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Illegal Immigration (English Channel)

Volume 652: debated on Monday 14 January 2019

6. What steps the Royal Navy is taking to support the Home Office in preventing illegal immigration across the English channel. (908526)

As the House is aware, HMS Mersey, an offshore patrol vessel—OPV—was deployed on 3 January in support of Border Force activity in the channel. Additionally, our support includes the deployment of up to 20 suitably qualified naval personnel on Border Force cutters to provide additional capacity.

Illegal seaborne immigration in small boats across the English channel is driven by people traffickers. The way to stop people traffickers and the illegal immigration is by returning those rescued at sea to the port from whence they came in France. Is the Royal Navy doing that?

Migration control is, of course, not a responsibility of the Ministry of Defence or the Royal Navy; it is a responsibility of the Home Office, so my hon. Friend’s question is probably better directed to the Home Secretary. In this particular case, the Royal Navy is simply supplying support under normal MACA—military aid to the civil authorities—rules.

The Royal Navy has a proud and glorious history, in respect not just of forming the wooden walls of this country, but being the nobility of Neptune’s realm, and it has a proud humanitarian record. But the question related to preventing illegal immigration, so could the Minister tell us what the orders of the day are and what the Royal Navy is doing to prevent people from landing in this country?

As I have tried to explain, migration is a matter for the Home Office. In this case, it has made a request for us to supply a vessel, HMS Mersey, to act as a platform for Border Office officers to operate from.

I do not know how to follow that, but I will try. The Secretary of State has been waxing lyrical about the fleet ready escort being based on England’s southern coast to deal with this phantom menace of mass immigration, with no plans for basing OPVs in Scotland, as he admitted to me in parliamentary questions. So will the Minister, on behalf of the Secretary of State, advise the House as to whether they have received any representation from the Scottish Conservative cohort in this House about basing fishery protection vessels anywhere remotely near Scotland?

With respect to the hon. Gentleman, he seems to be confusing a number of different issues. The role of the fleet ready escort is certainly very different from that in which HMS Mersey is currently being engaged, as indeed is fishery protection, which is a matter devolved to the Scottish Government.