Examination of Witnesses (Questions 220
TUESDAY 20 JUNE 2000
220. It is also to do with manning the gates,
is it not?
(Mr Forster) Queues do develop at EU controls at peak
times, yes. I have arrived at 6 o'clock in the morning and have
had to wait for two or three minutes to get through immigration
control and that is an inconvenience.
221. It is inconvenient but I think it would
be even more inconvenient to the United Kingdom if you are suggesting
that people can actually enter illegally. You are suggesting that
people should be allowed to enter the UK without showing any documents
at all, so what is the difference between that and Schengen in
(Mr Forster) It is for the Immigration Service to
decide who is admitted and who is not, and it is for them to put
in place procedures to ensure only bona fide travellers
do pass through the controls.
222. I find that extraordinary. If you are saying
it is a delay simply to hold up a passport and then be nodded
through, and you are saying as an alternative you would like to
see the immigration officer deciding for one person, "I want
to see your document", for this person not, I think this
would actually slow it up. Anyway, let us move on to something
perhaps we can agree on. I want to see British Airways be an even
greater success than it is already, as I want to see Easyjet and
all the other British airlines be a success in this country, do
you think that the burdens currently being imposed in the form
of charges on ports will result in increased ticket prices being
charged by British Airways to its passengers?
(Mr Forster) Regrettably the airport authorities will
pass on their costs to the operators, the airlines at airports.
We have an obligation to our shareholders to make profits and
therefore those costs inevitably will be passed on to the travelling
public. That is one reason why we support the BAA in their statement
this morning that the state should bear the costs of the immigration
control because it is UK residents who benefit from immigration
control. Therefore, the UK as a whole should meet the costs of
that control and not individual travellers.
223. Have you any reason to disagree with the
BAA when they said they were not aware of any other European country
which asks the ports to bear the cost?
(Mr Forster) We are not aware of this, this is unique
to the United Kingdom.
224. Have you made any assessment at all about
what the additional costs will be on the price of a ticket?
(Mr Forster) No, because the actual detail of what
we are being asked to cover is still being developed. We are attending
a number of consultation meetings with the Immigration Service
on this very subject and costs will, I am sure, follow if this
proposal is enacted and put through.
225. Notwithstanding whether we enter Schengen
or a half-Schengen, as I think you are suggesting, do you think
that British Government agencies such as Customs and immigration
work well with you in ensuring that there is a free flow of passengers?
In fact I do not just ask this question to British Airways but
also to the Freight Transport Association.
(Mr Highley) Can I make a comment about our chequered
relationship with the Immigration Service?
226. Please do, this sounds controversial!
(Mr Highley) We started off, when carriers' liability
was introduced, with a very bad relationship with the Immigration
Service. We simply did not understand where each other was coming
from. I think to the great credit of the Immigration Service they
have changed and they have shown they are prepared to be flexible
and to work in partnership, so I would characterise our relationship
at the moment with the Immigration Service as good. However, there
are two provisos. The first one is that we do wish the Immigration
Service to consult us more, and we are rather baffled by this
because we have brought it up at every levelwe have tried
middle management, we have tried top management, we have tried
ministersbut still we get situations where the Immigration
Service produce innovation without consultation. We think that
is a lose, lose situation. If only they would consult, they would
actually derive benefits from it. I think the other thing that
we urge on the Immigration Service is that they forget that we
are a commercial organisation whose main objective is to please
our passengers and our shareholders, and I think we have some
way to go still on that, but we are certainly moving in the right
227. Do you have any dealings at all, do you
need to have any dealings at all, with UK Customs?
(Mr Highley) We have a different relationship with
UK Customs and we get involved, for example, in drugs issues,
but we do not have the same public relationship with Customs that
we do with the Immigration Service.
228. Can I turn now to David Green, because
there seems to be a common thread in what Mr Highley has said
and also what the earlier witnesses said, about the lack of consultation,
the lack of there being any sort of forum? Would you concur with
(Mr Linington) If I could answer on behalf of the
Freight Transport Association, we have had over the years a very
extensive relationship with the Customs authorities, and that
is in a very formalised way, there is a number of memoranda of
understanding covering all sorts of thingsexcise goods,
drugs, smugglingand there is a consistent dialogue with
the Customs authorities. Results are not always to our liking
but at least the mechanisms exist for an exchange of views, and
generally speaking they are very constructive relationships. The
same has not been true of our relationship with the Immigration
Service. In fact, generally speaking, the Immigration Act has
been the first time that we have had any extended dialogue with
the Immigration Service, and I would say the relationship is at
an embryo stage at the moment. There are not any formal mechanisms
for meetings with them although inevitably, as part of the dialogue
on the penalty system, there have been a number of meetings and
quite recent ones. We are hoping that that dialogue will continue
and hopefully eventually become a formal mechanism to lead to
greater co-operation between the industry and the Immigration
Service. At the moment, our biggest hurdle is persuading them
that an internal appeal procedure is a fair and transparent one.
229. Before we get on to that, have you as an
organisation approached either the Government or the Immigration
Service direct saying that you would welcome, you need, a forum
in which there can be regular dialogue?
(Mr Linington) Yes. As my colleague, David Green said
earlier we made the initial approach to the Home Office and we
began the running by saying we needed to have meetings and there
needed to be a dialogue. I think that now has got a certain amount
of impetus of its own, but in the earlier stages we were the ones
who were asking for that to take place.
230. I want to pick up on the issue of the state
picking up the cost of border control or document control in this
case. You say that is a state responsibility, as was said earlier
to us in evidence, and yet the Freight Transport Association say
they are perfectly willing to put their own money up to do those
checks. Is there a contradiction between your two approaches?
Secondly, if you are the agency bringing those people in as a
burden on the state, surely you should pick up the tab and responsibility
(Mr Forster) If I can take that last point first of
all, yes, British Airways does profit from carrying passengers
to this country, that is our business, but I would argue that
there are other bodies within the United Kingdom who are also
benefitingtourism in this country, for example. If we did
not carry these people here, the tourist bodies would not benefit.
So there are other bodies other than British Airways who benefit
from passengers coming here, therefore why should British Airways
and its passengers pay for the immigration control at ports of
231. But why should the taxpayer pay? The taxpayer
is not responsible for bringing them in here.
(Mr Forster) No, but I would argue that the immigration
control is there to protect UK citizens as a whole from illegal
immigration and the costs that that would bring about. Our argument
is that the taxpayer should therefore bear the cost of that policy,
as they do in many other fields.
232. Mr Green, how do you take such a different
approach to that issue?
(Mr Green) I have to answer it very carefully, Mr
Singh, because British Airways is also a member of the Freight
Transport Association, so I am treading on rather difficult ground
here. The first point I must emphasise is that we are talking
about completely different scenarios. On the one hand, you are
talking about a passenger air transport service where you have
people who are being carried by British Airways and are paying
British Airways for the privilege of that journey. We are talking
about the problem of people being smuggled aboard trucks, they
are not paying passengers. We actually have a very clear interest
in that smuggling being eradicated because of the disadvantages
it causes our businesses, because of the contamination it can
cause to our loads, and because of the very real delays it can
cause to the movements. Going back to the example we were talking
of earlier, if you are a driver bringing a truck back to the UK,
you discover illegals in Northern France, you report it to the
authorities, and everything which goes with that has a huge time
penalty, so we have an interest in preventing it from happening.
We are saying that it is against that background that we are prepared
to say it is reasonable, because we get a clear benefit from that
not happening, to be contributing towards the cost of those checks.
233. Mr Highley and Mr Forster, you are clearly
stating that our controls are tighter than the rest of Europe
and maybe if we were part of Schengen you would benefit, your
industry certainly would, and you mentioned the problem of transit
visas. But let me give you the example of when we went to Calais
and saw the 300 or 400 families in this old factory, and the conditions
were appalling they were actually living in, but they would not
claim asylum in France, they wanted to come to the UK. Within
that context, that the UK is a special magnet for asylum seekers,
genuine or bogus, either for economic or family reasons, whatever,
is it not absolutely right that the UK should have the most stringent
border controls and should in fact not be a part of Schengen which
would wipe out border controls and all the iron filings would
come into that magnet straight away?
(Mr Forster) I think there is a little confusion here.
Let me make it quite clear, British Airways' opinion on Schengen
is that we are neutral. There are advantages and disadvantages
of becoming a member of Schengen. In terms of our border controls
being tight, if you were referring to an earlier comment I made
regarding the carriers' liability legislation which is enforced
far more rigorously here in the UK than elsewhere in the EU, that
is our perception
234. Should it not be because of the context
we find ourselves in?
(Mr Forster) Perhaps in certain areas, yes, but in
other areas, no. We are charged £2,000, for example, for
minor breaches of the Carriers' Liability Act. For example, passengers
are allowed to transit this country provided they have onward
tickets and the transfer is within 24 hours without a visa, so
many nationalities can make that transfer without a visa. However,
we have been served charges of £2,000 because the connection
time has been 36 hours and not 24 hours. The passenger has no
intention of staying in this country, they have continued their
journey within 36 hours, yet we are saddled with a £2,000
charge. In the rest of the EU, that sort of ridiculous bureaucracy,
which it is, would not exist. Carriers in Europe would not suffer
those charges, but we do here, and it happens on a daily basis.
235. Moving on to the Immigration Service, you
have said your relationships are a lot better now. This is a question
to both agencies. Is there available technology which the Immigration
Service could and should be using to stop illegal entrants or
asylum seekers from the continent entering the UK?
(Mr Highley) We have suggested two ways forward to
the Immigration Service which have not necessarily been received
with enthusiasm. One is we profoundly wish they would tidy up
the documentation which is stamped on people's passports which
permit them to enter the UK.
236. Could you elaborate on that?
(Mr Highley) We think it is too complicated and it
is very difficult for our young staff to assimilate and understand.
237. I thought it was just an entry visa.
(Mr Highley) Jim can elaborate on that.
(Mr Forster) At present if a passenger has, for example,
a single entry visa, they can visit this country on just one occasion.
If they attempt to make a visit on a second occasion, the check-in
agent is expected to look for a landing stamp within the passport.
That landing stamp is often overlooked. Yes, it is an error on
the part of the check-in agent, but given the pressures they are
under and the enormous volumes of passengers they are processing,
errors are made, I am afraid, and we have been telling the Immigration
Service this for years, that they must simplify the documentation.
What I am pleased to hear through the Immigration and Asylum Act
is that improvements are planned, and the entry clearance being
given at foreign posts is an enormous step forward and we look
forward to working with the Immigration Service to ensure that
that is introduced successfully. But there are still complications
with documentation and I think both the Home Office and the Foreign
Office should continue to look at ways of simplifying passports
and related documentation.
238. Sorry, I interrupted you, Mr Highley, you
had more suggestions to make.
(Mr Highley) Somebody mentioned the US biometric system.
We do think there are big gains to be made from technology but
the problem appears to be the money and the issue always is, "Would
the airlines please pay for this?" I think you made an important
point when you raised the question of funding, and I think this
issue of funding has to be sorted out, because unless the funding
is there the technological change will not occur.
239. Mr Green, do you have anything to add?
(Mr Green) We have talked in part about technological
means of detection already, but we have not talked about the most
straight forward means in terms of drive-through x-ray facilities.
They do exist, but they are very expensive. We are not the only
part of the world where this problem exists, by the way. The US-Mexican
border is one where the sort of issues we are talking about here
are just as real and we are actively looking at that type of equipment
which is now being used on the US-Mexican border. Indeed, through
the IRU we are looking at funding the introduction of that equipment
in Calais but, again, it has to be in co-operation with governments
and the relative agencies because it is not just a question of
conducting the check. I am entirely with what the people from
the British Ports Association were saying, we are not looking
to increase the dwell-time of trucks within port areas, we are
looking for the smooth movement of vehicles through those areas,
and that is why drive-through facilities are clearly the only
appropriate route to follow.