To ask Her Majesty’s Government what plans they have to review the recruitment processes of (1) UK Visas and Immigration and (2) the Border Force.
My Lords, recruitment processes within all Home Office business areas are kept under regular review to ensure effectiveness and compliance with Civil Service policy. The Home Office adheres to the Civil Service Commissioners’ recruitment principles and conducts pre-appointment checks in line with the baseline personnel security standard and national security vetting requirements.
My Lords, some 50 Home Office officials, nearly all from the immigration side of the Home Office, have been sent to prison over the past 12 years for abuses of public office, yet the Home Office continues to deny that there is a problem, indicating that there are just a few rotten apples in the barrel. It now seems to be seeking to conceal the names of those officials. How can the Minister justify on grounds of privacy, as she did in a Written Answer to me on 4 July, the withholding from Parliament of the names of Shamsu Iqbal and Simon Pellett, who were sentenced in open court to 11 years and 23 years respectively for assisting unlawful immigration and smuggling of drugs and firearms? I might say that this is at a time when the Home Office is still trying to stop a judicial inquiry into the trashing of the reputation of Sir Edward Heath. Will the Government now take seriously, with a proper review, the possible deep corruption in that part of the Home Office—indeed, the possibility of enemies within it?
My Lords, I reject my noble friend’s assertions that there is deep corruption within the Home Office. On releasing names, my noble friend will know that the Home Office is legally not allowed to disclose this information. It will not, to ensure that it does not breach statutory and data protection obligations, and that is what I outline to him. Although the names of staff members are known in court, this is not necessarily the same as being in the public domain. The disclosure of names would have to satisfy a high threshold under the GDPR and Section 9 of the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974, which makes it an offence to disclose the facts of an offence in respect of a rehabilitated person.
In his 2018-19 annual report, the Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration states that only half the inspector posts were filled in the last few months of 2018-19; significantly fewer inspection reports were published than in 2017-18; none of the seven published reports in 2018-19 was laid in Parliament by the Government within the eight weeks to which the then Home Secretary had committed in 2014; the Home Office’s focus on managing the fallout of the Windrush scandal and on preparing for Brexit appeared to affect its capacity for other business, including inspections; relationships between the inspectorate and the Home Office were generally poorer in 2018-19 than they had been in 2017-18; and during 2018-19, the chief inspector had just one meeting with the Home Secretary and two with the Immigration Minister. I have heard of an arm’s-length relationship, but that is ridiculous. This is an unacceptable and potentially dangerous state of affairs in a key part of our border control and immigration system. Will the Government accept full responsibility and provide an explanation as to why they have allowed this unsatisfactory state of affairs, highlighted by the chief inspector, to arise and say what they intend to do about it?
My Lords, the noble Lord asked a number of questions, one of which was about border staff. He will know that we have recruited almost all the 900 staff that we undertook to recruit in preparation for Brexit. I will write to him with a longer answer on the inspectorate because I do not have the details at my fingertips today.
My Lords, is the real problem at the Home Office not the culture, which is still being driven by trying to achieve the target of reducing net immigration to the tens of thousands? This House has recently passed legislation that effectively continues free movement of EU citizens in the event of a no-deal Brexit. So, the only way that this ridiculous target can be achieved is by the ruthless pursuit of anyone who can be deported, even for the most minor of reasons. Does the Minister not agree that the hostile environment may have changed its name, but it persists?
As I have said before, the hostile environment started under Alan Johnson and ended under my right honourable friend the Home Secretary. The noble Lord has made the point about culture before, and he is right that the culture of an organisation is key to the way its policies operate. There are no targets of the kind that the noble Lord described. We have a general ambition of reducing net migration but targets—particularly in the hostile environment, as the noble Lord referred to it—no longer operate.
My Lords, I shall be concise, as always. Does the Minister accept that there is a serious problem with the immigration service, which is that it is hopelessly under-resourced? The rate of removals has halved, and delays are growing all over the system. Does she accept that, if we want an effective immigration system, as the great majority of the public do, we have to pay for it?
An awful lot of people want to come to this country and our immigration teams are very stretched. This requires resourcing, as everything does. We have very high employment in this country and we need people with the skills required to fill those jobs.