Select Committee on Home Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 60 - 79)



  60. The new one but not the old one?
  (Mr Wilson) The new one meets all of the minimum standards. I should say, also, that the minimum standards in the EU document are to a higher level than ICAO standards.

  61. Than which standards?
  (Mr Wilson) The International Civil Aviation Organisation standards, which as a body has issued security standards for travel document, and the EU document goes further than the ICAO one, which is the one that most airlines adhere to and the one on which our own judgments on forgeries with regard to carriers' liability fines are based. The EU explanatory memorandum lays down a number of security standards, one of which is that the passport photograph should not be on the photograph page and it should be digitally enhanced.

  62. Is the old United Kingdom passport easier or more difficult to forge than the new one?
  (Mr Wilson) Since that is now or very soon will become very much a thing of the past I can safely say it was much easier to forge than the new one, yes.

  Chairman: Thank you very much.

Mr Winnick

  63. One of the disturbing aspects in the paper which you gave us was the information on organised gangs, it was very disturbing indeed. You say, "Profits are approaching drug smuggling levels". You talk about the amount of profit that can be made, between $12 billion and $30 billion. You say "migrants pay £1,500 from Romania, £6,000-£9,000 from India to a top rate of £16,000 from China". Then you go on—this is what I find rather disturbing—about the pessimism in dealing with such gangs. You say, "The gangs have infrastructures, communications and surveillance capabilities far in excess of anything that the law enforcement agencies in transit or source countries can muster". That is very disturbing, is it not?
  (Mr Boys Smith ) It is disturbing and it is a major source of challenge to the United Kingdom and other advanced western countries that receive these migratory pressures. I share the disquiet. The challenge is for us to operate in a way not just within IND but in conjunction with the police and other people in the United Kingdom and other countries, to maximise our chance through intelligence and advance warning and penetration to get at these gangs, which is why we have put such a lot of effort into, for example, our associations with the Nation Criminal Intelligence Service to put ourselves as far as we possibly could on the front foot. We will always face sophisticated, wealthy people who are looking for the chinks, in the same way that customs dealing with drug trafficking will face practically the same kind of people or the same people.

  64. You have given answers about what can or hopefully will be done at the end of it all. The impression I get from this particular paragraph on page 18 of your paper at the top is that really at the end of it all the law enforcement agencies simply will not be in a position to deal effectively with these criminal gangs. Would that be the wrong impression?
  (Mr Boys Smith ) I think that is too pessimistic a question.

  65. Your paper is pretty pessimistic.
  (Mr Boys Smith ) One tries to be realistic. We have tried to lay out for the Committee—I do not want to hide anything about the challenges we do face—as with other forms of highly organised crime, I would not want to give the Committee the impression we will ever be in a position to be confident to say, "We are on top of it". If I were to give that impression I would be open to the charge of being complacent. We have put a lot of resources and sophisticated effort into this, along with our colleagues in the police service, and so on, and along with our colleagues in other countries to try and tackle these issues in the best possible way. Which is why I think the problem must be seen as an inter-agency problem, not just an Immigration Service problem.
  (Mr Wilson) I should add that the problem with law enforcements capability in this area is in the source and transit countries, which are mainly developing countries. The break-up of the Soviet Union has led to some difficulties in that part of the world simply because whereas once it was impassable it is now not so. Border controls are still in their infancy and border guards are still relatively new. Demilitarising the systems and actually introducing any form of IT in those countries and on those borders is still some way off. It is the ability of those agencies in those countries to deal with the problem at source. That is the greatest challenge to us. From our perspective, yes, we are expanding our efforts in the National Criminal Intelligence Service and we are creating a central database for all intelligence information in NCIS. We are beefing-up the staffing complement considerably.

  66. "Infrastructure, communication for surveillance is far in excess of what the law enforcement agencies in transit or source countries can muster". You believe that can be overcome.
  (Mr Wilson) In time it can be overcome.

  67. In time? What time are we talking about?
  (Mr Wilson) There are various EU programmes which are on-going which are giving assistance and development to these countries in order to develop their infrastructure and administration and, in particular, their border controls. Each country is very proud of its own sovereignty and wants to develop efficient border control, and that is taking some time. At the moment they do not have the infrastructures that allow proper control, you know, even fairly minor technology, like mobile phones which the gangs do have.

  68. Technology. Once the person illegally comes here as a result of such gangs would it be right to say they are subject to extortion? The gangs keep tabs on these people, for obvious reasons, because once information reaches the Home Office what happens is it is not just a question of paying sums. Is there continued extortion once they are here?
  (Mr Wilson) I think regrettably that is the case with some groups and with some organised criminals that is the case. It is no longer simply a question of paying a fee for transit and for being smuggled into a country, it also includes something after having entered the country in terms of employment or representation. It is also the case that some organised criminals no longer insist on the fee being paid at the very beginning of the process, which means that it is paid in stages and that leaves the people here very vulnerable to all sorts of extortion if they have not paid or cannot pay on arrival.

  69. It also involves prostitution rackets, et cetera, as well.
  (Mr Wilson) Yes.

  70. Would you be able to give any sort of estimate or is it impossible to say, how many people you believe in the United Kingdom are currently subject to such criminal extortion, illegal people, any sort of estimate, or subject to constant blackmail? Is it impossible?
  (Mr Wilson) It would be impossible.

  71. If you had to give a round figure?
  (Mr Wilson) I would not like to be put on the spot. We are talking about a considerable number of people.

  72. Hundreds of thousands?
  (Mr Wilson) Possibly less than that, five figures, perhaps.

  Mr Winnick: Thank you very much.

Mr Howarth

  73. What we have been looking at is the success with which you have tried to combat illegal immigration. Can you make some sort of guesstimate as to how far you have been able to prevent people from coming into the country? How far have you been able to catch them? What proportion of people you do actually catch represents the total flow? How many are arriving undetected, can you hazard a guess at that?
  (Mr Boys Smith ) I cannot do that. I acknowledge that one of the major areas of ignorance, and has been the case for many years, is the size of the illegal population in the country. Nobody knows. It is an unresearched issue. I hold my hand up and say, "I cannot give you a figure on that". What we do know is that, if you like, the pattern of entry keeps on changing. We know that between countries, we find evidence on the border. We know, of course, in the last ten years or more it switched very much into asylum, in the sense that people came here and claimed asylum, whereas in the past they may have come here, not necessarily in the large numbers, and not claimed asylum. The asylum route has opened up. Could I add one point on this context, I did touch on it very briefly, it also goes back to the questions that Mr Winnick was asking a moment ago, it is this need to look at the whole thing in one piece, because the extent to which gangs will find the United Kingdom attractive is clearly influenced by a number of factors. One of which will be whether their potential customers, the people who want to come illegally, find the United Kingdom more attractive than other countries and the speed of asylum decisions taken, the extent to which we are able to remove people, the nature of support that asylum seekers may receive, all of these are germane, not to avoid Mr Winnick's important point about tackling gangs. They are very germane to the extent of the pressures that we face. Again, I do want to emphasise the totality of the battery of measures that we need to deal with the issue will manifest itself.

Mr Howarth

  74. Can we look at the question of co-ordination between the various agencies. Obviously in each port it is not just yourselves, customs are alongside you, the police in some cases and the security service, and so on. I gather in 1997 a Border Agencies Working Group was established, do you feel that you now have all of the necessary legal framework in place for you to be able to work together and co-operate as individual agencies and exchange information?
  (Mr Boys Smith ) I think, broadly speaking, we do. Again, I think it would be complacent and silly of me to suggest that things can never get better. You have large, complex organisations working together, touching each other at a whole series of places around the country. We can always do better and I, for my part, will always strive to do better.

  75. You are not constrained by data protection legislation.
  (Mr Boys Smith ) That is not a significant issue for us, subject to anything Mr Roberts would like to add. At the strategic level you mentioned the Border Agencies Group. At an operational level, I know you have seen on your visits that is working pretty satisfactorily and we will strive to make that more effective.


  76. We met Steve Harvey at Harwich and it backs up what he said.
  (Mr Boys Smith ) Good.

Mr Howarth

  77. The question that has arisen is you will get information from carriers which may not be of any interest to you but could be of interest to the other agencies. To what extent do you feel yourselves obliged and able to pass on that information and assist other agencies or is there a sense that is their responsibility and we have our own job to look after?
  (Mr Roberts) We have a statutory gateway between the Immigration Service and other agencies, the police, customs, NCIS and the National Crime Squad. That was the result of secondary legislation that came into force at the end of April.[1] The statutory gate way is the sharing of information, quite properly, it is a strict requirement that if we need to collect information for our purposes we may lawfully share it but the Immigration Service cannot lawfully collect information on behalf of another agency that the Immigration Service does not require. If I can just expand on that, Mr Howarth, we are looking at this over the next few months, recognising that the need to put intelligence gathering and sharing in a proper structure, and the actual legislation has only been available since the end of April. We are looking at a model we shared with the Committee in our evidence, which is a structure based on the National Intelligence model, which will enable us to deal with this difficult issue in a properly coordinated, monitored and well managed way.

  78. It is a question of seeing how long these new arrangements work as to whether Parliament needs to give you more powers to obtain and thereby exchange information. Is that right?
  (Mr Roberts) We are content with the powers that Parliament has given us and we need to implement that. We need to do that in a carefully and planned way.

  79. Given that this has been established since 1997 how do you think that it has come on, has it been a success?
  (Mr Boys Smith ) Broadly speaking it has.
  (Mr Roberts) It has been very successful. In the past interagency co-operation was between local arrangements. What the Border Agencies Working Group enabled us to do in the three agencies at very senior levels is to have interagency co-operation. Not only did we have good examples of interagency co-operation on the ground—the Committee might have seen that at Dover in respect of our freight searching, and indeed at Harwich—it also gives senior officers the commitment to show that not only in the Immigration Service but also in the police and Customs Service to make sure that the message is driven top-down as well as bottom-up.

1   Note by witness: The secondary legislation that came into force in April was the Immigration (Passenger/Information) Order. Statutory gateways are within the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999. Back

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