Members present:

Mr Chris Mullin, in the Chair
Mr David Cameron
Mrs Janet Dean
Mr Humfrey Malins
Mr Bridget Prentice
Mr Gwyn Prosser
Bob Russell
Angela Watkinson
David Winnick


MR JOHN GIEVE CB, Permanent Secretary, MR MARTIN NAREY, Director General, Prison Service, MR STEPHEN BOYS SMITH, Director General, Immigration and Nationality Directorate and MR JOHN LYON, Policing and Crime Reduction, examined.


  1. Good afternoon, gentlemen, and welcome. This is a fairly general session. As you know, we have it once a year with the Permanent Secretary and his colleagues. Mr Gieve, in the Chancellor's spending announcement the other day we were told that the budget would go up from 10.7 billion to 13.5 billion by 2005/6. What is that in real terms?
  2. (Mr Gieve) The increase in the total Home Office programme over the current year is around 6.5 per cent a year real growth.

  3. Next year it will be 6.5 per cent higher than this year?
  4. (Mr Gieve) Year on year, it averages 6.5 per cent but over the last year -- that is, what we spent last year -- it is about 3.5 per cent real growth. The difference is because our current budget for the current year has a much lower figure for spending on asylum and immigration than we spent last year. We are still negotiating over this year's budget. The figure I would use is about 3.5 per cent real growth per year over the period from outturn last year.

  5. Would the Chancellor give the same answer if we were to ask him or would he say 6.5 per cent?
  6. (Mr Gieve) These are agreed with the Treasury.

  7. Where are you going to spend it all?
  8. (Mr Gieve) I am going to have to be a bit general on that because we have not entirely decided where to spend it.

  9. Presumably you had some idea when you requested it?
  10. (Mr Gieve) Yes, and there are certain specific allocations. For example, we have announced that the budget for police will be 1.5 billion higher in the final year than it is this year. That is where some of it is going to go. We also have a commitment to 600 million on IT in the criminal justice system which runs from the police end right through to the prisons. That is specific. We have said we are going to expand the drugs programme substantially. That is specific, but I cannot take it much further than that other than to say that around 700 million a year has been allocated specifically for the asylum and immigration budget which is going to be converted into a new ring fenced budget, including the money that the Lord Chancellor's Department spends on legal aid and appeals. That has not happened yet but our contribution to that is 700 million a year.

  11. Any idea what that is in real terms increase over the period we are talking about?
  12. (Mr Gieve) Excluding asylum, we are talking about a 4.5 per cent real increase a year over the four years 2001/2 to 2005/6.

  13. It is asylum I was talking about.
  14. (Mr Gieve) The provision is broadly flat in real terms from last year to the end of the period.

  15. When you were going to the Chancellor to negotiate these big increases, what were you saying to him your main pressure points were? Asylum? Police? What else?
  16. (Mr Gieve) As you know, we have plans to improve on practically every front but the key areas in the Home Office budget are the police, corrections and asylum. Those are the three big budgets.

  17. Corrections? You mean prisons?
  18. (Mr Gieve) I mean prisons, probation and the YJB. As you will have seen yesterday from the White Paper, there are lots of things we want to do in that area as well as on crime reduction and police.

  19. Hopefully, some of the things in the White Paper will result in reduced spending as greater efficiency kicks in, or am I being naive?
  20. (Mr Gieve) I would not accuse you of being naive, but yes. Ultimately, if we can reduce crime, we will get savings down in the system and obviously as a process matter we are looking for efficiency savings in the way the criminal justice system handles cases.

  21. I was not just thinking of reducing crime; I was thinking of reducing the delays in the court system and the number of failed trials.
  22. (Mr Gieve) The investment in CJSIT, for example, is intended to bring greater efficiency, speed, timeliness and savings in paper handling.

  23. Mr Narey, how have you done out of all this?
  24. (Mr Narey) I do not know yet. I hope to have a picture in the next few days.

  25. What did you tell the Chancellor you needed, because yours is the part of the system where there is the most pressure, given the huge rises in prison numbers.
  26. (Mr Narey) My priorities were to pay for the expansion of prison places which we started this year following the budget. We are providing for 2,400 new places over the next couple of years. On top of things like inflation, things to carry on running the service, things to expand what we have been trying to do in the last few years about resettling prisoners, education, drug treatment, behaviour programmes and getting prisoners into jobs.

  27. Are you satisfied you are going to be able to do that?
  28. (Mr Narey) I genuinely do not know yet. Although it is a significant settlement, I am aware there are a lot of other pressures around the Home Office in addition to mine.

  29. Supposing you benefited by this 3.5 per cent in real terms a year. Would that be sufficient?
  30. (Mr Narey) I could do dramatically more if I got that sort of settlement.

  31. What do you anticipate the prison population will be in four years' time?
  32. (Mr Narey) I think it is almost impossible to say. The statistical projections for the prison population, which are no more than projections very much on a straight line, suggest that the population could hurtle to 80,000 and beyond. I am not quite sure whether that is the case. I hope I am not being too optimistic, but I think the growth in the population is showing some signs of slowing down right now. It will certainly slow down in August anyway, but there has been some tailing off following a very significant rise in the last 12 months or so.

  33. If it did cross the 80,000 mark, you would have to go back and ask for more money, would you not?
  34. (Mr Narey) I would need many more places to accommodate that sort of population.

    David Winnick

  35. At the moment, the prisons are absolutely full, are they not?
  36. (Mr Narey) Yes.

  37. What is the situation? Do you have to find other places than ordinary prisons for those who have been sentenced?
  38. (Mr Narey) At the moment, we are about a couple of hundred away from our usable, operational capacity and we have some prisoners in police cells, although not many, about 111 this morning. What I hope will help us to manage our way through that is the fact that it would be very unusual if the population did not start to fall in the next couple of weeks as we went into August and should not grow in September. By October, I will have about 1,000 new places coming on stream which we started building for some time ago and that should begin to give us some headroom and I hope get us out of police cells.

  39. How far are you hoping that courts will decide on non-custodial sentences, where they are appropriate? You are bursting at the seams now.
  40. (Mr Narey) We are bursting at the seams and it is somewhat of a puzzle to me because in 20 years in the prison service I have never had such a unanimity of message from the Home Secretary and the Lord Chief Justice about not using short sentences. There are still very many short sentences. If only a third of sentences of under six months were converted to community penalties, my population would fall by more than 2,000.

  41. Is there a reluctance in a climate where there is so much concern and fear of crime that those who are responsible for sentencing feel it is appropriate in the circumstances I have mentioned and in the climate for custodial sentences to be passed?
  42. (Mr Narey) There is clearly something in England and Wales about using custody. We use much more custody than anywhere else in Europe, although much less than the USA. That must be something about confidence in community penalties. I am not suggesting for a moment that we have the prison service that I remotely want. There is a lot wrong with it, but in part I think it is because prisons look a lot better to sentencers than they did. The prison population was significantly restrained when we had slopping out, when prisons were foul places that literally smelt. They do not look like that now. There is quite a lot of education. Visitors to prisons see a lot of people getting their first ever basic skills education and getting lots of qualifications. They see lots of people being detoxed and getting off drugs in circumstances where it is very difficult to do that in the community. When I speak to sentencers, as I do quite frequently, they tell me that that is one of the reasons why they are more attracted to custody because they think it will do them some good. My view is I do not think anyone should be sent to prison just because it will do them some good.

    Bob Russell

  43. How many of these thousands of new cells being built are safe cells?
  44. (Mr Narey) Nearly all the 2,400 cells we are building are in very low security accommodation. We will be pushing prisoners through from the secure end of the prison estate into the temporary units. They are not safe cells in the way that you describe them but the prisoners we will be putting in there will be very low risk in terms of suicide.


  45. Mr Boys Smith, how are you proposing to spend this extra money, assuming some of it comes your way?
  46. (Mr Boys Smith) Some will come our way and Mr Gieve a moment ago referred to the 700 that that is likely to involve. We will spend it broadly in the way that we spent the money that was secured in the claim on the reserve for the financial year just gone by, which is through a combination of IND activity and to top up the budget for asylum support. It is that in particular that, in base line terms, is deficient and will need topping up again therefore for the current financial year before we get into the new spending review period.

  47. I know this is very difficult to estimate but do you anticipate that over the next three or four years the number of asylum seekers is going to rise or fall?
  48. (Mr Boys Smith) You say it is difficult to estimate; I think it is impossible to give any certainty about. We are now taking a large number of measures. Some are incorporated in the Bill that Parliament is now considering. We are taking a number of operational measures, some in northern France that have been recently announced following the talks the Home Secretary had with M. Sarcosi. In addition to that, increasing measures taken within the organisation further to speed up decisions and so on, all of which I hope will enable us better to deliver the new target that we have been and that was announced in the spending review White Paper, which is to bear down on unfounded asylum claims. I think ministers will be very anxious to underline the word "unfounded" because they are not trying to stop people coming here with legitimate asylum claims.

  49. You would anticipate a big fall in the number of unfounded asylum seekers?
  50. (Mr Boys Smith) We are doing a lot of things that should have a beneficial impact. We also need to bear in mind that running counter to that may well be quite unforeseeable international migratory pressures that we simply cannot anticipate. We are doing lots of things that are designed to have that impact. We are making some real, impressive progress on a number of fronts. I do not know what the international picture will be but we will continue to strive to deliver the target of reducing the unfounded applications that we are to have in the new period.

  51. Mr Lyon, how are you going to spend the extra money?
  52. (Mr Lyon) The first priority is funding the settlement that we have had with the Police Negotiating Board, which is now agreed. The target is to implement that next April. That is going to cost 115 million next year rising to 200 million by the end of the spending review period. The second priority will be to maintain police numbers which is targeted to reach a record high of 130,000 by next April. The third priority will be the funding aspects of the police reform programme which were set out in the government's White Paper last December.

  53. That would be the community officers and so on?
  54. (Mr Lyon) That is a whole range of things, including improving the professionalism and training of the police service itself and community support officers -- in particular, civilian support officers and custody officers, for example -- and funding additional technology to improve the fight against crime.

    Mr Cameron

  55. I am looking at page 189 of the annual report. How can you make sure that the money will get into policing and crime fighting and will not be eaten up by increasing prison places and increasing asylum funding? In the last two years, there seems to have been a 500 per cent increase in spending on asylum and a 25 per cent increase in spending on prisons; whereas the spending on reduction of crime and fear of crime has gone up a bit. How are you going to stop those pressures that are out of your control from eating up the money that you have been given?
  56. (Mr Gieve) The top line here, which is policing and crime reduction, has gone up quite a lot, about 500 million last year, and in addition to these plans we have some more money for policing in the budget this year.

  57. That is a ten per cent increase against the asylum numbers.
  58. (Mr Gieve) It is a quantum leap. The background to that is that we effectively took over a part of the social security budget a couple of years ago when we changed the arrangements for asylum support, but you are right. We have also invested very heavily in staff over the last few years and we are not expecting that to continue.


  59. The Lord Chancellor wants an autumn progress report as well as a spring one. Does that fill you with dread?
  60. (Mr Gieve) An autumn progress report on what?

  61. I am told he wants all departments to publish an autumn progress report on targets.
  62. (Mr Gieve) It does not worry me at all. The Treasury are now saying they are going to publish quarterly or even monthly progress report on their website, so transparency is fine.

  63. That is a lot of boxes to be ticked though, is it not?
  64. (Mr Gieve) If we are talking about progress on our targets, I do not think it is a matter of ticking boxes. It is a matter of high level but basic management information. We need to know what we are doing against our targets and we will have the information. There will be some parts of it where we are dealing with national statistics which have their own timetable for publication, but subject to that there is no problem.

  65. How many targets do you have?
  66. (Mr Gieve) We have just published a PSA which has ten targets.

    Chairman: There are lots of supplementary ones underneath though, are there not?

    Mr Cameron

  67. There are 17 targets on pages 16-19.
  68. (Mr Gieve) 17 was in our last public service agreement, which is what we are reporting on in this report, but ten in our new one. You are absolutely right. There is a plethora of targets underneath that. We have yet to agree with the Treasury what the next layer down, which is the service delivery agreement, will contain. At an operational level, different units have different operational targets. I have not got a number for every target in the whole group.


  69. One can have too many targets, can one not?
  70. (Mr Gieve) Yes.

  71. Have you?
  72. (Mr Gieve) No. You can have too few targets as well. If you try and compress everything into one or two -- and I have heard various gurus say you should never have more than three or four targets -- in a group as diverse as the Home Office that is a recipe for disaster because you will distort the priorities. The ten that we have now agreed for the future do cover the main outcomes which the public and ministers want us to achieve. If we make progress on those ten, we can genuinely claim to have had success.

  73. Everybody understands and probably subscribes to the government's desire to focus on outcomes rather than processes, but one hears it alleged sometimes that if you set targets that are too ambitious you set yourself up for failure or else you have a distorting effect on other aspects of your output.
  74. (Mr Gieve) That is obviously a risk. There are lots and lots of risks in setting targets. Possibly, you will not get the right ones and then you will distort behaviour or alternatively you will not get the right measures and you will create perverse incentives and so on. I am not saying we will escape all of that and we are continually trying to improve the measures and the targets themselves, but if you look at our new PSA there will be quite a widespread consensus that these are the things we should be trying to achieve. You may want to go on with particulars. I have some form on this because I was last in the Treasury which introduced the system of public service agreements. I am now hoist with my own petard.

  75. I have heard one Permanent Secretary say they are a pseudo management device so not all of your colleagues are quite so enthusiastic.
  76. (Mr Gieve) I think that is true. All of the colleagues here are very enthusiastic. Traditionally, Sir Humphrey would have said it was bad for government and insane for the Civil Service and ministers to sign up to targets like these because they are eminently missable. These are mostly not completely in our gift. They are what we are trying to achieve but they will be the product of what we and a lot of other people do. They are all extremely challenging. On the whole, I take the view that that is what makes them worthwhile.

  77. Some in the past have been purely fatuous, have they not, on the grounds that they are not entirely within your gift? Was there not one on reducing the level of car crime?
  78. (Mr Gieve) We still have one like that. We have vehicle crime and we are supposed to be reducing it.

  79. It was rather a tough one, as I recall, when it came out of the Home Secretary's or the Prime Minister's hat a year or two back.
  80. (Mr Gieve) I would contest that. We still have the target. It is to reduce vehicle crime by 30 per cent from 1998 to 2004 and we have made big strides towards that. It has not been all our doing or all the police's doing if you broaden out the Home Office group. The industry has had a lot to do with it too and insurance companies and so on, but I think that is the sort of target we should be set because that is what the public wants to change. You need to make sure that your ministers and the Civil Service machine is genuinely aiming and being judged on whether it achieves the progress that people want to see.

  81. Mr Narey, you have some difficult targets, I imagine. You have the prison population increasing exponentially and that jeopardises all your targets on time out of cell, education and value added, does it not?
  82. (Mr Narey) Yes, it does. The recent rise in the population from January, when I expected the population to be flat and it rose by more than 5,000, has eroded our performance on educational qualifications and so forth. It is very difficult, when you are having to move prisoners up and down the country to wherever there is a spare bed, not to disrupt those things. We try very hard to protect them and we are trying hard to move prisoners who are not involved in those things, but it is simply not always possible.

  83. The size of the prison population is absolutely outside your control, is it not? You have to take who is delivered, do you not?
  84. (Mr Narey) We take everybody who comes, no matter what, unlike some European prison systems. We do not have a waiting list. Everybody comes in.

  85. Do we have a target for the size of the prison population?
  86. (Mr Gieve) No. Interestingly, the two headline targets in our new PSA in this area are, firstly, to reduce reoffending and, secondly, to maintain the very low level of escapes. One is a measure of protecting the public from whom it needs protection and the other is to do with using the time, not just in prison but in community services, to best effect. It is perfectly true we do not determine the prison population; nor does it just come out of the blue. It is a product of, among other things, the criminal law, which the Home Office has responsibility for and the availability and nature of community punishments, for example, which again the Probation Service has responsibility for. We definitely can influence this but you are right. As in other respects, we cannot completely control it.

    Mr Cameron

  87. The change from the 17 targets to the ten targets: what has been dropped?
  88. (Mr Gieve) Reducing the economic cost of crime has disappeared. The fear of crime which we used to have separate objectives for and crime itself have been merged. We have dropped something on disrupting the number of organised crime organisations. Do you want a note which shows you which ones have gone?

  89. The concern is that ministers say they are great sounding targets so we are all going to think: wonderful, they are going to, for instance, enforce the immigration laws more effectively by removing in excess of 30,000 failed asylum seekers by 2003-4. The impression is given that a great bit of action is going to happen. He target is published and, a year later, the targets are altered and we do not hear about which target is dropped. A new set of targets appears and again this feeling of action. Should not targets be a bit more consistent one year to the next because some of these targets have not been met and they have probably been dropped?
  90. (Mr Gieve) The last spending review set a public service agreement for three years and we will continue to report on those targets for those three years.

  91. The 17 still exist?
  92. (Mr Gieve) Yes. You will still be able to go back and say, "How did you do against this one?" We will publish the results. However, consistency is fine so long as it is not consistency in the wrong thing. We have learned a bit over the last two years about how best to measure progress. We have come to the view that we got one or two things wrong or not quite right and I think it is sensible to have a rolling review.

  93. What is the process of dropping them? How does a target get dropped?
  94. (Mr Gieve) In this case, we negotiated with the Treasury and in our case the delivery unit at number ten a new set of targets starting from the old set of targets. Some of those have been dropped. If you take the removals one, we have not entirely dropped it. We are still talking about removing a great proportion of unfounded applicants, which is where we were in SR2000, but it is now grouped under a broader outcome target, which is to reduce the number of unfounded applications. Last time on asylum, we had potentially processed targets, how many people do you remove, how quickly do you deal with asylum applications; this time we have moved to an outcome target which is what is the purpose of this whole machine. It is to reduce the number of unfounded applicants.

  95. The cynic would think that they had some process targets which they have not met and they think they have to have some other targets which they might meet, so you make them a bit more general. All the time, it is like pushing jelly uphill. You will never be able to cope with what is actually happening.
  96. (Mr Gieve) I can see what you are worried about, but I do not think there is much risk of that because you are here to rub our noses in it. We have hit some of our process targets.

  97. It will be important to see how the process targets go on in future years.
  98. (Mr Gieve) Yes indeed.


  99. Most of the targets you have mentioned sound very sensible but reducing fear of crime? I ask you. If I were Permanent Secretary and somebody said, "You have to reduce fear of crime by a given percentage", I would say, "What do you want me to do? Lock up the Harmsworth newspapers?"
  100. (Mr Gieve) Sir Humphrey's categorisation of pledges includes courageous. This is obviously extremely courageous, but it is one of those which we are hitting at the moment.

  101. Please tell me how you do it.
  102. (Mr Gieve) I do not think it is difficult to explain at all. Firstly, you have to reduce crime and then you have to persuade people that it is happening.

  103. How do you measure it?
  104. (Mr Gieve) We have just published last week a new British crime survey which has and has had for many years a set of questions on whether people are worried, very worried or not worried at all about certain sorts of crime. Despite your prejudice, it has been falling over the last couple of years.

  105. It strikes me as something that is almost outside your grasp, but perhaps it is not.
  106. (Mr Gieve) These are extremely difficult because they are not about, for example, processing asylum applications quicker which, with enough people and the right IT, you can be pretty confident of doing. They are about changing social behaviour and attitudes. Therefore, they are much more risky from our point of view. On the other hand, that is what really matters.

  107. I am on your side; I just do not want to see you loaded with a lot of targets which are not within your gift to deliver but if you feel that is within your gift to deliver, who am I to contradict?
  108. (Mr Gieve) I am not saying it is in my gift, but I think we can influence it.

    Mr Cameron

  109. In the annual report, you have your 17 targets. Then you go to each aim. You go to page 44 and you then have the targets written out again with what you have done so far, what progress you have made and what you are going to be doing. It is not until you get to page 158 that you find out whether you have hit them. Would it not be better to have that bit closer to the beginning of the book and say, "This is the target. This is where we have got to"?
  110. (Mr Gieve) This is the first year in which we have tried to combine our plan and our report on what we have done as well as our plan of what we are going to do in the year ahead. We may not have got the structure right, so we will take delivery of that comment and try and do better.

  111. Why has robbery risen so much over the last year? It was up 14 per cent according to this report.
  112. (Mr Lyon) It has increased significantly not throughout the country, but particularly in the metropolitan police area and in other metropolitan cities. There are a number of suggestions as to why. This is not an exact science as I am sure the Committee well knows. The first thing is availability. We have seen that a huge number of people now carry mobile phones. They are very desirable objects, particularly to young people, and they are very easy to take. There is that opportunity there for people to take those phones. That has had a big driving effect on the level of robbery in this country. A lot of these offences are committed by young people on young people and there has been an increase in the rate at which young people are doing that. Part of that is a real increase; part of that is an increase in the reporting rate of young people on those crimes. Some years ago, a 14 or 15 year old might have taken money from a pocket. It would not necessarily have been reported. Those children wrongly think it is the sort of thing that happens in the playground or on the way home. If you lose your mobile phone, you have to go home and explain that so you say you have had it taken and it does get reported. There is partly a real increase and partly an increase in reporting rate and partly an increase in the seriousness of goods being taken. You have seen the effect of that in the figures. The government too have seen the effect of that and with the street crime initiative, led by the Prime Minister, have committed themselves, the police, other government departments and other agencies, to doing something about it and bringing down that very high level.

  113. The target is the reduction of the level of recorded robbery in our principal cities by 14 per cent by 2005. Yet, in the last 12 months to March 2001, it has gone up by 13 per cent and it has got even worse since then.
  114. (Mr Lyon) It is now 28 per cent.

  115. Does that 14 per cent target by 2005 still stand?
  116. (Mr Lyon) It still stands.

  117. Is the Home Office still in charge of the street crime initiative or have you been usurped by the unit at number ten? Where did this team of ministers come from? How does it work?
  118. (Mr Gieve) It is run from the Home Office. We have a team of people working in John's directorate on this. They work with the police inspectorate and the standards unit which also goes to the Home Office. The Prime Minister has taken a personal interest in this and ensured, by bringing in other departments, education, culture and so on, and work and pensions, that they contribute by focusing their services on everything from truancy to job finding to diversionary schemes for young people. They come in behind the sharp end policing work that the police are doing. The whole thing is orchestrated by our team.

  119. My local force, the Thames Valley force, is now overseen by Barbara Roche, a Member of Parliament in London. Does she report into the Home Office or to number ten?
  120. (Mr Gieve) We have ten areas and as part of trying to ensure that the local arrangements and the local teams within each of those ten areas are working well we drew together a group of ten ministers, some from the Home Office and some, as Barbara Roche and other parts of government, each to take a particular interest in one of those areas. They are not running the thing; they are visiting, checking and providing some outside assessment of whether things are working well.

  121. Do they report to you or to the Prime Minister's unit?
  122. (Mr Gieve) They report into our unit and our unit accompanies them on these visits. They report to the Prime Minister too if he asks them. They will do a note saying, "I have been there and this is what I found", and so on.

  123. You feel the Home Office is still in control if this important street crime initiative?
  124. (Mr Gieve) Yes.

  125. This is a slightly new method of accountability for police, the CPS and those other agencies involved, to have a new, non-Home Office minister who is suddenly a channel of information and accountability between them and the executive. Did you find it peculiar that this was, to my knowledge, never announced in Parliament?
  126. (Mr Gieve) I do not think it is a channel of formal accountability in that way. I think it is not right to say it is totally unprecedented because I am sure there have been occasions on which individual ministers have taken particular interest in cross-departmental activities in particular regions and cities.

  127. If, in the Thames Valley, a Member of Parliament wants to find out what is happening in the Probation Service, they ask a Home Office minister in Parliament. If they want to find out what is happening in local prisons, they ask Home Office minister in Parliament. Suddenly, there is this new, London MP who is deputy minister for women, who seems to have a role that is still quite unclear, linking those institutions and the executive and the legislature. Yet, no one has ever told them.
  128. (Mr Gieve) There is no change in who you ask parliamentary questions to or in the channels of accountability for the police which are not directly to any minister, but what these ten ministers are doing is visiting occasionally, meeting the team based round the regional office and the local partnerships which try and gauge a range of services outside the police and criminal justice system, encourage them, spot if things are going wrong and take an interest in what is happening in each area. We have not got ten ministers in the Home Office so we could not do it all from within the Home Office.

    Bridget Prentice

  129. Can I go back to robberies and targets? You had a target last year. I presume the target was set last year for a 14 per cent reduction by 2005?
  130. (Mr Lyon) The base line is from 31 March 2000.

  131. A reduction of 14 per cent is based on March 2000, not on the increased number of robberies that we have seen this year?
  132. (Mr Lyon) Yes. At that date, the number of offences was 84,300.

  133. You could reach your 14 per cent target by 2005 but still have an increased number of robberies taking place?
  134. (Mr Lyon) We would have to have fewer robberies than we had on that date of 31 March 2000, 14 per cent fewer, and we have more at the moment.

    Mr Malins

  135. The current average time for an asylum application to initial decision is seven months, according to a parliamentary answer last week. Is that a rather long time?
  136. (Mr Boys Smith) It is a long time and it reflects the fact that we still have in the system a number of older cases, although a decreasing number. We still have about 16,000 that are over 12 months. The efforts to which John Gieve alluded, the changes in process and in staff, have enabled us nevertheless to bring down the time that we take for asylum decisions. If I may update the annual report which said that the figures there were provisional and not for the full financial year, it is now evident that we have achieved our target of 60 per cent of initial decisions -- that is to say, of applications received in that period -- done within two months.

  137. Do you expect that to go to 75 per cent?
  138. (Mr Boys Smith) I am confident that we can continue to increase and to meet the target of 75 per cent within that period, yes.

  139. Taking account of your targets, it still leaves 15 per cent of asylum applications for which you do not have a target or six months or less time. That is probably 12,000 applications a year. What is the problem with those 12,000 that is going to take them well over six months?
  140. (Mr Boys Smith) The problems will be various. One example would be that there was some leading case in the courts and that can have the effect of requiring us to hold up the decision taking process. A number will have intrinsic difficulties -- for example, in the nature of the case put forward by the applicant, which might relate to medical factors, alleged torture and so on. I would want to emphasise the fact that there is not a target for that final, relatively small proportion of the total does not mean that we put them in the cupboard and get on with other work. That would not be acceptable. We get them done as quickly as we possibly can.

  141. If it is 15 per cent, it could be 12,000 a year. Is this not something intrinsically wrong with the system, where up to 12,000 asylum applications a year can take much more than six months, even for an initial decision?
  142. (Mr Boys Smith) Taking asylum decisions is a complicated business. We have made enormous strides in achieving the 60 per cent in two months. In terms of the time that we now take, we are at the front of the field. As far as western Europe is concerned, there is no other country touching us in terms of the speed with which we take these decisions. Within that figure of 60 per cent in two months, we are taking about 10,000 within seven to ten days and that again is very much at the front of the field. I am not ashamed of what we are doing. I think we have a lot of very good practice and very good delivery, but some of these are difficult. Some will take a long time and some are beyond our control.

  143. I was interested to read that we have fewer initial decision makers in post now than we had a year ago. Has there been some leakage and leaving of the service?
  144. (Mr Boys Smith) No, there has not. There is a relatively small and, I am glad to say in some ways given the state of the economy, a surprisingly small turnover of staff. We have recruited a lot of new staff. They are good quality people and they are staying.

  145. In the last year?
  146. (Mr Boys Smith) Having cleared a great proportion of the huge backlog that we had at the end of 2000 -- there was a backlog of over 100,000 -- we now have between 30,000 and 35,000 in the system against a background where we would expect ordinary work in progress. We are getting to the point where that target is misleading so we are nearly down to meeting work in progress. We have made admirable progress in cutting all that down.

  147. 697 initial decision makers in post compared with 761 the previous January. Do you think you should take on a few more?
  148. (Mr Boys Smith) We take on the number of staff that we think we require and are able to afford. As we have reduced the number of cases in the queue, we have transferred some members of staff to other work, in particular to the highly complex case work to support the removals programme. We have taken fewer decisions in the past 12 months with slightly fewer decision makers, not because we think that is unimportant work but because we need to balance the priorities within the organisation.

  149. A number of people are critical of the quality of initial decision making, given the number of appeals and the success rate. I was surprised to see that there is no educational requirement for someone who is making a decision on asylum and the training period before one starts making decisions is four weeks, three days. Are you front loading enough in terms of expertise?
  150. (Mr Boys Smith) I think we are. As to the educational requirement and the approach that we take, we recruit people to a particular standard for this kind of work or promote them to that kind of work within the organisation. One of the heartening things that has resulted from the expansion of IND is our ability to promote from within people with enormous talent, who are successful in doing this kind of complex work but who may well have come in some years ago without formal qualifications. It is capacity and competence rather than formal qualification that we are looking at.

  151. Are there targets - I may have missed them - for reducing the period between initial decision and hearing of appeal?
  152. (Mr Boys Smith) There is an overall target. It is rather crudely described as "two plus four", the four being the appeal bit and the two being the decision-taking period. There is a delay in getting some cases through the appeals system because there was a slight, but not enormous mis-match in the capacity of the appeal system to take the bow wave of clearance cases that we dealt with, and that is coming down.

  153. Is that target realistic, and if it is realistic now, why was it not realistic two or three years ago?
  154. (Mr Boys Smith) I think it is realistic, and indeed, to ensure that it is realistic, the Home Secretary announced in October of last year increased resources, which are now coming through and will be effective on the ground by about October/November, to increase the capacity of the appeal system up to about 6,000 a month. Why was it not realistic a couple of years ago? The answer is that we have been changing a lot, the appeal system has been changing and expanding, we have been working more and more closely together in order to smooth the passage of cases from one part of the system to another, and I think we have had great success.

  155. If that is a realistic target, how realistic was the written target to remove 30,000 failed asylum seekers per year?
  156. (Mr Boys Smith) That was not realistic. As it turned out, we were unable to achieve that. It was a target that was beyond our capacity to deliver.

  157. Whose idea was it?
  158. (Mr Boys Smith) It was a target agreed in the process of negotiation to which John Gieve referred as regards the future set of targets.

  159. You would have said at the time if you did not think it was a realistic target.
  160. (Mr Boys Smith) We thought that we would find it easier to remove those numbers than we have found. We have made a lot of progress in terms of both the case working back-up to that difficult process that I referred to a moment ago, in terms of our close working with the police service - we now have a concordat with ACPO, for example, to facilitate that - and a whole variety of other ways, but undoubtedly it has proved more difficult. But again, if you would allow me to say this, we are delivering more, 11,500 in the previous year, and again, a much larger number than any other European country.

  161. Obviously if you include dependants amongst removals, it makes the figures look much better from the Government's point of view. When did you decide to do that?
  162. (Mr Boys Smith) The target right through the current Spending Review period, the one we are still in, has since April 2001 been for removals inclusive of dependants. There has never been any secrecy or anything underhand on that. It has been absolutely explicit.

  163. There was a day not many months ago when the number of removals was by way of principal applicants, and now it is not; it is applicants plus dependants.
  164. (Mr Boys Smith) If I may, Mr Malins, the measurement of this target through the Spending Review period that we are still in has been the measurement of removals inclusive of dependants since April 2001. I do appreciate that that has somehow not been clearly understood, but we have always proceeded on the basis that we were measuring with dependants. The figure of applicants is 9,500, which is principal applicants, which is also a public figure, 11,500 with dependants.

  165. How does that change the position? My parliamentary answer says asylum removals statistics prior to April 2001 related to only the number of principal applicants removed, excluding dependants. The statistics since April 2001 show the number of principal applicants and the number of dependants removed. What proportion were dependants, do you think?
  166. (Mr Boys Smith) For the last year it was 9,500 principal applicants, 11,500 inclusive of dependants, so about 2,000. I could not give you a breakdown as between dependants, but the ratio will not be hugely different.

  167. You accept that the 30,000 target has been abandoned?
  168. (Mr Boys Smith) No, it has not been abandoned. It is still there. Discussions will take place as to the figure that should be attached to the targets for the coming period and those discussions have not yet taken place.

  169. That 30,000 would presumably disappear from bits of paper now, but if you had to guess, will there be another figure for the target for, say, the next 12 months or the following 12 months after that? Are you looking to say a greater number? Are you looking to say 20,000? What are you looking to say?
  170. (Mr Boys Smith) The White Paper makes clear that the target for the coming period, as indeed for the moment, will be the more effective enforcement of the immigration law by removing a greater proportion of failed asylum seekers. The 30,000 was previously attached to that and the Home Secretary about a year ago indicated, because we clearly were not performing in the early part of the last financial year, that he saw that in terms of 2,500 a month. The position for the coming Spending Review period is, as I say, and as John Gieve referred to earlier, that discussions will have to take place with the Treasury, and ministers will have to decide what number may be attached to this. The press have somewhat jumped the gun in some articles by suggesting the 30,000 figure has been abandoned. That is not formally the case.

  171. This is a handling exercise really, is it not? Do you think you will ever reach the stage, or do you want to reach the stage where the percentage of those who are removed is higher than 50 per cent of those who should by all accounts be removed because all their appeals have failed.? Do you think you are ever going to make it anywhere near 50 per cent of those who should be removed being removed?
  172. (Mr Boys Smith) I find that very hard to answer. I think it is possible. We are confident that we can put the present number up. We should remember that of those who apply, on present figures, approximately 40 per cent, either by virtue of initial decisions, as a consequence of the appeals or because they have been granted exceptional leave to remain, are, so to speak, legitimately here after the process, so we are talking of the 60 per cent with regard to whom there is some kind of negative decision, and I think it is possible to reach about half of that. Whether it is possible long term to sustain that I am not quite clear, and I think a great deal will depend, among other things, of course, on the national make-up of those who are applying, because whereas it is relatively easy to remove people to certain countries say in eastern Europe, to remove them to other parts of the world is hugely difficult. Removability will change over time.

    (Mr Gieve) Can I just add one thing there? One of the provisions in the new Bill is to allow for non-suspensive appeals, that is to say, removing people from the country before their appeal is heard. That could change the position quite dramatically in some countries.


  173. What countries are you thinking of?
  174. (Mr Gieve) Among others, eastern Europe.

  175. So ones where there is a prima facie supposition against success?
  176. (Mr Gieve) Yes.

  177. Whereas you would not remove someone to Afghanistan and then invite them to come back, would you?
  178. (Mr Gieve) It depends on the circumstances in Afghanistan. As you know, we are hoping to remove people to Afghanistan, and a few volunteers are going already.

  179. We should never lose sight of the fact that, at the end of the day, these are human beings, some of them have young children, and some are returning to destitution. Although you are under pressure from people like us, and we are under pressure from people in our constituencies, we should never lose sight of that.
  180. (Mr Boys Smith) We should not, and part of the training that we offer our staff, whether on initial decisions or removals, is that they are dealing with people, huge things that affect the whole of the future life of that family or that individual, and some of that is difficult and stressful work for those members of staff.

    Chairman: This is a subject to which we are proposing to return in the near future in rather more detail, so we will no doubt discuss it again. Let us turn now to the Criminal Records Bureau.

    Bob Russell

  181. Mr Gieve, on a scale of one to ten, with one being good, ten being bad, where would you put the Criminal Records Bureau at the moment?
  182. (Mr Gieve) About half-way. It has had a very bad start, but it seems to be recovering now, and we expect by about the end of the summer to be close to hitting our targets.

    (Mr Lyon) How many targets have been reached so far which give you comfort to put it at 5 or 6, a success story?

    (Mr Gieve) No, we are not hitting our targets at the moment. The targets are to clear disclosures in three weeks, and as you know, we have had great difficulties at the moment. We have a backlog of cases which we are trying to deal with. However, in the last few weeks, under the recovery programme which the Criminal Records Bureau have drawn up with Capita, who are the private sector partners, things do seem to be moving in the right direction. We have now issued our one hundred thousandth disclosure, and the numbers are going up very rapidly week on week.

  183. But what are the reasons for those delays? You have just mentioned Capita; are they the problem, or was the problem elsewhere?
  184. (Mr Gieve) I think this is quite complex endeavour, and there is no one fault, that everything else worked perfectly and this one thing could be singled out. A number of things have had to be adjusted over recent weeks and there are more adjustments to come, but the single most difficult thing has been dealing with paper applications and getting them on the system. That was the main problem in the first few weeks, and led to a build-up of forms which had not yet been entered. That is a function that Capita are responsible for, and they now seem to be getting on top of that.

  185. How many applicants are told that their applications are being processed in India?
  186. (Mr Gieve) I do not think we do tell people specifically. It is not a secret; it has been made public and commented on, but we do not send a letter saying, "Your form is being processed in India."

  187. With something as crucial as Parliament is told the Criminal Records Bureau is - and you will be aware that various Members of Parliament have asked questions over a period of time, including myself - do you not think it is odd, to say the least, that insufficient processes were put in place and you are now being forced to send work to India to be dealt with?
  188. (Mr Gieve) I was a bit surprised, yes, that this turned out to be the best route forward, but I think it is a rather interesting reflection of the global economy we now live in. As you know, many private sector companies have been doing this sort of thing for years, and some public sector organisations have been doing it - the Student Loans Company I gather uses Indian subcontractors. It was not on our original plan. Just in terms of what they are doing there, they are putting on to disk the application; they are not actually searching the databases for records of any sort.

  189. Have you any estimate of the number or groups of people currently affected by the delay?
  190. (Mr Gieve) I do not have a breakdown. I know broadly the people who can apply for information under the scheme, and they are all being affected. Particular groups that we have singled out include teachers, where we have set up special arrangements with the Department of Education; the Department of Health; taxi drivers; and we have had some special schemes for groups where the delay was causing particular difficulties; so I am aware of those, but there is quite a wide range.

  191. Can you give the Committee an assurance that every new teacher applicant will have his or her clearance dealt with by the start of the new academic year in September and there will be no teaching post left unfilled because of delays with the Criminal Records Bureau?
  192. (Mr Gieve) I would have to think about that. I do not think I can give you that assurance, in the sense that it depends when they apply: if they apply the day before term starts, we cannot promise to turn it round. What we have done with schools is that we are offering a partial clearance first, which is actually the system that schools have operated for some time. They have their own education list which we check first, and we provide an answer to the school on whether or not the applicant is on that list, and then we go through the whole process.

  193. Lessons have been learned from this, I assume. Are there any other examples of where you can bring in outside work or pressure to improve the situation so that, for example, a lollipop lady does not have to wait six weeks to have her clearance? Bearing in mind that the Criminal Records Bureau is there for children's safety, that children could be crossing the road without a lollipop lady for six weeks because she has to wait for her clearance seems bizarre.
  194. (Mr Gieve) No, I do not think there is another magic ingredient. This is hard operational improvements in the organisation, in Capita and in the CRB. We are putting a lot more staff in; we have subcontracted work to India, as you pointed out; we have improved the IT; and all of that is intended to bring us back on track, so we are turning these applications round in three weeks. There will always be some difficult cases, I dare say, where it takes a bit longer than that. The other point I would just make is that the CRB is offering this service more widely than the old system of applying to the police. Under the old system about 20,000 clearances were done a week, but we are already doing that under the new system and we are expecting to build it up a lot further than that.

  195. When do you expect the Bureau to begin meeting its targets?
  196. (Mr Gieve) I am hoping it will be by the end of the summer.

  197. So when you return, next time it will be a rosy picture; it will not be near the bottom, but it will be a success story?
  198. (Mr Gieve) I am not going to promise it will get 10 out of 10.

  199. Moving on to the Communications Directorate, can I ask what went wrong with the Customer Communication Foundation Project?
  200. (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.

  201. 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?
  202. (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 ministerial offices.

  203. With the benefit of hindsight, could you tell us why the replacement correspondence tracking system option was not chosen in the first place?
  204. (Mr Gieve) It had not been designed. It was partly designed in response to our response to the first proposition.

  205. 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.
  206. (Mr Gieve) I do not think Martin will be delivering his service electronically. We had 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 18 months.

  207. But these electronic services are in addition, are they? They are not going to replace traditional methods of communication, I trust.
  208. (Mr Gieve) We are not planning at present that they should. It depends on the take-up and so on.

    Bridget Prentice

  209. 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?
  210. (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.

  211. 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?
  212. (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 10,000-11,000 decisions a year at the present rates, within 7-10 days, and that is a very satisfactory performance.

  213. 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?
  214. (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 some - fairly modest but some - slippage 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 consulting.

  215. Have you had any problems with retention?
  216. (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.

  217. 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?
  218. (Mr Boys Smith) No. Most of the initial additional intake was focussed on asylum case working - not 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.

  219. What effect has the lower than estimated number of staff in 2000-01 had on that process?
  220. (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 satisfactorily.

  221. How do you see it in a year's time?
  222. (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 place.

  223. 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 first?
  224. (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 quickly - and on the whole pretty quickly though not as quickly as we would like - with 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 enough - it still takes six months, but that is a fraction of what it used to be - and 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.


  225. 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?
  226. (Mr Boys Smith) When you say the adjudicator, do you mean at the appeal stage therefore?

  227. 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 investigation - not very much; a telephone call or two here and there - would have settled the matter definitely one way or the other.
  228. (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.

  229. 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.
  230. (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 officer.

  231. It just seems to me that sometimes - not always - a few simple inquiries at an early stage would short-circuit the huge appeals process which then follows, and perhaps save a lot of money.
  232. (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 that material.

  233. "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.
  234. (Mr Boys Smith) A crucial issue there - and I do not want to be drawn too speculatively into the particular hypothetical case - would 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 mean - and I choose my words very carefully - that the application would not succeed.

  235. 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.
  236. (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.

    David Winnick

  237. 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?
  238. (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 case.

  239. No, I am not suggesting by hook or by crook. Clearly, if the Home Office made a decision which is negative, and there is an appeal, the presenting officer will obviously be coming along, as will hopefully the appellant's representative, and the presenting officer will present the case why the Home Office has made the decision, and cross-examine, as in a court, the appellant. It is not a question of by hook or crook; I am not suggesting that.
  240. (Mr Boys Smith) Exactly that will happen, but occasionally, because this is a large organisation, and we are taking 95,000 decisions for example, the previous year, if a presenting officer concludes when examining things at that stage that that was a bad decision, we may well give in at that stage and not seek to pursue the appeal, and although the number of cases like that is small, happily, if they happen, that is what we will do.

  241. From my experience of some years ago, acting as appellants' representatives when I was out of the House, I did not find any desire or any reluctance on the part of the presenting officer not to present as strong a case as possible for the Home Office decision to be upheld. That was the duty and responsibility of the presenting officer.
  242. (Mr Boys Smith) Indeed. As long as that is a fair and well founded argument, then that is what he seeks to do.

    Mrs Dean

  243. First of all, following the question about the IND, in the non-asylum cases it seems to me there are still times when the correspondence cannot be located easily. Can you explain why that is and what can be done to improve the situation.
  244. (Mr Boys Smith) It certainly is the case. It is the case in a diminishing number of instances. We are dealing at the moment in the non-asylum and non-nationality area with the upper 200,000 applications a year, 285,000 decisions in the previous year, which was a huge growth on the year before that. It is certainly the case that in some instances either letters get lost or that they are not linked to the file in time. We have made a number of procedural changes that we believe will improve that. Fundamental to them is the introduction of new IT, a case information database, as it is called, which means that everything now coming in is logged, and the exact location of the material, the status of the case, whether it is pending decision or a decision has been taken but not transmitted back to the applicant, whatever that may be, is all recorded and available to anybody anywhere in the organisation. But we still have a tail of cases that date back to the old days before we were able to make those changes, and I have to acknowledge that passports will still get lost, letters will still get lost, which does not really mean that they are totally lost; they often turn up again but too late for practical purposes, and we have to acknowledge our mistakes if that happens.

  245. Why is it necessary for my constituents and others to have to use Recorded Delivery and to have to be able to give a Recorded Delivery number to be able to locate anything?
  246. (Mr Boys Smith) Recorded Delivery both inwards and outwards enables us to track the material from the very moment of arrival, before it has got on to the database, so that if material comes in, the Recorded Delivery envelope has a bar code, and from that moment on it can be tracked through the system and then entered into the database. With the huge numbers of letters arriving - in Croydon the post room receives 25,000 letters a week and sends out a similar number - when you are dealing with those numbers at that speed, anything that facilitates identification is valuable.

  247. Turning to Mr Gieve, what lessons have been learned from the problems experienced during the implementation of the National Probation Service computer system?
  248. (Mr Gieve) Quite a lot of lessons. Firstly, this is not the worst computer system even within the Home Office, in that it exists, and probation officers up and down the country have IT, but one particular application which was an important part of the original scheme has never really worked satisfactorily, and that is the case management system. I think there are three big lessons I would draw from that. The first is that scaling up - this is something other people have learned too - is a lot harder than it sounds. This was a system that was said to work very well in Northumbria, but did not easily scale up to cover the rest of the country. Secondly, you have to invest a lot in the management of major contracts of this sort, and I do not think we did invest enough. We did not have a strong enough team through the critical parts of the contract, which is now quite a long time ago, and we had a lot of discontinuity of staff, and we rather left it to the contractors to get on with, and we needed to be right on top of them much more. The third is that it is very difficult to do this on a federal basis, to do a single scheme on a federal basis. When we started on the probation IT we were dealing with 57 separate probation authorities in effect, and we were trying to do it by consensus and so on, and that introduces a lot of additional complications in contract management.

  249. Will you be able to ensure that does not happen again with other systems such as the Home Office accounting processes, which you have to have in by April next year, do you not?
  250. (Mr Gieve) Yes, I hope we will, but I am not guaranteeing that nothing will go wrong with our other projects. On the probation front, as you know, we now have a national service, and they have concluded a new agreement and they have very much beefed up their IT capability, and I am pretty confident - touch wood - that that is going pretty well. We are taking external advice through the Office of Government Commerce and so on at regular moments. Elsewhere in the Home Office, the Criminal Records Bureau shows that we still have some lessons to learn.

  251. What lessons have been learned from the Parliamentary Ombudsman's report in May of this year, in which he described the Home Office's lack of cooperation with his inquiry over the alleged conversations between Peter Mandelson and Mike O'Brien?
  252. (Mr Gieve) The Hinduja affair? Two lessons really. In the end in that case we agreed with the Ombudsman, and we did what he wanted us to do, but there were long pauses in between, some of which were because the Government took the view that the Hammond Inquiry should be allowed to run - the Ombudsman did not wholly agree with that, but there you are - but some of which were due to the lack of coordination between us and the other departments concerned. The second lesson is that when we offered the Ombudsman access to our files, and he came to look at them, he found that they did not have all the papers on them. That has given us a more immediate lesson about keeping our files up to date in the Immigration Department.

  253. That has been done now, has it?
  254. (Mr Gieve) Yes.

  255. Can I turn to resource accounting. What were the main difficulties you experienced in producing the 2000-01 resource accounts?
  256. (Mr Gieve) Our accounts were qualified in the end for a number of reasons for 2000-01. We had difficulty on consolidating all the parts of the Home Office that we were supposed to consolidate, and we also had difficulty in dealing with suspense accounts, which had been very common in the old cash accounting system, but which needed to be dealt with differently. We also had some problems in providing the right sort of certificates from the police, for example, to satisfy our auditor that they had received the money. They had, but nonetheless, their auditors did not think that they had to produce a certificate and so on. So we had a number of difficulties. That is on the reasons for qualification. In process terms, I think we under-invested in accountants, and we got off to a slow start on resource accounting, and some of these difficulties could have been overcome if we had started earlier with better qualified staff, which we now have.

  257. Are you confident that you will be able to produce unqualified accounts for 2001-02?
  258. (Mr Gieve) I am hoping we will.


  259. It is a target?
  260. (Mr Gieve) Yes.

    David Winnick

  261. Identity cards. There is going to be a six-month consultation exercise, is there not? Does that consultation exercise include consulting with other Whitehall Departments?
  262. (Mr Gieve) Yes.

  263. Some of them apparently are not over the moon with delight at the idea, or would that not be an appropriate description of their response?
  264. (Mr Gieve) I think there is a range of views on identity cards or entitlement cards.

  265. Within Whitehall?
  266. (Mr Gieve) There is a range of views on everything within Whitehall.

  267. I have seen a report in one of the newspapers which states that a Whitehall source - whatever a Whitehall source may be - has said following the Home Secretary's statement in the House, "The Department of Work and Pensions will oppose the idea. It believes this is a solution in search of a problem," and the source adds, "If people are going to work and claim benefit, an entitlement card is not going to deter them. They will just turn up, show the card, and carry on working." Would you describe that as an accurate reflection of the Work and Pensions Department's view?
  268. (Mr Gieve) I do not think I believe everything I read in the newspapers. You would have to ask the Department of Work and Pensions but I would be very surprised if they gave that answer.

  269. So this Whitehall source may well be misleading us.
  270. (Mr Gieve) You will have to ask the Department, but I expect they can see advantages and potential costs in this proposal.

  271. We would be right to draw the conclusion from your earlier answer that there are a range of views about this entitlement card or identity card within Whitehall?
  272. (Mr Gieve) Yes, and this is a very open consultation. This is fairly well trodden ground, and there are differing views round the country and in different institutions. The reason for coming back to this is partly technology moves on, and partly a question about whether the holding of cards is becoming more acceptable to the public and more useful, and partly is to do with new problems which it might help us on, including illegal working and identity fraud.

  273. It is not to be compulsory. Is that the situation?
  274. (Mr Gieve) A scheme is set out in the document, as a focus for the consultation rather than as a firm proposal, and that is a universal card, that is, all residents would have one, but they would not have to carry it with them and they could not be challenged to show their ID card by the police, so not compulsory in that sense.

  275. So the distinction is really between the fact that it will be required that all lawful residents in the UK over a certain age will have to register. That will be compulsory, will it not?
  276. (Mr Gieve) They will all have to register, yes. That is part of the scheme.

  277. So that element is not optional; every lawful resident in the UK over a certain age, presumably over 16, will have to register, and not to register will be illegal.
  278. (Mr Gieve) It is a universal scheme, yes. The scheme would not work unless all residents were in it, yes.

  279. So if legislation were duly passed, and someone decided on libertarian grounds not to register, obviously that person would be infringing the law.
  280. (Mr Gieve) If we go ahead on that basis, yes.

  281. What other basis could you go ahead on?
  282. (Mr Gieve) I was simply making the point that we set out in the document a possible scheme. You are responding to it as though it is a firm proposal rather than a basis for consultation. But if you have a universal scheme under which all residents must register, then clearly if they do not register, they are breaching the rules.

  283. It is difficult really to conceive of any scheme where you do not have to register if you are going to have this card. Can you think of some alternative scheme?
  284. (Mr Gieve) One of the alternatives the paper mentions is a voluntary scheme, under which people who wanted to use the card because it had some advantages in confirming their identity and possibly being useful for other services could have it if they chose. That is another version which is in the consultative paper.

  285. Were you at all surprised at the negative reaction in the media?
  286. (Mr Gieve) No, I was not very surprised by the reaction in the media, but I do not think it was universally negative. I thought it was quite a mixed reaction.

    David Winnick: I am looking at one or two comments. The Financial Times says it is an idea that at least for now should be put back in its box, and The Times itself concluded that the plan is a gamble and the Home Secretary seems to have very few winning cards in his hands, but perhaps there are other newspapers here and there that would say -

    Chairman: Never mind what the newspapers say. What is your question?

    David Winnick

  287. My question was, if you recall, Mr Chairman, was the Home Office surprised by the negative reaction of the media?
  288. (Mr Gieve) I do not think it was as negative as you are suggesting, and there are strong views. Everyone knows there are strong views about identity cards and entitlement cards in certain quarters. The fact that people produced them again did not surprise us. What this is intended to do is to take a proper sounding across the public and the organisations concerned and find out what the balance of opinion is, and not to rely on the views of columnists in certain newspapers.

  289. How much would it cost? One estimate given, of course, was 1.3 billion. Is that right?
  290. (Mr Gieve) That was our estimate for the cost of a plain plastic card with no chip in it but it depends on the type of card.

  291. A sophisticated smart card, to use that description, would be that much more, would it not?
  292. (Mr Gieve) Yes.

  293. How much more?
  294. (Mr Gieve) For the most sophisticated one that the paper mentions, we cost that at around a bit more than 3 billion.

  295. Would that be money you would expect if the scheme went through to get from the Treasury?
  296. (Mr Gieve) The proposal in the paper is that you could pay for this by increasing the charges for driving licences and passports, because this would be a scheme linked to the card version of the driving licence and passport.

  297. Self-financing, as the Home Secretary said at the time. We will see if that would be very favourable to people. To what extent could this identity or entitlement card be immune from fraud? Is it possible to have a card system which would be a protection against identity fraud?
  298. (Mr Gieve) Yes, I think new technology, the use of biometric data and so on can make fraud a good deal harder to carry out. It may still be technically possible to make one up illegally but it would be very much harder if it contained some of the features that are set out in our document.

  299. But would it not be correct to come to the view that the more sophisticated criminal gangs, once such a card was around, would do their utmost to forge?
  300. (Mr Gieve) I do not know. They might. People try and forge everything so I am sure people would have a go at it. Whether they could do it economically I do not know. It would be very difficult to forge some of these more sophisticated smart cards.

  301. But possible, of course.
  302. (Mr Gieve) I do not know if it is possible actually. I am just allowing a certain caution in my answers because I am not technically equipped to know quite how foolproof these cards would be.

  303. Presumably if a forgery did take place, it would create more problems than it would solve. As far as illegal immigrants are concerned, is it felt that this card would be very much of a deterrent?
  304. (Mr Gieve) We have introduced a card for asylum seekers gaining support in the last few months, and we think that is useful. I think in terms of illegal working this could potentially be useful, and that is one of the reasons we have put it forward for debate.

    Chairman: I am going to stop you there, Mr Winnick.

    Angela Watkinson

  305. When the various options for the different types of identity card were looked at, was future compatibility with the European identity card a consideration?
  306. (Mr Gieve) You are taking me out of my depth now. I am sure it was, yes. As you know, the card proposal as sketched out here is supposed to be compatible both with the European and the international standards on passports and driving licences so that you can have combined versions.

  307. This could be the thin end of a very large wedge.
  308. (Mr Gieve) I had not seen it like that, I must say.

    Mr Cameron

  309. As principal accounting officer for the Department, you are responsible for the way that money is spent. Do you look at a project like this and think 3 billion for a sophisticated smart card would be another third on your budget? Given the not altogether rosy history of Home Office computer projects, do you look at it, and does the principal accounting officer side of your character say to ministers, "This is an awful lot of money, some of which may be wasted, and we should look very carefully at it?"
  310. (Mr Gieve) No. I think it would be a very challenging project, but that is what makes the job interesting.

  311. You can see a case for saying something costing 3 billion could be done, it could be done on budget, and it could be worthwhile? There is not a part of the principal accounting officer function that says, "Hold on. This is going to blow my budget to bits"?
  312. (Mr Gieve) We are engaged in a number of big projects which have high degrees of technical and financial risk, and of course I worry about them. I am not worrying very much about this at the moment because it is not a firm proposal; it is a consultation. If the response comes in and the Government decides to press ahead with this, I am sure it can be done and I am sure I will worry about it.

    Mr Prosser

  313. I am sure the Government will have been comforted and encouraged by the flurry of public opinion polls on identity cards, which showed an enormously high level of support. I saw some at 70 per cent and some at 80 per cent. I am asking about asylum support costs, and this is a question for Mr Boys Smith. Last year we were told something like 88,000 claims were rejected, 34,000 appeals then failed, and only 11,000 or so failed asylum seekers actually returned. What sort of feel have you got of what happened to the rest of them?
  314. (Mr Boys Smith) Undoubtedly a large number of them have remained in the country, there is nothing new in that. It is also the case, we believe, that we are now talking of something where the evidence does not exist to prove one position or another, that a number of people leave voluntarily often to try their luck elsewhere. That does not just mean elsewhere in the European Union, it means elsewhere often in North America. We know, for example, that certain nationalities have an inclination to try their luck in Canada if they fail here.

  315. How do you think the new proposals in the new Bill - the Bill coming through now - would tighten up the position?
  316. (Mr Boys Smith) One element of that, of course, is the non-suspensive appeals to which John Gieve referred earlier and simply by being able to deal with the whole of that business at an earlier stage and therefore to remove the person earlier, that is a huge advantage. But fundamental to the provisions in the Bill is the way in which it would enable us, particularly through the accommodation centres, to tighten up the system by having continuing contact with the applicant and to manage the process more tightly than is possible at the moment when, so to speak, people are at large in the community, either dispersed through NASS or in no way in contact with NASS if they have not sought support. Fundamentally the single answer is tighten up the procedure, keep in contact with people and a lot of that we are doing already and it is not dependent on the Bill. The issuing of the asylum registration card again, which was referenced to a moment ago, is one aspect of that. The induction centre, the first of which was in your constituency, Mr Prosser, is another example. The establishment of additional reporting arrangements around the country requiring people to call periodically so that we remain in touch with them and know where they are living, they are all elements of that. The Bill and the accommodation centres are therefore fundamentally important reinforcements of that.

  317. Asylum seekers without children who have had their final refusal cease to have support from NASS.
  318. (Mr Boys Smith) Yes.

  319. Can you give us a feel for the proportion of asylum seekers that fall into that category that do not have children under the age of 18?
  320. (Mr Boys Smith) I do not think I can give you a percentage, off the cuff, as between families and right across the system. I know that of those still within the responsibility of the local authorities there are about 25,000 singles, as we call them, and about 14,000 family cases. The small number still remaining with the Department of Work and Pensions, and there are only a few thousand of them, are mainly singles. I do not have to hand a number for the breakdown within the NASS category but we can supply that easily for you.

  321. I want to talk about the average time taken to process asylum seekers into the support system. Can you give us a feel now as to how long it takes to go through that process and how do you expect to meet your target of 70 per cent within five days by March 2003?
  322. (Mr Boys Smith) It is taking a week or so at the moment. A crucial element to the speeding up of that will be the extension of the induction centre system - which I mentioned just a moment ago - which after a fairly difficult start, because there were some quite big issues, is now working successfully thanks very much to the good working of the help line that runs that induction centre. I think we will continue to make good progress there. I think it is a target that we will be able to meet and which undoubtedly we ought to be able to meet.

  323. When an asylum seeker is actually turned down and loses his or her support, what remedy do they have for support? Where do they go?
  324. (Mr Boys Smith) There is a 28 day grace period between the final decision - let us assume, as in most cases, it is an appeal decision - and the actual termination of their support. But after the end of the grace period, if there are no children involved, they have no legitimate access to support funded in any way by the Exchequer whether DWP or local authority. Unless fraud is involved, and again we recognise some people may seek to operate fraudulently, they have no formal means of getting any support.

  325. My last question is in connection with the last year's overspend which Mr Cameron mentioned and it was answered in general by Mr Gieve. In terms of the overspend for asylum support last year we have looked at a whole series of areas which might have caused that where there is over-provision, provision was supplied but not taken up, etc., the length of time. Is there one particular category that you would like to point out? If there is, how are you going to overcome that in the future?
  326. (Mr Boys Smith) There are a number of factors that lie behind that figure which is, of course, an overspend in the sense that it required us to have access to the reserve but against a base line that had been for some time recognised as probably being deficient. There are a number of factors and I hope we are addressing them. At the heart of it is our ability to identify people at the right time as being cases where we should turn off the support and if they are in accommodation if necessary evict them from the accommodation. There have been a lot of difficulties over the exchange of data with local authorities for the older cases, the ones that predate the establishment of NASS in the spring of 2000. We have been putting a very great deal of effort into auditing all those cases, exchanging data, which may sound easy but it means you have to be absolutely confident that the person on our records really is the person who is on the local authority database, to identify the people and thereby reducing those numbers. That is proving a successful operation. The audit has gone well and we are removing from the list and ceasing support for that kind of person. We are working hard on tightening up on fraud and undoubtedly there are opportunities for fraud, particularly with people who work illegally and therefore are not destitute and not entitled to support. Again, we are working on that. The introduction of the asylum registration card will help us a great deal also. It has been operating for some time for new applicants but as it is rolled out for the existing applicants, and they are all called in in order to have their photographs, fingerprints and so on put together and the card issued, that is the opportunity for an interview which helps us identify if there are still people in the system who should not be there. What we are doing is trying to clear up, and making a lot of progress in clearing up, a system which historically, going back many, many years, was in a good deal of mess. I think we are progressively getting on top of that. That will reduce the overspend that you referred to, of course, subject to the numbers coming in. This is a numbers driven activity dependent crucially on information. What we must do is hone it down so only those in legitimate receipt of support do actually have it.


  327. Did you hear the programme on Radio 4 the other day about NASS on Sunday evening, I believe?
  328. (Mr Boys Smith) I heard part of it but I only came in at the tail end, I am afraid.

  329. I do not want to go through it line by line with you now but would you undertake to go away and listen to it and drop me a note on your comments on the main charges they made?
  330. (Mr Boys Smith) I shall do that. Such as I did hear I thought that it was rather one-sided, I have to say.

    Chairman: I thought you might say that. If you can drop me a note with your considered opinion and any points you would like to make I would be grateful.

    Angela Watkinson

  331. My questions are about the pressures on the Prison Service and young offenders' institutions, so I will put my questions to Mr Narey. I am in somewhat of a predicament because the first one is about overcrowding in prisons and some inmates are being housed in police cells for the first time in seven years. Can you estimate how many prisoners will be in police cells over the next year and for what period of time?
  332. (Mr Narey) It is very difficult to estimate. It is more of a guess than an estimate. I think and hope that we will get out of police cells in the next weeks and we should not have to return to them in any significant numbers I hope until the New Year. The thousand or so new places that I have got coming on stream before October, the fact that the population should stay fairly flat until the autumn and then start to climb again makes me think that it will not start until the New Year. Beyond that it is very, very difficult for me to predict. The population has moved without any particular rhyme nor reason for some time now and certainly if it continues to increase in the way it has in the first half of this year then early next year I will be using many hundreds of police cells.

  333. This must put additional pressures on the police service?
  334. (Mr Narey) Yes, it does. I have been keeping in very close contact with the chief constables who are helping us out at the moment, principally the Chief Constable at West Midlands. We have agreed maximum numbers that we will put in his area taking account of the other responsibilities that he has got.

  335. When do you expect the review of operations and the cost-effectiveness of the Prison Service to be concluded? Who is conducting that?
  336. (Mr Narey) This is the review which is mentioned in the White Paper?

  337. That is right, yes.
  338. (Mr Narey) I do not know yet. I do not think the Home Secretary has made any decision yet on who will lead the review or the timescale for it.

  339. A question about the Prison and Probation Service Ombudsman. I understand from the latest report which covers the year 2001-02 that the number of eligible complaints has risen by 40 per cent and that comes on top of the rise of 53 per cent in the preceding year. The vast majority of those related to the Prison Service and of those one-third were upheld. Why do you think that the level of complaints has risen so significantly? Is this a signal that the Prison Service has deteriorated?
  340. (Mr Narey) No, I think it is quite the reverse. I am delighted at the increase. Stephen Shaw and I have worked very hard to publicise the Ombudsman. You will find posters outlining the Ombudsman's duties in nearly every prison, on lots of landings. I think the main reason is that two years or so ago it took about six months for a prisoner's complaint to be processed through the various internal procedures and that is now approaching six weeks rather than six months and at the end of this calender year it should be six weeks everywhere. Because the rules were that no-one could go to the Ombudsman until his or her complaint has been through every one of the internal channels it meant that many prisoners were released before they could complain. I take it as a sign of a much healthier Prison Service that people know about the Ombudsman and use him willingly. Stephen Shaw and I work very closely together on trying to crank up its use and I would like to see it further increased. I think it would be healthier if more young offenders used the Ombudsman and at the moment very few do.

  341. It is raising awareness and has greater speed in dealing with complaints?
  342. (Mr Narey) Yes. Our internal complaints system takes one-tenth of the time that it used to.

  343. A question about the Probation Service. To what extent does the service have the capacity and flexibility to take on a rise in those serving community sentences?
  344. (Mr Narey) It is not necessarily for me but I will have a go at it. I think the Probation Service does have some spare capacity. One of the consequences of the much greater than anticipated use of custody is that there has been some reduction in probation, managed orders. For example, the use of Punishment and Rehabilitation Orders has dropped by about 15 per cent and Community Rehabilitation Orders have dropped by about two per cent. So if there was a shift back to community punishments - and we only need a very, very gentle shift back to make a radical difference to my population - then I think the Probation Service is well prepared to take that on.

  345. How likely is it that the Government will have to step in to provide cover for privately run prisons struggling currently to purchase insurance cover?
  346. (Mr Narey) I am glad to say it has become clear in the last few days that there is virtually no need for that at the moment. UKDS, with whom I am about to sign a contract to build two new prisons at Peterborough and Ashford, have just informed me that they have been successful in obtaining insurance.

  347. Persistent young offenders. I understand that comparable data for adult offenders is not collected centrally, so it is possible that the pressure to reduce the time from arrest to sentence for persistent young offenders has led to longer waits for other groups? Where in the system was the time saved for young offenders?
  348. (Mr Narey) I think that the process times for all offenders going through the courts has improved in recent years. Changes to the processing in magistrates' courts, particularly dealing with guilty pleas very early, has reduced remand times by about 20 per cent for all defendants but there has been a particular concentration on persistent young offenders and, as you know, their times have increased markedly. It is not the case that there has been a particular bulge elsewhere as a result of that.

  349. A final question about prisoners with mental health problems. Given the very high levels of mental health problems amongst prisoners, are you satisfied that the provision of psychiatric staff is sufficient within prisons to deal with the level of demand?
  350. (Mr Narey) No, not yet. It is beginning. Mental illness is one of my greatest worries, as evidenced by the very, very worrying upturn in the number of suicides after us getting them down for two consecutive years. I am sure you know the statistics. About 90 per cent of my population exhibit signs of one form of mental disorder or another, 20 per cent of men have previously tried to kill themselves and 40 per cent of women. What I have described as the cavalry is coming over the hill in that this year the first of 300 psychiatric nurses from the NHS are coming in to extend community care into prisons and I hope there will be more on the way. At the moment, particularly in the care of the mentally ill, I think the Prison Service still lags a long way behind care in the community.


  351. A final question for Mr Gieve. We have asked a couple of times about what plans the Home Office has to deal with freemasonry in the police. We were told two years ago that the Home Secretary would reach a decision about the best way forward as soon as possible - this was about disclosure - and last year the Home Secretary said he would review the situation. What is the situation this year?
  352. (Mr Gieve) I think the Home Secretary wrote to you last November about this and we are still reviewing it.

    Chairman: Do you think there is a freemason in the system somewhere?

    David Winnick: The police are not very keen to register, is that not so?


  353. It is about disclosure, open government, is it not?
  354. (Mr Gieve) It is. As you know, we have had a voluntary scheme in parts of the criminal justice system and only 36 per cent of the police replied, so the question is what do you do next, do you try and go compulsory or not? It raises some very fundamental issues.

  355. Instead of trying to make it retrospective on the police, you could insert disclosure in the contracts of all new recruits, could you not?

(Mr Gieve) That is something we should consider.

Chairman: Have a think about it. I will leave you with that thought. Gentlemen, thank you very much for coming, it has been extremely helpful. I recognise that sessions like this inevitably concentrate on the negative but do not think that we do not appreciate the important and complex work that you do because we do appreciate it. Thank you very much.