Embargo: 00:01 Wednesday 19th July 2006
Contact: Owen Williams 020 7219 8659
LORDS COMMITTEE SAYS HOME OFFICE MINISTERS MUST BE OPEN WITH PARLIAMENT AND THE PUBLIC
The House of Lords European Union Committee today published a report on a meeting between former Home Secretary Charles Clarke and ministers from the other largest EU States in which the Committee criticise the lack of transparency surrounding the meetings.
In March, the former Home Secretary met his colleagues from the other five largest EU Member States to discuss and decide on a large range of major issues. Important decisions were reached on immigration, security, and law enforcement. No report was made to Parliament, and no publicity given to this by the Home Office.
The meeting took place on 22-23 March at the small Baltic resort of Heiligendamm. Such meetings have been taking place regularly since 2003. The next, to be chaired by John Reid, is due to take place in October.
The Committee believe that Parliament and the public have a right to know what is discussed and decided at these meetings.
The Committee accept that, especially in the enlarged EU, it is inevitable and desirable for small groups of ministers to meet informally. But the Heiligendamm meeting was one of a series of regular meetings between the six largest Member States - the G6 - whose population make up three-quarters of the EU total. Their influence on EU policy is decisive.
They should not try to ride rough-shod over the 19 smaller Member States.
Ministers of the interior are rightly concerned with security matters. This does not mean they should ignore civil rights. The power for the law enforcement agencies of one State to access the data of another raises important data protection issues. The European Council, data protection authorities, even a Home Office minister, have all agreed that new EU laws on availability of data and on data protection should be negotiated at the same time. The G6 ministers have no power, and no right, to attempt to decide otherwise.
Recommendations in the report include:
Future meetings of the G6 ministers must be fully publicised. The Home Secretary must report back to parliament on his return.
If police and other law enforcement authorities wish to have access to data collected for an entirely different purpose, there must be adequate safeguards in place, especially as regards data protection.
The Government should give full support to the Finnish Presidency in the rapid negotiation of the new EU legislation on data protection.
Commenting, Lord Wright of Richmond, Chairman of the Committee, said:
"We are not talking about occasional ministerial meetings. These are regular meetings of the six most powerful Member States, at which ministers decide how they want to take forward EU policy on security, justice and home affairs.
Parliament and the public, and other EU Member States, have a right to be told in detail what has been decided.
"In reaching their decisions, Ministers cannot ignore the civil rights involved. They should not use these meetings to propose changes to previous policy decisions of the EU or the Government. Policy changes should be agreed through national Parliaments and the Community institutions. This will allow the smaller Member States to have their say.
"We are grateful to Baroness Ashton of Upholland for giving evidence to us on behalf of DCA. We did not think it appropriate to invite Charles Clarke to give evidence, but we regret that it took the present Home Secretary seven weeks to agree that one of his junior ministers should give oral evidence to us."
Notes to Editors
1. The members if the Committee who conducted the inquiry are:
Lord Wright of Richmond (Chair)
Baroness Bonham-Carter of Yarnbury
Earl of Caithness
Lord Corbett of Castle Vale
Earl of Listowel
2. The report is published by The Stationery Office,
Behind Closed Doors: the meeting of the G6 Interior Ministers at Heiligendamm, House of Lords European Union Committee, (Add other info ,isdn, price etc)
3. The full report will be available shortly after publication on the internet at:
For copies of the report or to request an interview with Lord Wright please contact Owen Williams (Committee Press Officer) on 020 7219 8659.