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'except in accordance with subsection (7)'.
Mr. Letwin: I begin what will, of necessity, not be a long utterance by pointing out, mainly for the purposes of the other place but also I hope, in due course, for a wider audience, that it is positively one of the most astonishing features of our much-prized democracy that we can be discussing in 14 minutes a couple of clauses that relate to the fundamental structure of this country's constitution.
Clause 109 deals with the removal of proper parliamentary scrutiny of legislation on justice and home affairs, which it was the noble purpose of our former colleague and Prime Minister, John Major, to institute when he brought about, at great pains to himself and to the Government whom he led, the third pillar of the EU.
We are now faced with a Bill that will make it possible for the Government of the day to implement decisions on matters of British law, with criminal penalties attached, which have been arrived at by negotiation under the prerogative power between Ministers in Brussels, without going through the laborious process that our predecessors so carefully constructed of First and Second Reading, Committee stage, Third Reading and a similar passage in the House of Lords. None of that will now be necessary.
Sir Teddy Taylor (Rochford and Southend, East): Does my hon. Friend not think it terribly wrong to treat European Union treaties as though they had been amended by the treaty of Nice before that treaty has been approved by all member states?
Mr. Letwin: I do, although I have to say that by comparison with the fundamental destruction of parliamentary check that these clauses bring about, that is a fine point, which I would expect my hon. Friend to make. It is an important one, but it is by no means as important.
Angela Eagle: Does the hon. Gentleman admit that the powers that we are talking about are broadly similar to, and based on, those in section 2(2) of the European Communities Act 1972, which have been working very well since our accession in that year, and that they guarantee effective parliamentary scrutiny?
Mr. Letwin: I suppose that the Minister and I have completely different views of the centrality of legislation that entails putting people in jail. Perhaps that is the central theme running through our discussions tonight. We are dealing here with something that people in the time of Charles I would certainly have recognised but which it appears Ministers have lost sight of. Our
Mr. McNamara: The hon. Gentleman will be aware that the city of Hull started the civil war by slamming its gates in the face of King Charles I, who went off to Nottingham in a huff. There is a democratic deficit in relation to the whole question of the third pillar. Would it not be far better if we were to seek to amend the treaties so that the ambit of the third pillar, and defence aspects and so on, came under the aegis of a properly elected European Parliament?
Mr. Letwin: The hon. Gentleman and I will differ on that point, but at least we are joined in holding the view that there should by some means be a proper democratic check. I prefer that which is provided by our own Parliament.
The Bill proposes not the replacement of one democratic check with another, but merely the removal of the greater part of that which exists. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will join us in seeking to remove these clauses wholesale, with one slight exception that the Opposition have explored with the Liberal Democrats. We understand there to be a small set of pre-existing obligations under the third pillar, which we have specifically exempted in our amendments.
We also understand that it is the intention of Ministerswe hope that they will fulfil it in practiceto introduce the European arrest warrant provisions, and hence to subject them to the full glare of parliamentary scrutiny with a reasonable timetable. We are grateful for that. Thus, we are talking about implementation of every decision and framework decision under the third pillar thereafter. I hope that the Committee will realise what it is doing if it allows Ministers to introduce the legislation in its current form. If it does not realise that, I hope that the other place will do so.
Mr. George Osborne: My point concerns an issue raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron) in his cross-examination of the Under-Secretary in the Select Committee on Home Affairs. He asked her whether, as a result of the clause, measures that had absolutely nothing to do with terrorism could be introduced by affirmative resolution in this House rather than in primary legislation. She said, "The answer is yes."
Mr. Cameron: Does my hon. Friend accept that it is not only Opposition Members who feel strongly about the extraordinary power that is being taken in the clause? The Home Affairs Committeea Labour-dominated bodyagreed unanimously that it was wrong to take the power. Indeed, amendment No. 59, which originates from the Committee, seeks to restrict the power to provisions that apply to terrorism in the framework directive.
I now want to sit down to give the maximum opportunity to my opposite number, the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes), to make the point that we are not discussing a piece of Conservative Euroscepticism. The issue has nothing to do with that, as it relates to the preservation of the fundamental ability of this House to protect British citizens.
Simon Hughes: I shall be extremely brief. I want to make the point that I was invited to make by the hon. Member for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin). The view about how we should proceed on this matter unites people who have always been sceptical about more powers going to the European Union, such as the hon. Member for Rochford and Southend, East (Sir T. Taylor), and those who have been very positive about that prospect.
We object for three simple reasons. First, it was always understood that justice and home affairs matters needed to be treated differently. That is why there is such a thing as the third pillar and why legislation dealing with liberty, prisons, policing and the rest has always been treated differentlyParliament has always been most keen to reserve its authority over those matters.
Secondly, in that area the decision of the Council of Ministers is not subject to a co-decision by the European Parliament. I do not think that all my colleagues are aware of that fact. There does not have to be democratic accountability somewhere else for that decision. There is no democratic accountability.
Angela Eagle: I think that the hon. Gentleman will find that the European Parliament takes a co-decision on some of the issues. His argument that there is no way in which that Parliament can oversee the matterleaving aside the scrutiny that takes place as all these directives are drawn up through our processes hereis wrong.
Simon Hughes: I stand to be corrected, but I talk to colleagues who are Members of the European Parliament and lead the group there. I understand that the matters that would be governed by these clauses, which would allow the Secretary of State to put statutory instruments before the House to be debated and disposed of in 90 minutes, are not matters that would go to the European Parliament after the Council of Ministers decides on them.
The hon. Member for West Dorset, the Conservative party, the Liberal Democrat party and I have agreed that, where the United Kingdom has said that it will pass certain measures into law by the end of this year, we must do somatters that are clearly related to terrorism or have a timetable commitment.
We are not willing, however, to sign up to a sudden change in a very delicately negotiated constitutional settlement, which provides that third pillar justice and home affairs matters will be treated differently until and unless Parliament decides otherwise. We have not debated whether we should decide differently. We have never looked at the issue in the round. We have not considered amendments to the treaty. We are being asked to do all that here, in a limited time, in the context of this Bill. That is inappropriate and I hope that hon. Members on both sides will support the amendments and will vote that the clauses should be taken out of the Bill.
On bypassing Parliament, which is the issue that has caused the outrage, these powers have been broadly working in relation to the first pillar since 1972. They provide an effective way for this Parliament to scrutinise the decisions takenby unanimityin the Justice and Home Affairs Council.