Select Committee on Home Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 160 - 174)



Mr Winnick

  160. The obvious response to that is, surely, to have an on-going dialogue with Government—obviously at an official level, but, if need be, with ministers. What surprises me is that you have had these complaints, clearly, over successive governments—not only the one in office at the present moment. Where is the co-ordination on your part and your colleagues' in order to promote that sort of dialogue?
  (Mr Powell) May I answer that? There was set up an inter-departmental strategy group. The Government departments squabbled over who was going to chair it and, eventually, it was jointly chaired by Customs and the DTI. It fell out of the ports report from SITPRO, which David mentioned. So we did sponsor exactly that move on the part of government. What we wanted this group to be was a champion of controls on traffic and people at ports. It has not fulfilled that role, unfortunately, and, yes, we should be tackling why it is not. We did go down that route and get halfway there, at least.

  Mr Winnick: We will be pursuing matters with ministers and we will get a ministerial response, or whatever. I would have thought you have given us a good deal of room to reflect on the lack of co-ordination which you have just been referring to.

Mr Linton

  161. It is obviously very important, Mr Powell, for lorries to get through quickly, especially when they are carrying fresh produce. As I understand it, if any of the agencies hold up a fresh produce lorry for a long time they can end up paying compensation, as they rightly should do. It may not be complete coincidence that some of the cases of clandestine immigrant trafficking have used fresh produce lorries. In fact, the tragic case yesterday was using a tomato lorry, maybe, for the specific reason that Customs and immigration officials maybe more reluctant to stop fresh produce lorries.
  (Mr Powell) That is eminently plausible. I do not have facts and figures but I am sure Customs—with their risk-profiling and their databases of what is worth looking at and what the trends are—will be better able to answer that sort of question.

  162. I asked the question because I wanted to raise the issue the Home Secretary raised yesterday, of having pre-embarkation controls on the other side of the Control. I believe they are having discussions already with the French authorities and, of course, we have pre-embarkation controls now, for the first time, on the Channel Tunnel. From the point of view of port authorities, do you think it would be helpful? Clearly, it makes a lot of logical sense to examine a lorry before it goes over the Channel rather than after, when it is ready to carry on its journey.
  (Mr Powell) I think the short answer is yes. For the last two or three years we have been pushing Government, the other trade associations, and our counterparts on the continent to set up some form of inspection facility for certain purposes. Illegals is one that obviously springs to mind, with the ability to use some of those CO2 detection instruments, which would remove some of the problem, certainly.

  163. Would it be helpful to have a Customs inspection pre-journey as well?
  (Mr Powell) If it could be done, yes.
  (Mr Gadd) Can I add something to that? I am a member of the Short Sea sub-committee of the National Maritime Security Committee and we have to search outward bound passengers and their vehicles. We have to do that under the direction of the Secretary of State and we have been doing that since 1992. We have pushed for a long time about why are we doing it only one way across the Channel and not the other way. It is not being done on French, or Spanish or whatever, soil. I know that the Government has worked hard to try to bring that in, but it has never succeeded to date.

  164. Can I also ask—and this is, probably, directed more to the air operators—about the future in terms of sheer passenger numbers? I understand, at the moment, that there are about 86 million passenger movements a year. It is due to go up to 110 million and, indeed, 170 million by 2015. Do you think we really are equipped in terms of manpower, organisation and technology to deal with these numbers of passengers?
  (Mr Summers) I think this is one of the key issues, in terms of the provisions and proposals that we are seeing from the Immigration Service at the moment, because, clearly, these forecasts are widespread and, at the moment, the DTI is working on these forecasts and we shall see plans for air services over the next two years. The potential growth you have talked about is there, and to see double where we are today in the next 10 to 15 years is not an unusual forecast at all. Airports are investing massively already to cope with numbers, not just the major players, like BAA, but the regional airports as well, where a great deal of that growth will actually fall. That does mean that there is a demand requirement placed on the control authorities to match that. We are having to build facilities for that. One of our great concerns about these proposals is the way those facilities are then manned in terms of staff, in terms of people, and customer service levels on entry into the UK etc. If we go to this point you made a moment ago, about reversing the pattern, for airports, of course, it is not a complete reversal because you will always have the third-party non-EU traffic to cope with. So you will still have the inbound controls, even if you extend the outbound special arrangements on a bilateral basis with specific countries, as does exist in some cases already with the US. So you will still have both areas to provide facilitation for, which we would expect to be doing. So you will extend that requirement.
  (Mr Cruickshank) Just to add to that, I think the glimmer of hope in this is the flexibility provisions and proposals. If we were retaining the current form of immigration control and looking at the growth of passengers that we are looking at, I think many people would be fearful for how things will cope. I am hopeful that the flexibility provisions, if they work through in the way they are being described, if they imply a change of the nature of the transaction for people coming in with visas which have been granted in countries abroad, these sorts of things will help to make the immigration control much more efficient and be able to deal with those numbers and, hopefully, provide high levels of customer service at the same time.

  165. What about technology to speed up the processing? I believe in the States they already use biometrics, where you put your hand on a screen, and machine-reading of passports, live-scan fingerprinting. Are these central to get the—
  (Mr Summers) We believe so. We praise again these points, that they should be importantly pursued with vigour, in terms of coping with these levels of expected traffic. We have made that point in our submission.

  166. Are you confident that the Home Office is seized of the importance of this?
  (Mr Summers) I do not think we can respond to that.
  (Mr Cruickshank) Just to be a little bit cautious on that, you have to make sure that you apply the technology where it is going to make a difference. So technology, probably, will not do anything to help the arrival of EU passengers who currently just show their passports. You are not going to get technology that goes much quicker than that. However, for passengers who will have to be interviewed for some time and who are bona fide travellers and can prove it, then maybe the application of technology can help. It is horses for courses.

  167. I was going to ask some questions on a single frontier force, but that has been largely covered already. Just one point on that: I think Mr Cruickshank mentioned the fact that the different agencies can get in one another's way. You can be approached by a Customs officer, an immigration official, ports police and by—
  (Mr Whitehead) Many others.

  168. MAFF and MI5 as well. Are there any examples you can give us—since you have come up with the idea of a single frontier force—where these different agencies actually are counter-productive?
  (Mr Powell) I could give you a very specific example that happened not very long ago. An inbound family in an Escort van in Dover, legitimately—


  169. A white van?
  (Mr Powell) It was a white van, I freely admit that.

  170. Dead meat!
  (Mr Powell) They had been on an innocent day trip and were passport controlled, as is normal, of course, by immigration and were then selected by Kent Police Ports Unit for a check for some reason, unaccountably, and were asked to off-load the van. They did so, and then were told they could reload it and go—only to find that 10 yards down the road they were stopped by Customs who asked them to unload the van again, and equally found nothing. It was not a target, as far as I am aware, it was a cold pull on both counts.

Mr Linton

  171. How long did it take them to get through the port of Dover?
  (Mr Powell) An hour, probably, against a target time of less than five minutes.


  172. Can I clear this up with you? I think you, Mr Whitehead, earlier were making the point about the need for better co-ordination. I just wanted to clear what Mr Linton put to you. That is not necessarily the same as arguing for a single border control force, is it?
  (Mr Whitehead) No, not necessarily.

  173. Would you favour that?
  (Mr Whitehead) I sound like a politician, but we will have to see. I think we have to have the negotiation—

  174. If we do it you will let us know what you think about it.
  (Mr Whitehead) Certainly, yes. It sounds, on the face of it, as if it is going in the right direction to have such a thing, but I think we have to talk a bit more about what is at stake here, get the agencies together and, really, see the best pragmatic way forward.
  (Mr Gadd) We, at Portsmouth, actually looked at that and suggested it, but it was pooh-poohed sometime ago. The idea was that there was one person who stopped the vehicle and questioned the person in the vehicle, and if they were of interest or they had any intelligence on them, they would send them to the respective bay where Customs, immigration, police—whoever needed to see them—could interview them. So they were only stopped once if they were stopped at all.
  (Mr Summers) I think co-operation, realistically, is the way forward. I think the way that is done is the issue, really, with all the different departments involved. That is what we would be looking for and we could then realistically talk about some sharing in a more logical way at ground level as well as at a policy level.
  (Mr Powell) Can I just illustrate a very simple point? I agree that co-operation is the right answer. It is the outcomes we are interested in, not the mechanics of Government and how it does its business, because that is not our business. We do have regular liaison with all sorts of bits of Government. Referring back to Customs, again, we have a regular liaison meeting with them, at which all sorts of things fall out in the port. Recently I spent a morning laying out an area of the port where we were going to find a way of letting Customs intercept some outbound vehicles in order to do some checks. We were informed that they were likely to be sporadic, an hour or two at a time and a few vehicles at a time. So we have set in train some engineering work, I am getting quotations and proposals to make this work, because there are all the safety, traffic management and people issues to deal with. Within the space of a week, I was at a different meeting where a different representative from Customs said "Oh, and by the way, we are going to have a 24-hour, 7-days-a-week outbound freight and tourist checking system in place by next month, because we have been given the job by Government of finding the money" (which is the latest political issue, of finding the ill-gotten money or where it is going) "and we have got the contract. So next month we will be there all day, every day, lots of people." So, in the space of a week, from having a sensible, negotiated way forward, on a relatively minor issue, it is all knocked into a cocked hat because something has arrived overnight by a different part—and this is the same department. Not even a different one.[4]

  Chairman: Thank you very much indeed, gentlemen, for your evidence. You have left us a great deal to think about. We are changing ends now. If you wish to stay you may, by all means.

4   Note by witness: One point which perhaps was not covered owing to other pressures at the time is that we would not wish to be seen as levelling criticism at the individuals involved on the government side of the House. We have exceptionally good relationships with many of them, both nationally and locally and work hard to maintain those whatever the professional disagreements may be. We recognise that they have a job to do and the (often political) pressure to deliver under which they operate. I must make one last point, which also did not get an airing and this is the subject of accountability. I could quote instances where government departments do not have targets or standards to which they should adhere. I could equally quote examples where we are dictated to insofar as standards are concerned. However, by whichever route such measures come about, there is no accountability if they are not met, nor penalty for failure. I will quote one specific example. The Immigration Service (IS) have set themselves (for some years now) a target for processing inbound cars at Dover of "90% within 6 minutes". We have no influence on this self-imposed standard. However, in a spirit of partnership we co-funded with the IS an automated measuring system to monitor the standard. Results are published monthly and show that the standard is rarely met. In May, it happened on a mere two days, in some months not at all! There is absolutely nothing we can do about this. The reason most often given is a lack of resources and, of course, we have no ability to influence how the IS deploys its resources. Consequently, our inbound tourist passengers suffer, at peak times especially, inordinate delays, about which we are powerless. Back

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