Examination of Witnesses (Questions 140
TUESDAY 20 JUNE 2000
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 madewhich is that
the additional costs would be, and I am quoting, £5 million
or lessis 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 believeand
we have always made this clearthat 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 operatorsbe it airports or ports or the BAAwhich,
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 ICAOan international
bodyit 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
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
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, plusand this is my real
concernthe 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.
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
organisationand, perhaps, other of your colleagues from
different organisationsregarding 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 withfrom the five arms of MAFF to the anti-fish-smuggling
policethey 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
149. That has been the situation for some timeyour
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 infrom
port health, vehicle inspections, security, passenger registration,
and so onusually worked out in isolation, but it is the
combined effect of all these that actually has a big impact on
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
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 changedadvancedin 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
(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 authoritiesparticularly, 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 discoveredthat terrible
tragedy at Doverthat technology is not available to the
(Mr Whitehead) I think I would need to pass to our
(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
(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 workas is
occasionally the caseagainst 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 wellI do not think we would want to say we have got
a complete falling out, we have a close relationshipwe
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 okayand they are spaced apart very
strategically to keep the traffic flows movingbut 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
(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 freightexport 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 wecertainly
the cross-Channel ports, Dover and Eurotunnel, which handle a
predominance of intra-EU trafficwere 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 fromI
cannot remember what the acronym stands for nowCEFAS, 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.