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This is a very telling report. We are in a sense setting a new pattern for the House to consider these matters, in that the committee is inviting the House to express a view. I very much support that proposition and commend the report to the House.
The Minister of State, Home Office (Baroness Neville-Jones): My Lords, I join noble Lords in expressing my gratitude to the European Union Select Committee for organising this debate. I am also grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, for acknowledging the Government's willingness to give practical effect to the procedural undertakings that they have given. As a result, we have had a discussion on the Floor of the House at an early stage of consideration. The Government will take very serious account of what has been said today.
One of the things that has emerged from the debate is that the European Union Committee, the Government and a number of noble Lords are in agreement that there is concrete evidence of the utility and benefits to be derived from the analysis of PNR data in terms of passengers' security. Indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, put the case for the directive containing intra-EU PNR data as well as data on third-country flights as least as cogently as I could, if not more so. Therefore, I do not need to go over why the Government consider this to be an important part of the legislation, and why they wish to continue to strive to get it included. We have consistently argued that the directive should contain this information and that it should cover intra-EU routes.
I note what my noble friend Lord Hodgson said-that this is a "nice to have" rather than a "must have". However, I shall seek to explain why the Government take a different view for two reasons. First, the argument that it is possible to evade the information that this provision might yield by choosing another form of transport may be valid. However, that is not itself a compelling argument for not obtaining the information if you believe it to be necessary to inhibit terrorism. Secondly-this is the major point-we have had ample evidence since earlier drafts of this legislation that aviation is a major terrorist target. We cannot ignore that. Therefore, it is right, consistent with individuals' right to privacy-I entirely take the points that have been made about that and will return to them-to provide and maintain the maximum security that we can for passengers on aircraft, otherwise aircraft may well be blown up before they reach us.
Lord Dykes: Further to that point, with which I agree, does the Minister agree that it is remarkable that, although the security procedures at airports are extremely irritating for most passengers and that we all suffer, there is a high degree of psychological support for those measures among passengers, who know how vulnerable air flights are?
Baroness Neville-Jones: The noble Lord's point is entirely well made. One of the things that the Government are nevertheless trying to do, with international co-operation, is to reduce as much as possible the burden of those procedures-a lot of them are physical. The more information we have that enables us to alleviate some of the other constraints and put them together in a package, the safer we will be and the less intrusive the security procedures will be.
The noble Earl, Lord Erroll, made various points. API information is already collected and it is possible to know with whom you are travelling. He is quite right to say that extra information will be collected. It is precisely because that information includes details of how the ticket was paid for, which is a major indicator of the kind of passenger with whom you are dealing, that it is thought wise and helpful to have it. This directive will go no further in the information that it asks for than that which is already contained in the agreements that the EU has negotiated with third countries, such as the United States, Australia, Canada and possibly others. I repeat that the Government's first duty is to ensure the security of their citizens.
The UK has tabled an amendment that it hopes may form part of the negotiations. Our view is that the directive should allow member states-not oblige them, if that is unachievable-to require carriers to provide PNR data. That will increase effectiveness and help us to ensure that our borders are adequately protected. The committee and the House will entirely understand that this is a key consideration regarding our decision on whether we opt in.
We have been lobbying hard on this issue for some considerable time. I am pleased that an increasing number of member states are being persuaded by the arguments involved. However, I have to say that we do not yet believe that we have reached where we need to be to ensure that such a requirement becomes part of the directive. A great deal of work remains to be done. Even if we obtain the support we need in the Council, the Government are also conscious that many Members of the European Parliament hold strong views on data protection and on whether the proposed measure is proportionate. I know that many noble Lords have connections with Members of the European Parliament, and the Government would be extremely grateful if noble Lords, if they had occasion to, were able to persuade those MEPs of the merits of our case and reassure them on any concerns they may have.
I say to the noble Earl, Lord Erroll and others that the Government will take the whole question of the safeguarding of this information extremely seriously. There is a whole section of the proposed directive that addresses that issue, and we will scrutinise that as carefully as anyone. We understand and believe in the necessity of allowing security and privacy to ride together, and not allowing them to be put in opposition to each other. We believe that the directive is proportionate, and that it would continue to be proportionate if it included intra-EU PNR.
The House wishes to know whether the Government will be able to opt in. As I said, further work must be done on the directive and we must do more lobbying in order to get to the place where we feel we need to be.
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I hope that the House will accept that at this stage the Government need to maximise their negotiating leverage. They will reflect very carefully on the points that have been made today before they reach a final decision; they take the points made by noble Lords extremely seriously. There may be points of detail between us, but not fundamental points. We will of course communicate our decision to the House as soon as it has been made.
Lord Hannay of Chiswick: My Lords, I thank all those who participated in this brief debate, which has been extremely useful and has shown a wide measure of agreement. I thank the Minister for her response which, although it may have fallen a scintilla short of what I might have hoped for, nevertheless went quite a long way in the direction that your Lordships' committee wishes to go. I will add on a personal note that she and I, so many years ago that I would not dream of embarrassing anyone by saying how many, dealt with some of the more complex aspects of EU policy, mainly the EU budget. That budget pales into insignificance compared with this system of opt-outs and opt-ins.
Perhaps I may respond to one or two contributions. The noble Lord, Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts, raised the possibility that the directive asks for too much data. I do not have a strong view on that; we do not have to have a view to support the resolution. However, it is only by opting in that we can affect the amount of data that are collected. That is yet another reason to opt in. I and the committee agree with the noble Lord-and here I part company slightly with the Minister, although I accept absolutely her plea that we should help the Government in their negotiating position by standing firmly in favour of the inclusion of intra-EU flights-that this is not a make or break issue. It is not and should not be a sine qua non for opting in. That is a personal opinion. However, the committee does support, without ambiguity, the Government's desire to include intra-EU flights.
One problem that may come up-I hope it does not, and that the Minister is right in anticipating that real progress will be made at the April council to include intra-EU flights-is that it may not be possible by the time we have to take a decision on opting in to be quite sure one way or the other. However, on one thing we can be quite certain: if we opt out, intra-EU flights will not be included, although I do not want to go further into that. I certainly did not mean in the report to criticise the honourable Member in another place, Mr Brokenshire, who gave evidence to us. He gave excellent evidence on our internal security strategy report, for which we are extremely grateful. He was entirely courteous on this matter and there is no reproach. It is, I think, due to the parliamentary
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My noble friend Lord Erroll seemed a little worried about all the details being taken of his credit cards and other things. Of course, the reality is that they are taken by the Government anyway. I think that his objection is mainly that some foreigners might read them. I am sorry-we are in the European Union. There are an awful lot of things that we share with members of the European Union and this will be one of them. In my view and in the view of my committee, it will strengthen the security of this country if we are able to do that. However, as I said, that information is already being collected here.
The Earl of Erroll: Perhaps I may make it clear that I am not worried about the information being shared with the European Union, as of course I give my credit card details on the internet to buy things in Europe. The challenge is in the number of times that it will be propagated around systems where we do not know what the security levels are, and the Government do not have a good track record of maintaining security databases. That is my concern.
The noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, was very helpful and supportive about the report and the recommendations. He rightly pointed out that there is considerable intrusion into personal data and personal security and so on. It is perhaps worth pointing out that one of the changes to which I did not refer at great length is that, as a result of the Lisbon treaty, the European Parliament has now become the co-legislator on this matter. The one thing we can be quite sure of is that the European Parliament is not going to let this bone go without giving it several bites and worrying at it a good deal. Therefore, I do not think that we are at the end of that story. I believe that the privacy aspects will get a very thorough airing in the negotiations between the Council on the one hand and the Parliament on the other. I am sorry to say it again but that is yet another reason why we need to be there, exercising some influence.
Finally, the Minister asked those of us who were involved in this matter whether we could take it up with the European Parliament. So far as I am concerned, I would willingly do so. I can see my chairman, my noble friend Lord Roper, nodding sagely to my left. We are going to Brussels next week to have our six-monthly meeting with British Members of the European Parliament, and we will certainly raise this issue with them. We will try to persuade them to fan out a bit and explain why the inclusion of intra-EU flights is going to help with security for all of us.
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