Previous Section Index Home Page

Keith Vaz: Most of my constituents might not have heard of Europol, because they have never come to the attention of Europol, and therefore they have not been involved in any serious crime that would result in their being asked to visit or being visited by Europol. If the
29 Jan 2008 : Column 199
hon. Gentleman is saying, “Let us go out there and explain the institutions of the European Union to the people of Britain. Let us have a proper debate about our role in the EU,” I am with him absolutely. That is what the Government have been doing for the past 10 years, despite the attacks that they constantly receive in the tabloid press about their good work in Europe.

The Select Committee argued quite strongly that the European borders agency, Frontex, which is based in Warsaw, had untapped potential and that it needed proper resources if its efforts were not to be diverted into emergency operations. In June last year, there was a major Frontex operation to tackle illegal immigration from Moldova. At least 11 countries, including Britain, were involved in the operation, which resulted in the detection of at least 109 illegal border movements. That demonstrates the benefit of organisations such as Frontex and the importance of co-operation with our European partners.

I would be grateful to the Minister if he told the House in his winding-up speech what the reform treaty will mean for Frontex. Although separate from the EU, it is vital for European protection. The UK asked to opt in to Frontex, despite some objections that, to participate in Frontex, it was necessary to be part of the Schengen group of countries. I ask that Parliament and, indeed, the Select Committee be kept informed of all such developments, and we particularly welcome the opt-in that has been negotiated.

During the Home Secretary’s speech, I alluded to the evidence given by Sir Stephen Lander, the chairman of the Serious Organised Crime Agency, about the importance of the work that SOCA was undertaking in the EU, particularly the importance of co-operation in dealing with drug traffickers and those who are involved in human trafficking. It is important that we hear from the Minister what further steps he will take to use the justice and home affairs agenda to ensure that SOCA can work properly and adequately with other such organisations in EU countries.

On data protection, we heard from the Home Secretary about the need to share information. Indeed, when the Select Committee recently visited Washington, we saw the effects of the data sharing between EU countries and the fact that the data were also shared with the United States of America—in particular, passenger name records were used to monitor those who were involved in undesirable activities entering the United States. The Home Secretary gave me an assurance quite strongly that she had brought to the attention of European colleagues the need to protect those data, and I very much hope that that is at the forefront of her consideration. If we share data with European partners and if they share data with us, it is important that those data are protected. If they are not protected, we will have serious problems.

I mentioned human trafficking; the Committee is about to start a major inquiry into human trafficking. We will go to Kiev, Moscow and probably Lithuania to consider the issue of the EU’s external borders. The hon. Member for Stone (Mr. Cash) spoke of co-operation with countries beyond the EU. There is a bigger world outside; why are we always concerned with the EU? That is what he always says so eloquently in debates such as this. We do need the co-operation of countries outside the EU if we are to make any impact on those
29 Jan 2008 : Column 200
involved in what everyone regards as a modern form of slavery. We recently debated human trafficking in this House, and many right hon. and hon. Members took part. It is important that we ensure co-operation.

The treaty deals with many of the same issues that the Committee highlighted in its report last year. I am pleased with the importance given to co-operation in policing, crime detection and immigration and asylum. They are important issues. I had the privilege of being at the Tampere European Council in 1999, when the process began—for the first time, the European Union considered justice and home affairs—and I watched with great interest and delight as after Tampere came The Hague programme and finally The Hague 2, which ensures that we deal seriously with justice and home affairs. Britain is at the heart of the JHA agenda because of the work of Ministers and officials over the past 10 years and more. I commend the action taken, and I have great pleasure in supporting the Government motion.

5.26 pm

Chris Huhne (Eastleigh) (LD): I am pleased to follow the right hon. Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz), both because of his interest in European matters over many years and because of his role as Chairman of the Select Committee on Home Affairs.

Globalisation clearly involves the globalisation not merely of trade but of crime. The communications revolution ensures that, as does ease of transport. Sometimes I think that Members of this House, particularly those on the Conservative Benches, have not caught up with public opinion on the issue. A recent Eurobarometer opinion poll found that 70 per cent. of British people believe that decisions on terrorism, for example, should be taken jointly with our EU partners. As the right hon. Gentleman pointed out, we recently debated precisely that issue in the context of the Council of Europe anti-trafficking convention. The trafficking of men, women and children is a new form of slavery by debt bondage and an outrage against all civilised values. It is an entirely international trade on which the utmost international co-operation is required if it is to be tackled effectively. That includes early ratification of the anti-trafficking convention.

Trafficking is possibly only the most shocking of the crimes now committed by international organised crime, which include drug-running, gunrunning and terrorism grounded in international networks such as al-Qaeda. Tackling such crimes requires intense and regular co-operation, which requires, as the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke) rightly pointed out, a legal basis in any country grounded in the rule of law, as ours is. The treaty amending previous provisions on the matter will provide that basis.

The Home Secretary pointed out past successes of the European arrest warrant, such as the rapid arrest and extradition from Italy of Osman Hussain. I note that the Centre for European Reform recently reported that extradition times between member states have been reduced from an average of nine months to just 43 days as a result of the European arrest warrant. I was proud to vote in favour of that measure when it came before the European Parliament during my time as an MEP, and I was shocked to see that the Conservative MEPs all voted against it.

29 Jan 2008 : Column 201

Another example of successful co-operation was Operation Koala, which was co-ordinated by Europol and Eurojust. The status of both those bodies will be clarified under the treaty. Officers arrested 93 people in connection with a case of pretty revolting paedophilia—about half of them were living in Britain, and many of those were clearly a danger to our fellow citizens and our children—and identified 23 victims, all girls. That was a real achievement for EU co-operation. How can the Conservatives oppose the effective work of such bodies when those bodies themselves want to be grounded in a proper legal basis?

Mr. Grieve rose—

Chris Huhne: I shall give way to the hon. Gentleman so that he can attempt to explain that.

Mr. Grieve: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. May I take him back to the European arrest warrant for a moment? I recollect that those on the Liberal Democrat Benches expressed considerable concern over our extradition arrangements with the United States of America because of the lack of need to show a prima facie case. Can the hon. Gentleman explain why the fact that the same thing applies to the European arrest warrant does not trouble him at all? He will know my views from what I said earlier. There may be justification for an arrest warrant Surely the underlying principles are exactly the same.

Chris Huhne: The hon. Gentleman is wrong to say that the underlying principles are exactly the same. First, the European arrest warrant is entirely reciprocal. One of the major problems with our current extradition arrangements with the United States is that they bear all the hallmarks of an uneven treaty. They apply far more onerously to us than to the United States. The second fundamental difference, as I am sure the hon. Gentleman is aware, is that we have joint political arrangements within the European Union for determining these matters, including ongoing scrutiny, not just in this place and other national Parliaments, but in the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers. Therefore the two matters are entirely different.

Mr. Cash rose—

Chris Huhne: I should like to give way, as the hon. Member for Stone (Mr. Cash) knows, because we have sparred on these issues and so many others, but I shall make a little progress first.

Chapter 3 of the Lisbon treaty sets out the provisions on judicial co-operation. I was pleased that the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Rob Marris) highlighted the practical benefits that that will bring on civil matters—for example, for businesses. We are far more integrated than we ever were in terms of trade, so it is enormously beneficial to be able to operate a small claims court and follow through more easily on matters such as the settlement of debts. The rights of British citizens should not end at our frontiers, but extend beyond into the judicial space of our partners.

29 Jan 2008 : Column 202

Chapter 4 deals with judicial co-operation on criminal matters. One of the things that Conservative Members may forget is that more than 750,000 of our fellow citizens choose to exercise their right under the treaties to live in other EU member states. It is surely right that we should look out for and be concerned about their rights.

The House will remember the hue and cry over the British plane spotters arrested in Greece in 2001 on suspicion of spying. I remember that a number of Conservative Members became extremely exercised about the matter, including even the hon. Member for Stone. In such cases EU-guaranteed rights for people to know the charges against them in order to be able to rebut them would be important, yet attempts to get guaranteed rights across the EU for defendants have repeatedly foundered in the Council of Ministers for more than three years.

I find the position of the hon. Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve) extraordinary. He seems to be arguing that the Conservatives want us to maintain our right to have lower standards of protection for defendants than Romania, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Greece or any other member state. That is the logic of his position.

Mr. Grieve: The hon. Gentleman did not listen to what I said. He did not listen to the exchange between myself and my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke), or he did not take it in. I pointed out clearly that the difficulty arose not in terms of the areas that would remain entirely domestic, but where there was a perceived need by the European Union to intrude into areas where criminal process had a cross-border nature. The hon. Member for Eastleigh (Chris Huhne) should examine that carefully, because it is possible that we could end up with lower standards than we have at present.

Chris Huhne: I listened carefully to the hon. Gentleman during his exchange with the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke) and I simply do not see the practical impact of what he is talking about. I shall come to what I am afraid I would describe as the edifice of paranoia that he is attempting to establish about the proposals in the treaty.

However, the hon. Gentleman is right to point out that justice and home affairs is a highly sensitive area; that is why it is so important to ensure real safeguards of subsidiarity. As the hon. Gentleman was painting a picture in which we were about to be overrun by people who did not care about democracy, the rule of law or rights for defendants—that is his essential implication about our partners in the European Union—I was astonished that he entirely disregarded what is in the treaty to ensure real safeguards of subsidiarity, and the important general guarantees that enable member states to co-operate but do not impose intrusions from Brussels or Luxembourg.

For example, the Lisbon treaty spells out that the European Union

Such a provision is already contained in article 6 of the treaty on the European Union:

29 Jan 2008 : Column 203

In the 2004 and 2007 texts, that is expanded to respect for state provision to maintain internal law, order and national security. In addition, and of particular importance to the Government, as we have heard, the Lisbon treaty adds:

By the way, that is the first time that such a provision has appeared, and it represents a fundamental difference from the constitutional treaty. Indeed, article 33 of the treaty on the European Union states that the provision on police and judicial co-operation on criminal matters

We have already heard concerns about the creep possibly introduced by the judgments of the European Court.

Mr. Clappison: In view of the praise that the hon. Gentleman is lavishing on the judicial and home affairs chapter of the treaty, will he say whether it will be Liberal Democrat policy to sign up to that chapter?

Chris Huhne: I am very happy to say that we want to co-operate with our partners on matters for which there would be a clear, practical effect in tackling international crime such as terrorism, drug-running and gunrunning. I am astonished that the hon. Gentleman and his friends on the Conservative Benches fail to see that point.

Mr. Cash: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Chris Huhne: Let me make a bit of further progress and I shall come back to the hon. Gentleman.

Article 35 of the treaty on the European Union states,

That brings me to some of the differences between the Lisbon and constitutional treaties; they are particularly important in the area of justice and home affairs. Open Europe has said that, given the fact that 10 of the 250 proposals are different, 96 per cent. of the Lisbon treaty is the same as the constitution. However, a Nature article in 2005 reported the discovery that 96 per cent. of the DNA of all of us in the Chamber is the same as that of a chimpanzee; we would surely agree that the differences between us and chimpanzees are more significant than the similarities.

In fact, there seem to be several very important differences between the JHA provisions in the constitution and in the Lisbon treaty. First, there is specific language to enable some member states to proceed with measures on police and judicial co-operation while others do not participate. Secondly, under protocol 20 there is an extension of the UK’s 1997 opt-out on JHA to judicial co-operation in criminal matters and police co-operation. The significance of that in the context of previous decisions in the European Union is extraordinary, and I am not sure that Members have fully appreciated it. In effect, our EU partners have allowed us to join the club
29 Jan 2008 : Column 204
on justice and home affairs under the condition that we can unilaterally decide which rules we want to apply and which we do not. This is la carte Europe, not for any other member state, but for Britain, and it is new in the Lisbon treaty—it was not in the constitutional treaty. Obligations placed on other member states will be sustained, yet we will be free to opt out of any such obligations that might be imposed on us.

In painting his alarming picture of being overrun by people who do not care about civil liberties, the hon. Member for Beaconsfield raises the question of what happens if we do decide to opt in to justice and home affairs matters—as I very much hope that we will, given the internationalisation of so many of the problems that we face. Are we still able to use the emergency brake that sends an issue to the European Council? Yes, indeed we are. It is still possible for us to go to the European Council, although the hon. Gentleman did not touch on that at all. It is deeply significant that article 9B(4) of the Lisbon treaty—I hope that Conservative Members will look at it—deals with what happens when such matters are referred to the European Council. It explicitly states that, except where the treaties so provide, the European Council will determine those matters “by consensus”. In legal terms, that means that every single participant in the European Council has a national veto over what will be determined there. The entire picture that the hon. Member for Beaconsfield painted of our being completely defenceless if we make the mistake of going ahead and participating in any of these areas—

Mr. Grieve: The hon. Gentleman is right that I did not touch on that—I probably should have done, but it was rather a question of trying to bring my remarks to an end because of the number of interventions I had taken on the emergency brake. Let me point out to him that nothing in the wording on the emergency brake requires the Council to consider such representations; indeed, the wording makes it explicit that it is discretionary.

Chris Huhne: It is absolutely clear in the treaty—I have just given the article reference—that the European Council will discuss the matter and determine it “by consensus”. The hon. Gentleman has completely failed to take on board the extraordinary impact of that, despite the fact that he is half French. The right hon. Member for Leicester, East, who suggested that because the hon. Gentleman was half French he was only allowed to be half Eurosceptic, seems not to realise the history of these matters, given that General de Gaulle was so keen on the Luxembourg compromise, the empty chair policy and the national veto. For the first time since the treaty of Rome, this treaty introduces formally into law a commitment to proceed on the basis of consensus, not an informal understanding that we will not proceed if there is a lack of consensus. In other words, the Luxembourg compromise championed by General de Gaulle has been inscribed in EU law.

Mr. Cash: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Chris Huhne: Happily—how could I not give way to the hon. Gentleman?

Next Section Index Home Page