Select Committee on Home Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 1 - 19)



   Chairman: Good morning. May I welcome you to the first formal evidence session of our inquiry into physical controls at ports of entry. You will know that we have made some visits to Dover, Harwich and Felixstowe—arriving in a Customs launch on some stormy water—and we are going, of course, to Heathrow as well and then to Hungary, Germany and Spain. Thank you, too, for the very helpful memorandum. It is a very useful guide for us. Mr Singh?

  Mr Singh: Thank you, Chairman. In terms of illegal entrants between March and April this year, I understand there was a significant drop. What were the figures for May of the illegal entrants detected?

   Chairman: This is at Dover?

Mr Singh

  1. Yes.
  (Mr Boys Smith) I do not think we have a figure yet for May.
  (Mr Roberts) Yes, we do. It is 960 clandestine entrants at Dover, but that is not the national picture.

  2. So that is a significant decrease, then?
  (Mr Roberts) A 32 per cent reduction since March, when there were 1,423.

  3. Do we have a national picture?
  (Mr Roberts) I have not got that to hand.

  4. Seventy four civil penalty notices were served in the first month. How many have now been issued?
  (Mr Boys Smith) 181, to the 10 June have been issued, covering just under 1,000 clandestine entrants—984—encompassed in the 181 notices.

  5. Of the 74 issued in the first month, have any actually been paid?
  (Mr Boys Smith) Some have been paid. Of those that have reached the limit, two remain unpaid. Obviously, if needed, we will press those through the courts.

  6. Obviously it is early days in terms of the civil penalty notices. What are your initial impressions of how the new system is working?
  (Mr Boys Smith) I think we can take some satisfaction in how it has gone so far, in terms both of the way in which colleagues in the Immigration Service have been able to operate at Dover and in terms of the impact on the figures. Mr Roberts mentioned the 32 per cent reduction from March to May. Another indicator—and I am conscious these are only indicators rather than precise statistics attributable entirely to the civil penalty—is that the number of clandestines found in the County of Kent in April, as opposed to March, was down by 24 per cent. We do not have a more up-to-date figure on that. I think the signs are that it is having the impact we would want—that is to say, to change the approach to the searching of vehicles.

  7. Do you believe that lorry drivers are now more vigilant in checking their lorries? If so, what measures are they taking to ensure that their lorries are free of illegals?
  (Mr Boys Smith) Some are and some are looking to see whether the seal has been broken or the straps undone. I cannot pretend that it is having the full effect we would want, obviously. There is a long way to go, and the fact that 960 still came in May is an indication that we have a lot of progress to make. However, there are clear indications—particularly amongst British lorry drivers who are, obviously, more in tune with what is happening and have picked up the information that we have been at pains to distribute here—that there are changes in behaviour, but progress rather than completion.

  8. One of the things that was put to the Committee which looked at the Bill was that lorry drivers would be afraid of telling the authorities that there were illegals on board their lorries. Is there any evidence to that effect?
  (Mr Boys Smith) No different position, I think, there than might have been the case in the past. Certainly there is no indication that I am aware of (and Mr Roberts may want to correct me) at Dover that that is happening. What it is really all about is to get them to look before they come to this country, and I think it is having some beneficial effect.


  9. You give me the chance to say that, of course, we went to Calais as well, and saw, if I may say, belatedly, what they plan to do there to increase security.
  (Mr Boys Smith) I would see that change of approach as part of the changing scene that we are keen to encourage.

Mr Singh

  10. I am still receiving protests from lorry drivers that this, in fact, is an unreasonable imposition on them. What is your view on that?
  (Mr Boys Smith) Firstly, that those who enter clandestinely are breaking the law and that all of us, if you like, as citizens, have an obligation to prevent breaches of the law where we are able to do so. So I think the expectation that lorry drivers should make these searches is perfectly reasonable. There are, of course, defences in the legislation if they have got proper arrangements in place yet somebody is found in their vehicle. The methods of search are not that demanding. Again, I am not suggesting they all have dogs, of course, but CO2 wands, if they want to equip themselves individually—

  11. Is that fairly cheap to do?
  (Mr Boys Smith) It is several hundred pounds, though, incidentally, the price is coming down. Clearly, we want to encourage—picking up the point the Chairman made a moment ago—arrangements at Calais, and indeed at other sea ports on the continental coastline, that will make it easier for lorry drivers than it now is. I do not pretend, again, that we are all the way there, but I think we are making some progress.

  12. Given that we have now got a very real drop of 32 per cent at Dover, in terms of illegals detected on the backs of lorries, is there any evidence of displacement activity taking place; that, in fact, they are moving from the backs of lorries to other means of entry?
  (Mr Boys Smith) I think there is some evidence. Certainly there is more pressure—I think, as you will have seen, on your visit to Waterloo, for example. We certainly expected displacement, and we were faced with the judgment as to how best to bring the civil penalty in. Did we wait until it was capable of being introduced nationwide, or did we introduce it at Dover to start with, earlier than would be possible nationwide—Dover being, obviously, the place of greatest importance? The judgment, which I think was the right judgment, was we went ahead as fast as we could—that meant Dover—acknowledging there would be displacement elsewhere, and we would, so to speak, catch up. The net effect of going piecemeal like that has been the right thing to do.

  13. The civil penalty, at the moment, applies just to lorries and car boots, etc. When will it apply to rail, air and sea? Forgive me if I am wrong, but does it not already apply to air?
  (Mr Roberts) No, it does not. The process is that we have to agree with the industry a code of conduct, and that was a process that was a precursor to applying it to private vehicles, to freight and, in fact, coaches. The next stage is to look at rail freight because there is a vulnerability, as you have probably seen, on direct rail freight services, starting mainly in Italy. We are seeing some evidence of illegal entry via the Tunnel of that rail freight. We have already had significant discussions with the industry but the next step is to agree a code of practice and, once that is done, it would apply to rail freight operators. However, it was not our priority; as Mr Boys Smith says, the priority was to get this in place primarily in respect of road freight, so it is our next phase of the work.

  14. What controls exist for airliners at the moment?
  (Mr Roberts) The civil penalty does not apply to ships or aircraft at the moment. That is another phase of development. The threat from clandestine entry in aircraft is relatively limited. We have had one or two incidents recently where people have stowed away, which applies to a recent Chinese incident, but our counter-measures to problems by air are carriers' liability legislations supporting visa regimes.

  15. Does the carriers' liability legislation involve fines as well?
  (Mr Roberts) It involves charges, Mr Singh, rather than fines. The aim is for carriers' liability to reduce the number of inadequately documented arrivals and encourages the check-in staff at airports to take steps to check documentation.

  16. I understand that there are new embarkation controls for Eurostar and that there is a new system of juxtaposed controls coming in. Would you explain to us what juxtaposed controls are and how far these arrangements have now developed?
  (Mr Boys Smith) Juxtaposed controls—I think you will have seen them at Coquelles as they will come in at the Gare du Nord in due course (the Home Secretary recently signed the agreement with his French counterpart)—involve us placing immigration staff overseas so that the UK immigration check is undertaken not on our territory and, therefore, in circumstances where if somebody wishes to claim asylum they are not in a position to do so because they are in a foreign country and, of course, can claim asylum in that country, in effect, namely France.

  17. So do we expect these new developments to plug another leak in the walls, so to speak?
  (Mr Boys Smith) Indeed, yes.

Mr Malins

  18. We were told that 800 illegal entrants arrive each month on Eurostar at Waterloo.
  (Mr Boys Smith) Yes.

  19. Tell me this: am I not right in saying that Eurostar is effectively a commuter train in France and it is quite possible for somebody determined to get here to buy a single from Lille to Calais and merely stay on the train and get here?
  (Mr Boys Smith) I do not know that I would want to go all the way with describing it as a commuter train, but it is undoubtedly a train where, in relation to the Paris service, certainly, three a day are the so-called "Calais stoppers". Therefore, three out of about 30. Indeed, it is then possible to do exactly what you have described, and buy a domestic ticket and, perhaps also, an international ticket that would be shown—

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