HL Deb 20 October 1998 vol 593 cc135-6WA
Lord Mason of Barnsley

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they will report on the outcome of the Justice and Home Affairs Council held in Brussels on 24 September. [HL3492]

The Minister of State, Home Office (Lord Williams of Mostyn)

My right honourable friend the Home Secretary and honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State (Kate Hoey) represented the United Kingdom at the Council. The main matters dealt with were as follows:

The Council agreed as "A" points, among other things, Europol's budget for 1999, the half-yearly report on the activities of the Europol Drugs Unit, decisions concerning the role of the Director of Europol after entry into force of the Europol Convention and the transfer of the strategic direction of the TECS project to Europol, and the regular Europol information system report.

The Council reached political agreement on the text of the draft Joint Action on the identification, tracing, freezing, seizing and confiscation of instrumentalities and the proceeds from crime.

The Presidency informed the Council that the explanatory report on the convention on the fight against corruption would be adopted at a later Council meeting after passing through jurist-linguists.

A useful discussion was held on new technical developments in the interception of telecommunications and their implications for the draft Convention on Mutual Legal Assistance, agreement to which is an important priority in the fight against organised crime.

The Council noted a progress report on preparations for the entry into force of the Europol Convention and discussed the rules and procedure to be employed by Europol's Joint Supervisory Body. This matter will be discussed further at the informal meeting of Justice and Home Affairs Ministers in Vienna at the end of October.

The Presidency gave an oral progress report on negotiation of the draft Eurodac Convention, which is concerned with the fingerprinting of asylum applicants. Ministers will discuss the matter again at the Vienna informal Ministerial meeting.

The Council received from the Presidency an oral report on the implementation of the Action Plan on the influx of migrants from Iraq and on migration from Kosovo and the neighbouring region.

The Council discussed the need for urgent measures to tackle abuse of the Internet and other forms of sexual exploitation of children. The Presidency's draft Joint Action on child pornography on the Internet will be discussed at the December Justice and Home Affairs Council (JHA). The Council also discussed Europol's role in this area and the importance of early implementation of the Joint Action of February 1997 concerning action to combat trafficking in human beings and sexual exploitation of children.

In the afternoon, European Union Justice and Home Affairs Ministers held a joint meeting with their counterparts from the associated Central and Eastern European countries (CEEs) and Cyprus. The meeting began with an exchange of views on implementation of the Justice and Home Affairs acquis in the field of immigration and asylum, with discussion introduced by Germany.

The United Kingdom introduced discussion on judicial co-operation. A number of applicant states outlined the progress they had made towards meeting the Justice and Home Affairs acquis in this area, the importance of which, in both practical and legal terms, they fully recognised. The applicant states were encouraged to consider accession to the Lugano Convention.

On organised crime, the Commission gave an overview of recent work, together with an analysis of the linkages of this work to the wider accession process. A number of CEEs and Cyprus described recent developments in their domestic legislation and policies to combat organised crime. Common themes highlighted included the development of domestic legislation; the creation of multi-disciplinary task forces to co-ordinate action; and the development of practical operational co-operation between police forces in different states.

Outside the formal Council meetings, a number of discussions were held with other Interior Ministers and officials on the need for better co-ordination and action to stem the flow of economic migrants claiming asylum.