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Illegal Immigrants

Volume 474: debated on Monday 21 April 2008

Order. The Speaker must be informed in advance of a grouping of questions, so the Minister is answering only the question put by Mr. Mackay.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Since the phasing out of exit controls in 1994, no Government have been able to produce an accurate figure for the number of people who are in the country illegally. By Christmas, however, our border information systems will count in and out the majority of foreign nationals. Together with fingerprinting visa applicants and the issuing of ID cards to foreign nationals, that will ensure that a much more effective set of controls will be in place.

Was the Minister surprised that nine illegal immigrants from Cambridge who were given train tickets to London and told to report to the immigration centre in Croydon failed to turn up, and what is he doing to find them?

The policy of the UK Border Agency over the past year has been quite clear: when there are lorry drops, they are all attended by immigration officers and the people are immediately taken to detention centres, where their claims—some will obviously claim asylum—are processed. That policy has been the fruit of new partnerships with the police up and down the country; almost all constabularies have immigration crime partnerships in place and one of the most fundamental objectives is to ensure that everyone detected at a lorry drop who we think is an illegal immigrant is arrested and brought to detention centres.

The Home Secretary said that the new UK Border Agency would have

“tough customs, immigration and police-like powers”,

so why did the Government decide to create an agency with “police-like powers” rather than follow Opposition calls to integrate the police into a UK border force so that a robust force with real powers could tackle illegal immigration?

The steps taken to create one agency with £2 billion of resources, 25,000 staff and 9,000 warranted officers have been widely welcomed in the House. Obviously, that agency has to work closely with the police, who have all kinds of other jobs to do at our ports. As the Home Secretary said a week or two ago, discussions with the police—both with the Association of Chief Police Officers and with constabularies up and down the country—about the best way for the new agency to work in an integrated manner with the police will continue, as, indeed, the Prime Minister promised in his statement of last year.