Examination of Witnesses (Questions 180
TUESDAY 20 JUNE 2000
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.
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 Europeand indeed
the Netherlandsfrom 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
(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
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
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.
192. The lady writing to usone of your
members, which Mr Russell mentionedhas 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
(Mr Green) We have certainly said to Governmentand
indeed the IRU has said to the authoritiesthat 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 throughby
the numbers that are checked it is clearly a possibilitythe
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
(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.
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
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.
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.
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 haveI say, I hope, in the right sort of languagea
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 doneas I say, I do not
mindat 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.
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.