EU Funding for Asylum and Migration and Internal Security
The Committee consisted of the following Members:
Alison Groves, Committee Clerk
† attended the Committee
The following also attended ( Standing Order No. 119(6) ) :
The Chair: Good morning. Hon. Members may remove their jackets if they wish. I know that it is probably a forlorn hope, but the title of this measure is self-explanatory and on the Order Paper, so it would be helpful if Members tried to confine their remarks to the business on the Order Paper, instead of engaging in a wide-ranging debate on the whole of the European Union. The latter might not find favour with the Chair. I understand that Mr Hopkins wishes to make an explanatory statement on behalf of the European Scrutiny Committee.
Kelvin Hopkins (Luton North) (Lab): Thank you, Sir Roger. It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship on this bright and early morning. I would like briefly to describe the Commission’s proposals for EU home affairs funding for the period 2014 to 2020, and to explain why the European Scrutiny Committee recommended today’s debate.
There are currently six EU funding instruments covering different, but interlinked EU home affairs policy areas: a refugee fund, a fund for the integration of third country nationals, a return fund, an external borders fund, and two funds that tackle crime, terrorism and other security-related risks. The Commission says that it wants to simplify that funding structure by establishing a more coherent framework for EU home affairs funding and, at the same time, introduce greater fluidity between the different funding streams.
The Commission has therefore proposed the creation of two new funds: the asylum and migration fund and the internal security fund. It envisages that the two funds will have a combined budget of €8,517 million for the period 2014-20. Although discussions to date have concentrated on the objectives of the funds and how they are to be managed, rather than the budget, the Government have declared the Commission’s budget proposals to be unacceptable, and indicated that they will seek a significant reduction.
In fact, the framework for establishing the two new funds is far from simple. It will require the adoption of four regulations: a horizontal regulation setting out general rules on the programming and management of both funds, another regulation creating the asylum and migration fund, and two regulations establishing the internal security fund. That is because the internal security fund will have two components: a police component, covering police co-operation, crime prevention and crisis management, and a borders component, covering visa policy and external border controls.
Although all four draft regulations have a legal base in title V of part 3 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, the UK’s title V opt-in applies to
The European Scrutiny Committee decided to recommend a debate for two reasons. First, when we made our recommendation, it seemed likely that the Danish presidency would press ahead with its attempt to secure a “partial general approach” on the draft regulations at the June Justice and Home Affairs Council. In essence, a partial general approach signifies that all elements of a funding programme have been agreed, with the exception of the budget, which forms part of a much broader negotiation on the EU's multi-annual financial framework for 2014-20.
The European Scrutiny Committee has expressed considerable disquiet at the haste with which the Danish presidency has pursued partial general approaches on a range of EU spending programmes for 2014-20. We believe that that has led to rushed decisions in some cases, and we fear that an accumulation of partial general approaches, each adopted on the assumption that some level of EU funding for each programme will be available, might cumulatively increase the pressure for a larger EU budget, and undermine the Government’s efforts to secure an effective cap.
In the event, the presidency accepted that its goal of securing a partial general approach in June was too ambitious, and negotiations will continue under the Cypriot presidency. However, the risk of a hasty agreement to a set of funding objectives that are detached from the realities of a parallel, but separate, budget negotiation remains. We look forward to hearing from the Minister how he intends to ensure that nothing is agreed that might in any way pre-empt the decision yet to be taken on the overall budget for the EU home affairs funds.
Secondly, unlike most other EU spending programmes, the UK has the option of deciding not to participate in the new EU home affairs funds. A particular concern of the European Scrutiny Committee is to ensure that EU funding instruments do not become a vehicle for extending the competence of the EU in certain areas at the expense of member states. We note, for example, that the asylum and migration fund provides a financial incentive for member states to resettle refugees in accordance with common EU resettlement priorities and proposes funding to support the internal relocation of refugees or asylum seekers from one member state to another.
We look forward to hearing what changes the Government will seek to ensure that there is no increase in EU competence with regard to the resettlement process and no compulsion on member states to accept the internal relocation of refugees or asylum seekers. We also ask the Minister to explain what changes to the police component of the internal security fund would, in his view, be necessary for the UK to consider opting in after it has been agreed.
The Minister for Immigration (Damian Green): Thank you, Sir Roger. It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship. I am grateful to the hon. Member for Luton North for the limpid clarity of his explanation of what would otherwise perhaps not be as clear. I am also grateful to the Committee for calling this debate to discuss home affairs funding in the next multi-annual financial framework. I can reassure the hon. Gentleman that the Government are proceeding on the basis that nothing is agreed until everything is agreed under the MFF.
As the Committee is aware, the Government decided to opt in to the proposal for a regulation establishing the asylum and migration fund, and the horizontal regulation laying down the general provisions for this fund, for the period 2014 to 2020. The decision has been made not to opt in to the internal security fund police regulation at this time. The UK is, as the hon. Gentleman said, excluded from the internal security fund, external borders, since we are not part of the Schengen area. I am pleased that we now have the chance to talk more widely about the proposals.
The general objective of the proposed asylum and migration fund is to contribute to an effective management of migration flows in the union. The new single fund will draw together the capacity building process developed within the current European refugee fund, the European fund for the integration of third country nationals and the European return fund, and also extend these to cover some aspects of external migration policy under the framework of the EU global approach to migration.
A number of factors contributed to the decision to opt in to this fund, including the benefits to the UK from participation in the current EU migration funding programmes. The UK has been allocated approximately £240 million across the lifetime of the current funds. This has been utilised to co-fund activities such as returns programmes, resettlement projects and community integration projects. The current EU migration funds partly finance our charter flight programmes and have enabled the UK to expand the range of destinations and programme parameters. As well as increasing enforced returns, experience is that delivering volume returns by charter ultimately drives down asylum intake.
The UK also has a well established resettlement programme assisted by co-financing from the current EU migration funding streams. This programme is focused on refugees who are in long-term protracted situations outside the EU and who have been individually assessed by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees as being exceptionally vulnerable. Without this funding, the UK
The current migration funds also bring added value by sharing best practice between member states. These funds promote collaborative working with the potential to drive forward practical co-operation initiatives through community action projects. It is in our interests to ensure a co-ordinated European response to migratory pressures, based on practical co-operation and the primary responsibility of affected member states to help themselves. Justice and Home Affairs funding underpins that response through practical support to countries most affected by migratory pressures—returning those people without a need for protection and controlling illegal immigration by strengthening the EU’s external borders. We need to provide a safe haven for asylum seekers who genuinely need our protection and to deter those who do not. We must ensure that abuse of our asylum system is countered by strong border controls and by harnessing the capacity and expertise that exists across the EU to secure the speedy return of those not entitled to stay.
Legislation alone cannot achieve those objectives, and the focus should be on practical co-operation between member states and with third countries. More added value will come from funding projects that are in the collective interest of the EU than from creating more legislation. For example, the Greece action plan shows that targeted actions on the ground and tailored assistance based on an assessment of needs have more impact than legislation. We therefore support the merging of three of the existing migration funds to create a single migration and asylum fund. That should encourage flexibility, reduce waste, be tightly linked to outcomes and ensure easier access to emergency funding.
We have some concerns about the draft AMF regulation, such as the proposals to strengthen the establishment of the common European asylum system, to establish a common EU resettlement programme, for additional funding for voluntary relocation of beneficiaries of international protection between member states, and to make integration funding available to asylum seekers, as the hon. Gentleman has mentioned. We are working with the Commission and other member states to gain clarification on those points, and we are seeking support for our positions.
It is worth noting, however, that that does not mean that the proposals will be mandatory or that the UK will be forced into burden sharing initiatives, such as internal relocation. The clause relating to the common European asylum system would not force the UK to take part in measures that we have not opted into, or require us to grant asylum claims on the basis of a centralised system. The UK and other member states will continue to be able to choose which initiatives receive EU funding.
On security, we welcome the creation of an EU internal security fund, which will allow greater flexibility in supporting objectives across the security agenda. The fund is made up of two parts, which should operate as a whole. In other circumstances I would regard the Treasury
The first part of the ISF, the police regulation, triggered the UK opt-in. We are excluded from the second part, which addresses the security of external borders and EU visas, because it builds on elements of Schengen in which we do not take part—in other words, those that pertain to border controls. The internal security fund also amalgamates three existing funds: the external borders fund, the fund for the prevention of and fight against crime, which is known as ISEC, and the fund for the prevention, preparedness and consequence management of terrorism and other security-related risks, which is known as CIPS.
The ISF police regulation aims to establish the instrument for financial support for police co-operation, preventing and combating crime and crisis management. The decision not to opt in to it was driven by the nature of the current proposal, coupled with the overall need for budgetary constraint in this time of fiscal austerity. The UK sees value in the ISF police fund in supporting practical action on police co-operation and helping to deliver its internal security strategy. However, we have ongoing concerns about the budgetary elements of the programme, particularly given the obligations arising from the arrangements for shared management. Shared management is a new arrangement for this area of EU funding, and if we participated we would need to set up new arrangements to distribute the UK’s allocation.
We must be absolutely sure that the benefits we would secure from the programme would outweigh the cost of participation. We will consider whether to apply to opt in post-adoption, when the scale and nature of the financial commitments and benefits are clearer. Meanwhile, we are participating actively in negotiations on the internal security fund. In particular, we are arguing that the administrative burden should be transparent and kept to a minimum, and that the amount allowed for technical assistance—the allocation of the fund set aside to meet member states’ administration costs—should be sufficient to cover all the costs.
Regarding the priorities for the fund, we believe that it should support passenger name records systems in line with the EU passenger name records directive. We are also arguing that it should include among its priorities actions for reducing drug supply, which were originally in the justice funding programme. We have made some progress on those points, not least in securing recognition from the JHA Council that PNR should be a priority action for the fund.
The horizontal regulation establishes the management procedures for both funds. In concluding that it is in our interests to opt in to the AMF, it was necessary to opt in to that measure. Our key issue for the regulation is to ensure that we can deliver the programmes with maximum efficiency—reducing costs while maintaining financial security.
Regarding the status of negotiations, while the Danish presidency had hoped to agree elements of the funding regulations at the JHA Council in June, insufficient progress had been made for that to happen. We have
Finally, on EU budget restraint, which was mentioned by the hon. Gentleman in his opening statement, the UK’s top priority in the ongoing MFF negotiations is budgetary restraint, thereby ensuring that the EU budget contributes to domestic fiscal consolidation. National efforts to ensure long-term public finance sustainability must not be undermined by growth in EU spending. The opportunity should be used to rejuvenate the EU budget and prepare for new challenges, but not at the cost of higher EU spending overall. We need to cut spending from low added-value areas, most importantly to realise savings, but also to free resources to support the EU’s priorities. Therefore, increasing the funding share of any EU programme must be done through reprioritisation within the EU budget. To achieve that, money from funds that have historically under-spent should be reallocated. We are currently calling for reductions to the Commission’s June 2011 proposals across the board to bring them in line with a real-terms freeze in spending.
In conclusion, the proposals contained for home affairs funding in the next MFF broadly reflect the Government’s priorities. Partnership for well-managed migration can be a powerful tool for securing British objectives. The simplification of the existing home affairs funds and increased flexibility in the use of those funding instruments is an important first step in that direction. I welcome the opportunity to have this debate on home affairs funding in the next MFF, and I look forward to answering questions.
The Chair: We now have until 9.55 am for questions to the Minister. I remind hon. Members that they should be questions. Perambulatory remarks should not turn into statements. I propose to exercise my discretion to allow supplementary questions, on the understanding that there does not appear to be many Members rising.
Mr Christopher Chope (Christchurch) (Con): May I ask the Minister about the budget? He says that there is a financial benefit for us to opt into the new measures because, I think he said, we have benefitted to the extent of £240 million over the lifetime of the measures that are being replaced. However, what is the contribution that we have made during that period? It must be much larger than £240 million. Would it not be better for the United Kingdom to keep its money in its own budget rather than spend an enormous amount of money in a contribution to the European Union and get only part of it back?
I hope to reassure my hon. Friend by pointing out that some of the things that we are able to do with the money that comes through such funds are squarely in line with Government policy; I am sure that he would approve of them. Particularly, as I said, we have the capacity to fund some of our charter returns and the ability to charter a whole flight on which we return those who have no right to be here. That is beneficial not just in itself, as it increases the number of people we return, but in that it has a significant long-term deterrent effect in other countries.
We also use it to fund the Gateway programme. That is one of the most successful humanitarian programmes that this country participates in. I am not making a partisan point; it started under the previous Government, but we are happy to continue it. We are taking some of the world’s most wretched people out of refugee camps, often on the edge of war zones, and bringing them to this country. In various fields of endeavour, these funds have provided good value for money. They have allowed us to pursue proper policies in the asylum area. They should be run more efficiently as one fund rather than three.
Mr Chope: Surely those activities, to which the Minister has referred, could equally have been funded by our own UK domestic funds. I put a question to the Foreign Secretary about 10 days ago, suggesting that it was unreasonable to cut police budgets by 20% over four years, while not making similar reductions in our contributions to the EU. He replied,
The Foreign Secretary—and therefore the Government—accepts that it would be highly desirable to reduce our contributions to the EU by 20%, in line with contributions to police budgets. Does the Minister accept that, if that were done, we would have more money to spend on his priorities rather than those of the EU?
Damian Green: In this case, I note that was a partial quotation from the Foreign Secretary. I would like to hear the rest of the quote before responding directly. My hon. Friend is right to the extent that, of course, we argue for budgetary restraint inside the EU as we argue for its necessity in this country. I made the point in my opening remarks that we are most keen to guard against the benefits of a sustainable national financial approach being vitiated by an unsustainable approach at EU level, some of which will inevitably fall on the British taxpayer.
As for the direct benefits of the funds that we are debating today, clearly if the money were not available through EU funds, either we would do less—we would be less able to organise charter flights—or we would have to find that money from the British taxpayer. I do not think my hon. Friend would wish for either of those effects.
Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab): I am not sure that is right. Both the Ministers in their explanatory memorandums point out that the percentage of the costs of this that the UK taxpayer would have to meet would
Damian Green: We have certainly got value for money from the programme as it has been. What it will be like after it has been merged will depend on the quantum of the numbers attached. That is one obvious issue with the partial general approach, mentioned by the hon. Member for Luton North in his opening remarks. Clearly, if the EU follows this approach it will be able to address those detailed financial questions only when we know the quantum of the money. As I said in my opening remarks, we are not yet at a point where we are even looking at that, because no proposals are on the table. All of the documents emerging have those firm Brussels-style square brackets around them, meaning that no numbers have yet been attached, so it is genuinely impossible to make that assessment at this stage.
Chris Bryant: There is one number on the table: the €3.869 billion of the 2014 to 2020 financial perspective, which is for just one half of the programme. That seems like a lot of money. The Government are opposed to that amount, and we fully support the Government’s measures to bear down on the EU budget. What does the Minister think would be a suitable figure for that fund?
Damian Green: The hon. Gentleman is experienced enough, as a former Europe Minister, to know perfectly well that the way to enter into these negotiations is not to give one’s bottom line at the start of the negotiations. So I will reject what is not even a tempting offer from him.
Tom Brake (Carshalton and Wallington) (LD): The first point I should like to raise is the timing of the debate. Clearly asylum and migration issues are of great importance to the House; was it not possible to hold the debate sooner? That links to a further issue. In the written statement on 20 January, the Minister for Europe stated that the whole issue of EU scrutiny was being looked at and would be addressed. Was consideration given, at any point, to these draft regulations being examined earlier by, say, the Justice Committee or the Home Affairs Committee, thus ensuring the House’s full engagement in EU scrutiny at a much earlier stage?
Damian Green: My right hon. Friend makes a reasonable point but it is not in my gift to decide when this Committee, the Home Affairs Committee or the Justice Committee choose to hold debates. Certainly it is arguable that we could have held this debate when the Government were deciding whether to opt in to the various measures that add up to the AMF, but it is a not a question for me.
Mr James Clappison (Hertsmere) (Con): The fund falls within the ambit of the European Union home affairs programme and its funding. Can my hon. Friend tell us whether EU is proposing an increase or a decrease in the home affairs budget in the forthcoming multi-annual framework?
Damian Green: My hon. Friend will not be surprised to hear that the EU is proposing an increase. The British Government are negotiating on the basis that the MFF should see a real freeze in the budget, so there are tough negotiations to be had and they will be had by my right hon. and hon. Friends in the Treasury.
Mr Clappison: But does it not make the task to which my hon. Friend and other right hon. and hon. Friends, including the Prime Minister, have rightly turned their hand of trying to curtail this budget that much harder when we ask the EU, in effect, to do more?
Damian Green: Are we asking the EU to do more? As I hope I made clear in my opening remarks, we say very specifically that if more money could usefully be spent in certain areas, that money should come from underspends in other areas. That is the sensible way for the EU to operate, rather than for ever increasing its budget.
Kelvin Hopkins: In my opening statement on behalf of the European Scrutiny Committee I drew attention to the Committee’s serious concerns about references to partial general approaches in a number of policy areas. I know that the Minister is aware that these partial general approaches imply deciding policy without allocating a budget in the first instance, but are the Government—in every Department—aware of the significance of resisting those partial general approaches, which imply increases in the budget?
Damian Green: Yes, absolutely. We recognise the potential for incoherence. There is an argument that setting our priorities and then setting the budget is not necessarily completely incoherent, but the Government are very aware of the dangers of that approach and look warily at it in each individual area in which it appears.
Kelvin Hopkins: Partial general approaches have been particularly evident under the Danish presidency. We are now moving to the Cypriot presidency. We visited Cyprus two weeks ago. Cyprus is a much smaller, much weaker country that is now, essentially, having a bail-out from the EU. Could it be under pressure to do the bidding of the Commission? It would be much more vulnerable to pressure from the Commission on policy than Denmark might be.
Damian Green: Everyone who takes over the presidency has national and wider pressures on them. That is not unique to the Cypriot presidency. The central thing for the British Government to say is that we are very aware of the potential dangers of the partial general approach to these sectoral negotiations, and we are going into them with eyes open to these dangers.
Tom Brake: The Minister elegantly sidestepped my question about the progress being made in relation to EU scrutiny by the Minister for Europe. It may be a matter that I need to pursue with the Minister for Europe rather than the Immigration Minister.
Although I fully understand and support the discussions that the Government are having about the cost, will the Minister underline the Government’s support for the objectives of the European internal security fund in sharing best practice and testing new methodologies and technologies?
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (James Brokenshire): Certainly. My right hon. Friend makes an important point. In the explanatory memorandums and the responses to the Committee, we have set out our agreement that there are important principles contained within the fund. That is something that we wish to promote in those principles. However, as my right hon. Friend mentioned, we are concerned to ensure that this delivers value for money and that the costs attached to the administration of the fund are transparent and properly understood. For that reason, at this point we have decided that it is not appropriate to opt in.
Mr Clappison: On the same point, as far as the fund that we have opted into—the asylum and migration fund—is concerned, have the Government carried out any research to see whether the amount that this country receives in benefit from the fund will be greater or smaller than the amount the Government pay into it through their contribution?
Damian Green: We constantly assess the value for money of the three funding streams that make up the new AMF. We believe that it provides genuine additionality and enables us to do some desirable things that we would find more difficult if the funds did not exist. That is why we decided to opt in to the new fund and the horizontal regulation that brings it to account—a decision approved by this Committee.
Kelvin Hopkins: Another point that I raised in my introductory statement was the fear of extending the competence of the EU in certain areas at the expense of member states: the pressure towards incremental changes. We have seen this over a number of years. Will the Minister say more than that the Government will not be pressed into making changes which will effectively shift competences incrementally towards the EU from the Government; and that, in future, it might be an idea for Britain to argue that the Schengen states should adopt some of our policies on migration?
Damian Green: At Justice and Home Affairs Councils, my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary or I, if I am there, constantly urge on our partners the wise policies of the British Government on immigration and asylum. There is a range of views around the table on these issues and there is an underlying serious point about the future of Schengen. We saw the difficulties that emerged in certain countries about this time last year, in the wake of the early days of the Arab spring. I can tell the hon. Gentleman absolutely that the members of the Schengen zone are well aware of the necessity of improving their internal procedures and ensuring that they have proper procedures that can come into effect in an emergency of the type they thought they were facing this time last year.
“The scope of this proposal is extended to cover asylum seekers, beneficiaries of international protection and, in appropriate cases, second generation third country nationals. As such, the proposal seeks to further protect the Article 8 and 3 rights of those groups”.
Damian Green: Government policy is not to cut back as far as possible on article 8 protections for everyone. The policies we announced and the House debated a few weeks ago were specifically to stop criminals abusing article 8 rights to stay in this country. The right to a family life is not controversial; what is controversial is the abuse of that right by people who should not be able to do that. Our proposals are specifically designed to address that, but I am happy to reassure my hon. Friend that we would strongly oppose proposals from the Commission, the presidency or anyone else if we thought they were likely to lead to greater abuse of article 8 rights.
Mr Chope: Why does the memorandum state that the proposal seeks “to further protect”? That implies that there is inadequate protection at the moment. Will the Minister explain in what way the proposal will provide further protection?
Damian Green: There are those inside the EU who do not believe that the protections go far enough for people who may legitimately require them, and there are those who think that protections should apply to groups of people to whom he and I would agree they should not apply. Incidentally, that debate often takes place in court. Judges make the decisions, and an interesting point to note is that—this is a different institution—the European Court of Humnan Rights’ interpretation of who is entitled to article 8 rights has been considerably narrower, and I would argue more sensible, than the British domestic courts’ interpretation.
Damian Green: We already have opted in, and, as I said, the Committee has already cleared that opt in, so it is not a question of opting in. The regulation might be changed over time. If the regulation is changed substantially so that, in effect, there is a new regulation, as the rules currently stand—yes is the short answer—we will have the right to decide whether to opt in. My hon. Friend will be aware of the upcoming 2014 decision on items that predate the Lisbon treaty, which will clearly affect items that postdate the Lisbon treaty. As the regulation stands, the answer is yes.
Mr Clappison: I am grateful for that answer, but I am not clear whether we have a right to opt in to all amendments or just some amendments, depending on their seriousness. Will the Minister clarify that?
Damian Green: The final amendment would be subject to negotiation. As my hon. Friend knows, regulations are effectively legislation, so the question is not just of the Commission making an amendment individually at any one time. Doing that would involve negotiation on changes to the whole regulation.
Damian Green: Amendments of the type my hon. Friend proposes do not happen in the way he thinks. If I am not being clear, it is because I am puzzled as to what he is asking. I cannot understand the process he is describing. We obey the regulations we opt in to, and, obviously, such sanctions do not apply to regulations we do not opt in to. There are at any one time a number of infraction proceedings going on against Britain and against other European countries, where we disagree on the interpretation of the application of a particular regulation, but that is part of daily life in the European Union.
The Chair: Order. I am quite prepared to call the hon. Member for Hertsmere again, but we are beginning to move into the realms of hypothesis, rather than what is on the Order Paper. Perhaps he can revert to the matter under discussion.
Mr Clappison: Does the Minister recall a time in the 1990s when this country, quite rightly, unilaterally decided to take a number of Bosnian refugees from the conflict that was then taking place? Can he confirm that this country did that unilaterally and did not get European assistance for it?
Mr Chope: There are very large flows of illegal migrants from Turkey into Greece and because of the breakdown of the Dublin II convention and the total chaos in the Greek migration system, a lot of those illegal immigrants cannot be returned to Turkey. What, if anything, in the proposals will improve that situation?
Damian Green: Two of the bodies that have a close relationship with the funding and the regulation that we are discussing are the European Asylum Support Office and Frontex, the embryonic border police for the European Union, although I should point out that they have 300 or so border guards. It is not a border police force in a sense that any of us would recognise. Nevertheless it does good work. We as a Government support both those institutions and they have had some success, although I would not want to exaggerate it.
The position on the Turkish-Greek border is better than it was and Frontex has helped there. The European Asylum Support Office, which is in a not quite embryonic form—it is a bit more than that, but it does not have a headquarters, so it is not fully functioning yet—is building
Mr Chope: So would it be fair to say that those two bodies are funded and supported by the United Kingdom Government and taxpayer without reference to the funds that we are discussing? My question was about what difference the use of those funds will make to those two bodies.
Damian Green: I am not claiming that that would make a radical difference, but having an efficient asylum system within the European Union directly benefits the British taxpayer and British people more widely. My hon. Friend correctly identifies that the weakest point of the European Union’s border is the Turkish-Greek border and things that stop illegal immigration happening across that border will also have some benefits in this country in the end. The biggest benefit in stopping illegal immigration is the fact that we have stayed outside the Schengen system, which means that we have control over our borders.
That the Committee takes note of European Union Documents No. 17289/11, relating to a draft Regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council establishing the Asylum and Migration Fund, No. 17287/11, relating to a draft Regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council establishing, as part of the Internal Security Fund, the instrument for financial support for police cooperation, preventing and combating crime, and crisis management and No. 17285/11, a draft Regulation laying down general provisions on the Asylum and Migration Fund and on the instrument for financial support for police cooperation, preventing and combating crime, and crisis management; and supports the Government’s aim of encouraging flexibility and reducing waste and bureaucracy in the management of these Funds.—(Damian Green).
I am struck—we are basically debating whether several different bodies and funding streams should be merged into just two—by the fact that the second speech that I made in Parliament was on the Ofcom paving Bill, which merged five different organisations into one. I said in the debate at the time that that would be more coherent, more consistent and, to use a valleys’ word—as in the south Wales valleys—tidy. Unfortunately, Hansard rendered that as “valet’s word”. Now, we do not have many valets in the valleys, so there was much confusion in my household. Broadly speaking, however, I think that these proposals will make things more coherent, more consistent and, to use a valleys’ word, tidy. That can only be in all our interests, because we need to ensure that the EU budget is spent more effectively and efficiently, with less waste. Dealing with the EU budget sometimes feels rather like a Sisyphean task—it feels
On several occasions, I have heard Ministers discuss the next financial perspective and the ongoing negotiations, which, according to the paperwork, will continue until January 2013. I suspect that they will go on right until the very last moment, with all sorts of people throwing vetoes hither and thither. However, relying on underspends in some areas to try to bring down the overall EU budget or to keep it within its borders would be naive. The truth is that areas of the budget need radical excision. In particular, it is ludicrous that nearly 40% of the EU budget still goes on the common agricultural policy. Although I do not want to test your patience, Sir Roger, I can sense that that is happening behind my ear. None the less, if the budget is to be secure, and if we are talking today about going forward, effective rejigging of the overall EU budget must be relied on as we move to the next financial perspective.
I note in the paperwork that the EU has come up with a figure of €3.869 billion; that is what it wants for the asylum and immigration fund from 2014-20. It has not, however, come up with, or I have not seen a figure for, the internal security fund police element. The Minister is pointing to one, so he will doubtless refer to it later. However, we should say firmly from the House that, although that might be the Commission’s aspiration, the negotiating position of either side of the House does not start from there. The Opposition want to give every support possible to the Government to try to bring the figures down in the negotiations that they are entering.
I presume that that is the understatement of the year. I am not making that up, as she is not a woman renowned for her understatements, so I hope that the Minister will lay it on pretty thick on that issue.
Notwithstanding those comments, it is in our interests in the United Kingdom— because the European Union is, in a sense, a magnet for asylum seekers around the world—that we ensure that we have a strong asylum system, managed not only individually in each member state, but across the EU. If a lot of people seek asylum in Greece, Italy, Poland or wherever, that will have an ongoing effect for people in the UK. It is an undeniable fact, partly because of the rule of law, which is intrinsic to the EU, and partly because of the European convention on human rights, that we are a magnet for asylum.
What estimation has the Minister made of recent trends in asylum into the EU? Which countries are most vulnerable—that is not quite the right word, but it will do—and what sort of numbers is he discussing and projecting for the future? He referred earlier to the Arab spring and undoubtedly, as a result of that, people will have sought asylum in various European countries in the past year. There may be more as the situation in Syria progresses.
It must also be right that migration flows within the European Union are addressed. I think of all the immigration issues in my constituency. We do not have a great number of migrants coming into the Rhondda—in fact, it is the constituency with the lowest percentage of people living there who were born outside. None the less, the concerns that exist are all about EU migration. The concern is not with migration from the Indian subcontinent or from Africa.
Kelvin Hopkins: I agree with what my hon. Friend says and applaud his common sense. My constituency is at the other extreme in terms of migration. However, he is talking fairly explicitly about the need for internal border controls and perhaps having passport controls, so that EU citizens have free movement within the rest of the European Union and non-EU citizens perhaps not—even within the Schengen area. Is that what he is saying?
Chris Bryant: Quite often my hon. Friend and I are at different extremes on different arguments. No, that is not what I am saying. I am perfectly content with the arrangements that we have for the United Kingdom’s borders, although we need to look at how—I suspect that we will come on to this in a later debate today—the common travel area operates in relation to our own borders. Broadly speaking, however, I am not proposing that all the other countries within Schengen should suddenly erect more complicated border controls than they have at the moment. I am simply saying that mass migration within the European Union and migration flows need to be managed. People need to understand the rule of law and the common and cultural expectations in the country that they are going to. We also need to address some of the issues of benefits that may be available to people who have migrated without their family. However, that is a debate for another day or, indeed, later this afternoon.
The Minister has been relatively coy about the precise way that the money that we access from the funds is used. He referred to the chartering of planes, the resettlement programmes and the community integration work, but I have never seen any of those badged as EU projects. If people understood that such programmes were EU funded, they may actually subscribe to them, think that it is good that planes are being chartered and understand where our EU money is going. Will the Government be precise and give some statistics on how many people have gone back on a plane that has been chartered using money from the EU under such programmes? How many people have been resettled? Where did they come from? Where have the community integration projects taken place? Are they in our inner cities or in the rural depths of Devon?
Chris Bryant: Unfortunately, one thing that happens on becoming an ex-Minister is that one develops strong amnesia. In fact, the last thing that happens is that one is wiped clean by civil servants and turned into a tabula rasa. I am joking, but, in truth, one of the problems of
Chris Bryant: No, indeed, but it is in our interest that Europe does some of these things in concert, because, as I said earlier, if lots of people are seeking asylum in Greece or Cyprus, there will be a knock-on effect for us in the United Kingdom when those people, perhaps in a few years’ time, are naturalised and have access to the whole of the European Union, including the UK.
I have one other question for the Government, who are deciding not to opt in at the moment to the police fund. What changes do the Government believe need to be made for them to want to opt in? The question of when to opt in is a double-edged sword: if we do not opt in during the process of negotiation, the danger is that we do not get to affect those negotiations, so we end up having to sign up or not sign up to a fait accompli. What specific elements would the Government like to see changed so as to be able to opt in, or have they already decided that they do not want to opt in, come what may?
Mr Chope: Earlier in this debate I quoted from something that my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary said to me in the House on 20 June and the Minister was gagging for me to expand upon what was said. My question was:
“In the cause of deficit reduction, the Government are reducing police funding by 20% in real terms over four years. Can my right hon. Friend therefore assure me that, also in the cause of deficit reduction, he will insist on a reduction in our contribution to the European Union budget of more than 20%?”
“Highly desirable though that would be, my hon. Friend is aware that that contribution is not determined by a single decision of Government; it is the balance between two large figures determined in other ways.”—[Official Report, 20 June 2012; Vol. 546, c. 862.]
That answer was relevant to the issue of the next annual budget, rather than the multi-annual budget, because we do not have a veto over the annual budget, but this country has a veto over the discussion of the multi-annual financial framework. Therefore if, as I assume from his answer, my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary is keen that we should reduce our contributions to the European Union multi-annual financial framework by 20%—at least as much as the reductions we are making in policing—it seems to me that the Government are at sixes and sevens over today’s debate. Because under the proposals before us, we will sign up to a new fund which will cost some £3.378 billion—I am using pounds rather than euros—and if our contribution is about 11.5% it will cost the UK taxpayer some £400 million to contribute to this fund: new expenditure at a time when we are saying that we want to reduce our contributions to the multi-annual framework.
Obviously, if the Government say they wish to reduce the contributions and the cost of the EU budget, it is inconsistent to keep passing measures such as this, saying we wish to join in because it is going to be very good value for money. So I think that the Government have got it all wrong on that, obviously, not for the first time.
Chris Bryant: I hate to be helpful to the Government, but the hon. Gentleman is wrong, because these funds already exist, they are just being restructured. The amount would be being spent. He can say that we should withdraw entirely, but his argument is false.
Mr Chope: As a result, by opting in, they have got into a position where they are potentially committed to increasing taxpayer funding. At the moment, according to an article in The Daily Telegraph on 5 May, the United Kingdom Border Agency’s budget is £524 million this year. That is for the whole UK Border Agency. We are talking here about contributing the equivalent of £400 million a year to one fund and the Government seem to be quite relaxed about that.
Mr Chope: Okay. If that is so, I have misunderstood the papers, and my analysis needs to be divided by seven, but I do not think that undermines the principle point that we are apparently spending £524 million on the border force budget, and the proposal before us is to contribute some £50 to £60 million a year to those funds at a time when we say we cannot afford even to maintain our current level of policing. Why are we cutting back funding on policing by 20% when we seem to be quite relaxed about increasing our expenditure in areas such as this? That is what people in my constituency are worried about—have the Government got their priorities right, or are they completely obsessed with continuing to fund the European Union at a higher level than necessary?
Damian Green: I challenge my hon. Friend’s assertion that the Government are relaxed about the European Union spending more money. He has not listened to a word I have said. We have said specifically that there should not be a real-terms increase in funding across the seven-year financial perspective. To say the Government are relaxed about increasing funding is simply wrong.
Mr Chope: Last night I went to an interesting lecture in honour of Milton Friedman’s centenary. It was said during that lecture that Milton Friedman was very keen to point out the difference between good intentions and outcomes. I do not doubt my hon. Friend’s good intentions, but I am sceptical about whether we will ever achieve a
Kelvin Hopkins: I was following positively what the hon. Member was saying, until he mentioned Milton Friedman and outcomes. He was the guru of neo-liberalism and globalisation, and the outcomes have been pretty disastrous in my view.
One hopes that the impact of the changes will be positive, but I have some scepticism, and we raised concerns in the European Scrutiny Committee. My concerns are about illegal migration, people trafficking, criminals roaming freely across at least the Schengen area, and whether the changes will make a difference to those things, which are clearly unacceptable. I have previously argued in the Committee that there should be internal border controls where, at least, passports may be shown, if nothing more, so that if there is to be free movement, it is for EU citizens and not people traffickers and other miscreants.
There are tensions between the free movement shibboleth of the European Union’s architects, which Frontex is very nervous about offending, and its understanding that frontiers must be controlled. The European Scrutiny Committee visited Frontex and spoke to it, and it is clear that it is aware of the tension, and would like more effort to be put into border controls, instead of standing by the free movement shibboleth, as I call it.
There has been movement in the direction of internal borders and passport controls, and I hope that the changes will strengthen those tendencies. Denmark tentatively proposed passport controls, but that was abandoned with the change of Government. France introduced border controls with Italy when so many people flooded into Italy from north Africa and then to France. A number of countries have toyed with the idea of internal passport controls, but that has rather faded away at the moment, perhaps because of other concerns, such as financial concerns.
It would be sensible for even the Schengen areas to have some control at their own borders. Perhaps EU funding should be used to police external borders, and member states should fund policing at member state level. Our external border, European border and national border are the same. We are not in Schengen and we have much stricter border controls. I notice that the Government have changed the regulations recently and tightened up on immigration. I do not know whether the funding is there; perhaps some of this funding could be allocated to our own Border Agency to do the job better, rather than being sent to the European Union.
Nevertheless, there is a natural division between the external borders, which the European Union should fund, and the internal borders that member states should fund. Our external border is the same as, in a sense, the external border of the European Union, so we should say, “We are funding our borders ourselves. You get on with what you have to do, but we are dealing with it domestically.”
I am sure the debate will continue about whether there should at least be some degree of filter in member states to stop criminal activities and floods of people
I want to make one final point. A week ago last Monday, I was in Brussels on behalf of the Scrutiny Committee to talk about the CAP reform. It was clear that many member states were looking for significant increases in the budget for the CAP for their own countries. In my one and a half minute allocated time, I made the point that Britain was very much against increasing spending, particularly on the CAP. Indeed, I ventured to suggest repatriating agriculture policy to member states, for all sorts of good reasons. That clearly was not the view of the Government or my party, but it was certainly my view.
It is clear that there will be enormous pressure to increase the budget for CAP and also the multi-annual financial framework, as well as spending in other areas, too. I hope the Government will be strong in resisting such pressures. I hope that the funding changes will have positive outcomes and that the Government will be vigilant in making sure that Britain is not disadvantaged in any way.
Mr Clappison: May I say what a pleasure it is to serve under your chairmanship today, Sir Roger? I have been impressed by some of the masterful advocacy that we have heard. The hon. Member for Luton North made an opening statement that my hon. Friend the Minister described as clear, and after I heard my hon. Friend the Minister describe the funding instruments and the EU funding system, the situation was even clearer. Despite my hon. Friend’s masterful advocacy and his answering of all the questions put to him, I think that my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch is absolutely right to put his questions in an endeavour to ensure that the country is getting value for money and doing its utmost to constrain the European Union budget.
At the risk of disturbing the consensus that we can see growing between those on the Opposition and Government Front Benches, I completely support the Prime Minister’s efforts to curtail the EU budget, of which the home affairs budget forms a considerable part. I think that the figure we are battling against is 5.8%. Government Departments in this country—certainly, as we have heard, the police, the armed forces, local government, education and health—would love to receive an increase in the order of 6%, which also contains a substantial increase for administrative costs.
Going through the funds and budgets, matters are not as immediately transparent as they might be. There is a fear at the back of my mind that the task of my hon. Friend the Minister in arguing against the huge increase in the EU’s budget will not be made any easier by opting into a new EU instrument. I know that the opt-in has already taken place, before we have even had a chance to debate it in the House of Commons, let alone have a vote on it. Again, I do not want to disturb the consensus between the two Front Benches on this, but we need a better European scrutiny system where we can have more votes on the substance of matters before anything takes place.
Damian Green: My hon. Friend is implying, I am sure inadvertently, that in some way the Government prevented a debate before the opt-in. Nothing could be further from the truth. It is for this Committee to decide when it holds debates on specific items of policy. The Government bend over backwards, as my right hon. Friend the Minister for Europe made clear earlier this year, to try to facilitate that process as much as possible either in Committee or on the Floor of the House. It really is unfair to suggest that there is any conspiracy to do down debate.
Mr Clappison: The Minister has taken this in the wrong way. I am not in any way criticising the Government in this, nor the willingness of Ministers in the Home Office to be forthcoming about their intentions and to provide the Committee with all the information that it needs. Ministers have been very good about doing that. But it is in the nature of the system itself and the system that the Government inherited. that we do not have the opportunity in the House to have a vote on decisions to opt in before they take place. Those opt-ins, in many cases, are binding legislation which binds this country just as much as any other legislation passed by the House. It is now long after the event that we have the opportunity to debate it.
I realise that I am going a bit wide, Sir Roger, but although I believe that the Government have made improvements to the system, it is inherent in the system, and perhaps also in our membership of the European Union, that we simply do not have the democratic right as elected representatives to have a debate and vote upon an issue in advance of its being adopted and turned into binding laws. I will leave my points on that there, but there is one other point I should like to make about the fact that this is now law which is binding on this country.
Yesterday, during questions on Europe my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister referred to a review of competences. It would be interesting to know whether this opt-in to European legislation and the growing Home Affairs chapter of the European Union legislation, will be part of that review. Will we review something that we have just decided to do? It would be interesting to know that because when that review takes place it will find that there are large number of issues, such as those we have been discussing today and the activities undertaken under the purview of this fund, such as organising the resettlement of refugees, the return of refugees and assisting people. Those are all matters that could be undertaken by individual nation states, which do not need the European Union to do it for them or to pay for all the administrative costs of the European Union.
I will leave it there but we have been right to ask these questions. The Minister has answered them extremely well but at the end of the day there remains a lingering doubt at the back of my mind as to whether we are opting in to yet more European legislation and, as the European Scrutiny Committee said, laying the foundations by joining in these funds for a further extension of EU competence in the field of home affairs where it has grown far too much already.
I hear the concerns that have been raised in respect of, for example, the partial general approach. We share the Committee’s concern that some partial general approaches could have a negative impact so we are scrutinising each case very carefully. In all cases no specific budget figures are being discussed or agreed. These will flow from the overall negotiations.
I would underline again the comments made by my hon. Friend the Immigration Minister in his opening statement that we firmly support the principle that nothing should be finally agreed before the overall deal is agreed. Therefore, the issue is interconnected. I understand the concerns regarding how elements can interrelate, but I stress clearly that no numbers have been agreed in relation to the documents. It is the principles that are being discussed.
The contribution that the justice and home affairs element provides to the overall budget was mentioned. My hon. Friend the Member for Hertsmere said that it represented 5.8% of the EU budget, but looking at heading 3—to use the technical jargon of the overall budget—one can see that it represents about 1% of the EU budget. That does not, however, undermine the importance of negotiations and the clear rule that we are seeking to set out, which is that there should be a freeze in the spend, regardless of how that is brokered.
Mr Clappison: If my remarks were at all inadvertence, I apologise. However, the figure I quoted—I think the record will stand straight on this—was a 5.8% claim by the European Commission for the whole of its budget, of which home affairs forms part. I would be interested to know from the Minister—I am not asking what proportion the home affairs is of the EU budget as a whole—by what proportion the home affairs budget is increased in the next six years over what had been the case in the previous six years. We heard an admission from his colleague that there will be an increase in the home affairs budget, and he has chosen to raise it. What is the claim that has been made?
James Brokenshire: Our approach is that there should not be any increase. The Commission has set out certain figures for the different parts of the justice and home affairs element of the budget, and the Committee’s report on the matter set out the individual break-down quite clearly.
To respond directly to the question raised by the hon. Member for Rhondda regarding the number for the internal security fund, that number is set out in the Committee’s report. It states that the ISF in totality is €4.648 billion. That is what the Commission is seeking to achieve in its initial proposals. Page 19 of the Committee’s report
I do not underestimate the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Hertsmere, which is why we are taking the matters seriously in our negotiations and considering the impact and implications of individual elements in the context of the overall negotiations in the MFF.
I know that the hon. Member for Rhondda said that it might be naive to rely on under-spends and that the EU budget needs radical incision. Historically, there have been large under-spends in the JHA budget. It is reasonable, therefore, in the context of the JHA elements of the budget, to seek to reprioritise and ensure that if there are under-spends, they are applied to other areas in a measured and sensible way.
The Minister refers to page 19 of a document that I do not think we have. We have lots of documents that have a page 19 in the bundle. Page 19 of the bundle does not refer to what he has said. Perhaps he will make the document available to all of us.
James Brokenshire: This is the European Scrutiny Committee’s second report of session 2012-13, dealing with the EU home affairs funds for 2014 to 2020. That was the document to which I referred. It sets out at paragraph 4.3 the relevant headings of the funding.
James Brokenshire: Unfortunately, I do not have the benefit of the bundle with the specific numbering. I hope that, now I have pointed out the relevant document, the hon. Gentleman will be able to see the numbers.
The hon. Gentleman also raised the issue of asylum. In the UK asylum numbers have fallen markedly in recent years. They are around 20,000 a year down from 100,000 a year at the peak. The latest ONS statistics on long-term migration show that the inflow of EU nationals was down 9% for the year ending September 2011, compared with the preceding period.
Mr Clappison: Having asked a few questions, can I say that the Minister has been a bit too modest? The figures are quite good. The Minister for Immigration deserves great credit for his success in improving our migration system.
I will return to the point my hon. Friend the Member for Hertsmere made about scrutiny, the role of the EU Scrutiny Committee and the ability to hold debates on
Kelvin Hopkins: I agree with the changes that have been made to immigration rules. My concern is that insufficient funds will be provided to ensure that the UKBA puts the rules into effect and polices our borders properly.
A question was raised about the internal security fund, which has two parts. We welcome the simplification applied to streamline the relevant funding approaches. The question was raised about the changes the UK would need to see to opt in to the policing element of the internal security fund. That is one of the two elements, but the one that we are able to participate in. We need to be sure that the benefits that we might realise by participating outweigh the costs of administering the fund.
I apologise to the Committee for going into further detail, but the fund is split into two halves, part of which would be co-administered by member states and the Commission, with the other part being administered by the Commission in isolation. We need to be clear on the co-administered element that the costs are transparent and streamlined and that we understand what they are, so that we are able to weigh them up against the benefits.
It is important to note, however, that we are negotiating keenly on the internal security fund. Good progress has been made in clarifying the legal basis, in terms of the
On the comments made by the hon. Member for Luton North, we support the inclusion of resettlement as an objective in the asylum and migration fund proposal, and we recognise the value of efforts to incentivise resettlement of refugees by member states. We should use the AMF to encourage member states to develop and embed successful and sustainable resettlement schemes in their countries.
In conclusion, it is clear that budgetary issues will undoubtedly remain a real focus of attention. If we are to ensure that our best interests are properly adhered to, we must negotiate firmly and clearly on the multi-annual financial settlements and achieve a real freeze. The point has been clearly enunciated that, at this time of austerity, seeking to obtain increases—whether in the JHA element or in the overall budget—is simply unrealistic. We will seek to use our position in negotiations firmly and robustly to achieve a positive outcome, in the best interests of our country.
That the Committee takes note of European Union Documents No. 17289/11, relating to a draft Regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council establishing the Asylum and Migration Fund, No. 17287/11, relating to a draft Regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council establishing, as part of the Internal Security Fund, the instrument for financial support for police cooperation, preventing and combating crime, and crisis management and No. 17285/11, a draft Regulation laying down general provisions on the Asylum and Migration Fund and on the instrument for financial support for police cooperation, preventing and combating crime, and crisis management; and supports the Government’s aim of encouraging flexibility and reducing waste and bureaucracy in the management of these Funds.