BARONESS Smith of Basildon rose on the floor of the House to question whether cuts to the staff numbers at the UK Border Agency had effected performance.
Baroness Smith said: “My Lords, I am none the wiser after that Answer than I was before I asked the Question. There was a serious reason for asking, because it is clear that there are serious problems in the UK Border Agency.
“Even the recent fall in net migration is due to British citizens leaving the country and the fall in student numbers. Time and again, the chief inspector has found problems but, despite commitments to his recommendations to make the system more efficient and fairer, it just does not happen.
“We now even have the Mayor of London accusing the Government of turning a blind eye to long-term illegal immigrants.
“Is part of the problem cuts that have led to 5,000 fewer UK Border Agency staff? Can the Minister give a commitment to your Lordships’ House today that the Government will act, not just promise to act, on the chief inspector’s reports?
Lord Taylor of Holbeach (Whip, House of Lords; Conservative)
“The chief inspector has published two reports recently, and I thank John Vine, the chief inspector, for them. He will be appearing before the Home Affairs Select Committee tomorrow. I totally accept the view that the UK Border Agency has not performed as strongly as this House would expect, but it is improving, and that is the right direction of travel. The question we have to ask ourselves is: for how long does this go back? I fear that it goes back to 2006, when there was a huge backlog of cases, and that has taken an awful lot of clearing up. The current situation is greatly improved.
Lord Naseby (Conservative)
“Does not the number of bogus students mentioned in one of the reports indicate how right it was that Her Majesty’s Government, first, allowed the London Metropolitan University students who were bogus to be dealt with; and, secondly, decided to keep student numbers quite separate from other immigration statistics? Can my noble friend assure us that a firm notice has gone out to all the many agencies scattered around the world looking to bring students to the UK, and through our embassies and consulates, that good, genuine students will always be welcome in United Kingdom but that bogus ones will be sent home?