Examination of Witnesses (Questions 40
TUESDAY 13 JUNE 2000
40. Thank you. I think the Ports Division is
currently under-complement. If that is the case, what sort of
time-scale would you need to fill those posts?
(Mr Boys Smith) I am afraid I do not have the complement
figure. I would have to give you that precisely, if I may, afterwards.
As I say, we are in a period of substantial growth of the kind
41. The Home Office annual report shows efficiency
targets for the Immigration Service which involve reducing the
unit cost of immigration port checks from £5.43 in the last
financial year to £4.92 by March 2002. Do you think that
(Mr Boys Smith) Yes, I think that broadly is. It obviously
reflects the fact that the number of passengers will be coming
through in much greater numbers, but I think we are on course,
so far, and I hope we can continue to stay on course.
Chairman: That is very good news indeed.
42. Mr Boys Smith, when I talk about advanced
technology I am not sure dogs come into that, really. Could you
tell us why sniffer dogs are not yet in use at Harwich and Felixstowe
whereas they are in Dover?
(Mr Boys Smith) It is a question of where we put our
resources and effort. I think this is another example of what
I said before, and fully understand, that we must be constantly
flexing in order to deal with the threat as it evolves, because
it will evolve. Clearly, we do need to have dogs in other places,
and that is something that we must do, against a background where,
as the Chairman has just mentioned, we have felt very constrained
by resources to have that kind of flexibility. We are now moving
into a different situation. I do not wish to say that we will
definitely have dogs in Harwich, but if we need them, if they
are material to the control, there is no magic in just having
them at Dover.
43. Could you tell us what the cost of training
and operating a dog team is in immigration?
(Mr Boys Smith) I could not, off the cuff.
(Mr Roberts) It is quite significant. I think the
unit cost of training and providing a dog for a year runs to about
£4,000, and we have had a mobile capability before and, as
Mr Boys Smith recognised, our priority is Dover so we have been
unable to offer dog teams to Harwich. We have put them into Harwich
and, indeed, other ferry ports, when we have judged it to be right,
and we hope to return to that.
44. Is it fair to say that the Immigration Service
has not been at the cutting edge of applying information technology
to its work?
(Mr Boys Smith) I would not wish to ascribe that remark
to the Immigration Service. I am head of IND (Immigration and
Nationality Directorate), of which the Immigration Service is
part, as you know. I think it is absolutely fair to say that IND
has been slow in taking advantage of technology and that it is
those working for the Immigration Service in ports, not necessarily,
obviously, in headquarters, who have been less well-served by
the availability of IT. I entirely accept this. I do not think
it is a happy story as far as IND is concerned. I think, now,
again, we are moving; we have just taken the important strategic
decisions to make the Home Office office-wide system available
to the majority of ports, and that work will start quite shortly.
So I think we are now moving forward, clearly from a very low
base, I entirely admit. I would want to make one exception to
that: I think the Warnings Index has been a successful operation.
It is one of the earlier ones, and it has worked. Moreover, the
recent up-grade has been a great success. I would not wish you
to have the impression that it was completely negative, but it
has not been adequate and it is now going to get better.
45. Did the constraints on resources in the
latter half of the 1990s have an effecteither by delay
or cancellationon planned information technology?
(Mr Boys Smith) I was not there through much of the
latter part of the 1990s, I arrived at the end of 1998, and I
must not seek to speak for those who took decisions when I was
not party to them. Undoubtedly, resources were the important consideration,
though not necessarily the only one. As you know, IND was heavily
involved in a case-work IT application at the same time and I
think eyes were particularly on that ball rather than on other
46. Which other country's information technology
systems for immigration work do you most admire?
(Mr Boys Smith) I am not in a position to answer that
question. I would invite either of my colleagues, but they may
not feel able to either.
47. It is something you will be looking into?
(Mr Boys Smith) Indeed. Sure, we are always anxious
to learn from whatever other people are doing, but with IT we
have to move forward in a way that suits our particular chances,
and the chances that because a particular application is used
in the immigration service of some country it will, therefore,
be applicable here, I suspect, are fairly slender. IS is part
of IND, and IND is part of the Home Office and the coherence of
that as a whole organisation having a common IT infrastructure
is, of course, very importantjust as is the interface between
the equipment used at ports and the case-working system that I
have referred to. I think we really have to build on that basis
rather than, so to speak, take off the shelf elsewhere.
Mrs Dean: In the unlikely event of resources
being unlimited, what available technology would you like to be
48. Wish out loud, Mr Boys Smith.
(Mr Boys Smith) If it were available technology I
cannot easily answer that because there are lots of technological
advances that we wish were availablein particular, for
example, in space detection and so onbut they are not yet
available in any practical terms. I am going to have to say, and
you may feel it is a rather unimaginative answer, that it would
be to click my fingers and have the whole of the IND (and, therefore,
essentially, we are talking about the IS) fully equipped with
the office-wide system, with a fully operational interface into
the case-working system that we are now testing and, I hope, will
start to become available before too long. So that I would rather
build on what we have got.
49. What about any technology that might be
available at the ports rather than the office-wide system?
(Mr Boys Smith) I think I will ask Mr Wilson to come
in, but speaking for myself I think it is not a question of technologies
that we know are now operating that we wish we had so much as
technologies we would like to have but are not yet properly available.
I am conscious there has been work on space detection, for example.
If it were possible, safely, to check moving vehicles for the
presence of hidden individuals that would be marvellous, but it
is not yet available technology, I think, whatever may be in the
laboratory. I do not know if Mr Wilson wishes to speculate more
50. Just to throw in a last speculation before
he answers, what advanced technology might be in use in immigration
work here and abroad in a decade's time?
(Mr Boys Smith) I think the big area there will be
biometrics and smart card passportsthat is to say, a means
of identifying somebody instantaneously and checking them against
some kind of database by virtue of the fingerprint or the eye,
or whatever it may beall linked into a smart card passport
that is electronically checkable as well. I think that would be
the big step forward, but that is not yet available technology
in the terms to which you refer.
(Mr Wilson) I would only add that in terms of development,
by comparison with most of our EU colleagues, we certainly have
not cornered the market in being slow to take advantage of existing
technology and developing technology, but in patches we are quite
good. I think you are coming down to Status Park, which is where
the National Forgery Section is located, and you will see we do
have the latest state-of-the-art equipment, because we do liaise
quite closely with the developers and the companies who manufacture
the equipment. They are happy for us to test their products to
see if they work. I think, in that respect, we have done quite
well. The system operates in that once the National Forgery Section
has either used up or tested a piece of equipment so that it works,
there is a programme whereby the equipment is sent out to the
ports so that at each port they will have, at some places, quite
sophisticated forgery detection equipment whilst at the smaller
ports, really, more basic stuff, but the basic stuff is often
the best stuffthe magnifying glass and microscope are often
as good as the multi-thousand pound piece of equipment.
51. Going back to basic equipment, we saw in
Dover the operation of the sniffer dogs and the CO2 detectors.
They seem extremely cost-effective tools to use for the purpose,
and I think the public would be astonished that these are not
available at other ports. Given the great publicity that there
now is surrounding the upgrading of the controls on the Calais-Dover
run, there must be a temptation to those engaged in smuggling
people to look to other ports. Surely, failing to provide this
basic equipment at £4,000 a sniffer dog does seem to be rather
penny-pinching and ineffective.
(Mr Boys Smith) I accept, as both Mr Roberts and I
have said, that we have focussed our efforts on Dover hitherto.
We are now moving into a new situation where the civil penalty
will very shortly be rolled out round the rest of the country.
Clearly, we must ensure that we are equipped adequately to deal
with the threat as it appears at individual ports other than Dover.
So, I expect all these things to come
52. Forgive me, I do not wish to accuse you
of complacency but it does sound as though you are focussing on
one port now, getting everything up and running and making sure
that it is all-singing and dancing, and then when you have done
that you will move on to the next portand, meanwhile, these
guys are entrepreneurs and ahead of you.
(Mr Boys Smith) Sure. I am not complacent, I entirely
understand that we have to move very fast and keep up with those
who are seeking to breach the system. We have focussed our attention
on Dover because that is where the resources seemed most successfully
deployed. Mr Roberts reminded me and said to the Committee that
the dogs have, in fact, been used elsewhere, both the dogs and
CO2 wands. We will make the necessary deployments. No way am I
complacent about either the threat we face or the fact that we
need to change to follow on with the civil penalty.
53. Can we have an assurance that they will
be put in place in the next few weeks?
(Mr Boys Smith) I cannot say in the next few weeks
but we will put the necessary equipment in place, whether it is
dogs or wands, wherever there is a threat to which they are material.
If there is any detail Mr Roberts can add.
(Mr Roberts) I think Mr Howarth is absolutely right.
The "opposition", if you like, are very flexible and
we have to be very flexible in return. Putting a dedicated dog
team in Harwich, if the problem were to displace to Portsmouth,
is not a sensible use of that flexibility. We need to build the
expertiseand dog handling is a particular skilland
it may or may not make sense to have dog-handlers permanently
based at Harwich. Vulnerability at Harwich is different from that
at Dover and there, as you have seen yourselves, they essentially
have trailers that are tugged off and on, and you can search those
easily, because they are static and they are in a contained area,
with a CO2 detector, whereas with the volumes of accompanied freight
at Dover you may need a different approach. In terms of being
flexible, we can assure the Committee that we are aware of that
and once resources allow us to get into that position we will
be as flexible as we need to be.
54. I just want to know if there are any plans
to use x-ray technology to detect illegals in lorries.
(Mr Boys Smith) There are no present plans, going
back to Mrs Dean's earlier questions, because there is no available
technology that meets our requirement as to being safe and as
effective as CO2 and the dogs together. Obviously, if something
becomes available and is as effective, then we will look at it.
55. I understand that Customs and Excise are
actually tendering, at the moment, for either static or mobile
x-ray technology. Is there any possibility of dual use of that
technology between Customs and the Immigration Service?
(Mr Boys Smith) At the moment that is not the proposal.
They are, indeed, moving down that road, we will see how that
goes, and we will obviously want to co-operatecontinue
to co-operatewith Customs at Dover and elsewhere, exactly
as we do now. If something comes out of that which is applicable
for our purposes then, of course, we would want to make use of
it and would expect and be confident we could work closely with
Customs on that.
56. I have a few questions on the effectiveness
of border controls in general. Just looking at the Home Office
evidence, I think you more or less acknowledge there that the
reason we stayed out of Schengen is because we believed the land
border controls are ineffective or, at least, less effective than
the controls we have, being a virtual island. However, we do sit
on the Schengen Evaluation Group and I wonder if you could tell
us, have you been able to make border controls in the European
Union more effective, and do you think the Evaluation Group has
had any successes?
(Mr Boys Smith) I think it has. We do sit in these
various fora; we relate to our Schengen colleagues and we also
sit on EU-wide groups to do with frontier controls. We have played
a significant part in helping accession countries get up to speed,
both in the immigration field and in things to do with organised
crime and so on. We will continue to co-operate on that. It is
absolutely the case that a land frontier is harder to police,
or control, than is a maritime one, and the evidence for that,
of course, is Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic, which,
in the circumstances of a few years ago, was very hard to seal.
The only way to seal a land frontier is by the old iron curtain
with a series of barbed wire fences. So, there are clearly difficulties
on any land frontier, and we will continue to work with European
colleagues. I think the Schengen Evaluation process has proved
to be pretty strenuous, anyhow, and an example of that is that
Greece joined Schengen in 1992 and it took eight years before
the other Schengen countries were satisfied as to the Greek controls
and prepared to remove their own internal frontiers between themselves
and Greece. The Nordic countries will take five years, and internal
controls will be removed next year. I cannot speculate or speak,
obviously, for colleagues in Schengen countries, but I think it
is reasonable to assume that it will be many years before the
internal frontier is removed between the new countries joining
Schengensay, Polandand the actual Schengen countries
57. Coming on to the new countries, as it has
been put to us, even on the present border, say, between Germany
and Poland, which we are going to visit, you may not be able to
go through the border post but you can walk through the forest.
What are the chances going to be, say, on the Hungarian/German
frontier in the depths of Transylvania or, indeed, on the Polish/Ukrainian
frontier, of effective border controls?
(Mr Boys Smith) Those are immense difficulties. The
border control, of course, in Schengen countries is supplemented
by other internal arrangements, whether it is the use of ID cards
and things of that nature, so one has to see the internal and
the frontier hand-in-hand. Undoubtedly, as I say, there are difficulties,
as we ourselves have seen through Northern Ireland, in wholly
policing a frontier of that kind. I think it is, therefore, the
kind of thinking that you are articulating that has led successive
ministers to conclude they wanted to retain the frontier control
as far as the UK itself was concerned, and that is now in the
Treaty of Amsterdam.
58. Can I put it to you: do you think that any
borders are going to be effective against the amount of pressure
for economic migration? We have seen an estimate that there are
probably already some 30 million illegal immigrants in the world
at large, and we have no idea how many of those will be in the
UK. Obviously, land control is very difficult to police, but so
are sea controls. The economic pressure for migration continues
to grow. Do you think that we will be forced to look more closely
at in-country controls?
(Mr Boys Smith) I have no reason to think that we
will make a sort of fundamental switch to in-country controls.
You are obviously now asking me a major policy issue on which
the Government has not taken any view. You are absolutely right
about pressure; the pressures will remain intense, both in terms
of the task of dealing with legitimate passengersthe 90
million or so that came in last yearas well as the increasing
sophistication of those who want to come in illegally. We have
gotby legal framework, adequacy of resources and managerial
flexibilityto try to keep up with that game all the time,
to encompass new technology where it is relevant, but we will
never be standing still any more than those who seek to come here
illegally will be standing still. So it will be a constant"battle"
is not perhaps the right wordchallenge to us.
59. One further question to follow up on the
question of forgeries, which Mr Wilson dealt with. In Dover we
saw UK passports where the back page had been slit open to substitute
another photograph, and it seems quite a surprisingly easy process.
Is there no technological way in which passports can be redesigned
to make it much more difficult to make a simple substitution of
the photograph in an existing passport?
(Mr Wilson) Yes, there is. In fact, the latest version
of the British passport does not have the passport photograph
on the cover, so that you can no longer do that. It is a fact
that since October 1998 two million new-style passports have been
issued and we have not yet discovered one forgery that has successfully
passed through the control. The difficulty, of course, is that
most of us hold passports that were issued before October 1998
and there will be a ten-year period before everybody holds the
new-style passport. The EU has issued an explanatory memorandum
which went before our Parliament earlier this year, in which it
introduces minimum security standards for travel documents, and
the UK already meets all of those.