Examination of Witnesses(Questions 100-119)|
GIEVE CB, MR
THURSDAY 18 JULY 2002
100. Moving on to the Communications Directorate,
can I ask what went wrong with the Customer Communication Foundation
(Mr Gieve) We have a programme of major IT projects
inside the Home Office. This was one. There is a finance one and
a personnel one. It was a very ambitious project, and when the
offer came in, it was too expensive, so we went back to the drawing
board and drew up a more restricted but still helpful system which,
so far as I know, is being installed over this summer, with a
view to getting it on stream by the end of the recess.
101. Could I ask how much of the budgeted cost
of the Customer Communication Foundation Project was spent before
you decided to suspend the project, and at what stage the process
of replying to ministerial correspondence most often becomes delayed
while we are going through this period?
(Mr Gieve) On the first point, we have a standing
contract with Sirius, who are the IT company, but I do not think
we paid anything towards the old project before we abandoned it.
We decided to shift at the point it became apparent how much it
would cost to instal a new system. As to where ministerial correspondence
is getting held up, at various points is the answer, and we are
hoping with our new tracking system to be able to stop it sitting
in people's in-trays, either officials' in-trays or later on in
102. With the benefit of hindsight, could you
tell us why the replacement correspondence tracking system option
was not chosen in the first place?
(Mr Gieve) It had not been designed. It was partly
designed in response to our response to the first proposition.
103. What percentage of Home Office services
are within the target group being monitored for electronic delivery?
Surely you are not seriously suggesting that there everything
will be available on electronic delivery?
(Mr Gieve) I do not think Martin will be delivering
his service electronically. We have a list of 80 services which
we are trying to get on webs or trying to get IT-based. A lot
of those are actually information services; they are about telling
people things. We have got about half way on that. We have not
got so far on actually allowing interaction over the net. One
of the first ones there is going to be applying for passports
over the net electronically. We are hoping to do that in the next
104. But these electronic services are in addition,
are they? They are not going to replace traditional methods of
communication, I trust.
(Mr Gieve) We are not planning at present that they
should. It depends on the take-up and so on.
105. I want to ask about the administration
of IND. You remember the case of Oakington and the problems with
form filling. The judge described it as a disgrace. Why did it
take the Home Office 11 months to amend the form that the immigration
officers were using?
(Mr Boys Smith) I have to say, Ms Prentice, I do not
know how long it did take us to change the form. We certainly
have changed it. That was the particular question that survived
the Court of Appeal's re-assessment of the initial judgment and,
as you know, the whole question is being further appealed to the
House of Lords. There has been a hearing and we await the outcome
of that. I am afraid I would have to ask to be allowed to come
back to the Committee because I am not aware of the precise time
that it took us to change the form.
106. According to the information I have in
relation to the case, it took three months for you to realise
that there was a problem, and then a further eight months for
you to actually amend the form. But I am happy if you want to
come back to that. If I ask you what lessons you have learned
from that case, are you going to say you will have to wait till
after the House of Lords judgment?
(Mr Boys Smith) No, because that case told us some
things about the care with which we handle the case work going
through Oakington, but it also went through the Court of Appeal,
and it told us that fundamentally the system was a sound system,
and although the form was important, and I do not wish to suggest
that it was other than that, the fundamentals of what we were
doing and how we were handling people was satisfactory. I have
to say that all external observers who have been to visit Oakington,
including the visiting committee that we have established, feel
that it is a fair and humane and effective system for delivering
what, if I may return to the thrust of some of Mr Malins' questions,
we ought to be doing, which is taking quick decisions and letting
people know where they stand on this important issue. In that
it has been hugely successful. Again, as I touched on before,
we are taking 10,000 to 11,000 decisions a year at the present
rates, within 7 to 10 days, and that is a very satisfactory performance.
107. You have doubled your staff since 1999.
What effect did that have in terms of the change? What sort of
problems arose from the management of that change, of a doubling
of staff in three years?
(Mr Boys Smith) As a preliminary to answering that,
I should say that not only were we expanding as you have described,
but we were also changing the processes within IND, and I would
not want to try to disentangle the one thing from the other completely,
but focusing particularly on the staff expansion, firstly the
mechanics of the recruitment: because this was recruitment of
an order that we had never previously experienced, we were presented
with some challenges. I think we overcame them, and on the whole,
but not entirely, got them in at the time we wanted. I acknowledge
that if we went back two years, we were facing somefairly
modest but someslippage in terms of the actual process
of recruitment. Much more fundamental was, of course, to train
the people and then, having trained them, to mentor them into
the system. The hardest challenge we faced, particularly for asylum
decision makers, was to find, given the rate we were bringing
people in, enough experienced decision makers, particularly when
we were expanding away from Croydon on asylum work, to sit down
beside and be constantly available to the new members of staff,
who inevitably in the early period after training will require
a lot of guidance and whose confidence will depend on their having
access to people to whom they can turn and feel comfortable in
108. Have you had any problems with retention?
(Mr Boys Smith) On the whole, retention has been reasonably
satisfactory, certainly as regards the decision taker level. As
you will realise, retention rates vary according to the grade.
On the whole retention has been satisfactory. If I had been asked
a year or two years ago whether it was a big fear, I would have
said yes. It has not turned out to be as bad as we feared.
109. Can you give us any indication as to whether
that burst of doubling your staff in that short period of time
had any effect on the progress elsewhere within the organisation?
(Mr Boys Smith) No. Most of the initial additional
intake was focussed on asylum case workingnot all of it,
because we also had very severe pressures, and indeed to some
extent still do, on other kinds of case working, and of course,
going back to the previous Spending Review and before that, we
were also planning to and did put extra staff on to port controls,
not exclusively or indeed always mainly for what I might call
the routine port control, but in order to reinforce the whole
of the asylum process from the very moment that people arrive
in the country. We were endeavouring to take a holistic view,
particularly of asylum, and to reinforce, for example, initial
screening as well as to reinforce the decision taking, to reinforce
the intelligence work overseas, because that impacts on intake.
So it was a fairly complex picture.
110. What effect has the lower than estimated
number of staff in 2000-01 had on that process?
(Mr Boys Smith) That gets back to the point I was
very briefly alluding to, that at the early stages, although we
were reasonably successful in getting in staff, we did not entirely
succeed. Had we got more in, I am confident we would have made
a bit more progress on decisions, both for after entry work and
for asylum work, and made a bit more progress on getting things
up and running sooner on, for example, screening at the ports.
That is not something that I can readily quantify and on the whole,
although there are obviously changes taking place all the time
as we learn and develop within IND, I think on the whole we have
managed to bed in both the new structures and the new staff pretty
111. How do you see it in a year's time?
(Mr Boys Smith) In terms of numbers? That is very
difficult to say. There has been a modest recent growth. Any future
growth will depend on the answers to questions that we continue
to ask ourselves, for example, whether by introducing more staff
into some part of the system it will enable us to reduce overall
Exchequer costs on asylum support, and sometimes that is the case;
in other words, it is cost-effective to invest in staff. A certain
amount of that has taken place and no doubt will continue to take
112. Just explain for the record how you prioritise
these people, people who perhaps have been in the country for
some time, and who seem to be going through the system on a very
slow conveyor belt as opposed to ones who may very recently have
arrived. How do you make the decisions as to which you deal with
(Mr Boys Smith) The answer to that does depend on
the category of work. In relation to our work on after entry decisions,
that is to say, case work of people wishing to extend their stays,
marrying British people and settling and issues of that kind,
we take them as they arrive and deal quicklyand on the
whole pretty quickly though not as quickly as we would likewith
those that are simple. Some of those are quite simple, for example,
students staying on for another year. We take rather longer over
those that are intrinsically difficult. Sometimes, for example,
we have doubts about certain marriage applications, as to whether
it is a legitimate case or a spurious one. With asylum, we deal
with them as fast as we can in order to meet the target. With
nationality, more than a year ago now we changed the arrangement
whereby initial applications now are submitted with all the supporting
documentation, and we deal with them as they come in, in the order
of arrival, on what we call a fast track process, not yet fast
enoughit still takes six months, but that is a fraction
of what it used to beand we have separate teams dealing
separately with the older cases. So there are in effect two streams
of work: the older cases that were submitted without the supporting
application and for which we then ask when the case is activated.
That second queue of work will of course gradually diminish and,
we hope, disappear by the end of this calendar year, and everybody
will then be fast track. So the answer does depend on the work.
113. On the asylum decisions, does the adjudicator
just have to make his own judgment on whatever facts the applicant
gives him, or is any checking ever done? When a fact is easily
checkable, does anybody ring up one of our officials in the appropriate
country and invite him to nip down the road to have a look?
(Mr Boys Smith) When you say the adjudicator, do you
mean at the appeal stage therefore?
114. No, at the initial stage. I often have
asylum seekers come to me where there are perfectly basic facts
disputed, where the adjudicator has taken an educated guess, whereas
a little bit of investigationnot very much; a telephone
call or two here and therewould have settled the matter
definitely one way or the other.
(Mr Boys Smith) For the initial decision, all our
decision takers have access to an extensive knowledge base, which
includes information about the country that we ourselves have
written and also to information that is available, for example,
from the UNHCR, and all that is publicly accessible.
115. Yes, I understand that. "I live in
Bulawayo. My house was burned down." It only takes somebody
in Bulawayo to walk down the road and see whether number 270 or
what-have-you is burnt down.
(Mr Boys Smith) We do not routinely do that, but we
will make inquiries, if, for example, it is alleging that membership
of a certain group is exposing somebody to danger. If need be,
we will then clarify the position of that group, but we would
be most unlikely to follow up the sort of burnt house example
which you gave. Likewise, the adjudicators at the appeal stage
have access to the same body of information as we do, but of course
in addition can hear both the case from the appellant and the
case offered on behalf of the Secretary of State by our presenting
116. It just seems to me that sometimesnot
alwaysa few simple inquiries at an early stage would short-circuit
the huge appeals process which then follows, and perhaps save
a lot of money.
(Mr Boys Smith) I do not think it is our experience,
if I may continue with your example of the burnt house, that things
are in practice hanging on that. They are wider issues to do with
the exposure of certain ethnic groups, political groups, religious
groups and so on to risk, and it is on that basis essentially
that decisions will be taken. The challenge for us is to update
117. "I live in Bulawayo, and my house
was burnt down by people who were oppressing me." "Who
can confirm your story?" "My two neighbours." So
you walk down the road and you talk to the neighbours.
(Mr Boys Smith) A crucial issue thereand I
do not want to be drawn too speculatively into the particular
hypothetical casewould not be just whether somebody's house
had been burned down, because that can happen anywhere, but whether
people in that position are capable of securing the protection
of the state, in other words whether the state has the machinery
available to protect people. That will be a key test for us. Somebody
who had suffered an attack but in circumstances where that was
wholly exceptional and where they could secure protection internally,
that might well meanand I choose my words very carefullythat
the application would not succeed.
118. Yes, but if the allegation is an attack
by forces of the state, which are supposed to be protecting them,
that obviously would carry a bit more weight.
(Mr Boys Smith) Absolutely, and that sort of information
we will have, and have in an up-to-date form from our embassies
and High Commissions, from the UNHCR and a whole variety of international
sources, because the Americans, the French, the Germans, are all
making these assessments.
119. Is it not the case at these appeals where
adjudicators have to make decisions that the Home Office will
send along a presenting officer, who will be armed with as many
facts as possible to try and persuade the adjudicator that the
appellant has no case or very little case, and therefore it is
the responsibility presumably of the Home Office to ensure that
the presenting officer will do his or her utmost to get the adjudicator
to uphold the decision of the Home Office?
(Mr Boys Smith) No. If I may say so, Mr Winnick, I
think that suggests that at the appeal stage our presenting officer
is simply there to win by hook or by crook, and that is not the
3 Note by witness: "We paid about £1
million for a strategy study from them." Back
See Ev 39-40. Back