All of this, I am pleased to tell the Committee, is changing. The Government’s decision to scrap the UK Border Agency’s agency status means that UKVI sits in the Home Office and reports directly to Ministers. We have also brought in a completely new leadership team, led by Sarah Rapson, who was previously the chief executive of the successful passport service. It is instilling a much greater grip throughout the business and is committed to creating a culture which is consistently competent, high performing and customer-focused. We are seeing the results of this in performance improvements. Backlogs in temporary and permanent migration are down significantly and we are on track to completely clear workable cases by the end of this month. We have brought in new service standards that are much clearer about what customers can expect. If one was to apply today and complied with the rules one could expect to get a decision within the service standard.

We have also focused on clearing smaller backlogs that previously were not given enough priority. These include MPs’ correspondence, complaints and FoIs where poor performance contributed to a sense that the organisation was neither open nor transparent. We are clearly not yet perfect in the way we respond to these but the situation is improving. At the same time we have made significant service improvements. We have overhauled our same-day premium service centres by extending opening hours and tackling appointment harvesting. As a result, availability has increased and customer satisfaction with the service here is regularly at more than 90%. We have also launched new services such as premium postal and taken steps to tackle issues that customers have complained about, such as the fact that we hold on to their passports while we make a decision, when we do not need to.

There are, of course, still challenges. As we said when we abolished UKBA, it will take many years to completely fix the system. Some of our big challenges are in asylum, appeals and litigation, where we are seeing big rises in volumes. This is driven by world events and the work we are doing to clear backlogs and tackle abuse. Dealing with this will be a priority next year and we are bringing in extra staff to do so. We will also be continuing to focus on making sure

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that we are making consistent and quality decisions about people’s right to come and stay in this country. It is important to recognise that this is not always straightforward and that when making decisions on applications, case workers must carefully consider whether, on the balance of probabilities, the applicant is likely to leave the UK when they are required to do so. I suspect that that may be relevant to the case referred to by my noble friend Lord Steel. It is a matter of judgment. That is why many appeals are successful, because it is a matter of judgment. The caseworker, on his appreciation of the evidence before him, makes a balanced judgment that the applicant is likely not to return home, but when appealed the tribunal decides that it should be granted.

Baroness Smith of Basildon: I apologise for interrupting the Minister but he appears to be saying that the judgment of the caseworker is wrong in so many cases.

Earl Attlee: I am absolutely not saying that it is wrong. I am saying that the caseworker has made a judgment and the tribunal has come to a different one. The judgment they have to make is whether the applicant will return home at the end of their stay, bearing in mind the circumstances. That has to be a judgment call.

Lord Steel of Aikwood: On that very same point, what about my suggestion that the caseworker should make contact with the sponsors to double-check the veracity of their application?

Earl Attlee: I do not think I am able to respond to that question this evening but I will, of course, be writing to all noble Lords, and I will respond on that point. However, this is an issue on which I have been in discussion with officials—fairly vigorously, on my part.

My noble friend Lady Neville-Jones referred to correspondence. We need to ensure that Peers’ correspondence is being dealt with correctly and to look at the specific issues raised. I will write to her, which I am sure is what my noble friend expects. From my noble friend’s experience, she will understand that only Peers and MPs can expect to receive a reply from Ministers.

The decisions made by officials will sometimes lead to situations that people do not like but we have safeguards in place to make sure that they work properly. While there is room for improvement in both the operation and transparency of UK Visas and Immigration, this should not overshadow the fact that we are making real progress. One year on, UK Visas and Immigration is both better performing and more open than what came before.

In the remaining time, I will try to answer as many questions as I can. My noble friends Lord Steel and Lady Neville-Jones raised the issue of bonds and sponsorship. The Government considered during 2013 whether to pilot a bond scheme that would deter people from overstaying their visas. We decided not to

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proceed. Various considerations must be factored in when considering any such new scheme. These range from administrative complexities through to issues around fairness and whether it would be open to abuse.

Baroness Neville-Jones: I do not particularly favour the bond scheme but I think that the fact of the sponsorship is extremely relevant to an application. My anxiety is that when applications are made, only the financial circumstances of the applicant seem to be taken into account. The facts that all their costs are going to be covered and that they fulfil all the other criteria do not seem to be taken into account adequately so as to let them in. That is my worry: why is sponsorship from a reputable organisation not a sufficient guarantee, and can we not set up a system so enabling it to be?

Earl Attlee: As I said, I will be responding in detail to my noble friend but those are precisely the issues that I took up vigorously with officials.

In respect of the applicant to whom my noble friend Lord Steel referred, the applicant is welcome to make a fresh application at any time and, should he choose to make a further application, I would encourage him to address all the points made in his previous refusal. My noble friend also referred to Malawi. Our overall service overseas is good but we need to look in detail at the points that he raised. I understand his point about the loss of the visa fee but the work in assessing the application has already been undertaken and, if we were to return the fee for failed applications, we would then have to increase the fee for successful applications.

The noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, made important points about international train services and HS2. Perhaps the best way of dealing with this would be if the noble Lord and I seek a meeting with my noble friend Lady Kramer, with me wearing a Home Office hat rather than a DfT hat.

In response to my noble friend Lord Phillips of Sudbury, the Committee will know that we are in the middle of the Immigration Bill. I am personally fully seized of the benefits of students for all the reasons that he gave, not least that of soft power. However, whatever the benefits of students, my noble friend cannot deny that when they are here they require accommodation and public services.

The noble Baroness, Lady Smith, raised appeals with regard to the Immigration Bill. I think we should leave that until the Report stage of that Bill. I am sure that the noble Baroness is looking forward to that stage.

I need to remind my noble friend Lord Phillips that the aim of the policy is to attract the brightest and best students. We continue to review our rules to ensure that we do this while discouraging abuse of all kinds. I am out of time but I will write to noble Lords where I have not properly answered their questions.

Committee adjourned at 7.15 pm.