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Home affairs Committee - Minutes of EvidenceHC 781
Taken before the Home Affairs Committee
on Tuesday 27 November 2012
Keith Vaz (Chair)
Mr James Clappison
Dr Julian Huppert
Mr David Winnick
Examination of Witness
Witness: Jonathan Sedgwick, Director of International Operations and Visas, UK Border Agency, gave evidence.
Q1 Chair: Mr Sedgwick, thank you very much for coming in. You know why you are before the Committee today?
Jonathan Sedgwick: I do, yes.
Q2 Chair: The Committee has seen a report by the Independent Chief Inspector of the UKBA in which the Chief Inspector is very clear that information that you gave to this Committee, both orally and in writing, may well have misled the Committee in the reports that we have done as far as the UKBA is concerned. I personally think that this is a very serious matter, as does the Committee, which is why we have asked you to come here.
We are most grateful to you for postponing your visit to India with the Home Secretary to be here with us today. What would you like to say to the Committee about the very serious matters that have been raised in the Chief Inspector’s report?
Jonathan Sedgwick: Mr Chairman, what I would like to say first of all is that I wrote to you last week and I welcome this opportunity to say to the whole Committee in person how much I regret and apologise for the fact that I did mislead you on two occasions last year, specifically in relation to the number of databases that were and weren’t checked in a number of the legacy cases. As I said to you in my letter, that was inadvertent. I had no intention of misleading you but clearly it is not a satisfactory position, so I am very glad to have this chance to look you all in the eye and apologise in person to you.
Q3 Chair: Thank you very much and thank you for the way in which you said that in such an open and transparent way. Can I press you on a couple of issues, because you were quite specific on 5 April. You said that the cases that are now in the controlled archive were subjected to the most exhaustive checks and scrutiny with the voluntary sector and you checked every single one or the Agency checked every single one of them against 19 databases. You have presumably gone back since the publication of the report and checked how many databases these cases were checked against. It was clearly not 19. How many were there?
Jonathan Sedgwick: As you rightly say, plainly it was not 19. I misled the Committee on that account. I believe that Mr Whiteman, when he comes to give evidence to you next month, will be able to give you a rounded picture of all the checks that have been done against the legacy cases in total and against the controlled archive cases. I think it is probably better if I let him do the final report on the whole position in relation to the controlled archive, but as you say not all checks against all those databases were in fact done.
Q4 Chair: You have been on the executive board for a number of years. Is that right?
Jonathan Sedgwick: I have.
Chair: How many years in total?
Jonathan Sedgwick: For five years.
Q5 Chair: We know that Lin Homer was the head of the UKBA for that period, except for the short period that you were the acting head of the UKBA. Mr Whiteman, in his response, talks about Mr Vine’s report making for stark reading. He said there were significant failings in the organisation. What puzzles me is when you wrote to us you said, "I want to assure you that this error was entirely inadvertent on the basis of briefing that I have received from the Agency" as if the Agency was something that was not you. You were of course the head of the Agency?
Jonathan Sedgwick: I was, and I certainly did not mean to distance myself from it. Clearly in the way that I wrote to you I took responsibility for the Agency and take responsibility for the fact that I misled you. I wanted you to be clear at the same time that it was not intentional or advertent and I certainly would not have come to this Committee and said something that I did not believe to be the case.
Q6 Chair: Of course. In terms of the process of writing the letters, as you know we have established the process of writing to you with a number of questions and UKBA replies, usually late. I think we have never had a letter that has arrived on time. Who prepares that letter and how do you satisfy yourself, and Ministers, that the information contained in that letter is accurate?
Jonathan Sedgwick: Certainly in my time as Acting Chief Executive the letter was prepared by the chief of staff’s team, who pooled information together from across the Agency. As you will recall, the letters would not be just about legacy cases but about foreign national prisoners and a whole range of issues, so information was taken from a number of different parts of the Agency, put together and checked, but clearly not checked well enough, as we have said.
Q7 Chair: What do you do? When the information comes, how do you make sure it is accurate?
Jonathan Sedgwick: I suppose there is the kind of commonsense test, "Is this right or not?" There is a question of consistency with what we have previously said and, of course, depending on the particular kind of information, one could ask for further checks to ensure that that information had been properly provided. I think, as Mr Whiteman has told you, we are establishing a Performance and Compliance Unit.
Chair: Yes. We will hear about that from Mr Whiteman.
Q8 Mr Clappison: One of the points we have been trying to establish over a period of years now is that we have the full picture as a Committee. I think you have been asked that and your colleagues have been asked that repeatedly on this Committee, and yet we find that the Inspector tells us that there are an extra 33,000 asylum legacy cases that the Agency had not reported to the Committee, which is a significant figure. How has that come about, when you have been asked so many times to provide all the information?
Jonathan Sedgwick: We certainly always try to give you accurate and complete information. I think from the very beginning of the legacy casework we recognised it was never going to be a precise science. I think we talked about 400,000 to 450,000 cases. We were dealing with a considerable number of cases, many of which were entered into our systems well before there were proper information systems for us to capture and assure the data. They were entered into a number of different databases and systems.
Q9 Mr Clappison: If I may interrupt there, we were told that recently because it was said that there were some duplicate cases. The Committee went through this very carefully and we had letters sent to us and we went through all the figures each time and this has just appeared.
Jonathan Sedgwick: There were, as you say, a significant number of duplicate cases. There were cases that, as you know, we have not been able to trace in any way. I think we have always tried to make it clear that there is a necessary imprecision to the figures because of the number of years over which those cases have accumulated.
Q10 Mr Clappison: Why were 33,000 not reported to the Committee? This is what the Inspector is saying.
Jonathan Sedgwick: I am sorry, I must confess I am not specifically aware of the circumstances around that particular 33,000.
Q11 Mr Clappison: The Inspector, Mr Vine, found an extra 33,000 asylum legacy cases that the Agency was not reporting to the Committee, so can you explain why and how that came about?
Jonathan Sedgwick: I must apologise to you. I am sorry, I cannot.
Q12 Chair: Can you make sure that Mr Whiteman-
Jonathan Sedgwick: I will certainly make sure that in his wrapping up in the final report he covers that.
Q13 Dr Huppert: I am sure you would agree that this is a fairly humiliating report for a recommendation for any agency to ensure that the information you provide to Parliament is accurate. It suggests a pretty low level of expectation and you have presumably seen also, looking at this, for example, that 29 of 38 MPs consider the service provided by the Agency was either poor or very poor. I accept that you are not trying to deliberately mislead the Committee, but the picture that I am getting from this is that the Agency as a whole simply completely lost control of this whole area. Almost any page in this report has examples of that. Page 59, 7.29, that of people who were placed into the controlled archive because you could not trace them, over 2,000 of them were complying with the reporting conditions, showing up, saying, "Hello, I am here" and yet somehow you could not work out where they were. Page 18, just under 10% of the cases that the Inspector asked to find, the Agency simply could not even find the case files. 5.124 on page 45 there were over 100,000 pieces of post in backlog, 15,000 unopened recorded delivery posts, 14,000 unopened first class post and so on. Do you agree this sounds like an organisation that simply is out of control and does not know what it is up to?
Jonathan Sedgwick: As Mr Whiteman has said to you, the Chief Inspector’s report presents some stark findings that obviously we take very seriously. I think it is quite important, and particularly important I guess to the staff who worked so hard on these cases for so many years, to recognise that over a period of five years an enormous legacy of cases, nearly 500,000 cases, was in very large measure properly checked, cases were granted, a number of people were removed and some cases were found to be without trace. Of course that was not done as neatly and precisely as it should have been, and we have been clear about the need to learn lessons from that. I think it is important, particularly as I say to the staff, to recognise that this was a fairly Herculean undertaking and I am not sure any other country has tried to do it, in order to deal with this legacy, and get itself back into balance.
Q14 Dr Huppert: But other countries have not built up such a massive backlog. Do you think the Agency, this organisation that lost 2,000 people who are showing up to sign in regularly, had 100,000 pieces of post in its backlog, and all the other failings, is fit for purpose?
Jonathan Sedgwick: Plainly the Agency needs to improve. We have been absolutely open about that. Mr Whiteman has set out for you-
Dr Huppert: As it currently is, is it fit for purpose? Yes or no?
Jonathan Sedgwick: I believe it is an agency that is improving but it needs to improve further.
Q15 Chair: So it is not fit for purpose at the moment?
Jonathan Sedgwick: That is a very difficult judgment to strike and make. I believe it is an agency that-
Chair: If it is improving and if your own Chief Executive says significant failings have occurred it is clearly not fit for purpose, is it, at the moment? It may be and you will hope that it will be, but at the moment it is not?
Jonathan Sedgwick: Given the historic resonance of those words, I hope you will permit me to leave those words in your mouth rather than mine, Mr Vaz.
Q16 Dr Huppert: Do you agree with them or not?
Jonathan Sedgwick: As I say, I think we are improving and we have come a long way, but there is a long way further to go.
Q17 Mr Winnick: Do you have any responsibility for the 33,000 cases not reported to the Home Affairs Committee, that the Chair has mentioned, at page 6, paragraphs 17 and 18 of the Chief Inspector’s report?
Jonathan Sedgwick: Mr Winnick, I do apologise, as I just said in relation to Mr Clappison’s question I am not specifically aware of the circumstances around those cases. I will certainly undertake to familiarise myself with that aspect of the report and I will either, if necessary, write to the Committee or ensure that Mr Whiteman is able to brief you fully on that when he comes to this Committee.
Q18 Mr Winnick: At this stage-and I know how you replied to my colleague-are you saying in effect that it might have been the other two, the present Chief Executive and Mrs Homer, not you who in any way was responsible for giving information to the Committee that was not accurate?
Jonathan Sedgwick: I believe that all three of us have tried to give as complete and accurate a picture as we possibly could at the time. There have always been uncertainties around the caseload because of the nature of the caseload and that has meant that from time to time we have had to adjust. I believe that on a number of occasions Mrs Homer in subsequent letters was able to correct things that she said in previous ones, for example.
Q19 Chair: Sorry to interrupt, Mr Winnick. That is not in fact what the Chief Inspector has said. What Mr Winnick is putting to you is that is this a joint responsibility for the three people who have been running the UKBA over the last two years? Are you all responsible, or are none of you responsible, or are you the only person who is responsible? That is what he is asking.
Jonathan Sedgwick: I suppose we are jointly and severally responsible. We are each responsible for the particular periods when we were in charge.
Q20 Mr Winnick: You see, Mr Sedgwick, the impression one gets is that the organisation obviously has to provide information to the Home Affairs Committee. It has no other alternative, and the upshot is that the information that was given to us was wrong, absolutely wrong. What I am asking you now is, Mr Sedgwick, do you accept responsibility?
Jonathan Sedgwick: I do accept responsibility for the information that I provided to the Committee that was wrong.
Q21 Mr Winnick: If it was given in good faith, and I have no reason to believe otherwise, the only possible word that comes to mind is "incompetent."
Jonathan Sedgwick: Clearly it was not good enough and I do not shy away from that at all, and I take responsibility for it.
Mr Winnick: Was it incompetent? Yes or no? It is a simple question, Mr Sedgwick, yes or no? Was it incompetent?
Jonathan Sedgwick: Clearly it was not competent.
Mr Winnick: Thank you very much.
Q22 Chair: Mr Sedgwick, you received bonuses of £10,000 between 2010 and 2012. You sat on the executive board for five years. You have heard what the Chief Inspector has said and you have heard what the current Chief Executive has said, that there were significant failings in an organisation for which you, Lin Homer and he are jointly and severally responsible. You have just said that. Do you think you really ought to hand back these bonuses?
Jonathan Sedgwick: If I can perhaps just clarify in relation to my bonus. The position, as reported in the last annual report of the Agency, is that I did receive a bonus in 2011-12 but that in fact related to my performance in 2010-11 for the period up to March 2011. It in substance relates to my previous role as the Deputy Chief Executive. It does not relate to my period as the Acting Chief Executive.
Q23 Chair: What do you mean? If it ended in March and you gave evidence to us on 5 April, because of those five days you do not think you should give the bonus back?
Jonathan Sedgwick: The bonus related substantively to my period as the Deputy Chief Executive when I was responsible for-
Q24 Chair: Bearing in mind what your own boss has now said, that there are significant failings and it makes for stark reading, you do not think this bonus should have been given back? Do you think you deserve the bonus for this organisation that you have just told Mr Winnick you do not believe is absolutely competent?
Mr Winnick: Absolutely does not come into it.
Jonathan Sedgwick: Bonus judgments are made by a separate Home Office committee and on the basis of judgment about a range of-
Q25 Chair: You do not have to take it. We do not force it into your pockets. Can you not give it back? If somebody gives you £10,000 as a bonus you cannot say, "Sorry, I do not want to take it"?
Jonathan Sedgwick: As I said, Mr Chairman, I have not received a bonus for the year 2011-12, which was the substantive period when I was the Acting Chief Executive.
Q26 Dr Huppert: The picture often given is that the Border Agency was pretty much disastrous, and we keep having people like yourself and Lin Homer saying it is getting better. At what stage, given that it has now reached the not competent phase, do we start to say it just is not getting better, it is not working? Is it this report? Is it when the next report comes in? Is it the one after that? Although we keep being told it is getting better, it still seems pretty poor. When do you think we say, "It is just failing. We need to take much stronger steps"?
Jonathan Sedgwick: Perhaps I could just clarify in relation to my answer to Mr Winnick about not competent, I was referring specifically to the failure to correct the misleading information that we had given to the Committee.
Q27 Dr Huppert: Whereas you think that not finding 2,000 people are signing on regularly is competent?
Jonathan Sedgwick: There were plainly aspects of the handling of the legacy cases that were not good enough, and we are perfectly clear about that and we need to improve and learn. But I would like to put on record, and particularly for the staff involved who worked so hard on this, that this was an extraordinary undertaking and the vast majority of that huge number of cases from 2006 and from years earlier have had a proper and satisfactory conclusion, either being granted or removed or found not to be traced.
Chair: Thank you, we have those figures. On the basis of the staff from what you have just said, it is actually the staff who gave Mr Vine this information because Mr Vine went to Liverpool himself, which is what we would expect senior members of the UKBA to do. He went to look for himself and the staff told him of the 100,000 letters that had not been opened. It is not magic; it is the staff themselves who gave this information. You didn’t give it to this Committee. It is the staff who have told Mr Vine all this information.
Q28 Mark Reckless: This really goes to the heart of accountability to Parliament. This Committee was concerned that the controlled archive was actually a fancy bureaucratic name for not doing anything about these cases, putting them aside as if they had been dealt with. Did you not assure us that 19 checks were carried out on each of these and a lot was being done about it? Now we discover that is not the case. Do you understand how serious that is?
Jonathan Sedgwick: I entirely do and that is why I have, I think, been so clear with you that I apologise for that and very much regret that you were misled but also the substance of the fact that the checks were not done in the way that we said they should have been.
Q29 Mark Reckless: In 2010-11 you were Deputy Chief Executive, I think you said responsible for policy. The fact that six days elapsed before you then gave evidence will not strike many people as being especially exculpatory of what you said to the Committee. On reflection, do you believe that you deserved that bonus?
Jonathan Sedgwick: I believe that the bonus was determined by a proper process, established by the civil service as a whole.
Mark Reckless: Did you deserve it?
Jonathan Sedgwick: That is a difficult question to answer. As I say, it was a judgment made by a committee, not by me, about my work. It was work that was not directly connected with what we are discussing today.
Mark Reckless: Did you deserve it?
Jonathan Sedgwick: I certainly did my very best as Deputy Chief Executive to be as committed and hardworking within the organisation as was within my power.
Q30 Mr Clappison: It is the Inspector who has said that the evidence that he collected regarding checks was inconsistent with the information that was given to this Committee and it was not for the want of this Committee asking questions about it to try to ensure, as Mr Reckless has said, that this was not some bureaucratic solution but that something was actually being done. My question to you in the light of this whole cycle that we have gone round so many times of people coming here and saying, "Oh, it has all been a disaster. We’re putting it right now, putting it right now, putting it right now", how can we have any confidence in the information that you and the Agency and the civil service are giving to us?
Jonathan Sedgwick: There is a Chief Inspector in place who, as you say, has reported in this way. The Home Secretary has specifically asked him to look at the new Performance and Compliance Unit and the resources available to that unit and the systems that that unit will be employing to ensure that the information that we provide is robust and can be relied upon by the Committee. That is something that he will be specifically looking into.
Q31 Chair: Thank you. We will ask him about that. Would you send us a copy of the Deloitte report?
Jonathan Sedgwick: I will certainly pass that request on to Mr Whiteman, yes, of course.
Q32 Chair: I will write him a letter. Mr Sedgwick, you came here today and you apologised to this Committee. We accept your apology, but we would like to make this very clear. If there is any further instances of information coming to this Committee that is inaccurate then that will be a contempt of the House and we will report the matter to the House. That should be made very clear to the members of the executive board of the UKBA. Finally, did you give Ministers the same information you gave us or did they get different information?
Jonathan Sedgwick: Ministers would have been briefed throughout the period, would have received information about a variety of aspects.
Q33 Chair: Did the same information that came to us go to Ministers? When you told us what the backlog was, when you told us what the controlled archive figures were, would that be the same information you gave to Ministers or was it different information?
Jonathan Sedgwick: The information about the number of cases in the controlled archive and so on, we would have provided the same information to you, to the best of our knowledge, as we provided to Ministers.
Q34 Chair: Have you now corrected those figures for Mark Harper? Have you given him the new figures?
Jonathan Sedgwick: As we have gone along we have obviously-
Q35 Chair: No, since the Vine report, have you now corrected that information?
Jonathan Sedgwick: Ministers have obviously had a complete briefing about the Vine report and I am sure that Mr Whiteman will want to present the whole picture to you when he comes to give evidence next month.
Q36 Chair: Mr Sedgwick, thank you for coming in and thank you for apologising.
Jonathan Sedgwick: I am very grateful to the Committee for accepting my apology.
Examination of Witness
Witness: Lin Homer, Chief Executive and Permanent Secretary, HMRC, and former Chief Executive, UK Border Agency, gave evidence.
Q37 Chair: You have seen the Vine report and you have sat at the back of the hearing and you have heard what we have said to Jonathan Sedgwick. You ran the UKBA for four years; you received £1 million, as I understand it, in salary and bonuses over those four years. What would you like to say to the Committee about the information that you gave to it that has subsequently been found to be inaccurate?
Lin Homer: Chairman, thank you for inviting me and, like Jonathan, I do welcome the chance to attend and to personally apologise that any of the information I gave you was inaccurate. Obviously I was not involved in John Vine’s report but I have looked through the information that I and Ministers gave you on the 40,000 migration cases and it is clear to me that we were inconsistent. I think on some occasions we were clear that we had checked 800 cases and were going to check the remainder, and on others it was less clear and it sounded and felt like we had already checked the 40,000 cases, at least against the PNC. I can apologise for that and absolutely assure you that I never intended coming to the Committee with less than full information, and indeed assure you that I sought to prepare both myself and Ministers fully for the many occasions I attended. I think on that occasion I did not give you as accurate information as I should have done and I apologise for that.
Q38 Chair: Thank you. We accept your apology. The concern that I have is that over the period of four years that you were head of the UKBA-
Lin Homer: Five.
Chair: Five years. This Committee sought information from you through a letter that we gave to you every three months. We were very concerned that the letter that you gave us was incomprehensible, and I said this to you on many occasions. It improved greatly when Mr Sedgwick wrote to us his first letter because it contained information that we could understand, even though it subsequently turned out to be wrong. You will recall that Mr Clappison, who was very, very concerned about it, asked me to arrange a meeting in the Pugin Room. You came and saw me and Mr Clappison and we went through this with you, because we found it incomprehensible. I subsequently met you privately in my office and I said we could not keep having this information like this because nobody understands what is going on. Despite all this, the Agency of which you were the head continued to give us information that was wrong.
Lin Homer: Chairman, I hope you and Mr Clappison will accept that I did attend, listen and indeed we made a number of changes. We introduced pie charts, we simplified language. I think one of the challenges is we were giving you a lot of information regularly and we were trying to be as accurate as we could be. I do believe that the bulk of the information we gave you, with the exception I have referred to about the 40,000 non-asylum cases, was accurate. When I attended and gave information and we subsequently read transcripts afterwards, we regularly did come back and make what changes we needed to to improve that, but I accept that it was challenging to give you the amount that we were in a way that was as easy for you to understand as I would like it to be.
Q39 Chair: Of course. Thank you. I will give you three examples. Only when Damian Green gave evidence to us last year in his last evidence session as Minister for Immigration did we discover the existence of the migration refusal pool. You came to give evidence to this Committee on many occasions but it was never given to us as a separate figure and came as a surprise to us. Secondly, in all your appearances before the Committee, Mr Winnick kept talking to you about MPs’ correspondence, why was it taking so long to get replies to MPs’ letters, and of course we now discover that there were box-loads of post that contained letters from Members of Parliament and applicants that was just not opened. Why is it that Mr Vine was able to discover all this and you and your executive board did not go to Liverpool and discover exactly the same information from the same people? What was it that was so special about members of the executive board that they did not know what was going on in their own organisation?
Lin Homer: There are several points in that. On the first, I am confident I did give you information on the migration cases. I think I gave it to you in a letter in 2009. I think both Phil Woolas and I referred to it in evidence in 2009 in a hearing before you, and I think I also referred to it in a hearing in March 2010, and then subsequently, you are right, in a hearing with you with Damian Green as well. On the first occasion I believe I estimated the migration cases to be 40,000.
Q40 Chair: I think you are getting confused here. This is the migration refusal pool. This is not migration cases, Ms Homer. It is very easy to get confused, is it not?
Lin Homer: Sorry, I just didn’t hear you.
Q41 Chair: The migration refusal pool was never told about to this Committee in all the evidence that you gave in writing and orally. We did not know about it until Damian Green came before us and told us that it existed. It was 174,000.
Lin Homer: We did discuss that and I am afraid I would not be able to quote when, because quite a lot of time has elapsed.
Chair: Perhaps you could write to me and tell me.
Lin Homer: But I think I do recall Mr Woolas discussing it directly with you and making the point that we did not have an easy means of counting people out at that time and that there would come a future time when a Minister who succeeded him would be able to give you that number. I think in Phil’s style he made something of a joke that that would not necessarily be a comfortable place to be, but until we count it out we could not give you that information.
Q42 Chair: Mr Woolas is not here and Mr Woolas never gave this Committee the figures that Damian Green gave us.
Lin Homer: I think the reason for that is that until we have put in place the electronic counting-
Q43 Chair: It was never written to us, Ms Homer. It was volunteered by Damian Green when we asked him. Nobody wrote to us and told us anything about this. Damian Green told us in evidence.
Lin Homer: I would repeat-
Chair: James Clappison.
Lin Homer: Sorry, could I answer Mr Winnick’s point about post. I want to be clear I don’t believe that post was sitting in boxes when I was Chief Executive. It is unfortunate that that arose through the transition from CRD to CAAU. I took very seriously the issue of improving MPs’ and ministerial correspondence. I think the published figures show that we did get much better at answering those letters and that the overall number went down. Clearly the transition towards the end of trying to finish CRD led to a surge and that is most unfortunate, but I think the overall progression against post was significant and I think they will be able to return to that level.
Q44 Chair: Ms Homer, you were in charge of the transition, were you not?
Lin Homer: No.
Chair: You were not the Chief Executive?
Lin Homer: Not at the time of the transition.
Chair: At the time when the decision was made to set up the CAAU?
Lin Homer: No, I wasn’t.
Chair: Who was in charge?
Lin Homer: Jonathan, but-
Chair: Jonathan Sedgwick?
Lin Homer: Yes, but I would want to acknowledge that I was there until the January and I think I have to share responsibility for things that happened in the middle of that year. I am entirely happy with that, but I don’t believe there were 150 boxes of post sitting anywhere when I was there and I did regularly go to the frontline.
Q45 Chair: You don’t believe that there was any? Do you not accept what Mr Vine has said?
Lin Homer: I think that that is a finding of fact that he makes about the summer of 2011, not an ongoing issue.
Q46 Chair: Not when you there?
Mr Winnick: It certainly emerged after you left.
Lin Homer: No. I think it is very clear from the report that the transition produced a surge of work and that is why I am saying I would want to accept that there should have been better planning for that transition. I accept my responsibility. I don’t believe when I left that there were unanswered letters lying about in boxes.
Q47 Chair: You have seen what Mr Vine has said about the leadership at the time of the transfer, haven’t you?
Lin Homer: Yes, and I think leadership is important but I have to say I-
Chair: Basically there was a lack of leadership, he said.
Lin Homer: He suggested there was not sufficient SCS leadership during that transition, and I think Rob has accepted that.
Q48 Mr Clappison: This all came about because of the sudden emergence of a very large number, hundreds of thousands, of cases in 2006 that had not been properly looked at. The whole point then was that we would have the full picture, wasn’t it? We wanted to go through everything. Do you accept now that we have not had the full picture since then? You were on notice that we wanted the full picture.
Lin Homer: Absolutely, and I think probably every time I appeared in front of you I made the point that we were, as an organisation-I suppose if I put it this way-normalising from a position that John Reid did describe very evocatively as not fit for purpose. I do think that the organisation is more stable now and Rob will be able to take it further forward. On many of the occasions when I came to see you I proffered you new information that had not been available the time before, so this was a developing picture. I can absolutely assure the Committee that whenever I found out new information I shared it with the Committee. I think the reference Mr Clappison and Mr Winnick made to active review cases are those cases where we had granted leave for a number of years and where they would then obviously fall to have another decision made. Although those were not reported within CRD, they were reported to you, and again I think we had a full hearing with you on those cases. Some of what John Vine is saying is about where it was reported, but I remember a lengthy discussion about whether we had the resources to reconsider cases at the end of three years, how we would do them and how we would take them forward. Therefore, I am confident that those cases were discussed. I don’t think they emerged out of nowhere but they were not in the CRD.
Q49 Chair: But you do know that the Inspector has said that they were not reported to this Committee?
Lin Homer: No. The Inspector has said that they were not reported to you within the CRD cohort. That is not the same as discussed with you. My letter usually covered six or seven major areas of business, one of which was CRD, so I think it is very important to read the Inspector’s words carefully.
Q50 Dr Huppert: Ms Homer, the thing I am trying to understand is we had an organisation that started off being not fit for purpose. You spent five years running it and regularly said that there were problems but it was getting better. It has now reached the stage where it is described by the former Acting Chief Executive as not competent. How much better did it get during those five years?
Lin Homer: I think Jonathan did try to say to you that his reference-
Chair: Mr Sedgwick.
Lin Homer: Mr Sedgwick, that his reference was to the particular issue he was talking about. My view is that the organisation has slowly but surely got better. I think there is still much to do, and Mr Whiteman and the Home Secretary and the Minister still have a lot to do, but I think this is now a broadly functioning organisation. The simple fact that there is no longer a legacy of half a million unresolved cases, which we inherited in 2006, means that the asylum system, for instance, is now functioning well. That is a movement forwards, but there is still a great deal to do and I think I was the first to recognise that when I gave evidence.
Q51 Dr Huppert: Is it your assessment that two years after you left it has reached the stage of broadly functioning and that this report is consistent with a broadly functioning organisation?
Lin Homer: I think it was broadly functioning when I left and I think under Mr Whiteman-
Q52 Dr Huppert: So it has not improved in the last two years?
Lin Homer: I was about to say I think it has continued to improve. I think Mr Vine writes properly challenging reports and they always bring up some areas for further improvement, but what this report suggests is that the conclusion of the legacy project became ragged. That is not a very technical term but I think it is a term you will understand. I have tried to be clear that I accept responsibility for that. I left in the January. The next six months ought not to have had problems that I couldn’t have foreseen, but overall we did clear half a million cases, some of which went back to the early 1990s. The clearance of those cases means that the asylum system now functions in a flow system of dealing with the cases as they come through and I think that is progress, yes.
Q53 Dr Huppert: We may have to have differing impressions of how the organisation performs. Just to clarify, in your new role at HMRC there will not be an Inspector’s report that finds unopened post, that finds inaccurate information given to Parliament? Are you confident that HMRC will never have that sort of criticism?
Lin Homer: HMRC is another big organisation with many challenges. I have appeared in front of the PAC eight times, I think, this year and, just like UKBA, there is much that HMRC could improve, but I think Dame Lesley Strathie took the organisation significantly forward in her time in charge and that is a better base for me to inherit. Absolutely I am confident that we will find things that we want to do better. One of our current challenges is the rate at which we answer telephones.
Q54 Chair: You should leave that to the Treasury Committee.
Lin Homer: Sorry. I was just answering Dr Huppert.
Q55 Dr Huppert: The specific questions I asked were about unopened mail and about inaccurate information. I presume you can reassure us that there would not be those criticisms about HMRC, or are you saying that there are?
Lin Homer: I think it is another big organisation and post in HMRC is something that generates criticism from MPs in much the same way it did in UKBA.
Q56 Mark Reckless: Why do you keep on being promoted despite these major failures of leadership at the top of organisations, repeatedly?
Lin Homer: I don’t accept that there have been major failures of leadership. I think I get promoted because I manage big organisations well and I am not frightened to take on organisations that are not performing well at the point that I arrive. That is something I have done on a number of occasions and, as you say, people continue to have confidence that that is a skill I bring.
Q57 Mark Reckless: I didn’t say people continue to have confidence.
Lin Homer: Well, I assume they would not offer me the jobs if they didn’t.
Q58 Mark Reckless: When you were chief executive of Birmingham City Council a judge held that you had thrown the rulebook out of the window and had presided over a voting fraud that would have disgraced a banana republic. You then came to IND and UKBA. We have said repeatedly on this Committee that it is a dysfunctional organisation that is not fit for purpose and continued to say so through your ostensible leadership of those organisations. We now find that you have misled this Committee in the evidence you have given to it. Is there any hope that major multinationals are going to pay their fair share of tax in this country with you running HMRC?
Lin Homer: I am not sure, Chairman, whether you are happy for me to answer that question.
Chair: I am very happy for you to answer that question.
Lin Homer: I think that the Government is doing more, both within HMRC and at a political level, to ensure that people pay their tax. I have said on the record in front of both the Treasury Select Committee and the PAC this year that this is a country where the vast majority of people are compliant. Well over 92% of the tax in this country does come in compliantly. That is a higher rate of compliance than the US and Sweden and, while there is more that we can do, I think it is a tax administration that basically works.
Q59 Mark Reckless: For any of these roles for which you have been appointed, has there been a requirement for parliamentary scrutiny and confirmation of your appointment?
Lin Homer: No, I don’t think civil service roles are subject to parliamentary scrutiny.
Q60 Mark Reckless: Isn’t it more likely that the country and Parliament could have confidence in your performance if that were required?
Lin Homer: There are a significant number of senior civil service roles and there is a practical issue around that but, as I think you will know as a Committee, there is a very strong and transparent process for recruitment into the senior civil service. The Civil Service Commission, of which David Normington is now the head, seeks to ensure that those appointments are made properly.
Q61 Mark Reckless: But given the anger over the widespread tax avoidance and your failure to get these multinationals to pay a decent amount of tax in this country, should not your successor as head of HMRC be subject to parliamentary confirmation?
Lin Homer: I don’t believe that that is a sound and sensible way to make senior appointments, no.
Q62 Mr Winnick: I am sure the Treasury and Public Accounts Committee will take note of the replies you have given over tax, which is not directly our concern. Just a couple of questions, Ms Homer. Is it your case that you left the organisation in a good state and whatever happened since is in no way your responsibility?
Lin Homer: It is my case that I left the organisation stronger than it had been and I think I was able to do that because of very hard work from very many people in the organisation. But it is not my case that anything that has happened subsequently is nothing to do with me. I have already tried to say very clearly that if you leave an organisation in January, the things that happen in the next six months should have been in your anticipation and I do feel regretful that the transition of the end of CRD marred what I think was otherwise a very significant achievement. I don’t seek to distance myself from the challenges of that transition at all.
Q63 Mr Winnick: Does all this mean that it is your case that you left UKBA where you had been Chief Executive, as you have just told us, for five years as a competent organisation fit for purpose? It is a simple question. Yes or no?
Lin Homer: Yes, I do believe it was competent but still had a great deal more improvement to achieve.
Q64 Mr Winnick: All organisations have room for improvement, but you have answered that question. The other point is that Mr Sedgwick said a few moments ago that the responsibility for the fact that the Committee were not told of the 33,000 cases-not 3,000, 6,000, 8,000 or 10,000, Ms Homer, 33,000 asylum cases that this Committee were not told about and we only really know about it as a result of the Chief Inspector’s report-is held by the three of you, that is himself, you and the present Chief Executive. Do you accept that?
Lin Homer: I think all three of us do. I appeared with Rob Whiteman in front of the PAC during the course of the year, so I have absolutely sought to recognise an ongoing accountability for affairs that arose in my watch. I would repeat that I don’t believe those 33,000 cases were not brought to this Committee. I think they were not brought under the CRD banner, but I have a very clear recollection of discussing those cases with you and I think that if you look at paragraph 17 what John Vine is saying is that they were not reported within the CRD information. That is not the same, I believe, as us not sharing information about them with you.
Q65 Mr Winnick: Are you saying in effect that those 33,000 cases were notified to us in a different form? Is that what you are saying? That is not what Mr Sedgwick said, by the way.
Lin Homer: I think he was answering the broader question of whether the three of us believe ourselves linked as jointly accountable, which I think we do.
Q66 Chair: Ms Homer, just to clarify, we don’t have any recollection of having these 33,000 cases reported to us.
Lin Homer: I am not necessarily suggesting that at that point we put a specific figure, but I will try to write to you on that.
Chair: Sorry, if I can just finish. Neither does the Chief Inspector, whose report we accept in full. His recommendation is that the UKBA ensures that information provided to the Home Affairs Select Committee is accurate and includes all legacy cases where asylum applications were made before March 2007.
Q67 Mr Winnick: I have a final question, if I may. Do you accept what the Chair has just said? I have asked you about the 33,000 cases. You have said, in effect, it was reported to the Committee in one form or another. The Chair challenged you and quoted what the Chief Inspector said. Let’s get this quite clear. Are you saying and continuing to say that the Chief Inspector is wrong, that these 33,000 cases were told to the Committee but in different ways?
Lin Homer: I don’t think the Chief Inspector is wrong, because I think the wording in his report is clear that we did not report those cases under the CRD statistics. We came and discussed with you the fact that once you move to granting leave for a limited period of time, rather than indefinitely to remain-and it may prompt the Chairman to remember this conversation-that you then have to have a follow-up procedure to decide what to do when the leave is finished at the end of three years. We did not regard those as CRD cases because those were cases that had had no decision, so this was a different cohort of cases.
Chair: No, Ms Homer, sorry, here are the specific words, "The Agency has not reported these cases to the Committee in its letters of either 3 May 2012 or 7 September 2012, neither did Rob Whiteman refer to them in his appearances before the Committee on 15 May or 18 September 2012." The Inspector concludes, "It remains unclear to us why these statistics were excluded as the original asylum claims fell before March 20 2007. We therefore make the recommendation that in future information is given accurately to the Committee." So the Inspector has said it has not been reported to us.
Mr Winnick: You answer has made the position worse, not better.
Q68 Mr Clappison: Why are you saying the Inspector has got it wrong?
Lin Homer: I think he may have misunderstood what active review cases are. He is understandably trying to cover a lot of ground and I am confident that we had discussions with you about the cases that were subject to time limited leave. I do absolutely accept that that is information that should be available to you, but I think the decision about whether to regard that as rolled up into CRD or not was a logical one.
Q69 Chair: There is a very simple way of dealing with this. The Inspector is coming before us on 4 December. Before then, by noon on Friday, could you let me have the annotated transcripts of your hearing before us when you say you gave us that information?
Lin Homer: I will try to do that.
Q70 Mr Clappison: My question to you is about the CRD, the Case Resolution Directorate, and the CAAU, the Case Assurance and Audit Unit, which really goes to the heart of the way in which the residue of cases, if I can put it that way, the large number of cases, was dealt with. Were you responsible for the strategic direction of that?
Lin Homer: Those decisions were made after I left. No, that new unit and the absolute make up of it were things that happened subsequently.
Q71 Mr Clappison: Were you responsible for setting it up? Was it your idea?
Lin Homer: No.
Mr Clappison: Not your idea. Okay.
Q72 Steve McCabe: I am just trying to get a bit of clarity in my own mind around this. If the Inspector may have misunderstood, what are you here apologising for?
Lin Homer: I think it is absolutely plain that in probably three letters and three appearances before you that I updated you on the 40,000 migration cases and I was not clear whether or not we had checked all of those cases at the start or whether we had only checked the 800 cases that we sampled. As I explained to the Chairman-
Q73 Steve McCabe: So that is all? That is what you have come to apologise for?
Lin Homer: That is specifically the area where I believe I have given inaccurate information to you. What I have tried to say as clearly as I can is that I do believe accountability continues when you leave a role and so I feel very deeply that the fact that the CRD legacy did not finish as cleanly as it should is something I must take partial responsibility for after I left. But in a sense that is one of those hindsight things where you look back and think, "I wish I had spent more time on what we were going to do in the summer of 2011". I don’t believe I gave you any inaccurate information on that because I don’t believe I gave you any information on that transition.
Q74 Chair: But you are apologising nevertheless?
Lin Homer: I think I did give you confusing information on the 40,000 and I share accountability that the Agency is still not where you would all want it to be.
Chair: Of course. Mr Vine is very clear, though. He does talk about misleading.
Q75 Dr Huppert: It will be fascinating to see this marked-up transcript, which I am sure you will provide. Just so I understand, essentially what you are saying is that the information was there but in such a way that we could not find it.
Lin Homer: No, I am not saying that at all.
Q76 Dr Huppert: But you are saying it was there, we didn’t find it, and the Chief Inspector also didn’t find it?
Lin Homer: I am saying I came in front of the Select Committee a dozen or more times and I believe on one occasion we specifically came and discussed active review cases with you. I am very clear I never regarded those as CRD work. They were something else.
Q77 Dr Huppert: Are you familiar with the book The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and where the planning applications are stored?
Lin Homer: I worked in local government. I know all about planning applications.
Q78 Dr Huppert: In that particular book there is a description-
Lin Homer: He goes in front of the bulldozer.
Q79 Dr Huppert: Yes, but I was thinking of it being stored in the bottom of a locked filing cabinet in a disused toilet with a sign on the door saying "Beware of the leopard". Is that essentially the defence that you are using at the moment?
Lin Homer: No, not at all. What I am saying is that we divided the work around asylum into a number of pieces of work. We put old, undecided cases into the CRD, the Case Resolution Directorate. Those were cases that we had discovered in 2006-we thought at the time it was 450,000, it turns out nearer half a million-had not had a decision made on them. We put those into a special unit to be worked separately. The cases that had had leave granted were managed in the live asylum cases and/or were regarded as concluded and took a few years to go.
Q80 Chair: Thank you. I think we must conclude this now. Just one last point about the words "concluded" and "review". The Inspector does say that you were asked by the previous Government to conclude cases by July 2011. Those are the words that you used to this Committee, the word "conclude", which in modern parlance means finish one way or the other, either out of the country or do not exist or limited leave, whereas Mr Sedgwick, when he gave evidence to us, talked about the review of these cases. Briefly can you clarify when you said "conclude" you did mean conclude and finish, you didn’t mean keep somewhere else?
Lin Homer: I did mean conclude and finish, but in relation to the controlled archive I believe throughout I used the word "closed" and I explained to you that we would not regard those as concluded because there was always a chance something would come back into knowledge and we would reopen the cases.
Q81 Chair: Does it surprise you that Mr Whiteman has found many live cases within the controlled archive?
Lin Homer: Yes. I am disappointed.
Chair: Disappointed that he has found them or disappointed that you all failed to find them?
Lin Homer: I am disappointed that there were cases in the controlled archive that were not closed adequately. Again, I have tried to be clear that I think a number of those-Mr Vine’s report focused on the transition towards the end and I would accept my share of responsibility for not concluding properly.
Q82 Chair: Thank you. You have said that. Ministers were given the same information as this Committee. You obviously met Damian Green on a weekly basis.
Lin Homer: More.
Q83 Chair: More than a weekly basis. Was the same information you gave this Committee, in the unclear way that we have discovered and you have accepted it was given to us, given to Damian Green?
Lin Homer: I don’t accept it was unclear, Chairman.
Q84 Chair: You have told us it was unclear today.
Lin Homer: No. I said I am disappointed that you weren’t happy with it. I believe we gave you clear information. I have identified one area that I think was less than clear and, yes, we shared our information-
Q85 Chair: The same information went to Mr Green?
Lin Homer: Yes, and the previous Ministers.
Q86 Chair: So presumably you have now spoken to Ministers and apologised in the same way as you have done to us?
Lin Homer: I haven’t spoken to Mr Green. I thought he was due to be here today and I was hoping to speak to him. I did speak with Mr Whiteman and was clear that I carried my share of the responsibility.
Q87 Chair: On your salary and bonuses, you don’t think, bearing in mind your successor has talked about significant failings of this organisation of which you were the head until 18 months ago and the fact that the report makes stark reading, that you should hand back any of these bonuses that you received? Could you remind the Committee how much you have received in bonuses since you were head of the UKBA?
Lin Homer: I think it has been reported to you on a number of occasions. I was bonused, I think, three out of the five years I was there. I think the last one was £6,000. I think the Home Secretary agreed bonuses lower than other parts of Government.
Q88 Chair: Is it about £20,000 in total?
Lin Homer: Probably, yes.
Q89 Chair: You don’t feel, in view of what you have heard from the Chief Inspector and what has happened, that you ought to return any of those bonuses?
Lin Homer: I was not bonused for the last year I was there. I moved on before the end of the year.
Q90 Chair: I think the mirth is because of the word "bonused". We have never heard it before. Is it common civil service language?
Lin Homer: No, I was trying to be brief because I am conscious you are running out of time. I did not receive a bonus-
Q91 Chair: What other word is there apart from "bonus"?
Lin Homer: I did not receive a bonus for the portion of the last year I was there.
Q92 Chair: For the bit that you think you were unclear with the Committee you weren’t, but rather like Mr Sedgwick, his bonus came six days before he appeared before the Committee?
Lin Homer: No, not at all. I received bonuses in three of the years I was in the UKBA. I believe I earned them and was entitled to them.
Chair: In conclusion, Ms Homer, this is a very serious matter because you know this Committee has spent a lot of time trying to get to the bottom of what is going on. We report to Parliament three times a year. In fact I had had an informal discussion with Committee staff about reducing the number of times that we looked at UKBA. We may need to increase the number of times we look at UKBA. We are very concerned and basically shocked at what Mr Vine has said. I am glad you have come here and apologised and accepted your share of the responsibility. I made it clear to Mr Sedgwick that if we discover that there were any further examples of this Committee being misled we will consider reporting this matter to the House as a contempt. Thank you very much for coming today.