Select Committee on Home Affairs Fourth Special Report





The Home Affairs Committee has agreed to the following Special Report:—

We have received the following response from the Home Office to our First Report, HC 163, Session 2000-01, on Border Controls.


1. The Government welcomes this report and the endorsement it gives both to the concept of border controls, which are central to the Government's policy on controlling immigration, and to the recent initiatives to increase their effectiveness.

2. The inquiry has centred on the deterrence and detection of illegal entrants, responsibility for which falls largely to the Immigration Service as part of the Immigration and Nationality Directorate (IND), but has also encompassed the work of HM Customs & Excise and Police at UK borders. The three agencies work closely together both on a strategic and operational level, and have reviewed the recommendations made by the Committee collectively.

3. This memorandum responds to each of the recommendations individually and in chronological order except where obvious linkages make it sensible to take a number of recommendations together. As requested in a letter of 1 February from the Clerk of the Committee to the Director General of Immigration and Nationality Directorate, Mr Stephen Boys Smith, the suggestion made within the report (paragraph 87) for a review of the case for and against the introduction of an entitlement card system has also been addressed.

Recommendation 1

The Government should examine the 'pull' factors (set out in paragraph 10 above) to see which ones they can legitimately influence. (paragraph 19).

4. The Government acknowledges that there are benefits from such an examination. Indeed, the Home Office is currently conducting three research projects, which address the need for greater understanding of why individuals seek asylum in the UK. The first project explores why asylum seekers choose to migrate to one destination rather than another, using the UK as a case study and taking into account aspects such as the individual's perception of Britain. The second and third projects are feasibility studies, one of which examines asylum policies and practices in the EU and assesses their impact on asylum applications; and the other of which focuses on the social and information networks of asylum seekers.

Recommendation 2

We welcome the wider debate about immigration policy as a timely reminder that there is a broader context, including employment policy, in which border controls should be seen. There should be a known and clear policy on which immigrants, if any, the country wants to encourage to meet labour shortages and demographic changes (paragraph 24).

5. The Government welcomes the Committee's recognition of its initiation of a wider debate on immigration and fully supports the call for clear policies towards those seeking to work in the UK.

6. The main route of entry to the UK for employment is our long-standing work permit system, allowing employers themselves to match the person to a job vacancy. The Government recognises that certain employment sectors suffer acute shortages and has accordingly simplified the process for employers seeking to recruit foreign nationals for such jobs. The system is clear

and is generally popular with employers - as evidenced by customer surveys and the increase in the number of work permit applications. The scheme allows companies to find the right person for their needs whilst safeguarding the existing labour force.

7. The Government also recognises the particular contribution which highly talented individuals can make to the "knowledge economy". It has implemented a pilot programme to enable people with innovative business ideas to come to the UK to set up businesses and is developing a programme to enable those with specialist knowledge or skills to come to the UK to seek work.

8. In addition, the Government is undertaking a programme of research to inform policy development in this area, including research on the impact of migration on particular groups of native workers, local area impacts, the illegal population and the impacts of migration on source countries.

9. The Government considers it important to emphasise that immigration is not the only solution to labour shortages and demographic changes. There are a number of possible ways of addressing these issues, including increasing labour market participation and increasing the skills of the existing population through training and increased productivity.

Recommendation 3

We conclude that measures to counter trafficking in illegal immigrants require similar tactics to those used against drug smuggling -international co-operation, tackling the problem close to the source and aiming to disrupt the business. Border agencies should have the necessary gateways to operate joint intelligence cells and allow closer operational arrangements to counter the displacement element of more effective controls (paragraph 31).

10. The Government agrees that the tactics used to combat drug trafficking can be successfully applied to people smuggling and trafficking and is pursuing this goal. Project Reflex, set up in May 2000 in response to increasing organised criminal involvement in illegal immigration, takes a similar approach to the Customs-led Concerted Inter-Agency Drugs Action group which is working to reduce the availability of Class A drugs in the UK. Project Reflex, led by the Director-General of the National Crime Squad, includes representatives from all relevant law enforcement agencies (including the Immigration Service) as well as the Security and Intelligence agencies. All operational activity targeted against serious and organised criminal involvement in illegal immigration is now co-ordinated through Project Reflex.

11. The Government provided additional funding for Project Reflex (£2m) which has enabled the National Crime Squad (NCS) and other police groups to take forward additional operational activity against identified targets. In addition, Immigration Liaison Officers (ILOs) are being posted to key pressure points on the main trafficking routes to gather intelligence and to encourage and co-ordinate activity with local law enforcement agencies. An existing ILO post with the French Border Police (PAF) plays an important role in exchanging intelligence and in co-ordinating operations against organised immigrant smuggling between France and the UK. Studies to assess the extent of the problem are being undertaken in the Balkans and the Far East.

12. An exercise is also underway to set up a joint-agency operational team whose remit will be to take forward investigations to disrupt and prosecute organised crime groups involved in people smuggling and trafficking. The team will bring together officers from the National Crime Squad and the Immigration Service, supported by dedicated links to the intelligence agencies and NCIS. The team should be operational by the end of 2001.

13. The Government is also strongly committed to the use of the National Intelligence Model developed by NCIS for use by all police forces to standardise and protect the gathering and exchange of intelligence material, throughout the Immigration Service. Joint intelligence cells to support the move towards intelligence-led controls are being created within each Immigration Service region. Many are already established and working. The statutory gateways put in place by Section 21 of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999 enable the Immigration Service to share information it has collected for its own purposes with Customs, the police and other agencies, where that information is also required for their purposes.

Recommendation 4

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 (paragraph 39).

14. The Government agrees that there should be close co-operation between the border agencies and port operators and there are many examples of such co-operation on a national and local level. It is already the policy of the control authorities to consult with industry on relevant issues, as illustrated by the consultation processes established in connection with the implementation of provisions within the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999.

15. With particular regard to the design of new terminals, there is already evidence of close co-operation between border agencies and port operators. As an example, British Airport Authority's (BAA) outline proposals for a new Heathrow terminal are well advanced and, as part of the planning process, meetings have been held between BAA, the Immigration Service, Customs and Excise and the Police to determine requirements.

16. Discussions are at a very early stage, but a workshop involving BAA and the control authorities has now been established. The scope for sharing office accommodation and other facilities, such as interview rooms, rest rooms and toilets is being examined by the control authorities.

Recommendation 5

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. (paragraph 51).

17. The Government considers that the establishment of the juxtaposed controls on Eurostar services from France will make a significant contribution to the reduction of inadequately documented passengers arriving in the United Kingdom at Waterloo.

18. The ratification process, which will introduce the necessary legislative framework in both the United Kingdom and France, is under way. In the United Kingdom that process should be complete by Easter. In France we understand that the process will be complete by late Spring/early Summer 2001. As soon as the legislative framework is in place it is intended to deploy UK Immigration Service staff at Eurostar stations in France. Meanwhile a considerable amount of detailed discussion is taking place on a regular basis with French colleagues in a variety of agencies, particularly the Police Aux Frontieres (PAF) and SNCF the French train operator.

19. The subject of illegal immigration was central to discussions at the UK -French Summit in Cahors on 9 February. The French Government now plans to introduce into their domestic legislation powers to require passengers on the Eurostar domestic service from Paris to Calais to be documented for travel to the UK. More than half of the inadequately documented arrivals at Waterloo arrive by these three daily services. Currently passengers travelling only the domestic leg are not subject under French domestic law to any document check when they embark on that internal journey. Many are intent on travel to the UK and simply remain on the train through to London. It is understood that under French law there is no power to enable train crew or French police to set passengers with inadequate ticketing down from the train. The undertaking to introduce new legislation in France to plug that loophole is most welcome and it is understood that this legislation will be ratified concurrently with the Additional Protocol. If that proposal receives approval in the French Parliament, draft legislation in the UK, currently laid before Parliament, makes provision for examination of all passengers wishing to board the Eurostar in France as persons seeking entry to the UK, regardless of the destination shown on their ticket. With these measures in place the introduction of juxtaposed controls, planned for early June, will have the maximum impact on the numbers of inadequately documented arrivals by Eurostar.

20. An agreement has recently been signed between the Governments of the Czech Republic and United Kingdom to allow the operation of a pre-clearance immigration control by UK immigration officers in Prague airport. The legal framework and operational arrangements are now in place to implement the system. We are currently monitoring passenger traffic from the Czech Republic to inform decisions on the timing of implementation of the scheme.

21. It is not envisaged that pre-clearance immigration controls in Prague will be a permanent fixture. The scheme is designed as a flexible and responsive measure to tackle the problem of inadmissible and inadequately documented passengers arriving from the Czech Republic. Under the scheme all passengers travelling from Prague Airport would be required to see a UK immigration officer before checking in for a direct flight to the UK. When implemented the immigration officer has powers to grant or refuse leave to enter the United Kingdom at that point.

Recommendation 6

We welcome the increased co-operation 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. (paragraph 52).

22. The Government welcomes the report's recognition of the continuing dialogue between the British and French authorities. The UK-French Summit of 9 February agreed the establishment of a Cross Channel Commission to tackle immigration issues. Regular contact is maintained between the Deputy Director General (Operations) of the Immigration and Nationality Directorate and his counterpart, the Head of the Police aux Frontieres (PAF) in Paris. Relationships have been built between officials beneath this central contact to deliver closer operational working over a range of issues.

23. Discussion with French authorities, Sous Prefet, PAF and Calais Chamber of Commerce at local level (Pas de Calais) assisted in the establishment of checks by ferry operators on the basis of conditions of carriage. This has led to a significant overall reduction in the number of clandestine entrants and undocumented passengers encountered in the Dover area, with local figures suggesting a drop of some 37% in the twelve week period following commencement of the checks compared with a similar period before they began.

24. Daily operational contact includes agreed exchange of information on clandestine entry, local intelligence on those identified and prosecuted for facilitation and the operational implementation of the gentlemen's agreement for non asylum cases. Agreement of the French authorities has been secured to the deployment of immigration officers on British ships to assist carriers in prevention of boarding of clandestine entrants. This has been of significant value and is now complementary to the P&O Stena Line pre-boarding checks. The Assistant Director of the Immigration Service, South East District has agreed formal bi-monthly meetings with the Departmental Director of PAF to address all co-operation issues. Weekly meetings are held between the PAF and the Immigration Service in Coquelles to intensify contact and to resolve operational problems at the British control zone in Coquelles.

25. Short attachments have been agreed in principle for UK staff to work with the PAF in Calais and for PAF officers to work with the Immigration Service at Dover. The recent displacement of some flows of clandestine entrants to the Coquelles site has prompted further co-operative action. The French Government has provided a positive approach to the escalating problem of illegal entry on Eurotunnel freight shuttles. The Prefet for Pas de Calais has been personally charged with securing security improvements and Eurotunnel have responded promptly to his requirement that an inner security zone be created around the platform areas.

26. Wider intelligence activity to counter clandestine entry is conducted with the PAF.

Through the Immigration Service Liaison Officer (ILO) at the Headquarters of the PAF in Paris, IND Intelligence Section has been involved in some 12 major investigations during the year 2000 which were focused on major illegal immigration networks moving people between France and the United Kingdom. Many of these had a multi-agency aspect on the British side involving Facilitation Support Unit (FSU) at Dover; National Criminal Intelligence Service (NCIS); or the National Crime Squad (NCS). On the French side the lead is taken by the Office Centrale pour la Repression de l'Immigration Illegale and de l'Emploi des personnes Sans Titres (OCRIEST) - the investigative, operational arm of the PAF.

27. Alongside the long running working with the PAF and OCRIEST, the rising profile of illegal immigration and the movement of some of the illegal immigration traffic from the Calais area towards other ports on the French Channel coast is broadening the extent of co-operation to include other French law enforcement agencies - Gendarmerie Nationale and French Customs. There is also contact with specialist police teams in the Paris area looking at illegal immigration networks.

28. The ILO regularly exchanges intelligence in respect of all aspects of illegal immigration between the France and the UK and, in addition to his contacts with law enforcement agencies, he is increasingly in touch with prefectures and sous-prefectures on matters of mutual interest in the context of immigration abuse. The Immigration Service National Forgery Section (ISNFS) also maintains regular liaison with its opposite numbers in the PAF on issues of mutual interest involving forged and falsified travel documents.

Recommendation 7

We welcome this significant increase in resources for the Immigration Service. We recognise, however, that the sharp increase in asylum applicants makes that increased funding essential and we believe that it must be sustained. (paragraph 57).

29. The Government welcomes the Committee's acknowledgement of the significant increases in funds it has allocated to immigration work. The Immigration Service has secured sufficient funding to ensure that the recent increase in staffing resources can be maintained until at least 2004, this being the period covered by the recent spending review.

Recommendation 8

The new powers for the Immigration Service -to work more flexibly, to be intelligence-led and to concentrate their resources on the arrivals who pose the highest risk -are welcome, but it is too early to judge their efficiency in the use of resources or its effectiveness in detecting and deterring illegal entry (paragraph 59).

30. The Government welcomes the Committee's endorsement of its initiative to introduce intelligence-led controls and a more flexible way of working to the Immigration Service. The "Resourcing to Risk Project" (RRP) will introduce the National Intelligence Model throughout the Immigration Service, and it is anticipated that during the course of this year intelligence units will be established in every Command. RRP is also currently co-ordinating the development of pilot exercises based on the provision of passenger information. Expedited clearance based on Advance Passenger Information is being trialled with a view to facilitating low risk passengers, while exercises based on access to Passenger Name Records will enhance the intelligence effort.

Recommendation 9

We conclude that the Home Office has been dilatory in enforcing the removal of people whose asylum claims have been refused and others who have gained illegal entry to the UK. This in itself has attracted more people to the UK. The additional resources being committed to enforcement are welcome. The target of 30,000 removals in 2001-02- a ten-fold increase over the 1999 figure -seems a very ambitious goal. (paragraph 69).

31. The Government rejects the suggestion that the Home Office has been dilatory in enforcing the removal of people whose asylum applications have been refused and others who have gained illegal entry to the United Kingdom. Over 7,600 failed asylum seekers were removed or departed voluntarily in 1999 and provisional figures for the whole of 2000 show just under 9,000 asylum removals; both of these figures are records. In addition, the target to remove 3500 non asylum-seeking offenders has been significantly exceeded, with provisional figures suggesting that approximately 6000 will have been removed by the end of the financial year. But the Government is aware that there is more that needs to be done to meet the ambitious targets of removing 12,000 failed asylum seekers in 2000/2001, and 30,000 in 2001/02, moving to 33,000 in 2002/03, and to 37,000 in 2003/04. The targets from 2001-2 onwards include dependants, which gives a more accurate picture of the numbers being removed from the UK as a result of refused asylum applications. The target represents a major increase in removals, to a level not previously contemplated. Resources for removals and detention are being correspondingly increased. Provisional figures also show that, for the year 2000, an overall total of 46,600 persons were removed from the United Kingdom, an increase of almost 9,000 over 1999. This figure is made up of both asylum and non-asylum cases and, unlike those given above, includes those refused leave to enter at the port of arrival.

32. A scheme is being piloted under which specially trained immigration officers, using the powers of arrest, search and seizure provided to immigration officers under the 1999 Immigration and Asylum Act are tracing and effecting the arrest of immigration offenders without the assistance of the police. A major expansion of the immigration detention estate is also being implemented in order to support the removals programme. This will be used to house those asylum seekers whose applications have failed and who have reached the end of the process, those with manifestly unfounded claims, and those with a history of abusing the immigration laws. The Government plans to set up a national network of reporting centres in main population and dispersal areas, with the aim of ensuring that checks are kept on every applicant until such time as they are either allowed to stay or removed from the UK. In addition, the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999 has allowed for those found to be in breach of their conditions of leave to enter or remain to be administratively removed from the United Kingdom, avoiding the necessity of implementing the long and complicated deportation process.

33. Other measures that the Government is planning include the establishment, within each immigration law enforcement office, of teams to ensure the speedy removal of any families whose asylum applications have failed, as well as using charter flights where appropriate to remove groups of a like nationality to a common destination where the availability of airline seats is limited.

Recommendation 10

It remains to be seen what effect the civil penalty will have in the medium term in encouraging lorry owners and drivers to take more care to prevent illegal entry on their vehicles. We welcome the steps taken by P&O Stena Line at Calais and Zeebrugge to detect and deter illegal entrants before they board ferries. It is too early to judge whether those who traffick in human beings have been deterred or merely displaced to other methods and routes. We believe the independence of the appeal system for carriers' liability should be reviewed (paragraph 73).

34. The Government welcomes the Committee's support for the measures introduced by the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999 to reduce the numbers of people travelling to the UK illegally concealed in road haulage and other vehicles.

35. Although the civil penalty provisions have been in force for less than a year, the Government believes that they have already been instrumental in helping to stem the continuing rise in clandestine entry that was evident prior to their introduction, and that they have encouraged all areas of the transport industry to introduce security measures to counter this traffic, such as those implemented by P&O Stena Line in Calais and Zeebrugge, and by the Calais Chamber of Commerce.

36. The Government also welcomes the increased level of dialogue with the representative bodies of the road haulage industry, and the encouragement they give to their members to adopt measures that safeguard their vehicles against unauthorised entry.

37. The Government accepts that there has been some displacement to other methods and routes of entry, notably onto rail freight services between Frethun and Dollands Moor. Because of this the Civil Penalty provisions of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999 were extended to rail freight on 1st March 2001.

38. The Government shares the Committee's views on the importance of collecting penalties where notices of objection have been considered and rejected. Whilst we hope that outstanding monies will be quickly paid, we shall not hesitate to take legal action for the recovery of debt, and indeed have already taken this course in a number of cases.

39. The Government notes the Committee's recommendation that the independence of the appeal system for (carrier's liability) civil penalty should be reviewed. However for the following reasons we do not intend to change the system in place for the time being.

_  The system was only recently set in place having been sanctioned by Parliament. It should be given sufficient time to operate in its present form before considering whether changes may be needed.

_  The legislation was drafted with the aim of making the process of objecting to a penalty notice a simple one that enables persons to show at an early stage why they should not be liable to a penalty. A penalty cannot be enforced without Court proceedings, at which stage the case will be considered in full by an independent tribunal, namely the court.

_  Objections against the imposition of a penalty are considered impartially by a separate unit taking into account all of the facts of the case. This is demonstrated by the fact that in some 10% of the cases considered so far, the penalty has been withdrawn.

Recommendations 11-14

While we have seen some examples of joint working and heard of improvements in co-operation between the different border agencies, we are convinced that considerably more should be done to improve joined-up working between the different government agencies operating at UK ports. Immediate steps should be taken to increase the number of cross-postings or secondments between staff of the different border agencies and sharing of office accommodation and computer systems to supplement at day-to-day level what is being done at the level of national management. The Immigration Service could benefit from a joint national database with Customs and police to check information within seconds. (paragraph 106).

We recommend that the continuing barriers to effective data collection and sharing between the border agencies should be urgently reviewed jointly by Home Office and Treasury (for Customs) Ministers. The Border Control Working Group should agree a joint information requirement to avoid duplication of demands for commercial information from carrying companies (paragraph 107).

We recommend that the differing powers of immigration officers, customs officers and police officers should be reviewed jointly by Home Office and Treasury (for Customs) Ministers, with the aim of providing a common power of examination and achieving inter-operability between officials working at borders (paragraph 108).

We recommend that existing border control agencies should be combined into a single frontier force on the basis of secondment and direct employment, but with clear lines of communication back to the parent agencies. Pending the creation of a single frontier force, strategic co-direction of better joint working should be provided by a ministerial group to which the official Border Agencies Directors Group should report at least four times a year (paragraph 109).

40. The Government is always willing to look at methods by which even closer working relationships between the border agencies can be achieved and duplication of effort can be avoided. The report acknowledges the very effective joint working and combined successful operations already in place. In addition, plans to increase the number of joint intelligence cells, (referred to in paragraph 13) are being advanced, with the Immigration Service working towards at least one such cell being established in each of its regions. This work is underpinned by the Border Agencies Working Group, which was established to promote the development of effective co-operation.

41. To promote better understanding, cross-postings between the agencies have been effected, including the Director of the Immigration Service and most recently a middle manager who has been appointed at Dover both of whom are on secondment from HM Customs & Excise. There is also a continuing commitment from each of the agencies to provide staff on secondment to NCIS to support and develop the multi-agency approach to intelligence.

42. In terms of accommodation, the Immigration Service is currently leading a study of the extent to which such office facilities are currently shared by the agencies with a view to identifying good practice and increasing the level of sharing at existing and new sites.

43. The report refers to the sharing of computer systems and of data. The Immigration & Asylum Act 1999 provides statutory gateways to enable the Immigration and Nationality Directorate (IND) to share information gained for specified purposes with chief officers of police, HM Customs & Excise, NCIS and National Crime Squads. IND also participates in the Inter Departmental Data Sharing Group, chaired by HM Customs & Excise, which explores practical opportunities for data sharing across government. Additionally, the Performance and Innovation Unit of the Cabinet Office is taking forward a project on privacy and data sharing within government.

44. The report recommends inter-operability and a single frontier force. The government understands the underlying aim to improve efficiency behind the recommendation, but remains to be persuaded that a single frontier force would necessarily bring the benefits being sought. In its evidence of September 2000 the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) points to the cost benefits of moving in such a direction being unclear, and also to the most recent review carried out on behalf of the relevant agencies in Jersey, which concluded that cost savings from unification there were unlikely to be significant. In terms of effectiveness, each of the agencies has a defined role, supported by different and complex legal and administrative frameworks. The current split of responsibilities ensures that each agency's priorities can be given appropriate focus. For a change of such magnitude there would need to be clearly identifiable and significant benefits. The report recognises the disruption which would be caused by the creation of such a unified body and provides possible compromise solutions. The government acknowledges that some such solutions might benefit from more consideration than the time constraints surrounding this response allow, and is looking to the relevant departments to take this forward.

Recommendation 15

The Immigration Service cannot do its job without modern equipment, both for detection and for identification. There should be a more active approach both to researching potentially useful technologies and applying the experience of other countries. (paragraph 116).

45. The Government recognises the value of modern technology in the context of immigration control and the need for a pro-active approach to its research. The Immigration Service has for several years been seeking techniques for the effective detection of clandestine illegal entrants hidden inside vehicles and containers. Until recently, no such technology existed which was both cost effective and sufficiently reliable for immigration purposes at ports. The Immigration Service now works closely with the Police Scientific Development Branch (which evaluates law enforcement and prison technology), and with other law-enforcement agencies, both in the UK and abroad.

46. Technical devices are often developed for specific well-controlled applications and are not easily adapted for continual use in adverse environments - such as seaports. The intelligent use of such devices could bring significant benefits (e.g. "heartbeat" detectors employed on vehicles prior to embarkation to the UK) but their undirected use would be unlikely to represent an efficient use of resources. Deployment of such technical devices is currently the subject of detailed consideration by the Immigration Service.

Recommendation 16.

We recommend that the Government should explore the possibility of a joint budget for advanced technology projects for border agencies in the same way as a joint reserve fund has been arranged for the three departments involved in the criminal justice system. The border agencies should identify technology they would like to use, produce specifications for future needs and encourage companies to develop the necessary equipment for use in the UK and elsewhere. (paragraph 117).

47. The Government will always look at funding arrangements to promote development of effective technical solutions. It recognises the importance of looking beyond departmental boundaries to ensure that projects and needs are co-ordinated. Departments are already encouraged to work in partnership and to bid for innovative technology jointly through funding mechanisms such as the Capital Modernisation Fund. The Immigration and Nationality Directorate is fully engaged in that process. The Immigration Service works in co-operation with manufacturers and research organisations such as the Police Scientific Development Branch and the Defence Evaluation and Research Agency.

48. The Immigration Service is currently examining the scope for deployment of technology to assist in detection of concealed persons in cross Channel transport. Detailed consideration is being given to the deployment of scanners (or alternative technology) for example, in the British control zone in Coquelles and, subject to agreement with partners, in Nord Pas de Calais. The border agencies are working together to develop a protocol on access to x-ray scanners.

49. The Immigration Service and Customs and Excise also participate in the Simplifying Passenger Travel Interest Group (SPT). The Immigration Service has a place on the SPT Board as a representative of the control authorities working group. SPT is a joint initiative of a number of organisations representing airlines, airports, control authorities, passengers and broad government interests to improve passenger satisfaction and ensure that growth in air travel is not handicapped by congestion and delay in passenger handling. The SPT vision statement is reproduced below. Technology suppliers, primarily operating in the biometric field, are also part of the initiative.

50. The SPT group has recently completed a sectoral analysis of passenger movement from three perspectives: airports, airlines and control authorities. It is now moving forward to consider practical application of the theoretical process analysis through a series of pilot projects. In support of this, the United Kingdom has recently formed a regional sub group consisting of BAA, British Airways, Virgin Atlantic Airways and the Immigration Service to consider, in conjunction with appropriate technology suppliers, the feasibility of conducting a trial in the UK later this year using technology to expedite the arrivals process on a selected group of low risk passengers.

  • The SPT vision statement is

    "Passengers, equipped with a multi functional smart card (or other device) including a biometric ID, provide information in a "one stop" check process which, together with other information generated from the journey and shared between all involved parties, would facilitate subsequent processing and allow control to be effected on a risk assessment basis."

Recommendation 17

The lack of sufficient information and communications technology in the Immigration Service should be addressed urgently. The under-investment in such technology has undoubtedly caused difficulties in maintaining effective border controls (paragraph 123).

51. The Government recognises the need for effective use of information and communication technology in the Immigration Service. Considerable progress has been made recently in this area with POISE, the Home Office Corporate IT system, having been made available to 3450 Immigration Service staff by the end of February 2001. Access to POISE for all IS staff is targeted for the end of 2001. POISE allows staff access to email and more modern IT tools, and now also provides access to Immigration Service caseworking systems.

52. The Warnings Index computer system is the primary tool for providing information to staff operating the immigration entry control as well as overseas in visa issuing offices. Work is ongoing to redevelop this system. Currently all IS staff at control points have access to the Warnings Index.

53. CCTV at ports is currently a mixture of systems installed at different stages to meet individual user requirements. The control authorities have agreed a user specification for an integrated CCTV system at ports, and proposals for taking the issue forward are currently under consideration.

Recommendation 18

We recommend that, as progressively a higher proportion of UK passports are in the new (post 1998) format, the Passport Application Support System should be made available at ports to allow the Immigration Service to call up the original photograph submitted with a UK passport as a protection against passport forgery. (paragraph 124).

54. The Government recognises the benefits of the availability of such technology at ports of entry. The Immigration Service National Forgery Section (ISNFS) is currently negotiating with the United Kingdom Passport Agency (UKPA) the possibility of installing PASS at all major ports of arrival and the cost and practical installation implications are being explored. United Kingdom passport abuse is a serious problem and although the new British passport is proving to be very secure, some examples of forgery inevitably occur. The Government believes that it is important to use all available tools not only in anticipation of future fraud but also to assist in countering existing abuse of older style United Kingdom passports.

55. The PASS system is installed at the Immigration Service National Forgery Section and is already proving an invaluable checking source for enquiries about UK passports. The scope of the system goes beyond simple verification of new style United Kingdom passports. ISNFS and UKPA are currently looking at ways to broaden the scope of the system and data contained on it to make it even more valuable in the fight against abuse of all types of United Kingdom passport.

Recommendation 19

The United Kingdom should continue its long and honourable tradition of giving asylum to those genuinely escaping persecution. This responsibility should be shared, as now, with other democracies (paragraph 154).

56. The Government agrees with this recommendation. It remains committed to the principles of the 1951 Convention, as reaffirmed by EU Member States at the Special European Council in Tampere in October 1999. The Government also agrees that the responsibility for providing asylum to those who are genuinely escaping persecution should continue to be shared with other democracies. The Home Secretary 's speech to the European Conference on Asylum in Lisbon in June 2000 set out a range of proposals aimed at achieving a better, more effectively managed international protection regime. The Home Secretary's speeches in Lisbon last June, and also more recently to the IPPR on 6 February 2001, emphasised the need for all EU States to work collectively to help achieve this.

Recommendation 20

Most important of all, there should be international action led by EU countries to support countries near areas of conflict in accommodating refugees. (Paragraph 155).

57. The Government agrees that the balance of effort between spending in the regions of origin, and spending on assessing claims in receiving countries, is currently wrong, and this is something which it is seeking to address. The majority of the world's refugees live in areas neighbouring their homelands, and it follows that the main focus of the international community's protection efforts should be on these areas. The idea that EU and other developed countries should invest more in accommodating refugees in the regions of origin is one of the package of long-term measures that the Home Secretary proposed at Lisbon in June 2000, and reiterated in his IPPR speech in February. This is one of the issues, which will be looked at as part of UNHCR's global consultations on international protection. The UK is participating fully in these consultations, which provide an opportunity to discuss these ideas and issues with international partners, including UNHCR, and countries which host the majority of the world's refugees.

Recommendation 21

Improving the speed and quality of the asylum decision-making process should ease some of the problems associated with the operation of the 1951 Convention. Rather than changing the 1951 Convention, action within the European Union presents the most immediate international prospect of the UK meeting its obligations to those seeking asylum in a more efficient way. The Dublin Convention should be revised as soon as possible. The basic principle should be that asylum applications should be made in the first EU country reached. Any subsequent EU country to which the applicant travels should have the right to insist that the application for asylum be made in the previous country, except in those cases where the applicant has valid grounds, such as a visa or immediate family already settled, for making the application in the subsequent country. There should be no need for the Red Cross centre at Sangatte to house hundreds of people near Calais as a base for making repeated attempts to enter the UK (paragraph 156).

58. The Government agrees with the Committee's view that the Dublin Convention should be revised as soon as possible, as it is not working as it should and has taken the lead in pressing for action within the EU's Justice and Home Affairs Council. The Dublin procedures are often slow and cumbersome and are not delivering effective results.

59. Article 63 of the Treaty of Amsterdam requires the adoption of First Pillar measures in the field of asylum, including a new mechanism for determining which Member State is responsible for consideration of an application for asylum. This mechanism will replace the Dublin Convention. The Commission is expected to produce a draft proposal for this measure in the spring, under the current Swedish Presidency. EU-wide discussions on the successor to Dublin will then begin in earnest. The Government welcomes the Committee's view on the scope of any new system and will give further careful consideration to the points made in the context of the negotiations for the replacement of the Dublin Convention.

Recommendation 22

The 1951 UN Convention on the Status of Refugees should be updated to reflect changes over the past fifty years. We recognise that this cannot be done in the short-term but, given the unrelenting pressure, we do think that the way the 1951 Convention is interpreted in modern circumstances needs to be clarified urgently. In particular we ask whether people fleeing persecution in their own country should be found refuge in nearby safe countries rather than in countries far away. The most immediate task is to improve the procedures for handling refugees, in line with the Home Secretary's Lisbon proposals, in terms of swift identification of genuine refugees, treatment of refugee and asylum issues in the regions where they occur, examining the factors which cause migration and the EU categorising other countries according to the level of persecution or safety (paragraph 157).

60. The Government does not believe that rewriting the 1951 Convention is a practical proposition. We are fully committed to its principles, but we agree that measures need to be taken to ensure that the Convention can operate effectively in today's world, which is much changed from the world in which the Convention was framed. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is currently carrying out a process of global consultations in this anniversary year of the Convention. The Government is contributing to these consultations, which seek, among other things, to identify problems and gaps with the operation of the Convention. The UK and other like-minded countries are making sure that concerns such as those expressed in this recommendation are fed into the consultation process.

61. Procedures for handling asylum applications are the subject of a draft EU Directive drawn up as required by the Treaty of Amsterdam. This Directive is part of work towards establishing minimum standards for EU asylum processes and procedures, and ultimately establishing a common European asylum system. This is the context within which the government is developing the proposals outlined by the Home Secretary at Lisbon.

62. In terms of swifter procedures for handling asylum applications, IND is on course to meet the target (set out in the 1998 White Paper) of making most initial decisions in new substantive asylum applications within 2 months by April this year. This is more ambitious than envisaged by the draft Directive on procedures.

63. The Home Office is currently conducting three research projects, which address the need for greater understanding of why individuals seek asylum in the UK. More details are included in the response to recommendation number 1 above.


64. The Home Secretary would also like to take this opportunity to correct an error which was made during the oral evidence session with him on 7 November 2000, and which was reproduced as section 142 of the report. Reference was made to "a gentleman's agreement between France and Belgium which ended in 1997". In fact this was incorrect. There has never been a gentlemen's agreement with Belgium, although one has existed with France since April 1995. For the removal of asylum seekers it was superseded by the provisions of the Dublin Convention, which came into force in the UK on 1 September 1997.

Suggestion- paragraph 87

We therefore suggest that the Government consider a fundamental review - across all Departments - of the case for and against the introduction of an entitlement card system. Any such review should specifically address the issue as to whether there are potential benefits which could accrue from the introduction of some sort of entitlement card system without undermining individual or good race relations. It would need to consult a whole range of organisations, including those involved with community and race relations as well as individual liberty, for the reasons outlined above. It should also be borne in mind that criminal gangs involved in illegal immigration would no doubt try to produce fake or bogus cards.

65. The Government recognises the arguments - in terms of the prevention of fraud and related crime - for the introduction of a system of entitlement cards, which might be used to access a range of Government services. But it has identified some significant drawbacks with this type of scheme which are summarised below. It therefore remains unpersuaded that there would be benefit in a review of the kind proposed.

66. Security. The suggested range of Government services that would be accessed by the proposed entitlement cards is so great that the cards would need a large data storage capacity that would require encryption technology such as integrated circuits (chips) or optical stripes. Comprehensive data sharing arrangements would also be required between all Departments controlling services accessed by the entitlement card and with the card- issuing Department, a very complex task.

67. As it would be the gateway to a range of services an entitlement card would carry the potential for considerable fraud. It would therefore require an optimum level of security, at all stages. Registration would need to be a most thorough process, involving stringent verification checks on the applicant's eligibility, not only in respect of identity but also of entitlement to each of the Government (or other) services offered. At the same time a quick and reliable issue/replacement system would be essential given that individuals would be dependent on the cards for benefits and services. At the delivery stage the only certain means of enhancing security would be the inclusion of a combination of one or more biometric verification features such as machine checkable facial image, iris recognition or fingerprint. But the technology in this area is complex and universally agreed standards of verification are not yet available.

68. Civil liberties. The Government believes that a card of this kind would raise issues of public acceptability, particularly if access to Government services were dependent on its production. Any card containing encrypted data and/or biometric features could result in civil liberties objections even if the card was only issued on a voluntary basis. There could also be fears that a voluntary card would not stay voluntary. An entitlement card that had to be produced for all benefits and services would risk being seen as a compulsory identity card. ACPO has previously expressed concerns about the effect of a compulsory identity scheme on police/ community relations. Entitlement cards could give rise to similar difficulties, fuelling suspicions about the uses to which they might be put.

69. Costs. The cost of setting up and maintaining high security verification, high technology entitlement scheme would be considerable. This would need to include provision of card- holder verification technology at all service delivery points. This would result in a high cost in Government expenditure and/or a very high registration fee for the customer.

26 March 2001

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