§ 3.58 p.m.
§ Read a third time.
§ Clause 1 [Incorporation of provisions of the Treaty of Nice]:
§ Lord Pearson of Rannoch moved Amendment No. 1:
Page 1, line 9, at beginning insert "Article 1 (other than paragraphs 7 and 8, revising Articles 29 and 31 of the Treaty on European Union),"
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, during our debate on 17th January at the Report stage of the Bill, I raised the question at col. 1219 of the Official Report as to whether the new European police force, Europol, was to have immunity for its actions. When I did not detect an answer in the reply of the Minister, I repeated the question at cols. 1222 and 1223. The noble Baroness still did not quite answer my question but was generous enough to say:
"Nothing in the establishing of Eurojust trespasses on the Europol issues which the noble Lord has raised. I shall do my best to put some more flesh on the bones for him. if that is possible at this stage. I understand why the noble Lord is so concerned".—[Official Report, 17/1/02, col. 1223.]
§ In the absence of any flesh on those bones, I am bringing forward the question again today as a specific amendment.
§ In the meantime I have done more homework and regret to say that it looks as though Europol's officers are indeed to have almost total immunity for their actions. I say that because I have discovered a Statutory Instrument, No. 2973, dated 17th December 1997, which appears to confirm just such immunity. The whole document is available in your Lordships' Library, but I believe it is worth placing on the record what are perhaps the two most worrying paragraphs.
§ The first is paragraph 6 which concerns Europol as an organisation. It states,
"Europol shall have immunity from suit and legal process, except to the extent that the Director shall have waived such immunity in a particular case, in respect of any damage caused to an individual as a result of legal or factual errors in data stored or processed at Europol".
§ I believe that your Lordships will agree that this could be a very wide ranging immunity indeed because,
"damage caused to an individual as a result of legal or factual errors in data stored or processed at Europol"
§ could presumably be very substantial damage. I trust that your Lordships will agree that it is not much comfort for the director of Europol to be given the sole power to waive the immunity granted because that leaves the organisation subject to no outside constraint in that regard at all. I shall be interested to learn from the Government how they justify having agreed to this in December 1997.
§ Paragraph 15 of the statutory instrument is even more worrying. It is worth placing on the record. It refers to the officers of Europol and states:
"Except in so far as in any particular case any privilege or immunity is waived by the Board, in the case of the Director, Financial Controller and members of the Financial Committee, 27 by the Director, in the case of staff members of Europol, or, in the case of the members of the Board, by the Member State of the European Union of which the member is representative"—
§ I trust that noble Lords can catch up on all that in Hansard. Now we come to the crunch—
§ that is the officers of Europol—
"shall enjoy immunity from suit and legal process in respect of acts, including words written or spoken, done by them in the exercise of their official functions, except in respect of civil liability in the case of damage arising from a road traffic accident caused by them".
§ I suppose it is good news that these new Europol officers will remain liable for civil liability—I do not know if that includes accidental damage—if they cause a road accident. Otherwise, they are to enjoy what looks like blanket immunity. Once again, I shall be interested to learn how the Government justify having agreed to this state of affairs in December 1997.
§ At least one other question needs an answer from the Government today. It is generally believed that Europol has been given the green light to form its own so-called anti-terrorist squad with the right to demand intelligence from MI5 and MI6. I ask the Government whether that is true. If so, it is not reassuring to remember that EU officials were caught selling intelligence information from the Schengen information system only three years ago.
§ As far as I know, the instrument and the immunity it confers were not even debated in either House of Parliament: it went through on the nod. Therefore, I believe that we should let in a little light today.
§ I have one last question for the Minister which I also asked on 17th January, at col. 1219, and to which I did not receive a reply. Do the Government agree that Europol and Eurojust, the EU's fledgling prosecution agency which will be working under the new European judicial network, and all these new creations, when taken together with the infamous European arrest warrant, are indeed the first steps towards corpus juris or the common EU legal order? I believe that we should clarify the issue before we leave consideration of the Treaty of Nice.
§ If the answer to my question is yes—and it seems pretty clear that it must be—then should we not have a specific debate before long so that we can at least express a view and inform the British people of what is being done in their name with their legal system? I beg to move.
§ Lord Stoddart of Swindon
My Lords, I welcome the opportunity given by the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, and his amendment to discuss this important question. In our earlier discussion, I gained the impression, perhaps wrongly, from the reply the noble Lord received, that the Foreign Office did not know about the legislation passed in 1997. If so that is very worrying because I believe that we should have joined-up government and that every department should know exactly what is going on in another department and what they negotiating over in Europe.
28 It seems to me that as a result of the document referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, the safeguards and constraints which apply to our own police forces do not apply to the foreign police agents of the EU, because that is what they are and no mistake should be made about it. As I understand it, the Police Complaints Authority will be powerless to act in abuse cases as will police forces and individual police officers, due to the immunity granted by the order.
I seem to recall that when the order was discussed the impression was given that immunity would apply only to a very narrow band of crimes, for example, fraud against the EU and drugs smuggling. Now, with the advent of the European arrest warrant, these foreign agents of the EU may perhaps be able to intervene and investigate all the crimes mentioned in the framework agreement on the European arrest warrant. I believe that they total 39. Frankly, that covers just about everything, so far as I can see. It is an important issue which the noble Lord has brought forward. I feel sure that those who fought and died to keep this country free must be turning in their graves at the thought of policemen, perhaps from the countries they fought to maintain that freedom, coming to this country to arrest people and have them tried in another country.
I say also to the press that there are great dangers here for them. If we follow the line of "no xenophobia" and whatever, the Sun will not be able to print headlines such as "Up Yours, Delors!" for fear of those responsible being arrested by Euro policemen, taken across the water and being incarcerated for six months or more before trial and then, if found guilty, incarcerated in a foreign gaol. I hope that that is not taking matters too far. These are the dangers that can arise. It is right that we should at least discuss them before a tragedy occurs and all hell is let loose.
§ Lord Monson
My Lords, I should like to ask the noble Baroness a specific question. When a foreign diplomat commits an offence in this country, he has complete immunity from prosecution. On the other hand, if the offence is a serious one—an assault, for example, as opposed to a minor traffic violation—he is normally asked to leave the country. Will the same request be made to Europol officers who behave in such a way?
§ Lord Wallace of Saltaire
My Lords, I have limited sympathy with one aspect of the amendment: it is useful to be sure that we are well informed as to what levels of immunity will be given to the new bodies. Having said that, I remind those who spoke to the amendment that your Lordships' Committee on the European Union has produced reports on Europol and Eurojust which investigated those matters in considerable detail. I am not sure whether those noble Lords took part in our debate on those reports.
The British police and judicial authorities find the European arrest warrants not so much a threat as useful. British criminals tend to go elsewhere in the European Community and it takes a long time to get them back. That is something that happens with 29 increasing cross-border transactions. So I see the provisions not as Gestapo-led threats to British justice but a normal consequence of large numbers of British citizens moving to Spain, for example, for usually legal, but occasionally, sadly, illegal, reasons, whom it is difficult to get back. There are also lengthy court proceedings in Dublin, in which people attempt to avoid extradition procedures intended to return them to the United Kingdom. That is one aspect of the Treaty of Nice that we ought all to welcome.
§ Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean
My Lords, I must tell the noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch, that I am a little perplexed by the amendment. Although his remarks about Europol were interesting, I was not sure that they were about the amendment. The amendment is addressed to the establishment of Eurojust, but his remarks were addressed entirely to Europol. Officers of a number of institutions have the same degree of immunity as Europol. I shall certainly write to the noble Lord with as much information as I am able to garner on the subject. Indeed, I have already asked the Home Office to respond to some of the points that he raised about Europol. The provisions of the Bill that the noble Lord's amendment would delete are absolutely not, as he suggested, about establishing some sort of supranational European police force. The part of the Bill covering Eurojust is about inter-governmental co-operation, not some sort of super-European police force.
Previously, the noble Lord has raised his concerns about a number of issues relating to the Napoleonic code. The provisions are not about the Napoleonic code. They do not give Eurojust the opportunity to range far and wide without being answerable. Eurojust is directly answerable to justice and home affairs Ministers within the Justice and Home Affairs Council. There is no concept of a European public prosecutor concerned with the establishment of a single EU jurisdiction—to answer another point made by the noble Lord. Eurojust does none of that, as we discussed on several occasions in Committee and on Report.
The amendment would delete from the Bill the closer co-operation between judicial and other competent authorities of the member states and paragraph 2 of Article 31, which provides for Eurojust co-operation. The noble Lord ranged wide of that remit by talking about Europol. I shall certainly write to the noble Lord. Yes, Europol will have a degree of immunity. shall try to give him some more information. but there is nothing unprecedented in that. In that spirit, I hope that he will accept that I shall do what I can to help him—although I am bound to say that that is not terribly germane to the amendment. None the less, I shall do what I can to answer the noble Lord's questions.
§ 4.15 p.m.
§ Lord Pearson of Rannoch
My Lords, I am most grateful to all noble Lords who have spoken, and to the Minister for her more helpful reply. It is probably 30 not worth our having a long debate about the intricacies of the treaty at this juncture. Article 29 includes the new words:including cooperation through the European Judicial Cooperation Unit ('Eurojust')".Article 31 goes on to refer to its action. As the Minister said, the new words in the Treaty of Nice are contained in paragraph 2 of Article 31, which specifically promotes support by Eurojust for criminal investigations in cases of serious cross-border crime, especially in the case of organised crime, and taking particular account of analyses carried out by Europol. So Europol is relevant to the amendment. and it is helpful to have on the record the degree of immunity that we propose to confer on such characters.
I take it that the Minister agrees with my other point, which is that taken together, the whole juxtaposition of Europol, Eurojust. the European judicial network and the arrest warrant constitute the first step towards the European legal order, or corpus juris, as it is known in the European jargon. That ought to be on the record in your Lordships' House; it is an extremely dangerous departure for the European Union. Those powers are largely taken under the bogus cover of darkness of the events of September 11th. They have little to do with terrorism.
I am grateful to the noble Lords who have spoken and to the noble Baroness.
§ Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean
My Lords, the noble Lord said that he would take my silence to be assent to his point. I am sure that he knows well enough from our previous debates that he should not do that, because I have been quite explicit to the contrary.
§ Lord Pearson of Rannoch
My Lords, in that case, will the noble Baroness answer my question? Should we not have a separate debate on the progress towards corpus juris, encompassing the aspects that I mentioned: Europol, Eurojust, the judiciary and, in particular, the infamous arrest warrant and everything else that is on the way in the creation of this European federal order?
§ Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean
My Lords, I am bound to say that we have a great deal of discussion of such issues. If the usual channels find it helpful, I am sure that they will facilitate a debate of that nature. I would not want the noble Lord to take my earlier silence in any way to indicate that I followed his logic and reached his conclusions on the argument. It is a matter for the House whether we have a debate on the extremely interesting matters that the noble Lord has raised. I am bound to say that that would probably be a more appropriate channel for such a debate than the amendment.
§ Lord Pearson of Rannoch
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness, and I shall leave her with her silence. I trust that the House will leave me with my assertion. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.31
§ Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean
My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill do now pass.
Moved, That the Bill do now pass.—(Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean.)
§ Lord Howell of Guildford
My Lords, in accordance with custom, I should like to say a few words before the Bill passes from your Lordships' House after our fairly protracted debates on it during the past few months. I hope that the fact that I have tabled no amendments on Third Reading will not lead anyone to think that we have any particular fondness or liking for this Bill about the Nice treaty or, as it was described in the newspapers this morning, the Nice debacle, as it is now widely agreed to have been. However, at Third Reading, we must recognise that there was a massive majority in favour of the Bill in another place. At the moment, we are still an advisory Chamber, a monitoring and long-term thinking Chamber. We do not yet have an elected element; when and if we do, the view from an elected Chamber would be very different, in the interests of the country and of parliamentary democracy. The Bill adds little to either of those causes.
There are large parts of the Bill—or of the treaty, if not the Bill—that could happily have been left out. As it says in Hymns Ancient and Modern, in which verses are sometimes starred, there are large sections that could have been omitted without injury to the general sense and purpose of the hymn, or, in this case, the Bill. It does not help particularly with enlargement, although we have been told again and again that that is its purpose. In fact, the enlargement mechanisms could probably have been handled differently and have been slowed down by the attachment of all sorts of extra commitments, devices and decorations on the treaty. So far, that has had a fatal effect. The treaty has been blocked by the decision in the Irish referendum.
All along, we have sought to ask what plan B was, and we have not really had an answer. What happens if the Irish cannot somehow turn opinion around in time? The treaty cannot be ratified. We can sign—the former Foreign Secretary has already signed us up—and both Houses of Parliament can pass it, as seems likely to happen. However, that is no good; the treaty must be ratified by all existing members, and there has been little assurance of that.
We are passing a Bill that will not lead immediately to any particular changes. I am not sure that, when it does, the changes will be at all beneficial. The issue of the future shape of the European Union moves now to the so-called Convention on the Future of Europe, which your Lordships discussed earlier this afternoon. I view the whole approach with unease born of past experience. It looks as though, once again, the nomination aspect of the operation has been hijacked by the executive. It certainly appears to have been hijacked by the Euro-elite and the pro-integration political parties.
That is exactly what happened when we had an assise in the late 1980s, in order to try to determine the future shape of Europe. Some said that more 32 democracy was needed, that matters should be returned to national parliaments, that subsidiarity should be made a reality, that repatriation of certain vital powers was overdue and that the European Union's methods belonged to the previous century—that is, we can now say, the 20th century—and were hopelessly centralised. Those views never had a chance. I hope that they will have now and that there may be at least one robust voice in our very small grouping going to the convention. My hopes are not high that that voice will be properly heard.
I remain bemused by the fact that the two Chambers of this ancient Parliament, which has a democratic legitimacy that goes back for hundreds of years, should have its voice narrowed down to so few Members in a convention at which, I understand, there will be 16 from the European Parliament, the democratic credentials of which have yet to be fully established in a way in which even its members would like. We look forward not to a more flexible pattern for a modern European Union, but to something that repeats what the traditional Europe-builders want. One need not be a Euro-sceptic, just a Euro-realist, to see the dangers of that.
The Bill fails to touch the huge, immediate and dangerous issue of the legitimacy and democratic structure of the European Union. Even its most ardent proponents and supporters realise that that is a great danger. On this side of the House, we say, "Good-bye" to the Bill without any enthusiasm. We hope that it will lead to wiser counsels but fear that it will not.
§ Lord Wallace of Saltaire
My Lords, we on these Benches thank the Government for their co-operation in passing the Bill. We do not share the sentiments of the Conservatives, who seem to see conspiracies in every aspect of European legislation.
I shall repeat what I said in Committee. There is, in the House, a Gresham's law of European debate. A certain tone of discussion of European legislation tends to drive out informed discussion of where we are going. I find that unfortunate. It is extremely important that from now on, as we move from this rather modest and disappointing Bill amending the EU treaty, we should have a more constructive debate about what is proposed for the next intergovernmental conference. We hope that the Chamber will find a means of following the progress of the convention that will be equally constructive. I hope that the Government will lead in that and that they will keep the House regularly informed, through Statements and publications, of how the debates are moving forward.
From these Benches, we will give every assistance in making sure that the debate is constructive and intelligent and does not treat all foreigners as if they were threats to this kingdom.
§ Lord Stoddart of Swindon
My Lords, in my view, the Bill should not have been brought before Parliament. As the noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford, said, the Irish people have rejected the treaty. Because of that, the treaty is, effectively, dead. 33 There is no need, therefore, for us to discuss the treaty, except, of course, to pressure the Irish people into voting differently in a future referendum, assuming that a future referendum is possible under the Republic's constitution. It is improper for Britain—in particular, Parliament—to be party to such pressure.
The treaty has been described as essential to enlargement, but, clearly, it is not. I wish that people would stop talking about it as if it were. Enlargement can proceed with or without the treaty. The Bill was rushed through the House of Commons in three days. That is a disgrace. That was completely unnecessary and completely undemocratic. I am glad that the House has been able to spend more time on the Bill, but it is farcical that the unelected Chamber should be able to discuss the Bill properly, while the elected Chamber was limited by guillotine to only three days. That cannot be right. I wish that the House of Commons would give some attention to that.
The treaty is important. There is no doubt about that. I shall not go into detail, but it takes important steps towards further European integration, including laying the foundations of a European government, foreshadowing a written constitution and setting up the nucleus of a military high command. There are some important things in it, and those are very important and vital matters.
I thank the Ministers and government spokesmen for their attention to the views of those taking part in debate for giving detailed replies to the many questions raised. I thank them also for their courtesy, good humour and tolerance. That was noted by the House and welcomed and appreciated by it. I am sure that, on that point at least, I speak for all Members of the House.
§ 4.30 p.m.
§ Lord Pearson of Rannoch
My Lords, I, too, say farewell to the Bill with some fear and trepidation. I agree with my noble friend Lord Howell that the Treaty of Nice is entirely bogus if it was intended to help with enlargement. Clearly it does not do that. Enlargement was merely taken as the excuse to strengthen the power of Brussels—of the European Union—against the sovereignty of the member states. It is extremely depressing that the acquis communautaire, the ratchet, has gone on grinding relentlessly towards the ever closer union of the peoples of Europe, as the treaties demand that it must.
§ Baroness Nicholson of Winterbourne
My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. Does he agree that the acquis communautaire was frozen for enlargement and that no additional directives have been put in? Because of the Treaty of Nice, enlargement can progress without further directives on the book.
§ Lord Pearson of Rannoch
My Lords, I was not referring to the aspects of the acquis communautaire to which the noble Baroness refers so much as the way in which the ratchet towards an EU megastate has moved 34 forward, in particular in the areas of a common legal framework, corpus furls, and other aspects of the treaty.
It is very simple: the European Union is dangerous for peace and irrelevant to trade. I would maintain that all those who support the European Union and the European dream do so from the basis of a fundamental belief that it is obviously good. They even dare to claim that it has had something to do with producing peace in Europe. They certainly believe that it will solidify and guarantee peace in the future, whereas I and others believe it to be a forced or premature conglomeration of different nations. Such conglomerations always end in disaster.
The Union is irrelevant to trade. European Union trade barriers are now down below 1 per cent and therefore leave us only with the Union's very dangerous political ambitions. For myself, I think that the best quotation of our debates came from the noble Lord, Lord Dahrendorf, on the Liberal Democrat Benches. He pointed out that the European Union would not qualify for membership of the European Union if it applied to itself for that honour. Nor indeed would it.
I fear that we must leave it there. I should also like to offer my thanks to the noble Baroness, Lady Symons, and her team for their unfailing courtesy in answering most of our questions. Very often those questions have been extremely detailed and I am afraid that they have also been boring questions. However, the devil is often in the detail—boring, but very important for the future of this country. Once again, I thank the noble Baroness.
§ Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean
My Lords, fundamental questions had to be faced by those European leaders who gathered at Nice to negotiate a treaty which would manage institutiional decision-taking in a Union almost twice as large as it is at the moment. Many of those issues went to the heart of national pride and to ideas about national influence.
Throughout our debates on the Brill, many have complained that the Treaty of Nice is not a pretty agreement and that it provides a botch-potch of solutions to the problems that have been raised. Yes, some of the solutions are inelegant, but from these Benches we would argue that inelegance is a small price to pay for making enlargement a success. Enlargement is an historic prize and I feel that it is important to remind ourselves of why enlargement is so big a prize for us all to focus on. Not only will it be the final nail in the coffin of the hugely damaging divisions between east and west, it will also actively contribute to peace and stability in Europe. Enlargement will certainly do that, although the noble Lord may doubt whether the Bill before us contributes to it.
Enlargement will consolidate democracy, good governance, the rule of law and respect for human and minority rights across our continent. Furthermore, it will mean that the biggest single market in the world will be formed, with increased prosperity for current 35 and new member states alike. It will also contribute to a greater co-ordinated effort against crime, terrorism, drugs and pollution. Those are all great ambitions, but they are ones that we believe will be taken forward with the treaty that we have been discussing.
It is a prize worth winning. We believe that it is our duty to ensure that the European Union is in a state to receive new members. The Treaty of Nice delivers the reforms that will enable us so to do.
Some noble Lords have relied on the argument that Nice contains certain provisions which are not directly related to enlargement, but I am bound to say that that does not affect the simple kernel of the argument; that is, that the Nice treaty is primarily—although I grant not exclusively—about the reforms that are necessary for enlargement.
The noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, mentioned in his remarks a few moments ago the issue of defence. I should like to make a point about that issue once more. It is absolutely vital that the Government make it plain once again that the security and defence policy is nothing to fear. It is a capability, it is not a permanent force or army and is designed to complement NATO, not to compete with it. There will be no rival structures and no competition over managing any operations. It is enormously important to put again on the record the fact that NATO remains the cornerstone of European defence.
A number of noble Lords have mentioned the Irish question. I fully anticipated that some noble Lords would do so and I say once again that the Government respect the outcome of the Irish referendum and it is clear that the Irish people certainly had concerns about the treaty and quite possibly about the EU in general. Clearly those needs will have to be addressed but, as I would remind noble Lords, the Irish Government agreed, along with all other EU governments, that following the referendum the ratification process should continue while they consider how those concerns should be addressed.
Now is the time to look forward. The Nice treaty has laid out plans for further reform. We have discussed the means by which we shall take questions forward. That is because when the noble Lord pointed out a few moments ago from the Front Bench opposite that the Bill failed to touch on what he described as the "crucial issue" of legitimacy in the European Union, I had some sympathy with those words. But then the Bill was not designed to discuss those crucial issues. That is the debate that is designed to be taken forward in the IGC in 2004. I stress to the noble Lord that, while we have set out in the declaration a number of indicative subjects, many of which we have addressed many times in your Lordships' House, they are subjects inter alia and thus may be added to, as we have discussed in this House when I have been questioned on that point.
It is the Government's view that Nice sets out on the road to positive reform. However, its main achievement is to deliver successful enlargement through sensible reform. That is not the price of enlargement, it is one of the benefits. The Government 36 believe that the Treaty of Nice is good not only for Europe but, indeed, that it is also good for the United Kingdom.
I, too, wish to thank all noble Lords who have participated in the debate. I thank those who have made tireless efforts to keep us all up to the mark. I make no distinction between those who are thought to be Eurosceptics, Eurorealists or Europhiles or those who object to those terms. I say to all noble Lords that they have worked enormously hard to thrash out the arguments. All have done so painstakingly and, I believe, driven by the genuine motive of the public good. Although at times our debates have been lengthy, they have been unfailingly good-humoured. I should like to thank in particular noble Lords on my own side for their support during the debates.
Finally, I should like to thank my Bill team. Long hours are no strangers to a Bill team. The team has provided me with timely ammunition as and when I have needed it. Often that has been delivered by a reassuring nod, sometimes by raised eyebrows or by a timely note. Essentially, they have been a source of enormous expertise not only, perhaps I may say, to the Government Front Bench but also to a number of noble Lords who have raised questions with them. They have been an exemplary Bill team and have done a truly splendid job.
I hope that, having held a great deal of debate on the Bill, noble Lords will agree that the Bill do now pass.
§ On Question, Bill passed.