Select Committee on Home Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 220 - 239)




  220. It is also to do with manning the gates, is it not?
  (Mr Forster) Queues do develop at EU controls at peak times, yes. I have arrived at 6 o'clock in the morning and have had to wait for two or three minutes to get through immigration control and that is an inconvenience.

Mr Fabricant

  221. It is inconvenient but I think it would be even more inconvenient to the United Kingdom if you are suggesting that people can actually enter illegally. You are suggesting that people should be allowed to enter the UK without showing any documents at all, so what is the difference between that and Schengen in effect?
  (Mr Forster) It is for the Immigration Service to decide who is admitted and who is not, and it is for them to put in place procedures to ensure only bona fide travellers do pass through the controls.

  222. I find that extraordinary. If you are saying it is a delay simply to hold up a passport and then be nodded through, and you are saying as an alternative you would like to see the immigration officer deciding for one person, "I want to see your document", for this person not, I think this would actually slow it up. Anyway, let us move on to something perhaps we can agree on. I want to see British Airways be an even greater success than it is already, as I want to see Easyjet and all the other British airlines be a success in this country, do you think that the burdens currently being imposed in the form of charges on ports will result in increased ticket prices being charged by British Airways to its passengers?
  (Mr Forster) Regrettably the airport authorities will pass on their costs to the operators, the airlines at airports. We have an obligation to our shareholders to make profits and therefore those costs inevitably will be passed on to the travelling public. That is one reason why we support the BAA in their statement this morning that the state should bear the costs of the immigration control because it is UK residents who benefit from immigration control. Therefore, the UK as a whole should meet the costs of that control and not individual travellers.

  223. Have you any reason to disagree with the BAA when they said they were not aware of any other European country which asks the ports to bear the cost?
  (Mr Forster) We are not aware of this, this is unique to the United Kingdom.

  224. Have you made any assessment at all about what the additional costs will be on the price of a ticket?
  (Mr Forster) No, because the actual detail of what we are being asked to cover is still being developed. We are attending a number of consultation meetings with the Immigration Service on this very subject and costs will, I am sure, follow if this proposal is enacted and put through.

  225. Notwithstanding whether we enter Schengen or a half-Schengen, as I think you are suggesting, do you think that British Government agencies such as Customs and immigration work well with you in ensuring that there is a free flow of passengers? In fact I do not just ask this question to British Airways but also to the Freight Transport Association.
  (Mr Highley) Can I make a comment about our chequered relationship with the Immigration Service?

  226. Please do, this sounds controversial!
  (Mr Highley) We started off, when carriers' liability was introduced, with a very bad relationship with the Immigration Service. We simply did not understand where each other was coming from. I think to the great credit of the Immigration Service they have changed and they have shown they are prepared to be flexible and to work in partnership, so I would characterise our relationship at the moment with the Immigration Service as good. However, there are two provisos. The first one is that we do wish the Immigration Service to consult us more, and we are rather baffled by this because we have brought it up at every level—we have tried middle management, we have tried top management, we have tried ministers—but still we get situations where the Immigration Service produce innovation without consultation. We think that is a lose, lose situation. If only they would consult, they would actually derive benefits from it. I think the other thing that we urge on the Immigration Service is that they forget that we are a commercial organisation whose main objective is to please our passengers and our shareholders, and I think we have some way to go still on that, but we are certainly moving in the right direction.

  227. Do you have any dealings at all, do you need to have any dealings at all, with UK Customs?
  (Mr Highley) We have a different relationship with UK Customs and we get involved, for example, in drugs issues, but we do not have the same public relationship with Customs that we do with the Immigration Service.

  228. Can I turn now to David Green, because there seems to be a common thread in what Mr Highley has said and also what the earlier witnesses said, about the lack of consultation, the lack of there being any sort of forum? Would you concur with that?
  (Mr Linington) If I could answer on behalf of the Freight Transport Association, we have had over the years a very extensive relationship with the Customs authorities, and that is in a very formalised way, there is a number of memoranda of understanding covering all sorts of things—excise goods, drugs, smuggling—and there is a consistent dialogue with the Customs authorities. Results are not always to our liking but at least the mechanisms exist for an exchange of views, and generally speaking they are very constructive relationships. The same has not been true of our relationship with the Immigration Service. In fact, generally speaking, the Immigration Act has been the first time that we have had any extended dialogue with the Immigration Service, and I would say the relationship is at an embryo stage at the moment. There are not any formal mechanisms for meetings with them although inevitably, as part of the dialogue on the penalty system, there have been a number of meetings and quite recent ones. We are hoping that that dialogue will continue and hopefully eventually become a formal mechanism to lead to greater co-operation between the industry and the Immigration Service. At the moment, our biggest hurdle is persuading them that an internal appeal procedure is a fair and transparent one.

  229. Before we get on to that, have you as an organisation approached either the Government or the Immigration Service direct saying that you would welcome, you need, a forum in which there can be regular dialogue?
  (Mr Linington) Yes. As my colleague, David Green said earlier we made the initial approach to the Home Office and we began the running by saying we needed to have meetings and there needed to be a dialogue. I think that now has got a certain amount of impetus of its own, but in the earlier stages we were the ones who were asking for that to take place.

Mr Singh

  230. I want to pick up on the issue of the state picking up the cost of border control or document control in this case. You say that is a state responsibility, as was said earlier to us in evidence, and yet the Freight Transport Association say they are perfectly willing to put their own money up to do those checks. Is there a contradiction between your two approaches? Secondly, if you are the agency bringing those people in as a burden on the state, surely you should pick up the tab and responsibility for them?
  (Mr Forster) If I can take that last point first of all, yes, British Airways does profit from carrying passengers to this country, that is our business, but I would argue that there are other bodies within the United Kingdom who are also benefiting—tourism in this country, for example. If we did not carry these people here, the tourist bodies would not benefit. So there are other bodies other than British Airways who benefit from passengers coming here, therefore why should British Airways and its passengers pay for the immigration control at ports of entry?

  231. But why should the taxpayer pay? The taxpayer is not responsible for bringing them in here.
  (Mr Forster) No, but I would argue that the immigration control is there to protect UK citizens as a whole from illegal immigration and the costs that that would bring about. Our argument is that the taxpayer should therefore bear the cost of that policy, as they do in many other fields.

  232. Mr Green, how do you take such a different approach to that issue?
  (Mr Green) I have to answer it very carefully, Mr Singh, because British Airways is also a member of the Freight Transport Association, so I am treading on rather difficult ground here. The first point I must emphasise is that we are talking about completely different scenarios. On the one hand, you are talking about a passenger air transport service where you have people who are being carried by British Airways and are paying British Airways for the privilege of that journey. We are talking about the problem of people being smuggled aboard trucks, they are not paying passengers. We actually have a very clear interest in that smuggling being eradicated because of the disadvantages it causes our businesses, because of the contamination it can cause to our loads, and because of the very real delays it can cause to the movements. Going back to the example we were talking of earlier, if you are a driver bringing a truck back to the UK, you discover illegals in Northern France, you report it to the authorities, and everything which goes with that has a huge time penalty, so we have an interest in preventing it from happening. We are saying that it is against that background that we are prepared to say it is reasonable, because we get a clear benefit from that not happening, to be contributing towards the cost of those checks.

  233. Mr Highley and Mr Forster, you are clearly stating that our controls are tighter than the rest of Europe and maybe if we were part of Schengen you would benefit, your industry certainly would, and you mentioned the problem of transit visas. But let me give you the example of when we went to Calais and saw the 300 or 400 families in this old factory, and the conditions were appalling they were actually living in, but they would not claim asylum in France, they wanted to come to the UK. Within that context, that the UK is a special magnet for asylum seekers, genuine or bogus, either for economic or family reasons, whatever, is it not absolutely right that the UK should have the most stringent border controls and should in fact not be a part of Schengen which would wipe out border controls and all the iron filings would come into that magnet straight away?
  (Mr Forster) I think there is a little confusion here. Let me make it quite clear, British Airways' opinion on Schengen is that we are neutral. There are advantages and disadvantages of becoming a member of Schengen. In terms of our border controls being tight, if you were referring to an earlier comment I made regarding the carriers' liability legislation which is enforced far more rigorously here in the UK than elsewhere in the EU, that is our perception—

  234. Should it not be because of the context we find ourselves in?
  (Mr Forster) Perhaps in certain areas, yes, but in other areas, no. We are charged £2,000, for example, for minor breaches of the Carriers' Liability Act. For example, passengers are allowed to transit this country provided they have onward tickets and the transfer is within 24 hours without a visa, so many nationalities can make that transfer without a visa. However, we have been served charges of £2,000 because the connection time has been 36 hours and not 24 hours. The passenger has no intention of staying in this country, they have continued their journey within 36 hours, yet we are saddled with a £2,000 charge. In the rest of the EU, that sort of ridiculous bureaucracy, which it is, would not exist. Carriers in Europe would not suffer those charges, but we do here, and it happens on a daily basis.

  235. Moving on to the Immigration Service, you have said your relationships are a lot better now. This is a question to both agencies. Is there available technology which the Immigration Service could and should be using to stop illegal entrants or asylum seekers from the continent entering the UK?
  (Mr Highley) We have suggested two ways forward to the Immigration Service which have not necessarily been received with enthusiasm. One is we profoundly wish they would tidy up the documentation which is stamped on people's passports which permit them to enter the UK.

  236. Could you elaborate on that?
  (Mr Highley) We think it is too complicated and it is very difficult for our young staff to assimilate and understand.

  237. I thought it was just an entry visa.
  (Mr Highley) Jim can elaborate on that.
  (Mr Forster) At present if a passenger has, for example, a single entry visa, they can visit this country on just one occasion. If they attempt to make a visit on a second occasion, the check-in agent is expected to look for a landing stamp within the passport. That landing stamp is often overlooked. Yes, it is an error on the part of the check-in agent, but given the pressures they are under and the enormous volumes of passengers they are processing, errors are made, I am afraid, and we have been telling the Immigration Service this for years, that they must simplify the documentation. What I am pleased to hear through the Immigration and Asylum Act is that improvements are planned, and the entry clearance being given at foreign posts is an enormous step forward and we look forward to working with the Immigration Service to ensure that that is introduced successfully. But there are still complications with documentation and I think both the Home Office and the Foreign Office should continue to look at ways of simplifying passports and related documentation.

  238. Sorry, I interrupted you, Mr Highley, you had more suggestions to make.
  (Mr Highley) Somebody mentioned the US biometric system. We do think there are big gains to be made from technology but the problem appears to be the money and the issue always is, "Would the airlines please pay for this?" I think you made an important point when you raised the question of funding, and I think this issue of funding has to be sorted out, because unless the funding is there the technological change will not occur.

  239. Mr Green, do you have anything to add?
  (Mr Green) We have talked in part about technological means of detection already, but we have not talked about the most straight forward means in terms of drive-through x-ray facilities. They do exist, but they are very expensive. We are not the only part of the world where this problem exists, by the way. The US-Mexican border is one where the sort of issues we are talking about here are just as real and we are actively looking at that type of equipment which is now being used on the US-Mexican border. Indeed, through the IRU we are looking at funding the introduction of that equipment in Calais but, again, it has to be in co-operation with governments and the relative agencies because it is not just a question of conducting the check. I am entirely with what the people from the British Ports Association were saying, we are not looking to increase the dwell-time of trucks within port areas, we are looking for the smooth movement of vehicles through those areas, and that is why drive-through facilities are clearly the only appropriate route to follow.

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