§ The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Douglas Hurd)
I beg to move,That this House takes note of European Community Document No. 10412/88 relating to the abolition of controls of persons at intra-community frontiers; and endorses the Government's view that in considering the relaxation of frontier controls within the European Community the Government must keep in place necessary measures to control terrorism, drug trafficking and other crime, and immigration from non-community countries.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Paul Dean)
I must announce to the House that Mr. Speaker has not selected the amendment in the name of the hon. Member for Thanet, South (Mr. Aitken) and his hon. Friends.
§ Mr. Hurd
The debate gives the House an opportunity to take stock of our position on the relaxation of frontier controls in Europe.
I should like to make one point at the outset. We believe that frontier checks will continue to be a useful, indeed an indispensable, part of the protection for our citizens against the evils of terrorism, drug trafficking and organised crime, and also against illegal immigration. The documents before us show divergence from the European Commission on this principle. We hold strongly to the validity of the general declaration annexed to the Single European Act, which stated:Nothing in the provisions of the Act shall affect the right of Member States to take such measures as they consider necessary for the purpose of combating terrorism, crime and the traffic in drugs.That does not mean that our stance is unreasoning or that we are smugly satisfied with present arrangements. On the contrary, I believe that we are at the start of a period of steadily intensifying co-operation within the Community in police work and in many legal matters. For many years the meetings of the Trevi group of Ministers of the Interior and Justice were relatively few and routine. Now we meet often, for example in Madrid next week, and our programme of work has become formidable.
We in the United Kingdom are among the leaders in encouraging these forward moves, because I believe that they can add to the safety of our citizens. I shall give one or two examples. The more closely we work against the drug trafficker, the better aligned our laws are on extradition, the more effectively we can provide for the confiscation of the assets of convicted criminals in each other's countries and the more clearly we understand each other's policies on immigration and asylum, the more effective we shall be in protecting our own peoples. I hope that we shall spend the next two or three years before the end of 1992 not in jousts between lawyers or in loud rhetorical wrangles over the principle of frontiers, but in solid practical work together in strengthening that protection. This is a new dimension of Home Office work and it is becoming one of the most important.
I should like to make another important preliminary point. The debate and the documents are concerned only with frontier controls as they affect the movement of people but the Single European Act goes much wider. The House will have other opportunities to discuss, for example, the proposals made by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer for reducing frontier formalities on the movement of goods.
394 The Government welcome the production of a Commission report which pulls together a number of issues related to frontiers and the free movement of Community nationals. We also welcome the recognition given in the report, which has been in evidence in our recent dealings with the Commission, that practical problems require practical solutions. This has been the keystone of the Government's approach. This was the way we tackled the Single European Act and it is the way we are now approaching negotiations with our European partners on frontiers following the Single European Act.
Daily in my mind must be the constant battle that the police and Customs services of Europe are fighting against the evils I have mentioned—terrorism, organised crime and the traffic in drugs. The Commission's report misunderstands the value of these important frontier checks. Indeed, it says:anyone with intimate knowledge of these matters knows that the present frontier controls are ineffective".I do not accept that. Indeed, common sense tells us that that is not the case. The functions and effectiveness of border controls vary a good deal from country to country, depending largely on matters of geography. It is obviously more difficult to maintain a full system of control at land borders than it is at natural boundaries. We find that ourselves in Northern Ireland. But it is strange logic to say that, because land frontiers are harder to check, there should be no checks at sea and air frontiers, where checks are fairer and more effective.
The contribution that such checks make to the fight against terrorism and serious crime cannot be assessed precisely, though it is clearly significant. The deterrent effect, for example, is bound to be impossible to measure, but we know that terrorists and criminals recognise the controls as a point where they are vulnerable. The intelligence gathered from observation or questions at frontiers can prove vital in piecing together a picture of a terrorist's or criminal's movements or plans. The frontier checks we operate provide a ready opportunity to arrest and charge suspected offenders and to seize illegal goods.
However, the frontier check is not the only weapon against terrorism and serious crime. We must aim at defence in depth, by which I mean defence forward of our own frontiers—in other countries, within the borders of our partners—defence within our own frontiers—in our own towns and cities—and, where necessary and reasonable, defence at our frontiers.
Increasing co-operation with our European partners is an important part of our policy. We entirely agree with the emphasis that the Commission's report places on collaboration to prevent and combat international crime and terrorism. However, we should not believe that improving the way in which European law enforcement agencies work together can be a full substitute for border controls. This work is worth while in its own right, and we shall certainly press ahead with it.
In the Europan Community this work is carried out, as I have mentioned, within the Trevi framework. We are active, too, within individual states. In January I signed an arrangement with my opposite number in Italy to provide formally for police co-operation—particularly against terrorism, drug trafficking and serious crime. We are talking to the French about a similar agreement, which I hope to sign later this summer. Of course, all that is on top of the more informal help that our police forces give each other day by day.
395 We shall have to pay increasing attention to the prevention of drug misuse and to the enforcement of our laws against that in the coming months. In that respect, the value of frontier controls is again beyond doubt. Customs seized some 90 per cent. or more by weight of the heroin, cocaine and cannabis seized in the United Kingdom in 1987. It is clear that there is a significant trade in drugs within the Community. Last year about half the weight of cannabis and one third of the cocaine seized by Customs came from or through other EC countries.
Of course, we are not the only country to seize drugs at internal frontiers. It is interesting that, in 1987, French Customs made 36 per cent. by weight of their cannabis seizures at the Spanish border and 38 per cent. of their heroin seizures at the borders with their Schengen partners. So it is quite clear that strengthening the external frontier of the Community, although desirable in itself, would not by itself provide an adequate defence against drug trafficking. It would be ridiculous to argue that checks could not be made in the United Kingdom where it was easiest and most effective to do so, for example at our national frontiers. It would be ridiculous to argue that it is fine to catch a drug trafficker in Europe before he gets here; it is fine to catch him once he is in our city and towns; but the one thing we are not allowed to do is to catch him where it might be easiest to do so—at our seaports and airports.
Where there is precise intelligence, one can choose where the pounce on the drug traffickers should be made. It must be understood that a great number of these seizures are made at the frontier either cold—without precise intelligence—or as a result of profiling. That means that the seizures depend on officers being at the frontier to observe, select, question and examine. These checks should not be onerous or unreasonable, and I do not think that they are. They are not routine checks on every passenger. They are made because an officer's suspicions have been aroused by something he has seen or, sometimes, they are the product of random checks.
I believe that there is an increasing coming together of views on this point. There was some rather excited press comment a few days ago alleging that Sir Leon Brittan disagreed with the Government about the value of these border checks. In fact, what Sir Leon said was consistent with the Government's view. He said:The control of drug trafficking involves, amongst many other things, the ability to conduct checks wherever that may be necessary. This might be at the Community's external frontiers, at the present internal frontiers or anywhere else.That was an important statement. His audience of British police officers acting against drug trafficking were reassured by what he said. He made it plain that nobody wants to deprive the forces of law and order of the right to check for drugs anywhere. When commenting on the changes needed at internal frontiers, he said that there would always be the possibility of a spot check here as anywhere else in the United Kingdom.
§ Mr. Teddy Taylor (Southend, East)
Whether we agree or disagree with what Sir Leon Brittan or anyone else has said, will the Minister at some stage be saying whether these proposed directives on firearms, drugs, visas and extradition ought to be considered under the majority vote procedure or under unanimity? Could he also say clearly, so that the people of Britain will know, whether the 396 proviso stuck on the annex of the Single European Act means that, even if unsatisfactory directives are passed, we can ignore them because of that annex to the Act?
§ Mr. Hurd
I would rather not give a blanket reply, since my hon. Friend mentioned a number of directives and they may fall under different articles of the Single European Act. My hon. Friend the Minister of State, who is to reply, will be able to deal with both the points raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Southend, East (Mr. Taylor).
Another matter that I know interests my hon. Friend is immigration. As I have said, there is a growing convergence of view on the question of frontier checks to protect citizens against particular kinds of crime. I believe that the problem of immigration is somewhat more difficult to solve. One important benefit of the Single European Act is, of course, the freedom of movement rights that it gave to citizens of the European Community. These rights reflect the high and growing common interest between all European partners. The right to freedom of movement for our own nationals to and fro in accordance with the provisions of the treaty is such a shared interest. Our partners give that right to our citizens and we give freedom of movement, for example, to the German business man or the Danish holidaymaker wishing to come to Britain.
However, nothing in the Single European Act conferred rights of free movement on non-EC citizens. That is our clear view, but others in the European Community hold a different legal view of the impact of the Single European Act on this problem. I believe that we need to set these legal divergences to one side, as I do not think they help with the practical problem. I do not think they will be easily or quickly resolved. We need practical solutions to the practical problems. We certainly would not quarrel with member states that have long land frontiers if they wish to operate their checks on non-EC nationals in their cities or workplaces. Equally, we do not expect to be criticised if we operate our checks on non-EC nationals at the water's edge. As we are an island, that is the sensible and practical place for us to do so.
§ Mr. John Wheeler (Westminster, North)
My right hon. Friend touches on a most important point. Does he agree that, for the suppression of illegal drugs and to control illegal immigration, it is essential to maintain our existing arrangements? Elsewhere in Europe, the countries and police systems of the Economic Community often have available procedural devices—particularly identity card checks and controls over who stays in hotels—not available to the United Kingdom. Were we to change or weaken the arrangements a t our airports or seaports, we would not have these other devices at our disposal.
§ Mr. Hurd
I agree with my hon. Friend. A country such as France, with an immense land frontier with hundreds of crossing points, some of them small roads—as applies between the North of Ireland and the Republic—has a real problem. Like everybody else, the French want to be protected against massive illegal immigration. The French Government might quite rationally decide that it is not sensible to put too much reliance on border checks but that it is better to have internal means of control. In a private Member's Bill debate, the House has discussed a compulsory identity card system and made its view clear. 397 Thus, I do not think that that path is open to us. A voluntary system is slightly different, but would not solve the problem.
That is an illustration not just of differences of history, but of differences of geography that our partners in the Community as a whole need to take into account. For example, the Dutch, with their important seaports and airports, are conscious of this point. We are certainly not alone in stressing the importance of geography in these matters.
There is a difference between the legal views of this country and others in the European Community. However, that does not mean that we have to rest exactly as we are now. We have already made a change, by introducing a new immigration channel at ports and airports, fusing the British and EC channels. Hon. Members who have been through Heathrow and Gatwick in recent weeks will know that.
What we want to aim at—this is in line with what my hon. Friend was arguing—is that all EC nationals should enter this country with the minimum of immigration checks. There should not be a lengthy questioning procedure on entry to the United Kingdom for citizens of our Community partners or our own citizens. They all now have clear rights under the Single European Act. Citizens of our Community partners should be able to enter the country with the same ease as our citizens. There should simply be the normal requirement that one produces one's passport to show that one is who one says one is. In this case, a person would be shown to be an EC national. I believe that the new streamlined channel is a practical indication of our commitment to the spirit of the Single European Act.
§ Mr. Max Madden (Bradford, West)
Non-EC nationals who are settled here and in many cases have lived here for a long time are invariably required to obtain re-entry visas when they have travelled overseas. Will the Home Secretary give a clear assurance that, under any new arrangements, these people will not face more onerous procedures? Will he ensure that they have easier access to return to their homes and families in this country than at present?
§ Mr. Hurd
That position will remain entirely unchanged. There is nothing in the Single European Act or in anything that we are contemplating that would in any way make travel more difficult for the people the hon. Member has mentioned.
The Government's reaction to the report is, as I hope our reply to it makes clear, straightforward. We have a positive commitment to freer travel for Community citizens within the Community. We also have a positive commitment and a need to maintain the checks that are necessary and reasonable to protect our people against terrorism and other serious crime and to maintain the immigration control that we believe is necessary for good relations within our cities.
That is the message which I hope commends itself to the House and which we should try to carry forward in the network of discussions in groups within the Community over the next two or three years.
§ Mr. Alistair Darling (Edinburgh, Central)
I welcome the fact that the Secretary of State has been willing to explain some of the matters that have been discussed in the Trevi group over the past few months and years. However, several matters have been discussed in the Trevi group and other groups within Europe, but the Home Secretary has nut touched upon them. I hope that the Minister will answer some of our questions.
The document has quite far-reaching implications. Like many other EEC documents, it is not quite what it seems. The document will affect the rights of people to move in and to enter Europe. More importantly, it contemplates control of regulations and of policy passing to Ministers in Europe, and day-to-day decisions affecting the movement of people passing to officials hundreds, if not thousands of miles, away at outposts throughout Europe. Yet again, decision-making is moving from this country to the EEC. Ministers have it in mind to create a ring fence around Europe after 1992. They wish to create "fortress Europe". In the documents, they talk about a people's Europe, but, apparently, some people's rights will be more equal than others.
I will make a distinction between the control of crime, terrorism, drugs and so on and the movement of tourists, visitors, students and those who wish to settle in Europe. I agree that frontiers have an important role to play in the fight against crime, but it must be accepted that frontiers are not the complete answer. The Secretary of State will know that many people who are stopped at our frontiers have been followed or been under surveillance for, perhaps, many months beforehand, and the frontier is a convenient point at which to arrest somebody who is suspected of having committed an offence. Although the right hon. Gentleman said by way of introduction that the Chancellor may have something more to say about Customs control, Customs and frontier control go hand in hand in detecting the movement of those who will commit criminal offences.
More important than that, drug traffickers tend not to declare their purpose or occupation when they go through immigration control. Sometimes, the importance of frontiers can be over-estimated. However, it is not part of the Opposition's argument that this country should seek to remove its frontier control.
EEC nationals also have been guilty of crimes in the past. Under the proposals, they will be allowed to move more or less with impunity. In general, the proposals do not encourage me to believe that they will do anything greatly to assist the fight against international crime.
I now refer to the proposals as they affect the movement of people. Several problems are posed by the document. We must consider the effect of the ring fence around Europe. If anybody going to any European port of entry—for example, Athens, Amsterdam or wherever—is refused entry, they are refused not just for that country but for the whole of the European Community. Whether one is a tourist, visitor, asylum seeker, it does not matter. If an individual is refused entry in Athens, he is refused entry not just to Greece but everywhere within the EEC. That is an unsatisfactory state of affairs. The standards in each country are different, attitudes are different, and the tests and rules are different and, in many cases, quite subjective.
One can envisage a situation in which someone might arrive at a port of entry at the wrong time, at the wrong 399 place, and meet the wrong officer, fall foul of that officer, and be refused entry, whereas, if he had arrived a few hours earlier and met a different officer, he might have been admitted. Some of the rules and regulations are quite arbitrary and open to different interpretations.
There is concern that, once refused entry, there is no immediate appeal. What appeal system is contemplated in the event that somebody is refused? There must be a clearly defined statement of what rules will prevail in Europe. It must be clear that the onus of proof is on the challenger. It should not be for somebody seeking to come into Europe to prove his case. There must be an appeal system which works and is seen to work. One of the difficulties in this country is that, often, individuals are told that, if they wish to appeal, they should go back to the country from which they came and appeal there. That appeal can take months if not years. It is not a proper appeal system in the true sense of the word.
§ Mr. Nigel Spearing (Newham, South)
I apologise for not hearing everything that the Home Secretary said. One of the points which he did not cover was that, as many hon. Members with constituency interests know, we have a complex but necessary system in the United Kingdom. Is it expected that it will be harmonised with the rest of the EEC? If so, will the Commission and the Council, and not the House, make the rules?
§ Mr. Darling
My hon. Friend makes a good point. I was going to refer to it slightly later. The Home Secretary did not refer to what harmonisation is proposed. As the matter has been raised, I hope that the Minister will tell us which rules are to be followed. Are they to be those of the United Kingdom or of West Germany, for example? Their rules on asylum seekers are rather different. If we are saying that responsibility for admission to this country can pass to an immigration officer in other European countries, we should be sure that the rules are satisfactory. By no means do I suggest that the United Kingdom's immigration rules are anything like satisfactory. If we are to operate European rules, it must be made clear what those rules are, and they must be rules with which the country and Parliament agree and not simply a lowering to the lowest common denominator throughout Europe.
§ Mr. Teddy Taylor
Do I take it that the Labour party accepts that, if someone goes to any part of the European Community—perhaps through Greece, Italy or France—they should have an automatic right of entry into this country? Is that the implicaton? If not, what is the Labour party's view?
§ Mr. Darling
The hon. Gentleman misunderstands the position. I am not suggesting that that is what the Labour party is advocating. I am saying that that is what the document contemplates. When admitted to the EEC, one will be admitted to every country within it. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman might also appreciate that, in theory, after 1992 every citizen of the EEC could come to this country and live here with impunity. That is completely different from the situation which has prevailed. Opposition Members are saying that the situation which is contemplated in this document will lead to many more problems than will be solved.
Another major matter of concern is the exchange of information between member countries. It is convenient to refer to the discussions that have been taking place for 400 some time among the Schengen group of countries—that is, France, West Germany and the Benelux countries. They aim to operate a common travel area by 1990. As those countries represent some of the major countries within Europe, it is fair to examine what the Schengen group are proposing. I suspect that the Schengen group is operating a blueprint for what will happen in Europe after 1992. Having regard to which countries they are, it is inconceivable that those countries would set up a system in 1990 only to see it set aside for something completely different two years later.
Schengen is a pilot study. I should be interested to know from the Minister whether this country has observers or participants within the Schengen group of countries. If we examine what Schengen is proposing, we will see what Europe will look like after 1992. It contemplates an exchange of information. From an excerpt from one of the Schengen documents which examine some of the conditions that might prevail after 1992, and the contemplated exchange of information, it is clear that an obligatory declaration in hotels will be necessary. The head of a place of lodgings must ensure that aliens—those who are not EEC nationals—must declare who they are. Those aliens will have to declare their identity to the head of the establishment.
The declaration cards are to be kept and passed to the appropriate authorities. The information is to be exchanged between authorities and presumably, therefore, between countries within the Schengen group. That is going quite a degree further than the residual controls referred to in the Home Secretary's memorandum published with the papers that we are debating.
Already within this country we exchange information about asylum seekers—where they have come from, where they propose to go, and where they were removed to. In a written answer the Minister of State told me recently that we do not systematically provide information. Of course we provide information. It concerns me that a large amount of information is being swapped around Europe and that those whose names are on the lists are not always aware of it.
A short time ago I visited the Harmondsworth detention centre. Having done so, I went to the intelligence unit, which I found very interesting. I found there a computer with over 300,000 names on it. They were the names of people who have had some adverse contact with immigration officials. Sometimes it was nothing more than a person being detained for a short period and then being allowed to go on his way.
That index can be accessed by any immigration officer in this country. Will the Minister of State tell us whether it is intended that immigration officers throughout Europe can access that computer? That would be a drastic extension of what is happening now. What safeguards are there at present? So far as I am aware, the Data Protection Act 1984 does not apply throughout Europe. Even if it did, it is woefully inadequate for this purpose.
§ Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North)
Is my hon. Friend aware that many people are very concerned about the existence of that computer and the number of names on it? Since it is not information about criminal acts, so far as I am aware, but information about the views of immigration officers on people travelling to and from this country, does he agree that it would be reasonable that 401 that information should be made public and should be made available to the people whose names appear on the list?
§ Mr. Darling
I did not examine each of the 300,000 names, but I was given the opportunity to see how the system worked. The information seemed to be simply remarks made by officers, entered against the person's name. When I was there, I saw how it worked against one individual. When the immigration officer looked at the information, he saw that all that had happened was that every time that person had come into the country he had been stopped. As I was leaving Heathrow, so was he: apparently there was nothing that warranted his detention. If that is the sort of information that is recorded, I can see no reason why people cannot see it.
There is a serious implication if the information is to be accessed throughout Europe. A tourist coming from Torremolinos might find himself detained in a cell somewhere in Europe because the computer thought that he was a terrorist from Turin. That might happen, because mistakes can be made.
What about the landing card index at Lunar house? Anyone who goes there will find that the indexing system is not on the official tour. All landing cards are being computerised. There must be legislation governing the provision of information. People whose names are on these computers have a right to know what information is being held, by whom and for what purpose. If the information is to be available across Europe, before the Government agree to any proposals the House must be invited to legislate on the matter.
§ Mr. Madden
I was most interested in what my hon. Friend said about the computer list at Harmondsworth. He will know that the staff at Harmondsworth are employed by Group 4 under a contract that that company has recently won. My hon. Friend will also know that Group 4, like other security companies, is a subscriber to the Economic League. He will know that the Economic League is always successful in obtaining information through companies which subscribe to it. The mass of information held on the computer may well be available to the Economic League for purposes unknown but likely to be sinister. Does my hon. Friend agree that that should be investigated urgently and that there should be effective safeguards to ensure that the information is not passed to third parties, including the Economic League?
§ Mr. Darling
My hon. Friend raises an important point. The more information that is held on computers and the more that third parties that can get access to it, the greater the scope for abuse. For the sake of accuracy, I should point out that the staff in the intelligence unit are Home Office staff and are not employed by a private company. The Group 4 staff are employed in the detention unit at Harmondsworth.
On the common visa regime, I understand that the proposal is that all countries whose nationals require visas to enter any EEC country will be on one list. The Home Secretary should publish the list at the earliest opportunity. It would be useful to see it. I understand that additions are contemplated.
Visas by their very nature cause injustice. They are discriminatory. We require nationals from six countries to 402 have visas. It is instructive to know why visas are required. On my useful visit to Heathrow I made inquiries about why, suddenly, queues build up for those from some countries but not from others. More flights come from New York every week than from Dhaka or other countries on the Indian subcontinent, yet more and more nationals from the Indian subcontinent were being stopped and queues were building up. The union for the immigration service put pressure on the Government to introduce visas.
When I asked what criteria applied, I was given an example by one senior officer. He said that he and his wife had gone out for dinner at a Thai restaurant the week before. He had noticed that there were more and more Thai restaurants and he had come to the conclusion that because Thai restaurants tended to have Thai staff, there was a chance that more Thais would seek to enter the country to work rather than to visit. Therefore, immigration officials had started to question people coming from Thailand. That is not the sort of objective criterion that we want for visas. When the list is published, we should see what criteria are to apply.
I understand that Turkey may find itself on the list of visa countries. That would be an interesting development, having regard to the fact that that country is seeking to enter the EEC within the next 10 years or so.
There are additional problems. Portugal wishes to maintain links with its former colonies. I give but one example. I understand that Portugal wishes to ensure that citizens living in Macau, a former colony, should be allowed to enter Portugal. If so, they would be able to enter the whole of the EEC. Yet, just across the water from Macau is Hong Kong, a colony of the United Kingdom. We do not propose to have the same arrangement. As a result, the visa regime will cause difficulties and anomalies. I will be interested to hear the Government's policy on that.
Visas also tend to encourage refusals. In the absence of a proper appeal system they can be discriminatory, which, I suspect, they are intended to be in many cases. When one looks at the entry clearance figures for grants and refusals, one is struck by how haphazard and discriminatory the policy can be. For example, a person from a black African country is 10 times more likely to be refused entry to this country than a person from South Africa. If we compare Australia and Pakistan, we find that the same number of applications are made, yet the refusal rate for Pakistan is far greater than that for Australia.
The visa regime brings me to a major problem with asylum seekers and refugees. As we know, sadly, the phenomenon of refugees is growing. The ring fence will cause problems. I understand that the Schengen group is thinking of fingerprinting applicants for asylum or refugee status. They may be required to carry identity cards. We should give much consideration to that.
Considering again the question of controls, I am concerned about what is proposed. I accept that the Secretary of State is not keen on identity cards and I accept the Government's word that we are not to have an ID card system, at least so far. Very often one Government pronouncement is followed swiftly by another from a higher and greater source. If we believe the report in today's Guardian, it appears that these matters are to be taken away from the control of the Home Secretary and are to be run from No. 10 itself.
Internal controls have serious implications. Frontiers have advantages because they avoid internal controls. 403 What will happen to the 15 or 20 million EEC nationals who are legally settled here? Will they be subject to being stopped on entry and being asked to declare who they are? If we are saying that they are legally settled here and are free to set up businesses and so on, but that they may be subject to controls when leaving and re-entering the country, that is wholly undesirable. That is something that I would like the Minister to clarify.
It is all very well to say that we will not have compulsory identity cards in this country or, indeed, in Europe, but my fear is that some of our citizens and some people living in this country may be encouraged to have voluntary identity cards. Just like the banker's card, an identity card may not be compulsory, but it might be a good idea to carry it and certainly "not to leave home without it".
The controls envisaged by the Schengen group are quite far-reaching. One proposal suggests that aliens can cross external borders only at agreed points of entry and at fixed opening times, and that unauthorised external border crossing would lead to punishment or to a fine. Clearly Schengen is proposing far more than that to which the Secretary of State alluded. It is therefore important that the Minister should make clear the Government's policy for internal controls.
The document contemplates that decisions will no longer be made in this Parliament, but by Ministers. That concerns me, too, because under the Official Secrets Bill—shortly, I assume, to become the Official Secrets Act 1989—much of what is decided will be out of sight, out of mind and most certainly secret.
It appears that we shall see the creation of an industry of information-swapping, with no real supervision. It will create a ring-fence regime that will simply be a nursery for random decision-making, because many of the people making the decisions know that they will not be subject to review.
I shall refer to the document of the immigration service union, which it prepared last year in support of its pay claim, because it is indicative of the way in which random decisions are made. I hope that the Minister will pay special attention to this, because I made passing reference to it at the last Question Time and he was rather dismissive of my remarks. In support of wanting more money, the immigration service union said:For example, in Dhaka, one of the biggest immigration service-supported overseas posts, settlement cases are decided roughly on the basis of one issue, one deferral and one refusal for every three interviews conducted.A practice whereby the first person who applies gets in, the next one does not and the third one is deferred does not appear to be an especially objective way of going about business. It does not inspire confidence. However, it does not surprise me to learn that, shortly after that, people were urging that Members of Parliament should have the right to intervene on behalf of their constituents whose friends and relatives were being further curtailed.
We need to state clearly the rights of movement, to know what rules will be established and to have a clear review system. We do not want to give a free hand to people who will discriminate and make arbitrary decisions without challenge. We are at risk—I put it no higher than that—of creating a bureaucracy that would be worthy of the Tsarist regime in its last days before the revolution. It is certainly not the people's Europe that is contemplated in the introduction to the document.
§ Mr. Darling
No, I shall not give way because this is a short debate.
We believe that the free movement of people should mean that people are free to move unless there is good reason to curtail, prevent or temporarily stop them. The onus must be on those who want to make that stop to make their case. Without clearly stated rules, without review, accountability and supervision, the proposals would bring limited benefit and many problems. They would, without doubt, create injustices. It is a matter that is sometimes out of public sight, but I hope that the Minister will deal with some of those problems in his reply and not simply confine himself to general statements.
We know from the working of our immigration rules and our own regime that great difficulties are caused and great injustices done. I do not want to see those magnified and manifested throughout Europe. That would be undesirable and would be one of the worst examples of what can go wrong when one creates a European-wide bureaucracy that has no effective control, because ministerial or civil service supervision is absolutely no substitute for proper supervision by Parliament.
§ Mr. Teddy Taylor (Southend, East)
It has been interesting to hear the two Front Bench speeches. However, I was astonished to hear at the end of what was obviously a well-informed speech, the hon. Member for Edinburgh, Central (Mr. Darling) complain of the possibility of a Tsarist bureaucracy which offered people no control of ministerial decisions. Instead, Ministers would sit around a table making decision that would affect the freedom and lives of us all. He said that was one of the greatest dangers facing us. He is, of course, right in what he said, but, if that is the case, why on earth did only a handful of Labour Members vote against the Single European Act from which that all stemmed? It was an inevitable consequence of the Single European Act that there would be majority voting on measures that applied to every citizen in this country and throughout Europe. Therefore, while that is a problem, we should realise that it is not one that has stemmed simply from the Government.
§ Mr. Taylor
Only a handful of Labour Members were there at that time. Of course I accept that it was put forward by the Government, but if there had been more than a handful opposing it, the result may have been different.
§ Mr. Spearing
The hon. Gentleman may be right, but, of course, the Single European Act of which he speaks, if my memory is correct, had its Second Reading in April 1986, but its Committee stage of the whole House and remaining stages in June or July. My recollection is that on most of those occasions very many more than a handful of Opposition Members voted against it. I hope that the lion. Gentleman will check what he has said.
§ Mr. Taylor
I have checked it many times. I can say that the hon. Gentleman was there fighting for parliamentary freedom, as he always does honourably. He was there for 405 every vote, including an all-night vote on a Thursday through to a Friday. I just wish that more had been there to fight against something that is a big problem.
Just as interesting was the splendid speech of the Home Secretary, because we heard from him of the new change in the Government's attitude to Europe and to Europe measures. He used most unusual words about this communication. He talked about a divergence with Europe, he talked about misunderstandings by Europe and he pointed out that he could not accept some of the proposals put forward. There is no doubt that, over recent weeks, we have seen a change of heart by the Government—especially since the Prime Minister has made her concern clear about directives, the extent of directives and the extent to which those directives are unnecessarily bringing in harmonisation and the undermining of our liberty. However, what I believe everyone in the House and outside is entitled to know is exactly what we can do about the proposals in that communication.
When I first read the proposals, I thought that, unlike most of them, about which we can do nothing—once the Council decides something by a majority, it applies to Britain whether we like it or not—on this horrific programme, which would severely affect our national security, we could stop anything happening. That is because, as the Home Secretary rightly said, a general declaration is stuck at the end of the Single European Act:Nothing in these provisions shall affect the right of Member States to take such measures as they consider necessary for the purpose of controlling immigration from third countries, and to combat terrorism, crime, the traffic in drugs and illicit trading in works of art and antiques.My understanding was that, because we put in that proviso, there was nothing that the Council of Ministers could do that would necessarily apply here if we thought that it was interfering with our national interests. On the other hand, what worried me was that it was far from clear from the Home Secretary's comments whether the annexe to the final Act is a matter that has the full force of law for us and for the Community. I hope that the Minister will make the position abundantly clear: is it or is it not a fact that, irrespective of what the Council of Ministers does, we can stick to that general declaration and basically ignore what is decided by the Council of Ministers?
I appreciate that this is a constantly changing situation. Although I know that the Home Secretary will give a sincere assurance on this point, because he is certainly one of the most honourable of our Ministers, we must accept that circumstances change. I can remember a Labour Treasury Minister giving an equally sincere assurance concerning the sixth directive. He said that, once the sixth directive had been approved, none of Britain's zero rates could ever be affected by any of the institutions of the Community. We know that that has been overturned at least twice recently, because of the expanding power and decision making of the European institution. We must know what was intended when we passed the legislation. Do the Government believe that they have the right to reject anything decided by the Council of Ministers?
We need to know whether the proposals on firearms control, drugs, visas and extradition ar subject to majority voting or unanimity. It is terribly important to find out. If unanimity is desired, we can call a halt if we consider that the proposals are nuts or are dangerous to our security. If 406 majority voting is required, it means that we can do nothing about the proposals unless a lot of other member states agree with us. We are in a difficult position as the great majority of Community members are desperately anxious to push on with anything that they consider will lead to more European union and co-operation. Britain, of course, is becoming increasingly worried about the implications of such proposals. When the Minister winds up I hope that he will be able to tell us whether the proposals, individually or collectively, are subject to unanimity or majority voting.
The firearms proposals are serious. The House passed important new laws to control the use and the carrying of firearms and we have now introduced tough penalties. We need to know whether it is possible for the EEC to undermine those penalties by introducing harmonised proposals. Apart from the measures before us now, we know that there is a directive before the EEC currently on the mutual recognition of firearm certificates. Basically, that means that, if anyone wanders into this country as a visitor or for any other purpose, he can bring any weapon he likes with him so long as he has a certificate from his country. Therefore, it is okay for someone to wander down Oxford street with a Kalashnikov. Will the decision on that proposal be subject to majority voting or will it be subject to a unanimous decision?
The drug problem is even more serious. The hon. Member for Edinburgh, Central (Mr. Darling) spoke of central European countries where it is as easy to move within Europe as it is to travel between London and Manchester. Given that the harmonised proposals will affect such countries, imagine the potential for the drugs industry. I hope that the Minister will read the careful statement given by Mr. Giovanni Falcone, who is one of the brave leaders of the Sicilian magistrates. He is extremely concerned that the Single European Act and the proposals we are now discussing will lead to an extension of the Mafia's activities. We know that that organisation specialises in drugs and controls much of that industry.
It would be appalling if we had a common standard for visas, as that would be for no good purpose. I hope that the Minister will be able to give us some advice about what is said about extradition. The document before us is a communication from Lord Cockfield, who was our previous chap in Brussels. He said that one of the proposals would be a Community directive on extradition and crime. On page 28 of the communiqué, he referred to convention proposals that had been agreed by most Community countries.
The convention on extradition was ratified by Denmark. Germany, Greece, Spain, France, Ireland. Italy, Luxembourg and the Netherlands. It was not, of course, ratified by the United Kingdom. The first protocol was approved by almost everyone, but not the United Kingdom. The same was true of the second protocol.
The convention and the two protocols contain some terrifying proposals. If extradition is requested, the country concerned does not need to agree to it if it believes a political issue is involved. We know what that means to some countries. The proposals also affect capital punishment, as countries may reserve the right not to send someone back to another Community member state unless it has the assurance that capital punishment does not apply or, if it exists, will not be carried out. Obviously that would undermine any prospect of the House of Commons, if it so desired in the future, reintroducing capital punishment. 407 Our law on capital punishment would be extremely strange if it applied to our countrymen only and not to those who had gone to other Community countries.
The argument about capital punishment may seem strange, but the Minister must know what is happening to our Sunday trading laws, because we are awaiting a decision from the European Court. I note that the Minister is smiling, which is rather surprising, but he will have seen the long comprehensive answers I have had from Ministers about that matter. Those answers have made it abundantly clear that, if people break the Sunday trading laws, it is now impossible in many areas to get an injunction to stop them.
§ The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. Tim Renton)
I agree that Sunday trading is an extremely serious subject. I was only smiling at the ingenuity of my hon. Friend who has managed to introduce that difficult subject into a short debate on EEC controls on the movement of people.
§ Mr. Taylor
This debate is short not because of lack of time, but because the Government slipped through a clever little motion on Friday to say that we could have only an hour and a half on this subject.
I am sorry that the Minister believes that I have been ingenious by discussing Sunday trading. Does he appreciate that people in Britain are concerned when they find that the laws they have passed are undermined or could be undermined by Euro-decisions?
We have also had proposals from the Belgian presidency about the way in which extradition is to be applied, which is rather strange, given how that country behaved about Father Ryan. The proposals under discussion today would undermine our freedom to control crime, drugs and immigration. We have a special problem regarding Macau. We have made a decision, rightly or wrongly, not to allow people to come here from Hong Kong, except in the most extraordinary circumstances. The Minister is aware, however, that anyone from an overseas territory held by an EEC state is entitled to come here. Macau, which is just around the corner from Hong Kong, is covered by that agreement. That arrangement will become even more relevant once the proposals go through.
It is encouraging that the Government are becoming concerned about the volume of European legislation. They are concerned that the institutions of the Commission and the Community are extending their powers and that more and more laws and Community decisions are being applied to this country whether we like it or not. The Minister must be well aware of some of the recent decisions reached by the European Court and the Commission, which will affect every person here. I hope that does not make him smile.
I know that we have a limited amount of time to debate the proposals, but, given their frightening nature, I hope that the Government will think carefully about what we can do about them. If the Minister sought to delay the discussion and implementation of the proposals, that would only hold things up for a while. Although we might jump up and down and make strong speeches about Euro-bureaucracy, we would be unable to stop the process because of the Single European Act.
Because there is such a great desire on the part of Germany, France and Italy especially, to press ahead to form a unified state, we should start talking seriously 408 about the possibility of a two-tier Europe. That would be good for us and good for those who want to get on and establish that unified state. We should also be concerned that, where these issues are concerned, democracy is disappearing. On matters of immigration, firearms and the rest of it, the House of Commons is basically irrelevant since Ministers will sit around a table and decide what they consider to be appropriate.
This is a desperately serious situation. Even if the Minister disagrees with everything I have said and even if he wants to ignore my speech, will he please, please answer the two basic questions I asked the Home Secretary? Number one, does the annexe to the Single European Act mean we can do what we think is in our national interest, irrespective of EEC decisions? We know that such protection does not apply elsewhere, but I thought that it did in this regard. Is that true or not? Do we have the backing of law or not?
Secondly, will all these desperately important issues, including immigration control and firearms control, he decided by majority vote or by unanimity? Sadly, this is the only brief occasion we have to discuss these important matters. Parliament has ceased effectively to be the body which passes the majority of our laws. We now work under a different arrangement, under the Council of Ministers and the Commission. This is our one opportunity to ask questions. I hope that we shall receive clear answers.
§ Mr. Robert Maclennan (Caithness and Sutherland)
It is always more agreeable listening to the Home Secretary speaking as a diplomat than when he is speaking as the atavistic exponent of his party's views on the maintenance of law and order. He was in the first vein when introducing this debate and made a relatively uncontroversial speech, as was appropriate in considering this subject.
Important though it is to make progress towards opening up the internal market, and to do so at the speed to which we are committed by our implementation of the Single Act, we must do so in a practical way, taking account of the differences which exist in respect of the handling of the major issues of crime, drugs and immigration, particularly from third countries, that prevail in the member countries of the Community.
The Home Secretary was less than frank when he spoke of the objective of this amendment to Community law as the progressive relaxation of frontiers. Indeed, it is impossible to read article 13 of the Single European Act as such an objective, for it speaks of the creation of an internal market without internal frontiers. There was little in the Home Secretary's speech that recognised the hope that that position will be achieved by 1992.
Nor was there more than a passing formal acknowledgement in the right hon. Gentleman's remarks of the desirability for this country, and in particular for our commerce and industry, of opening up these frontiers by that year, since the existing frontier barriers between the member countries of the European Community constitute a serious and major addition to the costs of exporting and place a considerable commercial burden on our enterprise which we would wish to see removed.
The possibility, of which the hon. Member for Southend, East (Mr. Taylor) spoke—of a two-tier Europe—would in almost no area be more unattractive than in this. The idea that the Schengen group should progress to 409 the removal of intra-Community controls while we retain the barriers to trade which now exist, would put this country at a disadvantage which would accentuate our problems, by virtue of our geography, in trading on the periphery of continental Europe. It is right that we should take the opportunity of this debate to emphasise that that is the prime purpose of seeking to implement section 13 of the Single European Act in the manner that has been agreed in principle by this House.
Naturally, the attention of the debate so far has focused on the exceptional declaration which accompanies the Single European Act:Nothing in these provisions shall affect the right of Member States to take such measures as they consider necessary for the purpose of controlling immigration from third countries, and to combat terrorism, crime, the traffic in drugs and illicit trading in works of art and antiques.The hon. Member for Southend, East was right to draw attention to the importance of that provision, and I do not believe that any British Government would have been ready to agree the Single European Act without such a declaration, for it is clearly necessary, in recognition of the historic differences in the manner of controlling immigration within the European Community, that provisions we made for removing frontiers should recognise that there are problems, some of which were mentioned by the Chairman of the Select Committee on Home Affairs, the hon. Member for Westminster, North (Mr. Wheeler), in an intervention.
I appreciate the Home Secretary's generally pragmatic approach to dealing with these problems and to his recognition that more will be achieved by co-operation than by striking attitudes. I hope that the negotiations will be conducted in that way rather than in the posture of Ministers wrapping flags round themselves and insulating ourselves from the process of the European Community.
The Home Secretary said that there had been something of a flap about the remarks made by Sir Leon Brittan. I agree that Sir Leon's comments—I understand that they were made in this country to a police audience—pointed the way forward. It was helpful of Sir Leon to say that, under the Commission's proposals, it would still be possible for the authorities to carry out spot checks at internal borders and that the abolition of green or red channels would not prevent that. That was a welcome interpretation of the Commission's views.
There are in the Government's memorandum occasions when it almost seems as though they are trying to pick quarrels with the Commission for the sake of it and are seeking to find differences where none exist. I cannot think that the Commission will take exception to the view that the Government express in paragraph 10 of the memorandum, where they say that the retention of minimum checks for the purpose of distinguishing British citizens or European Community nationals from non-Community nationalsis compatible with the Treaty, and with the objectives adopted by member states collectively".It is not correct to say that the Government in that matter are necessarily at odds with the European Commission.
The whole country is conscious that it is sensible to recognise that the police must be assisted in the fight against crime, particularly against terrorism and the growing menace of the importation of drugs into Britain, and that they should have power to stop and investigate at 410 all convenient places, being places most likely to reveal breaches of the law or to apprehend malefactors, and the natural borders of our islands are such places.
What we are seeking to achieve by implementing the opening of our country's frontiers is in no way incompatible with allowing the police to continue to use those facilities. It is equally clear that it is not in the nation's interest for long queues of lorries and cars that impede internal traffic within the European Community to disappear in continental Europe while, at our frontiers, they remain as they are or become even longer. The Home Secretary is right to believe that that practical problem is surmountable. He drew attention to certain changes made in recent weeks to the channelling at our airports of those holding European passports. I am sure that such a pragmatic approach will commend itself to all hon. Members.
§ Mr. Max Madden (Bradford, West)
I wish to register both appreciation and concern. My appreciation is for the fact that on this occasion the Home Secretary did not explicitly or implicitly attempt to slur the Labour party as in any way supporting terrorism or people who threaten the nation's security, peddle drugs or are otherwise involved in criminal activities. I also appreciate the fact that he did not accuse the Labour party of supporting illegal immigration.
However, my concern rests on the tone of the comments in the Government's explanatory memorandum about how they regard non-EC nationals, including non-EC nationals who have lived in this country for a long time. The document states:In the Government's view, checks on EC nationals (including British citizens) can and should be reduced to the absolute minimum required in order to distinguish them with confidence from non-Community nationals;That is a very neat summary of the Government's view that runs through all their immigration policies and procedure; it is that all those who are not British citizens, and, in this case, not EC nationals, are inevitably and, almost by definition, to be viewed without confidence. They are always to be suspected of being liars, intending to deceive and to circumvent by any means possible the legal procedures for entering this country.
The Government's explanatory memorandum also states:In the Government's view, therefore, the way forward is to combine measures to strengthen the external frontier of the Community, and other forms of co-operation between states, with such measures as are required at the national frontier to control the immigration of non-Community nationals into the United Kingdom.I hope that when the Minister of State replies to this short debate, he will explain what that paragraph means. I am extremely concerned about what the phrase "measures as are required" means. The last paragraph on page 11 of the letter from Lord Cockfield states:A package of measures (identity checks, curbs on the use of forged travel documents and organised illegal immigrants traffic) is being studied by the Immigration Group.Following my earlier intervention, the Home Secretary tonight gave a clear assurance that no significant changes will be made in the procedures relating to non-EC nationals, non-British citizens or nationals of third world countries, many of whom have lived in this country for a long time. We were told that they would not have to face any significant or onerous new procedures.
411 As so often, I must tell the Minister that those people know that the Government regard them without confidence. They understand that the Government suspect them and that the Government, and many of their supporters, regard them as an unwelcome presence in this country. Therefore, I hope that the Minister will be able to reinforce and re-emphasise what the Home Secretary said about there being no new procedures.
The Home Secretary said that there are new channelling arrangements at Heathrow. Is there any possibility of a new channel being introduced for non-British citizens and non-EC nationals under those arrangements? It would be absolutely intolerable if that were the case and it is important that, when he winds up, the Minister gives a clear assurance that there will not be any new arrangements of that sort. Such arrangements would serve only to strengthen the alienation, and lack of trust and confidence felt by many non-British citizens and non-EC nationals who have good reason for wanting to travel through and outside the Common Market. Such people need that reassurance tonight, and I hope that the Minister will be able to give it.
§ Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North)
On occasions such as this, I feel as though I am in a county council chamber discussing the possibility of sending a letter to Whitehall asking whether it would be good enough to consider our views. Due to the Single European Act and the way that the European Community operates, we have less and less power over what happens to this country's nationals or the movements of people within the EC.
In the Government's memorandum, reported by Lord Cockfield in October 1987, during the British presidency of the European Commission, they initiated the idea that there should be some harmonisation of immigration and refugee law throughout the European member states.
My hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, Central (Mr. Darling) made an excellent speech, in which he demonstrated the double standards that exist in the European Community. There is talk of free movement of EC nationals throughout the Community but no talk of free movement of peoples who are not EC passport holders, but who are legal, long-term residents of one of the member states.
It seems extraordinary that, when a pensioners' group in north London wishes to arrange a day trip to Calais, its members have to look around to see how many of them are Caribbean and cannot therefore go on the trip because they cannot obtain visas from the French embassy here in time. The same applies to Indian people and others. That is a serious and nasty experience for those people, because they do not have the same freedom of movement as others.
The British Government are hardly in a position to lecture others on this subject when we think back to the views that the Government have expressed and the legislation passed through this House, which has largely removed the rights of hon. Members to intervene on immigration matters. The Government passed the Immigration (Carriers' Liability) Act 1987 and have failed to face up to the many legitimate criticisms made of their attitude to refugees by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.
Page 6 of the Government's response to the EC document says: 412The Government accepts the need for closer co-operation between member states in asylum matters and, in particular, for an agreement on the determination of which member state is responsible for considering asylum requests.I view that statement with an ominous feeling. I see behind it a levelling down of the treatment of asylum seekers to the lowest common denominator in Europe. The Government's attitude in the case of Viraj Mendis, when they refused to consider the offer of a third country, make me suspicious about that statement.
The Home Secretary's final comment on the EC document said:The conclusion of Immigration Ministers at Munich concerning airports, to which the report refers, was conditional upon agreement to abolish controls on non-EC nationals. As already indicated in this Memorandum, no such agreement has been reached.I suspect that the Government do not plan to reach agreement. I and people in my constituency and others fear that there will be two standards throughout the Community in 1992.
I want to refer briefly to "The Migrant and Refugee. Manifesto" published at a press conference in the House this morning. That deals with real rights for 16 million people across Europe who are largely denied the same sort of rights that exist for EC nationals. They do not have rights of movement or, in most cases, the right to vote, despite the fact that they pay taxes, and often they do not have a right to employment. 'We are creating a two-tier economy in Europe, with the semi-legal economy of migrant workers in low-paid jobs in sweatshop industries being treated as second-class citizens throughout Europe.
The manifesto demands 10 points to be applied throughout Europe. They are the right to stay; the right to family reunion; free movement within the EC; full social and political rights; full legal rights; no to racism, fascism and police brutality; no to repatriation and deportations; no to economic racism; the right to organise independently, and an amnesty to all unauthorised workers. That would go a long way towards removing the fear that exists in many migrant communities in Britain and other EC member states. I hope that when the Minister replies to this brief debate he will refer to the general points in the manifesto, which I understand is being sent to him.
§ Mr. Maclennan
Does the hon. Gentleman accept the harmonisation of the law in the areas that would be necessary to give effect to those rights?
§ Mr. Corbyn
Yes, that is a fair point. My point was that the harmonisation of the law is taking place for EC nationals, but the same rights are being deliberately excluded from non-EC nationals resident in EC member states, partly as a result of the Government's actions. It is for those reasons that I hope that the Minister will give serious consideration to the legitimate points that have been raised on behalf of a large number of migrant and refugee organisations.
§ The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. Tim Renton)
I am delighted to have the opportunity to reply to this short but interesting debate, particularly since I spent this morning at a place where in a few years' time we shall be looking carefully to see just how frontier controls and checks are working post-1992. I spent the morning at the Eurotunnel shuttle terminal at Cheriton and at the exhibition centre there. With me were senior immigration 413 officials whose job it is to see how, at the shuttle terminal at Cheriton, we can streamline frontier checks while keeping what we consider to be the essential element of those checks when the Channel tunnel comes into action in June 1993. When it opens, the Eurotunnel, the largest building programme in Europe this century, will be a major contributor to, and beneficiary from, the single market that we are discussing.
I followed the speech made by the hon. Member for Edinburgh, Central (Mr. Darling) with interest, but he was in a muddle, although a well-meaning muddle, about the document. On the one hand he argued that the Commission's proposals were not effective enough. I remind him that in his open* remarks my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State stressed strongly that practical co-operation was often more effective than treaties. That practical co-operation between our police force and European police forces is developing all the time in such matters as the seizure of drug traffickers' assets, extradition and mutual legal assistance.
On the other hand, the hon. Gentleman was arguing that the document would be too effective. He talked about fortress Europe which, if it came into being, would have too stringent an effect upon the movement of people. I remind the hon. Gentleman and my hon. Friend the Member for Southend, East (Mr. Taylor), whose remarks I followed with the closest interest, that paragraph 8 of the Home Office statement on the Community document states clearly the areas in which we differ from the Commission. For example, we believe thatthe Communication and the report misunderstand and seriously under-estimate the contribution which frontier checks make to essential defences against terrorism, drug smuggling and other crime, does not accept that either the progress so far achieved, or the measures under contemplation, would justify the complete abolition of frontier checks within the Community; and differs"—this may be the most important point that I shall address to my hon. Friend the Member for Southend, East—from the Commission on the implications of the Single European Act, particularly as regards the treatment of third country nationals.The hon. Member for Edinburgh, Central implied that someone who had been refused entry at Athens might also be refused entry at Heathrow for that reason alone. That may be the case if the Commission's view prevails, but our firm view is that we shall continue to operate United Kingdom immigration controls at our ports and airports under British rules.
One point on which I must contradict the hon. Gentleman is that Group 4 does not have access to the computer services systems of the immigration service.
§ Mr. Renton
If the hon. Gentleman will forgive me I shall not give way as I have very little time. [Interruption.] With the greatest respect, the hon. Member for Vauxhall (Mr. Holland) was not in the Chamber so he cannot know what the hon. Member for Edinburgh, Central said.
Group 4 does not have access to computer service systems of the immigration service. Information on the immigration service headquarters computer is registered under the Data Protection Act 1984. It is exempted from disclosure under exemption nine.
414 The working group on immigration is considering a common list of persons who would be refused a visa by EC countries. The United Kingdom would, of course, require primary legislation in order to refuse a visa to someone simply at the request of another member state. It is clear from the present legal position that we cannot do that.
The Schengen approach, to which the hon. Member for Edinburgh, Central referred, envisages the abolition of all frontier controls and is probably more relevant between countries with large land frontiers with each other than in the case of an island such as Britain. We are not proceeding down the Schengen route. We are interested in what is being done. We understand that it intends to rely on internal controls, but we as an island do not need to do that, and, by tradition, we prefer not to.
The hon. Member for Edinburgh, Central asked about those who legally settled here as did the hon. Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Madden). There is no reason why, either in our or the Commission's view of 1992, a person settled in the United Kingdom should have any additional difficulty in returning here. I remind the hon. Member for Bradford, West, who has a particular expertise on immigration subjects, that we are talking today about controls and checks at frontiers, not about rights of residence. There is no question of 1992 affecting the right of a person now settled here to stay here.
There is nothing sinister about the exchange of basic information on asylum seekers, such as the number arriving, their nationalities, decisions taken, or what we know about organised illegal immigration. We remain completely responsible for the determination of asylum applications in the United Kingdom. The ad hoc group that covers that area is interested in trends, not in individuals.
My hon. Friend the Member for Southend, East, spoke on a subject about which he feels deeply and which he has raised with me before. Some of the topics dealt with in the Commission's report relate to goods—for example, licit drugs, works of art and antiques. Proposals in those matters would normally come under the qualified majority proposals. But in the basic area of the freedom of movements of people and their personal luggage our clear view is that the proposals must be made on the basis of unanimity. We have made that clear to the Commission in respect of its proposed directive on firearms, about which my hon. Friend particularly asked. We shall continue to press our view that that should be based on article 235, which relates to frontier controls and carries the power of veto, rather than on article 100A, which requires only a qualified majority.
I stress to the House that our approach to these matters is very much that of making the most progress possible towards 1992 and lifting the burden of frontier checks and formalities to the greatest possible extent for European Community citizens while retaining immigration checks for residents of third countries and the ability to prevent the movement of illicit drugs and terrorist weapons. This is practical progress in keeping with the importance we attach to the completion of the Community's internal market. I believe that this progress is of great value, not just in treaties and rhetoric but in expanding the markets for business and services for the Community market of 320 million people.
§ Question put and agreed to.
That this House takes note of European Community Document No. 10412/88 relating to the abolition of controls of persons at intra-community frontiers; and endorses the Government's view that in considering the relaxation of frontier controls within the European Community the Government must keep in place necessary measures to control terrorism, drug trafficking and other crime, and immigration from non-community countries.