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29 Jan 2008 : Column 211

The UK is one of the countries criticised. The report also states that

Sadly, the UK is again mentioned. The report says that asylum seekers are duly informed by the UK in proper time, but that member states do not always comply with the documentation deadline, and once again, the UK is mentioned. The report continues:

When it comes to a lack of appeals, sadly, the UK is named again.

I welcome the notion of cross-border, EU-wide policing and reporting. We had a debate in this place on common asylum policy, and in time we may choose the method of compulsion to ensure that other countries come into line with our standards. However, people who have not been treated properly in other countries often end up here. That is the problem. If they are not getting justice elsewhere in the EU, they come to the UK. We saw that with the recent floods of people who came in when there was much trouble in the world, particularly in the Balkans and Africa.

Kelvin Hopkins (Luton, North) (Lab): Is not one of the problems that Britain is a country targeted by people emigrating from outside the EU? I recently visited Finland with the European Scrutiny Committee, and the Finnish said that no one wants to go there because it is too cold and the language is impossible. Some countries will be voting on asylum law that will not affect them but will affect us, and is not that a problem, too?

Michael Connarty: People have many reasons for not going to other countries, and dealing with a language as difficult as Finnish will certainly be one. An interesting point—it is not related to asylum—was made to me by the Hungarian Foreign Secretary last week. There are actually more UK residents living and working in Hungary than there are Hungarian residents living and working in the UK. People have different reasons for travelling to other countries, but with regard to asylum, if people are not treated adequately and properly in a uniform manner throughout Europe, they will gravitate towards countries such as the UK. Despite criticisms, I still think that the UK has one of the most open and compassionate views of the rights of citizens to flee from terror and from places where their life is under threat.

I turn to the agenda that is being advanced in this field under the Slovenian presidency. The train is moving, and if we do not want be on it, we had better get off it quickly. Slovenia is a country of 2 million people, and its presidency is taking this area of responsibility seriously. During the next six months, it will have to work on these matters and take decisions on behalf of everyone. Should passenger name records be passed on to other countries, including the United States? What is the European critical infrastructure, and how should it be protected and defended from terrorism? How should we deal with Europol? Europol will not go forward because of the treaty—it will do so anyway.

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What is Europol? I have visited Europol and was impressed by it. Europol members travel out of their own jurisdictions and work on our behalf in an information passing and gathering role. Sadly, they do not come down the street to arrest people, but they provide information that allows the local police to recognise individuals. There are questions about Europol’s status. Should it have certain immunities? Should it be subject to conditions regarding an EU or EC jurisdiction, rather than to a co-operative arrangement between countries?

We have mentioned Eurojust. That is covered by the returns directive, which allows us to send people back to countries when they are claiming asylum falsely. It is important that that matter is processed, and that it is dealt with under the current presidency. The Justice and Home Affairs Council has considered the matter of e-justice three times, and I hope that people will be able to use an e-justice portal to get justice in Europe. There will also be future group work on justice to consider.

All those things will be dealt with under the Slovenian presidency during the next six months, and we must realise that they are good for Europe and good for the UK. We should take advantage of what comes out of that presidency under the reform treaty. Slovenia is already committed to the treaty, as are most countries in Europe, and we should be with them. Having doubts about the opt-in question, or the fact that we lost some of the arguments in the convention, is not a good enough reason to argue against the treaty.

The paper that we considered in April 2007 on police and judicial co-operation in criminal matters was clearly about making progress through pooling our resources sensibly. We should approve of that. The hon. Member for Eastleigh mentioned Europol, and I have been examining some of its successes. Our countries have problems with counterfeiting. Operation Diabolo, an example of Europol-guided police co-operation, seized 135 million counterfeit cigarettes and other items. Europol should be commended for that sort of thing. A worldwide child sex offender’s network was dismantled because of the information gathered, passed on, secured and used by the police in different jurisdictions in Europe. All that was achieved by Europol. Every constituent of every hon. Member wants such things to happen. The idea of being scared of Europol or perceiving it as a bogey man police force is nonsense. We should co-operate with and commend it.

Mr. Grieve: I agree with every word that the hon. Gentleman says. However, he is classically demonstrating the success of the existing third pillar system. If he forgets for a moment his allegiances to his Front Benchers, does he not think that there is little necessity for merging the third and first pillar, or for the consequences, which he has identified, of the opt-in system and the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice? The existing system has delivered good co-operation and good results.

Michael Connarty: If the world could stand still, the hon. Gentleman would be right. However, the world cannot stand still, and Europe cannot stand still. The EU now has 27 members and completely new borders outside it. Moldova has been mentioned. I met the Moldovan delegation yesterday and there is a problem
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with Transnistria and the trafficking of not only people but drugs and other things that we do not want in our society into Ukraine and the rest of Europe. We are in a completely new Europe because we decided to enlarge for reasons of security, economic sense and general common sense. We have done it; we must deal with the world as we move forward.

My Committee marked out treaty articles from 61 onwards as ones in which opt-ins occur again and again. However, we retain the emergency brake for criminal justice, although we do not for civil law. Article 61E contains a new and additional power, which was not in the constitutional treaty, for national Parliaments to determine whether we opt in or out. There are similar provisions on border checks, asylum and immigration. On judicial co-operation in civil matters, we can opt in but we do not have the red card apart from on family justice. It is important to perceive all those matters as benefits to the UK and the EU.

The question for Conservative Members is how they will convince Europe that they are serious about being part of European progress. What has happened worries me. The intelligence of Opposition Front Benchers is obvious and they are doing a great job of arguing a case in which, in my view, they do not truly believe. They know that Europe must move forward and that people must make new alliances and decisions and give new weight to the preferences of each country.

A question remains about whether the Government will give proper power to Parliament to determine opt-ins and opt-outs and whether we can perhaps send them back to argue, case by case, that we will opt in only if we get the same conditions as Denmark. I would like that argument to be presented. If the Conservative party ever came to power, I hope that its Front Benchers would perceive as reasonable the idea that we must advance but also try to hold on to what we have. Negotiations are all about that. Sometimes one gives up things to gain things. I will support the Government tonight and throughout our deliberations on the treaty because I believe that we will gain more than we lose.

Mr. Grieve: Is it not a problem that the treaty, like so many other aspects of the European Union, is a little like one’s grandmother’s mangle? Once one’s shirt gets caught in it, there is only way through it. [Interruption.] And it is quite painful. The absence of an ability to redirect the EU appears to incline the hon. Gentleman to say that one should simply surrender to it, even when it is going in a mistaken direction. That is why we take issue with the criminal justice articles in the Lisbon treaty.

Michael Connarty: I respect the Conservative Front-Bench position, but the hon. Gentleman is like the little boy who sticks his finger in a mangle to try to stop it. He will get a bust finger.

Rob Marris: There should be an emergency brake on the mangle.

Michael Connarty: I have said as much as I wish to say.

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6.15 pm

Mr. David Heathcoat-Amory (Wells) (Con): I am pleased to follow the hon. Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk (Michael Connarty), who chairs the European Scrutiny Committee, on which I serve. It has produced two influential reports on the treaty of Lisbon, which show, beyond dispute, that it is, to all intents and purposes, the same as the failed constitutional treaty. The reports also punctured the complacency with which the Government rely on their so-called red lines to protect our decision-making powers.

I believe that the hon. Gentleman would also agree that the work of our Committee in looking upstream at the advancing tide of legislation has not diminished. Indeed, the volume of draft directives, decisions and legislation from Brussels is, if anything, increasing, especially on justice and home affairs. That gives the lie to the frequent assertion during the preparation of the treaties that they were essential for enlargement. The Government claimed often that, without the new constitution or the treaty, deadlock would ensue and we therefore had to move to a general system of qualified majority voting. Yet enlargement has proceeded not once, but twice. Twelve new countries have joined and no reduction in the volume of legislation is apparent.

Chris Huhne: Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that he is confusing proposals from the Commission, many of which can languish for years without being agreed, with directives that are agreed by the Council of Ministers and the European Parliament? With a much larger membership of the EU, we need a change in the decision-making arrangements precisely because proposals languish for years on end.

Mr. Heathcoat-Amory: Many proposals languish for far too long after member states have decisively turned them down. One of the problems is that the Commission never gives up. It waits for its moment and then introduces failed proposals—in the case that we are considering, a failed constitution. I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman’s premise. Indeed, all the studies show that there has been no problem with essential decision making. The Minister did not advance a single instance of the inadequacy of current decision making. What proposals are being blocked by the existing mechanism?

Chris Huhne: I gave an example in my speech of proposals for guaranteeing minimum standards for defendants throughout the EU. It has proved extremely difficult to reach an agreement on that and there are many other examples. Agreement has not been reached, especially on some tax proposals, for years.

Mr. Heathcoat-Amory: The hon. Gentleman advances the remarkable proposition that, just because the Commission wants something, we should all agree to it. Of course, many Commissioners have many ambitions, but proposals must rightly undergo an exhaustive decision-making process in the Council of Ministers, the European Parliament and, occasionally, the European Council. Just because one proposal advanced by the hon. Gentleman is facing some difficulty, that does not make the case for switching to an entirely new set of rules that would profoundly alter the rights not only of Parliament but
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of the people we represent, and in my view undermine our powers of self-government, which is the issue I want to talk about.

In the case of justice and home affairs, we are dealing with a core responsibility that, with tax, is one of the two big duties of the House in guarding the liberties of the people we represent and examining carefully the definitions of the crimes for which they could be convicted, the penalties that they could face or whether they can be tried twice for the same offence, whether they can be tried in their absence and whether they can be extradited to other countries and, if so, under what circumstances. Those issues are the subject of scores of criminal justice Bills that come before the House. I have lost count of the number of such Bills since 1997, but I am sure it is well over 20.

Mr. Garnier: There have been 35 Bills with the words “criminal justice” in them, but 64 Bills have emerged from the Home Office and the Ministry of Justice.

Mr. Heathcoat-Amory: Like all good lawyers, my hon. and learned Friend has his finger on the statistics. That is an enormous volume of legislation, and quite right, too. That is why we are sent here. However, we are being invited to export those decision-making powers to people for whom by and large we do not vote, whom we cannot remove and who are unknown to the people we represent.

Kelvin Hopkins: I am listening to the right hon. Gentleman with interest. The hon. Member for Eastleigh (Chris Huhne) used the term “we” and talked about the advantage to “us” in getting European instruments through. However, one of the reasons they have been held up is surely that they are unpopular with some people, including me. He suggested that we needed ways to make it easier for the Commission to get its way, even if those who are perhaps less enthusiastic about the European Union do not like it. The hon. Gentleman said that we—meaning himself and the Commission—wanted to get things through, but many of us might not like them.

Mr. Heathcoat-Amory: I entirely agree with the hon. Gentleman. The Commission has a monopoly of initiative in the field. It has always seemed strange to me that the Commission should be against most monopolies but in favour of that one. It wants to retain—indeed, under the treaty it has retained—the sole right to propose new laws. The Commission is unelected and usually comprises people who have been dis-elected—indeed, I can think of many Commissioners who lost their seats or resigned in murky and disagreeable circumstances. The system is almost anti-democratic. It is when future Commissioners are turned down by the electors in member states that they end up in that secret conclave of proto-legislators. I therefore object to the idea that we should defer to the judgments of a secretive body rather than to the people who are elected.

Chris Huhne: I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for giving way again; he is being very generous. However, he is incorrect in saying that the Commission has a monopoly of proposing legislation, particularly in the field of justice and home affairs, where it is currently up to any member state to propose
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legislation. As a result, there have been enormous numbers of proposals. The Lisbon treaty restricts that power to a group of member states, to make the effort a bit more manageable. The right hon. Gentleman’s point is therefore a little unfair to the Commission.

Mr. Heathcoat-Amory: I concede to the hon. Gentleman that there are specific and comparatively minor provisions for member states to propose legislation. However, the great bulk of proposals that are grappled with weekly by the European Scrutiny Committee comprises those that are made by the Commission and which can be made only by the Commission. That also applies to any repeal. One of the reasons no legislation is ever repealed is that the Commission holds to the theory of the occupied field: once it has advanced into an area of policy, it is extremely reluctant to give up that occupation so it does not advance proposals for amendment or repeal of legislation, however out of date it may become.

Rob Marris: I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for giving way; he is indeed being very generous. The rights of individuals in criminal procedure and the rights of victims of crime will come from the European Parliament and the European Council, not the Commission. On the back of that, I quite understand the right hon. Gentleman’s position on protecting the rights of individual British citizens—that is one of the major things we try to do in this Chamber—but as I said to the hon. Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve), the system is a two-way street. I wish to do my bit through the treaty to protect the rights of our citizens who may be living in Hungary, Germany or wherever else and who may need afforded to them the additional protection that the minimum standards in the treaty will make available. The issue is not only the rights of individuals in the criminal justice system in the United Kingdom, but the rights of UK citizens who may fall foul of criminal justice systems in other member states.

Mr. Heathcoat-Amory: No, I do not accept what the hon. Gentleman says. My responsibility, as an elected Member of Parliament, is to look after the people I represent in my constituency. They know me, they have access to me and they either vote for me or reject me at elections. That is what they look to in a representative Chamber, but in no way do they regard the European Parliament in the same way.

Mrs. Dunwoody: Briefly, is it not a fact that if the Commission wanted to abandon any of the more bizarre proposals that have come from its imagination, it could not do so? Unlike under the British arrangements, there is no piece of machinery to enable the Commission to abandon a directive or a regulation. Indeed, many pieces of proposed legislation still on its list of programming are there simply because it does not know how to get rid of them.

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