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UK Border Agency

Volume 474: debated on Thursday 3 April 2008

In a statement to Parliament on the 14 November 2007, Official Report, column 667, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister announced a wide range of measures to counter terrorism, increase the resilience of communities to resist extremism and to strengthen our borders. The statement announced the decision to establish a UK Border Agency, a global organisation that will improve the UK’s security through stronger border protection while welcoming legitimate travellers and trade.

The new UK Border Agency is today established as a shadow agency of the Home Office. The agency’s purpose and objectives are set out in its first business plan which I am laying in the House today. That purpose is clear: it is to secure our border and control migration for the benefit of our country; protecting our borders and national interests; preventing border tax fraud, smuggling and immigration crime; and implementing decisions quickly and fairly.

The UK Border Agency will unite the work of the Border and Immigration Agency, Customs detection work at the border from Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC) and UKVisas from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO), to create an organisation with a budget of over £2 billion, 25,000 staff, and operating in local communities, at our borders, and across 135 countries worldwide. The agency will deploy unprecedented power in pursuit of its goals.

The new agency will deliver new powers to front line officers. I can announce that by the summer we will have cross conferred customs and immigration powers on over 1,000 front line staff. In addition, staff in England and Wales will be equipped with police-like powers as set out in the UK Borders Act. Passengers and goods will now be checked at a single primary line. Uniformed UK Border Agency officers will protect the UK searching for signs of smuggled goods or immigration abuse and will have new powers to improve their ability to detain suspected law breakers. Legislation to provide for full integration of customs staff will be presented to the House shortly. Wider powers demand tough accountability. The Independent Police Complaints Commission has therefore taken over investigation of individual cases from 25 February and we intend to appoint an independent inspector of the UKBA shortly.

Further, the new agency will unlock a new relationship with 1,600 uniformed police officers at ports and airports and the UK’s 1,400 Special Branch officers for whom funding has been increased to around £75 million. Today I am placing in the Library of the House a new framework of co-operation between the police in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. The framework establishes strategic direction for intelligence sharing and delivery of frontline operations.

In a response to a recommendation in the Cabinet Office report “Security in a Global Hub—Establishing the UK’s New Border Agency Arrangements” published last November, the Home Office is working with the Association of Chief Police Officers for England, Wales and Northern Ireland to consider how policing—which is currently delivered by the local force for each port and airport—may be best organised to deliver a fuller level of integration at the border, taking into consideration the drive for greater collaboration which is at the heart of the Governments programme for improving protective services.

We are discussing with the Scottish Devolved Administration and the Association of Chief Police Officers in Scotland ways of strengthening working relationships between the Scottish police service and the new agency taking into account the devolved nature of policing in Scotland.

By working in partnership with HMRC and the FCO, the UK Border Agency will contribute to the collection of £22 billion in tax revenue and the facilitation of international trade worth £600 billion per annum.

The agency will be more powerful than today’s separate forces and will therefore deliver on tougher targets. It will:

Expel 5,000 FNPs from Britain, up from 4,200 last year.

Sustain last year’s increase in the seizure of class A drugs by seizing at least 2,400 kg of cocaine and 550 kg of heroin by April 2009.

Increase by 50 per cent. the number of asylum cases concluded in less than six months.

Extend the UK’s visas regime to cover a larger proportion of the world’s population.

Increase our detention capacity by 20 per cent. over the next two years to help us increase the number of immigration offenders we can remove from the country.

Lin Homer as chief executive will be supported by a board including an HMRC Commissioner, Mike Eland, a senior FCO representative, James Bevan and a senior police representative, Roger Baker, the Chief Constable of Essex.

I am also placing in the Library of the House a memorandum of understanding (MOU) between the Home Office and the FCO which underpins the move of UKVisas into the new global agency.

The MOU sets out the respective commitments of the Home Office and the FCO. It details the financial, resource and management framework within which the UK Border Agency’s overseas operations will function. From today UK Border Agency’s overseas staff, drawn from the FCO, the Home Office and from external organisations will work as an integrated team to achieve the Government’s objectives for immigration and border security.

Finally on 1 April my hon. Friends the Minister of State for Borders and Immigration, and the Minister for the Middle East wrote to the Home Affairs and Foreign Affairs Select Committees outlining the new procedures for dealing with correspondence on visa-related matters. On the same day my right hon. Friend the Financial Secretary to the Treasury wrote to the Treasury Select Committee about procedures for dealing with correspondence relating to frontier detection. I am placing a copy of these letters in the Library of the House today.