56. SCHENGEN AND THE UNITED KINGDOM'S
BORDER CONTROLS (7TH REPORT, SESSION 1998-99)
Letter from the Rt Hon Jack Straw MP,
Secretary of State for the Home Department, to Lord Wallace of
Saltaire, Chairman of Sub-Committee F (Social Affairs Education
and Home Affairs)
I should like to thank you for this Report.
The Committee has once again provided a useful insight into a
complex area. Although the Report makes no formal recommendations
which would require a response from the Government, the Committee's
opinion raises a number of points which I thought I should address.
As you know, I announced to the Justice and
Home Affairs Council on 12 March that the United Kingdom intended
to seek participation in those areas of Schengen that relate to
police co-operation, including the Schengen Information System,
criminal judicial co-operation and action against illegal drug
trafficking. This coincides with the comments at paragraph 55
of the Report. At the same time I announced that we are interested
in participating in measures under the new Free Movement Chapter
on asylum and on migration, where this does not conflict with
our position on frontier controls. We share the view of the Committee
that it is in the best interests of the United Kingdom to be involved
as far as possible in the development of European Union wide policies
on these sensitive issues. I should point out that we are already
co-operating at European level on asylum through the Dublin Convention,
and we expect measures to improve the functioning of this area
of co-operation to be among the first proposals from the Commission
after the entry into force of the Treaty of Amsterdam.
The Committee questions how positive a response
an application to participate only partially in Schengen might
elicit from our European partners. Although we have yet to make
a formal application, and we are aware that this will involve
much detailed negotiation, my announcement at the Council was
welcomed by our European partners, including by the French.
I note with interest that the Committee is unconvinced
that the present system of systematic border controls is the most
effective use of resources to control illegal immigration. I have
considered the points you make, and those made in evidence to
you, but I remain firmly of the view that systematic frontier
controls are the best arrangement for the United Kingdom. I am
not persuaded by comparisons with France, which has an entirely
Our decision to maintain internal frontier controls,
however, does not preclude the adoption of other complementary
measures. Our response to the growing challenge of illegal immigration
is increasingly multi-faceted, as it relies increasingly on complementary
measures such as airline liaison officers, information sharing
and other forms of international co-operation, and new technology.
Our aim is to enable United Kingdom immigration officers actively
and efficiently to identify high-risk passengers while facilitating
legitimate travellers. We are very much aware of the growing pressures
on the United Kingdom's entry controls arising from the growth
in passenger numbers. We are currently exploring possible ways
of exercising greater flexibility within the entry controls, as
indicated in the White Paper "Fairer, Faster, Firmer,"
and now the Immigration and Asylum Bill which is currently before
the House, but this would be within the limits set by the maintenance
of our internal frontier controls.
The Report also considers the question of identity
cards. At present the Government has not taken a view on the desirability
of introducing some form of identity card. However, I think it
highly likely that a system of identity cards of the sort which
might be introduced to compensate for the removal of frontier
controls would prove to involve a higher degree of discretion
and intervention internally than is present in our current system
of frontier controls.
4 May 1999
Letter from the Rt Hon Jack Straw MP,
Secretary to the Home Department, to Lord Tordoff, Chairman of
As you know, I announced at the JHA Council
on 12 March that the UK intends to seek participation in those
areas of the Schengen acquis which relate to law enforcement and
judicial co-operation, including the Schengen Information System
(SIS). We are now ready to apply formally to participate under
Article 4 of the Schengen Protocol and I am writing today to Otto
Schily, the German Minister of the Interior and acting President
of the JHA Council, with the UK's formal application. The Irish
Government intends to make a parallel application along similar
I enclose a copy of our application, which consists
of a list of the Articles of the Schengen Implementing Convention
and supplementary acquis in which we wish to participate, together
with a commentary addressing the implications of participation.
This identifies those Schengen provisions which will require primary
legislation and addresses the question of territorial application.
I will report to the JHA Council that the UK
has lodged its application but I do not anticipate substantive
discussion. The next stage will be for the Commission to issue
its Opinion on our application, after which a draft Council Decision
will be issued for discussion in the Council. We shall of course
formally submit this draft Decision for scrutiny.
I know your Committee has a keen interest in
Schengen and I will continue to keep you informed as negotiations
on our application progress.
20 May 1999