UNCORRECTED TRANSCRIPT OF ORAL EVIDENCE
To be published as HC 1497-i

HOUSE OF COMMONS

ORAL EVIdENCE

TAKEN BEFORE THE

Home Affairs Committee

Work of the UK Border Agency (April–July 2011)

TUESDAY 13 September 2011

Jonathan Sedgwick

Evidence heard in Public Questions 1 - 90

USE OF THE TRANSCRIPT

1.

This is an uncorrected transcript of evidence taken in public and reported to the House. The transcript has been placed on the internet on the authority of the Committee, and copies have been made available by the Vote Office for the use of Members and others.

2.

Any public use of, or reference to, the contents should make clear that neither witnesses nor Members have had the opportunity to correct the record. The transcript is not yet an approved formal record of these proceedings.

3.

Members who receive this for the purpose of correcting questions addressed by them to witnesses are asked to send corrections to the Committee Assistant.

4.

Prospective witnesses may receive this in preparation for any written or oral evidence they may in due course give to the Committee.

Oral Evidence

Taken before the Home Affairs Committee

on Tuesday 13 September 2011

Members present:

Keith Vaz (Chair)

Nicola Blackwood

Michael Ellis

Lorraine Fullbrook

Dr Julian Huppert

Steve McCabe

Alun Michael

Bridget Phillipson

Mark Reckless

Mr David Winnick

________________

Examination of Witness

Witness: Jonathan Sedgwick, Acting Chief Executive, UK Border Agency, gave evidence.

Q1 Chair: Mr Sedgwick, good morning. Thank you very much for coming. I am sorry we are a little bit late, but we are most grateful to you for coming in, and I think you have been away on annual leave and you have come straight back.

Jonathan Sedgwick: I have.

Chair: We are most grateful. Can I just begin by just explaining the way in which the Committee wishes to scrutinise the work of the UKBA? As you know, we produce a report three times a year, based on the last four months of the UKBA’s work, hence my letter to you. Thank you for the additional information provided in your last letter. The reason why I wrote to you again was because we don’t believe it is helpful when we ask questions of fact of the head of the UK Border Agency when we are referred to websites. It is equivalent to referring the Committee to textbooks. An example of how to answer questions of this Committee is the evidence of the Home Secretary last Thursday, when Mr Ellis asked her a specific question about foreign national prisoners and got specific answers. So in future, when we write to you, we would like those specific answers rather than a reference to a website. Is that clear?

Jonathan Sedgwick: Of course.

Chair: Thank you.

Jonathan Sedgwick: I should just say that our intention was very much to provide more and better information, and clearly we did not get the kind of process for that quite right. I understand you are meeting Helen Ghosh shortly, just to discuss precisely how we will finalise and present information to the Committee.

Q2 Chair: There is no need to have a private meeting with her about this. I made it very clear: the Committee has a longstanding arrangement that the head of the UK Border Agency answers our questions. We have given you the topics and that is the way we want it. It is helpful to have the letter from the Minister about how he thinks we should do it but, at the end of the day, this is Parliament’s call and this is the best way in which we feel we can assist the public and Parliament. If we get specific answers to the questions that we put forward, and provided we fit into that time scale, we will be able to produce timely reports for Parliament and therefore monitor your work, okay?

Jonathan Sedgwick: We very much want to support and enable you to scrutinise us in that way.

Q3 Chair: Excellent. An excellent example is your last but one letter to us, which was a huge improvement on Lin Homer’s letter, which we found pretty indigestible; your last letter, before the one you have just sent us, the one you sent us in March, had graphs, pie charts and answers to specific questions. That is the way we like it. Thank you.

Can I start with a question from your annual report, and the fact that you spent £7 million writing off bad debts, including £50,000 where the agency had made administrative errors? Why have you written off such a huge amount of money?

Jonathan Sedgwick: The debts fall into a number of different categories, but essentially we had to write off a number of debts arising from the imposition of civil penalties. As you know, the civil penalty regime for illegal working was a new regime that we introduced around three years ago, and in the early stages of introducing those penalties, we were not good enough at collecting the debt. We have now very much turned that picture around. We are much better at collecting debt. We probably impose slightly fewer penalties. We have a much better record of collecting them, and the Minister is very much ensuring that we take more steps towards prosecuting people who are repeat offenders, for example. So I think we are now in a much better position. The cash collection has gone up year-on-year, £6.9 million in 2010-11.

Q4 Chair: In terms of percentage-this is why a letter with lots of answers would have been more helpful-what percentage of the penalties are you collecting?

Jonathan Sedgwick: I don’t have that precise figure, but it will be rising to be above 50%, but I can provide that information to you.

Chair: So one in two of the penalties we impose, we do not collect?

Jonathan Sedgwick: We may be in the process of collecting those.

Chair: But we just have not collected them?

Jonathan Sedgwick: But we may not have collected them all yet.

Q5 Chair: In respect of your report as well, £14.2 million was paid on compensation cases last year; £8.5 million of that £14.2 million went on legal fees. That is a very large amount of money paid directly to lawyers, isn’t it?

Jonathan Sedgwick: It is. On the other hand we, as you would expect, are subject to enormous amounts of litigation and judicial review challenge. We think that it is right, in the interests of public protection, that we take robust and proper decisions, that we defend our decisions before the courts, and we have a number of very high-profile, very difficult decisions to take, particularly in relation to the detention of foreign national prisoners.

Q6 Chair: But maybe you should look to your own legal advisors if they are giving you this kind of advice, which means you have to pay £14 million in compensation and you are challenged in the courts quite considerably. I think the last figures are you have been challenged 200 times in the courts. Is that right? Do you know how many times you were challenged in the courts last year?

Jonathan Sedgwick: Is that in relation to judicial reviews?

Chair: Yes.

Jonathan Sedgwick: I am sure it is more than that; and again, I can provide that figure precisely for you.

Q7 Michael Ellis: Just on the subject of times that the UKBA have been taken to court, do you know on how many occasions appeals against decisions of the Border Agency have been successful?

Jonathan Sedgwick: Our latest figures have us winning around 44% of appeals and losing around 41%, the number withdrawn.

Chair: I think the figure was 102 people defeated the Home Secretary in the courts in 2010 on family rights grounds. I think the point we are making is that it is an awful lot of money to pay out to the lawyers on the other side. Perhaps if we had better legal advice on our side-or your side, as the case may be-you would get better decisions.

Q8 Mark Reckless: Mr Sedgwick, you say in your response that the issue here is PBS or Points Based System, I assume. You are saying that in 63% of those appeals, I think, you were unsuccessful. That was due to submission of new evidence at an appeal.

Jonathan Sedgwick: That is right.

Mark Reckless: I understood that there had been some statutory changes to prevent new evidence-

Jonathan Sedgwick: That is correct.

Mark Reckless: coming in at appeal. Can we therefore look forward to a huge improvement in your appeal ratio?

Jonathan Sedgwick: I think you can. We made the change, I think, in April, and we are already seeing a big improvement in our win rate in relation to PBS appeal cases. We have very significantly restricted the further evidence that can be put before a court that is new that was not considered at the time, so I think that will lead to a big improvement in our numbers.

Q9 Mark Reckless: Is there any danger that that might be overturned through other legal action, be it on the grounds of right to a family life or procedural decisions by the court, or do you think those new provisions are secure?

Jonathan Sedgwick: As I say, we have restricted new evidence, not completely prevented it. Obviously, it wouldn’t be appropriate or probably possible to stop the court considering human rights issues that might arise in a case, but where it very much relates to the application and the information that people are required to produce at the time of the application, that kind of information is now much more restricted.

Q10 Chair: The final figure from me on your annual report is that you spent £4 million on overpayments to staff and asylum claimants last year-£4 million in overpayments.

Jonathan Sedgwick: That is obviously very much a matter of regret. In relation to support to asylum seekers, that number has very dramatically come down. It was much lower last year than the year before, and it was much lower towards the end of the year. We very dramatically reduced the amount of bad payment to asylum seekers for support.

Q11 Chair: But still, that is in your own figures. If you add the £7 million and the £14 million-my maths is not perfect-that is £21 million, plus the £4 million is £25 million for either bad debts, compensation given against you or overpayments. Yet 65% of UKBA’s staff received a bonus in 2010-11, and eight out of the 14 senior staff, including yourself, received a bonus between £5,000 and £10,000. How can that be justified when so much public money has been wasted?

Jonathan Sedgwick: We have taken real steps to tackle the issue of overpayments, either to staff or in relation to asylum support. We have made a huge amount of progress in relation to that. Obviously, no overpayment is justified and we would regret any overpayment, but we are dealing with a budget of something over £2 billion a year, and inevitably there may be mistakes that need to be corrected and where lessons need to be learned, so we try very hard to learn lessons; we try very hard to improve our processes. I think, in relation to asylum support, we have solved what was quite a systemic problem.

Q12 Chair: Yes, but I think what worries the Committee is that nobody appears to lose their job as a result of these overpayments. They just appear to be given bonuses, the senior management. Senior management has not changed, apart from Mrs Homer being promoted.

Jonathan Sedgwick: The arrangements for senior civil servants’ bonuses and appraisals, and so on, are clear and set out by the Cabinet Office. As you know, the arrangements for bonuses have been very much restricted and reduced in relation to this year. There are proper procedures in place to assess the performance of individual staff, to ensure that staff meet their objectives, and to assess bonuses in relation to whether those objectives have been met or not.

Q13 Alun Michael: I find that quite incredible, to be honest. The problem with all this is that we are told that things are going to be done; we are told that there are targets. We are then told that they have been met. Can I just take you to the issue of legacy cases? We were told that these were going to be cleared up by this summer, so they should be all cleared up by now. I have been trying to get clarity on the cases that I have been dealing with from my constituency offices. What I find is that they are not any longer classified as "legacy cases". They have been transferred to something called a Case Assurance and Audit Unit, which means they don’t have to be classified as legacy cases. The system that you operate doesn’t make any sense, does it?

Jonathan Sedgwick: It is not the case that cases that have been transferred to the Case Assurance and Audit Unit are no longer legacy cases. The CAAU is now responsible for the very small number of cases that have been reviewed and where the decision has been taken-

Q14 Alun Michael: Why is it that most MPs seem to find that, although there are an extremely small number of cases, we all have them? I mean, this is nonsense.

Jonathan Sedgwick: I think in-

Q15 Chair: Just to be clear, Mr Sedgwick, in answer to Mr Michael, we are talking about 23,000 cases. Is that the small number you are referring to?

Jonathan Sedgwick: The 23,000 cases were the cases that the CAAU started with. That number has already reduced, and it is now responsible for 18,000 cases.

Q16 Chair: This is your letter of 12 September to the Committee, but Mr Michael’s point is 23,000 cases, of which you have granted the right to stay to 3,000 people.

Jonathan Sedgwick: That is because we had a number of cases where late representations had come in, right at the end of the process. We reviewed those. A number of them were granted and a number of those cases have been refused.

Q17 Chair: The answer to Mr Michael is that the legacy cases are still 18,000; you have just changed the name, but these are still our old legacy cases, are they?

Jonathan Sedgwick: There are 18,000 cases which have been decided and we always said that the legacy programme was about deciding the old cases and we-

Q18 Alun Michael: Mr Sedgwick, can I take you to the-

Jonathan Sedgwick: Can I just make one more point?

Alun Michael: Can I cut to the chase? This was all supposed to be dealt with by this summer. Those cases that have been transferred the Case Assurance and Audit Unit are legacy cases that have not been completed, are they not?

Jonathan Sedgwick: They have been decided and we are trying to remove them but, as the Committee knows, there are barriers to removal. There is documentation-

Q19 Alun Michael: They have not been dealt with. They have not been completed.

Jonathan Sedgwick: We never pledged-

Chair: Mr Sedgwick, order, just for one second, so the Hansard writer can get this down clearly. What Mr Michael has said is that the legacy cases have now been transferred to the unit and there are still 18,000 cases in that unit.

Jonathan Sedgwick: There are 18,000 cases that have been decided. Our commitment was to decide the cases. We have decided all those cases. There are 18,000 cases where removal action-

Q20 Chair: So there is no backlog at all?

Jonathan Sedgwick: There are 18,000 cases where removal has still to be completed. Removal takes some time. There are documentation issues and there are legal challenges. Those 18,000 cases we are proceeding to try to remove. So therefore, you will see that number of removals going up over a period.

Q21 Alun Michael: Can I cut to the core question, the legacy cases, which your target was to have completely dealt with by this summer-dealt with to our satisfaction, I suggest?

Jonathan Sedgwick: It was to decide the cases.

Alun Michael: They still have not been dealt with, have they?

Jonathan Sedgwick: No, no, but all the cases, every single case has had a decision, and-

Alun Michael: Yes, but it has not been dealt with.

Jonathan Sedgwick: A small number of cases have had the decision and are awaiting removal, but there are legal challenges of them to us as we attempt to remove them, but we have to work our way we through those legal barriers.

Q22 Chair: Let us be clear. You still have 18,000 cases. You may have decided it in your mind, but there are still cases where the applicants have not been informed and people have not been removed.

Jonathan Sedgwick: No, they have all been informed. If-

Q23 Chair: So why are they still classified as cases then?

Alun Michael: You can’t get answers on them, no.

Jonathan Sedgwick: If any Member of the Committee has a case that they believe has not had a decision, I would very happily look at that.

Chair: Well, that is very helpful. Sorry, I am just trying to get to-

Jonathan Sedgwick: I think it may be Mr Ellis who referred a number of cases to us.

Q24 Chair: This is why it is so important that you don’t refer us to websites but answer the questions we put in letters to make these sessions so much easier.

Let us go back to these 18,000 cases. There are physically 18,000 cases on somebody’s desk or in somebody’s filing cabinet?

Jonathan Sedgwick: They are cases that are being actively worked towards removal.

Chair: No, I understand that.

Jonathan Sedgwick: The individuals have had a decision.

Chair: I understand that, but you are still dealing with 18,000 cases, even though-

Jonathan Sedgwick: We are attempting to remove the individuals. Sadly when the Border Agency decides that someone has no longer a right to be here and needs to be removed, that does not mean that they automatically immediately leave the country. There is then a process to-

Q25 Chair: Exactly, so there are still 18,000 cases that are still on somebody’s desk. They are not put away as marked closed.

Jonathan Sedgwick: They are not put away as marked closed.

Chair: Exactly.

Jonathan Sedgwick: They are being case worked but, just let me be clear: our commitment was always to decide the cases. We never made a promise that we could remove every single one of those by this summer, whom we have decided to remove. That process was always going to take longer.

Q26 Chair: I think that is probably a misunderstanding. We assumed, when you said that the backlog of legacy cases had been completed, that that is what it meant. That they were finished, closed, dead as a parrot, but that is not the case, is it?

Jonathan Sedgwick: Sorry, at the risk of repeating myself, it does take some time to remove individuals. There are legal challenges to work through.

Q27 Dr Huppert: I just find it very hard to square what you are saying with the experience I have with my constituents. Now, it is possible things have moved on in the last week, but a week, week and a half ago I had two constituents who came to see me saying they were still waiting for a decision and would love to hear something. We contacted the Immigration Minister; we contacted UKBA and were told there is still no decision. Now, it is possible that they happen to have happened in the last week and that magically they have all been resolved since I last spoke to UKBA, but I have not had anything to say that they have done. I simply cannot understand how you can say all the decisions have happened, but I-and I believe others-have constituents who would like to get a decision.

Jonathan Sedgwick: I would be very happy personally to look at those cases and then to write very quickly to the Committee about them. I think in relation to Mr Ellis cases, he has raised a number of cases with Ministers last week, and we did look at those cases and we were able to show that every legacy case had in fact been decided and had a decision. A number of the cases were in fact not legacy cases; they were from the new asylum model, in the work-in-progress in relation to the new asylum model. I think a couple of the cases were in what we call "the controlled archive", that is to say people we have checked, and very helpfully your intervention meant that those people have now come to light and we can now begin to deal with them, but these were people whom we had taken every step-

Q28 Michael Ellis: If I may, just in response to that, Mr Sedgwick, because you are referring to some of the casework that I have sent the UK Border Agency last week. There are obviously different categories of cases that you are referring to, but you are saying, as far as all the category of cases that were known as legacies, the decisions have been made and the parties have been duly notified. However, if they have not been removed, or otherwise dealt with, that is because of circumstances outside of the UKBA’s control?

Jonathan Sedgwick: Yes, we are taking steps to remove them, but obviously the removal process takes time. There are legal challenges.

Michael Ellis: You have, you say, heard in respect of some of the cases that I brought to your attention last week, there are some that were new to you, in terms of you had not realised that they were-

Jonathan Sedgwick: I think there were two cases that were in our controlled archive. That is to say these were people who may have moved three or four times or may have absconded. However, where we had checked every single database that we could possibly and reasonably check to trace those individuals, and where we have done that consistently for six months-as I think I have previously said to the Committee-we put those cases into controlled archive. We continue to check those, and if people do come to light, and it may well be that MPs will continue to have in their surgeries individuals who are in the controlled archive, and we very much welcome you bringing those cases to our attention, because we can then deal with them.

Michael Ellis: Thank you, Mr Sedgwick.

Q29 Bridget Phillipson: On a number of occasions, Members have raised the issue of communication between the UK Border Agency and MPs. In one legacy case that I was dealing with-obviously, it was a case where it was sent to you-I received nothing back, other than an initial acknowledgement. The office then obviously after a set period of time will chase it. We chased it, only to be told that the constituent had been granted leave to remain. Is there any system in place to make sure that MPs are informed, one way or the other, because otherwise we all waste our time chasing up cases where constituents have already been told of the decision? It just so happened that the constituent a week before had been in touch and said he was going to come to the surgery because he hadn’t received a decision. When he didn’t appear at the constituency surgery, we chased it, only to be told, "Oh, that is because he has been granted leave to remain." It just wastes everyone’s time.

Jonathan Sedgwick: Yes. No, I am very sorry in that case if your time was wasted. I think, certainly in relation to our performance in answering your letters and your emails, I think our performance is very much improving, but-

Q30 Chair: Again, when we wrote and asked you about this, you referred us to another website, the Cabinet Office website, which was not very helpful. But I think what Ms Phillipson is asking for is what we asked for three years ago. When you write to a constituent and tell them that they have been granted indefinite leave or given them the decision, it would be extremely helpful if you copied that to Members of Parliament, whose name you have on the file, so we can then close our files. What she says is she doesn’t then have to chase it up and write you another letter. That is all that is being asked. It is not a difficult thing to do, is it?

Jonathan Sedgwick: That seems a very reasonable request.

Chair: Thank you.

Lorraine Fullbrook: I am hearing everybody’s distress stories, but I have to say I had a legacy case where a decision was made and the gentleman concerned has brought six legal challenges to the decision to remove him, and at every stage the UK Border Agency have informed me of what was going on. So I seem to be one of the lucky ones.

Chair: You have been extraordinarily lucky, Mrs Fullbrook, and we are all going to move to South Ribble.

Q31 Alun Michael: Yes, I just want to be clear about this, Mr Sedgwick. You are saying that you will write to us. I ask this because I would like to depend on your assurance, but have had to write to the Minister, due to the failures of being able to get answers on legacy cases from your organisation. Are you now giving us a promise to write to MPs when we ask for information?

Jonathan Sedgwick: We will certainly do our very best in relation to that.

Alun Michael: Oh, it is a maybe then.

Chair: I think we would like you to do this.

Jonathan Sedgwick: Yes.

Chair: You mean, when Mr Michael or any other Members of Parliament write to you, you will do your very best to reply?

Jonathan Sedgwick: We will reply.

Chair: Thank you.

Jonathan Sedgwick: We reply to 88% of the letters that you send to us in the time targets that have been set for us by the Cabinet Office.

Q32 Steve McCabe: I have to say my experience is, when I write either to you or to the Minister, I do get a reply but it is from someone else at a regional centre and it is usually no more than a holding reply, so if we are going to see a change that would be fantastic.

Let me ask you about something slightly different, although it follows the same issue about how you perform. You will know that John Vine, the Chief Inspector, said in his report that he was concerned about the question of curtailment and enforcement, this situation where migrants cease to work but are allowed to remain here, and he referred specifically to 150 cases where he felt there should be some curtailment action. You said in your letter of 24 August that those cases had now been resolved, but what you didn’t say was what had happened. So I wonder if you could just tell us, of the 150 cases that the Chief Inspector thought required curtailment, how many did result in curtailment and how many resulted in some other course of action.

Jonathan Sedgwick: I am afraid I don’t have that information in relation to those precise 150. That was a snapshot on a single day. We have something like-

Q33 Steve McCabe: So you were referring to them in your letter, weren’t you, on 24 August, so you presumably could write and tell the Committee what happened to each of the 150 cases? We had to know that to have answered your letter.

Jonathan Sedgwick: We know that the cases have been dealt with. They are no longer sitting waiting to be actioned. We-

Q34 Steve McCabe: Yes, but I am sorry, Mr Sedgwick, I don’t mean to be rude and interrupt you but, just as we were trying to clarify earlier, you saying that you know the cases have been dealt with is not the same as us knowing what has happened. So what I am trying to establish is-this was a concern of the Chief Inspector-what happened to the 150 cases? Were these people allowed to remain in this country without any further action or was something done about them? That is what I am trying to establish.

Jonathan Sedgwick: Those whose leave should have been curtailed have been curtailed. I am afraid I don’t have the number of those. Those whose leave should have been curtailed have had that curtailed. If I can perhaps point to the other figure that I gave you in the letter which is intended to be more helpful, because it is a more comprehensive figure, it is to say that since the Chief Inspector’s report 9,000 notifications of changes have come to our attention and we have dealt with those. Over 2,000 have been curtailed and passed to local immigration teams for enforcement or removal action. So what the Chief Inspector picked up was a particular snapshot on a particular day. We get around 300 notifications a week. We process those and deal with them and it may be a notification of no more than that someone’s salary has changed, for example, or the location of the place of work has changed. That is obviously not a reason to curtail someone’s leave, but it does mean if, for example, their salary has changed to such an extent that they would no longer qualify as a tier 2 skilled migrant then obviously in that case we would look to curtail their leave.

Q35 Steve McCabe: Unless you tell us what has happened to this snapshot of 150, there is no way of judging whether this is a minor technical issue, salary change or change of work location or whether this is someone living in this country under fraudulent reasons. Therefore, as a Committee, we have no way of knowing whether or not your performance is improving or deteriorating. So it is reasonable to ask for the detail in order to make the judgement, isn’t it?

Jonathan Sedgwick: It is, but my submission would be that the global figure of 9,000 and 2,000 is probably a more helpful figure, because that represents the more representative sample over a long period, that is-

Q36 Steve McCabe: If you want to tell me to 9,000 as opposed to 150, I am delighted to have that information, of course.

Jonathan Sedgwick: Yes. That is what I am telling you and, of those, 2,000 have now been passed to local immigration teams for enforcement action.

Chair: Very helpful.

Q37 Dr Huppert: You were talking about your role at looking at changes of jobs. One case that has recently come my way is of a Government economist who has been working for one of the Departments of the Government for seven years now, during that time has also done some work for other Government Departments. Her visa is now due for renewal and UKBA has just refused it, because working with another Government Department broke the terms of the original visa. Do you think that somebody working for the Treasury rather than DWP is trying to evade detection, or are they trying to do Government priority work?

Jonathan Sedgwick: It sounds to me, if that is the case, I should have a personal look at it; forgive me, perhaps I will not be drawn into the rights and wrongs of that at this moment, but I will look at it, yes.

Q38 Bridget Phillipson: You have told us that there have been four national operations looking at tier 2 sponsors since the start of this year. Could you tell us how many violations that you have found as a result and what kinds of penalties have been imposed?

Jonathan Sedgwick: We have completed two of them, of those operations, and will have completed the other two by the end of the year. They have been very extensive and the two that we have completed have in fact resulted in over 200 visits to particular employers. As a result of that, we have suspended 28 employers and we have downgraded a further 24, which prevent them from recruiting anyone further. In fact, they are given time to get their houses in order, and either they will, in which case they will be reinstated, or they will not, in which case they, too, will be suspended and the process, which will result in them no longer being able to sponsor people, will be proceeded with in their cases.

Bridget Phillipson: Thank you.

Q39 Mr Winnick: Just first on correspondence, why are we asked to provide evidence of the person who has been refused entry abroad? The sponsor writes to us, that is our constituent. We are going to be taking it up. We don’t take it up for the sake of it. We don’t go around the streets asking, "Any cases for UKBA?" So we are written to. Surely, that is sufficient evidence of the person who has been refused, so what is the justification for making our life that much more difficult?

Jonathan Sedgwick: You mean for asking you, to be clear, that you have the-

Mr Winnick: That the person himself or herself, as the case may be, abroad wants us to take it up.

Jonathan Sedgwick: Well, I mean-

Mr Winnick: I did write to you, but never received a reply.

Jonathan Sedgwick: To quote an extreme example, and I appreciate it is obviously thankfully relatively rare, but you can have cases, for example, of forced marriage where an individual may be the victim of someone trying to bring them here against their will, so I think it is important that-

Q40 Chair: Sorry, Mr Sedgwick, is this happening routinely to Mr Winnick; it does not happen to me. If a person comes to his constituency or the constituency of any MP and asks them to write a letter on behalf of someone refused abroad, there is no further authority that is required, surely?

Jonathan Sedgwick: I believe that it will depend on the information that you are asking for, and-

Q41 Mr Winnick: The Data Protection Act was quoted. The point is, Mr Sedgwick, I was told this by one of your officials in a letter. I wrote to you asking why was this so and explaining that there didn’t seem to be any justification. Some six weeks later, I get a reply from one of your people. I asked you in your letter if you yourself would reply to me and do so promptly. Nothing of the kind occurred. I don’t consider that particularly efficient, no matter how many letters your organisation receives from Members of Parliament.

Jonathan Sedgwick: I am afraid I can’t but agree with that.

Mr Winnick: Would you look into it and let me know, and copy to the Chair, this week?

Jonathan Sedgwick: I will certainly aim to that to do that this week or next week if at all possible.

Q42 Mr Winnick: The other question I want to ask you, very quickly-otherwise the Chair will get somewhat annoyed-is on the appeals lodged. Apparently, the organisation was unsuccessful in 41%.

Jonathan Sedgwick: Yes.

Mr Winnick: That is a pretty high percentage, isn’t it, losing cases?

Jonathan Sedgwick: It is a high percentage, but on the other hand, as we were just discussing in relation to Mr Reckless’ question, a very substantial number of those, for example, are points-based system appeals where new evidence is lodged, and that is something that we think is an abuse of the system and that is why we have changed it, and we will see that number improve as a result of that. I think we have to be realistic about the fact that inevitably we operate in a very litigious area. We are dealing with issues that are very critical to individuals, their rights. Equally, we have a responsibility to protect the public and to take proper decisions, and I think it is inevitable that our decisions will be challenged and scrutinised.

Q43 Mr Winnick: I will get a letter from you on the other matter this week?

Jonathan Sedgwick: You will.

Mr Winnick: Copied to the Chair?

Jonathan Sedgwick: You will.

Mr Winnick: Thank you very much.

Q44 Michael Ellis: Can I move on for a moment to foreign national prisoners? We asked the Home Secretary last week about the situation as far as foreign national prisoners are concerned, and I want to ask you about it as well. I understand that some 5,339 foreign national prisoners were deported in 2010-11. Now, I used to appear in court until relatively recently as a barrister in practice and I heard judges pass judgments, which included a sentence of a recommendation of deportation after the conclusion of their sentence. I am interested to know how many of those recommendations for deportation are carried out, and this figure of 5,339, is it all of the foreign nationals who have finished their prison sentences in that timeframe?

Jonathan Sedgwick: It is in relation to the number that we removed in 2010-11. That will obviously include people who were sentenced in that year, but it will also include people who were sentenced in previous years, depending on when their sentence ended. So if you will forgive me, it is probably easier to take the number who became time served in 2010-11 and that was 5,138.

Q45 Michael Ellis: So just to make sure we understand each other, this is a circumstance where a judge will have passed a sentence of 12 months’ imprisonment or more and where they will have concluded that sentence and then be due for deportation?

Jonathan Sedgwick: Yes, it will; it will.

Michael Ellis: So you say there is 5,100 and something of those?

Jonathan Sedgwick: 5,138.

Q46 Michael Ellis: How many of those were deported?

Jonathan Sedgwick: Of those, we have to date-and obviously we will doubtless remove more-of those removed 3,125, and we have another 1,660 with the removal process under way. There are obviously, as I say, legal challenges in relation to those, and 353 cases were otherwise concluded, so that would be, for example, where a court otherwise-

Q47 Chair: What does that mean, "otherwise concluded"?

Jonathan Sedgwick: Where we have attempted to remove somebody, the individual has appealed against that deportation and the court has upheld that appeal and told us to allow them to stay.

Q48 Chair: So why don’t we use the language, "We have not managed to remove them," rather than, "Otherwise concluded"?

Jonathan Sedgwick: The court has told us to grant those individuals-

Chair: Yes, fine.

Q49 Michael Ellis: So the decision has been reversed as to the initial ruling?

Jonathan Sedgwick: Exactly, by another court, yes.

Michael Ellis: By another court?

Jonathan Sedgwick: Yes.

Michael Ellis: So how-

Q50 Chair: Let us go through this again, because that is very helpful. You start with 5,138?

Jonathan Sedgwick: That is correct.

Q51 Chair: What is the next figure?

Jonathan Sedgwick: 3,125 removals.

Chair: What is that, removed?

Jonathan Sedgwick: Removed, left the country, gone.

Q52 Chair: Yes, and what is the balance then?

Jonathan Sedgwick: That leaves 1,660 where the removal is still in progress.

Q53 Chair: So they are still here and they have not been removed.

Michael Ellis: After how long?

Jonathan Sedgwick: They may well be in detention.

Chair: All right. Okay, let us break it down.

Jonathan Sedgwick: We deported somebody recently-

Q54 Chair: Yes. Sorry, Mr Ellis’ question is very helpful. Of the 1,660 how many are in detention and how many are out of detention?

Jonathan Sedgwick: I don’t have that figure, I am afraid, but I am sure I can provide it to you.

Q55 Michael Ellis: Sorry, can I just ask you then, on the 1,660 that have not yet been dealt with, what are the reasons for those categories of people not having been removed?

Jonathan Sedgwick: These will be people who are maybe not co-operating with the documentation process. We had a case that we removed recently to Jamaica of an individual who was in our detention for 16 months because he went to such enormous lengths to lie, to abuse the process and so on. We persist, and we seek to return and remove people and we seek to overcome challenges, assist on judicial reviews. People get themselves on aeroplanes and then create an enormous fuss and the captain de-loads them.

Chair: Mr Sedgwick, we understand that.

Q56 Michael Ellis: I am sure there are people who are very obstructive, there is no doubt about that, and this category will be significant. However, that will not be all 1,660.

Jonathan Sedgwick: No.

Q57 Michael Ellis: How many are we talking about where they are not being overtly obstructive, but there are some administrative or other reasons why they have not been processed for deportation?

Jonathan Sedgwick: I am not sure that it would be possible to give you a precise breakdown. There will be a range of issues in relation to securing documentation; different countries require different levels of proof from us and co-operation from individuals.

Q58 Michael Ellis: Are there some countries that are particularly difficult? If we were to look at these 1,660, would we find that many of them are from one country or one or two countries?

Jonathan Sedgwick: More than one country, but there are some countries that are more difficult than others; for example, Iran requires the individual to go to the embassy in London and request to be returned to Iran.

Q59 Chair: Yes. Mr Sedgwick, I don’t think we need every country defined, but Mr Ellis has raised a very important point. The Committee would like from you, before the end of the week, a breakdown of the 1,660 by nationality; how many are in detention and how many are not in detention? That is what the Committee would like.

Jonathan Sedgwick: We will do our very best.

Q60 Chair: Do Ministers not ask you these kinds of questions?

Jonathan Sedgwick: Ministers obviously ask us for all kinds of breakdowns, and let me undertake to go away and do my very best to provide you with as much information as we can.

Q61 Chair: Excellent. Mr Ellis also elicited some very interesting information from the Home Secretary. Last year, 100 foreign national prisoners were released before they were assessed, 16 were missing and 11 were back in prison after committing new offences, 28 were convicted who should have been considered for deportation. Those are your figures, are they?

Jonathan Sedgwick: That is correct.

Q62 Chair: Did you give the Home Secretary those figures?

Jonathan Sedgwick: Yes, of course.

Q63 Chair: Is it not an embarrassment that 100 people were released from prison and had not been properly assessed? Surely, they are in captivity and there is an ability for the Prison Service to talk to the UKBA and you will do the assessment before they come out?

Jonathan Sedgwick: No, many of those will be, for example, people who when they are sentenced by the court will in effect be time served, because they will have spent on remand the complete length of their sentence and therefore they will be released immediately by the court and the court has no power to detain them, and we will obviously seek to assess them for deportation as soon as we are able.

Q64 Chair: No, we understand that; we understand the process, but the Home Secretary, your boss, said 100 had been released. We don’t expect her to come and check everyone. We do expect the UKBA to do it. One hundred were released without being assessed. That is a very large number.

Jonathan Sedgwick: They are being assessed but, as I say, many of those had to be released because there was no power to hold them because their sentence had already been spent on remand, and that is-

Q65 Chair: But they were not assessed, and 16 are missing and 11 committed offences.

Jonathan Sedgwick: Those are obviously all regrettable. They are cases that we are taking seriously and we are assessing them all. In fact, we have already removed 10 of those cases.

Chair: What, since then?

Jonathan Sedgwick: No, in relation to those two years, we are currently taking deportation action against another 54. So we do deal with those cases. This is a very small number of the total figure. She said-

Chair: She never told us all that.

Q66 Michael Ellis: It is only a very small number, but this is obviously an important feature.

Jonathan Sedgwick: It is; it is.

Q67 Michael Ellis: In dealing with these cases, because you say that you could not legally detain them any longer, because their period on remand or their sentence had concluded. However, the Court of Appeal, for example, when it processes appeals to itself from the lower courts, prioritises those shorter sentences and deals with them more quickly, because obviously the time is going to run out before the longer sentences are appealed. For example, if someone receives a sentence of four or five years’ imprisonment and they appeal it, it can take many months for their case to come into appeal. If someone receives a sentence of four weeks’ imprisonment, their case could be dealt with in a week’s time. Do you do the same thing, Mr Sedgwick? Why have we had 100 cases happen in that way? Is it because the time has run out and you have acted expeditiously or is because the time has run out after many months?

Jonathan Sedgwick: It is because the time has run out and we have acted expeditiously, I believe. I think the Home Secretary was very clear with you that she doesn’t consider this acceptable and she has tasked us in relation to working with the police, in relation to much earlier identification of foreign national prisoners, and-

Q68 Chair: It is hardly her fault. This has been on the agenda for four or five years, since Charles Clarke resigned, hence our desire to have a proper update.

Jonathan Sedgwick: As she said, it is a regrettable number. It is a number that we must try to improve, but it is a very small number compared with the numbers that we were talking about five or six years ago. I think she made very clear.

Q69 Steve McCabe: I am not saying this is not a difficult job, but I am just wondering, given the answers that we have been hearing today, about anyone looking at this evidence. Do you judge your success by some kind of administrative process, so it does not really matter if the person has left the country or not; what matters is a box has been ticked? I am not being facetious when I say that; I genuinely want to understand is that how you judge a completion?

Jonathan Sedgwick: We are in the Border Agency committed to protecting the public, to providing an excellent customer service. We judge our success by things like the number of foreign national prisoners that we manage to remove.

Q70 Steve McCabe: So how do you define an excellent customer service? Who is the customer? How do you define an excellent customer service?

Jonathan Sedgwick: The customer, in the broadest sense, is the British public, the taxpayer, who pay us to do our job, who expect us to administer the immigration system fairly and properly and expect us to remove those who have no right to be here. There are also people who apply to us as individuals, people who apply for visas from overseas, family members and so on, and they are in a very direct sense a customer because they pay a fee and they expect to get a good and clear service from us.

Q71 Steve McCabe: Do you think those who are either listening to this or looking at the transcript of the evidence, those customers, do you think they will agree with you that you are providing an excellent customer service?

Jonathan Sedgwick: For example, in relation to overseas visas, we grant well over the number of visas within our target times for our service standards, which are set out very clearly on our website. I hope that they-

Chair: These matters-overseas visas and entry clearance-we will come to in the future, but what is the answer to Mr McCabe? Do you think that the taxpayer viewing the proceedings today will feel they get value for money?

Jonathan Sedgwick: I am sure the taxpayer will want us to continue to improve the service that we provide, but the fact is that we have removed over 5,000 foreign national prisoners last year. I described some of the very difficult circumstances. We simply don’t give up because we think it is so important to protect the public. We will not give up on particular cases, however hard they might be. I don’t think that is a tick-box mentality. I think that is a genuine commitment to protecting people.

Q72 Alun Michael: Before I go on to my question, I wonder if we could-in addition to the information the Chairman asked for-have a list of the individual countries and what obstacles are placed in the way for deportation?

Jonathan Sedgwick: Yes, of course.

Q73 Alun Michael: You mentioned one specifically but I think it would be helpful. There is the issue of e-borders and you gave an assurance to the Committee that e-exits would be fully implemented by 2015. Is that still on target?

Jonathan Sedgwick: Absolutely.

Q74 Alun Michael: That is not the same as an assurance that the whole e-borders programme will be in place by 2015 and you were, as I understand it, reviewing the scope of the e-borders programme by August. Where are you on that?

Jonathan Sedgwick: I think e-borders is very much back on track. We have stabilised the existing service, so we pass the contracts to new providers for the-

Q75 Alun Michael: Without getting into too much of the detail, because perhaps you can send us a copy of the results of your review, at what point is the whole of the e-borders programme then going to be completed, not just the exits?

Jonathan Sedgwick: The borders programme is scheduled to complete in full in 2015, and we have prioritised the number of things that need to be in place before we-

Q76 Alun Michael: Sorry, I beg your pardon. I thought 2015 was when the exit checks would be completed, but not the rest of the programme.

Jonathan Sedgwick: No. The whole programme will be completed at that point as well, but we have prioritised a number of things that need to be in place before the Olympics and we have let a number of contracts to Serco, IBM and Fujitsu to ensure that we have a proper resilient, robust, modern system that will not fall over, which can be assured to give the country the protection it needs in the run up to the Olympics. That will all be in place in relation to the Olympics and we should have, before the Olympics, 100% of all non-EU aviation movements covered by e-borders prior to the Olympics. That is the first big wave of activity.

Q77 Alun Michael: Entry and exit?

Jonathan Sedgwick: Entry and exit. Beyond the Olympics, we have a programme of work to ensure that we can fully implement exit checks; that we can count in and out, in the phrase, and also that we have a series of improvements to the way that e-borders operate, so that we can take on trains and ferries, and so on.

Chair: Perhaps you can pass a message to the Permanent Secretary; we will pursue IT issues with her when she next comes before us.

Jonathan Sedgwick: Of course.

Alun Michael: Perhaps we could have the details of the review?

Chair: Absolutely, if you could send us the details of the review, that would be helpful. Quick end questions for you. We are nearly at the end, Mr Sedgwick, I am sure you will be pleased to know.

Q78 Dr Huppert: Thank you. Just to return to the issue about deportations, you are presumably aware, Mr Sedgwick, of the recent report from the Chief Inspector of Prisons, Nick Hardwick, describing deportations carried out by UKBA and G4S in rather scathing terms. I think one of the phrases was, "Shamefully unprofessional". Of course this is not long after the death of Jimmy Mubenga when he was being removed, and I find it quite shocking that what was observed was observed while the people involved knew there were inspectors on the flights, which raises the question of what happens when there are not inspectors on the flights. What will you be doing to reassure many Members here, but also the Chief Inspector of Prisons, that people are being treated decently?

Jonathan Sedgwick: Yes. Clearly, I was extremely disturbed to receive those two reports. It was serious, unprofessional and unacceptable behaviour to the individuals by our contractors. We have obviously raised that with the contractors. The individuals concerned have been dealt with and new processes have been put in place in relation to supervising and ensuring that better standards are observed in future, but that is an area that we will very much be keeping under close review because, as you would expect, we take it very seriously.

Q79 Bridget Phillipson: On a separate issue, yesterday at our conference on immigration and asylum, we received evidence from Asylum Aid about some of the difficulties in the asylum system and about progress towards a genuinely gender-sensitive system that recognises the needs of women asylum seekers as being distinct from the needs of male asylum seekers. I appreciate it is a complex issue, but perhaps could you update the Committee, perhaps in writing-we don’t really have much time now-on what progress the agency is making on that?

Jonathan Sedgwick: It is a particular piece of work that we have looked at to try to improve decision policy in relation to, particularly, women who have suffered violence. We have been looking at a number of areas. As you know, we have had a big programme of work to train our case workers in relation to lesbian and gay asylum seekers, and I think that has been very widely recognised, including by Stonewall, as to have been a very successful piece of work, and the issue of violence against women is one that we are looking at the moment, so I will provide you with an update.

Q80 Chair: Just as of today, how many cases are in the controlled archive?

Jonathan Sedgwick: I think it is 98,000.

Chair: Because when you last came before us, you said there were 74,000 cases.

Jonathan Sedgwick: Yes, that is right. We had a number that were-

Chair: Why has it gone up by 22,000?

Jonathan Sedgwick: Because we had a number of cases that we were completing the checks, so we don’t just put people into the controlled archive until we have checked them for a period of six months against those databases. We were completing those checks. When they were complete and we were sure-

Q81 Chair: To be clear for the Committee, Mr McCabe is saying, "What is the controlled archive?" These are files where you don’t know where people are-you can’t trace people?

Jonathan Sedgwick: They are files where we have taken every reasonable step to trace people, having checked all those 19 databases for a period of six months.

Q82 Chair: Sorry, let us just be clear, 98,000 are the asylum cases, is that right?

Jonathan Sedgwick: That is correct.

Q83 Chair: How many are the immigration cases in the controlled archive?

Jonathan Sedgwick: In the controlled archive, I think, 26,000.

Q84 Chair: Has that gone up since you last gave evidence to us, or has that gone down?

Jonathan Sedgwick: Both will have gone up, because we have been concluding those searches of the databases.

Q85 Chair: Our report will come out, but I think the Committee will feel it unsatisfactory that a controlled archive, which has been invented by the UKBA to put cases where they can’t find people, has now increased in numbers to 114,000. That is a very large figure, Mr Sedgwick, and it is unacceptable.

Jonathan Sedgwick: It is a very large figure, but we have taken every possible step to trace those individuals. Some may come to light through your good offices, and where they do, we will take action against those individuals.

Q86 Chair: Right, since you mention good offices, what I will do is I will write to you again and ask specific questions, so that we can conclude our report. I would be most concerned if you replied to me in the terms of your last letter referring me to a website. We want specific answers.

Jonathan Sedgwick: Of course.

Q87 Chair: I will write, and the Home Secretary was very clear when she came before us on Thursday, when I raised it with her, that she would task you to answer our questions. If we are not satisfied then I am afraid we will have to call you back again until we get those answers, and I am sure you would prefer to let me have those answers in writing.

Jonathan Sedgwick: Of course.

Q88 Chair: I know that a new head of the UKBA has been appointed. You have held the fort for the last few months, since Lin Homer has gone. Can I thank you for your courtesy whenever you reply? It may not be the full answers we want, which is why I am making it clear that we want full answers next time when you do write back to us. Could you pass on my thanks for Matthew Coats who in your absence arranged to write to me because you were on annual leave? When is Mr Whiteman taking up his appointment?

Jonathan Sedgwick: In just under a fortnight.

Q89 Chair: Do you know what salary Mr Whiteman is going to get?

Jonathan Sedgwick: I know that the job that he was successful in achieving was advertised at a salary of up to £175,000 and he will be paid within that range.

Q90 Chair: My apologies to you; I wrote to you and I thought I said your salary was £200,000. Of course that was Mrs Homer’s salary.

Jonathan Sedgwick: You were rather overstating it, yes.

Chair: Well, yes, by 50%. It was only £104,000, so I do apologise for that. But thank you very much. We look to receiving your replies. Thank you.

Prepared 23rd September 2011