Press release

Number 10 Press Briefing - Morning From Tuesday 8 November 2011

This news article was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

From the Prime Minister's spokesperson on: the European Courts of Human Rights, strengthening women's voices and the UK Border Agency (UKBA).

European Courts of Human Rights

Asked for more details on the Cabinet’s discussion of the European Court of Human Rights, the Prime Minister’s Spokesman (PMS) said that the Government had taken over the chair of the Council of Europe, and had various reforms it wanted to see - making sure it focussed on the right cases and dealt with them quickly and efficiently.

Strengthening women’s voices

Asked for more information about the report on strengthening women’s voices the PMS said that it was a consultation that had been underway for some time. The paper published yesterday looked at how the Government could reflect women’s views more effectively during public policy formation.

UK Border Agency (UKBA)

Asked for details of the breach of border control, the PMS said that he had been clear about what happened and made three points. Firstly that the Home Secretary had given permission for a pilot scheme that meant that under certain circumstances border staff could use their discretion as to when to open the biometric chip on the passport. Secondly, that basic checks were still undertaken and it was an unfair depiction to say borders were left open. Thirdly, that the pilot had recently ended and, although the results were not yet fully evaluated, statistics suggested that, compared to the same period last year, the number of illegal immigrants detected increased by 10%. This showed that this pilot seemed to have been affective at improving performance.

PMS said that it was a separate issue that the border agency seemed to have gone much further than they were authorised. When that had become apparent action had been taken and the official in charge had been suspended.

Asked for details about the pilot, the PMS said that it had looked at how best to control the border and apply resources in a more intelligent way. He said that they could either check everyone at the same high level, which might result in long queues at the border, or they could apply some discretion and try and target the people that they thought were most likely to pose a risk.

Asked why the head of UKBA was suspended if the strike rate on illegal immigrants had increased by 10%, the PMS said that was only half the story. The issue was that UKBA had gone much further than they had been asked to do by Ministers. The individual concerned had acknowledged that and had been suspended as a result.

Asked repeatedly for the absolute figures resulting in the 10% rise, the PMS said that the pilot still had to be evaluated properly and that this was just raw data. He said that it suggested that by deploying resources differently you can have different effects at the border.

Asked if the pilot showed a policy change and if the House of Commons should have been informed, the PMS said that this was an operational decision about deployment of resources.

Asked for more details on what happened when and the breadth of unauthorised relaxations, the PMS said there were a series of investigations going on to get to the bottom of this. Asked when they expected investigation to conclude, the PMS said that the Home Secretary had said they would report in January.

Asked if the PM was concerned that the Home Secretary didn’t know this was going on, the PMS said that they did have concerns and were looking into it. He said that clearly some decisions were taken by the border agency that were not authorised by Ministers, and we were investigating the circumstances. He added that Brodie Clark had been suspended.

Asked if the PM was happy for pilot to go ahead, the PMS said that basic checks had remained in place and that at no time was the border left open, but they were looking at now to deploy resources more effectively which was a sensible thing to do.

Asked if it was because of cuts, the PMS said that this was not a new debate coming out of the financial situation and that there had always been a debate over how best to control the borders.

Asked if the motivation was to cut queues, the PMS said that one of the things we attempt to do when controlling borders is to ensure that passengers get through quickly. There was a cost to the vast majority of law abiding passengers from being held in a queue for a very long time. Clearly we wanted to maximise the throughput, but at same time didn’t want to jeopardise our security.