Schedule

Part of UK Borders Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 12:45 pm on 20th March 2007.

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Photo of Liam Byrne Liam Byrne Minister of State (Home Office) (Immigration, Citizenship and Nationality) 12:45 pm, 20th March 2007

I am very grateful for the welcome, however sceptical, that the hon. Gentleman has offered. I should like to make a couple of points in response. I hope that he will accept that the underlying principle of my response is that having set up the inspectorate, we do not want it to be snowed under with applications for those who are seeking simply to frustrate their removal from this country with further applications and appeals in order to slow down the deportation process. We want to be absolutely clear that if people are to be deported, if they have the right to appeal it will go to the immigration appeal tribunal, where judgments are made. That will be the end of the line. We do not want people to see the inspectorate as something else to which they can apply to delay in some way their removal from the country where that is the right outcome. I am sure that that is not the wish, intention or ambition of the hon. Gentleman, but I think that he would accept, in reflective moments, that that is indeed a risk. The point that he makes is important, particularly when it comes to the issue of corruption. We have sought to provide sufficient powers for the chief inspector to do precisely what he is seeking. For example, we empower the chief inspector to carry out ad hoc investigations, and where necessary to carry out unannounced inspections. That is important.

In new clause 6(4), we say that although the chief inspector should not aim to investigate individual cases—we do not want the investigation of individual cases to be the inspector’s day job—we are quite clear in parentheses that that subsection does not prevent the chief inspector from considering or drawing  conclusions about an individual case for the purpose of, or in the context of, considering the general issue. The intention that sat at the heart of the comment made by the hon. Gentleman was about how the chief inspector was able to have sufficient insight into individual cases so that he or she might be able to draw general conclusions about the state of the IND’s business and report to the Secretary of State, the House and local communities. I will study the hon. Gentleman’s remarks very carefully. I think that I understand where he is coming from. I do not think that he wants to put more barriers to removal, but to ensure that the inspector has sufficient power to look at individual cases and learn from them, which has a more general application. I will seek to ensure that new clause 6(4) gives us the ability to do that.

The second issue, however, is the Information Commissioner. It is important, as a matter of principle, that we do not get ourselves in a situation in which we are snowing the Information Commissioner from across Government with a range of information reports, which he or she must approve a priori, before their release into the public domain. There is already a reasonably robust process by which people can apply to the Department to ask for information about omissions. If they are not satisfied with the response, they can apply to the Information Commissioner who can investigate. The Information Commissioner can, and often does, insist on disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act. There is a genuine point of efficiency regarding whether the Information Commissioner should sit before the report or operate a process after its issue. I also accept that there are issues that have to be balanced with confidence and disclosure.

The comments of the hon. Member for Ashford are extremely helpful. I think that I have caught the tenor of his remarks and will ensure that we have got the provisions in line with them, as far as is possible.