I beg to move,
That this House notes with concern the significant reduction in the level of security and border checks at UK ports of entry in the summer of 2011; and calls on the Government to publish immediately all relevant Home Office submissions to Ministers, together with the instructions from Home Office Ministers to the UK Border Agency (UKBA) regarding passport checks in the summer of 2011 and the relevant operational instructions from UKBA executives to staff and all data collected by the UKBA on the level of checks at each port of entry since July 2011.
We have called this Opposition day debate to discuss the events in border control this summer, because Parliament and the public need answers. I am sorry that more Cabinet Ministers have not joined us for the debate, because this borders fiasco is now escalating. The Home Secretary did not answer all the questions put to her on Monday, she could not answer all those from the Home Affairs Select Committee today, and she and her Immigration Minister are refusing to do television, radio or newspaper interviews on the subject. However, she cannot hide on the important issue of border control. Answers are needed, and her account of what led to the weakening of border controls this summer is now at odds not just with the memos from the UK Border Agency, but with the account of one of her most senior officials, Brodie Clark.
The public need the truth, so let us be clear about the information that the Home Secretary needs to provide. Most importantly, we still need to know the scale of the security breaches that have taken place. Does the Home Secretary yet have any estimate of how many people were affected by the weakening of border controls? The Prime Minister could not tell us today.
On Monday the Home Secretary told us that she was concerned about the routine removal of checks for EU citizens, the suspension of the watch list in Calais and the suspension of fingerprinting non-EU citizens on top of the removal of watch list checks for children, which she authorised. Border agencies have told us of repeated cases in which adults did not have their passports swiped at all, along with no checks against the watch list, not just at Calais but at other ports. The Home Secretary needs to tell us whether that happened.
Listening to the tone of the right hon. Lady’s opening comments, one would almost think that her party had left immigration in absolutely perfect order. Let me remind her that it left a system which her own Home Secretary at the time said was “not fit for purpose”, with a backlog of 450,000 asylum cases, and that Lord Glasman, her own colleague, said:
“Labour lied…about…immigration and the extent of illegal”—[Interruption.]
The hon. Member for Reading West (Alok Sharman) has obviously got himself into a Whips-induced lather, but if he is concerned about asylum cases he may want to ask the Home Secretary about the 100,000 cases that have now been written off, as identified in the Home Affairs Committee report.
The hon. Gentleman, as a representative of Dover, will I know be concerned by the removal of the watch list checks in Calais. Like him, I certainly look forward to Brodie Clark’s evidence to the Home Affairs Committee next week. I am not sure whether the Home Secretary will be looking forward to his evidence in quite the same way, but I am sure that he will set out at that point—
On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. In view of the fact that the Government deliberately took an hour away from this time-limited debate with a statement that could easily have been made yesterday, will you make it difficult for hon. Members reading out Whips’ questions to intervene on my right hon. Friend the Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper)?
Sir Gerald knows as well as I do that that is not a point of order. He has certainly made the point that people were upset by the statement, but it is for the Government to decide the business of the House, and they control the business of the House. I have certainly already recommended shorter interventions, however, and I am sure that that will have been taken on board.
Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker.
The Home Secretary has still not told us the extent of the reduction in border checks throughout the country. She said on Monday that she had no clue how many people walked into the country under reduced checks. On Monday, she did not even know which airports were covered by her pilot projects and her decisions. Yesterday she told the Select Committee that she knew which airports were covered in theory, but she had no idea which ones had taken up her pilot project.
Data exist, however. According to the internal e-mails that I have seen, downgrading checks to level 2 is recorded by terminals. Indeed, one would expect it to be. How could the so-called pilots be monitored if the data were not being collected on what was happening? So, does the Home Secretary have those data? Can she tell us now how many times checks were downgraded at how many airports since her decision in July? Has she even asked to see those data, and if she has not, why on earth not? What have this Home Secretary and the Immigration Minister been up to?
If the Home Secretary does have access to the data and has seen the figures on the number of times that checks were downgraded to level 2, will she step up to the Dispatch Box now and tell us what the data say? The public have a right to know what the downgrade in security was this summer. Again, we hear a deafening silence from the Home Secretary. Again, we do not know what data were collected.
The hon. Gentleman’s constituents will want to know what is happening now, and what happened this summer. His Government and his Home Secretary cannot answer the questions. They cannot even tell us more about the pilots, or the decisions they thought they were taking—what they thought they were signing up to.
We know that the Home Secretary thought that in theory her pilot covered European citizens, but in practice it routinely did so. That is a funny definition of a pilot. It was not just one Thursday afternoon a month in Luton; it was every airport and potentially every European citizen. Millions of them entered Britain this summer, and they formed the majority of foreign citizens entering the country, so how many of them missed the full checks? How many of them did the Home Secretary expect to face reduced checks when she gave the go-ahead for this so-called pilot earlier this year?
We know, too, from the UK Border Agency’s internal minutes this summer that there was a reference to
“mixed views on the summer pressures work, including the concern that not checking children on the watch list may facilitate child trafficking”.
Officials raised that concern within the UKBA, and I raised it with the Home Secretary on Monday. She will know that the House has repeatedly expressed deep concern about people trafficking across Europe, so did she even consider those risks before she took her decision?
The intention of Labour Ministers and, I had always understood, Conservative Ministers, too, was to strengthen our border checks year on year. We all agree that there were difficulties in the past, but I thought that we all agreed, too, on the remedy—that we should roll out e-Borders, biometrics and new technology; make sure that enough staff were in place so that we could increase checks and cover everybody properly by counting people in and out; and every year extend the technology and strengthen the checks.
This Home Secretary and this Home Office made a conscious decision to turn the clock back and to reduce the checks. What they put in place this summer was a new regime of lower not higher checks, using less rather than more technology.
I thank the right hon. Lady for giving way. In 2008, the then Government reduced warnings index checks on European economic area nationals, children and adults, on Eurostar services, and they did so on 100 separate occasions between 2008 and 2010. She was a senior member of the previous Government, so can she tell the House whether she supported that measure?
I am sorry, but the hon. Gentleman needs to understand that biometric checks increased every year under the Labour Government; his Government have undermined them and rolled them back. What is the point of Britain investing loads of money in biometric technology and passports, if we then switch off the system every time a European citizen goes through it? What on earth is the point of that investment, which our Government supported and were extending and rolling out, but which the hon. Gentleman’s party and his Government seem to have backed off from and ditched, undermining the border controls that are in place?
I am grateful to the right hon. Lady for giving way. We are listening with great interest to her rewriting of history. Does she not agree that the Government of whom she was a member left the system in a real mess? This Government are trying to improve things and clear up the problem.
If this is what the hon. Gentleman calls improving things—dearie me. We should be strengthening controls. Those controls had been strengthened, year on year, but in my view they should have gone further. We should be doing more to roll out e-Borders and extend biometrics. He does not seem to realise that his Home Secretary removed the biometric checks. She has been undermining many of the checks that should have been taking place.
Secondly, we need to know who authorised what, because serious allegations have now been made, both by the Home Secretary against a senior civil servant and by a senior civil servant against the Home Secretary. Her advisers seem to have briefed the newspapers that Brodie Clark was a rogue official. She told the House that he had taken responsibility and that she would make sure that “those responsible are punished”. He has said that her statements were wrong. The Home Secretary has a history of high-level spats, but this is considerably more serious than a political row over immigration and the future of cats; this is a dispute over the security of our borders. We need to know what advice she was given. What were the precise terms of the pilots that she signed off? What was communicated to the UK Border Agency about her decision? Was the memo—which I know she is aware of—from the Border Agency saying that it would cease routine biometric checks of EU citizens cleared by her, the Minister for Immigration or Home Office officials? Is it an accurate or inaccurate reflection of the instructions that were sent out from her office, or the description of the pilot in the submission that she received and signed off?
We now have different accounts from different officials, the Home Secretary and the memos from the Border Agency that have been revealed. What the public want to know is the truth. That is why we need the information to be published. We need to know what information the Home Secretary gave to the Border Agency, what instructions were given to the Border Agency and what instructions were given by the Minister for Immigration. What information was provided to Ministers from the Border Agency? What monitoring did they ask for? What monitoring did her Minister for Immigration do? By the way, it is good to see him here today. He has been completely silent and absent from this entire debate. Indeed, in the light of these revelations, we wonder what job he is in fact doing. What information did either Minister ask for when they decided to extend the pilot just six weeks ago?
Is it not crucial that we know Mr Clark’s version of events? We look forward to his giving evidence next Tuesday, because so far we have simply had the Home Secretary. Why should a senior civil servant of 40 years standing wish to mislead us or give a wrong impression to Parliament?
My hon. Friend is right: we need to hear Brodie Clark’s evidence to the Select Committee on Home Affairs, which will be important. However, we also need to know what it says in the instructions that the Home Secretary’s office gave to the Border Agency. That by itself should clear a lot of this up. What did she decide? What were her instructions to the Border Agency? Has it accurately reflected those instructions or not? She should publish that information and those data. Let us get to the bottom of what has been going on.
Thirdly, the Home Secretary needs to provide us with more information and assurances about resources. It is clear from the internal memo and from the Border Agency that staff were under pressure. One internal management e-mail says:
“If we aren’t using level 2”—
the reduced level of checks—
“the assumption is we won’t be using secondary staff to support any pressures…as you know, this is a message we have put out time and time again…We cannot continue to pull resources from other parts of our business when we are not making use of all the tools available to us”.
In other words, the Border Agency was not allowed to ask for extra staff when things got busy unless it had already downgraded to a lower level of checks.
People do not like queues when they come back from holiday—the kids are crying, it is very stressful, or perhaps they are late for a business meeting—but they stand there, looking at all the empty booths, and thinking, “Why aren’t the extra staff put on? Why aren’t the extra lines open?” Now we know the answer: because the Border Agency has been told that it has to cut the checks that are in place. Some 6,500 staff are going from the Border Agency, with 1,500 going from the border force, including more than 800 this year alone. The Prime Minister told the House with great pride that the level of staff was returning to the level of 2006. Really? I have to say that I do not think that border controls were strong enough in 2006. We were right to strengthen them and to keep strengthening them. [Interruption.] If Government Members really want to roll back the clock and reduce the checks and border controls that are in place across this country, they are completely out of touch with their constituents across the country, who want to see proper immigration controls in place.
Does the right hon. Lady think that the border controls were ever strict enough under the last Government? Let me tell her that my constituents will never forgive that Government for letting in 2.2 million people, a population twice that of our nearest city, Birmingham.
It was right to increase and strengthen those border controls and to increase biometric checks. However, if the hon. Lady wants to intervene again, I have to ask her: does she agree with the pilot that her Home Secretary introduced, which reduced those biometric checks and removed checks against the watch list for EU children?
Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. It was quite reasonable to assume that a pilot should be undertaken in the European economic area, such that not everybody was subjected to the same tests as those identified as being in a high-risk group. I do not see why anyone should argue with that decision.
I appreciate the right hon. Lady’s generosity in giving way again. Does what she has said about 2006 mean that she agrees with the mea culpa—I think that was the phrase—of the Chairman of the Home Affairs Committee when he said that the problem started under her Labour Government?
I agree that Labour Home Secretaries were right to increase the controls and to increase new technology, which is why I am so shocked that Conservative Ministers and the Conservative party are so enthusiastic about rolling back those border checks now. We have seen that the scale of the cuts is putting pressure on the UK Border Agency just as the scale of cuts to policing is putting pressure on community safety. People across the country fear that corners are being cut and that border security is being put at risk by the scale of the Government’s border cuts. This needs to be sorted out. We have had the embarrassing spectacle of a Home Secretary who does not know what she agreed to, how it was being implemented or how great the security risks were.
My hon. Friend is right. The most shocking thing of all is that the Government do not seem to know what has been happening on their watch.
Time and again, Ministers have blamed the previous Labour Government and civil servants, but the Home Secretary might want to think back to “Question Time” in 2004 and a debate with the then Immigration Minister, Beverley Hughes. The current Home Secretary said at that time that she found it
“absolutely extraordinary that she’s…blamed officials in her department for this decision to be taken…I’m sick and tired of government ministers…who simply blame other people when things go wrong.”
Indeed, Home Secretary.
The House does not expect the Home Secretary to know every detail of what is going on in the agencies for which she is responsible all the time, but we expect her to get on top of things and to sort them out when they go wrong.
Five days on, the public still do not know what on earth has been going on in the Home Office and at our borders. Time and again, this Home Secretary has not been on top of the facts and has not taken action to sort things out. She seems to be making things worse.
We cannot afford a Home Secretary who cannot cope with a crisis or sort out a fiasco. Border security and public safety are too important for us to have a Home Secretary whose authority is continually being sapped. She cannot blame the previous Government and she cannot blame officials. It is her watch. She needs to provide the facts that she has been unable to provide so far and to provide the answers, and she needs to do so today.
May I first welcome the sudden interest of the right hon. Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper) in immigration and border security? It is a bit rich coming from the party that gave us 2.2 million total net migration, the foreign national prisoner scandal, Sangatte, a 450,000 asylum backlog, no transitional controls for eight eastern European countries, the Human Rights Act 1998, and a points-based system that failed to reduce immigration.
The Leader of the Opposition says that immigration was not too high under Labour; the shadow Home Secretary claims that the previous Government were reducing immigration; and now they have appointed a shadow Immigration Minister who says that public concern about immigration is “nonsense” and “huff and puff” generated by tabloid newspapers. None the less, I am willing to welcome any convert to the cause of controlling immigration.
Let me remind the House why we are here. As I said in my statement to Parliament on Monday, there are two separate issues. First, as I have explained, the Immigration Minister and I authorised a limited pilot this summer, which—in limited and specific circumstances—allowed the UK border force to use more intelligence-led checks against higher-risk passengers and journeys instead of always checking European economic area national children travelling with parents and in school groups against the warnings index, and always checking EEA nationals’ second photographs in the chip inside their passport. In normal circumstances, all standard checks would be carried out.
That was a perfectly reasonable thing to do—stronger checks on high-risk passengers aimed to achieve more arrests, more seizures of illegal goods and more stops of illegal immigrants. Far from weakening our border controls, those procedures were aimed at strengthening our border. The results of the pilot are not yet fully evaluated, but initial UKBA statistics show an almost 10% increase in the detection of illegal immigrants and a 48% increase in the identification of forged documents compared with the year before.
I therefore want to be absolutely clear to the House: my pilot did not in any way put border security at risk. That was my assessment, and it is the assessment of UKBA and security officials.
The second and very separate issue is that senior UK border force officials, without my authorisation, ordered the regular relaxation of border checks, beyond what I had sanctioned, and not just in the limited circumstances that I had authorised. First, biometric checks on EEA nationals and warnings index checks on EEA national children were abandoned on a regular basis, without my approval. Secondly, adults were not checked against the warnings index at Calais, without my approval.
Thirdly, the verification of the fingerprints of non-EEA nationals from countries that require a visa was stopped on regular occasions, without my approval. Not only that, but checks on the second photograph in the biometric chip of passports of non-EEA nationals were also regularly stopped, again without my approval.
Let me say again: I did not give my consent or authorisation for any of those decisions. In fact, I stated explicitly in writing that officials were to go no further than what had been agreed in the pilot—[Interruption.]
Order. We want to hear what the right hon. Lady has to say. We want a debate on Home Affairs, so let us listen to what is said. If she does not wish for hon. Members to intervene, she will not give way. If she gives way, that is fine, but at the moment, we must listen to her.
The Home Secretary says that she put something in writing. Is she prepared to put everything that she put in writing in the public domain in the Library of the House this afternoon, so that, instead of having to take just her word for what her pilot was, we can see the truth in black and white?
All relevant documents will be going to the relevant inquiries. That is entirely the right way to do it.
I remind hon. Members that last night, the chief executive of the UK Border Agency, Rob Whiteman, confirmed that Brodie Clark, the head of the UK border force, admitted to him that he went beyond ministerial instructions. That is why Mr Whiteman suspended Mr Clark immediately. He took that decision as chief executive of UKBA, and before he informed me of his meeting with Mr Clark. Subsequently, two other senior officials have been suspended and I have ordered three separate investigations, as I outlined to the House on Monday, and I have placed the terms of reference for those inquiries in the House of Commons Library.
That is a very interesting question. I note that the right hon. Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford chose not to answer it when she was asked it during an intervention.
I am aware that Mr Clark has released a statement—it was referred to by the right hon. Lady—in which he made several allegations. Those allegations will of course be addressed by the inquiries, but as they relate to what I have already told the House, I would like to address them. First, he says that he did not introduce
“additional measures, improperly, to the trial of our risk-based controls.”
But let me read to the House the statement issued last night by Rob Whiteman, the chief executive of the UK Border Agency:
“Brodie Clark admitted to me on 2nd November that on a number of occasions this year he authorised his staff to go further than Ministerial instruction. I therefore suspended him from his duties. In my opinion it was right for officials to have recommended the pilot so that we focus attention on higher risks to our border, but it is unacceptable that one of my senior officials went further than was approved.”
The right hon. Lady agreed to weaken border controls in July. She then tells the House that what actually happened went much further than she intended. Will she now tell us why she agreed to extend this policy of weaker border controls in September? Is it not the case that, had she asked the most basic questions of Mr Clark or anybody else about what was actually happening in ports and airports, she would have known that thousands of people were coming into this country unchecked?
I have already made it absolutely clear to the House that the premise of the right hon. Gentleman’s question is wrong. My pilot did not put border security at risk. That is not just my assessment; it is the assessment of UKBA and of security officials.
Mr Clark says that
“those measures have been in place since 2008/09.”
But if he is talking about the warnings index guidance, published in 2007, that guidance makes it clear that any relaxation of warnings index checks should be done in extreme circumstances for health and safety reasons. It does not permit the extent of the relaxations that were allowed. And if he thought that these measures were already allowed, why did he seek ministerial approval for new pilot measures this year? I gave no authorisation for the relaxation of checks beyond what we had allowed under the terms of the pilot. But, given that Mr Clark says that his relaxed measures were allowed since 2008-09, can Ministers from the last Government give the same assurance?
I say to the right hon. Gentleman that I was willing to allow officials to make an evaluation—[Interruption.] I will come on later in my speech to the point about the information that was available to Ministers.
Mr Clark says that I implied that he
“relaxed the controls in favour of queue management”
and that he came under pressure from Ministers to reduce queues, but I have never speculated about his motives, and I have never told officials to reduce queues at the expense of border security. Finally, Mr Clark says that he had been pressing for the trials “since December 2010” and that he was pleased when I agreed to the pilot arrangements. He certainly was pressing for changes to border checks, including the suspension of automatic fingerprint checks of visa nationals, which I rejected. But now, of course, he says that such measures were already available to him, and have been since 2008-09. I stand by every word I told the House on Monday and yesterday and again today.
I now want to turn to the questions raised by the shadow Home Secretary. She said repeatedly that I had not yet answered them—
I thank the Home Secretary for giving evidence to the Select Committee yesterday. When she did so, she made a profound statement about the future of the UK Border Agency, saying that the UKBA of today would be very different from the UKBA of tomorrow. What will be the main differences, once she has completed what appears to be a reform programme?
I pay tribute to the Home Affairs Select Committee for the light that it has shone, for some considerable time, on the UK Border Agency under this Government and the previous one. The precise shape of UKBA in the future is under discussion at the moment. The new chief executive has been in post for six weeks, and he is looking at what he thinks needs to be done. As the right hon. Gentleman knows, one of the issues that we are looking at is the question of establishing the border police command under the National Crime Agency and the relationship that it will have with the UK Border Agency.
I will not give way.
I was about to deal with the questions raised by the shadow Home Secretary. She has repeatedly said that I have not answered her questions. If she reads Hansard, she will find that I have, but let me answer them again. She asked for the precise terms of the pilot scheme that I authorised. I have just set out those terms. I authorised the pilot, under limited circumstances, to allow UK border force officers to use more intelligence-led checks against higher-risk passengers and journeys, instead of always checking EEA national children travelling with parents and in school groups against the warnings index, and always checking European nationals’ second photographs in the chip inside their passport.
The shadow Home Secretary also asked whether I, Home Office Ministers or Home Office officials signed off the operational instruction distributed by UKBA. The answer in all three cases is no. This was a regular operational instruction, and she should know that Ministers—neither under this Government nor under the last—do not sign off such instructions. UKBA operational instructions are signed off by UKBA officials. She asked whether the operational instruction distributed reflected Government policy, and I can tell her that yes, it did, in that it allowed for a risk-based assessment—[Interruption.]
The operational instruction did reflect Government policy because it allowed for a risk-based assessment when opening the biometric chip of EEA passports and checking EEA national children against the warnings index when they were travelling with parents or as part of a school party.
The Home Secretary has just made an extremely important statement. She said that the UK Border Agency’s interim operational instruction did reflect Government policy. That operational instruction says
“We will cease:
Routinely opening the chip within EEA passports.
Routinely checking all EEA nationals under 18 years against the Warnings index” .
If that is Government policy, it is little wonder that, across the country, people have been routinely stopping doing the biometric checks in EU passports and stopping doing the watch index checks. The instruction does not say “Only in exceptional or limited circumstances”. It says “We will cease routinely” to do those checks.
The whole point is that they were allowed, in certain circumstances, not to open the chip—[Interruption.] The whole point is that they were allowed, in certain circumstances, not to check children against the warnings index. And the whole point is that officers were allowed to exercise their discretion.
Where the instruction says that officers should escalate further measures, it refers of course to the warnings index checking policy put in place in 2007 under the Government of which the right hon. Lady was a member. I have to tell the right hon. Lady that the quotes she has been eagerly e-mailing around the Lobby come from a policy put in place by her own Government.
The right hon. Lady referred to staff numbers. What she failed to tell the House was that in April 2010 the Labour Government had already announced that they would cut the budget and the staff of the UK Border Agency.
The Home Secretary has not answered an extremely important question. She has accused officials of going much further, of using routinely the reduced checks that she wanted in only limited circumstances. That is one of her main allegations—officials going further than her decision and her advice. The interim operational instruction that the Home Secretary says reflects Government policy and was her intention is described as “Trial of risk-based processes at the border,” and states:
“We will... Cease routinely opening the chip within EEA passports.”
The document goes on to talk about discretion, but the discretion is to go further, not to cease the process only in limited circumstances. Will the right hon. Lady now recognise that the document shows that her intention and her policy were substantially to expand the reduction of checks for EEA citizens across the country and to reduce controls at our border?
I answered that point on Monday, on Tuesday and this afternoon. The right hon. Lady knows full well what was in the pilot I authorised.
The right hon. Lady asked what information was given to Ministers when we decided to extend the pilot programme. As I told the Select Committee yesterday, Ministers were provided with four updates on the progress of the pilot prior to the agreement to extend it. The updates provided information about seizures of drugs and detection of illegal immigrants. They did not refer to unauthorised actions; in fact, they explicitly said that officials were sticking to the terms of the pilot and not going beyond them.
The right hon. Lady asked about child trafficking. I answered that question on Monday in the House and before the Home Affairs Committee yesterday. For the information of the House, in 2010, 8 million EEA-national children were checked against the warnings index. An alert came up for one child, and after further questioning the child was allowed in.
The right hon. Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford asked how many people Ministers expected would not be checked, and whether an impact assessment would quantify that figure. The answer is that under the terms of the pilot I authorised, all adults would be checked against the warnings index, as would all non-EEA nationals of any age, which, incidentally, was not always the case under the Labour Government of whom she was a member.
Let me reiterate: whatever the shadow Immigration Minister keeps saying, the only incident of which I am aware when passengers were waved through passport control without any checks at all did not occur during my pilot. It happened in 2004, at Heathrow, under the right hon. Lady’s Government.
Let me tell the House what this Government are doing to secure our border: a National Crime Agency with a border policing command and e-Borders to check passengers in and out of the country. We have tough enforcement: 400,000 visas were rejected last year and 68,000 people with the wrong documents were prevented from coming to Britain. We have policies to cut and control immigration: economic migration—capped; abuse of student visas—stopped; and automatic settlement—scrapped. There are compulsory English language tests, tough new rules for family visas and changes to the Human Rights Act. We have a clear plan to get net migration down to the tens of thousands.
What do we hear from the Opposition? Nothing. Nothing on the cap on economic migration. Nothing on the clampdown on student visas. Nothing on settlement. Nothing on sham marriages. No wonder, when the Leader of the Opposition’s policy adviser said that Labour lied to the public about immigration—[Interruption.]
It was Herbert Morrison who said that the walls of the Home Office were paved with dynamite. It is true, but the Home Secretary is busily placing those sticks of dynamite herself. One is marked “Cuts in police numbers”. One is marked “Restricting the ability of the police to use DNA to catch murderers and rapists”. Another is marked “Enforced introduction of police commissioners that will cost a small fortune and that nobody wants”. The only surprise is that the issue—
I will give way in a minute.
The only surprise is that the one marked “Immigration” has exploded quite so quickly in No. 2 Marsham street. Like many others, I predict that the Government’s pledge to reduce immigration to the levels of the 1980s will not be met, because we live in a very different world from the 1980s. In government, I admitted that we were slow to come to terms—as were many other countries—with the huge increase in migration from places such as Iraq, Kosovo, Zimbabwe and Sri Lanka. We were using a 20th-century system to deal with a 21st-century problem, but after the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999, we progressively managed to get on top of the issue—bit by bit. With only a dribble of asylum seekers entering the country, it took 22 months even to get an asylum claim to the first stage under the preceding Conservative Government, but by the time we left office it was taking six months. The introduction of biometric visas and e-borders all made a contribution.
The Home Secretary might like to correct her remark on Monday that since the introduction of the points-based system, immigration has not gone down. It has. The difficulty for her is that immigration and net migration are two different things. The Government have no control over the number of people leaving the country, just as they have no control, incidentally, over mortality or the birth rate—thank goodness—unless it is in their plans for the Queen’s Speech. In fact, net immigration has gone down; it fell from 237,000 in 2007 to 163,000 in 2008 and to 147,000 in 2009. It has only gone up again since this Government came into power.
The problem is complex, and e-borders are central to its solution. We could have all the checks in the world, but the majority of illegal immigrants in this country have entered the country legally and overstayed their visa. It is not until the e-borders system—the Government have supported it; I presume that they will keep to the same programme—checks people out as well as checking them in that we shall actually solve the problem.
For the Home Secretary, solving these problems was simple. The rhetoric, as usual, was at absolute variance with reality.
Can my right hon. Friend confirm a point that the Home Secretary referred to earlier? It was agreed in May 2004 to allow people permitted to be in this country legally to work legally, but 40% of those who registered to work were already in the country. That is why proper legal processes for economic migration and tough border controls have to go hand in hand.
I do confirm that. The Home Secretary talked about Sangatte on Monday, and it was my right hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Brightside and Hillsborough (Mr Blunkett) who, in an incredible piece of political acumen, did a deal with Sarkozy effectively to move our border from Dover to northern France. That made a huge contribution as well. I find it incredible that the Home Secretary formulated and introduced plans to reduce the crucial biometric checks while the threat level was at its second highest; it was at severe at the time, and it was lowered to substantial only in July. In effect, she turned the UK into a semi-Schengen country by not requiring full checks on EEA citizens.
The hon. Member for Dover (Charlie Elphicke) was not making much impression on me, anyway, Mr Deputy Speaker.
The Home Secretary claimed on Monday that those on the watch list will have been picked up because of e-Borders, but she knows as well as I do that not every country is meticulous at operating e-Borders. It is patchy around the European Union.
I have given way twice; everyone knows that we give way twice in these debates.
Again, what the Home Secretary was saying was at variance with what she was doing. In June, the Home Secretary was pledging to stop tens of thousands of migrants seeking to enter Britain through Europe as part of the exodus resulting from the Arab spring. She was saying that just as she was about to reduce checks on those people entering from Europe. In November last year, she said:
“I want to bear down on all the routes into Britain”.
Ending the necessity to check the biometrics can be described as a lot of things, but “bearing down” is not one of them.
On Monday, the Home Secretary described the biometric chip as if it were just a photograph. It is, of course, much more than that. The provision of geometric dimensions means that the identity thief and even the terrorist who has plastic surgery to disguise himself or herself cannot get through. A lot of things can be done with surgery, but eyeballs cannot be moved further apart. The biometrics are crucial to our security.
Let us come to the Home Secretary’s attempts to blame her officials for the mess that she is in. The treatment of Brodie Clark, whom I know, respect and admire, has been reprehensible. If it was right to suspend him from office because he had not informed the Home Secretary, why is it right for the Home Secretary still to be in place when she had not informed the Prime Minister, who bears ultimate responsibility for these issues? Brodie Clark may well have been suspended for operating the 2008-09 guidance, which says that when the police say that there is a public order issue, it has to be responded to. That was the reference.
The Beecroft proposals have not yet been introduced. The Government have not yet wiped away the unfair dismissal rules, which means that Brodie Clark will go to court, he will win his case and this Home Secretary will have nowhere to hide.
It is a pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle (Alan Johnson)—even on this occasion. He was a decent Home Secretary, but I am afraid that his argument today was indecent in its preposterousness, especially when he tried to claim that the large increase in migration that took place after 1997 was somehow the result of international considerations beyond anybody’s control, and nothing to do with the policy decisions taken by the then Labour Government. I ask the right hon. Gentleman just once in this debate to look at the facts—
If the hon. Lady will listen to the facts first, I will give way to her afterwards. If the right hon. Gentleman looks at the facts of net migration and migration as a whole before 1997, he will see that in the month after his Government took office in 1997, net migration stood at 52,000. It had been 70,000 the previous year. In the years that followed, it went up to 74,000, 157,000, 161,000 and 187,000—almost entirely due to the decision of that Labour Government to grant more work permits for workers from outside the European Union, which was a conscious policy decision.
The facts are facts: we can see what the deliberate policy decisions were, and the motives behind them may come to light in due course.
As for what took place after that period when net migration exploded up to 233,000, we have to look at what happened when the accession countries joined the European Union in 2005 when the then Labour Government estimated the number of workers who had come from within the European Union at about 13,000 a year. We know that that was completely wrong. While we saw the huge increase in the number of workers coming to this country from within the EU, the Labour Government—and this is particularly reprehensible—continued giving just as many work permits to workers from outside the EU.
There was an increase in migration in the late ’90s, due partly to a major conflict in the Balkans, which was made necessary because of the appeasement delivered to Slobodan Milosevic by the previous Tory Government. They bear responsibility for that migration as well.
I am sorry to tell the hon. Lady this, but at the time of the Balkans conflict, net migration was negative. The policy decisions to increase the number of work permits to workers from outside the European Union are crucial; there is a close correlation. Those are the facts.
Coming back to this motion, the right hon. Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper) has thrown everything but the kitchen sink into this debate. I am afraid that she and her party have failed to produce a single fact or any evidence in support of the motion. They have not even bothered to wait for the evidence of the Home Affairs Committee or for any of the three inquiries that the Home Secretary has rightly put in place, including the one by John Vine, who is the chief inspector and an appointee of the previous Government.
In trying to throw the kitchen sink into the motion, the right hon. Lady even mentioned the 100,000 legacy figure. She asked who was responsible for how the 100,000 people under the legacy exercise have been dealt with. She need not have looked much further than the person sitting next to her—the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Hodge Hill (Mr Byrne)—because the former Immigration Minister was partly responsible for the legacy exercise. The question she really needs to ask is how she thinks the 500,000 cases arose before 2006, which had to be dealt with in the legacy exercise. Asylum cases had not been properly dealt with. Some of the people involved had waited for many years and some had been refused permission to remain in the country. Now, however, the right hon. Lady is trying to blame the Government for that. She made some comment about 2006 being a starting point, but who had been in power before 2006? She need look no further this time than the right hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr Straw), who has been in his place for this debate. He was the Home Secretary who put the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999 in place. Against that background, how did we reach a position whereby 500,000 people’s cases were lingering, mouldering, waiting to be dealt with and had to be the subject of a legacy exercise in 2006?
As was pointed out by my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle (Alan Johnson), the problems involving asylum backlogs date back until at least the early 1990s, when the Berlin wall came down. I do not think that we are assisted by the trading of histories—what matters is today—but if the hon. Gentleman wants to do that, let me add that a computer system introduced by Lord Howard, which we were promised would become operational in November 1998, failed to operate at all. That was the mother and father of the backlog then, and it still is.
I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will allow me an equally long intervention when he makes his own speech.
I happened to be a member of a Committee that the right hon. Gentleman addressed, as Home Secretary, in 1999. I will stand corrected if I am wrong, but I recall that he said, “There is no greater challenge to the Labour Government than to put in place an asylum system which works.” We can see what happened after that.
The right hon. Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford overlooked another problem that occurred in 2006: the terrible problem of prisoners who were not deported. A thousand prisoners were not even considered for deportation. It was not just a question of people being allowed into the country; people were allowed into the country, committed offences, and then were not considered for deportation. I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary on having established a system which now ensures that criminals who commit offences are considered for deportation; and, as will be acknowledged by the Chairman of the Home Affairs Committee, the right hon. Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz), his Committee’s report congratulated her on that as well.
I shall wait for the evidence and the facts to be produced. What I am clear about, however, is that the present Government have a policy intention of reducing migration to proper levels, of establishing a proper system enabling the right migrants to be chosen to come to this country, and of not allowing the unrestricted immigration that we have seen in the past. Furthermore, they are tackling the long-standing problems of asylum, and are introducing systems to bring about the deportation of foreign prisoners that is so important to my constituents.
I believe that the right hon. Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford is a person of high intellect and high ability who puts the case as well as she can, and she did that today. I am afraid, however, that she completely failed to establish any facts or evidence in support of the motion. What she did demonstrate beyond peradventure was that, however great her intellect—and it is great—she has an even greater brass neck, in view of the record of the last Labour Government.
The hon. Member for Hertsmere (Mr Clappison) has just told the House that he is ready to wait for the evidence and the results of the inquiry before reaching conclusions, and I think he is right to do so. It is a great shame that the Secretary of State jumped to conclusions impetuously, without any proper evidence and without allowing others to respond.
At the heart of this debate are the issues of the conduct of the Home Secretary and the level of ministerial responsibility, in terms of both competence in running a Department and moral responsibility for what happens in that Department.
There is a long-established principle that Ministers take responsibility for what goes on in their Departments, and to be fair, the Home Secretary confirmed that principle earlier in the week. Would my right hon. Friend care to speculate on what she means by taking responsibility for her Department?
As I shall explain, the issue is not whether a Minister mouths the words, but whether, in practice, that Minister acts in a way that demonstrates his or her responsibility for what happens in his or her Department.
The truth about the Home Office—which is the subject of all kinds of dark jokes, particularly when new Home Secretaries enter it—is that things are more likely to go wrong there than in any other Department. That is not because its staff are of less high quality than other staff; far from it. Overwhelmingly, the staff in all parts of the Home Office who served me during the four years for which I was Home Secretary showed the highest possible skill, dedication and commitment. They possessed the added attribute that they were dealing with people—such as prisoners, criminals and illegal immigrants—with whom most of us would not wish to deal day by day or week by week.
The fact that the Home Office is so often in the limelight for the wrong reasons, because there is a “fiasco” or “crisis”, is due to the nature of its business. Other Departments generally work with the grain of the people with whom they deal. There are two obvious examples. In schools, parents and pupils want, roughly speaking, what teachers and the Secretary of State want, which is better education. When it comes to health, patients and their relatives want the same as nurses, doctors and the Secretary of State, which is improved health care. The same does not apply in the Home Office, which is at the sharp end of the operation of the state. However much we may dress it up, the business of the Home Office is actually about enforcing the state’s monopoly over the use of force, and its monopoly over the deprivation of other people’s liberties. It is a hard, tough job, both for the person at the top and for those all the way down.
The other aspect that lies behind one of the core arguments in the debate is that, because the Home Office’s business is about the use of force, the deprivation of liberty and the refusal of rights, junior, young and quite inexperienced staff must often be accorded a very high level of discretion—discretion to arrest people, to allow them in, to lock them up, and so on—which is not accorded to equivalent people elsewhere. The whole system will seize up unless those lower down believe that those at the top are worthy of their confidence, and are ready to take responsibility when things go wrong.
I am not dewy-eyed about what can go wrong in a very large Department—of course not—and no Secretary of State is responsible for locking every cell door or checking every border. I recall occasions when, after a full and careful inquiry, one or two people had to be invited to pursue their careers elsewhere. That is inevitable. However, I believe that it must be done in a way that is judicious and judicial. Secretaries of State must ensure that they take the overwhelming majority of their staff with them. What they should not do—I am sorry that the Home Secretary has embarked on this—is adopt what appears to me, whatever the right hon. Lady’s personal motives, to be both a vindictive and a punitive approach of hanging someone out to dry because it seemed to her that that would be a way of saving her career.
I think that the House would take the right hon. Gentleman slightly more seriously were it not for the case of, say, Mr Steve Moxon, who in 2004 revealed the evident failings of the previous Administration on immigration, particularly in relation to one-legged Romanian and Bulgarian roofers. For his pains he was hounded out of office, as indeed was the then Member of Parliament for Stretford and Urmston, the right hon. Beverley Hughes.
I am happy to clarify what I said. There is evidently a double standard in what the right hon. Gentleman says. He talks of keeping the respect and trust of people who work in the Home Office or the Ministry of Justice, but those who have revealed the failings of the last Administration on immigration have been hounded out of their jobs.
Let me return, if I may, to the issue of the Home Secretary’s responsibility. As I was saying, it is the nature of the business, not the nature of the staff, that makes Home Secretaries so vulnerable to things going wrong. I find myself comparing the behaviour of the present Home Secretary with that of Sir Paddy Mayhew, now Lord Mayhew, when he was Northern Ireland Secretary. Some of us were in the House at the time.
On 2 January 1995, the Northern Ireland equivalent of the House of Commons suffered a serious fire and was almost burnt to the ground. Sir Patrick Mayhew, as he then was, set up an inquiry. He gave the results to the House on 19 April, and I remember sitting there admiring the way in which a Secretary of State had taken responsibility for a disaster on the chin. He described what had happened. He pointed out that there had been no fire drills for five years, and that the fire hydrants had suffered from a particular defect: an “absence of water”. He said that new instructions had been issued and disciplinary action had been taken against the staff, but that was after a full inquiry—not before those staff had had a chance to explain themselves—and the staff were not named. It could have been a catastrophe for that Secretary of State because he was, indeed, responsible, but because he set the tone for the inquiry and followed proper procedures, he left the Chamber with his reputation enhanced, not diminished.
Among all who have held the post of Home Secretary there is, regardless of party divide, some camaraderie and understanding about the predicaments one can face. My concern about the current Home Secretary is that she will end this episode with her reputation diminished. I had dealings with Mr Brodie Clark, and I found him to be a very good official. It may be the case that he has done all the things said of him, but, like anyone in such circumstances, he deserves a proper inquiry—he deserves a proper hearing. Hanging him and the other officials out to dry without their having any opportunity to respond or there being any proper process, thereby condemning him before there has been a trial, not only damages his rights, but greatly demeans the reputation of the current holder of the great office of state of Home Secretary.
I had expected Opposition Members to take a humility pill before today’s debate, but they have clearly left their prescriptions at home. Labour has admitted that it presided over a Government Department that was not fit for purpose. Members on both sides of the House will be personally aware of the backlog of 450,000 asylum cases from the impact that has had on many of our constituents over many years. When the spokesman for the official Opposition opened the debate, she admitted that border checks were not strong enough in 2006—although I cannot recall her admitting that at the time. I am sure she can also confirm that in 2004, when there were no controls at all at Heathrow, border checks were also certainly not strong enough. I wonder whether she has attempted to calculate how many people passed through the Heathrow borders in 2004.
On the issue of humility, would the right hon. Gentleman like to confirm that the Liberal Democrat party opposed each and every measure introduced by the previous Government starting from, and including, the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999, which was designed to strengthen border controls, and which did precisely that?
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. I was saying that if we look back on the catalogue of disasters under the last Labour Government, we can see why we did not support the right hon. Gentleman’s proposals.
I welcome the pilot and the emphasis on intelligence-led checks on very high-risk passengers and journeys. That has clearly had a very positive impact, as is shown by the preliminary results, such as the 10% increase in respect of illegal immigrants and, as we heard from the Prime Minister, the 100% increase in firearms seizures. I also welcome the reviews that have been launched into what has happened over the past few days and the review of the pilot. I particularly welcome the fact that on Monday the Home Secretary confirmed that she would be happy for John Vine to look at every aspect of this episode, including the ministerial decisions that were taken. However, I would just gently point out that that is not included in his terms of reference, but the fact that the Home Secretary put it on the record earlier this week confirms that he has that remit.
If we are serious—as I think Members on both sides of the House are—about improving security at our borders, one aspect that we could usefully address is the progress being made in respect of the border police command in the National Crime Agency. In the long term, that will clearly have a very positive impact on the security of our borders. An update on the progress being made in establishing that body would have been useful, and perhaps the Minister will give us that information in his winding-up speech. We would like to know, for instance, what progress is being made in drawing up the comprehensive cross-agency assessment of the threat posed to border security by organised crime; that is a key aspect of the border policing command responsibilities. I would also like the Minister to say whether the reviews that have been launched will have any impact on the business plan that is being drawn up, particularly as it relates to developing the smart zone concept for processing pre-checked low-risk passengers through border controls. Might these reviews have an impact beyond the topics under immediate scrutiny, which concern all hon. Members?
I know that many other Members want to speak, so I shall conclude by saying that what the events of the last three or four days have underlined is that in 13 years the previous Government did not reform a Department that was deemed to be not fit for purpose, and that the coalition Government have not completed the reform yet either, but we are committed to doing that and we will achieve it in this Parliament.
It is interesting to follow the right hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake), because it was he who treated the House to his knowledge that the Liberal Democrats were going to win the Oldham by-election. That shows the quality of his judgment, and the hypocrisy of the Liberal Democrat party on immigration control fills us with disgust. My anti-Semitic Liberal Democrat opponent at the general election tried to turn body scans of women at airports into an election issue, in the hope of winning votes from Muslims. I can put up with the Conservatives because they are what they are, but the sheer hypocrisy of the Liberal Democrat party on issue after issue turns my stomach.
This debate is about the fact that there are now in this country a very large number of people whose numbers we do not know and whose whereabouts we do not know, and who may include terrorists, and this Government’s policy and this Home Secretary’s decisions have made that possible. Let us be clear, too, that this disaster could have been foreseen because from the moment when the Home Secretary came to office, she has refused to be involved in any way in the administration of immigration cases. There are a very large number of immigration cases in my constituency, yet she, unlike Douglas Hurd, a reputable person, and unlike Willie Whitelaw, also a reputable person, has refused to touch those cases. My constituency immigration cases and those of other Members have instead been siphoned down to the hapless Minister for Immigration, who sits in his office signing letters that have been put in front of him by the UK Border Agency, whose activities the Government now decry. This Government have made a mess of immigration policy because of the arrogance and indolence of the current Home Secretary.
I am not knocking the Minister for Immigration—poor chap, he does what he is left to do—but the fact is that this arrogant and indolent Home Secretary will not touch immigration and because of that she does not know what goes on at the ports, she does not know what goes on in the immigration departments, and she does not know what goes on in Islamabad, Dubai or Abu Dhabi. That is because she does not care; she thinks she is too important to deal with the nuts and bolts of administration. My right hon. Friends the Members for Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle (Alan Johnson) and for Blackburn (Mr Straw), both former Home Secretaries who have spoken in this debate, did do that. They were ready to listen and to look at the nuts and bolts. That is what is wrong with her. I say again that it is her arrogance and her indolence that have made this possible.
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I will not trouble the House with the right hon. Gentleman’s remarks to my hon. Friend the Member for Stourbridge (Margot James), but he has now three times described the Secretary of State as “arrogant and indolent”, which, if not unparliamentary, is offensive. Being a new Member, I would ask whether he needs to withdraw those comments.
I can say to the hon. and learned Gentleman that the remarks made by the right hon. Gentleman are not unparliamentary, in the sense that they are not impugning the personal honesty of a Member of this House. But comments are being made by Members on both sides and we would all want to reflect on whether they show this House at its best. They are sailing pretty close to the wind of good parliamentary conduct, and I take this opportunity, therefore, to say that there is no requirement for anything that has been said thus far to be withdrawn, but perhaps everybody could bear that in mind.
The hon. and learned Gentleman may, in the short time that remains to him as a Member of this House before the next general election, learn what is parliamentary language and what is not.
The fact is that, unlike Lord Carrington, who resigned over the Falklands even though he was not to blame, and unlike other Tory Ministers who were honourable and who resigned, this Home Secretary is trying to save her own skin by destroying the career of a decent public servant, who is not being given the chance to answer for himself, although he will get that before the Home Affairs Committee in a few days’ time. This Home Secretary is not fit for purpose. She may not resign now, but her days are numbered.
It is with regret that I follow the poisonous personal attack that I have just had to listen to. I have to say that I did not come into the House to hear debate at that level.
I am not going to speak for long, because the main issues surrounding this debate have been well rehearsed already, but I would like to cover just a few. The Home Secretary has clearly stated that the approved pilot for an intelligence-led approach to border checks did not put national security at risk and was approved by the security services. It seems to me that pursuing an intelligence-based policy to improve both the efficiency and effectiveness of border checks is a perfectly sensible starting point. Indeed, the recent Select Committee report on the UK Border Agency called for it to improve its use of intelligence, following the report of the independent chief inspector of the UKBA, John Vine—a Labour appointment—which found that the agency’s approach to the use and management of intelligence had been poor.
I agree with the hon. Lady about the importance of an intelligence-led approach. Does she agree that it would be a great shame if the furore around this incident meant that the UKBA did not go ahead with intelligence-based approaches, because they would make our border more secure by applying resources more efficiently?
I think it is important that we continue to approach intelligence-based processes rationally.
I am not opposed to the principle of giving border officials greater discretion in assessing risk. These border officials are professionals who, for the most part, work in very difficult circumstances, and even the best policy framework cannot allow for every situation and cannot replicate the experience of a border official who has their eyes and ears fixed beadily on the individual in front of them. However, that discretion must be exercised within an evidence-based policy framework that has been set out by Ministers and properly scrutinised by Parliament. As I understand it, that was the intention of the pilot but, as we have been hearing, it was not what John Vine found was actually happening on the ground.
We hear from whistleblowers in the UKBA that border checks were being relaxed at the request of BAA staff when queues were long. We hear from Brodie Clark that controls have been relaxed since 2008, not in favour of queue management but for a reason which he does not state. I look forward to hearing his evidence to the Select Committee. Rob Whiteman insists that Clark confessed that he had been relaxing the controls on a regular basis without ministerial approval. Most worrying from my perspective is that we find that since at least 2007—under the previous Government—agency operational instructions have contained a paragraph that apparently gives border force duty directors the authority to relax checks for health and safety reasons. That might be completely justifiable in certain extreme circumstances, but I do not think it is possible to get a proper picture of what has been going on with border checks without knowing how often these controls were relaxed on the grounds of health and safety, what criteria and processes were used to trigger such a relaxation, what the reporting mechanisms are and whether they have been properly followed. In particular, this raises the question of whether this power has been misused.
Although I am only too aware of the potential implications of the agency’s failure to implement border checks properly, the statistics on how many people have passed through the borders during this time are truly sobering. A measure of comfort can be taken from the fact that the chief executive did take immediate action when this came to light, which has triggered full-scale parliamentary scrutiny and three independent investigations, and I hope that they will take into account ministerial decisions and, in particular, the recent claims that border checks have been relaxed to level 2 without ministerial approval or oversight since 2008. I think it highly unlikely that that would have been the agency’s response previously; I suspect we would have come up against something closer to an attitude of, “Least said, soonest mended.”
However, when I said a “measure of comfort”, I meant a small one. The truth is that even in the relatively short time that I have been a member of the Home Affairs Committee it has become abundantly clear that the UK Border Agency is an organisation with deep-seated problems that date back well into the previous Government’s time in office, and an organisation that seems to have encouraged a culture of deniability. Again and again, the Committee has found that the UKBA has failed to record and account for its responsibilities. For example, when we asked for reasons for the 1,300 outstanding cases of difficulties with deporting foreign national prisoners, the agency could not account for 350 of those—it simply had not recorded the data. The agency was not able to tell the Committee how many individuals had been removed as a result of action taken by intelligence units in 2011, because the data for allegations and removals are kept on two different databases.
The hon. Lady is quite accurate in what she is saying about the concerns of the Home Affairs Committee, across parties. However, would she not have expected Home Office Ministers, understanding the deep-seated concerns of Members of this House, to be absolutely on top of all the detail and to ensure that they knew everything that was going on in the Department?
I would have hoped that they were trying to get on top of it, just as I would have hoped that Ministers in the last Government were trying to do.
I realise that the picture is not all doom and gloom—the agency has made progress on legacy cases, as we have already heard today. There was a backlog of more than 450,000 asylum cases under the last Government, which has been reduced to 18,000, and there was a significant reduction in foreign national prisoners released without being considered for deportation, from more than 1,000 to just 28. However, those examples show just what a low base the agency was coming from, and how far it still has to go if there is any hope of its being properly capable of protecting our borders and assuring our national security.
What worries me most about this incident as much as the facts, which are worrying in themselves, is that they are indicative of a wider cultural problem within the agency, endorsed by at least some senior officials: that short-cuts and papering over the cracks are a justifiable way of dealing with the work load, and that transparency is a concept more honoured in the breach than in the observance.
The Select Committee will play a part in trying to get to the bottom of contradictory claims coming out of the UKBA. The three investigations will do their bit, but they will only get to the bottom of what happened when. Although we must pursue those issues vigorously, I do not believe that we will stop seeing scandals in the agency until we have genuine reform of both the systems and the culture of an organisation that we need to be able to trust with protecting our borders.
No longer in her place. She will know from the exchanges that she and I have had both inside and outside the Chamber in the 18 months that she has held office that my starting point, as a former Home Office Minister and Northern Ireland security Minister, has been to trust the Home Secretary, as, indeed, I trusted all her predecessors. We heard on Monday from my right hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Brightside and Hillsborough (Mr Blunkett), who described the job as the “ministerial graveyard”. We heard my right hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mr Straw) talk earlier this afternoon about the serious responsibilities that the job has for public safety and our borders. It is my strong belief that we should not seek to second-guess difficult decisions that Home Secretaries have to take, often with advice, of course, that the rest of us do not have.
Having said that, in the interests of protecting her own reputation and, crucially, that of her office, the Home Secretary needs urgently to clarify a number of issues. I have three specific questions. She and the Minister will remember from my question on her statement on Monday that Manchester airport is in my constituency. Indeed, when I asked her whether the pilot included that airport, she gave me three answers for the price of one: “No”, “Yes” and “Maybe”. Well, I need to know whether the pilot did in fact operate at Manchester airport, and if so how frequently checks were relaxed and how many people passed through the airport without biometric checks. I appreciate that the Minister replying today will have many other things to respond to, so a letter on those issues and questions would be very welcome.
My second question, which has not been discussed as extensively as it needs to be, is where did the pressure for this pilot come from? I find it difficult to believe that all the pressure came from within the UK Border Agency. After all, procedures were in place for health and safety and public order emergencies, and Brodie Clark himself has confirmed that, even this summer, when the pilot was operating and there were three-hour queues at Heathrow airport, checks were still not relaxed.
However, delays at airports damage the reputation of airports themselves and of airlines. I would therefore like the Minister to tell us whether any pressure has been applied, either on the Home Secretary or the Transport Secretary, by BAA or other airport operators—or indeed by any airline companies—to speed up passport control. Has there been any correspondence with the Home Secretary and the Transport Secretary on that, or any meetings or discussions with Ministers? If there has, we should have copies of those letters and minutes.
My third question goes to the very heart of how Ministers operate within this Government. How hands-on were the Home Secretary and her Ministers in establishing, monitoring and evaluating this pilot? The right hon. Lady must have been aware of the political risk she was taking in establishing the pilot. She must have been aware that the public would take some convincing that a more effective and targeted approach would include the relaxation of biometric checks. If she wants now to convince us that she is on top of the situation and has been throughout, she needs to publish all the submissions and all the other documents that relate to the pilot, including the information that was gathered during the pilot.
The right hon. Gentleman spoke about the public reaction, but would he not admit that one of the things that we most commonly hear from members of the public is about using intelligence-led checks at our borders? Everyone I speak to—lots of constituents—constantly asks why we do not use a more intelligence-led approach, rather than frisking schoolchildren and so on. The right hon. Gentleman is wrong. The public would have every sympathy with an intelligence-led approach.
Of course the public want an intelligence-led approach, but the idea that that includes disregarding the biometric content of any passport is preposterous. I hope the hon. Lady accepts that.
To return to my point, surely Ministers were receiving weekly updates on the pilot. Surely they were convening regular stocktakes in relation to what is, after all, a highly controversial pilot. I would be particularly interested to hear from the Minister how many times decisions to implement measures beyond the routine procedures that were allowed within the pilot were escalated to the border force duty director, in line with the instructions to which we heard reference earlier.
There was some speculation on the radio this morning that in the end both Mr Clark and the Home Secretary will be proved right. I believe that that would be the worst of all outcomes. It would show a complete disconnection between policy and operations, with claims that officials were over-interpreting what Ministers had approved, and Ministers so hands-off that they simply blame officials when things go wrong. I find it astonishing that the first the Home Secretary knew about the issue was when she was informed by the permanent secretary that disciplinary action had been instigated against Brodie Clark. If she had taken even a basic interest in the pilot, she would have known well before that that something had gone wrong. For the sake of her reputation, but more particularly for the reputation of her office, she should be as open as possible and publish all the documents that she has.
I support the pilot scheme that was introduced in just a limited area across the European Community. I have read about the Home Secretary’s approach to this. It was first put to her back in April this year. She approached her decision with characteristic caution. She requested more information, particularly from security advisers, and she was given the all-clear by those security advisers that in the pilot, under strictly limited conditions—limited in scope and in geographical area—the UK Border Agency could relax some of the restrictions that hon. Members have already mentioned.
But if the hon. Lady is right and the Home Secretary had those concerns at the start of the pilot, the very least I would have expected the right hon. Lady to do was to say to her Immigration Minister, “Watch this, because this could cause serious problems.” Is the hon. Lady not surprised that the Home Secretary never did that?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. I believe the Home Secretary did just as he suggests. It is my understanding, and I am sure that in the winding-up speech we will hear for sure, that the Home Secretary asked the Immigration Minister to keep a close eye on the operation. We should not forget that although it was put to the Home Secretary back in April, the operation did not even start till July this year. We are only in the second week of November, and it has already come to light that things have gone wrong. The media and the Opposition are a little too hasty in coming to such a swift judgment on a pilot that has barely been completed and that the Home Secretary has suspended.
The Home Secretary then decided to allow a limited pilot to be run. It is clear from the limited information we have so far that on several occasions the head of the UK border force authorised staff to go beyond the pilot approved by Ministers. The pilot had been running for only the best part of three months, during which time excesses were agreed by managers on the ground. It might have come to light before now, but as soon as it did come to light the Home Secretary took the right decision by suspending the pilot. The decision to suspend the head of the UK border force was taken by the chief executive of the UKBA, not the Home Secretary. I fail to see why there has been such criticism of her for a decision that was taken in a proper manner by someone else.
The hon. Lady says the Home Secretary did not ask for Mr Clark’s resignation, but in her statement the right hon. Lady basically blamed him for everything that went wrong. By doing so, she has prejudiced any inquiry that could be carried out. Surely it would have been better, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mr Straw) suggested, to keep to the tradition of Sir Patrick Mayhew and carry out an inquiry to find out what went wrong before blaming an individual with 44 years of service at the highest level. That is why the Home Secretary is wrong.
No one fired the individual concerned. There was a resignation following a suspension, and my understanding is that the suspension was not ordered by the Home Secretary. It was immediately instituted because the individual admitted to varying the terms of the pilot.
I will not give way again, as many other Members wish to speak.
I will conclude my remarks by expressing my astonishment, which I am sure many of my constituents share, that Labour Members have sought in such an opportunistic fashion to capitalise on this media storm. Have they no shame? They have proposed this motion in the aftermath of more than 10 years of open and porous borders and what was effectively an amnesty for illegal immigrants. This Government inherited a 450,000 backlog of asylum cases. The Labour party seemed to have a deliberate policy when in power to increase dramatically the number of eastern European workers coming into the country by making Britain one of only two EU member states that did not introduce transitional controls. It was an outrage when seven years ago the then Home Secretary said on television that he expected 70,000 to come from eastern Europe without introducing those transitional controls. There have been allegations that the Labour party deliberately encouraged the policy of mass immigration so as fundamentally to change British society and boost the economy in a completely unsustainable way.
I will not give way, as my time is running out. I apologise to my hon. Friend.
No one voted for the fundamental change brought about in our country over the past 10 years. The Labour party should be doing time for the fraud it served on the British public, rather than seizing the first media storm to challenge the new Government’s commitment to the truly Herculean task of addressing the dire straits into which our immigration system fell when Labour was in power.
It really is quite breathtaking to hear Conservative Members ignore the history of the shambles that was left behind by the previous Conservative Government in 1997. We all know that this is an extremely difficult issue, and it must be taken seriously. I am sorry to say that what we have heard from Conservative Back-Benchers today is a series of partisan remarks that are remarkable in the extent of the loyalty shown to Front-Benchers, who are clearly in enormous difficulty. Loyalty is admirable, but it is not very instructive and it does not contribute to getting to the bottom of an extremely difficult issue.
Absolutely right. I am very disappointed that the Home Secretary is not still in the Chamber, because this debate is about her behaviour and performance. She was remarkably reluctant to take interventions from Labour Members during her speech. Normally on such a big issue—a big occasion in Parliament—the Minister concerned takes a lot of interventions. It was disappointing that she did not do so, and perhaps demonstrates her nervousness about the situation she is getting into, although she still does not seem to understand how serious her position has become.
I want to help the Home Secretary by giving her an opportunity to correct the record. On Monday, I put a question to her in these terms:
“we know who she is blaming in advance of her inquiries, but those who know the people at the top-end of the border force, and who know how that body works, say it is unthinkable that they would have taken these actions without the knowledge and approval of Ministers. That is right, isn’t it?”
“my understanding is that the head of the UK Border Agency admitted he had taken action outside ministerial approval.”—[Official Report, 7 November 2011; Vol. 535, c. 52.]
Well, I think she meant the border force, but that is what she said. We now know that statement to be untrue. The head of the border force has made it clear that he does not accept her description of what has happened, so it would be nice if the Home Secretary could correct the record on that matter.
A further issue is the pilot. The idea that it was suspended one day early by the Home Secretary is not exactly a dramatic gesture in the direction of public concern. Apparently, the relaxation of controls was allowed everywhere under the pilot scheme—Scotland, Manchester, Northern Ireland and right across the country. That is some pilot scheme. Such an approach does not seem to indicate a calculated attempt to see exactly what is happening and evaluate it properly.
I understand that it extended to Northern Ireland, but I also understand my hon. Friend’s point because, at the beginning of the week, the Home Secretary did not seem to know whether the pilot had been extended to anywhere other than Heathrow.
Another point is that there is one cast-iron rule at the Home Office: the need to understand that the devil is in the detail. In fact, I became quite bored by my right hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mr Straw) reminding us of that on a daily basis. That was because he paid attention to the detail and expected his Ministers to do so as well. We cannot expect a Minister to know everything that officials do in their Department and its agencies, but we have the right to ask whether Ministers have asked the right questions and insisted on getting to the bottom of any important issues. During the questions and responses we have heard in the Chamber and in the Home Affairs Committee throughout this week and today, that has not been demonstrated by the Home Secretary.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that any pilot scheme worth its salt must do one thing first of all: ensure that it does not put our borders at risk? Does it seem strange to him that the Government are defending what has happened on the basis that it was a pilot scheme, and that that seems to excuse people being able to get through the border system without controls?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. If the Home Secretary had asked the questions she should have asked as a Minister, she should have been able to answer the key questions put to her on Monday and yesterday, but she was unable to do so.
Normally, advice to Ministers would not come into the public domain, but by suspending a senior official who has a reputation as being highly committed and effective, the Home Secretary has put herself in the firing line and made it essential for all communications to be given to Parliament. My right hon. Friend the shadow Home Secretary asked her for that, but we did not get a positive response. It is time for the Minister for Immigration to tell us whether the Home Secretary is going to let us have the full information, without which Parliament will not be able to make a proper judgment on what went wrong. At the moment, we cannot make a judgment about whether the Home Secretary has told us the truth or whether, as Mr Clark claims, she has lied to MPs. We have to come to a judgment based on evidence, so it is incumbent on the Home Secretary to give us the evidence, the whole evidence and nothing but the evidence.
The Home Secretary knew of the Home Affairs Committee’s concerns about UKBA to which the hon. Member for Oxford West and Abingdon (Nicola Blackwood) referred. In the report that we published on Friday, we said:
“Immigration is an issue which affects the safety, the social cohesion and the economy of Britain as well as its standing on the world stage. For that reason we will continue to hold sessions with the UK Border Agency every four months or possibly even more frequently.”
That was the level of concern. Surely the Home Secretary, who had herself been questioned repeatedly by the Select Committee, should have understood how serious the issue was and would have had herself and her Ministers all over the agency like a rash ensuring that they knew exactly what was going on.
The Home Secretary said that she was explicit about what the pilot would cover and what it must not cover. How has muddle and misunderstanding arisen if she was so clear? We need to know. Her answers were not full and complete. Let us see all the exchanges and see what happened. Giving that information only to an internal inquiry, as she implied today, is not adequate; it needs to be given to Members of this House—to the members of the Home Affairs Committee, in particular, but also to Members of the House as a whole. The Home Secretary has a lot of questions to answer; she has gone no way towards answering them today.
It is an enormous pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Cardiff South and Penarth (Alun Michael), with his considerable knowledge of the way that the Department functions. However, for me, and I hope for other Members of this House, the most disappointing feature of this debate has been that it has taken place not only in a heated atmosphere but, at times, in an extremely ill-tempered one. The right hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr Straw) said that he was concerned that the office of Home Secretary might be diminished by this affair. I am similarly concerned that this House has been diminished by some of the debate this afternoon. I say that because I think the British people are interested in three things as a result of this affair and, indeed, of their more general interest in the question of immigration—but not interested in an opportunistic fashion. I venture to suggest that this is an opportunistic motion, albeit that there have been opportunistic contributions from both sides of the House.
First, the British people want to know precisely what has gone on. Secondly, they want an acknowledgement by politicians in all parts of the House—but particularly, if I may say so to Opposition Front Benchers, by those who formed part of the previous Administration—that something went very badly wrong with immigration in this country for a very lengthy period, as a result of which many of our constituents spent much of the last general election campaign raising immigration with us as an issue that seriously concerned them. I know that the right hon. Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper) has done this in the past in relation to aspects of the previous Government’s immigration policy, but it would do her, and those who sit with her, no harm at all to acknowledge that something went very badly wrong under the previous Government, that having an extra 2.2 million people—twice the population of Birmingham—in this country during the course of the 13 years that Labour was in power was not a good thing or something that increased community cohesion, and that real mistakes were made in relation to other areas such as establishing quotas for those from new-entry members of the European Union.
Thirdly, our constituents want to hear about what ministerial responsibility means in the 21st century in the context of a Department that, as the right hon. Member for Blackburn made clear, is at the forefront of relations between the state and the individual, which is why it has caused such problems for so many Home Secretaries in the past.
I was enormously pleased that the right hon. Members for Cardiff South and Penarth and for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford acknowledged, because this must be the case in the 21st century, that neither the Home Secretary nor any other Minister can know precisely what is going on in their Department. What we therefore need, as my hon. Friend the Member for Hertsmere (Mr Clappison) indicated, is to get to the bottom of what happened on this occasion by virtue of the inquiries that will take place, to listen to the results of the inquiries, and only then to make judgments about the conduct of the Home Secretary and her officials and advisers in the Home Office.
I am very glad. The hon. and learned Gentleman seems a bit surprised that he is giving way to me.
How can we get to the bottom of the matter if it is not guaranteed that the inquiry will be published and that all the paperwork that will be provided to the inquiry from the Home Office will be published? If the hon. and learned Gentleman thinks that it should be, he should vote for our motion.
I am not voting for the motion—let me deal with that point first—because it is entirely premature, as I have made clear. On whether the papers should be produced to the House, which is what most of the motion calls for, the answer is obviously no. The papers need to go before the inquiry. I have no doubt that after the inquiry has reported, a statement will be made to the House. I express no view at the moment about whether the report will be published. My view, which I will share with the hon. Gentleman, is that it ought to be published so that the House knows what it says, suitably redacted if necessary to protect the advice to Ministers that is not generally produced in this House, or indeed at all. That is necessary given the form of government that we have.
In the time that remains to me, I will briefly answer those three questions. What happened here? There was a limited pilot that was agreed to by the Home Secretary, which meant that under limited circumstances European economic area national children, travelling with their parents or as part of a school group, would be checked against the warnings index when assessed by a border force—
I know it in part because I read the evidence that the Home Secretary gave to the Home Affairs Committee, and indeed watched most of it.
I will state what appears to have happened on the basis of the evidence that we have at the moment. We do not have all of it because of the prematurity of this debate and because we have not heard Mr Brodie Clark’s side of events. Mr Clark, according to his boss, accepted that he went beyond what he was permitted to do under the terms of the pilot and what had been agreed by the Home Secretary. It was for that reason that he was suspended, not by the Home Secretary, as the right hon. Member for Cardiff South and Penarth said, but by his boss, as the Home Secretary has made perfectly clear and as his boss has confirmed, after it became apparent that the terms of the pilot had been exceeded.
I just want to correct something that I think the hon. and learned Gentleman might have misunderstood. He said earlier that the warnings index was still being checked for children. It was not. The document that the Home Secretary says covers her guidance expressly states:
“We will cease... Routinely checking all EEA nationals under 18 against the Warnings index”.
Those passports were never scanned.
If I said that, I misspoke.
My understanding is that the terms of the pilot were that children travelling in school groups or with their parents would no longer be checked. Those were the terms that were agreed. They were no broader, in many ways, than the terms of the pilots and systems that were applied by the previous Government. What gives great cause for concern is that the terms of the pilot seem to have been exceeded without reference to Ministers. It is that that the British public need to know about.
We need to get to the bottom of this matter, forgetting the sheer opportunism and ill temper that have permeated this debate, and find out what has happened so that it does not happen again. I also think, if I may say so, that the previous Administration must recognise their faults in the area of immigration.
Order. Many hon. Members still wish to speak, but we are running out of time—interventions are taking up a lot of time—so I am going to reduce the time limit again, this time to 4 minutes from the next speaker, in the hope that Members waiting to speak can get in. Perhaps those who have already spoken could apply some discipline and not intervene.
We have heard a lot about the intricate detail of this policy, but I want to pose two key questions. First, what is the role in the Government of the Home Secretary and her Minister for Immigration? The second question concerns the Government’s overall approach to immigration policy.
Let us wind back to the end of last year. The chief executive of the UK Border Agency announced that she would be leaving her post, and from January she took up another post in Whitehall. At that point, an acting chief executive was appointed, while several acting directors were also in post—as I understand it, some of them remain in post. Of eight posts, up to five at any one time were acting. All were operational posts—not backroom posts, but front-line operational director posts. On 26 September, the new chief executive of UKBA was appointed.
Ministers, and the Minister for Immigration in particular, had a strong responsibility to ensure leadership and continuity at a time when there were so many acting officials. It was his responsibility, in particular, to watch the detail, to ask the questions and to set the direction. Clearly the Home Secretary had a role, but I have been a junior Minister supporting a Home Secretary, and I know that the role of a junior Minister is to look at the detail and to ensure that the Home Secretary has what she needs to do her job. So why has the Minister for Immigration been so silent? Was he reading the detail of the briefings sent to him, and was he watching the Home Secretary’s back? She is protecting him now, and he should be very grateful. The named civil servants who have been condemned publicly in the House and elsewhere have not had the same cover. In his closing remarks, will the Minister tell us what progress reports he received from officials, what action he took to ensure that the pilot, as outlined, took place and where the pitfalls were?
Immigration is a complex project, and it needs that oversight. On the approach to immigration policy, the talk was tough. “Let’s reduce the numbers,” they said, “to tens of thousands, and let’s go back to the levels of the 1980s and early 1990s.” They wanted to create a new border force, forgetting that, actually, UKBA was, in effect, that very thing. The rhetoric on immigration and migration was great, but the actions have been weak. At the same time as all this rhetoric, the Minister for Immigration, in a little-known side move as he abolished identity cards, abandoned fingerprint biometrics in passports. The reason he was appointed to the Home Office was to abolish identity cards, but in the process, he threatened the security of the British passport and, therefore, part of our immigration system. He threw out with the bathwater the precious baby of our security.
We have e-Borders, but only for some and only when it suits the Government. Then, let us look at the budget issues. We saw a 23% reduction in the Home Office budget, and it is naive to think that we can conduct a modern immigration service with fewer resources. I know, because I have been in such meetings in the past, that the Department for Transport, the airlines and the operators will have been putting immense pressure on the Home Office to reduce queues. However, the Home Office’s job is to maintain the integrity of security. It seems that it crumbled, but that is hardly surprising, given that it took its lead from No. 11 Downing Street, because, ultimately, those cuts to the budget led to a cut in service.
The buck stops with the Minister for Immigration, the Home Secretary and, ultimately, No. 10 and No. 11. By cutting too far, too fast and at any cost, the Government have put the security of our borders at risk.
I had the great pleasure of inspecting the border controls at Dover and at Calais with the right hon. Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz), the Chairman of the Home Affairs Committee. We went last year, and we were shown around by Brodie Clark and his fellow officers. It was a very interesting educational journey, and we saw the hard work of the officers on the ground.
Whatever the brickbats from Members on both sides of the House in relation to what did or did not happen in the Home Office among the high-ups and all the rest of it, we ought to pay tribute to the front-line officers at the UKBA, who do a fantastic job standing at our border, keeping watch and keeping guard come rain or shine. It is a difficult job—a very hard job—that requires a lot of experience and knowledge, and the longer they are there, the better they get at just knowing, deep down by instinct and experience, who to stop, and which lorries to stop.
The Home Secretary’s pilot is not a bad idea. Opposition Members say that it is weakening controls, but I am not sure that that is right. It is a different method of border control, which takes a risk-based approach, and if we take such an approach we are saying that we will rely on the experience of those front-line officers to determine who should and who should not be stopped. We are relying on their intelligence and on intelligence gathering.
It is quite significant that, since the pilot was introduced a year or so ago, we have seen a rise in the number of illegal entrants being caught, so we should be slow to say, “Let’s just chuck this pilot out.” Instead, we should carefully and thoughtfully evaluate and consider it, and see whether that way of organising our border controls might actually be the best way.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and in this debate we must be careful not to become too party political, as has already happened. Is it not important to ensure that all three investigations that the Home Secretary has put in place are thoroughly undertaken, so that they can lead into what my hon. Friend is saying?
That is a fair point. There are several important ongoing inquiries into what happened, and they are the right thing to do. It is right that the new boss of UKBA should have the licence and ability to supervise his staff—and that includes Brodie Clark. If the new boss takes that view, and the Home Secretary endorses it, that will be the right execution of the chain of command. The House should respect that, and it should respect the need to let the inquires go through and be conducted properly. I appreciate that the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) may not agree, and may want all the papers published on the internet immediately, but the proper processes should be followed and dealt with. We should ensure that we have the most secure borders possible, because our constituents are deeply concerned about what has gone on.
I talk to people on the doorsteps of Dover who tell me, “I am really unhappy about the fact that we have had so many people come into this country,” and it is a matter of public record that about 2.2 million have done so. European Union citizens have in broad terms a free right of entry to come and go, but that does not apply to people outside the area.
Without trying to be too opportunistic, I wonder whether my hon. Friend agrees that when the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) told the House that concerns over immigration, border controls and asylum were just “nonsense” and apparently “huff and puff” in many of the tabloid newspapers, he showed that he has no credibility on the subject—and neither do the Labour party.
I thank my hon. Friend for that point, and he is right. The hon. Gentleman discussed the matter in a question on the EU constitution, and in fairness I should read out his entire remarks. He said to the then Home Secretary, the right hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside and Hillsborough (Mr Blunkett):
“The Home Secretary may well have heard over recent days much huff and puff in many of the tabloid newspapers about the draft constitutional treaty and what it will do to border controls and asylum and immigration in Europe. Will he ignore all that nonsense”?—[Official Report, 16 June 2003; Vol. 407, c. 15.]
The then Home Secretary replied: “Yes, I agree entirely.” One gets a perspective from that, but I do not want to labour what is a partisan point. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will be able to read out more of what he said—he did go on; indeed, he does go on—when he gets his own chance to make some remarks.
I shall close with the concerns of my constituents. We need more controls for people from outside the European Union. The figures reported by the labour market survey show a total increase of 966,000 in employment between quarter 1 of 2004 and quarter 3 of 2010—that is, 966,000 people not born in the UK. UK-born employment fell by 334,000, while foreign-born UK employment rose by 1.297 million. Of those, 530,000 were born in the EU8 countries. The essential point is that the majority—800,000—were born outside those countries. We see immigration as somehow an EU problem, but there is a bigger problem with people born outside those areas—people for whom we can take controls. I hope that in time we will not only do that, but do more to make the Home Office fit for purpose, after the mess of the past 13 years.
The issue before us today is not what Mr Brodie Clark did or did not do—although I hope that before the end of the debate we will hear from the Front Bench that the Government will put no obstacle in the way of his attending the Home Affairs Committee on Tuesday. Today we need to focus on the arrangements for which the Home Secretary has now admitted she was responsible. She claims that she authorised a pilot to establish a risk assessment approach. It was evident from her statement to the House on Monday that she was more than a little shaky on the details of the pilot—a secret pilot—which was actually a scheme to relax border controls at every airport and port of entry in the country. From the end of July to the beginning of November, literally millions of people passed through our borders without being subject to normal controls. By her own admission, she has no idea how many drug couriers, terrorists, people traffickers or gangsters got through.
A pilot is where we trial a new activity and assess it against the conventional approach, but the Home Secretary did it everywhere. She told us that a risk-based assessment was used, but we know that staff were advised that the measures were to deal with summer pressures. Far from being a pilot, it was a sleight of hand. She wants us to believe that the first she knew of the problem was last Thursday, but there is an operations log that is reported to the Home Office weekly. From July until September, when she authorised a further extension, she had weeks of information at her disposal. Why did she not look at it?
The Home Secretary came to the House on Monday and attempted to deflect the blame for the fiasco on to Mr Brodie Clark. That is a smokescreen designed to blind us to her negligent and inept behaviour. She is responsible for our borders and the security of the British people. As I put to her then, her colleague the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr Davis) dispatched Charles Clarke, the former Home Secretary, on the basis that he was culpable for putting the security of the British public at risk. Sadly, I had to accept that the right hon. Gentleman was right; and, for exactly the same reason, his words are right today. Not only has this Home Secretary failed to protect our borders; she has sought to deflect blame, dump on others and throw a smokescreen over Parliament, rather than admitting that she is guilty of a gross dereliction of duty.
I of all people understand the efforts of Government Whips and the pressure that will be brought to bear on Tory Back Benchers today to speak up for the Home Secretary. I understand the sense of personal loyalty that some will feel, just as I felt it to Charles Clarke. However, if the Home Secretary cannot be relied on to protect our borders, if she cannot be relied on to give a straightforward account to Parliament and the Home Affairs Committee, if her instinct is to blame others when she is caught red handed, and if she puts fear of queues above fear of terrorists, then she is no longer fit for this great office and she should go now with dignity. She can make a clean break today and agree to make available all the information requested in the motion, or we can prise the details out a bit at a time. I doubt that it will save her. I call on her to do the decent thing. This House is good at persuading people to do the right thing. She should do it now.
Since coming to office, the Government have initiated a series of reforms to try to get a grip on the chaos they inherited, such as the cap on non-EU migration, the crackdown on abuses of the student visa system, the accreditation for colleges and the focus on the family route. However, we need to be clear about the size of the task we face after 13 years of open-door immigration, because under the previous Government, as much as Labour Members huff and puff, net migration was more than 2 million.
It is the issue, and we will come to why.
The lack of control under the previous Government was illustrated by periodic catastrophes. They could be dismissed as one-offs—I am sure that that is the intention of Labour Members—but this Government inherited serial, systematic failings that they must clean up. Under the previous Government, the Home Office ignored warnings that visa claims were being backed by forged documents; 1,000 foreign prisoners were released and not considered for deportation; illegal immigrants were cleaning the Home Office; and 12 illegal workers were given security jobs in the Metropolitan police, one of whom guarded the site where the Prime Minister’s car was parked.
I will not give way, because of the time.
We know from Brodie Clark that the relaxation of current checks dates back to 2008. One obvious question is whether the former Home Secretary—the former right hon. Member for Redditch—knew about or authorised the relaxation at that time. That is the institutional context and the legacy that the Government inherited.
I welcomed the Home Secretary’s statement on Monday. One thing remains clear: we still have a long way to go to repair the inherited fractures in our border controls. The big picture, however, is that the Government are dealing with the operational strains that result from the strategic error of one Labour Home Secretary, who said that he could see no obvious upper limit on net migration to this country, being compounded by another who confessed that the UKBA was not fit for purpose but failed to clean up the mess. There are unanswered questions and we need to get to the bottom of each one—that is why three reviews are in place—but we need right answers, not rushed ones.
The motion is so patently a fishing expedition to find something—anything—that might cause political embarrassment. It has little to do with sound public policy; it is all about cheap politics. The net is cast so widely as to be deeply irresponsible on security and the burden on officials, who are working hard to rectify the mistakes that have been made. To demand the publication of every item of official advice and every record of exchange would have a chilling effect on the candour and flow of advice to Ministers. The risk is more of the informal advice and sofa government that we had under the previous Government.
Opposition Members cannot on the one hand cry that Ministers are exposing officials to the harsh glare of media limelight and on the other ask for every official utterance immediately to be released to the public. Things might be different if the shadow Home Secretary were asking specific, focused questions, but she is not. It is irresponsible to ask officials to drain the swamp in search of vignettes for Labour party press releases.
Frankly, the motion trivialises an important debate and the serious scrutiny that the House should exert. All hon. Members should be seriously concerned about the recent failings at the UKBA, but no hon. Member who is concerned could credibly vote for the motion.
The hon. Member for Esher and Walton (Mr Raab) is right that many questions remain unanswered. That is why it was good to have the Home Secretary before the Select Committee on Home Affairs yesterday to answer questions for more than an hour on this important issue.
It is right that we should have this debate today. Hon. Members on both sides of the House have described it as an ill-tempered debate, but I have been a Member of the House for 24 years, and no debate on immigration is not noisy, because these are controversial matters. It is right that the House should look at what the Home Secretary has done. Yesterday, she took absolute ownership of the pilot scheme and made it very clear to members of the Committee that anything beyond that was the responsibility of Brodie Clark.
In the few minutes I have available, I should like to update the House on what the Committee will do in respect of the inquiry. Of course, there will be an independent inquiry set up by the Home Secretary and led by John Vine. The Committee rates John Vine, who has done a terrific amount of good work. In a sense, we wonder what would have happened had he not turned up last week at that terminal in London to find out what was going on. We would certainly not be having this debate today. The fact that he is conducting the inquiry is therefore welcome. I am not absolutely certain that there is a need for two other internal inquiries, but I will go along with the Home Secretary on that. If she feels that they will be useful, let us hear what they have to say.
On Tuesday, the Select Committee will hear from Brodie Clark. I am extremely grateful to him for responding so readily to our invitation to come and speak to us. He has made it clear that he will not make any statements outside the Select Committee hearing or give any newspaper interviews until he has had the opportunity to answer questions from members of the Committee. As what he said yesterday was basically in direct contradiction of what the Home Secretary said, it is important that we hear the views of all sides before coming to a conclusion. We have also asked Rob Whiteman, the new chief executive of the UKBA, to give evidence to the Committee, and when the Immigration Minister gets back to the Home Office, he will see a letter from me inviting him to give evidence to the Committee as well. It is important that he should have an opportunity to tell us what was happening on a day-to-day basis.
The Select Committee has a long record, under successive Governments, of producing reports on the UK Border Agency. My right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle (Alan Johnson) will remember that we also criticised the agency’s operation when he was Home Secretary. The key thing is that, when recommendations are made, they should be implemented. That is why I was heartened to hear what the Home Secretary said about the need for the UKBA to change. This has been a crisis, and it will not be resolved until we have all the answers, but she should use it as an opportunity to look at the organisation. It has been fundamentally flawed for a number of years. I do not go back to the crucifixion, as some hon. Members have done; I go back only to 1987. The agency has been flawed since the day I entered Parliament and discovered, during my very first campaign, that there were bags and bags of unopened mail. It is very important to see what is happening today in that context, and to ensure that we make the necessary changes. All that we ask in the Select Committee is that our witnesses are open and transparent, and that they give us the answers so that we can prepare a good, timely report for the House.
I have been a Member of this House for 17 years—five years in opposition, 12 years in government—and I have been privileged to be a Minister in various Departments. Which was the most toxic Department? The Home Office, for the reasons that have already been given by former Home Secretaries and former Home Office Ministers. I am an ex-Minister in the Home Office, and it beggars belief that the Immigration Minister did not follow this matter through in the way we would expect. There has been a major change to a flagship policy. Immigration and counter-terrorism have been strong policies that, as the Prime Minister has often said, are at the heart of the Government’s response. They have been flagship policies because we need to keep our borders safe and secure, but it has been accepted that there has been a change of policy in the guidance. We have now been told by the Home Secretary that Ministers did not see what was happening. I cannot believe that, but the Immigration Minister will have an opportunity to respond and tell us exactly what did go on—or will he?
I have been around here for 17 years, as I said, and I spent three of those in the Whips Office. My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Steve McCabe) will also recognise the Whips’ operation in action. Most of the Conservative Back Benchers who have spoken today have not talked about the issue concerning the Home Secretary; they have talked about immigration policy and the differences between us in that regard. That is their fault, in the sense that they turned immigration into an election issue. They said that they would reduce the amount of immigration from hundreds of thousands to tens of thousands by the end of this Parliament, but that is not going to happen, because the Government are hitting the problems that all Governments face because of the complexity of the issues. None the less, we will have debates on immigration and on who was at fault.
This is also about the role of the Home Secretary in dealing with members of staff. It was appalling that she attacked Mr Brodie Clark in the way that she did on Monday. People should be given the opportunity to make their case. It is right that we have the inquiry by the Home Affairs Committee and the other inquiries, but the questions that my right hon. Friend the shadow Home Secretary asked need to be answered. The answers need to be in the public domain, because it is grossly unfair for somebody to be criticised and castigated as Mr Clark was without having the opportunity to reply. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle (Alan Johnson), the former Home Secretary, said, Mr Clark will have his day in court; and he will win, because what the Home Secretary did was constructive dismissal.
The debate will end with Government Back Benchers being loyal and the Government carrying the day. The good news for the British public is that the affair will not end today; it will continue. The truth will out. It is never good to see Ministers having to resign after holding on to power for as long as they can, as the Defence Secretary did recently. The Home Secretary should do the honourable thing and resign. The security and safety of our borders is paramount for Government.
It is always far easier to find a scapegoat than it is to find a solution, and we have heard some scapegoating this afternoon. We have heard scapegoating of individuals in the Home Office and we have heard scapegoating of the past. Even the hon. Member for Stourbridge (Margot James), normally such a seraph of sweetness and light in the Chamber, tried to introduce the suggestion that the previous Administration had an amnesty for asylum seekers. Madam Deputy Speaker, you know that at the last election only one party stood in favour of a “keep your head down and everything will be all right” amnesty: the Liberal Democrats, with the mendacious mush of pusillanimity that ended with them swallowing their principles and their pride and selling their souls to the Conservatives.
It is no good scapegoating the Home Office as some evil organism that takes the good and the innocent, and corrupts, kills and throws them out again, like the reactor room of K-19—the infamous Russian nuclear submarine from which no one ever emerged alive. That is not the situation.
We have an intensely difficult problem, dealing with human beings prepared to risk their lives, and in many cases to lose their lives, to come to this country. Any amount of legislation or fine theory comes up against the fact that some young lad from Afghanistan will hang on under a lorry, even though he has a 60% chance of dying, to come to this country.
We are dealing with people for whom the situation is in that order of seriousness, so we should grow up and stop going for the stupid false nostrum that we can pull a wall around this country, even around the forgotten frontier that stretches from Foyle through Belfast lough to Strangford. We cannot build a wall around the United Kingdom—[Interruption.] I appreciate that some may wish to do so, but it is not physically possible.
This summer, Raed Salah, a man banned from this country by the Home Secretary, wandered in through customs with a cheery wave and a tip of his hat—I was going to say that he stopped off at the duty-free, but he probably did not. The current structure is indefensible. How on earth can we possibly justify it?
I end with one positive thought. I speak not for my party on this; in fact, I think I may have more in common with the Home Secretary. Is it not time for us to revisit one of the sanest, most sensible, positive and productive proposals ever heard on the Floor of the House? Identity cards. Is it not time that we looked again at those proposals? Otherwise, we shall never know how many people entered the country this summer until they either rock up in MPs’ surgeries, claiming that their overstay should be regularised, or appear in court. When they are asked how they came into the country, they will reply that it was during those sweet balmy days of summer when people could wander in and nobody said a word. The way to find out is to be like my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle (Alan Johnson), who carries his ID card in his wallet to this day. As does he, so should the nation.
There have been many striking things this afternoon. The most striking one at the beginning was how few members of the Cabinet came to offer their support to the Home Secretary. I have been in this Chamber on many occasions when people have called for a resignation. I have nearly always on those previous occasions seen at least half the Cabinet present. I presume that she does not have much longer, in light of the support from her colleagues.
There have been a great many contributions. I think I am correct in saying that we have heard from three members of the Home Affairs Committee—the hon. Members for Hertsmere (Mr Clappison) and for Oxford West and Abingdon (Nicola Blackwood), although I know she is unable to join us now, and, of course, the much-respected Chairman, my right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz). We have also heard from a former Home Secretary, my right hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mr Straw).
We heard, too, from the right hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake). I must say that when he said he thought the Labour party should have taken a humility pill, I thought that was—well, talk about “pot” “kettle” “yellow”! The Liberal Democrats should be swallowing a humility pill in respect of a whole load of things at the moment—but I think we will leave that to the electorate.
Other contributors were my right hon. Friends the Members for Manchester, Gorton (Sir Gerald Kaufman), for Wythenshawe and Sale East (Paul Goggins) and for Cardiff South and Penarth (Alun Michael); my hon. Friends the Members for Hackney South and Shoreditch (Meg Hillier), for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Steve McCabe), for Bradford South (Mr Sutcliffe) and for Ealing North (Stephen Pound); the hon. Members for Stourbridge (Margot James), for Dover (Charlie Elphicke) and for Esher and Walton (Mr Raab); and the hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Stephen Phillips).
All spoke and made interesting contributions, but what have we learned today? First of all, we have learned that the Home Secretary experimented with lowering our border controls—and unlike the Home Secretary, who made up her contribution, I am not making this up—in the year before the Olympics. She chose to experiment with border controls in the year before the Olympics!
Secondly, we learned that the Home Secretary did not even know what she agreed to in the first place. We saw that classically on Monday afternoon, when Members asked whether the experiment applied to Manchester airport, to Glasgow or to Belfast, and she did not know. She did not have the faintest idea; she was completely clueless. She still does not know today how, where or when her experiment with our border controls was applied. Even after days and days of this issue being the main one in the media, she has not chosen to brief herself to find out how it was applied.
The one member of the Cabinet who was here to provide his paltry support was the Secretary of State for Education. [Interruption.] Oh, sorry—I forgot about the Secretary of State for Wales, because we always do. We have heard that this was a pilot, but I would have thought that a pilot would be introduced in just one airport to see how it worked out, not become an experiment in changing the whole policy on our border controls across every single airport and port of entry into this country. This was no pilot; it was a change of policy.
We have also learned that the Home Secretary extended the experiment for a couple of extra months without even getting a view from the front line on how it was operating. It was only because John Vine happened to go along to Heathrow that we were able to find out exactly what was happening. [Interruption.] The Minister for Immigration says that Ministers cannot be expected to do inspections, yet we heard from the hon. Member for Dover that at least he has been able to go and visit. [Interruption.] Yes, the hon. Gentleman went, but the Minister did not bother.
I am not giving way to the hon. Gentleman; he has already spoken.
We also learned today that data do exist. The Home Secretary admitted that for the first time this afternoon, but she is refusing to publish them. [Interruption.] She is looking confused again; of course she is, because she has not bothered to burrow down into the detail. We want her to publish the data as soon as possible. She also admitted that the interim operational instruction, which we have referred to over the last couple of days, represents Government policy and that it does not stretch Government policy at all.
We have learned today, too, that the Prime Minister and several hon. Members who have been given Government Whips’ handouts think that this policy was a good idea. Well, if it was a good idea, are they going to do it again next year? I suspect not because they know it was not a good idea in the first place. What have we seen in this country?
It is interesting, is it not, that the only pieces of data that Government Members can come up with are the pieces of data that they think will help their argument. If the hon. and learned Gentleman wants the House to have data, let him publish the whole set of data, so that we can know exactly how successful or unsuccessful the operation was. He may wish to present a private Member’s Bill next year, in which case I look forward to seeing how many Government Members support him.
What have we seen in the country, though? One person from the neighbouring constituency of Cynon Valley contacted me, having arrived at Heathrow in the summer. He said that
“all those with biometric passports were called up and just waved through”.
That is precisely the opposite of what Ministers have been saying. I also have a piece of paper from the chief operating officer at Heathrow, who writes:
“Within the passenger environment the highest risk currently at Heathrow is the onset of the student season, which brings with it large numbers of people”.
She goes on to explain how she and her colleagues will be dealing with that. It is, of course, one of the main issues with which the Minister for Immigration is meant to be dealing. The chief operation officer writes:
“We have a number of ways of mitigating that risk, and these are now in place: use of Level 2 measures”—
in other words, the lighter touch—
“with the opportunity to use additional measures where required”.
That flies directly in the face of everything that the Home Secretary has been saying, and everything that the Minister has been saying.