My Lords, as other noble Lords have done, I thank the European Union Committee for producing the report we are debating today and I thank the noble Lord, Lord Jay of Ewelme, for moving the Motion that has enabled us to have this debate. I also thank him for his chairmanship of the Home Affairs Sub-Committee of the European Union Committee, whose deliberations have resulted in this excellent report.
My first reflections on reading the report and the response from the Government were that whatever in the end is agreed upon, it will be inferior to what we have in place today in relation to security matters. My noble friend Lady Massey of Darwen made reference to that in her contribution. This should concern all of us, as it will leave the United Kingdom and our European friends and neighbours less safe and in a more precarious position.
My noble friend Lord Browne of Ladyton was absolutely right to draw the House’s attention to the lack of debate and discussion on the security implications for the UK of implementing the decision to leave the European Union. The noble Lord, Lord Ricketts, has great experience in security matters and the Government should listen to his wise words very carefully. My noble friend Lord Bach brought to the debate his experience as a police and crime commissioner and the particular risks that we face as a third party in not getting a proper, comprehensive agreement. As my noble friend said, failure to do so would be unforgivable.
Looking at the Government’s response, I was struck by phrases such as “should not” and “may continue”. It also contains the phrases,
“where the presence of the United Kingdom is necessary”,
“The exact nature of the UK’s participation is a matter for further discussion”.
Another refers to the new situation not being,
“at the expense of protecting the public”.
In my opinion, those words do not provide anything other than confirmation that we are going to be in a worse position because of this extreme ideological right-wing-driven Brexit, and nothing has changed in that respect as far as I can see.
The committee’s report is excellent and illustrates the important work done by the committees of this House. However, it is disappointing that we are debating it six months after it was published. When I reflect on the number of times we have finished early in this House, there is no doubt that we could have found time to debate this report in October or November last year. Those who control the agenda of the House have to do better and allow a timelier discussion on these important reports produced by committees of the House. This is sadly not the first time other noble Lords and I have made this point in respect of debates scheduled on reports of committees of the House. I very much agree with the comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Smith of Newnham, in this regard. I share the view that it is a matter of paramount importance that we maintain the closest possible relationship after Brexit: that co-operation, working together and the sharing of information are vital to protect the millions of people who live and visit the United Kingdom and our friends and neighbours in the European Union.
If we fail to achieve this, the only winners will be criminals and terrorists. The noble Lord, Lord Kirkhope of Harrogate, was absolutely right when he spoke of the need to have a comprehensive agreement in place, and said that not doing so places us in a very unfavourable position. So my first question to the Minister is whether there is even one tangible benefit to our safety and security that will be achieved as a result of us leaving the European Union. On reading the report and the response from the Government I cannot see that even one has been identified.
Our police and security services are some of the best in the world. Every day they work to save lives and foil terrorists and criminals who wish to do harm to individuals and to critical infrastructure. My noble friend Lord West of Spithead has great experience in these areas and worked as a Minister. I agree fully with his remarks that we need to have a comprehensive security union in place. The police and security services have our full support but can the Minister say something about how the Government will ensure that co-operation will continue at the same level? The risk I want reassurance on is that—despite reassurances from both sides—as a third country, we will not be in the room and we will drift apart. How will that be prevented?
I understand the point about shared tools, measures and capabilities but if you are not at the meeting your involvement and your ability to influence must be detrimentally affected. Where we will end up in the next few weeks is somewhat more uncertain following the events of the last few days, but the report quite rightly looked at the proposed transition period. So assuming that there will be a transition period —that takes more imagination now—can the Minister confirm there will be no circumstances in which, if invited, the UK would not co-operate in any new European Union measures? Can she also confirm that the UK will positively seek to participate in meetings of EU agencies and bodies where security matters are under consideration?
Crime and terrorism, as we have heard, do not respect nation state borders. Security concerns identified in one area or one country can result in something happening elsewhere whether we are in the EU, outside of the EU or in a transition period. These matters are not the top priority for terrorists and international criminals other than in respect of where we have weakened our protections.
I very much agree with the committee and the Government that we must do everything we can to achieve continued involvement with Europol at the highest levels. My noble friend Lord Anderson of Swansea made reference to the lack of influence that must come over time from not being part of the governance arrangements of various bodies, and the detrimental effect that that will have. My noble friend Lord Judd highlighted the precarious situation we find ourselves in and how important it is to play our part in strategic activities. Can the Minister outline what ongoing work is taking place to deliver the closest possible engagement with Europol? Are we going to seek a special agreement whereby we can maintain our current contribution and involvement with this important organisation? Will she confirm that it is still the Government’s position that, with regard to Europol, Union? If that is the case, that to me is regrettable political dogma.
The European arrest warrant has proved to be a very valuable tool at the disposal of all member states, as referred to by my noble friend Lord Anderson of Swansea and other noble Lords. It has ensured the arrest and swift return to the UK of individuals wanted for crimes committed here, and reciprocal arrangements through which we have been able to arrest people and return them to European Union countries where they are wanted for offences committed abroad. I have listed before the numerous cases where swift justice has been helped by our being part of the scheme. My noble friend Lord Soley raised the challenge we could face regarding the European arrest warrant and our status as a third country. Again, no one but the criminals will benefit. Can the Minister confirm that the Government are doing everything possible to ensure that we do not fall back to the pre-European arrest warrant arrangements?
Noble Lords will remember references to the Costa del Crime, with criminals wanted in relation to serious offences in the UK hiding in plain sight in Spain and other countries. We cannot allow a return to that situation. The only people this would benefit, as I said, are criminals and terrorists. It would hurt law-abiding citizens who want to see people brought to justice quickly.
I agree very much with the Government about the need for a comprehensive agreement on security matters as referred to by virtually all noble Lords, including the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria. The committee is suggesting other options only because of its concern that we could otherwise leave ourselves exposed if no agreement is reached. I agree about the importance of continued data sharing; the Data Protection Act 2018, bringing us in line with the GDPR regulations, is very welcome and clearly means that we start from a position where we are aligned. I join with the committee in commending the contingency planning work done by the Crown Prosecution Service, the Metropolitan Police, and the National Crime Agency and others in case the UK loses access to databases and other frameworks for security co-operation. But these organisations and the people working for them need to be better served by the politicians in charge of the process.
I agree with both the committee and the Government that dialogue is important in any future relationships regarding security matters. It is also important in the present arrangements but, today, we are able to have more formal engagement as well. It would be useful if the Minister could set out how the Government will seek to develop this new but inferior relationship.
The relationship between the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland is important in so many respects. Close co-operation between the police and security services needs to be handled carefully. Cross border co-operation on the island of Ireland has led to people being brought to justice for crimes committed, and to security threats being effectively dealt with to keep our citizens safe. We must ensure we never go backwards on that.
Finally, I again thank the noble Lord, Lord Jay, for enabling this debate on the committee’s report and I look forward to the Minister’s response.