Keith Vaz (Leicester East) (Lab): Does the Minister welcome the recent developments in the EU that will provide for more border checks within the Schengen area? When the Select Committee on Home Affairs last reported on this, it found that traffickers could pass through the Schengen area without being stopped. These new arrangements, which the EU seems to be putting in place, will mean more checks within the area, which might mean that we catch more people involved in this terrible crime.
Damian Green: The right hon. Gentleman might well be right. However, it would be unhelpful for me to comment generally on the developments in the Schengen area that, as he and the House will know, might be introduced as a result of events in north Africa. Certainly, however, I agree with the general proposition that each EU member state has to consider its own border arrangements and internal policing arrangements to make it easier for all of us to work together on an international basis in combating what is by definition an international crime. That means that to deal with this problem we have to work closely with our international partners, and applying to opt in to the directive is a positive step that Britain can take towards this goal.
As the House will be aware, we chose not to opt in to the directive when it was initially put on the table last summer, because the draft text had to go through an extensive period of negotiation between the European Council and the European Parliament. We wanted to be absolutely sure that the text would not change during those negotiations in a way that would be detrimental to the integrity of the UK’s criminal justice system. We wanted to consider a final text that had no risks attached and which would not fundamentally change the UK’s already strong position in the fight against human trafficking.