Mr Deputy Speaker, on 24 March this year, Francis Paul Cullen was sentenced to 15 years in prison for a series of sexual assaults on children. He committed these offences over a period of more than three decades whilst serving as a priest in Nottingham and Derbyshire. His victims – both boys and girls – were aged between sixteen and six. The judge in this case said that ‘their whole lives have been blighted’ by this ‘cunning, devious, arrogant’ man. Indeed, one of them tried to take their own life.
When his crimes came to light in 1991, Cullen fled to Tenerife to evade justice.
European Arrest Warrant
Last year, after 22 years on the run – two decades of further suffering for his victims – he was extradited from Spain on a European Arrest Warrant. This spring he pleaded guilty to 15 counts of indecent assault, five counts of indecency with a child, and one count of attempted buggery. After a lifetime of waiting, watching in that courtroom in Derby, his victims finally saw justice done.
Mr Deputy Speaker, this harrowing case, and too many others like it, form the backdrop to today’s debate. Francis Cullen is just one of the despicable and cowardly criminals who have fled our shores to try and escape British justice. In an earlier age, he might have succeeded. Under the system of extradition which existed before the European Arrest Warrant – the 1957 European Convention on Extradition – his 22 years on the run would have rendered him immune from prosecution by the Spanish authorities, helping to bar his extradition back to the UK.
It is thanks to the European Arrest Warrant that Cullen is behind bars at last.
I know that many honourable Members have concerns about the way that measure has operated since the party opposite first signed us up to it.
I have shared many of those concerns.
That is why I have legislated to reform the operation of the Arrest Warrant and increased the protections we can offer to those who are wanted for extradition, particularly British subjects.
Honourable Members were concerned that British citizens were being extradited for disproportionately minor offences …
… so, firstly, we have changed the law to allow an Arrest Warrant to be refused in respect of minor offences. A British judge will now consider whether the alleged offence and likely sentence is sufficient to make someone’s extradition proportionate.
Honourable Members were concerned that people could be extradited for actions which were not against the law of this land …
… so, second, we have clarified the rules on dual criminality to ensure that an Arrest Warrant must be refused if all or part of the conduct for which a person is wanted took place in the United Kingdom and is not a criminal offence in the United Kingdom.
Honourable Members were concerned about Arrest Warrants being issued for investigatory purposes rather than prosecutions …
… so, the third issue we face is this one. We have legislated to allow people to visit the issuing State temporarily to be questioned ahead of an extradition hearing in the UK, if they consent to doing so.
Honourable Members were concerned about the prospect of people being charged with offences over and above those specified in their Arrest Warrant if they chose to consent to extradition …
… so, fourth, we have lifted the requirement that individuals lose their right to ‘speciality protection’ when they consent to extradition.
A number of Members – particularly my Honourable Friend the Member for Enfield North [Nick de Bois] who has spoken passionately about the case of his constituent Andrew Symeou – were concerned about people being detained for long periods overseas before being charged or standing trial …
… so the fifth change we made was to prevent lengthy pre-trial detention. No longer will people be surrendered and have to wait months or years for a decision to be made to charge or try them.
All of these provisions have been made in UK law, and will be commenced later this month. I believe they will make an important difference to the operation of the Arrest Warrant. And they are all changes that I have to say the party opposite could have made at any point during the eight years they oversaw it – but failed to do so.
That regrettable failure has, I know, coloured the views of many in this House – and beyond it – about the Arrest Warrant.
But it should not cloud the fact, so clearly impressed upon me – and to the Committees of this House – by the police and prosecutors who use it, that the Arrest Warrant is a vital tool for ensuring justice is done in this country, and for keeping the British public safe.
I take that responsibility as Home Secretary very seriously.
It underpins everything I have to say in today’s debate, and the process which has brought us here.
Before I go on, let me remind the House of that background.
When, without the promised referendum, the previous Prime Minister – the Right Honourable Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath – signed the United Kingdom up to the Lisbon Treaty, he ceded more powers to the European institutions and gave up our veto over police and criminal justice matters.
I think we got very little in return for that.
One of the few things we did get, from that flawed negotiation and that imperfect Treaty, was the option of opting out of all those police and criminal justice measures which had been agreed before the Lisbon Treaty came into force.
That opt-out had to be exercised en masse, and before the end of May this year. Following votes in both Houses of Parliament last year, that is exactly what this government did. That decision is irreversible, and will come into effect on 1 December this year.
From that date, we must either opt back in to the smaller number of measures which we think are vital to the protection of the British people and other victims of crime – or face an operational gap which will hamper the efforts of our police and law enforcement agencies.
Mr Deputy Speaker, when the Justice Secretary and I came to the House last July we explained that we had listened carefully to the views of our law enforcement agencies and prosecutors and concluded that a small number of the measures subject to the opt-out decision do add value in the fight against crime and the pursuit of justice, and that it would therefore be in our national interest to rejoin them.
We did listen to Honourable and Right Honourable Members and carefully considered the reports of the European Scrutiny Committee and the Home Affairs and Justice Select Committees before opening formal negotiations with the European Commission, the Council, and other Member States.
Good progress has been made and I am pleased to be able to report that we have reached an ‘in principle’ deal with the Commission on the non-Schengen measures which fall under their purview. And we have made good progress on the Schengen measures, with the outline of a possible deal now clear. This matter was discussed at the General Affairs Council on 24 June but technical reservations still remain. Discussions continue with the aim of allowing those reservations to be lifted.
So negotiations are still ongoing. But the Justice Secretary and I have been clear throughout that we would update Parliament, as is appropriate, and give Honourable and Right Honourable Members the opportunity to debate this issue and that is what we are doing today.
Last week, the government published a Command Paper – number 8897 – which includes the full list of measures that were discussed at the General Affairs Council, and impact assessments on each of those measures. It fulfils the government’s commitment to provide these impact assessments and further demonstrates our commitment to Parliamentary scrutiny of this matter.
I know that many were sceptical that a deal could be done. Many felt that that the European Commission and other Member States would force the United Kingdom into measures that we did not want to rejoin. But I am proud to say that we have been able to resist many of the changes demanded by others and have not been pushed into rejoining a larger number of measures. And we are clear that this is a good deal for the United Kingdom.
One of the measures that we have successfully resisted rejoining is Prüm – a system which allows the police to check DNA, fingerprint and vehicle registration data.
We have neither the time nor the money to implement Prüm by 1 December – so I have said that it would be senseless for us to rejoin it now and risk being infracted. And, despite considerable pressure from the Commission and other Member States, that remains the case.
We all want to see the most serious crimes – such as rapes and murders – solved and their perpetrators brought to justice. In some cases, that will mean the police comparing DNA or fingerprint data with other European forces. When 30% of those arrested in London are now foreign nationals, it is clear that this is an operational necessity. So these comparisons happen already – and must if we are to solve cross-border crime.
I would be negligent in my duty to protect the British public if I did not consider this issue carefully.
We cannot rejoin Prüm on 1 December, and will not seek to do so. But in order that this House can also consider this matter carefully, the government will produce a business and implementation case and run a small-scale pilot, with all necessary safeguards in place. We will publish that by way of a Command Paper and bring the issue back to Parliament so it can be debated in an informed way. We are working towards doing this by the end of next year
But the decision whether or not to rejoin Prüm would be one for Parliament. And, unlike when the party opposite signed us up to this measure it in the first instance – without any idea of how much it would cost, or how it would be implemented – the government will ensure that Parliament has the full facts to inform its decision.
I know that my Rt Hon Friend the Justice Secretary will want to address the situation regarding probation, another measure we have successfully resisted rejoining, in his closing remarks.
Measures we are seeking to rejoin
I want to turn now, Mr Deputy Speaker, to those measures that the Government proposes we should rejoin in the national interest.
We wish to rejoin the European Supervision Order, which allows British subjects to be bailed back to the UK, rather than spending months and months abroad awaiting trial. That will stand alongside the reforms we have made to the European Arrest Warrant and make it easier for people like Mr Symeou to be bailed back to the UK and prevent such injustices as his occurring in the future.
We are also seeking to rejoin the Prisoner Transfer Framework Decision, a measure considered important by my Honourable Friend the Justice Secretary, which helps us to remove foreign criminals from British jails. Prisoners like Ainars Zvirgzds, a Latvian national convicted of controlling prostitution, assault, and firearms drug offences. In April 2012, he was sentenced to 13 and a half years’ imprisonment in the UK. Last month he was transferred out of this country to a prison in Latvia where he will serve the remainder of his sentence. Had it not been for the Prison Transfer measure he would have remained in a British prison – at a cost to the British taxpayer of more than £100,000.
We wish to rejoin the measure providing for Joint Investigation Teams so we can continue to participate in cross-border operations such as Operation Birkhill. This collaboration with Hungary, funded by Eurojust and assisted by Europol, saw five criminals sentenced at Croydon Crown Court last month to a total of 36 years’ imprisonment for their involvement in trafficking over 120 women UK from Hungary, the Czech Republic and Poland.
One of those convicted, Vishal Chaudhary, lived in a luxury Canary Wharf penthouse and drove a flashy sports car bought from the money he made selling those women for sex. Chaudhary and his gang managed their operation from a semi-detached house on a suburban street in Hendon and operated more than 40 brothels across London including in Enfield and Brent. Their victims were threatened with abuse if they tried to contact their families. Some were forced to have sex with up to 20 clients a day.
These are the victims of crime which the measures we are debating today help.
Joint Investigation Teams are a vital tool in the fight against modern slavery, a crime which this House so passionately demonstrated earlier this week it wants to see tackled. So I hope it will support rejoining those measures which will help us do so.
We also wish to rejoin the Naples II Convention, the principal tool for customs co-operation. Operation Stoplamp, which used this measure to exchange vital information with our partners, resulted in the seizure of 1.2 tonnes of cocaine with a street value of around £300m. Again, an outcome I am sure everyone in this House will welcome.
We are also seeking to rejoin Europol – which played a key role in helping our law enforcement agencies fight those criminals who tried to exploit British customers by adulterating our food with horsemeat, and which is doing excellent work under the leadership of its British Director Rob Wainwright.
These are just a handful of the measures which I think illustrate why our participation in these measures is in our national interest. Today’s debate is not about the flawed Treaty which the last Labour government signed us up to – it is about the decisions that we must take to protect the public and keep the British people safe.
So, our position is clear – we have exercised the United Kingdom’s opt-out and have negotiated a deal to rejoin a limited number of measures which we believe it is in the national interest for us to remain part of.
But I wait with interest to see what will be the position of the party opposite today. It seems to change every time we debate this issue.
I’m sorry the Shadow Home Secretary isn’t here to tell us herself – but I’m sure the whole House is waiting to hear if the Opposition will finally tell us whether they would have exercised the opt-out they negotiated. Would they have remained bound by all 130 plus of these measures, rather than negotiating a limited number in the national interest?
Would they have changed the law – as we have – to increase the protections available to British citizens subject to an Arrest Warrant? Well, they had eight years to address that point but did nothing, so I think we know the answer to that question.
Would they have risked infraction proceedings and joined measures like Prüm without fully considering the facts? Well, they did so previously so I think we can assume that they would do so again.
I suggest that the Opposition do not share the determination of this party and this government to reduce the control Brussels has on our criminal justice system.
The Opposition’s position on Europe has always been the same: say one thing and do another. Make a manifesto promise to give the British people a say on the Lisbon Treaty, then refuse to hold a referendum. Say they will protect British red lines, but give up our veto in policing and criminal justice. Negotiate an opt-out and then vote against using that opt out.
That is a contrast with the position of this government. We support – and have exercised – the United Kingdom’s opt-out. We support the return of powers from Brussels to the UK. And we support acting in the national interest by rejoining a limited number of measures to protect British citizens and the victims of crime.
This is consistent with our approach to the Europe Union as a whole. The EU needs fundamental change and we want to lead the way in delivering that change.
The Prime Minister has repeatedly taken tough action to stand up for Britain in Europe by cutting the EU budget – saving British taxpayers over £8 billion – by vetoing a new EU Fiscal Treaty which didn’t guarantee a level playing field for British businesses, and refusing to spend British taxes on bailing out the euro.
And it is under this Prime Minister that Britain did not budge on the principle that it should be for the elected heads of national governments – not the European Parliament – to propose the President of the European Commission.
What I have outlined today Mr Deputy Speaker I think is another example of this Government standing up for the United Kingdom’s best interests –bringing powers back home whilst doing all we can to keep the British people safe.
That is the sort of leadership this country needs in Europe.