Previous Section Index Home Page

Mr. Grieve: I can see the two sides of the coin, but under the current third pillar arrangements the UK may negotiate and reach unanimous decisions to bring in treaty obligations that do precisely what the hon. Gentleman seeks. If for any reason those treaty obligations start to unravel because of difficulties of interpretation, the UK is able to retain its sovereign right to act to
29 Jan 2008 : Column 193
protect its own citizens, but once that has been transferred by opting into the new system that the Government find so exciting the only way out will be through a denunciation of the European treaty in its entirety. As I happen to think that there are considerable benefits from EU membership, I do not particularly want that to happen. However, when one starts bringing into a treaty that has a largely economic foundation these areas of crime and justice, which the Government themselves insist should be a matter for national Parliaments, as time goes by we run a serious risk of having precisely that sort of problem. That is what we should be teasing out.

Michael Connarty (Linlithgow and East Falkirk) (Lab): Let me return the hon. Gentleman to his attack on the European arrest warrant, which I thought very feeble. He pled that it was weak in defending the defendant, while failing to give it credit for allowing us to bring back from Rome very quickly one of the bombers who had killed people in this very city. Surely that is of more concern to our citizens than the argument that he is presenting.

Is the hon. Gentleman not aware of the robust stance taken by Home Office Ministers who said that they would not give up any of the defences in our own extradition treaty to secure the European arrest warrant? That is the Government’s position, and the hon. Gentleman should applaud it. We are defending ourselves against the next phase that may arrive, and power lies with us to retain those provisions in our extradition treaty despite the European arrest warrant.

Mr. Grieve: I have listened carefully to what the hon. Gentleman has said, but I must tell him that the arrival of a system of arrest warrants is a very marked change from the previous position on extradition, which was that foreign Governments wishing to extradite British nationals had to show a prima facie case against them. It could be argued that the advantages to this country, administratively and in law-enforcement terms, of getting people out of foreign countries are considerable, but I do not think we should ignore the fact that a protection that has historically existed in our country’s criminal justice system to prevent individuals from being sent abroad when there is not a sufficient case against them has been abandoned.

I fully appreciate that the issues are difficult to reconcile. However, there is a difference between an international treaty on the basis of which the United Kingdom can treat discretely, and from which it can resile if necessary, and a system involving entrenchment in a complex series of treaty obligations that are of great economic interest to this country. It is beyond my comprehension that we should consider including crime and justice when the Government themselves have highlighted the dangers that are likely to flow from that.

Mr. Clappison: Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Grieve: I will, but then I must make progress.

Mr. Clappison: My hon. Friend has been very generous.

29 Jan 2008 : Column 194

Is it not the case that, as far as this country is concerned, the European arrest warrant has been decided under the existing third-pillar provisions, that the European Court of Justice has no jurisdiction, and that the European Commission has no right of enforcement? Should not Labour Members, including the right hon. Member for Rotherham (Mr. MacShane), address the question of what benefits this country could gain by allowing full jurisdiction for the European Court of Justice and rights of enforcement for the European Commission? Does that not apply across the board?

Mr. Grieve rose—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): Order. Before the hon. Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve) replies, may I point out that interventions are becoming longer? They now include a prelude, a middle and a peroration. Given the limited time available for Back-Bench contributions, perhaps Back Benchers will keep their interventions concise.

Mr. Grieve: My hon. Friend the Member for Hertsmere (Mr. Clappison) is absolutely right. As I have said, the irony is that these developments appear not to have been necessary to achieve the objectives that the Government have previously set themselves. In areas in which unanimity has been achieved—I believe that there are nearly 80 examples—the Government have secured understandings and conventions with other European Union countries that may well improve our criminal justice system, but that is entirely different from surrendering jurisdiction to the European Court of Justice. It is beyond my comprehension that the European Court of Justice should have such jurisdiction—I do not see the necessity—but, above all, I have heard no explanation from the Home Secretary of why the Government consider this acceptable, when in the early stages of the convention they spent so much time arguing against it.

Mr. Heathcoat-Amory: Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Grieve: I will, for the last time.

Mr. Heathcoat-Amory: I am grateful to my hon. Friend. As he will know, on the European arrest warrant this country keeps to the principle of dual criminality. We do not allow people to be extradited to another country for something that is not a crime in this country. The House has always insisted on that, and it is a provision in the Extradition Act 2003, but it is under threat from the Commission, which disapproves of the way in which the United Kingdom has implemented the arrest warrant. Does my hon. Friend agree that once it is governed by majority voting and the European Court of Justice, that provision insisted on by the House will be undermined?

Mr. Grieve: My right hon. Friend is absolutely right: there is plainly the potential for it to be undermined by majority voting.

That helps to explain why the Government’s arguments on their red lines and opt-ins are so hollow. Far from solving their problems, the opt-ins and red lines will simply postpone over a four and a half-year period a series of decisions on which the Government are extremely
29 Jan 2008 : Column 195
reluctant to tell the House what they will do in individual instances. Each time they decide to opt in within the sphere of criminal justice, they will be—particularly with the possibility of amendments to follow—essentially providing a small hostage to fortune without knowing where the road will lead and without the ability to control the process other than by letting off the nuclear option of saying that the totality of our European Union treaty obligations will be abandoned. It is difficult to understand that to be an example of good government.

The Government acknowledge that there are aspects of this treaty that we should approach with great caution—they also failed to negotiate properly with, or persuade, their partners about that. Yet they now tell us that that does not actually matter very much because the opt-ins will give protection. The opt-ins clearly will not do so. The real protection we had was under unanimity, and the problem we now have is that once every opt-in is negotiated we will have qualified majority voting. I simply wish to ask the Home Secretary a question—I hope that the Minister who will reply to the debate will deal with it. Which of the 80 matters to which we are now signatories do the Government think they can readily opt in to once this treaty is up and running, and which of them do they think will present a difficulty? The House is entitled to know that.

We have in the recent past witnessed the Prime Minister going through all sorts of strange permutations and convolutions about Britishness. He tells us that there are commissions looking into Britishness, and that he wants to examine it closely and to come up with all sorts of recommendations, but our criminal justice system is one of the foundations and defining matters of our national life. That is not to say that it is perfect, but it is certainly distinctive and the Government—quite apart from my party—appear to be committed to its protection. I fail to see how the Government will do that with the treaty in its present form and the opt-ins provided.

This afternoon, the Government have shown a capacity to trash just about every institution they come up against. They are certainly treating the criminal justice system and the rule of law in this country with contempt, and they are treating Parliament in the same way by curtailing debate.

5.8 pm

Keith Vaz (Leicester, East) (Lab): It is always a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve), who has won many awards for his parliamentary skill and ability. Sadly however, he concentrated in his speech today not on the substance of the justice and home affairs agenda, but on what I was going to call his Euroscepticism although I should apologise for calling him that because we now know that he is half French—I should, perhaps, now say that he has been half a Eurosceptic in his arguments.

In contrast, the Home Secretary made an excellent speech in which she rightly set out the Government’s commitment to further co-operation with EU partners on the justice and home affairs agenda. I commend her on what she has done, and I commend to the House the Home Affairs Committee report entitled, “Justice and Home Affairs Issues at European Union Level”, which was published on 11 October last year and which is tagged to the motion before the House. I intend to
29 Jan 2008 : Column 196
speak about the report and its influence on the Government’s decision to accept the treaty and to put its main provisions before the House. The report was written before my time as the Committee’s Chairman, but I know that its members, some of whom were present during the earlier part of the debate, were keen to ensure that although it is called the Home Affairs Committee, it carefully examined the European dimension.

The Committee examined the following issues: justice, of course; practical co-operation between member states; mutual recognition, including the development of minimum standards across the whole of the EU; the harmonisation of the criminal justice systems; the processes of decision making and whether problems are driven by third pillar procedures; the significance of a trend towards internal agreements between informal groups of member states outside the EU framework; and the current developments in common border controls and visa arrangements.

International crime, people trafficking, migration issues and other policing issues are, as the Home Secretary and others have told the House, no longer issues just for internal domestic consumption, and it would be very foolish to treat them as such. The Home Affairs Committee has been very clear in its recognition that we cannot keep our country safe and fight organised crime and terrorism without working closely with our neighbours. It said that in some cases not enough had been done to ensure a better level of co-operation. The treaty of Lisbon, and its commitment to those principles that I have outlined, is therefore extremely welcome.

Mr. Cash: Many people would agree that a good idea lies behind international co-operation, but why would the right hon. Gentleman especially single out that legal entity called the European Union when the problems that arise, as he has so aptly described them, are relevant to a global problem? Why does he just mention the European Union, particularly given the legal systems involved? For example, as I pointed out earlier, the political control over judges is greater in some European countries than it is over here.

Keith Vaz: I have enormous respect for the hon. Gentleman and his views, but he must understand that although we obviously have to go beyond the European Union to deal with issues such as international crime, human trafficking and terrorism, we need to begin with our partners. The strength of our relationship with our EU partners strengthens our position in dealing with these issues with the rest of the world.

The Committee felt strongly—I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will agree with this—that the Government must control some areas of the decision-making process on the justice and home affairs agenda. I am glad that the treaty strengthens the opt-out and thus recognises the concerns expressed during our deliberations in producing this report. In our view, policy initiatives at EU level should be pursued only if there is solid evidence that they are likely to make a practical difference to the effectiveness with which common challenges facing EU member states in the JHA field can be tackled.

Mr. Jenkin: The right hon. Gentleman may recall giving evidence to the European Reform Forum on the question of democracy, accountability and transparency in the EU. He agreed that there was a democratic deficit
29 Jan 2008 : Column 197
in the EU and that the transfer of more and more law-making functions to the Commission and the European Parliament was not the answer to the democratic deficit, yet he agrees with this treaty, which provides for a substantial transfer of law-making powers from democratic Parliaments in the member states to the institutions of the European Community. He has said that the European Union cannot be a democracy. This treaty is a transfer from democracy to something that is not a democracy, so how will he address that problem?

Keith Vaz: I remember giving evidence to the hon. Gentleman’s forum with great pleasure. Nothing that I have said today in any way contradicts what I said before his forum. Of course we have to pool our thoughts, resources and arrangements to ensure that we are more effective. That is what being a member of the European Union is all about and that is what we signed up to in the Maastricht treaty and in all the treaties to which Governments, whether Conservative or Labour, have been a party. The fact remains that it is only through co-operation that we will make progress, but there has to be absolute and proper scrutiny of what is happening—and that is what is happening in this Committee stage.

Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich) (Lab): Has my right hon. Friend ever visited the state of Cameroon, two thirds of which is French-speaking and one third English-speaking? Its judges cannot agree on how they should record their judgments. The English-speaking tradition requires written judgments and the French one requires oral judgments. I am sure that that is not an example of the sort of problem that we shall encounter, but one does wonder.

Keith Vaz: Only someone with the distinguished experience and ability of my hon. Friend could suggest that the House should compare Cameroon to the European Union— [ Interruption. ] I do not think that that is a legitimate comparison, but I respect my hon. Friend’s views and her wonderful pronunciation of French.

Mr. Jenkin: The right hon. Gentleman says that he is in favour of increased co-operation. We are in favour of co-operation, but that is provided for under the international arrangements that already exist. These proposals would mean a transfer from co-operation to, dare I say it, coercion, subject to qualified majority voting and the European Court, under the European Union. This is a completely different system, and it is not co-operation.

Keith Vaz: If the hon. Gentleman had stopped at the word “co-operation” and not gone on to “coercion”, he would have taken the House with him. The fact is that we have to have co-operation when we deal with issues such as international crime, terrorism and human trafficking, as I shall explain.

Mr. Mark Harper (Forest of Dean) (Con): The right hon. Gentleman is in danger of setting up a straw man. He seems to suggest that anyone who is against this treaty is against co-operation. We are in favour of co-operation, as my hon. Friend the Member for
29 Jan 2008 : Column 198
Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve) said, but the real question that the Government have to answer is what advantage we gain from the new process over and above the co-operation that we already have, as the Home Secretary outlined at great length.

Keith Vaz: What we get is the ability to catch more criminals; to deal more effectively with human traffickers; and to use the European arrest warrant to bring more people to justice. I have no fear of the extension of qualified majority voting, because every analysis of it shows that Britain is almost always on the winning side and hardly ever on the losing side. I pay tribute to my former private secretary in the Europe department of the Foreign Office, who regularly used to bring me analysis of qualified majority voting that showed that Britain was on the winning side. I do not know why the Opposition do not accept that fact.

Mr. Ian Davidson (Glasgow, South-West) (Lab/Co-op): Surely it is easy to be on the winning side if one capitulates every time there is a row. Anybody can manage to be on the winning side by constantly changing sides. Surely that argument misses the point.

Keith Vaz: That may happen in Glasgow, but I do not think that it happens in the negotiations that go on in Brussels, whether under a Labour or a Conservative Government. When Ministers represent the British Government they act in Britain’s interests: they do not capitulate in order to please other countries. Ministers ensure that whatever is decided is best for Britain.

Policing is an area in which co-operation will increase as a result of the treaty provisions. I am pleased to see that the treaty sets out a timetable to ensure the full establishment of Europol and allows member states to be involved in proper monitoring of the way in which it operates.

I ask the Home Secretary, who is in deep conversation with the Minister for Borders and Immigration about very important matters, to what extent she regards such monitoring as enabling Parliament to be part of the decision-making process. I wonder whether the Minister for Europe will say, when he responds to the debate, whether he is happy with the timetable for Europol or whether he expects and wishes the timetable to be accelerated. The proper and effective operation of Europol is in everyone’s interests, and I hope that he will also confirm that, if not the Select Committee on Home Affairs—I am not trying to empire-build—the whole of Parliament can be involved in the process.

Tony Baldry: Does the Chairman of the Home Affairs Committee agree that, although Europol might be a good initiative, practically none of his constituents, nor any of mine, have heard of Europol or what it does? This is becoming a secret-garden debate. If we had had a referendum on the issue, there would have been an opportunity at least to ensure that everyone understood the issues—good or bad—in the treaty.

Next Section Index Home Page