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Border Force Budget 2016-17

Volume 608: debated on Wednesday 20 April 2016

(Urgent Question): To ask the Home Secretary to make a statement setting out the details of the Border Force Budget for 2016-17.

The first priority of government is the safety and security of its citizens, and the Government have always made the integrity of the UK border a priority. We will never compromise on keeping the people of this country safe from terrorism, criminality and illegal immigration.

My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer will publish the Treasury main supply estimates in just over an hour’s time, setting out estimated budget allocations for the whole of government, including Border Force, for the financial year 2016-17. In advance of those figures being laid in the Library, I can inform Members that these estimates will show that the indicative budget for Border Force is £558.1 million in 2016-17—a 0.4% reduction in overall resource spending compared to the supplementary estimate for 2015-16. At the same time, we will increase capital spending at the border by just over 70%, from £40.1 million in 2015-16 to an estimated £68.3 million in 2016-17. That means that Border Force spending is, to all intents and purposes, protected compared to 2015-16, with increased capital investment to improve the technology at the border, to improve security and intelligence and to strengthen control.

Over the next four years, we will invest £130 million in state-of-the-art technology at the border. Since I became Home Secretary six years ago, we have pursued an ambitious programme of reform at the border to keep this country safe. In the last Parliament we abolished the dysfunctional UK Border Agency, set up by the last Labour Government, and made Border Force directly accountable to Ministers within the Home Office. Since then, Border Force has transformed its working practices, command and control and leadership, and we have invested in new technology such as e-gates at airports and heartbeat monitors at freight ports to improve security, prevent illegal entry to the UK, benefit passengers and deliver efficiencies.

At the same time I have worked closely with my French counterpart, Bernard Cazeneuve, to secure the juxtaposed controls in Calais and Coquelles, reduce the number of migrants attempting to reach the United Kingdom, and safeguard UK drivers and hauliers travelling through those ports. We have developed a robust, intelligence-led approach to organised crime at the border, working closely with the National Crime Agency, which we established in 2012. We have supported greater collaboration between counter-terrorism police and Border Force, while increasing counter-terrorism budgets to prevent foreign fighters from returning and dangerous terrorists from travelling to the UK.

These reforms are working. Border security has been enhanced. Border Force continues to perform 100% checks on scheduled passengers arriving at primary check- points in the UK. When passengers are deemed a threat to public safety, we can and do exclude them from the UK, and 99,020 people have been refused entry to the UK since 2010. We are disrupting more organised crime at the UK border than ever before. In the past year, Border Force has seized nearly 8 tonnes of class A drugs, more than 2.5 times as much as in 2009-10. Meanwhile, legitimate passengers and hauliers of goods continue to be provided with excellent levels of service.

The Government remain committed to making further investments when necessary to exploit new technology and strengthen controls. As a result, Border Force will grow more efficient year on year, while improving security for the safety of citizens, businesses and the country as a whole.

Finally, an answer—and yet another U-turn—from the Home Secretary. Let us be clear: it is Labour pressure that has brought her to the House today, and Labour pressure that has made her back down on her planned deeper cuts in the UK border. Just as we forced her to U-turn on police funding, we have now forced her to U-turn on the Border Force budget. She has spent the last two weeks ducking and diving, refusing to answer questions that I put to her in the House and that the Chair of the Home Affairs Committee, my right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz), put to her senior officials—I pay tribute to the right hon. Gentleman for his determination. Why could the Home Secretary not answer our questions? Because she has been furiously back-pedalling for the last two weeks, and patching up holes in the Border Force budget.

Let us be clear about what has just been announced to the House. The Home Secretary has announced a revenue cut in the Border Force budget. Let me put that into context. She has announced a budget of £558 million. In 2012-13, the budget was £617 million. It has fallen by more than £50 million on her watch. That is this Home Secretary’s record on border funding. How can she justify it when the terror threat has been increasing all the time? Will she guarantee, on the back of the budget that has been announced today, that there will be no cuts in the number of front-line immigration officers, and that officers will not be replaced by less-trained staff?

The bigger question, however, is whether the budget that the Home Secretary has announced is anywhere near enough. Today, a group of the most eminent police and counter-terrorism experts have written an open letter saying that attacks in Paris and Brussels must be

“a wake-up call for the British Government”

on lax border security.

Worryingly, the letter reveals that the National Crime Agency has evidence that people-traffickers are now specifically targeting weaker sea ports. I have repeatedly warned the Home Secretary about that. Will she accept the call from the group of experts for a review of border security, and for extra resources to plug the gaps?

Those gaps are very real. A whistleblower working at the port of Immingham, the country’s largest freight port, has been in touch with me to reveal that the staff of ferry companies, who are carrying out the Home Secretary’s border exit checks, are simply not trained to do it; that the passports of lorry drivers are not checked on arrival by anyone; and, worst of all, that school leavers are now being recruited to check passports, replacing experienced border officers. Border security on the cheap: that is the reality of what is happening at Britain’s borders today, under this Home Secretary. It is the direct consequence of the cuts that she has already made in the UK border during her time in office—and, unbelievably, she wanted to make even further cuts in the border before we in the Labour party stopped her.

The Home Secretary has spent the last two weeks running scared, scrabbling for loose change behind the back of the Home Office sofa; but, worse, she has weakened our borders, has damaged our security, and is only now pledging to stop the cuts. On an issue of such importance to the British public, she is going to have to do a lot better than this.

I have to say to the right hon. Gentleman that in so much of what he said he simply does not know what he is talking about. He talks about U-turns on funding, but the only such U-turn we have seen is from a Labour Front-Bench team that now claim to have wanted police funding to remain steady and not to be cut when they actually suggested that police funding could take a 10% cut.

The right hon. Gentleman talks about border security and the National Crime Agency, but I remind him that it was the coalition Government and me as Home Secretary who set up the NCA. The reason why we have a border command that is looking at serious and organised crime across our borders is because of what the Conservatives have done in government. Labour did none of that in 13 long years.

I remind the right hon. Gentleman, who was of course at one time a Home Office Minister, that it was under Labour that we saw the creation of the dysfunctional UK Border Agency that we had to abolish. We had to change how we dealt with such issues. Under the last Labour Government, there was no operating mandate at the border, and as people came through the primary checkpoints, they were not all getting the necessary 100% checks. We have enhanced security and will continue to do so.

My constituents in Kettering are concerned that we should have the most secure and safest borders possible. While it is true that many illegal immigrants are stopped in lorries in France and on arrival in Britain, far too many illegal immigrants are still in the backs of lorries when they go down the A14 past Kettering towards the north of England or wherever. What more can the Home Secretary do to reassure my constituents that we are going to get even tougher on and stop illegal immigration, which also has a security implication?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right that it is important that we continually review our processes for screening people as they cross the border, and that we ensure that we are stopping people who want to come here as illegal immigrants. That is one reason why we have invested tens of millions of pounds in security at Calais and Coquelles to ensure that it is harder for people to get into lorries to come across the border and harder for them to access the channel tunnel. It is also why we continue to look at improvements in technology that may enable us to put in place equipment that is even better at detecting people when they try to stow away in such vehicles. However, we cannot do that once and expect it to cover everything; we have to keep going at it, which is exactly what we are doing.

This has been a sorry saga, and it is still not quite clear why the senior civil servant was so evasive before the Home Affairs Committee. What exactly was the hold-up? The Border Force budget requires careful scrutiny and attracts significant public interest. What will the Home Secretary do to make the process for deciding the budget more transparent in future?

What lies underneath the issue is that a fantasy net migration target and budget cuts are leading the Home Office down the path of targeting exactly the wrong people, using the wrong policy levers. Unable to enforce existing immigration rules properly, the Home Office introduces ever more draconian rules, clamping down on skilled workers, students, spouses and refugees. It is using landlords and landladies as border officials and giving immigration officers police powers. Meanwhile, other SNP MPs and I saw with our own eyes in Calais and Dunkirk at Easter how vulnerable children who have family here in the United Kingdom are left in the most disgraceful of conditions. It is immigration control on the cheap.

When will the Home Secretary fix her Border Force budget not to satisfy the ideological pursuit of austerity, but at the level necessary to command public confidence? When will she abandon the fantasy net migration target and set immigration policies in accordance with evidence instead of political expediency?

The hon. and learned Lady mixes up border security and checks with immigration. They are two different issues. She commented on the appearance of a senior civil servant before the Home Affairs Committee. When asked whether the director general of Border Force had been told what his budget was for this year, the individual replied:

“We know what funds the Border Force needs in order to deliver the plan for this year and Charles has them.”

On a related immigration issue, the hon. and learned Lady referred to the question she has raised previously, as have other Members, about the speed at which children in Calais who have family members here in the UK are being processed. We recognised that there was an issue, which is why we seconded somebody to the Ministry of the Interior in Paris to work on this and why we are now seeing people being processed in weeks, rather than months, and in some cases in days .

There is nothing worse in this House than manufactured rage at a problem such as this, and I note that the shadow Home Secretary made not a single mention of praise for the excellent job our Border Force staff are doing, which members of the Home Affairs Committee saw in our visit to Calais and Coquelles—it is not through a lack of thoroughness that any drugs or people are getting through. Will she also acknowledge the need to be more flexible, given the increasing number of cases of independent vessels coming across the channel to the Sussex and Kent coasts, in particular? We need to be mindful of that, too.

I thank my hon. Friend for his remarks, and I echo the comments he has made; our Border Force staff are working day in, day out to protect our border and they do an excellent job. He is right, however, that we always need to be flexible in looking at where people will try to enter the UK as we make ports such as Calais more secure. That is exactly what we are doing. My right hon. Friend the Minister for Immigration has been talking to our Belgian and Dutch counterparts about access from ports in those countries into the UK. The whole point of some of the changes we have made in Border Force has been precisely to make it more flexible, in order to respond to need as it arises.

I thank the Home Secretary for the detail she has provided to the House today and I join others in praising the work of Border Force, especially the leadership provided by Sir Charles Montgomery. Will she deal with the practical points mentioned last week by the hon. Member for Gainsborough (Sir Edward Leigh) and today by the hon. Member for Kettering (Mr Hollobone)? Will she confirm that there are 100% checks on every lorry entering this country, in order to deal with the security and immigration issues? Does she agree that although we have spent a huge amount of money in Calais, we have displaced this problem further into other ports in Europe, and without the co-operation of European partners—without them doing their bit—we will still get people coming into this country who should not be here?

The right hon. Gentleman referred particularly to the questions from not only my hon. Friend the Member for Kettering (Mr Hollobone) this afternoon, but my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Sir Edward Leigh). The point I made subsequently, outside this Chamber, to my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough is that we do undertake checks on lorries but that they vary, so different sorts of checks may be done. Different technologies are used, and in some cases we use dogs. A variety of types of check may be undertaken at the border for the lorries. The right hon. Gentleman is right to say that, as I have just indicated in my response to my hon. Friend the Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton), it is necessary for us to be looking at where there may be displacement of people trying to enter the UK illegally. That is precisely what we have been doing, particularly, as I said, with the Governments of Belgium and the Netherlands.

Cuts were made in January by Border Force to the maritime aerial surveillance capability. Has my right hon. Friend been able to reinstate that capability, which is crucial in detecting people who are trying to smuggle into our country and was instrumental in ensuring some of the successes to which she referred earlier?

I reassure my hon. Friend that we are maintaining the capabilities he talked about, but we are delivering them in a different way. He and I have discussed a particular contract that is no longer in place. What Border Force has done is look to see how it can work in a variety of ways to provide that capability, including, obviously, by working with the Royal Navy.

Last year, an asylum seeker was located in my constituency because the courts said it would be unsafe to relocate him in London. He subsequently committed a number of crimes and is now in prison. My constituents have had the burdens on our health service and on our schools of taking 500 asylum seekers and many others over the years. Will the Home Secretary tell me what moves she is making to ensure that there is a fair distribution throughout the UK of asylum seekers, given that there are 500 in my constituency and I believe there are none in either the Prime Minister’s or Chancellor’s? How many are in her constituency?

As the hon. Gentleman well knows, my constituency is not somewhere that normally takes asylum seekers, but I am pleased to say that it is taking some of the Syrian refugees under the resettlement scheme that has been put in place. The point is that we talk regularly with local authorities about where it is appropriate for asylum seekers to be dispersed to. Those conversations are continuing and I am pleased to say that a number of new local authorities have come on board. I also gently remind him that we have not changed the system of asylum dispersal; this is exactly the same system that was run by the last Labour Government.

Millions of pounds could be saved for the Border Force budget by having a more efficient removals system. What steps will my right hon. Friend be taking in the light of the findings of the independent chief inspector of borders and immigration in his report issued last month?

I am happy to tell my hon. Friend that we continually look at how we can improve our ability to remove people from this country. That is why we have brought forward changes in a variety of immigration Bills to enhance our ability to do that and, in particular, to make it harder for people to live illegally in the UK. The decisions put through in the Immigration Act 2014 to deal with people’s access to driving licences, bank accounts and rented property are all having an impact in improving our ability to identify illegal immigrants and remove them.

On that point, how many more staff could be deployed to police our borders if the Government were to scrap the landlords’ helpline and use that resource instead to more securely police our borders?

If the right hon. Gentleman wants to ensure the security of this country and have illegal immigrants removed from it, he should know that the measures we have put in place in the Immigration Act to ensure that people who are renting property are here legally are having an impact.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the UK has the strongest borders in Europe, partly because of the Government’s investment in technology at our borders and partly because of the Conservative party’s firm position that we should not join the Schengen system?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right on that. It is crucial that we have not joined the Schengen system and that we will not do so. It means that we retain control at our borders.

Constituents who work on the docks in Grimsby have contacted me in the past few weeks because they are concerned about the level of security around the large transporter ships that arrive into Grimsby bringing millions of pounds worth of goods into the country. They raise those concerns from a humanitarian perspective, but can the Home Secretary assure my constituents that Grimsby’s ports are adequately protected?

As I have indicated, we look at the border security at ports regularly to ensure that it is appropriate for the nature of the business those ports are undertaking. The hon. Lady refers to the humanitarian issue of people who may be being smuggled across the border in transporters, and I say to her that the people who are responsible for that issue are the traffickers who put illegal immigrants into those containers.

There was indeed praise for my right hon. Friend from the shadow Home Secretary, although it was so below the radar that she might not have noticed it. She was accused of both back-pedalling and performing a U-turn, and I am not aware that it is physically possible to do both—although she has done neither. In praising the work that Border Force does on behalf of all of us in keeping our country safe, what role does she see the Investigatory Powers Bill, which is currently before the House, playing in assisting and strengthening the work of Border Force?

It is important that all our law enforcement agencies and those who are responsible for enforcing laws around security at our borders are able to access the various tools and powers that they need. That is why the Investigatory Powers Bill is so important, not just to our security services, but to a variety of law enforcement agencies. I note that one of the points in the letter in today’s Daily Telegraph to which the shadow Home Secretary referred was the importance of access to communications data, which is precisely what we are trying to protect in that Bill.

I recently flew back into Gatwick from overseas, and it took me almost 25 minutes to get through the border. There were 15 desks for staff, only eight of which were open. As you know, Mr Speaker, I am a relaxed and patient kind of guy, and I am always happy to wait my turn, but families with children, business people and tourists from all over the world were there. What kind of a message does that send about the welcome to the United Kingdom and the efficiency of our Border Force, and how will this budget help to remedy those kinds of inefficiencies?

There are service standards for people coming through the border at our airports, and we meet those standards. These proceedings are very interesting because, on the one hand, people are calling for more border security, and, on the other, the hon. Gentleman is saying that he wants to get through the border rather more quickly.

I can confirm that the shadow Home Secretary was quite right when he drew attention to the port of Immingham in my constituency because border staff there do have worries. The concerns of residents in the town and neighbouring areas have been heightened following reports last week that the National Crime Agency acknowledged that Humber ports were being targeted. Can my right hon. Friend give an absolute assurance that resources will be moved to protect the Humber ports if the NCA’s analysis is correct?

My hon. Friend’s point is important and one that I have responded to in reply to a number of questions, including that of the Chair of the Home Affairs Committee. When we created Border Force and took it out of the dysfunctional UK Borders Agency, we introduced more flexibility in Border Force’s ability to move resources around the country. That is absolutely crucial so that we do not just have static forces at a number of ports and we are able to move them when there is a need to do so, which is exactly what we are doing in relation to the ports on the east coast, of which Immingham is one.

As the Home Secretary knows, Northern Ireland is the only part of the United Kingdom with a land border with another country. As both the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland lie outside Schengen, co-operation is key. Last week, a representative of Garda Siochana said that they felt hopelessly ill equipped and ill resourced to stand against the threat of terrorists entering the United Kingdom through their borders. Will the Home Secretary address the issue, and can she given any comfort about whether the budget involves proposals or resources to make that access point to the United Kingdom less vulnerable?

I reassure the hon. Gentleman that we are in regular discussions with the Irish Government about how to improve security at their external border because, obviously, there is the common travel area between Ireland and the United Kingdom. We have already done a lot of work with the Irish Government on data sharing and the sorts of systems that might support improved security, and we will continue that work.

In contrast to some hon. Members who have spoken, I wish to pay tribute to the hard work and dedication of Border Force officers at Gatwick, especially with regard to their recent apprehension of terror suspects. May I have an assurance that they will continue to get the support that they need from the Home Office?

I can give my hon. Friend that assurance. As I have said, we now have a Border Force that is more flexible and that is able to use its resources appropriately. The director general is continually looking to ensure that resources are appropriate at ports and commensurate with the traffic that they are experiencing. He rightly praises the Border Force officers at Gatwick who, along with those elsewhere, do an excellent job.

When will the Home Secretary make a statement on allegations that lapses under her watch allowed terrorists Abdelhamid Abaaoud and Mohamed Abrini to breach this country’s border security?

I say to the hon. Gentleman that, of course, in terms of border security and stopping people crossing the border, what is important is not just that we have a border control, as we do by not being a member of the Schengen border-free zone, but that information is exchanged between the parties when that is available. That is exactly what we are working on to ensure that information is available at our borders when we want to be able to stop people.

May I put it to the Home Secretary that I do not think that she has yet fully answered the question asked by my right hon. Friend the Chair of the Home Affairs Committee about 100% checks on trucks? I accept the issue about flexibility, as we might have different situations in different places, but does she accept that there is genuine concern about security in ports up and down the country? How is the cumulative cut to the revenue budget of the Border Force compatible with providing the necessary level of security?

On that last point, I must say to the Labour party, as we have said before regarding a number of other areas, that it is about not how much money we have, but how we spend it. It is about ensuring that we are using money as effectively and efficiently as possible. Ensuring that we have an operating mandate that means that 100% checks on individuals are undertaken at primary checkpoints is something that this Government have introduced and that the previous Labour Government failed to do. All the trucks going through the juxtaposed controls are indeed screened.

Over Easter, a number of my constituents were incredibly frustrated at Manchester airport when they were queuing to go through passport control solely because that passport control was significantly under-resourced. What reassurance can the Home Secretary give that Manchester airport, which after all is our largest international airport outside London, will have adequate resources at its passport control? While she is looking into that, will she also look at the loophole at terminal 3 whereby passengers who transit from Heathrow and have their baggage sent directly through to Manchester do not have to go through a customs check?

The hon. Gentleman asks about the resources at Manchester airport. I can assure him that we regularly have discussions with Manchester airport about the traffic that is going through it and its requirements, and we judge the appropriate resources that are needed by Border Force. We fully recognise the significance of Manchester airport to which he refers.

A recent watchdog study into Border Force at Manchester airport showed that one in four passengers from the sample taken got through the border inappropriately, that a whole Ryanair flight was recently missed, with 159 passengers receiving no checks whatsoever, and that £1.5 million was spent on sniffer dogs that—guess what?—sniffed out no class A drugs or terrorists. Meanwhile, business passengers and tourists are suffering interminable delays. The airport is suffering because of a lack of investment in Border Force. The Home Secretary might have protected the budget, but it is not making any improvement whatsoever to a very poor existing service. What does she say about that?

I will say to the hon. Gentleman exactly what I said to the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish (Andrew Gwynne). As Manchester airport expands, we will talk to the officials there and discuss what resources they consider necessary. The issue of a misdirected flight to which he refers is something that we have taken up with Manchester airport with regard to the staff whom it has on the ground to deal with these flights. This is an important issue and we are very serious about how we deal with it.

I concur with the commendations of colleagues for the excellent work that is done by border staff, but numbers are also important—[Interruption.]

Order. A rather unseemly exchange is going on between the hon. Member for Wythenshawe and Sale East (Mike Kane), who has just put a question and was dissatisfied with the answer, and the hon. Member for Northampton North (Michael Ellis) who, in the exercise of his duties as Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Home Secretary, always feels compelled to display a level of fealty unsurpassed and indeed unequalled by any other Member of the House of Commons. That is not necessary. We all know of the fealty bordering on the obsequious that is on evident display from the hon. Gentleman on a daily basis, but it must not be allowed to interrupt the eloquence of the flow of the hon. Member for Chesterfield (Toby Perkins)—or even the flow of his eloquence.

I will endeavour to re-find myself, Mr Speaker.

The Prime Minister received a report from experts saying that 30,000 was the right number of Border Force members to protect our borders. Does that still reflect the policy of the Government, and can the Home Secretary tell us how many border staff we currently have?

The report to which the hon. Gentleman refers proposed the creation of an entirely new police force at the borders. When we came into government and looked at what was necessary, we decided to approach the issue in a slightly different way, creating the National Crime Agency and a specific border command within it. The staff operating at borders are not just Border Force, but border command from the NCA and special branch at the ports, and, of course, they also work with immigration enforcement. For the first time in this country, we have a specific border command within the National Crime Agency.

Bill Presented

Property Ownership in London (Registration) Bill

Presentation and First Reading (Standing Order No. 57)

Frank Field, supported by Mr David Lammy, Andrew Rosindell, Mr Gareth Thomas, Tom Brake, Siobhain McDonagh, Wes Streeting, Stephen Timms, Jon Cruddas, Stephen Pound and Mr Virendra Sharma, presented a Bill to require the creation of a register of owners of property in the Greater London area, including details of the name of the owner of each property and the name of the beneficiary owner in the case of properties owned by a trust or similar body; and for connected purposes.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 6 May, and to be printed (Bill 163).