Examination of Witnesses (Questions 20-39)|
BYRNE MP AND
27 NOVEMBER 2007
Q20 Gwyn Prosser: During this period
when we are playing catch up with all these checks is there a
Mr Byrne: I am not qualified to
answer questions about counter-terrorism and the wider security
threat. Very often the security agencies will ask Border and Immigration
Agency officials to do things without telling them why they are
being asked to do them. That is just the nature of the business
we are in, but we are now in a much better position than before
to manage that threat. Once upon a time in this country you did
not need a licence to be a security guard; there was no right-to-work
check undertaken at that stage and it was very hard to make such
a check. Now it is different. Once upon a time you did not have
things like biometric visas and passenger screening systems. All
those changes are new and strengthen the hand of our counter-terrorism
Q21 Gwyn Prosser: Can you tell me
how many prosecutions there have been against employers who have
failed in their duty to do right-to-work checks?
Mr Byrne: I have not brought that
information with me, but it is something that I have placed before
the House and I shall be happy to write to the Committee. I should
enter the caveat that I believe it is too low.
Q22 Gwyn Prosser: Is it in single
figures, dozens or how many?
Mr Byrne: It is dozens, but it
was because the 1996 legislation, which we inherited, made it
quite difficult to prove the case that we changed the law. That
is why we are introducing a civil penalty regime in the new year.
Q23 Mr Clappison: You have told us
about the action which the Home Secretary took in July, but you
knew about this in April. Can you tell us exactly what it was
you knew about this in April of this year?
Mr Byrne: I knew in April that
a Border and Immigration Agency operation had detected a problem
with one of the MPS contractors.
Q24 Mr Clappison: What was the problem?
Mr Byrne: That they were employing
a certain number of illegal immigrants. That was then the trigger
for a different kind of check which was introduced in June. I
want to be quite clear about what was known when. The Committee
is right to press me on that.
Q25 Mr Clappison: You did not tell
the Home Secretary about this in April?
Mr Byrne: In April there was a
trigger for a different kind of check. In June the different checks
were introduced. That resulted in a higher refusal rate which
in turn prompted the Home Secretary's decision to introduce a
100 per cent check.
Q26 Mr Clappison: Did you tell the
Home Secretary about it in April?
Mr Byrne: I do not think the Home
Secretary was told in April about the results of this single BIA
Q27 Chairman: Mr Clappison makes
a very important point. Can you let us have a chronology of exactly
who knew what and when in time for our meeting with the permanent
secretary next week?
Mr Byrne: Yes.
Q28 Chairman: We are not holding
a very big inquiry into this but we want to have answers. We would
like a chronology starting from when you discovered this in April.
Who knew it and what has happened right up to the present?
Mr Byrne: We can provide that
Chairman: I should like to move on to
migration statistics and the impact on public services.
Q29 Ms Buck: Minister, I am sure
you will realise that this is very dear to my heart. My confidence
in these figures collapsed on census day 2001 and disintegrated
for ever when the then chief executive of the ONS said that the
one million person under-count in that census probably resulted
in one million young people going to Ibiza. I am sure you will
agree that two particular questions arise: first, the accuracy
of the migration statistics in the country as a whole, which is
closely tied to the issue of those who arrive and those who leave
the country; and, second, the distribution of migration within
the country which is of great importance to those concerned with
public services and community cohesion. To start with the statistics
for migration into the country, why has it taken so long for government
as a whole, including the Home Office, to respond to those very
grave concerns about the accuracy of the statistics which were
first reflected back in 2001?
Mr Byrne: First, I share your
concern about statistics. We have similar constituencies. I come
across many of the issues in inner city Birmingham that you observe
in your constituency. My views about the quality of ONS data are
already matters of public record. It is something that I am pursuing
with the national statistician in the next week or two. I do not
believe that this problem has been ignored. The interdepartmental
task force on migration statistics was set up in May 2006 and
reported in December of that year, and 2007 saw improved population
estimates which sought to put in place more accurate national
and sub-national breakdowns of statistics. There were improvements
to data sampling at ports and the way that the international passenger
survey was conducted was changed, but my basic position is that
we will not really make a step change until we do two things which
have required about 12 months' preparation. First, obviously we
have to start counting people in and out of the country. That
is difficult. There are 250 million passenger movements in and
out of Britain. That is a big job and paper-based systems will
not work. We have just finished a procurement process, which took
approximately 12 months, for electronic passenger screening systems
which not only screen passengers against our watch list but also
allow us to count people in and out. That was the contract for
which we announced the award last week. The second and possibly
slightly more controversial point is that getting a sense of where
foreign nationals are living will be substantially improved through
the issue of compulsory ID cards to foreign nationals. That will
involve our collecting not just names but also addresses of where
foreign nationals are located. We could not start to introduce
that until we had in place the UK Borders Act which has just received
Royal Assent. It took about a year to go through the House. That
means we can start to introduce those cards next year. This must
be a two-fold process: one is to count people in and out of the
country; the other is to understand whereabouts people are. The
interdepartmental task force is good and is already making all
sorts of important changes and there is a programme of changes
in place over the next year or two. The national statistician
will be able to explain that in greater detail. If you were to
ask me what I believed to be the key to getting this problem sorted
out I would say it was counting people in and out and introducing
ID cards to get a better understanding of precisely where in the
country people were living.
Q30 Ms Buck: As a short-term solution,
can you explain a little more what improvements are being made
to the international passenger survey? You will be aware that
the Local Government Association, including my own local authority,
has been extremely sceptical of the latest population countI
agree with them in that respectwhich is entirely counter-intuitive
as to what is happening in terms of location and population. Can
you talk about the accuracy and measurement of information not
just at airports and ports but also coach terminals and the arrival
of people by all sorts of different routes?
Mr Byrne: The changes to the international
passenger survey introduced in 2007 in addition to the breakdown
of statistics were basically two fold. The first was a massive
increase in the sample size. The sample size for IPS was traditionally
about 800 and was increased to about 3,000. The second change
introduced was to look at the best times of day because obviously
that can have quite a big impact on the kinds of travellers being
picked up. I think the more important changes will occur next
year. Probably the most important change is where the passenger
survey is conducted. If you go to new airports like Bristol or
Leeds/Bradford they have seen a very rapid growth in the number
of passengers passing through them. The international passenger
survey must be slightly more up to date in the way in which people
are counted in and out of the country. Therefore, changing the
port samples is important. In addition, next year we will be activating
the e-borders system which already covers about 30 million passenger
movements. When the new contract is in place next year it will
give us a little more information. I also understand that the
ONS is using a continuous household survey. But I think that the
IPS is about making sure the right ports are sampled and that
the sample size is increased and that is an essential pre-condition
of strengthening the statistical integrity of it which many of
us have questioned.
Q31 Ms Buck: Do you now have complete
confidence in the statistics that the ONS is giving you?
Mr Byrne: I have more confidence
than I had before, but I still think they have some way to go.
Q32 Ms Buck: Do you agree with Richard
Alldritt, chief executive of the Statistics Commission, that today
approximately £100 billion worth of public money is distributed
on the basis of population statistics that may not be accurate?
Mr Byrne: I would agree with the
first but not necessarily the second part of the sentence. The
figure of £100 billion sounds about right if you take the
£25 to £30 billion that goes to local government and
the £11 billion, which it is soon to be, that goes to the
police. From memory, the funding formula for primary care trusts
involves population statistics, so those statistics are important
in all those formulas and therefore migration statistics are important,
because migration is now the principal driver of population statistics.
We have to be slightly careful not to forget the change in resources
we have seen. If you think about the 1 per cent real terms increase
each year in the local government settlement, that is worth nearly
£1 billion in the first year. If you look at the £50
million that Hazel Blears announced on 6 October for community
cohesion, some of that can be spent to address migration issues.
If you look at the ethnic minority achievement grant, that is
projected to increase by about £25 million over the next
three years. Some of the costs of migration are picked up by the
Home Office. If you look at the amount of money we spend on unaccompanied
asylum-seeking children, asylum-seekers and failed asylum-seekers
to keep them from destitution many of those costs are picked up
directly by the Home Office chequebook. It is an important debate,
but we need to be careful about saying there is a simple relationship
between population change and public service costs. It was the
Audit Commission which said in January there was not a direct
relationship. Obviously, if there are people from Eastern Europe
who are young, healthy and in work their impact on public services
will be minimal; if one has a trauma victim with a family who
has been given asylum obviously the cost is higher. There is not
a linear relationship. I think the Audit Commission went on to
say that some authorities had done a better job than others at
changing their services flexibly.
Q33 Ms Buck: That is right. Some
local authorities would say, however, with some justification
that although there are resources following those groups you have
outlined in many cases they do not meet full cost, particularly
in relation to the second category. That is perhaps more a question
for DCLG than you. You have made a case for e-borders through
ID cards. Do you think it is acceptable for public services to
have to wait until the full implementation of an electronic and
biometric ID card system before they can have confidence that
resources will follow migration movements?
Mr Byrne: There are two points
here. First, the programme of work that ONS has in place will
produce better population estimates, and the results of the interdepartmental
task force that concluded in December of last year entail a programme
of work over the next three or four years that will cost of the
order of £30 to £40 million. Currently, the Home Office
is negotiating its contribution to that money. Those statistics
will get better and better each year and that is important. The
second point is that you have balance giving public service leaders
the confidence in what their budgets will be for two or three
years. We happen to be a government that is putting extra resources
into frontline services; budgets are going up. I think you risk
chopping and changing budgets if you wire the funding formula
and settlement too closely to day-by-day movements in population
numbers. I think there is a balance here to be struck.
Q34 Martin Salter: I too have a series
of questions on the impact of funding public services, particularly
the police. Before I come to that, has the Treasury made any estimate
of the increase in tax revenues generated by an increase in the
workforce as a result of recent migration?
Mr Byrne: We tried to summarise
some of this in a report we prepared for the House of Lords a
month or two ago. There were two headline conclusions. The first
is that we think migration added about £6 billion to national
output in 2006, which is quite a big number. We also summarised
IPPR data from 2003 to 2004 which estimated that migrants contributed
about 10 per cent of government revenue and consumed 9.1 per cent
of government expenditure. On balance, the evidence we have suggests
that for both the economy and the Exchequer migration is good.
Q35 Martin Salter: I want to look
at the impact on policing. I note the work of the Migrants Impact
Forum which talks in terms of the impact on policing. There has
been an increase in low-level crime such as uninsured vehicles,
driving without the wearing of seatbelts and antisocial behaviour.
From my experience in Reading, my constituency has experienced
significant migration particularly from Eastern Europe. Sadly,
we have seen an increase in vagrancywhich is a great shame
because people come half-way across Europe and end up living on
the streetsstreet drinking and breaking into boats on the
Thames in order to find somewhere to live. I have seen an increase
in drug dealing, prostitution and chronic overcrowding and hot-bedding
in densely-packed terraced housing areas in total breach of environmental
and health legislation. That is a worry for the local authority,
and it also has some impact on policing and local services. On
the other side of the equation, I note that migrants are more
likely to be victims rather than perpetrators of crime, particularly
hate crimes. There is also the really worrying problem of women
being trafficked across Europe and elsewhere by gangs that now
have easier access across our borders to promote that trade. It
seems to me that whether they are victims or perpetrators of crime
increased migrant numbers has an impact on policing. What is the
Home Office doing about the impact of migration to inform the
police funding formula in the first instance?
Mr Byrne: Tony McNulty is the
minister who will make a full statement on this when the police
settlement figures are presented to the House a little later this
year. At this stage there are three points I make. The first is
that it is very hard to prove statistically the relationship between
migration and crime, in part because we do not collect national
crime figures based on the nationality of the individual. Part
of the reason we made sure the police were involved in the Migration
Impact Forum was to ensure that even if there was not a proper
statistical base to it we could at least get feedback from ACPO
and others. The evidence presented to the Migration Impact Forum
when we looked at the decision on Bulgaria and Romania was that
migrants were very often the victims of crime because they were
vulnerable to exploitation by gang masters and to exploitation
by unscrupulous landlords and there was a combination of the two
effects, the provision of housing being used as a tool to keep
wages low. It is difficult to prove. The second point is that
overall police funding has grown dramatically.
Q36 Martin Salter: That is not my
point. The question is how we allocate increased funding.
Mr Byrne: My third point was going
to be that the funding formula used to allocate money to the police
will draw on 2004 sub-national population projections for 2008,
2009 and 2010 simply because that is the best available data.
I think we should remember that the formula used to drive police
funding does not draw just on population statistics; it also draws
on the socio-economic condition of different areas and also differences
in crime rates. Population estimates are important and they will
be affected by migration estimates, but there are huge other factors
in the formula as well, not least the crime rate in different
Q37 Martin Salter: The other day
I had the privilege of going out on patrol with community support
officers. Reading is very lucky to have a couple of Polish police
community support officers who make a fantastic contribution.
Surely, in communities like mine and elsewhere where there is
a large influx of Eastern European migrants it makes an awful
lot of sense to have a recruiting policy aimed at getting more
police officers from those communities. It is a little difficult
to police an alcohol-free zone if you cannot talk to people in
a language they understand.
Mr Byrne: You are right. One of
the points made by the Audit Commission in its January report
is that different parts of the country are thinking about the
way they provide services to communities that are changing in
quite flexible ways. It should be for frontline professionals
in different parts of the country to work out how best to do that.
Some areas are doing a very good job. One of the things that has
changed in the past couple of years is that migrants come to areas
where there is not a long track record of welcoming newcomers.
That means that public service professionals in those areas face
questions that they have not had to deal with before. In places
like Birmingham, Manchester, Leicester and your constituency people
are thinking pretty innovatively about how to change and flex
services to take account of changing population needs. I often
say that migrants move faster than ministers, but very often frontline
professionals are able to keep services up to date far faster
than we can design it in Whitehall and Westminster.
Q38 Mr Clappison: We shall be discussing
the economic impacts of migration and the House of Lords report
shortly, but I should like to ask about the points-based system
and the effects it will have. Since 1997 we have seen a very substantial
increase in both inward migration and net migration and that has
been due in no small measure to the very substantial increase
in the number of work permits issued in contrast with what happened
before 1997. Do you expect more or fewer work permits to be issued
under the points-based system?
Mr Byrne: The simple answer is
that we have not yet made that decision, partly because I said
that we needed to make two changes to the way we made immigration
policy: we need to make it in a much more open way, which means
that we need to take evidence on not only the benefits but also
the wider impacts. We set up the Migration Advisory Committee
to advise on that matter and we set up the Migration Impact Forum
to advise us on the wider impact. But the second point is that
we will not introduce the points system in a big bang. It is the
biggest change to our immigration system since the 1971 Act. It
is possible that the changes are even more historically important
than that. The points system will be phased in beginning in the
first quarter of next year. What I want to do is publish the evidence
from the Migration Advisory Committee and Migration Impact Forum
at the time we publish statements of intent about how that particular
tier of the points system will work.
Q39 Mr Clappison: Do you have any
estimate, research or figure to show the change that the points-based
system will make?
Mr Byrne: In the political market
in which we both work there are two proposals on the table. One
is to introduce a points system and one is to cap economic migrants
from outside the EEA. When I asked ONS to look at the impacts
of these different approaches I was told that a cap on non-EEA
migrants coming to the UK for economic reasons would cover about
one in five newcomers to Britain. If you look at the points system,
because it embraces students who are about 25 per cent of the
inflow into Britain last year and dependents, that will cover
about six out of 10 people coming here. Therefore, the points
system is far wider in scope than a simple cap just on economic
migrants from outside the EU and potentially it is very powerful.