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EU: Personal Data

Volume 737: debated on Wednesday 20 June 2012

Motion of Regret

Tabled By

That this House regrets the Government’s decision not to exercise its right to opt out of the Draft Directive of the European Parliament and of the Council on the protection of individuals with regard to the processing of personal data by competent authorities for the purposes of prevention, investigation, detection or prosecution of criminal offences or the execution of criminal penalties, and the free movement of such data; and also regrets that the deadline for opting out passed on 14 May without the House being given the opportunity to debate and vote on the Government’s decision.

My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords who spoke to my Motion. I have two or three brief comments. First, the noble Lord, Lord Lester, opined that the procedure in the House of Commons on this matter was adequate. All I can say is that I have read Hansard as I am sure he has, and that was clearly not the opinion of the chairman of the European Scrutiny Committee, Bill Cash.

A number of noble Lords have said that—

I am not clear about the attitude of the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, to parliamentary sovereignty. The other House, the elected Chamber, has voted overwhelmingly in the Government's favour. Why is that not more significant than the view of Mr Cash as chairman of the European Scrutiny Committee?

I accept that the House of Commons voted overwhelmingly to opt into this measure, but it was the scrutiny procedure that came under discussion in the House of Commons. Who knows? Perhaps if the scrutiny procedure had been adequate, the result might have been slightly different. Of course I agree that the House of Commons was always going to vote this sort of thing through. That is one of the troubles with our democracy.

A number of noble Lords said that we might as well sign up to all this because if we did not have it we would have to have alternative arrangements. It would all be very complicated and there will be more administration and so forth. I am indebted to a thought on this point from the Open Europe think tank, which is a mildly Eurosceptic organisation. It makes this point, which is important because the noble Lord, Lord Wills, and many noble Lords mentioned it in our debate:

“There are various international agreements in place outside the EU’s legal framework, mostly Council of Europe conventions, including one on extradition, which the UK could continue to use should it cease to apply EU crime and policing law post-2014. Although they do not cover all areas, and are often more cumbersome than the EU measures, the fact that the UK has a fall-back option means there is no need to ‘rush … ’”,

to opt in.

I hesitate to detain the House at this late hour, but is the noble Lord fully confident that those other instruments to which Open Europe refers are going to be sufficiently up to date with the technology in precisely the way that this European regulation and directive are designed to be, as the noble Lord, Lord McNally, said? They are updating our protections in line with rapidly changing technologies. Is he confident that those instruments will meet those concerns?

My Lords, I am not saying I am entirely confident of that, but I know that I prefer them to the cession of our sovereignty in these matters to Brussels and the Luxembourg Court. If necessary, we could negotiate these matters with other countries individually. There is no reason not to do that. In my view, and the view of those of a Eurosceptic persuasion, the price that is being required is too high.

Finally, if, as the noble Lord says, this directive is at a very early stage, and the whole process of the opt-ins is at a very early stage, I really cannot see why we do not stay out of it and wait and see. That would seem to be a far preferable route to take.

I am very grateful to all noble Lords who have spoken. It has been a useful debate. Again, I am very grateful for the generosity of the apology of the noble Lord, Lord McNally.

Motion not moved.

House adjourned at 9.06 pm.