Examination of Witnesses (Questions 480
TUESDAY 7 NOVEMBER 2000
MP, AND MR
480. To where?
(Mr Boys Smith) We then have to apply to the country
under the Dublin Convention rule with which that relationship
arises, be that Italy or France. If that country then says, yes,
they accept that Dublin does apply to that person, they can then
be sent back to that country. It requires communication with that
country, it is not simply putting them back on the ferry.
481. That means getting asylum seekers to admit
that they have applied for asylum before and the country where
they applied to admit that they have.
(Mr Straw) The whole purpose of EURODAC is to have
a European wide fingerprint database so that we do not have to
get a correct answer from the applicant, we will be able to tell
whether or not they have applied elsewhere. You are right, Mr
Linton, to point out that this Dublin process is fairly bureaucratic,
and it is of huge regret that the previous administration did
not see this coming and was ready to abandon the better working
bilateral gentleman's agreement between France and Belgium, which
ended in 1997. As I say, they were not perfect, they were not
fully comprehensive, but they were better.
482. If we believe the Italian figure that in
1998 they received only 7,100 applications for asylum, against
our 46,000the figures for 1999 not being available earlier
this year against our 71,000we are just being naive, are
(Mr Straw) I come back to the point that some countries'
official statistics are not quite as robust as other countries'
official statistics, and this is true even within the European
483. They are not British really, are they?
They do not play cricket.
(Mr Straw) Leaving aside your xenophobic point, it
just happens to be the case that the statistical collection varies
in terms of its comprehensiveness. In this country our asylum
statistics will reflect the vast majority of people who have arrived
here in the year unlawfully. In a country like Italy, those official
statistics reflect only a tiny proportion of the total number
of illegals, as is also the case in Spain. So you must not assume
from that that they have only got 7,000 people who are seeking
permission to remain, they have hundreds of thousands and they
also have very significant problems. Italy does take people. On
one occasion a couple of years ago when the Italian border police
required Kosovo refugees to come to this country rather than accepting
applications, I personally arranged with the then Minister of
the Interior, Giorgio Napolitano, to take them back and he did,
the whole lot.
484. Just to clarify, if somebody has not claimed
asylum before coming here from France, they can then claim asylum
in this country and only when and if they are refused and they
lose their appeal can the Dublin Convention then be invoked to
send them back?
(Mr Boys Smith) There are a number of criteria for
Dublin, but the basic principle is to identify the country which
initially admitted those people to the EU area. On top of that
there are criteria such as that they have made an asylum claim
in that country, and that is where the EURODAC fingerprint arrangement
will come in, because once there is common information around
the EU it can be quickly established that they are the same people,
and one can check whether they might be the same people and return
them without more ado. There are other criteria to do with family
connections and the existence of dependents within those countries.
If they look like being a Dublin case and we can then establish
which country and which criteria applies, then the legislation
you refer to, the recent changes, will facilitate the return in
some cases. There is quite a stiff test and it is not just simply
asylum applications, it is not just simply where they have arrived
in the United Kingdom from and assuming they can automatically
go back there. That is what the reform of the Dublin Convention
process is looking at and, hopefully, will simplify.
485. You mentioned the changes that are now
being discussed. What are the changes you would like to see incorporated
in the Convention?
(Mr Straw) A very detailed questionnaire has now been
sent out, which we helped to draft, to each Member State, seeking
to evaluate the problems which have arisen with Dublin and how
it can be improved. They issued a discussion document in March
2000 and the Commission is working on that document to identify
some areas where improvement can be made, for example, the maintenance
of statistical records, currently known to be incomplete, to reinforce
my point to Mr Howarth, dealing with the argument centred in the
text, that applicants destroy documentary evidence. Considering
the scope of the application as Dublin's successor, as Dublin
currently applies only to those seeking protection under the 1951
Convention, and dealing with these problems of differences of
practice and interpretation which go back to the provenance of
Chairman: I am afraid we shall have to go and
do our duty. We will resume at 6.15.
The Committee suspended from 6.00 pm to
6.19 pm for a division in the House.
486. Thank you, Home Secretary. I understand
you would like to be away by 6.45. We will do our best.
(Mr Straw) If it is possible.
487. Can we now have a look at whether border
controls might be improved by creating a single agency or whether,
indeed, you think that growing the operation is the answer.
(Mr Straw) Yes.
488. Your Department has been working very closely
with the Lord Chancellor and Attorney General in trying to get
joined-up government across the whole of the criminal justice
system. Is there scope for more of that in this area as well?
(Mr Straw) As you probably know there
is now a Border Agency's Working Group which meets at least six
times a year, and that includes representatives from Customs,
police, Immigration Service and NCIS and it sets priorities for
each of the agencies. At a local level the Agency's Work Group
is encouraging the establishment of tripartite inter-agency groups,
comprising representatives of the Immigration Service, police
and Customs at each port level. You are right to say in the area
of criminal justice we are taking a lot of steps to improve co-ordination
and co-operation, we want to see this happen here. If you are
asking me whether I think there should be a single border agency,
control agency, border police which would do Customs' work, Immigration
Service work and police work, the answer from that is that I am
very far from persuaded. We will look at proposals but I think
that if you went down that route, whilst you may end up with slightly
better co-operation at the port between those operatives, but
query whether you would, you may end up with very, very significant
problems in the relationship between the new border police and
its work with the former parent agencies, namely Customs, immigration
service and the police. In preparation for this session, Chairman,
I was thinking about a parallel which I think does exist in terms
of the way we have set up youth offending teams. Colleagues here
will be familiar with how they have been established in each area.
We thought about having people who were brought into a new career
called the Youth Offending Officers. We decided not to go down
that route but, instead, to draw into these youth offending teams
professionals from the different agencies to work together, but
to ensure that they still had professional and practical lines
back into their respective agencies. After all, it is on them,
from the police through to education welfare officers to social
workers, whom the disposal of youth justice problems would be
dependent. I think there is a lesson to be learned there. You
get people to co-operate much more effectively on the ground,
this has already happened, but you bear in mind the real importance
of those links back to the parent agencies.
489. We were told at some of the ports here
and certainly elsewhere in Europe about some of the difficulties
of using a common database and sharing intelligence, because you
want to be certain with whom you are sharing it. Do you feel there
are impediments to us doing that here because we are stricter
about data protection rules and do you have experience of that
getting in the way of this?
(Mr Boys Smith) I do not think that is
a serious obstacle for us. There are indeed criteria, and the
sharing of information under the new legislation. The immigration
side cannot routinely gather it, for example, for Customs purposes,
although anything that we gather that is relevant to Customs can
be shared and vice versa. I do not think it is a real obstacle
and I think it is important to look at the institutions and the
spirit of co-operation to achieve what you want. Bearing in mind
a lot of the intelligence at the top end of the business, so to
speak, is that formulated through the National Criminal Intelligence
Service, which we are close members of and have our own part of
dealing with organised crime.
490. I must say that we were very taken by the
comments made, I think everywhere we went around the ports and
the airports, about the reality of co-operation at that level.
The most recent evidence we have had from the Home Office, Home
Secretary, says there are no plans to extend the powers of police
officers to act as examining officers on behalf of other agencies.
Why is this?
(Mr Straw) I cannot tell you without notice, thank
you very much for the question. To answer a question you have
(Mr Straw) but might nonetheless be helpful,
we have of course extended the powers of the Immigration Service
as far as arrest, search and detention are concerned, to ensure
that they are better equipped with powers and more subject to
PACE, as are Customs. Can you answer this question, Stephen?
(Mr Boys Smith) The reason there are no plans is because
we do not see any reason to do it. The Immigration Service is
present at ports, can exercise the powers it needs, and is increasingly
flexible with the changes which have been made under the 1999
Act to focus their efforts where the intelligence information
suggests, without having police officers brought in specially
from their normal duties to exercise a function that is getting
492. We were told that the Immigration Service
is not able to gather information from carriers for Customs purposes?
(Mr Boys Smith) That is right. That is the point I
made a moment ago. There are enhanced arrangements for sharing
information but the agenciesCustoms, Immigration and so
onhave to gather it for their own purposes and then any
that is relevant to other agencies they can share. We do not set
out from the Immigration side to gather Customs data, nor do Customs
set out to gather our data, but we can share what we jointly gather.
What is relevant for the Immigration Service that has come from
another source is available to us for immigration purposes.
493. I understand what you are saying. If you
look at it another way you think this is quite stupid. There are
your Berlin Wall friends where they need to be but the other way
into that is really you are as certain as you can be that where
another agency collects information which is of more value to
its brother or sister that would generally be made available.
(Mr Boys Smith) That is shared. I think the business
of gathering information is itself a sophisticated one, it is
not just a hoovering up exercise, it requires the right kind of
questions and examination of material, so it would be foolish
of us to pretend we could gather in a sophisticated and useful
way what was really required by Customs, or I think vice versa.
494. You are looking for something specific
but you actually come across something else, as it were, which
is not directly relevant, say, to the Immigration Service but
could be of great value to Customs.
(Mr Boys Smith) Then we can share it.
495. You are happy that works?
(Mr Boys Smith) I think that is the right way. The
question should be posed by those best equipped to pose the question.
The data should then be shared according to the needs of whatever
data turns up.
(Mr Straw) I understand the point you make, not so
much about data sharing but data collection. In practice I do
not think there are many impediments in the Data Protection Act
as far as sharing of data between these agencies is concerned.
There are impediments about the initial collection of the data.
I think this is something we will have to examine about the exclusivity
of data sharing and data collection in this kind of area. If data
emerges in the course of inquiries for immigration purposes which
it is obvious to anybody indicates there is evidence of, say,
a breach of Customs' obligations or criminal law, then the other
agencies are told and vice versa.
496. I suspect this is more for you, Mr Boys
Smith. Is there a procedure in place to ensure that the passenger
information sought under relevant legislation covers the needs
of all the agencies? Are there restrictions on who can look for
(Mr Boys Smith) Yes. We can gather information on
manifests, as indeed can Customs, but so far as I am aware there
is no problem in ensuring that what is gathered covers all our
497. I suppose it is an inevitable part of working
together to try and ensure that people do not trip over somebody
else's feet. Are you satisfied that there are arrangements in
place to ensure that the Immigration Service has pre-clearance
arrangements which are not going to jeopardise other agencies'
(Mr Boys Smith) I hope and believe that to be the
case. You are getting down to a level of quite considerable detail
and it requires, again, an exchange of sensitive information so
that something we were doing does not jeopardise some operation
or exercise that was being undertaken by another agency. I think
we do have in place arrangements for sharing information about
exercises of that kind so that we do not trip over each other's
498. We have had a complaint from Customs that
the Immigration Service does not ask for information from carriers
which would be of interest to Customs usefully. Are you aware
(Mr Boys Smith) I am not aware of that issue. Beyond
the point that the Home Secretary has just referred to, the existing
statutory criteria which we can seek that information on, I was
not aware of that as an issue. I will certainly pursue it.
499. It may be some little local difficulty.
(Mr Boys Smith) It is certainly not an issue which
has come up through the working group to which the Home Secretary
referred, or has come up to me or my senior colleagues in that
5 See Appendix 27. Back