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UNCORRECTED TRANSCRIPT OF ORAL EVIDENCE
To be published as HC 658-i
HOUSE OF COMMONS
TAKEN BEFORE THE
Home Affairs Committee
THE WORK OF THE Border Force
Tuesday 8 October 2013
Sir Charles Montgomery
Evidence heard in Public Questions 1 - 85
USE OF THE TRANSCRIPT
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Taken before the Home Affairs Committee
on Tuesday 8 October 2013
Keith Vaz (Chair)
Mr James Clappison
Dr Julian Huppert
Mr David Winnick
Examination of Witness
Witness: Sir Charles Montgomery, Director General, Border Force, gave evidence.
Chair: I welcome Sir Charles Montgomery, the Director General of Border Force, to the Committee. Sir Charles, people talk about their days in court; this is your week in Parliament.
Sir Charles Montgomery: It is.
Chair: As well as appearing before us, you will have the leisurely task of appearing before the Public Accounts Committee tomorrow. You have probably booked a room in London, have you?
Sir Charles Montgomery: I have not, as it happens, Chair, but I might have done.
Chair: Welcome to the Committee.
Sir Charles Montgomery: Thank you.
Q1 Chair: You have been 221 days in your job and the Border Force has had five different heads over the last few months, so you bring a bit of stability. I visited Calais yesterday.
Sir Charles Montgomery: Yes, indeed.
Chair: I found it a fascinating visit and I want you to pass on my thanks to those on the front line. We get to meet people like you and others, Ministers and other senior figures in Border Force and the UKBA as it was, but we hardly ever get to meet the people in the front line unless we are coming back from our holidays. They all performed extremely well, so please pass on my thanks to everyone in Calais and those that we met.
Sir Charles Montgomery: Chair, I will certainly do that and I can assure you it will go down very well. Thank you.
Q2 Chair: Now, the National Audit Office does not share my delight at what is happening at Calais because you have had a very critical report, dated 4 September, in which it revealed that Customs examinations, including for drugs and firearms, were being suspended to cope with passport controls due to staff shortages. Indeed, I picked up from one of my conversations with a member of your staff that the number of people, for example, dealing with freight has gone down as you have switched over to looking at passenger control. Do you recognise what the NAO has said and what is the answer to what they are suggesting?
Sir Charles Montgomery: I recognise what the NAO has said. Much of that, of course, has come from the feedback that it has picked up from my people in the front line, so I recognise what it has said. I do not think the NAO is quite articulating the full picture on the ground. I think there was more in the report, perhaps, but I do not think that quite sums up what the NAO found.
What the NAO did say, I believe, is that the secondary controls being conducted by Border Force were being suspended at times. There are, as you will have seen yesterday, Chair, other secondary controls that are undertaken in the juxtaposed ports.
Q3 Chair: You have dogs?
Sir Charles Montgomery: We have contractor support and you may have had a chance to see yesterday the technology that we, Border Force, have paid for the police aux frontières to operate to provide the search capability.
I think what the NAO pick up is the practice of a very clear operating mandate, which describes to me the priorities that I meet in the front line. It therefore enables me to prioritise the resource against that operating mandate.
Q4 Chair: Just on this central issue-we have all read this report and I am sure my colleague Margaret Hodge and others will go into greater detail on this-is it the case that you are moving people from freight into passenger control because of the numbers of people? Is this happening? Because they said that on 21 times in three days the checks were actually stopped on freight because of the huge volume of people seeking to come into the UK.
Sir Charles Montgomery: It is happening, and as I said, it is an exercise of the operating mandate. I would just like to explain why it is happening. The unique feature of the juxtaposed controls means that if the flows of traffic are not proceeding according to a degree of fluidity, then there is a very rapid build-up of stationary traffic, which goes outside the port and on to the motorway. That stationary traffic itself represents probably one of the greatest security risks at the port.
Q5 Chair: Of course. So it does happen, but the reason it happens is because you are afraid of the pile-ups that will occur, when people will start tweeting as they did at Heathrow Airport. I am not suggesting Joan Collins goes through Calais as she did Heathrow when she tweeted that there were lots of passengers waiting to go through Terminal 5. That is what you are worried about, the build-up of traffic, the ferries not being able to go and the freight not getting on?
Sir Charles Montgomery: That is absolutely right, Chair. Going back to that operating mandate, I am very clear, the Home Secretary is very clear, that my strategic aim for Border Force, which is to provide security at the border and promote national prosperity, has two components. The overriding priority from the Home Secretary is national security.
Q6 Chair: Yes, we will come to that. Is this why you have restarted the pilots on schoolchildren coming on coaches?
Sir Charles Montgomery: That is the principal reason why we started the pilots on the coaches because that degree of fluidity enabled that build-up to be better managed.
Q7 Chair: Yes, but isn’t it a bit odd that this is exactly what Mr Brodie Clark did that got him into so much trouble, the fact that he actually stopped all those controls happening in order to speed things up? The fear, and from the conversations I picked up yesterday, was that he was doing exactly what you are doing, which is the sensible course of action. If you have a coach load of schoolchildren with a teacher in charge of those schoolchildren, why get them all to disembark from the coach and go through passport control? Why not get someone to get on the coach, check the passports and make sure they speed up? Has the pilot been successful?
Sir Charles Montgomery: If I could draw a very clear distinction between the controls that are in place now as opposed to the controls that were in place under Brodie Clark, the key difference here is that this pilot was authorised by the Home Secretary under a very specific set of circumstances. Rigorous and robust evidence was to be gathered from these pilots and only on the basis of that evidence would the Home Secretary then decide whether or not there was a case for making this arrangement permanent. That decision itself is yet to be taken.
Q8 Chair: In this respect, it was the fact that it was unauthorised that people did not like, not the method that it was being used for? Clearly, as you have shown and your staff have shown, it has been pretty successful. I stood there while some coaches disembarked and there was no reason why somebody could not get on the coach. When will the pilot be ready for the Home Secretary to put her final imprint?
Sir Charles Montgomery: It will be ready within about two or three weeks. The evidence will be assembled and put before the Home Secretary within about two or three weeks. Again, if I could come back, Chair, you are absolutely right, the issue surrounds authorisation, but it is authorisation on the base of evidence. The point really, going back 18 months or so, is that there was authorisation without ministerial agreement and it was not on the basis of evidence.
Q9 Chair: Yes, and I am sure that you would not do anything without the Home Secretary telling you to.
Sir Charles Montgomery: Well, I certainly would not operate outside the operating mandate without the Home Secretary telling me to.
Chair: Indeed. Mr Winnick has a point on this.
Q10 Mr Winnick: In view of what happened to Brodie Clark, I am sure you would not do anything that you would feel was unauthorised. As I understand the position in reply to the question that was put to you by the Chair, what is happening-which I, like the Chair, consider to be perfectly sensible, like the school party being checked on the coach and the rest of it-is identical, more or less, to what Brodie Clark had authorised but not the Home Secretary. Would that be a fair position?
Sir Charles Montgomery: As I have tried to articulate, what Brodie Clark authorised was certainly without ministerial agreement, but actually was not on the base of a rigorous analysis of risk.
Q11 Chair: Okay. Let us finally from me move on to the Lille loophole. Is it closed now?
Sir Charles Montgomery: We have controls in place on the Lille loophole that have seen a dramatic reduction in breaches of the security of the border-dramatic.
Q12 Chair: Have you been to Lille yourself to see what is going on?
Sir Charles Montgomery: I have been. I have been to Brussels, Lille, Calais and, of course, St Pancras.
Q13 Chair: So it is not closed yet, but there has been a reduction?
Sir Charles Montgomery: I cannot talk on figures, Chair, but I can assure you that I am extremely pleased with the results of the actions that the Brussels authorities, the French, Eurostar and ourselves have taken over the course of the summer.
Q14 Chair: You cannot tell us the figures because?
Sir Charles Montgomery: Because I would not wish to indicate areas of particular strength or particular weakness in terms of any one of our operating centres, but I am extremely pleased. Indeed, if I could go back, Chair, to the Vine report on the juxtaposed controls, you may reflect that John Vine did say that the controls were effective.
Q15 Chair: Well, he did say that he found poor decision-making quality. He sampled 274 cases and found two-thirds of the cases in which refused entry was correctly administered but a third in which it was not. He did say record keeping was a significant issue: correct paperwork was issued in only 21% of the cases. He also said that some staff were unsure of the extent of the UK control area in Coquelles. Have you now given them a map, so that they know?
Sir Charles Montgomery: Thank you very much. We have. That was, as the department made clear in its response, a perfectly fair observation, a perfectly fair recommendation, and we have implemented the change necessary.
Q16 Mr Winnick: As was mentioned earlier, you are the fifth head of the organisation within a short period-18 months. No doubt you are hoping to stay somewhat longer than your predecessors. Sir Charles, you have had a distinguished career in the Navy and no one is likely to dispute that. Without being misunderstood, of course, what qualifications would you say you have to do this particular job?
Sir Charles Montgomery: Thank you very much. I have extensive experience of operational command within large organisations that are geographically dispersed, an organisation which, of course, in itself was critical to the maintenance of national security. I have had several positions in the Ministry of Defence and in the Royal Navy that have brought with them large areas of budgetary spend and control with the necessary management oversight to ensure compliance and assurance. I think if I could summarise what I have brought to the job, it would be in those headlines, but I am very happy to expand.
Q17 Mr Winnick: Can I just get the position clear? There was presumably an advertisement and you applied. Is that the situation?
Sir Charles Montgomery: Yes, there was an advertisement placed. I was approached-one of many people who were approached-by the head-hunters who were tasked by the Home Office to do the job, and I went through the various interviews and sift processes.
Q18 Mr Winnick: Was there any lag between your leaving the Navy and taking on this job?
Sir Charles Montgomery: There was about three or four days in terms of time.
Q19 Mr Winnick: Thank you very much. Now, it is said by the independent chief inspector in his report that the financial penalties levelled on those who are breaking the law-hauliers and drivers very much breaking the law, the very thing all of us are very much opposed to, by bringing in or trying to bring in illegal immigrants-were in the lowest category. You agree it was so?
Sir Charles Montgomery: That was the case.
Q20 Mr Winnick: Was? Not now?
Sir Charles Montgomery: It was and is the case. I will be shortly issuing revised direction and guidance to Border Force officers as to how they should operate within the current legal limits within which I must operate. Quite separately, we are judging whether or not those legal limits themselves are correct, since they were set some time ago.
Q21 Mr Winnick: We have seen in Dover, as the Chair knows, some of the devices used to try to stop this illegal immigration, this trafficking, obviously organised purely and simply for the worst commercial reasons. We saw only recently what happened in a different situation in Italy where hundreds died. Indeed, even in this country some suffocated in containers-I remember the case, as I am sure you are aware. We are told constantly that these devices are stopping the illegal trade in human beings, but it is not really doing so. Obviously, it is having an effect-it would be odd if it were otherwise-but how optimistic are you that this sort of criminal and inhuman business can really dwindle to a few numbers?
Sir Charles Montgomery: Am I optimistic? No, I am not. I think we are going to be faced with a long-lasting challenge of people flowing illegally through Europe, some of whom will seek to get to the United Kingdom. The campaign, if you will, has both political and legal dimensions and it clearly has a very strong operational one. The Home Secretary will very shortly be bringing to the House an Immigration Bill, which will set out a number of very important measures that will make the United Kingdom less attractive for people to come to the United Kingdom and which will make it easier to remove those who should not be here. I cannot say much more than that, but that is the key tenet of what she will be bringing forward to the House. There is a political dimension to that and there is a legal dimension, which you will understand.
There is an operational one, too, which in military speak is best fought at distance, if that is possible, so best fought in the southern regions of Europe where much of this traffic comes through. We operate closely with European and other world institutions and bilaterally, but we are now looking again at other policy options that can help in terms of what I would call forward defence. Then, of course, there is what more we can do both in the juxtaposed controls and at our own physical border to prevent illegal migration across the border.
In terms of our achievements, last year, for example-the Border Force does operate to targets-I believe we achieved our target of clandestine stoppages and we also met our target of refusals at the border as well. Is the border therefore absolutely watertight for any form of migrant getting across the border? Clearly, at the moment the answer is no. We will need to do all we can to strengthen that.
Q22 Mr Winnick: Yes, that is understandable. It can hardly be 100% or even 95% or 90% watertight. It could be somewhat tighter than it is now. The question of the political implications, that is totally outside your remit and arguments and debates will go on here about which political party will do more or less as the case may be over immigration.
Sir Charles Montgomery: Of course.
Mr Winnick: Coming to penalties, which I asked you in the beginning, I would have thought that for those who are found by the due process of law to be guilty of these offences the penalties should be somewhat higher than among the lowest brackets.
Sir Charles Montgomery: As I tried to indicate, there are two components to this. One of them is the penalties we levy within the current bounds. As John Vine reported, they are at the lower end and I have asked for very clear advice on what more we should be doing to increase the penalties within the current bounds.
Q23 Mr Winnick: Could we have more information, perhaps in a letter, Chair?
Chair: Could you do that?
Sir Charles Montgomery: I would be delighted to. I would be absolutely delighted to share that with you.
Chair: Very helpful.
Q24 Mr Clappison: Can I say, Sir Charles, we have seen the performance of some of the people who have shuffled round from different arms of the bureaucracy and local government and national government to do the sort of job you are doing at the moment, and I find it very refreshing that we have somebody from the armed forces occupying the post that you occupy. You must have achieved quite significant distinction because you had command of a major warship, and we have not so many of those left to have command of-about 19, I understand-so you must have been doing very well in your naval career.
Can I ask you about the subject of queuing, which this Committee has been very interested in in the past and was very worried about before the Olympics and subsequently? We seem to have a problem: when some members of the Committee turned up there was a queue organised through an informant and they had to wait. How is the situation with queuing going at the moment?
Sir Charles Montgomery: Thank you very much. Well, I would like to put it in context if you would allow me.
Mr Clappison: Please.
Sir Charles Montgomery: It was 18 months ago, of course, that we had the erosion of the controls that we have already touched on. It was just over 12 months ago that we had the downstream impact of reimposition of those controls and the extraordinary queues, which so badly damaged the reputation of Border Force and, more widely, the United Kingdom. Since then, of course, as your Committee members are aware and, indeed, I think have reflected on, we have seen the success that was the Olympic operation at the border, and since the Olympics we have regularly not just simply matched but beaten our service level agreement with the operators in the front line in terms of the queuing time for both European Union nationals and non-European Union nationals. To the extent of the target being 95% of European Union nationals within 25 minutes and non-European Union nationals within 45 minutes, we are now achieving about 99% on both within that timescale. I think the issue of flows at the border is one that has been extremely well handled and must be seen in the context of the successful implementation of 100% checks at the primary control point as well. It is a double-headed success story in that sense. I take no personal credit, the route was set before I joined, but it is a double-headed success story in that sense.
Q25 Dr Huppert: I apologise, Sir Charles, for missing the beginning of your evidence. We had Justice questions at the same time. We were just talking about the last independent inspector’s report on the Border Force. When do you anticipate the next one coming out?
Sir Charles Montgomery: I expect the next one tomorrow.
Q26 Dr Huppert: Last time there was some discussion about the Home Secretary’s power of redaction. Can you assure us that she will not be using powers of redaction this time? Do you think it is appropriate for her to redact things that are more than just national security?
Sir Charles Montgomery: If I could pick up two or three things you raised in that question. First, of course the power of redaction is all about national security. I was personally involved in the effort to keep as much of both the juxtaposed report and the next report in the public domain, so I can assure the Committee members that this has been the subject of the most painstaking effort to try to put as much as we feel we can into the public domain. The issue of redaction, I would assure every Committee member, looking everybody in the eye, was all driven by national security and no more. The report on juxtaposed controls and two or three sections that were redacted for that reason and the report tomorrow, which is on e-borders, will have similar areas of redaction as well.
Q27 Dr Huppert: Do you think it would be appropriate for, say, members of this Committee to be shown the full report, so that we can see what problems there are and also just to be absolutely certain it is only the minimum required for national security that is being avoided? What we want to avoid is any suggestions that the Home Secretary is trying to cover up things that might be embarrassing, for example.
Sir Charles Montgomery: Thank you very much. No, I understand the sensitivity and I just reiterate my own personal avowal that that is not the case. Let me turn to the issue of how that report in its entirety will be made public. It is the Home Secretary’s intention to share that report in its entirety with the Intelligence and Security Committee, recognising it is the ISC that has the primacy on issues around national security. She does intend to share it with the ISC, which I hope will provide parliamentarians with the assurance it has had the necessary parliamentary exposure.
Q28 Dr Huppert: I suspect the Chair and I share a scepticism about that and we would urge you to suggest, and I suspect we will suggest, it should be shared with this Committee as well, given we have to spend a lot of our time looking at things like e-borders.
Sir Charles Montgomery: If I may take that matter back to the Home Secretary, I undertake to do so.
Q29 Dr Huppert: That would be very helpful. We look forward to hopefully seeing the whole thing to assure ourselves. Can I then move on to the role of your staff because you have a mixture of both Customs and Immigration? Do you think your staff get the balance right between those two?
Sir Charles Montgomery: We have a single Border Force now. I just want to make that point. Yes, you are absolutely right that it comes from two organisations, with long and very different histories and cultures, brought together into a single Border Force. It is a single Border Force and I am very keen that we promote the culture of a single Border Force. That said, you would expect from somebody who comes from an organisation like the Royal Navy to take great pride in the history and legacy of the organisation. I expect those who are former Customs and former Immigration Service to take pride in the history of the organisations of which they were once part, but we are now a single Border Force very much now focused in the main on multi-training, multi-capability, multi-skilling while maintaining areas of deep specialist skill.
Q30 Dr Huppert: An issue of particular interest to many is tobacco smuggling and clearly we want to try to clamp down on that while still allowing people who are genuinely heavy users of tobacco to be able to bring that forwards. I have had a case reported to me where people were stopped and fined, had tobacco removed on the basis they did not believe they were heavy smokers. I know from seeing them they have all of the traits of heavy smokers. Will you have a look at how that is done because it is quite alarming when staff maltreat people who are bringing legitimate items through?
Sir Charles Montgomery: Thank you for the feedback. I want to give the Committee my absolute assurance that I take very seriously any allegations of rudeness or poor behaviour by officers in the front-line. I have to say I am now getting far more feedback about positive behaviours on the front-line and indeed, John Vine’s report into the juxtaposed control reflected on the excellent behaviours he has seen in the front-line and the people going, in his own words, the extra mile. I am very keen if there are specific areas of assertion, I would be very keen to hear them, please, and I will have them investigated.
Q31 Mark Reckless: What are you doing to sort out the Warnings Index and the problems the NAO recently exposed in that?
Sir Charles Montgomery: The Warnings Index was a system procured quite some time ago. It is generally fairly old technology, although we invested a very significant amount in that technology before I joined. I am the senior responsible officer of a programme called Border Systems and a very important part of that now is investing in the current systems to make them more resilient for the future until they are replaced. We are investing significantly and making the Warnings Index more resilient, more capable and more interoperable as well.
Q32 Mark Reckless: Beyond the cooperation you get from France in the juxtaposed border controls, what is happening in terms of Sangatte and people in that area potentially looking to come to the UK? Are you getting full co-operation there?
Sir Charles Montgomery: I have to say we are getting excellent co-operation from the French authorities, who are being very open and very transparent. They are very good colleagues to work with in the Nord-Pas-de-Calais in what is quite a difficult political environment as well for them. At the operational level, I find really genuinely excellent cooperation from the police aux frontières and the douane in that area. They, of course, take a very great deal of the stretch in that area and one of the reasons why we haven’t seen Sangatte mark II is the effort the French are putting into it.
Q33 Mark Reckless: The encampment of Syrians currently there, I understand they have demanded that a Home Office representative should go to see them and facilitate their claiming asylum in the UK rather than France. What has been the response there?
Sir Charles Montgomery: The response to any nationality seeking to work through France to gain asylum in the United Kingdom is a very clear "No." That is a message the French are passing equally as we are passing.
Q34 Chair: On the question of people who are caught by the Brits and then handed over to the French, which happens quite often because we don’t have detention facilities in play, why are we not fingerprinting those we catch?
Sir Charles Montgomery: We were fingerprinting, Chair, as you are probably aware, we used to fingerprint.
Q35 Chair: Why have we stopped it?
Sir Charles Montgomery: Because we did not have adequate detention facilities in Calais at time it was stopped. We did have in Coquelles but those are no longer deemed fit for detention. The decision at the time was that the benefit in terms of investment in what would be very significant infrastructure and with doubts over whether the French authorities would allow the planning, it would be more cost effective to invite the French to do the fingerprinting, on the basis that anybody who claimed asylum in France would have their fingerprints taken and would be exchanged with us.
Q36 Chair: They don’t share that information with you, so you don’t know whether these people subsequently-
Sir Charles Montgomery: If the individual had claimed asylum, then they are, under the Eurodac agreement, obliged to share the fingerprint information with us.
Q37 Chair: You are confident you get the information.
Sir Charles Montgomery: If I could follow up, Chair, because I did refer to asylum seekers, not other migrants. There is no legal requirement in terms of migrants. In fact, it is contravening French law if they were to share fingerprinting information on migrants with us. For that reason, and recognising the points that came out of the Vine report, I have initiated a review on the basis of his recommendation to judge whether or not now, in the current circumstances, there is a cost-benefit case to reintroduce fingerprinting at the juxtaposed controls with the concomitant requirement to invest in infrastructure.
Q38 Chair: That is very helpful. Before we go on to seizure of drugs, could I ask about the e-borders’ programme, because tomorrow’s report that you and Dr Huppert referred to is on e-borders? This has been a catastrophe for the British taxpayer under successive Governments. We still do not have e-borders. The contract predates you. You were probably commanding your warship at the time and I cannot remember who the Minister was but, at the end of the day, we are now in litigation with Raytheon, litigation that is still not complete. Is that right?
Sir Charles Montgomery: That is correct and there are two points, Chair, if I may. The first thing is I cannot comment on the Vine report until it is published, which I know you will understand. The second thing is that whilst I am more than happy to talk about eborders and the contract, in many senses, I must be very careful that I do not say anything here-
Q39 Chair: I know that. We are not asking you to do that. That is not what I have asked you to do and I understand you are concerned about it. Do we have a timetable for the end of the arbitration process with Raytheon?
Sir Charles Montgomery: We are expecting that. I am afraid I can say nothing more definite than several months.
Q40 Chair: All right, it will be next year.
Sir Charles Montgomery: I would anticipate so. Several months is what I have been told to expect.
Q41 Chair: Because several months could be five years if you multiply the years by months. You hope that it will be next year?
Sir Charles Montgomery: The best answer and indeed the only answer I can give is to reiterate several months.
Q42 Chair: Several months. When the Minister last appeared before us, he said he had started the procurement process, or was about to start the procurement process for the rest of the e-borders’ contract-as you know, because I am sure you have studied this very carefully, the original contract is now not being fulfilled. IBM and Serco have small parts of the contract. Semaphore is being refurbished to take us through to 2015. When Mark Sidwell came before us, he said e-borders would be completed by the 2015 general election and as you know, it is a Coalition commitment that we should be able to count people in and out at the time of the next general election. Now you have looked at the books and you have seen the contracts, do you think this is going to happen by May 2015?
Sir Charles Montgomery: There were several points in your question, Chair, and I will try to address them but I am sure you will let me know if I miss anything off the answer. The first point is what Mark Sidwell would have said, I think, is that we would have exit checks-not the e-borders-in place by 2015. The exit checks are a component part of eborders.
Q43 Chair: So we are going to have exit checks by May 2015.
Sir Charles Montgomery: We will have exit checks by May 2015.
Q44 Chair: Why can’t we have exit checks now, bearing in mind the data is already being collected by the airlines as you leave Heathrow Airport? I am afraid Mark Harper still has not replied to my letter sent several months ago when I asked him why it is the case that we only show boarding cards as we go through the security. Why can’t we have exit checks now? What is the problem?
Sir Charles Montgomery: If I could unwrap your previous question, a few points, if I may, because I think it all builds up to the conclusion. The first thing is that eborders has not delivered as the original business case-
Chair: We know that.
Sir Charles Montgomery: I would just like to say it has not delivered as the original business case required of it, but it did deliver some important component parts of what the eborders business case was seeking to do.
Q45 Chair: Be careful. We do not want you to affect the arbitration by praising Raytheon.
Sir Charles Montgomery: No, but I can talk about API, advanced passenger information, for example which was one of the objectives and that is in place at the moment. I will come on to API achievement because I think it is a significant and very positive story, even if it is not the whole one. E-borders has also sought to provide advanced information that we could share with other important Government agencies and internationally, but of the Government agencies, the Intelligence Services and the Police, there have been thousands of arrests, including for rape and murder, for example, on the basis of the advanced passenger information that we share. If I could come back to your comment about it being-and I may be paraphrasing-an absolute disaster, there have been some real benefits that have come out of the e-borders’ programme.
Q46 Chair: We understand that. We all appreciate and we applaud it, but you are telling us exit checks by May 2015?
Sir Charles Montgomery: There will be exit checks by May 2015.
Q47 Chair: All right and what about the rest of e-borders? At the moment, Australia has e-borders and they had it before the Olympics. South Africa had it before the World Cup. Saudi Arabia even has it but our country, which should be at the forefront of this whole scheme, still does not have e-borders. When are you going to put the contracts out for tender, something that was promised to us by Damien Green when he was Immigration Minister? When are they going out, because you have a long tendering process, have you not?
Sir Charles Montgomery: Not necessarily. Again, there are two points in what you said. The first point is the comprehensiveness of our e-borders’ programme and as I have already indicated, some benefits are not given, but one of the ones that has been a success has been the advanced passenger information and the pre-departure check-in scheme, which is built on advanced passenger information.
Q48 Chair: All right. Is there pre-departure clearance now or is this something you want to do?
Sir Charles Montgomery: No, there is pre-departure clearance now.
Q49 Chair: For everyone?
Sir Charles Montgomery: No, not for everybody but there is pre-
Q50 Chair: For whom? What percentage of the travelling public has pre-departure clearance?
Sir Charles Montgomery: Could I come back to you on that, Chair? I just need to think very carefully.
Q51 Chair: Because I understand there are only two airlines that have agreed to-
Sir Charles Montgomery: That is true.
Q52 Chair: So two airlines out of all the thousands that fly to Heathrow is not an answer really.
Sir Charles Montgomery: The advanced passenger information on which it is based and which still enables us to issue authorities to carry or not is a success story. Mark Sidwell, I know, has told you 100% of routes outside the European Union. I can tell you that until very recently, it was 70% within the European Union and 78% worldwide, but now with the addition of one other significant carrier who has committed to join, and we will shortly provide that information, those figures are 85% of air passenger movements from Europe to the UK and 90% of air passenger movements worldwide to the UK. That puts us apart from the rest of Europe and it puts us in the group of a very small number of countries around the world who can deliver that capability.
Q53 Chair: Why are we bothering to then go out to procurement and pay millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money if it is all going so well?
Sir Charles Montgomery: Because, Chair, as I already indicated, it is found that on two systems, principally core systems, Semaphore and the Warnings Index, both of which are relatively old systems and require replacement. If we are to sustain and to build on this success, then we need to invest in the new programme.
Q54 Chair: IBM has the Semaphore contract until 2015, does it not?
Sir Charles Montgomery: It has the Semaphore contract until 2015-
Q55 Chair: Yes, so what about the rest of e-borders that we took away from Raytheon? When are we going to start the procurement and is it going to be long enough for us to avoid making the mistakes we made when the last Government gave this contract to Raytheon?
Sir Charles Montgomery: If I come back to the replacement system again, of which I am the senior responsible officer, I took over the programme and took a very good, long, hard look at it. I was not, at the time, satisfied it was going to deliver the interoperability between other Government information systems that was necessary, nor was I convinced it had the right technical solution. I have instituted a strategic pause in the programme, brought in the Government Digital Service, in particular to provide advice on how best we might go about replacing the system. A short, sharp study with the Government Digital Service and the procurement service until December will give me the information I need to decide just what is to be the technical solution and then what is going to be the approach to market.
Q56 Chair: What is the procurement period going to be? If you are going to do this by December, the contracts will have to be issued by autumn 2014 to be ready by 2015. What is the procurement period? It seems a bit vague for something that people have been looking at for some time.
Sir Charles Montgomery: The advice from the Government Digital Service is that the means of procurement on which the programme was originally destined, which was competitive dialogue, would have taken longer than a potential alternative approach which starts to put the system to smaller packets, which could then be let to-
Q57 Chair: Are these the same people who advised you over Raytheon, this Government Digital Service, or are they new people?
Sir Charles Montgomery: New people.
Q58 Chair: You are telling this Committee that, by December this year, you would start the procurement process.
Sir Charles Montgomery: By December, this year, I will have the evidence I need to decide which of the two approaches, the old one or the new one, I will choose and that will allow the procurement process to proceed, I would anticipate, in the early half of next year.
Q59 Chair: Does that give you enough time?
Sir Charles Montgomery: It may be a shorter process than the original process, which was to procure the-
Q60 Chair: Will that favour the incumbents?
Sir Charles Montgomery: Chair, that is an extremely powerful question. One of the reasons why we have taken on an alternative approach was that the way in which the contract was looking to be managed probably would have favoured the incumbents and therefore would have constrained our approach to market. The way in which we are looking to adopt a revised approach would provide the department with greater flexibility over which contractor it chose for which component.
Q61 Chair: Thank you. Could you write to us with a timetable? That would be very helpful.
Sir Charles Montgomery: Certainly, yes.
Q62 Chris Ruane: There has been a significant increase in seizures of certain types of drugs over the past year. Is that because there are more drugs being smuggled into the country or is it because you have more staff in the Border Force?
Sir Charles Montgomery: It is because we prioritise it, because we do work again to a very clearly articulated operating mandate and a control strategy agreed by the Secretary of State, or indeed directed by the Secretary of State, in which Class A drugs become one of our highest priority seizures. We put a lot of work into the intelligence understanding; we put a lot of effort into interdiction and, at the moment, we are achieving heavily-indeed overachieving-against targets on Class A drugs, for example.
Q63 Chris Ruane: So it is intelligence rather than the number of staff.
Sir Charles Montgomery: It is in the main intelligence, bit I have seen with my own eyes, as will many Committee members, some excellent work by staff on the basis of their intuition in the front line as well. There is a combination of intelligence-led operations but there is also some very good intuition used by Border Force officers in the front line.
Q64 Dr Huppert: Just very briefly following up on that. Presumably none of your resources, at the moment, are spent dealing with people smuggling khat into the country because it is entirely legal. How much resource would you have to divert if the Home Secretary’s proposal to make it illegal went ahead?
Sir Charles Montgomery: That would depend on where it sat within my overall control strategy, so I think, at the moment, can I leave that perhaps until a future hearing when I will know where it would sit in the strategy? At the moment, it looks as though it may be classified as a Class C drug, so it would sit within a Class C drug area of my priorities.
Q65 Dr Huppert: Which means roughly how much resource?
Sir Charles Montgomery: Again, it would not be in my higher priority, so I would not be diverting resource from higher priorities into that area. The point I think, as many will have witnessed in the front line, much of this search and seizure in the front line is not commodity specific; it is because there is something about a particular individual or vehicle that raises suspicion, so even though the effort may be directed towards firearms, for example, it may well end up in the seizure of khat. Therefore, trying to specify exactly how much resource is devoted to khat as opposed to anything else is extremely difficult. I am sure you will understand.
Q66 Steve McCabe: Could I apologise for being late also. Chair? I was at Justice questions.
Sir Charles, in April 2011, the Border Agency and HMRC published a renewed strategy for tackling tobacco smuggling. One of the four main objectives was taking hard hitting action against offenders to deter and punish those involved in this fraud. Why do you think the number of arrest, prosecutions and convictions for tobacco smuggling have all fallen over the past three years?
Sir Charles Montgomery: I think it is fair to say the issue of which cases are taken to prosecution is an issue for Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs, as you may well know. They do so on the basis of priority and on what the likely benefit of any particular case going to prosecution would be. If I may say so, although we are in regular contact with HMRC, it is they who have the policy lead on which incidents go to trial and which ones do not. It is an opportunity for me to say that with HMRC, I am now seeking to embrace the Border Police Command, part of the National Crime Agency, to channel more effort into the prosecution of cross-border crime. I see that as being one of many benefits of the establishment of the National Crime Agency.
Q67 Steve McCabe: Can I just follow that up by asking if arrests, prosecutions and convictions are not the measure by which we should judge this tough action to punish and deter, what are the measures?
Sir Charles Montgomery: From my point of view, I think there are enormous benefits in terms of prosecuting, in terms of justice and in deterrents and in extracting intelligence. That is all taken into account by HMRC when they will decide whether or not to prosecute any individual case or not. Again, this is one of the reasons why I particularly value the role of the Border Police Command as part of the National Crime Agency, but the benefits I think go wider than that. Of course we do confiscate not just simply the goods but sometimes vehicles, which do hit hard at the perpetrator. I think it is worthwhile also saying that the total value on the streets of the United Kingdom of the goods seized at the border in the last year was about £320 million. It is a very significant weight of money, much of which would otherwise have found itself into the world of criminality, and perhaps even worse. It is also true to say that in taking this stuff off the streets, it forces potential purchasers into the more legal market, into the legal market, and therefore increases the tax revenue for the Exchequer. I am trying to draw together wider benefits rather than just punitive benefits of seizures at the border of £320 million as well as closing the tax gap on tobacco and handrolling tobacco.
Q68 Steve McCabe: That £320 million was less than two-thirds of your projected target. That is accurate, is it?
Sir Charles Montgomery: I don’t think so.
Steve McCabe: Are you sure?
Sir Charles Montgomery: I don’t think so.
Q69 Steve McCabe: Would you like to check?
Sir Charles Montgomery: I think I had better check. Again, perhaps I could come back. My understanding is it was within the target but if I am off beam, can I come back to you?
Steve McCabe: Of course.
Q70 Chair: You mentioned the National Crime Agency but they have the power to task. They do not have their own people who can suddenly appear in Calais and other parts of the border to try to police the border. The head of the National Crime Agency, Keith Bristow, will have the power just to task your officers. Is that going to be acceptable to you? They can suddenly decide, "We are going to have an operation. You can provide the people to do it," and you will just have to follow it, whatever your strategy is.
Sir Charles Montgomery: If I can come back to the National Crime Agency, Chair and Committee, I am extremely enthused by the potential of the National Crime Agency, not just in my area, but if I could talk more widely in terms of its wider remit on economic crime-
Q71 Chair: We are all very excited about it but specifically on the tasking where they do not have their own people, despite the pictures we saw yesterday with a lot of NCA people raiding a house in Manchester, they are not going to suddenly send down 20 people to Calais to deal with some organised crime ring. They are going to ask you, aren’t they?
Sir Charles Montgomery: They do have their own people.
Q72 Chair: Yes but they are going to ask you. They are going to task you. Are you happy with the tasking arrangements?
Sir Charles Montgomery: If I could just make it absolutely clear, they do have their own people and you will see National Crime Agency people at the United Kingdom border taking on the role previously done by CFI, and I can’t quite remember what the initials are for, but effectively the immigration enforcement teams who were at the border. You will see National Crime Agency people there.
Q73 Chair: Under whose command though?
Sir Charles Montgomery: They will be under NCA command. My people are under my command unless or until there is the requirement for a joint, multi-agency operation, in which case, I will put people underneath NCA command. Am I sensitive about that? Not at all.
Q74 Chair: Good. Let us deal with the issue of EU migration issues and particularly what is going to happen on 31 December when restrictions on Romanians and Bulgarians are going to be lifted. When I asked this question yesterday, no special arrangements were going to be made in respect of that. Are you absolutely satisfied we have it right in terms of people entering our borders, even from the EU? The Home Secretary had a figure that 25% of the crimes committed in the UK were committed by foreign nationals. Indeed, Rob Wainwright, from Europol, talked about the easyJet criminals who fly in the morning, commit their crimes, and fly out again. Nobody seems to be able to catch them. What can the Border Force do to try to deal with this situation?
Sir Charles Montgomery: We can certainly refuse entry to those with records that would put security, safety or health at risk, for example. If an individual presented themselves at the border with a record, we would deny them entry.
Q75 Chair: They do not carry their criminal records with them. You put the passport through, their name comes up, but the fact is if their name doesn’t come up, you let them through if they are EU citizens, don’t you?
Sir Charles Montgomery: Of course they would be checked against the Warnings Index and then if there was criminality on their record, it would show on the Warnings Index.
Q76 Chair: We heard there was a lot of concern at the moment about Albanians entering the UK because of the decision concerning Schengen visas. They do not need a Schengen visa now, the Albanians, so a lot of the cases you get through Calais-I am sorry to keep going on about Calais, but as I was there yesterday-concern Albanian nationals. What are we doing about that?
Sir Charles Montgomery: Of course they have no rights here in the United Kingdom. If we find Albanian nationals trying to cross the border, we will, in the situation of Calais, hand them back to the French authorities and the French authorities will take the necessary action.
Q77 Chair: Yes but they can’t take any action because they are EU citizens with the right to go to France now, so they can’t do anything with them.
Sir Charles Montgomery: No but we can deny them entry into the United Kingdom. I am sorry, you did ask wider questions about Romanians and Bulgarians, if I may come back to that. You are absolutely right. On 1 January, the restrictions will be no more but, as I have already indicated, we have the wherewithal to stop those with records we would want to stop coming in. We do have that and indeed the number of those we have refused at the border for that reason runs into the hundreds. Any Romanian or Bulgarian national coming over the border of the United Kingdom has 90 days by which time they would have to be in work, studying or self-sufficient. Then there is an issue with the immigration enforcement teams to make sure that is abided by. Going back to 2004, which was probably the last time there was a wider opening up of European Union countries, there is a difference now and that is that unlike in 2004, other European Union nations that have restrictions in place will also be reducing those restrictions.
Q78 Chair: Sure, and also the Romanians and Bulgarians can come now.
Sir Charles Montgomery: They can come now, yes, indeed.
Q79 Mr Clappison: We know you are the agency, but you mentioned you can stop people coming into the country on the grounds of security, safety and health. Security would be national security in that case?
Sir Charles Montgomery: In that case it is criminality.
Q80 Mr Clappison: Would it be if somebody came along and you knew they had previous convictions for being a pickpocket, say, can you refuse them entry from any EU country?
Sir Charles Montgomery: I would have to take advice on that, if I may.
Q81 Mr Clappison: As I understand it, EU law only deals with people with very serious convictions.
Sir Charles Montgomery: Yes and I think that would be the answer, but I don’t wish to give you a definitive answer when I don’t have one.
Q82 Chair: Do you agree with Keith Bristow that we should stay in Europol?
Sir Charles Montgomery: I work and my organisation works very well with a number of European organisations including Europol. There are others-Frontex, for example-and other world organisations as well, so the answer is that I-
Q83 Chair: Specifically on Europol because, as you know, the Committee is also considering, since you were before us, the EU opt-out.
Sir Charles Montgomery: Indeed so. I get valuable intelligence from Europol. It works in both directions and I value that relationship. There are different and competing demands but certainly the relationship we have at the operational level and the flow of information is very beneficial. Of course, the question is where, in the future, would that relationship be able to go, even with or without the opt-out?
Q84 Chair: I have to say one of the very few areas of private sector involvement in the Home Office that seems to be going well has been Wagtail in providing the dogs at Calais. Last month, they caught-and these are the dogs going around as opposed to individuals or very expensive machines-146 illegal migrants, I think.
Sir Charles Montgomery: They are just one of a number of areas, Chair, where I can look you in the eye and say Border Force is generally providing some world class capability. In this case through contractors, but, as you rightly say, whether it be there or indeed when you see Border Force operators using dogs at airports, they are a real asset in our fight against crime.
Q85 Chair: Unfortunately they are not part of the Home Office bonus scheme for senior mandarins, otherwise they would have certainly qualified.
My final point to you is about one of the things I picked up yesterday. The Border Force has, over the last few months, and certainly since Brodie Clark left, had a very low morale, but they have high hopes of you and they regard you as someone who could bring leadership. I am telling you this in an open way, although the conversations were in private, and I won’t name people. They have high hopes you are going to provide the leadership that is required, the vision and the strategic guidance for this particularly troubled part of our immigration and security system. Are we confident you are going to stay a while because the last time we had a head of the Border Force here, he did not say for a second session? Are you going to be sticking around?
Sir Charles Montgomery: I look forward to a number of sessions, Chair. If I could again look you in the eye, as I have looked my people in the eye, I am here for the long haul. I took on this job because I really relish the challenge of an organisation that required very clear leadership, a very clear sense of direction. I think with the strategic aim of the security at the border and supporting national prosperity, we have that. I have a very good team of senior commanders and leaders in the force and I have established a very clear vision and plan about how I am going to deliver the best Border Force in the world in the next five years and I want to be here when that status is achieved.
Chair: If you stay five years, you will have outlived the Committee itself, which dissolves in 2015. Sir Charles, thank you very much for coming in today.
Sir Charles Montgomery: Thank you very much indeed.