Select Committee on Home Affairs Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum by the British Ports Association



  The British Ports Association (BPA) represents the interests of 86 port authorities located in all parts of the UK, including the main ferry ports. Ports are characterised by strong competitive pressures. All ports, whether trust, municipal or private, exist as independent commercial entities receiving no assistance from government funds. At the same time, they have to absorb a high proportion of the costs of a range of border controls of which Immigration and Customs controls constitute the major part. The withdrawal of the duty free concession last July has had a direct impact on the profitability of ferry operators; those operators are now trying to recoup these losses by seeking reductions in port charges. Although the creation of a single market originally resulted in an easing of checks, especially for customs, our experience since then is that border checks have intensified in a way which seriously undermines the spirit and intention of single market reforms and the need to maintain efficient traffic flows. Although this submission concentrates on the problems of the ferry sector and the combined effect of cargo and passenger controls, many of the points are equally relevant to cargo only ports.


  A particular concern, and one which we hope the Committee will address in detail, is the extent to which the various organisations exercising border controls seek efficiencies through combining manpower and resources and saving costs. Although individual controls can be modest in themselves, it is their cumulative effect which can seriously erode the free movement of goods and people across internal frontiers. Currently, border controls are introduced in an uncoordinated way as a result of legislation or policy which is the responsibility of different parts of government. We believe that official controls and other agency functions should be grouped under the coordination of a single lead body; this would benefit ports and UK trade by making it easier to deal with a single point of contact. Although following the SITPRO report (see paragraph 4 below) an interdepartmental strategy group, chaired jointly by the DTI and Customs at director level, was set up, this seems to concern itself mainly with the control of trade rather than with easing the burden. There is also a Border Agencies Working Group to promote closer working between Customs, the Immigration Service and the police, but ports have only been occasionally consulted by this group. A further benefit of more cooperation would be the opportunity to explore the potential to share facilities and resources in a cost effective way. Government departments and agencies should be able to demonstrate before implementation that each control was necessary, proportionate and effective. Paragraphs 3, 4, 5 and 6 below offer brief summaries of some of the main problems.


  Immigration controls at UK ports continue to represent a significant investment of manpower and resources. The UK remains outside the Schengen Agreement and the government has committed itself to maintaining immigration controls at borders. We believe that controls for journeys within the EU should be dismantled in line with the Schengen Agreement and the Amsterdam Treaty. Only the UK and Ireland have chosen to remain outside Schengen. In March 1999, a House of Lords Select Committee Report on UK immigration controls came to the conclusion that "the government failed to convince the Committee that systematic border controls as currently practised for all arrivals in the UK whether from the European Union or elsewhere is the most effective use of resources to control illegal immigration or is focused on the main sources of illegal immigration" (Para 48). The Committee went on to support the principle of freedom of movement within the EEA as a desirable objective.

  In spite of these clear conclusions, the government is now, through the measures contained in the Immigration and Asylum Bill, seeking to transfer greater costs to the ports themselves. The proposals would allow the Home Office to require ports to provide a whole raft of facilities, ranging from accommodation, through heating and cleaning to telephones and CCTV, all at no cost. The Home Office would also be able to charge for those parts of the service not agreed to be part of a "basic service". Instead of a dismantling of these checks, ports are in fact facing higher charges for controls which have a disruptive impact on traffic flows. We believe the emphasis should be on intelligence based targeting of passengers; such an approach is not reflected in the Immigration and Asylum Bill.


  A review of procedures at UK ports was carried out by SITPRO (Simpler Trade Procedures Board) in 1997. This identified the main problems and made a number of recommendations. In respect of HM Customs three recommendations were made. These were firstly, that the provisions regarding approval of ports, inland clearance depots and wharves should be reviewed; secondly, that the scope of decision making at a local collection level should be reconsidered as this could have significant commercial implications; thirdly, that a policy of moving away from controls at ports to audit based controls at traders' premises should be the "cornerstone of a national trade facilitation strategy". So far as we are aware, patchy progress has been made on these three recommendations and we would like to see Customs giving them serious attention.

  A further recent example of the way in which controls are created is the deployment of X-ray machines in ports to detect tobacco. This was announced to us by Customs on 18 February and we have already challenged Customs to provide information on the extent to which all the options have been looked at before seeking to use X-ray scanners exclusively at ports. Whilst we appreciate that X-ray examinations might provide an easier method of detection, any advantage could be undermined by the ability to check a greater number of lorries creating an equivalent or even greater delay. In line with our comment in paragraph 2 above, Customs should be able to clearly state the extent to which any control is "necessary, proportionate and effective".

  A further factor is the activities of Special Branch who have recently started to search unaccompanied freight parked in the port. Sometimes their controls are exercised alongside Customs but very often they operate independently.


  Port health controls are carried out by local government health officers on behalf of MAFF. They relate to two areas, namely whether goods are fit for human consumption and free from infectious disease. With a few exceptions, goods are identified for inspection by manually scanning paper manifests, inspecting documents and then informing the port, Customs and sometimes the agent that the consignment has been stopped. The SITPRO report concluded that the procedure was generally inefficient and that the Port Health Authority, in conjunction with MAFF, should develop a system which automatically pre-advised of consignments which should be stopped for checking, enabling the importer to transmit the information to the Port Health Authority. With the implementation of new EU Directives on animal health control, the requirements for checks have increased since 1997. We believe that the port health procedures should be integrated with Customs and other agencies so that those affected by these checks should not have to lodge information with the Port Health Authority separately.


  A further example of the vulnerability of ports to checking has occurred with the Vehicle Inspectorate (VI). Council Regulation 4060/89 makes it clear that vehicle inspections are performed at frontiers "solely as part of normal control procedures applied in a non discriminatory fashion throughout the territory of EU member states". Even so, ports have been under pressure for use as locations of intensive vehicle inspection activity. Indeed, we note that in the recommendations of the Commission for Integrated Transport on the general use of 44 tonne lorries, there is a recommendation that vehicle inspection at ports be increased. If this were to be adopted as a policy by government we would strongly resist it.


  The examples provided above are not exhaustive. We believe that there is a need to coordinate checks at ports firstly, by combining resources as fully as possible and secondly, by having a means within government of assessing the effect of each new control and its overall impact. Apart from the commercial advantages this would produce to ports and the freight industry, it should also lead to better containment of costs on the part of those organisations and agencies involved.

7 April 2000

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