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UK Border Agency

Volume 727: debated on Wednesday 18 May 2011

Question

Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is their response to the report by Mr John Vine, independent chief inspector of the UK Border Agency, Preventing and Detecting Immigration and Customs Offences, published on 13 May.

The UK Border Agency has issued a full response to the chief inspector’s report. We accept all 10 of his recommendations, eight in full and two in part. I will place a copy of the response in the Library.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for the clarity of her Answer. In the present climate, terrorists pose a serious threat to the security of the United Kingdom. What is being done to establish proper co-ordination between the work of the UKBA and our intelligence services, something that was identified in the Vine report? I ask the Minister to ensure that the allegations made in the 100,000 calls made by the public to the agency each year are recorded and published, particularly to build confidence that adequate measures are being taken to protect people against immigration and customs offences.

I hope that I can reassure my noble friend. At the time when the inspection of the UKBA was being conducted, the agency was in fact part way through a programme to assess how it manages intelligence. My noble friend is right to point out that intelligence is absolutely key to securing our borders. That is why the agency is willing to accept the report because it will inform the action that will be taken to ensure that intelligence operations are improved. My noble friend also asked about reports made by the public. One of the recommendations in the chief inspector’s report deals with that. We have accepted the recommendation and intend to take action on it.

My Lords, it is welcome that the recommendations are accepted, but does the noble Baroness accept that they are one of a number of responsibilities being placed on the UK Border Agency that include the immigration cap, the student visa system and the policy of preventing the children of failed asylum seekers being held in detention, which the Government have still to implement, as well as the issue that we discussed yesterday, that of returning asylum seekers to the Democratic Republic of Congo and other countries? Yet the UK Border Agency’s budget is being reduced by 20 per cent. Is the noble Baroness confident that the UKBA can do all this and at the same time cope with the massive disruption brought by reductions in budget and staff?

I hope I can reassure the noble Lord that I do believe that that is possible. That is why the emphasis on intelligence and the way it is gathered and disseminated has been a key plank of the new Government’s negotiation with the UK Border Agency over how it operates in future. We regard security of the borders as a very high priority for all the reasons that the noble Lord mentioned. Intelligence is so important here that making sure that the agency maximises the efficiency of its intelligence operation is why we have quite openly accepted the recommendations of the chief inspector’s report. We are anxious to improve security with all the help we can get, including from this report.

My Lords, the Minister will be aware that one of the recommendations of the report pointed to the need to focus on those responsible for organising and facilitating the illegal entry of people and goods rather than on the individuals. Does she agree that we owe that not just to the British people as a matter of securing the borders but, as a duty of care, to the people who are imported from overseas into slavery? This is big business; it is a matter of human decency.

I totally agree with my noble friend. The agency is very clear that the processes that it uses are as important as the efficiency with which it uses intelligence. As my noble friend has indicated, it needs to make sure that fairness is also at the heart of the way in which it conducts its business.

On overseas students who are in this country—I remind Members of my earlier declaration of interest—does the Minister accept that the state university system would be a much more secure place if we knew precisely where the students who have been given visas actually are? Will she try to encourage the UK Border Agency to follow the lead given by some private sector higher education colleges in introducing a system of digital identification at lectures so that we know precisely where our students are and exactly what their record of attending lectures is?

Is the Minister confident that for those with different languages coming into the United Kingdom there are officers who can communicate with them effectively when they arrive here?

If the due process of law and the regulations are to be followed properly, that is an essential ingredient. If my noble friend felt that this was causing a problem at any point for people receiving due process of law and regulation, I would certainly wish to investigate it.

My Lords, will my noble friend say anything about the use of intelligence to improve the quality of decision-making by the UKBA, which, as we heard only recently, is incapable of making decisions on a regular basis that are not challenged successfully on appeal?

This is an area in which the agency has openly accepted, particularly in response to this report on intelligence, that it needs to make improvements. It is genuinely looking to improve the way in which it carries out its functions.