Select Committee on Home Affairs First Report


88.  It has been put to the Committee by those who have most direct experience of working with the government agencies at ports - the port operators and carriers - that we should consider combining those agencies into a single frontier force. These are some of the questions which would need to be satisfied before making such a radical change:

  • Does the existing division of responsibilities foster either inefficiencies or ineffectiveness?

  • Would these shortcomings be overcome by creating a single frontier force?

  • Could the same benefits be achieved without such a major change?

  • Even if all the other indications are positive, is the disruption of such a change worthwhile at this stage?

93.  At national level a Border Agencies Working Group meets six times a year and involves the Immigration Service, Customs & Excise, the police, the Security Service and the National Criminal Intelligence Service (NCIS).[69] A high level steering group of officials, called the Border Agencies Directors Group, meets twice a year.[70] Another example of joint working between departments is the Joint Entry Clearing Unit (JECU) established in June 2000 to combine the efforts of the Home Office and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office at 164 posts overseas in processing visa applications.

"I could give you a very specific example that happened not very long ago. An inbound family in an Escort van in Dover, legitimately -- [in] ..-- a white van.... 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 go - only 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....[It took] an hour, probably, against a target time of less than five minutes". Dover Harbour Board Q144-47

94.  The different agencies operate in slightly different ways, depending on :

  • trained skills of staff

  • objectives and priorities

  • equipment

  • facilities

  • legal basis.

91.  This produces results such as:

  • passengers and vehicles have to pass through two or more separate controls at ports

  • different agencies operate independent databases with varying degrees of national networking - Immigration Service and Special Branch do not have direct access to Customs' OASIS system, including the Ferry Information System[71]

  • separate budgets for advanced technology are too small for major projects

  • intelligence is not as widely shared as it might be[72]

  • some officers on duty at the point of delivery do not have full powers to carry out necessary border control functions on behalf of others[73]

  • cross-posting or secondment, sharing of facilities and joint training do not appear to be as extensive as they might be[74]

  • at some ports only one of the border agencies is regularly present.


92.  The requirements of ports vary greatly. Dover handles a huge volume of traffic -over 4.5 million arrivals in nine months in 2000. Harwich received 512,000 and Plymouth 280,000 arrivals in the same period. A ferry port receives passengers from only one or at most three countries; some airports handle arrivals from more than a hundred countries. Ferry crossings from Larne in Northern Ireland to Stranraer in Scotland give rise to few immigration or Customs concerns, but need to be checked for the prevention of terrorism. It may be easier to co-ordinate efforts between different agencies at ports handling smaller flows of traffic than it is at the main Channel ports. The port operators told us:


93.  Information can be passed between the police, Customs and Immigration Service under legal provisions called statutory gateways. It is only legally possible to exchange information about specific cases. The Immigration and Asylum Act 1999, when fully implemented, will make it possible for bulk data to be exchanged between Customs and the Immigration Service. Customs are also seeking changes to legislation to make it possible for them to do the same with the police and other agencies.[77] Furthermore the Immigration Service can only request from carriers information needed for its own purposes, even if other border agencies would like to have additional information for their purposes.[78] We were given two views of how this works in practice:

    "We have a statutory gateway between the Immigration Service and other agencies, the police, customs, NCIS and the National Crime Squad. That was the result of secondary legislation that came into force at the end of April. The statutory gateway is the sharing of information; quite properly, it is a strict requirement that if we need to collect information for our purposes we may lawfully share it but the Immigration Service cannot lawfully collect information on behalf of another agency that the Immigration Service does not require." (Mr Roberts, Home Office)[79]

    "The ready exchange of such information between agencies, in practice, does not appear to be working well." (ACPO)[80]

"We can obviously see efficiencies associated with combining the control authorities. By way of example, we will soon be sharing passenger information with the Immigration Service and with Customs and possibly the police. This will probably involve us, although it is too early to say, in loaning computer equipment to each department. We are having to loan three separate pieces of equipment .... They are not stand-alone PCs, these are computers which are linked to our central processing unit of our reservation system, for example. So therefore dedicated equipment software has to be provided. We are providing that possibly in triplicate, whereas if there was one agency a single computer would suffice." British Airways QQ245-6.

94.  We asked the Home Secretary whether he was content with the sharing of data between agencies. He told us:

    "In practice I do not think there are many impediments in the Data Protection Act as far as sharing of data between these agencies is concerned. There are impediments about the initial collection of the data. I think this is something we will have to examine about the exclusivity of data sharing and data collection in this kind of area. If data emerges in the course of inquiries for immigration purposes which it is obvious to anybody indicates there is evidence of, say, a breach of Customs' obligations or criminal law, then the other agencies are told and vice versa".[81]

95.  Another example of lack of joined-up working are the powers of different officers on duty at ports. While Dover has customs, immigration and police officers on duty, there are smaller ports where all three agencies are not represented. On the west coast of Great Britain there are several ports where the only official presence is the police. Police powers are contained in schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act 2000.[82] The status of "examining officer" under that Act can also be conferred on an immigration officer or a customs officer. But police officers do not have reciprocal powers under the relevant immigration and customs legislation. Furthermore the Home Office sees no reason to change this.[83]

"It works better in some ports than others. The relationship at an operational level can be dependent on personalities. It would be misleading for me to say that in every port in the country the relationship was as good as it is in some places. At Dover and Harwich it is particularly strong. The Border Agencies Working Group gives us the mechanism to address these areas where it needs some improvement. " Immigration Service Q 81

69  Appendix 1 para 3.2. Back

70  Appendix 2 and appendix 6 para 20. Back

71  Appendix 5 p 130. Back

72  Appendix 6, para 16. Back

73  Appendix 6, para 11. Back

74  Qq 83-7 (Mr Roberts, Home Office). Back

75  Q 138. Back

76  Q 153. Back

77  Appendix 5. Back

78  Q 489 (Mr Boys Smith). Back

79  Q 77. Back

80  Appendix 6 para 16. Back

81  Q 495 (Home Secretary). Back

82  Appendix 6. Back

83  Q 491 (Mr Boys Smith, Home Office). Back

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