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Let me turn to the remaining two people who were detained, because some further facts have come to light. We were told at the time, "Here is a serious case and we have to go to 27 or 28 days-right to the edge-in order to bring a case against them." However, we pressed the matter and asked when the evidence was obtained to
charge those individuals. It was obtained not at 27 or 28 days, but before 14 days-if I remember correctly, on day three and day 12. It was perfectly possible to charge those people before the 14-day limit; now we find, however, that they were charged on day 28. They spent nine months in prison on remand, and even in that time not enough evidence was found to convict them. One of the cases was thrown out by the judge after hearing it-it did not even go to a jury. The other was rejected unanimously by the jury and the individual concerned was exonerated. It was not a soft jury: the same jury convicted three other terrorists in the same trial. So, we had five people, every single one of whom was innocent.
That is what our policy has done so far and why it is a recruiting sergeant for terrorism. It might not make somebody a terrorist, but it does make the communities concerned less likely to co-operate, less likely to provide information, and less likely to help us to prevent the next terrorist attack. That is why the policy is completely counter-productive.
Let me turn to hard fact No. 3: the simple list put out by the previous Government and the present Government showing why we need this provision for another six months. We are told how difficult terrorist cases are. What did we do when we were trying to be consensual with the previous Government? Both the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats agreed with-in fact, we thought up-the idea of acts preparatory to terrorism. We supported the idea of terrorist training being an offence, so we made matters easier in that regard.
The next argument was, "We have lots of evidence and it might be encrypted-it might be in code." We had to remind the previous Government that when they passed the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000, they made it an offence to withhold the encryption key, so if the evidence is in code, belongs to the suspect and he does not provide the key, we have got him for five years anyway. Therefore, that argument went out the window.
Dr Julian Huppert (Cambridge) (LD): The right hon. Gentleman will no doubt be aware that in cases involving encrypted data, 28 days, six months or even a year would not necessarily be long enough if there were no access to encryption codes, so such a detention period would not help anyway.
Mr Davis: My hon. Friend-I suppose he is my hon. Friend-is exactly right. When we heard those arguments, we thought that, with the prospect of the terrorism levels being, as the shadow Home Secretary says, very high, the then Government would have acted quickly. What was worrying was that that RIPA requirement, passed in 2000, was not brought into effect until 2007-two years after the 7/7 bombings. So we did not even give what was already on the statute book as a weapon for the police to use.
The other thing the then Government said to us was, "If you charge people, you cannot interview them after charge." In 2005, we volunteered to amend that, but the Government did not make that change in the 2006 legislation. They put the provision in the 2008 legislation, which is not even in force yet. If we are serious about taking this on, we should deal with the things that actually attack the problems that we are trying to address. We should not create other problems for ourselves.
Mr William Cash (Stone) (Con): Has my right hon. Friend taken note of the recent statements by the Lord Chief Justice on such matters? He has been very clear about the need to protect the common law, so the whole issue of habeas corpus, which is an integral part of this, needs to be reinforced. What we need is fair trials, due process and habeas corpus, irrespective of the Human Rights Act 1998.
When we have got through all the things I have mentioned, we come to what happens on day 28. I want to be helpful to the police. They might say, "I have somebody in my control who I am sure is a terrorist. I know that from everything I know. I can't quite prove it, but I think I will get the evidence if I have got him for another few days." What do we do then? We actually have something that we do then-it is called the threshold test. The test for charging somebody is allowable-we are allowed to charge them if we are convinced that they are guilty and that we will find the information shortly.
I am not going to name the individual, but at one point in this process I asked to see the head of counter-terrorism and I talked to him about that. What shocked me was that he did not even understand the threshold test. Again, I cite my hon. Friend the Member for Esher and Walton as a witness, because he was at that same meeting. It is terrifying that our own forces did not know the weapons that they had at their command.
Right across the board, every piece of evidence to support the case for the provision falls down. The most fundamental one, which has been mentioned, although it was rather mocked by the shadow Home Secretary, is the approach of other countries. None of the problems that I have described as the case in support of 28 days is faced by us alone; every other common law authority has the same problems. Yet America charges in two days and indicts in 10, Canada does that in one day, New Zealand does it in two days and South Africa does it in two days. The nearest arrangement to ours is indicative, because it is Australia, which does it in 12 days. Its 12-day provision was a mistake, but 12 days is what it was. However, as we stand here, its Senate is taking through a law to reduce that to eight days, and the only controversy in Australia is about whether it should be lower, not about whether it should be higher.
The simple fact is that our policy is built on political machismo, not on effectiveness. What we have to do is recognise what all the other civilised countries in the world are doing and go in the right direction, which is to cut 28 days.
Mr David Winnick (Walsall North) (Lab): It is unlikely that the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr Davis) and I agree on anything, except what we are now debating. We certainly see eye to eye on this question and have done for a considerable time.
The figure of 28 days was not picked out of the air in November 2005, when the maximum period was 14 days and 90 days was proposed. It should be remembered that, in July that year, there had been a massacre-there
is no other way to describe it-of 52 innocent people, with others seriously injured. A fortnight later, on 21 July 2005, there was another attempted atrocity. That was the situation that faced the House of Commons when we were debating the issue in November that year. Given those circumstances and the fact that the Government-wrongly in my view-wanted to increase the 14 days to 90 days, it is understandable that the House agreed to 28 days.
As far as I know, no one actually suggested that the 14 days should stay. There was no vote on whether 14 days should remain the status quo. There was more or less agreement-apart from in the Government and among those who supported the Government at the time-that the number of days of pre-charge detention should be doubled from 14 to 28 days. Those were the circumstances in which we debated the issue at the time.
Mark Durkan (Foyle) (SDLP): The facts of the situation were that the provision on the face of the Bill was for three months' detention but at the key stage of the Bill, two amendments were listed. One changed the limit from three months to 90 days and the other changed it to 28 days. Those were the only two options on offer. When the Government's 90 day amendment was defeated, the 28 day amendment was the only way that anybody had of preventing the limit from staying at three months.
Mr Winnick: I do not wish to disagree with my hon. Friend, but what I am saying is that there seemed to be general agreement, given the circumstances of the atrocities that occurred in July 2005, that the limit should be increased. However, I do not particularly want to pursue that further because I am now of the view-I agree with the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden-that we should return to 14 days, because I do not really believe that there is any justification for extending the order for another six months. I know the views of my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Front Bench but, again, I disagree with them.
We must always bear it in mind that for non-terrorist cases the maximum remains, rightly, only four days-96 hours. No Government, fortunately, has suggested that there should be any change to that whatsoever. Where terrorism is concerned, we are going beyond the four days allowed in non-terrorist cases-that is crucial. Until 2003, the maximum for terror suspects was just seven days. It has continued to increase-to seven days, 14 days and then 28 days. Fortunately, all attempts to increase it beyond 28 days-first to 90 days and then to 42 days-were defeated. The 42 days provision was passed by a majority of nine in the House of Commons but rightly rejected by the Lords.
As the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden has said, there is of course the added provision now that did not exist in 2005-namely, post-charge questioning of terror suspects. That is an important element. The fact that the provision has not come into force is not a reason not to take it into consideration. Only the Home Secretary or the shadow Home Secretary can explain why it has not come into force. If there is a feeling that 14 days is not sufficient and that the terrorist threat remains acute-I could not agree more on the latter-one
would have thought that the provision in the Act on post-charge questioning could be brought into force sooner rather than later.
I am the last person in any way to minimise the continued terrorist threat. I have always worked on the assumption that, as the police said at the time, it was a question of not if but when. The police were proved absolutely right, unfortunately and tragically, by the mass murder in July 2005. Surely no one would now say that the threat does not exist to the same level. I do not know if it is smaller or not, but I do know that if al-Qaeda could carry out the sort of atrocities that it carried out the other day in Uganda, it would do so without the slightest hesitation whatsoever. I mention that to make it absolutely clear that in no way do I argue that the terrorist threat does not exist or is minor-far from it. I am sure that the same applies to other hon. Members.
As far as the 28-day period is concerned, the Home Secretary has confirmed today that no one has been held for longer than 14 days since July 2007, so the provision is not in use. One argument for voting against it today is that we need not keep it if it is not absolutely essential. The Home Secretary is on record as saying that she would prefer a period of 14 days, so if that is the position, why not agree to a 14-day period today? Protecting the public from terror must be one of the highest priorities for all concerned, particularly the security services, the police and the Government of the day. The job of Parliament is to ensure that funding is provided to ensure that the police and security services can do their jobs. Obviously, that is essential, but we have another responsibility to protect, as far as possible, our traditional liberties. That is one of the most essential jobs of Parliament. It is relatively easy to defend civil liberties when there is no terrorist threat, but the real challenge is when there is such a threat, be it from the most obvious sources, or from dissident republicans or whoever.
When there is an acute threat, how do we protect the liberties that are so essential to the tradition of our country? The right of an individual not to be held by the police except for a very short time has become very much a part of the tradition of this country. The right of habeas corpus existed even when civil liberties as such did not, so a person could not be held indefinitely. That is why I feel so strongly about this issue and why I believe that it is not necessary, at this time, to extend the 28-day period. To repeat what I said nearly five years ago, every generation of parliamentarians has the responsibility to make sure that the freedoms and the civil liberties that we inherit from our predecessors should be passed on to our successors. That is important and it is why I have always been very wary of giving the police and the security authorities more power than is absolutely essential.
The Home Secretary said that there was a whipped vote for Labour Members on this issue at the time, and there was, not surprisingly-one would not expect otherwise. However, some of us broke the Whip because we decided that the matter was so important that we should vote against the Government, who were duly defeated. Without being patronising, let me ask Conservative and, perhaps, Liberal Democrat Members something: even if they are whipped today, do they really believe that it is absolutely essential to renew this order? If they do, they will vote
with the Government, obviously but if they do not, I hope that they will do what so many Labour Members did in November 2005.
Mr Dominic Raab (Esher and Walton) (Con): I welcome the forthcoming review of the 28-day limit, the measures that the Home Secretary has already taken on ID cards and stop-and-search powers and the wider review announced yesterday. We have an opportunity with the coalition and, as the hon. Member for Walsall North (Mr Winnick) made clear, we have support across the House to restore our freedoms, while strengthening our security. This is not the zero-sum game depicted by countless, hapless Labour Home Secretaries, but it is crucial that we have an open and honest debate on these matters, and for that we need clear and accurate information.
I ask the Home Secretary to clarify a slight discrepancy between the answer that I received from her Department on 28 June and the quarterly bulletin of last November. My understanding is that only one person, not two, held for the full 28-day period has ever been convicted of a terrorism offence. I also ask her to provide in table form basic information that her department has previously refused to give. First, I should like to know, year by year, the number of people subjected to control orders, with a breakdown indicating the number of UK citizens and foreign nationals. That is relevant to our ability to deport terrorist suspects whom we cannot prosecute. Secondly, I should like information setting out the number of foreign nationals who have not been deported, broken down by category of reason-whether administrative, legal or based on human rights-so that we better understand why we have been failing to deport so many of them. That information is not impossible to collate, and it is vital for this issue and the wider debate on counter-terrorism.
Mrs May: My hon. Friend asks for a number of figures, but it is only fair to the House that I should pick up the first point that he makes, which relates to a parliamentary question that was answered in the name of the Minister of State, Ministry of Justice, my right hon. Friend the Member for Arundel and South Downs (Nick Herbert), who has responsibility for crime and policing. Unfortunately, an inaccurate statistic was included in that answer, and he will correct that in the Hansard record very shortly. The figures on pre-charge detention are indeed as I indicated in my speech. Eleven individuals have been detained for 14 days or longer. Six individuals have been detained for 27 to 28 days, of whom three were subsequently charged and three released. Of the three who were charged, two were convicted and the case of one was not proceeded with. In the answer that my hon. Friend was given, reference was made to the number of individuals who had been arrested as a result of an operation by Greater Manchester police. It was indicated that two individuals were involved. In fact, only one of the 11 arrested as a result of that operation was involved.
Twenty-eight days' pre-charge detention was an emergency measure introduced on a temporary basis. We need a clear and convincing justification to retain it,
because it undermines the ancient right of habeas corpus, which goes back to Magna Carta. We now know that, in relation to Operation Overt and the Heathrow plot of August 2006-the most challenging counter-terrorism investigation that we have ever faced as a nation-only five suspects were held for the maximum period of 28 days and only two were charged. Contrary to what Ministers said at the time, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr Davis) has said, all the evidence relied upon was available well within 14 days. That Operation Overt was used by the last Government to justify proposals for 42 days' detention was deeply irresponsible.
Since Operation Overt, only one person has been held for longer than 14 days-an isolated case of 19 days' pre-charge detention. Last year, in 2009, no suspects were held in pre-charge detention for longer than 14 days and 70% were dealt with within 48 hours. So the raw facts in the debate are that, in four years, we have not needed longer than 19 days' pre-charge detention, let alone 28 days. If we are judging the necessity of the order on the pressures that the police face during the pre-charge period, the evidence no longer supports a limit beyond 21 days at the very most.
In truth, those data are not the only relevant information. Briefings by the heads of MI5 in 2006 and 2007 showed a rise in the number of terrorist suspects being monitored by the authorities from 1,600 to 2,000. In 2008, the head of MI5 stated publicly that the volume of late-stage terrorist planning had fallen that year. I am not aware of any more recent assessments from the head of MI5 or the agency more generally. The House will recall that MI5 refused to support the last Government's proposals for 42 days' detention. Ministers stated at the time that it would be inappropriate for MI5 to give a view, yet Tony Blair publicly relied on MI5's support for the increase in the limit in 2005. It cannot be in the interests of the intelligence agencies or the public that MI5 assessments are relied on by Ministers only when it is politically expedient or they want to publicise blood-curdling assessments of the terrorist threat. I ask the Home Secretary to put these arrangements on a more clear and stable footing. Either we should not have such briefings and public statements by MI5, or we should have regular, objective assessments of the domestic terrorist threat based on hard data that avoid any risk or perception of politicisation.
Paragraph 7 of the explanatory memorandum to the order claims that all the specific grounds cited as reasons for increasing the maximum limit to 28 days in 2006 "remain relevant". It is difficult to accept that sweeping assertion without further information. First, has the challenge of encrypted computers not been eased at all by the enactment in 2007 of a criminal offence of withholding encryption keys? Will the Home Secretary give us data on prosecution and conviction rates under that offence?
Secondly, will the Home Secretary inform the House of any case in the past two years in which the presence of chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear material has been a direct factor that has prolonged the period of pre-charge detention? Thirdly, will she explain the extent to which the new powers of post-charge questioning that were enacted in 2008 have alleviated the problem of having to intervene early in some terrorist investigations because of the threat to public safely? Alternatively, is it
correct, as Liberty and several hon. Members have stated, that the relevant power was not even brought into force by the previous Government, despite all the hubris on that specific point?
The truth is that gaps remain in the UK counter-terrorism strategy, despite the excellent work and unstinting commitment of our police and intelligence agencies. If it is correct that the terrorist threat has remained constant and at its highest level, it must be worrying that the number of arrests leading to charge under terrorism legislation dropped by more than a fifth last year. The number of guilty pleas in terrorism investigations also fell by a third, while the number of convictions under terrorism legislation halved. Counter-intuitively, there was a conviction rate of 93% in terrorism cases, compared with rates of 31% for conspiracy to murder, 30% for wounding and 38% for rape, and that raises the more basic question of whether, as a matter of policy, we are taking a sufficiently robust approach to the exercise of prosecutorial discretion in terrorism cases-I am talking about not a case-by-case approach, but the overarching strategy on prosecution.
We need a review of prosecutorial strategy as part of a broader shift away from the previous Government's ineffective authoritarianism and towards an approach that deploys rather than sidesteps the British justice system. That means the greater use, when necessary, of the threshold test to prosecute when evidence is not available but is in the pipeline. It also means lifting the ban on intercept evidence, coupled with a more proactive use of plea bargaining, to increase the number of convictions, as well as the conviction rate, especially in cases involving wider conspiracies or joint criminal enterprise, as it is commonly known. Above all, however, it requires a change in the professional culture of this country's intelligence and law enforcement authorities. That would be in line with the approach in other common law jurisdictions, most notably the US, where pre-charge detention is limited to two days. That is the way in which we can fight terror while defending our historic freedoms in this country.
I will support the order. I recognise that the Home Secretary needs time to examine these difficult issues further, but in the absence of convincing new evidence, I will be inclined to oppose renewal in six months' time.
Dr William McCrea (South Antrim) (DUP): Existing counter-terrorism legislation allows the police, in specific circumstances, to arrest individuals who are reasonably suspected of being terrorists. Once arrested, those suspects may be detained without charge for up to 28 days, which allows the police to obtain, preserve, analyse and examine evidence for use in criminal proceedings.
I must confess that, having listened to the debate, it seems that several hon. Members think that we are still living in a cosy country and a peaceful world, and that they are oblivious to the serious threats that we face. The reality is very different. A significant threat from Islamic terrorism remains, while dissident republican organisations endeavour to increase their capacity for murder and mayhem. I believe that we need measures that reflect the threat against our people.
On 7 July 2005, the attack on London's public transport system surely reminded us that there is a vicious and evil terrorist threat against the United Kingdom. In the House the other day, I said that the Government's first responsibility is to protect the law-abiding community, and that every tool must be available to the security services to ensure that that priority is achieved. I believe that the House and the country must come to terms with reality. We must make up our minds what the primary objective really is. Terrorism-no one knows it better than the people of Northern Ireland-is an evil in society, and society must face the evil.
There is nothing beautiful about terrorism and there is no excuse for terrorism. The idea that somehow 28 days of detention gives terrorists an excuse to attack the people of the United Kingdom is despicable. Terrorism is ugly, unacceptable and despicable, and it must be faced. We in Northern Ireland endured the curse of terrorism for more than 30 years. To be frank with the House, many were happy to appease the terrorists as long as terrorism remained in Northern Ireland and did not come on to the mainland. Some thought that appeasement was a price worth paying. Terrorism destroys the liberty and the freedom of a people. It destroys the freedom and the liberty of the innocent, and I fear that some are about to make the mistake of the past. I do not wish for any person to be detained any longer than is necessary.
The statistics that the Home Secretary has brought to the House today prove that the legislation has not been abused, and therefore people have not been abused, because the figures tell us that the legislation that has been in place with the 28-day provision has been used both sensitively and responsibly. As I have said, I do not wish anyone to be detained for any longer than necessary, but I would leave it up to the security services to advise on the issue, rather than allow political expedience to meddle with things or to muddy the waters.
It is interesting to notice that the major party of the coalition Government, when it went to the electorate, did not mention 14 days in its manifesto. It did not mention changing the 28-day period. The only party that did mention it was the Liberal Democrat party, which is not surprising. However, on previous occasions, my right hon. and hon. colleagues received security briefings on this important issue and were guided thereby. Therefore, will the Home Secretary clarify what advice she has received on the current 28-day detention period?
Over the years, we in Northern Ireland have been inconvenienced. We were frustrated on many occasions and at times we were angry at the use of powers, but whenever our lives were preserved from the terrorists' bombs, we were very thankful. We were very appreciative of what the security forces did to preserve innocent life and the freedom of law-abiding citizens.
When we talk about what we want to hand on to the next generation, I suggest that the fundamental responsibility of the House is to hand on freedom. We can have a peace at any price, but we cannot have
freedom at any price. As I have said, at times we have been angry, but our lives were preserved. We fail to thank the security services for the numerous times they have saved us from disaster, but many times we are quick to condemn them and complain about them when they do not get it completely right. The measure before the House and the 28-day period is appropriate, bearing in mind the terrorist threat that the United Kingdom faces, and I trust that the House will approve the order accordingly.
Mr Deputy Speaker: Order. Under the Standing Order, this debate closes at 14 minutes past 5. I shall call the Home Secretary at nine minutes past 5- [ Interruption. ] Even later than that? I thank the Home Secretary for that, but could Members please restrain themselves?
Our coalition Government agreed to restore the ancient civil liberties that should be synonymous with our country, and it is to Labour's eternal shame-with a few honourable exceptions, many of whom I am glad to see in their places-that it did so much damage to our country's name and to our civil liberties. I congratulate the Home Secretary, as I did yesterday, on the review, which represents excellent progress, but my hon. Friend the Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake) and I pressed her on 28 days, because that is important. Labour's 90-day efforts, which were resisted, have become one of the party's totemic issues, and I welcome the Home Secretary's aims to reduce the period to 14 days. However, I do not agree that we need to wait six months before we get on with it. We should allow the 28 days to lapse and default to 14 days while the review goes ahead.
Let us think about the 28-day period. It means 28 days without being told what someone is accused of. Is that proportionate? How does it interact with the concepts of being innocent until proven guilty and habeas corpus? Then there are the effects on people's lives afterwards, if, as often happens, they turn out to be innocent.
What about elsewhere? We have talked about the US, where the constitution provides for 48 hours. In Spain, which has faced terrorism, the limit is five days, and in South Africa it is 48 hours, against which I am sure hon. Members campaigned during apartheid. The shadow Home Secretary, whom I am pleased to see in his place, talked about Norway, but I hope that he is aware of how that country, under its Criminal Procedure Act 1981, allows only three days' detention, with an extension after the police have presented the charge. That is a critical difference, because after the charge has been presented we are into a very different space.
Ms Diane Abbott (Hackney North and Stoke Newington) (Lab): Is the hon. Gentleman aware that many of us voted for 28 days only because we saw it as a means of blocking 90 days? There was no consensus on our Benches for 28 days.
We have heard about those other countries, so are we saying that our police are worse than theirs? Do we think that our prosecutors are less good and our legal system less effective? I do not think so. We have excellent police and prosecutors, and an excellent legal system, so what makes us so different? What message about our attitude to civil liberties does the measure send not only to our citizens, but to those of other countries, who used to look on us as a beacon of civil liberties but have been sadly let down?
Ian Paisley (North Antrim) (DUP): Does the hon. Gentleman not read the monitors, when he walks into this building every morning, that remind him why we are different? The threat level is severe and remains severe, and, although he might wish to play cricket with terrorists and give them a sporting chance on this issue, he is playing Russian roulette with the lives of this nation's citizens.
Dr Huppert: I find it disappointing that the hon. Gentleman takes that line. We are not alone in facing the threat of terrorism. Other countries have faced it and had issues to deal with, and they have done that in much better ways.
We have alternatives, and other countries clearly manage. We have the threshold test, to which my right hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr Davis) referred. It states that, when there is not enough information, it is possible to proceed with a charge if there are reasonable grounds to think that we will get more evidence, the case is serious and there are grounds to object to bail.
We do face a serious situation, and we do need to have the right tools to combat terrorism, but 28-day detention without trial is not the right one. It causes too much collateral damage in its effect on our civil liberties and the message that we send to others who might be considering such issues and those who look up to us from other countries. I urge hon. Members to reject 28 days.
Keith Vaz (Leicester East) (Lab): It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Cambridge (Dr Huppert), who is the newest member of the Home Affairs Committee. I can recall that of the Committee's 38 reports, 37 were unanimous; the discussion and inquiry that we held on pre-charge detention was the only one on which the Committee divided.
We have had some very odd couplings, if I may put it like that, today. We had the Front Benchers-the Home Secretary and the shadow Home Secretary-agreeing, and then we had the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr Davis) and my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall North (Mr Winnick) agreeing. I thought for
a moment that the hon. Member for Esher and Walton (Mr Raab) was going to vote against the order until the last few seconds, when he gave the Home Secretary the benefit of the doubt.
This is a very important debate. Of course, the mood is different from that of the last debate, although there is a huge amount of passion. I came into this Chamber with a determination to vote for the order, but I am going to vote against it because I do not think the case has been made. I have been swayed-I know that this is very unusual for a Member of this House-by the speeches that I have heard. I am impressed by the integrity of my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall North, who has campaigned long and hard on this issue, and by the fact that the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden resigned and fought a by-election on it. I also remember the speech made by the hon. Member for Foyle (Mark Durkan) during the last debate, which was pretty passionate. That is not to dismiss anything that we have heard from others who obviously make very important points.
Jim Shannon: Does the hon. Gentleman agree that we need 28 days for two reasons: for the ongoing verbal investigations and for the forensic part of the evidence? It is not like the "CSI" programmes on TV. A person is not convicted in 60 minutes-28 days are needed to do that. It helps to remove the more volatile members of the community and to ensure that innocent people are protected.
Keith Vaz: I understand that; it is exactly the point that Ian Blair, now Lord Blair, made to the Select Committee. However, as we have heard today from the Home Secretary, this power has not been used very often. I am sure that she was in the Chamber when the Attorney-General spoke on the issue-it was one of the best speeches that I have ever heard here-and opposed what the last Government were going to do. To be perfectly frank, if one has a power that one does not use, why have it?
It is important to consider who supported the longer detention period. Only the police came before the Committee and said that they supported it. Ken Macdonald-now Lord Macdonald-who is conducting the review had no reservations when he was Director of Public Prosecutions, but had reservations after he ceased to be DPP. He brought those reservations-
Mr Howarth: I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for reluctantly giving way. Does he recall that when those debates were going on, the claim was never that these powers would be used frequently, but that they might be necessary in very exceptional circumstances?
My right hon. Friend is right, but we now have the facts and some evidence that we did not have before. The hon. Member for Esher and Walton mentioned
the security services. The security services have never said, on or off the record, that they wanted an increase in the detention period. When they met the Select Committee, they were very clear that they were not taking a position on this, and that was echoed in the statements made by the head of MI5. In their view, it was a decision to be made by politicians.
My next point concerns the impact on the community. I listened to what my right hon. Friend the shadow Home Secretary said, and I have great admiration for him. However, I do not believe that the so-called independent research conducted by officials at the Home Office-or consultants, or whoever did it-truly reflects the views of the community. This matter impacts on the community, and that includes the ethnic minority communities of this country, specifically the Muslim community. There was huge disquiet about these powers being sought by the last Government. I have 10,000 people of the Muslim faith in my constituency; others have more. It was not only the Muslim community but the entire ethnic minority community that was concerned, although they may not have wanted to relate their views to consultants for a research document.
The Home Secretary is coming before the Select Committee tomorrow morning-I hope she has not forgotten, because we are all turning up and it would be terrible if she were not there-and we will of course probe her about her review. I am sure that she will deal with all the points that we raise in the competent way she has done since becoming Home Secretary. However, in answer to the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) she said that she was personally in favour of 14 days. She had me until that point. If she believes that 14 days is the right limit, how can she come before the House and ask for 28? On that point alone, and having been convinced by right hon. and hon. Members, I will vote against the motion.
Mr Aidan Burley (Cannock Chase) (Con): In the light of the time left, you will be delighted to know, Mr Deputy Speaker, that rather like the last Government in their dying days, I have adopted a policy of slash and burn to the speech that I was going to make.
If the counter-terrorism review states that the limit should be reduced, I and this Government would support that. I would personally welcome a move towards liberty and away from the Big Brother state that grew up under the last Government. Having listened to the debate today, I am afraid the matter is not as simple as saying that the limit should be 90 days, 40 days, 28 days, 14 days or 2 days, as in Australia. Maybe 14 days is the correct amount of time, but what about extreme, complicated or international cases? For me, any decision taken before the review would by definition be arrogant, hasty and uncalled-for.
Consultations and reviews are not simply box-ticking exercises, although they often had a habit of becoming so under the last Government. They are there for a reason. There are big decisions that need grown-up, thought through answers, and they need decisions in this House that result in laws that do not need to come back to the House constantly to be amended, fixed and adjusted. Earlier, the question was asked, "Why do we not just say 14 days?" For me, that is precisely the point.
The Government are trying to search for the best results, not just the best headlines. That is why we do not just say 14 days.
Sometimes, like good tea, good whisky and good coffee, good laws take a little bit of time to produce. An extra six months is not perfect, but nor is it permanent, and it is purposeful. Within that time, the counter-terrorism review will have published its opinion, taking into account the issues that have been debated this afternoon such as encryption, the complexity of some extreme cases and how to avoid the abuse of powers. I, for one, look forward to voting then for a good, well thought through and well worked out law that is based on what is best for the country and for the people of Britain.
Yasmin Qureshi (Bolton South East) (Lab): Before I came to the House I practised as a criminal practitioner for about 20 years, both prosecuting and defending. I know that some Members, and some other people in the country, are perhaps not convinced by the civil liberties argument on 28-day detention. They ask why we should provide protection to people who want to commit criminal offences. Instead of the civil liberties perspective, I wish to give a practical one-do we, the police or the law enforcement agencies actually need a 28-day limit?
Members should be aware of the type of evidence that the police gather, especially when monitoring terrorists or people they believe are going to be terrorists. There is intrusive surveillance, with probes in people's homes and cameras outside them. Every single text or e-mail they send is recorded by the intelligence services, who also keep every phone call they make. Are Members really telling me that with all that evidence before them, they still need 28 days to interrogate people in a police station?
As someone who has dealt with anti-terror cases and seen the evidence that comes in, and even taking away the civil liberties argument, I know as a practitioner that law enforcement agents do not need 28 days to interrogate people. They have all the information and evidence before them. As we know, guidance on the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 allows for various surveillance methods and intrusions to take place.
Jesse Norman (Hereford and South Herefordshire) (Con): I am a rather rare bird in politics-a Conservative defender of the Human Rights Act 1998, which I regard as the codification of 800 years of British common law.
Let me briefly draw attention to the previous Government's appalling record, which is perpetuated in the suggestion that there is an intrinsic tension between liberty and security. Security often relies on a clear understanding of the commitment of a Government and a nation to liberty. I massively welcome the emphasis of the new Government and the new Home Secretary on freedom, and the suggestion that the order is a temporary measure is most welcome. My right hon. Friend's personal commitment to 14 days is noted, and the freedom Bill, the crackdown on CCTV and the collection of DNA, and the extension of the Freedom of Information Act are all welcome.
Today is Bastille day. We should never forget that Edmund Burke rightly predicted that it would be followed
by disorder, chaos and terror. It made him deeply unpopular at the time. However, on reflection, we now celebrate the day for recorded rights-not abstract, but recorded rights. They were developed in British common law, and the greatest of them is now in section 5 of the Human Rights Act. It is habeas corpus, as prefigured in article 39 of Magna Carta.
We must never forget that we are considering suspects-they have not been convicted of any crime. The Home Office has tools at its disposal that it did not have in 2006. It has the ability to question people post-charge, and to draw on new offences, especially training, preparation and dissemination in the context of terrorism.
I conclude with two questions. First, has thought been given to 21 days as an intermediate period between 14 and 28 days? Are there merits in that? Secondly, has adequate consideration been given to the use of the Civil Contingencies Act 2004 as an alternative to 28 days' detention? If we answer those questions, I am sure that we can make progress overall.
Mark Durkan (Foyle) (SDLP): The right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr Davis) treated us to a medley of his greatest hits from previous debates, and the shadow Home Secretary performed his cover version of some of his arguments. However, let us remember that the main issues in previous debates were the threshold test, post-charge questioning and intercept evidence. It is important, in the context of the review and any decisions taken in six months if the order is passed today, that the House fully and properly understands those issues.
We were told earlier that a senior person who dealt with counter-terrorism was not aware of the threshold test. Although it was not mentioned in the Home Secretary's announcement yesterday, I imagine that she is taking six months to conduct a review because she wants to roll the pitch on several issues so that, when the debate takes place, Opposition Front Benchers cannot accuse her of a knee-jerk reaction to the Lib Dem manifesto and she can show that any change has been on the basis of thorough review. I understand the tactic. However, I will vote against the order because I never believed on principle in 28-day detention. Like others, I found myself taken hostage and having to vote for 28 days because it was the only way to stop three months' detention.
Let us also remember that counter-terrorism measures can be-some have proved to be-counter-productive. Not only internment, but a host of counter-terrorism measures were counter-productive in Northern Ireland. The Democratic Unionist party advocated and cheerled many of them, which ended up assisting the terrorists, partly by alienating the community from the police and making the job of community policing hard and even impossible.
In the previous debate, we were told about the comments of chief constables. I do not know the collective noun for chief constables, but they were all lined up in support
of 28 days. I assume that it will take six months to sort out their line and get them on a different course. However, I recall among the good contributions in previous debates about 28-day detention those of the now Attorney-General. He clearly signalled before the election his opposition to 28 days and said that the policy would be reviewed. It is therefore not true that only the Liberals made such a proposal.
The Attorney-General (Mr Dominic Grieve): The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. I suspect that my distaste for 28 days is shared by many, on both sides of the House. The question is how best to get rid of it and how best to ensure that in doing so, we have covered the contingencies so that we are seen to have acted responsibly. In that way, the line taken by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary deserves support.
Mrs May: In the time available to me, it will not be possible to mention all the speeches made in the debate. However, the debate has in many ways shown the House at its best. People have made thoughtful and serious contributions on the matter in hand. They spoke from the heart and passionately on issues about which they feel deeply.
I shall simply reiterate what I said in my opening speech. The proposal in the pre-charge detention order is for a temporary measure that will enable us to look again at the 28-day period of pre-charge detention, and at how to reduce it, during the review on counter-terrorism measures.
The hon. Member for Foyle (Mark Durkan) and the right hon. Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz) challenged me on why I was not going straight away to 14 days, having said that that is my personal preference. The former is correct in thinking that we want to look at the matter in the round alongside other counter-terrorism legislation, and not simply pick it off and deal with it as one issue. I can tell the latter that it is my duty to this House and to the country as a Minister to look at such issues responsibly and to consider all the arguments, and not merely to say that my view should necessarily hold supreme. My views will inform my final decision, but it is right and proper for me to consider all the arguments before I take that decision.
I am sorry, but I have very little time left-about one minute-so I will not give way. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will be able to find me
afterwards if he wants to make a speech to me- [ Interruption. ] I can assure him that that was not a comment on the name of Paisley.
The order is a temporary measure to continue 28 days pre-charge detention for just six months. That enables us to look at pre-charge detention in the counter-terrorism review, and to find a solution that reduces the limit from 28 days while ensuring that the police have the powers they need to keep us safe from those out there who would wish us ill.
That the draft Terrorism Act 2006 (Disapplication of Section 25) Order 2010, which was laid before this House on 24 June, be approved.
That this House takes note of European Document Nos. 8029/10 and 11507/10, draft Council Decisions establishing the organisation and functioning of the European External Action Service; European Document No. 8134/10, draft Regulation on the Financial Regulations for the European External Action Service; and an unnumbered draft Regulation amending Staff Regulations of officials of the European Communities and the conditions of employment of other servants of those Communities; and supports the Government's policy to agree to the Decision establishing the External Action Service at the Foreign Affairs Council in July 2010.
It was the European Scrutiny Committee which, during the last Parliament, called for a debate on the measures to establish the European External Action Service. I am pleased to have the opportunity to update the House on recent developments, and to give Members on both sides of the House a chance to debate this important issue.
The EEAS was established by the Lisbon treaty, which came into effect last year. As the House will know, my party did not support either the treaty or the creation of the EEAS, but, as my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary told the House in June this year, the EEAS is now a fact. The challenge for the Government has been, and remains, to help to shape the service so that it both respects the competence of member states over foreign policy, and at the same time provides for a more cohesive and effective diplomatic voice for the European Union collectively on issues on which the EU, speaking as a whole in support of an agreed common position, carries more clout than member states acting on their own.
Philip Davies (Shipley) (Con): What will happen on the many occasions when the United Kingdom is on a completely different page from the European Union, which seems to be the case more and more frequently? Will the EEAS be making proposals with which this country vehemently disagrees?
Mr Lidington: If the High Representative, Lady Ashton, and the EEAS are to represent a common EU position on an aspect of foreign policy, they can do so only on the basis of a foreign policy mandate that has been approved unanimously by all 27 member states. We have the safeguard that if the United Kingdom wishes to exercise a right of veto and prevent a common position from being reached on a particular aspect of foreign policy, that power remains with us.
Philip Davies: I do not wish to delay the Minister unduly, but I do not understand for the life of me why he has so little faith in British ambassadors' ability to represent this country's opinions, given that presumably the diplomatic services of other countries are perfectly capable of representing those countries' views.
My hon. Friend misunderstands me if he thinks I have any lack of confidence in the capabilities of our network of ambassadors and high commissioners around the world, but it is the Government's judgment
that there are areas where it makes sense for the 27 member states of the European Union to speak with one voice if they can. Later in my speech I will give some examples of where I believe United Kingdom national interests have been well served by such a common approach.
Mr Lidington: I know that my hon. Friend has adopted a position that is profoundly sceptical not only of the EEAS but of Britain's membership of the European Union and of the EU as a whole, but I must tell him that the key difference between then and now is that the treaty of Lisbon has been ratified by all 27 member states of the EU, and it is therefore now in force as a matter of both European and domestic law. As our right hon. Friend the Prime Minister made clear at the time when ratification was completed, that alters the terms of trade, and we as a party agreed while still in opposition that if we formed a Government we would work within that new basis established by the Lisbon treaty.
Mr Gareth Thomas (Harrow West) (Lab/Co-op): I too am a huge respecter of British ambassadors, but the last thing I would want them to do is design development programmes, which was at one stage the suggestion for the role of the EEAS. Negotiations shifted that position, but can the Minister give the House any further information now as to whether there is clarity yet about who will have responsibility for the programming of development spending?
Mr Lidington: Yes. In the division of duties set out in the decision we are debating this evening, the EEAS and the High Representative will have responsibility for strategic decisions about the priorities of the EU's development programme, but the Development Commissioner and his team within the Commission will remain responsible for the design and implementation of particular development programmes.
For this to work effectively, there clearly needs to be a meeting of minds between the High Representative and the Development Commissioner. Certainly when I have discussed this matter both with Baroness Ashton and with the Development Commissioner-whom I met in Brussels last week-they were both very confident that the package that has been agreed provided for a sensible division of responsibility, and also that the transfer to the EEAS of a number of staff working in the Commission on development would give the EEAS the expertise in development policy to enable it to take those strategic decisions.
I have to say to the hon. Member for Harrow West (Mr Thomas), however, that this is one area where the British Government continue to have reservations about the final package. We would have preferred a slightly larger shift of people with development expertise into the EEAS to make certain that it had the required expertise, but the two people most directly responsible for implementing this policy seem to be satisfied with the measure in its current form.
Mr Tobias Ellwood (Bournemouth East) (Con): My hon. Friend mentioned Baroness Ashton, which reminds me that there was a big fanfare when the positions of EU President and Foreign Minister were announced, to the point where the Labour Government at that time said that when these characters visited London they would stop the traffic. On the numerous occasions when either of them has visited London, have there been any congestion issues?
Mr Lidington: I can assure my hon. Friend that, based on the various conversations I have had with Baroness Ashton in the past few weeks, she has no wish whatever to interfere with the free flow of London traffic. It is a good sign that the High Representative, who is now assuming her office, is someone who is focused on practical action rather than on glitz, glamour, motorcades and red carpets. That is an important difference between her approach and the approach that a possible alternative candidate might have adopted. [Hon. Members: "Name him!"]
I believe that the political agreement reached between the High Representative and the European Parliament about the structure and accountability of the EEAS provides the safeguards the British Government were seeking, particularly those we sought on the competence of member states over foreign policy. That was no mean achievement, for we need to be clear about one thing. Those who argued that the ratification of Lisbon would somehow automatically bring an end to turf wars between different European institutions, or that it would satisfy the ambitions of those seeking to replace national with supra-national control over foreign policy, were plain wrong in those assumptions.
The European Parliament demanded to be given a much greater say over the running of the EEAS. In particular, it wanted the right to hold hearings on the appointment of heads of EU delegations; it wanted the appointment of political deputies to the High Representative; and it even sought to make the entire EEAS part of the Commission. The Commission sought for itself an extensive representational role. Others wanted to extend the remit of the EEAS to include the provision of consular services.
Had these proposals been accepted, they would have added up to a major encroachment by both the European Parliament and the Commission into areas of policy that are, as set out in the treaties, clearly the responsibility of member states. We, working with France and other countries that shared our view that the EEAS should be led by the member states and should not be under the thumb of the European Parliament, successfully resisted those proposals. As a result, the draft decision we are debating this evening is a framework that respects British foreign policy objectives and allows us to establish an external action service that does not replace national diplomatic action, but can complement and add value to it. As article 3.1 of the draft decision says, in terms:
"The EEAS shall support and work in cooperation with the diplomatic services of the Member States".
Mr James Clappison (Hertsmere) (Con):
My hon. Friend is making a very good case, and I speak as somebody who is not in favour of British withdrawal
from the European Union and who recognises, in the words of my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary, that we are where we are. However, I hope that my hon. Friend is not advancing the case that because we have obtained one or two safeguards in relation to the construction of the EEAS, that invalidates the principled objection that we maintained throughout the treaty of Lisbon proceedings to both the creation of the EEAS and the position of the High Representative. We are just mitigating the damaging consequences, are we not?
Mr Lidington: I am certainly not resiling from anything that I or my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary said when we were speaking from the Opposition Benches. But as my hon. Friend has acknowledged, we are in the legal and constitutional position in which we find ourselves, and in those circumstances I believe it to be the duty of the Government of the United Kingdom to fashion the best way forward we can, in alliance with like-minded member states, to provide the maximum possible safeguards for the freedom of individual European nations to act in pursuit of national interests when it comes to foreign policy.
Neil Parish (Tiverton and Honiton) (Con): Whatever the rights and wrongs of the Iraq war, would it not have been an interesting situation if the High Representative had been in place and had been trying to represent the whole of the European Union at that time, because different countries were taking very different positions? I would like the Minister to spell something out. When the High Representative is going around the world putting a particular slant on a European policy that we oppose completely, how are we going to make sure that we can tell the world, and a particular country, that we have a position different from that of the European Union?
Mr Lidington: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that question, because he brings me to the next passage in my speech. The important point is that the EEAS will have two key functions, the first of which is to speak on behalf of a common position on foreign policy agreed unanimously by the Council and embodied in a mandate given by the Council to the High Representative. So in the case of Iraq, or any comparable foreign policy issue where member states were divided, that unanimity-and hence that mandate-would not exist. Therefore, the High Representative and the EEAS would not be entitled either to speak or to act in the way that my hon. Friend fears.
The second responsibility of the EEAS is to support the Commission in implementing the external aspects of policies over which the Commission already, under the treaties, has competence, such as international trade. The fact that the High Representative is now, in effect, wearing two hats, whereby she is accountable to the Council for common foreign and security policy decisions but also works as a Commissioner on those matters that are properly the responsibility of the Commission, means that we have the potential for a rather more cohesive international engagement by the EU than has previously been the case. The Government would like this new institutional arrangement to complement our own commitment to an active British foreign policy and help to deliver the diplomatic objectives of the United Kingdom.
Michael Connarty (Linlithgow and East Falkirk) (Lab): I welcome the Minister to the Dispatch Box for the first time when I have been in the Chamber. I believe that Labour went through eight Ministers for Europe, so he may have a longer tenure than some of ours; I am sure that he will do his best. Just for the record, when we sent this document for debate before the election there was, as he mentioned, a bid from the European Parliament for three deputies-I believe it calls them secretaries-general-and hearings. Could he explain to the House exactly what the final agreement was on the accountability of the EEAS to the European Parliament? I note that this has all gone through and been rubber-stamped by this Government, without this Parliament having a European Scrutiny Committee to ask them to make themselves accountable to their Parliament. So nobody knows what the Minister agreed when he went to Europe.
Mr Lidington: I regret the fact that the European Scrutiny Committee in the Commons has not yet been re-established, so there has not been the opportunity for a debate within that Committee before the House as a whole was invited to take a decision. I took responsibility for deciding that the best way forward in the circumstances was to make provision, through the usual channels, for a debate on the Floor of the House, so that all Members had the opportunity to debate this matter before the recess. Had we delayed bringing this forward for debate until the autumn, there would have been at least equal cause for complaint on the part of right hon. and hon. Members.
The hon. Gentleman asked me about the accountability of the EEAS to the European Parliament. It will be accountable in financial terms to the European Parliament, in the same way as other organisations within the EU are accountable for the way in which they spend European Union money. The High Representative is going to make verbal reports to the European Parliament at regular intervals, but she is not accountable to it in policy terms, nor will it have the right to vet, or hold the equivalent of confirmation hearings on, the appointment of heads of EU delegations to various capitals around the world.
Mr Ellwood: I am pleased to see my hon. Friend in his place and starting to scrutinise EU legislation in a way that we have not seen before, rather than taking the tick-box approach that we saw from the Labour party. Concerns are expressed on both sides of the House about the duplication in the EU. It still has two Parliament buildings, it has a European Defence Agency that tries to mimic what NATO does, and it is still trying to build a satellite system, Galileo, which duplicates the free global positioning system operated by the United States. Will my hon. Friend ensure that he keeps the EU's ambitions in check, that there is a threshold for how far European countries can come together and work together, and that there is clarity about where that stops and sovereign power takes over?
My hon. Friend invites me to trespass on some policy areas that are properly the responsibility of other Government Departments, but I will not be tempted too far in that direction. The Government are collectively committed to seeking the greatest possible value for money from every part of the European Union organisation and to ensuring that pressure from within European Union institutions to extend competence
is resisted. I hope that my hon. Friend will be reassured, too, if I repeat to him now that it is the Government's intention later this year to introduce legislation, as promised in the coalition's programme for government, to require a referendum and a vote by the people of the United Kingdom before any future treaty change that transfers further powers from this House to European institutions.
Michael Connarty: In keeping with what has been called the "tick-box approach"-an approach that won the European Scrutiny Committee the inquisitor of the year award, which has never been won when a Conservative has held the position of Chair-I want to point out that the Minister has not answered the question. The bid from the European Parliament was to have three deputy secretaries-general from each of the political parties in the European Parliament who would substitute for the High Representative. What happened to that bid?
Mr Lidington: That proposal did not succeed. The position on deputising when the High Representative is absent will depend very much on the area of competence involved in that meeting. The High Representative will have three options. She will be able to appoint a senior member of her official team, once that team is in place, to speak in her place. She will be able to ask a fellow commissioner to represent her when the item being discussed is something that properly under the treaty falls to the competence of the Commission. When it comes to a matter to do with foreign or security policy, she is also free to invite the Foreign Minister of a member state to act on her behalf. I hope that I am not breaking some confidences if I say that she is already making good use of that last option. She has asked the Foreign Minister of Hungary to stand in for her at a forthcoming meeting between the EU and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. We have an example there of member states being seen to be clearly in the driving seat and of powers not simply being ceded automatically to the supranational institutions.
Dr Thérèse Coffey (Suffolk Coastal) (Con): I am concerned about value for money. I am surprised that the European Union will be able to achieve the development of the EAS on the basis of budget neutrality, unless it has already put in a massive budget. I am also concerned about the duplication that has already been mentioned. Will my hon. Friend assure me that we might even try to get a rebate if we do not need the EAS to do certain things on our behalf, including military planning, military missions and so on?
Mr Lidington: I was going to say more about the budget a little later in my speech. I hope that my hon. Friend will bear with me if I try to make some progress. I shall respond later to the points that she was making about the budget, and if she wants to intervene again I shall try to make time for her to do so.
In response to what my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) said, I want to give a couple of examples to illustrate that it is possible for the new institutional arrangements to complement an active British foreign policy. The first example concerns political stability in the western Balkans, which is incomplete and fragile. The Government strongly believe that it is in the United Kingdom's interests to have political
stability, human rights and the rule of law entrenched in that part of our continent, but that is not a goal that the UK can secure on its own. It is not an exaggeration to say that the situation in the western Balkans is a litmus test of any EU aspiration to take on an effective diplomatic role. We hope that the EAS will make the Balkans one of its highest priorities and that the new institutional arrangements will make it possible to pursue our common objectives with greater cohesion and consistency than was possible before.
My second example is the threat to maritime trade and the safety of voyagers posed by pirates operating off the coast of Somalia. Already, the different arms of the EU are beginning to work more effectively together: security is a member state and Council responsibility, but development falls to the Commission. The new arrangements maintain the focus on poverty alleviation, but better co-ordination within the single framework of the EAS makes it possible to get development money spent on building new prisons in Kenya to incarcerate pirates, which helps us to achieve our shared security objectives. If the EAS works effectively, the bringing together of the Commission and Council arms of EU external policy under the aegis of the High Representative, instead of their remaining in separate institutions as now, ought to make it possible to achieve a more joined-up policy in tackling other challenges, such as Afghanistan and Kosovo.
The EAS is not going to be some kind of elixir to cure all diplomatic ills and we have to be realistic about what it can achieve. It will be able to act only where there is a common position, as the High Representative can advocate a foreign policy position only on the basis of a unanimous mandate from the Foreign Ministers of member states. As the example of Iraq, which my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Neil Parish) cited, illustrates, there are no institutional solutions to problems that, at root, require both political will and consistent, shared views.
The High Representative has made a very good start to her challenging role. She has an impossible job-almost three jobs, in fact: High Representative, British Commissioner in Brussels and chair of the Foreign Affairs Council. She has been criticised for not being at two different ministerial meetings that were held in two different countries at the same time, but that seems more than a little unfair. I am told that she has 400 days of appointments in the year, and she does not yet really have a proper department to help her. The Conservatives wished her well when she embarked on her task and my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary and I are already working closely with her.
Mr William Cash (Stone) (Con): My hon. Friend has touched on a number of the difficulties for the High Representative in terms of timing and her programme. Does she not have another problem in that some of her functions are based on democratic decision making, such as those in the Council, while others are based on her role in the Commission, which is an undemocratic function, and others still involve a kind of quasi-democracy? Does he acknowledge that that is likely to create a great deal of confusion and uncertainty and that it could cause considerable damage to the clarity that is needed in the very complicated and extremely dangerous world that we now inherit?
Mr Lidington: Those differences in competence exist already in the structure of European external policy that is being replaced by the EAS. I have been impressed by the High Representative's determination to address seriously the problems that my hon. Friend identifies. He is correct to warn of the risk that the creation of the EAS will be taken by some as an opportunity for competence creep and to establish a more active and ambitious role for supranational European institutions than was envisaged when the EAS was set up or than is provided for in the treaties. The assurance I give him is that the British Government are absolutely determined to ensure that the rights and competences of member states are fully respected, not just by the High Representative, but by every other institution that forms part of the European Union.
We are content for EU delegations to take on some representational roles, when we want them to do so and have mandated them to do so. Supporting the EU in having enhanced rights in the UN General Assembly is a good example. We want the High Representative to be able to do what the rotating presidency used to do: to speak and act in support of an agreed common position. The Foreign Secretary explained that policy in more detail in a written ministerial statement earlier today. If the General Assembly agrees, the High Representative will have the rights necessary, and no more than the rights necessary, to fulfil the representational role previously carried out by the rotating presidency. That includes the right to speak after the member states have spoken, but not the right to a seat among individual UN members and certainly not the right to vote in the General Assembly. These arrangements will not give EU delegations enhanced rights in United Nations agencies or in other international organisations.
The Government will judge any further proposal for the EU to act in a representative capacity case by case and on its merits. Critically, we will take a view on whether such a move would help to achieve British interests and whether any proposal would compromise the lead role for member states over foreign policy that is explicitly provided for in the treaty.
Some bodies, including the Commission and some of the smaller member states, want EU delegations to take a greater role in representing EU positions around the world than we think is either desirable or legally consistent with the treaty. Those ambitions are not secret. For example, the Commission has made it clear that it wants EU delegations to take over responsibility to act not only on policy areas where there is clear EU competence, but on those areas where competence is shared by the EU and member states, even if competence has not been exercised at EU level previously. In our view, such a move would not be acceptable. I have written to the Chairs of the two Scrutiny Committees today to highlight that risk and to make it clear that the Government will be vigilant to defend the interests and treaty rights of not only the United Kingdom but all member states.
The initial EAS decision was taken by the Council on 26 April, after negotiations between Lady Ashton, the European Parliament and the Council. The European
Parliament voted overwhelmingly in favour of the draft decision very recently. Subject to the views of the House and other national Governments, the General Affairs Council of 26 July should be in a position to adopt the decision. Agreement on the accompanying changes to the staff and financial regulations will follow in the autumn, and Parliament will have the opportunity to scrutinise those later measures.
I should add a word on the staff. In his speech on 1 July, the Foreign Secretary emphasised the need to increase the number of UK nationals in European institutions. The establishment of a new service gives us an opportunity to promote British officials right from the start, and we have a large number of British diplomats with an interest in moving across to the EAS for part of their career. Staff in the institutions are independent, but we all know that different nationalities bring different perspectives, and we need more people with a British outlook to help to secure the UK interest for the long term. Our starting point in the EAS is good: already, about 8% of the staff of Relex-the Commission directorate that will initially form the bulk of the new service-are British; they are concentrated at the more senior levels and include about a quarter of the directors.
James Morris (Halesowen and Rowley Regis) (Con): On value for money, will my hon. Friend indicate the cost and resource implications of the further staffing of British diplomats in the European Union as a result of setting up the new institution?
Mr Lidington: Before I respond directly to my hon. Friend, I should add that there will be intense competition for appointments, which will quite rightly be made on merit. However, we are determined to fight for a good share of the senior positions in the EAS because we think that we have first-rate British candidates to put forward.
We are clear that we do not plan to put aside extra money for the EAS in the long term. We accept that getting the service started and bringing in national secondees to serve alongside those who will transfer to the EAS from existing posts in the external service of the Commission or the Council will involve some additional start-up costs, for which we are planning. The additional cost for the United Kingdom is about £1.1 million, but that is before any calculation of the abatement is taken into account.
Mr Clappison: I think that the Minister is citing a written answer that he gave me. May I take him away from the EU accounting procedures with which some of us are familiar? The External Action Service will have 136 embassies. It already employs 700 staff-he looks puzzled, but that comes from a written answer that he gave me-and might have thousands more. Without talking about accounting manoeuvres or additional amounts, will he tell us the cost of those 136 embassies and the hundreds, if not thousands, of staff employed by the EAS?
My hon. Friend overlooks the fact that the EAS, as he describes it, will simply be the sum of existing EU missions and activities that already form part of the external work of the Commission and the Council, which are funded from within the existing EU budget. The British Government's objective is to ensure, despite the acknowledged additional start-up costs, that
we use the bringing together of disparate external functions to seek savings by eliminating duplication. The EAS budget is due for review in 2013; our objective is to ensure that by that stage we have got rid of what we intend will be a temporary spike due to start-up costs, and managed to achieve savings and better value for money. The EAS should be about the effective delivery of foreign policy, not new and expensive bureaucracy.
Mr Nigel Dodds (Belfast North) (DUP): The Minister did not answer the question posed by the hon. Member for Hertsmere (Mr Clappison) about overall cost. Will he give the House a guarantee that if there is to be any breach of budget neutrality, he and his Government will resist that by vetoing any increase above current expenditure?
Mr Lidington: We will certainly resist any further increase in current expenditure because we want maximum value for money from the EAS, as we do from every other arm of the European Union. I welcomed Baroness Ashton's pledge on 8 July that she would do everything possible
"to maximise cost efficiencies, avoid duplication and strengthen financial discipline."
"I want a lean and efficient Service that assures best value for money, staffed by the best and the brightest from across the European Union."
The Government worked hard to defend the national interest and did all that we could to ensure that the service continued to respect national competences and recognised the central importance of intergovernmentalism in framing the European Union's common foreign policy. Through a robust and pragmatic approach, we have secured a framework for the EAS that respects UK interests, that can strengthen and support national diplomacy, and that will not lead to additional costs in the long term. This is only the start, however, and we now need to work intensively with our European partners to make it a reality. I commend the motion to the House.
Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab): It is a great delight to follow the Minister for Europe and to be able to welcome the conversion of Aylesbury. I had not realised that Brussels was on the road from Aylesbury to Damascus, but clearly it is. There is more rejoicing in heaven when one sinner repenteth and joineth the pro-European cause than when the 99 stay over there. It is a delight to know that he has hidden his pro-European light under such a nasty bushel for such a long time. I was obviously tempted to think of ways of uniting with his Eurosceptic Back Benchers and finding a way of voting against the motion, but as half the papers have my name all over them and were negotiated by me, it would be a bit opportunistic, even for me, so the Opposition decided against that.
The Minister has a very fine Europe team in the Foreign Office to support him, and I would like briefly to pay tribute in particular to Kim Darroch, the UK's permanent representative in Brussels, who does an extremely fine job. The Minister also has fine support in his private office among those who work with him on
European matters, so I am sure that he will do a very fine job. I think he suggested that Cathy Ashton had abandoned glamour, but I would gently say to him that that is a foul calumny on a very fine woman. However, I am glad that he is very supportive of the work that she is doing.
The important point is that we have before us a slightly difficult process. I fully understand why it has been difficult for the Government to bring things before a European Scrutiny Committee, though I gently say that it would have been better to have had a European Scrutiny Committee in place by now. I gather that we will have a splendid cream-suited Chair, in the shape of the hon. Member for Stone (Mr Cash), but it would be good if we had a full Committee and if that were able to get on with its work as fast as possible. As the Minister will know, I was taking this business through the House at a difficult time in the run-up to the general election, and I tried as far as possible to keep the two Committees in the Lords and in the Commons informed about the process of the discussions that were going on at every stage. But the fact that we have now had several months without a European Scrutiny Committee does not enable this House to do the business of scrutinising these and many other decisions better.
I would just ask the Minister briefly, on the matter of the intergovernmental conference, which was not announced to the House and which was held in the margins of another meeting and agreed to by the Prime Minister without any announcement to the House, if he could at some point provide us with the minutes of that conference. They have not yet been available anywhere, either on EUROPA or in the Library of the House.
Mr Bone: I am interested that the Opposition will not seek to divide the House on this. Has not the shadow Minister just made a very good case of the fact that the House has not scrutinised the business properly? Would not that be a good reason to seek to divide the House?
Chris Bryant: I shall be voting on the substance of the matter, which I wholeheartedly support and, I have to say-this will come as a great disappointment to the hon. Gentleman-in words almost identical to those used by the Minister. No, I do not think it is a good reason to seek to divide the House, but if the hon. Gentleman wishes to, obviously he is free so to do.
The reason we support the European External Action Service, and have for some time now, is that we believe that we are moving, as the Foreign Secretary himself said earlier this year in a speech, into a much more multilateral world, where we cannot just accept that there will be two great powers-the United States of America and China. We have to make sure that our power, both exercised independently ourselves and through the European Union, is used to its best effect. We know that in relation to the emerging economies of China, Russia, India, Mexico and Brazil, it is all the more important that Europe takes a united stance if we are to achieve effective outcomes.
We also know that the EU's previous foreign relations structure has been grossly inefficient, thus an individual country has a desk officer for the European Council and a desk officer for the European Commission, and, on top of that, two different departments within the Commission might have desk officers. That is clearly a duplication-not the one to which hon. Members referred earlier, but one that we want to see done away with; and that is why we support the EAS.
Chris Heaton-Harris: Should the EAS come into effect, how hopeful is the hon. Gentleman that, given the duplication that he just outlined, and not the duplication to which others referred, the Commission will actually shed staff?
Chris Bryant: The Commission does not have any choice, because the staff will be automatically moved into the EAS. The same applies to the Council. If each country approves the measure, through their parliamentary processes, the move will happen automatically, so I have confidence in the Commission. There are many areas where I do not have confidence in the Commission shedding staff, and where the hon. Gentleman is right to say that sometimes we have to ensure that it does not encroach on the powers of member states, but this is not one of them.
When I was Europe Minister, I tried to fight for some important principles. First, it was important to make it absolutely clear that the head of each delegation had full power over the whole delegation, because otherwise, in any individual deputation in any country throughout the world, different elements might compete against each other. Although Europe might have spoken with one voice, because it had established a single mandate, the individual delegation in that country might not. I am glad that we won that argument.
I am glad, too, that we won the argument to bring the politico-military structures, the civilian planning conduct and capability element, the crisis management and planning directorate and the EU military staff inside the EAS, because it would simply have been to duplicate and make the system more complex if we had left them outside.
I shall not take up much time, because I want to ensure that there is more opportunity for other Members to participate, but I must note two areas where, to be honest, I felt that I had to handbag the High Representative. Indeed, there were sharp words at April's General Affairs and External Relations Council. First, I do not believe that the EAS should set up consular services for every country in the European Union, and I was determined to ensure that the text that came out of April's Council made that absolutely and abundantly clear. I confess that the text that we ended up with-I am sure that all hon. Members will have read it-is slightly complex. Indeed, article 5(10) states that the Union delegation shall, acting in accordance with article 35 third sub-paragraph of the TEU, and upon request of member
states, support the member states in their diplomatic relations and in their role of providing consular protection to union citizens in third countries on a resource-neutral basis.
Two elements of that are vital, but they sound misguided. First, "on a resource-neutral basis", means that no additional money should go into the EAS to provide consular services on behalf of other countries. Secondly, the reference to article 35 of the Maastricht Treaty on European Union, as I am sure the Minister knows, means that the circumstances in which the EAS can provide consular services are very closely constrained. The Maastricht treaty-under the provisions that John Major introduced, incidentally-makes it clear that where an individual citizen of any EU member state is in a third country and their member state has no representation, other member states can provide support. That happens fairly regularly. In countries where Britain has no representation, sometimes a British citizen will be supported by other EU members. It is also true that the services of other countries are provided to us. For instance, in Laos, where we have no representation, the Australians provide consular protection.
In our discussions leading up to April's Council meeting, I thought it very important to ensure that countries such as Estonia and Latvia, which would dearly love the EU to provide consular services and remove the power of member states to provide them throughout the world, should not see the measure as a great cash cow. While many in the room argued forcefully that we should be moving towards European consular services, I said that we would use the British veto if that proposal came forward. That is why we have the document that is now before us.
The next issue is budget neutrality. As I said, there has been considerable duplication in the system in the years thus far, whereby there are desk officers for the same country from different elements of the structure of the European Union, and that has been counter-productive. I am confident, with Cathy at the helm, that there will be a strong insistence on ensuring that those duplications do not survive, and that there is therefore no reason why the EAS should cost us more in the long term.
However, my anxiety is more about the Minister's optimism than his numeracy. Pressures will inevitably come from other member states, many of which are going through the same process of retrenchment in their budgets and will find that that directly affects their foreign offices. When I was in the post that he now holds, I spoke to three of my counterparts, who talked about 50% or 60% cuts in their foreign offices. In many of those countries, there may well be a political pressure towards the European Union carrying out more of their foreign services, and he will rightly want to be very cautious about that. Throughout the whole process of
the treaty going through and the setting up of the EAS, it was our clear intention that we, Britain, should be able to fight our corner, but we also wanted the whole European Union in our corner. I very much hope that that is what this measure will achieve.
My final point relates to British staff in the EAS. Like the Minister, I hope that many diplomats in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office will want to work there. He said that many more suddenly want to go and work there; I do not know whether that is because they do not like working with him or because they are fearful of what is going to happen in the FCO. On a serious note, one of the complexities in trying to get British staff to work in any of the institutions of the European Union is that they often cannot see a path back. It is not only a question of whether British people speak foreign languages, but of whether they can see a career that takes them to Brussels and brings them back thereafter. I hope that at some point the Minister will be able to enlighten the House further on those matters.
Richard Ottaway (Croydon South) (Con): Like other Conservative Members, I am sceptical about the Lisbon treaty, but we are where are. We have the European External Action Service, and it is in Britain's interest that it at least works.
The Select Committee on Foreign Affairs has taken a close interest in the EAS, and I welcome this debate. It hardly helps that the negotiations have been taking place in Brussels when we have not had a European Scrutiny Committee. However, the Foreign Affairs Committee is grateful that the Government and their predecessors have co-operated with it in providing the information that it needed and, in that spirit, I hope that they continue to do so.
We are able to consider today's documents in advance of the Council formally giving its approval only because High Representative Ashton has spent the past three months negotiating with the European Parliament. I have to confess that having had a look at the documents, I am sceptical about whether the changes secured by the European Parliament amount to any major alteration to the likely functioning of the EAS. The Parliament largely won confirmation on a number of points that were either implied or explicitly set out in the Lisbon treaty or in the Swedish presidency report on the EAS adopted by the European Council last October. I note that the explanatory memorandum to the revised draft Council decision states that it "respects the essentials" of the proposals on which the Council reached political agreement in April. Under the circumstances, I congratulate the Government on resisting a number of demands regarding the EAS that would have been very unhelpful from a British point of view.
The negotiations of the past few months have highlighted the continued existence of widely diverging views about how the EU should make external policy, and the scale of the change of mindset that will be required in some quarters to focus on the generation of a more seamless external policy for the Union. Whether or not one believes that the EAS is workable or necessary in the first place, the manner in which it has been achieved hardly gives rise to optimism that there can be effective implementation of EU policy.
My hon. Friends have set out emotive views about the EU, and on behalf of the FAC I shall simply concentrate on the nuts and bolts of the system and pose a few questions to the Minister. The assessment of the deal between the Council and the European Parliament, which is now before us, may depend very much on the legal status of the additional declarations and statements that Baroness Ashton has now agreed to make. The explanatory memorandum refers to those as "accompanying" the decision and as
"forming part of the overall political agreement".
I would welcome reassurance from the Minister that the deal now before us does not give the Commission or the European Parliament any greater power over the budget for the common foreign and security policy. With the abandonment of the Western European Union by the previous Government, there is now a bit of a lacuna in that area of oversight.
The hon. Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk (Michael Connarty) raised the way in which the High Representative delegates her responsibilities. The Lisbon treaty did not create a wholly new, specially fashioned position but was intended to encourage greater coherence in the EU's external policies simply by giving three different jobs to the same person. That raises the question of who is to deputise for the High Representative when she cannot be in several places at once. The Minister responded to that point, but some further clarification would be welcome. How is that done? Where is the procedure set out and what is the authority for it? Who is the Foreign Minister of Hungary speaking for? I know that he is speaking for the High Representative, but where does he get his brief and to whom does he report?
The new EU delegations to third countries and international organisations are to be upgraded from the existing European Commission delegations. The increased role of those delegations seems to me potentially one of the most significant changes resulting from the Lisbon treaty, both for the EU and for national foreign ministries. Does the Foreign Office see any need to issue specific guidance to UK posts about how they should work with the new EU delegations, particularly as regards the sharing of information and intelligence?
Mr Ellwood: Has my hon. Friend had the opportunity to meet Ambassador Ušackas, the new EU representative in Afghanistan? He passed through London and is now in Kabul, but his remit and how it sits with United Nations directives and those of the international security assistance force is unclear. We have signed up to the ISAF mission, but we are also part of the EU and are therefore expected to form part of the ambassador's mission. There is a dichotomy in interests.
Richard Ottaway: I met the ambassador. For the past month, I have formed a Committee of one on foreign affairs, and I ended up inviting Members to meet him. He was fairly clear about his brief, but my hon. Friend makes a strong point.
It has been suggested in some quarters that the Foreign Office may close some embassies where the EU has a stronger presence post-Lisbon. The previous permanent under-secretary at the Foreign Office, Sir Peter Ricketts, suggested to the Foreign Affairs Committee and the Public Accounts Committee in the previous Parliament that, if anything, the arrival of the EU delegations might help the FCO's efforts to sustain and perhaps even expand its overseas network. Sir Peter also said that the Foreign Office might be able to sustain or open small overseas posts by locating them in EU delegation buildings when suitable office space might otherwise be difficult to find. I should be grateful if the Minister clarified that.
On staffing, the previous Government told the FAC that there would be 25 secondees to the EAS when it was up and running. However, in a reply to a recent parliamentary question, the figure was abandoned, and the response was slightly ambiguous. I should be grateful to the Minister for guidance on that. Have we retained the secondments that we have? Are vacancies that arise open to national civil servants? Does the UK have any potential secondees in those competitions?
In short, we are where are and we hope that the EAS contributes significantly to making the EU a more effective vehicle in the world today. The documents before us suggest that the Government have succeeded in securing some key points, but many questions remain to be answered.
Mr Nigel Dodds (Belfast North) (DUP): I welcome the Minister to his position. It is the first time that I have spoken in a debate that he has led as Minister for Europe. Of course, I remember him fondly from his days as shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. The experience gained there will doubtless stand him in good stead for the intricacies and delicacies of European diplomacy. We wish him well.
However, the debate is about something that the British people neither want nor need. If the broad mass of the public looked in on the debate, they would ask, "What on earth is this all about?" At a time of massive constraint in the public expenditure system, with public services under threat, Departments told that they might face cuts of between 25% and 40%, and our diplomatic corps told that it, too, might face huge cutbacks, we are holding a debate that is based on a treaty that nobody wanted and on which we were denied a referendum.
The hon. Member for Croydon South (Richard Ottaway) and the Minister used the expression, "We are where we are." That is true, but we do not need to be where we are. I have great sympathy for the Minister because, while the shadow Minister teased him about a volte-face, the road to Damascus and so on, he was clearly uncomfortable about some of the things that he had to say. He said that the motion was about mitigating the damage, and I was worried when he seemed to get carried away with some enthusiasm for the new service. However, if he and his party had stuck to their pledge to offer the people of the
United Kingdom a referendum on the Lisbon treaty, it would not have come into force and we would not be discussing this motion.
I do not want to rehearse the argument over the referendum on the Lisbon treaty except to say that the excellent private Member's Bill on it unfortunately did not make progress. The fact is that it would have been possible for the House to grant the British people a referendum even after ratification. At the end of the day, the House is sovereign, and the British people ultimately ought to have the right to decide whether we should have all those institutions created out of Lisbon.
Mr Ellwood: The right hon. Gentleman has been a Member of this House for a number of years, and he is aware that the Lisbon treaty has been signed. Having a referendum now would be a bit like asking patients in a new hospital what colour they want the foundation stone to be. It is too late, hence the phrase, "We are where we are." We must mend what has been put together.
Mr Dodds: I have heard that theory, and no doubt the hon. Gentleman heard some of his hon. Friends debunk it at the time. Of course it is possible for the United Kingdom to decide that it no longer wishes to be part of the consequences of the ratification of the Lisbon treaty-that option is open to the House, Parliament and the British people. If what he says means that for ever and a day we have given up the right to decide matters such as membership of the European Union, what treaties we are signed up to and what institutions we belong to, it is a sad day for democracy in the House. The British people who supported the Conservative leader when he offered a cast-iron guarantee on a referendum did not expect that that promise and pledge would be ditched so quickly and so comprehensively.
I venture to say that that is one reason why there is a disconnect between the British public at large and their Parliament. The people do not trust politicians-such trust is essential-because the promises that they hear politicians make are cast aside when it suits the politicians, not when it suits them. People expect promises to be honoured. They overwhelmingly believe that we should not have signed up to the Lisbon treaty and that a European diplomatic corps should not be created, and they expect their views to be heard. Unfortunately, there is a cosy consensus between the Front Benchers of both major parties, and indeed the Liberal Democrats, so people will be denied their say and a referendum.
Chris Bryant: I hate to leap to the defence of the Conservative Government, but it would surely not affect the rest of the European Union if Britain voted against the Lisbon treaty in a referendum, because the EU would continue to operate under the treaty. In all honesty, the only referendum one could now have is on whether to leave or stay in the EU.
No doubt some hon. Members think that that is a pretty good idea. The hon. Gentleman speaks of referendums, but he knows full well that he and the previous Government pledged a referendum on the European constitution to the British people. There is talk of the Minister making a volte-face, but the decision not to grant that referendum was the biggest volte-face
in recent history. Of course, a distinction between the Lisbon treaty and the original proposal for a European constitution was made, but much of it was spurious.
The fact that we are today debating the creation of the European diplomatic service, with all that that entails, proves the point that many of us made about the Lisbon treaty, which is that the treaty is yet another significant development in the creation of a European superstate-the Minister alluded to that and to the reasons why he and his colleagues opposed the measure at the time. He may argue that the High Representative is unable to advance a position in the absence of a common position adopted by the Council of Ministers, but that means that on many critical issues around the world the High Representative and that vast diplomatic superstructure will be sitting on their hands.
Philip Davies: Does the right hon. Gentleman accept the irony of today's proceedings? Earlier we were invited to support reductions in the police grant because there is supposedly not enough public money to go around, but we are now invited to indulge the largesse of the European Union. Does he agree that if we are all in this together and if we are living in the age of austerity, we should make that abundantly clear to the EU?
Mr Dodds: I entirely agree with the hon. Gentleman, and I am just coming on to the budget, which is critically important. He is right to ask how people in the Community will feel about this debate and the amount of expenditure attached to it, at a time when we are debating the police grant and other matters.
We heard the Minister talk about the extra expenditure amounting to some £1.1 million in start-up costs, which he confirmed in answer to a question from the hon. Member for Hertsmere (Mr Clappison), but the cost of the EEAS is expected to reach some €900 million when fully operational. Some reports in the European Parliament suggest that it will cost up to £5 billion a year to run when fully up and running. A leading German MEP, a member of Chancellor Merkel's party and who sits on the budget committee, was quoted in The Sunday Times on 25 April as saying:
"You can only believe the claims that the service will be budget neutral if you believe in Santa Claus."
"That's simply not realistic, not even in the mid-term, but the notion has to be maintained for reasons of political acceptability."
The irony will not be lost on UK taxpayers that this Government, who are asking Departments to demonstrate where cuts of up to 40% can be made, now endorse a service that will cost millions of pounds and that we neither want nor need. Those of us who opposed Lisbon and the creation of the EEAS back in 2008 still oppose it, and I hope that we will be given the opportunity to do so in the Lobby tonight.
Mr William Cash (Stone) (Con): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Minister for Europe on his appointment. I am sure that we will be having many useful discussions, dialogues and even cross-examinations as time goes on.
I regard this whole decision as a triumph of European aspirations and European parliamentary ambitions over reality. I am deeply worried about the manner in which this game of multidimensional chess will play out, and I have already indicated to my hon. Friend the Minister my concern about the overlapping functions and the contradictions that will emerge between the necessity of maintaining our bilateral relations with other countries and the extremely ambitious proposals in this decision on global reach. It is phenomenal to imagine an external action service on this scale that would in any way be regarded as not interfering with our domestic diplomatic service.
I sense that my hon. Friend the Minister and my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary know this. We debated the Lisbon treaty together, we were united and we had a remarkable rapprochement during those debates-contrary to the debates over the Maastricht treaty, when I stood in this very spot and had much to say about what I thought would happen. Many people might think that some of the things I suggested would happen have done so, and this is one of them.
Mr Skinner: Speaking as someone who voted against Nice, Maastricht, Lisbon and God knows what else, I may have made a slight error on the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority. On reflection, I think IPSA should run the EEAS; that will cock it up.
Mr Speaker: Order. Before the hon. Gentleman replies to that witty intervention, I will remind him of what I am sure he already knows-that the Minister has a right of reply and will need to be called at 6.52 pm. It is conceivable that other Members might also wish to contribute.
Mr Cash: Having spoken for only two minutes, I can guarantee that I will not speak for more than five at most. As for intervention of a few moments ago, I think the Court of Auditors might have something to say about the matters that the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr Skinner) raised. After all, it has not signed off its accounts for the last 15 years.
"likely to be the most significant change in the conduct of British foreign policy for many years",
which is why a debate on the Floor of the House was, exceptionally, recommended. That is the truth and the reality. I am deeply concerned that in being asked to consider the functions of the Foreign Office under this decision, there is a huge issue to do with the impact this new global diplomatic service will have on Britain's ability to promote her own bilateral interests.
This is not a small matter. The question is how we are going to be able to maintain our own bilateral interests if we are suffocated by the decisions that are taken. Anybody who reads these documents in detail-I do not have time to go into that detail today-will appreciate that there is a very severe danger to the continuation of our bilateral interests, however hard my hon. Friend the Minister and the Foreign Secretary will work, as I know they will. Given the depth, the range and the landscape of this monumental creation of a new foreign service on a European scale, it is difficult to see how our bilateral interests can be preserved.
In conclusion, there is also the declaration on political accountability. I would be grateful if the Minister told us some of his thoughts on that. He said in evidence to the House of Lords Select Committee last week that he hoped the decision would
"end up providing a more coherent and effective platform for the delivery of the EU's engagement with the outside world."
For my part, I hope that our own foreign policy will be conducted in a manner that will properly reflect the interests of this country. I am happy to co-operate with other countries throughout Europe-and, indeed, anywhere else in the world-because we have a responsibility to do so, but I am deeply worried at the way this entire legal framework is liable to subsume our own ability to ensure our own national interests.
I regard this as a mosaic, as it were, within a labyrinth, and I fear that there will be a confusion of control and command in military matters, in relation to Kosovo and our relations with Iran, for example. We need to be extremely cautious about giving this more than a very tepid welcome.
Michael Connarty (Linlithgow and East Falkirk) (Lab): I am sensitive about intruding on private grief, but I am witnessing the acting out of a scenario in which a Minister who takes a very positive approach to issues relating to the European Union is surrounded by a large number of Eurosceptic Members of Parliament who had previously imagined that they were serving under a Eurosceptic Government. The words "a cosy consensus" have been used, but I am not sure that that is what it is. I see it more as the sweet breeze of EU realism blowing through the Conservative Government.
The fact is that the Lisbon treaty is in force, and will not be overturned. In a speech that I made on the issue, I described the treaty as a "tipping point" in the balance of power between Brussels and the national Parliaments. I hope that there will be a rearrangement of power, and that a triangulation of forces will eventually return to us more power than the Commission, and indeed the European Parliament, want us to have.
"Given the importance of this proposal, which-the Minister's assurances on consular protection notwithstanding"-
"is nonetheless likely to be the most significant change in the conduct of British foreign policy for many years, we consider that this debate should be on the Floor of the House."
We have encountered the question of accountability. While an election was taking place in this country, the European Parliament was using its powers under the Lisbon treaty to advance a case relating to the question of the three deputy secretaries who would substitute for the High Representative. That case was rejected, but in fact the European Parliament achieved a great deal more. There was a second Council decision following the one on the matter that was eventually referred to the Council on 9 July.
The European Parliament saw an opportunity to make a bold opening gambit in relation to those who would be substitutes and guardians, or protectors, of the High Representative. It used the fact that staffing regulations, finance regulations and the EEAS budget would be subject to the European Parliament's powers of co-decision to advance a strong argument that it should be consulted on matters such as the common foreign and security policy. That, of course, will be subject to unanimous agreement in the Council, but the Parliament has inserted itself into the process to great effect. The Lisbon treaty gave it the opportunity to enhance its ability to influence the politics and policy of a major institution.
"seek the views of the European Parliament on the main aspects and basic choices of policy".
The Council decided that the European Parliament would have to be consulted on policies such as the common security and defence policy, and on questions relating to the basic organisation of the EEAS central administration and political accountability. It is clear that we have not only had an election, but failed to establish any scrutiny arrangements in this Parliament.
The European Parliament clearly views that agreement as meaning that it will have a significantly greater influence on EU foreign policy in the future. That is where we have arrived after the stages through which we have gone. The Parliament has gained considerable ground. It may not have made all the gains that it demanded, but I do not think that it wanted them anyway. It wanted to make the service accountable to it.
We now need assurances from the Government that they will defend not just the common foreign and security policy and the common security and defence policy, but the right of this Parliament to scrutinise what they do and hold them to account when they go to the Council. That might serve as some small protection against a European Parliament that might otherwise take complete control of this policy and this service in the future.
Mr Tobias Ellwood (Bournemouth East) (Con): It is a pleasure to contribute to this important debate. It is important to understand what we are creating. My hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Philip Davies)-who I see has gained some new recruits to support him on the Back Benches-obviously takes a different view from others on how we should approach the Lisbon treaty.
The phrase "We are where we are" has been used a number of times in the debate. If we had a blank sheet of paper, I am sure that we would not create the Lisbon treaty in its current form, but I was not in favour of the dome, either- I thought it was unpopular and a wrong concept-but it was built, and then we decided to change it and make it actually work. If we choose to opt out of the EU, as some colleagues on both the Government and Opposition Benches might wish, we will certainly change our relationship with the EU and Europe from one perspective, but we will also alienate many countries, and we will then be unable to influence their approach to the EU.
Andrew Percy (Brigg and Goole) (Con): The issue, however, is that many of us have a problem with the creation of this external service. We have not got into a discussion about whether we should be a member state of the EU. The fact is that many of us have grave concerns about this measure, and that is what we have been talking about today.
Mr Ellwood: I do not disagree with my hon. Friend. The point I am stressing, however, is that, as has been said, we could be in a stronger position if we were to move British personnel into the organisation and change it into something actually worth having-and that is what I would like.
I do, however, have some grave concerns about EU spending at present. A great example of that is the Galileo satellite system. It has cost about £4 billion so far, and the Foreign Office budget is, I understand, about £2 billion, so there would be some huge savings straight away if we were to get rid of that system. I also mentioned in an intervention the concerns we have in respect of NATO and the European Defence Agency. They have not been answered today, and I would be grateful for the opportunity to speak to my hon. Friend the Minister about the clear overlap that there is in respect of those two organisations. When I was serving in the armed forces in Bosnia, the EU was trying to create something of a European army, and that is wrong. The cornerstone of our defence in Europe is NATO, and we should not try to duplicate it.
I intervened on my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon South (Richard Ottaway), the Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee, about Ambassador Ušackas who has now been sent to Afghanistan to represent the European Union. I have a question: if the EU starts sending diktats or directives on how Afghanistan should be approached, that might overlap with the direction we are receiving as a member of the international security assistance force, and-
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