Select Committee on Home Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 60-79)


12 DECEMBER 2006

  Q60  Mr Benyon: How many of those were referred to the police for possible—

  John Reid: Any one where there were allegations or any prima facie case of illegality would be referred to the police, and the police are a completely independent body from IND and will follow up their enquiries, as they do in every single case, and I think they would resent it if anybody suggested that they did not because it was the Immigration Authority and happened to come under the Home Office. There are hundreds of people who are sacked every year from the Home Office.

  Q61  Bob Russell: Including the Home Secretary!

  John Reid: Not on an annual basis, but with regularity, Mr Russell, indeed. Thank you for that vote of confidence. But, if there are allegations of illegality, of course we pass them on to the police. We would not do otherwise. Can I guarantee, any more than any other human organisation can guarantee, that there are not malfeasants which go undiscovered? No, and it is probably the same in Parliament, or the media, or anywhere else, but we certainly take robust action. It is in our interest to do that.

  Q62  Mr Benyon: We are told there is a new mood of transparency. But only through a trawl of endless Parliamentary Questions, did I find the victim of the case in The Observer was not actually informed that Mr Dawute had been sacked; I had to tell her.

  John Reid: Had been?

  Q63  Mr Benyon: Had been dismissed. There does not seem to be a particularly transparent process for investigating these things and keeping all the people who are interested informed.

  John Reid: I was not aware of that. I do not know the specific circumstances of the case. Notwithstanding the fact that there are obviously proprieties to be observed on any case, I would have thought that the alleged victim in this case ought to have been kept informed of developments, but for all I know there are proprieties. I do not know, and I will look at that and, if any offence is caused, of course, I am very sorry.

  Q64  Mr Benyon: The Immigration and Nationality Directorate has obviously gone through a lot of changes, and most of them, I am sure, we all support, but can you inform the Committee that it will not be blown off course by any other events that could occur in a similar way to, for example, the foreign prisoners problem that we experienced last year? We need to see that firm leadership is in place.

  John Reid: Yes. I said, I think, the last time to the Committee, I can promise that I will do my best to get leadership, but I cannot promise to be the Wizard of Oz. I am not coming here today saying that everything is perfect. I am saying that progress is being made, and let us remember that on asylum, which is one of the great issues of illegal immigration, we are now at the lowest level for 14 years. That has not happened, as I said, by accident. Decisions are now taken in under two months compared to 22 months in 1997, removals for the third quarter of this year are 89% up compared to removals in 1997 and in the first three quarters of 2006 are 19% up on last year. So there is a lot of good work being down by Lin Homer and her staff as well. We come from a position where the world changed so rapidly. As I said the last time I was here, I thought we were not up to meeting that challenge without a step-change, a transformation in IND. We published a document here.

  Q65  Chairman: Home Secretary, you are intimately setting this out possibly at more length than the Committee can take at the moment. I think we should move on to the next question.

  John Reid: We do not have a surfeit of good news.

  Chairman: The Committee is trying to recover from the news that you are not going to be the Wizard of Oz, but, as we do not wish to be a bunch of Munchkins, we will move on quickly to Mr Clappison.

  Q66  Mr Clappison: Can I just ask you a brief question about the removals process. One of the things that struck us in our inquiry into immigration control was that there was not a strong enough link between individuals who were given the news that they were not able to stay in the country and the process of actually removing them from the country. There was not a smooth enough process between people being told they could not stay here and then actually being removed. Are you satisfied that has been improved?

  John Reid: Would you mind if I passed on that? That seems to me to be clearly an operational question. We are trying to develop a relationship, a so-called contract, which places the burden of responsibility where it ought to be. I know that much of this is a grey area, but that would seem to me to be an operational equation where I would take the advice from the Director General, if I might.

  Ms Homer: Mr Clappison, I think one of the things we talked with you about before was our movement to what we call the new asylum model, essentially an approach which has a case owner and which looks to have some end to end responsibility for a case as it goes through the system. We were due to roll that out during the year, with it becoming operational in the new financial year next year, and we are on target to deliver that, but we have already been introducing that concept as we have gone forward, not just in asylum but throughout our business, and I think that is one of the ways we ensure that there is continuity, there is a focus on the outcome that we are looking for rather than the series of decisions on the way (and I think it is one of the major ways) in which we will continue to get an improvement.

  Q67  Mr Clappison: Can I ask you about people who are given permission to stay in the country, the legal immigration in the system, which is something within your responsibility. You will know that concern has been expressed in many quarters about the level of net migration being experienced by the country today. Are you happy with that level of net migration?

  John Reid: I think in the last few years the level of migration has been commensurate with the demands of the economy, and we have been able to absorb that migration. I think that most commentators would say that the work that was commissioned by the Home Office got the projections pretty wildly wrong, but, as it happened, the contribution that was made on the cost-benefit analysis appears to have been very beneficial to the country. However, you may say that is arguable, time may tell. What I am saying is that it seemed to me that, in the light of that experience, we ought to take an approach to Bulgaria and Romania, for instance, in a more managed fashion, and that is why I announced that we would attempt to limit the number of low-skilled workers from those countries. Simultaneously, we are introducing a points-based system, which means that we try to make sure that those who come to this country turn to the labour market, are needed here and bring badly needed skills. Simultaneously, I personally would like to see an independent Migration Advisory Committee, a committee independent of government, which indicates to government publicly advice on the most beneficial level of immigration, taking into account the needs of the labour market but wider issues. All three of those, I think, are a response to your question: should it be managed? As to the optimum level, that will change from time to time, but one of things I want to bring in is a body that would give us advice on that.

  Q68  Mr Clappison: I will come to that in a moment. You have mentioned the optimum level. Your projection into the future—I hope you are aware of it—is 145,000 people coming to the country net, adding to the population every year for years to come. Are you telling the Committee you are happy with that and with the consequences which will flow from it?

  John Reid: The level that actually will be required in any given year will depend on a huge number of factors, not least the birth rate, the death rate, the emigration level from this country, which is now not people leaving because they are in impoverished circumstances seeking a better life, as was the case some time ago, but people who are reasonably affluent and want to spend their last years of retirement abroad. It will depend on the growth of the economy, the specialism and skills, and so on. There is a huge number of factors. The idea that you just pick a number and say: are you a happy bunny or are you discontent with this arbitrary number—

  Q69  Mr Clappison: Home Secretary, I am sorry for interrupting you but time is moving on. These are your government projections.

  John Reid: I understand that.

  Q70  Mr Clappison: It is within the capability of government to change that figure and to control immigration through the issue of work permits, which is something the Government did when it significantly increased work permits as soon as it came into power. I am not talking here about the Eastern European accession, I am talking about the net figure for work permits, which was more than doubled very shortly after the Government came to power, which more than doubled the rate of net migration. You can control that, so are you happy with the consequences which you see?

  John Reid: The consequence of what we have done over the past 10 years of which you are so critical, Mr Clappison, is that we have had the biggest period of sustained growth in our economy for 200 years, we have two and a half million people more in jobs, we no longer have 25% male unemployment as we had in my area under the last government, but around 5%, we are spending three times much in on our public services, we have reduced the national debt and altogether we have had a growth in living standards. Immigration has contributed towards that, and so to pluck a number and say the last 10 years has had high immigration, therefore it has had awful consequences belies the historical facts. What I am saying for the future is I think we would benefit from independent advice on this matter. I think we would benefit from managed immigration more fairly and more effectively than we have done in the past, tackling illegal immigration, getting unfounded asylum seekers out of the country, making sure that those who come to the country bring qualifications which are those which are needed and making sure that the net cost to our society, not only in the labour market but elsewhere, is of benefit to us—that the benefits are greater than the cost.

  Q71  Mr Clappison: Can I ask you about your Immigration Advisory Committee, because what it conspicuously does not do is set any sort of limit or give advice on the sorts of issues which you refer to. In your consultation you have not asked this. You have not asked them give to give advice about housing, which the Government does not seem to be taking into account; you have not asked them to take into account environmental consequences, infrastructure, cultural cohesion. There is no mention of a limit being set by the committee. It is giving you advice about the fine tuning of the points system. In your opinion, are you happy—can I come back to the original question—with this level of migration which your government foresees continuing into the future?

  John Reid: I am sorry, but the whole premise to your question is wrong. The consultation is precisely about what it should consider other than pure labour market statistics. That is precisely what we are asking. If you feel, and you obviously do, that it should be considering wider aspects, then it is open to you or the committee to make representations on that point. If you do, you are pushing at an open door as far as I am concerned, because I think it should not just look at the narrow labour market, otherwise we would have stayed with the Skills Advisory Council (we could have done that), but what we said is, no, let us look a little wider than that and have a Migration Advisory Committee which can give advice to the Government and do it in public, and I would have thought that would have met some of the objections you appear to have about sailing blind in the past.

  Chairman: Mr Clappison, we must move on to another topic before we close. Can we turn now to policing and related issues. Mr Browne.

  Q72  Mr Browne: Home Secretary, I would like to ask you two questions about police force mergers. Earlier this year members of Parliament were told that there was a strategic imperative to change the 43 force structure in England and Wales, that it was inadequate for modern policing requirements. That was then shelved when you were the Home Secretary, and, in the speech you gave announcing this decision, you said, "I fully recognise the powerful arguments behind the strategic force approach and I have said already that the status quo is not acceptable." So, although it was shelved, you appear to imply there that there was not going to be a 43 force model but they may not go as low as 17. I am curious to know what you have in mind, particularly given today's headlines in the newspapers which appear to suggest that the terrible murders in and around Ipswich are potentially problematic for a force as small as Suffolk. So, if we are not going to have 43 forces, how many are we likely to have?

  John Reid: I think this is based on a misapprehension. What I shelved was not either the views of the inspector of the constabulary or the benefits of bringing forces together. What I shelved was the process of getting to that destination by pushing it through Parliament against an opposition in Parliament that may well have defeated it, without the necessary fiscal arrangements from the Treasury to raise the precepts, without the money to do it, against the opposition of a great number of the forces themselves and with the likelihood, on the timescale or revision, of judicial review finding me legally at fault. So, when I looked at this, there were a number of reasons which suggested to me that the process on which we had embarked was not, in my judgment, a process that would ultimately beneficially lead us towards the destination to which we wanted to get. The destination to which we wanted to get, which is collaboration between forces, whether that is partnership, merger or whatever, we are attempting to get to through discussion and dialogue. Tony McNulty has been engaged in discussing with a lot of the forces throughout the country. We will continue to do that. If it takes a little longer than already envisaged, my judgment was that the problems we were going to run into under the other process of trying to do it would have caused us to take an awfully long time as well. So that is basically where we want to go.

  Q73  Mr Browne: Home Secretary, with respect, I think you are blurring the distinction between collaboration and mergers. I know very few people who object to police forces collaborating with each other, but I know lots of people in the part of the country I represent, for example, who do not want to see a south-west strategic force that goes from Swindon to the Scilly Isles and thinks that is too big for the scale of policing that they envisage. I am interested if you could clarify that distinction between collaboration and mergers?

  John Reid: I am not blurring it.

  Q74 Mr Browne: What individual forces are we are looking at then?

  John Reid: I am not blurring the distinction between partnership, or merger, or collaboration. Some people want partnership; some people want to collaborate. As it happened at least two forces wanted to merge; so that is available. What I am saying is it was not the destination of collaborative approach to fill that gap in our police services that we are opposed to, it was the process of getting there that was not likely to lead us to the destination we wanted. What we are trying to do now is to persuade people to fill that gap, which is particularly evidenced in small forces, by some means other than enforced merger. It could be mergers for those who wished to merge, it could be collaboration for those who do not wish to—as you pointed out some do not—it could be some form of joint partnership in certain areas, and it could be different aspects of that for different subjects, for instance counter terrorism or organised crime, and that is a process that is underway at the moment in discussion with ACPO and the individual forces. That is all I am saying.

  Q75  Mr Browne: At the moment we have 43 forces in England and Wales with their own chief constables and their own distinctive badges and everything else. At the end of this process, how many do you envisage that being?

  John Reid: That is what the discussions are about.

  Q76  Mr Browne: You have no view on what that number ought to be?

  John Reid: The important thing at the end of this is not how many people have egg on their shoulder or checks on their cap, it is how many forces have the capacity to deal with a range of major crimes without dragging people out of neighbourhood policing, and everything I do is centred around preserving neighbourhood policing and then making sure that the other aspects are filled as well.

  Mr Browne: A very tiny supplementary to this, which is that forces, including my own, have some concerns about the amount of compensation that they have received from the Home Office for the money they spent on investigating and exploring merger options. It is very unfortunate that this has coincided with an announcement about reductions in envisaged additional police community support officers. This obviously does not apply to the area you represent, but do you understand the concern there is in areas like mine, when people see potential squeezes in police budgets, that compensation for money spent on mergers has not been adequately given?

  Q77  Chairman: Can you restrict your answer to the compensation issue, because we want to come to CSOs in just a moment?

  John Reid: I hope, in areas like yours, they have recognised there is a record number of police probably moving out to neighbourhood policing, and in compensation I hope they recognise that I think there was a total of six and a half million pounds asked for. It is rarely that any of us get everything that we ask for. Four million pounds was paid out, which in more than half of the cases was everything that was asked for. In some cases we paid for everything except what was budgeted for as "opportunity costs". We did not feel that that was a legitimate claim, but we paid out considerable amounts of money. The final thing I would say, paying out four million out of six and a half million pounds, I think, was reasonable. Not all of the work that was done was wasted. In some areas, for instance, the teams that were set up and the work that has been done is being continued, so I think we have made a reasonable compensation for what was spent.

  Q78  Chairman: Are there explicit standards for the capacity to deal with level two crime that you want forces to achieve by collaboration? This whole thing was kicked off by concern about level two crime. There do not seem to be any set standards that you expect police forces to achieve?

  John Reid: I think there are judgments that are made by HMIC, and those judgments identified that there was a deficit in some of these areas which would be filled by mergers. I think the previous Home Secretary took the view (and history may prove him right) that these mergers would never take place unless they were imposed from the top. I took the view, because different people make different judgments—

  Q79  Chairman: Are there clear standards that must be met? We understand the process, but are you now clear that collaboration will be required to achieve a defined level of standards for dealing with level two crime? That is what kicked off this whole debate.

  John Reid: Yes, they did, and the optimum level of response to that crime would only be achieved by people collaborating together—I think that is the case—but it need not be a template that is imposed on every area in the same format. Indeed, it may be that we have to disintegrate some of the services, like counter terrorism, and have different forms of collaboration for different areas, Chairman.

  Chairman: If you could give us a couple more minutes, Mr Prosser has some questions on CSOs.

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