Select Committee on Home Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 100 - 119)



Mr Linton

  100. I just wanted to ask Mr Boys Smith about the people who lose their asylum appeals. You do not know whether they are in this country or not, they may or may not be. What kind of thing does somebody have to do in order to remain in this country undetected. Certainly as MPs we come across a lot of people through the latter stages of the asylum process, even when they lose they remain here for a long time and they often still have children at school, go to hospitals, pay taxes, they are on the electoral register and they draw benefits. Which of these things would draw your attention to the fact that they are still here and which would not?
  (Mr Boys Smith ) I think in terms of things that would draw attention I will ask my colleagues to come in in a moment. The answer is that you can live in the United Kingdom pretty easily, even if you are here illegally, particularly if you have an employer -


  101. And you do not get caught speeding, Mr Boys Smith; it tends to show up.
  (Mr Boys Smith ) - who does not ask too many questions. Schools do not enquire as to the legal status of the parents, so there is no constraint there. The United Kingdom, perhaps, in comparison to other countries, is a relatively unpoliced society.

Mr Linton

  102. Somebody once suggested you can, more or less, stay here provided you did not apply for a job in the Civil Service.
  (Mr Boys Smith ) Certainly not in IND.

  103. My colleague spoke to a number of would-be asylum seekers, some of whom mentioned as a positive factor about Britain the fact that there was so many things you could do without needing to prove your identity.
  (Mr Boys Smith ) It must be beyond any doubt that that is one of the factors that makes the United Kingdom an attractive place for people who wish to come in, in the knowledge they want to stay after they are supposed to stay.

  104. I want to draw you outside your brief, do you think from an operational point of view, it would be helpful if other public services exercised the vigilance you do when you are employing in the Immigration Service, about whether people do have immigration status when they use public services?
  (Mr Boys Smith ) If it were possible for access to public service by GPs, by hospitals, to an eye test, all of those things, if they were subject to some kind of check against a central database, which does not exist, I have no doubt that arrangements would be more effective. I am conscious that in Denmark, a country not, obviously, with a popular image as an illiberal country, they have the use of national identity numbers which are checked every time people want access to schools or GPs, they are a significant element of the internal policing of that society. Those arrangements do not exist here. I mean it would be easy for me to say, "Yes, of course, our job would be less demanding if those arrangements and better ones did exist".

  105. You talked about research before and the way a researcher would look at this problem. Estimating the number of people who remain here when they lose their appeals would be to take some situation where people do need to explain their immigration status if they are, maybe, involved in a road accident or something and what proportion of those people are, in fact, over-stayers. Has any research of that kind been done?
  (Mr Boys Smith ) It has not yet. We now have in our programme, it will start in the current financial year, some work on the motivation of people coming here and on the size of the population of them. That research has not been done. It is a gap I have been anxious to plug.

Mr Winnick

  106. Leaving aside the criminals and the gangs we were talking about earlier, is there any doubt about the motives of the average person who is trying to remain here illegally?
  (Mr Boys Smith ) Not in broad terms but they want to come here and get a job.

  107. Yes. It has always been the case through the whole history of migration into the country that the purpose is to seek a better life. I am not suggesting that they should be allowed to do so against the rules, so the question of vouchers, I would not have thought that affects much as opposed to receiving money and initial fees before they are able to find work. (Mr Boys Smith ) A fundamental matter is employment. The state of the economy over a long period is a factor in all this. Access to the benefits system, certainly in the short-term, is probably a factor, nobody can say how large a factor, and a number of other things will be, in the short-term. We are talking about people who do not bother to claim asylum, having got in here to live in a community that they are familiar with and to get some cash straightaway. That may well have been a factor in the past, I think. As I was saying in response to an earlier question, I do not think one can tease out the vouchers factor separately and the dispersal factor as regards asylum support. Undoubtedly, the Government's view is that the new support arrangements will remove some of the short-term incentives to claim asylum here, rather than in another countries, where it may be easier to access benefits or maybe there are in place arrangements comparable to the ones we just instituted in relation to asylum. A lot of what we are doing is to catch-up with what other countries have done in their effort for speedy decision making and speedy appeal. To be behind the game is to make yourself more attractive than the competition.

  108. All of these pressures on the United Kingdom are not different from other western countries, we are not unique in any way from France, Germany or Holland, they all have the same problems.
  (Mr Boys Smith ) They all face comparable pressures. The existence of an established community would be an important factor. If you look at applications from different nationalities they are different. On the whole there are not many Algerians coming here but there are lots of Algerians in France. Perhaps the English language is another factor, again, I am speculating.

  Mr Winnick: The links in the past, the colonies.

Mr Howarth

  109. Following on from Mr Winnick's questions, it was clear when talking to the French officials at the Red Cross Centre at Sangatte on the outside of Calais, where we saw 300 or 400 would-be asylum seekers their view was that they came here for four reasons. First, there was greater freedom in the United Kingdom, that was the top of their agenda. No ID are cards required here. Thirdly, the good benefit system. Fourthly, the benefit of obtaining a job in the absence of an ID card. Those were the reasons they wanted to come here. It was confirmed by a Kurd whom I spoke to, who made those points. It does seem to us that this question of dealing with asylum seekers—the figures speak for themselves, 8,000 will be removed this year.
  (Mr Boys Smith ) Were last year. 12,000 this year.

  110. Against 71,000 who sought refugee status in this country last year, I wonder can you tell us a little bit about how the removal agency is going to work? Is it going to be properly staffed? Are you satisfied that it will be properly staffed, from your point of view? Where will the staff come from? Will they be poached from the other parts of the IND? Do you think that it is going to make a significant difference?
  (Mr Boys Smith ) You refer to an agency, this is part of the Immigration and Nationality Directorate.

  111. What are you going to call it?
  (Mr Boys Smith ) The Immigration Service Enforcement Directorate. It already exists, we are expanding it significantly. It is essential, for the kind of reasons I alluded to a moment ago, to ensure proper, through management of asylum. It remains part of the same organisation—I will come on to the other things you have asked about in a moment—it is essential that we can manage cases through the system. We know when they arrive in the port. We take the decision on time. We watch them through the appeal system, if they decide to appeal, so that the people deploying enforcement will know that on Monday week probably that number of appeals will be decided and probably will produce that number of enforceable cases. That they can have contact, effectively, horizontally to the National Asylum Support Service, who will know the addresses of the people who are receiving free accommodation. I think a separate agency is not the right way. It is important that it is an integrated business. We are recruiting substantially to the Immigration Service and, as you mentioned earlier, the number of Enforcement Directorate will go up by 400 to 500 in the coming year. In addition to that, powers are available now, exercised on a pilot basis, from the new Act of Parliament, to ensure that we can, in suitable circumstances, exercise arrest on our own, away from the border, without having to rely on the police. Inevitably, the police have other priorities than just our work. Very helpful though they are their priorities cannot be the same as ours. Arrangements will be unfolded around the country and there will also be more extensive use of detention. Ministers announced they want to expand detention, which can be used in a variety of ways. Sometimes, obviously, in relation to somebody following an arrival for the purpose of removal. The key thing is to use the detention for a relatively short period, immediately prior to somebody's removal from the country. We now target the great majority of cases. We also have set up one, and will set up more, what we call reporting centres. Rather than relying, again, on the police service we will have our own reporting centres to which people will be required to report during the course of their period prior to the final resolution of their case and from which therefore we can both keep track of them and, if need be, exercise our powers on any particular occasion that they come in to report. The preliminary centre in South London is proving effective and on that basis we have expanded that around the country. We are taking a large number of measures as well as extra resources.

  112. The two principle measures are not going to cope with this huge number of people, are they? You are going to have to think of other measures. Perhaps I can put to you, without declaring my own position, what about the national identity card? Would this make your life a lot easier, particularly in relation to the points made by Mr Linton?
  (Mr Boys Smith ) I hope you will permit me if I do not go down the path of that which is a big question for ministers, on the national identity card. We have a huge challenge on enforcement. As I said earlier, the part of the business that has been under-resourced and has had too little focus on it in the past is now changing. Of course it not just detention and reporting centres resources. It is the use of the new powers and what will, I think, lead to the significant, over time, closing of the removals gap.

  113. What about tagging?
  (Mr Boys Smith ) That is not something I have seen as being particularly effective for our purposes. If ministers wanted to extend tagging beyond the criminal system then we would have to see how we could apply that. You are asking me a rather major policy question.

  114. I was thinking of the practical side of it, whether, practically, that is something that the IND could do.
  (Mr Boys Smith ) Tagging can only operate where it associates with different powers. It has to be associated with somebody that is at certain premises at a certain time of the day. We do not have those powers or anything akin to them to apply tagging to our circumstances. That would require a major changes in the legislative framework, of a kind that has not been previously suggested.


  115. There are two other issues involved in the removal, one is people who arrive here with no papers and you cannot satisfy their identity. Perhaps somebody claiming to be from Pakistan came to be from Afghan and then nobody answers the telephone in Kabul. There is a reluctance, when you get to the bottom of which country they come from, for that country to take them back. One country in particular totally refuses anybody who leaves illegally. Are they significant numbers?
  (Mr Boys Smith ) There are significant numbers. Particular countries for different reasons, Mr Wilson may want to follow me, there is one country that will not, I will not say never takes anybody back. It has set a high hurdle for us to cross in terms proving they are from that country, as distinct from that ethnic group, which is not a matter of doubt. That is quite a challenge for us. We are engaged in a lot of discussions about that. I am reasonably optimistic we will be able to make some progress. There are other countries who, understandably, require evidence that the person is a national of that country. They do not have any particular obstacles but they take a long time about satisfying themselves that that evidence exists, it can take six months or a year sometimes. We can use up our detention space hanging on to a significant number of people. In terms of the difficulty of returning to a country, we will have to come back to you with a figure.

  116. Just let us clarify this, it would be useful to get it on the record, remind me, exceptional leave to remain is normally given for a finite period initially. Where there are these problems, where you have done the identification but the country of origin is, at that time, refusing to take them back and has a history of taking a long time, there may be circumstances where exceptional leave to remain would be given that then could be reviewed after. Whether it is given for a year or two years you get a second look at that against the progress being made. Is that the way it works?
  (Mr Boys Smith ) Broadly speaking that is the case but I cannot put a figure on it.
  (Mr Roberts) Yes. I do not have a great deal of experience of the policy of applying exceptional leave to remain. In my experience it has not been applied to those people that we cannot remove because of documentation problems.

  117. It has not.
  (Mr Roberts) In my experience it has not been applied. The solution is to persuade and cajole those countries that are being recalcitrant not to grant exceptional leave to remain.

Mr Singh

  118. What are your views on the 1951 Convention, on the status of refugees. Do you think the Geneva Convention is out of date now and needs revising?
  (Mr Boys Smith ) I hope you will not think me flippant: my views are those of the Home Secretary. Allow me to expand on that. I am not wishing to be in any sense flippant, the Home Secretary himself has recognised and said publicly, on a number of occasions, he thinks that some aspects of the 51 Convention are outdated, although he has been equally clear that we have international obligations under that Convention. He intends that Government should continue to meet those. There has never been any question and there is not now of falling back from those obligations. It was written in very different circumstances, where the ease of travel and the pressures of economic migration were nothing like the ones we now witness. The Home Secretary himself has been talking about this contradiction at the heart of the 51 Convention in terms whereby no receiving country has any obligation, whatsoever, under the Convention, to facilitate the arrival of people. They have an obligation to examine their case once they do arrive and we will continue to examine those cases that do arrive here and give them proper rights of appeal, and so on. The Home Secretary, accordingly, floated a few ideas in this area that may prompt a debate, possibly, in the longer term.

  119. On the point that pressures for economic migration were not as great as they are now, is it not the case that migration was encouraged and legal in western Europe?
  (Mr Boys Smith ) The pressures for migration from various parts of the world are greater now, particularly in western Europe. I think things have changed fundamentally, in the sense that the asylum route is seen as a route of fulfilling that ambition in a way that recently it was not. If you go back fifteen years, why did people not claim asylum then? They did not.

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