Home Office permanent secretary Sir Philip Rutnam has announced that former Ministry of Justice chief Sir Alex Allan will undertake a review of the advice given by civil servants to former home secretary Amber Rudd that led to her resignation from the post.
In a session of the home affairs select committee, Rutnam said the investigation by Allan, who is currently the prime minister’s adviser on ministerial standards, would examine the quality of the information to the home secretary ahead of the Home Affairs Select Committee hearing on 25 April.
At that session, Rudd and Glynn Williams, the Home Office’s director general for border, immigration and citizenship, told MPs the department did not have deportations targets, although this was subsequently revealed to be untrue, leading to Rudd’s resignation on 29 April.
At a follow up hearing of the committee yesterday, Rutnam said there was “a lot of concern” about the preparation for the hearing in April.
“My concern, as I have mentioned a number of times as the permanent secretary, is to make sure the quality of the advice we are giving to ministers, including to the former home secretary, is as good as it possibly can be,” he said. “So I have with the agreement of the cabinet secretary asked Sir Alex Allan, who is a former permanent secretary and is currently the prime minister’s adviser on ministerial interests. I have asked him on my behalf to do an urgent review into the facts as to the support provided to the home secretary before, during and after that hearing.”
He accepted there was “concern over the clarity or otherwise” of the advice given to Rudd that meant she misled the committee, and he said that Allen’s review would be a “thorough, factual independent review done quickly which provides me as the senior official responsible for the conduct of officials in my department and the cabinet secretary as the head of the civil service with authoritative advice on what happened and also, as necessary, recommendations for what further action should be taken".
“That is a piece of work that is being started today and which I hope will, be concluded quickly, and I’m very happy to commit to report to this select committee once that report has completed," he added. "I hope that provides you with some assurance that I take these matters as permanent secretary very seriously.”
However, committee chair Yvette Cooper said that Rutnam did not provide assurance, as she was now more confused than before as to whether the department had targets or expectations.
After Rudd told the committee there were no targets, she was subsequently forced to reveal that targets did exist. “The immigration arm of the Home Office has been using local targets for internal performance management,” she said prior to her resignation. “These were not published targets against which performance was assessed but if they were used inappropriately then I am clear that this will have to change.”
Rutnam confirmed that there was not a target in place on immigration enforcement in the current financial year, but there had been what he called “performance goals” in previous years for operation teams across the Home Office to “get on and deliver by way of removals”. There were goals described as targets in 2016-17 and 2017-18, but Rutnam said in the last months of 2017-18 the word target was not used, but was instead replaced by aim or ambition, which was the case for 2018-19.
Hugh Ind, the director general of immigration enforcement at the department, said an “an enforced returns target” of 12,800 had indeed been in place in 2017-18.
“Later during 2017-18 we modified that to an ambition to reach between 230-250 enforced returns per week because we had not achieved the success were counting on… We had to moderate our ambitions in the second half of 2017-18.”
However, Cooper accused Rutnam of being “really slippery” in the distinction between targets and performance goals. “It makes it really hard for us to have confidence in any of the information that you’re giving us,” she said.
Rutnam said that the idea of appearing slippery before the committee was “absolutely not how I want to approach my job” and said there was frustration around the use of the word target.
“I understand that, and there is quite a lot of reflection to be done in the Home Office about that hearing two weeks ago,” he added.
Elsewhere in the session immigration minister Caroline Nokes told the committee that the department needed more resources to run the immigration system. “It needs more people, it needs more experienced caseworkers who are in position to process claims accurately and effectively,” she said.
Nokes told the committee that more than 8,000 potential cases are now being investigated by the Home Office in the wake of the Windrush scandal. The issue came to light because Commonwealth citizens who came to the UK legally as children in the 1950s and 1960s were facing migration issues despite having lived in the UK all their adult lives. This is due to the requirement that people provide greater proof of their right to reside in order to work, rent property or access benefits and some public services. Some have been threatened with deportation, while others have lost out on healthcare, employment and housing.
She said the department had gone “back to 2002 to look at those who may have been removed incorrectly”.
“That has thrown up in the region of 8,000 records for which a computer trawl is not good enough – that's requiring a manual investigation of the paper files in order for us to seek reassurance that correct procedures have been followed and that people have not been incorrectly removed," she said.
While Nokes stressed that this did not mean 8,000 people had been wrongly deported, saying she had “yet to identify anybody who's been removed incorrectly”, she said it was “very clear that people have been detained”.