HL Deb 11 October 1999 vol 605 cc82-99

7.41 p.m.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire rose to ask her Majesty's Government what will be the significance of the European Council at Tampere on 15th and 16th October for United Kingdom policing, immigration control and judicial co-operation.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I have been listening with fascination to how decision trees lead one into the woods. I am sorry that we now have to move on to another subject. The Unstarred Question standing in my name asks Her Majesty's Government, what will be the significance of the European Council— which will take two full days of our Prime Minister's time in Tampere this coming weekend— for United Kingdom policing, immigration control and judicial co-operation".

We have this brief debate tonight because Sub-Committee F of the European Communities Committee, of which I have the honour to be the chair, produced a report on this topic at the end of July, and there has not yet been time to have a proper debate. I hope that this dinner-hour debate will not be considered as a full and proper debate. I very much hope—and I say this to the Government Whips—that time will be found for a full-length debate after the Tampere European Council, in the light of the important decisions due to be taken at that council. This, then, is a brief, interim debate on the important issues at stake to open up public information and public debate just a little before next weekend. The significance of developments in this field is very large.

Through successive inquiries of our committee, we have all been struck by just how rapidly co-operation has developed in this whole area of justice and home affairs over the past 10 years. Large numbers of officials from the Home Office, from the Lord Chancellor's Department, from the Scottish departments concerned, from the National Criminal Intelligence Service (which was partly created to cope with the growing amount of European business) and from the National Crime Squad, now travel to Brussels and other European capitals every week. We have somewhere between 15 and 20 police liaison officers permanently stationed in other European capitals. Our Home Secretary is on first-name terms with his opposite numbers in most other European capitals and so far, in the past few weeks, has spent two days in Turku at an informal meeting of justice and home affairs Ministers. He also attended a full meeting on 4th October to discuss the agenda for Tampere. Moreover, today, our foreign ministers met to complete preparations for next weekend's agenda.

This is a very large and important area. The Home Secretary has been an extremely co-operative Minister in working with the European Communities Committee of this House. When he came to give evidence to us in July, he agreed that the comparison one should make as regards what is now on the agenda of the European Council should be with the 1992 programme. That was agreed in 1986–87 as a five-year programme for transforming the internal market and, at the end of that five-year period, it required some substantial further treaty amendments. Perhaps I may quote what the Home Secretary said to our committee: We hope that this will lead to practical progress in terms of improved co-operation at every level between justice and home affairs ministries within the EU and some of the institutions of the EU, fundamentally to improve the enforcement of law within the European Union and access to it as well". We questioned the Home Secretary a little further on the comparison with the 1992 programme, remembering how much further it took Mrs. Thatcher than she had intended, and he said that he would not necessarily flinch if, at the end of this process, further constitutional treaty amendments were made.

One of the issues which the Home Secretary told us in July was unlikely to be on the agenda, which clearly will be discussed next weekend, is the proposal for a European Union charter of fundamental rights. It is intended to incorporate this into the treaty in the course of the intergovernmental conference next year. I understand that heads of government will be asked at Tampere to agree who will form the drafting committee for the fundamental declaration. In many ways, that will be as important as the 1951 European Convention on Human Rights. We will need to look at that in those terms. So there are several large issues here to which this House and the other place will need to give full attention.

There are severe dangers in the lack of public information and understanding. On several occasions during the past two years various members of our subcommittee have said that the real danger is that at some point the Daily Mail will wake up and say, "Germans take over British law", or even, "Stop the Euro superstate in the name of the law". However, it is the Daily Telegraph which has headlined this today, and I am sorry to see that it is a newly-elected Conservative Member of the European Parliament making a number of grossly inaccurate and ill-informed statements about what is currently happening.

My impression was that this is an all-party development. Indeed, much of what has happened in the past 10 years happened under a Conservative government. I recommend to Members of this House the extremely constructive and useful evidence that Michael Howard, the last Conservative Home Secretary, gave to our committee 18 months ago on how useful and normal he had found the evolution of co-operation among Ministers of justice and home affairs.

There are three main areas on the agenda—immigration and asylum, organised crime and judicial co-operation. Perhaps I may say a few words about each of them. First, there is a disjunction between the Bill currently going through this House on immigration and asylum and the issues which our Home Secretary and others will be discussing during the course of the Tampere European Council. One of the ways in which we ought to be bringing practical cooperation at the European level together with national legislation is to feed back into our national legislation, as we change it, some of this interconnection.

In the British Government's UK position paper for the Tampere European Council, I see the statement that, the United Kingdom believes that the European Union should develop a global approach to asylum and immigration". That is not exactly what is happening in the Bill currently before the House. I read a very interesting letter today from the UN High Commission for Refugees which pointed out the significance of moves towards a European common approach to refugees in that it would clearly affect the whole way in which global policy towards refugees develops within the developed countries. So large issues are, again, at stake here. My noble friend Lord Russell reminded me this morning that it is important that the EU agrees a common definition of "refugees", and that that common definition should be on the liberal side.

There is a refugee crisis across the world. Today I read the European Union's action plans on Somalia, Afghanistan, Iraq and Morocco. I gather that there is also an interim report on the refugee crisis in southeastern Europe. These have large implications, not just for justice and home affairs Ministers but also for European Union foreign policy, which I understand Foreign Ministers are discussing today. If we are to have a coherent policy towards the countries from which refugees have come, we will need to have a rather active and co-ordinated foreign policy as such.

There are now 40,000 Somali refugees and their families in this country, which is a third of the Somalis in the European Union. However, I should note that Britain is not the softest touch within the European Union. It emerges clearly from the document that I have just been reading that the Netherlands and Germany still take a more generous approach than we do.

The agenda will contain many items on organised crime. I was rather struck today to read a brief from Statewatch, a civil liberties organisation, that criticised the agenda on organised crime, mainly because it was not taking all crime into consideration. It argued that European citizens now live increasingly across a European space, and that if British citizens wish for civil or criminal redress in other countries they are entitled—as Jack Straw has said to our committee—to that kind of redress from the courts of other countries. I know that improved police co-operation is on the agenda. There is nothing in the way of a common European police force—which is what the Daily Telegraph threatens us all with—but there are a number of useful practical ways forward.

Judicial co-operation is rapidly emerging as a third useful area. I refer to the need for convergence of standards and assumptions to build co-operation and also to build better access to justice for the citizen. There is the suggestion— which the Home Secretary has also made—of a European enforcement order. When awarded a judgment against a citizen or a company in another country one can insist on having this enforced. If our citizens live across the European space they are entitled to access to justice across the European space.

The United Kingdom's approach to this matter has not changed much from government to government. The current Minister argues—as indeed his predecessor did—that we should pursue practical cooperation which may in time lead to treaty change. Some of our colleagues in other governments want to define the principles first and sort out the practice later, but we are all likely to end up in the same place in five or 10 years' time. This is an area where developments are moving extremely fast. The 1992 programme caught the public in this country and in a number of other countries unawares. The action programme for freedom, security and justice should not. I hope that in a small way this debate will do a little to illuminate the agenda already under discussion. I call on the Government to inform us all a great deal more fully and to publish a good deal more. I hope that after the Tampere European Council this House will have the opportunity for a much fuller debate.

7.52 p.m.

Lord Bethell

My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, on introducing this brief debate. I offer a qualified congratulation to the Government on taking forward this question of co-operation in judicial and policing matters. I look forward very much to hearing from the Minister what exactly is on the agenda for Tampere, if it is now known, and something of what the proceedings will be. I share the hope of the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, that after Tampere we shall have the opportunity of a wide-ranging debate, even though some of us may not be here to hear it. Nevertheless, we hope that it will happen at least.

I well recall 10 years ago attending the birth of what is now Europol in a portacabin just south of Strasbourg—it was then called the European drugs unit—listening to the ideas put forward for cooperation between police services all over the European Community and thinking to myself that no one could possibly object to that because the plans for the exacerbation of the war against crime made such common sense and were so necessary and so important. We all saw how the criminals were working in co-operation. They paid no attention to boundaries. They had good equipment for crossing frontiers. They did not care about exchange control or about moving money into and out of various banks. Somehow the police were hamstrung and had less freedom than the criminals who were able to exchange information much more easily. Therefore, I am pleased that Europol has at last come to fruition. I hope that police co-operation will be one of the matters discussed at Tampere.

However, there is no doubt that there are objectors. On the one hand there is the ultra civil libertarian who is worried at what he sees as an emerging "big brother" on an international scale emanating from Brussels, which somehow seems to make it worse. On the other hand—as pointed out by my noble friend Lord Wallace; I believe he mentioned the Daily Telegraph in this connection—an article was written by a Member of the European Parliament along the lines that a police officer is a constable and an expression of the sovereignty of the nation state. There are those who believe that the constable should not step outside the boundaries of the nation state. In that, they distinguish between the police officer and the soldier. For many centuries the British soldier has fought outside the boundaries of the nation state in alliance with other soldiers from other countries and no one has thought that he was acting in any way out of the ordinary or cooperating with foreigners. During the Second World War the entire British Armed Forces were placed under the command of a foreigner. Recently in Bosnia and in East Timor foreigners have commanded British forces and no one bats any kind of an eyelid. However, for some reason, there are those who look askance at a policeman who wishes to work with his colleagues abroad.

I hope that this matter will be resolved. I declare my interest in that I am an adviser to the Police Federation but I have not consulted it before deciding what to say. I look at Europe, however, and see the dangers that appear, particularly from the east. I refer to the trade in nuclear material that is devastatingly worrying and the massive increase in the drugs trade, much of it from Russia and the former Soviet Union. I refer to the enormous movement of stolen automobiles—not from this country—from Germany and France into eastern Europe and Russia. I refer also to the build-up of illegal immigration from the east, not only of citizens of the former Soviet Union but also of those in Asia who are using the former Soviet Union as a transit area. Recently in Lithuania I was told that there were an estimated 1.5 million refugees in Belarus who were threatening to cross into Poland and Germany through Lithuania. In south-east Europe, there is the sad trade in human beings as it is called—the massive prostitution emanating from the former Soviet Union which is extremely exploitative of the young women involved.

I believe that all these matters need to be carefully discussed by the heads of government. I am very pleased that the noble Lord and his sub-committee have this question in their sights. I trust that they will be returning to it after the Tampere meeting.

8 p.m.

Lord Bruce of Donington

My Lords, I rise to support the insistence of the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, at the conclusion of the short contribution he was able to make, that the House should have a full opportunity to debate in detail the extremely important matters that have been raised in connection with the harmonisation or otherwise of judicial affairs and immigration, not only illegal immigration but also economic integration, to which the noble Lord referred in his report.

Earlier this year, in spring, the Select Committee considering European matters felt the sap rising in its attitude towards the world. It decided to have a debate on precisely the question that the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, is required to answer this evening within the space of 12 minutes. The committee proceeded with expedition under the very efficient chairmanship of the noble Lord, Lord Wallace. It examined the Home Secretary personally on these matters for one and a half hours and examined two of his officials, together with two officials from the Lord Chancellor's Department, for a further 16 pages of text in the report which was ultimately produced. It was most productive. I compliment my colleagues—hereditary or otherwise—who served on the committee on their excellent work in the examination, which they undertook with the greatest possible thoroughness.

The committee also interviewed the leader of the Fair Trials Abroad Trust, whose evidence was of vital importance. It also had the opportunity of examining the German interior minister, together with Commissioner Gradin, whose contribution was most enlightening, and a series of others.

The committee then produced a report which included evidence, consisting of some 76 pages, and conclusions, consisting of some 16 pages—there were 95 pages in all—which comprised a complete summary of the vital matters the committee thought were likely to be discussed at Tampere. The committee raised precisely the same questions as have been raised this afternoon by the noble Lord in 10 minutes and which are to be answered by my noble friend—with whom I deeply sympathise—in 12 minutes. That is quite impossible.

The report showed that there were peripheral differences as to the method of co-operation in Europe. I refer to whether that should be achieved by harmonising the law or by co-operation in the practice of the law. Those matters were very adequately discussed, as was illegal immigration and, even though the committee was not there for this, there were overtones about possible economic migration which cast shadows in my mind in connection with possible future developments of the single currency. The committee went into all of those matters in very great detail.

In the time available to me, I can do no more than venture to touch on the contents of this report. I shall, however, mention that some evidence was given to the committee by Mr Jakobi, the leader of the Fair Trials Abroad Trust. He gave startling evidence about the quality of justice within Europe and some of the various member states. I commend that particular section to any Members of your Lordships' House who are interested in fairness and justice. You will see some appalling incidents in the administration of justice in certain member states; for example, some judges are appointed when they leave school. There is no question of experience at the Bar or as solicitors; they go straight onto the Bench. However, I shall not refer to that here and now because my time is nearly up.

I sincerely trust that during the current year Members of the House will read the 19th Report of the Select Committee (HL Paper 101). Much of what they will read in it—if only they will read it—will make their hair curl. It will make us very chary indeed of how our representatives at Tampere conduct themselves. I am apprehensive that we will get a presidential communiqué, prepared in advance by the Commission, its contents probably unknown by those who will eventually sign it, which will take us further along the road the Commission wants. We shall judge and we shall see. In the mean time, as my time is up, I have the greatest pleasure in sitting down.

8.10 p.m.

Lord Inglewood

My Lords, I begin my remarks by expressing my thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, for this timely debate. As he said, the Tampere summit is this coming weekend.

I should explain to your Lordships that I was a member of Sub-Committee F. I was not materially involved in the production of the report because I was involved in the European parliamentary elections, since when I have come off the committee. I hope and believe that I can make a small contribution to the House by bringing what I might perhaps describe as a little bit of news from the front, as did my noble friend Lord Bethell.

The campaign in Europe is fought not only in the Council of Ministers—where Ministers can advise us as to what is going on—but also in other European institutions. The matters to be discussed at Tampere traditionally were discussed according to the general rules of 19th century diplomacy, intergovernmentally. We all know that the world is changing, as a number of your Lordships have already remarked. In the very short period since the Maastricht Treaty, an entirely new forum has arisen in which these matters are considered across western Europe. The systems of decision-making have changed. As we know from your Lordships' House and elsewhere in the country, that is extremely controversial in itself. If I may use an ecclesiastical metaphor or comparison, it is liturgical rather than doctrinal. I am very anxious that we establish this evening the Government's position on the doctrine rather than on the liturgy that accompanies the summit. What is the Government's main policy on the matters which will be under discussion? Where precisely do they stand? What do they see might be negotiable, and what is not negotiable in an area that is extremely important to the theory and practice of government?

I have explained to your Lordships on a number of occasions that I believe that one of the greatest weaknesses of the European political system has been the failure right across Europe of national parliaments to hold governments to account and to obtain answers from them about their actions in the Council of Ministers. I very much hope that the Government will underscore their self-proclaimed European credentials by giving straightforward, unequivocal answers to the House this evening.

In the context of the Tampere summit, inevitably most of the discussion will be about criminal matters. However, I should like to take up the rest of my time with a few remarks about the civil side of judicial cooperation. This is very much on the Tampere agenda and is very important, as the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, pointed out. When all is said and done, we cannot have a true single market—a citizen's single market—without sensibly priced, user-friendly means of redress where there are breakdowns in commercial transactions across different national jurisdictions, as is, unfortunately, inevitable. I am particularly anxious to hear what plans the Government have to get to grips with and tackle those problems.

In the context of the civil aspect of Tampere, I must express my concern about what is known, in a rather unattractive English word, as the "Amsterdamisation" of the Brussels and Rome conventions, and in particular how the proposed regulations to bring the two international conventions within the Community system will deal with the so-called "country of origin" principle. As your Lordships know, the country of origin principle is one of the core principles around which the single market has been built. There is a risk—this is clear from what is presenly being debated in Europe—that there may be a move to shift the basis of the single market away from the country of origin principle. That is so not least in the case of e-commerce, which is itself the subject of a considerable quantity of European Union legislation currently in the pipeline.

There appears to be a real danger of a fundamental shift in the basis of the issues. I believe—I understand that this is also the view of the Government—that this poses a very real threat to the working of the single market. It arises principally from dealing with such intergovernmental conventions, and their transposition into European Community law.

As I said earlier, I understand that the Government's view on these matters is much the same as mine. It is their view that the erosion of the country of origin principle would in fact be extremely damaging. If that is the case, I hope that the Minister will he able to support that unequivocally, and will explain to the House the steps the Government are taking to safeguard this important element in the construction of the whole single market.

8.11 p.m.

Lord Elibank

My Lords, first, I welcome the conference. It will be an exceptional one, relating to justice and home affairs. There has not I believe been anything like it at such a senior level in the history of the Community. A great mass of work has been done at a somewhat more junior level on all the subjects under discussion. However, to have the Prime Ministers and Presidents discuss the issues is a notable step forward.

The committee had one main fear, and that is that the agenda may be overcrowded. There are three very substantial items or headings for discussion, and there are only two days in which to discuss them. In those circumstances, there must be a risk that the heads of state will confine themselves to rather bland statements of principle and delegate any kind of serious discussion to sub-committees. If that happens, I do not think that a great deal of profit will come from this meeting.

When our committee visited Brussels we saw that the Finnish presidency had gone to a great deal of trouble to cope with the difficulties and to anticipate the problems that will arise. One must hope, with a certain trepidation, that the heads of state will cope adequately with the meeting and will produce constructive results.

I intend to speak only on one or two aspects of judicial affairs, which is one of the headings to be discussed. First, I should say how much I and the rest of the committee welcome the stance of the Government on the treatment of law and judicial matters; that is to say, they have said that they will support wholeheartedly recognition between Community countries of judicial administrative matters and judicial decisions, but that they will not in any way move towards harmonisation. Harmonisation is a long-term goal. It may be that in the course of years or decades there could be a coining together of the legal systems of the various countries. However, as your Lordships well know, there is a sharp division between the common law under which we are governed and the system obtaining on the Continent, based largely on Roman law and the Code Napoléon.

However, within the limits of recognition, there is a great deal which can be done. First, I shall deal with the criminal side, which can perhaps be divided into administration and judicial jurisprudence. It has been suggested by the Government that administratively there is much that could be done on matters such as arrest warrants, witness summonses and warrants for search and seizure to speed up the administration of justice if there was a general recognition and acceptance of the procedures of other countries. The actual jurisdiction is a more difficult matter.

I believe the way ahead lies in starting modestly. If we could recognise the decisions of courts in criminal matters which relate to crimes of less gravity, we could make a modest start and build up a measure of confidence. After all, in this country, 90 to 95 per cent of criminal matters are dealt with satisfactorily by distinguished men and women who by and large have no legal training. We are well satisfied and happy to accept their decisions provided of course that there is an appropriate appellate structure available to those who wish to appeal. The same could be done with criminal matters within the Community.

Similarly, as regards civil matters, if an amount could be selected—most civil cases turn on cash— below which we would accept pretty much without question the judgments of courts in other countries of the Community, that too would be a way to start a recognition procedure. Starting modestly is I think the key to this. A low-level cash limitation of around 1,000 euros could be set where we would accept any decision of any court in the Community up to that amount. Subsequently, when perhaps years have gone past and confidence has grown, we could perhaps raise that level. Done gradually, this could introduce a great improvement in respect of the administration of justice in the Community. I believe that that is the correct way to proceed in this matter.

8.17 p.m.

Lord Lester of Herne Hill

My Lords, I have had the great privilege of serving on Sub-committee F under the skilled chairmanship of my noble friend Lord Wallace of Saltaire. I should like to say briefly what a great pleasure it is to work on that committee. Its members are not dogmatic, there is no ideology, we are not divisive and we do not act in a partisan way; I believe that we are open minded.

First, since I had little to do with the preparation of this report because I was away elsewhere for most of the time, let me also say that it is an excellent report. Secondly, I was able to hear the Home Secretary and the Home Office advisers give evidence, and I should like to add to the tributes paid by Lord Bruce of Donington that they were quite conspicuous in the excellence of the evidence that they gave. Thirdly, we should all welcome the fact that there is parliamentary scrutiny, albeit of a very straitened and unsatisfactory kind in this truncated debate in a corset of time.

I entirely agree with the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Donington, and the points made at the beginning of the debate by my noble friend Lord Wallace about the importance of the issues and the vital need for proper parliamentary debate. The reason why the system has worked well on this occasion is that, thanks to the speed with which the report has been produced, we are able this evening to ask the Minister to answer questions and respond to the debate before the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary go to Finland next weekend. That seems to me to be a most desirable outcome, although the matters will need further debate afterwards.

I have time to deal with only one aspect of the subject—criminal justice and policing. I agree, just as the committee agreed, with the broad approach adopted by the Government. That approach is to be pragmatic; not to attempt to do the impossible, which is to harmonise the substance of criminal law and procedure across Europe, but to make it much easier for those accused of serious crimes to be tried in the place where the crime was committed and for them to be transferred across frontiers while fair procedures—I shall come back to this point—are guaranteed for their trials.

For the reasons given by, for example, the noble Lord, Lord Elibank, the Government are quite right not to attempt to harmonise the substance of criminal law. After all, we in the United Kingdom have not even achieved that in England and Wales. We do not, alas, have a proper criminal code and we certainly have not harmonised criminal law and procedure north and south of the Border. If we cannot do it in the United Kingdom, we certainly cannot expect that to happen across Europe; and nor is it necessarily desirable, because the criminal code reflects different values of different systems. But one point is quite clear: all of us in Europe believe that corruption, trafficking in human beings, drug smuggling, rape, the sexual exploitation of children and terrorism—to take the examples given to us in evidence by the Commission—are serious crimes which need to be tackled seriously and effectively without undue technicality or legalism. That is why what is happening in the criminal justice field is very important.

However, the missing element is the effective safeguards that need to be built into the system to make sure that trials are fair. The first point on which the Home Secretary expressed agreement was that the crimes one should tackle should be mainstream crimes; and not crimes against the state, not controversial crimes like blasphemy or insulting a head of state, to take a real life example. They should be the kind of crimes to which I have referred. The second point is that political offences should be excluded from any notion of easier extradition. Thirdly, national courts will need to go on providing effective safeguards where an accused person is likely to face an unfair trial in another state of the European Union. Fourthly, there has to be some pan-European safeguard where national courts, from whatever part of the European Union, are not able to do their job properly by guaranteeing a fair trial.

The missing element—on this point I think that I would lose the support of the noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Donington—is that the European Court of Justice has not been given the power to provide effective safeguards in areas like the Europol Convention or in areas of the kind we are discussing this evening. What we would seek to find out from the Minister above all—I gave notice to his office that I would raise this point—is what kind of effective national and European safeguards the Government accept as the necessary condition for the kind of approach that they are seeking to persuade other member states to adopt when they go to Finland. Can the Minister give an assurance that moves to facilitate the easy transfer of the accused across states will be balanced by effective judicial safeguards, national and European? Otherwise this will be bad news for the protection of the rights and liberties of the individual. I say that not as an ultra liberal, to use the phrase of the noble Lord, Lord Bethell, but simply as someone concerned that we should catch, prosecute, convict and sentence criminals and make sure that the process is fair.

Before I sit down, perhaps I may say that I sympathise with the Minister who is new in office. He is filling the large shoes left by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn. I congratulate him on that. I realise that he is not a lawyer but hope that he will be able to answer some of those questions, either today or hereafter.

8.25 p.m.

Viscount Bridgeman

My Lords, I know that this is not quite the first time the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, has appeared at the Dispatch Box but it is the first day and from these Benches I should like to welcome him and congratulate him on his appointment. I should like also to thank the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, for initiating this debate and congratulate him and his colleagues on Sub-Committee F on their comprehensive and informative report.

From these Benches we support closer co-operation on such vital issues as asylum, immigration and the fight against crime, but only on an intergovernmental basis. It must not involve an erosion of countries' rights to make decisions on these matters for themselves. On 23rd September the President of the Commission, Mr Romano Prodi, wrote Mr Paavo Lipponen, the Prime Minister of Finland, a letter which we on these Benches find somewhat disturbing. Perhaps I may quote two extracts from that letter. First, Mr Prodi wrote: The protection of the Community's financial interests offers an interesting and appropriate first area for introducing the idea of a European public prosecutor". Later on in that letter he stated: The Amsterdam treaty and the Vienna action plan already set out a demanding programme of work over the next two to five years which, when completed, will form the basis of a single European asylum system. I am personally very interested in the idea of going further still and working towards a single European Union asylum procedure". That letter is but one instance of the policy of creeping federalisation—we might call it federalisation by stealth—which we detect among the Council of Ministers.

I would therefore ask the Minister to give us a categoric assurance ahead of Tampere on four points. First, will the Government guarantee to veto any proposal for an operational role for Europol? We are the first to agree that Europol will greatly improve police co-operation—a point made by my noble friend Lord Bethell—in the fight against crime across the Union. However, we do not wish to see an EU-appointed police force with the ability to undertake investigations itself rather than for these to be carried out by the police forces of the nation states.

Secondly, I ask for an assurance from the Minister that there will be no agreement at Tampere to modify one of the cornerstones of British justice; namely, trial by jury. Thirdly, will he allay the concerns on this side of the House that there may be initiatives at Tampere to move towards the creation of a trans-European criminal code? The fight against fraud should not be used as a cover for introducing corpus juris, with all that that would entail, including the establishment of a public prosecutor with powers to conduct investigations outside our legal system but inside the United Kingdom.

The noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Donington, referred to Mr Stephen Jakobi of Fair Trials Abroad and to the wide disparity of judicial calibre across the Community. My noble friend Lord Elibank referred to the difference between the two procedures— the Code Napoleon, where a judge is drawn from a distinct judicial career, unlike in this country where he comes from the most experienced body of courtroom lawyers. Even if the judicial standards of all judges could be raised to best country practice, the continental system is itself' totally alien to this country and offers no advantages or benefits and its imposition here should be resisted.

Fourthly, may we have an assurance that proposals for a Community-wide procedure for asylum seekers is also resisted? As your Lordships are aware, we on these Benches are broadly supportive of the provisions of the Immigration and Asylum Bill which is currently passing through the House. However, I must ask the Minister for a guarantee that the United Kingdom will continue to be able to make its own decisions about accepting asylum seekers, having regard to the UN Convention on Human Rights but also taking into account the law and order infrastructure of the United Kingdom which in many respects differs from that in continental Europe.

I hope that the Government and these Benches may not be as far apart on some of the points as might seem to be the case. Certainly, I note from the Select Committee's report that the Home Secretary in his evidence to the committee talked about co-operation rather than harmonisation. That would appear to have been the theme in the television programme yesterday. All this we welcome.

Nevertheless, I must remind the House, and with due respect to my noble friends Lord Bethel] and Lord Inglewood, that in June electors gave the Conservatives a clear mandate for our policy on Europe. I quote from our election manifesto: The establishment of the European police office (Europol) will greatly improve police co-operation and the fight against crime in Europe. However, we believe it is important that judicial affairs and home affairs issues should be decided largely on an intergovernmental basis, protecting countries' rights to make decisions on such matters themselves. In particular, we will oppose resolutely moves towards the creation of a Europe-wide criminal justice system as outlined in plans prepared under the aegis of the European Commission for a corpus juris". That was the mandate which was endorsed by the electorate last June, of which I hope Her Majesty's Government have taken careful note. I look forward to hearing the Minister's reply.

8.30 p.m.

Lord Bassam of Brighton

My Lords, first, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, on bringing this matter before the House. This has been an extremely interesting and wide-ranging debate, whether one is an enthusiast or a sceptic on the subject. I have found it extremely illuminating. If I do not manage to cover all the points that noble Lords have raised, I promise to take careful account of those points and reply in writing. I am grateful to those noble Lords who gave me advance warning of their intentions in the debate. It was most helpful.

I want to say to the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, that, frightening though the Daily Telegraph may sometimes be, I am among those who believe that it has a good sports page and not much more. That may not be my guide and rudder throughout the course of my speech; however, the noble Lord may like to bear that in mind.

The special European Council at Tampere is a very significant occasion. As we all acknowledge, it will be the first time that heads of state and heads of government will have been able to focus their attention exclusively on justice and home affairs co-operation in the European Union.

Justice and home affairs co-operation are increasingly important areas of EU work. It is therefore hardly surprising when EU member states face formidable and increasing challenges from illegal immigration, mass influxes of refugees, drugs and organised crime, to take three examples. There were 300,000 asylum applications in the EU in 1998, a 20 per cent increase on the 1997 figures. The UN estimates that the global turnover of criminal organisations is larger than Britain's GDP. Over five-and-a-half thousand kilograms of heroin were seized in EU countries in 1996, and a recent estimate suggests well over 1 million problem drug users in 10 of the 15 EU countries. Therefore, Tampere makes a case all of its own for increased co-operation across European states. We now have a clearer legal framework within which to carry forward such co-operation and treaty provisions which fully recognise member states' continuing competence in such fields as the police and judicial co-operation.

The Government see the Tampere Summit as an important opportunity to give JHA work the high profile it deserves; to establish the priorities and guidelines for future work; and to endorse specific measures that will contribute to the overall objective, now enshrined in the Amsterdam Treaty, of establishing an, Area of Freedom, Security and Justice". The Government have given considerable thought to how Tampere may best respond to the challenges.

There are four particular ideas that we have been pressing strongly. First, I would refer to the ideas that we have launched on mutual recognition of criminal court decisions. Secondly, I would draw attention to our ideas for a series of initiatives on crime prevention and youth crime. Thirdly, we have been instrumental, along with some other member states, in putting together a comprehensive EU strategy for dealing with immigration and asylum. Fourthly, we have proposed a new initiative in the area of civil justice designed to make it as easy as possible for citizens of one country to use the legal system of another.

The Government welcomed the decision of the Select Committee to review prospects for Tampere. We have read the committee's report with great care. It is thoughtful and perceptive and has been fully taken into account in the Government's preparations for the European Council. We were pleased to note that in all three of the central areas which Tampere will address (asylum and immigration, cross-border crime and the European judicial area) the Select Committee broadly shares the Government's view as to the right approach.

My right honourable friend the Home Secretary submitted a memorandum late last week responding to the report in detail, and a number of noble Lords have referred to it. Before referring to the particular matters that it raises, I should like to make the point that, if I were asked to identify the overall priority for Tampere, it would be that it should produce results which are seen by members of the public throughout Europe as likely to make a real difference to their quality of life and prosperity—because JHA matters. International organised crime affects people's daily lives. Street crime fuelled by drugs, prostitutes who are trafficked across member state frontiers, multi-million pound frauds and the laundering of the proceeds and illegal immigration are significant problems which concern us all and which all member states must address together.

I now move on to specific subject areas. Immigration and asylum issues are attracting an ever higher priority within the European Union, due in part to recent events in the Balkans. The Government welcome the focus that the European Council will place on these concerns. Tampere, we believe, should take the opportunity to set in hand a global, cross-pillar asylum and immigration strategy.

The second major area of EU co-operation which will be addressed at Tampere is that of cross-border crime. To make an impact any strategy must address these threats at two levels: that of law enforcement and that of its vital counterpart, effective judicial cooperation, to ensure that when criminals are identified and arrested they can be dealt with effectively in the courts.

As far as the first of those three elements is concerned, we have in Europol an excellent tool to assist the investigative work of member states by the timely collection and analysis of criminal intelligence. However, we are keen to go further and to explore ways in which European law enforcement agencies can work more closely together in order to tackle trans-national crime. We have put forward two initiatives which we believe will push forward this work. They are the European police chiefs operational task force and the European police college.

Turning now to judicial co-operation, the Government welcome the committee's support for their initiative on mutual recognition of judicial decisions. There is clear evidence of real dissatisfaction on the part of police and examining magistrates across the European Union with the traditional mechanisms of judicial co-operation. Many noble Lords touched on that point. We ignore the practitioners at our peril and it is increasingly clear that a new approach is required to overcoming the barriers of jurisdiction, which are so easily crossed by criminals but continue to impede the recovery of fugitives and the gathering of evidence for successful prosecutions.

At present, the EU is relying on practical measures to improve traditional mechanisms of mutual legal assistance and extradition. However, the Government have come to the view that a more radical approach is required. There are some who say that the solution lies in wholesale unification or harmonisation of criminal law in the European Union, linked to the creation of a European public prosecutor with jurisdiction in every member state. That is the approach proposed in the scheme known as corpus juris, on which work has been under way under the auspices of the Commission. The Government do not believe that it is a feasible or desirable solution, even if initially confined to the area of fraud against the European Community's financial interests. It would take many years to bring about, and we believe that pragmatism, as many noble Lords suggested, would be the best way forward in this area.

Instead, we propose a work programme leading in stages to making judicial orders and warrants enforceable in another member state with the minimum of formality, which many noble Lords have highlighted as being desirable.

One of the important aspects in this whole policy area is access to justice. The second UK initiative concerns access to justice. Under the theme of establishing a European judicial area, Tampere will also be considering what more can be done to improve the way national law works across European borders and citizens' access to justice. The Government consider that to be an important area of business and we have put forward proposals for an ambitious programme of work aimed at making it easier for ordinary citizens, and in particular small businesses, to resolve small and medium-sized civil claims across European borders.

A raft of European legislation already protects consumers and others against, for example, misleading advertisements, dodgy timeshare sellers and package holidays that do not come up to scratch. But in our view there is an important gap in the legislation. In practice, resolving civil claims across borders is a difficult, nightmarish and expensive business and tends to be the preserve of large commercial enterprises and those with substantial claims. Small and medium-sized civil disputes of the kind that might affect tourists, travellers and small traders tend to be uneconomic to bring.

I have already said that the Government consider this to be an important area of business. Let me give some illustrations as to why. A recent survey found that 24 per cent of member states' citizens buy goods or services while travelling abroad worth up to £2,000. Ten per cent of those consumers are unsatisfied and two-thirds of them are unable or unwilling to pursue their claims. This means that of 88 million people buying across borders, 8 million consumers are unsatisfied and 5 million consumers are unable to pursue their claims.

If our initiatives are to come to fruition, it will enable those many hundreds of thousands of citizens who travel within the European Union to obtain redress in circumstances in which at present it is simply uneconomic for them to do so. We believe our proposals will bring real benefits. They are ambitious objectives.

While the Government retain their firm commitment to the control of the UK's borders, we nevertheless recognise the global nature of the problems of illegal immigration. This calls for a concerted response in conjunction with other member states of the EU and with countries of source and transit migrants. We believe that Tampere should set the EU an objective: to tackle illegal immigration and its causes and to give fair treatment to legal migrants and genuine asylum seekers. Equally, Tampere must face squarely the problems caused by the growth in sophisticated organised crime whose practitioners respect no national frontiers. I have outlined some of the proposals we shall put forward. Cross-border co-operation by the police and other agencies is essential.

I hope that what I have said underscores the importance which the Government attach to the discussions at Tampere this coming week. JHA co-operation has, at least in presentational terms, often been the poor relation of other EU business. This cannot go on. Everyone has the right to ask that co-operation within the European Union against such threats as organised crime must be pursued energetically, coherently and with eyes fixed unwaveringly on the day-to-day priorities and concerns of our citizens.

I believe that our approach to Tampere does exactly those things and answers many of the points raised in an interesting and wide-ranging debate this evening.

Lord Lester of Herne Hill

My Lords, before the Minister sits down, I wonder whether he could deal with one other matter of which he was given notice. It is the Government's position on effective safeguards for the accused against unfair trials going beyond the European Human Rights Convention, which is obviously not a sufficient safeguard by itself.

Lord Bassam of Brighton

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for raising that point again with me.

We believe that we have identified adequate safeguards in our approach to Tampere. The UK paper for Tampere gives a clear indication that this will be one of the essential elements of mutual recognition. The wording reads: Approximation of law into specifically and carefully defined circumstances relating to serious crime where this is necessary to make the mutual recognition of decisions possible, and t o reassure public opinion that the decisions have been taken in accordance with minimum standards which protect civil liberties". A more detailed UK paper on mutual recognition, tabled in the EU Multi-Disciplinary Group on Organised Crime, made clear that some common minimum rules or safeguards will be needed. Copies of the paper were made available to the House of Lords inquiry on corpus juris earlier this year. I trust that that answers the noble Lord's point.

Lord Bruce of Donington

My Lords, finally before the noble Lord sits down, perhaps I may ask him whether the Government can take steps, after the conference has taken place, to obtain a properly authenticated English translation of the conclusions as put by the president.

Lord Bassam of Brighton

My Lords, I shall endeavour to ensure that that is the case and will write to the noble Lord on the point.