My Lords, I am delighted to be taking part in this debate. Until April of this year, I served on Sub-Committee F of the European Union Committee, first with the noble Baroness, Lady Harris of Richmond, and more recently with the noble Lord, Lord Wright of Richmond, as our chair. Both brought a great deal of knowledge and their own individual charm to our discussions and guided us wisely in our deliberations.
I have believed over the years that too little time has been given in this Chamber to the reports of the European Union Committee and its sub-committees. Many hours are spent by Members of this House in such committee work, which they take seriously and conduct thoroughly. So I am particularly pleased that time is being given during the first phase of this Session to these European Union Committee reports.
During my work with the sub-committee, we examined in detail a number of weighty issues relating to international crime. We have explored issues surrounding migration and immigration, the pros and cons of border guards, a common European asylum system, Europol, Interpol, Eurojust and many other issues spinning off from those main themes. We have looked at terrorism in its various guises, an issue to which I shall return later.
I wish to begin by raising an issue that has been interwoven throughout a number of our reports—the effects of our changing European world on some of the most vulnerable women and children, and their trafficking for prostitution and drug-related issues. There is no doubt but that the expansion of the European Union has exacerbated the vulnerability of some women and children. There have been known instances of women and children being trafficked for prostitution for many years. But with the expansion of the EU, the trafficking has increased significantly and, in the less economically developed EU nations, it has become more obviously linked to drugs.
This trafficking can take the form of women carrying drugs in their bodies across borders—they are known colloquially as "mules"—or by women's bodies being used to raise money for their vile pimps or "owners", money which in turn is used to buy drugs and to join selling rings across European states. Lured from their own countries with promises of a better life and future in others, women and children find themselves in an ever-increasing pit of misery from which they cannot escape.
In our report on the role of Eurojust, it is pointed out:
"Europol's latest annual organised crime report records a significant growth in the EU of the cross-border activities of organised crime groups in the areas of drug-trafficking . . . trafficking in human beings, financial crimes and smuggling. Opportunities have been opened up for organised crime, as for legitimate business, by the freedoms of the internal market and the opening of borders between EU States and their eastern neighbours".
The role of the EU agencies in combating such crime is paramount. In particular, the co-ordinating role of Eurojust in increasing co-operation between states to fight international crime is vital. In its evidence to us, the National Crime Squad gave examples Europol's initiatives that have helped to bring down gangs of people traffickers.
One such example highlighted a Eurojust initiative that developed a strong working relationship between the NCS and the French authorities. This resulted in an effective exchange of intelligence and evidence which led to a successful operation. The co-operation also ensured that requests for intelligence from a previous people smuggling operation were quickly acted upon and that, in turn, provided the impetus for four further operations, one of which the NCS has identified as a model of good practice. We can only hope, for the sake of the victims involved, that such initiatives will grow and develop widely to encompass the whole European community.
I am conscious, of course, that we are debating these issues against a backdrop of scepticism about European relationships and the way forward in vital areas of European policy. However, in the areas under discussion there is, one hopes, room for optimism. The Hague programme reaffirms the priority given by the European Council to justice and home affairs, which is recognised as a central concern of European citizens. It is a blueprint for EU action in this area and, as such, emphasises the protection of fundamental rights and consistent standards across the EU.
To that end, the need for improved co-ordination between national law enforcement authorities and the development of specific EU data protection standards is important. The balancing act is between the necessity for increased protection for European citizens in a world that is increasingly conscious of acts of terrorism and their aftermath, and the individual freedoms that are so necessary in enlightened democracies—not an easy tightrope to walk.
I turn now to the work on counter-terrorism in the European Union. Shortly after the Madrid bombings, the European Council called on member states to ensure that the optimum and most effective use was made of Eurojust to promote co-operation against terrorism. Sub-Committee F undertook a major piece of work on anti-terrorism, After Madrid: the EU's response to terrorism.
I shall highlight some of its recommendations, the first of which is the sharing of information within the EU about efforts to thwart terrorism. The committee was strong in its view that a more effective sharing of information between law-enforcing agencies is essential to the counter-terrorism effort.
Anyone who has read the report on the 9/11 disaster will recognise that one of the major problems encountered was the lack of co-ordination of information about terrorists and their activities before the attack and a lack of a co-ordinated strategy after the attack. The relevant authorities were working virtually in isolation and crucial pieces of information were not passed on, thus exacerbating the catastrophe. The EU must take this as a warning and develop its activities accordingly.
The committee believes that databases of information used to combat terrorism should be established and adequately protected, and that robust back-up and recovery systems need to be in place in case they fail. It also recommends that as new systems are developed, the Commission should ensure that they are compatible so that, where necessary, data can be compared and exchanged. Additionally, there should be a clear division of responsibility between member states and the EU. The EU's role should be that of a co-ordinator, providing structures to encourage the co-operation of member states, their dissemination of best practice and their input of information to central databases.
The committee also commented on the role of the counter-terrorism co-ordinator, who the committee believes has a vital role in overseeing the work of the various EU groups and committees within the second and third pillars, in preventing overlap and duplication and in ensuring that their aims and objectives are delivered.
The committee believes that this work should be subject to parliamentary scrutiny by national parliaments as well as by the European Parliament. In this way, the co-ordinator could be said to be truly democratically accountable, which is absolutely necessary if he is to be respected and his role taken as seriously as it should be. I would welcome my noble friend's responses on these issues.
Finally, your Lordships will recognise that the members of Sub-Committee F have taken the matters before them extremely seriously. Members have also, in a number of their reports, made one further point strongly. They are very conscious of the necessity for structures and activities at a European level to counter terrorism. They of course recognise that concerted action is essential to address the global problems of terrorism and international crime generally, However, they also firmly believe that any such actions must not be at the expense of fundamental human rights and would ask the European Union always to bear that in mind.
My Lords, on
In the days when the Community was first established, the European budget was of modest size and its disposals were similarly modest. It has also to be said that modest, too, were the provisions for financial control. Today, however, as the report states, the European Union has at its disposal—and disposes of—very large sums of money.
Obviously, the financial rules have had to change and over the years they have done so. Doubtless, they must continue to do so. I have to say from my own limited experience as an MEP that once a system is established, it is not always easy to get it changed, with all the different interests that are always involved. It took me nearly two years substantially to revise the original financial regulations. Although I inserted a clause in it stipulating that it should be revised every three years, I am not sure that it has greatly changed since then.
As the report states, with the movement of cash increasing within the European Union, it was inevitable that those funds should attract the attention of fraudsters and be vulnerable to fraud and corruption. All the more so, as large sums are now being spent outside the EU. So in 1988, UCLAF was set up as the first anti-fraud unit and that has now been replaced by OLAF.
OLAF, at the moment, is dependent on the European Commission, but not accountable to it. I agree with the committee's conclusion that OLAF's connection with the Commission should be severed completely. The problem arises as to how that can best be done. I have particularly taken note of the excellent evidence given in the report, first, by Mr Raymond Kendall, chairman of the OLAF supervisory committee; and, secondly, by M. René André, a lawyer and a deputé at the French National Assembly.
It seems to me that the way forward lies in one of three ways. First, the supervisory committee and OLAF should be independent, with ultimate control with the Court of Auditors. As a very much retired chartered accountant, I confess to a sympathy for that course. Alternatively, if a European Public Prosecutor is ever established, some form of control could be established with him. However, there remains a good deal of controversy about what will happen in that regard. Finally, there is the view put forward by Mr Kendall that satisfactory independence can be achieved by tightening up the present arrangements.
Perhaps I may first deal with Mr Kendall's evidence. When the chairman asked Mr Kendall:
"So far as reforms to the structure or the way in which OLAF works are concerned, are there any particular changes that you, from your perspective, would recommend with a view to further safeguarding the independence of OLAF?".
Mr Kendall replied:
"The short answer is probably no. The reason I say that is because although over the years we have identified clearly a certain number of difficulties, in our view many of those difficulties, if not most of them, could probably be settled within the structure of OLAF, if we were sure that it was working as it should be. As I said to you before, we are not convinced that one year after these structures are in place, that is a sufficient time to be able to make a judgment as to whether there is anything wrong with the present system".
More than a year has passed since he stated that view. Things have moved on and I wonder whether he now feels better able to make that judgment.
On the other hand, M. André, in his powerful evidence, believes that the only way to stop what he called,
"games that parliamentarians all over the world play"—
I must say that I enjoy that phrase—would be completely to separate OLAF from the Commission and not have it dependent on the Commission any more. It is interesting to note that the Government, in their response to the committee, disagree with that view and support the view taken by Mr Kendall.
The Government's reply even suggests that,
"such a move might constrain OLAF's access to and understanding of internal processes and information".
To my mind, the implication of that statement must be that as long as the present arrangements continue, OLAF will continue to be allowed greater access because the Commission will continue to have an influence over it. That is just what we should be trying to get rid of.
There was, however, one change that Mr Kendall supported for immediate action. He pointed out that his supervisory committee personnel are actually provided by the OLAF people and, administratively and from a budgetary point of view, they come under OLAF as well. He tells us:
"Both the Parliament and even the Commission said that was not a good situation to be in, and so they thought that the Court of Auditors might be an appropriate place for it to be".
I am bound to say that I agree.
Finally, I note the conclusion set out by the committee in Chapter 4, paragraph 109 of its report:
"OLAF, Europol and Eurojust have been created in a piecemeal way. There appears to have been an absence of co-ordination in the policy establishing these bodies".
That is a statement of fact, but I note that there is no comment or recommendation for action. The truth must be that with the enlarged Community and with its greatly extended boundaries, the opportunities for fraud are growing enormously. The need must be for a co-ordinated organisation that can satisfactorily deal with this growing danger.
At the same time, that organisation must be established if it is to do its work properly, free from the influences of what M. André has called the "games that parliamentarians all over the world play"—in other words, free from the undue influences of other European Union institutions, the political parties and the national interests.
My Lords, my contribution to this debate will be focused on the excellent report introduced by my noble friend Lord Wright of Richmond on the EU's response to terrorism after Madrid. The subject is an important one. The horrendous events in Madrid in March 2004 brought home to everyone, if that were needed, the extent to which we are all in the front line of the fight against terrorism and the willingness also of the terrorists to target large numbers of completely innocent civilians in the pursuit of their objectives.
As in the months after Madrid, the tentacles of the plotting of those events were revealed, stretching out to other countries in the European Union and beyond. That also brought home the need to co-operate internationally much more closely and effectively than we have ever done in the past if we are to have any hope of preventing other such outrages in the future.
International co-operation against terrorism is still in its infancy. Not so long ago, as recently as the 1990s, there was a tendency in many countries, from which this country was not exempt, to regard people plotting against foreign regimes as none of our business. That insouciance, which was, in my view, always pretty irresponsible, perished on
The need to dovetail efforts at national, EU and global levels is by no means special to the fight against terrorism. The same challenges arise when dealing with the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction or with responding to threats from environmental degradation. It is a pity that the sharpness of the debate in this country on EU matters sometimes obscures the need for a complex multi-layered approach of this kind. Thus the argument that operational co-operation against terrorists should not, as a general rule, be channelled through formal EU machinery—a view put forward in this report and one which I share—should be pursued not as a question of political choice, but rather as one of effectiveness and security. There is, in any case, a great deal that the EU machinery and its able co-ordinator Mr de Vries can and should do to strengthen our mutual co-operation without getting too far into operational matters, and much of it is set out in this report.
It would be very helpful if the Minister, in replying to the debate, could tell the House how the incoming British EU presidency intends to carry matters forward in this area over the next six months following the decisions of the European Council before the weekend, how it intends to put flesh on the bare bones of the action plans that were agreed after New York and Madrid, and what are its objectives for this immediate period.
One aspect of the EU's role not much referred to in this report, but which deserves some attention, is its capacity to push matters forward at a global level at the United Nations. The EU and its member states are important players at the UN and key supporters of the UN Secretary-General's reform programme set out in his paper entitled, In Larger Freedom. Two important proposals on terrorism will, therefore, be up for decision at the mid-September UN summit in New York at which the Prime Minister will be speaking on behalf of the European Union as well as on behalf of the United Kingdom.
The first of those is the comprehensive strategy against terrorism which Kofi Annan first put forward in his speech last March in Madrid. The strategy consists of five elements: dissuading individuals from resorting to terrorism; denying terrorists access to funds, to weapons and to the ability to move about freely; deterring states from supporting terrorism in any form; developing state capacity to fight terrorism; and defending human rights from excessive encroachment. That strategy, which addresses the causes of terrorism as well as its symptoms, seems to me to be one that could be endorsed by all participants at the September summit and most particularly by the members of the European Union.
The second important proposal is to fill the gap in the existing international conventions against terrorism by accepting a binding commitment to outlaw any acts targeting innocent civilians and non-combatants. For far too long the debate at the UN has been bogged down in a discreditable wrangle over definitions. It is surely now high time to break out of this deadlock and to make it clear, beyond peradventure, that no cause, however laudable in itself, justifies actions such as suicide bombing. The need to fill that gap is as much a political need as it is a legal one. If the UN were now able to turn its face definitively and unambiguously against such practices, it could advance the cause of finding solutions to some of the world's most intractable disputes, for example, in Palestine and Kashmir.
It would be most helpful if the Minister in reply could say how the United Kingdom, as holder of the EU presidency, intends to deploy the EU's considerable influence in the period between now and the September summit to achieve decisions on those two proposals.
I conclude with a more general point about the EU as I shall, unfortunately, not be able to participate in tomorrow's general debate. The European Union is going through a particularly rough patch just now, but just because the EU has hit some serious internal difficulties does not mean that the rest of the world is standing still, waiting for us to resolve them, as I believe we will. Nor does it mean that we can afford to let our wider interests go by default in the meanwhile. It is surely particularly important at this juncture to pursue vigorously those aspects of foreign policy on which we agree and on which we share common cause. The fight against terrorism is prominent among such matters.
My Lords, I have been happy to be a member of Standing Committee F under the chairmanship of two noble Lords who have the same geographical name, although the respective locations are, I think, something like 300 miles apart. It is also a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Hannay of Chiswick. I listened carefully to him. What he said about the EU's role at the UN was new to me, and I was pleased to hear it.
Much has happened to encourage and enable EU member states to work more efficiently together on security since the Madrid train bombings on
Next month, the G8 will discuss the pooling of terrorism research and national databases, as well as sharing DNA and fingerprint samples. They will also discuss ways in which research into the reasons why new generations of young people are radicalised can be better co-ordinated to help us all understand why so many are willing and anxious to blow themselves to pieces to inflict maximum death and injury on unprotected civilians. With earlier terrorist groups, we got to know what they wanted when the murders stopped. That is far from clear with regard to the group that killed 191 innocent people in Madrid and those responsible for other terrorist outrages around the world.
As we said in our After Madrid report, we need to understand and analyse on a long-term basis the political, religious and social roots of terrorism and the radicalisation of so many young people. I welcome the Government's acceptance of that, and their stress on the need to involve local communities, including faith-based ones, their leaders and young people. In their response to the report, the Government say that they are committed to producing a strategy by the end of our EU presidency to plan the way forward on these important matters.
The committee's report, although it is welcome, comes with a warning: Statewatch told us that 27 of the 57 proposals made by the European Council following the Madrid bombings had little to do with combating terrorism but had been lifted from much of the justice and home affairs agenda on policing and judicial co-operation and simply relabelled as anti-terrorism. The point is well made. Although the committee did not entirely share the view of Statewatch, it thought that measures would be justified as counter-terrorism only if terrorism was clearly their target.
I want to make two other comments on that aspect. First, EU member states and the Commission should ensure that security measures already agreed on should be effectively operated in all 25 countries before extra new proposals were made. Secondly, we must try to ensure that legitimate resistance and liberation oppositions in countries with no proper democracy or human rights are not labelled "terrorist" as a cover for the use of terror at home by a government or the sponsorship of such actions abroad. In that context, I hope that there will be careful and regular review of the organisations listed as "terrorist" in our legislation. It does the UK no favours to be seen to turn a blind eye—or to be suspected of doing so—to terror and torture in places such as theocratic Iran in the name of anti-terrorism.
Our visit to Interpol was interesting and surprising. Its energetic secretary-general, Mr Ron Noble, told us that, in every serious terrorist incident, a fraudulent passport had been used. Interpol holds a database of 5.6 million fake passports, but the EU's Schengen information system contains details of about 10 million and that information is not shared with Interpol. In turn, the Interpol database is not regularly consulted by all EU member states. In the report, we urge better and more co-operative efforts to make the Interpol database fully comprehensive and question the need for a separate EU database.
Mr Noble gave as an example of the importance of sharing information on lost and stolen passports the case of a man arrested for the assassination of the former Prime Minister of Serbia, Mr Djindjic, on
I turn briefly to our report on the five-year justice and home affairs agenda for the EU. Many witnesses echoed earlier points about the programme placing undue emphasis on security at the expense of respect for fundamental rights. Our report says that there is a striking lack of ambition in the freedom provisions, such as EU citizenship rights, anti-discrimination measures, anti-racism and rights for third-country nationals legally resident in the EU. Of course, security is a prime responsibility of government, but so are aspects of justice and freedom throughout the EU and more widely.
Our report endorses the concept of having a common European asylum system to ensure consistent standards to a high level. Asylum applicants are entitled under the UN convention, to which we subscribe, to have their claim for protection taken seriously and considered fairly and as swiftly as possible. I hope that the noble Baroness, Lady Rawlings, will be able to assure your Lordships that the rash and irresponsible pledge made by Mr Michael Howard during the previous general election to pull the UK out of the convention is no longer part of her party's policy.
I hope too that the newspapers and others who fail to draw a proper and clear distinction between asylum seekers and migrants will now understand the importance of doing so. It matters that the debate on such issues should be on the basis of fact, not fantasy. I urge those in leadership roles in the media, local communities, business, trade unions and faith organisations, as well as politicians—local and national—to keep separate those who come here seeking the protection that, we hope, we will never need from the non-EU nationals who want to work and live here legally, to better their lives and ours.
As our report says, decisions on migration belong to individual governments, working separately or bilaterally where that makes best sense. Economic migration is the subject of our current report.
My Lords, I have also served on Sub-Committee F under the chairmanship of the noble Baroness, Lady Harris of Richmond, and the noble Lord, Lord Wright of Richmond. It is a great privilege to be on that committee and on the main EU Select Committee. It gives us an opportunity that is second to none to contribute to the work of the House.
I have also heard people who are not from this country pay strong tributes to our scrutiny of European legislation. I have heard it said that some of our reports are translated into other languages, and I have heard people express the wish that their own parliament should adopt the same procedures as we do. Maybe we should not pat ourselves on the back but, if others pat us on the back, so much the better.
I want to start by making four points. It is clear that terrorism is global. It is a serious threat that comes from many countries and which we must fight with all the resources at our disposal. As my noble friend Lord Corbett said, it is also clear that terrorism is relatively cheap for terrorists compared with the rather larger costs that we have to incur to fight terrorists. That is the way the world is.
It is clear that to combat terrorism effectively member states of the EU must retain primary responsibility for anti-terrorist measures. The EU has an important part to play but the present arrangements whereby the EU tackles terrorism are far too complex to be as effective as they might be. They need to be simplified so that they can work as well as was the intention. It is very clear that as regards any measures against terrorism it is important that we get the right balance between the civil liberties of the individual and the measures which are necessary to protect us. It is very important that the hearts and minds of those who are inclined to be terrorists, or to sympathise with terrorists, should be considered so that we can deal with the problems at source.
This country has probably had more experience of tackling terrorism, given the situation in Northern Ireland, than any other EU country. However, the problems facing Spain due to ETA probably give it the second largest body of experience of tackling terrorism. It is gratifying and understandable that the UK is playing its full part in the anti-terrorism measures of the EU. One of the key factors is building trust between the different agencies that deal with terrorism. Where that trust breaks down information will not be exchanged and the co-operation will be less than it should be. I understand that to help the Government of Croatia—which is not yet a member of the EU but is hoping to be—to capture the war criminal, General Gotovina, Britain provided security help to Croatia. However, the presence of certain people in Croatia was leaked to the newspapers, endangering the safety of those people. Of course, co-operation cannot continue on that basis. There has to be trust between all the agencies that are co-operating to tackle terrorism. Nowhere is that more important than within the EU. It ought to be possible to achieve it there.
It is, of course, clear that the exchange of information and of databases is crucial to all that. I appreciate—and the committee realised this—that there are problems regarding the transfer of information and that there is a need to have proper parliamentary scrutiny of such information. You cannot just pass on information without proper security and proper safeguards.
I note that the Europol co-ordinator's post was left vacant for eight months during the time we were carrying out our investigation. It says something about the inability of European governments to deal with a very serious problem that they left such a crucial post unfilled, I believe because of national rivalries. The job description of the co-ordinator was not even clear. The committee came very firmly to the conclusion that in order to tackle terrorism the EU Counter-Terrorism Co-ordinator had to concentrate on internal co-ordination within the EU rather than on external representation regarding how the EU tackles matters.
On our visit to Interpol we were impressed by the professionalism of its approach and the way that it dealt with many of the problems that it encountered, but with rather fewer resources than Europol has. I believe that when Europol was established, not enough thought was given to how it should co-operate with Interpol and how to get the balance of responsibilities right. We made a mistake. It is very difficult to undo that mistake now, but I do not think that we got the matter right. Perhaps we can move towards sorting that out a little better.
The problem of terrorism cannot be confined to the EU. The threats of terrorism within the EU often come from outside so co-operation between Interpol and Europol is essential. I hope that Europol will do better than it has done up to now because we know that the key co-operation has to be not just within the EU but between the EU and other countries. As I say, that means co-operation between Europol, Interpol and the EU.
My noble friend Lord Corbett mentioned fraudulent passports. I was astonished to hear that in almost every terrorist case fraudulent passports had been used and that even Britain with its experience of these matters was not keeping the kind of records of fraudulent passports and passing them on that might have been the case. However, I understand from the Government's response to our report that that has been put right and that our co-operation is now being given at the right level. However, if other countries are not co-operating with Interpol on fraudulent passports, we are missing a good opportunity to make the situation safer. So even if our Government's response is a good one, I hope that we can use our influence with other governments to make them co-operate on that matter.
I make two further points, and my noble friend Lord Corbett mentioned at least one of them. It is disturbing how inexpensive it is for terrorists to carry out their business. Indeed, they do not need much money. All they need are a few dedicated people. With a little knowledge they can make bombs at very little cost that have devastating and terrifying consequences. We have already heard that the Madrid bombings cost so little to prepare that any of us could probably have afforded to finance such an operation. It is terrifying that that can be done so cheaply. The cost of countering such terrorism is high, but we cannot shirk from putting up the money to deal with it because our safety is important.
I finish with a point that has been referred to already; that is, the need to understand better what motivates a terrorist. In Northern Ireland we spent a long time studying that. I believe that we understood pretty well what was going on. Indeed, the peace process and the Belfast agreement were landmarks because they represented an understanding by the British Government and the Irish Government of what Northern Ireland terrorism was about. That was converted into political demands and not terrorist demands. That was surely very important.
We are nowhere near being in the same position as regards the more recent terrorist threats. We do not even know what the people who bombed the trains in Madrid want. Perhaps they were sending a signal but we do not know the full extent of the signal. It is important that we begin to understand, or try to understand, what makes people so alienated that they are willing to commit suicide in furtherance of a cause. We need to understand better that cause and how we can, as it were, engage with those people—I do not mean collaborate but engage—to see whether political ends can be stated clearly so that we can engage politically and divert people who might otherwise become terrorists into making political demands which we can then debate with them.
I believe that the hearts and minds argument is crucial. It is not so easy to engage with and it is a matter which can probably be tackled better nationally than internationally and better by Britain than EU-wide, partly because of our experience. However, it is as important as any of the other measures against terrorism which are contained in our report and which are being practised in the European Union.
My Lords, in speaking in the gap I owe your Lordships an apology for missing the greater part of this debate. However, it is impossible to do any work in Scotland on a Monday morning and get here in time to participate in the proceedings. I look forward to reading the debate.
I wish to pay tribute to a number of people, particularly the noble Lord and noble Baroness of Richmond—the chairmen of the committees on which I had the honour and privilege to serve. I refer to the noble Baroness, Lady Harris of Richmond, and the noble Lord, Lord Wright of Richmond.
I listened with great care to what the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, said about terrorism. I agree very much with what he said. I, too, was impressed by the visit to Interpol. That was rather surprising to me given many people's perception of that organisation and that no one was certain what it did. However, it is a highly efficient, highly motivated organisation. I agreed very much with the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, when he said that the relationship between Europol and Interpol was not clearly thought out when Europol was set up. There is a lesson to learn there and the sooner those two parties can get their act together and work closely together and build greater trust, the better our lives will be.
The point about terrorism being cheap was very well made by the noble Lord, Lord Dubs. In conclusion, I would like to thank our specialist advisers who did a huge amount of work. Without their help we would not have been able to produce what I consider are excellent reports.
My Lords, several noble Lords have commented on the confusion of having two Peers from Richmond. All that I would say is that I would never think of the noble Lord, Lord Wright, as a sweet lass of Richmond Hill; whereas I may well consider my noble friend Lady Harris in that context.
Although I covered home affairs from these Benches for six years from 1997 to 2003, much of the work in these reports came to me as fresh. As such, I hope that the Minister can reassure us that within government, that exercise by committees of this House is not seen as an irritant or a time-consumer. One thing that struck me both reading the reports and listening to the debate was what an enormous resource in developing policy it is having the experience and expertise of those committees to consider matters in that way.
It is a fortuitous accident that the debate takes place on the day of the Prime Minister's Statement on the European Council, because the debate puts it into a proper context. For me, this is the other Europe, in counterpoint to the headlines in our tabloid press reading, "It's War with France", and the rest of the rubbish that we have read during the past few days.
The debate illustrates two important aspects. The first is the real engine-room work being done in Europe on a matter of very great importance. It was interesting for those of us who were present for the Prime Minister's Statement that he coupled concern about organised crime with globalisation as the two issues most of concern to European citizens. We might all debate whether that is right, but it was interesting that the Prime Minister made that coupling.
The second point, to which I have just referred, is the prestige that its reports bring to the House. The noble Lord, Lord Dubs, said that we must not blow our own trumpets on these matters but, as I have never been a member of one of these committees, perhaps I can blow away. One of these famed Eurocrats, not a Brit, said to me that when House of Lords reports were published, they were instantly snaffled by other delegations and groupings in Brussels because of their high quality and reputation.
Returning to my initial question to the Minister, I hope that that will embolden the Government as part of their strategy to respond to the crisis of confidence in European matters to trust Parliament more and to think much more laterally and excitingly about how this Parliament can be brought into the scrutiny of European affairs. That can only be to the benefit of promoting better understanding of Europe and, as I mentioned earlier, good governance.
One thing that has always made me a passionate European—if noble Lords did not know that before, let me say, now that the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, has gone, that that is what I am—and one of the great things about Europe, has been that it was not just a trade club. Part of the price of membership, at entry, was a commitment to democracy, a recognition of human rights and a commitment to the rule of law. It is important that we keep that to the forefront.
Now that we are enlarging to 25 and 27, as one of the witnesses says very frankly, that enlargement brings with it the dangers of greater fraud and of a greater impact of organised crime. It is often no help to Europe to have a rather patronising view of the new members, to say, "Well, we do not expect the rule of law to operate in country X quite as it does in the other parts of Europe". Nothing could be a greater danger to Europe's reputation than to tolerate in new and applicant states sub-standard systems of law, sub-standard recognition of human rights or sub-standard tolerance of corruption. We must use their membership to ensure that as well as observing proper trade practices, and the rest, that their legal systems and systems of law enforcement are to the highest European standards. That is another single market that we should be enforcing, arguing for and helping.
One of the key messages that has come through from speaker after speaker today is that, whatever struggles we may have for European unity at the political level, there is already an active single market in people trafficking, drug-trafficking, money laundering and organised crime. We must put in place ways to respond to that. In his introduction, the noble Lord, Lord Wright, encouragingly referred to the Hague programme as an impressive increase in co-operation. As such, I shall be interested to see what priority pushing the Hague programme will be given during the British presidency.
My noble friend Lady Harris mentioned Eurojust and its role in promoting judicial co-operation. That could be of particular importance with the new entrants and the tackling of organised crime. Several noble Lords referred to OLAF. Here, I found myself instinctively with the noble Lord, Lord Shaw: I want it to be as independent as possible. Perhaps the Minister would explain again why the Government are being rather negative in their approach to what could be an important agency.
Again, speaking as a pro-European, nothing can do greater damage to the European cause than the idea that corruption goes unchecked; but there is widespread inefficiency in checking it in Europe. As the noble and learned Lord, Lord Scott, said, much of this is about creating confidence among the citizens of Europe in their institutions.
Much was said on terrorism. I have one genuine inquiry. Is there sufficient EU/US co-operation on exchange of information on terrorism, or do the Americans still not trust all the Europeans, or vice versa? An initiative could be taken there.
I shall finish on a point that touched me very much in the speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Gibson. As a pro-European I take pride in how Europe has been instrumental in extending democracy, freedom and human rights across our Continent. But what a shame it is that, for countless young women from eastern Europe, freedom has brought with it what the noble Baroness rightly described as the "pit of misery" that people trafficking and prostitution create. Perhaps noble Lords saw the dramatic docu-play by Channel 4 on the subject.
That issue illustrates yet again that, in the battle against crime and terrorism, the concept of a national response is plainly absurd and the need for a co-ordinated European response is beyond peradventure. From what I read of the reports, progress is being made, but any good teacher would write at the bottom, "Must try harder".
My Lords, I shall speak for the Opposition on the four European Union Committee reports. I thank the committee members for their undoubted hard work, having produced these very thorough reports. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord McNally, that your Lordships' EU reports are highly respected worldwide. As noble Lords know, my brief is foreign affairs and international development, so I hope that the House will forgive me if I am not as familiar with home affairs and the legal aspects of these reports as they are, although as a former MEP I can declare an interest.
The simplest way of dealing with these detailed volumes is to speak about each in turn, if I may take the opportunity to probe the Government on their next steps regarding the issues raised in the reports. I shall then concentrate most of my remarks on the report regarding terrorism, as have many noble Lords. That is partly because it is the only report on which the Government have not commented. I wish to ask the Minister to clarify only a few issues, as in the limited time available it would be impossible to cover all the points in these detailed reports; otherwise, I fear, we would be here for many more hours.
There is no denying that we have seen a substantial growth in international terrorism in recent years. As the report points out, such action threatens not only the lives and well-being of citizens but also the foundations of democracy. It is important that in complying with measures flowing from the European Council's Declaration on Combating Terrorism, we do not forget the latter and that our response to terrorism is proportionate to the threat posed.
The report's main focus was information exchange; that was identified at the special meeting of the European Council on
I should also like to ask the Government about data protection of the information that we are exchanging. The report raises many questions about the adequacy of our data protection. Do the Government agree with the report? Do they think that there should be a common EU framework of data protection for the third pillar?
The report also calls into question the auditing powers of national data protection authorities. Its conclusion states:
"It is important that national data protection authorities have sufficient audit powers. We regret that in the United Kingdom the Information Commissioner does not have such powers and recommend that this is reviewed".
Will the Government undertake to conduct such a review?
I should like to draw attention to that report's conclusion regarding lost and stolen passports, as mentioned by the noble Lords, Lord Corbett and Lord Dubs. The evidence gathered in making the report shows that many member states do not notify Interpol of lost and stolen passports. That goes back to my earlier point that such systems work only if we all contribute. We need to be careful not to throw all our resources into new initiatives at the expense of old, tried-and-tested methods of prevention. Have the Government plans to remedy that problem?
The report concerning the role of Eurojust was introduced very ably by the noble Baroness, Lady Harris of Richmond. I was heartened to learn that the committee concluded that it had made an excellent start. It was also encouraging to note that, since the publication of the report on Eurojust, Norway has concluded and agreed the text of a draft co-operation agreement. Let us hope that the exchange of information is not one-sided, as it appears to be with the United States.
The report raises the issue of the European public prosecutor. We are concerned that, if Eurojust is given the power to take binding decisions on which jurisdiction should prosecute in cases of cross-border offences, it will become a quasi-prosecutorial authority. Such a power would almost make it a European public prosecutor. Will the Minister clarify the Government's position and state how they feel about such a change?
That leads me on to the report regarding OLAF, introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Scott. I am very concerned about the lack of co-operation between Eurojust and OLAF. I note in a letter from Caroline Flint, which has been made available, that the Government feel that that is also an issue and that,
"a first step could be a formal framework for co-operation".
How are the Government progressing with the issue and what else do they propose to do to make certain that the relationship between the two organisations runs more smoothly?
I feel that it is a little late now to turn to the report on The Hague programme, on which we heard from the noble Lord, Lord Wright, at the start of the debate. It is possibly the most detailed report and contains such thorny issues as asylum, migration, border security, police co-operation and various aspects of the law. It is my understanding, however, that we are expecting an asylum Bill later this Session—as, it seems, we do every Session—so I shall leave this part of the debate to my noble friend Lady Anelay, who will, no doubt, raise all the important matters during the passage of the Bill.
I hope that we never have a repeat of the Government's behaviour of withholding from Parliament the drafts of The Hague programme prior to its adoption by the European Council, as it is essential that we should be able to scrutinise such important proposals. I look to the Minister for her assurance that such a situation will not arise again.
Finally, I congratulate the committees and their chairmen on producing such interesting and important reports, which no doubt will give the Government food for thought. We look forward to their conclusions.
My Lords, this has been a thoughtful debate and I thank the scrutiny committee for its constructive reports. In particular, they were chaired so elegantly, with such consummate skill, by the Lords Richmond—that is, the noble Baroness, Lady Harris, and the noble Lord, Lord Wright—and the noble Lord, Lord Scott of Foscote, to whom I should like to say that we very much regret any diminution of his attendance or participation because, of course, we would be bereft without his skill.
The committee has had the advantage of a very thorough debate today. The subjects of the reports are very good examples of successful EU co-operation in justice and home affairs, which is important to the safety and well-being of our citizens. As my noble friend Lady Gibson of Market Rasen said, I am very glad that we have had this opportunity to discuss the reports in this very full way. My noble friend Lord Corbett rightly emphasised the need for co-ordination and co-operation between international agencies, particularly in relation to the use of fraudulent passports. My noble friend Lord Dubs emphasised the need for proper safeguards.
I would like to reassure the noble Lord, Lord McNally, that we very much value the committee's work and endorse what was said by my noble friend Lord Dubs that the committee's work is applauded on the international stage. I do not hesitate to tell noble Lords that I often bask in applause when abroad that falls as a result of the committee's work. I am sure that the noble Baroness, Lady Rawlings, in her time has had a similar experience.
During our presidency of the EU, the Government are committed to delivering the justice and home affairs agenda set out in The Hague programme and in the action plan on combating terrorism. Most of the proposals in The Hague action plan—a non-binding frame of reference based on The Hague programme—can be taken forward under existing treaties. They will be implemented in full in accordance with the principles of subsidiarity and proportionality. To reassure the noble Lord, Lord Wright, on what will happen in relation to the constitutional treaty, the work on that issue will continue.
I know that the committee has been concerned about the presidency priorities. There is a full agenda already set for the second half of the year in the CT action plan, The Hague action plan and the drugs action plan. Within that, we will focus on priority measures that have a practical benefit for EU citizens and add value to the efforts of member states in tackling terrorism and organised crime, and in better managing migration. We intend to make significant progress on the framework decision on telecommunications data and the European arrest warrant. We also will complete peer evaluation on counter-terrorism efforts in the Union and will look to introduce a counter-terrorism strategy.
As the noble Baroness, Lady Harris, reminded us, Eurojust is providing practical operational assistance to improve our effectiveness in tackling cross-border organised crime. For example, in March 2004, it brought together a group of member states to discuss an organised criminal group engaged in people and drug trafficking. Eurojust helped to co-ordinate the UK and German investigations and to gather evidence from other member states. That led to arrests being made in the United Kingdom for the facilitation of illegal immigration. Further arrests were made in Germany where a quantity of heroin was also seized. It is real, practical, functional work.
The noble and learned Lord, Lord Scott, asked whether the Government intend to consider OLAF reform proposals during the UK presidency. I want to reassure him that we do, now that we have the completed OLAF evaluation report. We expect the Court of Auditors' report on OLAF to be published very soon. We will then have the evidence that we need to consider the proposals and we are keen to take that forward during the UK presidency. Therefore, it is right that OLAF—the EU's anti-fraud office—takes an active role in the fight against fraud. It has worked hard to improve its efficiency. It is estimated that it has been instrumental in the recovery of about €100 million. Therefore, it was right that the noble Lord, Lord Shaw, concentrated his remarks on its activities.
The Hague programme represented an excellent negotiating outcome for the United Kingdom. It includes a welcome focus on delivering measures that will have practical effects on the lives of EU citizens. The noble Lord, Lord Wright, asked how much we will spend and what it will cost. The Commission has proposed three new financial frameworks to fund justice and home affairs work from 2007 to 2013. The framework envisages a significant increase in funding to €9 billion, which is three times the amount that is currently spent. We support an increase but we will scrutinise the funds with EU partners to ensure that they are consistent with The Hague programme. We will make progress in that area a priority for our presidency.
We very much welcome the continued emphasis on counter-terrorism in The Hague programme. We agree with the committee that responsibility for the protection of citizens lies primarily with individual member states, but, since the introduction of the action plan to combat terrorism in March 2004, the EU has demonstrated that it can help to identify good practice and vulnerabilities; that is, through the peer evaluation process of all 25 member states; through raising understanding of key issues—for example, critical infrastructure protection, terrorism financing and radicalisation; through promoting common standards, which we can see in aviation security; and also through encouraging capacity building in priority third countries.
Her Majesty's Government support the work of the Secretary-General and the high-level panel in their work to develop a global response to the very real threat of international terrorism, which the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, highlighted. We are playing an active role in the pursuit of the comprehensive convention, while seeking a mutually acceptable solution to the controversial area of defining terrorism. We welcome the recent agreement of the Council of Europe Convention on the Prevention of Terrorism.
The noble Lord, Lord Wright, also raised the proliferation of CT committees and groups. The EU CT effort is very broad, but it reflects the complexity of the structures with which we now have to deal. We will work very closely with the presidency to ensure an effective EU response.
The work that Mr de Vries will do in that regard will be extremely important. We have agreed that COREPER will act as a co-ordinating body, which we will support. We will try to use our presidency to encourage member states to sign and implement the convention together with other international treaties while seeking greater EU and UN co-operation. We agree with the committee that tackling terrorist financing poses significant challenges. But the work to combat terrorist financing can play an important role as part of the wide counter-terrorism effort, particularly in identifying networks, destroying their operations and assisting investigations.
It is right that we have also mentioned today how little money some of those terrorist activities will need. EU member states face the same threat from international terrorism and are affected by each other's vulnerabilities. Terrorist networks operate internationally with attacks that are often organised in one country but are directed at another, which the noble Lord, Lord Wright, raised in his remarks. Working together in the EU—now at 27 countries, with Romania and Bulgaria—in focus groups and bilaterally is essential if we are to reduce the threat from international terrorism to which we are vulnerable.
The noble Lord, Lord Hannay, raised counter-terrorism co-ordination, on which, as I have already mentioned, Mr de Vries is working. We intend to make good progress during our presidency to drive forward implementation of the action plan to improve understanding of the key issues through thematic COREPER sessions and to give focus and structure to the EU's future counter-terrorism work by introducing an overarching strategy, together with a revised action plan, towards the end of the year. We firmly believe that the EU has a vital role to play in combating international terrorism.
On police co-operation, Europol has been underused, and I endorse the comments in that regard. It should be made more effective without being given new, coercive operational powers, a matter about which I know that the noble Baroness, Lady Rawlings, is concerned. The Hague programme focus on intelligence-led policing and removing barriers to information exchange will lead to the better management and analysis of information and encourage greater sharing of information with Europol. We believe that that will enable us better to target effective operations against organised criminals. The introduction during our presidency of the European criminal intelligence model in support of Europol's forward-looking organised crime threat assessment will provide a valuable support for this process and encourage member states to share relevant intelligence with Europol. The bilateral agreements for third countries and the commitment made by the Europol director to work more closely with Interpol will bolster the EU's external law enforcement co-operation capacity.
At its last Interpol European regional conference, the newly appointed director of Europol made a commitment to work closely with the secretary-general of Interpol on developing closer working relations and co-operative measures. The incoming UK presidency chair of the Europol management board has already highlighted the importance of Europol's external relations, particularly with Interpol, as a key area of development during the UK tenure. Europol and Interpol have agreed to work with the United Kingdom on the development of a common intelligence model.
The principle set out in The Hague programme of availability should, with appropriate safeguards—I know that noble Lords are anxious about them—to protect sensitive sources and methods, govern the exchange of data between law enforcement bodies, and should also guide, but not dictate, the way that security and intelligence service information is exchanged. The noble Baroness, Lady Rawlings, referred to an issue raised by the committee on the use of the existing databases. I can assure her that we agree with the importance of looking at and using what we have, but a group of technical experts is now being set up to report before the end of the UK's presidency. The group will take this on as one of its guidelines when making recommendations on the implementation of the principle of availability.
We also agree with the committee and with noble Lords that information exchange should take place within a common set of rules and standards. High standards already exist, but we welcome any extra certainty that the Commission's forthcoming proposal for a framework decision on data protection in the third pillar could bring. What role a central authority should play in supervising data exchange is part of the ongoing Commission consultation on data protection on the third pillar.
On data retention, the Government welcome what has been said both by the committee and in this debate and endorse the view that the proposed instrument on this subject will be a valuable tool in fighting terrorism. But we also believe that the prevention and detection of crime more generally is a public interest for which data should be retained. It has proved invaluable in establishing the facts in cases such as Soham, Omagh and the murder of Damilola Taylor.
In the area of asylum and immigration, we share the same objectives as other member states: to encourage legal migration for economic and other purposes; to provide a safe haven for those genuinely fleeing persecution; and to prevent abuse of our immigration control procedures. None of us acting alone can successfully meet the challenges of managing migration. We welcome The Hague programme's emphasis on helping third countries to improve their capacity for migration management. During our presidency we want the EU to play a stronger role in managing migration internationally by improving the capacity of developing countries to protect refugees in their regions of origin, ensuring that economic migration to developed countries is managed to complement and not to damage the needs of developing countries. We will also be working in partnership with countries on the EU's eastern and southern borders better to control migration flows.
We want also to use our presidency to improve EU performance on readmission agreements, to take forward measures to improve the security of EU external borders, to improve asylum co-operation and to build on the EU's common principles for integration. We have not given up our ability to determine UK asylum and immigration policy to Brussels. We will retain our opt-in and frontiers protocols which allow us to choose which EU measures we participate in and to carry out immigration checks on our borders.
We are pleased that The Hague programme recognises that mutual recognition should continue to form the basis for further criminal and civil judicial co-operation. This will ensure that member states will retain their distinct and diverse legal systems while improving co-operation and bringing more criminals to justice. Moreover, I understand absolutely the comments of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Scott, in relation to the use to which mutual recognition could be put. I want to reassure him that we are going to be vigilant in that regard.
Approximation of criminal procedure law is not a precondition for mutual recognition. But we recognise that common minimum standards in some areas can enhance mutual confidence and facilitate the application of mutual recognition. We also support work that promotes the understanding of different legal systems and increases trust between them, which I know was just what the noble and learned Lord sought to illustrate in his erudite remarks on the tension between the two.
The committee raised the issue of bail, as did the noble and learned Lord, Lord Scott, in our debate. The Government believe that a legislative initiative on bail would be worthwhile as it would promote the fair treatment of EU residents facing criminal proceedings by ensuring that pre-trial custody is used only in appropriate cases. The Commission is expected to publish a legislative proposal later this year.
Finally, we welcome the emphasis on continuing to provide Eurojust with the necessary powers effectively to aid judicial co-operation within the EU, but we are really pleased, as I think was the committee, that no reference is made to the European public prosecutor as we remain unconvinced of the need for one. I hope that also gives the noble Baroness, Lady Rawlings, the reassurance she seeks.
A huge number of additional issues have been raised. Since I am pushed for time, I shall skate through and try to deal with one or two. Perhaps I may turn first to the issue of independence raised by the noble Lords, Lord Shaw and Lord McNally, in relation to OLAF. The debate about the future of OLAF has become intertwined with the establishment of the European public prosecutor. We will return to the subject of the EPP if and when a formal proposal for its creation is brought forward, but in the mean time that possibility should not distract the Commission from the need to consider ways in which OLAF can be made more effective in the fight against fraud. No doubt the forthcoming report will enable us to do that, but at the moment noble Lords will recall that OLAF was brought into the Commission for the purpose of allowing it to draw strength and to foster better understanding. There is a real opportunity to continue doing that, but through the audit which will enable us to do so, we need to assess whether it will remain the best way forward.
In my final minute I am trying to choose which answer I should give because there are so many. I shall respond to the questions put by the noble Lord, Lord McNally, in relation to EU/US counter-terrorism co-operation. Perhaps I may say first how important we believe that linkage to be in the fight against international terrorism. The UK presidency will seek to use its Troika with the United States, and the next presidency, to its full effect so as to bring about some movement on this. The United States delegations are invited to EU meetings at all levels, including the Justice and Home Affairs Council. So we hope that there will be real opportunities for us to work energetically.
In conclusion, effective international action in co-operation with our EU and overseas partners is one of the keys to delivering vital domestic objectives on counter-terrorism, organised crime, asylum, immigration and access to justice. The Hague programme and its associated action plans represent a real opportunity to improve the freedom, security and justice enjoyed by United Kingdom citizens, both at home and abroad, and the Government are determined to make the most of the opportunity.
I thank noble Lords who have worked so hard on this agenda. I know that their industry will not stop now.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for a comprehensive, helpful and beautifully timed response. I also thank all noble Lords who have taken part in this useful and wide-ranging debate. I do not wish to delay the House longer, except to make two points.
First, there has been a great deal of talk about the relationship between Europol and Interpol, with which I totally agree. I am grateful for the encouraging comments made by the Minister in relation to that. When we visited Lyons we discovered that there is a Europol liaison officer in place at Interpol. I hope that that will help the future relationship between the two organisations.
Secondly, with permission, I should like to give your Lordships a brief history lesson, which I would otherwise have left to that great historian, much missed in the House, the late Lord Russell. I am sure that he would have wanted to tell your Lordships that when a medieval sovereign took up residence on the banks of the Thames at a place called Sheen, he also held the title of Earl of Richmond—in Yorkshire of course—and decided that he would change the name of the palace at Sheen to the Palace of Richmond. I shall probably get into trouble with my local community, but I think I have to give precedence to the noble Baroness, Lady Harris. I commend the report to the House.