Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page


Europol: ECC Report

5.55 p.m.

Lord Slynn of Hadley rose to move, That this House takes note of the Report of the European Communities Committee on Europol (Tenth Report, HL Paper 51).

The noble and learned Lord said: My Lords, it is a considerable disadvantage to have to speak immediately after the forceful, engaging and elegant speech of the noble Earl. It is perhaps less of a disadvantage since we are not playing on the same fields.

The subject of the report that is referred to in the Motion standing in my name is of very considerable practical significance. It also has a procedural significance in that this is the first time that the Select Committee or one of its sub-committees has considered a convention proposed under Article K of the Treaty of Union which in this country is normally referred to as the justice and home affairs pillar. I am not sure whether pillars exist in other member states of the Community, but the adoption of that phrase is regarded as another English eccentricity.

The procedural significance is that Sub-Committee E has been able to look at the draft at a time when constructive criticism could be made. One always lives in hope that suggestions and criticisms that are made by the Select Committee will be listened to, and perhaps even taken into account.

This was a particularly unusual situation in that negotiation was still in progress and it was plain that changes would be made. Since our report a number of changes have been made in the provisional draft which the Minister was kind enough to let me see a few days ago. I do not propose to refer to more than one or two of those changes.

It is significant that a number of the articles in the draft convention are now blank because they are to be the subject of further negotiation at the Paris Council of Ministers. I hope that some of the things that we have said have an effect there.

Crime across frontiers has increased and seems likely to increase further. It has become apparent to everyone that it has to be dealt with in certain areas on a cross-frontier basis. The Maastricht Treaty contemplated that a proposal for a European police office (not a European police force) would be made.

The United Kingdom and Germany have supported that idea throughout. The proposal seeks to achieve an exchange of information between states in order to combat crime. The member states have already experimented in that area with a European Drugs Unit. That is based in the Netherlands and has made a very successful start. The committee, which I have the honour to chair, had considerable doubts about the legal basis of

6 Jun 1995 : Column 1308

the European Drugs Unit, but it has provided some experience upon which Europol, the police office, can develop.

It is accepted everywhere that from the police point of view it is important that all data, including sensitive data, should be available for exchange and analysis in respect of certain crimes, if criminals are to be caught. The director of our criminal intelligence service accepts the importance of the new proposals.

It is no less important to ensure that the citizen who wrongly and unjustifiably gets caught up in the system has protection and a remedy. It is also no less important that Europol should be accountable for what it does.

What is to be the task of this new office? Its task is to be limited to the exchange or collection, analysis and provision of information and intelligence. Despite earlier discussions, which, perhaps, were going in a different direction, it is not now proposed to give Europol any operational or enforcement powers. They will remain with national police authorities. The committee which considered the matter thought that that was right. Whether further powers should be given to Europol in the future will remain to be seen in the light of experience. The committee took the view that it might only be necessary to have operational powers if, one day, there is a body of European criminal law. That is something which will have to be looked at as time goes on.

I should like to deal briefly with three issues. The first is the question of how the information should be exchanged and who should have access to it for police purposes. Secondly, what crimes ought to be covered or ought to fall within the Europol remit? Thirdly, how should data, and especially sensitive data, properly be protected and what remedies should there be for the citizen who has been injured by the wrongful giving of inaccurate information?

I shall start with the first question, about exchange of information and access to it. As to the exchange of information, there is really no controversy. Each of the member states is to establish a national unit which will be the only liaison body between Europol and competent national authorities. In the case of the United Kingdom, that authority will be the National Criminal Intelligence Service. That unit in each stage will supply information to Europol to enable it to carry out its task. The information itself will be available to national units of other member states and to Europol.

What will really be important in the future is not just the information which is given; the analysis of the information will also be of very considerable significance. That analysis will be available to Europol and national liaison officers only when authorised. They will be authorised to receive it only when it is necessary for them to have it as part of the analysis of a particular project. In effect, it means that there are two rings: there is the outer ring of information which is not necessarily very sensitive and which will be obtainable by national authorities; and there will be an inner ring of sensitive information which will only be available on a need-to-know basis.

The committee considered that the "need to know" test which has now been accepted is a very important limitation and control. If information is to be given and if

6 Jun 1995 : Column 1309

there is to be access to the inner ring, it is important that it should be done speedily. It seems to the committee to be unsatisfactory that an order for opening a new file or for setting out the conditions upon which data can be communicated should require the approval of the management board set up by Europol. That board is required to meet only twice a year. It seems to the committee quite impracticable that such a board should have the final word. The committee recommended that there should be power of delegation either to a committee or to the director to take steps. In the revised draft convention, I have to say that a number of the articles relating to that kind of access and exchange of information are distinct improvements.

I turn now to the second question; namely, what crimes should be covered? It is clearly not necessary in the view of the committee that all crimes, however serious, should fall within the remit of Europol. It is only those crimes which have a trans-national effect—such as drug smuggling, vehicle crimes and illegal trade in radioactive and nuclear materials. There is no dispute in that respect. I am glad to see that money laundering has been added to the list of crimes by the latest negotiations.

On the face of it, it might seem that the most obvious crime to include in the list would be terrorism. In committee, we thought at first that that was something which ought to be included. However, we recognised that, because of the unusually sensitive information which may be held by member states in regard to terrorist activities, terrorism is in a special category. The committee eventually supported the compromise solution which had been arrived at, that terrorism should be included after a period of experience. I note that, although it was contemplated that that would be done within a period of two years, it is now recognised that it may be brought in earlier. As time goes on, I suspect that it will be necessary to consider whether other criminal activities should be included if the police are to be effective as a result of using the new system.

I turn now to the third question: how can the data be properly protected, and what remedy should there be for the citizen who has been injured by the wrongful giving of inaccurate information? As to the first part, it is important to bear in mind that the Council directive on data protection—which was debated in this House some time ago—will not apply to police data. It has always been contemplated that there would be separate provisions. Under the draft convention, each member state must implement in its national legislation a standard of data protection which is at least equivalent to that required by a data convention adopted by the Council of Europe for the protection of individuals and that it should also take account of a recommendation of the Council of Europe which is known as Recommendation R(87)15. The draft convention proposes that Europol will simply take account of those principles.

The Home Secretary, who was good enough to give evidence to the committee, accepted that that recommendation (which lays down very good standards for the police to follow) should be incorporated into the convention in language appropriate to such a document. However, he did not accept that the recommendation in its current terms should be adopted. We accept the attitude

6 Jun 1995 : Column 1310

that the Home Secretary has taken on the matter, but we consider that Europol should be bound by the same rules and should not simply have to take them into account.

Access to data by individuals has caused considerable discussion. It now seems that there is no agreed proposal in the convention. It is a matter to be negotiated in the Paris Agreement. We firmly took the view that it was quite wrong that Europol should have the right to refuse to produce information to the citizen about him or about his affairs if the effort to retrieve it was disproportionate to the data subject's stated interest. It seems to us to be critical that there should be a much more precise definition of when Europol can refuse to give information. The same is true of a provision that Europol may refuse to produce information if it is necessary to do so for the proper performance of its task. The committee has urged that such matters should be made more limited and more precise so that people will know where they stand.

Finally, there is the question of supervision as regards what is being done by Europol and by national authorities. This is most important. We strongly support the recommendation that there should be both a national supervisory authority, and a joint supervisory authority, to monitor the flow of information and complaints by citizens that their rights have been violated. If that does not work there must be a fallback position. It is the view of the committee that the citizen should have a direct remedy against national authorities and Europol in the national courts, but not in the European Court of Justice. If there is to be liability for the unauthorised or incorrect processing of personal data the citizen should have the right to go to the national court.

That leaves two important questions. Is it desirable that this convention should be interpreted in the same way in each of the states a party to the convention? What is to happen if member states are in dispute as to the interpretation or application of the convention? It seems right and necessary in principle that an international treaty, like any contract, should be interpreted by all the parties in the same way. They have agreed the words, and cannot possibly have intended that they should have as many different meanings as there are parties to the convention; otherwise, there is little point in agreeing the convention at all. It is absurd that a British subject suing here should be told that the convention means one thing but that if he goes to sue in a Greek, Danish or Portuguese court he will be told that it means three other quite different things. That necessarily involves a body, court or tribunal giving an authoritative ruling. If this convention fell under the Community pillar there would be no problem. It would come within Article 177 and national courts could make a reference to the European courts. Prima facie, under Article K the jurisdiction of the European court is excluded, though it is provided that conventions under the home affairs and justice pillar may stipulate that the Court of Justice shall have jurisdiction to interpret the provisions of the convention and to rule upon them in such a way as is laid down in the convention.

The majority of the Select Committee and Sub-Committee E took the view that for purely practical reasons it was desirable that there should be power to refer the matter either to the European court or an independent

6 Jun 1995 : Column 1311

tribunal for an interpretation to be given to apply across all the member states concerned. The minority of members of the committee believe that, despite the clear words of Article K which provide for jurisdiction, to give jurisdiction to the European court is contrary to the spirit of the Maastricht Treaty. I suggest that conventions made under the justice and home affairs pillar need to be looked at on a case-by-case basis. There should not be any dogmatic rule either that they should or should not give jurisdiction to the European court.

Despite that, the difference of view between the majority and minority is not to be blown out of proportion. There is a difference which we have set out in our report. The majority were firmly of the view that it was desirable to have uniformity of interpretation, and that even if most disputes would be settled in the national courts, the management board, or between member states in the Council, there was a need for a fallback position. I am glad to see in the last sentence of the Government's response that, even if they are not convinced that a reference to the European court or an independent tribunal is needed, they will consider the committee's recommendation further in the context of the continuing discussion. It is that kind of undertaking that makes the work involved in these reports worthwhile. In particular, I desire to pay tribute to our legal adviser, Mrs. Denza, her assistant, Mr. Ivan Smith, and our clerk for the work that they have done. I beg to move.

Moved, That this House takes note of the Report of the European Communities Committee on Europol (Tenth Report, HL Paper 51).—(Lord Slynn of Hadley.)

6.15 p.m.

Lord Aldington: My Lords, I start by thanking the noble and learned Lord, Lord Slynn, for the way in which he has introduced this debate with his usual clarity and pleasing method of delivery. He will not be surprised if I say that I have one difference and a few points to make later in my speech about his closing remarks. The noble and learned Lord conducted this inquiry in a masterly way. He handled those of us who had the honour to be members of his committee—I was co-opted onto it—in an excellent way. We had a full set of evidence which enabled the Committee to produce a worthwhile report.

Like many other debates on European Union (formerly European Community) matters, this discussion takes place at a time when my noble and right honourable friends are engaged in intricate negotiations on this subject. I am sure that in the past we have all had that in mind and we have it very much in mind at the moment. I hope that I shall say nothing that will embarrass my noble friend. I join the noble and learned Lord in thanking my right honourable friend the Home Secretary for taking the trouble to come to give evidence to the Committee. He argued his point in a lucid, impressive and powerful way.

The establishment of Europol is a practical example of ever closer union in Europe as a result of intergovernmental co-operation. Police co-operation is necessary and must be based on the full exchange of up-to-date information and intelligence in secure conditions by the authorities concerned. In that way they

6 Jun 1995 : Column 1312

can tackle cross-border criminal activities that threaten all of us and presage an increased threat if we do not tackle the situation properly. The sooner the full Europol system can be established the better for everyone in the European Union.

It is worth while seeking, and getting, full agreement of all member states, who have different systems of criminal law and traditions, to the details of the system and the safeguards of private citizens which the noble and learned Lord has emphasised, as indeed we all emphasised in the committee. I for one do not complain about the time that has been taken. I do not complain yet, though I shall if the matter is still unresolved in the latter part of the year. I hope that by the end of the current French presidency all that has to be resolved will be resolved.

The noble and learned Lord reminded us of one or two points on which it might be possible to review the situation later. That is true of the points that he has made and is also true of the points about the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice, to which I shall refer later.

With regard to timing, in view of the current arguments about what should be done at the IGC in relation to the pillars, I do not believe that the Commission could have secured earlier agreement on Europol matters had the issue been communitised because there are problems to be sorted out between differing member states. Meanwhile, the Europol Drugs Unit can do and is doing good work. I accept the points made in the Government's reply about the validity of that unit. I applaud the agreements that have widened the unit's original remit so that it can be a precursor to Europol. We must accept that, even if we obtain an agreement to the convention in the middle of this year, it will take a number of months before Europol can be fully established. That is clear from the wording of the treaty; and it is clear from an understanding of reality.

Europol will have no operational powers. Those remain with member states, each supplying and having access to information and intelligence gathered on a European Union basis. It seems to me to be in the nature of the third pillar activity of the European Union, Article K, that member states retain responsibility for operational action and help each other to operate more successfully. It therefore follows that citizens seeking redress, whether against their government or against Europol, for any damage that they allege they suffer should seek it from member states using their legal system. The recommendations in paragraph 104 of the committee's report are along those lines. Although in its latest form Article 35 does not follow that argument exactly, it meets my point.

Redress is sought, rightly, in national courts. Any member state found liable may be able to make a claim on another or on Europol. If and when disputes arise, how will they be settled? Article 35 provides for the settlement in the first place by the Management Board or the Council. Our report examines whether the European Court of Justice should have jurisdiction to settle disputes of interpretation or implementation of the convention or disputes between member states. That is clearly set out in paragraph 109.

6 Jun 1995 : Column 1313

I say that the argument is clearly set out. The majority view is clearly set out. My noble friend Lady Carnegy of Lour and I parted company with the remainder of the sub-committee and with the majority of the Select Committee. Our arguments are fully set out on pages 36 to 39 in the report. They are not part of the report; I wish that they were. I hope that the House will take as much note of those arguments as of the recommendation in paragraph 109.

As noble Lords will understand if they read those pages, my noble friend and I were trounced by the lawyers. We were trounced again in the Select Committee, where the arguments received some support. However, we both venture to suggest to the House that we might be right and that the others might be wrong. In our view there is no case for providing now—I emphasise "now"—for the involvement of the European Court of Justice in this convention. It was eloquently and clearly argued by the noble and learned Lord that uniformity in interpretation is desirable; indeed, it is said that it is important. I would say that it is desirable and important if other factors are equal but it is not essential. Differing national traditions should not be trampled upon unnecessarily.

If some member states' courts were to interpret the convention in a maverick way, the Council or the Management Board is there to sort out the problem, as the noble and learned Lord said. If that course failed—it would be some years before it failed—the Council could meet again to decide whether the European Court of Justice or an independent tribunal might be necessary. But such a tribunal is not necessary today. If the arguments about the issue were to delay the signing in June of the agreement to the convention, it would damage an issue which really matters to the Community. Therefore the case on uniformity does not seem to be proved.

There is another kind of uniformity which is equally as important and certainly equally as desirable. It is that all citizens of the United Kingdom should have the same right of redress in police data matters whether or not Europol is involved. The European Court of Justice should not be put in a position to overrule British courts where Europol is involved and to have no say where Europol is not involved. The noble and learned Lord stated that there was a strong practical argument for the European Court of Justice to be given jurisdiction in the convention when it is first signed. For practical reasons that is not so. The Council is there to ensure that members observe the convention, and it should not be assumed that it will not succeed. Nor should it be assumed that if the European Court of Justice were to have jurisdiction every member state would immediately follow the course that the Court decided was right. That is one of the problems of today's European Union.

Nor should it be assumed that in all conventions and treaties between member states outside the Treaty of Rome a special tribunal to settle disputes must be provided for. There is no such provision in the Schengen Agreement among six member states on open borders—an agreement which also has police data implications—and it seems to work perfectly well.

6 Jun 1995 : Column 1314

I hope that agreement to the convention will not be held up by arguments about the European Court of Justice jurisdiction which are not immediately relevant to today's problems. In principle, I believe it right to keep the two new pillars away from the European Court of Justice, at least at this formative stage when intergovernmental co-operation has to prove itself. A strong case has to be made for the necessity of providing European Court of Justice jurisdiction; and that does not exist here, in the opinion of my noble friend Lady Carnegy of Lour and myself.

Furthermore, as your Lordships know, the Select Committee is inquiring into matters for the 1996 Inter-Governmental Conference, including the working of the two pillars and the European Court of Justice implications. Should we not wait until we have been able to consider anything that the IGC report may say in regard to the European Court of Justice and the home affairs and justice pillars?

Looking back upon my unusual obstinacy in face of the opinions of many colleagues I deeply respect, I have a procedural suggestion to offer to the House. It relates to occasions when differences of opinion occur in Select Committees on points of political importance which have been in the mind of the House in its agreement to major Bills such as the European Communities (Amendment) Bill passed in 1993. In that Bill and in the Maastricht Treaty which it ratified the independence of the two new pillars from the institutions of the Community other than the Council was fundamental, with the treaties spelling out suitable provisions. The noble and learned Lord was quite right to remind the House that there is provision for the European Court of Justice having jurisdiction where it is so decided in Article K matters. Would it not be wise to allow a Select Committee simply to set out the conflicting arguments and points of view, without any need for a recommendation? The House can then make up its mind on major matters which have been in front of it in quite recent months.

My final words relate to the scrutiny by national parliaments of the work of the third pillar, where the House has been enormously helped by the leadership given to it by the noble and learned Lord and his committee. This inquiry, so well led by him and well supported with evidence and documents from the Home Office, shows how this House can be informed of the progress of policy and convention creation and can express useful opinions which the Government can have in mind in further negotiations. We shall in due course be asked to ratify the convention and at that stage we shall have no power of amendment. But today, and through this valuable report, we have an opportunity to influence and to help to mould it. That is important for us in our duties within the United Kingdom constitution, but it is also an important consideration when it is argued, as it will be, that the third pillar is undemocratic and non-accountable and that it should be more accountable to the European Parliament. The accountability of Ministers in the Council is to their national parliaments and this debate, in a long line of others, helps, does it not, in the implementation of that accountability.

6 Jun 1995 : Column 1315

6.32 p.m.

Lord Bruce of Donington: My Lords, I should like to pay my tribute to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Slynn, and his sub-committee—to him for the way in which he has introduced the Report to the House and to the sub-committee for the way in which they have presented it. I myself was not a member of the sub-committee—I did not have that honour or pleasure—but I can assure your Lordships that, although I was not present during the giving of the evidence, I have read thoroughly through it since and am familiar with that evidence.

This report has perhaps a rather greater significance than its necessarily academic flavour must have given it, particularly when you have the presence of so many lawyers involved in its production. However, there can be no doubt that the subject matter of the report is of great importance to all our citizens. There are very few areas of our society, in terms of the gradation of society, rich and poor, or in terms of the location in which we happen to live or work, that are immune, for example, to the effects of international crime, particularly in the field of drug trafficking.

This is something which, indirectly or in many cases directly, affects us all. If that be the case, so much more must it be with the trends that have become more inevitable and more pressing since the break-up of the Soviet empire: the traffic that has grown up in radioactive substances, in the disposal of nuclear material, as well as of more commonplace crimes which are again organised internationally in the field of car theft, the theft of goods in transit and matters of that kind. Last, but not least, I would include in the list illegal emigration. So let us make no mistake: what we are talking about today is not something of pure academic or legal interest. These are matters of the utmost importance to us all.

It is particularly important, as we are bound to know, for those in the United Kingdom and indeed in Europe who are entrusted with the enforcement of laws and the arrest and trial of criminals, because, unless they have adequate information, adequate intelligence and adequate analysis available to them, their task is made so much more difficult. Therefore, one must inevitably support wholeheartedly the endeavours that are being made to aid those honoured citizens of ours who, despite reductions in their numbers on the beat for totally different reasons, are entrusted with the enforcement of the law and the apprehension of criminals. So far so good: therefore the purposes of the convention and indeed of the agreement between states, as instanced in the case of Germany in 1993 concerning the Interpol drugs unit, must command the support of all.

But, having said that, I am bound to go, as an accountant, back to the initial considerations of this convention. Many of us forecast—I claim no particular credit for myself for having done so—that, with the abolition of internal frontiers on the scale that was proposed immediately following Maastricht, and indeed before it, this problem was bound to arise. The abolition of international frontiers, which from a trade point of view obviously had its advantages, nevertheless had its downsides. This is one of them and it is noteworthy that Germany should be the principal nation in the European Union to urge this forward, because it was across

6 Jun 1995 : Column 1316

Germany's eastern borders that much of the illegal material began to flow. Indeed, even international drug rings now have a route via Germany and via those parts of the frontier that are far easier to cross than taking, say, Eurostar to Waterloo or crossing the English Channel.

Inevitably, therefore, this matter came under the influence of Germany, and so we have the convention. It is perhaps unfortunate that we have not yet got an agreed version. We are still discussing a convention to which further amendments are still being received, or so I understand from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Slynn. He will be well aware that what I have said applies also to the agreement achieved between member states in regard to the Interpol drug enforcement unit. From the practical standpoint I have to ask whether, in considering this problem, any thought was given to the European branch of Interpol. After all, Interpol is an organisation on an international scale that has very great experience in these matters. I am quite sure that those of your Lordships who have any experience with an organised police force—and my own Front Bench is replete with these—will be able to testify that Interpol has been of enormous assistance.

I may not have been able to go through all the evidence in detail, but I can find no suggestion anywhere that the improvement of the European branch of Interpol was considered. I shall be very glad if some information can be given about that. After all, Interpol has a proven track record. I should have thought that there would be an initial assessment as to whether the European branch of Interpol and its functions could have been extended to cover these matters rather than relying on the establishment of a new organisation confined to Europe.

I do not wish to be misunderstood. I am not against the foundation of the organisation which is laid out in the convention or of the Europol Drugs Unit. However, I am curious to know whether that possibility was explored, because cost comes into this. As an accountant I hesitate to bring to the attention of the Government, who are so bent on economies in public expenditure, the necessity for viewing any increases in expenditure with the utmost degree of scepticism. The establishment of such an organisation, with its management committee, liaison officers, data processing requirements and staff will not come cheap. I do not believe that the British contribution, in terms of a percentage of national income, will present overwhelming financial problems, but the costs ought to be considered. It would not have been out of order for the Government themselves to have made some estimate of costs when they presented the convention to us with its explanatory memorandum. We should like to know roughly what the cost will be.

It is quite clear that the operation of the new Europol, relying as it will on recording probably 90 or 95 per cent. of the information it receives in the form of computerised items, will involve some degree of data protection. That has already been dealt with very adequately by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Slynn. But it remains a problem. In the course of the operations of the new Europol, some injury may occasionally be done to the individual. As the report brings out and its recommendation makes clear, in those circumstances redress should be available. Such

6 Jun 1995 : Column 1317

cases will probably be exceptional, but provision ought to be made for injured parties to be able to obtain suitable redress.

This is where the whole question of interpretation of the law is extremely important. I have taken note of the arguments produced by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Slynn, with whom I have often argued on a totally different plane. Nevertheless, the provisions of the treaty remain. The provisions of the treaty are not there as a matter of accident. The two pillars of foreign affairs and defence under Title V and the provisions under Title VI of the Maastricht Treaty were included quite deliberately. They mark the agreement of the member states that they do not want one universal writ to rule under the aegis of the Commission but want a degree of co-operation between member states without the impact of the influence of the Commission.

I like to think, perhaps modestly, that the remarks that I have made over the years on the question of international civil servants may have had some impact. There are two types of international civil servant. There is one type which consists of persons who conceive it to be their main purpose to carry out the instructions they have been given and to do so loyally and efficiently to the best of their ability. There is another type of international civil servant, from whom the tendency to desire to increase their power may not be entirely absent, which consists of people who see matters in institutional terms and regard their main role as the extension of their power rather than following the purposes of the nation states which comprise the Union. No names, no pack drill—but if the cap fits in any part of the Community it can be worn.

In this matter I support the Government. Indeed, somewhat unusually, I support the noble Lord, Lord Aldington. Those pillars should remain intact. We must maintain the principle of co-operation, rather than the principle of ever-increasing centralisation, which has been brought out once again by the Commission's own plans for the revisions which are to take place under the IGC. Although I shall not quote from the document now, it is clear that the Commission is bent on revising Titles V and VI in order that it may become fully involved, rather than retaining the existing position fortunately agreed by the member states to co-operate with one another rather than to submit, albeit after argument, to a quasi-supranational authority.

Exactly the same principle applies to the resistance by the Government to the Court of Auditors being brought in to the audit of expense. The Court of Auditors is an institution of the European Community. It is not perhaps known that, if the Court of Auditors becomes involved in auditing the accounts and finance of the new convention and its association of member states, it remains subject to the Community's financial regulations under which it has to take into account at all times the wishes of the Commission. Therefore, the Government are wise to resist that proposal. I cannot find any reason why the Government's attitude on that matter should not be supported.

As I said at the outset of my remarks, we still do not have the final version of the convention. I must address the noble Baroness on this question. In the course of the evidence there was a suggestion by the Home Office that

6 Jun 1995 : Column 1318

a document placed in the Library of the House could not properly be quoted until it had been published in another fashion. That, together with a quotation from her department's correspondence, appears on page 30 of the evidence given before the Committee. I made inquiries of the Clerk of the House and am told that that suggestion is incorrect. Once a document is in the Library it becomes public property at the hands of any Member of the House. I hope that some clarification may be given upon that point.

That apart, I give the report a hearty welcome. I congratulate the noble and learned Lord, Lord Slynn, despite my marginal difference with him in agreement with the noble Lord, Lord Aldington. I hope that in due course your Lordships' House may give the matter even further and more detailed consideration when the final proposals are known.

6.49 p.m.

Lord Knights: My Lords, I, too, begin by thanking the noble and learned Lord for providing the House with the opportunity to consider one of the products of the European Union. As the noble Lord, Lord Bruce, said, it will undoubtedly be of considerable benefit to many people in this country. He and his colleagues deserve our thanks for the work they have put in, for producing such a comprehensive and illuminating report, and for exposing some, if not all, of the problems involved in establishing a joint venture of this kind. Speaking personally, I support many, if not all, of the report's conclusions, but there are one or two on which I wish to comment.

Co-operation between police forces of this country and those overseas has necessarily existed for many years; in fact long before the Trevi organisation referred to in paragraph 9 of the report. It was set up in 1976 and was concerned at the outset with co-operation at an operational level against terrorism and other serious crime. It was 1990, however, before the Trevi group of Ministers was given the task of developing concrete proposals for a Europol organisation.

There is clear evidence, I believe, to indicate that the time has long since passed when an effective Europol should have been created. Motor cars, for example, were disappearing off the streets of Birmingham and reappearing somewhere on the continent of Europe well over 10 years ago. Your Lordships may agree that had the European Council of Ministers not authorised the steps it has in advance of a properly established convention—a fact which the committee finds unsatisfactory—then the position in relation to serious crime within the Community might well be more threatening than it currently is.

It is to be hoped, therefore, that the present intention, which I believe is to secure the signing of the convention at Cannes later this month, will be realised and that the necessary legal acts required by the convention will quickly follow. Until they are all in place, presumably everyone concerned with Europol will be acting in a way which will be contrary to the requirements of the convention, with whatever consequences that might have. But it is imperative, I suggest, that the present atmosphere of indecision, which must inevitably hamper the work of

6 Jun 1995 : Column 1319

the unit in seeking to combat the burgeoning problem of criminal activity within and without the Community, should be removed.

The creation of any new system of records—whatever its contents—almost inevitably arouses suspicion and fear of misuse. Clearly the protection of the data held by Europol, subject access to that data, and the general accountability of the organisation for its policy and methods of operation are extremely important. The committee's conclusions in that respect should, I believe, be found generally acceptable.

Your Lordships might be surprised, however, that similar detailed requirements do not seem ever to have been debated in respect of this country's link to Europol; that is to say, the National Criminal Intelligence Service which commenced operations on 1st April 1992. Its position is unique in that while police forces are locally established and maintained, the National Criminal Intelligence Service is established by the Home Secretary, using his powers under Section 41 of the Police Act 1964 to provide and maintain common police services. Its director general is accountable directly to the Home Secretary who appoints him. Chief constables are not involved in any way in the management and organisation of that unit. It is the first time, I believe, that responsibility for what most people would regard as an operational responsibility has been assumed by a politician. But this is not the time or the place to debate that issue.

Your Lordships may agree that there are parallels here with the security services. One wonders whether the time may come—indeed may already have come—when there should be established a committee on the same lines as the Intelligence and Security Committee to oversee the policies and activities of the National Criminal Intelligence Service. Perhaps that is the role which will be performed by the national supervisory body which we shall be required to set up to monitor data exchange with Europol. The constitution of such a body seems rather sketchy at the moment and perhaps the Minister will be able to tell us later this evening a little more about what is proposed as regards the national supervisory body.

I turn now to the role and remit of Europol. I very much share the committee's view that Europol should not take on an operational role, for all the reasons advanced by the committee in paragraph 84. Last year, during the passage of the Police and Magistrates' Courts Bill, your Lordships persuaded the Government that policing should remain clearly local in nature. I believe that that is still the correct attitude, however serious the crime may be. As to the crimes with which the unit should be involved, again there can be little argument with the provisions of Article 2 of the draft convention and the annex to it.


Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page