Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration

– in the House of Commons at 3:35 pm on 4 March 2024.

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Photo of Diana R. Johnson Diana R. Johnson Chair, Home Affairs Committee, Chair, Home Affairs Committee 3:35, 4 March 2024

(Urgent Question): To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Office if he will make a statement on the publication of 13 reports by the former independent chief inspector of borders and immigration on 29 February and how the inspectorate will now operate in the absence of a chief inspector or deputy?

Photo of Tom Pursglove Tom Pursglove Minister of State (Minister for Legal Migration and Delivery)

We recognise that independent scrutiny, such as that provided by the independent chief inspector of borders and immigration, plays an important role in ensuring that we have an effective immigration system. In January, the Home Secretary made a promise to the former chief inspector to publish all overdue reports as soon as possible, which I repeated in the House last month in response to an earlier urgent question. Last Thursday, we delivered on that promise by publishing all 13 reports that were outside the eight-week commitment to review and respond. We take ICIBI reports seriously and we do not wait until publication to act on its findings. Indeed, some of the reports’ recommendations have now been implemented and work is ongoing across the Department to implement others. That includes action to strengthen border security and improve the system for processing asylum claims.

The final two reports from the former chief inspector will be published in the established eight-week period. There is no requirement for a chief inspector to be in place for that to happen, but the process of appointing his replacement is under way, with the advert going live the day after the former chief inspector had his appointment terminated. An appointment will be made following robust competition, in accordance with the governance code on public appointments. In addition, we are looking at options to appoint an interim chief inspector. We will, of course, update the House on the outcome of the appointment processes. We will also continue working with the right hon. Lady’s Home Affairs Committee in relation to these matters.

The security and effectiveness of the UK border is of paramount importance. The Government recognise that, which is why we have taken wide-ranging action to tackle illegal migration and reform our asylum system. Our efforts are paying off, but there is more to do. We will never compromise on this. We will always put the safety and interests of the British people first.

Photo of Diana R. Johnson Diana R. Johnson Chair, Home Affairs Committee, Chair, Home Affairs Committee

I agree with the Minister that the role of the independent chief inspector of borders and immigration provides indispensable scrutiny of vital Home Office functions. On Tuesday 20 February, the Home Secretary sacked David Neal. Eight days later, the Home Office published 13 of the 15 reports that the chief inspector had submitted during his tenure, none of which had been published within the agreed eight-week deadline following receipt.

The reports raise multiple serious concerns about the Home Office’s handling of border security and immigration operations. Will the Minister confirm what action is being taken to address the report findings that the protection of borders at airports is “neither effective nor efficient”, with border posts being left unstaffed? What steps will the Minister take to remedy the serious failures identified in attempts to discover illegal goods at airports? Does the Minister accept the conclusion that attempting to clear the legacy backlog at all costs

“has led to perverse outcomes for claimants and staff”,

with quality assurance “sacrificed for increased productivity”? With the new chief inspector not expected to be in post for six to nine months, and with no deputy to step up and exercise statutory responsibilities, will the Minister explain exactly how the inspectorate will operate during that period? Is all inspection work now on hold, and what happens to the inspectorate’s 30-plus members of staff?

Last week, David Neal told the Select Committee of his concerns regarding Wethersfield asylum accommodation centre relating to suicide, violence and the lack of expertise to manage the situation. Will the Minister now agree to the Committee’s request to visit Wethersfield?

The Committee last week published the 10 changes that David Neal thinks need to be made to improve the effectiveness of the inspectorate, including the power to publish its own reports, creating a deputy position, and providing access to commercial contracts entered into by the Home Office. Does the Minister have any plans to implement any of those recommendations? Finally, will he comment on the joint letter sent by seven national home affairs editors complaining about the decision to publish a slew of Home Office reports on the same day as the Sarah Everard report?

Photo of Tom Pursglove Tom Pursglove Minister of State (Minister for Legal Migration and Delivery)

I am grateful to the Chair of the Home Affairs Committee not only for asking those various questions but for the opportunity to respond to today’s urgent question.

It is rather surprising that Ministers are being criticised for doing precisely what they said they would do. I was pressed a couple of times on when the reports would be published. I said that it would happen soon. I subsequently said that it would happen very soon, and that commitment was fulfilled. I give the right hon. Lady this undertaking, because this issue is important and I care about it, as I know she does: the two outstanding reports will be responded to in full and in the proper way within the eight-week window. I refer back to the commitment that my late friend James Brokenshire made to the House. She will appreciate that I came back to the Department in December. I would argue that we have made progress in publishing the reports. I assure the House that the existing reports that have not yet been responded to will be dealt with within the eight-week window. We will return to that approach in dealing with these matters, which is the right thing to do.

On the recommendations in the various reports, we have obviously responded to those reports. A number of recommendations have been accepted, a number have been progressed, and a number have been completed. The reports speak for themselves, and give an indication of the direction of travel that we intend to take. We also want to engage with the next inspector regarding that performance, to ensure that they have an important role in overseeing the delivery of the commitments that we have made in response to the issues that were understandably raised in the reports.

General aviation falls within the reports that are still to be responded to. As I say, that will happen within the eight-week window. I undertake to fulfil that commitment. On the asylum backlog, it is fair to say that there has been pressure from this House to get on and process asylum claims. I would argue that the teams have done remarkable work in delivering on the commitment to get on and process the legacy backlog. There has been much learning along the way, which we will take forward into future processing. There will be increased sampling in the way that the inspector recommended, as well as improvements to IT.

Arrangements for the ICIBI functions in this period are under consideration. The Minister for Countering Illegal Migration is the lead on that aspect of the Department’s work. I know that Ministers will update the House accordingly. I am happy to consider the request from the Home Affairs Committee to visit Wethersfield.

One of the most frustrating things about all of this is that if Mr Neal had not gone to the media in the way that he did and put that information into the public domain in a way that was in breach of the terms of the agreement that he had with the Department to take on this capacity, he would still be in post and would be able to engage in the dialogue this week.

Photo of Tim Loughton Tim Loughton Conservative, East Worthing and Shoreham

To follow up on some specific questions from the Chair of the Home Affairs Committee that the Minister did not pick up on, is it not the case that David Neal was dismissed by Teams call by a civil servant? Why was he not afforded the courtesy of seeing a Minister? Is it not also the case that, despite the recruitment process having started last November, no suitable candidates came forward and the post had to be readvertised at a higher salary?

Thirdly, the Minister has not mentioned anything about how the inspectorate actually operates. Is it not the case that the 30 civil servants are unable to carry on their work on the reports they are currently working on, unable to carry out any inspections, unable to pick up the schedule of reports that has been programmed, and unable to comment on any responses to the reports?

Finally, can the Minister assure me that there were no redactions and nothing was removed from the 13 reports published en masse last week, because there is no inspector or deputy inspector to challenge the contents of the reports that have been put into the public domain?

Photo of Tom Pursglove Tom Pursglove Minister of State (Minister for Legal Migration and Delivery)

On my hon. Friend’s final point, I will go away and check, and I will write to him. This is clearly an important function. The recruitment process was restarted the day after Mr Neal left the role. We are keen to make progress in appointing a new independent chief inspector of borders and immigration, and I encourage people to put themselves forward. It is an important role, and the Government value it. The relationship with the ICIBI will be in the terms that I set out: it will get on and publish reports within the eight-week framework for the existing workload. We will continue to work constructively with it when Mr Neal’s successor is appointed. The second permanent secretary is engaging with the administrative team at the ICIBI, and we are looking at what can be done in the interim to bridge the gap between Mr Neal leaving and the new inspector taking post.

Photo of Yvette Cooper Yvette Cooper Shadow Secretary of State for the Home Department

We think of the family and friends of the seven-year-old who lost her life in the channel this weekend. It matters more than ever that we stop the criminal gangs and dangerous crossings that are undermining border security and putting so many lives at risk.

The Tory Home Secretary has shamefully tried to bury or hide 13 inspectorate reports and one National Audit Office report with damning revelations about Britain’s borders, and now he has gone into hiding himself. He should be doing a statement on those reports, which show shocking border security failures, including border and customs posts not staffed. In one airport, the inspectorate was told,

“customs is shut down for the summer”.

It found that equipment was

“either broken, not available, or untrusted”,

and that there was

“a lack of anti-smuggling capability”.

Mr Neal said that

“protection of the border is neither effective nor efficient”.

Will the Minister tell us how many times customs and border posts have gone unstaffed this year? Does he even know? How many high-risk private flights were not checked in person? How long will there be no inspector in post?

More findings: only two people have been removed under the inadmissibility process that the Government claimed would cover tens of thousands, and 147 unaccompanied children who went missing have still not been found. On Rwanda, £400 million of taxpayers’ money will have been spent even if no one is sent. If 300 people go, it will be £580 million. That is over half a billion pounds on a scheme that will cover less than 1% of UK asylum arrivals —nearly £2 million per person. I say to the Minister: do not give us any garbage about the Tories having a plan. That is not a plan; it is a farce. Why do they not stop wasting that money and instead put it into rebuilding border security and stopping the criminal gangs? That is Labour’s plan.

Finally, there is the revelation that the Home Office has gone a shocking £5 billion over budget this year because it failed on the backlog, on returns, on hotels and on Rwanda—14 years of Tory Government, wasting taxpayers’ money, weakening Britain’s security. They have bust the Home Office budget and broken Britain’s borders. Instead of hiding and running away, why do they not just get out of the way and let someone else do the job properly?

Photo of Tom Pursglove Tom Pursglove Minister of State (Minister for Legal Migration and Delivery)

That was a contribution to the House full of soundbites, as ever, but light on policy substance. We hear time and again from the right hon. Lady and her colleagues a lot of criticism of what the Government are doing and absolutely no credible policy alternative in response. It is incredibly frustrating. It just will not do, and the British people see straight through it.

I share the right hon. Lady’s sentiments about the terrible incident at the weekend when that young girl lost her life. In the last few weeks, we have yet again seen lives lost in the channel, and that is a source of regret for all of us. That is why the Government are absolutely determined to put an end to these channel crossings. We are making progress—that is why the number of crossings last year was down by over a third compared with the year before, and Albanian arrivals are down by over 90%—but there is more work to do, and we will continue to see through the plan that is delivering those results.

The right hon. Lady mentions Rwanda. We have a fundamental point of difference in that the Government believe that the Rwanda policy is an important part of the answer in putting those evil criminal gangs out of business. It is not acceptable to spend £8 million a day in the asylum system. However, it does not take many spends of £8 million a day to get to the figures that have been provided to the NAO in a transparent manner. We will continue to publish those through the annual report and accounts. We think that advancing that policy and putting those criminal gangs out of action is the right thing to do, recognising that the policy is novel and has been challenging. She will, of course, have the opportunity to vote for the Rwanda legislation when it comes back from the other place, and I certainly encourage her and her colleagues to be in the Lobby with us, because it just will not do to have no credible plan.

The right hon. Lady refers to one of the comments made in the report. We do not accept it. The inspection covered only a small part of our border operations at a specific location and over a limited time period—it is a snapshot—and it is inappropriate to draw unsubstantiated wider conclusions through sweeping statements based on a three-day inspection. Ultimately, Border Force facilitates 132 million passenger arrivals last year, processing over 96% of passengers within service standards. Significant progress has been made since the report was commissioned to increase the number of officers trained in vulnerability and behavioural detection, and that is set to continue. We treat the inspector’s recommendations with the utmost seriousness; we get on and deliver on those recommendations and, as I have consistently set out to the House, we now have a commitment to respond to those reports within eight weeks.

Photo of James Daly James Daly Conservative, Bury North

Following on from that point, there is clearly an issue with publication within eight weeks. Bearing in mind that the public purse is funding 30 civil servants and a chief inspector of immigration, has my hon. Friend considered a statutory basis for the eight-week requirement—or whatever requirement is necessary or proportionate—for the publication of such reports, to ensure efficiency in the system?

Photo of Tom Pursglove Tom Pursglove Minister of State (Minister for Legal Migration and Delivery)

In his usual way, my hon. Friend comes to the House with constructive suggestions for how the Government can go about their work. I am happy to put that suggestion to the Minister who leads on these matters in the Department. I can absolutely assure my hon. Friend that there is a commitment to engage with the reports within that eight-week window, which I would argue is within both the letter and the spirit of what the late great James Brokenshire said a few years ago.

Photo of Alison Thewliss Alison Thewliss Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

I thank David Neal for his work. Nobody can doubt that he was an independent chief inspector of borders and immigration, and his reports bear testament to that work. He called out the Home Office for being particularly poor at communication, and for its data being “inexcusably awful.” In relation to Border Force, he highlighted

“basic stuff not being done”.

He shone a bright light on the shoddy treatment of unaccompanied children in hotels, some of whom are still missing to this day and have not been found by the Home Office. He highlighted the

“lack of grip and poor leadership” that resulted in those children becoming lost. He also highlighted the chaos and the secret policies being operated as part of the Afghan citizens resettlement scheme—utterly unacceptable.

What happens now to the planned inspections that are stuck in limbo? Those inspections include adults at risk, which is crucial as people have committed suicide in asylum accommodation. Small boats are all the more critical given the tragic loss of a seven-year-old wee girl just this week. On high-performance visas, on Rwanda, on Georgia and on age assessment, what will happen to the work plan that the chief inspector set out, and to the staff—expert inspectors—who are in place to deliver it? Will David Neal’s recommendations be taken on by whoever follows him in that post? What will the Department do for future reports? Next time a report is published, will the Minister make a statement to the House, rather than being brought here by an urgent question?

Photo of Tom Pursglove Tom Pursglove Minister of State (Minister for Legal Migration and Delivery)

I am very grateful to the SNP spokesman for that variety of questions. I too, actually, want to place on record my thanks to Mr Neal for the work that he did—[Interruption.] There is chuntering from Opposition Members, but it is perfectly right and proper to thank him for his work.

There are recommendations that the Government have accepted and are taking forward. We treat the outcomes of those reports with the seriousness that they warrant. We will continue to work through those recommendations; even in the absence of an ICIBI, we will continue to make progress against our commitments. Obviously, we want to get on and appoint a replacement for Mr Neal, and that process is under way. We want to do that as quickly as possible, while also making sure that we properly engage the Home Affairs Committee in that process, and we will do so in the way that that Committee would rightly expect.

It is welcome that we no longer have any unaccompanied asylum-seeking children hotels under the auspices of the Home Office, but the recommendations that were made within the report still stand and, again, we treat them seriously. As I said at an earlier Home Affairs Committee appearance, I treat tracing missing asylum-seeking children with the utmost seriousness, and with better relationships with the police, improved guidance and other steps, we have managed to track down more of those children since we met at the Home Affairs Committee.

We continue to see Afghans arriving under the ACRS. That is welcome, and we will continue to evolve that scheme and make improvements where we can. We have made commitments around the scheme, and it is of real importance to me: fulfilling our promises to those who worked with the British Government and to others is a responsibility that I take incredibly seriously.

I want to make sure that we go about this recruitment process in the proper way, involving the Home Affairs Committee. The second permanent secretary is leading engagement with the secretariat at the ICIBI, and we will get on and appoint a successor.

Photo of Simon Fell Simon Fell Conservative, Barrow and Furness

I pay tribute to David Neal. It is fair to say that when we did his pre-appointment scrutiny at the Home Affairs Committee, we had doubts, but he has proved himself to be a diligent and dogged public servant in some of the most difficult circumstances. Notwithstanding the fact that he has not been reappointed, the 13 reports that have been published raise significant issues, whether that is the border at London City airport, Afghan resettlement, or child asylum seekers. Even though those reports have only just been published, what assurances can the Minister give that work has been undertaken on them? Will he also give me his thoughts on the excellent suggestion that the post should be made independent so that the chief inspector can publish reports when they are ready, rather than dropping them into the Home Office memory hole and hoping for the best?

Photo of Tom Pursglove Tom Pursglove Minister of State (Minister for Legal Migration and Delivery)

My hon. Friend is a diligent member of the Home Affairs Committee. It is fair to say that where recommendations are made, we engage with them constructively, and progress will quite often be made against those recommendations even in advance of reports being published. He can absolutely have an assurance from me that we will continue to work through the commitments that we have made in responding to various recommendations in those 13 reports and, having made this promise to this House, that future reports will be published within an eight-week window.

My hon. Friend has raised a point about procedure. I am happy to take that point away and raise it with ministerial colleagues who have direct responsibility for the ICIBI relationship.

Photo of Diane Abbott Diane Abbott Independent, Hackney North and Stoke Newington

As colleagues have said, the Home Affairs Committee found Mr Neal to be a very diligent and committed public servant. Does the Minister share the chief inspector’s concern about unaccompanied child migrants? He reported on them playing very unsuitable games—trying to bet which one of them would be the first to go into foster care—and on their ages being overestimated, resulting in children sharing bedrooms with much older adults. Does the Minister propose to follow up on any of the issues that the chief inspector raised?

Photo of Tom Pursglove Tom Pursglove Minister of State (Minister for Legal Migration and Delivery)

The right hon. Lady should know that that is an area we have been very concerned about. The issue of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children should never, ever be the subject of a game. I think all of us were horrified to hear about that incident, and following those inspection findings, the Department launched an immediate investigation into the inappropriate behaviour of the support worker, who was removed from site immediately and did not return. As I have said, all seven hotels used to accommodate unaccompanied asylum-seeking children have since closed. The Department has taken the recommendations seriously, and there is a lot of learning there for the future as we take forward our work, including our wider work with local authorities on safeguarding the most vulnerable children.

Photo of Julian Lewis Julian Lewis Chair, Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament

I welcome the Minister’s earlier assurance about Afghans who fought with or otherwise supported our troops against the Taliban. Can he explain, for the benefit of those of us not au fait with the details of this dispute, for what reason these reports were not published earlier, and at what level the decision not to publish was taken? Had they been published sooner, would the inspector have been out of a job, and would we have been looking for a replacement?

Photo of Tom Pursglove Tom Pursglove Minister of State (Minister for Legal Migration and Delivery)

We have gone into the termination of the inspector’s appointment before in this House: he lost the confidence of the Home Secretary, and information was shared in the media that ought not to have been shared; it was confidential, and outside the appropriate publication process. On the publication of reports, I cannot speak to earlier decisions made under previous Ministers, but I said very clearly on a number of occasions that we would get on and respond to the reports, and that is precisely what we have done. I also reassure the House today—I think this is important, and that the House is interested in this point—that we will respond to the reports within eight weeks. That arguably lives up to both the letter and spirit of the commitment that James Brokenshire made all those years ago, when he held this role.

Photo of Alistair Carmichael Alistair Carmichael Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Northern Ireland), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Justice)

These reports are, cumulatively, a remarkable catalogue of past failings, but may I invite the Minister to look ahead? He has referred to the Rwanda scheme; does he agree that the incoming independent inspector must be allowed to examine the workings of that scheme, and that it should not be implemented unless and until the next inspector has given it a satisfactory bill of health?

Photo of Tom Pursglove Tom Pursglove Minister of State (Minister for Legal Migration and Delivery)

It will of course be for the next inspector to decide on their programme of work, but I disagree with the right hon. Gentleman on his latter point. I would argue that lives are at stake, and that every day that people lose their lives in the channel is one day too many. We are making progress on seeing through our commitment to put an end to these channel crossings, but the Rwanda policy is absolutely front and centre; it is the next piece of the jigsaw when it comes to putting these evil criminal gangs out of business, and we should not wait any longer than is absolutely necessary to get on and deliver on that work.

Photo of Khalid Mahmood Khalid Mahmood Labour, Birmingham, Perry Barr

The Rwanda policy has cost over £500 million —an approximate cost of £2 million for each individual the Government are seeking to transport to Rwanda. Will the Bill ever be implemented, and is it good value for the taxpayer?

Photo of Tom Pursglove Tom Pursglove Minister of State (Minister for Legal Migration and Delivery)

I hear a lot of criticism there, but no constructive suggestion on what the hon. Gentleman would do in the absence of the Rwanda policy. As I have said, we engage properly and thoroughly with the National Audit Office on the figures, and we continue to be committed to providing transparency around those figures through the annual report and accounts. The Rwanda policy is an important part of our answer when it comes to putting an end to these criminal gangs and the terrible criminality that they oversee. Crucially, this is about saving lives, and we will get on and deliver the policy. He will, no doubt, have the opportunity in the next few weeks to vote for that Bill, and so help us to operationalise that policy and put those evil criminal gangs out of business.

Photo of Helen Hayes Helen Hayes Shadow Minister (Education)

The borders inspectorate found that staff working in a Home Office-run hotel made unaccompanied asylum-seeking children play a disgraceful game to find out which child was next to be placed in foster care, a practice certain to cause more distress to already traumatised children. The same report found that agency workers employed to look after children as young as nine had insufficient background checks and training. What has the Minister done to ensure that he understands the full extent of the risks to children in the asylum system, and what steps is he taking to end such disgraceful practices, and to guarantee that everyone working with children is properly vetted and trained?

Photo of Tom Pursglove Tom Pursglove Minister of State (Minister for Legal Migration and Delivery)

The hon. Lady is right to say that everybody working with children has to be properly vetted. We have taken seriously the recommendations that Mr Neal made in response to that issue. As I said to Ms Abbott, this was a terrible situation. There was accountability in relation to the individual who thought it appropriate to play that game, which was, to any Member of this House and any right-minded person, abhorrent. Helen Hayes is right to say that we are talking about children in difficult circumstances who have been through an awful lot. All those individuals—I would use the word “professionals”—have a responsibility to care for those children, and to behave in an appropriate way befitting their role. There are no longer any unaccompanied asylum-seeking children in hotels open under the Home Office’s remit, but there is value in the recommendations, which should carry through into the work that we do with local authorities.

Photo of Holly Lynch Holly Lynch Opposition Deputy Chief Whip (Commons)

The Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner, Dame Sara Thornton, raised concerns about Government policy on trafficking and slavery. Her contract was not renewed, and that crucial post was vacant for 16 months. David Neal, as the ICIBI, raised concerns about immigration, and he was sacked. That post will be vacant for months. The Minister has said that independent scrutiny plays an important role, but does he not agree that under this Government, independent scrutiny is not only not valued, but becoming a sackable offence?

Photo of Tom Pursglove Tom Pursglove Minister of State (Minister for Legal Migration and Delivery)

I have been clear with the House about the basis on which Mr Neal’s contract was terminated. I do not think it was appropriate for him to share confidential information in the way he did; it was outside the process for publication. However, as I have said repeatedly, we want to get on and appoint a successor. The chief inspector of borders and immigration has an important role and remit; the House and the Government see value in it. We are looking at what can be done to bridge the gap in the absence of a full-time, permanent chief inspector. We will no doubt say more once that work has been concluded.

Photo of Chi Onwurah Chi Onwurah Shadow Minister (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy), Shadow Minister (Science, Research and Innovation)

As chair of the all-party parliamentary group for Africa, I met David Neal a number of times. He was incredibly impressive, robust, well-informed, all over the detail, and entirely independent. It beggars belief that the Government ignored his reports for so long—publication is essential for scrutiny—sacked him over Teams, and dumped all the reports out at once. Does the Minister believe that the Home Office is so perfect, and that everything is going so well, that it should be above scrutiny? Or is it more the case that everything is going so badly, including on Rwanda, the asylum backlog and our border security, that there is no hope of improvement until we have a change of Government?

Photo of Tom Pursglove Tom Pursglove Minister of State (Minister for Legal Migration and Delivery)

That is an interesting observation, but what sits behind it, I am afraid, is a lack of policy and a lack of an alternative, credible approach to borders and immigration. Mr Neal said this in response to the reports being laid before Parliament last week:

“I think it’s a real positive that these reports have been published. I think it bodes well that the home secretary has gripped his officials in getting these reports published so quickly”.

I agree with him. I promised that we would lay those reports before Parliament; we have got on and done it, and we will table the outstanding reports within the eight-week window, moving forward.

Photo of Lilian Greenwood Lilian Greenwood Shadow Minister (Culture, Media and Sport)

Last week’s figures showed 46,000 people still in asylum hotels. David Neal’s report said:

“There is no evidence of a Home Office strategy to end hotel use, as recommended by ICIBI in 2022.”

He is right, is he not?

Photo of Tom Pursglove Tom Pursglove Minister of State (Minister for Legal Migration and Delivery)

I am afraid that what is right is that the hon. Lady consistently votes against the strategy to end the use of hotels, as do her colleagues on the Opposition Front Bench and Back Benches. The way to address the issue of hotels is: to diversify the accommodation offer; to ensure that local authority areas engage properly with dispersed accommodation—I encourage all Members of this House to take an interest in the performance of their local authority—and to bring into being larger sites, such as those that we have brought forward. Crucially, we have to reduce the flow of people coming across the channel and arriving in our country illegally. Every time Opposition Members have the chance to do something about the flow of people arriving, which undoubtedly leads to the pressures that she touches on, they refuse to do so. That is where the scandal really lies.

Photo of Andrew Gwynne Andrew Gwynne Shadow Minister (Social Care)

Is the Government’s failure to tackle the asylum backlog, the Minister’s inability to grapple with the asylum hotel issue, or the staggering cost of the Rwanda deal, at £2 million per person taken out of this country, the reason why the Minister has broken the Home Office budget, and will come to Parliament cap in hand next week, asking for an extra £5.5 billion of funding for the Home Office?

Photo of Tom Pursglove Tom Pursglove Minister of State (Minister for Legal Migration and Delivery)

I am afraid that the hon. Member is yet another Opposition Member with no credible alternative to speak of—just lots of complaints about the work that the Government are doing. We are making progress. As I have said, last year, the number of people who arrived via the channel was down by a third compared to the year before. The population accommodated in hotels is going down, and the number of hotels open is reducing.

Photo of Tom Pursglove Tom Pursglove Minister of State (Minister for Legal Migration and Delivery)

The Government are making progress. We are living up to the commitments—

Photo of Tom Pursglove Tom Pursglove Minister of State (Minister for Legal Migration and Delivery)

The hon. Member can keep parroting figures and chuntering from the Back Benches, but I would rather he came forward with a credible alternative plan. Perhaps then we could have a conversation.

Photo of Tim Farron Tim Farron Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government)

The shambles that is the ongoing mismanagement of our borders and the Government mismanagement of the huge asylum backlog, which was just referred to, is now enhanced by the additional shambles of an unnecessary interregnum. In answer to my right hon. Friend Mr Carmichael, the Minister seemed to imply that independent oversight would not be necessary in the next few weeks and months while there is an interregnum over the Rwanda deal. If the Government are right—in the best-case scenario, from their perspective—1% of all asylum seekers will go to Rwanda. Apparently, that is so important that independent oversight is not necessary during this period. Will the Minister confirm that until a new inspector is formally and fully appointed and in post, there will be no further progress in deporting anybody to Rwanda?

Photo of Tom Pursglove Tom Pursglove Minister of State (Minister for Legal Migration and Delivery)

It is rather ironic that the hon. Gentleman argues for due process on the one hand, and says that we should dispense with it on the other. The contract of the chief inspector of borders was terminated because of respects in which his actions were not in accordance with the agreement around the post. That was not an acceptable situation. The Home Secretary lost confidence in him, and that was why steps were taken.

I welcome oversight and accountability. There will be opportunities for scrutiny of the work on Rwanda. On the point that the hon. Gentleman sought to suggest that I had made, I was clear in saying that we should not waste any time when lives are at risk in the channel. We should not waste a moment in getting on and operationalising that Rwanda policy, but there will of course be plenty of opportunity for scrutiny of that work.

Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Human Rights), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health)

May I put on record my thanks to the Minister for all the work that he did for one of my constituents last week, and for ensuring that one of the Ukrainian babies got back to Northern Ireland?

We should bear in mind the gap that has been left in this vital component of our immigration response. On the role of civil servants and the importance of ministerial oversight, most recently, the difficulty in Northern Ireland, where there was an absence of Ministers in situ, was that although senior civil servants could make decisions, they were loth to do so; and those who made decisions did not provide the usual accountability or explanation of decisions. How will the Minister ensure that that does not remain the case until a replacement for the independent chief inspector of borders and immigration is in place?

Photo of Tom Pursglove Tom Pursglove Minister of State (Minister for Legal Migration and Delivery)

The hon. Member always goes about his business in the House diligently, and he speaks with great passion about Northern Ireland; I am delighted that we now have Ministers back in government there. I look forward to engaging with counterparts in Northern Ireland on these issues. I reassure him that that engagement will be the cornerstone of the work that we do. There is a commitment to engage thoroughly and extensively. As I said, we want to get on and appoint a replacement inspector; it is an important role for everybody in the United Kingdom. The functions that the inspector oversees matter to everybody the length and breadth of this country, and we will make that appointment as soon as we can.