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2 July 2007 : Column GC31

2 July 2007 : Column GC31

Grand Committee

Monday, 2 July 2007.

The Committee met at half-past three.

[The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Viscount Allenby of Megiddo) in the Chair.]

UK Borders Bill

(First Day)

The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Viscount Allenby of Megiddo): If there is a Division in the Chamber while we are sitting, the Committee will adjourn as soon as the Division Bells are rung and resume after 10 minutes.

Baroness Anelay of St Johns moved Amendment No. 1:

(a) detecting and removing illegal overstayers;(b) protecting UK borders;(c) investigating employers of illegal immigrants;(d) preventing and detecting human trafficking; and(e) such other functions as the Secretary of State may by order determine.(a) the Immigration Service;(b) HM Revenue and Customs;(c) the Serious Organised Crime Agency;(d) specialist port police forces;(e) the Metropolitan Police Security Command;(f) the Security Services; and(g) such other organisations as the Secretary of State shall by order determine.(a) publish proposals;(b) consult members of the public and stakeholders; and(c) lay a draft before each House of Parliament.(a) the Metropolitan Police Commissioner;(b) representatives of the Association of Chief Police Officers;(c) the Director General of the Immigration and Nationality Directorate;(d) representatives of the Serious Organised Crime Agency;(e) representatives of the Association of Police Authorities; and(f) such other people as the Secretary of State shall determine.”

The noble Baroness said: I shall speak to Amendments Nos. 49 and 62 as well. I see Amendment No. 2 in this group, which is in the name of the Liberal Democrats, as helpful to the wider debate on these matters, although I do not accept it.

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My amendments will create a UK border police force which we believe could more effectively police and safeguard our borders than has been the case in recent years. There are currently six agencies dealing with our borders; it is clear that the system is unsatisfactory. We seek to bring those disparate groups of people together so that they can be managed more coherently and the powers can be shared.

At the moment, different people exercise different powers. It is often the case, particularly at small courts, that the degree of protection required is not always available. We would ensure that the 10,000 or so people who are currently employed in different agencies will be brought together as the basis of a new force. Specialisation of police services has proved effective elsewhere in the Home Office estate. Criminals involved in people trafficking and international terrorism are ever-more resourceful, sophisticated and pernicious. We need a unified force to detect illegal immigration, prevent the misery of the trade in human beings that we all abhor and, above all, to prevent the entry into the United Kingdom of terrorists or suspected terrorists.

We are considering in some detail whether the new force should be part of SOCA. Ministers will be all too well aware that we asked the noble Lord, Lord Stevens, to look at the details of our proposals and we are very grateful to him for having undertaken that work. He said that it is essential that Britain should have secure borders and that one element of that must be a dedicated and effective border police force. Indeed, both the previous and current Commissioners of the Metropolitan Police are also in favour. So is the Home Affairs Committee of another place, which recommended in its 2001 report on border controls that,

That was all of six years ago. So far, the Government appear to have failed to take effective action on those recommendations.

There has been a lot of talk about ID cards as the main solution. They are not. We believe that they would waste billions of pounds without performing one of the most basic tasks, that of securing the borders. Although we recognise the role of identity cards within the immigration system, that is very different from a national identity register, which is a much wider issue.

My amendments were debated in another place, but I believe that it is important to address them here so that this Committee may have the opportunity to comment upon them. This is part of a consultation process that we have initiated. On that basis alone, the amendments would be probing even if they had been debated on the Floor of the House instead of here in Grand Committee.

Any country serious about its security should have properly policed borders. I beg to move.

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Lord Avebury moved, as an amendment to Amendment No. 1, Amendment No. 2:

“(a) protecting UK borders;(b) strengthening frontier protection against threats to the security, social and economic integrity and environment of the United Kingdom;(c) preventing and detecting human trafficking;(d) maintaining and improving a safe, ordered and secure environment in ports; and(e) such other functions as the Secretary of State may by order determine.”

The noble Lord said: We certainly agree with the principle of the noble Baroness’s amendment, that a unified border force should be created. It is Liberal Democrat party policy to do that, because we would like to see united the present border control functions of HM Revenue and Customs, the Immigration and Nationality Directorate, which has become the Border and Immigration Agency, and the police, who cover various functions at ports and airports. We would integrate all those agencies into a stronger and more co-ordinated national border force. We accept that major crime is no longer, even essentially, a local issue, and that the modern criminal is likely to be linked, either directly or indirectly, to international networks, and that the UK’s border control arrangements are currently under disparate control structures such as I have mentioned—the police, the Customs and the Immigration Service—and are not as well co-ordinated as they might be.

However, there are some differences between our proposals and those which were laid before Members of the Committee by the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay. We want to see a proper integrated presence at the borders and the airports. That is what the focus of a border force should be to secure the United Kingdom’s borders. A Liberal Democrat border force would strengthen our borders against terrorism, drug-smuggling and organised immigration crime, and it might even include a maritime interdiction capability to work alongside Royal Navy patrols and perhaps include also the Maritime and Coastguard Agency. It would also take on the responsibilities for incoming goods, which are currently exercised by trading standards.

The noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, mentioned the reports of the House of Commons Select Committee that dealt with the creation of a co-ordinated national border force, particularly the report of January 2001, which highlighted the problems that arise from having this variety of agencies carry out controls at the borders and the ports. The committee reported:

That is a pretty stark indictment of the present arrangements, which a single frontier force would do much to counter. It would provide a more co-ordinated fight against organised crime, a larger pooled budget for development, acquisition and use of advanced technology, closer integration of the computer databases that they each have to use, and communication systems and increased flexibility in deploying resources.

I recognise that some of the benefits that you would expect to see from a UK border force can be achieved by the Government’s border management programme, about which perhaps the Minister will have more to say in reply to this debate. It brings together the border control agencies to discuss joint ways in which to work. The example that was given by a Minister in another place is that at Gatwick, immigration officers are now acting as the primary interventions agency on behalf of other agents. Customs and police officers are providing the BIA with specific information about people and immigration officers, who see every person going through Gatwick airport, are identifying people who may be of interest to Customs and passing those persons across to it. In freight search operations, the BIA and Customs both have teams, and existing legislation allows officers to act as immigration officers in specified circumstances. That is particularly the case when they find people hidden in vehicles that they are searching for contraband.

These are all good steps towards more integrated working but, surely, if the BIA, Customs and police were operating under unified management, there would be economies at the management level and at the coal face where the officers are working because of the greater interoperability of staff engaged at present on three different but closely related groups of tasks. The UK border force would act under legislation which, I accept, would need to be drafted—we have not done that in the amendments that we are considering this afternoon. If the Government were disposed to accept either of the solutions offered by the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, or ourselves, a considerable amount of extra work would be needed to put flesh on the bones.

The legislation would confer on the UK border force all the powers that are at present exercised by the police, Customs and immigration officers in protecting our borders. The legislation would give them the flexibility and cohesiveness that co-operation between three different agencies with overlapping functions could never wholly achieve. The Government estimate that it would cost £104 million to provide 24-hour cover at all ports of entry to the UK, which may or may not be operationally necessary. A more comprehensive service would be possible without any additional cost through the improved use of resources that would follow the unification of the three existing agencies into a border force. I hope that if the Government are not convinced by our arguments, they will at least say that

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independent management advice will be taken on both solutions proposed this afternoon. I beg to move.

Lord Hylton: I welcome the concept behind these two amendments, particularly because it would overcome some of the difficulties that the Bill poses of giving powers of arrest and detention to people who are not constables.

On the drafting of Amendment No. 1, I question whether in subsection (2)(a),

should be put at the top of the list. I understand that an enforced removal is already estimated to cost £11,000 per person removed.

As for the drafting of subsection (3) and the bodies to be consulted in subsection (5) of Amendment No. 1, the British Transport Police, which does the policing of the whole rail system in the country, seems to have been omitted.

Finally, among current problems, at some ports of entry there is alleged at the moment to be no one on duty at all.

3.45 pm

Baroness Carnegy of Lour: I support the amendment of my noble friend Lady Anelay. It seems to me very important that the Government should think hard about this matter, particularly today, when the public may be more aware than they were of the importance of knowing who we have in this country and who we do not—who lives here and who does not. No one is more anxious to ensure that we have properly controlled borders than those who have come here legally as immigrants or those whose forebears came here before them.

I live in Scotland and I want to say a word more about this matter in connection with Amendment No. 3. Until Saturday, I think that there was rather less strong feeling on this subject in Scotland than there is today. The explosion in Glasgow struck home very much with the people of Scotland, who may be feeling more a part of the United Kingdom in this respect than previously.

My noble friend’s amendment would establish a UK border police force and, in some ways, it would be a simple way of doing what needs to be done. The consultation that she recommends would be very important—particularly consultation with the public, who would come to see the best and most secure way of proceeding. It is a very big subject and I shall be interested to hear what the Minister has to say, but I think that my noble friend has made a good suggestion. Of course, I was interested in what the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, said. He is talking about the same thing, but my noble friend’s amendment is probably the right one.

The Earl of Listowel: I have listened to this debate with interest and have been put in mind of a report on Frontex, the European border agency, produced a few years ago by Sub-Committee F of your Lordships’ European Union Committee. The report looked, in

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particular, at the possibility of a European border guard and rejected that option, but Members of the Committee may find interesting parallels in it. I hope that that is helpful.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: I am extremely grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, for putting forward her amendment and to all Members of the Committee who have contributed to the debate thus far. I readily concede that this is an important debate, and certainly the issues raised are of considerable importance, not least since the events that took place towards the end of last week. No doubt, as the noble Baroness, Lady Carnegy of Lour, made clear, those events have focused our minds somewhat.

There have been repeated calls for the creation of a unified body such as a UK border police force and, as the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, said, that was debated extensively in Committee in another place, and rightly so. As my honourable friend the Minister for Immigration, Citizenship and Nationality, Liam Byrne, made clear, the Government certainly retain an open mind regarding the longer term but, at this point, we are not persuaded that the establishment of a UK border police force is necessary.

However, I underline that recent ministerial and other changes indicate the Government’s commitment to drawing on a very broad range of talent to ensure that Ministers get the best advice on protecting the public and on other areas of government. We believe that the most effective means of strengthening our borders is to continue to have three distinct agencies focusing on their respective priorities, while working closely together to maximise the opportunities for protecting the public. My honourable friend the Minister in another place drew a comparison with the way in which the Armed Forces are organised.

We would not consider merging these three distinct services with their specialisms, histories and cultures into one, but we insist that they co-ordinate their intelligence and tactical deployment. That is what we need to do here and that is the model that we have adopted for the border agencies. We already have in place a successful joint working structure in the Border Management Programme, to which the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, referred. That has already delivered models for improved intelligence, joint risk assessment and more effective border controls, where each agency can act on behalf of the others to increase drug seizures, reduce people smuggling and, importantly, counter the threat from terrorism.

There are many practical examples of how the current structure works well. In Gatwick, we have immigration officers using Customs powers to identity people smuggling drugs; at the port of Immingham, Customs officers are using immigration powers to search for people being smuggled in freight; and at Blackpool, police are using Customs powers to search for smuggled tobacco. I argue that those are real, tangible results which reduce harm to the UK and the public. To create a single UK border police force would require significant infrastructure changes.

At the moment, I am not sure we could honestly justify that. It would carry additional and significant

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costs and distract attention from dealing with the real business of protecting our borders. We know that the international experience is very mixed. In the US and Canada the creation of single border entities in 2002 has not delivered the benefits that were expected. Indeed, five years later, despite changing the badges of the staff at the border, different offices continue to specialise in terrorism, drugs and illegal immigration. In Australia, Customs officers operate the primary intervention capability on behalf of the immigration department. That operates well, given the unique geographical circumstances that exist in that part of the world and the fact that everyone who travels to Australia has a visa in advance—virtual or otherwise. Those approaches have in common the fact that they do not include police in a border control capacity.

A single border force may be eye-catching, but it ignores the complexity of the challenge.

Lord Dholakia: Has the Minister taken into account the views of the Association of Chief Police Officers or has a consultation taken place with the police? From yesterday's announcement, we now know that the Prime Minister has appointed the noble Lord, Lord Stevens, as an adviser on security at the Met. Surely this is the time to take into account one point of view, that of the police, on whether that is a viable alternative and whether it would be more effective than separate agencies, as the Minister has suggested.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: Yes, we have consulted ACPO in the past. We know that it was uncertain about the benefits of a single agency and we know that it has given the matter further thought. Yes, of course, we continue to listen to our advisers. At the outset, I made the point that we continue to consult with our advisers and experts on this.

A short list of the threats that we face includes terrorism, organised illegal immigration and narcotics smugglers. We have highly skilled specialised individuals to match these threats and overarching structures to meet the challenge. Quite simply, a single border force risks being dysfunctional. Immigration checks at the border must be part of an overall system of immigration control, including visas and in-country checks. Police work needs to be linked to national policing and clearly accountable to the communities it serves. Collection of revenue and the prevention of fraud need to come under the control of the Treasury.

Previously, we set up the Serious Organised Crime Agency, a point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, to unify our efforts against class A drugs and organised immigration crime. That recognised the overlap in this area and demonstrated our commitment to joining up agency resources where there was a clear need to do so.

The border management programme is delivering closer and more effective working between the border agencies. It will bring about a cohesive and integrated border security infrastructure and allow us to maintain the expertise of the individual agencies.

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I argue that people on the front line need legal powers to face up to the challenges now facing the United Kingdom. That is why we have legislated to improve our ability to share information, for example, and why we will press forward to get new powers that address the capability gaps, not the presentation of our border service.

We need to move beyond the idea of concentrating solely on geographically fixed borders. Increasingly, we will need to export our border. We want to prevent problems before they arrive in the UK, not just patch them up afterwards. We have already introduced juxtaposed controls and airline liaison officers who will roll out biometric visas, for example. We are committed to strengthening our borders. We are delivering this by allowing each agency to focus on its respective priorities while unblocking the barriers to deeper inter-agency co-operation. A single border police force is not, at present, what the UK needs.

I think that I have responded to most of the points. Perhaps I missed one raised by the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, about technology. The Government’s e-borders system is of course a multi-agency platform. It will support increased intelligence sharing and joint risk assessment as well as providing for more effective border processing. That can be done, and it works well with the current border management programme. Immigration and customs officers are also already cross-posted at front-line level under that border management programme.

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