HC Deb 20 May 1998 vol 312 cc974-6 4.26 pm
Mr. Gwyn Prosser (Dover)

I beg to move, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to make provision for special status for ports of entry to the United Kingdom so far as the law affecting local government and policing is concerned; and for related purposes. My Bill provides measures to ensure that the needs of areas of the United Kingdom that house ports of entry, be they sea ports or airports, are properly recognised. They endure special pressures in terms of additional resources for policing, social services, education, health and housing provision. Almost all our ports of entry suffer such additional burdens to a greater or lesser extent, and I am grateful to those hon. Members on both sides of the House who represent ports of entry constituencies and who either formally sponsored my Bill or gave it their support. I am sure that they will forgive me if I draw mainly on examples from my constituency and the county of Kent to illustrate the case for change.

I am privileged to represent the constituency that houses the port of Dover, the busiest ferry port in the world, which is pleased to be known as the gateway to Europe. The county of Kent and the port of Dover provide the shortest, quickest and cheapest passenger links with other parts of the European Union, and those vital transport corridors are of strategic and national importance. Last year, nearly 2 million heavy goods vehicles passed through Kent, and some 20 million passengers were handled by the port of Dover alone.

Such high concentrations of activity generate huge additional demands on the resources of police authorities, local authorities and agencies with jurisdiction over ports of entry. It is accepted that, from time to time, the appropriate authority in any part of the United Kingdom may be required to deal with extraordinary, large-scale events, but for busy ports of entry such as Dover, events that would be considered extraordinary elsewhere have become ordinary. The majority of port-related events are large scale in terms of resource demand.

Additional pressures on police include supporting the work of Customs and Excise agencies to control bootlegging and drug smuggling, dealing with the high levels of crime associated with such activities, and policing demonstrations and marches. Many ports have been picketed by animal rights protesters who object to the way in which live animals are transported and exported for food. I support the protesters, and should like that awful trade to end, but such demonstrations must be policed and the cost is high.

In recent years, ports have become the focus of every protest group that wants to publicise its point. British ports have been blockaded by British farmers protesting against the importation of meat, and French ports have been blockaded by French fishermen, dockers, farmers and truck drivers protesting about their various and numerous causes. Whichever side of the channel stoppages take place, the consequences are the same: massive, unpredictable backlogs of traffic and the need to manage that traffic. Kent police have devised plans for dealing with those recurring problems as they affect Dover, but such operations are costly.

Ports of entry have to provide support for illegal immigrants, asylum seekers and their families, which creates additional demands on local authorities. Sadly, in my constituency the presence of large groups of immigrants has given rise to social tensions in the community. Fascist groups from outside the area have sought to exploit those tensions by staging racist marches, and anti-fascist groups have confronted them. Policing such events is costly, and diverts a large number of police officers from regular duties.

Dealing with immigrants has also imposed additional pressures on ports of entry and on neighbouring areas, but the implementation of the Asylum and Immigration Act 1996 has increased them considerably by shifting responsibility for supporting asylum seekers on to local authorities. As well as meeting the requirements of the Children Act 1989 and the National Assistance Act 1948, and meeting other costs of social care, local authorities have to meet the costs of educational facilities for children and adults in such groups.

The influx of immigrants from eastern European countries into Dover and surrounding constituencies has put enormous pressures on Kent county council. Although specific grants are in place, they fall far short of covering expenditure. That is due partly to the high thresholds that have to be exceeded to warrant payment, and partly to the limits that have been set. Last year, those limits caused Kent to suffer a shortfall of more than £1 million for its support of asylum seekers and their children. That shortfall should be covered under the council's existing budget. Grants by no means cover the cost of caring for asylum seekers, so other services in Kent suffer.

Similarly, district councils in ports of entry are responsible for housing asylum seekers and for providing bed-and-breakfast accommodation. Changes made to immigration legislation in 1996 substantially increased their costs. In the last full year before the 1996 Act took effect, Dover district council's expenditure on asylum seekers for bed-and-breakfast accommodation was £1,169. The estimated cost for the current year is £47,000.

Special grants are available to certain categories of local authority to compensate for those additional costs, but, for some reason, district councils such as Dover do not qualify for such reimbursement. Local authorities with jurisdiction over ports of entry are responsible for administering and enforcing port health regulations, the cost of which is increasing. For Dover district council, that amounts to more than £60,000 a year.

There is no recognition of those disproportionately high costs in the rate support grant, and the current method of business rate collection from port authorities does not directly benefit local councils. Many other extraordinary costs fall disproportionately on police authorities and local authorities housing ports of entry.

My Bill seeks to remedy those difficulties by providing special status to authorities that house ports of entry, which will recognise their additional expenditure and provide them with appropriate support. I commend the Bill to the House.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Gwyn Prosser, Mr. Andrew Mackinlay, Mr. Ivan Henderson, Laura Moffatt, Mr. Derek Wyatt, Ms Jackie Lawrence, Dr. Stephen Ladyman, Mr. Nick Ainger, Mr. Robert Syms, Mrs. Louise Ellman, Dr. Alan Whitehead and Mr. Norman Baker.

  1. PORTS OF ENTRY (SPECIAL STATUS) (No. 2) 63 words