Select Committee on Home Affairs Minutes of Evidence


Examination of Witnesses (Questions 1-19)

SIR DAVID NORMINGTON KCB

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 to.

  Q4  Chairman: Obviously immigration is one of the key issues you have to deal with?

  Sir David Normington: Yes, it is.

  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 appeals?

  Sir David Normington: I believe that is so, yes.

  Q12  Chairman: They were all voluntary departures?

  Sir David Normington: Yes, they were. They originally were contesting but they decided to drop their cases.

  Q13  David Davies: So they have not really worked yet—the 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 question?

  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 there?

  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 are now.

  Q18  Margaret Moran: Drugs—what 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 "good progress"?

  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.


 
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