Nine out of 10 alerts on the Home Office immigration database are incorrect, writes Stephen Barclay.
Parliament debated this week the new Immigration Bill, against a backdrop of a couple of poster vans telling illegal immigrants to go home.
Yet little has been said about the real problems at the sharp end – controls at our borders.
Figures I uncovered in Parliament this week reveal that more than nine out of 10 alerts on the Home Office immigration database – E-borders – are incorrect. It raises serious doubts as to whether the data used on a daily basis by the UK Border Force is fit for purpose.
While most false positives can be sifted out without the need for wasteful further investigation, such flaws in the accuracy of data suggests alerts are not being generated on the correct risks.
This compounds a continuing European problem whereby EU nationals from some countries can come to the UK without having to give their details in advance. National data protection laws prevent disclosure of this advance passenger information, even while EU free movement rules allow the journey to go ahead.
With Bulgarians and Romanians preparing to enter the UK with the right to stay from 2014, the pressure on the e-borders system, and on front-line border staff, is set to grow.
Despite repeated requests, the department has still not shared with Parliament the original business case behind the E-borders system introduced by Labour, which justified the initial £1.2 billion spend. Either the system is an important control, in which case it needs fixing, or other controls mitigate any risks raising value-for-money questions as to why we need such an expensive system.
Only a quarter of the 90,000 private flights (and many more maritime journeys) into the UK are classed as high-risk and are subject to routine border checks. Given that this classification is based on a IT system we now learn is wrong more than nine times out of 10, there is little comfort that all the necessary flights are being met.
The Home Secretary deserves great credit for acting to fix the flawed legislation through the new Immigration Bill. Constituents repeatedly tell me they want tougher controls.
The new Bill will tackle the huge waste from abuse of the appeals process, and end the elastic interpretation of the right of killers and rapists to family life which has caused real anger amongst victims and public alike.
Even more significant to my constituency is the Modern Slavery Bill currently under consultation. This will offer protection to vulnerable migrants often housed in squalid housing, which has a big knock-on impact on local residents in terms of anti-social behaviour.
With an IT system that is not delivering, a 50 per cent real terms cut required in the administration budget over five years, and an overall real savings target of £594 million by 2015 allowing for inflation and increasing cost pressure, the Border Force faces significant operational challenges. The recent National Audit Office report praised the department for its progress on a range of cost reducing measures.
Legislation will greatly strengthen immigration controls. But it will only be effective if it is enforced. The Treasury needs to show immigration will be a Government-wide priority. That will cost more than a few vans.
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