Examination of Witnesses (Questions 80-100)|
MP, BEVERLEY HUGHES
MP AND MR
11 SEPTEMBER 2003
Q80 Janet Anderson: Home Secretary,
could I just move to the subject to of sentencing guidelines.
As you will know, this Committee has accepted a proposal from
the Government to provide parliamentary scrutiny of the work of
the new Sentencing Guidelines Council. What added value can our
scrutiny supply given that the Sentencing Guidelines Panel will
have carried out an earlier public consultation in respect of
Mr Blunkett: We felt, and this
is shared across parties, that there should be a parliamentary
forum which allowed the view of the electorate, the view of the
public, to be aired in circumstances where all the facts could
be known, the consideration could be done calmly and with consideration.
We believe that the Select Committee is the best route to do that.
The idea that the floor of the House could do it, I think all
of us would recognise would be untenable, but for Parliament not
to have any ability to comment, to request, to hold to account,
would also be a mistake. The judiciary remain in the majority
on the Sentencing Guidelines Council, chaired by the Lord Chief
Justice, therefore we felt it was appropriate, without in any
way threatening the independence of the judiciary in individual
sentencing, to be able to take a look and to take a look at whether
what Parliament asked of the Sentencing Guidelines Council was
reasonable and fair and whether or not they had taken account
of Parliament's wishes.
Q81 Janet Anderson: Do you think,
Home Secretary, there might not be a danger that the criticism
of draft sentencing guidelines by this Committee will be regarded
by the judges who comprise the Council as interference in their
Mr Blunkett: Not for those who
take the view that a wider look at consistency, a wider acceptance
of social policy, that there is such a thing as public policy
is valuable in a democracy. Those who see any kind of comment
on sentencing as an affront or as interference will take the view
that you have enunciated, but I appeal to them not to because
our constitution depends on the checks and balances that we have.
It depends on the independence of the judiciary but it also depends
on the effectiveness of democracy being seen to work, not least
in terms of the confidence of the electorate in the system as
a whole and sentencing is part of that.
Q82 Chairman: Could I just interject
on that point? If the Committee were to conclude over a period
of months or years that the Sentencing Guidelines Council was
consistently out of step in its conclusions with what we as parliamentarians,
a Select Committee, thought was right, what action would you then
take as Home Secretary?
Mr Blunkett: So long as I was
Home Secretary I would pick up the recommendations of the Home
Affairs Select Committee and I would ask Parliament to legislate
on those broader areas, the broad brush framework which you had
drawn attention to. Obviously we are doing that with issues around
sentencing for murder and through a variety of legislative vehicles
we deal with things like the sentencing for driving offences,
and I think that principle was established long ago. I think it
would be quite right for the Committee to draw attention to that
and it may well be that of course you might draw attention to
the fact that what we, the Executive, through Parliament had requested
so far was too draconianI doubt it but it could happenand
we would need to take account of that as well.
Q83 Janet Anderson: If I could move
swiftly on to causes of abuse in children's homes. In 2001-02,
this Committee conducted an inquiry into The Conduct of Investigations
into Past Cases of Abuse in Children's Homes. In its report,
the Committee concluded that it was likely that "a significant
number of miscarriages of justice [had] occurred". At the
time in its reply the Government said that it did not share the
Committee's belief in the existence of large numbers of miscarriages
of justice, seeing "no evidence to support these assumptions".
But on 19 June, during a debate on the Committee's report, the
Minister, Hazel Blears, said: "I am happy to say today that
further discussions should be held with the Association of Chief
Police Officers to determine whether we can strengthen safeguards
for such investigations to ensure absolutely that witnesses are
not led and that allegations are not encouraged inappropriately."
Could you tell us whether you have met with ACPO or whether any
progress has been made on that?
Mr Blunkett: The Minister has
been in contact with the Association of Chief Police Officers,
the appropriate senior member who leads on this area, and as of
last week she was awaiting their response and she will be chasing
that so that we can take a further look. I do want to underpin
that although a very large number of questions have been put down,
particularly by one of your colleagues who is not here this afternoon,
Claire Curtis-Thomas, we do not believe that there has been widespread
abuse but we do believe that it is always wise to take another
Q84 Janet Anderson: Home Secretary,
are there any plans to review the Committee's proposal for mandatory
audio or visual recording of police interviews with complainants
and other significant witnesses in these types of cases?
Mr Blunkett: Yes. In the written
communication from Hazel Blears from the statement she made on
19 June she specifically asked in that correspondence that ACPO
should come back with proposals in relation to videoing and, therefore,
appropriate recording of those interviews.
Q85 Janet Anderson: Thank you very
much. Finally, I wonder if you can confirm the recent reports
in the press which suggest that the Home Office is proposing to
make it a disciplinary matter for an officer to leak the name
of a rape suspect to the media? Would it perhaps not be more sensible
to introduce a limited statutory prohibition on the reporting
of suspects' identities before charge, which will of course regulate
the media as well as the police?
Mr Blunkett: That issue is being
debated in the Committee Stage of the Sexual Offences Bill at
the moment and obviously we have another chance to do so in the
report if people are not happy with the outcome of trying to find
a solution that is workable.
Chairman: We have two substantial topics
to try and get through in the next quarter of an hour. I turn
first to Mr Prosser on asylum and immigration.
Q86 Mr Prosser: Chairman, there are
a number of areas I would like to raise on asylum but given the
time and the fact that the Home Secretary is joining us again
in October I will condense them to one question, or a combined
question. Given that detention centres are an important part of
the removal process, how confident are you that these centres
are secure? Do you think there is sufficient clarity in regard
to the role and powers of the police in the event of escapes taking
Mr Blunkett: I shall ask Beverley
to comment in the spirit of not being in the least bit phased
by this. The question is an apposite one. If the evidence, not
just on an individual incident but more broadly, is that we are
not putting in place sufficient security and that there is a danger
of people breaking out then we need to do something rapidly about
it. Do you want to comment?
Beverley Hughes: What I will add
to that is that this is an issue that we are continually reviewing.
We are very aware, because of the monitoring that goes on in terms
of incidents generally in the detention estate, that as we are
more effective in tracking down people prior to removal and as
we become more effective in removing people, that people are making
more and more efforts both to create disturbances sometimes in
centres and to use that as a means of trying to escape. This is
a trend as we deal with more difficult people, people who do not
want to go but in the context of our removals being more effective
know that they are likely to be removed. There is this pressure
within the estate which we are continuing to monitor and as a
result of that monitoring we have improved the security at a number
of detention centres very recently because of these kinds of people
now trying to escape as they see that removal is inevitable.
Q87 Mr Prosser: Is there a clear
role for the police? Is it right that certain police forces are
saying that the actual escape from one of these detention centres
is not breaking the law in itself and have said that they do not
see themselves having a role in effecting recapture?
Mr Blunkett: Just to illustrate
that I had read the article that was referred to at the beginning
of this afternoon, I am aware, as I said then, that the police
had indicated that they did not believe that they had the power
or that it was their role. If someone is illegally in this country
and they are free but illegal in this country there is an obligation,
and the police work with us and with the Immigration Service,
to apprehend those people, as we have very effectively in picking
up illegal working over recent weeks. We will be examining, if
this statement has been made, precisely who believed they had
the power to make that statement and which particular legal system
they were working to.
Beverley Hughes: I just would
add to that that the police do work with us, with the arrest teams
that actually go out to apprehend people who we want to remove.
There is not any change in the status of those people at the point
of arrest and once they are in the detention centre, so I do find
that claim, if it really has been made, very odd because the police
are helping us to arrest people in the first place to put them
in detention centres.
Q88 Mr Prosser: Still on the question
of removals, we have heard quite a lot about new legislation which
will deal with people who purposely, intentionally destroy their
documentation on arrival in the country. Can you tell us a bit
more about that legislation and how effective will it be in preventing
some asylum seekers from stringing out their appeals and slowing
Mr Blunkett: Obviously we will
need to discuss with carriers and others the implications of this
because it is becoming an increasing problem where people disembark
and then destroy their documents, having used their documents
to get into the country in the first place. We believe there is
a need for a change. We will not be announcing that until there
is final agreement on the Queen's Speech. We believe that with
the co-operation of all those involved we can put in place requirements
which will not entirely eliminate, because in this area we cannot
entirely eliminate, but will substantially eliminate that abuse
by ensuring that including the use of proper manifests we know,
with the carriers, who is on the plane, what documents they used
to present themselves to get the ticket in the first place and
how we can prevent people getting off and then pretending that
they came from an entirely different country.
Q89 Mr Prosser: You mentioned illegal
workers in earlier answers. Over the course of the last 12 months
we have removed the right of asylum seekers to work after six
months and we have signalled a major crackdown on illegal working
generally. Can you tell us how you monitor and check the success
of these measures given that it is an underground illicit trade
in the first place? How will you monitor your successes in this
Beverley Hughes: There are two
things we are doing at the moment that we legislated for in the
Act, as the Committee will know. One was around enforcement to
give immigration officers new powers of entry. The second was
to help businesses comply better with their responsibilities to
check people's right to work. On the first, on enforcement, those
powers are switched on now and they have enabled immigration officers,
again together with the police, to mount a number of very big
upper tier operations which have apprehended large numbers of
illegal immigrants, people without the right to work, people who
are here illegally, including one very recently that apprehended
about 100 immigration offenders at a single factory in August,
a few weeks ago. It has enabled a number of very important upper
tier operations and, indeed, medium tier operations to go ahead.
We monitor that. I get reports on all of those and we are consistently
collating the information that we have got about how many people
we are apprehending and removing, because most of those people
will be removed immediately they are apprehended if they have
no right to be in the country. On the second issue, on business
compliance, we included an enabling power to help businesses identify
more clearly the documents that would give them a statutory defence
if they could show that they had checked a particular document
and then it was found somebody was working illegally. I have been
working with a group from business over the last nine months and
we have recently put out a consultation document to the whole
of the business and private sector with proposals as to how we
think we could help them have a more secure statutory defence
but limit the number of documents because at the moment it is
very difficult. People may be surprised to know that a National
Insurance card is not a certification of a right to work; many
people think it is. We have got to drill down on that. When we
get the results of that consultation we will see if we can bring
in the secondary legislation to restrict the number of documents
and, therefore, help businesses comply.
Mr Blunkett: I would not want
to irritate my good friend, David Winnick, in any way but I do
actually believe that identity cards will be a very substantial
David Winnick: We are coming to that
in a second.
Q90 Chairman: We are trying to make
sure that we do not squeeze that off the agenda. Could I just
follow that last point up. It was widely reported over the summer
that a fairly small Norfolk town had become the centre of a very
large influx of Chinese immigrants, I think, allegedly some of
illegal status, although I do not know if that was the case. What
sort of response does the newly focused Home Office make when
that sort of situation develops?
Beverley Hughes: In Norfolk actually
what was then precipitating was an acceleration of work that was
already going on by immigration officials together with the police,
because that had been identified before it actually hit the press.
That work was accelerated to investigate and deal with that situation
in addition to actually sitting down and talking with some of
the local stakeholders, the local authorities, the businesses,
to get a clear picture of what was happening on the ground. There
was already ongoing work, the response was accelerated in the
light of the local concern about that.
Q91 Chairman: Would you be able to
tell the Committee how many removals have taken place as a result
and how many prosecutions of employers are being undertaken as
a consequence of that enforcement action?
Beverley Hughes: Certainly I will
give the details on that enforcement action.
I have to say to the Committee that the issue of prosecutions
in this area is a problem in that despite our efforts to ratchet
up enforcement and bring in new powers and bring more people to
the point of prosecution, the number of convictions over recent
years for which we have got such statistics has gone down resulting
in the last year for which we have established statistics, 2001,
in 65 prosecutions and only one conviction. This is something
that the Attorney General is looking at to see if we can understand
the reasons why, when we get people to court, we do not secure
Chairman: If you will
provide the statistics for the King's Lynn situation perhaps when
you return in October we can go through that a bit more.
Q92 David Winnick: Do I take it that
my good friend, the Home Secretary, is now persuaded that identity
cards should come about?
Mr Blunkett: I am working through,
on behalf of the Cabinet, the detailed consideration for final
presentation of the pros and cons of the technical, financial
and administrative details of that. I am personally committed
to the idea but I have an obligation to ensure not only that it
would be workable and fundable but that it would address the issues
of major fraud, of organised crime and terrorism, of immigration
and illegal working and of abuse of services, for which it would
Q93 David Winnick: So you have to
make up your mind on all those issues, whether it is going to
be effective and on the grounds that you have been speaking about,
before it is likely that there will be proposed legislation in
the House of Commons?
Mr Blunkett: Yes. What I did today
was to give a progress report to Cabinet on the work that I have
been doingI do not think there is any secret about thatand
to ensure that I have the authority to get the necessary procedures
to check out those technical challenges through the Office of
Government Commerce and independent consultancies so that we do
not make any future announcement that is not rooted in the knowledge
about how something would be achieved through project management
and through the difficulties, given that governments of all persuasions
have not been terribly good at the development of information
technology and the cutting edge which is required to do the job.
I have to stress that I am doing this in the light of changes
that are taking place with passports and with driving licences
anyway because, as in Europe and America, the use of biometrics,
the determination to cut down on misuse of identity and abuse
and forgery of identity, is requiring us to take those actions
in any case. The logic of what we need to do over a very long
period of time is to be able to integrate the potential for an
ID card with the process that those two major operations are already
Q94 David Winnick: You have been
very frank. In your progress report to your Cabinet colleagues,
did you give an indication of when it is likely that you will
be in a position to make a firm recommendation?
Mr Blunkett: I was asked by the
Prime Minister and the Cabinet to ensure that later this year
we could have a picture because we have got to make a decision
Q95 David Winnick: Later this year?
Mr Blunkett: Yes. We have got
to make a decision as to whether we would have either the inclination
or the space available to bring forward empowering paving legislation
in the coming session of Parliament. If we are not going to do
that then we need to make a decision at that stage to defer.
Q96 David Winnick: Asking a Cabinet
member to say that his Cabinet colleagues are not very keen on
Mr Blunkett: I would not dream
of saying that.
Q97 David Winnick: No. We do get
the impression, Home Secretary, that a good number of your Cabinet
colleagues, not just the Chancellor, are not, shall we say, over-enthusiastic
about what you have in mind. You will make no comment on that.
Mr Blunkett: I noted this morning
at Cabinet that several members who are great enthusiasts were
named in Sunday papers as being against.
Q98 David Winnick: The four?
Mr Blunkett: The four who were
named as being against and several who had expressed perfectly
reasonable scepticism were named as being incredibly in favour.
I would take this with a considerable pinch of salt and rely on
me to persuade them that it will be all right in the end.
Q99 David Winnick: It certainly gives
a picture of a divided Cabinet on this issue. Can I ask, if there
is to be such a card, will people have to pay? The consensus in
the press, and the press could well be wrong, is that it will
Mr Blunkett: Let me just say two
things. Firstly, in securing biometric non-forgeable definable
identity for driving licences and passports there will be a substantial
cost which would be a substantial part of any ID cost. On your
absolutely clear question, someone would have to pay and, as with
payment for driving licences, which is the first licence now £41,
and for passports from October £42, it would either have
to be the public purse through taxation or over a ten year period
by a contribution from the individual.
David Winnick: That is pretty obvious.
Chairman: Mr Clappison wants to ask a
Q100 Mr Clappison: Very directly
on that, Home Secretary, as you may be aware, Parliament was lobbied
by the pensioners yesterday. I was lobbied by a large group of
pensioners from Boreham Wood and their unanimous view to me, which
I put to you, was if there is to be an identity card they do not
want to pay £40 for it and that it would be quite a lot for
Mr Blunkett: I have every sympathy
with pensioners who are not on substantial occupational pensions
and I have every sympathy with those moving towards very old age
who in my view, if we were to move in this direction, should have
a card for life.
Chairman: As you know, Home Secretary,
our first substantive inquiry this year will be on the entitlement
David Winnick: Or identity cards.
Chairman: Whatever Mr Winnick or I wish
to call them.
David Winnick: The Home Secretary called
them identity cards.
Chairman: closely followed by
an inquiry into prisons and rehabilitation, so we will be able
to return to these matters very shortly. Home Secretary, Minister,
may I thank you very much indeed.
3 See Ev 19-20. Back