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Port Security

Volume 463: debated on Tuesday 17 July 2007

My Department works with the ports industry in implementing the international ship and port facility security code, which came into force in 2004. The code introduced new requirements, under which port facilities and ships must work to security plans, which set out the response measures that are to be taken in normal, heightened and exceptional security situations.

I am very interested in the right hon. Lady’s response. Over the past few years, I have made it my business to visit a number of ports and consider their security. When I went to the extremely vulnerable port of Holyhead, I was particularly surprised to find that there were no Border and Immigration Agency or customs and excise officers present, and special branch officers were having to deputise for both. Why was that?

I pay tribute to the work that the hon. Gentleman has done on this subject. I know that he is interested not just in port security, but in the security of our borders more generally, and it is right for me to acknowledge that work in the House. I hope that he will acknowledge that since 2004 security at ports has improved significantly. We monitor security at ports, but they are also independently audited by the EU. Since its last audit, it has said that results have been positive. However, if the hon. Gentleman says that it was not evident what was being done at a particular port, I will take it upon myself to go and examine the situation, or to make sure that it is examined. I will report back to him in writing with my findings.

Is it not time that this country unified not only Customs and Excise, but the police forces responsible for aviation and those responsible for ports, and created a proper security system, capable of resisting the real threats posed to this country by terrorism?

I thank my hon. Friend for her comments. It is absolutely right that we work together across Government to protect our borders in the most effective way possible. She will have followed closely the latest reorganisation of the Home Office, which means that it can concentrate on counter-terrorism. My Department, which has responsibility for transport, co-operates extremely closely with Home Office officials. On the front line, under the border management programme, we are making sure that the police, the Border and Immigration Agency, Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs, and UKvisas work together to share information appropriately, and take action in specific locations as required. I hope that my hon. Friend will agree that that is a serious step forward in making sure that our borders are secure, because protecting our citizens must be one of the most fundamental duties of any Government.

The Government are in denial on that point, and the hon. Member for Newark (Patrick Mercer) and my hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody) are absolutely correct. Is Project Cyclamen now working in all our container ports 24 hours a day? If not, why not?

I have already set out how the security of our ports is enforced and audited, and the results are broadly positive. Clearly, the extent of the security measures taken at any port will depend on the threat level, and it will be determined accordingly—

As my hon. Friend has particularly mentioned Project Cyclamen, I will establish what the state of play is on that.