UK Border Force

Oral Answers to Questions — Home Department – in the House of Commons at 4:37 pm on 7th November 2011.

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Photo of Theresa May Theresa May Minister for Women and Equalities, The Secretary of State for the Home Department 4:37 pm, 7th November 2011

With permission, Mr. Speaker, I should like to make a statement on the UK border force, an operational division of the UK Border Agency. The border force is responsible for ensuring that only legitimate travellers and goods are allowed to enter and leave the UK, while reducing threats including illegal immigration, drug smuggling and terrorism.

Border force activities include verifying the immigration status of passengers arriving and departing the UK; checking baggage, vehicles and cargo for illicit goods; and searching for illegal immigrants. Border force officers confirm the identity of passengers arriving at the UK border; check passengers against a watch list known as the warnings index; and undertake a visual inspection of passengers’ passports. Where a biometric passport is held, the biometric chip, which contains a second photograph, is opened and verified.

Non-EU passengers undergo additional checks. Officers establish whether a visa is required and whether a visa is held. If the passenger has a biometric visa, a fingerprint database check can be made, and officers decide whether the passenger should be granted entry to the UK.

In the past, under the previous Government, some of those checks were lifted at times of pressure on the border. In the summer of 2008, warnings index checks were suspended on European economic area nationals—children and adults—on Eurostar services. At Calais, warnings index checks were suspended on European economic area and UK car passengers—again, adults as well as children were not run against the index. Since 2008, at various ports and airports, that happened on more than 100 occasions.

Officials tell me that once, in 2004, local managers at Heathrow terminal 3 decided to open controls and no checks were made. To prevent that from happening again, and to allow resources to be focused on the highest-risk passengers and journeys, in July I agreed that the UK Border Agency could pilot a scheme that would allow border force officials to target intelligence-led checks on higher-risk categories of travellers.

Initial options had been put to the then security Minister and the immigration Minister in January, who agreed them as a basis for further work. That resulted in proposals for a risk-based strategy coming to me in April. After further work, I agreed an amended and limited pilot scheme in July, which meant that, under limited circumstances, EEA national children, travelling with their parents or as part of a school group, would be checked against the warnings index—designed to detect terrorists and serious criminals—when assessed by a border force official to be a credible risk.

The pilot also allowed, under limited circumstances, border force officials the discretion to judge when to open the biometric chip, which contains a second photograph and no further information, on the passports of EEA nationals. Those circumstances were that the measures would always be subject to a risk-based assessment, that they should not be routine and that the volume of passengers would be such that border security would be stronger with more risk-based checks and fewer mandatory checks than with more mandatory checks on low-risk passengers and fewer risk-based checks for high-risk passengers. The advice of security officials was sought and they confirmed that they were content with the measures.

I want everybody to understand what was supposed to happen under the terms of the pilot. In usual circumstances, all checks would be carried out on all passengers. Under the risk-based controls, everybody’s passports would be checked; nobody would be waved through; visa nationals’ fingerprints would be checked; all non-EEA nationals’ biometric chips would be checked; all adults would be run past the warnings index; all non-EEA nationals would be run past the warnings index; and border officials would be free to use their professional judgment to check the biometric chips of EEA passengers and to check EEA children travelling with parents or a school group against the warnings index.

The pilot was extended on 19 September and was due to end last Friday. The results are not yet fully evaluated, but UKBA’s statistics show that, compared with the same period last year, the number of illegal immigrants detected increased by nearly 10%. Last week, John Vine, the independent chief inspector of UKBA, raised concerns with Rob Whiteman, the chief executive of UKBA, that security checks were not being implemented properly. On Wednesday, the head of the UK border force, Brodie Clark, confirmed to Mr Whiteman that border controls had been relaxed without ministerial approval.

First, biometric checks on EEA nationals and warnings index checks on EEA national children were abandoned on a regular basis, without ministerial approval. Biometric tests on non-EEA nationals are also thought to have been abandoned on occasions, again without ministerial approval. Secondly, adults were not checked against the warnings index at Calais, without ministerial approval. Thirdly, the verification of the fingerprints of non-EEA nationals from countries that require a visa was stopped, without ministerial approval. I did not give my consent or authorisation for any of these decisions. Indeed, I told officials explicitly that the pilot was to go no further than we had agreed.

As a result of these unauthorised actions, we will never know how many people entered the country who should have been prevented from doing so after being flagged by the warnings index. Following Mr Clark’s conversation with Mr Whiteman, the latter carried out further investigations and on Thursday morning he suspended Mr Clark from duty with immediate effect. The Home Office permanent secretary, the immigration Minister and I were notified of his decision that morning. The pilot scheme, which had been due to end the next day, was suspended immediately, and on Friday two other border force officials, Graeme Kyle, director of operations at Heathrow, and Carole Upshall, director of border force south and European operations, were also suspended from duty on a precautionary basis.

There is nothing more important than the security of our border, and because of the seriousness of these allegations I have ordered a number of investigations. Dave Wood, the head of the UKBA enforcement and crime group and a former Metropolitan police officer, will carry out an investigation into exactly how, when and where the suspension of checks might have taken place. Mike Anderson, the director general of immigration, is looking at the actions of the wider team working for Brodie Clark; and John Vine, the chief inspector, will conduct a thorough review to find out exactly what happened with the checks across the UKBA, how the chain of command in the border force operates and whether the system needs to be changed in future. For the sake of clarity, I am happy for Mr Vine to look at what decisions were made and when by Ministers. That investigation will begin immediately and will report by the end of January. I will place the terms of reference for the inquiries in the House of Commons Library.

Border security is fundamental to our national security and our policy of reducing and controlling immigration. The pilots run by the UK border force this summer were designed to improve border security by focusing resources on passengers and journeys that intelligence led officers to believe posed the greatest risk. The vast majority of those officers are hard-working, dedicated public servants. Just like all of us, they want to see tough immigration controls and strong enforcement, but they have been let down by senior officials at the head of the organisation who put at risk the security of our border. Our task now is to make sure—[ Interruption. ]

Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Chair, Speaker's Committee for the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, Chair, Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission, Speaker of the House of Commons, Speaker of the House of Commons, Chair, Speaker's Committee for the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, Chair, Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission

Order. I apologise for interrupting, but the Home Secretary must be heard. I know that these are matters about which Members rightly feel extremely strongly, although in fairness we might note in passing that on Friday Members of the Youth Parliament felt extremely strongly about the five motions on which they spoke, but they listened to each other with courtesy.

Photo of Theresa May Theresa May Minister for Women and Equalities, The Secretary of State for the Home Department

Our task now is to ensure that those responsible are punished and that border force officials can never take such risks with border security again. That is what I am determined to do, and I commend this statement to the House.

Photo of Yvette Cooper Yvette Cooper Shadow Home Secretary, Shadow Minister (Equalities Office) (Women and Equalities)

I thank the Home Secretary for advance sight of her statement and welcome her agreement to establish an independent inquiry. That inquiry must get to the truth, but it should do so considerably more rapidly than by January.

Reports have already reached me from the UK Border Agency today that the shredders are on and that there is a ban on internal e-mails. Will the Home Secretary look urgently into those allegations, and into what documents perhaps are being shredded and what e-mails deleted in the Home Office and the UKBA on this issue? It is also important that the inquiry has access to all communications between Ministers, the Home Office and the UKBA. The scope must cover the resource pressures facing the UKBA. We now know that 6,500 staff are being cut from the agency, including 1,500 from the border force. We need to know what pressures officials were put under to cut corners as a result and keep queues down with reduced staff.

We also need some answers from the Home Secretary now. In questions earlier and in her statement, she could not tell the House how many people came through our ports and airports this summer without proper checks. On average, 100,000 foreign citizens enter Britain every day. UKBA staff have claimed that reduced checks were in place almost daily from August, lasting at least half of the shift. How many people were not checked against the watch list? How many people did not have their biometrics checked? What is the Home Secretary’s estimate of whether anyone from the watch list entered Britain at that time? Did any convicted criminals or security suspects enter? The truth is that the Home Secretary does not know. She says that we will never know. Even now, she seems to be doing nothing to find out and assess who has entered the country and what the security risk might be.

The Home Secretary has admitted that she took the decision to reduce checks for EU citizens in July—not checking under-18s against the warnings index or doing biometric checks on EU passports—yet she will know that cases have been identified by border officials involving EU citizens, including people involved in organised crime, people trafficking, falsifying passports or removals of children who are wards of court. She made that decision—not Labour Ministers in the past: this Home Secretary—and that decision is her responsibility. She cannot run away from it or hide behind cases from 2004, long before new systems were introduced. She knows that the intention of Labour—and, we had assumed, Conservative—Ministers was to roll out e-Borders and to put the technology in place so that everyone could be properly screened entering and exiting the country, and not only at quiet times. In fact, the immigration Minister claimed in May that 90% of non-EU flights and 60% of EU flights were covered, but it turns out that he meant 90% of flights in the winter or at quiet times in the afternoons.

The truth is that instead of strengthening the checks year on year, as all previous Ministers had committed to do, this Home Secretary decided to water them down, as official Government policy, even though she never told the House. She has blamed officials for relaxing the checks further than she intended, yet she gave the green light for the weaker controls. She claimed in her statement that she did not intend it to be routine not to check the biometric chip in EEA passports, yet I have a copy of the interim operational instruction that she has refused to publish, which states:

“We will cease routinely opening the chip within EEA passports, checking all EEA nationals under 18 against the warnings index”.

It adds:

“If for whatever reason it is considered necessary to take further measures, local managers must escalate to the Border force duty director to seek authority for their proposed action.”

So the Home Secretary gave agency staff the green light to go ahead and experiment to meet the pressures from queues, and look how far they went. A member of the Border Agency staff said this morning:

“Every day I let in 10 people who I think there would be a good case against”.

How on earth did Ministers not know about this? How on earth could there be continual complaints from staff for months without the immigration Minister or the Home Secretary knowing what was going on? At best, they were deeply out of touch; at worst, they were complicit in a loss of control at our borders.

This Home Secretary is presiding over growing chaos and corner cutting at our borders: Raed Salah was banned from this country by the Home Office, yet he was allowed to waltz in at Heathrow; 100,000 asylum cases have been written off as just too difficult to deal with; Ministers have now given the green light to an experiment to water down, rather than increase, border controls; and the Home Secretary does not even know how many people entered Britain without proper checks this summer. Thousands of people entered without proper checks, and without the Home Secretary having a clue what was going on. It is no good blaming the previous Government, or blaming officials. This is happening on her watch, these are her decisions, and this is her Government’s mistake. She needs to get a grip and stop passing the buck.

Photo of Theresa May Theresa May Minister for Women and Equalities, The Secretary of State for the Home Department

I must say that I regret that response from the right hon. Lady. There is no more serious issue than border security, but, instead of engaging with the facts, she has chosen to play party politics. She knows that the checks that I approved and the relaxation of checks, which I did not approve, are two very different matters.

Let me take her points in turn. She alleges that the pilot scheme and the unauthorised actions were the result of cuts. I explained the basis for the pilot scheme in my statement. I would remind her that the last Government were planning to cut the UK Border Agency and that it remains the stated policy of her party in opposition to cut the Home Office budget. She mentioned in passing that the House had not been informed about the pilot programme, but it has never been the policy of any Government to notify the House of operational matters such as those. Her own Government did not notify the House when they introduced a risk-based warnings index policy, or when they let passengers through Heathrow without even looking at their passports.

The right hon. Lady suggests that the problem was related not to unauthorised official actions but to the measures that we piloted in July. Let me remind the House again that, as I said in my statement, these measures allowed greater intelligence-led checks to be made against higher-risk passengers. Does the right hon. Lady think that was wrong; if so, why did the last Government introduce a warnings index policy that allowed risk-based checks back in 2007?

Let me remind the right hon. Lady of what I said. The pilot allowed officials in limited circumstances to use their discretion whether to check the biometric chip of EEA nationals and whether to run EEA nationals’ children travelling in family groups or school groups against the warnings index. Under her Government in similar circumstances, adults were not run against the warnings index, and on at least one occasion at Heathrow the border was opened up, so no checks were made against inbound passengers. She says that officials at UKBA are telling her that they were suspicious about individuals, yet they were being let through. It was clear in the guidance on the policy that for any EEA national or EEA national child against whom suspicion was felt, the officer should do the necessary biometric chip checks or warnings index checks.

The right hon. Lady asked whether the inquiry should include the decisions of Ministers as well as officials. I have already said that I am happy for John Vine’s investigation to look at what decisions were taken by Ministers and when. She asked about the publication of paperwork between Ministers and officials. We will certainly make all the relevant paperwork available to the investigations. I can assure her and the House that the paperwork will show without ambiguity that the relaxation of checks that occurred was not sanctioned by me.

The right hon. Lady asked whether any dangerous individuals had managed to come to Britain. That is a very serious issue; that is why I addressed it in my statement. I made it clear to the House that we are not in a position to be able to say how many people entered who should have been prevented after being flagged by the warnings index. We would have known, however, if anybody had tried to enter the country during the pilot, as the pilot was due to operate, because all adults were run past the warnings index and all non-EEA passengers were checked against that index. It was only EEA nationals’ children travelling with their parents or in a school group who were not automatically run against the warnings index. That is more stringent than the controls put in place by the last Government, who in similar circumstances did not check all adults against the warnings index.

I have said on a number of occasions that there is nothing more important than the security of our border, and I made clear in my statement the measures we are taking to address the lapse. In addition, we are reforming every route to the UK to reduce net migration; we are clearing the asylum backlog; we are improving removals; we are addressing the problem of article 8; and we are creating a border policing command in our National Crime Agency to improve our border security in the long term.

I will take no lectures, however, from the party that gave us a total net migration of more than 2.2 million people, the foreign national prisoners scandal, Sangatte, widespread abuse of student visas, the botched e-Borders contract, a 450,000 asylum backlog, no transitional controls for eastern Europeans, the Human Rights Act and a points-based system that failed to reduce immigration. My task now is to make sure that those responsible for this lapse are properly dealt with and to make sure that border force officials can never take these risks with border security again. That is what I am determined to do.

Several hon. Members:

rose —

Photo of David Davis David Davis Conservative, Haltemprice and Howden

The shadow Home Secretary used the phrase “deeply out of touch” and “complicit in a loss of control at our borders”, which is, of course, a perfect description of Labour policy for the last decade. The Home Secretary made a decision on 22 July this year which only she could make, simply because she is the only person with advice from the security agencies. Can she tell us in broad terms what that advice was?

Photo of Theresa May Theresa May Minister for Women and Equalities, The Secretary of State for the Home Department

I am happy to tell my right hon. Friend that security officials were asked about the proposals being put forward and they indicated that they were entirely satisfied with them.

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Labour, Blackburn

No one is asking the Home Secretary to take lectures. What she is being asked to do is take responsibility for the shambles over which she is presiding, 18 months into the Government’s term of office. Will she now answer the question posed by my right hon. Friend Yvette Cooper? How on earth did it come about that neither her immigration Minister nor she spotted that—as she claims—her instructions were not being followed? Does she never talk to immigration officers, or go to a port or an airport?

Photo of Theresa May Theresa May Minister for Women and Equalities, The Secretary of State for the Home Department

I do indeed go to airports and I do indeed talk to immigration officers, and I assure the right hon. Gentleman that I find my discussions with immigration officers very fruitful because of the ideas they advance about better measures that we could take to improve security at our borders and reduce immigration, which is, of course, what the Government intend to do. Last week, during a period when the pilot was due to be operating, the chief inspector spoke to the chief executive of UKBA to express his concerns. As a result, conversations were held with the head of the UK border force, which led to the action that is now being taken.

Photo of James Clappison James Clappison Conservative, Hertsmere

I warmly welcome the approach that my right hon. Friend is taking, including the inquiry that she has instituted. Can she confirm that anyone who has illegally entered the UK as a result of these events will not benefit from an amnesty instituted by Ministers, as happened repeatedly under the last Government? Can she also confirm that such cases will not be allowed to pile up in a backlog of 500,000, as earlier cases did, including the 100,000 to which Yvette Cooper had the gall to refer?

Photo of Theresa May Theresa May Minister for Women and Equalities, The Secretary of State for the Home Department

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for reminding the House of that point. It was the actions of the last Government that led to the build-up of more than 450,000 asylum cases, which has only just been cleared. We are now able to operate a much more efficient asylum system. I can also assure my hon. Friend that this Government are not in favour of allowing an amnesty to illegal immigrants.

Photo of David Blunkett David Blunkett Labour, Sheffield, Brightside and Hillsborough

Last year the Government announced the abandoning of second-generation biometrics; we had not expected them to abandon first-generation biometrics quite so quickly.

I realise that we are dealing with a ministerial graveyard —as some of us know very well—but what monitoring and reporting mechanisms were introduced by Ministers so that they could be informed of the progress of the pilot programme and whether it was being eroded at the edges?

Photo of Theresa May Theresa May Minister for Women and Equalities, The Secretary of State for the Home Department

We ensured that there would be a proper evaluation of the pilot programme. The point of making it a pilot programme was to establish whether it would indeed be possible to target those who constituted a higher risk in terms of border security, and whether there would be benefits from such action. As I have said, the pilot ended last week, and the full results of the evaluation have not yet been made available.

Photo of Anne Main Anne Main Conservative, St Albans

The Home Secretary read out a litany of occasions on which rules had been relaxed under the last Government. Is she aware of the guidance that was given in each of those cases, and does she believe that that relaxation may have contributed to a laxity in the system which has led officials to feel they need not always follow the rules to the letter?

Photo of Theresa May Theresa May Minister for Women and Equalities, The Secretary of State for the Home Department

I am aware of some of the guidance that was published at the time, which stated, for instance, that details of EEA nationals arriving on services that had been assessed as low or very low risk should be checked only on a targeted basis. Various relaxations were introduced at the time. I have asked the chief inspector of the UK Border Agency not only to assess what has been happening across the board in terms of checks, but to examine the processes for ensuring that Ministers’ decisions are properly undertaken, recorded, passed down and acted on, and that no one goes further than that.

Photo of Keith Vaz Keith Vaz Chair, Home Affairs Committee, Chair, Home Affairs Committee

I welcome the appointment of John Vine. I also thank the Home Secretary for agreeing to give evidence to the Select Committee on Home Affairs tomorrow, when we will probe her further on these matters. She will know that successive Select Committee reports have told successive Governments about the culture of complacency that exists at the highest levels of the UK Border Agency, yet senior officials were paid £90,000 in bonuses last year. May I urge her to turn this crisis into an opportunity? If the Vine report suggests a root-and-branch change in the way in which the agency is operating, will she please accept those recommendations—along with the recommendations of the Select Committee—and implement them?

Photo of Theresa May Theresa May Minister for Women and Equalities, The Secretary of State for the Home Department

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his question. I was, of course, looking forward to appearing before his Select Committee in any case, and as that happens to have fallen at this time, I will, indeed, look forward to answering questions on this matter. There have over the years been reports that have rightly raised concerns about the operation of the UK Border Agency and what has been happening at our borders. I have made it absolutely clear to the chief inspector that I look forward to him not only reporting on what has happened, but bringing forward recommendations as to how we can in future better ensure we are maintaining our border security.

Photo of Tom Brake Tom Brake Liberal Democrat, Carshalton and Wallington

Does the Home Secretary expect any of the reviews that she has initiated to recommend that retrospective checks be carried out on any people who got into the UK over the period in question and on whom partial information had been captured, and what would such retrospective checks involve?

Photo of Theresa May Theresa May Minister for Women and Equalities, The Secretary of State for the Home Department

I do not expect the investigations by Dave Wood and Mike Anderson to come up with such a recommendation, because they are specifically examining what happened in relation to certain individuals. Chief inspector John Vine’s report will tell us in more detail what has happened over the period in question across the board, rather than at just a number of ports. I have to say, however, that I doubt that he will come forward with specific recommendations on any individual.

Photo of Alun Michael Alun Michael Labour, Cardiff South and Penarth

From the Home Secretary’s very defensive responses, we know who she is blaming in advance of her inquiries, but those who know the people at the top-end of the border force, and who know how that body works, say it is unthinkable that they would have taken these actions without the knowledge and approval of Ministers. That is right, isn’t it?

Photo of Theresa May Theresa May Minister for Women and Equalities, The Secretary of State for the Home Department

As I said in my statement, my understanding is that the head of the UK Border Agency admitted he had taken action outside ministerial approval.

Photo of Nicola Blackwood Nicola Blackwood Conservative, Oxford West and Abingdon

Evidence to the Home Affairs Committee showed that while the agency was truly chaotic under the last Government, significant problems remain in respect of its ability to protect our borders properly. It is clear the agency is in need of urgent and real reform. As a start, can the Home Secretary assure me and my constituents that the Government will swiftly press ahead with the creation of a border policing command?

Photo of Theresa May Theresa May Minister for Women and Equalities, The Secretary of State for the Home Department

I thank my hon. Friend for her question. We will, indeed, be pressing ahead with the establishment of a border policing command inside the National Crime Agency. I am also pleased to be able to tell the House that the new chief executive of UKBA, Rob Whiteman, who has been in place for five weeks, has already done a lot of work in assessing what changes are required to ensure UKBA staff operate the maximum level of security.

Photo of Paul Goggins Paul Goggins Labour, Wythenshawe and Sale East

Can the Home Secretary confirm that all airports, including Manchester, were included in the pilot? If so, can she confirm whether those who run Manchester airport and the airlines that operate there were made aware of the pilot?

Photo of Theresa May Theresa May Minister for Women and Equalities, The Secretary of State for the Home Department

I do not believe that Manchester was included in the pilot, but I will, of course, check that I am right about that because—

Photo of Theresa May Theresa May Minister for Women and Equalities, The Secretary of State for the Home Department

Yes, it is my pilot, and the arrangements for that pilot were made known to UKBA officials at the various ports where it was operating.

Photo of Henry Smith Henry Smith Conservative, Crawley

My constituency contains the nation’s second-busiest air gateway, and a majority of my constituents are deeply concerned about immigration. Will the Secretary of State say whether Gatwick was part of the pilot? If so, when her investigations are complete, will she tell us how many people came through during that period? Will she also confirm that national security will always be a greater priority than the length of the queues in immigration halls?

Photo of Theresa May Theresa May Minister for Women and Equalities, The Secretary of State for the Home Department

Yes, indeed Gatwick was included. It was possible for the pilot to be operated across all the ports; it was not specified for any particular ports. There was a focus on particular ports, but Gatwick was included and I believe that Manchester was too.

Photo of Pete Wishart Pete Wishart Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Culture and Sport), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Constitution)

Does that mean that the airports in Scotland were included? If there are issues for the airports in Scotland, what discussions has the Home Secretary had with Scottish Ministers on this issue?

Photo of Theresa May Theresa May Minister for Women and Equalities, The Secretary of State for the Home Department

The answer is yes. If, as I say, it is “all the ports”, it includes all the ports, including those in Scotland. I will be happy to be in touch with Scottish Ministers about this.

Photo of Alok Sharma Alok Sharma Conservative, Reading West

Lord Glasman, a close adviser of the leader of the Labour party, told us:

“Labour lied to people about the extent of immigration”—

Photo of Peter Bone Peter Bone Conservative, Wellingborough

On Friday, while in my constituency, I received a phone call from someone who had been in the country illegally since 1965. This person had left the country, had been prevented by border officials from coming back in and then recently—on that very day—had been given six months to stay here. It is a question not just of checking these people, but of doing something about them when we see them.

Photo of Theresa May Theresa May Minister for Women and Equalities, The Secretary of State for the Home Department

My hon. Friend makes a very important point, and this is why we have an exercise in place to improve our ability to remove people who are in this country without having a right to be here.

Photo of Nick Raynsford Nick Raynsford Labour, Greenwich and Woolwich

Given the UK Border Agency’s reputation for mishaps and inefficiency, and the sensitivity of this issue, why did the Home Secretary bring this pilot into force without making arrangements for checking at regular and frequent intervals how it was actually working in practice? Why did it take three months before this failure emerged?

Photo of Theresa May Theresa May Minister for Women and Equalities, The Secretary of State for the Home Department

As I indicated in my statement, the pilot was for a limited period of time. It was exactly what it said: a pilot to test whether the operation was going to ensure that we could target higher-risk individuals, rather than routinely checking everybody in certain categories. The evaluation of the pilot would have led to a decision as to whether or not it was appropriate to continue that in any further way. This was for a limited period and the full evaluation was to take place at the end.

Photo of Michael Ellis Michael Ellis Conservative, Northampton North

Does the Home Secretary agree that it is perfectly in order to give very well-paid, high-level senior officials some common-sense discretion, but if they go further than their discretion—further than is authorised by Ministers—and weaken our borders, it is appropriate to look at criminal sanctions for any misconduct?

Photo of Theresa May Theresa May Minister for Women and Equalities, The Secretary of State for the Home Department

I can say to my hon. Friend that if there is any evidence that the law has been broken and that criminal charges are appropriate, that will be pursued.

Photo of Jeremy Corbyn Jeremy Corbyn Labour, Islington North

Will the Home Secretary consider the question of staffing levels throughout the UK Border Agency? I am talking about the effect they have in respect of enormous queues at Heathrow and other airports, which become a deterrent to legitimate travellers; the inability of that agency to respond to written inquiries from people, including MPs; and the situation where the agency apparently cannot cope with its work load.

Photo of Theresa May Theresa May Minister for Women and Equalities, The Secretary of State for the Home Department

As I made clear in my statement, this was not an issue about staffing levels; this was a pilot that was intended to help us understand whether it was possible, with different arrangements, to make more intelligence-led checks on higher-risk individuals. We have made it clear that it is going to be possible to improve the border operations through the use of greater technology—the use of e-gates is an important element in that. The hon. Gentleman refers to letters written by MPs, but I must say to him that my hon. Friend the Minister for Immigration is responsible for signing— dealing with—about 60,000 letters on immigration matters each year.

Photo of Julian Huppert Julian Huppert Liberal Democrat, Cambridge

There has been a catalogue of problems in UKBA for many years, as was shown in a recent Select Committee report before this case took place. We had seen the disasters of the asylum backlog, which has not quite gone away; poor decision making; cases being dropped; and a huge number of successful appeal rates. Fixing this has defeated many previous Home Secretaries, so how can we be sure that this one will resolve it?

Photo of Theresa May Theresa May Minister for Women and Equalities, The Secretary of State for the Home Department

I thank my hon. Friend for that question. He is right to say that over the years—this is the point I have been making—successive Governments have come across difficulties in the operation of UKBA, or its predecessor organisation in the Home Office, in relation to security checks and border controls. This coalition Government are taking the right steps, by establishing the border police command, to strengthen our ability to deal with controls at our border. But, as I indicated in my answer to Keith Vaz, it will of course be for us to look at any recommendations that come from the chief inspector’s investigation in order to see whether further action is necessary to put in place what we all want: a system to ensure that UKBA can maintain the security of our borders in the way we wish.

Photo of Derek Twigg Derek Twigg Labour, Halton

In her statement, the Home Secretary said that the controls had been relaxed without any ministerial approval, but she did not mention knowledge. Will she confirm whether the Prime Minister, No. 10, she, her Ministers, the permanent secretary at the Department or her private offices had any knowledge whatever of those relaxations and controls?

Photo of Theresa May Theresa May Minister for Women and Equalities, The Secretary of State for the Home Department

I assure the hon. Gentleman that the first I was aware of them was when I was informed by the permanent secretary that action had been taken against Brodie Clark, who is the head of the UK border force.

Photo of Chris Kelly Chris Kelly Conservative, Dudley South

I thank the Home Secretary for her statement. Will she tell the House which months, on previous performance, saw the most interceptions and whether they were the same months as those we are talking about today?

Photo of Gerald Kaufman Gerald Kaufman Labour, Manchester, Gorton

Is it not a fact that under this Home Secretary’s watch, something like 100,000 people, possibly including terrorists, have vanished into the undergrowth with nobody knowing where they are? When the Home Secretary said again and again in her statement “without ministerial approval”, was she not admitting that she does not have a grip on her Department? The responsibility ends with her.

Photo of Theresa May Theresa May Minister for Women and Equalities, The Secretary of State for the Home Department

I have been perfectly clear with the House that I take responsibility for the decisions I have made, and I have done that this afternoon. In the circumstances that have been set out, what we have seen is a pilot that was agreed, and actions going beyond that—unauthorised actions—taking place at our border.

Photo of Rob Wilson Rob Wilson Conservative, Reading East

The Public and Commercial Services Union is alleging that staff cuts and staff shortages caused the relaxation of these rules. Will my right hon. Friend take this opportunity completely to reject those allegations?

Photo of Theresa May Theresa May Minister for Women and Equalities, The Secretary of State for the Home Department

Yes, I will take that opportunity. It was clear when the proposals for the pilot were presented to me that the desire was to ensure that more risk-based checks could be made and therefore that we would target resources on higher-risk individuals. In doing that, it could well be possible to improve security, but, of course, evaluating whether that was the case was the purpose of ensuring that this was only a pilot.

Photo of Michael McCann Michael McCann Labour, East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow

Having served as a full-time official in the civil service trade union movement for 26 years, may I say that if a civil servant under the senior civil service had wilfully disobeyed an instruction he would have been guilty of gross misconduct and would have been summarily dismissed? If the matter is as clear-cut as the Home Secretary suggests, will she tell us why Brodie Clark is not facing the same sanction?

Photo of Theresa May Theresa May Minister for Women and Equalities, The Secretary of State for the Home Department

Because a proper process is being undertaken. Further investigation by Dave Wood is taking place to ascertain the full extent of what happened.

Photo of David Ruffley David Ruffley Conservative, Bury St Edmunds

I trust my right hon. Friend to sort out the sloppy and lax management culture that has prevailed at this agency for too long. May I ask about her excellent idea for a border police command? When will it be introduced and how many police will be detailed to it? What the public want now is even more reassurance that our borders are going to be safe.

Photo of Theresa May Theresa May Minister for Women and Equalities, The Secretary of State for the Home Department

The intention is that the National Crime Agency will be established in 2013. It will be necessary for legislation to go through the House to establish the NCA and the border police command will be part of the national crime agency. I am not able, at this point, to say how many police will go to the border police command. I am sure that my hon. Friend will appreciate that, given what has taken place, it is now necessary for us to have another look at exactly what we intend to do with that border police command.

Photo of Steve McCabe Steve McCabe Labour, Birmingham, Selly Oak

When Mr Davis told Charles Clarke

“because of this culpable failure to protect the safety of the public,” your

“position is now untenable”—[Hansard, 26 April 2006; Vol. 445, c. 575.],

I am afraid he was right. Why is that remark any less right for this Home Secretary today?

Photo of Theresa May Theresa May Minister for Women and Equalities, The Secretary of State for the Home Department

I think I have explained in my statement and in answers to questions exactly what happened.

Photo of Philip Hollobone Philip Hollobone Conservative, Kettering

In her statement, my right hon. Friend said that border officials were free to use their professional judgment to check the biometric chip of EEA passengers. Given that biometrics are meant to speed things up and provide greater security, I and my constituents would want every passport holder with a biometric chip to have their passport checked.

Photo of Theresa May Theresa May Minister for Women and Equalities, The Secretary of State for the Home Department

Perhaps I should repeat what I said about the biometric chip. The biometric chip holds within it a second photograph. That is all it holds within it. The decision was taken under the pilot to allow discretion to be operated in relation to EEA nationals and the opening of the biometric chip on a risk-based approach. I am sure my hon. Friend would want a border force that ensures it is targeting those who place most at risk individuals living in the United Kingdom.

Photo of Pat Glass Pat Glass Labour, North West Durham

Is not the real issue that any pilot that relaxes security and immigration checks at our borders is a disaster waiting to happen, and that is what we have—a disaster that has happened?

Photo of Theresa May Theresa May Minister for Women and Equalities, The Secretary of State for the Home Department

I explained in my statement the reasons for undertaking the pilot and also the fact that during the period that the pilot was undertaken, the number of illegal immigrants who were detected at the border increased. I think that rather improves security.

Photo of Sajid Javid Sajid Javid Conservative, Bromsgrove

Government figures show that by 2010 illegal immigration had reached an all-time high of more than 700,000 in our country. Does my right hon. Friend believe that the UK Border Agency is solely responsible for this shambolic state of affairs?

Photo of Theresa May Theresa May Minister for Women and Equalities, The Secretary of State for the Home Department

The UK Border Agency is the body responsible for putting in place the policy that is agreed for dealing with immigrants at the borders. The UK Border Agency does very good work—I have seen it for myself at Calais—in interrupting illegal immigrants who are trying to enter this country. It is doing that work on a daily basis to try to ensure that we reduce the number of illegal immigrants. This Government are the Government who are trying to do something to reduce immigration into this country, to reduce net migration, and also to improve the removal of illegal immigrants so that those who come here with no right to be here are removed from this country.

Photo of Ann McKechin Ann McKechin Labour, Glasgow North

The House rightly takes seriously the issue of child trafficking. Can the Home Secretary advise me what evaluation was carried out on the increased risk of child trafficking as a result of the pilot and the increased risk of child trafficking that has occurred as a result of this scandal?

Photo of Theresa May Theresa May Minister for Women and Equalities, The Secretary of State for the Home Department

The evaluation of the pilot’s impact was intended to demonstrate that. In relation to the possibility of increased child trafficking, I come back to a point that I made earlier. It was clear to officers that it was at their discretion to check children who were coming in, either in family groups or in school groups, and any suspicions that they had in relation to that they could follow up by undertaking those checks.

Photo of Douglas Carswell Douglas Carswell Conservative, Clacton

We know that the radical Islamist Sheikh Raed Salah walked past UK border controls this summer, despite being on a Home Office banned entry list. Was this connected to the news that we hear today, or was it simply a case of someone not checking his passport?

Photo of Theresa May Theresa May Minister for Women and Equalities, The Secretary of State for the Home Department

No, it was not connected to the news that I have outlined to the House today. I will be making information available on the issue involving Raed Salah to the Home Affairs Committee.

Photo of Heidi Alexander Heidi Alexander Labour, Lewisham East

I would like to return to the issue of who knew what when about the pilot. Did the Prime Minister sanction the pilot going ahead?

Photo of Theresa May Theresa May Minister for Women and Equalities, The Secretary of State for the Home Department

The decision was taken by me as Home Secretary, together with the immigration Minister.

Photo of Kris Hopkins Kris Hopkins Conservative, Keighley

Does my right hon. Friend recognise that under the previous Government the public lost confidence in Labour’s ability to manage immigration and border controls, and that that drove a significant number of people into the hands of the far right? Does she agree that we should not let the people down in such a way?

Photo of Theresa May Theresa May Minister for Women and Equalities, The Secretary of State for the Home Department

I agree with my hon. Friend. Sadly, the immigration policy of the previous Government led to significant concerns among members of the public. This is an issue that matters to members of the public. It is this coalition Government who are taking action that I believe members of the public want us to take to reduce net migration into this country, to get rid of the abuse of student visas, and to deal with some of the other issues that have led to the significant numbers of people coming into this country over the past 13 years under a Labour Government.

Photo of Steve Pound Steve Pound Shadow Minister (Northern Ireland)

The right hon. Lady knows more than almost anyone how uniquely serious the security situation is in Northern Ireland. Can she please confirm that Belfast International was not included in the wave-through amnesty?

Photo of Theresa May Theresa May Minister for Women and Equalities, The Secretary of State for the Home Department

As I have indicated, my understanding is that all ports were included, but I will check that point and write to the hon. Gentleman, given his specific interest in it.

Photo of Julian Brazier Julian Brazier Conservative, Canterbury

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that she will not quadruple the number of work permits for non-EU residents, that she will not preside over the growth of hundreds of phoney colleges that bring in phoney students, and that she will not plan a large-scale amnesty?

Photo of Theresa May Theresa May Minister for Women and Equalities, The Secretary of State for the Home Department

I am happy to confirm all those points. Indeed, far from doing any of those things, this Government are getting rid of the abuse of student visas by ensuring that colleges that have been bringing people in to work rather than study can no longer do so. It is this Government who have brought in an annual limit on non-EU economic migrants.

Photo of John Spellar John Spellar Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs)

Given the concerns about the UK Border Agency, can we be clear about why the Home Secretary did not arrange to monitor this sensitive pilot or, given her wide range of responsibilities, why the immigration Minister did not do so? Can we also be clear what he signed up to and what he was told? Let us not wait until January for those answers. Will the Home Secretary issue a statement to that effect this week?

Photo of Theresa May Theresa May Minister for Women and Equalities, The Secretary of State for the Home Department

I have just made a statement in which I set out the timeline for when decisions were made. If the right hon. Gentleman had listened carefully, he would have heard it.

Photo of Stephen Mosley Stephen Mosley Conservative, City of Chester

We heard suggestions earlier that documents were being shredded and e-mails were being deleted. What powers will the three inquiries have to ensure that documents are available to them and witnesses can be called to give evidence?

Photo of Theresa May Theresa May Minister for Women and Equalities, The Secretary of State for the Home Department

I can assure my hon. Friend that the internal inquiry has been ongoing since the first information on the matter was available on Thursday and is continuing. I expect it to be a relatively quick inquiry. The inquiry by the chief inspector is starting today, and I saw him and one of his assistant chief inspectors this morning. They have already started the necessary work for conducting the field work at various ports around the country and will have the full powers available to the chief inspector in normal circumstances.

Photo of Nia Griffith Nia Griffith Shadow Minister (Wales)

We have been rather disappointed by the Home Secretary’s answers on Manchester and Belfast airports and the number of people coming into the country. Will she make available to us as soon as possible all the details about the ports and airports involved, the times they were involved and the number of people who came in, rather than waiting until January for an inquiry? She should make it her business to find these things out.

Photo of Theresa May Theresa May Minister for Women and Equalities, The Secretary of State for the Home Department

I have already indicated that I will make available information about which ports were included.

Photo of Mike Hancock Mike Hancock Liberal Democrat, Portsmouth South

I hope that the Home Secretary will not mind me saying so, but she sounds today like she is more on autopilot than anything else. Does she recollect being given a report about the pilot at the end of September? If she did not see it, which of her Ministers did?

Photo of Theresa May Theresa May Minister for Women and Equalities, The Secretary of State for the Home Department

As I indicated in my statement, it was decided in the middle of September to extend the pilot until this week. If that is the report the hon. Gentleman is talking about, we of course looked at it and considered whether we should extend the pilot.

Photo of Paul Blomfield Paul Blomfield Labour, Sheffield Central

If the Home Secretary agrees that every aspect of this issue should be investigated, will she confirm that the inquiries will consider the resources that are made available to UKBA?

Photo of Theresa May Theresa May Minister for Women and Equalities, The Secretary of State for the Home Department

The terms of reference for the inquiry by the chief inspector will be placed in the Library, so the hon. Gentleman will be able to see for himself exactly what it covers.

Photo of Charlie Elphicke Charlie Elphicke Conservative, Dover

Will the Home Secretary congratulate the front-line UKBA officers who do a brilliant job around the country, including in Dover, and is she aware of Phil Woolas’s comments that his efforts to tighten our borders were opposed by Treasury and Foreign Office Ministers?

Photo of Theresa May Theresa May Minister for Women and Equalities, The Secretary of State for the Home Department

I am grateful to my hon. Friend, and I will indeed pay tribute to the work that is done by UK Border Agency officers at our ports, including those who are at Dover. As I made clear in an earlier answer, they do very good work on a daily basis to stop people coming into this country illegally and to seize goods that should not be coming into this country. As I say, those who operate at Dover should be commended for the work that they do on a daily basis.

Photo of Helen Jones Helen Jones Shadow Minister (Communities and Local Government)

If the pilot was to be evaluated, someone must have been collecting information on how it was working. Can the Home Secretary tell us where that information was held, and can she now answer the question of my hon. Friend Derek Twigg about whether any Minister or ministerial private office knew what was going on?

Photo of Theresa May Theresa May Minister for Women and Equalities, The Secretary of State for the Home Department

Yes, we were looking at the operation of the pilot, as a full evaluation, at the end of the pilot taking place. Opposition Members have asked on several occasions whether during the course of the pilot it became clear to Ministers that it was being operated not just as requested and authorised, but in another way, and the answer to that is no.

Photo of Mark Reckless Mark Reckless Conservative, Rochester and Strood

Brodie Clark was governor of Whitemoor prison when five IRA men escaped, yet he was promoted to be the Prison Service head of security and then to head the UK border force. The Home Secretary explains that things will improve under the NCA, but does she agree that confidence in the agency would be bolstered if its head were subject to a parliamentary confirmation hearing?

Photo of Theresa May Theresa May Minister for Women and Equalities, The Secretary of State for the Home Department

My hon. Friend is an assiduous member of the Home Affairs Committee, and I suspect that it may choose to return to that issue. As he will know as a member of the Committee, in due course the head of the National Crime Agency will be available to appear before the Committee and to talk about his proposals for the agency, which will include the border police command.

Photo of Glenda Jackson Glenda Jackson Labour, Hampstead and Kilburn

Was there a specific incident that caused Mr Vine to raise his concerns only last week with Mr Whiteman, or did he have concerns during the previous four months? Did he raise them with anyone? Did such individuals raise those issues with the Home Secretary or anyone in her office?

Photo of Theresa May Theresa May Minister for Women and Equalities, The Secretary of State for the Home Department

The chief inspector had carried out an inspection of a Heathrow terminal, and during that inspection he developed a concern about the consistency of the controls being operated. It was that issue that he raised, and it was following discussions about that issue that what had happened has come out.

Photo of Adrian Bailey Adrian Bailey Chair, Business, Innovation and Skills Committee

Earlier this year I hosted a delegation of Chinese business men and investors, who very politely told me that they felt they had undergone excessive security screening and delays at Heathrow airport. When the Home Secretary introduced this shambolic pilot, did she not consider the message that it might send to legitimate and well-meaning trading partners from other parts of the world, who have undergone a far more rigorous examination?

Photo of Theresa May Theresa May Minister for Women and Equalities, The Secretary of State for the Home Department

I am not quite certain where the hon. Gentleman is coming from on that particular point, because he seems to complain on the one hand about a pilot with some limited relaxation of controls, and on the other hand about excessive controls.

Photo of Alison Seabeck Alison Seabeck Shadow Minister (Defence)

This summer, returning from holiday at the end of August along with thousands of others, we arrived at Heathrow, where we were actively discouraged from using the modern technology that the Home Secretary has talked about so frequently in her answers. Will her pilot study indicate exactly what percentage of passengers arriving used the new machines, what percentage went through officials and what percentage of people caught trying to enter illegally went through either the machines or officials?

Photo of Theresa May Theresa May Minister for Women and Equalities, The Secretary of State for the Home Department

E-gate usage is known—those figures are available—and one of the matters that I have taken up with the UK Border Agency is the extent to which it should encourage people who are able to use e-gates to do so. The hon. Lady’s experience suggests that otherwise has occurred.

Photo of Jim Fitzpatrick Jim Fitzpatrick Shadow Minister (Transport)

The Home Secretary says that she discussed the pilot with the Immigration Minister and the Minister responsible for security, but did she consult ministerial colleagues and security officials at the Department for Transport? If so, what was their advice?

Photo of Theresa May Theresa May Minister for Women and Equalities, The Secretary of State for the Home Department

The matter related to the operation of border security controls, which is a matter for the Home Office.

Photo of Graham Stringer Graham Stringer Labour, Blackley and Broughton

I am appalled that the Home Secretary set up a pilot at Manchester airport and did not know she had done so. That is extraordinary. Will she now answer without any ambiguity the question that has been asked four or five times: did information come from those pilot schemes into her or any other Minister’s office in the Home Office—yes or no?

Photo of Theresa May Theresa May Minister for Women and Equalities, The Secretary of State for the Home Department

As I have made clear, an evaluation of the pilot was going to take place at the end of the study, so that we could look at how it was operating and whether it was doing what it was expected to do. As I said in my statement, a decision was taken in the middle of September to extend the pilot until November in order to ensure that there was a fuller period of time to make the evaluation.

Photo of Nicholas Dakin Nicholas Dakin Opposition Whip (Commons)

How often did the Home Secretary get reports and updates on the progress of the pilot, and how often did she update the Prime Minister on it?

Photo of Theresa May Theresa May Minister for Women and Equalities, The Secretary of State for the Home Department

The hon. Gentleman refers to the Prime Minister’s involvement, which has been referred to by another hon. Member, and I answered that question: it was a matter for the Home Office and decisions were taken by the Home Office.