29 January 2008
Keith Vaz (Leicester, East) (Lab): It is always a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve), who has won many awards for his parliamentary skill and ability. Sadly however, he concentrated in his speech today not on the substance of the justice and home affairs agenda, but on what I was going to call his Euroscepticism although I should apologise for calling him that because we now know that he is half French—I should, perhaps, now say that he has been half a Eurosceptic in his arguments.
In contrast, the Home Secretary made an excellent speech in which she rightly set out the Government’s commitment to further co-operation with EU partners on the justice and home affairs agenda. I commend her on what she has done, and I commend to the House the Home Affairs Committee report entitled, “Justice and Home Affairs Issues at European Union Level”, which was published on 11 October last year and which is tagged to the motion before the House. I intend to
speak about the report and its influence on the Government’s decision to accept the treaty and to put its main provisions before the House. The report was written before my time as the Committee’s Chairman, but I know that its members, some of whom were present during the earlier part of the debate, were keen to ensure that although it is called the Home Affairs Committee, it carefully examined the European dimension.
The Committee examined the following issues: justice, of course; practical co-operation between member states; mutual recognition, including the development of minimum standards across the whole of the EU; the harmonisation of the criminal justice systems; the processes of decision making and whether problems are driven by third pillar procedures; the significance of a trend towards internal agreements between informal groups of member states outside the EU framework; and the current developments in common border controls and visa arrangements.
International crime, people trafficking, migration issues and other policing issues are, as the Home Secretary and others have told the House, no longer issues just for internal domestic consumption, and it would be very foolish to treat them as such. The Home Affairs Committee has been very clear in its recognition that we cannot keep our country safe and fight organised crime and terrorism without working closely with our neighbours. It said that in some cases not enough had been done to ensure a better level of co-operation. The treaty of Lisbon, and its commitment to those principles that I have outlined, is therefore extremely welcome.
Mr. Cash: Many people would agree that a good idea lies behind international co-operation, but why would the right hon. Gentleman especially single out that legal entity called the European Union when the problems that arise, as he has so aptly described them, are relevant to a global problem? Why does he just mention the European Union, particularly given the legal systems involved? For example, as I pointed out earlier, the political control over judges is greater in some European countries than it is over here.
Keith Vaz: I have enormous respect for the hon. Gentleman and his views, but he must understand that although we obviously have to go beyond the European Union to deal with issues such as international crime, human trafficking and terrorism, we need to begin with our partners. The strength of our relationship with our EU partners strengthens our position in dealing with these issues with the rest of the world.
The Committee felt strongly—I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will agree with this—that the Government must control some areas of the decision-making process on the justice and home affairs agenda. I am glad that the treaty strengthens the opt-out and thus recognises the concerns expressed during our deliberations in producing this report. In our view, policy initiatives at EU level should be pursued only if there is solid evidence that they are likely to make a practical difference to the effectiveness with which common challenges facing EU member states in the JHA field can be tackled.
Mr. Jenkin: The right hon. Gentleman may recall giving evidence to the European Reform Forum on the question of democracy, accountability and transparency in the EU. He agreed that there was a democratic deficit in the EU and that the transfer of more and more law-making functions to the Commission and the European Parliament was not the answer to the democratic deficit, yet he agrees with this treaty, which provides for a substantial transfer of law-making powers from democratic Parliaments in the member states to the institutions of the European Community. He has said that the European Union cannot be a democracy. This treaty is a transfer from democracy to something that is not a democracy, so how will he address that problem?
Keith Vaz: I remember giving evidence to the hon. Gentleman’s forum with great pleasure. Nothing that I have said today in any way contradicts what I said before his forum. Of course we have to pool our thoughts, resources and arrangements to ensure that we are more effective. That is what being a member of the European Union is all about and that is what we signed up to in the Maastricht treaty and in all the treaties to which Governments, whether Conservative or Labour, have been a party. The fact remains that it is only through co-operation that we will make progress, but there has to be absolute and proper scrutiny of what is happening—and that is what is happening in this Committee stage.
Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich) (Lab): Has my right hon. Friend ever visited the state of Cameroon, two thirds of which is French-speaking and one third English-speaking? Its judges cannot agree on how they should record their judgments. The English-speaking tradition requires written judgments and the French one requires oral judgments. I am sure that that is not an example of the sort of problem that we shall encounter, but one does wonder.
Keith Vaz: Only someone with the distinguished experience and ability of my hon. Friend could suggest that the House should compare Cameroon to the European Union— [ Interruption. ] I do not think that that is a legitimate comparison, but I respect my hon. Friend’s views and her wonderful pronunciation of French.
Mr. Jenkin: The right hon. Gentleman says that he is in favour of increased co-operation. We are in favour of co-operation, but that is provided for under the international arrangements that already exist. These proposals would mean a transfer from co-operation to, dare I say it, coercion, subject to qualified majority voting and the European Court, under the European Union. This is a completely different system, and it is not co-operation.
Keith Vaz: If the hon. Gentleman had stopped at the word “co-operation” and not gone on to “coercion”, he would have taken the House with him. The fact is that we have to have co-operation when we deal with issues such as international crime, terrorism and human trafficking, as I shall explain.
Mr. Mark Harper (Forest of Dean) (Con): The right hon. Gentleman is in danger of setting up a straw man. He seems to suggest that anyone who is against this treaty is against co-operation. We are in favour of co-operation, as my hon. Friend the Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve) said, but the real question that the Government have to answer is what advantage we gain from the new process over and above the co-operation that we already have, as the Home Secretary outlined at great length.
Keith Vaz: What we get is the ability to catch more criminals; to deal more effectively with human traffickers; and to use the European arrest warrant to bring more people to justice. I have no fear of the extension of qualified majority voting, because every analysis of it shows that Britain is almost always on the winning side and hardly ever on the losing side. I pay tribute to my former private secretary in the Europe department of the Foreign Office, who regularly used to bring me analysis of qualified majority voting that showed that Britain was on the winning side. I do not know why the Opposition do not accept that fact.
Mr. Ian Davidson (Glasgow, South-West) (Lab/Co-op): Surely it is easy to be on the winning side if one capitulates every time there is a row? Anybody can manage to be on the winning side by constantly changing sides. Surely that argument misses the point?
Keith Vaz: That may happen in Glasgow, but I do not think that it happens in the negotiations that go on in Brussels, whether under a Labour or a Conservative Government. When Ministers represent the British Government they act in Britain’s interests: they do not capitulate in order to please other countries. Ministers ensure that whatever is decided is best for Britain.
Policing is an area in which co-operation will increase as a result of the treaty provisions. I am pleased to see that the treaty sets out a timetable to ensure the full establishment of Europol and allows member states to be involved in proper monitoring of the way in which it operates.
I ask the Home Secretary, who is in deep conversation with the Minister for Borders and Immigration about very important matters, to what extent she regards such monitoring as enabling Parliament to be part of the decision-making process. I wonder whether the Minister for Europe will say, when he responds to the debate, whether he is happy with the timetable for Europol or whether he expects and wishes the timetable to be accelerated. The proper and effective operation of Europol is in everyone’s interests, and I hope that he will also confirm that, if not the Select Committee on Home Affairs—I am not trying to empire-build—the whole of Parliament can be involved in the process.
Tony Baldry: Does the Chairman of the Home Affairs Committee agree that, although Europol might be a good initiative, practically none of his constituents, nor any of mine, have heard of Europol or what it does? This is becoming a secret-garden debate. If we had had a referendum on the issue, there would have been an opportunity at least to ensure that everyone understood the issues—good or bad—in the treaty.
Keith Vaz: Most of my constituents might not have heard of Europol, because they have never come to the attention of Europol, and therefore they have not been involved in any serious crime that would result in their being asked to visit or being visited by Europol. If the hon. Gentleman is saying, “Let us go out there and explain the institutions of the European Union to the people of Britain. Let us have a proper debate about our role in the EU,” I am with him absolutely. That is what the Government have been doing for the past 10 years, despite the attacks that they constantly receive in the tabloid press about their good work in Europe.
The Select Committee argued quite strongly that the European borders agency, Frontex, which is based in Warsaw, had untapped potential and that it needed proper resources if its efforts were not to be diverted into emergency operations. In June last year, there was a major Frontex operation to tackle illegal immigration from Moldova. At least 11 countries, including Britain, were involved in the operation, which resulted in the detection of at least 109 illegal border movements. That demonstrates the benefit of organisations such as Frontex and the importance of co-operation with our European partners.
I would be grateful to the Minister if he told the House in his winding-up speech what the reform treaty will mean for Frontex. Although separate from the EU, it is vital for European protection. The UK asked to opt in to Frontex, despite some objections that, to participate in Frontex, it was necessary to be part of the Schengen group of countries. I ask that Parliament and, indeed, the Select Committee be kept informed of all such developments, and we particularly welcome the opt-in that has been negotiated.
During the Home Secretary’s speech, I alluded to the evidence given by Sir Stephen Lander, the chairman of the Serious Organised Crime Agency, about the importance of the work that SOCA was undertaking in the EU, particularly the importance of co-operation in dealing with drug traffickers and those who are involved in human trafficking. It is important that we hear from the Minister what further steps he will take to use the justice and home affairs agenda to ensure that SOCA can work properly and adequately with other such organisations in EU countries.
On data protection, we heard from the Home Secretary about the need to share information. Indeed, when the Select Committee recently visited Washington, we saw the effects of the data sharing between EU countries and the fact that the data were also shared with the United States of America—in particular, passenger name records were used to monitor those who were involved in undesirable activities entering the United States. The Home Secretary gave me an assurance quite strongly that she had brought to the attention of European colleagues the need to protect those data, and I very much hope that that is at the forefront of her consideration. If we share data with European partners and if they share data with us, it is important that those data are protected. If they are not protected, we will have serious problems.
I mentioned human trafficking; the Committee is about to start a major inquiry into human trafficking. We will go to Kiev, Moscow and probably Lithuania to consider the issue of the EU’s external borders. The hon. Member for Stone (Mr. Cash) spoke of co-operation with countries beyond the EU. There is a bigger world outside; why are we always concerned with the EU? That is what he always says so eloquently in debates such as this. We do need the co-operation of countries outside the EU if we are to make any impact on those involved in what everyone regards as a modern form of slavery. We recently debated human trafficking in this House, and many right hon. and hon. Members took part. It is important that we ensure co-operation.
The treaty deals with many of the same issues that the Committee highlighted in its report last year. I am pleased with the importance given to co-operation in policing, crime detection and immigration and asylum. They are important issues. I had the privilege of being at the Tampere European Council in 1999, when the process began—for the first time, the European Union considered justice and home affairs—and I watched with great interest and delight as after Tampere came The Hague programme and finally The Hague 2, which ensures that we deal seriously with justice and home affairs. Britain is at the heart of the JHA agenda because of the work of Ministers and officials over the past 10 years and more. I commend the action taken, and I have great pleasure in supporting the Government motion