24 APR 2012

The EU should not undermine the Police or UKBA

The Government is looking at the possibility of sharing data across authorities. Many people are concerned that this will allow too much access into our personal details, and amount to a "snoopers charter". Needless to say this is an EUdirective, and one which I am very concerned about as a further example of the tentacles of Europe reaching ever further into our lives.

Today I said:

I represent what are probably some of the most Eurosceptic electors in the country, but they feel passionately about one issue: the need to ensure that Europe works when it comes to dealing with international crime. We see at first hand the problems of people-trafficking and people-smuggling, particularly the disgraceful exploitation of women who are carted secretly over our border and slipped into such places as Soho.

We see drug running, international organised crime, gun running and all the rest of it—that is, some of the most serious international crimes, on which we absolutely have to have co-operation. I therefore strongly support measures to ensure effective international co-operation. However, we have to ask whether this directive is on the side of international co-operation to tackle crime. Is it on the side of law enforcement, or is it on the side of the villain and protecting the villain's rights? Is it yet another villain's charter by proxy, emanating from the European Union?

For me, the balance shows the right intent—that we should co-operate—but what we have from the European Union is the wrong way of going about that. We need to give our law enforcement agencies the strongest possible tools to fight crime and the serious international gangs, and so on. However, I am worried because, having listened to this debate, it seems to me that we do not need to opt in at this stage. From the discussion and debate so far, it seems that we could take part in the negotiations, reserving our position, and decide to opt in later. We have the possibility of co-operating bilaterally. Up to now, we have co-operated quite successfully, and to date we have managed to data-share. Why will that suddenly come to a crashing halt if we have a right of privacy and a right not to data-share for criminals and villains, whom we should be fighting with all the data at our disposal?

My principal concern, and the principal concern that my constituents will have, is this. Of course we should have international co-operation, and of course we should combat international crime, but are our Ministers going to make the case passionately in Europe, on a line-item basis? Are they going to show that attention to detail, when they will not even accept an intervention from Members on their own side, which in my case was going to be helpful? I am concerned that we should be making sure that we are not frit when we put the case in Europe—that we are strong and trenchant, and that we ensure that our European friends focus on the necessity of ensuring that our law-enforcement agencies are sent into battle not with one hand tied behind their back, but with the full support of all European nations to ensure that we deal with the scourge and evils of international crime.

Many workers in my constituency work tirelessly on the front line for the UK Border Agency. Paragraph 30 of the impact assessment says that the UKBA is seriously concerned, because although people would normally be charged a tenner for a data request, under this proposal it will be completely free. That means that people could be bombing them in all the time, at great administrative expense and effort—for the UKBA, in this case. The UKBA receives 22,000 such requests every year. At the moment, the charge of a tenner wards off ever more requests. Indeed, the UKBA says that the charge should be higher, in order to ward off more vexatious requests. Its preference is for

"an increase in the fee limit to above the present £10 level."

The UKBA is not going to be happy that the Europeans come along and say, "Actually, it should all be free." We need Ministers to go to Europe to make the case passionately to our European colleagues that we must ensure that we do not give a blank cheque to anyone who wants to be vexatious in order to protect the so-called privacy of potential villains and criminals. We must send our law enforcement agencies into battle with our strong and passionate support, so we can deal with the great evils of international crime.

The one area on which my constituents support the EU is in respect of co-operation, but we must also ensure that our criminal justice services are not under threat of prosecution, as suggested at paragraph 50 of the impact assessment. I am deeply concerned that the overall impact of this will be substantially negative, even if it is difficult to be specific about that. I hope that Ministers will make a strong and passionate case for taking away the bad things in this directive and ensuring we keep the good things. I urge the Minister not to be frit. Instead, he must be strong and trenchant and win the day.

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Charlie Elphicke

It has been an honour and privilege to serve as Member of Parliament for Dover & Deal. I hope to be re-elected to serve our community for another term. 

Many of my appearances in the House of Commons are now on Youtube. Please click the link to watch the footage.

Please email me at charlie@elphicke.com or ring my office on 01304 379669 if you need to get in touch.

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