Select Committee on European Union Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 33-39)

Assistant Commissioner David Veness and Chief Constable Paddy Tomkins

27 OCTOBER 2004

  Q33Chairman: Good morning gentlemen. It is always a great pleasure to welcome old friends to the Committee. You are very welcome, Mr Veness and Mr Tomkins. Before we start, could you give us your full titles so that we have that on the record?

  Mr Tomkins: I am Paddy Tomkins, Chief Constable of Lothian and Borders Police, representing the Association of Chief Police Officers in Scotland.

  Q34Chairman: What is your role within ACPO?

  Mr Tomkins: Today I am representing the Chief Constables' Council. We are constituent members of the ACPO Standing Committee on terrorism and allied matters.

  Q35Chairman: You are responsible for that within Scotland?

  Mr Tomkins: Yes.

  Q36Chairman: You do not have another title within Scotland?

  Mr Tomkins: No, we do not have a separate or parallel structure for terrorism and allied matters. We are members of ACPO in that regard.

  Q37Chairman: That clarifies a question we had.

  Mr Veness: I am David Veness. I have effectively three roles that are probably of relevance. I am the Secretary of the Association of Chief Police Officers, ACPO, Terrorism and Allied Matters Committee, known as ACPO-TAM. Unusually within British policing, that is a body that encompasses England and Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland, so we speak with one voice on counter-terrorism. I am also the Chairman of the group known as the ACPO Advisory Group, which acts as the operational co-ordination mechanism dealing, as it were, with quick time issues and immediate operational responses, and again that function is across the United Kingdom. The third function of relevance is as Assistant Commissioner Specialist Operations in Scotland Yard, because there are certain functions of that command which historically have been attached to it, particularly protection, security and anti-terrorism, because of the absence of national policing structures for counter-terrorism within the United Kingdom.

  Q38Chairman: Thank you very much indeed. That has been enormously helpful and members will have much appreciated the fact that we have such experience with us today. Could I then begin by welcoming you and thank you very much for coming and for your evidence, which has been very full and we will be asking questions based on that. We have all read avidly the evidence that you have put before us. I wonder if I could register, for the benefit of members of the public who are now sitting behind you, the subject of the inquiry, which is an examination of a number of proposals designed to strengthen EU counter-terrorism activities, particularly through much more extensive data exchange. These proposals raise important issues relating, among other things, to data protection and the institutional arrangements within the EU for combating terrorism. I hope that has been helpful. Members' interests relevant to the inquiry are being deposited at the back of the room. I wonder whether, before we start questioning, you would like to make any opening statements?

  Mr Veness: My Lord Chairman, there are some very brief points which may be helpful in terms of context. The first point is to understand the nature of counter-terrorism, because I think sometimes there is a danger that it is perceived as only focusing on effective intelligence and detection of individuals, whereas I think, particularly in the 37 months since 9/11, it is as important to recognise that dealing with community issues, dealing with the handling of crises, and indeed dealing with the consequences should dire terrorist events unfold are equally important. In many ways those issues have tended to be dealt with separately, both nationally and internationally. Our view is that the cohesive, as it were linear, approach to all of those issues in many ways defines the agendas both as to which nations can contribute and particularly which supra-national bodies can contribute. The strategic challenge would be the first point. The second point is that the way that our world has changed in counter-terrorism in the last 37 months can be summed up in the one word "global", in that hitherto we dealt with an issue which was regional; here within the United Kingdom we understood a threat that emanated primarily from the island of Ireland that was aimed at the GB mainland. That is transparently no longer the case. Every instance that we are engaged in, almost however minor, in this new dimension involves a range of nations, and indeed a range of nations much broader than the European Union. Thirdly, our view is that the gap internationally on the global scale is in relation to national capability and capacity. In our judgment, the key building block is to ensure that each individual country, particularly those which understand that they are afflicted by this new dimension of threat, is responding appropriately and is building effectively from the national level upwards. The fourth issue, very briefly, if we are to reflect on and be critical of where progress has not been achieved, particularly over the last 37 months, would be the growth of the support networks. This is dubbed the radicalisation debate. I think probably more accurately for radicalisation read extremism because of the nature of the origins of the issue, and indeed the support networks, if anything, sad to relate, are growing rather than diminishing. We would regard that as almost the key strategic challenge in halting that development and ideally reversing it. Those would be the four brief points that I would make.

  Mr Tomkins: The only thing I would add, in addition to the points you have already clarified in your kind introduction, is that from Scotland's perspective, we are part of the ACPO structure and therefore we recognise ACPO policy development in this area and the pre-eminence of the Metropolitan Police. There are jurisdictional issues, obviously, as has been referred to, between Scotland and England and Wales, and those, in some ways, govern the operational constraints. That might offer a microcosm of some of the issues that are being explored by this Committee in terms of EU interoperability.

  Q39Chairman: Thank you very much indeed. I think that leads us very nicely into the first question. As I said, we are most grateful for the papers you were both able to send us. My first question is about the Police Working Group on Terrorism. You have given us quite a lot of information about that. I am very grateful for that because you stress the importance of the role of that group where it deals with counter-terrorism operations in Europe. I just wondered if, for the sake of our report, you would be able to tell us a little bit more about how it operates and whether its members have powers to exchange personal data. How does it link in to other databases? Is there a need for it to do that sort of thing?

  Mr Veness: If I may paint the skeleton, this is an unusual body in that it pre-dates most of the other institutions to which we will probably refer. It was born out of tragedies during the 1970s. There were the beginnings of an understanding, particularly when the activities of the Provisional IRA were manifest on the continent of Europe during the 1970s. You will recall that the attacks upon NATO institutions at that time, the Red Brigades, the Baader Meinhof era, were very much novel challenges. There was recognition amongst operational police chiefs of the need to have an effective communication method that dealt with issues at the operational level that was swift, effective and non-bureaucratic. That was the intention. It was formally established in 1979. It now links, in terms of EU membership, the Baltic States plus Malta, the most recent to join.

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