Friday, 21 January 2011

More Jiggery-Pokery from Cameron?

In respect of the choice the government has to make with regard to the Justice and Home Affairs opt-ins in 2014, the following statement has been issued by the Foreign & Commonwealth Office:

Foreign & Commonwealth Office
Written Ministerial Statement
20 January 2011

Enhancing Parliamentary Scrutiny of European Union Business

Minister of State for Europe (David Lidington): The imminent annual report on EU Justice and Home Affairs has provided a useful point of reflection on current arrangements for Parliamentary scrutiny over Justice and Home Affairs decisions. The Government has come to the view that the current arrangements are not adequate and the Parliament has too small a role.

I am therefore pleased to announce that the Government has agreed an important package of measures to strengthen Parliamentary scrutiny of EU business, including in the important area of Justice and Home Affairs, to be elaborated and implemented in close consultation with the Business Managers and the relevant Parliamentary Committees. This Government is committed to upholding the right of Parliament to hold the Government to account on EU issues and this package will provide Parliament with further tools to enable it to do this job effectively.

The Treaty of Lisbon provides for a five-year transitional period after which the infringement powers of the European Commission and the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice (ECJ) will apply to all unamended police and criminal justice instruments adopted under the pre-Lisbon ‘third pillar’ arrangements.  The transitional period began on 1 December 2009 and will end on 30 November 2014.  The UK has until 31 May 2014 to choose whether to accept the application of the Commission’s infringement powers and jurisdiction of the ECJ over this body of instruments or to opt out of them entirely, in which case they will cease to apply to the UK on 1 December 2014.

Parliament should have the right to give its view on a decision of such importance. The Government therefore commits to a vote in both Houses of Parliament before it makes a formal decision on whether it wishes to opt-out.  The Government will conduct further consultations on the arrangements for this vote, in particular with the European Scrutiny Committees, and the Commons and Lords Home Affairs and Justice Select Committees and a further announcement will be made in due course. 

The Government is fully committed to rigorous Parliamentary scrutiny of opt-in and Schengen opt-out decisions in relation to new proposals from the Commission.  The Government will continue to honour the arrangements that are currently in place following the undertakings of the then Government Minister, Baroness Ashton, for enhanced Parliamentary scrutiny of JHA opt-in decisions. The Government will also will undertake to extend scrutiny of opt-in decisions with the following commitments.

Firstly, following the existing process of Parliamentary scrutiny of all JHA measures under Title V of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU), the Government commits to make a written statement to Parliament on each opt-in decision to ensure that Parliament is fully informed of the Government’s decision and of the reasons why it believes its decision is in the national interest.  Where appropriate and necessary, this statement may be made orally to Parliament. 
Secondly, the Government urges the Committees to take full advantage of their existing right to call a debate on an amendable motion on any opt-in decision and expresses its willingness to participate in these debates to ensure full transparency and accountability of opt-in decisions.

Thirdly, in circumstances where there is particularly strong Parliamentary interest in the Government’s decision on whether or not to opt in to such a measure, the Government expresses its willingness to set aside Government time for a debate in both Houses on the basis of a motion on the Government’s recommended approach on the opt-in.  The precise details of these arrangements to allow such debates and the circumstances in which Government time would be set aside will be the subject of further consultation with the European Scrutiny Committees, Business Managers and the Commons and Lords Home Affairs and Justice Select Committees.  These discussions will also need to determine how arrangements would operate during periods of parliamentary recess and dissolution of Parliament.  However, the Government believes that as a general rule, it would be appropriate to do so in circumstances where it proposes to opt in to a measure which would have a substantial impact on the United Kingdom’s criminal or civil law, our national security, civil liberties or immigration policy.  The Government will also put in place analogous arrangements for parliamentary scrutiny of decisions to opt-out of measures under the Schengen Protocol. 
As currently, the Government will not override the scrutiny process unless an earlier opt-in decision is essential.  Where the Government considers an early opt-in to be necessary, it will explain its reasons to Parliament through the statement set out above.  In these circumstances, it would usually be appropriate for the statement to be made orally. 

The Government is committed to strengthening its engagement with Parliament on all European Union business as part of our wider work to reduce the democratic deficit over EU matters.  It will review the arrangements for engagement on EU issues in consultation with Parliament, and make a further announcement in due course.

These measures will significantly strengthen Parliament’s oversight of EU Justice and Home Affairs matters and make the Government more accountable for the decisions it makes in the EU. 

I have discussed the terms of this statement with the Home Secretary and the Justice Secretary who agree with its contents."
Do note this statement:
"where there is particularly strong Parliamentary interest in the Government’s decision on whether or not to opt in to such a measure, the Government expresses its willingness to set aside Government time for a debate in both Houses on the basis of a motion on the Government’s recommended approach on the opt-in."
And just who decides whether and when there is particularly strong Parliamentary interest? Any "interest" by Conservative "Eurosceptic" MPs will soon be "sat-on" by the Whips! To avoid any future occasions whereby EU intentions in the area of Justice and Home Affairs arise, any opt-in should be subject to the approval of the people and a referendum should be held.

 Note also that the "Government expresses it willingness to set aside Government time for a debate" - which is damn kind of them. Wonder whether the Govenment will agree to allow the same amount of time that will be permitted for them to discuss any changes to IPSA and their own salary package?

With regard to the choice that has to be made in 2014, the Government commits to putting this to a vote of both Houses of Parliament, yet should not this commitment be part of the European Union Bill? We all know what political commitments and guarantees are worth - remember the promise of a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty? The particular MP who made that promise and who now resides in 10 Downing Street, like his colleagues does not have that great a track record on keeping his word.

One has to wonder how long it will take a member of the press - you know, those people that like to think they are journalists - to write cut & paste an article on this statement?


john in cheshire said...

Open Europe have a campaign on this matter. Thanks to them, I have sent an email to my MP, George Osborne, regarding his intentions.

IanPJ said...

Note: the use of the phrase "Where appropriate and necessary" allows the government to override any decision made either in the house or in committee, first introduced in Emergency Powers legislation in the lead up to WWI.

So yes, you are correct in your title of this post, it is more Jiggery-Pokery, smoke and mirrors.

WitteringsfromWitney said...

jic: remember that OE is a body that believes in the participation in Europe. Whilst they produce worthwhile 'papers', they are to a certain extent a disciple of Cameron.

IanPJ: More to come on "Where appropriate and necessary" - probably in a separate post.