European Union Police Force

Oral Answers to Questions — Home Department – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 20th February 1997.

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Photo of Mr Hartley Booth Mr Hartley Booth , Finchley 12:00 am, 20th February 1997

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what is the Government's policy in respect of an EU-wide police force. [15277]

Photo of Michael Howard Michael Howard The Secretary of State for the Home Department

A European Union police force is neither necessary nor desirable. Member states' police forces already co-operate closely and Europol will work increasingly with them to support their investigations. However, Europol will not conduct its own investigations or make arrests: those are properly matters for national law enforcement agencies regulated by national law.

Photo of Mr Hartley Booth Mr Hartley Booth , Finchley

Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that on 29 January the shadow Foreign Secretary, the right hon. Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook), said that if Labour ever came to power he would allow the police in Britain to be to some extent under the control of the European Court and the European Parliament? Will my right hon. and learned Friend condemn that nonsense?

Photo of Michael Howard Michael Howard The Secretary of State for the Home Department

Yes, I certainly will. My hon. Friend is right. The shadow Foreign Secretary was suggesting that some justice and home affairs issues, such as police co-operation … might be 'unbundled' and 'partially communitised', allowing the European parliament and court of justice to have a say in them. That appeared in the Financial Times on 29 January 1997. Silence then ensued from the right hon. Gentleman until the matter was raised on Second Reading of the Police Bill on 12 February. Then, in a flurry of activity, a hasty denial was concocted and put out by the Opposition.

Photo of Jim Cousins Jim Cousins , Newcastle upon Tyne Central

Does the Home Secretary believe that the international money laundering and drugs business—a £1 billion industry—needs the tightest possible co-ordination between police forces to deal with financial and commercial fraud? That does not happen now. Should not the Home Secretary drop his ridiculous play acting to be the next Leader of the Opposition and get down to the real work of tackling massive international fraud?

Photo of Michael Howard Michael Howard The Secretary of State for the Home Department

I entirely agree with the hon. Gentleman that we must do all we can to tackle international fraud and money laundering, but if he thinks that the way to tackle those problems effectively is to give the European Parliament a say in them or to make them subject to the European Court of Justice, he could not be more mistaken.

Photo of John Greenway John Greenway , Ryedale

Despite that answer, does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that it would be totally wrong to regard Britain as dragging its feet over European issues of law and order when in fact we are ahead of most other countries in ratifying the convention to create Europol, and when the measures in the Police Bill mean that Britain will have a better method of disseminating information to Europol than exists in other countries?

Photo of Michael Howard Michael Howard The Secretary of State for the Home Department

My hon. Friend is entirely right. We were the first country to ratify the Europol convention, which means that we are in the forefront of effective European co-operation in these matters. Indeed, at an earlier stage in the process, when it looked as though the whole Europol project might founder on fundamental disagreements between France and Germany, the United Kingdom was able to bring them together and broker an agreement so as to make progress on Europol possible.

Mr. John D. Taylor:

Does not the idea of an EU-wide police force raise some interesting possibilities? Might it not mean, for instance, that members of the Royal Ulster Constabulary would begin to serve in the Republic of Ireland?

Photo of Michael Howard Michael Howard The Secretary of State for the Home Department

I suspect that mixed feelings might greet that proposal and also what I imagine would be its concomitant—the Gardai having operational responsibility in Northern Ireland. When those implications are pointed out, even countries on the continent of Europe which purport to favour communitising the third pillar think several times before pursuing such projects with any enthusiasm.

Photo of Edward Garnier Edward Garnier , Harborough

If we were to have an EU-wide police force, would my right hon. and learned Friend agree that that police force should be allowed in court to comment on the failure of a defendant to speak to that police force while it was investigating a crime?

Photo of Michael Howard Michael Howard The Secretary of State for the Home Department

As I have made clear, I am not in favour of a Europe-wide police force, but I take some comfort from the fact that the introduction of our reform to the right to silence in this country in the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994—which was bitterly opposed, spoken against and voted against by the Leader of the Opposition when he was shadow Home Secretary—has led to a reduction of almost 50 per cent. in the number of suspects who refuse to answer questions put to them by the police. As a result of that change, guilty men who previously would have walked free from the courts are now being convicted in the courts of this country almost every day.

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Shadow Secretary of State (Home Office)

As it has been the long-standing and agreed policy of the Labour party that matters of border control, immigration, asylum and police should all be dealt with intergovernmentally and that there should be no question of any Europe-wide police force, why does the Home Secretary seek to invent our policy in order to attack us? Does he recall that, on 12 February, as reported at column 358 of Hansard, he claimed that my right hon. Friend the shadow Foreign Secretary had issued a press release indicating a change of policy? There has been no change of policy and no such press release exists.

Photo of Michael Howard Michael Howard The Secretary of State for the Home Department

The answer to the hon. Gentleman's question is a simple one: the shadow Foreign Secretary gave an interview to the Financial Times, an account of that interview was published in the Financial Times and that report said that the shadow Foreign Secretary had suggested that some justice and home affairs issues… such as police co-operation might be 'unbundled' and 'partially communitised', allowing the European parliament and court of justice to have a say in them. No denial of that report was issued until we drew it to the attention of the House on 12 February.