Amendment made: No. 31, in page 90, line 19, column 2, at end insert—
'In Schedule 4, paragraphs 6(2) and 8.'.—[Caroline Flint.]
§ Order for Third Reading read.76 6.56 pm
§ Caroline Flint
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.
I should like to thank my hon. Friends and both Opposition parties for their positive and co-operative approach throughout the Bill's passage. Our discussions have helped to improve and clarify the Bill, and I hope that the arguments are now more or less settled.
My thanks go to all hon. Members who contributed to the debates in Committee. I particularly thank the hon. Members for Surrey Heath (Mr. Hawkins), for South-East Cambridgeshire (Mr. Paice), for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath) and for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Carmichael) for their contributions to the constructive spirit in which the Bill has been debated today. I should also like to thank my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, North-East (Mr. Ainsworth), from whom I took over responsibility for the Committee after his well-deserved promotion. He made a major contribution to the initial stages of the Bill.
I also thank my hon. Friends the Members for Plymouth, Devonport (Mr Jamieson) and for Nottingham, East and other Labour colleagues who supported us in Committee, and such as my hon. Friends the Members for Brent, North (Mr. Gardiner), for Wirral, West (Stephen Hesford), for Bolton, South-East (Dr. Iddon), for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Kilfoyle), for Rugby and Kenilworth (Andy King), for Mitcham and Morden (Siobhain McDonagh), for Alyn and Deeside (Mark Tami) and for St. Helens, South (Mr. Woodward). I thank those Labour colleagues most profoundly, as the Bill is the first measure for which I have been responsible and I am now seeing it through to its Third Reading here today.
My thanks also go to noble Lords in another place—particularly Lord Filkin—for their excellent work in sending us the Bill in such good shape. I hope that when it returns to them, they will be satisfied with the further changes that we have made.
The Bill, though technical, marks a significant advance in co-operation against serious crime and terrorism within the EU. International crime affects us all. Reduced border controls and the growth of international trade mean that crime is not confined by national boundaries, so our investigation services also have to work across national boundaries and co-operate with EU states and those outside the EU in the fight against crime. We are already working with our EU partners, but the Bill will enable us to work even more closely and more effectively with them, as well as more widely with our partners outside the EU.
Part of the Bill will make the changes needed to enable the UK to participate in the Schengen agreement. The Schengen arrangements provide a clear framework for effective co-operation, especially for cross-border police operations. It is some time since we first proposed that the UK should participate in the police and judicial cooperation elements of Schengen. With this Bill in place, we will be able to move forward rapidly to make that proposal a reality.
The Bill is about fighting crime on an international and European level and is also associated with fighting crime at home. We have a record number of police officers, we are tackling antisocial behaviour, and we are assessing the problems that blight our communities— 77 particularly drugs and human trafficking, which recognise no national boundaries. The passing of the Bill will partly help to deal with those problems. There is an onus on us all to ensure that our constituents understand how important this Bill is to fighting crime in Europe and internationally, as well as to fighting it in the neighbourhoods that we represent. I commend the Bill to the House.
§ Mr. Paice
As the Minister reminded us, the Committee stage of the Bill witnessed—not for the first time, because of the way in which we operate—a change of Minister mid-way through proceedings. I congratulated the Minister at the time on her promotion, and I do so again tonight. She has acquitted herself well as a new Minister and I am grateful for her constructive approach to most of our deliberations, although we still have an element of dissent on one or two areas.
I echo the Minister's congratulations to the hon. Member for Coventry, North-East (Mr. Ainsworth), who has moved on to a more powerful position—greater may not be the right word—as deputy Chief Whip. The Minister will be conscious of his presence all the time. I also echo her comments about the other members of the Committee, including my hon. Friend the Member for Surrey Heath (Mr. Hawkins), the Liberal Democrat Front Benchers and others who participated in making the Bill's passage through Committee mostly constructive.
I cannot help but recall that a large part of the Bill is a repetition of the Criminal Justice (International Co-operation) Act 1990. The Minister's predecessor reminded us of that frequently in Committee. We were either told that something had to be in the Bill because it was in the 1990 Act or that things had to be changed because the 1990 Act was not quite right. The Government's arguments in Committee had an element of inconsistency, but that is nothing new.
The Bill seeks to put into statute the undertakings and commitments given by the Government on Schengen and the mutual legal assistance convention. As the Minister rightly said, it addresses several issues of international crime. Perhaps uniquely for a Bill on crime, it does not create a raft of new offences. Most crime Bills create many new offences, but this Bill is largely not about such creation. It is about improving co-operation on international crime, and the Opposition support such moves. We strongly support the provisions on driving disqualifications, on the mutual provision of evidence and, of course, on the issue of jurisdiction for terrorist offences. The latter is a sensible extension of legislation. As I said earlier, we have some reservations on aspects of investigation of banking transactions and cross-border surveillance.
I welcome the belated recognition of the validity of our argument on confusion, but I remain concerned about the implications for this country, because it is—as the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath) remarked—relatively unusual in Europe in being an island nation, although we do have one land boundary with Ireland. There is a bridge between Denmark and Sweden, which provides a comparison to the channel tunnel. We have reservations about how the legislation 78 will work and we will watch carefully. The issues of drugs and people trafficking—an horrendous crime, especially when it involves children, which is worsening all the time require cross-border co-operation, and we will always support the Government on measures to address them, as we have done on the issue of terrorism.
Our reservations are not substantial. The amendment in the other place that the Government overturned has now been put right and I am grateful for that. We will send the Bill back to the other place with our good wishes. The Opposition will not oppose Third Reading, and I congratulate the Minister on the way in which she has handled the first, but not the only, Bill that she will deal with in her job.
§ 7.5 pm
§ Mr. Heath
Like the proverbial month of March, the Bill came in like a lion and went out like a lamb. There was much huffing and puffing in the early stages of consideration of the Bill's consequences for sovereignty and the state of policing. The careful consideration that the Committee gave the Bill was, however, based not on any false fears about its consequences but on an understanding of the importance of international co-operation in fighting crime effectively, on an understanding of the importance of the provisions on extra-territorial jurisdiction in terrorist crime and on a wish to get the practicalities and the details right.
The approach that pervaded our consideration was based on that constructive principle. We asked how we could improve the Bill, and the areas that gave cause for concern included the issue of reciprocity and whether it was working effectively; the resources available to give meaning to the provisions, and I still have concerns about effective resourcing of our border control services and will wish to return to that issue; and the structure of our border controls, because too often they are the responsibility of different Departments and could be more effectively applied. The same applies to the National Criminal Intelligence Service, and it is unfortunate that the Schengen information system for the UK is called NSIS, which is pronounced in the same way as NCIS. That could cause great confusion and I wish that somebody had thought of that before developing the acronym.
Proper concerns were expressed about the integrity of our security systems and they have largely been addressed. Concern was also expressed about the resilience of the information bank, and we are still concerned about the amount of information that is held and whether it is sufficiently robust in its accuracy and about who has access to it. The Bill widens powers of the state that are essentially intrusive, so it is right that we have had repeated arguments about the proportionality of intrusion and the problems that it seeks to remedy, and whether the Bill is couched in terms that are legally appropriate.
We have made progress. By common consent, we have established a dialogue with the present Minister, whom I congratulate on taking up the reins of the Bill halfway through Committee and seeing it to a successful conclusion, and with her predecessor, the hon. Member for Coventry, North-East, for whom I have great respect. He contributed greatly to our proceedings. I also congratulate the Under-Secretary of State for 79 Transport, the hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Mr. Jamieson), about whom I was a little rude earlier, but whom we were happy to welcome to the Committee. I know that I get the hon. Member for Nottingham, East (Mr. Heppell) into terrible trouble by complimenting him on all occasions on the sensible way in which he provides support to our Committees, but it is appreciated and makes for better control of Government business than the alternative approach. I commend him for that. I also commend Conservative Front Benchers and my hon. Friend the Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Carmichael), who says that I claim responsibility for all his triumphs, although I cannot ever remember that happening. I am tempted to say that I normally try to dissociate myself from most of what he says, but that would be unfair. My hon. Friend has played a very useful role, and I am grateful to him—especially because, as I said on Second Reading, he has experience of serving these overseas processes. As far as I know, that makes him unique in the House. His level of expertise is therefore unmatched.
We have been well served by all the staff associated with the Bill. We will send back to the other place a Bill that has been marginally improved. I should have liked it to be improved more, but I recognise that it is nevertheless an extremely valuable Bill and that it will do a lot that is necessary when it comes to providing an effective basis for fighting crime internationally.
§ I commend the Bill to the House.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read the Third time, and passed, with amendments.