Diplomatic and Consular Protection
John Hemming: Would the Minister agree that it shows a certain amount of laxity on the part of the Commission not to try to identify that information before issuing the communication?
Mr. Murphy: The Commission has a responsibility to identify solutions to identified problems. In putting forward its proposals, it has not identified in a coherent way the problem that it feels needs to be resolved.
On resources, the right hon. Member for Wells said that the current arrangement is an odd allocation of resources. I believe that it would be an odd allocation of resources for us to search across the nearly 200 postings we have around the globe or to ask EU member states to do a similar thing, when we reflect on the fact that fewer than 100 people are involved.
The right hon. Gentleman spoke about anger being generated by perceptions of free riders. That was his phrase, not mine. We are talking about people in desperate situations. If there is a financial transaction, we claim the money from their Government. It is unfortunate to call people in desperate situations free riders. For example, when we talk about our nationals being evacuated from Chad by the brave forces of the French Republic, we are not talking about free riders. Those were people in desperate need.
Let me put this gently. I am certain that the right hon. Gentleman will not agree with me, but I believe this is another example of how our being positively engaged with Europe brings support and benefits to our citizens. Instead of trying to negotiate a series of 26 bilateral arrangements with other member states at a time of a national crisis or man-made tragedy, we can say, Would you please evacuate our citizens, and we will sort out resource accounting at some point in the future? That mutual support, which is an important protection, was signed up to by his Government before he was Europe Minister.
Mr. Murphy: I will give way one more time, but I am under encouragement to make some final progress.
Mr. Hands: From the Ministers description, it sounds as though we need these arrangements to be able to deal with national disasters, but that simply is not the case. We are doing perfectly well, as far as I can tell, with national disasters and citizens in distress. He is somewhat overstating the case. We have already established that the status quo seems to work perfectly well.
Mr. Murphy: That is the case that I am making. I am not advocating the Commissions position. I am simply saying that the current system of mutual support for EU nationals in countries where their country is not represented is an important principle of solidarity.
To conclude, we do not see merit in many of the proposals contained in the Commissions communication. Things can be done to simplify processes, exchange information and learn from best practice, but such matters must remain the competence of member states. We are very clear about that.
Finally, the hon. Member for Rayleigh has indicated that he wishes to press the matter to a Division on the spurious basis that I do not have the wording for a stamp in a 2010 passport. The lesson is: stick to ones brief precisely. I simply suggested that the current wording of article 20 would not be as enlightening to our citizens as it should be, and that those six and a half lines of carefully crafted legalese should be simplified with a set of words that our citizens could read and understand when they went on holiday or away to work. I did not stick to the exact wording, and I suspect that it would have to be negotiated across the UK Government and every other EU member state so that it was in every member states passports and there was a clear signal to every citizen of the European Union of the level of support. Some 490 million such people travel around the globe on a daily and weekly business, but the fact that today I do not have a clear English definition of those five and a half lines of legal text has more to do with the hon. Gentleman perpetually seeking ways to polish his anti-European credentials than with my rather open observation that we would have to turn those lines into something closer to the English language so that UK nationals might benefit from the support that could be available to them at a time of pressing and personal need.
The Committee divided: Ayes 7, Noes 5.
Division No. 1]
Question accordingly agreed to.
That the Committee takes note of European Union Document No. 5947/08 and Addenda 1 and 2, European Commission Communication, Diplomatic and consular protection of union citizens in third countries; recalls that such Communications are not legally binding; underlines that the provision of consular assistance remains a matter for Member States; and in this context, welcomes the Commission's Communication as a contribution to continuing reflections on promoting consular co-operation among EU Member States.
Committee rose at seven minutes to Six oclock.
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