Session 2010-11
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European Committee Debates

EU Internal Security Strategy


The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chair: Mr Lee Scott 

Blackwood, Nicola (Oxford West and Abingdon) (Con) 

Brake, Tom (Carshalton and Wallington) (LD) 

Brokenshire, James (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department)  

Connarty, Michael (Linlithgow and East Falkirk) (Lab) 

Donaldson, Mr Jeffrey M. (Lagan Valley) (DUP) 

Duddridge, James (Lord Commissioner of Her Majesty's Treasury)  

Efford, Clive (Eltham) (Lab) 

Griffiths, Andrew (Burton) (Con) 

Morgan, Nicky (Loughborough) (Con) 

Phillips, Stephen (Sleaford and North Hykeham) (Con) 

Reynolds, Jonathan (Stalybridge and Hyde) (Lab/Co-op) 

Robinson, Mr Geoffrey (Coventry North West) (Lab) 

Winnick, Mr David (Walsall North) (Lab) 

Simon Patrick, Committee Clerk

† attended the Committee

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European Committee B 

Monday 28 February 2011  

[Mr Lee Scott in the Chair] 

EU Internal Security Strategy

[Relevant Document: European Scrutiny Committee, 11th report of Session 2010-11, HC 428-x, chapter 4.]  

4.30 pm 

The Chair:  Does a member of the European Scrutiny Committee wish to make a statement? 

Michael Connarty (Linlithgow and East Falkirk) (Lab)  indicated dissent.  

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (James Brokenshire):  I welcome you to the Chair, Mr Scott. It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship for the first time. I congratulate you on your appointment to the Panel of Chairs. 

As members of the Committee will be aware, the Stockholm programme, the European Council’s five-year justice and home affairs programme, was agreed in 2009 and called on the Commission to define a comprehensive EU internal security strategy. The Council subsequently adopted the internal security strategy in March 2010 under the previous Government. 

The internal security strategy presented an overview of the threats to EU internal security and some principles for tackling those issues. The ISS called on the Commission to propose actions for implementing the strategy, and the Commission duly adopted its communication on 22 November 2010. This is the first time that the EU has created an internal security strategy, although the activities it seeks to draw together have been the subject of EU legislation and co-operation for many years. 

The Committee may wish to be aware that at the Justice and Home Affairs Council last Thursday, Council conclusions were agreed welcoming the Commission communication. The communication agreed the five objectives for internal security, which I will cover shortly, and instructed the Committee on Internal Security—COSI —to take forward the development and implementation of those objectives. I thank the European Scrutiny Committee for clearing the Government to endorse the adoption of those objectives in advance of this debate. 

Although the Council’s internal security strategy was agreed under the previous Government, the current Government broadly support the ISS as a guideline for future action on EU internal security both in terms of the priorities it identifies and the principles it sets out. The Government generally agree with the five priority threats that the Commission has outlined: counter-terrorism, organised crime, cyber-security, civil protection and information exchange. We also support a focus on strengthening the EU’s borders to tackle illegal immigration and other threats. In the current economic climate it is essential that we use our resources to target the key priorities. 

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The Government also welcome the link between internal and external security and the importance of working collaboratively with third countries. That said, elements of the communication cause us some concern, not least when it goes further than the Stockholm programme envisaged; when it proposes new EU structures, for example, including an EU cybercrime centre and legislation in areas such as asset confiscation. We will continue to ask questions on those issues. 

The European Scrutiny Committee’s report asks whether the objectives are sufficiently strategic, or whether they merely repackage existing initiatives. I am glad that we are continuing to tackle the core issues related to internal security, rather than reinventing the wheel. It would be alarming if we suddenly had a completely new list of internal security issues to deal with. I think, however, that the significantly greater emphasis on cyber-security shows that the EU is not merely repackaging old plans. 

The report also asks whether sufficient weight was given to the freedom and justice elements. We cannot separate those concepts from security. The point has been discussed by senior officials in the Council; for example, in the context of the involvement of judicial authorities in internal security actions with a view to facilitating the collection of admissible evidence for subsequent court proceedings. 

Among the principles on which the ISS is based are respect for fundamental rights, international protection and the rule of law and privacy where justice, freedom and security policies are mutually reinforcing. Within the EU more generally there are plans to further strengthen data protection arrangements, not least through a review of the current EU data protection directive. Negotiations are also under way to create an EU-US agreement establishing data protection standards for exchange between the two. 

I welcome this opportunity to debate internal security at EU level, and I look forward to answering the Committee’s questions. 

The Chair:  We now have until 5.30 pm for questions to the Minister. If possible, questions should be brief and asked one at a time. I will use discretion for Members to add questions if necessary. 

Clive Efford (Eltham) (Lab):  The Government have set themselves against legislation in some key areas, particularly on asset confiscation. Is that a blanket rule, or is it just in specific areas? Are the Government against co-operation on altering legislation in the future if necessary? 

James Brokenshire:  Far from it. As we have set out, the Government consider such matters case by case. On internal security, we have sought to emphasise practical co-operation, which is an important part of development work, in the COSI agenda, for example. The Serious Organised Crime Agency tabled a paper for COSI on practical work that can be undertaken on organised crime and it has been an important part of influencing COSI’s work programme and underlining the practical co-operation that we see as important in taking forward the internal security agenda. 

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Clive Efford:  The Minister rightly says that co-operation is much needed and welcome. If I missed the point, he will forgive me, but I was asking specifically about future legislation and the need to harmonise legislation to prevent, for example, the UK becoming a safe haven for certain activities, because it had been ruled out by harmonisation through legislation within the EU in countries that are co-operating in that way. Will the Minister say whether the Government are against altering legislation, or are they just focusing on harmonisation and co-operation where possible? 

James Brokenshire:  We have stressed practical co-operation, but we will certainly continue to consider proposals for directives on a case-by-case basis as they emerge from the EU, and the approach that the Government have taken on opt-in decisions is reflected in our determination in such matters. If something is of benefit to the UK, the Government will certainly opt into directives, as appropriate, in the best interests of internal security and the security of the country. 

Clive Efford:  Can I move on to the Government’s position on resources and budgets? Cybercrime is an emerging area, and it may require the investment of additional resources and money in crime prevention and detection. Are the Government open-minded about such an approach? In many of their responses, they seem to suggest that they want everything to be dealt with under existing budgets. 

James Brokenshire:  There is no agreed line on the budget for the next financial perspective other than that the UK will be seeking a reduction in the overall EU budget. We anticipate that the Commission will publish draft figures for the next financial perspective in July, and the Treasury is already starting to draw up vision papers for each of the areas and asking Departments to set out realistic amounts of funding for each priority area. Negotiations on the 2012 budget will begin shortly, and we have already stipulated that we should not be seeking an increase on this year’s figures. 

Tom Brake (Carshalton and Wallington) (LD):  Can I press the Minister further on the EU cybercrime centre? A couple of weeks ago, I had the good fortune to visit the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre, and it was clear that some of its arrangements with other countries are based almost on friendships between officers. It is an informal arrangement that seems to work. However, both in that sort of set-up and also on EU cybercrime, informal arrangements may sometimes not work and something more formalised may be required. Can the Minister explain in more detail why he feels that an EU cybercrime centre may not be something that the Government would want to support? 

James Brokenshire:  We are clear about the importance of combating cybercrime, which is why the Government have committed about £650 million to deal with cyber-security issues. The hon. Gentleman will be aware that we have opted into the directive on IT threats, which underlines our willingness to look at how best to deal with these issues from an international perspective. Mandating or obligating the UK and other member states to partake in a cybercrime centre in the EU is not necessarily the optimal way of dealing with the problem. 

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Tom Brake:  That may be the case, but I hope that the matter can be kept under review. 

The Minister will know that some concerns were raised about whether sufficient weight has been placed on the freedom and justice elements of freedom, security and justice. Is he confident that the balance is right? 

James Brokenshire:  Yes, I believe that it is right. The protection of rights is a fundamental part of the work, and the security model must be based on certain principles and values of the Union as a whole, including 

“respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, the rule of law, democracy, dialogue, tolerance, transparency and solidarity.” 

There is ongoing work on data protection and other issues. It strikes the right balance. 

Clive Efford:  Have the Government carried out any assessment of the cost implications of complying with our requirements under the ISS? If so, will it be published? In what format can we expect to see an assessment from the Government on the implications? Related to that, have the Government found that there are potential cost efficiencies from working in partnership with our European neighbours? 

James Brokenshire:  The conclusions highlight the fact that the ISS 

“must be implemented without creating an unnecessary financial or administrative burden falling upon the Union, national and regional authorities, economic operators and citizens.” 

That gives the financial context. 

The Council of Ministers meeting last week formed conclusions on the Commission’s recent communication, so we are now moving forward on implementation. Therefore, a response to the issues that the hon. Gentleman has rightly highlighted on efficiency and potential costs will be forthcoming, and I am sure that there will be further communications from the Commission. 

Clive Efford:  I am grateful to the Minister for that answer, but how much is cost driving the Government’s approach and how much is it about the need to address the criminal activities tackled by the security strategy? 

James Brokenshire:  Clearly, we have to ensure the protection of our citizens. It is important to work together to ensure that citizens in this country are properly protected. That is the first duty of Government. 

We want to ensure that there are fewer administrative burdens, and that existing systems and procedures are harnessed better and more effectively. I hope that theme came through in the explanatory memorandum to the communication. We do not want new structures or bodies created. It would not be cost effective and there are more effective ways of dealing with the issues. 

Mr Jeffrey M. Donaldson (Lagan Valley) (DUP):  Objective 1 mentions disrupting international criminal networks. Of course, we have organised crime in Northern Ireland, especially fuel laundering and fuel smuggling along the border with the Republic of Ireland. In the context of the measures outlined in the report, why has the power to stop and search vehicles believed to be carrying smuggled or laundered fuel in Northern Ireland

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been withdrawn from officials from Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs? Does the Minister understand how that hampers the operations of HMRC, which was having a lot of success in closing in on fuel barons along the south Armagh border? 

James Brokenshire:  The right hon. Gentleman’s point about practical co-operation is important, which is why I spoke initially about how best to harness that and to ensure that co-operation between member states on a range of issues is good. I cannot comment specifically on fuel smuggling, but I recognise that it is serious, and I am prepared to take that point away and make further inquiries. 

Mr Donaldson:  I thank the Minister for his response. The document also mentions internal security with a global perspective, and one welcomes co-operation in seeking to thwart criminal activities. As the Minister knows, terrorist organisations often seek to raise funds for their unlawful activities under the guise of raising welfare support: for example, I understand that the Government of Israel have provided information to our Government about fundraising efforts in London by Hamas, under the guise of a welfare fund which has been outlawed in other European states. Will the Minister examine why the UK is not in tandem with its EU partners in outlawing such activities, when clear evidence has been presented? 

James Brokenshire:  It would be inappropriate for me to comment on a security-related issue or on the sharing of information, but clearly, we are serious about security. If one looks at funding for organised criminality or terrorism, the Government take such issues extraordinarily seriously, in terms of bearing down on financial assets or the tracking of terrorist funding. That will remain a key part of the Government’s approach in this arena. 

Clive Efford:  In relation to the framework of administrative measures, the Government have said that rather than article 75 being applied with regard to the freezing of assets, they would prefer that article 74 were used. Will the Minister explain why there is that preference? 

James Brokenshire:  Our preference for article 74 is on the basis of co-operation obligations, rather than setting a new framework for administrative measures. We think that the co-operative approach is a better strand for this, which is why we made those comments in the explanatory memorandum. We will continue to discuss that with other member states and the Commission, in terms of how the implementation of the internal security strategy moves forward. 

Clive Efford:  Will the Minister say why the Government have not signed up to the draft directive on human trafficking? 

James Brokenshire:  As I have said, we make our decisions on each directive on a case-by-case basis, based on whether we believe that a particular directive would be beneficial to the UK. The Government made

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a decision not to opt in to the proposed EU directive on human trafficking because it contains no operational co-operation measures from which the UK would benefit. We have said that we will review that position after the directive’s implementation, at which point the UK could apply to opt in retrospectively. 

Clive Efford:  Has failing to be a signatory to that draft in any way diminished our ability to influence the final outcome, and could that place the UK at a disadvantage in the future? 

James Brokenshire:  We certainly do not see the UK being at a disadvantage, because the UK has taken a number of important steps to deal with human trafficking. As I have said, we are reserving and reviewing our position until the directive is finalised, and we will consider the relative merits of the UK opting in or remaining outside of the directive at that point. 

Clive Efford:  Will the Minister say something about border controls and the scrutiny of cargo that is shifted into the EU area? Does the fact that we are not part of the border controls within the Schengen agreement impinge on our ability to benefit fully from the arrangements under the ISS in relation to cargo, and the movement and trafficking of humans? 

James Brokenshire:  As the hon. Gentleman has rightly pointed out, we are not part of the Schengen external border area. However, given the interests of the UK, we do co-operate on border security. That is why we believe, for example, that co-operation between Frontex and Europol, as relevant agencies on the exchange of personal data concerning criminals, will be important in tackling criminality and terrorism. Although we are not formally in the Schengen process, we are still party to discussions, and still seek to provide assistance and engagement to ensure that the interests of this country are properly protected. 

The Chair:  There being no more questions, I call the Minister to move the motion on the paper. 

Motion made, and Question proposed,  

That the Committee takes note of the European Union Document No. 16797/10, relating to a Commission Communication on the EU Internal Security Strategy in Action: Five steps towards a more secure Europe; and supports the Government’s aim of working with other member states to strengthen the security of EU citizens, with a strong preference for practical co-operation over new EU legislation where appropriate.—(James Brokenshire.)  

4.51 pm 

Clive Efford:  The communication refers to a process that began under the previous Government. However, this Government have set out one or two areas where they do not agree with the proposals approved under the previous Government. 

I have always been a Euro-agnostic, in that I am neither “phile” nor “phobe”. However, I have always accepted the inevitability that we would want to co-operate with our European neighbours, whether in commerce, security or other issues. At times, that may require us to give up some of our powers, in order to allow co-operation with other countries. Before anyone runs away with the

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idea that I am recommending that we entirely give away our sovereign powers, I point out that we do co-operate with the United Nations and others. For instance, there are areas where we allow our armed forces to be under the command of foreign officers, in order to co-operate in our international obligations. There is a precedent and a great deal of sense in co-operating in that way within our European community. 

It seems that the Government are sometimes forced to take positions to appease their more Eurosceptic Back Benchers rather than act entirely in the national interest. That seems to be what is driving the Government’s decision on human trafficking. I can see no reason why the Government would not want to be a signatory. It was included as a high priority in the coalition agreement in May last year. It is hard to understand why the Government would not want to participate fully in the discussions with our European neighbours on human trafficking, particularly given the strong support from the Liberal Democrat coalition partners. 

Will the Minister explain in more detail what is driving the Government to demur from participation in those discussions? If, as the Prime Minister has stated, the UK Government are going further than required by the communication in the ISS, what is the problem in signing up to being a full participant in those discussions? It does not seem to make any sense for the Government not to do so. 

Some of the independent lobbyists who are calling for the Government to be a full participant disagree with the Government’s claims that they are going beyond what they would be required to do if they were part of that draft. The CARE report, which was published a couple of weeks ago, states: 

“On 14 December the European Parliament (including all present British Conservative and Lib Dem MEPs) voted overwhelmingly for the Directive by 643 votes to 10, introducing amendments. Whilst some of the amendments have meant the UK is now in compliance with a couple of articles about which CARE was originally concerned, there are: a) still significant ongoing areas of non-compliance with the Directive and b) an important new provision in relation to support for child trafficking victims where the UK is now significantly less compliant than previously.” 

It cannot be consistent for the Government to say that they are going beyond what would be required if they were participating fully in discussions on the draft and for independent organisations to make statements of that kind. 

The report goes on to say that the Government are not compliant for the following reasons. They ignore forced begging as trafficking. They cannot prosecute crimes outside Britain where a UK national has committed a crime in another European country. They fail to provide universal access to safe accommodation and medical treatment of victims. They fail to investigate cases after a victim withdraws a statement and they do not offer victims support in criminal proceedings. Is the Minister proud of that record? I am not attacking him personally as I know he is a very fine fellow, but those are the criticisms that are being levelled at the UK and we cannot allow that to continue. Surely, if it is a priority for the coalition, as stated in the coalition agreement, we should seek to influence these matters in every debating chamber to which we have access. 

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The former Conservative MP, Anthony Steen, who is now chairman of the Human Trafficking Foundation, said: 

“The Prime Minister made it plain last year that he wished Britain to lead the way in eradicating modern slavery. Britain is now no more going to lead the way than Bulgaria or Greece will.” 

As I am sure the Minister is aware, every Conservative and Lib Dem MEP who was present voted in favour of the motion in the European Parliament. Indeed, Timothy Kirkhope, speaking on behalf of the European Conservatives and Reformists, stated: 

“It is still not perfect but the directive we have now is far better than the original proposal and, on balance, we felt that the human benefits would outweigh the concerns that we had.” 

Are these people wrong? Do we investigate cases where victims withdraw their statements? Vulnerable people who have been rescued from enforced prostitution, domestic slavery and many other horrible situations that they are trafficked into, are required to make statements against extremely violent and dangerous people who can be very threatening. Quite often the families back in their home countries suffer when they come forward to make statements. Therefore, if we are to be effective against human trafficking, it must follow that we would want to investigate any evidence that comes forward, even if the victim decides that they are too frightened to make a statement. 

The Minister may be aware that more than 60% of trafficked children who are taken into social services disappear from that care and are never heard of again. That happens here in the UK and it is an extraordinarily alarming situation, which we should address. Is the Minister concerned that although the number of prosecutions of traffickers appears to be remaining constant, the number of convictions is falling? Does the Minister have any comments on that, and why that might be? It causes concern when it is a matter that is growing in public awareness, and one that we are here legislating about; many pieces of relevant legislation have been through the House. One would expect as a result of all the resources that have gone into addressing the issue that the number of convictions would go up rather than down. Has the Minister any comments on that? 

Will the Minister consider altering the Government’s decision to reduce the amount of time that victims have to decide whether they will make a statement alleging that they have been trafficked? Such people are in a vulnerable state when they are first rescued, and reducing the time that an individual has to determine whether they will make a statement of that kind to 30 days seems regressive and unfair. I am told that only two countries in Europe take a similar line: Greece and Bulgaria. I will be corrected if I am wrong, but if that is the case perhaps we should reconsider our position on that and ensure that such vulnerable people are given adequate support, and the time that they need, to make that decision and come forward with the evidence that we need if we are really serious about dealing with human trafficking. 

The Government have said that they do not entirely support all the proposals in the Stockholm protocol. Can the Minister set out where that leaves us regarding the internal security strategy in the future? Might the Government want to renegotiate, or not sign up to, other areas in the internal security strategy? Alternatively,

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is it issues outside the security strategy that the Government do not support, other than the ones that are in the response to the communication? 

I have asked the Minister about harmonising legislation, and I have the following concern about it. If we are not prepared to co-operate and act in accord with our European neighbours, is it possible that we might be left behind and become effectively a loophole in the European Community for people who are committing cybercrime or shifting capital or money around? If we are not fully in compliance with what other European countries are doing, is there a possibility that we could be vulnerable in that regard? 

Will the Minister confirm whether the Government will continue to support the use of passenger record name data? Tomorrow, we will debate the DNA database; the Government plan to reduce both the scope for retaining DNA and the amount of time for which that information and fingerprint information are retained. However, on passenger record name data—I suspect that few people who take international flights are aware that their data are checked in this way—will it remain the case under the coalition that data are checked centrally? What does the future hold for the checking of internal flights in both the UK and the EU? Is there a plan to check those flights? If the Government support that proposal, what are the cost implications? 

Finally, we welcome the Government’s response to the communication, as far as it goes, but we are unfortunately disappointed that the Government have refused to co-operate entirely in some areas. We are concerned about the focus on co-operation and the reluctance to comply fully with the proposals as left by the previous Government. In particular, we oppose the Government’s position on human trafficking. We consider that to be an error on the Government’s part, and we hope that it will be corrected in the near future. We hope that they will become a full signatory to the draft directive, join in with discussions and ensure that the UK can influence the debate on how we tackle that evil crime, which is happening all too often in our communities. I look forward to hearing the Minister’s response. 

5.7 pm 

Tom Brake:  I rise simply to say that I welcome the Government’s positive attitude towards the EU’s internal security strategy. I am sure that, when Ministers look at such aspects as the EU cybercrime centre and the human trafficking directive, they will ensure that the Government focus on national interest, that they are looking at what is effective and that decisions about supporting those initiatives will be taken on that basis, rather than from a more ideological stance. At the end of the process of looking at the proposals, if the Government feel that it is appropriate to sign up to the EU human trafficking directive, I will be happy. 

5.8 pm 

Mr Donaldson:  Obviously, we all welcome the prospect of the Olympic games next year, but I have no doubt that they will make London an attractive target for not only international terrorists, but those who do not accept the current political structures in Northern Ireland and who want to make a name for themselves and to

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garner some publicity on the international stage. Although I would be in the ranks of the EU sceptics, I welcome security co-operation. We have seen the benefit of that between Northern Ireland and our EU partners in the Republic of Ireland over the years, and that has improved as time has passed and as trust and confidence have been developed. 

I note that one of the key objectives is the exchange of information. Intelligence gathering is obviously vital in frustrating the efforts of international terrorism and, indeed, terrorism in the United Kingdom itself. At times, I am concerned that, in the EU and in the wider Council of Europe, we put too much emphasis on the human rights of those who engage in unlawful activities and not enough emphasis on protecting the public. The document mentions protecting the privacy of individuals and their fundamental right to protection of personal data and does so in the context of efficient law enforcement in the EU, facilitated by information exchange. 

Will the Minister elaborate on what is meant by protecting the privacy of individuals in the context of information exchange? In Northern Ireland, we had very important intelligence structures in place to frustrate the efforts of terrorists, but we subsequently found that, far from being protected, those who passed information on to the security forces often found themselves exposed and faced a very high risk. Indeed, a number of them were murdered following their exposure. 

I should like to hear from the Minister about the Prevent strategy here in the United Kingdom. Where does it currently rest in the Home Office’s list of priorities? There is no doubt that work can be done with the communities and diasporas that have influence on terrorist organisations, or at least in the areas in which terrorists do their recruiting, training and so on. Where does the UK see its continuing commitment to the Prevent strategy here in the United Kingdom? What work has been undertaken at community level to implement the Prevent strategy? There has been some talk, but I know from my own contact with community activists in places such as Birmingham, Manchester and London that people are concerned that the resourcing for the Prevent strategy may not be available. 

The strategy to which we are signing up with our EU partners places a great emphasis on prevention. If we read the national security strategy, we see that it places a big emphasis on conflict prevention. There is no doubting the importance of that in the context of the diminishing capacity of the armed forces and the diminishing capacity of the UK to protect itself in terms of defence and security. 

We will increasingly rely on our European neighbours to provide intelligence and to co-operate with us. Many of the gateways into London during the run-up to the Olympics will be through European countries. So such co-operation is important, but it is also important, looking to the longer term, that we in the UK do the necessary work with communities to stop radicalisation and to prevent people from getting drawn into terrorism. We have seen that all too clearly in Northern Ireland. If it can happen in Belfast, it can, and is, also happening in Birmingham, Bradford, Leeds and other places. 

I am anxious to ascertain the balance that we are striking between co-operation with our European neighbours and the need to do our own work here at home to prevent radicalisation and recruitment into terrorist and international criminal networks. 

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5.13 pm 

Michael Connarty:  I apologise for leaving the Committee rather abruptly at the beginning, but I was slightly confused by the Minister’s statement that the European Scrutiny Committee has cleared these documents. I have since clarified that, and I am sure the Minister will put it on the record. 

The process that we go through is sometimes very confusing. The Council conclusions to which the Minister referred are draft Council conclusions. After the European Scrutiny Committee’s long struggle with the Government Whips in the previous Parliament, we agreed that draft conclusions would be sent to the Committee. Such draft conclusions are called documents limités in the Parliaments of the European Union. They are for our information. We do not therefore treat them as documents for clearance or not for clearance, but we do note them. 

The European Scrutiny Committee thanks the Minister for continuing the practice that we started. So we know in a sense where the Government are on this, but the only way to clear a document that has been sent for debate is by dealing with it after it has been debated. It cannot be cleared while we are debating it. There was a slight confusion about that. The European Scrutiny Committee made no comment on the draft conclusions. 

I also apologise for the secretariat’s assumption that, as I volunteered to serve on this Committee, I would wish to speak. The secretariat assumed that I would make up my own note, but that was not the case. As members of the Committee know, the European Scrutiny Committee has a new Chair. When I was the Chair, in the previous four years, I formally named the person who would be the Committee’s rapporteur, but that practice has slightly fallen by the wayside, so I hope that things will be clarified. This has happened in a couple of other Committees. 

Having missed the questions to the Minister, let me turn to the substance of the debate. I am sure that he will be delighted to know that between October and now the European Scrutiny Committee has referred a number of documents for debate. They include, for example, the directive on sexual abuse, exploitation of children and child pornography, as well as the measures on attacks on information systems. We have also specifically asked for a debate on the human trafficking directive. Therefore, there will be specific debates on those issues, as we move from the aspirations in the Stockholm programme to directives that the Government will, I hope, agree to. 

We have opted into the directive on sexual exploitation and the sexual abuse of children, but the Government have not yet told us, as I am sure my hon. Friend the Member for Eltham has said, whether they will opt into the final draft of the directive on human trafficking. However, the European Scrutiny Committee had what I hope was a good signal at its last meeting before the recess. The Government asked us to assist them by making their policy clear by 21 February. Of course, we refused, because that would have been a breach of our scrutiny reserve, which can be lifted only after an issue has been formally debated in a Committee such as this one. However, we hope that we are edging slowly but surely towards a situation where, even with the amendments that the Government have got through the process, we will all agree—we will, I hope, even persuade Denmark to agree—that all the countries of the European Union should sign up to the directive on human trafficking. 

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There is a fundamental issue about how we get the Stockholm process to work if we leave bits out. We have unity on a number of important things. We are talking here not about legislative matters, but about operational matters. In that respect, the Minister does not deviate greatly from the past Government’s position on trying to get the process working. The Standing Committee on Internal Security is unlike the Committee of Permanent Representatives, which is a Government-to-Government organisation that decides what legislation should come through the Council, in that it is operational and is intended to 

“facilitate, promote and strengthen operational action in the field of internal security involving national law enforcement bodies and, where appropriate, EU agencies such as Eurojust, Europol and Frontex.” 

The importance of that can be illustrated by a recent analysis of the work of Frontex. Frontex thinks that 8 million illegal persons are living in the EU at the moment, but I think that is a gross underestimate. The UK still has a somewhat permeable border, and I look forward to the day when it is part of the border arrangements set up under the Schengen agreement, because we stick out like a sore thumb at the moment. People can leave the Schengen area, which is protected by Frontex, and come into our country, which is, sadly, protected by a Border and Immigration Agency that is much depleted in its policing and administration. My aspirations are not necessarily those of the Government, but this will all be part of the Stockholm process. When the European Scrutiny Committee went to the Swedish presidency, it was clear that it saw European nations acting together as the only way to protect the EU’s borders and thereby the people in the countries of Europe who are affected by breaches of those borders. 

On resilience to crisis and disasters, we have seen so many disasters in the EU’s neighbouring countries. Our resilience and ability to deal with the great earthquake in Turkey meant that people from EU countries crossed into Turkey to give people aid and assistance. We have to work on that. We also have problems with our energy supply and security, and the EU is working on that through other directives. We are much more together than we are apart, and these issues are part of that. 

I have some reservations, which were reflected by the previous Government and I am sure by this Government, about the belief in Sweden that there should be a common asylum policy and that everybody should have the same rules for asylum. We now see what is happening in Libya and north Africa affecting the European Union directly, with the huge encampment of people in Malta, for example. The worry is that the number of people is not doubling and trebling only because the seas between Libya and Malta are so rough at this time. People are concerned that, when the seas are calmer, a flotilla of people will flee from north Africa—from Tunisia and Libya—into Europe. We can deal with that only if we act together, and that is what Frontex is about. We know that it rushes in. For example, when a lot of people arrived on the islands south of Spain, we sent a Frontex group there basically to recycle them, but we only got rid of most of those people because Libya decided that it would take them back. That is unlikely to happen at the moment. People move into Europe—once we heard this about Sicily—get a temporary visa and

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head for the channel ports to come to the United Kingdom. We can deal with that only if we deal with it together. 

The document is about doing the things that we do best as 27 countries and our neighbourhood countries, rather than trying to stay out of things and think that we can somehow throw a ring round the UK. I have spoken about this issue during debates on slavery and human trafficking. We cannot stop people from being trafficked into the UK by trying to throw a ring around the UK. This must be about the point of source and transit, as well as the point of exit and entry. That is what the document is about, and I hope that the Government will deal with that matter. 

The penultimate paragraph of the chapter under consideration states that 

“the Commission contemplates further legislation to establish common definitions of serious crimes and minimum levels of criminal sanctions as a means of tackling serious crime and disrupting criminal networks,”. 

The European Scrutiny Committee is not a partisan group, and there are deep concerns about the EU legislating for criminal definitions in our country, or any country. We have had problems in the past over apparently simple matters such as pollution from ships. A case was won at the European Court of Justice which stated that we had to criminalise every sea captain who had a polluting incident on coasts throughout the EU. That was the Court deciding what we should define as a criminal act. I am concerned that, again and again, the European Court of Justice takes an agreement and an agenda, perhaps through a directive, and turns it into a judgment. That could be called competence creep, and I reflect the position of the European Scrutiny Committee on that. We are concerned when the EU starts to define what is a criminal act in the UK or anywhere else. 

I apologise that I was not able to ask the Minister some questions about the process. The document states: 

“How active a role should the UK play in the initiatives proposed to implement the internal security strategy, and how might the UK best influence the shape and future direction of the strategy?” 

I do not know whether he tackled that question, but if the Minister answers it in his summing-up speech, he will have done justice to the aspirations of the Committee and we can move on. 

5.23 pm 

James Brokenshire:  This has been a helpful debate in the context of considering the internal security strategy and the Commissioner’s communication. To reiterate, the Government broadly welcome the Commission’s ongoing focus on EU internal security. As I have said, we largely agree with the priorities and practical approaches outlined in the Council’s strategy and the Commission’s communication, particularly those that will engender practical co-operation between member states and EU agencies. We are pleased that the strategy places emphasis on achieving a more holistic approach to internal security, with member states, agencies and other services working more closely together. We welcome the sharing of best practice and believe that future proposals must focus on enhancing practical co-operation rather than automatically

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introducing new legislation. Therefore, much work can be done on the practical co-operation side, which is something that I have said consistently throughout this Committee. 

Let me come back to the comments made by the hon. Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk on the clearance process. I appreciate what he said because, as he rightly pointed out, the technical procedures, practicalities and approach that are addressed through the scrutiny process in this House are not always widely appreciated and understood by all Members. Recognition of the procedures of Committees, especially in relation to the scrutiny that is applied to instruments and communications that come from the Commission—the very purpose of this Committee today—is a continuing process for all Members. 

The hon. Gentleman is right to say that the Commission’s communication remains subject to scrutiny pending this debate. It was important that he put that point on the record, and there is no difference between us on that. The Council conclusions themselves are not depositable, but given that they endorse the communication, we wrote to the European Scrutiny Committee seeking clearance of our position—in other words to support their adoption at the Council subject to some amendment. The Clerk wrote back, endorsing the Government’s position on the conclusions in advance of this debate. It was a practical issue to do with timing more than anything else. I hope that that is helpful in clarifying and confirming the status of this Committee and the status of the documents under scrutiny pursuant to this Committee. If the hon. Gentleman has any further points or questions, he is welcome to raise them. 

Michael Connarty:  I would be grateful if the Minister could clarify this point. He said that he received a reply to a letter from the Chair of the European Scrutiny Committee. Can he tell us the date of the reply? 

James Brokenshire:  I understand that we did receive a reply and I am happy to write to the hon. Gentleman with further details if that is of assistance to him. As I said, it was an issue of timing and practicality, and there was no wish to encroach on the position of this Committee and the appropriate role of scrutiny in relation to the document before us this afternoon. 

Hon. Members made several important points, and it is probably worth my commenting on some of them. The hon. Member for Eltham talked about the Stockholm approach and about security and crime issues more generally in the JHA area. He also asked which aspects were not fully endorsed by the coalition Government, given the comments that were made in some of the explanatory memorandums. I refer him to the evidence that I gave to the Lords European Union Committee on page 61 of the bundle. It highlighted that our concerns principally relate to establishing a European public prosecutor and the development of a common EU asylum system. I hope that helps answer the hon. Gentleman’s question. The hon. Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk crossed into some of those issues as well. 

The right hon. Member for Lagan Valley raised the issue of counter-terrorism when he asked about the Prevent strategy. The Home Secretary announced a review of that strategy last November. We hope that that review
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will report back within the next couple of months. EU co-operation on counter-terrorism can certainly multiply the effects of member states’ domestic efforts. Citizens benefit from good co-operation, many attacks have been prevented, and arrests and convictions have been secured. Working together makes Europe a safer place and ultimately makes the UK a safer place. However, it is worth highlighting that competence and primary responsibility for combating terrorism remains with individual member states and that national security is a competence of member states. Having said that, for the reasons that I have outlined, co-operation is extremely important in terms of the steps that have been taken to prevent terrorist attacks that would affect people in this country.

Some questions were raised about protection of rights. The Government are committed to protecting the security of our citizens and to protecting civil liberties. That point was made by the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington. To that end, the appropriate use of data is vital. However, that means that we should have the right safeguards to protect the data that need to be exchanged and to enable the data to be shared when it is necessary and proportionate to do so. In many ways, that reflects the broader data protection issues that underpin legislation in this country. We know that the Commission is examining the data protection directive and we expect further details about that to be made available later this year. However, in response to the work that the Commission has been undertaking in that regard, the Ministry of Justice has sought expert input during the last few months and it is currently analysing and assessing the information that it has received as part of that process, better to inform the subsequent debates on and consideration of the further communications from the Commission that we are expecting later this year. 

The hon. Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk highlighted ECJ jurisdiction. Without wishing to prolong this debate, I am sure that that issue will be a part of subsequent debates and of the consideration of the block opt-out and the third pillar measures, which will be considered properly as part of the statement made by my colleague, the Minister for Europe, about their assessment. I am sure that the issue of ECJ jurisdiction will be a particular part of the consideration of that decision, and I am equally sure that it will form part of the consideration of the European Scrutiny Committee and the subsequent consideration by the House more broadly of these matters. 

Regarding passenger name records and the Government’s approach to that, obviously Members will be aware that the PNR directive has been published. The Government are carefully considering whether to opt in to the directive and we will inform Parliament as soon as that decision is made. Our deadline for notifying the presidency is 2 May. We consider the use of PNR data to be a proven and vital tool for the prevention and detection of serious crime and terrorism. The Government have long recognised the value of PNR data in combating a wide range of illicit activities. We will consider the directive carefully and as I have said we will communicate our conclusions as soon as possible. 

We are cognisant of the point that the hon. Member for Eltham made about the provision for data collection on intra-EU routes and that that provision was not

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contained in the proposed EU PNR directive on publication. The UK is keeping that under close review, and there has been dialogue at official level, given that we consider that the EU PNR data are important, and potentially an important part of providing protection to citizens against terrorism and related matters. 

Many of the hon. Gentleman’s comments related to the human trafficking directive. The UK is committed to working with others, including our European partners, to prevent human trafficking. The hon. Gentleman is right that the Government have made a decision not to opt in to the proposed EU directive on human trafficking at the outset, but to review the position once the directive is adopted by member states, when we can apply to opt in retrospectively. 

The UK has a strong record in the fight against trafficking, and already complies in both legislation and practice with most of what will be required by the draft directive. The draft directive contains no operational co-operation measures from which the UK would benefit, as I have said. Although it will help improve how other EU states combat trafficking, it would make little practical difference to how the UK does so. Negotiations on the text of the directive have ended, and a text has been agreed. We are therefore reviewing our decision not to opt in and will inform Parliament when we have reached a conclusion about the final text. 

Human trafficking is a brutal form of organised crime, in which people are treated as commodities and exploited for criminal gain. Combating human trafficking is a key priority for the Government, who are committed to tackling organised crime groups that profit from human misery, and to protecting victims. The proposed national crime agency will combat organised crime, including trafficking, more effectively. It will contain a border police command that will enhance national security, improve immigration controls and crack down on the trafficking of people, weapons and drugs. It is an important part of our mechanism to combat human trafficking. 

As I have said, we are still considering the text of the directive, and in due course we will communicate our final decision to Parliament about whether to opt in retrospectively. 

Clive Efford:  The criticisms of the Government are not only from the Opposition, but from independent bodies engaged with supporting victims of trafficking and tackling that evil crime. They are highly critical of the Government’s position on supporting victims and, because we will not be part of the directive, our ability to pursue people through the courts. Is the Minister concerned about that? I note that the issue is under review, which I welcome, but is he concerned that the UK is seen as a pariah on the issue, and out of step with our European neighbours? 

James Brokenshire:  I absolutely do not accept that the UK is a pariah in any way, shape or form. Indeed, this country has led the way in so many ways on the issue of trafficking. 

The protection of victims is a fundamental part of our anti-trafficking efforts. Our aim is to ensure that victims receive the right protection. Victims of trafficking are identified through the national referral mechanism. Over the period until March 2010, more than 760 potential

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victims were referred, including 179 children, and we very much wish to follow through on that. Identified victims are offered support, including an extendable 45 day recovery period, accommodation, advocacy, counselling and legal advice. In addition, victims might be entitled to a temporary residence permit and reintegration assistance if they return home. I do not accept that there is a lack of support for victims; there is support. The Government take trafficking extremely seriously, for the reasons that I have identified. 

More generally, as I have indicated, Council conclusions on the Commission’s communication on internal security were agreed last Thursday. The next steps are for the Commission to come up with specific proposals based on the strategy, and for COSI to take forward the practical co-operation measures suggested. We will, of course, keep the parliamentary European scrutiny

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Committees updated as new European proposals emerge. The Commission is tasked with making an annual report to COSI on the state of internal security, and will do so by the end of the year. 

With those comments, I hope that the Committee is minded to support the motion. 

Question put and agreed to. 

Resolved, 

That the Committee takes note of European Union Document No. 16797/10, relating to a Commission Communication on the EU Internal Security Strategy in Action: Five steps towards a more secure Europe; and supports the Government’s aim of working with other Member States to strengthen the security of EU citizens, with a strong preference for practical cooperation over new EU legislation where appropriate. 

5.40 pm 

Committee rose.