Planes, trains and automobiles: Lords debates UK Border Agency

20 July 2012

Members of the Lords examined the role and performance of the UK Border Agency yesterday (Thursday 19 July)

Lord Avebury (Liberal Democrat), tabled  and opened the debate. He questioned the minister and said:' The Commons Home Affairs Committee recommended that bonuses amounting to £3.5 million should be withheld from senior UKBA staff but it seems that the banks are not the only enterprises where failure is rewarded. The Prime Minister told the Liaison Committee that he believed in, "a small bonus... that you only get if you meet some stretching targets", so why are UKBA staff still getting bonuses?'

He also highlighted a number of problems and said: 'Sacking nearly a quarter of the staff, taking away migrants' appeal rights, refusing applications without just cause, detaining people who are never going to be deported and ignoring torture claims are not the route to sorting out the enormous problems that beset the agency.'

Lord Judd (Labour), member of the British Council, Royal Institute for International Affairs gave his view on improving the culture of the UKBA. He argued for improvements on letters that 'could have been written in a more sensitive, firm, clear way, but have come out in the most officious, authoritarian language, to people who are in the midst of uncertainty and trauma'. He explained the UKBA 'is in the front line of our relationship with the world as a whole'. He said: 'Are we a good, decent place, or a hostile, negative place? We need to ask ourselves basic questions of that kind.'

Lord Alderdice (Liberal Democrat), chairman of the World Federation of Scientists' Permanent Monitoring Panel on Motivation for Terrorism said there was 'considerable conflict within government over the question of people coming to our country'. He argued everyone from the prime minister to universities tell people 'what a wonderful place this country is, how they ought to come and how beneficial it will be for all of us' is counterproductive 'because when these people try to come to the country, they do not find the welcome that we describe; they find endless barriers, which they would never have found if they had not listened to us in the first place.'

He added: 'If G4S has been damaged-perhaps even irreparably-by its incompetence over the Olympics, it may well be that the UK Border Agency will become another G4S over the next few weeks unless there is some radical change, which frankly I do not expect without a massive change in the culture of the organisation.'

Responding on behalf of the government, Lord Henley (Conservative) defended the bonuses and said the value and number of bonuses for senior staff was significantly reduced and awarded with very strict criteria. He said: 'I think only a quarter of all staff - the overwhelming majority of whom are front-line officers - were awarded an average of around £500 last year'.

Lord Henley also explained the role of the UKBA in helping deliver the government's policy. He said: 'The government's overall aim is to rectify an out-of-control immigration system by bringing down net migration while still attracting to the United Kingdom those who we believe are the brightest and the best.' He explained how a number of policy reforms on work, students, settlement and family will help achieve this and stated that the UKBA are adapting 'to deliver the reductions in long-term immigration that the government expect, while at the same time not preventing valuable and genuine visitors coming to the United Kingdom.' 

Other speakers included

  • Lord Rosser (Labour), opposition spokesperson for the Home Office
  • Lord Dholakia (Liberal Democrat), former member of the Commission for Racial Equality

The Lord Bishop of Newcastle, Lord Ramsbotham (Crossbench),  Baroness Williams of Crosby (Liberal Democrat) and Lord Marlesford (Conservative) also contributed to the debate.

Further information

Image: PA

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