Examination of Witnesses (Questions (80-99)
WEDNESDAY 18 SEPTEMBER 2002
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 providersbecause I think
that has been an issueand 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
82. Sticking with NASS for a momentand
you may have mentioned this, Mrs Hughesyou 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 industrybecause
that is what in parts of the country it isthat has very
little to do with actually getting an efficient and robust system
Chairman: Can we now turn to removal.
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
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 prolongedand we are
cutting this back to more reasonable proportions in the Billthe
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, inevitablyI will not
mention one particular case because, as I understand it, it is
sub judiceall 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.
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 2,500No, they
are both entirely compatible. The 2,500 target to be achieved
by the spring of 2002because that is what I saidwould
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
(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