Examination of Witnesses (Questions 120-134)|
WOOLAS MP AND
20 NOVEMBER 2008
Q120 Mrs Cryer: Ms Homer, can we
ask you about the backlog of older cases. At the beginning of
the year, about May, you suggested that you anticipated you would
have cleared 100,000 of the backlog of older cases by the end
of the summer. Has this happened?
Ms Homer: Yes. Just to update
you more fully, I think it was 90,000 when I last wrote and the
figure has now reached 130,000.
Q121 Chairman: The concern of this
Committee, of course, is the length of time it takes to deal with
these cases. All of us have constituency interests to declare,
including the Minister I would imagine. It does take an awful
long time to get a reply indicating whether or not a case has
been settled. I have had letters where I have been told that cases
will be looked at in 2010. This is unsatisfactory, is it not,
after 11 years of a Labour Government?
Ms Homer: The commitment that
was made on the floor of the House was for us to clear the legacy
cases in five years and I am very confident we are on target to
do that. That means the last of those will be determined in 2011.
I accept that is a long time. We are, however, working methodically
and the rate that we are working through them is now going up
as you can see by the jump from the last time we reported to the
Q122 Chairman: What are you lacking,
is it resources from the Treasury? Surely this particular Minister
would love to go down in history as being the Minister to have
actually cleared the backlog, so people apply, they have their
cases dealt with in a reasonable time and if they win their case
they can stay and if they do not they can go back. Surely that
must be the vision behind what should be happening at UK Border
Ms Homer: I think the Minister
and the Home Secretary share your interest in seeing us clear
these older cases. We have built up a big team, we have 950 people
working on these cases. We are working through in the priority
that the then Home Secretary committed to the Houses of Parliament.
In my experience we are now seeing a significant number of these
cases coming through and we are confident we will deal with it
in the time period that the then Home Secretary, John Reid, committed
to the House.
Chairman: We will not repeat what Mr
Reid said about IND.
Q123 Tom Brake: I understand that
a lot of the people in the backlog will not be entitled to work,
but is there any scope for allowing them to volunteer? It seems
ludicrous to have such a large number of people who potentially
could be volunteering and making a contribution pending whatever
decision is taken.
Ms Homer: Yes, they can, and many
do. Some do have a right to work.
Q124 Chairman: They can volunteer?
Is it not clear in the letter that it says they cannot take up
any work paid or unpaid?
Ms Homer: They can do voluntary
work, they cannot take up paid work. For instance, many work with
church groups or other voluntary groups.
Q125 Tom Brake: Does that apply to
anyone who is in the backlog, they are able to volunteer?
Ms Homer: If they are not undertaking
paid work they will not be breaching the terms of their stay here.
Q126 Tom Brake: Minister, you looked
Mr Woolas: I was anticipating
a question on an amnesty and the answer would be that our policy
is not to favour an amnesty.
Chairman: That is why we did not ask
you that question! Mr Clappison, you have one supplementary on
Q127 Mr Clappison: The Minister must
be very disappointed, there have been three amnesties already
in this Government. Drawing a distinction between the backlog
question, which is people who may not have committed any criminal
offence and should not be lumped in with foreign criminals, just
on the foreign criminals point as a qualification to what the
Chairman said can I thank you for the efforts which you have made
to keep the Committee and myself up-to-date on these issues. Having
said that, could I ask if you could let us know about the "more
serious" and "even more serious" categories of
prisoners who remain in this country out of the ones we were talking
about a moment ago?
Ms Homer: I had made myself a
note to do that before you asked me.
Mr Woolas: Can I thank you for
your thanks for the success that the Agency has had.
Q128 Chairman: We will all thank
each other. One question on Romania and Bulgaria, if I may. You
have suspended Tier 3 of the points-based system, unskilled workers,
for the foreseeable future. Are you confident that you can recruit
all the low-skilled labour that the UK needs from Romania and
Mr Woolas: We are looking at this
very seriously with great urgency at the moment.
Q129 Chairman: This is Tier 3, if
you would deal with that first.
Mr Woolas: As you rightly say,
Tier 3 is suspended. The question, if I have understood you correctly,
is are we confident that where we have got the gaps in the economy
that we have in these areas that A2 countries can fill those gaps.
We have got the consideration of the Migration Advisory Committee,
we had representations from a number of organisations, including
members of the House and the National Farmers' Union, on the Seasonal
Agricultural Workers Scheme in particular. What we are urgently
looking at, and looking at in some depth with the help of the
Advisory Committee, is to ensure that we can mix and match the
sectors of the economy where those shortages are, particularly
the agricultural workers being key. It is also helpful to say
to the Committee that in some areas it is counterintuitive because
one has to direct the workers to the right sectors rather than
just an open thing. The answer to are we confident is the ball
is bouncing in that direction but I could not honestly say I was
at the moment.
Q130 Chairman: On the big question,
is the Government proposing to lift the restrictions on Romanian
and Bulgarian citizens in respect of giving them full rights to
work in this country?
Mr Woolas: That decision has not
been taken, it is dependent upon the considerations in answer
to your previous question.
Q131 Chairman: When do you think
we would have an answer?
Mr Woolas: By the end of the calendar
Q132 Chairman: By Christmas?
Ms Homer: Or by the end of December,
I am not sure which we specified.
Q133 Tom Brake: Can I invite the
Minister to give a guarantee that next year there will not be
fruit and veg rotting in Kent, for instance, which has not been
able to be picked?
Mr Woolas: I think this is a really
important point and there was a very strong debate in Westminster
Hall. I think the hon. Member for Faversham, if I remember the
constituency correctly, raised this point and I have committed
to meet with him, with colleagues and with the NFU to try to ensure
that I can at my next hearing, should you so invite me, give you
that guarantee, but I cannot at the moment.
Mr Clappison: I am very interested in
the recent utterances of the Minister and the relationship which
they bear to what is actually going on. I think he was quoted
in an interview, it may have been in The Guardian, talking
about groups who were helping various people involved in the system.
The Minister will be aware of the article and the remarks which
Q134 Chairman: We have actually had
that question put and the Minister has answered it, so you will
be able to read it in the transcript. Minister, you have been
here for an hour and a half. We would like to thank you for giving
evidence and wish you a long and happy ministerial career.
Mr Woolas: Can I thank you, Chairman,
and your Committee. Can I say that my experience in the last few
weeks has been that the work of this Committee is taken very seriously
by the Home Office, taken very seriously by my lead officials
and it genuinely informs and does change policy decisions. I just
wanted to make that point. I did not fully answer the question
from Mrs Cryer on citizenship when we talked about vulnerable
people. It is our intention, Chairman, in the earned citizenship
period that if anybody commits a criminal offence that results
in imprisonment that will rule out entitlement to citizenship.
I wanted to inform the Committee of that.
Chairman: Thank you very much and thank
you for your kind comments.