Select Committee on European Communities Eleventh Report



Letter from Lord Tordoff, Chairman of the Committee, to Dawn Primarolo MP, Financial Secretary, HM Treasury

  I refer to the above matter and to the Explanatory Note from HM Customs and Excise dated 12 November 1997. The text of the draft Convention has been sifted to Sub-committee E (Law and Institutions) for detailed consideration.

  I note that your Explanatory Note suggests that political agreement may be reached on this matter at the Justice and Home Affairs Council in early December. The delay in depositing this document for scrutiny is inexplicable considering that reference was made to the on-going work on this measure in the Luxembourg Presidency's Work Programme for the relevant Third Pillar Steering Group which was sent to the Select Committee by the Home Office on 24 July last. The Work Programme states: The Presidency will continue the work on the so-called Naples II Convention and will attempt to reach agreement on the questions outstanding so that the Convention can be signed before the end of the year thus complying with the deadline set by the Amsterdam European Council". This clearly indicates that a draft text of the Convention was in circulation at that time and could have been deposited for scrutiny.

  I am dismayed at the manner in which your Department has dealt with this proposal and its disregard for the Parliamentary scrutiny process. It is unacceptable that a proposal of this magnitude and significance is deposited in Parliament when it is practically a fait accompli. The seriousness of the delay is compounded by the fact that when your Department did finally submit an Explanatory Note the text of the draft Convention was not submitted at the same time and my officials had to contact your Department to ask for a copy. Furthermore, when the text of the draft Convention was finally provided the Council Secretariat's cover sheet indicated that it dates from 9 October.

  At its last meeting Sub-Committee E decided to conduct a short enquiry into the draft Convention on Mutual Assistance in Criminal Matters, the documents relating to which make several explicit references to the Naples II Convention. The sub-Committee will wish to consider the interaction between the two Conventions and will not be in a position to complete its work prior to the next Justice and Home Affairs Council due to be held on 4-5 December when it is expected that political agreement will be reached on the text of the Naples II Convention. I expect, therefore, you will withhold the Government's agreement on this proposal until such time as Sub-Committee E has completed its current enquiry.

  Prior to the summer recess Sub-Committee F (Social Affairs, Education and Home Affairs) completed an enquiry into the existing procedures for Parliamentary scrutiny of Third Pillar proposals[9]. The Sub-Committee made a number of detailed recommendations aimed at ensuring that Parliament receives Third Pillar documents in good time to allow the scrutiny committees to undertake detailed examination of their provisions. I enclose a copy of the Sub-Committee's Report for your consideration.

19 November 1997

Letter from Dawn Primarolo MP, Financial Secretary, HM Treasury, to Lord Tordoff, Chairman of the Committee

  Thank you for your letter of 19 November about the Explanatory Note on this Convention which I submitted on 12 November. I am very sorry that my Department did not submit an Explanatory Note on this Convention at a much earlier stage.

  I agree that the delay in submitting an Explanatory Note on this Convention was unacceptable and cannot be excused. I have asked my officials to ensure that this does not happen again. The Government inherited negotiations on this Convention in May and since then has had to form a view on it. The speed at which the Luxembourg Presidency has attempted to move negotiations forward since late September has meant that they have been producing a series of unofficial texts each of which has rapidly been superseded. When it became apparent that a text had emerged which had a realistic prospect of being negotiated to a conclusion the Explanatory Note was submitted with the latest text at that stage.

  In recent weeks the Presidency have conducted an intensive round of negotiations at official level on the Convention. These negotiations have concentrated on the outstanding reservations which a number of Member States had with various aspects of the Convention. The Presidency seem to have brokered solutions on these outstanding points although formal texts have not always been produced and often not in languages other than French. A consolidated text reflecting these latest negotiations has only been produced within the past couple of days and you may find it helpful to have that together with a supplementary EN (attached) [not printed]. It is possible that the Presidency may put this text to the Justice and Home Affairs Council on 4-5 December. If this Council is invited to consider this text it is my intention that the Government would indicate that although it believes the text is in principle satisfactory it remains subject to scrutiny consideration by Parliament.

  As you have indicated in your letter, the Amsterdam European Council earlier this year endorsed the report of the High Level Group on Organised Crime which included a recommendation that the text of this Convention be finalised by the end of this year. The Luxembourg Presidency efforts have been geared to this end and they recently announced their wish to have the Convention agreed and signed on 18 December. In substance the Government is extremely keen to see this measure, aimed against crime and drugs, agreed as soon as possible. This is just the sort of area of EU activity which the Government wishes to promote in order to bring the EU closer to the people. I understand that in the several other Member States which apply Parliamentary scrutiny to third pillar documents the speed of the Presidency action has required them to make extra efforts to clear their scrutiny processes more quickly than would normally be the case. It is probable that if the UK is unable to complete its scrutiny process before 18 December it alone will have to block signature of this Convention. Such a block would be particularly unfortunate with our own Presidency of the EU about to start. It may wrongly be thought that the UK has deliberately obstructed agreement in order to claim credit during its own Presidency and this may lead to a loss of goodwill which would make our conduct of a successful Presidency more difficult.

  I entirely accept that it was the failure of my Department to submit an Explanatory Note at an early enough stage which has given rise to this difficulty. However, given the adverse consequences for the UK which I believe will follow if we are not able to agree this Convention this year, I would be extremely grateful if you could consider whether there is any way that your Committee could expedite clearance before 18 December.

28 November 1997

Letter from Joyce Quin MP, Minister of State, Home Office, to Lord Tordoff, Chairman of the Committee

  I enclose for the information of your Committee a draft Council resolution laying down priorities for co-operation in the field of justice and home affairs for the period 1 January 1998 to the date of the coming into force of the Amsterdam Treaty, together with an Explanatory Note [not printed]. The draft resolution will be presented to the Justice and Home Affairs Council on 4-5 December for adoption.

  The draft resolution has been in preparation for some time, and I regret very much that we have not sent it to you before now. Although the draft carries the date of 28 July, it did not come to our notice, for reasons that we are seeking to ascertain, until much later.

  The period covered by the resolution of course includes that of the UK's Presidency of the European Council. We shall in the usual way be preparing a Presidency work programme for the Third Pillar, which I hope to send the scrutiny committees shortly; I know that Lord Wallace wishes to see this before I meet Sub-Committees E and F on 9 December. It will be consistent with the terms of the present resolution and will explain in more detail the priorities that the UK will be pursuing during our Presidency and what we hope to achieve.

  Meanwhile, I regard the present draft resolution as providing a useful framework for the work of the Union between the beginning of next year and the coming into force of the Amsterdam Treaty. It reflects a broad consensus as to the priorities, but is flexible enough to allow for urgent responses to unforeseen events, should this prove necessary.

25 November 1997

9   Enhancing Parliamentary scrutiny of the Third Pillar, 6th Report, Session 1997-98. Back

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