The House of Commons, yesterday, voted in favour of the Government's opt-out motion. The Government accepted an amendment tabled by Bill Cash, which “centres on the scrutiny process and aims to ensure that the Select Committees can undertake meaningful scrutiny of the Government’s proposals”.
The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mrs Theresa May): I beg to move,
That this House believes that the UK should opt out of all EU police and criminal justice measures adopted before December 2009 and seek to rejoin measures where it is in the national interest to do so and invites the European Scrutiny Committee, the Home Affairs Select Committee and the Justice Select Committee to submit relevant reports before the end of October, before the Government opens formal discussions with the Commission, Council and other Member States on the set of measures in Command Paper 8671, prior to the Government’s formal application to rejoin measures in accordance with Article10(5) of Protocol 36 to the TFEU.
For 40 years, ever since the United Kingdom entered what was then just a Common Market, power flowed in one direction—from this country and this place, which ought to be sovereign but in practice is often not, to the institutions of the European Union. Since the referendum in 1975, not once was the consent of the British people sought or given for a series of treaties that gave more and more power to Europe.
The Government’s decision, which I announced in a statement last week, to opt out of around 130 European justice and home affairs measures, before seeking to opt back into those measures that we believe work in the national interest, will be the first time in the history of our membership of the European Union that we have taken such a set of powers back from Brussels. Let us be clear that, however complicated the issues we are about to debate—I will soon come to those issues—we are first and foremost talking about bringing powers back home. That is something—
Mr Cash: I am most grateful to my right hon. Friend for giving way. Her response to the hon. Member for Cambridge (Dr Huppert) seemed to suggest that the speed with which he advocates the sorting out of the opt-ins might truncate the amount of scrutiny that is needed. I thought, as a result of the amendment tabled by me and other Select Committee Chairmen to the original motion, we had established that progress had been made on that point. Will my right hon. Friend make the situation clear?
Mrs May: I am happy to make it clear and sorry if my remarks to my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge led my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Mr Cash) to interpret my response in that way, because that was certainly not my intention. I will specify more clearly the process as I see it in due course.
Mr Cash: I am grateful to the shadow Home Secretary for giving way; I was in contest with her in the days when I was shadow Attorney-General and she was in government. She will recall the 17th report of the European Scrutiny Committee in 2001 and she will also recall that there was very severe criticism by that Committee of the manner in which this was all done with respect to the European arrest warrant. If she does not remember, no doubt she can look it up. With respect to the proposal before the House and the official Opposition amendment, how does she reconcile the words in that amendment with article 10 of protocol 36? I am sure she will remember what that says.
Mr Cash: Basically, the European Scrutiny Committee, under the chairmanship of the Government at that time, said:
“The presentation of radically changed texts in the last days of a Presidency, with calls for their immediate adoption, does not appear to us to be an appropriate way of determining changes at EU level to the criminal law…The legislative process should be open and transparent and not one of secret bargaining.”
Mr Cash: I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for the way in which he is making the very important case for our mutual amendment. Does he accept that one of the real problems is not just the question, as the Home Secretary has said, of whether our own laws would be involved and whether we would be able to make appropriate amendments in this House, but that the definition of judicial authority is absent from the European arrest warrant? I suspect that that is the reason why it is so difficult to deal with the examples the right hon. Gentleman has given. It is a question not of whether we can amend the laws in this House, but of whether the European arrest warrant itself does the job of creating proper judicial authorities.
Keith Vaz: The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. I want to give the Home Secretary the benefit of the doubt. The proposals she has announced today may represent the right approach to deal with the issues raised by the hon. Member for Esher and Walton (Mr Raab) and others, and her amendments to domestic law may be sufficient, but we do not know whether that is the case, because we need time to consider her proposals. Unless there is engagement with the judiciary in other countries, anything we do in our domestic law will, to be frank, not make any difference.
Mr William Cash (Stone) (Con): This has been a classic example of scrutiny going wrong, not from the point of view of the European Scrutiny Committee, the Home Affairs Committee or the Justice Committee, but from the point of view of the way in which the Government have handled it. We have been through these matters over the past week, and they are being given a great deal of consideration. I am glad to say that we have had the opportunity to meet the Home Secretary, as the right hon. Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz) described. She has listened, and made changes to the original motion, which would have severely prejudiced the scrutiny by this House that takes place in line with the principles that my right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (Mr Redwood) set out. Those principles are fundamental to the running of our affairs in this House that relate to the European Union. There was a danger that the scrutiny process set up under the requirements of our Standing Orders was going to be completely bypassed, but the Home Secretary has listened and we have made some progress.
There is another amendment, to which the right hon. Member for Leicester East referred, and I urge the Government to accept it. If they do not do so, I strongly urge Members on both sides of the House to vote for it. It would be unfortunate if the Government were obdurate and said that they were not prepared to accept it, in opposition to the views not only of three Select Committee Chairman but of many others who form part of the Liaison Committee, who I have reason to believe would want to support the amendment.
The Government’s motion states that they would
“seek to rejoin measures where it is in the national interest to do so”.
As it happens, at this juncture nobody is in a position to form a judgment about what is or is not in the national interest because the scrutiny process has not taken place. If we are to have a scrutiny process that means anything, combining the three views of the respective Select Committees, it is simply not possible or practical for a decision to be taken until those matters have been properly considered.
Mark Reckless: I am not sure whether my hon. Friend has noticed some consternation among Liberal Democrat Members who think it is always and everywhere in the national interest to opt into anything that the European Union is doing.
Mr Cash: Indeed, and if the hon. Member for Cambridge (Dr Huppert), who is obviously extremely keen to intervene, wishes to do so, I would be happy to take it.
Dr Huppert: The hon. Member for Rochester and Strood (Mark Reckless), who serves on the Home Affairs Committee with me, is heavily wrong in this case, but that is not what I wished to say. Does the hon. Member for Stone (Mr Cash) believe that one cannot hold a position on something until it has been through a Select Committee? Select Committees do wonderful work but there are other ways to find things out. Not every single decision of this House goes through a Select Committee—that might be a bit slow.
Mr Cash: If that were the case for scrutiny, I would simply refer the hon. Gentleman to the Standing Orders of this House that make it crystal clear that the scrutiny process must be as good as it possibly can be. Indeed, there is an inquiry into the scrutiny process to improve it even further in line with concerns that have been expressed by the House on a number of occasions. The process is also being reviewed throughout Europe through the Conference of Community and European Affairs Committees of Parliaments of the European Union. Everybody is anxious to ensure that European scrutiny takes place properly, precisely because of the democratic basis on which such decisions must be taken.
Mr Clappison: My hon. Friend the Member for Rochester and Strood (Mark Reckless) does not look completely overwhelmed at being told that he is heavily wrong by the hon. Member for Cambridge (Dr Huppert), but never mind that. Before my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Mr Cash) moves away from the issue of national interest, is it not part of our national interest for our law to be determined in this House of Commons and subject to the jurisdiction of our judges rather than European judges?
Mr Cash: Indeed, and I personally take that view, which lies at the heart of the matter that I raised with the right hon. Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz). The expression “judicial authority” leaves a great deal to be desired and has given rise to a lot of problems not only in this country but elsewhere throughout Europe. It is not just a question of whether we adjust our domestic law in certain respects, but of whether the European arrest warrant can properly fulfil the judicial role allocated to it. As I said earlier, other matters such as dual criminality must also be considered. Many questions looked at in 2001 were, as the shadow Home Secretary knows, considered by the European Scrutiny Committee, although she was not over-anxious to go into the detail. No doubt she will when she has an opportunity to come back into the Chamber, and she is very welcome to do that later on.
As the right hon. Member for Leicester East said, the original motion was withdrawn but it did not mention the role in this process of the European Scrutiny, Home Affairs and Justice Committees, despite repeated promises that those Committees would be consulted. There were also undertakings that we would be given explanatory memorandums on measures covered by the opt-out by the middle of February. In my view, and that of my Committee as a whole, the Government’s failure to provide explanatory memorandums in line with their timetable has been the major factor impeding Select Committee consideration of the block opt-out.
The history of those various exchanges and undertakings is set out in our report, “The 2014 block opt-out—engaging with Parliament”—that has been seriously lacking—which is tagged in this debate along with the Government’s response.
In my view, the way the European Scrutiny Committee and the other Committees have jointly sought information from the Government is an excellent example of the various elements of the scrutiny process working together in a consistent and co-ordinated manner. In that context, the fact that the Government’s revised motion does not provide for a scrutiny stage to be concluded by the end of October is to be welcomed. The amendment to the revised motion, which we have tabled jointly, centres on the scrutiny process and aims to ensure that the Select Committees can undertake meaningful scrutiny of the Government’s proposals. I hope that the Government will listen to that.
As Chairs of these Committees, we are concerned that the inclusion of the words
“on the set of measures in Command Paper 8671”
is likely, implicitly or explicitly, to endorse the Government’s list of 35. The amendment would simply leave out these words, so as to avoid a prejudgment of the Committee’s conclusions. That was the substance of the point made by the right hon. Member for Leicester East.
Chris Bryant: Does that mean the Government would have to come back to the House with a proper debate on the precise list of opt-in measures, rather than the impenetrable document they have provided, and make a coherent argument?
Mr Cash: The Command Paper sets out, very late in the day, various lists, proposals, explanatory memorandums and the rest of it, effectively bouncing the Committees and shunting straight past the scrutiny process, in defiance of the promises and undertakings given months ago. The Chairs are deeply concerned about this attempt to push the scrutiny process to one side.
The European Scrutiny Committee, which I Chair, has a specific job to do under Standing Orders that cannot be brushed aside by the Government or anybody else. Those are the Standing Orders of the House. The other two Committees will want to look at policy questions, but we consider proposals more on a document-by-document basis, and there are 130-odd of them, so the matter has to be dealt with within the framework of Standing Orders.
I look to the Justice Secretary, who is sitting on the Front Bench, knowing in my heart that he wants to ensure that the scrutiny process works effectively, and I invite him, in consultation with the Home Secretary, to accept our amendment and put in place that proper scrutiny process. There is no great hurry. What puzzles many Members is why an attempt has been made to bounce the House, as it were; we are puzzled about why this had to be rushed, and we have had no explanation. We simply do not understand the reasons. We do not see why there has to be a vote either. Many people think there should not be one.
In January, the European Scrutiny Committee requested that the relevant Committees should have sight of the Government’s impact assessments on the various measures under consideration. Will the Home Secretary and the Justice Secretary supply us with this information as soon as possible? It is all part of the scrutiny process. If the Government really want transparent and democratic systems that work in the interests of those whom we have the honour to represent, it is essential that we do this properly.
Sir Alan Beith: Did the three of us—the three Committee Chairs—not warn the Government repeatedly against allowing this situation to arise by asking them to produce the memorandums in the early part of the year?
Mr Cash: This is driven not by hostility, but by basic common sense: it helps the democratic process and the working between the Government and the Select Committee system, whose role has been enhanced recently, to work with the grain. That is the point: this has been working against the grain. I know that my right hon. Friends the Justice Secretary and the Home Secretary, not to mention the Prime Minister, are conscious of these questions. If mistakes were made in trying to rush and not give scrutiny the opportunities that are needed in the interests of those whom we serve, it is essential to get this right. I urge them strongly to accept the amendment in the name of the Chairmen of those Committees, and on which the Chairmen of other Committees have expressed an interest too.
The Opposition’s amendment is a rather curious state of affairs, something to which I referred when I intervened on the shadow Home Secretary. I simply put it on the record like this: the full sequence would be that the United Kingdom would have to notify its block opt-out decision six months before it could notify which measures it would seek to opt back into.
The specific order is clearly set out—I was not trying to bounce the right hon. Lady—in article 10 of protocol 36, and has been confirmed by the Commission in response to a question from the European Parliament. We know what the sequence should be, so it would not be possible for the Government to notify the European institutions of their intention to exercise the block opt-out once, to use the wording of the amendment, those institutions
“have committed to the UK’s ongoing participation”
in the measures concerned. There is something wrong with the wording of the Opposition’s amendment, because it does not fit with article 10 of protocol 36. Anyone can make a pedantic point, but this goes to the heart of article 10 of protocol 36.
Chris Bryant: But article 10 of protocol 36 also says that the Commission will, wherever possible, seek to ensure that there is a maximum degree of participation by the United Kingdom in any measures it wants to opt into. The difficulty arises in that sometimes the precise package of measures may not be a package of measures that works as far as the Commission is concerned— the point Commissioner Reding has already made to the Justice Secretary in private conversation.
Mr Cash: I do not know about these private conversations, and I do not know whether Prism has been at work to enable the hon. Gentleman to know what they consisted of. [Interruption.] Oh, he told you. Well, be that as it may, the fact is that article 10 of protocol 36 is clear, and has been confirmed by the Commission as such in a response to a question in the European Parliament. I will leave it at that, but it would be strange for us—I am talking about the House as a whole—to end up voting for an amendment tabled by the official Opposition, with all the expertise at their disposal, that was inherently wrong.
George Eustice: My hon. Friend is making an important technical point, but is there not a more fundamental objection? The Opposition’s amendment is tantamount to saying that we must first ask the permission of the European Commission before we can exercise the treaty right that we have for this opt-out. It is basically saying that we should wait and see what the Commission thinks before we make a decision.
Mr Cash: I take a strong view on these matters not only in respect of the importance of scrutiny as a matter of principle, but because, as I have said so often, this House should make the decisions. We should not have them imposed upon us.
Mr Redwood: I am very attracted to amendment (b), standing in the name of my hon. Friend and the other two Committee chairmen. I note that we have three senior Committee chairmen, all of different parties, supporting it, and I think I heard those on the Labour Front Bench implying that they, too, supported it. Can my hon. Friend say whether this is now the view of the House?
Mr Cash: It would be difficult for me to presume to know what the view of the House was, but I earnestly suggest that our amendment should be accepted. I am looking for a nod from the Justice Secretary—
The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice (Chris Grayling) indicated assent.
Mr Cash —which I am getting—to say that the Government will go along with our amendment, which would be very helpful. It would also demonstrate good will, which the Select Committees would be glad to note, given that we have duties to perform. On that happy—
Mr Cash: I really have no more to add, because this has been a highly satisfactory, if slightly informal, way of proceeding. I am extremely glad that the Justice Secretary has said that the Government will accept amendment (b), because it demonstrates that, even in the inquisitorial system that we have, accountability and good sense can run together.
Mr Cash: I agree that this is not about Europe. It is about Britain; it is about the British citizens. I invite the hon. Gentleman to consider a case in Staffordshire. A constituent of one of my neighbouring Members of Parliament was convicted in Italy of murder and was sentenced to 15 years in absentia, but was not even in Italy when the murder was committed.
Mr Buckland: I will give way in a moment, but I want to deal with the point raised by, among others, my very good hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset (Jacob Rees-Mogg). In an interesting intervention earlier in the debate, he mentioned the legal personality of the EU, and the possibility of an extradition agreement between the United Kingdom and the EU. I think he is right about that—[Interruption.] Well, I think he is. Against that observation, however, the reality of the situation we face in which countries and organisations are making a multiplicity of arrangements with each other means that individual bilateral arrangements will take their place far down the order of priorities—too far down for the victims of crime we represent. With the greatest respect to my hon. Friend, that is not a price we can afford to pay when it comes to the swift administration of justice.
Mr Cash: I rose to say that I thought my hon. Friend was making a good job of what I think is a voluntary opt-in to this debate, and it is very instructive. He talked about repeating a point again and again and again, but I think it worth pointing out to him that there is a rule, I believe, about tedious repetition. I am sure he did not mean that he was in any way going to fall into that trap.
Mark Reckless: No, I would not accept that for a minute. I was prepared for a repetitious intervention later, but my hon. Friend got in early. I must make some progress, and I will deal with his point.
The situation is the complete opposite of what my hon. Friend says. Under Maastricht—that great success hailed from the rooftops by an ex-Prime Minister who called it game, set and match to Britain—we had intergovernmental procedures and pillared structures, meaning that the Commission and the European Court of Justice would not be involved in foreign and justice and home affairs matters; they would be dealt with solely on an intergovernmental basis. Unfortunately, those pillars have been chipped away at, and with the Lisbon treaty, they were knocked over, hence today’s motion.
The previous Labour Government could not say that the constitution was exactly the same as the Lisbon treaty—I am informed by my hon. Friend the Member for Hertsmere (Mr Clappison) that making out the two were different was one of the few face-saving fig leaves they picked on—and now these areas are being folded into the treaty structure originally envisaged under the Maastricht treaty. Rather than an opt-out from 130-odd measures, as the idea is styled, the proposal was—until the acceptance earlier of amendment (b), which was very significant—to opt into Commission enforcement of ECJ jurisdiction in 35 measures, including almost all of the most important.
Mr Cash: I would like to pay tribute to my hon. Friend. I can well remember how some years ago at Oxford, at the time of the Maastricht treaty, he was able to participate in debates and discussions on these very issues. We were in complete agreement then, and have remained so ever since.
Mr Cash: Does my hon. Friend accept that the driving force that lay behind the necessity for the Chairmen of the three Select Committees, including the European Scrutiny Committee, to ensure that this took place, was driven by the very thing he and my right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (Mr Redwood) were talking about earlier? Those of us who believe in the parliamentary sovereignty of this place know that this is more about the United Kingdom than it is about Europe. We have to stick to the fourth Bloomberg principle, which is that national Parliaments are the root of our democracy.
Mark Reckless: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The constitutional principles to which he draws attention are far more important than any temporary coalition deal that may or may not have been stitched up. If it was stitched up, it has become unstitched. Instead of a motion to have a block opt-out tied to a motion on what we would opt back into, including the European arrest warrant, we now have one decision followed by another. I trust that the decision we have now on the block opt-out will be the same as the decision on an alternative vote referendum. I hope we will have learnt our lessons and that any decision on what, if anything, is in the national interest to opt back into is delayed, rather as our Liberal Democrat colleagues reconsidered what had been stated with respect to boundary changes.
Jacob Rees-Mogg: I am very sympathetic to the view that my hon. Friend is expressing. The view of the Government is otherwise, but when the 2011 Act was being debated it was made clear that these matters can be settled by judicial review. If there is a continuing uncertainty, that is a sensible route to go down once we know what issues will be opted into.
Mr Cash: The very thought of a judicial review in the name of Rees-Mogg invokes memories of the greatest of all the cases on the Maastricht treaty, in which my hon. Friend’s own dear late father was the plaintiff. Perhaps my hon. Friend would be good enough to take up the cudgels in his own right.
Jacob Rees-Mogg: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for reminding me of the activities of my late noble kinsman, who did indeed bring an action on the Maastricht treaty, supported by the late kinsman of my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond Park (Zac Goldsmith), who was the backer of that great venture. It may be that we can fight on where our fathers once fought, with the continuing help of my hon. Friend, the seemingly immortal hon. Member for Stone.
Mr Cash: My hon. Friend, who is almost always right on matters of substance, might reflect on the fact that, as I mentioned earlier, the words “judicial authority” in this context were severely criticised by the European Scrutiny Committee, and there is no guarantee that a court or a judge would be involved.
….Jacob Rees-Mogg: That is an important point, and we should all learn off by heart the 2001 report by the European Scrutiny Committee, I seem to remember it was—
……Mr Cash: The 17th report of that year.
Mr Cash: Will my hon. Friend also bear in mind that in the welter of information—the labyrinth that has been created by this extraordinary system—the word “xenophobia” is also mentioned? However, no definition is given, which makes things even more difficult.
Jacob Rees-Mogg: This is always a complex area. I have never thought that any Briton could ever suffer from xenophobia, because no Briton has ever been frightened of any foreigner.
Mr Cash: I know my hon. Friend has heard this before, but does he accept that, for all the examples that could be given to demonstrate that the European arrest warrant is sometimes convenient and suits the case of those in favour of it, there are many examples that demonstrate absolutely massive deprivations of justice for those people caught up in the EAW who are most unfairly treated by it?
Jacob Rees-Mogg: That is certainly the case, but I have sympathy with the Government wanting to have an arrest warrant that works. I think that is a rational and sensible view for the Government to take, but I think that they should go about it in a different way. (…)
Mr Cash: I am sure the hon. Gentleman accepts that we are delighted by the acceptance of our amendment, which gets rid of both the absurdity of the Government’s position and—if I may say so—the absurdity of the legal position set out in the Opposition amendment.
Mr Cash: On whether the Government will continue to seek to rejoin, would the Secretary of State take the view that it was not appropriate to do so if the evidence taken in the scrutiny process by the three Committees led to the conclusion that that was not in the interests of the United Kingdom?
Chris Grayling: What I can say to my hon. Friend is that, as he and the other Select Committee Chairmen would expect, we will look very carefully at the conclusions they draw and we will bring these matters back to the House for a further vote. He would expect nothing less than that.
There are measures, such as the prisoner transfer agreement, that are very much in the interests of this country. I personally want to see Hungarian prisoners back in Hungarian jails as quickly as possible, but as my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (Dr Huppert) rightly said, we should have mechanisms to ensure our police forces can work together and share information when they need to.