I remind the Committee that with this we are discussing the following: amendmentNo. 151, in clause 40, page 21, line 41, after ‘constable’, insert
‘, including a constable in the UK Border Police Force established under section [Establishment of UK Border Police Force],’.
New clause 4—Establishment of UK Border Police Force—
‘(1) There shall be a body corporate to be known as the UK Border Police Force.
(2) The UK Border Police Force shall have the functions of—
(a) detecting and removing illegal overstayers;
(b) protecting UK borders;
(c) investigating employers of illegal immigrants;
(d) preventing and detecting human trafficking; and
(e) such other functions as the Secretary of State may by order determine.
(3) Membership of the UK Border Police Force will be comprised of officers from—
(a) the Immigration Service;
(c) the Serious Organised Crime Agency;
(d) specialist port police forces;
(e) the Metropolitan Police Security Command;
(f) the Security Services; and
(g) such other organisations as the Secretary of State shall by order determine.
(4) Before making an order under subsection (2)(e) the Secretary of State shall—
(a) publish proposals;
(b) consult members of the public and stakeholders; and
(c) lay a draft before each House of Parliament.
(5) Bodies to be consulted under subsection (4)(b) shall include—
(a) the Metropolitan Police Commissioner;
(b) representatives of the Association of Chief Police Officers;
(c) the Director General of the Immigration and Nationality Directorate;
(d) representatives of the Serious Organised Crime Agency;
(e) representatives of the Association of Police Authorities; and
(f) such other people as the Secretary of State shall determine.’. and amendment (a) thereto, leave out lines 2 to 7 and insert—
‘(2) The UK Border Police Force shall have the functions of—
(a) protecting UK borders;
(b) strengthening frontier protection against threats to the security, social and economic integrity and environment of the United Kingdom;
(c) preventing and detecting human trafficking;
(d) maintaining and improving a safe, ordered and secure environment in ports; and
(e) such other functions as the Secretary of State may by order determine.’.
I was getting into my stride just before we adjourned this morning, but lunch and a few hours of work at the computer have taken the wind out of my sails, unfortunately. Suffice it to say that I was speaking about the work that I saw taking place at Cardiff airport, and the importance of joint working in a border security force. There is little that I can add that has not already been said by me or by my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford, so I will leave it at that. I hope that Government Members will consider supporting new clause 4.
Earlier, evidence from Migrationwatch was referred to in respect of an organisational matter. I would like to quote from a report by Sir John Wheeler in 2002 about airport security. Obviously, there are several issues at ports. Security is one, in the sense of terrorist attacks on ports, but there are also responsibilities in respect of immigration. My party’s argument is that there is merit in having an organisational structure whereby a group of people under one management structure are responsible for such issues.
Paragraph 3.32 of the Wheeler report states:
“Although national co-ordination between the border agencies has improved, there is clearly room for better co-ordination between the agencies on the ground.”
Paragraph 4.18 states:
“It is widely held within the airport security community that greater clarity is needed around the role of the uniformed police, at both designated and non-designated airports”,
and paragraph 4.19 states:
“Statements of Service Provision have not guaranteed the co-operative working which ought to characterise policing at the UK’s major airports”,
and so on. The rest is not particularly important.
The report deals with security at airports. I am told that four police forces are involved in policing at Heathrow airport—I have not worked out exactly which four they are—as well as the railway transport police, because Heathrow has railway and tube stations. Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs and the immigration people are also there.
I refer hon. Members to a study that examined a similar issue in Liverpool, where several different agencies were dealing with an area. A decision was made to place everybody in the same building, although their management structures were different. That is a sort of halfway house—it is a move in the right direction—but, frankly, if one is to get proper co-operation on all the security issues at a border, the management structure must be much simpler. Obviously, airports are not physically the edge of the country, but, from the point of view of people coming in, they are, in essence, the border. The Government are making a mistake in not trying to simplify the management structure.
That situation at Heathrow, where there are five different police forces as well as all the other agencies that have been referred to, is a mistake. There is not necessarily any great merit in dwelling at length on how one handles the process once someone gets into the country. My party argues that they are the responsibility of the ordinary police, but the Conservative position is that they should be the responsibility of the border police. Regardless, from a management perspective, managing a single border force would allow a far better job to be done.
We discussed previously what would happen if somebody were to get past the immigration officer. Does everyone else say, “No, that is not my job, it is the designated immigration officer’s job to chase that person”? Do they allow that person, huffing and puffing, to go past four different police forces, the railway police, HMRC and the security services because it is the immigration person’s job and under the law only they can do it? That is a mistake. On that basis, we support new clause 4, but obviously with amendment (a).
We have received a copy of “Enforcing the rules” by the Home Office with a foreword by the Minister. I know irony is not dead in the Home Office because one of the chapter titles is “Making it happen”, which is something we have not seen from the Home Office for the past 10 years.
I would be interested to hear the Minister’s reasoned, coherent objection to a border agency. I have examined the literature and the comments of a previous Home Secretary, the right hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw), in his response to the 2001 Select Committee on Home Affairs report. There seems to be no real issue of principle. Indeed, no practical reasons have been given for the Government to resist the recommendations of a number of people who are experts in their field to have a border agency. He said at the time that there would be a lot of links with inland operations, a reduction in skills and objectives to the lowest common denominator—the meaning of which I confess to not fully understanding—and disruption caused by reorganisation. Given that many other European countries have been able to put into place and continue to have successful border agencies or equivalent organisations—Austria, France, Greece, Poland and Portugal, for example—I am astounded that we are not in a position to learn anything from the European experience.
I would like the Minister to answer a point concerning the capital and revenue costs of the likely border agency. In that document, which was published on 7 March—it is an exquisite example of new Labour gobbledegook, but I beg your indulgence, Mr. Amess—the Government pledge to
“redesign our existing intelligence units so that they manage the flow of information into, through and out of the organisation in a more structured and systematic way”.
There is, obviously, the obligatory commitment to a step change. This is the important part:
“create a function in each region to collect, analyse and disseminate information, and link this into HMRC, DWP, SOCA, police, SCDA and local authorities, allowing them to focus on local compliance and enforcement priorities”.
My challenge to the Minister is: is he seriously suggesting that the commensurate costs, both capital and revenue, associated with that level of co-ordination across all those agencies, would always come out lower than creating a border agency as proposed by my hon. Friends and indeed, in a different way, by the Liberal Democrats?
I was particularly interested during the morning sitting by the contributions of the hon. Member for Monmouth, particularly his comparisons with regard to Cardiff international airport and Newcastle international airport. It seemed that the crux of his argument was that smaller airports such as Newcastle would benefit from a single UK border force. As a north-east MP who is very proud of what has been going on with regard to the expansion of Newcastle and Durham Tees Valley airports, may I point out that Cardiff had2 million users in 2006 and Newcastle international airport had 5.45 million last year?
I think that that undermines the Conservatives’ argument on the matter. It shows the weakness of the intellectual argument, but also profound ignorance of the north-east region.
I am delighted that the hon. Gentleman has given way but I must point out to him—perhaps he was concentrating on other matters when I spoke—that I did not mention the north-east at all. The point that I was making was that the larger the airport becomes, the harder it is for personal relationships to develop between the different people responsible for policing and, therefore, the less effective that policing is likely to be—hence the need for a border security force. It certainly was not a comment on the abilities of anybody involved in policing in any particular airport.
I am extremely grateful for that intervention, but I now find the argument even more preposterous—Newcastle international airport is apparently not even in the north-east. That is absolutely unbelievable. The hon. Member for Monmouth cited the argument advanced on Second Reading by the hon. Member for Hexham (Mr. Atkinson) that Newcastle international airport often does not have immigration officers. He advanced that as an argument for new clause 4 and I am saying that that argument is intellectually weak.
I will respond to the points raised as quickly as I can. I suppose that I should acknowledge the movement in Opposition policy. It would be churlish of me not to welcome the progress over the past 15 months. Only 15 months ago, we were hearing about policies for the renegotiation of the Geneva convention, the provision of offshore processing centres for refugees, a ring of steel—an idea that lasted about 15 seconds when the right hon. Member for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin) tried to defend it to John Humphrys—and the James review and slide 105, proposing to cut 50 per cent. of the immigration and nationality directorate’s budget.
That the Opposition have moved from the ring of steel to concrete plans regarding disorder at the border is some progress, but not perhaps as much as the hon. Member for Ashford would like to present. There are, however, some quite serious issues that we need to tease out. I have always been clear in the debates on the subject that I retain an open mind about the creation of a single border force in the future, but I have said consistently that I am yet to be persuaded by the proposals or that now is the right time.
The hon. Member for Ashford this morning prayed in aid some of the evidence that was presented by the Home Affairs Committee in 2000. No doubt, like me, he has read the evidence from the Association of Chief Police Officers, which said that, although a single border agency made broad strategic sense—I think that that was the phrase that it used—it was uncertain of the cost and benefits. There are potential benefits in this realm, and the question is whether there is a different way of achieving them.
The hon. Gentleman talked about the need to attack organised crime harder. We heard oral evidence suggesting that that was extremely important. Tackling that kind of crime is precisely why we set up the Serious Organised Crime Agency and pulled agencies together. As we heard in oral evidence, 25 per cent. of its budget is devoted to tackling illegal immigration.
On Second Reading, my right hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr. Denham) asked whether there should be a greater alignment of powers. There is no legal barrier to aligning those powers. Section 8(2) of the Customs and Excise Management Act 1979 allows Treasury Ministers to designate Customs powers to immigration officers and, indeed, to anybody they class as a proper officer. Paragraph 1(1) of schedule 2 to the Immigration Act 1971 allows the Home Secretary to confer immigration powers on other people. Schedule 7 to the Terrorism Act 2000 allows immigration officers, police and Customs officers to act as an officer under the relevant schedules. With that power, we are trying to align police powers with those of officers on the border.
Therefore, there is no legal barrier to the alignment of powers. That leaves us with the question of whether there should be greater operational alignment of activities. I think that the answer to that is yes, which is precisely why there is a programme in place to help to deliver that.
The hon. Member for Peterborough raised an important question, which he put intelligently: how do we co-ordinate the intelligence that needs to be shared between the different agencies? If he has not yet been, I invite him to visit the joint border operations centre at Heathrow, which brings together four or five different agencies to screen intelligence from airlines. It has already provided us with 8,000 alerts and something like 800 arrests and is an excellent example of, asSir Andrew Green called it, the capability of British agencies to work together very well. There are already parts of the country where one can see what is, in effect, a single agency providing the primary line, with referral to specialist, secondary-line capabilities where needed. At Poole or Coquelles, Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs lead the search, bringing in immigration officers where appropriate. At Blackpool, the police are in the lead, bringing in HMRC where appropriate. At Gatwick, immigration officers operate as Customs officers, referring back to HMRC as the secondary line where appropriate.
Many of these changes are already seen in practice. The benefits, therefore, could potentially be achieved by a different course. We have to weigh some of the risks against the changes. I have consistently said that, at a time when the terrorist threat to this country is severe, we risk a distraction if we reorganise; when we want focus, we will be asking people to reapply for their jobs. That is why I thought my hon. Friend the Member for Burnley was right to quote Sir Andrew Green:
“The last thing that it”— the Home Office—
“should do at this juncture is have a reorganisation of that kind”.——[Official Report, UK Borders Public Bill Committee, 13 March 2007; c. 282, Q349.]
As Sir Andrew put it, organisations “are not Meccano”.
I will make one more point, with which, perhaps, the hon. Member for Ashford will help me. I understand that nobody, on any Bench in the House, is proposing the merger of the Army, Navy and Air Force. We recognise that different forces have different cultures, specialisms and traditions; those different capabilities and history are an important part of what makes them effective. Do we insist on integrated command and intelligence? Yes, we do. Does that require a full-scale merger? No, often not—different things can achieve the same effect.
The final example that I would give here is the United States, which was prayed in aid. The United States has had an interesting challenge with illegal immigration. Some papers, such as The New York Times, have estimated that the population of illegal immigrants in the United States has gone from7 million to 12 million in the space of a few years. Interestingly, during the same period the United States has been trying to introduce a single border force. Going around Dulles airport, one will indeed see a common primary line, but step into the second line and one will see the component agencies still organised in their traditional ways of working—that is five years on.
I was also interested in the reference by the hon. Member for Peterborough to European border forces. They are so effective that while this country has the lowest number of asylum seekers not since 1997 but since 1993, asylum claimants in Europe in the last quarter of last year went up—not down—by 14 per cent.
Not least, because European borders have moved in the last few years, the hon. Gentleman may have noticed.
I want the Minister to return to his point about this being the wrong time to reorganise the Home Office. Can he therefore confirm to the Committee that the Home Secretary’s plan to split the Home Office in two is a dead duck?
The hon. Member for Reigate looks poised to intervene—no, maybe in a moment.
There are no theoretical reasons why a single agency might be better at the effective co-ordination of components. To consider the kind of change proposed we would need to see a significant step up in performance. There is a second problem with the amendments, which come from ideas that have been drafted for prospectuses and manifestos, including by the Liberal Democrats, who came up with the idea first—the hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley will correct me if I am wrong—or certainly some time ago. A number of observers might be concerned that the clauses as drafted are, frankly, slightly Blue Peteresque.
Sweeping Crown powers are placed in the hands of the Secretary of State without any provision for oversight of governance, which was and is of deep concern to ACPO. Only this morning we heard from the hon. Member for Ashford about the importance of parliamentary accountability, but there is no provision for that, despite placing Crown powers in the hands of the Secretary of State. Sweeping powers are put into regulations, a principle that the hon. Member for Ashford has spent two weeks arguing against, while large parts of business have fallen off altogether. There is, it appears, a separation of the regulatory functions of controlling admission, including the arrival of tourist and business travellers. It is true that the clause provides for the Secretary of State to determine other functions by order, but again I am surprised, given the arguments of the hon. Member for Ashford over the past couple of weeks, that such sweeping powers are put in regulations.
Then, of course, there is the risk of a new fragmentation because of the disconnection between, for example, visa-issuing posts abroad and in-country policing. That betrays a very 20thcentury concept of the frontier. The frontier is not an isolated place any more; it is intimately connected both abroad and in-country. To separate that and snap those links would be dangerous, but not as dangerous as what concerns me most—the proposal that the system would be underpinned by the cancellation of the identity cards project.
Time and again in the Committee we have heard from experts in the field who say that the fight against illegal immigration is mission-critical to the fight against illegal working. Sir Andrew Green said of illegal working that
“it is a very important pull factor and also an incentive for people to stay on illegally, which is another form of the same thing. There is no question about its importance.”
“we believe that...ID cards will help substantially.”—[Official Report, UK Borders Bill Committee, 13 March 2007; c. 271-272, Q319, Q320.]
We also heard from the business community. Gordon McLardy said:
“It is very time-consuming for employers to check through the relevant documentation.”
He also said:
“The checks are not robust enough” and that ID cards would be
“a dream for any employer.”—[Official Report, UK Borders Bill Committee, 1 March 2007; c. 71-77, Q144, Q169, Q145.]
He said that he fully supports them. What we heard from Sir Andrew Green and from Gordon McLardy echoed a crescendo of voices not from my side of the House but from the Opposition side. The right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard) wrote:
“We must protect our citizens in every way we can and, in my judgment, that includes ID cards.”
Dame Pauline Neville-Jones, the chair of the hon. Member for Ashford’s own security commission, said that
“measures we have of establishing identity are inadequate. We should not be stupid about that.”
Lord Stevens, the very man who was put in charge of the hon. Gentleman’s border advisory group, said that there are many savings to be had, especially in the fight against organised crime, which, as we know, accounts for 75 per cent. of illegal immigration. At this stage one would be forgiven for asking the question, “Is he thinking what I’m thinking?”
I shall give way in a moment.
How can it be right for the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden (David Davis) to pull the plug on the database that provides the power for biometric visas, biometric identity cards for foreign nationals and the gold-standard biometric passports that we are now issuing? He is frankly setting himself up as the luddite of law enforcement.
The hon. Member for Reigate said that the objections were not on principle but on practicality. He was contradicted by the hon. Member for Ashford, who said that it was about principle and practicality, as recorded in column 225 of the Official Report. We know where the shadow Home Secretary, the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden, sits.
My concern is that the new clause would be not a step forward but a step backward. We remain open to ideas once we see good proposals, and maybe Lord Stevens will be able to provide them. My great fear is that this is a soundbite for the news, not a shield for the nation. Frankly, it has been deep-fried in Steve Hilton’s focus groups. In its presentation it is saloon bar politics on a subject that warrants much better thought than it has been provided with this afternoon.
If my hon. Friend wishes to intervene on me, I am sure he will find some sympathy.
Half the Minister’s speech was quite serious. The other half was just garbage and not worthy of the proverbial wet Tuesday night in midlands towns that one of my hon. Friends got in trouble for talking about. I shall deal with the serious parts of the Minister’s speech. First, would the split in the Home Office that its Ministers, particularly the Home Secretary himself, have been touting around the media—and, I understand, Cabinet Committees—be relevant to a unified border force and the safety of our borders? Of course it would. The Minister’s whole argument, inasmuch as there was one in the serious parts of his speech, was that this is not the right time for such a force, yet the biggest change in the Home Office’s history is being touted at the same time. I gently suggest to him that that is not a solid piece of ground on which he can stand.
I know how much the Minister enjoys praying in aid Sir Andrew Green—he did it about five times in a 10-minute speech, struggling to find anyone else to support his point of view. Good for him; he hasSir Andrew Green on-side on this particular narrow issue. Nevertheless, Sir Andrew’s point is undermined by what is happening in the Home Office at the moment. Even if we do not get the Home Secretary’s gleaming vision of an organisation split in two, so that the police service and the Prison Service end up in different empires, which seems to be a recipe for even bigger disasters with non-communication than the onesthat we have seen in the past few months, we will still have the Minister’s radical reorganisation of the immigration and nationality directorate, with which he is happily proceeding at the same time as he is prepared to stand in this Committee and say, “We must not contemplate reorganisation because it will get in the way of doing the job.” On any level, his argument is incoherent.
Having said that, I was delighted to hear the Minister say that he will keep an open mind on our proposal. That is significant progress because I can sniff a U-turn months or years before it happens. If the Government wish to take on board more Conservative ideas, we are always happy to provide them and to continue to make the political weather during this Parliament, as we are doing. Genuine progress has been made because we think that the issue before us is important and that our proposal would make a big difference.
I was grateful that during the course of the Minister’s speech, he made it clear that there was no legal barrier to combining the various powers, which lies at the heart of our proposal. He said also that there was no operational barrier. Indeed, he gave helpful examples of where such a process can happen now. Any practical arguments, therefore, against our proposal have been blown away by him this afternoon.
The Minister mentioned the importance of SOCA. I agree that it was a good idea to set up that agency—we supported it—to fight serious and organised crime. He will be aware that among the senior police officers who supported a border force, there were murmurs of surprise because SOCA did not include one. He said that, in effect, in many parts of the country we already have a single agency on the front line. That is good, but we should follow through that logic and make it more coherent.
The Minister made some semi-serious points about possible deficiencies in the drafting of new clause 4. We would be happy to take amendments. So far, the Government have tabled a lot of amendments to the Bill, so if they want to table some to our new clause, they may—we are not proud. We want legislation to be as good as it can be. If he wants to do that, therefore, I am sure that we can come back to it at a later stage.
Let us consider the weight of evidence from those who know about such matters. Almost all are in favour of the proposal. In what I thought was a slightly half-hearted attempt to oppose it, the Minister was forced to rely on some fairly cheap soundbites and, indeed, at the start, on a speech no doubt prepared for Labour candidates during the 2005 election. I sensed that even he was embarrassed about having to deliver it in 2007 in this rather different political landscape.
I am now satisfied that there is no substantive Government argument against our proposal and, therefore, commend the amendment to the Committee.
I beg the Committee to pay attention, as amendment No. 92 gives effect to amendment No. 93, which was considered with clause 18. I am sure the Minister will know that, as he will have remembered every detail of our debates on that clause. However, I will briefly repeat the points that we made about the amendments to clause 18.
The intention of the amendment is to save taxpayers’ money, as it would remove the unnecessary duplication of immigration officers rightly having to go through the various difficult and bureaucratic procedures involved in handling cash that has been seized. All members of the Committee will agree that it is a particularly sensitive area in which the reputation of the police is high, and we should do nothing that might affect it. The amendments would let the police do the work that they do at present, without replicating the systems for the immigration service.
Amendment No. 94 is similarly consequential on the previous amendments, and it would remove the powers of forfeiture from immigration officers. If the other amendments were accepted, the cash would be handed over within 48 hours, so the powers in subsection (2)(g) would not be necessary.
In a previous debate, the Minister made an interesting point about whether it would be operationally difficult to hand over the cash within 48 hours. It would be unfortunate if that were the case, given what we have heard about the tremendous integration of all the different services. On reflection, the Minister’s argument was not particularly compelling. The amendment would be a practical way forward that could remove a small risk that would be added to the system if the clause remained as drafted.
I think the amendments have been slightly distorted by their grouping and the fact that the related amendment has been withdrawn.
The remaining amendments would remove the provisions relating to the detention and forfeiture of cash, which would weaken the ability of immigration officers conducting search operations to seize cash because they would not be able to apply for the power of detention or forfeiture of cash seized. That would be problematical because it would remove one of the key powers with which we want to equip the immigration service. We want to increase, not decrease, the number of illegal-working operations and to be able to confiscate illegal wages and assets belonging to employers who break the rules or turn a blind eye or something worse. That is important.
A question was raised about training. As the hon. Member for Ashford rightly said, reassurances are needed because that is a sensitive area. I agree with the sentiment that he expresses.
The legal machinery that we seek to put in place effectively puts a gloss on the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002; it adjusts the existing legislation so that it works for immigration officers. Five important protections remain in place: prior judicial approvals, or the approval of senior officers before a search that is made explicitly for cash; a code of practice applies to the use of search powers that we propose to extend to encompass immigration officers; seizure can be for only 48 hours, then magistrates must approve it and the money must be paid into a high interest account; any request to retain or detain the cash means that magistrates have to be satisfied and anybody with an interest can apply to the court at any time; and, of course, if forfeiture is required, we have to convince magistrates that that is the right thing to do. There are also appeal lines to a Crown court. So, a number of protections are already set out in POCA and we are going to adjust them so that they apply here.
Cash seizure training is very important. We are asking HMRC and the Assets Recovery Agency to develop it with us, and we hope to have it up and running by the end of the month. I think that the hon. Gentleman will accept that the group of amendments is now slightly distorted and that its effect would be to weaken the power of immigration officers to police illegal-working operations. I hope that he is persuaded that there are sufficient protections in place, and that he will see fit to withdraw the amendment.
I was agreeing with most of what the Minister said until he slipped in something about the Assets Recovery Agency, which is not his strongest argument, given what has happened. However, I take his point about the mix of the amendments, and the fact that the amendment that related to clause 18 has been withdrawn, so I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.