The House of Commons debated yesterday the UK’s Justice and Home Affairs Opt-outs. During the debate Bill Cash made the following interventions:
The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mrs Theresa May): I beg to move,
That this House has considered the UK’s Justice and Home Affairs opt-outs. I have just noticed the right hon. Member for Delyn (Mr Hanson) sitting in solitary splendour on the Opposition Front Bench.
On 24 March this year, Francis Paul Cullen was sentenced to 15 years in prison for a series of sexual assaults on children. He committed those offences over a period of more than three decades while serving as a priest in Nottingham and Derbyshire. His victims were both boys and girls, and were aged between six and 16. The judge said that their
“whole lives have been blighted”
“cunning, devious, arrogant”
man. Indeed, one of them tried to take their own life.
When his crimes came to light in 1991, Cullen fled to Tenerife to evade justice. Last year, after 22 years on the run and two decades of further suffering for his victims, he was extradited from Spain on a European arrest warrant. This spring, he pleaded guilty to 15 counts of indecent assault, five counts of indecency with a child and one count of attempted buggery. After a lifetime of waiting, his victims who were watching in that courtroom in Derby finally saw justice done.
That harrowing case and too many others like it form the backdrop to today’s debate. Francis Cullen is just one of the despicable and cowardly criminals who have fled our shores to try to escape British justice. In an earlier age, he might have succeeded. Under the system of extradition that existed before the European arrest warrant—the 1957 European convention on extradition—his 22 years on the run would have rendered him immune from prosecution by the Spanish authorities, helping to bar his extradition back to the UK. It is thanks to the European arrest warrant that Cullen is behind bars at last.
I know that many right hon. and hon. Members have concerns about the way in which that measure has operated since the Labour party signed us up to it, and I have shared many of those concerns. That is why I have legislated to reform the operation of the arrest warrant and increase the protections that we can offer to those who are wanted for extradition, particularly if they are British subjects.
First, Members were concerned that British citizens were being extradited for disproportionately minor offences. We changed the law to allow an arrest warrant to be refused in respect of minor offences. A British judge will now consider whether the alleged offence and likely sentence are sufficient to make the person’s extradition proportionate. Secondly, Members were concerned that people could be extradited for actions that are not against the law of this land. We have clarified the rules on dual criminality to ensure that an arrest warrant must be refused if all or part of the conduct for which the person is wanted took place in the United Kingdom and it is not a criminal offence in the UK.
Jacob Rees-Mogg: The Government, in their July 2013 Command Paper, said that
“it may be possible to negotiate bilateral treaties…with the EU”.
The EU now has legal personality and I believe that there is legal advice, at least in the Ministry of Justice, that says that a bilateral treaty with the EU would be possible. Why is that avenue not being pursued?
Mrs May: There are two issues in relation to that. First, people often say, “That’s what Denmark has; it is able to negotiate directly because it has a complete opt-out on these matters.” However, Denmark does not have any other legal avenue for opting in to those measures. As the Commission has made clear, given that there is another legal avenue for the United Kingdom—as negotiated by the previous Government—that is what should be pursued, rather than a separate extradition treaty with the EU. Secondly, I say to right hon. and hon. Members who think that some form of bilateral treaties would be a way of getting around the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice, that Denmark has been required to submit to the jurisdiction of the ECJ as part of the conditions of agreeing a treaty with the European Union.
Sir William Cash (Stone) (Con): As my right hon. Friend knows—she has said this already—there are concerns that our laws are being made elsewhere in this context. She then says that in fact we will keep control over our laws. That is precisely not what is happening because, as she knows from the statement she made earlier today, through section 3 of the European Communities Act 1972, the European Court of Justice overrides not only this Parliament voluntarily, but also our Supreme Court.
Mrs May: As I indicated earlier, the House will introduce its own legislation to ensure that we are able to do what we wish to do in terms of the powers of our law enforcement agencies and our security and intelligence agencies. We must, however, make a choice on some of these measures, and the question is whether we believe that we need such measures to keep the public safe and ensure that people are brought to justice, or not. I believe that with the measures we have negotiated, both I and the Justice Secretary—he has also been working hard on this matter—have recognised those issues and will ensure that our police and law enforcement agencies are able to do the job we want them to do.
Sir William Cash: Will my right hon. Friend explain to the House why it is so important to have those cross-border co-operation arrangements with the EU and not with the entire world?
Mrs May: Our police forces of course co-operate with other police forces throughout the world in bringing criminals and perpetrators to justice. The European arrest warrant—I will repeat myself—is an extradition arrangement that improves on the extradition arrangements that we had previously. I recognise that there have been concerns about it, but we have legislated on those concerns here in this Parliament.
I was describing the Prüm system, which is about the easy, efficient and effective comparison of data when appropriate. We have been clear that we cannot rejoin that on 1 December and would not seek to do so. However, in order for the House to consider the matter carefully, the Government will produce a business and implementation case and run a small-scale pilot with all the necessary safeguards in place. We will publish that by way of a Command Paper and bring the issue back to Parliament so that it can be debated in an informed way. We are working towards doing so by the end of next year. However, the decision on whether to rejoin Prüm would be one for Parliament. Unlike the Labour Government, who signed us up to that measure in the first place without any idea how much it would cost or how it would be implemented, the Government will ensure that Parliament has the full facts to inform its decision.
On another subject, I know that my right hon. Friend the Justice Secretary will want to address the probation situation in his closing remarks—that is another measure we have successfully resisted rejoining.
The Government propose to rejoin other measures in the national interest. We wish to rejoin the European supervision order, which allows British subjects to be bailed back to the UK rather than spending months abroad awaiting trial. That will stand alongside the reforms we have made to the European arrest warrant, and make it easier for people such as Mr Symeou to be bailed back to the UK and prevent such injustices from occurring in future.
We are also seeking to rejoin the prisoner transfer framework decision, a measure that my right hon. Friend the Justice Secretary considers important. The framework helps us to remove foreign criminals from British jails—prisoners such as Ainars Zvirgzds, a Latvian national convicted of controlling prostitution, assault, and firearms and drug offences. In April 2012, he was sentenced to 13 and a half years imprisonment in the UK. Last month, he was transferred out of this country to a prison in Latvia, where he will serve the remainder of his sentence. Had it not been for the prison transfer measure, he would have remained in a British prison, at a cost to the British taxpayer of more than £100,000.
We wish to rejoin the measure providing for joint investigation teams, so that we can continue to participate in cross-border operations such as Operation Birkhill. That collaboration with Hungary, funded by Eurojust and assisted by Europol, led to five criminals being sentenced at Croydon Crown court last month to a total of 36 years imprisonment for their involvement in trafficking more than 120 women into the United Kingdom from Hungary, the Czech Republic and Poland. One of those convicted, Vishal Chaudhary, lived in a luxury Canary Wharf penthouse and drove a flashy sports car bought from the money he made selling those women for sex. Chaudhary and his gang managed their operation from a semi-detached house on a suburban street in Hendon, and operated more than 40 brothels across London, including in Enfield and Brent. Their victims were threatened with abuse if they tried to contact their families. Some were forced to have sex with up to 20 clients a day. These are the victims of crime that the measures we are debating to day help. Joint investigation teams are a vital tool in the fight against modern slavery, a crime this House so passionately demonstrated earlier this week it wants to see tackled. I hope the House will support rejoining the measures that will help us to do that.
Sir William Cash: In this very interesting exchange between those on the Front Benches, who seem to be largely in agreement, let me ask the same question that I asked the Home Secretary. Would the right hon. Gentleman be good enough to explain to me and the House why we have an arrangement with the European Union on this basis and not one to deal with other murderers, traffickers and the rest of it in the rest of the world? Can he explain what is so special about the European Union in this context?
Mr Hanson: As I think the Home Secretary also indicated in our little tête-à-tête of agreement, there is a wider world outside Europe, but we have strong ties with Europe. We have free movement in Europe on a range of matters. We do not have free movement from outside the European Community, so there are issues that we should ensure we deal with within the European Community.
Sir William Cash (Stone) (Con): This issue is not at all about shaking off Eurosceptics; it is about deciding what is sensible for the United Kingdom in line with our values, our traditions and our own rule of law. As many right hon. and hon. Members have indicated, there is no reason for these provisions that could not have been achieved by other means. Furthermore, I have still not had an answer to the question: what is so special about the European Union and the cross-border arrangements that operate within it, compared with anywhere else in the world, where we will find murderers, traffickers and all the other problems that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary mentioned?
They problems are found in the rest of the world and in Europe, yet we have these special arrangements for Europe alone. The answer is simple: it is about sovereignty. This is all about giving in to the European Union, through the European Communities Act 1972. Watching both Front-Bench teams is rather like watching an attempt to get out of a paper bag—except for the fact that this paper bag is a steel mesh. The steel mesh is the European Court of Justice and sections 2 and 3 of the European Communities Act. I respect what the Home Secretary is trying to do because she is stuck and trapped in arrangements that are being dictated by the very people—Mr Juncker, for example, who came forward with these proposals from the European Commission, and Viviane Reding, another European Commissioner of the first order—who are committed to driving forward these arrangements in the belief that if they could manage to secure a EU-wide criminal justice system, they could make further progress towards the European political union that they want. That is really what it is all about. It is simply naïve and disingenuous to put it any other way.
Mr Redwood: Does my hon. Friend remember that when we had Conservative Governments, we always understood that, and it was a fundamental principle that home affairs and foreign affairs had to be kept outside the treaties and outside the purview of the European Court of Justice through the three pillar structure?
Sir William Cash: That is absolutely right. I have followed these matters with what could be described as a mild degree of interest since the Maastricht treaty, in which we were promised all these pillars, but they have all now collapsed as though Samson had stretched out and pulled them down, bringing the whole of the criminal justice arrangements we had previously enjoyed crashing down with him.
Despite all the promises that were made, during the Lisbon treaty debates my right hon. Friends on the Front Bench and I, who were then in opposition, voted against every single measure. We were completely united as a party, not just as Eurosceptics but as sensible people—rational people, if I may say so to the right hon. Member for Delyn (Mr Hanson). The bottom line is that we have now completely reversed our position and are in the process of accepting 35 measures that we would not have contemplated when the Lisbon treaty was going through.
Many of the issues that have already been raised and will be raised later during the debate are of deep concern not only to many Conservative Members but, I would say, to many people throughout the country, as the votes in the European elections indicated. I think that this is just another example of our giving in to European measures when there is no real, rational reason for doing so, given that there are criminals—murderers, traffickers and so forth—throughout the rest of the world.
From 1 December 2014—the right hon. Member for Delyn mentioned this, but I want to reaffirm it from this side of the House—the Court of Justice will exercise full jurisdiction over all EU police and criminal justice measures. As a result, the Commission will be able to infract member states—bring them before the Court, because we have allowed it to do so—and request a fine if they fail to implement the measures correctly. National courts will be able to seek preliminary rulings from the Court on their interpretation or validity. That is a matter of grave concern to the United Kingdom. The European Scrutiny, Home Affairs and Justice Committees —the Chairmen of all three are present—were concerned about the 2014 block opt-out decision, and every one of us, including all the members of my Committee, was critical of the Government’s reluctance to engage fully with Parliament. All the Committees’ reports are tagged to this debate.
The history of the issue has not been by any means a happy one. In their response to the reports, the Government stated:
“ For the avoidance of doubt, we reaffirm our commitment to hold a second vote in both Houses of Parliament before making a formal application to rejoin any measures. We continue to believe that in order for this vote to be as informed as possible, it should be held after we have reached an ‘in principle’ agreement on those measures we will seek to rejoin.”
The problem is that this debate—a general debate—is not meeting what we understood would be the case. I remain somewhat surprised that we are engaging in this debate when the timing of and procedure for the real debate have not yet been spelt out. I hope that, when he winds up today’s debate, the Justice Secretary will give us a clear, factual indication of when that vote and that debate will take place, because that is what the Government have committed themselves to doing.
Jacob Rees-Mogg: My hon. Friend makes a crucial point. We understood from the Home Secretary that there would be a vote, but we have been given no assurance that there will be a debate prior to that vote. Will my hon. Friend be seeking clarification on that?
Sir William Cash: That is exactly what I have said, and that is exactly what we need to have an answer to. What we do not want is a short debate followed by a vote. We want a comprehensive debate on the Floor of the House of Commons—no ifs and no buts. I am sure that the Justice Secretary will be able to give us that assurance.
A letter written to me by the Home and Justice Secretaries dated 3 July confirmed that an agreement “in principle” had been reached with the Commission on the non-Schengen measures, but not on the overall package. According to the Home Secretary, a number of “technical reservations” remained in regard to the Schengen measures, and the General Affairs Council maintained that position the other day. We must have a further, full debate on the Floor of the House, and a vote, once full agreement has been reached.
I want to put a number of questions to the Government. I should be grateful—as, I think, would the rest of the House—if the Justice Secretary responded to them when he winds up the debate.
We need the Government to explain the reasons for the changes to the 35 measures, and to identify which changes demanded by the Commission and the other member states they were able to resist. We want them to clarify whether these are the measures that the Government themselves wish to seek to rejoin, or whether they are measures that they are compelled to rejoin in order to secure a coherent package that is acceptable to the Commission and the other member states. In a nutshell, was this a deal made behind closed doors and conducted to a great extent, if not entirely, by officials, and to what extent does it reflect coalition politics?
We note that the 35 measures present only part of the picture. We ask the Government to complete the picture by making available to Parliament a list of all the pre-Lisbon measures that were subject to the United Kingdom’s block opt-out as of 1 December 2009, but no longer are because the UK has opted into amending or “repeal and replace” measures.
We should like the Government to explain why the
“solution concerning the Prüm Decisions and the Probation Framework Decision”
which was alluded to in the Council press release issued after the General Affairs Council on 24 June, is not mentioned or explained in Command Paper 8897, in the Minister for Europe’s written ministerial statement of 30 June informing Parliament of the outcome of the Council, or in the letter of 3 July from the Home and Justice Secretaries to me, as Chair of the European Scrutiny Committee. We note that details of the “solution” have emerged through press releases and reports and not through the provision of information to Parliament, and we want to know whether the Government regard that as an appropriate way for them to engage with Parliament.
We seek further information on the content of the deal that has been made, including any processes for consulting Parliament. We want to know how much the UK has invested so far in its preparations for implementing the Prüm decisions, and we ask the Minister and the Secretary of State to set out the Government’s current assessment of the utility of the Prüm and probation framework decisions.
We want to know about the reliability of some of the assumptions underlying the Government’s impact assessments, especially in regard to measures such as the prisoner transfer framework decision, when the capacity to operate the measures may be in doubt in some member states, or when the risk of legal challenge on human rights grounds—based, for example, on article 3 of the European Convention of Human Rights if prison conditions are regarded as inhuman or degrading, or on article 8 if there is interference with the right to respect for family life—could be regarded as significant.
We note that the possibility of adverse rulings by the Court of Justice does not feature among the “key assumptions/sensitivities/risks” in the impact assessments, although concerns about the extension of the Court’s jurisdiction to EU police and criminal justice measures are at the heart of the block opt-out.
We note that the Government claim to have taken into account the views expressed in our report, as well as those of other Committees. We want to know whether they accept the assessment of our Committee that the selection of measures to rejoin “does not signify any lessening of UK involvement in the key measures governing law enforcement cooperation in the EU” , our assessment that many of the measures, because of their inherent significance and impact on individuals, are likely to be more susceptible to adverse judgments of the Court of Justice than the numerically larger number of measures that the Government do not propose to rejoin, and our assessment that there is
“little evidence of a genuine and significant repatriation of powers”.
So we are asking a significant number of questions, and I am putting them on the record now, because we are going to have another debate at a later time. We want to know the significance of the answers to these questions and weigh them up in the light of the general principles I put forward at the beginning, and we need to know about the timing of this debate. We want to know not only when it will take place, but what measures it will cover, as well as receive assurances about the motions that will be tabled. I ask the two Secretaries of State to listen to this very carefully—they are having quite an interesting conversation with one of the Whips at the moment. Would they be good enough to listen carefully? We want to know that the motions will be tabled with sufficient notice to enable Members to prepare amendments, and we reiterate the position on the form of the vote set out in our Committee report: there should be separate motions for each of the measures the Government propose to rejoin.
That is an important practical question about that debate, and I believe it is incumbent on the Government to answers the questions this afternoon so we have a clear picture of the way forward and so we know that this debate will not be just a waste of time, given that we have got another debate and another vote to come when all these measures are going to be finally decided. They are critical measures of great importance not only in terms of criminal justice matters, but also in respect of the whole question of the sovereignty of the United Kingdom and its rule of law.
Sir William Cash: I just wanted to know whether, in the context of the issues of justice and home affairs and all the matters we are discussing today, the right hon. Gentleman regards with equanimity the proposed candidacy for EU membership of Albania, given its very serious crime, trafficking and all the rest of it.
Keith Vaz: Anyone can apply to join the club; we do not mind people wanting to apply to join. The problem is that there are serious issues for all applicant countries to address, and Albania has to recognise that there is a big problem with organised gangs operating from there. (…)
Sir William Cash: I agree with everything my hon. Friend is saying. In the United Kingdom, as compared with all the other 27 member states, we are in a unique position. Our European Communities Act is a voluntary Act. We do not have a written constitution. We are able to make the changes that are necessary to regain our sovereignty. When the Prime Minister says that our national Parliaments are the root of our democracy, he knows, and so do the Government, that we still retain the right to be able to make the changes in order to extract ourselves from situations that we regard as not being in our national interest.
Sir William Cash: We are talking about not just one judge but several judges who are making similar remarks. They are genuinely demonstrating a frustration with the overarching jurisdiction of the European Court. In the past few months, we have seen Lord Mance and several others making similar comments. They are conscious of the difficulties that are arising.
Sir William Cash: I understand very well where my right hon. Friend is coming from and I think I know where he would like to go, but may I put it to him that when he speaks about not wanting to Europeanise our justice system the truth is that by acquiescing in rejoining the measures—the 35 up to 49 measures—we are submitting ourselves to the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice, which means doing exactly that? It will Europeanise our position irrevocably, unless in due course we repeal the legislation in this House unilaterally.