Examination of Witnesses (Questions 100
WEDNESDAY 9 DECEMBER 1998
and MR MIKE
Lord Lester of Herne Hill
100. As I listen to Mr Boys Smith, I think
he is not saying that the need to protect good race relations
is a major factor in deciding to remain outside Schengen. I would
be astonished if he were saying that. I think what he is saying
is simply that, if we change the system of control from frontier
to internal control, that would bring the police into more regular
contact with ethnic minorities and therefore there will be more
opportunity for friction. Before I ask my real question, am I
right about that? You are not saying that we cannot or should
not do it because it is bad for race relations, are you?
(Mr Boys Smith) I am saying only that the system
of internal control and the use of identity cards that is part
of the Schengen arrangement, given the traditions of this country
which are different from the traditions in much of continental
Europe, gives rise to particular sensitivities that the government
will want to pay careful attention to in reaching these judgments.
I am not saying it is a reason for staying out; I am saying it
is a reason for careful and mature consideration.
Lord Lester of Herne Hill: If
I can come to my question, is not the true position then that,
if there is bias in any system of control, whether it is immigration
control or policing control, or a perception of bias, whatever
system of control one has, that is a problem that needs to be
tackled, but it does not argue strongly for one system rather
than another. For example, if we all had to carry identity cards
and the police stopped people of colour disproportionately to
find out whether they were illegal immigrants or not, or to find
out whether they were committing crimes or not, simple proof of
identity on the spot might be as much in the interests of members
of an ethnic minority as of effective detection of crime, to take
one example. One talks of the great tradition of not having identity
cards but is it not also right, if we read today's newspapers,
that that tradition is being ended anyway, not only with plastic
credit cards everywhere, including in the public service demand,
but if we read today's newspapers, for example in the health service,
I see identity cards are to be made, I think, compulsory for young
people, for reasons I cannot any longer remember. Is it not right
that the tradition is anyhow ending and that there is no telling
argument either way so far as race relations are concerned, but
there are arguments that could point to better race relations
with simple proof of identity on a spot check basis?
Lord Rix: I think
there could be an argument that there could be positive uses other
than that which Lord Lester has mentioned. For instance, people
with a learning disability are often arrested on Friday nights
because they happen to be around in the pub area and the police,
when the PACE Bill was going through this House, were stating
quite clearly that instant identity of people with a learning
disability would make their jobs a lot easier because these people
maybe unable to identify themselves. They have no address which
they can give, etc. It is exactly the same. It would actually
aid the police because they would immediately be released. They
would be recognised for what they were, their homes would be found
and they would be guided in the right direction. I believe that
there is a positive aspect of identity cards. After all, we all
carried them in the war. It actually got me off being arrested
once. I went to visit an old friend's house when I was on tour
in Leeds at the Grand Theatre and I asked a neighbour if he was
there. The neighbour rang up the police, the police came round
and, with my identity card, they took me down to the Grand Theatre,
Leeds, stood me in front of a photograph and identified me and
said, "Oh, you are the person you say you are" and let
me go. Otherwise, I was going to be arrested as either a burglar
or a German spy. I do think identity cards, for certain people
in this country, would be a positive asset, not a demerit.
Baroness Turner of Camden
101. On the other hand, Lord Rix makes a
reference to the war but my recollection is that the ending of
identity cards was greeted with great joy by most of the population
at the time.
(Mr Boys Smith) I will do my best to answer these
questions. I am rather fearful that I do not have a great deal
to add to what I have already said, not because I wish to be unhelpful
to the Committee but because I feel I have said all I am capable
of saying. I fully understand that there is a range of arguments
about identity cards. I was not wishing to suggest that those
arguments all pointed in one way. Indeed, I know that the government
is aware that there is some public support for them. The government's
present position is that it has no present plans to introduce
them. It is not biased for or against identity cards and it is
going to consider the options. That is a big issue that will no
doubt be the subject of continuing public debate. My point was
perhaps a narrower and simpler one. I originally articulated in
response to Lord Dholakia that there were at least sensitivities
associated with the issue and the checking of identity cards that
were an important consideration. Coming as I do from the Immigration
and Nationality side of the Home Office, I do not feel confident
to go a great deal further than this. I wish only to contrast
that issue with the question of whether or not the border controls
were intrusive. I merely wish to demonstrate that the light control
on EU travellers is a light control. It is not self-evident that
the alternative, the internal control, would be even lighter than
that. There is an argument for saying that it would be more intrusive
than that. Perhaps I might confine myself to that balance.
102. If I may take you back to the opt-in/opt-out
question, I still do not quite have a picture in terms of how
far we are picking up people unannounced by examining documents
at the border or are dealing with traffickers in people, a huge
area which I understand is now increasing, of which one needs
information in advance. One of the questions I would like to pose
is as regards the SIS and border control. Is it the case that
the growth of long lines of organised, illegal immigrant trafficking
means that access to the Schengen Information System and exchange
of information with other authorities within the EU are important
parts of maintaining our controls against illegal immigration?
(Mr Boys Smith) It is certainly the case that
cooperation with other countries, mainly the EU but not of course
exclusively the EU, is an important element of our control and
we want to continue that cooperation and indeed strengthen it.
Our feeling as regards the SIS is that, in respect of the immigration
controland I do make a distinction between that and other
forms of policing cooperation because there is a wide range of
material like stolen vehicles and so on, on the SISthe
suspect index to which I referred gives us a very good basis on
which to identify those who are seeking to pass across our borders
whom we do not want to give entry to or want to stop to make some
inquiries of. That is not to say that there would not be material
on the SIS that would be helpful to us. Those are issues that
the government is also examining with our partners in the EU and
will want to come to a decision on in due course. It is not a
question of it having reached a view; it is still under consideration.
103. Do you anticipate that, if we do not
have access to the Schengen Information System for whatever reason,
or we decide that we do not wish to have access, there may be
some gradually increasing disadvantages in terms of maintaining
border controls, or is this not a problem?
(Mr Boys Smith) I do not think I am in a position
to say that if we did not join our position would be weaker and
weaker, which I think is the core of your question. Certainly,
there are no grounds for believing that at the moment, but this
is part of the sorts of issues that we are seeking to examine
at the moment, because clearly it is not a decision that, once
it is taken, can be quickly reversed. We will need to look ahead
as well as, so to speak, to take a snapshot of the present day.
104. If I could take you back to some interesting
remarks you made about the costs of opting in to Schengen, if
I understood you correctly, the cost of reconfiguring our airports
would be in the range of, 300 million to 450 million?
(Mr Boys Smith) That was the cost identified in
1994 of reconfiguring to allow the passengers to move in different
ways because of their requirements.
105. I find that an extraordinarily high
figure. Do you think it is a realistic one?
(Mr Eland) Perhaps I could explain why that sort
of figure arises. If we became members of Schengen and abolished
internal frontiers with Schengen, then we would have to put flights
from Schengen countries in the same position as a domestic flight
within the UK. That would mean redesigning airports so that all
flights from France, Italy and so on could come into particular
terminals separate from those from outside that area. That is
where the costs come from. These were costs, to my recollection,
which were based on some discussion with the airport authorities
and also took some account of the reconfiguration that had to
take place at Schipol Airport in order to introduce these sort
of changes. I know that Schipol had to spend many millions of
guilders in doing that. We do feel therefore the estimates were
106. The present system where a new free
travel area has been created in Europe is not going to make any
alteration to our system of scrutinising passports on entry through
British airports? Is that right? It did occur to me that the arrival
of a new travel zone in Europe might alter the way in which you
sought to examine people's credentials. Here is a group of people
who have all come from France. They all have permission to live
there, or so they think, and yet you would still split them up
according to the passport they had, regardless of the zone from
which they came?
(Mr Eland) The interest we have is not where they
have come from but their status. If they are carriers of an EEA
or EU passport, yes, we would subject them to this very light
check. That I think has changed in intensity over the period since
the single market came in. Now, not every single person coming
through the EU channel is stopped and their passport opened and
examined. People will often be waved through with a very quick
107. Is that a principle which would apply
everywhere? I would imagine that a plane load of people coming
from Iraq would be treated rather differently than a plane load
of people coming from France, would they not?
(Mr Eland) If I was a holder of an EU passport
coming from Iraq, I would go through that channel. Clearly, the
bulk of people would go into the Third country channel and be
subjected to a fuller check.
108. The exception may be for flights to
and from Israel which are treated in a very special way.
(Mr Eland) I think that is a security aspect.
Lord Pilkington of Oxenford
109. I am possibly being very dim but as
you know there are channels. There is an EU channel and then there
is the "goods to declare". Could not these channels
be adapted without reconfiguring airports? Is every airport in
Europe now being reconfigured?
(Mr Eland) Yes, my Lord, every one that has international
traffic going through it. Chairman: I have been through
Schipol twice in the last six weeks and it has been quite substantially
reconfigured, because internal Schengen flights become domestic
flights. Your passports are not therefore examined. If you think
about the implications for major British international airports,
these are quite considerable.
110. Schipol is being rebuilt at the expense
of the Dutch Ministry of the Interior, is it?
(Mr Eland) I do not know whether the Ministry
of the Interior pay, but it is at the expense of the Dutch government.
111. There is a question here on our suggested
which requires some explanation, I think. It says here, "...
people who have entered the UK legally and subsequently fall foul
of immigration rules, for example tourists or students who `overstay'
or who obtain work without a work permit?" Surely that applies
equally to those inside Schengen and outside Schengen? I would
have thought that the number of people who overstay their documentation
is roughly the same in each and every European country.
(Mr Boys Smith) Mr Eland may want to elaborate
on this but I think the point is that if they are from an EU countrythat
is to say, citizens of an EU countrythen they do not require
112. I understand that but I am talking
about people from outside. The ratio of people who overstay in
a Schengen country is probably no greater than in a non-Schengen
country such as the UK.
(Mr Boys Smith) I have to say I do not think we
have any figures.
113. Therefore, I think this question which
has been carefully prepared is slightly irrelevant. It applies
equally to a Schengen country or a non-Schengen country.
(Mr Boys Smith) That might well be the case.Lord
Bridges: You have rather discounted the negative impact
which would happen for British travellers arriving as non-Schengen
people in a Schengen airport as amounting to inconsequential and
only a few minutes. Could I suggest that you look at that again,
because my own experiences suggest the contrary. Particularly
large charter aircraft, entirely full of British tourists, arriving
in a Schengen country I think will now be subjected to much longer
Lord Lester of Herne Hill
114. I had not realised that in Schipol
there was to be a special, new domestic terminal for all Schengen
travellers. Does that not mean that I, as a British passport holder,
cannot go through that quicker and easier system but have to go
through a different terminal? Is that not going to be a detriment
(Mr Eland) If I may just clarify that point, it
is where you come from. If you are a British citizen with a British
passport travelling from, say, Bonn to Schipol, you will go through
the domestic terminal in Schipol. If you are coming from the UK,
even if you are a citizen of France or the Netherlands, you will
go through the sort of control that we impose on EU citizens coming
Chairman: So long
as we remain outside Schengen border control arrangements, we
have to be submitted to Schengen external border controls.
Lord Lester of Herne Hill: And
so do the French and the Italians, if they come from this country.
Lord Rix: They are
very lightly applied for the majority of tourists.
115. The toughest of controls are applied
by Belgian police when one arrives by Eurostar in Brussels. They
are much tougher than any others that I have ever experienced
within Western Europe. You have been extremely helpful. On the
question of the government's definition of what our national interests
are in this, I suppose this is a question we are going to put
to the Minister at the end, but you are going to be writing some
of the papers for this. The government said in its reply to our
last report that it intends to take part in all these activities
when it is in the national interest to do so. Apart from sheer
political judgment, what are the other criteria which one can
provide to weigh up and try to define where Britain's national
interests lie in this extremely delicate area?
(Mr Boys Smith) I think it is a national interest
that will be judged against the core criterion of the maintenance
of the frontier control on which the government has made its position
clear. Therefore, whether opting in on particular measures, given
as I mentioned earlier that the Treaty enshrines the right to
opt in partially rather than all or nothing, is the question of
whether that opt-in is consistent with the maintenance of that
control. It is that set of questions that the government is considering.
Clearly, there are issues on which close cooperation is important.
One example of that, I think already well established, is the
uniform format for visas. That is a good example where cooperation
is entirely consistent with the maintenance of that control.
Lord Watson of Invergowrie
116. On the question of the Schengen Information
System, I wanted to ask Mr Boys Smith this: firstly, there clearly
must be benefits to such a system. Otherwise, it would not have
been established. Given that there are benefits, which I take
it you would accept, there must therefore be a disbenefit to not
being part of it. I understand you had to be cautious in your
previous response, but there must be benefits which would apply
to the UK should we be part of this system, particularly in terms
of relationships with other police forces and immigration services.
I would like you to give us your personal opinion on those benefits,
albeit I do accept the point that you are still looking at them.
The system's existence suggests there are benefits. Could you
give us some indication of what you understand them to be through
your contacts with your opposite numbers in other countries?
(Mr Boys Smith) Benefits would mainly relate not
to the immigration control but to other kinds of law enforcement.
The nature of the information referred to a moment ago in an earlier
answer to the SIS containing material on stolen vehicles is a
good example of that. In respect of the immigration control, the
evidence we have so far is that, given the nature of our fairly
sophisticated, computerised suspect index, adding to it the material
that is on the Schengen Information System, even leaving aside
the obligations that might ensue from our participation in that
as regards operating Schengen controls, we do not have any reason
to believe that there would be an enormous step change in the
efficiency of our immigration control by the addition of that
material, but that is very much an interim view. Those are just
the sorts of issues that we are anxious to examine in great detail.
I would not, if I may say so, my Lord Chairman, want it to be
thought that that was more than a very preliminary view. It may
well be changed in the light of our work.
117. In your meetings with your opposite
numbers in EU Member States to deal with those sorts of issues,
you may need to make that evaluation?
(Mr Boys Smith) Indeed. We are in discussion with
them and obviously we have to make that evaluation against our
own requirements. I come back to my earlier answer to the Lord
Chairman. Any kind of participation will have to be consistent
with the maintenance of the frontier control so that if participation
in the SIS carried with it other obligations that were not consistent
with that then that would be part of the judgment that would have
to be reached.
Chairman: You have
been extremely helpful. We look forward to seeing you again, no
doubt. I apologise because this Committee may be an occasional
nuisance to you and we have already been a nuisance on many occasions
to Mr Eland and I expect we will again, I think some of us may
even see you at the Justice seminar tomorrow. Thank you.