Home Affairs Committee Contents

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 24-39)



  Q24 Chairman: Mr Wood, may I thank you very much come for coming to give evidence today. It was at very short notice and I appreciate the fact that you have flown back from your holiday just to be present at this session and the Committee is extremely grateful for this. We are meeting in September and it is good that you have been able to come.

  Mr Wood: This is a very important subject to us.

  Q25  Chairman: It is and we are very grateful to you for coming here. Why are children detained under the immigration system, because they have not done anything wrong, have they?

  Mr Wood: No, absolutely, they have done nothing wrong. I think the earlier debate is relevant to what I am about to say. In reality we only detain children in family units. I can deal with very short-term detention in other circumstances. We detain families because these are families who have no right to be in the United Kingdom. These are people whose appeals have expired and who have been judged by tribunals to have no right to remain in the United Kingdom. These will be families whom we have engaged with the whole period of time through the process, encouraging them and letting them know that at the end of the process they have to leave the United Kingdom if they are judged to be here unlawfully. Then we ask the people to go voluntarily. The families we detain are those who refuse to leave the United Kingdom, those who have not left voluntarily and that is why we detain them. I do feel that our immigration policy would be in difficulty if we did not have that ability to detain them because it would act as a significant magnet and pull to families from abroad to come to the United Kingdom because, in effect, once they got here they could just say, "I am not going." Whilst issues are raised about absconding, that is not our biggest issue. It does happen but it is not terribly easy for a family unit to abscond. What we get to is saying to the family, "You have no right now to be in the United Kingdom, you have to leave," and then they refuse, so the only way we can enforce that is by detaining them. When we detain families we detain them to remove only. When we detain families it is our expectation that they will be there less than a week. The reasons that some end up there longer is they create new judicial reviews and other legal processes, a lot of which are spurious, the NAO found earlier this year, which would accord with our view. Over 90% of judicial reviews do not even get leave for hearing.

  Q26  Chairman: Those are very, very important points and my colleagues will come back and ask you about them, but one of the concerns that I have—and it is an issue which has challenged the Committee for many years—is the issue of the backlog at UKBA. We questioned the Chief Executive about this. One of the problems about all these people in the country, especially those you have to detain with children, is that it takes so long to process their cases. If the system were quicker and the backlog were dealt with quicker they would get quicker results and therefore they would be more willing to accept that they have to leave the country. The fact is because it takes so long to process their cases, in some of the cases I have written about or other members of this Committee have written about, we have letters back from Lin Homer saying she will tell us the answer in 2011. You can understand the concern of this Committee when children are detained for such a long period of time bearing in mind the fact that it is an administrative issue. If you deal with the cases quicker at UKBA there would be quicker results and more people would be willing to leave. Do you accept that point?

  Mr Wood: I do accept that point and you will be aware of course that we have conclusion rates which are far more ambitious. Our conclusion rate target by the end of this year is 75% of cases to be concluded within six months. We have a target going on beyond that to 90%. We are heading towards that target and we are confident that we will either get to it or very nearly by the end of this year. It is a very challenging target. We have a backlog of cases, as you rightly say, which are being dealt with separately, and we have a target to conclude those—

  Q27  Chairman: —By 2011?

  Mr Wood: Indeed, and that is a legacy issue that is difficult. We are working through those very fast but there is that legacy issue. Certainly what we have done is parked them in a sense in one place and are working legitimately on them. Current cases are being dealt with expeditiously for the very reasons you eloquently put.

  Q28  Chairman: What worries me is that you are a very senior official from UKBA. Why is it that senior officials like yourself and Lin Homer when they come before this Committee do not just say, "Please can we have more resources. If we had more resources from the Treasury we would deal with the backlog and all these outstanding cases quickly and not in 12 months' time. We would give people the result and then they will just have to leave the country because they would have exhausted judicial review." They cannot get legal aid in many cases now. We know that there are solicitors out there who get involved right at the last minute in order to delay. We have all got big immigration caseloads. Why is that you do not have the confidence of coming to Parliament and saying, "Please can we have some more"?

  Mr Wood: I suspect everyone could say that. We have put more resources into that area.

  Q29  Chairman: Would you get into trouble if you said that?

  Mr Wood: That is not the case at all, no. It is a case of managing the resources and training the resources. There are a whole lot of issues with more resources. We have diverted more resources this year into that particular area. It is subject to constant review and we have got challenging targets to meet, but the backlog issue is a legacy issue and it is a difficult issue for us.

  Chairman: David Davies?

  Q30  David Davies: Thank you for putting the Government's case so well, Mr Wood. Can I check something with you, the charities that we have heard from seem to think that people are not given the option to leave and that there is no voluntary element here, but you have been quite clear in saying that at the stage when they come into detention they have the option to leave voluntarily; is that correct?

  Mr Wood: Absolutely they do but before we get to the stage of detention all the way through the process they have been asked to leave voluntarily.

  Q31  David Davies: And we are willing to pay for the plane ticket?

  Mr Wood: We are absolutely willing to pay for the plane ticket and some do go voluntarily. A large number do go voluntarily, precisely because if we did not ask anyone we would never have people go voluntarily.

  Q32  David Davies: Really the decision is one for the family alone whether they want to go into detention. They have the option to go back at any time and it is they themselves who are choosing detention over deportation?

  Mr Wood: I suppose I would put it slightly differently: they are forcing us to make that difficult decision, yes.

  Q33  David Davies: What is the cost of keeping a family of four in detention, do you know?

  Mr Wood: Our detention costs are about £120 a night per person. I do not say we have worked that out on a family basis. That would be on a single male basis.

  Q34  David Davies: So probably it is slightly less than the cost of housing a family of four and continuing to provide them with benefits, so it is cheaper for the taxpayer than to continue to house someone in a house?

  Mr Wood: Absolutely it is, yes, or housing someone in a hotel.

  David Davies: That is very helpful, thank you.

  Q35  Chairman: Do you have an overall cost per annum?

  Mr Wood: Of the whole of our detention? I do not have it with me, Chairman. I can provide the cost of funding of Yarl's Wood per annum but I do not have those figures with me.

  Q36  Chairman: Can you write to us and give us the overall cost?

  Mr Wood: Yes, I can.

  Chairman: That is very helpful. Bob Russell?

  Q37  Bob Russell: Mr Wood, is the number of child immigrants increasing?

  Mr Wood: I do not have that figure with me, I am afraid, Mr Russell. I do not know the answer to that.

  Q38  Bob Russell: Is the length of time they are detained increasing?

  Mr Wood: It is not increasing. Last year the average length detention for family units and for children in particular was 16 days. It is 15.58 days this year so far, so it is not much less but it is not increasing.

  Q39  Mr Winnick: I take it that you do not have the figures, Mr Wood, for the children who have been detained in the last five years?

  Mr Wood: I do not think I have quite got the last five years with me of numbers detained. No, I do not.

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