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UK Border Agency

Volume 741: debated on Tuesday 27 November 2012


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is their response to the report by the Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration on the UK Border Agency’s handling of legacy asylum and migration cases.

My Lords, the UK Border Agency’s response to the report of the Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration was published on its website on 22 November. We accept that there are lessons to be drawn from the UK Border Agency’s handling of these legacy cases. The agency’s response to the report accepts all of the chief inspector’s recommendations. However, as the chief inspector himself states, since April 2012 the agency has,

“started to tackle the problems”,


“a much more robust approach [has] been introduced to locate and trace”,


My Lords, considering the appalling record of irresponsibility, obfuscation and mendacity revealed by this report, does not my noble friend agree that control of immigration and asylum should be returned to the Home Office so that responsibility can rest on the Home Secretary herself, where it properly belongs? Will the Government allow time for a debate on this report and on the Government’s response to it?

I cannot pre-empt the usual channels and their negotiations on these matters, but I note my noble friend’s interest in this subject. This Question reminds me somewhat of the situation in which the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, found himself in dealing with the Rural Payments Agency. This agency has had a poor record on delivery but as the new transformation plan has been developed, and as the chief inspector highlights, it has started to tackle the problems.

Bearing in mind the popularity with Members opposite of the Mayor of London, do the Government share the views expressed by him during his visit to India or do they support the current government policy?

My Lords, does the UKBA await the outcome of court judgments on domestic violence cases before the right to settle in the UK is granted? Is the Home Secretary consulted before the UKBA exercises such authority over judicial decisions?

The noble Lord has asked a specific question to which I cannot give a detailed answer, except to say that the rules governing entrance into and settlement in this country are extraordinarily complex. We had an opportunity to debate elements of them yesterday. I will investigate the matter and write to the noble Lord.

Is it not true that one of the lessons which the Government are increasingly learning is that locating and tracing individuals is one of the biggest problems they face in modern society, especially given how people travel around the world in the way they do? Will the Government reflect on their early decision to abandon ID cards, which provided for locating and tracing, and will they not come to regret having taken the decision to abandon them?

The direct answer to that question is no. In terms of the reference that I should make, of course it is important to be able to match identity. Recently I visited the Criminal Records Bureau in Liverpool where much of the job is about matching individuals with the police national computer. It is a similar task here, and fortunately that task is now being undertaken properly.

My Lords, it might help if I advise the Minister that the comments by the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, were about the Government’s policies on students and immigration from India. Perhaps the best advice for the Minister is not to agree with Boris, but he might want to agree with government policy. There is clearly a difference in the Conservative Party on this issue.

On the subject of the report which the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, mentioned, it is not the first time that John Vine has raised very serious concerns about the UK Border Agency. This report is shocking: it actually says that Home Office UK Border Agency officials lied to Parliament. I am pleased to hear the Minister’s comments that the Government are accepting all 10 of John Vine’s recommendations. However, John Vine has previously complained about his recommendations being accepted and then nothing happening. How will the Government ensure that these recommendations are acted on? How will they be monitored? Can the Minister commit now to reporting progress back to Parliament?

I am always happy to report back to Parliament on this sort of issue. This issue has a very long history and it did not start with the coalition Government coming into office. The key question is: is the agency now directed in a way that is going to lead to improvement? I think that the answer to that is yes. In respect of the particular comments made by individuals in front of the Home Affairs Select Committee, the individual concerned has written to the committee explaining the reason why he inadvertently misled them.

Does the Minister agree that responsibility for students who overstay their welcome in this country lies with the UKBA and not the universities and colleges? Is he aware that the universities and colleges are being harassed in relation to this and many other issues?

It is important to see this as a partnership. The universities want students from overseas and I am, fortunately, able to say that the number of students in this country from non-EEA countries has actually increased, despite the review which has been placed on them and the difficulties we have had with London Metropolitan University. Universities and the UK Border Agency need to act in partnership if we are going to have both effective control and the freedom and movement which we all, at bottom, desire.