EU: The Hague Programme — Justice and Home Affairs (EUC Report)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 5:08 pm on 20th June 2005.

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Photo of Lord Dubs Lord Dubs Chair of Labour Peers 5:08 pm, 20th June 2005

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.