Ministers cleared over immigration policy

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A Home Office inquiry has cleared ministers of approving a secret policy to make it easier for Eastern Europeans to settle in Britain.

A Home Office inquiry has cleared ministers of approving a secret policy to make it easier for Eastern Europeans to settle in Britain.

The conclusion - that the scheme had been drawn up by managers at the Sheffield office of the Immigration and Nationality Directorate (IND) acting on their own initiative - prompted accusations of a government whitewash.

The investigation was ordered after the IND "whistleblower" Steve Moxon said the policy to fast-track Eastern European applicants was designed to massage immigration figures. The disclosure prompted calls for Beverley Hughes, the Immigration minister, to resign.

Ken Sutton, the senior IND manager who conducted the investigation, said the covert guidance, which he blamed on the "relative lack of experience" among Sheffield staff, had been authorised neither by ministers nor senior managers. "In their determination to keep on top of business, the Sheffield group went too far in easing the checks [on applications to work in Britain]," he said.

Government critics seized on his revelations that the policy had been endorsed twice despite an "element of misunderstanding" over instructions from the IND's head office.

Ms Hughes said: "Mr Sutton's report shows mistakes were made. There is no suggestion they were deliberate. Rather, there was an excess of zeal in pursuing the common objective of reducing backlogs."

The Sutton report listed management failings within the IND and made recommendations for improving its efficiency. Ms Hughes said she was adopting the recommendations.

Mr Moxon called the report a "whitewash" and said he was only asked "two substantive questions in just a few minutes" when he gave evidence.

David Davis, the shadow Home Secretary, said the report was a "complete whitewash". He said: "The department is a shambles. There is no clear management structure and guidance was being issued and reissued without proper checks."

Downing Street said Ms Hughes had the full confidence of the Prime Minister.

David Blunkett, the Home Secretary, announced yesterday that Eastern Europeans who come to the UK to work will pay £50 to join a workers' register after their countries join the European Union on 1 May.

* A company has lost its contract with the Home Office after it housed asylum-seekers in damp, dangerous and infested accommodation. An inspection by the National Asylum Support Service showed that most properties used by Landmark Liverpool Ltd were "below an acceptable standard".

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