Major Incident in Essex

– in the House of Commons at 3:36 pm on 28th October 2019.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Priti Patel Priti Patel The Secretary of State for the Home Department 3:36 pm, 28th October 2019

I would like to update the House on the investigation into the tragic deaths of the 39 migrants discovered last Wednesday in Essex. This morning, the Prime Minister and I visited Thurrock in Essex, to sign the book of condolence and pay our respects to the 39 individuals who died in the most appalling circumstances in trying to reach the United Kingdom. These were people’s sons and daughters, friends and family. As victims of brutal and unscrupulous criminal gangs, they have paid the ultimate price. We have been confronted with a stark reminder of the evils of people smuggling and human trafficking. This trade is a blight on the modern world. For the sake of these victims, and for millions like them, we must do all we can to stamp it out.

I would like to pay tribute once again to the outstanding professionalism shown by all our emergency services—in particular, the swift and professional response from the East of England ambulance service, Essex County Fire and Rescue Service and Essex police, who are leading the ongoing criminal investigation—and our operational partners who are working round the clock to assist the investigation, including the National Crime Agency.

The families of the victims, at this incredibly difficult time, are in all our thoughts and have my full sympathy. Nothing can ever undo the loss that they have suffered. We owe it to them to identify those responsible and ensure that they face the full force of the law. I want to work with those families to ensure that they can bring forward any evidence they have to help solve this appalling crime. With their help, we can bring the perpetrators to justice.

I would like to remind colleagues that this will be a long and meticulous investigation. As I heard today and last week from Essex police, it will involve working with partners overseas and foreign law enforcement agencies and unravelling a threat of criminality that could stretch halfway across the world. We are already working with a range of operational partners to piece together information. The police themselves—Essex police—will need to be given the time and space to do just that, while respecting the dignity of those who have died and of course the privacy of their families. The process of identifying the victims is continuing, and I would like to stress that their nationalities have still not yet been confirmed at this stage.

On Friday, three further people were arrested in connection with the incident. A 38-year-old man and a 38-year-old woman from Warrington were arrested in Cheshire, while a 46-year-old man from Northern Ireland was arrested at Stansted airport. All three were questioned on suspicion of manslaughter and conspiracy to traffic people, and have now been released on bail.

The driver of the vehicle was 25-year-old Maurice Robinson from Northern Ireland. This morning, he appeared at Chelmsford magistrates court via video link, charged with 39 counts of manslaughter, conspiracy to traffic people, conspiracy to assist unlawful immigration and money laundering. He has been remanded in custody and is next due to appear at the Old Bailey on 25 November.

Following the devastating discovery of the lorry at Tilbury, the Home Office has set up a dedicated team to co-ordinate an immediate response and a long-term response to this tragedy. I can confirm that Border Force is increasing its presence in Purfleet. It is working alongside Essex police to gather further information regarding this incident. The Home Office will now accelerate our joint intelligence-led operation between the police, the National Crime Agency and immigration enforcement, which aims to disrupt and deter organised crime gangs using refrigerated and hard-sided lorries to smuggle clandestine migrants.

I would like to stress once again that the nationalities of the victims have not been confirmed at this stage, but work is under way to co-ordinate the international response to this incident. I have already spoken to my Belgian counterpart, Minister De Crem, to invigorate the work that is taking place across both countries. I can confirm to the House that, as of today, I have received agreement from the Belgian authorities to deploy extra UK immigration enforcement officers to Zeebrugge. I have also been in contact with other international partners to offer assistance to any foreign nationals who may have been affected by this tragedy.

Last week’s tragedy was the culmination of a broad, more general rise in global migration, but also of organised criminality. This is one of the most pressing issues for the UK, as well as for all our international partners. Illegal migration fuels organised crime, erodes public confidence and, most importantly, endangers the lives of desperate people. The perpetrators conduct their activities under a cloak of secrecy. The motivations that lead people to try to cross borders illegally are broad and complex. They are often among the most vulnerable, and then of course they are further exploited.

It is clear that we and all our partners must enhance our response. All areas of Government have a role to play—whether it is in strengthening our borders and eliminating the pull factors in this country, or in addressing many of the root causes to suppress demand for illegal migration. We already have an illegal migration strategy in place, but as the tragic events last week in Essex have shown, there is much more to do. I will be working across Government and Government Departments this week to plan how we can strengthen our response to the wider migration crisis that led these victims to try to enter the United Kingdom. The organised criminals who drive this practice are dynamic, unscrupulous and highly adaptable, but failing to confront them comes at a terrible human cost. We must be ruthless now in our response.

Photo of Diane Abbott Diane Abbott Shadow Home Secretary 3:43 pm, 28th October 2019

I thank the Home Secretary for advance sight of her statement.

The events in Essex are a tragic loss of life. All death is regrettable, but this was a particularly gruesome and grotesque way to die, and an horrific experience for the first responders. Many of us in the House will have seen the images in our media over the weekend of desperate communities who are frightened that their young people may have been in that lorry. Many of us will have seen the messages from people to their families on the verge of their own suffocation. One woman said:

“I am really, really sorry, Mum and Dad, my trip to a foreign land has failed”.

I would like to thank the Home Secretary for the information about the arrests and about how some progress has been made in identifying the victims. However, as the investigation is ongoing and criminal charges are involved, I will not say more about this specific case.

As the Home Secretary said, people traffickers are particularly ruthless and simply do not care about human life. I was in Lesbos last year looking at the people trafficking from Turkey across the Mediterranean to Greece. The people traffickers not only deliberately took large sums of money off desperate people, but put those people in completely unseaworthy rubber dinghies. They gave people fake lifejackets and did not care that—as inevitably happened—many of them died in the Mediterranean. The people traffickers are greedy, ruthless and unscrupulous, and they have a callous disregard for human life.

I would, however, like to ask the Home Secretary whether the Home Office will be looking at security at some of the small east coast ports? I do not want to pre-empt the police investigation, but it seems that these small ports are being used because there is less security than at ports such as Dover.

I also want to ask the Home Secretary about the current co-operation with the European police, security and justice agencies in investigating this case. Specifically, how closely are our agencies, police forces and National Crime Agency working with Europol in this investigation? Will she also indicate the level of co-operation with the European Migrant Smuggling Centre, which is an agency of Europol? How are our agents benefiting from co-operation with what is the most sophisticated agency of its kind in the world?

Will the Home Secretary further explain how that co-operation can continue under a no-deal Brexit or the Prime Minister’s deal? As things stand, we will lose the current level of co-operation, we will not have real-time access to EU agency databases, and we will lose access to a host of criminal databases and to the European arrest warrant. The House would therefore like to know what plans the Home Secretary has to maintain and, if anything, strengthen that co-operation.

This is a very tragic event. In some ways, it has humanised the issue of people trafficking for many people in this country. Of course we have to bear down on the people traffickers—they are ruthless and have no concern for human life—but we also have to look at issues such as how we make those eastern ports more secure and how we guarantee people the same level of co-operation with EU agencies that we currently have.

Photo of Priti Patel Priti Patel The Secretary of State for the Home Department

I thank the right hon. Lady for her remarks. There are a number of points I would like to make.

First, the right hon. Lady is absolutely right about the first responders. They cannot unsee what they have experienced and seen through this awful crime. Secondly, she is right to recognise the scale of trafficking and the inhumanity—there is no other word that can describe it—of the perpetrators behind not only this crime but modern slavery, people smuggling and human trafficking.

The right hon. Lady specifically asked about checks at eastern ports. Those ports are not as vast as others and do not necessarily have the large amounts of freight coming through. She will have heard me remark in my statement that, with regard to Purfleet, Border Force will obviously now be increasing its presence, but it will also be working with Essex police on targeting and on the response it needs to the incident itself, providing further information about what has happened.

The right hon. Lady asked about security and the drivers in terms of working in co-operation and in partnership with other agencies. Of course, that is exactly what we are doing right now. The National Crime Agency is, rightly, taking the lead on this investigation. As I said in my statement, it is a complicated investigation, and we are working with a number of agencies across the European Union, and with others, because of the routes that have been taken. I have no doubt that, over time, we will hear much more, and a lot more information will come out in due course.

The right hon. Lady specifically asked about Brexit and security co-operation. I would just say to the House that the way in which we can absolutely ensure that we have the strongest possible co-operation is by having a deal. That is exactly the Government’s position and I would like the right hon. Lady and her party to support it.

On co-operation and security tools, there are no boundaries when it comes to our co-operation. The United Kingdom will remain one of the safest countries in the world, as well as a global leader on security.

Photo of Jackie Doyle-Price Jackie Doyle-Price Conservative, Thurrock

I thank my right hon. Friend for the leadership she is showing across Government on this issue. There has been a lot of talk over the past few days about the security at our east coast ports, but does she agree that it matters nothing how much security we put in place when people are being trafficked through numerous countries before arriving here and going through continental ports? Do not all jurisdictions need to step up to the plate and deliver on this?

Photo of Priti Patel Priti Patel The Secretary of State for the Home Department

I thank my hon. Friend for her comments and her question as the constituency Member of Parliament. We were together this morning to pay our respects and extend our condolences, alongside the Prime Minister. She will know, with Purfleet and Tilbury in her constituency, that the challenges are absolutely vast. She highlights the fact that we could have a huge amount of port security, which we do across the country, but that the major international issue is that serious organised crime gangs exploit vulnerable individuals from across the world who seek a better life in another country. They are the ones who have fallen victim in this case.

Photo of Joanna Cherry Joanna Cherry Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Justice and Home Affairs), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Justice), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

I thank the Home Secretary for her statement and for advance sight of it. Like her, my thoughts, and those of my colleagues in the Scottish National party, are with the families of the victims, who it seems are far away and desperately trying to gather information about what might have happened to their loved ones. It is very difficult to fathom what it must be like to lose a loved one in such dreadful circumstances. I also join her in paying tribute to the response of the emergency services. I would like to express my concern for their wellbeing, given what they have seen.

I associate myself with what the Home Secretary said about the gross immorality and inhumanity of people smuggling. I will speak about the specifics rather than this case, as it is an ongoing investigation. As the shadow Home Secretary said, an international trafficking and smuggling network can only be broken up through international co-operation. I know that the Home Secretary recognises that. She will also recognise that the European Migrant Smuggling Centre, which is a part of Europol, has been at the heart of this inquiry and of other inquiries into similar tragedies. A Europol source has been quoted as saying that the investigators at Europol are:

“working around the clock trying to put together the pieces of the puzzle.”

I know the Home Secretary is keen for us to support the deal to leave the European Union, but that deal does not adequately address what plans the Government have to work with those vital EU institutions in future. It simply will not do to say that America has a relationship with Europol, because America is not in Europe—we are.

The UN’s trafficking envoy has said that withdrawing from Europol and Eurojust could curtail the UK’s ability to conduct the transnational investigations required to dismantle smuggling networks. Does she accept that leaving the European Union will make such investigations more difficult? If not, will she take this opportunity to clarify, in a way that she was unable to do before the Home Affairs Committee last week, what relationship she thinks the UK should have in the future with those institutions following Brexit?

Photo of Priti Patel Priti Patel The Secretary of State for the Home Department

I thank the hon. and learned Lady for her comments on the actual incident in Essex, and on the issue at hand in terms of people smuggling and the 39 deaths. On her comments about security co-operation, I re-emphasise and restate that we continue to be one of the safest countries in the world and we will be a global leader in security.

The hon. and learned Lady asks about Europol. We can continue to work with Europol when we leave the EU: it is possible for third countries to do that, and there are very good examples of third countries, including the United States, doing so.

Photo of Vicky Ford Vicky Ford Conservative, Chelmsford

This is indeed a terrible tragedy and, of course, our hearts go out to all the families concerned. I thank my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary for praising the outstanding professionals in our emergency services. I also thank all those at Chelmsford magistrates court, where the case has been heard this morning; the Essex coroner and her deeply dedicated team, who are based in Chelmsford; all those working on the investigation at Essex police headquarters, which is also in Chelmsford; and the staff at Broomfield Hospital, which is just outside my constituency in the Saffron Walden constituency but is nevertheless where many of my Chelmsford constituents work—I understand that the bodies of the victims have been taken there. It is very clear that this incident will impact on very many people. Will the Home Secretary confirm that all support and resources will be available in the short and longer terms?

Photo of Priti Patel Priti Patel The Secretary of State for the Home Department

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I thank her for highlighting the wide range of local organisations across the county of Essex, in her constituency and neighbouring constituencies, that have been involved in this terrible, appalling tragedy, including those in the NHS and the coroner. We have discussed on several occasions since last Wednesday, including with the Prime Minister this morning, the type of support that will be put in place, because it is not just short-term support for the individuals that have been affected, the individuals who are now part of the investigation, and the inquiries and the post mortem that is taking place. It ranges from the TRiM—trauma risk management—process with the police and the ambulance service to the welfare service provision that will be put in place not just for today, but for the long term for everyone who has been involved in providing vital support to the police for this investigation.

Photo of Yvette Cooper Yvette Cooper Chair, Home Affairs Committee

The Home Secretary will be aware of the disturbing news that children were found in another refrigerated lorry yesterday, this time at Calais. They were reportedly already suffering from mild hypothermia and were, luckily, found before it was too late. The refrigerated lorries are particularly dangerous and make this such an appalling crime. Will the Home Secretary say whether it is correct that hardly any checks of refrigerated lorries are taking place at the moment at Zeebrugge, and that at Purfleet 24/7 checks are still not taking place? She still has not explained what work is being done with Europol’s European Migrant Smuggling Centre. Is she working with that centre, and does she agree that we should continue to participate in it after December 2020?

Photo of Priti Patel Priti Patel The Secretary of State for the Home Department

I thank the right hon. Lady for her comments. Let me be clear to the House: any form of trafficking and smuggling of individuals is completely wrong. She rightly highlights the appalling use of refrigerated lorries, which is effectively what we have seen in the case that she mentions and in what happened in Essex last week. The fact that these containers have been used and are being exploited by criminal gangs is a major issue that affects not just this country but other countries.

The right hon. Lady asks about checks; there are checks, and checks have been made when it comes to refrigerated lorries not just in the UK, but in other ports. She will appreciate, however, that, with the investigation that is taking place and the links with the Belgian authorities, there is much more information to come, specifically for the vehicle and the container that came through that particular port.

There are checks that take place in Zeebrugge as well. I said in my statement that we will escalate our work. There is a plan, working with my Belgian counterpart, to address the specifics of security issues in Zeebrugge and how we can extend more checks if required, although that is an operational decision not just at the port but with the Belgian authorities.

On the right hon. Lady’s question about co-operation, it is right that we co-operate internationally with all partners and all agencies—so, yes, that work is absolutely under way. There must be no doubt that even after we leave the EU, that co-operation will continue. As Home Secretary, I will not move away from high levels of co-operation. We will work day and night to make sure that we have the right processes and structures in place to ensure that that international collaboration continues and grows.

Photo of Andrew Mitchell Andrew Mitchell Conservative, Sutton Coldfield

The heartbreaking texts and final messages underline the abject misery, terror and horror of this modern slave trader practice. Is not our hon. Friend Jackie Doyle-Price absolutely right that we need to handle this, above all, with a new international convention, as current international arrangements are outdated, ineffective and patently not fit for today’s needs?

Photo of Priti Patel Priti Patel The Secretary of State for the Home Department

My right hon. Friend is right to raise that issue, as he has done previously. It is clear that this is not a UK-specific issue but an international one. While a great deal of work is done internationally, through global compacts and migration funds, there is much more we can do, working collaboratively with international partners and our friends and allies, to deal with the root causes—the upstream issues—and criminality and to put something into statute globally to stop this happening again.

Photo of Vernon Coaker Vernon Coaker Labour, Gedling

Our outrage continues. The latest statistics from the National Crime Agency show that the top nationalities for potential victims of trafficking to the UK were Albanian, Vietnamese and Chinese. Given what we may or may not know, what discussions has the Home Secretary had, particularly with Albania, China and Vietnam, about what is going on and what more can be done to stop it?

Photo of Priti Patel Priti Patel The Secretary of State for the Home Department

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. He will know, through his work on the all-party group on human trafficking and modern slavery, that there are specific source countries—he named some of them—where we see far too much trafficking and criminality. There are discussions taking place—I will not reel them all off, but I have been involved in some—and many more will follow. I emphasise, however, that, outside the Home Office, much more can be done across other Departments, and I will pursue that this week. We have seen various streams of activity by other Departments, but we need to join that up to ensure that we speak with one voice to these countries and that we ourselves have a much more coherent approach.

Photo of David Jones David Jones Conservative, Clwyd West

It has been reported that the lorry entered the UK at the port of Holyhead before travelling on to Purfleet to collect the container. Given that the UK and Ireland are part of the same common travel area, and will remain so after Brexit, can my right hon. Friend confirm that North Wales police are and will remain adequately resourced to provide a sufficient presence at Holyhead to deter and detect such activity?

Photo of Priti Patel Priti Patel The Secretary of State for the Home Department

Absolutely. Of course, resourcing the police to support Holyhead is just part of the process, and it is not just about this investigation; it is about ensuring we have the right level of security and the measures in place to enable police officers and others, including Border Force, to act on intelligence. It is worth reiterating something I said in my last statement: we are working with the Police Service of Northern Ireland in this investigation, which speaks to the many links between police forces.

Photo of Wayne David Wayne David Shadow Minister (Defence) (Armed Forces and Defence Procurement)

I thank the Home Secretary for her statement. A number of the 39 victims may well have come from Vietnam. If so, may I, as chair of the all-party group on Vietnam, offer my heartfelt sympathies to the victims and families? We know that the Prime Minister of Vietnam has announced an inquiry into human trafficking in his country. May I have a commitment from the Home Secretary that her Government will fully co-operate with the Government of Vietnam to make sure that this terrible trade is eliminated?

Photo of Priti Patel Priti Patel The Secretary of State for the Home Department

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his remarks and the work he does through the all-party group. Although the nationalities have yet to be confirmed, as I touched on in my statement, we will of course work with all our partners. I have already spoken to the Vietnamese ambassador. Many discussions are under way that, as he will understand, are very sensitive at this stage, but we will of course co-operate with any inquiries into human trafficking and people smuggling.

Photo of Simon Hoare Simon Hoare Chair, Northern Ireland Affairs Committee

The Home Secretary has mentioned Northern Ireland. In that context, will she assure me that the Criminal Assets Bureau will have all the resources it requires to play a full part in the investigation? Does she agree that it is time that unexplained wealth orders were in force in Northern Ireland, as in the rest of the United Kingdom?

Photo of Priti Patel Priti Patel The Secretary of State for the Home Department

My hon. Friend makes a very important point. Of course, there is always more that we must do when it comes to seizing cash and assets from the perpetrators of crime. He is right: there is absolutely much more that we can do. At this stage, we will look into everything in the light of the inquiry and investigation, but I will continue to discuss with the Ministry of Justice how we can upscale some of it.

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

On the question of utilising intelligence, there were reports over the weekend that people living near the Waterglade industrial park had previously reported seeing migrants being dropped off from lorries, and, indeed, had found discarded foreign passports at the site, but that their reports were not followed up. Will the Home Secretary comment on that?

Photo of Priti Patel Priti Patel The Secretary of State for the Home Department

We have received no formal reports of anything of that nature, but we will obviously follow up any evidence of wrongdoing or the discarding of foreign documents.

Photo of Harriett Baldwin Harriett Baldwin Conservative, West Worcestershire

No one could fail to be moved by the terrible stories of young lives that were literally snuffed out. I appreciate that my right hon. Friend cannot say where the victims came from, but I know that in the past some victims have been identified as coming from Vietnam, and that the UK has a very strong ministerial strategic dialogue with Vietnam. Will the Home Secretary ensure that at the next meeting she discusses with her officials how we can communicate to these young people, jointly, the message that they should not make this dangerous journey?

Photo of Priti Patel Priti Patel The Secretary of State for the Home Department

That dialogue is already under way, and, in view of the terrible tragedy that has taken place, it is right that it is under way.

Photo of Jamie Stone Jamie Stone Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Scotland), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Armed Forces), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Defence)

Human trafficking is indeed a terrible crime, and the perpetrators must be brought to justice. Ironically, it is some of the victims who have already arrived in this country who know most about these criminals and their methods, and it would assist us hugely if we could persuade them to turn Queen’s evidence without fear of retribution or deportation. Does the Home Secretary agree that we should look at mechanisms whereby that might happen without their being too fearful to come forward and help us?

Photo of Priti Patel Priti Patel The Secretary of State for the Home Department

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right, and I can assure the House that in this particular investigation, that is exactly how we will be working.

Photo of Bob Stewart Bob Stewart Conservative, Beckenham

These containers are not necessarily moved around on the backs of lorries, but may be parked on ferries and so on. Can my right hon. Friend assure me that the authorities, Border Force and the police—and, indeed, the drivers of the lorries—have the means and the competence to open the containers if necessary?

Photo of Priti Patel Priti Patel The Secretary of State for the Home Department

My hon. Friend raises some important points. There are a number of ways of providing support for lorry drivers and others. A great deal of work is done through road haulage associations in the UK and across the EU to provide information and intelligence about what to do in situations of this nature, and also about how they can protect themselves from trafficking. If there is anything else that my hon. Friend would specifically like to know about the Home Office’s and Border Force’s work and about how we collaborate with many other organisations, I shall be happy to write to him.

Photo of Diana R. Johnson Diana R. Johnson Labour, Kingston upon Hull North

Hull has a long and proud tradition of fighting the evils of human trafficking and slavery. Many of my constituents have been in touch to say how shocked they are about what happened in Essex. They want to know whether additional checks will be carried out at the port of Hull, particularly on refrigerated containers, because we now know that the traffickers seem to be turning their attention to ports on the east coast.

Photo of Priti Patel Priti Patel The Secretary of State for the Home Department

The hon. Lady is absolutely right. She will know, with the port in her own constituency, that various challenges have now been highlighted. It is important to acknowledge that those who are trafficking people are trying to exploit any vulnerabilities in any aspects of port security, such as, as we have seen, with the refrigerated lorries. Given the work taking place specifically with Border Force right now, I would like to drop the hon. Lady a line and at least keep her updated on the changes that will be forthcoming with regard to the port in Hull.

Photo of Bernard Jenkin Bernard Jenkin Chair, Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee

I thank my right hon. Friend for coming to the House to make this statement, because it demonstrates how seriously the Government take this matter. Will she spare a thought for the Border Force officers in Harwich, which I represent, who will be haunted by the possibility of a similar tragedy passing through their care? I am confident that they have sufficient capability, on an intelligence-led basis, to make checks, but they cannot check every single container. Will she also bear in mind the fact that when I have alerted the Essex police and the Essex Border Force to activity on the Essex coast reported by constituents they have always been very swift to respond, and indeed have closed down one operation very effectively already?

Photo of Priti Patel Priti Patel The Secretary of State for the Home Department

I thank my hon. Friend for his comments and, being a neighbouring Member of Parliament, I do know Harwich. He is right to point out that all port operators and border staff around the country will be looking at what has happened over the last week with shared horror. They will be taking the right action in their own day-to-day work on risk-based checks, but at this stage I want to give the House the assurance that we are giving Border Force all the support it needs and we are working collaboratively with port operators. I also thank my hon. Friend for his work with Essex police when he has raised concerns in respect of the port of Harwich and on how to deal with those issues.

Photo of David Hanson David Hanson Labour, Delyn

The Home Secretary will know that three years ago the Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration produced a report on the east coast ports that raised a number of concerns about their operation. Will she agree to look again at the recommendations of the Border Force inspector to see whether she can update the House on the implementation of those recommendations?

Photo of Priti Patel Priti Patel The Secretary of State for the Home Department

I have gone through that report and seen the recommendations. I am currently reviewing aspects of them, but in particular how we can make them more relevant, because that was a report from 2016—although the findings were published in 2017—and things have clearly moved on since then. But of course there is another factor here: the extent of the organised international criminality, as well as many of the port security features that were raised in that report that also need to be looked at.

Photo of Charlie Elphicke Charlie Elphicke Independent, Dover

I thank my right hon. Friend for her powerful statement and the seriousness with which she has taken this very serious matter. She will be aware that small ports and airfields have long been known to be a problem and security weakness; indeed, the former Prime Minister proposed a volunteer force to patrol them. May I urge her not to have a Dad’s Army set up like that but instead to have more investment in our Border Force, the National Crime Agency and in working internationally with our partners to combat this appalling and evil trade?

Photo of Priti Patel Priti Patel The Secretary of State for the Home Department

My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and we are speaking here about international organised criminality through various gangs, routes and countries where this facilitation is taking place. It is right that we invest, and we are investing in the NCA and through our partners, such as our Border Force, and through police and through all aspects of our homeland security, and we will continue to do that.

Photo of Frank Field Frank Field Chair, Work and Pensions Committee

The Home Secretary will know that the Government asked her right hon. Friend Mrs Miller, Lady Butler-Sloss and me to review the Modern Slavery Act 2015. During our inquiry we met Border Force staff from a large, not a small, port, and they told us that, unlike for airports where there are passenger lists, they know nothing—absolutely nothing—about the people who are coming through the ports. We asked to meet the Home Secretary urgently to talk about this. Might she speed up our meeting with her, please?

Photo of Priti Patel Priti Patel The Secretary of State for the Home Department

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for raising his concerns. The answer is yes, of course I would be delighted to meet him. On top of that, he is right to recognise, through his review, the difference between air and sea in terms of the data that are collected. It is clear that when it comes to goods, there are customs checks, declarations and manifests, but when it comes to people we will obviously need to continue our discussions to see what more we can do in that area.

Photo of Richard Drax Richard Drax Conservative, South Dorset

May I offer my sympathy to the victims and their families? I concur with my hon. Friend Jackie Doyle-Price that the message today is that we need stronger borders, not weaker ones, not just here but across Europe. While I am talking about that, may I just touch on South Dorset, whose police and crime commissioner has called for more officials at Portland port? Will my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary look at that, too?

Photo of Priti Patel Priti Patel The Secretary of State for the Home Department

I would be more than happy to discuss port support with my hon. Friend and to talk about what more can be done in his area. He is right to identify the need to protect our ports and to ensure that we have the right checks and processes in place across the entire country—which we do as part of the risk-based system—and that they are operated in a consistent way.

Photo of Alison Thewliss Alison Thewliss Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Treasury), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Housing, Communities and Local Government)

Four members of an organised crime gang operating out of Govanhill in my constituency were recently convicted in the High Court in Glasgow of offences relating to the trafficking of 14 vulnerable women. That was a complex, five-year-long investigation led by Police Scotland but also involving UK police forces, Europol, Eurojust and the Slovak police force. I understand that a parallel court case is ongoing in Slovakia. Can the Home Secretary guarantee that the police in Scotland will have exactly the same access to that level of co-operation, post-Brexit? Will Brexit have any impact on ongoing cases?

Photo of Priti Patel Priti Patel The Secretary of State for the Home Department

The hon. Lady has just highlighted how complicated international criminal investigations are. We will expect to see exactly a similar meticulous process in the case in Essex. It is right that we continue all avenues of international co-operation, not just now but when we leave the European Union.

Photo of Ed Vaizey Ed Vaizey Independent, Wantage

As the Prime Minister’s trade envoy to Vietnam, I echo the comments made by the chairman of the all-party parliamentary group on Vietnam, Wayne David. I should like to extend my thanks to the Vietnamese ambassador to the UK, Ambassador An, and to the Vietnamese Government for their co-operation. I also extend my condolences. I also echo the Home Secretary’s comments. As a trade envoy, I see the Department for International Trade, the Foreign Office and the Ministry of Defence in Vietnam all the time. We discuss these issues, but, as my right hon. Friend has suggested, more co-ordination between Government Departments would be very welcome.

Photo of Priti Patel Priti Patel The Secretary of State for the Home Department

My right hon. Friend will know from his own experience the way in which the Government work together, but there are now specific fundamental challenges. If we are going to stop countries continuing the facilitation of illegal people trafficking and migrant movements, there is more that we can do across Government. I look forward to his work and his support in trying to address some of those issues.

Photo of Chris Bryant Chris Bryant Chair, Finance Committee (Commons)

All too often, there is another layer of cruel injustice, which is that families in very poor districts—for instance, in Vietnam—have done everything in their power, including remortgaging their lands, to raise enough money to send a favoured son or daughter through one of these illegal routes. They then lose not only their child but their land and their means of making a living. Is there nothing we can do to try to strike down these hideous financial deals?

Photo of Priti Patel Priti Patel The Secretary of State for the Home Department

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. In people smuggling and the trafficking of individuals, we are witnessing the worst of the worst. We are seeing perpetrators exploiting vulnerable individuals and families, more often than not putting them into debt bondage. They lose their livelihoods and they are then exploited once their children or family members arrive in another country. There is more that we can do—there is no doubt about that—but that can be achieved only through bilateral co-operation and international standards and co-operation across the board, so that we have consistency. If we are going to stop this practice happening, we have to stop vulnerable families being exploited. From the British Government’s perspective, yes we will do more, but we will also lead calls internationally to try to root this out.

Photo of Stephen Metcalfe Stephen Metcalfe Conservative, South Basildon and East Thurrock

As the other Member of Parliament for Thurrock, may I say that we remain shocked and appalled by the events? We can only imagine the pain that the families must be feeling. I pay tribute not only to the first responders but to council officers and councillors, many of whom are my constituents, who have stepped up to meet the challenge. To deter further attempts at moving people in this despicable way, what discussions has my right hon. Friend had both here and abroad about adopting new technology to try to tackle the issue?

Photo of Priti Patel Priti Patel The Secretary of State for the Home Department

I echo my hon. Friend’s words of thanks to Thurrock Council for its work. Having met the leader of the council and other staff this morning, I am grateful to them for their local support. Technology can play a significant role here. It is pretty clear that refrigerated vehicles and containers are being exploited for a range of reasons. The Home Office is investing a great deal not only in research but in new technology for enhancements in border controls. We must also do much more internationally in this area.