My Lords, UK Visas and Immigration is focused on improving the quality of all decision-making. While appeals are allowed for a variety of reasons, and many of those appeals being heard now are fairly historic, we recognise that continued improvement is necessary. That is why investment is being made via a stronger assurance regime, better and more frequent training, strengthening feedback loops and creating new governance and structures. Additionally, we are working with HM Courts & Tribunals Service on reducing the number of outstanding appeals and the time taken through the appeal system.
I thank the Minister for those comments. She will be aware that whereas 17% of those who went to appeal in 2005 won their appeal, this year 35% won and last year the figure was 40%. This is totally wrong, as even the Government must understand. One thing we could do is record every interview from an applicant. Then we would not have disputes over what was said—whether the language was understood, the interviewer was hostile or the questioning was aggressive. We could go some way towards remedying this problem by keeping voice recordings of each of the interviews.
I appreciate what the noble Lord is saying, and on face value it looks sensible, but quite often new evidence is presented just before the tribunal which is not available to the original decision-maker. For that reason, the noble Lord’s point would not be valid. The consequence of information being presented too late is that it is often too late for the Home Office to then withdraw the case.
My Lords, does the Minister agree that there would be fewer appeals if the immigration department was prepared to adopt the policy that, where it rejects an application because of inadequate documentation, it should then be open to the applicant to supply the missing documents rather than undergo the expense and delay of either appealing or making a fresh application. The Minister knows of my interest in this subject because she has been making heroic efforts to get an answer from the immigration department as to whether or not it is prepared to adopt such a practice in the case of Ramie Smith and Gideon Cohen, who married recently, as well as in other cases. When does the Minister think she will get an answer from the immigration department to this very basic question?
It is a shame the immigration department is not at the Dispatch Box. I agree with the noble Lord; we have had several discussions on this. My right honourable friend the Immigration Minister is absolutely aware of this and is trying to make improvements in the process. What the noble Lord and I have been talking about is that the process is not entirely clear in some of these cases.
My right honourable friend the Home Secretary has made very clear that he does not want a hostile environment; he wants a compliant environment. That would benefit those with genuine reasons to come to this country as well as sifting out some of the more spurious claims for either asylum or immigration.
Like the noble Lord, I was very sad when my right honourable friend the former Home Secretary had to resign her position. I have seen the document—the Statement—that everyone else has seen. I am sure there will be measures in train to make sure that Ministers are sufficiently supported in the job they do.
My Lords, I have been very pleased to hear what the Minister has said so far about the efforts that are being made. However, is it not quite obvious that one of the most important steps that could be taken would be to improve the representation available to immigrants, who often find the complex law on immigration beyond their capabilities?
The noble and learned Lord makes a good point. My response to the noble Lord, Lord Roberts, threw up a slightly different but substantial reason for things being delayed and appeals being upheld—that is, documentation coming forward at the last minute, making it too late for the Home Office to withdraw the appeal and sort out the issue. The noble and learned Lord is absolutely right: for many, it can be a very confusing and distressing time. However, we are making huge efforts to improve the process—for example, by withdrawing cases at the 20-week point to make sure that they are looked at again and that we do not have the problem that noble Lords are referring to.
My Lords, is not a fundamental and long-standing problem the quality of management in the Home Office? If the Home Office were any sort of private sector outfit, the management would have been changed long ago. When there is a failure of management, the owners, whether they be the Government or the shareholders, insist on a change. It seems to me that until there is really good management at Civil Service level, there will not be an improvement.
I know that my noble friend takes a rather dim view of some of the people who work in the Home Office, but he points to absolutely the right issue. We are now identifying and reviewing cases, and improving technical capability in the Home Office to help UKVI decisions, but we are also trying to ensure consistency in casework to prevent the occurrence of some of the issues raised by the noble Lord, Lord Pannick.