UNCORRECTED TRANSCRIPT OF ORAL EVIDENCE To be published as HC 817

House of COMMONS

MINUTES OF EVIDENCE

TAKEN BEFORE

HOME AFFAIRS COMMITTEE

 

THE E-BORDERS PROGRAMME

 

 

Tuesday 30 June 2009

MR TIM REARDON

MR JOHN POWELL

MR EDDIE REDFERN

MR MARC NAORO

Evidence heard in Public Questions 1 - 127

 

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Oral Evidence

Taken before the Home Affairs Committee

on Tuesday 30 June 2009

Members present

Keith Vaz, in the Chair

Tom Brake

Ms Karen Buck

Mrs Ann Cryer

David T C Davies

Patrick Mercer

Gwyn Prosser

Mr Gary Streeter

Mr David Winnick

_______________

Memorandum submitted by Chamber of Shipping

 

Examination of Witness

Witness: Mr Tim Reardon, Chamber of Shipping, gave evidence.

Q1 Chairman: Good morning. This is a one-off evidence session into the Government's e-borders programme, following concerns that the Committee has received from travel agents and ferry companies and airlines about the proposals that the Government put forward last year. I would refer all those present to the register of Members' interests, where the interests of Members are noted. Mr Reardon, are you against, in principle, the idea of companies producing this information for the Government?

Mr Reardon: Our ferry companies, Chairman, have a strong record of supporting the UKBA by providing information to it to enable them to target their border control activities. All the ferry operators provide the UKBA with access to their manifest system, which means that such information as the ferry operators have they share with UKBA. The ferry operators are not in favour of collecting information which has no operational use in the context of running a ferry service, and they are particularly not in favour of collecting such information if doing so would be disruptive to the operation of the ferry service and there is no obvious benefit for their customers from the collection of that information.

Q2 Chairman: It is about implementation rather than principle that you are primarily concerned. You accept what the Government are saying on the need for them to gather this information.

Mr Reardon: It is the prescriptive nature of the dataset which causes difficulty in the context of ferry operation and the implementation details as to when that information is required to be provided.

Q3 Chairman: We ask this question of almost every witness who comes forward, so please do not take it personally. How many people do you represent in the Chamber of Shipping?

Mr Reardon: Certainly. We represent all UK shipping companies; that is about 140 of them. We also work as the Chamber of Shipping very closely with the Passenger Shipping Association which represents other ferry companies which do not have a UK commercial presence. They have kindly asked me to speak on their behalf as well today, so I am speaking on behalf of all the ferry companies trading to and from the UK.

Q4 Chairman: How many people do you represent?

Mr Reardon: There are about 20 million ferry passengers carried on routes between the UK and the Continent (that is, routes subject to immigration controls) in a year at the moment.

Chairman: Thank you very much.

Q5 Mr Streeter: Just so that we can get a feel for what you are being asked to do, what data do you collect from your passengers at the moment and how would that shift if the Home Office had their way with you, so to speak.

Mr Reardon: Data that is collected at the moment falls really into two categories: first, booking data, and, second, passenger registration data. Booking data is the information required to take and operate a booking. Our bookings are essentially for vehicles, so the information within booking data would vary slightly by route and by traffic stream but typically it is the size of the vehicle, how much space it will take up on the vehicle deck of a ship, the date and time of the sailing, and a lead name for that booking, similar, if you like, to booking a table in a restaurant: how big is the table, when do you want it, what name should you give when you arrive at the door. Additionally, where the ferry has cabin accommodation, for example, then that information will be taken in the context of booking as well. There is separately a requirement under maritime safety law to collect the name, the sex, the age category (that is, adult, child or infant) of everyone on board the ship and an indication of any special needs if a passenger volunteers it. That information is collected within the vehicle booking if possible, but if not, for whatever reason, it is collected when the individual arrives for checking. The e-borders system, by contrast, asks for eight items of data from an individual's passport.

Q6 Chairman: Would you just run through them for us?

Mr Reardon: From memory, it is the type of document (that is, a passport or an identity card); the individual's full name, as shown in the passport; their date of birth; their nationality; the country that issued the passport; the passport number; and its expiry date.

Q7 Chairman: You mentioned special needs. What do you mean by special needs? Are these dietary requirements? Would the e-borders programme require people to tell whether they are vegetarians or not, for example?

Mr Reardon: Indeed not, Chairman. The special needs indicator is required under maritime safety law. The purpose of that data is to assist in helping passengers in the event of a casualty at sea, and the indicator of special needs is an indicator of special physical needs. That might be needed for emergency services when they are attending any casualty.

Q8 Chairman: Not whether you can swim or not.

Mr Reardon: Indeed, no.

Q9 Mr Winnick: Mr Reardon, undoubtedly the Chamber of Shipping which you represent is faced with a number of problems of added work which otherwise would not arise if the situation were different. You accept that the UK Borders Agency have a very serious problem on their hands in trying to deal with terrorism and, therefore, organisations like your own are bound to be given more work than if we were living in normal times.

Mr Reardon: The UK Borders Agency's conventional role has been in policing the frontier for immigration purposes and for customs purposes. More recently clearly the threat of terrorism has achieved a greater prominence and that is being dealt with appropriately by the UK Borders Agency. Effectively they are looking to do the same thing but for different reasons: to identify individuals and to identify things and, if necessary, to stop them. It is the conventional doctrine of how to catch a smuggler, if you like, which is the professional expertise the UKBA has, and those offices on the frontline are consistent in saying to us that the information that we provide from our manifest systems is very useful to them in identifying potential smugglers whatever they may be smuggling, whether it be narcotics or firearms or potentially terrorist material.

Q10 Mr Winnick: Leaving aside smuggling and all the rest of it, does your organisation accept - presumably it must do - that Britain faces an acute terrorist danger and that July 7 was not necessarily just a one-off.

Mr Reardon: Indeed we do. We take our guidance from those who are better briefed on the subject than us and that guidance is clear that there is a significant threat.

Q11 Mr Winnick: That must mean that organisations like your own are given extra work which obviously is inconvenient.

Mr Reardon: Yes, indeed, Chairman. There has been considerable extra security cost loaded on to the ferry industry - and, indeed, others - following the terrorist incidents in recent years.

Q12 Mr Winnick: Is that not right?

Mr Reardon: It is a fact of life.

Q13 Chairman: What is the extra burden that the Government has placed upon you as a result of all this extra work, which you will have to bear and pass on to the customer presumably?

Mr Reardon: Indeed. For increased security in the terminal, increased rates of screening of things and people being taken on board ferries, I do not have a figure off the top of my head of the cost across the whole industry, but it is substantial.

Q14 Mr Winnick: Is there any reason why passengers cannot give all the required information when they book, in the same way as when it is necessary to do so for airline travel?

Mr Reardon: There is no reason why we should not ask them for it. There are two reasons why it is unlikely to be comprehensive. The first is that a significant percentage of ferry traffic travel is unbooked. All freight traffic, for example, on the busy Dover-Calais route travels without a reservation: it is a turn-up-and-go service. Similarly, with tourist traffic about 10% will operate on a buy-your-ticket-at-the-terminal-and-then-go basis. There will be a significant segment of the traffic that would not be covered by bookings data in any event. Secondly, of those who do book, not everybody knows at the time of booking, when they are booking for a vehicle, who will be travelling in that vehicle when they come to travel. If it is a family going on holiday, then, yes, they will know. If it is a group of friends going over for a day trip shopping, then the composition of that group is likely not to be finalised until the day itself. Similarly, if you are a coach operator you will book a space on a ferry for your coach several months in advance in order then to be able to advertise that service in your own brochures and sell tickets for that coach between the time of booking and the time of travel, so any data collected at booking would only ever cover a fraction of the overall complement on the ship on any day.

Chairman: Thank you.

Q15 Tom Brake: Following on that issue of coaches, have you made any estimate of what additional time would be required if you were to be required to ensure that the details of all the different passengers on the coach are collected correctly?

Mr Reardon: We have measured in the past how long it takes to offload a coach, sweep everyone past the desk to where their passport is checked, then re-board the coach and the coach drives off, and it is somewhere in the region of seven minutes. Clearly when you have up to 50 coaches an hour entering the terminal at peak times, that would be enormously disruptive The current check-in time for a coach is a couple of minutes.

Q16 Tom Brake: In practical terms, how can you manage this? What is going to happen now to coach passengers?

Mr Reardon: To be honest, we do not know. A way is yet to be found of capturing that data when the coach arrives at the terminal without bringing the terminal to a halt. We have been looking at it for nearly four years and not found a way.

Q17 Tom Brake: Is there anything extra that is going to be required in terms of checking the number of passengers who are on the coach? We have recently had the case of a refugee who hid away in a coach going to Sandhurst. Will the e-borders programme require more stringent controls to be carried out on people within coaches to your knowledge?

Mr Reardon: It should not. There is already a requirement under the maritime safety law that I mentioned to record the number of people on a coach and their names. At the moment that requirement is fulfilled by the coach operator producing a list of names and handing it to the ferry operator's check-in clerk when the coach arrives in the terminal. It will not be any more stringent in terms of counting the number of individuals on board, but, clearly, just as more information is required in respect of everyone else on board the ship, it will be required in respect of those on board coaches.

Q18 Ms Buck: What options have you been considering in the last four years, if you have been in discussions with the Border Agency and its predecessors?

Mr Reardon: We have been trying to identify practicable means of capturing the data in respect of everybody without bringing the terminal to a halt, so we have looked at the option for capturing data and booking, and the difficulties there are the ones I spoke about a few moments ago. We have looked at the options of capturing data by swiping the passports when vehicles arrive in the terminal. There the difficulty is in the increase in the transaction time that would result by swiping passports as well as checking the people in. The Home Office reckon it would add 20 seconds to the transaction time for checking in a tourist car. When the existing transaction time is approximately 20 to 30 seconds, that is a significant increase and we do not believe it could be accommodated at peak times. We have been trying to work those issues through. To be honest, I would characterise it as trying to shove a square peg into a round hole. We have not been able to do it thus far.

Q19 Ms Buck: You are just telling the Border Agency they cannot do it.

Mr Reardon: We have said we are delighted to continue working with them to try to find a way but we have not yet found one, and we do need to find one, clearly, before we can start doing it.

Q20 Ms Buck: Do you think it is partly your responsibility to find a solution?

Mr Reardon: It is certainly our responsibility to work with them in a collaborative way to do it. It is possible that there is not a solution there to be found, in which case we would like to take a "first principles" look and have a think about what is the objective that is trying to be achieved by the capture of this data and see whether we can do it a different way.

Q21 Ms Buck: You have had four years to have that.

Mr Reardon: Indeed.

Q22 Ms Buck: Would that not be the thing you would have started off four years ago?

Mr Reardon: That is precisely what we said. We have run up against a pretty inflexible prescription as to what it is they want us to do. Where there has been flexibility, for example in relation to the capture of data in relation to ships crew, where they have said, "This is the data we would like but let's have a think about how we could do it in a different way," we were able to come up with a solution within half an hour. That is now there, on the side, waiting for the Go Live button to be pressed, but the rigid prescription which is designed to suit pedestrian travel at airports is proving very difficult to fit to the very different environment of vehicle traffic of ferries.

Q23 Patrick Mercer: Mr Reardon, as you know, the e-borders project has four stages. Could you tell us, please, where the ferry companies are in this process, please.

Mr Reardon: We are still at the stage of trying to identify practicable means of capturing the data.

Q24 Patrick Mercer: So at the very early stage.

Mr Reardon: If there, yes.

Q25 Patrick Mercer: Do you have any thoughts yet about when you might go live or is that not assessable?

Mr Reardon: Once we have devised a way of doing it, and we have yet to do that.

Q26 Patrick Mercer: You do not sound at all optimistic on that.

Mr Reardon: I am not.

Patrick Mercer: Thank you very much.

Q27 Gwyn Prosser: Mr Reardon, forgive me for missing the first part of your evidence, and if you have covered this area, please let me know. You have given the impression to the Committee that people just turn up, across the Channel they go and that is the end of it, without any bookings, et cetera. Is it not the case that all of the passengers on ferries these days must have their names captured for the sake of having a list of passengers on board for maritime safety reasons?

Mr Reardon: That is indeed the case. That information is captured at the moment. Where the e-borders programme differs is that it requires information not only about the individual but also about their passport.

Q28 Gwyn Prosser: You answered the Chairman on the eight areas of extra capture. Just about all of those are on the passport itself, so is it not a matter of capturing a facsimile of the passport?

Mr Reardon: They are all on the passport. The dataset is the set of data that is contained within the machine readable zone of the passport

Q29 Gwyn Prosser: I am not an expert in these matters, and I have to admit to a conflict of interest because I have every sympathy with the difficulties that the Harbour Board and Dover and, indeed, other ferry ports go through in terms of legislative changes. We will be picking up on that later on, but one would have thought, looking from the outside, that the process you use at the moment for capturing names of unbooked passengers could quite easily be upgraded and modified to capture the whole contents of the back page of the passport.

Mr Reardon: It can with respect to a couple of traffic segments very easily. They would be, for instance, foot passengers and lorry drivers, where the additional time taken to scan a single document and capture the data from that to check-in would be readily absorbed within the check-in time. The difficulty comes when you are checking in groups of people. The difficulty is the addition to the transaction time of scanning four or five passports for a family in a car, nine for a people carrier full of friends, and 50-odd for a coach full of a tour party.

Q30 Gwyn Prosser: Do you remember the row that emerged when coach passengers were required to give their names. And the industry gave the impression that it would bring the whole industry to a grinding halt.

Mr Reardon: I do, Chairman. The way that was resolved was that the coach operator produces a manifest of those onboard his coach which he then hands to a ferry operator when the vehicle arrives in the terminal. The e-borders programme takes a different approach, and rather than seeking information from the coach operator about who it is he has on his bus and who he has sold a ticket to, it seeks information from the ferry operator about who is on the coach. That creates an obvious difficulty because the ferry operator does not have the first idea who is on the coach until the coach operator tells him, so providing information at an early stage is not possible and the only time that the ferry operator has any interface with passengers on a coach is when the coach arrives at the ferry operator's check-in point, and usually that interface is confined to the driver of the coach.

Q31 Gwyn Prosser: Is the solution that you found for the past problem not transferable with a little bit of negotiation and a little bit of change in the legislation?

Mr Reardon: It ought to be. Indeed, back in 2005 I suggested to the then project manager of the e-borders scheme within the Home Office that they might look to change the legislation to transfer the obligation to provide data about coach passengers from the ferry operator to the coach operator. He gave an undertaking to do so. To the best of my knowledge that undertaking was never fulfilled, and certainly the legislation was never changed.

Gwyn Prosser: That might be something we will take up with the evidence.

Chairman: Indeed. Thank you.

Q32 David Davies: Are the UK Borders Agency requirements going to be legal in the other countries to which you sail? Is it possible you are going to end up breaching data protection laws if you carry out their requirements in other countries? If so, where do you go from there, because you are going to be breaking the law somewhere?

Mr Reardon: Indeed. Ferry operators have got in trouble before by doing things that the Home Office here has asked them to do which has made them fall foul of the laws in the countries in which they were doing it. It is a question that we asked of the Home Office right back at the start of the process: Can you confirm to us that what you are asking us to do is lawful in the places where we will need to do it? There are two potential areas of difficulty: first, with national law in the countries at other ends of UK ferry routes, particularly France, where 85% of UK traffic comes from and goes to. There are difficulties there of data protection and also of whether commercial organisations have powers under French law to capture data from state documents. We believe that they do not. Secondly, there is the question of European law and whether what the UK is devising as its e-borders scheme is compatible with the Data Protection Directive, and indeed with the general rules of rights of free movement of European citizens within the EU. We see problems there - or, at least, we see questions there. We have referred that later point to the European Commission and received guidance from them that there is a problem. At the moment ferry operators are in a difficult position, being asked on the one hand to do something by the Home Office and on the other aware that doing so could place them in a difficult position at the other end of the route. Clearly, that is not a position that we want to be in. The practical consequence is that ferry operators are looking to the Home Office to confirm that its scheme conforms with the overall European legal framework within which it must sit and with national law at the other end of the ferry route.

Q33 David Davies: Have they done so yet?

Mr Reardon: No.

Q34 David Davies: Will you not also want them to take responsibility for any legal action that may arise as a result of you implementing UK law and then being, I suppose, sued or taken to court by some other European country?

Mr Reardon: Undoubtedly. In the past we have had our staff locked up for doing things that the BIA, as it then was, asked us to do. That is clearly not a place we want to return to.

David Davies: Although I do not think we have time to go into it here, I think we would be quite interested to know the examples if you were able to write to us about that.

Q35 Chairman: That would be very helpful.

Mr Reardon: Yes, of course.

Q36 Chairman: Could I ask you about the concerns of the European Commission. You have made representations to them about it being incompatible with data protection law. Have they responded to you in any way?

Mr Reardon: They have indeed. We started by asking questions of the Home Office. We asked it first in 2005 and we repeated it at regular intervals over the next three years. Not getting a satisfactory answer, we posed the same question to the European Commission, as the guardian of European Treaty law and Treaty rights. They replied to us about a month ago to the effect that they saw difficulties on three grounds: first that the Advanced Passenger Information Directive, which the Home Office cites as providing grounds for this, does not apply to travel between European Community countries, nor does it apply to travel other than by air, so it cannot provide a basis for the e-borders scheme's application to ferry travel; secondly, they saw questions about the compatibility of the e-borders scheme with the Data Protection Directive; and, finally, they gave the opinion that making travel conditional upon providing a citizen's data in advance to a frontier control agency would be incompatible with the right of free movement.

Q37 Mr Streeter: I am sitting here worrying slightly that there are busloads of 50 people travelling from the UK and back in again without anybody knowing really who they are, apart from a list of names which the bus driver or coach driver has to give you. When are their passports checked at the moment? How does that happen?

Mr Reardon: Their passports are checked when they pass the UKBA checkpoints.

Q38 Mr Streeter: Individually?

Mr Reardon: Individually.

Q39 Mr Streeter: Invariably?

Mr Reardon: Yes.

Q40 Mr Streeter: How does that happen?

Mr Reardon: It happens in Calais, because virtually all coach travel to and from the UK by ferry is channelled through the port of Calais - 90%-odd, I think. Virtually every coach is stopped at the checkpoint. Its passengers are trooped off the coach and made to walk past a UKBA checkpoint, at which point their passports are scanned and looked at by the immigration officer. Once that has happened, they walk back on the coach and the coach drives on.

Q41 Mr Streeter: Why can that not happen on the way out, so that you get all the information you need through a scan?

Mr Reardon: There are a number of coaches that are stopped on the way out by the French border police who operate in Dover, and the UKBA, as and when it is present in Dover, has the option to do that too. The reason why we would not wish to see that replicated in Dover is that the process causes colossal queues. I have a number of pictures back at the office of 30 bus coaches stretching in a line from the UKBA checkpoint back on the French motorway. It can take them well over an hour to get that pulse of coaches through. One queue is bad enough, but we would rather not have a second one if we were given the choice.

Q42 Chairman: Thank you, Mr Reardon for giving evidence to us this morning. If there is anything you have missed out from your evidence that you feel is relevant to this inquiry, please would you write to us. We do not intend to hang about on this. We will be publishing our report pretty swiftly.

Mr Reardon: I will do that.

Chairman: Thank you very much.


Memorandum submitted by Port of Dover

Examination of Witness

Witness: Mr John Powell, Managing Director, Dover Harbour, gave evidence.

Q43 Chairman: Mr Powell, thank you very much for giving evidence. Obviously Mr Prosser will have to declare his interests, or I do on his behalf, because he is the Member of Parliament for Dover. I am sure you have met him on a number of occasions.

Mr Powell: I have indeed. We know Gwyn very well as our MP.

Q44 Mr Streeter: Is he any good!

Mr Powell: In relation to the Port of Dover I have no complaint whatsoever.

Q45 Chairman: Excellent! Could I ask you what percentage of ferry traffic or numbers of people travel on the basis of turn-up-and-go? - say it is a lovely day, and they decide, "Let's go off to visit Calais."

Mr Powell: Perhaps I should add at the beginning that, while I am here representing the Port of Dover and it was on that basis that I was asked, we are also members of the British Ports Association, who are not here today, and some of my comments will reflect the wider, ferry ports' interests, who are aware that I am here. In terms of Dover traffic, all our freight traffic, 2.3 million trucks, 10,000 a day, turn up without booking. That is the main part of our business. When all said and done, we are a freight port - handling as much freight as Felixstowe, for those who want to count these things. In terms of tourist-related traffic, coaches are booked, pretty much and, as you have heard from Tim earlier, the contents of the coach may not be known but the fact that there is a coach coming will be known. We may not know the registration number, perhaps, but we will know it is on its way. On car traffic - which is really where the question was directed - it is certainly between 10% and 20% of car traffic outbound through the Port of Dover and, on occasions, slightly more. It is interesting that continental traffic tends to book less. The percentage of unbooked traffic coming in the other direction is rather higher.

Q46 Chairman: This is a guess, but on the average ferry, if you had to check the details of all the vehicles that were on board, how much longer would it take than you currently take because of the e-borders programme?

Mr Powell: In relation to freight, we estimated it as doubling the check-in transaction time from around 45 seconds to perhaps a minute and a half. For 100 trucks that is 100 times 45 seconds. That is in the region of another hour. Similarly, if we break down the figures, it would work out about the same for the tourist traffic on the same ship. It could be up to those sorts of orders of magnitude, therefore.

Chairman: Okay. I am now going to hand you over to Gwyn Prosser.

Q47 Gwyn Prosser: Good morning, Mr Powell. The Chairman declared my interest as the MP for Dover, but I should also declare that I am the Chairman of the All-Party Ports and Maritime Group.

Mr Powell: Indeed.

Q48 Gwyn Prosser: When I first started working on cross-Channel ferries out of Dover, in those far-off days the government of the time used to count people in and count people out, in theory anyway. It was a paper exercise that seems almost inconceivable now. When it was working they found a way around it. The complaint was that all of those little cards from all those little check-in points were never counted or listed but were just put in a warehouse, and the system fell into disrepair and was abandoned. In terms of the present arrangements, my question is about the amount of congestion that could be caused by bringing in these new rules. I have to say to you that every time there is an intervention in the Port of Dover and Operation Stack comes into place and the queue of traffic spreads halfway back to Reading, it is me who gets the blame.

Mr Powell: It is usually us, actually.

Q49 Gwyn Prosser: I have every sympathy with these matters, as I explained to Mr Reardon from the Chamber. But perhaps I can play devil's advocate and ask to what extent is the Chamber, and, indeed, the port in particular, taking a stance which looks as if there is no solution to this, we are not going to progress the working parties. To what extent are you taking that stance as a negotiating ploy to force or cajole or encourage government to come back to then lesser measures or a diluted type of e-borders?

Mr Powell: I can certainly understand why you might think that if you look at the process that we have been going through as an outsider, but I think it would be unfair to characterise where we have been in that way. Certainly from day one we were promised by the e-borders launch that this would result in more efficient port handling, that the UKBA, as it was back then, would move to an intelligence-led selective intervention approach, that security requirements would be introduced and so on. There were many promises made in the early days of the programme, and we have supported the delivery of those benefits in relation to our customers supplying the data. It is not us who has to supply the data; it is Tim's customers, his members, not ours. We have been particularly supportive because there is potentially a pay-off here for us, but the pay-off has not delivered, and the e-borders team have gradually reneged on or reduced the benefits that are going to improve. In particular, 100% interventions will still happen at all ports across the UK even with the benefit of all the e-borders advanced information, which is a total contravention of what they promised when they started us off down this route back in 2005. From a port's perspective we need to see a practical solution. It has to work for vehicles. It is different from an airport. I know we bang on about that at great length but that is because it is a fundamental difference. It is quite easy if you have a pedestrian passenger in front of you to say, "There's a bit of a problem with you, sir, would you just stand there a minute." It is much more difficult when you have a 40 tonne truck, with 100 more of them behind which represents a mile of traffic, to say, "Would you just hang on a minute, while I investigate this further." It is those sorts of issues that we have never really got to the bottom of with the team from e-borders.

Q50 Gwyn Prosser: Over the years, the harbour ports have had to accept, by varying degrees of acceptance, if you like, dozens if not hundreds of changes of legislation which they have been lumbered with the responsibility of either facilitating directly or in any other way. You have always been successful in finding a way through that and the port still runs very smoothly. It is the biggest ferry port in the world and a very efficient and effective publicly-owned body. With that background can you tell us what particular areas there are where the Border Agency have fallen down on their side of the bargain in finding this smooth way of providing all of the information capture which perhaps they require, while at the same time enhancing your operation rather than slowing it down and inhibiting it.

Mr Powell: It might be helpful if we look at the two journeys, because that is really what this is all about. It is somebody leaving the motorway network in Dover and rejoining it in Calais and vice versa. On the way out, currently, the first thing you come across in Dover are the French Police au Frontier, courtesy of a partial juxtaposition of immigration controls which happened in 2003-04 - out of the blue, I hasten to add, and it involved us in quite a lot of expense. We have French policemen in the port now, swiping passports for entry into Schengen. They do not share that information with the British, obviously, although, interestingly, Lord Carlisle said only recently that maybe they should work closer together, so perhaps there is some synergy there that has not been exploited. The next thing they come across are Kent police and UKBA interceptions. They are not 100%. They are there some of the time; they intercept some vehicles. The next thing they come across is the security control which is laid on us courtesy of the International Ship and Port Facilities Security Code administered by TRANSEC, Department of Transport, our sponsor department, if they come across a security problem. After they have done all that, you get to commercial check-in. Saying to the carriers, "Collect this data at check-in," therefore, is simply too late. If we have not had it in advance, there is no opportunity for UKBA to intervene on that traffic because it has passed them by. That is the first practical difficulty outbound. The data needs to be there in advance in order that UKBA can take advantage of it. It is even more acute on the way back. In 2006 UKBA agreed with us that, broadly, the vast majority of our customers are the same coming back as those who went out: mum and dad and the two kids, or a coach of elderly people perhaps going to the Tyrol on a coach trip. Usually they come back in the same packets as they go out in. They agreed that it would make sense if our carriers have already given them the data for them to use that data on the way back by merely identifying the vehicle and saying, "Ah, that is Mr and Mrs Smith and young Fred and Ginny coming back." Unfortunately they have given up on that idea. They say they cannot do that, that it is not part of the contract and so they will not be able to do it. It creates a real problem because, again, on the reverse journey, the first point of contact is the UKBA control in Calais, where all the passports are, indeed, swiped, after which that coach or car - which is the same group of people coming back again - arrives at check-in having already been admitted to the UK, only for a check-in requirement to collect that data and transmit it to UKBA. It just does not make logical sense any of this.

Q51 Gwyn Prosser: Those are important details and you might want to write directly to the Committee about them because it looks as if you are on the cusp of some sort of practical solution. When the last managing director registrar was in place, Jonathan Sloggett - going back 20 or 30 years - whenever we had these discussions - although I was not an MP then - he used to say that for every person in the port who was being paid for the voyage to get the vessel from A to B, there were 30 others trying to sop it or impede it. I guess it is more like 40 now, is it?

Mr Powell: In fairness, we have a very good track record of working with government, and governments of all persuasions, when they have good ideas. Governments often have good ideas. Being an island, they tend to think that a convenient place for the good idea is the ports, sometimes contravening EU law, as has been referenced before, but usually we have been able to find a collaborative solution. Usually we have been innovative, usually we have found some way forward. We are stumbling with this one. I am not 100% sure why that is. Despite four years of engagement, we are still stumbling and not getting to grips with the real practical issues, and if we do not solve the practical issues we cannot run the terminal.

Q52 Tom Brake: You have identified that the capture of data always seems to be happening the wrong way round. In practical terms, is it infrastructure? Is it legislation that would be required to switch it around the other way, in terms of a commercial operator capturing the data first and passing it on to UKBA rather than the other way around?

Mr Powell: It could be either. In our case, we do not have space in the Eastern Docks, other than a small piece of reclaimed land. Reconfiguring the port is not easy whilst trying to operate it and there is not space to run those two separate operations the other way round. We have 38 lanes of check-in capacity and four lanes of official control, so where you can put the two pieces of infrastructure differs and we have to use a bigger area of land, obviously, to put the 38 in and the smaller to put the four in. That is the reason it is that way round.

Q53 Mr Streeter: As a Member of Parliament who represents part of the City of Plymouth, may I say it is a pleasure to meet someone from the second most important port!

Mr Powell: I am originally from Exeter.

Q54 Mr Streeter: Are you? We can have a chat about that afterwards. You have mentioned that it is easy to ask a person to step aside while you sort out the problem but harder to do that with a lorry in the same way. Could infrastructure changes in the ports themselves solve that problem? Could you have a place to where those lorries and those cars are simply driven off while they are sorted out?

Mr Powell: Certainly the answer, in principle, is yes. In practice, it is yes to a point. It is yes to a point on the inbound traffic lane because of our strange juxtaposition arrangement. You may not fully appreciate this, but we have UKBA as the single primary line agency in Calais and Dover. We have a split in the single primary line, because the immigration part is done in Calais and the customs and other residual work is done in Dover on arrival. Our traffic goes through two sets of controls, unlike our main competitor, of course, who only has one set courtesy of full juxtaposition. We do manage, by and large, with customs selective controls where they pick out targets, to have a moving queue of traffic, and the customs officers (now UKBA) can say, "I want that one, that one and that one." We are just in the middle of remodelling that now, to create more offline space, so that they have a bit more elbow room. You can take trucks off if you can adopt that approach. That is not the approach that the immigration part of UKBA are prepared to adopt.

Q55 Patrick Mercer: Mr Powell, the memorandum that we have seen talks about the long lead time for the planning and financing of infrastructure changes - which I suppose is self-evident - but do you have sufficient practical details about the implications of the programme for you to have enough information available for the proper details of the building programme to be known?

Mr Powell: The short answer is no. Until such time as we know how the carriers are going to collect the data, how UKBA is going to use the data, and when and how they are going to intervene on vehicles that are not, we cannot attempt to devise a traffic scheme that will meet that.

Q56 Patrick Mercer: But you are a practical man working with a practical problem. Is there a way for reverse engineering this, to say to the project managers, "This is what we think. This is where we would like to go."

Mr Powell: In April 2006 we suggested a methodology to the e-borders programme specifically on that basis and it just did not go anywhere, I am afraid.

Q57 Patrick Mercer: What do you mean? There was not a reply?

Mr Powell: There was not a reply specifically, no. They have a history of not replying and not producing minutes and so on. I mean, it just did not go anywhere.

Q58 Patrick Mercer: That is unsatisfactory. If the Government is not replying to your practical suggestions would you be kind enough to furnish us with details?

Mr Powell: Absolutely.

Q59 Patrick Mercer: I hope you do not mind my asking. Would you be kind enough to furnish us with some details of where there have been insufficient answers or answers which have not come to you.

Mr Powell: Yes, certainly. This is a fairly major task. This is four and a half years documents.

Q60 Patrick Mercer: That is fine. This is a major programme. It is extremely important.

Chairman: You have five days to get some questions because Lin Homer is appearing next Tuesday.

Q61 Patrick Mercer: Even a broad outline would help, Mr Powell.

Mr Powell: Yes, we will do what we can.

Q62 Tom Brake: Mr Powell, presumably you have had experience of other software programmes, integration programmes and so on. Is e-borders the worse you have ever been involved with?

Mr Powell: No, I could not say that, I do not think.

Q63 Tom Brake: There are worse ones than this one then.

Mr Powell: Mainly because we have not had much to do with the software itself, so I cannot really comment on that. I am less interested in the capture systems and interpretation systems than the physical impact on the traffic at the end of the day, so I would not really be prepared to criticise the software itself.

Q64 Tom Brake: Perhaps I should rephrase that to in terms of the dialogue there has been and the willingness to hear your side of the argument.

Mr Powell: I think it has probably been the most difficult of government projects in which we have been involved over the last couple of decades.

Q65 Tom Brake: You mentioned at one point a mile long queue of lorries. Do you have any estimates about the implications for traffic? If you have, are you aware of whether Kent Police have been involved in discussions about it and what their views might be about even more substantial traffic jams in Kent?

Mr Powell: I am not aware that the e-borders team per se have had discussions with Kent Police on traffic. We certainly have.

Q66 Tom Brake: What have been your discussions with them?

Mr Powell: We have merely flagged up with them our concern. The bigger concern was the data proposal which got abandoned a couple of years ago. Without any shadow of a doubt we would have had Operation Stack every day if that proposal had come to fruition, because it involved collecting 27 items of data about every load in the back of every truck going through the port. That proposal was abandoned at that point and has not yet reappeared, thank God.

Q67 Mrs Cryer: Most passengers travelling through Dover are EU nationals and you suggest that the security aspects of the e-borders programme are directed mostly at third country nationals. Would you therefore support a two-tier system, whereby EU nationals are simply counted in and out while third country nationals are subject to the full requirements of the e-borders programme? Is that doable?

Mr Powell: I think in principle that sounds very appealing. There is a practical difficulty because parts of UKBA culture will be an acceptance of screening EU and non EU passengers, and the answer will come back, "How do we know that it is only EU passengers in that car or coach?" Is the "Sir Humphrey" thing: I need to look at everything to know whether I need to look at it or not. I think that will be the biggest stumbling block, to be honest, but in principle, yes, it is exactly what we used to do when immigration control was still in Dover. We screened cars and we screened passengers on buses by nationality, and to that extent enabling us to give a swifter passage - as happens within the Schengen rules, for instance, for the French police, who are legally obliged to give a better service to EU citizens than they are non EU citizens.

Q68 Chairman: Thank you very much, Mr Powell. Thank you for giving evidence today. If there is any issue that you want to raise with us, please let us know, but, in particular, since we are going to take evidence from the head of the UK Borders Agency next week, it would be very helpful if any suggestions you have could be sent to us by Monday of next week.

Mr Powell: We will certainly do our best.

Chairman: Thank you.


Memorandum submitted by TUI Travel

Examination of Witness

Witness: Mr Eddie Redfern, Head of Regulatory Affairs, TUI Travel, gave evidence.

Q69 Chairman: Mr Redfern, thank you very much for giving evidence. You have been sitting in, so you know the format of the proceedings. Tell us about TUI Travel.

Mr Redfern: Good morning Chairman and Members of the Committee. TUI Travel is a FTSE 100 company, the largest provider of leisure travel in Europe that operates from 25 source markets to over 180 destinations worldwide. Its UK tour operators are household names: Thomson Holidays and First Choice Holidays. Its UK airline is Thomson Airways, the UK's third largest airline behind British Airways and Easy Jet. It has 65 aircraft operating from 23 UK airports to over 120 overseas airports worldwide. In 2008 Thomson Airways operated 75,000 flights, carrying 13.7 million passengers.

Q70 Chairman: Formally, on behalf of all Members of the Committee, I recognise many of those names and I am sure in the past we have booked our package holidays through one of those companies, so I make a blanket declaration of interest. Let us leave it at that. That is an awful lot of people.

Mr Redfern: Yes, Chairman.

Q71 Chairman: Thirteen million people. Is that every year?

Mr Redfern: Yes, that is correct.

Q72 Chairman: You have known about the Government's e-borders proposals for some time. Can you tell me, why do you think the Government has chosen to do this right in the middle of the peak holiday period?

Mr Redfern: I do not think they have chosen to do it in the middle of the peak holiday period, Chairman. Through delays of their own product, through their Trusted Borders product, there have been delays through their delivery. The programme was originally due to go live in October 2008 and has been delayed piecemeal month by month, so we find ourselves in the position that we are having to go live during the peak summer period, the very time that the industry said to e-borders and to the provider, Trusted Borders, was the wrong time of year to go live, yet we are still being pressured very heavily to deliver and start switching on new routes, even from the third week of July when school holidays start. Thomson Airways has told the UK Borders Agency that we will not do that because on-time performance and delivery of the holiday product is crucial to us at this time of year.

Q73 Chairman: Basically it is the wrong time of the year. It is the peak period. You cannot deliver on what the Government has asked you to deliver because it is the wrong time.

Mr Redfern: Absolutely, Chairman. In fact, where we are delivering on routes at the moment we have had significant delays because of teething problems at airport check-in level. The system was not recognising the passport as it was swiped because the only name in the departure control system was the first initial and passenger surname, so the checking agent had to do a manual intervention - which was adding ten seconds per passenger - to match the swipe passport detail with the name in the departure control systems.

Q74 Chairman: You are telling this Committee today, representing all those major carriers, that you simply cannot deliver this programme to the Government because of the timescale. You would like to do it, you have tried very hard to do it, but this is the peak period and you simply cannot do it.

Mr Redfern: The problem we have, Chairman, is that the programme initially was due to be rolled out over 14 months in a controlled way and airlines have been forced to deliver it in eight months in a less controlled way. That is creating severe operational problems, as well as additional cost, because the Home Office have not delivered what they promised in the regulatory impact assessment, that they would work with the international standards to provide the data. There is an international standard that the industry uses and wants to use which avoids a more expensive delivery system called SITA.

Q75 Chairman: Presumably you have put these views to the Government in a letter or meetings with ----

Mr Redfern: We have put it to the Government, we have met ministers and put our concerns to ministers, we have written to the Home Office, to the e-borders directors. We have made these points, yet we are still being pressured on a daily basis to deliver today - which seems rather inequitable to us when, as you have heard, the ferries and ports seem to be even further away from the 18 months the e-borders are telling us. Additionally, there are other airlines operating into the UK that have offered to provide data to Trusted Borders. In January of this year and again in June of this year, Trusted Borders have written to that particular operator and said, "You are too small for us to worry about. We do not want data from you. We will contact you at some time in the future when we might consider data being provided in a different manner."

Q76 Chairman: What is the additional cost to the industry of what the Government is requiring them to do? Presumably this, again, is passed on to hard-pressed customers. You do not absorb it yourselves, do you?

Mr Redfern: There is a huge cost to the industry and not all of it can be passed on to customers because the customer is still very cost conscious for his holiday. For a charter airline, such as Thomson Airways, we give a seat rate to a tour operator and have to absorb additional costs. The customer buying a holiday is still very cost conscious: they want the cheapest holiday possible. For Thomson Airways the cost per year we estimate as 4.5 million per annum. For the charter airline group that I am also representing today (that is, Thomson Airways, Thomas Cook Airlines and Monarch Airlines) the three major charter carriers in the UK, the annual cost for those carriers is 13.5 million, for no benefit to those carriers.

Q77 Chairman: Adding those figures up, you are talking about possibly up to 100 million.

Mr Redfern: For all UK carriers, carriers operating into the UK, yes.

Q78 Chairman: The cost of this programme is going to cost you up to 100 million.

Mr Redfern: I would say so, yes.

Q79 Chairman: Which you will have to absorb either yourselves or lose customers.

Mr Redfern: Yes.

Q80 Tom Brake: What is the legal position is if you either cannot go live or refuse to go live? Are you going to be subject to financial penalties? What are the implications?

Mr Redfern: It is not a case of refusing to go live. We will go live and meet the requirements of the UK law. It is a question of timing and going live in the most cost-effective way for us, as the government promised in 2003. The legal position is that the Home Office has the power to take legal action, 5,000 penalty for failure to comply.

Q81 Tom Brake: 5,000 in total or per passenger?

Mr Redfern: I am not clear whether that is per event or per passenger.

Q82 Mr Streeter: We have heard from your shipping colleagues earlier today that the system was designed for the airlines, and it is really disruptive on them but it is okay for you. Is that ironic?

Mr Redfern: It is ironic. I find it difficult to equate the fact that airlines are being forced and heavily pressured into delivering by the end of 2009 when other sectors of the industry are still in discussion about how they will deliver. It is true that airlines have to provide this data to a number of countries. There are approximately 15 or 16 countries in the world to which we have to transmit this data, so the Home Office know that we have a system. For charter carriers that system is difficult, because at the moment, as an airline, Thomson Airways only has the first initial and surname of any passenger. At the moment, on a day to day basis we capture the data at check in by swiping the passport. There are, however, some airports that do not have swipe facilities for passports or departure control electronic systems, they are manual check-in airports, and we are having to find a way to capture the data to provide for those manual airports.

Q83 Mr Streeter: This is being imposed upon you not just in the peak season but also in the teeth of a recession which we know is affecting all airlines. When are you being asked to go live? Do you currently have all of the information from the Home Office that you need to know exactly what to do? Are you still waiting for more information?

Mr Redfern: We started going live in the second week of May this year and we are gradually rolling out on a country-by-country basis to the end of this year, but, if I am honest, we are totally unclear exactly what the e-borders system wants. Trusted Borders, the service provider, and the e-borders programme have changed their minds on what is required. In the years we were discussing from 2003 up to July 2008, we were advised that either a per passenger message or a batch message of data could be sent to e-borders. In July 2008, we were advised that the Home Office expect carriers to go to a per passenger message. That was particularly pertinent for colleagues in the scheduled service industry, where they have transfer passengers; it affects Thomson Airways less because we are point to point. Once passengers have checked in they send data. For a scheduled carrier with transfer passengers they could be capturing the data up to the doors close and the flight departs. The Home Office said clearly to those carriers: "After check-in is closed, at minus 30 minutes to departure until the doors close, we expect a per passenger message," so as the passenger goes to the gate the data is collected and transmitted. In July of this year, a couple of weeks ago, the Home Office went back on that and said, "We will now accept batch or per passenger messages." That has meant that our service providers at the airport have been working to a passenger requirement, and with CDS providers have worked to that requirement, adding extra costs and extra software development charges which we will have to pick up, only to be told a year later that that is a complete waste of time.

Q84 Ms Buck: Would you say you are clear as a sector, in principle - and forget some of the administrative complications - what this is intended to do and are sympathetic to that?

Mr Redfern: In principle, the Government has a right to improve its border controls, but what we were promised in 2003 and what has been delivered today is not going to deliver by the Home Office what it set out to deliver.

Q85 Ms Buck: I accept that you have those reservations, but do you - again setting aside the some of the additional costs that may have arisen for you as a result of changes in specifications and so forth - think that in principle it is right that the traveller should incur those charges or that the industry and the traveller should share those charges between them? Or do you think the general taxpayer should pay for the travellers' costs?

Mr Redfern: E-borders is primarily about anti-terrorism. There are also immigration elements to it. As an industry we have always stated that terrorism is against the state, not against an individual company, and therefore the state should pick up that cost. We are aware of that discussion. There are only two Member States that have not accepted that as a principle within Europe, that being the UK and Germany.

Q86 Ms Buck: You do not accept that the non traveller would have a perfectly legitimate case for saying, "If I'm not crossing the border, why should I have to pay for other people's security."

Mr Redfern: Again, terrorism is not just against airports and infrastructure; it is against other targets in the UK where the taxpayer pays for the security of those targets.

Q87 Ms Buck: You have alluded to the pilot project before in the information and whether or not the lessons learned from Semaphore were passed on. Could you go through with us what you as a sector believe are the failings in the transmission of lessons from the Semaphore pilot.

Mr Redfern: Clearly the Semaphore pilot was designed to trial the effectiveness of capturing the data and to be able to take interventions. The Home Office tell us that is working very well. There is one intervention for every 10,000 passengers or thereabouts, but the lessons and the method of transmission of the data has not been transferred across to the service provider, Trusted Borders. Indeed, Trusted Borders have come up with a bespoke system and taken it one further than any other country that requires this data.

Q88 Ms Buck: Why do you think that is?

Mr Redfern: I can only speculate on that. I cannot speak for Trusted Borders. I think Trusted Borders came in with their system, that they were going to deliver at a cost that the Government accepted, and have been totally inflexible to meet the needs of the industry and totally inflexible to meet international standards.

Q89 Mrs Cryer: Mr Redfern, I feel I have to touch on something that you have raised. You just said that terrorism is directed at the Government, at the state. Perhaps I could suggest to you that terrorism is aimed at individuals and it is through those individuals to the state. So far as I am concerned, if my family was going to go either on a flight or a boat trip or whatever, I would be prepared to pay myself any extra money that would safeguard their lives on board, and therefore I do not think we should be playing with these words about what terrorism is about. It is about killing people. That is what it is about. We must do all we can, whether yourselves or us, to safeguard those lives. If we have to put a bit extra on the cost of a holiday, I am sure most of my constituents would go along with that.

Mr Redfern: I agree with your sentiment entirely, but the fact remains that the consumer is still very cost-conscious and will go for the cheapest available holiday.

Q90 Mrs Cryer: Yes, but if all operating companies were having to do the same, there would be no advantage to any one company.

Mr Redfern: I understand what you are saying.

Q91 Mr Winnick: There are problems apparently with the Home Office over facilities where only manual check-ins exist. As an organisation you are rather critical about that. What is the problem?

Mr Redfern: The problem is, for example, that some of the Greek island airports only operate for the peak summer season, eight weeks of the summer and the governments in those countries are not prepared to invest in the infrastructure at those airports that are only used for a short period. We have manual check-in for those flights. As was alluded to by a colleague from the shipping sector, we had discussed with the Home Office in 2003 the ability to use the outbound data from our passengers departing in the UK because 99% of our passengers leave the UK to go on holiday and then return on the equivalent flight a week or 14 days later. The Home Office said in their position statement, which was agreed with the industry, that the service provider would work with the industry to find a solution to using outbound data to provide the inbound manifest for those manifestations. In May 2008 the Government said, "We can't do that for a variety of reasons," and that has left us in the position that we were having to devise an alternative method to be able to comply by October last year, when we had lost effectively four years of "think time" and IT development time. We will have a system in place by the end of 2009 whereby the consumer will have to go on to a website to input their own data prior to travel.

Q92 Mr Winnick: Are you trying to resolve this with the Home Office?

Mr Redfern: We are. We are still in discussion with the Home Office. There remains an outstanding issue of the second requirement to verify who actually travelled. We are sitting down with the Home Office to try to find a solution. At the moment, better heads than mine have looked at this and we cannot find a solution to that verification problem.

Q93 Mr Winnick: Would you be willing to send us a note on this, so that we can take it up with the Home Office accordingly.

Mr Redfern: I will happily do that, Chairman.

Q94 Patrick Mercer: Mr Redfern, you suggest that because the programme is going on carrier by carrier, this is introducing an element of unfair competition into business. Is that correct? Secondly, if it is, how long is this situation likely to last?

Mr Redfern: The situation at the moment is that there is an agreement with the Home Office that they will not "turn on" a route unless they are confident that 80% of carriers on that route will be compliant within a 12 week roll-out. For example, if a country is due to go live on 1 July, there are 12 weeks when carriers should roll out and start providing data, and 80% of those carriers should be programmed to go live within that 12 week period. That is happening. An example is Germany, where, because of a quirk of one of the regional boards in Germany it is illegal to provide data from an ID card from Germany, so the e-borders programme has delayed introduction in Germany as a route.

Q95 Patrick Mercer: What are the consequences of this likely to be?

Mr Redfern: It will just mean that Germany is late going live.

Q96 Patrick Mercer: What would the consequences be for the industry?

Mr Redfern: Of Germany being late?

Q97 Patrick Mercer: This unfair competition element.

Mr Redfern: I think there is unfair competition anyway. If you take aside the roll-out programme and whether carriers are going live or not, it is unfair that the aviation sector, because we can do it, is being pushed to deliver now, whereas you heard earlier that ferries and ports are unable to go live at the moment. As I said earlier, there are other airlines that are willing to provide data that are being denied even the possibility to register and start the process.

Q98 Tom Brake: We have heard from Mr Reardon in earlier evidence that he has had staff put in prison for providing data which they were not supposed to provide. Have you shown the UKBA the opinion of the EU's Article 29 Data Protection Committee that Member States do not have the right to request data from carriers on intra-EU flights? If you have, what did UKBA have to say about it?

Mr Redfern: Yes, we have provided that information. We did that in the charter airline group response to the regulatory impact assessment - in 2006, I think it was. We provided that and specifically asked the question in our response to the regulatory impact assessment: Does the e-borders contravene the advice given by the EU Commission on Data Protection? The response to that was, "We have checked and we do not believe it breaks the law." We have been led to believe that the Home Office had checked with all 27 Member States. It would appear that that check has only been happening in the last month, as different countries have raised data protection concerns.

Q99 Tom Brake: At this moment in time, what degree of confidence do you have that UKBA have done this checking process correctly?

Mr Redfern: Very little confidence that that check has been carried out.

Q100 Tom Brake: Have there been circumstances in the past where you may have fallen foul of these rules in the way that Mr Reardon identified?

Mr Redfern: If the Commission say that these rules do not apply to intra-EU travel, UK airlines would have been contravening the law since February 2007 when we have been providing this data to Spain. And if on the flights we are operating to now within the EU we are providing data, we would be breaching the law now.

Q101 Ms Buck: You are in charge, what would you do? The Home Office rings you up and says, "It's now over to you." You have told us of all these problems, what would you do?

Mr Redfern: I would place a hold on the programme for a year/18 months so that the technical problems were ironed out and sorted and the industry was able to get its technical solutions in place.

Q102 Ms Buck: Of the technical problems that you encountered, what would be the commitment of the industry to delivering all that?

Mr Redfern: Once we know exactly what the Home Office want from us, once they stop flip-flopping on their data requirements, we can then work to a programme to deliver what they require.

Q103 Chairman: Thank you very much for giving evidence, Mr Redfern. It has been extremely helpful. Basically you are telling the Committee that you are happy to co-operate with the Government on this measure. You understand the importance of it but you very much regret the fact that it is has been done at the peak period, that they have truncated a 14-month programme into eight months, that it is going to cost the consumer or the operators up to 100 million, and you say that with proper consultation and working with you this could have been avoided. Is that what you are saying?

Mr Redfern: Yes, Chairman.

Chairman: Thank you very much. If there is anything else you want to put to us, please write to us, but do so very quickly because we want to make sure we produce our report as quickly as possible. Thank you.


Memorandum submitted by Eurostar

Examination of Witness

Witness: Mr Marc Noaro, Customer Service Director, Eurostar, gave evidence.

Q104 Chairman: Mr Noaro, obviously we declare our interest as frequent visitors on Eurostar. Are there any specific requirements, as far as the rail industry is concerned, compared to what we have heard from the other sectors of the travel industry, the ferry operators and, indeed, the airlines. Is there something specifically that concerns you?

Mr Noaro: There are three things that concern us from a rail perspective. The first - and it may not be uniquely rail - is the legal aspects of our partners in France and Belgium. We believe and the legal advice we have had is that it is not legal to export the sort of data required by e-borders within the EU and it is only legal to export that data outside of the EU. We have been waiting for a response from the Home Office to that question. Also, on the right to ask for passport information and the data that Mr Reardon set out in his evidence, it is not lawful for somebody who is not a law enforcement officer in France and Belgium to demand that data at the check-in process. Those are the two legal aspects for rail - and it may not be Eurostar, because from next January international rail will be opened up to competition, so my evidence is for all of international rail and not merely Eurostar. The second area is the juxtaposed controls. We have the reverse situation to that at the ports, whereby the first process check for our travellers is check-in. If I use Paris as an example: you will go through our check-in system, immediately you will go through the French national police frontier check, and immediately after that you will go to a UK Borders Control before you pass through a traditional baggage and screening check. That exists in all the stations that we operate from, and in the smaller stations or the seasonal stations a UK Borders check is carried out on the train prior to arrival in the UK. From a rail perspective, we have been discussing with UK Borders how we can use the UK Borders check on the inbound sector to the UK to capture this information, otherwise it will merely be us trying to capture the information 30 seconds to a minute before the UK Borders Authority check scan or look at the chip in every single passport. Finally, from a rail operations point of view, unlike some airports and some ferry terminals we are very, very restricted in what we can do in redesigning a station. Both London St Pancras and Paris are heritage buildings. There is very little we can do to manage large scale changes to the operating area if we were to introduce a 50% or 100% increase in the check-in transaction time. We have had the recent experience during the Channel Tunnel fire, where we had to introduce a secondary check for reasons other than e-borders and we found out that it increased the check-in time between 50% and 100%. Those are the operational difficulties at international rail.

Q105 Chairman: You have heard the evidence from others. They have talked about the fact that the Government has rolled out this programme over a shorter period of time rather than the initial 14 months. Do you share those concerns? Should this have been done over a longer period and perhaps not in the very busy period when presumably a lot of people are using Eurostar to go to the Continent?

Mr Noaro: I think our business is less "peaky" (if that is the right word) than, for example, the aviation industry, so there is no good time to introduce a dramatic change to the station operations.

Q106 Chairman: You mean you peak all the time!

Mr Noaro: Not as peak as we would like to be. The timing really does not make a huge amount of difference to us, but the issue for us is the speed in which we are trying to progress things with UK Borders. Like some of the others, we have been a little bit frustrated, to say the least, by the time it has taken to get responses from UK Borders on some pretty fundamental aspects, particularly the legal aspects.

Q107 Chairman: So you write to them. How long does it take for them to write back to you?

Mr Noaro: Our last letter on the two legal aspects was in November 2008 and we have not yet had a response. That is seven months.

Chairman: They reply slightly quicker to MPs on casework, but not much quicker. Anyway, the head of the UK Borders Agency is in next week and we will put that to her.

Q108 Mr Streeter: At the moment I can buy a Eurostar ticket from lots of stations all over the country and other outlets and I just turn up on the day with my ticket and hope to go through. Could I still do that under the e-borders system? What changes would that make to that kind of process?

Mr Noaro: That very much depends on the exact location of the reservation system that is used to book your ticket. A certain percentage of our travellers book online but you can also book from other rail stations in the UK, via travel agents, via business travel sections, and in France you can book virtually from any SNCF station. It is bookings on the Continent that we have more concerns about because currently they do not collect any data at all, rather like you would not collect any data for a domestic rail ticket. If the e-borders programme was rolled out, you would be asked to provide your passport information - the eight items that Tim Reardon spoke about - and then that would be verified at check-in. From the UK point of view, things are less complex than they are from the Continent coming to the UK. It would merely be an input of data for you.

Q109 Mr Streeter: Have you been asked to roll out that?

Mr Noaro: We were asked to roll it out for September/October 2008. We indicated to UKBA that there is significant investment for Eurostar in terms of its IT systems and we wanted some answers on some fundamental aspects around the legal aspect and for them to further explore the juxtaposed controls as a method of collecting that data. If it was not collected, how could we work together so that the juxtaposed controls could perform the dual role.

Chairman: We are coming on to that a little bit later.

Q110 Mr Winnick: Recognising that France and Belgium are sovereign countries, there are problems, are there not, over those organisations, SNCF and SNCB, providing the information required in Britain by the Home Office?

Mr Noaro: That is correct. It is not just SNCF and SNCB. French and Belgian law only allows them to transmit that sort of data outside of the EU for those purposes. It is not unique to the rail industry; it is the law in France and Belgium for every carrier - although we understand from the EU Commission and our legal advisers that for the aviation industry there is a directive that allows them to do that and that was brought in several years ago. It is partially a French and Belgian issue and it is also a rail issue or a non aviation issue.

Q111 Mr Winnick: You wrote to the Border Agency and explained it all - and I am not sure why they should need any explanation about such matters. What is happening? Have they responded?

Mr Noaro: No, they have not.

Q112 Mr Winnick: How long ago did you write?

Mr Noaro: November. Seven months ago.

Q113 Mr Winnick: Considering the security problems faced by the UK which we all recognise, that seems rather odd, does it not?

Mr Noaro: Yes. It is not that Eurostar has not discussed the issue in the meantime. We have a very good relationship with UK Borders for day-to-day operational issues, and the director level people from the UK Borders are all very aware of the issues that we have raised and they are doing whatever they can to move things on from the UK Borders perspective, but that is the last formal discussions we have had with them on that.

Q114 Mr Winnick: You are not particularly critical of the Border Agency. You accept they are trying to resolve the matter.

Mr Noaro: I have to say I am critical of the speed. I would feel very uncomfortable if I had waited seven months to respond to a letter from the UK Borders Agency on an e-borders matter.

Mr Winnick: It is somewhat longer than they take to reply to our letters, I must admit Nevertheless, as the Chairman has indicated, we are having the chief executive coming along, so that is one of the questions we will put to her.

Q115 Ms Buck: Are there any benefits to you from this programme?

Mr Noaro: None whatsoever.

Q116 Chairman: I am sorry, what did you say?

Mr Noaro: None whatsoever.

Q117 Chairman: There are no benefits.

Mr Noaro: No commercial benefits.

Q118 Ms Buck: Bearing that in mind and setting aside the possible legal problems, you are wiling to make the financial investment necessary to deliver.

Mr Noaro: I think we are reluctant to make the financial investment but if we can get around the legal issues and the operational issues and provided we feel that we have exhausted the juxtaposed controls discussion, then I think we have been working in the background on what systems we would need to work on to enable us to deliver this. It will become then an operational issue at the stations. From a rail perspective we do not want to increase check-in times that would negate the 40-minute journey-time saving that the high speed line in the UK, which cost 6.1 billion, has delivered for rail between here and the Continent. It becomes very much an operational challenge for us.

Q119 Ms Buck: Indeed. You will have heard the exchange that we had with our last witness about where the balance of responsibility should lie when it comes to security and border control, and whether that should lie with the industry and the traveller or the taxpayer in general.

Mr Noaro: I do not think Eurostar has a formal opinion one way or the other on that. It is more of an operational issue for us and not to be caught in a position that we are abiding by UK law but breaking EU law.

Q120 Tom Brake: You identified earlier the impact the fire had in terms of the processing times that were required. Clearly you are going to be required to do this. In practical terms, what would it mean for changes at your stations? You have highlighted the fact that they are listed buildings and there are implications around that. My understanding is that you are already having to make some changes because of exit controls. Those are going to require some changes to the layout, possibly, of places like Kings Cross when that programme is rolled out. Have you looked at this? Do you know what the cost implications of these changes might be?

Mr Noaro: We are not the owner of St Pancras Station. We are merely an international train operator using it, so any changes to the station would not necessarily be wholly for Eurostar to bear. I cannot see, knowing the station make-up and knowing English Heritage and the discussions we had over the last few years of building it, that there will be much scope for radial changes for extra space. The investment in terms of equipment to collect data at last-minute check-in would run into several millions of pounds. We do not quite understand the exact system that will be required because we are still waiting for the response from the Home Office on a number of different matters. It will run into several million just for Eurostar and that will apply to any other international rail carrier who decides to operate in the future.

Q121 Tom Brake: Have you worked out roughly what the extra on the average ticket might be?

Mr Noaro: No, because I think we would need to make a fundamental decision as to whether we are going to pass that on to our travellers or not. If we carry nine million travellers a year, which is what we carried last year, the maths is fairly simple. It would be several million pounds of investment for nine million passengers.

Q122 Tom Brake: In terms of other ways of handling this, in terms of capturing data in a different way or in a more straightforward way from your perspective, have you made suggestion? If so, what sort of response have you had and is there any scope that you can see for negotiation over this?

Mr Noaro: We have made suggestions to UK Borders as to alternative methods of transmitting the data and we have negotiated slightly different timings. The model is very much based around aviation, hence the 30 minutes, which is the typical check-in closing time, but our check-in closes up to ten minutes before. So there are differences that we have discussed with them, however, the controls that UK Borders themselves do seem to us still by far the most logical place to start when it comes to solving the issue, as they collect the data one minute after check-in. We are very keen to pursue how we can use that control more productively.

Q123 Patrick Mercer: Even if there are no legal impairments to providing information, are SNCF and SNCB willing to make a financial commitment to the e-borders programme?

Mr Noaro: At the moment there is an unincorporated joint venture, so it will be for the shareholders to decide how that investment is made. The Eurostar business is in the process of being restructured to become a more traditional joint venture with the Department of Transport being the UK shareholder. That is a matter for the shareholders but they are reluctant, in principle, to invest that sort of money without understanding what alternatives are being considered, trialled and tested. I think the Eurostar position is that we have not explored other avenues further enough, and there is a reluctance to make that sort of commitment. However, it is not the number one thing driving it. The number one thing driving it is the legal issue and the operational issue. It is not the same amount of money as we have from the representative of TUI Travel, for example.

Q124 Chairman: Your feeling is that this all could have been handled much better.

Mr Noaro: Yes, with a greater emphasis on consultation and working together and more listening to the industry, because it would seem that it is a one-size-fits-all approach and, as you have heard from the people giving evidence from different sectors, we face very different operational land legal challenges in trying to implement the e-borders programme.

Q125 Chairman: Do you know anecdotally from your colleagues in France whether or not the approach in France was much different from what we have been doing here?

Mr Noaro: I am sorry, Chairman, the approach in France?

Q126 Chairman: From the French government.

Mr Noaro: Our discussions are with SNCF, which is a state-owned railway, and their legal advisors, and they have been talking to the interior ministry in France around e-borders issues. I cannot comment on the views of the French government on e-borders, merely the views of our legal advisors from our SNCF partners.

Q127 Chairman: Since this session is televised, if you manage to get a reply from the UK Borders Agency before our session next Wednesday, please do let us know.

Mr Noaro: We will.

Chairman: Thank you very much for giving evidence today.