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John Healey: In a moment I shall say something about where the mobile teams will be based; but their existence means that more officers, not fewer, will be available to cover the threats from Cornwall, and they will not be based solely in the south-east.

Results from the flexible teams already deployed speak for themselves. In 2002–03, one mobile team from the south-west, when deployed to a high-risk port or airport, typically seized 2 million cigarettes. Over the same period, three teams permanently based in Plymouth and Falmouth seized only 0.4 million cigarettes between them. In future, flexible teams

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operating from Poole, Plymouth and Avonmouth will be working in the frontier ports throughout the south-west and inland on a threat and intelligence-driven basis. Customs intelligence and detection officers will work in joint teams in Plymouth for that purpose. This summer, special joint operations will be carried out by Customs with the Devon and Cornwall police and other agencies. One of our fleet of customs cutters will be permanently deployed in the south-west approaches. Far from withdrawing from the areas from which staff are being redeployed, under Customs' new plans more officers than ever will cover the region in mobile teams wherever intelligence tells us that there is a threat.

For the police and the immigration service as well as Customs, our most effective law enforcement against major smugglers and criminals is now led by intelligence.

Therefore, alongside the deployment of more mobile detection teams across the UK, Customs is investing heavily to increase its intelligence capability—new methods, modern techniques and more staff. It is reinforcing intelligence links with other agencies and setting up new joint intelligence cells with police special branch and immigration staff. Customs already operates such joint intelligence cells in the south-west, based in Plymouth and Exeter.

I can today confirm that, to reinforce its intelligence cover in Cornwall, Customs will be setting up a dedicated unit of three officers in Falmouth. Those Cornish officers will link with other law enforcement agencies to monitor the threat from smuggling and fraud in Cornwall. They will play an important part in developing the intelligence that will drive the deployment of other Customs teams across Cornwall, both inland and at Cornish ports.

My hon. Friend raises concerns about the personal circumstances of staff affected by change. Customs managers are very mindful of that. Over 80 per cent. of nearly 350 staff in the south-west division of Customs have signed up for the new mobile brigades, and almost half of the remainder have either been found or lined up for work elsewhere in Customs. In some cases, arrangements have been individually tailored to deal with special family circumstances.

The Government will do what is needed to reinforce security at our borders and to tackle smuggling.

Ms Atherton: I am absolutely delighted about the three officers. I hope that, over the years, we can increase their number and eventually get back to the current complement, but where will those officers be located? Will we keep the customs house that has long dominated the landscape and skyline of Falmouth harbour?

John Healey: Let me be clear. The role of those officers is an intelligence role; it is not a static detection role. Their function, purpose and role in the modern Customs are different. I am conscious—I have seen for myself—how dramatic the customs house is at Falmouth. At present, Customs managers are looking at the possibility of extending the current lease as the operational base in Falmouth.

Since 1997, the Government have shown themselves to be ready to invest heavily in Customs and Excise but, as the threats we face change, so must our methods. I

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hope that I have been able to offer reassurance that Customs' cover for Cornwall will be reinforced, not reduced. I am glad that my hon. Friend has welcomed the new Cornish intelligence unit that will be based in Falmouth and will play such an important role there.

These are major changes. I know that change on this scale is often hard for those affected, but our priority is the protection of the south-west and the rest of the UK

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from serious crime, and ditching outdated and unproductive working methods. We must build a modern customs service. Anything else will fail my hon. Friend's constituents, the people of Devon and Cornwall and all those others who rely on us to protect them.

Question put and agreed to.



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