This has been a useful debate. However, the stance of the Government and of many Members will add to the concerns of my many constituents and the many millions of people throughout the country who think that our membership of the EU is damaging the interests of the UK and that we would be better off if we left it. I share that view. The further this country becomes entangled in the tentacles of the EU, the more it hastens the day when a majority of people in the UK vote to leave it. The accession of Croatia and the extra migrants that it

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brings will be another drop in the British people’s growing puddle, reservoir or ocean of discontent with the EU.

I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 1 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 2

Approval of Irish Protocol

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

2 pm

Jacob Rees-Mogg: This is a crucial clause because of what it shows about the potential of our relationship with the European Union, and our ability to negotiate and change that relationship. As stated in the Bill’s explanatory notes, the Irish protocol

“agreed that the concerns of the Irish people in respect of the Lisbon Treaty relating to taxation policy, the right to life, education and the family, and Ireland’s traditional policy of military neutrality would be addressed to the mutual satisfaction of Ireland and the other Member States”.

That does not change a word of the Lisbon treaty, but it clarifies the law so that Ireland knows it has a slightly different relationship with the EU, and clarifies any rulings that might be made in future by the European Court of Justice. It allowed Ireland, which said no to the Lisbon treaty in a referendum, to put the question back to the Irish people, who then said yes in a referendum. Coming as it does at this stage, that is important as a reminder that every accession treaty is a full-blown treaty of the European Union, and has the ability to amend any of the previous treaties that led to the creation of the European Union, including what is now the treaty on the European Union and the treaty on the functioning of the European Union. Both those treaties can be amended by accession treaties, or by any future treaties of the European Union.

We must consider the position of the United Kingdom, and the growing dissatisfaction with our membership of the EU and how things are currently carried out—I have a great deal of sympathy with what my hon. Friend the Member for Bury North (Mr Nuttall) said about the growing reservoir of discontent with the European Union. With the accession treaty—and, indeed, with any future accession treaties—we had the ability to renegotiate our position and get to something with which the British people feel comfortable, rather than the current situation.

When considering the Irish protocol we must understand how thorough it is and what it includes for Ireland. It goes to some fundamental parts of what Europe is about, including the “right to life” that Ireland wishes to preserve but was concerned the EU was taking within its ambit. It was something Irish electors thought was under attack. On taxation policy, we know that negotiations on the multi-annual financial framework have looked to change the EU’s revenue-raising powers, and during the discussion about own resources they looked at whether there should be a financial transaction tax or a change in how the European Union is funded through value added tax. Proposals for a single corporation tax across the European Union would be allowable under current treaties if agreed on unanimously. Ireland has sensibly achieved a clear, legally binding opt-out of movements in that direction, and clarified its position.

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The protocol covers education and the family. Education is not really a matter that should be the responsibility of the European Union. The EU is extending its talons into areas with which it was never intended to be involved. It extends its powers—its competences—into areas that those who voted in the 1975 referendum never conceivably thought would have anything to do with the European Union. Instead, the powers were the rights and responsibilities of the House and those sent to Parliament to represent the people of the United Kingdom, rather than powers to be given to a multinational body. It is interesting that the Irish felt it necessary to have a clear protocol to state that such matters are not to be decided at European level, as they did on military neutrality. Military neutrality is important for the UK, which still has a substantial Army, Navy and Air Force—one of the most important in the world—which we do not want to be subsumed within a European Union defence force. We want to maintain our independence, and Irish clarity on the matter is helpful.

My central point is that the Government could have negotiated opt-outs on a swathe of European policy in the form of treaty amendments that would have been fully binding, fully recognised within European law, and would have begun to resettle our relationship with the European Union. For various reasons, the Irish Government decided to do that and the British Government did not. It may be that, considering the crisis through which the European Union is going, they believed it was not the right time for such renegotiation.

Martin Horwood: The original intention was to have a Czech protocol at the same time as the Irish protocol, but the fact that it was slightly more contentious than the Irish protocol completely stalled the process. Does the hon. Gentleman appreciate that if we had tried some kind of wholesale renegotiation of our relationship with Europe, there is no way we would be discussing that issue now and the whole process would be mired in controversy for many years?

Jacob Rees-Mogg: I wish my hon. Friend would have more confidence in his own great country. We are a little bigger than the Czech Republic and a little more important, even though it is a most highly esteemed country. We make a massive contribution to the European Union budget, and we should be using our power, authority and position to get for the British people what the Irish Government have got for the Irish.

Bob Stewart: Would we make an increased contribution to the European Union budget as a result of Croatian accession?

Jacob Rees-Mogg: I was hoping to come to that when we discuss the point at which the Bill comes into force, and it may be best if I hold my fire until then, lest the Chair rule me out of order. I want to focus on the essence of European treaties: every European treaty, whether an accession treaty or the treaty of Lisbon, has exactly the same legal standing. Anything that is added to it has the proper force of an agreement across the European Union and validity in European law. We should never again lose the opportunity to renegotiate the repatriation of powers to this country when a treaty

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is going through the European Union. There are any number of powers that we wish to recapture—working time directives are a mere start—and we should do that because if Ireland can, so could we.

Graham Stringer: I often agree with the hon. Gentleman, but I do not today. These protocols are Euro-fudge and what the Irish Government received through the protocol was not really threatened. His argument seems to be that the European Union in its present shape can be reformed by treaty negotiation, which could be done with any treaty. I simply do not believe that is possible and I would be interested to hear his reflections on that.

Jacob Rees-Mogg: I am extremely sympathetic to what the hon. Gentleman says and I may be too optimistic about what can be done. There is, however, a disjuncture between what the protocols say and what it is said that they say. The Bill’s explanatory notes state:

“The Irish Protocol clarifies, but does not change”,

but if it does not change anything at all, why on earth was there need for a protocol? Was it a question of bullying Ireland to vote a second time? If it was, that is deeply disgraceful and shows something very rotten at the heart of a European Union that holds democracy in such contempt that when it gets a result it does not like it says, “Well, you must do this again and we will bully you until you give the answer that we, the panjandrums of the European Union, want.”

For once, I am being charitable to the European Union and assuming that when a protocol is agreed, it means something genuine and is a real protection in areas of competence-creep within the European Union. It might be strictly accurate to say that the things for which Ireland has been given its protocol are not currently covered by detailed regulations of the EU or by detailed parts of the Lisbon treaty. The protocol, however, gives Ireland further security. If judgments of the ECJ begin to expand the competences of the treaties, which they have done in the past—as we would understand it, the ECJ is an essentially political rather than legalistic court—Ireland can revert to the protocol.

The symbolic importance of the protocol is great. It shows that a country can push a little bit of a wedge underneath the collapsing portcullis of the EU—once a country is under it, it cannot get back out. The protocol has given Ireland a measure of release from, and clarification on, the Lisbon treaty. The UK could do more because we are a stronger player within Europe and contribute a substantial part of the budget, as I said to my hon. Friend the Member for Cheltenham (Martin Horwood). We ought to use our negotiating heft to try to get back powers that, as most hon. Members recognise, the British people want. We should begin a serious renegotiation and say to the EU, “Look, when the next treaty comes through, we want more than Ireland had. We want something that is powerful and strong, and that allows us—the British people—to make our laws for ourselves via Parliament rather than constantly doing so via Europe.” This is a great opportunity for the Government to build on that precedent to the advantage of our country.

Emma Reynolds: I want to reiterate what I said on Second Reading about the Opposition’s support for the Irish protocol, which the Labour Government helped to negotiate. As the hon. Member for North East Somerset

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(Jacob Rees-Mogg) said, the protocol clarifies but does not amend the Lisbon treaty. It contains assurances that Ireland retains decision-making rights on the right to life, on family and education, on taxation, and on Irish neutrality. It was the Labour Government’s judgment at the time and it is the Opposition’s judgment now that the Irish people have rightly been offered those assurances on the application of the Lisbon treaty.

Finally, I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Blackley and Broughton (Graham Stringer). The protocol does not reform the EU and is not a renegotiation of the EU-Ireland relationship. It also does not repatriate power from the EU to Ireland.

Mr Lidington: Clause 2 provides parliamentary approval for the purposes of section 2 of the European Union Act 2011 for a proposed protocol to be annexed to the treaty on the EU and the treaty on the functioning of the EU following the concerns of the Irish people in relation to the treaty of Lisbon; that has become known in shorthand as the Irish protocol. The clause also confirms, as required by section 2(3) of the 2011 Act, that no referendum is required under that Act for the Irish protocol to be ratified by the UK.

In June 2009, the Heads of State and Government of the 27 EU member states adopted a formal decision on the concerns of the Irish people about the treaty of Lisbon. The decision gave a legal guarantee, binding in international law, that certain matters of concern to the Irish people would be unaffected by the entry into force of the treaty of Lisbon. As my hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset (Jacob Rees-Mogg) said, those matters included taxation policy, policy on the right to life, policies on education and the family, and Ireland’s traditional policy of military neutrality. It was noted in the June 2009 European Council conclusions that the content of the decision is fully compatible with the treaty of Lisbon and does not necessitate any re-ratification of the treaty.

The Heads of State and Government also agreed in June 2009 that, at the time of the conclusion of the next accession treaty, the provisions of the decision would be set out in a protocol to be attached to the EU treaties. The effect is to ensure that the guarantees given to the Irish during the Lisbon ratification process will have full treaty status and be binding in EU law.

Although it is true that the Irish protocol clarifies and does not change either the content or application of the Lisbon treaty, and in no way alters the relationship between the EU and its member states, it has a positive effect, as my hon. Friend has pointed out. The consequence of all member states ratifying the protocol is that it will have full treaty status. In effect, it is added, as a protocol, to the list of EU treaties and is binding in EU law. Although it is declaratory and clarificatory in purpose, the declaration and clarification take the form of something that can be justiciable in future litigation at the European Court of Justice, as my hon. Friend said.

2.15 pm

Jacob Rees-Mogg: Will the Minister therefore help me? If two cases appear before the ECJ—one for the UK; one for Ireland—is it open to the ECJ to rule differently because the protocol applies to Ireland but not to the UK? Does the clarification limit the ECJ’s jurisdiction over Ireland but not over the UK?

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Mr Lidington: No, the treaties apply equally to every member state unless an explicit derogation or opt-out is laid down in a protocol or in the body of a treaty—that is the case with the UK’s and Denmark’s right not to join the euro. In this case, the Irish protocol does not provide an opt-out or derogation. Instead, it serves as a formal justiciable clarification of certain provisions of the treaty that apply equally to all member states of the EU. In the hypothetical case that my hon. Friend describes, it would be for the UK or any other member state to cite the protocol in support of its arguments.

Jacob Rees-Mogg: The Minister is a mind reader—that was exactly the point I was about to ask him about. Does the protocol therefore effectively apply to all member states and not just to Ireland?

Mr Lidington: Yes, that clarification is of benefit to every member state, should such litigation be necessary in future.

The protocol was adopted at an intergovernmental conference in Brussels on 16 May 2012 and signed by all 27 member states. It must now be ratified by them before it can formally enter into force. As I have said, I believe that the clarifications that are provided square with the UK’s interpretation of the treaties; I support what my hon. Friend has said on this. The protocol is therefore helpful to us, and I commend it and clause 2 to the Committee.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 2 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 3 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 4

Freedom of movement for Croatian nationals as workers

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Jacob Rees-Mogg: I am sorry to trouble the scorers again, Mr Crausby. I hope I will not be the only one trying to be the Mr Pietersen of the Committee for this afternoon’s proceedings. My batting pace would never be quite as fast as his—I am probably more of a Mr Boycott, particularly when it comes to anything to do with the European Union.

The transition arrangements for the free movement of people are an important part of the treaty. What is important here is that the time has come for us to recognise that we need to look at whether the free movement of people is something the United Kingdom can any longer support. The commitments we have made to our immigration policy throughout the European Union have made a nonsense of the rest of our immigration policy. We discovered that yesterday, when we asked a very distinguished person to come and be the head of one of the most important institutions of our country. He will have to queue up in Croydon, even though he is married to a British lady, his children are British subjects and he is a subject of the Queen. If he were coming from Croatia, he would be subject to transition arrangements that would make it a good deal easier for him to come here. That does not seem to be a sensible way of establishing our immigration policy.

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There are two problems: first, the number of people who have the right to reside and work here from the European Union, which is legion; and the very tight controls that we have to have on everybody else in the world to make the system vaguely work at all. It is out of balance that countries with which we have much closer and longer standing associations than Croatia—I think, of course, of India, Canada, Australia, South Africa and Zimbabwe—and with which we have had intimate relationships, do not have the transition arrangements to allow their people to come and work here. They have to go through an extremely arduous and onerous process. Even if their grandparents were British citizens, they find it very difficult to get here. On the other hand, if they come from member states of the EU they can just waltz in, or if they cannot waltz in, they can come in under transition arrangements. After a mere seven years at the most, they will be able to come in freely. This has become disproportionate.

In that sense, enlargement has created a problem for Europe. In other ways, enlargement is much to be welcomed, and I agreed with the Minister when he quoted the noble Baroness—something that should be done in this Chamber more often to reinforce any argument that is being made. We have found that there are simply too many people who are eligible to reside here. Transition arrangements are not really enough. They ameliorate to some extent the problem of Croatia, but Croatia is not the problem. As we have already discussed, there are only a little more than 4 million people in Croatia, and unless they were all going to come here and leave Croatia empty for us to go and have our holiday homes there as the Minister suggested, there would not be any real immigration problem from Croatia. It is what has happened in the past, and the effect that that has had on other nations with which we are friendly and with which we have long-term relationships and historic ties, that I am referring to.

I am pleased that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Home Department has decided to look into this to see whether the free movement of people is something we can continue to cope with. I think that we cannot, and as we reform our relationship with Europe, it is one of the aspects of the European Union—I accept that it is a fundamental aspect—to which we can no longer subscribe.

Emma Reynolds: Clause 4 provides a regulation-making power to make provision on the entitlement of Croatian workers to work and reside in the UK. We believe that the Government should implement the maximum transition period for Croatian nationals, as we did with the accession of Romania and Bulgaria. I welcome the Minister’s commitment on Second Reading to bring detailed regulations on the transitional controls.

Chris Heaton-Harris (Daventry) (Con): The clause is all about workers. When the hon. Lady’s party was in Government, it also allowed transitional arrangements for benefits. Would she like to say something about whether that was a good idea, particularly in relation to Croatian nationals in that transitional period who come here to work and are then made unemployed? What does she believe the policy should be when it comes to their welfare claiming rights?

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Emma Reynolds: The previous Government looked at this issue, and the current Government have also tried to raise it. It is a concern for people across the country—it was raised with me during the 2010 election campaign—and I am sure the Minister will have something to say about it. In terms of treaty obligations on the freedom of movement, nationals from other EU member states who come here to work have certain rights and responsibilities. It is certainly true that some of those rights, benefits and payments, from which nationals benefit, although only after a qualifying period, are a concern. We tried to change them when in government, but European treaties and European law prevented us from doing so, and I think the current Government are having the same problems.

The clause deals with the free movement of people, but the hon. Member for North East Somerset (Jacob Rees-Mogg) took the opportunity to make a wider point. Regardless of one’s point of view, it is certainly true that if a change were made it would require a substantial and wholesale amendment of the founding treaties. The 26 other member states—soon to be 27—would have their own opinions on that. Such a renegotiation would be long and difficult if the Government were to attempt to embark on it.

Mr Lidington: Clause 4 outlines, in its various subsections, how the transitional regulations will be structured. I do not propose, unless the Committee presses me, to go through each subsection in detail this afternoon. Suffice it to say that the Home Office will come forward in 2013 with a statutory instrument to implement the transitional regulations. I am sure that there will be ample opportunity at that point for the House to examine in detail exactly what those arrangements propose and how effective they will be in practice. They will no doubt go to a statutory instrument Committee and then to the House of Commons as a whole.

My hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset (Jacob Rees-Mogg) used the debate on clause 4 to open up broader concerns about freedom of movement. There is no doubt that this issue troubles a lot of people, as he and my hon. Friend the Member for Bury North (Mr Nuttall) pointed out. I do not want to go overboard on this point. However, the fact that transitional controls were not imposed on the previous groups of countries joining the EU, along with the fact that the number of people who were thought likely to come from those countries to the UK was underestimated—the estimates were wrong by a considerable margin—has sapped public confidence in the principle of freedom of movement. It is therefore right that we should say clearly not just that rigorous transitional controls will be employed in the case of Croatia, but that it would be our intention to apply transitional controls to the full extent permitted to any future new accession country to the European Union. That is both right and a way of providing reassurance to our citizens.

People are understandably worried when they see suggestions that the principle of freedom of movement is being interpreted in a way that stretches beyond the rights set out in the treaty—primarily, the right to work and to seek work—and is at risk of being abused by people moving to gain from a more generous welfare system in an EU member state.

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Jacob Rees-Mogg: The example that springs to mind is of people working here while their children remain in their own country, and getting child benefit for those children. That completely undermines confidence in the system.

2.30 pm

Mr Lidington: My hon. Friend is right that those things undermine confidence in the system, despite the fact that freedom of movement has brought significant benefits not only to British citizens working and living elsewhere in Europe, but to British employers and consumers, who have made free use of the advantages of freedom of movement in terms of the skilled people coming to this country. I can assure him that this Government, along with other Governments, take these risks seriously and are concerned about potential abuses of freedom of movement. My hon. Friends in the Department for Work and Pensions have been talking to their counterparts in other member states about that point. The Government intend to pursue the matter and take it very seriously. I hope that that did not lead me too far from the content of the debate and that it provides my hon. Friends with a measure of reassurance.

Chris Heaton-Harris: I am sorry to interject, but as Labour seems to recognise this concern—such recognition has been lacking in the past—perhaps it is time to have a full and frank debate about it, especially in terms of welfare claimants and the cost to the NHS of people who possibly would not have been here had there been similar transitional arrangements in the past. Is there a chance, through informal channels, of starting a sensible debate?

Mr Lidington: The Government are always willing to listen to constructive ideas, from whichever side of the House they come. We have announced the review of the balance of competences. When my right hon. Friend the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary launched it, he said that we would welcome contributions and proposals from interest groups throughout British society and political parties on both sides of the House. If anybody wants to propose a way of limiting potential abuses of freedom of movement, they would be welcome to do so.

Emma Reynolds: Just for the record, as I set out earlier, what the hon. Member for Daventry (Chris Heaton-Harris) says is simply not true. When the Labour party was in government, we were very concerned about welfare payments being made when they perhaps should not have been, especially when it came to child benefit. Our Ministers made representations about that to European institutions and tried to do something about it, but to be perfectly frank, we hit a brick wall—and that is exactly what this Government are finding too. There is no difference between our parties on this issue.

Mr Lidington rose

The Temporary Chair(Mr David Crausby): Order. It would be nice if we could get back to clause 4 stand part.

Mr Lidington: Indeed, Mr Crausby. I welcome the outbreak of bipartisanship.

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Finally, one of the lessons is the importance of building alliances with other member states on these issues, because we are far from being the only country that has these concerns.

Mark Durkan (Foyle) (SDLP): I thank the Minister for giving way, as I know he wants to conclude. He said he did not want to go through the clause subsection by subsection, but will he take the opportunity to clarify the different applicable maximums between England and Wales, on one hand, and Scotland and Northern Ireland on the other? Some of his hon. Friends may feel that those of more dodgy intent could be motivated to stay in England and Wales, rather than Scotland or Northern Ireland.

Mr Lidington: This boils down to differences in the legal systems operating in different parts of the United Kingdom. I presume that the hon. Gentleman is referring to subsections (4) to (6).

Subsection (4) provides that an offence by virtue of these regulations will be a summary offence and that any fines or prison sentences imposed will not exceed the applicable maximum levels or terms on the relevant scale. Subsections (5) and (6) provide clarity on the maximum prison terms applicable for these offences and the differences between maximum terms of imprisonment in England and Wales, and Scotland and Northern Ireland. For England and Wales, the maximum possible prison term is 51 weeks. For Scotland and Northern Ireland, the maximum possible prison term for an employee or a deception offence is three months, whereas for an employer this stands at six months.

Subsection (6) further clarifies that if the offences were committed in England and Wales before the commencement of section 154(1) of the Criminal Justice Act 2003, they will be liable for the same penalties previously outlined for Scotland and Northern Ireland—three and six months respectively—but, as the Committee will know, section 154(1) has not yet commenced, so the applicable maximums for the whole United Kingdom will remain at three and six months respectively for the time being. I hope that that provides the hon. Gentleman with the assurance he seeks.

We have had an interesting debate on some of the concerns in the Committee and the country about the freedom of movement, but I think there has also been a consensus in support of transitional regulations. I therefore commend the clause to the Committee.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 4 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.


Clause 5

Orders under section 4: Parliamentary control.

Jacob Rees-Mogg: I beg to move amendment 1, page 4, line 4, at end insert ‘or subsequent’.

The Temporary Chair (Mr David Crausby): With this it will be convenient to discuss the following: amendment 5, page 4, line 7, at end insert—

‘( ) The House of Commons may amend a draft of an instrument laid before it under subsection (1), insofar as that draft contains regulations pursuant to section 4. A draft so amended may be taken as the draft laid before each House of Parliament under subsection (1).

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Amendment 2, page 4, line 8, leave out subsections (2) and (3).

Clause stand part.

Jacob Rees-Mogg: Amendments 1 and 2 are straightforward. I am sure that Her Majesty’s Government, in their amazing wisdom, will consider these issues from their fine position of understanding, benevolence and kindliness. The Minister for Europe—that great Minister of parliamentary scrutiny of matters European Union, who is to the scrutiny of European matters what Simon de Montfort was to the House of Commons appearing in the first place—knows, in his bold way, that the better the scrutiny, the better the legislation.

My amendments, which are modest and humble, would make a small improvement to the House’s scrutiny of the regulations introduced under clause 4. That clause has just passed without a voice being raised against it; none the less, it raises important questions about the penalties in different parts of the UK, as we have just discovered, and under it Ministers will be able to make regulations. Amendment 2 would simply take something out of the Bill. It would simplify the legislation. I thought we were all in favour of making our laws clear and easy for the average elector—those outside the inner workings of the House—to understand.

The amendments would allow Her Majesty’s Opposition, who I hope will join me on this occasion, better to hold the Government to account and ensure that Members were able to address our constituents’ grievances more effectively and swiftly by making further amendments, after the initial statutory instruments were introduced, subject to the affirmative, rather than the negative, procedure. That would enable us to turn up, as I am sure we all would, at the statutory instrument Committees debating the regulations.

Martin Horwood: The de Montfort family were, of course, European migrants.

Jacob Rees-Mogg: I hoped that the hon. Gentleman was going to find some link between the de Montforts and Somerset, which would have been more helpful. I am not opposed to people coming over from Europe, although I do not have any Norman blood, as far as I am aware. However, we are wandering slightly from the point.

Amendments 1 and 2 would simply ensure that the affirmative procedure was followed and would marginally improve parliamentary scrutiny—they would not change the world, but they would add a little to parliamentary scrutiny. I meant the compliments I paid to the Minister and his commitment to parliamentary scrutiny, which has been exemplary. The European Union Act 2011, which we passed to ensure the rights of Parliament, was an important advance in protecting this country from European activities passing through without anybody really knowing about them. When the rules are changed, they should be changed in the same way as they are first introduced, because sometimes a change can be more important than the initial introduction. For example, a new Government might want to adjust things or not

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continue with them for as long, and could do so via a statutory instrument, with a limited form of negative control.

I hope that the Government will support my amendment 5. I hope that the Opposition will, too, because we may not lose the next election, in which case things might be changed by a similar Government, and my amendments would give them a way to hold Her Majesty’s Government to better account. I am proposing modest, easy, humble, simplifying, gentle, but marginally improving amendments, which I hope in their wisdom the Minister and Her Majesty’s Government will accept.

Mr Nuttall: It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Crausby.

My amendment 5 is also a minor and modest amendment. For the avoidance of doubt, it is perfectly compatible with amendments 1 and 2, standing in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset (Jacob Rees-Mogg). There is absolutely no reason why the Government should not accept his amendments and my minor amendment. My amendment would open the way for the draft regulations laid by the Government—pursuant to what will in due course become section 4 of the Act—to be amended by this House. As anyone who has looked at the Bill will be aware, clause 4 is by some way the longest clause—indeed, it is longer than the rest of the Bill put together. The regulations that are brought forward might all be perfectly in order, and it might be that they cannot be improved on in any way, shape or form. Knowing the Minister’s skill and intelligence in such matters, I have absolutely no doubt that that will be the case. However, we are all human, and it is just possible that a tiny little matter somewhere in those regulations—which will undoubtedly be fairly lengthy and detailed—might need amending. My amendment 5 would give this House the flexibility to amend the draft regulations, rather than simply having the option of accepting or rejecting them in their entirety. It is a minor, modest and humble amendment, and I hope that the Government and the Opposition will support it.

Emma Reynolds: I appreciate that the hon. Members for North East Somerset (Jacob Rees-Mogg) and for Bury North (Mr Nuttall) are seeking to improve parliamentary scrutiny of these matters by providing for the use of the affirmative procedure for any statutory instrument arising from clause 4. I very much look forward to the Minister’s response. Given that the Government do not seem to have much business for us to scrutinise at the moment, surely there might be time for such provision. I did not go through the Lobby once last week—to my disappointment—so we would welcome any move towards increased parliamentary scrutiny and we await the Minister’s response with bated breath.

Mr Lidington: The purpose of amendments 1 and 2 is to require that any regulations to implement the transitional restrictions pursuant to clause 4 be subject to the affirmative resolution procedure. Amendment 5, standing in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Bury North (Mr Nuttall), would give Parliament the opportunity to amend the initial set of regulations on transitional controls. By contrast, the Bill as drafted would require that the initial regulations made pursuant to clause 4 be

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subject to the affirmative resolution procedure, but that subsequent regulations, if any, be subject to the negative resolution procedure. That would provide Parliament with the opportunity to give or deny approval, but not to amend the regulations.

2.45 pm

I have to say that I was moved by the tribute paid to me—a quite undeserved tribute—by my hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset (Jacob Rees-Mogg). Not only am I deeply conscious that he is steeped in the history of this country’s constitution, but I was at school long enough ago to have been taught the history of English liberties, the place of the Provisions of Oxford and the role of Simon de Montfort as one of the founding fathers of Parliament—it was something I learned about at a very early age. I do not know whether his tribute was intended to be ever so slightly barbed—

Jacob Rees-Mogg indicated dissent.

Mr Lidington: I would not impute that to my hon. Friend, but I was conscious of the fact that Simon de Montfort, despite his contribution to our constitutional developments, ended up being slain at the battle of Evesham, after which his body was hacked apart and the various portions sent to please those members of the nobility who had taken the lead in supporting Prince Edward against him. Although I have absolute confidence in the generosity of spirit with which my hon. Friend spoke, I hope I can count on him to speak for all members of the European Scrutiny Committee and on others to adopt a different role towards de Montfort than he has taken today.

I have thought carefully about the amendments that my hon. Friends have proposed. The initial regulations that we intend to make pursuant to clause 4 would set out in detail the scheme of restrictions to be applied to Croatian nationals. They would set out the circumstances under which a Croatian national may be authorised to take employment and the penalties that may be applied for any breach of the restrictions. It is clearly appropriate that there should be a presumption that such regulations, setting out a broad scheme of controls and penalties, should require the positive approval of the House. We are therefore providing for the affirmative resolution procedure. However, any subsequent regulations pursuant to clause 4 are likely to be different in character and to have only a limited and technical purpose. For example, it may become necessary to make technical adjustments to the regulations to reflect European Court of Justice case law on the exercise of free movement rights or to adjust the circumstances in which work authorisation may be given, to reflect particular labour market circumstances.

Let us look at the precedent of the regulations applied to Bulgarian and Romanian nationals, recalling that our intention is to apply the same transitional regime to Croatian migrants as already applies to migrants from those two countries. There have been subsequent amendments to the original regulations, but to address minor and technical issues. For example, further amendments to the regulations have referred to arrangements for students undertaking employment during their holidays or vocational employment linked to their studies. Those amendments have brought the treatment of such students into line

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with the treatment extended to third-country nationals. There have also been technical changes to the arrangements for family members of Bulgarian and Romanian workers, which the treaty required be lifted once the restrictions had been in force for two years.

Those were matters concerned with responding to legal issues about the proper administration of restrictions, as they arose, rather than matters pertaining to their general shape and force. Equally, it might prove necessary to make amendments to the initial regulations simply in order to ensure that they take account of changes made to the controls applied to third-country nationals. I do not think it is proportionate that amendment of the regulations to deal with this kind of technical issue should require the affirmative resolution procedure.

Of course, if a future hypothetical Government were, through sleight of hand, to use the negative resolution procedure to make a more substantive change to the character of the transitional regulations—which I am sure that this Government would not do—I am confident that the political reaction in the House of Commons would be such as to require, through a prayer tabled under the normal procedures of the House, a debate and vote in Committee and then in the House as a whole. It is unlikely that such a major amendment would be brought forward, however, and there are sufficient safeguards in our proposals. It is probable, however, that there will be a need for minor and technical amendments to be made. The negative resolution procedure accords with the precedent adopted in respect of previous accessions and it is proportionate to the case.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bury North tabled amendment 5, which would allow Parliament to amend the secondary legislation. He will know that the procedure that he is proposing does not fall within the normal forms of House approval. I do not blame him for raising the subject; it has cropped up in more than one debate since I have been a Member of Parliament. However, it would be wrong to use the Bill as an occasion for adopting what would amount to a significant precedent in how Parliament holds the Government to account. There might be a case for what he is proposing, but it would best be addressed, if it is going to be, as a matter of general principle rather than in this way.

Under our current procedure, secondary legislation is not subjected to the type of line-by-line scrutiny and the possibility of amendment that we afford to primary legislation. The affirmative process, which we are suggesting for the first set of regulations, requires a motion in favour in both Houses before the regulations can be made. The House will be able to reject the draft statutory instrument if it is not content with it. The Government believe that that is an appropriate level of scrutiny, and that the use of the negative resolution procedure for what are likely to be minor and technical amendments is also proportionate to the probable course of events. I hope that, having heard those assurances, my hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset will be willing to withdraw his amendment.

Jacob Rees-Mogg: I have listened to the Minister with great care. The problem with comparing anybody to the great figures of history is that so many of them came to a sticky end. That does not, however, undermine the valour of their actions before they met their sticky end. It is the way of politics nowadays that people are

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reshuffled, whereas in olden times they were rather more finally dealt with. This is perhaps one respect in which I am a moderniser, in that I am glad and reassured that political careers now end more gently than they did in times gone by. I was comparing my right hon. Friend the Minister to Simon de Montfort at the height of his powers when he was successfully commanding the country and advancing democracy.

The mood of the Committee today suggests that it would probably not vote in support of my amendment, and I shall therefore seek leave to withdraw it. However, I would just add that, to use an old cliché, a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush. It would be an advantage to place in the legislation a requirement for the affirmative resolution procedure, because we cannot guarantee what future Governments will do or, more particularly, what the European Court of Justice will do. The Minister referred to that possibility. There is a risk that the Court could make a highly political judgment that would change the regulations or cause them to be changed by the Government. That could allow the Government to use the negative resolution procedure, because the decision had come from the ECJ, without giving the House the opportunity to debate a genuinely important political matter. I regret that Her Majesty’s Government are not going to accept my proposal, but I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 5 ordered to stand part of the Bill.


Clause 6

Extent, commencement and short title


Mr Nuttall: I beg to move amendment 4, page 4, line 15, leave out subsection (2) and insert—

‘(2) This Act comes into force in accordance with the following provisions—

(a) Section 1 comes into force on the day after the following conditions are fulfilled—

(i) in each House of Parliament a Minister of the Crown moves a motion that the House approves the coming into force of section 1, and

(ii) each House agrees to the motion without amendment,

(b) the other provisions of this Act come into force on the day on which this Act is passed.’.

The Temporary Chair (Mr David Crausby): With this it will be convenient to discuss the Question that clause 6 stand part of the Bill.

Mr Nuttall: This will be the last amendment to be discussed in Committee. It would enable the House to revisit the question of whether Croatia was ready to join the EU before this Bill ratifying the accession treaty came into effect. The Minister made it clear on Second Reading that the accession process that Croatia had followed had involved more rigorous demands than those placed on Romania or Bulgaria, or any of the earlier accession states. However, I think it is accepted on all sides that, unless things have changed dramatically since the Second Reading debate, Croatia has not yet fulfilled all that is expected of it. Much progress has clearly been made, and that is to be welcomed, but more undoubtedly remains to be done.

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The European Commission is continuing its monitoring process, and the Minister mentioned that a further report was expected next spring. He provided the more accurate date of next March for its delivery, and we expect it to be the final report. On Croatia’s progress in dealing with domestic war crimes, the Minister said on Second Reading that the Government’s assessment was “almost complete”, but that more work was still required. The amendment would allow the House the opportunity to assess whether Croatia had made further progress and whether the process had been completed.

On the Croatian civil justice system, the Minister said on Second Reading that despite a significant number of additional judges being appointed to focus on the backlog of outstanding civil cases, the number of such cases had increased. About 844,000 new cases had been brought before the civil courts during the first half of 2012, and only 836,00 cases had been resolved during that period. In fact, not only was the backlog not being reduced, it was getting worse.

3 pm

The Minister said—I quote him for the sake of accuracy—that

“although we accept that further work needs to be done, we think that Croatia has made good progress”.—[Official Report, 6 November 2012; Vol. 552, c. 765.]

It has been claimed that the process is almost complete, yet it is claimed also that further work needs to be done. My amendment would allow the House, perhaps early next year, to determine whether progress had been made, whether progress continues to be made or whether the backlog in civil cases has begun to reduce.

I hope this fairly minor amendment will find favour with the Government and, indeed, among Members on both sides of the Committee.

Let me draw the Committee’s attention to the conclusion of the European Scrutiny Committee’s report, entitled “Croatia: monitoring the accession process”. Paragraph 1.89 states:

“Logically, the House should not be asked to ratify the accession treaty until the pre-accession monitoring has been completed, and it has been demonstrated that Croatia is indeed fully prepared.”

I concur completely with that conclusion, and my amendment gives the House of Commons the opportunity to be able to confirm for itself that all is in order before this Bill is passed. I commend it to the Committee.

Jacob Rees-Mogg: I think the amendment is excellent, worthy of the whole Committee’s support. Although enlargement is a very good thing—I agreed with the Minister when he set out the advantages and confirmed that bringing new member states in has been beneficial to the United Kingdom—countries need to be ready for it. We know, however, that some countries that have acceded have not been ready: their criminal justice systems have not been ready; their procedures against corruption have not been fully thought through; and the independence of their judiciary could not be guaranteed. With Croatia, there are even questions relating to the independence of the police, and some difficulties in passing legislation to ensure that the police are politically independent.

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I therefore view it as a good thing that Parliament should have a further opportunity to approve the Bill before it is enacted. I know that there are other ways of doing that. It is, I suppose, a gratifying thought that the Bill could be vetoed and that the Queen could exercise her ancient power not to approve it. I say that as we approach the 300th anniversary of when that last happened. It would restore an historic precedent if the Government were to decide that Croatia was not ready to join and that the Bill should be vetoed. I think that the Norman French would be “la Reine s’avisera”, or the Queen will take advice—words that have not been used since the reign of Queen Anne—and this would allow further deliberation on the Bill.

It would probably be better in this more democratic age, compared with the reign of Her late Majesty Queen Anne, to have a parliamentary process that would be the final authorisation of the ratification of the treaty under our normal constitutional processes, as set out in the European treaty. That would be preferable to using a rather antiquated, if perhaps romantic, way of delaying the Bill’s coming into law. No doubt the Government will say that they could delay handing in the instruments of ratification of the treaty to the European community, but again that does not seem to me to be an ideal way of proceeding. If doubts remain about Croatia’s readiness to join, the decision should be a parliamentary one rather than a prerogative one. Failing to hand in the instruments of ratification is in many ways much the same as vetoing the Bill outright. It is using the royal prerogative rather than a parliamentary procedure.

I therefore think that my hon. Friend the Member for Bury North (Mr Nuttall) has come up with an excellent amendment—much better than the one I tabled, which was tabled out of a concern that Croatia will change the way the budget of the European Union operates. I wonder whether it is sensible to allow a new member state to join when we are using roll-over budgets. It strikes me as a risk that by the middle of next year, we might have an unstable procedure of financing the European Union—one that relies on the fall-back position set out in the treaty rather than on an new multi-annual financial framework—which would put a strain on the EU’s ability to meet the commitments it has made to Croatia by allowing it to become a member, and would leave confusion and dissatisfaction on all sides. It would be better to have the multi-annual financial framework in place before the formal ratification of the treaties went through.

I hope that the Government will think carefully about the amendment and about the process they are going to adopt. The amendment proposed by my hon. Friend the Member for Bury North would allow this House and, indeed, the other place to reconsider the eligibility of Croatia to join the EU and whether it was suitable under the circumstances prevailing at the time—if, for example, the multi-annual financial framework had not been agreed or, indeed, if there were some other problem. Between now and next May, who knows whether Greece and possibly even Germany along with Finland and all sorts of countries might have left the euro, deciding that it was kaput—a German word, I believe, which I occasionally use in this Chamber, as allowed by “Erskine May”, which grants the odd quotation of foreign words? We could find that we have agreed this magnificent Act of Parliament, written on the finest vellum, signed in

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the finest ink, but that it proves ineffective because circumstances will have changed and there is no fall-back position other than a rather heavy-handed use of the prerogative power to prevent the instrument of ratification that we have approved going further along the line, leaving us having approved Croatia’s membership when there are all these other factors that might make it unsuitable.

The European Scrutiny Committee was looking at whether Croatia is, in fact, ready to join. I am not the greatest admirer of the European Union, and allowing countries that are a little bit corrupt and a little bit fishy to join gives me an opportunity to criticise the EU a bit more and to say, “Look, we are letting in dodgy types and corrupt Governments”. We could be letting in people with judicial systems that are not right, yet still benefit from the European arrest warrant. I am thus speaking against my own interest as a critic of the European Union, but it shows how broad-minded and sympathetic I am to the Government in supporting the amendment. It secures and provides ballast for the Government, allowing them to proceed with confidence and panache in getting Croatia to become a member, making it certain that when the documents are finally lodged, everyone is happy that Croatia will fit in with the EU—like the final piece of the jigsaw that people fear they lost behind the sofa but has finally been found, rather than one that is a bit dog-eared and bent that needs to be pushed or squeezed in. I hope that the Government will, in their wisdom and thoughtfulness, accept the amendment because it will protect and help them.

Chris Heaton-Harris: My hon. Friend is making a strong case for changing the way in which we deal with a country’s accession. I assume that he is keen for the amendments to be adopted and to govern the way in which we deal with future accessions that could be far more controversial even than Croatia’s.

Jacob Rees-Mogg: My hon. Friend is entirely right. It is important to set a precedent in this instance. I do not usually like new precedents; I think that they are rather dangerous. One always wants to find an historic precedent to which one can refer. On this occasion, however, it may be right to set the new precedent of securing the certainty that a country constitutes that smooth piece, with its corners just so, which can be inserted into the jigsaw that is the European Union.

It seems to me that a Government who are as good and as great as this Government—a coalition Government who see these matters in a broad and rounded way—will want to agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Bury North, because surely it is very important that when Croatia joins, Croatia is ready to join. We have found before when we have let countries join early that it is much, much harder to solve the problems when they are in than it was before they were in. Once they are in, they benefit from all that comes from the European treaties. Before they are in, they are of course supplicants, and the power rests with the European Union to decide whether to admit them. It is unquestionably sound and prudent to follow the recommendation of my hon. Friend and to put this final brake on the process, so that it goes ahead only when we are comfortable that the Croatians have really got their act together.

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It might be sensible to delegate consideration of this matter to the European Scrutiny Committee, so ably chaired by my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Mr Cash), who would be able to bring all his knowledge and wisdom to the decision on whether Croatia had met the tests set by the European Union. Otherwise, we shall sow the wind and reap the whirlwind. We shall once again see a European Union that is fiddling its own rules to get what it wants. We shall say “Look what this European Union does: it sets down these rules, it sets down these conditions, it sets down these terms, but once they become inconvenient, it casts them aside and forgets them in order to be able to do what it wanted to do in the first place.”

It is the British Government and the British people who have the backbone and the strength of mind to ensure sure that the European Union is held properly to account, and to ensure that we have a chance to make it do what it says it is going to do, rather than wandering off on the path of allowing countries that are not fit to join to join early.

Wayne David: This is an important amendment, and it is right for it to be discussed properly. As has already been said today, we need to learn from the experience of the enlargement process in a number of respects, but I think it particularly important for us to learn from the experience of the negotiations and preparations relating to the membership of Bulgaria and, to some extent, Slovakia. It has been acknowledged widely, if not as publicly as we would have liked, that not enough care and attention was involved in the preparations in Bulgaria, particularly with regard to justice and home affairs. I think that the Commission and, indeed, the Council have learnt the lessons of that.

I was slightly concerned to read, before I came into the Chamber, a statement from Štefan Füle, the European Commissioner responsible for enlargement and European neighbourhood policy. After visiting Croatia, he said that he thought that there was more work to be done before Croatia entered the EU on 1 July 2013. As we have heard, the final monitoring report of the European Commission is due to be published in the spring, but Commissioner Füle clearly stated that it would be wrong to think that all the work in Croatia had been done and that it is simply a question of our going through the mechanics of approving the accession treaty.

In Commissioner Füle’s view—and no one knows better than he does—major work still needs to be done in Croatia, particularly in regard to competition policy, judicial reform and fundamental rights, justice, freedom and security, and the translation of the acquis into domestic law. He also said that additional efforts needed to be made to improve a number of the chapters that have been negotiated, such as those applying to agriculture, the environment, and the preparations that are necessary for the effective utilisation of the structural funds. In other words, he believes that a fair amount of work remains to be done during the next few months to ensure that Croatia is in an effective state to comply with the stipulations for membership of the European Union. It worried me slightly that he listed such a large number of areas in which further work was needed. He also said that he hoped that further regional issues

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would be addressed, and that he looked forward to a final resolution of problems relating to relationships between Croatia and its neighbours.

3.15 pm

It is important for us not to give the impression that everything is hunky-dory. Much work does indeed need to be done, and I think that the monitoring report will prove to be very important when it is published in the spring. As has already been said, the European Scrutiny Committee, aware that the report would be forthcoming next year, suggested that full consent ought not to be given until we had seen a final, definitive evaluation of the point that Croatia has reached in its preparations.

I should like the Minister to respond to what Commissioner Füle has said. He concluded that he and the Commission were confident that the work was genuinely in progress and would be completed in its entirety and on time, and I imagine that the Minister is also confident of that, but I should like to ask him a question. Let us suppose—unlikely though it is—that, as a result of, for instance, political crisis or institutional trauma, the work was not done. What would happen then? How would the Government respond if, for whatever reason, the Croatian Government decided to say “Thus far and no further”, irrespective of the commitments and promises that they had given? How, indeed, would the European Union respond?

I thank the hon. Member for Bury North (Mr Nuttall) for tabling the amendment. I think that it is important and needs to be discussed, and I genuinely look forward to hearing what the Minister has to say in response to the points that have been made.


Emma Reynolds: The accession process for Croatia has certainly been more rigorous and demanding than those for previous accessions, as the hon. Member for Bury North (Mr Nuttall) pointed out. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Caerphilly (Wayne David) on the importance of learning lessons from previous enlargements. We want to avoid the situation in which we found ourselves in respect of Romania and Bulgaria, where a co-operation and verification procedure had to be introduced post-enlargement to monitor progress in a specific area.

I know that the hon. Member for North East Somerset (Jacob Rees-Mogg), the brand-new moderniser, is trying to be helpful, as ever, in his support for the amendment, but I am not sure how helpful the amendment will be. I know that 16 member states have already ratified Croatia’s accession, but let us say for the sake of argument that all member states passed a similar amendment. In that situation, Croatia’s accession would be delayed greatly. That would be regrettable, as Croatia has built up a certain momentum towards accession. There are still areas where we want to see more progress but, as has been stated, the European Commission’s final report in March will set out the progress that has been made in those areas about which hon. Members across the House have concerns. If the amendment were to be passed, it would delay the process unnecessarily and it could have a negative impact on that momentum. We encourage the Government and the Commission to monitor closely the progress in those areas, especially as they relate to the judiciary and fundamental rights, but we do not think the amendment is necessary, as we want to sustain the momentum.

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Mr Lidington: Clause 6(1) makes provision for the territorial extent of the Bill. It extends to the whole of the United Kingdom. Subsection (2) indicates the intention that the Bill, should it be granted Royal Assent, will come into force immediately, and subsection (3) provides for the short title.

The purpose of the amendment tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Bury North (Mr Nuttall) is to delay the entry into force of a specific clause. The amendment would require a motion in both Houses before clause 1, the element of the Bill providing approval for the Croatian accession treaty, could enter into force. I must say plainly to the Committee that in the Government’s view delaying Croatia’s accession to the EU, as proposed in the amendment, would not be helpful to the UK in securing its objectives in EU enlargement policy and it might cause some damage to our interests overall. I intend to respond in detail to the points raised about some of the outstanding questions in respect of Croatia’s progress towards meeting the Commission’s benchmarks in the various accession chapters.

I start by saying that the Government have, as my hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset (Jacob Rees-Mogg) pointed out earlier, enhanced the role that Parliament has played in the approval of EU decision making through the European Union Act 2011. The Scrutiny Committees in this place and in the other place have also followed the Commission’s monitoring reports on Croatia’s progress towards accession. The Government’s judgment, on the basis both of the Commission’s successive monitoring reports and of our own bilateral engagement, is that Croatia is on track to be ready in full to accede to the EU on 1 July 2013. The Croatian Government have already responded positively to the October call for action on the remaining areas by preparing an action plan to address outstanding concerns, as they did in response to the Commission’s monitoring report in April. The treaty also includes a range of safeguard measures that could be imposed, both before and after accession, in specific areas where reforms were not complete. For example, the Commission is empowered under the accession treaty to recover all state aids paid by the Croatian Government to state-owned shipyards if Croatia does not meet EU requirements under chapter 8, on competition, by the time of accession.

As my hon. Friend said, the Government always have the option, as a final resort, in the wholly unexpected event of Croatia not being ready, of holding back from depositing the instrument of ratification. In reality, if there were such a crisis—if some new Administration in Croatia did not commit themselves to the accession process with the enthusiasm that we see from the current Croatian Government—that would not just be a matter for the United Kingdom; it would be a matter for a very large number of member states and for the EU institutions.

We do not expect to need to use those safeguards. In answer to the point made by the hon. Member for Caerphilly (Wayne David), let me say that I have talked to Commissioner Füle about Croatian accession as well as to members of his team in the Commission. We need to emphasise that while the Commission is doing its job in going through the fine print of what Croatia has done and checking to what extent it has met the benchmarks laid down for it, Commissioner Füle personally and the accession team he leads remain very confident that

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although more needs to be done between now and July, Croatia is on track to be ready for accession at the date set down for it to join the European Union.

The hon. Gentleman also mentioned Štefan Füle’s comments about regional issues. As he knows—this came up on Second Reading—there are some outstanding issues with Slovenia, in particular, but the solution does not lie wholly in Croatia’s hands. A long-standing banking dispute going back to the break-up of the former Yugoslavia is still unresolved and the UK continues to urge both Slovenia and Croatia to find a way forward to settle that bilateral dispute in a way that respects the relevant international agreements. We have also said—this applies not only to Croatia but to other accessions—that bilateral disputes should not be used as an excuse to block progress when a candidate country is meeting its accession benchmarks.

We agree with Commissioner Füle that there is more work to be done. We have supported him in urging the Croatian leadership at the most senior levels to keep up its work to complete the outstanding tasks. The Croatian Government assured Commissioner Füle when he visited Croatia on 25 and 26 November that of the 10 key issues that the Commission had highlighted, work on seven would be completed by the end of 2012 and on the remaining three by the end of January 2013. Those assurances and the knowledge of how far Croatia has come and how committed its Government are to delivering in full on their obligations cause both Commissioner Füle and the UK Government to be confident that Croatia is in the right place to have crossed those hurdles by July 2013.

As a number of hon. Members have said, the accession process has been much more rigorous for Croatia than it was for Bulgaria and Romania, and because of that Croatia is better prepared for membership than those two countries were before their accession. The level of transparency and accountability in the Croatian judiciary has increased significantly over the reform period, institutions have been established and continue to develop to verify assets and conflicts of interest, and noteworthy progress has been made on investigations of and convictions for high-level corruption, most recently with the conviction of the former Prime Minister, Ivo Sanader, who was convicted of corruption and sentenced to 10 years’ imprisonment. There could be little more by way of a clear demonstration of the independence of the Croatian courts and of Croatia’s determination to show clearly to her future partners that no one is exempt from an independent judicial process and rigorous laws against corruption.

My hon. Friends raised a number of more detailed questions about Croatia’s readiness for membership. I want to try to respond to them, as they all involved serious matters. Let me first take the question of the police, to which my hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset referred. In the run-up to the December 2011 general election in Croatia, one of the last acts of the outgoing Government was to approve a package of amendments to the police Act, which was seen as allowing for political influence in the promotion of officers. Following the election of the current Government, the new Interior Minister attempted to introduce changes to the amendments, drawing on his own experience as a previous police director general, to create a system that was demonstrably based on merit and transparency.

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However, the European Commission expressed concern with certain details of the new law, and the United Kingdom raised the need for consultation with the Commission to ensure that Croatia embedded reforms and conformed with the EU acquis. The Croatian Government therefore delayed their domestic legislation process to take account of the Commission’s recommendations and to bring their own reforms into line with EU best practice.

The Commission has now approved proposed amendments to Croatia’s police law and we understand that these will be finalised and adopted by the end of the year, but already on the basis of the police Act in Croatia, further byelaws have been adopted, including a code of ethics for officers, the appointment of a director general of the police, and various ordinances on the conduct of officers and procedures.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bury North spoke about the pressures on the Croatian system of civil justice, and he is right to say that between December 2011 and June 2012 the number of unresolved cases in the civil justice system rose by 0.6% from 827,102 to 832,919, but it would be a mistake for the Committee to look at those totals and make the assumption that nothing had changed. Those are aggregate figures that conceal very significant changes and significant improvements.

What happened overall was that more new cases came into the Croatian civil justice system than were resolved by the Croatian civil justice system, but if we look at the old cases, we see that during that six-month period the number of cases that were more than 10 years old fell by nearly 5%, and the number of cases that were more than three years old fell by more than 4%, so we can honestly say that Croatia made good progress. The Croatian Government have introduced measures such as a new enforcement Act, new powers for their financial agency to recover fines, a new courts Act, new civil procedure and penal procedure codes to improve case management within the Croatian court system, and modern IT systems to help the courts transact their business more efficiently.

Finally, on budgets, it is true that the Commission has said that it wants €15 billion more in the multi-annual financial framework compared with its original proposals, and that that €15 billion includes €10 billion supposedly earmarked for Croatia. Our position all along has been that although Croatia should be entitled to funding on the same basis as other member states once it joins the EU, the EU budget must look for priorities and savings have to be found to accommodate additional expenditure. The position set out by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister remains as he expressed it yesterday: we are going into these negotiations determined that the outcome we will accept will be a cut or at most a real-terms freeze in the EU budget.

I believe that further enlargement of the EU will help to promote the security, stability and prosperity of Europe and of the United Kingdom; that the expansion of the single market will benefit this country by bringing increased trade opportunities to a wider market; and that bringing Croatia into that single market will benefit the opportunities for UK business.

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Graham Stringer: Before the Minister concludes, will he answer my question about the security of the border with Bosnia, which he promised to do earlier?


The Temporary Chair (Mr David Crausby): I think that relates much more to Third Reading, when the Minister will have an opportunity to deal with the question.

Mr Lidington: I am grateful for that guidance, Mr Crausby. I have some details on that matter and will be happy to speak about it on Third Reading.

Member states signed the Croatian accession treaty with the firm intention that it should be ratified by 1 July 2013. We believe that new member states should be able to join the EU when they have fulfilled their commitments as part of the tough and demanding accession process and are ready to take on the obligations of membership. Given the progress Croatia has made and the transparent commitment of its Government to completing the reforms that are still outstanding, we think there is no reason to delay this legislation coming into force and that we can be confident, on the basis of evidence, that Croatia will be ready. We should be eager to grasp the opportunities for the United Kingdom, both political and commercial, that stem from EU enlargement. Therefore, I think it is right to ask my hon. Friend the Member for Bury North to withdraw his amendment and for the House to support clause 6 as it stands.

Mr Nuttall: I have listened carefully to the Minister and to the debate. I must say that if Croatia is as ready for accession as the Minister would have us believe, my proposed amendment would not hold that up. Croatia would complete all the requirements put on it and would be able to satisfy Members of this House, and when a Minister of the Crown laid an order before us we would happily pass it. However, I heard what the Minister said and feel that my hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset (Jacob Rees-Mogg) and I, despite the views we have put forward, are perhaps in a minority in the Committee, so I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 6 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

The Deputy Speaker resumed the Chair.

Bill reported, without amendment.

Third Reading

3.38 pm

Mr Lidington: I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

I thank all right hon. and hon. Members who have participated in our debates on the Bill. It is hard to single out individual Members, but I would like, as always, to express my thanks to the members of the European Scrutiny Committee for their work, particularly the Chair, my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Mr Cash), and my hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset (Jacob Rees-Mogg). In this afternoon’s debate and throughout our proceedings my hon. Friend the Member for Bury North (Mr Nuttall) has been active, concerned and sincere in the questions and challenges he has

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posed to those on the Front Bench. I would like to thank the hon. Member for Wolverhampton North East (Emma Reynolds) for her support for the Bill and that of the official Opposition. I also wish to put on the record my gratitude for the outstanding work of Government officials not only in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, but in the Home Office and the Ministry of Justice, in putting together this legislation.

The enlargement of the European Union and the establishment of the single market are two of the EU’s greatest achievements. Both are initiatives for which the United Kingdom can claim considerable responsibility and in which it can take great pride. The EU, alongside NATO, has been an instrument of peace and reconciliation that has helped to spread and entrench democracy and the rule of law across Europe, including swathes of our continent where those traditions and values were crushed for most of the 20th century. The single market has opened up prosperity and opportunity to hundreds of millions of people, to the mutual benefit of us all.

That is why the United Kingdom supports further, conditions-based enlargement. Croatia’s accession will further demonstrate the transformative power of enlargement, marking the historic moment at which the first of the western Balkan countries that were involved in the wars of the 1990s as Yugoslavia broke up joins. Croatia’s accession negotiations were closed in June 2011 following six years of significant reform. As I have explained, Croatia has faced the most demanding and challenging negotiations of any candidate country. As my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary made clear when he visited the Balkans this October, the Government fully support the ambitions not only of Croatia but of all countries of the western Balkans one day to join the European Union. That is a further reason why we believe that it is so important that Croatia’s accession is a success; it is blazing a trail that we hope that other countries of the western Balkans will, in due course, follow.

Henry Smith (Crawley) (Con): My right hon. Friend is absolutely right that Croatia should have had to face a very high test to join the European Union. Does he regret that when Romania and Bulgaria joined the EU, they were not subject to the same rigour?

Mr Lidington: When I talk to Bulgarian and Romanian Ministers, they are the first to say that the current situation is deeply unsatisfactory. They feel at times that they are treated as second-class members of the EU, while other member states feel that the standards required at the time of accession were not fully met; hence we have the co-operation and verification mechanism. It is to the credit of Štefan Füle and the European Commission that they have learned from that experience. Chapter 23, in particular, was created explicitly to avoid any repetition of what happened with Romania and Bulgaria.

We have strengthened things even further in the light of our experience with Croatia. The policy now adopted by all member states and the Commission is that for future candidates, beginning with Montenegro, chapters 23 and 24 will be addressed first in any accession process, opened early but then kept open until practically the end. That means that justice and home affairs reforms, including impartial administration of policing, will be taken through national Parliaments and put into law. It

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also means that as the years of accession negotiations continue, we will see a track record built up so that at the end nobody can be in any doubt that the criteria have been met and that the country concerned is truly committed and ready for the obligations of membership.

That brings me on to the questions from Members on both sides of the House as to whether Croatia is ready. I will not repeat what I said during our debate on the last group of amendments, but I do want to respond to the comments of the hon. Member for Blackley and Broughton (Graham Stringer) about Croatia’s record in dealing with immigration and the management of its immigration and asylum systems and border controls.

Croatia has made substantial progress to deliver the necessary reforms required in border management and migration policy. The implementation of Croatia’s new immigration Act began in January, bringing migration legislation in line with that in other European countries. Croatia is already co-operating both with its immediate neighbours and with the EU on the return of illegal migrants and has apprehended 2,370 illegal migrants during this monitoring period. Croatia drafted a new migration strategy in July. We expect it to be finalised by the end of the year and adopted in early 2103.

In 2006, Croatia adopted an integrated border management action plan. This provided a comprehensive framework for the preparation of the external border once it joined the European Union, and it has kept its priorities under review and has been ready to amend them as it has moved towards accession. Croatia already has 81 fully functioning border crossing points. We have made it clear, as has the European Commission, that completion of the remaining BCPs is a priority and the Croatian Minister of the Interior has given us an assurance that they will be completed.

Although there is still work to be done over the next few months, Croatia has put in place strong foundations to manage migratory pressures. The most crucial outstanding requirement is the reconstruction of the two land border crossings at Klek and Zaton Doli in the new corridor between Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina. Intensive work is now under way to ensure that those border crossings and the other outstanding BCPs are complete prior to accession, and our understanding is that the work on the outstanding BCPs will be completed and delivered next spring, ahead of Croatia’s planned accession date.

Our judgment is that there is no cause to fear that Croatian accession will lead to an impact on the United Kingdom through illegal migration, asylum or human trafficking. Let me explain our reasons for that judgment. First, there will continue to be border controls between Croatia and neighbouring EU countries after accession. This will continue until Croatia fully implements the Schengen acquis, which is subject to its own evaluation process. As a result, third-country nationals will continue to be subject to the same levels of controls after accession if they seek to leave Croatian territory to go to another EU member state. There is not expected to be any significant increase in illegal immigration to the UK as a consequence of Croatia’s accession.

Secondly, Croatia does not present a high risk to the UK as either a source or transit country for illegal migration. Thirdly, we have not identified any victims of trafficking from Croatia in the UK. As I noted on Second Reading, in 2011, the US State Department’s

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“Trafficking in Persons Report”, which ranks countries in terms of their capacity to tackle trafficking and protect victims, designated Croatia as a tier 1 country, alongside the United Kingdom. That means that Croatia is viewed as fully compliant with the minimum standards of the US’s Trafficking Victims Protection Act, so again I think we have good reason to be confident about Croatia’s record.

The Commission’s monitoring helpfully identifies those issues that remain outstanding, but it is also clear that the Commission expects Croatia to be ready on time and we share that assessment. Following the publication of the Commission’s October report, the Croatian Government prepared an action plan, a copy of which has been shared with the two parliamentary scrutiny Committees. That action plan was a clear indication that the Croatian Government have grasped what they need to do, and it is now up to them to deliver.

The Government support EU enlargement and the benefits it will bring to the UK. We are in favour of Croatia joining the EU, we believe that it is well on its way to demonstrating its readiness to join the European Union and we are fully confident that it will be ready by next July. The impact that Croatian accession will have in promoting stability and sending a message of hope across the western Balkans should be welcomed by every party in this House. I commend the Bill, and its Third Reading, to the House.

3.49 pm

Emma Reynolds: As I said on Second Reading, the Opposition welcome the Bill and support the accession of Croatia to the European Union and the ratification of the Irish protocol.

As we did in government, we support enlargement, provided that candidate countries fulfil the conditions of membership. I echo the Minister in saying that across Europe’s frontiers, the process of European Union accession has provided and continues to provide an incentive for democratisation, economic and political reform, trade liberalisation, and the promotion of human rights.

As has been noted in today’s debate and on Second Reading, Croatia’s accession process has been rigorous and demanding. Indeed, it has been more rigorous and demanding than for previous accessions. Croatia has made remarkable progress, especially given the backdrop of the violent and bloody conflict in the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s.

In terms of the UK’s national interests, the economic case for enlargement is clear. If candidate countries fulfil the conditions of membership, it is very much in our national interests to enlarge the European Union’s single market—the largest single market in the world—for British businesses, and to expand the size and power of the European Union. The larger the single market of the European Union, the heavier its collective weight and the more powerful it will be in prising open markets such as India, Mercosur, Canada, Singapore and Japan and in negotiating beneficial free trade agreements with them.

Croatia has successfully transposed 35 chapters of European Union law into its national legislation and it continues to make progress in the reform of its economy

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and judiciary. As I outlined on Second Reading, we continue to have concerns about some aspects of the implementation of the reforms, particularly in the areas of competition, the judiciary and fundamental rights, and security and justice. However, we are confident, as has been stated by the European Commission, that by the time of its accession in July, Croatia will have met the necessary requirements of the acquis and will therefore be ready to join the European Union. To ensure that that happens, the momentum must continue into next year until accession on 1 July 2013.

From our experience of previous accessions to the European Union, we know how important it is that the Commission and member states continue to support and monitor a candidate country’s progress right up to its accession. We welcome the Commission’s commitment to publish its final report next March. We want to avoid a situation in which the EU has to put in place co-operation and verification mechanisms to monitor progress post-enlargement. To that end, I encourage the Government and the Commission to continue to support Croatia over the next few months.

The Irish protocol provides a clarification of the application of the treaty of Lisbon. It does not amend the treaty or repatriate powers from the European Union to Ireland. As the Minister set out in Committee, the provisions of the clarification apply equally to every member state. The protocol is valuable because it provides assurances to the Irish people in specific areas of concern regarding the application of the Lisbon treaty. It contains safeguards on the right to life, family and education, and on taxation and Irish neutrality, meaning that Ireland retains decision making in those areas.

In conclusion, the Labour party supports the Bill and its progress through the House. We look forward to welcoming Croatia, when it is ready, on its accession on 1 July next year.

3.55 pm

Jacob Rees-Mogg: May I begin by reciprocating the kind thanks from my right hon. Friend the Minister? When debating with him and the hon. Member for Wolverhampton North East (Emma Reynolds), every day is like a jubilee year in which we have the chance to discuss these great and important European matters. It brings joy not only to all of us in the Chamber, but no doubt to the many millions who are watching our deliberations on the Parliament channel.

I remind the House of the process that has brought us to the European Union (Croatian Accession and Irish Protocol) Bill. Thanks to the European Union Act 2011, we have a clear, proper and detailed process through which to work that allows detailed parliamentary scrutiny of any European decision. That is important and extraordinarily welcome because it ensures that things cannot be gently pushed through or run through on the nod on a quiet Thursday afternoon when no one is around, and it ensures that on a full-blown Tuesday, people are in the Chamber listening, paying attention and tabling amendments. Sometimes those amendments are not agreed with, which is a pity and at times shows a disappointing view of the world, but none the less, the House is allowed to do its proper job, as will be the case in another place. I am grateful to the Minister for piloting through Parliament the 2011 Act that allows us to do this part of our work today.

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The second point I wish to reiterate is that the Irish protocol we are approving shows what can be done with treaty amendments. As the hon. Member for Wolverhampton North East said, it may be merely a clarification or tidying-up exercise, but it required every member state to agree to the protocol, in order to get the Irish ratification of the Lisbon treaty that was so desperately needed after it was rejected the first time. What Ireland can do, surely the United Kingdom can also do—and with greater strength and success. We must use the mechanism of renegotiation to create a European Union that we want and with which we can live. If we do that, the European Union will be better not only for us but for the continentals as well.

Finally, after all that has been said in this debate about Croatia, its qualities and whether it is fit for membership of the European Union, I want to welcome it into the club—the Carlton club of international organisations. Broadening and widening the EU has been welcome and good for this country and for the type of Europe that has developed. There was the risk of a narrowly focused French-style Europe—if I may use such language in the Chamber, Mr Deputy Speaker—that was essentially protectionist and inward looking. Although broadening out has had its problems, and there were failures to ensure the strict application of proper procedures as countries joined the EU, we have none the less been able to push for a more open-looking Europe. It is not a Europe without faults, but it certainly has advantages.

Although the number of people who came to the UK under previous accession treaties may have got out of control, the individuals who arrived brought much good with them. I particularly rejoice that so many Polish people who arrived are my co-religionists, and Catholic churches throughout the country are bursting at the seams. In that sense, broadening the EU brings much to be welcomed—Croatia is another Catholic country, so it is another one for the papists, I am glad to say.

But—and there is a but—we should take seriously the warning of Croatia joining. Federal unions that stretch beyond what the people within them will accept have a tendency to collapse, and to collapse violently. When we consider how the EU is constructed, we must remember what happened with Yugoslavia. If we try to force together peoples who do not form a natural unit of democracy, and if rules and regulations are enforced upon them by unelected and dishonest judges, and by a corrupt bureaucracy that cannot sign off its accounts, we risk creating such dissatisfaction that we undermine the peace we were trying to bring in the first place by the widening and deepening of that union.

Although we welcome Croatia into the club, we, as the UK, should be very conscious that the EU, which is not a democratic body, risks overreaching itself and losing the faith and confidence of the British people. It could find that its end, if it is not reformed, is a disagreeable one, and one that has deep-seated problems within it. We should be challenging it and dealing with it as we get a better settlement for the UK. That will help to create a Europe that might be more stable and long-lasting than the bureaucratic, centralised version we currently have.

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4.1 pm

Wayne David: In these times when the EU is strongly criticised in this Chamber and more often outside—sometimes correctly, sometimes incorrectly—it is important for us to focus, every so often, on its two great pivotal achievements, to which the Minister referred. First, the single market has been an undeniable success. Britain was an early advocate of the single market and remains an advocate of the process of completing it. The second great achievement is the process of enlargement. With the single market, enlargement has been part of the lifeblood of the EU—it has given it direction and momentum. Let us not forget that the process has led from the original six member states of the iron and steel community coming together to the step-by-step enlargement of the EU to 27 member states. Before too long, there will be 28. Taken together, those two pivotal developments have helped to shape the EU as it is today, which, in my vision, is an association of independent sovereign states that from time to time pool their sovereignty in their mutual best interests. If those two principles continue to loom large at the centre of the EU, it will be a force for good and prosperity in this world, despite its difficulties and need of reform.

Hon. Members have had a good debate on Croatia’s membership of the EU. Croatia expressed an interest in joining the EU some 10 years ago and has gradually built up momentum. It is now very close to joining the EU, and it is important to reflect on why Croatia is so keen to do so. Let us not forget that in the 1990s, the former Yugoslavia was ripped apart by the most horrendous conflict in modern Europe. Slovenia led the way out of that, preparing to join the EU, and has been followed by Croatia. It is important that people there know that we understand the experience that they have had which has led to their being so firmly committed to the principle of European co-operation.

I am also glad that the EU has learned lessons from that process of preparation and enlargement. There have been numerous references, with regard to Slovakia, and, later, Bulgaria and Romania, to insufficient preparation before accession and how those countries would implement their verbal commitments, particularly on justice and home affairs. I think that those lessons have been learnt in the way the process has been conducted with Croatia.

We had a good Second Reading debate, in which I was pleased to participate, and a very good Committee stage today. The ghost of Simon de Montfort has hovered over the Chamber at numerous points. My historical hero, however, is not Simon de Montfort but Gilbert de Clare, another Frenchman. As I am sure hon. Members know—certainly, the Minister knows it well—he built Caerphilly castle. Gilbert de Clare, an Englishman by adoption, a Welshman by conquest and a Norman by lineage, well personifies the need for us to learn the lessons of the past and to work together in European co-operation.

We had a good debate, particularly on Second Reading, on free movement. I am glad that hon. Members tabled their amendments on the Floor of the House so we could debate them properly. The issue of free movement of peoples is a concern to our constituents—let us be absolutely clear about that. These issues cannot be swept under the carpet. We have to debate them honestly, fairly and rationally, and I believe that we have done so.

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I am pleased that the Government have opted for the maximum transitional period on the free movement of labour from Croatia.

We also had a good debate on whether there should be a delay in agreeing to the accession of Croatia, and whether it would be appropriate to abide by the recommendation of the European Scrutiny Committee that we should ensure that all the i’s are dotted and the t’s are crossed before we move towards the accession of Croatia. I was glad to hear the categorical assurance the Minister for Europe gave a moment ago. I am pleased to hear that that in part echoes the views of the European Commissioner responsible, Mr Füle. The Croatian Government have to be complimented on the strength of the commitments they have given. There is no doubt in my mind that they are not hollow words. They mean what they say and will introduce all the necessary measures asked of them in the coming months.

We are moving towards the end of this process, but I believe that enlargement remains a central driving force of the EU. I hope that when Croatia becomes a member of the European Union on 1 July 2013, it will be not simply a country marking the end of a process, but a staging post. I hope that the agenda will move forward with regard to Iceland, and to Turkey, although there are significant difficulties with those negotiations. I hope, too, that for the western Balkans, the negotiations and discussions leading to membership will gather momentum. I am concerned that things are not so positive with regard to Bosnia and Herzegovina. Nevertheless, I hope that there will be progress, as I hope there will be with other countries, particularly Serbia and Montenegro.

Finally, as the Minister for Europe correctly said, in some ways it is significant that the other week, the former Croatian Prime Minister Ivo Sanader was sentenced to 10 years’ imprisonment for taking bribes from two foreign countries. That would be a difficult and traumatic experience for any country. It shows, on the one hand, that work remains to be done in Croatia on reforms and tackling corruption, but on the other hand, it shows the determination there to ensure that these abuses and crimes are tackled effectively, strongly and quickly. It is a clear indication that Croatia is well on its way to becoming a successful Member of the EU, and I hope that this country will continue to do whatever it can to ensure that that process comes to fruition.

4.10 pm

Martin Horwood: I congratulate the Minister and his team on shepherding this small but potentially tricky Bill through the House so far—assuming nothing goes wrong in the closing minutes. The debate has been well conducted: it has been mature and thoughtful, including from the ultramontane Benches of the Conservative party behind me. Having said that, I think the hon. Member for North East Somerset (Jacob Rees-Mogg) slightly lost the plot by appearing to compare the EU with the Yugoslavia of Slobodan Milosevic. I think that most people’s reading of Yugoslav history would be that during that violent period the Balkans suffered not from too much liberal internationalism, but from too much conservative nationalism.

Jacob Rees-Mogg: Will my hon. Friend give way?

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Martin Horwood: With some trepidation.

Jacob Rees-Mogg: My hon. Friend is being too modern. I was comparing it with the Yugoslavia of Tito.

Martin Horwood: Okay, but the violence broke out some time after Tito’s death. It was the explosion of nationalism at that point which contributed to the violence. The point is that Tito did not implement the proper freedoms and democracy in the way that western Europe recognised, and that allowed for the explosion of nationalism. I am not claiming that Tito was a liberal.

Jacob Rees-Mogg: That is the whole point. The fact that Tito enforced a false union that people did not want led to exactly what the EU is now trying to stop. That is the argument: if we squeeze people into a situation they do not like, it will end unpleasantly. Regardless of the comparisons, though, we agree on the broad principle.

Martin Horwood: At the risk of deviating into a discussion about Croatian history, I would say that some of the nationalist tendencies, particularly in Croatia, dated from well back into the second world war. It was the overhang of nationalisms that had been around for 100 years and more that exploded, whereas the spirit of liberal internationalism, which could be characterised by EU membership, is more likely to provide a peaceful avenue out of such conflict in the future.

I shall return to the subject at hand, as I am sure you would want me to do, Mr Deputy Speaker. By and large, this has been a thoughtful and considered debate without some of the unhelpful grandstanding we occasionally see on EU business. I hope that that sets a precedent for future discussion of EU business.

On the Irish protocol, the Bill sets an important precedent. It is a model of how a pro-European country can nevertheless adopt a flexible and pragmatic approach to European competences and powers, and—to put it the other way around—shows that we do not have to be anti-European or xenophobic and nationalistic to win what might be regarded as concessions and special considerations from fellow European Governments. That is a model that the UK, in particular, should bear in mind over the coming months and years.

On the main substance of the Bill, which is Croatian accession, the accession process has provided an enormously important opportunity for Croatia to develop its own democracy and its approach to justice and home affairs issues. For Britain and other European countries, it offers the opportunity to form an ever-stronger partnership with Croatia, including an opportunity for British investment, jobs, business and, in due course, perhaps for British migration to Croatia, as we discussed in Committee. However, it is clear that there is still work to be done in Croatia. I am sure that the day it was confirmed that Croatia was in full compliance with the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia was an important and historic one, but it did not go down entirely well with the Croatian public. There are still political and legislative hurdles to be overcome in Croatia.

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Bob Stewart: I support the hon. Gentleman absolutely on that point. There are still people living in Croatia who need to be brought before a court of law, and I hope very much that that will happen.

Martin Horwood: The hon. and gallant Gentleman makes an important point of which he obviously has expert knowledge.

It is a testament to the hard work of European and Croatian officials and Ministers that so much progress has been made—indeed, it is really a testament to the capability of the European Union accession process to improve people’s lives. I would express some regret that Croatia’s border disputes with Slovenia, a European Union nation, and other, non-European Union Balkan nations have not been fully resolved in advance of accession. In that respect, we do not seem to have entirely learnt the lesson of Cyprus. I hope that in future European Governments will start to try to insist that, as part of the accession process, any outstanding border disputes should be fully resolved before accession takes place. That will be important for the other Balkan nations, let alone for more distant and even more challenging situations in countries such as Georgia, if their aspirations to European Union membership ever became a serious process. It is important to use the opportunities that accession offers us to resolve disputes—border and territorial disputes in particular—and make progress on all those fronts.

Bringing yet another nation into the family of the European Union also helps to fulfil the positive vision of a continent united not really by rules, bureaucracy and treaties, but by values—by freedom and democracy. Croatia’s 20th century was as troubled as any country’s in Europe, with three major periods of conflict and bloodshed. It is something to celebrate that its 21st century is going to see it taking its rightful place in a stable federation of free democracies. We will all strive together as Europeans to make Europe a place of peace, freedom and sustainable prosperity. It is a matter of pride that Croatia is taking its place in that process.

4.17 pm

Graham Stringer: Like the hon. Member for North East Somerset (Jacob Rees-Mogg), I rise with unexpected and particular joy, because I think this is the first time the Whips have asked me to make a speech about Europe. This is not a usual occurrence, and I doubt they will be pleased with what I have to say.

Like the hon. Member for Cheltenham (Martin Horwood) and others, one cannot but wish Croatia well. It has had a terrible and bloody history within living memory, and I certainly wish it well in its progress towards democracy.

I want to make two main points. The first is about the relationship of this country and this Government with Europe and what Croatia’s accession means in the light of that policy, and the second is about the details of its accession. In relationship to the European Union as a whole, the Government have shown themselves in this debate to be quite schizophrenic. My hon. Friend the Member for Caerphilly (Wayne David) and the Minister for Europe—I thank him for his courtesy on Second Reading and in Committee, and for answering the questions I asked—offered an analysis of the European Union

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that might have been appropriate in 1972 and 1975, and even in the early 1990s, after the collapse of the iron curtain. That European Union was described as a free market of sovereign democratic countries coming together under the full freedoms of a European Union in which democracy had been pooled. I have to say to my hon. Friend the Member for Caerphilly, however, that the concept of pooled democracy is, in philosophy, a category mistake. If we pool sovereignty, we lose sovereignty. The concept of pooling is not consistent with the concept of sovereignty.

The view exists that the European Union is progressing and supporting democracy in areas that were at war or previously had no democracy, and that free trade will take care of everything else, but we can see what is actually happening in Europe. We hear the Prime Minister telling us that he is going to fight until his last breath, almost, over the European budget. We hear that the European bureaucrats and some of the European countries are living in a parallel universe. We can see that the creation of the euro has led to deflation, unemployment and a lack of democracy in the eurozone, and we can see the Brussels bureaucracy wanting to take more control for itself.

In fact, we can see a European Union in crisis, and it is difficult for this country to know exactly how to respond to that issue. I believe that, rather than accepting the Panglossian view that all is well within the EU, it is time to be seriously awkward. Perhaps the Bill presents one of many opportunities for us to be that. The European Union is going in a very different direction from the one in which the Prime Minister, the Minister for Europe and those on my Front Bench want. We want to bring more powers back to the House of Commons and to the Government. We want to see more of a free trade association and less power going to the European bureaucracy. We certainly do not want a fiscal union, a banking union, or the much closer integration that seems likely within the eurozone. That would present a serious threat to the City of London, which, depending on the state of the economy, can account for about 15% of our economy. If we do not want those things to happen, we need to state clearly where we want to go. I do not believe that we want to go—

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Nigel Evans): Order. I have given the hon. Gentleman some latitude, but it would be useful if he mentioned Croatia and Ireland now and again. We are debating Third Reading of the Bill.

Graham Stringer: I am grateful for your guidance, Mr Deputy Speaker.

In looking at what was happening generally in the European Union, I was simply asking, in relation to Croatia’s accession, whether we should continue to adopt an attitude that might have been appropriate 30 years ago but probably is not now. If we want to get some sovereignty back, and if we want to pay less into the European Union, we should negotiate hard at every opportunity, as the hon. Member for North East Somerset said. I do not see the point of being communautaire and good Europeans at one table, then going into the next room and saying that we are not good Europeans and that our objective is completely different. Every treaty and negotiation presents an opportunity to put forward our view.

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I also have to say that the Conservative Members who moved amendments were in a minority, as there is a consensus in the House on Europe. It is worrying for our democracy, however, that that consensus is so at odds with public opinion outside, which is profoundly sceptical about deepening and enlarging the European Union, and cries out for its own say in a referendum—not on a specific issue such as Croatian accession, but on basic principles such as the public voting us in to pass laws and to represent them in this place. Should we really have passed so much power and sovereignty to the European Union?

Andrew Bridgen (North West Leicestershire) (Con): Does the hon. Gentleman agree that my hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset (Jacob Rees-Mogg) made an excellent speech about the potential impact of the accession of Croatia? Unusually, however, there was a flaw in my hon. Friend’s argument when he compared the accession of Croatia to joining the Carlton club. The Carlton club is a fine institution for people of a certain political leaning to enjoy good company, but all the members pay into the club to join the club. It appears to me, however, that the only people willing to join the European Union are those who are paid to join it. What sort of a club is it when one has to be paid to join?

Graham Stringer: I bow to the hon. Gentleman’s greater knowledge of the Carlton club than I have or am ever likely to have in future. My guess is, though, that his analogy is accurate.

Let me finish on the detail of the Croatian accession. I think there is a fundamental problem in the Government’s arguments. I have good will and everybody should have good will towards Croatia, but it is absolutely clear that the country does not meet the criteria for entry at

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present. What we are being asked, then, is to believe that if we agree to the treaty now, changes will take place.

There is some history to draw upon, and not just the mistakes that have been mentioned throughout the debate in respect of Romania and Bulgaria. Countries sometimes reform and improve, yet go backwards. Hungary is a clear example, because it is moving away from the rule of law. If it had been carrying on as it is at present it is doubtful that it would have been allowed into the European Union, so to ask the House to agree to something that does not comply with the criteria now on the basis that it will be compliant in the future is, I believe, an act of faith and optimism that is not justified.

I leave Members with this thought. We have had debates in Westminster Hall and in this Chamber about the benefits and disbenefits of the European arrest warrant. In agreeing to Croatia becoming part of the European Union, allowing a country that currently has very poor judicial standards and a very poor judiciary, albeit one that it is trying to improve, we are giving that country the power to arrest British citizens very quickly. I worry about that. It can be problematic enough in France, Germany and other EU countries when people are arrested in this country for things that are not against this country’s law, but those countries at least have well established, albeit different, judicial systems to our own. Croatia, however, does not have that, so it might well leave some of our citizens vulnerable to the European arrest warrant.

I wish Croatia well. There is clearly a huge consensus here for its joining coming the European Union, but I worry about our relationship with the EU and I also worry that Croatia, when it becomes a full member, will not have met all the criteria.

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Nigel Evans): I do not need to declare my membership of the Carlton club, but I feel I should.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed.

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Growth and Infrastructure Bill (Ways and Means (No.2)

4.29 pm

The Minister of State, Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (Michael Fallon): I beg to move,

That, for the purposes of any Act resulting from the Growth and Infrastructure Bill, it is expedient to authorise provision for, or in connection with, altering the dates on which non-domestic rating lists are to be compiled.

Following the debate on the Bill’s Second Reading on 5 November, the House agreed to a ways and means resolution that authorised “the charging of fees”

and

“the recovery of costs by virtue of the Act”,

and made

“provision for the inclusion in licences under the Gas Act 1986 of conditions requiring payments to be made to holders of licences under that Act.”

Subsequently, an oversight was identified: the resolution does not cover the Bill in its entirety. Additional provision is therefore needed to cover clause 22, which is entitled

“Postponement of compilation of rating lists to 2017”.

As the House is aware, the Public Bill Committee is currently undertaking line-by-line consideration of the Bill. I have therefore moved a supplementary motion to ensure that clause 22 is covered by a ways and means resolution before the Committee reaches the clause.

The parliamentary draftsman has apologised for the fact that the oversight occurred. It was not noticed by the House, or by those who advise us. Let me add the Government’s apologies for not having identified the omission before the House agreed the resolution on 5 November. I hope that it will now agree to the supplementary resolution.

4.31 pm

Roberta Blackman-Woods (City of Durham) (Lab): We are having this debate because the Minister has had to move a second ways and means motion. The first was clearly a rushed and shambolic effort. It was rushed and shambolic because it accompanies a Bill that is rushed and shambolic. Tabling the motion when the Public Bill Committee is currently sitting does not strike me as an entirely sensible or logical way of conducting the business of the House.

The Growth and Infrastructure Bill is simply an eclectic assembly of clauses that constitute a knee-jerk response by the Government to their failure to support the economic recovery. The fact that this disappointing and potentially damaging Bill and associated secondary measures were thrown together in a hurry is borne out by the huge number of consultations on the Bill that have been churned out by the Department for Communities and Local Government in its apparent haste to legislate for growth.

In recent weeks, the Minister and his colleagues have published a number of consultations on major changes to legislation and planning processes, many of which were published just hours, or in some cases minutes,

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before they were due to be scrutinised. The consultation on the extension of permitted development rights was published just minutes before the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government was due to take questions in the House. The consultation on planning performance and the planning guarantee was published the morning on which the measures in it were due to be scrutinised by Parliament. Yesterday, the Department chose to publish the consultations entitled

“Nationally significant infrastructure planning: expanding and improving the ‘one stop shop’ approach for consents”

and

“Nationally significant infrastructure planning: extending the regime to business and commercial projects”.

Both those hugely important and potentially controversial changes have already been included in the Bill.

One issue on which the Government have yet to consult—although perhaps they will do so immediately before Members are due to debate it—is clause 22, which will postpone the business rates revaluation. It is that aspect of the Bill to which the redrafted Ways and Means resolution relates, and which—as the Minister explained—the previous attempt did not consider. I am therefore concerned about what else Ministers may have neglected to consider. The Department has bandied about a figure suggesting how many it thinks will win and lose as a result of this postponement, but the British Property Federation, the British Council of Shopping Centres and the Association of Convenience Stores are just a few of the organisations that have questioned the logic. I would like the Minister to reassure us that he is sure of the impact that this measure will have. The impact assessment, another seemingly hurried document from the Minister’s Department, does little to allay my fears in that regard. It does not properly set out the impact, let alone assess it, on that or a number of other key issues in the Bill. Does the Minister accept that the rush for legislation will do nothing to promote growth but may do much other damage? The Opposition do not intend to reject this Ways and Means resolution, but we question the manner in which it has had to be introduced today.

4.35 pm

Michael Fallon: With the leave of the House, may I thank the hon. Member for City of Durham (Roberta Blackman-Woods) for what she said? However, I suggest to her that she is trying to make a mountain out of a molehill. The Ways and Means resolution was agreed at the time of Second Reading and no issues about it were raised then. The parliamentary draftsmen and women, and the Officers of this House, who prepare numerous and varied resolutions that enable us to adhere to the procedures of this House, have noticed an error in this instance and have moved speedily to correct it. This relatively minor oversight will cost us only a few minutes to rectify. She is opposed to the Bill, but Government Members make no apology for getting on with the Bill. We are anxious to see the economy grow and to see more investment in infrastructure—she is not, which is why she voted against the Bill in the first place.

Question put and agreed to.

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Warrington (Atlantic Gateway)

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—(Joseph Johnson.)

4.36 pm

David Mowat (Warrington South) (Con): Before I got to my feet, I was informed by my hon. Friend the Member for Bury North (Mr Nuttall), who is very strong on these topics, that I have until 7.30 pm for this debate. May I reassure you, Mr Deputy Speaker, and the Minister that I should be able to complete it in advance of that?

I am pleased to have the opportunity to discuss the strategic road network around Warrington, but before I do so may I give some context to Warrington’s position over the past 100 years? According to the Centre for Cities, Warrington has been the fastest growing UK city, bar none. We have the sixth-highest earnings in the UK, and a large part of the town’s prosperity is driven by our transport infrastructure. The town sits between the M6, the M62 and the M56. More relevant to this debate is the fact that the town is bisected by two significant waterways: the River Mersey and the Manchester ship canal, which moves between Manchester and Liverpool.

I wish to talk a little about the ship canal, because it has some particular impacts on Warrington. There are four crossings in my constituency, three of which are A roads. Every crossing is a swing bridge, which means that each time a boat goes down the ship canal the bridge has to swing and the traffic is stopped for a period of up to 20 minutes. There have been a number of phases to the interaction between the ship canal and the road network. When the canal was first built, many boats used it and there were few cars around. At that time, the Manchester Ship Canal Act 1885 was passed, giving the owners of the canal the right, in perpetuity, to swing the bridge whenever they needed to do so. That was a sensible move as there were few cars around at the time. In the intervening period to the present day there has been a great growth in the number of cars but a much reduced number of boats. Although the bridge still swings, causing quite a bit of disruption, it does so only once or twice a day. That is broadly manageable, even though there can be a 20-minute delay each time. In future, however, we will have more cars and more boats and the consequences are potentially quite severe for the residents of the south part of Warrington. I want to discuss the causes and ask the Minister to give some undertakings on how we can mitigate the problems.

Over the next decade, two strategic projects will affect the area. One is the Atlantic gateway project and the other is the Mersey gateway bridge. Both are very important for the north-west and I support them, as what brings prosperity to the north-west brings prosperity to Warrington, but I am very concerned that the combined effect of the projects will lead to the unintended consequence of a significant increase of traffic—as I said, to more boats and cars.

First, let me talk about the Mersey gateway bridge. This is a significant civil engineering project and will replace the Runcorn bridge, which was built in 1961 and badly needs to be replaced. As I said, the project is important for the north-west but the new bridge will be a toll bridge and although the toll has not been set,

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the consequence will be that the traffic will be diverted through my constituency and Warrington as people take a detour. A public inquiry into the bridge three years ago found that the level of traffic diverted through Warrington would be sensitive to the amount of the toll. The range of extra traffic movements per day cited in the public inquiry was between 14,000 and 6,000 if the toll was lower. I shall return to the subject of tolls and what I would like the Minister to help us with.

Let me note in passing that another very significant civil engineering project is going on in the UK at the moment: the Forth road bridge in Edinburgh. One issue that I have a great deal of difficulty explaining to my constituents is why the Forth road bridge has no toll and is funded entirely from taxpayers’ money whereas the Mersey gateway bridge in the north-west of England will have a toll, causing some of the problems I am talking about in Warrington. Perhaps the Minister can address that in his response.

The consequence of the Mersey gateway project will be more cars, but the consequence of the second strategic project over the next decade will be more boats on the canal: it is the Atlantic gateway project, a huge and very welcome private sector investment in the corridor between Manchester and Liverpool. Something in the order of £14 billion will be spent and estimates suggest that in excess of 100,000 jobs will be created over the next two or three decades. In broad terms, the container traffic that goes into Felixstowe and Southampton will, we hope, go to Liverpool and a great deal of it will come down the ship canal, partly to Port Warrington, and much of it to Salford and out on to the rail network. I am describing one part of the overall programme and it is hard not to welcome a shift in freight from road to rail and barge.

The problem for Warrington, however, is that the project will increase by an undetermined amount the traffic on the canal. As I said, the swing bridges currently move once or twice a day but they could move up to five times a day, or possibly more. Each movement causes 20 to 30 minutes of delay to traffic, with a significant impact on the south part of the town. I said that our prosperity was to a large extent built on traffic flows. The village of Stockton Heath is very affluent and has a large number of independent shops, but when the traffic stacks up they have to close their doors because of the fumes and everything that goes with that traffic. I worked in Bangkok for part of my life, and one never knew how long a road journey would be—it could be 5 minutes or 55 minutes—and the south of Warrington now has some of those traffic characteristics.

Prosperity and economic viability are not the only considerations. There are problems for the emergency services—fire engines and ambulances get stuck. Ambulances face a particular problem as the hospital in Warrington is north of the ship canal. There are large population centres south of the canal, and if ambulances cannot get through, public safety issues arise. The two large and important projects have unintended consequences, and I am very keen that they are mitigated.

So far Warrington borough council has developed memorandums of understanding with Peel Holdings on the canal movements, with some sensible measures in that regard, and with Halton borough council in respect of the bridge. However, we are tinkering at the boundaries and trying to mitigate what is unmitigable. I have a

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number of suggestions, to which I hope the Minister will respond. The problem will be with us over the next decade, it will need managing at various points, and I am keen to get it on to his radar screen this afternoon.

First, with reference to the bridge, I mentioned that my constituents do not understand why it is to be tolled, when the only other bridge in the UK to be part of a significant project—the Forth road bridge—will be free. Can the Minister give assurances on the level of toll that will be implemented by Halton borough council? There should be no ambiguity about the fact that the toll is intended only to pay for the bridge as quickly as possible, given the shortfall of funding provided, and that no moneys will flow to Halton or Warrington borough council for other schemes. As I said, the amount of traffic that will be diverted through Warrington is very sensitive to that toll, and £1 is much better than £2. I hope the Minister can give us that assurance.

Secondly, with reference to boat movements on the canal, we are looking to upgrade the bridge mechanisms and to have better sharing of information about those movements. Will the Minister give his backing to the request that has been made to Peel Holdings to group movements of boats and to move them at night, when there is obviously less traffic? That is a reasonable compromise. There is little justification for boats coming through in an ad hoc way during the day. Thus far there has been no agreement on that. One of the reasons is that, as I mentioned earlier, there is a statutory right in the Manchester Ship Canal Act 1885 for the owner of the ship canal to swing those bridges whenever they wish. If we are not able to get the matter resolved in a way that works for the people of Warrington as well as the wider community in the north-west, will the Minister consider amending the Act, for example to give Warrington borough council, through the planning system or some other mechanism, some input into ship movements and some statutory control of the devastation that could potentially be caused in the south part of the town?

The third aspect that I would like the Minister to consider is the medium-term solution of a road upgrade bypassing the very constricted part of Warrington called the Bridge Foot area and joining the M56 to the western parts of Warrington without going through the Bridge Foot area. To do that, work would first be required to a piece of rail infrastructure called the Arpley Chord. There has been a dialogue between the Department for Transport and Warrington borough council on this. It was proposed as a potential project for the Chancellor’s statement last year but it failed to make the cut. I would like to put it on the record that we are lobbying hard for that. Any input or guidance the Minister can offer on that would be most welcome.

Finally, both schemes that are causing problems in my constituency, the Atlantic gateway and the Mersey gateway bridge, are good schemes that are necessary and should go forward. What I am asking is that collectively we do what we can to ensure that we do not undermine the prosperity and safety of the residents of Warrington as we pursue the schemes.

4.50 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Stephen Hammond): It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair, Mr Deputy Speaker, and to have the opportunity

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to speak for over two hours on this exciting subject. I shall of course resist that temptation, just as my hon. Friend the Member for Warrington South (David Mowat) did. I congratulate him on securing the debate. He spoke this afternoon about two or three really important opportunities for growth in his constituency, and in doing so he spoke for Warrington, its people and its industry.

The two big opportunities my hon. Friend spoke about are the Mersey gateway and the Atlantic gateway. I will respond first to some of his points on the Mersey gateway crossing. It is this Government who have been able to agree and secure delivery of that vital piece of infrastructure after years of planning. Our agreed funding package includes tolling, which is in line with other large pieces of infrastructure across major estuaries and rivers. In his letter setting out his decision on the scheme in December 2010, the Secretary of State for Transport agreed with the inspector that it would be necessary for the promoter to charge tolls for the use of the new Mersey gateway bridge and the existing Silver Jubilee bridge, both to provide revenue for construction of the project and to avoid unacceptable levels of congestion on the existing bridge.

My hon. Friend challenged me to explain why there will be tolling. The issue was of course covered in the public inquiry and is consistent with the inspector’s recommendations. He also challenged me about the fact that estuary crossings in Scotland are free of tolls. As he knows, and as I am sure he has explained to his constituents, that is a matter for the Scottish Government, not this Government.

My hon. Friend also asked about the tolling regime. Let me put it on the record—he might or might not be aware of this—that the Secretary of State has approved the following orders that provide for tolling for new and existing bridges: an order under the Transport and Works Act 1992 in respect of the new bridge; and a confirmation of the road user charging scheme under the Transport Act 2000 in respect of the existing bridge. Those two Acts specify the range of the tolls that can be charged. Although tolls can be revised so that they are lower than the specified range, they cannot be increased above it. For cars and light vans, the range is set at £1 to £2.50, at 2008 prices. The tolls can of course be varied over time, according to the retail prices index. I hope that clarifies his queries about tolling. I think it sets out clearly why the toll is there and the range that can be used.

I absolutely understand my hon. Friend’s point that a toll set at the wrong level would have the potential to divert traffic via Warrington, but I am assured that both local authorities—Halton and Warrington borough councils—are alive to the issue and have committed to holding regular discussions on how that can be most effectively managed once the new bridge is opened. I urge him to speak to them as passionately as he has spoken today to ensure that they bring the tolling levels in at the lower end of the range, or even seek to use the discount.

Turning to the Atlantic gateway proposals led by Peel Ports, I agree that they constitute an imaginative strategic package and have great potential to contribute to regional regeneration across the north-west. However, it is fair to say that elements of the package are at various stages of design and elaboration. Some have planning clearance

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and some do not. I should therefore preface my remarks by making it clear that in responding to the debate, nothing I say should be construed as prejudicing any future decisions of a planning or licensing authority that may follow as part of the package that will undoubtedly come forth in due course.

That does not mean that we cannot take a wider view. As my hon. Friend said, it is a decidedly good thing that the developer, which already operates on a large scale, is able to see synergies between transport, office development, science, media and other parts of the regional industry mix, and to formulate a joined-up view. I am very pleased to see the developer and the local enterprise partnership doing that in the north-west.

The Atlantic gateway covers the area from Liverpool city region in the west to Manchester city region in the east. The Atlantic gateway and some of the schemes that follow from it have huge potential to put this part of the north-west back into the premier league of world economic powerhouses, as is surely fitting for an area that was at the heart of this country’s prosperity in years gone by. At the heart of the proposition is the connectivity that is being driven forward by the Atlantic gateway board in seeking to maximise road, rail and shipping assets in the region. I am delighted to say that this Government, yet again, have been able to provide significant investment in priority projects. My hon. Friend mentioned the Ordsall chord, and I am sure that he would also want to recognise the benefits of rail electrification.

One of the key transport assets for the Atlantic gateway is the unique port corridor provided by the River Mersey and the Manchester ship canal, which links the thriving port of Liverpool with port facilities in Salford and Manchester, some 35 miles inland. More than 40 million tonnes of freight passes through the docks. Mersey ports is one of the most significant and important ports in the UK and a key asset both nationally and locally. The plan proposes significant investment by Peel Ports in facilities and infrastructure to revitalise and utilise the whole of the port and the ship canal. That should provide a world-class port and logistics corridor. However, with this growth come the ramifications and impacts that my hon. Friend mentioned. Port growth is hugely beneficial, but the benefit needs to be enjoyed by all, and several potential impacts need to be managed. While the scheme can take a number of lorries off the road, it can also, as he said, lead to a number of impacts on local traffic.