Previous Section Index Home Page

The news from the National Farmers Union over the weekend, following a survey of supermarkets, was that sales had not been affected. That is testament to the measured and open way in which DEFRA has handled
5 Feb 2007 : Column 586
the outbreak. My own feedback from farmers and farmers’ groups has been full of praise for the way in which it has been handled by DEFRA and the Minister for Local Environment, Marine and Animal Welfare. Does the Secretary of State agree that the only danger is that we shall talk ourselves into a crisis when one is not warranted?

David Miliband: I should like to enjoy the confidence in and praise for DEFRA’s work that the hon. Gentleman and others have expressed for as long as possible, but I do not wish to tempt fate.

The hon. Gentleman is right to say that the British public are taking a long, hard, sober look at the situation and drawing sensible conclusions. It is also important that the House is sending a relatively united message, and I commend the hon. Gentleman and other Members of Parliament for that. I believe that one or two Members have visited the site—I know that the right hon. Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer) has done so—and have seen the co-ordinated work that is being done locally.

The best thing that we can do for public confidence is obviously to stamp out the disease, and that is what we are determined to do.

Mr. Henry Bellingham (North-West Norfolk) (Con): The Secretary of State is aware that I represent a very large number of Bernard Matthews staff and that many of my constituents work in other poultry-producing farms. I was pleased to hear what he said about the inoculation of poultry workers throughout East Anglia. Further to questions from my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Angela Browning), does he share my concern about those free range producers who are now facing lockdown? Does he agree that their status as organic free range producers should not suffer any consequences as a result of events beyond their control?

David Miliband: The hon. Gentleman has raised a detailed but important point, which I am glad he has put on the record, although for reasons I will explain I may need to correct it. He raised the question of organic status, which is critical for organic farmers. There is no question but that that needs to be protected. My recollection is that there is three months’ worth of protection of that organic status. That is important in this case. I hope that that offers some reassurance to organic farmers in the hon. Gentleman's constituency.

It may help if I reiterate one point. While it is tempting to leap to the language of vaccination and inoculation, the best protection against the transfer of avian influenza is protective clothing. All the advice that I have had from the vets and scientists who attended the Cobra meeting this morning and the meeting in my room this afternoon is that that is the first line of defence, and an effective line of defence, too.

Mr. Owen Paterson (North Shropshire) (Con): Is a clade analysis of this particular virus being undertaken? If so, will the Secretary of State publish the results?

5 Feb 2007 : Column 587

David Miliband: I did not catch what the hon. Gentleman said, so either he can write to me or perhaps Mr. Speaker will call him again.

Mr. Paterson: A clade is a particular strain of the virus. Is an analysis of the clade being undertaken?

David Miliband: I congratulate the hon. Gentleman—I am completely stumped by the googly that he has bowled me. I have not noticed that in any of the voluminous briefing that has been sent to me. The watching dozens in the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs will be petrified at the prospect that he has found something out that I have not. I will find out and write to him. Perhaps it will be of interest to the whole House if I place a copy of my answer in the Library, so that we can all deepen our understanding of the matter.

Bob Spink (Castle Point) (Con): The right hon. Gentleman is aware that Tamiflu and general antivirals will be of little use if this virus mutates to cross species. What action are the Government taking to increase the capacity for the development and production of specific vaccines in order to protect human health if there is a cross-species mutation?

David Miliband: I think that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health addressed that matter yesterday and on previous occasions. All the scientific advice is that it is very difficult to develop a specific vaccine until the disease has started, so we are in a chicken and egg situation.

Mr. Andrew Lansley (South Cambridgeshire) (Con): H5N1.

David Miliband: The hon. Gentleman shouts out “H5N1.” The danger of the pandemic involves a mutation between a human form of flu and the H5N1. It is that mutation that is difficult.

Michael Fabricant (Lichfield) (Con): I am grateful to the Secretary of State for the reassurance that he has given the hon. Members for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Flello) and for Staffordshire, Moorlands (Charlotte Atkins). The Secretary of State may be aware that the trucks that are being used for delivery have tarpaulin covers. What assurance can he give us that those tarpaulin covers are secure? In high winds, which thankfully we
5 Feb 2007 : Column 588
do not have today, tarpaulin covers become loose. Why cannot we have vehicles that are fully covered in metal to ensure that the sort of waste that the hon. Member for Staffordshire, Moorlands mentioned does not cause problems in this and other instances?

David Miliband: The hon. Gentleman conjures up an image of flapping tarpaulins as lorries trek down the motorway or even down the A34. I can assure him that these covers are tightly and strictly tied down at several points along the length of the lorry—I am happy to send him a diagram, if that will help, detailing the type of knot that is used. Clearly, it is strongly in our interest to use the highest-quality lorries. We are advised that the lorries that are being used are fit for purpose and are appropriate for that function. They do their job admirably, so I hope that I have provided further reassurance for the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Shailesh Vara (North-West Cambridgeshire) (Con): To pursue the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point (Bob Spink), the Secretary of State mentioned that the Tamiflu vaccination for human influenza has been offered to everyone involved. He is nodding his head, but I urge him to look at the script of the statement that was given to hon. Members. I have a copy of a reply from the Minister of State, Department of Health, the right hon. Member for Doncaster, Central (Ms Winterton), who said:

May I inquire why, if a vaccine does exist, it has not been given to those who are involved in this tragic incident?

David Miliband: There are three things to say in response to the hon. Gentleman. First, the seasonal flu vaccine has been offered to the workers in this case. Secondly, the hon. Gentleman described Tamiflu as a vaccination, but that is not technically correct. [ Interruption. ] Just a sec—what I said in my statement was that it was an antiviral. He will find that it is correct to say that it is an antiviral treatment. Thirdly, there is the issue to which he referred. Our scientific and other advice is that protective clothing is the first line of defence, but it is right to offer the antiviral, too. We have not judged it necessary to utilise the other stocks that are available, because they are judged not to be necessary.

5 Feb 2007 : Column 589

Orders of the Day

UK Borders Bill

[Relevant documents: the Fifth Report from the Home Affairs Committee, Session 2005-06, on Immigration Control (HC 775), and the Government’s reply thereto (Cm 6910).]

Order for Second Reading read.

4.27 pm

The Minister for Immigration, Citizenship and Nationality (Mr. Liam Byrne): I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

Last summer, my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary launched the most radical shake-up ever of our immigration system. He was clear, open, honest and frank about the system’s strengths and weaknesses and how he believed it needed to change. Since last July, the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, North (Joan Ryan), and I have travelled the length and breadth of the UK discussing with front-line staff, as well as local business communities and public services, the way in which they think things should change in the years to come. As a result, over the next few months, we will introduce five important reforms that we will announce shortly.

First, we will introduce a new strategy to bring together government to tackle illegal immigration in the round, as recommended last year by my right hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr. Denham) and the Home Affairs Committee. Secondly, we will provide new resources to help double the budget for enforcement and for the removal of individuals who break our immigration laws. Thirdly, we will introduce new technology to count everybody in and out of Britain. Fourthly, we will establish stronger international partnerships because, in an era of global migration, it has become impossible for nation states to manage the issue on their own. Fifthly, the Bill will provide new powers for the border and immigration agency, which will go live in shadow form on 1 April this year.

Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome) (LD): The hon. Gentleman is not going to introduce something advocated by Liberal Democrat and Conservative Members—a single, integrated border force, encompassing police functions as well as the functions discharged by the immigration and nationality directorate. Can he explain why he rejected that option and whether it remains under consideration for introduction?

Mr. Byrne: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for those remarks and I hope that we will debate the matter he mentions both this afternoon and in Committee. I kept an open mind about proposals on it. I know that some of the plans from all parts of the House have been developed at the ideas stage but not necessarily at the detail stage. I am a keen reader of many Conservative publications, such as those of their national and international policy strategy group, and I noticed that the Conservatives recently said that they were aiming to make more detailed proposals, but at some point in the future. Although this matter has been
5 Feb 2007 : Column 590
talked about for many years on the Opposition Benches, it appears that details are still to emerge.

I addressed the matter with an open mind, but at a time when the terrorist threat to the country is so severe, I cannot justify a wholesale reorganisation—and disruption—of those agencies that are currently charged with securing our border. I recently visited the United States of America, which has embarked on such a reorganisation. Five years later, it is still not complete. Of course, when border agencies are reorganised, that simply creates another set of touch-points with agencies in-country. I think that one of the arguments that will emerge over the coming months is that, in our modern era of global migration and mass movement, it is difficult to separate the work of organisations that operate at the border from that of organisations that are responsible for in-country enforcement—or, indeed, from that of agencies such as the Serious Organised Crime Agency, which are responsible for helping secure our borders overseas.

The Bill gives us many of the measures that the proposals that the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath) recommends would deliver, but without the disorganisation—without the creation of the prospect of disorder at the border.

Several hon. Members rose—

Mr. Byrne: I will give way once I have made more progress.

The Bill should not be dismissed as another immigration Bill. It is much more ambitious than that. It is part of an ambitious plan of reform that has been co-authored by many immigration and nationality directorate front-line staff. I do not believe—and nor do our officers and other staff—that we can secure our borders in this world of global migration without three measures: first, greater powers for front-line officers to help them secure the border; secondly, a concerted attack on organised crime, which might account for as much as three quarters of illegal entry into Britain; and, thirdly, a much more robust approach not only to detecting and removing those who are in the country illegally, but to attacking the causes of illegal immigration, which are the exploitation of vulnerable illegal labour by racketeers.

Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock) (Lab): I wanted to interrupt the Minister a moment ago when he was talking about the local border authorities and the immigration authorities, which he said dealt with matters internally—I forget the precise term that he used. I sent to him last week an example of the lack of such joined-up administration. Some people who were illegally coming into the country were stopped by the Port of Tilbury police. The immigration officials at the port of Tilbury said that it was a matter for Stansted, and when Stansted was communicated with by my Port of Tilbury police, it said, “Let them go.” That scenario powerfully demonstrates the need for one joined-up co-ordinated border police force. Can the Minister explain what happened in that scenario? I shall refer to it later, if I catch the eye of Mr. Deputy Speaker.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Michael Lord): Order. I think that the hon. Gentleman has already mentioned the matter.

5 Feb 2007 : Column 591

Mr. Byrne: I recently wrote back to my hon. Friend and I hope that he received that letter. I do not think that there is any excuse for the incident. However, the kind of problem that it presents would not have been remedied by the creation of a single border force. It is the kind of problem that would have been remedied by existing organisations having the necessary powers to do their job and by them benefiting from the increased resources that we propose.

Mr. Neil Gerrard (Walthamstow) (Lab): One theme that runs through the Bill is the giving of a wide range of increased powers to immigration officers. We are giving them more and more powers that are quasi-police powers, yet there are not the same sort of remedies for complaints against, and supervision of, immigration officers as there are for police officers. Should that not be considered in the Bill so that it is understood what someone can do if an immigration officer uses the new powers, because if a police officer were using them there would be a clear route for complaint and supervision?

Mr. Byrne: My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. I shall come to precisely some of the protections that it is important to put in place in the next few months and in the years to come. However, there is a broader point that I hope he will welcome. If the IND is to become a stronger agency, it must become more open and accountable not only to this place but to the public. We propose to change the structure and pattern of regulation and inspection that the IND currently enjoys because I do not believe that 11 different regulators and inspectors are big enough and strong enough on their own to hold it to account.

Dr. Tony Wright (Cannock Chase) (Lab): I like very much what the Bill says about increased powers of deportation, but 14 per cent. of the prison population is made up of foreign nationals from 170 different countries. It looks as though we are jailers to the world. As the Minister knows, there is great fear about the possible influx of criminal gangs from eastern Europe because of the enlargement of the European Union. Will he assure us that the free movement of labour in the EU does not mean the free movement of criminal labour?

Mr. Byrne: It is extremely important that, as part of any enlargement, there is greater co-operation between the police and frontier forces of accession states, and I am glad to say that we have enjoyed tremendous co-operation from our colleagues in new member states. We have benefited from their expertise on our front line—our primary and secondary lines—in the UK, and later, I shall talk about some of the measures that we will put in place to expedite the cases of foreign national prisoners in our jails who actually should be at home.

Mr. John Redwood (Wokingham) (Con): How many seaports and airports currently have seven-day-a-week, 24-hour cover—surveillance and personnel in attendance—and how many will need that cover to get control of our borders?

5 Feb 2007 : Column 592

Mr. Byrne: I recently provided a parliamentary answer on that matter, and I will happily dig out the Hansard reference for the right hon. Gentleman. As he knows, in an island nation, there will always be ports that do not warrant 24-hour, seven-day-a-week cover. At the last election, I remember listening on the radio to the right hon. Member for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin), who is not in his place, as John Humphrys was interrogating him remorselessly on the plans for precisely how a ring of steel might operate. The conclusion that the right hon. Gentleman reached was, I think, the same as mine: that patrols of entry and of exit will have to be conducted on an intelligence basis, to a degree. Systems such as e-borders, which, through access to advanced passenger information, will assist us in counting people in and out, will help, but there will not be much of a substitute in the near future for intelligence-led controls.

Mr. John Denham (Southampton, Itchen) (Lab): As my hon. Friend knows, the Select Committee on Home Affairs, under successive Chairmen, has supported the broad principle of a border force. He has set out the reasons why he does not want to do that now, but would it not be sensible to use the Bill at least to align the powers of immigration and customs officers, so that our front-line staff at the borders have the same sets of powers and can be used interchangeably on different operations? Short of a border force, that would allow much more flexible use of our vital front-line staff.

Mr. Byrne: It is possible, under the existing measures in the border management programme, to undertake a degree of alignment in operational capability, but the measures that we propose are a start towards introducing such alignment. Following the work that we did with our partners and front-line staff, those were the powers that they believed to be important.

Several hon. Members rose—

Mr. Byrne: I shall make more progress before I give way again.

In clauses 1 to 4, we seek to provide additional powers to front-line immigration officers at border control, in order that they can do their job. At the border, for the first time, we propose that immigration officers should have the power to detain individuals who are the subject of an arrest warrant or who may be liable to arrest by a police constable. The Bill recognises that the role of the immigration officer is changing and is increasingly important in the wider battle for security.

My hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow (Mr. Gerrard) asked about some of the measures on oversight that will become important in the months to come. We will need to modernise some of the guidance that is provided for immigration officers, at present set out in chapters 31 and 38 of their instructions. We will also have to develop statutory rules for short-term holding facilities, including for holding rooms. All immigration detention facilities are subject to independent oversight by Her Majesty’s chief inspector of prisons. In addition, we have asked independent monitoring boards to set up mechanisms so that they may provide oversight too.

Next Section Index Home Page