Examination of Witnesses (Questions 160
TUESDAY 20 JUNE 2000
160. The obvious response to that is, surely,
to have an on-going dialogue with Governmentobviously at
an official level, but, if need be, with ministers. What surprises
me is that you have had these complaints, clearly, over successive
governmentsnot only the one in office at the present moment.
Where is the co-ordination on your part and your colleagues' in
order to promote that sort of dialogue?
(Mr Powell) May I answer that? There was set up an
inter-departmental strategy group. The Government departments
squabbled over who was going to chair it and, eventually, it was
jointly chaired by Customs and the DTI. It fell out of the ports
report from SITPRO, which David mentioned. So we did sponsor exactly
that move on the part of government. What we wanted this group
to be was a champion of controls on traffic and people at ports.
It has not fulfilled that role, unfortunately, and, yes, we should
be tackling why it is not. We did go down that route and get halfway
there, at least.
Mr Winnick: We will be pursuing matters with
ministers and we will get a ministerial response, or whatever.
I would have thought you have given us a good deal of room to
reflect on the lack of co-ordination which you have just been
161. It is obviously very important, Mr Powell,
for lorries to get through quickly, especially when they are carrying
fresh produce. As I understand it, if any of the agencies hold
up a fresh produce lorry for a long time they can end up paying
compensation, as they rightly should do. It may not be complete
coincidence that some of the cases of clandestine immigrant trafficking
have used fresh produce lorries. In fact, the tragic case yesterday
was using a tomato lorry, maybe, for the specific reason that
Customs and immigration officials maybe more reluctant to stop
fresh produce lorries.
(Mr Powell) That is eminently plausible. I do not
have facts and figures but I am sure Customswith their
risk-profiling and their databases of what is worth looking at
and what the trends arewill be better able to answer that
sort of question.
162. I asked the question because I wanted to
raise the issue the Home Secretary raised yesterday, of having
pre-embarkation controls on the other side of the Control. I believe
they are having discussions already with the French authorities
and, of course, we have pre-embarkation controls now, for the
first time, on the Channel Tunnel. From the point of view of port
authorities, do you think it would be helpful? Clearly, it makes
a lot of logical sense to examine a lorry before it goes over
the Channel rather than after, when it is ready to carry on its
(Mr Powell) I think the short answer is yes. For the
last two or three years we have been pushing Government, the other
trade associations, and our counterparts on the continent to set
up some form of inspection facility for certain purposes. Illegals
is one that obviously springs to mind, with the ability to use
some of those CO2 detection instruments, which would remove some
of the problem, certainly.
163. Would it be helpful to have a Customs inspection
pre-journey as well?
(Mr Powell) If it could be done, yes.
(Mr Gadd) Can I add something to that? I am a member
of the Short Sea sub-committee of the National Maritime Security
Committee and we have to search outward bound passengers and their
vehicles. We have to do that under the direction of the Secretary
of State and we have been doing that since 1992. We have pushed
for a long time about why are we doing it only one way across
the Channel and not the other way. It is not being done on French,
or Spanish or whatever, soil. I know that the Government has worked
hard to try to bring that in, but it has never succeeded to date.
164. Can I also askand this is, probably,
directed more to the air operatorsabout the future in terms
of sheer passenger numbers? I understand, at the moment, that
there are about 86 million passenger movements a year. It is due
to go up to 110 million and, indeed, 170 million by 2015. Do you
think we really are equipped in terms of manpower, organisation
and technology to deal with these numbers of passengers?
(Mr Summers) I think this is one of the key issues,
in terms of the provisions and proposals that we are seeing from
the Immigration Service at the moment, because, clearly, these
forecasts are widespread and, at the moment, the DTI is working
on these forecasts and we shall see plans for air services over
the next two years. The potential growth you have talked about
is there, and to see double where we are today in the next 10
to 15 years is not an unusual forecast at all. Airports are investing
massively already to cope with numbers, not just the major players,
like BAA, but the regional airports as well, where a great deal
of that growth will actually fall. That does mean that there is
a demand requirement placed on the control authorities to match
that. We are having to build facilities for that. One of our great
concerns about these proposals is the way those facilities are
then manned in terms of staff, in terms of people, and customer
service levels on entry into the UK etc. If we go to this point
you made a moment ago, about reversing the pattern, for airports,
of course, it is not a complete reversal because you will always
have the third-party non-EU traffic to cope with. So you will
still have the inbound controls, even if you extend the outbound
special arrangements on a bilateral basis with specific countries,
as does exist in some cases already with the US. So you will still
have both areas to provide facilitation for, which we would expect
to be doing. So you will extend that requirement.
(Mr Cruickshank) Just to add to that, I think the
glimmer of hope in this is the flexibility provisions and proposals.
If we were retaining the current form of immigration control and
looking at the growth of passengers that we are looking at, I
think many people would be fearful for how things will cope. I
am hopeful that the flexibility provisions, if they work through
in the way they are being described, if they imply a change of
the nature of the transaction for people coming in with visas
which have been granted in countries abroad, these sorts of things
will help to make the immigration control much more efficient
and be able to deal with those numbers and, hopefully, provide
high levels of customer service at the same time.
165. What about technology to speed up the processing?
I believe in the States they already use biometrics, where you
put your hand on a screen, and machine-reading of passports, live-scan
fingerprinting. Are these central to get the
(Mr Summers) We believe so. We praise again these
points, that they should be importantly pursued with vigour, in
terms of coping with these levels of expected traffic. We have
made that point in our submission.
166. Are you confident that the Home Office
is seized of the importance of this?
(Mr Summers) I do not think we can respond to that.
(Mr Cruickshank) Just to be a little bit cautious
on that, you have to make sure that you apply the technology where
it is going to make a difference. So technology, probably, will
not do anything to help the arrival of EU passengers who currently
just show their passports. You are not going to get technology
that goes much quicker than that. However, for passengers who
will have to be interviewed for some time and who are bona
fide travellers and can prove it, then maybe the application
of technology can help. It is horses for courses.
167. I was going to ask some questions on a
single frontier force, but that has been largely covered already.
Just one point on that: I think Mr Cruickshank mentioned the fact
that the different agencies can get in one another's way. You
can be approached by a Customs officer, an immigration official,
ports police and by
(Mr Whitehead) Many others.
168. MAFF and MI5 as well. Are there any examples
you can give ussince you have come up with the idea of
a single frontier forcewhere these different agencies actually
(Mr Powell) I could give you a very specific example
that happened not very long ago. An inbound family in an Escort
van in Dover, legitimately
169. A white van?
(Mr Powell) It was a white van, I freely admit that.
170. Dead meat!
(Mr Powell) They had been on an innocent day trip
and were passport controlled, as is normal, of course, by immigration
and were then selected by Kent Police Ports Unit for a check for
some reason, unaccountably, and were asked to off-load the van.
They did so, and then were told they could reload it and goonly
to find that 10 yards down the road they were stopped by Customs
who asked them to unload the van again, and equally found nothing.
It was not a target, as far as I am aware, it was a cold pull
on both counts.
171. How long did it take them to get through
the port of Dover?
(Mr Powell) An hour, probably, against a target time
of less than five minutes.
172. Can I clear this up with you? I think you,
Mr Whitehead, earlier were making the point about the need for
better co-ordination. I just wanted to clear what Mr Linton put
to you. That is not necessarily the same as arguing for a single
border control force, is it?
(Mr Whitehead) No, not necessarily.
173. Would you favour that?
(Mr Whitehead) I sound like a politician, but we will
have to see. I think we have to have the negotiation
174. If we do it you will let us know what you
think about it.
(Mr Whitehead) Certainly, yes. It sounds, on the face
of it, as if it is going in the right direction to have such a
thing, but I think we have to talk a bit more about what is at
stake here, get the agencies together and, really, see the best
pragmatic way forward.
(Mr Gadd) We, at Portsmouth, actually looked at that
and suggested it, but it was pooh-poohed sometime ago. The idea
was that there was one person who stopped the vehicle and questioned
the person in the vehicle, and if they were of interest or they
had any intelligence on them, they would send them to the respective
bay where Customs, immigration, policewhoever needed to
see themcould interview them. So they were only stopped
once if they were stopped at all.
(Mr Summers) I think co-operation, realistically,
is the way forward. I think the way that is done is the issue,
really, with all the different departments involved. That is what
we would be looking for and we could then realistically talk about
some sharing in a more logical way at ground level as well as
at a policy level.
(Mr Powell) Can I just illustrate a very simple point?
I agree that co-operation is the right answer. It is the outcomes
we are interested in, not the mechanics of Government and how
it does its business, because that is not our business. We do
have regular liaison with all sorts of bits of Government. Referring
back to Customs, again, we have a regular liaison meeting with
them, at which all sorts of things fall out in the port. Recently
I spent a morning laying out an area of the port where we were
going to find a way of letting Customs intercept some outbound
vehicles in order to do some checks. We were informed that they
were likely to be sporadic, an hour or two at a time and a few
vehicles at a time. So we have set in train some engineering work,
I am getting quotations and proposals to make this work, because
there are all the safety, traffic management and people issues
to deal with. Within the space of a week, I was at a different
meeting where a different representative from Customs said "Oh,
and by the way, we are going to have a 24-hour, 7-days-a-week
outbound freight and tourist checking system in place by next
month, because we have been given the job by Government of finding
the money" (which is the latest political issue, of finding
the ill-gotten money or where it is going) "and we have got
the contract. So next month we will be there all day, every day,
lots of people." So, in the space of a week, from having
a sensible, negotiated way forward, on a relatively minor issue,
it is all knocked into a cocked hat because something has arrived
overnight by a different partand this is the same department.
Not even a different one.
Chairman: Thank you very much indeed, gentlemen,
for your evidence. You have left us a great deal to think about.
We are changing ends now. If you wish to stay you may, by all
4 Note by witness: One point which perhaps was
not covered owing to other pressures at the time is that we would
not wish to be seen as levelling criticism at the individuals
involved on the government side of the House. We have exceptionally
good relationships with many of them, both nationally and locally
and work hard to maintain those whatever the professional disagreements
may be. We recognise that they have a job to do and the (often
political) pressure to deliver under which they operate. I must
make one last point, which also did not get an airing and this
is the subject of accountability. I could quote instances where
government departments do not have targets or standards to which
they should adhere. I could equally quote examples where we are
dictated to insofar as standards are concerned. However, by whichever
route such measures come about, there is no accountability if
they are not met, nor penalty for failure. I will quote one specific
example. The Immigration Service (IS) have set themselves (for
some years now) a target for processing inbound cars at Dover
of "90% within 6 minutes". We have no influence on this
self-imposed standard. However, in a spirit of partnership we
co-funded with the IS an automated measuring system to monitor
the standard. Results are published monthly and show that the
standard is rarely met. In May, it happened on a mere two days,
in some months not at all! There is absolutely nothing we can
do about this. The reason most often given is a lack of resources
and, of course, we have no ability to influence how the IS deploys
its resources. Consequently, our inbound tourist passengers suffer,
at peak times especially, inordinate delays, about which we are