Examination of Witnesses (Questions 460
TUESDAY 7 NOVEMBER 2000
MP, AND MR
460. Home Secretary, you earlier mentionedboasted
almostabout joined-up government thinking in this category.
Are you satisfied that the governments of the European Union are
joined-up in their thinking?
(Mr Straw) With each other or internally?
461. I am thinking primarily actually of France
and the UK but broadening it, I do not want to pick on France.
(Mr Straw) Asylum and immigration is an issue which
is near or at the top of the agenda of all ministers of the interior,
home ministers across Europe, with the possible exception of Portugal
which, for reasons of language and history, has simply a few hundred
applications for asylum each year. It is right at the top. It
creates difficulties for all governments, whatever their political
persuasion. How it is handled varies a bit. As far as bilateral
contact with the French is concerned, they have very considerably
strengthened in recent years. Officials, led by Stephen, put a
great deal of effort into those bilateral contacts, so have I,
both with Jean-Pierre Chevenement, Minister of Interior, and Elizabeth
Guigou, she is less involved in immigration matters, and now with
Daniel Vaillant who is Chevenement's successor. We have negotiated
the protocol to the Sangatte Treaty. They have agreed to put that
through the National Assembly following from that and juxtaposed
controls. A great deal of effort is going on to improve enforcement,
particularly in the Pas de Calais area and so on.
(Mr Boys Smith) I have little to add to that, except
that I think the relationship with the French at official level
has been a fruitful and productive one and has undoubtedly got
a great deal better in the last year or so. In my two years in
the job things have improved.
462. I am pleased to hear that things have improved.
Is there room for further improvement?
(Mr Straw) Yes.
463. We are working towards that?
(Mr Straw) Yes and, as far as Germany is concerned,
I had a long meeting here in London last week with Dr Schily,
who is the Minister of Interior, who is an old friend in any event,
but relations both at the ministerial level and official level
with the Germans are very good and co-operative. They are extremely
co-operative, for example, on Dublin returnees. The same is true
with most but not all European countries.
464. Home Secretary, you are probably aware
that I am currently serving on the parliamentary police service
scheme that has involved an all party visit to Europol's headquarters.
Do you think that more needs to be done to improve the workings
of Europol in dealing with people smuggling?
(Mr Straw) Yes. Europol essentially is an intelligence
gathering organisation. We proposed, and Tampere agreed, the establishment
of the European Police Chiefs Task Force. We are now concerned,
as are other interior ministers, to ensure that Task Force takes
on tasks of an operational kind, in other words starts to catch
the criminals, which is the purpose of it. It takes things a stage
further from Europol, which is intelligence gathering. Within
the framework of the European Police Chiefs Task Force the relevant
police chiefs agreed that there is this gang which needs to be
intercepted, disrupted and, where possible, members arrested and,
therefore, these countries should work on that. You do not have
a great bureaucratic superstructure but what you do have is this
arrangement where information can be exchanged, bilaterally or
trilaterally and so on, and ad hoc arrangements can be made for
465. Home Secretary, I think that does lead
us on now to the particular question about the tragic death of
the 58 people at Dover in June. Has that had a lasting impact
on other EU countries, the attitude towards people smuggling,
and what has happened since Tampere to bring us closer together
within the EU?
(Mr Straw) Dover was shocking and the shock reverberated
across Europe. It was a profound shock to people across Europe
and received a huge amount of coverage in Europe as well as obviously
in the United Kingdom. Amongst other things obviously it has highlighted
the problem of people smuggling, both the desperation of people
to get not only to the United Kingdom but also to many other EU
states because of the total number who apply within the EU probably
only a small percentage apply to this country, so it has highlighted
that. It has highlighted the ruthlessness of the criminal facilitators
who are behind this traffic. It has given increased urgency to
the need to improve co-ordination and common standards between
different European Union States.
466. Home Secretary, would heat seeking detectors
have located those 58 people?
(Mr Straw) It is difficult to say. As you know, at
the moment, it is dogs and CO2 detectors which are used, certainly
in this country. A variety of techniquesStephen can comment
on this in greater detailare under investigation, including
that of the use of X-ray equipment, scanning material. As the
Chairman knows, not least through representations he made to me,
I organised a study by the Police Scientific Development Branch
into the effectiveness and the safety of different methods of
detecting clandestines on vehicles.
(Mr Boys Smith) Just to add, on your first point,
I do not know about heat seeking detectors but undoubtedly CO2
or dogs would have found those people had they been used at an
early enough stage in the journey and possibly they would have
been found alive. On the use of X-rays, we are taking that work
forward as fast as we can. Clearly there are safety considerations,
which is why we are looking at various options within the X-ray
territory, some of which I think are quite complicated.
467. Chairman, you will be aware of the letter
the Home Secretary sent you last month when it was acknowledged
that the X-ray units are fully compliant with UK Health and Safety
legislation with regard to the exposure of people and animals
but they are not going to be used.
(Mr Straw) With respect, Mr Russell, they are compliant
for the purpose for which they are used, which is the identification
of contraband, not people. I am very happy, subject to this classification,
to share with Members of the Committee some of the advice which
I have received. Let me say to Mr Russell, I have gone into this
in very great detail and if X-rays or heat seeking devices or
any other system are more effective than CO2 and dogs I want to
see them used.
468. In your letter you said they are compliant
with regard to the exposure of people and animals.
(Mr Boys Smith) They are compliant for the purposes
for which they are used, as the Home Secretary said, which is
not primarily to search for people, it is to search in detail,
in depth, in the load for contraband. I think the key issue is
not whether they are compliant and would find people, it is the
extent to which they can be used for practical purposes at speed
in a port like Dover where large numbers of vehicles are passing
through. What we are looking at, therefore, is not just X-ray
as such, but X-ray that can be used quickly, in open air, in a
way comparable to detector dogs and CO2 sensors to reinforce those
469. Home Secretary, to conclude my section,
what progress has been made since June in taking forward proposals
you put forward in Lisbon for a common asylum system? Who is actually
leading on this, and which EU countries are most supportive of
(Mr Straw) Well, the ground for a common asylum system
itself flows from Amsterdam, and the lead on that is in the hands
of Antonio Vitorino, who is the EU Commissioner in this area.
There have been long discussions with him and draft texts are
being produced, and there is quite a tight time scale on this.
Which countries are we working most closely with? Quite a lot
of them, including France and Germany and the Scandinavians countries,
the countries which take the bulk of the asylum application. I
may say that Italy, although it has fewer numbers of asylum applicants
than the United Kingdom, their numbers are running at a few thousand
last year, it is one of the major transit countries from the Balkans
and Greece, and also has a huge number of people without any papers
at all who are just working illegally. It must not be assumed
that just because not so many apply in Italy, or are recorded
as having appliedbecause they have a rather different approach
to public administration in Italythey do not have hundreds
of thousands of people who have no basis for staying there.
470. Can I ask Mr Boys Smith, just going back
to the 58 Chinese people found dead in that lorry, would you happen
to know whether the intelligence that was available to Customs
and Excise on that occasion was also available to the Immigration
(Mr Boys Smith) I do not believe that it was, although
I would like to have notice of that and pursue it.*
The search was conducted for Customs reasons and normally if one
or other of the agencies is intervening we would expect them to
take the lead and share any product that might come from that.
471. I would be grateful if you would do that
because it touches on a point that Mr Russell was asking about
who was looking for what and the purpose of that equipment. Clearly,
in that case, I think it is fair to say that the intelligence
indicated that this was a truck they should stop, without being
specific as to why. That was the case, was it not?
(Mr Boys Smith) Yes.
Chairman: I should say that it looks as though
we are going to have a vote soon. We will do our best. Perhaps
we can go to Dublin first.
472. I have to confess, Home Secretary, that
the Committee found it a little bit difficult to understand the
operation of the Dublin Convention, and we are hoping that you
and Mr Boys Smith can shed light on it. As from 2nd October, through
the Immigration and Asylum Act, every EU country is deemed a safe
(Mr Straw) Yes.
473. Has this had as much effect as it should,
indeed, have done, and if it has not had much effect on the numbers,
(Mr Boys Smith) The 2nd October is really too soon.
I do not think we can say at this stage. What that provision is
designed to do is to bottle up the route that the previous judicial
finding had offered. I do not think I would expect it to have
any discernable effect on the intake.
(Mr Straw) You are in very good company if you do
not fully understand the operation of the Dublin Convention. The
important thing to say about it is that although it was agreed
in 1990, it was drafted some years before that, before the collapse
of the Berlin Wall, when the circumstances about asylum were completely
different. It is one of these things that was on the track. It
was drafted in the mid-80s and agreed in 1990, and that was after
the collapse of the Berlin Wall.
474. Which categories of asylum seeker does
this Section 17 of the Act
(Mr Straw) Section 11.
475. Section 11, enable the immigration
officers at Dover to send back to France? Are they only those
people who admit that they have come from France, or only those
people who have claimed asylum in France, or only those people
who are not sans papier? Clearly, at Dover, all of the
people presenting themselves for asylum coming off the ferry as
illegals have come from France.
(Mr Straw) Whether France was the first safe third
country through which they passed is another question.
(Mr Boys Smith) It does not allow immigrations officers
at Dover to send people straight back if they have made an asylum
claim, but what it does is to say that other EU Member States
are safe third countries whose authorities and courts can be trusted
to deal with things in a manner that meets our standards here,
and, therefore, to cut off the route, as I mentioned a moment
476. If they choose, as in Sangatte, not to
claim when they are in France
(Mr Boys Smith) If they arrive in the United Kingdom
their application then still has to be considered, but what we
are saying is that the countries from which they cameFrance,
particularly hereis one to which they could subsequently
be returned after consideration of their claim and appeal if that
leads to refusal.
477. The whole purpose of the Dublin Convention
was to avoid the system where people could make a serial application
(Mr Boys Smith) If Dublin then applies, indeed, we
can operate through the Dublin mechanism to get them back. I was
just taking issue with your assumption that they could be turned
straight round at Dover because of this position.
478. We have seen a shed load of people at Sangatte
where the French authorities have actually put them into this
former Eurotunnel complex. The Red Cross houses them, they feed
them, with the complete co-operation of the French authorities,
and these people make it absolutely clear that they have no desire
to stay in France, they wish to come to the United Kingdom. So
all the French are doing is, effectively, facilitating these people
to get off their books and get out of their hair and get on to
a boat or a lorry and come to the United Kingdom.
(Mr Boys Smith) If the Dublin Convention appliesthat
is to say that the various tests it has in terms of connection
with that country, for example, if that was the country which
initially admitted those people to the boundary of the EU, or
whether they had previously made an asylum application, have family
members and so onthen these new provisions enable us to
return them to the country in a way that we were not previously
479. If someone comes to Dover and says, "Yes,
I have been through Italy and I made an asylum application there",
then they can be sent straight back, is that right?
(Mr Boys Smith) Well, sent straight back
4 See Appendix 27. Back