Select Committee on Home Affairs First Report


36.  Anyone entering the UK currently has to pass immigration and then Customs controls at a seaport or airport or railway station. They may also be stopped by Special Branch (police) working to prevent terrorism. Although these different government agencies have different targets - whether illegal immigrants, smuggled drugs or disguised terrorists - their working methods have much in common. All seek to concentrate their efforts on the highest risks - based as far as possible on intelligence identifying those most likely to be evading border controls. After all, 74 million of the 86 million people arriving in the country in 1999 were UK or other EU citizens who themselves should pose little threat to immigration controls.[23] Chart E after paragraph 39 illustrates the position. The problem is identifying how many are genuine, given that 61% of all forgeries detected are of EU or EEA documents. In terms of professional skill, much depends on the judgment of the customs, police or immigration officer assessing how an individual answers questions at the point of entry.


37.  UK border controls have to operate under certain constraints:

  • the space available and the layout of ports are not necessarily conducive to effective border controls - expansion to accommodate new controls is not easy at either Heathrow or Dover

  • passengers from EU and European Economic Area (EEA) countries expect to pass through controls in seconds - and port operators and carriers are keen to satisfy that expectation.

"One of the principal challenges for the Immigration Service is to deal with the ever increasing flow of bona fide passenger traffic at more locations, as swiftly as possible, with proportionately less resources whilst maintaining an effective control on racketeers, facilitators and those seeking to undermine the immigration laws." Home Office evidence, Appendix 1 para 2.1

"The police experience in recent years has been that in spite of the combined efforts of the three border agencies in their respective roles, the effectiveness of our border controls and, therefore, the deterrent effect of them, has diminished" [ACPO BC 34 para 9]

38.  While border controls have to be operated within the physical limitation of existing port facilities, there is a good case for designing future airport terminals with border controls in mind. We saw at Heathrow Terminal One that the layout of corridors for incoming passengers could not have been better designed to enable people to mingle with passengers from other flights and confuse immigration control about which flight they took from which country. We understand that at Berlin Tegel airport the layout keeps passengers from different flights separate. Airport operators are planning for expansion in passenger numbers at new terminals and expect the border agencies to plan strategically for the same purpose.[24] Passenger numbers are generally expected to increase by 5% a year from 86 million in 1998-99 to 110 million in 2004-05.[25] This trend is shown in Chart F after paragraph 39.

39.  We recommend that the border agencies engage closely with airport operators to ensure that new terminals are designed in a way which enhances the operation of effective border controls.

40.  The National Audit Office report "Entry into the United Kingdom" was published on 22 February 1995 following a study of Immigration Controls at UK Ports of Entry.[26] The Home Office has provided us with written evidence on progress made in the last five years to implement these recommendations.[27] This reflects both the increase in the number of illegal entrants and the change in the legislative framework under the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999. The report made 29 specific recommendations covering five main areas:

  • the development of management information systems to compare performance and effectiveness between ports of entry

  • the reduction of passenger queuing times

  • the recovery of charges incurred under the Immigration (Carriers' Liability) Act 1987

  • the enhancement of the Immigration Service detention estate and better management of the system for allocating detention spaces

  • the need to maintain efforts to increase the number of immigration offenders detected.

41.  The Immigration Service has been under pressure to reduce the cost of immigration port checks from £5.68 per person in 1998-99 to a target of £5.17 in 2000-01. In April to September 2000 this was more than achieved, with estimated costs of £4.35.[28] The Immigration Service are on target to achieve this, largely because of the increase in passenger numbers.[29]


42.  The principal means of illegal entry are:

  • ferries - hiding in vehicles to get onto ferries and then climbing out onto the vehicle decks while at sea and walking ashore as foot passengers on arrival

  • trains - abuse of ticketing arrangements on Channel Tunnel trains or hiding in rolling stock - some 700 asylum seekers a month have been presenting themselves at Waterloo from trains arriving with a monthly capacity of over 700,000 people

  • small boats or light aircraft

  • cars and trailers

  • aircraft - boarding with appropriate documents but destroying them before arrival - about 120 of the nearly 600,000 weekly arrivals at Heathrow Airport's Terminal One have destroyed their documents.

43.  Although European Union (EU) and European Economic Area (EEA) passengers have to be admitted with the shortest delay, it is their documents which are the most often forged - 61% of the 4,225 forgeries detected at ports between 1 October 1999 and 30 June 2000 were of EU/EEA documents.[31] The most frequently forged document was the British passport, followed by the Italian and French identity cards and the French and Netherlands passports.[32] Given the number of passengers from these countries and the speed with which they pass through border controls with minimal checking, it is not surprising that this stream attracts those seeking to make an illegal entry to the UK.

44.  Methods of illegal entry can change in response to enforcement action taken by the authorities: the Home Office believes that the success of fines of £2,000 on airlines and ferry operators for each passenger arriving with inadequate documentation is partly responsible for the increase in the number of people hiding in lorries.[33] In 1999, carriers were held liable for a total of 31,639 people arriving with inadequate documentation; of these 13,660 came by air, 10,404 by sea and 7,875 by Eurostar train from Belgium.[34]

45.  Despite all these measures, the number of illegal entrants to the UK doubled between 1995 and 1999; and, of these, the number of clandestine entrants went up four times (see graph A after paragraph 7). The number of known illegal entrants discovered near Dover in each month in 2000 was higher than in 1999 in the first half of the year but appears to have been slightly less than 1999 in the second half of the year (see graph B after paragraph 7).


46.  The number of illegal entrants to the country demonstrates that border controls are not as effective as they should be. The Home Office evidence emphasised changes which are in the pipeline and which they hope will make a significant difference in the near future. These improvements flow from new legislation and additional resources. For example:

  • greater use of embarkation controls in country of departure (known as juxtaposed controls)

  • greater flexibility about immigration controls on arrival — enabling staff resources to be concentrated on points of highest risk

  • substantial new recruitment of staff.

47.  The fact that the sea acts as a barrier on all sides of the UK (except the land border with the Republic of Ireland) does not mean that controls are exercised just on UK soil. In recent years it has become apparent that the most effective controls can be applied at the point of embarkation abroad. Thus there are now UK immigration controls on French soil at the Coquelles entry to the Channel Tunnel and a similar arrangement has been agreed to operate at the Gare du Nord railway station in Paris. Equally some 20 airline liaison officers are posted abroad to train airline staff in checking documents to reduce the number of illegal immigrants boarding planes destined for the UK. Checking of containers would be much easier if the UK border agencies were able to examine details of the contents in advance of arrival and a picture taken at the point of departure.

"The police experience in recent years has been that in spite of the combined efforts of the three border agencies in their respective roles, the effectiveness of our border controls and, therefore, the deterrent effect of them, has diminished" Association of Chief Police Officers evidence, Appendix 6, para 9

48.  The Home Secretary told us that a further agreement has been made with France - an additional protocol to the Sangatte Treaty of 1992 covering the operation of the Channel Tunnel - which needs to be ratified and legislated for (in France) before coming into effect in the summer of 2001. The Additional Protocol has been drawn to our attention by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office under the new arrangements for parliamentary consideration of treaties recommended by the Procedure Committee.[35] The Home Office told us:

     "What we have done is to work hard with the French who have delivered a good deal, although not enough, to close up the route pending the arrival of the juxtaposed controls. They are exercising some checks at the Gare du Nord. Those checks are partially, but by no means wholly, effective. We are continuing discussions with the French. We hope that before long there will be a formal exchange of letters which will reinforce what they are doing in the period before juxtaposed controls come and deal with the issue finally. So by no means is it satisfactory, but ... it would be a great deal worse were the French not now being as active as they are when conducting the checks which are already in place, which are checks at the expense of the French Government, to no purpose of the French Government but in a spirit of co-operation with ourselves".(Mr Boys Smith)[36]

49.  In December 2000 a new set of checks were introduced at Calais for vehicles boarding P&O Stena line ferries for Dover. All lorries and cars were being checked by a private security firm paid for by the ferry company at a reported cost of £500,000 a year. Within the first month, more than 300 potential illegal immigrants were found in lorries and removed before they left France. A further 200 or more foot passengers with inadequate documents were prevented from boarding ferries. In most cases they will have returned to the Red Cross centre nearby at Sangatte. From there they will in all probability try again to cross the Channel. The Freight Transport Association has been seeking greater security at Calais for lorries waiting to cross to Dover.[37] We were also told how the authorities at Calais were planning to strengthen the perimeter security at the port, but we have not yet seen evidence that this has happened.

50.  It is too early to judge the long-term effects of this tightening of controls in France. It does show, however, that lorries waiting to embark can be searched without disrupting traffic in a way which they cannot as they disembark and want to head for their destination. It is inevitable that tightening controls at one point will displace the traffickers to other routes so the same problem will arise at other border crossings or ports. For that reason the extension of P&O Stena Line's controls to Zeebrugge is welcome.

51.  We welcome the new emphasis being placed on advanced controls at the point of departure to the UK and recommend that the Government should take immediate steps to establish such controls abroad.

52.  We welcome the increased cooperation between the UK government and the French authorities on measures to combat clandestine entrants but further measures will need to be taken to make this more effective.

23  Appendix 1, annex 5. Back

24  Appendix 8 para 2.2. Back

25  Appendix 1 para 1.13; annex 5a. Back

26  HC (1994-95) 204.  Back

27  Appendix 2, section 1. Back

28  Official Report 20 November 2000 col 97w. Back

29  Q 41 (Mr Boys Smith). Back

30  Appendix 1 annex 14 para 2.6. Back

31  Appendix 2 section 2. Back

32  Appendix 1 annex 24. Back

33  Appendix 1 annex14 para 2.3. Back

34  Appendix 1 annex 23. Back

35  Second report 1999-2000 Parliamentary Scrutiny of Treaties HC 210.  Back

36  Q 519. Back

37  Q 193 (Mr Linington, Freight Transport Association). Back

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