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Border Force Budget 2016-17

Volume 771: debated on Wednesday 20 April 2016


My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall repeat as a Statement the response to an Urgent Question given in the other place by my right honourable friend the Home Secretary on the Border Force budget for 2016-17. The Statement is as follows.

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

My right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer will publish the Treasury main supply estimates in just over an hour’s time, setting out estimated budget allocations for the whole of government, including Border Force, for the 2016-17 financial year. In advance of those figures being laid in the House Library, I can inform the House that these estimates will show the indicative budget for Border Force is £558.1 million in 2016-17, a 0.4% reduction in the overall resource spending compared with the 2015-16 supplementary estimate. At the same time, we will increase capital spending at the border by just over 70%, from £40.1 million in 2015-16 to an estimated £68.3 million in 2016-17.

This means that Border Force spending is to all intents and purposes protected compared with 2015-16, with increased capital investment to improve the technology at the border to improve security and intelligence and strengthen control. Over the next four years, we will invest £130 million in state-of-the-art technology at the border.

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

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

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

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

I thank the Minister for repeating the Statement made in response to an Urgent Question asked in the House of Commons. The Answer now confirms that the revenue budget for the Border Force for 2016-17 is some 10% less than it was in 2012-13, which no doubt explains in part why the Government are not in control of our borders. If they still maintain that they are in control of our borders, can the noble Lord say whether 100% checks are made on every lorry entering this country? I await to see whether he can give a more direct answer to that question than his right honourable friend the Home Secretary managed in the Commons earlier today.

Finally, in a letter published in the Daily Telegraph today from, to use the words of that newspaper, the country’s most senior security experts—who include two Members of this House—there is a reference to the need better to secure this country’s borders followed by a call for the Government to review security at our borders. Will the Government now agree to undertake the review called for in the letter?

My Lords, as I have already alluded to, border security has been enhanced and Border Force continues to perform 100% checks on scheduled passengers. As for lorries, we perform rigorous border checks on scheduled arrivals. The noble Lord mentioned specifically a letter that has been written today and the steps that the Government have taken. I am sure that if he reflects on the changes that have been made—apart from the creation of, as I said, a more flexible Border Force, which has allowed us to address the challenges and needs across the country as a whole—we have seen various programmes which have delivered incremental improvements to e-Borders vision, such as the Schengen information system, the warnings index on migration and improved exit checks. We continue to work very closely with our European partners across the board to ensure that we protect not only our borders but borders across the European Union from threats based around security and terrorism.

My Lords, while handbags at dawn over the Border Force budget between the chair of the Commons Home Affairs Committee and the Home Secretary might be entertaining, the crucial question must be whether Border Force has and will continue to have the resources it needs to safeguard UK borders from threats of foreign terrorism and illegal immigration, bearing in mind that the Home Secretary has now confirmed that the budget for the Border Force is decreasing while it would appear that the threats are increasing.

My Lords, I agree with the second part of the noble Lord’s statement: as the challenges and threats are increasing we need to respond accordingly. As I alluded to in the Statement—perhaps it is important to repeat it—one of the steps the Government are taking in the Home Office is investing a further £130 million in the technology around our borders to ensure that we meet the enhanced and ever-evolving threat that faces the United Kingdom.

My Lords, will the Minister explain why at some airports passports of people leaving this country are examined and recorded, whereas at others no check whatever is made? Is this because of a shortage of resources?

As my noble friend will know, it was this Government who reintroduced exit checks last year. He is right to point out that we introduced these checks in particular in larger ports. If there are specific airports he is concerned about I will be happy to discuss them with him afterwards and write to him accordingly.

My Lords, our coastline outside the major ports is highly vulnerable. Will the Minister confirm that, since we have sent coast guard cutters to the Mediterranean, and because of defects, we have only two coast guard cutters to look after our coastline from the Tyne round to Cornwall and that we have now cancelled the airborne surveillance programme, which indicated targets of interest, such as illegals coming into the country, to those cutters? If that is the case, we are in a very parlous state.

My Lords, I am sure that the noble Lord will appreciate that I cannot go into the details of the operations of the Border Force and the cutters being deployed, but I assure him that there is sufficient capability and funding in place. Border Force maintains a presence in UK waters. We work in close partnership in ensuring secure borders with the Royal Navy and the National Crime Agency, among others.

My Lords, given that the recent pamphlet of government propaganda, which cost £9.2 million and went to every household in the land, claimed that we have kept control of our borders, will the noble Lord tell us whether we can prevent EU nationals entering the United Kingdom? How many have done so in the last five years, and how many do the Government anticipate will do so in the next five years?

My right honourable friend the Prime Minister made clear when he announced the EU referendum that there would be a clear government position. There is, which is the belief that I know is shared by many across your Lordships’ House that the United Kingdom’s place is within the European Union. On the question of entry by EU nationals, while there are border controls in place in the United Kingdom, part of our agreement with the European Union is to ensure that, while EU nationals visit and work in this country, they, like all citizens, including United Kingdom citizens returning from abroad, go through diligent checks at passport control to ensure that we protect our borders from criminals and terrorists who may seek to permeate those borders.

My Lords, it is this side I think—the noble Lord is not our side. Will the Minister tell us how many officers there are in the Border Force, how many will it fall to next year, and how that compares with the recommendation by the noble Lord, Lord Stevens of Kirkwhelpington, in the report commissioned by David Cameron a few years ago that there should be 30,000 officers?

My Lords, I will not go into specific numbers of officers, but as I have already said and say again to the noble Lord, through the creation of the Border Force we have ensured greater flexibility of all Border Force staff to ensure that, wherever the shortages are—as we found last summer when there were challenges from the situation in Calais—the challenges and needs are met by ensuring that there are sufficient staff in whatever port, be it maritime or airports.

My Lords, the noble Lord has told us what is—or, rather, what is not—being done at sea to protect our borders. What is being done on land to intercept illegal entry via our beaches and unmanned airfields in various places in the country?

I remind my noble friend that, as I have already said, the Border Force works very closely with all agencies, including the police and the National Crime Agency. This ensures that we have a robust approach, with joined-up thinking and sharing of intelligence. Of course, we work with our European partners to ensure that, where there are any concerns on access and illegal entry to the United Kingdom, be it by water or air, we meet that challenge robustly. The message must be clear that our borders are robust: we will prevent those who seek to enter illegally, including those who seek to spread terror in this country or elsewhere in Europe. Together, through sharing of intelligence, we are facing that challenge head-on.

My Lords, the Minister has twice refused to answer a direct question this afternoon. He said that he cannot comment on matters of how the department works. He also said that he cannot tell us how many people are employed. Neither of those things can be state secrets. How many officers are in fact employed?

My Lords, the issue that I said I could not reply to specifically was the issue of our coastal waters, their protection and the operational capacity there. I am sure that the noble Lord, when he reflects on that, will see that it is important that we retain the sanctity of ensuring our operational capability. After all, otherwise, we are opening that up to open transparency for anyone who is seeking to influence and get into the UK. We need to ensure that we meet the challenge of illegal immigration. The noble Lord asked for specific numbers. As I have said, the Statement which I have repeated on behalf of the Home Secretary acknowledged that there is a reduction in the resource budget of 0.4%. That will result in our ensuring that wherever shortages are met there is flexibility in the workforce. I do not think that I was avoiding the question; I just said that I am not going to get specifically into the numbers game.