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Chris Bryant: It is a delight to agree with my hon. Friend. I do not think that she and I have ever agreed on anything before. That is perhaps a slight exaggeration; I think we agreed that a Labour Government were better than a Conservative one.
(a) in each House of Parliament a Minister of the Crown moves a motion that the House approves Her Majesty's Government's intention to support a specified draft decision and is of the opinion that the decision relates only to one or more of the following purposes-
(i) to make provision equivalent to that made by a measure previously adopted under Article 352 of TFEU, where that previous measure was adopted following the commencement of section 8 of the European Union Act 2011 and the draft decision relating to that measure was approved by Act of Parliament;
(iii) to consolidate existing measures adopted under Article 352 of TFEU without any change of substance, where those existing measures were adopted following the commencement of section 8 of the European Union Act 2011 and the draft decisions relating to those measures were approved by Act of Parliament; and
Mr Cash: The amendments have been tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Daventry (Chris Heaton-Harris) and myself, as well as several other Members, including my hon. Friends the Members for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr Shepherd), for Harwich and North Essex (Mr Jenkin), for Wellingborough (Mr Bone) and for Northampton South (Mr Binley), and the right hon. Member for Belfast North (Mr Dodds) of the Democratic Unionist party.
We are dealing with a very broad provision in the treaty known as article 352, which is generally described as a flexibility clause but which has an ancient and controversial history. Even back in the 1970s, before I came to the House, when I was practising law, I was discussing a very controversial provision known as article 308, and I shall tell hon. Members why. When, in our
legal processes and legislative procedures we pass laws, we do so on the basis of what is stated in an Act of Parliament and we consider the words. Some of the remarks I made in the previous debate on clause 7 about abstract principles are related to this issue. Ordinary statutes, particularly in the field of administrative law, frequently make certain provisions after a whole series of propositions in different sections. Right at the end, there is often an expression such as, "And all such measures as may be regarded as reasonably necessary to carry out these functions," but they are very carefully constrained by the administrative court, and the tests are quite significant. If there is a catch-all provision that has the effect of enlarging the existing treaty arrangements, it is incredibly important to make sure that what is included can be justified and has proper authority.
In the context of legislation that comes to the House and thereafter affects the daily lives of the electorate, we already know, for reasons that I do not need to enlarge on, that the manner in which legislation is implemented could, in a nutshell, be one or two lines or a paragraph in a treaty that are equivalent to an entire Act of Parliament. With that comes a whole process of interpretation that is different from our own, because it is not necessarily precise and because it looks at purposes-it has a purposive quality. Then there are provisions relating to subsidiarity that generally are not adhered to.
When we are dealing with a specific treaty and considering its wording and range, we should ask, when it becomes part of UK legislation through section 2 of the European Communities Act, as enforced by the courts and their system of interpretation, how far and to what extent it was anticipated that the legislation being spelt out, even in a treaty, would result in certain consequences in terms of the precise policies that will emerge from the process. It is incumbent on us to implement the law, under section 2, but at the same time there is a great degree of collateral within which the actual provisions in a treaty are brought into effect, and there is also their effect on the people to consider. In many instances, people could not reasonably have been expected to know exactly how that provision would turn out in policy.
I happen to be a bit of a traditionalist and I think that when we pass legislation it should be consistent with policy making, but sometimes I think that my hon. Friends-I say this with great respect to them-are not necessarily quite as conscious when considering such issues about the direct impact of it all on the electorate, or about the degree of discretion that we are giving both to the European Union and to Ministers in implementing these sorts of provisions.
What is the effect of article 352? I shall explain my concerns about the Bill in relation to that wide-ranging provision, and I shall quote from article 352. It is important to set that out, as it is the framework for my general concern. Article 352 states:
"If action by the Union should prove necessary"-
"within the framework of the policies defined in the Treaties"-
"to attain one of the objectives set out in the Treaties, and the Treaties have not provided the necessary powers, the Council, acting unanimously"-
"on a proposal from the Commission and after obtaining the consent of the European Parliament, shall adopt the appropriate measures."
"Where the measures in question are adopted by the Council in accordance with a special legislative procedure, it shall also act unanimously on a proposal from the Commission and after obtaining the consent of the European Parliament"-
"the Commission shall draw national Parliaments' attention to proposals based on this Article."
The article goes on to say that such measures shall not entail the harmonisation of member states' laws or regulations where the treaties say that there should not be such harmonisation. Finally, it states-this is important-that the article cannot serve as a basis for attaining objectives relating to foreign and security policy, and it imposes certain restrictions consistent with limits set out in article 40 of the Treaty on European Union.
That is what article 352 states. It is a very wide provision. It is certainly subject to unanimity by the Council. I therefore assume that my right hon. Friend the Minister will assure us that the veto would be used, were the existing treaties-wide and deep as they are and effective as they are on our constituents-to be amplified by the use of that extremely wide power. I should mention that a few years ago the European Scrutiny Committee went over to see the Commission and its legal advisers. We had a full report on the provision in question, which at that time described as article 308.
My amendments would knock out the provisions that would enlarge the Government's capacity to bypass-I use this language carefully-the principles on which I assume Parliament would want to insist. Because of the ambit of the measure, we should ensure that it is used as tightly as possible.
At the moment, the article can be used only where the existing treaties have not provided the necessary powers. Clause 8(1) provides that any one of the conditions in subsections (3), (4) or (5) has to be satisfied in relation to an article 352 decision, but subsection (3) contains the general rule, which is the one that I would insist on, which is that the UK may not agree to a decision under this broad article unless the decision has been approved by Act of Parliament. That is fundamental. Where there is this enormous expansion of power, fundamentally it should be done only where the decision has been approved by Act of Parliament. I have no problem with that whatever.
"has been used in the past for urgent or emergency uses, where rapid EU action has been agreed but where there was no explicit legal basis on which to base that action",
"that the UK may agree to the adoption of a measure based on Article 352 in urgent or emergency cases if"
approved by motion without amendment in each House of Parliament. I regard that as perfectly reasonable in the circumstances. So we have a process and an agreement. First, it has to be unanimous, then it comes to Parliament, and then it has to be approved by Parliament because it affects people and it is so broad that restrictive control needs to be kept over how the process operates in this House.
"that an Act of Parliament would not be required for any Article 352 proposal which satisfies any of the exemptions listed in subsection (6)."
"prevent...Acts of Parliament to approve measures which have been agreed in substance under previous measures using Article 352".
In those circumstances, a Minister has to lay a statement before Parliament saying that the use of a flexibility clause is for an exempt purpose, in which case parliamentary approval is not required. This is where I have great difficulty. The ambit of article 352 is such that it seems that there are no exceptional circumstances in which the exemptions specified in subsection (6) should divest Parliament of the opportunity to approve. Basically, the fundamental point that I seek to make is that those provisions should be left out.
As the debate proceeds, I hope that this point will become more obvious, because other amendments will give specific instances of the manner in which the arrangements would operate. I simply wanted to indicate that I am not in favour of the exemption that the Government are giving. Under subsection (6), the exempt purposes include-some of the language is rather arcane-
"to extend a measure previously adopted under that Article to another member State or other country".
My worry, which permeates much of my concern about the Bill, is about the cases in which someone might say, "Well, it affects only the eurozone, not us." I strongly believe that in such circumstances we must be vigilant, because the eurozone does affect us and whatever we do will affect us. It seems to me that we should be vigilant and ensure that parliamentary approval is needed in circumstances where a measure has been adopted under the article and extended to another member state. I am issuing a general concern about the whole area.
Article 352 is very broad, as I think the Minister will accept. I understand that it is subject to unanimity and that in limited circumstances there would be a case for something short of an Act of Parliament, but I do not think that there are circumstances, in the cases that I have described and within the framework of those exemptions, where it is so broad that Parliament should effectively be bypassed. That is my main proposition, but there are other specific matters that colleagues will raise.
I will be brief, Mr Evans. I had quite a decent speech written on these amendments, but I want to move on to the meat of the justice and home affairs matters that we will discuss shortly. With regard to clause 8, the Bill is a definite improvement on the current situation, and I am pleased that the presumption
is that an Act is required. My concern is about the get-out clause, in clause 8, that my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Mr Cash) has just mentioned, according to which the Minister can table a statement that certain matters are exempt.
Amendment 26 is not a blanket amendment that would require everything to have an Act, as would my hon. Friend's amendment, because I understand that some things might need a lesser level of scrutiny in this place, but I am concerned about proposals that would prolong the existing flexibility clause or extend it to another country. Those are the two areas that should be approved by an Act. I am happy to see other areas approved by resolution in each House. The example that my hon. Friend might have been searching for is that relating to balance of payments loaned to non-eurozone member states in 2002 that came through such a flexibility clause, similar to the article 122 measures that we have just seen. That is the explanation for my amendment, and I will be interested to hear the Minister's response.
Mr Lidington: I am grateful to my hon. Friends the Members for Stone (Mr Cash) and for Daventry (Chris Heaton-Harris) for the courteous and logical way in which they have set out their views and spoken to the amendments.
Clause 8 provides for the prior parliamentary approval of a decision by the Government to support future uses of article 352 of the treaty on the functioning of the European Union through an Act of Parliament, subject to certain defined exceptions. Article 352 can be used to adopt measures in order to attain one of the EU's objectives where the existing treaties have not provided the specific legal base on which to do so.
The measures concerned are, as my hon. Friend the Member for Stone acknowledged fairly, subject to the British veto, require unanimity among all member states and must remain within the confines of the EU's objectives. Nevertheless, because of its enabling nature, the use of article 352 of TFEU has led in the past-quite understandably, I happily concede-to concerns that it can be used to facilitate competence creep. It is an article in whose use the scrutiny Committees in both Houses have taken a great interest, and I am sure that that interest will continue.
In responding to my hon. Friends, I will start by saying that the use of article 352 is now subject to much greater constraints than it was prior to the entry into force of the Lisbon treaty. In particular, it must be read in conjunction with declarations 41 and 42, annexed to that treaty. They set out four criteria that govern the application of the article. First, article 352
"cannot serve as a basis for widening the scope of Union powers beyond the general framework created by the provisions of the Treaties as a whole and, in particular, by those that define the tasks and activities of the Union".
It is also important to make the point that a fair number of those policy areas that in the past involved the use of article 352 have now, in the Lisbon treaty, specific treaty bases of their own. That means that in future it will not be possible to bring forward measures on the basis of article 352, because an alternative, defined and specific legal base will exist.
Let me illustrate that point to the Committee. Sanctions have been the subject of article 352 measures in the past, but we now have article 215(2) of the Lisbon treaty, which deals with measures to apply sanctions against natural or legal persons and groups of non-state entities. Similarly, articles 212 and 213 of the treaty on the functioning of the European Union make provision for measures of macro-economic assistance to third countries-again a policy area for which, before Lisbon, article 352 was used as the legal base.
Secondly, article 352 cannot be used as a basis for the adoption of provisions whose effect would in substance be to amend the treaties without following the procedure that they provide for that purpose. Thirdly, the article cannot be used to harmonise natural laws in cases where the treaties exclude such harmonisation. Fourthly, the article cannot be used to obtain objectives pertaining to the common foreign and security policy.
Mr Cash: I understand exactly what the Minister says, but I am sure he will concede that that is all without prejudice to the fact that the measure is an expansion of what is a very wide provision in itself. For example, on the point that he has just made, there is a self-amendment provision in the treaty. It is difficult in such debates to get right down to the nuts and bolts, but basically this is a problem of an expanding treaty provision that was widely construed and widely drafted in the first place.
Mr Lidington: Given the history of the article's use, I do not blame my hon. Friend for being properly sceptical and inquiring about how it might be used in future, but the Lisbon treaty now sets out explicit and specific treaty bases to govern policy areas and legislative measures that were previously the subject of article 352 authority, so it rules out the article's future use to authorise measures in those categories.
Despite the greater restrictions on the use of article 352, and although it is not a ratchet clause under the definition that the Government have tried to apply consistently, given its significance we have decided that its use should be subject to greater parliamentary control. At the moment, as my hon. Friend acknowledges, its use is subject to the same parliamentary scrutiny as any other proposal for EU legislation, and the Bill makes it clear that this Government do not believe that that is sufficient, hence the inclusion of clause 9. The provisions will apply to proposals for which article 352 forms one part of the legal base and to proposals based on article 352 exclusively.
The article has been used in the past to authorise a range of important measures: to set up EU agencies such as the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights; to set up things such as a community civil protection mechanism; and to enable member states to work together to mitigate damage from natural or man-made disasters. They were important decisions, and they exemplify exactly the sort of legislation that will require an Act of Parliament under this Bill before the United Kingdom is able to sign up to it.
I turn, however, to the exemptions. Where legislation based on article 352 is equivalent to a previous measure, prolongs or renews an existing measure or extends a previous measure in terms of its geographical scope, we do not think it right to require an Act of Parliament in
order to agree to it-if the substance of the measure is identical to a previously agreed measure. If it is not identical, the measure should none the less be subjected to parliamentary approval by Act of Parliament. Similarly, we do not judge that an Act of Parliament is an appropriate requirement if the legislation simply repeals existing measures or consolidates, without adding to, existing measures made under that article. Any proposal for legislation based on that article, even if the Government consider that it is covered by one of the exemptions, would of course remain subject to the normal arrangements for the scrutiny of EU legislation and the powers of the two scrutiny Committees.
It is worth noting that the use of article 352 for legislative proposals will now also be subject to the protocol on the application of the principles of subsidiarity and proportionality. I encourage the scrutiny Committees to continue the work that they are doing on the use of yellow and orange cards, because they might wish to take advantage of such opportunities in relation to measures under article 352.
If a Minister intends to rely on any of the exemptions in the Bill, he is required by clause 8 to lay before Parliament a statement setting out his reasoning. Parliament and the public will be able to judge whether the proposal in question really does fall under an exemption, to challenge the decision of the Minister, and, in the case of Parliament, to override that decision.
The three proposed amendments to clause 8 would make substantive changes to the treatment of uses of article 352 that do not require primary legislation under the Bill. Amendment 26 would narrow the scope of the exempt purposes under which uses of the article can be agreed without primary legislation. It would remove the requirement for a Minister to make a statement to Parliament and replace it with a vote in both Houses. The consequence of the first change would be that only uses of the article that were equivalent to a previous use or that consolidated previous uses of the article, which themselves had been adopted in line with the provisions of the Bill, including through primary legislation, would be considered exempt from the primary legislation requirement. The consequence of the amendment, therefore, would be that Parliament would have to approve through primary legislation a number of uses of article 352 that it had already considered. It does not seem sensible to legislate on issues whose substance Parliament has already considered and approved.
The requirement for a positive vote in both Houses in place of a Minister's statement would, again, place significant demands on Parliament's time. Such proposals are already subject to the requirements of parliamentary scrutiny. If the scrutiny Committees thought it necessary, they could recommend that the question of whether such a proposal was exempt be subjected to debate. That debate would be on a motion that could be amended, so Parliament would be able to express its view of the Minister's judgment.
Amendment 26 would also mean that both Houses would have to approve the repeal of an existing article 352 measure. Providing for a vote on the repeal of European Union legislation is not in-keeping with the overall objective of the Bill, which is to enhance public and
parliamentary control over future decisions in the EU-not previous decisions that are being terminated. For those reasons, I urge my hon. Friend the Member for Daventry not to press the amendment.
Amendments 43 and 53 seek to remove the exempt purpose criteria from clause 8. The effect would be that primary legislation would be required for every single use of article 352. For the reasons I have outlined, I do not judge that requiring primary legislation for each and every use of the article, including the repeal, consolidation or extension of existing measures without further EU action, is proportionate or necessary. I urge my hon. Friend the Member for Stone to seek leave to withdraw the amendment.
'any existing or proposed measure under Title V of Part 3 of TFEU.'.
'presented to the Council pursuant to Title V of Part 3 of TFEU, apart from a notification in relation to a measure that, at the time of the notification, would if adopted extend the powers of Eurojust to include the initiation of criminal investigations.'.
'(d) the provision of Article 83(2) of TFEU (harmonisation of criminal offences and sanctions) that permits the establishment by directive of minimum rules with regard to the definition of criminal offences and sanctions in an area subject to harmonisation measures by the same ordinary or special legislative procedure as was followed for the adoption of the harmonisation measures in question.'.
'(3A) Subject to subsection (3B), a Minister of the Crown may not vote in favour of or otherwise support a decision under Article 4 of the Schengen Protocol that would cause the United Kingdom to participate in further provisions of the Schengen acquis, unless a Minister of the Crown has given an oral statement to the Chamber of the House of Commons on Her Majesty's Government's intention to support the draft decision.
'(3D) A Minister of the Crown may not permit the United Kingdom's participation in the final adoption of a measure building upon the Schengen acquis unless a Minister of the Crown has given an oral statement to the Chamber of the House of Commons on Her Majesty's Government's intention that the United Kingdom will participate in final adoption of the measure.'.
(c) a measure adopted under Article 82(2)(d) of TFEU (minimum rules on criminal procedure) that identifies a further specific aspect or aspects of criminal procedure to which directives adopted under the ordinary legislative procedure may relate;
(d) a measure adopted under Article 83(1) of TFEU (particularly serious crime with a cross-border dimension) that identifies a further area or areas of crime to which directives adopted under the ordinary legislative procedure may relate.'.
'(7) A Minister of the Crown may not give a notification under Article 3 or 4 of the AFSJ Protocol that the United Kingdom wishes to take part in the adoption and application of a measure, or to accept a measure, to which this subsection applies unless-
(9) Subsection (7) applies to a measure that includes, at the time of notification by a Minister of the Crown under Article 3 or 4 of the AFSJ Protocol, the extension of the powers of Eurojust to include the initiation of criminal investigations.'.
(b) a measure adopted under Article 82(2)(d) of TFEU (minimum rules on criminal procedure) that identifies a futher specific aspect or aspects of criminal procedure to which directives adopted under the ordinary legislative procedure may relate; and
(c) a measure adopted under Article 83(1) of TFEU (particularly serious crime with a cross-border dimension) that identifies a further area or areas of crime to which directives adopted under the ordinary legislative procedure may relate.'.
'(7) In addition to the approval required in accordance with subsection (1) or (4), as the case may be, a Minister of the Crown may not give a notification under Article 3 or 4 of the AFSJ Protocol that the United Kingdom wishes to take part in the adoption and application of a measure, or to accept a measure, to which this subsection applies unless-
(a) a previous decision, in which the United Kingdom does not participate, adopted under Article 82(2)(d) of TFEU that identifies a further specific aspect or aspects of criminal procedure to which directives adopted under the ordinary legislative procedure may relate;
(b) a previous decision, in which the United Kingdom does not participate, adopted under Article 83(1) of TFEU that identifies a further area or areas of crime to which directives adopted under the ordinary legislative procedure may relate.'.
(2) Subsection (1) applies in relation to a notification under Article 3 of Protocol (No. 21) on the position of the United Kingdom and Ireland in respect of the area of freedom, security and justice annexed to TEU and TFEU (the "AFSJ Protocol") and Article 4 of the Protocol integrating the Schengen acquis that the United Kingdom wishes to take part in the adoption and application of any measure proposed under Title V.
(4) Despite any Parliamentary approval given for the purposes of subsection (1), a Minister may not vote in favour of or otherwise support a decision under a provision falling within Title V unless the draft decision is approved by Act of Parliament.
(5) A Minister of the Crown may not give a notification under Article 4 of the AFSJ Protocol that the United Kingdom wishes to accept a measure unless the notification in respect of the measure has been approved by Act of Parliament.'.
Mr Clappison: We come to a new subject area, that of freedom, security and justice, which used to be known as the judicial and home affairs pillar of the EU. As the clause stands, it would require parliamentary approval for a UK decision to opt in to certain provisions in the area of freedom, security and justice. At the moment, as I am sure the Committee knows, the UK enjoys an opt-out in that area. Were a decision to be taken to opt in to one of the matters specified in clause 9, parliamentary approval would therefore be needed.
Three such matters are specified in clause 9(2). Generally, they seem to cover further developments in the field that are not specifically set out in the freedom, security and justice chapter, which is chapter 5 of the treaty of Lisbon. I should say that that is a lengthy chapter containing many matters. I think I can see the Government's thinking, which is to cover further developments in European law and new ideas in the field of family law, criminal procedure and serious crime. I agree with that thinking, as far as it goes, because it means that opt-ins on those matters will require parliamentary approval.
It should be said straight away that that is an improvement on the current situation, in which there is no requirement for approval of any of the important matters specified in the clause. There will therefore be additional protection, if one wants to look at it that way, and there will certainly be an additional role for the House, which will be required to give its approval before the UK can opt in.
Ms Stuart: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way and for tabling the amendment. Does he share my sadness that since May 2010, the Government have opted in to eight such provisions, including on such matters as the European investigation order, a new IT agency and a new crime and immigration database that will cost €113 million to set up, without the House having had any say in the decision?
Mr Clappison: The hon. Lady has updated my information, which only goes as far as 30 November, by which point there had been six opt-ins. There have therefore been another two since, and they are coming along all the time. We heard evidence in the European Scrutiny Committee that 30 or 40 such opt-ins were due to take place. The EU has an ambitious programme in that regard-that is not an expression of opinion; it has admitted it. I shall deal with that later.
The hon. Lady is absolutely right that some of the opt-ins are on important points, and I shall come to one or two of them that I experienced under the previous procedure. I should like to ask the Minister how many
of the provisions that we have opted in to since the present Government came to power would have been covered by the procedures in clause 9. I fully accept that those procedures are an improvement on the current situation, but I should like to know how well they cover the ground.
As the hon. Lady said, some of the opt-ins have been significant. I wish to mention two in particular-they were debated a little yesterday, so I will not take the Committee over the same ground. They are the European investigation order, which received practically no scrutiny in the House and on which we had no opportunity for a vote, and the draft directive on the right to information, which was also very important. We had a little more scrutiny of it, but no real opportunity for a vote unless one was prepared to trigger a deferred Division.
Under successive Governments, the UK has been very careful and vigilant about permitting the EU to deal with the so-called area of freedom, security and justice, which is dealt with in clause 9. That goes back to pre-Maastricht days, when such matters were dealt with on the basis first of informal co-operation, and then of slightly more formal co-operation, between Home Affairs Ministers. They were not dealt with as part of the treaties or Community institutions-Home Affairs Ministers simply met to co-operate as such.
The Maastricht treaty put that on a more formal basis with what was described as the justice and home affairs pillar, which was the third pillar of the treaty. The first pillar was the old matters within the treaty-the single market, fisheries and agricultural policy, and all the rest of it-and the second was common foreign security policy.
One or two hon. Members who are in the Chamber now were in the House at the time of that treaty, and there was much debate on the justice and home affairs pillar. We were assured-I remember being given a solemn assurance by an authoritative figure in the Government of the time-that the treaty settled the problem as far as justice and home affairs were concerned, that we need not worry about home affairs coming within the purview of the Community method and Community institutions, and that they were being kept separate. The same applied to the common foreign security policy. The implication was that the pillars in the treaty would stand for ever, and that they were all the protection and assurance we needed. I am reluctant to say this but I have heard similar claims in respect of many other so-called safeguards since then, including in the course of this debate.
Mr Clappison: I am afraid that I was credulous. We were perhaps willing to believe and wanted to believe what we were told. We knew that it was right for the UK not to come within such matters in the EU so that we did not gradually integrate into a superstate or a federal united states of Europe. Many are still worried about that and we wanted to avoid it, and we thought the pillars were the answer.
Martin Horwood (Cheltenham) (LD):
One additional safeguard that was introduced in the Lisbon treaty is emergency brake clauses, which can be initiated within six months. They need not even be initiated by the
Executive; a national Parliament can do so. What is to prevent the European Scrutiny Committee from doing what it says on the can, scrutinising those things, and initiating a debate and the process that might engage the emergency brake clauses? They are a fundamental check and balance.
Mr Clappison: My humble amendment 14 proposes only that the House should have a vote on such matters. The hon. Gentleman implied yesterday that he agreed with that. I will turn in more detail to my amendment in a moment, but to dispose of his point, I have been told so many times in the House when we have made a concession to the EU, or agreed to further integration, the granting of competence or additional powers, or changes in its institutional arrangements, "Don't worry. We are putting safeguards in place." At the time of Maastricht, that meant the pillar structure. We were then told about subsidiarity, and we now have orange and yellow cards and emergency brakes, but no one has come anywhere near using those devices. We have had subsidiarity for 18 years, and the only time that it was used that I have been told about is in respect of the zoo directive.
Mr Bernard Jenkin (Harwich and North Essex) (Con): I remember being told in the early 1990s that enlargement would have a decentralising effect on the EU, and that the increase in the number of net payers to the EU budget would create downward pressure on it. The history of our relationship with the EU is littered with complacent and wishful ministerial assertions on what will happen as a result of Government actions and agreements in the EU. My hon. Friend is absolutely right.
Mr Clappison: Notwithstanding all the assurances, such as the ones that we just heard from the hon. Member for Cheltenham (Martin Horwood), about the safeguards that are in place and despite all that we have been told over the years, under the treaty of Lisbon judicial and home affairs were planted fairly and squarely in the Community institutions and method, under what was the old first pillar, and subject to the ECJ and all the other EU institutions.
Mr Cash: The hon. Member for Cheltenham mentioned the European Scrutiny Committee, so may I say that the investigative order is still subject to scrutiny? He may be assured that we will follow every step, but we have no confidence in that part of the coalition that voted for all these arrangements under the Lisbon treaty-by that, I do not mean the Scrutiny Committee because I am talking about myself.
To be fair to the hon. Member for Cheltenham, he has an honourable and consistent approach to these matters which has a lot of appeal in the country. He is in favour of a more integrated Europe and of expanding the competences of the EU in co-operation with Europe. That is an honourable point of view to take. I take a slightly different view, but I respect him for his views. However, I would point out to him that of all the safeguards that have been mentioned, the one that seems to have been most satisfactory-it is
possibly the only one-is the opt-out. When one surveys the history of this country's participation in the EU, the areas in which people take most satisfaction are those from which we opted out, foremost among which is the single European currency. Some people say that that was one of the greatest achievements of our European policy. All the things that we have gone along with are the subject of great dissatisfaction.
Kelvin Hopkins (Luton North) (Lab): I apologise for missing the start of the hon. Gentleman's speech. I agree with what he says about opt-outs. Would it not be to the advantage of the British people if we could also opt out of, for example, the common fisheries policy?
The reason why the hon. Gentleman's amendment is so important is that it goes to the heart of the contradiction. We are told that the EU is a political construct in which the Union has only those powers that member states have decided to give it, but when we raise questions we are told that there are safeguards, which actually shows that that is not quite how it works. Proportionality and subsidiarity have not worked-only the opt-out contains the powers, and that is why it is so important.
Mr David: The hon. Member for Stone (Mr Cash) made an indirect reference to the opt-in by the Government on the European investigation order. The Government provided the reason-some might that think that it was an excuse-but it could not be scrutinised by the Scrutiny Committee here or in the other place because of the general election. If the political will had been there, would it not have been possible to have at least informal consultation with leading members of the outgoing Committee, so that the Government had an indication of informed Back-Bench opinion on the issue?
Mr Clappison: During the period that the hon. Gentleman's party was in office, we tried informal consultations, formal consultations and many other forms of consultation, and we did not get very far. To be fair to Ministers, this clause is a step forward and improves on the position that they inherited. I am trying to go just a little further than that, because this is such an important issue. I seem to remember that we were told that the opt-out on justice, freedom and security was one of the differences between the defunct constitutional treaty and the treaty of Lisbon-that the UK had an opt-out. That was given as one reason why we did not require a referendum.
I also seem to recollect-I will be corrected if I am wrong-that justice and home affairs were described as one of the then Government's "red lines" when they were negotiating the treaty of Lisbon. The former Prime Minister, Tony Blair, said that he was not prepared to cross those red lines. The opt-out was one of those red
lines, so if the present Government opt in to those areas, we will have crossed those red lines. That illustrates how important the issue is. However, I give credit to my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Front Bench, because they are taking it very seriously indeed. They have made a lot of progress, but we are not talking about something over which, like it or not, the European Union has competence, because it does not. That is the important point.
We have opted out. We can sit back. We do not need to do anything as far as those matters are concerned. We are not in a position, which we would be in if we had not opted out-that is, if we had ordinary membership and were involved in ordinary participation-where we could be outvoted on qualified majority voting; nor, if something was subject to unanimity, would we face being in the possibly invidious position of being the only ones objecting to it, thereby holding up all the other members and preventing them from doing something that they wanted to do. Those considerations do not arise. We have opted out of those matters, and there is no pressure on us to opt in to them. Opting in would be a voluntary decision on our part, and would mean choosing to submit ourselves to the institutions of the European Union-the Community method and the jurisdiction of the European Court-and to abnegate self-government for this country on those matters.
Martin Horwood: The hon. Gentleman is being extremely generous in giving way. He is extolling the virtue of opt-outs, as opposed to using emergency brake clauses, which are designed to provide a safeguard against the opt-in procedure. However, to put the boot on the other foot, has he or any of his hon. Friends ever attempted to initiate any of the brake clauses, which, as I have said, is in the hands of national Parliaments, not Governments? If not, what is his real complaint?
Mr Clappison: Why should we want to opt in to something and then apply the emergency brake? I do not understand the thinking on that. If we opted in, that would presumably be because we saw some virtue in doing so and would not want immediately to put our foot on the brake. However, the hon. Gentleman has an honourable position on this issue. I have a completely different view: I want our criminal and civil law to be made in this country, I want the people of this country to exercise self-government over themselves, and I want them to be able to change Governments by exercising their votes. They would not be able to do any of that if we had opted in, because then we would be submitting ourselves voluntarily to European government, as opposed to democratic self-government in this country. There is therefore a fundamental difference between us.
It is significant if we decide to opt in because once we have done so, we could become subject to amendments on the same matters. Although we would have an opt-in on those as well, we would none the less be under a great deal of pressure, facing the prospect of financial penalties, were we not to opt in to any proposals that came along. We took a lot of evidence in the European Scrutiny Committee on that issue from the former Home Secretary, particularly about the unsatisfactory
arrangements that were made for new opt-ins, as well as the existing opt-ins to the former judicial and home affairs pillar, where we face financial penalties. One cannot be said to be exercising a free choice if one faces a financial penalty for not going along with something.
More importantly, we are also submitting ourselves to the European Court of Justice. In debates on previous groups of amendments we heard some good examples of what can happen with competence creep under the old article 308. However, competence creep can also come about, as it has done, through the European Court of Justice exercising its jurisdiction. We are voluntarily submitting ourselves to that jurisdiction, and that does not apply only to cross-border matters, which is the pretence. Rather, we are submitting to the European Court of Justice's jurisdiction in every element of criminal law and civil law, and in all our courts across the country, if we opt in to matters that govern those elements.
We sometimes complain about the lack of transparency in EU decision making, but to be fair to the European Union there is no lack of transparency about its ambitions. I believe that one of its ambitions is to build an area of freedom, security and justice; I disagree with the hon. Member for Cheltenham (Martin Horwood) on that. In President Barroso's state of the Union address last autumn-he has one as well as President Obama now-he said that it was the European Union's third top priority to build such an area. That is also in the treaty of Lisbon. We can expect to see many proposals on European contract law and many other issues in the coming year or so, and we shall have to decide whether to opt in to them or not. The proposals that my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Mr Cash) and others have put in place would be of great assistance when those matters come before the House for consideration.
I commend the interest and commitment of my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Front Bench on this issue. They have recognised that it is a problem, and set out to deal with it in a much better way than it has ever been dealt with before. We now have clause 9. In addition, a written ministerial statement was made last week. It did not go quite as far as I would have wished, but I have a lot of wishes in that regard. It represented a significant improvement, however, and we have been promised a substantive vote when there is interest in these substantial matters in the House, to enable hon. Members to express their approval. There is still a question of who decides which matters are of great interest, but this is at least a step forward.
I hope that time will be found and that we will have those votes, because it is very much in the interest of the Government and the House that they take place. I urge my right hon. and hon. Friends not to exercise the legislative override but to permit a full debate on these matters on a substantive motion, preferably on the Floor of the House, with a vote at the end of it. They have promised to discuss these matters with the European Scrutiny Committee and its Chairman, my hon. Friend the Member for Stone-I know that he stands ready to help in those discussions-and to facilitate debates and votes taking place in the House.
I am sure that constructive discussions will take place on how this can be arranged, and on how we can improve our scrutiny of these matters. I know that Ministers take their responsibilities very seriously, and I hope that they will take from this the message that,
while we regard all scrutiny as important, it is particularly important in regard to the opt-ins that would bring us within the purview of European Union institutions for the first time. It is especially important that we should have debates and votes on them, and that Ministers should listen to the messages that they receive. They should consult members of the European Scrutiny Committee and listen to what they are told, and we should proceed on that basis.
I would prefer us not to opt in to any of these things. I would prefer us to exercise the opt-out, but we are where we are. If we are going to have the possibility of opt-ins, it is preferable that we have a proper debate and a proper vote on the Floor of the House of Commons, rather than some of the procedures that we have gone through in the past which, despite the diligence and hard work of the European Scrutiny Committee, did not really amount to what our constituents would regard as proper scrutiny, because of the restrictions involved.
I am relying on my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Front Bench to make good their words, as I am sure that they will wish to do, about further improvements to the parliamentary scrutiny of these matters. I shall not press my amendment to a vote, but I look forward to discussions taking place so that we can build on the improved system that is being put in place to create a much better system of parliamentary scrutiny.
Mr David: I would like to say a few additional words about clause 9, which follows on directly from what has been said. I do not want to repeat what I said earlier, but I hope that the Minister will respond to the points I raised earlier about the clause. Unfortunately, he simply dismissed my earlier question about the advocates-general. We are in Committee and we have every right to expect proper and considered responses from the Minister.
As the hon. Member for Hertsmere (Mr Clappison) said, this is an important issue. It has in the past been a red line in terms of the negotiations, and the opt-ins that are possible in the not-too-distant future should at the very least be subject to proper debate and parliamentary scrutiny. That is absolutely correct. What I am concerned about, to return to a point I made earlier, is the apparent illogicality of the Bill. If, by common agreement, this is an important area, surely there should be careful consideration of whether or not there should be a referendum on this subject.
I am not arguing the case for having referendums generally-as I said in the debate a couple of days ago, there are profound conceptual problems in having a multiplicity of referendums-but I believe this is an important issue. If the Government claim to be producing a piece of legislation that is logical, coherent and systematic, I would like to know their argument for not having a referendum on these opt-ins.
Stemming from that, the Minister has made it abundantly clear-he made it very clear last night-that the Government will not contemplate holding a referendum until 2015 at the earliest, but the issue of these JHA-justice and home affairs-opt-ins will come to the fore in the next few years. It is therefore important to have a proper response from the Government, so the Minister should at the very least attempt to justify his position.
The First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means (Mr Nigel Evans): Order. I remind the Committee that there will be no separate clause 9 stand part debate. If anyone wishes to make any comments relevant to that, now is the time to do so.
Chris Heaton-Harris: I shall speak mainly to the amendments I have tabled, talk about the general opt-ins and ask a couple of questions about the written ministerial statement that was issued last Thursday, particularly on how aspects of it might work in the future. I always have questions about the who and when of decision taking.
My amendment 27 deals with something that is missing from the Bill-the body known as Eurojust. Eurojust is not the European public prosecutor, but it represents a massive step towards a European public prosecutor. Under article 85 of TFEU, its remit falls under ordinary legislative procedure, so a proposal comes from the Commission, qualified majority voting applies in the Council and co-decision applies within the European Parliament. It already has a huge amount of power-or it will have, when it is set up.
"an area of freedom, security and justice for Europe's citizens",
which was an action plan implementing the Stockholm programme. The Stockholm programme is the five-year European Union plan for justice and home affairs measures, which was adopted by the European Council in December 2009. On page 18 of the document, the European Commission states that in 2012, it will make a proposal for an EU regulation
"giving Eurojust powers to directly initiate investigations."
Even if the current Government do not opt into the proposal, there is nothing in the Bill to require them to seek Parliament's or the people's approval to opt in once the regulation is adopted, allowing Eurojust to initiate investigations in the UK, for example. This is a massive step towards the European public prosecutor. I hope the Minister will reassure me that he will address that point at some stage, if not today.
It may be useful if I provide some examples of significant justice and home affairs matters that the last Government opted into. I could have picked any issue in that category, but I chose the issue of asylum because I know that it always gets the blood flowing.
"on minimum standards for the qualification and status of third country nationals or stateless persons as refugees or as persons who otherwise need international protection and the content of the protection granted"
sets out the rights enjoyed by those who have been granted refugee status. Some of them go beyond the rights approved for the 1951 Geneva convention on refugees, such as those relating to access to the employment market and social security.
"laying down minimum standards for the reception of asylum seekers",
"on minimum standards on procedures in Member States for the granting and withdrawing of refugee status"
lays down various restrictions and requirements regarding the procedures that member states can follow in processing asylum claims and withdrawing refugee status. They include specific requirements for the possibility of legal challenge by asylum seekers to various decisions taken as part of the process.
Those pieces of legislation were part of the first wave of the construction of the common European asylum system that was first called for in the Tampere European Council of October 1999. The Commission has been pressing on with further legislation to build that common system since then, and over the past two years it has presented three proposals for directives to replace those that I have cited. The general thrust of the proposals is a desire to further "harmonise" asylum policy and processes across the EU and, as a consequence, to limit national discretion yet further. As it happens, the last Government decided not to opt into those later proposals; but what would happen if this Government, or a future Government, chose to opt into them? It is realistic to assume that, under the Bill, Parliament would have no legal control.
I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Hertsmere (Mr Clappison) that the Bill constitutes a step forward in one respect, and I congratulate the Minister on advancing so far. The written ministerial statement on justice and home affairs scrutiny laid before the House last Thursday contains a great deal of common sense, but I think that there is a need for further discussion of the consequences that will flow from it with the European Scrutiny Committee and other interested parliamentarians. Let me quote the key passage. It states that
"in circumstances where there is particularly strong parliamentary interest in the Government's decision on whether or not to opt in to such a measure, the Government express their willingness to set aside Government time for a debate in both Houses on the basis of a motion on the Government's recommended approach on the opt-in. The precise details of these arrangements to allow such debates and the circumstances in which Government time would be set aside will be the subject of further consultation with the European Scrutiny Committees, business managers"
"and the Commons and Lords Home Affairs and Justice Select Committees. These discussions will also need to determine how arrangements would operate during periods of parliamentary recess and dissolution of Parliament."
"However, the Government believe that as a general rule, it would be appropriate to do so in circumstances where they propose to opt in to a measure which would have a substantial impact on the United Kingdom's criminal or civil law, our national security, civil liberties or immigration policy. The Government will also put in place analogous arrangements for parliamentary scrutiny of decisions to opt-out of measures under the Schengen protocol."-[ Official Report, 20 January 2011; Vol. 521, c. 52WS.]
The written ministerial statement raises a number of questions. I shall talk about a couple of them now, but I would like to think that discussions can be ongoing and we can flesh out the detail. What would constitute "particularly strong parliamentary interest"? How, therefore, is a debate in Government time triggered? Would it be triggered by a referral by the European Scrutiny Committee? That could be complemented by an additional right whereby a certain number of MPs could trigger such a debate. Does the commitment to a debate and vote cover the opt-in to a justice and home affairs law
already adopted by the other member states? The written ministerial statement seemed to indicate otherwise. Similarly, does the commitment cover the opt-in to new aspects of the existing Schengen acquis, such as common visa rules, where this opt-in is not covered by clause 6 of the Bill? Would it cover the opt-in to a pre-Lisbon police and criminal justice law that has ceased to apply to the UK because it exercised the bloc opt-out before June 2014? If it does cover that, how would Parliament be made aware that such an opt-in was being considered by the Government, given that this could happen at any time?
Ms Gisela Stuart: I hope that the hon. Gentleman will tell me if I say something that is incorrect, because I have not had sight of that written ministerial statement. We know that whenever we negotiate an opt-out in Brussels we spend political capital so, by definition, anything that we negotiate to opt out of is significant and an opt-in is a significant step. So any opt-in ought to be debated in Parliament and subject to a substantive vote because it must have been so important that we expended political capital securing it.
Chris Heaton-Harris: I tend to agree with the hon. Lady. When she reads the written ministerial statement, she will see that it represents a huge step forward in our scrutiny of these things in this place and she may see what measures the Government might want to opt into. I wished to raise this question of the opt-in now, because I think that the Bill is a step forward, as is this clause.
Martin Horwood: I was interested by the intervention made by the hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Ms Stuart). She has great knowledge of European matters, but she may be wrong about this. Not everything that we are talking about opting into based on these passerelles has been positively opted out of before. We are talking about new ways of working within the competences already set out in those passerelles.
Chris Heaton-Harris: That is possibly the case. I do not wish to give a definite answer, because I am not the expert on this matter and I was just raising it for the Committee in general debate. I am not sure that what the hon. Gentleman describes is the case, but I would hate to say that he is wrong because, as my hon. Friend the Member for Hertsmere said, although we might have different views, the factual statements that the hon. Member for Cheltenham (Martin Horwood) has made have invariably been correct.
Mr Clappison: The opt-in arrangements are found in the "Protocol on the position of the UK and Ireland in respect of the area of freedom, security and justice". This is in the Lisbon treaty itself and as far as those matters are concerned we have to opt in.
I am looking forward to the Minister clarifying that for us all. I was discussing the questions about the written ministerial statement where we need things fleshed out. This Government commitment does not require the Government to come before Parliament to get approval for each of their decisions to opt in, which is what the amendments would entail. Although the current Government might give this commitment, it may not apply in the future, whereas a requirement in statute, rather than something in a written ministerial
statement, would be expected to withstand the passage of time much better. There are a number of omissions from the written ministerial statement. It does not deal with the timing of the process and whether new proposals are acted on in a different way, and the arrangements for opting into things that have already been adopted by our EU partners causes me concern, because I am not sure whether this process catches that.
Those are all matters of conjecture and question, and they are ways in which we can altogether improve the scrutiny of justice and home affairs opt-ins in the future. I see the hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr David) nodding his head in agreement and I believe there is massive cross-party and cross-Parliament interest in getting this process right for the future. I do not see the issue as politically contentious.
I note the massive steps forward that have been made with this Bill and in the written ministerial statement, so I shall not press my amendments to a vote either. I thank the Minister for coming so far so fast and look forward to working with him on this matter in the future.
Mr Dominic Raab (Esher and Walton) (Con): Thank you, Mr Evans, for calling me to speak in this debate on clause 9, which is one of the Bill's key provisions. The treatment of justice and home affairs merits close scrutiny in the Bill. The EU is increasingly seeking to broaden and deepen its authority in this important area. We need only to consider the inception of the Stockholm programme, to which the previous Government signed up, on policing, justice, asylum and borders. It is also illustrated-if further illustration were needed-by the 13% budget increase for this policy area in this year's EU budget, which is higher than that for any other area. That is a sign of the ambition in Brussels to move bit by bit towards a pan-European legal system, at odds with our distinct history and tradition of justice reflected in the common law, our safeguards for personal freedom and our adversarial court system.
Nick de Bois: My hon. Friend has touched on a matter of great importance. I welcome the safeguards. It seems to me that justice in other countries is very different from justice in ours, principally on the basis of mutual recognition that many things are the same. It concerns me that we must keep as divorced as possible from the system in France, for example. Even a former French Justice Minister said, "The assumption here is that one is innocent until one is proven guilty, but in reality, with our magistrates courts, it is the other way around." That will be difficult to reconcile and we must have very strong safeguards.
Mr Raab: I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention and I agree entirely with him. We can already see an example of that in the European arrest warrant. We have jumped in and we are now reviewing its domestic implementation and the potential for the international instrument. The presumption of innocence is just one area, as my hon. Friend has suggested, where we have a fundamental difference of legal cultures. I do not think that either party should show that any disrespect.
Brussels certainly has ambitions in that area and with those ambitions in mind I want to point out that there are disappointingly few decisions on JHA policy in the Bill for which, although there is no referendum requirement, parliamentary approval is required before the Government take a decision to opt in. For example, as I understand it the decision to opt into the European investigation order would not have required Parliament's approval under the Bill despite its ramifications for operational policing and the lack of safeguards for innocent British citizens. Immigration and asylum policy is also left out despite the fact that the EU is currently proposing far-reaching changes in that very important area.
I would be the first to accept that the British people cannot have a referendum on every item of JHA policy, but why cannot their elected representatives have a say on every opt-in to ensure proper democratic scrutiny? I am very encouraged by the Minister's written statement, which I have looked at closely and which effectively endorsed the principle of a parliamentary vote on JHA opt-ins. That is an important step forward and, as other Members have made clear, it is extremely welcome. As the statement made clear, such a provision would depend first on the discretion of the European Scrutiny Committee and its Chair to call a debate and table a motion. That is fine with the current Committee and Chair, but-if we can possibly imagine this-if it were one day to have a less meticulous Chair or more integrationist members, that check might be diluted. Secondly, the provision would depend on the discretion of Ministers about whether to make Government time available.
There is an even more important issue to consider than the individual opt-ins. Britain has to decide by June 2014 whether to accept European Court of Justice jurisdiction over police and justice measures that predate the Lisbon treaty or, alternatively, to opt out altogether. After that date, the full body of pre-Lisbon legislation will come under the control of the Luxembourg Court, so this decision has enormous constitutional implications for our criminal justice system. It represents a unique opportunity for this country either to regain control of our justice agenda or, if we so decide-let us not rule out this option-fully to embrace a pan-European model. I am clear in my own mind that we should preserve our distinct justice system which is famous the world over. It guarantees our personal freedoms and defines the British sense of fair play.
Beyond the technical niceties of the Bill, something bigger is at stake-from habeas corpus to the presumption of innocence, which my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield North (Nick de Bois) mentioned, or to free speech, which is poorly protected in France and seems to be disappearing in Hungary but is still cherished in Britain. These abstract legal concepts define our citizenship, our identity, our culture and ultimately our way of life. I respect the fact that others may disagree on this; some may wish to argue the merits of the Napoleonic legacy or the pros and cons of the continental civil law tradition, while others may claim that a pan-European amalgam might just get the best of both worlds. That is fair enough, and those are perfectly respectable positions, but what is not acceptable is for that kind of decision on
a matter of that kind of magnitude to be quietly nodded through without the formal debate and approval of the House. I welcome the policy commitment in last week's written ministerial statement, but we need a commitment that the decision to opt in en bloc will be subject to parliamentary approval and not just a debate, and it would be relatively easy to do that in the Bill.
To conclude, I support the aims of the Bill and much of its content. It has the potential, at least, to transform the country's relationship with Europe and to restore some transparency and legitimacy to the much-shrouded decision making in Brussels.
Mr Jenkin: In the next group of amendments we will discuss this same topic in relation to a possible Act of Parliament or referendum. Will my hon. Friend reflect on the fact that it would be inconceivable that a Government could implement such a dramatic change to our legal system and our legal culture without a substantial Act, or several Acts, of Parliament? Is a resolution of the House enough to govern this Executive act-this stroke of the pen-by a Minister at a meeting of the Council of Ministers?
Mr Raab: I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention; his point is well made. Obviously, if we decided to opt in, legislation would be inevitable, but the question is whether or not we should opt in. That principle should be subject not only to legislative scrutiny but to a debate and a vote.
Kelvin Hopkins: Before the hon. Gentleman concludes, I want to support very strongly what he has been saying. An important factor of the British legal system is the fact that it has been imitated throughout the Commonwealth. Many Commonwealth countries have legal systems based on ours, and if we abandoned our legal system in favour of a completely different system-a continental European system-that would break an important link with the Commonwealth that we should preserve.
Mr Raab: I thank the hon. Gentleman for that intervention and I agree. Indeed, senior members of the judiciary have said the same thing. The Lord Chief Justice recently gave a very informative speech saying that Britain no longer seems to be the champion of the common law. The ever-increasing move towards European integration in this area undermines that. Any proposed opt-in to justice and home affairs legislation, which goes to the very heart of our laws, liberties and way of life, must first be subject to proper oversight by and the approval of the House.
After 26 years of scrutinising treaties of one kind or another, sometimes tabling as many as 120 or 140 amendments, debating them in detail and listening to the arguments put forward by Government spokesmen, who say, first, for example, that we have reached the high water mark, and then that the measure is not what some people fear, perhaps it is inevitable that I have developed a certain resistance to the assumption that what we hear from the Front Bench will necessarily occur-I hope that is a nice way of putting it-and that
I have become if not cynical, which would be an unfair word, at least uncertain about the consequences that subsequent events may produce.
In other words, we do not get what it says on the tin, or necessarily what we are told we are likely to get. I am very sceptical, not just Eurosceptic. I question not the honesty of individuals, but the accuracy of their predictions. I therefore believe that this set of measures, as has been amply described by my hon. Friend the Member for Hertsmere and others in this debate, is hugely important, although not more important than any of the other provisions that are part of a continual stream of acquiescence in European integration.
Where the provisions speak of not allowing measures to go through by way of opt-in, by imposing the requirement for some kind of parliamentary approval, I am well aware that we table amendments, we argue the case, we have a European scrutiny process, we go through it in detail, it has been universally applauded by Ministers and people throughout the land-
The process has received a great deal of enthusiastic support, except when it comes to the votes. For all the flattering remarks made periodically about the members of the Committee and dedication and determination that they have applied, nothing happens. We do not get any of our amendments through and the Chamber is virtually empty. There is one assiduous Member on the Opposition Back Benches. I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Ms Stuart). She has the seat which, I think, used to be Birmingham, Central in the 1880s. She was not around at the time, but she is carrying forward a fine tradition of ensuring proper scrutiny. Her predecessors in that seat were assiduous in ensuring that the interests of the people of Birmingham were well looked after. I pay tribute to her not only for the fact that she is here today on her own on the Opposition Back Benches, but that she is taking an active part.
Mr Cash: That is an interesting insight. However, I shall not follow the hon. Lady down that route as it would take me into area in which I have a great deal of interest. The hon. Lady tempts me, but she will not succeed on this occasion.
I return to my concerns. I do not mean this as personal criticism of the Whips. They have a job to do. They are told what to do. It is part of a policy, and the question is whether we want this set of provisions on family law, criminal procedure, serious crime with cross-border dimensions and so on to be implemented at all. The problem we have relates to a decision whether to opt in. We should not be contemplating it. That is the problem. With great respect to my hon. Friends, I am not criticising; I am simply making a point.
I am concerned that we might congratulate the Government a little too much on their restraint in relation to giving approval by way of Act of Parliament or some motion, which, as my hon. Friend the Member for Harwich and North Essex (Mr Jenkin) said, really amounts to no more than a resolution. After getting past what I call the pas de deux of the opt-in, we then move downstream into the question of whether the Whips would allow the vote to go the wrong way. We have already had the example of the opt-in in relation to the investigative order. We know from my hon. Friend the Member for Hertsmere that there are 40 such opt-ins on the way. This is the Europeanisation of our criminal system-
Mr Cash: -and civil. Let us not get carried away by a few bits of paper and a few words in a Bill. They say that there will be restraint by way of approvals given by the House, but we know the realities. In relation to the opt-in on the investigative order-I think it was on 15 June, shortly after the general election-it can fairly be said that the Minister believed that she had to make that decision because, I think I am right in saying, there was a three-month period within which the decision had to be made. Perhaps there was some justification for the fact that she had to make the decision, but why did she make the decision to opt in? Why did she not make the decision not to opt in? That is my concern.
I plead with hon. Members not to be taken in by the effusions of reservation that emerge in letters, statements and the Bill. Right at the heart of this is the real question of whether we will end up with more Europeanisation of these matters, and the answer, emphatically, is yes.
"Securing legal peace by the administration of criminal law has always been a central duty of state authority...To what extent and in what areas a polity uses exactly the means of criminal law as an instrument of social control is a fundamental decision. By criminal law, a legal community gives itself a code of conduct that is anchored in its values, whose violation is, according to the shared convictions on law, regarded as so grievous and unacceptable for social existence in the community that it requires punishment."
I am so glad to hear that. I was not precisely aware of that part of the judgment, but my hon. Friend has made an important and helpful comment. The argument is right, and it is by dint of the most awful experience in Germany that it has come to these conclusions over an extended period since 1945. It is vigilant about these matters because it does not want ever again to find itself in the circumstances in which it found itself by virtue of a lack of democracy when Hitler ran Germany. I have an absolute belief in the democratic instincts and principles of the British people, which have been born out of not only fighting that very Germany, but also previous wars, right the way back to at least the 17th century. We have built up a democratic system in which we decide what the legislation should be, and we give it careful consideration. We need some
parliamentary reform. We are being given the impression that in relation to these matters we will be able to retain our criminal system, but unfortunately, because of the Whip system and the whole direction of Europeanisation, that will be removed by what will happen in practice. As helpful as all these procedures are in indicating the direction in which they might like to go in certain circumstances, I fear that we will have many opt-ins and that, in practice, the proposed procedures will be applied and the Whips will ensure that the measures go through.
I will give the European investigation order as an example. It is still subject to European scrutiny and there will be a debate on it-I cannot remember when-despite the fact that it was decided on 15 June last year. That is because the European Scrutiny Committee had not been set up by that time, but the rules still applied to that order. There will be a debate on that matter, but when it is debated, which in effect is the same kind of thing that the Minister refers to about parliamentary approval, up to a point, there will no doubt be a take-note motion-I cannot remember the precise motion- before the European Committee. The reality is that not once in the 26 years I have watched these matters has a decision of a European Committee not to take note, following a vote that went against a Minister, not been reversed on the Floor of the House by the use of the Whips. Why should I be confident that-
Mr Clappison: My hon. Friend has made some powerful points that are entirely borne out by my much lesser experience of the European scrutiny system. In the case of the European right to information order, which is another opt-in, the most we can do is vote against it in the relevant European Committee so that it comes back for a vote on the Floor of the House, but that is merely a deferred division on whether to take note of the document. We do not have the opportunity to say no to the opt-in. Is that his experience? We must have that option in the future if the Minister is to make good the promise, made in the statement of 20 January, that we will have the opportunity on a vote on the Floor of the House to say no to an opt-in.
Mr Cash: That is such a good example. In fact, I was in that debate with my hon. Friend-I was unable to vote in the Committee but took part in the proceedings. The reality is that that is how the system works in practice. This is about criminal law, but it is the same for everything else in the Bill. All the treaties, including all the laws, the entire encyclopaedia, all the work that is done in all the Departments and cross-departmental work-the whole country-are being run by a process of continuous European integration. The question is whether it is good for us or not. It is as simple as that, and that is a matter for us to judge.
However, because of the way policy is made, and with the help of the coalition, we are told that the Government think it is good for us. I do not agree, and I think that there are many other Members, and certainly many more people outside, who agree with what I have just said. Although the debates have been conducted with great courtesy and a great deal of substance on both sides of the argument, the real question is about what has happened. The short answer is that the Bill will go through and that we will put up a fight again in another motion under the arrangements proposed in clause 9, but in practice the process I have described will continue to happen.
Ms Stuart: At the risk of being accused of encouraging the hon. Gentleman, I must say that when Ministers are terribly courteous it is usually an indication that we are not getting anywhere. The first rule of politics is that until they are rude, we are not getting anywhere. The real problem is that the UK Permanent Representative to the EU is politically unaccountable. My ultimate plea is to have the UKRep stand here once a week, as the Deputy Prime Minister does, and be politically accountable for the negotiations and deals that are done at Brussels. Until we have that, all this is-
Mr Cash: I am grateful for that, Mr Evans, because otherwise the hon. Lady might have tempted me yet again. She knows my soft point, and she knows very well that it would not take me long to get going on that issue, either. But, she is right.
I have tabled a number of amendments, but I do not intend to press them to a vote, because we have had a thoroughly good debate, and I, like my hon. Friend the Member for Hertsmere, think that further consultation between the Minister, his officials, the European Scrutiny Committee and our Clerks might help to ensure that we get the maximum out of the provisions, even if they do not really measure up.
In any case, we know what happens in our votes; we have watched them now for about a week. On one occasion, we reached 45 genuine-as I call them- abstentions. By the way, Mr Evans, your name appeared on one list, but I said, "No, he's Chairman of Ways and Means; this is not somebody you can count in." Anyway, on parliamentary sovereignty we had between 45 and 50 such abstentions, which is quite a lot, but it is not anything like as many as the number of Members who rather agree with us in the broadest sense. I shall not go down that route, but what happens in votes is not very edifying. We do not win votes, because people are being told to vote in a way that is inconsistent with what they think, and that is another democratic problem.
Amendments 99 and 98 are mischievous, simply because they were tabled only to demonstrate my concern, which I have just raised, that opt-ins should not be allowed under any circumstances. On amendment 47, however, regarding the harmonisation of criminal offences and sanctions, my hon. Friends the Members for Esher and Walton, for Hertsmere and for Daventry are right. I am reluctant to adopt a default position, but for the purposes of debate I want to get out into the open something that concerns me, because the harmonisation of criminal offences and sanctions, on which I dare say books could be written, ought to be as restricted as possible.
"permits the establishment by directive of minimum rules with regard to the definition of criminal offences and sanctions in an area subject to harmonisation measures by the same ordinary or special legislative procedure as was followed for the adoption of the harmonisation measures in question."
Let us think about what the harmonisation of criminal offences and sanctions affects and what its consequences are for the people whom we are elected to represent. If I cannot win the vote on my desire to throw out the whole measure, my minimum default position, however cynical and unhappy I am about opt-ins anyway, is to attempt to include it in the arrangements that the Government have provided.
Those are my thoughts on this group of amendments and on my amendments. If I sound a little concerned about them, I hope that Members will understand. As my hon. Friend the Member for Esher and Walton said, I see the provision under discussion as an enormous step. I am not sure that it is beneficial, because it assumes that there will be opt-ins. There are 30 or 40 of them, and there have already been eight in the past few months. The trend exists, and I do not see anything holding back the tsunami. Indeed, I see the tsunami being built up, and that is not in the interests of the democratic principles by which this House is elected.
Charlie Elphicke (Dover) (Con): My hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Mr Cash) is much concerned about Members from all parts of the House being under the control of the Whips. For my part, I would like to say how much I agree with-
"We must be sure that the measures included in the Lisbon Treaty will not bring creeping control over our criminal justice system by EU judges. We will want to prevent EU judges gaining steadily greater control over our criminal justice system by negotiating an arrangement which would protect it. That will mean limiting the European Court of Justice's jurisdiction over criminal law to its pre-Lisbon level, and ensuring that only British authorities can initiate criminal investigations in Britain."
I would like to put on the record how much I agree with that position, and how much I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Esher and Walton (Mr Raab). Why are we discussing further opt-ins in this Committee, when we should be considering how to recapture a sense of control and our national way of life in relation to the criminal justice system?
I am particularly concerned that in evidence to the European Scrutiny Committee, the Minister said that there is a strict time limit of three months for our opt-in, and that that is what the protocol states. The written statement says:
"As currently, the Government will not override the scrutiny process unless an earlier opt-in decision is essential."
"Where the Government consider an early opt-in to be necessary, it will explain its reasons to Parliament through the statement set out above. In these circumstances, it would usually be appropriate for the statement to be made orally."-[ Official Report, 20 January 2011; Vol. 521, c. 52WS.]
That suggests that the statement could be a written statement. I am concerned, as are my constituents, about further Europeanisation of border control under things like the Schengen agreement. Yes, that is subject to a referendum, but my constituents specifically do not
want to see further integration through Schengen and in the criminal justice system. I feel passionate about this matter.
"The United Kingdom or Ireland may notify the President of the Council in writing, within three months after a proposal or initiative has been presented to the Council pursuant to Title V of Part Three of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, that it wishes to take part in the adoption and application".
"The United Kingdom or Ireland may at any time after the adoption of a measure by the Council pursuant to Title V of Part Three of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union notify its intention to the Council and to the Commission that it wishes to accept that measure."
I would like the Minister to clarify why there is such a crashing hurry on this matter, and whether there really has to be a crashing hurry. Is it because there has to be negotiation in Europe, or for some other reason?
I hope that the Government will give further consideration to tightening up the statement and to introducing measures on Report that would give further confidence that the House will have a say on these most sensitive of issues-the criminal justice system and the control of our borders. This is one of the most central concerns of my constituents. I hope that Ministers will ensure that we will have proper scrutiny of any such measures.
Mr Lidington: I am grateful to all hon. Members who have taken part in the debate, and in particular to my hon. Friends the Members for Daventry (Chris Heaton-Harris) and for Hertsmere (Mr Clappison) for their explanations of the contents of and the motives behind the amendments, and for their offer not to press them to the vote.
I say to the hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Ms Stuart) that I will hold back my innate wish to be aggressive to the point of rudeness towards her, and that I am happy to find an occasion to discuss with her and interested Opposition Members the content of last Thursday's written ministerial statement and how we can take matters forward. It will be better for the reputation of the House, of governance in this country and of how we as a Government and a Parliament handle justice and home affairs coming from the EU if there is the maximum possible agreement across the political parties on a structure that we hope will then endure.
Before I move on to the amendments, I should like to respond briefly to some of the points that have been made that are more appropriate to a stand part debate. I turn first to the hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr David). I will not go on at him incessantly about this, but I found it strange that in a debate on so many amendments, covering such a wide range of justice and home affairs issues, he focused almost entirely on the contents of the next group of amendments that we are due to debate and on the parliamentary lock that would be imposed on the number of advocates-general. I shall try to satisfy him on that point.
We have included in schedule 1 any move to change the basis of decision making under article 19(2) of the treaty on European union from unanimity to qualified majority voting, so that it would be caught by the referendum lock. That article guarantees that there will be one judge from each member state in both the general court and the Court of Justice of the European Union. It is important that we ensure that we continue to have a veto, so that we can insist that there is a UK judge there.
That is important not just for the national interest but for the reason given by my hon. Friend the Member for Esher and Walton (Mr Raab) and others this evening. Four EU member states have common-law jurisdictions, although our Scottish colleagues in the House might argue that the UK is by no means entirely a common-law jurisdiction. Those states are ourselves, Ireland, Cyprus and Malta. For that reason, it is important to have a suitable arrangement for taking decisions about the number of judges, and a requirement for each member state to nominate a judge, so that we can effectively protect the representation of those four jurisdictions in the highest judicial councils of the EU.
"persons whose independence is beyond doubt".
In contrast, article 252 of the TFEU requires there to be eight advocates-general to advise the court. There is not the same idea that there should be one from each member state. The article states that unanimity is needed in order to increase the number of advocates-general beyond eight, and a change to that article would be required for a switch to qualified majority voting. However, I say to the hon. Gentleman that I believe the people whom we represent would find it slightly odd if we invited them to participate in a national referendum on whether to raise the number of advocates-general or on whether to change the method by which that decision is taken. That is the reason for the distinction that we draw in the Bill.
My hon. Friend the Member for Daventry asked about moves towards a common EU asylum system. The British Government strongly believe in the importance of practical co-operation on asylum policy within the EU. Equally, we do not judge that a common EU asylum policy is right for Britain. We believe that on many issues, EU member states have much to gain by working together, but we have made it clear that the emphasis of the EU's agenda on asylum should not always be on legislation, but on helping member states to improve the quality of their individual asylum systems. As I am sure my hon. Friend knows, the UK has not opted into the reception conditions directive, the qualifications directive or the asylum procedures directive.
My hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Mr Cash) asked about the European investigation order. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has set out very plainly on more than one occasion her reasons for recommending that the Government opt in to that measure.
Charlie Elphicke: May I just say how much I welcome the strong policy on asylum? Asylum has been a substantial problem in my constituency of Dover, with masses of would-be asylum seekers and economic migrants at Calais wanting to break into the country. Will the Minister tell the Committee more about how we will ensure our strength and independence on border security?
Mr Lidington: I do not want to be distracted from the subject matter of the debate-clause 9 and the amendments-so the best thing is for me to tell my hon. Friend that I will either write to him or ask my hon. Friend the Minister for Immigration to do so in response to the point that he raises.
May I summarise the Government's case in response to my hon. Friend the Member for Stone? There have been many criticisms of the current criminal mutual legal assistance system; it is said that it is fragmented, confusing and subject to delays. In some cases, it takes many months to obtain vital evidence, and when the UK has been the requesting state, that has had a detrimental effect on UK investigations and trials. The EIO seeks to address those problems by simplifying the MLA system among EU member states and introducing strict deadlines for the execution of requests.
It is true that had we not opted into the EIO, we would still have been able to operate MLA with other EU countries, but we would have been in a tiny minority of EU countries not using the EIO. Owing to that, and because deadlines would not apply to UK MLA requests, it is likely that those requests would be given a lower priority than those of other states, and that our prosecutors would have experienced longer delays. Given that 75% of the UK's MLA traffic is with other EU countries, the practical impact on UK cases would have been significant.
If my hon. Friend wishes to pursue the matter further, I suggest that he first looks at the letter which the Home Secretary wrote to the hon. Member for Nottingham East (Chris Leslie) on 3 August 2010, and which she has deposited in the Library. The letter details a number of specific cases in which the current arrangements were proven to be inadequate. In one case, evidence that was not returned prior to the conclusion of the trial may have led to the suspect being exonerated. Her judgment and the Government's judgment is that had we not opted in, it is likely that there would be more such cases.
Nick de Bois: My right hon. Friend is well aware of my long-term interest in matters pertaining to the European arrest warrant and the EIO. By that explanation, he has demonstrated the importance of, and the need for, the EAW and the EIO. I hope he will reassure us that the Bill gives the House the chance to debate and pass judgment such things, and to facilitate decisions on opting in or out.
My answer to that is on two fronts. The EAW is, of course, a pre-Lisbon, pillar three arrangement. It was not subject to post-Lisbon scrutiny, let alone to the detailed scrutiny and discussions with Committees and other representatives of Parliament that the Government are proposing. On the European investigation order, I can give comfort to my hon. Friend. It is the Government's view that the decision to opt in to the order is one of the matters that would not only have attracted significant parliamentary interest, but which would also have raised questions of political
and legal importance that would fully justify a full debate being held in Government time. With that debate would obviously come the opportunity of a parliamentary vote.
Mr David: I have some sympathy in policy terms with the Government on the issue of the European investigation order. But would it not have been possible to have had informal consultation with, let us say, the outgoing Chair of the European Scrutiny Committee, rather than having no consultation with Parliament at all?
Mr Lidington: I cannot recall without advice whether the Committee had just been appointed but had not met, or whether it had not yet been constituted, but the lesson that I draw from that episode-and the Government were far from happy with the fact that we had to take a decision at the end of the three-month period without a formal scrutiny process-is that we have, in the forthcoming discussions, to find a way to address the real difficulty that arises during a dissolution of Parliament and the period after that before the scrutiny Committees are fully reconstituted. What the new Government found on coming into office was that the EU's legislative timetable on justice and home affairs had not stopped and there was an accumulation of measures, each with a non-extendable three-month timetable, at the end of which we had to decide whether to make the initial opt-in. A large chunk of that time had already been devoured by the period of dissolution, and there were no scrutiny Committees in place to do the job that we would want and expect Parliament to do.
Mr Clappison: Can I take it from what my right hon. Friend has just said about the European investigation order that although it may be an issue that he would consider as of particular interest and therefore deserving a debate under the scrutiny process, it would not have been caught by clause 9 as it stands? He is therefore conceding that this is an extra stage of scrutiny that has been brought about by the diligent and commendable efforts of my hon. Friend the Member for Stone, who has done a service to the House in ensuring additional scrutiny.
Mr Lidington: My hon. Friend is right. I signed off a letter to him earlier today responding to these points, which he put to me in writing, although I expect that he has not yet received it. We draw a distinction between the justice and home affairs matters on which it is already within the competence of the EU to act, but where the UK has an opt-in, and matters that are without the existing competence of the European Union. We have tried to maintain that distinction in each aspect of the Bill, and that is a point that has informed the Government's collective view on this legislation.
Mr Clappison: My hon. Friend said "where the UK has an opt-in," but if I may correct him, I think that he meant where we have the right to opt in. There is a substantial body of such matters and, of course, in each case they would be subject to the jurisdiction of the ECJ, should we decide to opt in.
My hon. Friend is right to make that correction. He is also right when he refers to the importance of the jurisdiction of the ECJ as a relevant new feature
of any justice and home affairs measure that is brought forward subsequent to the Lisbon treaty. That is the thing that makes such a profound difference between third-pillar arrangements and the current treaty arrangements. That is why when Ministers-usually the Justice Secretary or Home Secretary-come to the European Affairs Committee of the Cabinet with a proposed decision on a justice and home affairs measure, they are required, as a standard part of Government policy, to produce an analysis of the likely impact of ECJ jurisdiction on our law if the United Kingdom participated in the measure, and also to assess the risks that this would lead to competence creep. My hon. Friend is right that that is an important consideration that we need to take into account when judging the balance of national interests that determines whether we choose to opt in to, or stay out of, a particular decision.
My hon. Friend the Member for Dover (Charlie Elphicke), along with a number of other hon. Members, asked why we needed to opt in at all, because if we have not gone through the whole scrutiny process, we should just leave it and opt out. The treaty gives us a three-month period within which we have to decide whether we want to make an initial opt-in. We can, if we choose, opt out at that stage, let the negotiations take place on the final version of the measure, and then opt in to the final text, as agreed by the others taking part. The problem with what he suggested is that it is not a reliable method of ensuring that our national interests are properly represented, for a number of reasons.
First, if we wait until the final stage, we have to ask the Commission if we may participate. The Council is then able to specify conditions under which United Kingdom can do so. If we judge that the balance of advantage points towards our opting in, there is a further advantage in getting in first. Secondly, if we participate on the first occasion on which we can opt in, we will then be at the table with a vote, helping to shape the final status of the text. We will not be in anything like as influential a position if we make a decision first to stay out. Thirdly, if we are not taking part, we have no vote on the final text. There are sometimes occasions-perhaps on a counter-terrorism measure-where we might decide that, on balance, it will be in our national interest to opt in, but where we dislike one particular element of the draft text. Perhaps we also know that two or three other key member states have similar reservations. In those circumstances, it is possible that the Government's decision would be to opt in by the end of the three-month period, with the aim of putting together an alliance with those other member states so as to secure through negotiation a final text that meets our interests and means that we are completely content with the outcome.
My right hon. Friend is being most courteous in giving way. On the question of where the national interest lies, I understand and accept the reasons why the Government, as a coalition, are having to go through the complicated process that he has described. However, in the Conservative manifesto it was conceived as being in the national interest that we should not opt in to any such matters, because we were clear that there should be no further extension of the EU's power over the UK and we promised to work to return key powers
over legal rights, criminal justice, and social and employment legislation to the UK. However, we cannot have envisaged seeking to return those powers while at the same time handing over completely new powers to the European Union, by choosing to opt in. That was the national interest as we saw it, and it remains the national interest.
Mr Lidington: My hon. Friend puts his point trenchantly. I am not going to make any secret of the fact that the handling of European policy, and in particular on justice and home affairs, has been one of the most delicate issues for the coalition. There have had to be compromises on both sides to get the package of measures that we are including in the Bill and to shape the general policy that we are pursuing in respect of the European Union.
If my hon. Friend the Member for Hertsmere looks back to the debates on the Lisbon treaty, he will remember that he and I walked through the same Lobby, day after day, in opposition to that treaty. My recollection is that we had at least one day when we talked entirely about justice and home affairs matters. He knows the view that I took as a Front Bencher in a Conservative Opposition. I would much rather be either a member of or supporting a Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition than spend another Parliament sitting fruitlessly in opposition, seeing measures being taken through the House to which I was vehemently opposed but which I was powerless to stop.
Mr Cash: My right hon. Friend is getting on to a very sensitive point, and I quite understand the sensitivities involved. When I wrote to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister on 10 May last year about the coalition agreement, I specifically stated that, if there were to be a coalition-I had made it clear that I would have preferred a minority Government-it was essential that the Liberal Democrats should at least be required to abstain on matters relating to the European Union, for all the reasons that my hon. Friend the Member for Hertsmere (Mr Clappison) has just given. That is the problem, and we are now finding ourselves in an impossible dilemma. In fact, I would say that the situation is untenable.
Mr Lidington: I disagree with my hon. Friend's statement either that we face an impossible dilemma or that the situation is untenable. We have a situation in which two political parties with differences of perspective and tradition on a number of issues are finding a way in which to work together in the interests of the nation as a whole. I think that the coalition is providing stable government. It is new in recent British political experience, but I find that it is hugely welcomed by many people of all political persuasions and no strong political persuasion.
When the Minister says "people all political persuasions", he certainly should not include those on the Opposition Benches. I found his recent comment very interesting indeed. We understand how keen and enthusiastic he was to become a Minister, and this is the first time that he has revealed why he really, really
wanted to be one. Also, this is the first time that he-or any other Minister-has acknowledged that the Bill is basically a compromise. It is the result of negotiations between the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives. It is important that that point is now firmly on record. This is the first time in this whole debate that it has been said. In the interests of transparency and openness, will he elaborate, so that we can find out the exact nature of the negotiating process that led to this rag-bag of a Bill?
Mr Lidington: It is a bit rich for the hon. Gentleman to intervene in that fashion. He and I know that, in regard to policy on Europe or on any other matter, Governments of a single party in recent history-Conservative and Labour-have had to compromise a great deal, given the different points of view in the broad churches that those parties represent.
The answer to the hon. Member for Caerphilly is that there is a collective discussion, and it is a matter of public record that every decision about European policy is routed through the European Affairs Committee of the Cabinet. The membership of that Cabinet Committee is published: it comprises two thirds Conservative Ministers and one third Liberal Democrat Ministers. That is the balance of all the Cabinet Committees. There are discussions and exchanges of points of view, and there is an outcome to which everyone collectively is willing to sign up and support. That seems to be a sensible, constructive way in which to do the business of government.
Jacob Rees-Mogg: I thank the Minister for giving way once more. Would he be kind enough to clarify this point about the coalition? Can we take it that the Conservatives do not wish to opt in wherever an opt-in is available, so that whenever we do so, it is because we have been bullied into it by the Lib Dems?
Mr Lidington: No, I do not think that my hon. Friend should jump to that conclusion. In yesterday's debate, I cited some counter-terrorist measures such as the European initiatives on passenger name records or on the tracking of terrorist finance, and it is very much in the interests of the United Kingdom for us to take part in them. The US Government, who have a strong interest in these areas of policy, very much want a transatlantic agreement on such counter-measures and look to us to try to persuade other European Union member states to support a vigorous counter-terrorist policy and effective measures that will satisfy Washington as well as London.
Let me move on to deal with the amendments, as I have been speaking for nearly half an hour and have not yet been able to get on to that territory. My hon. Friends the Members for Hertsmere and for Daventry tabled many of the amendments, and my hon. Friend the Member for Stone was responsible for much of the remainder. Let me respond to the different amendments briefly, which I hope will allow us to move on to the next group as well.
As we consider any potential future use of the JHA ratchet clauses, which in the context of clause 9 we have identified as articles 81(3), 82(2)(d) and 83(1) of TFEU, we are also clear that this legislation should ensure that any UK participation in such measures by virtue of our opt-in should be preceded by the approval of both Houses of Parliament, and that our agreement to the final measures proposed should be preceded by parliamentary approval through Act of Parliament. We think that this represents a significant step forward in enhancing the House's controls on those JHA ratchet clauses, while maintaining the same proportionate and sustainable approach that we have tried to adopt in all other parts of the Bill.
A number of amendments to this clause have been tabled, which are mainly designed to increase the level of parliamentary and, in some cases, public control. Amendments 14 and 27 would require the Government to secure the approval of each House before the UK could participate in any measure pursuant to the UK's opt-in under protocol 21 to title V of part 3 of TFEU. The two amendments have broadly the same scope, although I note that amendment 27, tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Daventry, would not cover an opt-out decision relating to an extension of the powers of Eurojust to include the initiation of criminal investigations, which he has addressed in a separate amendment that I shall deal with later.
One of the Bill's key aims is to provide greater scrutiny and accountability over proposals to extend the competences of the EU or to broaden out the scope for EU action in accordance with existing EU competence, whether by future treaties or the use of ratchet clauses without the need for formal treaty change. However, measures proposed by the EU pursuant to its existing competences under title V, which do not relate to any proposed use of a ratchet clause, are not within the scope of the Bill's enhanced parliamentary controls. As set out on Second Reading, measures pursued by the EU pursuant to title V concern the exercise of competences already conferred on the EU by the member states under the current treaties, although in the case of the UK, we retain the freedom to decide, measure by measure, whether or not we participate.
The Government believe that European co-operation in justice and home affairs can deliver key benefits, helping us to tackle more effectively issues of cross-border crime and making it easier for British citizens to do business across borders. As I have said on other occasions, however, the coalition Government committed themselves in the coalition agreement to considering opt-in decisions on a case-by-case basis. We have put the United Kingdom's national interest at the heart of our decision-making and continue to do so, with a view to maximising United Kingdom security, protecting our civil liberties, preserving the integrity of our criminal justice system, and maintaining our ability to control immigration. Ministers take all those criteria into account when reaching a collective decision about a particular opt-in.
One way in which the Bill will increase public accountability is by providing that any proposed treaty change involving an end to the United Kingdom's freedom not to participate in justice and home affairs by removing the country's opt-in protocol would be subject to a referendum. All decisions under title V, the chapter in TFEU on justice and home affairs, are already subject to an enhanced level of parliamentary scrutiny.
Following reflections on the annual report to Parliament on the use of the justice and home affairs title V opt-in and Schengen opt-out decisions, I outlined in my written ministerial statement last Thursday the Government's proposals for further enhancements of such scrutiny arrangements. In view of the time, and because I set out the proposals in detail both in the written statement and in yesterday's debate-they can be found in columns 238 to 239 of Hansard-I do not propose to go into further detail today, although I repeat that I am more than willing to discuss the best way of proceeding with any Member on either side of the House. I do, however, wish to make a couple of points as a gloss on the policy that I announced in the statement.
First, let me repeat that the Government believe that, in future, measures such as the European investigation order should be dealt with by way of a parliamentary debate with the opportunity for a vote. Indeed, they would have been dealt with in that way had these arrangements applied earlier. We have made an explicit commitment to a parliamentary debate and vote on the decision on the mass opt-in or opt-out which must be determined by 2014, as set out in my written statement.
The Government will have three options. They can decide to opt in to all the measures en bloc, or they can decide to opt out of them en bloc. The judgment that Ministers will have to make-I emphasise that no decision has yet been made, and that we are nowhere near making one or making a recommendation-is that these are measures in which the United Kingdom freely decided that it wanted to participate, because it served our national interest to do so, during the "third pillar" process that existed before the Lisbon treaty.
The Government of the time-Labour or Conservative-decided that each measure was right and that it was in the British national interest to participate; but, of course, that decision was made on the basis that those were intergovernmental matters which did not fall within the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice. That is a material difference. If we opt in to all these measures in 2014, we must accept that we are opting in to matters all of which will, from that point, be subject to ECJ jurisdiction.
Mr David: This is a very important point. One legal opinion says that if we reach that point in 2014 and the Government do not take a decision, Britain will have, in effect, opted in. Is that correct?
Mr Lidington: Yes, the default position is that we stay opted in. We have to take a decision one way or the other, and the Government are not going to hide in the corner and hope that nobody notices a decision to opt in. We are going to make a public announcement at the due time and have the debate in Parliament.
The third option for the Government would be to opt out of the measures en bloc and then seek to opt back in where we continue to believe that the balance of advantage to our national interest lies in participation. A complicated analysis is involved and we are talking
about 90 such measures coming up for determination in or before 2014. As this is, again, a matter within existing competence, it is best dealt with through the enhanced scrutiny arrangements that I am proposing and it should certainly require a vote in the House. The Government have explicitly committed themselves to that and it will, of course, happen before the end of this Parliament in 2015.
The two amendments standing in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Hertsmere and others tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Daventry propose to subject all opt-in decisions to a requirement for an approval motion in both Houses, not simply those on which there is a significant level of parliamentary interest. Because of the practicalities of such a move on all opt-in decisions, that requirement would risk preventing the Government from being able to secure Parliament's approval in time to opt in to any new JHA proposal within the three-month time limit set down in article 3 of protocol 21 in order to enable us to participate in negotiations at EU level. That would have a knock-on effect on our ability to help shape the proposal effectively in negotiation, and sometimes that of great importance. Our votes what were made it possible to clinch an agreement on the EU-US terrorist finance tracking measure that suited our national interest and ensured that the Americans were content too. That deal became available during a parliamentary recess, when it would not have been possible to go through the formal procedures that the amendments seek to apply to each and every opt-in. That is one reason why in the discussions about enhancing scrutiny we have to find a way in which to handle the real difficulties that can sometimes arise, both during recesses and in periods of and following parliamentary Dissolution.
May I say in passing to my hon. Friend the Member for Daventry that, although the detail will be the subject of discussions with the relevant Committees and business managers, the possibility of a parliamentary vote would apply to any opt-in decision under the proposals that I made in my written statement. Included in that would be measures following the adoption of a measure by other member states and decisions not to opt out of Schengen measures where there is strong parliamentary interest in the measure or where the measure is of the importance that I have indicated in my written statement. The process proposed in the amendments does not lend itself to timely decision-making when a rapid decision needs to be taken. I have outlined the practical reasons why this approach would not be proportionate and I hope that my hon. Friends will therefore be prepared not to press their amendments to a Division.
Amendment 47 would require parliamentary approval before we could opt in to a measure brought forward under article 83(2) of TFEU, which allows for the establishment of minimum rules regarding the definition of criminal offences and sanctions if such approximation of member state criminal laws and regulations is judged to be essential to ensure effective implementation of policy areas in which the EU has already harmonised standards. For example, if the EU set rules about environmental protection and a criminal sanction proved essential to make those rules effective, the EU could consequently set a minimum standard for a criminal offence in that area.
I listened carefully to what my hon. Friend the Member for Stone said, but I do not believe that article 83(2) is a ratchet clause in the way that articles 81(3), 82(2)(d) or 81(1) are so considered. Article 83(2) makes provision for Europe to be able to act under its existing competence without the need to be able to expand EU action in the same way, for example, as article 83(1) provides for the ability to expand the list of areas of serious cross-border crime in which the EU can act. I do not therefore think that it should be subject to the enhanced level of parliamentary control set out in the Bill to which the ratchet clauses are to be subject, given the relative differences in effect.
Amendments 28 and 29 would require the relevant Minister to make an oral statement to the House if he or she were to seek to join new elements of the Schengen acquis or not to opt out of a measure building on Schengen. As my written ministerial statement made clear, we intend that Schengen decisions, like JHA title V decisions, should be covered fully by the proposed enhanced scrutiny arrangements.
Mr Clappison: As I said earlier, I do not intend to press the amendment to a vote. I want to make progress and for that reason, and the other reasons I have mentioned, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
'(7) A Minister of the Crown may not give a notification under Article 10(5) of Protocol (No. 36) on Transitional Provisions annexed to TEU and TFEU that the United Kingdom wishes to participate in an act that has ceased to apply to it pursuant to Article 10(4) of that Protocol, where the AFSJ Protocol would apply to the procedure for dealing with the notification, unless a Minister of the Crown has given an oral statement to the Chamber of the House of Commons on Her Majesty's Government's intention to give the notification.'.- (Chris Heaton-Harris.)
'(6A) A Minister of the Crown may not make a formal decision as to whether to exercise the right of the United Kingdom to make a notification to the Council under the terms of article 10(4) of the Protocol (No 36) on Transitional Provisions annexed to TEU and TFEU, unless-
'(6C) A Minister of the Crown may not make a formal decision as to whether to exercise the right of the United Kingdom to make a notification to the Council under the terms of article 10(4) of the Protocol (No 36) on Transitional Provisions annexed to TEU and TFEU, unless the decision is approved by Act of Parliament.'.
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