Select Committee on European Union Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 155-159)

Mr David Smith and Mr Jonathan Bamford

25 OCTOBER 2006

  Q155  Chairman: You are both very welcome. I think I am right in saying that we welcome both of you back, do we not? You have both appeared before this Committee before?

  Mr Smith: Yes.

  Mr Bamford: Yes.

  Q156  Chairman: Thank you very much for coming. We will perhaps start by asking you if you have any comments on the previous session. Is there anything touching on your responsibilities that you think we ought to know about? Perhaps most particularly on the last question, which was whether the adoption of the SIS II Decision or the Framework Decision entailed any amendments to the UK's national data protection law. From your point of view, what is the answer to that?

  Mr Smith: Thank you, My Lord Chairman. If you do not mind, may I also say a word or two of introduction?

  Q157  Chairman: Please do.

  Mr Smith: I have been here before, as you know, and it is a pleasure to come back again. My colleague Jonathan Bamford takes charge of these areas for us. I am now Deputy Commissioner and essentially have responsibility for all our data protection functions in the Information Commissioner's Office. Mr Thomas, the Commissioner, does send his apologies for not being able to attend today in person. As I say, we welcome the opportunity to come here. We really do appreciate the interest this Committee shows in Third Pillar data protection issues. It is an important area for us, but is often one on which little light is cast. We have a particular interest in Europol, which is what we have spoken to you about before. I do not want to blow my own trumpet, but you may be interested to know that I was elected last week as Chairman of the Europol Joint Supervisory Body. It is not a personal thing, but I think that it is a mark of the UK's interest and engagement with those issues.

  Q158  Chairman: Congratulations personally to you!

  Mr Smith: Thank you, My Lord Chairman. Having said that, it is perhaps more a word of apology to you that our involvement with SIS, and particularly SIS II, is less than that with some of the other areas. We are only observers on the Joint Supervisory Authority at the moment; we have no practical experience because SIS is not operational in the UK. In coming to you today, therefore, we are more than happy to come and give evidence but, if we are a little hesitant on some points and say that we need to go back, think about it and get back to you, please bear with us.

  Q159  Chairman: I understand that. May I just ask this? Does your observer status in fact limit the extent to which you can intervene and influence the negotiations?

  Mr Smith: No, it does not. We are able to speak in the meetings. We do not simply sit and listen; but I think that we are a little reluctant to, if you like, keep putting up our hand and to keep getting involved when we are not there as full members and certainly, on the odd occasion that issues come to a vote, we do not have a vote on those issues. You asked about the changes in the Data Protection Act required by SIS II and by the Framework Decision. I am not sure that the SIS II alone would require changes in the Data Protection Act. My assumption is that there will be some implementing legislation which would translate the provisions into UK law. We come back to this question which you were asking about. Which prevails? The general data protection or the specific legislation? And I will happily deal with that. I think that the implementation of the Framework Decision would require some changes to the UK Data Protection Act. It is very unclear to us at the moment how that Framework Decision will emerge. We are pleased by the interest you have shown in that in the discussions and we are happy to answer some questions on it, because I think that we do have real concerns, from the limited feedback we get, as to where the negotiations which have been referred to are actually leading.

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