Examination of Witnesses (Questions 500
WEDNESDAY 16 JULY 2008
Rt Hon Tony McNulty MP and Mr Peter Storr
I wonder, Minister, whether you have a view about the capacity
of bilateral liaison methods to deal with information exchange
requirements over the next 10 or 20 years?
Mr McNulty: This is a very vexed issue
in the sense that I should rather we had multilateral agreements
on data exchange and information exchange as quickly as possible,
but progress is, to say the least, slow. I think there is a function
for bilateral liaison methods over the coming 10 or 20 years,
but I do know that some suggest that if you develop or over-develop
efficiently the bilateral methods, then that stymies the multilateral
developments across the European Union all the more. It is a matter
of balance but I do have to say it has been really quite tedious
and slow to get anywhere in terms of EU-wide arrangements for
information exchange, so I think the bilateral will still prevail.
It is incumbent on all those involved in the bilaterals to try
to ensure a push on progress with a multilateral, but it is a
Following that, national liaison officers at Europol have now
a new ability to exchange information on crimes outside the competence
of Europol, and that can strengthen the European Union objective
of providing citizens with a high level of safety within an area
of freedom, security and justice. How do you think that will work
Mr McNulty: I think it should and has
in the past worked very well, and of course it is not new. It
was just clarified in the agreement because it was going on already
and had to be seen as distinct from Europol's competence. That
sort of liaison does go on; it goes on beyond the remit of Europol.
I think it has worked successfully in the past and should continue
to do so, and hopefully, as I said earlier, the more examples
there are of good practice and good success around such information
exchange, the more we may move towards what everybody wants and
that is the development of a European information system that
works. I am not saying there has not been progress; there has
but it has been inordinately slow. I should point out to your
Lordships that later on today we are publishing a report by someone
called Magee, which goes to this very point and looks at the exchange
of criminality information and other sorts of information across
not just the UK Government but across Europe and across the broader
international domain. It followed from the rather unfortunate
discovery of 27,000 applications for mutual legal assistance in
the Home Office in a room somewhere that nobody knew about some
year or so ago and was a promise from the then Home Secretary,
Dr John Reid, that we would look at as clearly as we could all
these matters in terms of exchange of information around criminality
and other matters. I simply say that is information that is coming
out later today that might be of interest above and beyond your
immediate concerns about Europol.
Chairman: I think I have said enough
about operations internally at the Home Office. I will not say
Q502 Lord Dear:
I want to go back to what is in effect bilateral agreements. The
classic simplicity, going back to the Director's relationship
with the Management Board and the Council, is that the Council
set up the Management Board and the Management Board deals with
the Director. That is fairly easy and understandable. We wondered
whether there are any instances that you know of where the Council
actually, this is where the bilateral element comes in, are tasking
the Director direct by whatever means, somehow or other cutting
out the Management Board? Is there any evidence of that?
Mr McNulty: None that I am aware of.
Mr Storr: No. I think by and large the
Council plays its role in setting the overall priorities based
on the organised crime threat assessment, which is then translated
into the five-year work programme of the Justice and Home Affairs
Council and specific to Europol, but clearly the Management Board
and the Director will take notice of priorities identified by
Ministers at the Council level, but I am not aware of any instances
of direct tasking to the Director of Europol by the Justice and
Home Affairs Council, other than perhaps at the time of the Madrid
explosion when the Council I think took the view that Europol
needed to play a greater part in the fight against terrorism.
Even so, it was not a direct tasking; it was simply identifying
a very current and important issue with the expectation that Europol
would decide what action it needed to take to fulfil the mandate
that the Council had decided to give it.
Lord Dear: We ask the question because
there is, I suppose understandably, quite a lot of evidence about
bilateral negotiations or contacts which cut out one part of the
system. It would seem to us almost impossible to envisage a situation
where somehow or other the Council did on occasion, perhaps quite
rightly, seek to influence the Director in the margins in some
way. In a sense of course that is perfectly acceptable. In another
sense of course it does cut out the Management Board if indeed
it is taking place. The question is asked really around the whole
issue of bilaterality, if that is a word, taking place. It seemed
to us a human dynamic that it is almost impossible to ignore.
I think you have probably answered the question. I am not pushing
you for the answer. You say you do not know it happened.
Can I go back a bit to when we were talking about crimes which
are outside the competence of Europol. Would you like to see Europol's
Mr McNulty: No, I think we would take
the view that where it is settled now is probably appropriate.
Q504 Lord Teverson:
Perhaps we could move on to evaluation and oversight. Clearly
in an area like this where there is a lot of sensitivity about
some of the information or outputs and how they have been achieved,
it is quite difficult in many ways to get the right balance. Europol's
objective is "to support and strengthen action by the competent
authorities of the Member States". We would like to ask:
who will assess whether Europol's activities have that desired
effect within the UK's competent authorities and indeed your views
on other Member States.
Mr McNulty: From our end, principally
SOCA is our conduit and representative back to Europol and from
the European dimension the Europol National Unit has to engage
with the competent authorities in the UK and develop the relationship.
We have a very strong relationship with SOCA and would discuss
these matters with them on a regular basis.
Q505 Lord Teverson:
Would they formally report to you as Minister in terms of the
performance of Europol?
Mr McNulty: I would have to check that.
I am not sure in any formal sense they would. Principally my colleague
Vernon Coaker is responsible for liaison with them as my colleague
in terms of a policing portfolio. Whether it is strictly a formal
report on how good Europol has been over the last year, I will
have to get back to the committee, but certainly there are discussions.
It would be helpful if you could give us a note on that.
Mr McNulty: Yes.
Q507 Lord Teverson:
How would you exercise your role as a member of the Council in
terms of performance of Europol?
Mr McNulty: I do not think again in any
formal way they report on a regular basis. I think my colleague
Meg Hillier goes to the Council rather than me.
Mr Storr: The aspect of the relationship
which is the most near to the formal one is when the Council looks
at the Europol budget. In that particular case, the Ministers
will take a particular interest in ensuring that what Europol
is proposing to spend its money on conforms to the Europol mandate
and does not go beyond, and also, in the same way as Ministers
look at the way in which police budgets are put together, Europol
is not assuming that every new task it is given demands new resources
to do it.
Q508 Lord Teverson:
If I can pursue it, would you see in this world of judging things
with key performance indicators that there are Europol key performance
indicators or equivalent that would judge its performance on an
Mr Storr: One of the issues which slightly
concerned the Home Office during the course of the year was a
reportand I am sure it will be available to this committeeby
an auditor into the way in which Europol judged its own performance
that identified a number of weaknesses in overall management.
I think we would be looking to the new Director significantly
to try to sharpen up the way in which the performance of Europol
and the management information indicating how good was that performance
was put together.
Mr McNulty: During the negotiations on
the Council decision, we did push for the inclusion of an Article
48 that allowed the European Parliament to have a greater degree
of scrutiny of Europol. I think that greater scrutiny by the European
Parliament and indeed national parliaments would not do any harm
I do not think we have seen the auditor's report to which you
referred. Could we please have a copy of it?
Mr Storr: I think it was I who referred
to it. I would need to check the status of the document. We have
certainly seen a copy of it. If it is permissible for us to share
it with the committee, then of course we will do so. I would need
to check with Europol exactly what the status of that document
Chairman: Yes. If there are odd paragraphs
which are sensitive, we would understand if they were blacked
out, but I think we would like to see the bulk of it if you could
possibly do that. Thank you.
Q510 Lord Teverson:
The next question is around the European Parliament and the Commission's
desire for transparency. It comes on to that area of broader transparency.
Following on from what you have said, whatever happens to the
Lisbon Treaty, you would like to see a greater involvement by
the European Parliament. How do you see national parliaments potentially
getting involved either with Lisbon or without it?
Mr McNulty: I think there is an ongoing
scrutiny role for national parliaments as well, which is why I
welcome, amongst other things, your inquiry. Collectively the
Houses of Parliament need to determine whether for Europol or
any other institution they should be doing that on a more formal
annual or biennial basis. I would welcome that sort of scrutiny,
too. Article 48 which we included in the Council decision again
stands regardless of Lisbon. That was part of the Council decision
around the new approach to Europol that affords the European Parliament
the ability to scrutinise far more readily than it could and request
the Management Board and the Director to attend and provide evidence
in what we think is a far more efficient way than with the absence
of Article 48. I think the scrutiny is absolutely appropriate.
There is, as with all police forces, a distinctive degree in scrutinising
operational matters, in which clearly I think there is a limited
role, but in terms of its overall role, strategy, work plan, budget,
these are more than appropriate matters for as much scrutiny as
possible by the European Parliament or national parliaments.
Q511 Lord Dear:
Switching on to the sharing intelligence, the UK should be sharing
intelligence with its EU partners and vice versa. Are you happy
that that is being done to best effect, and particularly could
you give us a view on what improvements might be made with particular
regard to terrorism?
Mr McNulty: I think it is being done
to good effect, both in terms of crime and terrorism. We send
representatives to Europol's twice yearly counter-terrorism high
level experts meeting and make priorities to the work programme.
As you will know, that is new but it is developing a much stronger
focus and is working very well. I know from colleagues in the
security services that outside the Europol dimension they have
good and improving relations with all their equivalents. I am
satisfied from two years looking at these matters that we do share,
certainly on the counter-terrorism side, as much as we need to
and in adequate fashion. Certainly post-Madrid and post-7/7, the
urgency to do so was really enhanced and I think the European
Union did step up to the plate, if I can use an ugly Americanism,
in that regard and it has become a lot better since then than
perhaps it was before 2005 and did not quite develop as it should
between 2001 post-9/11 and 2005. I think it is in a very healthy
place now. It can always get better of course, but I think the
counter-terrorism side is in good shape and it is increasingly
better on the serious and organised crime side through Europol.
Q512 Lord Dear:
That would apply to the new Members States as well?
Mr McNulty: It is clearly less delivered
there, to be frank, but it is improving and I would say it is
on an upward trajectory.
Q513 Lord Dear:
I know you have answered this question already. We are looking
to see that there is a will in the new countries to do it? The
fact that they have to come up to speed is another matter.
Mr McNulty: I think there is. I think
the concerns there would be more around capability and capacity
rather than will.
Q514 Lord Marlesford:
Some of us gained the impression when we visited Europol and in
subsequent discussions in Brussels that the terrorism dimension
was not as effectively linked up through Europol as perhaps the
more non-terrorism aspects of policing, perhaps for two reasons:
first of all because SOCA itself does not comprise, although it
has links with, the security service; and, secondly, because of
the inhibitions naturally that there are in sharing or having
people inside Europol. I wonder whether you feel that if the liaison
officesand I am thinking obviously particularly of the
UK liaison officeat Europol were to have a more direct
link or indeed a presence from the security service, which would
of course enable there to be total control over what information
we gave, that would not actually make the use of Europol in fighting
terrorism more effective. I certainly gained that impression.
Mr McNulty: I think it may, but the emerging
network of counter-terrorism coordinators within the European
Union is working and working effectively. Part of that is under
Europol and part not. I think you are right; in the first instance
Europol's clear role is in the area of serious and organised crime
and all those competences that are outlined there and defined,
as I said earlier, in my terms adequately. I think it is satisfactory.
I would not want to have it developed or heightened just for the
sake of it. The emerging architecture across the European Union
through the national CT coordinators and inside Europol works
and works well in the circumstances. I do take your point and
it might be worth exploring, and I shall certainly take it back,
as to whether there should be a greater security service presence
in the liaison role at Europol. It is a fair point.
Q515 Lord Marlesford:
This is in the liaison office in order to avoid any risk of sharing
stuff between them.
Mr McNulty: Surely, although again rather
like all organisationsEuropol, Interpol or whateverthere
are clear protocols about what we share, how we share it and who
with. Sensitivities can be got round in that regard whilst preserving
Q516 Lord Mawson:
Are you satisfied that there is sufficient visibility of Europol
and other EU agencies in the UK competent authorities? The general
public I suspect are completely unaware of how all this is working.
It affects their security. I also know, having spent many years
working in housing estates, that it often is about people connecting
and knowing who is who and what is what that you get all the information
about where the problem family or whatever is. I do wonder whether
there is a point where there is a television series opportunity
here to bring to the attention of the general public what is out
there and the opportunities in all of this so it becomes more
common knowledge. I suspect there is a lot of blindness about
all of this out there.
Mr McNulty: I certainly believe the starting
premise that Europol could be more visible and clearly defined
in terms of what it does and clearly defined in the public sense
because I fear you are right; people either know nothing about
it or, rather like Interpol, think it is what it is not. I think
the popular perception is that Interpol is a sort of international
rescue and Thunderbirds without the rockets and has this competence
that goes all round the world and prevails at the cost of national
forces. I do take the point seriously. I think Europol does good
work and it would be very useful if that could be put more in
the public face. It is not in my competence to suggest a TV series
as a result. That may or may not work.
Q517 Lord Harrison:
My Lord Chairman, first I do apologise for coming late and I will
explain why. You are old enough, but the Minister is not old enough,
to remember Fabian of Scotland Yard, which was a TV series
and he was often linked to Interpol, as I recall it. On this question
of visibility, it was made very plain to us in the course of the
inquiry that as it were everything stopped at SOCA. Even this
morning the reason why I am delayed is to have heard an excellent
briefing from one of your people, because I am going on a visit
to Ukraine about Home Office issues, concerning Ukraine. He mentioned
SOCA and the work that is being done there. I tell the Minister
this because our own committee went to the Ukraine border and
wrote a report about it. It was interesting that the official
did not mention Europol, whereas you would have thought there
might be some natural link in. This was all too brief a briefing,
but I do think Lord Mawson's point is a very justified one and
I welcome your positive attitude about trying to spread information,
especially about an agency which does appear to be useful and
certainly could and should be useful.
Mr McNulty: Without getting into trouble,
it is something I relate to SOCA too. I would rather like SOCA's
profile to be higher in terms of relating to people exactly what
they do and how they do it because again there are huge successes.
There are ways to go but they are rather shy and retiring. Perhaps
we can have a new Inspector Fabian of the Yard who is seconded
to SOCA in the first instance and then to Europol. I am a member
of the Fabian Society but it is not connected with Fabian of
the Scotland Yard.
Let me go back to a question we did not ask with regard to police
cooperation. Do you believe there is a political will to move
away from a mentality of "need to know" over to one
which might be described as "need to share" within a
distinctive European Union cooperation framework?
Mr McNulty: There is, and it is growing
but it almost goes to many of the points that we have discussed
about bilateralism versus multilateralism, operational versus
strategic. I think we are moving in that direction, not least
through other developments that, as I say I think are rather slow
but nonetheless are there through Prüm, the framework decision
for our criminal records and others, so there are parallel things
developing elsewhere in the Union. Slow progress I think is the
short answer, but, yes, a recognition increasingly that you do
need to go from need to know to need share, not least given the
growing utilisation of technology.
Q519 Lord Teverson:
Coming back to UK arrangements, one of the areas more broadly,
as has been said, is that certainly for some Member States it
is not the greatest of career moves to move as a serving officer
or in one of the services to Europol. Are you happy that within
the United Kingdom there is not a career blemish if you go to
The Hague and that we are encouraging people to have that as part
of their career structure?
Mr McNulty: It is an interesting point.
I am very happy that there is not a blemish involved and it is
not seen as a downward move, but there are inordinate difficulties
that go to human resources, pension arrangements and a whole range
of other issues that are a complete nightmare, but I am doing
my level best to correct so that I can actively encourage people
as a matter of course to go on secondment whether it is to Europol
or Interpol. We are getting round them but again that has proved
to be quite a slog. I would start with the premise that it would
not be a blemish but rather the opposite, an absolute benefit
to go and get some experience in Europol, Interpol or with other
international forces. We are almost there but it goes to really
tedious things about pension arrangements and when you stop being
a serving policeman and whether effectively you have to resign,
go to Europol or Interpol and then come back again and what that
means for your pension arrangements. We are slowly getting round
it but it is difficult. I want it to be positively encouraged.