Select Committee on European Communities Seventeenth Report


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 different geography.

  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 the Committee

UK PARTICIPATION IN SCHENGEN ACQUIS

  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 lines.

  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


 
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