Immigration Rules and Border Security - Commons Urgent Question

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 8:19 pm on 21 February 2024.

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Photo of Lord Sharpe of Epsom Lord Sharpe of Epsom The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department 8:19, 21 February 2024

I thank the noble Lord for his questions, and I will do my best to answer them all. I can reassure anyone from the public who happens to be watching: Border Force performs checks on 100% of scheduled passengers arriving in the UK and risk-based intelligence-led checks on general aviation. It is disturbing that information with no basis in fact was leaked by the independent chief inspector to a national newspaper before the Home Office had the chance to respond. As a consequence, Mr Neal lost the confidence of the Home Secretary, as he pointed out in his WMS yesterday. I cannot really improve on his words:

“I have terminated the appointment of David Neal, the Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration, after he breached the terms of appointment and lost my confidence”.

In terms of the checks at London City Airport, Mr Neal was very aware of a specific issue with the recording of data there that meant that a large proportion of flights recorded as high risk should have been reclassified as low risk. As I have already mentioned, all notified general aviation flights are categorised as high risk or low risk based on a number of factors. These are primarily related to persons on board, but additional factors can relate to intelligence about the aircraft and other matters. A flight may be remotely cleared when it has been assessed using the risk assessment as low risk, and for high-risk flights in certain circumstances only. A remote clearance requires, as a minimum, a digital record check on Home Office systems for all passengers. Where we are notified of a general aviation flight, we clear 100% of high-risk and low-risk flights remotely or in person, in accordance with the general aviation guidance.

I am not sure when the new replacement will be recruited. It is a very important position, and an appointment will be made following robust competition in accordance with the Governance Code on Public Appointments. As regards the publishing of the other reports, it is undeniably unfortunate that circumstances have delayed the publication of certain inspection reports. I will say that the one that was leaked was well within the time limit, and the Government had not been given an opportunity to respond and were still fact-checking, for the reasons I mentioned earlier. These will be published as soon as possible.