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Contraband: Entry into UK

Volume 604: debated on Monday 11 January 2016

6. What steps the Government are taking to stop firearms, illegal drugs and other contraband entering the UK. (902908)

The United Kingdom’s border controls are among the toughest in the world. Border Force works closely with other law enforcement agencies, including the National Crime Agency and the police, to target and disrupt freight, international post, vehicles and vessels attempting to smuggle prohibited and restricted goods, such as firearms and illegal drugs, into the UK.

I thank the Minister for that answer. Will he expand on how the National Crime Agency is co-operating with authorities overseas to protect Britain from serious organised crime?

The National Crime Agency does vital work, both here in the UK and overseas, to track down the source of plots and conspiracies, as well as to disrupt the activity of organised crime groups. It has been crucial in recent operations, for example in arresting those suspected of drug smuggling offences in Greece, intercepting shipments of cocaine passing through the English channel and cracking down on Europe-wide people smuggling operations. The NCA is increasingly showing the importance of that international work, and equally it is working through organisations such as Europol to show that we have the best intelligence and good co-ordination to combat organised criminality.

Given that at least 67,500 small planes or boats landed at British ports or airports unchecked by Border Force, does the Minister have any concerns that that might be a route for illegal drugs or firearms?

The right hon. Gentleman will be aware, through his experience of being a Home Office Minister, of the steps that are taken by all our various agencies in looking at each potential way in which people may smuggle into this country. We are improving the systems through which general aviation reports are captured in order to ensure that we are tackling non-compliance. We are also working through air traffic control to track flights that fail to report and, through improvements to legislation, take action against those who fail to comply with the requirements. We remain focused on these issues.

My hon. Friend seeks to draw me into issues that we do not comment on. We do not comment on specific issues or particular ports, but I can assure him that Border Force, the National Crime Agency and others take an intelligence-led approach to the way in which people and technology are deployed in order to have the most effect in confronting the criminals who are trying to smuggle stuff into this country.

The single largest item smuggled into Northern Ireland from the Republic of Ireland is illicit fuel. Last month, the Republic of Ireland produced a report that showed that in one month alone €316,000 was spent on cleaning up sludge from waste illicit fuel. Will the Government review the markers that are used in our British fuels? The Dow ACCUTRACE marker is a dud because it can be removed.

The National Crime Agency, working with the Police Service of Northern Ireland, is looking at all threats across the border from the Republic of Ireland. Indeed, we have very good relations with the Government there. I will refer the hon. Gentleman’s comments to other colleagues across Government who take a direct interest in this.

Perhaps the most lethal weapon of mass destruction is the AK-47 and similar small arms weapons rather than any nuclear weapon. The Government have done a huge amount in the arms trade treaty. As of December 2015, 79 countries had ratified the arms trade treaty, while 53 have signed it but not ratified it. What more can the Government do to deal with and tackle the illegal supply of weapons across borders and get those countries to ratify the treaty?

We are taking this forward at a European level. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary is in discussions with other European leaders on how best we can co-ordinate with and lobby Governments beyond Europe as well, to share the focus that we as a Government have on confronting the smuggling of weapons and ensuring that this issue is dealt with even more firmly.

I raised concerns about Hull’s port security with the Home Secretary on 16 November and followed that up with information to her office on 18 November. In the light of today’s reports in The Guardian by Vikram Dodd about ferry security, what additional steps might be introduced to increase security at our ports?

I cannot comment on the individual case that the hon. Lady mentions, but I can say that we take seriously the issue of our ports, and indeed the juxtaposed ports in northern France. We have maintained 100% screening checks on those coming through. Our introduction of operational and technological improvements has prevented nearly 70,000 illegal entry attempts through those juxtaposed ports.