Select Committee on Home Affairs Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Supplementary note by HM Customs and Excise


Thank you for your letter of 2 August. I am pleased to let you have the answers to your questions.

What substantive discussions has Customs had with port authorities concerning the installation of x-ray machines for the detection of smuggled tobacco and other contraband?

  All major port operators (including trade representative bodies such as the UK Major Ports Group and the British Ports Association) were notified in writing of the Government's intention to deploy a network of x-ray scanners in accordance with the recommendation contained in the report into tobacco smuggling by Martin Taylor. This has been followed up by direct meetings with the port operators for the sites which are likely to be the first recipients of these scanners. The programme of meetings will continue as the network is expanded.

Does Customs have an interest in the TRANSEC "Free Screening Working Group", which is working towards screening export freight?

  TRANSEC—Transport Security—is a section of the Department of Environment, Transport and the Regions (DETR). We have been monitoring the work of this group, which is of significant interest to us in the light of our increasing use of scanners. We are therefore discussing increasing our involvement in TRANSEC with DETR.

What plans does Customs have to increase the proportion of freight vehicles searched at Channel ports?

  The planned deployment of a network of x-ray scanners at a number of ports will enable Customs to increase the number of freight vehicles checked without having to have the load physically examined. Physical searches should then only be carried out where the x-ray scan shows unexplained anomalies or on the basis of intelligence.

Due to operational problems associated with searching various types of freight, is fresh produce cargo less likely to be subject to routine or profiled examination?

  Freight is not examined routinely for anti-smuggling controls. The selection of cargo for examination is based on a number of factors including the origin and routing of the shipment, any information known about the consignor or consignee, and intelligence received or developed by Departmental systems. The type of cargo involved may be taken into consideration, but it is the overall perception of risk, rather than the specific nature of the cargo which would influence selection for examination.

What arrangements exist at present locally and nationally for the discussion of issues with port authorities and all agencies operating at ports?

  Arrangements vary from port to port, but at each place there are routine contacts between Customs and the port authorities to discuss matters of mutual interest and concern. Similarly, local arrangements exist for agencies to meet and discuss relevant issues on an inter-agency basis and involving port operators when appropriate. A Border Agencies Working Group exists as a national forum for development of common approaches to specific issues for Customs, Immigration and ports Special Branch policing. Other agencies are increasingly involved in the work of this group.

What plans does the Government have to extend CCTV operations at Channel ports?

  There are no specific cross-agency plans to extend closed circuit television systems at Channel ports. The border agencies are working together to share equipment, including CCTV, wherever that is practicable. As systems become ready for replacement, the agencies are preparing joint approaches to issues such as the siting of cameras to support the objectives of closer working and maximising efficiency.

What arrangements exist for Customs to share profiling information with the Immigration Service and with Special Branch?

  The exchange of information between Customs and the Immigration Service/Special Branch is currently only legally permissible on a case-by-case basis. New legislation, the Immigration and Asylum Act, has provided a statutory gateway for the exchange of bulk data between the Immigration Service and Customs. As part of the consultation process on forthcoming legislation in this area, Customs have sought similar gateway provisions to allow exchange with Special Branch and other agencies. This will allow profiles to be researched, built and exchanged.

In what circumstances do the Immigration Service and Special Branch have access to the Customs OASIS database and the Ferry Information Service?

  Immigration and Special Branch have no direct access to Customs OASIS systems (which includes the Ferry Information Service). There is, however, a facility whereby Customs accept requests for information from these two bodies on a case-specific basis (ie requests for information regarding the movements of specific individuals and/or vehicles). The statutory gateways referred to in the previous answer will provide scope for exploring other options which Customs will consider along with Immigration Service and Special Branch.

What plans do you have to share passenger information supplied by carriers?

—will this involve the loan of computer systems and equipment by carriers to Customs?

The Immigration and Asylum Act allows the Immigration Service to obtain passenger manifest information from carriers for immigration purposes, and creates a statutory gateway between the Immigration Service and Customs for the routine disclosure of this information.

On occasions when one border agency subjects travellers and/or vehicles to a thorough examination, what arrangements exist to invite other border agencies to attend and thus avoid duplication of examination procedures?

  A number of localised practical agreements are in place, which take account of the facilities and needs of the respective agencies. For example, the forward selection point, traffic management lanes and examination bays in Dover are now all operated on a multi-agency basis, enabling more efficient and effective use of the facilities, and of the agencies' resources.

To what extent are the daily border agencies' operations at the SE ports co-ordinated?

  The work of the agencies is co-ordinated to a significant extent through the use of joint intelligence, the sharing of equipment and facilities, and by local agreements. However, each agency has its specific aims, objectives and legal powers which must drive its operational activity.

Are there plans for a joint border agencies' intelligence unit for the SE ports?

  A joint intelligence cell is already operating in Dover. Examples of good practice from this cell (and others operating away from the SE ports) are being disseminated to the relevant agencies and should influence the setting up of similar cells as well as supporting less formal arrangements.

Is the inter-departmental strategy group formed following the Simpler Trades Procedures (SIMPRO) ports report, and jointly chaired by Customs and DTI, still in being? What are this group's objectives?

  In the replies above I have sought to provide answers based on the work that this department undertakes to address smuggling. There are other activities which require regulatory checks on declared goods, which Customs undertakes on behalf of other departments or agencies. I have taken these regulatory matters to be outwith the scope of this Inquiry. I can, however, provide further information on these if the Committee would find it helpful. This last question relates to the work of a strategic group which has a broad interest in all aspects of the international trade in goods.

  The Interdepartmental Strategy Group on Trade Facilitation, formed in 1998, is chaired jointly by DTI and Customs. Membership includes all those departments and agencies with a significant interest in the international movement of goods; the Simpler Trade Procedures Board (SITPRO) is also a member. The objective of the Group is to optimise government departments' collaborative approach to trade facilitation in line with the UK's trade policy and Customs' administrative requirements while taking full account both of the justification of any underlying controls, and of reducing burdens on business. This is to be met by:

    —  examining the scope for abolishing, reducing, harmonising or otherwise simplifying domestic trade information requirements;

    —  identifying and agreeing ways for maximising the application of electronic commerce techniques;

    —  considering the feasibility of, and agreeing options for, introducing a "single point of contact" for international trade information;

    —  contributing to the UK approach on international trade facilitation issues.

  The Group has now endorsed the introduction of a single point of contact (now called the Single Window) and streamlining data collection and the exchange of information between government departments and agencies. A project has now been set up under Customs' leadership, and other departments have been asked to confirm their commitment and to contribute resources.

Richard Broadbent

19 September 2000

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