Select Committee on Home Affairs Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence

Annex 39


1.  Police controls exist at all main ports (which include both air and passenger seaports and the Channel Tunnel) for law enforcement purposes. These controls, as opposed to any police presence for security purposes, are operated by the Special Branch of the relevant force in whose area the port is situated. In all force areas countering the threat from terrorism is the most important single function of the Special Branch.

  2.  Control coverage includes international routes as well as routes, both by air and sea, between Great Britain, Ireland, Channel Islands and the Isle of Man. Both arrival and departure movements are liable to be the subject of police checks. Operational responsibility for the policing at ports rests with the relevant Chief Constable.


  3.  The presence of Special Branch officers at ports is an integral aspect of their counter-terrorist role. Their task is to seek and gather information, identify persons of interest and generally offer support for counter-terrorism operations. In doing so they work closely with other agencies at the ports and exercise the powers of "examining officers" under the Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act 1989 (PTA).

  4.  Special Branch officers at ports also contribute to more general policing work in a number of ways including interception of children being removed from the country in breach of the Child Abduction Act or in defiance of civil court orders, the detection of offences, the arrest of wanted criminals and the recovery of stolen property.


  5.  The port controls under the PTA derive from section 16 and schedule 5 to the Act. Paragraph one of that schedule provides that "constables" are for the purposes of the PTA "examining officers". As such they have powers to examine people arriving or leaving Great Britain or Northern Ireland for the purposes of determining whether someone appears to be a person who is or has been concerned in the commission, preparation or instigation of acts of terrorism. There are further provisions within the schedule which provide for associated powers. The main ones are to require the production of documents, the powers of search (both individuals and vehicles), to require the completion of arrival/departure cards (except where they are required under the Immigration Act) and powers of detention.

  6.  Paragraph 1 of schedule 5 also provides for immigration officers to be examining officers under the Act. In practice, however, port powers under the PTA are exercised by police who have primacy in counter-terrorism matters under the PTA working with others such as HM Customs and Excise and the Immigration Service, sharing resources and information as applicable. For example:

    —  at major international ports the physical control points will often be co-terminus with the primary immigration controls;

    —  there is joint police/customs/immigration co-operation on CCTV development at some of the major airports in collaboration with the relevant airport authority;

    —  ANPR systems are shared with HM Customs at seaports.

  7.  Operation of the PTA which, subject to Parliamentary approval, is renewable annually is reviewed independently by Mr J J Rowe QC. An extract from his 1999 review is attached at Annex A[9] for reference; and at Annex B* is a table from the report which sets out details of the number of people examined for more than one hour but not detained.


  8.  The Terrorism Bill currently before Parliament is intended to replace the PTA. Although it amends the powers exercised at ports and provides additional safeguards for people examined or detained under these powers, the present provisions are broadly carried forward into the Bill so as to preserve the police counter-terrorist capacity at ports. The Bill also provides for improved information sharing between the police, Immigration Service and HM Customs and work continues through the Border Agencies Working Group to explore the scope for better joint use of facilities and equipment at ports.

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