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House of Commons
Session 2006 - 07
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European Standing Committee Debates

Diplomatic and Consular Protection of Citizens in Third Countries

The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chairman: Mr. Greg Pope
Brady, Mr. Graham (Altrincham and Sale, West) (Con)
Burns, Mr. Simon (West Chelmsford) (Con)
Corbyn, Jeremy (Islington, North) (Lab)
Cunningham, Tony (Workington) (Lab)
Flynn, Paul (Newport, West) (Lab)
Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh, South) (Lab)
Hoon, Mr. Geoffrey (Minister for Europe)
Hunter, Mark (Cheadle) (LD)
Penrose, John (Weston-super-Mare) (Con)
Prosser, Gwyn (Dover) (Lab)
Scott, Mr. Lee (Ilford, North) (Con)
Seabeck, Alison (Plymouth, Devonport) (Lab)
Younger-Ross, Richard (Teignbridge) (LD)
Mrs E. Commander, Committee Clerk
† attended the Committee

European Standing Committee

Tuesday 15 May 2007

[Mr. Greg Pope in the Chair]

Diplomatic and Consular Protection of Citizens in Third Countries

4.30 pm
The Minister for Europe (Mr. Geoffrey Hoon): Mr. Pope, may I begin by trying to express the full extent of my appreciation at having the opportunity to discuss the European Commission’s Green Paper on diplomatic and consular protection of Union citizens in third countries? The Green Paper began a consultation process that will culminate in a public hearing in Brussels on 29 May.
First, let me set out the Government’s commitment to consular work. As the European Scrutiny Committee has noted, consular work remains at the top of our agenda. UK residents make 65 million visits overseas every year, and our consular staff in London and overseas assist thousands of potentially vulnerable British nationals every week. My ministerial colleagues take a close interest in difficult individual cases and intervene where that is appropriate and effective. I am sure that we can all agree with my noble Friend Lord Triesman, who said that such services are the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s
“shop window—the side of our work by which most of the public know us.”
In March 2006, we introduced an international strategic priority on consular work to reflect our commitment. The launch of our public guide “Support for British Nationals Abroad”, a copy of which I have here, is an integral part of delivering that priority. The guide sets out what we can and cannot do for British nationals in distress overseas. We are now focussed on meeting as effectively, efficiently and consistently as possible the high standards that we have set ourselves. In doing so, we often rely on the co-operation of other European Union member states.
We also take very seriously our obligations to assist unrepresented EU citizens under article 20 of the treaty of the European Community. We have a larger consular network than many other countries and co-ordinate with other European consulates to ensure that all unrepresented EU nationals have access to consular assistance. For 2005-06, we have records showing that we assisted in 120 such serious cases around the world. Likewise, we appreciate the fact that our EU partners’ assistance is available in several countries where we are not physically represented.
I firmly believe that our membership of the EU strengthens our consular assistance to British nationals. Working as one of 27 member states gives us a stronger voice when we need to lobby third Governments. Our consuls and vice-consuls across the world benefit from being able to share information about issues such as prison conditions and local legal systems. Such co-ordination among member states has improved in recent years, and we remain committed to exploring new ways of co-operating.
I am therefore grateful to the Commission for contributing to the debate—
Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North) (Lab): Will the Minister give way?
Mr. Hoon: I am not allowed to at this stage.
The Chairman: Order. Perhaps I can explain. The Minister cannot take interventions during his opening statement, but the hon. Gentleman will have plenty of opportunity to ask questions.
Jeremy Corbyn: I was unfamiliar with European ways.
Mr. Hoon: My hon. Friend will find these are parliamentary, not European, ways.
We are grateful to the Commission for contributing to the debate. For example, we welcome its suggestion that we raise public awareness of the right of unrepresented EU citizens to seek consular assistance from other EU consulates and we support better public access to other member states’ travel advice. We also welcome the Commission’s offer to fund and facilitate the sharing of best practice among member states.
Nevertheless, the documents also make proposals about the Commission’s role in consular work, and those need careful consideration. At this stage, many of the proposals are simply not clear enough for us to come to a view, and I can immediately identify several legal, political and practical concerns. Our initial response is to be wary of the provision of consular assistance through common offices or through the Commission itself. That is because member states are best placed to provide consular help. Under international law, only they are competent to perform consular functions and only they have the training and experience needed to address the huge range of consular situations overseas. British nationals want to receive consular assistance from British consulates wherever possible, and we must respect that; after all, we fund consular work through a premium on passport fees.
As I made clear, we are keen to co-ordinate with our EU Partners. We co-locate with EU Partners in Almaty, Ashkhabad, Dar es Salaam, Pyongyang, Quito, Reykjavik, Minsk and Chisinau. EU missions are encouraged to allocate unrepresented nationals among themselves on the basis of resources and language. That approach, which is based on co-ordination mechanisms run by our overseas posts, is sensible and productive. EU heads of mission in one South American country recently made joint, and therefore powerful, representations on poor prison conditions and allegations of mistreatment.
We do not, therefore, see the value of common offices staffed by a mixture of consular staff. There are 27 different member states, which provide 27 different levels of consular assistance around the world. The Commission has not explained whether such common offices would provide different levels of consular assistance depending on the nationality of the consular officer or the traveller in distress, or whether some kind of common consular policy would be required.
In the crisis context, we support the German presidency in taking forward the lead state framework. We believe that it offers the most effective means of ensuring effective and co-ordinated responses to crises outside the EU. The Commission and the Council secretariat could usefully provide logistical and communications support to member states within that framework, but we do not see a role for either institution in the front line.
I am concerned by the suggestion that Commission delegations should provide consular assistance in the future. Commission staff carry out a valuable role in their delegations around the world, but they have no experience in providing consular assistance.
Moreover, the rules and principles enshrined in the Vienna convention on consular relations provide for the provision of consular assistance by states only, not intergovernmental organisations or their institutions. Nor does the Commission have any competency in this area under any of the EU treaties. Article 20 of the European treaty is a non-discrimination provision. It simply requires member states to assist unrepresented nationals of other member states on the same terms as they would assist their own nationals. It does not create a right to consular assistance under EU law.
The policy and provision of consular assistance is a highly technical undertaking that covers a great range of situations. In 2005-06, consular officials dealt with more than 3.1 million enquiries, helped 27,000 people in serious distress, made more than 5,200 prison visits and helped some 200 British nationals escape forced marriages. We have developed our training, networks and guidance to meet, first and foremost, the needs of British nationals overseas. In addition to the 65 million overseas visits that I mentioned, there are 13.6 million potential British passport holders living abroad. That is one of the largest and most diffuse of European diasporas.
Other member states face different demands and have different approaches. For example, the Green Paper assumes that all member states provide a legal right to consular assistance. In fact, the practice varies across the EU, from constitutional provisions in Germany to the provision of consular assistance as a matter of policy by the Dutch, Austrians and ourselves. Therefore, the Government believe that it would be extremely difficult to produce a common consular policy. Moreover, it is unclear what the benefits would be, nor is it clear that EU citizens currently suffer from the variation of service between member states.
I would be happy to answer any questions on the proposals before we proceed to the debate.
The Chairman: We now have until half past 5 for questions to the Minister. I remind Members that questions should be brief and should be asked one at a time. There is likely to be ample opportunity for all Members to ask several questions, and I know that the Minister is keen to answer as many as possible.
Mr. Graham Brady (Altrincham and Sale, West) (Con): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship for the first time, Mr. Pope. It is also a pleasure to catch the Minister before he moves on to fresh pastures. I am pleased to be able to say that the Opposition broadly welcome the tone of the Government’s reaction to the Green Paper.
The Minister in his opening statement—and, indeed, the explanatory memorandum—rightly said that it is problematic to suggest, as the Green Paper does, that consular services are provided as a right because the United Kingdom and other member states offer them as a matter of policy. Does he agree therefore that printing article 20 of the EU treaty in passports could be misleading and give rise to unreasonable expectations that cannot actually be justified by law?
Mr. Hoon: It is not necessarily misleading. It simply indicates that it would be open to a British citizen to go to the office of another EU member state in those relatively few parts of the world where there is not a physical British presence. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would join me in believing that that isa welcome addition to the various opportunities available to British citizens, as he is well known as a strong supporter of the European Union.
Jeremy Corbyn: During the crisis in Lebanon last year, there were serious problems for people who were stuck there during the fighting. The British embassy gave enormous support to British citizens—I have no complaint whatsoever about that, and praise embassy staff for the support that they gave—but there is a constant problem around the world for family members who may have different immigration status in this country. For example, the children may be British citizens but the parents, who may have indefinite leave to remain in this country, may be citizens of another country. They can be and sometimes are refused any consular access or support. Could the Minister clarify the situation? It is a real problem for many people who have migrated to this country wholly legally, but who do not have full citizenship.
Mr. Hoon: My hon. Friend raises a real and practical problem, which I anticipate is growing as people form relationships outside their country of origin and sometimes inevitably outside the European Union. There is clearly not a specific EU response to that question, because the relationship may be with a citizen of a non-EU member state and the children may not have lived in the EU. I have certainly seen letters to right hon. and hon. Members dealing with such questions. All that I can say is that, as far as the EU is concerned, if a British citizen forms a relationship with someone who is a non-British citizen but is from the EU, the kind of closer approach that we are discussing would make it easier to co-ordinate the situation that my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North describes.
Generally speaking, I doubt whether British consular officials outside the EU, faced with a crisis similar to that in Lebanon, would operate a wholly strict policy of not assisting children, for example, who happened to have a non-EU citizenship. In my experience, our consular staff are widely and rightly praised for their help in such circumstances.
I have probably covered all the relevant details relating to the EU. If my hon. Friend would like to raise further matters, I will certainly try to provide answers, or I can write to him in due course.
Mr. Hoon: I would probably draw a distinction, in relation to the EU institutions, between the role of the European Commission, which I have fairly extensively criticised in terms of this paper, and the role of the Council, because clearly there would be circumstances that would be legally and constitutionally proper in which member states pooled resources—perhaps in a new country where it was not at the time economically viable to establish an independent embassy. We have seen that with the collapse of the Soviet Union andthe formation of new countries following those momentous events.
In those circumstances, it is right to distinguish between sovereign member states deciding among themselves to pool their resources for the assistance of EU citizens, and the European Commission trying to develop a new competence over and above that of the relevant international law through the Vienna convention, or European law. I urge the hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale, West to draw that distinction as well.
Mr. Brady: I want to pursue this point. The Minister rightly draws the Committee’s attention to the distinction between the role of the Commission and that of the Council, but he will also be aware that proposals inthe constitution, as it was proposed, would have had the effect of fusing the role of the high representative and that of the external relations commissioner into a so-called Foreign Minister for the European Union. Does the Minister agree that creating a single role of that sort, supported by a single diplomatic service beneath it, would make precisely the kind of distinction that he draws, and that I support, impossible to maintain?
Mr. Hoon: I am sure that you, Mr. Pope, would like us to have a long and detailed discussion about the complex and difficult negotiations that will lead up to a conclusion or otherwise at the forthcoming European summit, but what the hon. Gentleman describes is simply one of a number of different ideas that have been discussed in the past and will have to be resolved by unanimity when and if agreement is reached.
Mr. Lee Scott (Ilford, North) (Con): I pay tribute to the way in which British consulates deal with a situation in which, say, one person in a couple is a British citizen, the other is a fellow European Union-country citizen and the laws differ between the two countries. However, I am dealing with cases in which the consulates of other countries have not dealt with such situations in quite the same way, because of different laws in their own countries. How would that be addressed by the proposal?
Two sorts of law are applicable. Generally speaking, the law of the host country will be uppermost in most minds at the time that the assistance is being provided, because it obviously affects the individual, assuming that in the example given they are a British citizen. Clearly, consular representation has to deal with the relevant local law, which is how it should be.
Jeremy Corbyn: I thank the Minister for the reply that he gave earlier to my question. I realise that it might be difficult for him to give a full answer now, but perhaps he could consider the matter and send me some correspondence on it. I raised the issue because it is a very real problem, as he readily acknowledged. In some cases, people who have sought asylum in this country will be given travel documents that do not allow them to travel to their country of origin, for obvious reasons. They do not yet have citizenship of this country but are travelling legally, often with the rest of their family who may well be British nationals.
Generally speaking, my experience has been that consular services are flexible and helpful and that officials act in a perfectly sensible way, but there is a real problem if people are faced with the sort of disastrous situation that requires evacuation—for example, civil unrest or some kind of natural disaster. I suspect that consular staff simply would not be allowed to spend money on that sort of thing under normal rules of expenditure.
I realise that it is difficult for the Minister to give a full answer now, but that cannot be an unusual problem for Britain or, indeed, any other EU country. Perhaps we should be thinking more in terms of giving support as a matter of course to people who are legally resident in this or any other European country, rather than leaving it to the discretion of the consul.
The Chairman: Order. Before the Minister replies, I understand why the Member raises the point, but I think that it is a little wide of the documents that are before the Committee. For the convenience of the Committee, perhaps the Minister could respond to the Member in writing.
Mr. Hoon: With your permission, Mr. Pope, I will just say that it is unlikely that I can give my hon. Friend a comprehensive answer, given the complexity of relationships these days even within the European Union. He fairly accepted that most of the time our consular authorities in different countries behave in a flexible way. I think that that is actually the answer to the question about evacuation.
I have been involved in a couple of evacuations, and in each case either the UK or another country was designated as the lead nation for the purpose of the evacuation. We were the lead nation on behalf of the EU in one case that I can think of, and people were helped, providing that they were EU citizens. Frankly, I suspect that there was not a precise passport check at the time that they were evacuated from the particular crisis. It seems that the answer is flexibility and understanding, given the circumstances in question. I shall certainly write to my hon. Friend.
Mr. Brady: Will the Minister give the Committee a clearer indication of the current levels of use of the reciprocal arrangements, and also some indication of where the net cost burden falls? Specifically, I would like to know whether a disproportionate cost fallson the UK, given that our network of consular representation is more extensive than that of some of our EU partners. If so, is there any mechanism to secure some payment as happens, for instance, in the reciprocal arrangements between EU countries for the provision of health services?
Mr. Hoon: I gave an indication of the number of serious cases—I think that I said that there were about 120 cases in which we had assisted other countries. The hon. Gentleman is right to suggest that this issue involves the larger countries and not only the United Kingdom. France, for example, has an extensive system of representation around the European Union and, indeed, around the world. The larger countries will necessarily have more extensive representation than some of the smaller countries.
I cannot give detailed statistics, because I suspect that those records are simply not kept. It would be a massive bureaucratic exercise to maintain detailed records of each and every time that consular assistance was provided to a non-British national in various parts of the world, which would not be a particularly productive use of officials’ time. However, it is right that we share the burdens as members of the European Union. The larger states, having larger populations and therefore facing larger problems, probably end up about even in terms of the way in which assistance is provided. I am thinking of the help given by smaller member states, which have smaller populations.
Mr. Brady: The Minister has given a perfectly fair answer, but I want to make a point about the comments in the Government’s official response to the Green Paper about the possibility of “consular shopping”—I think that that is the phrase that the Government used. I am grateful that the Minister has accepted that I am the last person to urge an over-bureaucratic approach in measuring these things, but I am sure that he accepts that, if we are to avoid the danger of consular shopping, it is necessary to have some measure of the costs and how they are being borne by different member states.
Mr. Hoon: In relation to any significant cost, suchas the cost of flights, there may well be some reimbursement, depending on the numbers and the scale of the crisis, but frankly I do not think that the hon. Gentleman’s two propositions can stand together. Either we maintain detailed and bureaucratic records—he claims to be against that—in which case we could assess the costs and charges, or we do not. He cannot have it both ways, although he often likes to try.
Mr. Brady: I will move on, but I would be interested to know at some point how the Government will measure whether consular shopping is happening.
The Minister has told us in how many countries the United Kingdom shares premises with other member states, but can he give us an indication of what account is taken in the current climate—in which the scale, scope and location of overseas missions is under review from time to time—of the existence of representation from other EU countries in what are perhaps quieter corners of the world? Does the Foreign and Commonwealth Office engage in any attempt to co-ordinate provision to ensure that some representation is maintained from one of the bigger EU countries?
Mr. Hoon: It is important to pay tribute to the United Kingdom’s extensive network of honorary consuls, because even in the countries where there is not a physical presence, there will be an honorary consul, a person who, often unpaid, provides tremendous service to British citizens who get into difficulty or distress in that part of the world. It is unlikely that a British citizen almost anywhere in the world will not find someone to provide some assistance over and above the formal arrangements made through British embassies and consular representation.
As I said in my opening remarks, it was in particular the rapid pace of change and the emergence of new countries following the break-up of the Soviet Union that led to a number of shared arrangements, and it seems sensible that that should be the case. I have visited Astana, for example, where we are co-located with the Italians, the Belgians, the Dutch and the Commission delegation. In Almaty, the former capital of Kazakhstan, our embassy offices are co-located with those of the French and the Germans. In such circumstances, it seems sensible that we should, when we can, share costs.
There are separate facilities within a shared building, so each country takes advantage of sharing the overhead costs while maintaining a formal separation in respect of the work that is done. However, I anticipate that there may well be sensible circumstances in which we look to share facilities. That would be subject to a technical distinction between providing consular services and the more representative functions of a British embassy abroad. The technical job of assisting UK citizens who may be in distress is vital—wherever they happen to be, they must feel confident that they will receive a proper service. As I said, that can be done either through a formal physical presence or the network of honorary consuls.
Mr. Brady: Paragraph 1.6 of the Green Paper proposes a programme of information for citizens. Given that the Government’s view appears to be that the Green Paper shows a failure to understand the existing international law on consular provision and the current practice of some member states, including the United Kingdom, how can the Government ensure that the information is not misinformation? What steps will they propose if the Commission puts such an information programme in train?
Mr. Hoon: The short answer is in the British Government’s detailed representations. We have clearly set out our concerns, which, interestingly, are similar to those set out by France, our nearest neighbour across the channel. There is a consistency of view.
I simply invite the hon. Gentleman to consider the perspective of a very small European Union member state, which would not have such an extensive network of representation. Clearly, there would be benefits to such a country in finding ways to share representation with other similar smaller states. That might be a sensible way forward. I agree with the hon. Gentleman to this extent: it is vital that whatever information is made available is accurate, up-to-date and assists EU citizens from whatever country they come.
Mr. Brady: The Minister has explained the distinction between “access to” and “obligation as of right”. Does he believe that the obligation in the treaty to provide non-discriminatory access to consular services is fulfilled by providing a comparable range of services to the citizens of other EU member states? Can he confirm whether in cases of urgent need, services would be provided by British missions to British citizens first, before the needs of citizens of other member states were attended to, and that that is consistent with non-discriminatory access to the service?
Mr. Hoon: I nearly thought that we had found a provision of the constitutional treaty that the hon. Gentleman supported. However, he ruined his tremendous start to his question by going on to nit-pick in the way for which he is famous.
As far as the comparable range of services is concerned, it clearly follows that not all member states will have the same range of representation around the world. By and large, I would have thought that if a country is providing consular services for its citizens, those services should be roughly consistent, although different legal traditions and different traditions in different member states should be borne in mind.
I would not want to suggest that there would be a strict policy of providing for British citizens first, because that would almost certainly be contrary to the strict legal provision to which the hon. Gentleman has referred. However, I do not believe that any non-British citizen would be in any way disadvantaged by the arrangements. In a strict crisis, we would obviously provide assistance to UK citizens, because we would have a clear legal obligation to do so.
Mr. Brady: I should say to the Minister that I will miss him too, just as I miss his two predecessors. I look forward to his successor.
Is the same offer of reciprocal assistance made available routinely to Commonwealth countries or to other non-EU member states?
Mr. Hoon: First, I could not help but notice in the hon. Gentleman’s opening observations what I detected as a plaintive plea to the right hon. Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron) for a move. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will be granted release from his burdens at some stage. The Opposition will continue to raise whatever issues they can find on these matters. I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his ingenuity; it is important that we continue to provide a full range of consular services to citizens from the Commonwealth and I assure him that that remains the case.
Mr. Brady: I am grateful to the Minister. I want to make it clear that I am happy to remain in my current post and, as he well knows, if one were to be moved there is the danger that one might come back to the same job at a subsequent time. I am happy to be left where I am. I am sorry that he will be moving on.
When the Minister wrote his letter to the Chairman of the European Scrutiny Committee on 21 March, it was clear that the Commission was yet to give full details of the hearing, which is due to be the conclusion of the process. In his opening remarks the Minister said that the hearing would be on 29 May; can he give us more information about how that will proceed and how the debate will be concluded?
Mr. Hoon: At the risk of prolonging this exchange, I hope that the hon. Gentleman stays at his present position in opposition indefinitely. I am glad that there is such consensus on the two Front Benches. It is not often that I agree with the hon. Gentleman but I wholeheartedly agreed with his sentiments on that occasion. The answer to his question, which has just been given to me, is that there will be a hearing on29 May for all states and third parties.
Motion made, and question proposed,
That the Committee takes note of European Union Document No. 6192/07 and the UK response to the European Commission’s Green Paper on Diplomatic and consular protection of Union citizens in third countries submitted to the Commission on 26th March 2007; joins the Government in welcoming the Commission’s contribution to the ongoing debate on how to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the consular assistance provided by Member States to one another’s nationals; but notes the legal, political and practical difficulties to many of the proposals; and agrees with the Government’s approach as laid out in its written response to the Commission.—[Mr. Hoon.]
5.2 pm
Mr. Brady: We have had a useful exchange; we even had some answers during the debate, which were very welcome. Briefly, I reiterate what I said at the outset, that the Government are rightly seeking to protect the United Kingdom’s strong tradition of consular provision. It is a source of particular encouragement to me, because it is not always my experience, that they are clearly resisting the attempts to increase the competence and range of activities of the European Union.
I especially welcome the proposal in the context of the issue that we touched on during questions concerning previous attempts to create a single role of an EU Foreign Minister by fusing the positions of the High Representative and the External Relations Commissioner. That goes to the heart of the matter before us: whether one can effectively draw a distinction between the competencies and the proper role of the Council of Ministers as representing the member states and the Commission operating as an EU institution in itself.
It is entirely welcome that the Minister is making such a vigorous stand for British interests. I hope that he will have some time before moving on to bat for Britain, as I am sure he will do on 29 May, and perhaps for a month or so after that. We wish him well, and I shall of course, as ever, seek to ensure that the Government maintain their resolve to preserve consular services as a matter principally for the sovereign states of the European Union, while fully accepting, as all sides do, the benefits of co-operation between member states when it can take place effectively and in the interests of all member states concerned.
5.5 pm
Mark Hunter (Cheadle) (LD): Thank you, Mr. Pope. I welcome the opportunity to make a brief contribution to the debate under your chairmanship. The Minister will discover at the outset that we, too, broadly support the Government’s approach to the subject.
It is a key principle of EU citizenship that EU citizens should be afforded protection by other EU member states when they are in so-called third countries. We should therefore welcome any proposals that improve co-operation between member states on consular and diplomatic services. We would welcome better information for all citizens, which explained that they can turn to any EU embassies for help in times of trouble when they are visiting third countries where they do not have consular representation of their own.
When the Minister winds up, will he clarify the actions that are being taken or considered to ensure that EU citizens who visit third countries where they do not have consular representation are aware of their ability to access other EU consulates? Does he envisage such an information role being more appropriately taken up or co-ordinated by the European Commission? Does he in fact support its proposal in the green paper to publish and update the contact details of member state embassies and consulates as they are represented in each third country? Having said that, we must be careful that any EU action does not breach the principle of subsidiarity, because elements of the proposal seem to go in that direction, as other Members have said.
On the issue of creating a single EU representation in third countries, it is important to be aware that there are complex and difficult legal issues at stake. Currently, the UK, along with many other member states, has no legal obligation to provide consular services for its own citizens or for those of other EU states. As a matter of policy, none the less, the UK provides services to both on a non-discriminatory basis, but it can refuse help on an individual basis. Under existing international law, consular relations exist between individual states, as we know from the Vienna convention, so the provision of consular assistance by EU institutions to EU citizens would involve many legal difficulties.
Added to that issue, we do not believe that there is any appetite in the UK for our embassies and consulates to be rolled up into a single EU representation. Certain sections of the media would like to point mischievously to just such a proposal as the ambitions of a European super state, and they ought therefore to be resisted.
Mr. Brady: I absolutely agree that such a proposal should be resisted, but the proposal to create EU representation in its own right exists in the green paper. Does the hon. Gentleman agree therefore that it is not merely an invention of the British tabloid press to suggest that there is an ambition to increase the EU’s role in consular and diplomatic matters? It exists as a proposal that the Government rightly resist.
Mark Hunter: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. The Minister made it fairly clear in his lengthy responses to the hon. Gentleman’s questions that the Government intend to resist the proposals. I am keen to emphasise the point the cross-party point that we have established this afternoon, whereby we agree that the proposals ought to be resisted. It would be wrong for anybody to run away with the idea that any political party in this country is in favour of them. That is the point that I seek to make.
By way of clarifying that point, however, we must make it clear that when such issues are being debated, it is possible to be both pro-European and conscious of the need to maintain our national identity: federal Europe, yes; but European superstate, no.
The high standard of consular assistance now provided by many member states is perhaps testament that consular assistance is best provided by independent nation states, but we appreciate, as has been said, that many smaller EU member states do not have the extensive influence of our own Foreign and Commonwealth Office. With our long tradition of excellence in that field, we should do all we can to promote the best possible system of close co-operation to benefit all EU member states.
In light of that, perhaps the Minister could also tell us what action he is taking or considering to promote that vital closer co-operation between EU member states to ensure that, in accordance with article 20, a citizen of the Union receives his entitlement in the territory of a third state where his member state of nationality is not represented to
“protection by the diplomatic or consular authorities of any member state, on the same conditions as the nationals of that state.”
Mr. Hoon: I understand that the Committee could go on until 7 o’clock. As I made my arrangements around the possibility that it could, I thought that to fill the time, I might read out slowly the entire Green Paper, together with its considerably voluminous footnotes, to ensure that all of us thoroughly appreciate the debate. [ Interruption. ] On the other hand, I am getting a whispered warning from the Whip, my hon. Friend the Member for Workington, that that might test the patience of my hon. Friends, and no doubt of the Chairman. I know, Mr. Pope, how dedicated you are to this work and how much you would enjoy such a prospect, but before I get around to doing it, I shall deal with the points made by the hon. Member for Cheadle.
A new EU consular brochure has recently been published setting out for citizens of the European Union what help they can expect to receive from other member states’ embassies and consulates. The Government believe strongly that the European Commission has a role in publicising such information. The hon. Gentleman implied slightly that it would be sensible to publish each and every member state’s representation in third countries around the world. I suspect that that is not something that we would want each and every traveller to receive, as burdened as they already are by the considerable amount of necessary paperwork, but getting across the idea, particularly in less obvious parts of the world, that it is possible for British and other EU citizens to go to the embassies and consulates of other member states when in difficulty seems sensible, and I agree that it should be published.
Mr. Pope, I have changed my mind in relation to my earlier proposal, but I am nevertheless grateful for your presence and your willingness to listen.
The Chairman: That is deeply disappointing.
Question put and agreed to.
That the Committee takes note of European Union Document No. 6192/07 and the UK response to the European Commission’s Green Paper on Diplomatic and consular protection of Union citizens in third countries submitted to the Commission on 26th March 2007; joins the Government in welcoming the Commission’s contribution to the ongoing debate on how to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the consular assistance provided by Member States to one another’s nationals; but notes the legal, political and practical difficulties to many of the proposals; and agrees with the Government’s approach as laid out in its written response to the Commission.
Committee rose at thirteen minutes past Five o’clock.

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