Select Committee on Home Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 175 - 179)



   Chairman: Good morning. Welcome. I think you have been sitting at the back, so you are familiar with what we are doing. Mr Russell.

Bob Russell

  175. We have been told by the Home Office witnesses earlier this month, that clandestine entrants at Dover have fallen by 32 per cent in May, compared with the first three months of the year; and that 181 civil penalty notices have been issued. Do you now feel that the introduction of the Code and the civil penalty notices was justified?
  (Mr Green) Could I respond in two ways to that, Mr Russell. First of all, I think there is some evidence to show that the numbers have changed, but I would advise the Committee that the numbers themselves are confusing. In our evidence to you, we said that you should elicit more information on the numbers. It is not at all clear to us what the numbers actually mean. Lots of figures have been bandied around. A much quoted 2,000 a month figure has been bandied around a lot. It was not clear to us whether those 2,000 all related to entry in trucks or whether they related to entrance by other means. So I find it difficult to comment on the detail of the figures but, that said, the whole purpose of the penalty scheme is to act as a deterrent: to encourage drivers and businesses to do the right thing; and to prevent the movement of clandestines illegally across the border. Even if there has been a 32 per cent reduction, I would put it to you that there is still a substantial number who are moving across. Clearly, if I could say, it was not a deterrent that prevented the tragic events of this weekend. So it needs to be looked at in this context when you talk about the success of the penalty scheme.

  176. Is it working to a degree? Is it an improvement on what the situation was hitherto because of the introduction of the scheme?
  (Mr Green) I am not trying to be evasive about the numbers. Frankly, I do not know the numbers well enough to be able to make a conclusion. Clearly, there is some initial evidence which shows that there has been a reduction, but the numbers themselves are not clear and are confusing.

  177. In the evidence we have been given on behalf of the Freight Transport Association, with your 11,000 British businesses and 200,000 heavy goods vehicles, reference is made to the constant battle to keep the illegal immigrants from gaining access to the vehicles. We are told that French authorities do not appear to be willing to co-operate with any private security companies. Also, Members of the Committee have received a letter from one of your members which states: "We desperately need France and Belgium to do more about the security of the service areas and the docks." What knowledge have you of that?
  (Mr Green) There have been—and I think it is widely recorded—problems with security in some of the port areas the other side of the Channel. The perspective, which we were trying to put to you in our evidence, was that an effective solution to this problem, as was being said in your previous hearing), is going to require better and proper checks at the frontiers. There is the issue of: where do those checks take place? Do they take place at the point of embarkation or at the port of disembarkation? Largely, that is an academic argument. It is linked with: who wants to have the responsibility of dealing with what emerges from those checks? Undoubtedly, that has been a problem which we face, in trying to get better checks introduced the other side of the Channel. We have consistently said to Ministers, for the last two years, that an effective checking scheme needs to be introduced. Ministers have said to us. "We agree. You go and introduce it in Calais." I put it to you that it is not within the ability of private enterprise to introduce checks of that sort without the co-operation of the authorities. That would certainly be the case within the United Kingdom and that certainly is the case within France. We have not had that level of co-operation. If you want me to cite an example of the level of co-operation where it has been lacking, when we spoke to Home Office Ministers in February of this year about this aspect, they promised help. Their officials did make contact with their opposite numbers, but I can tell you that there is correspondence going back to February, which is unanswered.

  178. At which end?
  (Mr Green) At the French end. Now I have to say that reading the reports of the press yesterday, following the weekend's tragic events, there would appear to be some changes occurring as we speak, but this need for proper checks to counteract this problem needs to be done on an intergovernmental basis with the support of the industry and, as we said in our evidence, with the industry prepared to pay for it. Let us be clear. It is not a question of money we are talking about here. It is a question of means and method.

  179. Mr Green, if you are unable to quantify the success (or otherwise) of the new measures being brought in, could you tell us what steps your members have taken, since the beginning of this year, to prevent clandestine entrants climbing aboard their lorries.
  (Mr Green) We have been issuing advice to our members, for several years now, as to the actions and precautions that drivers should take to endeavour to ensure that there are not clandestines on their vehicles. There are a whole range of checks. Inspections of seals. A whole range of processes that we advise people to undertake. Clearly, responsible proper organisations are undertaking these. But it would be wrong to assume that even with those checks in place you can completely deny access to vehicles who have the aid, as we know, of criminal gangs in gaining that access. There is a whole range of measures, not dissimilar to those in the Code, which emerged as part of the legislation which was introduced on 1 April. Those are measures on which we have been advising for many years.

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