Clause 20

Part of UK Borders Bill – in a Public Bill Committee am 10:00 am ar 15 Mawrth 2007.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Damian Green Damian Green Shadow Minister (Home Affairs) 10:00, 15 Mawrth 2007

I was going to come to Migrationwatch later in my remarks. At this stage, I merely make this observation; if the only body that supporters of the Government can pray in aid for their policy is Migrationwatch, then matters have come to a pretty sorry state for Ministers.

I agree with Migrationwatch on some issues; I disagree with it on some other issues. The fact that the Government can find no one else in the entire world to support their position, other than Migrationwatch, is both noteworthy and fundamentally hilarious. It shows how isolated the Government have become and how desperate Ministers have become.

I turn to the people who have huge expertise in policing, and who are in favour of our proposals. It is clear that any country that is serious about its security—and never has that been more important than it is now—must have properly policed borders. I suspect that Ministers and even the hon. Member for Burnley would agree with that.

It is also clear that, as a series of islands, the United Kingdom ought to find its borders relatively easy to protect, as compared with countries that have huge land borders, particularly with countries whose economies are much poorer than theirs. That applies to the United States and its southern border, and countries with borders on the eastern edge of the EU. As was mentioned, those borders have moved in the past few years, but the same conditions apply now as applied a few years ago. The overall point remains that Britain ought to be relatively easy to protect, yet we have one of the most inefficient and porous border protection systems in the world. Under this Government, we do not know who is coming in or going out. My party has always found that unacceptable.

The Under-Secretary is perhaps about to repeat the canard that it was a Conservative Government who removed border controls. I remind the Committee that they took off controls within the EU. It was in 1998—the last time I looked, this Government were in power then—that controls for the rest of the world were removed. That was one of the litany of disastrous decisions on immigration policy that this Government have taken—it must be in the top three worst ones—and is one reason  why Britain does not have effective border controls. [Interruption.] My hon. Friend the Member for Peterborough invites me to discuss the notorious case of the one-legged roof-tiler who was allowed into this country, but as it is probably not in order, I will not do so. However, he makes a viable point, and perhaps the Minister should stop giggling, as his predecessor had to resign over the incident. That was one resignation that actually happened.

The problem is that no single UK-wide force is charged with securing our borders, preventing and detecting illegal immigration and tackling people trafficking. Under the present arrangements, several different agencies are involved, and they report to different Cabinet Ministers. There are six different bodies responsible for one part or another of defending our borders—the immigration service, Revenue and Customs, the Serious Organised Crime Agency, specialist port police forces, the Metropolitan Police Service security command and the security services—so it is not surprising that there are problems. With the best will in the world, such fragmentation of responsibility is likely to lead to problems.

Talking about organisational fragmentation leads directly to the point that Sir Andrew Green made in evidence, which was that at difficult times one should not try to reorganise things. I believe that that was the basis of his argument, because he went on to say that one day a border police force might be useful. Indeed, the Minister seemed half to agree with him in what I thought was one of his more intriguing remarks during the evidence session.

Sir Andrew Green is perfectly free to make that point, but Ministers are not. In the midst of a crisis at our borders, they are, of course, in the throes of the most enormous reorganisation of the whole immigration department. They are regionalising it for no particular purpose, they are engaging in what is called a transformation programme—what is being transformed is not at all obvious to anyone who deals with the IND—and they are turning it into a shadow agency, which is another intriguing proposition that will produce benefits as yet unquantified by anyone. Ministers are going through three different reorganisations at the same time, so they simply cannot say with a straight face that reorganisation is a bad idea at this time.

There are six agencies dealing with our borders, and it is perfectly clear that the system is not satisfactory. Within those agencies, there are obviously many thousands of people who are, one way or another, responsible for protecting our borders. We seek to bring together those disparate groups of people so that they can be much more coherently managed and so that powers can be shared. At the moment, apart from the fragmentation inherent in the involvement of so many bodies, there is the problem that different people have different powers and that often, particularly at small ports, the relevant collection of powers is not available to provide the degree of protection that people want.

As I said, across the various organisations, border security is dealt with by a nominal total of approximately 10,000 people. They would form the basis of the new force—we seek to co-ordinate them rather than, necessarily, to create more posts.

One of our reasons for proposing a border police force is the experience in other areas of crime prevention. As the Home Office has seen, specialisation of police services is effective in fighting new types of crime. The criminals involved in people trafficking and international terrorism are becoming increasingly vicious and sophisticated, so we need a unified force to detect illegal immigration and prevent the misery of the trade in human beings and the entry into the UK of terrorists or suspected terrorists. We are considering in detail whether the new force should be part of SOCA.

Ministers will be aware that we asked Lord Stevens, as one of Britain’s most distinguished police officers of the past few decades, to look at the details, and we are grateful to him for having undertaken that work. He has said that it is essential that Britain should have secure borders and that one element of that must be a dedicated and effective border police force. He is not the only distinguished police officer who has called for such a force. When SOCA was set up, Sir Ian Blair, the current commissioner of the Met, was quoted as saying,

“it surprised me that we did not have a national border police...I have always thought that having a national border police was a good idea...I am very supportive of this issue.”

Not only are previous and current commissioners of the Met in favour, but the former head of the Association of Chief Police Officers has also called for a single border force. Sir Chris Fox said that a single force would have

“total responsibility for all our points of entry...I think that will make us a far more co-ordinated organisation against criminality and illegal entry...we need all those objectives being brought together with one organisation that makes decisions about when is the right time to act”.

So, many distinguished policemen support the idea, and so does the Home Affairs Committee. In its 2001 report on border controls, it recommended that

“existing border control agencies should be combined into a single frontier force on the basis of secondment and direct employment, but with clear lines of communication back to the parent agencies. Pending the creation of a single frontier force, strategic co-direction of better joint working should be provided by a ministerial group.”

That was six years ago. It called for better co-ordination—the Minister will no doubt argue that that is being provided—as a step towards a unified agency. However, in those six years, the Government have chosen to ignore that wise advice.

Finally, while I am quoting those who agree with us, I welcome the support of the Liberal Democrats, who have tabled an amendment to which, I dare say, the hon. Member for Rochdale will speak. They, too, argue for a truly integrated force. I hope, therefore, that the Committee understands that it would be a coalition of people including some with widely differing views on immigration policy, and various other things that we are discussing, but who are united in their desire for a practical proposal to make our borders more robust. Any country serious about its security ought to have properly policed borders, but ours are not. We are not defended properly against drug dealers, people smugglers, gun importers or terrorists, all of whom find it too easy to bypass the current system.

The Government’s big idea, which I dare say we will hear again, is ID cards, which demonstrates that their priorities are completely wrong. We have seen already from our debates on this Bill that in protecting our borders they would be ineffective and expensive. They would waste up to £20 billion without performing one of the most basic tasks—securing our borders. We think, therefore, that our approach is much more practical and are grateful for the support of many of those with the most expertise in the area. We think that there is an enormous gap in the Bill. If it is aimed at making our borders safer, it will fail in its endeavour, unless the Minister accepts the new clause. I commend my amendments and new clause 4 to the Committee.