Keith Vaz (Leicester, East) (Lab): May I welcome the Home Secretary’s statement and the steps that she has taken? I remind her that the Select Committee on Home Affairs has, on a number of occasions in recent reports, pointed out its concerns about the entry clearance operation in Islamabad and, especially, that people are not routinely interviewed there. Will she confirm that part of the operation actually takes place across the road from here, in King Charles street, where some visas are granted?
The Home Secretary will know that I wrote to her recently to express concern not about the leave of absence for the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch (Meg Hillier), the entry clearance Minister—we wish her well on her maternity leave—but about the arrangement that the Home Secretary has made to divide up that Minister’s post between four other Ministers. Surely what is required now, with all the initiatives that the Home Secretary is quite properly undertaking, is one Minister to oversee the entry clearance operation, rather than dividing it between other Ministers, who are extremely busy at the moment.
Jacqui Smith: On the point about interviews, I know that the Home Affairs Committee recently looked at the visa operation, but I do not agree with all my right hon. Friend’s conclusions about its success. I do not think that he questioned this point, but I must reiterate the professionalism of certainly the staff whom I met when visiting our visa operations overseas. I have outlined the much more robust approach that we now take when dealing with student visas, and, rather than intervening in every single case, which some experts suggest is not the most effective way of dealing with the risk in these cases, it is better to have robust information and biometric information, as we now do, and to focus interviews where necessary—telephone interviews, where appropriate —on those people who are most likely to be risky. That is precisely the reason for setting up early the risk assessment unit in Pakistan—so that we are able to make that judgment and focus resources there.
I have written to my right hon. Friend about the arrangements that have been made for the maternity leave of the entry clearance Minister, but, once again, I am afraid that I disagree with him. We have put in place exactly what is necessary, including bringing in an additional Minister to cover my hon. Friend’s absence and to ensure the correct level of ministerial oversight during that leave.