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Border Force: Boats

Volume 634: debated on Monday 8 January 2018

I am standing in for the Immigration Minister, but hopefully not for too long.

In addition to the recent introduction of new coastal patrol vessels, Border Force has an ongoing upgrade programme for its cutters. It recently installed new electro-optic surveillance systems on its cutters, and it is currently upgrading radars and replacing the rigid inflatable boats used by cutters to deploy boarding teams to ensure that they remain a highly effective maritime security platform.

Does the Minister believe that the UK Border Force is adequately resourced to safeguard small harbours and landing sites, such as those in my Chichester constituency? Our harbourmaster has already been involved in apprehending people smugglers, working with coastal communities who look out for suspicious activity. Is he considering using volunteers to support patrols in areas such as Chichester harbour or Selsey Bill? Does he agree that there is no substitute for trained and qualified Border Force professionals?

By the end of the financial year, the Border Force maritime fleet will have six CPVs and three cutters in the UK, plus two cutters deployed overseas to deal with the issue upstream—one in the Aegean and one in the central Mediterranean. Border Force has invested £108 million in new technology and capability to deal with some of those challenges and will commit a further £71 million this year.

While I was volunteering with the lifeboats at Walton-on-the-Naze, I learned how important local maritime knowledge is. I believe that such intelligence would be useful to Border Force when solving and preventing crime. Is Border Force engaging with other agencies, including the Royal National Lifeboat Institution, the coastguard and pilot boats, to share intelligence, tackle crime and keep our coastline safe and secure?

The key to improving our coastal security is better collection and exploitation of data. Some of that happens through full-time people, but it also happens through the many volunteers who populate the coastal paths and watch stations of our communities. That is why Border Force has set up the multi-agency general maritime intelligence bureau to bring together the existing organisations of HM Coastguard, HM Revenue and Customs, Border Force, the Ministry of Defence, and the bureaux linked directly to the National Maritime Information Centre.

Will the Minister tell the House what other measures the Government are undertaking to protect and secure the UK border?

Border Force, the National Crime Agency, the police and other law enforcement agencies are working with international partners to secure our borders from a range of threats, including modern slavery, human trafficking and terrorism. Over the past two years, Border Force has invested £108 million and £71 million.

In addition to the vital work of Border Force vessels, will my right hon. Friend congratulate the Royal Navy and other agencies on ensuring that the rules are enforced in our fishing waters?

Many people forget that our border is manned not just by Border Force but by HM Revenue and Customs, the Royal Navy, which does an amazing job on fisheries protection, and volunteers, both through the Royal National Lifeboat Institute and the coastguard. Together, they form a large set of eyes to keep watch on our coastline. That is why we have developed Operation Kraken to ensure that all reported threats go to a central place where they are analysed and acted on.

Happy new year, Mr Speaker.

The Daily Telegraph today reports that new checks will be introduced at ports to help to stop the import of dangerous high-powered laser pens. Does this mean that the ports of Immingham and Grimsby will see more Border Force staff to help with these new checks?

What the hon. Lady will see is better use of the information we have now to target our resources in the right places. Just sending Border Force officers or customs officers to turn up randomly usually has no effect at all. If we can base it on information and work well with shippers, such as Fast UK Parcel, and all sorts of organisations shipping such contraband into the country, we can make sure that the right resources are delivered to the right places.

The Minister will know that his own figures show that 27 of the 62 small ports had no visit whatsoever from a Border Force operative over 12 months last year. That will not be solved by volunteers; it needs Border Force staffing.

The right hon. Gentleman will know from his previous job that the borders are policed not just by Border Force but by counter-terrorism officers, HMRC officers, coastguard officers and fishery protection officers. On top of that, as he will also know, the voluntary network of people such as the RNLI are the eyes and ears, and when a report is made, a suspicion raised or intelligence received, the National Crime Agency and others attend the scene to deal with it.

And there is another body to be added to that list. Over Christmas we learned of the Government’s plans to put in place a special volunteer force to help police our coastal communities. This Dad’s Army-type operation is apparently to be responsible for helping keep us safe and protect us from terrorism. I wonder if the Minister is going to come to the Dispatch Box and say, “We’re doomed”, or complacently tell us, “Don’t panic!”

The only people who are doomed are the Scottish National party. Unlike the hon. Gentleman, I have actually worn a uniform. He will know that uniformed services rely on a range of specials and Territorial Army support to meet the specialist requirement we need. All uniformed services should be able to take advantage of the good will people want to provide, and if we want to use specials and Territorial Army support, we will.

Happy new year from my party, Mr Speaker.

Given what the Minister just said about the role of the Royal Navy, is it not rather worrying when we read about all these Royal Navy warships being tied up at harbour and not at sea?

I am sure the hon. Gentleman wants to make sure that our naval ships put to sea are properly serviced and properly equipped for their latest patrol. That is why ships tie up in port—not for any other reason—and why we deploy ships when needed to match the threat. He will also know that fishery protection vessels are often up and down the north-east of Scotland, where his constituency is located.