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A Europe Question Time would be an important part of the accountability process for our membership of the EU. One of the difficulties is that, due to the ballot, there is all too often no question on the EU from month to month in Foreign and Commonwealth questions.
I do not want to intrude too much on private grief in the Conservative party, but I am perplexed that a party with a certain degree of respect in the European Parliament and certain positions of responsibility, including a vice-presidency, a quaestorship and various committee responsibilities, should choose to walk away from every element of influence that it enjoys. That is a matter of concern not only for the Conservative party but for the whole country, because, for instance, before a summit there is normally a meeting, organised by political grouping, of Opposition leaders. I would have thought that a leader of the Conservative partythe Leader of Her Majesty's loyal Oppositionwould want to meet other people in his political grouping, such as the new Chancellor of Germany. By leaving the European People's party, it is almost certain that the Conservative party will lose influence for not only itself, but this country.
I hope that the hon. Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron)or the right hon. Member, if he has become a member of the Privy Council yetunderstands the system whereby groupings are organised in the European Parliament, although I wonder whether he does. If he does not, he might like to know that an alliance must be formed with at least 19 Members from at least five countries, because otherwise a party's Members stand no chance of being a rapporteur on a Committee, of being a Committee Chair or deputy Chair, or of getting the opportunity to speak for more than one minute in the European Parliament at any one time. All that will be impossible unless he can find new people to join him.
I have looked through the list of non-attached Members of the European Parliament. It includes Philip Claeys, Koenraad Dillen and Frank Vanhecke. They are all from Belgium and are members of Vlaams Belang. In case anyone is uncertain about what that party is, it is the renamed Vlaams Blok party, which was condemned by the Belgian Government for being fascist and originally founded to ensure that there was an amnesty for former members of the SS. That party is one possibly ally.
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Another individual is Jana Bobosíková, who is from the Czech Republic. There are plenty of French MEPs: Bruno Gollnisch, Carl Lang, Fernand Le Rachinel, Jean-Claude Martinez and Lydia Schenardi. Of course, the two most famous members of that group are Jean-Marie Le Pen and Marine Le Pen. Those people are members of the Front National.
Italy is even better. Its MEPs include Alessandro Battilocchio, Gianni De Michelis, Gianni Rivera, Luca Romagnoli and Alessandra Mussolini. That is great because the Conservatives will have a choice between the fascists and the communists, which is a delight. It is always difficult to talk about Austrian politics without mentioning Jörg Haider's old party, but the two possible Austrian candidates for supporting the Conservatives' new grouping are Andreas Mölzer and Hans-Peter Martin. Of course, there are four Polish Members representing the Polish Peasant party, none of whose names I will be able to read out.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the Conservatives might want to combine with other British Members of the European Parliament. There is Ashley Mote, who represents the UK Independence party. There is James Hugh Allister, who represents the Democratic Unionist party[Interruption.] They have one ally. There is also Roger Helmer, but the Conservatives might have difficulty getting him on board as they only lost him just last year. Finally, there is Robert Kilroy-Silk. It says on my list that he represents the UK Independence party, but I think that that is somewhat out of date.
In a sense, I beg the Conservative party to reconsider its position on the issue for the simple reason that it will do its own future no good. This is not a caring Conservative party, but the most ideologically driven Conservative party that we have yet seen.
Mr. David Gauke (South-West Hertfordshire) (Con): I thank the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) for his kind thoughts about the Conservative party, even though I did not agree with a word of it[Interruption.] He was kind to address matters affecting the Conservative party, but we have more important issues to talk about today.
Following the defeat of the European constitution through referendums in the Netherlands and France, there was an opportunity for Europe to readdress fundamental issues. The Government talked about a pause for reflection, but there has been no adjustment to the European model and no change. The European model continues in an integrationist manner. I wish to attend to one specific aspect of that with regard to criminal justice. We live in a world of consensus politics these days. We can probably find a consensus in the House and in the country on criminal justice. I think that we all believe that criminal offences that are committed in the UK should be defined by the House. Presumably, we believe that criminal penalties should be determined by the House and the UK courts. I hope that no one takes that to be an extreme or unrepresentative view. I hope that even the hon. Member for Rhondda supports the view that criminal justice and the
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determination of crimes and penalties should be a matter for UK institutions. The Government recognise that that is the case.
In a debate last week in a European Standing Committee, the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, the hon. Member for Wythenshawe and Sale, East (Mr. Goggins), was clear on the matter, and I will quote him. He said:
I pressed him on concern about approximation of criminal laws. "Approximation of criminal laws" was the wording used in the European constitution. Despite the fact that that constitution is not proceeding, it appears that the European Commission is working on the basis that "approximation of criminal laws" is the correct approach. I asked the Minister whether this would mean that we would all have to follow particular European crimes, if Europe and other member states determined what a crime should be. Again, he was clear. He said:
"I can visualise a situation where the United Kingdom might find itself in a minority of one but would still hold on to the view that criminal law is a matter for this Parliament. Whatever views are held by different hon. Members or different political parties, we should be able to hold a common view about that."[Official Report, European Standing Committee C, 8 December 2005, c. 1213.]
We must have regard, however, to a European Court of Justice decision of 13 September. I shall provide a little background. The Commission adopted a proposal for a directive on the protection of the environment through criminal law. The Council of Ministers refused to adopt it. Eleven of the 15 member states claimed that the Community could not prescribe criminal penalties and instead adopted a framework decision. The Commission appealed to the European Court of Justice, which, as I have said, reached its determination on 13 September. The ECJ concluded that because environmental law is a first pillar matter, the imposition of criminal sanctions is a matter for the Commission and the Council of Ministers, acting sometimes through qualified majority voting and the European Parliament.
The logic is that that approach should apply not only to environmental law but to other matters where the EU has power to legislate. That would include single markets, consumer protection and cross-border mobility. It has been suggested by some analysts in this area that criminal procedure should also fall within the European Community's ambit if it relates to a first pillar matter.
It proposes not only to change the basis of legislation relating to environmental law, to scrap the framework decision and to change the bringing in of a directive, but to provide directives to cover areas such as money laundering, computer-related crimes, maritime pollution, corruption, human trafficking and euro and bankcard counterfeiting. That runs counter to the Government position that criminal law is a matter for the British Parliament. When I pressed the Minister in Committee on the matter, he was less certain than he had been about the position on criminal law and Europe, saying that
"we . . . wish that the ECJ had not taken the course that it did. We reflected very carefully about the consequences of that, and we retain very strongly the view that criminal offences and sanctions should be a matter for member states."[Official Report, European Standing Committee C, 8 December 2005; c. 1315.]
That is the Government position. The British Parliament and all parties represented at Westminster believe that we should have exclusive power to determine and define criminal offences and the appropriate penalties. The European Commission thinks differently. That is not the case in generalthe Commission is not arguing that it has the right to act in every area of criminal law, solely in substantial areas that fall under the first pillar does it believe that it has that right.
The European Court of Justice agrees with the Commission, and there is nothingif I am wrong, I would be grateful if the Minister would correct methat we can do about that. The Commission's view has been confirmed by the ECJ and, in areas that fall under the first pillar, including European Community law, it is the exclusive right of the European institutions to lay down what the criminal law is, even though some of those areas are subject to qualified majority voting. Astonishingly, someone in this country can be convicted of a crime that has not been determined by the democratically elected Chamber but by European institutions. The penalties that apply will not be determined in the UK but in Brussels.
That substantial constitutional change has taken place without a votethere has certainly not been one in this countryor a debate, which is why I am keen to raise it today, and despite the fact that European integration, on almost every test, is unpopular and unsupported by the populations of the Netherlands and France. If a referendum on the European constitution were ever held in Britain, it would no doubt be defeated. There has been a substantial grab of power by the EU in the few months since the House last debated European matters. That has taken place almost unnoticed but, increasingly, criminal law is becoming a matter for Europe, not the British Parliament. That is consistent with the general direction that Europe is taking.
Realistically, the constitution will not be ratified, but steps have still been taken to increase integration. We oppose the establishment of the post of European public prosecutorI am grateful that the Government have made their position clearbut steps have none the less been taken at the European level to develop the proposal. There is a host of other areas in which similar
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action is under way, but I am grateful for the opportunity to highlight to the House a specific and important constitutional matter that has been changed without any democratic accountability whatsoever.
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