Motion to Agree
That this House agrees the recommendation of the European Union Committee that Her Majesty’s Government should exercise their right, in accordance with the Protocol on the position of the United Kingdom and Ireland in respect of the area of freedom, security and justice, to take part in the adoption and application of the proposal for a Regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council establishing a European Union agency for law enforcement training (CEPOL), repealing and replacing the Council Decision 2005/681/JHA (document 12013/14) (3rd Report, HL Paper 52).
My Lords, I move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper as chairman of the European Union Committee sub-committee on Home Affairs, Health and Education which prepared the report on the UK opt-in to the draft CEPOL regulation to which this Motion relates.
As your Lordships know, when the House considers reports of the European Union Committee, it is normally on a Motion that the House takes note of the report. In this case, the Motion invites the House to agree to the committee’s recommendation. The reason is that this report deals with a draft measure falling within the area of justice and home affairs which will apply to the United Kingdom only if the Government exercise their right under a protocol to the EU treaties to participate in its negotiation, adoption and implementation: in other words, to opt in to it. They have to do this within three months of the proposal being presented to the Council, which means before 24 November. The committee believes that the Government should opt in now, and the Motion invites the House to endorse that view. The Government have undertaken that time will be found to debate opt-in reports well before the expiry of the three-month period. I am therefore grateful that they have made time available for this report early enough for them to be able to take the views of the House into account.
CEPOL is the European police college. It brings together senior police officers from across the EU and aims to encourage cross-border co-operation in the fight against crime and the maintenance of public security and law and order through training and exchange programmes and the sharing of research and best practice. Until September this year, it was located at Bramshill in Hampshire; in September, it moved to Budapest.
Despite its important role, CEPOL is less well known than Europol, which is a much larger EU agency for co-operation in law enforcement and whose aim is to achieve a more secure Europe by supporting member states in their fight against serious organised crime and terrorism. CEPOL and Europol are separate bodies set up under different Council decisions. In March 2013, the Commission put forward a new regulation for Europol, one of whose objects was to merge CEPOL with Europol. That regulation, too, was subject to the United Kingdom opt-in. Some of your Lordships were present on 1 July 2013 when the committee’s report on that regulation was debated. Those who spoke shared the committee’s doubts about the desirability of such a merger. The Government too had concerns, and so did the director of Europol. The director of CEPOL also opposed the merger, and it was rejected by the European Parliament. Finally, in March this year, the Council decided against the merger. The provision relating to CEPOL was therefore deleted from the Europol regulation.
The Commission has now brought forward a separate regulation dealing only with CEPOL, and it is this separate regulation which we are considering tonight. It is the Government’s practice in their Explanatory Memoranda dealing with measures subject to the UK opt-in to give no indication of whether they are inclined to opt in. Instead, they say simply that they consider such measures on a case-by-case basis. That is what they said last year in relation to Europol. Two months after the debate they said that they would not opt in to the Europol regulation—and by then it was, in any case, too late for them to do so.
In the case of CEPOL regulation we have at present no indication from the Government of what their intentions are, unless the Minister can tell us when he responds. There are, in the Committee’s view, very good reasons why the Government should opt in now to the CEPOL regulation. Cross-border co-operation in the fight against crime and the maintenance of public security and law and order have never been more important. Senior UK officers have much to learn from their colleagues in other member states—and perhaps even more to contribute.
The Government have concerns about the Commission’s proposals to widen CEPOL’s remit: these are listed in paragraphs 16 to 18 of the report. We have some sympathy with some of these concerns, but the committee is of the view that the Government should opt in now, as this will give the message that the Government intend to continue to support and be part of CEPOL. It will also give the Government a formal place at the negotiating table when attempts are made to amend the Commission’s draft. In other words, the Government would be better placed to make their views and concerns known in the course of negotiations if they have opted in.
Opting in to CEPOL regulation is important, but opting in to the Europol regulation is critical. Europol is a vital weapon for co-ordinating the European fight against serious organised crime, drug trafficking, money laundering, cybercrime and terrorism. Yet, as I said, the Government declined to opt in to the Europol regulation during the three-month window, preferring to say that they would wait until after the regulation was adopted and consider again whether to opt in. In the case of both CEPOL and Europol, if the Government do not ultimately opt in to the relevant regulations, the consequences will be serious. We explain the reasons in paragraphs 20 to 23 of our report and these reasons have been accepted by the Government.
Not opting in would thus initially result in the UK remaining bound by the decision giving CEPOL its existing powers while other member states will be bound by a regulation with a different constitution and wider powers. This would mean that the other member states would have the power to decide that the measures setting up these agencies will cease to apply to this country. There is every likelihood that they will do so. The United Kingdom would, in effect, be expelled from both agencies.
Two years ago, Rob Wainwright, the highly regarded British director of Europol, told my committee that if the UK stopped participating in Europol:
“It would increase the risk of serious crimes, therefore, going undetected or not prevented in the UK”,
and that, as the UK is a common destination for drug and people trafficking,
“any diminution of the UK’s capability to deal with those problems would clearly increase public safety risk”.
The consequences if the UK were to leave Europol would, in his words, be “pretty disastrous”.
I seek three assurances from the Minister. First, that the Government will opt in to the CEPOL regulation; secondly, that they will do so within the three-month period, before 24 November; and, thirdly, that they will opt in to the Europol regulation as soon as possible after it is adopted, and, in any case, before it comes into force.
I also take this opportunity to put another matter before your Lordships. Four weeks from today is 1 December, the fifth anniversary of the entry into force of the Lisbon treaty, and the day on which the Government’s decision to opt out of all justice and home affairs measures takes effect. It is also the day on which the Government would like to opt back in to 35 of those measures. This, I need hardly remind your Lordships, is a matter of great importance, and the Government have undertaken that this House will debate it well in advance. On 27 September the Commission published the final list of those 35 measures, annexed to a draft decision which will enter into force on 30 November and extend the application of those measures by a week.
We should have received, by 16 October at the latest, the Government’s memorandum explaining the meaning and purpose of this proposal and their attitude to it. Had we done so, we would have considered it at our meeting on 22 October. We were unable to look at it then, or on 29 October. We received the memorandum less than three hours ago, so there is little prospect of our scrutinising the draft decision on 5 November, which is our last meeting before the Recess. We are frequently told how seriously Ministers take their scrutiny obligations. Therefore, I should be glad to have the Minister’s explanation of why, in a matter of such great importance and urgency, the Government have, despite repeated reminders, failed in their duty to the committee and to this House. I beg to move.
My Lords, I am something of a neophyte in debates on Europe at any level, let alone among the swamps, pitfalls and complexities of regulations such as these, which the noble Baroness understands so well. So anyone such as me, coming brand, spanking new to such issues, is bound to look first at the matters we are considering at a general level. It is good to stand back sometimes, to ask questions such as whether, in its present European police college role, CEPOL can be judged to be a success in its task of developing the talents of our UK senior police officers and their ability to co-operate well with our European partners.
I have not stumbled on much evidence or evaluation so far that would help answer the key question: if CEPOL did not exist, would we seek to invent it now? Yet via these regulations, which I have flirted with—the detail is, indeed, challenging in parts—we are being asked to be party to the invention of a much expanded operation; no longer just in relation, as now, to senior police in the UK and in Europe, but leaping into a new world, as the Commission proposed on 16 July this year, with, to quote from the leaden language,
“learning activities for law enforcement officials of all ranks, as well as customs officers and other authorities”.
Apart from anything else, these “other authorities” are ill defined. The open invitation to mission creep and incremental extension of activity and powers in border matters is obvious, and all at a time when cross-border issues and immigration changes are of much concern, as we read and heard today, to my right honourable friend the Prime Minister. My other right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer insisted this morning on the BBC that David Cameron and the Conservative Party always put the national interest first.
Needless to say, I agree with that, to reassure the Minister. But is it in the UK interest to opt in to a proposal from the Commission for a brand-new law enforcement training scheme—LETS, as it is known—which is already deeply embedded in Article 3 of the draft CEPOL regulations? It strikes at the very core of the UK’s present right to decide how senior police officer training should be delivered and introduces the idea of training at all levels of police and for all those at our customs and immigration controls. The phrase, “other authorities” is, as far as I can see, absolutely wide open to embrace our different security services, for which there seems to be no clear carve-out in the regulations. If there is not, that would be a very serious matter indeed.
Any opt-in will, I believe, automatically apply to Gibraltar, which is all too often under siege from Spanish customs officers and their other border officials, which is a European scandal of the first order: the Spanish should be ashamed of themselves. So, in strongly supporting the Prime Minister and the Chancellor, it is clear to me that if we opt in now, we will get full-bore LETS by the back door. That is something that I sense the Home Office would not wish to see. I seek some reassurance from the Minister on that, as well as on the fact that these new regulations would leave the proposed new body, with its inbuilt mission creep capabilities, absolutely free of any scrutiny by national Parliaments such as ours—scrutiny that I think is highly desirable.
I strongly believe in practical co-operation across borders in law enforcement. I want to reassure the noble Baroness that I would be daft not to do so. I strongly support that, but collaboration should not be extended to clash head-on with subsidiarity—the subsidiarity that presently, and quite rightly, allows the UK to decide how the training of police, customs and other border enforcers should be delivered. We should not therefore exercise our right to opt in on these issues until they are sorted out.
My Lords, first, I thank—I am sure not only on my behalf but on behalf of other members of the committee—our chair for having led us through the discussions that produced this report. We have been fortunate in this committee in the calibre of our chairs. When the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, completed his service, there was too big a pair of shoes for anyone to fill. All that I can say is that he can rest assured that the shoes are very fully filled, but of course with a different emphasis. We all appreciate in the committee the extraordinary skills and chairmanship that our present chair exercises. There is a real feeling that we all belong and matter in the committee, and that is something very special.
I start with what the noble Baroness referred to in terms of late information. This is not the first time that this has occurred. We have had reassurances from the Government Front Bench that things would be put right and that in the Home Office this kind of behaviour would stop. There really is no point in having Select Committees unless Governments make it the highest priority to ensure that those Select Committees have all the information that they need to conduct their scrutiny appropriately. It is to make a mockery of the system to have information arriving late or too late to be properly considered. I am very glad that the noble Baroness emphasised this point. It is exasperating.
I belong to those who realise that the first reality of existence is that we live in a totally interdependent world. Very few significant issues that face us and our children can be resolved in the context of national policy alone. This is sometimes brought home more dramatically than at other times. It is true, of course, in strategic and defence terms. We are discovering in the anxiety about Ebola that it is certainly true of health. Here, we are seeing how important it is in the context of Home Office affairs.
The noble Lord, Lord Patten, said that he believed in cross-border co-operation. I am very glad to hear him say that; it is reassuring. As he said himself, it would be mad to take any other position. However, what I ask him to consider is that this cannot be just a matter of the interrelationships of institutions. The police are an institution working with other police forces. Essential to the success of operations of this kind is a culture of, to use the Government’s phrase, “We are all in this together”. We will be as strong only as our weakest link, and we have to think about this together. We must instinctively see the international dimension of what we are involved in and want to be working alongside people whom we increasingly know personally, professionally and the rest. It would be wantonly irresponsible to forgo the chance of strengthening that. The culture of mutual dependency for success is terribly important.
To substantiate that argument, it is interesting to listen to witnesses because, increasingly, those whom we charge with responsibility in this sphere are saying how important these institutions are to them. Certainly, on Europol, the evidence was extraordinary. The professionals to whom we listened were saying, one after the other—perhaps I will not use the colloquial term I was going to use; but perhaps I can say—that we really would have lost our marbles if we had pulled out of Europol because it was so indispensable for the reasons that I have been trying to outline.
We cannot separate this issue from our whole attitude towards the European Union. If we are to succeed in the EU, see the things that we regard as important being strengthened, and change successfully the things that we regard as having been overtaken in time, irrelevant or less significant than they originally were, surely this depends on our being seen to be committed, second to nobody, to the success of the mutual operation. That is how one influences people. If, all the time, one is stamping one’s foot on the margins and saying, “We won’t do this and can’t accept that”, one does not, in the end, have any influence at all.
Noble Lords will know that for most of my life I have been involved in international work. It would be completely to misrepresent what I encounter across not only Europe but the world, but people are beginning to be rather exasperated with Britain. They say, “Do you belong to the world and Europe, or don’t you? If you don’t, well, float off into the Atlantic and do things on your own”. However, how will we look in respect of the security of the British people if we take that sort of course? It matters that we are engaged and using our influence as strongly as possible. As the noble Baroness argued very well, on this issue, if we are going to shape the institution in the way we would like to see it shaped, and the rest, it is terribly important to be in before we have to react and accept what has been negotiated by others. Therefore, the urgency of what we are trying to achieve is tremendously important.
I was rather sad when CEPOL moved from this country because I thought, “This is an example of cutting off one’s nose to spite one’s face because if it is here in this country, we will, in a host of ways, have maximum influence on how it operates”. We took the course that we took and it went away. Let us not reinforce the mistake we made then. Let us be second to nobody in getting in there early, at a time when we can influence, and demonstrate that we want this thing to be not only effective but effective in the right way.
My Lords, CEPOL is a good thing and our membership of it benefits the United Kingdom. Your Lordships’ EU Select Committee believes that to be the case for the reasons set out so clearly by our chair, the noble Baroness, Lady Prashar. The Government believe this also. It would be a bad thing if the UK were to cease to be a member of CEPOL. It would be completely absurd for the UK to be the only member state not to be part of CEPOL. As things stand, that is precisely what will happen if we do not opt into the new CEPOL regulation.
I know that the Government have some reservations about the current draft of this new regulation, and so does the committee. I think we share the view that the proposed regulation goes beyond the scope of the existing regulation in ways that are not desirable. In particular, the Government are rightly concerned that the new, broader mandate would extend CEPOL’s training function to police officers of all ranks, to Customs officers and to other, unspecified, agencies dealing with cross-border issues. There are other concerns as well, to do with the contribution to CEPOL’s work programmes and the establishing of a CEPOL scientific committee. However, these concerns are not ship-sinkers. They are eminently resolvable by the usual processes of negotiation. There is no reason to believe that the Government would find it unusually difficult to have their concerns addressed, nor to believe that, in the unlikely event that these concerns were not addressed, that would merit leaving CEPOL.
The fact is that there is, as there has always been, a very strong case for UK membership of CEPOL. The details of the draft regulation, amended though we would like them to be, do not change that position. I think the Government will accept, as the committee’s report suggests, that we will opt in to this new regulation at some stage. The question we are really debating is the not unfamiliar one of whether we should opt in now or after adoption and before entry into force. It does seem rather perverse to deny ourselves a position at the formal negotiating table when it is certain that we will opt in to a final regulation anyway. What is the benefit to the UK of doing that? What are the dangers to the UK in the new draft that cannot be negotiated away? What are the dangers that outweigh exclusion from CEPOL? If the Minister disagrees with opting in to the proposed regulation now, perhaps he can say why it is better to be outside formal negotiation if we will opt in later, as we surely must.
As the noble Baroness, Lady Prashar, has already mentioned, the committee’s report also notes that the Government have chosen not to opt in to the proposed new Europol regulation. The Government have excluded themselves from formal negotiations over the text and we see no benefit in this. Of course, if we eventually failed to opt in we would almost certainly find ourselves excluded from Europol, which is surely an entirely unthinkable outcome. The deadline for opting in to the proposed CEPOL regulation is in 21 days’ time, on November 24. The UK should, and would, benefit from being at the negotiating table while the text is being finalised. Since it is unthinkable, I hope, that we will not opt in eventually, that is where we should be now: at the negotiating table.
Of course, I accept that the whole topic of opting in—or not—to JHA measures has not been a simple one for the Government. The Government have, on occasion, been very slow in providing the House and its committees with the information necessary for proper scrutiny. In fact, they seem to have got into the habit of providing information very late and, sometimes, on the day of a debate. The noble Baroness, Lady Prashar, has already noted the latest example of this. I believe the Government provided, three hours ago, the explanatory memoranda—due on October 16—of the two draft Council decisions to do with the block opt-out and rejoins which need to be adopted before the end of this month. Will the Minister say why there has been such a delay?
All in all, the Government’s handling of the Protocol 36 block opt-outs and rejoins has generated very much more heat than light. However, I hope the Government will not allow their past, and perhaps present, difficulties in this area to colour their attitude to the Motion before us. In particular, I hope that the controversy over the European arrest warrant among some Tory Back-Bench MPs will have no influence on the Government’s decision on the CEPOL or Europol opt-ins. I wholeheartedly agree with the Home Secretary that the European arrest warrant is a vital and necessary law enforcement tool, but so is our participation in Europol and so is our participation in CEPOL. I urge the Government to accept today’s Motion. More than that, I urge the Government to opt in to the proposed CEPOL regulation without delay.
My Lords, since I am no longer a member of the EU Select Committee—nor chair of its sub-committee on home affairs—which published the excellent report on the draft CEPOL regulation which we are debating this evening, I can give unstinting praise for the crispness and clarity of that report, which bears witness to the effective chairmanship of my noble friend Lady Prashar, who has just introduced it. I can do so without being thought to be purely self-serving. I support its analysis of the Commission’s draft regulation and its conclusion that the United Kingdom should opt in to its further negotiation before the three-month deadline expires on 24 November. I very much hope that the Government will reach the same conclusion and that the Minister will say so when he responds to the debate.
The complexities of the opt-in, opt-out system are mind-boggling, but before we take the easy way out of blaming that on Brussels, I suggest we recognise that these complexities are totally and entirely of our own making. No other member state faces the same complexities to the same extent when negotiating justice and home affairs legislation. No other member state has a substantial proportion of its own supporters in Parliament who will denounce any decision to opt in, even when the Government consider it in the national interest to do so, as a surrender to Brussels and an abdication of national sovereignty. “Oh what a tangled web we weave” could well be our motto when discussing these matters.
As to the CEPOL draft regulation itself, there are, I see, some points with which the Government are not entirely happy and which they seek to change in negotiations now taking place. That is quite normal and it would be unusual indeed if the Government were ready to agree to every word of every Commission draft. In fact, our track record on shaping justice and home affairs legislation has been good, ever since qualified majority voting was introduced in 2009. We support CEPOL: we welcomed its establishment in Budapest, so we surely need to get stuck in to these negotiations as a full participant and without delay. I was slightly baffled by the noble Lord, Lord Patten, who spoke about CEPOL in terms which led me to suppose that, in the brief time since I chaired the sub-committee, it had metamorphosed into one of those dragons which the shining knights of Euroscepticism ride out every day to slay. I was a bit puzzled by references to mission creep in a training organisation which has no executive authority and by the reference to subsidiarity which we, presumably, decided was fulfilled many years ago when we established CEPOL in Bramshill.
Perhaps the Minister will simply confirm that it is entirely a matter for Britain’s police forces to decide whether or not their officers and others in law enforcement agencies go to CEPOL. You cannot be ordered to send your officers to CEPOL: you decide whether they go. Some of those concerns were, therefore, a little wide of the mark. I say that because the binary choice of not joining the new CEPOL, with its new regulation, seems to me a totally disproportionate response to a few relatively minor and detailed blemishes in a draft which has not yet been negotiated. Can we seriously believe that Britain’s national interest would be served by standing outside CEPOL at a time when the international dimension of crime, whether you are talking about drugs, human trafficking, cybercrime, terrorism or many other forms of crime, is on the increase and the need for closer international co-operation is unchallenged? Therefore, the need for officers who understand how other people in the 28-member European Union are operating their procedures is very important. Do we want to deprive our law enforcement officers of the chance to build up their skills and to build up the networks that they will achieve by attending CEPOL courses? That would seem to be, frankly, aberrant.
However, the other part of the binary choice—the idea that we might perhaps rejoin the old CEPOL, as the Government intend to do under their package of 35 justice and home affairs measures, while not participating in the new CEPOL regulation—is, as the report says, hardly likely to be sustainable any more than it will be for Europol or Eurojust. If these judgments are correct, we should stop pretending that the binary choices really exist. Let us face it: we need to be in CEPOL.
Later this month, we shall have the opportunity to debate and to vote on the justice and home affairs measures that the Government believe to be in the national interest to rejoin after triggering the block opt-out. I will support the Government in that debate and will vote for that package. When I listen to the views of the Government’s own supporters who will oppose that course of action and to those of UKIP, which are identical to those of many of the Government’s supporters, I sometimes feel slight despair. They say that their position is a principled one. It is perhaps more accurately described as an ideological one. I suggest that we need to avoid these polarisations. We used to pride ourselves on our pragmatism and our preference for practical solutions. What on earth has become of that pragmatism when we see the mountain of evidence given to your Lordships’ House by lawyers, prosecutors, senior police officers and indeed by the Home Secretary herself about the value of those 35 measures to our own internal security?
That is a debate for another day. Today, I hope that we will hear that the Government intend to opt in to the CEPOL regulation before 24 November.
My Lords, yet again we are grateful to the European Union Committee for its service to your Lordships’ House and for, again, providing an informative and helpful report so that we can fully debate these European issues. I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Prashar, for the helpful way in which she introduced the debate and the report. In the report we have a comprehensive assessment of the issues involved in the current opt-in proposals. Although there is a very specific issue here, I think that other noble Lords will agree that there is a sense of déjà vu about this debate.
The Government’s approach to EU criminal justice and home affairs matters has been—I use the term with some generosity—clumsy. It has more to do with narrow internal party-political fractures than it does with tackling crime, particularly serious organised crime, which does not know any borders: people being trafficked into slavery and prostitution, drug trafficking, kidnapping, abduction, cybercrime, fraud and money laundering. All of those are crimes that cannot be resolved or be dealt with by one country alone. With the political equivalent of the hokey-cokey that we have had in various debates, we have never been able to get a straight answer from the Government on how many of the measures that they have chosen to opt out of permanently have any value or even any application to the UK. I am always willing to receive an answer on this, and I shall be grateful if the noble Lord is able to enlighten me today. I have asked a number of Ministers over the past couple of years and am still seeking an answer. If he cannot answer me today, perhaps he can do so when we debate the opt back in again measures, to which the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, referred. It would be very helpful in informing that debate and would certainly be much appreciated after about a dozen times of asking.
The Minister will recall that it was the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, in the previous opt-out debate on Europol who advised that we could not discuss these issues in a vacuum. We had to set them in the context of the Government’s announcement to opt out of all policing and criminal justice measures and then seek to opt back in again to some of them. While we are still waiting for those final proposals to be debated, it is clear that the Government, if not all of their MPs, now recognise the value of the European arrest warrant in seeking justice for victims and ensuring that criminals face justice.
However, the importance of these issues means that each and every one must be considered on its merits and on its contributions to public security and safety. The implications from today’s debate in terms of training, education, science and research are extremely important. These reports are valuable because the rhetoric—the internal party-political issues—are stripped away and we are left with facts and reasoned debate. I know that when we discuss Europe the political climate can make it difficult to have the kind of evidence-based debate that we need, but if we are to do justice to the issues and to provide justice for victims of cross-border crime, then we have to have that kind of evidence-based debate.
The noble Lord, Lord Hannay, referred to the UKIP Members of the House. I look at where they normally sit and, again, see empty Benches. We all understand that the issues of most importance to UKIP are immigration and the EU. I have taken part in a number of these debates in your Lordships’ House but yet again, when there is an opportunity for a debate, to challenge the Government or indeed to challenge the committee report, it is disappointing but not surprising that not one Member of UKIP is present. I can think of just one debate, when we discussed the European arrest warrant, to which UKIP made a contribution, so they are hardly the shining lights of Euroscepticism referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Hannay.
The matter before us today is central to European-wide co-operation on the issues that strike at the heart of our community. A Government’s first duty to their citizens is to ensure that they are safe and secure. Today, it is absolutely impossible to do that within narrow national confines. Even the noble Lord, Lord Patten, recognised that. Our police and law enforcement bodies have to co-operate and work together, and that has to be reflected in their education and training and in the skills that are needed. They must co-operate and share science and research. The old-fashioned “Dixon of Dock Green” approach cannot be relied on to tackle complex international crime.
The report refers to our previous debate on the proposed merger of Europol and CEPOL, when doubts were expressed across your Lordships’ House about the implications of such a move. In the end, as the noble Baroness said, the provisions of the proposed regulations relating to CEPOL were removed. In that debate, issues relating to training were discussed and it was emphasised that the quality of, and priority given to, training have to be guaranteed—that was one of the concerns about a complete merger with Europol. We also raised the value of having an EU training centre here in the UK with CEPOL at Bramshill. Unfortunately, that is no longer the case, as the Government’s restructuring of police institutions and the selling off of Bramshill means that the centre has relocated to Budapest.
At that time, even though the Government had to make a decision within just a few days of that debate, the then Minister was not able to tell your Lordships’ House what the Government’s position was going to be. Today’s debate has a slightly longer timescale in that the Government have, as the noble Lord, Lord Sharkey, said, 21 days in which to make a decision—that is, before 24 November. I hope that that scheduling will not in any way be influenced by any events taking place on 20 November with the by-election in Rochester and Strood.
In recommending that the Government should opt in, the report recognises the problems with Protocol 21 in that, when established in 2005, CEPOL was a third pillar measure which required unanimity and was not subject to a UK opt-in. However, as was explained very helpfully, new measures are subject to the opt-in, and that creates a curious anomaly, as if the UK does not opt in it remains bound by the 2005 decision but not by the new regulation that would apply only to member states that had opted in.
All these issues raise serious matters that we need to be clear have been fully understood and considered by the Government. Therefore, I have four questions for the Minister and I should be grateful if he could give clear answers to them. I understand that the Government have concerns about the current draft and that they can choose to opt in at a later date—that is, after 24 November but before the measure comes into force. However, as has already been mentioned, can he confirm that, if that is the case, it would mean that the UK was excluded from any negotiations or discussions or from having any influence on what the final draft would say? By choosing not to opt in now, we lose the opportunity to influence or have any impact on the final content. I believe that means—but I would like some clarity from the Minister—that if we fail to opt in, CEPOL in effect will become inoperable, like a twin-track or two-speed organisation. What are the implications for training, for science and research and for sharing that research and training across the EU, and the implications for the training and detection of serious cross-border crime?
Can the Minister assist your Lordships’ House in this debate by telling us what the Government’s position is going to be? We know that the Government have concerns, but can he explain how he best seeks to address these? Deciding not to opt in now but seeking to opt in later, having had no influence on the final content, seems to suggest we get the worst of all worlds.
This has been a very helpful debate. Again, I am grateful for these reports. I keep them all. As we have more debates on this issue, even if our UKIP Members are unable to take part in them, I think those of us who do find these reports extremely useful in giving an explanation and an opportunity to fully debate them. I hope that the Minister can give some substantive answers.
I join your Lordships in paying tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Prashar, for introducing this debate, for the way in which she introduced it and for the excellent report prepared by the committee, and I pay tribute to the members of that committee. This is part of the process that we agreed, that your Lordships’ House would have a say on these measures, when they come forward, and that there should be a report. We have a report, which is very clear in its recommendations, and I will turn to those in my remarks. It was also agreed that your Lordships should have an opportunity to debate, which is what is happening now. Of course, all that should happen before Her Majesty’s Government have actually reached a decision on whether to opt in at this stage. No decision has been made, so the comments that would be made in your Lordships’ House are pertinent, relevant and will be taken very seriously into consideration.
Before I turn to some of the specific points that have been raised, part of the system for considering these matters involves a formal government response to the report and requires the Government to update the House on their position. So while not losing track of the questions that have been raised from around the House, I will just put these remarks on the record.
I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Prashar, and her committee for calling this debate and I am pleased that we have had such a wide-ranging discussion. The Government have not yet decided whether to opt in to this measure at this stage. The arguments are finely balanced. We recognise the work of CEPOL and its current mission to bring together senior police officers from across Europe to encourage cross-border co-operation in the fight against crime. However, we also need to retain national control over the training of our law enforcement agencies, and there are elements of the draft measures that cause us some concerns. We therefore need to decide whether it would be better to opt in at this stage and use our vote in the negotiations to try to improve the proposal or to stay out for now and reconsider our position once the final text is agreed. Both options are open to us at this stage. I should say, of course, that they are open to us at this stage because the previous Government negotiated the justice and home affairs opt-out, so we are simply exercising an opt-out that they provided for us.
I want to be clear that we support CEPOL as it currently operates. CEPOL courses help the UK and UK law enforcement officers to build contacts across Europe, as has been mentioned by a number of noble Lords, and to exchange best practice in fighting crime. The training also provides personal development, strengthens partnerships and develops networks and co-operation, as well as providing the opportunity to share experiences. However, we are worried that some aspects of the new proposals would go beyond that and allow CEPOL and the wider EU to dictate aspects of our police training programmes. That is a very different thing.
The professionalism and training of the police and other law enforcement agencies should be led and developed by those organisations themselves, at a national or local level, and not by the EU. We believe that the focus of an EU-wide law enforcement training strategy should be to encourage member states to collaborate on matters that are mutually beneficial but to avoid telling us how to train our police. Provisions within the existing CEPOL Council decision are more than adequate to encourage member states to work together where appropriate. I am pleased that the committee chaired by the noble Baroness, Lady Prashar, sympathises with our concerns, including her proposals for a national unit and scientific committee. The commission’s proposals give CEPOL a much broader role than it currently has in law enforcement training, significantly expanding the EU’s responsibilities.
The Government believe that it should be for member states to define and determine which law enforcement officers may benefit from CEPOL’s activities. We are not at present convinced of the need for the law enforcement training scheme—known as LETS—and are concerned about the reference to this regulation in the text, which would make LETS legally binding on member states—this addresses the point that the noble Lord, Lord Sharkey, made about outlining the nature of our concerns. I know that several member states agree with us that all references to LETS within the regulation should be removed for this very reason.
Therefore, the question is whether we should opt in and use the vote—we would then have to help negotiate the proposals that concern us—or whether we should stay out for now, still participate in the negotiations, although without a vote, and consider applying to opt in post-adoption. Of course, the proposal is subject to qualified majority voting and co-decision with the European Parliament, so if we did opt in, we could still be outvoted and would then be bound by the outcome even if we did not get the changes that we were seeking.
A decision to stay out at this stage would not necessarily exclude us from CEPOL for ever. We would remain involved in the negotiations and would have another chance to take part once the measure had been adopted. That would give us the advantage of knowing exactly what the regulation would require of us before we signed up to it—which was precisely the point that was negotiated by the previous Government when they included that opt-out provision in the JHA. However, the disadvantage of having no vote in the negotiations is one which we are very mindful of, which is the point that the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, raised in her remarks. Even if we were not to opt in, I can assure the House that the UK’s voice will still be heard and listened to in the negotiations. Those negotiations are ongoing; we have officials attending Council working groups on the text as we speak, as they have been doing during this week and last week. That is very clear from Europol, a measure to which the committee of the noble Baroness, Lady Prashar, rightly attaches great importance. There we did not opt in pre-adoption but have secured some quite significant improvements to the text on Europol’s power to request investigation and to the duty of member states to supply it with information. So there are arguments either way. The Government have not yet decided at this stage which option they will propose.
The noble Baroness’s committee has argued that it is inevitable that we must adopt the regulation at some stage. In its view, it would be unworkable for the UK to be bound by the current Council decision, while other member states would be working with the provisions of the new regulation. The committee feels that this would in turn be likely to trigger the procedure under Article 4(a) of Protocol 21 of the Treaty of the Functioning of the European Union, resulting in the UK’s ejection from CEPOL. This regulation would repeal the existing 2005 CEPOL Council decision, to which the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, referred, for those member states participating in the regulation. In accordance with the opt-in procedure under Protocol 21, if the UK does not opt in to the proposal, and if it is subsequently adopted by the rest of the EU, the UK will remain bound by the underlying CEPOL Council decision, as the repeal aspect of the regulation would not apply to the UK.
The UK would be working with CEPOL according to the old Council decision while all other member states work according to the new regulation. Practically speaking, which was the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, this may not be impossible, especially if the new regulation does not significantly alter the focus of CEPOL. However, if the Commission considers—
I am sorry to interrupt the Minister, but I wanted to get in before he sat down. I did not suggest that it might not be impossible: I suggested that it might not be possible, which is the exact opposite.
Will the Minister also answer a question that disturbs me? This is not the first time that Home Office Ministers have taken refuge in not declaring their hand at the time of the debate in this House: it is about the third time, in fact. This demonstrates very clearly the ingenuity that Ministers and civil servants are able to put into turning into a meaningless matter the undertakings given by the noble Baroness, Lady Ashton, and by Mr Lidington from another place. The Government manage miraculously to remain poised on the horns of their dilemma until a couple of days after this House has expressed an opinion and then equally miraculously the light shines down from heaven and the Government take a decision, and they are not subject to any scrutiny in this House whatever.
Before he finishes, will the Minister undertake that when the light has shone down from above and the Government have reached a decision, he will come and tell the House what the Government have decided so that we can consider that? This is not a good way of dealing with these matters and the previous examples show just how badly the Lidington/Ashton undertakings are being implemented.
I hear what the noble Lord says, but the advantage of having a debate at the present time is that the committee’s report and your Lordships’ contributions inform the Government’s position. That is beneficial, rather than coming to the House after a decision has been taken by Her Majesty's Government.
I also accept the noble Lord’s point about what is possible and what is impossible. I readily acknowledge that. It is not for us to decide whether it is possible or impossible: it is for the Commission and the other member states to determine whether they are willing to tolerate that or whether they wish to eject us from the process. That is further down the route.
I am sorry, but I am not quite clear about whether the Government will bring back the issue to this House once they have made a decision on whether to opt in or not.
The decisions that are made on these matters are ordinarily communicated by Written Ministerial Statement. If, through the usual channels, the business managers and the committee, there is scope for something more than that, of course we stand willing to comply with what the House requires and to show it due respect. But that is the normal course through which information is communicated on decisions of this nature.
However, if the Commission considers that UK non-participation makes CEPOL inoperable, it could seek to have us ejected from CEPOL, from the 2005 decision. The provisions in Article 4a(2) of the protocol clearly set this out. Clearly, this depends on a number of questions that are currently hypothetical: whether we opt in before 24 November; whether, if we do not opt in then, we do so post-adoption; and whether, if we do not, the Commission tries to trigger the ejection mechanism. But if things got that far, it would be important to note that the protocol sets what seems to be a very high threshold for ejection. It requires the measure to be “inoperable”, not merely inconvenient or difficult to operate, and it must be inoperable for the other member states, not just for the UK. These are tough tests for the Commission to meet. However, that is an argument to be had if and when we get to that stage. We are a long way from there at the moment.
With reference to the draft Europol regulation, as the committee is aware, we decided not to opt in at the outset, but committed to opting in post-adoption if certain conditions are met. I must stress that, at this stage, no decision to opt in has been made and no such decision will be made until negotiations are complete and the regulation is adopted. At that point, the full process for considering a post-adoption opt-in will be followed, which, as the committee is aware, can take several months. However, as mentioned above, and without pre-judging the final outcome, I can say that I am pleased with the current progress of the negotiations.
I realise that time is running out. I will deal with some of the matters raised and if I cannot deal with them all, I will of course respond in writing to the noble Baroness in the first instance and copy that letter to all other noble Lords who have contributed to the debate. Some specific points were raised by the noble Lord, Lord Sharkey, and my noble friend Lord Patten. My noble friend brings immense expertise to this having, in another place and in another guise, been a particularly fine Policing Minister in the Home Office. The particular issue of concern is the proposal for CEPOL to assess the impact of existing law enforcement training policies and initiatives and to promote the mutual recognition of law enforcement training in member states and related existing European quality standards.
We have a particular problem with this because, from the time between Bramshill closing and the CEPOL negotiations, we now have an excellent College of Policing, which is doing tremendous work among police forces in this country. To keep it in context—noble Lords asked about this—the attendance at CEPOL courses was typically around 100 officers per year at Bramshill. That has now gone. We are talking about the College of Policing, but also recognise that in Bramshill we have an asset, and there were associated running costs. That is going to front-line law enforcement in this country.
Other issues that were raised related to the timeliness of communications. The noble Baroness, Lady Prashar, and the noble Lord, Lord Judd, raised this in very serious terms. I will take it away and reflect on it. It is not always within our hands as to when we get documents and how to pass them on. However, I should like to sit down with the committee to understand how we can improve our performance, between officials at the Home Office, Ministers, and the committees, to ensure that committees are able to do their job of scrutiny in a proper way. I accept the reprimand, apologise and promise to look at that more closely.
Some Members, including the noble Lord, Lord Judd, referred to the Lisbon justice and home affairs opt-out. As I have said, that is an opt-out of the previous Government’s making. We are simply exercising our right to do it. It does not seem necessarily a bad thing that if you have a piece of regulation before you and you are not entirely happy with it, then you can undertake the genuine, sincere and vigorous negotiations happening at the present, and reserve judgment on whether you choose to opt into the final draft until you have seen the final text.
The noble Lord, Lord Patten, also referred to the fact that we need to work much better at cross-border co-operation in policing and serious crime. We recognise that that is a very important area. That is why we have taken the approach that we have towards Europol and the arrest warrant. We recognise, as the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, said in her remarks, that ensuring the safety and security of the people in this country is the first priority of every Government. We should do that, but we can do so not necessarily by signing up to everything, but by being discerning because we have been given the opportunity to do that.
I covered interdependence. We accept that we need to co-operate and that is an ongoing thing. I very much accept that we are in this together and that, as the noble Lord, Lord Judd, said, we need to co-operate. However, we can have meaningful input into the negotiations ongoing in Brussels with our position as it is. I do not think it is an ideological position. It is one that looks at different issues and treats them in different ways, raising legitimate concerns about CEPOL while recognising its very good work, taking a slightly different approach with Europol, and a different approach to the European arrest warrant. That is a balanced and broad approach. However, I assure your Lordships that we will take into account and re-read all the contributions made in the debate. Again, I thank the committee for the work it has prepared, which we can draw upon.
My Lords, I thank all Members of the House for their contribution to the debate and for their positive comments about the report and the work of the EU Select Committee, for which I am very grateful. I have listened very carefully to the Minister and welcome the fact that he is willing to discuss the timetable to ensure that there is better engagement with the committees on timing. I also listened carefully to what the Minister said about the pros and cons of opting in now or later and the process. I must say that I find that unsatisfactory. I am disappointed that we have not had a clear answer on the Government’s intention. I urge the Minister to think about that, because the committee weighed the pros and cons and recommended that it would be wiser to opt into the regulation now rather than later.
Having said that, what is clear from the tone of the debate is that there is disappointment about the process, but we also have to take account of the context within which opt-ins are being discussed. The noble Lord, Lord Judd, talked about the culture and the importance of working together. It is important also to register the broader point within which the debate about opt-ins is taking place.
I thank the Minister for his response and I beg to move.
Is the noble Baroness withdrawing the Motion?