Monday 10 December 2001
[Mr. Win Griffiths in the Chair]
Arrest Warrants and Surrender Procedures between Member States
[Relevant Documents: Sixth, Seventh and Eighth Reports of the European Scrutiny Committee, HC 152-vi, vii and viii (2001-02).]
Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich): On a point of order, Mr. Griffiths. The motion states that the Committee ''takes note'' of the document under scrutiny, but I understand from external sources that the Government's attitude is that we should accept it. Are there different interpretations of the phrase in the motion? It simply implies that the House of Commons study the implicationsor is there a mistake in the motion's wording?
The Chairman: I have in front of me a copy of the wording, which states that the Committee ''takes note'' of the document and says nothing about accepting it. That is the motion, and that is the procedure that we will follow.
Mr. David Heathcoat-Amory (Wells): Further to the point of order made by the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody), Mr. Griffiths. Paragraph 1.15 of the eighth report by the European Scrutiny Committee states:
''We consider these issues to be of sufficient gravity to be debated on the Floor of the House and so recommend.''
That suggests that not only is a ''takes note'' motion inadequate, but the Government have defied the Committee's recommendation and are not granting such a debate. The Amsterdam and Nice treaties provide that national Governments must give greater priority to national Parliaments in considering European business. Is it in order for the Government to defy that requirement and the European Scrutiny Committee's recommendation by not assenting to a full debate on the Floor of the House about such an important issue?
The Chairman: I am obviously not party to any proposals for a debate on the Floor of the House, but I imagine that that would be settled through the usual channels. I have not heard of any specific request for such a debate, and the order is before us in Committee. I appreciate that the European Scrutiny Committee recommended that the debate be held on the Floor of the House, but I do not know whether a concerted effort was made through the usual channels to ensure that it was held in this Committee. The issue was not
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raised at last week's aborted sitting, so I am minded to continue with the proceedings and the form of business of that sitting.
Simon Hughes (Southwark, North and Bermondsey): I thank the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Bob Ainsworth) for the letter that he sent after last week's sitting, and I am grateful for the letter from Clare Checksfield. We are entirely happy with their explanation, and I hope that that deals with the matter that brought last week's proceedings to an end.
On today's proceedings, I have a copy of a note from the Justice and Home Affairs Council meeting last week. It is in French, which happily I can read, so I do not have a major problem. However, can the Minister tell us whether the document exists in English, and if so, whether hon. Members can have a copy of it? Whether the document is in French or in English, would it not be sensible for the Minister to summarise briefly the decisions taken by the Council last week? Things have moved on since we met a week ago, and it may help us to start by knowing where we are, because we may not have the relevant documents.
Mr. Nick Hawkins (Surrey Heath): Further to that point of order, Mr. Griffiths. I echo the comments of the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes) about matters having moved on, and I associate the official Opposition with his acceptance of the explanations about last week's proceedings. I agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Wells (Mr. Heathcoat-Amory) that, in the light of developments at last week's Council, the debate should take place on the Floor of the House. Our proceedings have already been aborted once, and I hope that the Minister will explain why the matter has not been transferred to the House for debate, as the European Scrutiny Committee recommended.
Mr. John Maples (Stratford-on-Avon): I am sorry to strike a discordant note, but I am not happy with the explanation about what happened last week. It is extraordinary that a Minister should come before a Committee on such an incredibly important piece of European legislation, which will take long-standing rights away from United Kingdom citizens, and not have the correct document in front of him. I do not know whose fault it was. The explanation indicates that some poor civil servant was made to carry the can for the mistake, but the Minister should have been sufficiently on top of his job to know which was the proper document.
The issue is important, because the Justice and Home Affairs Council intended to sign the matter off over the weekend. Luckily for the Government, the Italian Government balked, and the decision has now been postponed until next weekend. If everything had gone according to plan, our debate would have been superfluous.
Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood): I would like clarification on what the Italian Government decided. If they are going to veto the document, we might as well pack up, go home and not waste our
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time. We are probably wasting our time anyway, because the Government do not take note of our discussions about such ''takes note'' motions. However, clarification is essential.
The Chairman: We have got things off our chest now. We received an explanation about how everything was not perfect in the rush to prepare the papers for the Committee. We are all human, and we must accept that such things will happen occasionally.
Let me explain how I intend to proceed, in case some Members present are not happy with that. At our previous sitting, a motion to adjourn was agreed because the Committee did not have the same papers as the Minister. Members thought that they had the wrong papers and the Minister had the right ones; for once, it was the other way round. We should start proceedings afresh with this sitting. We have two and a half hours. After the Minister makes his statement, there will be questions up to half-past 5. No doubt, given the points of order and the issues that have already been raised, there will be an opportunity for the Minister to say something about the wider issues. The questions raised in the points of order could also be put after the Minister's statement.
Mrs. Dunwoody: A tradition in the House is that civil servants who cannot answer back are not named in proceedings. I do not know the procedure for removing names from Hansard, but, if it is possible, the person concerned should not be named. Such errors are the responsibility of Ministerstheir backs are broad enough to take the kind of attack that they receive from fellow politiciansand I hope that we will not make a habit of naming specific civil servants.
The Chairman: I think that we can remove the reference from the proceedings.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Bob Ainsworth): The Committee will understand, from the context of the debate, why I am not completely pleased to appear in front of it again. An error was made; it was entirely my responsibility, as has been said, and I have apologised for it. Neither the Committee nor any of the Clerks who serve the Committee were at fault. There is not much more that I can do if hon. Members find that explanation unacceptable.
Mr. Maples: Will the Minister give way?
Mr. Ainsworth: No, I will not give way. I am making my opening remarks, after which there will be a question and answer session, when the hon. Gentleman can say what he likes.
If hon. Members are content, I shall not repeat my opening remarks at last week's sitting, but simply update the Committee on the stage that the European arrest warrant negotiations have reached, before taking questions. Before doing so, in view of what happened last week, let us check that we are discussing document COPEN 65, of 31 October. That is the most recently deposited document, but a more recent
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version of the framework decision on the European arrest warrant was considered last week at the Justice and Home Affairs Council and was further updated. No completely English text is available yet on the latest situation, but as hon. Members are aware, there has been movement and some changes.
Hon. Members will find, for example, that the reservations that they expressed about the definition of judicial authorities and the conditions in which a European arrest warrant will be executed in the case of a conviction in absentia are answered in the new text. We shall examine that during the question session and the debate thereafter. The Government's position
Mr. Maples: On a point of order, Mr. Griffiths. Are we now being told that there is a subsequent text to the one that was agreed last week? We are considering a document to which the Minister now tells us further changes were made over the weekend, and we do not have that version. The Home Office is treating the Committee in an absolutely appalling way. How can we debate this matter properly before the Laeken summit if we do not have the latest version of the paper?
Dr. Nick Palmer (Broxtowe): Further to that point of order, Mr. Griffiths. We are attempting to scrutinise on-going negotiations. Inevitably, at the time when we consider the papers, we can consider only the latest version that we have. We hope that we will be fully informed about the latest stage of negotiations.
Mrs. Dunwoody: Further to that point of order, Mr. Griffiths. The House of Commons considers the wording that is placed before it. Whatever examination of European laws takes place outside this Parliament is only tangential. The Minister has specifically said this afternoon that there is a subsequent version of the papers that we are considering. We have also been told that they are available in French, but not in English. As you know, Mr. Griffiths, a rule of the House says that we may not use the French language, apart from certain defined Norman French terms, which are available to members of the Chairmen's Panel and to all others. Are we now being told that the answers to specific and vital questions about phrases such as ''judicial responsibility'' are not to be found in the English text before us, but in a French text that is not available to the Committee? If so, I do not see how we can continue.