Select Committee on Home Affairs First Report



70.  In the course of our inquiry the new civil penalties for lorries found with illegal entrants on board were introduced. The owner of any lorry is liable for a civil penalty of £2,000 for each illegal entrant found on board. The scheme started in Dover in April 2000 and there was an immediate drop in the number of entrants found from 1,423 to 823 a month. The scheme was extended to other ports throughout the UK in July 2000. By 20 November 2000, 617 penalty notices had been issued in respect of 3,507 illegal entrants.[58] The total sum involved - before objections and actual collection - is just over £7 million. We understand that in about one in ten cases the penalty has been withdrawn following objection (i.e. on appeal).

71.  The Home Secretary told us that "the introduction of the civil penalty has had a number of very important benefits in terms of improving control".[59] Concerns have been expressed to us about the fairness of the appeals system[60] and about lorry drivers who report clandestine entrants to the authorities and then have a civil liability imposed. The civil penalty is to be extended to rail freight early in 2001.[61] The action taken by P&O Stena Line at Calais in early December demonstrates the effect on carriers of such measures. The company appears to have decided that it is more economic to search lorries in France than risk paying the civil penalty in England. This will also benefit individual lorry drivers by reducing their chances of incurring the penalty.

72.  One criticism made by the National Audit Office in its report was delay in collecting carriers' liability charges.[62] Following introduction of those charges in 1987, 35 % or £22 million were still outstanding in 1993. Significant improvement has been made since then, with outstanding charges reduced to only 5.4% or £7.35 million in 1999.[63] Collection rates on the civil penalty have started slowly, with inevitable delays for objections to be considered. If it is to be effective, the Home Office will have to be active in collecting penalties when objections have been considered and rejected. The impounding of lorries should assist this process.

73.  It remains to be seen what effect the civil penalty will have in the medium term in encouraging lorry owners and drivers to take more care to prevent illegal entry on their vehicles. We welcome the steps taken by P&O Stena Line at Calais and Zeebrugge to detect and deter illegal entrants before they board ferries. It is too early to judge whether those who traffick in human beings have been deterred or merely displaced to other methods and routes. We believe the independence of the appeal system for carriers' liability should be reviewed.


74.  Port operators and carriers have told us that they are not consulted sufficiently by the border agencies.[64] They are also concerned about the cost to them of providing facilities for the border agencies. The Immigration Service produced a consultation paper in 1999 on provision of facilities and charging for additional services at ports under the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999. The aim was to prevent port authorities charging the Immigration Service for border control facilities, especially at new or expanded ports. These were due to be implemented by April 2001, but the project seems to have slipped. Port operators have argued that this will place an additional financial burden on them which may put them at a commercial disadvantage.

 "Free-flow of traffic is an issue, obviously, close to our heart... sometimes there is a public perception of ports that they are there, really, as public authorities in some way, to carry out public functions all the time, whereas, in fact, they are highly competitive commercial entities, all competing with each other, all having to produce an interchange of passengers and freight as safely and as quickly as possible. So, all the time we are trying to achieve a balance between those commercial realities, and the public responsibility aspect, of course. " British Ports Association Q 138

75.  Direct comparison with other countries, where ports are often a part of the public sector, are difficult. There are intangible benefits - as well as costs - to operators and carriers of having effective border controls. We have not seen any compelling evidence that the arrangements for payment in the UK actually put its ports and operators at a competitive disadvantage.


76.  Government policy for many years has been based on the assumption that controls at ports of entry is the only effective way to control the flow of illegal immigrants. Under the Schengen Convention, France has no control over those who enter across its land borders with other EU countries. It has to rely on those EU countries with an external border with non EU countries to control access to the EU Schengen area. This seems acceptable to the French presumably because access to government services and employment in France is partly dependent on possession of identity documents. People without such documents - "sans papiers" - are tolerated. For such people, we understand that access to work is only possible for those with a social security number; that schools demand only proof of residence; and that access to healthcare depends on the ability to pay.

"you can live in the United Kingdom pretty easily, even if you are here illegally, particularly if you have an employer ... who does not ask too many questions. Schools do not enquire as to the legal status of the parents, so there is no constraint there. The United Kingdom, perhaps, in comparison to other countries, is a relatively unpoliced society." Home Office evidence Q100-101

77.  Proof of nationality status does not seem to be required for access to most public services in the UK. The main internal identity number - the national insurance number - can be issued to an adult without a photograph or an address on the basis of evidence of life history. A driving licence does require a photograph, address and passport or birth certificate. An NHS medical card can be obtained with only a check on the database of the Office for National Statistics (ONS). Employment outside the public sector rarely requires any identity check. Birth, death and marriage certificates can be obtained without an identity check on the basis of evidence of the event. We were told that in Denmark access to schools or doctors involves checking national identity numbers.[65] (For asylum-seekers, health and education in Denmark are provided by the Red Cross rather than the state). Access to free health treatment in the UK is based on lawful residence rather than on immigration status. Patients who have not lived in the UK for the previous twelve months may be liable to pay for their treatment.

"we believe ... that there should not be, for EU passengers, controls at UK ports. We believe that we should be part of the Schengen agreement and that the Schengen agreement has worked well and exchanges information and has its own strengths." British Ports Association Q 141

"the Schengen system is in fact built around a dual framework in which a strict external frontier control is complemented by co-operation among national law enforcement agencies. This system embodies the recognition that frontier control alone cannot bear the full weight of ensuring internal security without choking off trade and human contacts." House of Lords European Union Committee HL 110

78.  It has become clear to us during the course of this inquiry that the flow of clandestine immigrants cannot be stopped by border controls alone. They need to be supplemented by internal checks on access to work and public services. This is, in theory, the way other EU countries operate within the Schengen Convention. We asked the Home Secretary about strengthening internal controls as a way of making up for weaknesses in border controls. His main argument against this was the possible effect on community relations of a compulsory identify card:

    "If you wanted to go down the Schengen road ­ which, for the avoidance of doubt, I do not, and neither does the Government ­ and lift border controls, then you would have to have a strong system of internal controls and that would lead you, inevitably, into a system of compulsory identification cards".[66]

79.  We accept that if the UK were to join the Schengen Convention and lift border controls, there would be no alternative to a system of compulsory identity cards. However, no one has argued persuasively to us that the UK should join the Schengen Convention or that border controls should be dismantled. On the contrary, we believe that the case has been made for more effective border controls.

80.  The issue of identity cards was examined by this Committee in 1996, following the publication of a Green Paper by the then Government.[67] That was the time when a new photographic driving licence and a benefit payments card were planned, the British Visitor's Passport was being withdrawn and smart card technology was being developed for consumers. The Committee considered the issue of illegal immigration and concluded: "It is likely that only an identity card which was either compulsory or which carried details of immigration status would have an impact on preventing illegal immigration".[68]

81.  These questions raise huge issues of civil liberties and human rights. All governments have been opposed to the reintroduction of identity cards since they were abolished nearly half a century ago. We believe there would be widespread repugnance at the prospect of the police or other officials being empowered to stop someone in the street and demand the production of an identity card. We believe, also, that if any compulsory identity card system were introduced solely to enable greater internal immigration control, there is a grave risk that this could foster racial harassment and cause setbacks in good race relations.

82.  The questions which then arise are whether there should be more effective internal checks as a supplement but not an alternative to border controls; and, if so, whether these additional internal measures might beneficially include entitlement cards giving access to public services.

83.  Whatever the reality, the perception in ethnic minority communities might be that even a voluntary entitlement card system was discriminatory. On the other hand, a card which made it easier for all those entitled to public services to gain access to them might have its advantages.

84.  In the UK, a large majority of the population carry and use entitlement cards on a daily basis - to buy goods on credit, to travel on public transport, to access places of work, to travel abroad, to drink in a pub or to drive a car. Another example of where individuals might carry cards for their own advantage is where smart card technology enables full medical details to be carried for use in an emergency. These are all ways in which people carry cards for their personal convenience and advantage. A single entitlement card which combined these features with access to public services - whether a library or a regular benefit payment - need not have any sinister connotations in terms of civil liberties.

85.  Moreover, an entitlement card could play important roles in addressing benefit fraud; ensuring that only those entitled to free public services obtain those services; and in preventing workers - including immigrant workers - from exploitation by unscrupulous employers. In the case of social security benefits, an entitlement card system could ensure that benefits were paid efficiently to those entitled to them and reduce wastage on administration and fraud. What we have in mind is a card which the bearer would be expected to produce only when exercising a right or gaining access to a service.

86.  This is not the place to make recommendations on contentious issues which range across many Governmental Departments and raise fundamental questions of both principle as well as practicalities. We have not taken evidence on whether a voluntary entitlement card would have an impact on the number of illegal entrants. It is possible that people who are not genuine asylum-seekers are attracted to the UK by the perception that access to public services in this country is easier than in, say, France. If the UK adopted an entitlement card systems, it is possible that that perception would diminish over time.

87.  We therefore suggest that the Government consider a fundamental review - across all Departments - of the case for and against the introduction of an entitlement card system. Any such review should specifically address the issue as to whether there are potential benefits which could accrue from the introduction of some sort of entitlement card system without undermining either individual liberty or good race relations. It would need to consult a whole range of organisations, including those involved with community and race relations as well as individual liberty, for the reasons outlined above. It should also be borne in mind that criminal gangs involved in illegal immigration would no doubt try to produce fake or bogus cards.

58  Official Report 23 November col 293w. Back

59  Q 410. Back

60  Q 274 (Mr Linington, Freight Transport Association). Back

61  Official Report 23 November 2000 col 293w. Back

62  HC (1994-95) 204 para 2.37. Back

63  Appendix 1 annex 37. Back

64  Q 134. Back

65  Q 104. Back

66  Q 501 (Home Secretary). Back

67  Fourth Report 1995-96 HC 172 Identity Cards; Home Office consultation paper on identity cards Cm 2879. Back

68  Para 28. Back

previous page contents next page

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

© Parliamentary copyright 2001
Prepared 31 January 2001