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Lord Borrie: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, and his sub-committee are to be congratulated on producing an impressive report which I think we would all agree is most timely not only in view of the Government's Bill which is proceeding through another House and will soon be before this House, but also because of some of the unfortunate events in other parts of Europe.
I am not a member of the sub-committee, but I am a member of the Select Committee on the European Communities to which the report was submitted. Although I have some reservations, I felt that it should be approved and brought for debate before this Chamber. Although I read the draft report when it went to the Select Committee, I had not seen the evidence. However, as normal, it was published with the final report on 2nd March. Having read the evidence given to the sub-committee, particularly that of the organised crime and immigration representatives of the Home Office, I have greater reservations about its substance and main thrust; namely, that the United Kingdom should abolish controls on arrivals at our ports, airports and so on.
As is well known, previous and present UK governments have repeatedly stated that the external frontiers of the Schengen area may not be policed as effectively and to the same standards and controls as
I may not have read every single line of the report, but I see no evidence that the Government are incorrect in their assertions about the weaker controls exercised by other countries in the EU at many of the external frontiers. Of course, it can be said that controls by our UK consulates abroad and checks within the UK--for example, when people enter as tourists and overstay, and on a person's immigration status when he or she applies for social security, access to health services and so forth--are becoming much more important than border controls. But is the report right and logical to state that that justifies ending our border controls? Just because border controls have become less significant or important, does that mean that this is the moment they should be abolished? The noble Lord suggested that our UK border controls are now symbolic, but I suggest that they are still more than that.
"suggests that ... there has been no loss of efficiency", in controlling illegal immigration and organised crime from the ending of national border controls and that the,
"strengthened cross-border co-operation which has resulted has been beneficial to all of the participating states". In view of what has happened since the publication of the report and the British Government's application to opt into a number of aspects of Schengen, I do not see why strengthened cross-border co-operation and co-operation between the police forces of different member states need to be dependent on Britain ending UK border controls. Surely this country and all other countries inside and outside Schengen have much to gain from improved police and immigration control co-operation.
Of course, they have relaxed the controls, as the noble Lord described in his different experiences of travelling in the 1960s and in the 1990s. The lighter touch of which he spoke is evidence to us all as we move through the ports and airports within the European Union--
Lord Hacking: My Lords, before my noble friend moves from that point, perhaps I may confirm that the committee, in recommending the loosening of frontier controls, did not recommend the introduction of identity cards. Perhaps the noble Lord will also reflect on the fact that there are many other ways in which citizens can be identified as they go about their business in their own countries; for example, by driving licences bearing both a photograph and a signature.
Lord Borrie: My Lords, of course I recognise that, and I notice that the Minister, Ms Kate Hoey, when giving evidence to the sub-committee of which I believe the noble Lord, Lord Hacking, was a member, mentioned that she held a driving licence bearing a photograph because she was used to travelling in Northern Ireland where it was common practice. No doubt such an alternative form of identification is helpful as a substitute, because not everyone holds a driving licence; and no doubt the noble Lord will expand on his remarks in due course when he speaks in the debate. However, I maintain my principal point; that if the sub-committee is asking the Government to reconsider ending UK border controls now or in the near future before we have agreed any such system of identity, that is premature.
The noble Lord, Lord Wallace, referred to the position immediately after the war and to the current position. It was a most interesting comparison. Not long after World War II, when Ernest Bevin spoke his forthright words about freedom of movement, there was a great deal of optimism, at least about the longer term. Later in 1958, when the Treaty of Rome was signed, there was also a great deal of optimism. Undoubtedly, much nearer to the present day, in 1989, there was a moment of tremendous optimism when the Berlin Wall came down. That was not only because of the new freedom of the individual to move across what had been that appalling wall, but also because of the greater possibilities and likelihood of prosperity for all.
There have been less encouraging developments in Europe and in places outside Europe. I imagine that we must all have in mind what has happened in recent months and years in Yugoslavia. The end consequences are uncertain. Different EU countries, as is already evident, have taken different views and attitudes on different kinds of refugees. On the one hand, there are refugees from Kosovo, and on the other, so-called "economic immigrants" from Serbia. As yet, there is no common immigration policy in the EU; let alone in the somewhat wider area which includes important, significant applicant countries to the EU. A common immigration policy is a declared aspiration of Schengen; it is not a reality.
Therefore, no one can be particularly optimistic at present. The policies of the UK Government must surely be based on realistic current concerns as well as on ideals. This is not the best moment for radical change in our policy on border controls.
Lord Patten: My Lords, I am glad to follow the noble Lord, Lord Borrie, during whose excellent speech my noble friend Lord Archer of Weston-Super-Mare said to me, "John", in the familiar way which he sometimes has, "Why are you muttering 'drat' to yourself?" I explained to my noble friend that as the noble Lord, Lord Borrie, made point after point I was rapidly having to delete points from the speech which I had carefully prepared overnight. I shall not tire the House by repeating what the noble Lord said, although I agree with much of it.
I must congratulate the chairman of the committee and his colleagues on this clear and well written report. It is easy to understand, although I could not understand the gap that there seemed to be between a lot of the evidence and many of the conclusions of the report. However, I read the evidence in the report with great care because it concerns the Home Office. Twelve years ago to this month I first went to the Home Office as a Minister. There I met young, aspiring civil servants. One used to ask, "Who are the good ones in the Home Office?", and the names of certain bright, fast-travelling, young civil servants were endlessly put forward. The names were Abbott, Boys-Smith and Warne. Those were the people who, 12 years later, gave evidence to the sub-committee. They are no longer bright, young things; they have travelled and arrived and are directors, or directors general all. I congratulate them on what they said and the way in which they said it. I only wish that the committee had listened more carefully to those sources and their measured evidence which goes back years.
I was also much moved by, and greatly applaud, the evidence given by the Minister, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ms Hoey, MP. I do not seek to damage her career in any way at all, but I thought that what she said was wisdom on stilts. I agreed with it all. She is as sensible about border controls as she is about the need to preserve fox-hunting, on which she has taken such an independent stand on the Labour Benches. I wish that the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, and his colleagues, who include a number of my colleagues, had listened more carefully to what she had to say.
There are three reasons why I disagree profoundly with the committee and its conclusions. I shall not attempt to repeat points that the noble Lord, Lord Borrie, made earlier with such force and eloquence. First, it is important that we recognise the fact of geography. I know that the present Government are in favour of the "dumbing down" of geography. I understand that last week a report came out saying that school children should no longer be taught where things are, the names of rivers and capital cities. I hope that the Government can be persuaded not to follow that course.
I believe that it is obvious to all of us, including the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, who crossed the Channel to Calais in such interesting company in 1961, that we are an island. We share a land border only with the Republic of Ireland. It is an entirely logical and pragmatic decision to say that, as we are an island, the logical place to have border checks and controls is where people cross the sea, whether by plane or boat or under the sea through the Channel Tunnel.
I also sympathise with the committee in its attempts to struggle with the English language. It got into a terrible muddle about "borders" and "frontiers". I believe that it was trying to say that "frontiers" are hard, nasty and old-fashioned and that "borders" are softer, easy and more permeable, and that we should be more concerned with "borders".
I believe that the Government are absolutely right. Frontier controls are an effective means of controlling immigration and of combating terrorism and other crime. I also believe that the Government are right when they say that their present controls,
I went to the village hall of Wootton, under Boar's Hill in Oxfordshire, and spoke to an enthralled audience about the need for us to be involved in Europe. My noble friend Lord Archer says, sotto voce, "How many were present?" There were three in the audience: my agent, the hall-keeper and a lady who had been out walking her dog, so I suppose it was a total of four. I have not changed my mind since, but what I have said about immigration controls and the need to fight terrorism, organised crime and economic crime is based on pragmatic reasons and has nothing to do with being anti-European.
The second reason why I disagree so profoundly with the committee, in its excellent and clearly written report, is that, with the permeability of EEA boundaries, I can well understand why countries need to have internal checks and why most countries, although not all countries within Schengen, have identity cards. I am absolutely against compulsory identity cards in this country for a range of reasons that may lead me to stray outside our practices in this House. However, I do not believe that there is any point in talking about Schengen
I shall not attempt to elaborate again on what he said, except perhaps to opine that I believe that identity cards would be deleterious to a host of matters in this country, including race relations and minorities who feel threatened. They also run counter, I believe, to the tradition of the ancient liberties of the British people as much as they run counter to new-style civil liberties. Sometimes a civil liberty appears to be one simply because one says, "If I call it a civil liberty, it is a civil liberty". But the concept of introducing Schengen-like mechanisms to protect our borders, our frontiers, cannot be sensibly advanced without a full and proper discussion on identity cards. I should have liked that to be recognised by the sub-committee. It could then have gone the whole hog, gripped this issue and stated its views. We cannot practically disengage one from the other.
I come to the third and last reason in my short remarks--all the shorter because the noble Lord, Lord Borrie, covered so much of the ground that I had intended to cover. We must recognise that underlying this drive within Europe to have Schengen and identity cards in due course is the desire to have a single European judicial space. I speak as someone relaxed about Europe, as I said earlier. We hear that everywhere in the inelegant jargon of Brussels. Alas, governments, whether the British Government in Whitehall or the European Commission, always slip into jargon. I do not criticise them for that; it is not unique to Brussels and it is not xenophobic to criticise what goes on in Brussels, but that is what Brussels wants. It is on the record. It has been said time and again. People wish to move from Schengen and internal controls into considerable harmonisation of justice and home affairs, to which the committee referred on page 18 of its report.
Let us all be aware, and let the people of Britain be aware, that we are not talking only about frontier and border controls; we are talking about the impact that the measures that must follow (such as compulsory identity cards) will have on our ancient and our new civil liberties in this country and on what I believe to be a profoundly un-European concept of trying to harmonise cultural differences within different parts of Europe. That is what laws do; they reflect the cultural differences of "this" country against "that" country.
Baroness Turner of Camden: My Lords, I was privileged to be a member of Sub-Committee F, whose report is now before the House for discussion. It was not an easy remit. We owe a great deal to our chairman, the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, who steered
It would be true to say that we all thought that freedom of movement throughout the EEA would be highly desirable. That is why we quoted Ernest Bevin's well-known comment that his foreign policy was to be able to take a ticket at Victoria Station and go anywhere he damn well pleased. Clearly the implication was that he would not need a passport to do it. Unfortunately, we are a long way from achieving that.
As the report explains, the UK is not a party to the Schengen agreement which was designed to facilitate the creation of an area without internal border controls. However, there are compensatory measures to increase security at the external frontier, so we were informed, in order to fight illegal immigration and to try to deal with crime through co-operation between police forces.
As we heard, the Government have continued the policy of the last government which has been to maintain our internal frontier controls with other EU member states. As part of its remit, therefore, the committee had to examine the extent to which the Government are justified in maintaining this stance. We were left in no doubt at all that the Government hold to their view very strongly indeed. The Minister, Kate Hoey, whom we saw, re-emphasised that.
Reference was made to the protocols secured at the Amsterdam Treaty negotiations and to the White Paper on asylum and immigration policy. We shall, of course, shortly be having a Bill on asylum and immigration for discussion in this Chamber, but we did not consider that Bill as part of our remit. We may find, unless it has been amended in the other place, that that will give rise to a great deal of controversy when it eventually comes here.
The Government clearly believe that the present border controls are necessary, not only to control immigration but also to help law enforcement. The committee therefore paid some attention to that latter point. As will be seen from the report, we saw M. Michel Pinauldt, the French representative of the Central Group of Schengen. We also saw Mr. Frank Gallagher of the European Liaison Unit of the Kent Constabulary, as well as representatives of the National Crime Squad and the National Criminal Intelligence Service.
The impression we gained was that there was already considerable co-operation with other police forces within the EU, but that this would be much enhanced were the UK a full participant in what is known as the Schengen Information System. The Government wish to opt into the system and are giving careful consideration to this, based on the need to ensure effective co-operation within Europe to tackle organised crime. They clearly believe that it would be possible to opt into Schengen and still remain outside Schengen.
It is quite clear that there is a strong, perhaps emotional, commitment based on history and tradition in support of the present government policy. Britain's island geography is felt to give it an advantage when it comes to illegal immigration and control of organised
The committee wondered whether those so-called advantages are not now largely illusory. It was felt that there was perhaps more to be gained by joining up with the other Schengen countries where it would be possible to have some influence on future policy than to stay outside and attempt to influence policy by external pressure.
We realised, of course, that if the present system of border controls was discarded, the Government may want to look at other methods, particularly identity cards, to which reference has already been made in the debate. It must be said that there was no agreement among committee members on this point. Some of my colleagues are in favour. I remain very much against. I am old enough to remember the joy with which identity cards were discontinued after the last war. Moreover, this century has been remarkable for the way in which totalitarian systems have flourished. Fortunately, we have escaped. But such systems like to have citizens docketed and labelled, and that enables them to restrict freedom of movement internally. After all, it was Stalin who introduced (or rather re-introduced) the infamous internal passport system. I remain against identity cards. The members of the committee agreed that civil rights concerns would have to be addressed should the Government decide that they had to proceed on those lines. We also noted that identity cards are not a requirement of Schengen; neither do they exist in all Schengen states.
We supported strongly the notion of participation in the Schengen Information System, though in that regard we had some civil rights misgivings which we felt should be further explored. The system stores an enormous amount of information about individuals. Access to it seems fairly easy and we had considerable doubts about whether the requirements of our data protection legislation would be adequately fulfilled. In particular, we felt it would be difficult for individuals to challenge false information and if that information remained on record it could be extremely damaging without the individual concerned having any easy redress. We all agreed that that aspect must be further examined. It was noted that Justice, an organisation whose submissions to us certainly impressed me, shared our views on that.
As our report indicates, we came eventually to the view that there is a strong case for the UK to re-examine its position on Schengen. As we said in our report, we do not feel that the status quo remains a viable long-term option. The continuing trend is for greater movement. We believe that that should be facilitated. Moreover, as other speakers have already said, the present situation indicates that we are going to have to look carefully at the whole question of asylum seekers and what is to be done in that connection.
Lord Shore of Stepney: My Lords, I begin with the usual courtesy of paying tribute to the authors of the report for the clarity of their expression and, above all--and quite genuinely--for mobilising a great deal of interesting and relevant information. I assure the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, that that is expressed quite sincerely.
Beyond that, frankly, the report does not represent the Select Committee's finest hour; nor are matters improved by the end quotation which cites dear old Ernie Bevin and which was no doubt designed to entice people like myself to give the report the benefit of the doubt. I had the greatest respect for Ernie Bevin, who achieved many, many things. But when he made that statement, his mind was far more focused on the problem of Trojan horses jumping out of Pandora's Box than on the serious issues of immigration and border control.
There are two elements to this debate. The first is the purely practical argument for the proposed change or retention of our system and the second is the ideological argument. The noble Lord, Lord Wallace, knows exactly what I mean.
There has been a great increase in the number of passengers entering United Kingdom ports. That will continue. The obvious conclusion is that it would be a good idea to increase the number of immigration and passport officials. Of course we should do that, and that should have been the report's principal recommendation.
We have heard excellent speeches from the noble Lord, Lord Patten, and from my noble friends Lord Borrie and Lady Turner. The question of identity cards inevitably looms. I join in the general distaste, indeed repugnance, over their introduction or reintroduction. Having read the evidence, I find it extraordinary that support for universal identity cards should come from the Lib Dem party. Indeed, we had the almost unbelievable statement that a great contribution would be made to improving race relations if everyone had an identity card and frequently showed it. No, that really will not do.
I do not believe that I have a better view of our continental neighbours than Select Committee members, but I do not believe either that our neighbours would willingly withhold information that was of importance and of use to British authorities simply out of pique or on the ground that we were cherry-picking advantages from Schengen. We know a lot about villains in our country, and that is of importance to colleagues and friends across the Channel. Equally, they have information that is relevant and important to us. We shall continue to exchange such information. Indeed, we are doing very well with Europol and Interpol, and all the other arrangements that work so excellently.
I see some difficulty with SIS. Computerised systems that record every complaint must be looked at carefully if we are to avoid the sort of situation quoted in the report in which an unhappy New Zealand lady could get no further than Schiphol airport because she had
I turn to the most important part. I do not have any phobias about Europe. I rather like the people I know on the Continent. But it is a function of the state to control who may come and settle within its borders. The state is not discharging its duty if it does not exercise that control. Of course it is important to have such controls to combat drugs, crime and terrorism. But a state should also be able to determine its own policy on immigration and decide to whom it wishes to extend advantages because of, perhaps, special connections.
It was argued that British immigration control should not be given up under section 4 of the Amsterdam Treaty because some favours should be bestowed on those Commonwealth countries with which we have been long associated. That is exactly as it should be. If we have any self-respect as a nation, we should continue to demand control of our immigration and visa policies, and so on. As long as we have the will and capacity to continue as a sovereign state, we should defend that.
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