Select Committee on European Communities Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 1 - 19)




  1.  May I say welcome or, as in most cases, welcome back. I am sorry we are such a dreadful interruption to the normal tenure of your work. You are no doubt very busy. As you know, Sub-Committee F and Sub-Committee E have both been looking at some aspects of the First and Third Pillars. In our previous inquiries and in the ministerial response to our work on the incorporation of Schengen a number of questions have come up about precisely what the costs and benefits are of staying out and opting in and it seemed to us that we therefore ought to look at that from a British perspective. We will attempt to be as neutral as we can, investigate where the benefits are and where the costs are. Would you like to start by saying anything yourselves?
  (Mr Warne)  My Lord Chairman, thank you. My name is John Warne and I am Director of the Organised and International Crime Directorate in the Home Office. Mr John Abbott, who is known to you, is Director General of the National Criminal Intelligence Service. Mr Roy Penrose is Director General of the National Crime Squad. In addition to my Directorate responsibilities I am now the K4 co-ordinator for European Union business in the Home Office. I add fairly quickly that that role was performed by my predecessor as Head of the Immigration and Nationality Department. I am not the Head of the Immigration and Nationality Department and I know you are seeing colleagues from that Department at a later stage. I say that merely to underscore the fact that I think we can be of most value to your Committee—I hope we can anyway—on the law enforcement and judicial co-operation aspects of your inquiry. We are very glad to help in any way that we can.

  2.  Thank you. As you know, the main thrust of this current inquiry is on the border control dimension. There is a great deal of reference in the Treaty of Amsterdam, which we have done our best to wade through, including protocols, to the difference between internal borders and external borders. The borders between the United Kingdom and other countries are for some purposes now internal borders but for other purposes remain external borders. Is that correct?
  (Mr Warne)  I think that is correct, my Lord Chairman. The 13 Schengen countries within the European Union will operate their common external border and the UK and Ireland have an opt-out under the Protocol agreed at Amsterdam whereby we can maintain our own frontier controls for immigration purposes. So there are two systems operating within the European Union. Within Schengen there would be freedom of movement across the internal borders of those countries.

  3.  Does this mean from a British perspective outwards that we attempt to exercise the same controls on arrivals in this country from France as we do, say, from the United States or from India, or do we in effect discriminate?
  (Mr Warne)  We treat them with a very light touch. We check them only to ensure that they are indeed citezens of the European Union and also to identify any third country nationals who may not benefit from being a citizen of the European Union.

  4.   Can you explain to us what you see as the main obstacle to British participation in Schengen?
  (Mr Warne)  I think, my Lord Chairman, that the main obstacle is that participation would carry with it the implication and indeed the acknowledgment that we would operate an external system of control and have no checks between the United Kingdom and other countries of the European Union, so it would be contrary to the agreement arrived at at Amsterdam.

Lord Bridges

  5.  May I ask why we wish to have this control over the other Schengen countries? What are the particular advantages?
  (Mr Warne)  My Lord, I do not think it is a matter of control over the other countries, it is a matter of being able to maintain our own frontiers control to our own standards to ensure that people who are admitted here can be properly admitted. Otherwise we would be placing total reliance on immigration controls operated by other countries and we would have to accept admissions from those countries as of right.

  6.  Are we going to have to change the way in which we organise our immigration points and will there be in future a channel for people coming from Schengen countries or will it be a channel for people with passports issued by Schengen countries? If I understand your last answer correctly, you wish to have a channel for people coming from Schengen countries.
  (Mr Warne)  I think it does not require specifically a channel, my Lord, it requires only the option of demonstrating that you are a holder of a passport of a Member State of the European Union and therefore can be admitted to this country.

  7.  Will that not lead to practical difficulties? Say you have a queue of people, some of whom are from outside Europe altogether, some of them are Schengen people. What happens when they come to the immigration desk and the African person who has come from a Schengen country may have to be interrogated and thus holds up the line? That will irritate enormously the people who think that because they are coming from a Schengen country we should treat them as members of the EU rather than mix them up with immigrants from all over the world.
  (Mr Warne)  I think our experience of handling, for example, Customs procedures within the Union are such that one can effectively select special channel arrangements for those E U citizens travelling within the European Union. I myself am a frequent traveller to Brussels and they have a very simple EU/non-EU division and they have a quick look to see whether we are citizens of the European Union or not. I think it is possible to do the same here.

  8.  I understood from an earlier answer that you do not want to do that.
  (Mr Warne)  No, that was not the intention of my earlier answer. I am sorry if I was not clear. I was saying only that we needed a light touch control to establish that the individual is indeed a member of the European Union, but we want to be able to exercise controls on third country nationals who may originate from within the European Union.

Lord Pilkington of Oxenford

  9.  You imply a suspicion of other EU frontier control. Possibly your colleagues may want to answer this. Is this the external frontiers of the European Union, that is the East German frontier, the Italian frontier, the Greek frontier? That is the first question, do you feel that there is not adequate supervision there? Secondly, if there is not adequate supervision there are you worried that other countries just allow people to drift across the continent and they will all end up with us? In other words, is your defensive attitude to this, which I am not putting any moral emphasis on, due to the fact that you feel there is a laxity of control in at least parts of the European Union to the extent that you think this country will suffer seriously?
  (Mr Warne)  I think it would be fair to say that we are not sufficiently confident that all Member States can operate the sorts of controls that we do to our standards. There are parts of the external frontier that are very difficult to man. Controls can only be as good as the weakest point and we need to make sure that we have effective controls for admission to this country.

  10.  Could I ask more specific questions to your colleagues in the criminal vein. We all know or read that there is massive crime, possibly mafia crime, in Russia and the Ukraine. Would you be concerned that some of this might cross over into the United Kingdom?
  (Mr Warne)  If I may start and then gladly invite colleagues to contribute. I think I need just to go back to explain that my particular focus is precisely in this area of the law enforcement and judicial aspects of Schengen and the like, rather than the mechanics of immigration control. I also need to distinguish between immigration control for immigration purposes, that is to say to ensure that people are properly admitted, and some other benefits that can arise from a check, a police presence for example, at a port. In that context there are opportunities to operate against the movement of criminals. The frontiers position in Amsterdam negotiated by the Government is designed to maintain the United Kingdom's freedom to manage its own immigration controls. The other checks are, if you like, incidental but they do derive for us a particular benefit. I do not know if you would like to add to that?
  (Mr Abbott)  I think your specific question requires a little refinement, if I may, because it seems to me that we need to try and understand the nature of organised crime. I would agree with you that there is a threat of organised crime from the former Eastern Bloc, particularly the Ukraine and Russia. That said, I should emphasise that the majority of major organised criminals travel legally between the states and do not take risks that cause them to be subject to being checked at borders. They also have other means of operating by, for example, moving money electronically. Although some still may carry it in suitcases many of them will move their money electronically. I think I would share Mr Warne's view that we need to be a little cautious about the external frontiers because they really are only as strong as the weakest link and I would offer as my evidence there the great increase that we have had in illegal immigration and particularly the organised crime involvement in illegal immigration over the last five years in particular. All of the National Criminal Intelligence Service's strategic reports predict that this will continue to be a major challenge.

Lord Dholakia

  11.  Can I just follow up a question put by my Lord Chairman and Lord Bridges. How can you differentiate or distinguish between a third country national and a third country national who is lawfully legally settled in this country?
  (Mr Warne)  Sorry, settled in this country?

  12.  Yes.
  (Mr Warne)  I do not think you can. What we are distinguishing here is simply on the basis of passport, citizens' passports. A French passport is a French passport but another citizen resident in France may not be entitled to admission to this country. If he were a third country national holding a third country passport then he would be subject to immigration control.

  13.  Does it mean that those who are lawfully settled in this country may have to go through the same process that you employ for those who may not be settled?
  (Mr Warne)  No, I do not think it carries any such implications.

  14.  I want to pursue one other question. Some years ago when I carried out an investigation on the immigration procedure one of the bases on which the Home Office dealt with illegal immigration in this country was they said there were certain countries from which there was pressure to migrate to this country and therefore those countries were identified. What sort of guidance or information do you receive from the Home Office about those sorts of countries? What are the criteria that are being used? What do you do when you receive this information?
  (Mr Warne)  I am not myself aware of the receipt of such information but in my position I probably would not be because that would go to the Immigration Department of the Home Office. I think the answer to your question is that entitlement for immigration purposes has to be judged against the statutory published Immigration Rules. There can be no other approach.

  15.   May I just take one further question. In terms of matters like drug importation into this country is it the type of policy that you adopt that certain flights from certain countries will receive special treatment in terms of dogs sniffing around, etc., or people that you identify receive a different treatment, for example people coming from Colombia, Jamaica, Turkey, Pakistan?
  (Mr Warne)  I understand the question, my Lord, and in a moment I will ask my colleagues to develop the answer that I shall start with. I think that there is no such (what I would describe as) rather crude approach. Much of the focus on serious organised crime and drugs is now intelligence led. It is not a matter of focusing on particular flights or particular means of transport in the hope that you might get a lucky strike. Of course, the occasional deterrent examination at a port can be disruptive for those who are seeking to manage drug smuggling and indeed delivery of other commodities, but the initial approach is not a broad brush "let us target flight X because it is coming from country Y". The targeting for serious crime purposes is much more intelligence driven and specific. My colleagues may wish to elaborate on that.
  (Mr Penrose)  Yes, thank you. I would certainly echo what Mr Warne has just said. The effective deployment of resources is clearly based upon intelligence that is gained, not just domestic intelligence but that which has been gained through bilateral sharing or multilateral sharing with other colleagues in other countries. For example, through John Abbott's responsibility for drug liaison officers within Europe and Her Majesty's Customs in other parts of the world there is intelligence which leads certainly Her Majesty's Customs and indeed ourselves from the operational standpoint to look at certain individuals when they are entering this country because suspicion is heavily based on that. I think it is fair to say that none of us have the resources to have a fortress Britain and therefore it has to be a fairly scientific intelligence led process.

Lord Elibank

  16.  I am getting a little confused about what constitutes border control. Does it literally mean at a country's borders, including their airports, or what can transpire once an illegal immigrant or a criminal lands in this country and maybe begins to be absorbed by it or is absorbed into the population? I gather, from what Mr Abbott said, that the chances of catching a criminal at the border is very remote, it is really not a runner. Your chances of catching an illegal immigrant at the border I suppose is rather greater. Do you distinguish between the border as ports and airports and the work that both the criminal investigation organisations and the Home Office and so on pursue internally in the country either as a result of information from other security organisations or from leads they have of their own internally? Is there any confusion in this?
  (Mr Warne)  I think, if I may say so, my Lord, it is a very important question to know what we mean when we talk about frontier controls. What I mean and what we in the Home Office mean when we are talking about frontier controls is a control system for a primary purpose, namely controlling immigration. In addition there may be border checks, there may be a police presence, there may be a Customs presence, but it is not the channel through which everyone has to move. By contrast you must go through the immigration channel in order to be admitted to this country. In addition there are separate checks. Those checks can be carried out at different points. For terrorism purposes they are conveniently conducted at ports. For some other police purposes they can be effectively conducted at ports. For Customs purposes also because people do try to move prohibited goods using the narrow opportunities that exist. The distinction I think is between deployments for the prevention of terrorism and related purposes and for crime detection in the form of checks; and a frontier control system through which everyone must pass for a single purpose, namely immigration control.
  (Mr Abbott)  May I just correct a possible misimpression that I might have given? In answering Lord Pilkington's question I was talking specifically about top tier organised criminals and the likelihood of catching them at a border control or a border check. I think it is important to recognise that there are significant benefits derived from having border checks. When one looks, for example, at the number of drugs seizures that are made, firearms seizures that are made, cash money seizures that are made, these remain very significant. In the region of half of the drugs seizures made in this country are made at ports of entry.


  17.  But is that without prior intelligence?
  (Mr Abbott)   I would suggest that certainly the majority of the larger seizures are as a result of prior intelligence.

  18.  That makes quite a difference.
  (Mr Abbott)  But there will still be seizures without intelligence.

Lord Lester of Herne Hill

  19.  I was wondering whether the Home Office could provide us with a cost-benefit analysis of the practical advantages and disadvantages of being out of Schengen for British citizens travelling outside the United Kingdom and the advantages and disadvantages for those coming into this country in terms of protecting our own core interests. Presumably there has been a cost-benefit analysis of that kind done for the purpose of advising successive governments. I am not asking for further work to be done, but I cannot imagine the Home Office would be proceeding without the benefit of a cost-benefit analysis. Could we be provided with such an analysis to help us in our work?
  (Mr Warne)  We will certainly provide what we can, my Lord. I think that there are a very complex set of issues here about the benefits of being within or without. We start from the fact that the Government has negotiated a separate protocol for frontiers which leaves us operating our own immigration control by agreement with other members of the European Union. There then remains the question as to whether there would be benefits in participation in other aspects of co-operation, for example police co-operation and judicial co-operation. That analysis continues, it is not complete. As you know, we have had a little difficulty in establishing precisely what the acquis is. There are a number of complex issues to address. If I may focus on three of them. First of all, having negotiated that frontiers protocol, we want to maintain it. That is the Government's position. We think it is right to operate a different system of control and therefore we do not wish to participate in arrangements that would do damage to that position. However, there are a number of other areas where a degree of participation may be possible and that is really where the cost-benefit analysis has to be made. For example, is there an advantage or disadvantage in being involved in the police co-operation aspects of Schengen? If I might offer a view on that it would be that there are some issues on which we would need quite detailed discussion with partners, in particular in the areas of hot pursuit and cross-border surveillance, but in other respects most of the police co-operation provisions are ones that we would gladly subscribe to because for a long time we have been working with European Union partners on serious crime. Similarly, the judicial co-operation provisions do not hold many fears for us. Indeed many of them have been in a sense overtaken by European Union provisions on extradition, on mutual legal assistance and the like. So I think the analysis has to be done in that kind of way, i.e. what position could we adopt that did not do damage to our immigration position but enabled us to participate and contribute both for UK advantage and more collective advantage. When we get to real hard cost it often comes down to the cost of, say, joining the Schengen Information System. What would be the burden of providing information to it and what would be the cost of our duties and obligations under it against the benefit that we might derive from such a system. That is where our analysis is. I do not wish to pretend to the Committee that we have done a cost-benefit analysis on different forms of immigration control because the Government's position is clear, i.e. it believes that this form of control is the best one and one that delivers most effectively for the United Kingdom and other options are not under consideration.

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