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Lord Graham of Edmonton: My Lords, perhaps I may crave the indulgence of the House to make one comment. Like many of my colleagues I was waiting somewhat impatiently for the conclusion of the business in respect of Northern Ireland. But I delayed just a moment or two and my ears pricked up when this business began.

I have a son aged 40 who has a medical condition called myotonica dystrophia which causes him difficulties. He is registered at Loughton unemployment exchange. They are very helpful to him and he, I can assure you, is very keen to work. He wanted to attend a course but before he could be accepted and take up training he needed to qualify and pass an examination. He failed by not obtaining the 50 marks required; he obtained 48. He does not have a jobseeker's allowance because, by prudence, he has sufficient moneys which he declares and which prohibit him from receiving that allowance.

My question to the Minister is that when he and his colleagues are looking at ways in which one can take account of, and encourage, people who are genuine, who want the opportunity to work and who accept that there needs to be training, perhaps they should consider showing tolerance at the lower level and agree that the lower level needs to be reduced or ensure so that in some way discretion is applied. My son was simply told that he had failed the entrance examination and that was the end of the matter. It was not the end of the matter for Martin, I can assure you. He was advised, at one stage, that office skills would be useful to him and he has taken courses in computer studies, among other things, at the technical school near our home.

Perhaps the Minister and his colleagues will look closely at those near the borderline. Wherever the line is drawn there will be some near to it. I understand that standards need to be set. There are so few places and so many applicants that one has to be harsh. But if the Government are opening up what I call a new seam of those who are willing to work and want to be trained, perhaps they can look at that aspect. I shall be glad to furnish the Minister and his colleagues with further details.

Lord Whitty: My Lords, I very much appreciate the general welcome for these moves reflected in the speeches of all noble Lords who have contributed to the debate. Clearly this is part of an overall strategy. The noble Lord, Lord Higgins, raises perhaps one of the important points of the strategy: the balance between those over 25 and those under 25.

We have always made it clear that the whole welfare-to-work strategy is to increase the opportunities for all those who are currently on welfare to move into jobs. We made a start with the 18-24 year-olds because

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we believed that they were the group most seriously affected by under-skilling. If they do not start at that age attaining skills which they have somehow failed to attain during their formal education, they will become an even bigger problem in later years. It is also true that although long term unemployment among the under-25s has fallen, it remains at about twice the national average. They are therefore still the highest priority group, even on a statistical basis.

The amendment regulations we are discussing are only part of the measures that will be available to people in the over-25 group. The total package of measures will provide a range of help and advice and a coherent approach to addressing employment and training needs for the over-25s. As we announced in the Budget, we have made available £450 million from the windfall tax for the New Deal for long-term unemployed adults. The allocation will change over time but the priority is still with the under-25s, although we are beginning to shift more resources to the over-25s.

The noble Lord, Lord Higgins, also raised the question of the numbers participating in the education training part of the package. The figure of 10,000 has been quoted. That is probably an under-estimate. We have effectively talked about £23 million on the basis of 10,000 people studying for nine months. In practice, the average length of course is likely to be less than nine months. Therefore, that will be interpreted with some flexibility. We believe that many courses will be shorter than that and therefore the figure will be larger. But that is, broadly speaking, the ball park figure about which we are talking. Between 10,000 and 15,000 people seriously lack skills and have been unemployed for two years at a relatively adult age of over-25.

In terms of the total provision for the over-25s, we have effectively provided 70,000 new opportunities for adults reaching the 12 and 18 month point of unemployment. Those pilots will provide individually tailored help and support for those aged 25 and over. They follow from the provision for the under-25s and the other provisions which were started under the previous government and which we have expanded. Noble Lords will be familiar with the categories: the employment subsidy, work in the voluntary sector, job-related training and help into self-employment, part of which is covered by these regulations.

The noble Earl, Lord Russell, asked why courses were only of one year. We do not want too much of a crossover between the provision of welfare to work and the provision of what are effectively long-term student courses. The prime aim of the jobseeker's allowance is to help people into work. There is a balance between relaxing the labour market rules of the JSA and encouraging people to take up jobs. One year at this

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stage seems to us the right balance. We will, of course, review matters as we move through delivering the New Deal.

Earl Russell: My Lords, I thank the Minister. Will he consider the possibility that the key dividing line should perhaps be the words "employment related" rather than the length of course?

Lord Whitty: My Lords, unfortunately, I think one has to specify both. We are talking about priorities here and what courses we would relax the JSA rules for without moving into a situation where JSA is still applied to people who are effectively in full-time education, whatever their age. I think that probably the one year cut-off is sensible. I appreciate that there will be situations like the one mentioned of the furniture maker where this seems a little unfortunate. There has to be a cut-off. The key cut-off is certainly that they are employment-related courses. But there has to be a division also between what we are doing to encourage people off welfare into work and what we are doing to encourage people at a later age to move into full-time education, as such.

The noble Earl also raised the question of whether the two-year unemployment threshold was appropriate in all the circumstances. Again, we are talking of priorities. Clearly there will be people who have been unemployed for less than two years who will be looking to improve their employability through improved skills. This measure, however, addresses people who are over 25, who are adults and who may well have family responsibilities, and who have been out of the labour market for over two years. Such people are our priority among that group at this stage. That is why the relaxation of the 16-hour rule and the other rules relating to it have been prioritised and that is why it is not a general relaxation.

Both the noble Earl, Lord Russell, and my noble friend Lord Graham referred to specific cases. In respect of the case about which the noble Earl notified the department earlier today, I must advise him that we are not sure of the details of the case. Perhaps I may give some clarification. The regulations will allow those who are 25 and over and who have been unemployed for more than two years to take full-time education and training while remaining on jobseeker's allowance. Lone parents with a dependant under 16 are described for benefit purposes as a vulnerable group. In most circumstances they will not at present be in receipt of jobseeker's allowance. Those in that group may study full time and still remain eligible for income support and for other social security benefits. I have the letter from the noble Earl's colleague. It is not clear why benefit was refused in that case. We would appreciate some further details. If the noble Earl will permit me to do so, I shall write to him because if he can provide me with further details, I am sure that the department can give a more detailed response to that case.

My noble friend Lord Graham referred to the situation of somebody who is not in receipt of jobseeker's allowance but who, because of failing some sort of access course, failed to get on the proper

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employment-related course. That situation needs greater examination. If further details are available, we shall look into it. Clearly, it is our intention that the rules should be operated with some degree of flexibility towards benefit claimants. Indeed, we have built a support system into the New Deal process so that individual circumstances can be taken into account. That does not apply directly to my noble friend's son in the sense that, as I understand it, he is not on benefit at this point. However, if my noble friend will provide us with further details, I am sure that we can develop a more detailed response.

I believe that I have dealt with the specific points raised in the debate in so far as I can tonight. Further details can be provided in writing. I thank noble Lords for their general support for the regulations and I commend them to the House.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Mutual Assistance in Criminal Matters: ECC Report

7.2 p.m.

Lord Hoffmann rose to move, That this House take note of the report of the European Communities Committee on Mutual Assistance in Criminal Matters (14th Report, HL Paper 72).

The noble Lord said: My Lords, the Select Committee on the European Communities has reported to the House on a proposal which arises out of the serious growth in organised crime which has been affecting member states of the European Union. I need not go into the causes of the phenomenon. The fact is, like many other forms of economic activity, organised crime is becoming globalised and it requires a co-ordinated response from national enforcement authorities.

The European Union Council of Ministers, at a meeting in Dublin in December 1996, set up what was called a "high level group of experts" to report on how to tackle organised crime. One of its recommendations was a strengthening of the conventions for mutual assistance between the law enforcement authorities of the various member states. I say "a strengthening" because such conventions have been in existence for some time; for example, all the member states are parties to a convention on mutual assistance in criminal matters which was concluded under the auspices of the Council of Europe in 1959. In addition to the members of the European Union, about 15 other states are parties to that convention.

However, the form of co-operation which that convention provided was of a rather leisurely kind, perhaps best illustrated by the fact that all requests for co-operation were to be routed through the courts. The court would send a letter of request to the authorities in the other country asking for assistance in such matters as obtaining evidence for a criminal prosecution already under way. The idea was to obtain help when charges had already been made or prepared for the judicial process. It did not provide for direct co-operation between police authorities in the investigation of crime.

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I am bound to say that the United Kingdom does not appear to have attached much importance to that form of mutual assistance because, although it signed the convention in 1959, it did not ratify it until 32 years later, in 1991, after the necessary primary legislation had been passed in 1990.

The Council of Europe has also been considering a revision of the 1959 convention, but progress has also been rather slow. It produced one draft in 1994, but that was abandoned as being over-ambitious. Work started on another, but eventually in 1995 the European Union decided that it was all taking too long and--although other things being equal it is best to have a convention with as many countries party to it as possible--it was felt more practical to start with one confined to the member states. The drafting of this convention was thus under way (about three years ago) when an even greater sense of urgency was injected into it by the report of the high level committee of experts which I mentioned earlier.

The convention has a rather complicated drafting history and I have burdened your Lordships with it only because the natural reaction to such a proposed convention is to say, "Why only the European Union, when organised crime reaches out to Europe from east and from west, from over the Atlantic, from North and South America and from the states of the former Soviet Union?" The answer is that it would be desirable to have as many states party to the convention as possible, but negotiations on a wider front than the Union have been too difficult to enable anything useful to be done within a reasonable time. Meanwhile, I gather that the UK presidency hopes to have this convention signed before its term ends in June.

Perhaps I may outline for your Lordships some of the forms of co-operation for which the convention provides. It builds on the older procedures for co-operation between judicial authorities in matters such as obtaining evidence, and in those respects it simplifies the old convention, but there is nothing new in principle.

The convention also provides for some new forms of co-operation between police authorities; for example, assistance may be requested in what are called "controlled deliveries". That is a technique that is frequently used against drug smugglers. The police obtain information that a quantity of drugs is about to be exported or imported. They allow the delivery to take place in order to discover to whom they are going, and then they pounce and arrest that person. There was a good example of that in a case recently before your Lordships' Appellate Committee. Customs and Excise were tipped off that a dealer in Pakistan was sending a large package of heroin to the United Kingdom. They intercepted the package, took out the heroin, substituted Horlicks (which I am told has the same smell as heroin) and persuaded the exporter to come to London to collect it. When he did so, they arrested him. I think that he is now spending 15 years in prison.

Article 10 of the draft convention enables the police of one state to request assistance for allowing a controlled delivery to take place in another state. There is also provision for assistance in what are called "covert

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operations", which sound very dramatic, but mean that police officers may be allowed to go to another member state and, in co-operation with the local police, operate under a false identity if that is necessary to achieve the results that they want.

Those are useful forms of co-operation in investigations of a kind which are already taking place in this country. They require no change in domestic law.

However, I think that at the heart of this convention are the three articles numbered 6 to 8, which were inserted at a late stage as a result of the initiative of the High-Level Group and deal with the interception of communications. This is an important weapon in dealing with organised criminal activities, especially with an international crime, to which such communications are essential. On the other hand, any extension of police powers to intercept people's telephone conversations raises very sensitive issues of civil liberties. It was for this reason that the Select Committee invited the views of the Data Protection Registrar and certain non-governmental organisations such as Justice and Liberty, whose evidence your Lordships will find annexed to the report. These organisations expressed some disquiet about the proposals and so the Select Committee decided to hold a short inquiry, and it produced the report which I am now putting before the House. In the end, having, I hope I may say, considered the matter with the care that any possible invasion of our civil liberties should receive, the Select Committee decided that subject to one or two minor points the proposals were acceptable.

The general principle in these three articles is that a member state should not be obliged to give assistance in intercepting the conversations of people on its own territory unless that would be lawful in accordance with its domestic law. If we take, for example, a request from the French police to intercept a conversation between someone in Paris and someone in London, the Metropolitan Police could do that only by going through the procedures which are required under English law. If I may remind your Lordships, that would mean they would have to get a warrant from the Secretary of State under the Interception of Communications Act 1985, exactly as if it were a domestic interception.

In addition, the member state which executes the request may impose conditions about what, in the example I gave, the French police can do with the transcripts of the interceptions. These conditions are intended to protect the privacy of people who were parties to or even mentioned in the intercepted communication. These matters were of course of particular interest to the Data Protection Registrar, who said that they were welcome. She made one or two suggestions as to how they might be improved, which the Select Committee passed on to the Home Office. The Minister of State, Mrs. Quin, told the sub-committee that she did not envisage any difficulty about satisfying the registrar on these points.

The principle that the interception must be justified according to the law of the state where it takes place has one exception in the convention. That is necessary in order to take account of modern communications technology. Communications through satellites are

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routed through ground stations which may be in other member states. For example, one system of satellite communication apparently has its ground station in Finland and so the conversation on mobile phones between two people who are both in Birmingham may actually be going through a ground station in Finland. At the moment there are only three or four of these ground stations for satellite communication systems, and as it happens there is not one in the United Kingdom.

What the convention provides is that if the authorities of the country in which the ground station is situated--say the Finns--are asked to intercept a conversation between two people, neither of whom is in their territory, they should not concern themselves with going through the local procedures for intercepting conversations, as they would if they were dealing with people who were actually in their territory. They should leave that question to the states in which the people are present. Therefore, for example, if a conversation was between someone in London and someone in Paris the Metropolitan Police would have to obtain the warrant of the Secretary of State and would have to obtain the clearance of the French authorities, but they would not have to get the equivalent of a warrant in Finland as well. That is just where the hardware happens to be, and Finland has no greater interest in the protection of the privacy of the parties to the conversation than anyone else. Obviously the need for compliance with the formalities of another country would give that much greater protection, but the Minister of State said she did not think that it was worth the additional expense and delay, and the Select Committee accepted her view.

There are other provisions in the convention which your Lordships will find discussed in the report, but I think I have outlined the more important ones. The committee thought that the convention was a useful addition to the equipment of rather hard-pressed law enforcement agencies in coping with organised crime, and it thought that it left the civil liberties of people in the United Kingdom unaffected. There was, I think, some suggestion in the evidence which we received that it was desirable also to harmonise the protection of civil liberties on these matters in other member states, but that is not and cannot be the object of a convention like this. All the member states are already parties to the European Convention on Human Rights and there is therefore a minimum standard of protection--that is ensured.

As for the territorial scope of the convention, it is hoped that in due course substantially similar provisions will be adopted by members of the Council of Europe and that there will be co-operation on similar lines with the United States and Commonwealth countries. But this present convention represents an urgently needed first step, and so I commend the report to the House and beg to move the Motion standing in my name.

Moved, That this House take note of the Report of the European Communities Committee on Mutual Assistance in Criminal Matters (14th Report, HL Paper 72).--(Lord Hoffmann.)

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7.15 p.m.

Baroness Elles: My Lords, I should like to express the gratitude of the House to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hoffmann, for presenting the report this evening--a report produced by the committee which he chaired--which gives details of its considerations and also of the evidence which came from different sources. It does make a readable document--not too difficult and without great legal implications but with perhaps more procedural implications than legal ones. I should also like to thank, if I may, on behalf of the committee, Dr. Kerse, the legal adviser to the committee, who should also be congratulated on and thanked for his contribution to the work of Sub-Committee E. I should also like to offer thanks to all the staff who assisted in producing the report which is now before your Lordships.

As noble Lords will have gathered from what was said by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hoffmann, although the subject matter was comparatively easy the procedures have been quite difficult: various drafts have been produced over the last few years. Indeed, the sub-committee itself has heard two or three times about the contents of this draft convention, amended and changed over the last two years.

The draft convention drawn up by the member states of the European Union brings the 1959 Convention of the Council of Europe up to date in some specific matters, due mainly to technical changes in methods of communication. However, the basic provisions which encapsulate national legislation throughout the convention's members remain. Therefore, 15 states will still be bound by the provisions of that convention, even though this new draft convention before your Lordships' House is to be adopted by the 15 member states of the European Union.

There have been certain variations of the draft convention which have come before the sub-committee. The first was in November 1996; there was a revised version in May 1997 which came up for scrutiny in July 1997 and there were two further drafts--one in September 1997 and one in November 1997--the latter of which was considered by our sub-committee earlier this year and now forms the basis of this report.

As of February 1998, Article 4 and Articles 6 to 9 have been left blank in the text and it has apparently been decided to withdraw Article 4, being contained in the Naples II draft convention, which is the convention on customs authorities throughout the member states and in fact is very similar to the one we are discussing today. New wording is provided for Articles 6, 7 and 8 (Article 9 having been withdrawn) to cover interception of terrestrial and satellite telecommunications.

The United Kingdom has contributed three new provisions for Articles 6, 7 and 8 on pages 27-28 of the report, to the effect that mobile or fixed equipment and terrestrial or satellite infrastructure may be used in telecommunications, taking into account three different situations, which have in fact been dealt with by the noble and learned Lord. I will therefore just touch on them very briefly.

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The three different situations depend on the location of the subject under investigation, the use of fixed or mobile satellite telecommunications and the member state in which his correspondence can be intercepted.

Next, there are provisions in Article 10 covering controlled deliveries. Those are repeated in Article 22 of the Naples II convention on Customs authorities. Article 10 of the mutual assistance convention and Article 22 of the Naples II Convention are almost identical. Those provisions in the latter convention are referred to as "special forms of co-operation".

Article 13 covers the transfer of persons in custody to another member state to assist in criminal investigations. That raises a particular issue for the United Kingdom. Member states have had the option of not adopting the provisions of Articles 20, 21 and 22. The United Kingdom has not adopted Article 20 because it retains its policy of requiring the prisoner's consent to transfer to or from the United Kingdom. That is considered to be a reasonable approach since a prisoner who has not consented is unlikely to be forthcoming in any interrogation that takes place without his agreement. As the Minister who gave evidence to the sub-committee said, mutual recognition of the legal situation in each of the different countries would be respected by the convention.

The Naples II draft convention concerning co-operation between the Customs authorities, like in the other convention, covers aspects of cross-border co-operation to deal with illicit trafficking in drugs and other customs offences. It was pointed out in the evidence given to the sub-committee that such offences included not only drugs but works of art or any goods subject to cross-border trafficking. Customs officers are given powers to engage in hot pursuit across borders in specific circumstances without prior approval to conduct searches as well as the right to carry firearms. The United Kingdom has opted out of that provision in Article 20 but has agreed to the provision in Article 21 which deals with the surveillance of suspects who have entered another member state's territory.

It will be important to ensure that the powers given to Customs authorities are in line with similar powers that have been given to the legal authorities in relation to criminal matters and that a balance is maintained between the different responsible authorities without incurring considerable delay. These measures do not require changes to United Kingdom legislation but they enable the UK and other member states to modernise their national legislation throughout the EU.

Like the noble and learned Lord, I hope that other member states--perhaps the 15 who are members of the Council of Europe and who are still bound by the 1959 convention--will adopt this new convention in due course. It remains to be seen whether a satisfactorily completed text of the draft convention will be available by the due date, which is the end of May; otherwise, it will not be possible for the United Kingdom to adopt this convention under its presidency. We very much hope that this will be possible and that the work which remains to be done on some of the articles whose

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provisions have still not been drafted in this particular document will be completed in due time and ready for adoption.

7.23 p.m.

Lord Goodhart: My Lords, I rise to speak briefly in the gap. Like the noble Baroness, Lady Elles, I am a member of the sub-committee which produced the report that has been introduced by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hoffmann. The noble and learned Lord speaks for the sub-committee as a whole, but I should like to add a few words for two reasons: first, I believe it is desirable that my party should be represented in this short debate; and, secondly, the sub-committee did not accept a number of criticisms made by human rights organisations. One of them was Justice, a body with which I have a long, close and continuing relationship.

It is obvious that cross-border co-operation between police forces is essential in order to combat cross-border organised crime, which is becoming an increasingly serious problem throughout the world. It is also obvious that such co-operation must comply with the letter and spirit of human rights law. The sub-committee thought that in general the draft Convention on Mutual Assistance in Criminal Matters improved co-operation between police forces in the European Union without infringing human rights. We gave serious consideration to the criticisms by Justice, Liberty and other bodies but we felt that on the whole they were considerably overstated. We concluded that the draft convention was deficient in that it failed to make specific provision for data protection. That is a deficiency that requires correction, and we have made recommendations to that effect in the report.

Finally, I draw specific attention to paragraphs 68 and 69 of the report which point out the importance of applying the convention on a uniform basis in all member states and express the view that the European Court of Justice should be given full jurisdiction over the convention. We hope that in due course the Government will exercise the powers that they will have under the Treaty of Amsterdam to opt into the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice for the purpose of interpreting the convention. With those words, we are very happy to support the Motion of the noble and learned Lord.

7.26 p.m.

Lord Mackay of Drumadoon: My Lords, this short debate provides a welcome opportunity for your Lordships to pay tribute to the members of the Select Committee for the quality of the report that has been produced. Bearing in mind in particular the limited period of time available, it is clear that the House should be most indebted to the committee for the clear and concise terms in which it has expressed its views. There can be little doubt that this report will be of assistance to government Ministers and their officials as they seek to draw to a conclusion the negotiations on the final terms of the convention.

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We all know that in recent years there has been considerable discussion on issues connected with law and order. It is an area in which politicians of all parties have not been slow to take very public positions. Proposals for legislation and change come from many quarters. From time to time all of us look abroad to see whether foreign jurisdictions can offer any assistance to enable us to solve the problems of this country. In that discussion the international dimension of certain categories of crime is stressed, and rightly so.

Nevertheless, one of the interesting features of the debate is that very rarely is any mention made of the importance of sorting out the practical details that are necessary to facilitate co-operation between the law enforcement agencies of different nation states. There is little if any public discussion of the existence of the various conventions, let alone their detailed terms. As a consequence, while members of the public tacitly expect law enforcement agencies of different countries to co-operate with one another, there is very little understanding of the practical and legal difficulties that require to be addressed and resolved before co-operation can be prompt and effective. It may be that in the absence of such public discussion government Ministers of all parties and their officials who are involved in the negotiation of such conventions do not feel under the same pressure to move forward, update the relevant procedures and deliver swift action as they do when addressing purely domestic issues in the field of law and order. That view may be supported by the fact that this draft convention is designed to supplement a convention dating back to 1959 which, as the noble and learned Lord has reminded us, was not ratified by this country until some 30 years later.

It is undoubtedly clear that progress in this important area tends to be slow. In the meantime, organised crime does not stand still. For those reasons, it is to be hoped that the parties involved in negotiating the final terms of the convention will be able to do so during the course of this year. Having studied carefully the issues flagged up by the committee in Part IV of its report, it does not appear that any of its minor concerns need stand in the way of that objective being achieved.

Turning to the detail of what the committee set out in Part IV, I venture a few brief observations. The committee is correct to stress that the convention is designed to achieve an improvement in co-operation between the law enforcement agencies of the member states rather than a harmonisation of national laws and procedures. I suggest that that comment should be at the forefront of any publicity given to the convention, whether at the time the negotiations are successfully concluded or when the convention is in due course ratified by the United Kingdom.

That is one of a number of important considerations that should encourage the general public and all those involved in the criminal justice system to give their full support to those who will operate under the terms of the convention. Such an emphasis on co-operation as opposed to harmonisation, when linked to the retention of the dual criminality principle, should reassure those

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who are inclined to be sceptical on matters European and serve to discourage any misplaced criticism of greater co-operation in this important area.

As in all areas of the criminal justice system, it is impossible to overstress the importance of keeping the public "on side" by educating them as to the procedures involved and reassuring them that the procedures that have been negotiated strike a reasonable balance between the protection of the public who are affected by the criminal activity and the persons accused of crime, whether they are to be prosecuted in this country or in the criminal courts of another member state.

Of course, we need look no further than within the confines of the United Kingdom itself to see how law enforcement agencies and public prosecution services of different traditions and operating under separate systems of criminal law can, where necessary and appropriate, co-operate speedily and successfully in the fight against serious crime, while respecting the separate national identities of the agencies involved.

Seeing the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, in his place tonight reminds me of an occasion some years ago when I appeared in front of him in the Court of Criminal Appeal in Scotland on behalf of an Englishman, Mr. Clements, who had been convicted of being concerned in the supply of drugs--I believe that it was cannabis. The Englishman's first visit to Scotland was his arrival in handcuffs on a plane from London, he having been at the London end of a drugs supply route from some dark London suburb. Mr. Clements met the Edinburgh courier at Kings Cross station and was watched by Scottish and Metropolitan police officers as he escorted the courier to wherever the drugs were uplifted. One of the incriminating pieces of evidence against Mr. Clements was that on arrest he was in possession of a Scottish banknote. As a man who had never previously been to Scotland, that was somewhat difficult for him to explain.

I turn to the reservations expressed by the committee about the terms of Articles 6 and 7 of the draft convention dealing with the interception of telecommunications. The benefits of modern means of communication are not restricted to those of us who abide by the criminal law. They have been embraced by the criminal fraternity, as they have been by many other sectors of society. While the use of modern means of communication may provide valuable assistance to criminals by enabling them to keep one step ahead of the police and other law enforcement agencies, the use of such technology does nevertheless afford certain evidence gathering opportunities that can prove invaluable to those who seek to prosecute the participants of organised crime. The very fact that telephone calls are made and fax messages are sent is valuable evidence, even before one turns to the content of such communications if they can be properly intercepted.

As with our domestic legislation, international agreements require to strike a proper balance as to the extent to which civil liberties and the rights of individuals should be infringed in the wider public interest. In paragraphs 61 and 62 of the report, the

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committee expressed one modest reservation as to the presidency proposal put forward by the Government as a redraft of Articles 6 and 7. While I believe that the committee was correct to draw attention to that matter, I see it as being no more than a drafting issue. I hope that it can be resolved easily and speedily.

The noble and learned Lord, Lord Hoffmann, also drew attention to the article dealing with controlled deliveries and mentioned that that had achieved success. I, too, can vouchsafe that from my period of office as Lord Advocate of Scotland. On a number of occasions, officials briefed me in advance that certain deliveries would take place. They did take place and interceptions often occurred off the scenic parts of the Scottish coast. Major drugs criminals were caught and in due course successfully prosecuted. It is a form of activity on the part of law enforcement agencies which some years ago might have met with a measure of scepticism. I believe that it is a sensible way to go forward and I welcome the fact that it is dealt with in the draft convention.

I look forward with interest to hearing the Minister's comments on the committee's recommendations. I am sure that he will give them a positive response. I join the committee in encouraging the Government to use their best endeavours to finalise the terms of the draft convention as early as possible. If that could be achieved before the end of the British Presidency, it would be an achievement of which the Government could be rightly proud. They have been assisted in that exercise by the committee's report. In conclusion, I renew my thanks to the noble and learned Lord and his colleagues for discharging their duties with great distinction.

7.37 p.m.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Williams of Mostyn): My Lords, I echo the noble and learned Lord's final words. As the noble Baroness, Lady Elles, pointed out, this is not unique but unusual among such reports because it is a pleasure to read and is clearly set out even for someone who has no prior knowledge of the subject. We are deeply indebted to the committee, in particular to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hoffmann.

It is quite plain that crime is international and increasingly globalised. If crime is international its investigation, detection and successful prosecution must depend on international co-operation. I recognise and concur with the noble and learned Lord's proposition that this is only a first step because it is limited to the European context. There is of course substantial international co-operation with our colleagues in overseas jurisdictions outside that geographic ambit.

The convention is a major step forward. I take the point made by three of your Lordships that there was a long delay between the 1959 convention and its ratification. I take the point made specifically by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Drumadoon, that we need to get on because technology is changing so quickly. It is advancing so rapidly and criminals are so sophisticated in the use of modern technology and devices that we cannot be backward in the means of detection and prosecution of crime. As the noble and

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learned Lord pointed out, those of us who have been involved in the prosecution of crime have frequently been extremely irritated and frustrated about the difficulties of obtaining admissible evidence in courts within our respective jurisdictions. That is long before the question of prosecution arises, and then continuing thereafter with delays and difficulties and the knowledge that evidence ought to be available but has not been made available by the time of the trial.

I shall deal specifically with the interception of communications, because that was the central theme of concern to all your Lordships who have spoken. Perhaps I may give some background about progress and intention. As has rightly been pointed out, the convention does not presently contain provisions on the protection of personal data or on the jurisdiction of the European Court. There are important unresolved questions on the interception of communications. Discussions on all those matters are continuing.

We intend that there should be a protocol to the convention. The Justice and Home Affairs Council has decided that work on that should be finalised by the middle of next year. I believe that it is always useful to set a date of that sort because it provides a very good internal discipline for those who must meet those targets. Work on the protocol has already begun under the United Kingdom's presidency.

The matters not yet resolved for inclusion in the convention may be considered for possible inclusion in the protocol. Matters already being considered for inclusion in the protocol are further methods of cross-border investigation techniques and privileges for witnesses who travel abroad to give evidence. As has been said, it is those small questions of technique and practicability that very often are more important than grand, sweeping statements of co-operative principle.

Of course, the protocol will be submitted for parliamentary scrutiny in the usual way, and I hope that your Lordships have found it helpful that I have been able to give that indicative timetable.

The convention and--which is very important indeed--joint action on good practice, reverting to the point that one needs to get the practical points right, are due to go to the Justice and Home Affairs Council for political agreement on 28th and 29th May of this year. The Government intend that both instruments should be adopted before the end of our presidency. Therefore, I am happy to be able to respond positively, firmly and in some detail to the questions which have been asked not only this evening but which are obviously an integral part of the committee's report.

I deal with the interception of communications because, as the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, indicated, there are a number of civil rights questions which are perhaps particular to that area. When requests are made, the policy of Her Majesty's Government is that the target of the interception will be protected by the national laws both of the requesting member state and the member state in which the target is present. That is a double-lock system of safeguards. I make it clear, and willingly, that

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the United Kingdom does not intend to comply with requests for the interception of calls on a telephone being used on United Kingdom territory unless the request satisfies the strict criteria which we find in the Interception of Communications Act 1985. We have accepted the committee's recommendation that the requested member state should be able to impose conditions relating to the use and destruction of intercepted material where the subject of the interception is on the territory of the requested member state.

We do not believe that the requested member state should be empowered to impose any conditions which it would not apply to its own national authorities. We believe that that is a clear distinction and is the basis upon which we are negotiating. We believe that the situation is quite different, in principle and in practice, where, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hoffmann, indicated, a member state's only involvement is the flicking of a switch; in other words, the illustration of a satellite base station being in one country and the subject of the interception in another. In those circumstances, we believe that the requested member state should comply with the request once it is satisfied that the requirements of the convention have been met. To require the requested member state in those circumstances to consider and seek to apply its domestic law would achieve nothing except to hamper effective co-operation and go against the underlying thinking behind this convention.

I have dealt in a little detail with the interception of communications. I return to my general theme of thanks. It is a very good discipline, for which your Lordships' House and the Government are grateful, to have a body of independent-minded people with expertise and knowledge who are able to focus objectively--in a way that government departments cannot always do--on principle, detail and practicality. The Government are extremely grateful and I hope that we shall meet the timetables that I have mentioned, one of them sooner rather than later. I accept in advance, although perhaps incautiously, the congratulations of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Drumadoon, on being able to deliver those particular goods.

7.45 p.m.

Lord Hoffmann: My Lords, I am grateful to noble Lords for their contributions to the debate. I am grateful also to the two members of the sub-committee, the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, and the noble Baroness, Lady Elles, for their support. I thank the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Drumadoon, and the Minister--not, so to speak, members of the home team--for the care and attention with which they obviously read the report. I endorse also the thanks of the noble Baroness, Lady Elles, to Dr. Kerse and his staff for the contribution which they made to the preparation of the report.

As there is absolutely nothing in any of the speeches which were made with which I do not wholeheartedly agree, no comment on the detail of the matter is called for, and I commend this Motion to the House.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

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