Select Committee on Home Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 260 - 277)



  260. Can you just explain how that works?
  (Mr Forster) If you are a frequent traveller in the United States, you can register with the INSPASS system. When you register you are issued a plastic card of credit card size which has details in optical character recognition format of your palm; it is a reading of measurements on your palm. That is encoded on the card. When you subsequently arrive at the US port of entry you place the card in a machine and your palm, your hand, on the reader, and if the two match the gate opens and you are allowed entry without seeing an immigration official. So clearly there are efficiency savings there for the immigration authorities in manpower. However, in the UK, we need to ensure that technology does not hinder passengers flowing through our airports. If we look at the consultation paper on the Immigration and Asylum Bill in respect of flexibility, one can imagine more creative ways of moving passengers through our airports other than using technology. Perhaps low risk passengers could be waved through, for example large groups of Japanese passengers, American tourists. These could be deemed as low risk passengers and is there a need for each and every passenger to be interviewed, as has been the practice in the past. Technology may have a part to play and that should be considered in the overall scheme of things.

  261. Do you see no adverse implications to a wave-through approach to resolve these kind of problems in terms of security?
  (Mr Forster) Clearly if you are relaxing controls in any way, then security is a consideration, but there has to be a balance here between addressing the needs of the travelling public and the future volumes we can expect. I do not think anybody wants to see passengers queuing for hours at our immigration controls, which will be the case if we continue with today's practices. I think the Immigration Service should be applauded for their new stance on flexibility and the new areas they are looking at.

  262. Would you not agree though that it is more important to increase the capacity to swiftly, safely and securely get this increased number of passengers through passport controls, rather than just simply relax the controls?
  (Mr Forster) If that were possible, yes, but there are enormous cost implications for enlarging airports if that is possible at all. One can look at Terminal 4 and there is no space to extend the immigration hall there, so that is not an option.

Mr Fabricant

  263. Mr Forster, you said some parts of Europe have faster entry than others. I just wonder, if I may borrow from Winston Churchill, whether you could identify any parts which are the soft under belly of Europe as far as people getting in illegally is concerned?
  (Mr Forster) Perhaps what I said was misunderstood. I said the carriers' liability legislation is not enforced so rigorously in other parts of the EU as it is in the UK. When it comes to entry controls, similar procedures to those in place in the UK take place at other EU ports of entry.

  264. Equally rigorous?
  (Mr Forster) In that every passenger is inspected, yes.

Mr Linton

  265. I want to come on to the question of a single frontier force which you will have heard mentioned in the first half of the evidence. Before I do that, however, can I ask Mr Green for more detail about the idea of drive-through x-ray scanners at Channel ports? It is an idea that we have explored with the Home Office and other witnesses and we have been rather given the impression that it can only be done to a very small percentage of traffic. I have pointed out that we have walk-through x-ray scanners for every passenger who boards an aircraft and I do not understand why it suddenly becomes impossible when you talk about freight. I was just wondering whether you could put any figures on this. We have been given a figure of 3 to 5 million dollars for one of these x-ray or gamma-ray machines which they use in the United States, which do scan whole lorries, which would be about £2 to £3 million. If we were to have drive-through x-ray scanners for all traffic coming across through Channel ports, have you any idea of the kind of cost which would be involved?
  (Mr Green) We have not produced a total figure for it. The sort of numbers I have heard in relation to the cost of each piece of equipment is not dissimilar to the figures you have quoted, perhaps a little bit less—I have heard more like £1 million per piece of kit—but we are still talking of substantial sums of money because you clearly would need several in each location. We have not any figures as to what the total cost would be but I think it is that sort of level of investment you have to contemplate if you want to eradicate this practice.

  266. This would eradicate both the possibility of future tragedies such as we have seen this week and indeed the problem of people coming to claim asylum from Belgium or France?
  (Mr Green) Again it is difficult to precisely comment in respect of the tragedy which occurred this week, but if every vehicle was subject to an effective check of that sort, that seems to me to be the sort of deterrent that stands the best chance of eradicating that practice.

  267. Thank you for that. Just coming on to the question of the single frontier force, you heard the comments of the British Ports Authority and the airline operators who both support this solution. Do you yourselves feel, and you are the most vulnerable of all, that multiple checks by Customs and by immigration and then possibly by ports police and others causes a wasteful duplication, or do you find that they work closely together and it is not a problem?
  (Mr Green) To be honest, it is not an issue on which we have taken a firm opinion. Again, you have to recognise that there are different issues relating to, for example, trucks coming through ports from you or I travelling through that port, because there are documentary procedures which would require to be undertaken. It is not an issue we have given major thought to. Indeed, when we consulted our members earlier, prior to submitting the evidence to you, in general terms we got very encouraging responses from the transport sector about the efficiency of the UK border controls, certainly dramatically different from those which can prevail in other parts of Europe, where I can tell you it can take 24 hours to cross a border, and where you are not talking about two or three agencies, you can be talking about ten all in their different uniforms.

Mr Howarth

  268. Can you give us some examples?
  (Mr Green) Some of the borders which exist between Germany and Poland and in that part of the world, or, even worse, when you get further east than that, between Poland and Byelorussia or into the Ukraine. There are massive issues there relating to border controls which put what we are talking about into real significance.

Mr Linton

  269. What about British Airways? Do you have any views on the single frontier force?
  (Mr Forster) We can obviously see efficiencies associated with combining the control authorities. By way of example, we will soon be sharing passenger information with the Immigration Service and with Customs and possibly the police. This will probably involve us, although it is too early to say, in loaning computer equipment to each department. We are having to loan three separate pieces of equipment—

  270. Do they not have their own computers?
  (Mr Forster) These are specialised. They are not stand-alone PCs, these are computers which are linked to our central processing unit of our reservation system, for example. So therefore dedicated equipment software has to be provided. We are providing that possibly in triplicate, whereas if there was one agency a single computer would suffice.

  271. Do you have any experience of how this works in other countries? Do they have simpler procedures?
  (Mr Forster) The only example I can cite is in Canada where the CIC, the Canadian immigration authority, work very closely with Customs. In fact, I believe it is a Customs official that mans the immigration desk when you arrive at a Canadian airport.

  272. Would it be necessary to have a single force, a unified force, or do you think there are steps short of that, such as a much closer co-operation of working without merging the two organisations?
  (Mr Forster) Yes. We are already seeing, I think, through the Immigration and Asylum Act information-sharing with the Immigration Service, for example. The Act enables them to share data with other bodies, so, yes, there are also some efficiencies there.


  273. Mr Green, could you just say something about the appeals system now that this drivers' liability has come into place? The letter we had this morning says that neither the haulier nor the driver is allowed to be present during the appeals procedure.
  (Mr Green) Can I ask Mr Linington to answer that?

  274. Of course.
  (Mr Linington) It is one of our fundamental concerns that the appeals procedure itself is inadequate in giving proper protection to those who deserve it. One has to draw a distinction here between areas where it is considered it is right for a prosecution to be brought and where the evidence would then be tested in the courts and a proper sentence imposed, and there was power to do that which existed before the penalty system, and the penalty system itself. There are a number of areas in the penalty system which we do not like. Firstly, it is a fixed penalty. That means to say there is no measure of culpability, we do not know if the person has been extremely careless or very unlucky, and there is no measure in imposing the penalty which takes that into account. More importantly from our point of view, the penalty objection system, the objection to the penalty, has to be made to the Immigration Service itself. That has to be in writing. There is no right of appearance before the person making the decision as to whether the penalty stands; there is no right of legal representation; there is no right of disclosure, in other words you do not know what other evidence the officer making the decision is weighing against you; and finally there is no direct appeal from that penalty to any other independent body, so it is very much a closed loop. In all those areas we believe that the appeal procedure is not giving proper protection to those who have got a case. We are not talking about people here who are deliberately smuggling people, we are talking about those type of cases we have mentioned where although there have been checks carried out they have not been able to detect the presence of illegal immigrants, (a) because they have entered through the roof, (b) because they may have been in sealed containers, or (c) the means of entry may have been so well disguised that it is going to take forensic analysis to find out which rope has been cut and stuck back together.

  275. To take you one step further, all that happens, if the appeal is rejected, it would make sense presumably in those circumstances for the driver to refuse to pay so that the proceedings then have to go to court when all this could come out in the open. It is a very roundabout way of achieving that, if that is the case.
  (Mr Linington) It is a civil penalty and of course there is more than one person who can be liable. A penalty notice can be issued against a driver and his employer and possibly even the person who owns the trailer, even if they were not there. Yes, if the notice of objection to the penalty is turned down, then it becomes a debt to be recovered in court if it is not settled. It seems to me extremely unlikely—and we have had legal advice on this—that the court is going to be concerned with the whys and wherefores of why the penalty was imposed, it is simply a debt enforcement case.

  276. Mr Green, we are going to the German-Czech border at Waidhaus. Are you familiar with that part of the world?
  (Mr Green) I personally am not. Do we know of that post?
  (Mr Linington) We know of the post, not in detail.

  277. I just wondered if, either now or later, you could perhaps drop us a note and let us know what might be the best time of day or night to go there?
  (Mr Green) We will let you have some information.

  Chairman: That is very kind. Can I thank you, British Airways and the Freight Transport Association, for your help with this inquiry. Thank you very much indeed.

previous page contents

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2001
Prepared 31 January 2001