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Immigration Rules and Border Security

Volume 836: debated on Wednesday 21 February 2024

Commons Urgent Question

The following Answer to an Urgent Question was given in the House of Commons on Tuesday 20 February.

“The security of the UK border is a top priority for me, the Home Secretary and the Home Office. Everything we do in this area is designed to reduce risks to this country and its citizens. Border Force performs checks on 100% of scheduled passengers arriving in the UK and risk-based intelligence-led checks on general aviation. It is deeply disturbing that information that has no basis in fact was leaked by the independent chief inspector to a national newspaper before the Home Office had the chance to respond. We are urgently investigating this breach of confidential information in full in the normal way.

Moving to yesterday’s changes to the Immigration Rules, since the launch of our Ukraine schemes the UK has offered or extended sanctuary to more than 280,000 Ukrainians, thanks to the immense generosity of the British public. I know that colleagues across the House are grateful for all the work that has been going on in communities to facilitate that support. Almost two years on from the start of the conflict, the UK Government’s commitment to the Ukrainian cause remains undimmed. It is right that we continue to adapt and develop our visa routes to ensure that they keep pace with the rapidly shifting situation in Ukraine. We must ensure that they remain as efficient and sustainable as possible, while providing stability for those we have welcomed to the UK and those who still need our sanctuary. Ukrainian nationals who may have previously been eligible to apply to come to the UK under the Ukraine family scheme will remain eligible to apply for the Homes for Ukraine sponsorship scheme.

Separately, the Government remain wholeheartedly committed to reducing levels of legal migration. Measures to curb immigration abuse and further reduce net migration are being implemented, ranging from salary increases for work and family visas to reforming the shortage occupation list, removing the right for overseas care workers to bring dependants, and requiring care providers to be registered with the Care Quality Commission before hiring overseas carers. The rule changes outlined yesterday, which relate to the care sector, pave the way for those measures to take effect.”

My Lords, there is yet more chaos at the borders as we learned yesterday of a failure to check hundreds of high-risk flights for the obvious threats of trafficking, serious crime and terrorism. The Government dispute the figures, so let me give them an opportunity to say whether all the high-risk flights were checked. What are the figures that the Government believe, not only for London City Airport but across the UK, and are they all properly checked?

Instead of getting a grip, the Government sacked the inspector immediately when he was being forced to leave next month anyway. Some 15 of his reports remain unpublished, including revelations of visa failures in the care sector, with 275 such visas issued to a non-existent care home. When will these 15 reports, being sat on by the Home Office, be published, and when will there be a new independent inspector to oversee our borders and immigration arrangements? Border security is too important for confusion, delay and incompetence but, too often, that is what we get from this Government.

I thank the noble Lord for his questions, and I will do my best to answer them all. I can reassure anyone from the public who happens to be watching: Border Force performs checks on 100% of scheduled passengers arriving in the UK and risk-based intelligence-led checks on general aviation. It is disturbing that information with no basis in fact was leaked by the independent chief inspector to a national newspaper before the Home Office had the chance to respond. As a consequence, Mr Neal lost the confidence of the Home Secretary, as he pointed out in his WMS yesterday. I cannot really improve on his words:

“I have terminated the appointment of David Neal, the Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration, after he breached the terms of appointment and lost my confidence”.

In terms of the checks at London City Airport, Mr Neal was very aware of a specific issue with the recording of data there that meant that a large proportion of flights recorded as high risk should have been reclassified as low risk. As I have already mentioned, all notified general aviation flights are categorised as high risk or low risk based on a number of factors. These are primarily related to persons on board, but additional factors can relate to intelligence about the aircraft and other matters. A flight may be remotely cleared when it has been assessed using the risk assessment as low risk, and for high-risk flights in certain circumstances only. A remote clearance requires, as a minimum, a digital record check on Home Office systems for all passengers. Where we are notified of a general aviation flight, we clear 100% of high-risk and low-risk flights remotely or in person, in accordance with the general aviation guidance.

I am not sure when the new replacement will be recruited. It is a very important position, and an appointment will be made following robust competition in accordance with the Governance Code on Public Appointments. As regards the publishing of the other reports, it is undeniably unfortunate that circumstances have delayed the publication of certain inspection reports. I will say that the one that was leaked was well within the time limit, and the Government had not been given an opportunity to respond and were still fact-checking, for the reasons I mentioned earlier. These will be published as soon as possible.

My Lords, why did the Government not follow the advice of the social care sector and ensure that only CQC-registered homes and businesses could accept social care workers? That would have helped overcome the problems. Will that be considered from now on? It is clearly important to the sector, which needs the employees, and everyone else.

Can the Minister also explain how Ukrainian family members whose own circumstances in Ukraine may include being bombed out of their homes, for example, will now no longer be able to join their families here under changes to the Ukrainian scheme?

Finally, the Minister referred to unpublished reports by David Neal, the former chief inspector. The Government may have been checking only the last one, but can the Minister explain why 15 reports have not been published and give us a date when they will be published by?

To answer the last question, I say that the date is soon. I am afraid that I cannot improve on that. They all require fact checking and a variety of other things. In terms of the Care Quality Commission, that is precisely what we are doing. It was made very clear the other day that, additionally, care workers in England will be able to sponsor migrant workers only if they are undertaking activities as regulated by the Care Quality Commission going forward.

Ukrainian family members can still come. It is just that we are unifying the schemes currently in existence. The old family scheme allowed settled Ukrainian sponsoring family members to come here. That settlement used to have only a six-month qualification. They can still come under the Homes for Ukraine scheme. The sponsors can now be British, Irish or settled in the UK, and that obviously includes family members. This scheme was greeted favourably and with some very positive comments from the Ukrainian embassy, which I am happy to recount if anybody would like to hear them.

My Lords, my wife and I drove trucks for our family business regularly through Calais to Dover, and we are very aware of the weaknesses in the systems and pressures from people smugglers attempting to come in through commercial vehicles, trucks and lorries. What is the increase in the number of checks done on those vehicles this year compared with last year, and what is the increase in the number of people found to have been smuggled or trafficked through those routes using trucks or lorries this year compared with last year?