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I would just like a view from the Home Secretary on whether she sees any difference between the two mechanisms. The issue may well be where the real difference between us lies; I suggest to her that there is an enormous difference between the two concepts in respect of the maintenance of national rights and sovereignty over those issues.
Jacqui Smith: ECJ jurisdiction already applies to the existing provisions on migration and asylum, for which we are already able to operate our opt-in. Some of the examples that I have already given have answered the hon. Gentlemans charge. In fact, as I have identified, the way in which we will take forward the treaty, with the safeguards that we have put in it, is likely to enable us to make progress across the whole EU.
Ms Gisela Stuart (Birmingham, Edgbaston) (Lab): What slightly troubles me is that at the moment we envisage circumstances in which, for example, other countries are forced to do things in respect of child protection that we think right and proper; we think that that would be a good thing. However, can the Home Secretary not envisage circumstances in which we would be forced by qualified majority voting to do things that we would not think appropriate if we had decided on our own what should amount to a criminal offence and what should not? What could we do about that?
Jacqui Smith: The nature of the opt-in that we have negotiated means that we could decide not to opt in to such provisions. That is the strength of our negotiating positionour final positionon justice and home affairs.
Jacqui Smith: I will make a little more progress. The sharing of information that I was talking about is not only relevant for child protection; JHA co-operation has given us access to crucial data-sharing arrangements to tackle terrorism and serious crimefor example, introducing a mechanism that will allow the police to access fingerprint, DNA and vehicle registration information held by other member states so that we can prevent, detect and investigate serious crimes in the UK.
Today I have set out the benefits to the UK that come from better co-operation across the EU: speeding up extradition, strengthening our borders and improving asylum arrangements; smarter ways of working to stop drug smugglers; joint action against human trafficking; new protections for children; and new ways to share information vital to our efforts to tackle terrorism and serious crime.
Bob Spink: The Home Secretary is very generous. Will she explain why it would be in the UKs interests, for instance, to give the EU powers to set minimum and maximum prison sentences? How can that be in our interests?
Jacqui Smith: Previously, the very fact that certain criminal offences can be recognised throughout the EU has been important. Let us take the issue of recognising the definition and the nature of terrorism: when that agreement was reached, only seven of the 15 countries had a definition of terrorism. It is obviously a good thing for us and our security across the EU to be able to ensure that there is a common definition of terrorism.
Rob Marris: May I ask my right hon. Friend to shift the focus slightlyalthough perhaps not nowand deal also with civil justice, which comes under the justice rubric of todays debate? Civil justice offers protections, through co-operation, for families with abducted children, consumerswith the proposals for a European small claims courtand, above all, for business, which sometimes has great difficulty in taking effective legal proceedings against parties in other member states because of the lack of co-operation between the judicial authorities. Surely there are other benefits in the civil justice system which we should not overlook.
Mr. Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): On human trafficking, how will this new treaty improve the current situation in dealing with co-operation not only between European Union countries but countries outside the EU?
particularly serious crime with a cross-border dimension.
As such, measures can be adopted to establish minimum rules on criminal offences and sanctions. Those measures would of course be subject to the UK opt-in and the emergency brake, but in my view they would help us to ensure that the seriousness with which we address human trafficking in this country is shared across the whole of the EU. This is a good example, I am afraid, of a crime that would not be as well addressed were the hon. Gentlemans view that we would be better off out of Europe to be the case. There is no way that we can tackle cross-border crime such as human trafficking by reverting to our borders and believing that we can address it most effectively in the domestic environment.
Mr. Bone: Human trafficking is a European problem and a world problem, not an EU problem, and we should co-operate with all the countries involved. The Home Secretary failed to give one single concrete reason why the new treaty would improve the situation and reduce human trafficking, other than quoting some words from the treaty. If we are talking about words, can she tell me what concrete reduction in human trafficking this treaty will bring?
Jacqui Smith: Earlierperhaps the hon. Gentleman missed itI referred to the fact that we were able to negotiate, under the UKs presidency, an EU action plan on trafficking that enables us to put in place not just good practice but shared standards on how we could safeguard victims and be clear about offences; of course, implementing it is important as well. If the hon. Gentleman reads Hansard, he will see that I gave a specific and detailed answer to his previous question.
To deliver on these issues of concern and to give our citizens the right levels of protection, we clearly need to engage actively in tackling crime and immigration at the EU level. The alternative promulgated by some Conservative Membersto disengage from Europe, to focus on the domestic, and to depend on ad hoc intergovernmental arrangementsis not only unrealistic but an ineffective and inadequate response to the challenges that we face.
Ms Sally Keeble (Northampton, North) (Lab): To return to the point about trafficking brought up by my neighbour, the hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Bone), several women and children in my own constituency, just up the road, have come in with every sign of having been trafficked from countries well outside the EU but with EU passports. Part of the traffickers supply train runs through Europe, and without the powers in this legislation it will not be possible to chase them up and deal with them properly.
In negotiating the justice and home affairs chapter, the Government made clear their absolute determination to protect our common law system and police and judicial processes. We were clear that EU co-operation in this area should not affect fundamental aspects of our criminal justice system. We have achieved that outcome. The extended opt-in arrangements that we have secured mean that we have a complete choice as to whether to participate in any JHA measure. We have also ensured that the jurisdiction of the ECJ cannot be imposed on the UK in this areait will apply only to the extent that we have chosen to participate in a JHA measure. As each proposal for new EU legislation on JHA comes forward, we will have the right to decide whether we participate in it. In many cases, given the importance of the issues in question, some of which we have touched on today, it will clearly be in the UKs interests to do so, but in others we have secured the right not to participate and not to have the resulting legislation apply to the UK. I have already explained the position with respect to the existing body of EU law on police and criminal judicial co-operation and the jurisdiction of the ECJ. The deal is significantly better than that under the defunct constitutional treaty and represents a huge negotiating success.
Jeremy Wright: On the specific issue of whether this is a negotiating success, may I refer the Home Secretary back to the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Hertsmere (Mr. Clappison), from which she was very keen to move on? Is not the fact of the matter that the Government have negotiated a situation that allows the UK to withdraw from some of the arrangements, but only at a price? That price will be determined by a qualified majority vote on the recommendation of the Commissiona decision in which the UK will not be involved.
Jacqui Smith: No. In fact, I replied to the hon. Member for Hertsmere (Mr. Clappison) at some length, and I outlined the circumstances in which there would be any direct financial outcomes. First, in order for such a matter even to be under consideration, the UKs decision not to opt in to an amending or building measure would have to render inoperable the measure to which it was an amendment. That is a pretty high threshold. Secondly, the only costs for which the UK could possibly be liable would be direct financial consequences that were unavoidable because of the impact of that decision. As I have now said that twice, I do not intend to go over it again.
Mr. Redwood: Will the Home Secretary tell us how she would have felt if the previous outgoing Conservative Government had passed a series of laws that Labour did not like and had locked them all in by means of an opt-in so that they could not be repealed without the consent of most of the other member states? Is that a democratic way of proceeding?
Jacqui Smith: I would have hoped that any Government had negotiated hard in Britains interest. I would have hoped to see negotiating success such as that which we have seen in this case, although I am not sure that that Conservative Government would have achieved it. I also would have expected lengthy and detailed scrutiny of the proposals, along the same lines as that which we are carrying out and that will take place over the coming days. That is what the Government are delivering.
Mr. Garnier: I am deeply grateful to the Home Secretary for allowing me to intervene. There is not a great deal of time for us to make speeches because the debate is limited to three and a half hours. Will she estimate the financial consequences to which the UK might be exposed through the limited financial repercussions that she mentioned a moment ago? She seems to be saying that that will not happen, but presumably she has some idea of how many billions or millionsor just hundredsthat that exposure might involve.
Jacqui Smith: As I have spent some time explaining, the chances that any direct financial consequences would arise are very slim, given the high threshold that would have to be reached before any consideration of the matter could take place.
Based on the foundation that I have spelled out, we can continue to work with our European partners to our mutual benefit. That does not always require changes to the UK, which is what Conservative Members often focus on. For example, I have already talked about our success in agreeing a common set of terrorist offences in 2002.
We benefited from the work at EU level to strengthen external borders. Even though we do not participate in the Schengen border arrangements that
apply in most member states and have explicitly reserved our right to maintain our frontier controls, we have benefited from those efforts. Most transit routes to the UK for illegal migration and people trafficking, as my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton, North (Ms Keeble) mentioned, lie through the territory of EU member states. By working with bodies such as the border agency Frontex, we can help to reduce the flow of migrants in transit to the UK.
As well as protecting our citizens, JHA co-operation can provide the means to help them live, work, buy, sell, study and do business in another European country with the same levels of protection and assurance as they have in their own. Instruments that make it easier to undertake cross-border litigation are necessary because such cases can be substantially more expensive than purely domestic litigation. My hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Rob Marris) was right to point out that a European small claims court procedure will apply within a year which could, for example, help holidaymakers to obtain redress if they have bought faulty goods in another country. In addition, businesses will have a range of options for obtaining judgments against those in other member states who owe them money.
We have always been adamant that EU co-operation must be in Britains national interest. It must notand it will notadversely affect fundamental aspects of our justice system, nor undermine our ability to safeguard national security. Equally, we have seen the clear benefits that co-operation can bring to public protection, the management of our borders and the delivery of justice. Our opt-in on justice and home affairs will allow us to continue to participate in measures where that makes sense for Britain, while safeguarding our national interests at the same time.
We face a clear choice. Agreeing the Lisbon treaty allows us to put institutional negotiations behind us, and to get on with the job of work that our citizens expect us to do. We can choose to work in Britains interests and deliver greater protections in the fight against crime and for our national bordersor, as we have seen this afternoon from Opposition Members, we can devote ourselves to ongoing institutional wrangling that in actual fact works only in the interests of those whose ultimate goal would be to withdraw Britain from the EU entirely.
disapproves of the Governments policy towards the Treaty of Lisbon in respect of provisions concerning fighting cross-border crime, justice, policing, human trafficking and asylum and migration policy because the Treaty weakens the UKs ability to determine its own policy in these important fields, would bring to an end the intergovernmental nature of EU co-operation over policing and criminal justice, abolishes the safeguard of the national veto in almost all remaining areas in justice and home affairs matters and creates the possibility that
the UK could be fined for refusing to participate in certain legislation in these areas; and notes that the European Scrutiny Committee, in its Third Report of Session 2007-08, HC 16-iii, paragraph 75, is concerned that the interpretation of the red line to protect UK civil and criminal justice as only requiring control of the decision to opt in or not does not recognise the loss of protection that will occur every time jurisdiction is transferred from UK courts to jurisdiction by the European Court of Justice and the Commission...
I was truly sorry to hear the manner in which the Home Secretary approached the debate. We have rather important topics to discuss, but her facility for avoiding some of the basic facts that the House needs to consider is breathtaking, and it is coupled with the completely inadequate amount of time that has been made available for us properly to scrutinise the Bill.
The Home Secretary told us that the treaty was a negotiating triumph. I can think of many ways to describe the treaty but, by referring back to what the Government said about some of the clauses that they have now accepted, I shall try to show that it is a little difficult to see it as a triumph when it contains so much that the Government so vociferously objected to previously. The Home Secretary has a facilityit might be a good thing in a politicianfor glossing over some of the unpleasant fundamental facts about the treaty, its nature and the future of the EU.
A moment ago, the right hon. Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz) described me as a Eurosceptic. That is a little difficult: I am half French, and not normally sceptical about half of myself. I must tell the Home Secretary that I am beginning to think that I shall have to apply for a French passport to escape her identity card provisions. That might be my only recourse.
Mr. Grieve: In a moment. I can tell the Home Secretary that I believe fully in co-operation between European states and that I have no difficulty at all with the concept of intergovernmental co-operation. However, the first question that the right hon. Lady should have asked is, What is the treaty actually about for those member states that intend to participate in it fully?
There can be only one answer to that question. The treaty sets up the architecture to deliver common norms of criminal justice and policing through the harmonisation of criminal justice laws and the recognition of judicial and extrajudicial decisions. That is as fundamental a change in the EUs nature as there has been since its foundation. Our European partners have taken a decisionand they are fully entitled to do so if they wishthat must inevitably lead over a prolonged period, through the operation of qualified majority voting, and the work of the Commission and the European Court of Justice, towards harmonisation. In 30 or 40 years time, there will be common systems of justice controlled from outside nation states in order to ensure conformity. That is the model they have chosen to adopt, and they make no secret of it. The Home Secretary looks glum; I am sorry that she cannot accept the reality. That is what they have chosen to do, and the UK Government have said repeatedly that they want it to happencertainly in terms of our own involvement.
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