Examination of Witnesses (Questions 40-59)|
BYRNE MP AND
27 NOVEMBER 2007
Q40 Mr Clappison: You are telling
me about the scope, but do you have a figure for the change that
will be made in the number of work permits issued or the number
of people coming here?
Mr Byrne: No. If I gave you a
figure now it would completely destroy the rationale for setting
up the Migration Impact Forum and the Migration Advisory Committee
and the whole principle of taking open, independent and transparent
advice about the future needs of the country from people who serve
this country and run businesses here.
Q41 Mr Clappison: Are you telling
me that no figure has been put on the effects that a points-based
system will have or any part of it?
Mr Byrne: I do not think it is
right for an immigration minister to sit in an office in Whitehall
and pluck a figure out of the air. I think we need to take a considered
view about the right immigration that is in Britain's national
interest and consider evidence from public services and the business
community and publish it to justify the decisions we take at each
stage of introducing the points system.
Q42 Mr Clappison: Just to pluck a
figure out of the air, at the time of the Queen's Speech and earlier
in September there were a number of newspaper reports on the new
system. The Evening Standard said: "Crucially, Whitehall
officials have revealed that the new system will effectively cut
the number of foreign migrant workers by 35,000 a year."
The same report appeared in a number of different newspapers.
Where does that come from?
Mr Byrne: It did not come from
Q43 Mr Clappison: Do you recognise
Mr Byrne: What I have said is
that as we introduce the points system we will take independent
evidence on what the right number of points a migrant needs in
order to come to Britain.
Q44 Mr Clappison: You have already
said that. Do you recognise the figure of 35,000?
Mr Byrne: I have heard that figure;
I also saw it in the newspapers, but my point is that we are not
leaping to judgments a year or two in advance about what the right
migration figure for Britain is. That is not just the position
I have taken; it is the position also taken by Damian Green.
Q45 Mr Clappison: I want to ask about
the figure of 35,000 because it appeared in a number of newspapers
and was attributed to Whitehall officials. Where does this figure
come from? Do you say they have briefed journalists on their own
account without you knowing anything about it, or have they got
it all wrong?
Mr Byrne: Far be it from me to
speculate on where the media get their stories.
Q46 Mr Clappison: The figure of 35,000
is therefore misleading because no decision has been taken?
Mr Byrne: I think that the right
approach for us at each stage of the introduction of the points
system is to take independent advice on what the right figure
is and for government to justify it. It may well be that when
we introduce tier 2 of the points system for skilled workers that
is the decision we take. If so, we will publish the evidence on
which we take that decision.
Q47 Mr Clappison: What about the
figure of 35,000? Were you not unhappy when you saw this story
in the newspapers? This headline story appeared in the Guardian
and Daily Telegraph.
Mr Byrne: You can ask this question
in any way you like.
Q48 Mr Clappison: You do not know
anything about 35,000?
Mr Byrne: You can ask the question
in any way you like.
Mr Browne: The officials are carrying
out a briefing behind your back.
Mr Clappison: Did you say anything to
Chairman: We should have one question
at a time.
Q49 Mr Clappison: Do you want to
see a change in net migration and the number of work permits issued,
which is one of the main drivers of it?
Mr Byrne: If you do not mind,
I will look at the evidence first before making that judgment.
Q50 Mr Browne: You are in a vulnerable,
exposed position. Do you share my concern that there are officials
paid for out of his and my taxes who seek to undermine him by
briefing behind his back before this process has been completed?
Mr Byrne: I am fairly relaxed
Q51 Mrs Dean: Can you explain why
the Complaints Audit Committee found that investigations into
misconduct complaints in immigration centres remained poor in
2006-07 with 89 per cent of investigations judged too be neither
balanced nor thorough? What will the BIA do about it?
Mr Byrne: I shall ask Lin Homer
to talk about some of the details of our response, in particular
the new process that will be in place in February.
Ms Homer: The Complaints Audit
Committee works very closely with us, not just by the publication
of an annual report but by working with the agency throughout
the year. We take all of its recommendations and comments very
seriously. For me as chief executive any allegation of abuse or
serious misconduct is a matter of great concern. We have already
instigated significant improvements to our system on the back
of advice given by the CAC last year. With its input we have some
further improvements planned for February of next year which we
hope will continue to build towards a system that can match best
practice. I regularly meet with both the Prisons and Probation
Ombudsman and Parliamentary Ombudsman because in all of our business
there are routes through to the official ombudsmen for serious
complaints. To be clear about those cases relating to serious
misconduct, the CAC audits our process and looks in total at about
14,000 cases. Of those, a very small number relate to serious
misconduct. For instance, in the second part of last year there
were 38 allegations of serious misconduct in relation to the agency,
of which five were upheld. To give a little flavour of that, one
related to criminality; one related to missing property; two related
to verbal abuse, which can be very serious because it can include
racial abuse; and one related to lateness. We take those very
seriously. Those are the kinds of cases investigated not only
by us but by the police in all cases and by the ombudsmen. We
are very determined to ensure that we have a rigorous process
going forward. More generally, I think the Complaints Audit Commission
commented on an area of continuing debate between us about what
is best practice in relation to the investigation of complaints;
in particular, the balance between what is referred to generally
by complaints experts as local resolutionthe concept that
a complaint is decided near to the point of originationand
what is decided further away.
Q52 Mrs Dean: One reason given as
to why centres mishandle the complaints process is the fear of
losing government contracts. Does this draw into question the
role of private institutions in running immigration centres?
Mr Byrne: I do not think it does.
There are two points here. First, on site at every detention centre
are BIA officials. Therefore, we are able to get into those complaints
quite quickly. Second, since October last year we changed the
system so that detainees could complain directly to the Prison
and Probation Ombudsman. It is just worth setting out that of
the 50 appeals sent to the ombudsman since October 2006 only three
have been upheld. Complaints are important because there are public
safety issues involved and we need to understand what they are
much more directly in order to make service improvements in future.
In part that is why the system was changed in this way so that
BIA officials on site can get to the complaints but, more importantly,
the independent ombudsmen can investigate them as well. That is
not to say the BIA does not have further to go; it has. That is
why the programme of change that comes into place next February
is so important.
Q53 Mrs Dean: Do you think it was
the reason why before the BIA was on site there was a reluctance
to handle complaints properly?
Mr Byrne: That is hard to tell.
The strong evidence we have is that there is not a widespread
problem of abuse. Very often it is difficult because detainees,
frankly, would rather be in a BIA detention centre than be sent
home. Sometimes there is use of restraint and use of appropriate
force to ensure that people are removed from the UK when they
have no right to be here. I do not want to say that this is not
an extremely difficult process, but that is why it is so important
there are organisations like the independent ombudsman who is
able to review these complaints directly. I meet Anne Owers pretty
frequently as well to discuss these things face to face.
Q54 Chairman: Have you seen the report
on Lindholme detention centre?
Mr Byrne: I have.
Q55 Chairman: Have you also seen
the report in today's Guardian by Alan Travis that wooden
staves are being used against foreign prisoners?
Mr Byrne: I have. The report does
not say that wooden staves are used against detainees but that
officers carry staves which are plastic rather than wooden. The
point is that Lindholme is a facility that is not run by the private
sector; it is run on behalf of BIA by the Prison Service, so we
rely on the professional judgment of those officers to conduct
themselves in a professional manner.
Q56 Chairman: Ms Homer in her comment
to the paper today said that she would work closely with Serco.
Are you going to raise this issue with Serco?
Mr Byrne: Absolutely.
Q57 Bob Russell: What do you see
as the key benefits of migration for the UK?
Mr Byrne: I think there are two.
First, Britain is a more interesting place for immigration. Perhaps
I would say that as the grandson of Irish immigrants to this country.
There are obviously enormous economic benefits of migration. As
I say, in the House of Lords report published in the summer we
tried to corral a cross-government view of what those benefits
looked like. The two points that I pick out are: first, there
is a big positive impact on the economy which is worth about £6
billion; second, the evidence we have suggests that migrants contribute
more to the Exchequer than they take away. In the debate there
are often questions about the impact on the growth of GDP per
capita. We must be slightly careful about these debates. It must
be remembered that if foreign-born individuals are only about
15½ per cent of the UK workforce they will be able to contribute
only a relatively small fraction of the increase in GDP per capita
purely because of the gearing effect. On average, for foreign
nationals more than for British nationals the evidence points
to the fact that the impact of migration on GDP per capita is
Q58 Bob Russell: I am grateful for
that and also for your observations in answer to Mr Salter when
he asked a similar question. That information is not so much a
state secret but it is hardly one that the Government broadcasts
widely. I suspect that it is not known to readers of the Daily
Mail. Two years ago I recall that a previous home secretary
published that information in the form of a readable digest. Can
I suggest that it may be in the interests of community relations
and the intelligibility of the general population if the positive
economic benefits to which you have alluded are made more widely
Mr Byrne: We do try to do so.
Every speech that I have made has included a reference to the
positive benefits of immigration to our economy. I realise that
the speeches of Liam Byrne are not widely consumed by Daily
Mail readers, but it is a case that we need to continue to
argue. Frankly, it is not just for the Government to talk about
the benefits. If you take foreign students as an example, they
now bring to this country something like £8½ billion.
International higher education is now worth something like £12½
billion. That is more than the tobacco industry, shipping and
a lot of other sectors of our economy. In the West Midlands it
is now one of our most important exports. That means there are
other voices that need to be part of the debate. If you look at
the agricultural sector at the moment, the survey we conducted
for the House of Lords report showed that quite a large number
of people in industry thought that their businesses would literally
collapse without migrant workers. Very often we do not hear the
voices of vice-chancellors or the business community making the
public argument for why economic migration is a good thing. I
have said that I do not think it is just the business community
at which we should look. To answer Mr Clappison's point, part
of the reason for my caution about the points system now is that
it could be that the number of work permits we have issued is
much bigger than 35,000; it could be that we need to rein back
the number of work permits even further than the speculative briefing
by Whitehall sources earlier this year. We need to do it in a
transparent and evidence-based way and publish the ranges at the
time the policy is introduced.
Q59 Bob Russell: It is only because
Mr Salter and I tabled the Question that you have become very
upbeat on the economic advantages of migration. I urge you and
the Home Office to up the game. I think the general population
needs to know what the economic advantages are to the state. It
has had to be dragged out of you by Mr Salter and me. You did
not volunteer that here.
Mr Byrne: The House of Lords report
was the most comprehensive cross-government picture of the economic
impact of migration published by the Government for many years.
That was not dragged out of us; it was something in which we invested
a lot of time and money.