HC Deb 16 March 1998 vol 308 cc506-7W
Mr. Goggins

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will make a statement on the role of the embarkation control in the immigration control process. [35037]

Mr. Mike O'Brien

We have undertaken a detailed study of the residual embarkation control over persons leaving the United Kingdom. I have concluded, in the light of this, that the present arrangements are an inefficient use of resources and that they contribute little to the integrity of the immigration control. They will be replaced by a targeted, intelligence-led approach creating a more efficient and effective control.

The revised and improved arrangements will be brought into operation as soon as practicable. We will employ appropriate technology and will build upon the existing co-operation between the border agencies, port operators and carriers.

We conducted this study against the background of the decision, in 1994, by the previous administration to scrap the embarkation checks for passengers travelling from ferry ports and small ports to destinations within the European Union; so, for four years, 40 per cent. of departing passengers have not been seen by an immigration officer.

In common with most comparable countries, the United Kingdom has never had a comprehensive check-out system because experience has shown that the use of intelligence and denunciatory information is the most effective tool against illegal immigration. This approach will continue and will be developed.

Although it does not contribute to the overall effectiveness of the immigration control, the residual embarkation control is resource intensive. In 1997, 7 per cent. of the Immigration Service's operational duties were deployed on the embarkation control, compared with 11 per cent. on asylum-related work. Estimated staffing costs were over £3 million.

We inherited an embarkation control which serves little purpose in the tracking down of immigration offenders. Enhanced technology, such as closed circuit television, combined with close liaison between the border agencies, port operators and airlines, will create a stronger deterrent than the current immigration departure checks. We will also ensure that systems will be in place to mount comprehensive embarkation checks when required in the interests of national security. We are committed to the continued operation of the All Ports Warning System for child abduction cases.

Finally, by better use of technology and liaison, we will release Immigration Service resources to be re-deployed on more effective elements of the control. We will keep the revised arrangements under review.