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Law Enforcement: Brexit Impacts

Volume 809: debated on Wednesday 6 January 2021


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the impact on law enforcement agencies in the United Kingdom of (1) not having access to European Union databases for the purposes of investigating crime, and (2) the replacement being put in place for the European arrest warrant.

My Lords, I draw attention to my interest in the register and beg leave to ask the Question in my name on the Order Paper.

My Lords, the safety and security of our citizens is the Government’s top priority. That is why we have secured an agreement delivering a comprehensive package of capabilities that will ensure that we can work with counterparts across Europe to tackle serious crime and terrorism, protecting the public and bringing criminals to justice. Importantly, this agreement includes arrangements facilitating streamlined extradition and the fast and effective exchange of data.

My Lords, on Christmas Day, the Home Secretary issued a statement saying that the new agreement with the EU was “historic” and would

“make the UK safer and more secure”.

Will the Minister tell us precisely in what ways the deal makes us safer and more secure? How will the loss of direct, real-time data-sharing access, and the loss of access to the Schengen database of alerts about wanted or missing people, stolen firearms and vehicles, conceivably help our law enforcement agencies?

My right honourable friend the Home Secretary is absolutely right. This deal is historic and it will keep us safe. In terms of SIS II, to which the noble Lord refers, as he knows, the EU took the position that it was legally impossible for any non-Schengen country to be included. We obviously are using Interpol and bilateral channels to facilitate that. It is important that we get SIS II into perspective, because every time that a UK law enforcement officer checked policing or border systems, it counted as a check against SIS II. That is why there were 572 million checks in 2019. Less than 0.5 per cent of those SIS II records related to persons of law enforcement interest.

My Lords, I first pay tribute to the Minister, who led a very fine debate last night on domestic abuse and domestic violence. I wish to pick up on that in relation to the questions of my noble friend. When protection orders are made on domestic abuse to protect someone who is being victimised and has survived domestic abuse, the order could, until now, be enforced in other parts of Europe. What will happen if, for example, a woman goes with her children to visit family members in Europe but is pursued by her abuser, who assumes that the order will no longer operate beyond our borders? Are we going to create new mutual recognition mechanisms to make sure that any order to protect her will be enforced in other parts of Europe?

As the noble Baroness will know, we will not be seeking membership of Europol but the arrangements that we have in place will allow for the UK’s continued effective co-operation with Europol, including rapid exchange of operational information and data for mutual benefit—in particular, in the type of case that the noble Baroness outlined.

My Lords, the agreed surrender arrangements that replaced the European arrest warrant include a significant number of grounds for withholding surrender and an overall principle of proportionality. All issues raised by a requested person will have to be litigated in the executing state before a surrender decision can be made. Will the Government undertake an audit of the delays and costs involved in the new system arising from our withdrawing from the clear procedures for European arrest warrants?

The noble Lord will be pleased to know that some safeguards regarding human rights would be right for the carrying out of justice. However, in terms of speed, we fully anticipate that the arrangements will be as fast and effective as those under the EAW.

My Lords, I declare my interest as deputy chairman of the Human Trafficking Foundation. Without seamless access to shared intelligence or co-operation both domestically and within Europe, human trafficking here will, I fear, inevitably increase. I heard what my noble friend said earlier, so will she now confirm that the UK will still have access to Europol, Eurojust, the Schengen Information System and passenger name record data?

I can confirm that the arrangements will allow for the UK’s continued co-operation with Europol. In terms of Eurojust, they ensure that UK and EU investigators can continue to share information and evidence, agree strategies and co-ordinate activity to tackle cross-border criminality.

Could the Minister tell me how she will ensure that the new arrangements, which are obviously welcome, are working efficiently and not leading to delays that will hamper the workings of the criminal justice system in this country?

There will be continued scrutiny of the effectiveness of the new arrangements. The noble and learned Lord is right that these things need to be swift and efficient but, as I said in reply to the noble Lord, Lord Marks, they also need safeguards built into them. I have every confidence that the new arrangements will work well.

If there has been no weakening of our security arrangements as a result of the new agreement with the EU, why, in the negotiations with the EU, did the Government seek to retain access to all the existing direct real-time data-sharing arrangements, including the Schengen database, that we had as EU members—not all of which we have retained?

The noble Lord is right that we have not retained everything. We have not got everything we wanted, which was always going to happen in a negotiation. But we believe that we have a set of agreements that protect our citizens and keep people safe.

My Lords, is the Minister aware that the longest-serving Home Secretary of recent times, Theresa May, gave only qualified support for these arrangements, when she spoke in the House of Commons on 30 December? She expressed particular concern about the timeliness of access to databases of European criminal records, modern slavery and child abduction. Is it not time for the Government to come clean and say that we are weaker now with these protections and to come up with specific policies to plug the knowledge gaps identified by Mrs May?

My right honourable friend Theresa May was probably right to give it qualified support. We have not seen how it will work yet. I am confident it will work well and I am sure that this House will scrutinise any deficiencies in the new arrangements. We have a very good package for the safety and security of the citizens of this country.

My Lords, real-time access to intelligence is crucial in the fight against serious organised crime and terrorism. Can the Minister assure the House that any reduced capability to access such information in a timely manner will not increase the risk level in the United Kingdom, thereby endangering UK citizens from January 2021?

My Lords, timely access and cross-border co-operation benefits not only the UK but the EU. The noble Lord talks about serious and organised crime, which knows no borders and is global. It is incumbent on all of us to work together to stem its flow.

My Lords, as my noble friend is aware, the closest co-operation between the Police Service of Northern Ireland and An Garda Síochána is absolutely crucial in the fight against both terrorism and organised crime. In this context, the European arrest warrant has aided the smooth extradition of suspects between our two jurisdictions. Could my noble friend assure the House that arrangements are in place to ensure that this continues and that there is no going back to the extradition problems that beset us in the past, which so soured UK-Irish relations?

My noble friend is absolutely right to point that out, and I think it will have been foremost in the minds of negotiators, both here and in Ireland. We do not want to go back to those days, and it is very important that arrangements are in place that allow for criminals and terrorists to be dealt with swiftly and efficiently.

Sitting suspended.