TUESDAY 17 SEPTEMBER 2002
Mr Chris Mullin, in the Chair
Memoranda submitted by the Immigration Advisory Service, the Refugee Council and Migrationwatch UK
Examination of Witnesses
MR KEITH BEST, Chief Executive, Immigration Advisory Service, MR NICK HARDWICK, Chief Executive, Refugee Council, SIR ANDREW GREEN KCMG, Chairman, Migrationwatch UK, examined.
(Mr Best) Thank you very much, Chairman. We are a national charity giving a free legal advice and representation service. We, and our predecessor, UKIAS (United Kingdom Immigrants Advisory Service) is certainly well-known to two of your colleagues and has been in existence now for over 30 years. We came into being as a result of the 1969 Immigration Act which was consolidated into the 1971 Act - hence our provenance dating from 1970 - as a result of a specific provision in the Act which gave the Secretary of State the right to give grants to voluntary organisations to assist those with rights of appeal. You will be aware that that was the institution of the present system of appeals, the appeals were put into the tribunals system, for which at that stage you could not get Legal Aid for forensic (?) representation and, as a result, it was felt right that because those affected were likely to be impecunious and not able to afford private legal fees there should be a body to provide that service free of charge, and that service has continued. So the main source of our funds has come from the Home Office. Perhaps somewhat anomalously at the moment, because of course in those days the appeals structure was actually administered by the Home Office and it only subsequently changed over to the Lord Chancellor's Department, there is now a move afoot that our source of funding should move from the Home Office across, probably through the Lord Chancellor's Department, into the Legal Services Commission itself. The other source of our income, which is an increasing one and one in which we are encouraged to look to for growth in the future is the Legal Services Commission itself, by way of not-profit contracts. We now have 16 offices in the United Kingdom, ranging from about three people in the smallest up to 40 or so in the largest. We have got some 60 people in Oakington providing a free legal advice service for those sent there on the so-called "unfounded" cases; we have got one overseas office in Bangladesh and about 300 staff.
(Mr Best) Yes. I cannot give you the exact breakdown now but I would think two-thirds of those are what we would call operational staff. We categorise them in two ways: counsellors who conduct forensic advocacy representing people in the tribunals and, also, advisers whose function is to give the advice but not to go into court. Others are what we call case work assistants and administrative support staff, who are there to provide the typing and other back-up that you might expect.
(Mr Best) That has been as a result of negotiating with the local managers of the Regional Services Commission. We can assess ourselves where the need is and so we then approach the local Regional Services Commission and ask if we can have a not-for-profit contract. I think one cause of concern is that sometimes - I think with the best will in the world - the Legal Services Commission is relying on data, sometimes out-of-date Census data and things like this, in order to try and ascertain the need and we come along and say "But we know the need is greater than you can work out for yourselves because we have got the people on the ground saying they cannot find lawyers", and they come to us and ask us if we can set up, but we are entirely in the hands of the Legal Services Commission as to whether we are given a contract or not there. As I said earlier, it has been made very clear to us by the Home office that we should not look to the Home Office for any increase in funding for expansion for that source.
(Mr Hardwick) I am Nick Hardwick, I am the Chief Executive of the Refugee Council. We are a charity with 150 or so members which range from some of the big international aid agencies, like Oxfam and Save the Children, to smaller, locally based refugee community organisations. Essentially, we do three things: we provide direct support services to individual refugees and asylum services and have, at the moment, a large reception programme. We have a specialist programme for unaccompanied refugee children and we run a training and employment programme. In addition, we also provide second tier services to other organisations which work directly with refugees and asylum seekers, both as voluntary organisations and statutory bodies. Finally, we will try and influence the policy of Governments and others that impact on the lives of refugees and asylum seekers. Our funding comes from a mixture of sources. Our largest funder is the Home Office which currently funds about 60 per cent of our operating costs and, also, provides additional funds for emergency accommodation we provide. Other money comes from the European Union, other government departments and a range of charitable sources, trusts, foundations and individual donors. Our head office is in Vauxhall in a big project based in Brixton and we also have other services in Leeds, Ipswich, Birmingham and in the Oakington Reception Centre. We employ about 400 staff and over 300 volunteers.
(Sir Andrew Green) Chairman, thank you for your invitation to this session. As you say, we are the new boys on the block. We are a voluntary body, nobody is paid. Secondly, we are independent, we have no links with any political party. Thirdly, our objectives, if I may very briefly describe them, are, first of all, to provide the facts about migration in a form that is comprehensible to the public and, indeed, members who are not specialists in this area. Secondly (and, perhaps, at a later stage) to examine the arguments for and against migration, economic and social, which I think there is scope for a debate there. Thirdly, again later, we would hope to provide some suggestions for policy measures, but, after that - and I would like to make this clear - we would regard it as a matter for the political system to look at these ideas and say what they think is sensible and feasible. So the bottom line, Chairman, is that we regard these as very serious issues, ones which of course affect our whole society, ones which have not really been discussed very much for a generation, and we would like to generate a frank, open and serious debate.
(Sir Andrew Green) We thought about that quite carefully. We decided we should not be a membership organisation because of the risk of infiltration, to put it frankly. What we have done is we have said that the public are welcome to donate or subscribe to our documents, which they are doing - very generously, I am glad to say - and that provides the funds we need for what are really very modest needs.
(Sir Andrew Green) Several hundred so far. We only came to public attention a couple of months ago.
(Sir Andrew Green) About eight or ten researchers and our main adviser is Dr David Coleman on things demographic. He is a reader in demography at Oxford University and I believe shortly to be appointed professor.
(Sir Andrew Green) I am the Chairman and founder, yes.
(Sir Andrew Green) Well, accidents of life, Chairman.
(Sir Andrew Green) I was a professional diplomat for 35 years, and in that time I spent about 16 years in the Middle East. The rest was either in London or in Paris or Washington, so hopefully it was a relatively balanced career. My last three jobs were Ambassador in Syria, then after that I was the Under Secretary in charge of the Middle East in London and then, finally, I was the Ambassador in Saudi Arabia until a couple of years ago. To answer your question very briefly, I first came across this issue when I was the Under Secretary in charge of the Middle East and we were seeking to remove from Britain some Islamic extremists - from Saudi Arabia in this case. I can say now, I think, that I was under the personal instructions of the Prime Minister to remove these people. I have to say I spent a great deal of time at a very senior level in government in that effort. Not everybody agreed with it but that is what the Government wanted to do and we failed. We failed because of the complexity of asylum law - something that you know very well. So that drew my attention to the difficulties that we have in this field. It seems to me that a very large number of people have since discovered - 100,000 a year - the nature of that system and that is what at first attracted my interest.
(Mr Best) Thank you, Chairman. Broadly, yes, I would agree with your deduction from that. I appreciate that there are very great political constraints here and I think at the time it was really quite courageous of Barbara Roche the then minister to make these points, knowing that there were going to be some people who would shoot her down on the basis that we were not really wanting to welcome large numbers of people from around the world. The reality is it is a global economy now; people with different skills move around the world with a fair degree of facility, interrupted only by national immigration laws. I think political sensitivities, arguably, the whole area of immigration, nationality and asylum, is a final bastion of the exercise of national sovereignty. I think that is probably why it evokes such emotive reactions. Certainly from our point of view we have welcomed the Government's change of emphasis in immigration, which has moved it away, arguably, from the racist principles of the 1960s. All the Committee will be aware of the Commonwealth Immigration Acts of 1962 and 1968 - a somewhat perfidious period in British history some might feel - but that really informed the immigration debate and immigration policy for the next thirty years, and it is only now that we have seen that change of emphasis towards what is in the best economic and social interests of the country rather than one based upon colour. I appreciate why the Home Office is moving cautiously on that - far more cautiously than I think some people would wish in terms of freeing up the labour market - but it is a welcome change and one that - I am not an economists but from my casual reading of these matters - is well needed in this country. In order to sustain the economic growth we are going to need to have more people coming into this country than can be generated indigenously in order to fill the skills shortages.
(Mr Best) I think you have to separate out those who come here as a result of the initiative of employers. Other than coming as a working holiday-maker, or one or two minor categories, you are still reliant upon an employer making an application for a work permit, you cannot apply yourself overseas for a work permit. That is something that we hope will come along down the line. I think you have to distinguish that, which clearly the Government has considerable control over in terms of how many people it admits under particular categories or whatever, against asylum seekers, where the country is subject to an international convention, of which it is a signatory. Indeed, the right to asylum is enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as well, long before the 1951 Convention came along. To that extent it is really hit and miss; those who seek asylum are not necessarily going to be the ones with the skills that are needed in the UK. I think I ought to hand over to Nick Hardwick because his organisation has done a lot of research into the actual skills base of asylum seekers who do come here, and what that shows is a very great proportion of them do have an enormous number of skills, linguistic ability and such like. Perhaps one of the sad things, in a way, is that the sort of people who get to Britain are very often the ones who have the money to be able to pay the traffickers in order to get here now because it is so difficult to get here in the first place as a result of the increasing restrictions on trying to prevent asylum seekers coming to the United Kingdom, and these are the intelligentsia, the middle classes, they are the ones with the skills who actually get to Britain. Most of the world's refugees, if they are lucky, only get across one international border. Indeed, many of them remain within their own country.
(Mr Hardwick) I agree with what Keith Best has said so I will not repeat it. Our primary concern is with refugees who are forced to leave their own country because of persecution rather than others who make a conscious choice for economic reasons. It has been argued for some time that it is difficult to have a sensible asylum policy and a sensible debate about asylum unless that runs alongside a more sensible approach to immigration and migration as a whole, and we accept the need for immigration controls. What we think is a mistake is to go from that to therefore saying that what those controls should consist of is somehow or other trying to pretend to people that that means letting nobody in. We do not think that in the globalised economy to which you have referred, and also, given the UK's historic links with a number of countries round the world - particularly those which are unstable - the idea that you can somehow or other have zero immigration is achievable. I think it is self-evidently the case, even in the UK, as our population gets older and demographic factors come into play, that there is a need not just for skilled labour but also for unskilled labour as well. If you walk around this area in which we are now, you can see people who are clearly migrants of one sort or another working in coffee bars, working in hotels, doing jobs where there does not seem to be the indigenous labour to do those kinds of things. We think it would be better if that was done in a regulated and transparent way rather than pretend it is not necessary for people to come in, without transparency in the process. If I may just add one point, I think in terms of the economic contribution that refugees bring, I do think that is something that has gone on unremarked, and I do generally think that in terms of the kind of public debate around asylum issues it might be that one of the mistakes the Government is making is in placing restrictions on people's ability to work legally. I do think that if the general public, for the most part, could see asylum seekers and refugees working and paying their way and there was some reference to the reciprocity of what they are doing and what the existing population are doing I think that would ease some of the tensions. I do not think that would act as a pull factor because I think if people were working legally that would be regulated and the Government would know where people are.
(Mr Hardwick) The Government has just, rather unfortunately (from our point of view), changed the rules. Up until recently if you were an asylum seeker and you had not had the initial decision on your claim for six months you could, at that point, apply for permission to work, and that was normally given. The Government has just changed that policy and said they are going to withdraw that concession. So from this point on - it will not be retrospective so people already working will be allowed to continue to work - the Government has said it will no longer make that concession. They have justified that on two grounds: one, they say "It is unnecessary because we are making decisions in six months". Our argument would be, well, if you are making decisions within six months why is it necessary to withdraw the concessions, particularly for those who, in some cases, take longer? They have also said that languishing into work (?) acts as a pull factor. Probably the availability of work in the black economy may act as a pull factor but I do not think working in a regulated way, paying tax and National Insurance, and being, if you like, a visible member of the community would have the deleterious effects the Government thinks.
(Mr Best) Chairman, could I just very briefly add one very short rider. I was visiting Lindholme (?) removal centre last week and the point was made to me very forcefully there, not just about the therapeutic value of allowing people, particularly in detention, to be able to work but, also, the cost to the taxpayer, as a result of this change of policy. They had large numbers of people working in the kitchens and doing the cleaning there - all detainees - which cost, I think, if my memory serves me correctly, something like £29,000 a year. Now the use of contract labour and agency people coming in is escalating that beyond measure.
Bob Russell: Chairman, very briefly, Mr Hardwick has referred to the former Home Office Minister Barbara Roche making her favourable comments and she has now been removed. Are you aware ----
Chairman: Not from the country.
(Mr Hardwick) We are certainly working very hard to do that. I have to say it does not seem to us that we need to actually win that message with the Home Office. One of the interesting things about the latest White Paper was that it made a very eloquent argument about why Britain needs economic migrants. It just failed to follow that up with any practical steps that would enable that to take place. As I understand it, there is a disagreement within Government at quite senior levels about that very issue. We have certainly had meetings with the Department for Work and Pensions, as it now is, and I have met with Beverley Hughes the current Minister to express our concern about the removal of the concession and the way in which it was done - with no consultation and, I think, with no real thought as to the consequences. The other thing, if I might say, is that we have also done opinion polls on public attitudes towards refugees and asylum seekers. As you would expect, on the whole, from our point of view, often that makes pretty depressing reading, but the one thing where the public do seem to agree with us is the idea that people should be allowed to work legally and pay their way. We certainly try to draw attention to that fact. The other point, I think, is if you just look at some of the crucial areas of commercial activity and look at things like the health service, it is quite clear that some of the problems that occur in the health service are due to the shortage of staff. In London, for instance, at the moment, 23 per cent of doctors working in the health service were born abroad and 47 per cent of nurses. If we were to stop that the problems we experience in parts of the service would get much worse. There is a real case to be made about the skills and attributes that these people bring, and that would create a much more balanced argument.
(Sir Andrew Green) Chairman, I can see there is scope for a very good debate here. Apart from the points of detail my colleagues made, I think I disagree with almost every point they make, except for the need to receive genuine refugees and look after them properly. The real difficulty is that these huge numbers are making that very difficult. Chairman, you quite rightly open some wider considerations which my colleagues have commented on, and if I may I would like to put the other side of the argument, in part because there is a very strong other side and in part because at the moment there is no other organisation or body putting those arguments. You mention history. The history of this country is that there has been no significant demographic influx of people until 1950 for about 1,000 years, and the details of that are on our website in a document marked "history". That simply is the fact and Mrs Roche was completely wrong in saying that, and I am surprised she did. Secondly, my colleague here, Mr Best, was I think speaking in favour of more or less open borders, for broad reasons, and that is a view he is perfectly entitled to take, of course. I take a slightly different view because it seems to me that we have rather a small island here. It is the fact that the population density - and this is the point, it is not arrivals per population, it is population density - of England is twice that of Germany, it is four times that of France and it is 12 times that of the United States. In that situation, we estimate that there will be at least 2 million net migration into Britain every ten years for the indefinite future, and it could be more. (I think I will have an opportunity later, Chairman, to explain that.) That is a massive number of people, of whom two-thirds are going to London and the south east, and they are placing a very substantial burden on schools, hospitals, transport and housing - as I am sure Members of Parliament will very well know. I think in that circumstance it is simply not realistic to talk about open borders and how we need people. Opinion polls were mentioned and can I draw your attention, Chairman, to an opinion poll that was commissioned by the Commission for Racial Equality and carried out by Mori, who are well-known. On the very last page of that, if you were to read to the last paragraph of it - and I do not suppose many people have - they say in their report "Among all ethnic groups there is a feeling that there are too many immigrants in Britain. Sixty-one per cent of the overall population agree with this statement as well as 46 per cent of ethnic minority groups." I just mention that as being a factor. It has been suggested, Chairman, that there are labour shortages. As you know, there are 1.5 million people who are unemployed in Britain. That is not a high number, actually it is historically low, but there are a further 4 million whom the Government seeks to move from welfare to work. If there was joined up government we would not be trying to move 4 million people into work and bringing very large numbers of unskilled migrants into the country. It is directly where that bears, because the effect of a large number of unskilled migrants is to depress wage levels for the unskilled. There is no doubt about that; you may have seen a letter to The Financial Times by Lord Layard that made that very point. So they are actually reducing the living standards of the unskilled and reducing the incentive for those whom the Government wants to move into work to do so. The question of pensions was mentioned. Even the Home Office have abandoned that argument, for a very simple reason, that immigrants also grow older. The sheer statistical fact is - and I challenge anyone to deny it because I have first-class advice on this - that to maintain the proportion of population of working age to those who have retired (and that formulation is important) would require over one million immigrants a year until 2050. At that point, of course, our population would have doubled. Again, we would all be getting older and so you would have exactly the same problem but with double the population. So that argument is, frankly, absurd and I have a Home Office document here that recognises that. I think Mr Russell mentioned the contribution of immigrants to the Exchequer.
(Sir Andrew Green) Yes. What she was doing was presenting a paper written by the Home Office. You have to read these papers quite carefully. If you actually look at how that study was done and you look at how they defined the category for the study, they defined it as anyone who was born abroad plus their dependent children. As they say themselves, that is a category of five million people and it includes American bankers, French businessmen, my mother-in-law - five million people. So, quite clearly, that is not the people that we are now talking about who are currently coming into the country. In fact, that argument has no basis. It is suggested that we need more people. The population is not declining, it will not decline for another 20 years (if then because we do not know after 20 years because they have not been born yet), nor is our workforce declining, at least significantly, again for 20 years, partly because women are now working longer. It is suggested that there is a great benefit from this very large-scale migration to our economic growth. The Economist magazine recently - about a month ago, I think - did a study in which they said that the extra economic growth per capita (again, the point that matters - you can fill any country with people and the total will go up) they guessed at about one-eighth of one per cent of GDP per year.
(Sir Andrew Green) May I make two more points?
(Sir Andrew Green) It is suggested that work permits are in some way an answer to the pressures of asylum. That is complete nonsense, for a very, very simple reason; that the top countries that provide the asylum seekers - who have a total population, by the way, of 1.3 billion - are completely different from the ten countries that provide the work permit needed, except for one - China. So to suggest that work permits given to these countries solves the problem with the other countries is clearly absurd. Finally, Chairman - and I will not give you long answers in future but you did cover quite a lot of ground - there was a reference to pull factors and your own Committee, of course, has done a very full study of that. There is a new pull factor and it is an overwhelming pull factor, it is that nine out of ten of the people who set foot in this country manage to stay here - most of them illegally. Now, if you can think of a factor that is going to pull people any more stronger than that, it would be hard to do. So I congratulate you, Chairman, on your decision to look at the question of removals, because if we do not have an effective policy for removals we do not have an effective border control. It is as clear and simple as that, however difficult it may be.
Chairman: Thank you.
(Sir Andrew Green) Would you like me to set out my stall and then let the others shoot at it? How would you like to do it? It is quite a complex question but I can answer it quite precisely.
(Sir Andrew Green) Can I ask the Committee to reach for this document that we have circulated? It is called Bulletin No 7, and there are spare copies if necessary. Let me just say once again that we accept genuine refugees - that is not the issue. However, they are only 10 per cent of the people who come here. Can I call your attention, Chairman, to the second diagram on page 2. This is the Home Office's own projection, and it is published in RDS 67. As you can see it is Figure 3.5. What is shows you is the actual and predicted net migration of non-EU nationals. It is important to explain, in case there is any misunderstanding, that we focus on non-EU because EU nationals have a treaty right to come and go, so that is a wholly different argument, and also because we in Migrationwatch are concerned about the total numbers. The numbers to and from the European Union are more or less in balance, so this is why we picked on this. This actually addressed where we think the problem of numbers lies. It is also important to say that as you see in the heading there we are talking about net migration. That is to say, the number of people who come in minus those who go out in any particular year. Coming to the diagram itself, you will see a dark black line which fluctuates but is generally in an upward direction. The blue line is the one that the Home Office researchers produced. They fit in a curve of the trends of the last 15 years, using, they say, a method based on previous migration and on UK unemployment. You will see that that blue line is rising steadily and, according to them, will hit 180,000 in the year 2005. It is not a terribly good copy but that is what the top point is. You will also see a dotted line and the dotted line we have inserted afterwards because those are the actual data that became available later. You will see the actual flow is already significantly greater than the forecast. So, to summarise, the Home Office's own projection of non-EU net migration is of the order of 180,000 a year and, indeed, the actuals are higher than that. If I can just mention the Government actuaries' forecast, which is different ----
(Sir Andrew Green) I understand that.
(Sir Andrew Green) There are very important points to be understood, of course.
(Sir Andrew Green) I certainly think that. There is also the question of illegal immigration, which I will speak to later.
(Mr Hardwick) I certainly have a dissenting view. I do not think the figures do stand up. I do not want to go into vast amounts of detail but we would not argue that there is net legal migration of the sort of order the Home Office talks about into the country. Frankly, whether it is a little bit more or a little bit less is not the key issue. There is clearly net migration. What I do find difficult is that I do think to some extent the figures are being plucked out of the air. Sir Andrew referred, in his argument, to the idea that if we needed to match and maintain the demographic balance of the population as it is at the moment we would need legal migration of one million people a year.
(Sir Andrew Green) No, no, you have not understood the point.
(Mr Hardwick) You referred, I think, to large numbers of migrants that would be needed to maintain age ratios in the population.
(Mr Hardwick) I think that you used a very large number. No one here has argued that we need to keep that exact number in place. The figure that you quoted was a kind of straw poll. No one is arguing for that. You also referred, which you have done in your briefings, to the 1.3 billion, which is the existing population of the top ten asylum-producing countries. So what? Is it seriously being suggested that all of those 1.3 billion people are going to up sticks and leave? If it is not, why is that figure constantly referred to in your briefings? You referred to the ten per cent of people who are accepted for asylum. Of course, as any cursory examination of the asylum statistics will show, there are figures for people who are subsequently accepted on appeal and you have an acceptance rate of about 50 per cent, and your figures leave out the people who are accepted on appeal. You said that the Home Office figures are suspect because they include people like American bankers. Why are American bankers okay but Sri Lankan bankers not okay? I think you are selective in the information that you use. I think these big figures that keep being repeated are not neutral, they are done to further a pressure group's point of view, which is fair enough, but I do not think it is fair to pretend that somehow or other this is a neutral, objective analysis.
(Mr Hardwick) I would accept the Home Office figures.
(Mr Best) If I may, very briefly, Chairman? Yes, those figures are generally correct, but we believe the whole thing needs to be put in context. First of all, 85 per cent of the 89 million passenger arrivals from outside the common travel area in the year 2000 were from the EU or the EEA, and I think it is important to recognise that the great majority - something like, as I say, 85 per cent or so - of those who come into the United Kingdom are coming from the EEA. Of course, we know that there are a number of countries in Eastern Europe knocking on the door of the European Union as well, who are presently subject to immigration control. That may continue in a transitional period to a certain extent but, at some stage, that immigration control will cease down the line once those countries actually join the European Union. I think the whole debate becomes somewhat sterile not least because of the paucity of statistics on which we can rely effectively, but also looking at people's habits and what they are likely to do. Sir Andrew was making much play of the fact that immigrants coming into this country are going to claim state pensions, without mentioning at all the fact that many people actually choose to go back to their country of origin for the purposes of retirement, or whatever. Not everybody comes to a country, even though they may be adjudged by the figures to be coming for permanent settlement because they have entered for more than a 12-month period, and remain in the country. I think that is something that needs to be taken into account very much when looking at the whole process of what you describe, Chairman, as the kind of new globalisation of migration, where people not only seek to come to a particular country but they leave the country as well. So there is complete movement all the way through.
(Mr Best) I do not think, personally, that this is a level of immigration which is unsustainable. I think it is not one to cause great alarm, bearing in mind the factors that I have mentioned and other matters that come into play. Also, to a certain extent, market forces do play a part. People are hardly likely to want to come to a country where there are no employment prospects. So if there comes a time when employment needs in this country are being met fully by the so-called indigenous population (and I am not sure how you actually define that these days because I suspect even Sir Andrew would agree his family was an immigrant family at some stage down ----
(Sir Andrew Green) It certainly was not, if I may say so, Mr Best.
(Mr Best) Whether we came with the Normans or whatever, we have all come to this country at some stage; it is just a question of when. Looking at those aspects, because of the migration flows, that is not a problem. I think what exercises the general public and is increasingly exercising the Government is the matters that we will come on to discuss, and that is the question of what do you do with the people who remain unlawfully, who remain here illegally or who come into the country illegally. That is a major problem in a civil libertarian society - as to how you actually deal with that, but we will come on to that in a few moments.
(Mr Best) First of all, I do not think anybody would have a great deal of confidence in the concept of strategic planning in a sphere where we are now seeing the fourth major piece of legislation going through Parliament in the space of less than ten years. I am afraid that there are many who consider that that legislation, if it goes on to the statute book in its present form, has certain flaws in it which means Parliament will have to revisit this area again, probably in a very short space of years. I rather hope you might be able to break the tri-annual cycle that seems to have been established since 1993. So I think that is the first problem, that there is a lack of strategic plan. I think, also, really commensurate with that, is that there is now a need for stability. The 1971 Act may have had some difficulties but it did serve the country reasonably well for 30-odd years and people became used to it and they understood it. In this area where one is dealing with people who are, very often, inarticulate in the English language and who do not understand the ways of British bureaucracy, it is particularly important that the law is clear. What we are now dealing with is probably one of the most volatile and one of the most complicated areas of law in the United Kingdom, and it is becoming more and more complicated as governments do knee-jerk reactions to things, very often based upon sometimes a total absence of verifiable research. It is only now that we are beginning to see qualitative research done, for example into matters that were raised earlier on about what motivates people to come to the United Kingdom. What that qualitative research shows - perhaps ten years too late - is that certainly one of the reasons for coming to the United Kingdom was not benefits, and yet the whole policy of vouchers was predicated on the basis of benefits being a pull factor. We saw major pieces of legislation ----
(Sir Andrew Green) Can I come back to your point, Chairman. I think we have had a very important admission here that there is no dispute that the measured migration is of the order of 180,000 a year. That is approaching the 2 million. I think the other point to make to Mr Watson, if I may, is that in addition to these measured migrations - as you know, it is done by survey, so it is people who say they are coming - there are at least two important forms of illegal migrant. We have made very cautious estimates of those in our papers, and I will not repeat those unless you want me to, but that brings in another 60,000. So you are getting on for about a quarter of a million a year, which is the population of the city of Cambridge every six months. If my colleagues here think that that is an acceptable situation ----
(Sir Andrew Green) With pleasure, yes, I think they are important. Can I ask you, please, to look again at this paper. We have dealt with the 180,000. If you would like to turn the page, you will see paragraph 4. I am not here talking about failed asylum seekers; they are already in the 180,000. So there is no double-counting here. I am talking about 4B and 4C. Four B refers to visitors and students of whom, as Mr Best mentioned, very large numbers come into the country. We have taken only those from the third world and Eastern Europe, which are the sources of over-stayers, largely. That number is about 3.5 million every year. What we are saying is - this is not an exact science - that at a rough guess maybe one per cent over-stay. Ninety-nine per cent go home when they should; only one per cent stay. Anybody who knows anything about this field will regard that as a very cautious estimate. That is your 35,000.
(Mr Hardwick) I do not have a view on the numbers of visitors who over-stay.
(Mr Best) We just do not know.
(Sir Andrew Green) I am not saying anyone knows, I am saying one per cent is a very conservative estimate. The other element is those who are undetected when they are smuggled into Britain. According to the White Paper, in the year 2000, 47,000 people were detected - in shorthand - in the back of trucks. The regime of inspection is roughly one in a hundred (I took that from one of Mr Malins' contributions to the House of Commons). So however you look at it the inspection is of a very small number of trucks. What we are saying is that in the other 99 trucks if there are only half as many people as you find in the one truck , that is an incredibly low and cautious estimate. (It is not incredible, it is our figure.)
(Mr Hardwick) No, I certainly do not accept that figure, Chairman, and I think there are two reasons. First of all, of course, this is an example of the double-counting that has gone on, because many of those who are detected legally will subsequently go on and claim asylum, and he has added those two together and very often they are the same individual. Secondly, I think this illustrates the problem that Migrationwatch have plucked this figure - we will take his estimate - of half as many of them again will remain undetected. Why half? Why not 25 per cent? Why not 75 per cent? It is a made up figure. It is an entire guess and you could have picked any figure on the range from 0 to 100 per cent and it would have equally as much legitimacy - it is simply made up. Secondly, the point about the random sample. Again, it is not a random sample, it is specific carriers and trucks who will be targeted. It is not that they just pick one in a hundred, they will have intelligence that enables them to pick. That figure on illegal migration is, I think, the most spurious.
(Mr Hardwick) Yes, but can I slightly quantify that. First of all it seems to me that while I accept there are 180,000 coming in at the moment, I do not necessarily accept that that is a trend which is going to continue. I think my view would be the numbers should be based on the kind of economic sector analysis, which should take a view about what our needs are and base the figures on that, rather than setting some sort of absolute number which could be correct or not.
(Sir Andrew Green) Chairman, can I just be clear? There is no double-counting here. Certainly we are taking a guess at the number of people in trucks who are not found but, of course, if they are not found they do not claim asylum. So there is no double-counting. What we have come to is 180,000 that we all agree on, 35,000 which we say is a cautious estimate, 25,000 which Mr Hardwick thinks is taken off the wall - and, to some extent it is - but you are left with approaching a quarter-of-a-million a year. If anyone in this Committee thinks that that situation continuing indefinitely in this country is sensible and acceptable, I would be very surprised. There is a very great concern - and I get this in my mailbag and I am sure you do - about the whole scale of this. Frankly, I think it would be very irresponsible to suggest, on the basis of economic arguments which are extremely flawed, in my view, but, even if they are not, there are social aspects here, that to have getting on for 250,000 every year coming into this country, I think, is very, very foolish. I very much hope that Parliament will look at this very carefully and very closely.
Chairman: Thank you. I think we have clearly highlighted the differences between the two camps.
(Sir Andrew Green) That is a contradiction in terms. If someone is a legal migrant ----
Mrs Dean: No, legal migrant.
Chairman: We are concentrating on legal, at the moment.
(Sir Andrew Green) I did not say they were legal migrants, I said this is what the survey shows for the total numbers. We do not know - okay, for shorthand call them legal. I think that we are going to have to look again at the whole structure of our immigration regime if we cannot find some way to get at least the illegal immigrants under control. That is a big question and I do not want to be drawn into policy issues. As I said at the beginning, we will make proposals for that in due course.
(Sir Andrew Green) Yes, for the reasons we have just touched on ---
(Sir Andrew Green) Thank you, yes, good answer.
(Sir Andrew Green) As you say, they are part of the Treaty but our problems is numbers, as I have explained, and the numbers are in balance so it is not an issue.
(Sir Andrew Green) They are balanced so it is not an issue.
(Sir Andrew Green) I think that is more a political question. What we would like to do is to put forward to the public the scale and nature of the migration that is taking place. That will throw up exactly the kind of question you ask, Mr Winnick - is this reasonable and sensible? How, as Mrs Dean says, are you going to reduce this if that is what you want to do? It seems to me these are political questions and very sensitive questions.
(Sir Andrew Green) I am trying to stay out of that for a moment and I am trying to get the facts out and then to address the economic arguments, which I think you can see from today's discussion that some of them are pretty flaky. Thirdly, there will be an issue as regards policy, but I am really not ready to speak about that today.
(Sir Andrew Green) No, I do not think so. I think that we have gained a great deal from the migrants that we have already received. You only have to walk down the street to see the variety that has come to our society. I have no difficulty with that and I particularly do not have any difficulty with many of the individuals concerned, who can be absolutely charming or absolutely dreadful like anybody else.
(Sir Andrew Green) One could say perhaps that there is a law of diminishing returns, that we have a lot of variety now, and that you are not going to get all that much more variety from more of the different varieties, but that is perhaps not a very strong point.
(Sir Andrew Green) Let me take the first half of your question. I do not think there is any doubt that the Jewish community, for a start, which was probably the biggest, most significant people before 1950, have made a huge contribution. That is incredibly self-evident.
(Sir Andrew Green) May I just say not "people like me". I do not accept that for a moment. The point I am making now is it is a difference of scale. I believe it the case - and you will know more about this than I do - that in something like 1906 there was a law designed to reduce the number of Jewish people coming to this country.
(Sir Andrew Green) But you are talking about it. So then you could make the argument because the numbers came in at relative low levels that they were accepted and were integrated and made a huge contribution. The problem now - and I do say it is a problem - is that there are very large numbers of people, it is very difficult for society to absorb them and, indeed, some people of that number do not seem particularly to want to integrate in our society. Those are all wider issues and I think they are more for you than me. What I am saying -
(Sir Andrew Green) No question is as simple as that. I think there are advantages and disadvantages, that is the long and the short of it. You can take examples like the Kenyan Asians who have done extraordinarily well and are extremely capable.
(Sir Andrew Green) Probably but again that was only 60,000. We are talking now about four times that, if not five times that, every year. Numbers is an issue; let us not get away from that.
David Winnick: No-one challenges that but you have not answered my question.
Chairman: It may not be the answer that you wish to hear.
David Winnick: He has not answered it at all, or not what I want to hear.
(Sir Andrew Green) This is a rather complex area. The figures produced by the experts include an allowance for asylum seekers and failed asylum seekers. That is how I understand it. The point I was making is 180,000 is one number and the illegals are another. These are illegals we do not know about. We do know about the illegals, which is failed asylum seekers (and last year there were 100,000) and they should be - I hope they are - included in the 180,000 in due course. I hope that is clear. It is very confusing.
Chairman: Both the other witnesses are wishing to add something. I am anxious not to extend this much more because I want to move on to asylum seekers, which is our main interest. Arguments about figures, in my experience, can go on indefinitely. If there are written points you wish to make in response to disputing Sir Andrew's figures, can I ask you to do that because we have now been an hour on figures and I want to move on to asylum seekers. Mr Prosser?
(Mr Hardwick) It was very helpful research and I have to say it bears out our own direct experience of working with refugees and asylum seekers. When you think about it, the idea that people in refugee camps - Somalis in refugee camps in Kenya or Afghan refugees in camps in Pakistan - are deciding upon their destination based on the detailed knowledge of the benefits or otherwise that they might get in the United Kingdom compared with Germany or France is fanciful. Frankly, I find it hard to sit down with the aid of the Internet and work out the different treatment across Europe, so the idea that refugees who are not so equipped can do that in a calculated way is false. I do think a key really important lesson can be learnt from the voucher system. The voucher system was predicated on the basis that people were coming here for the benefits that they could obtain and if you introduced a voucher system people would not come. Whatever else you think about the pros and cons of the voucher system, it comprehensively demolished that point of view. The introduction of the voucher system had no impact at all on the decision of people to come or not to come here. Our view is what makes people decide is, first of all, you need to make a distinction between why people leave their own country. If you look at the top asylum producing countries, they are countries that have been in conflict for decades and the choices that people make (and often they do not have a choice because the traffickers decide for them) are based on historic ties, linguistic ties, and family and community ties. That is why it is very difficult to predict the numbers. A few years ago the big refugee movements arose from the former Yugoslavia. Where did people on the whole go then? To Germany because that is where people had gone as guest workers. At that point it was Germany who had the big crisis. Now international crises have moved on and if you look at what is happening to asylum seekers, the numbers from Afghanistan and Sri Lanka are beginning to fall as the situation there changes and the numbers from Iraq are going up again. No surprise there if you look at what is actually happening. So you have to look at the push factors in terms of what makes people leave their own country. If you look at individual destinations, people make much more human and individual decisions rather than terribly complex economic calculations of benefit. I think Home Office research stated the obvious and I think it is absolutely right.
(Mr Best) I think the research bears out things that we have been saying for some time. I accept that it was a small piece of qualitative research. I think 65 people were interviewed in depth. There were four reasons and they are all reasons of which this country should be very proud. First is language, the fact that for many people around the world the only other language they speak other than their own is English and so therefore they are likely to want to go to an Anglophone country rather than another. The second is the historic links to which Mr Hardwick was referring. It is sad in a way that many of those countries that have generated asylum seekers for reasons of persecution are Commonwealth countries or they are ones which have had historic links with Britain. Again, if you look back at the history of the British Empire, perhaps it is not surprising that so large a part of the world was affected by Britain at some stage. If you are looking to go to another country, the likelihood is that you would want to go if you can to another country where at least some of the institutions are familiar and indeed there are those links with your country. I think a third reason is the existence of settled communities in this country. Again, if you are Somali and you want to come to another country, you are likely to want to go to a country that has got a Somali community in order to provide that kind of community support that is there. It is so important that when people come to a new country they find that degree of support. The last reason is the fact that I believe that Britain still has a reputation abroad of being a fair and just country, one that is careful about the interests of minorities. Indeed, it is arguable that we still have the most effective race relations legislation in the whole of the European Union in this country. I think these are factors which are material to those people who are able to make a choice. Very often I think one must remember that many of these people do not have much choice, particularly if they are put into the hands of traffickers. The traffickers will take them more or less where the traffickers will be able to take them to and they will not have a choice as to where they end up.
(Sir Andrew Green) Yes and I would like to demonstrate that. May I first of all astonish you, Chairman, by saying that I agree with almost everything my colleagues have said about this. If they are genuine refugees, let us accept them, let us look after them. It is the considerable numbers who are not accepted for asylum that are the problem and, of course, there is a distinction, and an important one, between asylum and ELR. The acceptance rate for asylum, including those who succeed on appeal, is 20 per cent over the last nine years and for ELR it is 20 per cent. Those are not people suffering persecution. They are refugees from war and famine which is exactly not covered by the 1951 Convention. If we are talking about asylum, we should be talking strictly about those who qualify. The other 80 per cent do not. If you want to help refugees, and we certainly should it seems to me, you do it much more effectively in refugee camps. At the moment we are spending on asylum seekers as much as on our entire bilateral overseas aid. That kind of money would do real good in the refugee camps whereas here it is just expensive to put people in tower blocks in front of the television doing nothing.
(Sir Andrew Green) The pull factor is the nine out of ten and I would like to show the Committee some figures.
(Sir Andrew Green) Not particularly. I think it is word of mouth and it is existing communities, the English language, the availability of work, the freedom of this country, which is fantastic. If you have lived in the countries I have lived in, you would realise how incredibly lucky we and they are.
(Sir Andrew Green) Absolutely. May I ask if you have got the paper?
(Sir Andrew Green) The latest Home Office statistics reveal in a new section which gives decisions by year of outcome - and that is the third section in the table in front of you - the seriousness of the situation in respect of removals. If you look at the right-hand column and the line that I have marked A, you will see that in the year 2001 there were 126,000 cases decided. If you now look at B, you will see that the total granted asylum and ELR which on appeal was allowed was 41,940, so you take those away. If you look at column C, you will see the number who were removed or voluntarily departed and you take those away. That leaves you with a figure of just under 75,000. All these numbers you have to add 30 per cent to for dependents. That is an under-estimate, of course, because the Home Office only count people who arrive before the first decision. Add your 30 per cent and you have 97,500 people who were refused, after a legal process that costs something like £600 million a year, permission to stay here, but they are still here. That is very nearly the size of the British Army. That seems to me to be a very serious situation.
(Sir Andrew Green) If you have got a nine out of ten chance of staying, it is a major pull factor.
(Sir Andrew Green) Well, it is in front of them.
(Mr Best) I am not sure how Sir Andrew can say they are still here. The fact is we do not know whether they are still here or not.
(Mr Best) It is a fair bet but bear in mind again, Chairman, what I said earlier, the greatest desire for most asylum seekers is to be able to return to their country to live in peace and security there. That only changes once people have been in this country for a substantial length of time, when children start going to school. Where new roots are put down it becomes much more disruptive to then move.
(Sir Andrew Green) But the whole point about this is the courts have found they do not have that problem at home and that they should go back, and they are not being removed.
(Mr Hardwick) Unfortunately, I do not have a copy of the actual figures in front of me, so I am at somewhat of a disadvantage.
(Sir Andrew Green) These are the latest figures.
(Mr Hardwick) First of all, no-one is disputing that there is a significant number of people who are refused asylum who are not returned, and that is an issue that affects the credibility of the system. That is no doubt the case.
(Mr Hardwick) I am not sure I would necessarily accept that. The pull factors are the ones identified. I do not think people have necessarily that kind of knowledge. The other figure that we have talked about ---
(Mr Hardwick) If that were the case and if our removal rates were very different from other European countries, that might well be a pull factor. I do not think you will find our removal rates are significantly different from other EU countries, so I do not necessarily think that is a pull factor. Can I just mention one of the figures that gets lost in this debate. I do not think it is fair to try and say people who gets exceptional leave to remain somehow should not be counted. If you are trying to give a fair picture to the public, which Migrationwatch says it is, it is fair to say these are the numbers of people with refugee status, these are the numbers of people granted exceptional leave to remain on compelling humanitarian grounds, and these are the people who are allowed to stay after their case is considered on appeal, and that comes to about 50 per cent. It depends which year you are speaking about.
(Sir Andrew Green) It is on here. It is 20 per cent and 20 per cent.
(Mr Hardwick) It depends what period you are talking about. 40 per cent/50 per cent. A much higher figure are allowed to stay than is generally given credence to in the immediate political discourse about this. If we want to be accepting refugees then that is an important figure to get over, but that is not one of the figures that Migrationwatch chooses to push.
(Sir Andrew Green) They are questions of fact and the facts are in front of you. I agree with Mr Hardwick that it is important the public understand what the facts are, and the facts are that there are two different categories (and they each have their own reasons for sympathy) and one is 20 per cent, and the other is 20; and the real issue is those who are neither.
(Mr Best) There is a fallacy, if I may say so very briefly, surrounding Sir Andrew's argument and that is the belief that those people who are given a limited right to remain in this country then remain permanently; they do not.
(Mr Best) Those are the voluntary departures that the Home Office know about. Those are where they have sought to take enforcement action and people have gone of their own volition. What we do not know about are the number of people who still go back or leave the country and who are not part of the statistics.
(Mr Best) That is one of the problems we have; we do not have that kind of information.
Chairman: We are now going to move on. Mr Prosser?
(Sir Andrew Green) The Chairman made the point himself.
Mr Prosser: He gave his own view.
(Mr Best) The Committee should be aware, too, of present Home Office policy which is increasingly to grant exceptional leave to remain for only one year and for people to have to apply again for that to be removed, and of course that can be refused. Also there is a provision in the current Bill which will actually remove the right of appeal against the grant of exceptional leave to remain for less than one year.
(Mr Best) This is something we have advocated. In our paper, we submitted to you a little manifesto that we put up for the last General Election in which we advocate not only an independent documentation centre, which is something which has been looked at by the Government, but also an independent body to actually take the decisions. We accept that it is right, indeed it is necessary, that government should set the policy guidelines for immigration and asylum control, that is very important, but the actual administration of that, if done by an independent body such as in Canada, we feel would take a lot of the political heat out of the whole debate, just as (and I have used the analogy before) with interest rates. Every Chancellor in my political lifetime was accused of fixing interest rates for political reasons until that decision was moved across to the Governor of the Bank of England. I have not heard the Governor ever accused of taking it for particular party political reasons. That is an example of how you can take the heat out of an issue and away from the polemics which have unfortunately dominated the debate on this.
(Mr Hardwick) This goes right to the heart of the issue - getting the initial decision right and making the decisions credible so that everyone can be assured that people who need protection are quickly identified and allowed to rebuild their lives and people who do not are also promptly identified and sent back. There is probably not much argument across the spectrum. That is the key to the system. I think that is the key to dealing with the removals process. One of the problems with the way that we have approached this is because of the political controversy around the issue. We have had a) the change in the three-year cycle of policy change which is very difficult, but also the tendency of the Government to go for "big bang" initiatives that sound like they are doing something about it, rather than concentrating on getting those issues right. I think an independent board on the Canadian model by removing some of that day-to-day political controversy would have the effect of stabilising the decision-making and stabilising the process and would have the effect of enabling us to concentrate far more on getting the decision-making right. I agree, focus on the overall political accountability but not subject to the day-to-day political shenanigans.
(Sir Andrew Green) Chairman, this is a responsibility of Government and the Government should do it. Secondly, I do not think it would remove the heat. It certainly has not removed immigration from the political debate in Canada where it is a hot issue. The fact is that numbers are the problem and that people are much more affected or believe themselves to be much more closely affected by this issue than they are by bank rates. Mortgages are a problem but I think this is a much wider issue and I do not see any mileage.
(Sir Andrew Green) I am disagreeing. I do not think it would help. It is the Government's job and they should do it.
(Mr Hardwick) That does cause a problem and often what happens is they try and speed up initial decisions and that merely shifts the blockages later down the system in the appeal process. I believe if you are going to restore credibility to the system, one element is independence. The second element is that each case should be considered substantially at the start of the process. Thirdly, I think we should make sure that people can state their case fully at the beginning by giving them appropriate representation to do that. If those arrangements were in place it would make people much more confident about the outcome of those particular cases, and I think that would remove some of the blockages that now exist to the removal process where that is justified. I am sure you will be aware of the House of Lords Committee which looked at this in detail comprehensively and came to that conclusion. I think they were right to do so.
(Mr Best) The whole area has been riddled with the concept of "more haste less speed" in an attempt whether to make it more difficult for people to claim or to try to speed up the process, as a genuine thought behind it, I know not. What I do know is that very many of the measures designed to try to speed up things have put those seeking their lawful right to claim asylum under enormous pressures and have not worked and have put a bulge in the system, whether it is in the procedure rules for making an application to the immigration appeal tribunal (which ended up, because the tribunal itself could not deal with the applications, all being granted in default) or whether it is trying to submit statement of evidence forms within ten working days when there is no guarantee that you will have access to a free translator or interpreter to help you do it. I have campaigned for a long time to try to get those forms in the language of the applicant. That has been refused. All we have had from the Home Office in response is the guidance notes in different languages. That is a welcome step forward, but it still does not overcome the problem that somebody inarticulate in the English language, probably not even able to write in the English language has to submit a form within ten days. This is against the backdrop of a Government which says it is not necessary for people in those circumstances at that stage to have access to legal advice. What it is doing is making the system more incomprehensible and more difficult to administer and everybody suffers as a result of that, not just the asylum seeker.
(Mr Best) Absolutely, yes I would.
(Mr Best) I think that the ten-day limit can be observed if people have access to proper advice and indeed to those skills that are needed in order to do it, such as translation and interpreting, but until that is done then one would have to look at extending it. Again Mr Prosser was referring to the non-compliance figures, which reached 38 per cent at some stage of people whose claims were not even being properly considered simply because they did not comply with these ridiculous time limits.
(Mr Best) Yes.
(Mr Best) The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has actually said that if you have a high successful appeals figures then there is something wrong with the system. You ought to have a zero successful appeal rate really if you are getting the initial decisions right.
(Mr Hardwick) The answer to the question is yes.
(Mr Hardwick) I would certainly change the deadline.
(Mr Hardwick) What I would like to change is the whole process by which the reception of asylum seekers is managed and how it is integrated with the decision-making process. What we have put forward to the Home Office - and this brings us on to a question of interest - is that asylum seekers should go through a properly individually managed process. If you have that individual case management system, you would set deadlines and time limits, but that can be based on individuals and things could be picked up when things are followed through. I would go for an individually casework managed approach.
(Mr Hardwick) Of course I would set limits but if you are talking about the current system, I would extend them. I would have to take advice on what is the appropriate time.
(Mr Hardwick) They do not marry up very well. This is a flaw in the argument and why we appear a bit schizophrenic on this, I do understand that. What we want to avoid is the constant changes that happen at operational level in terms of what people are doing on the ground, that sort of confusion.
(Mr Hardwick) I understand precisely the point you are making, but I think if it is the case that the current Act is unsuccessful, as many of us fear it will be, and we do go back to the position of trying again, I would suggest at that point we try and learn the lessons of what went wrong. There is no institutional memory in the Home Office. It just seems to make the same mistakes again and again and again. One of the ways of avoiding that in future would be an independent board. My preference would be to be surprised and for the system that the Home Office is now introducing to work perfectly.
(Mr Hardwick) Work better.
(Mr Hardwick) Not get worse. That would do me.
(Mr Best) Very many of these changes have been procedural ones. They have not been ones of primary legislation, they have been experimentation in the Home Office - ideas coming with lack of consultation, as Mr Hardwick was saying a moment or two ago, and being bounced upon the system without thought for the implications of how it will have a knock-on effect. There could be a lot done procedurally without having to change primary legislation.
Chairman: Thank you for that. Mr Malins has some questions about EU harmonisation.
(Mr Best) I think it is essential, Chairman, that that is done, not least because some of the measures that the Home Office are trying to introduce at the present time in the Bill will not work unless that is done. How can you return people to another country even if it is an EU country, that administers the 1951 Convention in a different way according to different norms? We saw recently the problem of the Acmedi family returned to Germany, which we think ought to be a warning shot across the bows of the Home Office as to what is likely to happen if we go down the route of non-suspensive appeals, for example. Germany administers the 1951 Convention in a different way to the United Kingdom.
(Mr Best) Yes, there needs to be harmonisation. What we are ending up with, though, is that very often the EC Draft Directives that are coming out in this field are ones that do have adequate safeguards and are ones that many of us could live with quite happily, but by the time individual ministers have got their hands on it, they are being cut down to such minimum standards that they are not harbouring the safeguards that we would want to see in a common European policy.
(Mr Hardwick) I would also say yes. Clearly it is a good thing to move in that direction. I agree with Keith's analysis. I think some of the proposals coming out of the Commission are quite positive. If we simply go down to the lowest common denominator, it will be a missed opportunity. I would say about a harmonisation process that it is not a panacea. We do not think that is going to solve everything and make the whole system work better right across Europe and make it perfect, but I think it would help
(Sir Andrew Green) I think not if we can avoid it. I think it will be an absolute nightmare. We also need to bear in mind that our whole system is completely different to the European one. We have up until now relied on water's edge controls, that is to say on the border. They are in very serious difficulties at the moment and are perhaps even breaking down, but that is the basis of the system. If we are going to go European, we are going to have to go for ID cards and police powers very much greater than we have now. I am not necessarily against that, but it certainly would follow.
(Sir Andrew Green) That sounds right to me, Chairman. The situation in each European country is so totally different - geographically, the source of migrants and the need for migrants. The birth rate in Italy is 1.1; here it is 1.64. It is a completely different situation. To try to have a harmonised situation, except where it is unavoidable, is a serious mistake.
(Mr Best) I think Sir Andrew may be in error in thinking that such a system would have some kind of quota as to how many people would go to each country. That is not what a harmonised system is about. What it is about is having common standards, having common procedures and having a common definition of the principal instrument which governs these matters; the 1951 Convention. A common immigration policy and non-asylum policy is important for other reasons, bearing in mind that within the European Union there are the Treaty rights, there is the so-called level playing field, and if you are going to avoid asylum shopping, if you are going to avoid some countries in the European Union seeking to get an advantage over others, it seems to me you cannot get away from the inevitability of the concept of having a common policy in both fields.
(Sir Andrew Green) I would agree we should harmonise what we have to harmonise.
(Sir Andrew Green) I will not go into detail.
(Sir Andrew Green) I think probably I would like to have a closer idea of how the 1951 Convention is interpreted. The Germans, I understand, grant asylum to 3 per cent of applicants; we grant to 20 per cent. So that needs to be harmonised. The Germans and French do not accept people who are being persecuted by other groups; they only accept people being persecuted by governments; we accept any kind of persecution.
(Sir Andrew Green) There are a lot of areas like that where it would be sensible to harmonise. Surely the whole experience of the European Union --- perhaps I am biased, but there are some of us who think that the efforts to harmonise across the European Union in many, many fields have been very difficult.
Chairman: Yes, okay, without opening up that can of worms, if you will forgive me, Bridget Prentice has a question on legal advice.
(Mr Best) First of all, they would be receiving what they see as a disinterested assessment of the validity of their claim. However much the Home Office may try to explain to them in an induction centre, which is how the process is proposed to work out, it will be seen to be tainted by those who are being told of it because of its source from the Home Office. It is very true, if I may say so, in immigration applications at posts overseas that the sifting process is done with the best will in the world to try to say to people, "We do not think you have got much of a chance in making an application, therefore do not waste your money", but by the time they had got to the British posts overseas they are committed and they are not going to listen to an entry clearance officer because they almost think it is somebody who "would say that, wouldn't they"? Our experience of dealing with 1,000 or 2,000 people a year in our Selet (?) office is that it is welcomed by the British High Commission in Dakar because people do take our advice as to whether they have got a good case and we do help them get their documentation together and in order so that it makes it easier for the entry clearance officers at the British High Commission then to be able to grant that application. We have also said to people, "Do not waste your money if you do not stand a chance of being successful." That is the importance of disinterested legal advice at an early stage in the asylum process.
(Mr Best) I cannot say it is a 100 per cent success, no. What I can say is that certainly our advent in Selet has been welcomed and fully supported by the British High Commission in Dakar because they see the benefit to them of having a filtration process done by an independent body for many applicants who come to make their application.
(Mr Best) Yes, I do believe it because anybody who has had to deal with the Legal Services Commission, as I do on a daily basis, will know that if you do not apply the merits test correctly they come along and take away your franchise or take away your contract. There is a great deal of auditing being done, quite properly so, on behalf of the taxpayer to make sure that those who are given franchises or given contracts in the not-for-profit field by the Legal Services Commission do apply the merits test as to the validity of the claim and turn people away who do not have a valid claim. I cannot say that has always been the case and I cannot say that that is 100 per cent the case now, I think in the course of time the fact that people now are regulated who are not solicitors will have a marked effect. I think the work that Mr Scampion (?) is doing at the Immigration Services Commission is very welcome indeed. We have to look at the competencies of people and that is a move now that the Legal Services Commission next year will be looking at the procedural compliance requirement but more into the competence and the nature of the advice given as well. So it is not perfect at the moment but it is moving there and it is becoming increasingly obvious that lawyers who seek to string out the process will find themselves not getting any more public funds.
(Mr Best) I do not think I can speculate. All I can say is that the auditing regime of the Legal Services Commission at the present time - and I mentioned how it is going to be tightened up even more next year anyway - coupled with the way in which the Immigration Services Commission is finding its feet and is just about to commence doing auditing itself, is going to have a very marked effect, in my judgment, on the professionalism and responsibility of those giving legal advice.
(Sir Andrew Green) I would like to share Mrs Prentice's scepticism on this. I think we are living in "Alice-in-Wonderland", Chairman. We are spending something of the order of £600 million a year on this process and nine people out of ten are staying anyway. It would be a very good question to ask the Home Office, and they have not given this figure for some time, exactly what this is costing and how it is broken down. They are very reluctant to tell you, but it is of the order of that. It is just money poured down the drain. I just cannot believe what I am hearing here.
(Sir Andrew Green) We have to go back to the drawing board and ask ourselves how nine out ten people can stay.
(Sir Andrew Green) It depends how you put it. I find it very difficult to understand why the taxpayer should pay for people in Bangladesh to fill in their forms. If you look at the joint entry clearance annual review, you will find that the applications for visas instead of going up at five per cent a year as it has done for ten years, it has doubled, and it is now going up at ten per cent a year. What is more, in Islamabad it is up 34 per cent; in Accra 55 per cent; and Madras 24 per cent. How much money ---
(Sir Andrew Green) They have only given one years's figures here so I cannot answer that question.
(Mr Best) Can I just correct Sir Andrew factually on one thing. Our operation in Selet is not funded by the taxpayer. It is funded entirely independently and no taxpayers' money goes into that office. It is an alarming concept that, by analogy, all the legal advice and representation on those who are acquitted in a criminal court is wasted.
(Sir Andrew Green) Just on the question of funds, I am amazed to hear that. I was looking at the annual accounts of the Immigration Advisory Service. 99.99 per cent of their funds come from government sources. The total amount of donations, according to the latest accounts, is £14,000 on £8.5 million.
(Sir Andrew Green) I think you are throwing even more good money after bad.
(Sir Andrew Green) They are there already.
(Sir Andrew Green) Are you talking about visa sections?
(Sir Andrew Green) I was picking up the point of Selet.
(Sir Andrew Green) I do not have a strong view. I just want to re-organise the system.
(Mr Hardwick) I am not a lawyer and I do not have experience of lawyers. I would say from our experience that I would be in favour of early legal advice, provided there was a tough regulatory regime that went with that. Certainly we too have had experience not just of people encouraged to spin their cases out, which I accept sometimes happens, but also we have the other end of the problem where people with perfectly good cases have been incredibly badly advised and not been given an opportunity to put their case properly to begin with. Our view would be an appropriately regulated system, if people have adequate advice the first time so it was clear to them and well-understood and they have had the opportunity to put all the facts relevant to their case right at the start of their process, would reduce delays, both as the process worked its way through, but also at the end, for those people in those circumstances having been properly advised and having had a proper right to appeal and had failed to make their case. Some of the obstacles that now occur in the removal process would be much less severe. I think proper legal advice would speed it up.
Chairman: You are more or less at one on this. Mr Russell on accommodation centres.
(Mr Hardwick) Certainly I think that seems to be the Government's policy. I think when and whether these are going to happen is now looking more and more dubious. As I understand it, as a result of the planning process that now has to be gone through, the first of these is unlikely to open until late 2004. Given the way these things have a way of slipping behind schedule, I would be very surprised if any accommodation centres actually open until 2005.
(Mr Hardwick) Let me make my point on that. The second point is I think it is very clear that these accommodation centres will have 750 people each. Let's say by some miracle they get people through in six months, they are still then looking in total, even by 2005, at less than ten per cent of all asylum seekers going through this system. The idea that they will then somehow be able to construct the other 40 they need in a short space of time is unlikely. The point I want to make is that from our point of view the key issue for the support of asylum seekers is going to be that the dispersal system pretty much as it now is will continue for many years to come. One of the problems I have with the accommodation centres is the huge amounts of political and management energy which is going into setting up something which, frankly, is not going to have that much impact on the overall support of asylum seekers. The key issue from our point of view is making the dispersal system work. Having said that, in principle our problem with the accommodation centres as proposed is that they are too big and in the wrong place. The Home Office has got itself in a muddle over this. When they started they said, "This is a trial. By definition, we are not sure if this is going to work. We are going to try this and see if it works." And suddenly this trial has become an enormous point of principle. Even if you look at the way the trials have progressed so far in the planning stages, the costs and time involved are much greater than originally anticipated. I think they should look at the whole system on that basis. The starting position is let's have these big centres and then decide what we are going do in them. I think they should have done it the other way round and said, "What is the process we want to follow?" How do we best integrate and support the decision-making processes and what infrastructure do we need in order for that?" That is where we are coming to our proposal for much smaller "core and cluster" centres.
(Mr Hardwick) We have put forward a detailed proposal to the Home Office and we are in the process of discussing it with them now. What essentially we are arguing for is what is called a core and cluster model which would be located in diverse areas, so the accommodation units where people live would be much smaller. We have suggested no more than 100 places. You would have a number of these and then you would have central services, including the Home Office functions, located in a central building within reasonable travelling distance of the places where people are actually staying. I would add to that, as I was alluding to earlier, a really clear casework management system so the progress of the individual through both the support system - schools, education and other things - and their progress through the asylum system were managed on a fairly intense basis. Our view is that you can do as that cheaply in terms of running costs, certainly cheaper in terms of capital costs, and certainly more quickly than the Home Office's model.
(Mr Hardwick) To be fair, I do not think it is Utopian because it is based on a number of years of very factual experience and it worked successfully in the Kosovan evacuation programme. To be fair to the Home Office, we are involved in very real and detailed discussions about making that. The Home Secretary has indicated that he is willing to try something along the lines of our model in one of his trials. We are having very practical discussions with them about how it would work on the ground.
(Mr Hardwick) First of all, if you take the current dispersal system, there is no doubt that there are significant problems with the dispersal arrangements as they exist at the moment. I would say the stories of its mass demise have been rather exaggerated. It is a difficult situation but it is not the critical situation that is sometimes described. Our experience on the ground in terms of what happens to people as they get dispersed is that it is slowly beginning to improve, despite the fact there was the very tragic incident in Sunderland the other day. If we look in general, what is happening is local services are beginning to adapt, communities are beginning to form. Just to give a practical example, we see about 40,000 people a year going through the initial part of the system, to begin with very large numbers of those were coming back to us and saying, "It is dreadful, we cannot cope." That return rate of numbers of people coming back has very significantly reduced. The problem within that system is with the mechanics of getting people from A to B through the various applications, large numbers of people are building up in emergency accommodation before they get dispersed. I think that is fixable. The fundamental thing is we have been making two really big mistakes with the dispersal system. The first is they agreed a year ago that to make this work properly they needed to regionalise the system. You cannot run a massive housing programme from offices in Croydon. We said, "What you need to do is get regional managers with authority to take decisions and a proper infrastructure on the ground," so they advise, negotiate with all the other services, so that when you are trying to decide where you are going to place people, you are not deciding that with temporary staff in Croydon but deciding it with people in Sunderland or in Birmingham or wherever who have got a knowledge of the situation and of the working of the links. The second thing is they have to recognise that what they are running here is a housing programme. It seems to me extraordinary that nowhere in that of which I am aware is there anyone who has a housing background. It is a matter of very good people doing their best and working incredibly hard, but constantly reinventing the wheel. I think there are some management fixes that could be put into the dispersal system which would resolve the current difficulties. I would appeal to politicians to focus on that, not this five year distant pipe dream of the accommodation centres.
(Mr Hardwick) I am trying to be very specific about what I am saying. I think there are problems in dispersal, but I am saying I do not think they are as critical as sometimes they are painted. On the accommodation centres, we are having detailed discussions about our model with them, but they know and we have pointed out our reservations about the feasibility and "in principle" problems with the accommodation centres. They have talked about taking that on. What we are saying is that whatever happens in the accommodation centre-type model, you are stuck with dispersal for a number of years to come. There are problems and these problems can be overcome, but you need to learn from experience, and some of the things we are suggesting, which the Home Office seem to accept take a long time to do, would go a long way to resolving some of the current difficulties.
(Mr Best) No.
(Mr Hardwick) I do not think it will have any impact on the numbers of people coming here.
(Mr Best) If potential asylum seekers were also to read Hansard in the Lords to see what Lord Filkin is saying about accommodation centres, it might be regarded as being a positive draw because they have been billed as having so many facilities and such a wonderful nature that, if anything, it could only be seen as an incentive.
(Sir Andrew Green) Yes, because I think it brings us back to this question of removal, and the failure to remove crucially undermines the Government's policy in its two main elements. One is accommodation centres and I would entirely agree with what Mr Hardwick says about those. The other is speeding up the judicial process. If nine out of ten are going to stay anyway, you can fiddle around with accommodation centres or whatever you like, but the Government's policy is shot out of the water.
(Sir Andrew Green) The point follows. Because people can leave the accommodation centre if they think the case is going against them, it does nothing to help deal with the removal question, which is crucial.
(Mr Hardwick) On this particular point, one of the flaws in the Government's proposals for accommadation centres is they have not worked out how people are going to leave, either they be properly ejected in terms of being removed, or finding a place for those who are accepted to go. The experience on the Continent is that these things have silted up and very soon you are back into the same problem you were before. That is what is going to happen.
(Mr Best) Sadly, it is not universal. There is general goodwill towards the idea of reception centres, but this is an example where the Government is flying in the face of not only all the excellent evidence from the Continent but also flying in the face of its own research department.
Chairman: Moving on to detention because I want to spend more time on how we deal with removal, Mrs Watkinson?
(Mr Best) Our understanding is that it is not working at all. I think you are referring to expedited appeals. This was an idea that was bounced out at the end of July, as I recall, and I think both the Refugee Legal Centre and ourselves were expected to somehow provide legal representation to people who were leaving Oakington, had had their cases certified, and who were put in Harmondsworth Removals Centre for their appeals to be listed in not less than six and not more than eight days. The evidence so far is anecdotal but what I can say from that evidence is that it is not working at all. We had one case of a certified woman who was sent to Harmondsworth and who was immediately sent on to Tinsley House (?) near Gatwick, so of course the whole thing fell to pieces. Neither the Refugee Legal Centre nor ourselves felt within that time-frame which was being proposed, because this was going to start on 19 August (and this was only announced by way of written Parliamentary Answer by the House of Lords in the recess at the end of July) we could not possibly expect all our caseworkers to drop their existing court commitments and suddenly concentrate on what we were told was likely to be ten cases a day. I am afraid it encapsulates some of the things we have being saying already here today. It is another little piece of experimentation coming from nowhere, not based on any proper consultation or any proper research as to what the applications are, and I am afraid from that point of view are therefore destined to fail.
(Mr Best) Yes, certainly, it implies a period of maybe some weeks before that happens, but the whole point is that the adjudicators want to have cases represented before them because that helps them come to a decision. Obviously in criminal jurisdiction - and I know Mr Malins is very familiar with this - if you have people who are represented, then the administration of justice goes much more smoothly and that is true in the immigration and asylum field. The problem is that when you start trying to list these cases very rapidly, there is little chance of having a proper representative. It is very true now in Oakington cases where cases are listed within four weeks of people being dispersed, they will have got very good, competent legal advice in Oakington from the Refugee Legal Centre and ourselves. If we cannot deal with those cases in the areas of dispersal, and very often we cannot because we do not have the resources to do so, we have to try to refer those on to other lawyers. Some of those lawyers cannot see people for a first interview until after the date of the hearing.
(Mr Hardwick) As Mr Best has said, our difficulty in this is much more the point of principle here. We do not think people should be detained unless there is evidence that they have committed a crime or are likely to abscond which will stand up in front of a court. We think it is a shame that the Government is to repeal part of the 1999 Act.
(Mr Hardwick) That is right.
(Mr Best) We endorse that. We cannot understand why the Government, first of all, has put Part II into the 1999 Act, presumably on legal advice that this was a necessary measure, and then never implemented it, and is now seeking to abolish it altogether when that abolition includes something which had universal assent at the time of the 1999 Act, and that is the presumption of liberty. At the moment immigration detainees do not have a presumption of liberty. They are treated worse than those who are caught with their hands in the till in Woolworth's.
(Sir Andrew Green) I will not go into the detail, Chairman, because I think there is a risk of getting lost in it. I would only say that if we cannot construct an effective removals policy then we do not have an effective border control. It is all very well making all these arguments, and I accept that they do have some merit, but we have to keep the policy issue in mind. If we cannot stop very large numbers of people coming into this country one way or another, and if we cannot remove them, then what has happened to our border control?
(Mr Hardwick) Where there is evidence that he has committed a crime or there is a danger of absconding that will stand up in court.
Chairman: We all agree about that, do we not?
(Mr Hardwick) I am not familiar with the details of the individual situation.
(Mr Hardwick) In principle, it illustrates the point that a non-suspensive appeal is no appeal in reality. The rigmarole that we have had to go through in the current case in order for the appeal to be heard illustrates the difficulty of non-suspensive appeals. A very serious example of this was when this case could apply, for instance, to nationals in Zimbabwe and there have been country assessments in Zimbabwe and people being sent back there where they would be at real risk. Independent legal advice, good decision making and a suspensive right of appeal seems to me are quite the critical elements of a credible system.
(Mr Best) We feel that non-suspensive appeals are likely to lead to a very great number of challenges by way of judicial review, which we have just seen with the Ahmadi case, but also that they are unworkable at the present time, and I think the Home Office would accept this. My understanding is that there are only bilateral agreements at present with Iceland and Norway and in the absence of bilateral agreements you are not going to be able to send people back to a third country because they will not accept them. Then the very concept that people can have access to legal risk and exercise a statutory right of appeal from abroad becomes almost risible when you think that the most telling evidence that needs to be given is by the appellant him or herself. Most of these cases hang on the credibility of the applicant. How does a person from abroad give evidence in front of an adjudicator? It cannot be done.
(Sir Andrew Green) I do not think we can beat the Home Office over the head every time they try to do something that looks broadly sensible. The legal system seems to me to be in a complete muddle. It is a total log jam. All the points being made are perfectly fair within that system, but I suspect that we are going to have to have an entirely different approach to the legal structure if we are to get to a situation where we can control our borders.
(Mr Best) And which it is proposed should not be subject to any judicial scrutiny.
(Sir Andrew Green) How many times do you go on scrutinising?
(Mr Best) I think it is a matter well understood by Parliamentarians as to whether it is right that the executive should not be subject to any kind of judicial scrutiny, because my understanding is if you go down that route it is a short route to tyranny.
(Sir Andrew Green) I do not think it is worth a comment, Chairman.
Chairman: In that case we will move on to illegal immigration and the mechanisms that deal with those who disappear.
(Mr Best) I agree. I think it is probably the biggest cause of concern to the general public. I do not think that the numbers necessarily are a matter of concern if people feel they are being dealt with properly, in a way that ensures justice at the end of that process, and then those who are not entitled to remain lawfully in the country go. Our view all along has been that if you are going to be effective in what I described earlier as a civil libertarian country where you do not want the gendarmes going round on motorbikes collecting the hotel registration of everyone as in The Day of the Jackal or something like that because people will start to resent that kind of intrusion on their civil liberties and it would have to apply to a large number of people, then the only way you effectively do that is by the carrot rather than the stick. You have to ensure that you do not get a complete circular flow of refused asylum seekers who go back to their country, discover there is nothing there waiting for them, and then get on the back of the next truck to come back to this country, which is certainly the experience of Pakistan. Two years ago I was in the United Nations High Commission as the (?) representative in Islamabad there and there they gave Afghan refugees a bag of grain, a plastic tarpaulin and $100 in cash at the time, took them to the border and the Afghans went back into Afghanistan, found there was nothing in their villages (which had been razed to the ground) and they just came straight back across the border.
(Mr Hardwick) Yes I do.
(Mr Hardwick) I think there are two things that they could do. The first goes back to what we were talking about before. I think the key to successful removal is not the enforcement part at the end of the process, it is getting the decision right and being seen to get decision right at the beginning. We have covered that ground before. I might talk about unenforced removals a bit more, although let me say I would accept that enforced removals will be necessary as well. In terms of voluntary removals, I do not think up to now the Home Office has done nearly enough to encourage those. In our day-to-day experience there are people who would return but who do need advice and assistance about the practicalities.
Chairman: Can we come to that in a moment. We have got some questions on that.
(Sir Andrew Green) I think they have appealed that.
(Sir Andrew Green) I will not talk about that particular case, but it is very delicate and we cannot have people hiding in mosques and people breaking into them every day of the week. That is extremely unfortunate. May I just point out that over the last nine years the total number of people who have failed all the tests but not been removed is about 335,000, nearly a third of a million, so this is a situation that has been allowed to drift by successive governments. That is, firstly, very unfortunate. Secondly, the Home Office must have known that there were going to be vastly greater numbers of people to be removed. If you look at the table I gave you, the number of decisions have shot up but clearly the resources devoted to removals have not. The removals are more or less at the same level. That seems to me to be a lack of foresight and a lack of management and I suspect also a lack of political view. There is nobody like we new boys on the block pointing out what these numbers are and what is involved. I should also make the point that where the Home Office claim voluntary departure, there is no check made that they have actually left the country. That may seem surprising, but the fact is that somebody signs a form to say they have given up their claim but nobody checks they have gone out of the country, so even the 10,000 the Home Office claim are doubtful. We asked how many are actually forced removals and how many are voluntary and they did not know.
(Sir Andrew Green) That is right. Also the decisions are six times as many from 23,000 to 126,000.
(Sir Andrew Green) I am not saying they have not gone up. I am saying that they should have had the foresight.
(Mr Best) Could I make the point, and members of the Committee will have read the Home Office submission, about the problem of trying to remove undocumented asylum seekers, whether they are failed or not. It is an enormous problem. There are two documents that are used for undocumented asylum seekers. One is the EU letter used by EU Member States, but the number of countries which will not accept that letter has now increased over the past two years and numbers about 28. The other is the Chicago Convention travel document and again many countries are failing to live by their obligations under that travel document. It is a major problem. Whether by choice or by happenstance people are undocumented, it is very difficult to make them go back. I come back to the point I made right at the very beginning, and that is the only effective way to get people to leave the country, whether it is from not having too intrusive an intrusion on civil liberties of those resident here or whether it is to deal with undocumented asylum seekers whom we cannot remove anyway, is to give people incentives and assistance to re-settle back in their country of origin. That is the only effective route by which we are going to see increasing numbers of people leaving this country and hopefully enjoying a better life in a more secure environment back in the country of origin, which is where most of them want to be.
(Mr Best) This is something that I raised many years ago with the previous Government. As you know, it is different in places like Australia where they do physically count people now. I accept that the sheer volume of numbers in this country would make it very difficult if you applied it to all. I mentioned earlier that 85 per cent of those 89 million visitors are from people within the EEA. If you applied the process of counting people in and out, as is done in other countries to those who are not EEA citizens, then it seems to me that is a perfectly manageable proportion with modern technology to be able to do that. At least it would mean that you as Committee and others interested in these matters would be able to point with certainty to statistics saying that we know so many people have over-stayed in this country because we know Mrs Smith, Mr Bloggs and whoever have left because they came in but they have not been signed out as it were.
(Mr Best) I would like to see that happen.
(Mr Hardwick) I agree with that. In terms of the problem, I think the length of the decision-making process is part of the issue. I also think what happens to people at the end, those people who cannot be returned, is a factor on its own. If I can give you a current example, one of the issues that we are dealing with at the moment is Iraqi Kurds whose asylum status has been finally refused. Leaving aside any questions about the quality or otherwise of that decision, let us assume for the sake of argument that some of those have been properly refused and are economic migrants, there is no possibility in the short term of them going back to Iraq; it is simply not possible. So what happens to them? They were in accommodation; they have been thrown out of that; they are not entitled to any assistance to live on; they cannot go back, so to live they have to find some friends or community with whom they can stay and they have to find some way of keeping body and soul together. Those people are lumped into this is a group of people who have wilfully gone into hiding and gone underground. That is not the case at all. People are desperate for assistance, they are desperate to stay in the system, but they have been forced out of it. There are other examples I could counter. I think sometimes the Government's own programme of tough legislative action gets in the way. Surely if they cannot be returned - and everybody accepts that Iraqi Kurds cannot be returned - their stay here should be legitimised so there will be a process by which you could know where they were.
David Winnick: Sir Andrew, I will avoid asking you that question because you may be rather sensitive on that.
Chairman: Let him respond to the point you were making.
(Sir Andrew Green) It is all of the above. I do not want to over-simplify the problem. Mr Hardwick is quite right to say that there are different problems affecting different people. I entirely agree with my colleagues that we should be counting non-EU citizens out. It was a terrible mistake by the previous Government to remove that. It is an invitation to any student or visitor to over-stay undetected. It was a ridiculous decision and the quicker it is reversed the better. As regards voluntary returns, I think there is a lot in what Mr Best says. It does have to be looked at. Again, we have to be careful. If you look at an Afghan coming to Britain he now has three options. Option one is to get on the back of the truck, come here undetected and work. Option two, if you are detected , is you claim asylum and you are here for some considerable time if not indefinitely. Option three, if you do not like that, you can go to the British Government and collect a sum of money that could be quite useful and go back to Afghanistan. That package is a pretty good pull factor. I do not like generalising but if, as Mr Hardwick suggests, people who cannot be returned are then allowed to be made legal, the pull factor will be astronomical.
(Sir Andrew Green) I think my answer is yes that is part of the problem. Again, people do not understand the scale or the nature of this. When they do there will be more interest in it and more activity from the Home Office.
(Mr Hardwick) Can I just pick up one point Andrew is making because he is in danger of damaging the voluntary return programme, which I think is successful. The idea that an Afghan would pay out however many thousands it is to a trafficker, would spend six months in transit to come here to pick up the return package is fanciful and should be dismissed.
(Sir Andrew Green) I am not saying that.
(Sir Andrew Green) My understanding is it was happening as a matter of course. It was intended to be a saving and I think there were some arguments about its effectiveness, but the issue is one of deterrence really. All these communities know that if they come as a student or visitor no-one checks their departure.
Chairman: Thank you for that. Mrs Prentice is going to ask some key questions about removals.
(Mr Best) The presupposition is - and I am not sure whether it has yet been proved beyond peradventure - the fact that you can remain in this country unlawfully is a pull factor, so then of course it must be that if you could effectively remove those who did not have lawful entitlement to remain, accepting all the caveats you have put before, that must be a disincentive if people are motivated to come to the United Kingdom for that reason. I think it is also a question of public confidence in the system because again I acknowledged earlier that probably the thing that exercises most members of the public in this field is this problem, as they see it and indeed as is perceived to be by the media, of a failure to remove those who no longer have a lawful entitlement to remain.
(Sir Andrew Green) Which it is.
(Mr Best) I think it was a blunderbuss in the foot, I have to say. To come up with a figure of 30,000, which Mr Jack Straw did when he was Home Secretary, and to have that slightly changed by Mr David Blunkett into 2,500 a month where you end up with the same figure which has now been dropped, as I understand it, pending looking at new targets (t the moment the only target is to remove as many as possible) I think it is better for the government and the general public not to be led down a false trail on this one and for people to see the government using its resources effectively in trying to rehabilitate people back in their country of origin, without saying what those targets should be. It seems to me targets are entirely meaningless in this because it pre-supposes that you have got a constant flow-through of people and that the percentages of success and failure are going to remain constant as well, which of course they do not. The world is changing all the time. The profile of asylum seekers is changing all the time. It could be remarkably different in three or four years' time to what it is now. How can you possibly have targets even for a year let alone for longer which are meaningful against that background? You cannot.
(Mr Hardwick) I think it is very important that asylum seekers know and have confidence in what will happen to them when they come through the system and they know that if they have been persecuted they will be allowed to stay and if they have not there is a good chance they will be properly ejected and returned. People are shelling out a lot of money to get here and if they are unlikely to be allowed to stay that will act as a disincentive. I agree with Keith Best that it is also important for public confidence in the system. In order for that to happen, it is about getting the decision making right. I think these big measures that have been announced about accommodation centres actually miss the point. What the Home Secretary should be doing is focusing like a laser on the decision-making process, getting those done quickly and fairly, so those people who are rejected can be quickly and properly returned and those who are not can properly rebuild their lives and stay. That is the key issue and we keep missing the point.
(Sir Andrew Green) I rather agree with that last remark. I think the question of public confidence is important. Both Mr Best and Mr Hardwick have referred to it. In this latest set of statistics which you have in front of you, if you look at the figures you will see that 100,000 people in one year remained illegally. Here is what the Minister said in announcing the figures: "The statistics present a mixed picture ..." She goes on to say: "Funding from the Spending Review 2000 has resulted in a much improved end-to-end process with greater management and control of our asylum system." It does not seem to me that is a statement which accurately reflects the true picture behind these statistics.
(Mr Hardwick) For some of the reasons that we have already discussed, such as the length of time. There are very practical difficulties that the Home Office has set out in its memorandum. To go back to the point the Committee made earlier, the point is here is not perfection. The point is can we improve in significant ways on performance as it is at the moment? And yes, I think we can, but only if we keep focused and only if we stop changing the system every three years and only if we concentrate on the right things and not get distracted. Even then, there will be people who cannot get back, and that has to be accepted.
(Mr Hardwick) Non-asylum cases are a bit outside my field.
(Sir Andrew Green) The Home Office paper did say they have internal targets but they do not say what they are. Their statistics indicate that they remove about 5,000 cases a year which are non-asylum cases. As we discussed earlier, nobody knows how many non-asylum cases there are. I believe the effort is directed at asylum cases because that is where the public concern is and the non-asylum cases are somewhat left to one side. If we really think that there are only 5,000 a year of visitors, students and others who ought to be removed then clearly it is unlikely to be as small as that.
(Mr Best) The whole immigration non-asylum field, sadly, has been treated as a poor cousin over the years and the whole thing has been dominated by the asylum issue, and that is why we are so concerned, as we have put in our memorandum, about the absence in the current Bill, for example, of setting meaningful targets for the Home Office in the non-asylum cases. There are students who are losing irrevocably a whole year of their academic life purely because of bureaucratic delays. There are relatives dying before they are able to join their loved ones in the country because of bureaucratic delays, even when ultimately they would have been successful. These are serious problems of how we as a country treat human beings who are not only seeking to come to this country but British residents in this country as well who are affected by those decisions. It seems to us that really we need to see much more from the Government about having meaningful targets in the non-asylum field as well. At the moment, as you will have seen from our memorandum, there is a paucity of those. There are targets but they are not monitorable. Nobody is keeping tags on it.
(Sir Andrew Green) We ought to be fair to the Home Office on this. The fact is they are overwhelmed by huge numbers of applications mainly for asylum, the majority of which are not genuine. So they do have limits and, as Mr Best said, it is the perfectly genuine cases, including refugee cases that are genuine, that are suffering from these huge numbers. We have to find some means of deterring them. The latest figures from UNHCR show Europe as a whole down by 1 per cent but up by eight per in the United Kingdom So any deterrent effect that these measures or the prospect that these measures could be thought to have has clearly not come through, to put it mildly.
(Mr Best) We have never understood why there is not a fast track to identify those who are likely to be able to remain in this country, and why people have to wait for months, even though the timescale is coming down, to be told whether their refugee status has been established, rather than if we know they are from a particular country to which you cannot remove people at the present time at least put them out of their misery at an early stage and say, "We are going to give you exceptional leave to remain and it will take a little longer to process your asylum claim." That seems to me to be one of the most basic things that could have been done, and indeed my understanding is that it is done in Canada but is not done here.
(Mr Best) I think it will depend on the individual circumstances and the country to which people are going back. I share Nick Hardwick's view about the individually tailored casework to people. One of the problems is the whole debate has been dominated by statistical matters rather than issues of human concern to individuals. If you are trying to send somebody back to Afghanistan, for example, one of the first things you have got to do is have an agency on the ground to find them accommodation away from the area of persecution and, secondly, you have got to help these people either back into employment or into self-employment even if that means giving them a sum of money to buy a plot of land or something like that, to be able to do that to ensure that when people get back to the country of origin it is going to be a permanent situation.
(Mr Best) That is why I say it has got to be tailored to the individual and clearly there will be certain persons who are targeted more. If you look at the figures, and I think this is central to what Sir Andrew was saying, consistently month after month there have been four or five nationalities dominating numerically those who are seeking asylum. It comes as no surprise - they are certainly not top of the holiday travel list - so people certainly understand why people are coming from those countries. If your desire is to enable as many people as possible from those countries to return, who numerically would represent the largest number, then you would clearly concentrate on those countries like Afghanistan and now particularly Sri Lanka of course where there is now quite a considerable move of people going back to Sri Lanka.
(Mr Best) First of all, we do not know how many, but let's take Sir Andrew's speculative figures of a large number of over-stayers in this country who have lost all contact with the Home Office. The Home Office do not know where they are and they do not know how to find them without putting disproportionate resources into trying to achieve that. That is one of the biggest problems and it is arguably those people who cause the greatest offence to the casual observers who are allowed to remain rather than those who have recently over-stayed. So that is one problem and it seems to us that much greater use could have been made of reporting, for example, to keep in touch with people over a longer period than may have been done in the past. But, secondly, there is the question of people who are complying with the requirements of the Home Office who without being warned that removal is going to take place immediately are one day removed when they turn up for reporting. That is not only going to cause resentment and misery, it is also going to mean that people, once the message gets out, will fail to observe the reporting. So it becomes a self-defeating mechanism and we have now got a very large number of examples, some of them referred to me by members of the general public who are appalled at what is going on of people abiding by Home Office requirements to report regularly and then one day getting removed. I will give you an example of a Rumanian woman only two or three weeks ago who was working, helping elderly people, lawfully, the Home Office having allowed her to work, and she turned up one day to report and they said, "We are taking you into detention, you are going to be removed tomorrow, you can make one phone call on your mobile phone and then it is being confiscated." She was then taken to Harmondsworth and the next day she was removed. The landlord no doubt wondered why his tenant had done a bunk, no doubt wondered why all her personal possessions were left there because she was given no chance to collect them whatsoever, and I suspect that a few old ladies wondered what had happened to the care that was due to them that day because she did not turn up for it.
(Sir Andrew Green) The first point is the point you make, if you warn them they will abscond.
(Mr Best) That is not proven.
(Sir Andrew Green) They are likely to. I think Mr Best has a point on the humane aspect, people who have been here for some time and put roots down. The actual circumstances are appalling like the ones he mentioned. There are two things. One is to deter or dissuade people from coming here and to have a system that works including a removals system, and the other is to have a rapid turnaround, so you sort people out and move them on. Frankly, I do not believe that the present legal system is capable of that. I think that most of the evidence that we have heard today, and you must have heard a thousand times, indicates that it is just not workable.
(Mr Hardwick) Can I comment quickly on that. One new factor in this matter is the Home Office introduction of an asylum registration card and registration requirement for introducing new asylum seekers and it does seem to me that if the Home Office can show that somebody has kept regularly in touch with them, has abided by all the rules it would be perverse at that stage to ---
(Mr Hardwick) From my own day-to-day practical experience I would say that any idea that all these people going into hiding is misplaced. It is very often the case that the Home Office lose them and force them out of the system. I am certainly aware of cases where people have come to us and said, "Look, I keep writing to the Home Office with my new address. They keep writing to my old address. I am going to get into terrible trouble. Can you do something?" I think the absconding problem is over-stated at times.
(Sir Andrew Green) I think that is an extremely good question, if I may say so, and I think you also have to pose the converse. If the Government cannot remove very large numbers of people who have no right to be here, firstly, that is wrong in principle; secondly, it would be very unacceptable to a large number of people; and, thirdly, it is a huge pull factor for more people to come. What you are looking at or may be looking at is a progressive loss of control of your borders. I think we have seen the start of that. That seems to me a very serious matter. It leads me to the view that I have just expressed that the legal framework that we have is hopelessly out of date and is based on a Convention that is irrelevant to the present day and needs a complete revision.
(Mr Hardwick) I would answer that differently. If you are saying can you completely eradicate the problem; no. But can you substantially improve on its performance; yes. I would stress again that the answer is not simply to focus on the enforcement end of the pipeline but also to focus at the beginning of the decision making and making sure that is done better and more quickly than happens at the moment. If there is sustained attention given to that, the numbers of removals will in time increase.
(Mr Hardwick) My view is that the target should be, if people have been properly removed after a fair process, all of them. That is what we should be aiming for. In time we should work towards delivering that level of integrity into the system. Obviously it is easier to remove people if you have made the decisions more quickly than if you have made them slowly. It is clearly going to be a problem in terms of a backlog, but we can avoid the problem reoccurring and restore confidence to the system.
(Mr Best) The 1951 Convention is a remarkable document which is largely as relevant today as it was over 50 years ago, and its durability and its effectiveness is demonstrated by the number of people who are successful in claiming asylum. Sadly, it is a function of what is happening in the rest of the world that so many need to do so. As far as the integrity of the system is concerned, that is what we are really talking about. If the integrity of the system means that people can see a beginning-to-end process whereby people claim asylum and if they fail then they go, then I see no reason why you cannot start that process along the lines of what we have been suggesting, using what I described somewhat crudely as the carrot rather than the stick. I do not know if the Home Office has a special line to the Treasury. What I can say is that in my experience of working in the skill for over nine years, I have seen a very large sum of money thrown almost indiscriminately at certain aspects which have subsequently failed. I think that money could have been much better spent in a comprehensive and cohesive way. This is one of the areas where money could be spent more effectively. It seems to me it is a matter not for us but for you because it comes down to a question of political will. If this is perceived to be a sufficient problem exercising the British public such as for there to be a need to take action, then action and money will take place.
(Sir Andrew Green) I would do what the Prime Minister was trying to do, which is lean on them. He has not leant hard enough.
(Sir Andrew Green) That is correct. It is both, of course. Chairman, I think time will tell. I do not disagree with Mr Hardwick. We have got a system; let's see if we can make it work. It is not working and the key issue, which Mr Best touched on just now, is public confidence. If we do not get this system straight and get people out of the country that have no right to be here, we will simply lose public confidence.
(Sir Andrew Green) I think it needs to be considered at least on an individual country basis, as Mr Best says. The fact is successive governments have allowed this to fall into a shambles.
(Sir Andrew Green) If that was achieving it without adding to the pull factor, then do it. It is much better for them and much better for us.
(Mr Hardwick) I do not think it is simply a question of money. I was with a parliamentary delegation that went to Kosovo after the evacuation and they did get a grant and it is very interesting for whom that return has been successful and for whom it has not. If you were young and you spoke English and had some IT skills, then you could make a go of it. If you were older, you did not speak English and you did not have IT skills, it is incredibly difficult to survive. There are older people who are living in absolute poverty. One of the things we can do is think about ways in which we can use the time which people do spend here more productively so that if they do go back they have skills and the means of supporting themselves back in their own country.
(Mr Hardwick) Of course, there are differences. Given that most asylum seekers are going to be young, there is lots more you can do to give them a grounding of the skills whereby if they are accepted as refugees and taken in they can use them as a base to do things here, and if they do go back, they have got a basic set of skills that might improve their economic circumstances there. I think it is in our interests to do that.
(Mr Best) I agree with that entirely. This is why it is so short-sighted not allowing people to work and improve their skills, and not educating people and helping people into new skills here. Whether they are going to stay permanently or whether they are going to have to go, it is to everybody's advantage that that happens.
(Sir Andrew Green) Yes but, again, it turns on removals. If you do not have removals, this is another incentive for people to come.
(Sir Andrew Green) Thank you for chairing it so effectively, if I may say so.
Chairman: Thank you very much for coming.