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As regards Schengen more generally, I am very disappointed that the UK, and therefore the Irish Republic, do not participate in this system. That is very counter-political-culture and the Daily Mail has challenged all those areas. However, as a European citizen and taxpayer I see it as a benefit to be able to travel freely within the European Union. I should like to think that the British Government will rethink this big division that we have put up between us and the other member states in terms of our leadership of Europe and our aspirations to be a proper working part of Europe. We use our status as an island nation to excuse our stance on this. However, Iceland, which is not even part of the European Union, is part of Schengen, as is Greece with its many islands. If we belonged to Schengen and could participate in all the third pillar areas, we would have access to much more data which would make our lives more secure. I know British men and women whose spouses are third nation individuals who cannot holiday together easily in Europe as a family because the spouses cannot easily obtain Schengen visas. Therefore, the United Kingdom is at a disadvantage in this whole area because it is not a member of Schengen. It seems to me the ultimate irony that if there is one nation in Europe that is proud of its independence and its security vis-Ã -vis anti-terrorism, it is Switzerland. It is not even a member of the European Union, yet a couple of years ago it agreed through a referendum to become a part of this process.
A number of questions arise in terms of the United Kingdom and SIS II. It is a great disappointment that we never engaged in SIS I although we had the opportunity to do so. We appear to have no wish to
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Lord Marlesford: My Lords, the subject of this report is as esoteric as it is important, and it is as important as it is esoteric. It is not headline stuff but, my goodness, it is headline stuff if what it is about goes wrong. I pay special tribute to our Clerk, Michael Collon, whose clear mind has helped us to distil in the report the crucial points in the SIS II controversy. I just hope that Ministers have read the report; if we were merely writing for a few defensive Home Office officials, we have probably been wasting our time.
I have faith in the potential of the noble Lord, Lord West of Spithead, who is to reply to the debate. He comes from a world where incompetence and lack of action and initiative can cost lives. That is a great asset that he brings to the Government. I hope therefore that, with the full support of the Home Secretary, who has made a good start, he is driving forward his own ideas and plans to protect the internal security of our country in what is already a period of very great danger.
The biggest threat comes from those Islamists who have perverted their religion into a political ideology and formed a Trotskyite-type political partyHizb ut-Tahrir. The object of that group, which of course encompasses the mission of al-Qaeda, is to overthrow by subversion and terrorism the democratic system of the West and then to use military force to introduce a world caliphate. That it has not a hope of achieving this is clear. But it is equally clear that its efforts are already proving immensely disruptive to lives in the West and will result in much bloodshed. Anyone who doubts any of that should read The Islamist by Ed Husain.
I entirely support the Government in not signing up to the Schengen agreement. I fear that I disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, with whom I agree on many other matters. The geography of the UK means that we can and must defend our borders at the points at which people enter or leave. Frankly, I prefer that system, which is more British, to the continental system whereby the borders may be open but you can be stopped down the road by checkpoints. Vos papiers, monsieur, is a common demand in France but not yetI am glad to sayin Britain.
There has been some resentment among Schengen countries that we are not full members. The other countries in the EU always object to our not taking a full part in everything European. They have used this to deny us full participation in the Schengen information system. The EU Commission is still preventing us from getting the immigration information that SIS II will collect. That is in spite of the fact that that the UK taxpayer is contributing a full share to the cost of the Schengen information system. We received a letter from Vice-President Frattini of the European Commission, telling us that the best way of guaranteeing full access to the Schengen information data is to participate fully in Schengen. That should be wholly unacceptable to Her Majestys Government.
The response of HMG has been pathetic. Informally, we are told that they are relying on quiet diplomacy. In their response to our report they say that they will have to await the judgment of the European Court in the Frontex case, which is expected next year, and that, if and when the UK is able to access these alerts, they will explore with our EU colleagues the technical issues which arise. Frontex is the proposed European frontier force being formed to deal with the very real growing threat of unmanageable immigration at flood levels. I should explain that the EU commissioners are trying to prevent us participating fully in Frontex. The feebleness of dealing with these issues of access to information is Whitehall at its worst. I wish that when the Prime Minister invited my noble friend Baroness Thatcher to tea at No. 10 he had asked her for the loan of her handbag.
I might add that I am glad to say that Sub-Committee F has embarked on an investigation into Frontex and that, in addition to a highly skilled international lawyer as a special adviser for the inquiry, we have secured the services of a recently retired major general to advise us on the logistics of Frontex.
The Minister will probably realise that my chief interest in this subject is practical. I believe that this Government have been inexcusably dilatory as regards making our borders secure to prevent malefactors getting in or out. Only now is the e-border being introduced at points of entry and there is no sign of them yet at points of exit. Most of us have probably been in and out of the UK during the Recess and we have been able to observe at first hand the permeability of our frontiers.
I wonder if your Lordships realise that Hong Kong had electronic control of its borders two years before Britain handed over that territory to China in 1997. Although passports themselves were not at that time electronic, the details of every person arriving in or leaving the territory were entered into the Hong Kong Governments computer system before they were allowed to pass. I would like to make a practical recommendation to the Minister that he gets in touch with the British official in the Hong Kong Government responsible for the system up to the handover and seeks his advice on how we might proceed in this country.
I would underline the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Wright, that the UK obtained approval to participate in SIS from the beginning of 2005nearly three years ago. Now the Government have abandoned that and said they will join only SIS II. That is due to open in December 2008. Yet, as the noble Lord, Lord Wright, told us, the junior Home Office Minister says that the UK connection will not be ready to go live until 2010. That is not good enough.
Your Lordships may be astonished at this delay. I am not. It is par for the course for the Home Office. I remind your Lordships that on 1 October 1997, Section 39 of the Firearms (Amendment) Act came into force. It required the Government to set up a central register of all those who have applied for or been granted a shotgun or firearm licence. There have been years of Home Office sabotage. I use that word advisedly, having discussed the failure to implement the amendment with a succession of the Ministers predecessorsand that is the message they have given me. They have tried again and again to persuade the Home Office to implement the will of Parliament. Not until March 2006 was the National Firearms Licensing Management System rolled out to all 43 police forces. Even now, it is not linked to the police national computer, because police forces are still engaged in a data-cleaning exercise.
I have had a number of Parliamentary Answers from the noble Lord about the administration of the UK passport system, which is integral both to SIS II and to the security of this country. These Answers reveal several disturbing facts. I would like the opportunity of a discussion of these matters with the Minister outside the Chamber.
I urge the full and proper use of biometrics. The uncertainties of biometrics are directly proportional to the number of biometrics used. The impact of the error rate of one biometric for identification can be made negligible if three biometrics are used. That is fairly elementary mathematics.
Finally, I recommend that the Home Office, in its search for using SIS II to protect our borders, makes the fullest use of algorithms, which aid the efficient use of multiple sources of information. I urge the Minister, if he has not already read it, to look at a piece on this subject on page 93 of the 15 September issue of the Economist.
Lord Harrison: My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Lord, Lord Wright of Richmond, not only for so ably introducing this debate but for chairing our committee over a number of years with enthusiasm and wisdom, for which we are all grateful. In that, he has been well aided and abetted by Michael Collon and his excellent staff.
I have a lot of sympathy with the report as we have produced it and the opening speech by the noble Lord, Lord Wright of Richmond. However, I have some sense of the difficulties that the Government face in dealing with these matters. The treaty exchanges and negotiations next week are only a
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We have an impoverished debate about the European Union in this country at the moment. The mood of Euro-scepticism has gripped not only most of our blinkered media but some of our political colleagues. One of the casualties of that has been our approach to many important issues on the European level, including Schengen, particularly the Schengen information system and now the Schengen information system II, which is the subject of todays debate. Instead of adopting a sensible approach in partnership with our European partners to tackling serious crime and heightening our internal security, we have had to compromise because of the need to placate the Euro-sceptics in the press and other media.
I base my own full-throated support for the European Union on the single European market, to which the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, referred. I believe that the single European market, which encourages the free movement of goods, people, services and capital, is the route by which we convince people that the European Union is worth while; it brings prosperity and jobs in that way. But I have heard less articulated the fact that, if you create a single European market that is beneficial, you also create a market for those who use the free movement to help organised crime, to traffic people or to present themselves as terrorists. That is why we so badly need a template of protection over that worthwhile single marketone that protects the market and, most important, protects the people moving within and around it.
Like the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, I have high hopes of my noble friend Lord West of Spithead, and perhaps he will accept my very warm but belated welcome to the Government Front Bench. In a former incarnation, he had the safety of the British people and this island at heart, and I, too, hope that he has not so changed, chameleon-like, as a new Minister that he has forgotten the importance of and need for those security objectives. I hope that he casts his cold analytical eye on these political issues and recognises that, if we absent ourselves from Schengen and the information systems allied to it, we may present less secure protection for our people than might otherwise be the case. I hope that he will be indiscreet in his reply and say that he, too, shares some of those worries.
I hope that my noble friend will also reply to the question about joining up late. Is it to be 2010, and what form is SIS II to take? I also agree with the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford: it seems peculiar that, when we ask what the difficulties are, we are told that we need to consult 80 other organisations and there will be difficulties there. We discover that most of those organisations are our own police forces. It seems to me that it is a question of, Physician, heal thyself. If we have not organised ourselves in this country the best to share information about criminals, how can we expect to do so at the higher level? I have always been an enthusiast for a national police force. We may not go there but we need to have a good system within our
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Being outside Schengen and having a semi-detached status produce difficulties. Again, I hope that my noble friend will tackle some of those issues, or at least recognise that problems are associated with them. Another difficulty comes from excluding ourselves from access to immigration data while maintaining border control priorities. Sometimes the difficulty is defining which elements of SIS II will be available to Britain. That does not make life easy for those whom we charge with the important task of defending Britain.
Has my noble friend had further thoughts about what the Minister, Joan Ryan, said when she came before the committee on 29 November 2006? I asked her about the cost of the Schengen information system and the fact that we pay a pro-rata rate of 18 per cent without having full access to the information so produced. I asked her whether she felt that that was value for money, and clearly she did not. I said:
We are spending £0.5 million on the subscription to SIS II and £3 million to £4 million on increasing the infrastructure by which, in time, it is to be implemented, but will my noble friend report to us whether he is satisfied that that money is well spent or whether it could be better spent if we stepped over the line and joined Schengen and all the elements associated with it?
Can he say a little more about progress on the data protection framework decision, which has already been alluded to by our chairman and the noble Lord, Lord Teverson? Can he also say whether the European Commission is charged to promote an information campaign about SIS II with the national supervisory authorities? What intelligence can he give us about that? What, if anything, is being done on that score? Member states themselvesthat is, usare required to ensure that citizens are fully informed about SIS II. What is the UK doing? Does it apply to us? In paragraph 159 of the report we talk of greater transparency,
to arrive at a satisfactory conclusion. We have always wanted to promote transparency within the European Council but in this area, we say that we are concerned about moving too far and too fast. We look to the six-month review to slow things down. I wonder whether my noble friend can bring us up to date on that as well.
We have also inquired as a committeewe have been rebuffed by the Governmentabout getting regular updates on the progress and preparations for SIS II. Can the Minister think about that again? It is important to have regular updates and not to wait
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Reference has been made to the Irish Republic and its absence from the Schengen system. What is the state of play between us and our colleagues in Ireland? Are we discussing this matter actively? Are we thinking about their future, our future and the future of the European Union, which should see us sharing this vital information to rebut criminals of all sorts? We should be sharing this information to offer the template of protection that is so urgently needed for the development of the single market.
Baroness Ludford: My Lords, it is a great pleasure to take part in this debate on an excellent report from Sub-Committee F. I do not think that it is purely my national pride which leads me to say that Lords EU Committee reports are much appreciated in Brussels. It is their quality that recommends them.
The consolidation of an area of free movement of persons is one of the key EU projects and SIS has been an essential compensatory tool for lifting controls at internal borders, offsetting it with not only the reinforcement of the common external borders but delivering security through the exchange of information.
SIS II is now essential to accommodate enlargement of the area of free movement and to take advantage of developments in information technology. SIS II is intended to be more consistent, uniform and secure, but also more flexible, easier to manage, better performing and capable of integrating new data, new functions and the interlinking of alerts.
I am a member of the Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs Committee of the European Parliament and the SIS II proposals were carefully scrutinised by that committee not least because the European Parliament had a co-decisionon the regulation. We sort of got quasi co-decision on the decision. I also followed them closely because I am the Parliaments rapporteurlead memberon the visa information system, which is a biometric database set up to improve the management of visa policy but also having spin-off security benefits. It was important to secure coherence between those two large-scale databases, which will share the same technical platform and will be managed in the future, we hope, by the same management agency.
The European Parliament, like the committee, was critical of the lack of an impact assessment for SIS II similar to the lack of an impact assessment for the daughter of the visa information system, which I am now dealing with, which is the measure on the collection of the biometrics for the VIS. It is rather perverse that, as a result of the European Parliaments input, there will be specific impact assessments on particular aspects of SIS II once it is functioningon the transition to a management agency and, before biometrics can be used for identification purposes, one-to-many searchesbut there was no global impact assessment on SIS II itself. Perhaps if we had had the global one, we would not have needed all the specifics.
Because the Parliament had co-decision, we were able to effect some considerable improvements, many of them in line with comments in the sub-committees report. The first area was, of course, that of data protection and supervision of the system. Parliaments suggestions to improve data quality and limit retention periods were accepted. We succeeded in strengthening supervision, with an increased role for both the European data protection supervisor and national data protection authorities. We insisted that any use of the data for police investigative purposesthat is, other than that for which it was enteredmust be linked to a specific case and be justified on serious national security grounds; in other words, to stop fishing expeditions and profiling. We also insisted on publication of the list of agencies allowed access to SIS II and a ban on transfers to third countries.
The report commented on the differing data protection regimes between the regulation and the decision; the noble Lord, Lord Wright, highlighted that in his introduction. This is partly because the normal first pillar, as it is called, data protection directive applies to the regulation. For the decision, we had to seek ad hoc rulesprincipally, as was pointed out, because we suffer from an overall data protection regime in the law enforcement third pillar area. The European Parliament has been demanding this for the past decade. It is quite scandalous that we still lack it. We had a Justice and Home Affairs Council meeting in September which apparently reached some kind of agreement but a pretty unsatisfactory one, diluted from the high safeguards that this House and the European Parliament have demanded. Unfortunately, the European Parliament is only consulted on this; we do not have co-decision.
The European Parliament secured other safeguards. On IT security, we insisted that SIS II should be treated as critical infrastructure, so that it got that degree of protection. On management, as I have said, we insisted on a parallel solution for the Schengen information system II and the visa information system. This will allow consistency of provision by the European data protection supervisor. We insisted on regular evaluation reports, as well as the publication of statistics on alerts, hits and access given to the system. All of this will improve transparency and audit.
On biometrics, we secured that not only should there be quality checks before biometrics are entered, in order to reduce the risk of errors, but also that there should be this review, evaluation or specific impact assessment before one-to-many searches are allowed. Of course, before DNA or iris scans were ever to be entered into the system, there would have to be an amendment to the legislation, as was pointed out. Lastly, on the European Parliament, I would highlight the rights of information, the right to deletion of unlawfully stored data given to individuals and the right to know, subject to certain national security criteria, what is held on an individual.
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