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Brexit: Crime Prevention

Volume 782: debated on Thursday 30 March 2017


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they plan to continue sharing sensitive personal information with other European Union member states for the purposes of crime prevention and detection following the United Kingdom’s withdrawal from the European Union.

My Lords, the Government are clear that our commitment to co-operation with European allies on security and law enforcement will be undiminished as a result of leaving the EU. The effective use of data to underpin that co-operation will be an important consideration as we look to establish a new relationship with the EU, but it is too early to say what the future arrangements might look like.

My Lords, the issue of information exchange has taken on an added significance this week. I hope the House will forgive me but I take the avoidable death of one of my former police colleagues very seriously. Less than a week after four people died as a result of terrorism on our doorstep, does the Minister think that the implied threat made by the Prime Minister in her Article 50 letter—backed up yesterday by the Home Secretary—that the UK will withhold security co-operation with the EU if it does not get the trade deal that it wants, was insensitive, reckless, an empty threat, or all three?

My Lords, I too pay tribute to the people who lost their lives last week and who still lie in hospital injured. However, I take exception to what the noble Lord says. The letter says that both sides would cope, but our co-operation would be weakened. We want and we believe that the EU wants security to be part of a new partnership. That is why it is part of the negotiation. The “threat” was not a threat at all—it was a matter of fact.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that the best way to enhance our capability in countering crime and counterterrorism and the ability to share that with our European allies would be to give full support to the Investigatory Powers Act?

The noble Lord is absolutely right. Co-operation going forward will be crucial in all the areas that he talks about.

Would it assist my noble friend in answering the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, if she explained to him that, far from withdrawing or departing from anything, we are arriving at and entering a global network of new technologies in which the methods of crime detection and prevention are likely to be very much expanded and improved?

My noble friend is absolutely right. It is in the spirit of the improved technologies and improved sharing of data that we enter into co-operation around all these areas as we exit the EU and enter a new phase in this country’s journey.

Will the Minister, in the service of the House, read the two sentences in the letter before the one that she selectively read out? Those sentences make it absolutely clear that the Government’s intention and the implied threat is that unless there is agreement on trade—a “comprehensive agreement” as they have called it—there will not be an agreement on security. By that means, they would imperil not only our economic capability but, even more seriously, our security capability.

The noble Lord is quite wrong. The letter says that both sides would cope, but our co-operation would be weakened. We want, and we believe that the EU wants, security to be part of the new partnership. That is why it will be part of the negotiation. That is the right way forward.

My Lords, does my noble friend realise that the appropriate reply to the noble Lord, Lord Kinnock, lies in The Gospel According to St Matthew, chapter 6, verse 21?

My Lords, perhaps I can bring us back to the Question. Will the Minister clarify whether, if sensitive information is going to be passed to the EU, that will exclude information that is held by the security services and by the police on environmental campaigners, journalists, photographers and even politicians who have committed no crime?

The information that is shared is for the purposes of investigating crime, so someone who had not committed a crime would be unlikely to have their information shared with other countries.

My Lords, what assessment have the Government made on the future role of the European Court of Justice for the future of joint working with the EU on security after Brexit?

My Lords, we will not be bound by the European Court of Justice after we leave the EU; we will be bound by the UK court system.

My Lords, does the Minister not agree with me that the best way of answering the Question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, is to ensure that the Government arrange with our European partners to deal with security issues first and foremost, separately from trade, to make sure there is no moment when we fall off a security cliff?

The noble Lord is quite right in the sense that the Prime Minister put these aspects of the negotiation right at the forefront. I have been in debates in the last few weeks talking about this co-operation. The fact that we have been world leaders in those areas is so important as we go forward, but of course it is all part of a whole deal, bearing in mind the context in which we operate.

My Lords, to reinforce what the noble Lord, Lord Blair, just said, would my noble friend agree that as we begin this long and difficult process, intemperate remarks are hardly helpful?

It depends which intemperate remarks my noble friend is referring to, but yes, I think we all have to be very careful about what we say.

My Lords, I am afraid I disagree with my noble friend Lord Kinnock on the reading of this particular piece. For some seven decades now, the US and the UK have been the prime safety net for Europe in defence and security terms. We must not allow this very complex web of agreements somehow to be damaged in these negotiations. The security of Europe is crucial for us. Everyone knows that, and we must not be let it be damaged by some silliness in the negotiations. Does the Minister agree?

I am very pleased that the noble Lord has put this in the broader context. He is absolutely right about our co-operation beyond the EU. The sharing of intelligence with the EU and international partners is far broader than simple measures within EU laws. He is right in that broader context.