Select Committee on Home Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions (80-99)



  80. So we should not allow ourselves to be browbeaten by those who say it has all been a disaster and it should be stopped? There have been teething problems but it is beginning to bed down.
  (Beverley Hughes) It is beginning to bed down. Members of Parliament and others in the community are beginning to say that, which is very gratifying. With the other changes we are bringing in, particularly strengthening the regional processes and strengthening the regional structures, we can get better communication and relationships between NASS officials, local authorities, voluntary organisations and accommodation providers—because I think that has been an issue—and if we will get those relationships much better then the support for asylum seekers is better and we will get further improvements.

  81. It makes absolute sense rather than directing all asylum seekers to areas of the country which are already choc-a-bloc that you send them to areas where there is a surplus of housing, does it not?
  (Mr Blunkett) It does so long as we can manage them in a way that is commensurate with the nature of the area, the pressures on local services, and a proper and robust system within the community that allows that welcome to take place. That is being done in very different ways across the country, with both NASS and the local authorities having variable practice. What we are doing at the moment is to promote across the country the best practice in terms of the information given, not just to those entering the community about the nature of the community, what is expected of them, acceptable conduct and behaviour, but also information to the communities about who is coming so there can be greater understanding and awareness of who is entering their neighbourhood.

  82. Sticking with NASS for a moment—and you may have mentioned this, Mrs Hughes—you are saying that is going to be re-organised regionally, are you not?
  (Beverley Hughes) Yes.
  (Mr Blunkett) It is gradually taking place now.

  83. When do you expect that to be complete?
  (Beverley Hughes) March next year.

  84. And the other issue is the quality of advice available. In some of the regions to which asylum seekers are being dispersed they end up with solicitors at the other end of the country with whom they have great difficulty in communicating, some of them having to travel all over the country for interviews when they do not have many resources at their disposal. I realise it is a matter for the Lord Chancellor's Department, but may I put it to you that it is certainly true of Sunderland and no doubt other areas, that we urgently need a better quality of advice to be available locally.
  (Mr Blunkett) The Lord Chancellor and myself have agreed, and it has now been put into operation, that we need a substantial change in the supervision by the Legal Services Commission of what is on offer and how it is being offered and a greater degree both of self-scrutiny and self-review within the profession and those working with them. I think we need to be much more proactive in terms of where we provide high-quality help where it is not currently on offer in order to avoid both exploitation, the misuse of very large sums of public money, and it is becoming an industry—because that is what in parts of the country it is—that has very little to do with actually getting an efficient and robust system in place.

  Chairman: Can we now turn to removal. Mr Winnick?

David Winnick

  85. Home Secretary, would you accept that the failure to deal with those asylum seekers whose cases have been rejected creates the most negative feelings in the country and is harmful generally to community relations?
  (Mr Blunkett) Yes, I would.

  86. In that case I wonder was it very sensible to have a target of 30,000 removals, that is an annual target which now, as we all know, is pretty academic and, as I understand it, the figure last year was in fact not 30,000 or even half that, it was 9,285, excluding dependents. It was quite a climbdown, was it not?
  (Mr Blunkett) I think it was massively over-ambitious.

  87. Who fixed it?
  (Mr Blunkett) Let's just draw breath for a moment. Contrary to everything that gets reported it was not a public service agreement. It was however an underpinning service target and we should not set targets that are not achieveable. I thought I had made that clear earlier this morning and I make it clear again.

  88. But it was the original target?
  (Mr Blunkett) I made a mistake because when I came into office I realised immediately that the 30,000 was not achieveable within the financial year and I said so in the House in the Queen's Speech Debate. What I should have said on that point, if I could go back with hindsight and do it again, was that it was not achievable this year either. It was not achievable in terms of any other country in the world at our current (at that time) rate of processing. I should have indicated then that far from being able reach it in this financial year, because that is what I indicated we were going to attempt to do and we were going to attempt to get up to 2,500 a month, I should have drawn stumps at that point. Let's just get that on the record. Secondly, removal, in my view, comes second place to preventing people reaching the country. I have reassessed the priority, as I have indicated earlier, in terms of our bilateral and European-wide negotiations and our more robust approach to border control in stopping people getting in in the first place and then fast tracking them in a new end-to-end more robust system and then attempting to remove them through the massive expansion of removal places. Given the number of removal places that were available, it was not realistic. Given the burning down of Yarl's Wood which took out almost a quarter of the removal places that we were intending to have in place now, it is no longer a feasible proposition. As I say, I will need with Bev Hughes to set a new target that is realistic over and above the 12,000 we expect to remove this year. It is still the largest removals programme of any country, but it is not acceptably high enough.

  89. When someone has had the case for asylum rejected and there is no further way in which the person can process that claim to the Home Office, to the adjudicator, to the court, and in some instances presumably there is no such process once the Home Office have decided, what can be done to encourage those who have no claim to be in the UK to leave?
  (Mr Blunkett) It is necessary to ensure that someone who has gone through what is the most prolonged—and we are cutting this back to more reasonable proportions in the Bill—the longest, most prevaricating process that anyone has ever devised in terms of people getting to the point where we can remove them, is removed. Even when they have gone through the four judicial reviews they can still at the very last minute get someone to take their case, especially if they manage to persuade someone that they are still entitled to legal aid. As the Chairman was describing a moment ago, although in slightly gentler language, there are always people prepared to earn a bob or two in that way. We have to find a way of ensuring that firstly we can pick them up, we know where they are, which brings us back to the points we were making earlier on accommodation centres and reporting and proper registration, all of which are important, and the entitlement to services for those who should not be here. You are back full circle to where we started earlier this morning on the question of a legal precedence and a legal working. I am not going to over-egg it, because you and I do not agree on the solution here. I do not want anyone to be able to access services if they are not entitled to do so, because that is the basis of a decent, civilised society where you put something in and you get something out.

  90. Without doubt, Home Secretary, I have put one side of the argument. The other side, I suppose, is that the longer people whose claims have been rejected stay on here and they establish roots of some kind, inevitably—I will not mention one particular case because, as I understand it, it is sub judice—all kinds of sensitivities come into play, especially if they are taking refuge (if that is the right word) in a mosque.
  (Mr Blunkett) We do not have such a thing as refuge in religious institutions in our democracy. I just want to make that clear. Secondly, yes, there are sensitivities around. I have every faith in the appeal court process.

  David Winnick: Thank you very much.

Mr Cameron

  91. Home Secretary, I do not want to prolong your agony about ditching these targets for too long, but I want to examine what we are now targeting, because as I understand it, you are now removing 1,000 people a month?
  (Mr Blunkett) Yes.

  92. In June last year you said that you had a target of 2,500 people a month. You said, "We have decided that that target must be met by early next year"—ie some time early in the current year. The confusion is, in the evidence that the Home Office has given to this Committee, referring back to what you said in June, it says this: "The Home Secretary told the House of Commons in June last year that the target was to remove 2,500 failed asylum applicants per month and revise the March 2002 target date"—that is the 30,000 target—"to March 2003." That is not really what you said to the Commons, is it? You said to the Commons that you were bringing forward the 2,500 target, did you not?
  (Mr Blunkett) I was putting the 2,500—No, they are both entirely compatible. The 2,500 target to be achieved by the spring of 2002—because that is what I said—would lead to 30,000 by the spring of 2003, i.e. 12 two-and-a-halves.

  93. Would it not have been more straightforward, in the evidence to this Committee, to say, "In June the Home Secretary said 2,500 a month. He brought forward the target"—which is what you did—"of 2,500 a month for early 2002, and we've now missed that"?
  (Mr Blunkett) No, I put back the 2,500 a month, because the target that we were debating in the House on that day was the 30,000 target to be achieved within that current financial year, namely through to 31 March 2002, and of course 30,000 by March 2002 was 2,500 a month on average, was it not? Either way, either dis-aggregated 30,000 in 12 months or taking a month and aggregating it up, reaches the same figure of 30,000. Or am I losing my numeracy?

  94. I do not want to lose people in textual analysis. It sounds to me as if in June last year you were saying, "We're bringing forward the 2,500", and on the evidence that you give to the Committee you have admitted that that has gone?
  (Mr Blunkett) No, I was not at all. I was putting back the 30,000, because I did not believe it was feasible, and I wanted to be straight with the Commons about it, to achieve it within that financial year. I have said already, my mistake was to believe that it was going to be possible to achieve it in the following financial year, starting with the 2,500 a month target, 2,500 each month for 12 months, 30,000.

  95. To be clear now, for the future, what you are saying to this Committee today is that the 2,500 a month has gone and the 30,000 a year has gone, even by 2003 which was what was in the manifesto?
  (Mr Blunkett) Yes, I am.

  96. Absolutely. So will there be a new target?
  (Mr Blunkett) I am doing so on honesty grounds, practical grounds and realism, and the burning down of Yarl's Wood which finished any chance of meeting that.

  97. Looking at the numbers for 2001, for the number of decisions made and the number of removals and voluntary departures, as I understand the figures, a very creditable 126,000 decisions were made, 41,000 people were granted either asylum/exceptional leave to remain or their appeal was allowed, and then you have the 9,000 removed. That leaves you with 75,000 principal asylum applicants left in the country. If you add to that 30 per cent dependants, you have something like 97,000 people who last year were not granted asylum/exceptional leave to remain or had their appeals allowed, but they were not removed, is that right?
  (Beverley Hughes) I would need to go back and look at the figures you are looking at, but on the basis of what you said, that may well be correct, yes.

  98. Right. So if you are currently removing 1,000 a month, on last year's figures, if you come here you have a sort of 1 in 10 chance of being removed?
  (Beverley Hughes) I am not sure that the 1 in 10, which of course is what Migrationwatch UK quoted, is right, because I do not think, from what I have seen of their figures, that they are taking into account the people who have been granted refugee status or exceptional leave to remain. Our estimate of that figure is that it should be 5 out of 10, not 1 out of 10.

  99. But I am going off your figures.
  (Mr Blunkett) Yes, I know, but they do not include those voluntary returns that are not included in the official figures.

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