Examination of Witnesses(Questions 60-79)|
GIEVE CB, MR
THURSDAY 18 JULY 2002
60. My local force, the Thames Valley force,
is now overseen by Barbara Roche, a Member of Parliament in London.
Does she report into the Home Office or to Number Ten?
(Mr Gieve) We have ten areas and as part of trying
to ensure that the local arrangements and the local teams within
each of those ten areas are working well we drew together a group
of ten ministers, some from the Home Office and some, such as
Barbara Roche, from other parts of government, each to take a
particular interest in one of those areas. They are not running
the programme; they are visiting, checking and providing some
outside assessment of whether things are working well.
61. Do they report to you or to the Prime Minister's
(Mr Gieve) They report into our unit and our unit
accompanies them on these visits. They report to the Prime Minister
too if he asks them. They will do a note saying, "I have
been there and this is what I found", and so on.
62. You feel the Home Office is still in control
of this important street crime initiative?
(Mr Gieve) Yes.
63. This is a slightly new method of accountability
for police, the CPS and those other agencies involved, to have
a new, non-Home Office minister who is suddenly a channel of information
and accountability between them and the executive. Did you find
it peculiar that this was, to my knowledge, never announced in
(Mr Gieve) I do not think it is a channel of formal
accountability in that way. I think it is not right to say it
is totally unprecedented because I am sure there have been occasions
in which individual ministers have taken particular interest in
cross-departmental activities in particular regions and cities.
64. If, in the Thames Valley, a Member of Parliament
wants to find out what is happening in the Probation Service,
they ask a Home Office minister in Parliament. If they want to
find out what is happening in local prisons, they ask Home Office
minister in Parliament. Suddenly, there is this new, London MP
who is deputy minister for women, who seems to have a role that
is still quite unclear, linking those institutions and the executive
and the legislature. Yet, no one has ever told them.
(Mr Gieve) There is no change in who you ask parliamentary
questions to or in the channels of accountability for the police
which are not directly to any minister. What these ten ministers
are doing is visiting occasionally, meeting the team based round
the regional office and the local partnerships, try and gauge
a range of services outside the police and criminal justice system,
encourage them, spot if things are going wrong and take an interest
in what is happening in each area. We have not got ten ministers
in the Home Office so we could not do it all from within the Home
65. Can I go back to robberies and targets?
You had a target last year. I presume the target was set last
year for a 14 per cent reduction by 2005?
(Mr Lyon) The base line is from 31 March 2000.
66. A reduction of 14 per cent is based on March
2000, not on the increased number of robberies that we have seen
(Mr Lyon) Yes. At that date, the number of offences
67. You could reach your 14 per cent target
by 2005 but still have an increased number of robberies taking
(Mr Lyon) We would have to have fewer robberies than
we had on that date of 31 March 2000, 14 per cent fewer, and we
have more at the moment.
68. The current average time for an asylum application
to initial decision is seven months, according to a parliamentary
answer last week. Is that a rather long time?
(Mr Boys Smith) It is a long time and it reflects
the fact that we still have in the system a number of older cases,
although a decreasing number. We still have about 16,000 that
are over 12 months. The efforts to which John Gieve alluded, the
changes in process and in staff, have enabled us nevertheless
to bring down the time that we take for asylum decisions. If I
may update the annual report which said that the figures there
were provisional and not for the full financial year, it is now
evident that we have achieved our target of 60 per cent of initial
decisionsthat is to say, of applications received in that
perioddone within two months.
69. Do you expect that to go to 75 per cent?
(Mr Boys Smith) I am confident that we can continue
to increase and to meet the target of 75 per cent within that
70. Taking account of your targets, it still
leaves 15 per cent of asylum applications for which you do not
have a target or six months or less time. That is probably 12,000
applications a year. What is the problem with those 12,000 that
is going to take them well over six months?
(Mr Boys Smith) The problems will be various. One
example would be that there was some leading case in the courts
and that can have the effect of requiring us to hold up the decision
taking process. A number will have intrinsic difficultiesfor
example, in the nature of the case put forward by the applicant,
which might relate to medical factors, alleged torture and so
on. I would want to emphasise the fact that there is not a target
for that final, relatively small proportion of the total does
not mean that we put them in the cupboard and get on with other
work. That would not be acceptable. We get them done as quickly
as we possibly can.
71. If it is 15 per cent, it could be 12,000
a year. Is this not something intrinsically wrong with the system,
where up to 12,000 asylum applications a year can take much more
than six months, even for an initial decision?
(Mr Boys Smith) Taking asylum decisions is a complicated
business. We have made enormous strides in achieving the 60 per
cent in two months. In terms of the time that we now take, we
are at the front of the field. As far as western Europe is concerned,
there is no other country touching us in terms of the speed with
which we take these decisions. Within that figure of 60 per cent
in two months, we are taking about 10,000 within seven to ten
days and that again is very much at the front of the field. I
am not ashamed of what we are doing. I think we have a lot of
very good practice and very good delivery, but some of these are
difficult. Some will take a long time and some are beyond our
72. I was interested to read that we have fewer
initial decision makers in post now than we had a year ago. Has
there been some leakage and leaving of the service?
(Mr Boys Smith) No, there has not. There is a relatively
small and, I am glad to say in some ways given the state of the
economy, a surprisingly small turnover of staff. We have recruited
a lot of new staff. They are good quality people and they are
73. In the last year?
(Mr Boys Smith) Having cleared a great proportion
of the huge backlog that we had at the end of 2000there
was a backlog of over 100,000we now have between 30,000
and 35,000 in the system against a background where we would expect
ordinary work in progress to be between 20,000 and 30,000. We
are getting to the point where that term"backlog"is
misleading so we are nearly down to meeting work in progress.
We have made admirable progress in cutting all that down.
74. 697 initial decision makers in post compared
with 761 the previous January. Do you think you should take on
a few more?
(Mr Boys Smith) We take on the number of staff that
we think we require and are able to afford. As we have reduced
the number of cases in the queue, we have transferred some members
of staff to other work, in particular to the highly complex case
work to support the removals programme. We have taken fewer decisions
in the past 12 months with slightly fewer decision makers, not
because we think that is unimportant work but because we need
to balance the priorities within the organisation.
75. A number of people are critical of the quality
of initial decision making, given the number of appeals and the
success rate. I was surprised to see that there is no educational
requirement for someone who is making a decision on asylum and
the training period before one starts making decisions is four
weeks, three days. Are you front loading enough in terms of expertise?
(Mr Boys Smith) I think we are. As to the educational
requirement and the approach that we take, we recruit people to
a particular standard for this kind of work or promote them to
that kind of work within the organisation. One of the heartening
things that has resulted from the expansion of IND is our ability
to promote from within people with enormous talent, who are successful
in doing this kind of complex work but who may well have come
in some years ago without formal qualifications. It is capacity
and competence rather than formal qualification that we are looking
76. Are there targetsI may have missed
themfor reducing the period between initial decision and
hearing of appeal?
(Mr Boys Smith) There is an overall target. It is
rather crudely described as "two plus four", the four
being the appeal bit and the two being the decision-taking period.
There is a delay in getting some cases through the appeals system
because there was a slight, but not enormous mis-match in the
capacity of the appeal system to take the bow wave of clearance
cases that we dealt with, and that is coming down.
77. Is that target realistic, and if it is realistic
now, why was it not realistic two or three years ago?
(Mr Boys Smith) I think it is realistic, and indeed,
to ensure that it is realistic, the Home Secretary announced in
October of last year increased resources, which are now coming
through and will be effective on the ground by about October/November,
to increase the capacity of the appeal system up to about 6,000
a month. Why was it not realistic a couple of years ago? The answer
is that we have been changing a lot, the appeal system has been
changing and expanding, we have been working more and more closely
together in order to smooth the passage of cases from one part
of the system to another, and I think we have had great success.
78. If that is a realistic target, how realistic
was the written target to remove 30,000 failed asylum seekers
(Mr Boys Smith) That was not realistic. As it turned
out, we were unable to achieve that. It was a target that was
beyond our capacity to deliver.
79. Whose idea was it?
(Mr Boys Smith) It was a target agreed in the process
of negotiation to which John Gieve referred as regards the future
set of targets.