I beg to move,
That this House
takes note of European Union Document No. 8229/13 and Addenda 1 to 6, a draft Regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council on the European Union Agency for Law Enforcement Cooperation and Training (Europol) and repealing Decisions 2009/371/JHA and 2005/681/JHA;
and agrees with the Government that the UK should opt into the Regulation post-adoption, provided that Europol is not given the power to direct national law enforcement agencies to initiate investigations or share data that conflicts with national security.
The motion sets out the position that the Government intend to take on the new Europol regulation, which the Commission published at the end of March. The motion makes clear our view that we should not opt into the regulation now but only after it is adopted, provided that the two conditions set out in the motion are met. Those are that the regulation does not empower Europol to direct national law enforcement agencies to initiate investigations and that it does not require them to share data that conflict with national security. To join the regulation with those requirements in it would not be acceptable.
In making the recommendation, the Government had two choices. We could opt into the new Europol regulation by the initial deadline of
In saying that, I recognise, of course, the important help that Europol gives us in the fight against cross-border crime. I have seen that at first hand and I know it has played a crucial role in helping the police catch some very serious criminals. For instance, Operation Rescue brought together law enforcement authorities from 13 countries to tackle an online paedophile network. Europol cracked the security features on the network’s server, which allowed law enforcement to identify the offenders. As a result, 121 suspects were arrested in the UK and 230 children were protected from abuse.
I join the Minister in praising the work of Europol, which I visited four weeks ago. I saw the superb work that is being done. Is it not better that we should be part of the discussions, influencing them, rather than just accepting the new architecture after it has been arranged?
I hope to assure the right hon. Gentleman that we will be there, influencing and seeking to negotiate the measure. We may not be opting in at the outset, but that should not in any way, shape or form be taken as the UK Government’s not wishing to seek to
influence the measure and create the changes that we believe are necessary for us to consider a subsequent opt-in, post adoption.
The right hon. Gentleman will want to congratulate Rob Wainwright, whom he spoke to on his recent visit, on the important job that he is doing to make Europol an effective, well-managed and widely respected organisation in the fight against international crime.
We can point to other examples. Operation Golf, which has been cited several times previously in this House, was a joint UK-Romania investigation team targeting a specific Romanian organised crime network. Offences associated with the network included human trafficking, money laundering, benefit fraud, perverting the course of justice, theft, and handling stolen goods. Europol provided analytical support and facilitated real-time checks on its systems, and 126 individuals were arrested in the UK. Europol’s help in Operation Seagrape led directly to the identification of bank accounts used by a people-smuggling gang based near Dunkirk. French, Belgian and British agencies worked jointly to target a specific organised crime group, and 36 arrests were made. It is for those reasons that the Government believe that it is in the national interest to seek to rejoin the current arrangements for Europol agreed back in 2009 as part of the 2014 decision. That was made clear in our discussions in the previous debate.
However, that is not the matter before us now. Instead, we need to decide whether to opt into the new regulation, which sets down new rules and powers for Europol and, we believe, would change its relationship with member states in some quite troubling ways. Our first concern is with the proposals on data exchange. The Commission wants member states to share more data with Europol. That is a good idea in principle; after all, Europol can only be as effective as the information it holds. However, a strong legal obligation to supply it with data, as proposed in the draft regulation, is a different matter. It would undermine member states’ control over their own law enforcement intelligence, which we regard as absolutely fundamental.
Even more worrying is the fact that the draft regulation does not exempt member states from providing information even if it could damage national security, or endanger ongoing operations or an individual’s safety. These protections are explicit in the existing instrument governing Europol but absent from the new proposal. That is a significant change. The proposal also strengthens Europol’s power to request investigations. It can already do this to some extent, but the new proposal creates a presumption that member states will comply with a request. It also strengthens their duty to give reasons if they decide not to do so. That is particularly worrying because any reasons could be subject to challenge before the European Court of Justice.
The European Scrutiny Committee has asked whether article 276 of the treaty on the functioning of the European Union would protect us from having a refusal challenged in the Court. We are not convinced that it would. Article 276 prevents the Court from reviewing
“the validity or proportionality of operations carried out by the police or other law enforcement services”.
It is highly debatable whether a decision to refuse to open an investigation would constitute
“operations carried out by the police”
because, by definition, no operation would have been carried out. We therefore do not think that article 276 provides enough protection against the Court’s involvement. This creates a real risk of the European Court being able to second-guess our policing priorities. That would simply be unacceptable. Policing is a core function of a sovereign state and it must remain a member state responsibility.
My hon. Friend makes an important point. Discussions have already taken place and member states have voiced concerns. Our certainty faces a challenge because, as I will come on to say, there is an element of risk with regard to what will happen, given that there is qualified majority voting and the European Parliament can make a co-decision. Given the significance of the issues, it is right that we wait to see what the final measure looks like before deciding whether to opt in. I think that that is the right approach, which is why we tabled the motion. However, as I told the Chair of the Home Affairs Committee, that does not mean that we will not engage in active discussions with member states, the Commission and others in order to seek to influence this measure as it is negotiated.
I have discussed the proposal personally with senior law enforcement officials from across the UK. Like us, the law enforcement community supports Europol as it is now, but the senior officers I spoke to agreed that our issues with the new text are real and serious.
On the Opposition’s amendment, the Government agree entirely that it is right to consult chief constables and law enforcement partners as part of this process. We have consulted senior law enforcement officers from across the UK, including the Metropolitan police and policing partners from Scotland and Northern Ireland. However, I ask the House to reject the amendment, because ultimately this is a decision for Parliament and the amendment does not contemplate Parliament coming to a view on whether we should opt in post-adoption.
Some hon. Members may argue tonight that we should opt into this proposal and negotiate out the elements that cause us concern. The problem with that is that the proposal is subject to qualified majority voting and we cannot guarantee that we would get the changes we need. We could quite easily be outvoted in Council, and then we would be bound by the final text, even if it contained elements we could not accept.
The Government are not prepared to take risks on something as important as this, which goes to the very heart of our law enforcement. We therefore intend not to opt in at this stage, but to remain fully engaged in negotiations and work with other member states and the European Parliament to push for the changes we need.
We know that member states and the EU institutions value our experience in this area. We have already had indications that others recognise our concerns and are prepared to work with us to try to find a solution.
We do not expect the regulation to be agreed much before the end of 2015. When it is agreed, we will consult Parliament on it again, depositing the final text with an explanatory memorandum, and, as this House knows from the handling of the human trafficking directive, we will be able to hold another debate at that time.
I stress that the Government’s position has no immediate implications for our participation in Europol. As I have said, we believe it is in our national interest to seek to rejoin the existing Europol legal instrument as part of the 2014 decision process. By doing so we will retain our full membership of the organisation throughout the negotiations, so nothing will change for the foreseeable future.
The Minister is setting out cogently the scrutiny being exercised by the Government and the pros and cons. If we cannot remove the supranational whistles and bells, what contingency planning or negotiations are in place so that, if we do not opt back in, we can still retain operational co-operation, which, whatever anyone’s views from an ideological standpoint, most people would regard as important?
I heard my hon. Friend speak in the preceding debate about the importance of continuing operational co-operation. Members from all parties recognise the transnational nature of crime and the subsequent operational need for law enforcement divisions from all European member states to be able to collaborate and co-operate in order to fight it. We certainly believe that, because of the way in which Europol can bring a number of member states together in one space, it is the most effective way to proceed, provided that the appropriate safeguards are met when the measure is finally concluded and negotiated, and that they reflect the concerns that my hon. Friend raised in the previous debate about extensions into supranational competency. The Home Secretary also made clear in the previous debate her views on a European police force.
Subject to those safeguards being introduced, we believe that a reformed Europol measure is the optimum way forward, but it is clearly open to us to negotiate individual operational relationships with other member states. However, in our judgment, the nature of Europol and the intelligence work that it conducts in support of member states’ law enforcement agencies mean that our emphasis will be on seeking to influence the measure and to be in a position to opt into it following its adoption, provided that the appropriate safeguards are achieved. Again, that will be subject to further parliamentary scrutiny, and to the potential for a further debate in this House, to assess and analyse the provisions and to ensure that the appropriate safeguards are provided.
We wish to remain part of Europol, and will do so provided we get the amendments that we need, but we cannot support it at any price. We will not put our sovereignty and security at risk by committing ourselves in advance to a proposal that, as drafted, poses significant risks to both. The Government’s approach shows that we are serious about international police co-operation and about protecting the autonomy of our law enforcement agencies. I urge the House to support the motion tonight.
I beg to move amendment (a), in line 4, leave out from ‘2005/681/JHA;’
to end and add—
‘and calls on the Government to consider the views of the Association of Chief Police Officers in deciding when to adopt the measure.’.
I am pleased that there is consensus across the House that Europol does a good job for the citizens of the United Kingdom, and that it is beneficial to this country. A quick scan of the Europol website will show that, just in the past few months, it has taken action on false domains for websites, worked with the UK on Italian organised crime, looked into issues relating to counterfeit euros and targeted the enforcement of drug laws, to name but a few. The Minister also mentioned other areas of its work.
The agency is led by a Briton, Rob Wainwright, and it uses its information capabilities and expertise to identify and track the most dangerous criminals and terrorist networks in Europe. It engages in about 13,000 investigations each year. This year, recent successes in the fight against crime have included tackling match fixing in football. In March 2013, Europol broke up a criminal syndicate that was involved in match fixing in 380 top international FIFA and UEFA games, including one Champions League tie in this country.
The right hon. Gentleman is making a very good case for Europol, which makes me curious as to why his amendment seeks to take out the commitment to opt into Europol subject to the red lines mentioned by the Minister, and to replace it with a provision that is much more ambiguous than the one put forward by the Government in the first place.
I can assure the hon. Gentleman that we wish to opt into Europol. I will explain our amendment in a moment. This is a take-note motion, and I want to put on record the Labour party’s view on these matters.
Europol has also dealt with investigations into credit card fraud, making 44 arrests this year in its investigation into a massive credit card fraud network, much of which was located in the United Kingdom. In answer to Martin Horwood, yes, Europol is a good thing, and we wish to remain in it, but we also wish to discuss with the Association of Chief Police Officers the question of how we can remain in it in a way that is effective for the coalition Government and for the United Kingdom.
That is very kind of the right hon. Gentleman, although I find it odd that, if he is so keen on opting in, he want to remove the bit of the motion that says we should opt in. My point, however, is why consult only with ACPO? He will be aware that ACPO is a private company limited by guarantee, so why not mention bodies such as the College of Policing, the
Chief Constables’ Council or any other such bodies? What is the obsession with only the one entity, which is just a private company?
Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will allow me to make a case. ACPO does cover Scotland. There is ACPO Scotland and Northern Ireland ACPO—[Interruption.] If the hon. Gentleman would calm down for a moment and allow me to continue rather than chirruping from the Front Bench, he will understand why I am raising the issue of ACPO. It has made severe criticisms of the Government’s approach, which I will reflect on in a moment.
Europol’s director, Rob Wainwright, recently told the European Committee in another place:
“It is undeniable that the demands of fighting international crime and terrorism require an ever-increasing level of co-operation between the member states.”
In my view and in his, and—I am pleased to say—that of the Government and the Liberal Democrats, Europol is a welcome institution. Today, however, we are considering the four or so areas where there are extensions to Europol’s activity in the new documents, which include extensions
“to strengthen and clarify the obligation for Member States to supply data to Europol in order for it to analyse…the information;”
to establish Europol links with data already in possession of member states to consider how we can process that in an effective way;
“to merge Europol and the European Police College…into a single EU agency, located”
not in the United Kingdom as is currently the case in Bramshill in Hampshire, but in The Hague; and an increase in
“parliamentary scrutiny of Europol by the EU Parliament and national Parliaments.”
The House of Lords Committee said that it wished to retain an opt-in to the proposals for European regulation. To assuage the hon. Members for Cambridge and for Cheltenham (Martin Horwood), that is the Labour party’s position on this take-note motion. In my view, however, the question under debate focuses on the words “post-adoption”. The Government’s proposal in the take-note motion states that the House
“agrees with the Government that the UK should opt into the Regulation post-adoption,”.
We are saying that the Government should consult ACPO, although I accept that that potentially involves a wider consultation about why and how the post-adoption issue should be approached.
I have in my possession a letter to the Minister from Allan Gibson, Queen’s Police Medal, who is the ACPO lead on extradition and mutual legal assistance. In it, he mentions a number of the reasons why this motion in the name of my right hon. Friend Edward Miliband was tabled to tease out from the Minister his position on a number of key issues.
The letter was sent to the Minister last week and states first and foremost:
“ACPO regards the UK’s continuing membership of Europol as highly beneficial to the national interest.”
I agree, the Minister agrees, and Liberal Democrat Members agree with that.
The letter goes on:
“ACPO supports the sharing of crime related intelligence and information between Member States facilitated through Europol…this facility has been a vital part of the development of more effective law enforcement cooperation across Europe and has made it possible to bring more offenders to justice and prevent crime.”
Again, I agree with that; I am not sure whether the Minister does, but I suspect that the Liberal Democrats do.
The letter continues and states:
“information exchange must be undertaken with appropriate levels of security and UK law enforcement would be keen to ensure that we had the necessary safeguards in place to protect highly sensitive intelligence and operations.”
I agree with that, which is why the Minister needs to consult in detail with ACPO on these matters to consider how we can do this without—dare I say this to Liberal Democrat Members—necessarily doing it post-adoption. In my view, they are being sold a fudge. They are being told that they can sign up to Europol, but they do so post-adoption.
I shall argue that post-adoption is an area of key concern, and one that we need to flesh out, consider in detail and come to a conclusion on. ACPO continued:
“Our view is that Europol membership is far too important to the UK to put at risk and adopting ‘a wait and see post-adoption opt in if we like it’ policy would not be the right approach.”
That is the view of ACPO, whose role is to look after, defend and develop crime-fighting potential in the UK. It continued:
“Such an approach would forfeit our opportunity to be seated around the table to influence our partners directly for one of signposting the basis on which we would rejoin, i.e. if our conditions are met.”
That is a very severe criticism, and it sets out why we need to maintain Europol membership. These are real concerns being placed on the record: in a letter to the Minister, ACPO said that it does not agree with his approach of a post-adoption opt-in. An explanation is needed, and we have tabled our amendment to explore these important issues of national security and data sharing to the satisfaction of the House, ACPO and others. We do not want to give up our seat at the table, as the proposed take-note motion proposes, in order to achieve our ends.
I welcome the Liberal Democrats’ support for Europol. Their policy briefing document states:
“We must not expose Britain to attack from criminal gangs. Liberal Democrats will keep Britain at the heart of international crime-fighting measures such as…the European Police Office (Europol) that the Conservatives want us to pull out of.”
[Interruption.] Sorry, I missed that comment from Michael Ellis.
No, he is withdrawing his heckle.
I am sorry, but I did not go to a public school, so my grammar might not be as good as other people’s.
The motion states that the UK
“should opt into the Regulation post-adoption”.
My concern is not that we might lose what we have with Europol, which is good, but that the Conservatives are looking for a reason not to develop it in the future. The Liberal Democrats, who are their partners in this great coalition of ours, are closer to my view than the Government’s. We need to hear the views of ACPO so that we can iron out the difficulties the Government have identified before the post-adoption position in the take-note motion becomes the default position.
I could quote many Liberal Democrats whose websites praise Europol and our signing up to the very things about the development of Europol that the Minister is concerned about. We need to consider the matter positively and find a way through it in the next few weeks and months so that ACPO’s concerns, which we might share, about data sharing and other issues can be worked on. We must not keep away from or fail to engage with the discussions about the development of the next stage of Europol.
I mention that with Mr Cash in mind. He is honoured to hold the position of Chairman of the House of Commons European Scrutiny Committee, although how he ever got given that I will never know—[Hon. Members: “He was elected.”] I appreciate that, but he was not elected by me. In the spirit of common cause, let me say that paragraph 1.13 of his Committee’s helpful report, “Reforming Europol”, which is published today, quotes a letter from the Minister, which says:
“‘In the longer term, it is clear that our continued participation in Europol…will depend on our participation in this new measure.’”
Paragraph 1.14 states:
“If the UK’s request to rejoin the existing Europol Council Decision is successful, can the Minister confirm that, once the draft Regulation has been adopted, it would not be possible for the UK to continue to cooperate with Europol on the current basis and that, if the conditions set by the Government for opting in post-adoption are not met, the UK could expect to be ejected from Europol?”
I do not know the answer to that question, but the key point is this: if the Government decide that data sharing, information sharing and other matters are red lines, I suspect that they will part company with the Liberal Democrats on some of those issues, and they might part company with the Labour party too. The Government might find themselves in a position where they cannot maintain a presence in Europol. Europol will have developed organically over 18 months to two years and we will not have been at the table to deal with that organic development, because of the Government’s decision to take part in negotiations post-adoption. The Minister, in his response to the hon. Member for Stone, said:
“If the UK opted in now, and if we could not gain amendments to the text during negotiations, we would be bound by the elements which cause us concern, and would be subject to infraction if we failed to abide by provisions in the Regulation.”
It is my view that Europol does a good thing. There are issues that Europol needs to examine with member states, and ACPO, among others, has identified issues that need to be addressed. However, the Government’s approach of not ratifying until joining post-adoption is wrong. I want to see more discussion. We will not oppose the main motion as it is just a take note motion, but we will press the Opposition amendment, which
indicates that we want further discussions with ACPO. When a chief police officer writes, in a letter to the Minister that was copied to the Home Secretary, the Deputy Prime Minister and the Prime Minister, that
“Our view is that Europol membership is far too important to the UK to be put at risk and awaiting ‘a wait and see post-adoption opt in if we like it’ policy would not be the right approach”
it is a very serious criticism of the Government’s position and the Minister has a duty to explain further why he has rejected ACPO’s advice. Before we reach a final decision, we should discuss further with those who have put their concerns on the record in a way that is self-evident and open to all.
One thing is clear: most of us think that we should be in Europol. My hon. Friends in the Liberal Democrats, the Opposition Front Benchers and the Minister are all clear on that. It is good that we have all come to that conclusion. It is fundamentally right that serious crime can be dealt with internationally across Europe, and Europol is the right tool to do that. I expect Britain to remain in Europol. However, the questions about data management, national security and so on that the Minister drew to our attention need further reflection and debate.
As for the Association of Chief Police Officers, the central point is not so much what it would like as an outcome regarding our membership of Europol, but how we get there. The important point is this: can the British Government be absolutely sure that they can have sufficient influence during the negotiation period?That is the central question, and it is one to which we will return in relation to a number of other issues, as we consider our future relationship with the European Union as a whole and various aspects of it. However, I would put down the marker that it is important for us to engage—as I think we will, based on what the Minister said—because we have to protect our interests in the ways that he described and that get us the right outcome.
Let me conclude this relatively short speech with this observation. During the forthcoming period of negotiation, it is critical that we negotiate through appropriate mechanisms. I fully recognise the point the Minister made about qualified majority voting, but it is important that we ensure that natural allies to our causes are also embraced and included in the process.
It is a pleasure to follow Neil Carmichael. He should not apologise for making a brief speech: they are most welcome in the House after seven hours debating the European Union. It is not the length but the quality of what he has to say that matters.
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right that everyone who has spoken so far supports Europol—one wonders what we are debating—and is full of praise for Rob Wainwright, who is one of the very few British people to head a European organisation. Everyone who has spoken has been full of praise for an organisation that can look back at a history of co-operation between all European countries. I had the privilege of visiting Europol five weeks ago, and meeting Rob Wainwright and looking at the various methods by which countries co-operate. It was fascinating, and I would urge every Member of
the House to go. The Select Committee on Home Affairs will probably go later this year, during our inquiry into international crime and terrorism.
Europol basically has an office for every European country, with its police officers present in those offices. If people wish to try to track down criminals who have left this country and gone to other countries, our office can be contacted. Those officers then cross the corridor—literally—and hand the information to a police officer in another country. Almost immediately the information is transmitted to that other country, so while the serious and organised criminals are out there trying to commit crimes, here we have an organisation that is working to cut through the red tape of the European Union and producing some superb results. As the Minister said, not only did Operation Golf—the operation that brought together our police force and the Romanian police—result in many strands of human trafficking being disrupted, but we caught real criminals. That was a great benefit to both countries.
I heard what the shadow Minister said about the Association of Chief Police Officers, and he is absolutely right: we should take into consideration what ACPO is saying. He is right to draw the House’s attention to the fact that ACPO has written to the Prime Minister and others about its concerns. However, at the end of the day, such decisions are matters for this House and those who sit in it. Although ACPO can be helpful in providing advice to this House and to Ministers, ultimately it is we who need to make the decision.
The debate comes down to this point. We need to opt in because Europol is a successful organisation—one that actually catches international criminals and disrupts criminal networks. In the area of Europol dedicated to monitoring the internet, I saw how, almost hourly, ACPO officials can view sites that are dedicated to supporting and encouraging terrorism. If we did not have organisations like Europol, our job in this country and the job of our police service would be much more difficult.
However, I think the Government are making a mistake in this motion. I supported the Government in the last vote because the Government accepted the amendment of the Chairs of the Select Committees and allowed us the opportunity to scrutinise the opt-out arrangements—and, we hope, the opt-in arrangements—when we have finished our scrutiny. The mistake that has been made is this: if we are not at the table influencing the way in which Europol 2, if we can call it that, will develop, I feel that we will not do justice to the police services in this country and we will not do justice to what we want to see happen in the fight against international crime.
We need that seat at the table if we are to influence the new architecture of the fight against international crime. That view has been put forward not just by ACPO but by others who seek to try to influence how this develops. Frankly, if we are not there and are not able to participate in those discussions, we will not be able to influence what the new architecture will look like.
I hope I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that we will be there and will remain fully engaged in the negotiations so that we are able to influence them. For the reasons he highlights, although we might not be opting in at the outset, I can assure him that the influence and the focus will be there and time
will be spent to exert influence in a positive way. I recognise the right hon. Gentleman’s point; we are very cognisant of it.
I am not saying that Ministers, officials and UKRep will not be working very hard, but there is a big difference between opting in and being right at the top of and part of the process, and being able to engage in influence: they are two quite different things. The views of the officials I met at Europol was that they really needed to be there, and they could not understand why we were not going to be there, taking part in these deliberations and discussions.
Another one of the Minister’s arguments is “If we are there, it has to go to qualified majority voting”. He could ask the Minister for Europe about this, but I think he will find if he looks at the figures that we are almost always on the winning side when it comes to QMV. I do not know whether he has the figures, whether his officials could give him them or whether he could tell us about them if he makes a winding-up speech, but unless things have changed in the last 10 years, when a British Minister sits at a table where European issues are being discussed and it goes to a vote, we are almost always on the winning side.
I think we will be on the winning side on this particular issue because it is to do with policing and we are hugely respected for the work we do in the fight against international crime. I think the Minister’s argument is weak when he effectively says “We are afraid of the results at the European Council and we cannot take a risk because we might lose”. Of course we might lose, but I think we can make these arguments, especially because we have a British head of Europol, who has recently been confirmed for another term—four years, I think—in office.
I urge the Minister to think again. He says we are going to have some influence and be engaged, but it is really not the same if we are going to be on the sidelines and exert influence only after all the negotiations are over. I think people will accept the words of a British Minister who would be widely respected on the justice and home affairs agenda. He would be able to put his views forward in his articulate and intelligent way while sitting at a meeting. He will obviously draw on the efforts of ACPO, but I agree with Dr Huppert that ACPO is not the be-all and end-all of policing.
You will remember, Mr Speaker, although I do not want to draw you into the debate, when the 42 days issue was being discussed we were all told, “ACPO and the police service all want the House to vote for 42 days. It is everything that everyone has always wanted so we all have to vote for it”—until, of course, it changed its mind and we did not follow that approach. We hugely respect ACPO and all the people in it, but at the end of the day we need to make this decision. I very much hope that the Minister will think again and allow us the opportunity to be there at the top table, influencing these discussions.
There seems to be a wonderful outbreak of agreement about the value of Europol. I am not sure that all the Members who
contributed to the last debate would subscribe entirely to that agreement, but certainly those of us who are here now do so, and that pleases me very much. However, wonderful as it is, Europol could be updated and reformed. I am glad that the Commission is proceeding with that task, and that we will see a new, improved Europol in 2015. I fear that the United Kingdom will be sidelined if we do not opt into the Europol regulation.
As I said earlier, almost half the 600 investigations that Europol is currently pursuing have links to the UK, and that is a huge factor for British policing. I will not list all Europol’s other wonderful merits, but I will make a connection with the last debate. I think it will have been an enormous waste of time, money and other resources if we decide to opt out of everything, then opt back into Europol in the negotiations leading up to 2014, and then get kicked out again in 2015. That strikes me as a very bizarre way of doing things.
Two key issues, which the Minister outlined very clearly, are data sharing and the proposal that would enable Europol to force the UK to initiate investigations. I do not think that those issues are as huge as some have made them out to be, but they have prompted concern, and it is right for us to deal with that. Data sharing is extremely important, but the changes that are being made are alarming. I think that many of the other member states would agree with us, and I suspect that neither of those proposals will be in the final version. Other countries will not want to share data when doing so could be too damaging. A certain amount of operational independence is necessary, and Britain should not break that principle.
It is always a pleasure to follow Keith Vaz. Like him—and, I believe, the other Liberal Democrats—I should prefer simply to remain at the table in order to be in on the negotiations at the outset. I think that if we had a full voting seat and could shape the future of Europol, we would win on the two points that I have mentioned and, I suspect, many others. However, that is not an option, so I am very pleased that the motion commits the Government to opting into the regulation post-adoption as long as the provisions relating to data sharing and the initiation of investigations remain. That strikes me as a reasonable approach which will ensure that we have the benefits of Europol and can continue to play a leading role in it, and I hope that our membership continues under the existing framework in the meantime.
I suspect that the amendment was intended to probe, and to that extent I understand what Mr Hanson was trying to achieve, but if he decides to press it to a vote, I shall strongly disagree with his decision. I hope that this is merely a probing amendment, for a number of reasons. First, the amendment deletes the part of the motion that
“agrees with the Government that the UK should opt into the Regulation post-adoption”.
I suspect that whoever drafted it—I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman would not have made such an error himself—meant to remove the words after “post-adoption”. As it is, however, I should much prefer the House to agree that we will opt in as long as the conditions are met.
It still worries me that the amendment removes that clear commitment.
I am also concerned about the role of the Association of Chief Police Officers. ACPO covers England, Wales and Northern Ireland, but specifically does not cover Scotland, which has a separate body, ACPO Scotland or ACPOS. The ACPO logo lists the three nations that it covers, but ACPOS is a different body. There are many other police-related bodies, including the College of Policing and Policing Matters.
I understand the right hon. Gentleman’s intentions, and I suspect that we agree about what we are trying to achieve. His amendment serves very well as a probing amendment, but, as I have said, if he presses it to a vote I will not support it.
Europol deals with about 13,000 investigations a year, and it is a huge help to us. I am very pleased that we will seek to remain in the new, improved version.
I am delighted to follow my hon. Friend Dr Huppert. I, too, support Europol, although I do not think that I would go quite as far as some Members in saying how wonderful it is in every particular, as though it were an instrument of perfection. I do not think it is that; it is, in fact, a rather bureaucratic organisation. Nevertheless, I appreciate its work, which it does extremely well. Its law enforcement achievements are there for all to see on its website, and it can be very proud of those achievements, which are signal in many respects. Generally speaking, I support Europol. I also appreciate the good work Rob Wainwright does in heading that organisation, and I am glad his term of office has been extended. There are too few British officials in charge of European organisations, and I would like to see more of them doing that.
I agree with the Minister that it is not appropriate at this point to be talking about opting in, because we are not to do in this House what others would not do in their respective legislatures in Europe, which is see our sovereignty or security put at risk inappropriately—or at all. Where there is insecurity, as far as we are concerned, about the sovereign powers of this country, I do not accept we should opt into the regulations as they currently are or as they are envisaged. We should be very cautious about where we go in respect of Europol and opting in.
Generally speaking, I am extremely supportive of the Government’s position. We are opting out of some 98 measures, and this is the first time powers have come back from Europe to the United Kingdom. I welcome that and I would like to see further powers coming back to the UK. I congratulate the Government.
I also accept that it is totally appropriate for us to opt into some very important powers, and Europol is one of the bodies I would like us eventually to be able to work ever closer with, as we do not want another costa del crime; we do not want another situation developing where people can escape the law and justice, as has been the case hitherto. All Members across the House accept this principle as it is in the wider public interest, but we should not allow the sovereignty and security of this
country to be jeopardised. Where Ministers of the Crown feel it is unacceptable to have the arrangements currently envisaged under the regulations, I agree that they should withhold their consent.
Europol’s functions are addressed, and can be supported, through the European arrest warrant, which we discussed in our earlier debate. I have been a strong critic of the EAW in its previous form, but I can again support the Government in this provision for the simple reason that the envisaged changes to the EAW before we could opt back into it are such that they effectively mean it will be completely different from before. If we deal with the three main problems, it will, in my submission, be a different entity—a different thing—even though the name may be the same. The first problem is to do with proportionality—the fact that far too minor and petty offences were subject to extradition. That made it an object of ridicule, as well as injustice, in many cases. There is also the issue of charging. People were being extradited to European countries without those countries having made a charging decision as to whether, and how, to proceed. We must also address the issue of bail, so that individuals who are suspected of offences can be bailed pending their proceedings. Addressing those problems would have the effect of completely changing the EAW; it would be unrecognisable from the current instrument. That should reassure those who are concerned about opting back into it.
Europol does a lot of very good work, and I hope Ministers can work with our partners in Europe to resolve any differences, and we can continue the good work that organisation does in respect of the UK.
This has been a short but confusing debate. Mr Hanson made what sounded like a pro-European speech, but, despite his protestations, he proposed an amendment that would remove the Government’s commitment to Europol. The contributions from the Conservative Back Benches have lacked the usual recitations from places like Stone and North East Somerset, and we instead had a constructive and positive contribution from my constituency neighbour, Neil Carmichael, and a merely mildly Eurosceptic contribution from Michael Ellis. The Minister made what was supposed to sound like a Eurosceptic speech but he was none the less moving a motion that undoubtedly commits us to opt into the regulation post-adoption, subject only to red lines which, as my hon. Friend Dr Huppert said, are perfectly reasonable conditions to set on the negotiations. Perhaps unlike the Minister, and like Keith Vaz, I would have rather had us at the table throughout those negotiations. I slightly regret that we are trying to influence the negotiations but not be part of them; we might be accused of wanting to have our gateau and eat it at the same time. Nevertheless, the Minister is proposing a bit of reasonable, coalition pragmatic compromise, which I think delivers the goods. It will commit us, in the end, to opt into Europol and that is absolutely the right thing to do.
Hon. Members have made many mentions of the positive aspects of Europol’s work, including Operation Golf, which led to the arrest of 126 individuals, seven in
the UK, for trafficking children and the release of 181 children across Europe. It also probably saved the UK £400,000 by stopping related benefit fraud. Mention has also been made of Operation VETO, which has been led by Europol across 13 European countries and has uncovered an extensive criminal match-fixing network. A total of 425 match officials, club officials, players and serious criminals from more than 15 countries are suspected of being involved in attempts to fix more than 380 professional football matches.
However, one of the best examples of Europol’s work is outlined in the document we were debating earlier today—the Government’s decision document on the mass opt-out. It provides a description of Operation APAR, which tackled drugs, firearms and money laundering. It said that Europol co-ordinated an operation that included
“a series of coordinated arrests and searches…carried out resulting in the apprehension of 32 people and seizures including drugs, firearms, property, vehicles and electronic equipment.”
It continued by saying that Europol
“provided analytical support, facilitated information exchange between investigating law enforcement agencies and arranged operational meetings.”
The Europol mobile office was deployed in the UK, Ireland and Spain.
The Government document is clear about the importance of Europol as opposed to bilateral arrangements in this operation. It states that if Europol had not been involved
“we judge that the results of operation APAR would have been more limited and the operation would have been significantly more expensive….The UK would have had considerable difficulty securely exchanging real-time intelligence and developing operational action plans with those countries”
if it had simply been doing it bilaterally. The description goes on to state:
“Additionally Europol’s secure IT systems enabled timely and effective communication between all four Member States on the day of the operation.”
It is possible to construct such collaborations bilaterally, but in practice if we simply say, “This is what we would like to do” but we rely on everybody else to collaborate by constructing an operation such as Europol, we are acting irresponsibly.
Europol is a very important organisation and I am extremely pleased that, out of the negotiations on the mass opt-out, we are securely committing, subject to just a few red lines, to opt back into Europol. The fact that Rob Wainwright, a Brit, is leading this organisation shows us a new model of the way in which we should approach European issues across the board, with Britain in a leadership role, making a real difference, delivering not just for the people in Britain, but for all the people of Europe.
With the leave of the House, Mr Speaker, may I thank right hon. and hon. Members for their contributions in this short debate? Let me be clear that our recommendation in the motion is about participation in a future measure governing Europol; it has no impact on our current participation in Europol, which does benefit our law enforcement agencies. That point was made by everyone who has contributed to this debate: the Chair of the Select Committee, the right
hon. Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz); and my hon. Friends the Members for Stroud (Neil Carmichael), for Cambridge (Dr Huppert), for Northampton North (Michael Ellis) and for Cheltenham (Martin Horwood). That highlights the issues at hand in respect of the benefits that accrue from our current relationship.
I underline the fact that nothing that the Government have proposed reduces our commitment to tackle cross-border crime. However, we cannot risk the operational independence of our law enforcement agencies, and we need to ensure appropriate safeguards within the text so that that does not happen. I say very clearly to right hon. and hon. Members that we will play an active role in negotiations to ensure that we achieve our negotiating aims, which will allow us to opt in post-adoption. In response to the challenge from the right hon. Member for Leicester East, we consider that it is possible to achieve key negotiating objectives, even when we have not opted into a proposal before the negotiations. We have already done that on a number of measures, and we are clear about the influence that can be applied, and that is precisely what we will do. As I said, we consulted a number of our operational colleagues across the UK when considering the proposal. They all agree about the value of Europol as it currently operates, but not at any cost.
The hon. Gentleman was not here at the beginning of the debate, so he may not have heard what I said.
In Northern Ireland, we face a particular threat from dissident republicans. What assurance can the Minister give me as the MP for Strangford that we will not lose the ability, through Europol, to address the threat of terrorism at home and globally, because dissident republicans have contacts in other countries?
If the hon. Gentleman had been here to hear my opening speech, he would know that we have discussed our approach with the Police Service of Northern Ireland as well as other operational partners across the UK. While we are not seeking to opt in at this stage, we wish to negotiate and seek to influence so that we are in a position to opt in post-adoption, with the red lines.
The hon. Gentleman should accept that the information- sharing provisions in the EU document could put our national security at risk by virtue of the fact that we would not be able to control the information provided to Europol, which is precisely why we have sought to take this approach, with national security in mind. The law enforcement community shares our concerns about the risks that would be posed if we were directly tasked by Europol to undertake operations or to provide increased amounts of information to it without the necessary safeguards.
It is not the case that as a result of the approach that we have taken we have given up our seat at the table. We shall continue to play a full part in negotiations, attending the discussions and working with member states that share our concerns to seek to deliver a text that we can rejoin. Ultimately, this is a political decision for the Government, with appropriate scrutiny from Parliament. That is why we will consult and listen to the views of
our law enforcement partners across the UK, but ultimately this a decision for Government and Parliament, which is why the motion is framed in this way.
Opting in at this stage poses too great a risk to our security and the autonomy of our law enforcement agencies, but once the text has been negotiated we intend to opt in if we secure the changes set out in the motion, and we will consult Parliament before doing so. Our position on the proposal is sensible and pragmatic, reflecting the need for effective co-operation and the importance of protecting our sovereignty and security. I urge the House to support the Government motion.
Division number 61
Question accordingly negatived.
TheSpeaker put the Question necessary for the disposal of the business to be concluded at that time (Order,
Main question put and agreed to.
That this House takes note of European Union Document No. 8229/13 and Addenda 1 to 6, a draft Regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council on the European Union Agency for Law Enforcement Cooperation and Training (Europol) and repealing Decisions 2009/371/JHA and 2005/681/JHA; and agrees with the Government that the UK should opt into the Regulation post-adoption, provided that Europol is not given the power to direct national law enforcement agencies to initiate investigations or share data that conflicts with national security.