The Home Office has been accused of arrogance after a minister said there was no need for extensive engagement with refugee organisations before announcing controversial proposals to curb Channel crossings.
Lord Murray of Blidworth, a minister in the department, appeared before MPs during what was an at-times tense committee session, held a day after the much-condemned asylum plans were announced in Parliament.
The UN’s refugee agency has called it effectively an “asylum ban”.
The hearing before the Home Affairs Committee was focused on the Windrush scandal and the Home Office’s approach to implementing the Lessons Learned Review, which has included dropping three of its major recommendations.
But SNP committee member Stuart McDonald asked the minister about the Illegal Migration Bill, questioning what engagement there had been with any organisations outside the Home Office or Government.
Lord Murray said: “Well, clearly, it was a matter for policy development within the department and engagement across Government. But it wasn’t a situation which required extensive engagement with third party (organisations).”
Challenging this, Mr McDonald replied: “Yes it is because it’s rewriting refugee laws, maybe an organisation like United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, maybe NGOs who deal with victims of modern slavery because you’re rewriting modern slavery laws.
“Perhaps they should have been engaged with and you’re saying it didn’t have to happen? I mean, you have basically just ripped up the Windrush report in that one answer.”
Lord Murray said he disagreed with this suggestion, adding: “In relation to the crisis in the Channel, there can be no parallels drawn to the situation that gave rise to the Windrush scandal.”
Wendy Williams, the solicitor who carried out the Windrush review, also appeared before the committee, telling them she was surprised by the decision to drop the recommendations, having not been consulted by the Home Office before the announcement was made.
Of the 30 recommendations, three were dropped in total, with the two others being a call to increase powers of the independent chief inspector of borders and immigration and hold reconciliation events.
The Windrush scandal emerged in 2018 when British citizens, mostly from the Caribbean, were wrongly detained, deported or threatened with deportation, despite having the right to live in Britain.
Many lost homes and jobs, and were denied access to healthcare and benefits.
The Lessons Learned review saw a call for the Home Office to open itself up to greater external scrutiny and implement a culture change “to recognise that migration and wider Home Office policy is about people and, whatever its objective, should be rooted in humanity”.
Asked about the decision not to implement three of her recommendations, Ms Williams said she had pointed out previously that she felt the Home Office did not appear “confident enough to be able to open itself up to wider external insight and scrutiny”.
Pressed on her use of the word confidence, she told the committee: “It is difficult engaging in external scrutiny and it can be uncomfortable, and so that was the reason why I used the word confidence.”
When this was put to Lord Murray, who appeared after Ms Williams, he said he wanted to assure the committee that dropping recommendations “was not born of any want of confidence by the Home Office”.
“And it’s for that reason that I can answer the second part of your question, which is whether the public and this committee should have confidence in the Home Office and, unequivocally, the answer is yes.”
Labour MP Paula Barker told the minister there is a “fine line between confidence and arrogance” and said a lack of engagement with others before introducing the Illegal Migration Bill “would suggest an arrogance within the Home Office department, that they don’t need to consult with outside organisations or indeed the judiciary”.
Lord Murray said he would not comment on the extent to which there had been any consultation with the judiciary as “that goes to an internal Government consultation”.
Committee chair and Labour MP Dame Diana Johnson said she was left “really disappointed” by the end of the session, stating that she feels the Home Office has a “major problem” with effective scrutiny.