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Lord Pearson of Rannoch: My Lords, I am grateful for what the noble Lord has just said. Do the Government have the same confidence about the other possible hooks in the treaty upon which this eventual project might be hung, leaving aside new Article 5 of Amsterdam, subsidiarity and proportionality, in which some of us have no faith at all? There are other articles in the treaty which are mentioned--for instance, in paragraph 118--as possible hooks on which we could be outvoted. Perhaps the noble Lord will write to me in due course, but I think that it is worth covering that point while we are at it.

Lord Bach: My Lords, I understand the point that the noble Lord makes. Essentially it seems to us that the first hurdle--it is rather a large hurdle--that the Corpus Juris would have to get over is Article 280(4).

The Government therefore agree with the conclusions of the European Communities Committee's inquiry; namely, that Corpus Juris does not offer an acceptable way forward. I wish to echo what the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of

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Craighead, said. Although we do not think that the present proposals are either practical or necessary, the Government believe that some appreciation is due to the authors of the original Corpus Juris proposals because their effect has been to concentrate minds and to give further impetus to finding practical solutions to the real problems of fraud as regards Community finance. In the remainder of my speech I shall make some comments about what the Government have been doing in terms of finding practical proposals to address this problem.

Noble Lords will not be surprised to hear that in place of Corpus Juris the Government believe that judicial co-operation between member states should be strengthened on an intergovernmental basis, as stipulated by the Amsterdam Treaty. Perhaps the best way to express this is the way that the former Home Office Minister in another place, Ms Kate Hoey, used in giving evidence to the committee. In talking of the Government, she said at paragraph 94 of page 24 of the Select Committee's report:

    "We fully support co-operation across the European Union to promote common standards in relation to justice and the rule of law and particularly to fight against organised crime, corruption and fraud".

The next sentence is perhaps the best way of expressing the matter. She said:

    "We ... support co-operation between jurisdictions rather than creating a single jurisdiction".

This does not mean that we should be content with half-measures. Traditional co-operation under international conventions has not solved the problem, so we need to look for more radical solutions. The Tampere European Council last month pointed to new ways to make progress. In particular, it strongly endorsed the United Kingdom's initiative on mutual recognition and enforcement of judicial decisions, agreeing that this principle should become the "cornerstone of judicial co-operation" within the Union, and asked the Justice and Home Affairs Council and the Commission to adopt a programme of measures to achieve this by December 2000--now only 12 or 13 months away.

The Government launched the idea of mutual recognition last year during our presidency of the European Union, and the Home Secretary developed it further in a speech at the Avignon Seminar on the European Judicial Space in October last year. We included it in the United Kingdom's position paper for Tampere. Rather than trying for a unified criminal code, the aim will be to enforce judicial decisions even though they have been taken under different rules. We believe that this offers scope for a more realistic approach to securing significant improvements in co-operation.

I shall say a few words about what we mean by "mutual recognition". The concept of mutual recognition is modelled on mutual recognition of rules and standards for goods and services exchanged in the single market. Mutual recognition is the principle that different national standards should be treated as equivalent. In this case, decisions or orders issued by a criminal court in one EU member state, based on its

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legal system and procedures, would be recognised by another member state and could be enforced there. The key underlying concept is the principle that member states of the EU should be able to have full confidence in each other's legal systems.

What this means in practice is that certain decisions in criminal matters made by a foreign EU court could be directly implemented in other member states with minimum formality, and ultimately without having to be approved by a court in the requested country, as happens now. An example would be fast-track extradition whereby people who are given bail to return to their home country, but then fail to turn up for trial in the country where they stand accused, could still be prosecuted without the need for lengthy extradition procedures. The "Eurobail" concept mentioned in the debate, which the European Parliament has supported, would benefit those of our citizens who are arrested in other member states.

The Government have made clear that the recognition of court orders and warrants issued in other member states will need to be accompanied by adequate safeguards for the individual, and those safeguards will need to be agreed between the member states. All the legislation in this area will need to be adopted by unanimity. We will consult Parliament and other interested authorities fully in the process. This will take time, but Tampere has given the work some momentum and the Government will be pressing our partners for early progress. A mutual recognition will sit alongside a continued programme of selective approximation of key offences in order to ensure that all member states have adequately criminalised the most important forms of cross-border criminal conduct.

The agreement at Tampere to create a "Eurojust" institution, made up of prosecutors and investigators seconded from the member states, will help to overcome the sometimes slow and cumbersome procedures between member states. We hope that Eurojust will facilitate co-ordination between national prosecuting authorities, support national criminal investigations into organised crime and co-operate closely with the European judicial network. We do not believe that Eurojust's remit should or will be confined solely to EU fraud.

I shall deal with, as shortly as I can, a number of additional initiatives. The Council called for the establishment of a European police chiefs operational task force to exchange, in co-operation with Europol, experience, best practices and information on current trends in cross-border crime. There is to be a European police college for the training of senior law-enforcement officers. The noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth, referred to fiscal liaison officers. He will be happy, I hope, to hear that the Government support the idea of fiscal liaison officers being appointed.

There are other measures, too. We particularly welcome the establishment of OLAF, the European anti-fraud office which has taken the place of UCLAF. We bear in mind the point made by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, that there is

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still some way to go in regard to that. We would like to see it more fully develop its investigative role within the Community institution. We will be urging it to develop an effective working relationship with national prosecutors.

The members of the subcommittee will, I hope, be pleased to hear--they almost certainly already know it--that the concern shown about the delay in ratifying the convention on protection of the Community's financial interests of 1995 need no longer be a concern. The Government have now ratified this convention, with all of its protocols, and also the EU convention of 1997 on the fight against corruption.

EU negotiations are under way to modernise the Council of Europe Convention on Mutual Assistance 1959. This is an important step. For example, the draft convention will require evidence to be collected in accordance with procedures required by a requesting state to ensure its admissibility. The draft convention also provides for new forms of co-operation, such as the use of live video links for taking evidence and the use of joint teams.

A programme of mutual evaluation is currently under way to assess each member state's performance as a mutual assistance partner. The evaluation reports identify weaknesses and recommend improvements. An evaluation of the United Kingdom is planned to begin in February next year. I am happy to be able to tell the House that the Home Office's Judicial Co-operation Unit has engaged an expert from the Serious Fraud Office--a person experienced in European judicial ways, prosecutions and mutual assistance matters--to review our mutual assistance procedures.

In conclusion, it must be obvious by now that the Government agree with the view of the subcommittee and of the committee above it that energy and resources would be better directed towards increasing mutual legal assistance and practical co-operation between EU member states, rather than seeking the erection of a unified criminal code.

Thanks are due to the subcommittee for producing the important report that we have debated. In the Government's view, it has undoubtedly given a momentum to dealing with a very serious problem.

7.45 p.m.

Lord Hope of Craighead: My Lords, I am extremely grateful to all noble Lords who have spoken in the debate. I am also grateful for the very kind remarks that they have made. The Minister was understandably diffident in expressing the usual thanks to all members of the committee in view of the fact that he participated in the entire course of the deliberations which produced this report. Perhaps I, as chairman, can step into the breach that he has left and express my thanks to all members of the committee, present and not present, for their support and for the

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diligence with which they studied this very interesting subject. As the Minister mentioned, I also extend my thanks to the staff, particularly Dr Kerse, without whom the report would have been a mere shadow of what we have before us today.

I think it was the noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth, who said that he feared the noble Lord, Lord Cope of Berkeley, might feel that he was isolated in this debate. I am bound to say, having listened to his very interesting contribution, that that was far from the case. He deserves our thanks for the care with which he studied the report and the points which he made having done so.

A number of very interesting points were made in the course of this useful debate. I shall mention just two or three to sum-up the matter. The noble Baroness, Lady Goudie, mentioned the need to simplify extradition procedures. I believe that this is something which deserves a great deal more attention. It is known that some member states within the European Union do not extradite their citizens. That has a bearing on the reaction of some courts to bail. It also has a bearing on the very difficult and somewhat ill-defined and disorganised system of extra-territorial jurisdiction. In due course, Sub-Committee E may have to return to these issues. They are of very great importance and deserve to be tidied up.

I am particularly grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Wigoder, for the three points that he made in order to set the Corpus Juris project into its proper context. The question of balance is very important. It is easy to react against the proposal and to feel that in some way our system is being invaded by suggestions which are so out of keeping with our own system, but I do not believe--I do not think any members of the committee who listened to the evidence believed--that that was the right way to approach a well-intentioned, very carefully thought through and well-explained proposal. The point made by the noble Lord is absolutely right: it is a serious contribution to the debate--which is still going on--as to how to deal with a very serious problem. One is bound to approach the project against that background. Having heard the witnesses, I think we were all convinced that a great deal of serious work had been done in order to solve what everybody agreed was a remarkably difficult problem throughout the Union and beyond.

As to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, I share his view that if one looks at the two chapters of the report, by far the most difficult is the one which deals with procedural rules. We all know from looking at international conventions which deal with terrorism and the like that we can find ways of harmonising our substantive laws. Indeed, there are ways in which we can make progress in removing some of the technical rules about evidence-- which I believe is being done, step by step--to assist prosecution across national boundaries. That kind of harmonisation, if that is the right word to use, is not in principle objectionable. The serious question of

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procedure is in issue. The noble Lord, Lord Cope of Berkeley, said exactly the right thing: that it was really a risk of creating two systems within one which were incompatible with each other. The United Kingdom may be described, to echo a phrase which was used in connection with Hong Kong, as one country with three systems, but these are three systems which do not trespass upon each other: they work in harmony.

That brings me finally to the point made by the Minister about mutual recognition. I said in opening that I thought that we in the United Kingdom had something to contribute to this debate. As it happens, in the Appellate Committee this term we have had two cases which have raised very interesting points about mutual recognition between countries in the British Isles. The first was a case called Ellis, which dealt with the system which exists between Ireland and the United Kingdom for the backing of warrants for arrest. That is a good example of a system whereby an arrest warrant, which is a judicial decision in one country, can be enforced in the other simply by backing the warrant. It is based on a mutual confidence in each other's systems, which was precisely the point that the noble Lord was making.

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The other case is one which has not yet reached the point of decision: a case called The Metropolitan Magistrate of Manchester ex parte Granada Television, which deals with a similar issue. That is to say, it concerned a system of search warrants between England and Scotland. There is an Act of 1881 which allows for search warrants issued by judges in each country to be endorsed in the other. These are the kinds of system with which we have lived with a great deal of success in the United Kingdom for a very long time, and they provide an example of the kind of point the Minister was making about how we can contribute to the debate in the Community.

It has been a very stimulating debate for me to listen to, and I am delighted that the Minister has been with us to join again in our discussions. I hope that our contributions, both in this debate and in the report, will help in the months ahead as we have to look further into this problem. I commend the report to the House.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

        House adjourned at eight minutes before eight o'clock.

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