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Channel Tunnel: Migrants

Volume 767: debated on Tuesday 1 December 2015


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what action they are taking with the Government of France to deal with the organised groups assisting migrants seeking to use the Channel Tunnel to enter the United Kingdom.

My Lords, we continue to work closely with our French counterparts. The joint declaration signed on 20 August cements a comprehensive programme of work between our two countries.

I am grateful to the Minister for that Answer. Is he aware that rail freight services through the tunnel have been virtually decimated—I declare an interest as chairman of the Rail Freight Group—and that road freight is being equally badly hit because people are still climbing into lorries? There may be a fence round the terminals and there may be a few more guards, but dogs are not allowed to bite—I suppose that that would be against the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act if it applies to Calais. Surely more should be done to direct attention at the gangs that are organising these migrants into armies with chain-saws, blankets, mattresses and bolt-cutters to climb the fence. Could there not be more intelligence? Are the Government going to use some of the 1,900 new spies that the Minister announced in November—although they might need a bit more training—to help them?

The noble Lord is absolutely right: that is why the Prime Minister announced in July that the Organised Crime Task Force will concentrate specifically on immigration crime. At the Valletta summit in November he announced an expansion of the task force. Through new legislation in the Serious Crime Act, that work has already led to the disruption of 174 organised immigration crime groups. But we are very conscious that more needs to be done and are working very closely on that with our French counterparts.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that a twin-track approach is needed? First, refugees and asylum seekers need to be offered safe and legal routes through humanitarian visas and, secondly, all EU states need to participate fully in European police co-operation, including through a strengthened Europol, which the UK is not opting in to. Does he not therefore have to acknowledge the truth, which is that the present Government are failing on both those tracks?

No. On Friday there will be a Justice and Home Affairs Council meeting, which the Home Secretary will be at. At the emergency meeting on 20 November following the Paris attacks, a whole new raft of initiatives was set out on which we are going to co-operate. These include the Schengen information systems, which exchange information on people who represent a potential threat across Europe. The noble Baroness was absolutely right in her first point, which is why we set up the Syrian vulnerable persons programme. We have said that checks on the 20,000 additional refugees who will come in over the lifetime of this Parliament will take place in the camps so that they do not have to make dangerous journeys and can be verified by the UNHCR and by us.

Is my noble friend aware that Bedfordshire, where I live, seems to be blessed with having more illegal immigrants disgorging at motorway service stations, allegedly because that is the first place where the lorries refuel? In those circumstances, why is it impossible to undertake a check on the ferries once they have left Calais en route to the United Kingdom and before people disembark at Dover?

It is certainly an issue to which we have to find a solution. Part of that solution lies with the border force arrangements on both sides at the juxtaposed controls in Calais, and we are working very closely with our French counterparts on that. There is also a huge role for the hauliers to play—not necessarily the UK hauliers but some of the continental ones. They need to take the most basic security steps in relation to their vehicles to ensure that this does not happen. That is why we have introduced the accreditation scheme, together with civil penalties for people who fail to abide by it.

My Lords, does the Minister recall the case that was raised in the House just two weeks ago about Rob Lawrie and his attempt to rescue a child from the aptly named “jungle camp” at Calais? Can he say whether it has been possible for the Government to have the meeting with Save the Children that they committed to during Question Time? Can he also tell the House how many people are in that camp today and how many of them are children?

I know that specific case: it was a very difficult one and we have offered some consular support on that issue. Of course, when we are dealing with vulnerable children, it is absolutely critical that they are recorded, that their records are taken and that they are closely supervised. On the specific point about how many people are in that camp, which is a terrible facility, one of the things in the joint declaration was that we wanted to reduce the number from 6,000. The number is now about 4,500, and that is a tribute to the French, who have started relocating people from that camp into what are called respite settlements in places such as Picardy. On the specific matter of Save the Children, the noble Lord will be aware of the UNHCR’s reservations on that. That still remains our position, but we are very much open to meetings.

My Lords, according to a national newspaper report, a government Minister told the Home Affairs Select Committee in the other place last week that small airports and ports around the UK were a weak link because those coming to this country intent on acts of terrorism would chose to use them to enter the country rather than the bigger airports and ports where stricter measures are in place. Since the Minister went on to say that urgent work was under way to address this issue, are the Government really telling us that they have only just woken up to the fact that security at small airports and ports now needs to be as effective as security at larger airports and ports? If that was not the inference of what the Minister concerned said, what was that Minister trying to tell us?

There is a certain displacement happening here. As the security at Coquelles gets stronger and tougher, and as we then provide greater security around the port of Calais and move along to Dunkirk, Le Havre and other places, there will be displacement. People are going to be forced into the smaller ports and airfields that have been mentioned. That was the reason why we said that there was an increased threat there that needs to be responded to. Part of that was announced by the Chancellor last week when he announced £9 million for additional aviation security just to tackle that problem.

My Lords, I suggest that it is the turn of one of the minor parties. I propose that the noble Baronesses from the Liberal Democrats and the Green Party decide between themselves who would like to give way.

My Lords, thank you very much. Could the Minister tell us, for those people who are currently suffering in the “jungle camp” in Calais, what the Government are doing to enable them to get to Britain if they have every right to be here? I have asked this as a Written Question; I had a response but I did not get an answer.

Under the Dublin regulations, they have to apply for asylum in the first safe country that they arrive in. If that is France, that is where they must apply for asylum. There are regulations under Dublin III, which the noble Baroness will be familiar with, that deal with family reunification. Where the individual applies for asylum in France but actually has strong family links in the UK, we will enter into discussions with our French counterparts to see how that arrangement can be resolved in a way that keeps the family together.

Would the Minister agree that it is about time that he changed the Answer he gave the House recently and revisited the role that identity cards can play in the fight against terrorists and illegal immigrants, and, by doing that, in the fight against the gangs that are organising these activities?

The answer I gave to the House, which I acknowledge it did not fully accept—perhaps that was to do with the way I presented it—was that we had tried that before.

Well, we did try it; investment was put in place for it. We are now saying that we believe that the best security is achieved through a stronger, intelligence-led approach to tackling serious and organised criminals who have dealings in immigration crime or terrorists seeking to do us harm. We believe that the solution should be intelligence led, which is why we have announced an additional £2 billion for the security services over the lifetime of this Parliament.

In an earlier reply, my noble friend said that, over a period of time, the very good work done by the Government and the French had thwarted 174 organised attempts to use the Channel Tunnel. Can he tell your Lordships’ House how many organised attempts were not thwarted over the same period?

I am not sure about that, but the specific answer that I gave was not so much about attempts at incursions into the tunnel as about the organised criminal groups that are at the heart of this evil trafficking which is happening across borders throughout Europe and particularly into our country. My answer was that the work of the Organised Crime Task Force that the Prime Minister had set up, which will receive funding over this Parliament, had led to the disruption of 174 organised criminal groups and gangs over that period.