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Mr. David Heath: I do not feel that the Minister is entirely the master of this brief. Any waiver of immunity would be issued according to a twofold duty. It would be waived, first, in cases where immunity would impede the course of justice; and, secondly, in ways that did not prejudice the interests of Europol. The interests of Europol therefore become the test against which such a decision is made, which is totally different from any other test in British legislation. Why are Europol officers being

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treated differently from British police forces? That is in flat contradiction of the assurance that the Foreign Secretary gave the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs.

Mr. Henderson: I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would recognise that Europol officers have limited involvement in current operations. Their work is information gathering, and were that to be extended over a five-year period, as the treaty of Amsterdam anticipates, any such extension would be subject to a debate and agreement by unanimity under the Europol convention. That would allow the Houses of our Parliament to discuss those matters, but it would be wrong to anticipate now the nature of those discussions. An assurance has been given that the immunities and privileges afforded to Europol will be reviewed then.

It is obviously important as a matter of principle that British citizens, and citizens throughout Europe, are protected. When a wrong has been committed there should be effective legal redress for citizens throughout Europe. Such matters will have to be addressed when considering the extension of Europol's work, but I am sure that hon. Members will recognise that I cannot say anything else about that now.

Mr. A. J. Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed): In pursuit of the intelligence and information-gathering work that Europol is already engaged in, its officers might be present in the United Kingdom to assist in a major operation. If that operation misfired to such an extent that some citizens had reason to believe that they had been wrongly arrested, wrongly subject to adverse publicity or in some other way damaged, should immunity be waived so that proceedings could be taken against those Europol officers? The head of Europol would then have to decide whether it would be in its interests to allow that, bearing in mind the fact that, for intelligence-gathering reasons, he may not wish the extent to which the force had been involved to be disclosed.

Mr. Henderson: I am sure the right hon. Gentleman recognises that such an example would be dealt with in the next five-year period, when immunities will be reviewed. I hope that he will accept that the principled belief of the Government is that British citizens, in common with citizens throughout Europe, must have the right of redress if a wrong is committed against them by a British police officer or some other law enforcement agency officer. That would be a key point of the review. I do not believe that there is any difference between us on that. Given that the extension of Europol's information-gathering services is not envisaged at this stage, the right hon. Gentleman's argument is somewhat theoretical.

Sir Richard Body: Surely it is generally understood that there will be moves in due course to amend the convention that regulates Europol, in order to extend its powers. Surely I am right to say that, when that revised convention is considered, the House will have no authority or power to ratify those changes, although they may have far-reaching effects.

Mr. Henderson: I thought that I had tried to answer that point. I accept that it is anticipated that there will be some developments along those lines, but any such

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decisions will have to be agreed by unanimity in the first place. The normal scrutiny conducted by the House would be part of that process. As I have already made clear in previous exchanges on the treaty, in principle I support the extension of our scrutiny procedures to issues covered by the second and third pillars.

My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House will make a more general statement on that subject, probably tomorrow. I hope that that will reassure the hon. Gentleman. If any decision is reached by unanimity which requires a change in British law, that will of course be dealt with through the normal processes of this House.

7.30 pm

Mr. Howard: I had not intended to take part in the debate, any more than did the hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Mr. Campbell), but I should be grateful if the Minister would express a view in confirmation or otherwise on my analysis of the situation, which significantly differs from that of the hon. and learned Gentleman and the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath).

The provisions in K.2, or article 30 as it will be of the treaty on European Union, make it absolutely clear that the only activities that Europol officers will be able to undertake will be in a support capacity. All operational decisions and operational actions will be taken by law enforcement officers, conventionally the police. Therefore, would it not be the case that, if the set of circumstances identified by the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) led to wrongful arrest, the police, who would be responsible for that wrongful arrest, would in the normal event be liable to the citizen and the citizen could obtain compensation from the police force in that way?

If that analysis is right--no doubt the Minister will want to take advice on the matter, but I am encouraged by the signs that I have seen--is it not the case that the new clause to which the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome has spoken is completely unnecessary, because the liability contained in that new clause would follow in any event?

Mr. Henderson: I am grateful to the right hon. and learned Gentleman. I confirm that my interpretation is the same as his in respect of the operation of police activities, and that Europol would be involved in a support capacity to police forces throughout Europe, whatever their internal structure.

The question about wrongful arrest is something that would have to be considered as part of a review process as the activities of Europol were established, even if they are established precisely in the way that the right hon. and learned Gentleman and I have interpreted the provision to intend. There would need to be detailed examination of the way in which Europol officers related to other officers in domestic police forces and of the question of who would carry responsibility for any liability incurred.

Mr. Howard: There are two separate questions, and there is a danger of confusing them. It is a matter of considerable importance, and no doubt an appropriate question for review, whether the body that ultimately pays the compensation is the British police force or Europol. That is clearly significant, and something that would be

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covered by the review. However, what is of interest to the citizen is that he gets compensation; it does not matter much to the citizen whether he gets it from a British police force or from Europol.

The concern that I suggest we ought to have about the treaty is whether the citizen will get the compensation to which he or she is entitled for wrongful arrest or for any other wrong done to him. The Minister, in the first part of his intervention, confirmed my analysis and my understanding that the citizen would have a right to compensation against the police force or other law enforcement agency in those circumstances. If that is right, it must follow that the new clause is unnecessary, however many questions may need to be considered in the review as to whether the ultimate compensation is paid by the British police force or by Europol.

Mr. David Heath: It is always an edifying sight when a former Secretary of State comes to the aid of a present Minister of State, but I believe that the right hon. and learned Gentleman is mistaken.

If officers acting in a support role require no immunity, why is that immunity not given to officers acting on behalf of the National Criminal Intelligence Service, whose role in respect of provincial police forces is exactly analogous to the role that will be carried out by Europol? Is it not easy to foresee circumstances in which redress to an individual citizen is appropriate as a result of police officers belonging to a local constabulary acting in good faith and blamelessly in the execution of their duties on the basis of information or other material provided by Europol which was not beyond reproach or blameless?

Mr. Howard: No--the analogy with the National Criminal Intelligence Service illustrates the error and the absurdity of the hon. Gentleman's argument. It would be ludicrous to suppose that, in this country, circumstances would arise in which a citizen had been wrongfully arrested and brought an action for wrongful arrest against the police force responsible for the arrest, but the police force said "Not me, Guv. You shouldn't be suing us--you should be suing the National Criminal Intelligence Service." It is simply beyond contemplation that that situation could arise, so the analogy the hon. Gentleman draws is a fanciful one, and is not relevant to the Committee's considerations this evening.

There may well be questions in due course, which is why the Minister is right to point to the need for a review of whether the ultimate source of compensation to the citizen should be the police force or Europol. However, what is important in terms of consideration of the treaty is whether the citizen gets the compensation to which he is entitled. I believe that the citizen would get the compensation to which he was entitled, and that ought to be our concern when considering the treaty. That is why the new clause is unnecessary, and why Conservative Members will not support it if it is pressed to a vote.


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