Examination of Witnesses (Questions 420
TUESDAY 7 NOVEMBER 2000
MP, AND MR
420. Home Secretary, obviously organised crime
is a major problem for all of us and people smuggling. Do you
think there is a possibility that these gangs generate a higher
level of illegal entry or just exploit the demand for it? Where
do you see their role?
(Mr Straw) I think they generate a higher level of
illegal entry because, after all, they are trading in people and
they need to maintain demand.
421. Are you happy we are in a sense catching
up? I know it is a big task of any government.
(Mr Straw) A significant proportion of all those people
who enter the United Kingdom without leave, and that by definition
includes almost all those seeking asylum, have been organised
by facilitators. Now I have to say that includes some of the people
whose claim for asylum will subsequently turn out to be genuine
and well founded.
(Mr Straw) Likewise, as I pointed out in a speech
I made in Lisbon, there is a logical contradiction inherent in
the asylum system, which is that every signature to the 1951 Convention
says "We will give asylum to those with well founded fear
of persecution". At the same time every country says we are
entitled to maintain our border controls. Usually the only way
anybody can claim asylum is at some stage in their journey to
have broken the immigration controls of one or other of the countries
through which they have travelled. That said, I do not think there
is any doubt at all that a very high proportion of those who are
unfounded asylum seekers have been facilitated here by criminal
423. Home Secretary, I think one of the things
which struck all of us when we were undertaking this inquiry was
the importance of getting the decision-making part of asylum right,
let alone welfare or length of time. The evidence we got from
refugee organisations and, indeed, legal associations was quite
critical in that respect. It was one of the legal organisations
that said to us, if my memory serves me right, that we have gone
from a system of slow, cumbersome, poor decision-making to fast,
efficient, poor decision-making under the new system. Is that
your view? If so, what are you doing about it?
(Mr Straw) No. It has to be said some of those organisations
who monitor decisions I think will be using an objective and others
will not. The fact of the matter is that everybody said to us
when we were consulting on what later became the 1999 Act, on
the basis of the 1998 White Paper, that they wanted to see the
process speeded up. We have put in huge additional investment
to speed up the process, very, very substantial. I am trying to
think of the figure £199 million in 1995-96, it has gone
up to £794 million in 1999-2000 and of that £534 million
is for asylum support. It has gone up from 199 to £260 million
in terms of the support for the administration of IND.
(Mr Boys Smith) That was for the last financial year.
The current financial year the cost of IND is about £600
million. There was a big step change from last year.
(Mr Straw) That is excluding asylum support.
(Mr Boys Smith) Indeed, yes.
(Mr Straw) A huge increase in investment in order,
amongst other things, to speed up the decision-making and raise
the quality of decision-making. Now one of the stories which has
barely been written up at all is how the whole system of asylum
processing was degraded by the previous administration in the
last 18 months in their office. They signed up this contract with
Siemens, and I was told when I came into office that this would
be up and running and working and processing applications speedily
and effectively by November 1998. Everybody knows what happened.
What then happened before we took office was that the alleged
savings from this scheme were pocketed by the Treasury and even
though the pressures were there, the backlog was huge, the number
of asylum case workers was cut and at one stage it was down to
lower than 60. There has been this huge investment in case workers
and in the whole process, and we are speeding up the decisions.
They are now at about 2,500 a month.
(Mr Boys Smith) Nearer 10,000.
(Mr Straw) Sorry, a week, and rising.
424. Everybody accepts that. It is the quality
of the decisions.
(Mr Straw) On the quality, those who said that to
you are wrong.
425. They fell last week.
(Mr Straw) Hold on a second. There is a reason for
that. On the quality of the decision-making, they are wrong. If
you judge quality by the proportion of cases which are overturned
on appeal, it is no lower than it was when the process was very
cumbersome and I think may be creeping up above it.
(Mr Boys Smith) That is correct. It is well up in
the 80 per cent area. There has been no deterioration in that.
426. People we speak to were not claiming there
was any deterioration, they were saying it was a poor decision-making
process and remains poor.
(Mr Straw) That is simply untrue. If you look at any
other area of decision-making in the public service, eight out
of ten of the original decisions to be confirmed on appeal for
independent judicial figures show a very high quality of original
decision-making, and what you are saying is untrue. What is the
case is that people who want to stay here, whether their application
is well founded or unfounded, strain every nerve to stay here.
Their legal advisers strain even more nerves to do so on their
behalf, now that is their job. At a constituency level I have
had to deal with quite a number of asylum applications over the
years and I am hard put myself to think of more than a couple
where the original decision was actually overturned on appeal.
A lot of effortbesides the increase in the number of case
workersis going into raising the quality of the decision-making
process, not least by having in house members of the bar who are
members of the bar but are retained within Croydon offices to
provide a ready source of direct legal advice on issues.
427. You may not have them to hand now, and
that is fair enough, but as a Department you will be able to supply
the Committee with the figures of the outcome of appeals in the
period leading up to the changes and since then?
(Mr Straw) Sure.
428. You have an assessment centre at Oakington
now. Is it too early to judge the success or otherwise of that?
(Mr Straw) The capacity is being built up. 1,491 decisions
have been made, of which 1,468 were refusals. 23 were grants of
asylum or exceptional leave. Of those 1,468, 1,351 have appealed
against refusals, of those 654 have been heard, of which 16 have
been allowed, which means that the quality of decision-making
at Oakington is extremely high.
429. That is very good.
(Mr Straw) You will not get that in Social Security
or virtually any other area I can think of, certainly not within
the criminal justice system.
430. Do you have plans, therefore, as a Department
to perhaps establish similar centres to spread that work out still
(Mr Straw) Oakington itself is building up. At full
capacity it is able to deal with 13,000 applicants a year. At
the moment it is taking 18 a day, when it is up to 36twice
that we will be there. We are planning also to expand detention
capacity as you know. Details have been given to the Committee
but I can give those if you wish.
(Mr Boys Smith) The important point is the figures
the Home Secretary gave for the appeals. We are talking here of
the quickest decisions that are taken, they are taken within a
week, but they are quality decisions and that appeal rate is a
97½ per cent success rate on appeal. It is important to see
that there can be that high success rate in the context of fast
but carefully taken decisions.
431. Can you just give us the figure now about
removals which follow that process?
(Mr Boys Smith) For those who have been through Oakington?
(Mr Boys Smith) I cannot give you that figure I am
433. Could you write to us with it?
(Mr Boys Smith) Indeed, sure.*
434. It is all very well saying that 1,400 applications
have been heard, nearly that number have been refused, nearly
everyone has appealed and nearly everyone has lost their appeal,
but if you cannot tell us that nearly everyone has gone back that
is a problem. You might as well not have a process.
(Mr Straw) A lot of investment is going into expanding
the enforcement process. As I explained earlier, this is a problem
which is not just shared by the European countries, it is much
worse in other European countries. Some of the European countries
have put down on their statistics the people as though they have
been removed once they have been given a final refusal. They are
then off the statistics. We have a greater degree of integrity
within our statistics.
435. Will you write and tell us how many have
(Mr Straw) We will do so.
I just want to make this point. Were any other party to go into
government they would face the same problem.
(Mr Straw) There are two difficulties about removal.
One is ensuring you have sufficient staff and detention space
to detain people once they become eligible for removal and to
get to the plane and the second is to ensure that the countries
from which they have come will receive them. Some of those countries
of origin are pretty co-operative about receiving them back and
that is straightforward, but others are not. That is a problem
which we are working on but it is a fact of life and it is a fact
of life that you would not be able to change simply by a change
437. Do they stay in Oakington until they are
physically taken to the port of exit?
(Mr Boys Smith) No, they stay in Oakington for the
five to seven day period in which the decision is taken. After
that, a small proportionand we can give you the figures
latermight go into ordinary or formal detention. The great
majority will leave Oakington, and most of them will go into the
438. Go into the what?
(Mr Boys Smith) The National Asylum Support Service
system and will probably be dispersed elsewhere if they want accommodation.
439. Do you keep in touch with everybody, every
one? Do you know where they all are?
(Mr Boys Smith) For everybody who goes into the NASS
system and takes up our accommodation by definition we do. Those
who obtain accommodation elsewhere we have no running check on
them, although one of the changes that the Home Secretary alluded
to when he spoke of increased enforcement capacity is the establishmentand
we have started this nowof what we call reporting centres
around the country to achieve just that, to achieve a much higher
rate of keeping tabs on people week by week.
2 See Appendix 27. Back
See Appendix 27. Back