Select Committee on European Communities Seventh Report




45.  The Government's position on the maintenance of frontier controls has repeatedly been made clear: in its election manifesto, in the Protocol secured at the Amsterdam Treaty negotiations, in its White Paper on Asylum and Immigration policy. This Committee too was left in no doubt as to the strength of the Government's conviction on this point.

46.  The Committee does not believe that the status quo remains a long-term option. The steadily-rising pressure of numbers crossing United Kingdom frontiers from elsewhere within the EEA necessitates closer co-operation with other Governments, as all our witnesses made clear. The distinction between systematic controls and selective checks is already becoming in practice a very fine one. Frontier controls are applied in a much less systematic way than was the case a generation ago. It is a matter for semantic discussion whether 'light touch' controls are still systematic; they differ substantially from traditional methods of frontier control. We doubt, however, that British citizens and visitors to Britain would accept the reimposition of traditional controls. We therefore anticipate increasing moves towards selectivity in controls between the United Kingdom and other EEA states, whether or not the United Kingdom opts in to Schengen.

47.  The Government's main argument in favour of systematic frontier controls on all persons entering the United Kingdom (whether from EEA countries or other third countries) is that these controls prevent clandestine immigration and are useful for crime control purposes. The Government believes that Britain's island geography makes our frontier controls more effective than those of our European Union partners. It doubts whether the external borders of the Schengen area are policed as effectively and to the same standards as the controls exercised by the United Kingdom.

48.  The Government failed to convince the Committee that systematic border control as currently practised for all arrivals in the United Kingdom, whether from the European Union or elsewhere, is the most effective use of resources to control illegal immigration or is focused on the main sources of illegal immigration.

49.  We question whether it will be practical to maintain the principle that passengers arriving in the United Kingdom are controlled by nationality rather than by point of departure for the foreseeable future. Closer co-operation with other European States in combating illegal immigration, coupled with selective checks on entry, appears to present the most effective way forward in managing cross-border flows which are increasing at a compound 8 per cent per year. The logic of this is that the United Kingdom should plan over the next 5-10 years to follow other EEA states in distinguishing between arrivals across the external frontier and arrivals crossing internal borders. The costs of adapting British ports of entry over such a time-scale do not seem excessive. In this respect it seems short-sighted that Terminal 5 at Heathrow is still planned on the traditional basis rather than with the flexibility to adapt to a change in policy.

50.  It is arguable that primary immigration control is, in any case, no longer exercised at the frontier. An increasing emphasis is being placed on other forms of "devolved" control such as the issuing of visas, carriers' liability and the checks on a person's immigration status for access to social security, education and health services. We agree with Ms Guild, of ILPA, who said "I think the border that we should actually be looking at is the consulate abroad where the visa application is made" (Q 130) and we consider that the cost-effectiveness of the maintenance of systematic border controls on arrivals from inside the EEA is open to question.

51.  Witnesses also pointed to the safeguards available under the Schengen system. France retains a systematic frontier control at its ports. The Schengen Convention also allows systematic border controls to be reinstated, albeit temporarily, if circumstances dictate. We emphasise these points to make it clear that opting-in to Schengen would not require the United Kingdom to abandon for evermore its power to impose strict border controls for compelling reasons of public policy or national security. The power to designate the United Kingdom's seaports as "external frontiers", in particular, is an important one. Moreover the United Kingdom has recognised the positive benefits of a Common Travel Area which allows free movement to and from the Republic of Ireland. This has led to a much greater reliance being placed on good police co-operation and sharing of intelligence between the United Kingdom and Ireland. We believe that this positive experience could serve as a powerful incentive for United Kingdom participation in a wider Common European travel area. In this context, it is worth noting that, even with open borders, the United Kingdom's position as an island gives it a considerable natural advantage in controlling illegal immigration and cross-frontier crime. In our view, the case made out by the Government for the retention of systematic border controls is a weak one. The evidence does not support the Government's assertions that their policy is the most effective one in terms of controlling illegal immigration and organised crime. Experience from one Schengen State, at least, suggests that the contrary is true: there has been no loss of efficiency and the strengthened cross-border co-operation which has resulted has been beneficial to all of the participating States. There is therefore a case for reconsidering current policy.

52.  If the Government does decide to abolish systematic controls on arrivals from European Union countries, it may wish to reconsider the question of identity cards. It should however be noted that ID cards are not a requirement of Schengen, nor is it compulsory to carry ID cards in all Schengen States. There could well be strong opposition to such a course, and there would have to be extensive prior consultation. The Committee sees value in having a form of identification unequivocally establishing an individual's immigration status. This has to be balanced against concern about the potential threat to civil liberties and privacy and the adequacy of any safeguards to prevent abuse and discrimination.

53.  The Committee does not accept that identity cards would necessarily involve a much higher degree of discretion and intervention than is the case under the present system of border controls. We note also that they could be used instead of passports for travel between Schengen States. The critical issues would be the intended uses of an identity card and the underlying powers given to law enforcement officials and the safeguards against the abuse of those powers.


54.  Whether or not the Government is prepared to accept our recommendation on the lifting of frontier controls on arrivals from European Union countries, it has still to define its position in relation to the "compensatory measures" in the Schengen system, namely, enhanced police co-operation, a common immigration, visa and asylum policy, and judicial co-operation. Broadly, the Government is in favour of participation in police co-operation, but has strong reservations about opting in to the other areas. The question arises whether the Schengen States will be willing to accept "à la carte" participation. We received evidence that, "legally, there was no reason for other countries to say that it is all or nothing" (Q 190), but M. Pinauldt suggested that a range of considerations would have to be taken into account by the Governments of the other Member States, which might well complicate the United Kingdom's position.

55.  We share the Government's view that it would be strongly in the United Kingdom's interest to participate in the Schengen Information System. It has already proved its worth and the United Kingdom will be unable to influence future developments if it remains outside the SIS. It is highly unlikely, and undesirable in terms of the protection of individual rights, that the present informal data-sharing arrangements between the United Kingdom and the Schengen countries could continue indefinitely.

56.  There are, however, genuine civil liberties concerns relating to data protection and identity checks in the present Schengen arrangements. These concerns should be clarified and, if possible, met before any decision is taken by the United Kingdom to opt into the SIS. The Committee intends to return to this question in a future enquiry.

57.  Opting-in to common policies on visas, asylum and immigration raises different issues. The United Kingdom has secured a right of selective opt-in to any Title IV measures. However, if these measures are a development of the Schengen acquis, then United Kingdom participation will require the prior approval of the Schengen States. We share JUSTICE's view that "to stay out of the new Title IV on areas such as immigration and asylum will result in a legal maze of great complexity."

58.  We consider that it is practically difficult, and politically unwise, for the United Kingdom to isolate itself from the continuing development of European Union-wide policies in such sensitive areas, and that the United Kingdom has an important contribution to make in proposing measures for the effective preservation of civil liberties. We therefore conclude that it would be prudent for the Government to plan for a change in policy.


59.  In principle, the Committee regard freedom of movement within the EEA as a desirable objective. We share Mr Ernest Bevin's robust view on the benefits of freedom of movement when he said:

    "my foreign policy is to be able to take a ticket at Victoria Station and go anywhere I damn well please"[15].

We believe that in the three major areas of Schengen—border controls, police co-operation (SIS) and visa/asylum/immigration policy—there is a strong case, in the interests of the United Kingdom and its people, for full United Kingdom participation. Free movement throughout the EEA is a right which all citizens of the United Kingdom should be entitled to enjoy. The United Kingdom is effectively isolated from the Schengen arrangements and their future development. The only other country to opt out, Ireland, made it clear that its reasons for doing so were to preserve the Common Travel Area with the United Kingdom, and also made it clear that it intended to exercise its rights of opt-in to as much of the acquis as possible (apart from the abolition of border controls) at an early opportunity. It is by no means clear that opting into part of the acquis will be welcomed by the Schengen States. If the United Kingdom does not opt-in, its influence over a broad range of Justice and Home Affairs matters may be seriously diminished. The further development of Justice and Home Affairs will however directly affect United Kingdom interests and United Kingdom citizens. Weaker United Kingdom influence over the development of European policies will mean that such policies will reflect the preferences of others, and fail to take into account particular United Kingdom concerns.


60.  The Committee believes that the matters considered in this Report raise important questions to which the attention of the House should be drawn, and we make this Report to the House for debate.

15   The Spectator, 20 April 1951 Back

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