Examination of Witnesses (Questions (60-79)|
WEDNESDAY 18 SEPTEMBER 2002
60. I like the image of waiting for Godot. I
wanted to ask you about Dublin II. If and when it should come
along, do you think it is going to make any difference?
(Mr Blunkett) In association with a non-suspensive
appeals programme on unfounded cases, which is within the Bill,
together with a much more robust border control it would, but
the honest truth is that it is stopping people getting in here
illegitimately, but in having a system of allowing people who
should and want to be here legitimately, rather than seeking a
way of dealing with this by sending people back, albeit on an
agreed basis, is crucial, not least because the view that is taken
by the judiciary in our country prolongs their stay through the
appeals and judicial review process in a way that is not the case
in other European countries.
61. Is the idea that we should move more towards
the system elsewhere rather than they take on our system?
(Mr Blunkett) I have set out in the Bill a very considerable
and robust picture. Since we published the Bill, I have continued
to look at what else needs to be done in the climate that has
been created and with the changes in migration policy, not least
in relation to the ten accession countries that intend to join
the European Union in 18 months' time. The idea that people are
at risk in these particular countries is, in my view, untenable
and we still need to look at what more we can do.
Bridget Prentice: Thank you.
62. May I press you on this issue of work. We
have all got large numbers of young men hanging about in our constituencies,
some of whom have been here for years. Their greatest frustrationand
they are all dynamic and some of them are well-qualifiedis
that they are not able to work. Since our ambition is to get decisions
down to less than six months, what is the problem in saying, "If
you are here longer than six months, you should be allowed to
apply for work"?
(Mr Blunkett) The problem with that is that the signal
and the message would be very clear: "if you get here and
you remain here, you will be able to work here". As a consequence,
any managed economic migration routes would become irrelevant.
If these people are dynamic and they are well-qualifiedand
I do not dispute your descriptionthey should get back home
and re-create their countries which we freed from tyranny, whether
it is in Kosovo and related countries from which we still have
a very large number of people awaiting removal, or in Afghanistan.
We are freeing countries of different religious, ethnic and cultural
backgrounds and we are making it possible for them to get back
home and re-build their country. I have no sympathy whatsoever
for young men in their twenties who do not go back and re-build
their country and their families.
63. Home Secretary, staying with the theme of
co-operation with our European partners, we have recently had
the rather bizarre story of hundreds of would-be asylum seekers
coming close to the end of their claim and anticipating being
rejected, who have been passing back from the UK to France on
false passports seeking asylum in other European countriesasylum
shopping. Some of them have been apprehended. We are told that
200 have been apprehended and sent back to our overcrowded prisons
in this country. Presumably after six or nine months in custody,
they will then be removed to a third country. Is there some better
way of dealing with these matters?
(Mr Blunkett) Yes and I am doing it. I mentioned the
Eurodac system of finger-printing and in future of more robust
identification which would enable us to share automatically with
our European countries, and they share with us, where someone
has already claimed asylum. You are aware, and myself and Bev
Hughes are painfully aware how difficult it is, of course, even
within the parameters of Dublin I, to stop hysteria about removing
people back to the country where they first claimed asylum. We
have had it up to here with the Ahmadi case and the way in which
our system of judicial review works, but let me be clear, as far
as I am concerned, anyone who leaves the country who is claiming
or has claimed asylum and seeks to re-enter it should automatically
be presumed to be unfounded and should be refused a further asylum
claim. I have ruled to that measure and I expect it to be carried
64. So in your discussions with your French
counterparts would you encourage them to continue sending back
this group of people?
(Mr Blunkett) There is no point in them sending them
back because if they have claimed asylum or their asylum claim
is being processed and they re-present themselves at our borders,
I consider, unless there has been a change in circumstance of
a substantial nature in the intervening time, that they have already
exercised their right to claim, they have forfeited it by leaving
the country and they are no longer entitled to an asylum claim.
65. I am referring to a case where a person
has not actually claimed asylum in France or Belgium but who is
apprehended by the French authorities.
(Mr Blunkett) If they have claimed asylum here, as
far as I am concerned, if they leave they have forfeited that
right. If they have not claimed asylum here and they have been
picked up in France, then we have to deal with it in terms of
whether they have broken a particular national law.
66. Home Secretary, if the Czech Republic does
become a member of the European Union its people will be able
to travel backwards and forwards. Bearing in mind that the Fascists
in the Czech Republic have driven out the Czech Romanies to this
country, would it not be sensible to allow them to remain here
(Mr Blunkett) No, it would not. They do not have a
Fascist government in the Czech Republic, they have a Social Democratic
67. I acknowledge that. I am talking about parts
of the community, as you know full well. The second point, Home
Secretary, are you seriously saying that young Chechen men should
return to Moscow because they can then go back to Chechnya? Surely
you do not believe that the Russian authorities allow young Chechen
men back to Chechnya?
(Mr Blunkett) If I said Chechnya I intended to say
Kosovo, my apologies.
Chairman: You did say Kosovo.
68. You did but you said that young men should
go back to their countries and Chechen young men are being returned
(Mr Blunkett) I gave the example of countries which
we freed, which I gave as Kosovo and Afghanistan. I am not referring
to Chechnya and nor have I referred to it. You had me for a minute
there. I thought I had dropped one, but I have not. I am very
grateful to you, Chairman.
69. Mr Russell's question is are we returning
people to Chechnya?
(Mr Blunkett) No.
Bob Russell: I am much obliged, thank
Chairman: You have another question?
Bob Russell: That was my second question.
70. Home Secretary, turning to the question
of initial decision making, are you concerned about the quality
of those decisions in asylum cases in as much as a large proportion
of those decisions are overturned when it comes to appeal?
(Mr Blunkett) Yes, the current rate of successful
appeal is just over 20 per cent, is it not?
(Beverley Hughes) Yes.
(Mr Blunkett) And we have set in train both a robust
retraining programme but also a robust training programme for
the larger number of decision takers that we are now putting in
place, together with the speeding up of the process. We did reach
our target by 31 March of a turnround time within two months of
an initial decision. That is now up to 75 per cent on the last
month's figures, which is very encouraging. We can do better,
but it is so much better than it has ever been before. Given that
I am literally demanding a dramatic step change in terms of the
administration and efficiency of the Immigration and Nationality
Directorate, we should accord those who have managed to do that
an accolade because I have got to provide motivation and morale
where they are succeeding and we need to make sure that the initial
decision taking is of such a quality that it reduces the pressure
on the adjudication service.
71. Would better access to legal advice and
translation services be helpful in that?
(Mr Blunkett) They have substantial access from induction
onwards now. We have funded it, of course, through a variety of
agencies, rather than trying to do it all ourselves, other than
in the focused, very expensive provision of Oakington for fast
track for the very reasons that the fast track exists. We also
provide massive, expensive and extensive support through the Lord
Chancellor's Department through legal aid. Frankly, if we do any
moreI will leave it at that!
72. I believe we heard yesterday that there
is an initial form that has to be filled in in English and that
provides some difficulty for those in completing that form.
(Mr Blunkett) With the development of coherent induction,
it is possible for people to have someone on hand to help them
do it. The issue is one of translation of course, not least finding
out precisely which dialect people genuinely speak from the region
from which they come. I place quite a lot of emphasis on this.
You need to be aware if you are producing a detailed report that
very many people claim to be from a part of a region, for reasons
of claiming asylum, from which they do not come.
(Beverley Hughes) I have been down to Dover and talked
to people there and seen the induction centre and screening centre.
There are extensive interpretation facilities available. As the
Home Secretary said, it is sometimes difficult to be clear about
exactly what languages are being claimed to be spoken and what
languages are actually being spoken. I accept there are some problems
around that, but generally I think the interpretation services
that are provided are good.
73. Can I press you on this question of the
quality of the initial decision making. Over and over again we
are hear that if you really want to speed up the process you have
got to improve the quality of decision making. One has only got
to look at the number of successful appeals and the fact that
you concede 68 per cent of cases submitted for judicial review
to realise that there is quite a big problem with the quality
of decision making.
(Beverley Hughes) I certainly accept that the quality
of decision making is crucially important, not only from the point
of view of the applicant but also in terms of the process. No-one
wants to put resources into a case going to appeal only to have
it overturned because the initial decision may not have been as
good as it could be. We have got a fairly robust process in place
at the moment to review on a sampling basis initial decisions.
Around 2,400 are chosen at random each month and are reviewed
by senior caseworkers who review the decision against ten criteria.
They are finding at the moment a high level of either satisfactory
or excellent decisionsabout 85 per cent I think. So I accept
that this is something we need to continue to drill down on. I
would make one other point and that is that I do not think necessarily
that the extent to which initial decisions are currently overturned
is only to be explained by the need to improve the quality of
initial decisions. We also need to take account of the fact that
we have to look at the quality of the adjudicators' decisions.
We have quite a lot of new adjudicators who are still in the early
stages of getting to grips with their job. There is a great deal
of assimilation they have to do in terms of in-country information
and so on, and that is another strand in the process that we have
to look at.
74. A lot of the success of appeals relates
to the fact that forms one way or another have not been filled
in within the ten-day limit. Would it not be wiser to be a bit
more flexible on that point and provide a free translator, rather
than make people go through the whole appeal process?
(Mr Blunkett) I think it is an interesting point,
not least from the point of view of the administrative waste within
the Immigration and Nationality Directive of having to reassess
when somebody has sent the form but it had not arrived on time
within the period, and it could be shown later that for a variety
of reasons it had not been possible to do so or they had done
so. So I am amenable to looking with Bev Hughes at whether that
is the case, whilst still having a tight and robust system that
does not allow people to play games with the situation. I think
it is a fair point and well worth looking at.
Chairman: The key point is that their
claim be properly considered as quickly as possible, not whether
they got the form in on time or whether the solicitor passed them
the relevant information or it got lost in the system. One still
gets drawn to one's attention cases of people tearing their hair
out with the frustration at communicating with the Home Office
on asylum cases. I plucked out of my own constituency file a couple
of letters that illustrate the problem. This is from a local solicitora
very reputable onewho is dealing with the case of a Rumanian
asylum seeker. "We have now written to the Home Office on
no less than 18 occasions to try and obtain a copy of our client's
interview record." I got him a reply eventually and they
sent him back the one relating to his brother. That was April
12 and even now after 18 tries we are still trying to get the
75. It will probably be with you by the end
of this week, I would imagine.
(Mr Blunkett) I will make sure! I would like Bev to
comment. Since she took over at the beginning of June she has
specifically targeted how best to improve this. There is not a
single example or anecdote that Members round this table could
bring that would not be matched by examples that I have. I am
absolutely determined that not only can we do a lot better, but
we can have a step change in performance in terms of the basic
administrative functioning of that Directorate. We have just appointed
a new Director, Bill Jeffrey. He started two weeks ago and he
is in no doubt whatsoever what is expected of him.
(Beverley Hughes) As the Home Secretary says, it is
extremely important, for a number of reasons, that we improve
our performance on that. I have been focusing on it particularly
over the last six weeks or so. Members will appreciate that there
is a very high volume of correspondence. I do not say that by
way of excuse. Also we are in a situation at the moment where
there is an extent to whichand if I can just explain this
because it is importantthere is a need to locate a file,
get that file to the person needing to reply to the letter, and
then put it back in the system where it was so it does not interrupt
too much the process of assessment (whether it is an asylum or
immigration matter) that person is concerned with, is very difficult
logistically. Files are all around the country. They are not just
in Croydon, they are in ports, Liverpool, Glasgow, all over the
place. Having said that, and I do not say that by way of excuse,
I would say simply that it is not straightforward. The Home Secretary
mentioned and I have cases too whereby the quality and the extent
to which people are getting a reply within a reasonable period
of time is simply not acceptable. I can say to Members at the
momentand perhaps next time I am here I will be able to
report progresswe are instituting some new procedures to
deal initially with MPs' official cases, official cases and then
public correspondence cases. I am instituting a monthly performance
report for every division of IND so that I see the extent to which
targets are being reached on replies to correspondence from September
and, as I say, I have got a time limit on clearing the backlog,
initially of MPs' cases and then other cases, and through those
measures I am determined that we will achieve a much higher level
of performance than we have at the moment.
76. We all understand that those dealing with
these matters are overwhelmed and, as you say, files are scattered
all around the country and so indeed are asylum seekers. What
is frustrating is the feeling that many of these letters disappear
into a black hole. If somebody wrote a note back thanking you
for your letter and saying "we have got this problem and
we are working on it", you would know there is somebody out
(Beverley Hughes) I accept that completely and that
is exactly the kind of good practice, together with meeting more
reasonable timescales, that we are interested in.
77. Because you have been so helpful with that
last answer, I will spare you reading out this one where the solicitor
has written eleven times!
(Mr Blunkett) It makes you feel better when you say
it, does it not!
(Beverley Hughes) If I can just say to you, Chairman,
on day two of my time in this post I had to do an adjournment
debate to a Member of Parliament that she had secured because
she had written to IND four times in the previous six months and
I had to get my head round an adjournment debate on her case and
also explain why she had not had a reply. So you can take it from
me that from day two I have been highly exercised with this issue
and I am determined that we will do much much better and reach
an acceptable standard of performance.
78. As a former king of adjournment debates
I have every sympathy with you. Before we move to removals just
one more point on dispersal. It is going to be with us for many
years to come?
(Beverley Hughes) It will be continuing, yes.
79. And actually it has worked more or less?
(Beverley Hughes) It is beginning to work.