Examination of Witnesses(Questions 160-178)|
GIEVE CB, MR
THURSDAY 18 JULY 2002
160. Can you give us a feel for the proportion
of asylum seekers that fall into that category that do not have
children under the age of 18?
(Mr Boys Smith) I do not think I can give you a percentage,
off the cuff, as between families and right across the system.
I know that of those still within the responsibility of the local
authorities there are about 25,000 singles, as we call them, and
about 14,000 family cases. The small number still remaining with
the Department of Work and Pensions, and there are only a few
thousand of them, are mainly singles. I do not have to hand a
number for the breakdown within the NASS category but we can supply
that easily for you.
161. I want to talk about the average time taken
to process asylum seekers into the support system. Can you give
us a feel now as to how long it takes to go through that process
and how do you expect to meet your target of 70 per cent within
five days by March 2003?
(Mr Boys Smith) It is taking a week or so at the moment.
A crucial element to the speeding up of that will be the extension
of the induction centre systemwhich I mentioned just a
moment agowhich after a fairly difficult start, because
there were some quite big issues, is now working successfully
thanks very much to the good work of Migrant Help Line that runs
that induction centre. I think we will continue to make good progress
there. I think it is a target that we will be able to meet and
which undoubtedly we ought to be able to meet.
162. When an asylum seeker is actually turned
down and loses his or her support, what remedy do they have for
support? Where do they go?
(Mr Boys Smith) There is a 28 day grace period between
the final decisionlet us assume, as in most cases, it is
an appeal decisionand the actual termination of their support.
But after the end of the grace period, if there are no children
involved, they have no legitimate access to support funded in
any way by the Exchequer whether DWP or local authority. Unless
fraud is involved, and again we recognise some people may seek
to operate fraudulently, they have no formal means of getting
163. My last question is in connection with
the last year's overspend which Mr Cameron mentioned and it was
answered in general by Mr Gieve. In terms of the overspend for
asylum support last year we have looked at a whole series of areas
which might have caused that where there is over-provision, provision
was supplied but not taken up, etc., the length of time. Is there
one particular category that you would like to point out? If there
is, how are you going to overcome that in the future?
(Mr Boys Smith) There are a number of factors that
lie behind that figure which is, of course, an overspend in the
sense that it required us to have access to the reserve but against
a base line that had been for some time recognised as probably
being deficient. There are a number of factors and I hope we are
addressing them. At the heart of it is our ability to identify
people at the right time as being cases where we should turn off
the support and if they are in accommodation if necessary evict
them from the accommodation. There have been a lot of difficulties
over the exchange of data with local authorities for the older
cases, the ones that predate the establishment of NASS in the
spring of 2000. We have been putting a very great deal of effort
into auditing all those cases, exchanging data, which may sound
easy but it means you have to be absolutely confident that the
person on our records really is the person who is on the local
authority database, to identify the people and thereby reducing
those numbers. That is proving a successful operation. The audit
has gone well and we are removing from the list and ceasing support
for that kind of person. We are working hard on tightening up
on fraud and undoubtedly there are opportunities for fraud, particularly
with people who work illegally and therefore are not destitute
and not entitled to support. Again, we are working on that. The
introduction of the asylum registration card will help us a great
deal also. It has been operating for some time for new applicants
but as it is rolled out for the existing applicants, and they
are all called in in order to have their photographs, fingerprints
and so on put together and the card issued, that is the opportunity
for an interview which helps us identify if there are still people
in the system who should not be there. What we are doing is trying
to clear up, and making a lot of progress in clearing up, a system
which historically, going back many, many years, was in a good
deal of mess. I think we are progressively getting on top of that.
That will reduce the overspend that you referred to, of course,
subject to the numbers coming in. This is a numbers-driven activity
dependent crucially on information. What we must do is hone it
down so only those in legitimate receipt of support do actually
164. Did you hear the programme on Radio 4 the
other day about NASS on Sunday evening, I believe?
(Mr Boys Smith) I heard part of it but I only came
in at the tail end, I am afraid.
165. I do not want to go through it line by
line with you now but would you undertake to go away and listen
to it and drop me a note on your comments on the main charges
(Mr Boys Smith) I shall do that. Such as I did hear
I thought that it was rather one-sided, I have to say.
Chairman: I thought you might say that.
If you can drop me a note with your considered opinion and any
points you would like to make I would be grateful.
166. My questions are about the pressures on
the Prison Service and young offenders' institutions, so I will
put my questions to Mr Narey. I am in somewhat of a predicament
because the first one is about overcrowding in prisons and some
inmates are being housed in police cells for the first time in
seven years. Can you estimate how many prisoners will be in police
cells over the next year and for what period of time?
(Mr Narey) It is very difficult to estimate. It is
more of a guess than an estimate. I think and hope that we will
get out of police cells in the next weeks and we should not have
to return to them in any significant numbers I hope until the
New Year. The thousand or so new places that I have got coming
on stream before October, the fact that the population should
stay fairly flat until the autumn and then start to climb again
makes me think that it will not start until the New Year. Beyond
that it is very, very difficult for me to predict. The population
has moved without any particular rhyme nor reason for some time
now and certainly if it continues to increase in the way it has
in the first half of this year then early next year I will be
using many hundreds of police cells.
167. This must put additional pressures on the
(Mr Narey) Yes, it does. I have been keeping in very
close contact with the chief constables who are helping us out
at the moment, principally the Chief Constable at West Midlands.
We have agreed maximum numbers that we will put in his area taking
account of the other responsibilities that he has got.
168. When do you expect the review of operations
and the cost-effectiveness of the Prison Service to be concluded?
Who is conducting that?
(Mr Narey) This is the review which is mentioned in
the White Paper?
169. That is right, yes.
(Mr Narey) I do not know yet. I do not think the Home
Secretary has made any decision yet on who will lead the review
or the timescale for it.
170. A question about the Prison and Probation
Service Ombudsman. I understand from the latest report which covers
the year 2001-02 that the number of eligible complaints has risen
by 40 per cent and that comes on top of the rise of 53 per cent
in the preceding year. The vast majority of those related to the
Prison Service and of those one-third were upheld. Why do you
think that the level of complaints has risen so significantly?
Is this a signal that the Prison Service has deteriorated?
(Mr Narey) No, I think it is quite the reverse. I
am delighted at the increase. Stephen Shaw and I have worked very
hard to publicise the Ombudsman. You will find posters outlining
the Ombudsman's duties in nearly every prison, on lots of landings.
I think the main reason is that two years or so ago it took about
six months for a prisoner's complaint to be processed through
the various internal procedures and that is now approaching six
weeks rather than six months and at the end of this calender year
it should be six weeks everywhere. Because the rules were that
no-one could go to the Ombudsman until his or her complaint has
been through every one of the internal channels it meant that
many prisoners were released before they could complain. I take
it as a sign of a much healthier Prison Service that people know
about the Ombudsman and use him willingly. Stephen Shaw and I
work very closely together on trying to crank up its use and I
would like to see it further increased. I think it would be healthier
if more young offenders used the Ombudsman and at the moment very
171. It is raising awareness and has greater
speed in dealing with complaints?
(Mr Narey) Yes. Our internal complaints system takes
one-tenth of the time that it used to.
172. A question about the Probation Service.
To what extent does the service have the capacity and flexibility
to take on a rise in those serving community sentences?
(Mr Narey) It is not necessarily for me but I will
have a go at it. I think the Probation Service does have some
spare capacity. One of the consequences of the much greater than
anticipated use of custody is that there has been some reduction
in probation, managed orders. For example, the use of Punishment
and Rehabilitation Orders has dropped by about 15 per cent and
Community Rehabilitation Orders have dropped by about two per
cent. So if there was a shift back to community punishmentsand
we only need a very, very gentle shift back to make a radical
difference to my populationthen I think the Probation Service
is well prepared to take that on.
173. How likely is it that the Government will
have to step in to provide cover for privately run prisons struggling
currently to purchase insurance cover?
(Mr Narey) I am glad to say it has become clear in
the last few days that there is virtually no need for that at
the moment. UKDS, with whom I am about to sign a contract to build
two new prisons at Peterborough and Ashford, have just informed
me that they have been successful in obtaining insurance.
174. Persistent young offenders. I understand
that comparable data for adult offenders is not collected centrally,
so it is possible that the pressure to reduce the time from arrest
to sentence for persistent young offenders has led to longer waits
for other groups? Where in the system was the time saved for young
(Mr Narey) I think that the process times for all
offenders going through the courts has improved in recent years.
Changes to the processing in magistrates' courts, particularly
dealing with guilty pleas very early, has reduced remand times
by about 20 per cent for all defendants but there has been a particular
concentration on persistent young offenders and, as you know,
their times have increased markedly. It is not the case that there
has been a particular bulge elsewhere as a result of that.
175. A final question about prisoners with mental
health problems. Given the very high levels of mental health problems
amongst prisoners, are you satisfied that the provision of psychiatric
staff is sufficient within prisons to deal with the level of demand?
(Mr Narey) No, not yet. It is beginning. Mental illness
is one of my greatest worries, as evidenced by the very, very
worrying upturn in the number of suicides after us getting them
down for two consecutive years. I am sure you know the statistics.
About 90 per cent of my population exhibit signs of one form of
mental disorder or another, 20 per cent of men have previously
tried to kill themselves and 40 per cent of women. What I have
described as the cavalry is coming over the hill in that this
year the first of 300 psychiatric nurses from the NHS are coming
in to extend community care into prisons and I hope there will
be more on the way. At the moment, particularly in the care of
the mentally ill, I think the Prison Service still lags a long
way behind care in the community.
176. A final question for Mr Gieve. We have
asked a couple of times about what plans the Home Office has to
deal with freemasonry in the police. We were told two years ago
that the Home Secretary would reach a decision about the best
way forward as soon as possiblethis was about disclosureand
last year the Home Secretary said he would review the situation.
What is the situation this year?
(Mr Gieve) I think the Home Secretary wrote to you
last November about this and we are still reviewing it.
Chairman: Do you think there is a freemason
in the system somewhere?
David Winnick: The police are not very
keen to register, is that not so?
177. It is about disclosure, open government,
is it not?
(Mr Gieve) It is. As you know, we have had a voluntary
scheme in parts of the criminal justice system and only 36 per
cent of the police replied, so the question is what do you do
next, do you try and go compulsory or not? It raises some very
178. Instead of trying to make it retrospective
on the police, you could insert disclosure in the contracts of
all new recruits, could you not?
(Mr Gieve) That is something we should consider.
Chairman: Have a think about it. I will
leave you with that thought. Gentlemen, thank you very much for
coming, it has been extremely helpful. I recognise that sessions
like this inevitably concentrate on the negative but do not think
that we do not appreciate the important and complex work that
you do because we do appreciate it. Thank you very much.
5 See Ev 40. Back
See Ev 40. Back