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I have always advocated that in this example the above powers should be discharged by one all-inclusive and all-embracing agency. I checked the ACPO position as recently as the end of last week. Its firm view, which I understand has been communicated to the Government, is exactly in line with what I have just outlined. ACPO would support an all-embracing, in-totality organisation to cover our borders. Not surprisingly, the association has reported that two or three of the 43 forces in England and Wales are less than supportive of the view. Understandably, perhaps, they are unwilling to give up their quite considerable involvement in the policing of ports and airports. To some extent, although I cannot gainsay it myself, I am given to understand that this is as much a financial point as anything else in that the forces would lose their budgetary base as a result. That could be addressed in other ways. But the
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This morning, your Lordships Sub-Committee F of the European Union Committee took evidence from the Minister of State for Home Affairs. She saidadmittedly in a different context, but in one that is tangential to thisthat the Governments policy is to maintain strong borders. That statement is self-evident and flows through much of what we are going to discuss. However, I think that there is a nettle to be grasped. If we are going to maintain strong borders, it is wrong to try to brigade together disparate groups and treat them, if you like, as chalk and cheese. That fosters divisions within the organisation, invites partisan and protectionist attitudes and allows issues to fall between the cracks.
In papers that I have been shown and which I believe have been communicated to the Government, ACPO recommends that the force should be headed by a police officer. I am not so sure about that. If you take a series of what at the moment are separate organisations and roll them together into one, the early stages are important, so it might not be the best thing to have a police officer in charge. However, if counterterrorism is as important as we all believe, perhaps the first appointment could come from the police. I leave a question mark over that, as I do not necessarily follow that element of the ACPO argument.
We may touch on the key duties later, but let me cite the recommendations made in the Stevens report, which I endorse. They are to provide effective counterterrorism measures, combat other serious and organised crime, prevent the importation of illegal drugs and illegal weapons, prevent smuggling in order to protect the UK tax base, prevent illegal immigration and cover issues touching on environmental control and protection. That is quite a long list but it is by no means daunting. However, to discharge it all, if one accepts that as the premise, I believehere I shall repeat myself, but only brieflythat one must have a unified command and a unified composition within that command. One must have, of course, unified technology, including IT, and one must have, importantly, unified conditions of service so as to attract and retain the best-quality personnel within it. A move to that obviously could not be taken in one gigantic step; one would have to move through a series of rational steps towards a clear and well defined goal.
I shall not weary the Committee further. I think that I have said enough to indicate why I support the amendment: we should have an all-embracing border agency or border force, which should involve all the agencies, including policing.
Lord Roberts of Llandudno: I support the Liberal Democrat amendment which is far more positive than the amendment proposed by the Conservative Party. Our amendment states that the primary function should be,
That, above everything else, should have first place in a list of functions. The Conservative amendment contains a lucky dip of the various functions that might be
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Surely that is a kind of tabloid headline function to send them all home. But that is not what the Bill is about. We need a civilised approach to a difficult problem and I suggest that the Liberal Democrat amendment is superior in its approach and presentation to that contained in the amendment proposed by the Official Opposition.
Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer: My noble friend Lord Avebury gave a good explanation of our position, which has just been reinforced by my noble friend Lord Roberts. I should like to ask the Minister a couple of questions. The first question concerns the very real threats to this country that are almost never talked about. The Minister is tasked to deal with terrorism issues which, quite rightly, are in the forefront of his mind, but threats to the general population can occur through health risks and through animal health risks. If we were back in the years of foot and mouth, that issue would be at the forefront of noble Lords minds in this House when debating borders and border forces. How will the new force be more effective in dealing with such issues? I hope that it will be because there has been a continual failure to deal with the smuggling of meat products, which was one of the issues that led to foot and mouth.
My second question concerns the risks that a physical border is unable to deal with: that is, issues around e-crime and e-terrorism. As the Government, rightly, physically strengthen our land borders with personnel to deal with particular issues, what effect will this have on pushing crime and terrorism on to the internet; for example, by encouraging terrorists to go down the completely different route of cyber attacks as opposed to physical attacks? While these attacks may not threaten life in the same way, the results economically could be devastating to this country.
Lord Hylton: I am not at all clear how either of these two amendments would make for a distinct boundary between the proposed new police force and the existing police forces. Amendment 2 is an improvement on Amendment 1, but even that contains paragraph (c),
That can occur anywhere within the country. It does not always emerge at the ports of entry. It seems to me that there will be a lack of clarity and a lack of a clear chain of command. I am very doubtful about both amendments.
Taking up the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, I should have thought that there would not be a great deal of difficulty in dealing with the preventing and detecting of human trafficking by agreement between police forces, because, as he says, they are to be found from time to time in different parts of the country. One of the major concerns of course is at the ports, particularly at the airports.
There is currently very good work being done by small groups of police. I am happy to say the Metropolitan Police are doing very good work with Romania that is funded by the European Commission. That is excellent work and I cannot see that it would be very difficult if that went either to the border police force or stayed with the special group of the Metropolitan Police by agreement. Work is done across police forces already and to have it in this UK border police force would not seem to me to prevent existing police forces from doing this work.
I ought to declare an interest, which I have declared before, as a vice-president of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Trafficking of Women and Children. One of the reasons why I support this UK border police force is to have a police force which is, as part of its work, committed to dealing with this very evil trade of trafficking.
It does cross my mind that the Government have created a very serious omission by not having a border police force. I find it very sad that it is not in the Bill, but it may be that it will be said that it will take some time to achieve. The fact that it may take some time for it to be set up and be operational does not seem to be a good reason for not having it in place as part of the law, although it may take time for it actually to be up and working. What is sad about the Bill is that it does not even contemplate the possibility. That is a sad reflection on an aspiration that should be up front at this moment.
I am not sure whether I support Amendment 1 or Amendment 2. It is rather sad that the two parties opposite have not got together to put forward a composite arrangement for the UK border police force, because what comes in each of them seems to be very good common sense. What is necessary is to have the police force. I find it sad that the Government have not thought it necessary to do so.
Baroness Hanham: Before the Minister responds, I had hoped that some of the Members of the Committee would widen out the debate into the question of clause stand part. Will the Minister give us some clear indication of the Governments view on their proposals, as laid out in Clauses 1 to 36? With regard to the customs powers and the revenue powers and people that are being passed down, it is not clear from the Bill whether they will be one and the same person and whether the powers will be absorbed into a single power so far as the officers are concerned, nor how the Government envisage this aspect of their proposals being carried out. In moving the amendment about the police force,
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I want to make it clear that we accept in principle that UKBA officials should be able to exercise all the revenue and customs functions that are related to HMRC operations at the borders. That is my response to the noble Lord, Lord Hylton; when we are talking about human trafficking, we are talking about its detection and prevention at the borders, not within the United Kingdom as a whole.
It is a corollary of having a unified border force that we have these exercises of functions by UKBA officials of what was formerly the sole prerogative of HMRC. General customs matters, which are defined in Clause 1 and exclude matters relating to tax in particular, will be the proper responsibility of designated immigration officers under Clause 3. The designated officer would have the same powers as an HMRC officer with regard to general customs matters, and those include the functions listed in any other enactment except those listed in Clause 1(2). This gives me the opportunity to say that we have concerns about Clauses 16 and 17. That is why we put our names to the amendments leaving out those clauses.
I do not know whether the Committee will have seen an article in the Guardian today quoting a paper written by the former Whitehall security and intelligence co-ordinator, Sir David Omand, in which he says that the security services will have to be given access to a sweeping range of personal data. There are already enormous databases, such as the passenger name records that have to be kept by airlines, that include millions of innocent people. The sharing of personal data between HMRC and UKBA may be a comparatively small step towards Sir Davids ultimate goal, but it is Parliaments duty to build in ever more powerful safeguards as state agencies accumulate and share increasing amounts of potentially sensitive data about individuals. We would like to hear something from the Minister about how that is to be achieved in the Bill.
Lord West of Spithead: I should make clear at the outset that in speaking to this group I do not regard the decisions on the various clauses in this part to be consequential on any decision on Amendment 1. I am, however, sure that it has been helpful for the Committee to allow a wide debate on the issues contained in Part 1 by having them grouped together in this way.
I am very grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, for her explanation of why the Opposition have tabled this amendment, and to the noble Lord, Lord Avebury for his useful contribution. It is good for us to make our position clear from the start as the Government did in advance of Second Reading debate. There is a wide range of options from a gargantuan organisation that combines the UK Border Agency with thousands of police officers and parts of other agencies to an entirely police-based body which will work in parallel with the UK Border Agency.
The amendment tabled by the Opposition is similar to the one spoken to on 9 October 2007, for what was then the UK Borders Bill. From a brief comparison between the two, I can see that the Oppositions thinking has not been spelt out in any greater detail. That is a shame when the Government have put forward solid and reasoned proposals for the functional and management changes that we need to strengthen the arrangements for immigration and customs at our borders. These changes are ready to be implemented as soon as the Bill is passed.
The new border force has already been stood up and started in its shadow form since April 2008 and is waiting for these things to be put properly into force. I am sure that the House will want to weigh the benefits of immediate, well-grounded and well-planned change against a much more generalised aspiration for a long-term future.
I know that the House will agree that the protection of this countrys borders is of vital importance to our national security and the well-being of our citizens. That is why the Government have already taken steps to strengthen and integrate operational activity at the border, bringing immigration and customs functions together in a way which is properly connected to local policing. This work started out as a discussion in July 2007, in a Statement by the Prime Minister, just after the attacks on Tiger Tiger and Glasgow airport. One issue that I looked at was border security, with a resultant Cabinet Office study, Security in a Global Hub.
Abroad and at ports and airports up and down the country, border force operational staff are working on a daily basis to protect this country from those who traffic people. Trafficking of drugs, the import of dangerous guns, knives and wild animal meatsand I have some statistics on thatwere also discussed this morning. At the same time, those staff provide a welcome to tourists and business travellers and a service to businesses that import goods and drive our economy. Far from what the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, has said, the police are already fully involved. I will come onto that in more detail later.
It might be useful initially to provide some examples of the way in which the agency is already delivering real and practical improvements, making our nation and its people safer, since it was stood up, in shadow form, in April 2008. There has been flexible deployment of our 9,000 border guards to search for and seize record quantities of Class A drugs, dangerous weapons, people hidden in trucks and trailers, and an estimated saving of about £150 million to tax revenue. We have begun cross-training 2,600 frontline officers in screening more passengers travelling to and from the United Kingdom to reduce waiting times over peak summer periods.
There is a new deal for port operators through service level agreements that reduce duplication, improve the experience of customers and make us more effective. Police expertise has been embedded at both the strategic leveland Chief Constable, Roger Baker, is a member of the executive board of UKBAand at the operational level, with more than 280 police officers seconded to UKBA in local immigration teams up and down our country.
Similarly, UKBA staff are embedded in police countertrafficking teams at Heathrow and Sheffield. Our intelligence capability has been linked through the national border targeting centrewhere police and UKBA staff screen passenger informationand in police counterterrorism and organised crime units. Our enhanced port security teams have increased significantly the number of referrals to the Security Service following the delivery of counterterrorist training and online updates. Cutting-edge technology has been used to screen more than 3.5 million vehicles for the illegal importation of nuclear and radiological materials.
The Government are not against making structural change in the area of law enforcement and policing where there is a compelling case to do so. Take the example of the Serious Organised Crime Agency, which brought together the four agencies which had hitherto dealt with organised crimethe National Crime Squad, the National Criminal Intelligence Service, part of HMRC and part of the Immigration Service. A Cabinet Office review had identified some overlap of functions and unclear lines of accountability between these agencies. A White Paper and a substantial Bill followed, leading to the establishment of SOCA in April 2006, which was designed to be more than the sum of its parts.
This is relevant to the present debate. The establishment of SOCA involved a huge amount of work, but it was a much more straightforward process than establishing a single UK border police force. SOCA was about drawing together four national agencies. The border policing picture is significantly more complicated; I will return to this complexity point shortly.
In other important areas relating to public protection, we have not pursued major structural change. Take, for example, counterterrorism policing. We have not established a national counterterrorism police force, nor do we intend to. Our approach is different: working with the leadership of the police service, we have supported and underpinned, with record investment, the development of what has become known as the police counterterrorism network. This comprises regionally based specialised police units, known as counterterrorism units and counterterrorism intelligence units, which are increasingly integrated and co-ordinated at a national level. The network is providing the benefits of a national enterprise without, crucially, this becoming dislocated from local policing or disturbing the critical settlement of accountability for policing in this country.
Last years Green Paper on police reform consulted on what model of policing, working alongside the UK Border Agency, would work best in terms of increasing security at our borders and improving public protection. That consultation did not throw up a consensus view among the key stakeholders on a preferred model for policing at the border. The formal stated position of the Association of Chief Police Officers was in favour of a single national border police service. The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, asked that question, and the noble Lord, Lord Dear, referred to it. But ACPO acknowledged that this would need considerable further planning and development as a model and would have the potential to bring with it significant additional costs. The noble Lord, Lord Dear, was wrong about it
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The Association of Police Authorities took a completely different view. It was very strongly opposed to the creation of a single national border force. In my brief period as a Minister, I find it interesting how often the views of ACPO and others differ on these issues.
We have reflected very carefully on the thoughtful engagement on this issue from our key stakeholders. As I have said, the police are already fully involved and I have referred to a number of areas where they are. We acknowledge that more can be done to improve our border securityas always, more can be done. We are therefore working with the leadership of the police service to develop an even greater enhancement of our already close working arrangements, of the collaboration between police forces and between the police and the border force. There is, coincidentally, a day-long workshop happening today, involving the police service, the border force, Home Office officials and others to work on proposals for making even more practical improvements.
Our intention is to pursue a phased approach to this significant enhancement of our border security, concentrating first on counterterrorism. There are three elements to this: first, exploiting the increasingly integrated approach being brought about through the development of the police counterterrorism network, about which I spoke a little earlier, and its links with local Special Branch; secondly, the enhanced national co-ordination of specialist policing assets; and, thirdly, strengthening even further the increasingly good working relationship between the border force and the police service, including through more joint working on operations and intelligence sharing.
Baroness Hanham: I have been listening with fascination to the Ministers thesis. Why are the police still being left to one side? The purpose of the Bill as we understand it is to ensure that all revenue, customs and immigration functions are able to be carried out by particular officerssome may be separate, some may be not. It is clear that that is the direction that the Government want. The police are still being left to one side despite what the Minister is saying.
Lord West of Spithead: I disagree with the noble Baroness. I was hoping to get across how closely the police work with the border force in every area and at every levelstrategic, operational and tactical. You do not have to be formed up as a unit to achieve those things. We are very clear that it is into the area covered by this Bill that we should put our current energies and finite resources of people and money. It will provide the advantages of robust collaboration, but without the drawbacks of pursuing the significant structural change that would be involved in establishing a new national police force. Those drawbacks would be substantial. I shall come to them shortly, because it is important to explain these things and talk them through. Just on collaboration, we have proposed measures in the Policing and Crime Bill, presently in another place, which clarify and strengthen the legal framework for police collaboration and which, as I understand it, have received broad support.
As we have heard already today, there are very different views on border policing issues, but our bottom-line judgment is that we have not yet seen a robust, compelling case for the operational benefits to be derived from creating a new national border police force, such as would outweigh the potential risks and delays involved. The case for fundamental structural change has not been made.
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