Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page


Lord Harmar-Nicholls: My Lords, perhaps I may ask a question. Is the noble Lord saying that chief constables have no contact with Europol in carrying out their duties at home?

Lord Knights: My Lords, I am not saying that chief constables have no contact. Of course there is a lot of contact between chief constables and the criminal intelligence service. My point is that they are not involved in any way in its management. I believe that that is unique.

6 Jun 1995 : Column 1320

Coming back to the crimes with which Europol will deal, I am doubtful about one or two. I am doubtful about the inclusion of nuclear and radioactive substances and, more particularly, of terrorism, even with the possible two-year delay before terrorism is to be taken up. Your Lordships will be aware that the development of intelligence relating to terrorism is one of the statutory responsibilities of the security services in this country. They also handle crimes involving nuclear substances, and the convention's requirement that there should be one national unit to liaise with Europol would appear to require that the security services' data will need to be fed to the unit via the National Criminal Intelligence Service and vice versa, with the security risks that that might involve. Or is it thought, perhaps, that the two data banks should be combined in some way?

In a Written Answer of 16th May 1995 (at col. 191 of the Official Report for another place) the Home Secretary said:


    "If ... resources were available to the Security Service and if, within their statutory functions, a useful role were identified for them in support of the police ... in their work to counter serious crime, I would be ready to consider such proposals".

One wonders whether there is anything to be read into that in terms of fusing the security services and the criminal intelligence service.

Clearly, there is much to be done in the two years which are to be allowed, if the respective roles of the security service and the National Criminal Intelligence Service are to be satisfactorily reconciled in respect of the handling of terrorist crime.

Finally, like the noble Lord, Lord Bruce, I turn to Interpol. It is mentioned only briefly in the report. At paragraph 14, the Data Protection Registrar is quoted as stressing that,


    "Europol would be quite different in character from Interpol, which was based on operational arrangements among police forces without government involvement".

A Select Committee of another place, in a report on practical police co-operation in the European Community in 1990, described Interpol's principal role as being to act as a channel of communication, to send messages from the police of one country to those of another.

There is reason to think that Interpol is seeking to widen that role. For example, in an article in The Times on 26th May this year the director of the National Criminal Intelligence Service is reported as saying that Interpol is building up a database in respect of stolen motor vehicles, which should be running by the end of this year, covering 45 countries in Europe. That sounds remarkably like duplication. Interpol is very much its own creature. If it is developing databases of an intelligence nature, questions must inevitably arise as to its accountability.

I understand that this country's contribution to Interpol is included in the budget for the National Criminal Intelligence Service. No doubt the Minister will correct me if I am wrong on that point. Bearing that in mind, perhaps she will say whether the question of possible duplication is being addressed and whether, in the light of the establishment of Europol, the activities of Interpol within the European Community are still regarded as cost-effective.

6 Jun 1995 : Column 1321

The noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Donington, raised a question as to whether consideration had been given to using the European branch of Interpol rather than setting up a new organisation. The difference between the two organisations, as I see it, is that that Europol is very much controlled and very much accountable right up to the Council of Europe; whereas Interpol, as I understand it, is accountable to no one but itself. There is no political connection whatever with Europol. As I say, it is a creature of its own standing. I am quite sure that the committee was right when it agreed that Interpol does not serve a useful purpose in the field of which we are now talking.

We are seeing the birth of a most important joint venture, one that will be of great benefit to us all. I am sure that we should support the committee's recommendations.

7.2 p.m.

Lord Bethell: My Lords, it is very reassuring to find noble Lords unanimous in welcoming this new European enterprise. All noble Lords who spoke, including the noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Donington, welcomed the report—with the exception of certain details encapsulated by my noble friend Lord Aldington. It seems undeniable that, in an age where criminals do not respect frontiers, the police should be enabled sometimes to cross frontiers in the pursuit and apprehension of the criminal. Too often these days the police can be handicapped by the fact that a crime is planned in France by British miscreants, who then commit their crime in Belgium, carry away their ill-gotten gains to the Netherlands and dispose of them in Germany. The police forces of more than two countries can be involved in such a crime. Frequently the police are one jump behind the criminals simply because of the transfer of the action from one nation to another. It is that problem, that security deficit, that the creation of Europol is designed to overcome.

I should emphasise at the outset that in these remarks I have taken the advice of the Police Federation of England and Wales, which I advise over such issues. I understand that the Police Federation is in favour of the development of Europol along the lines suggested.

However, I have one particular query in this connection; namely, how will the officers of Europol who are British be represented as regards a professional body or association? Will they remain British constables, and therefore be represented by their federation, or will they be represented by some other body? I gave my noble friend notice of that question, and I hope that she will be able to inform me.

The scope of Europol has been well set out by the noble and learned Lord in his report. It is undeniable that it can at the moment have no operational powers. But its and analysis role will be exceptional. I do not believe that it can be rivalled, if it works as it should work, by any other organisation, and certainly not by Interpol. I do not believe that any other body would enjoy the confidence of the organisation that already exists in embryo in The Hague. I speak as someone who has been to The Hague and visited police and customs officers in that building. It is my impression that they work very well together, that

6 Jun 1995 : Column 1322

they have confidence in one another, and that they can get information from one another far more quickly than they used to do. Many arrests have been made already because of the swift exchange of information provided by that modest building in The Hague. Once Europol is fully under way, with information being provided direct to the central computer, it will be that much easier for criminals to be apprehended and for the police to go about their duty.

I know that there are fears about the power of this new organisation, although it is my impression that those fears are less felt in this country and more felt in countries such as Germany, the Netherlands and Belgium. The idea of some massive "Big Brother" of a computer containing all the information that there is to know about each one of us in the European Union is frightening to a number of people. Questions were rightly raised by previous speakers about how the great power of the new machine is to be controlled and to whom the body is to be accountable.

On the dispute, the disagreement, that arose between the majority and the minority in the noble and learned Lord's sub-committee, I have to say that I come down on the side of the majority. I think it normal that someone who has a grievance about how Europol has been working, who has not achieved satisfaction from a joint supervisory authority, and who takes the matter to the national court, should envisage the possibility of a reference, a search for advice, being made to the European Court of Justice. That can happen in practically any civil action that arises nowadays. It is undeniable, whether we like it or not, that the decisions of the European Court of Justice override those of national courts. It may well be that references to the ECJ in Luxembourg will have to be made from time to time in cases that are brought before national courts. I hope that not too heavy weather will be made of this process, and that it will be allowed to unravel itself in a normal way.

However, before those cases come to court, I hope that they can be tackled by normal parliamentary means. The report before us emphasises the view of the Home Office that individual cases can best be tackled by the national parliamentarians of the aggrieved individual. There is a fair amount of truth in this. But I should put forward a word for the European Parliament in this context. I know that the noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Donington, thinks that the European Parliament is totally useless, but there are times when the European Parliament can help and when an MEP can assist one of his or her constituents. In such questions as the third pillar, as in any other, the president of the home affairs Ministers appears before the Civil Liberties Committee of the European Parliament at least once every six months. Assisted by officials, he fields questions on anything that the members of that committee or other MEPs care to throw at the president in office. It is a forum for debate on third pillar issues which does not yet exist in national parliaments, so far as I know, or in another place. Does the noble Lord wish to intervene?


Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page