08/11/2011 08:23 GMT | Updated 08/01/2012 05:12 GMT

Theresa May Won't Resign Over Passports Fiasco

The Home Secretary Theresa May has said there is "no question" of her resigning over the fiasco at the UK Border Agency, which the government has admitted led to unknown numbers of people entering the country illegally.

In a grilling by MPs on the Home Affairs Committee, Theresa May heaped further blame on UK Border Agency (UKBA) officials, particularly the suspended head of the UK Border Force, Brodie Clark. She reiterated her claim from Monday that a limited pilot had been taking place at points of entry to the country, involving reduced checks for some types of passengers, but she insisted that officials had gone too far in routinely relaxing passport checks.

However the Home Secretary revealed that David Cameron had not been made aware of the pilot scheme until the scandal broke late last week.

"There is a very simple process in setting policy," she said. "On this occasion a policy was set by ministers and officials chose to go beyond that."

Tellingly, Theresa May was extremely coy over whether she'd always had confidence in Brodie Clark. "He was the head of the UK Border Force," she simply said. But she added that she didn't suspend Clark directly. That had been done by Home Office officials.

May told MPs that Clark had asked her for permission to expand the relaxations under the pilot further, but she had rejected his proposals. However she seemed hazy on the details of how widespread the changes under the pilot that she sanctioned had been used.

"The pilot was made available for operation at all ports. It was not used at all ports," she said. But she was unable to answer exactly at which ports and airports the measures under the pilot were used.

She was also unable to answer how many times the level of checking of passports was reduced under the pilot scheme, but agreed to provide the answer to this by Friday.

In an echo of a previous home secretary's claim that the UKBA was "not fit for purpose", Ms May told MPs: "We've all known for many years that UKBA has systemic problems and a culture that lacks a sense of responsibility.

"When I became Home Secretary I took the decision to split the policy arm of the organisation from its operations. I think it's important because although we've seen in these recent events there are still concerns… there is now a clearer focus on what needs to be done."

"The UKBA of today will not be the UKBA of tomorrow."

Yesterday in the House of Commons, Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper lambasted the Home Secretary for cutting 6,500 staff at UKBA, including 1500 from the front-line. She demanded to know urgently how many convicted criminals had entered Britain because of the lapses.

"The truth is the home secretary does not know," Cooper told MPs. "She seems to be doing nothing to find out what the security risk might be. Instead of strengthening the checks year on year as all previous ministers did, the home secretary watered them down."