Select Committee on Home Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 420 - 439)



  420. Home Secretary, obviously organised crime is a major problem for all of us and people smuggling. Do you think there is a possibility that these gangs generate a higher level of illegal entry or just exploit the demand for it? Where do you see their role?
  (Mr Straw) I think they generate a higher level of illegal entry because, after all, they are trading in people and they need to maintain demand.

  421. Are you happy we are in a sense catching up? I know it is a big task of any government.
  (Mr Straw) A significant proportion of all those people who enter the United Kingdom without leave, and that by definition includes almost all those seeking asylum, have been organised by facilitators. Now I have to say that includes some of the people whose claim for asylum will subsequently turn out to be genuine and well founded.

  422. Yes.
  (Mr Straw) Likewise, as I pointed out in a speech I made in Lisbon, there is a logical contradiction inherent in the asylum system, which is that every signature to the 1951 Convention says "We will give asylum to those with well founded fear of persecution". At the same time every country says we are entitled to maintain our border controls. Usually the only way anybody can claim asylum is at some stage in their journey to have broken the immigration controls of one or other of the countries through which they have travelled. That said, I do not think there is any doubt at all that a very high proportion of those who are unfounded asylum seekers have been facilitated here by criminal gangs.

Mr Cawsey

  423. Home Secretary, I think one of the things which struck all of us when we were undertaking this inquiry was the importance of getting the decision-making part of asylum right, let alone welfare or length of time. The evidence we got from refugee organisations and, indeed, legal associations was quite critical in that respect. It was one of the legal organisations that said to us, if my memory serves me right, that we have gone from a system of slow, cumbersome, poor decision-making to fast, efficient, poor decision-making under the new system. Is that your view? If so, what are you doing about it?
  (Mr Straw) No. It has to be said some of those organisations who monitor decisions I think will be using an objective and others will not. The fact of the matter is that everybody said to us when we were consulting on what later became the 1999 Act, on the basis of the 1998 White Paper, that they wanted to see the process speeded up. We have put in huge additional investment to speed up the process, very, very substantial. I am trying to think of the figure £199 million in 1995-96, it has gone up to £794 million in 1999-2000 and of that £534 million is for asylum support. It has gone up from 199 to £260 million in terms of the support for the administration of IND.
  (Mr Boys Smith) That was for the last financial year. The current financial year the cost of IND is about £600 million. There was a big step change from last year.
  (Mr Straw) That is excluding asylum support.
  (Mr Boys Smith) Indeed, yes.
  (Mr Straw) A huge increase in investment in order, amongst other things, to speed up the decision-making and raise the quality of decision-making. Now one of the stories which has barely been written up at all is how the whole system of asylum processing was degraded by the previous administration in the last 18 months in their office. They signed up this contract with Siemens, and I was told when I came into office that this would be up and running and working and processing applications speedily and effectively by November 1998. Everybody knows what happened. What then happened before we took office was that the alleged savings from this scheme were pocketed by the Treasury and even though the pressures were there, the backlog was huge, the number of asylum case workers was cut and at one stage it was down to lower than 60. There has been this huge investment in case workers and in the whole process, and we are speeding up the decisions. They are now at about 2,500 a month.
  (Mr Boys Smith) Nearer 10,000.
  (Mr Straw) Sorry, a week, and rising.

  424. Everybody accepts that. It is the quality of the decisions.
  (Mr Straw) On the quality, those who said that to you are wrong.

Mr Howarth

  425. They fell last week.
  (Mr Straw) Hold on a second. There is a reason for that. On the quality of the decision-making, they are wrong. If you judge quality by the proportion of cases which are overturned on appeal, it is no lower than it was when the process was very cumbersome and I think may be creeping up above it.
  (Mr Boys Smith) That is correct. It is well up in the 80 per cent area. There has been no deterioration in that.

Mr Cawsey

  426. People we speak to were not claiming there was any deterioration, they were saying it was a poor decision-making process and remains poor.
  (Mr Straw) That is simply untrue. If you look at any other area of decision-making in the public service, eight out of ten of the original decisions to be confirmed on appeal for independent judicial figures show a very high quality of original decision-making, and what you are saying is untrue. What is the case is that people who want to stay here, whether their application is well founded or unfounded, strain every nerve to stay here. Their legal advisers strain even more nerves to do so on their behalf, now that is their job. At a constituency level I have had to deal with quite a number of asylum applications over the years and I am hard put myself to think of more than a couple where the original decision was actually overturned on appeal. A lot of effort—besides the increase in the number of case workers—is going into raising the quality of the decision-making process, not least by having in house members of the bar who are members of the bar but are retained within Croydon offices to provide a ready source of direct legal advice on issues.

  427. You may not have them to hand now, and that is fair enough, but as a Department you will be able to supply the Committee with the figures of the outcome of appeals in the period leading up to the changes and since then?
  (Mr Straw) Sure.[2]

  428. You have an assessment centre at Oakington now. Is it too early to judge the success or otherwise of that?
  (Mr Straw) The capacity is being built up. 1,491 decisions have been made, of which 1,468 were refusals. 23 were grants of asylum or exceptional leave. Of those 1,468, 1,351 have appealed against refusals, of those 654 have been heard, of which 16 have been allowed, which means that the quality of decision-making at Oakington is extremely high.

  429. That is very good.
  (Mr Straw) You will not get that in Social Security or virtually any other area I can think of, certainly not within the criminal justice system.

  430. Do you have plans, therefore, as a Department to perhaps establish similar centres to spread that work out still further?
  (Mr Straw) Oakington itself is building up. At full capacity it is able to deal with 13,000 applicants a year. At the moment it is taking 18 a day, when it is up to 36—twice that we will be there. We are planning also to expand detention capacity as you know. Details have been given to the Committee but I can give those if you wish.
  (Mr Boys Smith) The important point is the figures the Home Secretary gave for the appeals. We are talking here of the quickest decisions that are taken, they are taken within a week, but they are quality decisions and that appeal rate is a 97½ per cent success rate on appeal. It is important to see that there can be that high success rate in the context of fast but carefully taken decisions.


  431. Can you just give us the figure now about removals which follow that process?
  (Mr Boys Smith) For those who have been through Oakington?

  432. Yes.
  (Mr Boys Smith) I cannot give you that figure I am afraid.

  433. Could you write to us with it?
  (Mr Boys Smith) Indeed, sure.*

Mr Malins

  434. It is all very well saying that 1,400 applications have been heard, nearly that number have been refused, nearly everyone has appealed and nearly everyone has lost their appeal, but if you cannot tell us that nearly everyone has gone back that is a problem. You might as well not have a process.
  (Mr Straw) A lot of investment is going into expanding the enforcement process. As I explained earlier, this is a problem which is not just shared by the European countries, it is much worse in other European countries. Some of the European countries have put down on their statistics the people as though they have been removed once they have been given a final refusal. They are then off the statistics. We have a greater degree of integrity within our statistics.

  435. Will you write and tell us how many have gone?
  (Mr Straw) We will do so.[3] I just want to make this point. Were any other party to go into government they would face the same problem.

  436. Yes.
  (Mr Straw) There are two difficulties about removal. One is ensuring you have sufficient staff and detention space to detain people once they become eligible for removal and to get to the plane and the second is to ensure that the countries from which they have come will receive them. Some of those countries of origin are pretty co-operative about receiving them back and that is straightforward, but others are not. That is a problem which we are working on but it is a fact of life and it is a fact of life that you would not be able to change simply by a change of government.

Mr Howarth

  437. Do they stay in Oakington until they are physically taken to the port of exit?
  (Mr Boys Smith) No, they stay in Oakington for the five to seven day period in which the decision is taken. After that, a small proportion—and we can give you the figures later—might go into ordinary or formal detention. The great majority will leave Oakington, and most of them will go into the NASS system—

  438. Go into the what?
  (Mr Boys Smith) The National Asylum Support Service system and will probably be dispersed elsewhere if they want accommodation.

Mr Malins

  439. Do you keep in touch with everybody, every one? Do you know where they all are?
  (Mr Boys Smith) For everybody who goes into the NASS system and takes up our accommodation by definition we do. Those who obtain accommodation elsewhere we have no running check on them, although one of the changes that the Home Secretary alluded to when he spoke of increased enforcement capacity is the establishment—and we have started this now—of what we call reporting centres around the country to achieve just that, to achieve a much higher rate of keeping tabs on people week by week.

2   See Appendix 27. Back

3   See Appendix 27. Back

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