Select Committee on European Communities Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 80 - 99)



Lord Inglewood

  80.  I was interested in your remark. Can I ask you a similar but different question? Do you think that the Schengen system is inherently efficacious in delivering the aspirations of those who wrote it?
  (Mr Boys Smith)  If I may say so, my Lord, I would not wish to assume I fully understand what those aspirations are beyond that of free movement, namely, that people can cross the boundaries within the Schengen countries without a control. To that extent, no doubt they would say that it does meet those aspirations. I ought to make clear that the government's position is not based in any way on a criticism of the Schengen system. It is a matter for the countries that are in Schengen to decide whether that is a suitable arrangement for them. The government's position is based on the UK's geography and the other points that I referred to a moment ago, in particular not wanting an internal regime of the kind that Schengen has. If the Schengen countries think that the system they have created is suitable for them, of course the government has no view on that.

  81.  Coming back to the Amsterdam Treaty, there is the possibility enshrined in the Treaty that we might participate. It is recognised by all the signatories that this is a possibility. It seems to me that it must follow from that, in looking at the conduct of European business, that we have to form some kind of view on the inherent efficiency of the Schengen system because even if at this point we may have the kind of political objections you have described, the possibility that, for some reason or another which we need not elaborate on, that would change must mean that one has to have some view at all times about whether or not this is a thing that is working or not.
  (Mr Boys Smith)  In so far as the Schengen system is a matter of movement without control across the internal frontiers, in some sense it self-evidently works and those countries are satisfied with it. It is difficult, however, to make a comparison between the external frontier of Schengen and our own frontier controls as we have them for the UK itself. That essentially is because, in the case of the great majority of the external frontiers of Schengen, one is talking about a land frontier; whereas, self-evidently in our case, with the exception of the Republic of Ireland, ours is not a land frontier. To make the comparison in terms of the efficacy of the external boundary is, if I may say so, not something that equips us to make a judgment as regards what ought to happen for the United Kingdom. I referred to the Republic of Ireland. For many years, there has been the common travel area and in some sense a recognition of the fact that there is a land border between the Republic and the UK in Northern Ireland. I think events over the last 30 years have demonstrated how difficult it is, dealing I realise not with issues of immigration but obviously with terrorism and policing, to secure a land frontier if there are people determined to cross it.

Lord Bridges

  82.  Interestingly, the French witness who appeared before us last week drew attention to the fact that the Channel Tunnel did create, in a sense, a land frontier between Britain and Holland, thus the traditional position of our lovely island washed by the sea in every direction is no longer true.
  (Mr Boys Smith)  I would not wish to quarrel with M. Pinauldt from last week. In some sense, clearly geographically, it is a land frontier. Nevertheless, I think in terms of the way in which it operates—that is to say, a choke point through which people or vehicles have to pass, whether on the Shuttle or Eurostar—it operates in many ways in a fashion not dissimilar from the port with which we have been long familiar.

  83.  My recollection of what he said was that this was a major development for them and they had had to reinstitute all sorts of different controls in order to cope that the existing systems did not manage. I quite understand your view that the present government has taken an opinion on largely political grounds and I take that to mean not so much as to pinch the Conservatives' clothes while they are bathing but trying them on to see if they will fit. It does not sound as if you were submitting any very professional advice about the step before they took it on political grounds. Is that correct?
  (Mr Boys Smith)  My Lord Chairman, you would not expect me to disclose what advice had been submitted, and the word "political" was not a word I used in my answer.

  84.  No; it was my reading of your answer.
  (Mr Boys Smith)  It is not a word I would wish to subscribe to.

Lord Lester of Herne Hill

  85.  I am going to be much gentler than Lord Bridges because I am not a former civil servant; I am just a barrister. Any questions I ask are extremely mild. Could I summarise what I think some of the evidence so far has been, bearing upon Lord Bridges' question, and then see whether I have it right and that I am not being unfair? First of all, there has not been a cost benefit analysis in the scientific sense because this has been essentially a political decision, for the reasons that Mr Boys Smith has already summarised which include insularity in the good or bad sense. That is to say, taking advantage—and disadvantage—of our geography. Therefore, it is not sensible for us to pursue rigorously a cost benefit analysis because that is not what ministers in successive governments have been about. I think that is the first thing which we have been told so far. The second thing is that there has been a kind of cost benefit analysis in that, as you have said, Mr Boys Smith, a decision has been taken that the trade-off involved in identity cards and internal checks balanced against the advantage of getting into Schengen, easing passage elsewhere in the Union and being in the Schengen Information System, has not so far been considered as sufficient to justify our going into the system. Thirdly, we cannot cherry pick, so by staying outside the system we suffer detriments as well as benefits, of which the most notable, as Lord Bridges was indicating, are, for example, in the area of the police, where the head of the relevant Kent Constabulary, Mr Gallagher, indicated there would be a growing problem if we stay outside. So far, we have had no evidence that those countries like France, who are within, are indeed finding Schengen causing severe detriments to them. Finally, if we continue the opt-out therefore as it is at the moment, we can expect the advantages of not having to have identity cards, the advantages of border control being at the perimeter, not internally, and the disadvantages of handicaps when we travel abroad and not being able to use the Schengen Information System or police cooperation elsewhere as effectively under Schengen as we could otherwise have done. That is my impression of much of the evidence. I wonder whether Mr Boys Smith could comment on whether that is a fair summary, or have I got it wrong?
  (Mr Boys Smith)  Might I try to take some of those in turn? As regards the cost benefit study of joining or not joining, it is indeed the case that there has not been any full examination of that in the sense in which I think you mean. The reason for that essentially is the government's position that you referred to, that I had sought to summarise a few moments ago. That said, in this I should make clear that when a similar question was put to my colleague, Mr Warne, he did indicate that he wished to consult ministers on this and I reflect their view in saying that they do not think a detailed study would be a proper use of resources, consistent with the general position; but there was some work done a number of years ago. It came to fruition in 1994 and was in fact included in the memorandum presented to Parliament in the context of the Draft External Frontiers Convention of that time. That was work that focused on two issues. One was the up front and one off cost to the UK of reconfiguring its airports, if we were to join a Schengen type regime, reconfiguring them in order to allow the separation and therefore the free movement into the country of those travelling from Schengen areas and also to ensure that we exercised the external control on Third Country nationals transiting but not staying in the UK. The figure offered at that stage—and it was a very broad brush figure that has not since been updated—was a cost of between, 300 million and, 450 million to reconfigure UK airports. The other figure that was identified in that study—and this was made public but has been long since lost from view—was that the additional annual cost, the continuing cost therefore, to the Immigration Service of exercising a control on the transiting passengers at the external frontier was of the order of, 3 million a year, but I do emphasise they are very broad brush figures. It is not as if no cost benefit work has been done but none has been done since that time for the reasons that I explained.

  86.  I am sorry to interrupt you. You mentioned cost but not benefit.
  (Mr Boys Smith)  Indeed. I stand corrected. That was an examination of those particular costs. The other side of the equation I think is covered by my earlier comment, that the government feels that a detailed, further examination of that, given the general posture that is taken, would not be consistent with that posture. If I might pick up your references to trade off, the internal controls and identity cards as compared with ease of passage, in that context, I do not think it is the case that for UK citizens passage to Schengen countries within the EU is significantly more difficult because we are not in Schengen. Clearly, they will exercise a control on the frontier, just as we will exercise a very light control on people coming from other EU countries into the UK, a control that is very light but effective. I do not think the government sees it as a major burden on UK citizens going to the rest of Europe to need to pass through that kind of control, any more than it believes that it is imposing a burden on other EU nationals coming here to pass through our control. Just as an example of that, at Gatwick and Heathrow, which are the major points of entry, the average time taken for an EU citizen arriving at the channel to pass an immigration officer is approximately one minute. It is scarcely more than walking through at a steady pace. As to cherry picking, the position on the opt-in is that we are allowed, according to the terms of the Treaty—and this is firmly established—to opt in, in whole or in part. I do understand that the requirement is unanimity on the part of the other countries to determine our opt-in, but that nevertheless needs to be read alongside the accompanying declaration which made clear that they would use their best efforts—that was the term—to facilitate our opting in when that was appropriate. The government has already made clear that it will not seek to cherry pick at a level of great detail. If it is going to opt in, it will be to a clutch of related issues rather than to some precise and detailed provision, but beyond that therefore there is enshrined in the Treaty a possibility of partial opt-in, which is a phrase I would rather use than "cherry pick". I hope that covers most of the points that you made.

  87.  There is just one point about the police. If we do not go in, we might find it harder to get cooperation at places like Belgium in relation to Kent, that sort of problem.
  (Mr Boys Smith)  You will understand, notwithstanding my previous capacity, I have not come here to talk with authority on policing issues, but I do not think there is any present sign that that cooperation is the less. Clearly, that is an issue that the government will want to continue to watch and will weigh in the balance as it further considers these issues.


  88.  The chief benefit of maintaining our opt-out of Schengen is the maintenance of border controls on the entry of people into the United Kingdom. Is that the argument or are there other arguments in terms of benefits as well?
  (Mr Boys Smith)  The chief reason is not so much to maintain our border control and therefore to maintain the total opt-out. The starting point for the government is that it is determined to maintain its frontier control. It is against that requirement that the question of opting into the provisions of Schengen will be tested. It does not follow from that that there cannot be any opting in. It may be possible to opt in. That is a matter which the government is still considering and it will come to a view in due course. If I may say so, Lord Chairman, I would not wish to take it as an all or nothing state of affairs. Opt-in, particularly in relation to policing, and cooperation of that kind, may be much more straightforward of course than opt-in on issues that do have a direct impact on the border control.

  89.  Obviously, the follow on question if that is the case is how far our problem of illegal immigration is one of whether or not we maintain physical border controls on people coming in, as against people smuggled in in containers and elsewhere, or people landing on our coasts in small boats, or overstayers coming in on illegal visas and then disappearing. Presumably, your Directorate has figures on this?
  (Mr Boys Smith)  Indeed. As regards the general point, I think we consider it is a pretty effective control. Clearly, it is not a control that can be 100 per cent effective and the arrival of people clandestinely is evidence of that, not that we have any reason to believe it is clandestinely on lonely beaches in the dead of night. The clandestine pressure is one that manifests itself at the ports, and it is a pressure which has increased in recent months, but we have been able to adjust our resources in order to meet it so that more effort is now being put into tackling that issue than when it was a less serious issue. We think it is an effective control. We do have figures, needless to say, although clearly with all figures of this kind one has to make the very important qualification that we cannot know what we cannot know. We do not therefore, by definition, know precisely the number that might have got through. One example would be that in the previous calendar year action was taken against 14,300 people who were identified as being illegal entrants in terms, for example, of having overstayed; and of the order of 4,000 people who were thought to have come in illegally at the point of entry rather than rendered themselves illegal at a later date. Equally, I think an example of one of the effective aspects of the control is the extent to which we are able to identify the fraudulent use of travel documents, which is again a growing threat and a threat which the UK Immigration Service has been addressing for some time and indeed has great expertise in, to the extent that other countries, including our EU partners, look to this country for advice. In 1997, approximately 4,400 fraudulent documents were discovered at ports, through people seeking to enter via those ports, of which 70 per cent were forged or fraudulently used EU or EEA travel documents or identity cards. 64 per cent, roughly two thirds, of the abused documents were being held by people travelling from EEA or EU countries. There is a threat there. We only have figures for the current year to the end of September, the first three quarters, which show an increase and it is hard with these things to be certain how far that is more effective identification of fraud and how far it is a real increase. In the first three quarters, we identified 4,500 fraudulent documents. Again, about two thirds were EU or EEA passports or identity cards and about 70 per cent were held by passengers coming from those countries. They are some examples of the way in which the control is operating effectively.

Lord Dholakia

  90.  Can I ask about the difference between people who are overstayers, who enter the country legally, as against people who enter the country illegally? The figure you are talking of is about 4,000. Am I right?
  (Mr Boys Smith)  4,000 people were identified in the 1997 calendar year as having entered illegally, against whom action was taken.

  91.  How does this figure compare with the illegal immigration into Schengen countries?
  (Mr Boys Smith)  I cannot, I am afraid, give a figure for those countries. All I can say—and I do understand that this is at an anecdotal and informal rather than a statistical level—is that our exchanges with colleagues in those countries—and of course we have frequent, effective operational exchanges of one kind and another—indicate that they almost certainly face a much more serious problem of illegal entry than this country does. They would recognise the efficacy of our kind of border control.

  92.  If the Schengen countries were effectively to establish controls which are as tough as we have in this country, do you see political or other reasons for us joining?
  (Mr Boys Smith)  The government will have to reach a view on a whole complex of balanced judgments but I think I have to return to one point I made earlier which is the geographical point. My belief is that our colleagues in other parts of the EU would agree with this. Those countries with land frontiers face a problem of an entirely different kind from the problem that we face here. That relates to the point I sought to make earlier in respect of Northern Ireland and the border with the Republic of Ireland.

  93.  How do you interpret the strictness of a control with the promotion of good race relations in the country? Do you think that genuine visitors are being put through the same machinery as illegal immigrants before their entry over here and that it has an adverse effect on good relations in this country?
  (Mr Boys Smith)  We certainly have no reason to believe that the control is acting in a way that is inimical or harmful to good race relations. In respect of those who hold UK or other EU/EEA travel documents, the control is a very light one, as I mentioned in response to an earlier question, and that example of one minute to pass through is I think a good indication of how light the control is. Nevertheless, the discovery of all those forgeries means that it can be an effective control. Clearly, it is a more thorough control in respect of Third country nationals arriving in this country but many of those who arrive here of course arrive from elsewhere in the world. Therefore, were they arriving in Schengen, they would be undergoing a similar kind of control. Against that, I would put the point, which the government I know attaches great importance to, that the alternative to that kind of border control will be the kind of internal control that involves a much higher degree of discretion and intervention, seeking production of identity documents, which the government views as likely to be more harmful. In that context, I think they would be mindful, among other things, of the current debate associated with the Stephen Lawrence inquiry on police relations with ethnic minority communities.

Lord Rix

  94.  My questions were exactly the same as the last three, but I would like to add to them, if I may. You keep talking about land frontiers, but, after all, you think of sea frontiers in France, Italy and the Iberian Peninsula. I would have thought that they were considerably greater than our sea frontiers, in effect. You paid some sort of tribute to the fact that you do discuss matters with your colleagues on the continent, but I would have thought it was more important to actually find out the accurate figures, as far as is humanly possible, of illegal immigration of those that are smuggled in on the coastlines etc., which would give you a fairer indication about the efficacy or otherwise of Schengen, other than just through the normal, conventional ports of entry.
  (Mr Boys Smith)  I should in that context perhaps have added to my earlier answer that certain work is going on within the EU to try to clarify and above all to put on a common basis statistics that relate to these matters. As ever, the question is not so much the arithmetic but establishing whether the figures relate to the same issue and are therefore comparable. The UK is fully engaged in that. I think it is too early at this stage to see quite how far that will develop, although all EU countries, in a sense like all countries, are bound to have this problem. They cannot be confident that they have identified those who get through clandestinely any more than we can. As to the sea coasts, of course there are issues of geography and huge sea coasts in Italy, Greece and so on. In respect of that, I would add the point that, on the whole, those lengthy coastlines, difficult to guard, are reasonably adjacent to areas from which it is reasonably easy for people to move if they wish to move. Indeed, in some cases, with the present upheavals in the former Yugoslavia, they are immediately adjacent to such areas; whereas our equivalent, the Hebrides or the Orkneys, have no such problem.


  95.  The south coast is not impossible to reach. Are we confident that we do not have a substantial problem of illegal immigrants arriving by boat?
  (Mr Boys Smith)  We have absolutely no reason to believe that we have any substantial problem. Clearly, it is likely that some people slip in that way, whether by boat or indeed by small aeroplane. The evidence, for example on the crime side, in relation to drugs, is that it is possible to get in. I have no doubt that people do. If there were any serious immigration issue there—I mean substantial numbers rather than tiny numbers—we would have some evidence of that. We have no such evidence. The risk from clandestine entry relates mainly to those who are seeking to come in through ports and there has been a lot of publicity recently about people coming in containers.

Lord Pilkington of Oxenford

  96.  I want to return to identity cards and internal controls which I think, if you will forgive me for saying so, you glossed over somewhat. For example, if I can make a comment before I begin my question, to say that ethnic problems would be caused by police asking for identity cards is really a question about the manner of policing rather than the efficacy or not of identity cards. I do not accept that argument. I was not here last week so I have only read the transcript. As you know, there were various local difficulties in my party, but I would like your comments. Having sea makes it more efficacious in some ways to have identity cards because you have a smaller area for people coming in and you can question them effectively. What was said was, "With the abolition of controls under the Schengen Agreement we have replaced our controls in the border areas with internal controls along the border lines and we have organised a more cooperative form of work between the various groups, between the Customs officials, the police and so on, in order to make mobile forms of checking more effective right along the 20km strip within the borders. We have found that this is just as effective as the means we used before, if we look at efficiency in terms ...". Our parallel would be Kent, the Medway Ports and areas like that. Identity cards would be a help in those areas. M. Pinauldt goes on, "So that if there were no border controls between France and Britain, British people coming into France would still have to show some form of identity, probably a passport for Britain, and French people going into the UK would have to show a form of identity, and that could be an identity card as we have it in France." Finally, "It is true to say that if the United Kingdom were to opt into the Schengen acquis that would make the work easier, easier in terms of the right to pursue, the right to control and survey, extradition for legal reasons, decisions of non-admission of entrants and so on." In other words, the whole tenor of his presentation was it would be easier. The internal controls would solve this problem, as they have found out in the French areas of control over crime. It may be that it is a political decision, but I felt you glossed over the advantages of identity cards. To say that there would be more trouble in Brixton because of them was not a good enough argument, if I may say so.
  (Mr Boys Smith)  I am sorry if I appear to have glossed over it. The point I was trying to make was that having identity cards and the kind of control that goes with that involves a high element of discretion. Indeed, it is a matter of style of policing. I entirely understand that, but that raises extremely sensitive issues for policing and, on the face of things, that kind of control was not necessarily less intrusive than the kind of control that we were exercising at the border, because, if I may say so, I was offering the answer to Lord Dholakia in respect of his point about the impact of the border control on race relations. In terms of race relations, certainly internal controls are not less sensitive and not less difficult.

  97.  Forgive me interrupting but there are massive ethnic groups in Germany and France, just for starters. Are you saying the English police are so unable to do it that they would cause ethnic distress, or that the ethnic minorities in France and Germany are so docile that the police can do it, because we are faced with a situation where it actually happens and I would not say their race relations are necessarily any worse or better than ours. There obviously is a problem with racial minorities; we all accept that and we all try to solve it but your argument and perhaps the final conclusion would be that we cannot do it but the German police can.
  (Mr Boys Smith)  I am not saying that we cannot do it. I am merely putting forward the point that, as compared with frontier control, there are particularly sensitive issues in exercising that kind of internal control. I am not in any way criticising the British police on that because I think they make stringent efforts to maintain good relations. Indeed, in my previous capacity to which the Chairman referred earlier, I was deeply involved in all those issues and I have a great deal of respect for the efforts that they make. I was not critical either of them or indeed implicitly of police in Germany or other countries. Relevant to this, and one of the considerations that the government has in mind, is tradition on these matters. Clearly, in other countries, those traditions of production of identity cards are well established, whereas in this country that state of affairs is rather different. Might I follow on to your further point in relation to M. Pinauldt's evidence? I think the view nevertheless remains that the kind of light touch that we are able to exercise, which I previously described, is a very light control. It is seldom more than walking past and demonstrating that you have a document, not necessarily a passport, but often of course an identity card, because that is accepted at the UK passport control, an identity card from another EU country. That kind of control is not intrusive or seemingly resented by those who are asked to undergo it. We have a system of complaints in which complaints are welcome but that is not, on the whole, a complaint that is made. Might I perhaps pick up one other point to which you referred, again from M. Pinauldt's evidence, as to the cooperation between frontier authorities in France? I would not wish it to be thought that in the UK there is other than good cooperation, albeit in the context of a different kind of control, between, say, Customs and the Immigration Service here. One example of this is the suspect index, which is the computerised system that the Immigration Service use to check whether somebody coming through the control, whether the EU or the Third country control, has anything against them or a document that is known to have been stolen or forged or whatever. That suspect index contains on it information about people in whom other services—Customs, the police and so on—have a particular interest and is often therefore a means of delivering somebody against whom there might be some suspicion of trafficking in drugs, say, to the appropriate Customs colleagues in that port.

Baroness Uddin

  98.  Following on from your responses to Lord Dholakia about the impact on race relations, you appear very confident about the fairness of the system and the treatment of border control. I was wondering how you monitor the quality of care differentials with legal or illegal immigrants or visitors to the country?
  (Mr Boys Smith)  We have performance standards in terms of the quality of the control, the throughput if you like, how long people are kept waiting and issues of that kind. We make clear that those who wish to complain are fully entitled to do so. We have a number of leaflets of an explanatory kind that are offered to people and we have, associated with that, what is called a Complaints Audit Committee, which is a group of people from outside the Home Office, nominated and appointed by the Home Secretary but people unconnected with immigration in any way at all and from all sections of the community, who review our handling of all complaints against the Immigration Service that are received. They look at all the files and discuss those issues. They meet ministers. They meet me. They burrow into such cases as they want but nothing is hidden from them and they make an annual report to us which, for example, contained the suggestion, I think last, year that those who are stopped in the EU channel ought to be offered a leaflet explaining why they might be stopped. Often, the reason is to make sure that it is not a fraudulent document. That has been followed up and there is now such an explanation that is immediately available if somebody is stopped in those circumstances. That is the kind of way in which we monitor.

  99.  I wonder if I can pursue this point? As someone who is involved in auditing in the local government process, I am very keen to understand the process used to audit the actual happenings as people enter. How do you audit the experience of people coming in? I would quite like to share an example with the Committee, if I may. I have personal experience of travelling in and out of Britain. Not very long ago, I took my young child to Dhaka and on my way in I was asked by an immigration official whether my child was exactly the same as the one I had taken. How do you monitor that kind of behaviour, which is extremely difficult to audit by reading numerous reports? That is a personal experience, putting aside numerous complaints of other individuals who have perfectly legitimate rights of abode in this country or who are visitors returning. How do you account for people's experiences?
  (Mr Boys Smith)  I would answer in two respects. Firstly, to ensure that the control is operated courteously, fairly, without any element of discrimination, is a matter of good management. It is made absolutely clear at all levels within the Immigration Service the importance that is attached to acting in exactly that kind of way. Indeed, that has been given a further, high level profile by the statement that the government made in the White Paper published in July that human rights was a fundamental aspect of the totality of their immigration policy. We seek to ensure that it operates properly and fairly by that kind of means, as indeed any organisation would that has dealing with members of the public, whether it is public sector or private sector. I think we are reasonably successful in that. If there are complaints—and this would be the second angle I would offer—it is important that people let us know what their complaints are because it is only by being complained against that we are able to identify whether there are issues there and to act accordingly, issues that may be related to an individual or that may have some wider significance. Although we do not seek gratuitous complaints, comment from members of the public is an important element in keeping us all on our toes and I recognise we need that.

previous page contents next page

House of Lords home page Parliament home page House of Commons home page search page enquiries

© Parliamentary copyright 1999