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Control over borders should be a high priority for Members, in today's world more than ever. Many of our constituents say that there can be fewer high priorities and they expect us to hold the Government to account for the security of our borders and the soundness of the immigration system.
When something goes wrong, as it has plainly done on several occasions, we need to find out how bad the breakdown of the system is, the extent of what has gone wrong, how long it has been going on and the number of cases affected. Notwithstanding the remarks made from the Treasury Bench earlier, it is clear that something went wrong in the Sheffield department of the Home Office. Indeed, I thought that had been accepted on both sides of the House, but as I listened carefully to the Home Secretary earlier he seemed to be rowing back. He seemed to be trying to suggest that all the allegations made by Mr. Moxon had been disproved and that the Sutton report, to which I shall return in a moment, had completely exonerated the Government.
On Mr. Moxon, there seems to be an attempt in certain quarters to play the man rather than the ballsomething with which we are all far too familiar. Whatever else may be the case about Mr. Moxon, his allegations turned out to be right. The Minister admitted that to the House and said that the procedures that had been followed would be withdrawn, so we do not need to go over that ground today. However, I remind the House that the Government's case then was not that everything was above board and that everything was going right; they said that something had gone wrong but that it was an isolated matter involving local guidance. On 8 March, the Minister told us that she knew nothing about what had gone wrong at the Sheffield office.
Today, we have heard new allegations that put a rather different complexion on the information that the right hon. Lady gave the House on 8 March and the Select Committee on Home Affairs the next day. They also overtake the Sutton report, which she set upan internal inquiry by a senior civil servant from her own Department, albeit from a different part of the Department, but still an internal inquiry. The matters that have come up over the last day or so clearly overtake the Sutton report, whose remit restricted
The suggestion that the Home Secretary has confirmed in large measure today is that, in fact, the issues run much wider than those considered by Mr. Sutton and that there was far more irregularity than just that which he considered, covering far more issues. As Mr. Cameron apparently put in his e-mailone could not do better than thiswhat was revealed at the Sheffield office earlier this month was just the "tip of the iceberg", and we now need to look at how much of the iceberg remains beneath the surface. Not only is the Sutton report completely overtaken by what has emerged subsequently, but the new matters, which are partly admitted at least, put a completely different complexion on what the right hon. Lady told the House and the Home Affairs Committee earlier this month.
The right hon. Lady told the House that the relaxed procedures employed by the Sheffield office, about which Mr. Moxon complained, related to people who were already legally in the country and who were seeking to extend their stay. In her statement to the House, she emphasised:
According to Mr. Cameronthe man behind the reportthe procedure involved thousands of applications from those seeking to enter or settle in Britain as students, spouses, au pairs, domestic servants, working holiday makers and dependant relatives of migrants already here. If that is rightit seems to have been admitted that it is rightI am afraid that it does not tally at all with the impression, given by the Minister on 8 March, that those involved were already in the country.
The Minister needs to tell us just what the state of her knowledge was about the allegations made by Mr. Cameron at the material time. If what Mr. Cameron is saying is right, the defences were down at every stage of the immigration control proceedings. They were down when the applicants applied to enter, and they were down again when people already in the country applied to the Sheffield office to stay.
How the fraud was dealt with is even more serious. Again, what has transpired puts a completely different complexion on what the right hon. Lady told the House. When she spoke in the House on 8 March, she was at pains to dismiss the question of fraud altogether. I remind her of her words:
I shall ask the Minister some questions that she has to answer today. Was she aware of the allegations being made by Mr. Cameron when she made statement to the House on 8 March? Was she aware of what he said then? If so, how can she possibly justify the way in which she dismissed the question of fraud out of hand, as she did not only on 8 March on the Floor of the House, but in her evidence to the Home Affairs Committee?
I turn now to the memo that we have heard about in a separate allegation. The right hon. Lady told the Home Affairs Committee on 9 Marchthe day after the statementthat the backlog had arisen as a result of matters that took place in the previous autumn. She referred to the BRACE procedure, but she said that it was a longstanding approach to backlogs that simply allowed caseworkers to use discretion if all the papers in certain cases, possibly marriage cases, were not there.
The memo, which has apparently come from two senior civil servants in the Minister's Department, clearly refers to an enhanced BRACE policy that was implemented in July 2003, with, it is said, the specific approval of the Minister. If so, it puts an entirely different complexion on what she told the Home Affairs Committee, when she said that the policy was not implemented until later last year and that it arose because of backlogs. Was she aware of that memo? Was the memo true? Was the policy implemented with her agreement in 2003not in response to an individual case, as she told the House in response to the hon. Member for Winchester (Mr. Oaten), but on a much more widespread basis than she admitted to the hon. Gentleman?
This note confirms that the decision in this case has been taken under an enhanced procedure for clearing backlog cases, which commenced on 14 July, 2003."
The Minister said that the Sheffield matters were all locally determined by staff and had arisen as a result of local problems with a backlog later in the year, but the policy was decided centrally and agreed by Ministers. The right hon. Lady should deal with the question of what she knew about the BRACE procedure and the enhanced procedure in 2003. She should also deal with what she knew about Mr. Cameron and his allegation that the iceberg would have remained completely unknown if it had not been for my right hon. Friends on the Front Bench. They deserve congratulations for bringing this matter to light. They have done a public service, and I commend them on the way in which they have brought the issue to the attention of the House. They are right to do so.