Examination of Witnesses(Questions 120-139)|
GIEVE CB, MR
THURSDAY 18 JULY 2002
120. No, I am not suggesting by hook or by crook.
Clearly, if the Home Office made a decision which is negative,
and there is an appeal, the presenting officer will obviously
be coming along, as will hopefully the appellant's representative,
and the presenting officer will present the case why the Home
Office has made the decision, and cross-examine, as in a court,
the appellant. It is not a question of by hook or crook; I am
not suggesting that.
(Mr Boys Smith) Exactly that will happen, but occasionally,
because this is a large organisation, and we are taking 95,000
decisions for example, the previous year, if a presenting officer
concludes when examining things at that stage that that was a
bad decision, we may well give in at that stage and not seek to
pursue the appeal, and although the number of cases like that
is small, happily, if they happen, that is what we will do.
121. From my experience of some years ago, acting
as appellants' representatives when I was out of the House, I
did not find any desire or any reluctance on the part of the presenting
officer not to present as strong a case as possible for the Home
Office decision to be upheld. That was the duty and responsibility
of the presenting officer.
(Mr Boys Smith) Indeed. As long as that is a fair
and well founded argument, then that is what he seeks to do.
122. First of all, following the question about
the IND, in the non-asylum cases it seems to me there are still
times when the correspondence cannot be located easily. Can you
explain why that is and what can be done to improve the situation?
(Mr Boys Smith) It certainly is the case. It is the
case in a diminishing number of instances. We are dealing at the
moment in the non-asylum and non-nationality area with the upper
200,000 applications a year, 285,000 decisions in the previous
year, which was a huge growth on the year before that. It is certainly
the case that in some instances either letters get lost or that
they are not linked to the file in time. We have made a number
of procedural changes that we believe will improve that. Fundamental
to them is the introduction of new IT, a case information database,
as it is called, which means that everything now coming in is
logged, and the exact location of the material, the status of
the case, whether it is pending decision or a decision has been
taken but not transmitted back to the applicant, whatever that
may be, is all recorded and available to anybody anywhere in the
organisation. But we still have a tail of cases that date back
to the old days before we were able to make those changes, and
I have to acknowledge that passports will still get lost, letters
will still get lost, which does not really mean that they are
totally lost; they often turn up again but too late for practical
purposes, and we have to acknowledge our mistakes if that happens.
123. Why is it necessary for my constituents
and others to have to use Recorded Delivery and to have to be
able to give a Recorded Delivery number to be able to locate anything?
(Mr Boys Smith) Recorded Delivery both inwards and
outwards enables us to track the material from the very moment
of arrival, before it has got on to the database, so that if material
comes in, the Recorded Delivery envelope has a bar code, and from
that moment on it can be tracked through the system and then entered
into the database. With the huge numbers of letters arrivingin
Croydon the post room receives 25,000 letters a week and sends
out a similar numberwhen you are dealing with those numbers
at that speed, anything that facilitates identification is valuable.
124. Turning to Mr Gieve, what lessons have
been learned from the problems experienced during the implementation
of the National Probation Service computer system?
(Mr Gieve) Quite a lot of lessons. Firstly, this is
not the worst computer system even within the Home Office. It
exists, and probation officers up and down the country have IT,
but one particular application which was an important part of
the original scheme has never really worked satisfactorily, and
that is the case management system. I think there are three big
lessons I would draw from that. The first is that scaling upthis
is something other people have learned toois a lot harder
than it sounds. This was a system that was said to work very well
in Northumbria, but did not easily scale up to cover the rest
of the country. Secondly, you have to invest a lot in the management
of major contracts of this sort, and I do not think we did invest
enough. We did not have a strong enough team through the critical
parts of the contract, which is now quite a long time ago, when
we had a lot of discontinuity of staff, and we rather left it
to the contractors to get on with, and we needed to be right on
top of them much more. The third is that it is very difficult
to do this on a federal basis, to do a single scheme on a federal
basis. When we started on the probation IT we were dealing with
54 separate probation authorities in effect, and we were trying
to do it by consensus and so on, and that introduces a lot of
additional complications in contract management.
125. Will you be able to ensure that does not
happen again with other systems such as the Home Office accounting
processes, which you have to have in by April next year, do you
(Mr Gieve) Yes, I hope we will, but I am not guaranteeing
that nothing will go wrong with our other projects. On the probation
front, as you know, we now have a national service, and they have
concluded a new agreement and they have very much beefed up their
IT capability, and I am pretty confidenttouch woodthat
that is going pretty well. We are taking external advice through
the Office of Government Commerce and so on at regular moments.
Elsewhere in the Home Office, the Criminal Records Bureau shows
that we still have some lessons to learn.
126. What lessons have been learned from the
Parliamentary Ombudsman's report in May of this year, in which
he described the Home Office's lack of cooperation with his inquiry
over the alleged conversations between Peter Mandelson and Mike
(Mr Gieve) The Hinduja affair? Two lessons really.
In the end in that case we agreed with the Ombudsman, and we did
what he wanted us to do, but there were long pauses in between,
some of which were because the Government took the view that the
Hammond Inquiry should be allowed to runthe Ombudsman did
not wholly agree with thatbut some of which were due to
the lack of coordination between us and the other departments
concerned. The second lesson is that when we offered the Ombudsman
access to our files, and he came to look at them, he found that
they did not have all the papers on them. That has given us a
more immediate lesson about keeping our files up to date in the
127. That has been done now, has it?
(Mr Gieve) Yes.
128. Can I turn to resource accounting. What
were the main difficulties you experienced in producing the 2000-01
(Mr Gieve) Our accounts were qualified in the end
for a number of reasons for 2000-01. We had difficulty on consolidating
all the parts of the Home Office that we were supposed to consolidate,
and we also had difficulty in dealing with suspense accounts,
which had been very common in the old cash accounting system,
but which needed to be dealt with differently. We also had some
problems in providing the right sort of certificates from the
police, for example, to satisfy our auditor that they had received
the money. They had, but nonetheless, their auditors did not think
that they had to produce a certificate and so on. So we had a
number of difficulties. That is one of the reasons for qualification.
In process terms, I think we under-invested in accountants, and
we got off to a slow start on resource accounting, and some of
these difficulties could have been overcome if we had started
earlier with better qualified staff, which we now have.
129. Are you confident that you will be able
to produce unqualified accounts for 2001-02?
(Mr Gieve) I am hoping we will.
130. It is a target?
(Mr Gieve) Yes.
131. Identity cards. There is going to be a
six-month consultation exercise, is there not? Does that consultation
exercise include consulting with other Whitehall Departments?
(Mr Gieve) Yes.
132. Some of them apparently are not over the
moon with delight at the idea, or would that not be an appropriate
description of their response?
(Mr Gieve) I think there is a range of views on identity
cards or entitlement cards.
133. Within Whitehall?
(Mr Gieve) There is a range of views on everything
134. I have seen a report in one of the newspapers
which states that a Whitehall sourcewhatever a Whitehall
source may behas said following the Home Secretary's statement
in the House, "The Department of Work and Pensions will oppose
the idea. It believes this is a solution in search of a problem,"
and the source adds, "If people are going to work and claim
benefit, an entitlement card is not going to deter them. They
will just turn up, show the card, and carry on working."
Would you describe that as an accurate reflection of the Work
and Pensions Department's view?
(Mr Gieve) I do not believe everything I read in the
newspapers. You would have to ask the Department of Work and Pensions
but I would be very surprised if they gave that answer.
135. So this Whitehall source may well be misleading
(Mr Gieve) You will have to ask the Department, but
I expect they can see advantages and potential costs in this proposal.
136. We would be right to draw the conclusion
from your earlier answer that there are a range of views about
this entitlement card or identity card within Whitehall?
(Mr Gieve) Yes, and this is a very open consultation.
This is fairly well trodden ground, and there are differing views
round the country and in different institutions. The reason for
coming back to this is partly technology moves on, and partly
a question about whether the holding of cards is becoming more
acceptable to the public and more useful, and partly is to do
with new problems which it might help us on, including illegal
working and identity fraud.
137. It is not to be compulsory. Is that the
(Mr Gieve) A scheme is set out in the document, as
a focus for the consultation rather than as a firm proposal, and
that is a universal card, that is, all residents would have one,
but they would not have to carry it with them and they could not
be challenged to show their ID card by the police, so not compulsory
in that sense.
138. So the distinction is really between the
fact that it will be required that all lawful residents in the
UK over a certain age will have to register. That will be compulsory,
will it not?
(Mr Gieve) They will all have to register, yes. That
is part of the scheme.
139. So that element is not optional; every
lawful resident in the UK over a certain age, presumably over
16, will have to register, and not to register will be illegal.
(Mr Gieve) It is a universal scheme, yes. The scheme
would not work unless all residents were in it, yes.