HL Deb 06 March 1995 vol 562 cc4-6

2.45 p.m.

Lord Jacques asked Her Majesty's Government:

What representations they are making in the Council of Ministers that all member states of the European Union should apply similar standards of controls at the Union's external borders as apply in the United Kingdom.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Baroness Blatch):

My Lords, the Government have participated fully in discussion of the draft external frontiers convention, which has the aim of establishing a common standard of control over the admission of persons at the external frontiers of member states of the European Union. We have also joined in discussion of a draft resolution on the improvement of security at external frontiers.

Lord Jacques

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for that reply. If you have free movement of goods, services and capital, then inevitably there has to be free movement of labour. That gives rise to problems. In particular, because of their associations with Africa, the Mediterranean countries have considerable difficulty achieving the necessary tight control over their external boundaries. Therefore, can the Government say whether, in spite of that difficulty, we can rely on their persisting in imposing adequate control of the external boundaries?

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, I believe that the Government are pursuing adequate control and proper protection of the frontiers, balanced by the free movement of European Union nationals within European member states.

Lord Mackie of Benshie

My Lords, what is being done in this country and in Europe to identify genuine asylum seekers quickly? There are enormous numbers of economic refugees, and I understand their motives. But among them are genuine asylum seekers fleeing from oppression who have to go through the same, long drawn out investigation. Does the noble Baroness agree that something has to be done in order that genuine asylum seekers can be identified quickly, perhaps by having people near trouble spots who can assess the position and pass information back?

Baroness Match

My Lords, asylum is wide of the Question on the Order Paper, which asks whether we are participating fully in discussions about external frontier controls. We are doing that. As regards asylum seekers, proper procedures are laid down. Parliament is well aware of them. Recently, one or two changes have been made; again, Parliament was informed.

Lord Gisborough

My Lords, in view of the fact that there is an open border between Norway and Sweden and that one of those countries is within, and the other outside, the EC, can the Minister say what controls the EC employs in that case?

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, if one is talking about the European convention, as opposed to Article 7a, the convention covers not only member states but also the European Economic Area, which includes Iceland and Norway. Sweden is a member of the European Union. The convention covers the countries within the Union with the addition of Iceland and Norway.

Lord Bruce of Donington

My Lords, will the noble Baroness agree that the main problem is this? The remainder of the member states to whom the provisions are applicable should bring their standards of control up to those that we have.

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, with astuteness, the noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Donington, puts his finger on the problem. As the noble Lords knows, there is debate. However, my right honourable friend the Prime Minister has pledged to the House of Commons, and it is also on record in this House, that he will do whatever is necessary to maintain our frontier controls.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, is not the effectiveness of the external frontiers of the European Union dependent not so much on physical bars at the point of entry but on intelligence gathering? It is only through intelligence gathering that we shall find, for example, criminals and drug dealers. Will the noble Baroness confirm that the Government are pursuing those matters with equal vigour?

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, I can give an absolute assurance of that; it is only part of the situation. External frontiers are important; internal controls are important; and the effectiveness of our intelligence gathering is also important.

The Earl of Halsbury

My Lords, should not a recent television programme showing how utterly transparent are the frontiers of Europe be compulsory viewing for the Council of Ministers?

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, I think that we shall all take that advice.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon

My Lords, is the noble Baroness aware that we welcome the Prime Minister's assurance that he will not undo the internal border controls at ports and airports in this country? Does that assurance include ignoring any decision and any order by the European Court which is considering the position?

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, the noble Lord asks a hypothetical question. I can only repeat what my right honourable friend the Prime Minister said. I invite the House to take him on trust. He will do whatever is necessary to maintain our frontier controls in the United Kingdom.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon

My Lords, does that mean that the Prime Minister will ignore any order by the European Court to open up our borders?

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, my right honourable friend the Prime Minister has said that he will take whatever measures are necessary to protect external frontiers of the United Kingdom.

Earl Russell

My Lords, can the noble Baroness assure the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart of Swindon, that ignoring orders of the European Court is incompatible with membership of the single market?

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, breaking the law may not be the option. At the end of the day, an alteration to the treaty may be an option. My right honourable friend has pledged to Parliament that he will do whatever is necessary to protect the external frontiers of the United Kingdom.