Select Committee on European Union Fortieth Report

FOREWORD—What this Report is about

Home Office Ministers hold regular meetings with the ministers of the interior of the other five largest EU States: Germany, France, Italy, Spain and Poland. At the last such meeting in Heiligendamm in March 2006 the G6 ministers discussed their joint response to terrorism, illegal immigration and organised crime. The United Kingdom was represented by the then Home Secretary.

Decisions were reached at that meeting which, if taken forward, would involve important changes to current EU thinking and to declared Government policy. The Home Office releases no information about these meetings, which receive minimal publicity. Ministers should report back to Parliament routinely after such meetings.

Europe has experienced a rise of terrorism; the G6 ministers represent some of the countries which consider themselves most vulnerable. The exchange of information between law enforcement agencies is a major weapon in the fight against terrorism and other serious crime. The response of the ministers has been to reconsider the constraints which data protection rules place on the sharing of such data. The Committee has considered the decisions taken at the Heiligendamm meeting, and in particular the tensions between law enforcement and data protection.

We do not understand why the former Home Secretary should have apparently agreed with other G6 ministers to press forward with the "availability" principle and disregard data protection issues. This is contrary to the decision of the Member States in the Hague Programme, contrary to the advice of independent data protection authorities, inconsistent with what the Home Office Ministers had told us, and against the views of the Finnish Presidency. The exchange of information between the law enforcement authorities is important, but not so important that civil rights can be eroded.

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