Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Bruce of Donington: My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Lord for allowing me to intervene. He said that I viewed the European Parliament as useless. I have never said that. Indeed, I was an active Member of it for four years. I do not feel that it is all that effective, but

6 Jun 1995 : Column 1323

that is neither here nor there. What I had in mind in the context of this debate was the role of the European ombudsman, who appears not yet to have materialised.

Lord Bethell: Well, we do not need to bring up all over again the Maastricht debates, when words which perhaps we have now done our best to forget flew across the Chamber. But the noble Lord is quite right to raise the question of the ombudsman. He is the first speaker to do so. The Minister may care to refer to that at the end of our proceedings today.

I believe that at the moment there is a role for the MEP in representing constituents over third pillar issues, including Europol, just as there is a role for the national parliamentarian to represent constituents on the national scene. I hope that both will be used. When the Home Secretary appeared before the sub-committee, he seemed rather to down-play the role of the European Parliament in this issue. But I refer your Lordships to Article K.6 in the Maastricht agreement, which says quite clearly that the European Parliament has the right to be consulted—not just informed—over these issues.

Some interesting comments have been made about the crimes which could fall within the purview of Europol. It is quite right that we have begun rather slowly. We have begun before we have any legal basis in place, so far as I can see. I understand that doubts have been raised about whether the present unit has from time to time exceeded its legal entitlements. But I believe that it has begun to work well in providing an exchange of information on drugs and serious crimes connected with drugs. I can see no reason why it should not be expanded to deal with vehicle crimes and the very serious matter of crimes involving nuclear material. It is surely essential that such a terrible crime, which could threaten us all, should be tackled on the international level as well as on a national basis—if one likes, not only within Europol but, by agreement, with governments and the law enforcement agencies of all countries where there is nuclear material.

As for terrorism, I suggest that after the statutory two years, it would make sense to begin by exchanging information within Europol, which we hope by then will be thoroughly legal, on terrorism which is non-indigenous. I have in mind terrorism that originates outside the European Union. I can understand that there may be some hesitancy on the part of law enforcement agencies of the Union to pool information that they have on terrorists or terrorist suspects and put it into that great machine in The Hague. Such information is not garnered easily. It is often acquired after exposing police agents to danger and maybe even bloodshed. It is not given away to anyone on an easy basis. So a step forward would be to start with non-indigenous terrorism.

For the future, I wonder whether it would make sense for that body to begin looking into specifically European Union crimes. I have in mind European agricultural fraud, which costs our taxpayers huge sums of money. It is a matter which the Commission is meant to look into but it does so rather inefficiently, without proper attention or despatch. If one has, for better or worse, a European Union police body, could it not tackle the very costly question of European Community fraud? Already, the Commission in Brussels has operational powers. It has the

6 Jun 1995 : Column 1324

ability to launch dawn raids on enterprises or individuals in order to acquire documents and can impose arbitrarily severe fines on enterprises and individuals. Would it make sense eventually, if we are reaching a stage at which an operational role for Europol could be considered, to consider European fraud? I believe that that is an aspect of the European Union's work which will be broadly welcomed by the people of the United Kingdom, and even by those who are sceptical about many other aspects of the European Union's work.

The sub-committee is to be congratulated on having produced this document. It is an admirable analysis of the problems raised and the opportunities presented to us. I give it my unqualified support.

7.17 p.m.

Lord Hacking: My Lords, one of the pleasures of serving on your Lordships' committees is witnessing the continuity of our work. There has been no greater pleasure for me than serving on the Law and Institutions Sub-Committee of your Lordships' European Communities Committee.

So we can witness the continuity of our work, as we did in our report, at paragraph 78, when we referred back to our border control report of some five or five-and-a-half years ago. In noting that from 1992 onwards there was likely to be a much greater movement of people of all kinds across borders, we stated that,

    "Co-operation and common action against those who break the law must indeed be carried forward".

There is another continuity, which is now a poignant one. Our report on the protection of personal data was the first report to be chaired by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Slynn, when he became chairman of the sub-committee. Regrettably, the report that your Lordships are now considering is one of the last that will be delivered to this House from the sub-committee by the noble and learned Lord under his present tenure as chairman.

When we took evidence in our inquiry on the data protection directive, we received some very disturbing evidence from Liberty. We were told of a number of serious incidents of deprivation of human liberty. I suppose that up to a dozen examples were given to us. I shall recount three to the best of my ability.

First, there was the account of a lady from Germany who used to enjoy taking holidays in Italy—that is, until she went through the experience I am about to relate to your Lordships. On starting one of her holidays she booked into a modest hotel or hostel. In the middle of the night her hotel bedroom was stormed by armed Italian police who seized her and took her off for a long period of interrogation. When she returned to Germany she protested to the authorities there and established with them, as was correct, that she was not a member of the Baader-Meinhof gang. She asked for that information to be corrected and, as I understand it, the German authorities were obliging and said that it would be corrected.

The lady then took a second holiday in Italy and this time, as she was getting in or out of her car, she was again surrounded by armed Italian police, again

6 Jun 1995 : Column 1325

mistaking her for a member of the Baader-Meinhof gang, who took her off for interrogation. Even though she protested once more when she returned to Germany, and waited for four or five years, another similar incident occurred. I understand that the lady no longer takes her holidays in Italy.

The second example that was given to us when we were conducting the inquiry concerned a family from the Midlands who were taking a holiday in Portugal. As I recall it, there was a husband and wife—a mother and father—and two young sons. Outside their hotel, shortly after their arrival for this holiday in Portugal, they were surrounded by Portuguese police. They were all thrust into a police van and driven at high speed to a nearby police station. They were then subjected to considerable inquiries and the husband of the family was locked in gaol for 48 hours. He did not speak a word of Portuguese and the proceedings were conducted in that language. It was only through the assistance of the British Consul that he was released. It transpired that the family had been arrested on the incorrect information that the husband had been indulging in criminal or terrorist activities. Presumably that information was supplied from some source in this country.

The third example concerns an employee at Stansted Airport on the eve—or perhaps I should say the morning—of the Queen opening the airport. On that morning the employee opened his front door to the British police who were standing there. They instantly arrested him and with a search warrant gained access to his house. They took possession of a number of documents and video tapes from his home. It transpired that three or four years earlier that employee had been taking a holiday in Europe. During the course of the holiday he and his wife had given a lift to a hitch-hiker over the French-Spanish border in the Pyrenees. It transpired also that photographs were taken of the hitch-hiker, some of which were retained in the hitch-hiker's camera. The hitch-hiker was later arrested as a suspected IRA terrorist. Based upon the photographs, which also recorded the car registration number, the employee of Stansted Airport had a wholly humiliating and distressing experience for himself and his family.

I cite those three examples to your Lordships because when we came to consider the implications of them during our deliberations on the protection of personal data, we came to the conclusion, at paragraph 116, that:

    "There is little benefit to the individual in being protected from an unwanted charitable appeal from unfair loading of his insurance premiums or denial of credit if he is not also protected from conviction abroad on the basis of suspect police evidence or from mistaken arrest as a supposed terrorist".

The difficulty that we found when writing the report was that police and counter-terrorism co-operation lay outside the competence of the European Community and therefore we could not make recommendations of changes of text in the draft directive. The best that we could recommend was that member states should agree a Resolution to deal with what we considered to be a serious problem. As far as I know—this is somewhat regrettable—the Resolution has not been agreed.

6 Jun 1995 : Column 1326

I do not know whether Interpol was involved in the dissemination of any of the information relating to the three incidents. But I can say to the noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Donington, that under Interpol there was and is no protection to any of the individuals involved. None of the individuals had right of access to the data information nor the right to have it corrected. So it was, when we came to consider this matter in our deliberations on the Europol Convention, that we looked with close scrutiny, as described by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Slynn, at Articles 17 and 18. I believe that this is an important matter and perhaps your Lordships will forgive me if I read in full part of the text to which the noble and learned Lord referred. The paragraph states, as an exception to the right to have access to information, that:

    "If the personal data are stored in documents, information shall be provided only if the effort involved in providing it is not disproportionate to the interest in the information stated by the data subject".

As the noble and learned Lord, Lord Slynn, said, those words caused us considerable worry. We were also concerned in Article 17, as he said, about another exception to the right of access to data when there was conflict with,

    "the proper performance of the European task".

We believe that there should be a much closer definition in those words if protection is to be provided to individuals.

I am grateful to my noble friend for sending me a copy of the Government's response to our report. I was glad to note at the beginning of the response that it stated that the Government entirely agree that:

    "Europol, like all organisations operating within the criminal justice system, must be clearly accountable for its policies and actions. Our approach to the present negotiations and to the organisation's establishment and operation has been based on that important principle".

I felt on reading those words that we were getting off on the right foot—and, indeed, I think we were. But what was worrying, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Slynn, said, is that we learnt later in the report that that area was still subject to negotiation and that the Government can go only so far in saying that they agree,

    "that effective subject access provisions are essential and that exceptions should be no wider than strictly necessary".

I should be grateful if my noble friend could help us more about that. It is a matter of concern shared by all members of our sub-committee.

I do not want to get deeply involved in the debate over the European Court of Justice because, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Slynn, and my noble friend Lord Aldington have said, in the greater part of our deliberations all members of the committee were agreed. However, we did part company over the role of the European Court of Justice. It was very nice to be refreshed again with the arguments of my noble friend Lord Aldington which he so cogently presented to the committee. We have read the Government's response. I need not read it to your Lordships, although I have some difficulty in understanding why the Government are still showing reluctance.

6 Jun 1995 : Column 1327

I certainly have a better understanding during our debates of what my noble friend Lord Aldington was saying. There is a strong case to keep out the European Court of Justice, and other institutions of the European Community, of the two new pillars based on government co-operation. We wholly understand that. The difficulty is that it is not in the area of government co-operation that the concern lies, but in the interpretation of the convention in different national courts. There is also the problem to which the noble and learned Lord has drawn our attention of disputes between one member state and another as regards the convention.

My noble friend Lord Aldington expressed, as he did earlier, a worry that the issue of the European Court could be a cause for delay of the ratification. I certainly hope that my noble friend will assure us that this will not be the case. It is very comforting to read the final words of the response where it states:

    "However, the Government will consider the Committee's recommendations further in the context of continuing discussion".

May that be so.

7.32 p.m.

Lord Hooson: My Lords, from these Benches I should like to add my congratulations to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Slynn of Hadley, Sub-Committee E and the Select Committee, on a very important report. It has already been adverted to that this convention still has blanks within it. I hope that they will be filled with an appreciation of the thrust of this report with which I very much agree.

The need for Europol itself is not in issue. Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, for example, the German police authorities have reported a six-fold increase in the number of cases suspected of involving nuclear material. Spain and the Netherlands in particular have been concerned about the increase in drug-related crime, all internationally organised. We in this country have been in the forefront of international action to control money laundering because of London's leading position as a financial market.

The idea of Europol was launched years ago. It had particular publicity in 1991, but nevertheless, despite the need for Europol being beyond dispute, we still lack any formal international agreement. Organised crime is not dragging its feet even if governments are. Organised crime is taking full advantage of the greater freedom of movement across borders, while Europe cannot agree over a regulatory framework for Europol. It is a matter of urgency.

I very much appreciated the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Knights, on this particular point. He rightly drew the distinction between Interpol and Europol. They are totally different organisations. Europol is going to be an accountable organisation, but Interpol is not. I am surprised that the noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Donington, was not concerned about the democratic deficit in Interpol.

Meanwhile, member states have pressed ahead with the Europol Drugs Unit because they had to. Its activities have been extended under ministerial agreements but, as

6 Jun 1995 : Column 1328

the noble and learned Lord, Lord Slynn, pointed out, they apparently have no legal force. Moreover, its activities are not subject to common rules on data protection. It is unclear what remedy, if any, would be available to any individual who suffered damage as a result of its actions.

I merely point out these matters because they underline the importance of seeking an agreement on a regulatory framework as soon as possible. Furthermore, the very successes of the Europol Drugs Unit illustrate the benefits that would flow from the institution of a wider Europol. For example, in his evidence to the Select Committee the Home Secretary outlined the matter of the large consignment of drugs which were found on a ship in Greece. Intelligence from Belgium, France and the United Kingdom was brought together with the Europol Drugs Unit within one hour and was passed on to the Greek Europol liaison officer. That led to three crew members being arrested within 24 hours. That is one example of what international co-operation entails.

Perhaps I may say as one who was engaged in practice at the Bar until very recently, that the great British public are taking a very long time to appreciate how very well organised and sophisticated international crime syndicates are. Apart from the areas which come within the remit of the EDU, the methods of communication available to the police forces of Europe are relatively primitive. In the common struggle against organised crime a modern intelligence super-highway is required, with a central body which has the capacity to analyse intelligence.

I very much appreciate the point that one does not want Europol to become operational. It should not be investigating farm subsidy frauds, which are matters for the national authorities. Europol wants to be a central data-collecting body capable of passing on intelligence at speed because undoubtedly the gangs with which it is dealing are doing so at speed and using all possible modern communications. The increased mobility that people enjoy nowadays means that criminals have more opportunities to exploit any gaps in law enforcement structures. It is vital that those gaps are closed.

Drug-trafficking cartels target Europe as a single target. They decide which is the advantageous point at which to enter, whether by sea into the United Kingdom; whether by air into somewhere else; or whether to use the eastern European borders and so on. They target Europe as a single market. Links between the member states need to be formalised so that intelligence over a broad range of crimes can be pooled. Only in that way can the increasingly sophisticated activities of organised criminals be countered effectively.

It seems to me that one of the mistakes of the Euro-sceptics is that they criticise, for example, the disappearance of national boundaries. They are also very reluctant to support effective measures to bring into being new organisations which deal with the problems that arise when national boundaries disappear. The noble Lord, Lord Bethell, referred to the fact that the noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Donington, regarded the European Parliament as being pretty useless or ineffective. Perhaps I may say to the noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Donington, that I am sure

6 Jun 1995 : Column 1329

that he would be much more worried if he thought that the European Parliament was effective, and one would have much more criticism of it.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page