Select Committee on European Communities Minutes of Evidence


Examination of Witnesses (Questions 40 - 45)

WEDNESDAY 18 NOVEMBER 1998

MR JOHN WARNE, MR JOHN ABBOTT and MR R PENROSE


Lord Lester of Herne Hill

  40.  Can I just follow up Lord Inglewood's question and ask what are the measurable criteria by which you test his question? Does one do it by measuring imported crime, drugs and so on, on a comparative basis? I do not know how your conclusion would be reached.
  (Mr Warne)  I think you would say, for example, on compensatory measures like the Schengen Information System and the ability to stop people and obtain information about perhaps their involvement in criminality of a kind that hitherto might have been available only by a border check, is that working, is it working well, what is the perception of the police about the operation of these systems compared with the existing systems? I think you could do it. Are the compensatory measures actually compensating for the removal of this check? You could envisage a situation in which in some countries they could operate rather better because the border is not significant for their purposes. I think the difficulty is, as I mentioned earlier, that you cannot do that single analysis in relation to all countries involved.

  41.  And also you have got the ID checks available in those countries and always have done.
  (Mr Abbott)  If I may just contribute briefly to that. I think the bad news is that criminals are constantly changing their tactics and probing and looking for new ways of operating. Invariably the compensatory measures are behind the times. The really important thing in my view, and I would say this because I come from the National Criminal Intelligence Service, is that you actually invest in intelligence to help you predict what is going to be coming along. From a purely law enforcement perspective I still think that some of the weaknesses that exist relate to some of the differences in practical policing measures and judicial measures that exist between countries. It is not possible to conduct, and I am stepping on to Mr Penrose's territory here, controlled deliveries or to undertake undercover operations consistently across the whole of the European Union. From a law enforcement perspective that is clearly unfortunate.
  (Mr Penrose)  My Lord Chairman, if I can endorse that. That is certainly the position in one major European Union country. Although there is attempted to be a pragmatic approach on a law enforcement basis all of us need to operate within the law and therefore there is some difficulty. May I just add to say that we need to throw into the consideration pot the sort of documentation that people have and we are aware of a significant trade in forged passports and documents, not only in Europe but without Europe. Therefore, the ability to inspect those documents seems a really useful way of trying to determine whether the document purports to be the genuine article or whether in fact it is a forgery.

Chairman

  42.  Can I ask you how clear a distinction there is between the maintenance of full border controls and the maintenance of occasional border checks? Mr Warne has said that the French maintain occasional border checks within Schengen and we formally maintain full border controls, although as a frequent traveller on Eurostar it looks to me rather more like occasional border checks.
  (Mr Warne)  I think I would revert to my earlier point that we are maintaining an immigration control system through which everyone must pass if they wish to be admitted to this country, with a light touch or a heavy touch but it is a control, it is a method of entry. Police checks or Customs checks can be conducted in a different way, that is to say they are selective. You may have a police presence at a port sometimes, you may not, but you do not have to pass through the police control or the Customs control to gain entry. Immigration in the way we have maintained it is a primary control system quite different from occasional checks.

  43.  If we understand you correctly then the justification for staying out of Schengen and indeed the chief benefit of staying out of Schengen for Britain is the maintenance of immigration controls, not the other dimensions, and we should therefore focus in terms of benefits on that. Before we break may I ask a little more about opting in to all the other areas given what the protocols say. Do you anticipate any difficulties, obstacles, in the British Government saying that it wishes to exercise its opt in to as many of the other areas of Schengen as possible?
  (Mr Warne)  I think the unknown factor there is the attitude of other Member States. I think some might feel that we have exercised an option and therefore we have no great entitlement to opt in. That may be an understandable argument but the fact of the matter is that we are able to opt in by agreement and there is a sort of a best endeavours clause designed to protect us against obstructive attitudes towards a United Kingdom request for participation. I think at governmental level certainly any such requests will be treated very seriously. I think there might be resistance if we did genuinely try to go what I might call la carte, in other words picking individual menu items from within set dishes. If you take a set dish of law enforcement or judicial co-operation that seems reasonable but if you say "we only want a few bits from here or there" then Member States would be more resistant to United Kingdom participation. That is why I think we have got to complete the analysis of what participation in these chunks would mean and then the Government will be able to express its wishes and will be able to get into discussions with other Member States on the basis of those clearly expressed wishes. On the whole I think there would be a reasonably positive attitude to limited forms of United Kingdom participation provided we did not try to delineate them in unreasonable ways. In other words, we have to look at packages.

  44.  When the Treaty is fully ratified and implemented and the Schengen acquis has been allocated between the First and Third Pillars and in effect much of Schengen is then absorbed into normal EU practices, do you think that will cause additional difficulties for the British in being in for items 1, 2 and 3 on the agenda but out for item 4B, or do you think it is all manageable?
  (Mr Warne)  I think it is all manageable, my Lord Chairman. I think we have to remember that under the Treaty Schengen becomes part of the European Union framework and United Kingdom Ministers will be full members of the Council and the Council will be the decision-making body for the really big issues.

  45.  You have been extremely helpful. We have kept you a long time. We have learned a lot. Thank you very much for being so helpful and forthcoming.
  (Mr Warne)  Thank you very much indeed.


 
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