Border and Immigration Agency

Oral Answers to Questions — Home Department – in the House of Commons at 2:30 pm on 9 July 2007.

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Photo of Keith Vaz Keith Vaz Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee

When the Home Secretary visits the agency, perhaps with the Minister of State, would they care to look into the in-trays, the filing cabinets and the post room controlled by the director general to get an explanation as to why it takes so long for Members of Parliament to get replies to simple questions and to obtain information requested from Ministers? I know that the Minister will try to deal with this question with his usual boyish charm, but these are serious issues that affect our constituents, and we need to get basic replies to our letters.

Photo of Liam Byrne Liam Byrne Minister of State (Regional Affairs) (West Midlands), Minister of State (Home Office) (Borders and Immigration)

In much of his analysis.

My right hon. Friend will know that we have systematically dealt with our priorities over the past year. We started off by tackling the problem of foreign national prisoners, and moved on to ensure that we had the right amount of resources in immigration policing. He is right to say that resolving the legacy that has built up over the past few years must be tackled. We make something like 1.4 million immigration decisions a year, and about 85 per cent. of right hon. and hon. Members' letters are now dealt with inside 20 days, compared with 32 per cent. in 2003. We need to go further, however, and that is why further investment is required and will be delivered.

Photo of James Clappison James Clappison Conservative, Hertsmere

But is the Minister aware that on 5 August 2005, in response to the July bombings, the present Government made their top security priority the need to establish new grounds for deportation there and then? Is he also aware that in a written reply of 6 June this year, the Government said that since then there had been only one deportation? That means that in the intervening two years we have had three times as many Home Secretaries as we have had deportations—even if a small number of deportations have taken place since 6 June. Why is it that, as with Hizb ut-Tahrir, so many dangerous individuals are still with us?

Photo of Liam Byrne Liam Byrne Minister of State (Regional Affairs) (West Midlands), Minister of State (Home Office) (Borders and Immigration)

The hon. Gentleman has pursued this line of inquiry for some time and with some interest both in this Chamber and on the Home Affairs Committee. He is wrong to say or pretend that the full picture is about deportation, when so much of the important work is not just about undertaking deportations, often with assurances, but excluding those people who should not be here. Looking into the role of exclusion and removal as well as deportation is therefore important. Over the past couple of years, there have been about 176 occasions on which the previous two Home Secretaries used their powers to exclude or remove people. That demonstrates a very clear readiness to use the available powers to protect the United Kingdom.

Photo of David Heathcoat-Amory David Heathcoat-Amory Conservative, Wells

On the very question of deportations, does the Minister agree with the previous Home Secretary's statement of 24 May, in which he said that the deporting of criminal and terrorist suspects was being prevented by the European convention on human rights—a situation that he described as "outrageous"? He further claimed that it was leading to a situation in which

"we have an inadequate apparatus with which to fight terrorists."—[ Hansard, 24 May 2007; Vol. 460, c. 1433.]

Does the Minister agree with the previous Home Secretary on the ECHR, and, if so, what is he going to do about it?

Photo of Liam Byrne Liam Byrne Minister of State (Regional Affairs) (West Midlands), Minister of State (Home Office) (Borders and Immigration)

The then Home Secretary provided a full answer to that question at the time. The judgment under ECHR is one that dates back, if my memory serves me correctly, to 1996, and is known as the Chahal judgment. We believe that it prevents us from weighing the right considerations in the balance when we are making those decisions, but that is precisely why the UK Government are seeking to intervene in the Dutch Ramsey case, as we want the correct balance of considerations to be applied when taking such decisions.

Photo of Anthony Steen Anthony Steen Conservative, Totnes

Before I ask my question, may I tell the Home Secretary what a good job the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, Mr. Coaker, has done on the trafficking of human beings and that the all-party group, as well as many other non-governmental agencies, are grateful to him for that.

When the Home Secretary goes to Croydon, will she have a word with the Paladin team, which deals with missing children, and ask how it is that 183 children have gone missing from local authorities in the last 18 months? No one seems to know where they are and nobody cares about them. Should not the Home Secretary now take a serious interest in the number of children missing from local authority care who are never found? Should she not be doing something about that?

Photo of Liam Byrne Liam Byrne Minister of State (Regional Affairs) (West Midlands), Minister of State (Home Office) (Borders and Immigration)

My hon. Friend the Member for Gedling is grateful for the praise. The point about how we look after children who arrive here and claim asylum—the so-called unaccompanied asylum-seeking children—is an important one. We think that it is vital that the Border and Immigration Agency, along with other agencies, have a closer relationship with children while they are in care. That is why we suggested introducing tighter reporting arrangements for children. I have to say to the hon. Gentleman, however, that when it came to debates in Committee, it was his party that opposed those measures.