Clause 4

Part of UK Borders Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 6:30 pm on 6th March 2007.

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Photo of Damian Green Damian Green Shadow Minister (Home Affairs) 6:30 pm, 6th March 2007

No, it is not, is my short response to the Minister’s last hope, for a number of reasons.

First, the Minister will surely be aware, as I certainly am, that those who travel regularly on the various types of train going through the tunnel give what I might politely describe as patchy reports of the level of security on both the French and Belgian trains, and particularly regarding passport checks on the trains themselves. It may be that he is being assured by whoever it is that the system is now marvellous, has all been offshored and is completely secure, but that is not the regular passengers’ experience.

Secondly, even if the Minister takes the views of his officials rather than mine, as might be perfectly reasonable even with my particular expertise in this field, my amendments seek only to add powers that would potentially be useful, because I suspect that he and his advice are just wrong. The advisers might be saying that we obviously have problems at airports and ports, but there are none with the international rail service, yet that is simply not the case. If the Minister is being assured that it is, he is being misinformed. However, even if that advice were right today, he would still have seen the projections that international rail is extremely likely to extend in years to come to other countries, so that journeys will start in other places.

For example, a few years ago it was a regular thing for people to get themselves zipped into freight trains in Milan and then unzipped when they got to Britain. That has been stopped at present, but who knows when it will come back? Frequently, those people were refugees from the Balkans. The scam was stopped by various technological means, but the Minister and I know perfectly well that somewhere out there a criminal gang is thinking of some new form of people trafficking; one that would not be in either of our imaginations or those of his officials. There will be some new way of using international trains in future to smuggle people into this country.

If the Minister neglects the opportunity presented in the Bill to add international railway stations to ports and airports, the House will have to return to the matter at some future stage. Whichever powers we will have given to immigration officers or a border police force and whatever we have in future, this measure will be seen as a wasted opportunity. The net effect of the explanation that the Minister has been given and that he has given to the Committee is an impression that it is based on unwarranted complacency. He might be assured that there are no problems now—of course, I would disagree with that analysis—but even if one agrees with that view, it is clear that he must know that there will be problems in the future, and it seems perverse and short-sighted to neglect the opportunity to include this country’s small number of international railway stations under the protection provisions of the Bill.

I have heard what the Minister has to say and I have no desire to press the amendment to a vote, but I implore him to take this issue away and look again at it. I think that he will feel that it is in everyone’s best interest to change his mind on adding railway stations to ports and airports.