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Home Office Removal Targets

Volume 790: debated on Thursday 26 April 2018


My Lords, with the leave of the House I shall repeat an Answer to an Urgent Question asked in the other place this morning. The Answer is as follows:

“Mr Speaker, yesterday I gave evidence about the Windrush generation at the Home Affairs Select Committee, about the people who contributed so much and who should never have experienced what they have. These people are here legally and should never have been subjected to any form of removal action.

As I told the committee, I have seen no evidence that this has happened. Everyone in this House agrees that this group were here legally but also that people who are here illegally should be treated differently from legal migrants. I am personally committed to tackling illegal migration because I have seen at first hand the terrible impact it has on the most vulnerable in society. Exploitation and abuse can come hand in hand with illegal migration. That is why my department has been working to increase the number of illegal migrants we remove. I have never agreed that there should be specific removal targets and I would never support a policy that puts targets ahead of people.

The immigration arm of the Home Office has been using local targets for internal performance management. These were not published targets against which performance was assessed, but if they were used inappropriately then I am clear that this will have to change. I have asked officials to provide me with a full picture of performance measurement tools that are used at all levels and will update the House and the Home Affairs Select Committee as soon as possible”.

My Lords, it is concerning that the Home Secretary had no idea that immigration targets were being used in the Home Office’s “hostile environment” and then discovered that they were being used after all. It is not acceptable to suggest that this was just done locally. Who is setting the targets and how have they been set? Who is collating the information and where has it been reported to? How has it been used to direct policy, and why did the Home Secretary and other Ministers not know about this policy? This is another shocking example of the Home Secretary and her Ministers having created a culture and then lost control. The consequences are serious for innocent people who are lawfully here and who have been caught up in this scandal. For that reason, the Home Secretary should accept responsibility and resign.

My Lords, Ministers have set out their ambition for increasing returns, but have not set the Home Office specific numerical targets. The idea of government setting removal targets goes back a number of decades. For example, in 2003 Tony Blair set a target of halving the number of asylum seekers within a year, while in 2007 Jacqui Smith made a commitment to remove 4,000 FNOs within a year. Senior managers in the Home Office have set targets in the past to drive performance locally, including last year, but have now moved away from doing so for this reporting year.

My Lords, if the Home Secretary is to resign, I am not sure what she should resign over: the fact that targets for removal were set or that she did not know that such targets existed, even when they were displayed on posters on the walls of the Home Office. In addition, the BBC has reported today on an inspection report by the Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration from December 2015 showing targets for voluntary departures of people regarded as having no right to stay in the UK. They are not local targets but overall Home Office targets for removal of illegal immigrants from the UK—contrary to what the Minister has just said.

Does the Minister accept that, if officials are given targets for the number of people they must deport, it will be very difficult for them to use their discretion and be compassionate? The current culture at the Home Office is rotten to the core and Ministers, not officials, need to take responsibility.

I echo the noble Lord’s point about discretion and compassion. I agree with him: I am not sure what the Home Secretary should resign over because she has done a wonderful job. She has made it quite clear that, if there is a culture such as the one which has been worried over, that culture will change. We want the Home Office to remove more people who are here illegally, but I repeat that Ministers have not set specific targets for this year. We are clear that we would like the number of removals to increase. Reducing the size of the illegal migrant population and the harm that it causes is a key component of an effective immigration system, and what the public would expect as a matter of fairness.

On the posters to which the noble Lord referred, local managers may use visual tools to heighten team activities, which could include but not be limited to staff movements, work activity and performance. But, as my right honourable friend the Home Secretary said this morning, she will look at the performance environment as a matter of urgency.

My Lords, I have some sympathy for the noble Baroness, as I had her brief for a couple of years, between 1999 and 2001. So it is not the first time that we have visited the issue of problems with targets and migration. Can she tell the House whether targets for removals included Windrush generation UK citizens who have been able to provide curious Home Office officials with documents? Would she like to reflect on why, although the Home Secretary is very keen to see illegal migrants leave the UK, the Government have pursued a policy of reducing the number of people employed by the Border Force? I would have thought that ensuring that the force can do its job and has adequate staff to do it is an important first principle.

I am left to reflect that the crisis engulfing the Home Secretary is a product of the Prime Minister’s hostile environment policy unravelling and her inability to control her department and its officials. One day she does not know that there is a target, the next day she seems to know that there is one. This is symptomatic of a Home Secretary who does not know exactly where her department is going.

My Lords, as I said yesterday, there should be a hostile environment for people who have no lawful right to be here. In terms of the Windrush citizens, there is a very clear distinction between the Windrush generation, who are here lawfully, and illegal migrants, who by their very nature are not here lawfully. Immigration enforcement is focused on removing illegal migrants, and the Windrush generation clearly does not fall into that category. In addition, the Home Secretary stated yesterday or the day before that 8,000 records had been manually trawled through to ensure that nobody had been deported inadvertently. Thus far, there is no evidence that anyone has been removed who is a Windrush citizen and is lawfully here.

My Lords, I have an interest to declare, because I helped to take the 2014 Act through your Lordships’ House from the Government Front Bench. I do not recall the Windrush problem being raised, despite the fact that it has been a long-running problem—and I have asked the Library to research that in more detail. I agree with my noble friend the Minister that it is important to bear down on illegal immigration because it distorts the UK employment market but, more importantly, it leaves illegal migrants vulnerable, especially to modern slavery. Is not it the case that the party opposite was in power for 13 years and, although it had the opportunity, it never actually fixed the Windrush problem itself—that is, legal migrants and their children who came to the UK prior to 1973 and whose immigration status was never properly recorded? The party opposite could easily have taken the steps to avoid the problem years ago. Very regrettably, we—I use that word—did not solve that problem, and therefore we should all share in the blame for this disaster.

My noble friend makes two incredibly articulate points. He is absolutely right: we should not be pointing the finger of blame at each other to try to pass the buck; we should accept that over decades and decades these people have been failed. He is also right to point out that illegal immigrants are vulnerable to exploitation and, as he says, to modern slavery. We should be bearing down on people who are not here legally and, absolutely, the Windrush generation does not fall into that category.

My Lords, yesterday there was a meeting here in Westminster of parliamentarians and representatives of the Church of England and of the black majority churches about the ongoing problems of the Windrush generation, some of which have been made more acute by the controversy over removal targets. From that meeting, one issue that arose was that those contacting the helpline have not had a positive experience. What training has been given to those responding to people who call the helpline? Secondly, there is a hesitation among some to contact the helpline because they fear they will be targeted for removal if they do.

Thirdly, I should be very grateful if the Minister said what is being done to resource churches, which may well be the best place for information to reach those whom the Government want to reach. Many of the Windrush generation and of those who feel themselves to be targets are members of church congregations. I hope that the Government might welcome a partner in trying to reach some of those who are most affected by this.

The right reverend Prelate makes a series of very good points. The Home Office has been very proactive in reaching out to the various organisations that we think might have a significant congregation of the Windrush generation—not only churches but other places.

As for people hesitating to make contact in case they are targeted for removal, I think the Home Secretary made it absolutely clear that the purpose of people contacting the helpline was not for immigration enforcement but so that Home Office officials could actually help them. On training, these people are incredibly experienced case workers; they are not out to take enforcement action—the Home Secretary has made that absolutely clear. However, if the right reverend Prelate has names of people who feel they have not had a positive reception or experience, I would be most grateful if they could be passed on to me.