|European Arrest Warrant and Surrender Procedures Between Member States
Mr. Heathcoat-Amory: Further to that point of order, Mr. Griffiths.
The Chairman: Order. May I say something before we lose more time on points of order? The Committee has been convened on the basis of the motion on the Order Paper. As I understand it, there were discussions at the weekend that might materially change the document before us, but at this point in time, a new document does not exist. There is a note of the meeting in which some changes are recorded, to which the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey has referred. The Minister was trying to be helpful by giving us an idea of some of the issues that came up at
Column Number: 21the meeting, but it is not possible to go beyond the terms of the motion and have the broader discussion that the Minister is introducing in his statement.
If hon. Members wish, they may continue discussion after the sitting through the usual channels. At the moment, we are considering the document on which the Minister is supplying further information. Another document does not exist and, given how European Union negotiations work, may not have existed even after next weekend. We must work on what we have and any other information that the Minister has, which is not part of an official EU document at this point.
Mr. Maples rose
Mr. Heathcoat-Amory rose
The Chairman: I call Mr. Maples first.
Mr. Maples: Last week, you ruled differently on a similar issue, Mr. Griffiths. When the Minister did not have the correct papers, you ruled that the Committee should adjourn. We are now told that a new version of the text exists, not that amendments were discussed during the weekend. Therefore, we are debating a version of the text that will not go to Europe next weekend. A new version, which even the Minister does not have, apparently exists and will go before the Justice and Home Affairs Council. It is inappropriate that we debate a document overtaken by events. We should discuss the latest version of the document, which will go before the JHA Council.
The Chairman: Let us get one thing clear: as I understand it, there is no new document. The Minister did not mention one; he said that, following this sitting, some changes would be made that are not yet fully defined. I may be corrected, but there is no new document to discuss. The one before us is the only one. Some proposals in it have not yet been finalised as a new document. At this stage, we can take note of the document before us. Members can put their feelings about the negotiating process on the record, and can go through the usual channels if they require further action. We are considering a proposalwith possible amendments that the Minister will tell us aboutand we should get on with it so that the Committee can debate the matter further. If necessary, Members can pursue it after the Committee's proceedings.
Mr. Wilkinson: You have sought earnestly to be helpful, Mr. Griffiths. However, the House always works on the latest document available: proposed legislation is considered as amended. As the Minister informed us, the last ministerial Council in Brussels came to some conclusions, and it is thosethe amendments to the text dated 31 Octoberwhich will form the basis of next weekend's discussions at ministerial Council level. We must have the latest document, but we do not. For that reason I, propose that the Committee adjourn until it is available.
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Mr. Heathcoat-Amory: On a point of order, Mr. Griffiths. With respect, you referred to discussions and negotiations, but reference has been made to a text. I have been in the Minister's position of negotiating for this country, and written amendments are immediately availableone thing the European Council can do is push out paper. A written version is available of what was discussed, agreed and amended at the Justice and Home Affairs Council at the end of last week. That text exists but we do not have it. We are, therefore, proceeding on the basis of an out-of-date text. I submit that we adjourn until an up-to-date version is available.
Simon Hughes: The French document that I obtained is the provisional minute of the JHA Council meeting. It contains a list of participants and an agenda. According to the minute, the item that we are discussing was first on the agenda. I have a one-page minute of the decision to which 14 member states agreed, but one state did not. Three points were minuted as relevant. I have not seen the document, amended or original, although I do not dispute the fact that one may exist. There is certainly a minute in French of what happened last week.
Mr. Ainsworth: Further to that point of order, Mr. Griffiths, I repeat what I said before that outburst of points of order: there was further updating at the JHA Council meeting, but no new English text exists on the latest situation. [Hon. Members: ''What about the French one?''] As was pointed out, it is out of order with the House's rules to table documents in foreign languages.
Mr. Wilkinson rose
The Chairman: Order. We are losing the purpose of the sitting. Let us remember that we are meeting to consider documents that were put before the European Scrutiny Committee. I sought an adjournment of proceedings last week not because we did not have the correct documents, but because the Minister did not have them. As the hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Maples) may remember, he asked a question about article 2(3), and it turned out that that paragraph was not in the Minister's document. I felt that we could not proceed, and a motion to adjourn was agreed.
Today, every Member has the document that was considered by the Scrutiny Committee. We know that further discussions have taken place in the European Union, but we know, and must accept, that the document to which the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey referred is a minute of the meeting, not a new or amended document. It was a minute of a meeting from which a new document may at some stage be produced. It is our job to examine the document that we have. As I said, if substantial changes occur by next week and hon. Members want to take the matter further through questions, debate and the usual channels, that is a matter for the House as a whole. In this Committee, we should examine this document, take up any point that the Minister raises in his statement for the elucidation and help of the
Column Number: 23Committee, and continue with our work. If there are problems, they must be dealt with elsewhere and afterwards.
Under the Standing Orders of the CommitteeI think that it is No. 35I do not think it appropriate to accept the dilatory motion.
Mr. Hawkins: On a point of order, Mr. Griffiths. As Opposition spokesman, I associate myself with the comments of my right hon. Friend the Member for Wells and my hon. Friends the Members for Stratford-on-Avon and for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Wilkinson). We find ourselves in an unusual position, which arises from the understandable adjournment of last week's Committee. There have been subsequent developments, and the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey has said that, although he referred to only a minute of last weekend's meeting in French and we do not have a translation, the minute may refer to a document. His French minute is not clear one way or the other.
Our problem is that if the Committee proceeds today and a new document comes into existence, as the Minister said may happen, there is no provision for the matter to come back before Committee. This ''takes note'' motion is a one-off opportunity, which is why I strongly support my hon. Friends in their suggestion that the right moment for such a motion would be when a further document comes into existence. At least we would know the final document that will be considered by the heads of state at the Council of Ministers. Only then will the House of Commons be able to do its full job as recommended by the European Scrutiny Committee.
The Chairman: Even last week's aborted sitting was useful, because Members had the opportunity to raise questions, for which the Minister was trying to provide answers in his statement, about what might arise from the further discussions in the European Union. The hon. Gentleman's point of order was really an attempt to ask the Government how they will deal with the matter later owing to developments on the European scene. I cannot predict what the Government will do, but at some point they may come back to the European Scrutiny Committee and this Committee with a final version of the document. Today, we are considering the version that was final until the weekend. The Minister is trying to be helpful by telling us something about that meeting. There is not yet a new document and so I suggest that hon. Members use the rest of the time to ask probing questions to see whether they can find out more about what arose last week and to give the Government a good idea of what they would like to see in the final version of the document.
Mr. Ainsworth: I am more than happy to try to go down the route suggested if that is what the Committee wishes. I can come to the Committee only on the basis of the document that we were asked to put under scrutiny, not on a subsequent document that has not yet been translated. I am aware of discussions that have taken place, as are other hon. Members. I am simply making hon. Members aware that some of the
Column Number: 24concerns that they flagged up will be satisfied in a new text when it is available. It would be a waste of time to stick strictly to COPEN 65 as everyone knows that we are dealing with a moving situation. We ought to try to use the scrutiny provisions that are provided by the House as best we can so that hon. Members can know the British Government's position and how far our negotiations have progressed. I am happy to try to facilitate that, but I can put only the basics in place on top of the latest English document that I have received.
The point made by one Opposition Member that if the meeting had not been blocked at the weekend this Committee would have been a total waste of time is not true. Our position before last weekend was that we would put in a scrutiny reserve because we had not managed to speak properly in the Committee. The Government's position, subject to a UK scrutiny reserve on the whole text pending clearance by Parliament, remains that we support the European arrest warrant, based on the abolition of dual criminality for all extraditable offencesthose with a maximum sentence of at least 12 monthswith the exception only for conduct that is carried out in the UK and is not an offence here, and possibly for abortion and euthanasia.
Hon. Members will be aware from reports in the press that the European arrest warrant did not obtain agreement at the JHA Council last week. The latest position on this is as follows. Italy wanted the European arrest warrant to be limited to terrorism, by which it meant that the scope should encompass only the first six offences on the list. Despite strong pressure from the Belgian presidency, the Italian Government could not be persuaded to accept the European arrest warrant in broadly the form on the table. The Belgian Prime Minister, Guy Verhofstadt, is visiting Rome tomorrow and I have no doubt that the European arrest warrant will be further discussed then.
Although third-pillar JHA measures have to be agreed with unanimity, there is a provision in the treaty on the European Union for a measure to go ahead among the majority of states, provided that that is agreed unanimously. I have every hope that a deal will be agreed to enable the European arrest warrant to be accepted, either at or before the meeting of the Heads of Government at Laeken on Friday. The Govt will press hard for that outcome.
|©Parliamentary copyright 2001||Prepared 10 December 2001|