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lulled into a dangerous sense of complacency towards the evils capable of being inflicted upon us, our country and our way of life by the EU.
It is worth clarifying the current position as we understand it. The EU already decides some justice and home affairs policies on the basis of qualified majority voting, such as those relating to asylum, although the UK, along with Ireland, has opt-in clauses on such issues, which allow us to choose which area of EU legislation will apply to us. Other areas, such as legal immigration, family law and police and judicial
co-operation decisions, require unanimity, which, in effect, gives every country a veto. There is a legitimate argument to simplify procedures on justice and home affairs matters where the EU has a justifiable role. Again, as we have made clear on previous occasions, we are not advocating abandoning the veto on legal matters, which is neither appropriate nor necessary.
It seems to me that the EU has a fundamental role to play in guaranteeing peace and freedom across Europe. By promoting enterprise, protecting the environment, supporting global development and fighting discrimination, the EU undoubtedly brings enormous benefits to Britain. The EU must have the powers and resources to act effectively in areas where problems cannot be solved at national or regional level, while keeping out of areas where policy can be successfully managed at those levels. We will therefore continue to press for a diverse, democratic, decentralised Europe.
We also acknowledge the need, however, to improve the quality of EU governance. The EU should focus its policy making only on those areas for which EU-wide action is indispensable. That means ensuring that the principle of subsidiarity is fully respected. We recognise that terrorism, environmental pollution, trafficking and so on should be tackled through co-operation and international solidarity. Some cross-border issues cannot be dealt with by an individual nation or individual nation states. Where issues do not recognise national barriers, it makes no sense to place those barriers in the way of progress.
There is a competence to legislate across the European Union on matters of international concern, and the UK Government must recognise that some crimes must be tackled using the first pillar approach. The priority for the Liberal Democrats has always been to ensure security for the UK and its citizens without sacrificing our liberties. In a world in which terrorists, drug dealers and people traffickers do not respect national boundaries, that can best be secured by working with our European partners in an efficient manner, while still ensuring that our national sovereignty remains intact. The Hague programme harmonises action programmes in criminal justice matters in such a way. We must, however, safeguard the common-law system. Distinctions need to be made between the controls of decisions to move to the first tier. Decisions must be made on a case-by-case basis, and the UK should retain its veto.
Mr. Heathcoat-Amory: Is not the hon. Gentleman making the same mistake as the Minister by ignoring the extent to which we already accept majority voting on criminal justice matters? What does he think of the recent European Court of Justice case that decided that directives agreed by majority voting may require criminal justice enforcement in member states? Even if we voted against that directive, the criminal justice system in this country would be affected. Does he agree that the European Council should reverse that decision, rather than, as the Government suppose, simply accepting it?
I am grateful for the right hon. Gentlemans intervention, but I do not agree with his point of view on the matter. I emphasise that I am relating my remarks to the motion that is actually on
the Order Paper, not to the motion that it appears that he and some of his colleagues wish was on the Order Paper. By the end of my speech, I hope that he will have a clear idea of precisely where the Liberal Democrats stand on such matters.
The Liberal Democrats also appreciate that there are some fundamental differences between the UK and our European neighbours in relation to the working of our criminal justice system. We therefore believe that any move to QMV must be accompanied by an insertion of an emergency brake system into the law-making process. Of course, the ill-fated European constitution proposed that. It would mean that if the UK deemed a measuresuch as an attempt to limit jury trial or habeas corpusto be a fundamental threat to our national sovereignty, we would not be bound to implement such policies. Our judicial and legal system is different from that of Europe, and we must not do anything to jeopardise it. Let me make it crystal clear that Liberal Democrats believe in the fundamental importance of trial by jury and habeas corpus, and will never agree to any policy, whether proposed by Europe or the Government, that puts those principles at risk. Some might say that, if anything, those values seem more at risk from the Government than from Europe. We need more than a 90-minute debate on the issue, and I hope that todays discussion will be part of a much wider and ongoing debate among all interested parties.
I have noticed that many parliamentary colleagues have already asked questions on this matter and received somewhat vague answersnot just today, but on previous occasions. I acknowledge, however, that the Governments intentions on implementing the Hague programme have become a little clearer, to be charitable, as a result of the Ministers comments, but could she try to clear up some of the outstanding doubts raised in todays debate? Specifically, will she please confirm that any decisions about the Hague programme will be made on the Floor of the House, and that all members of all parties will have an opportunity to contribute? It is important that the constitution is not, and is not perceived to be, slipped in through the back door. There needs to be an open and honest debate about where decisions are made in the European Union.
Mr. Davidson: The hon. Gentleman says that the constitution should not be slipped in through the back door. Does that mean that the Liberal Democrats will oppose any efforts to cherry-pick the constitution or introduce any elements of it by stealth?
Mark Hunter: We have already indicated that there are legitimate areas of debate, and I think that my contribution and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath) have shown exactly where we stand at this stage.
As I was saying, there needs to be an open and honest debate about where decisions are made in the European Union. The Government must not avoid that, as I believe they originally sought to do by not allowing a referendum on the constitution. However, my hon. Friends and I are minded to support the motion, albeit with some of the caveats that I have listed.
When I came here today, I was somewhat concerned about the motion and the provision. I have had just enough reassurance from my hon. Friend the Minister to join her in the Lobby today, but I retain my deep suspicion of Brussels and what it is doing. There has been much talk today about biology, and I am more concerned about the vertebrates in Brusselsthe snakes in the grassthan about our Government. My hon. Friends reassurance was forthcoming eventually, and I hope that she will respond positively to the stiffening remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk (Michael Connarty).
This action is being taken under the Finnish presidency. I have great affection for the Finns and for their country. During a recent parliamentary visit to Finland, Finnish politicians told us, We do not have the problems that you have in Britain, because people do not want to come to Finland. It is too cold for a start, and our language is extremely difficult. Unfortunately, we are targeted by people who are not always admirable or desirable, so it is important for us to retain strong control of our domestic, national borders rather than becoming part of a European Union that is effectively a state with an external border. Some member states may feel happy about that, but I believe that others feel just as we do.
Mr. Davidson: Given our inability to restrict the number of people in various categories who arrive from Romania and Bulgaria and our inability to expel many who have committed crimes in this country, does my hon. Friend agree that the Government have already sold the pass to some extent?
Kelvin Hopkins: The Government made a profound mistake in not instituting the same provisions as other member states at the time of enlargement. They have changed their view in relation to Romania and Bulgaria and I think they were wise to do so, but the estimates of the numbers who would arrive from the new member states were far too low. Although I am happy to see young Polish people working well in my constituency, I believe that large population flows are destabilising, and they do not help the countries from which those people come. Poland has complained about losing large numbers of skilled and talented young people when they are needed to help their own economy.
Obviously, if one imports large numbers of skilled and talented people, that will be beneficial in the short term. However, the point has been made that they also have costs, such as having to be looked after by the health service. I believe that large
movements of populations are not sensible. Other member states have wisely been more cautious than us about such matters.
I do not want us to slide secretively from unanimity to qualified majority voting on this matteror indeed on many other matters. The passerelle is described as a gangplank. I would like there to be a new passerelle that is a bridge over which it is possible to go backwards and forwardsrather than just slip off the end and never change.
Finally, I shall repeat something that I have said many times in the Chamber: I deeply disapprove of some things that have been done in the name of Europe and I would like them to be reversed, and I shall continue to speak up about such matters when appropriate occasions arise, but on this occasion I shall vote in support of the Minister, because the reassurance she has given is sufficiently strong and I trust that she will keep to that position for many years to come.
Mr. William Cash (Stone) (Con): The debate has reminded me of a part of Alices Adventures in Wonderland. The mock turtles buckets of tears over the meetings with the griffin and Alice herselfI hope that I am right about thiscame to mind when I heard all the references about the invertebrates, as did the remarkable statement made at that point in the book that rather summarises the position of the Government in the current context:
Will you, wont you, will you, wont you, will you join the dance?
The Minister has been engaged in something of a quadrille over the issue under discussion over the past few months. Even to this day and this minute, I do not think that she has answered the real question, which deserves to be answered and should have been answered a long time ago. As I pointed out in an intervention, this motion says that it is
the Governments position that this is not the right time to focus on institutional change.
In Eurosceptic-speak that means for the foreseeable futureor similar phrases that we have heard over the past 20-odd years while I have been involved in this issuebecause that is just an acceptance of that for the time being by the Government. That is why I disagree with the hon. Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk (Michael Connarty), my colleague on, and Chairman of, the European Scrutiny Committee: I will certainly vote against this motion. The door has opened and the Government have allowed the provisions to come through.
I remember the 150 or so amendments that I tabled on the Nice and Amsterdam treaties, not to mention Maastricht, all because I was opposed to the continuous creeping invasion of our national sovereignty. All parties have agreed with me on that in the Chamber today: I have heard Members of all parties agree that they do not want an invasion of our national sovereignty. I have even heard that from the Liberal Democratsheaven forgive me for mentioning that. The fact is that such arguments, which were utterly unacceptable some time ago, now seem to be fairly common form.
The problem is, however, that when we get down to the application of that principle to a matter such as that under discussion, the position that the Government adopt is purely one of current expediency. They know perfectly well that the Germans do not want cherry-picking in this area because they want the constitutional treaty. They know perfectly well that the Irish have taken a position for their own internal reasonsI pay tribute to Mr. McDowell, to whom I have spoken on many occasions and who has a robust view about Irish sovereignty. I understand that there are people in other countries, such as Denmark and Poland, who all take the same position. The Ministers motion is, therefore, right to state
that there was little support amongst Member States,
I am glad that my Front-Bench colleagues are taking the decisive position of voting against the motion. I have, on occasion, had reason to criticise some of my good friends for being a little less than decisive in vetoing other treaties, for example, when we had the opportunity to do so.
The practical side of this proposal needs to be examined against the background of the reasons that the European institutions, and particularly the Commission, are giving for extending it to include qualified majority voting and the abandoning of the veto. As all Members have said, this is about national sovereignty and our criminal justice system. The Minister said that she wants to defend our national cause, but she has not closed the door in that regard, because the Government are part and parcel of the Hague programme and the treaties that have allowed it. I want this House to reassert its supremacy. I am very happy to have co-operation with other countries, particularly on trade, but we must override the European Communities Act 1972 and ensure that the judiciary is obliged to obey the latest legislation. Any attempt to go down this routeit remains on the table, even under the terms of this motionhas to be repudiated, which is why I am thoroughly glad that the leadership of my party has determined that we will vote against the motion.
The Commission says that the reason for having this so-called passerelleI do not like the word at allis that insufficient powers have been given to the European Parliament. Its own document states that the
use of unanimity...often leads to agreement on the lowest common denominator basis
a limited role for the [European] Court of Justice.
It goes on to say why the Commission believes that these deficiencies could be remedied by the use of this so-called passerellethis gangplank. Returning to the subject of childrens storiesI have a five-and-a-half-year-old granddaughter, Tess, so I am reading them at the momentlet us remember Captain Hook and the gangplank in Peter Pan. What was at the bottom of the gangplank? The crocodile. This passerelle has a lot of problems associated with it: there are a lot of crocodiles thrashing around at the bottom of that gangplank.
democratic legitimacy would be increased by making measures on police and judicial cooperation in criminal matters subject to co-decision with the European Parliament.
the European dimension would be guaranteed by giving the Commission the right to initiate proposals for legislation on these matters.
There we arethis is an invitation to the European dimension. The Commission wants the whole of our criminal procedures and the whole of the Hague programme to be drawn into this enlarged integration process. It wants to increase the European dimension at the expense of the dimension of the British electorate voting in general elections in a secret ballot. It is precisely for that reason that I have been so opposed to these measures over the years. In this instance, qualified majority voting would prevent us from getting our way, which is a reason to oppose these measures in itself. This is not the right time, as the Minister says it is; in this context, the right time is never.
delays in the legislative process would be reduced by moving to QMV and the quality of legislation would be improved by removing the temptation to adopt the lowest common denominator as the only way to achieve unanimity.
judicial protection would be improved by giving the European Court of Justice jurisdiction in police and judicial cooperation in criminal matters.
I do not need to enlarge on that any further. I have made my case, but I add one final point. There are many people around today who want to undermine our judicial process and our criminal justice system at its root. That is even comingand I say this with care and discretionfrom those who wish to advocate sharia law at the expense of our judicial system. That in itself is associated with this provision, because those who advocate sharia law are also among those who, regrettably, have fallen into the trap of believing that some of the activities, in relation to terrorism, are justified. This provision is about such questions and I warn the Government to be very careful about undermining our system, either today by failing to be specific and not making it clear that they will use the veto, as they should have done years ago, or by opening the door to some of the undesirable ideas contained in the Hague programme, which should have been repudiated years ago.
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