Select Committee on Home Affairs First Report



96.  The following examples of good practice were drawn to our attention:

  • Facilitation Support Unit combining immigration and police officers at Dover to tackle traffickers

  • National Criminal Intelligence Service bringing together staff on secondment from all interested agencies

  • Joint Entry Clearance Unit - Home Office and Foreign and Commonwealth Office staff working together in new offices handling applications to visit the UK.

97.  The difficulty posed by organised trafficking also points to the need for closer working between agencies. The Home Office told us:

    "We have put a lot of resources and sophisticated effort into this, along with our colleagues in the police service, and so on, and along with our colleagues in other countries to try and tackle these issues in the best possible way. Which is why I think the problem must be seen as an inter­agency problem, not just an Immigration Service problem".[84]

98.  Among the arguments put to us against a single frontier force are:[85]

  • each of the agencies' activity at the ports is part of a wider operation inland - the close link between the port and the inland activity could be weakened if the port activity was re-brigaded just as a frontier service

  • the range of skills required for different aspects of port work is too broad to be carried out by any one individual, so some specialism will be needed anyway

  • the differing cultures between the different agencies reflects their different objectives and some focus would be lost by reducing them to a lowest common denominator

  • re-organisation into a single agency would either not be more effective or would be so disruptive it would distract effort from the main objectives.

99.  Short of moving immediately to a single frontier force, there are steps which could be taken to encourage closer working between the different agencies. These could either be intermediate steps towards creating a single frontier force or compromise solutions which would produce some of the benefits but would avoid the disruption of creating such a unified body. Possible intermediate solutions include:

  • more cross-posting /secondment of staff

  • shared use of equipment and facilities

  • greater exchange of information

  • more seamless legal basis.

"We talk, as has just been pointed out, at high level and we get agreements and we think we are going to work together. However, what happens on the ground is very different. If I can just give you an example: yesterday in my particular port there were a lot of vehicles returning from Le Mans and, all of a sudden, we were aware that we had a tailback of vehicles trying to leave our port. We have three authorities there who were doing checks at the time: immigration, police and Customs. We have an immigration control which seemed to be working okay, we had a Customs control that seemed to be working okay - and they are spaced apart very strategically to keep the traffic flows moving - but the police had walked in between the two, under the Prevention of Terrorism Act and were actually inspecting passports which had just been inspected 30 metres before. That is the sort of thing you get through not working together." Ferry Port Manager at Portsmouth Q156

100.  The advantages of a single frontier force would be:

  • more co-ordinated fight against organised crime

  • larger pooled budget for development, acquisition and use of advanced technology

  • closer integration of computer databases and communications systems

  • increased flexibility in deploying resources.

101.  We have seen a border in Germany where there are several different agencies operating and a port in Spain where a single agency carries out all the controls. Anyone crossing the motorway border between the Czech Republic and Germany at Waidhuis in Bavaria has to pass four sets of controls - with police and customs officials on both sides of the border. On the other hand, a car arriving from North Africa by ferry at Algeciras - Spain's equivalent of Dover - will be checked by just one police (Guarda Civil) officer dealing with immigration, police and customs controls.

102.  The Home Secretary told us he was very far from persuaded that there should be a single border agency because: " you may end up with very, very significant problems in the relationship between the new border police and its work with the former parent agencies, namely Customs, immigration service and the police".[86] He drew an analogy with Youth Offending teams - drawing professionals together from different agencies "to work together, but to ensure that they still had professional and practical lines back into their respective agencies ... you get people to co-operate much more effectively on the ground ... but bear in mind the real importance of those links back to the parent agencies".[87]

"We started off, when carriers' liability was introduced, with a very bad relationship with the Immigration Service. We simply did not understand where each other was coming from. I think to the great credit of the Immigration Service they have changed and they have shown they are prepared to be flexible and to work in partnership, so I would characterise our relationship at the moment with the Immigration Service as good. However, there are two provisos. The first one is that we do wish the Immigration Service to consult us more, and we are rather baffled by this because we have brought it up at every level - we have tried middle management, we have tried top management, we have tried ministers - but still we get situations where the Immigration Service produce innovation without consultation. We think that is a lose, lose situation. If only they would consult, they would actually derive benefits from it. I think the other thing that we urge on the Immigration Service is that they forget that we are a commercial organisation whose main objective is to please our passengers and to please our shareholders, and I think we have some way to go still on that, but we are certainly moving in the right direction." Mr Highley, British Airways, Q 226

103.  In the course of this inquiry we have seen two other examples of joined-up working by different agencies. The National Criminal Intelligence Service brings together people from different police forces, Customs, Immigration Service and other agencies, as well as recruiting directly its own staff. The Joint Entry Clearance Unit began in June 2000 to combine the work of diplomatic posts overseas and the Immigration and Nationality Department in handling applications to visit the UK. Both are examples of the benefits of creating a new organisation and bringing people from different agencies into it - as opposed to grafting staff from one body onto an existing organisation.

104.  The Joint Entry Clearance Unit is also a good example of the benefits of close ministerial involvement - of the Ministers of State at the FCO and the Home Office - both with the Unit and with each other. That degree of joint ministerial leadership has clearly had a significant effect on the development of JECU. An equivalent arrangement for the border agencies would involve Ministers dealing with immigration and police (both at the Home Office) and Customs (at the Treasury). The analogy with JECU is not exact because much of the border agencies work is operational and does not directly involve ministers; entry clearance, on the other hand, does ultimately require ministerial decisions in individual cases.

105.  It seems easier to achieve effective co-operation between agencies when a new unit such as National Criminal Intelligence Service, the Joint Entry Clearance Unit or the Facilitation Support Unit in Dover, is set up than when existing units are brought together.

106.  While we have seen some examples of joint working and heard of improvements in co-operation between the different border agencies, we are convinced that considerably more should be done to improve joined-up working between the different government agencies operating at UK ports. Immediate steps should be taken to increase the number of cross-postings or secondments between staff of the different border agencies and sharing of office accommodation and computer systems to supplement at day-to-day level what is being done at the level of national management. The Immigration Service could benefit from a joint national database with Customs and police to check information within seconds.

107.  We recommend that the continuing barriers to effective data collection and sharing between the border agencies should be urgently reviewed jointly by Home Office and Treasury (for Customs) Ministers. The Border Control Working Group should agree a joint information requirement to avoid duplication of demands for commercial information from carrying companies.

108.  We recommend that the differing powers of immigration officers, customs officers and police officers should be reviewed jointly by Home Office and Treasury (for Customs) Ministers, with the aim of providing a common power of examination and achieving inter-operability between officials working at borders.

109.  We recommend that existing border control agencies should be combined into a single frontier force on the basis of secondment and direct employment, but with clear lines of communication back to the parent agencies. Pending the creation of a single frontier force, strategic co-direction of better joint working should be provided by a ministerial group to which the official Border Agencies Directors Group should report at least four times a year.

84  Q 65 (Mr Boys Smith, Home Office). Back

85  Q 88 (Mr Boys Smith, Home Office). Back

86  Q 488 (Home Secretary). Back

87  Q 488 (Home Secretary). 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