Motion to Take Note
My Lords, the balance between the protection of our national borders and our openness to the world is an area of policy in which the demands of the citizen can arouse the suspicions of a libertarian. This is one of the perpetual and challenging problems of protecting democracy. Any solutions must emerge from the reflections of the philosopher and the imperatives of the elected politician. As a mere observer and commentator on the political process, I seek only to identify some issues, explore the options that are available in our chaotic world and suggest practical decisions that need to be taken.
At no time since 1945 has this country been as threatened by terrorism as it is today. The threat is likely to continue and even grow during the lifetimes of many of us in this Chamber today. During the Cold War, the danger of conflict was both checked and mitigated by the nuclear stalemate. Three decades of Irish terrorism were for us a local difficulty, although certainly not a little one. Today, the world is threatened by a conflict between the theocratic factions of Islam—Sunni and Shia—and their complex and varied subdivisions, such as the Alawites.
Religious struggles can and do last for centuries, during which they wax and wane. This one started more than 1,000 years ago with divided claims to the leadership of the Muslim world. The lack of a pan-Islamic secular leadership is one key to the problem that we face. The man-made borders of today demonstrate fragility, with maps taking on the instability of a kaleidoscope. A cruel civil war is spreading through much of the Muslim world, putting several nations in danger of descending into the anarchy and agony of the failed state. The factional terrorists of Islam seem to unite only in the overriding mission of Islamist jihadists to install a worldwide caliphate under Sharia law. An uneasy concordat between Muslims and Christians is now fragmenting, with mounting aggression against Christians, who are irrationally perceived as representatives of western interests.
A virtue of democracy is its vulnerability to authoritarianism, which is why it must be protected from the inhumanity of theocracy. We in the UK, along with other western nations, are menaced by jihadists, both imported and home-grown. Many people arriving in Britain, including some of those seeking asylum from persecution, bring with them their own political, religious and cultural agendas. My premise is that if a nation cannot defend its own border security, everything is at risk. It is in that context that I suggest that where the survival of democracy is at stake, the human rights of the ideal democratic state must be subordinate, at least temporarily, to national security. The absolutes of death are not part of life and never can be. Nor can our democratically elected politicians put responsibility for our national security in the hands of unelected bodies in Brussels, Strasbourg or anywhere else. That is the road to tyranny.
The proposals that I shall make are neither dramatic nor threatening to our cherished British liberties. They are, in sum, based merely on using the possibilities offered by effective management, combined with technology, to help identify and forestall threats of serious crime and terrorism. I believe that the British people support our security and intelligence services having the powers and facilities that they need to protect us. Our deep-rooted sense of independent justice, and our ancient system of parliamentary democracy, hold the ring against abuse, either from inside or outside, by those powers. I have been to GCHQ and was impressed in particular by the priority given to countering the threat of cyberattack, which is a form of terrorism.
The coalition Government have, rightly, abandoned the proposals for a national identity card. To begin with, it could never be a secure or even reliable means of immediate identification. Secondly, it has historical overtones that are unacceptable. Identification numbers, and passports for travel, are another matter. They have existed in various forms for a very long time. Today’s technology offers far greater efficiency. It goes without saying that the issuing of passports must be protected by the highest security. Some years ago, my noble friend Lady Anelay and I visited the Passport Agency. We were able to identify serious and obvious weaknesses in the system. Recently, as the Identity and Passport Service, I understand that it has been better—but how much better?
It is absurd that the British passport authorities are unaware of what other passports those with a British passport hold. I was warned by security sources five years ago of the danger of terrorists and other criminals concealing their activities through the use of multiple passports. Risk areas include Pakistan, Somalia and Algeria. I am not against people having more than one passport, or multiple nationalities. However, for years I have urged the Government to take steps to establish details of what other passports UK passport holders have. There should be a strict obligation to divulge full details to the British passport authorities, including a photocopy of any other passports held. One response I have had in the past from the Government was that people would not necessarily disclose the fact that they had a second passport. The answer to that is simple: anyone found to have concealed their non-British passport would be liable to have their British passport cancelled. As a British passport is issued under the royal prerogative, there should be no administrative problem in doing that, although a judge could have a part in endorsing the decision.
There are many aspects to the visa question. However, as with nationality, it is absurd that we should be inhibited from discriminating in favour of certain categories of persons who should be given British nationality or visas to come to Britain. We already do so, with some nationalities requiring visas and others not. One of the silliest things I heard recently was the Chancellor, when announcing that Mark Carney, his nominee for Governor of the Bank of England, would take British citizenship, emphasising that Mr Carney would of course not have any preference or priority in his application.
Of course there have to be fast tracks and priorities for those we want, for example genuine businesspeople, as well as bars and vetoes on those we do not want in our country. To deny this is egalitarianism gone mad. Genuine students must be encouraged. They are the future trade links for the UK. I welcome the Government’s new proposals to limit health tourism in the NHS by non-EU nationals. We must also examine the vulnerability of our borders to those arriving from and through Europe. Our national interest must be paramount in formulating immigration policies. This does not, of course, exclude us from continuing to act as a haven for the persecuted, who are, incidentally, often obliged to use false passports to escape from where they are coming.
However, it is crucial that the processing staff who issue both passports and visas should be of the highest integrity, and this has certainly not been the case. The hub-and-spoke system of issuing visas from regional centres can facilitate corruption and sacrifice quality to economy. The staff of the border agency have not only been of inadequate calibre but have proved to be seriously and systemically corrupt. In five years, some 30 members of Home Office staff have received heavy prison sentences—up to nine years in one case and three, four and five years in several others—for misconduct in public office, and the great majority of these were from the border agency. This is so serious that I hope the Minister can tell us that a plan has been made to root out the corruption in an organisation in which these convictions may well be only the tip of the iceberg.
On 25 March, my right honourable friend the Home Secretary announced that the border agency, which is still not fit for purpose, is yet again to be reorganised. I suggest that a Green Paper is needed to say what is to be done, with particular reference to staffing. If we are going to have legislation on this, it should probably be subject to pre-legislative scrutiny. There have been so many disastrous failures, and this time we really must get it right.
I believe that the UK Border Force should be subject to similar standards of discipline and nationality qualification as the Armed Forces; they are, after all, part of the defence of the realm. We now have a new commander of the Border Force, Vice-Admiral Sir Charles Montgomery, who was Second Sea Lord. He faces a great challenge to get a grip of the show. He should be up to it, but time will tell. Meanwhile, I would like to see some of the very able military officers and non-commissioned officers, who are prematurely leaving our Armed Forces because of defence cuts, recruited into the Border Force in positions of command and control. Clearly, members of the Border Force cannot be allowed to continue to take industrial action, as they are at present. They should instead, I suggest, be part of the military covenant.
I come now to the e-Borders system. We are probably one of the least efficient advanced countries in the electronic protection of our borders. I believe that three of the most efficient are Hong Kong, Israel and the United States. It is lamentable that, after enormous expenditure on our e-Borders system, it is still not in sight of completion. When there are so many people who may be intent on harming our society and our nation, it is absurd that we do not know even whether they are in the country. What is the point of laying down conditions for entry that include requirements for departure, as most visas do, when we have no way of knowing whether people who should have left our shores have actually done so? The system will be complete only when every entry and departure is electronically linked to an up-to-date warning list, with records kept for as long as the security forces think necessary. In my view, that is no threat to privacy. I have three questions for the Minister. First, how much has so far been spent on the e-Borders project? Secondly, how much more is budgeted to be spent? Thirdly, when will it be completed?
Finally, I come back to the controversial area of human rights and our national sovereignty. In the debate on human rights on 20 June, my noble friend Lord Faulks referred to the £1.7 million cost of litigation in the Abu Qatada extradition case and the lack of any limit, apparently, to what the taxpayer is expected to fund. Those who our courts have declared a risk to our national security can at present twist and turn at huge financial cost to the taxpayer to avoid or postpone deportation. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, commented in that debate on the “totally disproportionate” cost of British advocates appearing in front of the European Court of Human Rights, who are, apparently, “10 times more expensive” than advocates from other jurisdictions. Resources are limited. Such costs cannot be justified in the face of spending cuts in so many other areas. If extradition is to continue to be subject to the European court, there should be a fast track to that court, so that there is not endless messing around before a case gets there. The European court should itself have a fast track to deal with deportation cases. That could save much time and money, I suspect.
As my noble friend Lord McNally said in that debate, human rights are,
“deep in the political DNA of the British people and of our history”.—[Official Report, 20/6/13; col. 460.]
If, as the old cliche has it, politics is the art of the possible, then the effective control of immigration and the protection of our borders is an equal challenge to all our political parties and leaders, and they should surely be able to agree a policy on a cross-party basis. Such a policy should never—indeed need never—undermine our proud traditions of parliamentary protection of liberty.
Before my noble friend sits down, I will make one quick comment, which I think can fit in within the time allocated to him. He mentioned in his brilliant speech that the passport office is getting better. I had the experience recently of trying the fast track. I spent nine hours in the passport office. The main reason it gave me was that it could not communicate between London and Liverpool. That might perhaps prompt my noble friend to think again a little about how efficient it really is.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, for an interesting speech on such a significant issue. The relationship between effective immigration controls and the interests of our security—the words used in the title of his debate—is certainly not the same as it was some years and some centuries ago. He talked about the kaleidoscope that has twisted again, of course, just in the past few hours.
I wondered what security was in this context. My noble friend Lord Alderdice tells me that in Northern Ireland during the Troubles they used to distinguish between those involved in the Troubles and ODCs: ordinary, decent criminals. I think that the distinction now between organised crime and terrorism across the UK is quite blurred. As the noble Lord has said, crime threatens security and funds terrorism. I wondered even more what was meant by a “border” in this context; I mentioned this to the noble Lord yesterday. Our physical border is hard enough to defend, with international aviation, a lot of coastline, trading, parcel services and so on, but of course it is the non-physical border and modern communications and their new challenges that are so much the subject of our attention, and so they should be.
The House has debated cybersecurity, which the noble Lord has mentioned, on a number of occasions. It is one of the areas in the national security strategy, along with organised crime, climate change, energy and so on, in which immigration controls certainly have a role, so it must be right that security is intelligence led.
There have been home-grown rebellions through the ages. Disaffection may take new forms now, although there was something very primitive about the attack in Woolwich. Those attackers clearly felt a need to talk to the world, as have those who have formed pre-suicide attack statements. What should we learn from this? What are the needs which those who recruit them are meeting? When talking about some people’s vulnerabilities recently, particularly those of young people, I realised how those have been exploited, how they are let down by the system, or feel that they are, how they feel unseen and not responded to, and that we could have been talking about grooming for sexual exploitation, gang recruitment or terrorism. We need to speak to the needs of these young people and to reach out to them in a way that they understand and not see the problems only through the lens of our own views.
I was grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Haringey, who I do not think is taking part in this debate but is in his place, for arranging a meeting earlier this week with representatives of a women’s network, the Shanaz Network, which grew out of the worries of mothers about their sons, and sometimes their daughters, and their vulnerability to radicalisation and finding the language and a way to talk to them about this. They said, although not quite in these terms, that fathers may tend to applaud their sons as being masculine and macho whereas mothers are much more inclined to say, “Stop and think”. They have searched for ways to say that, and I am sure in many instances have been very successful in doing so. I mentioned intelligence-led provision. I have heard it said that our security services, in recruiting or “turning “ people, think in terms of, “We must get this person”, not, “We must get to know this person”.
The other major issue that was more than touched on by the noble Lord is the competence—I use the word deliberately—of our border controls. The frustration of the Commons Home Affairs Select Committee is evident in its regular reports on the UKBA. I do not need to spell out what the backlog means at a macro as well as a micro or an individual level. In its last report, the Home Affairs Select Committee said:
“It is possible that tens of thousands of individuals whom the Agency has not been able to trace are still here … We are astonished that the Agency provided this Committee, and its predecessors, with information that turned out to be patently wrong on so many occasions over the last six years”.
I am not comforted by the outsourcing of immigration services, not least because I am not convinced that the level of training needed to undertake the job of, for instance, an entry clearance officer, which is important and often very sensitive, will be given, although I have no doubt that the Minister will tell us of the work that is being done to turn all this around.
Our borders are not under threat from mass movements of people, as is the case, for instance, in north Africa or Italy, but that does not mean that we should not think as seriously and thoughtfully as this debate allows others—I do not include myself in that—to do. We could, of course, turn the question on its head and ask what security we provide for migrants who are open to exploitation, but I suspect that is not what the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, seeks from this debate.
My Lords, I, too, am grateful to my noble friend Lord Marlesford for initiating this debate.
It is worth reflecting on the reasons why the United Kingdom is such a sought after destination for immigrants. It is a commonly held view that this country has over the centuries benefited from its immigrants: the Huguenots, the Jews before and after the Second World War, and, more recently, thanks to the farsighted decision of the late Lord Carr of Hadley, the Asians from east Africa, to name only a few. It is fair to say that this country has been enriched by their contributions. However, these groups’ numbers pale into insignificance when compared with the huge numbers continuing to seek to settle in this country, mainly from the Indian subcontinent, particularly from Pakistan.
What draws such large numbers? It is, I suggest, in part the legacy of the empire, the shared English language, the basic familiarity with institutions which they will have known in their home countries, the attraction of the British way of life and the confidence that they can reasonably expect a fair deal from British justice, with a race relations regime that on the whole is a force for good. However, there are problems, as my noble friend pointed out. We do not have a national identity regime, the background of which he described very well. However, we must face the fact that because of its absence it is probably easier to “get lost” in the United Kingdom than in any other country in Europe. There is also the multiplier effect. The larger an originally immigrant community, the easier it is to hide oneself in it.
Many of the immigrants are economic migrants or “health tourists”, a subject very much in the news. However, as my noble friend pointed out, all too many arrive with more sinister intentions. My noble friend Lady Hamwee amplified that point. Many will have read with horror and disgust that several of the 7/7 bombers had been playing cricket the previous week. What better cover could they have had? To deal with this, we have a border control regime that in the recent past has proved not to be up to the job.
It is worth remembering that in the matter of border control, this country starts with several advantages not possessed by fellow members of the European Union. To start with, apart from Malta and Cyprus, the UK and Ireland are the only island members. We are not members of Schengen, which means that we are not, at least directly, affected by the porous links in the Schengen border chain, notably the Turkish-Greek land border, which causes so many problems to the already beleaguered Greeks, although I am encouraged by the steps which the EU has recently taken to improve the policing of that border.
Nevertheless, border control has quite plainly not been delivering. It was not effectively overseen by the previous Administration, who in 2008 formed the UK Border Agency, which held responsibility for all aspects of the immigration system, its overall policy, visa and migration applications, and the enforcement of border controls, including on crime. The agency was faced with a big backlog of asylum cases and its IT systems were often incompatible and relied on manual data entry instead of automated data collection.
The UKBA had been given agency status with the best of intentions to keep its work at arm’s length from Ministers. However, the effect was to create a close and defensive culture, which meant that many of the inefficiencies and problems associated with the UKBA remained hidden from the organisations that had the responsibility of scrutinising them. My noble friend has drawn attention to the shocking number of criminal convictions in the Home Office, particularly in the border agency, over the past five years. I very much welcome the appointment of Vice-Admiral Sir Charles Montgomery to be the commander of the border agency.
Noble Lords will recall that in March 2012 the functions of the UKBA were restructured, with immigration enforcement and visa applications being separated into two separate units within the Home Office and responsible to a Minister. This was to enable each body to create its own culture around its own priorities. The border force was created with the responsibility for entry controls and customs functions at UK borders.
I wish to take up a point made by my noble friend about e-passports. There are huge technological advances in this area, although in my limited recent experience I have yet to see my own e-passport beating the conventional queue at passport control. However, this is probably due to people ahead of me in the e-queue being as unfamiliar with the system as I am.
There are immense possibilities for intelligence-gathering with this new technology. My noble friend mentioned the inability of immigration authorities to compel applicants for passports to disclose other passports held by them. With the advent of the global society this is surely becoming increasingly anomalous, to say the least, facilitating as it surely does the activities of the international criminal. There must also be a read-across to Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs. I am not familiar with the background to the issue of dual or multiple passports by other jurisdictions, but I would welcome the Minister’s assurance that the Government are aware of this problem and to know whether they have any plans for addressing it.
My Lords, I also congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, on obtaining this timely and important debate and on his introductory speech. I suspect that we have come to the same conclusions by slightly different routes. My personal experience with immigration controls, and therefore with the immigration and asylum system, began when I was appointed Chief Inspector of Prisons. When I was made responsible for the inspection of what were then called immigration detention centres in 1997, I was absolutely appalled by the amount of inefficiency and waste that I found. Immigrants and asylum-seekers were being detained for months, even years, while their cases were allegedly examined in what I can only describe as a dilatory manner. The process for foreign national prisoners sentenced to deportation was started only after they had completed their prison sentences. Legal arrangements for the speedy resolution of asylum applications were totally inadequate. Detention centres lacked detention rules and used totally inapplicable prison rules. There were many other examples.
Later, I was one of the commissioners of an independent asylum commission that examined the whole system and reported in 2009. At the heart of our concerns was the UK Border Agency, with its culture of disbelief, whose word on performance figures we simply could not believe, making us wonder quite how Ministers, deprived of actual facts, could come to meaningful conclusions. Worryingly, appreciation of the faults in the system was not helped by Ministers using that false UKBA evidence to counter outside concerns about actual facts. That is one of the main contributors to the unsatisfactory situation which the Home Secretary is now trying to resolve. This year and last I have been conducting a review of the removal process of those sentenced to deportation and discovered a quite horrifying muddle in case handling, quite apart from the actual conduct of the deportation to be.
I must declare my interest as a member of the recently formed soft power Select Committee, which is due to report to the House later this year or next year. When I was director of public relations for the Army, my job was to protect and project the Army’s image. Our national immigration policy should have both those same intents in mind. The National Security Council reports on border issues every year, and I am sure that the national security protection work of the National Crime Agency and the Border Policing Command will come under its regular scrutiny. The Select Committee has also learnt that the National Security Council is responsible for the co-ordination of the projection of soft power. If it, too, already has those, why should it not exercise them more?
Immigration controls are an essential ingredient of national security. In the past, however, too many involved in exercising those controls have seen them as a process and an end in themselves which they have not related to wider implications. I am very glad that maximum use of technology and intelligence is being made, because this is the key to tackling a whole range of border security checks. I welcome introductions such as the immigration and asylum biometric system. However, at that heart of all that are people. We must be concerned about the people who use and interpret the technology, not the technology itself. There are currently 17 agencies working to secure our borders, which is far too many, not least because there is a lack of clarity over who is actually in command of them and to whom they are responsible and accountable, collectively and individually.
Earlier in the year, the Home Secretary reorganised what used to be called the Immigration and Nationality Directorate, so famously dismissed by John Reid as not fit for purpose, which is now called the UK Border Agency. As I understand it, the outside structure, if that is the right term, is now to be the Border Policing Command, within the National Crime Agency, which will be the national lead for border security and will oversee a single intelligence picture, co-ordinate and task other agencies involved in border security and work with overseas partners to disrupt early those who pose a threat to border security. Secondly, there will be a border force that will concentrate on screening and managing all goods and passengers arriving in the United Kingdom.
Within the Home Office, there will be an immigration and visa service and a law enforcement service, each with its own director-general, who will be a member of an oversight board, chaired by the Permanent Secretary, whose membership will also include policy, the passport service and the border force. In announcing the new organisation, the Home Secretary said that she was doing this because the UK Border Agency was too big, lacked a clear culture, lacked transparency and accountability, lacked adequate information technology and was subject to a complex policy and legal framework.
If the UK is to project what the Home Secretary wants, which is a culture of customer satisfaction among businessmen and legal visitors, it is absolutely essential that our immigration controls are seen as being focused on national security and are not seen by potential international clients as an excessively bureaucratic and intimidatory ordeal to be undergone before doing business with, studying in or visiting this country. It is essential that the officials responsible for such aspects as student and business visas are continually reminded of how their attitude and efficiency rebound on our national reputation. I have been very struck by the volume and strength of complaint made by witnesses to our Select Committee about this. If it results in the falling off of either business activity, which affects our economy, or of student numbers, which affects both our economy and our influence in the world, it could be said to be damaging to our long-term security.
Therefore, while I am sure that the proposals announced by the Home Secretary have the potential to be an improvement on what was in existence until March, I fear that they were based on an incomplete and in-house assessment of the main problem. True economic migration needs to be limited, as does the abuse of student and family visas. However, every aspect of immigration control is ultimately dictated by national security and so the whole system, particularly if it currently includes 17 agencies, needs to be reformed with a view to making it more accountable and transparent.
I am very glad that the role of the independent chief inspector of the UK Border Agency is to be increased. I pay tribute to the present holder of the appointment, John Vine, whose reports are always penetrating, constructive and worth reading. I would rather that his independence was marked by him being a Crown official, and therefore Her Majesty’s chief inspector, because that extra degree of independence is always useful when dealing with myriad different agencies. Who, for example, is responsible and accountable for the non-circulation of and failure to act upon alerts produced by the National Border Targeting Centre, an organisation that hopes to cover every arrival in the United Kingdom by 2014 and which the Home Affairs Select Committee, whose continuing focus on the failings of the UKBA is to be warmly applauded, recommends should be accountable to Parliament?
There have been, and are, many concerns about the way in which immigration controls are themselves controlled and conducted. There are too many of them for anyone concerned with national security to be comfortable with. The internal reforms announced by the Home Office are good, but only in part. I would feel much happier if the National Security Council, responsible for protecting the security and projecting the image of the nation, were to institute an outside examination of the immigration system, rather than rely on a series of in-house palliatives, to ensure that this nation is protected and its image projected in the way we would wish.
My Lords, I share the view expressed by many other noble Lords that my noble friend Lord Marlesford is owed a great debt of gratitude for allowing us to debate this important topic. He has a great virtue: once he has got his teeth into an issue, he does not let go. I had opportunities in another Select Committee under his tutelage, when together we were able to work on the chronic mismanagement of another agency, the Serious Organised Crime Agency and its multiplicity of suspicious activity reports—the SARs regime. My noble friend has done an admirable job by filleting the UK Border Agency this afternoon. It is also a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham. I serve under his tutelage, too. He is the chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on prison reform, of which I am the secretary. I also serve with him on the Select Committee on Soft Power and the UK’s Influence, which has been in operation for a few months.
It would be impossible to go one better on either of those two distinguished contributions, and I want to step back a little and consider the country’s security needs in a slightly wider context. My starting point is that mentioned by my noble friend Lord Bridgeman, the shock that many of us felt on learning that the July bombers were not foreign-born jihadists but native-born Britons who therefore had access to the supposed benefits of our society—economic, educational and cultural—and I and many other people asked ourselves: what did this unwelcome news portend?
I identify four trends that together have exacerbated tensions, sadly all too often present when the sensitive but nevertheless important issue of immigration is discussed. In my view, taken together, they carry significant implications for the long-term security of this country. The first issue is the scale of immigration in the first decade of this century. Secondly, there is the potential crowding out of native-born individuals in the economy. Please note that I used the words “native born”, which are not alternative words for “white”. I mean that the impact of crowding out is equally, perhaps more, significant for recently arrived, second-generation immigrants than it is for people who have been here longer. Thirdly, there is the impact of the current, deep-seated economic recession. Fourth is the way that all these together are being exacerbated by the increasingly crowded conditions and population density of England, particularly the south-east of England.
First, the scale of immigration over the post-war period between 1945 and about 2000 resulted in there being about 4 million ethnic-minority Britons, most of whom came from post-colonial states. Since 2000, the pace has quickened. In the years since, their number has doubled to 8 million. To set this in historical context, it is said that if one omits the years of the large Huguenot immigration after the revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1465 and the impact of Irish immigration—for much of the time Ireland was part of the United Kingdom—in each year between 2004 and 2010 there were more immigrants to the United Kingdom than there were in the whole period between 1066 and 1945. There were more immigrants in each year than there were in nine centuries.
The question that we have to ask ourselves is how quickly and successfully can our society absorb such numbers, and what does “absorb” mean? If they are not absorbed, what are the possible consequences for our security? Our society rests on a delicate balance of shared rights and responsibilities. Our welfare state in particular rests on a generational balance. What do we ask of immigrants? Undoubtedly, our life is enriched by their diverse contributions, but what of our values, our beliefs and our approaches? What are we entitled to ask, perhaps require, them to accept? There is evidence—admittedly much of it anecdotal, but equally much of it widespread—as the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Derby mentioned in the global migration debate on 6 June, of introverted, inward-looking communities, including schools and faith groups. These must be breeding grounds for attitudes that do not form part of our historic traditions and therefore present dangers to the nation’s security.
This situation is exacerbated by the dangers of crowding out, which is well documented among people in the lower range of wage and skills. My noble friend on the Front Bench, with his knowledge of East Anglia, will have first-hand knowledge of this situation in the Peterborough area. However, there is potential crowding out higher up the scale. The Higher Education Commission last year conducted an inquiry into postgraduate education. My noble friend Lord Norton of Louth and the noble Lord, Lord Boswell of Aynho, were members of the inquiry. The report stated:
“Much of the recent increase in postgraduate student numbers is due to rising numbers of international students. Postgraduate enrolments have increased by more than 200% since 1999, compared to an increase of just 18% for home and EU students. The Commission is concerned that this increase masks stagnation in the qualification and skill level of the home-domiciled population. We need an emphasis on up-skilling the UK population, ensuring that British students are able to compete in the global labour market”.
Added to that is my third point. The general impact of the economic recession and the psychological impact on young men and women of not being able to find gainful employment, especially among first-generation arrivals, should not be underestimated, particularly when they see the jobs they seek being taken by immigrants.
Fourthly and finally, the population continues to increase. The Office for National Statistics has recently produced a press release covering last year’s population increase. The population of England and Wales grew by 396,900, 60% of which was due to the excess of births over deaths but 40%—155,500—was due to international arrivals. Just to put this figure in context, this means that the population of England and Wales is increasing by 1,084 per day. We are putting a medium-sized village on the map of England and Wales every week. We are putting a parliamentary constituency on the map every 10 weeks.
Security does not just stop at the White Cliffs of Dover. It is a ghastly, overused and hackneyed phrase to say that we live in an ever more interconnected world. If we do not want people to try to come here in large numbers from that wider world, and within those large numbers there will inevitably be some who wish this country ill, we have to find ways to make life more tolerable for them at home. We may be feeling sorry for ourselves about our economic plight but to the people in developing countries, particularly those who have found development to be difficult, the UK looks like Nirvana. Somehow, therefore, desperate people are going to find a way to get here.
However, there is a wider point. What these developing countries need is leadership. They need their citizens to be trained in the skills that a modern state requires. Yet, we see nothing perverse in setting out to recruit these very people to come and work here. Let me give a practical example. I am extremely pleased to see in his place the noble Lord, Lord Kakkar, because in the debate on global migration earlier in June to which my noble friend on the Front Bench also replied, the noble Lord, Lord Kakkar, explained how this country is still creaming off health workers from all over the world to come and work here. He said:
“In our own country it is clear that we have been absolutely dependent over the past four or five decades on the migration of skilled workers in healthcare—doctors, nurses and other healthcare professionals—to ensure the delivery of a successful National Health Service. I myself am the son of two medical practitioners who came to the United Kingdom in the 1960s to continue their own postgraduate education and were given the chance to develop their careers here, both as academics and clinical practitioners”.—[Official Report, 6/6/13; col. 1378.]
He went on to explain that just over a quarter of a million individuals are registered with the GMC, 160,000 of whom are the products of our 32 recognised medical schools, 25,500 of whom come from within the EU, but 67,000 of whom come from the wider world. If you do the maths, this means that 26.5%, over a quarter of the doctors in this country, come from outside the EU. They will not all be from developing countries and some will be pursuing academic rather than clinical careers, but one is inevitably drawn to the conclusion that there must be a measurable adverse impact on health provision in developing countries as a result of these policies.
Let me make it clear to the noble Lord that this is not an attack on him or his parents. I have no doubt that this country has benefited greatly from their work. However, it is worth asking ourselves about the considerable implications for other less fortunate parts of the world. For example, in Malawi, following heavy migration, there are now 336 nurses for a population of 12 million people. On the same scale, the UK would have fewer than 2,000 nurses. When your child is dying of a preventable disease in a developing country and you are told that the West is recruiting your country’s scarce health workers, does this make you more favourably disposed towards the West or does it make you more receptive to the blandishments of the extremist? An important by-product of the information revolution is that more people now know more about other parts of the world than ever before. What we could, so to speak, get away with 10 or 15 years ago is becoming increasingly a matter of public record. Further, what is happening in healthcare is paralleled in a whole range of other skills and professions.
To conclude, my noble friend Lord Marlesford is absolutely right to stress the need for secure borders, but we also have to think strategically about what we should demand of those who were born and reside here, what we should demand of those who seek to live here permanently, how many of them we can afford to admit, and what we offer them all in return. To fail to resolve this conundrum means that we will put at risk that delicate balance of rights and responsibilities on which our civil society, honed over hundreds of years, depends. The security of the nation and its prosperity depend on our ability to engage with and resolve these challenging issues.
My Lords, I am most grateful to my noble friend Lord Marlesford for giving us the opportunity to discuss this issue. He and I often sing from the same hymn sheet, but he is perhaps more of a highly trained and intelligent Rottweiler while I am just a friendly Labrador, concerned about not upsetting too much my noble friend on the Front Bench when we gang up together. When I first joined your Lordships’ House, goodness me, some 50 years ago, I asked the then Leader of the House what I should do about a maiden speech. “Talk about something you know about”, he said. I replied, “Sir, I do not really know about anything”. He said, “Well, talk about your childhood, then”. I have suddenly realised that there is an opportunity, in this debate on immigration, for me to do so.
When the war came in 1940, with my mother and my younger sister I was suddenly migrated to the United States for safety purposes, so we were told. A year later my mother had to return to the United Kingdom because her own mother had died, her brother had been shot down and killed, and there were other family matters. However, she could not get back to us. As migrants or immigrants, we were moved from the United States up to Canada, to a form of nursery school run by a wonderful woman called Sister Hilda. She had had a school in Rottingdean where she had looked after children of empire while their parents were away and could not be with them. So there I lived and I learnt to speak Canadian. I thoroughly enjoyed myself. Occasionally I had to write letters to my mother, and when the other I day I found them, I saw that they were all about the war.
In that environment I was to some extent an immigrant, but it was rather more complicated than that. My father, who I did not see for many years, and my mother were called Selsdon, but the name of my sister and I was Mitchell-Thomson. As bright young children, we naturally worked out that we were probably not the children of those parents, and that perhaps ours had been killed in the war or even, I managed to find out, that we were possibly illegitimate. However, it was too long a word for me and I did not understand what it actually meant. This went on for quite a period of time, but then with great aplomb, my mother, who was then serving as a driver in the RAF, through a friend managed to get us on board a Canadian troopship and thus come back to the United Kingdom.
When we arrived we were immigrants into the United Kingdom and we were treated as such, but our name was not the same as that of our parents. We had labels around our necks so that we could be identified when we were taken off the train in, I think, Olympia, having sat in the ship in Liverpool for some three or four weeks. I was quite happy about it because the Canadians were kind to children. They taught me all about things and they let me clean their guns. I loved the idea of the war and I really wanted to join up. The difficulty was that when we came back to our real life over here, I was an immigrant and I was to be sent off to school. However, we did not have any clothing coupons so I could not have a school uniform. A young boy quite likes to be in uniform, so it was rather difficult. I could have a school hat, but not the uniform. One remembers the difficulties of being, to some extent, a foreigner in your own country.
Over time I have interested myself an awful lot in the Commonwealth and in the question of identity. When the identity cards Bill was going through the Lords, I went off to do a trial run. We were told to have biometric pictures taken in some vans outside. When they did me the first time the electronic voice said, “Not recognised”. So, without telling anyone, I went off to another van and tried to do the same thing, but again the electronic voice said, “Not recognised”. I suddenly asked, “Why do we have to have identity cards?”.
Then I learnt in the course of our debates that in this great country you can call yourself what you like. There is no such thing as a legal name. The nearest you get to one these days is in the National Health Service. Some bright young NHS statistician in the NHS must have realised that you can give your date of birth, and that is all, because very few people with the same name are born on the same day. Once the NHS has you on the list with your date of birth, it keeps on writing to you suggesting that you should be examined, treated and everything possible should be done, and it then gives you a code name. However, you cannot remember your code name.
You find in our great society that the names of people have been lost and that we all have numbers to remember. Very few people can remember more than a certain number. The noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, will probably agree with me that you can always remember your service number. Mine was PJ963040—in fact, two alpha and six numeric are the best way of remembering anything. It is the best method of identification.
If it is not necessary to have an identity card, what is a passport? Is it an identity card? I had a problem with this when I worked internationally. Often my passport was in for a visa somewhere or other. I did not think that it would necessarily matter, so I would travel without a passport. Once when I was on the board of a company I went to Italy and arrived there without a passport. I thought that they would wave me through as usual, but it was the day after the Heysel stadium disaster where, as noble Lords may remember, British fans caused a lot of deaths in a stadium in Belgium. The passport people, who I knew quite well, said that they could not let me through without proof of identify. I said that I did not really have anything, but then I realised that I had one of my father’s suits. I showed them that from the label inside it was quite an old suit and therefore it was proof of identity. They took the jacket, then came back and said, “The jacket’s gone through. If you take your trousers off, they can go through as well. But under the current regulations we cannot let you through. You do not have actual proof of identity”. I had to wait to be identified.
We do not believe in carrying proof of identity here in the United Kingdom—nor do I believe that we ever should—but perhaps there is a case for some form of it. Some time ago I lobbied about whether it would be possible for Commonwealth countries to have a slightly different passport from non-British nations, which would seem to be appropriate. Alternatively, would it not be possible for all immigrants to be required at all times to carry a card that was proof of identity, which might perhaps help them in their activities?
I have tried to search and work out what the level of immigration is. The best way to do it is to ask the immigrants themselves. This morning I was woken up as usual by 11 Romanian builders. I complained to them that there was a chap at the end of the road who was one of those who sells you the gold ring that he drops on the ground. You pick it up and it has got “19” on it and he says, “Can you give me some money?” and you say, “Are you an illegal immigrant?”. They have got to know me now.
The Poles, of course, colonised a good chunk of Putney but they are among the best plumbers, without any doubt. All these immigrant groups, once they are established, become extraordinarily British and they want to educate their children; above all, they want to see things bettered. If you are looking at televisions, audiovisual, it is the Caribbean that has the skills. Do not ask me why. Throughout the whole system those people who have been integrated into our society have actually developed skills.
The questions we are facing are: how many more people want to come here? How many illegal immigrants are here and in what way can they be controlled or administered? Usually it is with the associations themselves. Having dealt with the Arab world for many years, I go to talk to people at the mosques and you can find out what is going on. Of course, the greatest value is the amount of information you can get from each other in exchange, particularly on situations such as Egypt at the present time.
I do not know what we can do about the passport situation or immigration controls. I do feel that it has gone wrong. For those of us who travel quite a lot, if you turn up at Calais to go through the Channel Tunnel, you will find two of the gates open for cars to go through and the others shut; you may have to queue for half an hour or longer and miss your connection. It is the same at all the airports. In most other countries, the waiting time is less. Is it because we have more people coming here or more people wanting to come here than other nations or is it that we cannot cope? Do we really need a new airport for ourselves?
Perhaps the Minister can give us some idea of what proportion of the inflowing traffic into the United Kingdom is non-British. It is a growing amount and the excuses and reasons are given that we are a tax-friendly nation. But perhaps more than anything else, the world feels that children who are brought up and educated in England may have a better chance in the future.
If we feel that the Commonwealth is important, as I have always done, we should recognise that there is more that could be done with it. When I used to sit with Enoch Powell a long time ago, he suggested that we had a Commonwealth passport. Now one says: what is the benefit of the Commonwealth and what are the opportunities? If we look at illegal trafficking of people, which tends to take place within the 200-mile limit of each country, we find that the EEZs—economic exclusion zones—of the Commonwealth are equivalent to 60% of the world. An awful lot of the trafficking now is maritime. That is perhaps a worry if it cannot be monitored.
I would quite like to see whether we could have a Commonwealth identity card or some sticker or visa in the Commonwealth. I would also like to find out why even in your Lordships’ House we should be required to wear identity cards. We should know each other but my latest research indicates that very few of your Lordships can put more than 100 names to faces. The doorkeepers cannot quite do 100. My difficulty on these Benches is that I see only the backs of the heads of my noble friends, whereas I can see the faces of noble Lords opposite, so in general I feel I have a greater recognition of them.
The question to the Minister is: could we please think of some method of enabling people, if they wanted to, to identify themselves with a piece of paper or a card so that they may not appear to be stateless?
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, for introducing this debate. I will speak very briefly about human trafficking or, as our Prime Minister describes it, “modern day slavery”. Most people who have been trafficked into the United Kingdom have been tricked into coming here with the offer of work and the hope of making a better future for themselves. Instead, they are exploited and abused in brothels, in agriculture, as domestic servants, cultivating cannabis, and so on.
Trafficking is not primarily an issue of immigration. Rather, as the Home Secretary said recently, it is “international organised crime”. By giving the Immigration Minister lead responsibility for tackling human trafficking, the Government’s approach unfortunately tends more towards the immigration aspects than the criminal justice response to trafficking.
The UK Border Agency is the body responsible for deciding whether there are grounds for believing a person to be trafficked. It holds this responsibility for all cases where the person comes from outside the EU. The UK Human Trafficking Centre makes the decision in all other cases. I would be grateful if the Minister could confirm exactly which of the new immigration entities within the Home Office has taken over this responsibility following the break-up of the UK Border Agency, announced in March.
In 2012, two-thirds of all trafficking referrals were decided by the UK Border Agency, which is unsurprising since most victims come from outside the EU. The involvement of immigration officials in deciding who is and who is not a victim of trafficking and who is eligible for support under the national referral mechanism is problematic. It creates the potential for confusion between the processes and criteria for decisions on immigration and those that should be followed when determining if someone is a victim of trafficking.
I was pleased to hear the recent announcement that from 1 April the team within the UKBA that deals with human trafficking would,
“be exclusively dedicated to that task and will not combine its work in this area with any other”.—[Official Report, 21/3/13; col. 669.]
This is a very positive step forward in addressing this inherent conflict of interest. However, even if there is no longer the possibility of individual officials handling both trafficking and non-trafficking cases, there remains the potential for a conflict of interest in the institution as a whole. As the Centre for Social Justice said in a report published in March:
“The fact that any potential victim is required to make their welfare case to the very agency that may at the same time be considering their immigration status is a denial of the right to have an independent decision concerning whether they have been trafficked”.
Many NGOs express a lack of faith in the decisions made by the UK Border Agency, and all the judicial reviews undertaken in relation to decisions under the national referral mechanism since 2009 have been in relation to decisions made by the UK Border Agency. Many support organisations report reluctance from victims to enter the formal referral process out of a fear of immigration authorities. The recent report of the Joint Committee on Human Rights on the rights of unaccompanied migrant children expressed concern, saying:
“The low level of NRM determinations by the immigration authorities fails to dispel perceptions of an inherent conflict of interest, which could undermine goodwill towards the mechanism and put trust in the system at risk”.
This is the heart of the problem.
There is undoubtedly a key role for the Immigration Service to play in identifying potential victims of trafficking as they pass through our borders, and in assessing claims for asylum. However, these vital roles must not be compromised by other immigration priorities, nor should they be allowed to overshadow the true nature of trafficking as a question of criminal activity and exploitation. Victims of trafficking should not be afraid to come forward or to seek support out of fear of deportation.
Effective immigration controls are necessary for maintaining national security and developing our business and economic interests but they must not prevent us offering support and sanctuary to those who most need it.
My Lords, I, too, would like to extend my thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, for securing this debate. We all have a direct interest in ensuring our national security. Indeed, the protection and security of our citizens is the number one priority for any Government. The Motion refers to the relationship between effective immigration controls and the interests of the security of the United Kingdom. I will largely confine my comments to that specific issue. Although opinions might vary as to what constitutes effective immigration controls, there must be question marks over the effectiveness of the current arrangements when judged against the criteria of their importance to national security and the maintenance of that security.
The issue of national security and, more particularly, border security was referred to in the Government’s 2011-12 Annual Report on the National Security Strategy and Strategic Defence and Security Review. The report said:
“Increased use of biometrics in support of asylum, visa and biometric residence permit applications provides tighter border controls to identify those who pose a threat to the UK”.
It went on to say:
“The use of technology and intelligence to check people and goods remains key to tackling the range of border security threats. Improvements in this area … include a continuing increase in coverage of routes and data acquired by e-Borders. Since April 2012, e-Borders acquires 100% of data for non-EEA flights. From 25th July 2012 … airlines required by law to provide data to e-Borders may be denied authority to carry to the UK specified foreign nationals who pose a terrorist threat”.
The annual report also referred to continuing work on the development of the Border Policing Command as part of the National Crime Agency, ahead of the formal creation of the NCA. No doubt if there is anything further of substance to report on this continuing work, the Minister will give us an update when he responds to this debate.
The splitting off of the Border Force from the United Kingdom Border Agency was announced by the Government in March last year. Since then, the performance of the agency appears to have deteriorated, with growing delays in dealing with asylum cases, visas and foreign criminals. Claims that the asylum backlog had been cleared lacked credibility, as the Government had simply written off some 100,000 cases without proper checks.
In March this year, the Government announced further changes to the border agency, splitting up its activities into two entities within the Home Office. What difference, if any, these further changes will make remains to be seen. The reality is that enforcement has got worse, visa delays have got worse and 50% fewer people are refused entry at ports and borders. The number of people absconding through Heathrow passport control has trebled, and the number being caught afterwards has halved. The number of foreign prisoners deported has dropped by 16% and there has also been a big drop in the number of employers being fined for employing illegal workers.
A recent Commons Select Committee report showed that following the Government’s splitting up of the border agency in March last year, there was a 20% increase in the backlog of asylum cases in three months, a 53% increase in the number of asylum cases waiting more than six months compared with the previous year, an increase in delays for some in-country visa applications compared with the previous three months and 59,000 cases not getting even as far as being entered on the database. The committee said that 28,000 visa applications were not processed on time in one three-month period. That means that two-thirds of visa applications were not processed on time.
What of course contributed to the difficulties was the impact and method of the implementation of the Government’s changes. The financial cuts of more than a third will certainly not have enhanced national security, which is an important part of the subject matter of this debate. There is immigration that works for Britain and immigration that does not. We support policies to bring down the pace of migration—particularly low-skilled migration—through stronger controls on people coming to do low-skilled jobs and action against bogus colleges. We need proper training programmes to help the young unemployed get into the sectors that are recruiting most from abroad—programmes such as Care First, which the Government abolished.
More needs to be done to cut illegal immigration. By definition, this can have an adverse impact on national security since the required checks and controls, however technologically advanced, cannot be undertaken. The Government’s net migration target is not targeting the right things. Much of the drop since the election comes because more British citizens are leaving the country and fewer are coming home. Most of the rest is accounted for by falling numbers of foreign students. The Government are targeting university students and entrepreneurs but ignoring illegal immigration, which is of course outside the target. Illegal immigration is getting worse, with fewer people stopped, more absconding, fewer deported and backlogs of information on cases not pursued. Illegal immigration is not exactly being deterred by the continuing exploitation of migrant workers, which also undercuts local workers. Stronger action is needed, which means national minimum wage regulations which can be made to stick, with better enforcement and higher fines, and a register to tackle rogue landlords.
Pulling out of the social chapter and co-operation on policing and justice measures, as the Government appear to want to do, will not make it any easier to manage and control migration, including illegal immigration. No one would wish to suggest for one moment that this Government, or indeed any Government, do not take their national security responsibilities seriously or fail to give this the highest priority. Effective immigration control is one of the building blocks that must be in place to ensure that as much as can reasonably and effectively be done to protect the security of our country and our citizens is being done. However, the reality is that the present arrangements are not as effective as they could and should be or indeed, in fairness, as effective as I imagine the Government want them to be.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, sat down rather promptly, so I apologise for not having my speech quite to hand. I wondered when he was going to stop flinging around data which I scarcely recognise from my experience as a Home Office Minister—some of them are open to challenge. I would rather concentrate on the theme of the debate, which has been useful because it has shown the background against which all immigration policy has to be conducted.
I thank my noble friend Lord Marlesford for tabling the debate. The relationship between effective immigration controls and the interests of national security is a key focus for the Government. Securing the border is a major challenge each day and needs an effective and efficient organisation with a real focus on law enforcement and security driving it forward. Intelligence is also key in strengthening border and immigration processes—a number of noble Lords referred to that. My noble friend was particularly eloquent about the vulnerability of a liberal democracy such as ours to threats from authoritarian or theocratic states and jihadists.
Border transformation is a key focus for the Government. Maintaining a secure border is about detection, interruption, disruption and prevention as far upstream in the process as possible. It is about making sure that we are in the right place at the right time, with the right information, to stop the threat at source before it even reaches our shores.
The work that we do overseas is vital to maintain our strong border. At our embassies and high commissions, staff deal with large volumes of applications to travel to the United Kingdom. Biometric visas are a vital step in maintaining a secure border. I think that the development of biometric visas has been widely welcomed by all in this debate.
We keep our visa regime under constant review to ensure that it is in line with risk and remains the most secure in the world. The UK’s Risk And Liaison Overseas Network, RALON, works with airlines overseas in a training and advisory capacity in relation to the adequacy of documents held by passengers seeking to travel to the UK. While RALON officers have no legal powers, their role allows them to remind carriers of potential financial penalties if they allow boarding to somebody who may be inadmissible to the UK. As a consequence of their interventions, around 8,000 passengers were denied boarding in 2011-12. Equally importantly, RALON assists local authorities in the identification of facilitators and racketeers involved in the organised movement of inadequately documented passengers, identifying and leading or supporting criminal investigations overseas and in the UK.
We also have a robust visa application process. The Home Office refused more than 330,000 visa applications last year, playing a key role in ensuring that only genuine travellers are granted a right to enter the UK, and we are committed to providing an ever improving service to support this. We have already introduced a number of service enhancements to ensure a good customer experience and are constantly seeking improvements.
Border technology is an integral tool in helping to protect the UK against potential acts of terrorism, serious crime and abuses of the immigration system—it was mentioned by my noble friend Lady Hamwee. When we are able to assess passengers and crew in advance of travelling, it greatly assists our ability to control borders. Our technology, combined with our robust visa regime, means better protection and a stronger border than ever before.
We continue to see the benefits of advanced passenger data collection on both inbound and outbound journeys. It provides early warning of the arrival of people of interest and the departure of individuals giving concern from a security, immigration or customs perspective. We now check the movements of more than 148 million passengers and crew a year from passenger information provided by 147 carriers on 4,790 routes into the UK. Since 2005, we have collected and analysed data on almost 600 million passengers and crew movements. My noble friend Lord Hodgson talked about the scale of what we are dealing with in this hugely mobile world. These figures give us an indication of the sheer capacity that we require to keep control of our borders.
Border Force was created on 1 March 2012 as a separate operational command within the Home Office with direct ministerial oversight—as has been correctly pointed out, it is headed up by Vice-Admiral Montgomery—separating border control functions from the wider immigration functions of the Home Office. The aim is to bring a genuine law enforcement culture to Border Force. I know that the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, expressed some concern about the different elements of responsibility within the command structure of immigration and migration control policy. However, we believe that properly focused management is an important aspect of our responsibility to maintain a secure border.
Border Force continues to make a significant contribution to cutting crime. In 2012-13 we made nearly 70,000 seizures, including more than £200 million-worth of smuggled tobacco and cigarettes, and more than £100 million-worth of smuggled alcohol. Many people are still trying to enter the UK illegally or without the appropriate documentation. Border Force refused entry to almost 10,000 people at ports in 2012, and another 4,000 were stopped at juxtaposed controls in France and Belgium before they could even enter the country.
In 2012-13, for those passengers for whom we have measured the queuing times, more than 99% were cleared through immigration control within our published service standards, which is exceeding the target. I frequently travel by air and I know how frustrating it is to arrive at an airport at the end of journey feeling a little bit tired, but the new system is providing a much faster throughput than was the case a few years ago.
As the Minister in the Home Office with responsibility for identity, I listened carefully to my noble friend Lord Marlesford, as I always do; indeed, I always listen to my noble friend Lord Selsdon when he talks about identity. My noble friend Lord Marlesford raises a valid point in relation to dual nationals and of how the authorities keep tabs on the movements of people who travel using one passport to get out of the country and another passport to get into the country. This is an issue worthy of further consideration, and I can tell my noble friend that I will think through what he says very carefully before returning to him on this matter.
A number of noble Lords asked about exit checks. The Government have made a commitment to reintroduce exit checks by 2015. We are currently exploring how advance passenger information can support this and what, if any, further changes are necessary to deliver the exit checks and our e-borders capability. We continue to see the benefits of advance passenger data, providing early warning of the arrival and departure of individuals giving concern from a security, immigration or customs perspective.
There have been a number of noble Lords who have mentioned the announcement on 26 March by my right honourable friend the Home Secretary, which I repeated here. It laid out her reasons for dissolving the UK Border Agency. I think that the debate has recognised that the UK Border Agency was not working. One of the aims of the restructure was to split the work of the agency to create two entities with two distinct structures. In its place will be an immigration and visa service and an immigration law enforcement organisation; two commands within the Home Office and directly accountable to Ministers in the exactly the same way as Border Force is directly accountable to Ministers.
The noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, points out the importance of people and direction in, if I may say so, leadership in making sure that these forces are effective. I might not share all of the analysis in his critique, but he rightly identifies the work of John Vine and how invaluable his critical assessment of performance in those agencies is proving to be.
By creating two entities instead of one, we will be able to create distinct cultures. The first is a high-volume service that makes high-quality decisions about who comes here, with a culture of customer satisfaction for businessmen and visitors who want to come here legally. The second is an organisation that has law enforcement at its heart and gets tough on those who break our immigration laws.
Physical embarkation controls are carried out on a targeted, intelligence-led basis. Border Force and immigration enforcement officers perform checks targeted at immigration and customs crime, including identifying overstayers and detecting smuggled cash proceeds of crime. During 2012, electronic exit checks resulted in 566 police arrests on outbound passengers.
The Home Office has already shown that it can deliver for the country, despite budget pressures. Immigration reforms are working. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, that we have achieved net migration cuts of more than one-third. The evidence shows that our policy reforms are not inhibiting growth or putting people off coming to the UK. I reiterate that there are no restrictions on student numbers coming to this country. We are striving to ensure that the brightest and best come to the UK to study. Increases in visa fees will ensure that those coming to the UK contribute accordingly. Fee increases will be matched by substantial improvements to visa processing services to ensure that the UK remains open for business. There was a 5% increase in visas issued for skilled individuals under Tier 2 in the year to March 2013, showing that we are attracting the brightest and best to the UK and supporting the growth agenda.
That brings me on to what has been probably one of the most remarkable speeches that we have heard today, that of my noble friend Lord Hodgson. He put the current management of our borders and the conduct of our immigration policy in the perspective of the sheer scale of recent migration and the global nature of the world in which we live. There is much to debate in the issues that he raises, not least the whole thrust of the argument in my comment that there was a 5% increase in visas issued for skilled individuals under Tier 2. That is tremendously important for the UK economy, but what is the corresponding impact on the developing world? There is a strong argument for saying that Britain as a force for good in the world has a huge role, in soft diplomatic terms, in providing a place where people can come to study and take those skills away or indeed develop them here within our own community.
I will address a few points made by my noble friend Lord Marlesford. He made a strong attack, and one or two others mentioned this, on what he perceived to be corruption within our border force—not the Border Force, but the old border agency. Our corruption strategy is focused on proactively reducing the motive and opportunity for corruption and fraud by increasing our deterrence and prevention activity. In creating an anticorruption culture, we are enhancing our capability proactively to identify more corrupt activity, and we are creating a centre of investigative excellence in anticorruption by developing the skills and capabilities of the investigators and enhancing the processes utilised for the management of anticorruption activity.
My noble friend also asked a number of questions about e-Borders. To date, e-Borders has cost the UK £475 million. The activity of e-Borders has now been absorbed within the wider and more comprehensive border systems programme for which Sir Charles Montgomery is the senior responsible officer. The e-Borders element of the programme forms part of a procurement proposal that is likely to last 12 to 14 months. Subject to approvals contracts, new supplies should be in place by late 2014. Thereafter, the service will move across to the newly contracted suppliers over a six- to nine-month period.
The noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, asked about border policing command. This will brigade the National Crime Agency’s operational response overseas and at the UK border into a single entity. The border policing command will better co-ordinate intelligence and operational activity through co-location within Border Force, Special Branch, and other partners and intelligence teams at the border to identify more criminal groups operating across the UK border and to increase disruptions. It will lead proactive investigations at the border, such as into corruption and evasion of controls at small ports, that will limit the ability of criminals to move and operate across the UK border.
There are a few points in noble Lords’ speeches to which I would like to refer. I mentioned that my noble friend Lord Marlesford talked about the anarchy of the failed state and the threat that it posed to this country. He felt that the quality of our staff in the border service was not adequate. I think that I answered that in describing the new leadership that is being provided through this. This is the right approach for the future of our border services.
My noble friend Lady Hamwee emphasised the use of intelligence to combat crime and a terrorist threat. My noble friend Lord Bridgeman asked about the attraction of the UK for Asians, but mentioned how within communities it was quite easy for those who came here and were not desirable to get lost. This is an issue of which we are very conscious.
My noble friend Lord Hodgson’s speech was a remarkable contribution. To my noble friend Lord McColl of Dulwich I say that the team to deal with trafficking remains in place. We recognise that this is an important issue, and we want to make sure that we have effective controls in detecting trafficking and prosecuting those responsible for it.
I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Rosser—perhaps I surprise him again—in saying that intelligence and technology are the heart of secure borders. They must be the heart of what we do. I add to that good leadership of the people engaged in this task, which I take from the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham. Effective immigration controls in the interests of national security are key. Work to secure our border begins far beyond the UK’s shores. We work around the world to ensure that we are in the right place at the right time with the right information to stop the source of the threat before it reaches our shores.
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords for contributing to an important debate on a big and important subject. It represents a huge problem and a huge challenge. I point out to the Minister that this Government have been in power for three years and it is about time that we started getting more results. The situation is still very unsatisfactory. Otherwise, we would not have had only in March the dissolution of the whole border agency.
The noble Lord, Lord Rosser, condemned accurately and in detail a lot of the symptoms, but I hope that he agrees that a lot of them are a legacy of the policies that his Government left behind and that we have been too slow to change. I am not convinced that they have yet been given sufficiently radical treatment. The committee of the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, and my noble friend Lord Hodgson could contribute usefully in arriving at a good solution. Putting the admiral in charge of the Border Force is very sensible, but the rest of it seems still very amorphous. I suggest that the Government produce a Green Paper to describe how the border agency, which has been taken back into the Home Office, will be organised. It will probably need some legislation—he has not said that—and this must be closely looked at by Parliament before it is done, otherwise the same mistakes will be made.
My noble friend Lady Hamwee made a very important point about the new era of electronic communications, which has given a different dimension to some of the problems of ensuring our national security through the borders and elsewhere. It is not surprising. Everyone now makes a tremendous issue of the scale at which Governments intercept communications. It is not surprising that they do so, and it would be quite wrong if they did not because the scale of communications has gone up so much. Everybody now can communicate in very sophisticated ways, which enables those who are inclined to crime or terrorism to do things that previously they could not do. The technological revolution in communications has greatly increased the danger from terrorism. The problem is enormous. There is a lot more work to be done, and I hope that the Government will, after three years of cogitation, consult Parliament quite closely on what they propose to do before they do it.