Examination of Witnesses (Questions 24-39)|
16 SEPTEMBER 2009
Q24 Chairman: Mr Wood, may I thank you
very much come for coming to give evidence today. It was at very
short notice and I appreciate the fact that you have flown back
from your holiday just to be present at this session and the Committee
is extremely grateful for this. We are meeting in September and
it is good that you have been able to come.
Mr Wood: This is a very important
subject to us.
Q25 Chairman: It is and we are very
grateful to you for coming here. Why are children detained under
the immigration system, because they have not done anything wrong,
Mr Wood: No, absolutely, they
have done nothing wrong. I think the earlier debate is relevant
to what I am about to say. In reality we only detain children
in family units. I can deal with very short-term detention in
other circumstances. We detain families because these are families
who have no right to be in the United Kingdom. These are people
whose appeals have expired and who have been judged by tribunals
to have no right to remain in the United Kingdom. These will be
families whom we have engaged with the whole period of time through
the process, encouraging them and letting them know that at the
end of the process they have to leave the United Kingdom if they
are judged to be here unlawfully. Then we ask the people to go
voluntarily. The families we detain are those who refuse to leave
the United Kingdom, those who have not left voluntarily and that
is why we detain them. I do feel that our immigration policy would
be in difficulty if we did not have that ability to detain them
because it would act as a significant magnet and pull to families
from abroad to come to the United Kingdom because, in effect,
once they got here they could just say, "I am not going."
Whilst issues are raised about absconding, that is not our biggest
issue. It does happen but it is not terribly easy for a family
unit to abscond. What we get to is saying to the family, "You
have no right now to be in the United Kingdom, you have to leave,"
and then they refuse, so the only way we can enforce that is by
detaining them. When we detain families we detain them to remove
only. When we detain families it is our expectation that they
will be there less than a week. The reasons that some end up there
longer is they create new judicial reviews and other legal processes,
a lot of which are spurious, the NAO found earlier this year,
which would accord with our view. Over 90% of judicial reviews
do not even get leave for hearing.
Q26 Chairman: Those are very, very
important points and my colleagues will come back and ask you
about them, but one of the concerns that I haveand it is
an issue which has challenged the Committee for many yearsis
the issue of the backlog at UKBA. We questioned the Chief Executive
about this. One of the problems about all these people in the
country, especially those you have to detain with children, is
that it takes so long to process their cases. If the system were
quicker and the backlog were dealt with quicker they would get
quicker results and therefore they would be more willing to accept
that they have to leave the country. The fact is because it takes
so long to process their cases, in some of the cases I have written
about or other members of this Committee have written about, we
have letters back from Lin Homer saying she will tell us the answer
in 2011. You can understand the concern of this Committee when
children are detained for such a long period of time bearing in
mind the fact that it is an administrative issue. If you deal
with the cases quicker at UKBA there would be quicker results
and more people would be willing to leave. Do you accept that
Mr Wood: I do accept that point
and you will be aware of course that we have conclusion rates
which are far more ambitious. Our conclusion rate target by the
end of this year is 75% of cases to be concluded within six months.
We have a target going on beyond that to 90%. We are heading towards
that target and we are confident that we will either get to it
or very nearly by the end of this year. It is a very challenging
target. We have a backlog of cases, as you rightly say, which
are being dealt with separately, and we have a target to conclude
Q27 Chairman: By 2011?
Mr Wood: Indeed, and that is a
legacy issue that is difficult. We are working through those very
fast but there is that legacy issue. Certainly what we have done
is parked them in a sense in one place and are working legitimately
on them. Current cases are being dealt with expeditiously for
the very reasons you eloquently put.
Q28 Chairman: What worries me is
that you are a very senior official from UKBA. Why is it that
senior officials like yourself and Lin Homer when they come before
this Committee do not just say, "Please can we have more
resources. If we had more resources from the Treasury we would
deal with the backlog and all these outstanding cases quickly
and not in 12 months' time. We would give people the result and
then they will just have to leave the country because they would
have exhausted judicial review." They cannot get legal aid
in many cases now. We know that there are solicitors out there
who get involved right at the last minute in order to delay. We
have all got big immigration caseloads. Why is that you do not
have the confidence of coming to Parliament and saying, "Please
can we have some more"?
Mr Wood: I suspect everyone could
say that. We have put more resources into that area.
Q29 Chairman: Would you get into
trouble if you said that?
Mr Wood: That is not the case
at all, no. It is a case of managing the resources and training
the resources. There are a whole lot of issues with more resources.
We have diverted more resources this year into that particular
area. It is subject to constant review and we have got challenging
targets to meet, but the backlog issue is a legacy issue and it
is a difficult issue for us.
Chairman: David Davies?
Q30 David Davies: Thank you for putting
the Government's case so well, Mr Wood. Can I check something
with you, the charities that we have heard from seem to think
that people are not given the option to leave and that there is
no voluntary element here, but you have been quite clear in saying
that at the stage when they come into detention they have the
option to leave voluntarily; is that correct?
Mr Wood: Absolutely they do but
before we get to the stage of detention all the way through the
process they have been asked to leave voluntarily.
Q31 David Davies: And we are willing
to pay for the plane ticket?
Mr Wood: We are absolutely willing
to pay for the plane ticket and some do go voluntarily. A large
number do go voluntarily, precisely because if we did not ask
anyone we would never have people go voluntarily.
Q32 David Davies: Really the decision
is one for the family alone whether they want to go into detention.
They have the option to go back at any time and it is they themselves
who are choosing detention over deportation?
Mr Wood: I suppose I would put
it slightly differently: they are forcing us to make that difficult
Q33 David Davies: What is the cost
of keeping a family of four in detention, do you know?
Mr Wood: Our detention costs are
about £120 a night per person. I do not say we have worked
that out on a family basis. That would be on a single male basis.
Q34 David Davies: So probably it
is slightly less than the cost of housing a family of four and
continuing to provide them with benefits, so it is cheaper for
the taxpayer than to continue to house someone in a house?
Mr Wood: Absolutely it is, yes,
or housing someone in a hotel.
David Davies: That is very helpful, thank
Q35 Chairman: Do you have an overall
cost per annum?
Mr Wood: Of the whole of our detention?
I do not have it with me, Chairman. I can provide the cost of
funding of Yarl's Wood per annum but I do not have those figures
Q36 Chairman: Can you write to us
and give us the overall cost?
Mr Wood: Yes, I can.
Chairman: That is very helpful. Bob Russell?
Q37 Bob Russell: Mr Wood, is the
number of child immigrants increasing?
Mr Wood: I do not have that figure
with me, I am afraid, Mr Russell. I do not know the answer to
Q38 Bob Russell: Is the length of
time they are detained increasing?
Mr Wood: It is not increasing.
Last year the average length detention for family units and for
children in particular was 16 days. It is 15.58 days this year
so far, so it is not much less but it is not increasing.
Q39 Mr Winnick: I take it that you
do not have the figures, Mr Wood, for the children who have been
detained in the last five years?
Mr Wood: I do not think I have
quite got the last five years with me of numbers detained. No,
I do not.