Select Committee on Home Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 180 - 199)



  180. Certainly your member, who has written to us, has pointed out that the criminal gangs are getting more sophisticated all the time in beating the system. Could I suggest to you that one way of overcoming this would be the carbon dioxide equipment, or "wands", as I believe they call it. How many of your members have acquired this equipment?
  (Mr Green) A few are trialing it. It is technology which has shown its benefits. Certainly there would be a case for wider use once some of the technical issues have been dealt with. May I put it to you that do-it-yourself checks by drivers in lay-bys in Northern France are no substitute for proper checks at the frontier. If you really want to stamp out this practice, you actually need the procedures and the facilities in place to deal with the people you discover, to make sure that the vehicle then accesses the means of travel, the ferry, without there being any further ability for people to gain access to the vehicle. Do-it-yourself systems, while they might be sensible precautions, will not stamp out this highly organised illegal activity.

  181. Where should this detection equipment be sited then? At the French and Belgian side or in this country? Who would operate it?
  (Mr Green) Frankly, I would say to you that I am not too concerned about that. We have been involved in a chain here, where Governments have been trying to resolve this problem on the basis that the legals were discovered on someone else's territory. That has been the approach of our Government. I can understand that. But, equally, that has been the approach of the French Government. So wherever the checks are carried out, we have got to overcome that point. They need to be properly within a port area.

Mr Malins

  182. Mr Green, you sound a slightly frustrated man. Is that because Governments, both sides of the water, simply cannot get on and put in place the sort of things that you want?
  (Mr Green) I do sound frustrated and I am frustrated because we work very hard to try and make an effective contribution to resolving this problem. May I say I speak today, not just as the Director General of the Freight Transport Association, but I also happen to be the President of the IRU, the world-wide body which represents the road transport industry. I have members I am responsible for across the whole of Europe—and indeed the Netherlands—from where that vehicle tragically came. So we do feel frustrated because we have failed to get the right sort of action from Governments collectively. Only a few weeks back we went to the Commission in Brussels and said, "This is an intergovernmental issue. We need an EU task force to get to grips with this." We had great difficulty in getting Commission officials even to understand it was a problem with which they should be engaged. They said it was our problem, or the problem of the country where the illegals were being detected.

  183. You seem to be saying that whatever initiatives, whatever plans for effective work come from this country, French and other Continental Governments are simply not co-operating. I think you referred to correspondence not being answered for months.
  (Mr Green) Yes, indeed.

  184. Tell us a little bit about that.
  (Mr Green) That was prompted from the meeting we had with the Minister, Barbara Roche, who promised the help of her officials in setting up the right dialogue in Calais with the authorities for the Port of Calais, and the other authorities in France.

  185. Who has she written to?
  (Mr Green) This is to French authorities. My colleague here has the correspondence, so if the Committee wanted to see it we can easily make it available to you.

  186. And they are just not responding?
  (Mr Green) We have not had a response.

  187. For months?
  (Mr Green) Yes, months.

  188. That is just not good enough.
  (Mr Green) But, may I equally say, I wrote to the Home Secretary six weeks ago, expressing my concerns, and I am still waiting for a response.

  189. You are not alone in that.
  (Mr Green) The point I am trying to make is that I do not think we will solve this problem if we all take a partisan approach and say, "This is someone else's problem. It is for them to fix it." It will only be solved by us acting and working together. Now that means Governments working together. It means Governments working with the industry. It means Governments working with the ports in the way that we have been hearing in the evidence given to you just now. We want to play our full part in that and have made ourselves readily available to do that. Indeed, when we first had meetings with Ministers on this issue over two years ago, then with Mike O'Brien, those meetings were at our behest. This is because we were concerned at the criminal activity and the threats under which drivers were being required to work. There is a clear interest in the road transport industry for this practice to be stopped. I do not need to spell out, I am sure, the implications of people travelling as clandestines in vehicles and what can happen to the loads.


  190. There is some evidence of people gaining access to ferries in the back of lorries, and then climbing out of those lorries on the ferry and presenting themselves as foot passengers. Do you think it would help if there was CCTV on the lorry decks on ferries?
  (Mr Green) It could. We have heard a lot of anecdotal stories.

  191. Does it really matter whether they come in on the back of a lorry or whether they come in on foot? The minute they land they are going to claim asylum.
  (Mr Green) It does matter to the lorry operator because he will then have a £2,000 fine imposed. Even if the person had gained access to his vehicle when it was on the loading deck, he would find it very difficult to avoid that £2,000 fine. It is an issue it is important to underline, Chairman, that a reasonable man would assume (and I think quite rightly) that a driver would always know whether or not there was someone in the back of his vehicle. Clearly, if there were large numbers of people then that would be the case, but in the case of a few people that is not so. When access can be gained in all sorts of complicated ways, frequently via the roof, it is very difficult for the driver to check. You may have seen the very interesting story in the press a few weeks ago about a journalist who travelled back to the United Kingdom on the back of a truck, perfectly legitimately, with a United Kingdom passport, to see whether he would be detected by the authorities. The journey took place, he was not detected by the authorities, and got on to United Kingdom soil; and then the driver let him out of the back of vehicle, only to find that there was actually someone else in the back of the lorry all the time, who the journalist was unaware of. That can dramatically explain how easy it is for people to be slipped on to vehicles and for those close not to know.

Mr Howarth

  192. The lady writing to us—one of your members, which Mr Russell mentioned—has made a pretty plaintive plea to us for action to be taken. She draws attention to the costs already involved. Costs of repairs to the trailers. Cut TIR cords, which apparently can be superglued together, so that a routine check will not reveal that they have been cut. Damaged goods and the human remains, which one is forced to clean up from the trailers, is a continual nightmare. Already the hauliers do have a local raft of costs to contend with. I understood that you said that industry would be prepared to pay for better checks, either here or on the Continent. That is sharply in contrast to the airport operators, we have just heard from, who feel that it should not fall to them and their passengers to pay those same costs.
  (Mr Green) We have certainly said to Government—and indeed the IRU has said to the authorities—that the industry is prepared to meet the costs of proper checks that need (or might need) to be undertaken, to give their industry the assurance that its vehicles are not being contaminated or harmed in the way we are talking about. It is only by proper preventative measures, and clear demonstration that those proper preventative measures are in place and work, that you will actually stamp out the practice. Whilst there is still a possibility that you might slip through—by the numbers that are checked it is clearly a possibility—the trade can flourish.

  193. When we were in Calais we were given an extensive presentation by the Chamber of Commerce, which runs the port there, as you know. They have proposed a fairly extensive range of improvements to the security of the Calais docks area. First of all, have you seen those plans? And do you think they will make a serious contribution to the improvements that you have been seeking?
  (Mr Green) I personally have not. Colleagues have seen those plans. I think improvements in Calais security will undoubtedly be of great assistance because it has been a very open area up to now. You will have been aware from your visits that there are quite large numbers of people in that part of France who are looking to be placed on vehicles, if I can put it that way.
  (Mr Linington) I have seen measures in Calais. We have spoken to the Chief Executive of the port of Calais. We believe there is a commitment now to making the port a more secure area but that is only one part of the jigsaw. Keeping people out of vehicles when they are in a port area is a step forward but, of course, a lot of the entry to the vehicles takes place downstream from the port. And, of course, coupled with the extra security measures, we need the kind of checks that have already been referred to. It goes hand in hand.

Mr Stinchcombe

  194. Just one supplementary question following on directly from that. I had three lorry drivers at my advice surgery a week or so ago, telling me in some detail their concerns about the security measures at Calais, and also repeating the story that we see in this letter from one of your members about the number of illegal immigrants walking down the motorways outside the port areas. They said to me that, amongst other things, it was causing several lorry drivers to be tempted into not stopping as often as they should have been and, therefore, breaking the rules against which tachometers are meant be vigilant. Have you come across that temptation yourselves?
  (Mr Green) You are talking about not taking the necessary rest breaks?

  195. Yes. Not breaking.
  (Mr Green) Clearly it is a genuine problem for drivers. They have a responsibility for a large vehicle. Often, when they are reaching Northern France at the end of a long journey, they need to stop to take appropriate rest. Whilst they are taking rest there is clearly the problem of people trying to gain access to their vehicle. So it is a genuine issue. I have not heard it described in those terms that, as a consequence of that, drivers have said, "I am not going to take a break," but I can understand the difficulty the drivers face. On the one hand, they need to take some rest but, on the other hand, they are effectively facing a real problem in guarding their vehicle, if I can describe it that way.

Mr Howarth

  196. Just to go back to one other point. I do not know whether any of you have been to Sangatte, this holding warehouse for 300 or 400 asylum seekers, who have been removed from the centre of Calais and concentrated in this area. It was perfectly apparent to us that these people had no interest in seeking asylum in France. The French authorities knew they had no interest in France. They were simply waiting to board one of your lorries and clamber over into the United Kingdom to obtain asylum. The French authorities seemed to us to recognise the problem, but since they did not want to accept asylum there, there was nothing they could do about it. What discussion have you had with the French about this? They are simply milling around, waiting to evade the system by whatever means they can.
  (Mr Green) We have talked extensively, as my colleague has been saying, with the French authorities. This goes back to the point I was making earlier, of the issue being an intergovernmental one. Where Governments have collectively to try to find solutions. If you were to say to me that it is your view that the French are quite happy for these people to slip through their fingers, I might find it difficult to say that I disagree with you.

  197. That is a very political answer!
  (Mr Green) Equally, if I were to say to you that the United Kingdom's approach is for people to be detected outside the borders of the United Kingdom, I would say that is exactly the United Kingdom's approach. Now we have to face up to that problem. Those two things cannot continue if we are going to have a solution. Secondly, you mentioned Sangatte. It does give me an opportunity to underline to you that this is not just an issue of people on lorries. It is also an issue of people on trains. My members, the English, Welsh and Scottish Railway are just as much concerned about the issues and the problems they are confronted with in coming to the United Kingdom. There is also an interesting example to quote to you, which I think describes the scale of the problems that we sometimes face. Within the Eurotunnel facilities of Sangatte, there is detection equipment. There is CO2 detection equipment. From a procedural point of view, Eurotunnel moved the CO2 detection equipment from the United Kingdom side of the border to the French side of the border. They were instructed by the French authorities to move it back. Again, you can draw your own conclusions as to why the French authorities were not happy with the detection equipment being on their side of the border.

Mr Stinchcombe

  198. Have your members reported to you examples of where potential illegal entrants have been discovered on the other side of the Channel, kicked off the lorries, and effectively been left to climb back on to another lorry later?
  (Mr Green) Certainly we have had many incidents of that reported to us. Of course, we have had incidents of that reported in the United Kingdom. Remember what the practice was in the United Kingdom. If a driver within the United Kingdom found illegals on the back and reported it to the police, often they were then given £5 to go to Croydon. That was the process. We have to recognise the weaknesses of that process, and there are weaknesses on the other side of the Channel. There are also problems for drivers when they are confronted with, again I put it to you, the very difficult scenario of detecting people on the back of their vehicle. People, who by the very nature of the fact that they are prepared to take risks to try to travel long distances have—I say, I hope, in the right sort of language—a very desperate approach to what they are trying to achieve. This is quite a difficult physical confrontation with which drivers have to deal. Therefore, there are all sorts of problems which are associated with this. That is why our clear view is that what you need is an effective checking procedure involving all the necessary agencies. That should be done—as I say, I do not mind—at the port of disembarkation or the port of embarkation, but that should be done in those sorts of controlled circumstances where the proper actions can be taken.

  Chairman: If we can move on to carriers' liability. Mr Howarth.

Mr Howarth

  199. If we can move from the ground to the air, and if I could address the questions to Mr Forster. Of course, carriers' liability is not new to the airline industry. That has been with us for ten years. I understand that British Airways has incurred penalties of 3 and a half million pounds in those recent years. Can you tell us something about how the system operates as far as airlines are concerned?
  (Mr Forster) I will pass you to Mr Highley, if I may, who will answer the question.
  (Mr Highley) We are the front-line. We operate as unpaid document checkers. That is our primary function. You will encounter us twice: once at the actual check-in desk and, secondly, when you go to the gate when you board the flight. We will examine your passport on both occasions. In the dark days, immediately after the Act was passed, we did that on our own; but we now have assistance, in many locations, from an absolutely excellent development, which the Immigration Service have introduced, which is called the Airline Liaison Officer. They have personnel located overseas in key stations where they assist us with that process. As to the effects of what we do, there is a breakdown in the figure which you just mentioned. We are, in fact, paying £1.75 million in relation to fraud and £750,000 in relation to what I call visa violations. That is, cases where it is appropriate for us to pick up issues concerning visas.

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