6 Nov 2012 : Column 750

Point of Order

1.32 pm

Huw Irranca-Davies (Ogmore) (Lab): On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Ash dieback disease is a major national disaster of huge proportions, and of direct and immediate interest to every hon. Member of this House. It is therefore disappointing to learn that the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has written a detailed letter updating hon. Members on this environmental emergency, but that the letter has been exclusively distributed by the Government Whips’ admin unit to Government—governing party—MPs only.

As you are guardian of the rights of this House, Mr Speaker, I seek your guidance on the appropriateness of a Secretary of State, in a moment of great national emergency, seeking to use the functions and resources of the private office exclusively to brief only his own party colleagues. Surely every hon. Member of this House is equal in their standing and equal in their need to hold the Executive to account.

Mr Speaker: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his point of order. If Ministers acting as Ministers with the support of the civil service are making information available to hon. and right hon. Members of this House, they should without question do so equally. That requirement does not of course apply to political parties making information available to Members of the House. I hope that that distinction is clear and intelligible to the House. I cannot have a debate with the hon. Gentleman about it and there is no requirement to do so, but if he is seeking genuine clarification—his brow is furrowed in such a way as to suggest that that is so—I shall briefly indulge him.

Huw Irranca-Davies: Thank you, Mr Speaker, and I do not intend to detain the House any longer than I need to. Further to that point of order, the letter is signed not by a party political unit but by the Secretary of State in name as the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. If I were to share the letter with you, Mr Speaker, perhaps you could offer some clear advice on whether it falls within the remit of the civil service or party politicking.

Mr Speaker: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his follow-up point of order. I have not had sight of the letter and I am happy to look at it, but I do not think that I need now to add to anything that I have said.

6 Nov 2012 : Column 751

Free School Meals (Children Over the Age of 16)

Motion for leave to bring in a Bill (Standing Order No. 23)

1.34 pm

Nic Dakin (Scunthorpe) (Lab): I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to make provision to introduce free school meal arrangements for children over the age of 16 who attend colleges to bring them into line with arrangements for children who attend schools, academies and free schools; and for connected purposes.

Free school meals are a vital tool in ensuring that all students have access to education regardless of their background. More than 100 years have passed since Campbell-Bannerman’s Liberal Government gave local councils the power to give free meals to children from poor families. It was the great 1944 Education Act that made it an entitlement for children to have a free school meal. Consequently millions of young people, for a century or more, have benefited from free school meals, which has increased both access to education and social mobility.

The situation today, however, is not entirely satisfactory as there remains a significant inequity in the provision of free meals for the over-16s. Students who meet eligibility requirements can claim free school meals if they attend school sixth forms, academies, university technical colleges or free schools, but their contemporaries at sixth-form colleges and further education colleges cannot. That long-standing injustice is an issue that I have raised continually since my election to this House two and a half years ago.

Along with MPs from all parties, I contributed to a Westminster Hall debate in June led by the former Education Secretary, my right hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Brightside and Hillsborough (Mr Blunkett). The strong concern expressed by Members from both sides of the House demonstrated the breadth and depth of support for addressing the injustice. From my 30 years’ experience of working with post-16-year-olds and four years as principal of John Leggott college in Scunthorpe, I know the direct impact that not having access to a college meal in the daytime has on concentration, attendance, retention, achievement and, inevitably, a young person’s progression on to other things.

Free school meals should be available to those who need them regardless of where they choose to study. If the eligibility of students who meet the criteria for free school meals depends on the type of institution they attend, that is not only morally wrong but potentially piles disadvantage on top of disadvantage. The fact that 16 to 18-year-olds in colleges miss out is particularly unfair when 13.3% of them are from disadvantaged backgrounds compared with 8.3% in maintained school sixth forms and academies.

It gets worse, because some areas of the country are served more heavily by colleges for post-16 education than by schools, which means that young people lose out through a postcode lottery because of where they live. That injustice affects not just a minority of students, but a significant proportion. Across the country, some 103,000 students are missing out on a free lunch to which they should be entitled. In Yorkshire and the Humber, that is 10,700 students, including 257 students

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who attend Scunthorpe’s North Lindsey college and 103 students who attend Scunthorpe’s John Leggott college.

There are three reasons why there is greater urgency now about addressing the injustice than hitherto, and why the Association of Colleges’ campaign “No Free Lunch?” on fairness for FE students is so timely and deserving of our support. The landscape has been transformed, first by the scrapping of the education maintenance allowance, secondly by the raising of the participation age to 17 and then to 18, and thirdly by the increasingly fragmented nature of post-16 provision.

The existence of EMA masked the disadvantage of being unable to access free school meals. With EMA gone, the injustice is even starker. The raising of the participation age will mean more students from disadvantaged backgrounds will stay on beyond 16, and they deserve to be supported with a free school meal, if they are eligible, whichever institution they study at. Why should new institutions such as free schools, academies and UTCs be able to provide free school meals while FE and sixth-form colleges cannot?

The availability of free school meals at some institutions but not others not only damages the education and well-being of individuals, but promotes division in the education system. Let us take as an example the bizarre situation in Hackney, where a UTC opening on the same site as the college can offer free school meals to its students while the college cannot. Let us also look at an example of the real-life impact of this unfair policy on young people. Ryan Ashton attends Lancaster and Morecambe college, and is seven months into a two-year level 3 national diploma in sport. Despite being eligible for free lunches at school, he was shocked to find when he began college that he was no longer eligible. As he is studying sport, his day can be very physical, and when he has not had enough to eat he can feel faint and dizzy. There is a family history of diabetes, so good diet is particularly important. He says:

“I do think this campaign is very important. I know I’m not one of the worst off, but still need some support. I think there needs to be help for students like me.”

To afford his lunch, Ryan works as a football referee, and also uses this income to fund his travel.

This is a story that will resonate with thousands of students who are forced to take on part-time jobs or go to other additional lengths just to be on a level playing field with their counterparts in school sixth forms and academies. That is completely at odds with the Government’s commitment to social mobility and equal opportunity, which is why the urgent action sought by the Bill is needed. Another consequence of the current injustice is that colleges have to fund free school meals out of their own squeezed budgets. Last year, North Lindsey college in Scunthorpe spent £5,000 on providing meals for students in particular need. At a time when all education institutions have to cut costs, why should some be forced to pay for free school meals and others not?

Anne Tyrell, principal of North Lindsey college, says:

“There is a wealth of educational research that demonstrates that effective learning can only take place once basic needs are satisfied (food being one of these). There is no justification for the fact that students in colleges do not have the same right for a free

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school meal say they would if they had stayed on at a school sixth form. As real family incomes are reduced, and combined with the removal of EMA, there is even more need to ensure that at the very least there is parity on the issue. This may seem a small step but it is essential if we are to truly widen participation and ensure social mobility and access to education, training and qualifications for all our young people.”

The lifetime public finance cost of young people aged 16 to 18 not participating in education, employment or training is estimated to be at least £12 billion. There is also a significant cost to individuals of not participating and therefore not securing skills and qualifications. The estimated cost of extending the right to free meals to college students is £38 million in the Department’s overall budget of £56 billion. That is the equivalent of 1p in every £14 spent, so the numbers add up and make good business sense. The Government could use the review of eligibility for free school meals under universal credit to consult on reviewing the eligibility for institutions to provide that to the qualifying demographic.

Toni Pearce, National Union of Students vice-president for further education, said:

“There can be no justification for the basic inequity which says that you can’t get free school meals if you study at a college from the age of 16 to 18, but can if you study at a school sixth form. Eligibility for free meals should clearly be based on need—not on where you choose to study.”

Janet Grauberg, UK director of strategy for leading children’s charity, Barnardo’s, said:

“Even the Secretary of State for Education has acknowledged this anomaly, which means the most disadvantaged students are penalised for choosing to study in a further education college rather than a school sixth form.

We now need action, not words, to stop this happening. Barnardo’s report, ‘Staying the course’, found some of the poorest students are skipping meals just to afford the bus to college. We fully support AOC’s No Free Lunch? campaign and urge the Government to correct this disparity as soon as possible.”

As part of its investigation into 16 to 19 participation in education, the Select Committee on Education unanimously concluded:

“There is no logic in making free school meals available to 16-18 year olds in schools but not in colleges”.

The case for extending the right to free school meals is clear-cut and compelling, and I believe that the Government acknowledge the need to address it. In a very positive meeting with representatives of sixth-form colleges and with me last month the Secretary of State recognised the need to look seriously at this issue. In a recent written answer, the Minister for Schools accepted that it was a long-standing anomaly and said that the Government were working through the available options. I hope that the option in this ten-minute rule Bill is one that he will grab with both hands.

Question put and agreed to.


That Nic Dakin, Mr David Blunkett, Sir Roger Gale, Sir Bob Russell, Caroline Lucas, Angela Smith, Caroline Dinenage, Mr David Ward, Jim Shannon, Yvonne Fovargue, Robert Halfon and Ian Swales present the Bill.

Nic Dakin accordingly presented the Bill.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on 1 February 2013 and to be printed (Bill 87).

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Standards and Privileges

1.46 pm

The Leader of the House of Commons (Mr Andrew Lansley): I beg to move,

That this House

(1) approves the Second Report from the Committee on Standards and Privileges (House of Commons Paper No. 635);

(2) endorses the recommendation in paragraph 62; and

(3) notes that Mr Denis MacShane has been disqualified as a Member of this House.

The report by the Standards and Privileges Committee into Mr MacShane’s conduct describes it as

“the gravest case which has come to us for adjudication, rather than being dealt with under the criminal law”.

This was deeply reprehensible conduct, including, as the report says, actions “plainly intended to deceive.” That will have angered many of our constituents and Members of this House alike.

In this House, we are determined to meet the highest standards in public life. The events that were the subject of the complaint against Mr MacShane took place between 2005 and 2008. Since the expenses scandal three years ago, we have instituted measures to seek to rebuild trust in our procedures and in Members themselves. The Parliamentary Standards Act 2009 provides for an offence of providing false and misleading information to the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority. This is designed to ensure that anyone submitting false invoices now would be caught and could be prosecuted.

We are committed to ensuring that such behaviour could not take place now or in the future, but we must recognise that independent scrutiny and enforcement is not enough. We should expect Members of the House themselves to set and meet the highest standards of conduct. The fact they have not is a matter of deep regret, and in this House I know we will be determined to demonstrate that we will not tolerate such lamentable breaches of those standards. We must make it clear that such breaches will be dealt with seriously and proportionately. It is in pursuance of this that I have moved the motion.

Mr MacShane has sought and secured disqualification from the House. The motion notes this, but none the less approves the report by the Committee on Standards and Privileges and its recommendations. To do so will establish that the House will act against Members on the basis of the Committee’s report and the Commissioner’s inquiries and conclusions. It may be that Members will not wish to debate in detail the findings of the report and investigations by the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards, recognising that any possible further action now lies outside this place. None the less, in my view, it is important that we put the endorsement by the House of the Committee’s report on the record.

The Chair of the Committee will wish to explain its conclusions and recommendations in further detail, but I should like to put on record our thanks to him and his Committee, and to the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards, for their work in this case, and for their continued work in the House. It has been the practice of this House to endorse the findings of the Committee on Standards and Privileges, and I invite hon. Members to do so today.

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1.49 pm

Ms Angela Eagle (Wallasey) (Lab): May I add my thanks to my right hon. Friend the Member for Rother Valley (Mr Barron), the Chair of the Standards and Privileges Committee, and to the other members of the Committee for the work that they have done on the report?

I rise following the speech made by the Leader of the House to support the suggestion in the motion before us today that:

“This House approves the Second Report of the Committee on Standards and Privileges…and endorses the recommendation in paragraph 62.”

The motion before us goes on to point out that the former Member of Parliament for Rotherham took the decision to resign his seat after he was made aware of the content of the Committee’s report on its publication last Friday. His own stated reason for doing that was that it was right that he should take responsibility for the mistakes that he has made and be accountable for them by leaving Parliament. We believe that in these circumstances he has done the right thing. His resignation emphasises the importance of respecting the rules for claiming reimbursement of expenses incurred by Members of the House in the performance of their parliamentary duties. It is crucial that the public have confidence in these arrangements, too.

The report deals with claims made between 2004 and 2008, which relate to the system that was in place prior to the creation of the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority. This has led, as the Leader of the House pointed out, to a much more robust and transparent system that minimises the chances of such abuses occurring in the future. This sorry episode will serve to reinforce both the importance of the rules and the gravity with which serious breaches are regarded by this House.

1.51 pm

Mr Kevin Barron (Rother Valley) (Lab): I will be very brief. The Committee’s report sets out the circumstances of the case clearly. The inquiry related to claims made between 2005 and 2008 under the old expenses system. I cannot be certain that this is the last of the expenses scandal, but I hope that it is.

On a personal note, I have known Denis MacShane since he was first selected to contest a by-election in Rotherham in 1994. I have worked with him as one of the three MPs in the borough since then and know he has always had the interests of his constituents, and the wider Rotherham borough, at heart. The events of the last three years will not totally overshadow my memory of the work that Denis has done in Rotherham.

The Committee, however, was united in its finding that this was the gravest case that has ever come before it. The absolute sums were not the issue; it was the manner in which they were claimed, the flagrant disregard for the rules of the House, and the failure to co-operate with the commissioner’s investigation that most concerned the Committee. We judged that to be a breach of the code of conduct. There may have been suggestions that hon. Members are above the criminal law. That is not true, and that needs to be addressed.

The commissioner’s investigations are into possible breaches of the code of conduct, not criminal matters. The procedures are fair, but the commissioner is not

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conducting a criminal investigation and neither is the Committee. As we said in the report:

“The decision as to whether conduct is criminal and as to whether proceedings should be brought is one for the police and the CPS.”

In 2008, the Committee, the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards and the police agreed that criminal investigations should take precedence over the House’s disciplinary proceedings. For that reason, we agreed in 2010 that the case should be referred to the police, and the commissioner referred it. After a long investigation, the police and the Crown Prosecution Service decided not to proceed. They doubtless considered that decision very carefully. They now have our report and may consider it again. That is their decision, not ours.

If our report contains new material, the police can use it to guide their investigations. Receipts, invoices and claims are not privileged, and do not become so simply because they are reproduced in a parliamentary report. It is true that the correspondence between the commissioner and those he investigates could not be used in court proceedings without impeaching and questioning proceedings in Parliament. It is our view that that would be a breach of article 9 of the Bill of Rights. In reality, however, that correspondence is likely to be inadmissible anyway. There are strict legal safeguards about the gathering and use of evidence in criminal proceedings. The House’s disciplinary procedures are scrupulously fair, but they are disciplinary processes, not criminal investigations. It would be most unwise of the House to speculate on the criminality of an hon. Member’s conduct.

The Committee has given its judgment on breaches of the code, and the House is invited to agree. Whether or not conduct such as that described in our report is criminal, it is clear that we will not tolerate it. I welcome that, and I hope that the House agrees.

1.55 pm

Sir Paul Beresford (Mole Valley) (Con): Clearly, as a member of the Committee I support the findings and I support the motion. I do not want to go through the report, but I just want to raise an issue that comes from it. The commissioner’s inquiry was in two parts. The first included a measure of co-operation from the Member in question combined with research into retained files. That evidence was sufficient for the Committee to decide to pass further inquiries to the police, which we have already had explained to us. The second half was subsequent to the police investigation. This time the Member refused to co-operate and a fuller investigation was partially blocked. It is a requirement of the House that Members co-operate with the commissioner. There is no fifth amendment; co-operation is expected. It is very often the core of the inquiry for the commissioner to have that response and co-operation.

I have not been a member of the Committee for very long, but I understand that there has been at least one case, and perhaps more prior cases, where a Member has refused to co-operate. In at least one case, the House imposed a suspension after which the Member returned to the House, leaving the Committee with an unsatisfactory report and no real resolution. This is a concern that the Committee and the House should

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look into, because I suspect that this will not be the last occasion when this type of reaction to the commissioner will happen.

1.56 pm

Michael Connarty (Linlithgow and East Falkirk) (Lab): It is with some regret that I raise, on behalf of my constituents who have raised it with me—this is not to mitigate anything in respect of the report and the actions of Denis MacShane—the question of why there seem to be double standards. The Minister for Schools, the right hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr Laws), was clearly guilty of falsely claiming £60,000 of House expenses and has been returned to the Cabinet, yet other Members have been recommended for expulsion from the House.

Mr Speaker: Order. I think the hon. Gentleman has concluded his remarks, but they were outside the terms of the motion. Of course, if he wanted to pursue the matter, it would require a substantive motion.

Question put and agreed to.

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European Union (Croatian Accession and Irish Protocol) Bill

[Relevant document: The Seventeenth Report from the European Scrutiny Committee, on Croatia: monitoring the accession process, HC 86-xvii.]

Second reading

1.58 pm

The Minister for Europe (Mr David Lidington): I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

I convey the regrets of my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary who is unable to attend today’s debate. As you know, Mr Speaker, he is in Laos attending to official business on behalf of Her Majesty’s Government.

The Bill provides for parliamentary approval of the Croatian accession treaty and for a protocol on the concerns of the Irish people, the so-called Irish protocol, which is to be added to European Union treaties. The Bill also provides for the secondary legislation that will be required to apply transitional immigration controls on Croatian nationals exercising their right to free movement once Croatia accedes to the European Union.

Henry Smith (Crawley) (Con): I very much welcome those transitional immigration controls that will be imposed for the accession of Croatia. We learned from that mistake in 2004 when countries from elsewhere in eastern Europe joined the European Union, and I support the Government’s actions.

Mr Lidington: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his comments. I hope to say more about the transitional controls later, but he will have observed that the Minister for Immigration, my hon. Friend the Member for Forest of Dean (Mr Harper), is here, and I can assure him that the Home Office and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office are working hand in glove on the preparation for Croatian succession.

For many years, EU enlargement has enjoyed firm cross-party support in the House. We can look back to the premiership of the noble Lady Baroness Thatcher to see support being expressed for enlargement covering the newly enfranchised democracies beyond what was once the iron curtain, at a time when it was not fashionable or even believed feasible that those countries of central and eastern Europe could become full members of the European family of nations. Today, for the countries of the western Balkans, including Croatia, that process of accession provides a means of entrenching political stability, democratic institutions, the rule of law and human rights —traditions and values that that part of our continent needs but which were crushed for much of the last 100 years.

Angus Robertson (Moray) (SNP): I endorse the Minister’s comments. May I invite him to underline that the accession agreement foresees not only the points that he has made but the fact that on accession Croatia will nominate a commissioner, take up a seat on the Council of Ministers and have 12 MEPs?

Mr Lidington: The hon. Gentleman is right. Our support should not only be about what Europe is or ought to be; I also want to stress the point that enlargement, and Croatia’s accession in particular, is firmly in our national interest.

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Michael Connarty (Linlithgow and East Falkirk) (Lab): Just to clarify, as well as the rights and responsibilities that will come to Croatia if we pass this accession Bill, is it also correct that it will have to join the Schengen area and eventually become part of the eurozone, with the agreement that it will join the euro?

Mr Lidington: Croatia’s accession treaty provides for it to join the Schengen area and the eurozone, but, as the hon. Gentleman knows well, if Croatia is to join either it will be required to meet some further tests. It is already understood in Zagreb and throughout the Schengen area that it will be at least two years before Croatia can contemplate a successful application. I know from the debates on the bids by Bulgaria and Romania to join the Schengen area that the current members look carefully at the strength of internal and external controls over immigration and asylum before they concede the much greater rights of freedom of movement and freedom from all kinds of border checks that go with Schengen membership.

Mark Field (Cities of London and Westminster) (Con): The Minister referred to Romanian and Bulgarian accession. He will recall that before they joined the EU in 2007 they had to clear various hurdles and various parts of their economy had to be shown to be compatible with the EU, but at that juncture there was only a very limited stipulation stating that, if they failed to do so, their accession would simply be delayed by 12 months. Will he go into detail about precisely what hurdles Croatia will have to clear, particularly any penalties if it fails to meet economic requirements?

Mr Lidington: I want to come to that in greater detail later, but I can say now that the process that Croatia has gone through has been much more demanding than what was expected of Romania and Bulgaria or earlier accession states. One lesson that EU member states drew from the experience of Romanian and Bulgarian accession was that we needed to invent an additional category of accession conditions covering justice and fundamental rights measures. That is now embodied in chapter 23 of the accession process. Those things that, in the case of Romania and Bulgaria, ended up being addressed—in my view, rather unhappily, in terms of the actions of all sides—through the co-operation and verification mechanism post-accession have, in the case of Croatia, been addressed upfront.

We have learned further lessons from Croatia’s accession process. Although chapter 23 has been a significant advance, we recognise that, as we look forward to an accession process that in the Government’s view should embrace all the countries of the western Balkans, we need to find a way of ensuring not only that the accession process provides incentives for, and insists upon, rigorous reforms of the administrative and judicial life of an applicant country but that the applicant country has the opportunity to establish a clear track record of implementing those reforms. With the decision earlier this year to open accession negotiations with Montenegro, a new approach has been introduced under which those chapter 23 measures—and, for that matter, the chapter 24 measures applying to home affairs matters—will be dealt with first. The objective is to open those negotiating chapters early on, to see those reforms

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under way and then to hold those chapters open until the end of the process, so that it becomes a question not only of seeing reforms enacted but of seeing a consistent track record.

Mark Field: I hope that the Minister will forgive me, but his answer prompts a further question. He referred to the coalition Government’s support for other nations in the western Balkans joining the EU in due course. Would the same apply to Serbia, assuming that Croatia was happy about it and assuming that Serbia wished to join and met all the guidelines? Would the Government approve that too?

Mr Lidington: Yes, we have made it clear—my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary repeated this in Belgrade in the past couple of weeks—that we support Serbia’s ambitions to join the EU. It is also, however, important that while remaining vigorous supporters of EU enlargement we remain committed to rigorous accession criteria. That is in the interest of the candidate countries and of the integrity of the EU.

Kelvin Hopkins (Luton North) (Lab): My constituency is home to some Bosnian Muslims. The accession of Croatia will erect a much more significant border between Croatia and the other Balkan countries—setting Montenegro aside—particularly the significant ones to the south, Serbia and Bosnia. Before Serbia attains accession, which might be many years ahead, the relationship may change. Does the Minister have any thoughts about how that relationship might change in the future?

Mr Lidington: I hope that the requirement to police the external EU border between Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina will provide an additional incentive to political leaders in the latter to commit themselves with greater energy to the task of political and economic reform, particularly political reform and reconciliation, which is needed if they, too, are to qualify for EU membership.

One of the sadnesses about the western Balkans today is that Bosnia and Herzegovina, which a few years ago saw itself as at the head of the queue of potential new members of the European Union, has now fallen behind not only Croatia, but Montenegro in that race. I want to see Bosnia and Herzegovina move towards EU membership, and for that matter NATO membership too. I hope that one impact of Croatian accession is that people and leaders in Bosnia and Herzegovina will see that they need to commit themselves with renewed energy and vigour.

The United Kingdom’s interest in Croatian accession lies partly in the fact that we have a national interest in the long-term political stability of the western Balkans, and partly in the fact that there are economic benefits to expanding the single market. Our trade with the eastern and central European countries continues to grow. To give the House one example, United Kingdom exports to the “emerging Europe” countries of central Europe have trebled over the past 10 years, reaching around £16 billion in 2011. More recently, in the first quarter of this year our exports to countries in the east of Europe have increased by no less than 28%, so in economic

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terms, amidst the current financial crisis, the project of EU enlargement remains as relevant now as it ever has been to our economic as well as our political interests.

Following the ratification of Croatia’s accession treaty by all 27 EU member states, Croatia is expected to join the EU on 1 July 2013. Meanwhile, we expect Croatia to sustain the momentum of six years of significant reform, particularly on judiciary and fundamental rights issues, so that it meets fully all EU requirements by the time of accession. This is something to which I know the Croatian Government are committed. When I visited Zagreb in July this year to discuss the ongoing reform progress, I was impressed with the dedication in evidence, particularly from the Foreign Minister and the Justice Minister of Croatia. They are very aware of the challenges that face their country and they are keen to prove to us as their neighbours and friends, and to their own citizens, that they can make a success of accession. It is on that basis that we look forward to welcoming Croatia to the EU as the 28th member state.

Graham Stringer (Blackley and Broughton) (Lab): Is that not a rather pious hope? Once Croatia is a member, if it decides to resile from the commitments, what actions can be taken? What actions have been taken as Hungary has departed from the standards that we would expect from a member of the European Union? The answer is none.

Mr Lidington: There are within the treaties articles that can be invoked. For example, if a member state departs from fundamental standards of human rights and democratic values that are embodied in the articles of the treaty, ultimately its full rights as an EU member can be suspended. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Moray (Angus Robertson) reminds me that when a far right party entered the Government of Austria a few years ago, Austria found that it started to get frozen out of normal EU business. So although they may be blunt instruments that are in the treaties, the instruments are there.

There is a provision in the pre-accession monitoring arrangements under which, if Croatia fails to deliver on what she has promised, the Council is entitled to take all necessary measures to deal with the situation. That might, for example, mean that if Croatia were to fail to carry through the necessary market reforms of its shipbuilding sector—I do not expect that—certain EU financial benefits could be withheld until those reforms had been implemented. I do not think we are as lacking in sticks as the hon. Member for Blackley and Broughton (Graham Stringer) suggests.

Michael Connarty rose

Mr Lidington: Let me say this, then I will give way. Croatia has applied for European Union membership both because it sees this as of symbolic political importance and its leaders want to entrench democratic values, human rights and the rule of law in their country, and because Croatia sees some significant economic benefits to participation in the single market. Croatia also wants to move on and apply for Schengen membership. The one thing that Croatia’s leaders know is that if they were to depart from the promises that they have given,

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their chances of benefiting in the way they hope and their people expect would be reduced accordingly. That remains a powerful motive.

Michael Connarty: The Minister has led on to the question that I wished to ask. He mentioned application for Schengen and cross-border rights, but the Schengen acquis requires countries to sign up to a great deal of immigration and co-operation in cross-border law and other aspects. Is it expected that the Schengen acquis will be put in place part by part before the application, or is Croatia not expected to do anything in relation to those things? That is relevant as we struggle with opt-ins and opt-outs.

Mr Lidington: What Croatia has to do is what was set out in the negotiating chapters, particularly in chapter 24, to equip itself to deal with the responsibilities of European Union membership. I shall say a little about the borders issue later to try to address those comments. Membership of Schengen requires Croatia and any other member of Schengen to go further. The pace at which any reforms specific to Schengen are introduced and implemented is a matter between Croatia and the Schengen members. It is difficult for me as a Minister for a country that has chosen to stay outside Schengen and has no intention of joining it to try to prescribe what the pathway should be for Croatia’s hopes to join the Schengen agreement.

In its report the European Scrutiny Committee made a number of criticisms of the Commission’s and the Government’s conclusions about the readiness of Croatia to join the European Union. The Government will of course reply formally to the report of the Scrutiny Committee in due course, but as the Committee has chosen to tag its report to the debate today, I thought it might be helpful to respond to the main thrust of the Committee’s criticisms now, during the debate. We will have other opportunities during later stages of the Bill to explore the points that my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Mr Cash) and his Committee raised, and as I said there will be a formal Government response to the Committee in due course.

I shall try to deal briefly with three or four of the main issues raised by the Committee in its conclusions. Let me take first the issue of war crimes, both co-operation with the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia and domestic war crimes. On co-operation with the tribunal, I want to stress that not just the United Kingdom but the European Commission and the tribunal itself believe that Croatia is fully co-operating with the tribunal. Indeed, the chief prosecutor, Mr Brammertz, has now said that he sees no need for him to visit Zagreb again and he has taken the decision to wind down the status of the tribunal’s office in Croatia. On 3 May this year, while visiting Zagreb, Mr Brammertz said that there were “no outstanding issues” that might burden relations between Croatia and ICTY. On 7 June, in a statement to the UN Security Council, he said:

“The Office of the Prosecutor continues to rely on Croatia’s cooperation to efficiently complete trials and appeals. In the current reporting period (as at 14 May 2012), the Office sent 18 requests for assistance to Croatia. The Croatian authorities have given timely and adequate responses to the requests made and it has provided access to witnesses and evidence as required. The Office will continue to rely on Croatia’s cooperation in upcoming trials and appeals.”

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The chief prosecutor, who in the past has been critical of what he saw as shortcomings in Croatia’s level of co-operation with him, has now said that in his view Croatia has co-operated, and continues to do so, in the way he would rightly expect.

The issue of domestic war crimes is a difficult one. One need only look to our own country’s history in Northern Ireland to see how difficult it can be to get to the truth about some of the most vile murders. There are about 1,200 cases on file relating to domestic war crimes in Croatia, but we need to break that total down into three categories. There are about 400 cases for which trials are pending, about 400 where the accused cannot be found and a further 400 or so where the indictments are in a pre-investigative phase but the perpetrator is unknown—it is believed, on the basis of evidence, that a war crime might have been committed but no individual or group of named individuals can be cited as having been responsible. The average length of a trial for a domestic war crime is about six to seven months.

In 2010, four specialised chambers were established to deal with domestic war crimes. In May 2011, new legislation took effect to require the transfer of outstanding cases to those chambers and, in the autumn of 2011, new judges were appointed to those specialist tribunals. So far, 87 cases have been transferred to the specialist tribunals. The Government’s view is that progress has been too slow and that the Croatians need to devote more resources to that work. Our assessment is that the commitments Croatia made can be described as “almost complete” but that more progress is still required. We are confident, given the commitments we have had from the Croatian Justice Ministry, that that acceleration will have taken place by the time we reach the expected accession date.

Some of that progress is simply about procedural reforms: new listing priorities have now been established; prosecutorial standards are being applied better; there is, importantly, improved co-operation between the Croatian and Serbian authorities in investigating war crimes; and the Croatian side has submitted a draft agreement between those two countries for co-operation in the prosecution of such cases. The Commission has said that more still needs to be done to secure the attendance and protection of witnesses, who might well fear for their safety when giving evidence in this kind of case. We think that progress has been slower than it ought to have been but are confident about the seriousness with which the Croatian authorities are taking it.

I will move on to borders and address the point that the former Chair of the European Scrutiny Committee, the hon. Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk (Michael Connarty), made in his earlier intervention. Croatia has been making good progress. She already has 81 fully operational border crossing points and has given assurances that the necessary infrastructure and technology will be in place to support those crossing points and ensure strong border management by the time she accedes to the EU. The most important outstanding element is the need to provide formal border crossing points in the Neum corridor, which is the very narrow stretch of Bosnian territory that divides Croatia. The Croatians have told us that they are on course to complete the border crossing points in that important area next spring.

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After Croatian accession, of course, there will continue to be border controls between Croatia and its European Union neighbours. Because Croatia will not join Schengen straight away, those neighbouring countries that are EU member states already will maintain their border controls with Croatia, so any third-country national who got into Croatian territory, whether before or after EU accession, would still be subject to the same level of controls in a country such as Slovenia, and certainly in the United Kingdom, as they are today. I will add that one key advantage for us of Croatia’s accession is that she will come within the scope of the Eurodac regulation and the Dublin agreement on returns and readmissions, which will be helpful to us in the case of any people who manage to get through and abuse the asylum system and need to be returned to Croatia.

Alok Sharma (Reading West) (Con): There will obviously be a seven-year transition period on economic migration from Croatia. Can the Minister tell the House—this is a general point relating also to Romania and Bulgaria—whether it would be possible under British law for us to extend that transition period if we think that is right for Britain?

Mr Lidington: The answer is that we cannot go beyond the period for transitional controls laid down in the treaties. I will say a little more about arrangements for Croatia later. For Romania and Bulgaria, we have extended the transitional controls for the maximum period committed and they have to come to an end by the end of 2013.

Jacob Rees-Mogg (North East Somerset) (Con): May I add a rider to the Minister’s answer? This is without a “notwithstanding” clause to the European Communities Act 1972, but this Parliament could of course do that if it wanted to.

Mr Lidington: This Parliament can of course pass any legislation it wishes to. In that sense, what my hon. Friend says is constitutionally correct, although I in no way want to mislead him into thinking that the Government intend to introduce such an amendment to the 1972 Act.

Mr William Cash (Stone) (Con) rose

Mr Lidington: I know that I will have disappointed my hon. Friend grievously.

Mr Cash: My right hon. Friend, far from disappointing me, has enlivened me to rise, and I do so for this very good reason: this is the first time, as far as I am aware, that any Minister has conceded from the Dispatch Box that the constitutional principle of the “notwithstanding” formula is valid. I was delighted to hear what he had to say.

Mr Lidington: My hon. Friend is tempting me dangerously far from the scope of the debate, but I simply refer him to the happy day we spent in Parliament debating the sovereignty clause of what became the European Union Act 2011. If he looks at Hansard, I think he will find that I stated very clearly that if Parliament wanted to amend the 1972 Act at any stage, it is open for it to do so but—

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Mr Speaker: Order. The right hon. Gentleman is a most earnest and assiduous member of Her Majesty’s Government, but the safest path for him to tread is in the direction of Croatia and the borders thereto.

Mr Lidington: I am grateful for that rescue, Mr Speaker. I want to move on to one other element of the Committee’s criticisms.

Wayne David (Caerphilly) (Lab): I understand that there has been a long-standing dispute about moneys held in the Ljubljanska banca in Slovenia which, it is suggested, belong to Croatia. Has that issue been resolved?

Mr Lidington: I discussed that with both the Slovenian and Croatian Governments when I was visiting Ljubljana and Zagreb earlier this year. We encourage both countries to find a bilateral solution. It is clearly not for the United Kingdom to lay down how that should be done, but they need to find a bilateral agreement that is in accord with the various international treaties to which the two countries are party. We hope that they succeed in the very near future.

The Committee was critical of the Government’s assessment that Croatia was making good progress with the reform of the judiciary and the courts. I am conscious that I have given way a lot and that other Members want to speak, but I want to deal with the most egregious element of the problems with the legal system in Croatia: the backlog of civil cases, to which the Committee drew particular attention.

The backlog in criminal cases in Croatia has fallen for some time and continues to fall, and we ought to pay tribute to the work that the Croatians have done to achieve that. They are still finding it a battle to reduce the backlog in civil cases, but it is important that we should not be misled by grand totals of the number of civil cases before the courts.

According to the figures that I have for the first half of 2012, roughly 844,000 new civil cases reached the Croatian courts; in the same period, roughly 836,000 cases were resolved. Although the total number of cases pending increased slightly, it would be wrong to think that 800,000-plus cases simply sat there in the “pending” tray and never moved. The truth is far from that. There has been a reduction in the backlogs in respect of the older cases—those over 10 years old or over three years old. The Croatians have also assigned a significant number of additional judges to focus on the backlog. Again, although we accept that further work needs to be done, we think that Croatia has made good progress and is committed to completing it. We do not believe that that is a reason to delay its accession.

I move on to migration. Croatia has a modest population of about 4.5 million. The potential impact of Croatian migration is relatively small, but we know that appropriate immigration controls are crucial for stability in our labour market, particularly in the current economic climate. Recently, the Home Office published its intention to impose transitional controls on Croatian workers in line with the Government’s policy to impose such controls on workers from all new member states, under the terms provided for in their accession treaties.

The accession treaty for Croatia sets out the framework within which member states may apply transitional controls to Croatian nationals who wish to work in

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their country. That framework is as follows. During the first two years following accession, the existing 27 member states can apply either national immigration controls or those resulting from bilateral agreements to regulate access to their labour market by Croatian nationals.

From the third year to the fifth year, member states have the option either to continue to apply the same controls as in the previous two years or, if they choose, to grant Croatian nationals the right to move and work freely, in accordance with European Union law. For the fifth year, member states must grant Croatian nationals the right to move and work freely in accordance with EU law. However, if member states find that they are subject to serious disturbance of their domestic labour markets—this has to be an evidence-based assessment of the kind that we seek from the Migration Advisory Committee—those member states may choose to continue to apply controls for a further two years, taking us up to a seven-year maximum period after accession, having first notified the European Commission.

The Home Office will be bringing forward detailed regulations on the transitional controls early in 2013, so the House will have the chance to debate the detail of those ahead of Croatia’s planned accession date. However, the Government’s intention is that for the first two years at least we would continue with the current arrangements under which Croatian nationals who would qualify to come and work here under the points-based system would be allowed to do so, although we do not envisage further relaxation beyond that.

Angus Robertson: For decades since independence, there have been associations between the former Yugoslavia and the subsequent nations. There are decades of experience of citizens from that part of the world working in Germany and Austria as Gastarbeiter. Based on that assessment, do the Government agree that when the free movement of labour comes into force, those citizens are most likely to travel to countries with which there is an historic association—in the first instance, Germany and Austria?

Mr Lidington: The hon. Gentleman is right. According to our figures for 2011, about 2,000 Croatians emigrated to other EU member states and half of those went to Germany. UKBA figures for 2011 show that only 115 Croatian nationals were admitted to the United Kingdom to work.

Michael Connarty: I appreciate the Minister’s argument about the small number of those likely to immigrate legally. The problem is that the equivalent-sized country of Moldova, which has a population of 4.5 million, has a trafficking record similar to that of a country with 50 million people. It is used as a gateway. The problem is not legal migration but whether there is a prospect of the mafia—for want of a better word—of the Balkan states using Croatia as a gateway for people trafficking. That would be the concern. Are the police in Croatia up to dealing with such an influx?

Mr Lidington: That is a perfectly fair question, but I assure the hon. Gentleman that there is no evidence at the moment that Croatia is being used by traffickers as he says has happened in Moldova. However, people traffickers are extremely professional, well organised

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multinational businesses. We have to be vigilant and continue to work closely with the Croatian authorities, trying to provide the practical advice, support and training that we have been giving them as they carry out their immigration, asylum, judicial and administrative reforms, so that their own systems are up to scratch in ensuring that they cannot be exploited by traffickers. The Croatian Government would not want that to happen, and nor would we.

Now I want to talk briefly about the Irish protocol. The addition of the Irish protocol to the EU treaties does not have a significant impact for the United Kingdom. It relates to a series of guarantees given to the Irish people as a condition of their ratification of the Lisbon treaty, but it does not change the substance or application of the treaty. It confirms the interpretation of a number of its provisions in relation to the Irish constitution. Helpfully, the Irish interpretation of the Lisbon treaty aligns with our own.

Angus Robertson: I invite the Minister to take the opportunity to acknowledge that the Irish protocol underlines the rights of member states to set their own tax rates. The Irish Government sought that important guarantee. However, that rings true not just for the Irish Republic but for all member states of the European Union in future, which is welcome.

Mr Lidington: It is very welcome that the Irish protocol makes that assertion about tax sovereignty, which is in line with our own interpretation of the Lisbon treaty and previous European Union treaties. The Irish protocol also confirms that neither the charter of fundamental rights nor the Lisbon treaty in the area of freedom, security and justice affects the scope and applicability of the Irish constitution as regards the right to life, protection of the family and protection of rights in respect of education. It confirms that the Union’s action on the international stage, particularly under common security and defence policy arrangements, does not prejudice the security and defence policy of individual member states or the obligations of any individual member states. It also deals with other matters specific to Ireland, such as its long-standing position of military neutrality. It was formally agreed by Heads of State and Governments of the 27 member states in June 2009. It amounts to a guarantee in international law that the concerns raised in Ireland were unaffected by the entry into force of the Lisbon treaty. Once all 27 countries have formally ratified the Irish protocol, it becomes binding in terms of the European Union as well as of international law.

The Government’s original intention had been that we might include with this legislation a comparable but differently worded protocol as regards the Czech Republic. That is still stalled in the Brussels decision-making process. The European Parliament has yet to produce an opinion on the Czech protocol, and until that has come out of the Brussels negotiations it would be premature for us to think about bringing forward legislation here in Parliament.

Jacob Rees-Mogg: I wonder whether, while negotiating the Irish protocol and the Czech protocol, Her Majesty’s

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Government considered repatriating any powers to the United Kingdom which could have been part of this treaty negotiation.

Mr Lidington: As I said, the protocol was negotiated in 2009, so I fear that my hon. Friend’s challenge has to be for my predecessors in office who are now on the Opposition side of the House. Nothing would have been served in terms of the United Kingdom’s interest by our now saying that we would block ratification of the Irish protocol unless we obtained some concession of our own, because the thing at stake would not have been the ratification of the Lisbon treaty but the ratification of the Irish protocol, to which we have no objection and which is wanted by one of those countries with which we have an extremely close bilateral relationship.

Mark Durkan (Foyle) (SDLP): Does the Minister accept that the protocol confirms the pre-existing sphere of competence of Ireland under its own constitution, further supplemented by the confirmation in relation to neutrality?

Mr Lidington: Yes, I do.

Jacob Rees-Mogg: I wanted my right hon. Friend to confirm, as I think he has, that it was open to the UK, as with any treaty negotiation, to use this as an opportunity to negotiate for our own interests, but the Government decided on this occasion that it was not worth doing so.

Mr Lidington: The point of principle that my hon. Friend makes is certainly right—that during a treaty negotiation it is open to any member state to withhold its consent unless it receives a concession that it is seeking. Obviously, during such a negotiation every member state has to calculate where its national interest lies and what kind of bargain it wants to achieve. However, this is now water under the bridge, as these events took place before the previous general election.

Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab): No, the Minister is wrong. What a member state tries to do, across the piece and over a period of time, is to decide what its main priorities may be. That does not mean that every time a treaty is coming up, it decides to put yet another thing on the table. Indeed, I would argue that the problem with the Government’s current approach is that they are trying to fight the European Union on too many fronts at the same time and will not secure any of their intended outcomes.

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): Order. I am aware that the hon. Gentleman has only just come in, but we do need shorter interventions. I know that he gets carried away, but I am sure that he will be shorter in future.

Mr Lidington: I am not going to get drawn into a historical battle about my predecessors’ record in office. I would argue that the previous Government were too reluctant to use the leverage that we had from negotiations at the time of the Lisbon treaty, but that is a matter that the House can debate and historians will no doubt wish to comment on in future, and I do not want to spend further time on it today.

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The measure before us will provide for the accession of Croatia to the European Union, thus marking another step in the Government’s long-held support—this country’s long-held support under successive Governments—for the enlargement of the European Union. Enlargement has been a project whereby the European Union has benefited from the United Kingdom’s ideas, engagement, and—dare I say it?— leadership over many years and under successive Administrations.

If we compare the history of Europe in the 20 years since the fall of the Berlin wall with the 20 years following the treaty of Versailles, drawing a contrast between, in the earlier period, a time when fragile new democracies collapsed under the strain of domestic political tension, dictatorship and invasion, and, in the 20 years just passed, a time when we have seen democracy, the rule of law and human rights entrenched in ever more countries on our continent, we can see the advantage that European Union enlargement has brought, and we can be proud of our own nation’s contribution to that process. In that spirit, I ask the House to support the Bill’s Second Reading.

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): I call Michael Connarty. [Interruption.] Sorry, I mean Emma Reynolds.

2.46 pm

Emma Reynolds (Wolverhampton North East) (Lab): Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker.

I will attempt to be relatively brief, or at least briefer than the Europe Minister, in order to allow my colleagues and others to speak.

The Opposition welcome the Bill, which will, first, give effect in UK law to the treaty on the accession of the Republic of Croatia to the European Union and provide parliamentary approval of that treaty; and, secondly, provide approval for the so-called Irish protocol, which gives specific guarantees to the Irish people regarding the extent and application of the Lisbon treaty and safeguards Ireland’s right to decide its own policies on the right to life, family and education, taxation, and Irish neutrality.

With regard to the accession treaty, there is, as the Europe Minister underlined, cross-party support for enlargement of the European Union in this House, and that has long been the case. This support is based on both the political and the economic case for enlargement. The process of EU accession has provided, and continues to provide, an incentive for peace, democratisation, economic reform, the promotion of human rights, and the development of anti-discrimination legislation. That is the clear political case for enlargement. The Nobel peace prize committee rightly recognised that the EU has played a vital role in unifying a continent ravaged by wars and inspired peace and democracy beyond its borders.

In terms of the economic case, again I find myself in agreement with the Europe Minister. It is clearly in the UK’s national interest for British companies to have access to the largest single market in the world, with some 500 million consumers, and for that market to continue to grow with enlargement. We are confident that British businesses will find new opportunities in a reformed Croatian economy.

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When the Labour party was in government, we supported the accession path for the western Balkans. Since the end of the bloody conflict in the former Yugoslavia and the signing of the Dayton accords, which took place only some 17 years ago, there has been remarkable progress. We were strong supporters of Slovenia’s accession in 2004. Croatia started accession negotiations in the same year and those negotiations were concluded in June last year. Croatia has transposed the 35 chapters of European law into its national legislation, and that is no mean feat. We welcome the transformation of Croatia’s society, economy and democracy that adopting these laws has brought about, although we still have concerns about progress in certain respects; I will come to those later.

In December last year, the accession treaty was signed by Croatia and all 27 member states, and it was approved by the European Parliament. Parliaments in all other member states are now debating the accession treaty and going through the process of ratification, as are we, and 16 member states have so far ratified it.

In the run-up to accession, Croatia has “active observer status.” Its 12 observer MEPs are allowed to speak but not vote in the European Parliament, and it has the same rights on Council working groups and Commission committees. The Commission’s recent enlargement report, published last month, set out three areas in which Croatia must do more—competition, judiciary and fundamental rights, and security and justice.

This time last year a debate in this House looked specifically at Croatia’s progress on chapter 23 of that report—judiciary and fundamental rights—and several right hon. and hon. Members made the point that we should learn lessons from previous rounds of enlargement. It is important that the momentum Croatia has built up does not stall, and that progress is made before accession. We must avoid the European Union having to put in place a co-operation and verification mechanism to monitor areas that have not seen sufficient progress prior to accession. I am therefore happy to see that pre-accession monitoring is ongoing in Croatia, and we are expecting a further report from the European Commission some time in the new year—spring, I believe —and before Croatia’s expected accession on 1 July.

When in government, the Labour party led the way in putting pressure on Croatia and all states in the western Balkans to engage fully with the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia to bring war criminals to justice. Indeed, chapter 23 of the report was opened so late because at the time the Labour Government judged that they needed that leverage to ensure the Croatian Government co-operated fully with the ICTY. I think we were right to do so, and all outstanding fugitives wanted by the tribunal are now on trial in The Hague.

In April last year, former military commanders, Ante Gotovina and Mladen Markac, were sentenced by the Court for their role in the war. Those convictions show that justice has been done, and that the international community can and will pursue the perpetrators of war crimes. Engaging constructively with the Court is a test of Croatia’s willingness to draw a line under its past and look towards a brighter future within the EU.

The European Commission also highlighted that increased effort is needed to strengthen the rule of law, improve the judicial system and fight corruption. There

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is still significant concern over the extent of corruption at both local level within the public procurement process and in some state-owned companies.

Pete Wishart (Perth and North Perthshire) (SNP): The hon. Lady will know that another very important European debate was to take place in Westminster Hall this afternoon, but the lead speaker did not turn up. Does the hon. Lady have any excuse for why that happened and why hon. Members did not get that debate?

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): Order. That has no relevance to this debate, and hon. Members should know a little better than trying to embarrass each other. Surely we have better manners.

Emma Reynolds: I remind the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) that today’s debate is about Croatia’s accession to the European Union. Should other states wish to join, there will be debates in this House and Parliaments around the EU about that accession, and I am sure that conditions will be attached. I am sure there will be future opportunities to debate the subject to which the hon. Gentleman refers, even if that is not in order today.

To return to the subject, there is concern about conflicts of interest and the funding of political parties and electoral campaigns in Croatia. The European Commission has recommended that a conflict of interest commission “be established without delay”, and the Opposition support that demand. On competition policy, Croatia has taken positive steps to strengthen its anti-trust laws, but further progress is needed in relation to state aid in the steel and shipbuilding industries. As the Europe Minister said earlier, progress is also needed in restructuring the Croatian shipbuilding industry.

On border security, notwithstanding the Minister for Europe’s earlier remarks, Croatia will at some point assume responsibility for the EU’s south-eastern border. What happens on that border will directly impact on the rest of the EU, and indeed the UK, in terms of preventing illegal immigrants from entering the EU, and breaking up and stopping human trafficking—my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk (Michael Connarty) referred to that issue. Croatia’s role in those areas will be vital, and we therefore welcome increased co-operation between Croatia and its neighbours. I welcome what the Europe Minister has said about the UK’s assistance in that area.

More widely, Croatia has taken positive steps towards accession in a number of areas, which should be welcomed. The police force and courts have undergone important reforms. A new police law has raised standards and removed political pressure, and respect and protection for human rights—in particular LGBT rights—has improved. During the debate in the House last year, I raised the issue of LGBT rights in Croatia, and expressed concern that a gay rights parade in Split had been attacked with no intervention or protection from the police. I am pleased to say that since that debate, gay pride events in Split and Zagreb have taken place peacefully and been protected. The European Commission and MEPs have continued to put pressure on the Croatian Government, and in particular I put on the record my

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thanks to Michael Cashman, a Labour MEP who has continued to put pressure on that Government for those welcome improvements.

Mr Lidington: I am sure the hon. Lady would want to join me in paying tribute to the strong personal commitment of Vesna Pusic, the Croatian Foreign Minister, who has made it something of a priority to see that Croatia makes good on its pledges and obligations concerning civil rights of the kind mentioned by the hon. Lady.

Emma Reynolds: I welcome that intervention, and the commitment of the Croatian Foreign Minister in that area.

Clause 4 of the Bill provides

“a regulation-making power to make provision on the entitlement of Croatian workers to work and reside in the UK;”

and I welcome the further clarification provided by the Europe Minister. The Opposition believe that the Government should implement the maximum transition period for Croatian nationals who want to come to the UK to work, as we did when in government with the accession of Romania and Bulgaria.

As I stated in a European Scrutiny Committee debate earlier this year, the Labour party fully supports the Irish protocol, which it helped to negotiate when in office. We value the continued partnership between the UK and the Republic of Ireland, and recognise the special relationship that our two countries share. As we have heard from the Minister, the draft Irish protocol contains safeguards for Ireland on the right to life, family and education, taxation, and Irish neutrality, and it provides a clarification on the application of the treaty on the functioning of the European Union, and the treaty on the European Union, and does not change the content of these treaties. We welcome that clarification, and support the Irish protocol as part of the Bill.

In conclusion, Croatia’s preparations to join the European Union have been more thorough than in previous accessions. An impressive range of reforms have been introduced and valuable lessons have been learned from previous accessions. Croatia’s accession to the EU will send a signal to the rest of the Balkan countries that their future belongs in the EU, and it will provide encouragement and incentives to those Governments not to let up on the pace of reform, but to root out corruption, reform their political and judicial systems, and modernise their economies.

2.57 pm

Jacob Rees-Mogg (North East Somerset) (Con): May I say what a particular pleasure it is to see that the Prime Minister, in his wisdom, has tabled a motion for 7 pm so that this debate may continue “until any hour”? It is always reassuring when European debates are not limited by an unnecessary constraint on time, although I note that having done that, the Prime Minister has left the country. Perhaps he does not want to hear hon. Members’ full ruminations on this subject.

I begin by commiserating with Croatia, which has decided that it wishes to join the European Union—an organisation that others may be looking to get out of if they possibly can. One always has a certain sympathy with nations that gained their freedom not so long ago and now wish to hand it over to another body and organisation.

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I refer hon. Members to the report by the European Scrutiny Committee, which the Minister touched on. It concerns me that, once again, the European Union is not learning from experience. It always thinks that countries may be ready for something, yet it comes as a nasty shock when those self-same countries are not ready. We saw that with monetary union, which the EU pushed on member states that were not conceivably ready to join. It said that there was an efficient system afterwards to ensure that countries would be brought into line, and that everything would be made to work ex post facto, but that is precisely what did not happen. We see the same with Romania and Bulgaria, which are constantly found to be in breach of their commitments. The European Scrutiny Committee has highlighted various issues, some of which go beyond the Minister’s remarks, while others reiterate his points about the difficulties of Croatia’s membership of the EU.

I would highlight Croatia’s 2,000 mile border. My concern is not Croatia’s 4 million population, but that lots of people can get through a border, as we have seen in Greece. Unless a country has a rigorous system of citizenship in the first place, people can establish rights to be members of it, or pretend to have done so. Once they are inside the EU, they can come waltzing into England without so much as a by-your-leave, as they can into Scotland—I am pleased to see so many of our friends from the Scottish nationalist party in the Chamber for the debate.

Mr Angus Brendan MacNeil (Na h-Eileanan an Iar) (SNP): It is the Scottish National party.

Jacob Rees-Mogg: Not nationalist? I do apologise.

If a country has weak borders, it undermines the free movement of people within Europe.

Kelvin Hopkins: There has been discussion in recent years of the possibility of passport controls at internal borders. If there were, and if everyone had to carry a passport if they were not a resident of a country, we would solve some of that problem.

Jacob Rees-Mogg: I am very reluctant to see controls on the free movement of people within the UK. We ought to have secure borders, and the extension of the EU has weakened our border controls and allowed member states to give their citizenship away. One recent case is Hungary, which sells citizenship. If Hungarian citizenship is sold, UK citizenship is also effectively sold, because people will have the free right to move and settle here. In due course of time, when the provisional practices that apply to countries such as Croatia, Bulgaria and Romania end, their citizens will also be able to work here.

That ought to concern us. I agree with my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, who has said that we need to look at the whole question of the free movement of people, because of certain extraordinary anomalies within it, which were highlighted on “The World Tonight” on Radio 4 last night. The programme explained the difficulties that UK citizens have in bringing in a dependant who is not an EU national. However, a member of another EU nation state who is resident in the UK can bring in a dependant who is not an EU national.

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One could argue that the structures of the free movement of people in the EU are in fact racist, because they deny the right of people from Commonwealth countries, who are often non-white, and who have very close associations with the UK, to come here, when people within the EU, with whom we sometimes have very little connection, can come here. We must therefore look at the free movement of people of the EU. It used to be a rich man’s club, but it is a European man’s, and indeed woman’s, club that excludes members of the Commonwealth who are not also EU members, who are often not white. This is a serious question for us to think about. Is the basis of the free movement of people within the EU fundamentally a racist principle? We need to consider whether seven years will be enough for Croatia, and whether we should amend British law to restore controls over immigration that are fair to people across the world, and that do not discriminate favourably towards Europeans but unfavourably towards others.

Croatia might not be ready to join and might fail to meet the requirements of the EU. On tackling corruption, the Commission is concerned that only three people have been found guilty of abuse of office. The Commission states:

“The implementation of the Law on the Police should be ensured, in particular to depoliticise the police and increase professionalism”.

The fact that that problem has not been tackled is a difficulty. What if we cannot have confidence in the police in a country that is about to join? Even if it is not part of Schengen, it will be part of the European arrest warrant arrangements, but it does not have a de-politicised police force or one that has been made sufficiently professional. Are we really, after the middle of next year, going to allow British subjects to be arrested on the say-so of a Croatian court, when Croatia has a police force in which even the European Commission does not have confidence?

The European Scrutiny Committee report shows that what is sought from Bulgaria and Romania is not happening. The same applies to some extent to Croatia. Is there an autonomously functioning and stable judiciary? That, too, relates to justice and home affairs agreements. We allow the judiciary of foreign countries to have an effect on subjects of Her Majesty going about their business in the UK, but countries that are joining the EU do not meet basic standards. The report states that we have not seen

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

We are therefore concerned that the state is corrupt at the highest level, yet we are allowing it to join before the problems are sorted out. That is once again the triumph of hope over experience—can letting them in and hoping to sort it out possibly be the right way forward when we have so many commitments through joint recognition of standards in fellow member states? We are also concerned that Croatia does not have

“a legal system capable of implementing the laws in an independent and efficient way.”

We must be more careful and prudent. Widening is a good thing—it is splendid to have a wider rather than a deeper EU—and it is good thing that newly emerged democracies have been able to come into the EU fold. However, when we have so many commitments to the EU that can be enforced upon us by foreign countries, is

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it right that we should let them in before the requirements have been met or without installing protections for ourselves by amending the treaties? I therefore have concerns that the opportunity to negotiate repatriations of power to the UK that could protect us from some of the inadequacies of the Croatian state before it joins the EU has not been taken—whether by the previous Government or this one is beside the point.

In that context, it is worth looking at what Ireland has done. As we know, Ireland was bullied by the EU into voting twice. That was a classic example of the EU believing in democracy for others but not for itself. It is a question of it saying, “Vote as often as you like until you give the right answer, and then you don’t need to vote again.”

Mr Cash: The problem is not only with the application of the principles of democracy, but with the rule of law, as we will debate later. The EU makes the law, claims it has a legal framework for the rule of law, and then breaks European rules itself.

Jacob Rees-Mogg: I agree with my hon. Friend. There is a problem with how the rule of law applies across the EU. How can the EU have a rule of law when it allows in countries that do not meet the basic tests of being free of corruption and of having a properly functioning judiciary? They can then apply their law to our citizens. Surely that cannot be just or in line with the rule of law.

On the concessions Ireland received, I give my wholehearted support for what the Prime Minister said in 2009, when he thought it was a good idea to do what the Irish did and to get concessions for the UK. In his brilliant speech, he said he wanted

“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 services, for example the aspects of the Working Time Directive which are causing real problems in the NHS and the Fire Service”.

I agree with him, but we should have brought those powers back in the negotiation on the treaty we are debating. He also said he wanted a “complete opt-out” from the EU’s charter of fundamental rights, and was once again absolutely right. The Minister for Europe ought to go back to our European friends and say, “This is what the Prime Minister wanted in the treaty, so perhaps we could have it.” The Prime Minister also said he wanted to limit

“the European Court of Justice’s jurisdiction over criminal law to its pre-Lisbon level, and”


“that only British authorities can initiate criminal investigations in Britain”.

The Prime Minister showed brilliant prescience. He knew what this country needed and what it ought to get back. The Bill could have brought it back, because we could have said to our European partners that we will not agree to Croatia’s entry or Ireland’s protocols if we are not given—[Interruption.] You are looking as if you were doubtful that my remarks would be relevant to the subject matter at hand, Mr Deputy Speaker. I can assure you that—

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Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): Order. I assure the hon. Gentleman that I knew he would come into order. It was only a matter of time.

Jacob Rees-Mogg: I am grateful to you, Mr Deputy Speaker. How lucky it is that there is unlimited time for this particular debate.

The Irish have shown with their protocol that it can be done. In fact, this is an exciting opportunity for this country. The Bill will be taken, and will be amendable by, a Committee of the whole House, and there has been much rejoicing at the conversion of the Labour party to deep, true-blooded, thorough-going Euroscepticism.

Emma Reynolds: I assure the hon. Gentleman that Labour remains a pro-European party. On Croatian accession and the Irish protocol, does he seriously think that his Government could withhold support for the Bill and negotiate and repatriate all the things that he has just mentioned? I do not think that he believes that to be a realistic prospect, because he is far too sensible.

Jacob Rees-Mogg: I am grateful to the hon. Lady, who is as flattering and charming as always, but it is good enough for the Irish, who got some serious concessions. The concession on taxation is a very important one. It establishes that taxation is not to be set at the European level. In fact, it is clever of the Irish to have got it, because Lisbon is bringing in an awful lot of things by the back door and the Irish have managed to close that back door, or the stable door as one may like to call it.

Mr MacNeil: Is the hon. Gentleman telling the House that the Irish have been more adept and a bit more clever than the UK in playing their hand in Europe?

Jacob Rees-Mogg: I know it is implausible that the Irish could have been more adept than people living in Na h-Eileanan an Iar, but they did indeed manage to get something by virtue of having a proper democracy that required a referendum on the treaty of Lisbon, to which the Irish people had the sense in the first instance to say no, but then they were bullied by Europe into saying yes at a later stage, with some guarantees. If we had had a referendum, I think that the British Government might have been able to get some pretty serious guarantees.

The hon. Member for Wolverhampton North East (Emma Reynolds) asked whether I really believe that the Government could have negotiated concessions for the United Kingdom. Yes, I absolutely do, because the European Union wants the Lisbon treaty to function fully; the Lisbon treaty only functions fully with the Irish agreement, because it had to be agreed by unanimity; the Irish agreement was conditional on the protocols given in the Croatian accession treaty; and therefore it follows that if the United Kingdom had insisted on concessions to us that would have let the Lisbon treaty carry on for everybody else, we would have been in a very strong negotiating position to achieve them. That is probably still the case.

I want to return to the general rejoicing at the socialists having become a new Eurosceptic party, as, of course, they were, rather less successfully, under Michael Foot not so many years ago. As a Eurosceptic party, they voted last week to stop spending more money in the

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European Union. It occurs to me that the Bill could be amended to say that it will come into effect only at the point at which our full rebate—which was given away by our Labour friends when they were last in government—is restored. Now that the Labour party is so committed to cutting expenditure in the European Union, it would almost certainly be willing to support such an amendment, so we can use this Bill on the Floor of the House to achieve the reduction in spending that so many Members of this House showed that they wanted last week. Indeed, I think it is the united will of the Conservative party that less money should go to Europe.

Graham Stringer: Is there not a deeper point to the Bill? Although expansion has genuine economic and political benefits, the United Kingdom’s influence is being diminished. Under qualified majority voting we will have less influence. Another country will also be a recipient of funds, as opposed to a donor, so our position is weakened.

Jacob Rees-Mogg: The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. He makes a crucial point, which we will discuss further in our second debate, in which we will see that eurozone votes, as a qualified majority, are able to outvote everybody else, which seriously diminishes the UK’s voting power, as does this Bill. By adding another member state, we will go from 17 to 18 recipient, mendicant countries and 10 that pay in. It also means that one more part of the qualified majority will be against us and for more spending and for the ratchet of Europe.

We need to be very cautious about what we do when we do not get anything in return—that is my main point. I am quite happy to welcome other nations to the European Union, if they really want to join. I understand that the Scottish nationalists might want to rejoin. I thought that the great argument for Scottish nationalism was that they would be free from Europe as well, but that is not the way they are going. We are not getting anything in return.

Mr MacNeil: To clarify for the hon. Gentleman, the point of the 2014 referendum will be to transfer political power pertaining to Scotland from Westminster to Edinburgh.

Jacob Rees-Mogg rose—

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): Order. May I tell the hon. Gentleman that he does not need to respond to that intervention, because he need only address the Bill?

Jacob Rees-Mogg: Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. I was merely going to say, “From Westminster to Brussels,” but never mind—that will be debated at a later point.

The crux of the matter is that this was an opportunity for Her Majesty’s Government to ensure that we improved matters with regard to the free movement of people, extended the time for which that could be implemented, and asked the right questions about whether Croatia is ready to join and then delayed that until the right time. We are taking a risk with home affairs and justice by allowing this to go through and by recognising the

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Croatian justice system when it may not yet be fit. We are not taking the opportunity that the Irish have taken. We should do what the Prime Minister said in 2009 and use every single treaty negotiation to reinforce the repatriation of powers and to ensure that the United Kingdom can govern herself.

This Bill is a great opportunity, because it is required to be passed unanimously by all member states of the European Union. We have an opportunity to tag on a budget-related concession to our ratification of the Bill, to ensure that article 312(4) of the treaty on the functioning of the European Union does not automatically kick in to force a rise in EU expenditure when the British people and many others want it to be cut. Let us give this Bill a Second Reading, but let us amend it in the Committee of the whole House to put British interests first.

3.17 pm

Michael Connarty (Linlithgow and East Falkirk) (Lab): Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker, for my temporary promotion to speaking on behalf of the Opposition in this debate, which is not, unfortunately, something that has ever been, or is likely to be, accorded to me by those who run my party. Some would say that it is their loss, but it is my great pleasure to speak in support of my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton North East (Emma Reynolds), who is my party’s Front-Bench representative and has been assiduous in her work and done a great job since she took over the brief.

I see this debate in three parts. The first is about whether the UK Parliament supports Croatia’s membership of the European Union. I hope that hon. Members—apart from those who may demur from the wish of any country to join the European Union—would not want to deny Croatia or, indeed, the European Union the benefits that they will get as a result of further enlargement. In that spirit, I hope that hon. Members will support the proposal.

Mr Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) (Lab/Co-op): As my hon. Friend will know, I have been a strong pro-European all my political life, but I am very worried that yet another country is coming in from eastern Europe without a great democratic tradition. Hungary seems to be breaking every rule of a modern democracy, yet the European Union does nothing about it. I am getting more concerned about—

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): Order. The hon. Gentleman has only just walked in and the usual courtesy is to listen to a little bit of the debate before intervening. We also need shorter interventions. I call Michael Connarty—it is up to you whether you answer.

Michael Connarty: I understand the emotions that are running among those who have been pro-EU in their —[Interruption.]

Mr Deputy Speaker: Order. The hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman) should know better than to challenge the Chair. It is not my fault that he may have been somewhere else in the House. If his preference is to be on a Committee rather than here, that is his choice, but he should not expect to walk in and intervene in that way.

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Mr Sheerman rose—

Mr Deputy Speaker: Order. I have made my ruling.

Mr Sheerman: On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker.

Mr Deputy Speaker: It had better be a point of order.

Mr Sheerman: I was on a Statutory Instrument Committee upstairs, and I have every right as a Member of Parliament to intervene on my colleague.

Mr Deputy Speaker: What I have said is that it is discourteous to other Members of this House not to have listened a little bit to debate, but instead to walk in and intervene straight away. That is my ruling.

Michael Connarty: I repeat: I understand that people who have been supportive of the EU process over many years are now expressing great concerns. Those concerns have been expressed in the European Parliament, and they are certainly expressed at great length in the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, on the basis of human rights, as some of the issues in Hungary are a challenge in that respect. The question for us today is not what the EU should do about Hungary, however, but what we should do in relation to Croatia’s application to join the European Union.

As hon. Members know, I work on behalf of this Parliament as a member of the Labour delegation in the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. In fact, I work in the committee on culture, science, education and media, which is chaired by Mr Gvozden—I believe that is the correct pronunciation—Flego, who is a professor from Croatia. He is very dedicated to human rights; in fact, a number of his colleagues are leading the way in challenging their Government to come up to the standards we require in the European Union and to support the application. The problem—the hon. Member for North East Somerset (Jacob Rees-Mogg) alluded to this—is that this treaty is one of the ones that, when the Government introduced the European Union Act 2011 and said that they would renegotiate the terms and relationship with the EU in this Parliament, was listed as not requiring a referendum because it is an accession treaty. That is a great pity, because the accession treaty not only allows Croatia to enter, but allows protocols to be added to the Lisbon treaty—that is, to amend it.

It is a great regret for many people in this country that we did not take the Lisbon treaty to a referendum, as we would have had to do if it were a constitutional treaty. Hon. Members will recall that when I chaired the European Scrutiny Committee and we reported on this matter, we came to the conclusion that the Lisbon treaty was not much different from the constitution, apart from a few flags, bunting and anthems. Really, it maybe should have been decided then whether a referendum was required. It will always be a great point of contention with the British people—and, I think people in this Chamber—that we did not get that clarified at the time.

Mr Cash: I should remind the hon. Gentleman that the Conservative party voted en masse for a referendum on that treaty.

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Michael Connarty: I remember the unity of the Conservative party at that time, although most people have forgotten about it, given the number of attacks that the hon. Gentleman has led on his own Government. In fact, if that unity had continued, we would not have seen the ridiculous situation of him and others joining the Labour party last week to vote down his Government on an issue to do with the EU. It might have been better for his party if it had remained unified; for us, it has exposed the faultline that runs through the parties.

Mark Pritchard (The Wrekin) (Con): On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. Just for the record, it was a Conservative amendment that the Labour party supported.

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): As the hon. Gentleman well knows, that is not a point of order. The other thing is that we are getting distracted from what is before us. Rather than being tempted into discussing the decisions of a previous House many years ago, let us get back to Croatia and Ireland.

Michael Connarty: The point has been made that there should be a wider mandate in deciding whether the treaty should go through. It should not just rest with this House. As you have said, Mr Deputy Speaker, that has been decided before, but the Bill contains provisions on the Irish protocol, which, as has been pointed out, provides only a clarification. It is the same protocol that the UK got in the original Lisbon treaty, but as was pointed out in many debates and in many legal opinions that we received in the Committee, all it stated was what was already in existence—that every country has the right to its own Bank and that no country will lose any rights that it already has because of the Lisbon treaty coming into force.

The protocol did not change anything, but if the Irish people require that reassurance, that is fine. However, it does trigger a change in the Lisbon treaty, and a change in a major treaty should, in reality, be required to be put to the British people—if, as has been pointed out, we are also to get the credibility of the Irish people. They may not do things they like; indeed, I remember when the Irish delegation came to tell us that because Ireland was a small country—one of my colleagues, the leader of the Scottish National party, was at the meeting when they said this—it had to do what Europe wanted, whereas the UK was a big country that could argue its corner much more strongly. The protocol will make no difference to the situation in Ireland, but it is in the Bill and it changes the treaty.

Angus Robertson: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Michael Connarty: I certainly will, as I named the hon. Gentleman.

Angus Robertson: If the hon. Gentleman believes that Ireland does not have clout because it is a small country, can he explain why we are discussing an Irish protocol today?

Michael Connarty: The simple point is that it is because unanimity is required for an accession treaty. Clearly the concession was given to Ireland, and the concession for the Czech Republic is still being debated. However, as for what happened in the Lisbon treaty,

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I take our Irish colleagues’ word for it, because they are the people who have to live day in, day out with the consequences of what is being forced on their Government, citizens and industries by the European Union, because of the European Union’s decision on the present crisis. That is the context in which they were speaking.

Let me return to the question of whether Croatia is fit to be a member of the European Union at this time, which has taken up a lot of the Committee’s time and was referred to by the hon. Member for North East Somerset. As he is in the party of the majority, I would have thought that he would put on record the context and the comments that were made throughout the whole process. For example, when the Minister came to us in March, he said:

“It is important that the Commission’s Comprehensive Monitoring Report in the Autumn is able to reflect significant further progress”.

That was the offer to us, as it were, to say that things were not going particularly well in Croatia on coming together on the aspirations we had. We talked strongly in our Committee about the need for conditionality, because Romania and Bulgaria did not accede with the conditions met. In fact, in many instances they slipped back from the original agreements once they were in. That was a point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Blackley and Broughton (Graham Stringer)—and possibly the Member behind me—who intervened to say that once a country is in the European Union, very little can be done to make it speed up. The temptation for economic advancement from the European Union is slipping away as the crisis in Europe becomes more and more of a problem; therefore, the European Union has less and less of a carrot to offer countries, and it would appear that it is not willing to use sticks in the way that might be encouraging to those countries either.

At that time we waited for that report, which duly came to us. The report was not one to fill members of my Committee with joy and pleasure, because it was full of criticism of the Croatian position. It was quite true that some advances had been made, but the report also said, for example, that Croatia needed to

“Complete the adoption of related by-laws, to ensure the implementation of the police law,”

so there were problems in police law. The report said:

“While Croatia’s preparations in the field of migration and asylum are nearly complete, the government still needs to finalise and adopt the new migration strategy,”


“While border police staffing targets have nearly been met and training continues, Croatia needs to achieve the established recruitment target for border police for 2012”—

this is the autumn report for 2012 we are talking about. The report also talks about the integrated border management plan, which is vital, as the Minister admitted, because of the strange situation whereby a piece of Bosnia splits Croatia in half, so that two borders face each other with another country in the middle, which is a real faultline.

I want to draw the attention of the House to some of the points in the final report of the Committee, for 2012-13, which was considered by the Committee on 24 October. That is the most recent document that we have, and people should take the trouble to read it. I want to highlight some of the deep concerns expressed by the Committee. Paragraph 1.82 states:

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“Addressing impunity clearly remains a major challenge, with the majority of war crimes yet to be successfully prosecuted”.

One of the basic demands of the Balkan countries is that they co-operate fully with the International Criminal Court. It is a matter of concern that, when they come into the European Union, there would be no pressure on them to continue in the desired direction. Perhaps it is only the temptation of membership that makes them focus on this issue. The report continues goes on to state that

“further measures are needed to facilitate the protection and attendance of witnesses.”

A country cannot get prosecutions without witness protection, and it cannot therefore be a country that is fully co-operating with the International Criminal Court.

I have mentioned trafficking, and I shall go into more detail in a moment. Paragraph 1.83 of the report states that the Commission has noted

“in particular that training for judges, prosecutors and others dealing with trafficking needs to be improved, and that sentencing in this area is very low compared to other types of organised crime.”

I recall a comment by a senior police officer in the UK, who caused a great scandal by telling a woman police inspector who tried to pursue a human trafficking case, “We don’t do human trafficking here. We do burglary and violence.” The worry is that Croatia does not see human trafficking as a major problem, but it is certainly a major problem for those who are trafficked.

Paragraph 1.84 of the report states:

“Tackling the scope for corruption in Croatia also still requires much work.”

That was in October, after the matter had been considered by the Minister and his Department, and by our own senior officials who give us evidence and support in our Committee. These warnings cannot be ignored. The paragraph goes on:

“Croatia has not efficiently implemented all legal measures to prevent conflict of interest. Local-level corruption needs attention, particularly in public procurement.”

Corruption is an endemic problem. It comes from the former Soviet Union countries, and it must be properly addressed. Paragraph 1.85 states:

“Croatia needs to ensure that a strong system is in place to prevent corruption in state-owned companies.”

Again and again, we are getting strong warning signals that Croatia is not yet in a good place to enter the European Union.

Paragraph 1.86, in reference to our call for conditionality, states that

“the Commission is still seeking of both Bulgaria and Romania: an autonomously functioning, stable judiciary, which is able to detect and sanction conflicts of interests, corruption and organised crime and preserve the rule of law”.

Those were conditions for Bulgaria and Romania in 2007, yet both were allowed in without meeting their conditionality provisions. We still do not believe that those conditions are being correctly met by Croatia. The Commission is also seeking

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

of which there is still no evidence—

“and a legal system capable of implementing the laws in an independent and efficient way…That state has clearly not yet been attained in Croatia. It is doubtful that it will be prior to

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accession. Yet, despite the demonstrable ineffectiveness of post-accession monitoring, that now seems the only option open to the EU.”

It is as though we are heading for the only doorway, but that doorway will not lead to reality for the people of Croatia, and we must be concerned about that. I aspire to seeing Croatia joining the EU and becoming part of the wider family of Europe. I do not have confidence, however, that when it gets in, its lifestyle and its approach to the issues that we are discussing will be better than they were before it joined the EU. The factor that is changing things is the attraction of going into the EU, but that will be lost once Croatia goes through that door.

I want to raise the matter of human trafficking, because I think that people are blind to what is going on. I want to talk about human trafficking for slavery as well as that for prostitution and sexual abuse, which is massive. The latest figures, which I read in a pamphlet entitled “This Immoral Trade”, suggest that 27 million people are in some kind of slavery around the world. That situation is not helped by what we know is going on, through our work with the EU group, Parliamentarians Against Human Trafficking. That work is based on the work of the Human Trafficking Foundation, which is based here in London and should be commended.

Concern has been expressed that there is trafficking from Montenegro and Bosnia into Croatia. Although the numbers involved are relatively small, this appears to show the inability of the authorities to protect the victims. There is also a question about trafficking from Turkey through Bosnia. The Human Trafficking Foundation in London has gathered quite a lot of statistics on that matter. In many places, the movement is not only into Europe but into the middle east, which illustrates a new way of targeting people for exploitation. I would like the Minister to tell us what he has been doing with the Croatian Government to make them more aware of the growing number of people being trafficked through Croatia into Europe.

Reference has also been made to Slovenia in this regard. It has a weird situation, in that it grants 300 artistic dance visas every year. The women involved turn out to be employed in strip clubs and brothels in Europe, having come through Slovenia. That is a bogus use of such visas to help traffickers, and we wonder whether these subjects will be discussed. Will the Minister reassure us that, if Croatia comes into the EU, he will encourage it to join the organisation that I have just mentioned, Parliamentarians Against Human Trafficking? It could then join us and other European countries in trying to stop this vile trade.

I am worried by the lack of awareness of judges in this context, and by the low tariffs being applied in cases of trafficking because of the low status afforded to the activity. We need assurances that the accession process will mean that Croatia will have to sign up to the directives on human trafficking and on the exploitation and sexual abuse of children.

Turning to the final point in my three-part analysis, I want to know what lessons have been learned from the process. Article 49 of the treaty on the functioning of the European Union, which deals with a country applying to join the EU, states:

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“The conditions of admission and the adjustments to the Treaties on which the Union is founded, which such admission entails, shall be the subject of an agreement between the Member States and the applicant State. This agreement shall be submitted for ratification by all the contracting States in accordance with their respective constitutional requirements.”

That is what we are doing today. When the Minister was asked about Schengen, he said that an application to join Schengen would be expected from Croatia within a couple of years, but he did not say whether there would be an obligation on it to join. I should like clarification on that point, and I imagine that colleagues from the various parties and constituencies in Scotland would as well, as this is a hot subject. Would an accession country have to join Schengen, and what would the conditions be?

There is another question to which we have not had a clear answer. At the moment, we are torturing ourselves over various parts of the acquis communautaire and the Amsterdam treaty, including the opt-ins and opt-outs. For me, the significant thing about 2014 will not be the anniversary of some battle that took place at Bannockburn, down the road from where I used to be a councillor in Stirling. It is that we will have to decide—I believe we have to take the actual decision in 2013—whether to opt out en bloc from all the co-operation that we have set up on policing and immigration—all the things that are fundamental to the Amsterdam treaty and are part of Schengen—that give us a unified rule of law that protects all our citizens and takes on those who wish to damage their lives. In that situation, would the acquis have to be signed up to piece by piece, or could Croatia just sit there for two years and then say, “Let’s not make an application for Schengen; let us not bother; it is too much trouble. Our people will get the right to travel after four or five years in any case, without Ministers having to sign up to Schengen”? The Minister has not clarified that.

We do not know what the conditions are. Can a country really say yes to join the EU, but not bother applying to join Schengen two years hence—or must it join Schengen? This issue is important for this country, for Croatia and for the future debates that will take place about other countries that wish to break away from one country and then reapply for membership of the EU.

I think it is important that we get some answers in the context of Croatia. I would be deeply concerned if the Minister told me that Croatia need not apply for Schengen membership in a couple of years’ time—that it does not need to apply. The attraction is that its citizens will be able to travel, but we hear that so few of them travel in any case. Will they not bother? Will they not become part of the wider protection system that I always thought Schengen was about—throwing a ring around the European Union to protect our citizens from the lack of rule of law, and to co-operate across citizenships and across the police and other authorities.

In the finality, I welcome Croatia coming into the European Union, but I do not do so blindly. I worry that those who drive the machine that is the European Commission want enlargement at any cost—regardless of the fact that it might bring in more problems. We have got to stop the Commission from doing this. Unfortunately, from the reports we have had from the Minister and from our Committee, it seems that we have not done well enough as yet—but I will vote for the Bill.

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3.40 pm

Mr William Cash (Stone) (Con): I very much endorse the concluding remarks of the hon. Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk (Michael Connarty), and I agree, too, with many of the remarks made by my hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset (Jacob Rees-Mogg).

The real question is whether Croatia should become part of the European Union. I think it is a matter for Croatia. If it wants to apply, as far as I am concerned, it is that country’s affair. It also affects us, and the comments in our European Scrutiny Committee report stand on the record, so nothing further needs to be said that has not been said already. I believe, however, that if Europe enlarges and includes Croatia, it will simply be yet another example of the manner in which—as the hon. Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk and my hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset have said—the whole of the European Union is enlarged without regard to the impact it will have.

I take a simple view about this issue. I believe that the European Union is, as I have said in many previous debates, at a crossroads. I think that a fundamental change is taking place within the EU, and I believe, as the vote on the EU budget indicated, that this is increasingly recognised on both sides of the House. I have also picked this up from other member states, when I go to meetings of COSAC—the Conference of Parliamentary Committees for Union Affairs of Parliaments of the European Union—as Chairman of the European Scrutiny Committee.

Croatia will have become a member of the European Union as it now is and, no doubt, even if there were to be a fundamental shift in the relationship between ourselves and other member states, it would continue to remain a member in some shape or form of the new European Union, which I am absolutely certain is being created in people’s minds, although it has not yet got into the formalities of the arrangements.

I do not really need to say any more at this time. I wish the people of Croatia well; actually, I wish the European Union well, too, but the truth is that the current arrangements are in need of very substantial change. I think that change is going to come and I do not think that anything can stop it. As I said to the Prime Minister the other day, the tectonic plates have moved—they are not merely moving—so the question is: what is the tsunami that will follow? The Croatian accession is something I can live with, but I believe that it will be caught up in the fundamental changes that I am certain are in the process of being achieved even as we speak.

3.43 pm

Angus Robertson (Moray) (SNP): It is always a pleasure to follow the hon. Members for Stone (Mr Cash) and for Linlithgow and East Falkirk (Michael Connarty), as we served together in the European Scrutiny Committee for over a decade. I am delighted to participate in today’s debate—first, because of a connection I have with Croatia that goes back 21 years to when I was given one of my first journalistic assignments as a new, young and keen journalist working in Vienna. I was sent down to Croatia to report from the front line of the Croatian civil war. It was a bizarre experience. Many right hon. and hon. Members will have been to Vienna—a

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splendid city. I found it remarkable that it was possible to get into a car and drive for three hours to the border crossing at Spielfeld—shortly after the Austrian army had stationed tanks to stop any incursion from the then former Yugoslavia, although Slovenia had declared independence by that stage—and then to cross the border and drive for another two hours through Zagreb and just past it to the city of Karlovac, which was the front line in the war at that stage. I was there to interview refugees and others in Croatia for a broadcast that was intended to bring home the realities of the situation in Croatia for the purposes of the largest charitable collection for refugees in the former Yugoslavia, Nachbar in Not or Neighbours in Need, which was in the process of being established.

Let me pass on a couple of recollections. It should be borne in mind that this was only 21 years ago. I recall talking to a priest outside his church, and asking him where the front line was. He replied “Right there”, indicating the corner of the very street on which we were standing, and suggested that it would probably be a good idea for me to get off the pavement and out of the firing line. Shortly after that, I spoke to a group of women who had just arrived from just south of Karlovac, which was then occupied, after being forced to leave their homes. The fate of their husbands and children was uncertain: they did not know whether they had been taken into captivity or worse, and they were understandably beside themselves with worry.

There I was, in my early twenties, having just driven down a motorway from a western European country into the middle of what was a circumstance of total horror for people living in Croatia. Now, only 21 years later, here we are, discussing the pros and cons—or rather just the pros, given that, as far as I am aware, no one opposes it—of allowing Croatia to join us and the other European Union member states. We have not really discussed the fact that Slovenia has been, very successfully, a member of the EU since 2004. Looking back at what has happened in both Slovenia and Croatia, which will shortly be in the EU together, is breathtaking.

I am strongly in favour of Croatia’s membership, which has already been voted on in the European Parliament. The result there was overwhelming, and I welcome it. All four groups of which most of us are part—the European People’s party, the Social Democrats, the Liberals in the European Parliament and the Greens-European Free Alliance—voted almost unanimously in favour of Croatia’s accession.

I want to take up some of the observations made by the hon. Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk. There are a number of important points to be made about Croatian accession. There is still work to be done. I suggest that anyone who is interested in the subject should consult the House of Commons Library research paper 12/64, and also the recent European Scrutiny Committee report entitled “Croatia: monitoring the accession process”. All the Committee’s members have been looking closely at issues on which further progress is required, notably those relating to judiciary and fundamental rights.

Pages 8 and 9 of the House of Commons research document deal with questions that I think should be put on the record. It states that

“a detailed new negotiating chapter on judiciary and fundamental rights… applied… to Croatia”

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“31 ‘benchmarks’ (compared with between three and six for most other chapters), covering”

areas such as

“judicial transparency, impartiality and efficiency; corruption and organised crime; minority and other rights; refugee return issues; and full cooperation with the ICTY”

—the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia.

Those are all very important, but specific reforms that are still needed between now and accession, as has been pointed out by the European Commission. On 10 October, only last month, it produced findings on Croatia, pointing out that specific reforms are still needed in respect of: implementing and advancing measures set out in September 2012 for increasing the efficiency of the judiciary and reducing the court backlog—that was addressed by the Minister for Europe—and adopting the new enforcement legislation, in order to ensure the execution of court decisions and reduce the backlog of enforcement cases. The number of civil, commercial and enforcement cases outstanding in the courts has increased in 2012. The Minister made the point that a large number of cases have been dealt with, but more cases have come into the queue and that is not a good indication of the sustainability of implemented reforms.

I have not yet heard any mention of the fact that post-accession safeguard clauses are in place. It is important to understand them, because there are many concerns about Bulgarian and Romanian membership and what has happened subsequently. That is a prism through which we must understand the position on Croatia, because the monitoring mechanisms for Bulgaria and Romania are not being replicated in relation to Croatia. However, three safeguard clauses and various transitional provisions in Croatia’s accession treaty can apply for several years after accession. They are designed to deal with difficulties that might be encountered after membership and are as follows: a general economic safeguard clause; a specific internal market safeguard clause; and specific justice and home affairs safeguard clauses. I know that the Minister is listening closely so perhaps he will help us by setting out the Government’s position on whether there is full confidence that the safeguard clauses will deliver what everybody requires from Croatia.

It is also worth noting that queries about Croatia’s accession have also been raised in the Parliaments of other member states. Within the past month, there have been pretty outspoken commentaries from the president of Germany’s Bundestag, Norbert Lammert, the chairman of the European committee in the Bundestag, Gunther Krichbaum and the SPD’s European spokesperson, Michael Roth. They are not Europhobes—they are not anti-European in any way—but they have asked a series of questions, so it is important that we should examine the points they have made.

We should also note that in reaction to those points other senior figures in Europe have intervened to suggest that the concerns are not everything they have been cracked up to be. Thus, European Parliament president Martin Schulz has intervened subsequent to those views being expressed from the Bundestag, and in recent weeks the European Parliament’s rapporteur on Croatian accession, Hannes Swoboda, has said that

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“new obstacles should not be created for Croatia. There are some issues which Croatia must solve, and it is feasible. Enthusiasm in Europe for Croatia's entry in mid-2013 should not wane. I am absolutely certain that Croatia will be in in mid-2013, a small portion of work remains to be done, but one should be serious and not set new obstacles”.

That is helpful in putting into perspective where the outstanding issues lie.

Michael Connarty: Like me, the hon. Gentleman is a great enthusiast for countries that wish to take on the mantle of European Union citizenship, but is he not playing it a little light? He is quoting someone from the European establishment, which is determined to have a greater Europe that it will administer. The worry is that when Croatia comes in, its citizens will find that the people who should protect them will start to slide back and the life they hoped to have will not be realised.

Angus Robertson: The hon. Gentleman makes a good point but this is not simply about the citizens of Croatia. It is also about all other EU citizens; we are talking about the impact on other EU citizens who will be in Croatia in the future. That is why these provisions are important to citizens here and there and why I asked the Minister for Europe to clarify the point about the safeguards. I agree with the hon. Gentleman entirely and everybody—citizens of Croatia and everybody else in the EU—wants to be reassured that the uniform minimum standards will be upheld everywhere. That is, after all, the advantage of the European Union.

Now that I have spoken about Croatia, I want to touch on the matter of the Irish protocol. I intervened to ask for clarification on the point about tax-varying powers, which are very important to the Irish Republic. It shows that as a small member state of the European Union, Ireland has been able to influence the process by seeking protocols and clarification on such important subjects. If they were unimportant, we would not be discussing them. Every single member state of the European Union is discussing in its Parliament the priorities of the Irish Government, as we are today.

Rather than concentrating on tax, I want briefly to mention Ireland’s defence and security priorities. It is important to acknowledge that Ireland views the protocol as very important in its maintaining its peacekeeping role and traditions and we should take the opportunity to reflect on that. Why? In my 11 years in this place, I have never heard anybody pay tribute to the scale of Ireland’s contribution to the United Nations. There have been 56,000 individual missions to 54 different UN peacekeeping operations. That service has not been without cost. To date, 85 members of Irish defence forces have given their lives in the cause of world peace.

The high standing of the Irish defence forces in UN peacekeeping is reflected in the senior positions that have been held by Irish military personnel: force commander in Cyprus; force commander on the Syria-Israel border; force commander in Lebanon; chief of staff in the United Nations; troop supervision organisation in the middle east and in Liberia; and chief military observer on the India-Pakistan border. Most recently, of course, we saw the European Union’s endeavours to deal with the genocide in and its impact on the countries neighbouring Darfur, which was commanded by Irish Lieutenant General Patrick Nash, who was the EU’s operational commander to Chad and the Central African Republic

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in 2008. In addition, an Irish general commanded the multinational task force centre in Kosovo in 2007 and defence forces officers serve in key positions in UN headquarters in New York. The importance of the protocol and Ireland’s UN commitments have been underscored by Tanaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs Eamon Gilmore, who stressed the triple-lock of approval for international missions involving the UN, the Irish Government and Dail Eireann.

Today we are affirming those priorities and that is a good thing. It is good to reflect on the contribution made by Ireland to the EU and the UN. It is also good to reflect on the role of smaller countries, both those in the EU and those that are joining. The Minister helpfully clarified that Croatia, a country with a population of fewer than 5 million, will join other EU member states of similar size, that is, Denmark, Finland and Slovakia. He confirmed that it will have 12 MEPs, a commissioner —an important role, as we all know how powerful the Commission is—and seven votes in the Council of Ministers. In addition, Croat nationals will take up important EU posts, with Commission plans to hire 249 Croat officials, one of whom will serve as a director general. That is extremely beneficial for Croatia.

Let me contrast that with the position of another European nation with a population of 5 million that is entitled to only half the Croatian entitlement of MEPs, has no right to nominate a commissioner and has no guaranteed votes in the Council of Ministers. That nation, of course, is Scotland and I look forward to Scotland having full membership rights after the 2014 independence referendum. Unlike Croatia—perhaps I can clarify accession mechanisms in response to the intervention made by the hon. Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk—Scotland would assume its membership from within the European Union, as recently outlined by the honorary director general of the European Commission, Graham Avery.

Michael Connarty rose

Angus Robertson: I shall make my point, then give the hon. Gentleman an opportunity to respond. I listened with great interest to what he said, and I am now clarifying the matter that he raised in the debate.

In recent parliamentary evidence, Graham Avery said: