problems that the right hon. Member for Leicester East highlighted—I am talking about the imbalance between the number of requests that the UK makes and the number that it receives. The hon. Member for Monmouth highlighted differences in criminal procedures and standards across the EU. Those are also valid points.
From our point of view, the answer to the criticisms is to be part of the system but to seek reform, not to ditch it altogether and push for something else. We do not often say that any part of our criminal justice system is perfect, but of course we do not just rip it up and start again; we seek reform and improvement.
I am going to tease the hon. Gentleman a little. Let us say that Scotland became an independent country. Scotland would want to retain the European arrest warrant, because that is how it would be able to track criminals, but the Scottish Government and the Scottish people would want some kind of bar so that Scottish citizens would not automatically be transferred, especially if they wanted to appeal to the judicial system in Scotland. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that it is necessary to have some kind of bar before people are handed over?
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his intervention. Yes, in an independent Scotland, we would seek participation in the European arrest warrant system. As I have acknowledged, it is not perfect, and we would push for reform, but from within the system; I will come to the issue of a bar in a moment. I cannot see how we are any more likely to be able to overcome the problems by starting again and trying to negotiate either 27 bilateral agreements or a new agreement in the way that Norway and Iceland have done. The easiest way for us to keep the benefits and bring about improvement in the system is from within, by continuing our participation.
There is evidence that continuing to participate and to push for reform and take part in dialogue can realise some progress. For example, raising concerns with Poland has brought about some change, including the introduction there of an “interests of justice” test. Before, it was almost automatic that a European arrest warrant would be sought. There is awareness and, I think, acceptance in EU institutions that more must be done to ensure proportionate use of the warrant system, although debate continues about exactly what measures are needed to make that happen. Meanwhile, changes to the Extradition Act 2003 mean that courts in the UK can apply a proportionality test and refuse to execute a warrant if the test is not passed, although I acknowledge the criticisms about whether it is appropriately robust.
As regards ensuring standards of justice, it is absolutely fair to say that more must be done to ensure that people extradited to certain EU states are treated fairly and that there are proper standards in relation to pre-trial conditions and detention. Again, however, change is possible. We have heard already that the 2003 Act does now set down a human rights bar, although I accept that there is also a debate about whether that test is robust enough.
Again, there is awareness at European level that there have to be improvements. For example, in February 2014, the European Parliament resolved to support proposals to include a ground for refusing an arrest warrant
“where there are substantial grounds to believe that the execution of the measure would be incompatible with the executing Member State’s obligation in accordance with Article 6 of the TEU”—
the treaty on European Union—“and the Charter”, which is the charter of fundamental rights of the European Union. For its part, the European Commission has said that it would prefer to adopt legislation on minimum procedural rights standards and action on implementation of the judicial co-operation instruments such as the supervision order and European investigation order. I am not saying that more cannot be done, but it is fair to recognise that the door is open to making progress and resolving some of the issues highlighted today.
In short, we should continue to want the UK to be involved in the European arrest warrant system. We should work to find solutions from within the system rather than starting again from scratch. I say that because the alternatives would be very difficult. Negotiating 27 separate bilateral agreements would be a hugely significant task and almost certainly would not bring the same benefits, while retaining many of the same problems. A separate deal with the EU as a whole is possible, but we know from the experience of Norway and Iceland, despite their both being Schengen countries, that that can also be an incredibly long process and the resulting system could involve variations from the main system that would make it weaker than what we have as a member of the system itself.
The Government have said that they, too, see the benefits of the European arrest warrant process. However, we need to hear more about how they intend to get there. After all, the current Prime Minister warned when she was Home Secretary that Brexit likely meant no EU arrest warrant participation at all. Her fixation on excluding any involvement of the European Court of Justice seems to be the biggest barrier to continued participation in the arrest warrant system. The Government must get their priorities right and not allow that fixation to scupper the bigger goal. We need to ask these questions. What precisely are the Government seeking to secure? How will they do that? And will they let go of their fixation on the European Court of Justice if that is what is necessary to secure ongoing participation in the arrest warrant scheme?
It is an absolute pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Evans, and to follow such distinguished and learned speakers. I add my congratulations to the hon. Member for Monmouth (David T. C. Davies) on securing the debate. It is no secret that my concerns about the way the European arrest warrant works probably come from a different starting place from his, but I was very interested in what he had to say. He raised really important issues about the human rights of UK citizens extradited to other countries. Those issues deserve to be debated and taken very seriously. I will address some of the human rights issues in my remarks. I must admit that I have no knowledge of the cases that the hon. Gentleman raised today. I look forward to learning more about them.
Labour’s starting point is that the UK’s membership of the European arrest warrant system is an invaluable and effective tool for the British courts to catch fugitives, both in the interests of our country’s security and to provide justice for those of our constituents who have had the misfortune to be the victims of crime committed by those who can catch an easyJet flight and disappear. I know that the hon. Gentleman who instigated the debate would not forget that this mechanism—this warrant—enabled Hussain Osman to be brought to justice after he fled to Italy following the failed suicide bombing in London in July 2005. The most recent Home Office data show that the UK has used the mechanism of the European arrest warrant to bring some 2,500 individuals from outside the UK to face justice since the system was introduced in 2004.
I believe that the principle of the arrest warrant is right and that we should look to iron out any difficulties that exist. As the hon. Member for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East (Stuart C. McDonald), who speaks for the Scottish National party, said, we should work from within the system—that is the better way to do it—rather than starting again from the beginning.
However, the most urgent issue for us to discuss right now is whether it is possible for us to maintain membership of this very valuable system when we leave the EU. One of Labour’s key tests for the Brexit deal is whether it protects national security and our capacity to tackle cross-border crime. We know that as recently as a year ago the Prime Minister herself considered it necessary to remain in the European Union to retain membership of the European arrest warrant system, because she said as much. That was one reason why she concluded that
“remaining a member of the European Union means we will be more secure from crime and terrorism.”
The Prime Minister has been facing the challenge of proving herself wrong and ensuring that this country remains as secure as it is today. Perhaps the Minister can update us on that. I hope to see him back here in the coming months, but I look for promotion for him, because I think that he has done a sterling job in this role and the one before, so I am not necessarily hoping, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz) is, to see him back in this role, although he does do it particularly well. Perhaps the Minister can update us on the progress that the Prime Minister is making, in terms of ensuring that this country remains as secure as it is today, with the negotiations about our remaining in the European arrest warrant system.
As far as I can see, the Conservative party’s real problem is that even if it were theoretically possible to negotiate continued membership of the European arrest warrant system from outside the EU—I think we all agree that that would be a tall order—that would mean accepting in principle the right of the European Court of Justice to arbitrate in cases of disagreement, and the Conservatives have made it clear that they seek to be outside the purview of the ECJ in all matters. Does the Minister agree with Labour that it is in the interests of our country’s national security to accept the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice in the event of disagreement over the European arrest warrant? Can he give a specific answer to whether it is possible to have associate membership of the EAW system without being subject to ECJ arbitration? Perhaps he agrees with Mike Kennedy, a former chief operating officer of the Crown Prosecution Service and a former president of Eurojust, who said recently in evidence to the Home Affairs Sub-Committee of the Select Committee on the European Union in the other place:
“Any sort of alternative to the court is going to be quite difficult to negotiate and agree. I just do not know how long that would take, but I suspect it would take longer than is available.”
We know from experience that negotiating third-country access to the European arrest warrant is notoriously difficult. Norway and Iceland spent 15 years attempting that, and both countries are in Schengen and the European economic area, but I understand that there are no plans for us to be members of either. Moreover, their surrender agreements are weaker in two ways. First, they require the alleged offences to be the same in both countries, thus losing the flexibility that comes from member states agreeing to respect the decision of one another’s criminal justice systems. Secondly, they allow countries to refuse to surrender their own nationals, making it tricky, for example, if a national of another EU country commits an offence on UK soil and then jumps on the same easyJet flight back home.
In contrast, the strength of the European arrest warrant is not only that it allows suspects to be returned to the UK, even if the crime they are suspected of committing has a different legal basis from the law applying in the country they fled to, but it has strict timescales that are effectively enforced, so that fugitives are returned to face justice speedily. Those two factors make the European arrest warrant far more powerful than any other extradition procedure anywhere in the world.
I heard the concerns raised by my right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester East and the hon. Member for Monmouth, and I am always up for better protection for human rights.
My hon. Friend is making a powerful speech. The security of our country is so important, especially from terrorism. Does she agree that when we are all back—if we are back, subject to the electorate, after 8 June—this should be a priority? The Government’s stance on Brexit at the moment is very much to do with immigration, but security and protecting our people is the Government’s first task. Making sure this agenda is pursued is extremely important. Does my hon. Friend agree?
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right: it is a foremost priority. The major priority for any Government is to protect their citizens. Everyone in this Chamber will recognise that people will not forgive us if we negotiate away the very things that keep them safe if, God forbid, at some time in the future something happens that could have been prevented if we had remained within the European arrest warrant system and the basic constructs of the EU. They have meant that we have been able to share information and to have other partnership arrangements to keep people safe thus far. They will not forgive if we negotiate away their right to life, their freedoms and their security. They will not forgive.
If we leave the European arrest warrant system, the alternative is to fall back on previous extradition treaties, which are far more cumbersome and in some cases have become so out of date that they will require EU countries to change their own laws in respect of the UK, which is an unlikely prospect.
Labour’s question to the Minister is simple. What guarantees can the Government give that the current benefits that we get from the European arrest warrant system will be maintained when we leave? While I am on the subject, can he reassure us that we will also retain access to the many pan-EU data and information-sharing systems and exchange systems, such as for fingerprinting, airline travel, foreign convictions and intelligence data, which our police forces routinely use? I look forward to his reply, given that he has quite a lot of time to entertain us.
I said that I would respond to some of the human rights issues raised by the hon. Member for Monmouth, who spoke passionately of the concerns about treatment of UK citizens who are passed over to other jurisdictions under the European arrest warrant, and the possibility that the system might be used to extradite political opponents. If we believe that an individual’s human rights are being threatened during the process, that is absolutely a matter for concern, but it is fair to say that it is a concern for the European authorities as well.
I mention that because the hon. Gentleman spoke about the conditions in which people are being held. In a speech outlining her priorities on 25 April last year, the European Commissioner for Justice, Vera Jourová, stated that her priority was to improve pre-trial detention safeguards, because
“poor detention conditions can indeed lead to refusal of extradition under the European arrest warrant, as the European Court of Justice has recently made clear.”
It is therefore possible for prison conditions in the destination country to be taken into account when a European arrest warrant is executed. I am delighted that the European Court of Justice has played a useful role in clarifying that point.
If prison conditions in other countries are unacceptable, of course they should be improved, but I differ from the hon. Member for Monmouth, in that I see the European Union structures as a good mechanism by which to achieve some sought-for improvements. There have already been some attempts to do so—for example through the European supervision orders, which are designed to reassure courts that they can release foreign nationals on bail without fear that they will abscond—but further action absolutely needs to be taken, not least because article 7 of the European treaty contains a commitment to protect human rights. My concern is that our position outside the European Union will undoubtedly weaken our opportunities to keep pushing for such improvements.
In conclusion, we must ensure that UK citizens accused of committing crimes in other EU countries are treated decently, and we should use whatever influence we have to achieve that result, but the priority today is for the Government to provide greater reassurance about how they will ensure that our security is not compromised by the decision to leave the European Union, because our constituents will not forgive us if they do not. I look forward thoroughly to the Minister’s response.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Evans. From the closing remarks of the hon. Member for West Ham (Lyn Brown), I feel some pressure to perform at a high level. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Monmouth (David T. C. Davies) for the opportunity to discuss this important subject. I will come in a moment to the points that he raised, and to those made by the right hon. Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz). To respond to the Chairman’s comments about literature at the start of this debate, I think it was Alfred Tennyson who said, “Knowledge comes, but wisdom lingers.” The quality of this debate highlights that that has possibly never been truer.
My hon. Friend the Member for Monmouth and I have had a number of useful discussions regarding the European arrest warrant, and I know that he shares the Government’s strong commitment to practical co-operation on security, law enforcement and criminal justice. Over the next few minutes, I want to outline my response to his comments about how the European arrest warrant works. I will then move on to some of the points raised by other hon. Members, including the hon. Member for West Ham, about the future and where we are going as we leave the European Union and deliver what people voted for last year.
Members have referred to individual European arrest warrant cases. I am sure that they and the House will appreciate that I am not able to reflect on ongoing cases, although I will touch on a couple of specific points in relation to non-ongoing cases. It is also useful to note and worth putting on the record clearly that, as hon. Members will be aware, Ministers have no involvement in decision making in respect to European arrest warrants. Instead, it is left to our independent judiciary, which makes decisions following an initial decision by the National Crime Agency on whether to certify a case, as I will explain.
We believe that the European arrest warrant, with the stringent safeguards that we have implemented and the changes that we have recently made, which I will come to, remains an effective tool for co-operation with our European partners. I will outline what some of those safeguards are in light of the changes, to reassure anybody looking at what we say today. In the last Parliament, the Government reformed our domestic legislation to improve the European arrest warrant’s effectiveness. We established new provisions to prevent extradition in prosecution cases where it would be disproportionate, and to ensure that dual criminality must be established in all cases where part of the conduct took place in the UK. As such, a case will not get as far as the court for a decision unless the NCA is satisfied, first, that the alleged conduct would be a criminal offence in the UK and, secondly, that proceeding with the extradition is proportionate. That is the certification process I mentioned.
Those safeguards work, and the National Crime Agency has refused to certify incoming cases that are obviously trivial or do not meet the dual criminality requirements. Colleagues have made points about the facts and figures, so I will give an example. Between July 2014 and May 2016, the NCA refused some 53 European arrest warrant requests for being disproportionate, and 249 for failure to meet the dual criminality bar.
Members also mentioned Andrew Symeou’s case and the legitimate concern about people being detained for long periods overseas before being charged or standing trial. The new provisions ensure that individuals cannot be subject to lengthy periods of pre-trial detention when extradited under the European arrest warrant, because in general a decision has to be made by the issuing judicial authority to charge and to try the requested person before an arrest warrant is executed. That backs up the point made by the then Home Secretary, our Prime Minister, when discussing this provision in the House in 2014, when she said that the principle was that we would no longer see people being surrendered and having to wait months or years for a decision to be made on whether to charge or try them.
The Minister gave very interesting figures for the refusals by the NCA. Does he have the corresponding figures for other EU countries? Have they refused any requests that we have made, either directly to their courts or through their central enforcement agency—their equivalent of the NCA?
I do not have those figures with me, but I will get them and write to the right hon. Gentleman before Parliament dissolves. I will ensure we get those to him and the hon. Member for West Ham over the next few days, so that they have a record.
When extraditing people from the United Kingdom, it is important to ensure that the conditions in which they will be held respect their human rights. That touches on the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Monmouth in his reference to prisons—I am sure we would all like to see them and it sounded interesting. The UK works closely with member states to ensure that, when concerns arise, appropriate assurances are given to ensure that we are able to protect individuals’ rights. On occasion it is correct to say that evidence suggests that member states would not meet the standards expected of them. If a judge is not satisfied that extradition is compatible with human rights, whether because of prison conditions or other reasons, they must, and indeed do, refuse the application for extradition. That is an important protection afforded to individuals who would otherwise be extradited from the UK to EU member states or other countries.
A swift and fair extradition system is an important element of our UK law enforcement. It protects the UK by ensuring that potentially dangerous criminals are extradited, including those who are wanted for murder, rape, trafficking or child sex offences. It likewise enables us to have alleged UK offenders swiftly returned to face justice here at home, which is why police forces and law enforcement authorities throughout the country value the European arrest warrant. Respected law enforcement professionals have publicly highlighted that it is a cost-efficient and quick system compared with the available alternatives, and that it is seen as a vital crime-fighting tool.
When we think about co-operation tools such as the European arrest warrant, it is important to keep in mind the threats we face. The perpetrators of crime and terrorism do not respect borders. The threat they pose is becoming increasingly transnational—the borders and lines we draw mean nothing to them. We know that international organised crime groups exploit vulnerabilities such as inadequate law enforcement and criminal justice structures. Furthermore, in a technologically interconnected world, threats such as cybercrime and online child sexual exploitation are international by definition. When I have been with police forces looking at this work, I have seen at first hand how quickly and easily people can move around the world online. We need the ability to deal with crime globally.
In the face of these common threats, it is difficult to see how it would be in anyone’s interest for our departure from the EU to result in a reduction in the effectiveness of security, law enforcement and criminal justice co-operation. In debates in the main Chamber over the last few months, the Home Secretary, the Prime Minister and I have been clear that we want, and believe it is right, to deliver what the British people voted for last year. We will leave the European Union, but nobody voted to be less safe. Our job as the British Government is to continue to ensure that our public, our residents and indeed our friends and partners around Europe remain safe.
I do not profess to be an expert on the justice system of every European state. That is why it is important, as the right hon. Member for Leicester East outlined, to have a high bar in this country to ensure that cases meet the standards that we would require and, more to the point, that our judges—our independent judiciary—would look for.
That leads me neatly to my next point, which is about what happens next for law enforcement and the European arrest warrant as we leave the European Union. Leaving the EU will of course mean that our relationship with it will have to change. We are now examining the mechanisms currently in place to support practical co-operation in the fight against crime and terrorism, to help to identify potential options for working with our EU partners in the future.
In answer to the very good question from the hon. Member for Monmouth (David T. C. Davies), is the Minister telling the House that his understanding is that a judge in an extradition warrant case will have access to a report about the standards of justice in the country where the warranted has been requested? We realise that this is a matter for judges, not for Ministers, but is he telling the House that his understanding is that judges will have such a report and will make their decision based on it?
No, that is not what I was saying at all. I was saying that I am not an expert on other systems and that it is the independent judiciary who will take a view in an individual case. They will look at the evidence in front of them and make a judgment that they feel is appropriate, looking at a range of issues including human rights and proportionality, as I said earlier. That is a matter for the independent judiciary. I will not prejudge what a judiciary that is independent by definition would do—that would be wrong.
Looking ahead, we will need to negotiate the best possible deal with Europe. I absolutely support the Prime Minister as the best person to get the right deal for our country with our partners in Europe, including thinking about the tools and mechanisms for co-operation with EU member states to help all European citizens, including our own, to remain safe. The hon. Member for West Ham asked me to outline how we are progressing with that work. I am sure that she appreciates—she has a twinkle in her eye—that she is tempting me to give a running commentary on our negotiations with the European Union, which is a temptation I will resist just for a little longer.
The Minister is generous and kind to give way, but what about the ECJ? Perhaps he could just give us a soupçon on whether or not he believes we will be able to allow the ECJ to arbitrate in matters where there is disagreement. Does he think there is any likelihood of that being accepted at all?
The hon. Lady’s intervention anticipates the point that I was just about to make. In a few of her questions, including the one she has just asked, she is asking me to prejudge the negotiations, which I will not do. We will go through some complicated and, no doubt, at times difficult negotiations in the months and years ahead.
We are not pushing for a “running commentary” on negotiations. All that we are asking for is a reassurance that if the best deal for securing safety and participation in the warrant also involves participation in or operating under the jurisdiction of the ECJ, we will not say no to such a deal purely because we are so set against being under the ECJ’s jurisdiction.
I say to the hon. Gentleman that in saying I will not prejudge what the negotiations may bring, I mean that I am not going to prejudge what the negotiations may bring. My own experience of negotiations —in Government, as an MP and before that in my life—is that it is always difficult to prejudge a negotiation. That is not only because we do not want to give away to our opposite numbers in those negotiations what we are looking for, what we want to do and what our position is, but because things develop and change. We have to be able to consider what the right situation is.
What we have been very clear about—the hon. Member for West Ham touched on this, and I think that the right hon. Member for Leicester East also mentioned it—is the priority when the House returns. I would gently point out that one of the very first debates we had, some months ago—I opened it and I think the hon. Lady responded to it—was on law enforcement, linked into us leaving the European Union, and there will no doubt be more such debates. Those debates, which include today’s debate, all feed in comments and views from hon. Members and hon. Friends, which will form part of the work we are doing as we consider what is possible and what is right for our country and our European partners, as we negotiate to make sure that we keep everybody safe.
It would be wrong to prejudge where we will get to, however, for all those reasons and not least because these negotiations are yet to start and we must ensure that we get the best deal for this country without prejudging what that may be.
The Minister is being incredibly generous in giving way again. The shadow Minister has opened up a very important area. Of course we cannot have a running commentary, especially in the middle of an election—I would imagine that there are currently no negotiations going on. The reason we are pressing the Minister is that I am sure he will be clutching his copy of Hansard, with the marvellous reference that the shadow Minister has given him—that he should be promoted—and saying to the Prime Minister, “I need a better job.” That is why we are pressing him. Is the Government’s position, “We like the principle of the European arrest warrant and therefore we will fight hard to try and keep it,” or is this part of the all-or-nothing arrangement—“If we don’t get a deal on the European arrest warrant, we’re happy to come out”? What is the Government’s overarching position? I am not asking for the detail, but is it, “We like the European arrest warrant and we want to keep it, but we will have to negotiate around it”? If he could set that out, most of us will be able to go back to our constituencies and go to bed tonight feeling very happy.
Whenever I am speaking in the Chamber, it is always my aim to ensure that colleagues are able to go to bed happy in the evening, so if it helps the right hon. Gentleman, I will repeat something I said a few minutes ago. We do believe that the European arrest warrant, with the stringent safeguards that I have outlined and that we have implemented, remains an effective tool for co-operation with our EU partners. However, we have got to go through these negotiations.
The Prime Minister is right to want to have a clear and strong mandate to have those negotiations—I am sure the right hon. Gentleman will appreciate that my view is that she is the right person to handle those negotiations to get the right deal for our country—and part of that process is about ensuring that we keep our people safe and that we have a strong relationship with our partners overseas as well, in all countries. Indeed, one of the things we need to think about as we leave the European arrest warrant—it is one of the opportunities we have with all these law enforcement structures—is that crime is becoming more global. That is why our relationships with our European partners are so important and why they work, but it is also why we need to have those relationships with more countries than just our European partners.
When extraditing people from the United Kingdom, it is important that we ensure that we can show our citizens that those who should face justice do, but with their rights properly respected. As the Minister responsible for extradition, I am very clear that our position as a Government is that the European arrest warrant assists the United Kingdom in meetings its commitments to strong practical co-operation with EU partners on security, law enforcement and criminal justice, but that that is not at the expense of human rights. Our current processes, with the specific safeguards, meet both those important legitimate points.
May I add my thanks to you for how you have chaired this debate, Mr Evans? In closing, let me briefly say that there is a surprising amount of agreement in the Chamber, considering that we are on the verge of what I suspect will be a rather fiery election campaign. Representatives of various different political parties have spoken in agreement with the general principle, but with concern that human rights should be adhered to. I am grateful to the right hon. Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz), the hon. Member for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East (Stuart C. McDonald)—my old friend, if I may put it that way—the hon. Member for West Ham (Lyn Brown) and the Minister. We have an opportunity to make some changes—if the right hon. Member for Leicester East is right, we have an obligation and will have no choice.
I absolutely support the principle that anyone who has committed a crime—whether they are a UK national who has committed a crime abroad or a foreign national who has committed a crime in the UK—has to face justice. I absolutely accept that we live in an age where terrorism is sadly an ever-present threat, and we need to be able to protect ourselves. I also think we have a duty to balance the protections we all need with protections for human rights. I am not absolutely convinced that we have the balance right at the moment.
I would press the Minister on this: I noticed that he was unable to say clearly whether he believed that the standards of justice in all the countries that are part of the European arrest warrant match the standards that apply in the UK. He may not be able to say what he thinks about that, but the European Commission has said that in two instances—Bulgaria and Romania—it is not satisfied with the standards of justice that apply there. Various MPs have given different examples and different cases, some involving those countries and some not, which back up that contention.
All I would say in closing is that it is important that we get the balance right. I very much hope that the Minister will be back. I hope he continues in some capacity to use his expertise of Home Office matters to develop a new partnership with the European Union that will protect the safety and the human rights of UK residents.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered the European Arrest Warrant.