Select Committee on Home Affairs Written Evidence

29.  Memorandum submitted by the Public and Commercial Services Union


  1.  The Public and Commercial Services union (PCS) is the largest civil service trade union with a membership of over 325,000 working in the civil service and related areas. PCS is the largest union in the Immigration and Nationality Directorate (IND) of the Home Office representing over 6,000 members.

  2.  PCS welcomes the select committee's inquiry, and is happy to supplement this written submission with oral evidence or further written evidence.

  3.  A system of administrative processes, directed towards fulfilling Aim 6 of the Home Office "a firm, but fair Immigration Control" have been compromised by setting of unrealistic targets. The latest incarnation of these is the "Tipping the Balance" initiative, which puts our members working in IND under a great deal of pressure.

  4.  We believe that the numerical focus of these targets, for a public service making quasi-judicial decisions, effectively compromises the intention of Aim 6.

  5.  Also, the intense media interest in immigration issues makes staff in IND very aware of the public scrutiny of their actions and setting unrealistic targets only increases the perception amongst staff of a failure to deliver on the public priorities.

  6.  Whilst we recognise the political pressures faced by the government we remain strongly committed to a system based on fairness and transparent long-term policies, rather than short-term measures that seek to appease the media.

  7.  PCS members in IND have a long track record of undertaking their jobs in a professional manner, despite facing attacks from the media and even politicians.

  8.  This submission offers constructive commentary on:

    —    Institutional structure and co-ordination;

    —    Policy—including privatisation of border controls;

    —    E-Borders and biometrics;

    —    Detention policy and conditions; and

    —    Immigration statistics.


  9.  For staff working in the Immigration Service (IS) the constant change to institutional structures appears bewildering, and militates against any long-term planning.

  10.  IS has recently undergone a process of "realignment" that has involved its division into two distinct operations—Border Control & Enforcement and Removals.

  11.  This appears to have been a result of the findings of the Pelham Review, which expressed concern about the amount of time Immigration Officers were available for operational work.

  12.  However, this division is the latest in a number of restructurings that IS has undergone in the past 10 years. Past restructurings have seen the creation of separate Ports and Enforcement Directorates, followed by their amalgamation under a project aimed at creating "oneness".

  13.  There have also been restructurings, which have created clear demarcation between London and South East Operations and the regions. This latter restructuring involved the creation of a regional headquarters and a whole new tier of senior management, only for it to be subsumed into a national structure after a very short period of time.

  14.  The current demarcation between Borders & Enforcement and Removals has essentially created two distinct types of Immigration Officer (IO). Whereas under a single Directorate an IO would quite often perform both border control and enforcement duties, the new system no longer allows for such hybridity.

  15.  PCS are committed to seeing both our members and the public afforded the highest level of protection possible during the enforcement of immigration controls and therefore welcome any measures that enhance the professional capabilities of staff. However, we are still concerned by the reluctance of the department to put in place a regulatory framework appropriate for a 21st Century immigration service.


  16.  PCS are extremely alarmed over proposals to privatise certain immigration control functions within the IS.

  17.  We are currently engaged in a campaign to oppose legislative proposals [Immigration, Asylum and Nationality Bill—clauses 40 and 41] that would allow private contractors to carry out freight searching duties and also empower them to apprehend and detain suspected illegal entrants.

  18.  The union has been informed by IS managers that private contractors will initially be used for additional freight searching activities in the juxtaposed control areas in northern France. However, the legislation gives scope for all freight searching operations, in France and the UK, to be carried out by private contractors.

  19.  Senior managers in the IS have been unable to give an assurance that private contractors will not be more widely deployed on immigration control, with "value for money" cited as a major consideration behind their usage. Ministers have been slightly more reassuring, stating that this is not what is currently envisaged and that private contractors will not be deployed in the freight lanes, although they have not made this commitment from the despatch box and we would welcome the Committee probing further in this area.

  20.  The union remains concerned that privatisation of many parts of immigration control may become a reality over the next few years. If this does happen we believe it would pose a serious risk to the integrity of our borders and consequently endanger the security of UK citizens.

  21.  IOs commitment to their work demonstrates to management and ministers the high standards to which they operate.

  22.  The same cannot be said of locally engaged casual staff, particularly as they are likely to receive lower wages, have little or no job security and receive less training for this work.

  23.  There have already been examples of contractors failing to conduct searches effectively, for instance we have evidence of a vehicle being allowed to proceed when a positive reading had been obtained from detection equipment. IS civil service staff intervened and removed people from the vehicle. On another occasion contract staff were observed searching vehicles without their detection equipment switched on.

  24.  This lack of professionalism not only threatens the integrity of our border controls but could also result in tragic consequences for the clandestines.

  25.  Many immigration staff recall June 2000 when a group of Chinese clandestines were found dead in a lorry in Dover. Since that time a far greater number of vehicles are searched and it is important that the professionalism of this operation is never compromised.


  26.  PCS can see the attraction to government of using technology for immigration control. However, we remain unconvinced about its effectiveness in providing the level of security currently provided by trained professionals in the IS.

  27.  We are aware of research that shows that both iris and face recognition technologies have failed to establish identities and therefore believe that the use of technology should remain in support of, rather than as a replacement for immigration staff.

  28.  PCS strongly believes that no chances should be taken with the security and integrity of the UK's borders and that striving for "value for money" must be placed in the context of national security and the threat posed to the UK by international terrorism.


  29.  PCS firmly believes that detention should only be used as a last resort in asylum and immigration cases.

  30.  We believe the long-term detention of people who have not been convicted of a crime contradicts the commitments given by the Government when signing the Human Rights Act.

  31.  The union does accept that detention may be necessary to facilitate the removal of failed asylum seekers, but would hope that any period of detention does not exceed the time necessary to effect already set removal directions.

  32.  The union does not consider it appropriate to detain asylum seekers whilst they legitimately challenge a judgement in their case and we have particular concerns about the detention of families with young children and believe that this should be avoided wherever possible.

  33.  PCS has grave concerns about the use of private security firms in the management and staffing of detention locations.

  34.  The BBC documentary "Oakington Uncovered" showed both verbal and physical abuses against detainees taking place on a regular basis. These abuses were perpetrated by employees of the private company Global Solutions Limited (GSL), yet the company still retains contracts within the Home Office.

  35.  PCS is fundamentally opposed to the privatisation agenda pursued by the government, especially in such sensitive areas such as immigration and asylum.

  36.  The human rights abuses that have been documented at Oakington should ensure government carefully considers the past performance of contractors and associated risk factors prior to sanctioning any further "contracting out" of the detention estate, or immigration control.


  37.  PCS would strongly caution the committee from drawing a direct correlation between the work of our members and other staff in the IS and the published statistics.

  38.  We believe that an over-reliance on statistics and numerically based targets have essentially moved the organisation away from its key objective of "delivering a firm but fair immigration policy".

  39.  It would appear that the IS is increasingly driven by political imperatives at a particular time, be it "intake reduction" in 2004 or "tipping the balance" in 2005.

  40.  The targets that complement these particular initiatives appear to skew the work of the service, hence headline statistics may proclaim an increase in one area without showing the impact on other work within the organisation.

  41.  PCS are determined not to engage in a "numbers game" on the issue of immigration and asylum. During the last general election the union was frequently approached to provide our view on the numbers of failed asylum seekers and illegal entrants were breaching immigration controls.

  42.  We believe that engaging in a "numbers game" will only feed the tabloid frenzy that exists over asylum and immigration and will do nothing to humanise the debate. PCS would urge the department and the government to move away from an obsession over statistics and back to a system that treats each applicant as an individual entitled to fair treatment.


  43.  The public expect a fair and consistent policy of immigration control but also expect that public money is spent wisely. PCS and our member's look forward to working with IND to improve immigration control.

December 2005

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