Not Saussure: EU proposals on racism and xenophobia: worrying but not for the obvious reasons.
Earlier this year the Government agreed a deal with other European countries whereby prisoners who were foreign nationals would be returned home to serve their sentences – without the consent of the prisoners in question – and their home countries would be obliged to take them back.
On the one hand this would free up essential prison places in the UK, speed up transfer processes, and mitigate problems such as languages and visiting difficulties – although the latter aren’t provided for in the framework decision.
On the other hand this could lead to a situation where a British national could end up in prison in the UK for something that isn’t a crime in the UK – e.g. ‘Holocaust denial’, a crime in Germany and Austria, but not (yet) a crime here.
But I want to focus on this Government’s approach to, and policy on the scrutiny of, such agreements, and the position of the Executive relative to Parliament.
As the Chair, Michael Connarty (Linlithgow & Falkirk East, Labour) put it, they wanted her to explain,
why you agreed to a measure in the Council just days before it was due to be debated in a European Standing Committee and despite three separate letters from me, as Chairman, drawing to your attention the Committee’s view that doing this would amount to a breach of the spirit of the resolution of the House on the scrutiny of European business. As you know, such breaches are always taken most seriously by the Committee and we hope you will be able to explain why and how this came about on this occasion.
Ryan, of course, regretted the “lack of opportunity”, acknowledged the “considerable correspondence” on the matter, and had the “highest regard for the scrutiny process”, realised there “was possibly room for improvement in the handling and timing of the scrutiny process”, and by the way the dog ate her homework.
Interrupting a dreary ramble – Ryan’s m.o. – the Chair comments,
I think in the length of the answers we are losing some of the points we are trying to make. Can we move on?
Of course, there was plenty of opportunity – eleven weeks, Katy Clark (Ayrshire North & Arran, Labour) helpfully pointed out – notwithstanding the pressure from the Germans to speed it up, who Ryan seems to blame at one point.
Chairman: …you were offered a date that there appeared to be no barrier to on 5 February and this was declined by the Home Office. …
Ryan: There were three dates available, and, as I said, two of them it was impossible for Home Office ministers to make it to the debate, and this is all in the same week, and one of them, in the same week, it was impossible for the Committee [not this particular Committee, by the way, as the Chairman explains after Q46 in the transcript - ukliberty] as to accommodate. That is the situation. I presume the date you are referring to is one of those three dates, and I have been absolutely open with the Committee about that situation.
Chairman: The date given to us by the Chief Whip is one where there were no barriers, but suddenly the Home Office were unwilling to take the date for some reason. There were three options. On one side, one was difficult for our clerks to organise, one was difficult for the Home Office and the third one seemed to be acceptable but was then turned down by the Home Office. I cannot understand why, after all this breast-beating about respect for the Committee.
Ryan: Chairman, you will have to let me take that back. It is not my understanding. I say emphatically that my understanding is that there were three dates proffered. It is the case that for two of them Home Office Ministers could not be available and one of them the Committee could not accommodate, and I said that at the beginning. That is my understanding. We are not serial offenders in the Home Office. I pointed out earlier early on that we are very much not serial offenders, though there have been very few instances of the Home Office overriding the Scrutiny Reserve.
They are not serial offenders, though they have offended more than once…!
Now, let’s not be too hasty – the situation is “regrettable” and “there are lessons to be learned”. But Ryan cannot say she “made a mistake if I do not think it is the case”!
Aha, said Lindsay Hoyle (Chorley, Labour),
If there are no mistakes, what lessons can you learn? You cannot have it both ways. This is ridiculous.
Now now Mr Hoyle, surely it must be clear that, as Joan Ryan said,
To say that the process has not worked as well as we would hope or as we think it could, I do not think is quite the same thing as saying we made a mistake at some point. There are lessons to be learned. The process could work better.
To say I regret that the problems that have occurred is not in some way to not accept responsibility for the fact that a problem has occurred: an issue has occurred here.
But in my opinion the most important bit is this:
Chairman: If we [the Committee, representing Parliament] think it is a breach of scrutiny, it is not a breach of scrutiny?
Ryan: No, I do not think so. I do not accept that. As I understand it, the Cabinet Office, who are responsible for these issues in terms of whether scrutiny is breached or not, have said that we have not breached scrutiny in this case.
Chairman: That is the problem. You want the Executive to go on an Executive decision.
It is fundamental to the rule of law that no entity judges its own case.
We represent Parliament. We believe Parliament should have the say about what is right in Executive decisions. Who has primacy here, Parliament or another part of the Executive?
Joan Ryan: I think the role of Parliament is extremely important, which is why I said what I said about the importance of scrutiny. I understand the Committee represents Parliament.
The “role of Parliament is extremely important”?!!!!
Talk about understatement.
It seems to me that this is all too symptomatic of New Labour’s attitude.