UNCORRECTED TRANSCRIPT OF ORAL EVIDENCE
To be published as HC 792-i

HOUSE OF commons

oral evidence

taken before the

Home Affairs Committee

The work of the UK Border Agency (July-September 2012)

Tuesday 4 December 2012

John Vine CBE QPM

Evidence heard in Public Questions 1 - 49

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Oral Evidence

Taken before the Home Affairs Committee

on Tuesday 4 December 2012

Members present:

Keith Vaz (Chair)

Nicola Blackwood

Mr James Clappison

Michael Ellis

Dr Julian Huppert

Steve McCabe

Bridget Phillipson

Mark Reckless

Karl Turner

Mr David Winnick

________________

Examination of Witness

Witness: John Vine, CBE QPM, Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration, gave evidence.

Q1 Chair: Mr Vine, thank you very much for coming to give evidence to the Committee.

We are now looking at the work of the UKBA, and we are accepting evidence from the Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration. Mr Vine, when you were first appointed, you will know that the Committee was very worried as to whether you would be independent, and whether you were able to conduct the forensic examination of the UKBA that we felt was necessary-and you proved us wrong. In the reports that you have published, you have proved to be extremely forthright, open and transparent in your work.

Michael Ellis: I did not-

Chair: Mr Ellis, I think you were not on the Committee at that time, so of course you would not have-I think you were not elected at that time.

Thank you very much for all the work that you have done, Mr Vine.

John Vine: Thank you, Chair.

Q2 Chair: Your last report is pretty shocking. As you know, as a result of your report last week, the former head and deputy head of the UKBA, and the current executive director, Jonathan Sedgwick, were called to give evidence. They both apologised to the Committee for what they had said to us previously. I have to tell you that, subsequently, we received a letter from Lin Homer-not quite going back on her apology-saying that she did write to us about this information. It was in a footnote in a letter-I think in 2008-in an exchange of information between one of our former members, Karen Buck, the Member for Westminster North, and herself. We are not convinced that that is sufficient to have brought it to our attention. Can I just ask you, why is this organisation such a mess?

John Vine: That is quite an interesting first question. What I try to do is report on aspects of the organisation, and I try to report against the facts. I do produce reports that say that the agency is improving in some respects. For example, some of my reports on visas have shown an improvement in the quality of decision making. In fact, I would even say that last week’s report on tier 4 student visas showed some improvements in several aspects.

I was shocked to find some of the things that I did on the asylum and legacy cases, because that has been in the public domain for such a long time. The management of the change, from the case resolution directorate to the case audit and assurance unit, was so fundamentally flawed that I was able to present the findings in that report that I have.

Q3 Chair: In particular, you mentioned 33,000 extra asylum cases that you said were not referred to this Committee. Ms Homer says that you are mistaken and that she did report it. I assume she is referring to her footnote, because we certainly have not seen it in any formal evidence to us. We are also convinced that she has not reported it to us, so we do not think she has reported it to us. Do you stand by your report?

John Vine: I stand by my report, Chairman, certainly. We asked the Border Agency to provide us with the data. We then did field work at Liverpool, asking the senior managers of the CAAU. They were adamant that the cases had not been reported to you. It was something of a bugbear for the staff in the CAAU, because 30% to 40% of their work fell into this category and they felt it was not being reported or acknowledged.

Further to that, the emerging findings of my report were communicated to the agency verbally. The draft report went for factual accuracy checking and it was never challenged on this issue. Finally, the recommendation that is made on page 52 of the report is directly underneath paragraph 6.14, which refers to this issue. The response of the Border Agency is that it accepts the recommendation and is implementing it.

I have taken the liberty of looking at the annex. I think it is point 6 in annex A of the letter that was sent to you in 2009.

Chair: It is, indeed.

John Vine: I do not recognise those figures as being part of this issue.

Chair: That is very helpful.

Mr Winnick: There is a Division.

Chair: Yes, I know, Mr Winnick. Sorry, I did not want to interrupt you in the middle of your sentence, but there is a Division in the House, so I am suspending the Committee for 10 minutes to enable Members to vote.

Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.

On resuming-

Q4 Chair: Mr Vine, we were quite satisfied that we were not told about this, and thank you for giving us the relevant references. We were very concerned about what has happened, and that was why we had Mr Sedgwick and Ms Homer in.

John Vine: Yes.

Q5 Chair: Turning to other aspects of your report, we were pretty shocked to learn about these 150 post office boxes and the 100,000 unopened letters that you discovered, as you published in your last report. How is it possible that you could discover that this had happened, yet senior people such as Rob Whiteman and others, who sit on the board and presumably know what is happening in their own organisation, are unaware of the fact that there were almost a tenth of a million letters that had not been opened?

John Vine: Quite frankly, I do not know the answer to that question. I went, and we were told at Liverpool-at the time of the inspection in September 2011-there were 100,000 pieces of unopened correspondence. This was mainly as a result of correspondence that had been generated by the commercial partner of the agency chasing up the cases before the closure of CRD. There was a rush, towards the end of the closure of CRD, to try to locate individuals before they were placed in the controlled archive. What I fear happened was that many cases were put in the controlled archive erroneously, because we discovered-

Q6 Chair: You discovered EU citizens in there, I understand.

John Vine: Yes. If the mail had been opened, those cases could have been dealt with; instead, they were put in the controlled archive. What the agency now has to do-and it had started doing this at the time of inspection-is to go through all the cases and thoroughly check them against the proper databases. As a result, we were told that it was estimated that 31,500 cases were going to become live. Of course, what this means is that this issue is an ongoing burden that is still to be resolved. We found evidence during the inspection that cases that were ready to be decided by CRD were not progressed, and we cannot understand why they were not progressed.

Q7 Chair: What concerns us is that I received a letter from Mr Whiteman-I do not know whether you received a copy-saying that the controlled archive closed on 21 November. If that is, in fact, the case, in just seven weeks, 12,000 cases were being looked at every single week over a seven-week period. That sounds like an extraordinary figure to me. Have you been notified of the closure of the controlled archive?

John Vine: No, this is the first I have heard of it, but what I wonder about is whether this is closing another-

Q8 Chair: Closing it and opening it somewhere else.

John Vine: Yes, opening it somewhere else. What I have commented on throughout in this report is the use of terminology. Throughout this saga of legacy asylum cases, we have had the terms "closed", "concluded" and "reviewed". I think there are five separate terms we found throughout the whole saga. What is important is that whatever is happening with the controlled archive, there will still be cases that are coming live that need a decision. They will need caseworking to a conclusion.

Q9 Chair: So you suspect that when we were told it was all closed-Mr Whiteman made a promise to this Committee that it would end by December-they have been looked at and put somewhere else, but not concluded.

John Vine: Yes. What happened with CRD was that cases were reviewed. There was a rush to review them, but then they were left for the CAAU to deal with, and this was part of the problem. The CAAU never had a realistic understanding of the amount of work it was accepting when it was created in April 2011. What has to happen is that the same thing does not happen again and history repeats itself.

Q10 Chair: Indeed. A final question from me about the general overview. When John Reid was Home Secretary, he said that this organisation was not fit for purpose. Do you think it is fit for purpose now-not getting there or on the way to improvement, but now, all those years after he made that statement?

John Vine: The last time I was before the Committee, you asked me a similar question. I said there was slow improvement. In some parts of the agency I see improvement. In the particular part of the agency that I inspected, I was disappointed not to find the progress I expected to see.

Q11 Chair: So at the moment it is not fit for purpose?

John Vine: I would say in this respect-particularly in respect to this report-that the agency needs to set a new date for the conclusion of asylum legacy cases and stick to it, and in the meantime be as transparent as possible in informing you and members of the public about the actuality of the data.

Chair: Thank you.

Q12 Mr Clappison: Can I ask you a little bit about culture? Over a period of years-I am not confining it to any one period of government-the Committee has tried hard to find out information. We have asked questions again and again, received letters and called people to account. Do you feel there is a culture of withholding information on some occasions?

John Vine: I feel there is a lack of transparency. I have felt that with a number of reports and I have actually said that in a number of reports. For example, if I take customer service and complaints handling, which are in this report, they are, in my view, shockingly poor. When we looked at letters and correspondence sent by MPs, members of the public or legal representatives, a third of the cases that we examined were repeat requests for information about cases that they believed were ongoing. By any benchmark of a public sector organisation, that is a poor level of service.

In other reports, we found that complaints handling was equally poor, so whenever I can, I make recommendations for transparency and the exposure of data. A good example of that was the detained fast-track report, which was something that had been ongoing for years but never publicly reported on. The first recommendation I made was that the agency should report on it publicly on a yearly basis. I think greater transparency by the agency would help its public image.

Q13 Mr Clappison: If I may say, your work has been immensely helpful on this, but you will understand our sense of frustration. We can ask questions over and over again, and if part of the bureaucracy is determined to withhold information or not to be transparent, it is fully capable of doing so by the way in which it presents information-or does not present information-to Committees of MPs.

John Vine: I quite understand. I just hope that you can use the information I produce in my reports to hold the agency to account.

Chair: They have been extremely useful.

Q14 Steve McCabe: Mr Vine, was there any explanation as to why only 104 of the 764 individuals who were refused asylum-I think it was between April 2011 and February 2012-were removed?

John Vine: There was no explanation as such. I have reported before that sometimes this agency feels as though it is in silos. The enforcement arm is contained within local immigration teams, which are not part of the same directorate that deals with the asylum and legacy casework. I believe that more can be done to ensure that these cases are treated as a priority by local immigration teams. I do not think that that is happening.

We saw the same thing when I informed you about the migration refusal pool earlier this year, when we looked at the local immigration team in Hampshire and Isle of Wight. The local immigration team did not have an understanding of its responsibilities to remove those people from the UK. It was not treating them as a priority. I think the issue here is that the local immigration team has other priorities, and is not giving this the priority it deserves.

Q15 Steve McCabe: I see. Can I also ask about those with criminal records? Your sample suggests that a number of applicants with criminal records were granted leave to remain, which seems contrary to the impression the agency gave to this Committee. Is there any way of knowing how many potentially dangerous people are at large in this country and have been granted leave to remain?

John Vine: I do not have that information in this report. What I do have is evidence that suggests that it is difficult to ascertain the rationale behind some of the decisions that were made. There is one page-I am just trying to remember where it is in the report; I think it is on page 32-where I point out examples of inconsistent decision making. These were cases that were reviewed by the case resolution directorate, when it was in existence, and, on the face of it, on that review it said that in these cases the individuals should not be allowed to remain. When it got to the CAAU, they overturned all three of those decisions that are contained on page 32, but there is no way of checking from the information on the database the reasons or rationale for that.

Q16 Steve McCabe: There is no way of knowing if they carried out any checks at all?

John Vine: No, on the face of it. One of the other worrying aspects was that PNC warnings index checks and security checks were carried out before anybody was granted leave, but they regularly expired, because they have to be done every three months and, of course, the check expired before the casework on individuals was completed. They kept on repeating themselves, so it is extra work for the agency. It also means that the agency does not know at a particular point in time whether an applicant has in fact come to the attention of the police.

Q17 Steve McCabe: So in essence we do not know.

John Vine: Not from this study.

Q18 Steve McCabe: Thank you. May I ask one last question about the case assurance and audit unit. You have identified that a number of cases were granted asylum-I think you just said it a second ago-where they had been refused by the predecessor unit, but when they were reviewed by the case assurance and audit unit, they were granted asylum.

John Vine: When they were reviewed by the previous unit, that was the indicative position. Then they were granted by the CAAU.

Q19 Steve McCabe: So how much confidence do you have that the 6,000 cases in which people were granted asylum under the legacy scheme were legitimately granted asylum-that a fair, rational and thorough decision was arrived at?

John Vine: Under CRD, the criteria for granting asylum were quite loose. The criteria were not terribly rigorous. I have no evidence to suggest that those criteria were not applied but, from inspecting the case files, I am unable to find the rationale that the caseworker used to make the decision. For example, if I contrast decision making for visas overseas, we used to make this point when we examined visas that had been issued. It was very rare to find that the caseworker had put in the file notes the reason why the visa had been issued, which made inspection or audit completely worthless. That has been improved by the agency. The agency has taken that on board and the caseworkers overseas do put the reasons on the file. I think that is really important so that we can see the rationale behind the decision.

Q20 Steve McCabe: Given that, would you think, as an inspector, that it would be sensible, when a review takes place and a decision is made-particularly when it overturns an earlier recommendation-that it should be an obligation on the staff member to explain how they arrived at that conclusion?

John Vine: Yes, that should be good practice.

Q21 Steve McCabe: Otherwise you cannot really inspect the decision at all.

John Vine: The real issue was the fact that, instead of CRD reviewing the case, when we examined the case files, we did not see any reason why it could not have dealt with the cases much earlier. We found plenty of evidence in the cohort of live cases of 23,000. They supposedly involved significant barriers to decision making, but we did not find a great deal of evidence that there were significant barriers in those cases.

Q22 Dr Huppert: Mr Vine, it is a pleasure to see you again. May I say that one of the things that I found most surprising about this report was section 7.29-you no doubt remember it-saying that 2,000 of the cases involving individuals who could not be found were complying with reporting conditions? This seems to be a fairly fundamental breakdown in communication. Could you say a bit more about what was going on and how UKBA did not manage to find these people?

John Vine: At the time we were aiming to look at this particular piece of work, another piece of work cropped up-the issue over terminal 3 at Heathrow airport-and I ended up doing a piece of work for the Home Secretary on border checks. The Border Agency started looking at this issue because it knew we were going to come to it next and have a look at CAAU work. It discovered that there were 2,000 individuals who were reporting at the centres, apparently, whose cases had been placed into the asylum controlled archives and were traceable.

Q23 Dr Huppert: How did that happen? These people were reporting on a regular basis.

John Vine: I do not know how it happened. The CAAU discovered that itself when preparing for inspection. I found it quite amazing that it could have 2,000 people whose cases were placed in the controlled archive who were reporting at its own reporting centres. Perhaps it is characteristic of an organisation where one part is not quite up to speed with what another part is doing.

Q24 Dr Huppert: Indeed, so do you think it is a general problem that bits of the UKBA do not communicate appropriately with each other and do not understand what is happening?

John Vine: There is another example of that in this report. It is the case on the opposite page-page 58-where there was a mail-merge exercise by CAAU to try to do the proper checks on the people who were in the controlled archive. In that case, that is an example where one person of the agency sent a letter to someone who was appealing against a refusal to grant him leave to remain in the UK. He produced that letter in an open tribunal, and the tribunal had to be suspended to verify whether it was in fact a genuine letter. The presenting officer in the tribunal was not aware of what another part of the agency had sent to the applicant in that case. In fact, the tribunal should not have been ongoing. There should have been no tribunal because, in effect, one part of the agency had already sent a letter to the applicant to say, "You are going to be granted leave to remain."

Q25 Dr Huppert: I am afraid this does not entirely surprise me. I am dealing with a case at the moment where a constituent was told that he had applied out of time for something, and the proof that his application was received in time was in a letter from the Border Agency, dated two weeks before the agency claimed to have received it.

John Vine: It is the same issue.

Q26 Dr Huppert: It is a fairly fundamental problem. To be generous to the Border Agency, perhaps, are there any sections that you think are performing well?

John Vine: There are some sections that are performing better than this. Would you like me to describe the areas-

Q27 Dr Huppert: I was hoping for ones that could be described as performing well, rather than "better than disastrous".

John Vine: I have already said that I think the quality of decision making on visas is much improved. When I look at the operational instructions to entry clearance officers overseas, they specifically refer to recommendations from inspection that the agency has accepted, so there is plenty of evidence that they are implementing the recommendations very clearly and directing staff accordingly. For example, we also found in the tier 4 visa report that some of the quality of decision making is pretty good and more consistent than it has been between posts, although there are still some inconsistencies. When I looked, for example-as I have already mentioned-at the detained fast-track report, there we found that 94%-I think-of all decisions made by the agency were upheld by the judge at appeal, which is a much improved position from previously, so there are things that are improving.

It strikes me that we are still coming across examples of backlogs of work across a whole range of Border Agency work. It is regrettable that those are not on the table and in front of this Committee more transparently than has in fact been the case.

Q28 Dr Huppert: I am slightly alarmed that your description of an area that is going well is-if I got the words down correctly; we will check in the transcript-when "some of the decision making is good". For an organ of the state, it strikes me that that ought to be a fairly minimal requirement.

John Vine: Going back to this report, I would say that some of the decision making covered by the report was very poor. Again, if you look at some of the case studies I have put in the report, I do not think the quality of the decision making, in terms of these cases where people have waited many, many years for their status to be decided, is good at all.

Q29 Dr Huppert: You have mentioned the issue about transparency, and that information should be provided to this Committee. What else do you think ought to be done to improve this area fundamentally? This is an area that has been a problem for a long time. The Border Agency was set up after the directorate was deemed to be not fit for purpose. It has continued to be a problem. Is it about changing the person at the top? Is it about structural reorganisation? What would your advice be on how to fix this once and for all?

John Vine: I am not sure that I could mention just one or two things that would be the solution. In my annual report, which was presented to Parliament a few weeks ago by the Home Secretary, I raised a number of areas. I think that line management in parts of the agency should be improved. When I looked at Heathrow and Gatwick, I found that line management in Border Force operations could be much improved. Data integrity and the management of data have been long-standing issues-I have been reporting on this ever since I started in this role-so that people can have confidence in the data. I also think that compliance is an issue, and accountability is an issue within the agency. In my view it is important that there are clear objectives, and that people are held accountable against those clear objectives. I think accountability could be improved at all levels, and I am not entirely sure that there are the mechanisms in place in the agency to hold people to account for their performance.

Chair: Thank you. That is very helpful.

Q30 Mr Winnick: As far as your position is concerned, Mr Vine, it was our suggestion that the word "independent" should be put in before "chief inspector", so I think it probably helped.

On the general issue, would you accept there is a lack of public confidence in the way in which immigration is dealt with, certainly as far as statistics, and a lack of confidence-both public and parliamentary-over the current situation, and certainly over UKBA?

John Vine: There probably is a lack of public confidence. What needs to happen is some of the basics need be got right more often. For example, if you look at the management of the issue we are talking about in this report, there is a whole section on the management of the transition between CRD and CAAU. I do not think it was handled well. That is not the first time I have talked about the management of major change in the Border Agency or Border Force. I spoke about it in my investigation report into border checks and, for example, regarding the introduction of new regimes at airports during the busy summer period. In this respect, it was clear, from looking at the transition risk register, that risks that were identified have not been addressed, which has led to some of the findings in this report.

Q31 Mr Winnick: I want to ask you about these various designations: CAAU, CRD, CID, non-cohort cases, controlled archives and so on. Does any of this make sense?

John Vine: No.

Q32 Mr Winnick: Why can we not simply be told "the backlog" and done with?

John Vine: What is important is that the terminology needs to be precise and there needs to be some common understanding of what it means. I would argue that CAAU is a meaningless term. What is a case audit and assurance unit?

Mr Winnick: Precisely.

John Vine: What does a case audit and assurance unit actually do? At least "case resolution directorate" had one or two words in it that might give you a clue as to what its purpose was but, to me, CAAU does not, and this is something we have discovered before. When I did the investigation into border checks, we had similar acronyms being used, which people did not understand. There was no common understanding-from the top down through the organisation-about some of the acronyms that were used. But the words are absolutely critical. A "concluded" case is a much different thing from a "reviewed" case, and it might be a very different thing from a "closed" case, so the imprecise use of terminology adds to the complexity of what is already a complex issue, and makes it not easy to understand and less transparent.

Q33 Mr Winnick: You see this divide in the real world that MPs inhabit-and yourself for that matter. We get people writing to us, or often coming to our surgeries, to say, "I have been here since 1998 or 1999. What is happening?" As all my colleagues are bound to do, I write to the UKBA chief executive, and inevitably the response is, "This case is being considered." Surely a person who has been here so long is either allowed to stay or not allowed to stay. Presumably these people who come to see us fall into one of these endless categories which, as you have just indicated, make little sense.

John Vine: Your feeling is absolutely correct on this matter. What this report does is basically confirm the gut feeling of MPs about that situation. You are experiencing people coming into your surgery saying, "Hang on a minute. If all this is being closed down in March 2011 and all these cases have been resolved, why have I not heard from the Border Agency, because I am in there somewhere?" In the absence of a response from the agency, the only place they can go to is very often their MP’s surgery.

Chair: Indeed. Thank you very much.

Q34 Karl Turner: Have you carried out any further assessments of the operation of the border security checks since your report in April, and do you think the Border Force is now sufficiently resourced and organised to carry out the new framework of checks more efficiently?

John Vine: Yes, I have. I conducted a short-notice inspection of Heathrow terminals 3 and 4 in May, prior to the Olympics, to assure myself that the recommendations of the border report were being implemented. I have just finished another short-notice inspection of Birmingham airport. The report will be published in the new year, but I can tell the Committee that I found that checks were being implemented in accordance with my findings in the border report. I am more comforted now with the resourcing levels I am witnessing at the ports and, as far as I can see from inspection, the checks that I think should be carried out are being carried out.

Q35 Bridget Phillipson: Mr Vine, returning to your comments earlier about the mechanisms to hold people to account within the UK Border Agency, there is a particular problem with initial decision making in asylum cases, given the number of decisions that are overturned. What action do you think could be taken? Individuals and representative groups complain about the lack of accountability-that the decision that is made in the first instance is the wrong one. Obviously that has consequences for the person making the application, but there is no confidence that that will be put right in future so that other people get the right decision in the first place. What action could the agency take to address that?

John Vine: The agency needs to learn from its appeals. I believe it has set up a unit-we have not examined it to inspection level-that analyses lost appeals. I think it needs to learn from some of the lessons of those cases, because sometimes I have found the appeal rate to be unacceptably high in areas of the business. It was the case that the appeal rate against decision making overseas was particularly high, and I think they have learned some of the lessons from their decisions. What I found there was that they do administrative reviews much better, within the 28 days they have set themselves. Their refusal letters are worded much better. They have learned a lot of that from analysing appeals and I think that that needs to be more widespread across the business.

Part of the problem is that sometimes, because we look at a particular area and it falls within one silo of the business, the learning does not seem to translate to another part of the business. That is something that the chief executive and his board must try to do more of in order to make best use of inspection.

Q36 Bridget Phillipson: Do you know whether feedback is offered directly to decision makers following appeals? For example, if an appeal is found in the applicant’s favour, will that be communicated to the decision maker who made the initial decision? Decision makers will often act in good faith and try to make the right decision, but when their decision is proven not to have been the right one, is direct feedback offered to them so that they might learn from that?

John Vine: I have come across examples where this has happened, but remember that a decision made by an immigration officer is a judgment that is made, and the immigration judge may make another judgment. It does not necessarily make the decision wrong, per se, but there is still room there to understand the rationale behind the immigration judge’s decision. In short, I think you would have to ask the chief executive of the agency whether that is common practice in the agency.

Chair: Dr Huppert has a supplementary.

Dr Huppert: A quick question on this. I believe Canada has a separate body that deals with asylum cases and I think there is a 1% appeal rate, which is incredibly low.

John Vine: I know it has another body, but I do not know the detail of its performance.

Q37 Dr Huppert: Do you have any sense of its performance and whether it is something we should look at?

John Vine: I went to Canada a year or so ago to look at the system very briefly. I know they had a backlog of cases, because they told me so, but I do not know whether the appeal rate was as low as that. It is a separate body, and not part of the equivalent of the Border Agency.

Q38 Dr Huppert: Was there a sense that this was a good way forward? Did they suggest that we should be looking at it here?

John Vine: That really was not my remit, but I certainly had a sense that they had their own difficulties.

Q39 Chair: Let us conclude with some specific questions about a number of issues that are outstanding with you. On the issue of lost documents, when I tabled a parliamentary question, I received the reply that the information was not held centrally, meaning that the UK Border Agency does not know how many documents of applicants it has lost. Do you know where these lost documents are recorded? Have you come across the issue of lost documents?

John Vine: We have certainly come across the issue-we come across the issue in every inspection. With this inspection, 7% of the file sample that we requested we never received. No, let me correct that. It was that 7% of the file sample was incorrectly filed. When we asked for nearly 400 files, to have a look at the legacy cases, 7% of them were misfiled. In other words, they were not in the right place. Very often we find-and in other respects we find, Chair-that the files are missing, and we report on that in every inspection.

Q40 Chair: But they do not have a record of lost documents. When people make complaints and write in to say, "You have lost our documents," would that information be held there?

John Vine: That might be the case. Sometimes it is because port files are created as well, so duplicate files float around. In any system, obviously, if files are taken out of the system without any record of where they have gone, that does not help.

This is part of the cultural issue that Mr Clappison raised earlier. I would like to see a much more rigorous approach taken to data management and file management generally. Part of the issue is that sometimes workers in the agency do not see the people behind these files. They are inundated with files. They probably come in for a day’s work and their desk is piled high with case files, and I think part of the cultural problem is that they do not see the individuals and the human story behind the decisions they are taking.

Q41 Chair: In respect to the entry clearance operation, the Committee will be concentrating on this next year. We are looking at the hubs that have been created. As constituency MPs, we are concerned with the quality of the refusal notice. I keep putting to them that the best way of getting clarity is if you have a clear indication as to why someone has been removed. Basically four or five blobs, instead of this huge text that is sometimes on the front of a refusal notice that nobody understands. It is a no-brainer. If they were to do this, it would cut down on appeals.

John Vine: Yes. I quite agree with you. We have raised that in previous reports. It is worth you knowing that, following this report, I have been asked by the Home Secretary to conduct an investigation into the legacy casework in the new year. I am agreeing terms of reference with the Home Secretary. She is commissioning me under the Act to go back and have a look at legacy casework in the new year, and I will be able to report to her, hopefully by spring of next year.

Q42 Chair: In respect of the vacancy that currently exists for permanent secretary at the Home Office, we noted in your border report concerning Brodie Clark that the role of the permanent secretary is quite important. Does that affect your work at all? The Home Office has been without a permanent secretary for six months now.

John Vine: It has not affected my work in any direct way, Chairman, no.

Q43 Mark Reckless: Have you considered applying for the role?

John Vine: That is very flattering of you, Mr Reckless, but I have not considered applying, no.

Mr Winnick: There is always time.

Q44 Chair: Before you do, there was an article in The Times about one of your assistant chief inspectors of borders being investigated for apparently smuggling tranquilisers. You have probably seen this article.

John Vine: Yes, I have seen it.

Chair: Do you have any comment to make? Are you investigating this?

John Vine: The matter is being investigated by the Home Office. I cannot comment further because it is obviously a matter under investigation.

Q45 Chair: But it is being dealt with?

John Vine: What I would say to the Committee is that this was nothing to do with the inspection. It is a matter of personal misconduct in a private way, and it will be investigated accordingly.

Q46 Chair: Finally, when will you know whether your contract is being renewed? You were appointed in 2008. You came before the Committee just after you were appointed to this new post. You combined two critical areas into one post, which you have done extremely well. The whole Committee feels you have done a fantastically effective job. When will it come up for renewal?

John Vine: I am sure that discussions will be taking place over the next few months. As it stands, my contract comes to an end in June next year.

Q47 Chair: Will you be staying on? Have you decided?

John Vine: At the moment I have not been approached or asked, so I am going to wait and see.

Q48 Chair: Is that the process? They ask you to stay on?

John Vine: I think that is the process that has been commonly understood, and I am just carrying on with my work. I have many, many pieces of work in process at the moment, and more reports coming out later this year and in the spring of next year, so that is what I am concentrating on at the moment.

Q49 Chair: As far as this Committee is concerned, we are delighted with the reports and the work that you are doing. Please carry on the good work.

John Vine: Thank you very much, Chairman.

Chair: Thank you, Mr Vine. That concludes this session.

Prepared 14th December 2012