Examination of Witnesses (Questions 500
TUESDAY 7 NOVEMBER 2000
MP, AND MR
500. Obviously this inquiry, Home Secretary,
is on border controls with the emphasis on controls as a means
of controlling immigration. We have looked at border controls
in other countries which seem to have rather large shortcomings.
At the green border between Germany and the Czech Republic, anybody
can walk through the forest, and, obviously, they catch some,
but they do not catch others. In fact, the southern border of
Spain on the Straits of Gibraltar did not seem to us to be enormously
different in the sense that although they catch people off the
ferry, many people came by small boats which they simply could
not catch. I think it made us realise that Schengen countries
tend not to rely on border controls but on internal controls to
do this. One of the things we were told at Sangatte is that one
of the main pull factors, in their view, the reason that they
were coming to the United Kingdom, was because of the greater
access to public services, and Mr Boys Smith mentioned in evidence
that our country is a relatively un-policed society. That really
prompted the thought whether, in this country, we should seriously
consider something similar, not as an alternative to border controls,
but in addition. It is a very sensitive issue and one is not necessarily
suggesting identity cards, but we understand that the Danes have
a system of identity numbers, which does ensure quite effectively
that people who reside in that country can only use public services
if they have an immigration status. What are your thoughts on
this as an approach?
(Mr Straw) There is every sense in making greater
use of unique identification numbers which already exist in our
society. Everybody who is born in this country has what is called
an NHS number, which is taken from the folio of their birth certificate
record, which is held by the registrar. They have that number
and then they have a national insurance number.
501. It is supposed to be unique, but, perhaps,
some people have several.
(Mr Straw) There is work going on to make sure that
they are unique and that people do not develop what are called
"legends", where they take on somebody else's personality
or identification. That work ought to continue because it makes
every sense to have a single number. If you wanted to go down
the Schengen roadwhich, for the avoidance of doubt, I do
not, and neither does the Governmentand lift border controls,
then you would have to have a strong system of internal controls
and that would lead you, inevitably, into a system of compulsory
identification cards. I do not just mean ID cards which are available
for everybody and where there would be a strong incentive for
people to carry them but it would not be an obligation, I mean
where you have to carry your papers with you, as is the case in
most European countries. The police would routinely stop people
to ask them for their papers and a failure to produce papers or
produce a reasonable explanation as to why you have not got them
would itself be an offence. I am not opposed to the idea of the
wider availability of an ID card which is voluntary and where
there is the incentive to use it. I am opposed to having an ID
card which is compulsory to carry and where people have to produce
it on demand to police. I just ask colleagues here to think about
the consequences so far as community relations. The police have
to make judgments about who they ask, but generally speaking they
will be less likely to interrogate people who appear to be white
Anglo-Saxon protestants than other people. So they will be going
to people who looked "foreign" in one way or another.
That would mean that people who had different coloured skin or
had different facial features would be the ones who were stopped.
Given all the problems we have had with "stop and search",
I do not particularly think that this is
502. Would it necessarily have to be as bad
as that, Home Secretary? The impression that I got from the French
experience was that it was not that the police were stopping and
asking people to produce it, it was just that they could not get
access to public services, so it was at that point of delivery
that it was established.
(Mr Straw) The question is: Do you want us to deny
health service to asylum seekers who happen to be ill? Things
are not always what they appear. It is not the case that if asylum
seekers or sans papier in France need health care they
are denied it. It is made available.
503. There already are hundreds of thousands
of illegal immigrants here illegally any way.
(Mr Straw) The proposition being put to me is that
people, presumably, as a means of control, should be denied basic
services. At the moment people who are seeking asylum here, or
people who are otherwise here illegally, cannot claim social security
benefits of any kind. Once they have a right to be here there
is no automatic right to social security benefit, by no means.
Even under the returning residents rule that is strictly controlled.
People do have a right to health treatment, leaving aside elected
cosmetic treatment, which you could exclude. Then there is the
issue of schooling. Is it really being said that children of asylum
seekers, who will not have made the decision themselves to come
here, should be denied the right to be educated.
504. The case is not being made for an inhumane
regime of access to public services, but simply the production
of an identity number when claiming public services. It could
well be that the Government will be well advised to make some
of the public services available to asylum seekers and visitors,
but at the moment there is no check and that has been cited as
one of the reasons why a lot of people prefer to come to this
country rather than other European countries.
(Mr Straw) Of course the people who are waiting at
Calais want to come here.
505. That is one of the reasons they cite.
(Mr Straw) I know, but there is a huge number of other
people who want to go somewhere else and do not want to come to
the United Kingdom. That is often ignored in the discussion. At
a rough guess we probably account for one in six of the applications
that are made across the EU. Five out of six of the people who
apply for asylum in the EU apply somewhere else.
506. You made the point yourself, Home Secretary,
that many countries, Spain, Italy and France, turn a blind eye
and allow employers to turn a blind eye because they need the
labour. What we are talking about is effectiveness of different
forms of control. Supposing a country wants to control immigration,
what is the most effective way of doing it, is it through borders,
is it through identity cards, is it through access to public services
or is it through access to jobs? We are just enquiring whether
access to public services might not be an effective way, not necessarily
instead of border controls, because nobody is advocating dissolving
those, but in addition to it.
(Mr Straw) I am always ready to consider suggestions
which improve control and enforcement but do not act in an inhumane
way. Certainly the ones which more readily deter wholly unfounded
applications, yes, and there is a strong case anyway for a unique
identification number and then for ensuring that each person only
has one of them, which is another matter. That leads someone to
the whole issue of holding biodata on these individuals and matching
the biodata to the individual.
507. Photographs or fingerprints?
(Mr Straw) Photographs or fingerprints, yes.
508. Home Secretary, we were told by both Customs
and Immigration that they are very pleased with the extra resources.
(Mr Straw) Good.
509. And what this has delivered in terms of
extra numbers of staff, as we have seen lately with Customs with
the investment in the new scanning equipment. Is it your general
impression that both staffing numbers and the availability of
new technology is either enough, or beginning to be enough, to
enable both of those services to do the job we expect of them?
(Mr Straw) We can always do with more but the changes
in the budgets are pretty extraordinary. For example, the budget
for the Immigration Service's Enforcement Directorate was £45
million, that is 1995-96, then dropped to £42½ million,
43, 43, 46 last year, up then in the current year to £197.23
million and it is rising still further next year. The total Immigration
Service, again, in real terms, faced cuts in the mid 1990s, just
to reinforce the point I made earlier, rose from 133 in 1998-99
to £145 million 1999-2000, this year it has more than doubled
to £313 million and it is rising again. I will ask Stephen
to comment more widely on this issue as well.
(Mr Boys Smith) I think having suffered a period when
there was not only in cash terms but in the relationship between
the number of staff and the work of the job to be done a real
decline, we are now in a completely different situation, both
as regards the port and as regards enforcement. Just to add to
the financial figures. During the current year we are bringing
in about 1,200 additional immigration officers, about 500 assistant
immigration officers, split between ports again, ports in total
AIO and IO about 1200 and enforcement about 500. So the Enforcement
Directorate, not only in cash terms but with some capital expenditure,
is doubling in size in terms of the people who can deliver the
job. This is an enormous transformation. Alongside the transformation
are the increases in staffing on the case working side, which
is of course very relevant for the reasons we discussed earlier,
400 extra case workers for the current year. I think, like the
Home Secretary, I have to say one could always do with more and
you would expect any manager to say one could always do with more
but this is putting us in a position to get on top of the job
in a way which has not been the case for a very large number of
years, indeed the key lesson perhaps from history is once the
backlog builds up it takes a great deal of time to get on top
and get back in a real sense of the situation. We are now on our
way to doing that, although not by any means there yet.
(Mr Straw) We are aware ofto come back to the
point Mr Malins raised much earlierspeed of decision-making
and then enforcement and removal. That is why we are having this
four fold increase in the investment in the Enforcement Directorate.
510. Eurostar, Home Secretary, a couple of years
ago or more I raised the matter with the Government who said the
matter was all in hand and we did not need to worry too much about
what was going to happen. My understandingand you can correct
me if I am wrongis there are still 500 people a month coming
in to Waterloo through Eurostar as illegal entrants, is that right?
(Mr Straw) It is about right. I do not think I ever
said nothing needed to happen. What happened was it built up as
a problem originally on the Belgium to London route and my then
opposite number, Monsieur Van Lanot, agreed very readily to the
imposition of the Carriers Liability provisions on that route.
That has led to a very significant decline in the number of clandestines
on the Brussels to London route.
(Mr Straw) Then they transferred to the Paris to London
route and it has been a significant leakage point for us. As a
result of that we have been negotiating this additional protocol.
512. Let us look at the negotiations which have
actually happened. Eurostar is a commuter train, so tell me if
my proposition is wrong. Somebody buys a single at Lille to get
them to Paris or somewhere like that and simply remains upon the
train. They do not need proper documents, they are not properly
checked. They cannot be thrown off the train under French law
and when they get to Waterloo they cannot be thrown off back to
France. That is the case, is it not?
(Mr Straw) Yes.
513. What can be done about that, Home Secretary?
(Mr Straw) Hang on a second. A lot is already being
done about it, all right? If you want to allocate responsibility,
Mr Malins, this goes back to what was just a hole in the original
Sangatte Treaty. Now at that stage what ought to be pleaded in
mitigation by those who signed it was that asylum was not a particularly
big issue. That is the problem we have had. We have negotiated
effectively with the French. We have agreed this additional protocol
and it is going to be ratified by both Governments and the French
expect it to take place in the summer.
514. That is all very well, Home Secretary,
but nobody has said my scenario of what happens is incorrect.
I am telling you, Home Secretary, it is correct.
(Mr Straw) No.
515. Who is able to stop this at source?
(Mr Straw) That is the whole point of the juxtaposed
controls so that we then seek better to stop it at source.
516. Are you saying that in a year or two's
(Mr Straw) No, we are taking other steps as well meanwhile.
Plainly, with Eurostar, as with all the other means of movement
across the Channel, it is far better for us to prevent people
from coming in the first place than having to deal with the consequences
517. Everyone is powerless, Home Secretary.
Two years on we have still got 500 people coming in on Eurostar.
I am going to go over next month myself and try it to see how
it is worked just to find out whether anybody in either Government
has got a grip on this.
(Mr Straw) Mr Malins, you are not actually, with great
respect, paying attention to what I have said. You are talking
about this Government
518. Good job you did not say that to me in
(Mr Straw) I will do. The previous administration
519. You appear before me and you would get
(Mr Straw) Yes, but I would come back here and get
some legislation through to deal with shirty stipendiaries! The
previous administration failed to deal with this and they failed
to deal with this when they could have been excused that in the
1980s. They failed to deal with it at all when they should not
have been excused of it in the 1990s when there was a big problem.
Within the constraints of international law and this Treaty, we
have got on with the case, strengthening controls and co-operation
with the French border police, PAF and much else besides. We have
now got this agreement signed up, it is a question of legislating
(Mr Boys Smith) First of all, could I associate myself
with the Home Secretary's opening remarks on this. Certainly in
none of the evidence that I gave on the previous occasion in the
summer when I appeared did I suggest that the Waterloo Eurostar
situation was satisfactory. What we have done is to work hard
with the French who have delivered a good deal, although not enough,
to close up the route pending the arrival of the juxtaposed controls.
They are exercising some checks at the Gard du Nord. Those checks
are partially, but by no means wholly, effective. We are continuing
discussions with the French. We hope that before long there will
be a formal exchange of letters which will reinforce what they
are doing in the period before juxtaposed controls come and deal
with the issue finally. So by no means is it satisfactory, but
although I realise these are things one can say and cannot prove,
I am quite clear in my own mind that it would be a great deal
worse were the French not now being as active as they are when
conducting the checks which are already in place, which are checks
at the expense of the French Government, to no purpose of the
French Government but in a spirit of co-operation with ourselves.
520. Thank you, Mr Boys Smith, and thank you,
Home Secretary, for your patience and your courtesy in answering
all the questions we have asked you. I do hope your cold is better
(Mr Straw) Thank you very much indeed.
Chairman: I am just coming out of one myself.
Thank you. We will see you in two weeks.