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Lord Watson of Richmond: My Lords, nevertheless, will the Minister acknowledge, particularly when we look towards the second wave of candidates, that the amount of resources available on a multilateral level within the European Union and the PHARE
Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I am sure that the priority is understood. Certainly it is understood by our Government. No doubt that is an issue which will be examined most closely in the various discussions and meetings which will need to take place. It would be negligent if we did not do that and the Government are of course aware of that issue.
We also recognise the need to ensure that EU enlargement does not create fresh divisions between new member states and their neighbours who will remain outside the EU. Some very sensible observations were made on that particular set of issues.
The Government are thinking carefully about the consequences of EU enlargement for the countries further east, and we have encouraged the Commission and candidate countries to take into account views of the EU's new neighbours. And by furthering co-operation between the EU and Balkan countries following the Prime Minister's initiative on combating people smuggling, we shall further extend the area of freedom, security and justice.
It is important to recognise that there will be a new relationship between new member states and their eastern neighbours. That is inevitable. But that does not mean that genuine travellers should be in any way disadvantaged. There are a range of ways to deal with the situation. The Schengen acquis recognises the existence of routine frontier traffic and regular travellers, for example.
But while the Government consider that we should be sensitive to the implications of enlargement for those outside the EU, we should not over-react to the situation. That is a relationship in which adjustments will be made on both sides. For example, last year, Poland introduced a visa regime for citizens of Belarus and, from discussions with the Polish authorities, we know that the implementation of that regime has not caused major problems, which we find very encouraging.
A number of points and questions were put to me during the debate and I shall try to deal with some of the issues. Border control was at the heart of those observations. On a point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, the UK supports the efforts of the EU to develop close partnerships with the countries of eastern Europe. We believe that strengthening border management, administration and co-operation in the fight against organised crime is an important element in that co-operative relationship. The EU and its member states have
A number of observations were made about resources. A number of options are currently under discussion within the EU fora generally to establish a strategy for financial burden-sharing in managing the EU's external frontier. The Government do not view the fact that those have yet to bear fruit as a lack of commitment to enlargement. However, it would be the first occasion on which external assistance has been provided in relation to a state's responsibilities for controlling its own frontiers. The Government want to examine the implication of all that in relation to their own frontier controls, as well as any precedence for other areas of EU competence, before adopting some of the solutions that apparently have been canvassed.
The noble Lord, Lord Wallace, drew attention to the issue of illegal immigration. As a government, our concern is to ensure that EU enlargement does not adversely affect the current situation within the EU. The assessment that eastern enlargement, without improvements in border controls, will exacerbate illegal immigration, trafficking in people and drugs and organised crime is based upon close examination by technical experts. Currently, there are several points of challenge on routes into the EU through central and eastern Europe. When candidate countries join the EU effectively there will be only one: the frontier control into the candidate country itself.
In many of the countries border demarcation, which will form the new EU border, has yet to be defined. In some candidate countries, road and rail crossings are unstaffed and the only controls in force are at the main airports. There is evidence to suggest that some of the candidate countries do not yet have the expertise or the resources to patrol borders in order to provide an effective control. That aspect of enlargement must be carefully monitored. Several noble Lords on the Liberal Benches, rightly drew attention to that. The noble Lord, Lord Wallace, referred in particular to liaison officers.
It is worth saying that in addition to our immigration liaison officers in the Balkans, our key agencies, including the police, Prison Service, NCIS, NCS and other NGOs, are involved across all the applicant countries. We have drug liaison officers in Warsaw, Budapest, Sofia and Bucharest and we shall consider posting further liaison officers as the need arises and as enlargement and the difficulties and problems of enlargement become more apparent.
I believe that the noble Baroness, Lady Harris, quite rightly raised the costs of SIS participation. That has a cost implication, but it needs to be considered against the broader picture of police funding. In terms of Schengen, we believe that it represents a valuable investment in the fight against cross-border crime. The Home Office has appointed a programme manager, tasked to deliver by the end of May a definition of the programme, its organisational structure, a timetable
The noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, asked about target dates for enlargement. As I said earlier, we believe that target dates galvanise negotiations and that the time is fast approaching for the EU to concentrate minds by setting a target date for the conclusion of negotiations with those countries that are ready for membership.
It is a matter for debate as to whether the Gothenburg Council would be the right time to do so and that will depend on a number of factors, including, I would argue, progress in negotiations between then and now.
Perhaps more provocatively, the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, asked about the comments made by my right honourable friend the Home Secretary about a stiffening of resolve on some of the border matters. It is right that my right honourable friend made that observation. This is a serious issue and hard considerations must be taken up and given proper examination. And yes, sometimes there will have to be a stiffening of resolve. There is nothing wrong in saying that and being plain about our intentions from the outset.
I said that the committee's inquiry feeds into a vitally important debate on EU enlargement which will no doubt continue throughout this year. I hope that today's debate will not be our last opportunity to discuss the issues raised and I welcome the committee's report as a contribution to that debate.
The debate presents an opportunity for me to reflect on the views of the House and the importance of the work carried out by the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, during his excellent chairmanship of Sub-Committee F. As he now steps away from that role, we are eternally grateful to him for the quality of debate which his expert knowledge has provided. I am sure that the whole House will want to join me in thanking him for his most valuable contribution. Sadly, the noble Baroness, Lady Harris of Richmond, has left the Chamber, but we look forward to her continued contribution as chair of that committee.
Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have taken part in the debate. The subject deserves a fuller House than we were able to achieve on a Friday afternoon. I want to underline everything the Minister said about the issue being an important one to which we must return on a number of occasions.
The noble Lord, Lord Howell, mentioned identity cards. They were considered in one of our previous inquiries. I well remember his noble friend Lord Pilkington becoming convinced during the inquiry that Britain should opt in entirely to the Schengen arrangement and that we should also adopt identity cards. I suspect that that is the direction in which we shall find ourselves going. We are of course half way towards having identity cards in this country. I have
The issue of frontier controls raises questions about the relationship between an enlarged EU and its new near neighbours. Other sub-committees of the House's EU Committee will deal with that. The problem of what happens if there is a gap between rich and poor at the border which sucks in crime, illegal labour and so forth is part of the reason an EU strategy towards Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia and Libya is a very important part of dealing with the issue of immigration.
I must not delay the House--it is time for everyone to go home. I simply ask the Minister to consider the expansion of the liaison officer network. It is an interesting and important departure in policing practices and in the practice of the Home Office. I suggest that as the Prime Minister has committed us to a further enlargement in respect of which there are major budgetary implications, it might be appropriate after the election to have a Home Office consultative paper on the subject.
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