Industrial action by striking French workers yesterday caused significant disruption at the ports of Calais and Coquelles in northern France. This action resulted from a dispute between local trade unions and the owners of the French ferry operator, MyFerryLink. As a result of this disruptive strike, the port of Calais was shut for a period of more than 13 hours and train departures were suspended at the channel tunnel rail port of Coquelles. Sadly, the strikers damaged SNCF railway tracks outside the tunnel, which led to the cancellation of all Eurostar services until 6 o’clock this morning. More generally, the disruption caused backlogs of traffic in the Calais area that presented existing migrants around the town with opportunities to attempt to enter slow-moving lorries.
The French and UK Governments were well prepared for this event and tried and tested contingency plans were quickly put in place. Despite the extra pressure caused by the French strikers, Border Force maintained border security by following plans to put additional staff in place to search freight vehicles passing through the affected ports during the industrial action and thereafter. All freight vehicles passing through the Calais ports undergo searching by both the French authorities and the UK’s Border Force before boarding a ferry or train. During the course of yesterday’s disruption and since, Border Force and the French authorities have successfully identified and intercepted a significant number of would-be migrants.
Last night, I spoke with the French Interior Minister, Bernard Cazeneuve. He was as grateful as I was for the strong co-operation between UK and French authorities during yesterday’s incident, and I thanked him for the French police’s efforts to maintain law and order in the Calais area. Our two Governments have been working closely and constructively in recent months to bolster security at the juxtaposed border at Calais and other French ports. Last September, Her Majesty’s Government committed £12 million to that work. This has led to the installation of fencing around the port of Calais and the approach road and improvements to the layout of the port to speed up flows of traffic and create secure buffer zones for heavy goods vehicles. This is in addition to £3 million spent on the provision of new scanners and detection technology to assist with the searching of freight vehicles and additional dog searching undertaken by contractors. At the port of Coquelles, we have already provided significant investment in upgrading perimeter security and freight-screening technology. We will continue to work with Eurotunnel and the French authorities on installing additional security measures at the site to prevent migrants from making incursions into the port.
More broadly, the ongoing situation in Calais serves as an important reminder of why EU member states need to work together to tackle the causes of illegal immigration in source and transit countries. We are already co-operating closely with the French to tackle the organised criminal gangs that facilitate the movement of migrants into and across Europe. UK and French law enforcement organisations have already had considerable success in dismantling criminal networks behind people trafficking and smuggling on both sides of the channel, resulting in the prosecution of 223 individuals, and Monsieur Cazeneuve and I have agreed to build on this important work. As the Prime Minister and I have repeatedly made clear, the most important step to resolving the situation in the Mediterranean is breaking the link between migrants making this dangerous journey and achieving settlement in Europe.
Traffic on both sides of the channel is moving again. There will, however, continue to be a significant border security operation as the backlogs of traffic are cleared at the affected ports. The inconvenience caused by the French strikers to the travelling public and lorry drivers is deeply regrettable. Though yesterday’s incident was caused by events that were beyond the control of Her Majesty’s Government, our law enforcement organisations reacted to the events extremely well. I am sure the House will want to join me in commending the excellent work done by Border Force, Kent police and others on both sides of the channel who have worked tirelessly to maintain border security and minimise disruption to the travelling public. I commend this statement to the House.
As the Home Secretary rightly says, the situation in Calais has been caused by a wider humanitarian issue across the whole of the Mediterranean and north Africa, which is in turn caused by hunger, civil war, political instability and the movement of people across the Mediterranean. Alongside the strike and the problems in Calais last night, the situation there has been causing problems for some time, as I saw on a visit in November last year, and it remains a real challenge.
Will the Home Secretary tell us what steps she is taking, following her discussions with the French Interior Minister, to ensure that the French Government assess, process, identify and take action on those at Calais? She has rightly said that they are the victims of people traffickers, but they are also in France and the responsibility of the French Government. Will she resist the calls from some quarters in France to end the UK Border Force presence at Calais, given that it is extremely important in maintaining the integrity of our border?
Will the Home Secretary tell us whether, at the European summit this weekend, the Prime Minister intends to raise the points he made at Prime Minister’s questions about the situation in Italy and southern Europe? As he and the Home Secretary have said, that situation plays a key role in determining the intentions of the people who come to Calais. Will the right hon. Lady also tell us what proportion of the £12 million that she and the Prime Minister have mentioned has been spent to date? She will recall that the £12 million relates to a three-year programme, and we are now in year one. I would like her to stop talking about the £12 million and tell us what has been spent to date, and whether further resources are required to meet the challenges.
Will the Home Secretary and the Transport Secretary advise hauliers, train operators and the public on the assessments that they should be making, and on whether compensation claims could be made in the light of yesterday’s incident? Will she also ask the Transport Secretary to make an assessment in due course of whether Operation Stack operated as an effective response yesterday in southern England?
The Home Secretary has announced a new taskforce today. Will she tell the House more about its remit and resources, and explain how she would measure any success that it might achieve? Will she also make a further commitment to tackle the scourge of people trafficking through working with our European partners and their police forces? I would like her to make a commitment to report regularly to the House on the success of the taskforce in achieving its objectives.
This is a humanitarian crisis and the Home Secretary will have the support of Her Majesty’s Opposition in dealing with it. It is important that we do so not only on behalf of those victims of the crisis, but for the integrity of our borders. The French need to take further action to ensure that they support us in both of those objectives.
The right hon. Gentleman’s questions raise a number of issues. He referred to the fact that he visited Calais last year. Indeed, at the time he said of the problems of migrants building up at Calais:
“This is not new—we saw problems over ten years ago.”
That is precisely why the previous Labour Government worked with the then French Government to introduce the juxtaposed controls. The Le Touquet agreement was important and I reassure him that we certainly intend to do everything we can to maintain those juxtaposed controls. They are an important part of our border security and we will continue to work with the French authorities, as previous Governments have done, to ensure that they are maintained and operate well.
On the issue of processing people, as my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister indicated in Prime Minister’s questions when asked about it by the acting Leader of the Opposition, there is a challenge to the Italian authorities. People are due to be processed and fingerprinted when they first arrive on European shores, and for the majority of those people that means Italy. My French opposite number and I have been working with the Italian Government and, indeed, other European member states to encourage Italy to do exactly that. The European Council will be looking at the question of Mediterranean migration, as did the Justice and Home Affairs Council that I attended in Luxembourg last week. One of the key messages the United Kingdom has been giving consistently—and others support it—is that the best means of dealing with the issue is to break the link. This is about ensuring that people see that if they make this dangerous journey, they are not going to achieve settlement in Europe.
We need to work to break the organised criminal gangs and the people traffickers. The new taskforce is bringing together people from the National Crime Agency, Border Force, immigration enforcement and the Crown Prosecution Service. Some of them will be based overseas and some in the UK. I assure the right hon. Gentleman that they will be working not just among those British agencies, but with the French authorities and others, to ensure that there is better intelligence and a better understanding of where the gangs are and what the routes are, so that we can take appropriate action against them. I absolutely agree with that. It was this party, as part of the coalition Government, that introduced the Modern Slavery Act 2015, which makes it easier for law enforcement to deal with human traffickers. Obviously, that is important legislation.
My right hon. Friend the Immigration Minister has had a number of meetings and conversations with representatives of road hauliers about the security aspects. We believe that, overall, Operation Stack worked well. The process has been in place for some time, but the Department for Transport will continue to look at it and about half of the £12 million has already been spent.
Obviously, none of the member states of the European Union can just take in the vast numbers of people who are fleeing here from poverty and oppression in Africa and the middle east. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the moral and practical dilemma is that it will not be possible for Italy, France or the United Kingdom simply to ship back to Somalia, Eritrea, Syria and other places where they face death and oppression men, women and children who have risked their lives crossing the Mediterranean? In addition to the very welcome steps she has described of EU member states beginning to work together, as opposed to trying to blame each other—it is farcical to blame the Mayor of Calais and the French for the present situation—is any work being done to try to identify, locate and finance civilized camps where people can be held in decent conditions while they are processed and not left drifting destitute to all kinds of places over Europe? While there, they can be processed and proper plans can be made for how to resettle them somewhere they can properly find new lives.
My right hon. and learned Friend raises important issues, but it is wrong to assume that all the people coming through those routes are refugees or have valid asylum claims. Significant numbers come not from the countries to which he refers, but from Senegal, Nigeria and other west African countries, for whom the issue is somewhat different. Many people who come across from Libya into Italy are economic migrants who are trying to get into Europe illegally and to get settlement. That is why breaking the link is so important. Those individuals should know that they should not make that dangerous journey because they will not get settlement in Europe as a result. It is also why dealing with human traffickers and people smugglers is important.
Within the European arena, we are talking about the possibility of establishing places—we are currently looking at west Africa—where it is possible to return people. The other side of the matter is working in countries such as the ones my right hon. and learned Friend mentioned, using aid money, to ensure that we are developing those countries in a way that means we are reducing poverty in them, and reducing the temptation or incentive for people to try to move.
Order. That exchange was of singular interest, and should probably be preserved, and will be, in the Official Report, for the delectation of future generations. However, if others imitate it in length, we will be here for some hours.
While delays to cross-channel transport are concerning, as is the associated disruption, surely the bigger issue, which others have touched on, is the humanitarian aspect. Some of the migrants trying to cross from Calais to Dover are desperate. Many have gone through unimaginable suffering and are risking their lives in the hope of a better life in the United Kingdom. Many are fleeing countries that the United Kingdom had a hand in destabilising.
We need to take our fair share of refugees in the UK, as we have a proud tradition of doing in the past, from the Kindertransport in the 1930s to the Ugandan refugees in the 1970s. Even Mrs Thatcher took some of the Vietnamese boat people, although not as many as other countries.
The Scottish National party and the Scottish Government remain committed to assisting in this matter. We believe that there should be cross-country co-operation throughout the European Union. Will the United Kingdom Government accept the help of the Scottish Government, and participate in multilateral and collective action across the European Union, to deal with the problem of refugees?
The Government are addressing the issue of refugees in a number of ways. First of all, in relation to those displaced from Syria—refugees as a result of what is happening there—the UK Government are the second-largest bilateral donor to the region in terms of the money we have made available for refugee camps. Many people are being given medical treatment, water, food, clothing and shelter as a result of the money we have given—it is getting close to £900 million. We should be proud that we have done that. Given the number of refugees, they will not be accommodated by allowing everybody to move to Europe. Many of them want to be able to return to their home country in due course. Giving that provision in that area is important.
In relation to Scotland and asylum seekers, it is open to the hon. and learned Lady to encourage local authorities in Scotland to take larger numbers of the asylum seekers that we disperse around the United Kingdom.
I, too, commend the work of Border Force, which has deterred tens of thousands of illegal migrants from coming to this country. Without its effectiveness, the French would have rather a lot more to complain about. If our border became known as a weak link, many thousands more would pour into Calais.
What is the Home Secretary doing to bust the myth that the Home Affairs Committee has identified? Those people who are trafficked to Calais believe that we are some sort of El Dorado, where they will get jobs, benefits and support services. The truth is that they absolutely will not and that they will be illegal. What are we doing to bust that myth to deter people from going to Calais in the first place in the hope of coming here illegally?
My hon. Friend makes an important point. It is important that people understand what that journey means, what they will be coming to and the dangers of the journey. We have been working with the French authorities on the messages given to people who reach Calais about the fact that they should claim asylum in
France. By the end of this year, the French authorities will have more than trebled the number of people processed in Calais compared with 2013.
This crisis has been waiting to happen and no blame should be attached to the Government on it, because enormous amounts of money have been spent trying to deal with security in Calais, as Tim Loughton, my hon. Friend Mr Winnick and I saw for ourselves. The problem is the Mediterranean. Once people get to Calais, it is too late. Once people enter France, it is too late. That is why I welcome the establishment of the taskforce. The taskforce has to work with the Governments of the Maghreb. They are the key to preventing people from setting sail in the first place. It is not just the Italian border, but the Greek-Turkish border. The Home Secretary will have our support in trying to ensure that other EU countries bear their responsibility as well.
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his question and take the opportunity to congratulate him on his re-election to the chairmanship of the Home Affairs Committee. I dare say that he and I will be looking at each other across a room in the House of Commons on a number of occasions over the coming months.
The right hon. Gentleman is right that we need to identify the need to do something about the journeys from parts of Africa through the Mediterranean. The route from Libya to Italy is crucial, but he is right that people are being transported and moved through the Turkey-Greece border into Europe. We will work with Governments in Africa and elsewhere to ensure that we have an understanding of those movements and that we are able to deal with the criminal gangs. That is why I am pleased that the National Crime Agency has already focused on that and is increasing that focus.
I commend the work of our Border Force officers, whose diligent work to protect the UK border was certainly not helped by the actions of the French strikers yesterday.
My hon. Friend is right. Keith Vaz referred to a crisis. The problem of migrants gathering at Calais has been there for some time. As the Opposition spokesman, Mr Hanson, said, we saw that many years ago. Of course, the problem was exacerbated yesterday by the action of the French strikers, which meant that lorries were queuing, and therefore presented a greater opportunity and incentive for the migrants to try to clamber on to them.
I join the right hon. Lady in paying tribute to UK Border Force, which does a fantastic job around the country. Within the past fortnight, a further 50 illegal immigrants were found in the back of a lorry that arrived in another major UK port. We have a serious problem not only in Dover and Calais, but around the UK. UK Border Force redundancies are taking place in Teesport. Will she put a stop to any immediate front-line redundancies and ensure that what is happening down in Calais does not suck resources from around the country and put other ports at risk?
The aim of Border Force is to have a flexible workforce, so that it is possible to move officers around and reinforce particular ports when we need to, as we have seen happen because of the problems in Calais. We are conscious that clandestines have been found in the backs of lorries entering the UK through other ports. I have raised that matter with the Dutch immigration Minister. There will be talks between UK Ministers and Dutch Ministers about how we can help to reinforce the Hook of Holland. We are making extra capacity available to do that.
The path to Calais may begin in Khartoum or Conakry or other places in Africa, but it passes through a number of Schengen countries on the way. Those countries have no borders internally. What discussions is the Home Secretary having with her European counterparts to ensure that they take responsibility for that concentration, which is what we have in Calais, of that humanitarian disaster?
My hon. and learned Friend is perfectly right to point out that migrants who come to Calais will have come through a number of Schengen countries. Obviously, we are not a member of Schengen, and it is up to countries that are members to look at the rules they operate. He may have seen last week that there was activity by the French authorities at the French-Italian border because of concerns about migrants being able to move through from Italy.
The Home Secretary rightly reminded the House of the importance of aid policy in addressing the causes of increased migration. Can we take the opportunity in the next few days to remind our European Union partners of their obligation to match our 0.7% commitment and to press the French Government, who are cutting development assistance at this time?
Yes, we do. In fact, at the Justice and Home Affairs Council last week, I raised the need for Europe to look collectively at how its aid money is disbursed to ensure it is being used properly to alleviate poverty in the areas people are coming from.
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right that preserving good relations with the French Government so that our border is effectively at Calais and Coquelles, as opposed to Dover and Folkestone, is the biggest single contribution to the integrity of our borders in this part of the country. She also said that Operation Stack worked well. May I gently point out that it may work well in administrative terms, but whenever it comes in, it causes huge disruption and misery to my constituents and thousands of other people in Kent? Will she, with the Secretary of State for Transport, take this opportunity to redouble efforts to make sure that alternatives to Operation Stack are brought in? Every time it comes in, it causes massive disruption to one of our biggest road routes to Europe.
I thank my right hon. Friend for gently pointing that out to me. He makes his representations. Representations are also made to me on a regular basis by my hon. Friend Charlie Elphicke on the impact these incidents have on the port and the surrounding transport network. I will raise the comments my right hon. Friend makes with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport.
The Secretary of State makes a fair point about the work of humanitarian organisations in the theatre—we all applaud that—but does she realise we are facing the worst refugee crisis since the war and that the UK response has been described as paling in comparison with that of other EU countries? Does she welcome the Scottish Government’s offer to work with them and take more Syrian refugees in the resettlement programme?
First, several thousand Syrians have been able to claim asylum in recent years here in the United Kingdom. We introduced the vulnerable persons relocation scheme, which the Prime Minister announced last weekend will be slightly expanded. The scheme, working with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, focuses on the most vulnerable. I have to say to the hon. Gentleman that to describe the donation of £900 million of aid to refugees, supporting many people’s lives through medical provisions, water, food and shelter, as pitiful is quite wrong. This country should be proud of the fact that we have taken such a leading role.
Order. The Home Secretary is giving her answer to the hon. Gentleman. It is not appropriate to try to raise a point of order in the middle of an answer. It is unparliamentary. It is also—dare I say it?—more than a tad discourteous.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. I was merely saying that I think this country can be proud of the contribution we have made to help to deal with the Syrian refugee crisis.
I welcome the measures the Home Secretary is taking to tackle the problems in Calais. Do we not need to work on the longer-term problem of illegal immigrants trying to find their way into Europe and into this country? What measures is the Home Secretary taking to tackle this long-term issue?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We need to ensure that we deal not with the symptoms of the problem—people arriving at Calais and trying to get into the UK—but the origin of the issue. We need to work with the countries of origin on the provision of support such that people can have a better life: a better economy and the stability to ensure that they are less likely to wish to move to Europe. We must also ensure that we catch the criminals, the people smugglers, who are helping people on their way. They take people’s money and then put them into dangerous conditions on the sea. We must break that link, so people see that paying out that money will not actually get them to Europe.
I thank the Secretary of State for her statement. Is she aware of the media reports this morning indicating that some eastern European countries will not stop illegal immigrants coming through their countries, thus increasing the impact on France and the United Kingdom? What steps can she take to address that issue?
I am aware that a number of countries in eastern Europe are taking a number of measures. Some of them are putting in place greater physical security on their borders, while others are looking at the operation of what is known as the Dublin regulations, which require the claiming of asylum in the first country that an individual enters. We will be discussing these issues with our European colleagues.
My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary is right that the scenes we are witnessing in Calais are the natural result of the failure of the borderless Schengen area. Is she pleased, as I am, that we are not in it? Will she confirm that we will never join it?
I am very happy to answer, briefly, that I am pleased we are not in the Schengen area. That is absolutely the right decision. We need to be able to maintain control of our borders and we will not be joining Schengen.
Does the Home Secretary think that deeper UK engagement in resolving the problems Italy and Greece are facing in handling large numbers of refugees and economic migrants would maximise the chances of securing a European solution to the European problem at Calais?
We are working with a number of Governments across Europe. Indeed, as part of the Greek action plan agreed across Europe and put into effect by Frontex some time ago, we have been putting resources into that plan to help to support the Greek authorities to deal with the numbers they have coming across their border.
Surely, two of the issues are these. First, we are seen as an El Dorado because we have high employment rates compared with the rest of continental Europe. We do not want to change that. The second issue is Schengen. What discussions has my right hon. Friend had with the French Government to strengthen border controls, which she has already mentioned, with Italy and other countries? Schengen partners are allowed to do that in such emergencies.
As I said in response to a similar question, we are not part of Schengen and any discussions on how the Schengen rules operate are predominantly for those countries within the Schengen area. As my hon. Friend will have seen, the French have taken recent action. This is not the first time such action has been undertaken. I am aware that the Schengen countries have had discussions on the question of internal border controls, should emergency circumstances require them.
Is the Home Secretary concerned about reports today that people traffickers are now causing a proliferation of people smuggling by recruiting businessmen, students and day trippers to bring people into the country in their cars, which are subject to less scrutiny than lorry transport? What steps can be taken to deal with this new development without massively disrupting traffic through ports?
Sadly, the situation we face is that the people smugglers and the human traffickers will try every way possible to ply their trade. That is why it is so important that our law enforcement agencies, working with law enforcement organisations in Europe and elsewhere, are identifying trafficking routes, traffickers and people smugglers and can take action against them.
Does the Home Secretary agree that the scale of the problem yesterday was exacerbated by the French strikers gaining forcible access to the channel tunnel, leading to the closure of services there as well as at the port, and that the French authorities need to do more to secure the channel tunnel at Coquelles? Has she been given any reassurance by the French Interior Minister on that point?
My hon. Friend is right to identify the fact that the problem yesterday was the strike and the damage to the tracks. Lorries and other vehicles were queuing or moving very slowly, which gave the migrants a greater opportunity to try to clamber aboard. I have had discussions with the French Interior Minister, both last night and previously. We are looking at what extra security can be put around Coquelles, in addition to the extra security at Calais. I have been reassured by the French authorities that they intend to ensure a police response is available at the ports, so that we can deal with this problem as it arises.
It is estimated that one in 122 people on the planet is now a refugee, and many of them are children. Will the Secretary of State tell us how much of the £12 million is being spent on child protection for those children collected at the borders who are vulnerable to being seduced into paedophile rings and trafficked again by criminal gangs?
The hon. Lady has misunderstood, as the £12 million is specifically for improving border security at the juxtaposed controls. In respect of the issue she raises—children being exploited and trafficked—we are stepping up the efforts we are able to make as a Government. The Modern Slavery Act 2015 is a seminal piece of legislation, the first of its kind in Europe. It is very important, giving extra powers to law enforcement agencies and ensuring that victims are taken into account. We are taking a number of actions to provide extra support to victims of human trafficking when they are identified.
Many of these criminal gangs will, of course, have links to the funding of terrorism, and the capability of civilian police forces in Europe is somewhat limited by comparison to the military. It is unlikely that a UN resolution will be granted for limited and targeted NATO military action in north Africa, but what progress, if any, is being made on an EU resolution to deploy an EU military force to disrupt and degrade the logistical supply chains?
My hon. Friend raises an important point. Taking action on this matter has been discussed at the European level, but action against the boats setting forth from the Libyan coastline has to be done in discussion with the Libyan authorities. Those discussions are taking place. The United Kingdom is also playing a leading role within the UN in looking to see whether a resolution can be brought forward that would enable action to happen.
I draw the House’s attention to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests, particularly in respect of transport logistics. The Home Secretary has rightly explained that this is not a recent issue—indeed, it has been an ongoing problem. She also rightly identified that Coquelles and Calais should be the border. Many commercial drivers, however, are stopping much further away from the port on the French side and are being targeted by highly organised criminal gangs, sometimes in places more than 100 miles from Calais. Can she reassure us that the conversations she is having take that issue into account and are aimed at enforcing the rule of law, so that commercial drivers are protected all the way through their journeys?
Yes, we are absolutely looking at that issue. There are two aspects to it. My right hon. Friend the Minister for Immigration is having discussions with the Road Haulage Association to talk about its point of view, and the National Crime Agency, in tandem with other law enforcement organisations, is working with law enforcement bodies elsewhere in Europe to identify the routes and where the potential attempts at incursion can take place and to take appropriate action.
Further to the question put by my hon. Friend Damian Collins, will my right hon. Friend or her Ministers have ongoing discussions with their continental European counterparts to ensure that the security arrangements are resilient enough to withstand the type of industrial action that we have seen recently?
I thank my hon. Friend for his question. When Border Force looks at security issues around the ports, it takes into account the work necessary to deal with the migrants building up at Calais and Coquelles, but it has contingency arrangements in place to deal with potential strike action, which actually took place at Calais yesterday. It will continue to look at those arrangements and make sure that they are robust, so that we can, as far as possible, ensure that the cross-channel routes can be maintained, while we maintain the security of our borders.
Many of these people are coming from Italy. Given that Italy is feeling absolutely overwhelmed by the sheer weight of the numbers coming in, what specific help is the Home Secretary offering to her Italian counterparts to deal with those problems in Italy?
The longer-term answer is, of course, working with Italy and others to break this link, so that we do not see people trying to make this journey. Some members of the organised immigration crime task force will operate in Italy, working with the Italian authorities and others. Extra resources are also being offered to the Italian authorities for asylum processing in Italy.
The Home Secretary can be rightly proud of the Modern Slavery Act 2015 and the fact that there are now tougher penalties for traffickers, that it is easier for the police to take action and that a commissioner has been created. However, these are evil criminal gangs, equal in evil to the gangs that deal in drugs, yet we put in only a proportion of our resources for fighting traffickers and much more for fighting drugs. Can we look at that balance to see if we have it right?
My hon. Friend is right. He is well aware of these issues from when he was chairman of the all-party parliamentary group on human trafficking and of the terrible evil that, as he says, lies behind this crime. We do indeed look at the balance, and I have asked the National Crime Agency to provide a focus on human trafficking. We should not think that the gangs deal either in drugs or in people: sadly, these gangs will deal in anything that they think will make them money. Many of them are therefore dealing in people and drugs.
The Secretary of State claims over and again that the way to tackle the crisis in the Mediterranean is by breaking the link between travel and settlement. Is that the reason behind the Government’s unbelievable decision to scale down our capacity to undertake search and rescue operations in the Mediterranean? Does she not recognise that that decision will cost lives and should be reversed?
I am afraid that the hon. Gentleman has been misinformed about exactly what happened. I think that he is trying to refer to Mare Nostrum, which was not a European-wide engagement but one done by the Italian Government. Indeed, in the year Mare Nostrum was in place, more people died in the Mediterranean than in the previous year. There is now a Frontex operation, to which the UK Government give support. The Prime Minister referred earlier to HMS Bulwark, and it will be replaced by HMS Enterprise. There are also two Border Force cutters taking part in the enterprise of saving lives in the Mediterranean. The UK is certainly playing its part.
I join hon. Members across the House in commending the work of the UK Border Force in securing our border over the last year or so. I welcome the extra investment that the Government have made in bolstering security across the ports in northern France. Will my right hon. Friend tell us in a little more detail what that includes?
I thank my hon. Friend for his comments about Border Force and its work. The money made available covers physical security, in the form of extra fencing and looking at the layout of a port to make it more secure by providing larger areas for lorries, for example. We have also put in some extra sniffer dog capacity by increasing the numbers in the teams, as well as extra detection equipment, so that we can identify when clandestines are in lorries.
Before I first came to this place, I represented the Home Office in several people-smuggling cases, and I echo the comments of other hon. Members in commending Border Force officers. Will my right hon. Friend say more about investigatory powers for police officers, the duties of investigation for haulage companies and sanctions for breach?
These are areas where, in respect of human trafficking, we have been able to bring offences together in one Act of Parliament, increase sentencing and make extra powers available to the police to deal with those responsible. In the immigration Bill, which will be forthcoming later this year, we will look at the responsibilities on hauliers and other parties to make sure that our border is as secure as possible.
I am glad that the Home Secretary mentioned the work of Kent police in her statement, because they have been working tirelessly on the whole issue. Whenever industrial action of this nature takes place in France, it has a knock-on impact in Kent and causes problems for both motorists and the police. I understand that the police were given extra resources to help them to tackle the issue, but will the Home Secretary keep their funding under review, so that they can continue their good work?
My hon. Friend is right. Given that the Kent force polices the Dover area in particular—but, obviously, other Kent ports as well—it often finds itself having to react to various initiatives, and in need of resources to enable it to do so. We do, of course, consider the basis on which police forces are funded, and take account of their requirements.
I understand that we are not part of the Schengen agreement, but actions taken by Schengen countries clearly have an impact on our borders. Will my right hon. Friend encourage the French to conduct more operations like the Italian border operations, to ensure that the problem is not concentrated on Calais as it has been to date?
My hon. Friend makes a good point. The more that can be done to stop the flow of people further upstream, the better it will be for Calais and the less pressure there will be not just on the French authorities there, but on Border Force and our juxtaposed controls. I assure my hon. Friend that healthy discussions are taking place in the European arena about the actions that can be taken by Schengen countries.
May I ask the Home Secretary to continue the hard work that is being done to deal with the confusion caused by a failure to differentiate between the economic migrants who often come here to work and the vulnerable refugees who come here in search of a place of safety? I think that those who are considering the arguments from the outside feel very confused about the work that the Government are doing, and I therefore welcome the forthcoming immigration Bill, which will help to tackle the problem.
I thank my hon. Friend for drawing attention to that issue. Reports about what is happening at Calais and about people crossing the Mediterranean often use terms such as “refugee” or “asylum seeker” to describe all those people, although, as we know, a significant proportion of them are economic migrants who are trying to enter Europe illegally. We think it important to break that link, so that people are made aware that they cannot make those journeys, arrive in Europe illegally, and settle here.
If my hon. Friend is interested in the activities of the taskforce, he may wish to attend Home Office questions, so that he can ask Ministers about it.