Oral statement delivered on Monday 15 October 2012
With permission, Mr speaker, I would like to make a statement on European justice and home affairs powers.
Under the terms of the Lisbon treaty, the government is required to decide by 2014 whether we opt out of, or remain bound by, all of those EU police and criminal justice measures adopted prior to the entry into force of the treaty.
The government is required under the treaty to reach a final decision by 31 May 2014, with that decision taking effect on 1 December. While this may seem a long way off, as with many EU matters the process of decision-making is a complicated one. We wish to ensure that before that point we give this house and the other place sufficient time to consider this important matter.
In total, there are more than 130 measures within the scope of the decision to be considered at this stage. A full list of the measures concerned was provided to the house on 21 December last year, and a further update was given on 18 September this year.
The government is clear that we do not need to remain bound by all of the pre-Lisbon measures. Operational experience shows that some of the pre-Lisbon measures are useful, some less so; and some are now, in fact, entirely defunct.
But under the terms of the treaty, the UK cannot pick and choose the measures from which we wish to opt out. We can only opt out en masse and then seek to rejoin individual measures.
So I can announce today that the government’s current thinking is that we will opt out of all pre-Lisbon police and criminal justice measures and then negotiate with the commission and other member states to opt back into those individual measures which it is in our national interest to rejoin.
However, discussions are ongoing within government and therefore no formal notification will be given to the council until we have reached agreement on the measures that we wish to opt back into.
Mr. speaker, this government, more than any other before it, has done its utmost to ensure that parliament has the time to properly scrutinise our decisions relating to the european union and that its views are taken into account. I can assure the house that the 2014 decision will be no exception. As the minister for europe has already told the house, the government is committed to a vote on this matter in both this house and the other place. We are also committed to consulting the european affairs, home affairs and justice select committees, as well as the european scrutiny committee and the european union committees, as to the arrangements for this vote.
I fully expect that these committees will want to undertake their own work on this important decision. The government will take account of the committees’ overall views of the package that the UK should seek to apply to rejoin. So that the government can do that, I would invite the committees to begin work, including gathering evidence, shortly and to provide their recommendations to government as soon as possible.
The government will then aim to bring forward a vote in both houses of parliament. The timeframe for this vote will depend on progress in our discussions with the commission and council. An update will be provided to parliament early in the new year on when we can expect the vote to take place.
Mr speaker, I hope that today I have conveyed to the house the government’s full commitment to not only holding a vote in this house and the other place on the 2014 decision but also on the importance we will be according to parliament in the process leading up that vote. I am sure that all parties will want to work together to ensure that the final decision is in the UK’s national interests.
Mr speaker, it is in the national interest that the government has taken this decision, and I commend this statement to the house.