7.9 pm

Mr Mike Weir (Angus) (SNP): Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. I congratulate my friends in the Democratic Unionist party on bringing forward this important debate. Fuel poverty is an important issue for all of us, and it is worth noting that in Scotland 770,000 homes are in fuel poverty and that, for every 5% rise in energy prices, a further 46,000 go into fuel poverty. Clearly, those, such as pensioners, who are on fixed incomes are much more likely to be affected by these escalating prices.

In an e-mail prior to the debate, the National Pensioners Convention and Greenpeace made the point that the winter fuel payment used to cover one third of a dual fuel energy bill, but it now covers less than one fifth. That shows how much pensioners are suffering. They also make the point, since the Minister raised the issue of cost, that the impact of cold housing on people’s health already costs the NHS more than £850 million a year, while restoring the winter fuel allowance would cost only £695 million. It is thus questionable whether there is much of a saving in what the Government are doing. The rises in energy prices cannot be looked at in isolation because just as they rising, so is the cost of road fuel, food and other essentials. Clearly, those, such as pensioners, on fixed incomes are the most affected.

In June this year, I received a written answer from the Secretary of State to a question on energy prices and inflation, which showed that in four out of the last five years, the rise in domestic energy prices—whether we use the retail prices index, the consumer prices index or whatever measure—had outstripped the rate of inflation. That was before the latest round of price hikes. The Government’s usual mantra of energy efficiency and switching simply does not wash with pensioners who

22 Nov 2011 : Column 222

are struggling to pay their bills. The amount that most people can save from switching is not going to make a significant difference to these bills. That is especially true for the poorest pensioners. To get a better deal on energy bills by switching, they have to move to a direct debit tariff, and many of the poorest pensioners do not have bank accounts or simply like to juggle their bills in the month and do not want to see money coming out of their account on a regular day in the month.

I very much agree that we should insulate our houses and take more measures, but that is a long-term project. What is needed now is relief for our pensioners from ever-escalating bills. In discussing the situation in Northern Ireland, the Minister made it clear that the overall effect of increasing the cold weather payment as against reducing the winter fuel allowance amounted to a cut in the total sums going to pensioners. Frankly, that is irresponsible at a time when prices are escalating.

It is interesting to note the tendency of some Government Members to question whether there should be a universal winter fuel allowance at all, but I would remind them that in the last Parliament they argued against means-testing for pension credit—correctly, in my view—on the grounds that many pensioners would, through pride, not claim means-tested benefit. The same applies here, and I think the Minister’s figures on the trial project of direct payment of pension credit clearly demonstrate that there needs to be universality in order to get through to pensioners.

Let me mention one group of special problems for which I suggest there might be cost-free or at least a very low-cost partial solution. It applies to those who are off the gas grid who rely on home fuel oil for their heating—a problem in Northern Ireland and in large areas of Scotland. These people do not get the special tariffs available for those on the grid and, in many of these areas, extending the gas grid is simply not a practical proposition because of the geography of the area. Even worse, in winter time, these people cannot even be sure of the price of their fuel during the time between ordering and delivering, since in many cases a company will not give them a price at the time of ordering—the price was certainly rising high last winter.

I have previously raised the possibility of allowing these people to receive their winter fuel allowance earlier in the year, which would allow them to fill up their tanks when demand and prices might well be lower. It is not an absolute solution, but it might help in some way. I have raised this with energy Ministers before and I was told that they would consider matters, but nothing seems to have been done. We need to look at solutions like this to alleviate a very serious situation.

The hon. Member for West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine (Sir Robert Smith) talked about the three pillars, and the Minister rightly said that many of these issues were devolved. That is true, but at least two of these pillars—energy prices and the money that comes through benefits—are not devolved matters. The devolved Parliaments and Assemblies thus have a problem in dealing with fuel poverty.

From the outset, the Scottish Parliament has been inventive in tackling these issues. All parties were involved in the central heating scheme in the first instance, and now it has moved on. The current Scottish Government’s energy assistance package, which is worth £33 million, has helped 150,000 people on low incomes to reduce

22 Nov 2011 : Column 223

their energy bills. One in six Scottish homes have been visited for a home energy check, which also looks at the benefits side. We all agree that something needs to be done about this, and almost 18,000 installations have been made.

The package was originally targeted at pensioners, but has since been extended to help other vulnerable people in these very difficult times and, in addition to helping pensioners, the scheme has been extended to include the disabled, families with young or disabled children, those with severe disabilities and the terminally ill—and it is to be extended to include those on carers allowance, which could benefit up to another 7,000 households. Next year, the £50 million warm home fund will also begin operation to give additional help to the fuel poor. None of these programmes is cheap; none will ever be cheap. If we go down the road of looking only at energy efficiency, however, we will not tackle the immediate problem. It will take many years before all our homes are energy efficient; the cost of doing it is enormous. Although it is a good thing in the long term, we must also deal in the short term with the immediate problem of getting our pensioners through this coming winter.

7.16 pm

Ian Paisley (North Antrim) (DUP): At the outset, let me thank all Members who have attended and contributed to the debate. My hon. Friends have agreed with most things, but there have been disagreements on some other issues. That, of course, is the mark of a healthy democracy. We appreciate the contributions of all Members to the debate.

On Friday this week, my constituent Bill Carson will lead 190 pensioners up the hill at Stormont into the Senate chamber for the second meeting of the Pensioners’ Parliament. It has been a very important Parliament meeting in Northern Ireland, which represents—across all constituencies and across the entire community—the feelings of pensioners and people in the aged sector who have issues to raise with the Government. They will debate the report published in June this year, which deals with all the matters that affect pensioners in Northern Ireland. It is a detailed report and lying behind it is a series of surveys carried out across all constituencies asking thousands of pensioners what issues affected them most and what key matters drove their lives today.

Consistently throughout this report, the pensioners came back to one thing, and one thing only—keeping warm this winter. Indeed, the response was significant. In the Fermanagh and South Tyrone constituency 83.6% of respondents said that the only thing and key thing they were worried about—their No. 1 priority—was keeping warm in winter and energy prices. In Belfast, it was the same: keeping warm in winter and energy prices were the main concern. In my own constituency of North Antrim, it was the same, as it was in Armagh, County Londonderry, County Tyrone and County Down. Right across Northern Ireland, the response was the same.

Nowhere is an island in political terms. The reality is that when a message is as consistent as that and comes back like a tsunami, a response must be made. This House has to face the gauntlet that has been thrown down. The Government must answer the question of what they are prepared to do when pensioners from all across the United Kingdom as well as Northern Ireland

22 Nov 2011 : Column 224

say that the issue affecting them most is the fact that they want to stay warm this winter. One of the easiest ways for the Government to help them to stay warm and assist them is through the winter fuel allowance.

As some people might say colloquially, “It’s a no brainer”—and it really is a no brainer. I hope that the Government are listening. We are not after argy-bargy with the Government—we can do argy-bargy with them and we have done it with them and other Governments in the past—because that is not what this issue is about. I believe that Members in all parts of the House care passionately about the needs of the elderly, so let us do something about that: let us address the issues simply and straightforwardly.

The average cost per household of heating oil and electricity in Northern Ireland this year will be £2,114. It is higher in Northern Ireland because more people there have to use heating oil. There is no way around that. All the other mechanisms—improving home efficiency, housing standards and so forth—are fine and dandy, and we will get there one day, but the fact remains that in rural areas 82% of people today rely on heating oil for their homes. The Government have a responsibility to address those people’s needs, and the winter fuel allowance provides them with the easiest, fairest and most consistent way of doing so.

It should be emphasised that, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Belfast North (Mr Dodds) said in his opening speech, this is a life and death issue. We can skirt around it and play about with it, but actions have consequences, and the actions that will be taken by those on either side of the House tonight will have their own consequences. I put it to Members that if they support the motion to which my right hon. Friend spoke so ably, they will save lives. When we cut out all the baloney and party politics, the bottom line is simple: lives will be saved if we keep this allowance. Whose side are we on? Are we going to save lives, or is there the potential for our actions tonight, and the actions of others in this place, to lead to the loss of more elderly lives?

I want to see energy efficiency in our homes, but, as has been pointed out by John Hills of the interim fuel poverty review group, those on low incomes cannot afford the investment that is required to make their homes energy-efficient. Even when the other available benefits are marshalled, it will take some time for us to get energy-efficient homes. I do not want to get sidetracked into all the other poverty issues, but those on low incomes face a triple whammy: the cut in the payments that we are discussing, the hike in energy costs, and the need for their energy-inefficient homes to be heated. We must address the needs of our elderly people as a matter of urgency.

The hon. Member for West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine (Sir Robert Smith) suggested an extension in the gas grid in Northern Ireland as a possible solution. We should love to see that happen, but there is not sufficient footfall for it to happen quickly. The rurality of Northern Ireland makes it more difficult to achieve. We will get there, but it will take time. This measure addresses the problem now, deals with the position as it is, and allows us to make progress.

As we were told by my right hon. Friend the Member for Belfast North, £60 million of benefit is unclaimed, sometimes as a result of ignorance but sometimes as a

22 Nov 2011 : Column 225

result of stubborn pride, and whatever the Government are doing is not enough to encourage people to claim it. We have a solution which is already working, and which gives the Government an opportunity to continue to assist those who are in most need.

The hon. Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Cathy Jamieson) was right to say that the Government would be judged not on the basis of what the previous Government had said and done, but on the basis of what they themselves would say and do. That is the bottom line for the Government tonight. What will they do about this issue? I thank the Minister of State for coming to the House and explaining what the last Chancellor did, what he should have done and what he could have done, but it was convenient enough for him to say all that. What he should say is the right thing: that we—the Government and the House of Commons—will maintain the winter fuel allowance at the higher rate to help pensioners in a way that really works, putting money in their pockets and allowing them to fill their heating tanks, keep warm, and spend the rest of their money on food.

Kate Hoey: Does the hon. Gentleman agree with me, and with many other Members, that if this is about a lack of money and about the economic situation—as the Government obviously feel that it is—we should simply say to the European Union, “We will not pay you this extra amount because we would much rather give it to our pensioners, our old people, than send it to unelected bureaucrats in Brussels”?

Ian Paisley: When I look at some of the Members who are sitting in other parts of the House, I think that this is another issue on which we might unite the House. The hon. Lady is right: where there is a will, there is a way.

The Minister of State spoke of a baseline, which was all about money. Let me extend the musical metaphor and say, “Your baseline was flat, sir, and your ear was not in tune with the needs of the community.” If the House is to be relevant, it must be in tune with the needs of our elderly folk out there. It must ensure that their needs are not only properly addressed, but met. The Minister wanted bells and bouquets for what the Government are doing. I do not mean to be dramatic, but the fact is that the cuts they are proposing will bring wreaths, and the bell will toll for the most vulnerable members of society. It is clear that this cut will not deliver the assistance to pensioners that they claim their other policies and benefits will deliver.

I was disappointed when the Minister told us—a little disingenuously, I think—that he had been in contact with the Social Development Minister in Northern Ireland. I am sure that that is true, but I understand that the conversation took place a matter of days ago. The Minister has been in office for a year and a half, and ours is the coldest part of the United Kingdom. I am not a cynic, but I am tempted to suggest that the conversation with the Social Development Minister may have been prompted by today’s debate. I hope that if it was, the Minister of State will note what has been said, and will deliver for the House and the people.

22 Nov 2011 : Column 226

I do not think that we should be sidetracked into discussing other possibilities, such as what could be achieved through gas pricing and energy efficiency measures. We should deal with the issue that is on the Order Paper, which is straightforward and simple: will the Government maintain the winter fuel allowance as the public expect them to, and will they keep the promises that were made at the last election? I believe that that is what is fair and right.

7.28 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Maria Miller): I thank Opposition Members for raising this important subject. We have had a lively debate.

Let me begin by emphasising that the coalition Government take the issue of pensioner poverty very seriously. Our record demonstrates that. We pay more than £2 billion in winter fuel payments, and we pay it to more than 12.5 million pensioners, including more than 300,000 in Northern Ireland last year. The payments go to pensioners regardless of their income, and most do not even have to make a claim. I think that Members on both sides of the House agree that the winter fuel payment makes a real difference, ensuring that pensioners can turn up their heating in the knowledge that they will receive the help they need in order to meet their heavy winter bills.

It is regrettable that the last Administration decided not to provide for a temporary increase to become permanent—to last beyond the year of a general election. People can draw their own conclusions about why a temporary increase in winter fuel payments extended in the year running up to a general election but not beyond. It is most telling that the hon. Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Cathy Jamieson), who spoke for the Opposition, failed to pledge to make concrete the previous Government’s temporary increase. I say that because she is a shadow Treasury Minister and if she does not know whether the Opposition would make that permanent, who would?

Cathy Jamieson: Will the Minister accept that it is time that this Government took responsibility for their actions? The decision whether to pay this increase is entirely down to this Government, and it would be irresponsible for anyone on the Government Benches to suggest otherwise. It was not the previous Government but this Government who took the decision on this budget.

Maria Miller: I think the House will draw its own conclusions from the fact that the hon. Lady again failed to take the opportunity to make clear what the Labour party’s policy is on this issue. The coalition Government have made permanent the increase in the cold weather payment from £8.50 to £25. Again, hon. Members on both sides of the House will be pleased to hear that that money is going to the most vulnerable of our constituents. Some 2.7 million pensioner households receiving pension credit also receive the cold weather payment.

The coalition Government are taking real steps to protect pensioners, which is why one of our first actions was to restore the earnings link with the basic state pension. We also gave a triple guarantee that pensions

22 Nov 2011 : Column 227

will be increased by the highest of growth in average earnings, price increases or 2.5%. Pension credit is also available for those who have low incomes, and we have continued key support for older people such as free NHS prescriptions, travel concessions and free television licences. For the longer term, we will need to help prevent people from retiring into poverty. Again, our actions are speaking louder than mere words, through the automatic enrolment in workplace pensions.

Hon. Members have made a strong case as to why fuel poverty is a real issue for many vulnerable people, including pensioners living in Northern Ireland. The differences in Northern Ireland are clear, and hon. Members have made that point in this debate. That is why Northern Ireland receives not only the support from pension credits, winter fuel payments and cold weather payments, which are provided for the rest of the UK, but a block grant of some £10.4 billion in funding for the Executive to address the particular priorities of Democratic Unionist party Members and other Northern Ireland Members. That money goes along with some £6 billion to pay for the cost of social security and pensions. We should not forget that Northern Ireland receives almost 25% more in spend per head of population than England, in recognition of the real issues that individuals living in Northern Ireland face.

Mr Dodds: The Minister makes a very valid point, but will she also acknowledge that, as we have highlighted in this debate, the people have horrendously higher needs in Northern Ireland, which arise because of ill health, fuel poverty and so on? Our energy prices are also much higher than those in the rest of the United Kingdom, so what she says needs to be put into perspective.

Maria Miller: I understand the point that the right hon. Gentleman is making. Indeed, that is why the block grant is so sizeable, and it is important that we recognise that.

Although we clearly want to address these issues here in Westminster, it is important that we work closely with colleagues in the Northern Ireland Executive. As the Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions, my hon. Friend the Member for Thornbury and Yate (Steve Webb), mentioned, I was in Belfast only last week meeting the Minister for Social Development to discuss child poverty issues in particular. Addressing fuel poverty is a devolved matter for the Northern Ireland Executive, and they are well placed to determine what measures should be in place to meet local needs. Hon. Members will be aware that earlier this year Northern Ireland launched its own fuel poverty strategy, which set out key areas for improving the situation for local people. I hope that after today’s debate the Executive may consider some of the initiatives in England and Great Britain, particularly the obligation on energy suppliers, which could well be other ways to improve things over the water.

We heard important contributions from right hon. and hon. Members across the House today, but there have been some puzzling absences. Where is the shadow Minister for older people? Where is the shadow Secretary of State for Work and Pensions? We welcome the hon. Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun, but she is the shadow Financial Secretary—perhaps that is telling in terms of how the Opposition are dealing with this issue.

22 Nov 2011 : Column 228

The right hon. Member for Belfast North (Mr Dodds) made a number of important points, and he talked about benefit take-up. I hope that he can bring himself to support the work that my Department is doing, through the introduction of universal credit, to improve the working age take-up of benefits. That is slightly different from the issue we are discussing today relating to pensioners, but it will make an important contribution.

The hon. Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun made a number of important points, and I thank her for that. The very existence of the winter fuel payment does help with people’s mental housekeeping and reassures older people that they can afford to turn up the heating, as she recognised in her contribution. However, I must say to her that tackling fuel poverty in Northern Ireland is a matter for the Northern Ireland Executive. We have to make sure that those important devolved matters are dealt with at a local level. As I said, she was not clear about the Labour party’s stance on the winter fuel payment, but perhaps she will clarify it in the closing stages of this debate—or perhaps she will not.

The Minister of State talked about the importance of prioritising those most in need and he highlighted the fact that we have reversed Labour’s cut to the cold weather payments. My hon. Friend the Member for West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine (Sir Robert Smith) highlighted the fact that we are dealing with a complex set of factors. I have to be careful now, because I think that I have to correct the hon. Member for South Antrim (Dr McCrea). He said that we were cutting support for the most vulnerable but that is absolutely not the case. We are reversing Labour’s proposed cuts to the cold—

Mr Dodds claimed to move the closure (Standing Order No. 36).

Question put forthwith, That the Question be now put.

Question agreed to.

Main Question accordingly put.

The House divided:

Ayes 205, Noes 280.

Division No. 397]

[7.37 pm


Abbott, Ms Diane

Ainsworth, rh Mr Bob

Alexander, rh Mr Douglas

Alexander, Heidi

Ali, Rushanara

Anderson, Mr David

Ashworth, Jonathan

Austin, Ian

Bailey, Mr Adrian

Bain, Mr William

Banks, Gordon

Barron, rh Mr Kevin

Bayley, Hugh

Beckett, rh Margaret

Bell, Sir Stuart

Benn, rh Hilary

Berger, Luciana

Blackman-Woods, Roberta

Blears, rh Hazel

Blomfield, Paul

Bradshaw, rh Mr Ben

Brennan, Kevin

Brown, Mr Russell

Bryant, Chris

Buck, Ms Karen

Burnham, rh Andy

Byrne, rh Mr Liam

Campbell, Mr Alan

Campbell, Mr Gregory

Campbell, Mr Ronnie

Caton, Martin

Chapman, Mrs Jenny

Clark, Katy

Clarke, rh Mr Tom

Clwyd, rh Ann

Coaker, Vernon

Connarty, Michael

Cooper, Rosie

Corbyn, Jeremy

Crausby, Mr David

Creagh, Mary

Creasy, Stella

Cruddas, Jon

Cryer, John

Cunningham, Alex

Cunningham, Mr Jim

Cunningham, Tony

Curran, Margaret

Dakin, Nic

Danczuk, Simon

David, Mr Wayne

Davies, Geraint

De Piero, Gloria

Denham, rh Mr John

Dobbin, Jim

Docherty, Thomas

Dodds, rh Mr Nigel

Donaldson, rh Mr Jeffrey M.

Donohoe, Mr Brian H.

Doran, Mr Frank

Dowd, Jim

Doyle, Gemma

Dromey, Jack

Dugher, Michael

Durkan, Mark

Eagle, Ms Angela

Edwards, Jonathan

Efford, Clive

Elliott, Julie

Ellman, Mrs Louise

Engel, Natascha

Esterson, Bill

Evans, Chris

Farrelly, Paul

Fitzpatrick, Jim

Flello, Robert

Flint, rh Caroline

Flynn, Paul

Fovargue, Yvonne

Francis, Dr Hywel

Gapes, Mike

Glass, Pat

Glindon, Mrs Mary

Godsiff, Mr Roger

Goggins, rh Paul

Goodman, Helen

Greatrex, Tom

Green, Kate

Greenwood, Lilian

Griffith, Nia

Gwynne, Andrew

Hain, rh Mr Peter

Hamilton, Mr David

Hamilton, Fabian

Hanson, rh Mr David

Havard, Mr Dai

Healey, rh John

Hendrick, Mark

Hepburn, Mr Stephen

Hermon, Lady

Heyes, David

Hilling, Julie

Hoey, Kate

Hopkins, Kelvin

Howarth, rh Mr George

Hunt, Tristram

Irranca-Davies, Huw

Jamieson, Cathy

Jarvis, Dan

Johnson, rh Alan

Johnson, Diana

Jones, Graham

Jones, Helen

Jones, Susan Elan

Joyce, Eric

Kaufman, rh Sir Gerald

Keeley, Barbara

Kendall, Liz

Khan, rh Sadiq

Lavery, Ian

Lazarowicz, Mark

Love, Mr Andrew

Lucas, Caroline

MacShane, rh Mr Denis

Mahmood, Shabana

Mann, John

Marsden, Mr Gordon

McCabe, Steve

McCann, Mr Michael

McClymont, Gregg

McCrea, Dr William

McDonagh, Siobhain

McDonnell, John

McFadden, rh Mr Pat

McGovern, Jim

McGuire, rh Mrs Anne

McKechin, Ann

McKenzie, Mr Iain

McKinnell, Catherine

Meale, Sir Alan

Mearns, Ian

Michael, rh Alun

Miliband, rh David

Miller, Andrew

Mitchell, Austin

Morrice, Graeme


Morris, Grahame M.


Munn, Meg

Murphy, rh Mr Jim

Murphy, rh Paul

Murray, Ian

Nandy, Lisa

Nash, Pamela

Onwurah, Chi

Osborne, Sandra

Owen, Albert

Paisley, Ian

Pearce, Teresa

Perkins, Toby

Pound, Stephen

Qureshi, Yasmin

Raynsford, rh Mr Nick

Reed, Mr Jamie

Reeves, Rachel

Reynolds, Emma

Robertson, Angus

Robertson, John

Robinson, Mr Geoffrey

Rotheram, Steve

Roy, Mr Frank

Ruane, Chris

Ruddock, rh Joan

Seabeck, Alison

Sharma, Mr Virendra

Sheerman, Mr Barry

Sheridan, Jim

Shuker, Gavin

Skinner, Mr Dennis

Smith, rh Mr Andrew

Smith, Angela

Smith, Nick

Spellar, rh Mr John

Stringer, Graham

Stuart, Ms Gisela

Sutcliffe, Mr Gerry

Tami, Mark

Thomas, Mr Gareth

Thornberry, Emily

Timms, rh Stephen

Trickett, Jon

Turner, Karl

Twigg, Derek

Twigg, Stephen

Umunna, Mr Chuka

Vaz, rh Keith

Vaz, Valerie

Watts, Mr Dave

Weir, Mr Mike

Wicks, rh Malcolm

Williamson, Chris

Wilson, Phil

Winnick, Mr David

Winterton, rh Ms Rosie

Woodward, rh Mr Shaun

Wright, David

Tellers for the Ayes:

David Simpson and

Jim Shannon


Adams, Nigel

Afriyie, Adam

Aldous, Peter

Amess, Mr David

Andrew, Stuart

Arbuthnot, rh Mr James

Bacon, Mr Richard

Baker, Steve

Baldry, Tony

Baldwin, Harriett

Barclay, Stephen

Baron, Mr John

Barwell, Gavin

Bebb, Guto

Beith, rh Sir Alan

Bellingham, Mr Henry

Beresford, Sir Paul

Berry, Jake

Binley, Mr Brian

Birtwistle, Gordon

Blackman, Bob

Blackwood, Nicola

Blunt, Mr Crispin

Boles, Nick

Bone, Mr Peter

Brake, rh Tom

Bray, Angie

Brazier, Mr Julian

Brooke, Annette

Bruce, Fiona

Buckland, Mr Robert

Burley, Mr Aidan

Burns, Conor

Burns, rh Mr Simon

Burrowes, Mr David

Burt, Lorely

Cairns, Alun

Campbell, rh Sir Menzies

Carmichael, rh Mr Alistair

Carmichael, Neil

Carswell, Mr Douglas

Chishti, Rehman

Clappison, Mr James

Clark, rh Greg

Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey

Coffey, Dr Thérèse

Collins, Damian

Colvile, Oliver

Cox, Mr Geoffrey

Crockart, Mike

Crouch, Tracey

Davies, David T. C.


Davies, Glyn

Davies, Philip

de Bois, Nick

Dinenage, Caroline

Djanogly, Mr Jonathan

Dorrell, rh Mr Stephen

Dorries, Nadine

Doyle-Price, Jackie

Drax, Richard

Duncan, rh Mr Alan

Duncan Smith, rh Mr Iain

Dunne, Mr Philip

Ellis, Michael

Ellwood, Mr Tobias

Elphicke, Charlie

Eustice, George

Evans, Graham

Evans, Jonathan

Evennett, Mr David

Fabricant, Michael

Fallon, Michael

Featherstone, Lynne

Field, Mark

Foster, rh Mr Don

Francois, rh Mr Mark

Freeman, George

Freer, Mike

Fullbrook, Lorraine

Fuller, Richard

Garnier, Mr Edward

Garnier, Mark

Gauke, Mr David

George, Andrew

Gibb, Mr Nick

Gilbert, Stephen

Gillan, rh Mrs Cheryl

Glen, John

Goldsmith, Zac

Graham, Richard

Grant, Mrs Helen

Gray, Mr James

Green, Damian

Greening, rh Justine

Gummer, Ben

Gyimah, Mr Sam

Halfon, Robert

Hames, Duncan

Hammond, Stephen

Hancock, Matthew

Hancock, Mr Mike

Hands, Greg

Harper, Mr Mark

Harrington, Richard

Harris, Rebecca

Hart, Simon

Haselhurst, rh Sir Alan

Hayes, Mr John

Heald, Oliver

Heath, Mr David

Heaton-Harris, Chris

Hemming, John

Herbert, rh Nick

Hinds, Damian

Hoban, Mr Mark

Hollingbery, George

Hollobone, Mr Philip

Hopkins, Kris

Horwood, Martin

Howarth, Mr Gerald

Howell, John

Huhne, rh Chris

Hunter, Mark

Huppert, Dr Julian

Hurd, Mr Nick

Jackson, Mr Stewart

Javid, Sajid

Jenkin, Mr Bernard

Johnson, Gareth

Johnson, Joseph

Jones, Andrew

Jones, Mr David

Jones, Mr Marcus

Kawczynski, Daniel

Kelly, Chris

Kirby, Simon

Kwarteng, Kwasi

Laing, Mrs Eleanor

Lamb, Norman

Lancaster, Mark

Laws, rh Mr David

Leadsom, Andrea

Lee, Dr Phillip

Leech, Mr John

Lefroy, Jeremy

Leigh, Mr Edward

Letwin, rh Mr Oliver

Lewis, Brandon

Liddell-Grainger, Mr Ian

Lidington, rh Mr David

Lilley, rh Mr Peter

Lloyd, Stephen

Lopresti, Jack

Loughton, Tim

Luff, Peter

Lumley, Karen

Macleod, Mary

Main, Mrs Anne

Maynard, Paul

McCartney, Jason

McCartney, Karl

McIntosh, Miss Anne

McLoughlin, rh Mr Patrick

McPartland, Stephen

McVey, Esther

Mensch, Louise

Menzies, Mark

Metcalfe, Stephen

Miller, Maria

Mills, Nigel

Milton, Anne

Mitchell, rh Mr Andrew

Moore, rh Michael

Morgan, Nicky

Morris, Anne Marie

Morris, David

Morris, James

Mosley, Stephen

Mowat, David

Mulholland, Greg

Munt, Tessa

Murray, Sheryll

Murrison, Dr Andrew

Neill, Robert

Newton, Sarah

Nokes, Caroline

Norman, Jesse

Nuttall, Mr David

Offord, Mr Matthew

Ollerenshaw, Eric

Opperman, Guy

Paice, rh Mr James

Parish, Neil

Patel, Priti

Pawsey, Mark

Penning, Mike

Penrose, John

Percy, Andrew

Perry, Claire

Phillips, Stephen

Pincher, Christopher

Prisk, Mr Mark

Pritchard, Mark

Pugh, John

Raab, Mr Dominic

Randall, rh Mr John

Reckless, Mark

Redwood, rh Mr John

Rees-Mogg, Jacob

Reevell, Simon

Robathan, rh Mr Andrew

Robertson, Hugh

Robertson, Mr Laurence

Rogerson, Dan

Rosindell, Andrew

Rudd, Amber

Ruffley, Mr David

Russell, Bob

Rutley, David

Sanders, Mr Adrian

Sandys, Laura

Scott, Mr Lee

Selous, Andrew

Shapps, rh Grant

Sharma, Alok

Shelbrooke, Alec

Simmonds, Mark

Simpson, Mr Keith

Skidmore, Chris

Smith, Miss Chloe

Smith, Henry

Smith, Sir Robert

Soubry, Anna

Spelman, rh Mrs Caroline

Spencer, Mr Mark

Stanley, rh Sir John

Stephenson, Andrew

Stevenson, John

Stewart, Bob

Stewart, Iain

Stewart, Rory

Streeter, Mr Gary

Stride, Mel

Stuart, Mr Graham

Swayne, rh Mr Desmond

Swire, rh Mr Hugo

Syms, Mr Robert

Tapsell, rh Sir Peter

Teather, Sarah

Thurso, John

Timpson, Mr Edward

Tomlinson, Justin

Tredinnick, David

Truss, Elizabeth

Turner, Mr Andrew

Tyrie, Mr Andrew

Uppal, Paul

Vickers, Martin

Villiers, rh Mrs Theresa

Walker, Mr Charles

Walker, Mr Robin

Wallace, Mr Ben

Walter, Mr Robert

Watkinson, Angela

Webb, Steve

Wharton, James

White, Chris

Whittaker, Craig

Whittingdale, Mr John

Wiggin, Bill

Williams, Mr Mark

Williams, Roger

Williams, Stephen

Wilson, Mr Rob

Wright, Jeremy

Wright, Simon

Yeo, Mr Tim

Young, rh Sir George

Zahawi, Nadhim

Tellers for the Noes:

James Duddridge and

Stephen Crabb

Question accordingly negatived.

22 Nov 2011 : Column 229

22 Nov 2011 : Column 230

22 Nov 2011 : Column 231

22 Nov 2011 : Column 232

22 Nov 2011 : Column 233

Judiciary and Fundamental Rights

7.52 pm

The Minister for Europe (Mr David Lidington): I beg to move,

That this House takes note of Unnumbered Explanatory Memorandum of 7 July 2011, the European Union Common Position on Judiciary and Fundamental Rights (Negotiation Chapter 23), relating to EU enlargement: Croatia; and supports the Government’s decision to agree the Draft Common Position at COREPER on 29 June and to adopt formally that agreed position at European Council on 12 July.

This debate concerns the European Union’s common position on the judiciary and fundamental rights chapter—chapter 23—of the accession negotiations for Croatia. It also concerns the Government’s policy of agreeing that EU common position in Brussels in June and formally supporting its adoption at the Economic and Finance Council on 12 July. During the debate, I hope to bring the House up to date on some of the more recent developments in the Croatian accession process and on the various reports of the European Commission about the improvements that Croatia has made.

I shall start by addressing the more general question of enlargement before moving on to where Croatia fits within the process. The United Kingdom is, and has been from the start, a strong supporter of EU enlargement as an effective and dynamic agent of change. In a changing world in which economic and political weight is swinging eastwards, the European Union will remain strong only if it is outward-looking and continues to grow. Successive British Governments have believed that membership of the EU should be open to any European country that wants to join and meets the rigorous accession criteria.

There are three key arguments for our consistent, cross-party support in the House for the process of EU enlargement. The first such argument is one of principle. The European treaties make it clear that membership of the European Union is in principle available to any European country that wants to join and that meets the accession criteria. It is very hard to establish any reasonable ground on which we could say to Spain, Portugal or France that they should be a member of the European Union but to Croatia or another country of the Balkans or eastern Europe that they should not—if they meet the accession criteria. I stress that second element. Support in this country for enlargement goes back a long way. Some 23 years ago, in her Bruges speech of 1988, Margaret Thatcher declared, at time when it was not fashionable or even believable to do so, that it was important for everybody in Europe to remember that Prague, Warsaw and Budapest were also great European cities.

Mike Gapes (Ilford South) (Lab/Co-op): Will the Minister also confirm that Istanbul is a European city and welcome the fact that President Gul of Turkey is here this week on an official visit? Does he look forward to the day when Turkey can also take its place in the European Union?

Mr Lidington: Yes, I certainly support what the hon. Gentleman has said. Labour and Conservative Governments alike have consistently taken the position that we support Turkey’s ambitions to join the European Union. That accession process has helped to drive both

22 Nov 2011 : Column 234

political and economic reform within Turkey, and we want to see further progress being made at the earliest possible date.

Keith Vaz (Leicester East) (Lab): I completely agree with what the Minister says. There has been cross-party support for the enlargement process, but when I held his job more than a decade ago there were 12 candidate countries beating at the door of the EU and asking to be admitted. At that stage, quite a lot wanted to join, so why does he think so few countries now want to join the EU?

Mr Lidington: I bow to the right hon. Gentleman’s experience, because I think he was quite a long-serving Minister for Europe. Part of the answer to his question is that there are now rather fewer European countries outside the European Union than was once the case. However, one thing that is common to the political leaderships of all the countries in the western Balkans is an ambition to become part of the European family of nations. We in the UK sometimes underestimate that strength of feeling. They regard membership of the EU as setting the seal on their democratic development and on the restoration of their place in the European family.

Mr Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): While we are having a trot around Europe, let me ask about countries such as Moldova that want to join the European Union. Does the Minister agree that what they really want is to join a free trade area rather than some sort of superstate?

Mr Lidington: In my conversations with Moldovan Ministers I find that they have ambitions for more than just a trading relationship. Certainly, when I have met the Moldovan Prime Minister, Foreign Minister and deputy Foreign Minister, they have stressed to me that they see value in market integration with the single market. However, they also see the move towards meeting European standards on democratic governance, rule of law and respect for human rights as in the interests of the people of Moldova, enabling them decisively to relegate to history their experience of Soviet rule over so many decades. Although Moldova is not a candidate for European membership at the moment, I have said publicly in Chisinau—I think I am still the only British Minister who has been to the British embassy in Chisinau—that we supported Moldova’s work within the Eastern Partnership as a matter of principle and that if it wished to take that further and in due course apply for membership and comply with the demanding accession criteria, the United Kingdom would strongly support and encourage that.

The second argument for enlargement develops from what I have just said to my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough (Mr Bone). There is a powerful political case for the enlargement of the European Union. Enlargement helps to create stability, security and prosperity across Europe. We see this most dramatically if we look at the recent history of central and eastern Europe. We have seen how the process of EU accession has helped to entrench democracy, the rule of law and human rights in parts of our continent where those values and traditions were crushed for most of the 20th century.

If the House contrasts the experience of central and eastern Europe in the 20 years from 1919 to 1939 with the 20 years from 1989 to 2009, it will see the difference that the institutionalisation of democratic reform through

22 Nov 2011 : Column 235

the EU accession process has made, and made for the good. Although I would happily say to my hon. Friends and to some hon. Members on the Opposition Benches that there are plenty of faults in the way the EU currently does business and the way it is constructed, when we weigh up the value of the European Union and the United Kingdom’s membership of the European Union, we need to take account of that rather proud political record in support for the development of a culture of human rights, the rule of law and democratic government in parts of Europe where those traditions have been absent for so long.

Chris Heaton-Harris (Daventry) (Con): Will my right hon. Friend comment on Macedonia, which is keen to join the accession process? Is it not a fact that Croatia or any other country that wants to enter the European Union is signing a pact—a contract—to join the euro? What would be his advice to such countries on doing that at this time?

Mr Lidington: My advice is that that has to be a sovereign decision for the country concerned. I do not waver in my view that joining the euro would not be in the national interest of the United Kingdom, and I make no apology for having long held that view, but each country must take its own decision. Some countries with small economies, which are, perhaps, very dependent on trade with immediate European neighbours, would find it more difficult to see themselves outside the euro, at least over the longer term, than a country such as the UK. At the end of the day it must be a matter for each accession country to decide for itself in the course of EU negotiations.

The third argument for enlargement is an economic one and it is—

Matthew Hancock (West Suffolk) (Con): Before my right hon. Friend moves on to that further point, is there not an important and slightly more domestic political benefit to support for enlargement of the European Union? There are more countries in the European Union that want to see a less deeply aligned European Union and more of a trading union, which we on the Conservative Benches also want to see. The more countries with that view of Europe, the better. Therefore accession countries with that view and that approach to markets should be encouraged.

Mr Lidington: My hon. Friend makes a very strong point indeed, although it would be a mistake to class all new accession countries as if they were of one mind and part of a bloc. The Government of the Czech Republic, for example, take an approach towards the European Union that on many issues is not dissimilar from that expressed by the United Kingdom Government. With the Slovak Parliament’s controversial debate over the future of the euro, we have seen the strong view that even a small member state is entitled to have a say and not be overruled by a directoire of the larger member states.

However, I caution my hon. Friend. If one looks at, say, Estonia, the ambition that it had to join the euro, and the celebrations on the streets when it joined the euro—[Interruption.] The hon. Member for Wolverhampton North East (Emma Reynolds) prompts

22 Nov 2011 : Column 236

me from a sedentary position about Poland, which is keen to be in the euro one day, but certainly not to be told what to do by other, older member states. There is a variety of different positions among member states.

The political value of enlargement is partly that it recognises the truth about the diversity of European political culture. It is important that as the EU evolves and reflects upon its own systems of governance and its institutional set-up, it does so in a way that takes full account of the diversity of European political and cultural experience. The model that may have served six member states in western Europe in the 1950s will not be the right one for a community of 27—soon to be 28—member states encompassing all parts of our continent.

The third argument for enlargement relates to economic interest. The economic benefits of expanding the single market are significant. British exports of goods and services to the 12 new member states of central and eastern Europe increased over the 10 years straddling their accession by more than two and a half times to over £11.6 billion in 2009. So there are advantages for our businesses and our people, as well as for the businesses and people of the accession countries. In Croatia’s case, meeting the single market rules means that British businesses will be better able to benefit from trade and investment opportunities in that country—for example, in Croatia’s expanding ports sector, its tourism industry and agriculture.

Mr Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): I want to challenge my right hon. Friend on the idea that an expanded Europe is good for security and stability. I declare my interest as a special constable with British Transport police. If one speaks to the British Transport police or the Metropolitan police, they say that every day police officers in London are arresting more and more EU nationals from eastern European countries, particularly Bulgaria, Romania and other accession states, as part of criminalised gangs working in London because London is the biggest, most cosmopolitan city in the European Union. With the EU expanding, the problem of crime on the streets of our capital city is getting worse because of the ease of access across international borders.

Mr Lidington: I pay tribute to my hon. Friend’s voluntary work for the British Transport police. I certainly believe that it is important that we ensure that the freedom of movement that comes with membership of the European Union is not applied in a way that can be abused. It is right that somebody who is coming here to take a job—in some cases it will be a job that British people have been unwilling to take on; one talks to a lot of employers who will say that—should be entitled to do so. If they are prepared to come here, live by the law, work hard, pay their taxes and make a contribution to society, few of us have problems with that. But I completely agree with my hon. Friend. If people seek to abuse the system and have come here to exploit our welfare system or to commit crime, the full rigour of the law should be applied against them.

Mr Bone: Will the Minister give way on that point?

Mr Lidington: I will give way once more to my hon. Friend, then I shall make some progress.

22 Nov 2011 : Column 237

Mr Bone: The Minister, as usual, is being extremely generous. Is not the trick to put on a proviso that people coming from new accession countries will need a work permit to come and work in this country? In that way we can ensure that we get people into the EU, without necessarily worrying about flooding the market here for workers.

Mr Lidington: It certainly was a mistake made by the previous Government that the transitional controls that could have been applied to some of the new member countries were not applied. We are taking very seriously the transitional arrangements that still apply to Romania and Bulgaria. I would also say to my hon. Friend that the process of enlargement and the market integration that goes with that should over time—I accept that this is not an instant process—enable those countries to generate economic growth and employment opportunities themselves that make the sort of migratory pressures from unskilled workers less acute than he identifies them at the moment.

Further enlargement depends upon countries meeting accession criteria that are both fair and rigorous, and it is important when considering Croatia’s case to recognise that this conditionality has been further developed since the accession of Romania and Bulgaria, learning from the lessons of the accession experience of those countries, and that conditionality is of critical importance to protect the credibility of the enlargement process and to encourage future EU expansion.

The EU’s approach to negotiations with Croatia was guided by the European Council’s 2006 renewed consensus on enlargement. That was agreed in response to the lessons learned from previous negotiations with Bulgaria and Romania. In particular, it led to the creation of an entirely new chapter, chapter 23, to cover judiciary and fundamental rights. That arrangement, I stress, did not exist in previous accession negotiations. Croatia has therefore been through a much more rigorous accession process, especially over the matters that we are debating this evening, than did either Romania or Bulgaria.

Chapter 23 focused on ensuring that Croatia has a strong and independent court system, is tackling corruption and organised crime, is protecting fundamental rights and is dealing with the legacy of the Balkans’ wars in areas such as war crimes trials and refugee return. Chapter 23 was opened in June 2010, after the United Kingdom, working closely with partners, secured comprehensive and robust closing benchmarks. These included a requirement that Croatia co-operate fully with the international criminal tribunal for the former Yugoslavia.

The Commission published in March 2011 an interim report that concluded that Croatia had made considerable progress against closing benchmarks for chapter 23 but still had further work to do, and as a consequence of that Commission report, Croatia accelerated its efforts. We agreed with the Commission’s subsequent assessment, set out in the draft common position of June 2011, that over the six years of its accession process Croatia had undertaken significant reform efforts in the area of the judiciary and fundamental rights, that it had worked to improve the independence, impartiality, efficiency and professionalism of the judiciary, and it had improved its handling of domestic war crimes trials, strengthened the fight against corruption and increased Croatia’s protection of fundamental rights.

22 Nov 2011 : Column 238

But I emphasise that that support for the common position does not mean that we accepted at that point that Croatia had done all that needed to be done, nor indeed had the European Commission made that conclusion. The key judgment is whether Croatia will be able to assume in full the obligations of EU membership from the date of its accession, which is proposed for 1 July 2013. The Commission recommended closing chapter 23 on the basis of its assessment that Croatia’s track record in these areas indicated that the reforms were sustainable and would not slip backwards after the conclusion of negotiations.

Crucially, the Commission also underlined the importance of Croatia continuing to develop a track record of implementation across the board. This last stipulation is very important, and one for which we worked hard during the negotiations. We secured a number of improvements in the EU common position, building on strong language included in the 24 June European Council conclusions. The key passage in those conclusions reads:

“Croatia should continue its reform efforts with the same vigour, in particular as regards the judiciary and fundamental rights, so as to be able to assume fully the obligations of membership from the date of accession. Monitoring up to accession of these reform efforts will give the necessary assurance to Croatia and to current Member States.”

We are determined that Croatia should fully meet EU requirements across the board, and particularly over chapter 23, by the time of accession, and we are determined to see that there is no backsliding. In fairness, Croatian Ministers repeatedly say, in bilateral meetings or at EU gatherings, that they are committed to ensuring that progress continues. During the final weeks of negotiation, we secured agreement to additional monitoring arrangements for Croatia, which will continue right up until its accession. We expect each of the Commission’s six-monthly reports on chapter 23, the first of which was issued on 28 October 2011, to show clear progress. I should say that the report issued on 28 October is still being analysed in detail by officials in my Department, but I undertake this evening to deposit copies of that report in the Library of the House and to write to the European Scrutiny Committee in order to draw its attention to the conclusions of that document.

A comprehensive monitoring report will be presented to the European Parliament and to the Council in the autumn of 2012, and these six-monthly reports, together with the comprehensive report next autumn, will allow both Governments and Parliaments right across the European Union to assess Croatian progress towards full alignment with the acquis and with European standards by the time of accession.

Croatia is fully aware that the monitoring measures now put in place enable the Council to take what are termed “all appropriate measures”, as agreed at the 24 June European Council, if issues of concern are identified during the monitoring process. A system of sticks and carrots is built into the pre-accession monitoring process to enable the Commission, on behalf of member states, to keep a very close eye on the detailed progress that Croatia is making and to flag up any concerns that might be discovered about backsliding.

Croatia is also aware that in order to accede to the EU on the target date of 1 July 2013, her accession treaty must have been ratified by each of the 27 member

22 Nov 2011 : Column 239

states, including by this Parliament. As the House knows, the Croatian accession treaty will require ratification under the terms of the European Union Act 2011, and that will require primary legislation going through both Houses of Parliament here. It seems to me that Croatia knows that it must address thoroughly all the concerns of the member states if it is to secure that full ratification.

On the basis of the clear progress already achieved by Croatia, together with this pre-accession mechanism for robust monitoring right up to accession, we agreed to close negotiations on chapter 23. Since the closure of those negotiations earlier this year, Croatia has continued to make progress in implementing the necessary reforms. This was noted in the Commission’s progress report, published on 12 October 2011. I want to highlight the progress that has been made in several areas, which the European Scrutiny Committee identified as important in its 38th report to the House.

The Commission’s report notes that Croatia has made substantial progress on judiciary and fundamental rights, and that reform of the judiciary has continued. Croatia has continued to demonstrate progress on updating its judicial reform strategy and action plan, and it has also continued to work on strengthening the protection of minorities, with good progress on refugee returns. In support of an autonomously functioning stable judiciary Croatia has, for example, made changes to its Conflict of Interest Act to depoliticise appointments to the supervisory boards of state-owned companies, as well as to membership of the conflict of interest commission itself, and that commission has already received 3,000 Croatian officials’ declarations of assets.

Mr Hollobone: My hon. Friend mentions that progress on refugee returns has been good, but as I understand it, Croatian co-operation has fallen some way short of being full, because whilst the overall case backlog on outstanding refugee return issues has fallen by 10,000, there were still 785,561 to go. Why is that good progress? It seems very small progress to me.

Mr Lidington: I will move on to that in a moment, because we certainly agree that Croatia has a lot more to do. I do not pretend that everything is fine and dandy, because more needs to be done, but I am saying to my hon. Friend and to the House that Croatia’s continued progress since the closure of negotiations early this year encourages us to be confident in the political resolution of Croatia’s Government and opposition parties to take forward compliance with European standards with the necessary determination and speed.

Keith Vaz: I am grateful to the Minister, who is being extremely generous in giving way to so many Members. One concern that we must address is the tendency for the focus from Brussels suddenly to disappear when a country joins the EU. A lot of time is spent negotiating the acquis, but once countries join no one seems to bother about them. Does he agree that it is important that the monitoring process continues even though those countries are full members of the EU and that there should be some kind of buddy principle that allows some countries to assist others in the process of fully integrating into the EU?

Mr Lidington: I recognise the right hon. Gentleman’s point, and describing it as a buddy system makes it sound quite cuddly and attractive, but I would not want

22 Nov 2011 : Column 240

to make routine the experience of the mechanism for co-operation and verification that was invented for the accession of Romania and Bulgaria. Whether one talks with political leaders in those countries or in some of the older member states, one finds a common recognition that that was a very unhappy way for those negotiations to turn out and that it left those two countries feeling that they are being treated as second-class members, even though their accession treaties have been negotiated, signed and ratified by everyone. It has left some of the older member states feeling that the decision to allow Romania and Bulgaria to accede was agreed without all the standards being adequately met.

The introduction of chapter 23, which was used for the first time with Croatia, has been a significant step forward in trying to address up front, before we get to the end of accession negotiations, let alone ratification of an accession treaty, the problems that have persisted with Romania and Bulgaria that we seek to address through the mechanism for co-operation and verification.

The right hon. Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz) might already know that we are discussing some interesting proposals from Commissioner Füle, the Enlargement Commissioner, to develop a new approach towards enlargement that would seek deliberately to front-load some of the most difficult elements of an accession negotiation precisely so that an accession state not only can implement challenging reforms, but has time to develop a track record so that we can see the results of those reforms, rather than those being addressed at the last stage of negotiations when questions are inevitably asked about whether the reform will be sustained over a long period of time. It is important that we learn from experience. I do not want us to repeat in future cases the experience of Romania and Bulgaria.

The Commission’s report also noted substantial progress in the fight against corruption, including continued political commitment and a number of further investigations launched and indictments and court rulings issued, including at high levels. The most high-profile case, the trial of former Prime Minister Ivo Sanader for diversion of funds, opened in November this year. However, I want to emphasise that the Government completely accept that Croatia still has more to do. A number of judicial reforms are still at a very early stage. The long-standing issue of case backlogs in old civil cases and enforcement decisions remains a problem, although numbers have decreased. We will be looking for rapid progress once the new enforcement law and public enforcement agency become operational in January 2012.

Although the handling of domestic war crimes cases has improved, the issue of impunity needs to be thoroughly addressed. We welcome the adoption of a new strategy on impunity that recognises the existence of uninvestigated and unprosecuted crimes and the creation of new dedicated specialist chambers for war crimes trials. In June, criminal charges were raised in 84 such cases. Continued full co-operation with the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia is also particularly important. We constantly stress that to Croatia and fellow EU member states and remain in contact with Chief Prosecutor Brammertz, whom I met a couple of weeks ago in the Hague, in order to ensure that we are fully up to date with his thinking about the co-operation of the Croatian authorities with ICTY.

22 Nov 2011 : Column 241

We welcome the Croatian Parliament’s adoption on 21 October of a declaration on the promotion of European values in south-east Europe, which states a firm commitment from Croatia that bilateral issues such as border disputes must not obstruct the accession of candidate countries to the EU from the beginning of their accession process.

Britain has been helping Croatia to tackle many of the concerns relating to outstanding reform. If the House wishes, and I catch your eye, Madam Deputy Speaker, I will be happy during the concluding remarks to address that in more detail or to write to interested Members. Bilateral assistance currently runs at nearly £500,000 a year, carefully targeted in particular on some of the judicial and rule-of-law reforms where outstanding work is still needed.

In conclusion, Croatia has made great progress over the course of its accession negotiations in meeting the rigorous closing benchmarks set for each negotiating chapter. The United Kingdom was also successful in securing robust pre-accession monitoring that will enable this House to maintain a close watch on the further progress that we still need to see. It was on this basis that the Government were able to agree to close negotiations with Croatia and agree a target date of 1 July 2013 for EU accession. Croatia still has more to do over and above that required by closing benchmarks, but the Commission has reported continued progress since the closure of negotiations and we expect Croatia to continue to make swift progress towards finalising its full alignment with EU requirements before 1 July 2013. We have heard from the Commission within the past few days that it will propose that the draft decision on Croatian accession will be agreed at the General Affairs Council on 5 December to enable the treaty of accession to be signed by Heads of State and Government at the European Council on 9 December. I shall be writing imminently to the European Scrutiny Committees of this House and the House of Lords to set out the Government’s approach to that draft decision.

Croatia is a friend of the United Kingdom, but we shall be a candid, honest friend, who will monitor closely Croatia’s evolving track record and speak openly to our Croatian friends about the work that still needs doing.

We expect the Croatian Government to act rapidly to implement the remaining necessary reforms, and her continued commitment to reform provides an excellent example to the other countries of the western Balkans in pursuing their European future.

Croatian accession will represent the achievement of an historic goal not only for Croatia, but for the European Union. The enlargement process has encouraged and supported reform and transformation in Croatia, a country now only a few small steps from being a fully prepared member of the EU.

We now look to Croatia to take those last remaining steps, by which it will have fully met the strict requirements for entry to the European Union, and I commend the motion to the House.

8.29 pm

Emma Reynolds (Wolverhampton North East) (Lab): I welcome the opportunity to debate Croatia’s accession to the European Union and, in particular, its progress under chapter 23 on judicial and fundamental rights.

22 Nov 2011 : Column 242

As the Minister has underlined, there is in the House a broad, cross-party consensus on enlargement. When our party was in government, we supported the path of accession for the western Balkans, and we are pleased that significant progress continues to be made. In effect, the progress is remarkable, given that it is only 16 years since the signing of the Dayton accords, which put an end to the worst outbreak of violence seen in Europe since 1945.

In the early 1990s, Yugoslav republics collapsed into war, with friends and neighbours pitted against each other in the name of ethnic and religious nationalism. One of the principal objectives and greatest achievements of the European Union has been to put an end to the wars that wrought so much damage on Europe in the first half of the 20th century. It is therefore right that the EU should support the membership aspirations of the western Balkans, and we are proud of the fact that under the previous, Labour Government, Slovenia joined the European Union and the negotiations that Croatia began made significant headway.

With European Union membership comes responsibility for reform, however, and it is right that any discussion of accession involves detailed and complex benchmarks, so it is testament to the dedication and intellectual rigour of the European Scrutiny Committee that it has concentrated on chapter 23, a highly important area where progress is vital.

The Committee is right to stress, and the Minister also underlined, that lessons must be learned from the accession of Romania and Bulgaria. That experience led directly to the introduction of the new chapter, which covers a range of areas, including the appointment and independence of judges and prosecutors, tackling corruption, the protection of fundamental rights and, importantly, Croatia’s co-operation with the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia. Each area is crucial to an effective, modern and democratic state that protects its citizens from discrimination and roots out corruption.

While we were in government, we paid particular attention to progress in that area. We also led the way in putting pressure on the western Balkans to co-operate fully with the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia. At that time, we were concerned about the Croatian Government’s level of co-operation with the ICTY, and we exerted pressure on them to find and release key military documents from the period in question.

In April, former military commanders, Ante Gotovina and Mladen Markac, were sentenced by the court for their role in the war. Their convictions are important not only because justice has been done, but because it sends a powerful signal to military commanders everywhere that the international community can and will pursue the perpetrators of war crimes.

We welcome the recent report of chief prosecutor Brammertz, which states that the Croatian Government are providing “timely and adequate” responses to requests for witnesses and evidence, while expressing disappointment at the “limited progress” in locating the military documents relating to Operation Storm. The Opposition place a high value on Croatia’s continued co-operation with the ICTY. Engaging constructively with the court is a test of Croatia’s willingness to draw a line under its past and to look forwards to a brighter future within the EU.

22 Nov 2011 : Column 243

We welcome the Croatian Government’s strategy, adopted in February, for addressing impunity. In particular, we welcome the improvements in witness support and the new legislation for four specialised war crime chambers. Although Croatia has clearly made some progress in investigating and prosecuting domestic war crime cases, considerable progress still needs to be made.

Given that the strategy still needs to be systematically implemented, will the Minister tell the House in his winding-up speech whether he is satisfied that priority is being given to the most serious war crimes cases? Are cases in which the alleged perpetrators were members of the Croatian security forces being investigated and pursued? Are the Government assisting the Croatian Government in that important area?

We welcome the active role that Croatia is playing in regional co-operation. It is vital that Croatia maintains good relations with its neighbours, and in particular we welcome its support for the membership aspirations of other western Balkan countries. The visit of the Croatian President to Serbia and the Serbian President to Croatia marks an important step in the improvement of relations between the two countries.

It is vital that Croatia’s significant reforms on the independence, accountability and professionalism of the judiciary are carried through. We welcome the new state school for judicial officials, which will recruit and train judges and prosecutors. That is essential to ensuring that candidates are selected on the basis of merit not patronage. However, the new state school will not produce graduates until 2013. Has the Minister discussed that issue with his Croatian counterpart and is he satisfied that, prior to accession, Croatia will be able to push forward in that area?

In its most recent report on enlargement, the European Commission states that there has been “substantial progress” on anti-corruption measures. It is, indeed, encouraging that a raft of measures have been implemented as part of the Croatian Government’s anti-corruption action plan, including the introduction of a new police Act to make the police more professional and, crucially, to depoliticise the force. A requirement for Government officials to register their assets has also been introduced. As the Minister said, it is promising that high-level corruption cases are being investigated, including the case against the former Prime Minister, and that the accounts of the party of the current Prime Minister are also being looked into.

However, corruption is one of the areas of most serious concern in this chapter. The Commission states that more needs to be done to establish a track record in the effective handling of organised crime and corruption and local and high-level corruption cases, including cases related to public procurement and the judiciary. Although it is clear that the Croatian Government are seized of the importance of that issue, will the Minister reassure the House that he is confident that those measures will be effectively implemented prior to accession?

We welcome the recent comprehensive study and subsequent action plan on the representation of national minorities in the public sector in Croatia. However, as the European Scrutiny Committee and the hon. Member for Kettering (Mr Hollobone) have highlighted, there remains a substantial backlog of housing appeals from those refugees wishing to return and fewer than half the available housing units have been handed over to successful

22 Nov 2011 : Column 244

applicants. More progress on that issue is needed to provide assurances that the Croatian Government are committed to honouring their pledges to refugees seeking to return.

On another issue, a recent gay rights parade in Split was attacked and the police failed to protect those on the march. In winding up, will the Minister say whether he has discussed that incident with the Croatian Government, whether he is satisfied that freedom of speech and expression can be secured, and whether discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation is being tackled by the Croatian Government?

After the experience of the accession of Romania and Bulgaria, we welcome the introduction of this new chapter, as well as the introduction of a new monitoring mechanism. It is clear that once countries become EU members, it is very difficult to apply pressure for improvement and change, so the pre-accession period is incredibly important. Is the Minister satisfied that his Government, and more widely the EU, has sufficient leverage in the period between the signing of the accession treaty in December and accession itself in July 2013? What more can the Government do to help Croatia deliver those changes?

In conclusion, Croatia’s preparation for accession has been rigorous to date. Both the nature and number of reforms introduced in a short period have been impressive. However, in terms of chapter 23, it is evident that Croatia still needs to demonstrate a track record on implementation and enforcement. We will continue to scrutinise the work of the Government and the European Union in its monitoring of progress during the pre-accession period. It is particularly important to monitor reforms with regard to the recruitment and independence of the judiciary and the measures introduced to tackle corruption.

Following Slovenia’s accession and given the war that blighted the western Balkans in the 1990s, Croatia joining the EU will be an historic moment. Providing the reforms in this area are carried out and successfully implemented, and providing that the House ratifies the accession treaty of Croatia, we look forward to welcoming Croatia into the European Union.

8.39 pm

Andrea Leadsom (South Northamptonshire) (Con): I should like to start by putting on the record my congratulations to Croatia on getting this far in its process towards accession to the European Union. I am a big fan of an expanded single market because I genuinely believe that it is in the interests of all EU member states. I share the relief of the hon. Member for Wolverhampton North East (Emma Reynolds) that the aspiration of Balkan countries to accede to the EU has laid to rest some of the final outstanding issues relating back to the tragic war in the Balkans. That can only be good news.

I want to make a few short remarks about procedures with regard to EU legislation generally and the motion specifically. The European Commission’s assessment of Croatian progress towards achieving its obligations under chapter 23 says:

“Across the board an appropriate legal framework and the necessary implementing structures and institutions are generally in place, administrative capacity is being continuously strengthened and track records of results have been established or continue to

22 Nov 2011 : Column 245

be developed, thereby ensuring the overall sustainability of reforms. Provided Croatia continues its efforts and meets the commitments it has undertaken, further concrete results should follow.”

That is two cheers, in a way. It is clear that Croatia is not there yet, but there is great hope that it will continue to make progress towards the date of its accession. There are all sorts of safeguards by which the EU could start to impose sanctions against Croatia if it does not continue in that work. It would be of enormous benefit to this House if the scrutiny of such scrutiny were to take place more broadly within Parliament prior to coming to the Chamber for a debate on a specific motion.

In its scrutiny of the proposals, the European Scrutiny Committee concluded that Croatia still has a long way to go before it achieves the standards set by the Commission and noted that Bulgaria and Romania have still not reached those standards since joining in 2007. Although, as my hon. Friend the Minister said, chapter 23 was introduced only in 2010, Bulgaria and Romania could have been expected to have made further progress by now, and there is still the question mark over whether Croatia will make the necessary progress.

I am aware that my hon. Friend is looking at the general question of parliamentary scrutiny of legislation. On 20 January this year, he said in a written statement to this House that EU scrutiny must be enhanced. Under the chairmanship of my hon. Friend the Member for Daventry (Chris Heaton-Harris), the Conservative European research group wrote to my hon. Friend about the need for enhanced scrutiny, particularly of EU legislation.

As a final addition to this little trio of ideas, yesterday a group of us went to meet the British delegation of MEPs in Brussels, and they said that they find that the other House is far better than this House at engaging with EU legislation as it comes down the track. That is a great shame.

Martin Horwood (Cheltenham) (LD): The Liberal Democrats’ international affairs committee also wrote to the Minister on this subject. Would the hon. Lady support one of our proposals, which was for European prospective legislation and documents to be scrutinised by the specialist Select Committees that we already have, as well as by the European Scrutiny Committee, thereby allowing those with expertise in environmental issues to scrutinise environmental legislation and so on?

Andrea Leadsom rose—

Madam Deputy Speaker (Dawn Primarolo): Order. We are not discussing the broader question of scrutiny of all European matters. This is specifically a debate that is mainly about Croatia, and I therefore hope that the hon. Lady will now come back to that subject. She has got her point on the record, and so has the hon. Gentleman.

Andrea Leadsom: Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. I accept your guidance entirely. Nevertheless, I would just like to respond to the point made by the hon. Member for Cheltenham (Martin Horwood). I do agree that scrutiny, particularly of Croatia—

22 Nov 2011 : Column 246

Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. The hon. Lady must respond only with regard to Croatia. I hope that she will not respond to the hon. Gentleman’s point about his party’s proposals for scrutiny. We are not discussing that; we are discussing Croatia.

Andrea Leadsom rose—

Chris Heaton-Harris: Will my hon. Friend give way?

Andrea Leadsom: I will give way to my hon. Friend.

Chris Heaton-Harris: Specifically in relation to Croatia’s accession to the European Union, does my hon. Friend think that it would have been helpful if the Foreign Affairs Committee had had purview over this matter so that an extra dimension could have been brought into this debate?

Andrea Leadsom: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. That is the proposal that I wanted to put to the Minister. The Foreign Affairs Committee might well have had a useful contribution to make to this debate, as might the Justice Committee. Specifically with regard to Croatia’s accession plans, there are issues with the European arrest warrant, human trafficking, organised crime and so on. As has been said, there are concerns over the accession of some European Union states where those problems have been prevalent. It therefore appears that there might be some benefit if, rather than the current situation where the European Scrutiny Committee is allowed to require or request that specialist Select Committees scrutinise particular legislation, there was a more proactive approach to asking specialist Select Committees to look at legislation in cases such as this before they come to the Chamber. I hope that that point can be applied both generally and specifically to this debate.

I will certainly support Croatia’s accession to the European Union, but with the expectation that the Minister will look carefully at whether some assessment by Select Committees in advance of this debate might have given Members more to go on in deciding whether we are taking a risk or not.

8.46 pm

Michael Connarty (Linlithgow and East Falkirk) (Lab): I have been asked by the Chair of the European Scrutiny Committee to speak on behalf of the Committee. One reason for that is that the position of Opposition Members on this issue is the same as that of Government Members, particularly in the Committee.

Some of us do take the trouble to read other Select Committee reports. The Foreign Affairs Committee looked at human rights in the context of enlargement and it made some salient comments that I hope the hon. Member for South Northamptonshire (Andrea Leadsom) has taken the trouble to read. That work feeds in to the work of the European Scrutiny Committee. We do not just live in a Euro-bubble, but look at broader matters.

It might be helpful to the House if I put this matter in context by explaining its background and why the European Scrutiny Committee recommended that it should be debated on the Floor of the House, rather than leaving it to go to a European Standing Committee. We have always been concerned about the continuing trend,

22 Nov 2011 : Column 247

which the Government, despite their promises, have not reversed, of the European Committees not having permanent memberships. If their memberships were permanent, there would be at least be 13 Members on three Committees—that is 39 people—who would consistently take the trouble to look at European matters and build up a body of knowledge. At the moment, the Committee structure is such that people are put on European Committees randomly. They mostly do not turn up to the debates and do not gather the knowledge that they should have.

The concern is that when Romania and Bulgaria joined the EU in January 2007, it was recognised by Members from all parts of the House that a number of good governance issues had not been addressed. The oddest thing was that the European Commission and the European Council decided that if those countries did not get access in 2007, they would automatically get access in 2008 and become full members of the EU. Basically, the incentive to continue progress, particularly in areas of good governance, ceased for Romania and Bulgaria.

The European Union therefore had to set up a co-operation and verification mechanism. The Minister has described that as making the Romanians and Bulgarians feel as though they were second-class citizens. The reality is that they should never have been citizens of the EU at all because they were not fit to be members. That is the truth of it. They had to be harried and harassed to take the process seriously, and in fact at one point the EU suspended the financing of one of those countries and refused to allow it to spend any more EU money. It got that bad. Nothing had really been done to improve the situation from 2007.

A series of benchmarks were set under the verification mechanism to do with the judicial system—we are talking about the judiciary today. In the case of Bulgaria, there was the benchmark of tackling corruption and massive organised crime at the highest level of the country. There were a number of contract murders—not a couple, but 104 was the figure we heard when the Bulgarian Foreign Secretary came before the Committee. Those were organised killings by organised criminals.

Even now, neither country has reached the point at which the European Commission is able to say that it has what was, and still is, required. I will name those requirements for the record. The Commission does not think that they have an

“autonomously functioning, stable judiciary, which is able to detect and sanction conflicts of interest, corruption and organized crime and preserve rule of law”.

That is its present position on Romania and Bulgaria, to different degrees in each country. Nor do those countries have

“concrete cases of indictments, trials and convictions regarding high-level corruption and organised crime”.

We heard the feeble excuse from the then Foreign Secretary of Bulgaria that Bulgaria had not actually convicted anyone of any of the 104 killings because the criminals had hired hit-men from Russia, who committed the crime, killed people and then went back to Russia, where they could not be found. That is a terrible indictment of Bulgaria. It is in the European Union, but it has a long way to go before it reaches the benchmarks that the European Scrutiny Committee would have set for it.

22 Nov 2011 : Column 248

The Commission also believes that those countries do not have a legal system that is capable of implementing the law independently and efficiently.

With those mistakes having been made, and with the Committee having followed the process very seriously, we did not want a post-mortem, but we wanted to have assurances that those mistakes would not be repeated in the case of Croatia. That was why the new chapter 23 was introduced into the EU accession process, dealing with the judiciary and fundamental freedoms. In the summer of 2010, Croatia’s chapter 23 negotiations were finally opened. As the Minister put it then, agreement was based on

“rigorous benchmarks in the areas we want”.

Before the chapter could be closed, that

“comprehensive and robust set of benchmarks”

would need to be met, covering judicial transparency, impartiality and efficiency; tackling corruption; protecting minority rights; resolving outstanding refugee return issues; the protection of human rights; and, crucially, full co-operation with the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia. Croatia would need to show a track record of implementation across all those areas, to avoid the mistakes of Romania and Bulgaria.

The common position that we are discussing tonight is the European Commission’s assessment of Croatia’s progress. It recommended that no further negotiations were required, and underlined the importance of Croatia continuing to develop a track record of implementation across the board. It was formally adopted—without discussion, I might add—at the July European Council. I find it quite concerning that there was not in fact a fundamental and deep debate at the European Council about that assessment, because it shows that people may once again be taking their eye off the ball. My right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz), the former Europe Minister, pointed out that once countries are in the EU, it seems that the process of vigilance slips away. It is worrying that that might be happening in this case, if the Council cannot even discuss such an important decision at its meeting.

In endorsing the common position, the Secretary of State for Justice and the Minister for Europe made much of the irreversibility of the process, and of the monitoring that would be undertaken during the two years before Croatia could accede. I do not think the EU’s record is quite so good that we can believe that the process is irreversible.

I share the ambition for all the western Balkans to become part of the EU, and all the things that the Minister has said about the benefits of that for trade, democracy and human rights are to be applauded and worked hard for. However, Croatia has a border of about 1,000 km with other parts of the western Balkans. When I met the Serbians recently, and when I have met people from Bosnia-Herzegovina and from Macedonia, where I went with the Committee, they expressed deep fears about what lies on their border and what is going on in the rest of the area. When I met the Serbians, they pointed fingers at other countries, as did the Bosnians. The reality is that this is a serious concern for anyone who is particularly worried about the ability of people to use Croatia as an access to Europe. It is one of the trade routes for human trafficking, for drugs and for other matters that afflict the rest of the EU.

22 Nov 2011 : Column 249

Mr Hollobone: The hon. Gentleman has hit the nail on the head, because there will be a massive expansion of the common external frontier with Croatia’s accession, as there was with the accession of Bulgaria and Romania. One of the biggest challenges facing the EU and the UK—this is where everybody comes, because London is the biggest, most cosmopolitan city in Europe—is the lack of border controls on the EU boundary. The demands on accession countries to have secure borders are far too weak.

Michael Connarty: I think what we have here is a question: should we fear accession and therefore lock countries out of the EU, or should we address that concern properly, so that we can welcome countries into the EU but make sure that we give them the resources to secure those borders? I have recently been to Frontex with the European Scrutiny Committee, and it says, “Do not rely on Frontex to protect EU borders.” It is a small organisation that basically works on intelligence—it has some quick reactive ability but not the massive resources required.

We need to make sure that the Croatians are at one with us on this. We need to ensure either that they have the resources or that we give them the resources, so they can make sure they have a secure border and can protect themselves against worries of criminality coming into their territory, just like anyone in London or any other part of the EU.

The European Scrutiny Committee took the view that it is plain that Croatia still has much to do over the next two years. If our ambition is to have Croatia in the EU, we must ensure that we resource and support it. To have Croatia in and expand the borders without those protections leads to the criticisms made by the hon. Member for Kettering (Mr Hollobone) and many ordinary citizens—that the more we expand Europe, the more we threaten to infect our security, human rights and peace.

The reality is that despite four years of post-accession assistance and monitoring under the co-operation and verification mechanism, the Committee is still looking for that protection in respect of Bulgaria and Romania. We do not want to see Croatia added to that by not being properly resourced and supported.

The Committee noted in particular that the process of systematically tackling war crimes appears to have barely begun. Judging from the latest report by the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, Croatian co-operation is still some way off being described as “full”. Although the overall case backlog of returning refugees, which the hon. Member for Kettering mentioned—I will cite the same figure he did—has fallen by a further 10,000, some 785,561 cases are still to be dealt with, which is a massive way to go.

In sum, the Committee said that a great deal of further implementation would need to be accomplished by July 2013 if Croatia was to be able to demonstrate a track record that indicated it was truly ready for accession. I noted that the Minister said it looked as though the final decision would be ready for signature on 9 December. It is a matter of concern when the European Commission gives itself a target. Early on, it was saying that the earlier succession date for Croatia would be the end of 2011. It is determined to deliver that, regardless of concerns that might be expressed, so its promises will turn into solid work and a fruitful result for the EU. It is

22 Nov 2011 : Column 250

quite clear that it is going for a 2011 accession and is determined to have it. No one seems to be demanding a decent discussion in the European Council about that.

We are in the position at the minute where the Minister has said that he has secured improvements in the EU’s composition. I look forward to him putting his note in the Library and sending it to the European Scrutiny Committee so we can see the detail, but he said basically that “appropriate measures” proposed would be subject to qualified majority voting. Qualified majority voting means that any further measures can be agreed without anyone having a veto, so we are basically giving away the final say in stopping the process by the date that has been given—9 December. I hope people realise that that is what the Government are doing. Any further measures can be completely and utterly forgotten about and we can do nothing about it. The Committee felt that if this was strong language, it strongly suggested that the deal was already done, and that even if it was not, the lengthy and unproductive experience of the co-operation and verification mechanism in Bulgaria and Romania was hardly encouraging.

The Minister for Europe said that chapter 23 was an alternative to the co-operation and verification mechanism, so I hope he will say a word or two about what happens if Croatia turns out to be another problem added to the EU rather than one that has solved its problems. I hope that it has solved its problems. I have warm feelings towards the people I have met in the political class in that country who desire to be in the EU and to bring all its benefits to their country, but we have to worry about things that are not, at this moment, quite as we would want them in a full EU member state.

All in all, there appeared to the Committee to be loud and unwelcome echoes of those earlier accession processes —chapter 23 notwithstanding—and further confirmation that what had been judged most important was not adhering to appropriate conditionality prior to accession. We made that point again and again. If conditionality was applied, it should be easily verifiable: when it is reached, people should come in, but if it is not reached, we should not simply hope that they will get there eventually after they come in.

Although the eventual accession treaty will require the approval of the House, the Committee felt that the House should be given the opportunity now, at the beginning of the process, to debate this issue, vital as it is to the integrity of the accession process. I am sorry that so few Members are taking part in this debate, because this is the next major change to this Parliament’s relationship with the European process, and I would have hoped that more people would have come to air their views.

Several hon. Members rose

Madam Deputy Speaker (Dawn Primarolo): Order. I remind hon. Members that this is a timed debate that is due to end at 22 minutes past 9, and that I shall want to give a few minutes to the Minister to say a few words in response. I ask Members to bear that in mind so that we can fit everybody in.

9.1 pm

Mr David Nuttall (Bury North) (Con): Although I appreciate that as usual with these matters the accession of Croatia is essentially a done deal, I want to raise one

22 Nov 2011 : Column 251

or two concerns about the accession process and the consequences that agreeing to Croatia joining the European Union will have on the United Kingdom.

It is anticipated that the formal accession agreement will be signed at the European Council meeting scheduled for 9 December, but it appears that EU leaders are effectively taking it on trust that Croatia will complete the necessary preparations before it is formally allowed to join on 1 July 2013. As my right hon. Friend the Minister said, however, Croatia needs to do a lot more. Paragraph 7 of the explanatory memorandum, which quotes the Commission’s own assessment, spells out that further efforts are needed from Croatia in order to improve the independence, impartiality, efficiency and professionalism of its judiciary, and that only if the commitments made by Croatia are met will that country be ready.

As the hon. Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk (Michael Connarty) spelled out in his clear speech, it is obvious that whatever processes were in place when Bulgaria and Romania were allowed to become members of the EU, the checking mechanism in advance did not work. Now, years later, there are still problems with those countries. It is to be hoped that the checking mechanism between now and July 2013 will be slightly more rigorous than it was for Bulgaria and Romania.

In principle, I have nothing against any country wishing to join the EU, if that is what the country and its people wish, but I have concerns if the admission of a new member state will adversely affect the interests of the United Kingdom. So far, I have seen nothing about how much Croatia might contribute to the EU budget. Indeed, some might be forgiven for thinking that Croatia’s accession will just mean the equivalent of yet another hungry mouth to feed. The European Commission has recently proposed the expenditure of an additional €13.1 million to deal with Croatian accession, to be spent on such things as Croatian translations and, of course, opening a new office in Croatia.

The accession of Croatia will mean that there will be over 4 million more citizens within the borders of the European Union. As we know only too well, following the accession of other eastern European countries to the European Union, a citizen of a member state has the right to take up employment in any other member state. Once in employment, he or she has the right to reside in that member state and is also entitled to certain welfare provision.

Mr Hollobone: Does my hon. Friend recall the difficulty that Her Majesty’s Government are currently facing with European nationals coming to this country who are not seeking employment, but who declare themselves to be self-employed and, through that mechanism, access benefits that Her Majesty’s Government give out? With 4 million new EU nationals effectively created by this new accession, that is bound to add to the problem.

Mr Nuttall: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that intervention. He raises a problem that will only be exacerbated by the accession of Croatia. I would be grateful to know what specific transitional arrangements are being put in place in respect of Croatian nationals wishing to come to the United Kingdom and, in particular, for how long such controls will be in place.

22 Nov 2011 : Column 252

Furthermore, I am concerned that yet another treaty will be required to provide for the accession of a new entrant to the European Union, for which we, the United Kingdom, appear to be getting absolutely nothing back in return—and needless to say, without consulting the British people.

Martin Horwood: Does the hon. Gentleman accept, however, that British exports to Croatia currently amount to some £283 million a year? In general, the experience with other acceding countries has been expanded trade with those countries, which has helped British jobs, prosperity and economic prospects.

Mr Nuttall: That may well be the case, but I see no reason why we could not have negotiated a free trade deal with Croatia many years ago. Indeed, the question could have been asked of the previous Labour Government: if Croatia has so much trade with this country, why did we not negotiate a free trade deal with it a long time ago?

Let me quote what the Prime Minister said about getting something back from accession treaties. In a speech helpfully entitled “A Europe policy that people can believe in”, which he made a little over two years ago, on 4 November 2009, when he was the Leader of the Opposition, he said that

“we will want to negotiate the return of Britain’s opt-out from social and employment legislation in those areas which have proved most damaging to our economy and public service…We will want a complete opt-out from the Charter of Fundamental Rights.”

He added that an agreement would be negotiated

“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.”

Crucially, he made it clear that

“we will propose that these British guarantees are added as protocols to a future accession treaty,”

which is exactly what we are discussing this evening. I know that our negotiating team will have been well aware of those crystal-clear commitments.

In closing, may I ask my right hon. Friend the Minister to confirm that those guarantees were proposed and to say what the response was? If they were not proposed, why not? If they were proposed and the response was—let me say—not entirely positive, did we indicate that we would withhold our veto if our polite proposals were not granted? After all, article 49 of the Lisbon treaty—which was the reason why that speech was given in the first place—which deals with accession treaties, specifically states that accession treaties deal with

“conditions of admission and the adjustments to the Treaties on which the Union is founded which such admission entails.”

It should be argued therefore that the granting of these British guarantees is something that the admission of Croatia entails: without them, the accession could not take place, because Britain would use its veto.

9.13 pm

Mike Gapes (Ilford South) (Lab/Co-op): I shall try to be brief. I do not think that the accession of a democratic NATO ally, which has had a democratic change of Government and has been transformed as a country over the last 11 years since the death of Franjo Tudjman—

22 Nov 2011 : Column 253

a country that is dynamic, that has young people who are outward looking and want to be part of modern Europe, and a country that also has a very good football team and a manager in Slaven Bilic, who once played for West Ham United—is a country that should be held hostage for an internal debate in the Conservative party over Eurosceptic or Europhobic hostility.

I believe that we should welcome Croatia. An enormous transformation has taken place in the country over recent years, partly through its own efforts but also because of the aspiration to join the European Union. My hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk (Michael Connarty) said some harsh things and some true things about what happened with Romania and Bulgaria, but I do not think that we should hold back Croatia on the basis that the country is like those two other countries were in 2006. It is not. Croatia is much more developed politically and in many other ways. It would not be right on account of some bad experiences before this new procedure was brought into effect to damage the Croatian aspiration.

I believe, too, that it is important in looking at these issues that we look at the context. We are not dealing with Croatia alone. What we are doing is sending a clear signal that it is not just Slovenia among the countries of the former Yugoslavia that can join the European Union, as we are open to all the other five states—Serbia, Macedonia, Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kosovo—and, indeed, to Albania. It has its own problems, but if we are to have the western Balkans stable, secure and developed with a community of trade and partnership, all those countries have to be in the European Union at some point. It would be very dangerous if there were a hole in part of southern Europe, with a country or several countries out of the political process, out of our politics and our pluralistic approach.

I say to the hon. Member for Bury North (Mr Nuttall) that the accession of Croatia will bring in a democratic, pluralistic, young and dynamic country that wants to be part of the modern European Union. The EU is still attractive to many people precisely because of that, and it is time that Members of all parties started to make that case to the British public for the future. We need a dynamic Europe; we need to look at Europe as an asset for this country, and we should stop getting obsessed and gazing at our own navel.

9.14 pm

John Hemming (Birmingham, Yardley) (LD): I aim to be very quick. I found chapter 23 very interesting, as it is the first time that that chapter has been used for the accession of a country. We have perhaps now hit the Groucho Marx threshold for Europe—that we would not be allowed to join the EU because our standards are not high enough to do so. It is somewhat complacent to imply that the standards of our judicial system are always higher than those in Croatia. I spent some time comparing and contrasting the case X v. Croatia and RP and Others v. the United Kingdom. If I have enough time, I will come back to that later.

If we look through the document outlining the EU’s response, we find the following statement:

“The EU underlines the importance of Croatia improving publication of and access to final court decisions both in the

22 Nov 2011 : Column 254

interests of the development of case law and consistent judicial practice, and in view of wider public dissemination.”

Well, the UK has a massive problem here. Many judgments are not handed down by the judge—

Madam Deputy Speaker (Dawn Primarolo): Order. That is not relevant to our debate, which concerns the documents before us about Croatia. I would be grateful if, in the few minutes left to him that will enable the Minister to reply, the hon. Gentleman stuck to this evening’s subject of debate.

John Hemming: I think it important to examine the issues raised by chapter 23, however, and to compare X v. Croatia with RP and Others v. the United Kingdom. In the former case, a mother’s mental capacity was removed from her and she was told that she had no locus in the Croatian courts. She had a second opinion, which was taken through the whole Croatian court system. The domestic court system was involved in exactly the same way in the latter case, but the woman had no second opinion. In my view, the Croatian system is far better.

I highlighted the issue of judgments in the accession document. There is also the question of the anti-corruption commission. The document states:

“The EU also calls on Croatia to ensure full implementation of its system for monitoring and verification of assets declarations of public officials and judges”.

According to the Groucho Marx test, this is now a club that we would not be allowed to join, because we do not operate that sort of system here.

I think it complacent to assume that countries such as Croatia are behind the United Kingdom. The chapter 23 requirements have already pushed Croatia into doing things that we do not do here. The hon. Member for Kettering (Mr Hollobone) may be pleased to find that in future years we might be expelled for not complying with the conditions with which Croatia complies, but I do not take the same view as him on the European Union. I think that extending the EU is a good idea. Most of the people who argue that we should leave it argue that we should be in the European economic area, which allows freedom of movement throughout Europe. I also disagree with the hon. Gentleman about whether people qualify for habitual residency as a consequence of declaring self-employment, because I do not think that such a declaration qualifies people for habitual residency immediately.

I think that we should consider not just Croatia but whether we satisfy the conditions in chapter 23, but given that I cannot cite any examples of how we fail to satisfy those conditions, I will leave that to the Minister.

9.16 pm

The Minister for Europe (Mr David Lidington): I shall not have time to respond to all the points that have been raised, but I undertake to write to Members who have asked detailed questions, and to place copies of the letters in the Library of the House.

Many of the concerns that have been expressed about Croatian accession derive, understandably, from the experience of Romania and Bulgaria, but I think that there are important differences between the two instances. The earlier problems arose because difficult issues involving

22 Nov 2011 : Column 255

justice were not tackled in a systematic manner, upfront, at an early enough stage in the accession negotiations. The process that we are debating this evening was deliberately designed to enable us to learn from the failures of that experience. The decision that must be made by the European council in December—this deals with the point made by the hon. Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk (Michael Connarty)—is not whether to admit Croatia to the European Union immediately, but whether by July 2013, on the basis of the evidence that we have so far and the intent declared by the Croatian leadership so far, Croatia will be in a position to move smoothly towards accepting all the responsibilities of EU membership.

Michael Connarty: Will the Minister give way?

Mr Lidington: Very briefly.

Michael Connarty: Will there be a veto before 2013, after December?

Mr Lidington: Between the signing of the accession treaty and Croatia’s joining the European Union, we shall have the process of pre-accession monitoring that I have described, as well as the three safeguard clauses that are written into the treaty and are powerful mechanisms for ensuring that Croatia continues to make the progress that it has promised. Finally, all 27 members of the EU—including this Parliament—must vote to ratify Croatian accession, which in this instance means primary legislation. To inform its judgment on whether Croatia has met the standards required, the House should have access to the sequence of monitoring reports from the European commission and the reports from the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia. Therefore, when this House takes the decision on whether to ratify Croatian accession, it will have available to it the evidence about the progress that Croatia has still to make.

I believe that Croatian accession will provide enhanced economic opportunities for British business, as well as for the people and businesses of Croatia, and the political gain of seeing an important country in the western Balkans brought firmly within a European political system based on the rule of law and democratic rights. We have seen too much bloodshed and warfare in the Balkans to be content to shut them outside the door and see the problems of organised crime, people trafficking and illegal immigration persist indefinitely. The accession process is our best chance of getting those problems sorted to the benefit of us all. I believe that the way forward is that accepted by the Government in June this year, and I hope to have the support of the House.

Question put and agreed to.


That this House takes note of Unnumbered Explanatory Memorandum of 7 July 2011, the European Union Common Position on Judiciary and Fundamental Rights (Negotiation Chapter 23), relating to EU enlargement: Croatia; and supports the Government’s decision to agree the Draft Common Position at COREPER on 29 June and to adopt formally that agreed position at European Council on 12 July.

22 Nov 2011 : Column 256

Daylight Saving Bill (Money)

Queen’s recommendation signified

9.21 pm

The Minister of State, Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (Mr Mark Prisk): I beg to move,

That, for the purposes of any Act resulting from the Daylight Saving Bill, it is expedient to authorise the payment out of money provided by Parliament of—

(1) any expenditure incurred under or by virtue of the Act by a Minister of the Crown or by a government department, and

(2) any increase attributable to the Act in the sums payable under any other Act out of money so provided.

If I may, on behalf of the Under-Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Mr Davey), who is responsible for consumer affairs, I wish to pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point (Rebecca Harris) for her tireless work on the Bill. I also thank her for working constructively on a number of proposed amendments, which mean that I can now confirm the Government’s intention to support the Bill on an amended basis.

The House last debated the Bill on 3 December 2010 when, despite the Government’s Opposition, it received its Second Reading. Altering the clocks is something that we have thought about long and hard, and, as the Prime Minister has said, it is an issue that needs consensus right across the country. The amendments that we are seeking address our earlier concerns, including on the need for UK-wide consensus as to any change. Accordingly, the Secretary of State will be required to consult the devolved Administrations in Scotland and Wales, and to obtain the consent of the devolved Administration in Northern Ireland to any proposed trial. I wish to emphasise that the Government would not expect to introduce a trial if there was clear opposition in any part of the UK. A further amendment we propose is that the “independent commission” be changed to an “independent oversight group”, whose role would be to advise the Secretary of State on the preparation of any report.

Mr Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): The Government’s interest in this legislation is welcome, even if a little late and even if forced by a Division in this House, which they opposed. Why has it taken them 11 months to bring this money resolution before the Chamber, given that the common practice in years past was that once the House had made a decision on the Second Reading of a Bill a money resolution would be introduced within two or three weeks?

Mr Prisk: As I said, we wanted to make sure that we gave this careful consideration, because this is a complex matter. [Interruption.] I say to my hon. Friends that I have seen this matter brought to this Chamber four separate times in the 10 years that I have been in this House, so it is right that we give it due consideration.

Mr Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): Will the Minister give way on that very point?

Mr Prisk: Not at the moment, because I wish to conclude the point that I was in the middle of making—I hope that my hon. Friend will bear with me. As we intend to seek to amend the Bill, it would have some relatively small expenditure implications. Our rough estimate of

22 Nov 2011 : Column 257

the amount of expenditure that would be needed is a figure of up to £750,000, which we think would be for the cost of researching and reporting on the potential benefits of trialling the advancing of clocks—that is obviously what the Bill seeks to achieve. Naturally, as it is also fair to point out, a subsequent proportional report may well be required on the monitoring and evaluation of any such experiment. The Bill, in its current form, would be likely to involve somewhat more expenditure than that, and the production of a report within three months of an Act being passed may well add to additional costs.

However, I must emphasise to the House that there is no guarantee that any trial advancement of the clocks will happen. We cannot rush that decision. A considered process is required, the starting point of which—this is the essence of the point that has been rightly made—is that there should be a proper robust assessment of the likely costs and benefits. On that basis, although the Government do not enter lightly into any expenditure, as I am sure you will understand, Madam Deputy Speaker, the expenditure in this case is justified and I commend the motion to the House.

9.24 pm

Rebecca Harris (Castle Point) (Con): It will not come as a surprise to anyone that I support wholeheartedly the Government’s request for money to be provided by Parliament in respect of the Daylight Saving Bill. First, I want to put on record my great thanks to the 94 Members of Parliament from across the Chamber who voted in support of its Second Reading nearly 12 months ago.

As the Minister said, this has not been a time of complete inactivity for the Bill. Negotiations have been ongoing between me and the Department to find amendments that would allow the Bill to progress while maintaining the spirit of the original. The Bill principally provides for a robust Government study of the likely effects, good or bad, of advancing our clocks forward by an hour and whether the nation as a whole would be better served by that. Tonight’s debate reflects the fact that the Bill will cost the Government money, but the potential benefits to the UK economy and the public purse could be enormous.

Proponents of the change argue that it could prevent more than 80 fatalities on the UK’s roads every year and create considerable economic benefits, including 80,000 extra jobs and £4.5 billion in new domestic tourism revenue alone. It might also reduce our heating and lighting bills, which would be extremely welcome at this time, increase participation in sport and recreation and help tackle our growing obesity epidemic, as the recent report from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine has suggested. It has also been argued that it could reduce crime and the fear of crime as well as improving quality of life, particularly for older people.

If such a simple measure as not turning our clocks back one autumn could really achieve all those benefits, I submit that it would be a scandal if the Government did not devote some resources—primarily civil service time and energy—to investigating it.

22 Nov 2011 : Column 258

Mr Nigel Dodds (Belfast North) (DUP): Does the hon. Lady think that the benefits she has outlined would be spread equally throughout all parts of the United Kingdom?

Rebecca Harris: I do not know the answer to that question, which is why I am calling for the Government to do a comprehensive review. The proponents of the measure tell me that the benefits would be spread equally throughout the United Kingdom, particularly those on the road casualty figures.

Personally, I would try to claim that I am entirely agnostic on whether we should advance the clocks, although some might not believe me. My primary aim throughout has been to advance the debate through a review. The proposals in the Bill, or something similar, have been debated in the House repeatedly over the years. Some might say that the somewhat sterile arguments have been rehearsed again and again on both sides in what seems a little like Parliament’s own Groundhog day.

This time, I am pleased to say, the debate has advanced slightly further than usual, as the Bill passed Second Reading. I attribute that to the excellent support of the growing Lighter Later campaign in the country. The argument is also clearly less polarised than it used to be. Organisations such as the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents in Scotland have called very strongly for the measure and the traditional resistance of the farming community also seems to have subsided. The National Farmers Union Scotland now fully supports a study of the potential change.

Thomas Docherty (Dunfermline and West Fife) (Lab): I am most grateful to the hon. Lady for giving way and I am grateful that a Member of the Scottish National party has finally got around to joining us—perhaps they are on a different time from us. I met NFU Scotland very recently and it is clear that it supports not the idea of changing the time but a study to evaluate the issues. Is the hon. Lady clear on that point?

Rebecca Harris: I am entirely clear on that point and that is precisely what my Bill intends to do. NFU Scotland has also intimated that if the benefits in other parts of the country clearly outweighed the disbenefits to its members, it would not stand in the way.

In Committee, as the Minister mentioned, I and the Minister responsible for the Bill will table a number of amendments that will give the relevant Departments flexibility to minimise the financial burden of the Bill. They will also recognise our asymmetric devolution settlement. The power to change time zones is devolved to only Northern Ireland and not Scotland and Wales, so the devolved Administrations will be consulted at every step, including being asked for evidence for analysis that is specific to their geography and economy. The Bill will not and was never intended to force time change on anyone without consensus in the UK as a whole.

Although it seems to have taken a surprisingly long time for the Bill to reach this stage, I believe that the result will be a better and, I hope, more effective piece of legislation, which recognises the concerns that the Government and others have had about it whilst retaining and in some ways strengthening the analysis and available

22 Nov 2011 : Column 259

evidence. Given the possible benefits that I and others have identified, I believe that the measure warrants further investigation. I commend the motion to the House.

9.30 pm

Miss Anne McIntosh (Thirsk and Malton) (Con): I rise to oppose the money resolution and I welcome this opportunity to state why I believe the Daylight Saving Bill is a complete misnomer. There is no daylight saving. All that is proposed in the Bill is that the hours of darkness be moved further into the morning. I am responding, Madam Deputy Speaker, to the arguments that have been put by the Minister and my hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point (Rebecca Harris).

Mr Angus Brendan MacNeil (Na h-Eileanan an Iar) (SNP): The hon. Lady makes the salient point that there will be no more daylight. What is actually happening is that people are being moved into the darkness. Clocks started off measuring time and ended up governing people’s lives, and people are going to find—as they found 30 or 40 years ago—that they will be living their lives in the early part of the day in darkness. When push came to shove at that time, the vote in this House was 366 votes to 81. That was not just Scottish Members but Members from all over the UK. Once they had experienced it, they would not have it again.

Madam Deputy Speaker (Dawn Primarolo): Order. Perhaps it would be timely for me to remind the House that we are not debating the Bill itself or the merits of the Bill. We are debating a money resolution to commission a study that will look at the evidence. I will rule Members out of order if they try to re-debate the Bill. That is not the purpose of this money resolution.

Miss McIntosh: I simply submit, Madam Deputy Speaker, in response to the points made by the Minister and the promoter of the Bill, that there would be no benefits and that the cost estimate in the money resolution of £750,000 is a conservative estimate that covers only the cost of the research. The Minister has not put to the House this evening what any potential costs to other Government Departments or local authorities would be. It is disingenuous to say that it would not put lives at risk to have darker, colder mornings and I regret that we are not having this debate on the money resolution in January or February when mornings are at their darkest. It is true that the evenings are getting lighter in January and February, but the mornings are most certainly getting darker.

Mr Bone: My hon. Friend is making a powerful speech, and I agree that the Minister was woefully lacking in not telling us what the full cost would be. However, does my hon. Friend agree that these are matters for debate in Committee and Third Reading and that it would be normal to let a money resolution go through so that the debate in principle could occur elsewhere?

Miss McIntosh: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for making those points, but I have heard for the first time this evening that the Government support this Bill. My understanding was that that was not the position—and

22 Nov 2011 : Column 260

that was from the Prime Minister down. I think this is the first occasion on which the House has been informed that the Government now back the Bill on the basis of amended proposals in my hon. Friend’s Bill, which will now proceed to a Second Reading.

Madam Deputy Speaker (Dawn Primarolo): Order. The Bill is not having a Second Reading. This is a money resolution and the Bill has had its Second Reading. The content of the Bill has been discussed; this is a money resolution to provide for a study. I have already pointed that out to the House and to the hon. Lady and I would be grateful if Members would stay in order.

Miss McIntosh: I am most grateful for your guidance, Madam Deputy Speaker. As a result of the money resolution going through this evening, the Bill will pass to the Committee stage. Were the House to reject the money resolution this evening, that would not prevent the Bill from proceeding to Committee. It would allow the Government to do a more thorough account of what the total costs would be. Perhaps the Minister responding at the conclusion of this little debate will address my particular concerns about what the cost will be to local authorities in England.

We on the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee have called for evidence on the potential effects on rural communities and farms. The Minister and the House will accept that it is all very well to consult the devolved Assemblies and Parliaments, as the Minister informed the House, but remote areas such as north Yorkshire, Cumbria, Northumbria and other parts a long way from Essex and the south-east will not have the opportunity to be consulted.

We had the trial from 1968 to 1971. It was resoundingly rejected, as the hon. Member for Na h-Eileanan an Iar (Mr MacNeil) so eloquently stated, and I do not believe that there is any compelling argument for subjecting the country to a further trial when, as we understand from the Government and as I entirely accept, we are living through a time of economic crisis. Will the Minister inform the House where the sum of £750,000 is proposed to come from in his departmental budget?

Mr Dodds: The hon. Lady is making a number of very good points. Is it not odd that after we have just had a debate on the winter fuel allowance and been told that there is absolutely no money available to pay our poorer pensioners to help them stay warm this winter, the Government are coming forward with £750,000 to fund a study on an issue on which they know there is no consensus across the United Kingdom?

Miss McIntosh: I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for making that point. I do not want to see a north-south divide on the issue. I want the people of north Yorkshire to feel that their voice is being heard—[Interruption.] The Scots are perfectly capable of speaking for themselves. I shall leave time for colleagues to contribute.

9.38 pm

Thomas Docherty (Dunfermline and West Fife) (Lab): I shall keep my remarks brief as a number of Members on both sides of the House wish to speak.

I am open-minded about what we do ultimately, but I have some questions on the money resolution that I hope the Minister can address. As my colleague, the Chair

22 Nov 2011 : Column 261

of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee said, the Committee will shortly be taking evidence on the merits and demerits of switching the start of the day. Do the Government propose to wait until the Committee has had a chance to consider the evidence before embarking on a significant spend of money?

I see that the Under-Secretary of State, Scotland Office, and the Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office, are present to hear the debate—but I will not dwell on why there is an Under-Secretary of State for Scotland and a Minister of State for Northern Ireland. Do the Government expect the Wales Office, the Scotland Office or the Northern Ireland Office to incur expenditure as part of the consultation? Will the Minister also confirm whether any of the devolved Administrations—the Scottish Parliament or the Welsh and Northern Ireland Assemblies —would be expected to incur costs as part of the consultation that would be ongoing?

Mr MacNeil: If indeed there were any costs, surely if this measure originated in Westminster, those costs should be met at Westminster.

Thomas Docherty: The hon. Gentleman teases me down an avenue which if I were to pursue and consider why the Scottish Parliament would seek even more money from this place when it is more than amply recompensed for the jobs that it is asked to do, you, Madam Deputy Speaker, would robustly close me down.

I hope that the Minister can give some clarity. I hope that he has also heard today that this is not a Scotland versus England issue, but an argument across all four nations of the United Kingdom.

Mr MacNeil rose

Thomas Docherty: The hon. Gentleman was slightly late, but I appreciate that he was on different time.

Mr MacNeil: I checked the clock; I was two minutes late. But the substantial point is that the hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. This is not a north versus south or an England versus Scotland issue. Indeed, I feel quite an English nationalist in the midst of this debate, having to represent many of the good people of England who lived through the experiment of the late ’60s and early ’70s , and who write to me with their concerns looking for a voice. The hon. Gentleman is absolutely correct when he says that this is not a north versus south or a Scotland versus England issue.

Madam Deputy Speaker (Dawn Primarolo): Very interesting. The hon. Gentleman should face the Chair when he speaks so that I can hear him. However, I heard what he said and now that he has made his point I would like Mr Docherty to return to the money resolution.

Thomas Docherty: I am most grateful, Madam Deputy Speaker, and I will stick to your guidance.

It is welcome that the Government are restricting the total sum that they believe they will spend. However, I agree with the right hon. Member for Belfast North (Mr Dodds) that it is interesting that this afternoon Tory MPs voted against spending money on issues that really matter to people such as winter fuel payments. Will the Minister give a guarantee to the House that

22 Nov 2011 : Column 262

£750,000 will be the total expenditure of all Departments, not just his own, and the devolved Administrations, and that we will have a speedy and just resolution to the issue?

9.42 pm

Mr Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): Will the Minister in his reply say how much of the money that he has referred to relates to paragraph (1) of the motion and how much relates to paragraph (2)? In addition, as has just been said, may we have the total cost, not just the limited cost?

I would normally argue that we should vote specifically on the money resolution and how much it will cost the Exchequer, and if this related to a Government Bill, that would be quite in order. But this relates to a private Member’s Bill, and by tradition money resolutions automatically follow Second Reading. If a Member had managed to overcome all the hurdles and get enough Members here to pass a Bill on Second Reading, which I would probably not have voted for, they should have the right to go into Committee, have the Bill debated there and brought back to the House for a Third Reading, where, if Members so wished, they could defeat it. My concern about this money resolution is the length of time that it has taken from Second Reading to come to this House. It appears that we are looking at a new procedure here, where the Executive are trying to block Bills that they do not like. Apparently, they have now agreed changes to the Bill, so they like it, so they are bringing forward the money resolution. I believe that that is an abuse of Parliament.

There is another private Member’s Bill, whose promoter is my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr Chope), which has had its Second Reading, but it has had no money resolution, so it cannot get into Committee. Because of the way the Government gerrymandered the number of days for private Members’ Bills in this Session, there is only one more private Members’ Bill after this Friday. Unless the money resolution is agreed tonight, there will be no chance for this Bill to get into Committee.

Mr David Nuttall (Bury North) (Con): My hon. Friend says that there is no chance of the Bill getting through, but I know from a conversation I had earlier this evening with my hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point (Rebecca Harris) that, if the Committee stage cannot be dealt with by 20 January 2012, the hope is that another day will be made available for private Members’ business.

Mr Bone: That is rather a surprise to me. I am now tempted to vote against the money resolution in order to allow another day for private Members’ Bills, but that would not coincide with my principles. What we must decide tonight is very simple. The money resolution is not about the money that would be spent, but about whether there should be an almost automatic passage through the House for a private Member’s Bill that has gone through Second Reading. What I am seeing tonight is an attempt to block that, and I do not like it. I do not like the way the Government have used that to put pressure to change the Bill. The House should support the money resolution, but I think that we should be wary of what the Government have done.