Memorandum by the Freight Transport Association
INQUIRY INTO PHYSICAL CONTROLS AT UK PORTS
FTA welcomes the Committee's Inquiry into the
operation of physical controls at UK ports of entry, particularly
in view of the recent implementation of the Asylum and Immigration
The Freight Transport Association represents
the transport interests of over 11,000 British businesses, ranging
from small family firms to multi-national, blue chip companies
with a large number undertaking international road transport operations.
All members have a common interest in the efficient movement of
goods regardless of transport mode. FTA members operate over 200,000
heavy goods vehicles, about half the total number of lorries on
the road, and are responsible for more than 90 per cent of the
freight carried on Britain's railways. FTA also represents the
interests of exporters using deep-sea container shipping, and
air cargo services.
1. In preparing this submission, FTA canvassed
the views of its members regularly using UK ports. Overall, businesses
using the ports are satisfied that existing methods of controlling
the entry of commercial traffic do not generally create problems.
2. There is no doubt that the existence
of the single market with its emphasis on the removal of internal
border controls over the movement of goods and persons has made
a significant contribution to the economic efficiency of UK companies
involved in operating internationally.
3. In recent years, the number of journeys
by commercial vehicles through UK ports from mainland Europe has
risen substantially, from 796,000 in 1993 to over 1.2 million
in 1998. This trend continued in 1999. Over 70 per cent of all
journeys are made through straits of Dover ports.
4. Equally, there is clear evidence that
investment by the ports has yielded benefits in the ability to
handle increased volumes of traffic. The alternative of the Channel
Tunnel route and technological advances have also made a significant
contribution. But the most important element in the avoidance
of costly delays and congestion is that the vast majority of commercial
traffic is permitted to proceed to inland destinations without
physical controls at the point of entry to the UK.
5. That there is no evidence of the current
level of physical controls being undertaken by HM Customs and
other Government agencies creating widespread or systematic disruption
to the free flow of vehicles and goods is welcome; it is healthy
for trade and healthy for traders. To a large extent this must
be attributed to the Customs authorities use of risk profiling
and intelligence based targeting rather than blanket stop and
search tactics. This approach makes the best use of Customs resources
and minimises inconvenience to legitimate businesses.
6. FTA has no brief for those deliberately
bringing illegal immigrants into the UK and fully supports tough
measures against those involved in such activities. We share the
Government's wish to stamp out this trade. In recent years, members
and their drivers have faced a constant battle to keep illegal
immigrants from gaining access to vehicles and trailers coming
from the continent; they pose threats to drivers and cause damage
7. However, we have a real concern that
the implementation of the Carriers Liability provisions of the
1999 Immigration and Asylum Act will not only penalise those who
have made every reasonably practicable effort to avoid unwittingly
carrying illegal immigrants, but could also prejudice the present
acceptable balance between measures to prevent illegal entry of
goods and persons and the efficient flow of international traffic.
8. FTA also believes that the Carriers Liability
clauses are likely to be counterproductive in a number of ways.
Until now, in many cases, illegal immigrants have not been detected
by checks carried out by the authorities, rather they have been
discovered and reported either by the driver en route to his final
destination in the UK or, more frequently, when the vehicle is
unloaded. In such cases the normal procedure is for the matter
to be reported to the local police. As the penalty is applicable
irrespective of the circumstances in which the illegal immigrants
were detected and reported there is now no incentive for the driver
or operator to co-operate as in the past and a strong probability
of increased incidents of stowaways not being reported.
9. In order to avoid a penalty being imposed,
the operator/driver is required by the Act to prove that the vehicle
has been properly checked in accordance with a Code of Practice
produced by the Home Office. This Code of Practice is defective
in requiring procedures which, in some cases, it will be impossible
for the driver to carry out effectively without undue risk. This
is particularly true in respect of roof checks.
10. The Government has argued that difficulties
in undertaking the required checks is a problem for the transport
industry to resolve through arranging properly organised facilities
at the ports of embarkation. Whilst FTA totally supports the need
for effective policing at Calais and other continental ports,
it has consistently argued that this can only be set up through
the intervention of the UK Government with the French authorities.
The majority of drivers and operators are trying to do their jobs
in very difficult circumstances and would welcome the opportunity
to have their vehicles checked by an external agency. However,
those private security companies who have investigated the possibility
of providing such a service have reported that the co-operation
of the French authorities necessary for such a venture is, unsurprisingly,
not readily forthcoming.
11. In effect, drivers and operators are
caught between the policies of Member States competing to ensure
that what is a Community wide problem ends up elsewhere. Ultimately,
the illegal immigrant issue will need to be addressed at Community
level. Regrettably, in the meantime, the unilateral policies pursued
by the UK can only result in decreased efficiency at its borders
and penalising innocent drivers and vehicle operators.
12. Intelligence based targeting of enforcement
avoids disruption to legitimate businesses. The controls operated
by the Immigration Service are not, and to some extent, cannot
be, conducted in the same way. Searches for illegal immigrants
are likely to be conducted on a random but wholesale basis with,
for example, all commercial vehicles on a given ferry being checked.
This approach seems inevitable given that the majority of illegal
immigrants are concealed in the vehicle or trailer without the
knowledge of the driver or the operator. It follows that the type
of targeting adopted by Customs with reference to information
about the driver, consignor, consignee or place of loading has
no relevance when integrity, good reputation and constant vigilance
are no certain protection against stowaways being on board.
13. Given the draconian nature of the penalty
regime and the risk of disruption to traffic flows, it is essential
that the effectiveness of the measures can be demonstrated by
reference to comparable figures for periods before and after implementation
on 3 April. These need to showthe number of vehicles stopped
and investigated, the number of illegal immigrants detected, the
number of illegal immigrants voluntarily reported by drivers and
operators, the number of illegal immigrants discovered in the
UK who were believed to have entered in a goods vehicle or trailer
but which have not been discovered by the authorities or reported
by drivers or operators.
Clearly, these figures can only be provided
by the Home Office after the new system has been operating for
a number of weeks, but we would urge the Committee to ask for,
and take account of, these statistics.
14. In conclusion, FTA believes the Government's
efforts must be concentrated on obtaining the co-operation of
other Member States for the implementation of strict and effective
controls at the ports of embarkation, for harmonisation of the
procedures for dealing with illegal immigrants through the Community
and for better security at the external borders of the EU.
7 April 2000