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Home Office Removal Targets

Volume 639: debated on Thursday 26 April 2018

Urgent Question): To ask the Home Secretary if she will make a statement about the use of removal targets in the Home Office.

Yesterday, I gave evidence to the Select Committee on Home Affairs about the Windrush generation—the people who contributed so much and who should never have experienced what they have. These people are here legally and should never have been subjected to any form of removal action; and, as I told the Home Affairs Committee yesterday, I have seen no evidence that that has happened.

Everyone in this House agrees that this group were here legally, but also that people who are here illegally should be treated differently from legal migrants. I am personally committed to tackling illegal migration because I have seen at first hand the terrible impact that it has on the most vulnerable in our society—the exploitation and abuse that can come hand-in-hand with illegal migration. That is why my Department has been working to increase the number of illegal migrants we remove.

I have never agreed that there should be specific removal targets and I would never support a policy that puts targets ahead of people. The immigration arm of the Home Office has been using local targets for internal performance management. These were not published targets against which performance was assessed, but if they were used inappropriately, then I am clear that this will have to change. I have asked officials to provide me with a full picture of the performance measurement tools which were used at all levels, and I will update the House, and the Home Affairs Committee, as soon as possible.

Another day, another revelation about the Windrush scandal. Yesterday, giving evidence to the Home Affairs Committee, the Home Secretary said in terms:

“We don’t have targets for removals.”

But the general secretary of the Immigration Service Union told the Committee earlier that there is a net removals target that enforcement teams have to meet and that they are aiming to remove a certain number of individuals in any given month. The general secretary later confirmed that the target this month was 8,337, with targets on posters in regional centres. When Lord Carrington resigned over the Falklands, he said that it was a matter of honour. Is it not time that the Home Secretary considered her honour and resigned?

I would like to make the very clear distinction between legal and illegal migrants. The right hon. Lady talks about the Windrush cohort. We have already established that the Windrush cohort is here legally. This Government are determined to put this right, which is why I put in the new measures to ensure that that happens.

I believe that I have addressed the issue of targets, referring to the fact that some offices are working with them. Unfortunately, I was not aware of them, and I want to be aware of them, which is why I am now putting in place different measures to ensure that that happens.

Will my right hon. Friend be assured that she has the total support of Conservative Members in trying to resolve a very difficult legacy issue? Does she agree that dealing with the Windrush generation, who are entirely entitled to be here, is not the same thing at all, as Labour Members try to say, as removing illegal immigrants?

I thank my right hon. Friend for putting it so clearly; it is such an important distinction to make. This Government, like many Governments before, including Labour Governments, took action against illegal immigrants. Some former Labour Home Secretaries had some very clear targets about removing illegal migrants. Removing illegal migrants is what Governments should be doing in order to protect the taxpayer and in order to make sure that no abuse takes place in the UK.

The revelation that Home Office removal targets exist comes as no surprise to me or any of the hundreds of constituents who have come to my surgeries over the past three years. There is a litany of callous incompetence from this Department. It is a problem of deliberate policy—a cruel “hostile environment” policy introduced by the former Home Secretary, now the Prime Minister, and continued unabated by the current Home Secretary.

Can the Home Secretary tell this House when targets were introduced, who signed them off, and how they were monitored? Can she tell us about the local targets and whether they were in place in Scotland? Can she tell us what happened to Home Office caseworkers who failed to meet those targets? If it is true that posters were being displayed to remind staff of the targets, how is it possible that the Home Secretary and the director of border, immigration and citizenship were not fully aware of this? This Home Secretary is presiding over a Department out of control, marked by cruelty and chaos. Will she stop shielding the Prime Minister? Will she do the honourable thing and resign?

I think that once more the hon. Lady is confusing legal and illegal migrants. Like any other Member of this House, I do not think that she would want the UK to be a home for illegal migrants. That is why we have policies which make it difficult for illegal migrants to thrive in the UK. That is exactly the right thing to do. It was started under former Governments. It has been continued under this one because we must remove people who are here illegally.

I urge my right hon. Friend not to be knocked off course by the Opposition parties on the issue of illegal immigration. Most people in the real world, outside of the Labour party, the Scottish National party and the metropolitan London elite in the media, believe that the Government do not do enough to remove illegal immigrants from this country, not that they are doing too much. All the Opposition parties are demonstrating is how out of touch they have become with working-class communities up and down the country.

I thank my hon. Friend for his comment. He is right; the public expect us to remove illegal migrants who are here and who do damage to our society, and it is right that the Home Office has a policy which makes sure that that has happened. Once more, I want to be absolutely clear that that is not the case with the Windrush cohort, who are here legally, and the group of people we are reaching out to, to make sure that we support them and get the documentation they need.

It is obviously deeply disappointing that the Home Secretary did not know the facts when she gave evidence to our Committee yesterday. I look forward to more detail from her on this, and I have a follow-up question. The Foreign Office has said that in April 2016, as part of regular ministerial dialogue with Caribbean partners, Foreign Office Ministers were made aware of concerns about some immigration deportation cases. Were those concerns passed to Home Office Ministers, and what did they do?

The right hon. Lady raised that with me yesterday, and I said to her then, as I repeat here, that I will look into that and come back to her with an answer to that question as soon as I can.

I asked the Home Secretary at the last urgent question how many people had been deported. She said she did not know. I asked her how many people had been imprisoned in their own country. She said she did not know. There are impact statements that have been ignored. There are letters from MPs, and she said she was not aware of a pattern. We now understand that people have been removed because of targets, and she said she did not know. I say with all conscience: is she really the right person to lead this office of state?

The right hon. Gentleman asked early on about the issue of removals, and I have addressed it in the action that I have taken and in the report that I gave to the Select Committee yesterday. We have established that there were 8,000 people within the cohort who might have had Windrush characteristics—the indication that he has put in his social media—and we have gone through them and found that of the 7,000 we have looked at by hand, none qualify in terms of removal. He quite rightly continues to ask questions about what might have happened in different situations, but I must respond by saying that until we have looked, we cannot have a definitive answer. It has come as some element of surprise to have this particular shape as a number of cases that came to the Home Office over a period. As we discussed yesterday in the Select Committee, there were indications, but they were not put together as the systemic failure that clearly took place.

The Opposition talk about a culture of fear being spread, but is my right hon. Friend aware that it was the shadow Home Secretary in 2013 who complained about a reduction in the number of illegal immigrants being deported?

My right hon. Friend raises an important point. There are plenty of examples and quotations from the Labour party about its targets and determination to remove illegals. Removing illegals is something that everybody and every Government should do and want to do, and this Government make no excuse for wanting to do it, but the Windrush group, whom we all respect, are a completely separate group, are legal, and we want to make sure that we look after them.

The Government have a target to reduce immigration, legal or illegal. Could it be that officials were following Ministers’ lead?

It is my experience that our caseworkers work with compassion and care in administering their duties. Under this leadership, I will always make sure that they do.

To what extent was my right hon. Friend’s Department’s ability to monitor and assess the level of illegal immigration impeded by the abandonment of exit checks in 1998?

My right hon. Friend is right of course that exit checks are an important part of securing our borders and knowing who comes and goes, and I am very pleased that this Government reintroduced them in 2015.

I have always been puzzled about why my constituent Shiromini Satkunarajah, a Londoner and student at Bangor University, was wrongly detained at Yarl’s Wood last year. The answer now seems to be clear. She was a Tamil who escaped from Sri Lanka as a child and was reporting to the police station, as she was required to do under law—she was doing her duty under the law. She was, to use that horrible, dehumanising phrase, “low-hanging fruit”. What is the Home Secretary now doing to identify and provide redress to those not of the Windrush generation but whose lives have wrongly been disrupted by Home Office target chasing?

I want to make it clear that I would never use that phrase, and it is not an approach I would want anybody working in the Home Office to take. I have said that, as a result of the Windrush changes, I will make sure that the Home Office has a more human face. I am setting up a new contact centre and making sure there are more senior caseworkers so that the more junior caseworkers have the confidence to make their decisions by engaging with somebody really experienced. I accept that we need to make the Home Office more personal, and I will be doing that.

Order. I am keen to accommodate a few more colleagues, but there is huge pressure on time and therefore all inquiries, without exception, need to be brief, and the responses characteristically so from the Home Secretary.

May I commend the Home Secretary for her response to the Windrush scandal but press her on the separate issue of illegal immigration? Press reports this week show that 27,000 illegal immigrants have been arrested by 28 forces in the past four years. Why is it being left to the police to arrest illegal immigrants? Why are they not being stopped at the border?

I accept that we should do more at the border, although there are areas where we are having some success. I point, in particular, to our juxtaposed border in France, in Calais, where we stop an enormous number of illegals trying to get to the UK. We are investing more money, alongside the French, to make sure we can have more success there, so I hope that my hon. Friend will see some progress.

This is not about illegals; it is about British citizens and people with a legal right to be here, and it goes well beyond the Windrush generation. How many cases are known to Ministers and officials of people who have been wrongfully deported or wrongfully detained? I know for a fact that there are cases in both categories—I met some of the individuals yesterday. How many are there in each category?

As I said to the hon. Gentleman yesterday at the Select Committee hearing, as a result of the Windrush scandal, we are going back to 2002 to look at whether there have been any inappropriate deportations, and when we have that information, I will come back to the Committee.

When I was elected in May 2010, I was shocked by the sheer number of unresolved immigration cases I had to deal with straightaway. Does my right hon. Friend recall that under the last Labour Government, the then Home Secretary had to have two separate amnesties because no one knew how many people were here?

I do recall that, and I do recall some of the choice phrases that previous Labour Home Secretaries used about the Home Office. Under this leadership, we will be able to change that and make real progress.

Immigration is one of the most high-profile areas the Home Secretary is responsible for, and one that the public care deeply about. Was she asleep when she did not know there were targets for the removal of illegal immigrants?

Immigration is a really important part of the role of the Home Office and the Home Secretary. It is not the only part, but it is one in which I take a serious interest, and I believe that the changes I will be making will enable better monitoring of issues that arise, such as that of the Windrush cohort, which, as we have discussed, is a situation that has been going on for many years and was not spotted by any previous Government. I hope that those changes will help to give me those sorts of alerts.

Whatever the historical background to the problems, the Government have committed to paying compensation, where appropriate, to members of the Windrush generation. Will the Home Secretary confirm that she will have a wide-ranging consultation before putting that scheme in place?

I do think it is important to set up a compensation package; it is important that that compensation is independently monitored; and it is important that a consultation is carried out before that takes place. I hope that my hon. Friend will be satisfied when I set that out in due course.

I think people will accept that the Home Secretary and her lead official did not deliberately mislead the Home Affairs Committee yesterday, not least because what she said was so easily disproved. But it is a very serious matter that she and her lead official appeared not to be aware of the removal targets.

I repeat to the hon. Gentleman that I have not authorised any targets for the future. I have seen the information that has been revealed, and I have heard about the types of phrases that the hon. Member for Arfon (Hywel Williams) referred to, and that were apparently used to the Committee. I thoroughly disagree with that; I think we should have a compassionate, clear and informed approach to immigration, and I am going to ensure that that happens.

Quite rightly, my right hon. Friend has set up a dedicated team to deal with the issues that affect the Windrush generation. Will she update the House on how quickly these cases are being processed?

I committed in the House to making sure that when the information is collected by my taskforce, the conclusions and the documents are passed to the individuals within two weeks. That target is being exceeded at the moment, and it is my strong aim and ambition to ensure that that high level of service is kept up, because those individuals deserve nothing less.

Is the Home Secretary, like her predecessor, the current Prime Minister, “sick and tired” of Ministers who blame others when something goes wrong? Surely, if the Home Secretary takes full responsibility for this serious issue, she should do the honourable thing and resign.

I do take seriously my responsibility, but I think that I am the person who can put this right. I understand that the House will want to hold me to account for that, but I am confident that the changes I am committed to putting in place, and the transparency that will go with them, will deliver the changes that are expected.

May I ask that the Home Secretary bears in mind the views of my constituents, who have praised the compassion that she has expressed on behalf of the Windrush generation but also said that they would like a continued focus on the removal of illegal migrants who take advantage, unfairly, of all law-abiding taxpayers?

I thank my hon. Friend for his question. Although I do not in any way minimise the serious nature of what took place with the Windrush group, I agree with him that in the vast majority of cases and situations, my office and UK Visas and Immigration do an excellent job, and I am proud of the work that they do.

It is clear that the extreme pressure that is put on local teams is coming from the central target to reduce immigration to the tens of thousands, and to include international students in that target. Is now not the time to rethink that central approach to immigration, and to make sure we focus the pressure where it needs to be focused, not on things that are unrealistic?

The targets that were apparently being looked at were for illegal migrants, so I think it is wholly different. There may be a time for a discussion about legal migration, but at the moment I think it is right that our focus is on illegal migration to make sure that it is handled in a fair, compassionate and transparent way.

Yet again, the Opposition are playing politics with people’s lives. Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is morally wrong to confuse illegal immigration with that of the Windrush generation?

My hon. Friend makes an important point about the strong difference between legal and illegal migration. If Opposition Members looked back at their own former Home Secretaries, they would find some very strong language and some clear targets on removing illegals from this country.

I will do my best to delight, Mr Speaker. Many highland families have faced deportation or have been deported because of the highly technical rules, or even because of rule changes during compliance. Does the Secretary of State agree that this aggressive targeting is ripping the heart out of highland communities?

I have resolved to put in place a more personal system for when applicants go to UKVI, and I think and hope that the hon. Gentleman’s constituents will, in due course, notice a difference.

It is not fair, Mr Speaker. You set me up to fail and I always do. This is a serious issue. Does my right hon. Friend agree that part of Labour’s dreadful legacy was an obsession with targets? As an excellent new broom, will she assure us that she will search in every nook and cranny, and ensure that immigrants, migrants, are seen as people and not numbers?

I completely agree with my right hon. Friend’s approach, and I do not want us to be run by a target culture. I want to ensure that the individual is put at the heart of every decision.

Thank you, Mr Speaker, I will do my best. Is not the problem that a culture of tunnel-vision suspicion has been encouraged in the Home Office? Only last week in my constituency, that culture led officials to attempt to remove a man who had come to this country legally on a multi-entry visa, to be with his wife who had just been through a difficult pregnancy and termination. He had booked a return ticket to Jamaica, but officials said that he had “undermined his position” because he said that he wanted to spend as much time with his wife as he was legally able to do. Is not there something wrong with that kind of mindset?

I hope the hon. Gentleman was able to resolve the situation for his constituent. I have had nothing but praise from MPs about the MPs, hotline, which works well for people—[Interruption.] Clearly there are a few exceptions on the SNP Benches, but most colleagues across the House have said that it works well, and I hope it was able to be of assistance.

Illegal immigration is wrong because it creates unfairness for legal migrants, like the Windrush generation, who do the right thing and play by the rules. Is it not vital to keep that distinction and not allow the Labour party cynically to conflate the two issues for political purposes?

My hon. Friend is right: it is a completely different situation. Everybody in the House wants to welcome the Windrush cohort and ensure that they are properly looked after and that a compensation scheme is put in place, which is the right thing to do, but we all have a different view about illegal migrants.

This week the Home Secretary said that she was not aware of a number of policy initiatives. Who is running her Department?

I accept the criticism regarding the issue that I debated earlier today and my conversations with the Home Affairs Committee, and that is why I am in the House to set out the changes that I will make. I hope I will have the opportunity to make those changes clear to the House in future, and to continue to develop the confidence of everybody involved.

I am lucky to have constituents who have come to Leicestershire from all over the world, and they are inspirational people. Does the Home Secretary agree with them that it would not be fair to abolish the distinction between people like them who have done the right thing and obeyed all the rules, and those who have come to this country illegally?

That is a good point: people who have come here legally and who go through the rules and pay—sometimes quite a high cost—to become a member of our communities, are also those who do not want illegal migration to be treated trivially. That is why we are committed to taking a firm approach to illegal migration.

As reported by Faisal Islam yesterday, in 2013 the Foreign Office funded videos that promoted deportation to Jamaica, but it acknowledged that the challenge of resuming a life after an absence of 20 or 30 years can be daunting. Will the Home Secretary explain why Government Departments are pushing for deportations to countries such as Jamaica?

We are not pushing for that sort of event. [Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman may want to bring videos into the Chamber, but I am not aware, Mr Speaker, that we are allowed to play them in here yet.

My right hon. Friend is showing real steadfastness throughout this situation. Is she aware of the disquiet on doorsteps in Solihull about illegals accessing services? All sensible countries have a balanced approach to immigration, including removal when necessary.

I thank my hon. Friend for his comment, and he is right. His constituents, like mine, will want to make sure that services available from the DWP, such as benefits, are not made available to illegals. Labour of course supported that approach when they were in office some years ago, and this Government have continued to build on that.

The Home Office decides who is legal and who is illegal in these cases. I have seen deported—or threatened with deportation—a man with scars on his back from whipping; somebody who was terminally ill and later died; and somebody whose dead children are buried in my constituency. All those people have been classed as illegal by the Home Office. Surely they should not be removed.

All those cases sound very difficult, but I cannot make immigration comments on the Floor of the House. I am very happy if the hon. Lady wants to talk to me or send me details of individual cases; I will make sure that we look at them.

I thank my right hon. Friend for being completely focused on getting help to real people who need and deserve it. Can she reassure my constituent that the compensation scheme will be designed in full consultation with those people who deserve compensation?

My hon. Friend is right. We need to make sure that the compensation scheme addresses the actual needs of people who have lost out by not having their proper documentation put in place by successive Governments. That is why I am committed to having a consultation on the scheme and making sure that it is run independently.

Will the Home Secretary please commit to Home Office officials playing by the rules as well, and look into the case of the partner of my constituent Kelly, who was deported back to Jamaica last week with no notice, when his appeal had still not been decided? His partner is due to give birth in four weeks’ time.

I thank the hon. Lady for raising that case with me. The Minister for Immigration is sitting beside me; I know she will want to discuss that case with the hon. Lady.

The independent inspector’s report in 2015 reported:

“The Family Returns Process’s target for the financial year 2014/15 was 252 returns”—

including both voluntary returns and required returns. Is or is not that a target? Did the Home Secretary or her predecessor know about it? Is it still in place or not?

We made changes in 2010 that were specifically to support families and children who might be at risk of being removed. For instance, we banned the detention of children outside of families, which had been taking place before 2010. So I believe we made some changes in 2010 and going forward, which really were trying to assist families and children, rather than the opposite.

Does the Home Secretary consider the Chagos islanders, who are in the UK because they were forcibly removed from their ancestral homelands by the British state, to be illegal migrants? Do any attempts to remove them count towards these targets?

I know the Chagos islands have a specific situation. I also know that my hon. Friend the Member for Crawley (Henry Smith) will be bringing his British Indian Ocean Territory (Citizenship) Bill to the Chamber soon and I look forward to hearing the arguments on it.

Even if they avoid final deportation, the experience of being arrested and being detailed indefinitely without trial is a humiliating and degrading experience for any innocent person. Can the Home Secretary tell us how many innocent, legally here, people have been subjected to unlawful arrest and detention, thanks to these targets?

I do not accept the premise of the hon. Gentleman’s question. The real issue here, which started with how the Windrush generation have been treated, is one that I am looking at very seriously, because I believe that they were incorrectly identified, in some cases, as illegal, when of course, as we all know, they are here legally. That is the case load that I am going through at the moment. We have gone through 8,000 out of 9,000, back to 2002, and we have not yet found anybody who meets that threshold.