The Home Affairs Select Committee has announced that the Home Office has rejected requests from MPs to attend immigration hearings.
In a tense hearing this morning, committee members asked the Home Office’s director general, Sir Matthew Rycroft, and permanent secretary, Simon Ridley, to appoint an independent chief inspector, David, who oversees the work of Borders and Immigration. They expressed growing frustration at being denied a closer look at his work.
Committee member Tim Loughton noted that when the committee had floated the idea of attending an inspection in a previous hearing, then-home secretary Suella Braverman had been unable to “raise any objections to that being a good idea – and yet, subsequently, it was vetoed”.
Asked why this was the case, Ryroft said: “Ministers decided that in order to preserve the independence of the inspectorate, it would not be right for this committee to join an inspection.
“However, as you know, you are very welcome to visit any part of the Home Office, estate or team and I’m very glad that many of you do very regularly.”
Asked why an MP’s presence would compromise the inspector’s independence, Rycroft said: “I think that was a decision that ministers took.”
Pressed on whether he agreed with this position, Rycroft said he did not believe his opinion to be “relevant”.
“It is entirely relevant,” Loughton said.
“You are the chief civil servant running the Home Office. Ministers expressed to us in front of our committee they didn’t have a problem. And then magically, they did have a problem that would suggest they had taken different advice from officials for whom you are responsible. Therefore your view on this is entirely relevant,” he said.
Rycroft suggested there was an assumption in Loughton’s question that officials had advised ministers against allowing the MPs to attend an inspection, but declined to say if this was the case. “That’s a decision for ministers and ministers are, quite rightly in our system, accountable to parliament for the decisions they take on policy issues,” he said.