I beg to move,
That this House, wishing to see serious crimes solved, to counter terrorism and to see foreign criminals prosecuted and deported, supports opting in to the Prüm Decisions;
notes the views of senior law enforcement officers that the Prüm Decisions are an important aid to tackling crime;
notes the success of a pilot that demonstrated that the Prüm Decisions mechanism is both swift and effective;
and further notes that only a subset of the relevant national DNA and fingerprint databases, containing data relating to individuals convicted of recordable offences, will be made available for searching by other participating States, and that the higher UK scientific standards will be applied to matches in the UK.
Recent events in Europe, particularly in Paris, have highlighted the very real need to co-operate with other countries in order to keep our citizens safe and to hunt down criminals and terrorists. Following the attacks in Paris, we know that the French authorities have been co-operating and co-ordinating with a wide range of law enforcement agencies in other countries, and that one of the tools they have found most effective has been the Prüm mechanism, the subject of today’s debate. Indeed, it is thanks to Prüm that they were able to identify at least one of the attackers so quickly.
Prüm—so-called after the German town in which it was agreed to develop the mechanism—is about the sharing with other countries, in strictly controlled circumstances, of DNA profiles, fingerprints and vehicle registration data in order to prevent and investigate crime. My French counterpart, Bernard Cazeneuve, wrote to me recently to set out his first-hand experience of Prüm and his hopes that the UK and France can improve our co-operation through it. While I never accept the views of others unquestioningly, I think it is wise to listen carefully to those with recent experience of such chilling events, and they believe this system to be hugely beneficial. The experience of France and others, and our own detailed study of Prüm, leads me to conclude that it is in the national interest to sign up to it, and I will set out in more detail why I think so.
I am sure that my right hon. Friend accepts that the dreadful carnage in France was to some extent the result of the failures of the authorities in that country. Why should we place so much trust in those who have had that kind of experience?
I have to say that the blame for the carnage in France lies fairly and squarely with the terrorists who caused it. I believe it is absolutely right to listen to those with experience. I will come on to describe other examples of how the exchange of data is beneficial in a variety of circumstances. Before I do so, it might be helpful to the House if I set out how we have come to this point, exactly what the system is and what it is not.
As I have said, Prüm is primarily about the sharing of DNA profiles, fingerprints and vehicle registration data with other countries in order to prevent and investigate crime. It is worth noting at the outset that we already share such data with other countries via Interpol, so this debate is not about whether we should do so, but about how. This system automates the front end of an existing manual process to access that information. It will make information exchange subject to the touch of a button, rather than a lengthy manual process. That means that it will be quicker and easier for our police to check the national databases of other member states, hugely increasing the reach of UK law enforcement. It is important to remember that this is not a centralised EU database.
My right hon. Friend makes a very strong case for this technical function, but I am concerned that the threats we face extend far beyond Europe and the European Union. Will she say more about why it is so difficult to get Interpol and its member countries to adopt a similar system?
Because of the number of countries involved in Interpol and the amount of information that is available, there are very real difficulties and physical issues in getting all those countries to agree to such a system. In the European Union, countries have come together and decided that it would be beneficial to have such an automated process. So far, Interpol has retained the manual processes. Later, I will exemplify the difference in timing between the automated process of Prüm and the manual processes of Interpol.
The Home Secretary is absolutely right to opt in to this mechanism. It is not about giving information away in its totality, but about sharing information. One of the lessons from Paris is the importance of EU countries knowing who is coming through the external borders. Does she agree that it is essential that when countries have concerns about individuals, they put them on the databases as quickly as possible?
The right hon. Gentleman makes an important point. One of the arguments that we are making in Europe is that we should make better use of other databases, such as the Schengen Information System II border database, to ensure that we do the job that we all want to do. Criminals and terrorists do not recognise borders and do not stop at borders. It is therefore important that data are shared between countries so that we can identify them and bring them to justice.
Ideally, we would want Interpol to come to a similar agreement on the sharing of information through an automated system. The fact that Interpol is not in that position today does not mean that we cannot take action now with our European partners and share the information in an automated fashion. Given the tragic events in France, is this not a time for further collaboration and co-operation with our European partners, rather than retrenching into our own silo?
My hon. Friend makes an important point about the interplay between Prüm in the European Union and Interpol, and he is right that now is the very time when we need to work more in collaboration with our partners to ensure that we share the data that are necessary to keep us safe.
I am very grateful to the Home Secretary. As someone who wishes her to use all decent means to track down terrorists, I think it is a good idea to get access to more information, but I also want her to help us uphold our manifesto promise that there will be no transfer of powers to the EU and that there will be a reduction in the EU’s powers, so why can we not do this by intergovernmental agreement, rather than by submitting it to the European Court of Justice?
My right hon. Friend has challenged me on similar issues in relation to justice and home affairs measures in the past. The fact is that because Prüm already exists within the European Union, attempts to exchange these data in other ways would require not only an intergovernmental agreement, but the building of separate systems. That would take far longer, and we would not have access to the data for a significant period. Other member states would point out that a mechanism is already available, and that if we wish to exchange data in such a way we should join that mechanism.
Let me explain a little more about the sort of data exchanged and the processes. For DNA, a crime scene profile is sent from one country to all the other countries simultaneously, and it is automatically searched against the profiles held in those countries’ databases. If there is a match, the requesting country receives a hit report back. At that stage no information is exchanged that would allow a person to be identified—none.
Prior to any personal details being released, all hits must be verified scientifically. In broad terms that is the same system as for fingerprints. Hits are reported within 15 minutes for DNA, and within 24 hours for fingerprints. With Interpol the same manual process means that the average time to report a hit is more than four months. For vehicle registration data, a country that is investigating a crime in which a foreign-registered car is believed to have been involved can request details of that vehicle. Those details are provided in 10 seconds. I think that bears repeating: our police would be able to get details of foreign-registered vehicles in 10 seconds, rather than the months it can take at the moment.
As I said to this House in July last year, Prüm is about the
“easy, efficient and effective comparison of data when appropriate”.—[Hansard, 10 July 2014; Vol. 584, c. 492.]
Right hon. and hon. Members will no doubt recall that Prüm was part of the 100 or so measures that we opted out of last year when we exercised an opt-out that the
Labour party negotiated but had no intention of using—that was the greatest repatriation of powers in this country’s history.
I welcome the Home Secretary’s statement. Have there been any discussions with the Republic of Ireland about introducing Prüm, and does she believe that that will happen in future?
I have not held any of those discussions. Within the European Union a small number of member states have not yet joined Prüm, but they are being encouraged to do so precisely because of the value that has been noted by member states already using the system.
As I said, we repatriated those powers, but we did not seek to rejoin Prüm at that time. That was because although the Labour party signed us up to a measure, it did nothing to implement it. If we had then rejoined, that would have opened us up to fines for non-implementation that could have run into tens of millions of pounds. A pragmatic decision was taken at the time, but as I also said:
“All hon. Members want the most serious crimes such as rapes and murders to be solved and their perpetrators brought to justice. In some cases, that will mean the police comparing DNA or fingerprint data with those held by other European forces. Thirty per cent of those arrested in London are foreign nationals, so it is clear that that is an operational necessity. Therefore, the comparisons already happen, and must do so if we are to solve cross-border crime. I would be negligent in my duty to protect the British public if I did not consider the issue carefully.”—[Hansard, 10 July 2014; Vol. 584, c. 492.]
By way of consideration, I promised to run a small pilot with a small number of other countries focused on DNA, and to produce a full business case on Prüm. I also made clear that the final decision on whether to sign up to Prüm would be one for this House. We have now run that pilot, and we have published a thorough business case by way of a Command Paper. We are here today to debate and decide whether we should participate in Prüm or not. I believe strongly that we should.
In such matters there are inevitably balances to be struck between sometimes conflicting interests. I think that the Home Secretary has broadly got this one right, and she will have the support of the Liberal Democrats. She will be aware that the briefing provided from Big Brother Watch today refers specifically to the European arrest warrant. What will be required for the use of a match coming from Prüm and relating to extradition under the EAW?
If, for example, the DNA profile is sent, the first response is about whether or not there is a hit on the database. There is then a separate process to determine whether the individual’s personal details will go forward. As I will come on to say, we intend for there to be scientific consideration of the match to ensure that it meets the requirements and thresholds that we set. We will be setting higher thresholds than other countries. It will be possible, if the other country wishes, to move to a European arrest warrant to arrest an individual if there is sufficient evidence. We have brought in extra safeguards in relation to the use of European arrest warrants. It will also be possible, through the EAW, for foreign criminals here to be extradited elsewhere and for criminals who have undertaken activity here in the UK but have then gone abroad to be brought back to the UK for justice.
I think there will be an automated element to it. If my hon. Friend is concerned that the whole system will immediately undertake the check, there is a decision to make that check and we are setting a higher threshold. I am getting into scientific waters that I am perhaps not best qualified to refer to, but the issue is what are called the matches of loci on the DNA. Many countries will use six, or potentially eight, loci. We will actually use 10 loci, which is the threshold we normally set in the UK. If 10 loci are being matched, the chances of a false positive are less than one in a billion—an important safeguard that we have.
One reason I believe we should opt in to Prüm is the result of the small-scale pilot we conducted and to which I just referred. I was very clear that the exchange could only occur after we had put memorandums of understanding in place with the Netherlands, Spain, Germany and France, and that exchange would only take place under tight safeguards. Matching profiles found at crime scenes in the UK against the four overseas databases saw an impressive 118 hits. That is nearly double the number of profiles our police sent abroad for checking in the whole of 2014. We got hits from each of the four countries. We got hits to serious crimes. We got hits to people who were French, Dutch, Romanian and Albanian, and from various other countries. We did not get hits to Britons. Crucially for the police, this is leading to the arrests of foreign nationals that would not otherwise have taken place—foreign criminals whom we can then kick out of the country, making our streets safer.
A DNA crime scene profile recovered from an attempted rape was sent to all four Prüm pilot countries. The profile hit against a profile held in France, following an arrest there for a burglary. Following the verification of the hit, and after further co-operation with France, the National Crime Agency obtained demographic information on a Romanian national. This individual was stopped in London on
“these would not have been detected without the pilot”.
It is because of cases like this that Director of Public Prosecutions, Alison Saunders, has said that Prüm will:
“reduce the number of unsolved crimes, such as murder and rape, committed by foreign nationals, and provide an improved service to the public, victims and their families”.
If the House votes to re-join Prüm, we will be setting in place a process that will catch foreign nationals who have committed crimes here. We will be setting in place a process by which these criminals can be deported. We will be setting in place a process by which foreign nationals who have committed crimes in the UK can be linked to crimes abroad and sent to those countries to stand trial. In short, it will be a vote to keep foreign criminals off our streets and make our communities safer.
The numbers here are stark. If, and I hope when, the UK connects with all other Prüm countries, the evidence suggests there could be up to 8,000 verifiable hits following the initial connection. That is up to 8,000 foreign criminals our police can track down for crimes they have committed in the UK. There will then be an ongoing daily process that will produce more hits. Such exchanges will become part of business as usual, with the reach of our law enforcement extended across Europe at the touch of a button. This is the sort of progress we must grasp. Experience from those already operating the system in other countries shows just how important it really is.
To those who say we do not need to be in Prüm to do this and that we can do it already, I just say look at the figures. The existing processes are so cumbersome and convoluted that last year police sent just 69 DNA profiles abroad. The ease of the processes we used in the pilot means we have already sent 14,000% more this year. Furthermore, changing the Interpol process would require the agreement of all Interpol members, which would be a near impossibility. It simply is not true to suggest, therefore, that we can go on with the current processes or can easily improve them.
For fingerprints, there is an additional benefit. Countries signed up to Prüm can also check the EU database containing the fingerprints of asylum seekers and others detained illegally crossing the EU’s borders. It was this ability to make checks with that database that allowed the Austrian authorities to identify eight of the 71 people so tragically found dead in the back of a lorry on
During this process, we have engaged closely with the Scottish Government, Police Scotland, the Northern Irish Department of Justice and the Police Service of Northern Ireland, whose views the Government have given great weight in formulating policy. That is why the Scottish Government, Police Scotland, the Scottish Police Authority, the Northern Irish Department of Justice and the PSNI will have places on the oversight group. Their views will continue to be important to me personally and the Government more generally as we progress this matter, and we will of course consider the representations from Joanna Cherry about other bodies. We will ensure that every corner of the United Kingdom has its voice heard. I am sure that is why I have received letters of support for linking us up to this capability from Police Scotland, the Scottish Government and the PSNI.
“The scale of the potential for individuals to commit crime across Europe is such that a solution such as Prüm, with all the necessary safeguards, is the only effective way to track down these highly mobile and potentially dangerous criminals.”
I agree wholeheartedly.
I am as keen as anybody to ensure that our streets are safe. Will my right hon. Friend assure the House that these powers could be exercised by our immigration authorities at the point of entry in relation to anybody seeking to enter this country, whether they be an EU or non-EU citizen?
There are separate arrangements of course. One reason we opted back into SIS II was to give our immigration officials the opportunity to deal with these issues as people crossed the border. As I said, it is possible to check the EU database for the fingerprints of asylum seekers and others detained crossing the EU’s borders illegally. I welcome my hon. Friend fully supporting our being able to take measures to tackle criminals and identify those who should be brought to justice, and I look forward to his joining me in the Lobby to support our entry into Prüm.
While it is incumbent on us to give the police the tools they need, it is also incumbent on us to balance that against any civil liberties worries that some may have. The Government have not made this decision without looking hard at how to protect British citizens. I was proud to be a member of the Government who abolished identity cards, stopped the indefinite retention of DNA profiles and fingerprints of those arrested and not convicted of offences and reformed stop and search. Where there have been genuine concerns, I have listened.
The first concern I have heard about this system is that innocent Britons could get caught up in overseas investigations. I believe this should be about catching criminals, so we will ensure that only the DNA profiles and fingerprints of those convicted of a crime can be searched against. We will write that into legislation. Innocent Britons will have nothing to fear. Secondly, I know there has been concern that some countries use lower scientific standards than the UK does when assessing DNA, as I mentioned earlier, and that this could lead to false positives in matches. That is why we will legislate to ensure that UK scientific standards apply before any personal data can be provided. As I said in response to my hon. Friend Chris Heaton-Harris, this means there will be a less than one in a billion chance of the match not being a true one. We accept these standards domestically, and I will ensure that we apply them internationally. To suggest we go beyond that, however, would be to harm our ability to solve crimes.
Yes. How we deal with the data on the databases held here is a national matter. The European Court of Justice does have some jurisdiction—my hon. Friend is right about that in respect of some matters—but its jurisdiction is over the “hit/no hit process” or mechanism. Beyond that, how we hold the material on the database is a matter for national decision.
I understand that this will bring the whole of our arrangements under the charter of fundamental rights, so the manner in which we retain DNA will be subject to European standards rather than the standards set by this House.
No. I have to explain to my hon. Friend that we are able to determine the database, and that how we hold that database and the information that is held on it are matters for national decision. Articles 2(1) and (3) of the principal Prüm decision say that we need to inform the general secretariat about which profiles will be made available for searching under Prüm, while article 5 makes it clear that the follow-up process to a hit is subject to national law, not EU law.
My right hon. Friend is making a very persuasive case. I ask for a moment of clarity regarding the expansion of judicial engagement into areas that have formerly been for the court of Parliament, which has been a form of mission creep that can be seen in various areas. Will my right hon. Friend make very clear the precise remit of the UK courts on this matter, so that when it comes to a judicial review—as I am sure, sadly, it will—or a trial in front of the Supreme Court, it will be able to look back at the words my right hon. Friend has spoken from the Dispatch Box today. It would then be able to see the will of Parliament in the decision and not the interpretation that is chosen at that particular moment.
I am happy to confirm that I am willing to comment on the application of the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice and how it affects our position. As for the legislation that we are bringing forward, if my hon. Friend looks at the command paper, he will see that we are making clear those areas where national laws apply. As I tried to explain earlier, the Prüm decisions are all about the exchange of data, not the manner in which the data are held here in the UK. Article 72 of the treaties makes it clear that how we deal with DNA for our own security is a matter for member states, not for European jurisdiction. As a further safeguard, we will ensure that if a person was a minor when the DNA or fingerprints were taken, demographic details could be released only if a formal judicial request for assistance were made.
Finally, I referred earlier to an oversight board and I will establish an independent oversight board to ensure that Prüm operates in a just and effective manner. Both the biometrics and information commissioners will have seats on that board, and so will the Scottish Police Authority and the other bodies from Scotland and Northern Ireland that I have mentioned.
It was on account of all those clear and stringent safeguards that the National DNA Ethics board felt that it could write to me in support of our decision to recommend participating in this system. I therefore hope that those who I accept have principled civil liberties concerns will listen to its views.
Costs are associated with implementing this capability. When the Labour Government initially signed us up to Prüm, they estimated that it would cost about £31 million —about £49 million in today’s prices. That was without providing any safeguards and without ensuring that Scotland and Northern Ireland would benefit fully and be fully involved. I have looked at this very carefully and am pleased to tell the House that at the same time as ensuring that the operational benefits are nationwide and that UK citizens get the protections they deserve, the Government will need to spend only £13 million. The money spent implementing Prüm will be recouped many times over in savings that the police will make through using it.
Hon. Members will have read about Zdenko Turtak, who earlier this year attacked and raped a woman, leaving her for dead in Beeston. In investigating this crime, the West Yorkshire police had only the victim’s statement and the attacker’s DNA on which to proceed. Suspecting that the assailant might have not been British, they submitted forms to Interpol and had the DNA profile searched against profiles held in other European countries. It took over two and a half months for a match finally to be reported by Slovakia. During that time, the police pursued over 1,400 separate lines of inquiry at a cost of £250,000. If the United Kingdom and Slovakia had been connected through the Prüm system, that initial hit, instead of taking two and a half months, would have taken 15 minutes. Just think of the time and money that that would have saved the police, not to mention the benefit to the victim of knowing that her attacker would be brought to justice.
If my hon. Friend will permit me, I need to make progress. I am nearing the end of my speech.
“I can state without any doubt whatsoever that enabling the EU Prüm Decisions in this country will be of significant benefit to all UK law enforcement agencies.”
So, do we want to save the police time and money? Do we want to catch more foreign criminals and kick them out of the country? Do we want to speed up and improve our co-operation with some of our closest allies, such as France? Do we want to extend the reach of our police across Europe, and help to solve serious crimes like rape? Do we want to benefit the whole of the United Kingdom, and help to keep our citizens safe? The answer to all those questions must be yes, and, given the safeguards that I have set out today, I am confident that we can protect the British public while also protecting their civil liberties.
Prüm means more crimes solved and justice for victims, more foreign criminals caught and removed, money saved, the whole United Kingdom benefiting, and civil liberties protected. It is clear to me that signing up to Prüm is in the national interest, and I commend the motion to the House.
Way back in what seem like the mists of time—in May 2005, to be precise—I was appointed to the Home Office and given ministerial responsibility for the development of the European arrest warrant, and today I think back to the discussions that I used to have with Sir William Cash on that very issue. I remember that it was something of a hot potato, and I also remember that the nature of that debate changed very quickly in the aftermath of the 7/7 bombings and, subsequently, the failed bombing at Shepherd’s Bush on
That case proved the value of the European arrest warrant, took the heat out of the political debate about it, and illustrated how the security of people here in the UK is, in fact, better served by ever closer co-operation between European law enforcement agencies.
As the right hon. Gentleman referred to me a moment ago, may I point out that in Staffordshire there was a case under the European arrest warrant in which a person was actually convicted of murder and was subject to penalties, although it was clear from subsequent evidence that he had not even been in Italy at the time, but had actually been in Staffordshire? There are many similar examples.
In any judicial process, there is the potential for mistakes and a miscarriage of justice. Is the hon. Gentleman honestly saying that he was right about the European arrest warrant all that time ago, and that it has been a bad thing and should be scrapped? If so, I think that he is in a small minority in the House, because people have seen the benefits that have come to UK law enforcement following its introduction.
I mentioned that case at the beginning of my speech because I see a parallel between the debate that took place then and the debate that we are having today. Ten years on, as the Home Secretary said, we find ourselves in the aftermath of an horrific attack in one member state that was conceived and planned in another—and I note the letter that the Home Secretary received from Minister Cazeneuve encouraging our full participation in Prüm.
In these difficult times, we—all of us in the House—have an obligation to consider every possible measure to protect the public. It seems to me that the case for greater data sharing and access to data that are held across Europe is now unanswerable, and that we have an obligation to support that case. It is no exaggeration to say that our national security depends on it. That is why, as the Home Secretary said, the last Labour Government made the original decision to sign up to the Prüm decisions in 2007, recognising their potential for our law enforcement agencies. It is also why, back in July 2013, we explicitly warned the Government against opting out of a whole range of EU justice and home affairs measures including Prüm. As I understand it, the Government received warnings from other senior figures in UK law enforcement, and they should have listened to them because, as was pointed out back then, that decision seemed to be driven less by an objective assessment of the impact on crime prevention and detection, and more by a political desire to appease the never-satisfied forces of Euroscepticism on the Conservative Benches. Tempting as it is to say, “We told you so” to the Home Secretary today, we will try and resist that and instead congratulate her on eventually arriving at the right decision and encourage her to resist the blandishments of the forces of darkness who are again rearing their head today.
In fact, the Home Secretary’s speech today was a tour de force as to why we should have been in Prüm last year. Think of the number of criminals we could have caught, or potential terrorists we could have found, if only we had joined a year ago.
The case the Home Secretary has just set out from the Dispatch Box was compelling and powerful, revealing, as it did, the zeal of the convert to the cause. She was right to make her case with such force, and I am sure my right hon. Friend would agree that the problem with the amendment in the name of the hon. Member for Stone and others this evening is that it invites the House to prioritise the civil liberties of British citizens and risks to UK sovereignty over and above risks to national security. That is what the amendment to the motion invites us to do.
Of course our liberties and our sovereignty are important considerations, but the safety of the public must come first. That is the primary duty of any Government, and it is why the Government are right not to listen to the hon. Member for Stone. The truth is they got themselves into difficulty two years ago by listening to those siren voices, and I hope Members on the Treasury Bench will not make the same mistake today. Indeed, I hope they would have learned an important lesson from this whole episode. It was the European Council that required the Government, after notification of the opt-out, to conduct and publish a business and implementation case assessing the costs and benefits of Prüm. In other words, the EU forced the UK Government to face up to the benefits of European co-operation and in bringing this motion to the House tonight they are effectively conceding the EU was right all along.
That assessment was informed by a pilot undertaken by the Government which the Home Secretary referred to. It found an overwhelming case to opt back in. It involved DNA samples from 2,513 unsolved British murders, rapes and burglaries which were automatically checked against European police databases in France, Germany, Spain and the Netherlands. Searching the profiles against the databases of those four member states revealed 71 scene-to-person matches and 47 scene-to-scene matches, five relating to rape, two to sexual assault and 23 to burglary.
I would put it to the hon. Gentleman that security comes first and that is the primary duty of any Government—to keep the public safe. Once we have secured people’s safety, then liberty comes from that security. That is why I believe the amendment before the House tonight has got things the wrong way round. I conceded they are incredibly important considerations, but they are not more important than national security and any measures that enhance the security of the public here in the end contribute to enhancing their liberty. That is why security must come first.
As well as finding those matches, the pilot also found that information was provided in a much more timely manner than it had been under the old arrangements, as the Home Secretary said. It found that information was being provided in a matter of seconds, minutes or hours, drastically improving the speed and quality of investigations. At present, requests by the British police for DNA checks from other European forces involve a request to the National Crime Agency, which is then passed to Interpol before being passed on to the relevant national police force. On average, it takes 143 days for the results to come back. The benefits to UK law enforcement of opting into the Prüm decisions on data access are therefore abundantly clear, in terms of speed of investigation and of resources. DNA checks will be available within 15 seconds, automated number plate checks within 10 seconds and fingerprint matches within 24 hours.
The right hon. Gentleman is emphasising the importance of DNA checks. Will he explain why the Eurodac regulations specifically exclude the possibility of taking DNA samples from asylum seekers who are entering the European Union?
I think the hon. Gentleman is conflating two issues. We are not discussing that issue today. Let us be clear, to avoid any misconceptions, that we are talking about the DNA of people who have been convicted of a recordable crime. It seems to me that that provides sufficient safeguards against the abuse of such data. If the hon. Gentleman is making an argument for the wider collection of DNA, as opposed to fingerprints—the fingerprints of people entering the country are collected—that would raise other civil liberties concerns that he would have to discuss with his colleagues. He seems to be envisaging going even further than the Prüm decisions, but I do not believe that we are at that point right now. Perhaps he will return to that issue with his right hon. Friend the Home Secretary.
In these times in which we live, the speed of investigation is essential. I invite every Member of the House to cast their mind back to the hours after we heard about the Paris bombings, or indeed to the hours after the shocking attacks in London a decade or so ago. People were hanging on to the news, waiting to hear of leads against those who might have committed those atrocities. That is what people want. They want the police and the security services to have, in those moments, the clearest possible line of sight across Europe, so that they can pursue immediate leads and track the suspects down. That is what we need to remember when we consider these issues. We need to ask ourselves whether we are prepared to give the police and the security services, not just here but across Europe, that ability to get on the trail of people who are committing atrocities against us and to track them down. In my view, the case is unanswerable: we should give them that power.
We should also ensure that the British police and security services have access to a much larger collection of biometric and biographical data, which will lead to more crimes here being solved and to more victims here getting the justice that they are being denied today. The earlier detection of crime and the conviction of the individuals responsible must be in the forefront of our minds.
I personally see no objection to that, but let us start within Europe. Let us get a clear set of standards and arrangements within Europe first. I put it to the hon. Gentleman that one of the benefits of the European Union is that it sets a standard that the rest of the world then begins to follow. We are seeing that now with Norway and Iceland. In effect, they have to follow all the norms of the European Union if they want to be a full trading partner. So I would not see a problem with the hon. Gentleman’s suggestion. The Home Secretary has said that there will be many safeguards. I put it back to the hon. Gentleman: would he be happy with somebody who has committed a crime going back to Iceland and thus avoiding justice? I would not be happy with that and I would want measures in place to ensure that they could be brought to justice. Opting in will also lead to a much better use of police time and resources, as the Home Secretary has said, and will improve the intelligence picture that the crime and terrorism authorities have, so that they can better understand the patterns emerging across Europe.
The right hon. Gentleman knows that I have huge respect for him, but I want to tease something out a tiny bit further. He said that security trumps civil liberties. Does he believe that security trumps the protection of our common law system?
I reiterate that security comes first. The first responsibility of any Government is to secure the people who live here by taking reasonable measures to reduce the risks to them, because from that foundation of security come all our traditions, our laws and our liberties. That is why co-operation in this field is a good thing, given that the nature of crime now is international. If we fail to understand that, our own legal system will never be able to respond to the changing nature of crime that we face.
I agree with the point that the right hon. Gentleman is making, which is that it is sensible to co-operate, but does this co-operation need the institutions of the European Union?
Why should it not, if the co-operation is improved by those institutions? The hon. Gentleman is putting an in-built dislike and distrust of them ahead of the actual issue before us. That is what some Conservative Members are doing, but they should judge this on its merits. Surely the better we can facilitate that co-operation, the more benefits it will bring back to the police and security services. I would imagine that co-operation will be enhanced by working with established institutions, as opposed to making ad hoc arrangements, Government to Government. That is the benefit of the European Union, although I know he probably does not accept that.
The Government have come to the right decision, albeit in a roundabout way, but I wish to press the Home Secretary on a few points of detail, the first of which is on the cost. She said that in the original assessment the cost of opting into Prüm was put at £31 million, but she now says it is £13 million. We are prepared to accept that at face value, but can she say what is responsible for such a significant reduction in the cost? The business and implementation case says that the estimate is based on “high level requirements”, which implies that it is based not on a fully fledged implementation of Prüm but just on the “high level requirements”. Will she say more about that? What are the “downstream operational running costs” to which the business case refers? How much will it cost every year to run the system, set against the benefits that she said it would bring? My next point may be of interest to those who have signed the amendment. Will the Home Secretary say what the UK will be liable to pay back to the EU if the House does not back this decision this evening? I understand that it is a significant sum, and perhaps it would help the House to know what it is.
I now wish to deal with the safeguards. We welcome the appointment of the oversight board, although there is concern that extradition should not be possible under a European arrest warrant purely on the basis of a DNA or fingerprint match. I think this was the point that Mr Carmichael was raising earlier. The point was that other corroborating evidence should always be required before extradition can be granted. I think the Home Secretary was confirming that was the case, but it would help the House if she or one of her Ministers could say a little more on that at some point.
I am grateful for the opportunity to do that, and I apologise to Mr Carmichael if I slightly misunderstood his question. It would be my expectation that an EAW would require more evidence. We have put a number of safeguards into the way in which EAWs are operated, to ensure that we do not see people erroneously being extradited from the UK, and I would expect there would be more evidence as the basis for issuing an EAW. And those normal EAW processes will apply even when there has been a Prüm hit.
I think the whole House will find that explanation helpful. I would share the concerns of the hon. Member for Stone and others if the match could then trigger a European arrest warrant immediately without any other evidence. I think everybody would find that worrying, but the right hon. Lady has reassured the House on that point.
It is also reassuring that only people convicted of recordable crime can be searched by another police force. That still does not take away the higher level of concern that there would be over the sharing of DNA profiles from named individuals. Does the Home Secretary feel that there should be a higher proportionality test in this area, linked to more serious crime and terrorism, and does she favour a stricter test before DNA information can be shared with another police force? That is an area in which a higher safeguard could be introduced. It might be effective in limiting blanket person-to-person searches, which bring potential for abuse.
Who will take the decision to share personal information if a match is made? Will it be a designated individual in a police force or will all decisions be taken at a national level by NCA officials? It is important to be clear about who will be making these decisions. Will it be an individual who makes only one or two such decisions in the course of a year, or an official who deals with many of them? I think people will have more confidence in someone who deals with a good number, because they will be able to weed out the more frivolous requests.
Will all participating nations collect DNA profiles and fingerprints from crime scenes using a shared quality assurance standard? There is concern about the lack of uniformity across Europe, and people will want some reassurance on that matter. Finally, will the Home Secretary expand on the role of the European Court of Justice when it comes to the Prüm decision, if we choose to opt into it? As I understand it, it is quite a minor extension of its jurisdiction and there is not the fear that has been expressed by some in the motion.
With those caveats—I insist that they are just caveats—I conclude by saying that we on the Labour Benches believe that the Government have reached the right decision, albeit they have done so in a roundabout way, and that they deserve our support this evening. I hope they agree that this whole issue and the way in which we have arrived at this point illustrate how our continued membership of the European Union enhances the security of our country in these difficult times. The Home Secretary has made a convincing and powerful case tonight to rejoin the Prüm decision, and she will have our support in taking an important step to catch more criminals and keep our country safe.
In these troubling times, this debate raises troubling questions about vital matters of policy and principle, not only for the United Kingdom as a whole and our Parliament but for our civil liberties and our common law.
First, before reaching a decision on our participation in Prüm, we should consider very carefully the implications for our parliamentary sovereignty, from which all law should ultimately derive. If we opt into Prüm, in which areas would the UK be accepting exclusive EU competence? The Government must be clear on that, because only the EU could act in those areas, which would mean taking the decision away from Parliament.
I have to ask the Home Secretary this: how assiduously have the Government considered alternative means of securing the benefits that Prüm offers in a way that would be less damaging to our parliamentary sovereignty? Furthermore, what is so special about the European Union when it comes to security, terrorism, organised crime and all those things that we deplore and want to control as compared with matters that arise in other parts of the world? What is the real distinction to be drawn as we seek to protect our citizens in the EU or any other country in the world?
Secondly, by participating in Prüm, the United Kingdom would be compelled to accept the jurisdiction of the Court of Justice. The extension of that Court’s jurisdiction under the Lisbon treaty to sensitive areas of policing and criminal law was the key factor in the previous Government’s decision to opt out.
I have listened carefully to what the hon. Gentleman said. He asked what was so special about national security that it required a European dimension, if I heard him correctly. Does he agree that the fact that the Paris attacks were exclusively planned in another member state answers his question?
It does not. The reasons why that terrible carnage took place have a great deal to do with insecurity and instability as a result of the failures of border controls and the manner in which people made their way to Paris. We do not have time to go into all those matters, and they are not the subject of this debate, but I question whether national security for United Kingdom citizens, which is our prime concern, will be advanced by surrendering these powers to the European Court of Justice.
The Government concede that accepting the Court’s jurisdiction is not risk-free. They should have explained what practical impact they expected the extension of the Court’s jurisdiction in relation to the UK to have, and they have not done so.
Thirdly, the Government say that they intend to put into place extra safeguards to ensure that Prüm would operate in a way that
“respects fully the civil liberties of British citizens.”
Liberty gave evidence to the House of Lords on a number of matters in this respect.
In the report of the European Scrutiny Committee that was published the other day, we make it clear that there is an important balance to strike between law enforcement co-operation, especially when it involves the exchange of personal data, and the need to protect individuals against the risk of false incrimination and unwarranted interference with their right to privacy. The Government’s business and implementation case can provide only anecdotal evidence of cases in which Prüm has been instrumental in advancing an investigation or securing a conviction. The paucity of evidence that we have been given on the value and impact of Prüm in respect of law enforcement makes it difficult to measure its added value and to ensure that an appropriate balance is being struck. We find that lack of transparency and accountability troubling.
I can only assume that I slightly misheard what my hon. Friend said. He seemed to say that the only evidence that we had given about the benefits of Prüm was anecdotal. We have undertaken a pilot with four other EU member states. That pilot was based on the exchange of a certain number of DNA profiles. It led to hits. As in the case of the Romanian that I identified, it led to someone being charged, who is now on remand. That is not anecdotal; someone has been brought to justice as a result of Prüm.
I think that the Home Secretary used the expression “pilot scheme”. She surely concedes that it was a small scale pilot scheme. That is the basis on which I question the extent to which the evidence is sufficiently broad-based to justify this extremely grave extension of powers to the European Court of Justice. The main risks highlighted by the Government are the remaining possibility of false positives, leading to the false incrimination of innocent individuals, cost, conferral of jurisdiction to the Court, and a high volume of requests, bearing in mind the fact that the UK has the largest criminal fingerprint and DNA databases.
I appreciate my hon. Friend’s exploration of the issue, but I wish to pick up on the point he made to our right hon. Friend the Home Secretary about the small scale of the pilot. What does he say about the fact that our law enforcement service will have access to more than 5 million fingerprints and DNA profiles? In the pilot, the British police sent out more than 2,500 profiles. When it comes to scale, the evidence is compelling.
The scale has to be weighed against the extension into the realm of the European Court of Justice. That is the key issue. The European jurisdiction has been conceded by the Government, although they refused to do so before. In addition, this entire exercise represents the most massive U-turn in Government policy since 2013.
There has been a focus on the scale of the pilot scheme. Has the hon. Gentleman had a chance to consider page 23 of the Command Paper, which helpfully outlines the delays associated with the Interpol system? Indeed, the very first example is of someone who, after four or five months of an Interpol application, having committed more offences from London to Essex, was detected in relation to another crime? With Prüm, he could have been detected much earlier.
There is no doubt that there are a number of cases where improvements can be made. With respect to the difference between what we are doing in the European Union as it affects the United Kingdom and what is happening in the European Union regarding other countries, we still have those problems in other countries. Extending the jurisdiction to the European Court of Justice will simply not deal with the problem.
Furthermore, in reaching a decision Parliament is entitled to know which measures the United Kingdom would opt back into by rejoining Prüm; the relevant factors that prompted the Government’s change of policy on UK participation in Prüm; and how concerns expressed by the coalition Government in July 2013 have been resolved, as we have heard almost nothing about that today. The Government motion is far from clear about the measures that the UK will rejoin if Parliament votes for it today. It refers only to Prüm decisions, but there are three measures. Two Council decisions were adopted in 2008, and the third Council decision was adopted in 2009 on the accreditation of forensic service providers. The Government should explain why the framework decision is not expressly referred to in the motion and whether they accept that it is an integral part of the Prüm package.
In July 2013, the previous Government told Parliament that Prüm would be too costly to implement. The estimate, I understand, was £31 million. The Government expressed concern that Prüm’s technical requirements were out of date and that it would be better to see whether there was a more modern solution that allowed better exchange of information, for example, producing fewer false positives or requiring less human intervention. The Government now suggest that implementing Prüm would be significantly cheaper—about £13 million, not £31 million. Can they account for such a significant reduction in such a short space of time, and how credible is the cost assessment on which the revised estimate is based?
Furthermore, the Government do not explain what efforts have been made to craft a more modern solution based on up-to-date technical requirements which would substantially reduce the risk of false positives, not just in the UK but in the EU. The Government say that they will apply higher technical standards than required by Prüm—of course—for the UK’s DNA and fingerprint databases, but we should recall that DNA profiles and fingerprints of British citizens may be held on foreign databases, which may be subject to less rigorous standards than those proposed by the Government.
All in all, this is not a motion that should be passed, for the reasons that I have given: it interferes with parliamentary sovereignty, it extends the range of the European Court, and the Prime Minister himself has made it clear that he does not want an extension of EU jurisdiction. Indeed, I think the Home Secretary has said as much. The motion therefore does not stand up. We should not opt into these proposals. For many of us, this is a step too far.
I thank the Home Secretary for her statement today and for the courtesy of keeping me and the Scottish Government informed of her plans in advance of today’s motion. I agree with the shadow Home Secretary that the Home Secretary made a convincing and powerful case for participating in the Prüm decisions. It seems clear that the United Kingdom’s participation in those decisions will give police forces across the UK accelerated access to millions of fingerprints, DNA profiles and car registration records held across Europe. Such police co-operation across Europe can only be a good thing, provided that there are inbuilt safeguards respecting civil liberties and adherence to the highest scientific standards.
I welcome the UK Government’s engagement with both the Scottish Government and Police Scotland in developing the business and implementation case. I and my colleagues at Holyrood are encouraged by the progress to date. On the basis that the necessary civil liberties safeguards and high scientific standards will be built into the legislation and that there is proper and full involvement of the Scottish Government, the Scottish National party will support the motion.
I thank the Home Secretary for confirming clearly that the Scottish Government, the Scottish Police Authority and Police Scotland will be included in the membership of the group to have oversight of Prüm. I thank her also for confirming that the UK Government will continue to work closely with the Scottish Government to ensure that the views and concerns of the people of Scotland are given due consideration in the implementation of these decisions.
Clear benefits of Prüm for Scottish policing have already been shown. The Home Office pilot exercise which was used to inform the business case has already produced two hits for serious historical sexual crimes in Scotland, and these hits are currently being assessed and investigated. Prüm clearly offers advantages to Police Scotland over the current system in terms of both the speed of response and the ability to identify perpetrators more quickly and bring them to justice sooner. Under the current system, as we heard, all international inquiries have to be routed through Interpol. Even in a very serious case, it can take several days for a response to be received. For less serious crime requests, as we heard, it can many days and even weeks or months for responses to be received.
However, under Prüm, DNA and fingerprint data will be uploaded to the Prüm database from the relevant national databases. These data can be automatically searched, with any hits being notified immediately in the form of anonymised data in the first part of the two-stage process that the Home Secretary explained. Further data quality checks can then be carried out by member states, and on completion full data exchange can take place. This will be much quicker under Prüm than under the current system. The same applies to vehicle registration checks—an EU-wide vehicle registration check could be completed instantly under Prüm, compared with the several days that that takes at present.
On oversight, it was originally proposed by the Home Office that the Information Commissioner and the Biometrics Commissioner would be responsible for auditing UK compliance with Prüm. This was problematic for Scotland because, although they have a UK-wide role, both these officials have a limited remit in Scotland. For example, the Biometrics Commissioner’s role is to keep under review the retention and use by the police of DNA samples, profiles and fingerprints, but their functions in the main do not extend to Scotland. Collection of DNA profiles and samples in Scottish criminal cases does not fall within the Biometrics Commissioner’s remit because these issues are wholly devolved as they form part of Scottish criminal procedure.
Against that background, I am very grateful to the Home Secretary for confirming that the oversight group that is to be set up will include members from the Scottish Government, the Scottish Police Authority and Police Scotland, as this will provide a vehicle that can be used to feed in any views and concerns about compliance in Scotland. As I said, Prüm is a mixture of reserved and devolved matters, and that is why discussions are ongoing between officials of the Scottish and UK Governments to establish what, if any, legislation will need to be laid before the Scottish Parliament. Once again, I thank the Home Secretary for her continued co-operation with the Scottish Government in this regard.
Turning to civil liberties and safeguards, SNP Members were pleased to read in the business and implementation case that the Government recognised that there were significant civil liberties concerns about the operation of Prüm. I am pleased that they have taken on board some of the key objections put forward by civil liberties groups such as Justice, Liberty and Big Brother Watch. I note that the Home Secretary said that she renews her commitment to addressing civil liberties issues in relation to Prüm.
It is crucial that a correct balance is struck between preventing crime, protecting national security and protecting individual civil liberties, particularly the right to privacy. The Home Office has proposed a number of safeguards that we are pleased to support. In particular, we are happy with the suggestion that any personal data that the UK sends to another member state must not be stored permanently on its systems or databases, and cannot be stored for longer than would be legal in the country sending it. We are also pleased that there will be oversight of, and periodic checks on, the lawfulness of the supply of data and compliance with Prüm.
I understand that if a foreign member state searches for DNA or fingerprints and that search is matched with a UK citizen aged under 18, their personal data can be accessed only if mutual legal assistance channels are used, and that the UK will not share data on those under 18 through Prüm. I also understand that there is an appreciation that if the crime for which someone is matched is very minor, the UK can refuse to send personal data.
Then there are the higher scientific standards in relation to DNA profiles to which the Home Secretary alluded, whereby rather than the minimum requirement of Prüm for at least six full designated loci, the UK Government will require that personal data will not be supplied unless the DNA match is at 10 or more loci. As she said, that means that the chances of a hit being wrong are less than one in a billion, which under Scottish criminal procedure would put the matter pretty much beyond reasonable doubt.
I welcome the undertaking that the United Kingdom will ensure that only those who have been convicted of a crime can be searched in the DNA or fingerprint databases. I applaud this as being in line with what has been standard practice in Scotland for some years. I appreciate that the coalition Government also embarked on this route in recent years.
As I said, these safeguards have been welcomed by civil liberties groups, but some, particularly Big Brother Watch, which Mr Carmichael mentioned, still have concerns about certain aspects of Prüm. They have raised a particular concern about the vehicle registration database, which holds the personal data of all drivers, the majority of whom are not, of course, criminals. Safeguards are to be built into the system with regard to access to DNA and fingerprint data to protect innocent people’s data, so I wonder whether consideration might be given to whether, at least to some extent, such safeguards should be built into the recovery of vehicle registration data. The Home Secretary said that innocent Britons will have nothing to fear, and perhaps that ought to be borne in mind in this respect.
Big Brother Watch raised similar concerns in relation to Eurodac—the EU-wide database of asylum seekers’ and illegal migrants’ fingerprints. The persons whose fingerprints are on this database are not necessarily criminals, so I wonder whether the Home Secretary agrees that it is appropriate that we look at putting in place safeguards to ensure that it is accessed only in the most serious cases.
On the European arrest warrant, I thank the Home Secretary for addressing a concern that I had, and that was raised by Big Brother Watch, about whether the match of a DNA sample, a fingerprint or a vehicle number plate would be enough to request the extradition of a British citizen, or whether further evidence would be required. I was pleased to hear her confirm so clearly that further corroborative evidence would be required before a European arrest warrant could be issued or implemented.
In conclusion, unlike others in this House—we have already heard from them today—the Scottish National party does not fear the jurisdiction of the Court of Justice of the European Union. Unlike those who have tabled amendment (a), we believe that, far from threatening the civil liberties of British citizens, the Court of Justice will ensure that they are upheld, having regard to the charter of fundamental rights. It is, of course, open to this Parliament to set higher standards in relation to human rights and civil liberties, if it wished to do so.
I support the Government’s proposals, partly as a result of my own Home Office experience of seeking to fight not just criminality, but, specifically, cross-border criminality. Members on both sides of the House have made the powerful argument that taking this decision will actually make our streets and citizens safer. I cannot think of a better use of parliamentary time, particularly at this moment. The Government’s decision could not be more timely, given the terrible events not just in European countries, but around the world, in recent weeks and months. It is well worth this House doing everything we can to protect our citizens and to reassure them that everything is being done to make our streets as safe as possible.
It is relatively unusual for the Home Office to be able to invite the House to take such a decision on the basis of hard evidence. When adopting a new policy, it is often the case that we have to assume that it is going to work. Sometimes it does and sometimes it does not, but in this case we have had the benefit of the pilot, which has been much discussed, and it seems to me that the arguments cannot be gainsaid at all. Clearly, even the small-scale pilot has already made this country’s streets safer, so extending that so that we can experience the full benefits of the Prüm measures is extremely sensible.
That is why the proposal is supported by people throughout the criminal justice system. The Home Secretary has herself quoted a number of senior police officers, including the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, the director general of the National Crime Agency and a chief constable who has been involved in a particularly sensitive case. It is interesting that, further down the criminal justice pipeline, the Director of Public Prosecutions also supports the proposal. She has said that it will
“reduce the number of unsolved crimes, such as murder and rape, committed by foreign nationals, and provide an improved service to the public” and victims—a group we should always be particularly concerned about.
The advantages are spread across a number of areas. They include not just the simplified processes to request information and data, though they are vital, but efficiency gains in international searching, which will allow simultaneous searches to take place in a number of countries at once. That is a significant step forward in practical crime fighting.
Speaking as one of the forces of darkness referred to earlier, I abhor giving more power to any other body, but I accept my right hon. Friend’s argument about the international element; it is not just about the European element. In that case, I support the sharing of data, because it makes our streets safer. What I object to is that it is framed in this European way, but we are where we are, unfortunately.
I can only say to my hon. Friend that it would absurd to let the best be the enemy of the good. It would be wonderful if 185 states all had the technical capacity and ability to exchange information in this way, but they do not. In fact, I think only 21 of the current member states of the European Union can actually do this. I know that this is not true of my hon. Friend, but I sense that other hon. Friends want to use that as a reason not to sign up to the proposal, but that is nonsense, because it would continue to leave our streets not as well protected as we would all wish them to be.
For me, the problem of cross-national justice is that countries are sometimes very keen to convict foreigners, and there is therefore a propensity to miscarriages of justice. We saw that with the plane spotters in Greece, as my right hon. Friend may remember. He has of course been in the position of suffering a politically driven miscarriage of justice. What is interesting for me is that the Home Office has done a very good job in preventing the false positives and miscarriages of justices. Does he agree?
As so often, I do agree with my right hon. Friend. He is right that, for obvious reasons, I am not an uncritical admirer of everything that the police do. I regard myself as a candid friend of the police. It is extremely important that the technical measures that can be taken to minimise false positives and possible miscarriages of justice are taken at all times. I agree with him that the reassurances the Home Secretary has been able to give on that matter are extremely important.
Before I move on to the potential risks, I want to mention one advantage: access to Eurodac, to which my hon. Friend Mr Chope referred. Eurodac is the EU-wide database of the finger- prints of asylum seekers and illegal migrants. This change will allow it to be used in criminal investigation searches. It will be precisely aimed at potential criminals, not at innocent people who may have been caught up in something. That underpinning safeguard is absolutely key.
The overwhelming advantage is the straightforward one of speed. Anyone who looks at practical law enforcement will know that speed of response is hugely important in making police operations more effective, particularly internationally. Regrettably, it is topical to say that that this is particularly true when the police are attempting to deal with a terrorist outrage. The fact that it may take minutes or 24 hours, rather than months, to get evidence is absolutely vital. The advantages are therefore clear cut and widespread.
People have expressed two areas of risk associated with this system. One is genuine and the other is the result of applying some wrong-headed ideology. Let me deal with the genuine one first: the fear that the measure will intrude on our privacy or damage our data protection and therefore adversely affect our civil liberties. I take that very seriously. It is extremely important to deal with security alongside other civil liberties. I agreed with a lot of what the shadow Home Secretary said, but I do not agree—I may have slightly misunderstood him—when he said that we must have security, and once we have security we can worry about civil liberties. I think that security is one of the important civil liberties that Governments should guarantee, but other civil liberties are extremely important. We must try to defend them all in parallel and, if necessary, strike the right balance. I think that the measure does that.
There will be stringent safeguards. I return to the point that the key safeguard is to ensure that the measure is used to target convicted criminals. It seems to me that if we use large-scale databases, particularly on an international basis, we want to target people convicted of a crime, not just to trawl the records of innocent people. That is absolutely essential at a national level, and it is even more essential at a European level. The proposals before the House pass that test. I imagine that that is why the National DNA Database Ethics Group has given this a “wholehearted welcome”, which is quite a good badge of respectability for the Home Office.
Like other hon. Members, I have read carefully what Big Brother Watch has said about the measure. It is an organisation that does a lot of good and helps to hold Governments to account. I confess that I was slightly surprised at the tone of the response from Big Brother Watch, which welcomed the safeguards that the Home Secretary has introduced. It did say that there were areas of concern, but against the normal standards of comments by civil liberties groups on Home Office proposals, that is warm approval. That should be taken seriously.
“Will searches only be for serious crimes or will they include offences such as speeding or driving in a bus lane?”
It also asks:
“Will foreign police forces have access to ANPR cameras or historical ANPR data?”
The House ought to be reassured on those points.
All those civil liberties issues pose a genuine risk, but I think that they have been dealt with. The other line of criticism, which appears in the amendment, says that we should not use these procedures because they are procedures of the European Union. That is a damaging ideology. These measures help the police to catch criminals, prevent terrorist attacks, save lives and keep our streets safer. In those circumstances, it is irresponsible to say that we should not sign up because of an anti-European ideology and a fear of the European Court of Justice. The British people know that we live in a dangerous world and, frankly, will not forgive politicians who make it more dangerous by indulging in anti-European gesture politics in this field.
It has been argued that there are other ways to achieve the same effect, but it has been amply demonstrated in the course of the debate that nothing that is available is as efficient as this measure.
Iceland is not a member of the European Union. If Iceland wished to sign some kind of deal with the European Union, I assume that it would be open to Iceland to do so, but I have seen no sign that it does. It is not within the purview of this House to dictate to the Icelandic Government and people what they should do. I imagine that they want to keep their streets safe as well.
I take my right hon. Friend’s point about the European Court of Justice, but the fear in respect of some of the protections he has talked about, such as the extreme case of whether the database is used for speeding offences, is that the Court could change the guidelines in a way that is outside our control. I do not think that it is true that that could happen in this case, but I think that he should address the point, rather than just dismiss it.
I do not dismiss it, although my right hon. Friend is right that it is not true in this case. The Prüm measures specifically say where the European Court of Justice has jurisdiction, and it is quite limited. One thing that the Court seeks to do is to defend individual citizens against over-mighty states.
I am deeply grateful to my right hon. Friend. I hope that that reassures those who have doubts on that score.
It has become fashionable in this House in recent days to quote dead communist dictators.
In this case, I want to refer to a concept that Lenin introduced: that of the useful idiot. It refers to people who do something by accident that gives comfort to those whom they normally oppose. I am afraid that some arguments against this proposal fall into that category. I know that my right hon. and hon. Friends who are advancing these arguments are not idiots, so I urge them to think hard, and possibly not to press the amendment.
This kind of European co-operation in fighting serious crime and terrorism is essential in today’s dangerous world. It is to the European Union’s credit that it has devised a practical system to help keep people safer, and to the credit of the British Government that they have agreed to sign up to it. I hope that tonight the House will agree on that significant step forward in fighting terrorism and serious international crime.
It is a pleasure to follow Damian Green. I woke up this morning by reading his article in TheDaily Telegraph on this subject, and here he is live this afternoon quoting Lenin, who I am sure is required reading for all his electors in Ashford.
“we have neither the time nor the money to implement Prüm by
I was delighted to see her conversion, which was based—of course—on very strong evidence from the pilot that the Government put in place, and on a powerful case that we should join this important part of the EU. She has obviously thought about it carefully over the past 12 months, and I appreciate the courtesy of the Immigration Minister who rang me a week ago and told me what the Government planned to do.
All the arguments have been made. I could just say, “I agree” and sit down, but this would not be Parliament if I were to do that. It is rare for those on both Front Benches to speak so eloquently in support of a motion—perhaps that will be a feature of European debates to come.
The hon. Lady is right. Voting for the motion does not mean an ever closer union—that issue is still under negotiation with the Prime Minister and the rest of the EU—but it does mean helping us to fight terrorism and serious and organised crime. I hope that she will vote with the Government on this occasion, as I am sure she has done on many other occasions since she came to the House.
My right hon. Friend is making a compelling argument. We all, including those of us who represent constituencies in Northern Ireland, want issues of cross-border crime to be dealt with and eliminated. Does he agree, however, that data protection must not be sacrificed and that civil liberties must be protected?
I do agree with that, but I am reassured by what the Home Secretary has said about the creation of the oversight board, and the fact that information about those on the database who have not committed criminal offences will not be shared.
That brings me to an important point. I am getting confused with all these various databases, so I asked the Library which databases on criminal and terrorist links are available and could be shared with the rest of the EU. It came up with an awesome list of databases that contain hundreds of thousands, indeed millions, of names. The police national computer holds a number of pieces of information—11,559,157 names. There is the Police National Database; ViSOR; the DNA database, which currently holds 5,094,325 names; Semaphore, which is about to be improved because the Home Office announced an extra £25 million to improve its capability; and the Warnings Index, which is also capable of improvement—I will make reference to this—because we heard recently that it is not as effective as it ought to be in tracking those who come into this country. We do not know how many are on the Warnings Index, of course, because it is confidential. Again, we do not know the numbers on the Watch lists database, but it is still of interest. As far as the European Union is concerned, there is the second generation Schengen information system, SIS II, the Europol information system and the Interpol database. Again, we do not know how many names are on those databases.
We are talking about an awful lot of databases. When the Minister comes to wind up, it would be very helpful if he told the House which of the UK databases will be subject to this decision and which of the European and international databases—it may be all of them—are also going to be part of the decision we make today. I support what the Government are doing, but it is nice to have clarity for those who think that every single bit of information ever collected about a British citizen will be made available.
My concern is the security of the border, especially after the events in Paris. I believe the decision of the Government will help us to track people who leave this country and end up in the European Union; people like Trevor Brooks and Simon Keeler, who on
The problem—I put this to the Home Secretary when I intervened—is our European colleagues not putting suspects’ names on the databases as soon as they become people of interest. It is very important that they do so. If suspects cross borders and we want to know where they are, it is important that they are on the database in the first place. The Greek ambassador gave evidence to the Home Affairs Committee two weeks ago. He lamented that in the case of one of those involved in the Paris attacks, even though the French decided this individual was a person of interest, his name had not been put on the database. When he crossed the border between Turkey and Greece it was not possible for his name to be flagged up on the system, so they were unable to alert the French. We therefore want to be sure that this happens as quickly as possible. We welcome the speed of the new arrangements; I think the Home Secretary said 15 minutes as opposed to two-and-a-half months, which sounds absolutely incredible. That is fine, but the names have to go on the database in the first place.
Only yesterday, the head of Europol, Rob Wainwright, said there was a “black hole of information” that hampered co-operation on counter-terrorism. He mentioned the fact that fewer than half the foreign fighters identified by national counter-terrorism authorities are registered in our system, which is meant to provide a basic cross-European data check. As we know, 18 million or so people are not part of the passenger name recognition system that the Home Secretary has been battling away—I think for all the years she has been Home Secretary—to get the rest of the European Union signed up to. The fact is that just one person coming into our country who we do not know affects the security of our borders.
We should take the head of the Europol at his word and try to assist those international organisations. A few years ago, the Committee suggested the creation of an international counter-terrorism platform as part of Interpol. We do not need to reinvent the wheel. Interpol and Europol have a great deal of information and data, and we should be building on what they have got. That is why I am pleased that on
Finally, I turn to the European arrest warrant, which is not the subject of the debate but to which right hon. and hon. Members have referred. The Committee, in successive reports, has pointed to real problems with the EAW. It is a great idea, but there are technicalities that cause problems for British citizens, and we should be extremely careful about taking the view that signing up to these agreements means that everything will be all right. We need to monitor carefully what is being suggested, and if, for any reason, we need to change our involvement, we should do so.
Thanks to the European arrest warrant, my constituent, Michael Turner, of whom I know the right hon. Gentleman is aware, was sent to jail in Hungary for four months without trial. We fought it very hard, and the Government assured us the matter would be looked at, but I am afraid I have no confidence in European jurisdiction, and this move concerns me, despite the fact that we all want to fight terrorism, regardless of what my right hon. Friend Damian Green rather unhelpfully said.
The hon. Gentleman is right. He fought very hard for his constituent, Michael Turner, who, thanks to the hon. Gentleman, gave evidence to the Committee. He was let down by the system. It is wrong that someone who is completely innocent should be arrested and held in another country for so long. Apart from anything else, the damage to reputation and personal integrity is enormous. There are problems with the EAW that we need to look at, but, as an idea, it is right that we are able to trace people throughout Europe. The actual implementation and practicalities, however, cause hardship to people such as Michael Turner.
In conclusion, the Home Secretary’s conversion is welcome and her case powerful. I hope we can use this system to ensure that criminals do not escape without being brought to justice and that those who seek to enter our country to undermine our values through terrorism are caught at the border and sent back to where they belong.
It is with a heavy heart that I stand to speak in this debate, as I am one of our Home Secretary’s most ardent supporters. Our nation is lucky indeed to have someone so entirely committed to protecting our citizens and doing all in her power to make our Home Office functions work as effectively as possible. However, I have been more than a little bemused by this proposal that the UK sign up by
I was under the impression before I came to the House that we had opted out of all police and criminal justice measures, including the Prüm decisions, agreed before the Lisbon treaty. There was a good deal of noise about this last year when, in the run-up to
I commend that decision on financial prudence grounds, as well as data protection ones, but I am bemused because I remember the Home Secretary saying the European Court of Justice should not have the final say over matters such as criminal law and that Her Majesty’s Government should be able to renegotiate such arrangements as they saw fit. That is why I have been confused. While there is an opportunity, the window for which closes on
I accept that there might well be biometric data on foreign criminals in EU databases, as we have in ours, but surely it would be more sensible to build a database that we use to assist police forces around the world, with whom bilateral agreements already in place could be enhanced by such data-sharing. I am not against the concept of sharing data in and of itself, but the safeguards for those who could be wrongly identified and pursued by foreign police forces must be absolutely watertight.
I commend Ministers for the detailed specifications set out in the command paper about when a positive hit on a biometric should be progressed for handing over personal information. The fact that only the biometrics of adults convicted of recordable offences should be shared is a good safeguard. In the UK, however, we also hold the biometric data of juveniles convicted of recordable offences, of those arrested and charged but not convicted of many serious offences and of those whose cases have not yet been concluded. Again, my concern remains that while we intend to safeguard most of the UK data held from view by EU states through Prüm, we risk ECJ jurisdiction over our citizens’ data—as was said earlier, the lines are moving—when there are other options available to Great Britain’s police forces for accessing other countries’ records when trying to track down criminals.
The command paper states that of the 15% of crimes committed by foreigners, half are by EU citizens, and the other half are not. I know that every police force, anywhere in the world, will always want more tools to help them fight crime and solve serious offences. I was more than a little concerned by the shadow Home Secretary’s comments that security will trump civil liberties. I am afraid that that is not a view that I hold. There must be points at which we in this House determine the security of our citizens’ most personal biometric data, which must not be put at risk. We must retain complete control of our data records.
As a member of the Public Accounts Committee, I am also concerned at a practical level that the proposed cost of £13 million to build this portal to access British DNA, fingerprint and vehicle registration data is quite likely to be an underestimate. Since I was elected, I have sat in hearings week after week to listen to the justifications of Departments as to why IT projects have not gone according to plan or budget. The reality is that any new IT programme is fraught with challenges, but to build one that will need so many safeguards will undoubtedly be the cause of many problems, delays and unexpected cost increases.
I do not suggest that we should not be trying to build a portal of some kind to assist international law enforcers in the medium term to gain faster access to data, just as we see the benefits of accessing the data within other EU states, but I am not convinced that giving the green light to do this under pressure from states signed up to Prüm that are keen to get into our databases is the way forward.
I hope that Ministers will be able to assuage my anxieties on these matters for my constituents. I thank the Minister for giving me time to discuss these matters in detail last week. We have choices in how we go about increasing our biometric data sharing with other nations. I am simply unable to see why a rush to sign up to Prüm before new year’s eve is out is the right way to go. I will continue to listen to the debate and to Ministers’ honourable and considered positions on Prüm in the hope that my fears for both IT costs and potential failures will be proved wrong. I hope the Government will see that criminality extends beyond a few EU states in the complex global network that we all live in today.
It is a pleasure to follow Mrs Trevelyan. The first question I pose is whether we want to ensure that we are tough against terrorism; then whether we want to ensure that the United Kingdom takes every action possible to combat terrorism; and then whether we want the public to feel safer by our actions in combating terrorism. I think we would all say yes, of course we do.
I have noted that a number of Members who have spoken are anxious to protect civil liberties for all our citizens, and I have heard the Home Secretary talking about the protections and safeguards that are in place. I agree that civil liberties protection is important, but what about civil liberties protection for the victims of our society as well? We need to realise that a huge amount of victims require it, not just the people whose information is going on to the database. We need to be absolutely clear about the fact that this concerns protection for our citizens—not the citizens of the United Kingdom but the citizens of countries that are our near neighbours. I must say to those who oppose this proposal that although I am not the greatest supporter of the European Union and, indeed, have supported the actions of Sir William Cash on many occasions, I disagree with some of what the hon. Gentleman has said today. In particular, I disagree with what he said about civil liberties, because I have noted the safeguards that will be introduced.
We in Northern Ireland have been subjected to terrorism for many years: the terrorism of people being murdered, and of bombs and shootings in our society. We have also suffered because of a lack of information from our near neighbours, the authorities in the Republic of Ireland. I understand that they have not signed up to these proposals either, but I hope that, being the strong European Union supporters that they are, they will do so in the near future. I hope they will come to realise that that might be helpful to our neighbours in the United Kingdom, France, and any other country that is situated nearby.
I hear what the hon. Gentleman says. As he well knows, I am a strong supporter of most of what comes from Northern Ireland in the shape of the Democratic Unionist party. Does he not accept, however, that there are ways of dealing with this problem that do not involve our surrendering to the European Court of Justice? That is the key issue for most of us in this matter. It is not that we do not want to restrain terrorism and exchange information; what concerns us is the manner in which that is being done, at the expense of Parliament and, in our view, of those who wish to leave the European Union.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for what he has said, and for explaining his position. I certainly accept his position on the European Court of Justice, but there is a balance to be struck and there are decisions to be made. I think that we must take a balanced view when people’s safety and lives are being put on the line, and my balanced view is that it is better for us to try to protect the citizens of the United Kingdom and those of other parts of Europe.
Had these databases been in place when the Provisional IRA were planting bombs in Germany and the Netherlands, perhaps the people responsible could have been apprehended before the bombs went off, or at least could have been brought to justice after the explosions.
I think that if the Republic of Ireland were to be involved in Prüm, the United Kingdom, and particularly the Northern Ireland part of the United Kingdom, could be in a much better co-operative position, and could share information much more easily than is possible at present. I know that co-operation between the security services in the Republic and those in Northern Ireland has already improved to some degree, but there is still no stream of information, and I think it would be helpful to all our citizens if that information were shared.
If we have nothing to hide from the rest of our society, we have nothing to fear from these proposals. I do not mind if my information is on a database if I have nothing to hide, and in any case I understand that there is a safeguard that will ensure that people’s personal information will not be put on to the database if they are not criminals.
This is not just about terrorism; it is about wider organised crime as well. It is about human trafficking and drugs trafficking, which are a scourge on our society throughout Europe. We have seen the public aspect of terrorism in Paris and elsewhere, and we know how many people have been murdered, but other organised crime—such as human trafficking and the trafficking of drugs—brings just as much devastation to society and to individuals. It affects as many people and ruins as many lives as terrorism. We need to be ever mindful of that.
I do have a question in relation to Northern Ireland. Will this take a legislative consent motion in Northern Ireland, or will it take the approval of the Northern Ireland Executive, or is it automatic? That is a simple question, which I assume requires a fairly easy answer, because I would not like to see delayed in Northern Ireland the positive aspects that could be helpful to us in our society as well.
The information on the databases is only as good as what is put on, so I implore that we do need a proper system for the inputting of that information, so that the proper information is available to all in our society.
It is a pleasure to follow Tom Elliott. I rise in this debate just briefly because I am a great believer in co-operation between European member states and, indeed, between all countries on an international basis if the aim of that co-operation is to eliminate terrorism and fear and improve national security, but a couple of things need to be said. This is not necessarily about the detail of the database—how the data are held, what is on the database, how it is populated, how many databases there might be, whether they are a good thing or a bad thing. There is a tiny bit of principle that underlies all these points that I want to check that we have covered off.
When Andy Burnham made his opening remarks for the Opposition, he reminded us of the job he held in 2005. He had been given a job by Tony Blair at that time to bring in the European arrest warrant. At that time, I was a Member of the European Parliament and I participated in debates there about the extensions of powers this might bring. There was a genuine concern from the current major Opposition party here, the Labour party, about the direction of travel in the European criminal justice system, hence the big opt-out which came about. In fact, let me quote someone who does not get quoted much in this House any more—former Prime Minister Tony Blair. On
“It is precisely the pick and choose policy often advocated. It gives us complete freedom to protect our common law system”.—[Hansard, 25 June 2007; Vol. 462, c. 21.]
That was why I asked the right hon. Member for Leigh whether security trumps common law. I will challenge him privately, maybe, over a pint later on his answer to that, because we have to understand that common law is the underpinning of our structure of law in general in this country and we must uphold that. Yes, security is super-important, but we must uphold our common law principles as well.
I was in the European Parliament at the same time as a great gentleman, Professor Neil MacCormick, who was an SNP Member of the European Parliament. He chastised me when I was flirting with the idea of how a European system of criminal justice might look going forward. He reminded me that actually a European system of criminal justice goes against corpus juris in many ways and could undermine our common law. He kept on reminding that Parliament that we must be very wary when we look forward at measures in the emerging European criminal justice system, as while they might be—as many of them are—sensible progressions of policy, we must make sure none of them undermines our system of common law.
A former Labour Home Secretary, Jacqui Smith, probably put this as well as I will ever be able to:
“In negotiating the justice and home affairs chapter, the Government made clear their absolute determination to protect our common law system and police and judicial processes. We were clear that EU co-operation in this area should not affect fundamental aspects of our criminal justice system.”
She went on to make a point that we need to note today, bearing in mind that, having used our opt-out, this Government are now using a process of opting back in. She said:
“The extended opt-in arrangements that we have secured mean that we have a complete choice as to whether to participate in any JHA measure. We have also ensured that the jurisdiction of the ECJ cannot be imposed on the UK in this area—it will apply only to the extent that we have chosen to participate in a JHA measure.”—[Hansard, 29 January 2008; Vol. 471, c. 183.]
The Government are to be commended for certain aspects of the process that they have undertaken on this measure, instead of simply opting in without thought. The Home Secretary and the Minister for Immigration, my right hon. Friend James Brokenshire, will understand that I have real reservations about how these measures work in conjunction with our system of common law, but at least we have had a sensible pilot and a sensible assessment, and we have put in extra safeguards to ensure that the data transfer is more on our terms.
I like it when we co-operate with our EU partners—and, indeed, our international partners—on these matters. My only concern is to ensure that the Government and this place, the House of Commons, have squared off opting into things like this against the continuing development of a European system of criminal justice based on a legal code that directly challenges corpus juris and our common law system. I hope that the Home Secretary will understand my concern, and I hope that the Minister will be able to cover off the points that I have made. In his assessment, will going deeper into ECJ jurisdiction be a price worth paying for these measures?
Several hon. Members rose—
Thank you for calling me, Mr Deputy Speaker. There was not much choice left on this side of the Chamber. You have a distinct advantage over many Members here, in that when you entered the Chamber about 10 minutes ago, you at least knew what the subject matter was. I have sat through the debate for almost two hours, and some of the contributions would lead people to think that this was a dangerous proposition that posed a fundamental threat to our country. I do not believe that that is the case.
I am incredibly grateful to the Home Secretary and, in particular, to the Minister for Immigration for our conversations over the past few weeks, for their thoughtfulness and their willingness to assuage our concerns, and for preparing and publishing the Command Paper. If Prüm was about the United Kingdom Government sending shedloads of data to 27 other EU member states, I would be voting against it. If it was about asking 27 other EU member states to come over to the United Kingdom and have full, unfettered access to our data, I would also vote against it. However, that is not what is being proposed. The indications from the Home Secretary and from the Command Paper that the cost has been significantly reduced, from £31 million to £13 million, are to be welcomed.
I would be grateful if the Minister or the Home Secretary could help me with a little confusion arising from the contribution of Keith Vaz. He suggested that we needed to put certain information on a database. My understanding was that we had three databases—one for vehicle registration, one for DNA and one for fingerprints—and that it was through those existing databases that the information would be handled.
I am grateful for this opportunity to confirm what the hon. Gentleman has just said. There is a DNA database—we will restrict the information that is available for the Prüm checks—a vehicle registration database and a fingerprint database. The Chairman of the Home Affairs Select Committee, Keith Vaz, mentioned a whole variety of databases. There are some issues within the European Union about the connectivity of certain databases to help us to catch terrorists and so forth, but in regard to the Prüm decisions, Gavin Robinson is absolutely right to say that it is those three databases that we are talking about.
I am grateful for that explanation. It satisfies my confusion, as opposed to there being any error on the part of the Chairman of the Home Affairs Select Committee.
I am a Eurosceptic, but pragmatically so. [Laughter.] I hear some laughter coming from across the Chamber, but it is important that when we agree on certain constitutional issues and the future of this country, we coalesce and unite around those issues. I do have a difference of opinion with those who have signed the amendment and it is important to outline—
I am so glad to hear that the hon. Gentleman is a Eurosceptic, and I take it from what he said that he would be inclined to leave the European Union. Does he accept that if he were to—
Order. We are definitely not going on to that debate at this stage.
You do not need to save me, Mr Deputy Speaker, but I will decline to answer. I can talk to the hon. Gentleman about that issue outside the Chamber.
As a pragmatic Eurosceptic, I have to look at the Command Paper and assess the details. The important details that are published there recognise that the PSNI was a part of the pilot and that there were two instances of a successful hit that involved a rape case and a German national. When I read statistics for 2013-14 in the Command Paper saying that a third of all crimes in London were carried out by foreign national offenders and that a third of them—33,500 individuals—were EU nationals, I think we need to look at ways in which we can speed up the investigative process, without hamstringing our investigative authorities in this country. That is why when I intervened on the hon. Member for Stone I made reference to page 23 of the Command Paper and the inherent delays associated with Interpol. Although Interpol will continue to be the system for dealing with those 34,500 foreign national offenders who are not from the EU, we have the opportunity to protect citizens in this city and in this country by taking this important decision today.
Reference was made earlier to the Republic of Ireland. It has not yet taken this decision, but I hope it does so. The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland was before the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee this afternoon, and she will know that there have been 16 terrorist attacks carried out in Northern Ireland this year that are of national security concern. Many of those involved in dissident republican circles will be operating across the UK-Republic of Ireland border.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that if we send a strong message of support for Prüm, we will send the message to the Parliament in the Republic that it is time for the Republic to join this and thus make it easier to tackle things such as the cross-border fuel crimes that we have been talking about in other contexts of Northern Ireland security?
I agree entirely and I am grateful for that intervention. We have engaged, through the PSNI, and it is crucial that our colleagues and friends in the Republic do so, too. I would be grateful if the Minister would indicate that discussions are ongoing with the Republic of Ireland, so that we can share our information, data and experience obtained during the pilot with the Republic of Ireland and it can similarly benefit from the directive.
The facts and figures show that there were 1,109 detections of marked fuel oil and oil laundries in Northern Ireland by the PSNI, with 50,340 litres of oil seized; and that there were 5,852 seizures of cigarettes, with 53 million cigarettes seized to a value of €25.5 million. That is what the PSNI can do. If it had help from the Garda Siochana and other countries, it could do even more.
I do not disagree with my hon. Friend —I never could. That is probably the 10th time he has contributed to proceedings in this Chamber today and there will be many more such contributions.
I will not labour the point. We support this proposal from a pragmatic perspective. I wish to conclude with two gentle points for the shadow Home Secretary. First, I agree with Damian Green and others in this Chamber who have taken issue with the suggestion that if we look after national security, civil liberties will look after themselves. There are countless examples of draconian societies in this world where national security is very much at the expense of civil liberties. The considered point about a balance between the two is much more appropriate.
Although it is not my role to stand up for, defend or come to the rescue of the Home Secretary, I have to say that I see no U-turn from her. What was said by the shadow Home Secretary, and indeed by the Chairman of the Home Affairs Committee, who had a smile on his face, misses the point. In July 2014, the Home Secretary was quite clear about the reason for delay, which was a wish to avoid infraction proceedings from the European Union. I will go one step further, as there is one point in this paper that has been missed by many.
At that time, Northern Ireland representatives, including my hon. Friend Mr Campbell, were standing against the decision to close the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency in Coleraine. A key component of Prüm was that this country had to have centralised collection of data for vehicle registration. The Government could not proceed until they had closed the facility in Coleraine. They may not be honest about this, but because a centralised service in Swansea was only offered up on
Although I take no enjoyment in highlighting that fact, it does serve to illustrate that the Home Secretary could not proceed when the key component was a centralised data centre. She did not have that centre until our vehicle licensing centre in Coleraine was closed. With that point, and perhaps a nod to those who are unhappy today, I wish to indicate our pragmatic support for the proposal that will reinforce the security efforts and the safety of citizens not only in this country but throughout the European Union.
It is becoming something of an annual event that the Home Office should bring forward a further passing of powers to the European Union. Just over a year ago, we had the arrest warrant and all that went with it, and now we have Prüm, or Proom depending on one’s preferred pronunciation.
I must confess that this is a grave disappointment, because one had begun to read briefings in the press that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary was going to become the Boadicea of the Leave campaign, and on her winged chariot she was going to be putting the case for why we should have less Europe rather than more. Instead, we get this order brought before us today on the grounds of necessity. She says that it is the only way in which we can co-operate with our friends in Europe—countries that wish to assist us and that we wish to assist.
The arguments for the order are, superficially, very attractive. There is no one in this House who wants to aid terrorists or stop them being arrested. There is no one who wants rapists to go free, or who wants petrol smuggled between Northern and southern Ireland. We want the law to be obeyed and the wrongdoers to be arrested. We want them to be caught and put in prison. That is all true, and we want efficient systems to be put in place that ensure that that happens. There is absolute unanimity in this House, and probably—except among the criminal fraternity—in the country at large. Then we hear why it can be done only this one way, which is more Europe, with the Commission and the European Court of Justice.
Interpol, according to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and others who have spoken, sounds as though it is run by Inspector Clouseau and uses cleft sticks to carry messages between countries. It is so incompetent and slow that it is hard to understand why it exists at all. If it is quite so incompetent at gathering information and quite so lazy and idle at passing it around the world, why are we contributing to its upkeep? Is there not a case for fundamental reform of Interpol? Should we not do something about it to ensure that, internationally and not just in the narrow European sphere, there is a means, a method and an ability to transmit information relating to these dangerous criminals? But oh, no, we will not bother with that. That might be hard work. It might mean that something has to be done, that it will upset the nice, expanding, imperial European Union that has of course to have more powers gathered to itself. No, the only thing that can be done is to use the full mechanism of the European Union; there is no other way.
We assume that if we offered bilateral intergovernmental agreements, they would be refused. The Home Office states that they would be refused; that that would be too difficult because there is another mechanism within the European Union. But that makes the assumption that our friends, our partners, our allies in Europe are so wedded to the idea of the European Union that they will not do something that they themselves wish to do because we will not agree to their specific structures for doing it. Therefore, we must accept the structures rather than negotiating with them over what those structures may be.
This strikes me as perverse. We know that our friends in France are keen to have this exchange of information. Is the Home Secretary really saying that the French would not agree to an intergovernmental bilateral agreement that we would give them information and they would give us information because it did not meet the highfalutin European ideal? Is that really what Her Majesty’s Government are saying? Is that the case with Germany, Italy and Spain? Are they all saying that they attach so much importance to the European Union that, even though they wish to share information with us, even though they think it is important, even though they think that it would cut crime, they are not willing to do so?
We must also take into account the decision taken by Denmark only a few days ago in this enormous description of the kaleidoscope of European unity.
My hon. Friend is right. The Danish question is one of the greatest importance. Denmark had a referendum, having trusted their people, which I believe we may be doing at some point. But of course we are not trusting them on this measure, because it is instrumental to catching terrorists, and the people cannot be trusted to decide whether they want to do that or not. No, this must be done by the Government after a three-hour debate—though lucky us to get even a three-hour debate. Last year we did not get a debate on the European arrest warrant. We had it on something else.
The hon. Gentleman appears to be suggesting that we have a series of bilateral agreements with 20-something EU member states, but is that not essentially what is being done tonight, albeit in a more efficient way?
The hon. Gentleman is only partly right—a bit of a curate’s egg, if I may say so, but it is regrettably rotten in parts. If the agreement is done in this way, it comes under the competence of the European Court of Justice and infraction proceedings can be brought by the European Commission. Why is that important? I accept that protections are built into Prüm, and that there are limits on the application of what the ECJ can do, but it needs to be seen as part of a whole package. We are agreeing today that the investigatory function in relation to data held by Governments should be centralised at a European level. We agreed a year ago that the arrest function should be centralised with a European competence. So we have investigation, we have arrest, and we have a proposal from the European Commission for a European public prosecutor—so far, resisted, but this measure was resisted a year ago, and the European arrest warrant was not Conservative party policy until a year ago.
I wonder whether the hon. Gentleman sees where I am going. This is part of a package of creating a European criminal justice system. It comes one by one and bit by bit. On every occasion, the measure is said to be essential and we are told that there is no opportunity of doing it differently, but if there is no opportunity of doing it differently, why is my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister racing around European capitals trying to organise a renegotiation? If there is never any other possibility, is that not banging our head against a brick wall? Surely we should be saying—the Government intimated this a year ago, but there has been no delivery at all—that we will make the European arrest warrant and all that goes with it part of the renegotiation. We would go back to the status quo ante—where we were prior to the Lisbon treaty: that we do these things on an intergovernmental basis.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Stone—I am sorry, I mean hon. Friend; he ought to be right honourable; it is extraordinary that Her Majesty has not yet asked him to join the Privy Council—pointed me in the direction of Denmark. Denmark has said no. Denmark will want to make arrangements with fellow European Union states to exchange data with their friends and allies, and we could make arrangements with our friends and allies to exchange data and do all the sensible things of which everyone in this House is in favour. It is the right thing for us to do, but it is better than that. If we did it on an intergovernmental basis we might decide that there are some EU member states whose criminal justice systems are not up to it. That is an important point. My hon. Friend Richard Drax referred to his constituent and the disgraceful way in which he was treated in a country where we do not have the same confidence in the criminal justice processes that we have in, for example, Germany and France, or, for that matter, the United States and Canada. Such an arrangement would give us greater flexibility, and there are a number of ways in which it could be done. We could have intergovernmental agreements with the European Union as a body. The EU has legal personality, so it is possible to do it on that basis, but maintain control and keep the rights that we enjoy, and stop the rush—that is perhaps an exaggeration, as the last debate was a year ago, but it is a rush in European terms—to establish a single criminal justice system.
It is worrying that a Government who portray themselves in election campaigns, propaganda and statements as Eurosceptic, when it comes to the details of what they are doing, turn out to think that the answer is more Europe. They then say that this has to be done because we are in danger if we do not do it. The only reason we are in danger is that we assume that the EU and its member states are not rational in their dealings with us, so we must always give in to them. One of the greatest Prime Ministers that this country ever saw, William Pitt, said:
“Necessity is the plea for every infringement of human freedom. It is the argument of tyrants; it is the creed of slaves.”
This argument is dependent on the necessity. I do not wish this Government to be tyrannical, nor do I wish to be a slave.
My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has made a strong case for the functions that the measure would deliver, because there is a strong case for that. Indeed, I am astonished not only that Interpol does not, in the 21st century, make such functions available to the whole world, but that we seem to have given up on making Interpol fit for the 21st century and a world of global crimes in which we ought be able to pursue people, wherever they come from, not merely in the European Union.
The key problem is rehearsed in the Government’s business case for Prüm. The Command Paper says on page 51:
We can see immediately where the Government’s heart is. The Command Paper continues:
“It is clear that accepting CJEU jurisdiction over measures in the field of policing and criminal justice is not risk free. This is because the CJEU can rule in unexpected and unhelpful ways.”
It goes on to discuss how difficult it is to overturn decisions made by the Court, and says:
“The Government considers, however, the risk of CJEU jurisdiction to be at its greatest as concerns matters relating to substantive criminal law. This is a matter that should be determined by our sovereign Parliament, particularly given that the relevant measures are often open to wide interpretation. This also reduces the risk of the EU obtaining exclusive external competence in relation to such matters.”
The Government express concern about the prospect of third-country agreements. That is the problem. If we hand over control of this area, the EU will be able to enter into third-country agreements and we will not be able to do anything about it because we will be under the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice. That is the heart of the matter: again and again, the Government are a foot-dragging and reluctant participant in European measures, yet we go ahead anyway, despite all our misgivings.
This is something that we really ought not to go ahead and do. Although other Members have played it down, it is a serious matter that, as my hon. Friend Mr Rees-Mogg explained, we are progressively surrendering our own common law system of justice and home affairs. It is not right that we should constantly position ourselves as judging on merit, moment by moment, yet continuing down the path of integration. My right hon. Friends the Home Secretary and the Prime Minister have made similar remarks in the past. I shall not torture them by rehearsing those and putting them on the record now.
It seems to me that there is a clash between heart and head. In our hearts we want our Parliament to be sovereign, and we wish to co-operate in pragmatic and reasonable ways. Of course we do—we all do. But the Government’s pragmatism takes over. They see that in order to co-operate on an intergovernmental basis, the right to bring forward such a treaty lies with the European Commission. The European Commission is not interested in bringing forward such a treaty because the Prüm arrangements have already been drawn up, so what do we do? Instead of asking the Prime Minister to renegotiate this set of powers in his outstanding renegotiation, which would be consistent with what he has said before and consistent with the tone of the report, we do what is easy—we opt in because the arrangements are before us.
We should go another way. We should vote to leave the European Union, take control back to our Parliament and yes, of course, deliver these practical, sensible measures with safeguards over which this Parliament can have authority. We should go forward on the basis of trade and co-operation and act to deliver it as though we mean it.
I am glad that we have had the opportunity to debate the business and implementation case for the Prüm decisions. I appreciate the fact that it has been a wide-ranging debate. I support the conclusion in favour of rejoining. I welcome the Government’s change of heart relating to these decisions, even if that has taken them over a year. I am glad they are now listening to the evidence, rather than just to their Back Benchers’ fears about the EU, and recognise that these measures improve policing capability both in the UK and across the EU.
I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend Andy Burnham and Damian Green, who referred to the fact that our freedoms, civil liberties and laws are built on the foundations of security and safety for all our citizens. Prüm seeks to enhance that. The recent attacks in Paris demonstrated the importance of working closely with other member states to ensure that our police forces have the best possible means at their disposal for combating crime and ensuring the protection of our citizens.
Personally, I think we should use all the measures and all the tools at our disposal. Particularly in my field, abuse, I see that criminals are working internationally now and we must do all we can to prevent that.
I am aware that opting in to Prüm may seem like a technical matter, but it speaks to a deeper issue—that we can and do achieve more by co-operation with our European partners than we can individually. Labour firmly believes that by working with our European partners on such matters, we are more than the sum of our parts. As we have heard, these decisions establish requirements for sharing data related to DNA profiles, vehicle registrations and fingerprint images. The Labour Government were right to support these as vital means of improving policing across the EU. However, in an attempt to appease their Eurosceptic Back Benchers, this Government opted out of them in 2013, with effect from
Although the Government opted back in to 35 EU justice measures, the Prüm decisions were not among them. Labour was opposed to that decision at the time, so we are pleased that the Government have come to their senses and now see the benefit of these measures. Before I come on to why we support rejoining Prüm and set out some outstanding questions that I have for the Minister, it is important that we set the original opt-out in context. My right hon. Friend Keith Vaz reminded the House that in justifying the decision not to rejoin Prüm in July last year, the Home Secretary stated that the Government had
“neither the time nor the money”.—[Hansard, 10 July 2014; Vol. 584, c. 492.]
I am pleased that they now have the time and the money to devote to this important issue. However, it is hard to shake the suspicion that apart from time and money, last year they lacked the inclination because of the need to appease their Back Benchers. We all remember the pressure the Government were under with regard to the European arrest warrant, and we have seen today the divisions within the Tory party regarding Prüm. While I welcome the change in stance and the party’s willingness now to stand up to its Back Benchers, I wish that there had not been the need for a delay of over a year. The demonstrated benefits of Prüm mean that this delay is likely to have had a negative impact on British policing, so it is important that legislation is now introduced as soon as possible.
Although the business case and the pilot study clearly show that there would be operational and public protection benefits, there is of course a need for balance and safeguards. I have a number of questions relating to these issues, and I would appreciate it if the Minister could answer them.
It is right and proper that we send information abroad only about people actually convicted in the UK, and that additional requirements be applied prior to the release of information relating to minors. The risk of false positive matches is another serious issue. While it is promising that the Government’s business case found that there was increased convergence in DNA testing standards across member states, we would like a requirement under Prüm that data is collected using a system of quality assurances for crime scene examination. Will the Minister confirm that the standard requirement prior to transferring DNA information will be maintained at 10 loci rather than the minimum of six loci required by Prüm?
I have a number of questions about the proportionality test mentioned in the implementation case. Will the Minister give an example of when he thinks that the test will prevent personal information from being sent abroad due to the offence under investigation being insufficiently serious? Given that the proportionality test is not explicitly included in the Government’s proposed draft legislation, will it be contained in any legislation, and who will be responsible for taking these decisions?
In addition to those concerns about sufficient safeguards being put in place, I have a number of other outstanding issues that I would like the Minister to clarify. The business and implementation case estimates that the cost of Prüm will be £30 million, although it acknowledges that there will be additional downstream costs. How are the savings of £18 million being made from the previous estimate of £31 million? What are the annual costs expected to be for the rest of this Parliament? It is important that ongoing transparency and scrutiny is applied to ensure that the measures are operating effectively. What plans are there to publish details of the number of pieces of information being sent abroad from the UK, as well as the number being denied due to failing the proportionality test?
Will the Minister tell the House about the timeframe for bringing forward the legislation needed to give effect to the decision to rejoin Prüm, and how long it is expected to take for the system to become operational? Given the delay already caused by the initial opt-out from Prüm, preventing any further delays should be a matter of priority for the Government.
In summary, Labour supported the Prüm decision when in government and opposed the initial opt-out from these measures during the previous Parliament. We are therefore happy to support this motion authorising the Government to rejoin.
I thank all those who have taken part in this debate. We have been listening very carefully to the range of opinions expressed and the different views provided by Andy Burnham, my hon. Friend Sir William Cash, Joanna Cherry, my right hon. Friend Damian Green, Keith Vaz, my hon. Friend Mrs Trevelyan, Tom Elliott, my hon. Friend Chris Heaton-Harris, Gavin Robinson, my hon. Friends the Members for North East Somerset (Mr Rees-Mogg) and for Wycombe (Mr Baker), and Sarah Champion. It is good that we have had a debate representing all the different points of view. It is also right that we underline the benefits that are provided through the Prüm decisions.
Before I respond to the specific points that have been raised, I would like to make some opening comments and observations. The evidence gathered, both from our own pilots and from others already operating the system, shows overwhelmingly that signing up to Prüm will benefit our police and help to keep the country safe. This is not a case of guessing what will happen—we actually have the evidence. As the now Leader of the House told us in July 2014, we want to “participate in measures” that contribute to
“the fight against international crime”.—[Hansard, 10 July 2014; Vol. 584, c. 547.]
That remains our position, and in our judgment Prüm is clearly in that category.
When I see that a foreign national who was walking around free in the UK is now behind bars because of our pilot, I can only conclude that that is a good thing. I want to see foreign criminals arrested and kicked out of this country, and I know that that view is shared across the House and by the public. Prüm’s use in investigating and identifying at least one of the Paris attackers seems particularly pertinent at this time. From my time as Security Minister, I know how important it is that we give the police the tools they need to do the vital job of keeping us safe. Indeed, keeping the public safe is the most important task entrusted to us as Members of this House.
We already exchange information with other countries. Prüm is about automating and speeding up that co-operation, making it business as usual for our police and increasing their capabilities to solve crime. When my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary spoke earlier, she quoted various senior law enforcement officers who support joining Prüm. When one thinks that it can take months for the Interpol system to work, but that, under Prüm, vehicle data, DNA and fingerprints would be available in only 10 seconds, 15 minutes and 24 hours respectively, one begins to understand why they are supportive. When the heads of the Metropolitan Police, the National Crime Agency and the Crown Prosecution Service are all so unequivocal about that fact, it is important that we pay attention.
It is worth repeating that the Director of Public Prosecutions has said that the existing process, most notably the lack of response times,
“often leads to delay and can, in some cases, take many months for a response to be processed. Delay provides the assailant with time to leave the UK or even commit further offences both of which are unacceptable.”
“The automated search and comparison of data provided by the Prüm Decisions, together with mandatory response times, is more likely to lead to the earlier detection of crimes and detention of those responsible. Prosecutions will be able to take place with evidence which is otherwise unavailable. This will in turn reduce the number of unsolved crimes, such as murder and rape, committed by foreign nationals, and provide an improved service to the public, victims and their families.”
Therefore, this is not only about locking up criminals, but about justice for victims.
The Minister will know from the comments made by a number of Members that there has been criticism of the fact that the Irish Government have, to date, not signed up to the convention. I am curious to know whether any Home Office Minister has spoken to any Irish Government Minister about improving co-operation in policing and fighting terrorism. It is really important that the British and Irish Governments co-operate on that very serious issue.
I assure the hon. Lady that we have regular discussions with the Republic of Ireland Government about issues of security and safety and the operation of the common travel area, recognising some of the shared risks and themes. Indeed, the most recent discussion took place only last week, when I had a conversation with the Irish Justice Ministers. We take these things extremely seriously, recognising the specific issues and challenges that we need to keep in mind, which is why there is open dialogue.
I am still confused about why Interpol takes months to provide such information when this Prüm organisation can do it in minutes or seconds. Something is wrong. Why is Interpol so incompetent?
In making his point, my hon. Friend conflates two different things. The Prüm process that we are contemplating is an automatic one: in effect, it is a means, a system or a portal through which member states can search information held by other member states. Interpol processes are much more manual and therefore more intensive, which explains the differences in time. We have obviously considered the issues very carefully. The Interpol arrangements remain absolutely valid, and we will continue to seek further improvements in them, but that does not stand in the way of what has proven to be an effective and fast system that will aid us in the fight against criminality.
Crucially, security, public protection and civil liberties all need to be balanced. I have been very clear about that from the outset. That is why I, along with the Home Secretary, have insisted that searches should be made only against the DNA and fingerprints of those convicted, that UK scientific standards apply before we release any personal data and that both the Biometrics Commissioner and the Information Commissioner will be involved in the process. With the oversight arrangements that have been outlined, drawing in representation from across the United Kingdom, that point remains valid. I believe that we have got the balance right: Prüm will help us to protect the public in a way that fully respects civil liabilities. The National DNA Database Ethics Group believes the same. That is why we have brought the motion before the House today.
I will respond to several of the themes expressed, particularly in relation to the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice. I want to make it very clear to the House that the UK is clear that it cannot support an EU criminal justice system. In any case, Prüm is about making existing co-operation work more efficiently, rather than about creating rules of criminal procedure.
To respond to the points made by my hon. Friends the Members for Daventry and for Berwick-upon-Tweed, we will look at new proposals in this area case by case. We will put the national interest and the benefits to our citizens and businesses at the heart of our decision making. We will consider each opt-in decision with a view to maximising our country’s security, protecting civil liberties, preserving the integrity of our criminal justice system and our common law systems, and controlling immigration. Equally, I say to my hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset that this Government will not opt in to a proposal concerning a European public prosecutor.
On the specific issues of the oversight and role of the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice—for example, whether it has an impact on the operation of our DNA database—I underline that Prüm decisions are all about the exchange of data, not the manner in which we hold data for domestic purposes. Article 72 of the treaties makes it very clear that how we deal with DNA for our own security is a matter for member states.
On the broader themes of ECJ jurisdiction, I repeat what the Home Secretary said earlier. It is very clear that we are allowed to limit searching to conviction-only profiles. Articles 2.1 and 2.3 of the principal Prüm decision make it clear that we simply need to inform the general secretariat of the Council about which profiles will be made available for searching under Prüm. In terms of imposing a higher scientific standard before we release personal data, articles 5 of the principal Prüm decision makes it clear that the process for following up a hit is subject to national law, not EU law.
Points have been made about whether there is evidence of benefits, and I think reference was made to anecdotal data. I would highlight the results of our pilot: about 2,500 pilot crime scene profiles were sent to four member states, which yielded 71 scene-to-person matches and 47 scene-to-scene matches. Those hits involved a wide range of crimes, including rape, sexual assault and arson, as well as domestic and commercial burglaries. That again highlights the real benefits that have been shown by the measure.
Obviously, in deciding to opt into the Prüm decisions, the Prüm decisions will become subject to the jurisdiction of the European Court.
If the hon. Gentleman will let me finish, many other European countries have been subject to this for a number of years. It is about the interpretation of the decision and is therefore about the practical operation. That is why I made the distinction about the safeguards that are contained in the Prüm decisions in respect of how we hold data. The decisions state that that will be subject to national law, as will the action that is taken against the hit. Therefore, it is national law that will determine the decisions that are made. That is why the Prüm decisions are expressed in the manner they are. The extent of the European Court of Justice’s jurisdiction therefore relates to the automaticity of the process. That is why it is our judgment, again to reflect the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Daventry, that it is in the best interests of this country to opt into Prüm because of the practical co-operation measure it provides.
The hon. Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone asked about a legislative consent motion. Obviously, no requirement for one arises directly from the motion, but there are ongoing discussions regarding implementation and whether the regulations, a draft of which has been published, will require a legislative consent motion.
The hon. and learned Member for Edinburgh South West highlighted the Eurodac regulations. They state that a Eurodac search for law enforcement purposes should take place only to investigate serious crime, including terrorism. I hope that provides her with some reassurance.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Ashford asked about ANPR. There will be no access to historical ANPR data through Prüm. Any request for such data would have to be made through a judicial mutual assistance request. I hope that is helpful to him. The vehicle data are very basic. They include keepers’ details and details about vehicles. That may be relevant if one is trying to establish whether the authorised person was driving the vehicle and whether a vehicle has been used in connection with serious crime.
The hon. and learned Member for Edinburgh South West asked about the nature of that database. We do not split the DVLA’s database into those who have been convicted of an offence and those who have not. Practically, it would be very difficult to do that. We take the pragmatic view that it is appropriate to allow the search. Information on the keeper to whom a vehicle is registered may be relevant to an investigation into who was driving the vehicle. We therefore judge that we have the appropriate balance.
I underline that there are separate processes to determine what further steps may be taken. The European arrest warrant has been highlighted. That is a separate process from the Prüm process, which is about identifying whether there is a hit and whether further investigation should happen. Any actions that follow will be determined through separate processes. I underline the steps that the Government have taken to provide further protections in respect of the European arrest warrant, pre-trial detention, proportionality and various other matters.
Ultimately, the choice before the House this evening is straightforward. Do we want to give our police the tools they need to do their job; tools that will let them solve crimes and lock up foreign criminals; tools that have been shown to work; tools that will keep the British public safe, but that will do so in a way that is consistent with our values and that will protect the rights of British citizens? I believe that we should do so. That is why the Government support signing up to Prüm and why we judge that the measures are appropriate. We judge that they are bounded by safeguards that will be effective, but that they will make the difference in the fight against crime and the fight against terrorism by ensuring that our law enforcement agencies have the tools that they need to keep our country and our citizens safe. I commend the motion to the House.
Amendment proposed: (a), leave out from ‘deported’ to end and add—
‘, does not support opting in to the Prüm Decisions because of the need to protect the civil liberties of British citizens, because of the risks to UK sovereignty posed by accepting the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice (ECJ) in this area and because it would mean missing the opportunity to require a better arrangement, noting that the Government’s policy is to renegotiate the jurisdiction of the ECJ and the result of the referendum in Denmark preserving that country's opt-out from such measures that will require Denmark to negotiate on an intergovernmental basis; notes that necessary international cooperation against terrorism and serious crime does not, and did not prior to the Lisbon Treaty, require the UK to accept the supremacy of EU law, the jurisdiction of the ECJ or the application of the Charter of Fundamental Rights; and therefore requires the Government to secure alternative arrangements outside the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice.’.—(Sir William Cash.)
Question accordingly negatived.
Main question put and agreed to.
That this House, wishing to see serious crimes solved, to counter terrorism and to see foreign criminals prosecuted and deported, supports opting in to the Prüm Decisions; notes the views of senior law enforcement officers that the Prüm Decisions are an important aid to tackling crime; notes the success of a pilot that demonstrated that the Prüm Decisions mechanism is both swift and effective; and further notes that only a subset of the relevant national DNA and fingerprint databases, containing data relating to individuals convicted of recordable offences, will be made available for searching by other participating States, and that the higher UK scientific standards will be applied to matches in the UK.