My Lords, with the leave of the House, I would like to repeat a Statement made by my right honourable friend the Home Secretary in another place. The Statement is as follows:
“Mr Speaker, I would like to make a Statement about our plans for transforming the Home Office. I have today placed in the Library a copy of a reform action plan which gives full details of the changes we intend to make. All political change should start with values and objectives.
“The Home Office exists to protect the key elements of civilised society in this country—to reduce fear and increase security, from global terrorism to local cohesion in our streets and communities; from justice and fairness through to the protection of opportunities to live life in security. But the context in which we seek to apply these values is changing faster than ever before, and changing fundamentally, creating new and different challenges for the future.
“In the past 15 years we have seen seismic geopolitical changes, from the global to the local. Globally, the old Cold War had frozen the world into relative immobility. States were static and frozen, ethnic tensions and religious extremism repressed, borders inviolable and peoples largely static.
“The end of the Cold War brought a torrent of new problems and, above all, the challenge of international mobility on a hitherto unimaginable scale. We have seen unprecedented levels of migration, with the movement of more than 200 million people in 2005, the development of international terrorism and the growth of global and organised crime.
“From global to local, relative immobility has given way to social and geographic mobility, where the old group allegiances, extended family relationships and inherited patterns of voting and religious observance have broken down and, with them, the old forms of community cohesion.
“Moreover, unlike most other government departments in this changing context, many of the people with whom the Home Office is tryingto deal—prisoners, criminals and illegal immigrants—see it as their primary objective not to co-operate with government and to resist our authority and evade our control.
“In the face of these challenges, the Home Office has been in a process of change and reform for some years. The department also has a more streamlined focus as a result of some of our responsibilities being transferred to other departments.
“I therefore pay credit to my predecessors in this Government and to the civil servants who worked for them in facing these challenges. They took a system that was designed before the Cold War and improved it in three important ways: additional resources, improvements in technology, and legislative and practical solutions.
“These improvements have led to notable successes in key areas: crime is down significantly; your chance of being a victim of crime is at its lowest level since 1981; we have record numbers of police and an additional 6,300 community support officers on the streets; asylum applications are now dealt with in two months as opposed to 22 months. The passport service, which was failing just a few years ago, now regularly tops customer service polls, beating leading private sector organisations.
“But the underlying systems and practices for dealing with these issues have not changed sufficiently. Many of the fundamental underlying systems in the Home Office were designed for a pre-Cold War era and, in the face of the huge challenges outlined earlier, we have now reached the limit of what can be achieved without a fundamental overhaul.
“The Home Office capability review, published today, strongly reinforces those views. We have seen some of these inadequacies surface recently, in co-ordination, administration and accounts. In co-ordination, the House knows all too well, for instance, how the release of foreign prisoners challenged systems across the Home Office and criminal justice system, and found them wanting.
“In administration, the House will know, for example, that the National Audit Office last year suggested that 283,000 unsuccessful asylum applicants might still be here, excluding dependants and those who claimed asylum before 1994 and after 2004, reflecting the difficulties that successive Governments have had in removing failed asylum seekers. This is reflected in IND’s caseload of around 400,000 to 450,000 electronic and paper records, which, as the House will also be aware, are riddled with duplication and include cases where the individual has since died, or left the country, or are now EU citizens.
“In accounts, the House will also be aware that the Home Office’s resource accounts for 2004-05 were disclaimed by the National Audit Office. We have sought to remedy these individual instances.I have today set out in a Written Ministerial Statement our plans to improve the way in which we deal with foreign national prisoners. We will tackle the caseload in IND with the aim of clearing it, not in 25 years, as has been speculated, but in five or less. And we will put our books in order. But, as today’s capability review shows, we need to go much further in general and fundamental reform.
“For all these reasons, I am today setting out plans for an ambitious set of reforms across the department. In particular, we will sharpen the Home Office’s focus on its core purpose of protecting the public through the six key priorities set out in today’s plan. We will establish a new top team with a reshaped Home Office Board and 15 immediate changes at director level, which is over a quarter of all directors. We will reshape radically the structure of the Home Office with a major shift in responsibility and resource to the front line. We will fulfil our commitment to reduce the total size of the Home Office strategic and operational headquarters by 30 per cent by 2008. But we can also now make a commitment to a further reduction of 10 per cent by 2010.
“The cumulative effect of these changes will be to reduce the size of the headquarters of the Home Office and its agencies from 9,200 in 2004 to 6,500 in 2008, and to 5,900 by 2010. These changes will mark the biggest shift from the centre to the front line in the Home Office’s history. We will save £115 million per year by 2010 in headquarters costs which we will invest in improving front-line services.
“We will establish the Immigration and Nationality Directorate as an executive agency of the Home Office with a shadow agency in placeby April 2007, with strong accountability arrangements. We will establish clear performance frameworks for the operational services of the Home Office—the Immigration and Nationality Directorate, the National Offender Management Service, and the Identity and Passport Service—and hold the heads of those services accountable for performance.
“We will focus the National Offender Management Service headquarters on the job of commissioning high-quality services for managing offenders and driving up the performance of the probation and prison services. As a result,the National Offender Management Service headquarters will get progressively smaller, reducing by half by 2010.
“We will develop a renewed contract between Ministers and officials, clarifying respective roles and expectations in policy, operational delivery and management. We will seek to reduce further the bureaucratic burden on the police and other partners in tackling crime by implementing simpler performance arrangements for policing, crime and drugs. We are also launching today a radical reform programme with seven strands of change designed to transform the culture, skills, systems, processes and data of the Home Office.
“We have today set out a clear action plan to deliver this reform and more. By September, we will develop a full implementation programme. An external audit of progress will be conducted in December and annually thereafter. In the next few days we will supplement today’s plan with two further sets of proposals for rebalancing the criminal justice system and reforming our Immigration and Nationality Directorate.
“We are determined to deliver a confidently led and well managed Home Office which delivers high quality services that protect the public and better meets their expectations. I thank my Ministers and senior officials for all the work already put into the development of our new plans.
“We do not start from year zero, and we will not end up with perfection. But this is the start of a long-term programme for transforming the Home Office. All involved—Ministers, directors and staff—know the extent of the challenge, and that this will not be accomplished overnight. But we are committed to early progress, to demonstrate our seriousness to the public and to our stakeholders and staff. The fundamental change we are seeking will require determination and endurance. This is the unglamorous hard work of delivering good government. That is now the task ahead”.
My Lords, I commend the Statement to the House.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for repeating the Statement made in another place by the Home Secretary.
The past 12 weeks have witnessed a series of catastrophes at the Home Office, with daily disclosures of massive failures of policy—from the release of foreign prisoners to murderers on probation, from sex-for-visa scandals to dangerous prisoners being put in open prisons, from hundreds of thousands of failed asylum seekers to massive numbers of illegal immigrants. This has been a spectacular serial failure of government. Each and every failure has serious implications for ordinary decent British citizens. At the very least, the Government waste hard-earned taxpayers’ money and put excessive pressure on housing and public services; at worst, they threaten public safety and national security.
We need to understand why that has happened. The wrong analysis of the problem will lead to the wrong conclusion. The Home Secretary puts it down to the end of the Cold War, and with it the rise in asylum seekers and other threats. However, that does not explain why Britain has had the second highest number of asylum applicants in the world in the past five years, a Britain that is further away from the failed states than any other European country except for Ireland, which is an island and is therefore harder to get to, and has borders that are easier to control.
The reason for the problem is clear. The new Labour Government repealed Conservative laws allowing us to send people straight back to safe countries. Labour terminated Conservative welfare arrangements designed to deter economic migrants, and failed to negotiate a continuation of our right to return asylum seekers to France. They later tried to reinstate some of these, but it was too late. In the next five years we had over a quarter of a million failed asylum seekers enter Britain—failed asylum seekers, not legitimate ones—with almost 90,000 in one year alone. That is why the immigration and nationality department was overwhelmed; that, and a political decision not to strengthen our borders.
Of course there have been failures of management, but there have been much bigger failures of political leadership. The same is true elsewhere in the Home Office. The débâcle over foreign prisoners and early-release schemes that are not working safely and properly come from the same cause, which was a political decision not to build enough prisons—although I pay tribute to the Minister for acknowledging that.
The Government’s own review showed that they needed 100,000 prison places by 2010, but even after the 8,000 new places the Home Secretary announced today, they will have fewer than 90,000 places by 2012. Again, there have been failures of management, but in a system put under intolerable pressure by failures of political leadership. Since 1997 there have been more than 1,300 new regulations, many hundreds of initiatives and more than 50 major Home Office Bills. That is more than all the criminal justice Bills in the previous century. Some of those Bills were not fit for purpose. That is not just our opinion but clearly the Government’s too. We should take, for instance, the Criminal Justice and Court Services Act: 110 of its provisions never came into force; 17 were repealed before they came into force; and 39 more were repealed after they came into force. This was not the only Act in this state—massive amounts of work for no use whatever.
This is not a department which is impossible to run. Indeed, it has given up responsibility for no fewer than 24 policy areas since 1997. But, under the burdens of a target-driven, bureaucratic, top-heavy approach pursued by this Government, its central staffing has doubled, though I note the Minister’s remarks about reducing staff. It is perhaps revealing that its press officers have trebled.
I finish on a positive note. Some of the Home Secretary’s proposals announced today have merit. The agency proposals for the IND may improve some aspects of its management, but may make communications and co-operation with other parts of the Home Office more difficult. It will certainlynot absolve Ministers of responsibility for its effectiveness. We all hope that the measures announced today will succeed, but even if they do they are unlikely to resolve problems of the size the Secretary of State’s department now faces.
My Lords, I add my thanks to the Minister for repeating the Statement on the Home Office reform action plan. I trust that the noble Baroness, Lady Scotland, had a pleasant visit to the United States and that she has some better news to offer at some stage.
It is too early to comment in detail since the plans were put in the Library only this morning. Suffice to say that this great office of state is in turmoil. We do not need convincing that the Government have lost their way in the 10 years since they came to power. I do not dispute the context in which the values and objectives have been set out. Of course, the Home Office exists to protect the key elements of our civilised society, but do we genuinely believe that it has been effective? We have failed to reduce the fear factor, and despite increased activity by the police and security services, the threat of global terrorism and the fear it generates are still there. We still cannot put a hand on our hearts and say that we have cohesion in our streets and communities. It is bizarre to blame the end of the Cold War for the Home Office’s woes, when it ended 15 years ago and this Government have been in power for 10 years.
One has sympathy with the problems the Home Office has to deal with, comprising prisoners, criminals and illegal immigrants. The Government have for months ignored warnings about the prison overcrowding crisis. A last-minute panic measure to conjure up extra prison capacity does nothing to address the long-term nature of our prison crisis. Unless the Government are serious about breaking the cycle of reoffending, in which prisons act increasingly as a revolving door for repeat offenders, our overburdened prison system will remain under severe strain.
Why is it that the Government fail to acknowledge that at the root of the problem with criminals is their hyperactive attitude to legislation and half-baked media initiatives, with more than 50 law and order Bills and more than 1,000 new criminal offences, as rightly pointed out by the noble Viscount? It is a shocking indictment of the Government that despite five major immigration and asylum Acts there are more illegal immigrants unaccounted for now than 10 years ago.
There is a need for a clear and consistent policy approach, which is lacking. We spend weeks debating police mergers and then find that they have been placed on the back-burner. No Home Office, however structured, could deal with the Government’s volleys of initiatives. Too many high-profile targets can jeopardise the Government’s capacity to do anything else, because they focus all their energies on the one thing; hence tipping the balance of asylum seekers has led to the meltdown in all other areas of the management of illegal immigration.
The Statement says that the Home Office has benefited from the increasing streamlining of functions by the transfer of some policy areas to other departments. So why will it not commit to a separate department of justice and a department of the interior, to enable a more coherent approach to those separate issues? It is extraordinary for the Home Office to claim that it can deport 450,000 failed asylum seekers in less than five years when it is currently deporting only 15,000 a year. We welcome the proposal for a more independent IND, but that must not absolve Ministers of responsibility. They should consider separating asylum, which is quasi-judicial, in accordance with international obligations, from immigration.
In the present time of increased global tensions, we all want the Home Office to succeed in providing security for our nation. The recent revelation has shaken our confidence in the Home Office’s ability to deliver it. Ten years in power is a long time to discover and discuss our errors. Let us hope that this new initiative works and that it is a department fit for purpose.
My Lords, first, I thank the noble Viscount, Lord Bridgeman, and the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, for welcoming the Statement. It would be my pleasure to outline why I fundamentally disagree with the assessment that has been made of the way in which the past 10 years have been managed. The noble Viscount says that this is a Government in turmoil, as does the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia. The noble Viscount says that there has been a consummate failure in policy. That would be a fundamental misunderstanding of the difficulties with which the Government have been faced, the challenges that we have met and overcome, and the success that this Government have been able to deliver for the people of this country.
I will straight away address some of the factors that have been alluded to. A heavy reliance has been put on issues in relation to asylum and immigration. It is right to remember the facts. Applications are down by 76 per cent compared to October 2002, which was its peak. In 2005, the intake was 24 per cent lower than in 2004; that was 25,720 compared to 33,960. Applications rose by 45 per cent between 1993 and 1997, which was a significant change. Asylum applications were down from more than 8,000 a month at the peak in October 2002 to just over 2,000 in the first quarter of 2006. Some 73 per cent of new substantive claims are decided within two months rather than the 22 months, including the old cases it took on in 1997 when we came to power.
The ratio of removals to failed applicants each year is going up. In 1996, the number of removals was equivalent to only 20 per cent of predicted unfounded claims. That proportion was around 50 per cent in 2004, and in 2005 it increased further to around two-thirds of unsuccessful claims. We removed more principal applicants in 2005 alone—that is 13,670—compared to the last four full years of the Tory Government; that is 12,020 in 1993 to 1996. Removals of principal asylum applicants increased by 184 per cent between 1996 and 2005, but the intake increased by just 13 per cent. We have increased removals and principal asylum applications by 91 per cent between 1997 and 2005. That is not failure; that is a lot of hard, dedicated work significantly to improve matters.
But a reality does have to be faced, because the Government had to decide whether to improve the system so that, in looking forward, we could have a better grip—a system that was faster, clearer and more effective. One of the large problems with which we have been faced is not being able to deal with these applications quickly enough. The 22-month delay that we inherited meant that many people had put down roots and had made commitments that were difficult to disrupt. We have moved on.
So now is the time to look at the backlog. When one looks at the 450,000, it is right to bear in mind that in many of those cases we are not talking about individual people or individual issues, we are talking about applications. Some of the people involved will have died; some of them will have achieved their rights by a different means, because they have become European citizens; and some of them will have made multiple applications. So now is the time for us to look at this matter.
There has been major change in the criminal justice system—the creation of the National Criminal Justice Board, local criminal justice boards, crime and disorder reduction partnerships and local strategic partnerships, all of which have benefited of the people of our country, together with the significant increase in police numbers and community support officers. Your Lordships may recall that many in this House derided those proposals initially, believing that they would have little or no effect. Yet we know that they have been among the most innovative and important changes that we have introduced. There was also legislation regarding anti-social behaviour—and I could go on.
I must say as gently as I can to noble Lords opposite that I hear what they say about this Government’s record, but I do not agree with them for the reasons that I have set out. However, it is clear that change is needed, because we are now faced with the need to bring about systemic change that will be better able to meet the new challenges with which we are now faced. Therefore, I very much welcome the comments in support of the changes that the Government now seek to make.
As I have indicated, I hope that we will be in a position, with the leave of the House, to discuss in greater detail the other supplementary documents that we hope to produce soon. This is an important and significant change and I welcome the welcome given to it.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend for repeating the Statement made in another place. Much of what she said was fairly general regarding the problems of the immigration and nationality department, but will she confirm that not everything done by the immigration and nationality department should be condemned? For example, extremely valuable work is going on to facilitate the entry into this country of students wanting to enter further, higher and other forms of education. The immigration and nationality department’s work in the Joint Education Taskforce, on which I have the privilege to serve, is extremely welcome and of enormous benefit, both in the short term and the long term, to the interests of this country, and is being done extremely well under the chairmanship of Alan Bucknall in the Home Office.
Will my noble friend confirm that the new system planned to be introduced relatively shortly for managed migration in the education system will not be detrimentally affected, because it is warmly welcomed by nearly all the participants in the Joint Education Taskforce and will not only bring great benefit, but is very much a high-level government priority, as shown in the Prime Minister’s initiative for the attraction of overseas students? However, it does depend on the introduction of the new managed migration system.
My Lords, I am very happy to confirm what my noble friend has said. I hope that in the statistics I provided I indicated that I do not agree with the impression given by noble Lords opposite that this system was wholly unfit and, therefore, to be derided. There is much to celebrate. Our work on the Joint Education Taskforce is but another demonstration of the excellent work being done in the Home Office to the great benefit of those who are able to take advantage of that.
My Lords, the Statement refers to the Government’s further plans to rebalance the criminal justice system. Can we expect a further Statement on that before the House rises and, if not, when?
My Lords, we will certainly make another document available. The noble and learned Lord knows that whether this House accepts another Statement will be a matter for the usual channels. I assure him that it is our intention to make such a Statement available. The usual channels will then have to decide whether this House is minded to take it.
My Lords, have not the Government to face up to the fact that in the fairly early days of the Labour Government, there was a collapse of morale in IND on it becoming apparent that Ministers had little or no interest in the maintenance of fair and firm immigration control? Cannot one moral be drawn from that? The efficient implementation of policy is important and good systems are important but even more important is political leadership, with the staff knowing clearly what the department is supposed to be doing and where it is going. We will not get very far unless the Government stop blaming staff and recognise, albeit belatedly, that the cause of the Home Office’s problems over the years has been a massive failure of political leadership.
My Lords, I must say to the noble Lord how much I disagree with him about the failure of leadership and that this Government have not blamed staff. My right honourable friend the Home Secretary says that even the best staff, if they were working within a system that is fundamentally flawed and if they did so for 24 hours a day, could not deliver that which they could deliver if they had a smooth, effective and efficient system. That is what we are seeking to change. We inherited a system that was moribund and we tried to work within it, and we got limited but good results. Having got the best results out of it, it is now time to change. Noble Lords opposite may not wish to remember this but I hope that they will recall that staff levels were dramatically cut under the previous Government and morale was adversely affected thereby. That is a matter of history that one should perhaps reflect on when we contextualise where we are now.
My Lords, it was with deep regret that I tendered my resignation to the Asylum and Immigration Tribunal a fortnight ago. I did that because I could no longer bear the incompetence of the whole business. I was giving cases my most careful and anxious scrutiny day after day knowing full well that the whole system that that was built on was flawed.
The noble Viscount, Lord Bridgeman, gave a list of faults under this Government. I attribute quite a lot of the problems to the Tory Party’s removal of work permits in 1992, which led to an increase in the number of asylum cases. Before that, asylum claimants used to be the intelligentsia from other countries but after that we got the people who came over mainly from the Asian subcontinent to work here for two or three years, to build their brick house in Pakistan, Bangladesh or India, and then to go back; then someone else would come over. A whole industry built up with agents taking thousands of pounds from families in order to get one person into this country to work. The agents used to say, “You will have to go through the system but at the end don’t worry—you will not be removed; you will stay”. Those people would have gone back in the past but they now stay.
Does the Minister agree that it is necessary to pay much more attention to people at entry points in airports? I know that in some cases—Heathrow Airport, for example—the immigration and customs posts are not manned in the early hours of the morning. Don’t kid me—the agents know this and that is when they bring people in. We do not know who goes out. I think it was this Government who stopped counting the people who leave. We need to know who comes in and who goes out. We also need much more co-operation between the Home Office and the Department for Constitutional Affairs. The Department for Constitutional Affairs is now cutting back on immigration judges and wondering why the cases are piling up, causing another backlog. Perhaps the noble Baroness could pay attention to those factors.
My Lords, we shall pay attention to those issues. The noble Countess will know that a huge part of the work that we have done in recent years has dealt with managed migration, giving people legitimate, honest, decent routes through which to come to this country, allowing them to come here in an honourable and transparent way so that those who come here to work diligently will have a better opportunity and will not fall prey to those who take advantage of their need to earn money to help their families back home. We have already seen some movement in that regard which is very beneficial.
I hope the noble Countess knows that embarkation controls are now being considered. New electronic systems have given us a much better way of doing that. The situation with the embarkation controls that started to be removed in 1994 has now been addressed and we are starting to reverse that. We shall be better able to meet that challenge. I can assure her that I will work very hard indeed with the Department for Constitutional Affairs so that we shall have a better response to dealing with tribunal matters. We are considering how to speed up that process, make it more transparent and ensure that the information that goes to tribunals is better prepared than it has been hitherto.
My Lords, when I served as a Minister of State in the Home Office, five years after the Cold War, I was not aware of any problems arising from the Cold War. A number of prisoners escaped and we found it extremely difficult to deal with that because we had to deal with an agency. Therefore, I fail to understand how Ministers passing the buck to a new agency will enable them to provide the necessary leadership. If the Home Office has been doing such a brilliant job, as the Minister indicated, why did the Secretary of State describe it as not fit for purpose within hours of arriving in the department? How can he possibly embark on a wholesale reorganisation of the department after being there for only two months? I realise that he thinks he is very bright, very brilliant and very tough, but most of us ordinary mortals take at least three months to read into the brief of a department, far less decide on a wholesale change. Is this not yet another eye-catching initiative to get the Government out of the trouble that they have created? What is needed in the Home Office is the recognition that Ministers have put burden upon burden on good civil servants and that the organisation has cracked under the failure and incompetence of their leadership.
My Lords, there has been no failure of leadership. I take issue with the noble Lord in that regard. It is very important for us to remember the context in which my right honourable friend the Home Secretary used the phrase “not fit for purpose”. Although others have used that appendage in relation to the whole of the Home Office, as I am sure the noble Lord knows well, my right honourable friend was referring to foreign national prisoners and the system that was in place within the IND to deal with that small part. When one engages in political rhetoric, I appreciate that accuracy sometimes falls by the way.
The whole import of my right honourable friend's work, together with the work of the Home Office team and the officials, was to look with a fresh eye at what could now be done to get more for the front line, to respond to the needs that have been identified by the people of the country, to work on the empirical data that we now have regarding what works, and to make changes to enable us to make the quantum leap that we believe it is necessary to make on behalf of the people in our country. We are building on good, solid practice. When noble Lords look at the changes we are minded to make, it will confirm, improve—we hope—and go further, consolidating the work we have done and building on the five-year strategy which I am sure that everyone in this House has had the delight of reading and fully absorbing.
My Lords, does the Minister recall that when the Cold War came to an end—I was an MP at the time—we got a dramatic influx of Polish people, particularly in my constituency? They started arriving in large numbers. It was hard to argue that they were refugees. Both political parties have yet to get this right, although my feeling is that the present Government have been getting it right in the last few years, but there is further to go. I welcome the separation of the immigration and nationality department. As the noble Countess, Lady Mar, said, it has been failing for a long time.
I have one further request for my noble friend, on something where the Opposition are on rather safer ground than some of their other criticisms. Certainly, in the past, I could not get people deported who had sometimes committed murder; I got that in the press in the early 1990s. It is not new. We must address the fact that we have been making too much legislation in this area, and a period of consolidation would be a good idea.
My Lords, as one of those usually burdened with that legislation, I could not possibly comment, but I can certainly assure your Lordships that we need have only that legislation necessary to deliver this agenda. We have committed ourselves to that.
I should have answered another issue raised by the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, about the new agency. In case there is a misunderstanding, I say that there will be no passing the buck to it. Political direction, strategy and strategic control will remain within the Home Office and with Ministers. The agency will deal with the operational issues which the Passport Office and others have demonstrated can be ably delivered through that sort of framework. When we have the second document, on how that transition is to take place, we will doubtless be able to debate the minutiae of those arrangements more keenly.
My Lords, the experiences of the Passport Office and Prison Service have shown both the advantages and disadvantages of turning departments into agencies. I am glad that the Minister has drawn attention to the successes of the IND in recent years, which have tended to be overlooked because of recent developments and troubles. I invite her to be cautious in moving the IND to agency status, and not to hurry it. When it is in a steady state and its operational objectives are clearly stated, understood and approved by Parliament, that would be a good time to put it on an agency basis. It would be wise to defer that change until that more steady state can be achieved.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for those comments. He speaks with great power from his experience on both the challenge and the success that can come from such change. I assure him that, in looking at both the advantages and disadvantages inherent in other changes to agency operations, we will look carefully to ensure that good examples are followed and poorer examples of practice avoided. I remind him that the Statement proposes that a shadow agency be started up in 2007, which will help us to recast and frame the final agency with a greater degree of acuity than we could perhaps do now.
My Lords, when the new Home Secretary described the Home Office as not fit for purpose, I understood him to refer to the whole office, not to any particular department in it, although I have no doubt that he had his mind on one part of the office in particular in coming to that conclusion. His statement was reasonably plain. I had some contact with the Home Office as part of my responsibilities in a related department for a number of years, and I had considerable respect for those who served as civil servants in it. I felt rather sad—I may have been completely wrong—that they should be described as working in an office that was not fit for purpose.
The noble Baroness has been a Minister in the Home Office for some time. Can she tell the House whether the plans proposed today were drawn up since the new Secretary of State arrived or were in preparation under his predecessor?
My Lords, the plans are an amalgam of issues that were being contemplated and new issues that have come to the fore. For example, noble Lords will know that for some years there has been a debate about whether agency status would inure to the advantage of the management of migration. This House has debated that on a number of occasions. Some noble Lords on the Benches opposite were particularly supportive of the suggestion that it would be a way forward. It is not possible to say that all the issues simply fermented during the time that my right honourable friend has been Home Secretary, but they have crystallised—
My Lords, I assure the noble Lord that crafting something with such skill needs more than a cobbler.
My Lords, in view of the litany of praise we have heard from the Minister for all that has happened in the Home Office, will she explain why any part of that department was described as unfit for purpose? Can she explain why the former Home Secretary was sacked by the Prime Minister in a pretty unpleasant manner? Would she not agree with the noble Countess, Lady Mar, that until we have an effective system of monitoring those who leave the country, we will never know how many applications are no longer active because the people concerned have returned home?
My Lords, I hate to remind the noble Lord of his Government’s failings, but he will remember—
My Lords, the noble Lord points his finger and waves it at me, saying “Embarkation control”, but I remind him that his Government decided in 1994 that embarkation control was no longer necessary. We continued that policy for a time, but we have subsequently seen the fatal error therein and now seek to reverse it. We have done so through the electronic process, and I assure him that we intend to succeed.