With permission, Madam Deputy Speaker, I would like to make a statement on the use of DNA evidence in immigration applications.
Many thousands of immigration applications are received every year that involve people applying to come to, or remain in, the UK on the basis of a family relationship with somebody who is already here. If an individual does not have sufficient evidence to show that they are related to someone in the UK, they sometimes choose to take a DNA test to prove the relationship. Officials then consider this evidence as part of their claim. Very often, it will be to the advantage of the applicant because it can establish family relationships beyond doubt where the other available evidence is sometimes insufficient.
The provision of DNA evidence must, however, be entirely voluntary. At the end of June, it was brought to our attention that there were some immigration cases where the provision of DNA evidence had been made a requirement for the issuance of a visa or the granting of leave to remain, and not simply a request. Such demands are unacceptable. I want to take this opportunity to apologise to those affected by this practice. In this context, the law states that the provision of DNA evidence should always be voluntary and never mandatory. My predecessor made that absolutely clear when she brought in changes in 2014.
Once we were made aware of the issue, we immediately commissioned an urgent internal review, which I am publishing today. Copies will be available in the Library. My right hon. Friend the Immigration Minister will also be writing today to the Home Affairs Committee to outline the key points of the review and to provide a copy. The review covered the legal aspects of DNA use, policy and guidance, caseworking practice and correspondence with applicants, as well as oversight arrangements relating to the use of DNA. It outlines a number of areas in which guidance was unclear or wrong. It also outlines areas of operational practice where DNA evidence was improperly required and provides some initial information on the possible scale of the issue. The review makes a number of recommendations about how to address the root causes within the border, immigration and citizenship system that led to this operational practice.
This review is not, however, a conclusion to the work. The numbers and information in the report have been collected at pace and still need to be fully assured and are subject to change. Further work is needed to ascertain the full scope of the issue. Regardless of the number of people affected, one case is still one too many, and I am determined to get to the bottom of how and why in some cases people could be compelled to supply DNA evidence in the first place.
The majority of cases identified so far have been part of Operation Fugal, which, according to the report, started in April 2016 to address patterns of fraud in some specific family and human rights immigration applications. Letters sent as part of that operation incorrectly stated that the applicant must provide DNA evidence and that not providing such information without a reasonable excuse would lead to the application being refused on suitability grounds. It has been reported that 83 applications had been refused at the time the report was written, and seven of those seem to have been refused on suitability grounds due solely to a failure to provide DNA evidence. A further six appear to have been refused on suitability grounds for failure to provide DNA evidence, although that was not the sole reason.
In addition to Operation Fugal, we have identified an improper approach to the use of DNA evidence in two further areas. The first relates to adult dependent relatives of Gurkhas. In January 2015, a scheme was expanded to allow adult dependent children of Gurkhas who were discharged before 1997 to settle in the UK. Published guidance stated that DNA evidence may be required and that applications may be refused if that evidence was not provided without a reasonable excuse within four weeks. That published guidance was wrong and has now been updated. The report suggests that 51 cases were identified where DNA evidence was requested from applicants at their own cost. At the time the report was written, we were aware of four cases from the same family unit whose application was refused solely because they did not provide DNA evidence. Those decisions have now been corrected.
The second case relates to Afghan nationals. In 2013, applications to resettle in the UK from Afghan nationals who were formerly employed by the UK Government began to be accepted. The terms of the scheme included mandatory DNA testing for family groups, paid for by the UK Government. Current investigations suggest that no one making an application under that scheme was refused because they did not take a DNA test. None the less, mandatory testing should not have been part of the scheme, and that requirement has now been removed.
Let me be clear: across our immigration system, no one should have faced a demand to supply DNA evidence, and no one should have been penalised for not providing it. In particular, I extend my apologies to those Gurkhas and Afghans who have been affected. The two schemes I have described were put in place to help the families of those who have served to keep our country safe, and I am sorry that demands were made of them that never should have been made.
I reassure the House that I am taking action to correct the situation. First, I have given clear instructions that officials must not seek DNA evidence on a mandatory basis in any immigration case. Secondly, I have set up a new taskforce so that anyone who feels that their case may have been influenced in any way by an inappropriate demand for DNA testing can get advice and support. Thirdly, we will be looking to reimburse any individual who has suffered financial loss because we required DNA evidence when we should not have done so. Fourthly, we will continue closely to examine whether this approach might have been taken in any other parts of the immigration system. So far we know that three cohorts have been affected, but we must investigate whether there are any more. I will be asking for independent assurance on everything we do as we establish the facts. Finally, I know that the immigration system is operated by many highly committed people, but we must ensure that the structures and processes they use are fit for the modern world and fit for the new immigration system that we will be bringing in after we leave the European Union.
I will review more broadly our structures and processes to ensure that they deliver a system in a way that is fair and humane. I will now consider what form that review will take, but my starting point is that it would be helpful to have independent oversight. The review will also need to build on the lessons learned from the Wendy Williams review, and I will want Wendy to play a full part in this wider exercise.
When I became Home Secretary, I made clear that I would be prepared to take action to put right any wrongs as and when I became aware of them. Today, I promise the House that I will get to the bottom of what has gone on in relation to DNA evidence, and I will build an immigration system that provides control but that is also fair, humane and fully compliant with the law.
I thank the Home Secretary for prior sight of his statement on the improper use of DNA evidence. He will be aware that all our constituents, including those of immigrant descent, want an immigration system that is robust, but they also want it to be fair. The widespread public response to the Windrush scandal tells us how seriously the general public take the question of fairness in our immigration system.
We now know from the Home Secretary’s statement that the mandatory provision of DNA was neither legal nor fair. He stated that under the law, DNA evidence must always be provided on a voluntary basis. Can he therefore clarify that the demand for DNA evidence was, in itself, illegal, and if so, what legal consequences will follow? Members across the House will no doubt be shocked to learn that among the first victims of this abuse were Gurkhas and Afghans—men and women who put their lives at risk to keep this country safe. Ministers must clarify how long this practice has been taking place, and under what internal Home Office regime it was allowed or encouraged and at what level.
The Home Secretary spoke about reviewing the current structure and processes of our immigration system, which I welcome. He will be aware that the Law Society has said that there are serious flaws in the immigration system, and one indicator of those flaws is the state of appeals. In the last year for which we have records, fully 50% of appeals were upheld, which is an indicator of a system that is internally flawed. Waiting times for immigration appeals have risen by 45%. The Home Secretary talks about independent oversight, but what more effective oversight is there than a system of appeals that is speedy and that works?
Finally, I remind the Home Secretary that the visa and immigration service faces what will possibly be the biggest single influx of applications in its history when EU nationals who live in the UK seek to settle their status post Brexit. It is a matter of urgency that we put in place processes and structures that can guarantee a speedy, efficient and fair resolution of cases.
I thank the right hon. Lady for her comments. She asks a number of reasonable and sensible questions to which I will reply. She started by saying that the immigration system must be robust—we all agree with that, absolutely—and that it must also be fair. The issue I have brought to the House today is of concern to us all and something that, at least in this regard, is not fair. As I said at the start, this should not have happened, and there should not have been any request in any immigration case, whether family related or not, for mandatory DNA evidence.
The right hon. Lady asked me to make it clear that this is illegal. My understanding is that the Home Office has never had the express power to require anyone to give DNA. It has never had that express power. There have been a number of Acts over time that have referred to this and tried to make it clear. As I mentioned in my statement, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister was, when she was Home Secretary, the first Home Secretary to put it completely beyond doubt by amending an Act—I think a 2007 Act—and then again in 2014 to make it absolutely clear in law. As I say, the Home Office has never had the power to compel anyone to provide DNA evidence.
The right hon. Lady will know that we want to have a further review to look into this much more deeply and wanted independent assurance of that. She may be interested to know that we are finding practices, in the cases to which I have already referred, that might go back further. For example, in 2009 two pilots were established by the then Government: the familial testing pilot, which used DNA evidence to verify a child’s biological connection with a family during asylum screening; and the human provenance pilot, which used DNA testing and a technique called isotope analysis to attempt to establish whether asylum applicants were from the country of origin that they had claimed. It is therefore important that we have a review that is thorough and goes back as long as it needs to, because, as I say, the Home Office has never had the power to compel people to supply DNA evidence.
The right hon. Lady referred to the broader review of structures and processes. I thank her for welcoming that. She referred to work that has already been done by the Law Society on part of the structures and processes in the immigration system. I have a great regard for the Law Society, which does just this type of work. It is just the kind of organisation we should be listening to.
The right hon. Lady also referred to the appeals process. There have, over recent years, been a number of changes to the appeals process which I think make it fairer, but she is right to raise this issue. This is clearly a very important part of the immigration system, making sure it is fair and that people feel they have had the right to make their case properly and the right to have a person take a second independent look at their case. There is work to be done there.
Finally, the right hon. Lady referred to the EU settlement scheme, which again she is right to refer to. It is a big and ambitious scheme which, over a relatively short period of time, is designed for 3.5 million European citizens. We want them to stay in our country. Whether there is a deal or no deal, we have been very clear that we want them to stay and we want to make that as easy as possible. I do not doubt how ambitious that is. The Home Office has dedicated a significant amount of resources to it and there is significant oversight of the scheme. I can tell her that the reports from the beta testing that has taken place so far, on a limited number of cases in their thousands, have been very encouraging. If I remember correctly, I think most people found that they could register in about 20 minutes through the app system that has been developed. Approximately over 90% of people asked how they found the process said that it was very straightforward and easy to use, but she is right to raise this issue. It is one of those things we all need to get right.
I welcome the review and the recognition that the provision of samples should be on a voluntary basis. However, does the Home Secretary agree that firm immigration control is important and that providing this sort of evidence is a way for an applicant to have their application dealt with in a speedy way? It is good evidence and a very useful thing. I do not know whether he would like to clarify that, because it seems to me that, yes, it should not be mandatory, but it is a very good thing and often in the interests of the applicant.
My right hon. and learned Friend makes a good point. First and foremost, it is worth stating again that it should never be mandatory to supply DNA evidence. He is right to point out that where individuals feel it can help their case and want to submit DNA evidence voluntarily we should always be open to that. He is also right to say that in many, many cases it helps individuals to make their application and get exactly what they want.
I am grateful to the Home Secretary for advance sight of the statement, although when I saw the title “Immigration” I hoped perhaps he was coming to provide a more detailed answer to my question to the Prime Minister yesterday about the crisis in the visa system. But then the Home Secretary has his fair share of crises to choose from.
The Scottish National party accepts that from time to time DNA can be a fair and useful tool in processing immigration applications, but it is clear now that it has become dangerously and unethically overused by the Home Office, making life unnecessarily difficult for applicants. We have seen: children who already have British passports being asked for DNA when trying to renew them; other kids being asked for a new test, even though it had already been provided; and, the root of today’s statement, people receiving demands for their DNA even though the guidance said that alternative proof was perfectly acceptable. This is another example of the Home Office being out of control and the result of a migration target with which they are still completely obsessed. It is more evidence that the hostile environment lives on.
We welcome the clarity that it is absolutely not and never will be mandatory for DNA testing, and we welcome the apology that has been offered. Will the Home Secretary confirm that it is now policy that acceptance of the relationship by Government for a different purpose, such as child support, will be sufficient for immigration purposes? Is it the case that if the relationship is accepted for one immigration or nationality purpose, it will not subsequently be challenged unless there are exceptional reasons? Is there guidance on how to handle unexpected DNA results? I understand there used to be publicly available guidance about what happened if a DNA test showed that the biological father was not the presumed father. Where is that guidance, and will it be released and updated?
Finally, sometimes DNA can be the only means of proving a relationship in refugee family applications and Dublin III applications. Such tests used to be funded by the Home Office for family reunion, as many refugee families are destitute. Why not return to that position if the Government are genuinely keen to pursue a humane approach? Of course, they could also do that by adopting the private Member’s Bill on family reunion promoted by my hon. Friend the Member for Na h-Eileanan an Iar (Angus Brendan MacNeil).
First of all, the hon. Gentleman refers to DNA testing with regard to the immigration system being overused. I would just caution him. As I said in my statement, more work needs to be done to see how widespread what should not have happened, the mandatory use, was. In many cases, it is voluntary. I hope the hon. Gentleman is not suggesting that it should not even be allowed in voluntary cases. [Interruption.] No, he is not. Clearly, where an individual feels it would help their application, I think it is right and proper that the Home Office takes that into account. But let me be clear: where it has been mandatory that it is not acceptable. That should not have happened.
The hon. Gentleman asked about other parts of Government, in particular the Department for Work and Pensions, and, where there is voluntary testing, whether it can be used between Departments. I am happy to take that to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, and I will make sure that the hon. Gentleman gets a response on that.
The hon. Gentleman talked about the funding of DNA tests and whether there is help with funding. The key point is that if a DNA test is funded by the Government, for whatever circumstances, it should only be in a case where it is voluntary, not mandatory.
I thank the Home Secretary for rapidly coming to the House and giving us this statement, which sets out a clear plan of action for how to deal with what may arise. The immigration system is highly complex. I look forward to the Government, when they come forward with the immigration Bill, setting out something new, transparent and workable, and which, with sufficient training, will keep our borders safe.
I thank my hon. Friend for his comments. He is absolutely right to point out that the immigration system is highly complex. We have seen evidence today of where it can sometimes go wrong. We should not let that take away from the fact that it successfully processes tens of thousands of applications each year, with lots of hardworking people in the Home Office doing a stellar job. When it goes wrong, however, we need to react. He is right to link this with the new immigration system, which we will introduce after we leave the EU. This is a further lesson on how we can simplify it, maintaining control while also making it fairer and more compassionate.
The contents of the Home Secretary’s statement are shocking and may have had a devastating impact on families’ lives. It would be helpful to know whether everyone affected has been contacted. I welcome the Home Secretary’s approach but, given that this comes after the Windrush crisis, he will recognise that it means that things have gone badly wrong in the Home Office. So that we can pursue the matter, will he ensure that the full Alex Allan review is sent to the Select Committee? Will the Secretary of State ensure that the review that he has rightly set up is wide enough to include the impact of Government targets, such as the net migration target, on decisions that may have been made on a casework basis?
I thank the right hon. Lady for her comments and for her work as Chair of the Home Affairs Committee, which rightly provides scrutiny of such issues. I hope that we have the opportunity to discuss the matter further at the Committee. As I have said, alongside the report that has already been done on this, we will be writing to the Select Committee today with further information that will be published for the whole House.
The right hon. Lady brought up the Windrush scandal, in which, as we now know, many people were wrongly treated. There is ongoing work in terms of lessons to learn from that. As I mentioned in my statement, the work that is being done independently, especially by Wendy Williams, is an important part of the wider review of structures and processes. In relation to Windrush, the right hon. Lady mentioned the Alex Allan review. The Cabinet Secretary is considering that issue, and we will shortly proceed with what we can and cannot publish on that.
The Home Secretary spoke with alacrity and clarity about the need to get the system right and, in the words of the shadow Home Secretary, to make sure that it is both fair and robust. To that end, it is important that people who choose to offer DNA should be encouraged to do so, if it speeds up their cases. All of us across this Chamber have dealt with cases in which there have been long delays and people have been left in almost endless limbo. The voluntary provision of DNA might be a helpful tool for dealing with that. I hope that the Home Secretary will look at that in the review that he is about to carry out.
My right hon. Friend makes a very important point. It is good to remind the House that my statement was about the wrongful mandatory use of DNA evidence; as he says, DNA evidence can be a very helpful tool when it is completely voluntary. I understand that the Home Office has, in some cases, helped individuals to do that on an absolutely voluntary basis, because the provision of such evidence can help people, especially if they are in particularly distressing or difficult situations or they are otherwise vulnerable. I think it is helpful to point out that when someone chooses to provide DNA evidence, and it is purely their choice, that should be taken into account.
I thank the Home Secretary for his statement, and particularly for his tone and apology. Is it not the case, however, that the DNA scandal suggests that the Home Office’s hostile environment policy pushed officials to break the law? Will his structure review consider a root-and-branch reform of this nasty culture and consider giving the processing of immigration and asylum applications to a new unit that is independent from the Home Office—a unit that can ignore political pressures and simply work efficiently, fairly and lawfully?
I think the right hon. Gentleman meant to refer to a compliant environment. That is an environment in which we make sure, on behalf of British citizens, that we have a robust immigration policy that is fair to people, but that enables us to be strong on those who set out to abuse our immigration system and enter or settle in our country illegally—for example, in fraudulent cases—not least to be fair to those who use legal routes for migration to or settlement in the UK.
It is worth reminding the right hon. Gentleman that for five years he was part of a Government that worked on compliant environment policies, which began many years before that with previous Governments. He now appears to have a problem with some of those policies, but I do not remember him raising them when I sat alongside him in Cabinet. That said, there absolutely are lessons to learn from this. We must conduct the right review, with independent oversight, and learn those lessons.
Unlike the vast majority of my colleagues in this Chamber, I am an immigrant to this country. I am proud to be the first Polish-born British Member of Parliament. When I came here in 1978, if the state had asked me for a DNA sample, I would have had no problems whatsoever with providing that. I disagree fundamentally with the Secretary of State, and I do not understand why he is apologising. Does he have the full support of the Cabinet for his statement? What is the matter with the United Kingdom asking for a DNA sample when somebody comes to this country and seeks to become a British citizen?
Let me take my hon. Friend’s question in two parts. First, he pointed out that he is an immigrant. I love immigrants who have settled in our country, and that includes him. On his second point, whether or not he thinks we should mandate the provision of DNA—he is entitled to his own view on that—the law does not allow us to mandate it, and that is why I am apologising
That is another good question. I wish I could confirm whether the Home Office does or does not hold such evidence and if it does, to what extent, but I do not have answers to all the questions. When I have the answers and they have been independently looked at, I will be very happy to come back to the hon. Lady and give her a proper response.
I am happy to confirm that for my hon. Friend. It is worth highlighting that applicants who voluntarily provide DNA often do so because they are in conflict zones, because they are from countries where records have been destroyed or have become unreliable, or because they have become refugees and can no longer access their records. In such a case, someone may voluntarily offer DNA, which can provide a quick way of determining the facts and helping that person.
In his statement, the Home Secretary said that the matter was brought to Ministers’ attention at the end of June. I very much welcome the statement, but I wonder whether Ministers asked questions of officials at any point to reassure themselves that DNA samples and evidence were being used appropriately.
As I understand it, the matter was originally brought to Ministers’ attention by a question from the hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Afzal Khan), who is on the Opposition Front Bench. I believe he had concerns as a result of a constituency case and he tabled a written question, to which the Minister for Immigration responded, about Government policy. As I have said today, it has never been Government policy to request DNA mandatorily. The question prompted further investigation, and within days of the matter being brought to the Minister’s attention an internal review was launched. We now have the outcome of that first review, but, as I have said, it is not the conclusion of this. We need more answers.
How many immigration applications are made each year on the basis of a family relationship, and in what proportion is DNA voluntarily supplied? Presumably, the Home Secretary has been given that information. Will he share it with the House?
My constituent Maria, who has dual nationality, has been resident—indeed, a teacher—in the UK for 41 years and has been married to a UK national for as long as I have been alive, but she is unable to obtain a UK passport in her married name, by which she has been known in this country for four decades. She has been told that, if she changes back to her name of 40 years ago, she may be able to obtain a passport. Will the Home Secretary look at her case, and exercise some of the common sense that has been lacking thus far?
It is worth our reminding ourselves that the Gurkhas have been an integral part of our British armed forces for more than 200 years. We owe them—the Gurkhas who are in Britain and the Gurkhas who are not, and their predecessors—immense gratitude for everything that they have done to help our country. That is precisely why a scheme was already in place, before the DNA issue arose, to help Gurkhas to settle in the UK if they chose to do so. We have discovered through the review that was carried out that when the scheme was expanded to allow even more Gurkhas—and the adult dependent children of Gurkhas who were already here—to settle, some were improperly asked to provide DNA, and, indeed, told that they must do so. In the cases of which I am currently aware in which that was done and visas were refused, we have corrected the position and the visas have been issued, but at this point I cannot tell the House that those are the only cases, because there is a further review to be conducted.
I welcome my right hon. Friend’s determination to improve the immigration system. The use of DNA evidence is an important tool, but it is clearly not mandatory under the law. Will my right hon. Friend reassure the significant number of Gurkha veterans and their families who reside in my constituency that he will continue to ensure that all outstanding cases, and those not yet identified, are dealt with expeditiously and in a way that is sympathetic to the people involved, and that those who have been affected will be compensated?
I am happy to give my hon. Friend some assurances on just that issue. The cases at which we are currently looking, particularly those involving Gurkhas, will be dealt with expeditiously, as he has requested, and there will be no mandatory requirement for DNA evidence. Should people wish to provide it, that is entirely up to them, and of course it will be considered. As I said in my statement, we are looking at ways of reimbursing those who may have had to spend money on DNA tests.
The doctrine of ministerial responsibility makes it clear that Ministers are responsible for what goes wrong in their Departments even if they knew nothing about it. I appreciate that the Home Secretary has taken that to heart today, and has come to the House to apologise. There is also a long-standing convention that, when something goes badly wrong in a Department—and surely acting illegally is pretty badly wrong—the only honourable course for the Minister is to resign. Does that doctrine still apply in the Home Office today?
I should have thought that the hon. Gentleman would be interested in helping to sort things out when they go wrong. That would be the way in which to try to help his constituents if they were caught in something like this. However, it is appropriate that, as we do further work and carry out a review, we look into the chronology of all this and how far it goes back. I have asked officials to establish the exact chronology of events, and to find out what advice was given to what Ministers and when.
Mandatory DNA testing is not only illegal but unethical, and it can put lives at risk. I therefore welcome the statement, but does my right hon. Friend agree that in building a fair and humane system, we must also recognise the importance of the confidentiality of medical records? Will he look at a letter that I received from NHS Digital on 22 October, in my capacity as Chair of the Health and Social Care Committee, expressing concern about revised guidance that followed assurances given in the House about the importance of confidentiality earlier this year?
My hon. Friend speaks with experience of these issues, and I strongly agree with her that mandatory DNA testing is not only unlawful but unethical. She raised the issue of confidentiality and mentioned a letter that she was sent as Chair of the Health and Social Care Committee. I should be happy to look at that and to respond to her fully.
The Home Secretary has outlined a shocking and illegal breach of trust on the part of Home Office and immigration officials. He will, of course, be aware that the Home Office is the only Department of its kind in Europe that operates an arbitrary and non-limited form of detention. Under that system, 27,000 people were detained last year, 50% of whom were subsequently released. They included one of my constituents, Duc Nguyen, a Vietnamese national who is a victim of human trafficking and human slavery. It is against Home Office protocols to detain such people. Will the Home Secretary undertake to investigate whether coercive DNA-gathering practices have been taking place in detention centres under the Home Office?
The hon. Gentleman states that we have an “arbitrary” approach to detention; I strongly rebut that—we do not have such an approach. He should know that when anyone is detained, there must be a reasonable prospect of removal within a reasonable time. In recognising that improvements could nevertheless be made to our detention system, we commissioned the Shaw review, and as the hon. Gentleman may recall, I came to the House not so long ago to respond to the review and accepted many of its recommendations.
Having repeated his commitment to improving the fairness and humanity of the immigration system, will my right hon. Friend pay particular attention to the system of visit visas, which causes so much misery, so often, to thousands of British people just because their families happen to be outside the European Union?
Immigration cases are often complex, and I thank the Home Office and its team for the sensitive and timely manner in which they have dealt with a number of cases that have crossed my desk recently. I also thank my right hon. Friend for the wider review of the immigration system. Surely what is most important is that we get the structures right so that fast and clear decisions can be made when necessary.
I thank my hon. Friend for her comments. She is absolutely right about the importance of that wider review of the structures and processes. She refers to cases that she has had to bring to the attention of Ministers. Although it seems from what she said that those have been resolved, Members should not feel that they must keep bringing cases to Ministers’ attention. I should like to see a system in which the vast majority of cases are sorted out properly in the first place, and that is the kind of system that I am trying to build.
I welcome the comprehensive review of the immigration system that the Home Secretary has announced. In that fair and humane spirit, will he incorporate the provisions of my British Indian Ocean Territory (Citizenship) Bill, which is on the Order Paper for consideration tomorrow, in the provisions of the new nationality legislation? They would give British citizenship to people descended from British subjects who were forcibly removed from the Chagos Islands in the late 1960s.
I commend my hon. Friend for spotting this opportunity. He has brought forward a Bill that I know that he has thought long and hard about, and we have discussed it. It might be helpful—if he feels that it would be helpful—for him to have a meeting with the Immigration Minister to discuss the matter further.
The Home Secretary has mentioned ensuring that we have fairness in our immigration system. Fairness also means dealing with abuse of the system, particularly through the use of fraudulent documentation. When I was a Minister, I was struck by the increasing complexity of fraudulent cases, particularly those that the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency was investigating in Swansea. Will the Home Secretary give an assessment of the extent of fraudulent documentation in the immigration system and tell us what the Home Office is doing to tackle it?
My hon. Friend is right to point that out. Everyone wants a fair and compassionate system, but they also want that system to be robust and for the rules to be enforced. If someone tries to take advantage of the system, clearly that must be pursued. I referred in my statement to Operation Fugal, and I understand that one reason why it was begun was that a pattern of fraud was recognised by Home Office officials. When many of those cases were investigated by the police, the Crown Prosecution Service brought charges against individuals. I will not talk about those particular cases, for obvious reasons, but that helps to demonstrate that when people are engaging in wrongdoing, we will pursue that.
There may be some known cases that are outstanding and we are expediting them. Operation Fugal addresses some complex cases involving DNA that might have been mandatorily required and that need further investigation, but we will try to deal with those within days when we can.
Yes, I am happy to give that assurance, and it is a perfectly fair question. When a Home Secretary stands at the Dispatch Box and says that there was wrong guidance in the past, one of the lessons that can be learned without needing a review is that we must be much more careful about guidance in the future.
On my right hon. Friend’s wider review of structures and processes, will he ensure that Border Force, a key Home Office agency, fully considers the potential of new and advanced technologies in making sure that our future border security system is both fair and efficient?
I can give my hon. Friend that assurance. Border Force and some of the technology it uses are already way ahead of the situation in many other countries. However, as we develop a new immigration system, Border Force has been looking at what other countries have done that we could learn from. Lessons were learned, for example, from a recent exercise with Australia, and we can look at some things that are being done there.
Anyone choosing to drive on Britain’s roads does so with the understanding that from time to time a police officer may stop them and require them to provide a specimen of breath, failing which they could be liable to prosecution. In those circumstances, does my right hon. Friend agree that a system that is optional and scrupulously safeguards the human rights of immigrants is exactly as it should be?
I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. He has again emphasised that providing DNA should be optional, because it can help those individuals, and if they choose to provide it, we should take that seriously, but it should be just that—optional, not mandatory.
I thank the Home Secretary for his statement and welcome the steps that he is taking to put this situation right. Does he agree that it is essential in cases of this nature that the Government act not only quickly, but with openness and transparency?
I agree, and that is why I decided to publish and put in the Library for the whole House to see the internal review that has already been done and was commissioned within days. That is why I will be writing to the Home Affairs Committee today as well, and no doubt there will be future opportunities to keep the House updated, whether by me, the Minister for Immigration or another Minister.
I welcome the Home Secretary’s openness and bluntness in his statement. DNA evidence will clearly be useful in cases when people have come from areas of conflict and other forms of records might no longer be available. How will he look to set out to those who are looking to apply for immigration status in this country how DNA evidence will help them, but is not required to be provided by them?
My hon. Friend is right to raise that point. Let me refer again to the scheme to help Afghan nationals. Afghanistan is a good example of a clear conflict zone. Many Afghan nationals, such as interpreters, help British forces, and we owe them a duty of respect and have a responsibility to them. I had already made changes a few months ago to welcome more of them to settle in our country, if they wish, and from a safety point of view we must help in such cases. Under that scheme, they should not have been told that this was mandatory. Once the system is explained, people might believe that providing DNA will help them and then choose to do so. In those cases involving Afghan nationals from that conflict zone, given the work they did for this country, we can even look to pay for that, but the key point is that the process should always be optional for them.
I welcome the news that my right hon. Friend has set up an urgent review, but given that DNA evidence has been sought from applicants under successive Governments, does he agree that this issue should not be politicised, as happens all too often?
I agree, but a decision on whether an issue is politicised cannot be taken by just one side of the House. This is an important point, and it is worth reminding ourselves that after the wrongs done to the Windrush generation were first discovered, a review of historical cases over the summer showed that almost half those cases in which people suffered detriment took place under the previous Labour Government. Since then, there has been a much more co-operative approach across the House. I think that that is what the public want to see, and it is what they would want to see in this case as well.
A compassionate immigration system is, above all, an efficient immigration system, so I welcome the review my right hon. Friend is carrying out. Will he, however, commit that in the new immigration system, which will of course apply to far more people once we have left the European Union, he will make the case for using DNA to speed up applications, because that can be very much in the interests of applicants?
That is an important point. I think it is already the situation that where someone chooses to provide DNA evidence, it generally speeds up their case, because DNA is pretty straightforward to analyse and to make a determination about compared with cases involving paperwork that sometimes goes back and forth between the applicant and the Home Office. In cases where people choose to do this, the matter should be dealt with as quickly as possible.
I welcome my right hon. Friend’s announcement that he will review the immigration system. Can he assure the House that concerns raised in cases from across the United Kingdom will be taken into account when forming these new structures to ensure that our new policies and system will provide not only clarity, but consistency across the UK?
It is 34 years since Dr Alec Jeffreys pioneered the use of DNA finger- printing at Leicester University, which we in the UK should be incredibly proud of. Can the Minister assure me that that will continue to be an option for settling immigration cases?
I can assure my hon. Friend that when someone makes the choice for themselves to provide biometric details or evidence, such as through DNA fingerprinting, we should absolutely take that into account, not least to help them with their case.
Presentation and First Reading (Standing Order No. 57)
Mr Secretary Gove, supported by the Prime Minister, the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, Secretary Dominic Raab, Dr Secretary Fox, Secretary David Mundell, Secretary Alun Cairns and Secretary Karen Bradley, presented a Bill to make provision about policy objectives in relation to fisheries, fishing and aquaculture; to make provision about access to British fisheries; to make provision about the licensing of fishing boats; to make provision about the determination and distribution of fishing opportunities; to make provision enabling schemes to be established for charging for unauthorised catches of sea fish; to make provision about grants in connection with fishing, aquaculture or marine conservation; to make provision about the recovery of costs in respect of the exercise of public functions relating to fish or fishing; to confer powers to make further provision in connection with fisheries, aquaculture or aquatic animals; to make provision about byelaws and orders relating to the exploitation of sea fisheries; and for connected purposes.
Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time tomorrow, and to be printed (Bill 278) with explanatory notes (Bill 278-EN).