The provisions on landlords were supported by the hon. Members for Henley (John Howell), for Amber Valley (Nigel Mills) and for Poole (Mr Syms). We do not have an objection in principle, because we have already supported similar measures on employment. But concerns were raised by my right hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy), my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham East and the hon. Member for Brent Central on bureaucracy, on changes in immigration status during the course of a tenancy and the costs to landlords of implementing the policy. While the principle

22 Oct 2013 : Column 253

may be good, the Committee will need to examine in detail how the policy will work in practice. The concerns of the landlords themselves, and of hon. Members on both sides of the House, will need to be considered in detail during the passage of the Bill.

Nor do we oppose the health charge in principle. It was supported by the hon. Member for Crawley (Henry Smith), but my hon. Friend the Member for Airdrie and Shotts (Pamela Nash) made some very pertinent observations on it, not least of which was that health is devolved in Scotland, as it is in my area in Wales and in Northern Ireland, but we have had no clarity from the Government about how any charge raised will be distributed, whether it will go to the Consolidated Fund or to the health service or to regional Administrations. We will need to test that in Committee.

The driving licence provisions will enshrine in law what the Labour Government did. I still think that someone who is here illegally is not going to worry too much about not having a driving licence, but we can test that idea in Committee. Sham marriages, enforcement of borders, biometrics and bank accounts are all issues that we should look at in Committee and may potentially support. Whatever the outcome of the vote tonight—if there is one—we will seek to amend parts 2 and 3 in Committee.

I have not yet mentioned the issues that the Bill does not deal with. Opposition Members have recognised that immigration is an economic issue, but right hon. and hon. Government Members made no positive suggestions as to how we could tackle the issues of European immigration that are having an impact on labour market issues. I welcome the fact that my right hon. Friend the shadow Home Secretary signalled that Labour will table amendments, which we hope will be accepted, to make it illegal for recruitment agencies to target and recruit only foreign workers; to make it illegal for employers to deliberately run shifts only for foreign workers; to increase civil penalties to up to £50,000 for not paying the minimum wage—which, by the way, the Conservatives opposed in the first place; and to treble the fine for employing foreign workers illegally.

As my right hon. Friend said, and in answer to the hon. Member for Hertsmere (Mr Clappison), we will also table amendments to ensure that the aspirations of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition are put into play on the question of EU apprenticeships—

Mr Clappison: Will the right hon. Gentleman give way on that point?

Mr Hanson: I cannot give way now because of the lack of time. The points that the hon. Gentleman has made are worthy of debate, and I assure him that we will have an opportunity to discuss the issue of apprenticeships linked to foreign employment after we have tabled our amendments.

We need to look at banning unsuitable accommodation from being used as tied housing to offset the minimum wage; at giving local councils powers to enforce the minimum wage; at extending the Gangmasters Licensing Authority; at changing tier 2 regulations to ensure that companies take on apprentices; and at setting higher and minimum fines for employing illegal migrant workers.

22 Oct 2013 : Column 254

Those proposals are clear blue water between the Opposition and the Conservative party, which it will never ever bring forward measures to ensure labour market regulation of that sort. I was here when it voted against the minimum wage and other measures to improve workers’ conditions. This is about fairness, and we will table amendments to test whether the Government are serious about those matters.

The Government’s record is one of reduced border controls, reduced numbers of foreign criminals being deported, reduced numbers of people being fined for employing illegal immigrants and just two prosecutions over the minimum wage. There is a real difference between the Opposition and the Government. The Opposition will give the Bill a Second Reading today, but we will table amendments in Committee to deal with its inequities.

6.50 pm

The Minister for Immigration (Mr Mark Harper): In the limited time available—the right hon. Member for Delyn (Mr Hanson) could not help taking slightly more than half the time left—I will do my best to deal with as many of the points raised as I can. I welcome the contributions from Members on both sides of the House in what has been a good debate. I listened carefully and shall try to deal with the main issues.

Listening to the right hon. Gentleman, one would never know that Labour left behind a legacy of 450,000 asylum cases, border checks that were frequently relaxed to deal with queues and out-of-control net migration—and the latter was not just from eastern European countries; under Labour, twice as many people arrived from outside the EU as from within it—and of course it was that record which made our constituents rightly concerned about the issue, as many of my hon. Friends said.

The Government are firmly on the side of the vast majority of law-abiding migrants who play by the rules and contribute much to our society. We have a proud history of lawful migration, and this Government will continue to welcome the best and brightest to the country—

Pete Wishart: Will the Minister give way?

Mr Harper: No, I want to deal with some of the points. I listened to the debate, and if the hon. Gentleman will give me the opportunity, I will deal with the points raised.

The Government will continue to welcome the best and the brightest, be they skilled workers, the number of which is increasing, or students going to our universities, whose number is also increasing. For those who have overstayed their visa or were never here lawfully in the first place, however, there must be consequences for unlawful behaviour.

Pete Wishart: Will the Minister give way?

Mr Harper: No, let me make some progress.

We always prefer migrants who have had an application refused or who have overstayed to do the right thing and leave the UK under their own steam, and we will promote that compliant behaviour, but the Government want to put the law squarely on the side of people who respect the law, not those who break it. The Bill will

22 Oct 2013 : Column 255

deliver several important reforms to do that, cutting the number of immigration appeal rights, enabling us to require foreign criminals—not migrants in general—to leave the UK before appealing, ending the abuse of article 8 and introducing important measures to prevent illegal migrants from accessing services or the labour market.

Pete Wishart rose

Mr Harper: Despite what the right hon. Member for Delyn says, we are toughening up controls on employers and putting in place measures to collect fines more effectively. Together, these reforms are incredibly valuable.

Pete Wishart rose—

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): Order. The hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) has made his point—he wants to get in—but it is up to the Minister to give way, and quite obviously he wants to make some progress.

Mr Harper: I am trying to do justice to the many Members who spoke in the debate, including the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart).

I particularly enjoyed the remarks from my hon. Friends the Members for Peterborough (Mr Jackson), for Thurrock (Jackie Doyle-Price) and for Crawley (Henry Smith), all of whose constituencies I have had the opportunity to visit in my current role, and the contribution from my hon. Friend the Member for Amber Valley (Nigel Mills), from whom I am sure I will receive an invitation in due course.

The right hon. Member for Delyn is right about the issues that we will not have a chance to debate in the remaining seven minutes; I want us to have a good debate in Committee and to go through the issues in detail, and I am confident that when we lay out our aims, we will take Members with us, having first tested their concerns. We want the Bill to leave Committee and this House in good shape. As Members will know from my previous roles and challenges, I do not think we should leave it to the other place to put Bills in good shape. I want to ensure it leaves this House in good shape, and I look forward to the debate in Committee to do so.

In the time remaining, I shall try to deal with some of the issues raised. A number of Members raised important points about the proposals on health. To be clear, we are not talking about denying access to health care. We are talking about making sure that those who have no right to free health care have to make a contribution towards it. One of the points raised by the hon. Member for Airdrie and Shotts (Pamela Nash) was about public health and access to health for HIV treatment. I intervened on her to say that public health access will still be available for free. What I did not remember at the time was that this Government abolished treatment charges for HIV for overseas visitors exactly to protect the sorts of public health concerns she raised.

We are talking about making sure people pay a fair share. For those temporary migrants coming to Britain either to work or to study, we will collect the money before they come into the UK. It will go into the Consolidated Fund, and it is well above my pay grade, Mr Deputy Speaker, to tell colleagues in the Treasury how to do

22 Oct 2013 : Column 256

public spending. But if money is then distributed, any funds that go to the NHS in England will of course be distributed to the devolved Administrations in the usual way according to the Barnett consequentials. I hope that that is clear. We are not proposing to change the way in which the devolved Administrations can charge under the overseas visitors arrangements. Those aspects of charging are of course devolved. We will talk to the devolved administrations to make sure that there are no unforeseen consequences from different parts of the UK having different regimes for visitor charging.

As I said earlier in response to the hon. Member for Hackney North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott), these are significant sums of money. She asked my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary how much we thought was not collected from health tourists. In the report that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health published today, we say that we think that between £20 million and £100 million is the cost of deliberate health tourism for urgent treatment and between £50 million and £200 million for regular visitors taking advantage. Clearly there is a range, but this is an independent report that has been peer-reviewed and it is the best information we have. The hon. Lady is right; it is not a massive proportion of the overall NHS budget but £500 million that we are not collecting is a significant sum and it would make a real difference if we were able to collect it.

The Chair of the Select Committee, the right hon. Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz), made some points about landlords, and we will test those issues in Committee. He also referred to e-Borders. He deserves a reasonable reply since he shared the blame around with the previous Government. We do already collect a significant amount of information on those coming into Britain and those leaving and we are working on improving that. I know that he will continue to question my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and myself when we appear in front of his Committee.

The hon. Member for Brent Central (Sarah Teather) and I do not always agree, but she made an important point about refugees. The reason I think it is important to deal with people who have no right to be in Britain is that I want Britain to continue to be a welcoming place for those genuinely fleeing persecution. I fundamentally believe that we will only carry the public with us and have the public support a system where we protect genuine refugees—those fleeing persecution—if where we decide someone does not need our protection, and an independent judge does not think they need protection, those people leave the UK. By the way, we are not removing appeal rights for those where there is a fundamental right involved. If they abuse our hospitality by trying every trick in the book to stay here, they are damaging the interests of genuine migrants. It is our duty to make sure we do that.

Pete Wishart: Will the Minister give way?

Mr Harper: I do not have time to deal with the hon. Gentleman’s points.

There were many issues around appeal. Administrative review is a better way to deal with caseworking errors than forcing someone through the appeals system. I also listened very carefully to the genuine concerns raised about landlords. There will be a chance in Committee

22 Oct 2013 : Column 257

to deal with the practical implications of that. We have thought through the issues that colleagues have raised and we will be able to deal adequately with them in Committee and take colleagues with us. If there are things that we have not thought about, we can deal with those. I think that my hon. Friend the Member for Henley (John Howell) dealt with that issue very well.

I am looking forward to debating the issues in Committee. The Bill continues our reforms of the immigration system, and it will ensure that the public’s expectations of a fair system are delivered. I commend the Bill to the House.

Question put, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

The House divided:

Ayes 303, Noes 18.

Division No. 106]


6.59 pm


Adams, Nigel

Afriyie, Adam

Aldous, Peter

Arbuthnot, rh Mr James

Baker, Norman

Baker, Steve

Baldwin, Harriett

Barclay, Stephen

Barker, rh Gregory

Baron, Mr John

Bebb, Guto

Beith, rh Sir Alan

Bellingham, Mr Henry

Benyon, Richard

Beresford, Sir Paul

Berry, Jake

Bingham, Andrew

Binley, Mr Brian

Birtwistle, Gordon

Blackman, Bob

Blackwood, Nicola

Blunt, Mr Crispin

Boles, Nick

Bone, Mr Peter

Bottomley, Sir Peter

Bradley, Karen

Brady, Mr Graham

Brake, rh Tom

Bray, Angie

Brazier, Mr Julian

Bridgen, Andrew

Brine, Steve

Brokenshire, James

Brooke, Annette

Browne, Mr Jeremy

Bruce, Fiona

Buckland, Mr Robert

Burns, rh Mr Simon

Burrowes, Mr David

Burstow, rh Paul

Burt, Lorely

Byles, Dan

Cable, rh Vince

Campbell, Mr Gregory

Campbell, rh Sir Menzies

Carmichael, rh Mr Alistair

Carmichael, Neil

Carswell, Mr Douglas

Chishti, Rehman

Chope, Mr Christopher

Clappison, Mr James

Clarke, rh Mr Kenneth

Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey

Coffey, Dr Thérèse

Collins, Damian

Colvile, Oliver

Cox, Mr Geoffrey

Crabb, Stephen

Crockart, Mike

Crouch, Tracey

Davey, rh Mr Edward

Davies, David T. C.


Davies, Glyn

Davies, Philip

de Bois, Nick

Dinenage, Caroline

Djanogly, Mr Jonathan

Dorrell, rh Mr Stephen

Doyle-Price, Jackie

Drax, Richard

Duddridge, James

Duncan, rh Mr Alan

Duncan Smith, rh Mr Iain

Dunne, Mr Philip

Ellis, Michael

Ellison, Jane

Ellwood, Mr Tobias

Elphicke, Charlie

Eustice, George

Evans, Graham

Evans, Jonathan

Evans, Mr Nigel

Evennett, Mr David

Fabricant, Michael

Farron, Tim

Field, Mark

Foster, rh Mr Don

Francois, rh Mr Mark

Freeman, George

Freer, Mike

Fullbrook, Lorraine

Garnier, Mark

George, Andrew

Gibb, Mr Nick

Gilbert, Stephen

Gillan, rh Mrs Cheryl

Glen, John

Goldsmith, Zac

Goodwill, Mr Robert

Grant, Mrs Helen

Gray, Mr James

Grayling, rh Chris

Greening, rh Justine

Griffiths, Andrew

Gummer, Ben

Gyimah, Mr Sam

Hague, rh Mr William

Halfon, Robert

Hames, Duncan

Hammond, Stephen

Hancock, Matthew

Hancock, Mr Mike

Hands, Greg

Harper, Mr Mark

Harrington, Richard

Hart, Simon

Harvey, Sir Nick

Haselhurst, rh Sir Alan

Hayes, rh Mr John

Heald, Oliver

Heath, Mr David

Heaton-Harris, Chris

Hemming, John

Henderson, Gordon

Hendry, Charles

Herbert, rh Nick

Hinds, Damian

Hoban, Mr Mark

Hollingbery, George

Hollobone, Mr Philip

Holloway, Mr Adam

Hopkins, Kris

Howell, John

Hughes, rh Simon

Hunter, Mark

Huppert, Dr Julian

Hurd, Mr Nick

Jackson, Mr Stewart

James, Margot

Javid, Sajid

Jenkin, Mr Bernard

Johnson, Gareth

Johnson, Joseph

Jones, Andrew

Jones, rh Mr David

Jones, Mr Marcus

Kawczynski, Daniel

Kelly, Chris

Kirby, Simon

Knight, rh Mr Greg

Kwarteng, Kwasi

Lamb, Norman

Lancaster, Mark

Latham, Pauline

Laws, rh Mr David

Leadsom, Andrea

Lee, Jessica

Lee, Dr Phillip

Lefroy, Jeremy

Leslie, Charlotte

Letwin, rh Mr Oliver

Lewis, Brandon

Lewis, Dr Julian

Liddell-Grainger, Mr Ian

Lilley, rh Mr Peter

Lloyd, Stephen

Lopresti, Jack

Lord, Jonathan

Loughton, Tim

Luff, Peter

Main, Mrs Anne

May, rh Mrs Theresa

Maynard, Paul

McCartney, Jason

McCrea, Dr William

McIntosh, Miss Anne

McPartland, Stephen

McVey, Esther

Menzies, Mark

Mercer, Patrick

Metcalfe, Stephen

Miller, rh Maria

Mills, Nigel

Milton, Anne

Moore, rh Michael

Morgan, Nicky

Morris, Anne Marie

Morris, David

Morris, James

Mosley, Stephen

Mowat, David

Mulholland, Greg

Munt, Tessa

Murray, Sheryll

Neill, Robert

Newmark, Mr Brooks

Newton, Sarah

Nokes, Caroline

Norman, Jesse

Nuttall, Mr David

O'Brien, rh Mr Stephen

Offord, Dr Matthew

Ollerenshaw, Eric

Opperman, Guy

Paice, rh Sir James

Parish, Neil

Patel, Priti

Paterson, rh Mr Owen

Pawsey, Mark

Penning, Mike

Penrose, John

Percy, Andrew

Perry, Claire

Phillips, Stephen

Pincher, Christopher

Poulter, Dr Daniel

Prisk, Mr Mark

Pritchard, Mark

Pugh, John

Raab, Mr Dominic

Randall, rh Mr John

Reckless, Mark

Redwood, rh Mr John

Rees-Mogg, Jacob

Reevell, Simon

Reid, Mr Alan

Rifkind, rh Sir Malcolm

Robertson, rh Hugh

Robertson, Mr Laurence

Rogerson, Dan

Rosindell, Andrew

Rudd, Amber

Ruffley, Mr David

Russell, Sir Bob

Rutley, David

Sanders, Mr Adrian

Sandys, Laura

Scott, Mr Lee

Shannon, Jim

Sharma, Alok

Shelbrooke, Alec

Simmonds, Mark

Simpson, Mr Keith

Skidmore, Chris

Smith, Miss Chloe

Smith, Henry

Smith, Julian

Smith, Sir Robert

Soames, rh Nicholas

Soubry, Anna

Spelman, rh Mrs Caroline

Spencer, Mr Mark

Stanley, rh Sir John

Stephenson, Andrew

Stevenson, John

Stewart, Bob

Stewart, Iain

Stewart, Rory

Streeter, Mr Gary

Stride, Mel

Stuart, Mr Graham

Stunell, rh Sir Andrew

Sturdy, Julian

Swales, Ian

Swayne, rh Mr Desmond

Swinson, Jo

Syms, Mr Robert

Tapsell, rh Sir Peter

Thornton, Mike

Thurso, John

Timpson, Mr Edward

Tomlinson, Justin

Tredinnick, David

Turner, Mr Andrew

Tyrie, Mr Andrew

Uppal, Paul

Vara, Mr Shailesh

Vickers, Martin

Villiers, rh Mrs Theresa

Walker, Mr Charles

Walker, Mr Robin

Wallace, Mr Ben

Watkinson, Dame Angela

Weatherley, Mike

Webb, Steve

Wharton, James

Wheeler, Heather

White, Chris

Whittaker, Craig

Whittingdale, Mr John

Wiggin, Bill

Willetts, rh Mr David

Williams, Mr Mark

Williams, Roger

Williams, Stephen

Williamson, Gavin

Wilson, Mr Rob

Wilson, Sammy

Wright, Jeremy

Wright, Simon

Yeo, Mr Tim

Young, rh Sir George

Zahawi, Nadhim

Tellers for the Ayes:

Gavin Barwell


Jenny Willott


Abbott, Ms Diane

Durkan, Mark

Galloway, George

Hopkins, Kelvin

Hosie, Stewart

Lammy, rh Mr David

Leech, Mr John

Llwyd, rh Mr Elfyn

Lucas, Caroline

MacNeil, Mr Angus Brendan

Mactaggart, Fiona

McDonnell, John

Ritchie, Ms Margaret

Skinner, Mr Dennis

Teather, Sarah

Ward, Mr David

Williams, Hywel

Wishart, Pete

Tellers for the Noes:

Jeremy Corbyn


Jonathan Edwards

Question accordingly agreed to.

22 Oct 2013 : Column 258

22 Oct 2013 : Column 259

Bill read a Second time.

Immigration Bill (Programme)

Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 83A(7)),

That the following provisions shall apply to the Immigration Bill:


(1) The Bill shall be committed to a Public Bill Committee.

Proceedings in Public Bill Committee

(2) Proceedings in the Public Bill Committee shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion on Tuesday 19 November 2013.

(3) The Public Bill Committee shall have leave to sit twice on the first day on which it meets.

Consideration and Third Reading

(4) Proceedings on Consideration shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion one hour before the moment of interruption on the day on which those proceedings are commenced.

22 Oct 2013 : Column 260

(5) Proceedings on Third Reading shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion at the moment of interruption on that day.

(6) Standing Order No. 83B (Programming committees) shall not apply to proceedings on Consideration and Third Reading.

Other proceedings

(7) Any other proceedings on the Bill (including any proceedings on consideration of Lords Amendments or on any further messages from the Lords) may be programmed.—(Mr Gyimah.)

Question agreed to.

deferred divisions

Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 41A(3)),

That, at this day’s sitting, Standing Order No. 41A (Deferred divisions) shall not apply to the Motion in the name of Nicky Morgan relating to the Draft Budget 2014 and the Motion in the name of Mr David Gauke relating to Value Added Tax.—(Mr Gyimah.)

Question agreed to.

immigration Bill (money)

Queen’s recommendation signified.

Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 52(1)(a)),

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

(1) any expenditure incurred under or by virtue of the Act by the Secretary of State; and

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

Question agreed to.

Immigration Bill (ways and means)

Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 52(1)(a)),

That, for the purposes of any Act resulting from the Immigration Bill, it is expedient to authorise:

(1) the imposition of an immigration health charge;

(2) the charging of fees in respect of the exercise of functions in connection with

immigration or nationality; and

(3) the payment of sums into the Consolidated Fund.—(Mr Gyimah.)

Question agreed to.

Business without Debate

European union documents

Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 119(11)),

Draft Budget 2014

That this House takes note of European Union Document No. SEC (2013) 370, a Statement of estimates of the Commission for 2014 (Preparation of the 2014 Draft Budget); agrees with the Government that at a time of ongoing economic fragility in Europe and tight constraints on domestic public spending, it is essential that the European Union budget reflects the consolidation efforts of Member States to bring deficit and debt onto a more sustainable path; agrees that the Multi-Annual Financial Framework (MFF) agreement secured by the Prime Minister at the February European Council represents a good deal for taxpayers, delivering

22 Oct 2013 : Column 261

an unprecedented real-terms reduction of €35 billion on the current period in the seven year payment ceilings to €908.4 billion and a real-terms reduction of over three per cent in payment appropriations, and protecting the UK rebate; welcomes the fact that the 2014 Draft Budget respects the MFF agreement; notes that the Commission’s proposal sees a cash reduction in payments of around €4.5 billion compared to the current budget for 2013; and calls on the Government to continue its efforts to limit the size of the Budget by pressing for further savings, particularly in administration, in order to get the best deal for UK taxpayers.

—(Mr Gyimah.)

Question agreed to.

delegated legislation

Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 118(6)),

Value Added Tax

That the Value Added Tax (Education) Order 2013 (S.I., 2013, No. 1897), dated 30 July 2013, a copy of which was laid before this House on 30 July, be approved.—(Mr Gyimah.)

Question agreed to.

22 Oct 2013 : Column 262

European Public Prosecutor’s Office

[Relevant document: Fifteenth Report from the European Scrutiny Committee, HC 83-xv.]

7.16 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (James Brokenshire): I beg to move,

That this House considers that the Draft Regulation on the establishment of a European Public Prosecutor’s Office (EPPO) (European Union Document No. 12558/13 and Addenda 1 and 2) does not comply with the principle of subsidiarity, for the reasons set out in the annex to Chapter One of the Fifteenth Report of the European Scrutiny Committee (HC 83-xv); and, in accordance with Article 6 of Protocol (No. 2) annexed to the EU Treaties on the application of the principle of subsidiarity and proportionality, instructs the Clerk of the House to forward this reasoned opinion to the Presidents of the European Institutions.

It is a pleasure, Madam Deputy Speaker, to see you in your place for this debate and to serve under your chairmanship this evening.

In July the European Commission published a proposal for the establishment of a European public prosecutor’s office—an EPPO. It is the Commission’s answer to a problem known as

“fraud against the Union’s financial interests”.

The EPPO proposal was published alongside a parallel legislative measure to reform the existing EU agency, Eurojust. These two proposals, the EPPO and Eurojust, will together be the subject of a separate debate in a week’s time as part of the so-called Lidington arrangements. I look forward to it, following my letters to the Chairs of the relevant Committees yesterday with the Government’s recommendation that the UK should not opt in to the new Eurojust proposal at the outset of negotiations, but should actively consider its position following a thorough review of the final agreed text.

The purpose of the debate is specifically for the House to decide whether the Commission’s EPPO proposal breaches the principle of subsidiarity, and that is what we should focus on tonight. I recognise that I am in an unusual position tonight in moving a motion on a course of action to be taken by the House, not the Government. I am aware, too, that the issue of who should move a motion in a subsidiarity debate such as this is a matter that the Procedure Committee has examined and on which the Government have responded. Although there may be differences of view over the procedure, I hope we can agree on the substance of the debate.

It is the shared view of both the European Scrutiny Committee and the Government that the EPPO proposal does indeed breach the principle of subsidiarity. If the whole House agrees, it can, under the EU treaties, send a democratic and political signal to the presidents of the European Commission, Council and Parliament in the form of a reasoned opinion to that effect. Moreover, in this case, if one quarter of the votes allocated to national Parliaments are cast, the so-called yellow card would be triggered meaning that the Commission would be obliged to review its proposal.

To update the House on how matters stand, both chambers of the Dutch Parliament, the Hungarian National Assembly and the Czech Senate have already taken this step, and others are actively considering it. This is a real opportunity for all national Parliaments to exercise, as democratic representatives, their views on what the Commission has proposed.

22 Oct 2013 : Column 263

Before I say more about the reasoned opinion process, let me summarise the Government’s view on the EPPO proposal. The House will be aware of our long-standing position in the coalition agreement not to participate in the establishment of any EPPO, and the details of the proposal serve only to reinforce that position. While of course fraud must be tackled at all levels, including when it involves funds that form part of the EU budget, we do not agree that the establishment of a European public prosecutor’s office is the right approach.

The Commission’s proposal would establish a new supranational EU body with responsibility for criminal offences affecting the financial interests of the Union, as well as so-called ancillary offences within participating member states. The EPPO would exercise the function of a prosecutor within the courts of the participating member states for these offences and instruct their national authorities over the conduct of investigations.

This proposal is unnecessary, unsubstantiated and unwelcome. In the Government’s view, the best way to tackle EU fraud is through prevention. The UK has a zero-tolerance approach to fraud, with robust management controls and payment systems in place that seek to prevent incidences of EU fraud. Additionally we should continue efforts already happening to strengthen the current system.

For example, reforms to the European Anti-Fraud Office—OLAF—are currently being introduced to improve information exchange between OLAF and national authorities, and to improve OLAF’s own internal quality control. Indeed, a new regulation governing the work of OLAF entered into force only on 1 October 2013. These changes need time to be implemented fully before any further action is contemplated. Against that background, one of the many criticisms we have of the EPPO proposal is that the subsidiarity principle has not been met.

Without getting into too much technicality and legalese, the principle of subsidiarity means that decisions should be taken as closely as possible to the citizens whom they affect, and that the European Union should act only when outcomes can be better achieved at European Union level. It is important to note that subsidiarity is different from the principle of proportionality, under which any action taken by the European Union should not exceed what is necessary to achieve the stated objectives.

Under the protocol on the application of the principles of subsidiarity and proportionality in the treaties, the Commission must demonstrate that the objectives of the proposal cannot be sufficiently achieved at member state level—the first limb of the test—and then, that the objectives of the proposal can be better achieved at EU-level by reason of their scale and effects, which is the second limb and so-called EU added-value test. There is a requirement for the Commission to include a detailed statement in all legislative proposals on compliance with the principles of subsidiarity and proportionality, and some assessment of its financial impact. This detailed statement should be

“substantiated by qualitative and, wherever possible, quantitative indicators”.

In the Government’s view, the Commission has not presented a convincing case, and we do not believe that the principle of subsidiarity has been met. The Commission has not allowed time for current reforms to take effect, nor has it adequately considered options to strengthen

22 Oct 2013 : Column 264

the current system. For example, it has not considered enhanced incentives or other options for reform at regional or national level in any detail or in a rigorous manner, and it has not demonstrated what value an EPPO would add. We should recall that the relevant legal base in the treaties—article 86 of the treaty on the functioning of the European Union—says that an EPPO “may” be established. The treaties do not say it “shall” be created. The Commission has not, in our view, provided robust evidence to justify the creation of a supranational body with extensive and harmonised powers.

As I have said, under the treaties national Parliaments have the opportunity to put forward a reasoned opinion when they do not consider that a proposal complies with the principle of subsidiarity.

Sir Alan Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed) (LD): As the Minister has just made a point about harmonised powers, may I remind him that one of the consequences of giving the EPPO the power to direct investigations would be to create a power for prosecutors that does not currently exist in England and Wales, although it does in Scotland? That perhaps illustrates the level of change that would be required to satisfy the idea of having a public prosecutor at European level.

James Brokenshire: I am grateful to my right hon. Friend, the Chair of the Select Committee on Justice, for highlighting the seriousness and significance of the European Commission’s proposal and why, in our view, it is not appropriate for the United Kingdom to opt in to the measure. As I have indicated, we made that abundantly clear in the coalition agreement in advance of the proposals being published. I am sure that we will examine in detail the impact of the Commission’s published measure in our debate next week on the in-principle decision as to whether the UK should opt in. That is the right avenue for exploring the detailed issues, whereas today is about subsidiarity. However, I take his points seriously.

Although there have been a number of reasoned opinions since the opportunity to provide them came into effect, there has only been one occasion on which the yellow card threshold has been reached. That was on a Commission proposal about the posting of workers and the right to take collective action, also known as Monti II. In that case, the Commission withdrew the proposal fully, even though it maintained that the principle of subsidiarity had been met. It conceded on the grounds that it was clear that there was no political will among member states and national Parliaments to take the proposal forward.

The Monti II case highlights the fact that the continuing use of the reasoned opinion procedure and resulting yellow cards represents a powerful political signal and an important way for national Parliaments to intervene directly in the EU’s functioning. Even when the yellow card threshold has not been met, the views of national Parliaments have been influential on a wide range of issues, as member states have used reasoned opinions to support their negotiating positions. They have often secured amendments on the salient issues on the back of them.

Achieving the threshold requires a great deal of co-ordination between national Parliaments. I am sure the European Scrutiny Committee and other interested

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parties in Parliament, in both this House and the other place, are making best use of their contacts with other national Parliaments in that regard. I look forward to hearing the debate and urge the House to support this important motion.

7.27 pm

Diana Johnson (Kingston upon Hull North) (Lab): This is the first time that I have spoken while you have been in the Chair, Madam Deputy Speaker, and I congratulate you on your appointment. It is a pleasure to serve with you in the Chair this evening.

I start by thanking the Minister for setting out the Government’s approach to the draft regulation. There is considerable history to the idea of an EPPO. Back in 2002, the European Scrutiny Committee scrutinised the 2001 Green Paper in which the European Commission first proposed the idea of establishing the EPPO. It found that the EPPO was unnecessary, particularly given the existence of Eurojust. It also identified a number of concerns, such as the combination of prosecution and investigative functions; the power of the EPPO to commit a person for trial and determine the location of that trial; the creation of differing standards of criminal responsibility for fraud depending on whether it related to the Community’s financial interests; the lack of democratic accountability for the prosecution function; the breach of the subsidiarity principle; and the dilution of member states’ responsibility for the prosecution of fraud.

The prospect of a specialist EU prosecution authority has been raised again since then and was one of a range of initiatives that the Commission considered in 2011. Again, the European Scrutiny Committee investigated those initiatives. In 2011 the Committee echoed its 2002 concerns and cautioned against the “inappropriate and unacceptable” use of national criminal justice systems in acting against crimes against EU finances.

The Opposition believe that this proposal seeks to address a real problem. Chapter 1 of the 15th report of the European Scrutiny Committee, to which the motion refers, makes it clear that the levels of suspected fraud against the EU budget are estimated by the Commission to have been around €500 million, or £425 million, in each of the last three years. That is clearly unacceptable and should be condemned by all Members of the House. We should of course seek new ways to ensure that that fraud, which costs us all as British taxpayers, can be stopped and the perpetrators brought to justice.

However, as we repeatedly made clear when we were in government, we do not believe that an EPPO is the solution to these problems. We agree with the European Scrutiny Committee’s recommendation that the EPPO proposal breaches the subsidiarity principle and that a national-level approach, supported by existing EU mechanisms, would be more appropriate.

Although the Labour Government signed the Lisbon treaty, which enables the creation of an EPPO, we argued in government that we were consistently against the formation of the office and put in place measures to “double lock” against its creation. The double lock we secured ensured, first, that the UK would have to opt in; and, secondly, that even if a future Government were to opt in, they would still need unanimity, which is retained for any decision to establish a prosecutor or

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extend its powers. As the Lord President of the Council at the time, the noble Baroness Ashton of Upholland, made clear in a debate in 2008:

“We have secured legally watertight safeguards in the treaty against any move towards a European public prosecutor or subsequently, and just as important, towards extending that prosecutor’s role. It is what we would call a double lock.”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 9 June 2008; Vol. 702, c. 454.]

Therefore, in government we put in place a system in which an opt-in procedure applies. Parliament could let its views be known and the Government could put forward their proposals. The Government would then, if they so chose—we always believed this to be very unlikely—have the discussions and determine by unanimity if they did not wish to participate.

We agreed with the Minister when he told the European Scrutiny Committee the following: that the creation of an EPPO is not the appropriate response to tackling EU fraud; that for participating member states the proposal will transfer responsibility for tackling fraud against the EU budget away from national-level decision making and towards a supranational authority whose European delegated prosecutors would have to prioritise EU fraud above other crime at a national level; that it is a flawed approach for member states not to be able to determine their national priorities, and the consequent use of resources, in tackling crime; that the EPPO would disrupt the current system for tackling fraud against the EU budget at a time where the Commission has reported two consecutive years of decrease in fraudulent and other irregularities affecting the EU budget and their estimated financial impact; that the proposed EPPO system would result in a duplication of established national-level efforts, including specific bodies, to protect member states and EU financial interests, including work against organised crime; that the best way to tackle fraud is through prevention, as reflected in the UK’s zero-tolerance approach to all fraud, which it takes “extremely seriously” and which has resulted in low levels of fraud, and by using robust management controls and payment systems and requiring all agencies with responsibility for distributing EU funds to have processes in place to monitor and report fraud; and that creation of the office would cause a shift from prevention to reaction after crimes have been committed, as it would make each member state less responsible for anti-fraud work at a national level

We agree with the Government on the principle that it would be wrong to proceed with an EPPO, and it is refreshing to see them for once getting something right on Europe. For far too long we have had the Government’s laboured decisions on whether they would be part of European co-operation on crime and justice, saying they want to opt out and then opt back in. That has led the Home Secretary to this untried strategy which risks harming effective police action in all our communities.

It has appeared for some time that the Government have been putting internal party management and coalition horse-trading ahead of crime fighting and the interests of victims. As the Leader of the Opposition made clear earlier this year, the Government’s strategy on Europe has not been to sort out the crisis of growth, it has not been to tackle youth unemployment, and it has had nothing to do with the national interest—it has all been about managing the divisions in the Conservative party. This type of party management as our European policy

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is not good for the country; nor will it keep the Minister’s party quiet. On Europe, the Government should be acting now to deal with the issues that really matter to people rather than navel-gazing to keep the coalition parties happy. The Government should be looking, for example, at how the UK in Europe can stop the exploitation of migrant workers and at reforms at the EU level so that family benefits such as child tax credit and child benefit are not sent abroad.

We agree with the Government on the motion. However, it is crucial that they start to take European issues seriously rather than simply shying away from anything with the word “Europe” in it. They must begin to come forward with genuine options for developing greater integration to stop EU fraud, and they must make it clear how they expect the UK to play its part as an EU member state in co-operating as closely as possible on cross-border crime, particularly drug trafficking, people trafficking and international fraud, rather than pursuing the Home Secretary’s untested and risky approach.

7.36 pm

Martin Horwood (Cheltenham) (LD): I add my congratulations to you on your election, Madam Deputy Speaker.

It is important that we retain some sense of proportion in this debate. We are, after all, discussing an idea which, in practice, would tackle the simple issue of crime against the EU, particularly fraud against the EU budget. While I welcome the Minister’s fairly practical approach, I think that the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Diana Johnson) doth protest a bit too much in painting such a cataclysmic picture of the complete collapse of the European criminal justice system were this to go ahead. That is completely out of proportion, and I think she is just trying to prove her Eurosceptic credentials. This is not quite the massive issue that some might imagine. I recognise, however, that there is a thin end of the wedge argument in that the proposal sets out a different principle in creating a new kind of European competence, albeit one already recognised in treaty. I also recognise the specific acknowledgement in the coalition agreement that Conservative Members, in particular, do not want to pursue such a solution to the problem.

In this case, on balance, the Government are right in their interpretation of the subsidiarity principle. The Commission has not demonstrated that the proposed path has to be taken because nation states are incapable of tackling fraud against the EU budget, and it therefore fails the subsidiarity test as currently presented. There is an important role for pro-European Members of this Parliament and other Parliaments in applying the subsidiarity principle properly. We should not allow any kind of drift towards dealing at a European level with competencies that are really better exercised at a lower level.

Kelvin Hopkins (Luton North) (Lab) rose

Martin Horwood: I am happy to give way to my friend on the Labour Benches.

Kelvin Hopkins: Yet again the hon. Gentleman talks about Europe rather than the European Union. Many of us love Europe in all sorts of ways but do not necessarily love the European Union.

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Martin Horwood: I had picked up that impression from many hon. Members, but I understand the point that the hon. Gentleman is making.

However, there is a problem. As the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North rightly said, it is estimated that there is a vast amount of fraud against the European budget—some €500 million a year—and that is unacceptable. National law enforcement against that is fragmented across the member states. While the UK may have a robust record on tackling it, that is not always true of all member states. In fact, only one in five of the cases transferred by the European anti-fraud office—OLAF—to the national prosecution authorities leads to a conviction, and those conviction rates vary considerably among member states. There is, therefore, a problem that needs to be tackled. I accept what the Minister has said about improvements to OLAF, but the European Commission and European Union authorities also need to take a more proactive stance against EU budget fraud. I do not think, however, that a European public prosecutor’s office is the solution at this stage.

The Commission’s proposal has an additional problem, in that it suggests locating the EPPO in Eurojust, but that would seriously muddy the waters of the role of Eurojust, which is a very effective and important organisation. I am pleased that the coalition has agreed that, with certain reforms, we should opt into it. Eurojust is important in stimulating investigation and co-operation on judicial and prosecutorial matters. The impetus for it emerged after 9/11, when the importance of tackling cross-border terrorism was made very clear. It helps European authorities to tackle serious organised crime, people trafficking, drug trafficking, the smuggling of illegal immigrants, illicit trade in human organs, kidnapping, trafficking works of art and computer crime. The list goes on and on and it is a very good example of how European Union institutions help us to tackle cross-border crime in a way that would be impossible for 27 different countries trying to co-operate on a bilateral basis.

To confuse the role of Eurojust, which is one of encouraging co-operation and stimulating investigations, with that of a prosecutorial authority would change the role of Eurojust and create an additional complication, which might, in the domestic political context, reduce support for opting back into Eurojust. Practically, politically and in principle, I think that locating the EPPO in Eurojust would be the wrong step to take.

I will not detain the House any longer. The Liberal Democrats support the Government’s motion. The problem of serious fraud against the European budget needs to be tackled, but the proposal oversteps the mark in terms of the principle of subsidiarity, so I am happy to give my support to the Government tonight.

7.42 pm

Kelvin Hopkins (Luton North) (Lab): May I add my congratulations to you on your election, Madam Deputy Speaker? I am very pleased to see you in the Chair.

I support the motion. As a member of the European Scrutiny Committee, I am pleased that we are winning an argument and making a point. It is good to see both Front Benchers in agreement and taking a robust stand on matters to do with the European Union.

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The ESC is concerned that, over time, the British legal system is being chipped away at by EU reform. The proposal would be another step away from our own legal system and rights. The legal system on the continent—this is particularly true of France—tends to combine prosecution and investigation, but our legal system is very different and follows a different route. It is very important that we retain our great legal traditions and our legal system, which I think works extremely well. Of course, we also do very well in investigating fraud compared with some other member states.

I support what has been said by the Minister and my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Diana Johnson), who spoke so well. I also apologise for missing the first part of the Minister’s speech because I was detained elsewhere. Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for allowing me to say these few words on behalf of the European Scrutiny Committee.

7.44 pm

Sir Alan Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed) (LD): I would like to join the hon. Member for Luton North (Kelvin Hopkins) in giving credit where credit is due. This debate is taking place on the basis of the report and reasoned opinion of the European Scrutiny Committee. The Government agree with that reasoned opinion, but it is very much that of the Committee. In my capacity as Chairman of the Liaison Committee and the Justice Committee, I think that the European Scrutiny Committee is entitled to the credit. If there is something wrong with our procedure, it is that it does not fully recognise that process. However, the outcome is a happy one because pretty well everybody agrees that the reasoned opinion is correct, and it accords with the Government’s view.

The proposal for a European public prosecutor offends against the subsidiarity principle. One of its primary objectives is to strengthen the protection of the European Union’s financial interests. That is a perfectly reasonable objective to pursue, but it does not have to be achieved through the creation of a European public prosecutor. Indeed, it would not necessarily be best achieved in that way. The other limb of the general argument in favour of the European public prosecutor is that it is a further development of the area of justice. That provides the hint that subsidiarity is in danger of going out the window.

There are many ways in which the European Union could improve the way in which it deals with fraud. If national Governments fail to take the actions that they should take, they should be shamed into doing so. We also have to be a little careful about using percentage figures on the success of prosecutions. There is considerable danger if anybody thinks that the target of a justice system is to have 100% success in prosecutions. Courts will sometimes find people not guilty because the evidence has not been brought forward or sustained. The 100% target is a rather dangerous principle to import into this debate.

It is often pointed out that the European Union could do a lot more to resist fraud if it designed its schemes and its disbursement of money in ways that lent themselves to fraud a great deal less. Nothing is fraud-proof, but schemes can be designed that are less susceptible to fraud than many of those that have been developed over the years by European institutions.

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Many elements of the proposal offend against subsidiarity. The European public prosecutor would have investigative powers, search and seizure powers, and interception and surveillance powers. To have those powers in operation at a supranational level would be a pretty significant change.

The proposal would take away the role of the Director of Public Prosecutions in prosecuting decisions in matters relating to EU fraud. It would have a similar effect on the roles of the procurator fiscal and the Lord Advocate in Scotland. The proposal would ignore the deliberate separation of decisions on investigation from decisions to prosecute in England and Wales, which is a long-standing element of our system. We can argue about whether that barrier should be retained, but we should have that argument in the context of our legal system and not allow it to be forced on us by the introduction of the European public prosecutor.

I am convinced that in the minds of some people, the creation of a European public prosecutor is a route to a prosecution role that goes wider than EU finances. I am not always tempted by slippery slope or Trojan horse arguments, but some of the same people have advanced the case for a prosecutor to deal with EU finances and a wider role for such an office.

Kelvin Hopkins: The right hon. Gentleman must accept that there has been constitution creep for decades in the European Union. Surely that is what we are trying to stop.

Sir Alan Beith: There have also been many advances in the way in which European nations use the European Union to achieve highly desirable objectives, such as through co-operating to deal with international crime. An intrinsic problem with the way in which the European Union was constructed, which is quite understandable given the way in which it was constructed, is that there is a belief in the Commission that the way forward is always to create further powers and jurisdictions. We have created a system that has that element within it. However, those who worry about Britain’s membership of the European Union have a tendency to underestimate the benefits and the value that have been achieved through many of its processes.

My hon. Friend the Member for Cheltenham (Martin Horwood) pointed out that there is a close relationship between this proposal and the issue of Eurojust. Unhelpfully, it would compromise the acceptability of Eurojust to many people if the European public prosecutor was located within Eurojust. There are other aspects of interrelationship between the two issues. I regard Eurojust as an extremely valuable institution that has many processes that are of great advantage to British citizens. It has an important role in the prevention and detection of crime against British citizens and British interests. But again, even within the Eurojust proposals that we will be looking at again shortly, the role of the national members of Eurojust in the Commission’s proposal to order investigative measures changes the relationship between law enforcement and prosecution that is so firmly a part of our system.

There is, of course, another feature of the proposals that I am glad has not attracted the attendance of some of my hon. Friends on the Conservative Benches: if we went ahead with it, it would trigger a referendum. That

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might make it attractive to them to vote against the motion tonight, or whenever we have a deferred Division. I should not really tell them this, because it might inflame them in a way that I do not want. Basically, I think we all agree that establishing a European public prosecutor’s office is not the direction in which we ought to go and that it offends the principle of subsidiarity, as is extremely cogently argued in detail by the European Scrutiny Committee.

7.50 pm

Chris Heaton-Harris (Daventry) (Con): It is a huge pleasure to see you in the Chair this evening, Madam Deputy Speaker. It is the first time I have had the opportunity to say, “Congratulations.” I congratulate you on your position.

I am a member of the European Scrutiny Committee, so it is a pleasure to witness the report being debated and accepted on all sides of the House. It is also a pleasure to see other members of the Committee—the hon. Member for Luton North (Kelvin Hopkins) and my hon. Friend the Member for High Peak (Andrew Bingham). I am sure the Minister is delighted that unfortunately my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Mr Cash) cannot be here this evening, so I intend to fill in for him to a certain extent by taking the next 45 minutes of his life away from him. [Laughter.] No, I do not intend to detain the House for too long.

It is obvious to all who have read the Committee’s report or listened to the speeches this evening that the creation of the European public prosecutor’s office would breach the principle of subsidiarity. In fact, it is so obvious that my good friend the hon. Member for Cheltenham (Martin Horwood) has noticed that there is a breach. Blimey, it must be bad—if there is a breach that he can spot, most of us could drive a coach and horses through it. We should therefore be very aware of what the Committee is highlighting.

The European Commission proposal to establish the European public prosecutor’s office has been around for quite some time. I can remember as a Member of the European Parliament being stuck in a debate in the early 2000s listening to a fantastic German lady, Diemut Theato, who I think was the head of OLAF for a short period and then my chair of the Committee of Budgetary Control, argue vociferously for the office of European public prosecutor and everything that goes with it. This new regulation, however, would create a slightly different beast—it has morphed even since then. This would be a new EU body with a head, the European public prosecutor, and at least four deputies, with powers to conduct investigations and prosecutions in member states against people suspected of crimes against the EU budget—fraud. I heard the Minister say that there will be a further debate next week and I look forward to speaking in it, if I am called. . However, if I may, I would like to spend a few seconds on what the proposal might mean.

Each member state will have a representative of the EPPO, known as a European delegated prosecutor, who will be empowered to direct national investigative and prosecuting authorities when it comes to crime against the EU budget. There is an interesting question about what constitutes a crime against the EU budget and how that would be defined. They will have exclusive competence to investigate and prosecute suspected offences

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against the EU budget. The investigative measures include surveillance, search and seizure, and even the summoning of witnesses. These would be significant powers. The EPPO would also be able to act as prosecutor in national courts.

The possible creation of the EPPO is enabled via the Lisbon Treaty, and I recognise the work of the previous Government to ensure that we were not swept up at that time. It can be created through this new regulation, but we are not bound by it: we can choose to opt in thanks to the justice and home affairs arrangement. However, the Lisbon treaty actually discusses the public prosecutor’s power being extended to other serious cross-border crime, such as computer crime, money laundering and a host of others. In itself, that could make the EPPO more powerful than even the FBI, and it would hold the power to investigate and prosecute in nation states. That looks like the creation of a federal European criminal justice agency, which is not something that anybody in Britain would like to see.

The EPPO does not fulfil the “principle of subsidiarity”, by which

“the Union shall act only if and in so far as the objectives…cannot be sufficiently achieved by the Member States”.

As the Minister outlined, I am aware that this is possibly only the second time that the yellow card will be used, and member states have an eight-week opportunity—which closes this coming Monday, I am told—to use that yellow card. As a football referee, I very much like the yellow card and believe we should use it more often when it comes to European regulation.

There are three aspects to why the European Scrutiny Committee says that the EPPO does not comply with subsidiarity, and I think they are worth highlighting. First, the European Commission has not adequately considered options for alternative means for improving the fight against fraud, such as preventive measures at the point EU funds are given out—that point was well made by the Chairman of the Justice Committee. Secondly, the Commission has not waited to see the impact of the proposed new directive on criminal offences and sanctions relating to fraud against the EU budget—indeed, I believe that that directive has not yet been properly agreed, so perhaps we are putting the cart before the horse on this occasion. Thirdly, the Commission used questionable data and flawed assumptions when assessing the proposal, such as unreliable convictions data from member states—it is questionable how much money the prosecutor would get back, and no one knows how the figure in the proposal was reached.

When becoming Members of the European Parliament, all are given jobs—that is part of the deal—and being the most junior of the juniors when I got elected in 1999, I was given the job of rapporteur for OLAF. That came on the back of the fraud of the European Commission in 1999, and the report of the committee of wise men that said what should be done.

Kelvin Hopkins: I am most interested in the hon. Gentleman’s experience of the European Parliament. May I ask whether one is paid extra for these jobs?

Chris Heaton-Harris: If only that was the case. My wife questions the sanity of my move across to this place anyway. We were well rewarded for what we did; it paid exactly the same as for Members of Parliament

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at the time, but Members of the European Parliament now have their own salary, and pay a different tax rate on most occasions.

OLAF came out of the report of the committee of wise men. It was mainly to investigate Commission fraud and crime, which was one of the things that brought down the European Commission in the first place. It also had plenty of powers to protect the EU’s financial interest. In the debate next week I intend to highlight what can be done in the reform of OLAF to allow us to prove to the European Commission that the whole new power grab of having a European public prosecutor’s office is not required. If the Commission used the powers and bodies it already has—already well funded and in general relatively well run—we would not be in this position in the first place. I wholeheartedly support the motion.

7.58 pm

James Brokenshire: With the leave of the House, I thank right hon. and hon. Members for their contributions. This has been a useful debate, and from what we have heard it is clear that the House supports the motion before us, and identifies that there is an issue of subsidiarity with the Commission’s proposal for a European public prosecutor’s office. As I said at the outset, this is a matter for Parliament and not the Government. Therefore, in the light of the mood of the House this evening, I hope that the European Scrutiny Committee will take this issue and work with other interested parties in Parliament, the House and the other place, and make best use of their contacts with other national Parliaments in that regard, given the interest and focus that I know are being directed to this proposal by Parliaments around the EU.

The coalition agreement makes it clear that the UK Government will not participate in any European public prosecutor’s office. As we have heard from hon. Members, that is because a centralised European prosecutor with harmonised powers to initiate investigations and order investigative measures is incompatible with the division of responsibilities in the UK between law enforcement and prosecutors, and the role of the independent judiciary. In many ways, that reflects a number of the comments made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Sir Alan Beith)—the Chair of the Justice Committee—the hon. Member for Luton North (Kelvin Hopkins), and my hon. Friend the Member for Daventry (Chris Heaton-Harris). May I say that the last of those is filling in for my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Mr Cash) admirably this evening in ensuring that the will and views of the European Scrutiny Committee are properly represented in the debate? I look forward to him standing in on future occasions.

I want to underline and respond to some of the points made by the hon. Member for Kingston upon

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Hull North (Diana Johnson). I welcome the fact that she agrees with the Government’s analysis of subsidiarity as it applies to the European public prosecutor’s office measure. However, it will not surprise her that I take issue strongly with her suggestion that the Government do not take transnational and serious organised crime, and working with law enforcement agencies across the EU, very seriously in ensuring that public are properly protected against organised criminality that crosses borders. I will not detain the House because this is a matter for another day, but it is interesting that the Labour Government negotiated the right to exercise the 2014 block opt-out—she described the 2014 decision as an untested approach. From her comments, I can only assume that the previous Government had no intention of exercising that right and therefore of seeking to provide those protections—it was a sham.

The hon. Lady highlighted protections in respect of the European prosecutor’s office—unanimity and the right to opt in—but it is important that the public have a say and a right to form a view in respect of such an important issue. That is why I welcome the fact that the Government have legislated to make any decision by a future Government to commit the UK to participating in the creation of the European public prosecutor’s office a matter that would require an Act of Parliament and—yes—a referendum under the European Union Act 2011.

This has been a helpful debate and I welcome the views that have been expressed. We will monitor with close interest whether the threshold is triggered to issue the formal yellow card to the Commission. We will return to matters more broadly in relation to the European public prosecutor’s office and the relationship with Eurojust when we debate the formal opt-in decision motion, when we can examine those matters in further detail.

Question put and agreed to.


That this House considers that the Draft Regulation on the establishment of a European Public Prosecutor’s Office (EPPO) (European Union Document No. 12558/13 and Addenda 1 and 2) does not comply with the principle of subsidiarity, for the reasons set out in the annex to Chapter One of the Fifteenth Report of the European Scrutiny Committee (HC 83-xv); and, in accordance with Article 6 of Protocol (No. 2) annexed to the EU Treaties on the application of the principle of subsidiarity and proportionality, instructs the Clerk of the House to forward this reasoned opinion to the Presidents of the European Institutions.

Business without Debate



That the motion in the name of Mr Andrew Lansley relating to the House of Commons Members’ Fund shall be treated as if it related to an instrument subject to the provisions of Standing Order No. 118 (Delegated Legislation Committees) in respect of which notice of a motion has been given that the instrument be approved.—(Amber Rudd.)

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Government Services (Websites)

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

8.4 pm

Mark Garnier (Wyre Forest) (Con): I suspect that no hon. Member has got to their feet today and not congratulated you, Madam Deputy Speaker, on your appointment. I add my name to the great list of people who have congratulated you on your well earned election. I wish you the best of the luck in your years as Madam Deputy Speaker.

I am grateful for the opportunity to speak this evening on a subject that, while not of vital national importance, is one that causes annoyance in the everyday lives of many of my constituents and those of other hon. Members. It is so annoying that Elliott Webb, the morning show presenter on BBC Hereford and Worcester, has asked me to help to address it. He has received many complaints from listeners across the two counties. It is also an issue that our beloved institution the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority has contacted all of us about in recent months.

As we know, the Government provide many services to citizens via websites, including applying for new passports, paying congestion charges, booking MOT tests for cars, finding replacement birth certificates, applying for driving licences and a range of other services that can, in the modern age, be accessed by the majority of people through the internet. Some of the services are free, but many cost money. Generally speaking, the process is straightforward—follow the instructions, pay the charge, job done. However, to find the websites and access the services they need, the vast majority of people will use an internet search engine, and that is where the problem starts.

If people use Google to search for “replacement passport”, they will get several pages of websites providing services for replacing their passport, but the proper official Government website will appear several places down the front page. Importantly, the official Government site will never appear in the shaded ad box at the top of the page, only in the fourth place as read by the consumer looking at a search engine result.

Andrew Bingham (High Peak) (Con): I thank my hon. Friend for giving way and I also congratulate you, Madam Deputy Speaker, on your election. My constituent Barbara Bradbury alerted me to this very problem about the passport checking service that charges £49 for a service that is available for £8.75 at a local post office. This service had a .org web address, which gave it an air of legitimacy, resulting in my constituents, particularly elderly ones, falling for it and paying £49.

Mark Garnier: My hon. Friend expresses the nub of my argument, and I will make similar points during my speech. He is right to raise this issue on behalf of his constituent and she is not alone in such problems.

Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP): I have had examples of the very same thing happening to my constituents. They have followed the process on Google and used a service that cost money, but the Government do it for free. People are annoyed and angry when they find that

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they have paid for something that they did not need to pay for. Does the hon. Gentleman think that the Government should have warnings on their websites about those companies that charge for something that the Government do not charge for?

Mark Garnier: There are warnings out there, and I shall develop that point as I make my speech, but the hon. Gentleman is right. It is difficult for people to tell the difference between one type of website and another.

Damian Hinds (East Hampshire) (Con): It is a great pleasure to see you in the Chair this evening, Madam Deputy Speaker.

There is a way of telling that a website is a Government website—it uses the suffix, but most people cannot be expected to know that kind of techie detail. Does my hon. Friend agree that such problems exist for private companies as well, and the problem is not just about access to Government sites? We need a labelling system on the internet that gives some weight to intellectual property and brand owners—the biggest brand in this country is the Government—so that people can be confident that when they see a certain symbol or read a certain word they are on a genuine website.

Mark Garnier: My hon. Friend suggests action that the internet search engines can take, and I shall develop that point if I may make progress with my speech, although the interventions have shown that this is a widespread issue that affects not only Government websites, but private websites. The hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) raises the slightly alarming point that providers of services can be undermined by someone snaffling their place, as it were, and that is very bad for competition.

These websites, having squeezed themselves in between the consumer and the Government website trying to provide the service, offer to provide a notional service—form filling—and then charge a premium to submit the form on the person’s behalf. BBC Hereford and Worcester has many such examples. Harry from Droitwich paid £49 for a website to fill in his passport form, only to discover that he still had to pay £72.50 for the actual cost of the passport. David from Kidderminster tried to apply for a driving licence online, filling in a form that he believed was his application, but the website just checked the information and sent him the typed-out completed form to send off to the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency, and charged him £50 to do so. It did not even pay for the stamp! This website was a little more helpful, however, as it advertised a number that could be used to complain about how misleading the site was, but of course he discovered that it was a premium rate telephone number. Perhaps the worst example of abuse by intermediary websites is the case of a Worcestershire resident who texted me while I was being interviewed yesterday morning complaining that she had been charged £30 for a European health insurance card, which is available free from the NHS and which ensures that British citizens get access to health care throughout the EU.

These misleading websites fall into two broad categories. The first are those that are deliberately misleading: websites that set out cynically to dupe the consumer into thinking that they are official Government websites.

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They look and feel like the website they seek to ape and they charge a premium for a service that is otherwise provided by the Government at a set rate. They win their so-called customers by winning the search engine optimisation game and achieving the top slot on the search engine results page—consumers naturally click on the top site, especially if its name suggests official status.

Damian Hinds: My hon. Friend is kind when he talks about their winning the top slot, because of course they pay for it, getting to the top of the search engine list by making the biggest pay-per-click bid multiplied by the biggest click-through rate—a game the Government should never get into, being funded only by taxpayers.

Mark Garnier: That is absolutely right, and again I shall be developing that point a little later, although the search engines are trying to help.

From time to time, these deliberately misleading websites are scrutinised by the Advertising Standards Authority, and prosecutions have been pursued and won, which is a good thing. I understand that more will be done, and I am sure that the Minister will share with the House what measures are coming in due course.

The second type of website is just as cynical, supposedly offering a service to help people fill in their forms. We have heard that the Post Office provides just such a service. For a fee of £8.75, it will check that a passport application form has been properly filled in and send in the application, together with the expired passport, to the Passport Office. This seems a perfectly reasonable fee, especially considering that it includes the cost of postage. What is less reasonable is the £49.50 charged to Harry from Droitwich for the same service, which did not include postage, and the case of the constituent of my hon. Friend the Member for High Peak (Andrew Bingham). These websites offer what they would argue is a value service, but its true value is of huge debate.

Importantly, according to the House of Commons Library, there is nothing preventing a business from offering services that provide assistance with official processes, and if the services do little to speed up the process, the law does not make them illegal, even if they are utterly worthless. In my view, they are utterly pointless and simply seek to take advantage of consumers by putting themselves higher up the search page results than the official website. We are all caught out by this. We in the House of Commons, of all people, must be more aware of how Government websites work than anyone else, yet IPSA felt it necessary to warn us that the premiums being charged by the congestion charge intermediary sites were not reclaimable. In a bulletin to Members on 21 August, the No. 1 item read:

“If you’re paying for your London congestion charge payment online, please make sure you are using only the official TfL website… Unofficial websites often levy an unnecessary administrative fee.”

It should be obvious to all which site is a genuine Government site and which is a misleading attempt to take money from a consumer. As we have heard, a proper site will end with the suffix, an ending reserved for genuine official Government websites. Similarly, the intermediary sites are required to carry a disclaimer

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saying that they are not official sites. They all seem to have them. Generally, they will be found right at the bottom of a fairly long page and in minute print. Despite that being obvious to the informed, and despite occasional awareness campaigns and rulings from judges on bogus sites, however, more and more people are being duped into using these unnecessary services.

It is wholly wrong that people are misled this way for a number of reasons, not least because people on tightened budgets find themselves conned out of some of their increasingly hard-pressed reserves. I have great sympathy with the consumer. Whilst it may be obvious that there are ways of differentiating the bogus from the genuine website, why should we expect the consumer miraculously to know and understand all the subtleties of web addresses, suffixes and disclaimer protocols?

The good news, as I alluded to earlier, is that the search engines broadly speaking agree with this. Google, in anticipation of this debate, sent me some advice on how it is already tackling the issue and it is worth sharing this with the House. Google has what it calls a “sale of free items policy”, which states that Google allows the promotion only of sites that charge for services associated with products or services that may be otherwise available for free as long as a number of disclosures are presented together prominently above the fold on the landing pages. I will share the four items it talked about.

The first is that the site clearly states whether the advertiser is affiliated or not affiliated with the Government official source or free source; secondly, that the site discloses that the product, services or forms are available from the Government official source or free source either for free, where applicable, or at a lower cost than the advertiser charges; thirdly, that the site must describe the additional services offered that are available from the Government official source or free source—this is the value proposition—and that advertisers should not misrepresent the value that they add by highlighting features or services available from the official source for free; finally, that the ads and landing pages cannot promote services that provide little or no additional value to the user beyond the original official online automated application process.

It is helpful that some of the search engines do have a clear policy but it is still the case that the consumer’s eye will inevitably be drawn to the top of the page where the paid-for ads appear and where the consumer may also be under the misapprehension that if it is in a paid-for ad slot, it must be an official website.

What makes this so offensive is that the Government websites are already ours as a society. We as citizens have a stake in our Government. We as taxpayers already own these sites amongst us all. When one of these bogus service providers gets between the consumer and the website, they are getting in the way of something that is already ours by right. They are charging us for something we already own, for a service we are entitled to at the basic cost.

I am a fan of free enterprise. If there is an opportunity for an entrepreneur to make a living and it is a legal activity, I wish him good luck and every encouragement. If there is a genuine need for help to fill in Government forms because they are so unfathomably complex and a website advertises itself as providing a service where one is needed—which could of course include payment

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by PayPal—with ample disclaimers and no attempt to look like the official website, I think it is reasonable that the need be met. If it fills a need, it will be used.

But these websites depend on two things—winning the search engine optimisation battle and paying for the paid-for clicks, and for the consumer to think that they have found the official website they are looking for. The solution could be very simple indeed. In the first instance, it seems perfectly reasonable for the Government to come to an agreement with the search engine providers to ensure that if there is a service being searched with responses that have suffix, that website is placed right at the top of the search results in the No. 1 slot and at the head of the paid-for ad slot. In that way, every search will present the genuine official website first and the consumer will not find themselves being led to a wrong or a bogus site. Indeed, the search engines have already made headway on this. I spent a bit of time this afternoon checking and the sites seem to be at the top of the unpaid-for ads, but they are still in the fourth slot.

Should this problem persist and these bogus or dubious websites continue, it seems reasonable that a value test be put against these sites. If the site can prove that it is doing a reasonable and useful job, it should be allowed to compete against the Government on a service basis. After all, if people feel they need to spend the extra money to unravel a complex form or to pay using PayPal, it is important that the Government receive the message that they need to up their game in the service they are providing. But it is desirable for the Government to strive to provide an exemplary service to taxpayers in closing the opportunity to alternative providers of Government services. But should this problem persist and we continue to see people being duped into using these sites, even after the Government have done everything they can to reduce any chance of a value proposition for these misleading websites, surely a well policed outright ban must be considered.

We are well into the internet age and, as we develop the service that has now become a basic necessity of life, it is right that we should question and push back against some of the more unsavoury and opportunistic parts of the internet. Search engines are doing their bit, but it is vital that the Government should protect consumers from cynical and unscrupulous attempts to turn a profit while they are attempting to use services that are ours anyway. I am grateful to the Minister for his attention this late in the evening, and I look forward to hearing his comments on how we can resolve the problem.

8.19 pm

The Minister of State, Cabinet Office (Mr Nick Hurd): Madam Deputy Speaker, it is wonderful to see you in the Chair, and I should like to add my name to the long list of people who have stepped up to say the same thing today.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Wyre Forest (Mark Garnier) on securing the debate and on the way in which he presented his argument. I thought he was rather self-effacing about the importance of the debate. This is one of the better attended Adjournment debates that I have taken part in, and the keen interest of Radio Hereford and Worcester has also been noted. This is an issue that strikes a chord; none of us wants to

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see our constituents being ripped off. He powerfully highlighted the difficulties, and in some cases the distress, that some users of online services have experienced as a result of the activities of some third-party websites providing access to Government services, often at a significant mark-up while providing little or no additional value.

This is an important issue, and it becomes even more important because of its context. As my hon. Friend will know, the Government are extremely ambitious to deliver more services online and to encourage more of our citizens and constituents to access services in that way, as set out in the Government’s digital strategy. Quite simply, we want the public to receive services that are simple, fast and clear and that can be accessed easily at times and in ways that suit them. We want to take full advantage of the digital opportunities. It will also please colleagues to hear that this will allow us to produce better services at a much lower cost. It is worth placing on record that the Government saved £500 million last year on digital and technology-related expenditure while making improvements to how people access information and services.

There is much to celebrate in the progress that we are making in building world-class digital services in this country, and we are ambitious to work with the private sector and civil society to help the 11 million people in the UK who are still digitally excluded to get online and close that gap. Given that context, and that ambition, it is really important that we should not allow fraud to undermine the trust in, and integrity of, the systems and services that we are presenting. Concerns about security and the potential for identity theft, confusion about which websites are trustworthy and fears about being ripped off all act as deterrents to the take-up of digital services, so this does matter to us and I thank my hon. Friend for drawing the issue to the House’s attention.

The abuse of access to Government services can take a range of forms, all of which can have a negative impact on confidence. They include: brand abuse, in which Government logos are used to imply affiliation with, or endorsement by, the Government or their agencies; phishing, when attempts are made to acquire information such as usernames, passwords, credit card details and other useful personal information by masquerading as a trustworthy entity in an electronic communication; and levying additional charges for access via third-party websites to Government services that are, in some cases, normally free. The justification for those charges are so-called additional services that in fact offer little or no additional value.

What are we doing about it? When we have discovered —or when the public have highlighted—the misuse of Government logos, we have ensured that they are removed from the offending sites. I am pleased to say that we have seen a significant drop in the number of reports of such misuse. However, reports relating to phishing and to third-party websites levying additional charges for access to Government websites have not fallen in the same way.

Obviously, some Government services are more impacted by this problem than others. Services that tend to involve one-off transactions, or those that citizens and businesses use only infrequently, tend to be the ones that third-party websites offer access to. Such services include passport and driving licence applications and the booking of

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driving tests. We are taking steps to deal with these issues, but there have been some challenges that I should like to share with the House.

The first complication is that the infrequency of use means that users of services provided by central Government Departments and their agencies are not necessarily familiar with the look and feel of those services online. The wide demographic base of the users of those services also limits the impact of a broad-based communication and education approach, in itself an expensive proposition. That does not make the problem insurmountable, nor does it mean that education about the best way to access Government services should not be part of our approach to tackling the problem. However, it does mean that we should seek creative ways of doing that, such as through the use of partners in the private and civil society sectors.

The second complication is the difficulty we have in categorising the activities of some of the websites we have been discussing as bad or misleading. In 2012, as my hon. Friend will know, the Office of Fair Trading conducted an investigation into the online commercial practices relating to Government services and concluded that it was not appropriate to take formal enforcement action. The investigation did not reveal widespread attempts by non-Government websites to misrepresent their affiliation with Government. Moreover, the OFT was of the view that the overall depiction of the sites investigated, including branding, colouring and images, did not create a misleading impression that they were official Government websites. In particular, many of the sites carried statements explaining the nature of the service provided and disclaiming any official status or affiliation with the Government.

Most of the sites subject to the complaints to which my hon. Friend referred tend to be those that, as he said, feature in search engine-sponsored ad spots. Search engines tend to highlight and prominently display such ads above the search results that are most relevant to the search terms that have been used and in general Government services that are accessible via, the new single Government website for all information and services, top the list of relevant search results on the main search engine websites.

What are the Government doing about misleading third-party websites? The OFT’s findings and the means by which such sites promote their offerings bring us back to the subject of education and how we help users of our services to spot correctly when they are on a Government website or the site of a third party. How do we ensure that citizens and businesses enjoy the benefits and additional value that competition through third-party provision of access to Government services can bring without fear of being exploited? We want to encourage that.

Damian Hinds: Will the Minister give way?

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Mr Hurd: If my hon. Friend will forgive me, I want to give proper time to the debate of my hon. Friend the Member for Wyre Forest.

We feel that similarity in the look and feel of Government services will help our efforts to educate users and we are achieving that through the transition of departmental websites as well as those of most of their agencies on to A unique typeface font is used on that site and mimicry of that font by non-Government sites will be difficult.

We do not think at this stage that legislation is the way to resolve the issue. Any action we take should be evidence-driven and the complaints we receive at the moment represent a small fraction of the total number of service users. That does not mean that we should be complacent, but it means that any action we take should be proportionate. Frankly, we need more information about how and why people use the third-party sites. At present, we have no evidence that they have all been misled. That could be the result of under-reporting, but we must also leave room for the possibility that it is not.

We do not as a Government have a single clear view of the scale of the problem of third-party sites mis-selling Government services and until recently there has been little consistency in how the Government have recorded and monitored details of complaints about the issue. The situation cannot continue, so my officials in the Government Digital Service have proposed, and Departments have agreed to, a cross-Government approach to tackling and tracking the problem. That will result in a clearer view of the scale of the issue, which currently appears to affect a small proportion of service users. Further action will depend on the scale and seriousness of the problems reported. That will also guide our engagement with the search engines on their enforcement of the terms and conditions that are supposed to guide the use of their sponsored ad slots.

I am pleased to say that in other areas we are making more headway. On phishing, the clear illegality of the behaviour has meant a more clear-cut approach to tackling the problem. Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs, for example, has a robust system in place to find and shut down rogue sites engaged in phishing activity. In 2011-12, HMRC shut down 841 rogue sites and in 2012-13, it shut down 560. Additionally, the HMRC digital services security team has undertaken a cross-cutting exercise to assist Department for Work and Pensions colleagues in developing the Department’s anti-phishing capabilities by providing training and process maps for dealing with such work.

I welcome the fact that my hon. Friend has thrown a spotlight on the issue. There is clearly a lot of work still to be done, but I very much welcome the insights and challenges that debates such as this provide to help us to make sure that as many citizens as possible enjoy and trust the benefits of digital Government services.

Question put and agreed to.

8.29 pm

House adjourned.