Home Affairs - Minutes of EvidenceHC 616

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Oral Evidence

Taken before the Home Affairs Committee

on Tuesday 16 July 2013

Members present:

Keith Vaz (Chair)

Nicola Blackwood

Mr James Clappison

Michael Ellis

Lorraine Fullbrook

Dr Julian Huppert

Steve McCabe

Mark Reckless

Chris Ruane

Mr David Winnick

________________

Examination of Witness

Witness: David Wood, Interim Director General, Immigration Enforcement Directorate, gave evidence.

Q1 Chair: This is the Committee’s normal session where we examine senior officials of the Home Office dealing with immigration and visa issues, and this will form the main part of our next report into the Home Office’s charge of this subject. I welcome David Wood, who has been appointed as the Interim Director General for Enforcement. Mr Wood, you were last before us in 2009, so it has been a long time. Welcome back.

David Wood: Thank you.

Chair: Could I start? Last week on 9 July Isleworth Crown Court ruled that Jimmy Mubenga-the failed asylum seeker from Angola-had been unlawfully killed while in the care of G4S guards. The court said they were using unreasonable force and acting in an unlawful manner. You were the Director for Enforcement and Crime at the time of his death, on 12 October 2010. What responsibility do you and the Department hold for this?

David Wood: First of all, can I give my condolences to the family? We asked that to be done in the hearing, but I publicly do so now because it is a tragic incident by any description.

We set down the criteria for training. We obviously appoint the G4S, or whoever happens to do the escorting, and on that particular occasion the training had been delivered. I think the verdict of the jury at the Coroner’s Court was that the escorts had not complied with the training they were given. This is really important to us. We have 7,000 movements under escort round the country a month; 5,500 escorted removals each year on planes out of the country, as well as many other enforced removals. So getting this right is really, really important.

Q2 Chair: But ultimately the Home Office is responsible, as it then was the UKBA and you were in charge.

David Wood: Absolutely.

Q3 Chair: Would you like to take this opportunity to apologise to the family for the failings?

David Wood: I think I could give my condolences. Of course, I don’t think it has been our failings there. At the end of the day, the escorts did not comply with the training.

Q4 Chair: So it is the failings of G4S?

David Wood: Well, it is the failings of the particular escorts. G4S did deliver the training, in accordance with the guidelines we had provided.

Q5 Chair: So it is not the company, it is not the Home Office, it is the two escorts who were there? There is no corporate responsibility, nothing of that kind? It is them, is it?

David Wood: Look, we must all learn from this. It was an absolutely tragic incident and we must all learn from it. We await the rule 43 recommendations from the coroner. This is something that we absolutely have to learn from. I don’t say we have no responsibility for it. We have to look at what happened. We have to learn from it. We have to do absolutely everything in our power to make sure this never happens again. It is absolutely a tragic incident, so-

Q6 Chair: What have you done as a result of this verdict? What have you done to ensure that this never happens again?

David Wood: We have an independent panel sitting at the moment. We have NOMS reviewing-

Q7 Chair: Was it there at the time? Was the independent panel there at the time?

David Wood: No, that is something new.

Chair: Something new?

David Wood: Yes.

Q8 Chair: Started when?

David Wood: It started about four months ago, I think, from memory. We have an independent panel of leading experts from across the country who can contribute to this. We are reviewing the use of force on planes; we are taking that to the independent panel who are commenting, critiquing it, to make absolutely sure that everything we do is the best possible standard, and everything the escorts do is the best possible standard it can be. So that is what we are doing to make absolutely sure we are doing, as I say, everything in our power to make sure there cannot be a repeat of this again.

Q9 Chair: The whole of that directorate is now still under you. You were running it then as Director of Enforcement and Crime. You now head the command on an interim basis.

David Wood: Yes, in between other things, but that is quite correct, yes, Chairman.

Q10 Chair: For a number of years you were right at the top of the UKBA, you were the Deputy Chief Executive before it was abolished.

David Wood: That is correct, Chair, yes.

Q11 Chair: We know the Chief Executive has gone. You have just been taken into the mother ship, so to speak, into the Home Office.

David Wood: That is one way to put it, yes.

Q12 Chair: Were you surprised when the Home Secretary said that she found the organisation closed, secretive and defensive? Did you take any responsibility for that?

David Wood: To some extent we must all take a collective responsibility for it. It was a difficult organisation to run. She also said several other things, of course, about the old UKBA. There were lots of difficulties with the agency. I absolutely support her decision. I think it is entirely the right thing to do. I am finding that having one area of the business to devote my whole attention to in the enforcement, removal end of the business, is making us develop that far faster. I am sure my colleague running visas and immigration is doing exactly the same.

Q13 Chair: But she was not there. You were there for eight years at the top of this organisation.

David Wood: Yes.

Chair: So do you recognise the words "closed, secretive and defensive"? It is a pretty damning indictment of the organisation that you were the Deputy Chief Executive of, isn’t it?

David Wood: Yes, but I-

Chair: It is not praiseworthy, is it?

David Wood: I can recognise the words because there were so many things that kept coming out, really-the IT systems did not help all of that-so things kept emerging that one would have hoped could have all come out at once, and this Committee has found that, quite frankly. So I can understand where the words come from. I think it has been a very, very troubled and difficult organisation to run in lots of ways, and there have been a lot of good people doing their best there, but-

Q14 Chair: Are you surprised, therefore, that you are still in a job? Basically, you were at the top of this organisation, you were the Deputy Chief Executive, you were on a very high salary, between £101,000 and £208,000 a year. Presumably, you have retained your salary in your new post?

David Wood: Yes, I don’t recognise the second half of that figure, but-

Q15 Chair: What is your current salary then, Mr Wood?

David Wood: It is about £102,000, something like that.

Q16 Chair: £102,000. So you have retained your salary, you have retained your job, even though the Home Secretary said that the organisation was, "closed, secretive and defensive"?

David Wood: Chairman, other people have to make the judgment about me, and other people have made a judgment about me. I don’t think the judgment has been made, quite clearly, that everybody in senior positions in the particular agency failed. She said the agency was troubled, with the IT, the policy, the law. I am not being defensive here, but other people have to make that judgment and I accept the judgment of other people who sit above me.

Q17 Chris Ruane: Can I ask, how much does a G4S escort get paid-an hourly rate?

David Wood: I am going to guess, and I will write to you and confirm, but it would be probably £20,000, £22,000, something like that but I will need to write to you to confirm that. I don’t know the answer.

Q18 Chris Ruane: Do you think that level of pay reflects the skill sets needed to move asylum seekers and other people around and guard those people?

David Wood: I think we must just judge by results in a sense. There are 7,000 movements a month, there are 5,300 escorted removals a year abroad and, generally speaking it is an enormously successful operation. I am in no way condoning or reflecting on the particular incident we are talking about here, but generally speaking it has been nearly 20 years, I think, we have had independent contractors running this type of business for us. They are trained to a high standard. Generally speaking, they maintain those high standards and it works very successfully generally.

Q19 Chris Ruane: With G4S’s failures on the Olympics and other issues, did you have any prior concerns about their performance as a company?

David Wood: Not generically and generally. You have individual concerns or individual complaints that were upheld on investigation. There are minor and more serious matters occasionally, but in the context of the large number of activities they run for us, as a company running the escorting at the time, I did not have broad concerns about their ability to do so, no.

Q20 Mr Winnick: Coming to the case that the Chair has mentioned of the person who tragically died, and the inquest was heard, the wife is quoted as saying that the worst thing she had to hear was not from the guards but from the passengers. She quoted one of the passengers who said, "As I took my seat I heard a male’s voice"-on the plane of course-"shouting ‘Let me up, you’re killing me. You’re killing me. You’re killing me. I cannot breathe. I cannot breathe’." Did you read that comment before I have just quoted?

David Wood: I had read it, yes, Mr Winnick.

Q21 Mr Winnick: Is it not a reflection of what occurred leading to the death that no notice was taken whatsoever of the person who in fact was struggling for his life?

David Wood: That may well be the case, Mr Winnick. I am not condoning that at all. There is still a criminal investigation. It has been referred back to the Crown Prosecution Service, and I guess that these matters will all be taken into consideration about whether or not there is further action, but we know that the jury have come back with their verdict of unlawful killing, and obviously that is a verdict that we accept, regrettably, and I do not support or condone, in any way whatsoever, the activities that led to that.

Q22 Mr Winnick: The Chair asked if you felt an apology was necessary to the widow and the family. You are reluctant to give such an apology?

David Wood: I am not reluctant to give an apology. I have to-

Q23 Mr Winnick: Why don’t you give an apology?

David Wood: I am happy to apologise to that extent here. I suppose I am just making the point that we did all we can. There are occasions when people who either work directly for you or indirectly for you do not comply in what they are doing, do not do what they are told, and that is what has happened on this particular occasion, and a death resulted. It is tragic; it is awful and, yes, I read that in the paper and I think the widow has been enormously balanced about this and it is an absolutely awful and regrettable incident. But as I say, we put everything in place that should have ensured, and had indeed ensured over 20 years this would not happen or should not happen. Regrettably, it did on that day.

Q24 Chair: So, Mr Wood, you are telling the family through this Committee that you apologise for what happened to Jimmy Mubenga?

David Wood: To the extent of our responsibility, indeed, Mr Chairman, yes.

Q25 Chair: You are responsible. Are you not responsible?

David Wood: I am sorry?

Chair: Isn’t it a Home Office decision?

Steve McCabe: Where does the buck stop?

Mr Winnick: Why don’t you just apologise, Mr Wood? Why qualify it? Why not reply to the Chair who has asked you-if he will forgive me for intervening-why don’t you simply apologise?

David Wood: At the end of the day people have acted-potentially, judgments have to be made, criminally or otherwise-totally contrary to the training we have provided. So to the extent that we are responsible for that, of course we apologise, but it is others-

Chair: Thank you, we will accept that.

Mr Winnick: It was quite an achievement getting that out of you.

Q26 Dr Huppert: I have a strange sense of déjà vu, because I think it was a couple of weeks ago we were hearing from G4S again about the asylum accommodation they provide. The message they were giving when there have been all sorts of accounts of problems is, "Oh well, yes, that was one of our subcontractors. We told them not to do that," and hence it is all fine. I have a real concern that there are a number of these chains now where people at the top say, "Please don’t do anything nasty," and then, a shock to them, not everybody does everything nice. So can I just follow up because I am concerned about how much forethought was put into this? I don’t just want to see something where this particular problem does not happen again. For example, were there any complaints about the use of positional asphyxia before Jimmy Mubenga’s death that were made either to G4S or to you in your office?

David Wood: I am not aware and we can check. There have been complaints about use of force by escorts. I am not aware of any complaints about positional asphyxia that we have received. We can check that. I am sure that would have been looked into for the inquest.

Q27 Dr Huppert: If you can send us a list of the complaints about use of force and of positional asphyxia, but also what was done about them because it is clearly not acceptable to say, "We told people not to use force inappropriately. There were complaints. We didn’t do anything about it and then it was used far too inappropriately."

David Wood: Every complaint of use of force has been vigorously investigated, and we can provide you with those statistics. It is sometimes by the police, sometimes by the Prison and Probation Ombudsman, sometimes by Home Office investigators.

Q28 Dr Huppert: I think it would be helpful. I am sceptical that they have all been investigated, but if you could give us a list and how they were investigated that would be helpful, but also particularly if there were complaints about the people involved. Because complaints are a good way to see a problem starting, and I would be grateful if you could give us a full list of all of the complaints about force and positional asphyxia that would be helpful.

David Wood: That will be fine.

Q29 Michael Ellis: Can I move on now to the situation as far as the changes that have been made since the breakup of the UKBA, which happened on 1 April this year, so some three months ago? What has changed, Mr Wood, in the day-to-day life of your staff?

David Wood: I think there have been significant changes. The Immigration Enforcement, which I command, has 14 senior civil servants if I count myself as one of those. There are 10 new appointments in the last five months. There is one to be filled, so there are three who have been there longer than five months. That is the first thing. So there is a whole new leadership regime across the top of Immigration Enforcement. There are three completely new directorates being formed, so there are a lot of people doing the same thing but in a very different way, that we are leading. That is all part of a culture change.

Q30 Michael Ellis: These are new people are they; new people?

David Wood: The senior civil servants?

Michael Ellis: The senior civil servants.

David Wood: There is a range of different-

Q31 Michael Ellis: You are referring to 14 civil servants and all the rest. Are they new people?

David Wood: New in those roles. Some of them have been promoted from parts of the Home Office or the old UKBA. One has come from the Ministry of Justice. One has come from the policing world, so a range of different environments but they are all new into those particular roles, absolutely. As I say, three new directorates. We have liveried our vehicles so we are more visible to the public. There is a whole range of change that we are bringing in to change culture, change the way we are doing things, and trying to be more productive.

Q32 Michael Ellis: A different corporate identity. You are talking about the livery of your vehicles-

David Wood: Yes.

Michael Ellis: Are you trying to establish a different corporate identity, if I could call it that?

David Wood: Yes, a more law enforcement culture. We have the two different cultures now across what was the old UKBA and, as I said at the start, I think that is very useful. It is a very useful way to look at it and to lead. So we are, yes, trying to establish a law enforcement, different culture, in my part of the business that can grip the illegal immigrant population in the country.

Q33 Michael Ellis: So you are satisfied that the flaws that the Home Secretary referred to as pre-existing in the UKBA, can be removed, ameliorated, at least, by these changes?

David Wood: I am sure a culture takes time to change, so this will not be done overnight but, yes, I am convinced over time we can change culture, we can make things far better, we can make the enforcement operation far more efficient, and that is what I am trying to lead and drive forward.

Q34 Michael Ellis: Have you familiarised yourself with the day-to-day operations as far as the working of your directorate is concerned?

David Wood: Yes, I have.

Q35 Michael Ellis: You feel confident that the changes that you have just told the Committee about are ones that fit in with the Home Secretary’s wishes as far as making this organisation more functional and, to use the words of a previous Home Secretary, more fit-for-purpose?

David Wood: Yes. Obviously I am aware of the Home Secretary’s vision for my command and everything I am doing I hope will fit that vision, yes, indeed.

Q36 Chair: Thank you. But since you have been there for eight years, why did you have to wait for the Home Secretary to abolish the UKBA? Why didn’t you, as the Deputy Chief Executive, put in place the very changes that you say have occurred over the last few months? I think the Committee finds this very odd, bearing in mind the fact that we have produced many reports over the last six years.

David Wood: First of all, Mr Chairman, I have been there five years not eight, but even so I have been there a long time, is the point. Some of the changes that I am now implementing I had started before. So I am following through some things I had started. Some of these new directorates, two out of three, I had established the principles for, set up and now am implementing. So I had started some of that, and I had been doing a lot of thinking around those areas.

Q37 Chair: Yes, despite your thinking the Home Secretary still said it was "closed, secretive and defensive".

David Wood: Yes, I appreciate what the Home Secretary said, yes.

Q38 Dr Huppert: Just to follow on on your directorates, what are your areas of responsibility, how is it separated out and how many staff do you have in each area?

David Wood: Right. We have what we call a Removals and Logistics Directorate, which is the removal operation of the agency-there are about 350 staff there. We have the Detention Estate, which has 210 staff. Our enforcement teams across the country have about 1,450 staff. Criminal casework, the foreign national offenders side of our business, has 785 staff. Special Cases deals with things like Abu Qatada and sensitive cases like that, and has just over 70 staff. We have crime teams across the UK-488 staff. We have a Removals Casework and Interventions unit, which is removing barriers to our removing people from the country-that is 483 staff. We have a National Operations Command, which is 104 staff, and an Intelligence Directorate that provides officers around the world. And in-country intelligence, which is about 700 staff.

Dr Huppert: Quite a lot of intelligence staff. I would be interested to know the budgets for each of those areas. Perhaps you could write to us with a full breakdown, rather than reading out a long list.

David Wood: We will write to you.

Q39 Dr Huppert: There is clearly an attraction to separating out all of those functions from the visa process and customer service side. How do you make sure that it does not develop a macho culture of, "How can we throw these people out"? For example, there were a lot of complaints about the imagery used for the Home Office Twitter feed, which looked very aggressive-people being rounded up and put into vans. I hope that is not the image you want to project.

David Wood: No, it is a difficult balance. It is not the image. The image we wish to profess is dignity and respect for everyone we deal with, and professionalism, but you are right that it is a difficult balance with a tough law enforcement culture. We need to be firm and resolute in what we are seeking to do to remove people who should not be in the country, but no, we don’t want a macho image, and that is absolutely not what we wish to create.

Q40 Dr Huppert: If you could have a look at some of the imagery that has been used on that Twitter feed and elsewhere, and make sure that it is more appropriate.

David Wood: I haven’t seen it but I will look at it.

Dr Huppert: Thank you.

Q41 Steve McCabe: Mr Wood, I assume like Government Ministers you have no idea how many illegal immigrants are in the country or enter the country each year, is that right?

David Wood: That would be correct, any more than the estimates that are provided.

Q42 Steve McCabe: So if the major aim is to curb immigration, what are you going to do to tackle the illegal immigration since, unless we have some knowledge of that, all other estimates about immigration must be rendered meaningless?

David Wood: I think the principal thing that needs to be done is to create an environment where it is very difficult to exist as an illegal immigrant within the country, and the Bill that is going through Parliament, subject to the consultation that is taking place, will take us a long way down that road. So it will be very difficult for anyone illegally here to work. It is now. They won’t be able to claim benefits; they won’t be able to get a driving licence; they won’t be able to open a bank account; they won’t be able to rent a premises and their-

Q43 Steve McCabe: I can see why all of those things would be helpful. What is it in the legislation that is going to make all those things possible where they have not been possible before?

David Wood: Law principally, and-

Q44 Steve McCabe: Yes, but what I am trying to ask what is it in a practical sense that will be different? Will it be the enforcement of these measures? Will it be the fact that they will be stated as being-I am just trying to understand how it is going to assist you.

David Wood: What I would do is operationalise that, so I would have a network of staff across the country, which is one of the new directorates, who would deal with the landlords, local authorities, partners in communities, in order to operationalise that and put real life to it. We haven’t had that in the past. So it will help me. Of course, when landlords are doing checks, as when employers do checks and other people in the health service are doing checks, and people like that, it will bring to our attention far more people who shouldn’t be here.

Q45 Steve McCabe: I am trying to figure out how this will work. One of the things that always surprises me is how it is possible for people to survive illegally in the country. Will landlords now be required to ask to see a person’s papers before they are allowed to rent a property to them?

David Wood: There is currently consultation going on about that, which will decide those things. Currently, if we take employers they are required to see documentation that proves a person has the right to work in the UK, and I guess it will be something similar for landlords. We are bringing in British residential permits, more and more, and they are a source document that will make that very easy and that may be something we can accelerate. It works well for employers now, so there is no reason why it can’t work for landlords. I guess that will be the principle of it. But it is subject to consultation. The views of landlords and people like that have to be taken into account, but that I guess is how it would work, something similar to current employers.

Q46 Steve McCabe: One measure obviously will not tell us how many illegal immigrants are in the country, but does that mean that the next time you come before the Committee one measure is that you will be able to tell us how many enforcement actions you have taken against health staff, landlords, employers and people like that who have failed to comply?

David Wood: I could provide the Committee information about what we have done about employers because we do that now, yes.

Q47 Steve McCabe: No, but I am thinking about the additional measures.

David Wood: As that becomes within the law, absolutely, we would be able to give you information on our enforcement action around those issues. Of course, what we want initially is people to learn and to give advice, and we won’t want to take enforcement action against landlords or anyone else in the early days, I suspect. We would want them to advise and get the system working right. But, yes, we would ultimately sanction if there-

Q48 Steve McCabe: So how long before you move to this phase? At the moment it is all talk. I am not dismissing what you are saying, but I have heard all this before. What I am wondering is how long before you are actually in a position to come to the Committee and say, "In this area, this area and this area this is what we have been able to do"?

David Wood: As I say, so far as the law permits now, I could provide that for you now about employers.

Q49 Steve McCabe: Yes, but I am talking about once the changes come in.

David Wood: I am putting in place the apparatus now for when this becomes law so that we can put it straight into practice. So I would be able to give this Committee, after it becomes law, very, very early reports on exactly what we are doing and, as we are enforcing it, what the results of that are.

Chair: Thank you.

Q50 Steve McCabe: Can I just check though? I am not clear about that. You said, "I don’t want to move into enforcement immediately. I want to allow people to get to understand it." From the point of this becoming law, what is the period you are going to allow before you start enforcing it?

David Wood: I guess that will be the decision of Ministers. I am not saying we would just allow total disobeyance of the law, but I think if you have a single landlord who rents out one property or something like that, you would want them to learn and understand the law. With any new law, I guess, which has an impact on business in any sense, there tends to be a short period of people understanding and learning rather than the enforcement side of it. So it is education initially. But I don’t see that going on for very long, and I don’t see that occurring in every single case. If there is clear obvious disobeyance of it will be enforced immediately.

Chair: Thank you. I would just say to colleagues we have the Chief Constable of Derbyshire and your boss, the Home Secretary, coming. We don’t want to say that it is because Mr Wood was kept for a long time-

David Wood: I would hate to delay them, Chairman.

Chair: But we have some questions to ask, so that is why we are asking them.

Q51 Mr Winnick: Following what Mr McCabe has asked you, how serious is the position of rogue landlords in places, in Birmingham, London and so on, who go out of their way to exploit vulnerable people?

David Wood: I have personally seen some extreme examples of that. I was dealing a few months ago with what could be termed a "beds in sheds" operation, which you may be conversant with, where there were shacks-I cannot put it better than that-and people living in them and immigrant populations being exploited in awful conditions, dangerous, with electricity cables hanging down; very dangerous for them, being exploited, paying rent for these places, absolutely awful. So that is an extreme end of the situation where people are profiteering from illegal immigration, knowing full well exactly what they are doing. That is one end of the spectrum, and I think that is very serious and I think that is a growing problem.

Q52 Mr Winnick: That particular title "rogue landlord" calls to mind a term that has become historical for rogue landlords and such like: "Rachmanism"; it is a new form of Rachmanism, isn’t it?

David Wood: I think it is, yes, Mr Winnick.

Q53 Mr Winnick: Do you think more could be done by the Home Office by way of public information dealing with these exploiters and swindlers and scum, who, as you say, cause such misery as Rachman did half a century ago?

David Wood: I think the legislation will go a long way and it just makes the enforcement of those types of things far easier.

Chair: Thank you. James Clappison then Michael Ellis and then we must move on.

Q54 Mr Clappison: Two questions. First of all, you were asked some very pertinent questions by Mr McCabe a few moments ago about illegal immigration, as it was put, people entering the country illegally. But the fact is, isn’t it, that a lot of the people who are in the country illegally are people who entered legally under a visa but then overstayed so as to become illegal?

David Wood: That is quite correct.

Q55 Mr Clappison: Possibly, I would guess, the majority of such people who are here illegally are overstayers. Drawing on your experience, is there anything more that you think can be done to address and deter the problem of overstaying?

David Wood: There are things being done, for example, like a rollout of far more interviewing abroad before visas are granted. That will prevent some of that and weed out some of the people who are not likely to comply with the laws when they are here. Creating an environment where it is very difficult to remain here after their legitimate stay, I think is another aspect of that.

Q56 Mr Clappison: I am really probing what more you think can be done if you were to suggest to us what we could look at to help deal with the problem?

David Wood: I think it is about creating an environment where it is very difficult for people to stay. It is about being careful in our visa operation, who we grant visas to. But there will always be people overstaying, I accept that, and it is about our enforcement operations and enforcing the return of people. There will come a time when there are more exit checks from the country, and that will help too, but I think it is quite a difficult problem to resolve.

Q57 Mr Clappison: One of the features of overstaying is that it makes life more difficult for people who want to come into the country legitimately, and leave legitimately when they are supposed to do so, because it puts them to more trouble.

David Wood: It can do. I think we have about 2.5 million visa applications a year and I think most people, the vast majority of people, come here on a visa and return at the end of it.

Q58 Mr Clappison: You were asked by Mr McCabe whether you had any estimates as to the number of people who were here illegally, and you said you didn’t other than what is generally known and guessed at. Drawing on your experience in your work, would it be your sense that the number of such people was growing or diminishing, the stock of people who are here illegally?

David Wood: I think all statistics would show it is diminishing. The net migration is reducing and that is statistically-

Q59 Mr Clappison: I was not asking about net migration. That is perfectly legal. There is nothing wrong with that at all. I am talking about people who, I am not saying they are criminals, but they are here without permission, that is the point.

David Wood: I suppose it does pick up a lot of those-the net migration-who do return, albeit beyond the time they should have been here; I guess that is my point, but no, I suppose that doesn’t address your question.

Chair: Mr Clappison is asking about illegal migration.

Q60 Mr Clappison: These are people who are here completely legally, and nobody is putting any sort of question mark about them. I am asking about the people who are here without permission.

David Wood: Yes. I don’t think we have any real estimates about the numbers.

Q61 Mr Clappison: Is it your sense then that numbers are going up or going down? You’ve been doing the job for a few years. I was just wondering if you had sense drawing upon your experience of the stock of people who are in the country without permission.

David Wood: My sense is it is probably moving slightly down, by the amount of encounters we have had in our illegal working operations, but it is very difficult to estimate that, and I really wouldn’t have any sure way of answering your question.

Q62 Michael Ellis: What is happening about foreign national offenders? We hear about the figures of 4,000 and more. Why don’t you get on and do something about it? Why are these numbers not going down faster? They are clearly highly undesirable people, they have committed offences while in this country. The courts have ordered their deportation in most if not all cases. What is the delay? Why don’t you get on and do something about it?

David Wood: I agree with your sentiments, Mr Ellis, entirely. We have a lot of resources deployed on this. We are removing as many of the foreign national offenders as we possibly can. There are intrinsic difficulties with them. We have a very litigious environment which has been exploited, in fact, far more so. We had 40% more appeals in the first three months of this year than the first three months last year and they have gone up dramatically last year, so we have the appeal regime.

We have difficulty getting documents for some offenders. We have a lot who are totally and utterly noncompliant with our processes and, of course, before we can return someone to a foreign country, we need to establish their identity to the satisfaction of that country.

Q63 Michael Ellis: But these people are clearly non-compliant people. That is why they are foreign national offenders. Shouldn’t we, therefore, change our processes? Shouldn’t you change your processes so that their failure to comply is not so successful and obstructing the process? If there needs to be a difference in how appeals can be processed so that they can’t take advantage of delays by appealing everything to the nth degree, why not change some of the processes so they can’t, by their obstruction, delay their removal from this country?

David Wood: The appeal process is likely to be changed in the Bill, so that will remove some of those obstacles. We still ultimately, for the noncompliant person, if we can’t establish their identity and nationality satisfactorily, we are dependent upon that particular foreign country for providing travel documents for them.

Q64 Chair: Mr Wood, that has always been the case. In answer to Mr Ellis, the figures are going up. I don’t know whether you know that there are 112 extra foreign national prisoners in the last quarter of last year. It is in our last report; you may have read our last report.

David Wood: Yes, I have.

Chair: The point Mr Ellis is making is that there is a solution. This Committee has recommended, on numerous occasions, that you start the process at the time of sentence. It is the relationship with the courts that your section does not have. Right at the time of sentence, you should be thinking about their removal. You are still not doing that.

David Wood: Two things to that, Chairman, if I may. We do have our staff in prisons, so we see them-

Q65 Chair: Yes but this is before they get to the prison, Mr Wood. We understand what the prison service is and we understand the court system. It is at the time of sentence-

David Wood: Yes.

Michael Ellis: They might be in prison prior to sentence, do you mean?

David Wood: No. There are a couple of things here. One, we are working in police stations now. We have Operation Nexus in London, which is seeing offenders at the very early stages, trying to establish identity in police stations. I think that is key to this and working very productively with low level offenders before they ever get to the serious stage. I think that is really important. We have our people in prisons, so the minute they are sentenced, within two days they are seen by our staff, so we are doing that, but so far as casework is concerned, the courts have ruled it unlawful to start deportation processes before about 18 months before the end of their sentence. Even if we did, we would have to redo it because they have been given the right to appeal.

Chair: All right, thank you. Steve McCabe.

Q66 Steve McCabe: I just want to go back for a second. You agreed with Mr Clappison that the vast majority of illegal immigrants in this country were probably people who entered legally and overstayed. What I don’t understand from that is, if you are the man in charge of enforcement, you must know who this group are. You must have quite a good idea about these numbers because you know they came in on a documented visa, so you know exactly who these people are. Why can’t you give us figures on them and why don’t you have a more effective enforcement strategy for dealing with that group?

David Wood: Mr McCabe, we have no exit checks in the country, so although we know-

Q67 Steve McCabe: No but what I’m saying is, you know who came in, so you know you could trace that group. If you are saying confidently to Mr Clappison that the vast majority of illegal immigrants in this country entered legally and overstayed, you know who that group must be. Why can’t you give us better figures and why can’t you give us a better enforcement strategy for that group? You say we don’t have exit controls but you have had years to work at this problem. Why aren’t you tackling that? That is an obvious group.

David Wood: The Home Office generally are trying to work out the exit controls, so while we know about 2,500,000 who come here, we don’t know precisely which have gone home and that is what exit checks provide for. So it is not so easy to determine who-

Q68 Steve McCabe: It has been years since exit controls were abolished. Are you saying that since they were abolished you have never paid any attention to check whether people who entered temporarily left or not?

David Wood: There is no simple way of doing that, Mr McCabe.

Q69 Steve McCabe: So for years, since the exit controls were abolished, there has been no effective effort by the enforcement part of the UK to find out if people who came-so the message is, "Come here temporarily and stay as long as you like because we don’t make any effort to find out if you have gone back at all". That is what you’re telling me at the moment.

David Wood: I don’t think that is quite what I am saying because we do illegal working operations, we have intelligence from the communities, 100,000 bits of intelligence a year, which tells us about things like this, so that is what we operationalise. So we do arrest, detain and remove lots of people who have overstayed beyond when they should have been here.

Q70 Chair: But just in answer to Mr McCabe’s question, at the moment at Heathrow Airport, they are just checking boarding cards, aren’t they? They are not checking passports on departure.

David Wood: On departure? Generally speaking, not checking.

Chair: Sorry, say that again.

David Wood: Generally speaking, not checking. There are some that are.

Q71 Chair: So we do not need to wait for new technology. When you leave the country, all people look at is a boarding pass. They don’t check passports.

David Wood: No, they don’t check.

Q72 Chair: So you will never know if someone has gone.

David Wood: At this moment in time but people are looking at how we do effective exit checks.

Chair: I am sure they are..

David Wood: There are computer systems that can help us with this.

Chair: Of course, absolutely. I am sure they are looking at it.

Q73 Chris Ruane: Before I move on to my main question, you mentioned that the number of appeals has gone up dramatically over the past 18 months, two years. What percentage of those appeals were successful from the asylum seeker’s point of view last year compared to this year?

David Wood: Asylum is not my area, Mr Ruane, so I don’t think I should answer that. I am sure it can be provided by my colleague for you.

Q74 Chris Ruane: Or the people that you deal with?

David Wood: I can write to you about that. Foreign national offenders would be my area. The appeal rate is not enormous; it is quite a low successful appeal rate, but I can write to you and inform you of that.

Q75 Chris Ruane: You don’t know the exact figures.

David Wood: I don’t know the exact figures.

Q76 Chris Ruane: You have concern about the numbers going up?

David Wood: No, it is the number of appeals. So that is delaying the whole process. That was my point; not about that they are being successful. It is about delaying the process.

Q77 Chris Ruane: All right. In his latest report, John Vine was concerned that the UK Border Agency was still missing the opportunity to identify and locate applicants and they found there were still some cases where the information contained in paper files was not being used to trace applicants. Can you assure the Committee that you can demonstrate to applicants, Parliament, the public, that the Home Office is taking all reasonable action to identify whether individuals remain in the UK illegally?

David Wood: Yes, we take all actions we necessarily can. I think the report you are referring to was not for my area, in fairness, that was for the visa and immigration area.

Q78 Lorraine Fullbrook: I would just like, before I ask my main question, to follow up with a supplementary to Steve McCabe’s question.

Irrespective of whether you have an exit control or not, what Mr McCabe is saying is you have an entry control on the estimated 80% of illegal immigrants who overstay a legal entry visa. So you have an entry control. So you must be able to know who the majority of those people are because you had an entry control on a visa document.

David Wood: We know who has entered the country; there is no dispute about that. We just don’t know who left.

Q79 Lorraine Fullbrook: But do you not have people checking when they are coming near to the end of their visa period?

David Wood: No, that check is not done. I think there are about 2.5 million visas issued-

Chair: Mrs Fullbrook, would you like to move on, please?

Q80 Lorraine Fullbrook: Yes, thank you. I would really like to move on to Home Office statistics. The Committee received a letter dated 10 July from you and Sarah Rapson with the quarterly data for January to March this year. What do you think of the headlines from the data that was shown in that letter?

David Wood: I guess from your point of view, the various pools of what you might refer to as backlogs and cases that need resolving, I guess they are the headline. For us, both Sarah Rapson and myself, they are serious and where we need to take action and, of course, they will be of concern to this Committee and I understand that.

Q81 Lorraine Fullbrook: That was going to be my next question. What are the main areas of concern to you in this data irrespective of what the headlines are?

David Wood: In terms of my side of the house, the migration pool, of course, standing at 182,000, is a significant challenge that I need to tackle and the foreign national offenders, as has already been raised, is an issue that needs attention and it needs to be tackled.

Q82 Lorraine Fullbrook: So they are your main areas of concern with regards to the statistics data.

David Wood: In terms of the statistics data, yes. I think the whole challenge I have about enforcing across the whole operation is of equal concern and requiring my attention but the statistics, they are key statistics to me of concern, yes.

Q83 Lorraine Fullbrook: All right, thank you. The letter contained five criteria that had been raised by this Committee on a number of occasions, and I think the Committee appreciates the fact that it has been made clearer and easier to read and identify. Can you give the Committee assurances that the way this data is presented will continue in that format?

David Wood: Yes, I think we are into a rhythm with that and I can give you an assurance that we will continue to provide that.

Lorraine Fullbrook: Thank you.

Chair: Thank you, very helpful. Julian Huppert, just a very quick supplementary and then I am going to end.

Q84 Dr Huppert: You said asylum wasn’t your area. Just to be very clear that none of it is in your area; there is no involvement with country advice, there is nothing at all in your space. Sarah Rapson wasn’t clear that it was entirely in her area.

David Wood: No, it is not in my area. Clearly, my enforcement officers would occasionally arrest and detain failed asylum seekers, so that is just part of the removal operation, but in terms of the case work, that is not my area, no.

Q85 Chair: Mr Wood, in answer to previous questions, you talk about the community giving you intelligence. I don’t know whether you saw this article in a newspaper this week, which showed an aerial photograph of a lot of sheds being built at the back of people’s houses.

David Wood: I have seen lots of photographs like it, Chair.

Chair: You have. So what do you do when you get a newspaper article of this kind? Have your officers been down there to check whether or not people are living there illegally? I am keen to know what you do with these allegations.

David Wood: What we do is work in partnership with local authorities, the police and others because a multi-agency approach is required in things like this.

Q86 Chair: To give you an example, that particular case appeared in The Daily Mail on 13 July. Have your officers been down there checking on this?

David Wood: They wouldn’t have been down there necessarily but they would be in consultation with the local authority about-

Chair: So they are already on to it.

David Wood: Yes. They are engaged with these local authorities.

Q87 Chair: Sorry; on this particular case, I’m talking about this particular case. Do you know whether your officers have been down there?

David Wood: I don’t know for sure but I would expect they have and I can confirm that for you. They won’t necessarily have been there between then and now. They would have been-

Q88 Chair: All right. Secondly, you conduct a number of raids on businesses. This is one of your fortes, taking people down and obviously raiding them to see if they are employing illegal people. An awful lot of officers go on these raids. How many raids have you had this year?

David Wood: I believe it is-I might have to-there were 14,000 last year, so I can’t find the number to hand so far for this year.

Q89 Chair: Let’s talk about last year. 14,000 people were raided.

David Wood: 14,000 illegal working operations.

Chair: 14,000 authorisations?

David Wood: Let’s get this right. There were 14,000 enforcement visits; 5,000 of them were illegal working operations.

Q90 Chair: All right. So 5,000 raids. Of those 5,000 raids, how many people have been removed from this country as a result of the raid?

David Wood: There were 4,500 arrests from those raids. I don’t have the figure to hand of how many removals but I would expect-

Q91 Chair: Isn’t that the key figure because also in terms of the allegations database, last year from September 2012 to June this year, you received 48,660 allegations of illegality. You have had only 2,695 investigations. So you have only had 5% of those who have been visited and, of those, only 3.8% have resulted in arrests and only 660 people have been removed. Out of an allegations database of 48,660, only 660 people have left the country. It doesn’t sound like a big hit rate to me.

David Wood: But you need to understand the intelligence we get from allegations often does not provide information that is likely to lead to any arrest. They often do not have sufficient details in order to take any action at all. Sometimes it has limited information that just contributes to our intelligence cases and sometimes they are actionable. We are bringing out-and it is the second half of our computerisation of this-what will be a webbased approach, so when the public wish to make these allegations, it will lead them into providing the information required to make it far more productive.

Q92 Chair: 660 out of 48,000?

David Wood: We get 200 to 300 removals each month from allegations from the public. I think that is really successful. I appreciate there is a large number of allegations but there is a whole range of things that come into these allegations.

Q93 Chair: There is a large number. Bearing in mind so many officers; I have had many people who have complained about you raiding their premises and their restaurants with up to nine or 10 immigration officers. Couldn’t they be better used doing other things?

David Wood: On each occasion, these officers go out on these operations there is a risk assessment and a judgement is made on where they are going and what the intelligence says, what they are expecting to find there and the number is picked accordingly. Now, sometimes, of course, the intelligence isn’t right and there seems to be far too many officers there. What I expect then is some of the officers to remove themselves quite quickly from it but I don’t say we get that right every time. I think we try to.

Q94 Chair: Mr Wood, thank you for coming in today. Are you one of these people who Mark Sedwill referred to as being in the same job, at the same desk, answerable to the same boss?

David Wood: Absolutely not. I’m answerable to a different boss in a different desk and-

Chair: You have a new desk.

David Wood: I have a new desk. Indeed I have.

Q95 Chair: Excellent. But by and large, you have the same job.

David Wood: No, my job is quite different to the last job I had.

Chair: It is called enforcement.

David Wood: My last job was not enforcement.

Chair: Sorry; I thought your last job was enforcement and crime.

David Wood: No. My last job was a Deputy Chief Executive Chairman of the agency. I had broader responsibilities.

Q96 Chair: In conclusion, you just don’t think you have any responsibility for this "closed, defensive and secretive" organisation.

David Wood: I cannot absolve myself from leadership of an agency or the things that were good or bad about it. I am part of the senior leadership team for that agency. Other people have made judgments about the role I now fulfil and I shall fulfil it to the best of my ability and I hope I will be extremely successful.

Q97 Chair: Are you applying for the job when it becomes full-time?

David Wood: Yes, I will.

Chair: You are. Mr Wood, thank you very much for coming.

David Wood: Thank you, Chairman.

Prepared 7th November 2013