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Baroness Nicholson of Winterbourne: My Lords, does the noble Lord agree that the United Kingdom did not incorporate the totality of the 1981 Council of Europe data protection convention and that if it had done so my concerns would not be in front of the Minister for his response?
Lord Hoyle: My Lords, I realise the noble Baroness's interest in this matter. When we discussed the Data Protection Act in this House I heard her strong views in relation to it and recognise that that is her belief. The registrar, who, as I think we would all agree, has been a wise appointment, will be present. She is a very good representative, as I am sure the noble Baroness will agree.
The main points raised in relation to Europol concern the balance to be struck between the needs of intelligence and countering serious organised crime and the right to individual freedom. I regret that the framework rules were not deposited.
Turning to the situation as it is at present, many safeguards are built in to the convention and related regulations. The role of the joint supervisory body in relation to these matters is very important. It is the Government's view that, in a context in which civil liberties and human rights issues need to be properly balanced with intelligence needs in regard to fighting organised crime, it is important that the House is able to consider each individual case. That is a protection in itself. We believe that this is the right way forward and we shall try to ensure that the right balance is struck and that information is provided on which the House can then base its opinions.
It is early days for Europol. It has not yet begun working and it will develop as it goes along. We believe that the safeguards are in place. However, we agree that the information provided must be reliable. It is important to ensure that the House is aware of developments as they happen.
I now turn to the important issue of the Schengen incorporation. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, for outlining the work carried out by his committee. I welcome the sub-committee's emphasis on openness and clarity. That goes to the heart of the matter.
The Government agree that this is an important objective. We shall raise the matter with our European partners when we meet them and at every opportunity. I have said in relation to Europol, and I repeat in relation to Schengen, that we will keep Parliament informed of developments. The Government have made clear their intention, once the Amsterdam Treaty enters into force, to ensure that there is parliamentary scrutiny of the possibilities for participation that will be open to the United Kingdom. No decision on UK participation in
I thank my noble friend Lord Bruce of Donington for sending me a copy of The Times of 5th November. I cannot reply to his point today because the department will need time to consider what was said and discuss with NCIS the implications of the judgment. I shall write to my noble friend when the information is available to me.
With regard to Schengen, it is important that today's debate has taken place. Many questions were asked in relation to it. Both the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, and the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, asked about the clarity of draft decisions. I repeat that we have indicated in our memorandum that the Government regret the lack of clarity. The Government wish to ensure that sufficient information is available to Parliament. I know that the House was amazed by what the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, told us. I do not know whether she should become a script writer; the Government wish to avoid the satire she indicated in her speech with regard to different paragraphs in the report. We wish to ensure that in future sufficient information is available to Parliament and to the public, and we shall continue to press for that in EU negotiations. I take the opportunity to reaffirm that commitment today.
I hope that I have met some of the points that were raised. Clarity and transparency are what matter. I realise the difficulty there has been in obtaining information and I congratulate the sub-committees on the reports presented. That they have been able to get as far as they have is a credit to them. We intend to ensure that information is available to the House and to take Parliament step by step with us in relation to the question of Schengen and where we go from here.
The noble Lord, Lord Wallace, asked about the UK opt-in and opt-out. We are currently giving careful consideration to the areas of the existing Schengen Acquis in which we might seek to participate. The Government are wholeheartedly committed to EU co-operation against organised crime, drug trafficking and illegal immigration. However, we have not yet reached a decision on whether we shall opt in or opt out and I cannot go further in that respect at present. Where we believe it is in the national interest to be part of it, we shall take that decision.
The noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, referred to the removal of frontier controls. I noted her preference for not having to have a passport. However, British citizens will be able to enter another member state of the European Union only on the presentation of a valid passport. This will apply whether the person concerned enters from the UK or from a third country. If a traveller is going from one member state which has implemented the removal of internal frontier controls to another, then, as is the case now, there will be no passport check. Once inside the territory of another member state, all persons may be subject to an identity check at any time. I am sorry to say that this means that the noble Baroness will
I was interested in the history given by the noble Lord, Lord Cockfield, and disappointed not to have been present at the champagne reception he mentioned. He pointed out to us--and this is a lesson that must be learned--that many of the difficulties in relation to Schengen were caused by operating outside the Community system.
I thank the noble Lord, Lord Bridges, for his contribution. He said that we should not sign treaties that we do not understand. We believe that we shall be present at discussions. We have the right to be at all meetings. As I said earlier, whether we shall opt in or opt out has not yet been decided.
I have referred to the contribution of the noble Baroness, Lady Nicholson of Winterbourne. She showed us once more not only her knowledge of data protection, in this case in relation to Schengen and to Europol, but also her enthusiasm for the whole concept of Europe. I was not surprised that she pushed the Government to go further than I or anyone else on these Benches or the Government Benches in another place are prepared to go at the moment.
I now turn to some of the questions asked by the noble Lord, Lord Henley. He asked about the data protection requirements and the position in relation to paragraph 31 and whether the Data Protection Act brings us up to the standard of data protection set out in the report. The answer to his question is yes. He then asked about third countries and data protection, with particular regard to the US and which countries meet the criteria. There is not a compendium of rights with regard to which of the countries meet the criteria. I am not in a position to reply more fully to the noble Lord today. I shall write to him in relation to the matter since I wish to give him as full an answer as possible. The point that he raised is an important one.
Finally, I should like to comment on human rights. Both reports raise important issues of human rights for our citizens. In the case of Europol it is encouraging that other EU member states now insist that respect for human rights be a pre-condition in any agreements concluded by Europol with third party states. In relation to Schengen, the Government are concerned to ensure that adequate protection is provided for all persons who have dealings with the Schengen system, particularly in relation to data protection.
In conclusion, I am grateful to noble Lords who have made valuable contributions and to the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hoffmann, who chaired the sub-committees. The issues we have discussed today are very complex. We have taken note of the important points raised in the sub-committees' reports and during the debate today. I can assure the House that they will form an important basis when we give further considerations to these matters.
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