HL Deb 09 December 2004 vol 667 cc1059-63

4.3 p.m.

Lord Triesman rose to move, That the draft order laid before the House on 24 November be approved [First Report from the Joint Committee].

The noble Lord said: My Lords, with the permission of the House I shall speak also to the draft European Communities (Definition of Treaties) (European Police Office) Order and the draft European Communities (Immunities and Privileges of the European Police Office) (Amendment) Order 2004. All three orders were laid before the House on 24 November, together with the Explanatory Memoranda now required for all affirmative statutory instruments.

The first order will enable the Government to give effect to the headquarters agreement recently negotiated with the European Police College. The privileges and immunities agreed in the headquarters agreement are similar to those conferred on other organisations and headquarters based in the United Kingdom. The European Police College is now known as "CEPOL" from the original French acronym for the organisation College Europeen de Police.

CEPOL is a network of senior police training colleges, which are located in all EU member states. The network is supported by a central secretariat, which is now permanently located in the United Kingdom at the headquarters of the Central Police Training and Development Authority at Bramshill. The secretariat provides administrative, financial and technical support to the CEPOL network.

CEPOL was established by Council Decision 2000/ 820/JHA in December 2000 to improve police co-operation, to identify and disseminate good practice, and to develop and deliver training to senior police officers involved in the tight against international and cross-border crime. We are very fortunate in having the secretariat established in the United Kingdom. We won the right to do so against strong competition from seven other EU member states.

The second and third orders are required to amend the European Communities (Immunities and Privileges of the European Police Office) Order 1997 by providing that Europol officials participating in joint investigation teams shall not enjoy immunity from suit and legal process in relation to their official acts regarding their participation in such schemes.

I emphasise this point because these orders are unusual. They do not confer privileges and immunities but, rather, they take them away. Europol staff members have privileges and immunities from prosecution in relation to their official duties. These are in line with members of other international organisations. Retaining these privileges and immunities would not be appropriate for Europol staff when they are working alongside law enforcement officers on international joint investigation teams. It would give Europol staff protection from criminal and civil liability, whereas other members of those teams would enjoy no such protection. Therefore, in this context, the privileges and immunities are removed.

I am satisfied that all three orders are compatible with the rights contained in the European Convention on Human Rights and I trust that all three will meet with your Lordships' approval.

Moved, That the draft order laid before the House on 24 November be approved [First Report from the Joint Committee].—(Lord Triesman.)

Lord Howell of Guildford

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Triesman, and I think—although I may have followed these things inadequately—that he has now assumed some responsibilities in foreign affairs. Is that correct? In which case, I take this opportunity to welcome him very warmly to foreign affairs, in which the noble Baroness, Lady Crawley, and others participate all the time. When the noble Lord, Lord Triesman, joined your Lordships' House, a year or two ago, he parachuted in with amazing ease and, from day one, appeared to be totally at home with your Lordships' quirks and moods. I congratulate him on that and am very glad that he is now involved in our discussions of foreign affairs, which are on-going.

These three orders deal, as the noble Lord, Lord Triesman, rightly said, with the network of European police colleges, CEPOL, the secretariat of which is to be set up at Bramshill in Surrey. I have visited there and it is a very fine Elizabethan building with extensions. It will, no doubt, be a good home for this body. We welcome the secretariat being set up in the United Kingdom.

We favour intimate collaboration and co-operation between police forces, intelligence services and all categories of policing throughout the European region, contrary to some assertions that are aimed at these Benches from time to time. We very much support real and effective European co-operation and collaboration and, indeed, the building of unity in detail. It is just that the kind that we like is different from the ersatz kind of imposed collaboration and co-operation that seems to be offered by the European constitution document and peddled by people such as the Minister, Mr MacShane, and others. I realise that that is another debate and I do not want to open it up now. We will be having plenty of it at a later time.

This is a positive move, a positive organisation and a positive arrangement. It is right that we should deal with the question of immunities and privileges for those working in it in a positive way. As the noble Lord, Lord Triesman, rightly said, the second two orders are unusual in that they reduce some of the immunities and privileges that would otherwise accrue to those working in the Europol network. That is unusual, but it is entirely proper and right for the reasons that he has explained.

I am not 100 per cent clear about the legal basis of the whole CEPOL arrangement. We welcome it as it is an interesting and important development, but is it a "body" of the European Union or an "institution" of the European Union or has it nothing to do with the European Union or its treaties at all? A word of illumination on that would help us.

I notice that in another place the European Scrutiny Committee had a number of questions on this order about why and how immunities and privileges procedures were being applied. It asked why, if this body was getting this treatment—both the immunities and privileges that the order gives and some which it adjusts and takes away—that was not also being applied to other bodies such as Eurojust. It would be useful to have a comment on that as well because colleagues in the other place went into it in considerable detail and we are concerned by aspects of it. Having said that, we welcome these three orders and are glad to see these matters being clarified.

Baroness Harris of Richmond

My Lords, I thank the Minister for bringing forward these three orders. We on these Benches welcome the orders dealing with Europol. As a plug, I refer your Lordships to the report of Sub-Committee F of 23 January 2003, Europol's Role in Fighting Crime, in which noble Lords will find every answer they might want about Europol. In our report, we said that Europol had a crucial role to perform in supporting the member states in combating serious organised crime in the EU, which is even more important now, post-Madrid, in relation to terrorism.

Europol is an intergovernmental institution and national parliaments need to be involved as well. We are very happy to support these two orders and we note that the Joint Committee has not seen fit to draw them to the attention of the House.

On the CEPOL order, which sets up the European police college, it is very welcome that its headquarters are at Bramshill, a place I know well. It is a centre of policing excellence. It is very appropriate that the CEPOL headquarters are situated there.

Like the noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford, I was interested in the relationship between the proposal for a Council decision to establish CEPOL as a body of the European Union with legal responsibility, and so on, and the immunities and privileges order. Why are the Government bringing forward this order when the matter is covered in the draft decision? Is there not a subsidiarity issue regarding the implementation of training? I should be very grateful to learn of the Government's response to that as Sub-Committee F heard that the Minister expressed interest in the provision on national units, under Article 12.

We on these Benches support the three orders.

4.15 p.m.

Lord Triesman

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Howell, and the noble Baroness, Lady Harris, for their comments. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Howell, for his welcome. It was particularly kind of him to say that I had got used to the quirks of the House, but they are very enjoyable things to get used to. I thank him very much.

I hope that I can address the specific questions that have been asked. CEPOL is a body of the European Union; it was established by Council decision 2000/820 made under the provisions of Title VI of the Treaty of the European Union. It was unquestionably well within the remit of that part of the European Union's treaty.

The Government believe that the European Police College, making, as it will do, a valuable contribution to the prevention and detection of crime, will be properly affected by a decision under Article 31(c) of the EU treaty. In our view, where the creation of a body is required to facilitate the attainment of objectives that are set out in Article 29 of the treaty, then such a body can be established under the terms of the treaty.

Let me give a little of the legal background. The European Police College, established by that Council decision, means that the protocol does not apply to CEPOL. That is why the International Organisations Act 1968 has been used to make this order. I have no doubt that we will be returning to the question in due course, when the new legislation is before the House.

The noble Baroness, Lady Harris, asked several questions. She asked first about the relationship between the proposal for the Council decision to establish it and the legal personality issue in relation to the immunities and privileges order. I think that I have probably set out the legal basis, and I hope that that answer is satisfactory. If the noble Baroness would like any further detail, I would of course be very happy to write to her.

The Government are bringing forward an order when the matters are covered in the draft decision because the purpose of the order is to implement the headquarters agreement between the UK and CEPOL under which the UK is obliged to confer legal capacity, privileges and immunities on CEPOL. The UK is under an obligation in that context to give effect to this agreement, regardless of the draft decision. The decision is a draft, and there is no guarantee that it will be adopted. Therefore, steps have to be taken under the present rubric to make sure that we are properly aligned with our obligations.

The final question is the intriguing one of subsidiarity, particularly on the implementation of training. That is an important question. The CEPOL secretariat will support the national training institutions and the co-ordination of training in each member state. I emphasise that each member state will continue to deliver its national training at its national training institutions. So there will certainly be a level of co-ordination—a spread of best practice. I hope that it will develop methods to enable the pursuit of cross-border criminals to be carried out under the most effective routines that can be established among member states. But it does not remove from any member state its subsidiary responsibility for its own national training institutions. Therefore, there will be no subsidiarity issue as training will continue to be provided in those national centres.

I hope that I have addressed the key points. I look forward to the debate on the new legislation. These statutory instruments are required because our obligation is to do things properly in terms of the current legislation, and we will improve it when and if the new legislation is passed.

On Question, Motion agreed to.