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29 Jan 2008 : Column 269

Kelvin Hopkins: The right hon. Gentleman is making a serious point. Does he agree that people in many continental countries do not trust their Governments as much as people here trust us? That may be surprising, but I think that it is well established, as illustrated by the state that Italy is in at present. It is one reason why people in other member states are more prepared to hand authority over to a supranational body than we are.

Mr. Lilley: That may be true. The hon. Gentleman makes a valid point, but it is not necessary for my argument.

It must be said that there is a tendency among Conservative Members to assume that we have an especially virtuous legal system. I am very proud of it and very attached to it, but we must not think that it is superior to all the other systems in the EU. Each country has its own legal system that it has developed over time, according to its own personality. Each legal system has its own coherence and checks and balances. When we start to legislate supranationally and to export elements of one legal system into another, the danger is that we create incoherence and destroy the balance of those other systems. We also risk wrecking the balance and coherence of our own system.

It is perfectly possible that the systems used abroad are in their own way just as good, or just as well adapted to the needs, wishes and personalities of their peoples, as ours is. It is not necessary for any country to destroy the coherence and balance of its legal system, but what is especially odd about the Liberal position is that it is assumed that the primary job of this place is to improve the legislative structures of other countries, and that that is more important than maintaining control and authority over our own legislative system.

I tend to think that a person who goes abroad must accept the system that governs where he or she lives and works. I have been the chairman of a German company, and I accepted that German law applied. I have a holiday home in France, and I accept that French law applies there. When I worked in Spain and Belgium, I assumed that those countries’ laws apply there. I have never thought that it was the job of the British Government to set up the laws in other countries, and certainly not if doing so meant giving up the power to determine our own legal structures and laws.

Although common law evolves in this country, a key part of our system is that Parliament can change laws if the courts interpret them in a way that we do not expect. We can do the same if circumstances change and the implications of a law become different from what they were when they were laid down. The sort of changes set out in the treaty, if they are not amended as we propose, mean that we will not be able to change laws in response to circumstances and in reaction to experience. We will hand over to others powers that we and this place traditionally have had, and that is why I call on the House to accept the amendments and to reject the proposals in the treaty and the Bill.

Mr. Brady: I am delighted to have an opportunity to make a brief contribution to the debate. I know that a number of colleagues would like to speak, but we are all keen to hear what the Minister will say in response to the powerful points that have been made.

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Many hon. Members of all parties have made important contributions to the debate. It would be invidious to name them all, but the early speech by the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody) was very powerful, and my hon. Friend the Member for Woking (Mr. Malins) also made an important contribution.

What seems clear is that the provisions are all part of a process. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Wells (Mr. Heathcoat-Amory) said, that process progressed via the Laeken declaration and the convention, which was intended to bring the European Union closer to the people, to reduce the gap in democracy and deal with the fact that people feel that they should have some say in the decisions made for them. But at each turn, we have seen a greater accretion of powers at the centre.

The treaty not only sets out new powers, responsibilities and areas of competence but goes beyond that by setting out further aspects of the ratchet that would increase the powers of the EU in the area of justice and home affairs. That point was made tellingly by the hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Ms Stuart), who spoke about the way in which the enhanced co-operation procedures can work to make something seem inevitable, so that the pressure is then on for other member states to accede to it. We see that in all the provisions on policing and judicial co-operation, and in provisions relating to Eurojust and the public prosecutor, which give new powers to the EU.

The European public prosecutor will be able to initiate prosecutions through the competent national authorities. I do not know how that procedure can work. I do not know of any precedent for it, or of any mechanism through which it can operate. I shall be interested to hear from the Minister how he believes that such a process can take place. How will the relevant competent authorities in the UK—presumably the Crown Prosecution Service—take instruction from the office of the European prosecutor in order to pursue prosecutions through the British courts? That is not clear in the text of the treaty and it has not been made clear at any point during the debate, but that matter must be clarified.

Sir Nicholas Winterton: My hon. Friend is developing a most interesting point. Would he direct his attention to the European Court of Justice? That court is an animal of the European Union; its interests are entirely those of the Union. How can we rely upon it to provide an independent judgment in the interests of the United Kingdom when it is interested not in an independent opinion, but merely the views of the corporate European Union?

Mr. Brady: My hon. Friend makes an important point in his customary trenchant and powerful way. It is not just those of us in our party, or those who care about our national sovereignty on the Labour Benches, who are concerned about the activism of the European Court of Justice. Member states, the President of Austria and the former President of Germany have expressed concerns about the way in which the European Court of Justice can extend the remit and powers of the European Union beyond what appears to have been agreed by member states. In that area, as in so many others, we have a very open-ended set of provisions with little definition.

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During our earlier exchanges, we expressed concern about loose language and loose definitions. An example worth reflecting on is in article 69D, which refers to the activities of Eurojust and its scope of operation. It is made clear that Eurojust has the capacity to initiate prosecutions in relation to offences against the financial interests of the Union, but it states that it can initiate prosecutions

That makes it clear in terms that the provision includes things other than offences relating to the financial interests of the European Union.

I said at the outset that I would not detain the Committee long. I am anxious to hear the Minister’s comments and I hope that he will have some answers to the many points and questions that have been raised in the debate.

10 pm

Mr. Jim Murphy: I am delighted to respond to the various points that have been made in Committee and delighted that you, Sir Alan, are overseeing our proceedings.

Before dealing with the wider points that the lead amendment makes, I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Ms Stuart), and not only for her participation in all the debates this evening and previously. I want to put it on record for the first time that, as of today, she is the proud owner of the German Order of Merit. She is not easily embarrassed, but I see that she is now.

With the Committee’s indulgence, I intend to allow time for the hon. Member for Rayleigh (Mr. Francois) to respond to my comments. Let me deal with the lead amendment. Justice and home affairs in general and police and judicial co-operation on criminal matters in particular are subjects of great sensitivity. The UK has therefore negotiated a comprehensive opt-out arrangement, under which we have a choice, as the UK Government. First, we can choose whether to opt into new justice and home affairs proposals. Secondly, we can choose whether to accept European Court of Justice jurisdiction over existing third pillar measures at the end of the transitional period.

The UK has always acknowledged the important role that the ECJ plays in the European institutional context. It has always been recognised that there is no point in reaching agreements that do not stick in practice. That is why the ECJ has been so important in developing, for example, the legal infrastructure that governs the internal market.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr. Murphy: With your indulgence, Sir Alan, I shall give way a couple of times and then make progress.

Mr. Lilley: Can the Minister give a single example of agreements made under the third pillar that have not stuck and, therefore, need to be transferred for adjudication under the ECJ?

Mr. Murphy: I shall do so happily. There are 82 proposals under third pillar consideration. Proposal 78, which deals with the transfer of sentenced prisoners, has been blocked because the Polish Government have
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not agreed to it. The right hon. Gentleman asked for one example and I have provided one. I hope that that reassures him.

Kelvin Hopkins: Is my hon. Friend concerned that the ECJ has made two recent rulings against trade unionists in Finland and Sweden, and that it is starting to resemble an organisation that serves the interests of big business and neo-liberal philosophy, not those of working people?

Mr. Murphy: I am not certain that that is the case. We believe in an economy that is flexible and liberal but contains a core component of social Europe. The ECJ can play an important part in that. [Interruption.]

The Chairman of Ways and Means (Sir Alan Haselhurst): Order. I am sorry to interrupt the Minister, but there is too much sedentary noise in Committee. I should like to hear the Minister’s reply and I understand that hon. Members wish to hear it, too.

Mr. Murphy: I want to make it clear that the benefits of justice and home affairs co-operation are in the UK’s national interest. Our participation in EU agreements on police and judicial co-operation in criminal matters is only one example. Such co-operation is vital in helping our police services fight terrorism and organised crime. There are prominent examples of the importance of the European arrest warrant.

There were Eurosceptic and Euro-isolationist sniggers about Europol, with people asking, “What the heck is it?” and so on, but it has often helped disrupt serious and organised crime, ranging from armed robbery to child pornography. Europol’s contribution has been welcomed by the Home Affairs Committee—a cross-party Committee—and as an important contributor to the matters in hand.

We have also secured opt-in arrangements on transitional measures, which are important in the context of the lead amendment. We are clear that, by securing maximum flexibility, the Government have achieved a good deal for Britain. We have ensured that we have the right to choose where to participate in justice and home affairs co-operation and that ECJ jurisdiction cannot be imposed on the UK against our will.

Mr. Shepherd: Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Murphy: No, I will not give way. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will accept that I have a short amount of time this evening. The fact is that in yesterday’s debate I gave way on dozens of occasions.

Mr. Grieve: Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Murphy: No, I will not. The hon. Member for Rayleigh will speak at the end of this debate.

Mr. Shepherd: On a point of order, Sir Alan. I regret saying this, but we addressing amendments in Committee, but the Minister has not yet alluded to a single one.

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The Chairman: As I think the hon. Gentleman knows, the Chair is not responsible for the content of what either the Minister or any other hon. Member says. The Minister must be allowed to answer the debate in his own way, and he has a limited amount of time left in which to do so.

Mr. Lilley: On a point of order, Sir Alan. Could you explain to the Minister that if he wants more time, the Committee will vote him more time? [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear!”] He cannot take refuge in the shortage of time for his failure to answer.

The Chairman: The right hon. Gentleman knows that that is not a point of order. He has put his view on the record and there will be opportunities through the usual channels to ensure that representations are made for more time if that is what some hon. Members believe should happen.

Mr. Murphy: Turning to amendments Nos. 8, 9, 10, 212 and 136—

Mr. Grieve: Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Murphy: No, I will not. [Hon. Members: “Give way!”]

Those amendments would prevent the UK from implementing the treaty provisions relating to judicial co-operation in criminal matters. That is both contrary to the UK’s national interest and unnecessary, as the UK opt-out applies to those provisions.

Sir Nicholas Winterton: On a point of order, Sir Alan. Can you rule on whether the Minister is trampling on the traditions and procedures of the House?

The Chairman: I have to say to the hon. Gentleman—

Sir Nicholas Winterton: But he is!

The Chairman: Order. The hon. Gentleman cannot expect the Chair to rule on any such thing. The Minister is replying to the debate. It will be for the convenience of everyone if he is allowed to do so in his own way and in a manner that is audible.

Mr. Murphy: I gave way on dozens of occasions yesterday, but in the interests of keeping the hon. Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve) calm and happy, I will give way on one last occasion.

Mr. Grieve: What I seek is clarification of the point that my hon. Friend the Member for North Essex (Mr. Jenkin) raised about the power of the European Union to reach agreements with outside states under qualified majority voting on areas such as extradition and how that would impact on areas where the United Kingdom had decided not to opt in. The question is very important and the Minister must have the answer.

Mr. Murphy: If I had known that the question was so straightforward, I would have happily given way earlier. The answer is that if the UK chooses not to opt in, we
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cannot then be bound by international agreements that the EU enters into in areas where we have not opted in. I thank the hon. Gentleman for the opportunity to make that clear.

On amendments Nos. 8, 9, 10, 212 and 136, without the European arrest warrant, extraditing criminals and terrorists from other member states would be a much lengthier, more complex and more expensive process. The warrant was the first mutual recognition measure, but we have since agreed others, which are in the process of being implemented, to improve the collection and exchange of evidence and to enforce financial penalties and confiscation orders between member states. The judicial co-operation chapter of the Lisbon treaty also recognises that mutual recognition, rather than harmonisation, which is an important point recognised in the Law Society report published six hours ago.

On amendments Nos. 11, 137 and 213, in moving the provisions on policing co-operation and Europol from a system of unanimity in Council and consultation with the European Parliament to qualified majority voting and co-decision, the UK has secured two key safeguards.

Mr. Jenkin: Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Murphy: No.

First, we have extended our opt-in to apply to those provisions. That means that we cannot be obliged to participate in such measures where we deem them not to be in our interests.

Secondly, unanimity and consultation are retained for measures concerning operational co-operation for determining the conditions and limitations under which the competent authorities of one member state may operate in another territory, with its agreement.

Mr. Jenkin: Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Murphy: I will not give way further. I have already said so.

Operational action by—

Mr. Jenkin rose—

The Chairman: Order. It must be fairly clear to the hon. Gentleman that the Minister is not going to give way—

Mr. Jenkin: I know why.

The Chairman: Order. That is not helpful at this stage.

Mr. Murphy: Europol is by no means a new concept. Its establishment was agreed in the Maastricht treaty and it was formally created by an EU convention that came into force in October 1998.

I shall turn now to amendment No. 26. European Union co-operation in the area of freedom, security and justice has been part of the treaties since Maastricht. It enables us to work together to tackle common threats such as terrorism and organised crime. It enables us to put into effect practical measures that have an immediate and positive impact—

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