Select Committee on Home Affairs Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum by the Freight Transport Association



  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 Act 1999.


  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 to loads.

  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 show—the 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

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