Hauliers face bigger fines for bringing refugees into Britain

David Blunkett, the Home Secretary, has introduced changes to immigration legislation to double the fines imposed on lorry companies that bring illegal immigrants into Britain.

The Government had been forced to drop a previous scheme that imposed fines of £2,000 per clandestine passenger after a judge ruled that the system was unlawful.

Mr Blunkett was furious at the legal defeat and has introduced a new system, in an amendment to the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Bill, which will allow for fines on a sliding scale of up to £4,000 per stowaway.

The Home Office believes the legislation will be acceptable to the courts because it is more flexible and allows a right of appeal to a county court.

Hauliers had challenged the original system, introduced by the former home secretary Jack Straw, claiming that it breached their right to a fair trial. Companies said that lorry drivers were often unaware that stowaways had boarded their vehicles.

The new system, one of a series of amendments to the Bill due to be discussed in Parliament today, allows for the confiscation of lorries from companies that do not pay the fines. In the past, some foreign hauliers have refused to pay the penalties.

Under the new arrangements, officials would be able to seize vehicles arriving at British ports from haulage companies with outstanding immigration fines.

Other amendments being discussed include an attempt by backbench MPs to block plans to educate some asylum-seekers' children in accommodation centres.

Meanwhile the hunt was continuing last night for a group of asylum-seekers who jumped off a train from France. About 30 people were seen breaking out of a sealed container wagon when the train arrived at Battersea in south London, British Transport Police said. Fourteen were caught and passed to the immigration service. The Wembley-bound train had come through the tunnel from France, where the freight operator EWS believed they had stowed aboard.

A spokesman said: "At around 11am yesterday one driver, who was heading to Wembley, where we have a freight yard, saw an asylum-seeker poking his head out of a container. The train was going to be met at Wembley by Metropolitan and British Transport Police, but at Battersea, a group of asylum-seekers jumped off.

"The people inside used chisels or hammers, or another form of instrument, to break the lock and get out."

The latest incident came after promises from the French authorities two weeks ago that security at the Frethun yard near Calais would be stepped up.

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