The Commons Home Affairs Select Committee Publishes Report On The UKBA

The Commons Home Affairs Select Committee has published its report into the work of the UK Border Agency during the period April to July 2011. The “Conclusions and recommendations” section of the report reads:

1. We welcome the appointment of Mr Whiteman on a lower salary of £175,000 and look forward to taking evidence from him in December. (Paragraph 4)

2. The level of waste at the UK Border Agency is unacceptable. We recommend that the Government undertake and publish the results of a detailed investigation into this and consider how the UK Border Agency can improve its financial and data management. (Paragraph 5)

3. We welcome the very significant reduction in the number of foreign national prisoners who were released without being considered for deportation, from 1,013 in 2006 to just 28 in 2010-11. In order for performance at the current level to be maintained, the Agency will need to ensure that it communicates regularly with prison services regarding the potential release dates of prisoners. We are nonetheless concerned about the remaining 28 and ask the Agency to take all practicable steps to locate them. We consider that with proper liaison between the HM Prison Service and the Border Agency the numbers of foreign national prisoners released without being considered for deportation will be reduced to zero. (Paragraph 7)

4. The UK Border Agency is considering whether to deport 1,300 foreign national prisoners who were released in 2010-11. The fact that only 500 of these are detained is troubling, and the UK Border Agency needs to provide a full and detailed explanation for why they have released 800 foreign nationals who have previously broken the law. It is unacceptable that in more than a quarter of cases, the Agency is unable to explain why these foreign nationals have not yet been removed. This is another example of poor data management and inconsistent with the UK Border Agency’s stated commitment to transparency. The Agency must improve its systems for recording difficulties in deporting former foreign national prisoners. (Paragraph 9)

5. We recommend that the Agency undertake an analysis of contact between case owners and foreign national prisoners. If certain methods are found to increase the likelihood of foreign national prisoners returning to their country of origin, they ought to be invested in as a priority. (Paragraph 11)

6. In his statement to Parliament in 2006, the then Home Secretary suggested that the Home Office would deal with the legacy backlog in five years or less. They have concluded 455,000 cases, however we do not consider the 18,000 cases which have received an initial decision but are awaiting removal as ‘dealt with’. No matter how those at the UK Border Agency interpreted that pledge, it was not a pledge that all cases would have a decision but rather that all cases would be concluded. We recommend that the Agency establish a challenging target date for the completion of these removals in any case no later than 31 March 2012 and we expect Mr Whiteman to present us with a time table for completion when he next gives evidence. (Paragraph 17)

7. We are also concerned by the transfer of 18,000 outstanding files from the Case Resolution Directorate to the Case Assurance and Audit Unit. This action risks giving the impression that the UK Border Agency are using bureaucratic terms to hide the fact that they were unable to meet the July 2011 deadline. We recommend the Government investigate whether this transfer was simply a name change or whether the files were transferred to a different location to be worked on by different staff. We note that in general the claim that the backlog has been dealt with conflicts with the experience of MPs in terms of what they are told in response to enquiries about individual cases. (Paragraph 18)

8. Whilst we appreciate the difficulties involved in tracing people with whom the Agency have lost contact, usually for a period of several years, it is clear that the controlled archive has become a dumping ground for cases on which the Agency has given up. The controlled archive has increased significantly as the deadlines for the legacy backlog and the migration case review have approached. From 18,000 files in November 2010, the archive now contains 124,000 files, roughly equivalent to the population of Cambridge. With the end of the legacy backlog and review of the outstanding migration cases, we see no reason why the size of the controlled archive should increase further. We recommend that the Agency produce clear and specific guidance on the controlled archive which covers:

how often the files will be reassessed;
how many staff will work on reassessing files in the controlled archive; and,
when, if ever, files will be closed without the applicant being located. (Paragraph 25)
9. We also object to the term ‘controlled archive’. It is another instance of a bureaucratic term which hides the true nature of a government department’s activity and is designed to deflect attention away from it. The controlled archive would be more appropriately referred to as an archive of lost applicants. (Paragraph 26)

10. We have long been concerned by the conduct of staff towards detainees during enforced removal and have previously questioned contractors, the UK Border Agency and ministers about the issue. We are particularly concerned by reports of the questionable behaviour of contracted staff taking place after the system was put under scrutiny and stated to have been reformed following the death of Jimmy Mubenga. We intend to take evidence from the Chief Inspector of Prisons regarding his recent reports on the treatment of detainees and will produce a report on enforced removals in the near future. However, it should be expected that appropriate disciplinary action should be taken at all times against those who behave in ways that clearly are not acceptable. Companies involved should be made aware that further incidents as described in previous paragraphs could lead to the loss of contracts with the UK Border Agency. (Paragraph 29)

11. It is unacceptable that the UK Border Agency is unable to give us more detailed information about the role that intelligence plays in protecting the UK’s borders. The Independent Chief Inspector’s report suggested that there was inconsistency in the way that intelligence was collected and used and this is also unacceptable. We recognise that the Agency is trying to improve the way it uses intelligence but we feel that in order for its staff and the public to appreciate the importance of individual allegations, the outcomes must be demonstrated. (Paragraph 34)

12. The Prime Minister has called on the public to report those believed to be guilty of immigration offences. We strongly support the Government in this stance but there is no point if the UK Border Agency does not use the intelligence provided. We believe that the vigilance of the public ought to be rewarded by the publication of recorded outcomes. We recommend that the UK Border Agency produces a timetable for the improvement of intelligence processes which contains information on:

how the agency will process information;
how many staff will be working on intelligence; and
the date that the intelligence database will be linked with the recommendations database. (Paragraph 35)
13. We further recommend that the Agency produce quarterly figures showing:

How many ‘tip-offs’ they have received;
on how many cases they have taken action; and
how many people have been removed following a ‘tip-off’. (Paragraph 36)
14. The figures for successful appeals at immigration tribunals are worrying. However we have been informed that the success rate of the UK Border Agency will improve following statutory changes restricting new evidence being introduced at appeal. There is no doubt that the outcome of appeals would be improved if the Agency were to improve the quality of its representation. We expect the Agency to be represented at all appeal hearings so that the case for refusal can be properly made. (Paragraph 38)

15. The case of Mr Raed Salah highlighted a number of flaws in the UK’s border control. Six opportunities for intervention were missed. These mistakes were then compounded by the lack of information provided to Mr Salah following his arrest, which mean that the Home Office will now have to pay damages to a man who the Home Secretary believed should never have been able to enter the country in the first place. This is inexcusable and unacceptable. When the Home Secretary signs an exclusion order, it ought to be served. We urge the UK Border Agency to implement urgently the eight recommendations of the HMIC to ensure that this never happens again. (Paragraph 41)

16. We cannot understand why the UK Border Agency is unable to tell us how many students had their leave curtailed or were deported for breaking the terms of their visa. We are surprised that the Agency is unaware of the term ‘bogus college’ as it has been used by Ministers and this Committee. We are also shocked if the worst punishment a sponsor who misuses their licence faces is the revocation of their licence, although previous evidence seems to contradict this statement. We would ask the Agency to confirm this is the case and clarify this point. On previous occasions we have come across anecdotal evidence that the Agency is not always clear, fair and consistent in its dealing with colleges, and while we support efforts to deal with wrongdoers and institutions that fall below the required standard, we are satisfied that most colleges provide an important educational service and contribute to their local economy. It is therefore important that the Agency understands the need to maintain a proper balance and is helpful to genuine educational institutions. (Paragraph 45)

17. The involvement of an MP in a constituent’s case often comes as a last resort, when other approaches have failed. The high degree of correspondence between the UK Border Agency and MPs is evidence of failure earlier in the process. We intend to examine this further the next time the Chief Executive of the UK Border Agency comes before the Committee in December. In the meantime, we would welcome evidence from MPs and their staff about their dealings with the Agency. (Paragraph 46)

18. We recommend that it become UK Border Agency policy that if an MP becomes involved in a case then the Agency automatically copies the MP in on any correspondence to the applicant. This will enable MPs to close cases once they have been resolved. This would be both courteous and efficient and should be acted upon at once. (Paragraph 47)

19. We welcome the introduction of MP account managers but they have to have authority within the Agency and be able to obtain information quickly and accurately in order to provide an improved service to MPs. In order to aid our fellow parliamentarians, we have attached the list of the account managers of each region to this report. We will be asking MPs whether the new system has provided the improvements that are being claimed for it. If the improvements we wish to see take place, it could well be there would be a reduction in the 66,000 letters from MPs and peers in a single year. (Paragraph 48)

20. The UK Border Agency’s provision of information to this committee falls short of the standards that the House is entitled to expect and on which the Government itself insists. The Agency has certainly not been “as open and helpful as possible”, as civil service guidance requires. There is every risk that the Agency’s failure to provide us with the information we require, in a format which is appropriate for our needs and within the time requested will undermine effective Parliamentary scrutiny of the Agency’s work. We hope that the standard of information provided by the Agency will improve in response to this Report. If it does not, then we will seek the information from the Home Secretary in person, in accordance with the principles set out in the Ministerial Code and related guidance on the provision of information to select committees. (Paragraph 54)

21. Despite the scandals of both foreign national prisoners and the legacy backlog happening in 2006, they have still not been completely resolved five years later. Immigration is an issue which affects the safety, the social cohesion and the economy of Britain as well as its standing on the world stage. For that reason we will continue to hold sessions with the UK Border Agency every four months or possibly even more frequently. (Paragraph 55)

The full report is here.