Immigration and Nationality Directorate

Oral Answers to Questions — Home Department – in the House of Commons at 2:30 pm on 22nd March 2004.

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Photo of Angela Watkinson Angela Watkinson Opposition Whip (Commons) 2:30 pm, 22nd March 2004

If he will make a statement on the relaxation of clearance standards in the immigration and nationality directorate.

Photo of Beverley Hughes Beverley Hughes Minister of State (Citizenship and Immigration), Home Office, Minister of State (Home Office) (Citizenship, Immigration and Counter-Terrorism)

The hon. Lady is aware that an investigation is under way and a further statement will be made as soon as possible after it has been completed.

Photo of Angela Watkinson Angela Watkinson Opposition Whip (Commons)

Will the Minister comment on the accuracy of newspaper reports last week that, in dealing with a backlog of 29,000 citizenship applications, caseworkers were instructed to accept what people told them about their absences from this country and to dispense with checks on travel documents and passports? If so, is she concerned that there may be one person among those 29,000 people whose reasons for absence from this country may be more sinister than the explanation that they have given?

Photo of Beverley Hughes Beverley Hughes Minister of State (Citizenship and Immigration), Home Office, Minister of State (Home Office) (Citizenship, Immigration and Counter-Terrorism)

We must all accept, that, under any Government, past or present, most Departments must take sensible measures to deal with backlogs. The important point is that those decisions must be based on a clear assessment of risk, proper research and clear information. The change to citizenship procedure is entirely different from the issue that occurred in Sheffield and is the kind of sensible measure that any Department would take. Staff suggested the change, which was risk assessed. They examined what people had written on their applications about holidays and business trips taken abroad in 100 randomly selected cases and found that in all those cases that information could be reconciled with those people's passports. It was clear that it was entirely safe to take at face value what was written on the application forms for that particular group of applications. That decision did not affect character checks, police crime checks, national security checks—where appropriate—or the examination of the full immigration history on all those cases. The measure is sensible and proportionate, and it is right to support it.

Photo of Vincent Cable Vincent Cable Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Treasury)

Following the revelations that the whistleblower from the immigration and nationality directorate was a political activist who had openly advocated the use of nuclear weapons against Muslim radicals, what steps is the Minister taking to ensure that in future her Department conforms to the standards of impartiality that one would expect of the civil service?

Photo of Beverley Hughes Beverley Hughes Minister of State (Citizenship and Immigration), Home Office, Minister of State (Home Office) (Citizenship, Immigration and Counter-Terrorism)

The hon. Gentleman makes a valid point. No matter how rigorous one's recruitment and selection procedures, when one is appointing large numbers of people, it is possible that people who have not declared particular points of view or allegiances will sometimes get through. I understand that Conservative Members in particular will want to exploit the issue, but it is regrettable that the leader of the Conservative party aligned himself very publicly with this individual without making the necessary checks as to whether he was a worthy person. It was no surprise when he had rapidly to distance himself the following day.