The House of Commons agreed yesterday that the United Kingdom should rejoin the Prüm Decisions and rejected Bill Cash’s amendment.

Madam Deputy Speaker (Natascha Engel): I inform the House that the Speaker has selected the amendment in the name of Sir William Cash. The amendment will be debated together with the motion, and the questions necessary to dispose of the amendment and the motion will be put at the end of the debate.

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mrs Theresa May): I beg to move,
That this House, wishing to see serious crimes solved, to counter terrorism and to see foreign criminals prosecuted and deported, supports opting in to the Prüm Decisions; notes the views of senior law enforcement officers that the Prüm Decisions are an important aid to tackling crime; notes the success of a pilot that demonstrated that the Prüm Decisions mechanism is both swift and effective; and further notes that only a subset of the relevant national DNA and fingerprint databases, containing data relating to individuals convicted of recordable offences, will be made available for searching by other participating States, and that the higher UK scientific standards will be applied to matches in the UK.

Recent events in Europe, particularly in Paris, have highlighted the very real need to co-operate with other countries in order to keep our citizens safe and to hunt down criminals and terrorists. Following the attacks in Paris, we know that the French authorities have been co-operating and co-ordinating with a wide range of law enforcement agencies in other countries, and that one of the tools they have found most effective has been the Prüm mechanism, the subject of today’s debate. Indeed, it is thanks to Prüm that they were able to identify at least one of the attackers so quickly.

Prüm—so-called after the German town in which it was agreed to develop the mechanism—is about the sharing with other countries, in strictly controlled circumstances, of DNA profiles, fingerprints and vehicle registration data in order to prevent and investigate crime. My French counterpart, Bernard Cazeneuve, wrote to me recently to set out his first-hand experience of Prüm and his hopes that the UK and France can improve our co-operation through it. While I never accept the views of others unquestioningly, I think it is wise to listen carefully to those with recent experience of such chilling events, and they believe this system to be hugely beneficial. The experience of France and others, and our own detailed study of Prüm, leads me to conclude that it is in the national interest to sign up to it, and I will set out in more detail why I think so.

Sir William Cash (Stone) (Con): I am sure that my right hon. Friend accepts that the dreadful carnage in France was to some extent the result of the failures of the authorities in that country. Why should we place so much trust in those who have had that kind of experience?
Mrs May: I have to say that the blame for the carnage in France lies fairly and squarely with the terrorists who caused it. I believe it is absolutely right to listen to those with experience. I will come on to describe other examples of how the exchange of data is beneficial in a variety of circumstances. Before I do so, it might be helpful to the House if I set out how we have come to this point, exactly what the system is and what it is not.

As I have said, Prüm is primarily about the sharing of DNA profiles, fingerprints and vehicle registration data with other countries in order to prevent and investigate crime. It is worth noting at the outset that we already share such data with other countries via Interpol, so this debate is not about whether we should do so, but about how. This system automates the front end of an existing manual process to access that information. It will make information exchange subject to the touch of a button, rather than a lengthy manual process. That means that it will be quicker and easier for our police to check the national databases of other member states, hugely increasing the reach of UK law enforcement. It is important to remember that this is not a centralised EU database.

Sir William Cash: As the right hon. Gentleman referred to me a moment ago, may I point out that in Staffordshire there was a case under the European arrest warrant in which a person was actually convicted of murder and was subject to penalties, although it was clear from subsequent evidence that he had not even been in Italy at the time, but had actually been in Staffordshire? There are many similar examples.

Sir William Cash (Stone) (Con): In these troubling times, this debate raises troubling questions about vital matters of policy and principle, not only for the United Kingdom as a whole and our Parliament but for our civil liberties and our common law.

First, before reaching a decision on our participation in Prüm, we should consider very carefully the implications for our parliamentary sovereignty, from which all law should ultimately derive. If we opt into Prüm, in which areas would the UK be accepting exclusive EU competence? The Government must be clear on that, because only the EU could act in those areas, which would mean taking the decision away from Parliament.

I have to ask the Home Secretary this: how assiduously have the Government considered alternative means of securing the benefits that Prüm offers in a way that would be less damaging to our parliamentary sovereignty? Furthermore, what is so special about the European Union when it comes to security, terrorism, organised crime and all those things that we deplore and want to control as compared with matters that arise in other parts of the world? What is the real distinction to be drawn as we seek to protect our citizens in the EU or any other country in the world?

Secondly, by participating in Prüm, the United Kingdom would be compelled to accept the jurisdiction of the Court of Justice. The extension of that Court’s jurisdiction under the Lisbon treaty to sensitive areas of policing and criminal law was the key factor in the previous Government’s decision to opt out.

Andy Burnham: I have listened carefully to what the hon. Gentleman said. He asked what was so special about national security that it required a European dimension, if I heard him correctly. Does he agree that the fact that the Paris attacks were exclusively planned in another member state answers his question?

Sir William Cash: It does not. The reasons why that terrible carnage took place have a great deal to do with insecurity and instability as a result of the failures of border controls and the manner in which people made their way to Paris. We do not have time to go into all those matters, and they are not the subject of this debate, but I question whether national security for United Kingdom citizens, which is our prime concern, will be advanced by surrendering these powers to the European Court of Justice.

The Government concede that accepting the Court’s jurisdiction is not risk-free. They should have explained what practical impact they expected the extension of the Court’s jurisdiction in relation to the UK to have, and they have not done so.

Thirdly, the Government say that they intend to put into place extra safeguards to ensure that Prüm would operate in a way that
“respects fully the civil liberties of British citizens.”

Liberty gave evidence to the House of Lords on a number of matters in this respect.
In the report of the European Scrutiny Committee that was published the other day, we make it clear that there is an important balance to strike between law enforcement co-operation, especially when it involves the exchange of personal data, and the need to protect individuals against the risk of false incrimination and unwarranted interference with their right to privacy. The Government’s business and implementation case can provide only anecdotal evidence of cases in which Prüm has been instrumental in advancing an investigation or securing a conviction. The paucity of evidence that we have been given on the value and impact of Prüm in respect of law enforcement makes it difficult to measure its added value and to ensure that an appropriate balance is being struck. We find that lack of transparency and accountability troubling.

Mrs May: I can only assume that I slightly misheard what my hon. Friend said. He seemed to say that the only evidence that we had given about the benefits of Prüm was anecdotal. We have undertaken a pilot with four other EU member states. That pilot was based on the exchange of a certain number of DNA profiles. It led to hits. As in the case of the Romanian that I identified, it led to someone being charged, who is now on remand. That is not anecdotal; someone has been brought to justice as a result of Prüm.

Sir William Cash: I think that the Home Secretary used the expression “pilot scheme”. She surely concedes that it was a small scale pilot scheme. That is the basis on which I question the extent to which the evidence is sufficiently broad-based to justify this extremely grave extension of powers to the European Court of Justice. The main risks highlighted by the Government are the remaining possibility of false positives, leading to the false incrimination of innocent individuals, cost, conferral of jurisdiction to the Court, and a high volume of requests, bearing in mind the fact that the UK has the largest criminal fingerprint and DNA databases.

Suella Fernandes (Fareham) (Con): I appreciate my hon. Friend’s exploration of the issue, but I wish to pick up on the point he made to our right hon. Friend the Home Secretary about the small scale of the pilot. What does he say about the fact that our law enforcement service will have access to more than 5 million fingerprints and DNA profiles? In the pilot, the British police sent out more than 2,500 profiles. When it comes to scale, the evidence is compelling.

Sir William Cash: The scale has to be weighed against the extension into the realm of the European Court of Justice. That is the key issue. The European jurisdiction has been conceded by the Government, although they refused to do so before. In addition, this entire exercise represents the most massive U-turn in Government policy since 2013.

Gavin Robinson (Belfast East) (DUP): There has been a focus on the scale of the pilot scheme. Has the hon. Gentleman had a chance to consider page 23 of the Command Paper, which helpfully outlines the delays associated with the Interpol system? Indeed, the very first example is of someone who, after four or five months of an Interpol application, having committed more offences from London to Essex, was detected in relation to another crime? With Prüm, he could have been detected much earlier.

Sir William Cash: There is no doubt that there are a number of cases where improvements can be made. With respect to the difference between what we are doing in the European Union as it affects the United Kingdom and what is happening in the European Union regarding other countries, we still have those problems in other countries. Extending the jurisdiction to the European Court of Justice will simply not deal with the problem.

Furthermore, in reaching a decision Parliament is entitled to know which measures the United Kingdom would opt back into by rejoining Prüm; the relevant factors that prompted the Government’s change of policy on UK participation in Prüm; and how concerns expressed by the coalition Government in July 2013 have been resolved, as we have heard almost nothing about that today. The Government motion is far from clear about the measures that the UK will rejoin if Parliament votes for it today. It refers only to Prüm decisions, but there are three measures. Two Council decisions were adopted in 2008, and the third Council decision was adopted in 2009 on the accreditation of forensic service providers. The Government should explain why the framework decision is not expressly referred to in the motion and whether they accept that it is an integral part of the Prüm package.

In July 2013, the previous Government told Parliament that Prüm would be too costly to implement. The estimate, I understand, was £31 million. The Government expressed concern that Prüm’s technical requirements were out of date and that it would be better to see whether there was a more modern solution that allowed better exchange of information, for example, producing fewer false positives or requiring less human intervention. The Government now suggest that implementing Prüm would be significantly cheaper—about £13 million, not £31 million. Can they account for such a significant reduction in such a short space of time, and how credible is the cost assessment on which the revised estimate is based?

Furthermore, the Government do not explain what efforts have been made to craft a more modern solution based on up-to-date technical requirements which would substantially reduce the risk of false positives, not just in the UK but in the EU. The Government say that they will apply higher technical standards than required by Prüm—of course—for the UK’s DNA and fingerprint databases, but we should recall that DNA profiles and fingerprints of British citizens may be held on foreign databases, which may be subject to less rigorous standards than those proposed by the Government.

All in all, this is not a motion that should be passed, for the reasons that I have given: it interferes with parliamentary sovereignty, it extends the range of the European Court, and the Prime Minister himself has made it clear that he does not want an extension of EU jurisdiction. Indeed, I think the Home Secretary has said as much. The motion therefore does not stand up. We should not opt into these proposals. For many of us, this is a step too far.

Sir William Cash: I hear what the hon. Gentleman says. As he well knows, I am a strong supporter of most of what comes from Northern Ireland in the shape of the Democratic Unionist party. Does he not accept, however, that there are ways of dealing with this problem that do not involve our surrendering to the European Court of Justice? That is the key issue for most of us in this matter. It is not that we do not want to restrain terrorism and exchange information; what concerns us is the manner in which that is being done, at the expense of Parliament and, in our view, of those who wish to leave the European Union.

Sir William Cash: We must also take into account the decision taken by Denmark only a few days ago in this enormous description of the kaleidoscope of European unity.
Mr Rees-Mogg: My hon. Friend is right. The Danish question is one of the greatest importance. Denmark had a referendum, having trusted their people, which I believe we may be doing at some point. But of course we are not trusting them on this measure, because it is instrumental to catching terrorists, and the people cannot be trusted to decide whether they want to do that or not. No, this must be done by the Government after a three-hour debate—though lucky us to get even a three-hour debate. Last year we did not get a debate on the European arrest warrant. We had it on something else.

Amendment proposed: (a), leave out from ‘deported’ to end and add—
‘, does not support opting in to the Prüm Decisions because of the need to protect the civil liberties of British citizens, because of the risks to UK sovereignty posed by accepting the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice (ECJ) in this area and because it would mean missing the opportunity to require a better arrangement, noting that the Government’s policy is to renegotiate the jurisdiction of the ECJ and the result of the referendum in Denmark preserving that country’s opt-out from such measures that will require Denmark to negotiate on an intergovernmental basis; notes that necessary international cooperation against terrorism and serious crime does not, and did not prior to the Lisbon Treaty, require the UK to accept the supremacy of EU law, the jurisdiction of the ECJ or the application of the Charter of Fundamental Rights; and therefore requires the Government to secure alternative arrangements outside the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice.’.—(Sir William Cash.)
Question put, That the amendment be made.
The House divided:
Ayes 26, Noes 503

Main question put and agreed to.
That this House, wishing to see serious crimes solved, to counter terrorism and to see foreign criminals prosecuted and deported, supports opting in to the Prüm Decisions; notes the views of senior law enforcement officers that the Prüm Decisions are an important aid to tackling crime; notes the success of a pilot that demonstrated that the Prüm Decisions mechanism is both swift and effective; and further notes that only a subset of the relevant national DNA and fingerprint databases, containing data relating to individuals convicted of recordable offences, will be made available for searching by other participating States, and that the higher UK scientific standards will be applied to matches in the UK.