Border Security

Oral Answers to Questions — Home Department – in the House of Commons at 2:30 pm on 10th October 2005.

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Photo of Ed Vaizey Ed Vaizey Conservative, Wantage 2:30 pm, 10th October 2005

What plans the Government have to introduce 24-hour security at ports of entry.

Photo of Andy Burnham Andy Burnham Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Home Office)

There is 24-hour cover at the UK's main 16 ports of entry and a further 25 are regularly staffed. Officers are deployed to unmanned ports to meet specific arrivals when necessary. There are no plans to have personnel manning the 350 ports for 24 hours a day. We are, however, extending the immigration service mobile response capacity based on intelligence to respond to any new or emerging threats.

Photo of Ed Vaizey Ed Vaizey Conservative, Wantage

The Minister is a fine public servant and I have no wish to malign him in any way, so I simply note with regret that the Government have scrapped embarkation controls and reduced the number of immigration officials, that there are just 10 permanent staff in one in five of our ports and, as the Minister for Immigration, Citizenship and Nationality admitted earlier, that a plethora of organisations are responsible for our borders. As an exponent of the new politics, may I reach across the Chamber and agree with Andrew Mackinlay that the time has come for a national security force, and urge the Minister to issue proposals for such a force immediately?

Photo of Andy Burnham Andy Burnham Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Home Office)

I was very interested to hear from a self-styled exponent of new politics. As such, why is the hon. Gentleman sticking with an old-fashioned failed pledge in the Conservative manifesto to have 24-hour coverage at ports? He considers himself something of a moderniser, and I refer him to the article by John Bercow—I do not know whether he still speaks to him—in The Independent today, entitled "Conservative immigration policy is simply wrong".

Photo of Keith Vaz Keith Vaz Labour, Leicester East

Does my hon. Friend agree that to succeed, we need the full co-operation of our European Union partners? We have taken steps during our presidency, and there is another meeting of the Justice and Home Affairs Council this Wednesday. Will he and his colleagues look at the operation of the external borders agency to see whether there is a way to improve or extend its scope to help us in this difficult matter?

Photo of Andy Burnham Andy Burnham Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Home Office)

As always on such issues, my hon. Friend is right. Good co-operation has delivered results for Britain. I refer to the juxtaposed controls introduced in Calais and the development of biometric standards. He is right that the border agency has a role in securing the external border of the EU, especially where it fronts transit countries, such as Ukraine. I take on board what he says. We all want to see progress soon.

Photo of Edward Garnier Edward Garnier Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

Why is not the Minister even the slightest bit embarrassed that if someone shouts "Nonsense" at the Foreign Secretary, that person is arrested by the terrorism squad, but if someone is one of the tens of thousands of illegal entrants into this country who know that our laws on border controls are nonsense, no one seems to do anything about it?

Photo of Andy Burnham Andy Burnham Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Home Office)

I am not sure how that question follows. The hon. and learned Gentleman stood on an election manifesto that committed the Conservative party to 24-hour coverage of all 350 ports of this country. I am happy to stand here and say that that ludicrous policy would have wasted many millions of pounds. Instead, the Conservatives should have deployed an intelligence-led approach, which is what we are doing. I have no embarrassment in defending our policy because it is right.