Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page


Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I am grateful for the support offered from both Opposition Benches, although there was qualified support from the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, who has addressed the issues in the orders with his customary knowledge and precision. As he has raised some important points of qualification, to which it may be beyond me to respond directly today, I shall endeavour to study his comments. I want to take careful note of those.

The noble Viscount, Lord Astor, asked some specific questions relating to powers of authorisation and I shall try to answer those points during my concluding comments. The orders do not cover telephone tapping, e-mails and so on. They are covered explicitly in Part I, Chapter I of RIPA. A definition of "surveillance" is contained in Section 48(2) to (4), which makes it clear that the interception of communications is not treated as surveillance under the Act, except in the limited circumstances where one party to a conversation has consented to it being monitored.

What safeguards are there for prisoners and lawyers? Surveillance in prisons will be subject to a code of practice that will provide safeguards on the use of the power under Section 72(1) with which the Prison Service will be under a duty to comply. I hope that that answers the noble Viscount's questions.

The noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, queried the use of the Secretary of State's time and asked whether there had been an oversight. Applications will not go directly from the Prison Service to the Secretary of State; they will go through a dedicated unit within the Home Office which will provide back-up, insight, support and advice on which the Secretary of State will need to rely. I am sure that that expertise will be most welcome.

The noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, also asked about the position of private prisons and their employees. I recognise that that is an important matter. I want to ensure that I am clear about it and for that reason I want to write to the noble Lord about it. In order that

9 Mar 2001 : Column 482

there can be no confusion, I shall express clearly what their position is. I shall share the letter with noble Lords who have contributed to the discussion and listened to the debate and I shall also place a copy in the Library of the House.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Regulation of Investigatory Powers (Designation of Public Authorities for the Purposes of Intrusive Surveillance) Order 2001

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I have spoken to this order. I beg to move.

Moved, That the draft order laid before the House on 26th February be approved [8th Report from the Joint Committee].--(Lord Bassam of Brighton.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Enlargement and EU External Frontier Controls: EUC Report

1.52 p.m.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire rose to move, That this House takes note of the report of the European Union Committee on Enlargement and EU External Frontier Controls (17th Report, Session 1999-2000, HL Paper 110).

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I am pleased to be introducing a short debate on one of the final reports under my chairmanship of Sub-Committee F of the House of Lords EU Committee. It is a very important, delicate and novel area in which the UK is engaged. As in many other areas, the gap between public understanding of what the UK is involved in and the depth of official engagement seemed to us to be wide.

The report is one of a succession which the committee has undertaken on the UK opt-out of the Schengen agreement and the then UK partial opt-in to the Schengen agreement. The committee, under the chairmanship of my successor, my noble friend Lady Harris of Richmond, is undertaking a study of the Commission's recent proposals on common immigration policy. That is a new area for EU integration. Until 1989, there was no particular problem with the EU's eastern frontier. It was maintained as a solid fortress frontier by the Soviet Union on our "unintended behalf".

This is the first enlargement that has taken place since justice and home affairs became such an important part of European integration, with the agreement to loosen or end internal border controls and compensatory measures to strengthen external frontier controls. The UK is closely involved in that. As we discovered in our study, the opt-in to much of the Schengen agreement makes Britain's borders those of the European Union. That was made explicitly clear by the joint statement from the Prime Minister, Tony Blair, and Giuliano Amato on 4th February. It was

9 Mar 2001 : Column 483

also published in the Observer. I then thought that the attack made by the Opposition spokesperson, Miss Widdecombe, on that statement showed that even the Official Opposition do not fully understand how deeply the British Government and our law enforcement agencies are now engaged in this whole area of activity.

The Blair/Amato statement proposed a number of further measures for co-operation, on which the Minister may want to comment briefly in his concluding remarks. One was the proposed creation of an EU liaison officer network in the western Balkans. The statement reads:


    "We want the network to be up and running by the middle of 2001",

with joint UK and Italian teams of national immigration and police officers circulating around the Balkans. That is another step further towards internationalising the British police and immigration services.

Despite the fact that we are maintaining frontier checks, the UK clearly understands that frontier controls are not enough and that no frontiers can be made watertight, short of re-imposing an iron curtain. That is part of a world-wide surge of legal and illegal immigration, with a great expansion of trafficking in human beings--or "people smuggling", as it is sadly and more popularly known. It comes across the eastern frontiers of the EU into the United Kingdom. Indeed, we read in today's newspapers stories of Nigerian girls coming here as asylum seekers and then being smuggled on to work as prostitutes in Italy. They come into the United Kingdom and then go on into other parts of the EU.

The efficiency and scale of criminal organisation came across to us during the course of the inquiry. We were told by the Polish officials whom we interviewed that, after German complaints, they had managed to tighten their measures against "people smuggling" through Poland, only to discover that the number of people apprehended on the German/Czech border had shot up as the number apprehended on the German/Polish border went down. I am sure that our Czech friends would have told us that as they tightened their controls, so the use of the southern land and sea routes went up by contrast.

Our inquiry drew a number of key conclusions, which I hope contribute at least to a certain level of public information and, we hope in time, debate. First, frontier controls cannot be taken in isolation. There must be broader co-operation among law enforcement agencies and prosecution authorities of the kind which the British Government fully opted into under the Schengen arrangement. There must also be extensive help with training and equipment across the wider justice and home affairs process as a whole.

Secondly, as we say in paragraph 83 of our report, external frontiers need to be half open as well as half closed. They need to be secure against criminals but open to legitimate trade and human contacts--the movement of people. Forty per cent of Russian external trade comes out through the ports of the

9 Mar 2001 : Column 484

Baltic states. That means that after enlargement a substantial amount of Russian external trade will come through the EU. We were given strong evidence that eastern Poland and western Ukraine now hang together economically. We want to ensure as a matter of good relations with the western Ukraine that as Poland joins the EU useful cross-border economic activity is not choked off.

When I was in Estonia for other reasons in May, I was told with a smile by an Estonian official that Estonia intended to issue multiple-entry visas to the drivers of the Russian shunters who moved goods trains backwards and forwards across the border several times a day. Such activity must continue. The Transylvanian issue between Hungary and Romania is also important and I understand that my noble friend Lord Watson of Richmond will address it later.

Kaliningrad, which during the study we covered only at the margins, will become an enclave after enlargement within the EU. Two weeks ago when I was at a conference in Moscow the Kaliningrad issue came up sharply as being important and sensitive in Russian/EU relations. In some ways it is like the Cyprus problem; everyone knows that it is going to be a problem--and perhaps an awkward problem--once the enlargement negotiations are finished, but no one wishes to address it at the moment.

Our third conclusion is that effective controls require good co-operation with those on the other side. We had impressive evidence from Finnish officials about the way in which the Finns already manage their border with Russia. Effective frontier management requires you to have excellent relations with those on the other side, in order to assist those on the other side to understand how you are managing cross-border relations. The Finns told us that they have done their best to export their expertise to Estonia and Latvia as part of a training programme.

Clearly, this means that in relation to Russia and Ukraine and, in time, Moldova and--with even greater difficulty--Belarus, there must be an extensive shared EU programme to assist in maintaining a worthwhile relationship. This is not just a Third Pillar issue but an aspect of European Union foreign policy.

The conference that I attended in Moscow was about the northern dimension of EU foreign policy and the whole Russia-EU relationship. I was struck by the extent to which the Russia-EU relationship ran all the way from questions of arms control and status to sewage management in Kaliningrad and St Petersburg. All of these issues matter a great deal to all of us in the EU and, particularly in terms of waste water treatment, to our friends in the Baltic states, Sweden, Finland, Denmark, Poland and Germany.

Fourthly, there is no reason why this dossier should delay enlargement. One of the reasons why we undertook this inquiry was the real danger that anxiety among the public in Germany and Austria about opening of the border would become an obstacle to enlargement in the course of the next year. For that reason, I was extremely happy to note that in his report to the Bundestag on the Nice Summit on 19th January

9 Mar 2001 : Column 485

the German Chancellor spent a good deal of time on the question of freedom of movement. He said that Germany was prepared to allow the matter to go ahead subject to a transitional period before frontier controls were entirely lifted within the European Union. He spoke about "sensible transitional arrangements" and a four to seven-year interim period in moving towards complete open frontiers within an enlarged European Union.

Some of those who attended the British-Austria seminar yesterday tell me that the Austrian representatives were also much concerned about the transitional arrangements. One trade unionist suggested that it would be fine to open the frontier once wages on the other side were the same as those in Austria, provided that emergency measures were allowed to close the frontier again if too many people came in. Clearly, there are many sensitivities here which concern the British less than those on the EU's front line, as it were.

A further major point made in the report, about which I hope the Government will say something, is the need for much more generous financial assistance to the new applicants. Dr Lehnguth of the German Ministry of the Interior said, bluntly, that "the costs are enormous". By and large, the scale of the costs has not been matched either by the bilateral assistance or the multilateral EU PHARE programme. I was interested in the Government's response from Barbara Roche. We were told that,


    "A number of options are currently under discussion in EU fora, which seek to establish a strategy for financial burden-sharing in managing the EU's external frontier ... It would however be the first occasion on which external assistance had been provided for a state's responsibilities for controlling its own frontiers. The Government would want to examine the implications of this for its own frontier control as well as any precedents for other areas of EU competence before adopting this solution".

I hope that the Minister will say a little more about that in his closing remarks.

That tells us that the British Government have an ambivalent attitude towards shared Community financing and that discussions are under way about which, so far as I am aware, this House--or its relevant committees--have not been informed. After all, we are talking about the rebuilding of physical frontier posts, substantial investment in information technology and training, decent salaries for those who are members of these national border controls and, if we follow the Finnish example, electronic measures to ensure that the border remains secure in between those frontier posts. Once these countries become full members of the Schengen system, Germany, Austria and, earlier, the Netherlands and Belgium will save a great deal of money on their own national frontier controls. Many of us believe it is entirely appropriate that that should be a matter for common EU funding.

We also noted the lack of co-ordination among different bilateral programmes. The United Kingdom is, happily, engaged in a number of areas: the development of liaison officers, about which I know my noble friend Lady Harris of Richmond will say

9 Mar 2001 : Column 486

more; and twinning programmes with ministries of the interior and judicial systems. However, we were told by witnesses that different countries had different bilateral programmes, and that on occasions they simply did not fit together. We were also told that the United States was involved in a certain amount of bilateral training programmes and those also failed to fit in with EU measures. That is another area in which we believe the British Government should act with others to ensure that there is proper provision, fully co-ordinated

As someone who has worked on matters to do with NATO, there are some comparisons to be drawn with the Partnership for Peace programme under which NATO has provided all those countries with very extensive retraining of their armed forces. When I was in the Baltic states I met several British military officers who were members of training teams in Latvia and Estonia--a substantial number of people of excellent quality who were doing first-class work. That is the kind of thing that we should now be doing in relation to the police, judicial and border services in these various countries.

We recognise that the United Kingdom faces particular problems in this regard. We have a national organisation for our Armed Forces but a local organisation for our police forces. One of the matters that I suspect my noble friend Lady Harris will want to raise is the particular budgets from which these things are paid. We were informed by the National Criminal Intelligence Service that the liaison officer network was currently paid for through a precept on police authority budgets. This seems to us as we become very much more international a great deal less appropriate than a new budget line for this very important extension of national involvement in multinational co-operation.

We welcome the British contribution. To quote the report, we were told by Inspector Borek of the Polish Police Force that,


    "there are two countries to which Poland was particularly indebted: Germany and the United Kingdom, in that order".

If he was asked to name a third country it would be the United States. Therefore, Britain has been a great deal more helpful and active in this area than many others.

We were particularly impressed by the quality of the liaison officer we met in Warsaw and what we learnt about British involvement in expanding the network of liaison officers. We would very much like to hear more about further plans for that expanding network; how that fits in with existing police practice; and how the Government intend to report to Parliament on its further development.

Lastly, therefore, we ask for more open reporting on liaison officers, on the depth of British involvement in Schengen, on the evaluation missions in which British police are engaged and so on.

One of the most interesting exchanges in the inquiry was the exchange between the noble Baroness, Lady Knight, and a number of policemen about precisely how closely Britain is now involved in the Schengen system, with the noble Baroness following the official

9 Mar 2001 : Column 487

line that we are by and large out and the policemen operating as if we were by and large in. That may be the impression that the Government wish to give the Daily Mail and the Sun, but it would be rather more sensible if we were prepared to be a little more honest about how deeply involved we are.

There are a number of other issues that follow from this. For example, in one of our previous reports we talked about the need for the Government to consider the relationship of British airport controls, since we are part of the external frontier, and the way in which the Schengen system operates. We have border checks, but, as the recent stories about Nigerian girls coming in show, we are very much part of the EU's external frontier. The idea that we should not think about redesigning our own frontier controls so as to distinguish between the huge numbers of people who come into Britain from other parts of the EU and the smaller numbers of people who come in from outside the EU, is outdated.

British immigration policies are clearly part now of a European set of immigration problems and policies. There are wider issues here which were raised in the Government response. The Minister welcomed the Commission's paper as


    "a contribution to the growing debate on the benefits and challenges of managed migration which must respond to the changes in the world and to national, economic and social interests".

Having now retired as chairman of that committee, I welcome the sub-committee now discussing and examining the current Commission proposals on a community immigration policy. I beg to move.


    Moved, That this House takes note of the report of the European Union Committee on Enlargement and EU External Frontier Controls [17th Report, Session 1999-2000, HL Paper 110].--(Lord Wallace of Saltaire.)


Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page