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Border Force Personnel

Volume 611: debated on Monday 13 June 2016

1. What estimate she has made of changes in the number of Border Force personnel over the course of this Parliament. (905348)

4. What estimate she has made of changes in the number of Border Force personnel over the course of this Parliament. (905351)

I recognise that there is an urgent question on the tragic circumstances of Orlando later, but I am sure that the thoughts and prayers of the whole House are with the victims of this appalling terrorist attack and their families.

Over the course of the financial year, the number of full-time equivalent staff in Border Force is expected to remain flat. Budgets have not been finalised beyond the current financial year, so I am unable to provide an estimate of staffing levels for subsequent years.

I thank the Home Secretary for that reply and I endorse her sentiments about the appalling events in Orlando.

What impression of the UK does the right hon. Lady feel people get at our airports when faced with huge immigration queues, yet vast numbers of immigration officers’ desks are unoccupied? Does the Home Office not know what is going on, or does it not care? What is she going to do about it?

I am pleased to say that we have made a significant difference over recent years in how Border Force manages its workforce. When we came into power, we discovered that under the last Labour Government, the workforce schedules did not match the peak requirements of people arriving at the airports. We have changed that, and we have significantly increased the number of e-gates, which means that people do not have to go through the individually manned desks because they can go through the e-gates instead.

Ports such as Hull are being targeted by traffickers and illegal immigrants, as was shown in February when 18 illegal immigrants were found on the dockside in Hull. Many staff have contacted me to say that, as a result of the cuts, they are worried because they are unable to provide the level of service that they want to at the border. What extra resources will places such as Hull and other ports around the country get to help them to do the job they want to do?

We are very clear that Border Force has sufficient resources in place to carry out its mandated duties at ports across Humberside and to mount effective operations to identify and intercept smuggled contraband goods and clandestine migrants. What Border Force has done is to ensure that there is a greater flexibility in the workforce, so it can be managed rather better according to risk and need.

One thing that makes Border Force more effective in protecting the border in Kent is the ability to operate in Calais rather than in Dover as it used to do. Does my right hon. Friend agree that anything that gave the French the temptation to move our border back to Dover would serve to weaken our borders?

My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. As not only a former Immigration Minister but a Kent MP, he is aware of the importance of our juxtaposed controls in France. I am very clear that those juxtaposed controls are a significant benefit. They help us to secure our border and we wish them to stay in place.

Following on from the question put by the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Diana Johnson), I welcome the greater flexibility in Border Force’s approach, but businesses and residents in the Humber region are extremely concerned, following the report recently issued by the National Crime Agency. I recently met the Immigration Minister, who provided some reassurance, but can the Home Secretary give an absolute assurance that additional resources will be put into Humber ports, if required?

My hon. Friend makes an important point and I hope I can reassure him. We have announced that Border Force will be provided with £31 million over the next four years to deploy more staff to undertake counter-smuggling work at ports across the country. This will lead to the deployment of more Border Force staff at maritime ports, including those on Humberside.

I congratulate the Home Secretary on passing another milestone and becoming the third longest-serving Home Secretary in history. The number three is very important, because it is the number of Border Force vessels available to patrol 7,223 miles of coastland, whereas the Italians have 600. Will she look further at the need to provide more resources? I know she has talked about the £31 million, but at this moment criminal gangs are targeting the English channel and going into small ports with their cargo. May we have action much sooner than in the few years that she mentioned?

I suspect that the right hon. Gentleman may very well be the longest-serving Chairman of the Home Affairs Committee. I apologise for not having looked in the record books yet, but perhaps that fact can enter them now.

In comparing the number of Italian vessels with the number of Border Force vessels, the right hon. Gentleman is not comparing like with like. In Border Force, we have given consideration to the suitability of vessels and what vessels are required, which is why there will be some changes. In the strategic defence and security review that was published last November it was announced that we would seek to ensure that all maritime assets could be deployed most effectively in dealing with risks and threats of this kind.

Will the Home Secretary publish the internal review by the National Crime Agency which highlighted the weaknesses in patrols at our small ports and marinas? My constituency contains the closest channel port to London. Will the Home Secretary now, as a matter of urgency, tell the House what she will do to reconfigure the way in which Border Force patrols beaches and inlets, particularly those in the south-east of England, which are now very vulnerable to people traffickers coming here directly from the continent?

It is important to bear in mind that dealing with the potential threat of people trying to enter the United Kingdom clandestinely through smaller ports is not just about physical policing of the coastline, but about understanding intelligence, and, in particular, about the work that is being done to counter organised criminal gangs. The National Crime Agency has set up an organised immigration crime taskforce, which is working not just here in the United Kingdom but with its French counterparts and elsewhere on the continent to ensure that we can stop those movements before they reach our shores.