Select Committee on Home Affairs Minutes of Evidence


Supplementary information given by the Home Secretary relating to his evidence of 23 October (Q 34)

  During my evidence to the Home Affairs Committee on 23 October, you asked if I was intending to consider reintroducing the embarkation control at British ports. I replied that I hoped to deal with the embarkation control in my statement to the Commons on asylum policy and in the subsequent White Paper on immigration and nationality policy. Following detailed research on this issue, I should like now to set out the background to the reconfiguration of the embarkation control, as well as identifying the range of measures currently under consideration to enhance border security. I hope this will put into context for the HAC why it would not be appropriate or practicable to return to a routine manual embarkation control.

  In practice the embarkation control was never comprehensive. From the early 1970s, due to the sheer number of travellers, it became impossible to match all landing cards and corresponding embarkation cards. As a result the system became increasingly less useful for the purpose of identifying overstayers. Instead, the subsidiary functions, involving services for other agencies such as the police, security and customs, came to be seen as the core functions of the control. There was no evidence that the Immigration Service was making a significant contribution to other agencies' interests or that the police were checking anything other than a tiny minority of embarking passengers. It therefore became increasingly difficult to justify the inconvenience to the public or the high unit cost of providing staff to operate the control.

  In 1994 the previous Government took the decision to withdraw the embarkation control for passengers travelling to EU/EEA destinations from ferry ports and small/medium sized airports. Following the 1997 election, this Government made a commitment to review working practices throughout the public sector, with a view to eradicating out-moded or ineffective procedures.

  The embarkation control became subject to further review, during which it was noted that for the preceding four years, 40 per cent of departing passengers had not been seen by an immigration officer. Experience had shown that, instead, the use of intelligence and denunciatory information was the most effective tool against illegal immigration. Although it did not contribute to the overall effectiveness of the immigration control, however, the residual embarkation control was extremely resource intensive. In 1997, 8 per cent of the Immigration Service's operational duties were deployed to the control's operation and estimated staffing costs were over £3 million.

  In short, we inherited an embarkation control which served little purpose in the tracking down of immigration offenders and which was an inefficient use of resources. After a lengthy period of consultation with interested parties it was decided in March 1998 to reconfigure the residual embarkation control. The routine presence of immigration officers was replaced by a new arrangement based on an intelligence led approach, with enhanced co-operation between the agencies and an increased use of CCTV technology.

  The reconfiguration of the embarkation control means that the Immigration Service can use its resources more flexibly, concentrating on key delivery areas whilst operating a targeted embarkation control any time there is an immigration-related operational need. A contingency plan is held for an emergency, short-term targeted embarkation control, which can be set up at one hour's notice in case of urgent operational need. This involves setting up an embarkation control at the traditional point and an additional gate check embarkation control at airports.

  For the embarkation control to be truly effective, immigration staff would need manually to count in and out 180 million travellers a year and this figure is increasing annually. There is no evidence to suggest that this requirement, which would add unacceptable delays to many millions of genuine travellers, would help counter terrorism. Returning to a routine manual embarkation control is not an option. This is why we are considering as a matter of urgency a range of measures to enhance border security, which will improve the ability to target people of interest, including the use of new technologies to provide IND with a clearer picture of who is travelling to and from the United Kingdom.

5 December 2001

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