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“Anecdote and assumption”- Should the Home Office be consulting more?

Today saw the release of a report by the Public Accounts Committee (one of the many select committees that Parliament uses to scrutinise the government) examining the work of the home office, in particular its actions on Immigration enforcement. The report does not make cheerful reading. It expresses deep concern at how little evidence the Home Office collects to inform the debate on immigration, and criticises it for making decisions not on evidence, but on ‘anecdote, assumption and prejudice’. Hardly the sort of thing one likes to think of when lives are potentially at stake.

So the question is, should the Home Office be consulting more? Taking a quick glance at our spreadsheet of Government Consultations, we can see that the Home Office is a relatively shy consultor as Government departments go, particularly given their broad remit, though of course number of consultations is rarely a good indication of quality. The vast majority of Home Office consultations in the last couple of years have been relating to policing and law enforcement- perhaps a reflection of the Conservative desire to be seen as the party of law and order.

Now we have left the European Union however, border enforcement and immigration has become an even more important area for the Government to pay attention to. A lot of the consultations relating to immigration are actually undertaken by the Migration Advisory Committee, the non-departmental public body that advises the government on migration issues, acting on individual commissions from the Home Secretary.

The discretionary nature of the commissions sent to the MAC however renders them at risk of being inadequate in terms of consulting stakeholders in immigration. Looking at the consultations, most are focussed at discrete areas of immigration policy, rather than looking at the broader set of policies in context. The impacts the policies have, would, at first glance, seem to be slipping through the net, particularly dangerous when dealing with vulnerable populations. Charities supporting immigrants and examining immigration policy have raised similar concerns to the committee, and the risk seems alarmingly present that the rhetoric of being tough on immigration may not be being supported by actually ensuring that the policies are working in any real way.

The Committee has given the Home Office six months to arrive at detailed arrangements to improve its data collection and analysis. One of the key methods of data collection we might hope to see would be more consultation. Broad consultation is an essential tool to break out of the mindset where only one set of institutional views are considered, and with equalities being one of the key frames of the moment, there is a risk that if the Home Office does not bring in external viewpoints they will come under further criticism and mistrust. As more tight control is exercised over borders, it will be essential to make sure that decisions are being made on the basis of good information. We certainly hope that the Home Office will see the value in broader consultation and engagement to better inform immigration policy, and ensure that they don’t end up shooting themselves in the foot by governing by instinct, not evidence.

About the Author

Stephen serves as the Institute’s Legal and Parliamentary Officer. Before joining the Institute Stephen studied Law at Bangor University and pursued a Masters’ degree in Aviation and Space Law at McGill University in Montreal. After this, he returned to London and was called to the bar in 2016 at the Honorable Society of Gray’s Inn, before deciding not to go into practice and move towards public policy work instead. Within the Institute, Stephen provides legal, political and policy analysis of UK and global current affairs of interest to consultors and consultees.

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