Select Committee on Home Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses(Questions 80-99)



  80. You would have said at the time if you did not think it was a realistic target.
  (Mr Boys Smith) We thought that we would find it easier to remove those numbers than we have found. We have made a lot of progress in terms of both the case working back-up to that difficult process that I referred to a moment ago, in terms of our close working with the police service—we now have a concordat with ACPO, for example, to facilitate that—and a whole variety of other ways, but undoubtedly it has proved more difficult. But again, if you would allow me to say this, we are delivering more, 11,500 in the previous year, and again, a much larger number than any other European country.

  81. Obviously if you include dependants amongst removals, it makes the figures look much better from the Government's point of view. When did you decide to do that?
  (Mr Boys Smith) The target right through the current Spending Review period, the one we are still in, has since April 2001 been for removals inclusive of dependants. There has never been any secrecy or anything underhand on that. It has been absolutely explicit.

  82. There was a day not many months ago when the number of removals was by way of principal applicants, and now it is not; it is applicants plus dependants.
  (Mr Boys Smith) If I may, Mr Malins, the measurement of this target through the Spending Review period that we are still in has been the measurement of removals inclusive of dependants since April 2001. I do appreciate that that has somehow not been clearly understood, but we have always proceeded on the basis that we were measuring with dependants. The figure of applicants is 9,500, which is principal applicants, which is also a public figure, 11,500 with dependants.

  83. How does that change the position? My parliamentary answer says asylum removals statistics prior to April 2001 related to only the number of principal applicants removed, excluding dependants. The statistics since April 2001 show the number of principal applicants and the number of dependants removed. What proportion were dependants, do you think?
  (Mr Boys Smith) For the last year it was 9,500 principal applicants, 11,500 inclusive of dependants, so about 2,000. I could not give you a breakdown as between dependants, but the ratio will not be hugely different.

  84. You accept that the 30,000 target has been abandoned?
  (Mr Boys Smith) No, it has not been abandoned. It is still there. Discussions will take place as to the figure that should be attached to the targets for the coming period and those discussions have not yet taken place.

  85. That 30,000 would presumably disappear from bits of paper now, but if you had to guess, will there be another figure for the target for, say, the next 12 months or the following 12 months after that? Are you looking to say a greater number? Are you looking to say 20,000? What are you looking to say?
  (Mr Boys Smith) The White Paper makes clear that the target for the coming period, as indeed for the moment, will be the more effective enforcement of the immigration law by removing a greater proportion of failed asylum seekers. The 30,000 was previously attached to that and the Home Secretary about a year ago indicated, because we clearly were not performing in the early part of the last financial year, that he saw that in terms of 2,500 a month. The position for the coming Spending Review period is, as I say, and as John Gieve referred to earlier, that discussions will have to take place with the Treasury, and ministers will have to decide what number may be attached to this. The press have somewhat jumped the gun in some articles by suggesting the 30,000 figure has been abandoned. That is not formally the case.

  86. This is a handling exercise really, is it not? Do you think you will ever reach the stage, or do you want to reach the stage where the percentage of those who are removed is higher than 50 per cent of those who should by all accounts be removed because all their appeals have failed? Do you think you are ever going to make it anywhere near 50 per cent of those who should be removed being removed?
  (Mr Boys Smith) I find that very hard to answer. I think it is possible. We are confident that we can put the present number up. We should remember that of those who apply, on present figures, approximately 40 per cent, either by virtue of initial decisions, as a consequence of the appeals or because they have been granted exceptional leave to remain, are, so to speak, legitimately here after the process, so we are talking of the 60 per cent with regard to whom there is some kind of negative decision, and I think it is possible to reach about half of that. Whether it is possible long term to sustain that I am not quite clear, and I think a great deal will depend, among other things, of course, on the national make-up of those who are applying, because whereas it is relatively easy to remove people to certain countries say in eastern Europe, to remove them to other parts of the world is hugely difficult. Removability will change over time.
  (Mr Gieve) Can I just add one thing there? One of the provisions in the new Bill is to allow for non-suspensive appeals, that is to say, removing people from the country before their appeal is heard. That could change the position quite dramatically in some countries.


  87. What countries are you thinking of?
  (Mr Gieve) Among others, eastern Europe.

  88. So ones where there is a prima facie supposition against success?
  (Mr Gieve) Yes.

  89. Whereas you would not remove someone to Afghanistan and then invite them to call back, would you?
  (Mr Gieve) It depends on the circumstances in Afghanistan. As you know, we are hoping to remove people to Afghanistan, and a few volunteers are going already.

  90. We should never lose sight of the fact that, at the end of the day, these are human beings, some of them have young children, and some are returning to destitution. Although you are under pressure from people like us, and we are under pressure from people in our constituencies, we should never lose sight of that.
  (Mr Boys Smith) We should not, and part of the training that we offer our staff, whether on initial decisions or removals, is that they are dealing with people, huge things that affect the whole of the future life of that family or that individual, and some of that is difficult and stressful work for those members of staff.

  Chairman: This is a subject to which we are proposing to return in the near future in rather more detail, so we will no doubt discuss it again. Let us turn now to the Criminal Records Bureau.

Bob Russell

  91. Mr Gieve, on a scale of one to ten, with one being good, ten being bad, where would you put the Criminal Records Bureau at the moment?
  (Mr Gieve) About half-way. It has had a very bad start, but it seems to be recovering now, and we expect by about the end of the summer to be close to hitting our targets.
  (Mr Lyon) How many targets have been reached so far which give you comfort to put it at 5 or 6, a success story?
  (Mr Gieve) No, we are not hitting our targets at the moment. The targets are to clear disclosures in three weeks, and as you know, we have had great difficulties at the moment. We have a backlog of cases which we are trying to deal with. However, in the last few weeks, under the recovery programme which the Criminal Records Bureau have drawn up with Capita, who are the private sector partners, things do seem to be moving in the right direction. We have now issued our one hundred thousandth disclosure, and the numbers are going up very rapidly week on week.

  92. But what are the reasons for those delays? You have just mentioned Capita; are they the problem, or was the problem elsewhere?
  (Mr Gieve) I think this is quite complex endeavour, and there is no one fault, that everything else worked perfectly and this one thing could be singled out. A number of things have had to be adjusted over recent weeks and there are more adjustments to come, but the single most difficult thing has been dealing with paper applications and getting them on the system. That was the main problem in the first few weeks, and led to a build-up of forms which had not yet been entered. That is a function that Capita are responsible for, and they now seem to be getting on top of that.

  93. How many applicants are told that their applications are being processed in India?
  (Mr Gieve) I do not think we do tell people specifically. It is not a secret; it has been made public and commented on, but we do not send a letter saying, "Your form is being processed in India."

  94. With something as crucial as Parliament is told the Criminal Records Bureau is—and you will be aware that various Members of Parliament have asked questions over a period of time, including myself—do you not think it is odd, to say the least, that insufficient processes were put in place and you are now being forced to send work to India to be dealt with?
  (Mr Gieve) I was a bit surprised, yes, that this turned out to be the best route forward, but I think it is a rather interesting reflection of the global economy we now live in. As you know, many private sector companies have been doing this sort of thing for years, and some public sector organisations have been doing it—the Student Loans Company I gather uses Indian subcontractors. It was not in our original plan. Just in terms of what they are doing there, they are putting on to disk the application; they are not actually searching the databases for records of any sort.

  95. Have you any estimate of the number or groups of people currently affected by the delay?
  (Mr Gieve) I do not have a breakdown. I know broadly the people who can apply for information under the scheme, and they are all being affected. Particular groups that we have singled out include teachers, where we have set up special arrangements with the Department of Education; the Department of Health; taxi drivers; and we have had some special schemes for groups where the delay was causing particular difficulties; so I am aware of those, but there is quite a wide range.

  96. Can you give the Committee an assurance that every new teacher applicant will have his or her clearance dealt with by the start of the new academic year in September and there will be no teaching post left unfilled because of delays with the Criminal Records Bureau?
  (Mr Gieve) I would have to think about that. I do not think I can give you that assurance, in the sense that it depends when they apply: if they apply the day before term starts, we cannot promise to turn it round. What we have done with schools is that we are offering a partial clearance first, which is actually the system that schools have operated for some time. They have their own education list which we check first, and we provide an answer to the school on whether or not the applicant is on that list, and then we go through the whole process.

  97. Lessons have been learned from this, I assume. Are there any other examples of where you can bring in outside work or pressure to improve the situation so that, for example, a lollipop lady does not have to wait six weeks to have her clearance? Bearing in mind that the Criminal Records Bureau is there for children's safety, that children could be crossing the road without a lollipop lady for six weeks because she has to wait for her clearance seems bizarre.
  (Mr Gieve) No, I do not think there is another magic ingredient. This requires hard operational improvements in the organisation, in Capita and in the CRB. We are putting a lot more staff in; we have subcontracted work to India, as you pointed out; we have improved the IT; and all of that is intended to bring us back on track, so that we are turning these applications round in three weeks. There will always be some difficult cases, I dare say, where it takes a bit longer than that. The other point I would just make is that the CRB is offering this service more widely than the old system of applying to the police. Under the old system about 20,000 clearances were done a week, but we are already doing that under the new system and we are expecting to build it up a lot further than that.

  98. When do you expect the Bureau to begin meeting its targets?
  (Mr Gieve) I am hoping it will be by the end of the summer.

  99. So when you return, next time it will be a rosy picture; it will not be near the bottom, but it will be a success story?
  (Mr Gieve) I am not going to promise it will get 10 out of 10.

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