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EU Justice and Home Affairs

14th October 2004

The approval in 1999 of an EU programme of action covering visas, asylum and immigration, civil and criminal justice, and police and customs operations to create an area of freedom, security and justice was always going to lead to an ambitious agenda.

Mr. Jonathan Djanogly (Huntingdon) (Con): I beg to move, in line 4, to leave out from "orientations" to the end of the Question and to add instead thereof:

"but believes that the Government has failed adequately to support the national interest in its response to the Tampere Programme, including its failure to halt the proposal to introduce co-decision and Qualified Majority Voting on immigration, asylum, visas and border measures and the Commission's aim further to harmonise the civil and criminal justice systems of Member States."

The approval in 1999 of an EU programme of action covering visas, asylum and immigration, civil and criminal justice, and police and customs operations to create an area of freedom, security and justice was always going to lead to an ambitious agenda. The way in which the programme has developed presents grave dangers to the sovereignty of this country. Our debate is particularly relevant against the background of the preparation of the proposed EU constitutional treaty, a substantial part of which impacts on the Tampere agenda.

Some of the concepts in the programme are complicated and couched in legalese. Others are more obvious, but we should not underestimate the huge implications for British justice and parliamentary sovereignty of giving up our veto in home affairs policy, giving European police investigating powers and adopting minimum sentences. We should also be aware of the federal state implications of appointing a European public prosecutor. The communication from the European Commission that we are debating today, however, merely provides a summary of progress to date, whereas we clearly need a full evaluation of the measures that have been implemented in member states over the past five years.

Keith Vaz: The Tampere agenda, as agreed in 1999, dealt with co-operation between EU partners. Is it Conservative policy to oppose co-operation on crime and illegal immigration?

Mr. Djanogly: I shall specifically address the question of mutual recognition, but the Tampere agenda goes much further than co-operation and attacks the generally held concept of mutual recognition. It is bizarre that we are expected to endorse a set of proposals that form part of the programme for the next five years without a full review of those measures' potential benefits. I would like to say that I am confident that the Government will not attempt to commit our nation to the proposals, the end results and benefits for our citizens of which are unknown, but I am not. A blind Commission is leading a blind UK Government towards an undefined federal superstate, to which we say, "No, thank you very much".

Mr. Connarty : I wonder whether the hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Djanogly) was listening to the Minister, who confirmed that the Government oppose Europol's having investigative powers. Had he taken the trouble to read the document, he would know that the Government and the European Scrutiny Committee are opposed to a European public prosecutor. He should stick to facts rather than mythology.

Mr. Djanogly: The Government maintain that they oppose further investigative powers for Europol, but that does not mean that the Commission is not suggesting that Europol should have those investigative powers or that the Government have stood up for British interests.

A key issue identified in the European Scrutiny Committee report is the Commission's desire to introduce co-decision and qualified majority voting on those measures-immigration, asylum, visas and borders-that fall within article 67(2) of the EC treaty, supposedly in an attempt to increase the amount of work that is completed. However, the alarm bells will start ringing for anyone who cares to examine those proposals.

The principle of unanimity and the possibility of veto, where required, are in place for a reason. Such checks and balances maintain our nation's right to decide which measures are most appropriate for British citizens in the European arena. The Commission itself has identified that many of the issues that fall within that programme remain at the core of national sovereignty, and so they should. That is why I am concerned by the prospect of the Commission imposing legislation on member states through QMV. That must be resisted at all costs, and the Government are not actively fighting that threat to our country's ability to withstand legislation from Brussels that is not in the British public's interest.

Mr. Robert Key (Salisbury) (Con): Did my hon. Friend share my amazement that the Minister did not seek to justify the proposals in her bad-tempered introduction to the debate? All she said was, "The system works wonderfully. We have got this example and that example. It is all absolutely super, isn't it?" If the system works so well, why do we need new proposals?

Mr. Djanogly: My hon. Friend makes a good point. The Minister's opening comments were extremely defensive and she did not constructively support the agenda.

Ms Gisela Stuart (Birmingham, Edgbaston) (Lab): The Opposition are in serious need of some help. Some of the proposals, such as Eurodac, which is an enforcement unit that uses fingerprinting in order to deport people, are extremely good. Some countries opposed Eurodac, but QMV allowed us to achieve an objective that we could not otherwise have obtained, which was good. Can the hon. Gentleman tell me the consequences if the House votes no after today's debate?

Mr. Djanogly: The Tampere agenda contains 23 proposals that relate to policies on crime, most of which have either been fulfilled or are on the way to being fulfilled-it is not a pie-in-the-sky agenda; it is a real agenda. After this debate, I hope that the British Government return to the Commission and start to say no on issues such as, most importantly, getting rid of our veto.

Mr. Cash: May I offer my hon. Friend some assistance on the point raised by the hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Ms Stuart)? If the House were to reject the proposal-I hope that it does-the Government would be in the dog-house and would be obliged to give effect to the sovereign will of Parliament. That is the key question, and we should reject the proposals.

Mr. Djanogly: My hon. Friend states the obvious, although his point may be optimistic given the Government's position.

It has been proposed that the European corps of border guards should fall under the control of Brussels. We agree with the Minister that the long-term goal of establishing a European corps of border guards is objectionable in principle as well as being impractical. However, we support the development of co-ordination mechanisms designed to strengthen member states' ability effectively to guard their own borders. Although additional resources to support that function are welcome, they should not be ploughed into the creation of the European corps of border guards, but used by member states to improve their own national guards' training.

The British people want control of our borders and the right to draw up our own policy on asylum. In an ICM poll from earlier this year, 77 per cent. of those polled wanted Westminster to exercise control over asylum procedures. We need an accountable and efficient policy that addresses the needs of those migrants who have a genuine claim and who seek our help, as well as preventing bogus claims from those who would abuse our system. Can we guarantee the British public that those requirements will be met by a single European policy covering all member states? I think not. Indeed, the Government currently fall short of those requirements. Given the disaster of the Government's asylum policy, they probably cannot wait to offload their problems on to Europe. Conservative Members regard that as a cop-out, pure and simple.

Mr. Hawkins: My hon. Friend knows that I fought those battles for a number of years from the Front-Bench position that he now occupies. Since the Government came to power, they have promised in the House to oppose things, but then signed up to them, however reluctantly, because of the inclusion in the same package of something else that is good. They have spent years saying that they will oppose things and then failed to do so.

Mr. Djanogly: My hon. Friend makes a good point, and I think that he will relate to my conclusions.

Having had the pleasure of participating in the Statutory Instrument Committee and the European Scrutiny Committee B debates on both the European arrest warrant and the harmonisation of criminal sanctions, I have become particularly familiar with the Commission's ludicrous proposals on criminal justice. The principle of mutual recognition has long been deemed the cornerstone of European judicial integration. The Commission denies that it intends to challenge legal systems in individual member states through the promotion of harmonisation-so far, so good-so why does the communication say that it is necessary to avoid a situation in which two separate legal regimes cover cross-border crimes and internal disputes?

The communication also states:

"duality could be inconsistent with the aim of a single area of justice for all".

How is it possible to adhere to mutual recognition, which apparently supports the judicial traditions of each member state, without the operation of separate regimes? The answer, of course, is that it is not possible, as my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Mr. Cash) said earlier in the debate. That is a clear indication that the Commission deems the ultimate result to be interference in the judicial systems in operation in each member state. It strikes me that the Government seem all too willing to accept the Commission's proposals at face value without true, open consideration of the Commission's real aims. This represents a clear threat to national sovereignty. Is the Minister going to stand by and let these measures-which purport to further the principle of mutual recognition, but in fact aim towards a unitary legal system-creep in? In no way can such aims comply with and respect the subsidiarity principle. The Scrutiny Committee got it absolutely right and went to the heart of the matter when it said in its report:

"If Parliament has not chosen to unify the separate legal systems of England and Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, we see no justification for this being attempted by the European Union."

That is spot on. We see no justification for it either, and we urge the Government to do everything in their power to prevent it. Trust is based on knowledge, and without greater knowledge of the workings and standards of judicial systems in other member states, it is difficult to see how even the procedure supporting mutual recognition will be adequately implemented.

The Commission has stated that it supports further action to define and fix minimum penalties for certain offences, to end life sentences, and to move towards further approximation-for which I read harmonisation-of national laws to secure effective mutual recognition of judgments. Again, harmonisation rears its ugly head. At the extreme end, we are facing a massive overhaul of the criminal laws of all member states, yet that prospect raises insurmountable practical problems in a Union where national systems are so incredibly diverse and bear so little resemblance to each other.

Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome) (LD): I am listening to the hon. Gentleman with great care. Over the past few months, he and I have appeared many times in the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments, where we have both prayed in aid the views of the Law Society. Has he, too, received the Law Society's very long briefing-it runs to 33 pages-which makes it clear that it supports the mutual recognition programme because it has considerable advantages for practitioners?

Mr. Djanogly: The hon. Gentleman misses my point. I support mutual recognition, as does he and as do the Government, but this agenda is not, in practice, about mutual recognition. That is our worry.

Aside from the practical issues, we also believe that the agenda is objectionable in principle. Do we, as a nation, want to submit our decision-making power on criminal policies and sanctions to the will of Brussels? I do not think so. This country has developed to date a legal system of which we can and should be proud. Accordingly, we should firmly rebuke any potential threat to it.

Angus Robertson: The hon. Gentleman refers to a legal system. Is he not aware that there are three different legal systems in the UK? Will he explain the position of the Scottish Conservative party in that regard and give one example of any concern that has been expressed north of the border?

Mr. Djanogly: The hon. Gentleman may have missed my earlier comments in which I referred specifically to the different judicial systems in the United Kingdom and how their own systems are respected. This agenda will end that.

A prime example of a crime in one country that may be entirely overlooked in another is that of animal rights terrorism, which is prevalent in my constituency. Public opinion on that has changed massively in this country over a very short space of time, yet many other member states have no concept of what the crime is, let alone ideas about how to tackle it. The power to determine which crimes attract which sentences should never be removed from Westminster. It is only by retaining control over our own system that the British public will feel secure about the fact that justice is obtainable and adaptable to the demands of the day.

We also oppose the creation of a European public prosecutor, as such a position promotes harmonisation rather than co-operation.

Mr. John Denham (Southampton, Itchen) (Lab): We are discussing the five-year JHA-justice and home affairs-programme. Is the hon. Gentleman telling the House, in all seriousness, that he believes that in five years' time this country will be unable to have laws dealing with animal terrorism, which he cites as an example of how that programme will go wrong? If he really believes that it will affect our right to have laws on animal terrorism, he should say so; if he does not, he should accept that he has raised a completely irrelevant and nonsensical issue as part of his scare campaign.

Mr. Djanogly: I am afraid that the right hon. Gentleman has got completely the wrong end of the stick. I am simply maintaining that the definition of a crime and the sentence that attaches to it will be considered differently in each member state and should therefore be the prerogative of that member state's judicial system. I do not think that the Government would detract from that-the problem is that they are not going over to Brussels to tell it what we want.

As I said, we oppose the creation of a European public prosecutor. Sufficient justification has yet to be provided for such a move, which seems more suited to preparing Europe for federal statehood than to any practical purpose. The attainment of security throughout the member states of the Union underpins the achievement of freedom and justice. As the Minister said, the biggest threat to that in recent years has been terrorism, so the prospect of increased co-operation between law enforcement agencies of all member states is to be welcomed.

We do not believe, however, that there is justification for extending the powers of Europol to become a separate, fully functioning European police force. In its current form, Europol makes large contributions to the exchange and analysis of information, rather than undertaking investigatory work. As such, it has a significant role to play in increasing co-operation and the sharing of best practice between member states, and it should continue to do so. That is not to say, however, that Europol needs to become a full Union agency feeding from the Community budget.

As with the Government's position on the Commission's Green Paper on criminal sanctions, I sense that although they have a lukewarm response to much of this communication, they are not prepared to do much about it. That is dangerous. It leaves the door open to creeping harmonisation, whereas what is needed is a strong rejectionist stance in favour of maintaining the British interest such as that which my party would provide.

Why are the Government taking such a soft position on this? In the conclusion to the communication, the Commission took the opportunity to reinforce their approval of the proposed constitutional treaty. This statement particularly grabbed my attention:

"the final adoption of the Constitutional Treaty and its rapid entry into force are becoming essential, as this will offer the legal and institutional means of meeting . . . expectations".

The key word is "essential". As Conservative Members have argued time and again, the constitutional treaty is by no means essential either for our country or for the European Union. If this agenda is to go forward, the Commission's proposals for the next five years must be viewed as a way of seeking increased intergovernmental co-operation and progress in the fields of justice and home affairs. That ceases to be the case at the point where the proposals represent an attempt by the Commission to reinforce their desire to gain the ability to impose potentially unwanted legislation on member states that have lost their right of veto and the power to control their own country's policies and, therefore, their futures. That is exactly the situation that could become a reality under the umbrella of the constitutional treaty.

Mr. Connarty rose-

Mr. Djanogly: To the extent that the Labour party will support a yes vote for the European constitution, I cannot see how it will wish to destroy its own campaign-

Mr. Connarty rose-

Madam Deputy Speaker (Sylvia Heal): Order. The hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Djanogly) is clearly not prepared to give way.

Mr. Djanogly: Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. I have given way many times, including to the hon. Member for Falkirk, East (Mr. Connarty), and I am about to conclude my speech.

I cannot see why the Labour party should wish to destroy its own campaign by attacking elements of the treaty, such as the giving up of our veto on home affairs, that are included in the Tampere agenda. This therefore becomes Labour's Trojan horse whereby it is preparing to sell this country for the sake of its constitutional treaty. It is a chilling prospect for our nation, but one that we need to face up to in the context of the Government's continued silence on this programme's true implications for our justice system and our national sovereignty.

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