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Border Systems Programme

Volume 579: debated on Monday 28 April 2014

Keeping the UK’s border secure is our priority. By the end of this Parliament, we will develop replacement primary border security systems, deliver exit checks, improve resilience of all current business-critical systems, increase advance passenger information coverage, and complete implementation of second-generation e-gates.

I am grateful for the Home Secretary’s answer. However, what progress has been made in the procurement process for the e-borders contract given that the UK industry was first approached in early 2013 and nations such as Canada, Saudi Arabia and Mexico have been able to complete similar procurements and implementations in as little as six months?

My hon. Friend makes an interesting point about the procurement process. We have done two things in the Home Office: first, we have looked to make absolutely sure that we have identified the right technology that is necessary; and secondly, we have changed the approach we take to procurement to move away from the mega-monolithic contracts that tended to be entered into by the previous Government so as to be able to parcel the contracts up into smaller packages that mean we are more flexible and that a greater range of companies is able to bid for those contracts.

The hon. Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) is right: the process has been slow. The e-borders programme has been a disaster costing the taxpayer millions of pounds, with four years of unresolved negotiations with the original providers. In his evidence to the Home Affairs Committee, Sir Charles Montgomery said that 5 million people leave this country without providing advance passenger information. How many of the 14 core services that were due to be provided by e-borders will be provided by the end of this Parliament?

I outlined to my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) what we will have completed by the end of this Parliament. I am happy to repeat the list that I read earlier. We will have delivered exit checks, increased advance passenger information coverage, introduced second-generation e-gates, developed primary border security systems, and improved the resilience of all our current business-critical systems.

It is clearly very important to have exit checks back, because without them it is hard to have a sensible immigration policy. Sir Charles Montgomery from Border Force told the Select Committee that full e-borders capability would not be provided by the time of the general election. What is not going to be in place, and do we need it?

I have already established twice in my answers what is going to be completed during this Parliament by the time of the next general election. My hon. Friend is a member of the Home Affairs Committee and has obviously heard Sir Charles Montgomery, the director general of Border Force, give evidence on a number of occasions. One of the points Sir Charles has made in his evidence is that we have been increasing the amount of advance passenger information available to us so that we now have 80% coverage in all transport and more than 90% coverage in aviation.

The official Opposition and I support exit checks. I wonder whether the Home Secretary has read what the Deputy Prime Minister has said:

“I have for some time been concerned with the urgency with which the Home Office is seeking to implement the coalition agreement commitment that I personally insisted on, that exit checks should be restored…Do I think, given what I know now, that new exit checks will be in all exit places by 2015? I think that is unlikely”.

For once, I agree with Nick—does the Home Secretary?

I share the Deputy Prime Minister’s concern to ensure that we are able to provide for the commitment that we made in the coalition agreement that we would introduce exit checks. By April 2015 we will have enabled exit checks to take place for those who are leaving the UK by scheduled international travel by air, sea and rail services.

Whatever entry or exit checks we deploy, my constituents are concerned that we should not grant asylum to people who come to our shores through other safe countries. What use is being made of the Dublin convention whereby we send back such people to the last safe country they left?

I hope I can reassure my hon. Friend that we do use the Dublin regulations; indeed, I defend those regulations regularly in the Justice and Home Affairs Council within the European environment. It is very important that people are returned to the first country by which they entered the European Union. Unfortunately, because of court judgments we are not currently able to return people to Greece, but we are working with the Greek authorities to improve their capability for dealing with asylum seekers so that we will be able to do so in due course.