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Home affairs - Minutes of EvidenceHC 563
Taken before the Home Affairs Committee
on Thursday 6 September 2012
Keith Vaz (Chair)
Dr Julian Huppert
Mr David Winnick
Examination of Witness
Witness: Rt Hon Theresa May MP, Secretary of State for the Home Department, gave evidence.
Chair: Home Secretary, may I begin with an apology for keeping you waiting? That was Dame Helen’s last appearance before us, and we were giving her a fairly long farewell, in the traditional way.
Mrs May: From where I was sitting outside, it sounded like you both had your boxing gloves on, Chairman.
Q1 Chair: It was a Committee farewell to the Permanent Secretary.
Home Secretary, congratulations on retaining your position as Home Secretary and being allowed by the Prime Minister to continue in your post. You are almost certainly now one of the very big beasts in the Government.
Mrs May: I thought I’d been on a diet, Chairman!
Chair: I meant that metaphorically, of course. In your comment on the reshuffle, you talked about the Government moving forward and bringing on a new generation of people. In terms of your own ministerial appointments-those in your Department-who would represent the new generation?
Mrs May: We don’t have any from the 2010 generation who have come into the Home Office, although obviously, across Government as a whole, a number of people from the 2010 generation have been brought on-people like Matt Hancock, for example. I am pleased to see a good number of women have been brought forward: Anna Soubry, Esther McVey, Liz Truss and some others.
My Department has retained two Ministers who were in it previously. One, Damian Green, has changed his portfolio from immigration to policing and will be a Minister across both the Home Office and the Ministry of Justice, looking at the criminal justice system as his predecessor did. Two new Ministers have come in: Jeremy Browne, who was a Minister of State at the Foreign Office, and Mark Harper, who was working with the Deputy Prime Minister in the Cabinet Office on constitutional matters.
Q2 Chair: Can you clarify the role of Ken Clarke, because he seems to have a Home Office security portfolio? He is now going to sit on the National Security Council. I am a little puzzled as to why he has been given a brief when we already have a Home Secretary and three Ministers of State now-I think you have increased the number of Ministers of State.
Mrs May: We have not increased the number of Ministers of State. The number of Ministers will remain as three Ministers of State and two Parliamentary Under-Secretaries, as it was previously. Ken Clarke is not attached to my Department. Ken Clarke is, of course, a Minister without Portfolio within the Cabinet Office. He has a roving brief. I understand that he will be attending the National Security Council meetings. He did that previously, in his role as Justice Secretary, as well, and I think it will be useful to have the experienced voice of Ken Clarke sitting both in the Cabinet and at other tables.
Q3 Chair: In terms of counter-terrorism, is one of your junior Ministers responsible? Take Jeremy Browne’s portfolio, for example; we are not clear exactly what that is going to be.
Mrs May: When you look at the list of responsibilities in the Home Office, it is quite lengthy and includes some things that people might be surprised to see, so we are just clarifying the exact split of the responsibilities, but security and counter-terrorism will be retained by James Brokenshire.
Q4 Chair: In respect of the vote of confidence that the Prime Minister is giving you as Home Secretary, you must be very pleased that before all the general reshuffle debate and gossip that enters the newspapers, he was very clear that you were going to stay as Home Secretary, because that enables you, presumably, to take your agenda forward.
Mrs May: Indeed, I am very pleased to have the opportunity to carry that agenda forward. We are, as you know, putting through the most significant reforms in policing for at least a generation, if not longer, and I am pleased to have the opportunity to finish those. There are some other transformation programmes that we are putting through in other parts of the Home Office, which you may ask me about later, I suspect.
Chair: I am sure we will. Mark Reckless has a question on the reshuffle and so does Mr Winnick.
Q5 Mark Reckless: Given those reforms and the upcoming elections, why has the Policing Minister gone?
Mrs May: The decisions about who is asked to take on particular roles are a matter for the Prime Minister; they are not a matter for me. I am not open to the conversations being held between the Prime Minister and other individuals. I am pleased that we have continuity in Home Office terms, in that Damian Green has been a Minister in the Home Office, is well aware of the policing issues, and is now able to move over into that brief.
Q6 Mark Reckless: So Nick Herbert stepping down was a matter for the Prime Minister and not Nick Herbert’s own decision?
Mrs May: What I am saying is that I cannot comment on that because I am not party to those conversations, and it would not be right for me to be. The Prime Minister had a conversation with Nick Herbert, as a result of which Nick Herbert is no longer a Minister. Nick did a very good job as Policing Minister. As you know, he had experience when he came into government, because this is an area he had looked at and dealt with when he was in opposition, and I was very pleased that he was able to take measures through, focusing on a number of areas, but crucially on the police and crime commissioner reform.
Q7 Mr Winnick: Nick Herbert appeared before us on a number of occasions. Although I strongly disagree with the views he expressed and Government policy on policing, it is a surprise that he has left the Government. As you say, it is a matter for the Prime Minister and Mr Herbert, but what I read in the press, correct or otherwise, is that Mr Herbert left the Government because he was not offered a Cabinet position. Your response would be that you would not know anything about that?
Mrs May: My response would be that I would not necessarily respond to speculation that has appeared in the press, Mr Winnick. As I said, I do not think it would be right for me to come here and try to attribute attitudes, approaches or comments to either of the two individuals involved in this particular set of decisions.
Mr Winnick: I understand completely.
Q8 Chair: You must be very pleased with the promotion of Edward Timpson, your PPS.
Mrs May: I am, very pleased. I am sure he will make a very good Children’s Minister. It is an area that he has experience and knowledge of.
Q9 Chair: Let us move on now. We are coming to Olympic security, but can I ask you about Gary McKinnon’s case? It is a matter in the public domain this morning. Have you made a decision about Gary McKinnon? Are you about to make a decision? Has the family been informed?
Mrs May: No, the decision has not been made; therefore, the answer is that I am not about to inform anybody about it. The courts have required me to make a decision on or around 16 October. We indicated to the court that I did not think it would be appropriate for them to set a date for me to make a decision when Parliament was not sitting. There were various issues about looking at representations that had been made by Mr McKinnon’s solicitors and representatives in relation to medical evidence.
Q10 Chair: You will recall that when the Prime Minister went to Washington and met President Obama, they discussed setting up a review of the extradition arrangements. Do you know what has happened to this review?
Mrs May: They discussed reviewing the extradition arrangements, and work has been ongoing on that.
Q11 Chair: It has?
Mrs May: Yes.
Q12 Chair: And when will that be concluded?
Mrs May: I would expect to be able to- I am going to use a phrase that I recognise has been used before, but that review has to be part of our response to the Scott Baker report, and obviously Mr McKinnon’s case is coming up in October as well.
Q13 Chair: Indeed. Would you be surprised to know that American officials know nothing about this review?
Mrs May: Well, that depends, I suspect, on which officials you have been talking to, Mr Chairman.
Q14 Chair: The American embassy.
Mrs May: I would say that here in the United Kingdom, we have been doing work on the review, and it would not be-
Q15 Chair: Not the review here; I am talking about the decisions made by President Obama and Prime Minister Cameron.
Mrs May: The matter was raised when the President and the Prime Minister met, and it was agreed that work would be undertaken to look at the extradition arrangements. Work is in hand.
Q16 Chair: This is your work, or work jointly with the American Administration? I am just trying to clarify who is doing the work.
Mrs May: We are doing work on this, but you will not be surprised to hear that we are not doing it in isolation. We do speak to our American counterparts.
Q17 Chair: I think it is best if I send you the letter that came to the Committee, so you can comment on it.
Let us move on to Olympic security. We take as read all the statements you made to the House, and we understand perfectly the comments you made to the House on 11 July that the first time you knew about the shortfall from G4S was on 11 July, and that you acted swiftly in coming before the House and telling us what was going on. You will recall your answers to questions on 9 July, when you said in the House, "We…are confident that our partners will deliver a safe and secure games". You include in the word "partners" G4S, I assume?
Mrs May: It was including all partners, and I have to say that in relation to the Olympic games, we did deliver a safe and secure games. As I say to everybody, there are a few days of the Paralympics left to go so I will not comment on the overall response to the games.
Q18 Chair: There are still 48 hours or 72 hours to go, so let’s wait until the end. Take it as read that the Committee also recognises the huge amount of work that has been done. Some of us have visited the Olympic Park and we have seen what has been going on. As far as the Olympics themselves are concerned, they were delivered in a safe and secure way, exactly as you have said. Our inquiry relates to the period before the Olympics started, obviously. As of 9 July, you knew nothing about any shortfall from G4S, or any of the other partners failing to deliver on contractual obligations, and what they have said to you or your officials?
Mrs May: As of 9 July, I was aware that there had been raised, not that many days beforehand, an issue in relation to the very immediate period, which was prior to the games, which I understood was being resolved by G4S. As of when I spoke in the House of Commons, there was no reason for me to think that G4S was not going to be able to fulfil its contractual commitments.
Q19 Chair: You have just released-thank you very much for letting us have this letter-a list of your meetings with G4S, LOCOG and Home Office Ministers. It seems that you met Nick Buckles three days before Home Office questions on 6 July; you then met him on 10 July, and you met him again on 16 July and 19 July. I can imagine what you probably said on 16 July, after you were given the information, but on 6 July you had a meeting with him. Was there nothing from Nick Buckles about there being a shortfall?
Mrs May: I did not meet him on 6 July; I had a telephone conversation with him. That telephone conversation was based on the fact that-
Q20 Chair: It says here "Dates of meetings that Home Office Ministers attended". This is from your office. Oh, sorry, you did say that you spoke to him on the phone; you are quite right. My apologies.
Mrs May: It actually says that on 6 July I spoke to Nick Buckles. I spoke to him in a telephone conversation on 6 July-
Chair: On the 6th?
Mrs May: Yes. And the purpose of that was because at that stage a problem had been raised. This was the problem that had first come to the attention, as I understand it, of G4S managers at the end of June, and had then been brought to the attention of Home Office officials. They then brought it to my attention that there was, for that immediate period that we were about to go into, a problem at that stage, which was identified as a problem with the scheduling arrangements that G4S was putting in place.
Q21 Chair: So not a shortfall of numbers.
Mrs May: Well, the scheduling was leading to some issues around who was available. I spoke to Nick Buckles and he assured me that this was an internal issue that was being resolved and would be resolved by, they hoped-
Q22 Chair: This is a minuted call, so there is no question about the veracity of the conversation.
Mrs May: Yes. Either the Sunday evening, or- There are very few calls I have these days to which nobody else is listening.
Chair: I will remember that when I ring you.
Mrs May: He said that they hoped that this would be resolved by early the following week.
Q23 Chair: And on 9 July you appeared before the House, very confident; the House was very reassured and people were very happy. You spoke to him again on 10 July. Was this a phone call, or did you meet him?
Mrs May: No, that was a meeting. That was a face-to-face meeting.
Q24 Chair: At the Home Office?
Mrs May: At the Home Office.
Q25 Chair: And, again, he did not say to you, "Sorry, Home Secretary, we do not have the numbers?
Mrs May: No, he said that they had had some problems that they had not expected in relation to that period and potentially for a short time thereafter, but that they were resolving those problems. I emphasised to him the importance of this contract; I emphasised to him the importance of safety and security of the Olympic games and the role that G4S was playing within that.
Q26 Chair: Do you remember-I know it is difficult for you-roughly what time that meeting was? Was it in the afternoon?
Mrs May: I think it probably was, but I can check that and get that to you.
Q27 Chair: So at that meeting Nick Buckles did not say, "We are not going to have the numbers, Home Secretary; I am sorry."
Mrs May: No.
Q28 Chair: Then at 8.30 in the morning on the next day the Olympic security board met, and at 11 o’clock Mr Buckles and David Taylor-Smith told LOCOG for the first time that they did not have the numbers.
Mrs May: Yes.
Q29 Chair: And you were told at what time?
Mrs May: I was told fairly shortly after that. Again, I cannot- Obviously a meeting was called immediately in my office and the information was given to me, but I cannot remember exactly what hour and minute it was that that took place.
Q30 Chair: Bearing in mind that that young members of the public will be watching this broadcast at some stage, what was your reaction to being told that two weeks before the Olympics, G4S were not going to deliver on numbers? What was your reaction to that as the Home Secretary responsible for this whole show?
Mrs May: First of all, a reaction of deep concern, necessity to look at what we could do to deal with that issue, and of course disappointment.
Q31 Chair: Do you hold G4S solely responsible for this or do you think LOCOG has a responsibility for not delivering on this arrangement?
Mrs May: The arrangements, as you know, are that the contract is between LOCOG and G4S, and obviously there had been a relationship between LOCOG and G4S, but there had also been the Home Office looking at that relationship. Meetings had variously involved for some time G4S, LOCOG and the Home Office and various other parties who were involved in providing Olympic security, but as you will know, Chairman, Nick Buckles has himself appeared before your Committee and said that this was a G4S problem and has taken responsibility for it.
Q32 Chair: And you agree with that?
Mrs May: Yes, G4S were contracted to provide a certain number of individual members of staff; they were not able to provide those numbers. May I say, though, that although they were not able to provide the numbers they had contracted for, as we saw during the Olympics and are seeing now during the Paralympics, they provided significant numbers of staff. Obviously that built up through the Olympics and has been significant and on track for the Paralympics.
Q33 Chair: Were you surprised to know that G4S were one of the sponsors of the Olympics? It came as a surprise to me? Following Mr Buckles’ appearance before the Committee, I was told that they were one of the sponsors. Is it not a surprise that one of the sponsors should be given the contract for delivering security?
Mrs May: No, sponsors have a number of contracts, in fact-if you look at it, the provider of food, for example, is McDonald’s. But the provision of venue security was a matter for a proper process of tendering. A number of organisations would have been invited to take the opportunity to apply for that and G4S won that contract.
Q34 Mr Winnick: We received with your letter to the Chair of the Home Affairs Committee the reports from HMIC. I was going to quote the recommendations. Are you saying, arising from your letter to the Chair, that this should not be disclosed?
Mrs May: Sorry?
Q35 Mr Winnick: In your letter of 5 September to the Chair you say, "I am enclosing these reports, which we have only received today. However, because of ongoing operational sensitivities, I would be grateful if the Committee did not make their content public until after the close of the Games."
Mrs May: Yes. My point is very simple. The Paralympics are ongoing. Security provision is ongoing. There are certain things which it would be more appropriate to make public afterwards.
Q36 Mr Winnick: In which case, obviously, I will not quote them because security is upmost in our minds at all times.
Home Secretary, reference has been made by the Chair today to the way in which you answered questions on 9 July. Indeed, when my Front-Bench colleague, Diana Johnson, pressed you on whether all the measures were going through-this is not confidential; it happened on the Floor of the House-you replied, "The hon. Lady has missed one crucial point: the G4S contract is with LOCOG. The Home Office has a responsibility to test those plans and to provide assurance on them, which is exactly what it has been doing." That is what you said on 9 July. On reflection, do you feel that there was a degree of, shall we say, complacency, because you had not been told until two days later what the situation was? It was on 11 July that you were told, wasn’t it?
Mrs May: Yes. There was no complacency. The Ministers, Home Office officials, LOCOG officials, G4S and others had been meeting regularly for some considerable time. The Home Office had obviously been looking at this situation for a considerable period of time. We had been working through the various arrangements. At various stages the venue security arrangements had been firmed up. The numbers had changed over time. We had been looking at the provision of those numbers. We felt it was right. Remember, it was the Home Office-we were not complacent, Mr Winnick-that commissioned HMIC to do this work. We asked them to go into LOCOG and to look and see what was happening to make sure that we could have exactly the assurance that we were looking for. The first report obviously raised some issues. We then asked HMIC to go back in again to look further at what had happened as a result of the first report. They were able to confirm that they felt that the arrangements had been put in place.
The question of recruiting and training the significant numbers of members of staff needed by G4S was one that was always in the back of our minds. We were constantly looking at that training programme and whether it was delivering the necessary numbers. Just before the problems were revealed, we had already accredited more than 20,000 individuals, who either were in training or were going into training with G4S. That is why at that stage there was not an issue with the numbers.
Q37 Mr Winnick: But Home Secretary, anyone who reads these two reports from HMIC dated 30 September and 27 February-I am not going to quote them, for reasons that you have explained-when they come into the public domain would have to agree that there were reasons to be very concerned indeed about security. The problems have been rectified since-obviously the situation is very different at the moment-but at the time, anyone reading the recommendations would bear in mind, presumably, that there were matters that the Home Office should be concerned about and which would need some chasing to find out precisely what has happened, instead of which-
Mrs May: No-I don’t know if you wish to finish your question.
Mr Winnick: Instead of that, the impression you give was that the Home Office assumed everything was absolutely okay, including what you said on 9 July in the House, until you were told otherwise.
Mrs May: The reason I was able to stand up on 9 July and say what I did was precisely because the Home Office had not assumed that everything was okay. If the Home Office had assumed that everything was okay, we would not have commissioned two reports from HMIC, nor would we have ensured that the recommendations brought forward by HMIC in its reports had been put into place. We would not have had a number of meetings-I could go through the number of meetings-in various configurations.
Chair: Yes, we have the list. We are very grateful. You don’t need to go through them.
Mrs May: Other meetings took place: inter-ministerial meetings, internal meetings in the Home Office and the Cabinet Committee on the Olympics. All those were taking place. Venue security was an issue that we were looking at constantly throughout that period. I was informed in early July; obviously the issue first came up towards the end of June for G4S. What happened was not about the issues that we had been assuring. There were some issues within G4S that came up, which initially appeared to be about scheduling. G4S has now commissioned a report from PWC to look into what happened within the company. I cannot say what happened within the company; I am only able to say what we saw from outside, but we were constantly looking for the assurances we needed. A further issue then arose. We dealt with that further issue, and we were able to provide the necessary security.
Q38 Mr Winnick: So if the situation was the same, your reaction would be similar to what happened during the course of this year? You don’t consider that there is any reason for criticism of the Home Office and yourself?
Chair: A quick answer would be appreciated.
Mrs May: We looked for proper assurance. We did everything that was absolutely right for us to do. We also put contingency arrangements in place, which was absolutely right for us to do. As I said on the Floor of the House and am happy to repeat here, and as the Chair has indicated, at the stage right up until 11 July, assurances had been received from G4S in relation to the numbers that they were going to be able to produce. It was only on 11 July that they said they couldn’t.
Q39 Alun Michael: I want to ask one question looking back, and then one question looking forward. Can we take it as read that the company is responsible for what the company is responsible for? However, there were four reports: two by HMIC, one by KPMG and one by Deloitte. When did you see each of those reports?
Mrs May: I would have seen the HMIC reports shortly after they were received by the Home Office. The other reports were made to LOCOG, not to me.
Q40 Alun Michael: After you saw the first HMIC report, which was in September, with some expressions of concern and a recommendation of weekly monitoring, what action did you take personally to satisfy yourself that security arrangements were on track?
Mrs May: This was an issue that I ensured was on the agenda when the internal Home Office meetings took place-venue security was on the agenda and this was part of that. It was discussed there and it was discussed also in inter-ministerial group meetings.
Q41 Alun Michael: Going forward, it was clear that you were relying on the information that was given by the company, which, it turns out, was not as dependable as everyone would have wished. What changes have been made, first, in Government procurement, to ensure that the company’s capacity to deliver is better assured, in terms of both this specific company and procurement generally; and secondly, to monitoring arrangements over a matter that is so significant in terms of security?
Mrs May: The first thing I would say-Sir Denis O’Connor made this point as well-is that the Olympics and the Paralympics are two events that are like no other. They have much bigger requirements in numbers than are required by many of the other contracts that you will be talking about. I will make the point that G4S and a number of other private sector contractors work with the Government in taking up public sector contracts. They work with other parts of the public sector and are delivering day in, day out on those contracts. This Government, when we came into power in May 2010, took a decision that we needed to look across the board at procurement arrangements. Francis Maude in the Cabinet Office has taken particular responsibility for that and we have improved how Government does procurement.
Q42 Alun Michael: It is a fascinating history that I would love to go into-
Mrs May: But you don’t want to hear me talking about it.
Q43 Alun Michael: This point is that this particular contract has thrown up a question about a Government that has procured a particular contract being satisfied that it is being delivered at an adequate level. What has changed in that regard?
Mrs May: Government did not procure this contract. It was procured by a private company. LOCOG is required to be a private company by the International Olympic Committee. The Home Office had overall responsibility for security in its entirety-remember, we are talking about one particular aspect of security, which is venue security-and that was why we were constantly looking for assurance from LOCOG and then, obviously, from LOCOG and G4S on the provisions that they were making.
Now, the Government have improved the way in which procurement takes place, and it is fair to say that one of the things that we will talk about that Francis Maude has done is look at the whole process of procurement to ensure that the Government are getting the best forms of contract that we can when dealing with the private sector. Obviously, having seen what has happened here, people will be conscious of the need to ensure that they have contracts that are deliverable and have sufficient clauses within them to ensure that, if something goes wrong, they are able to be compensated for that through penalty clauses.
Q44 Alun Michael: And in terms of monitoring?
Mrs May: What I am suggesting to you is that this is what people will be doing anyway. They will be looking to their private sector contractors to ensure that they can deliver on the contracts that they have.
Q45 Alun Michael: So no changes in terms of monitoring? That is what the question is about.
Mrs May: In terms of the Government monitoring its public sector contracts? Well, the Government will be undertaking in every case regular monitoring of our public sector contracts to ensure that people are delivering.
Q46 Chair: Is there going to be a careful look at all the contracts that G4S currently has with the Government, because this has been such a spectacular failure? The Government are a big client of G4S.
Mrs May: Indeed, there is a number of contracts that the Government have with G4S, but if I may take you back to the remarks I made a little earlier, Chairman, the sorts of contracts that the Government and other parts of the public have with G4S are in many ways-
Mrs May: Rather different from the contract to provide the venue security for the Olympic and the Paralympic Games.
Q47 Chair: But there are still alarm bells ringing. Are we going to be even more careful?
Mrs May: No, I had not said that there are alarm bells ringing and that we are going to be even more careful.
Q48 Chair: No, I am asking; I am not putting words in your mouth.
Mrs May: What I am saying is that when any part of the public sector enters into a contract with the private sector, it is right that there are proper processes that it goes through to ensure that that contract can be delivered and can be delivered on time. There are Government contracts from time to time, under the previous Government as well, where the private sector has not delivered to the timetable, for example, that the Government might have required.
Chair: E-Borders, for example.
Mrs May: There are obviously issues that can arise.
Q49 Michael Ellis: Home Secretary, congratulations on an excellent security operation at the Olympics. I appreciate that the Paralympics are still ongoing.
As far as G4S is concerned, the fact is that the contract was not with the Government, it was with LOCOG. Colleagues have referred to a Government contract, and I appreciate that G4S contracts with Her Majesty’s Government and other Governments around the world, but this contract was between G4S and LOCOG, wasn’t it? The Home Office was effectively overseeing roughly what LOCOG was doing. In that respect, the failure of G4S was in part the failure to report to LOCOG and then to report to the Government as well. Is that a fair characterisation?
Mrs May: Yes. On your first point, thank you for your comments about the security of the Olympic Games. As we have said, there are still a few days of the Paralympics to go. May I record huge gratitude and a vote of thanks to all those who were involved in providing that security: the police, the military, G4S and those behind the scenes in other agencies, who for a considerable time have been working to ensure that a secure and safe Olympic and Paralympic Games could be provided?
In relation to the contract, you are right that the contract was between LOCOG and G4S. That is the standard arrangement that takes place on venue security at any major event. There is an assessment by the police regarding their presence for general policing of events, but the venue security is normally provided by the event manager and that might be their own or contracted staff.
Q50 Michael Ellis: But G4S are effectively in breach of contract, in that they failed to provide the required number of personnel and, to be fair, they seemed to have accepted that when Mr Buckles came before this Committee. What is particularly acute is that they failed to tell the Home Office that there was a problem until approximately two weeks before the Olympics. Does it go further than that? When the Home Office was seeking reassurances, is it fair to say that G4S led the Home Office up the garden path as far as everything being okay was concerned, right up until two weeks beforehand?
Mrs May: My understanding is that the senior management of G4S were themselves not aware of some of these issues until quite late in the day. That is precisely the sort of issue that the PWC report-
Michael Ellis: Which is currently in progress.
Mrs May: Yes. The report, which is currently in progress within G4S, will reveal that. They have commissioned a report to look at what happened, what went wrong.
Q51 Michael Ellis: So we are not sure-and there is no reason we should be prior to the report-how dysfunctional G4S’s own internal operations were? For whatever reason, they failed to tell the Home Office that there was a problem until approximately two weeks beforehand.
Mrs May: Yes, for whatever reason. Whatever was happening within the company, it was at that late stage that the Home Office was informed.
Q52 Michael Ellis: As far as the Home Office was concerned, it was routinely looking for assurances from G4S, as part of its overseeing responsibilities, and, once it was aware an issue had arisen, it acted to resolve a problem that had come to your attention?
Mrs May: As I said, for some considerable time in advance of the Olympics and Paralympics, we were working with LOCOG and others and, at various stages, G4S, to get the assurances on issues that had been raised by HMIC and by us, constantly testing that question. One issue we were conscious of was the number of people that G4S would need to recruit and train. We had already by the middle of June accredited more than 20,000 people-either as recruited and trained people or to be trained.
Q53 Mark Reckless: Home Secretary, you had overall responsibility for security and contingency planning. Is not the bottom line that, two weeks before the Olympics, when you found that G4S could not deliver what it had promised, frankly, the response from the Home Office, the Army and the police was absolutely superb?
Mrs May: I thank you for that comment, Mr Reckless. The important thing when something goes wrong is how you deal with the fact that it has gone wrong. We had put contingency arrangements in place and were able to exercise them in a way that ensured that everybody had a smooth Olympic Games, and we hope that will be the case through to Sunday and a smooth Paralympic Games.
Q54 Chair: You can take the congratulations as read, Home Secretary.
Nicola Blackwood: I want to take you on from your discussions with Mr Michael and the Chairman about private sector procurement. We are going to see ripple effects from the contract. Quite a lot of people will have been scared off by some of the headlines associated with the G4S contract. There are a lot of police authorities-there will not be quite soon-up and down the country that were considering entering into private sector contracts for different services. Some have changed their minds. Others are pressing ahead. I wonder if you think that certain services should be out of bounds for private sector contracts, or that others should require specialist training on the part of public sector contractors. How do you think that should be gone about?
The situation that we have here was a very rigorous assurance process with daily meetings, which caught almost all the problems except for one very big problem that almost crashed the whole system were it not for a contingency plan, the military being on standby and the fantastic police service that could come in and save the day. It did save the day, therefore we had a completely secure and fantastic Olympic Games. It all worked out fine in the end. But we might not have that in a local police environment. How shall we fix that situation and assure local people that they can have private sector delivery?
Mrs May: There are two parts to your question about the overall issue of private sector delivery and the public sector working with the private sector. Day in and day out, we are already seeing private sector companies working with police forces and on contracts. You go into any custody suite, and it is highly likely that you will see companies like Reliance and G4S working alongside warranted police officers, for example. The detention and escort powers were, of course, given to the private sector by the last Government.
In any relationship between the public sector and the private sector, what matters are the details of the contract and the negotiations that take place to make sure that it is a contract, and for the public sector body that is letting that contract to assure itself in a variety of ways that the company that it is dealing with can deliver the product that it is intended to deliver. Many forces are still looking at what the nature of their relationship with the private sector should be, and it is absolutely right that they should do that. If there are services that can be provided in a better and more cost-effective way by using the private sector, it is right that polices forces do that.
You asked me whether there were certain things that should not go to the private sector. I am absolutely clear that we will not allow the powers of warranted officers to be going to the private sector. That is a job that a police officer should be doing. There are jobs in the area of policing and in the whole question of delivering a police force that are perfectly reasonable for private sector companies to provide, if they can do it better and more cost effectively even than the public sector.
Q55 Nicola Blackwood: What about capacity building in monitoring and assurance on the part of the police forces in terms of their private sector contractors? Do you think that there needs to be more training and some sort of best practice and guidelines available?
Mrs May: In a sense, what we have been trying to do from the centre-as I said to Mr Michael, the Government as a whole have been trying to improve the way the public sector undertakes procurement. Indeed, we at the Home Office have been looking at that in relation to police forces. Obviously, once police and crime commissioners are in place after the elections on 15 November-that is my plug for those elections-
Chair: Mr Michael is most grateful.
Mrs May: I was not going to mention individuals.
Chair: I think he may want you to go and campaign for him.
Mrs May: But obviously once police and crime commissioners are there, it would be up to them to be working with the chief constables and looking at the whole question of procurement. The Home Office has been working with police forces on how you can ensure that procurement is done in the best possible way and in the way that is going to get maximum benefit for the police.
Q56 Chair: Thank you. Following Olympic security, let us now move on to drugs. Can I formally do what I should have done at the beginning and ask Members to indicate if they have any additional issues to declare other than those in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests?
Alun Michael: I think I am prompted by the Home Secretary’s last comments to mention the fact that I shall be standing in the police and crime commissioner elections in November.
Q57 Chair: Excellent. That is on the record now.
Home Secretary, your recent Cabinet colleague, Kenneth Clarke, said when he came before this Committee that he believed that the war on drugs is lost. He said, "We have been engaged in a war against drugs for 30 years. We are plainly losing it. We have not achieved very much progress." That was on 3 July 2012. Do you agree that the war on drugs is lost?
Mrs May: It ill behoves any Government at any stage to claim complete victory in the war on drugs. It is a constant battle, and we see that with the new psychoactive substances that are coming forward. New substances are being produced out there and the Government obviously have to react to that. It is the case, however, that we have seen some significant changes, and drug use is the lowest since measurement began in 1996, so we have seen some impact. Obviously, the drugs strategy that this Government introduced is a more holistic one, so we have been looking not just at trying to take people off drugs, but also ensuring that that is long-lasting, so that we do not just park people on methadone as an alternative to being on drugs.
Q58 Chair: Sure, but it is still the case that nearly 3 million people, according to the crime survey for England and Wales, took illicit drugs last year, and 75% of the respondents said that it was very or fairly easy for them to obtain drugs. You mentioned methadone. Methadone deaths rose by more than 30% to a 15-year high at the last time we had statistics. Is that a concern? What can we do about this?
Mrs May: I have had a very long-standing concern about a situation where people were being put on methadone. My view was that actually what we need to be doing is trying to get people off drugs and helping them to stay off drugs. However, in considering this whole issue, we need to look across the board, so we need to be dealing with the question of supply, which is the work of the police, the Border Force, and SOCA. We are also doing more work upstream, looking at the sources of supply.
We also need to be looking at the issue of demand and, as I say, working with addicts to help them to come off drugs. That is about more than just churning people through a system, because if you are going to get people off drugs, it can be quite a lengthy process to ensure that they can lead a life that does not lead them back into drugs, which is often the problem. In the past, people have been through some sort of rehab and they come out of it and straight back into the environment that they were living in. They have had the same temptations and the same pressures and the same results, and they go back on the drugs. We need to be looking at that, which is why we have introduced these pilots on the payment-by-results work to look at what works out there to deliver what we want, which is for people to become drug-free.
Q59 Chair: The Committee has not considered this issue for 10 years, so this is a major inquiry for us that has gone on for a year, but we have looked at the last set of recommendations from 10 years ago. Mr Winnick was a member of the Committee then, as was the Prime Minister. The Committee decided by a majority vote to go for declassification of cannabis. Is this in your mind at all as one of the ways in which we can deal with this issue? We will come on to decriminalisation later, but the declassification issue-is this something that occupies your mind?
Mrs May: Absolutely not in my mind. I have very clear views about this. I believe that declassification is not right. I am concerned about cannabis and the impact that cannabis has on individuals but also as a gateway drug. I think that in the recent report-it is very difficult without looking in detail, and one sees headline reports of work that has been done-the suggestion is that this can have more of an impact particularly on young minds than has been thought previously.
Q60 Chair: Of course, the Prime Minister voted for declassification when he sat on this Committee-
Mrs May: I am aware of that.
Chair: -and look how well he has done.
Mrs May: Are you suggesting that I have just ditched my career as a result of what I have said?
Q61 Chair: No, I want to ask you: is it still his view that there should be declassification? Does he have a personal view on this, given that he supported it when he sat on the Home Affairs Committee, or are the Government of one mind that there should not be declassification?
Mrs May: As far as I am aware, the Government have a position on this and obviously the Prime Minister is leading that position. The Prime Minister is part of that and is comfortable with the position that the Government have taken.
Q62 Chair: So he has clearly changed his mind since 10 years ago, but we could write to him and ask him.
The latest list of Home Office Ministers does not include Lord Henley, who was a Minister last week. He may not have been told he is a Minister again, but is he a Minister and does he still have responsibility for drugs, or is this one of the things you are going to decide on?
Mrs May: Lord Henley did a very good job as a Minister in the Home Office. He is no longer a Minister in the Home Office, and I expect an appointment to be made imminently.
Q63 Chair: Will the drugs portfolio go to the Lords Minister or have you not decided?
Mrs May: As you will appreciate, the individuals can make a difference. Once we have made that final appointment, we will make the final list of where these responsibilities go.
Dr Huppert: First, I apologise for missing your earlier evidence; I was in another Committee looking at the problems with the draft Communications Data Bill, and it is very hard to be in both places at once.
Mrs May: I might have preferred you to be here.
Q64 Dr Huppert: It is a pleasure to see you as well, Home Secretary. In the UK, the lead on drugs policy is obviously taken by the Home Office. You are presumably aware from the most recent surveys by EMCDDA and so forth that if you look at all the countries in Europe, I think we are now the only one where that is the case. A huge number of countries have the principal lead within the Ministry of Health, and a few others have another role such as a prime ministerial body. Why do you think the UK is the only one that thinks it is principally a Home Office issue?
Mrs May: The Home Office takes the lead, but of course we have a holistic approach across a number of Government Departments to this issue. The Home Office takes the lead because of the impact of drugs on society. Yes, for individuals there are health issues, but there are others who are victims of drugs in the sense that they are the victims of crime that is related to drugs. The cost of drugs is estimated to be just over £15 billion a year, and that estimate was taken a few years ago. A significant amount of crime is related to drugs, but it is important that we look at this holistically. There are aspects of this issue that are about Home Office policy. There are aspects that will be about health; there are aspects that will be about education; and there are aspects that are about issues such as, for example, how the Work programme deals with individuals who are addicts in helping them to get back into work. So we do take a holistic approach across Government.
Q65 Dr Huppert: I do not think any country would suggest that there are not criminal aspects, particularly at the high level of drug traffic, and we know about the crime. It just seems slightly striking that the UK is the only place that takes it as the lead role. I think your earlier comments were mostly about treatment, and I welcome some of that. In terms of co-ordination, a number of places have a prime ministerial co-ordinating body or something else to try to make sure that all those departments work together. Is there an equivalent in the UK, or would you look at one?
Mrs May: There is an inter-ministerial group, yes.
Q66 Dr Huppert: Which Departments are represented on that?
Mrs May: I can get you the full list, but it is a Home Office lead and it certainly includes Health. I think it will also include the Cabinet Office, and the Minister for Government policy has a particular role in co-ordination in relation to this, but we can get you a full list.
Q67 Dr Huppert: That would be helpful. While I am looking at European comparators, you probably know that some of the members of this Committee went on a visit to Portugal to have a look at what is happening there, where they have a very interesting and rather more complex policy than I think is often described. What is your assessment of the Portuguese model? You presumably looked at that and talked to colleagues there.
Mrs May: Yes, we have looked at the Portuguese experience. I think it is rather-if I can put it like this-perhaps less clear than it is sometimes claimed to be. I know that it is constantly being adduced as an example of where decriminalisation and a different approach can have an impact on drugs-I was just looking for some figures that I know were in my briefing. However, I am not convinced that that has actually had the impact that everybody feels it has had.
Q68 Dr Huppert: While you are looking for figures, we spoke to politicians there from the whole political spectrum-from the Communists to the Christian Democrats-who all said they preferred the current system, which is not a complete decriminalisation. There is still a sanction and a process that is directed at treatment rather than punishment. We spoke to senior police officers who said they preferred the current system. Many of them said they had opposed it to start with, but they said now it was better and they could tackle more serious crime more easily. They felt it was reducing crime. Have you had similar conversations with people from there? Have you found people in Portugal who would rather go back to their old system?
Mrs May: I personally have not had conversations with individuals in Portugal. I have the figure that I was looking for. In Portugal between 1996 and 2007, drug use among 16 to 17-year-olds increased by 8%, and during the same period, we saw a decrease of drug usage of 13%1. We have seen a larger decrease in the numbers of problematic drug users than Portugal. Levels of HIV infection among intravenous drug users in the UK remain lower than in Portugal. Those sorts of factors are important in looking at this issue. Of course, we have looked at what has happened in Portugal and elsewhere, but the facts, as I say, give a slightly different picture than the one that is sometimes portrayed.
Q69 Dr Huppert: I agree completely that the facts are complex. There are lots of different ways of slicing and dicing it and one can tell a story one way or the other. There have certainly been very pro-Portugal articles that have been inappropriate and very anti-Portugal articles that have been inappropriate. But I hope you will take the opportunity to talk to the Portuguese Minister and others, because-other members of this Committee will disagree if I am being inaccurate-there was an astonishing rate of uniformity there. Everybody-even people who had opposed the change to the new non-criminal process-resisted the concept of going back. They all felt things were getting better in Portugal. It was really very striking.
Mrs May: I understand the point that you are making. I am bound to say that I am happy for my officials to go and look again at the evidence from Portugal, but I do not think that things are improving if what we were seeing was an increase in the number of drug users, and the reduction in the number of problematic drug users was not as great as it was here in the UK with what we were doing. I suspect we may come from a fundamentally different point of view in relation to drugs. I have some very clear views that we should be doing everything we can to deal with drugs, having seen some of the impacts of drugs on individuals and on families.
Q70 Dr Huppert: Just to be clear, we all share a concern in trying to reduce the impact. The disagreement is on how to reduce the impact, rather than whether one should. I would be fascinated to know, given the facts and the figures, how you account for this amazing uniformity of opinion in Portugal from all places in the political spectrum-from police and from health professionals-that their new system is better than their old one. Why do you think they almost uniformly seem to believe that?
Mrs May: I would have to go back and look at the comments that they have made. Not having spoken to the individuals myself and not having seen exactly what they have said, it is difficult for me to say why they might be in that position.
Chair: Home Secretary, we will indeed send you those. On Monday, the Select Committee has a major seminar on drugs. We have invited the Portuguese Health Minister and the Colombian Minister and others. If officials are available to attend and take notes, I am sure that would be helpful to you, but we will send you our deliberations very shortly.
Q71 Mr Winnick: Home Secretary, I wonder if you would agree that the very welcome reduction of drug use is perhaps more due to a feeling or an understanding, certainly among younger people, that it is dangerous and undesirable for their health to take drugs, rather than criminal sanctions.
Mrs May: I think that both are important. It is important that young people understand the impact of drugs on their health. Part of the holistic approach that the Government is taking is to ensure that that is the message that young people get: that they recognise the problems that are associated with drugs. The message that the Government gives is not one of trying to reduce the harms from taking drugs but of trying to give a very clear message about the impact and the harmful impact on health that drugs have. I also think it is important to have the criminal justice backing to the stance that the Government is taking.
Q72 Mr Winnick: Is it likely that the reduction, which I have said is most welcome, in the use of cannabis is more due to what I have stated-the danger to health-than the feeling that those who use it will end up in prison?
Mrs May: I have not seen, and therefore am not aware of, studies that have identified the point that you are making as to what the percentage on either side is. It is important that young people understand the health impact, but I also think it is important that you have the other side of the story.
Q73 Mr Winnick: I have two further questions, Home Secretary. Do you see any similarity at all with the failure, well over 70 years ago, of prohibition in the States-that was a total failure; I do not think there is any dispute about that from any commentator or historian-and the failure which Kenneth Clarke described as us losing the war over drugs.
Mrs May: As I said earlier in response to the Chairman, there is a constant fight in relation to drugs. But it seems to me that the approach one takes to this has to start from the basis of whether you believe that these things are harmful and that people should not be taking them-I happen to hold that view-and then how do you approach it? If you take an approach where you say to people that it is okay to take drugs because it is decriminalised that potentially leads to further problems, which I don’t want to see. That is the basic position that I have tried to explain in a number of answers.
Q74 Mr Winnick: Thank you, Home Secretary. The final question is simply this: there is a feeling, justified or otherwise, that certainly leading politicians are rather cowardly about this matter. This is nothing personal to you. It could apply to all political parties represented in the House of Commons. If one party decides on reclassification, say of cannabis, then the party in opposition, whatever that party may be, will immediately jump on the bandwagon and accuse the party responsible for being soft on drugs. Don’t you think it would be far better if there was less of a feeling of trying to get some political gain when all of us, be it senior or junior politicians, want to see a marked reduction in the use of drugs?
Mrs May: What I would say to that, Mr Winnick, is simply this: I can assure you that the position I take on drugs and the views I have about what is necessary in order to try to deal with the issue of drugs are not affected by any attempt to make a political point against anyone else on this. I simply think that this is something that we need to take extremely seriously. It is right that we have introduced a new drugs strategy and that that takes a wider approach, which is built on doing things about supply, but also ensuring that we can take people off drugs and that they do not go back on them. That is why the title of our drugs strategy has "building recovery" in it as well as the other aspects.
Q75 Michael Ellis: Home Secretary, drugs harm people, don’t they? They kill people and they harm people. But more than that, they are harmful to society. Therefore, suggestions that in some way they should be legalised or decriminalised are not giving the full picture, are they? The reality is that even drugs like cannabis can be used as gateway drugs to other drugs and are harmful to society in that they can increase the cost of law and order, for example, as well as cost to the national health service.
Mrs May: It is my view that drugs are harmful. They can have exactly the impact that you have set out, Mr Ellis. People can die as a result of taking drugs, and significant mental health problems can arise as a result of taking drugs. That is why it is necessary for the Government to have the approach that says we need to deal with supply, ensure that we put in place programmes to help people come off drugs and build that recovery for those individuals. It is important that society takes this issue seriously.
Q76 Michael Ellis: At least two tiers of the approach-the second tier-is to help rehabilitate people and fight those addictions or prevent them happening in the first place.
Mrs May: Indeed. That is why the strategy has the threefold title of reducing demand, restricting supply and building recovery. Sorry, it’s fourfold: supporting people to live a drug-free life. That is the important thing; that is part and parcel. The problem I had with the approach taken by the previous Government was that I felt-and it was a collective feeling-that too many people just churned through these schemes to get them off drugs but were then put back in without the ability to deal with exactly the same situation that had led them to take drugs in the first place.
Q77 Alun Michael: You mentioned earlier the number of aspects other than prosecution that are involved: education, health and so on. One finding of the Justice Committee a couple of years ago on justice reinvestment was that many of the things that affect the levels of offending-including the area of drugs-are outside the criminal justice system. Given that situation and given the pressure that there is on many agencies as a result of the cuts taking place, are you concerned about the abilities of agencies to intervene, to educate people about the harm, and also the pressures on agencies that are responsible for trying to restrict the supply of drugs?
Mrs May: In the current economic environment in terms of budgets, the Government are looking to ensure, first, that there are new ways to deliver services and that that can be done cost-effectively. We are also identifying what really works. That is why the pilots are in place for the payment-by-results programmes. That is a new way of looking at this-payment by results. Through pilots, we are identifying how that system can work and the sort of programmes that are going to make a difference.
Q78 Alun Michael: The Justice Committee saw that in some local areas in the United States one way of intervening on the amount of crime related to drugs was to be able swiftly to put people on, and keep them on, treatment programmes. That is something we still haven’t cracked, isn’t it?
Mrs May: It will vary across the country what programmes are available and the speed with which people can be put on them. That is in a sense another aspect of the pilots taking place. They are looking at the process of getting people on to programmes and what the right programmes are for them. That is a question, but it is also a question of what sort of programme is going to work in having the full impact we want to have on individuals.
Q79 Mark Reckless: Home Secretary, I was very encouraged by your focus on not just maintaining people on methadone but dealing with addicts’ underlying problems and seeking to get them off drugs. How do you see the payment-by-results programme helping to achieve that?
Mrs May: There is a key thing about the payment-by-results programme. These are only pilots and the point is to learn from them and see what will work and build the rehabilitation and support that is necessary to ensure that people can come off drugs. People have different views as to the length of time required for such programmes and what they should contain. I hope from the payment-by-results pilots that we will be able to see two things: both the programmes that work and the processes and structures that are going to work in how Government can interact with the organisations providing them, and how the payment-by-results model should operate to get the maximum benefit.
Q80 Mark Reckless: You say how they work, but on the payment-by-results pilots, to the extent that they are measuring whether people are reoffending or are presenting to other drug treatment providers, is there any reason for thinking that measuring those metrics is going to encourage and motivate people getting off drugs, rather than merely keeping them out of going to another drugs programme or reoffending?
Mrs May: You are suggesting, is the fact that those are the sorts of measures we are using going to have an impact on people who might not be on the programme? I think it is probably too early to tell at the moment as to whether that is. I suppose it is possible that that emphasis could in itself have an impact separately to the programmes.
Q81 Mark Reckless: I am picking up a number of concerns about the payment-by-results pilots. First, they are pushing small providers out of delivering services. In particular, a number of faith-based organisations focusing on 12-steps and abstinence programmes are not finding it easier to bid or to get contracts. While Ministers have a strong belief that they will achieve this abstinence focus and move away from methadone maintenance, many providers in the sector that are committed to that view are concerned that that is not going to happen and that it may go the other way. I agree that it is too early to tell, but can I ask whether you will take a strong, personal interest in this? Would you be prepared to meet with some of the people who share these concerns?
Mrs May: I will certainly commit that either I or the Minister responsible for drugs will meet with that group. As it happens, I have a faith-based drug rehabilitation centre in my own constituency, which does very good work, but over quite a long term, in getting people off drugs and in changing their lifestyles. One of the constant challenges for Government in any tendering that is about payment by results-you will see this in other areas as well-is ensuring that smaller bodies are able to be part of that process, rather than simply larger organisations. That is one of the aspects that we will want to look at in relation to the pilots. Certainly, I am keen that we see what is the Government’s aim. This is not just my view, but it is the Government’s strategy aim. It is about being able to take people off drugs and not just simply park them on methadone.
Chair: Thank you.
Mrs May: I would certainly take an interest in that.
Chair: Thank you for agreeing to meet Mr Reckless.
Mrs May: I said either I or the Drugs Minister.
Chair: We understand that. You have various personae. We know that.
Q82 Nicola Blackwood: I would like to echo the points made by Mr Reckless on the issue of abstinence-based rehab. I am the patron of an abstinence-based rehab centre. It is not faith-based, but it is residential with 12-month courses. It has been struggling a little bit. It is a great supporter of the new drugs strategy and completely supports the aims. It is just working out how the systems will work, so that focus on behalf of the Drugs Minister would be welcome.
As part of the inquiry, most of the Committee visited Colombia and looked at some of the work that SOCA has been doing out there. We were impressed by the partnership work between the Colombian narcotics teams out there and SOCA, particularly by the way in which the Colombian police valued the training and support that they had received from SOCA, which is incredibly expert in the work of preventing supply. This really is the supply aspect of the drugs strategy.
I suppose what we are trying to work out is how exactly that will fit into where you see the NCA going. Can you guarantee that that will carry on, despite the worsening economic situation?
Mrs May: Certainly, some very positive work is being done by SOCA in a number of parts of the world on this issue. When I am abroad I very often will meet with the SOCA representative as well to see the work that they are doing in a wide range of places. This will be part of the work that is undertaken by the NCA, within the Serious and Organised Crime Command, which this will fit in. The NCA is looking at how it can maintain outreach overseas representation as well, because of the recognition of how important that particular work is.
Looking at the NCA, it should be easier within that organisation to ensure that the linkages are being made between not only the Serious and Organised Crime Command, but the Border Policing Command, in relation to these matters, and then linking through into individual police forces. It really is local to global on this particular issue, because obviously the supply that starts in Colombia ends up on somebody’s street, and potentially ends up with burglaries and muggings to feed that habit.
Q83 Nicola Blackwood: So you remain of the view that it is better to stop the drugs before they get here-interrupt and interdict-rather than having them stopped at the border?
Mrs May: I think that, if we can, we still need to approach it at every stage, but I think that upstream activity is very important in terms of preventing the supply from coming to the UK in the first place where we can.
Q84 Nicola Blackwood: One of the other issues that was raised to us in-country was the branding of SOCA internationally, and the fact that SOCA as a brand, and the name SOCA, is very trusted internationally. It is known that British SOCA are not only very expert but to be trusted in terms of intelligence-they are not going to betray communities when they give them intelligence-and their expertise is well known internationally. There is some concern that if they are rebranded, either as the National Crime Agency or some other name, some of that trust internationally might be lost. I just wonder whether that has been considered yet.
Mrs May: It is an issue of which we are aware. I do not think Keith Bristow has come to a decision yet as to what that branding should be, but we are very conscious that SOCA has built up a brand that is trusted, and we certainly would not want to do anything that would damage that.
Q85 Nicola Blackwood: Certainly in Colombia one of the huge problems was building up trust with communities to give intelligence, because the Colombian police did not have that trust, but, strangely, SOCA did. It actually caused quite a significant change there.
Mrs May: We would not want to do anything that reduced our ability to work with individuals and with the authorities in any place, but how we resolve that has not yet been decided.
Q86 Chair: Quick final questions on drugs, and just a little bit on immigration. Prescription drugs-if America is the future, we were astonished when we went to Miami to see the increase in the abuse of prescription drugs over the past 10 years. Are we focused on trying to deal with that? Are we meeting with the BMA? Are we talking to doctors about the fact that prescriptions are being abused already and it may well get worse if it is not monitored?
Mrs May: On that, Chairman, if I may, perhaps I could write to you and tell you what has been done on that particular issue.
Q87 Chair: Sure. In terms of legal highs, we have had compelling evidence from parents whose children have gone to nightclubs, had a legal high and ended up dead. The concern is that it takes too long to get these legal highs banned, and when they are banned another comes out on the market. I think one of our witnesses said that there was a warehouse in Manchester full of legal highs, and she quoted China as the country that they arrive from. Again, are we focused on trying to speed up the system of dealing with legal highs?
Mrs May: Indeed, that is precisely why the Government introduced the legislation enabling us to introduce these temporary bans, so that as soon as we identify the substances it is possible to put in place a temporary ban. That can be done very quickly, and then the ACMD has the opportunity to come forward with its evidence as to whether the ban should be made permanent. I recognise the point that one of the issues with these legal highs is that people can constantly just slightly tweak the contents-the make-up-of the substance to try to get around those orders. We are very conscious of that issue and are looking at how we might address it.
Q88 Chair: In terms of prisons, we have visited Brixton prison and we were astonished at the level of drugs that got into the prison. Obviously there are schemes that are very successful in Pentonville and Brixton. At some stage, it will be important to look and see what is happening in our prisons, because they are a place where the cycle can actually be broken.
Similarly, in terms of education, we have written to Michael Gove and we have had a letter back saying there is no specific guidance on drugs in terms of head teachers of schools. We think it is important that we should look at education, because where does the cycle begin that ends up with people going to prison? It begins at the age of 11, 12, 13, 14 with peer pressure. In terms of co-ordination, that is very important. Will you also look at and be focused on that?
Mrs May: Yes. As you know, the Government are looking to see what we can do in relation to drug-free prisons. That was a programme that was started under Ken Clarke, and I am sure Chris Grayling will be taking that programme forward.
Q89 Chair: Thank you. Finally, let us move to immigration. We do not want to go into the details of London Met, because the Immigration Minister, as he then was, gave a statement to the House or answered an urgent question. I want to take up a couple of principles from the individual issues of London Met, because I know you can give us a timeline and we do not want to go through all the facts today. The concern I had when I visited was about separating the genuine from those who are bogus students, if we can use that term. This Committee has produced numerous reports urging the Government to do what the Government have done, which is to be tough as far as higher education is concerned. But we are very conscious that we should not damage the reputation of our country and that genuine students should not be affected.
When I went to see a number of students on Monday, there were students who were coming to the end of their PhD courses who were being asked by a further education establishment to resit their PhD, because they were in the last six weeks. I had a letter from a lecturer at London Met who informed me that one of the heads of the Turkish police was due to arrive with his wife and children for a year’s secondment to study at the London Met, paid for by the Turkish Government, whose English is absolutely perfect, I understand. He cannot complete their course.
I wonder whether there is a method that would send the taskforce in earlier when you identify problems-I do not expect you to make a decision now-and when they know that there is a problem with an education establishment, so not leave them on their own, but actually work with them to separate the genuine from those who are actually bogus and should never have been in here in the first place. Could we look at that in learning from what has happened with London Met? I know the UKBA is about to be judicially reviewed, so those issues are separate, but there is a principle in all this. Carry on doing what you are doing, but please separate the genuine from those who really have no right to study here.
Mrs May: The issue here is that the job of separating those who are genuine students from those who have no right to be here actually lies with the university. That is exactly the problem that we have had with London Met. There were a number of aspects of that responsibility that were not being undertaken. I recognise the concern that people have about the students who have a right to be here and have the appropriate qualifications and so forth, and therefore should be allowed to continue a course of study, but that of course is why work is being undertaken to ensure that opportunities can be found in other universities for those individuals to complete their courses. I recognise that there is an issue about those who have been studying for their PhDs, and that is something that we are looking at.
Q90 Chair: I met an Iranian student who had paid £100,000 over four years. He spoke fantastic English-better than you and me, if I may say that-and he said, "I have to go and do my course again. Nobody will take me because it is the beginning of September and all the other universities are full." So I urge you to look at the deadline that you will have set for removals and revisit this, because it is very difficult for them.
Just on the taskforce issue, there was no taskforce when I visited on Monday. There were a couple of people from UKBA who were sitting there with folders, but when we say we are going to send in a taskforce, we really do need to send in a taskforce, and that needs to be set up as quickly as possible. I know they said that it was imminent, but it was not there when I got there.
Mrs May: I recognise that there is an issue about ensuring that those who are genuine students are able to undertake to carry on with their courses. That is why work is being done to establish those. Obviously, other universities in looking at individuals will be-should be-undertaking the necessary tests to make sure that those are indeed genuine students.
Q91 Chair: I am sure they are all doing that now.
Mrs May: Well, yes. Just one comment. Of course we do not want to damage the reputation of the UK’s higher education sector. Taking action to show that we deal with situations where people notionally come here as students, but actually are coming here for other purposes, enhances the reputation of our higher education sector rather than damages it.
Q92 Mr Winnick: That may well be so, Home Secretary, and there is no excuse to condone abuses in any way. This Committee has published a number of reports over the years about bogus colleges, bogus students and the rest. Would you accept that if those students who are perfectly legitimate-kept to the rules immigration-wise, carried out their studies and the rest-are not able to complete their studies, that would quite likely cause an adverse, hostile reaction abroad, which could damage the United Kingdom?
Mrs May: We give students a period of time and we will be working with Universities UK. UKBA has been working with Universities UK to ensure that those who are genuine students can be found places. We do not want-
Q93 Mr Winnick: Are you confident that that will be the position?
Mrs May: I believe that there will be other universities that will be able to take these. Many people will have heard the "Today" programme this morning, where an admissions tutor from another university said that he had somebody come to him from London Met who clearly did not meet the qualification requirements for being a student studying here.
Q94 Michael Ellis: On UKBA, I think it was January-certainly it was early this year-you told the House that UKBA was a troubled organisation and that it would take time to turn it round. How is that going, nine months later?
Mrs May: Yes. I do not think that it is news to this Committee, and certainly it is not news to the Chairman, that UKBA was described in those terms. If we just look back over what happened, January was the time when we took Border Force out of UKBA. It is right to say that separating the two organisations has enabled us to look much more closely at the operation of both those organisations and the issues within them. Frankly, a number of issues have arisen over the years about how UKBA was set up and has been operating and we need to deal with those.
A transformation programme has been put in place. We have Rob Whiteman, who became the new chief executive last autumn. We have a new board for the UK Borders Agency. We are making a number of other changes in the way that it operates. We are focusing on every aspect of UKBA’s operation and how it deals with every aspect of what it does to ensure that we can improve that. There is a huge transformation programme taking place in UKBA and in Border Force. It will take a number of years for both those transformation programmes to come through and to get to the position that we want to see. This is not a quick or easy job, but that separation has been important in enabling us to focus much more clearly in both organisations.
Q95 Michael Ellis: You have embarked on the restructuring, effectively.
Mrs May: Yes.
Q96 Chair: Why does nobody want this job as head of the UK Border Force? You advertised and interviewed, and you have now asked head-hunters to go and find someone.
Michael Ellis: Mr Vaz is available.
Mrs May: I have to say, Chairman, you contradicted yourself in a sense when you said nobody wanted the job and that we interviewed. We interviewed a number of people.
Q97 Chair: But why did you not want any of the ones who you interviewed?
Mrs May: I think it is important that we get this right.
Q98 Chair: How many people applied for this job?
Mrs May: I do not know the number of people who applied. I know that there was a shortlist of people who were interviewed.
Q99 Chair: A shortlist of four?
Mrs May: Originally, yes.
Q100 Chair: And you have now sent off head-hunters to find someone?
Mrs May: The head of Border Force is a very significant role and we absolutely need to ensure that we get it right. Border security is important to us. It is our frontline. The organisation has an important role in that law enforcement environment. It is also, obviously, the first greeting of people into the UK. It is right, given the transformation programme that is taking place in Border Force, that we ensure that we get this right for the future.
Q101 Chair: The Permanent Secretary told the PAC yesterday that a lot of people were being rehired. You have not thought of asking Brodie Clark to come back, since nobody wants this job?
Mrs May: We are approaching head-hunters. I think that you know the answer to your question.
Q102 Nicola Blackwood: I wanted to ask again about the situation with students at LMU and points of principle. At what point in the process were students informed that there is a problem with the highly trusted status of the university? It was on 16 July that the licence was suspended. Were the students informed at that point or was it confidential?
Mrs May: No, there are two stages to the process. The first is the suspension of the licence to give the organisation an opportunity to make changes that would satisfy the UK Border Agency, and then there is the decision about the revocation of the licence itself. Obviously, the fact that the licence had been revoked was made public at the time it happened. There is then a process of informing individual students about their personal situation, and what is going to happen.
Q103 Nicola Blackwood: Is it the Home Office that informs the individual students once the revocation has been decided or is the university required to do it? I just wonder if, at the point of suspension, when it is known that there is a serious problem, it might be appropriate to start informing students to give them more time; to say, "There is a serious problem with the immigration situation and the status of your university. It is not terminal at this point, nevertheless we are informing you, to give you the opportunity to go to your university, find out what is going on and make alternative arrangements if necessary."
Part of the problem now is the time scale and the reality of the fact that it was so close to the academic year. That is this circumstance, but there have been situations when immigration problems have come up with other universities. Part of the accountability mechanism for universities is also accountability to the students. In this case, the students were unaware until the decision was already made. Can a system be put in place with universities as well, requiring them to inform students when they are audited or when their status is suspended, as part of the accountability process?
Mrs May: I fully appreciate the point you are making and obviously I am happy to look at it. There is a balance of interests between the university itself and the students. There have been a number of cases when the licence has been suspended, but then the university has put appropriate measures in place and the licence has been reinstated. Of course, what you would not want is a situation when students left the university, which was then able to retain its licence subsequently.
Q104 Nicola Blackwood: I think that most students would not leave if they could avoid it. If they could be reassured that the university was taking action, they would want to stay because most of them had paid for their courses. It is unfair not to inform students at the same time. It is a question of informed consent to remain at the university and give everybody time. It is perhaps a question to look at.
Mrs May: I am happy to take that away.
Q105 Chair: We have had Oxford, so we ought to have Cambridge on this. Dr Huppert.
Q106 Dr Huppert: Thank you, Chairman. Anglia Ruskin University, Open University, and so forth.
I was struck, Home Secretary, by your comment that you thought the London Met saga might boost the UK’s reputation in higher education. I am sure you will be well aware that public perception does not always fit the facts exactly. I presume that you have seen some of the reports in the foreign press of the places that we would normally attract students from, who see this on top of other student visa changes, where Government figures estimated a £2.4 billion cost. Have you had representations from BIS and the Foreign Office about the effects that it is having economically in the UK for businesses or, indeed, our international reputation in those countries? They are reporting that the message being sent out of Britain is "closed for business".
Mrs May: We want very much to get across the message that Britain is open for business, and we discuss with the Foreign Office and others how we can get that message across. I made the remark that I did because if people see UK universities as places where people come notionally to study, but then do not study, it does not do much for our reputation and for the reputation of our higher education sector. The Government are saying, "Yes, we do want to be open for business. We want to be open for overseas students, but for people who are genuinely coming here to study a course, who have a right to be here to study that course, and who are genuinely doing that study when they are here."
Q107 Dr Huppert: You think that that is a stronger message than the message that says, "If you come and study in the UK, there is some possibility that something will go wrong and your university will not be allowed to have you, and you will be thrown out of the country"?
Mrs May: What is important is that we work at ensuring that the facts are out there for people, and that people hear the appropriate message because it is the message that the facts support.
Q108 Alun Michael: Would you not accept that there is a degree of confusion because the Government clearly want to drive down immigration numbers? That is a given. Both this Committee and now the Public Accounts Committee have suggested that the numbers for students coming for legitimate reasons-accepting entirely that those who are not proper students should not be able to do so-should not be included in the immigration numbers unless and until they are looking for settlement.
Mrs May: First, the Government have an aim of reducing net migration, as you say, but we also have an aim of driving out abuse from the system. That is what we would be doing, and I hope we would be doing in any case.
Q109 Alun Michael: Sorry, Home Secretary, I am saying that I would endorse driving down abuse and I understand the Government’s aims on immigration-not entering into the argument about numbers-but the message surely is a confused one as long as the student numbers are included within the numbers that you are trying to drive down.
Mrs May: I am well aware that there are many people who say, "Why don’t you just take student numbers out of the immigration numbers?" This is an international definition. It is used by all countries. Some countries identify classifications in a different way but they still include students in their immigration numbers. The very simple message from the international statistics is that if you stay in a country longer than a year you are counted as a migrant. If you are staying in the country for three years as a student, you are still using services, just as if you are staying in the country for three years as a tier 2 person who has come over for business.
Q110 Alun Michael: But they are not settled.
Mrs May: Neither is the individual who comes over for business for two or three years.
Alun Michael: A good point, Home Secretary.
Mrs May: Anybody who comes here for more than a year is a migrant.
Chair: We get the point. We understand what you are saying.
Q111 Mark Reckless: The latest figures show that the Government are succeeding in cutting net migration. Do you share my frustration that we only found about that eight months afterwards? Is there anything you can do to hurry up the statistics?
Mrs May: I am very pleased to have seen the latest statistics. These are, of course, produced by the independent body-the Office for National Statistics-and so it would be inappropriate for me to try to change the way that they conduct their statistical analysis. However, I am sure that they will have heard your comment, Mr Reckless. If I may just say, Chairman, I think that the point that I was making on students and anybody else who comes here is very simple: the international definition is that if you live in a country for more than a year, you are a migrant.
Q112 Dr Huppert: Would it be impossible for the Home Office to arrange for there to be two figures published: one using the international definition and one that excluded students? Would that be possible?
Mrs May: The reason why America is able to publish the separate student figure within the overall net migration figures is because they have full exit checks. So they can know who has been in and who has been out and identify people in that way. We do not have the same sets of data that would enable us to do that.
Q113 Chair: May I ask two final questions? One is about Iraqi and Afghani interpreters. The Government have allowed Iraqi interpreters asylum in this country. There was a particular case that has been in the public domain which I wrote to Rob Whiteman about on 13 April this year-he is not very quick at his correspondence, I have to tell you. It concerns Mr Mohammed R Hottak who survived a bomb blast while working with UK soldiers. He is now living on £36 a week in Leicester and he cannot work. Could we speed up the decision-making process for people who have worked with our armed forces? The Government are supportive of this, but it is the process that is taking so long. Or is there going to be a different view for Afghani interpreters as there is for Iraqi interpreters?
Mrs May: No, obviously we are working in relation to Afghani interpreters who have worked with the British forces and others to ensure that we can provide what is best for them on a case-by-case basis. We are taking perhaps more of an individual approach to Afghani interpreters. In relation to the particular case that you have raised, I am very happy to ensure that you do get a reply. We are working to speed up decision making for everybody, which is my intention. I recognise the point you make about those individuals who have given service to the UK in the way that you describe, but my aim is to ensure that everybody gets their decisions in a good time.
Q114 Chair: Most members of the Committee are probably off now to a debate in the House on the motion on immigration, which talks about keeping the population of the United Kingdom to a cap of 70 million. Is it your view that there can be a cap on the UK population?
Mrs May: I have never been one to believe that the Government should be setting a figure for the overall population in that sort of sense. What I want to aim to do is to reduce net migration and that is what we are focusing on.
Q115 Chair: Finally, we have heard from Dame Helen Ghosh. She is going. I assume that you are disappointed that she is leaving.
Mrs May: Yes. She has been a very good Permanent Secretary.
Q116 Chair: When do you think the new Permanent Secretary will be appointed, because this is a time of massive change in the Home Office, is it not? You have initiated a number of exciting new proposals, but you have no Permanent Secretary. You have an acting Permanent Secretary.
Mrs May: We’ve got an acting Permanent Secretary in our director of finance.
Q117 Chair: Do you know when we might get the new Permanent Secretary?
Mrs May: Obviously, some conversations have been held about this already. We will be starting the process very soon. I am very keen that we ensure that that process is as tight as it can be, precisely for the reason that you say. I cannot say for definite when a new Permanent Secretary can be in place. That obviously depends on the individual and where they are coming from.
Q118 Chair: Just remind us. Are you going to decide? Will you have a say on who is going to be the chief civil servant who delivers on the Government programme or is this going to be done by the Civil Service Commission again?
Mrs May: The process is that it is a Civil Service Commission and panel interview process, but then I as Home Secretary do have an opportunity to meet the final candidates.
Q119 Chair: So they do not give you a choice of two or three? They decide and-
Mrs May: No, I said "final candidates". They normally would provide a number of people to see.
Mr Winnick: That is a job that Brodie Clark might be interested in after all.
Chair: Home Secretary, thank you very much for coming. We are most grateful.
 The witness later clarified: the decrease in drugs usage was also 8%.