Skip to main content

UK Border Agency

Volume 540: debated on Monday 20 February 2012

With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a statement on border security. In November last year, it became apparent that certain border security checks had been suspended without ministerial approval. As a result, the head of the UK Border Force was suspended with immediate effect, full controls were reinstated, and I commissioned John Vine, the independent chief inspector of the UK Border Agency, to report on what had happened. Today, I have laid the report before the House and copies will be available from the Vote Office.

The Vine report reveals that security checks carried out at the border have been suspended regularly and applied inconsistently since at least 2007. In June of that year, Ministers accepted a policy that allowed the limited suspension of warnings index checks on certain health and safety grounds, but the Vine report found that those checks were suspended on many occasions for other reasons.

In July 2008, Ministers approved the relaxation of warnings index checks for school coach parties at specified French ports, but the Vine report found that the Border Force had waived checks for other passenger groups over and above what had been approved by Ministers. The report also uncovered evidence that, between 2007 and 2011, warnings index checks were not carried out on European economic area nationals travelling to the UK on Eurostar services from a number of French resorts. This is likely to have resulted in 500,000 EEA nationals not being checked against the warnings index. To put those numbers into context, around 100 million passengers enter the UK each year. These Eurostar passengers are judged to be low risk and they still had their passports checked, but the fact remains that these suspensions were completely unauthorised and that is simply not acceptable.

The Vine report is clear that the risk to the border needs to be kept in perspective. No one was waved through, everyone had their passports checked, and warnings index checks were almost always carried out so that those who had previously come to the attention of the authorities would still be identified and refused entry. Quite reasonably, Ministers in the previous Government gave permission for warnings index checks to be suspended in limited circumstances, but the report shows that the Border Force went much further, suspending those checks in unauthorised circumstances and abandoning them entirely for some passengers. The report is clear that that happened without the authorisation of Ministers in either this or the previous Government.

The report also makes it clear that the suspension of checks of which I informed the House in November occurred without ministerial approval. I have just described the suspensions of warnings index checks, which date back several years, but the report also finds that secure ID, the system for checking the fingerprints of foreign nationals who require a visa to come to Britain, was suspended on a number of occasions without ministerial approval. Although the report makes it clear that there should have been a policy setting out the use of secure ID when it was introduced from 2009, it finds that Ministers and senior Border Force officials believed that secure ID should be a mandatory check.

In May 2011, when officials asked for permission sometimes to suspend secure ID checks, I explicitly refused. The report finds that, despite that clear instruction, secure ID checks continued to be suspended at Heathrow. It also confirms that checks on the biometric chip, which contains a second photograph and no further information, were sometimes suspended without ministerial approval.

The report makes it clear that the suspensions of checks were, as I told the House last year, entirely separate from the pilot I authorised. I remind the House that that pilot meant that in limited circumstances EEA national children travelling with their parents or as part of a school group would be checked against the warnings index only when assessed by a Border Force official to be a credible risk. It also allowed Border Force officials the discretion, in limited circumstances, to judge when to open the biometric chip, which contains a second photograph, in the passports of EEA nationals.

The pilot was designed to focus resources on the highest risk passengers and journeys and allow Border Force officers to conduct more targeted, intelligence-led checks. As the Home Affairs Select Committee concluded, it could have been a promising framework for a new approach to border security. However, as a result of the unauthorised suspension of checks, it is impossible to know fully what effect the pilot had. Although we can remain open-minded about the principle of risk-based checks, they must be implemented only in a controlled and authorised way.

The Vine report also uncovered a local initiative at Heathrow that allowed students from supposedly low-risk countries to enter the UK even when they did not have the necessary entry clearance. There was no ministerial authorisation for this activity. The report finds that Operation Savant, as it was called, was potentially discriminatory and unlawful. The Home Office permanent secretary is undertaking a review of this activity and will decide whether any disciplinary action should follow. That review will report by the end of March.

The Vine report reveals a Border Force that suspended important checks without permission; spent millions on new technologies but chose not to use them; was led by managers who did not communicate with their staff; and sent reports to Ministers that were inaccurate, unbalanced and excluded key information. The report makes a series of recommendations on how to improve the operation at the border, and I accept them all. Many of them we are already implementing, and the rest we will implement in full. Most importantly, I want to make it clear to the House that all the suspensions detailed in the report have now been stopped. We will shortly issue an operating policy on the use of secure ID fingerprint checks, and we will follow it up by implementing a new operating mandate for border control. This will detail the minimum level of mandatory checks for all passengers; set out which additional checks apply to which groups of passengers; and cover the opening of chips on passports, interviews for visa holders and the use of secure ID. It will detail explicitly the additional checks that border officers can apply at their discretion. It will specify the record-keeping standards to be maintained and make it clear that no unauthorised suspension of checks is acceptable under any circumstances.

As part of our wider work to improve the border, we have already made a number of other important improvements. We have separated immigration policy work from operations. We have created a Strategy and Intelligence Directorate to analyse intelligence; measure performance; develop rules, procedures and guidance; and monitor compliance with those rules. We have established a new UKBA training academy to raise professional standards and are reviewing service standards for queuing times and staffing levels. But I do not believe that the answer to the very significant problems exposed in the Vine report is just a series of management changes. The Border Force needs a whole new management culture, and I can tell the House today that I have appointed Brian Moore, currently the chief constable of Wiltshire police, as the interim head of the Border Force. In addition, from next year the new National Crime Agency will be charged with improving our intelligence capability at the border, investigating serious and organised border crime and tasking law enforcement assets across all the relevant agencies.

There are many hard-working and dedicated members of staff in the Border Force. They want to get on with their work securing our border, and I want to make it clear that this report is in no way a criticism of them, but, as the Home Affairs Committee and its Chairman have argued consistently, there is no getting away from the fact that UKBA, of which the Border Force is part, has been a troubled organisation since it was founded in 2008. From foreign national prisoners to the asylum-seeker backlog and the removal of illegal immigrants, it has reacted to a series of problems instead of positively managing its responsibilities.

I believe that, with a new chief executive and a plan for comprehensive change, UKBA is in better hands for the future, but I believe also that the extent of the transformational change required—in the agency’s casework functions and in the Border Force—is too great for one organisation. I can therefore tell the House that from 1 March the UK Border Force will split from UKBA and become a separate operational command, with its own ethos of law enforcement, led by its own director general and accountable directly to Ministers.

Many of the changes that I have outlined today cannot happen overnight; they will take time, but we will make them as quickly as possible. They will ensure not only that we have a stronger border in future, but that the Border Force becomes the disciplined law enforcement organisation that it was established to be. I commend this statement to the House.

I thank the Home Secretary for early sight of her statement, in which she makes important points about the fiascos at our border last summer, but it does not cover everything in the report from John Vine. In less than the hour that we have had to look at the report, we have found that it says something very different from the points that the Home Secretary has made.

For example, on the watch index checks from Calais, the Home Secretary’s statement today gives the House reason to believe that the problems had been going on since 2007. In fact, the watch index checks were suspended zero times in 2007, zero times in 2008, six times in 2009, 33 times in 2010 and 50 times in the first nine months of 2011. The report states:

“Although the figure for 2011 only covered nine months to the end of September, this represented a 51% increase over the previous year. The Agency should assess whether this increase can be attributed to changes in port infrastructure, increases in passenger numbers, a reduction in staff or a combination of all three.”

So the clear suggestion in the report is that a lack of staff may have increased the problems at the UK Border Agency in the past year, but the Home Secretary in her statement to Parliament has hidden that information.

On secure ID, the report states that it was suspended 482 times under this Government. The Immigration Minister approved the reduction in secure ID checks as part of the risk-based approach in January 2011, and again the Home Secretary has not explained how far Ministers’ authorisation, even if provisional, contributed to the downgrading of secure ID checks.

On the Immigration Minister’s further agreement to proposals, the report quotes the former head of the Border Force, who said:

“The Immigration Minister was clear that this did not require Home Secretary sign-off and he had followed up with a note stating that we should progress with the implementation.”

Time and again the Home Secretary has not set out the full information in the report.

On the level 2 pilots, the report is clear that they were downgraded over 2,000 times. That is not occasional, or under the “limited circumstances” that the Home Secretary told us about last year.

We have asked the Home Secretary before about the operational instruction that states:

“We will cease routinely opening the chip within EEA passports.”

She told the House on 9 November 2011 that that operational instruction did reflect Government policy, and that is the very guidance that led to checks being downgraded 2,000 times, for hours at a time, covering huge numbers of people.

On page 12, the report states:

“We found that the language used in both the ‘Summer pressures’ submission to Ministers and the response provided, was not clear and as a result was open to misinterpretation… For example, the written response from the Home Secretary’s office said that ‘the change in checks should not be a routine measure but only used when the queues get beyond a reasonable length.’ As the key terms were not clearly defined, we found this had been interpreted and operated in different ways at different ports.”

The report is clear:

“Given the importance of decisions to suspend border security checks, it is imperative that the language used is absolutely clear and unambiguous.”

Clearly, the language from the Home Secretary’s private office was not clear and unambiguous, and that led to huge confusion in the Border Force across the country.

There is no evidence in the report of proper monitoring by Ministers. It is scathing about the way in which checks were downgraded and talks about unauthorised activity. Why on earth were Ministers not asking for information and not properly monitoring the pilot that they had authorised and introduced? One of the updates, which it appears did not go to Ministers, makes it clear that secure ID was suspended as part of the checks over the summer. Why did that update not go to Ministers and why did they not ask for that information? Why did they accept only three updates over the course of the summer, when seven were provided? Why were Ministers not visiting the ports to ensure that the pilot that they had introduced was being properly implemented? Ministers decided to roll back the principle that had been in operation for many years—that we should gradually strengthen and tighten our border checks, using new technology and biometrics—and to introduce a huge experiment with border security. They made no proper checks to see what was happening during the fiasco last summer.

Finally, when confronted last November with the problems that had arisen, the Home Secretary told us that

“initial UKBA statistics show an almost 10% increase in the detection of illegal immigrants and a 48% increase in the identification of forged documents compared with the year before.”—[Official Report, 9 November 2011; Vol. 535, c. 318.]

She said that that had happened as a result of her pilots. However, the facts in the report show something very different. The Heathrow data alone show that the number of people refused entry was more than 100 lower each month—not higher—compared with 2010. The official statistics show a 10% drop in the number of non-asylum seekers who were stopped at ports compared with the previous year. Will the Home Secretary take this opportunity to apologise to the House for giving it premature and inaccurate information about the supposed success of her pilots, when clearly they were a huge failure in controlling the border?

The Home Secretary told us that her pilots did not weaken border security. The report states that

“it is not possible to quantify the extent of the risk that these measures presented to the border.”

The implications of that for our border are very serious, yet the Home Secretary continues to hide. She has hidden behind a report and not set out its full consequences, just as she has blamed officials, hidden from the media and hidden behind spurious statistics. In opposition, she said of a former Immigration Minister:

“I’m sick and tired of…government ministers…who simply blame other people when things go wrong.”

That is what she is doing now. It is time for her to stop hiding and to take responsibility for things that have happened on her watch: the unclear instructions from her office, the policy decisions to downgrade our border controls, the failure to monitor and check what was going on, and her failure to take responsibility. This mess escalated on her watch with every month that went by. Unless she accepts responsibility for this fiasco, she will fail to sort it out and she will fail to reassure the House that she can cope with future fiascos and that she is the Home Secretary to keep our borders secure.

The shadow Home Secretary’s mock outrage would have rather greater credibility if she had shown any real interest in immigration or border control at any stage over the year for which she has been doing her job. I remind her that the Vine report states that security checks have been suspended without ministerial authorisation since at least 2007. The suspension of checks of which I told the House in November happened without ministerial authorisation, and that unauthorised suspension had nothing to do with the pilot that I authorised last summer.

The right hon. Lady makes a number of claims in relation to the report. I suggest that she consider her track record on such claims. The Vine report exposes everything that she claimed last November as plain wrong. She said that the pilot was reckless, but the Vine report shows that Labour Ministers approved similar measures. She said that the pilot gave the Border Force the green light to suspend other checks, but the report shows that the suspensions were unauthorised.

The right hon. Lady said that by sometimes suspending warnings index checks on certain children, we risked an increase in trafficking. Not only is that wrong, but the Vine report makes it clear that Labour Ministers approved the suspension of checks on children. She said that we should have known about the unauthorised suspension of checks, but the Vine report makes it clear that information was withheld from Ministers and that unauthorised suspensions have been going on since at least 2007. She repeated that Labour increased checks on passengers and improved security, but the Vine report shows that it did not.

The right hon. Lady mentioned information about what happened during the pilot. I did indeed report figures to the House in November. They were the ones that were available at the time, and I faithfully reported them to the House. Since then, the chief inspector has discovered that unauthorised suspensions were made, so it is not possible to give a full picture of what effect the pilot had. We remain open-minded about risk-based checks, but they must be implemented in a controlled and authorised way.

The right hon. Lady blamed what has happened on cuts. I know that is her Pavlovian response to everything, but I would have thought she had noted that on the second page of the Vine report the chief inspector states that the suspensions were

“affected by a number of factors including…the numbers of staff deployed”—

the numbers deployed, not the numbers employed. As with the police, the right hon. Lady seems to find it very difficult to get her head around that. Just in case she has forgotten, I remind her that the previous Government planned to cut UKBA budgets.

The right hon. Lady talked about information that was available to Ministers about the pilot. I remind her that the Vine report makes it clear that updates to Ministers on the pilot

“were not balanced…presented an inaccurate picture of performance”


“could not be relied upon to determine the success or otherwise of Level 2.”

There is nothing more important than the security of our border, so it is a shame that the right hon. Lady has taken the approach that she has and has not addressed the measures that we are undertaking to secure our border and ensure that the Border Force is the law enforcement agency it should be. We did not hear any of her views on the recommendations in the Vine report, the proposal to take the Border Force out of the UKBA or the proposal to change the approach that the Border Force takes, because she has nothing positive to say about immigration or border security.

As someone who supports what the Home Secretary is trying to do to get better control over our borders and a risk-based approach, may I ask her what explanation she has been offered of the failure of some officials to accept ministerial instructions? There is no point in having Ministers and Parliament if officials ignore everything that they tell them.

Sadly, the chief inspector describes in the report poor communication and poor managerial oversight in the Border Fore. He makes it clear that the information systems within the UKBA and the UK Border Force were not being used properly to enable proper assessments to be made of the proposals that were being made.

May I take it from what the Home Secretary has said that she agrees with my right hon. Friend the shadow Home Secretary that the number of those refused entry is 100 lower than she claimed, rather than higher? Will she say briefly what she thinks she has learned in the past 18 months about how she manages her Department?

I did not say in November that the overall number of refusals was higher. The report does indeed say that the number of refusals was lower, which was a result of the chief inspector’s investigation of what was happening at the border. We reported to Parliament about certain numbers of individuals who were stopped and about numbers of drug seizures.

It is clear from the Vine report that some immigration checks have been suspended since at least 2007 and that they were abandoned without ministerial authority. However, is not the important point that the country and our constituents do not want to hear a lot of huff and puff from Opposition Front Benchers trying to score points but to know that Ministers are now taking action to make our borders more secure? Will my right hon. Friend reiterate to the House, so that the information does not get lost, the new action that she is taking to make sure that our borders are more secure than they have been in the past?

I thank my hon. Friend for his question. He is absolutely right that the public want to know that we are dealing with these issues. That is why I have appointed the chief constable of Wiltshire police to be the interim head of the Border Force and why the Border Force will be separated from UKBA. We will put a much greater focus on the Border Force as a control body that is securing our borders and has a greater emphasis on law enforcement. At the same time, we have made a number of changes to the way in which UKBA operates—for example, we have taken policy away so that there is a greater concentration on operations.

I welcome the fact that the Home Secretary is to implement all the recommendations by John Vine. This is about a root and branch reform of a very troubled organisation. She was right not to personalise the matter, because it is a cultural problem to do with the way in which UKBA operates. Only last week, as Chairman of the Home Affairs Committee, I wrote to the chief executive to ask for certain information, which he refused to give. It is very important, not only for UKBA but for the new organisation that she is creating, that there should be proper parliamentary scrutiny of the agencies. I warn her that if she does not reform the organisation, it will come back and bite her and other Ministers in future. I therefore welcome her proposals.

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for the serious and constructive way in which he has engaged in his comments. As I said, he and the Home Affairs Committee have consistently, over a number of years, pointed out the problems at UKBA. Through the Vine report, we see in depth the problems that were occurring, particularly in the Border Force. He is absolutely right that this is about a change of culture within the organisation. That is why we have separated the Border Force from UKBA, and we have a new chief executive at UKBA who has already made a number of changes that are starting to change the culture. We will have a new interim head of the Border Force, which will be separate from UKBA, and that can be the start of the culture change, but it does take time to change a culture.

Will the Home Secretary set out what regular performance assessment of UKBA there will be to ensure that it does not fall back into the ad-hoc, events-driven approach to border security and management that was so prevalent under the previous Government?

We will issue the UK Border Force with a new operating mandate that makes absolutely clear the circumstances in which certain discretion may be applied and which checks should be mandatory at our borders. We are already receiving more detailed reports on what is happening in relation to the Border Force and UKBA. UKBA’s task will be to deliver the Government’s immigration policy, and I am very pleased to say that we intend to deliver that policy by the next general election.

Does the Home Secretary agree with the report that it is imperative that the language used by ministers is absolutely clear and unambiguous? If so, does she agree that her key terms were not clearly defined because the pilot was interpreted and operated in different ways in different ports—or will she just blame the officials again?

I assure the hon. Lady that we have looked in detail at every criticism made in the report, and that where it is necessary for changes to take place in the Home Office, they will take place.

The Home Affairs Committee report found that one primary reason the problem continued for so long undetected was that the chain of communication from Ministers to senior managers to front-line staff at UKBA had become convoluted and fragmented. Today we hear that the Vine report finds that Border Force senior managers felt themselves unaccountable to Ministers. What does the Home Secretary intend to do to put an end to that culture once and for all?

That is one of the issues with how the UKBA was originally set up—it was one of those so-called arm’s length agencies. Separating the Border Force from UKBA and making it part of the Home Office—the director general will be within the Home Office—means that it will be directly accountable to Ministers.

When the scandal broke last year, it was reported that checks were suspended at Edinburgh, Glasgow, Aberdeen and Prestwick airports. In her previous statement, the Home Secretary said she would be happy to speak to Scottish Ministers about that. What discussions has she had with Scottish Ministers and what discussions did John Vine have with the authorities in Scotland? More importantly, what will the impact of a new Border Force, with its own operational command, be for border and port security in Scotland?

The hon. Gentleman is right to raise the impact on Scotland. We will discuss the impact of the report with Scottish Government Ministers and my hon. Friend the Immigration Minister will write to them today about the implications. We will obviously take up more detailed discussions on the precise operations at official level—[Interruption.]

Order. I appeal to the hon. Member for Blyth Valley (Mr Campbell) to calm himself. Perhaps he should take up yoga. It is only Monday, and I know that he will want to hang on every word of the Home Secretary—[Interruption.] I do not know what he is chuntering about with such good nature from a sedentary position, but it cannot be as interesting as what the Home Secretary has to say.

Having heard the bluster from the shadow Home Secretary, will the Home Secretary confirm to the House one thing: that the Vine report entirely vindicates what she and the Immigration Minister said last November, and that all the suspended checks that she told the House about in November occurred without ministerial authorisation?

The report makes it clear that the suspension of checks outside the limited pilot that had been approved took place without ministerial authorisation. The shadow Home Secretary raised an issue in her opening remarks about my hon. Friend the Immigration Minister. He and I have made it clear that his comments on the proposed pilot early last year were provisional; that, crucially, no new operating instructions were issued to staff as a result; that there was no change to policy as a result; that secure ID checks were suspended before January last year until May; and that, sadly, despite my explicit instruction that the checks should not be suspended after May, they continued to be suspended.

The Vine report goes through the facts of what happened over a period in relation to the potential suspension of checks. It makes it clear that, sadly, the UK Border Force was undertaking checks without ministerial authorisation, and that it withheld information from Ministers and gave inaccurate information to them.

Does the Home Secretary agree that because the previous Labour Government were so uninterested in protecting our borders, they allowed the bizarre culture of ignoring ministerial direction to embed itself at the head of the UKBA? Will she assure the House that that culture will not be allowed to continue following this Government’s measures and the Vine report?

The precise reason for separating the UK Border Force from UKBA is to give the UK Border Force a much clearer focus on its key job of maintaining security and conducting controls at our borders. However, I am bound to comment to my hon. Friend that, as he knows well, this Government have a proper immigration policy and are doing our best to control it.

Does the Home Secretary understand one of the points made by the Home Affairs Committee, which is that the Border Agency, of which the Border Force is a part, is not a separate agency but an integral part of the Home Office, for which she is responsible? Does she accept that communications within the Home Office, including that agency, were poor and sometimes shambolic, which is why officials frequently thought that Ministers knew what Ministers should have known? Will she now publish, alongside the Vine report, the document on which she relied in giving evidence but which she has denied so far to the Home Affairs Committee? Can we have it all out in the open?

I am interested in the comments that the right hon. Gentleman makes about the relationship between Ministers and the UK Border Agency and the UK Border Force. I return to the point I have made previously that of course what we saw was decisions being taken within UK Border Force that were contrary to ministerial authorisation, not just under this Government but under the previous Government as well.

Order. There is pressure on time. I am keen to accommodate all colleagues, but to do so I require brevity, to be exemplified by Mr Robert Halfon.

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the suspension of border checks had nothing to do with budget cuts and began under the previous Government when budgets were rising and our immigration system was in a shambles?

My hon. Friend is absolutely correct. The suspension of checks did start under the previous Government. As I told my hon. Friend the Member for Daventry (Chris Heaton-Harris), this Government have a proper immigration policy and intend to control immigration. We also need to ensure that UK Border Force is the law enforcement agency with control at our borders that we all want it to be.

When the Home Secretary made her statement to the House on 7 November, there was some initial confusion about whether Manchester airport was included in the pilot. Can she now confirm how many passengers passed through Manchester airport without biometric or fingerprint checks during the period of the pilot that was authorised by Ministers?

I can confirm to the right hon. Gentleman that Manchester airport was indeed part of the pilot scheme, but one of the problems—as shown in the report by the chief inspector—is that some of the record-keeping at ports was not complete in relation to the operation of the pilot and the suspension of checks, and that records were kept on a different basis between different ports. While the chief inspector has put the figures into his report as far as he is able, it is not possible to get the complete picture of the operation of the pilot precisely because the records are incomplete.

I welcome my right hon. Friend’s statement. As part of the culture change to which she refers, will she ask the management of the successor bodies whether they will use English of a type that is understandable to the rest of the English-speaking world?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend and I know that this is a campaign that he pursues at every opportunity. Indeed, when I appeared before the Home Affairs Committee he raised the issue of the language that was being used. We will make every effort to do what he requests.

On occasions such as this, when Opposition Back Benchers have not seen the report that is the subject of the statement, we depend on a comprehensive and non-partisan presentation of the report by the Minister responsible. The Home Secretary has given us the impression that the report is in no way critical of Ministers, but we have heard suggestions that the report does contain criticism of a lack of clarity in the language used by Ministers in their instructions to the Border Agency. Is there criticism in the report, and if so will she apologise for her Department’s failings?

In a number of aspects, the report does indeed refer to the need for greater clarity in communications of all sorts that were taking place in relation to what was happening at the border. That is part of the work that will be done by the Home Office and the UK Border Agency.

The failure of the previous Government to manage our borders and even know how many immigrants had come into the country was rightly punished by the electorate at the election. Does the Home Secretary agree that, unlike Labour, this Government will not tolerate failure by the Border Agency?

Indeed, that is why we are responding fully to the recommendations of the Vine report. Furthermore, as I have made clear to the House, we are changing the structure of the UKBA and the UK Border Force so that we can focus more on the need for the Border Force to secure our borders. That is what people want it to do, and it is what we want it to do.

Given the Home Secretary’s decision to split the Border Force from the UKBA, can we expect a corresponding reduction in the salary of the UKBA’s chief executive to reflect his reduced responsibilities, or will this end up costing us more and adding to the complexity of a situation that Ministers are already struggling to control?

I am happy to remind the hon. Gentleman—I am sure that he is already aware of this—that the current chief executive is paid significantly less than was his predecessor, who was appointed by the previous Labour Government.

Apart from the political posturing and point-scoring attempted by the shadow Home Secretary last November, will my right hon. Friend remind me when the Opposition Front-Bench team last took the slightest interest in immigration and border control?

I understand that the last time there was an immigration debate in the House, not a single speech was made from the Labour Back Benches.

One of the Government’s first acts was to abolish plans to put fingerprints in British passports. We now hear that the Immigration Minister gave the impression to officials that it was okay to implement the suspension of secure identity checks. Does he have the Home Secretary’s full confidence?

Absolutely, and I have already answered the points about the Immigration Minister’s comments. The hon. Lady needs to recognise that secure identity checks were suspended before January/February 2011, that they were suspended until May, and sadly, despite the fact that I explicitly said that they should not be suspended in May, they remained suspended. That was without ministerial authorisation. It is high time that she and her right hon. and hon. Friends recognised what was happening without ministerial authorisation.

The establishment of a new operational command for the UK Border Force and the appointment of its interim head sound like positive and constructive steps forward, but they come just five months before the London Olympics. Will the Home Secretary ensure that the interim head has all the resources he needs to cope with the increased number of visitors that this country can expect?

I can assure my hon. Friend that the UK Border Force has already undertaken a great deal of work within the UKBA, and will continue to undertake it, to ensure that we can accommodate people coming to London and other parts of the country for the Olympics and Paralympics. We are doing a great deal of work, including, crucially, with the airport operators.

A couple of months ago, I toured the border controls at Dover. I would like to make the Home Secretary and the excellent Immigration Minister aware of the following: first, the problems at Calais are the result not of budget cuts but of coaches queuing back on to the motorway, causing the police to put pressure on the UKBA to hurry people through; secondly, the previous Government also did nothing about eye scanners that did not work properly; and, thirdly the previous Government supplied laptops that did not work properly and took too long to load up. While she is addressing the problems of the past, will she take an interest in those things too?

My hon. Friend, given his constituency, takes a particular interest in border matters. He is assiduous in dealing with these issues, in liaising with those at Dover port responsible for such matters and in taking up any issues with Ministers. He raised several matters. I am happy to say that despite this weekend being the busiest weekend for returning school coach parties—the thoughts of the House must be with those affected by the terrible school coach accident in France—the UKBA, by working with the French authorities and putting in place mitigating measures, achieved a greater throughput than was achieved previously. There were also fewer problems with coaches on the motorway.

I welcome the Home Secretary’s announcement of the separation of the UK Border Force as a separate entity, but it is clear that the organisation urgently requires a period of stability. In order to provide it, will she say when she envisages a permanent head being appointed?

We will, of course, be holding an open competition for people to apply for that post. I hesitate to give my hon. Friend a date, because we have to be cognisant of the fact that, with the Olympics and Paralympics coming up, we need to ensure minimum disruption to the Border Force. It is with that in mind that an appointment will be made, at an appropriate time.