Correspondence with Ministers October 2006 to April 2007 - European Union Committee Contents


Letter from Joan Ryan MP, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State, Home Office to the Chairman

  I thought it would be helpful to write to you in advance of the February JHA Council to give you some early information on German Presidency handling in relation to the possible incorporation of the Pru­m Convention into EU law.

  As you know from my recent written statement on the outcome of the Informal JHA Council in Dresden, the current Presidency has made clear that incorporation of Pru­m is one of its top priorities in the JHA area, and indicated then that it intended to bring forward a formal proposal to that effect in advance of the February Council. The latest draft agenda for the Council has an item on it entitled "Integration of the Pru­m Convention into the Union legal order—Discussion and Decision on further proceeding"

  Although no such formal proposal has yet been tabled (and, hence, no EM yet submitted), we hope to have a formal proposal by the beginning of next week in advance of the JHA Council. However the Presidency has now circulated draft Council Decisions on the transposition of the Pru­m Convention, which are likely to be similar to the formal proposal. I wanted therefore to draw these to your attention as soon as I was able and to inform you of the Government's intended approach to the Council discussion.

  In broad terms, we favour in principle the rapid incorporation of Pru­m into EU law, since we believe that it has the potential to provide UK police and law enforcement agencies with additional valuable tools in the fight against cross-border crime and the detection of individuals, including foreign nationals, who have committed crimes abroad and individuals who have committed crimes and travelled abroad to prevent detection.


  In particular, the key data sharing aspects of Pru­m, which form the main element of the draft Council Decisions, implement the principle of availability, agreed by the Council in 2004. Pru­m provides a ready-made mechanism for the exchange of information between police and law enforcement bodies in relation to DNA, and fingerprint data, on a "Hit/No Hit" basis and subject to appropriate data protection arrangements.

  In Germany and Austria where parts of the Pru­m Convention and therefore, Annex A is already being implemented, the operation of the "hit/no hit" system has resulted in hits on a large number of murders, rapes and other serious crimes with a cross-border element. I should make clear that the "Hit/No Hit" basis means that any search against appropriate databases would do no more than confirm the existence of this strand on the database of the other member state (hit) or to deny the existence on the database (no hit). Any further personal information would have to be obtained through Mutual Legal Assistance, as is the current situation. Therefore Pru­m does not give greater access to personal information but allows for the police to locate and obtain the information more swiftly.

  The Informal Draft Council Decision would allow for direct access to vehicle registration data, this would mean access to the data on Vehicle Registration but not to driver licensing data. It should be noted that this is the same data that private companies and the general public can access for a small fee.


  Article 18 of Annex A is one of the reasons that the UK was cautious about signing the original Pru­m Convention (In which Article 18 is Article 25, attached for your reference Annex B). The Article is designed for states with extensive land borders who may have a situation, such as a train crash, which would need to be immediately dealt with by the nearest police. We therefore doubt that it is operationally feasible or desirable for the UK.

  In addition, whilst the focus is on urgent situations, the Article does not preclude "hot pursuit" in a situation such as a kidnapping where there may be "immediate danger to life or limb." The UK does not participate in Article 41 of the Schengen Aquis on "hot pursuit". Furthermore, Article 18 (4) requires signatories to accept liability for foreign officers operating in our territory. This would require primary legislation.

  Therefore we will seek to ensure our concerns are addressed in negotiations, possibly including exploring the possibilities of an opt out or the removal of the Article altogether.


  We are satisfied that the data protection provisions in the Informal Draft Council Decisions are robust and largely compliant with UK national law on the sharing of information with other European Member States. It should also be noted that if the Data Protection Framework Decision comes into force in the future, it will apply to all third pillar measures (Annex A.)


  The Informal Draft Council decision also allows for the sharing of information for the prevention of terrorist offences and for the maintenance of public order. This would not involve the UK sharing any more information than that which we already do. It also includes an Article on Joint Operations; this defers to national law and does not therefore extend any powers to foreign police on UK soil. This will not therefore extend the powers of foreign police to carry firearms on the UK territory.


  Germany have stated that the costs to them of implementing the Pru­m Convention, including the provisions that are included in the Informal Draft Council Decision, have been in the region of €900,000. We are considering in detail what the financial implications for the UK might be but the initial view of UK experts is that the costs associated with implementing Pru­m among all 27 EU Member States may be considerably higher, depending in part on the precise technical arrangements for allowing Member States to link into one another's systems. We are currently exploring with Germany and other existing Pru­m participants the basis on which their costings were developed, with a view to developing our own cost analysis. Any decision on our ultimate participation would clearly need to bear that cost analysis in mind.


  Formal proposals on Pru­m will, of course, be subject to the usual domestic Parliamentary scrutiny arrangements and we will be submitting the necessary Explanatory Memoranda in the usual way. They will also be subject to Third Pillar unanimity and consultation provisions.


  The legal basis currently suggested for the third pillar aspects of the Draft Council Decision (Annex A) is, Article 30(1)(a) and (b), Article 31(1) (a), Article 32 and Article 34(2)(c), The Legal basis for the first pillar Decision (Annex B) is Article 30(1) (a) and (b), Article 32 and Article 34(2)(c).

2 February 2007

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