Home Secretary Theresa May has come under fire this week after it emerged that immigration controls were relaxed over the summer to ease the burden on border staff. Labour has demanded to know how many more illegal immigrants were granted entry to the country as a result, a figure which the Government hasn’t yet been able to provide.
However both Mrs May and the Prime Minister have argued that the policy might not have been a failure, and that crime detection may have actually gone up as a result. When asked by Labour Leader Ed Miliband for detail on the numbers let in to the country, David Cameron told the House at yesterday’s Prime Minister’s Questions that:
“The Home Secretary provided those figures, and the figures are as follows: firearms, 100 per cent increase in seizures; illegal immigrants, 10 per cent increase in arrests; forged documents, 48 per cent increase.”
However almost as soon as the Prime Minister had resumed his seat on the front bench questions were beginning to be asked about these numbers.
On the Daily Politics show Universities Minister David Willetts conceded that “the pilot has not yet been evaluated,” leading host Andrew Neil to ask “how you can claim that it caught out 10 per cent more people than the old system?”
Similarly The Times was told by the Home Office that the figures being referenced weren’t being made available.
The Prime Minister told the Commons that these figures were “published in the normal way”.
While this might lead some to understand that the data behind these claims is freely available, this isn’t necessarily the case. Information collected as part of pilots might not be published immediately, but rather periodically or as a one-off after evaluation.
Nevertheless, as the Government is using these figures right now in response to an important policy debate, Full Fact was keen to get to the bottom of the matter.
After a less than fruitful conversation with the UK Border Agency’s press office, we contacted the Home Office, who passed us onto their statistics department. We were then directed back to the UKBA, speaking to a number of people who weren’t able to provide us with any clue as to where, or indeed whether, this information was published.
However this morning they were able to give us an update, informing us that while the organisation has released the statistics quoted by the Prime Minister, the research and data they are based on is unavailable at this time.
While the Code of Practice for Official Statistics suggests that wherever possible the data that is used in the House of Commons should be freely available to the public, it is likely that these figures are management information. As such, they are not subject to the same restrictions and regulation as official statistics provided by the ONS.
This means that ministers are able to quote this research even when it is not available to MPs and the public.
Full Fact understands that it takes time for data to be properly collated, analysed and presented in a form that is useful to the public. However this process takes time for a very good reason: to avoid incomplete or misleading information from misinforming public debate.
We have no reason to actively distrust the figures given by the PM and Mrs May. Equally however we have no reason to actively trust these figures while we cannot see the data and context behind the claims.
It is important that the public are allowed to draw their own conclusions on the success of the pilot scheme based upon reliable information, rather than taking it in blind faith from Mr Cameron.
We hope that the information behind these claims is made available to the public as soon as possible. Until then however, we would treat these particular claims with caution, and regret that Ministers have chosen to use them in such a politically sensitive context.