Diane Abbott Shadow Home Secretary 12:15 pm, 25th October 2018
I thank the Home Secretary for prior sight of his statement on the improper use of DNA evidence. He will be aware that all our constituents, including those of immigrant descent, want an immigration system that is robust, but they also want it to be fair. The widespread public response to the Windrush scandal tells us how seriously the general public take the question of fairness in our immigration system.
We now know from the Home Secretary’s statement that the mandatory provision of DNA was neither legal nor fair. He stated that under the law, DNA evidence must always be provided on a voluntary basis. Can he therefore clarify that the demand for DNA evidence was, in itself, illegal, and if so, what legal consequences will follow? Members across the House will no doubt be shocked to learn that among the first victims of this abuse were Gurkhas and Afghans—men and women who put their lives at risk to keep this country safe. Ministers must clarify how long this practice has been taking place, and under what internal Home Office regime it was allowed or encouraged and at what level.
The Home Secretary spoke about reviewing the current structure and processes of our immigration system, which I welcome. He will be aware that the Law Society has said that there are serious flaws in the immigration system, and one indicator of those flaws is the state of appeals. In the last year for which we have records, fully 50% of appeals were upheld, which is an indicator of a system that is internally flawed. Waiting times for immigration appeals have risen by 45%. The Home Secretary talks about independent oversight, but what more effective oversight is there than a system of appeals that is speedy and that works?
Finally, I remind the Home Secretary that the visa and immigration service faces what will possibly be the biggest single influx of applications in its history when EU nationals who live in the UK seek to settle their status post Brexit. It is a matter of urgency that we put in place processes and structures that can guarantee a speedy, efficient and fair resolution of cases.
Sajid Javid The Secretary of State for the Home Department
I thank the right hon. Lady for her comments. She asks a number of reasonable and sensible questions to which I will reply. She started by saying that the immigration system must be robust—we all agree with that, absolutely—and that it must also be fair. The issue I have brought to the House today is of concern to us all and something that, at least in this regard, is not fair. As I said at the start, this should not have happened, and there should not have been any request in any immigration case, whether family related or not, for mandatory DNA evidence.
The right hon. Lady asked me to make it clear that this is illegal. My understanding is that the Home Office has never had the express power to require anyone to give DNA. It has never had that express power. There have been a number of Acts over time that have referred to this and tried to make it clear. As I mentioned in my statement, my right hon. Friend the Prime Ministerwas, when she was Home Secretary, the first Home Secretary to put it completely beyond doubt by amending an Act—I think a 2007 Act—and then again in 2014 to make it absolutely clear in law. As I say, the Home Office has never had the power to compel anyone to provide DNA evidence.
The right hon. Lady will know that we want to have a further review to look into this much more deeply and wanted independent assurance of that. She may be interested to know that we are finding practices, in the cases to which I have already referred, that might go back further. For example, in 2009 two pilots were established by the then Government: the familial testing pilot, which used DNA evidence to verify a child’s biological connection with a family during asylum screening; and the human provenance pilot, which used DNA testing and a technique called isotope analysis to attempt to establish whether asylum applicants were from the country of origin that they had claimed. It is therefore important that we have a review that is thorough and goes back as long as it needs to, because, as I say, the Home Office has never had the power to compel people to supply DNA evidence.
The right hon. Lady referred to the broader review of structures and processes. I thank her for welcoming that. She referred to work that has already been done by the Law Society on part of the structures and processes in the immigration system. I have a great regard for the Law Society, which does just this type of work. It is just the kind of organisation we should be listening to.
The right hon. Lady also referred to the appeals process. There have, over recent years, been a number of changes to the appeals process which I think make it fairer, but she is right to raise this issue. This is clearly a very important part of the immigration system, making sure it is fair and that people feel they have had the right to make their case properly and the right to have a person take a second independent look at their case. There is work to be done there.
Finally, the right hon. Lady referred to the EU settlement scheme, which again she is right to refer to. It is a big and ambitious scheme which, over a relatively short period of time, is designed for 3.5 million European citizens. We want them to stay in our country. Whether there is a deal or no deal, we have been very clear that we want them to stay and we want to make that as easy as possible. I do not doubt how ambitious that is. The Home Office has dedicated a significant amount of resources to it and there is significant oversight of the scheme. I can tell her that the reports from the beta testing that has taken place so far, on a limited number of cases in their thousands, have been very encouraging. If I remember correctly, I think most people found that they could register in about 20 minutes through the app system that has been developed. Approximately over 90% of people asked how they found the process said that it was very straightforward and easy to use, but she is right to raise this issue. It is one of those things we all need to get right.