Examination of Witnesses (Questions 160
TUESDAY 16 JULY 2002
JAY KCMG, MR
CMG, MR SIMON
GASS CMG AND
160. As you become more reliant on ICT systems
what back-up have you got in the event of any failure, because
clearly with written systems you have the back-up there and with
IT it is absolutely crucial, as I have found to my cost.
(Mr Collecott) Could I say a word about that, which
I would like to link also to the discussion we had previously
about the question from the Chairman about whether we were better
prepared for any kind of disaster in the future, whether that
be a natural disaster or a technical disaster or some kind of
terrorist incident? Even before 11 September we started putting
a considerable effort into what is known in the jargon as business
continuity planning in the middle of last year. Obviously, that
was given a considerable boost by the events of last September.
In particular then we began to focus very clearly on the resilience
and the degree to which we could build in extra resilience into
our IT systems. We have spent considerable time, effort and money
in designing a certain redundancy into the systems, into using
the full capabilities of the global telecommunications network
which we now have to ensure, for instance, that if, for any particular
reason, we were not able to use one of our buildings in London
or the building we have in Milton Keynes where most of our IT
equipment is, we would still be able to operate worldwide from
within about an hour or two of some disaster, natural or otherwise,
striking. There has been a considerable intellectual and physical
effort to make sure we are much more resilient. Some of the systems
we are introducing, in particular the knowledge system, which,
as Michael Jay said, will have a global registry, means that inherently
we will be much more resilient. If something were to happen in
a particular post, a technical disaster, which meant that it lost
the information which it had, then that would be available from
the global registry to any other location around the world. There
is an inherent resilience which is being built into these new
161. Individual posts' crucial data then is
backed up automatically presumably, across the globe?
(Mr Collecott) Yes, very quickly it will get backed
up into the global registry, and that will be duplicated here.
Sir John Stanley: Sir Michael, we will now turn
to your immigration and visa issuing functions.
162. It was in fact an IT failure in Islamabad
which prompted a sub-committee from this Committee to visit that
post and Delhi in relation to immigration. Since that time the
Committee has taken a close interest in immigration matters. The
first question is to ask what progress you are making towards
the targets of dealing with 90 per cent of Members of Parliament's
letters within 15 working days, bearing in mind that in the annual
report last year the target met was 78 per cent. Are you making
progress towards achieving that? The second question, while you
are thinking about that one, would be, again Pakistan's visa issuing
post I seem to recall was closed earlier this year because of
the problems between India and Pakistan. Could I ask whether that
embassy now is fully functioning in terms of visa issuing, bearing
in mind that this is perhaps the busiest time of the year for
posts such as Islamabad and Delhi?
(Sir Michael Jay) Perhaps I could answer on the second
point on Pakistan. Staff was drawn down, as you know, a few weeks
ago in response not just to the increase in tension between India
and Pakistan over Kashmir, but because of specific threats of
security against our staff in Pakistan. The judgement was that
it was right to draw them down. The resumption of a full service
across the board in Pakistan is unlikely in the near future. What
we hope to do is to increase the level of staffing in Islamabad
while looking into alternative visa accommodation in Lahore, but
there are at the moment no plans to re-open the mission in Karachi.
This is something which is kept constantly under review and the
Foreign Secretary is very conscious of the need to find the right
balance between the security threats to our staff and the need
to provide a visa service to people who have every right to want
to come here. It is not an easy balance to draw.
163. Presumably that then is leading to a backlog
in visa applications in either Lahore or Islamabad.
(Sir Michael Jay) Yes. Islamabad is at the moment
offering a reduced service which is accepting via courier only
applications from certain specific categories of people. There
are two entry clearance managers and ten entry clearance officers
at the moment as opposed to six and 46 in Pakistan before the
draw-down. Inevitably the service is not what it was before and
not what we would want it to be.
164. One other, sadly, related issue is the
question of forced marriages. What progress is the Foreign Offie
making in relation to discouraging forced marriages and protecting
British citizens abroad, usually young girls who are taken to
the sub-continent and married against their will?
(Sir Michael Jay) There is now a unit in the Foreign
Office which works full time on forced marriage issues. I visited
it the other day and I was extremely impressed by the professionalism
of the people there and by the work that they are doing.
(Mr Collecott) I can only add that my impression is
exactly the same. The feedback that we have been getting from
some of the people that we have been helping has been extremely
positive. If I remember the figures, I think there are something
like 200 people who have been in this situation whom we have managed
to help in a sense from a standing start a year or two ago. I
am afraid I cannot delve too much more into the detail. Perhaps
I can say a word about your earlier question about correspondence.
Whereas we report in last year's departmental report that we managed
to do 78 per cent, as you said, within the 15-day limit, if I
remember, the year before we were reporting a figure which was
considerably less than that. It was somewhere in the sixties,
165. It was 50 per cent.
(Mr Collecott) It was pretty bad the year before.
We did put more staff in, trying to improve the procedures. We
have got some better ways of handling and some new technology
but I fear that this is an issue which we are going to have to
continue to work at in those same old ways to, if you like, grind
down the problem and make ourselves more effective and more efficient
and get the number up from 78 to as near 90 as we possibly can.
166. Can I pick you up on that, Mr Collecott?
It has improved considerably, I have to say. When I was first
elected in 1997 one particular letter, which will remain nameless,
took 18 months to elicit a response. There were good reasons behind
that, but it is a lot better than it was; there is no doubt about
that. My concern is this, that within the constraints of UK immigration
lawand obviously our staff are constrained because there
are certain things they have to do in order to ensure that people
are genuine applicationsin a constituency like mine and
many others up and down the country, where we have a high level
of people from a Pakistani or Indian background, where people
are applying through Delhi and Islamabad and the other posts,
and obviously it is difficult at the moment as you pointed out,
for visitors' visas for weddings, sometimes for funerals, in a
small percentage of cases some of our constituents' relatives
are treated in a way that I do not find acceptable. I have often
complained about that. What are we doing? I know you are constrained
for staff and I know you have improved it considerably. How much
more quickly can we go to ensure that, even with locally engaged
staff, we treat some of those applicants more humanely because
sometimes they are treated quite rudely (only sometimes) and also
that we cut down the number of visits people have to make, which
often take 12 or 15 hours from where they live to the post itself,
and then we send them away again and they come back and we send
them away again. Again, there could be good reasons for that,
but I want to know how quickly we are going to be able to cut
down on the bureaucracy behind that and ensure that we have a
much quicker and more efficient service.
(Mr Collecott) I do believe that the standards of
service we have offered have increased remarkably over the last
two or three years, both in terms of the way people are treated
and certainly our entry clearance officers are under clear instructions
about that, but also in the degree to which we have been able
to reduce the queues which are sometimes part of the problem of
not being able to process on one day and therefore having to send
people away to come back a few days later. Certainly in a few
posts that I visited recently there had been dramatic reductions
in this. I agree: we have not done as much but we are extremely
conscious of the problem and we are extremely conscious from our
ministers downwards of the need to continue that effort to improve
the quality of service we are offering.
(Sir Michael Jay) And which we have to do by good
management in post and by training, and we are trying to do both.
In any case it is unacceptable if people are not treated well.
167. Sir Michael, I want to turn briefly to
the question of forced marriages and ask you a bit more about
the applicants to come to Britain on visitors' visas, and then
the situation arises where in some cases they apply to remain
indefinitely at the end of the six months. Both questions relate
to the liaison you have with the Home Office. On the first one,
of forced marriages, you say that you have helped 200 people approximately.
I would like to know what research has been done to find out what
the scale of the problem is. It is all very well to say that you
have helped 200. Is that 200 out of 2,000 or is it 200 out of
250? Can you give us any information on the research you have
done to assess what resources you need to put into your special
unit to eradicate this particular issue? Again, what liaison is
there with the Home Office. On the second one, is there a process
of liaison between the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the
Home Office where a person who is granted a visitor's visa then
decides, when the visa comes to an end, that they would like to
apply for indefinitely to remain? Do the Home Office talk to your
entry clearance officers at the post to check what was said in
the interview to substantiate or otherwise this change of mind
of the person who is now looking for residency here?
(Sir Michael Jay) I have to take note of those two
(Mr Collecott) I think I might add one point on the
second one. I do not know the answer to the first one. It is a
question of research.
168. A note would help us with that.
(Sir Michael Jay) We will send a note.
(Mr Collecott) On the second, one of
the efforts we are putting in, and again IT comes into it, is
to be able to link up the databases of cases which are held currently
in IND in the Home Office and that held by the FCO at posts abroad
or here, so that the process of consultation, if there is such
consultation, between the Home Office and the FCO will be much
better in the future.
169. Sir John, I would be very grateful if we
could have a note on this. It is anecdotal, I know, but I know
of one case where there seemed to be no liaison at all between
the Home Office who were looking at the application for indefinitely
to remain quite separately from the fact that the original application
for a holiday visa clearly had different statements on it.
(Sir Michael Jay) I will look into that.
Sir John Stanley: Sir Michael, we would be grateful
for a note on that please. Can we now turn to the chapter of your
report on the security and prosperity of our overseas territories.
170. Sir Michael, on page 12, formally but correctly
it sets down the fact that you are the principal adviser to the
ministers and the manager of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office,
and then on page 16 you have got the command directors, and I
looked there for Overseas Territories and I see that there is
a gentleman called Fry who has responsibility for Overseas Territories,
except for Gibraltar. I look down a little further and I find
a man call Ricketts who, amongst his duties, has Quality of Life,
which probably is appropriate when it comes to Gibraltar, and
then a move sideways and I look then to see who has got Gibraltar
and I happen to know that it used to be Mr MacGregor who is Wider
Europe, I think. I am told he is not now, although he was down
in Gibraltar with the Polish Ambassador recently and I am still
awaiting a reply from the Foreign Secretary about that matter.
Let that pass. Mr MacGregor has not got responsibility for Gibraltar.
It is with Mr Bevan who is South East Europe. Gibraltarthe
next land you reach is Virginia Beach. It is certainly not South
East Europe. Why is Gibraltar with South East Europe, Mr Bevan?
(Sir Michael Jay) It is with Mr Bevan rather than
with South East Europe and Mr Bevan. When the work on Gibraltar
began to increase, as the discussions under the Brussels process
got going, it was decided that there needed to be an Under-Secretary,
a Director, who had sufficient time to spend on Gibraltar. The
conclusion was that Mr Macgregor, because of his other responsibilities,
would not have enough time to spend on that issue and Mr Bevan,
who had just been promoted into Director of South East Europe,
would have more time and then formed a team in the Foreign Office
which dealt with the Gibraltar issue. In a sense it is not so
much where he fits into the organogram but that he was chosen
by the Foreign Secretary to lead the team on Gibraltar.
171. When did that change happen approximately?
(Sir Michael Jay) That must have happened towards
the end of last year or the very beginning of this year.
172. When we visited NATO, I remember Mr Emyr
Jones Parry hosting us, a very busy man at NATO. He told us he
still had some responsibility for Gibraltar.
(Sir Michael Jay) Because he had that responsibility
as Political Director. When he left as Political Director and
went to NATO it was decided that since he had the experience it
would be best for him to maintain that experience working with
173. The logic of that is not plainly obvious
(Sir Michael Jay) The idea was to create a team.
174. The whole western world is collapsing around
us. He is looking after NATO and he has still got Gibraltar?
(Sir Michael Jay) The idea is to ensure that there
was an experienced team with the time to address to Gibraltar.
The decision was at the level of a Deputy Under-Secretary that
should stay with Emyr Jones Parry who had been handling it and
who had the expertise, and that he should be supported by James
Bevan who was promoted a Director and had the time to spend to
focus on that issue, and around them form a team which has been
working closely with Mr Hain and with the Foreign Secretary on
175. On page 134 there is a piece here about
the cost/benefit, financial regulation, money laundering and the
Caribbean Overseas Territories and Bermuda. Funnily enough, it
does mention Gibraltar. I read it three times this morning and
it seems to me that what it is saying is that there have been
problems which we, the Foreign Office, have very sensibly had
to buttress and with some of the Overseas Territories with regard
to financial regulation, but if I read it again and again it seems
to me that that criticism does not apply to Gibraltar, which I
think is very good news, but I just want to clarify: you are happy,
are you not, about the financial regulation in Gibraltar? Before
you answer that, if you say no I shall be putting down a written
parliamentary question to say why. This is your chance. Gibraltar
is okay, is it not, with regard to financial regulation, in the
broad sweep of things?
(Sir Michael Jay) I think, Mr Mackinlay, since you
have given me that warning, I should like to consult the experts
on Gibraltar. I am not an expert on Gibraltar.
176. What, in NATO?
(Sir Michael Jay) No. I am not an expert on Gibraltar.
177. Now, come on, Sir Michael. You know, and
I have put it to you, that in fact Gibraltar is signed up in every
respect to financial regulation. You can be generous enough to
grant that this morning despite the fact that it is highly political.
Is that right, from your point of view as the custodian of good
administration and governance and bearing in mind that people
in financial regulation in Gibraltar are answerable to you ultimately,
and the Government.
(Sir Michael Jay) They are answerable to the Government,
I think. This is a highly sensitive issue.
178. Too right.
(Sir Michael Jay) I have not been following the details
of it in the last few weeks and I think it would be unwise of
me to get into this particular issue without taking advice.
179. Could we have the response with some despatch?
(Sir Michael Jay) Of course.
12 Ev 81-82. Back
Ev 82-83. Back