Select Committee on Home Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 140 - 159)



  140. Do you think I would be being unfair if I were to characterise your earlier statement, saying that you have your own commercial pressures to operate under, as being mutually exclusive to the pressures on UK Immigration and Customs, who have to ensure the integrity of British ports?
  (Mr Whitehead) "Mutually exclusive" is quite a radical statement. They are not. We derive our living from the fact that passengers pass through and the fact that we have statutory duties, and so forth. As I say, we are seeking a continual balance between the two. We are realistic people. We know that some things have to be done. Some things, we think, should not have to be done but some do have to be done and we are always trying to achieve this balance. I would say that I think that the big change over the past few years, with the opening of Eurotunnel and so on, is that the competitive pressures have increased quite dramatically. I think that is an issue that Government has to bear in mind.

  141. Let us move on to competitive pressures. You will be aware that the Immigration and Asylum Act now puts a burden on the ports to ensure that they make a contribution towards UK Immigration and Customs control. Have you assessed what additional costs you are now likely to suffer? Do you think that the assessment which the Government made—which is that the additional costs would be, and I am quoting, £5 million or less—is a realistic assessment?
  (Mr Whitehead) First of all, we do not know quite what the Government is going to ask us to do, and we are still in negotiations on this. We do not know whether they want us to have CCTV all over the ports, for example. So it is very difficult to answer that. The second point is that probably the requirements will vary from port to port. However, we have a tremendous problem with the principle involved here, because we believe—and we have always made this clear—that there should not be, for EU passengers, controls at UK ports. We believe that we should be part of the Schengen agreement and that the Schengen agreement has worked well and exchanges information and has its own strengths.

  142. United Kingdom Immigration would argue, and have argued to us, that EU passports can be forged and are forged, and if it were not for the fact that they have the right to check UK and EU passports, then more bogus asylum seekers and more illegal immigrants would be entering the United Kingdom. They are very keen to remain out of the Schengen agreement.
  (Mr Gadd) We, actually, support what the immigration authorities do. In fact, we have tried to work with them in the past. If I can give you an example, we have developed car controls; we have sat down with them and said "Exactly what do you want to make this work?" and we have built those, but what we wanted to see was a faster flow of traffic through those controls as a payback. There is quite a lot of investment there. Those car controls were finished two years ago and, to date, have not been fully manned. That is one of the problems. We do not see the payback. So here we are discussing more and more improvements, but what we want to see is investment in what it is going to do for us as a business.

  143. I wonder if I may move away from sea ports to airports. I am going to pick on Brian Summers, mainly because we know each other because I am a West Midlands MP and because Brian is the Managing Director of Birmingham International Airport. I want to address this to all the airport operators, but if Mr Summers could answer first. Birmingham International has suggested that these charges (which are a little bit unsure, at the moment, as we have already heard) which will accrue from the Immigration and Asylum Act will actually drive overseas airlines away from the UK, which, at the moment, is the main hub for international flights. Would you like to expand on that, Mr Summers?
  (Mr Summers) I think the issue we are raising there is one not dissimilar to the ports, about the question of competition. What we are talking about here is the added burden being transferred to port operators—be it airports or ports or the BAA—which, at all times, is increasing costs, effectively, to the ultimate traveller. In competition terms, that is making the UK more costly to the inbound traveller. So there is a consequential potential impact on tourism. The more we transfer these costs, which is what this is all about, the more impact we will have and the more we must take into account in terms of the burden placed on the ultimate passenger. It is as simple as that.

  144. Do you have any information at all about what happens in competitor countries? For example, I suppose the nearest competitor to the United Kingdom would be Germany, with Frankfurt. Are similar charges levied in Germany?
  (Mr Summers) No. The whole of the provision of border controls in many countries within the EU are completely met by the state. In fairness, that has been our fundamental point about this whole transfer. In accordance with the ICAO requirements on border control, these provisions should, wherever possible, be met by the state. They are controls on behalf of the state. This is the very competitive point that we are making. In comparison with other EU countries we are creating disadvantage by transferring these operational border control costs to the port authorities.

  145. Would Keith Jowett, the Chief Executive of the Airport Operators Association, like to say anything?
  (Mr Jowett) I would certainly support the point that Brian has just been making, that under ICAO recommendations the state would carry the cost of border controls. The principle of immigration controls is to protect the state and its citizens, and it is the state and its citizens who benefit from that. Therefore, in our view and in the view of the ICAO—an international body—it is the state that should pick up the bill. Transferring the costs, as has been recommended, to the ports is not an efficiency improvement; indeed, it could have perverse effects; it could encourage inefficiency in the use of resources by IND, since there would be no financial incentive on them any longer to be careful with resources and the use of them. Beyond those issues, we do welcome the opportunity to work together with the authorities. Seeing the new flexibility proposals come into force, we will be watching and working with the authorities with great interest and concern to see what benefits can come through to the travelling public, to the state and to the operators who have to facilitate them.

  146. Just two brief questions, and I will join them together because I know others want to get in: do you believe that these initiatives jeopardise the pre-eminence of London Heathrow Airport, which is, by far, the busiest international airport in the world, and, secondly, can you name any European country which does as this Government is proposing, to put these charges on the airports themselves?
  (Mr Jowett) I think we have a very clear answer on that, but I will ask my colleague, Alan Cruickshank, who is Head of Strategy at BAA, to answer that.
  (Mr Cruickshank) Taking them in reverse order, if I may, no, we do not know of any other country. I think we need to also remind people that we already provide space, if you like, for the basic immigration control without charge, so we are already taking a financial burden, and what is being proposed is a further burden. Anything that affects the competitiveness and the cost base of the aviation industry in the UK as compared to elsewhere will affect the UK's competitive position and Heathrow's strength. Other colleagues from British Airways may talk later on this subject, but we know that our airline customers face a difficult situation in terms of their competitive position. Therefore, we are in a very difficult position as an industry in looking at any additional costs.


  147. Are you able to put a figure on the costs to the airport industry of what you provide already?
  (Mr Cruickshank) What we provide already, no, I do not have anything to hand. What we do know is that the assessment of what the draft proposals might look like would mean a £4 million a year impact for BAA, plus—and this is my real concern—the uncertainty about some of the listed provisions like closed circuit television, where the costs are unknown and could be vast, from the studies that have taken place.

Mr Winnick

  148. Your paper, Mr Whitehead, deals with the need for further co-ordination of effort and resources at the ports. Can I ask you, first of all, your views and those of your organisation—and, perhaps, other of your colleagues from different organisations—regarding the Government agencies? Which agency, in your view, is best at communicating with you?
  (Mr Whitehead) I will turn to John Powell.
  (Mr Powell) I get all the good questions.
  (Mr Whitehead) He can talk from an operational level, and then perhaps I can talk about the policy level.
  (Mr Powell) I think, if I had to say, I would say that Customs, probably, try the hardest to do it properly but do not always succeed. Out of the other 15 to 20 that we have daily dealings with—from the five arms of MAFF to the anti-fish-smuggling police—they are varying in range between understanding ports a bit to not understanding them at all and not wishing to listen or be a part of the partnership approach, which we have been saying is how we would like to deal with these things on a day-to-day basis.

  149. That has been the situation for some time—your general dissatisfaction with a number of Government agencies?
  (Mr Powell) Dissatisfaction is not the way I would characterise it. I think I would characterise it as a willingness to pay lip service to consultation or negotiation whilst going one's own way underneath, really.
  (Mr Whitehead) We did a study a few years ago with SITPRO, the Simpler Trade Procedures organisation, and we identified what we called "bureaucratic creep", which is the process that has taken place since the Single Market came in, in 1992, whereby, in 1992, we had great reforms, great changes and beneficial changes, but then other bits and pieces started to come in—from port health, vehicle inspections, security, passenger registration, and so on—usually worked out in isolation, but it is the combined effect of all these that actually has a big impact on us.

  150. You are really saying that there is too much red tape, and that should be minimised. Are you not?
  (Mr Whitehead) It is partly that. However, it is the fact that this is done in an unco-ordinated way. It is not really for me to judge on matters of security, for example, how much is needed, but if there is a sympathy between the people who implement those pressures and others, and a knowledge, and a proper communication system, then I think it could be improved.

  151. Yes, indeed, Mr Whitehead, because in your memorandum you talk, on page 1, of the need for further co-ordination, saying the border controls are introduced in an unco-ordinated way and that such agency function should be grouped under the co-ordination of a single lead body. You have communicated that view to the Home Office, have you?
  (Mr Whitehead) Not to the Home Office, specifically. I have communicated that view to the ports division, who are the sponsoring part of Government, if you like, and they are well aware of it. Maybe they would take the lead in doing this. Again, it is a matter for Government as to who does it, as long as somebody does it.

  152. One would have thought, if you felt so strongly as an organisation, that you would, in fact, get directly in touch with the lead government department. No doubt you will consider doing that. From your knowledge of other ports, do you take the view that the technology which the Immigration Service is using should be changed—advanced—in any way?
  (Mr Gadd) Can I answer that? At the port I represent it could be improved vastly. We did, three or four years ago, go to them and say "Is there anything we can do jointly in order to put some infrastructure in, to mount cameras, or whatever, in order that this will make your job easier, and make some benefits for us to see a speedier throughput, based on some intelligence-based activity"? The response from them was silence. We have never got that agreement, and we have never done anything for them. It could be improved greatly.

  153. Is that the view of other organisations represented here?
  (Mr Jowett) Yes, if we may contribute at this stage. Certainly, we totally support the position that British Ports have taken on this. There is, we believe, an enormous opportunity for a closer working together of the border authorities. We know, in the IND submission, they talked about the work of the border working groups, but, in practice, on the ground, we, the operators, do not see any evidence of that close co-operation. We have certainly, in our case, made our point to the Minister herself, and she responded.

  154. Barbara Roche?
  (Mr Jowett) Barbara Roche. She responded to say she was favourably inclined to look at the opportunities for a closer co-operation between the authorities—particularly, of course, in the sharing of accommodation, which is one particular issue. More importantly, however, for us, is the sharing of intelligence of services. I think the point, perhaps, was not brought out from the introductory issues that the knowledge that was available to Customs that caused that freight lorry to be stopped was not available to the Immigration Services. These are issues that should surely be looked at very closely. We are very pleased that the Minister has indicated in her correspondence with us that she is certainly prepared to examine those possibilities.

  155. So what was discovered—that terrible tragedy at Dover—that technology is not available to the Immigration Service?
  (Mr Whitehead) I think I would need to pass to our colleagues there.
  (Mr Powell) As far as I am aware it is not. It is part of the OASIS system run by Customs' anti-smuggling detachment, and the ferry companies' commercial system.

  156. I am sure that is a point this Committee will be pursuing. Mr Jowett, I should have asked you as well about co-ordination. Do you share the view of Mr Whitehead regarding co-ordination?
  (Mr Jowett) Yes, I do. I will pass across to my colleague, Alan Cruickshank, in a moment, if I may, but certainly in relation to the five significant border authorities that we deal with at airports, we see a large opportunity for a merging, perhaps, of some of their functions, but certainly a closer working together of those five authorities, so that they do not work—as is occasionally the case—against each other and against each other's interests. Can I pass over to Mr Cruickshank?
  (Mr Cruickshank) Just to add to that point, there are examples of reasonably good working relationships. I can think of a couple of projects which have been undertaken where border agencies have got together with us to try and work through issues of mutual interest. I think my comment would be that these are not general, and we would like to see more of that. Although working relationships at senior level and, to some extent, at local level work well—I do not think we would want to say we have got a complete falling out, we have a close relationship—we want to develop partnership. We think there is probably more opportunity to take it further than it is at the moment.
  (Mr Gadd) Can I add to that, just to get it into perspective? We talk, as has just been pointed out, at high level and we get agreements and we think we are going to work together. However, what happens on the ground is very different. If I can just give you an example: yesterday in my particular port there were a lot of vehicles returning from Le Mans and, all of a sudden, we were aware that we had a tailback of vehicles trying to leave our port. We have three authorities there who were doing checks at the time: immigration, police and Customs. We have an immigration control which seemed to be working okay, we had a Customs control that seemed to be working okay—and they are spaced apart very strategically to keep the traffic flows moving—but the police had walked in between the two, under the Prevention of Terrorism Act and were actually inspecting passports which had just been inspected 30 metres before. That is the sort of thing you get through not working together.

  157. I assume, gentlemen, that arising from your dissatisfaction you will be pursuing the matter and trying to arrange a meeting with the relevant minister. You are not going to leave the situation as it is, I assume?
  (Mr Summers) Indeed not. From our point of view we had a meeting arranged with Barbara Roche a few weeks ago. That was changed on the basis of a response we received which was quite encouraging. She indicated by letter that she was going to review many of the points that we had made in our submissions and would delay the implementation of the regulation by 12 months to enable that further review to be carried out. We hope that we will, during this period, be able to maintain and develop this dialogue.

  Mr Winnick: Presumably the same goes for your organisation. I would have thought, in view of the appalling tragedy which took the lives of 58 people, the need for further co-ordination is a very urgent matter, indeed.


  158. Mr Whitehead, you say in your evidence that Customs should have looked at other options before deciding to use x-ray scanners exclusively at ports. Tell me more about that, please.
  (Mr Whitehead) I think this relates to the fact that Customs like to carry out controls at borders. What we are saying is that these controls can be carried out inland and at other places. We never get to the point of proper discussion about the possibilities on these issues.

  159. They did tell us, and you will know this, when we were at Dover that on occasions they do work inland.
  (Mr Whitehead) On occasion.
  (Mr Gadd) Can I say, Mr Chairman, the Department of Environment, Transport and the Regions are chairing a freight screening working group, which is working towards how to screen outward-bound freight—export freight. That is working with the industry and a code of practice is being drawn up at the moment. Customs, however, are introducing x-ray machines and we, indeed, as well, read it in the newspapers, they have never consulted us on it. They seem to be working in isolation. That is just an example of what is going on at the moment.
  (Mr Powell) Can I contribute a little bit of background to this part of the debate, because I think we—certainly the cross-Channel ports, Dover and Eurotunnel, which handle a predominance of intra-EU traffic—were lulled into a false sense of security in 1986 by Lord Cofield when he said "Let us have a Single Market. Do away with all this border stuff." It came about in 1993 and we were all jolly pleased. We have spent a lot of money re-modelling the port, we had some very good in-principle agreements with the main statutory agencies on how we were going to operate the port and what their remaining controls would look like. As David has said, since then we have seen a sort of gradual erosion of that as various and sundry have come up wanting to do something in the Port of Dover because it is handy. I alluded somewhat light-heartedly, but I did have an approach from—I cannot remember what the acronym stands for now—CEFAS, who wanted to come and intercept lorries in case they were smuggling trout from France. It sounds almost ludicrous, but that is what we face on a daily basis. What we expect Government to do is actually have gone through the hoops of saying "Right. There should not be any borders. Do there need to be any? Is the objective we are trying to meet by national legislation legitimate, within EU terms? If it is, have we looked at all the ways of doing it there possibly are and decided which is the right way to do it? Once we have decided which is the right way to do it, which may be a check at the port but may not be, are we doing it in the least intrusive and least disruptive way?" That legal onus to go through those hoops is very clearly and very demonstrably on Government. Frankly, none of Government nor its agencies ever demonstrates to us that it has done that. If it did, we would be a little more phlegmatic if they came and said "We have looked at doing this, this, this and this. That is why we cannot do that; that is why we cannot do that. This is what we are going to do and here is our proposal to do it in the best way. How do you feel about it?" We would be much more responsive and think "We have got a true partnership with Government. We can work with them, rather than reacting to these piecemeal pieces of legislation and bureaucracy, which arrive almost at the drop of a hat.

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