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Volume 202: debated on Thursday 23 January 1992

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To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department when he next expects to meet his European Community counterparts to discuss further progress in the Europol proposals.

Outline proposals for the establishment of Europol were approved at the meeting of the European Council in Maastricht in December 1991. Those proposals are now being developed and the United Kingdom has been in the forefront of police co-operation in Europe to combat the growing evil of international crime. Officials from all member states will be meeting regularly to develop the proposals and I shall be meeting my counterparts in June to review progress.

I thank my right hon. Friend for that encouraging response and for the work that he and his colleagues are doing on this. Does my right hon. Friend accept that to some extent there is a link between ever closer co-operation among police forces and Community arrangements with Interpol? The public should be spared some of the more bureaucratic checks and delays at ports and airports that will occur, for example, at Dover and elsewhere, when there are too many uniformed officials stopping people unnecessarily. There is a certain linkage, although there are many difficulties. As we are only a year away from the start of the single market, will my right hon. Friend reassure the public that unnecessary bureaucratic delays will not occur at our ports and airports, to the annoyance of the public?

That goes rather wide of the question. I should make it absolutely clear that from 1 January 1993 we shall continue to maintain our frontier controls, particularly on matters of international crime, drugs and immigration. One does not want to occasion unnecessary delay in exercising those controls, but they must be sufficiently firm and rigorous to ensure that criminals who try to get into the country are detected and that illegal immigrants are similarly detected and prevented from entering the country.

Is the Home Secretary aware that there is considerable concern that the sort of co-operation that exists regarding the police is not subject to proper democratic scrutiny? Will he ensure that all discussions that take place are opened up for us to criticise and assist?

As far as the police are concerned, I and my fellow Ministers are answerable to the House. There is a good co-operation between the British police and police forces on the continent because more and more crime—particularly drugs crime—crosses frontiers. A vast amount of drugs are coming into Europe from north Africa, from central Asia through the Balkans, and from South America. It is important that we work closely with our European partners on this. For example, we have 30 drugs liaison officers—British police and Customs officers—in more than 19 countries. The key factor is the exchange of information to deal with international crime.