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Border Controls

Volume 542: debated on Monday 19 March 2012

With permission, Mr Speaker, before I respond to the hon. Gentleman’s question, I should like to apologise for the unexpected absence due to a family emergency of the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Lynne Featherstone), and for the absence of my right hon. Friend the Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice, who is in Northumbria, representing the Government at a memorial service for PC David Rathband. I had the privilege of meeting PC Rathband, who was a brave and fine police officer. He is a huge loss to the police service and his local community and I am sure that the whole House will want to join me in sending our condolences to his family.

On border controls last summer, as the House is aware, I commissioned the chief inspector of the UK Border Agency, John Vine, to conduct an independent investigation into the unauthorised suspension of border checks during that period. The Vine report revealed unauthorised suspensions of checks, poor communication and poor record-keeping since 2007. I have accepted all the report’s recommendations and we have appointed Chief Constable Brian Moore to lead a new border force as an operational command separate from UKBA.

I am grateful to the Home Secretary for that answer. Do not the Vine report’s devastating conclusions that border checks were downgraded more than 2,000 times last summer on the instructions of the Immigration Minister, without even the Home Secretary having been consulted first, and that fewer people were stopped at Heathrow airport and other ports last year compared with 2010 show that the tackling of illegal immigration became completely dysfunctional last summer under this Government? Will not the fight against that be further undermined by the cutting of 6,500 staff within the UK Border Agency?

The answer to the hon. Gentleman’s question is no, and he put some things into his question that I challenge. First, the Immigration Minister did not instruct that certain checks should be suspended last summer. The hon. Gentleman tried to put quite a lot into his question in relation to the impact of border security checks on illegal immigration. I have to say that it would be a lot easier to take questions on immigration from the Labour party if it had not left this country’s immigration system in such a mess when it left government.

Will the Home Secretary inform the House how many EU migrants have visited the United Kingdom since the summer of 2011 as a result of the economic difficulties in the eurozone? What contingencies has she put in place should there be a part or full collapse of the euro?

The latest figures for migration from various parts of the world that have been published are publicly available but they do not go up to the date that my hon. Friend has requested. We are aware of the issue of EU migration, which is why when we came into government we committed to ensuring that any future new member states entering the European Union would have transitional controls placed on them—something that the previous Labour Government failed to do for those early new entrants to the EU such as Poland.

Having effective border controls means preventing the wrong people from coming in and removing undesirable people from this country. The Home Secretary has just come back from Jordan, where she met the King. She was given cast-iron guarantees about the treatment of Abu Qatada were he to return to Jordan, so why is Mr Abu Qatada still in this country?

The right hon. Gentleman makes certain claims for what happened when I was in Jordan. We had very positive and constructive discussions with a number of representatives of the Jordanian Government and I had the privilege and pleasure of meeting the King. Further work is being undertaken by the lawyers as we speak. As I have said before to hon. Members, my intention is to ensure that when we are able to deport Abu Qatada as we all want to be able to do, we are able to make that deportation sustainable.

Does the Home Secretary agree that it is really shocking that we have had a relaxation of our border controls from 2007 onwards about which Parliament was never told? Will she confirm that since that came to light she has been taking action to reintroduce the concept of border security for our country?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for reminding us that the Vine report indicated that there had been problems with border controls since 2007—a fact that, sadly, Members on the Opposition Front Bench seemed unable to recognise when the Vine report came out. We have, indeed, reinstated full border security checks—that is absolutely right and proper—and we have taken action to make sure that by separating the UK border force from UKBA it can concentrate on the issue of establishing and maintaining proper security at our borders.

I, too, convey apologies to the House, from my right hon. Friend the shadow Home Secretary, who is with the Policing Minister in Northumbria at the memorial service for PC Rathband. As the Home Secretary rightly said, he was a very brave police officer, and our thoughts and prayers are with his family, and his colleagues in the Northumbria police. It just goes to show that, for a police officer, harm’s way can come in many different guises.

On 9 November last year, the Minister for Immigration said:

“this pilot was a success”—[Official Report, 9 November 2011; Vol. 535, c. 358.]

As it was such a great success, will the Home Secretary repeat the pilot this year, and if not, why not?

The hon. Gentleman knows full well, because this was reported to Parliament when I made a statement on the chief inspector’s report on security checks, that the initial figures that we were given last year about the summer pilot did indeed show some success, in terms of the seizure of items such as drugs. However, when the chief inspector came to look at the whole issue, he discovered that there had been some other unauthorised relaxation of security checks, and that the recording had not been complete; it was therefore not possible to give a full evaluation of that pilot.