To ask Her Majesty’s Government what action they intend to take to address decision-making on initial immigration and asylum applications, following the publication of Home Office data that 52 per cent of immigration and asylum appeals were allowed in the year to March 2019.
My Lords, the Home Office recognises that there are improvements to be made to the initial decision-making process, but there are various reasons why appeals are allowed, not all of which necessarily relate to the quality of decisions. However, we are not complacent; we continue to focus on improving the quality of decision-making and the customer experience, including learning from the tribunal.
I thank the Minister for that reply. It is quite clear that there is a systematic and fundamental problem in the Home Office with the initial decision-making process on asylum and immigration. Issues such as basic information not being collected or used, medical reports being ignored and staff feeling a culture of bullying and intimidation have come to light. If that is the case, how do we in six months’ time judge success and whether an improvement has been made so that this House and the public can determine whether this systematic failure is improving?
I do not agree with the noble Lord that there is systematic failing. He will appreciate that many of these cases are complex and involve human rights considerations. I agree that we should focus on timeliness but the quality of decision-making, which the noble Lord also points out, is absolutely crucial. We have created a UKVI caseworking unit and caseworker lead; I hope that the quality of initial decision-making will improve—I do not doubt it—but I accept that the longer a decision-making or appeals process goes on, the greater the chance of more information coming to light or fresh appeals ensuing.
In a recent letter to me, the Minister said that, in 2017, 1,936 asylum applications were made on grounds of sexual orientation, with 423 grants of asylum, but 487 appeals were allowed—that is, there were more allowed appeals than the number of applications granted in that same year. I accept that, in some cases, more relevant information is provided by the applicant for the appeal than in the initial application. In what percentage of allowed appeals is that the decisive factor? What are the main reasons for appeals being allowed? Do staff who turned down the initial application get told if there has been a successful appeal and the reasons for it? Have any changes been made to asylum application practices in the light of reasons for allowed appeals, whether in guidance or advice to applicants or questions that should be asked by those assessing an application? I ask these questions since, surely, the Government are trying to maximise the number of correct decisions made on initial applications and minimise the number of allowed appeals. What are the answers to the questions I have posed?
I know that the noble Lord will understand if I do not answer all five questions now. However, I will answer his question on more appeals being allowed than applications being granted as it is a hangover from a question he has asked before. That figure was slightly mystifying at the time. Many of the appeals that are heard are not necessarily from that given year; there may be a lag effect with applications from the previous year—hence, in any given year, more appeals may be allowed than applications granted. I will leave it there but perhaps talk to the noble Lord afterwards about his other questions.
Does the Minister accept that the quality of the first principal interview is the most important factor, rather than that of the later decision-making? Endless advice was given to successive Governments, so can the Minister assure me that interviewers will, whenever possible, be of the same gender as the applicant, and that there will be no assumption that all applicants are lying?
My Lords, I do not think—in fact I am categorically certain—that no assumption is made that all applicants are lying, but where I would concur with the noble Lord is that the quality of the interview is incredibly important in the initial decision-making process. On the cohorts that we discuss quite often in the House such as LGBT people or people of faith, we have well-trained staff dealing with these applications. For LGBT and faith-based applications—I thank my noble friend Lady Berridge for establishing faith as a basis for an application—the training process for the staff has been much improved.
My Lords, does the Minister have any suspicion that the hostile environment created by our current immigration system might be contributing to the more overt hate speech that we are seeing on all social media as well as in wider society at the moment?
The noble Baroness will know perfectly well that my right honourable friend the Home Secretary wanted to end the notion of a hostile environment, a term which was of course coined under a previous Labour Government, and move more towards an environment of compliance in the area of immigration. As she knows, hate speech is derived from a number of complex and different factors, so to talk about a hostile environment as the deciding factor for hate speech would be incorrect.
My Lords, does my noble friend have a record of the number of refused asylum seekers who are claiming asylum because they are persecuted Christians?
I do not have the number with me and I am not sure that the reason for persecution because of faith will be available. However, I will certainly have a look for my noble friend.
My Lords, human rights appeals and EU free movement appeals are allowed in more than 50% of cases. Despite what the noble Baroness has said, the former suggests a continuation of the hostile environment culture at the Home Office and the latter sheer incompetence. Why is the Home Office not learning from these cases and adjusting its initial decision-making criteria accordingly? Any learning organisation would see a steady decline in the proportion of successful appeals, not an increase.
Human rights appeals are often quite lengthy and those which end up before the tribunal come with new information to be presented, sometimes just a couple of days before the actual hearing, resulting in the higher number of wins on appeal. However, I totally accept the point and I do not think that I have shied away from the fact that our performance could be better. We are doing a number of things to improve our appeal rate win.