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—foreign nationals—

Since then, the Chindamo case has taken place. Will the Lisbon treaty provide the British Government with the wherewithal to deport foreign criminals automatically, or will we still be subject to the provisions of the rights of the foreign criminal under European Community treaties, as set out in the UK Borders Act 2007?

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Jacqui Smith: Generally, as we have announced recently, we have exceeded our target set last year to deport foreign national prisoners. We legislated in the UK Borders Act 2007 along the lines set out by the former Prime Minister on that occasion. The new provisions of the treaty and our active engagement in justice and home affairs activities enables us to raise issues within the EU, where they exist, and to make progress. I am confident that we will be able to do so.

Mr. Jenkin rose—

Mr. Grieve rose—

Jacqui Smith: I think I have answered the question put by the hon. Member for North Essex (Mr. Jenkin), so I shall give way to the hon. Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve).

Mr. Grieve: The Home Secretary touched on the European arrest warrant. That is a good example, because by virtue of what is happening, she will have to make a decision in the next four and a half years as to whether the European arrest warrant will be subject to the new regime by opting in, whereby the ECJ will have ultimate jurisdiction, along with the Commission’s enforcement powers, in respect of it. That is very different from the current arrangement, which is an international treaty obligation that the United Kingdom could decide not to follow if it infringed the human rights of those affected. We will be surrendering the final say about that entirely to a supranational body.

Jacqui Smith: No. As the hon. Gentleman identified, on the whole body of police, criminal and judicial measures that are transferred, it is our decision—six months before that five-year period finishes—as to whether we want to continue in those measures, if they have not been renegotiated or repealed during that time. We will make that decision on the basis of whether continuing in those measures, with ECJ jurisdiction, is in the national interest. We have negotiated the ability to make that decision and we have negotiated that transitional period.

Keith Vaz (Leicester, East) (Lab): May I take the Home Secretary back to the substance of this debate, rather than the froth of the Eurosceptics that seems to happen every single day that we discuss this issue? This morning, Sir Stephen Lander, the chairman of the Serious Organised Crime Agency, gave evidence to the Home Affairs Committee, and he stated clearly how important European co-operation was in the fight against drugs and terrorism and in detecting serious crime. What further steps can we take to aid such co-operation between all the EU partners?

Jacqui Smith: My right hon. Friend is right, and in the body of my speech I will come on to precisely that point. I agree with him that that is the fundamental issue about which people are concerned, and not what he rightly describes as the froth. In the spirit of debate, I am taking interventions, although they have not been especially to do with the issues that my right hon. Friend has mentioned, which are likely to be of concern to people outside the Chamber.

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Mr. Edward Davey (Kingston and Surbiton) (LD): Can the Home Secretary confirm that in the Lisbon treaty the UK has negotiated opt-ins and opt-outs on areas in justice and home affairs that previously required the full participation of the UK in EU law? Those areas were given away by the Conservatives under the Maastricht treaty, and under the Lisbon treaty they will revert to UK control.

Jacqui Smith: The hon. Gentleman has managed to rise above the froth and make an important point.

Mr. David Heathcoat-Amory (Wells) (Con): Why is the Home Secretary deliberately confusing the need for international co-operation in the war against terrorism and crime with the separate issue of whether we should hand over powers irrevocably to another law-making body? She has already seen the result of that in the promise by the Prime Minister to repatriate foreign nationals at the end of their sentence, which turned out to be incompatible with laws to which she had signed up in the European Union. If this House has already lost its powers to meet prime ministerial promises, why is she considering further laws to hand over more powers irrevocably to another jurisdiction?

Jacqui Smith: I began to explain the opportunities that the treaty will give us to work more effectively in an EU of 27 to deliver further protection on a range of issues. I had mentioned the European arrest warrant, and I was about to give the example of the case of Hussain Osman, one of those suspected of the attempted bombings of 21 July 2005. He fled to Italy, but we were able to secure his rapid return, 56 days after the EAW was issued. He has since been convicted of conspiracy to murder and sentenced to life imprisonment. Without the European arrest warrant, we would still have to face the fact that some member states refused to extradite their own nationals. Without it, extraditing criminals and terrorists from other member states would still be a lengthy, complex and expensive process.

Mr. Grieve: I am grateful to the Home Secretary for giving way again, in the spirit of Committee debates, but she is aware that the European arrest warrant is not without its difficulties. There are examples of United Kingdom citizens who have been arrested and sent to other European countries on allegations of relatively trivial offences who have languished in custody. There was a case in Spain recently of two young men who were accused of uttering a forged note in the Canary Islands. Such people can languish in prison for long periods. That ought to be of concern to the Home Secretary in defending the rights of British citizens. Does she not understand that, while acknowledging the merits of the European arrest warrant, once such things are subject to the European Court of Justice and the Commission, she and the Government will lose all control over standing up for United Kingdom interests in these areas? Once in place, such things are irrevocable, and all that the opt-ins do is delay that moment by a maximum of four and a half years. What will the Home Secretary do at the end of that period in respect of the European arrest warrant?

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Jacqui Smith: I have already outlined what the position will be in four and a half years. I do not take the hon. Gentleman’s charge that there are considerable problems with the European arrest warrant—I have identified considerable benefits of having negotiated it—but I am completely clear that, if we need to improve those procedures further, the way to do so in an EU of 27 members is through active engagement in justice and home affairs discussions and negotiations in the way that the treaty facilitates. Some of the views of Opposition Members would actively work against that by removing us from that sort of active involvement in making decisions that would benefit British people and improve protection across the whole EU.

Mr. John Gummer (Suffolk, Coastal) (Con): Does the right hon. Lady agree that, if we are to face the much greater problems that we now have with international terrorism, we cannot but do that in any way other than to work very closely and continuously with our neighbours—that needs a provision that goes beyond where we are now—and that co-operation in a general sense is not satisfactory when we face such a very present and important threat?

Jacqui Smith: I think that the right hon. Gentleman makes a very important point. Intergovernmental co-operation can only take us so far, and the commitment to the sort of institutional arrangements in the treaty will help us to address some of those problems.

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North) (Lab): Is it not absolutely inconceivable that we can combat the acute terrorist danger that European countries— certainly ours and our close allies as well—face without the closest co-operation on the international scene? It is absolutely amazing, unless it is pure xenophobia, that the Opposition do not recognise that.

Jacqui Smith: My hon. Friend makes the case extremely strongly. We have now heard that from my hon. Friends and from right hon. Gentlemen in the Opposition. To move on with the substance—

Mr. James Clappison (Hertsmere) (Con): Will the Home Secretary give way?

Jacqui Smith: No. I want to make some progress.

An example is the asylum arrangements agreed under the Dublin regulation, which is underpinned by the Eurodac fingerprint database and part of the common European asylum system agreed by member states to prevent asylum shopping. These arrangements allow the Border and Immigration Agency to check the fingerprints of asylum seekers against records in other European countries and to return those who have already lodged a claim in another member state or who have entered the UK illegally. Since 2003, the UK has returned more than 6,000 asylum seekers to other member states under that system—arrangements saving us about £8 million a year.

Ms Patricia Hewitt (Leicester, West) (Lab): My right hon. Friend is making an extremely important point about the impact of co-operation and opting in, for instance, to the asylum qualifications directive under earlier arrangements. Does she agree that, contrary to
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the argument that we have heard being put by Opposition Members, it is precisely our ability to opt in to arrangements that are legally binding on every member state that gives us the forceful action that is needed in the European Union to deal with problems such as illegal immigration?

Jacqui Smith: My right hon. Friend is absolutely right about the increased strength over and above simply an intergovernmental process of co-operation that comes from the treaty provisions on justice and home affairs. Coupled with strong domestic enforcement action on immigration and crime, action at EU level can clearly work in Britain’s interest.

Mr. Clappison: Will the Home Secretary give way?

Jacqui Smith: No, I shall make a bit of progress first.

On the fight against drugs, we have joined other EU partners in establishing the Maritime Analysis and Operations Centre—Narcotics in order better to tackle bulk smuggling of cocaine across the Atlantic. By sharing intelligence with our partners and backing it up operationally, we increase opportunities for intercepting drugs and help to cut the supply of drugs before they reach our streets. We also benefit from international work against the vile crime of human trafficking.

Mr. Grieve: Will the Home Secretary give way?

Jacqui Smith: In a moment.

During our last presidency of the EU, we introduced the EU action plan against trafficking. Along with our action to ratify the Council of Europe convention on action against trafficking by the end of this year, the action plan will strengthen our hand in the fight against that horrific modern-day form of slavery and make life harder for traffickers in the UK and throughout the EU.

Mr. Clappison: The Home Secretary is being generous in giving way. May I take her back to the opt-in and its value? Will she take the House through the procedures that will follow under the protocol if the United Kingdom should choose not to opt in to existing measures after four years and six months, or to anything that comes about as a result of amendments in the meantime? What procedure will be followed, and what penalties will the United Kingdom face if it chooses not to opt in?

Jacqui Smith: The process is spelled out reasonably clearly, but I do not intend to go through it in detail now. It is straightforward and safeguards the UK’s ability to opt in. I take exception to the hon. Gentleman’s suggestion that there are penalties for not opting in. That is not the case.

Mr. Clappison: Perhaps the Home Secretary can tell us what description she would choose to apply to an article that states

That is compensation, is it not?

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Jacqui Smith: The hon. Gentleman is referring to circumstances in which the UK decides not to opt in to a measure that amends or builds on another. He is quoting selectively, of course—

Mr. Clappison: It is in the treaty.

Jacqui Smith: Just let me finish. The hon. Gentleman quotes selectively, because the first stage of that process would be a situation in which the UK’s decision not to opt in to a measure rendered the underlying measure inoperable. That is an extremely high hurdle. The provision refers to unavoidable, directly incurred financial consequences of the underlying measure being rendered inoperable, not to a penalty or a fine. For example, if the UK decided not to opt in to a database that then became inoperable, it is not unreasonable that the cost of withdrawing from that database might have to be met. That is not a fine or a penalty; it is a direct financial consequence, and it would be incurred only in circumstances where the underlying measure was completely inoperable; that is a very high hurdle.

Mr. Grieve: If the threshold at which the penalty system operates is so high, why could the Government not secure the same sort of exemptions as the Danish Government, which allowed them to maintain the status quo for as long as they wanted and which were latched into the system? When I read the treaty, I inferred that because of the United Kingdom’s key involvement in European decision making on justice and on crime and its suppression, it would be difficult to implement many of the measures and might well cause problems if we did not participate. I am afraid that I do not share the optimistic view that only in rare cases will we have to bear the financial costs.

Jacqui Smith: The hon. Gentleman might not share my optimism, but he is wrong about the basis of the negotiation and the basis of the direct financial consequences to which he referred.

I shall make a little progress on substantive issues. At the same time as negotiating on the issues that I described, I have been discussing with my counterparts such matters as how the EU can ensure the protection of our children. The JHA Council agreed some years ago that all member states should have in place basic criminal offences to ensure the prosecution of those seeking to exploit or abuse children. That, incidentally, is a good example of where the strength of an EU agreement far outweighs anything that could be delivered simply through intergovernmental co-operation.

The JHA Council also agreed measures to improve the way in which we receive information on convictions against those who have committed such offences within the EU. The UK is taking that work forward through a joint project with several other countries on the electronic exchange of criminal records information.

In tackling child abuse, the UK and other member states have been able to count on the work of Eurojust and Europol, including the successful co-ordination of an operation involving 28 countries to crack an online child sexual abuse case. Ongoing investigation and co-operation of member states through Europol led to significant arrests, including 46 in the UK, the identification of 2,500 “customers” worldwide, and the seizure of thousands of computers, videos and photographs.

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Keith Vaz: I am grateful to the Home Secretary for giving way a second time. On data sharing, is she satisfied that the necessary protections exist among our partner countries, so that data that we send them will be protected and data that come to us will also be protected? That is extremely sensitive and important information about individual people.

Jacqui Smith: I know that that is an issue that my right hon. Friend’s Select Committee, the Home Affairs Committee, raised in its consideration of the matter. Further to the response that we gave at that time, progress is being made on the data protection framework directive within the EU, which will provide some of the reassurances that my right hon. Friend and the Committee were looking for.

Mr. Gummer: What assurances has the Home Secretary given to our European partners that their data will be better protected than she has managed with respect to the protection of our data?

Jacqui Smith: The right hon. Gentleman was too helpful last time. I should have quit while I was ahead.

Looking to the future, there is more that can be done at EU level to strengthen the efforts that I have identified, particularly in relation to child protection. At the informal JHA Council last week, the UK presented a paper which argued for further co-operation to introduce mechanisms to monitor sex offenders across Europe, and to tackle the obscene and harmful child abuse content that can be found on the internet.

Mr. Davey: Can the Home Secretary give the House an assurance that the UK will exercise its opt-in to co-operate with other European member states in this area? Surely it is much better to get stronger protection for our children through the approach that she is outlining than through an intergovernmental approach.

Jacqui Smith: What I was outlining to the hon. Gentleman was not whether we would take a decision on a measure that was being proposed to us, but that the UK was in a position to lead that work across Europe. What we need to ask ourselves is how we can ensure that other countries across Europe that may not have child protection provisions as well developed as ours will also be subject to the provisions that we put in place. Only by developing the sort of work that the treaty sets out and the certainty that that provides can we be confident that when we reach agreement on such serious issues, that agreement will exist across the whole of the EU.

Mr. Grieve: I am extremely grateful to the Home Secretary for giving way; it may just help to tease out one of the key issues. I have no objection to the United Kingdom getting involved, as was debated a moment ago, in that particular area. However, does she not see a distinction between getting involved under the existing provision—a mere international treaty obligation—and getting involved under the opt-in provisions that, once the treaty is in force, place the obligations and their enforceability into the hands of the European Court of Justice and the Commission?

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