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 Mark Lancaster Mark Lancaster Conservative, North East Milton Keynes 2:30 pm, 10th October 2005

What assessment he has made of the effectiveness of (a) electronic and (b) manned borders; and if he will make a statement.

Photo of Tony McNulty Tony McNulty Minister of State (Immigration, Citizenship and Nationality), Home Office

We are constantly reviewing the efficacy of staffed borders on a regular, intelligence-led basis. There are currently 41 staffed ports, of which 16 are staffed 24 hours a day. We are developing an e-borders programme and a borders management programme, and will deliver a more integrated secure border based on both electronic and staffed components.

Photo of Mark Lancaster Mark Lancaster Conservative, North East Milton Keynes

I am grateful to the Minister for his answer. I think that he said that only 16 of the official ports were manned 24 hours a day. Why are the other 13 not manned as well?

Photo of Tony McNulty Tony McNulty Minister of State (Immigration, Citizenship and Nationality), Home Office

The hon. Gentleman should, if he is serious, ask why the 350 ports up and down the country, including regularised and unregularised airfields, are not staffed—[Interruption.] I should be very keen to hear the shadow Chancellor's comments on the Conservatives' manifesto commitments. It is clear that we must improve our borders, and we are using technology to do so. Some of that is being implemented already. Hon. Members will be aware that embarkation controls were first lifted in 1994, and quite rightly. We need to adopt an intelligence-led approach, and that is what we are doing. In answer to the hon. Gentleman's question, some ports are staffed, and some utilise electronics. Over the course of time, we shall get to a stage where we have the secure borders that we deserve.

Photo of Andrew MacKinlay Andrew MacKinlay Labour, Thurrock

Why are the 350 ports not covered by a dedicated police force? Since long before it was fashionable for Her Majesty's Opposition to do so, I have been telling Labour and Tory Ministers that we need a dedicated police force, particularly at our sea ports, to combat organised crime, to wage war against people trafficking and to complement our efforts to wage war against terrorism. It really is time for this Government to appoint a proper dedicated police force—along the lines of the British Transport police or the Ministry of Defence police—so that our sea ports can be secure. A highly mobile force could ensure good coverage of the 350 ports to complement the work of our immigration and customs services.

Photo of Tony McNulty Tony McNulty Minister of State (Immigration, Citizenship and Nationality), Home Office

My answer was a direct response to a question about ports that are staffed 24 hours a day. We do not believe that it is appropriate to staff 350-plus ports on a 24-hour basis, come what may, and I believe that others who investigate these matters would agree with that. The present arrangements have the potential for mobility, and I believe that the job is being done well by the UK immigration service, the police and Customs and Excise. I would ask my hon. Friend not to go down the path taken by the Conservatives of maligning public servants who are dedicated to their jobs.

Photo of Eric Forth Eric Forth Conservative, Bromley and Chislehurst

When is the Minister going to move on from review and waffle to action? All that he gives us is the usual old story that we have come to expect from this Government and from his Department: endless reviews and endless excuses. When will the people of this country be reassured that they can be safe from intrusion by people whom we do not want here and who should not be here?

Photo of Tony McNulty Tony McNulty Minister of State (Immigration, Citizenship and Nationality), Home Office

They will not be reassured by repeating what the Conservative Government did in replacing embarkation controls with nothing in 1994. E-borders and our border management programme are a reality that is being implemented as we speak. We have in place an airline liaison network that is second to none, which is starting to address the problem, long before there is any incursion, on an international basis—something that is being repeated in other countries throughout the world. What is being done is being done now. I shall leave waffle and inaction to the right hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends.

Photo of Chris McCafferty Chris McCafferty Labour, Calder Valley

In the light of the recent case of women-trafficking to the UK, will the Minister tell the House which particular measures are in place to prevent the trafficking of women and to bring the perpetrators to justice?

Photo of Tony McNulty Tony McNulty Minister of State (Immigration, Citizenship and Nationality), Home Office

We have made extensive progress in terms of trafficking; in only the last couple of weeks there have been significant high-profile cases, not least the arrest in Birmingham last week, about which I can say no more. We have made human trafficking a cornerstone of all that we are doing in the Justice and Home Affairs Council during our presidency and we want to ensure that work persists. Those matters are best dealt with at European and wider international levels and the Government have an excellent record in that regard.

Hon. Members:

Hear, hear.

Photo of David Davis David Davis Shadow Secretary of State (Home Office)

I am flattered. The Labour party must have been watching the Tory party conference. They should enjoy themselves; we allow heckling.

Whether e-borders or physical borders, neither work if they are not properly policed. Can the Minister confirm the number of special branch officers who are established in our ports and airports and can he confirm that the number is actually less than two thirds of the proper establishment? Does that not reveal to the world that the Government have simply lost control of our borders?

Photo of Tony McNulty Tony McNulty Minister of State (Immigration, Citizenship and Nationality), Home Office

That was certainly better than last week, but the right hon. Gentleman can probably do better none the less.

The number of special branch people at our ports, as the right hon. Gentleman should be more than aware, is an operational matter that I shall not discuss across the Dispatch Box, but I can tell him that we are in the middle of recruiting some additional 600-plus immigration officials, many of whom will be deployed at our sea ports and airports.

Photo of David Davis David Davis Shadow Secretary of State (Home Office)

Let me help the Minister with the facts. There are supposed to be 1,400 special branch officers protecting our borders; in fact, there are only 900. That is two years after a report from Her Majesty's inspectorate that described the arrangement as wholly inadequate—a point demonstrated when Hussein Osman, a terror suspect from 21 July, blithely left the country via Waterloo station without being checked at all. Why is it that two years after being warned the Government took no effective action to stop suspected terrorists moving in and out of our country whenever they like?

Photo of Tony McNulty Tony McNulty Minister of State (Immigration, Citizenship and Nationality), Home Office

That is simply not the case. Nor is it the case that only special branch can control our borders; the right hon. Gentleman knows that. A mixture of our customs and immigration people, our police special branch and others deal with the matter and they do so with real operational success. I shall not go into the details of an individual case although I am happy to share the details I have with the right hon. Gentleman should he so choose. Do not malign our public servants, they are doing an excellent job in the most extreme circumstances and I have looked long and hard to find in any shadow Budget mention of the 600-plus immigration officers we are recruiting as we speak.

Photo of Denis MacShane Denis MacShane Labour, Rotherham

One of the problems with our borders is the trafficking of young women into Britain to act as sex slaves, many of whom are beaten, intimidated and sometimes tortured. All of them are living in fear. Does my hon. Friend agree that when a woman is intimidated, frightened, living in fear and then has sex with someone there is only one word to describe that act? It is rape.

Photo of Tony McNulty Tony McNulty Minister of State (Immigration, Citizenship and Nationality), Home Office

I entirely agree with my right hon. Friend. As I said before, we are doing much in terms of human trafficking both in itself and as part of our wider policy, including in many of the eastern European states most directly concerned in providing those women, but rape it is and it is as rape that it should be recorded.