Examination of witnesses (Questions 20 - 39)|
TUESDAY 9 DECEMBER 1997
Ms JOYCE QUIN
and MR PETER
Lord Wedderburn of Charlton
20. My Lord Chairman, I was just going to ask the Minister
what would have to be added to Europol to make it a recognisable
fledgling FBI in the sense that the exchange of information is
of the essence of power for police authorities and no doubt some
simple matters such as powers of arrest which they may not have.
With the immunities what big steps should be taken if it was to
be what was suggested?
(Ms Quin) Oh, I think that it would have to be
a completely different organisation.
21. An executive authority?
(Ms Quin) Exactly, an organisation which recruited
and trained and employed people. It would really be a European
police force in a way that is totally different from the kind
of organisation that it is now and, in fact, it is hard to see
Europol in its existing form developing into such an organisation.
It would almost need, if countries wanted to do that - and I do
not see that they do - to be a completely separate initiative
to set up some kind of European police force and European police
authority. May I say, however, that the role, indeed, the role
of the kind of precursor of Europol which already exists and which
has a desk in the National Criminal Intelligence Service in London,
is very useful. What has always seemed to me to be a paper and
theoretical subject came to light when I visited the National
Criminal Intelligence Service and talked to people involved in
the work and how this exchange of information had actually led
to serious and dangerous criminals being apprehended, so I would
certainly like to commend the usefulness of the work. It seemed
to me that such co-operation does have very real results.
Lord Wedderburn of Charlton] It was, in fact, the
evidence taken by Sub-Committee E on the National Criminal Intelligence
Service of someone who came to tell us about NCIS a couple of
years ago which made perhaps my imagination become too vivid.
Lord Wallace of Saltaire
22. I just note that Article K.2 2.(a) does intend to
"enable Europol to facilitate and support ... specific investigative
actions ... including operational actions of joint teams comprising
representatives of Europol". Now I think that we are all
torn in two directions. We very much want to see effective international
multinational operations against international organised crime,
but we recognise that we are getting in to a very delicate area
where police would be operating across borders with particular
immunities, and I think that that is an area that we would all
like to signal that this Committee would certainly like to have
a very active oversight of.
(Ms Quin) I understand that. I think that Europol
is really based on co-operative action on the part of Member States
and Member States' authorities. None the less it certainly is
an area where I believe Parliament should take an active interest
because, as you say, it is an area that potentially is of sensitivity
and certainly if further proposals are going to come forward,
those proposals would need, I believe, to be considered widely,
including at parliamentary level.
23. May we move on to customs co-operation and can you
tell us what the current status is of the Customs Information
Service, the CIS? How many Member States have ratified that?
(Ms Quin) My Lord Chairman, the Customs Information
Service database is not operational. It is still being developed
by the Commission and they expect to have it ready by spring of
1998. Only Denmark and the United Kingdom have ratified the Convention,
which I know is another area that you were interested in, but
so far as the database is concerned it is not, should I say operational
or up and running.
24. And what needs to be done to make it operational?
(Ms Quin) I must say, my Lord Chairman, I am not
absolutely sure on that. I do not know whether Mr Edwards has
any information about what further steps need to be made. As I
say, we have been advised that it ought to be ready by the spring
of 1998, so that is not very far off. Presumably good progress
is being made.
(Mr Edwards) My Lord Chairman, I would only add
that the key to this is for all the Member States to ratify the
Convention. As the Minister said, so far only Denmark and the
United Kingdom have done so. The Commission will no doubt be forging
ahead with their preparation of the database, but until all the
Member States have ratified or at least a majority of them - I
do not think that full ratification by every Member State is actually
required in the case of this Convention, but at least a majority
have to ratify - until that has happened the database cannot become
(Ms Quin) Certainly the High Level Group on Organised
Crime recommended and encouraged Member States to ratify the Convention,
all of them, by the end of 1998.
25. Now the work programme states that the Presidency
intends to follow up the Joint Action on memoranda of understanding
between customs administrations and the business community and
the Resolution on police/customs co-operation. Can you tell us
what further action is envisaged in this area?
(Ms Quin) Questionnaires about this have been
issued during the current Presidency and the United Kingdom Presidency
will have to collect and collate that information. It will also
need to be analysed in order to consider the need for further
action. In our Presidency we will be providing reports to Council
on the Joint Action and the Resolution.
26. Let us move on to asylum and immigration then. Can
you tell us what progress has been made on the draft Eurodac Convention?
(Ms Quin) A certain amount of progress has been
made, but there are still a number of issues which need to be
both considered and resolved. The Luxembourg Presidency had initially
hoped to reach agreement on this by the end of the year, but not
all the outstanding difficulties have been resolved. It was discussed
at the Justice and Home Affairs Council briefly last week where
certain articles of the Convention were "frozen" and
agreed and others were referred to further discussion in order
to try to achieve agreement on them. Other aspects relate to the
European Court of Justice's role which I know is something that
you have considered in this Committee on many occasions in respect
to other instruments and there have also been quite a lot of discussions
about data retention and the rights of the data subject to have
access to information on Eurodac. I do not know whether Mr Edwards
would like to add anything to that.
(Mr Edwards) I think not, my Lord Chairman. As
the Minister says, some progress was made at the Council last
week, but there remains a number of quite knotty issues yet to
be resolved and it will be the intention of the United Kingdom
Presidency to try to get as far with the resolution of those issues
as we possibly can and obviously if we could bring the Convention
to a conclusion by the time of our final Justice and Home Affairs
Council that would be a very good triumph to chalk up for the
27. How far are you looking ahead to enlargement in relation
to Eurodac? What support can we give to applicant countries?
(Ms Quin) In the immediate future we are considering
it on the basis very much of the existing European Union. None
the less asylum and immigration aspects are important in terms
of relationships with the applicant countries and the countries
of central and eastern Europe, and at the Justice and Home Affairs
Council there was discussion about the different ways in which
the Member States can help the applicant countries in terms of
training and exchanges and co-operation in the field of asylum
and immigration. We certainly believe that that is an important
area for us to work on together in order to help prepare a successful
enlargement, particularly given, of course, the new borders that
would emerge as a result of that enlargement process.
28. That is right. Again I come back to Hungary because
there is this great difficulty with the Hungarian border that
there is a free movement of Hungarian nationals over the border
from Romania and Slovakia and no one yet seems to have worked
out how that is going to be tackled if Hungary comes into the
Community and the others do not.
(Ms Quin) Yes, obviously we are dealing - at this
stage hypothetically - with some difficult issues here. All the
countries involved hope to be members of the European Union, although
Hungary is likely to be in the first wave, so certainly the arrangements
that govern that new external frontier will be very important.
We hope that some of the work through such things as the proposed
Odysseus Programme on exchanges and training on asylum and immigration
matters would help and I also believe that it is already possible
under the PHARE programme for initiatives to take place and, indeed,
the United Kingdom has been active in certain of the applicant
countries in making available advice, information, on these issues
in order to do our bit to help prepare this process.
29. It may be hypothetical at the moment, but it is not
all that far down the track when it will cease to become a hypothetical
question and become entirely practical?
(Ms Quin) No, I accept that, my Lord Chairman.
Lord Wallace of Saltaire
30. If I may add to that, in the defence field the British
Government and its partners through NATO are involved in very
extensive training programmes, partnerships for peace, with all
the applicant countries, and I am not aware that we are doing
anything on the same scale in police, border controls, the various
other activities there. Given the level of organised immigration
trying to come in through those countries it seems to me that
there is an immediate argument for doing it now. Since the scale
of the training that they need is going to take five years or
more it seems to me that this would be very much one of the things
that the British Presidency might wish to push for the Community
as a whole but also something which our police colleges and other
such bodies might with to expand themselves.
(Ms Quin) Yes, I very much agree with you, and
you are right that these activities where they are taking place
are not on the same scale as the activities which are included
in the partnerships for peace process. We do, because of our stress
on the fight against organised crime as part of our own United
Kingdom Presidency, also intend to make that a priority in our
relationship with the countries of central and eastern Europe
and, indeed, more widely. I mentioned at the outset that our involvement
in G8 and in other international organisations means that we need
to take the fight against organised crime on a wider basis as
well. One of the areas where we are keen on consolidating work
is the relationship with Russia in this respect, and stepping
up efforts to work with them in the fight against organised crime,
so we are very conscious of this. We certainly want to flag this
up as an important area during our Presidency and intensify work
on it both in our bilateral relations with the countries concerned
and, of course, through the European Union.
31. But if I may return to the question put by the Chairman
about Hungary, I think that we have perhaps a particular difficulty
there because we more than any other Member State have been speaking
encouragingly about accession of the central and eastern European
countries, yet during our Presidency this is an issue where we
are going to be tougher perhaps than any of the others because
what we are going to have to suggest, I suppose, as the Presidency
is that the Hungarians install a new form of visa or import control
over their citizens living in these other two countries and they
are going to have to invent a completely new system. Here are
the British, who have always given them encouraging noises, being
tougher than all the others put together, and if we can hope to
adopt it in the way which has been suggested by officials they
will have new systems. I do not know what travel documents people
have - do Hungarians living in Transylvania have Hungarian passports?
If so, they are not going to be able to have them in the future,
(Ms Quin) If I may say so, my Lord Chairman, I
think that a lot of assumptions are being made about negotiations
which have not even really got under way on these issues. I do
not think that it is right to say that we are being tougher than
everybody else put together. Having participated in discussions
at the Justice and Home Affairs Council on asylum and immigration
I know that there is a lot of concern in Germany and other countries
about large scale migration from eastern Europe and beyond and
great concern that already there has been very considerable migration
and a lot of that movement is still being absorbed, and to make
the problems more difficult in the future would be very difficult
for existing European countries. Therefore, I do not believe that
we are being somehow tougher or more difficult than other countries,
but in the accession negotiations we do have to take into account
a huge range of different considerations and when we are looking
at countries obviously we have to understand their situation in
regard to people who may have affinity with their country but
who are outside that country and we have to look at those issues
in the context of the wider need to try to ensure that there is
not large scale migration on a general level from the east and
eastern part of the European continent. However, I must say that
a lot of these issues have still got to be worked out in detail
and I would certainly not want to prejudge the outcome at this
32. What I was suggesting was that it falls to us as
the Presidency to expose these problems which are widely seen
throughout the Community and necessarily to be tough, that it
will be our role as the Presidency to try to get them to grapple
with these problems.
(Ms Quin) The Presidency obviously has a tremendous
role in facilitating European Union business; and it does have
to respond to the concerns of the European Union Members as a
(Mr Edwards) My Lord Chairman, may I just add
perhaps that while we certainly hope, subject to what comes out
of the Luxembourg Summit this weekend, that the negotiations with
a number of applicant countries will begin during our Presidency,
there really is very little prospect of those negotiations actually
concluding during our Presidency. They will go on for a considerable
number of Presidencies very probably, and in our Presidency we
expect only to begin the process of screening the applicants to
see how far they are at present able to take on the Community
and European Union acquis, to which, of course, is now going to
be added the Schengen acquis.
33. Are you confident that there is no illusion in the
minds of the applicants, particularly Hungary, about the significance
that within the Community we place on the kind of topics that
we have been discussing? There must be a risk that they will think
they want to join the Community but when push comes to shove they
will not actually take these things as seriously as they say now?
(Ms Quin) I do not think that that is a problem.
One of the advantages is that there has been a good level of involvement
already on the part of applicant countries in terms of dialogue
with existing European Union Members. Often this is attached to
Council meetings - for example, in the Justice and Home Affairs
Council last week, at the end of that Council meeting there was
what we call a structured dialogue with the countries of central
and eastern Europe, including not only those likely to be in the
first wave but all those who have an interest in joining and have
applied to join. I think that through those structures the applicant
countries are very much aware of existing European Union countries'
34. Minister, the Chairman has been so astonished at
my unaccustomed silence that he suggested that I might raise with
you the question of legal aid, which is obviously highly relevant
particularly today because several members of this Committee,
as you will know, are taking part in the debate that is going
on downstairs at this moment. May I ask you then whether in the
course of our Presidency we do intend to bring forward any proposals
for the harmonisation of access to legal aid in civil and criminal
cases in the European Union or is it a little premature at the
moment in the light of our present position?
(Ms Quin) We do not have any plans to do this.
Obviously, as you will be very well aware, legal aid in terms
of ministerial responsibility falls within the remit of the Lord
Chancellor and therefore it is not a matter that I have day to
day involvement with, but we do not have any plans to bring forward
such a proposal.
35. Is that as a result of a decision in principle or
because we are simply not likely to be ready to do so?
(Ms Quin) Well, it is not an area which we see
as an area of obvious European Union or Community competence so
in that sense, yes, there is a principle involved, but I think
also that it is not an area where other countries are pushing
for agreement. Obviously the Presidency has a duty to respond
to the issues, as I said in answer to an earlier question, that
Member States are particularly keen to raise.
36. May I just pick you up on that point, Minister. You
say that you do not believe that it is within the Community competence
as a matter of principle, as it were. Is that a view which is
shared in other countries?
(Ms Quin) I am not sure, my Lord Chairman. It
is not an issue that I have discussed with other countries because
it has not been on the agenda or brought forward as an item for
discussion with other countries, so I certainly would not want
to misrepresent their position. However, as far as I am aware
there is certainly no general movement in favour of putting forward
a proposal of that kind.
Lord Wallace of Saltaire
37. I should really like to pursue the external relations
dimension, which seems to me very active. The work programme document
that you sent us had a great deal on Council of Europe relations
with the United States, G8, the Presidency and a range of other
multilateral organisations in which clearly relations between
the European Union and the United States appeared to be the most
sensitive. Can you tell us a little more about how much time that
takes up and how difficult it is, and also how that relates to
G8, which is the Community plus the United States plus others?
(Ms Quin) Certainly the United Kingdom Government
is going to be challenged in the amount of European and international
activity it is going to be involved in in the next six months.
Our approach is obviously to try to make sure that there is as
little duplication as possible, yet at the same time that European
action does not become a focus to the detriment of other important
international work that we need to carry out. Relations with the
United States in the fight against organised crime certainly are
one of our priority areas although we do believe that other European
Union countries share our thinking that that is very important.
I also mentioned the important work to be done in similar fields
with Russia, which is also again something that seems to be echoed
by our European Union partners. The Council of Europe's work is
very important. I suppose that is one area where duplication sometimes
is possible. We certainly believe that it is important for the
European Union's work to be co-ordinated with the Council of Europe's
work in very many of these areas. Indeed, in some of these areas
the Council of Europe was the pioneer, and we need to recognise
that, and the fact that that also can be a very useful vehicle
for involving European countries who are not in the European Union
but who are now members of the Council of Europe. Certainly in
the work on such areas as corruption there has been very much
a feeling that we need to go hand in hand with the Council of
Europe and not promote measures that would in any way conflict
with it but perhaps would help to enhance the Council of Europe's
work in that respect. It is customary for the incoming Presidency
of the European Union to produce a paper outlining their plans
for third country relations during the period of their Presidency.
We are preparing such a document and we hope that that will be
finalised in the immediate future.
38. May I just press you on the transatlantic dimension.
Clearly the United Kingdom must have very active transatlantic
relations with the United States in a lot of these areas, including
the Caribbean, but there is also now this extensive European Union/United
States dimension and I do not quite see where G8 fits into all
of this. You mentioned the desirability of limiting duplication.
The picture opens up of tired Home Office officials dashing from
one meeting to another and writing different versions of the same
paper for three or four different meetings. Is it as bad as that?
(Ms Quin) Well, it certainly is quite a difficult
challenge to meet. Perhaps I should ask a potentially tired official
from the Home Office to respond!
(Mr Edwards) My Lord Chairman, I am an already
tired official of the Home Office! Yes, we do recognise that there
is a risk of duplication between bodies, particularly like the
G8, and the European Union and consequently our Presidency of
both during 1998 is really a godsend and gives us an opportunity
to try to make sure that their two work programmes in the area
of crime do tie up with one another. We have been working busily
on that within both fora. Within Europe we have been trying to
ensure that some of the thinking of the G8 on tackling organised
crime is also brought into the minds of our European Union partners.
I am thinking here of what we have come to describe as the project
based approach to tackling crime which focuses on practical measures
to deal with particular crime problems, particular criminal organisations.
We want to transplant that approach from the G8 where it is developing
quite well under British patronage into a European Union context
and try to get our partners also to sign up to it. Similarly the
G8 forum has been developing some quite interesting thinking about
what to do about high tech crime. This is tackling abuse of the
internet and credit card fraud, things of that kind, and we are
very anxious that the European Union should have the same agenda
and should also do some work of a complementary kind on these
very serious problems.
39. Do you imply that the United Kingdom has slightly
more influence on the G8 fora meetings than it does in European
Union fora and feels more comfortable in that or did I mishear
the implications of what you were saying?
(Ms Quin) I think that we are happy in both.
(Mr Edwards) As the Minister says, of course we
are happy in both, but I think that when one looks at the structures
that exist and the numbers of members that exist in the two different
fora, the G8 does have some advantage: it is a smaller group,
it does not have a great institutional backing which develops
proposals in the way that the Third Pillar committee machinery
does. It sees its function as very much to look at new problems,
develop solutions, then move on; whereas the European Union, as
I think we all know, is a very substantial bureaucracy involving
the different institutions, 15 Member States and so on, and on
that account is necessarily somewhat slower and more ponderous
than the G8 is able to be.