Select Committee on Home Affairs Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum by the Transport and General Workers' Union



  1.1  The T&G welcomes the opportunity given by this inquiry to highlight our concerns over the carrier liability provisions contained in the Immigration and Asylum Act (1999).

  1.2  The 1999 Act contains provisions which strengthen and replace the provisions of the Immigration (Carriers' Liability) Act 1987. The 1999 Act extends carrier liability to cover passengers on road passenger vehicles (ie buses and coaches). Formally this liability applied only to passengers carried on ships, aircraft and trains. Again a fine of £2,000 per person is applied, with liability for the fine resting with the owner of the ship, aircraft or vehicle, or the train operator.

  1.3  The 1999 Act also introduces new civil penalties on "the person (or persons) responsible for a clandestine entrant" who arrives in the UK concealed in a vehicle, ship or aircraft. The Act defines the responsible person—who would be liable to a fine of £2,000 per person found—as the owner or captain of a ship or aircraft and the owner, hirer or driver of a vehicle.


  2.1  The T&G has consistently expressed concerns about the effects of carrier liability on the roles and responsibilities of transport workers "in the front line". Our experience has been that carrier liability results in pressure being placed on transport workers to perform the duties of immigration officers. To date it has been the aviation industry that has been most affected by the carrier liability laws. The T&G and other trade unions representing transport workers have campaigned, through the International Transport Workers' Federation (ITF) to abolish carrier liability laws in those countries around the world who have introduced them.

  2.2  Carrier liability laws have led to transport operators—most notably airlines—acting in a discriminatory manner towards their passengers, placing the finger of suspicion on people based on criteria such as race. They have put cabin crew and other workers in the position of being told to confiscate travel documents, to prevent passengers from disembarking and to undertake other policing activities relating to immigration control.

  2.3  The T&G is therefore most concerned that carrier liability laws are being extended to cover passengers on buses and coaches. This, we believe, will inevitably lead to pressure being placed on bus and coach workers to perform the duties of immigration officers in regard to the passengers they carry.


  3.1  The T&G is extremely concerned about the application of a civil penalty of £2,000 per "clandestine entrant" to the UK, particular in the case of individual drivers of road vehicles.

  3.2  It is widely acknowledged that the perceived problem in this area is clandestine entry to the UK hidden in road haulage vehicles. Although this legislation recognises the possibility that a person can stowaway on all types of vehicle—including buses, coaches and private cars, it will be road haulage drivers that are most likely to find themselves facing such fines.

  3.3  The T&G has made many representations both to the Home Office and to the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions highlighting our concerns over this change in the law. It is our view that adequate legislation already existed to deal with drivers, operators and individuals who are involved in illegal smuggling operations of whatever kind. We believe the best way forward is to enforce this legislation more effectively rather than introduce new penalties for innocent parties.

  3.4  The Home Office appears to recognise that in most cases people are concealed in road haulage vehicles without the knowledge of the driver. Indeed, the T&G understands that the most common way in which people "stow away" in lorries or their loads is through the use of sophisticated methods of opening and resealing trailers whilst on board a ferry, or in parking areas near the ports, when the driver is not with the vehicle. In such circumstances there is no obvious clue to a driver collecting his vehicle that there has been a security breach.

  3.5  Drivers already take their responsibility for the safety and security of their vehicle and load very seriously. But drivers can only be expected to take reasonable steps to ensure that the security of their vehicle is not breached. It is not reasonable to expect a driver to completely unload his vehicle to check there is no-one hidden inside. In addition, drivers are often explicitly required by their employers not to break the seals on their load therefore making checking the contents of the vehicle impossible.

  3.6  We therefore remain concerned, despite the issuing of the Code of Practice, detailing the defences that will be available, that innocent drivers still face the possibility of being fined considerable sums of money, through no fault of their own. We urge the Committee to call for the abolition of civil penalties on individual drivers on the grounds of natural justice.


  4.1  The effect of the carrier liability provision contained in the 1999 Act has been to force transport workers to act as immigration officers in relation to UK border control. It is the role of customs and immigration officers and not transport workers to conduct detailed searches of vehicles, to scrutinise passports or to identify and detain "suspect" passengers.

  4.2  These laws have wider implications relating to the UK's treatment of refugees. Amnesty International has opposed carrier liability laws as they mean that people without proper documentation—a likely situation for a refugee fleeing persecution—do not get the chance to reach an immigration desk where they may apply for political asylum, thereby violating the UN Convention on Refugees.

  4.3  The T&G believes that it is imperative that the UK upholds its tradition of providing a place of safety for those who are fleeing human rights violations in their country of origin. It is also therefore imperative that the UK ensures that its laws do not prevent refugees from ever putting forward their case for asylum. To this end the T&G calls on the Committee to recommend the abolition of civil penalties and carrier liability in relation to UK border control.

7 April 2000

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