Previous Section Index Home Page

Mr. Heathcoat-Amory: The hon. Lady is entirely right. Indeed, I have formally asked to be told the extent of the acquis communautaire—the accumulated body of laws and regulations to which we are subject—but nobody can tell me what it is. It is said by those who have tried to study it that it now runs to 170,000 pages, which no human being can comprehend. The acquis
29 Jan 2008 : Column 217
communautaire is largely beyond the reach of any democratic institution, because there is never any appetite in the European Union to withdraw, owing to the doctrine of the occupied field. Even the European Parliament is essentially powerless, and the Council of Ministers certainly is, as has been pointed out.

Ms Hewitt: The right hon. Gentleman is being very generous. He is developing an argument, as did his Front-Bench colleagues, against the idea of legally binding minimum standards that result from co-operation between member states and with the European institutions, particularly in the protection of criminal suspects. However, does he not accept that we have been doing that for years through a different institution, namely the European convention on human rights and the European Court of Human Rights, which have long had the power and responsibility in that area? Indeed, in many cases the Court had to hear cases from the United Kingdom because they were not directly judiciable in the British courts. That system has set minimum standards across all the convention’s signatory countries, rather than reducing them as his Front-Bench colleagues seemed to fear, thereby helping to protect and in many cases improve them for his and my constituents?

Mr. Heathcoat-Amory: The right hon. Lady is overlooking the fact that we are talking not simply about this country adhering to a set of standards enacted or enumerated in a convention, but about transferring our powers to a law-making body. That is what makes the European Union different. It is not like NATO or the United Nations; it is a dynamic, law-making institution with an activist Court. When we export our powers, as we are being invited to, the process is to all intents and purposes irrevocable and will therefore bind future Parliaments.

Mr. Graham Brady (Altrincham and Sale, West) (Con): Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is rather strange that a Government who have fought so hard to bring in a 90-day period of detention without charge should be so keen apparently to give away powers to set minimum standards for the treatment of suspects?

Mr. Heathcoat-Amory: I am glad that I gave way to my hon. Friend; he has made a devastating point. If I have time later, I want to give the House an instance relating to immigration and asylum in which the Government are in dispute with a European law that they have signed up to and cannot now get out of. They ought to be extremely cautious about their existing responsibilities, and still more so about those that we are now being invited to sign up to.

We are talking here about the coercive power of the state, and the power to define punishments and to set the rights of the accused and of victims. It has always been regarded as particularly important to subject those powers to the highest standards of accountability and control. People obey the law because, ultimately, they obey their own laws. In an earlier intervention, the use of the pronouns “we” and “us” was mentioned. It is when laws become “their” laws—someone else’s laws, imposed laws from another jurisdiction—that people feel less inhibited about disobeying them.

29 Jan 2008 : Column 218

Chris Huhne: Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Heathcoat-Amory: I will give way to the hon. Gentleman. He is very charming.

Chris Huhne: I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for giving way again; he has been very generous. He was talking about where these laws come from, and about irrevocability. I have debated these matters with people of his persuasion over many years, and the point was often made that we could not leave the European Union, that our membership was irrevocable, that we had been locked in and that the key had been thrown away. That has always been nonsense. As we know, Greenland left the European Union. Will he concede that, in this treaty, for the very first time, there is a clear article admitting of the possibility of any member state seceding at any point? To talk about irrevocability is therefore, frankly, nonsense.

Mr. Heathcoat-Amory: That is the feeblest argument of all. We are talking about a new treaty with awesome powers, yet the only argument that the hon. Gentleman can advance is that we could eventually leave the European Union. I want to create the right relationship between this country and our continental neighbours. The treaty will create the wrong one.

I want quickly to move on to asylum and immigration. These, too, are matters of intense public interest. Only this week, the case of the murdered schoolmaster, Philip Lawrence, was resurrected. He was attacked and murdered by Mr. Chindamo, yet the conclusion of the High Court is that Mr. Chindamo cannot be extradited, not because of the merits of the case itself but because of the provisions of the EU free movement directive. What is particularly bizarre about this is that, in May 2006, the previous Prime Minister said in this Chamber:

He made that remark three days after the House had passed European economic area immigration regulations that specifically prevented the deportation of criminals to the EEA, so even the Government did not know what they were doing. They signed up to regulations that prevented the Prime Minister from doing something that, only days later, he promised to do. That illustrates the muddle that we have got into with the European Union. The Government do not even know what obligations they are subject to. This issue will be affected enormously by the treaty. The problem that I have just described arose under the existing treaty powers, but the provisions in the Lisbon treaty go much further.

I believe that this will breed extremism. When incoming Governments—or even existing Governments who change their mind—cannot do anything, people outside the House say, “They’re all in it together. Democracy is a sham. We vote for one lot and their promises, but it won’t make any difference. They might take office, but they can’t change anything. All the powers have been given away. The best we can hope for is that a slightly different lot of Members of the European Parliament will join a slightly different group in the Parliament and maybe at some future date the Commission might, in its wisdom, propose slight changes to the criminal justice
29 Jan 2008 : Column 219
regulations. And maybe the new majority in the European Parliament, which we only control a fraction of, will agree with the way I’ve voted.” That stretches democracy to breaking point.

The essential fallacy in this debate is that international co-operation depends on centralisation and common law-making. It does not. This country has had centuries of international co-operation. We belong to more international bodies than practically any other country. We sign up to conventions, we make alliances and we have bilateral agreements all over the world. The idea that, in order to tackle such common problems as crime, terrorism and child trafficking, we need permanently to export our powers from an accountable, democratic Chamber such as this to people we do not know and cannot remove is not just a fallacy but an abomination.

I know that we are running out of time in this debate, and that we are going into Committee shortly, which might enable me to make a number of other points. Let me therefore end by saying that this subject is of core importance, and it is a great shame that we have only one day to discuss it. We are eliding the whole question of criminal justice and immigration, and I have not even mentioned police powers. The House should think carefully before endorsing a system of decision making that it might long regret. By any standards, these measures will involve a change of authority, but these powers ultimately belong not to this Chamber but to the people we represent.

If there were a dispute over the validity of our red lines, or over the assurances that we have been getting from those on the Treasury Bench, the final arbiter would not be a court here or a Parliament that we elect but the European Court of Justice. The ECJ is not an impartial judge in these matters. It is enjoined under the new treaty, in new article 9, to practise “mutual sincere cooperation”. If we were challenged on the powers or the validity of our red lines by the Commission, the Court that would decide the matter would be told to co-operate not with us but with the European Commission.

That is almost the most worrying aspect of the whole thing. We are accepting—or, in my case, not accepting—the assurances that we get from those on the Treasury Bench about their red lines, but those who will decide any disputes will not be on the Treasury Bench or even in this House. They will be in a judicial body in another country, answerable to another body of law and mandated to practise “mutual sincere cooperation” with our legal opponents.

I hope that I have said enough to illustrate my strong support for my hon. Friend the Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve), and I shall certainly be voting for our amendment this evening.

6.39 pm

Mr. John Gummer (Suffolk, Coastal) (Con): I am concerned to find myself supporting some of what the Government have said, because their record on criminal justice is appalling. On almost every occasion when we have debated such issues I have found myself voting on the liberal side—I do not mean Liberal Democrat, of course, as there is little as illiberal as the Liberal Democrats—to bring to the Government’s notice the serious damage they are doing to the freedoms of the
29 Jan 2008 : Column 220
British people. In worrying about our freedoms, I reflect on how the Labour Government have damaged us in the criminal justice Bills that they have introduced.

Crime, immigration and many other issues that we have spoken about today can no longer be dealt with as they have been hitherto. I say to my right hon. Friend the Member for Wells (Mr. Heathcoat-Amory) that we need a new mechanism to guard the liberties of the people we represent. It is not just that I have an interest in what happens to my constituents as they travel so much more regularly today in the rest of the European Union; and it is not just that I want minimum standards, should my constituents be arrested for traffic or any other offences when they are driving in Slovenia, Slovakia, Vienna or elsewhere. Those reasons are important, yes, but my constituents are threatened by international crime, human trafficking, drug trafficking and other actions that cannot satisfactorily be dealt with under present arrangements.

Let me draw the House’s attention to one of the saddest moments in British history. The League of Nations agreed that all nations should accept a minimum enforceable standard. The incoming Government said, “Yes, that is a wonderful idea, but of course it should not apply in Britain because we are so good that we do not need the regulations.” It seemed that the then Government could not understand that if they wanted others to reach similar standards, they had to accept the same restrictions as applied to others.

I find it very difficult to accept the argument that because something is new, it must be wrong, and that even though circumstances have changed, we do not need to alter our present arrangements —[Interruption.] Yes, we are all for co-operation—as long as it does not reach the point where we commit ourselves to act together on issues in respect of which, without that commitment, we cannot act effectively.

Mr. Grieve rose—

Mr. Gummer: If I fail to give way to my hon. Friend, it is only because I have been admonished about the time I have available, but I will answer some of the points he raised.

The truth is, of course, that we have to learn this the hard way. I negotiated in the European Union probably for longer than any other Minister—certainly almost as long because of my long involvement with agriculture and the environment, both of which were greatly subject to decisions in the EU. I have to say that I always found it harder to get one’s way when debating and negotiating under the veto than when one was negotiating in circumstances where everyone else knew that if they steamrollered you, you could do the same to them. Indeed, the collegiate and consensual nature of the EU was such that I can honestly say that on no occasion during all those years of negotiations did Britain fail to secure what was in its national interest. Of course it meant hard work; of course it meant getting on with one’s neighbours; of course it needed give and take—but in the end, if our country and the others knew what was essential for their national interests, it was possible to achieve it. I do not therefore have the worries that my right hon. Friend the Member for Wells seems to have. I do not have them because I believe that this treaty is a necessary step to enable me better to guard the liberties of the people I represent.

29 Jan 2008 : Column 221

It is necessary to remind ourselves that modern transport, the ability to move money across exchanges, and our present circumstances, in which even the poorest can get on an aeroplane as long as they can pay the tax and fly throughout Europe, represent major changes. These are very different times from when people moved about much less freely, so we need to find a system that works more effectively and meets current circumstances.

Here I am critical of the Government, because I am not at all sure that they negotiated these matters properly, partly because they asked for things that they did not need and did so in a rather hectoring manner. I can think of other Prime Ministers who adopted the same strategy and I am not sure that they always got as much as they could have got if they had behaved differently. Indeed, we have secured opt-outs on some matters, but we might have been able to influence them better if we had not chosen that route. That is what concerns me when I hear the opposition to the proposals before us.

We need these changes to defend our citizens, but others also need the changes to defend their citizens. I find it difficult to accept that the British are always in the right. Let me give the House a simple example. We have resisted the right of European fisheries inspectors to inspect without notice, which has made it almost impossible for them to do their job. It would be hugely to the advantage of many nations if careful consideration of the activities of the Spanish—and, I fear, some of the British—fleets were available so that we could start a sensible fisheries policy. There is nothing wrong with a common fisheries policy; it is just that the policy is wrong. We have never really been able to achieve sufficient commonness to be able to have a policy that would enable us to deal with conservation. The same applies here.

Let me deal with what my hon. Friend the Member for Hertsmere (Mr. Clappison) said about what he calls the penalty. The European Union needs Britain to achieve sensible decisions that benefit the whole of the EU, so if our failure to join our neighbours sensibly proves to be a direct cost to them, and if we make it expensive for them because we render inoperative that which was to the benefit of the whole community, it is a price that we may well feel we should pay, yet it is not a fine or a penalty but a cost. Either it is paid by those who have not incurred it or it is paid by those who decide that it should be incurred. I hope that we will not be in that position, but I do not find it unreasonable for others to ask us to agree to such a position.

Mr. Clappison: My right hon. Friend is making a most convincing speech, apart perhaps from his last point. On the basis of his careful study of the operation of the penalty clause, will he remind the House who exactly decides whether and how much this country would face in penalties for making these provisions inoperable and what part this country would play in those decisions?

Mr. Gummer: If it is we who do not enable a particular provision to be operable, those who wish to operate it do indeed make that decision, but I do not
29 Jan 2008 : Column 222
find that too upsetting. I have no doubt that we would make the best case that we could. I must say to my hon. Friend, however, that when one is a member of an organisation this is one of the responsibilities that one takes on. What the treaty of Lisbon seeks to do is enable the peoples of Europe, and the countries of Europe, to proceed effectively on the new terms on which we must work.

Ms Gisela Stuart: Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Gummer: I will proceed with my speech, if I may.

Of course, the difficulty for us is that we would like to live in the circumstances that my right hon. Friend the Member for Wells described. It might be more comfortable for us to operate as if the interests of our constituents were confined to these shores and their needs were not impeded by people outside. I should be happier, too, if we had a better record ourselves. When I was lucky enough to be in Austria over the weekend, it was clear to me that the Austrian Home Secretary would not need to say that he could walk in the streets of Vienna safely, and I think that many countries in the rest of Europe would be able to uphold a position in relation to the law that would be envied in this country. So do not let us think that it is all about them learning from us; this is a community in which, together, we can learn from each other.

The deal must be that if we want the ability to control our own future, we must recognise that that control is often impossible unless it is exercised in common with our neighbours. That is true in the context of the environment: given that 50 per cent. of our air pollution comes from the rest of Europe and we export 50 per cent. of the pollution that we create to the rest of Europe, we cannot tackle air pollution unless we tackle it together. Similarly, international trafficking and international crime cannot be tackled unless we tackle them together.

It has been said that although we must do these things together, we should co-operate rather than having binding arrangements. All I can say is that co-operation does not deliver when things get tough. The point of binding regulation—or binding agreements—is exactly as my right hon. Friend says: at the moment when we need it, we can rely on it. We want and expect that in our relationship with our neighbours, but the deal must be that if we expect it from them, we must give it in return.

My hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Mr. Cash) said that this was all about Europe, and asked why we should not extend it wider still and wider. I have to say that if we cannot manage it with our nearest neighbours—the people with whom we share culture, religion, history and a range of other things—the possibility that we could manage it with Togo or Cameroon seems pretty distant to me. We cannot even manage it with the United States. The appalling agreement on extradition into which this Government entered is one of the scandals of which they should be ashamed. The fact that they could sign up to the Fylingdales arrangement on defence supposedly against Iran—

Madam Deputy Speaker (Sylvia Heal): Order. I think that the right hon. Gentleman is getting a little carried away, and going wide of the mark.

29 Jan 2008 : Column 223

Mr. Gummer: You are quite right, Madam Deputy Speaker.

The fact that all that may be true does not mean that we should not return to the realities of life: that we are part of Europe, that we become more part of Europe as travel becomes so much easier and communication so much simpler, and that we must therefore make the best of it. When our constituents—the people who voted for us—tell us that their daughter has been arrested in another part of the European Union, what will they say? They will say “We are all in the European Union together; what are you doing about it?” Unless we have these changes, my answer will have to be “Well, we have not got around to that yet.”

There are those who say that this is merely an economic agreement. I have heard that a bit today. But as a business man—and I have declared all my interests in the register—I know perfectly well that law is crucial to my ability to carry on a business in the European Union. The hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Rob Marris) was right to stress that that is a huge advance.

It has been said that this discussion will reveal division on this side of the House. Given the division on the other side, that merely shows that there is real ground for argument, which is why the Government should stand condemned for not allowing enough time for our debates. Within that argument, however, I beg all on both sides who are doubtful not to set the immediacies of narrow legal points against the reality that our citizens, our electors, need the protection that the treaty of Lisbon will give them. Without that protection they will be denied the kind of legal structure that fits the days in which we live, and has moved us on from the days of the carriage and the penny post.

Next Section Index Home Page