Select Committee on Home Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 80 - 99)



  80. Do all ports have joint working arrangements?
  (Mr Roberts) Of some sort, yes. All ports that are permanently staffed in terms of immigration staff will have local Joint Agency Committees that look at the issues on the ground.

  81. There are no significant gaps then?
  (Mr Roberts) It works better in some ports than others. The relationship at an operational level can be dependent on personalities. It would be misleading for me to say that in every port in the country the relationship was as good as it is in some places. At Dover and Harwich it is particularly strong. The Border Agencies Working Group gives us the mechanism to address these areas where it needs some improvement.

  82. You do not feel there are any obstacles in your way to achieving the objectives the Working Group has established?
  (Mr Roberts) No.

  83. Can I ask you one final question, in terms of the actual practicalities of getting people together from different agencies, are you satisfied the facilities are there in terms of accommodation, shared facilities, and so on, or does that constitute something of a constraint?
  (Mr Roberts) We continually explore sharing facilities and that does not come without its difficulties, because the three agencies have different statutory obligations. For example, it might seem a good idea to share an interview room. If the agency that is using that interview room for a different purpose, for example operating under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act, Customs and police but not the Immigration Service. Wherever possible we are looking at sharing accommodation.

  84. It sounds as though there are legal constraints in that case. Clearly the police have to operate under a very specific requirement of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act in order for their evidence to stand up in court, whereas you might not be under the same constraints.
  (Mr Roberts) We recognise that as a tension in looking at sharing facilities widely.

  85. Is there not a limitation in bringing people together in a combined effort to deal with the problem?
  (Mr Roberts) I do not think there is. Each service is pursuing specific objectives in accordance with its obligations at the time.

  86. Do you have any joint training?
  (Mr Roberts) We certainly attend customs training courses and I know that customs officers attend ours, that applies to major ports such as Dover, Heathrow and Gatwick.

  87. You have quite a bit of cross-posting, whereby people from one agency are posted into another agency; is that working well?
  (Mr Roberts) I do not think we currently have anybody seconded directly into customs and into the police. As Mr Wilson pointed out, we are highly visible in NCIS, where there is a multi-agency approach to intelligence.


  88. Which brings us nicely to the point about a Single Border Agency. Superficially there is some attraction in putting all of these agencies who have different responsibilities at ports of entry together. I understand, Mr Roberts, what you were saying about the different statutory obligations of the agency. Perhaps one impression I have from meeting some of those agencies is that there is a risk, anyway, of that being the focus and, perhaps, the impression and not enough thought is given, when looking for this, bearing in mind other people are looking for something else, that it is around the border control area. How do you look at it, as an advantage or a disadvantage, at least, in thinking about being a single agency in this area?
  (Mr Boys Smith ) Clearly there has been a long debate about it and it is an issue that bubbles up from time to time. I think there are great strengths in the present arrangement, given the joint operations we have just been hearing about, not least because there are these highly complex areas, the training, the expertise that is required in particular for the different jobs. I think the idea that even in the long-term it would be make a big difference if you brought them altogether is probably fallacious, to the extent that what you might be doing is creating a large umbrella and having three departments underneath it, with the different expertise and different powers under which they have to operate. If one tore up the statute book and started again the situation might be rather different in the long term. I want to add, that with all sorts of challenges in front of us we would have the prospect of having to reorganise in a fundamental kind of way: the last thing I should want would be to weaken both the immigration control and the activity of customs and the police at the frontier. There is another important angle to this, the consequences of disentangling from other activities. As far as IND is concerned, I think, of increasing importance to us is that through working in relation to asylum, from what happens at the ports to the caseworking operation, to the support operation, ultimately to removal and that kind of joint working through the asylum system, the joint management of cases as they go through, including with the Lord Chancellor's Department in relation to asylum appeals, is crucially important to us. If one has to disentangle that, although it might be superficially attractive to do something in one organisation on the borders you would have a downside as well as an upside. I cannot speak for the police service but the notion of taking the border special branch out of the police is, I suspect, something the police would have views on as well. I think there are two dimensions on which one needs to see this, disentangling as well as reorganisation.

  89. There is not a lot of enthusiasm.
  (Mr Boys Smith ) Not a lot. As I say, anybody who comes up with a serious proposal on this, I have no doubt it will be debated again.

Mr Malins

  90. We know that tens of thousands of failed asylum seekers and people whose immigration appeal fails absolutely have gone to ground in this country and are not traceable, are not found, are not removed, and nothing can be done. We now hear the Government has plans for increasing the number removed, can you tell me what the plans are, and if they are good plans, and why they have not been introduced earlier?
  (Mr Boys Smith ) The Government has made it clear that it wants to increase the number of people, in particular asylum seekers, removed. I should add that we already removed a substantial number of people.

  91. How many do you remove a year?
  (Mr Boys Smith ) Of non-asylum seekers physically removed, the majority are turned around at the port.

  92. I am talking about those inside the country, those at midnight tapped on the shoulder.
  (Mr Boys Smith ) Last year there was just under 8,000 failed asylum seekers. Our current target is 12,000. There is gearing-up for a 50 per cent increase of the number that will be removed in the current year, over a large number of years. Looking back, the removal business has been the poor relation of IND and the immigration activity as a whole. As I say, the Government has announced it wants to increase the number of removals to 12,000 as against 8,000, that is the first step in that. There are other plans, you may have seen some references in the media to that. Those are still working figures, they are not yet finalised. They do not relate to the current year, they relate to subsequent years.

  93. A proportion of those who have had their appeals utterly failed all of the way through.
  (Mr Boys Smith ) I entirely accept that. Obviously the number who leave after a failed appeal is not confined to those who are removed since a significant number, I can acknowledge we cannot say how many, will remove themselves voluntarily.

  94. The real problem over the years has been the inability of the authorities to have a mechanism to keep a trace of them.
  (Mr Boys Smith ) That is a great difficulty. I would not put it down to the inability of the authorities, as if there was something on the plate, so if we were more active and energetic we could pick up these people, but there is no means of tracking people at their addresses.

  95. We shall watch with interest to see what figures come forward when you have formed a view about whether that will have a deterrent effect on potential illegal immigrants in the future?
  (Mr Boys Smith ) I believe it will. We have no well researched evidence to prove that. It is pretty clear that a number of factors, again manifesting themselves through the asylum business at the moment, have caused the United Kingdom to be attractive over a large number of years. Many of those issues, of course, were addressed in the recent Act of Parliament for new asylum support arrangements. It is fair to say that removals is the one non-statutory measure that also needs addressing and that is what the Government is doing now.

  96. Do you think the introduction of vouchers might have dampened peoples' enthusiasm to come to this country to seek asylum?
  (Mr Boys Smith ) That is one of the factors. The number of asylum applicants in April as against March was somewhat down at a time, on the evidence of previous years, we would have expected it to go up, in Spring and into the Summer. Whether it is just vouchers, that is something that I cannot tease out. There are a number of factors, including dispersal, and the civil penalty as well, and we cannot disentangle that.

  97. If we have more emphasise on removal, what are the staffing implications? Do you think that is going to affect the number of staff involved at port control? We would not want to see a reduction or a shift away there.
  (Mr Boys Smith ) Indeed not. The present plans includes the reinforcement of the Enforcement Directorate as well as the Port Directorate.

  98. If your current measures are successful would you like to speculate on pressure points and where they might occur?
  (Mr Boys Smith ) In terms of the challenges that we will face I think asylum for the foreseeable future will not disappear, it will always be a pressure, however effective the removal or robust support arrangements are, and so on. I do not think asylum is going to go away. We will face constant pressure, as we described to Mr Winnick a short time ago, from organised gangs, from clandestines and through the use of forgery. As I say, the main issues are there for us to see and the question is that we organise ourselves adequately and quickly enough to respond to the individual manifestation.

  99. Can you give us an indication of some of the things you are to do to prepare for different methods and different groups of entry in the future?
  (Mr Boys Smith ) I think many of the measures in the recent Act are a key to that, the United Kingdom-wide application of the civil penalty and the use of flexibility arrangements so that we can use our resources at ports much more effectively. I think we have a lot of the formal measures we need in place in order to be flexible. Routes, I have no doubt, forgive me, one member of the Committee referred to the use of small boats, that that will become more of a pressure and we will have to respond to that as well, which is a question not only of the deployment of our staff or, indeed, of police but also of good access to intelligence.

  Mr Malins: Thank you very much, indeed.

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