Examination of Witnesses (Questions 1-19)|
4 DECEMBER 2007
Q1 Chairman: Could I begin the session
this morning with the Permanent Secretary to the Home Office,
Sir David Normington. You are most welcome at this session. This
is the annual session when the Committee considers the Home Office's
Annual Report. As you will appreciate, there are a number of issues
that are in the public domain, are current and urgent, which we
will also be asking you questions about. I would like to start,
first of all, by raising with you an issue of which I have given
you notice. When the Committee considered its report into young
black people and crime we took evidence from an organisation called
From Boyhood to Manhood, a mentoring scheme in Southwark in inner-city
London. The Committee is very impressed with the work that this
organisation is doing. We were notified last week that, because
of funding difficulties, the organisation is going to close. I
appreciate that the Home Office spends an enormous amount of money
on community cohesion-type projects, but could you tell us a little
bit about the Home Office's funding for this organisation and
what could be done to assist them?
Sir David Normington: Yes, I can.
Thank you for giving me notice of this. I think they have only
had one small grant from us of just under £5,000, which is
a one-off grant. Their main funding I think has traditionally
come from Southwark Borough Council. One of the key people involved
with them is coming to see the Home Secretary on the 11th next
week, and I think that will be a chance for us to understand the
problems they are facing and to see whether we can give them some
help. I agree with you, having read about them and having taken
some advice about them, they do some excellent work, and I think
it would be a great pity if they collapsed. I am not an expert
on their funding, but I think they have got some private-sector
sponsorship, or certainly some non-government sponsorship, to
help them in the next three months put together a proper business
plan for their organisation. We will want to talk to them about
that and see where we can help.
Q2 Chairman: Is this the kind of
project that the Home Office may consider helping?
Sir David Normington: I think
so. We do not do a huge amount of funding of individual local
projects ourselves, but from our Violent Crime Initiative we have
given about 400 very small grants since 2004, of which one of
these grants went to this organisation. We do provide funding
of that sort but it is usually on quite a small scale. What we
do not normally do is provide consistent funding. I know you have
made a recommendation in your report about this, which we have
not responded to yet, but we are looking at this whole issue.
I think you said, and I agree with you, this is a small organisation
but actually it has potential to do good things beyond the local
area in which it started.
Q3 Chairman: Do any other members
have questions, because I was not chairing the Committee when
it took evidence. Good. Let us now move on to other aspects of
the Annual Report, in particular starting with immigration, and
that is the Memoranda of Understanding which were negotiated with
Jordan, Libya and Lebanon in respect of those who need to be returned,
either deported or the voluntary equivalents, to those countries.
Can you tell us how many people have been removed back to those
countries as a result of the Memoranda?
Sir David Normington: None to
those countries so far. There are a number of cases being argued
through the courts under those which are testing those Memoranda
of Understanding. We have returned eight people to Algeria but
that is not a precise Memorandum of Understanding; it is an exchange
of letters between heads of government. Under that exchange we
have returned eight people, but none under the three you refer
Q4 Chairman: Obviously immigration
is one of the key issues you have to deal with?
Sir David Normington: Yes, it
Q5 Chairman: Do you have any information
about the possibility of Government appointing a Returns Envoy
to certain countries, a figure outside Government who is going
to continue the negotiations of returning people and, therefore,
help the Government in what they are proposing to do?
Sir David Normington: There has
been some discussion about that but I do not think it has reached
a conclusion as far as I know. I do not think an announcement
about that is imminent. Previously one of the Foreign Office Ministers
took the lead on that matter, and I think it is still under discussion.
I do not know precisely where it is.
Q6 Chairman: Do you have a shortlist
of candidates whom you are interviewing at this moment?
Sir David Normington: No, I am
not; I am not interviewing. I have not been dealing with this
so I am afraid I do not know precisely where we are. I do not
think it is imminent.
Q7 Ms Buck: Could I just ask a tangential
question to that. We read in the papers in the last few days about
the discussions going on between the Home Office and the Department
of Health on the withdrawal of primary care and other treatment
to failed asylum-seekers and others. Could you bring us up-to-date
on your position on that? Could you clarify for us, individuals
who are failed asylum-seekers but who cannot be returned to their
countries of origin, including the groups you have just talked
about but also possibly Somalis and others, would you expect those
people also to be denied primary care treatment?
Sir David Normington: My understanding
is that if you are a failed asylum-seeker the guidance to NHS
Trusts is that they should not give free treatment to failed asylum-seekers,
but it is at their discretion to decide whether to do so in particular
cases. I do not, I am afraid, know precisely the position of people
who are going through the process. If they are failed asylum-seekers
the guidance says they should not get free treatment.
Q8 Ms Buck: Even if they cannot be
returned to their country of origin?
Sir David Normington: I do not
know the position of people who cannot be returned because, in
a way, if they cannot be returned they move into another status.
They are held as people who cannot be sent back.
Q9 Ms Buck: Not necessarily.
Sir David Normington: They may
be given temporary leave to remain. They will often be given temporary
leave to remain.
Q10 Ms Buck: Often but not always,
as my constituents can testify.
Sir David Normington: The position
as I understand it is, if they are failed asylum-seekers, and
that is the category they are in, then the guidance to NHS Trusts
is that they should not get free treatment.
Q11 David Davies: Sir David, could
you confirm that the eight people who have been sent back were
only sent back because they voluntarily withdrew their appeals
and, in actual fact, nobody has been sent back who still has outstanding
Sir David Normington: I believe
that is so, yes.
Q12 Chairman: They were all voluntary
Sir David Normington: Yes, they
were. They originally were contesting but they decided to drop
Q13 David Davies: So they have not
really worked yetthe Memoranda of Understanding?
Sir David Normington: Under the
three Memoranda of Understanding of course we have not sent anybody
back under those so in that sense they have not worked, but we
have not given up on them. Indeed, they remain our best hope,
I think, of getting people returned whom we think should not be
here. Obviously that will be tested in the courts, and is being.
Q14 Mr Winnick: Sir David, is your
Department now fit-for-purpose?
Sir David Normington: There will
be an independent view of this given in the report that is coming
out in December because the Cabinet Office has just had a capability
review back, as they reviewed us 18 months ago, assessing our
progress. It will show that there is some very significant progress
but there are still quite a lot of things to do. I personally
believe (but I of course would sitting in this seat) that we have
made very significant progress, both in our performance and in
taking a grip on our budget. We have cleaned up our accounts;
they are now unqualified; we have changed a lot of our leaders;
we have been dealing with our underlying systems. I think the
thing which pleases me most is we have been concentrating very
hard on delivering our obligations and commitments on frontline
services: neighbourhood policing; improving the borders, which
is a big challenge; introducing e-Passports and so on; introducing
visas overseas. I think all those things show that we are taking
a grip but, no, we are not there yet. When John Reid and I launched
our reform plan we said it would take at least three years, and
I think we are about halfway through.
Q15 Mr Winnick: I listened very carefully
to all of that. Should I interpret that as a yes or a no to my
Sir David Normington: I believe
that we are improving. I believe we are fitter for purpose
than we were. I do not think all the problems are solved.
Q16 Mr Winnick: But you are halfway
Sir David Normington: I think
so. We are halfway to getting right to where we need to be.
Q17 Mr Streeter: Turning to crime
reduction, Sir David, PSA target 1 is to reduce crime by 15%.
The 2006 Report said "on course"; the 2007 Report says
"slippage". Obviously given the huge importance of this
to the public, what action are you taking to make sure you actually
deliver by the time you get to next April?
Sir David Normington: The target,
as you say, is 15% over the period from 2004. The latest Report
says 9%. It is certainly the case that the fall in crime has been
flattening out. For the whole of the past year we have been focussing
very hard on those areas where we think performance in terms of
reducing crime needs to improve. We have taken 44 areas where
we have been working with local partnerships and the police to
focus on the problems on those areas; very specific action and
very encouraging progress in those areas. We have seen recorded
crime, which is a different measure, fall by 14%, and that is
a lead indicator for falls in the other measures. I am quite confident
that we will do better than 9% when we report the final outcome.
I think we will get quite a lot closer to 15%. I am not sure that
we will hit 15% precisely, but we will be a lot closer than we
Q18 Margaret Moran: Drugswhat
constitutes "good progress" across the board? In your
consultation paper Drugs: Our community, Your Say you refer
to the fact that you believe "good progress" has been
made against the use of Class A drugs by young and vulnerable
people. Yet the Annual Report refers to a drop of 0.2%(?) since
1998 amongst young people for Class A drug use, and 0.5% Class
A drug use by vulnerable people. How can you designate that as
Sir David Normington: I think
the good progress is in the reduction in drug use generally by
young people; it is down something like from 31 to 24% over that
period; but it is the case that there has been virtually no fall,
but no rise, in the use of Class A drugs by young people, and
by vulnerable young people. I agree that that is the one area,
and it is a very serious area, where there has not been enough
progress. In the other areas generally there has been very good
progress, and I think that is what we were trying to reflect.
I do not think we have claimed (but I stand to be corrected) that
there is good progress on Class A drugs because there is not.
It is absolutely flat really; it is just slightly down.
Q19 Margaret Moran: When we asked
some written questions about the cross-departmental plan to accelerate
delivery of the young people and the drugs target the FRANK campaign
was referred to. You will be aware that there has been some speculation
that the FRANK campaign is as much use as a chocolate teapot.
What evaluation have you made of that campaign?
Sir David Normington: I am very
happy actually to share the evaluations with you. It is regularly
evaluated. There are four quite significant studies of its effects.
There is no doubt about it that awareness of it is very high amongst
the target group. There is no doubt about it than when we have
a major focus on an issue (such as, can cannabis lead to mental
impairment of some sort) we see major changes in young people's
attitudes to it. If you do not keep that up those attitudes begin
to drift back, because obviously you get a new cohort of young
people. It is a very, very successful campaign. It cannot be the
only thing you do but it is very important to have public education,
which is what it is really; it is a public education campaign.
There is some very good evaluation and I would be very happy,
if you would like, to share it with you.