Law Enforcement Co-Operation and Border Control: Schengen Information System

– in the House of Commons at 6:48 pm on 19th December 2017.

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Photo of Nick Hurd Nick Hurd The Minister of State, Home Department 6:48 pm, 19th December 2017

I beg to move,

That this House
takes note of European Union Documents No. 15812/16, a Proposal for Regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council on the use of the Schengen Information System for the return of illegally staying third-country nationals, and No.15814/16, a Proposal for a Regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council on the establishment, operation and use of the Schengen Information System (SIS) in the field of police co-operation and judicial co-operation in criminal matters, amending Regulation (EU) No 515/2014 and repealing Regulation (EC) No 1986/2006, Council Decision 2007/533/JHA and Commission Decision 2010/261/EU;
agrees with the Government’s decision not to opt in to proposals on the use of the Schengen Information System for the return of illegally staying third-country nationals;
and further agrees with the Government’s decision not to opt out of proposals on the establishment, operation and use of the Schengen Information System in the field of police co-operation and judicial co-operation in criminal matters.

I thank the European Scrutiny Committee for calling this debate, which is about the EU’s second-generation Schengen information system, known more commonly as SIS II. I am also grateful to the Committee for the report it published last Friday to inform our debate tonight. I expect that many of the points made in that report will be raised this evening. In any event, I will reply formally to the Committee in writing.

SIS II is the EU’s automated system for circulating policing alerts to law enforcement officers across the EU and in non-EU countries that also take part in it. Alerts can be created in a number of categories, including people who are wanted under a European arrest warrant, suspected criminals, security risks on whom information is sought, and objects that need to be seized such as stolen vehicles and passports. We have taken part in SIS II since April 2015, although we operate only its police and judicial co-operation aspects and not those that support the passport-free Schengen area. We make SIS II alerts available to police officers in real time, and high-priority alerts are also made available at the border. This allows wanted people to be stopped and arrested on arrival, preventing them from posing a risk to the public. SIS II is therefore one of the most important EU policing tools that we have at our disposal.

Last December, the European Commission proposed three draft regulations to replace the legislation that currently governs SIS II. These consisted of one draft regulation to cover the police and judicial co-operation aspects of the system, one to govern its Schengen border control aspects, and a third that allows alerts to be circulated on non-EU nationals who have been subject to removal action in a member state. We are excluded from the regulation on border control as it builds on the aspects of the passport-free Schengen area that we do not take part in. The regulation on non-EU nationals subject to removal action would have applied to us only if we opted into it. The police and judicial co-operation measure would apply to us unless we opted out of it. The deadline for both opting in and opting out was 2 July. This means, as will be obvious to the House, that the Government have already had to take the decisions that we are debating, although I still hope that the House will endorse them.

Let me first explain the Government’s decision not to opt into the proposal on circulating information on non-EU nationals subject to removal action—the so-called returns regulation. This draft regulation would allow member states to circulate alerts on non-EU nationals to whom they have issued a decision requiring them to leave their territory. There could be some benefits to knowing this, as it might give us information about the immigration history of someone who tries to enter the UK or who comes to the attention of law enforcement while here.

However, in the Government’s view, the proposal is too closely linked to another piece of legislation that we do not take part in—the 2008 returns directive. This sets out common rules subject to Court of Justice of the European Union jurisdiction that govern the way in which member states return non-EU nationals who have no right to be in their countries. We do not take part in it because we think that these issues should remain under national control. The Commission has been very clear throughout the negotiations that we could not opt into the returns regulation without also joining the 2008 directive.

Photo of Peter Grant Peter Grant Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Europe), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Exiting the European Union)

Have the Government had legal advice to confirm the Commission’s view, or are they simply accepting the Commission’s view? Have they conducted any assessment to demonstrate the balance between the benefits to our safety and security from opting in compared with the benefits from complying with the Government’s refusal to have anything to do with the European Court of Justice?

Photo of Nick Hurd Nick Hurd The Minister of State, Home Department

My understanding is that the Commission’s decision was based on legal advice that we accept.

I hope that the House will agree with our decision not to opt into the returns regulation. The draft police co-operation regulation would replace the 2007 legislation that governs this aspect of SIS II and would bring in a number of useful changes. For example, it would allow pre-emptive alerts to be created for children who are in danger of going missing through parental abduction rather than allowing for alerts only after the child has disappeared, as now. It would also allow member states’ law enforcement to ask specific questions of people on whom information is sought via an alert, and it would update SIS II’s technical standards.

However, there were some aspects of the proposals that we were less happy with. For example, the original text proposed to make it compulsory to create alerts in cases involving terrorism, with implications for the autonomy of our police and security services. We wanted to be clear in the regulation that none of the new actions that it provides for would require police to act contrary to national law, but we felt that we would be better able to address these issues if we did not opt out and thus continued to participate fully in the negotiations with a vote.

Photo of Bob Neill Bob Neill Chair, Justice Committee

I welcome the Minister’s pragmatic approach. The Justice Committee looked at the matter when we published our report in the last Parliament on the implications of Brexit for the legal system. It was very clear from the evidence given to us that a continuing involvement for SIS II in criminal justice and judicial matters is very much to our advantage, even though there may be some aspects that we will need to discuss, so I support him in his approach. Will he bear in mind the important issue of making sure that we have the proper data arrangements to enable us lawfully to exchange such information, as we wish to?

Photo of Nick Hurd Nick Hurd The Minister of State, Home Department

I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention and for his support of the Government’s position, based as it is on evidence received by the Committee that he chairs. I take on board fully his point about data.

I was saying that we had concerns about the proposal in the original text to make it compulsory to create alerts in cases involving terrorism. We felt in general that we would be better able to address the issues if we did not opt out, and thus continued to participate fully in the negotiations with a vote. Our feeling is that opting out at this stage would have sent the message that we sought to pull back from co-operating with our law enforcement and security partners after Brexit, and that is not the message that we want to give. On the contrary, we have always been clear that it is in the interests of both the UK and the EU that we continue to co-operate across borders through a range of tools, measures and agencies even after we have left the EU. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister made the Government’s position clear in her speech in Florence this September:

“It is our ambition to work as closely as possible together with the EU, protecting our people, promoting our values and ensuring the future security of our continent. The United Kingdom is unconditionally committed to maintaining Europe’s security.”

The exact details of our future relationship with the EU on internal security will need to be agreed in the negotiations.

Photo of Bob Neill Bob Neill Chair, Justice Committee

Again, I welcome the Government’s pragmatic approach. The evidence to our Committee stressed not only that we should be looking at SIS II, but that it comes as part of a suite of measures that include access to Eurojust, to the other databases in the Schengen Information System, right across the piece, and to other information exchange arrangements and databases. Can the Minister confirm that it is our intention to seek a co-operative relationship across the raft of criminal justice co-operation measures?

Photo of Nick Hurd Nick Hurd The Minister of State, Home Department

I thank my hon. Friend for that constructive intervention and for his support for the principles that the Prime Minister laid out strongly. He will understand that the exact details of the future internal security relationship with the EU will need to be agreed in the negotiations. The Government’s paper on the future partnership that we seek with the EU on security, law enforcement and criminal justice makes it clear that we value our current capability to share law enforcement and security alerts with EU countries. That capability is provided by SIS II, but how we might retain similar capability after Brexit is a matter for negotiation.

The exit negotiations are an opportunity to build on what we have already achieved through decades of collaboration and working together. The decision to opt out would suggest that we wished to move in the opposite direction and disengage from security co-operation with Europe. That is not, and cannot be, our position, so it would have been wrong to opt out.

Before I wind up, I want to touch on how the negotiations on these legislative proposals have progressed. The Council of Ministers has recently agreed a general approach on all three draft regulations. That is an agreed Council position to form a basis for negotiations on the final text with the European Parliament. The police co-operation text was satisfactory in most respects. In particular, it gives member states sufficient discretion over whether to create alerts in counter-terrorist cases. But the Government voted against it because it did not address the restrictions on when alerts can be used for purposes other than those for which they were created.

In some limited circumstances, such an alert would be advisable; for example, where the alert shows that a person is particularly dangerous and needs to be kept out of the country. Unfortunately, the text on the general approach continues to make doing this too difficult, so we did not think it was ready for negotiation with the European Parliament. However, there was a qualified majority in favour of the text, and these negotiations are now under way. We expect the incoming Bulgarian presidency of the Council to try to conclude them in the first half of 2018. We will of course keep the European Scrutiny Committee updated.

The Government’s decisions show that we are committed both to protecting our borders and to effective co-operation with our European partners on policing and security issues, and I hope that the House will endorse them tonight.

Photo of Louise Haigh Louise Haigh Shadow Minister (Home Office) (Policing) 7:00 pm, 19th December 2017

I confirm that the Opposition support the motion before us, and I echo the Minister’s thanks to the European Scrutiny Committee for bringing forward this debate, because the motion raises some important questions about our national security and the consequences and potential implications of Brexit.

Our security, and the apparatus on which it rests, is utterly dependent on co-operation with our European partners. The UK should be rightly proud of the role it has played in establishing and developing our shared security through Europol, the European arrest warrant and the Schengen information system. As the Minister says, SIS II is already proving its worth, helping to underpin the operation of the EAW and delivering 12,000 hits on suspected criminals and terrorists since its introduction in 2015. It has been a game-changer for policing leaders and for day-to-day policing.

We know what the Prime Minister makes of the SIS II system from what she told the House of Commons in November 2014, when she also said that support for it is vital

“to stop foreign criminals from coming to Britain, deal with European fighters coming back from Syria, stop British criminals evading justice abroad, prevent foreign criminals evading justice by hiding here, and get foreign criminals out of our prisons”.

However, without an agreement and a commitment that this will be foremost in the Government’s negotiating priorities, this apparatus will all fall away the second we Brexit.

Quite frankly, it is astonishing that the Government have given no guarantees that we will seek to retain full access to SIS II on our departure from the EU. Despite underlining its importance in the position paper earlier this year, in a letter to the European Scrutiny Committee, the Minister said it was “too early to say” whether SIS II will be one of the measures that the Government will seek to include in a new post-Brexit agreement. The Committee has noted that

“there is no justification for this reticence.”

Our security depends on it, but we know why Ministers are showing such reticence. It is because of the role of the European Court of Justice and the EU charter of fundamental rights.

The Prime Minister has made it abundantly clear that there will be no permanent role for the ECJ, and the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill has explicitly dumped the EU charter. However, there is no precedent for a country to operate within SIS II—nor to operate the European arrest warrant, for that matter—without accepting that the ECJ will play a leading role. Indeed, the regulations before us explicitly prohibit third-country access to SIS II data. In his letter to the European Scrutiny Committee, the Minister attempted to suggest areas where countries do not submit directly to the jurisdiction of the ECJ, but in the case of SIS II, the precedent is clear: whether direct or indirect, the determinations of the European Court are final.

Photo of Stephen Doughty Stephen Doughty Labour/Co-operative, Cardiff South and Penarth

My hon. Friend is making some very important points. Does she not agree that this puts paid to the crazy suggestion of having no deal, because getting a deal on a security treaty will be absolutely crucial to the safety and security of this nation?

Photo of Louise Haigh Louise Haigh Shadow Minister (Home Office) (Policing)

My hon. Friend is absolutely right that no deal is simply not acceptable for security or for data, which I will come on to shortly.

The Minister mentioned that four non-EU countries are members of SIS II, which is absolutely right. Iceland, Norway, Switzerland and Liechtenstein participate by virtue of their membership of Schengen. These non-EU member states are bound to avert any substantial differences in the case law of the ECJ, and they are required to implement structures and procedures that keep pace with changes in the Schengen rulebook. If they do not do so, their agreements will be terminated.

Photo of Bob Neill Bob Neill Chair, Justice Committee

I understand precisely where the hon. Lady is coming from, but in fairness to the Minister, this may be a question about the direct nature or otherwise of the jurisdiction. Does she agree that the evidence to the Justice Committee was most compelling about the practical need to get the data regulations aligned so that data can lawfully be passed from EU member states to us as a third country in the same way that they are passed to the four non-EU countries she has mentioned?

Photo of Louise Haigh Louise Haigh Shadow Minister (Home Office) (Policing)

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, because he pre-empts my next point.

At the heart of these strictures is the issue of data. All SIS II systems operate on a hub-and-spoke model, with a central SIS II hub exchanging data from national servers in each participating member state. The European Commission is very clear that this is European data. Although the police may have some leeway on the speed at which they create an alert, once they do, the data passes to the central SIS II hub. Therefore, without an agreement on data transfers, we simply cannot participate in this critical information-sharing system. That is the insanity of having no deal.

The proposals before the House require compliance with EU data protection laws and fundamental rights enshrined in the EU charter. The EU will insist on these rights being protected in order for the UK to share information, so what exactly do the Government propose? Can the Minister reassure the House that no arbitrary red lines, on the ECJ or otherwise, will be put before the safety and security of the British public? Will the he confirm that it is the UK’s negotiating aim to retain full access to SIS II? If not, can he explain how after Brexit we would track the hundreds, if not thousands, of serious criminals, foreign fighters and those who pose a threat to our national security who are flagged by the system every month? There are few areas in which the UK is more dependent on agreement than security co-operation as we Brexit. The consequences of failure are scarcely imaginable.

The regulations before us tonight are necessary to maintain our membership of SIS II for the time being and for our negotiating position, but they signify the huge risk that Brexit poses to our national security and the gaping holes in the Government’s approach to negotiations. We will support the motions and any and all of the Government’s efforts to maintain access to such security systems and close co-operation with our European partners, but we will continue to hold the Government to account on their approach to negotiations that are so fundamental to our national security.

Photo of Bill Cash Bill Cash Chair, European Scrutiny Committee 7:06 pm, 19th December 2017

This is the first of the European Scrutiny Committee’s reports to be debated on the Floor of the House in this Parliament. It is a great pity that the Committee was not set up somewhat earlier, but we have lived with that and managed to get through all the documents. We are now having this first debate.

In a nutshell, I have 16 questions for the Minister. He will be glad to know that I am happy to write to him with the details of the questions, many of which are set out in our report, so I do not need to go through them all now. They are important questions and I am absolutely sure that he will reply. If we have any further questions, we will continue to ask them until we get the right answers. There are, however, one or two matters that I want to deal with now.

The first matter relates to what the Minister said about the European Court of Justice. He said:

“There is…significant precedent for the EU to cooperate with third countries”— which of course is what we will become—

“including in fields closely aligned to areas of EU law. There is no precedent for a third country to submit to the jurisdiction of the CJEU

He of course is completely right. I made that point only a few weeks ago in a debate on the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill, when I invoked the former Belgian member of the European Court who said that there was no precedent for a third country submitting to the jurisdiction of that Court.

The Minister referred to the agreement between the EU and Iceland and Norway. There are other examples. Dispute settlement procedures in EU agreements with Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova involve an arbitration panel that is required to seek a ruling from the Court of Justice on questions concerning the interpretation of relevant EU law provisions. The Prime Minister referred to that indirectly in her statement yesterday, but what form of arbitration panel we will have is part of the ongoing negotiations. I have raised this myself several times on the Floor of the House in the past few months. Martin Howe, who is a great and distinguished QC, has put forward various proposals and we know that they are under active consideration by the Government.

The Committee highlights those examples to illustrate the point that there is a wide spectrum of possible outcomes on the role and jurisdiction of the Court. We ask the Minister to indicate which the Government would prefer or rule out in any future agreement between the EU and the UK on security, law enforcement and criminal justice co-operation.

On the charter, the proposed police co-operation regulation, which we are primarily concerned with today, introduces a recital stating—this is important—that it

“respects the fundamental rights and observes the principles recognised in particular by the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union.”

The Minister tells us that

“matters such as complying with the EU Charter” will need to be addressed during the expected negotiations. As we well know, because we have passed that point in the passage of the withdrawal Bill, under the Bill as currently drafted the charter will not form part of domestic law on or after exit day. We therefore ask the Minister to explain how the Government intend to address the charter as part of the UK’s exit negotiations.

Various questions remain outstanding. We take the view that this is an important issue and that there are ongoing questions about the European arrest warrant. I have the 16 questions I will be sending to the Minister. We will publish both the questions and the Minister’s replies in due course, so the House may be properly informed as to where this is going, which is, at the moment, part and parcel of the negotiations.

Photo of Peter Grant Peter Grant Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Europe), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Exiting the European Union) 7:11 pm, 19th December 2017

I am grateful for the chance to contribute to this debate. I am also immensely grateful to the many Members who did not speak earlier, as it means that we have got to this motion about four and a half hours earlier than we had at one point feared. We should not allow that to detract from the importance of the subjects we are debating today.

The Scottish National party’s position is that membership of the European Union makes us safer, and it supports co-operation between law enforcement and security services throughout democratic western Europe. Anything that weakens that co-operation is to be at least regretted and resisted if at all possible. I welcome the decision to opt in to one of these EU documents, and we will not oppose the decision to opt out, but it is disappointing that we did not have time for a fuller debate on the decision when there was still time to change it. As a former member of the European Scrutiny Committee under the very capable chairmanship of Sir William Cash, I believe that there is still a degree of frustration at the Government’s reluctance to grant debates, either in the Chamber or in Committee, timeously at the request of the Committee. The situation is not as bad as it was, but there is still an issue around the Government not complying properly with the procedures that the House has put in place, so that Parliament can scrutinise what the Government are doing on our behalf on the European Union.

I want first to talk about the document that relates to the operation of European arrest warrants and related matters. It is important to realise just why the warrant is such a vital part of our protection against terrorism and organised crime, and why it is important that the system continues after we leave the European Union.

Since 2011, there have been 541 cases in Scottish courts, where proceedings were taken after an arrest under the European arrest warrant scheme. A total of 367 people were extradited from Scotland to face justice elsewhere and 45 people were brought back to Scotland to face justice in the Scottish courts. That is over 400 people across Europe who were wanted for serious crimes and tried to use international borders to hide from the law, but who found that the European arrest warrant prevented them from doing that. The warrant allowed every one of those 400-plus people to be extradited to face trial much more quickly, and with far fewer opportunities for legal loopholes, than previous extradition treaties alone would have allowed. It will not be enough if the European arrest warrant is replaced with extradition treaties. We need to make sure the European arrest warrant continues in no weaker a form than its current one.

The figures I quoted have already increased in the very short time that SIS II has been in place in the UK. In the first full year of its operation, there was a 25% increase in the number of people arrested in the UK under an EAW, simply because the police had much more detailed, accurate and—most importantly—quicker information on the people they were dealing with. That is more than one additional arrest in the UK every day of the year. Over 400 suspected criminals a year are being taken off our streets who might still be on them if SIS II was not in operation. That is the scale of the benefit we derive from the system and the scale of the risk we face if it is not replaced by something equally effective after we leave the EU.

We therefore welcome the decision to opt into participation in SIS II, but we remain concerned about the longer-term implications of leaving the EU, particularly on the terms the Government have set out so far. On the continued decision not to opt into the draft returns regulation, document No. 15812/16, the Minister told the European Scrutiny Committee in his letter of 20 July this year that opting in

“would pose a risk to national control over how we remove people with no right to be here”.

He expanded on that by referring to the Government’s reluctance to have anything subject to the Court of Justice of the European Union.

Clearly this is not the place or time to challenge the Government’s position on the jurisdiction of the Court of Justice, but their inflexibility over the status of the Court prevents us from deriving the additional benefits we would enjoy if we were part of the new returns regulation. In the Minister’s own words to the Committee earlier in the year,

“in principle there would be some benefit in knowing whether individuals seeking entry to the UK, or who had come here illegally, had been ordered to leave another Member State”.

That should not come as any surprise. Any licence holder of a pub could tell us that, if they are given information on people thrown out of other places, it is easier to keep them out of their place so that they cannot cause trouble there. It is easy to see that it would be useful to know that somebody had only pitched up at the UK border because they had been thrown out of every other decent country in western Europe.

The Government are willing, however, to sacrifice that additional assurance simply because they do not want us to have anything to do with the Court of Justice of the European Union. I will ask the Minister again the question he did not answer when I intervened on him earlier: what assessment have the Government made to show the benefits for security and safety that we might gain from opting in, compared with the benefits they claim we will achieve by opting out in its entirety from the European Court of Justice?

I have several other concerns about what the Government are proposing to replace SIS II after we have left the EU. I will not go into these in detail, however, because Louise Haigh summed them up very well. At the moment, as with so much else on Brexit, we know what we are leaving, but we have absolutely no idea where we are going. On the safety and security of our citizens, we are getting close to the time when we really need certainty and answers.

We have asked the Minister to tell us what assessment has been made of the potential benefits of opting in. The hon. Member for Stone has asked this. If not the European Court of Justice, what dispute resolution mechanism will the Government support that will allow citizens of the UK or other EU countries to challenge the legality of data sharing in relation to criminal matters? We know what they do not want; it is high time they told us what they do want and gave us an indication that the Europeans are willing to give them what they do want. Will the UK Government be seeking a data adequacy decision from the EU before the end of the article 50 negotiations? What is plan B if that decision is not forthcoming or goes against us? If we do not get a data adequacy decision before we leave the EU, data sharing cannot happen. What happens then?

On the concerns that the Minister raised about the earlier draft of the regulations, I am puzzled to know in what circumstances we would want the police to do anything other than alert their colleagues in other European countries if they were dealing with a case involving terrorism. I thought that the whole point of the Schengen information system, and other data sharing among law enforcement agencies, was that crime and terrorism do not respect international borders. If policing is to be effective, the police must sometimes cross borders as well. That does not mean that they will physically chase people across borders as a matter of routine, but information sharing across borders must be made as easy, as free of bureaucracy and as free of legal challenge as possible. The reason the European arrest warrant works more effectively than a simple extradition treaty is that the process is so much faster. People can be returned to the jurisdiction where they are wanted and put on trial much more quickly—sometimes years more quickly—than was possible previously.

We will not force the motion to a vote. We do not want to oppose what the Government are doing, but at present they are not doing enough. We will need to see something very definite very quickly, so that people can rest assured that leaving the European Union will not produce the reduction in our safety and security that it currently seems it might well produce.

Photo of Kate Green Kate Green Labour, Stretford and Urmston 7:20 pm, 19th December 2017

I shall speak only briefly, and very specifically, about the implications of SIS II and the new regulation on the protection of children.

Police and judicial co-operation and the necessary cross-border infrastructures and mechanisms referred to earlier by Robert Neill, the Chair of the Justice Committee, are very important to child protection. Increasingly, victims of complex cross-border crime are children: they are victims of, for example, trafficking, sexual exploitation and online abuse. As the Minister said, the new regulation will support a more proactive alert system in relation to children who are at risk of going missing, and that includes cases of parental abduction. It will mean that pre-emptive alerts can be placed on the system to enable the authorities to act before a child goes missing rather than afterwards.

While I welcome the Government’s decision not to opt out of this part of the SIS and the increased protection for children, I am—like my hon. Friend Louise Haigh—concerned about the position if we leave the European Union in March 2019, and the possible uncertainty about the security and crime co-operation arrangements that will then be in place. I understand that the new measures that are currently being discussed in the EU are likely to be agreed before the Government’s intended exit date, but unlikely to be implemented until later. It is not clear whether they might be implemented during a potential two-year transition period, or even after that.

The Minister said that the Government want to be able to negotiate new arrangements for security law enforcement and criminal justice co-operation, but, as we heard from my hon. Friend Sir William Cash, who chairs the European Scrutiny Committee, has received a letter from the Minister which leaves us none the wiser about what specific measures such an arrangement might include.

Let me say very strongly to the Minister that the protection and welfare of children must be paramount in any new arrangements that are negotiated, and that includes seeking to maintain the benefits that we currently secure from our participation in SIS II and the stronger protections that the new regulation will introduce. There are practical questions about how that will be achieved. We heard about some of the circumstances relating to third countries that cannot create or enter alerts in SIS II, or use the infrastructure to search the system and exchange information. I understand that under article 62 of the proposed regulation, that will continue to be the case, and that, post-Brexit, the UK would not be able to benefit from the data that some offer, and to lodge data as we can now.

It is true, as we heard, that other countries have been able to agree specific access arrangements with the European Union. Does the Minister think that the UK could follow a similar route to maintain access, particularly in relation to child protection, and thus effectively remain within the ambit of SIS II? In that case, article 62 would have to be amended, or is the Minister thinking of some other arrangement for the UK to access and enter information? Failing such an arrangement with the EU if we leave in March 2019, does the Minister think it will be necessary, or indeed possible, for us to have bilateral arrangements with each of the 27 EU countries? If that is the route that he envisages we might have to follow, what assessment has he made of the risks it would pose to children and how would they be mitigated?

Finally, even if we are able to remain in some way within the SIS II system and continue to share and deposit information, there would be gaps in protecting children if we leave the EU and lose the provisions of Brussels II in relation to family law. Yesterday’s written ministerial statement in response to the Justice Committee report on the implications of Brexit for the justice system was quite complacent about alternatives to Brussels II. There are potentially catastrophic consequences for children and families as we face considerable uncertainty about the loss of provisions in Brussels II that govern choice of law and enforcement.

We are not talking about whether the EU is dictating and making our laws; we are talking about mechanisms that enable us to ensure that protections and enforcement measures and access to information and the sharing of information can continue to be used and enforced if we leave the EU. In particular, mechanisms must be put in place to ensure that there is no weakening of the protection currently available to ensure the safeguarding of children. I hope the Minister will in his concluding remarks be able to give some assurances that that will remain paramount in the Government’s thinking.

Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Human Rights), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health) 7:26 pm, 19th December 2017

I thank the Minister for his remarks, and want to state clearly for the record that my party and I will support the Government’s position on this matter.

I have debated the Schengen agreement before, not in this House but wearing a different hat in the Northern Ireland Assembly. At that time, I was discussing the merits of Schengen in relation to the common travel area with the Republic of Ireland. Bertie Ahern, who was then in office—that shows we are going a fair way back in time, and shows, too, my age—had determined that Schengen was not necessary for the Republic and felt that our cross-border co-operation was more than adequate. Bertie Ahern might have moved on and there might be a completely different man in his place, but the facts that prevented us from taking Schengen then apply now. We need no hard border, but if the Republic needs one, it can feel free to erect and pay for that on its side. We are a part of the UK and there is no back door to Ireland through any European proposal coming our way.

I am not going to pretend that there is no issue in leaving Schengen behind completely; it is useful to share criminal information among police forces, and I know that we will be working hard to secure some form of information sharing at the same level. The second-generation Schengen information system, which features highly in any argument about the merits of Schengen co-operation, is a database of real-time alerts about individuals and objects—such as vehicles—of interest to EU law enforcement agencies. It includes information on people wanted under a European arrest warrant, suspected foreign fighters returning from Syria or elsewhere, and missing people. It contains some 70 million alerts on individuals or objects likely to be of interest to border control and law enforcement authorities. Alerts created in any of the 29 countries operating SIS II are stored in a central database and are immediately accessible to around 2 million end users. This is of great importance to our decision making. There is no doubt that it is of benefit, and we must attempt to secure a shared information system that is beneficial to Europe as well as the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, but we are leaving Europe and to enhance Schengen and adopt these resolutions at this time is sheer madness. That is why I believe the Government are right to consider only adopting regulation 3 pertaining to police co-operation.

This is a two-way street, and let us not underestimate or undervalue the role of our intelligence agencies throughout Europe and across the world. We have premier policing and intelligence capabilities, and access to it for matters of cross-border security are not simply important to us but necessary to the safety of those in Europe. That is why we are happy to continue to share the information in the way that we have previously done, while still holding on to our sovereign right to determine who goes and who stays, and when they go and when they stay.

My party, the Democratic Unionist party, and I support the Government on this issue. The proposal is sensible and necessary, and this is another simple message to Europe that we are taking our sovereignty back, but that we still wish to be good neighbours and play the game that benefits us all.

Question put and agreed to.


That this House
takes note of European Union Documents No. 15812/16, a Proposal for Regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council on the use of the Schengen Information System for the return of illegally staying third-country nationals, and No. 15814/16, a Proposal for a Regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council on the establishment, operation and use of the Schengen Information System (SIS) in the field of police cooperation and judicial cooperation in criminal matters, amending Regulation (EU) No 515/2014 and repealing Regulation (EC) No 1986/2006, Council Decision 2007/533/JHA and Commission Decision 2010/261/EU;
agrees with the Government’s decision not to opt in to proposals on the use of the Schengen Information System for the return of illegally staying third-country nationals;
and further agrees with the Government’s decision not to opt out of proposals on the establishment, operation and use of the Schengen Information System in the field of police cooperation and judicial cooperation in criminal matters.