Select Committee on European Union Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 480 - 499)


Rt Hon Tony McNulty MP and Mr Peter Storr

  Q480  Lord Mawson: Minister, you may from elsewhere be aware that I worked in East London for many years where one has watched lots of different pieces of government elsewhere and lots of talk about joined-up thinking and joined-up action but when we started to look at it on the ground, actually in reality it was not happening. A great deal of money was spent and lots of structures were created but there was fragmentation. I come a bit cold to some of this as the new boy but one can very quickly see quite a lot of fragmentation here. The whole positive of co-location is very important. I know, having built buildings, about co location. You can co-locate what is in the building and they never talk to each other. Something else has to happen in the modern world to bring these sorts of organisations together in a way that works and which is all about people and relationships, not necessarily more structures. As I look at this, there is all that reality there and difficulty about how you move some of this into the modern world, so it operates in the modern worked and actually does what it is meant to do. My question, and this is an aspect of this but I just set that context of what we are seeing here, is: what evidence of the effectiveness of EU police cooperation does the Council receive from the Police Chiefs' Task Force?

  Mr McNulty: If I can go back just momentarily to the issue of co-location, there was certainly when I was there an absolute aspiration to co-locate. I am not entirely clear whether that decision is irreversible that they do not, but I will explore that. I certainly agree with the sentiments of both the Chair and Lord Mawson that co-location is part of the matter; it is not the whole matter by any means. I know that from assorted government departments I have worked in and the difficulty sometimes of getting one half to speak to the other—not in the Home Office, I hasten to add—but I do take that point. The creation of the Police Chiefs' Task Force was to solve some of the strategic and overarching problems, and that is really where Europol's job is. I am sorry to throw acronyms that I know you will be familiar with but the COSPOL (Comprehensive Operational Strategic Planning for the Police) project was set up within the PCTF with the aim of providing a tactical response to threats identified in the organised crime threat assessment. I think they are mindful that there does need to be that coordination within the architecture of Europol. I do understand, Lord Mawson, your point that they do need to integrate far more readily with themselves and with the police forces, but there have been some successes. When I visited, there was huge excitement around a successfully coordinated operation I think involving 28 countries to crack an on-line child sex abuse case, led I think very ably by one of our colleagues from Ireland. It was hugely successful. I think in the end it concluded with some 46 arrests in the UK; 2500 customers in 19 countries were identified and a whole range of computers, videos and photographs were seized and, sadly, a whole range of young victims were also identified, but happily taken care of. There is some evidence of them slowly knitting together the necessary integration through their committee structures and oversight structures, but equally and as importantly some evidence of the thing working, and working I think very well. There is some difficulty around different systems appreciating quite what certainly in the UK we mean by intelligence-led proactive policing, particularly those with the sort of inquisitorial system, those rooted in the Napoleonic Code. It is not quite that the police sit back and simply react to events and incidents as they happen, but there is I think a counter-intuitive and cultural distinction between quite what we mean in the UK by intelligence-led policing and what they might understand by the issue. That does not mean we do not keep pushing the whole notion of intelligence-led policing within Europol and the overarching structures within the EU because we all know the importance of that.

  Q481  Lord Dear: The point arose on your last comment about the definition of terms. I wondered if you could help us on this. We have heard constantly in our investigations into Europol the fact that different countries apply different meanings to different terms and indeed intelligence-led policing and intelligence generally is one of those examples cited. I wonder if you saw any quick way through that because quite clearly it is causing problems, not least for the directorate itself, and some sort of lexicon by which people pay up to a common dictionary definition might be of help. It seems so simple yet nobody seems to be doing it. I wonder if there is anything we can do to accelerate that.

  Mr McNulty: At least part of the answer does lie in the oversight and committee structure that we were just referring to and persuading them at the strategic level that there should at least be some common agreement, as you implied, as to exactly what we mean by these terms. I am pretty sure it is not as stark as the Napoleonic inquisitorial-based models do not do intelligence policing and UK models do. There must be some overlap. I think in the end, like many of the European institutions, the clarity will come in the doing, if I can say it in those terms. I think by the example set by the UK and others we can push what we think the intelligence policing model looks like and the French and other equivalent definition of it a little bit further to reach that common ground that you refer to. I think that is part of the strategic oversight.

  Q482  Lord Marlesford: I think the point about intelligence-led policing is important. I would be very grateful if, Minister, you could tell us exactly what you mean by it in the UK sense. Secondly, as part of that question, you referred to the difference between the legal systems: what exactly do you think are the implications for intelligence-led policing and the differences between inquisitorial and accusatorial legal systems?

  Mr McNulty: The simplest definition of intelligence-led policing is carrying out tomorrow's activities, tomorrow's policing, based on the experience you have of individual targets and activities up to that point, so using that body of information to inform the directions you go in, whether around targeting individuals, particular sets of activities, particular geographical locations, whatever; it is about building up that body of knowledge and experience and utilising that in a proactive fashion rather than simply reacting to the next set of events. Clearly it is more complex than that but at its crudest that is roughly what we mean by it. As I say, I think some of that work is undoubtedly done in systems other than our own. There have been huge advances in the last 15 or 20 years in the United Kingdom in terms of an intelligence-led, targeted approach to policing being far more readily the norm rather than simply a little portion on top of everyday policing in this country, all the way from neighbourhood policing up to SO15 and others. I am sure something similar is starting to develop in other systems, but you will know, to come on to your second point, that in many instances it takes the inquisitorial dimension of the investigating magistrate to set an investigation going in the first place. So there is an incident, an event, and early evidence is presented to a magistrate to see if, against particular people, there is sufficient to build a case up. That sort of investigative framework is entirely different from our own, without going into too many details and without re-visiting other significant debates that your Lordships have just had and we have dealt with over the last couple of months.

  Q483  Lord Marlesford: Following that up, once the police are involved in an investigation, if they are using intelligence-led policing as you describe it, I am not clear why the police activity is any different whether it is done under the accusatorial system of our own or the investigative system, the European system.

  Mr McNulty: It is a perfectly fair point. That hinges around your opening phrase "once the police are involved". I think that is where it turns. Once the police are involved in investigations of a crime, then I think the systems diverge far more readily. What intelligence-led policing is much about in this country is the precursor activity before a crime or an action, and that is where I think less happens in terms of these other models, but they are developing in a similar fashion. I do not think there is quite the regard for targeting of an individual's activity, geography as I have said, use of informers and use of surveillance. All those other elements are developed of course in the other models but I do not think they are as developed and targeted as the real intelligence-led system that we have had here since the advent of the national intelligence model, and previous to that. It is now much more I think in policing DNA, if I can use that term, in the UK than it is in some of the continental models. That is not to say one is better than the other; it is just that they are different.

  Lord Marlesford: My Lord Chairman, I think it would be very helpful, if you would agree, if we could ask the Minister whether we could have a note, because it is such an important part, from the Home Office on exactly what they see as the difference in practice in intelligence-led policing between the UK and other EU members?

  Q484  Chairman: Would that be possible? That would be helpful.

  Mr McNulty: I am perfectly happy to do that.

  Q485  Lord Mawson: During its presidency in 2005, the UK introduced an EU-wide organised crime threat assessment (OCTA) as part of a longer-term plan to develop a European Criminal Intelligence Model (ECIM). Why is there a marked difference in support for intelligence-led policing amongst the Member States?

  Mr McNulty: It is partly for the reasons we have already gone through. I would say that the organised crime threat assessment and intelligence-led policing are very much, to be fair, work in progress. I think—and this goes back in part to Lord Dear's point—that the more we develop and mature the links between police forces and respectively between the police forces and Europol on a cross-border, European-wide basis in terms of the threat of organised and serious crime, the more I think the intelligence policing model comes into it own when you are looking at pre-emptive actions, crime trends, travel patterns and a whole range of other things that are much more around the intelligence-led policing model than otherwise. I think slowly other Member States are realising the benefits of such an approach. Albeit work in progress, as I have said, the principle of intelligence-led policing is beginning to take hold across Europe at least in that high level, supra-Europe, strategic dimension in terms of organised and serious crime and in part, and as an aside and without taking up another potential corner, because of the continuing cooperation that there is in our counter-terrorism effort where much more readily the intelligence model is the order of the day.

  Q486  Lord Marlesford: If and when the Treaty of Lisbon comes into force, what improvements will be made in the area of operational cooperation on internal security by the creation of a standing committee within the Council? What kind of resources do you see such a committee needing?

  Mr McNulty: To start at the end of the question, it will be a senior level working group of the Council, supported by the Secretariat of the Council and attended by the Member States, just as Europol, Eurojust and Frontex are. So I do not think in those terms it would need to command any more resources. We do not know the exact role and remit of the committee on internal security and will not until after the October Council when they determine what to do on Lisbon post the Irish referendum, but I think it may be a very useful and sharper focus for these matters if the standing committee does develop. I am mindful too of two points: firstly, that as ever with these things perhaps, there is a plethora of acronyms and bodies that stand behind them and hopefully, if we do go down the route of a standing committee, that will be the focal point; and, secondly, that we do need to retain a sharp distinction between strategic cooperation and the operation and tactical use of our police forces on a Member State by Member State basis.

  Q487  Lord Marlesford: The message I get from that on this particular issue is that the Lisbon Treaty is not going to make a great deal of difference. I would like to know whether there are any aspects which we should be taking into account in our report on Europol which are going to be seriously affected if the Lisbon Treaty does not survive.

  Mr McNulty: Given that much of the assorted architecture around Europol is new and emerging and work in progress, I think that the current position of Europol will endure and not be unduly harmed in this very narrow sense by Lisbon, in the sense that Lisbon may have regularised things a bit and put a standing committee in place and some of those other elements, but much of the work around refocusing and reconfiguring Europol has already been done but very recently and, notwithstanding the October Council, will endure with or without the Lisbon Treaty, to be fair.

  Q488  Baroness Garden of Frognal: Minister, if I can turn to Europol governance for the next question, for Europol the principle of subsidiarity is that Europol will deal with crimes that "require a common approach by the Member States owing to the scale, significance and consequences of the offences". In the Council Decision, this phrase is moved from Europol's objective into an Article dealing with its competence. What is the purpose of this change and what will be its effect?

  Mr McNulty: There was certainly a lot of negotiation around it, as I understand it, but I think the absolute effect is to limit Europol's outreach to precisely those trans-national crimes that, as it implies, because their scale, significance and consequences involve at least two or three countries and need and demand that level of cooperation. I think, however nuanced it seems, the move of the particular wording from an objective to a competence or vice versa just reflects that and reflects that limitation and concern from members that the reach and definitions around Europol should not be too broad as to simply operational responsibility or locus on any Member State.

  Q489  Baroness Garden of Frognal: So it was in effect a limitation on its powers?

  Mr McNulty: A limitation to simply crimes of trans-national scale and significance where quite properly Europol could have a role.

  Q490  Lord Dear: Minister, I have a couple of questions on the essential relationship between the Director and the Management Board and then of course obviously backwards to the Member States. The structure is initially fairly easy to understand. Following the Council Decision, the Director puts up strategic plans which he has worked out in draft. They are adapted or accepted as the case may be after a debate at the Management Board, and then he supplies the services to Member States. That is all fairly easy to understand. But we are confused a little on why the Management Board secretariat was not enlarged—we were told it should have been enlarged and was not—and strengthened to allow it to develop the strategy and make that job more meaningful and therefore leave the Director to get on with the task of delivering the requirement. Of course, implicit in that question is the central relationship between the Director and the Management Board. We have heard two conflicting sets of evidence, so to speak: one saying that the Director is unduly borne upon by a Management Board—using my words and not theirs; they meddle too much in strategy—and another that says that is perfectly acceptable. Do you have a view on that and how it might be improved if at all?

  Mr McNulty: I think in part the Management Board secretariat was not extended or expanded precisely to address that issue, so that they did set a broad strategic framework and then left the Director to get on with it and deliver. In terms of sympathy, I would be with you in terms of not having a Management Board be overbearing in terms of allowing the Director the time and space to get on with his role. It is a clear relationship but not one that is, like in many of these bodies, where the director is utterly supplicant to the board. There should be the time, space and discretion for the Director to get on with the job.

  Q491  Lord Dear: That is the theory. Does the Home Office have a view as to whether the Director does find that the Management Board interferes too much—perhaps a better word to use is involved too much—in the day-to-day running or not?

  Mr McNulty: It is a concern, but I certainly do not have evidence that it is an overbearing concern. It is one that we do need to be alive to and not let it get in the way.

  Mr Storr: It has been mentioned to us in the past. I think the view we have taken is that there are certain functions of the Management Board which are so important that they have to be exercised in a hands-on way, particularly control of the budget. The other concern which we have had on occasions, speaking frankly, is about the nature of the relationship between the Director and the Management Board, which I think comes back to Lord Mawson's point about the importance of relationships between people as well as relationships between structures. Our hope would be that whoever the next Director of Europol would be, there would be an improvement in relations between the Director and the Board that have not always been entirely plain sailing in the past.

  Q492  Lord Dear: I think the chairmanship of the Management Board is going to be moved from six to 18 months very shortly. That may well bear on the issue.

  Mr McNulty: Yes.

  Q493  Chairman: Do you think that 18 months is still too short a time?

  Mr McNulty: I think it is certainly, as Lord Dear says, preferable to six months. We will see whether it is sufficient. Bear in mind that you still at this stage have to get that notional rotation in and then I think 18 months is probably sufficient on a rotation basis.

  Q494  Chairman: Would you have thought on that four years might be an even better stint?

  Mr McNulty: On one level I would agree with that certainly but I am not sure that four-year rotations would garner much support in the hallowed ranks of the European Union.

  Q495  Lord Marlesford: I just wonder: that issue at this point does not depend on Lisbon, does it?

  Mr McNulty: No, I do not think it does.

  Q496  Chairman: No, but we have heard it a suggestion that 18 months even then is too short a time for a chairman to get really stuck in.

  Mr McNulty: As I say, the reality is that it will, as far as I am aware, remain a post that is up for rotation. I think in the overarching system of rotation, 18 months is possibly pushing the outer limitations, but I certainly agree, as I say, that six months was far too short.

  Q497  Lord Mawson: This, unfortunately, has all to do with how you create organisations that can operate complex partnerships in the modern world and deliver stuff that really counts when it comes to it. Continuity in those relationships seems to me fundamental. I do myself know from the things I have been involved in that 18 months is a very short period of time to understand the detail of the various organisations involved and to build the sort of trust, relationships and honesty that are necessary to make things work. Four years in my experience is something rather more like it. How you get there, I do not know, but it seems to me there needs to be far more of a discussion, if these things are actually to work in practice, about these sorts of matters, otherwise a great deal of money is invested and lots of structures are created, but in terms of effectiveness and delivery, who knows.

  Mr McNulty: I would usefully suggest that, as and when we get the new Director, it may well be appropriate for the Home Office to talk to them in such terms and in the light of whatever Europol comes up with. I am very happy to commit to that. It might well be that the advent of a new Director is an opportune time to discuss these matters, but we are in the rotation world; we are in the sort of demi-world where politics and organisational matters meet. I would argue on one level that 18 months for a minister to get a grip of anything is not long enough, but I think it is about the average life of a minister in any given post. I have been very fortunate in that I have been in this post two years and in the Home Office three years, but I suspect I am the exception, not the rule.

  Q498  Lord Dear: I would like to ask Mr Storr if he would like to come back on the matter of the relationship between the Director to the Management Board.

  Mr Storr: There is just one point of clarification on the question of 18 months. During the negotiations we put forward our own view, which was that two years or more would have been more acceptable. I think the reason that they settled on 18 months was because they were thinking in terms of three six-month presidencies working very closely together. As the Minister has said, when that rotates, the prize of Chairman of the Management Board then becomes one which the three presidencies in question have to fight over. I think if one went as far as four years, you would find that those presidencies or future presidencies had some reluctance to give up their place at the table, as it were. I suppose one could also say that in addition to the Director having a view on it, whoever the new Director is, there is a question of the review period of the Council decision itself at the end of four years, which would be an opportune time to take a view on whether the 18-month tenancy had worked or not.

  Q499  Lord Mawson: There is just one practical point. I do not know how exactly this works, so I may be completely naive about this. With the presidency that is coming up, in a sense could that person be part of the organisation and growing into the job for the next period so that you build relationships? This may not be possible. My experience of organisations is that if you can get people growing up through the culture and then taking on the role, you get real continuity happening rather than these constant breakages, but that may or may not be possible.

  Mr Storr: I think what could be possible is that by and large when the chairmanship of the Management Board changes, the change is within the present membership of the Board. For example, when we had the presidency, Rob Wainwright, who I think has given evidence to this committee on behalf of SOCA, moved from being simply a national member on the Board to being the Chair of the Board. So you would I think over a period of time develop some sort of continuity of experience which may go some way towards meeting your point.

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