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The Earl of Caithness: My Lords, in speaking in the gap I owe your Lordships an apology for missing the greater part of this debate. However, it is impossible to do any work in Scotland on a Monday morning and get here in time to participate in the proceedings. I look forward to reading the debate.
I wish to pay tribute to a number of people, particularly the noble Lord and noble Baroness of Richmondthe chairmen of the committees on which I had the honour and privilege to serve. I refer to the noble Baroness, Lady Harris of Richmond, and the noble Lord, Lord Wright of Richmond.
I listened with great care to what the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, said about terrorism. I agree very much with what he said. I, too, was impressed by the visit to Interpol. That was rather surprising to me given many people's perception of that organisation and that no one was certain what it did. However, it is a highly efficient, highly motivated organisation. I agreed very much with the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, when he said that the relationship between Europol and Interpol was not clearly thought out when Europol was set up. There is a lesson to learn there and the sooner those two parties can get their act together and work closely together and build greater trust, the better our lives will be.
The point about terrorism being cheap was very well made by the noble Lord, Lord Dubs. In conclusion, I would like to thank our specialist advisers who did a huge amount of work. Without their help we would not have been able to produce what I consider are excellent reports.
Lord McNally: My Lords, several noble Lords have commented on the confusion of having two Peers from Richmond. All that I would say is that I would never think of the noble Lord, Lord Wright, as a sweet lass of Richmond Hill; whereas I may well consider my noble friend Lady Harris in that context.
Although I covered home affairs from these Benches for six years from 1997 to 2003, much of the work in these reports came to me as fresh. As such, I hope that the Minister can reassure us that within government, that exercise by committees of this House is not seen as an irritant or a time-consumer. One thing that struck me both reading the reports and listening to the debate was what an enormous resource in developing policy it is having the experience and expertise of those committees to consider matters in that way.
It is a fortuitous accident that the debate takes place on the day of the Prime Minister's Statement on the European Council, because the debate puts it into a proper context. For me, this is the other Europe, in counterpoint to the headlines in our tabloid press reading, "It's War with France", and the rest of the rubbish that we have read during the past few days.
The debate illustrates two important aspects. The first is the real engine-room work being done in Europe on a matter of very great importance. It was interesting for those of us who were present for the
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Prime Minister's Statement that he coupled concern about organised crime with globalisation as the two issues most of concern to European citizens. We might all debate whether that is right, but it was interesting that the Prime Minister made that coupling.
The second point, to which I have just referred, is the prestige that its reports bring to the House. The noble Lord, Lord Dubs, said that we must not blow our own trumpets on these matters but, as I have never been a member of one of these committees, perhaps I can blow away. One of these famed Eurocrats, not a Brit, said to me that when House of Lords reports were published, they were instantly snaffled by other delegations and groupings in Brussels because of their high quality and reputation.
Returning to my initial question to the Minister, I hope that that will embolden the Government as part of their strategy to respond to the crisis of confidence in European matters to trust Parliament more and to think much more laterally and excitingly about how this Parliament can be brought into the scrutiny of European affairs. That can only be to the benefit of promoting better understanding of Europe and, as I mentioned earlier, good governance.
One thing that has always made me a passionate Europeanif noble Lords did not know that before, let me say, now that the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, has gone, that that is what I amand one of the great things about Europe, has been that it was not just a trade club. Part of the price of membership, at entry, was a commitment to democracy, a recognition of human rights and a commitment to the rule of law. It is important that we keep that to the forefront.
Now that we are enlarging to 25 and 27, as one of the witnesses says very frankly, that enlargement brings with it the dangers of greater fraud and of a greater impact of organised crime. It is often no help to Europe to have a rather patronising view of the new members, to say, "Well, we do not expect the rule of law to operate in country X quite as it does in the other parts of Europe". Nothing could be a greater danger to Europe's reputation than to tolerate in new and applicant states sub-standard systems of law, sub-standard recognition of human rights or sub-standard tolerance of corruption. We must use their membership to ensure that as well as observing proper trade practices, and the rest, that their legal systems and systems of law enforcement are to the highest European standards. That is another single market that we should be enforcing, arguing for and helping.
One of the key messages that has come through from speaker after speaker today is that, whatever struggles we may have for European unity at the political level, there is already an active single market in people trafficking, drug-trafficking, money laundering and organised crime. We must put in place ways to respond to that. In his introduction, the noble Lord, Lord Wright, encouragingly referred to the Hague programme as an impressive increase in co-operation. As such, I shall be interested to see what priority pushing the Hague programme will be given during the British presidency.
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My noble friend Lady Harris mentioned Eurojust and its role in promoting judicial co-operation. That could be of particular importance with the new entrants and the tackling of organised crime. Several noble Lords referred to OLAF. Here, I found myself instinctively with the noble Lord, Lord Shaw: I want it to be as independent as possible. Perhaps the Minister would explain again why the Government are being rather negative in their approach to what could be an important agency.
Again, speaking as a pro-European, nothing can do greater damage to the European cause than the idea that corruption goes unchecked; but there is widespread inefficiency in checking it in Europe. As the noble and learned Lord, Lord Scott, said, much of this is about creating confidence among the citizens of Europe in their institutions.
Much was said on terrorism. I have one genuine inquiry. Is there sufficient EU/US co-operation on exchange of information on terrorism, or do the Americans still not trust all the Europeans, or vice versa? An initiative could be taken there.
I shall finish on a point that touched me very much in the speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Gibson. As a pro-European I take pride in how Europe has been instrumental in extending democracy, freedom and human rights across our Continent. But what a shame it is that, for countless young women from eastern Europe, freedom has brought with it what the noble Baroness rightly described as the "pit of misery" that people trafficking and prostitution create. Perhaps noble Lords saw the dramatic docu-play by Channel 4 on the subject.
That issue illustrates yet again that, in the battle against crime and terrorism, the concept of a national response is plainly absurd and the need for a co-ordinated European response is beyond peradventure. From what I read of the reports, progress is being made, but any good teacher would write at the bottom, "Must try harder".
Baroness Rawlings: My Lords, I shall speak for the Opposition on the four European Union Committee reports. I thank the committee members for their undoubted hard work, having produced these very thorough reports. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord McNally, that your Lordships' EU reports are highly respected worldwide. As noble Lords know, my brief is foreign affairs and international development, so I hope that the House will forgive me if I am not as familiar with home affairs and the legal aspects of these reports as they are, although as a former MEP I can declare an interest.
The simplest way of dealing with these detailed volumes is to speak about each in turn, if I may take the opportunity to probe the Government on their next steps regarding the issues raised in the reports. I shall then concentrate most of my remarks on the report regarding terrorism, as have many noble Lords. That is partly because it is the only report on which the Government have not commented. I wish to ask the
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Minister to clarify only a few issues, as in the limited time available it would be impossible to cover all the points in these detailed reports; otherwise, I fear, we would be here for many more hours.
There is no denying that we have seen a substantial growth in international terrorism in recent years. As the report points out, such action threatens not only the lives and well-being of citizens but also the foundations of democracy. It is important that in complying with measures flowing from the European Council's Declaration on Combating Terrorism, we do not forget the latter and that our response to terrorism is proportionate to the threat posed.
The report's main focus was information exchange; that was identified at the special meeting of the European Council on 25 March 2004 as an area in which further work was required. The findings of that and previous reports show that the UK is very good, even excellent, at sharing intelligence. However, it is also clear from the report that some countries do not fulfil their part in intelligence sharing. If we are to win the fight against terrorism, countries other than our own must substantially contribute their data. What are the Government doing to promote information exchange?
I should also like to ask the Government about data protection of the information that we are exchanging. The report raises many questions about the adequacy of our data protection. Do the Government agree with the report? Do they think that there should be a common EU framework of data protection for the third pillar?
"It is important that national data protection authorities have sufficient audit powers. We regret that in the United Kingdom the Information Commissioner does not have such powers and recommend that this is reviewed".
I should like to draw attention to that report's conclusion regarding lost and stolen passports, as mentioned by the noble Lords, Lord Corbett and Lord Dubs. The evidence gathered in making the report shows that many member states do not notify Interpol of lost and stolen passports. That goes back to my earlier point that such systems work only if we all contribute. We need to be careful not to throw all our resources into new initiatives at the expense of old, tried-and-tested methods of prevention. Have the Government plans to remedy that problem?
The report concerning the role of Eurojust was introduced very ably by the noble Baroness, Lady Harris of Richmond. I was heartened to learn that the committee concluded that it had made an excellent start. It was also encouraging to note that, since the publication of the report on Eurojust, Norway has concluded and agreed the text of a draft co-operation agreement. Let us hope that the exchange of information is not one-sided, as it appears to be with the United States.
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The report raises the issue of the European public prosecutor. We are concerned that, if Eurojust is given the power to take binding decisions on which jurisdiction should prosecute in cases of cross-border offences, it will become a quasi-prosecutorial authority. Such a power would almost make it a European public prosecutor. Will the Minister clarify the Government's position and state how they feel about such a change?
That leads me on to the report regarding OLAF, introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Scott. I am very concerned about the lack of co-operation between Eurojust and OLAF. I note in a letter from Caroline Flint, which has been made available, that the Government feel that that is also an issue and that,
I feel that it is a little late now to turn to the report on The Hague programme, on which we heard from the noble Lord, Lord Wright, at the start of the debate. It is possibly the most detailed report and contains such thorny issues as asylum, migration, border security, police co-operation and various aspects of the law. It is my understanding, however, that we are expecting an asylum Bill later this Sessionas, it seems, we do every Sessionso I shall leave this part of the debate to my noble friend Lady Anelay, who will, no doubt, raise all the important matters during the passage of the Bill.
I hope that we never have a repeat of the Government's behaviour of withholding from Parliament the drafts of The Hague programme prior to its adoption by the European Council, as it is essential that we should be able to scrutinise such important proposals. I look to the Minister for her assurance that such a situation will not arise again.
Finally, I congratulate the committees and their chairmen on producing such interesting and important reports, which no doubt will give the Government food for thought. We look forward to their conclusions.
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