Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 160-176)



  160. So he is a member of the Port Health Authority?
  (Mr Young) Absolutely, yes. He liaises with Customs to check their availability. We have also, to try and keep it as joined up as possible, had the Plant Health and Seeds Inspectorate in on some of them as well.

  161. So one of your colleagues rings round and says "Is it possible? Have you got people available on this particular day?"
  (Mr Young) That is exactly how it works, yes.

  162. You act on the basis of some intelligence, really, that these are the flights where you think there might be problems?
  (Mr Young) Yes.

Mr Martlew

  163. What good is all this, because on the other 335 days a year there is no check at all?
  (Mr Young) That is absolutely right, but I think we are realistic in knowing that whatever resources you put in you will never stop every single illegal import coming into the country—any more than the smuggling of any other goods has ever been able to be stopped. I think what it does do is it raises the profile with the travelling public that they may well be subject to checks as they come in, and, in fact, that it is illegal to bring the products in, which I do not think the travelling public realise well enough at the moment.

  164. There appears to be no penalty, at the moment.
  (Mr Young) There is no penalty at the moment, other than a prosecution.

  165. On how many of these 30 days did you take out prosecutions on individuals?
  (Mr Young) On none of them.

  166. There was no prosecution at all?
  (Mr Young) No.

Mr Breed

  167. As it happens, I have just got a letter from the Minister about this and, amongst other things, he says "We recognise that public awareness of our controls must be improved, both in this country and abroad". How do you think that could be done?
  (Mr Young) They have already been doing some things. They have produced posters that have gone up at all the airports now in the arrivals areas and baggage reclaims. Those posters are up. I think, also, there is a lot more work that could be done with the airlines themselves. All the people coming in are the customers of the airlines and I think the airlines—and possibly even travel organisations—could have a role in ensuring that people are aware of the controls. They do on duty-free allowances so why not for products of animal origin?

  168. So it would not be a very difficult thing to do, you do not think?
  (Mr Young) I do not envisage it would be terribly difficult, provided that the airlines are prepared to come on board.

  169. Posters are a good thing—and a few amnesty bins. Would that be a major problem to organise?
  (Mr Young) I do not think actually providing the bins would be a major problem, but there may be other issues that might it make it more difficult in terms of security and what else might get thrown in amnesty bins.

  170. You check everything going on to the aircraft; we go through the most extraordinary procedures now before we get on, with the luggage and the people and everything else. Assuming, therefore, that everything has been checked before it goes on, it would be pretty extraordinary if they managed to then take something off and throw something with some security problem into a bin. All I am trying to say is that what those of us who have been abroad recently have felt to be pretty common-sense, pretty simple and hardly the most costly, things could be done and could be introduced without the paraphernalia of great discussions etc. We are talking about some nice big posters and a few bins which should, at least, make some contribution to telling people that if they are accidentally bringing something in which they did not realise, they could then be warned about the fact and dispose of it before they actually get through. That, to my mind, seems very, very simple, very, very cheap and could be introduced like that! Still, here, after all these months, we are still thinking about it, we are still wondering "Is it a good idea". I just want you to tell me that you think there is no great problem in doing it.
  (Mr Young) I would agree with you that, on the face of it, it does seem a very simple thing to do and could be introduced very quickly. All I would say is that I do know that airports and the aviation industry in general is a very, very complex industry, and to get any poster of any sort up at an airport, with so many different companies involved, is actually more complicated than it at first seems.

Mr Drew

  171. I am sorry for coming in late and apologise if you have covered this. I just wonder, do you actually inspect the export of goods or the export of people in the hope that that would also happen in other parts of the world? I think the trouble with this is that if you just rely on trying to stop people coming into the country, it may be that you are missing the trick at least in having a double search—ie, a search at the point of exit. Plus, there is a fair chance that information is going to be much more readily available within your country as against from what is coming from without. I just wonder what happens in terms of seeing who is going out of the country and what are they going out with before they get to another country? Do you do that sort of thing?
  (Mr Bloomfield) No.

  172. Not at all?
  (Mr Bloomfield) No. Legal exports of animal products are very strictly controlled: they are certified by official veterinary surgeons and they are sealed in containers using numbered seals, so those sorts of legal exports are very closely controlled, but in terms of checking people's baggage it does not happen.

  173. Yet if we actually instituted that we could go elsewhere in the world and say "We are doing our bit." I think the problem with this is that, with the best will in the world, when someone is coming into the country they want to get into the country, they have been waiting, they have had a long journey and they want to get through as soon as possible, so you are going to miss an awful lot of people. There is more opportunity to get people as they are exiting. I just wondered if there is any other country that does this and tries to search as people go rather than as they come in.
  (Mr Bloomfield) I think only for security reasons. I have certainly never been checked for food that I was taking out of the country. I have been checked on other issues in terms of baggage going out, as we probably all have, but I have never been checked for food.

  174. Likewise you could, if you had a voluntary code, say "If you have got any foodstuff, please get rid of it now". The second issue is one I have asked other people about and I am just intrigued. Your responsibilities also travel as far as minor ports and minor airports. You may have covered this, but give us a feel for the additional problems. Heathrow, Gatwick and even Stansted are busy thoroughfares, as indeed are the main Channel ports, but you have got a lot of other ports and a lot of other airports where potentially people are coming in and out. How do you operate to make sure that people are not bringing illegal stuff through them?
  (Mr Averns) It is a problem at smaller airports. Perhaps I can mention London City Airport, which I have responsibility for, and which is not, as I said earlier, a border inspection post. We do not get any direct flights from outside Europe, but nevertheless people transit other European airports and are still able to bring in illegal products from third countries. Likewise, I think in some of the other smaller airports which do not have so many long-haul flights, they are still getting this problem. It is a resource issue for us to be able to examine or to inspect items coming in on those flights.

  175. So is it fair to say that if we really hammered down on the big points of entry, we would still potentially, through people moving to less well-protected points of entry, not have any idea of the scale, because if someone is going to do something illegal and they know that Heathrow is a potential place where the risks begin to rise as a result of all the things going on, they obviously look to a weaker part of the defensive wall, and that is something, unless we protect that, where we are basically making very little difference?
  (Mr Averns) That is quite right. It happens with all types of imports, whether it be imported meat or imported foods; they will always try and look for the weakest point. The Association tries to co-ordinate our activities throughout the country.
  (Mr Bloomfield) There is another way of looking at that. If you want to hide you go and hide in a crowd rather than stand on your own. So that if you were trying to bring something in you might bring it in through somewhere that was really busy, on the basis that they would not have as much time to spend looking at your consignment.


  176. That has been extremely helpful. What I think you have told us is that there is a problem, you have give us some indication of the scale of the problem, you have told us that the co-ordination is getting better and progress is being made. There is a set of issues about powers that you have got, there is, perhaps, an even bigger set of issues about the resources that are available and how those are made available and a set of issues around co-ordination as well. I think that is most helpful. You have promised to let us have one of those lovely blue folders. That is really good of you. If there is anything you have not said to us that you think we ought to know—perhaps on the Tube on the way home you think "I should have told them that"—can you get back to us very quickly indeed. Thanks to all three of you.
  (Mr Bloomfield) Thank you very much.
  (Mr Young) Thank you.

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