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Part of UK Borders Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 12:15 pm on 20th March 2007.

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Photo of Liam Byrne Liam Byrne Minister of State (Home Office) (Immigration, Citizenship and Nationality) 12:15 pm, 20th March 2007

These amendments and new clauses form an important part of the reforms set out by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary last July in the IND review, which included a trinity of principles for the reform of the IND. The first was that it should operate as an arm’s length agency, with greater operational freedom from the Home Office. [Interruption.] We are all Catholics at the Home Office.

Secondly, we said that rather than having a monolithic mode of operation the IND should be much more regionalised, so that its offices and  personnel could work more closely with individuals in police forces, local authorities and other parts of Government that are constructed on a local basis. We should have a closer relationship than we do with the communities that we serve.

The amendments and new clauses are the third part of that story. I said clearly that I thought that the way in which the IND was inspected, held accountable and rendered transparent was not robust enough, and that we would have to change things if we wanted to set it on a path of sustainable long-term reform and progress. I do not think that 11 different inspectorates and agencies looking over the IND’s business are powerful enough. We need fewer, more powerful organisations, able to look more closely and more forensically at the IND, so as to report to the Secretary of State, to this House and to local communities on how it is doing nationally and in those communities.

Consequently, we launched a consultation on 18 December 2006. I regret that it was not possible to provide the relevant clauses to this Bill on Second Reading, because it would have been helpful to debate them. However, we were caught between doing that and needing to conduct a thorough consultation with the public before introducing them. I signalled that the clauses would arrive and I regret that they were not available in time.

The consultation paper was favourably received. The consultation closed on 16 February and the Government provided their response on 1 March, along with a written ministerial statement. I am glad to say that, like other consultations that we have launched in the past 12 months, this one was wildly popular, with 92 per cent. of respondents in favour of the arrangements that we proposed. In particular, 94 per cent of respondents said they wanted the overall efficiency and effectiveness of IND to be the subject of inspection. Ninety-three per cent said they wanted to see the quality of decision making included within the ambit of the inspectorate and 86 per cent said they wanted to see the use and the IND’s operation of enforcement policy within the ambit of the inspectorate as well.

The debates we have had over the last couple of weeks in this Committee Room have lent further argument to the need to include a much more robust inspection of enforcement than we have today within the ambit of a much more powerful regulator.

There are, however, a number of fields of operation which we propose to exclude from the work of the inspectorate simply because we already have effective, well established arrangements in place and, to some extent, debates which are already on the record about whether those inspectorates should be dissolved and reconstituted with others. In particular I mean detention, where we propose to preserve the role of Her Majesty’s chief inspectorate of prisons, where we intend to preserve the role of the prison and probation ombudsman and where we intend to preserve the role of independent monitoring boards.

I would like to place on the record the debt of gratitude that I and the Home Office owe to independent monitoring boards, in particular at the  moment when there are a higher number of foreign national prisoners in our estate than we have experienced before. I rely extensively on the feedback that we receive from IMBs. When I met the chair of IMB at Campsfield on Thursday night last week I was again struck by the dedication and concern that many people who serve with IMBs give to their work. We are very lucky to have their help.

We also intend to preserve the advisory board on nationality and immigration. This is the group of individuals who advise us on the way in which we conduct our work in the field of citizenship and nationality. For the time being at least we intend to preserve the work of the entry clearance monitor who looks after and inspects the operation of the IND’s or rather UKvisas’ business abroad. Before any proposals are brought forward in relation to the entry clearance monitor we need slightly more time for consideration than we have been given today.

The second category—this is the subject of the hon. Member’s amendment—of exclusions that we propose is the exclusion of consideration of individual cases. I do not think that foreign nationals in this country are short of judicial protection or judicial regimes to investigate the merits of their case. The parliamentary and health service ombudsman provides a way of looking at individual cases and the way in which the IND conducted the review of them.

The proposals that we are bringing forward, therefore, are not any kind of constitutional revolution, as Opposition Members will be pleased to hear. They are modelled on proposals that are tried and tested and found to work. In particular they are modelled on the proposals that are already in place for HMIC, HMCIP, the courts and administration inspectorate, the CPS inspectorate and the inspectorate of probation, all of which were covered in the Police and Justice Act 2006 and which were the subject of debate in this House.

Broadly we are asking the new inspectorate to take on a general duty to monitor and report on the efficiency and the effectiveness of what will become the new border and immigration agency. It will review the treatment of claimants and applicants to ensure consistent decision making across the board. For the first time there will be comprehensive inspection of the use of enforcement powers by immigration officers, including—this is important given the debate we have had in this Committee—the powers of arrest, the power of entry, the power of search and the power of seizure. It will look further at the information that is provided to applicants by the border and immigration agency to applicants and at the information that is provided to the general public. It will inspect the processes by which the agencies handle complaints. It will make comparisons with other bodies that are undertaking similar work. It will look at the way the Home Secretary exercises his power of certification under section 94 of the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002. It will look at the quality of inspection and country of origin reports that are provided and used by the border and immigration agency.

Beyond this—again this is important, given the debates we have had to date in this Committee—it will take on an enhanced role, looking at the way in which the IND complies, not only with section 19D of the Race Relations Act 1976, which covers the way in which ministerial exemptions are given under  immigration powers for provisions in the Race Relations Act, but it will look more widely still at the way in which the IND is operating its business in accordance both with the ambitions and the spirit of that Act and the letter of the law.

In conclusion, the IND is an agency that will benefit from the disinfectant of sunlight. The people of this country have a right to know how well the immigration service is working on their behalf. That is an important way in which we can raise the country’s confidence in the immigration service. The inspectorate should have the opportunity to respond not just to the Secretary of State, but to Parliament and to prescribed people under an order-making power, which we set out. We ask that the inspectorate co-ordinate their activities with others, including the senior president of tribunals, to ensure that they do not step on each other’s toes when it comes to the operation of tribunals. It is an important step forward on the road to reform and I commend it to the House.