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Keith Vaz: I apologise for missing the hon. and learned Gentleman’s opening remarks. I am just trying to be clear about Conservative party policy. There is no objection to the principle of co-operation between EU member states on these issues. The objection is solely
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about the use of qualified majority voting. As the hon. and learned Gentleman will know, however, if we look at the results of QMV over the last 20 years, we find that Britain has been on the winning side on almost all occasions, so what is he afraid of?

Mr. Garnier: I had hoped that I had already made it clear, but let me try again. The issue that we are concerned about is not over QMV or unanimity. We are worried about the stealthy moving by means of the passerelle or gangplank of matters that have in the past—and in line with Government’s undertakings from the Prime Minister downwards since 1997—been reserved for the unanimity pillar. If we are not careful, those matters are going to be moved behind our backs through incompetent negotiation into the qualified majority setting. I have no doubt that when the right hon. Member for Leicester, East (Mr. Vaz) was Minister for Europe, everything was hunky-dory in every way. No doubt this country’s public could not have been better served. However, as he and I know only too well, he no longer holds that office.

Mr. Ian Davidson (Glasgow, South-West) (Lab/Co-op): Following on from the comments by my right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East and Brussels (Keith Vaz), may I clarify what the Opposition believe to be the best way to stop this slide from one pillar to another and to ensure that matters that ought to remain the subject of unanimity do so and are not allowed to move into an area of centralisation and mission creep?

Mr. Garnier: By having a Conservative Government and a Conservative Minister who would represent the interests of this country with greater vehemence and greater clarity. The hon. Gentleman is a man of great consistency on these matters, and I am sure that he would wish to support any such Conservative Minister in those negotiations. Indeed, if he would like to become part of our—

Keith Vaz: He wants to be that Minister.

Mr. Garnier: Well, if he would like to—

Mr. Davidson rose—

Joan Ryan rose—

Mr. Garnier: I am being bamboozled by so many hon. Members inviting me to give way. Perhaps I should finish my conversation with the hon. Member for Glasgow, South-West (Mr. Davidson).

Mr. Davidson: I must point out to the hon. and learned Gentleman that that is not the kind of answer that I find helpful in these circumstances. If he wishes to build a cross-party alliance against centralisation and against Brussels, there will have to be a move from purely partisan point scoring. I hope that he now feels thoroughly rebuked. If he wants my help in future, he had better behave better.

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Mr. Garnier: I feel suitably chastised. I am now so terrified of allowing any other interventions that I shall almost, but not quite, resist the temptation of being chastised by the Minister.

Joan Ryan: I want to make the point, before the hon. and learned Gentleman’s assertion is repeated so often that people believe it to be a fact, that the competence creep from pillar 3 to pillar 1 is something that he fears; it is not something that is happening, and it not our policy. It is important to distinguish facts from any concerns that he might wish to raise.

Mr. Garnier: I am afraid that they are not just my concerns; they are the concerns of the Minister’s right hon. and hon. Friends on the European Scrutiny Committee. If she had been 100 per cent. clear in her responses on the Government’s policy and intentions, we would not be here now. The matter would have been quietly pushed away on 18 October, and the Committee, which is made up predominantly of Labour members, would have accepted what she had to say. Unfortunately, however, she did not make herself clear. If she has now changed her mind or arrived at a position that represents a concluded state of opinion, fine.

Mr. Cash: Will my hon. and learned Friend note—the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath) might also wish to do so—that the Government’s position is that

That is not quite the same as the Minister’s suggestion that the debate is over. The motion states that

Mr. Garnier: The problem is that, when the Minister gives oral evidence, she says one thing, but when she gets back to the Department, someone—no doubt with the best motives in the world—hands her a piece of paper that says something different. On 30 October, she sent to the Committee, on which my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Mr. Cash) sits, a letter about some of the matters raised in her oral evidence. In a passage about the use of the passerelle, the letter says that it is unclear whether the Finnish presidency will propose further work on the subject during its presidency and that:

That is fine, so far as it goes, but it is not clear whether the Government will therefore resist or veto any further competence creep, or whether they are simply parking the issue until some later date when there is a new President, or some new state of affairs in which a different view might be taken. For the life of me, I am no nearer to understanding what the Government are going to do on our behalf as a consequence either of the Minister’s evidence to the Committee or of reading her letter.

It should not be beyond the wit of man, or woman, for a Minister to understand what their own Government’s policy is, and to be able to explain it in terms that everyone on the Committee can understand so that the Committee is not so worried that it requires
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the matter to be further discussed on the Floor of the House. Until we get clear answers from the Minister about what the Government intend to do, what their position is, and how they propose to defend the interests and rights of the British public, it is perfectly proper for the Opposition and other Members to criticise motions that are tabled in this rather bland and meaningless fashion. It is no good Ministers huffing and puffing and saying that the Opposition are silly to go on complaining.

I accept that the issue is complicated, and I dare say that the Minister has spent a long time since coming into the Home Office last May getting to grips with the issues with which she has to deal on this aspect of Government policy. None the less, and even though it is difficult and complicated and involves multi-handed negotiations with all the other EU states, there is no excuse for the Government not making themselves clear. The messages that we are getting from them have tended to increase, rather than to remove, confusion. That is why my right hon. and hon. Friends and I are deeply dissatisfied with the way in which the Government have presented themselves to the House and to the Committee.

There are a number of other detailed issues that I do not have time to discuss this afternoon, about which the Government have been less than clear in regard to the amalgamation, the eliding, of the two separate pillars. There are matters to do with the use of the veto in the national interest, and matters to do with the Government’s acceptance of qualified majority voting as the best way to deal with these issues, which are integral to the national sovereignty of any country. We have only to look at the remarks of the Foreign Minister for Ireland to see how strongly he feels about this issue. We need to understand how important the making, enforcing and policing of the criminal law is to each country’s own national make-up; these are not ephemeral matters of temporary interest.

This Parliament is here to decide the criminal law of this country, and to determine the relevant punishments. It would not be proper for our Government—even when they do know what they are talking about—simply to allow, through neglect or failure to keep a proper look-out, matters that are firmly under the unanimity pillar of the European treaty to move quietly along the gangplank into the QMV pillar.

The Government are here to give an account of themselves, and Parliament is here to make sure that Ministers are accountable. I congratulate the hon. Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk and his Committee on bringing the Government to the Floor of the House to explain themselves. I remain wholly unsatisfied, and wholly unclear about what their real attitude towards this issue. I urge all Members to treat the motion tabled by the Minister with the deepest of scepticism.

Several hon. Members rose—

Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. May I remind hon. Members that we have approximately 45 minutes left in the debate? If Members are brief in their remarks, more of them will have the opportunity to catch my eye.

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2.18 pm

Michael Connarty (Linlithgow and East Falkirk) (Lab): I congratulate the House authorities on allowing this debate on the Floor of the House within two weeks of a European debate. May I say to the hon. and learned Member for Harborough (Mr. Garnier) that his style would have been more suited to a three-hour debate? He could have been more concise, so as to give many members of my Committee, who have been denied the chance to speak in the House for some time, a chance to take part in the debate.

On behalf of the European Scrutiny Committee, I am happy to present our 41st report for 2005-06. It starts with the evidence given on 18 October. We had serious concerns, which are expressed well on page 5 of the evidence by a member of the Committee who pointed out that if we were to move to qualified majority voting and to give the EU that power over any part of justice and home affairs—which are at present defended by a veto—and

It was on that point that the discussions foundered, because the Irish Government spotted the issue very quickly and made a strong case that echoed around the negotiations.

The position was stated not at that evidence session, but quite clearly in the letter of 30 October, which can be found in our conclusions on pages 14 and 15. The Minister says that

I therefore welcome the position that the Government are taking at this moment in the motion, which says that the

The Government have taken that position in saying that the focus of the Council

and away from institutional change.

For the reasons that have been given, and in relation to the Government’s position, we have moved forward considerably, and I hope that members of my Committee will vote with the Government if a Division is called on the proposal, but I must bring to the attention of the House three pieces of further evidence, because my concern and that of my Committee is to be evidenced-based in what we say.

The first piece of evidence is in the statement to Parliament by Baroness Scotland, following the Justice and Home Affairs Council of 5 and 6 October 2006:

She then said:

It might indeed be urging the presidency to reach a conclusion that the passerelle is in fact a dead parrot,
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but then I read what Commissioner Frattini said at the Conference of Community and European Affairs Committees of Parliaments of the European Union conference just two weeks ago, which I attended with my hon. colleague from Wales.

Mr. David: Caerphilly.

Michael Connarty: My hon. colleague from Caerphilly in Wales, in fact. Commissioner Frattini said:

which of course is the passerelle—

The Member who represents this Parliament in Brussels and reports to our Committee says:

The intention behind that is that the Finnish presidency wants to show progress on the Hague agenda.

The Hague agenda is not just the passerelle clause, but it has become tied up with that. I hope that we will not see it forced on to the December Council meeting. If it is, I hope that our Government will stand firm on the position that they have given today.

Future assurances are also required, I say to the Minister. I urge her to grasp ownership of her brief and not be seen as a messenger; otherwise, quite frankly, the Government should have instead sent the Home Secretary to reply to the debate. It must be her brief and she must stand firm on the position that we have been asking for from the Government, which they appear to be giving at this moment.

The second part of our evidence was on the European evidence warrant, which is not to be mixed up with the European arrest warrant, which is a swift way to achieve extradition. There is a guilty party who is being sought for trial in the appropriate court, whereas the European evidence warrant, as our evidence showed—again and again, I come back to it—says that there are no guilty persons, although there is a crime. The idea of someone coming into this country with a European evidence warrant and having it rubber-stamped by our courts without challenge by them, and then going and kicking down the door of someone who may or may not be involved in that crime is not acceptable to our Committee.

Joan Ryan: I do not agree with the views my hon. Friend is expressing on the European evidence warrant, but I am intervening to say that he has referred to a guilty party in relation to the European arrest warrant. When we extradite, such people have yet to stand trial, so it is not established at that point that such an individual is the guilty party.

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Michael Connarty: I accept that point. There is an accused who has been arrested and charged with a crime. No one has been charged with a crime in the evidence warrant scenario. Significantly, Germany said that it would accept the arrest warrant only if it had a derogation from six major areas in which the evidence warrant would be applied, because it thought it too vague, not relevant to transnational crimes such as terrorism, and not strong enough to make it give up its right to dual criminality. The issue in question would have to be a crime in Germany and in the country from which the evidence warrant came.

This issue foundered on the basis of hot pursuit and surveillance. My worry is that hot pursuit and surveillance are a clear signal from the Commission of its intent and where it wants to go. We as a Committee suggest that Parliament, and also the British people, demand that the Government and this Minister stand firm on that matter, now and in the future. She said in her letter that there were no “significant gains” for the UK from the passerelle. The judgment must be in terms of when we discuss this further.

Until we find that there are significant gains in something to move the justice and home affairs Hague agenda forward, such Commission proposals should not be brought back to the House. I hope that the Minister will stand firm on that in any Council she attends.

2.26 pm

Mark Hunter (Cheadle) (LD): We on the Liberal Democrat Benches welcome the opportunity to have this debate today, not least because we accept that there is a legitimate debate to be had. The contributions from both sides of the House have amply demonstrated that fact. We also think it self-evident that there are benefits to more and greater co-operation in those matters across the EU, but at the same time we must be careful not to abandon matters of sovereignty. The British Parliament needs an opportunity to discuss matters arising from the European constitution systematically and sensibly, rather than have a brief debate on a fraction of the issues arising from qualified majority voting and Britain’s veto powers.

On the subject of sensible debate, I for one have been heartened by the fact that we have not heard the intemperate contributions to the debate that we have seen in certain sections of the press, as ever. In particular, my eye was caught by a recent item in The Daily Telegraph by Simon Heffer, which was entitled “Britons could all too soon become slaves of Europe”. It went on to warn that we might be

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