Select Committee on European Communities Seventeenth Report


50.  DRAFT JOINT ACTION ON THE IMPROVED EXCHANGE OF INFORMATION TO COMBAT COUNTERFEIT TRAVEL DOCUMENTS (5003/99)

Letter from Lord Tordoff, Chairman of the Committee, to Kate Hoey MP, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office

Sub-Committee E (Law and Institutions) considered the draft Joint Action at is meeting on 14 April. There are three matters on which the Committee would welcome further information.

  In your Explanatory Memorandum you describe the proposal as "an unnecessarily cumbersome instrument for what is an operational matter". You said that you were seeking clarification of the reasons why the measure is being proposed as a Joint Action. What clarification has been given? Have they caused the Government to change its mind as regards the proposal?

  Secondly, Article 1 of the proposal contemplates the setting up of "a reporting unit for detecting counterfeit travel documents". Your Explanatory Memorandum offers no explanation of what this would involve, what the unit would do which is not presently being done but needs to be done, where it would be situated, how it would be resourced and what its relationship would be to existing national authorities.

  Finally, Article 3(3) provides that personal data must be communicated "in accordance with national law and international conventions". The Committee would find it helpful if you would define the nature and extent of the protection afforded to the individual concerned in the circumstances envisaged by Article 3 (the covering Note suggests that he or she is likely to be "rapidly repatriated" and that the information is required for future criminal proceedings). To what international conventions is Article 3 referring and what protection would the individual have under United Kingdom laws?

  The Committee decided to retain the document under scrutiny and looks forward to receiving the information requested above.

Letter from Kate Hoey MP, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office, to Lord Tordoff, Chairman of the Committee

  Thank you for your letter of 19 April. I will take the points you make in the order you raise them.

  We initially considered the proposed legal format of this measure to be inappropriate to its aims. This issue was raised at a recent meeting of the False Documents Working Party when the Presidency explained that the proposal was put forward in the form of a Joint Action as it was complementary to the FADO computerised image archiving system which was also set up by means of a Joint Action. By ensuring that the proposal becomes a formal part of the acquis, new EU Member States will be required to follow its provisions. The UK has accepted this argument.

  On the question of setting up a "reporting unit", following recent discussions, the Presidency agreed to amend the wording to "reporting system" to make it clearer that it was not proposed to establish new structures. The exchange of information would take place between EU Member States' existing central contact points (in the UK, this is the Immigration Service National Forgery Section) and thus involve no additional resources.

  The general exchange of information between Member States will not involve personal data. Where it is necessary to pass personal data between individual Member States in the course of an enquiry, national data protection legislation (in the UK this is currently the Data Protection Act 1984) will provide protection. In addition, EC Directive 95/46/EC protects individuals against the misuse of personal data; this Directive will be implemented in the UK when the Data Protection Act 1998 comes into force in the near future.

  The Presidency now intends to bring this proposal before the Justice and Home Affairs Council for political agreement on 27-28 May. I do hope you will be able to clear it from scrutiny before then.

6 May 1999


 
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