HL Deb 02 December 2002 vol 641 cc971-84

3.9 p.m.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Filkin)

My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time.

The Bill marks a significant advance in co-operation against serious crime and terrorism within the European Union. It will enable us to work more closely and effectively with both our European Union partners and others outside the EU.

International crime affects us all. Greater freedom to travel and live in other countries and the growth of international trade mean that crime is no longer confined by national boundaries. But the impact of international crime is often felt on a local scale. It is the larger criminal gangs that facilitate local crimes in the UK—for example, by supplying stolen goods or drugs.

Drug smuggling is one of the main cross-border crimes and the main activity of serious and organised criminals. It is estimated that two-thirds of organised crime groups are involved in drug trafficking, and international drug smugglers feed the local drug markets that in turn lead to theft locally. As many as two-thirds of persistent offenders have a serious drug problem and between a third and a fifth of all acquisitive crime is linked to the need to pay for illegal drugs. Theft and burglary bring insecurity and disruption to their victims, so there is a clear connection between tackling international organised crime and improving the safety of our streets and homes.

Nor is the problem confined to drug trafficking. Other cross-border crimes have an impact on society more widely—such as people trafficking, counterfeiting, money laundering and cigarette smuggling. People trafficking is on the increase: 21,800 illegal entrants were detected in the first nine months of 2000 compared with 16,000 in 1999.

The best way to tackle international crime is to work closely with our neighbours. That is especially true of drug trafficking. The Netherlands and Spain are both significant bases for the secondary distribution of drugs within the EU, including to the UK. We are already working with our EU partners. For example, the first joint investigative team that the UK is setting up is with Spain, targeting cocaine traffickers. During the past 12 months, the UK has worked with Europol on more than 500 UK cases that have required European co-operation. Those have ranged from simple requests for information to major joint operations.

However, we need to do more. Too many obstacles to international investigations serve only to protect the criminal. Bringing multinational gangs to justice may involve several trials in different countries, each with their own criminal procedures. Ensuring success for such complex procedures means reducing the obstacles that block effective cross-border cooperation. That is what the Bill is intended to achieve.

The Bill will make the changes needed to enable the UK to participate in the non-border aspects of the Schengen Convention. The Schengen arrangements provide a clear framework for effective co-operation, especially for cross-border police operations. The UK first applied to participate in the police and judicial cooperation elements of Schengen in May 1999. Our application was accepted a year later, and I welcome this chance to legislate to make good our participation.

The question of UK participation in Schengen has been of considerable interest to your Lordships' House. Under the expert chairmanship of the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, the European Union Committee undertook four separate reports into the Schengen acquis, its incorporation into the EU treaty structure and the UK's intentions towards Schengen. I am happy to note that a report published in March 1999—just before the Government made our formal application to participate in Schengen—concluded that: if the United Kingdom does not opt-in, its influence over a broad range of Justice and Home Affairs matters may be seriously diminished … Weaker United Kingdom influence over the development of European policies will mean that such policies will reflect the preferences of others, and fail to take into account particular United Kingdom concerns". We do not accept that our influence over EU affairs has been in any way weakened during the past few years—indeed, quite the reverse—but active participation in Schengen will serve only to strengthen our influence over justice and home affairs matters, as well as bringing material benefit to those involved in fighting cross-border crime.

Let me explain in more detail what the Bill will achieve. The first part of the Bill will modernise our arrangements for providing mutual legal assistance and bring them in line with the new proceedings brought in by Schengen and by the mutual legal assistance convention agreed in May 2000. The convention was part of the EU's anti-terrorism road map, agreed after 11th September.

Mutual legal assistance (MLA) is the formal process by which countries request and provide assistance in obtaining evidence located in one country to assist in criminal proceedings in another. Effective and swift MLA arrangements are essential if we and our EU partners are to run successful cross-border investigations and prosecutions. MLA is not new: we have undertaken it for many years. The new provisions will speed up and reduce scope for delay in respect of international co-operation. We will extend some of the modernising provisions to countries outside the EU.

The changes will allow UK prosecutors to send requests for evidence directly to courts in other EU countries, rather than going through the central authority system, allowing us to provide other countries with evidence by television link in MLA cases. That is an essential modernisation of existing arrangements to enable international co-operation to benefit from modern technology. We expect that that will be of most use in cases involving countries outside the EU, because greater distances make travel less attractive and TV evidence more attractive.

The Bill will also introduce mutual recognition of orders to freeze evidence, as provided for by the EU's draft framework decision on the execution of orders freezing evidence. That is a major step forward that will significantly speed up the process of securing valuable evidence. Mutual recognition takes MLA one step further by recognising directly, as between EU member states, a request made by a court, so enabling a direct response with the minimum of formality. The UK is a keen supporter of the principle of mutual recognition, which both speeds up co-operation and respects the diversity of legal systems. We therefore welcomed the conclusion at the 1999 Tampere Council—a special meeting of the European Council devoted to justice and home affairs—that mutual recognition should be a cornerstone of future development of judicial co-operation in the EU.

Criminals operating across international borders are often also involved in financial crime and money laundering. It is recognised that the ability to obtain comprehensive banking information from other EU countries would be of significant assistance to domestic law enforcement. The Bill will increase our ability t o respond to requests from other EU countries for information relating to bank accounts of criminal suspects. By implementing the protocol to the mutual legal assistance convention, the EU has created a reciprocal obligation between member states to respond to requests for financial information. The requests will reflect the new investigative tools introduced by the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002.

Part 2 of the Bill deals with terrorism. Like criminals, terrorists do not respect national boundaries. We need effective measures with persuasive penalties that are imposed consistently across the EU. Following the events of 11th September last year, the EU agreed a framework decision that requires all member states to introduce extensive antiterrorism legislation. As the UK already has wide-ranging domestic anti-terrorist legislation, which was largely the inspiration for the Commission's proposal, we are already broadly compliant with the body of the framework decision. So implementing that measure does not require us to create any new offences or penalties. It simply requires us to take extra-territorial jurisdiction over a wider range of terrorist offences than at present.

The Bill will therefore take extra-territorial jurisdiction over terrorist offences committed overseas against UK nationals, diplomatic staff and diplomatic premises. It will also take ETJ over terrorist offences committed overseas by UK nationals. We supported that measure during its negotiation in Brussels and we welcome this opportunity to implement promptly the changes needed to bring it into force.

Part 3 deals with driving disqualifications. It is not right that people who commit a driving offence for which they are disqualified while abroad should be able to escape being disqualified when they return home to their usual state of residence. The EU Driving Disqualification Convention is intended to promote the principle that drivers should abide by the rules of the road, no matter where they are driving. That will help to promote greater road safety across the EU. There are safeguards to ensure that the arrangements are not misused and do not lead to any unfair decisions. The process for notifying a disqualification will apply only once any appeal has been completed and there will be a right of appeal in the UK against recognition of foreign disqualifications that can be suspensive.

Part 3 also allows for recognition in Great Britain of driving disqualifications imposed in Northern Ireland, the Isle of Man, the Channel Islands and Gibraltar. The fact that none of those jurisdictions recognises driving disqualifications imposed in any of the others is an anomaly whose remedy is long overdue. A more uniform system across the UK is also essential for implementation of the wider EU measures.

The last part of the Bill wraps up a number of changes that we need to make before we can participate in the Schengen Convention. It provides a safeguard by giving the Information Commissioner new powers to inspect independently the UK national sections of the Schengen information system, the Europol information system and the Customs information system. Creating a statutory basis for the role of the Information Commissioner in that way is a new departure. We are doing it partly because it is required by the agreements setting up the systems, but more importantly we are doing it because we think that it is right to create an extra level of protection for the rights of the individual under the systems, where UK participation is a new departure.

Part 4 of the Bill also deals with Schengen cross-border surveillance. Fast and effective arrangements for agreeing cross-border surveillance operations are an essential part of effective international police investigations. Criminals do not stop at national borders, and, if our law enforcement agencies are to investigate them and gather the evidence that they need, they too must be able to carry on past our national boundaries in specific circumstances. Schengen provides a clear framework for agreeing to this sort of international operation. Joint and multilateral surveillance exercises will allow UK officers to cross national boundaries with the same ease as criminals, improving prevention and detection.

UK police have welcomed the Schengen arrangements because they are reciprocal and because joining them will make it much easier for us to mount cross-border surveillance operations and pursue UK criminals who are active internationally. The basic legislation needed to permit cross-border surveillance, if operations are pre-arranged, was included in the Police Reform Act 2002, which the House considered in the last Session. This Bill will make changes necessary to cover urgent cases in which the surveillance cannot be pre-arranged and the foreign officers are expected to be able to continue in the UK until UK officers can take over.

The Bill will amend the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000—RIPA—to authorise surveillance by overseas officers, in tightly controlled circumstances, for up to five hours. The measure marks a new departure in international co-operation, but we believe that there are proper safeguards attached. Article 40 of the Schengen Convention makes it clear that officers acting under its terms must abide by the rules of the country in which they are operating. It is not in anyone's interest to contravene those rules; Schengen is firmly based on mutual cooperation and respect, which are central to its continuing success.

The final measure in the Bill addresses the growing problem of the counterfeiting of plastic cards. More and more, that type of offence occurs on an international scale, which is why the EU agreed a framework decision to ensure that all member states had effective legislation to deal with that sort of crime. Implementing the measure in the UK requires an amendment to the Forgery and Counterfeiting Act 1981 to cover bankers' drafts, promissory notes and debit cards.

All the EU agreements that underlie what is in the Bill have already been scrutinised by the EU scrutiny committee of this House, as well as that in the Commons. We commend the excellent work that the committee does. No doubt, it will have much to say about our proposals for implementing these measures. I commend the Bill to the House.

Moved, That the Bill be now read a second time.—(Lord Filkin.)

3.23 p.m.

Baroness Anelay of St Johns

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his presentation of the Government's proposals. Nobody can be in any doubt that those who engage in international crime and terrorism will never find friends in this House.

We welcome wholeheartedly Part 2 of the Bill, which will give us extra-territorial jurisdiction over terrorist offences committed by UK nationals anywhere in the world and over attacks on UK nationals and diplomatic premises wherever they occur. We must show that the fight against terrorism is being taken seriously by authorising closer cooperation between police forces, customs authorities and intelligence services throughout the EU.

That does not mean that we should not scrutinise the Bill carefully; nor does it mean that we should not improve it—far from it. It is important to make the distinction between constructive co-operation and harmonisation, and we must ensure that measures in the Bill do not undermine our civil liberties. In that context, some elements of the Bill raise concerns. In particular, we will consider with extreme caution the provisions to allow customs officers and police officers from abroad to conduct surveillance in the UK without first having obtained the permission of the UK authorities.

The Bill implements so many elements of the Schengen acquis and related agreements that it looks as though the Government are leading us gently by the nose into Schengen by the back door. We shall consider that very carefully. How much has our scrutiny role in the UK Parliament already been undermined by the Government's signature to various protocols and agreements? Exactly what room for manoeuvre does Parliament have to improve the Bill? The full regulatory impact assessment lets the cat out of the bag. It tells us that the Government have already agreed, to urgently ratify the Protocol"— their split infinitive, not mine. The assessment goes on to state: Ministers have already agreed to ratify the Protocol in the UK and are under an obligation to do so … Failure to ratify the Protocol in the UK would break an international agreement". That protocol has regard to mutual assistance on criminal matters.

Have Ministers thereby effectively usurped Parliament's powers to reject the Bill, if it wishes to do so? Have they usurped our power to amend it? In Committee, we shall ask the Minister to put on the record what our EU partners will do to enact national legislation that we hope will impose exactly the same obligations and penalties upon their citizens. We shall also ask what timetable they have adopted to comply with the various protocols.

The backdrop to our consideration of the Bill must be the question of how far we have confidence in the judicial and police systems of other countries that will be party to the reciprocal agreements enshrined in the Bill. During the debate on the European arrest warrant earlier this year, the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, encapsulated the problem when he posed the question: Can we have sufficient confidence in the judicial process in other member states to justify giving up the traditional safeguards?". I agree with the noble Lord, as I do on so many occasions, that it would be wrong to claim that our procedures are always the best in the world. As he said: Others may be our equals and in some cases perhaps better than ours, but not all. Italy is notorious for its delays. The system of criminal administration in Belgium is so bad that it has caused a national scandal".—[Official Report, 23/4/02; col. 226.] In a Community in which judicial and policing systems are not the same, the question of trust is paramount.

So far, the Government have left too much to delegated legislation. In particular, too much is to be dealt with by negative resolution. That has been done in the mere hope that our colleagues in mainland Europe will abide by the Schengen handbook to the letter. The Minister has already raised an example. He talked about the countries that would participate in the arrangements set out in Part 1 of the Bill. He said that he hoped that the new procedures enshrined in the mutual assistance agreement would be extended to countries outside the European Union. In Clause 52, the Secretary of State is given a wide, open-ended power to extend the list of such countries as he chooses, subject only to negative resolution.

Which offences will be the relevant offences for the hot surveillance powers? Clause 83 gives the Secretary of State the power, by order, to list any crimes that he likes. We shall examine the intention of the Bill and consider whether we will end up with listing activities that are crimes in other EU countries or elsewhere but are not crimes here. That would not be acceptable. Why is there nothing in the Bill to prevent foreign customs officers and police from carrying guns while they carry out hot surveillance—hot watch—in this country? We shall want to remedy that omission.

Clause 83 should also state clearly that, when they carry out hot watch, foreign customs officers and police officers should not be allowed to enter private homes. They should not be able to challenge or arrest the person under surveillance. They should be required to contact the authorities immediately on crossing the border, and they should submit a formal request for assistance as soon as possible. That is not an unreasonable request from these Benches. It cannot he, because the Government say that those rules will be the first to be put in an order, which they will put before your Lordships after the Bill has received Royal Assent. As the Government already know that they want to do that and we agree that it is the right thing to do, we should have it in the Bill now.

Most of the Bill refers to the sharing of information, and I would be the first to accept that good intelligence must be the key to successful detection and subsequent prosecution. We therefore want to ensure that the UK and other EU countries and their agencies are able to enjoy as much access to relevant information as is compatible with civil liberties. So we shall look carefully but constructively at the sections which deal with banking information and access to the valuable and valued—

Lord Clinton-Davis

My Lords, when did the Opposition become so concerned about civil liberties? I recall that when the Opposition of today were in government they showed not the slightest concern about these matters.

Baroness Anelay of St Johns

My Lords, every time I see an announcement by this Government, I am reminded that at the heart of the Conservative Party in the 19th century—a heart that has never stopped beating—was a care for civil liberties. We shall continue putting them forward now.

As to the sharing of information, we appreciate that the Schengen information system is a valuable resource. However, we wish to have safeguards built into it to ensure that information we would expect to remain confidential is not released. The Government have very properly made that point themselves in the past. We shall simply try to ensure that the right safeguards are in the Bill.

It is always a matter of public concern when governments concede the right to police here, let alone in other countries, to access our personal data for different and, perhaps, ill-defined reasons—even more so when access is gained without the knowledge of the person under investigation. Can the Minister confirm, for example, that it will be clear on the face of the Bill that United Kingdom immigration information will not be accessible by other countries in the EU?

The Minister referred to the intriguing section on driving disqualification. As someone who has driven for many years across the countries of our European partners, my immediate reaction on seeing these clauses is to say, "Why not?". We do not want dangerous drivers anywhere on the roads throughout the European Union. Certainly if serious driving offences are the subject of these provisions, that is easily welcomed.

But there may be sensitivities about different regulations in different countries. We shall need to ensure that someone from this country will not face disqualification abroad for a driving offence which would not be subject to disqualification here—or, indeed, a disqualification issued for a non-driving fault. As we are aware, in this country the Government are considering introducing driving disqualification for non-payment of fines which have nothing to do with driving. So there could be some sensitivities in that area.

When we study the Bill in Committee, our main effort will be directed towards ensuring that there are proper safeguards throughout and that the issues which need to be addressed are on the face of the: Bill. We believe that at the moment too much is being left to the order-making power of the Secretary of State.

The Government must have already decided that the Bill is less than perfect in its current form because they have presented us with yet another objectionable catch-all clause. Under Clause 91, the "Supplementary and consequential provision" clause, the Secretary of State can do just about anything he likes to amend not only this Bill when it becomes an Act but other enactments, and he can do so by order subject only to the negative resolution. That is not good enough. I was concerned about this issue when I tabled an amendment to the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Bill and I remain concerned about it now.

I listened with interest to the noble Lord, Lord Dahrendorf, when he stated that, The Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee will shortly put to the House a report on experience with such clauses".—[Official Report, 21/11/02; col. 488.] and that there will be time for debate. I welcome that. I hope that our debate on Clause 91, which we shall have during the Committee stage in January, will both inform and assist the Committee's wider debate.

We have agreed to the Government's request that the Bill should be taken off the Floor of the House in Grand Committee as the usual channels are cooperating as far as possible with the Government to help them to get through their heavy legislative programme this Session. But, when we have a Bill of such a serious and important nature in Grand Committee, where we cannot vote for improvements, it is more important than ever for the Government to listen and respond effectively to constructive amendments put forward by the Opposition Benches. If they fail to do so, we shall simply end up with a rerun of the Committee stage on Report, and that is in no one's interest.

We believe that it is in the interests of the public here and across the EU that we co-operate effectively in judicial and police matters in the fight against crime and terrorism. Criminals have no care about what is right. We do, and so we fight them with the restrictions imposed upon us by our commitment to democracy, freedom and human rights. We abandon those commitments at our peril.

3.36 p.m.

Lord Dholakia

My Lords, I thank the Minister for arranging a briefing last week. It was very much appreciated.

The Bill implements several outstanding European Union commitments in the areas of police and judicial systems. In the parliamentary Session 1997–98, the Select Committee on the European Communities reported on enhancing parliamentary scrutiny of the third pillar. It stated: The Maastricht Treaty heralded a new era in the co-operation between member states in the fields of justice and home affairs. It placed such co-operation on a formal treaty basis in substitution for the informal arrangements that had operated previously". Since the publication of the Select Committee report, it has become clear that each member state has the right to initiate proposals under the third pillar. In certain cases, the Commission also has a right to initiate proposals.

I served as a member of the European Communities Committee (Sub-committee F). In 1998 the Home Office reported that, overall, the domestic legislation agenda had not been heavily determined by commitments given as a result of third pillar cooperation. This was because at that time much of the third pillar work reflected the existing position. Many third pillar improvements had been implemented without overall changes in domestic legislation. An example of this was the NCIS and ACPO, which provided a list of third pillar measures which were in the process of being implemented in the United Kingdom.

We were then one of only two member states which had ratified the Customs Information System Convention. At the time we took evidence in Subcommittee F, no third pillar measures in the civil judicial field had been implemented because no such measures had yet been adopted.

The Crime (International Co-operation) Bill implements several outstanding EU commitments in the area of police and judicial co-operation—that is, the Convention on Mutual Assistance in Criminal Matters 2000 and its 2001 protocol, the mutual legal assistance provisions of the Schengen Convention and the evidence-freezing provisions of the framework decision on the execution in the EU of orders freezing property and evidence.

The United Kingdom Government state that, this Bill demonstrates our commitment to effective co-operation against serious crime in Europe and beyond". Indeed, the provisions of the Bill transpose the key instruments in enhancing EU-wide co-operation between police forces and judicial authorities which aim to make the area of freedom, security and justice a reality.

I accept that in a world in which criminal activity and terrorism respect no frontiers, so too must law enforcement be cross-border. Indeed, the measures here and the instruments they are based upon should be welcome developments as, while not necessarily new concepts, they are designed to streamline and improve measures for "international" justice.

Mutual recognition is deemed to be the cornerstone of judicial co-operation and fundamental to the area of freedom, security and justice. Indeed, the question of why a criminal should be able to flee justice just because he or she has crossed the border is the basis for such co-operation. Such mutual recognition of freezing orders is introduced in Part 2 of the Bill.

However, having said that about the positive approach to justice on a European level, I have significant reservations about democratic scrutiny, lack of transparency and openness, safeguards for defendants and the guaranteeing of civil liberties. This is not a contradiction in terms, as I believe we can support measures for EU justice without compromising fundamental rights. After all, we are aiming to provide security, freedom and justice. I question not what is being introduced, but how it is being done.

The Bill reflects a more structured framework and a significant improvement on the ad hoc co-operation that existed between member states previously. In principle, we welcome the Bill, allowing Parliament the scrutiny of certain aspects of the third pillar. There are, of course, matters of concern, which I shall identify later. Suffice to say at this stage that co-operation at international level on crime and justice is important, and domestic parliaments should continue to have scrutiny over such matters. The legislative measures before us are new but they were integrated in the framework of the 1997 Treaty of Amsterdam.

There are three significant factors of which we should be aware. The first is that the United Kingdom has partial participation in the Schengen Convention. We have retained our border controls, thus we do not participate in the free movement of persons within the Schengen countries. I do not believe that today's debate has direct relevance to this matter, but I am sure that the Statement that is to follow will have a bearing on that.

The 1997 Treaty of Amsterdam expressly recognises the UK's right to maintain controls at the frontiers with other member states, while also preserving its common travel area with Ireland. However, the UK Government's position in relation to the compensatory measures in the Schengen system is becoming increasingly clear. It is about increased police co-operation, a common immigration, visa and asylum policy, and judicial co-operation. The Bill demonstrates some aspects of that.

The Government are in favour of participation in police c.c.-operation, as reflected in Part 1 of the Bill dealing with mutual assistance in criminal matters. It is in favour of participation in the Schengen information system. as reflected in Part 4 of the Bill. We supported the opinion of the Select Committee on European matters that it is strongly in the United Kingdom's interest to participate in the Schengen information system. We cannot influence future developments if we are not part of the Schengen system, but we must exercise caution. While lending our broad support to Part 4 of the Bill, we must not underestimate genuine civil liberties concerns relating to data protection and identity checks in the present Schengen arrangements.

On that point, I emphasise that as regards the implementation of EU justice measures into UK legislation, such as we are dealing with here, there is an unacceptably low level of democratic scrutiny. Our colleagues in the European Parliament are merely consulted on such measures, and the EU Justice and Home Affairs Council is made up of both justice and interior Ministers with often clashing political agendas. Transparency and openness are significant by their absence in the decisions of the Council of Ministers. There is no access for European parliamentarians or MPs, other than the relevant Secretaries of State, about what is done in secret. While both Houses of this Parliament debate legislation such as this Bill, there is perhaps a semblance of democratic oversight, but as the Government are obliged under EU law to transpose these measures within a certain framework, there is perhaps little that we can do about it.

Democratic oversight and judicial review of a new generation of European policy in the field of justice and home affairs is vital to ensure both the protection of the rights of EU citizens and the openness essential to maintaining public confidence in supranational competence. The solution is not to denounce measures for EU justice, but to insist on proper interventions and involvement at an earlier, more appropriate stage. One of the key components in EU justice and home affairs policy development must be the commitment to give equal regard to freedom and justice as to security.

EU justice measures are fast becoming a reality, not as is so often stated because of September 11th. but because of a commitment made upon agreement of the Amsterdam Treaty 1997 and the Tampere council in 1999. Indeed, much inconclusive discussion took place until the atrocities of September 11th brought into harsh reality the need to tackle international organised crime together. Thus decisions and agreements were achieved in unprecedented time.

In addition to these measures, we must have an accompanying, parallel system of safeguards. Governments must commit to upholding the principles of the European Convention on Human Rights and allow those rights to be enforced. We shall probe these matters at the Committee stage.

Police co-operation is based on mutual assistance between police authorities to prevent and detect criminal offences. There is evidence that it is already operational in character. There are detailed rules on cross-border surveillance and hot pursuit, enabling police officers from one Schengen state to cross the border into another to continue their operations. Will the Minister confirm that the present practice in Schengen states is that, in urgent cases, it can be done without prior authorisation? If so, what implication does that have in relation to policing in the United Kingdom?

It is on that point that we wish to reflect the concern expressed by Justice, whose prime concern with the Bill is the absence of sufficient procedural safeguards combined with a failure to address the rights of the defence. While it is important for countries to be able to co-operate to combat crime, it is equally important that defence rights are maintained in such circumstances in order to protect the rights of the individual in an increasingly international environment". There are matters in Part 1 of the Bill that require clarification. Will the Minister confirm that overseas freezing orders should be restricted to a judicial authority and that that body alone should have the power to make such orders? I said earlier that we need much more information about the Schengen information system, the Europol information system and the Customs information system.

The present system provides that data entered in one of the national systems is automatically transmitted to other sections. This means that all Schengen states have access to a common pool of data via their own national system. The SIS is designed to exchange data in order to maintain public policy and security, including national security. Are we satisfied that there will he no compromise in matters of our own national security and that its disclosure on SIS will safeguard our own security?

I am aware that SIS must not include personal data revealing racial origin, political opinions or religious or other beliefs, as well as personal data concerning health or sexual life. We need to be satisfied that data protection rules cover most of those areas. Will the Minister confirm that that is so? Who is responsible for the accuracy of data and liability for damage caused by the transmission and use of inaccurate data? It would be helpful to know if there is transparency and effective legal remedies with regard to SIS and data protection.

Let me cite the 1996 Court of Audit report on the Dutch SIS. Whilst acknowledging that SIS data is potentially of great value, it emphasises that the system depends on the integrity of those who use it. More than 7,000 people are authorised to access the system in the Netherlands; around 500 of those are also authorised to change the data. The potential risk of unauthorised access, unlawful disclosure and/or inaccurate information being entered into the database is therefore great". We certainly welcome Clause 82 of the Bill, which extends the functions of the Information Commissioner under Part VI of the Data Protection Act 1998. It allows the Information Commissioner to inspect personal data recorded in the UK section of the three European information systems without a warrant. There is concern that the system has not kept pace with the modern method of data storage and exchange. It goes against the rule of natural justice that citizens face an almost impossible task in having access to information held about them. Will the commissioner have the right to allow individuals to have access to information held and will the commissioner be responsible for monitoring the entry of information on to computer systems?

Two years ago it was estimated that SIS had 49,000 terminals. How is it possible to guarantee total security? Will the Minister give an undertaking that security of these networks is being given a high priority? Framework decisions agreed by the Amsterdam treaty are binding on member states but the forms and methods are left to the national authorities.

Of course we accept that crime sees no boundaries. Money laundering, terrorism, drugs and trafficking in human beings have global dimensions. Any measures designed to tackle such criminal activities are welcome.

In addition to stressing the need for compliance with the principles of the European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, it is also essential to harmonise the existing discrepancies between the respective legal systems of the 15 member states, with a view, for example, to initiating a process of bringing all member states' legal systems into line with those offering the strongest safeguards in respect of the rights of the defence. This process of upward harmonisation will not only avoid creating disparities in the treatment accorded to nationals and residents of the European Union, but will also mark a step forward in the development of the EU's judicial culture.

The first point that I should like to make as regards the UK's participation in certain parts of the Schengen convention is this. While successive UK governments have been unwilling to commit to making EU-wide free movement a reality, they have been willing to sign up to the enhanced police and judicial co-operation measures—the so-called "compensatory measures" for enhancing "internal security" to compensate for the lifting of controls.

I cannot stress enough that any threats to the fundamental right to privacy must be legitimate, proportionate and necessary. In the event of any breach of those principles, recompense must be made available.

In conclusion, perhaps I may draw the Minister's attention to the report on the operation in 2001 by my noble friend Lord Carlile of Berriew. He said: Throughout my travels, reading and discussing in connection with the Terrorism Act 2000, I have been fully conscious of the delicate nature of the balance between political freedoms and the protection of the public from politically driven violence and disorder". I trust that the Minister has that balance in mind in relation to Part 2 of the Bill.