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When we went to the Joint Border Operations Centre and learnt about Project Semaphore and the e-borders system, I remained puzzled by the fact that the air passenger data are not used to pick up serious crime and terrorism. There is no profiling for terrorism in the data. In a parliamentary Answer by the Minister, Liam Byrne, to a Conservative MP, Nigel Evans, on 16 May, there was a breakdown of 1,700 arrests that had taken place in the past three years, roughly. Of those 1,700 arrests, by my calculation, 920well over halfwere for things such as non-payment of fines, bail offences, failure to attend a court, breach of court orders and road traffic offences. I wonder why we are not using the data for the most serious offences, which is often how these data collection systems are justified.
The noble Lord, Lord Jopling, drew attention to the fact that the report said that the poorer border control is in the UK, the more it undermines the Governments arguments against Schengen. If we are not doing a good job defending our borders, it suggests that we could do it better if we worked more in common. However, I welcome the openness of the Government to seeing how they can co-operate with, and one day move towards, Schengen.
The operations that Frontex is doing to combat illegal immigration with its reactive approach are only one part of a common EU asylum and migration system. We have to put all the other parts in place, not just a common asylum system. The European Commission made new proposals yesterday. I have not had a chance to read them, but I hope they include ideas about how to improve the working of the Dublin II regulations, to which the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, referred. I hope that at least the ideas in the treaty of Lisbon will not be lost in the area of justice and home affairs. In todays Financial Times, the commentator Quentin Peel writes,
Turning to resources, I shall supplement what the Committees report says about the European Parliament and the budget of Frontex. It was probably too late to be captured in the report, but in the Second Reading of the 2008 Budget, the European Parliament released all the money for Frontex. The reason that we had frozen it in the reserve was that we requested its director to present to the Justice and Home Affairs Committee the work programme for the agency for 2008. That chimes with what is said in the report about greater accountabilityindeed, formal accountabilityto the European Parliament. The director did come in November 2007 and therefore in the Second Reading of the Budget the Parliament agreed to release the reserve on the operational budget and to increase the administrative budget by more than €3 million, compared with the Commissions preliminary draft budget.
The other part of resources is the vessels and equipment which are promised to Frontex. As in other areas of EU work, member states are not carrying out their promises to make boats and equipment available to Frontex. If they do not make them available, that reinforces or makes a case, as the Commission suggested in its recent evaluation of Frontex, that the agency should acquire its own equipment so that it is available at short notice. I am not sure that that is a good idea but if member states persist in not delivering on their promises, the argument for Frontex to have its own facilities will be stronger.
On the mandate of Frontex, there must be strong co-operation with Europol but I agree with the Committee that it would not be appropriate to extend the mandate of Frontex to cover crime and terrorism. That is Europols job. I am also unhappy about the confusion that that might suggest between irregular migration and criminality. Not every unauthorised entrant is a criminal; they are separate issues.
My last real point is the need for much clearer and stronger rules to ensure humane and dignified treatment of migrants and access to the asylum determination procedure. There was a submission by the European Council on Refugees which highlighted the lack of clarity about mechanisms to deal with wider humanitarian needs, including medical requirements of persons rescued or intercepted during Frontex operations, ensuring adequate reception facilities, and so on. There is also a need to clarify the legal situation when people are refused landing. There do not seem to be specific measures to safeguard the rights of people potentially in need of protection, which would undermine the right to seek asylum. We need much clearer rules, therefore. The Schengen borders code does not cover interception and disembarkation. We need clear rules on disembarkation for all Frontex maritime operations, not ad hoc ones from one operation to another. We need training on the law of the seaa working party is looking at that. We need training on European and international asylum rules and on human rights and fundamental rights so that these norms are fully respected and we have a consistent approach in search and rescue operations.
I heard the strong comments of the noble Lord, Lord Jopling, about the lack of responsiveness by the Minister, Mr Byrne. Although I am not a member of Sub-Committee F, Mr Byrne does appear to have worked to a rather lax timetable. The two-month response time has not been respected; that is unfortunate, particularly given the excellent work that is done by the EU Committee as a whole and Sub-Committee F in particular. I congratulate the sub-committee under the noble Lord, Lord Jopling, on this excellent report.
Baroness Hanham: My Lords, I happily follow those comments by agreeing that the noble Lord, Lord Jopling, is to be congratulated. It is clear from the report and the evidence that was taken that the committee has gone to a great deal of trouble and into a great deal of detail. The report is brief but not so brief that
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The report strikes me as a timely look at the work of Frontex. It contains a number of important insights not only into what Frontex is but into what it has been involved in since its inception three years ago. We have had many debates in this House recentlyI am sure there will be many moreon the importance of security. There can be little more that is important to the security of nations than their ability to ensure the safety and integrity of their borders. The extension of the Schengen acquis to all the 27 nations of Europe, as the report points out, means that the external land borders of Europe cover nearly 5,000 miles. The noble Lord, Lord Jopling, also pointed this out. I like kilometres, but I still work in miles. Much of the territory is difficult to police, as we have heard, and is vulnerable to organised illegal migration and criminal activity. As the noble Lord has said, there is also now a staggering 50,000 miles of maritime border, much of it very difficult to patrol even by our wonderful Navy. The pressure on borders and border guards will play on the measures needed to ensure that immigration into Europe is controlled.
From Britains point of view, it is obvious that the final desired destination of many of those crossing borders informally is this country, and that the freedom of movement between and within the countries of Europe under Schengen is of great assistance in that objective. The security of our own borders is the reason why we did not join Schengen at the outset. Despite the suggestion that Mr Byrne is more positive about this, I did not read into what he said that we are likely to contemplate becoming part of the Schengen acquis or ceasing to have our own border controls in the foreseeable future. It is therefore of some concern that the report is still critical of our border controls.
I realise that it is now some six months since the report was made, but the noble Lord, Lord Jopling, has maintained his view that some areas are still vulnerable. One of those is the inability of our border agency to record entries into and departures from the UK. The Minister may well be able to answer this, but it still looks as though we do not know how many migrants are coming in and out of the country. Mr Liam Byrne is quoted as saying that you had better make sure that the person you are counting in is the same as the one you are counting out. The suggestion is that the names of people coming in are not recorded so that you cannot attach the same name to the person who is leaving. These remarks were made as late as December 2007, which was barely six months ago. I do not know whether the situation has changed in that time, but perhaps the Minister will comment.
It seems that the problem which is defined is unlikely to be resolved until the full implementation of the EU borders programme. As the noble Lord, Lord Jopling,
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The noble Lord, Lord Jopling, has referred to the problems at Calais as another area where we are not safeguarding our borders. It would be helpful if the Minister could tell us what the position is in Calais. This, after all, was the answer to the closure of the holding centre there. It was going to be how we ensured that we did not have immigrants climbing fences, walking through the tunnel and hanging on underneath lorries. If there are still shortcomings, who is responsible and who is going to put it right?
The fact that the UK is not a participant in the Schengen acquis has so far enabled us to maintain our own border security systems. As we know from many debates in this House, these are not yet sufficiently robust to ensure that illegal migration slows to a trickle, at most, or that there is complete integration of all the agencies involved in the identification of those who are here illegally, as well as those who are trying to enter illegally. It is our contention that this will not truly become possible until the UK Borders Agency is strengthened by the inclusion of the police. It will certainly be our intention, on return to government, to ensure that there is a complete security system.
It is worth repeating that the UKs absence as a signatory to the Schengen acquis has resulted in us not being a full member of Frontex. It is also clear that our participation as an observer on the management board and in many of the joint operations organised by Frontex ensures that we appear to be playing a significant part in enabling it to function. What assessment can be made of whether the many operations that have been referred toalthough they are, I gather, reasonably small-scalehave had an effect on slowing or preventing uncontrolled migration across the external borders of Europe? I know we have played a major role in a number of these operations. Is the work of Frontex having a beneficial effect on the pressure on UK borders? If Schengen is not working and the control of external borders at the edge of Europe is now not working, there is no chance that we will ever be able to join Schengen and give up our own controls. Without strong evidence that Frontex is able to ensure the measures that will secure our borders as well as those of Europe it seems inconceivable that the UK will be able to forgo its own border control.
One of the conclusions of the committee which produced the report is that there is a danger of too much being expected of Frontex. The noble Lord, Lord Teverson, also referred to this. In the short term, the increase in its staff, resources and objectives should be consolidated before it advances further. The noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, has now said that the money which has been held back has been released. I am not sure whether that is good news or bad news. The release of the money will presumably enable Frontex to do more. It might be helpful if the Minister told us what the Governments view is on the expansion of Frontex. At the moment, I understand that it is quite a
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As the report makes clear, Frontex is not designed to be a doer. It would therefore be understandable if the resources are perhaps not there to enable it to increase in human terms by too many. Inevitably, once an organisation like this is set up it begins to accrease to itself more responsibilities. As I understand it, it is intended to co-ordinate, risk assess, give guidance on training, undertake research on controls and surveillance of external borders, and generally provide support to the nations of Europe in developing and maintaining security measures. We have heard from the noble Lords, Lord Jopling and Lord Teverson, of the difficulties of that and of the borders, particularly those between the former Soviet Union and Europe, and the territory involved in that and the pressure there will be on that from people trying to get across.
It is to be hoped that this report is read widely in the Schengen states. It would be an awful pity if it were not. It provides an eye on a new organisation. Perhaps it provides a slightly independent eye in that we are at the moment one step back from it. But we are enormously interested in the work of Frontex, in how it reacts with the Schengen states, and in how, through it and its work, there are greater controls on the borders. The report is extremely well written and thoroughly readable. As I said, I hope it will be highly influential.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord West of Spithead): My Lords, first, I must join the House in thanking the European Union Committee, Sub-Committee F and the noble Lord, Lord Jopling, for this report and the opportunity it gives us for a debate. Certainly, as I have found in the past, I have learnt a lot from having to read the report and from going into some of these issues. I am very aware that noble Lords have only recently received this response. Although I have been told that there is a complex nature of subjects and constant developments et cetera, that is not good enough and I apologise for that. I do not think that that is satisfactory. I will very clearly take that message back. I assure noble Lords that I will put every effort I can into making sure that this sort of thing does not happen again. It is slack and is not good. I am considering reintroducing keelhauling in the Home Office to sharpen some of that out.
Having said that, I assure noble Lords that the Home Office is definitely fit for purpose and not unfit for purpose. I heard that when I went there and I have been very impressed by the quality of some of the people. Whether that is because their number has been halved or whatever, I do not know; but it is fit for purpose and there are some very good people doing some extremely good work.
The Government welcome this report, which, as the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, mentioned, is extremely well written. The noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, was correct when he made it very clear that we are talking about the real issues of Europe; that is, the things that Europe is giving us, the important things, rather than a bit of posturing on various bits and pieces. It comes at a time of intense discussion across Europe about the future development of this agency, so it is very timely and a very useful contribution to that debate.
The noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, also mentioned the scale of growth. The group started with an executive director, 35 staff and a budget of €6.2 million. Today, it has a 200-strong workforce, commands a budget of €70.43 million, and plans to mount 24 operations in 2008, including permanent European patrols and a network operation in the Mediterranean. So far this year, it has carried out eight of these operations and the UK has taken part in seven of them. It was good to see credit given for that in the report and we are sending an expert to contribute to the document workshop of the eighth. We are fully involved in all of those things. I will touch on what I think about its growth and the impact of that later.
We have been fully supportive of Frontex since 2005, in spite of our exclusion from full participation in the agencys workfor reasons we know and which noble Lords have talked about. This includes making financial contributions to all the operations that we are involved in. We are maintaining a strong voice and I thank the committee for recognising that in the report. We have backed the agency through the secondment of UK national experts in risk analysis and operations. We have a seat and a voice on the Frontex management board, which gets a very good hearing, bearing in mind that we are not part of the Schengen accord. It is good to see and it is, of course, because we have expertise in this area, so they wish to listen to us.
To date, all the UK applications to participate have been approved unanimously, which is a good sign. We have focused our support in three key areas: risk assessment, frontline operational activity and training. We play a major role in Frontex training. Our officials have assisted in the development and delivery of training packages and the operational staff operate to a consistently high standard at, and between, every crossing point on the European border.
We have also supported newer member states, providing training in dealing with false and forged documentation. Last year, during the second phase of Frontex Operation Poseidon alone, 225 forged or falsified documents were detected. We have shared our technological expertise, which is quite considerable, with member states during operations to detect migrants hidden inside freight and rail vehicles. The noble Lord, Lord Jopling, referred to these marvellous things which can spot people sitting in carriages and pick up movement. There are some very clever bits of kit and we have been very generous in lending it to people to allow them to carry out their role.
Many speakers raised the issue of our border. As the noble Lord, Lord Jopling, pointed out, it is an unbelievable sight5,000 miles on the eastern border
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We have been running Project Semaphore, as was mentioned. It has been very successful and we are moving towards e-Borders. I think we are doing quite well on that. We would like to speed it up if we could but it is quite difficult and highly complex. We now have foreign national ID cards coming in December 2008, which is not very far away. We will count the majority of foreign nationals travelling into and out of the United Kingdom. By April 2009, less than a year away, we will handle data on 100 million international passenger and crew movements. By December 2009 we will get all the travel document information on 95 per cent of foreign nationals travelling into and out of the UK.
One would like it faster and indeed, one would wish that we had never stopped doing it, but we are where we are and we are moving as quickly as we can, although we would like to do it quicker. We have also established a new UK Border Agency, the creation of which gives a lot of extra opportunities for enhanced co-operation with our EU partners and Frontex, on a case-by-case basis. That is happening.
A number of noble Lords mentioned Malta. I have operated a lot in the Mediterranean and noble Lords are right to say that the problems they have are amazing. I visited Malta when I was First Sea Lord and as Commander-in-Chief. That great flow of people across the Mediterranean is quite horrifying. The poor people working on the problem in the ships there have this real worry of whether they should let them go on, even though they have a bit of difficulty, because then they will go to Italy where it will be their problem, or whether they should deal with it themselves. There are some big issues there that we need to handle. There is a risk of a loss of life and there are real problems for a nation that size. We are engaged in talks with them, but in terms of them needing more money, these things can sometimes be difficult. However, we must be engaged with these very small countries because this is a real problem and they are often on the front line of where some of these difficulties occur.
In an advisory role, the UK Border Agency has introduced new techniques to debrief illegal immigrants encountered in Frontex operations. This has helped border guards across Europe to establish who these people are, which countries they have come from and the routes that they have used to travel to Europe. That is very useful and is part of the package which means that Frontex is achieving a lot to help us with our borders. It helps border guards identify the organised criminal gangs, a lot of whom prey on these migrants, very often putting their lives in jeopardy. We have all seen that in various media reports. They also make huge sums of money, so it is important that we pin them down.
As a Government we have encouraged Frontex to adopt a risk-based approach to its front-line activities, so much so that the head of Frontexs risk analysis unit was a seconded national expert from the UK. That was quite an achievement for us. This approach has made a real difference in the operational front line by targeting the exploitation of migrantsfor example, from west Africa through the Canary Islands. I think that all of us can remember those dreadful pictures of people in boats heading out to the Canaries, with a huge loss of life and a large number swarming into the European Union. The operation succeeded in reducing the number of migrants reaching Spain by as much as 80 per cent, so it was a huge successand, of course, those people would very often move on through Europe and come to us. The noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, asked whether Frontex has aided us; the answer is that it hasit has been of real value.
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