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UK Border Agency

Volume 560: debated on Monday 25 March 2013

We have taken a number of steps to improve the performance of the UK Border Agency. As the Prime Minister said earlier today in his speech, we face a big task of turning around the tanker that is the UK Border Agency, and we will be setting out the next stages of those reforms shortly.

My constituent, Pooja Ramchandani, has been waiting for more than a year for a decision on her application for further leave to remain. The UK Border Agency target is for 75% of applications to be resolved within four weeks, and it has attributed the delay to additional work caused by the Olympics. Can the Minister confirm when the Olympics will cease to be another excuse given to people such as my constituent, a single mother whose child has permission for leave to remain?

My hon. Friend raises a specific case, and if she contacts my office afterwards, I will certainly look into it. Generally, on in-country performance, we have acknowledged that the UKBA was not delivering within its service standards in the past year. By the end of this month, however, it will be delivering the required performance standards in those cases, and I hope that that improvement will be sustained.

May I welcome the helpful comments the Minister made in response to the publication today of the Home Affairs Committee’s report, and his commitment to having a service that has the confidence of the British people? It is important that we discuss immigration in an open and transparent way, whether in the Prime Minister’s speech this lunch time, or in last Friday’s speech on bonds by the Deputy Prime Minister. Does he agree that we cannot implement the proposals unless the UK Border Agency is fit for purpose and we have cleared the backlog of a third of a million cases? Is it not time to take the agency back firmly under the control of Ministers?

I thank the right hon. Gentleman both for his question and for his work in chairing the Home Affairs Committee. I see the Select Committee as a partner with the Government, challenging us and ensuring that we keep focusing and improving the agency’s performance. Although it is an agency, I had not noticed in the past year any difference in the level of accountability that either he expects from me, as a result of its performance, or from this House, as is evidenced by these questions. However, I will reflect further on what he has to say.

It is a pleasure to follow two excellent questions on the same issue. The Home Affairs Committee report on the UKBA published today has some astonishingly poor figures. In quarter 3 of 2012, 18% of tier 1 visas were processed within four weeks—astonishingly bad. I welcome the Minister’s commitment to try and fix that. Does he agree that we cannot have a coherent, fair and credible immigration system when the agency is performing so atrociously?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his work on the Home Affairs Committee. I agree: the figures for quarter 3 last year were not good, and I acknowledged that in my answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Solihull (Lorely Burt). I am pleased to be able to say that by the end of this month, the UKBA will be making decisions for tier 1 visas and others within the service standards that it sets out to its customers, and which they have a right to expect.

Successive Ministers have come to the House of Commons and tried to defend the work of the UK Border Agency. Is the Minister aware that time and time again the agency admits, and has to admit, to a backlog of thousands of cases that have not been dealt with and that go back years—sometimes five, 10 or more? That is a shambles, and the sooner that is recognised by the Government, the better it will be.

I would say two things to the hon. Gentleman. First, while the Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice was doing this job, and since I have been doing it, we have not gone out of our way to defend the agency. We have acknowledged that it is a troubled organisation, but it has many hard-working and dedicated staff and we should not have broad-brush criticism that neglects the work they do. On his specific question about old cases, particularly legacy cases, I simply say that the Government inherited about 500,000 cases from Labour, which we have largely got under control. We are working through a relatively small number of cases and will get that done in the next few months.