Reid rings the changes at 'inadequate' Home Office

Click to follow
Indy Politics

Indicating that the scale of the foreign prisoner fiasco could be far wider than originally suspected, he also disclosed that more than 80 serious offenders are still on the run.

Making his first appearance before the Commons Home Affairs Select Committee since he replaced Charles Clarke just over two weeks ago, he acknowledged that he had faced a "tidal waves of events".

He said that without sweeping change, the Immigration and Nationality Directorate (IND) - which he protested was dealing with 21st century problems using 20th century methods - would continue to fail to cope.

In comments seen as a swipe at his predecessors, he said: "Our system is not fit for purpose. It is inadequate in terms of its scope, it is inadequate in terms of its information technology, leadership, management, systems and processes.

"We're in a state of change from a paper-based system that wasn't working to a technology-based system that seems to be on the horizon, but isn't getting much nearer."

Although he insisted the department was not "intrinsically dysfunctional", he made plain his frustration over the quality of the advice he was receiving.

"I have to be honest with you and say I haven't had a fact or figure that hasn't been revised in a very short time," he told MPs.

Asked whether any senior civil servants would lose their jobs over the release of more than 1,000 foreign prisoners without deportation hearings, Mr Reid replied: "If there are people culpable, they will have to bear responsibility."

Liam Byrne, the new Immigration minister, is expected to produce proposals for wide-ranging reform of the IND by the summer, while Sir David Normington, Permanent Secretary at the Home Office, has been instructed by Mr Reid to set out plans for improving the entire department's management as a "matter of urgency".

Mr Reid released figures showing that 85 serious offenders still have not been tracked down, a month after the controversy became public. They included eight people convicted of the "most serious" offences, such as manslaughter or sex attacks. The Home Secretary said he was open to the idea of publicising the names of the eight if police supported the move. It also emerged that the released foreign offenders had gone on to commit a further 204 offences, including six sex offences, three serious violent crimes, and 11 cases of actual bodily harm.

Mr Clarke said originally that 1,023 foreign prisoners had been freed without deportation hearings. Mr Reid revised the figure yesterday to 1,019, but signalled the true figure could be several hundred higher, as he disclosed that for some years before 2004, details of some freed prisoners were not passed to the IND as there was no court recommendation to deport.

Mr Reid made a series of initial proposals for tightening controls including the creation of a personal numbering system to keep track of anyone who came into contact with the criminal justice, immigration or asylum systems, and devising ways to stop prisoners failing to declare their nationality.

He also revealed new details of the weekend's "sex-for-visas" scandal, in which it was alleged a senior immigration officer offered to speed up a Zimbabwean teenager's asylum claim in return for sex. The man at the centre of the allegations is subject to a police investigation as well as a Home Office inquiry, Mr Reid said, adding that he did not want to "pre-judge" the case.

Migrant data

* A record 217,475 people applied for British citizenship in 2005, 64 per cent up on the previous year. The number granted citizenship was 161,780, up 15 per cent. The rise was down to people submitting their papers before the "Britishness" test is introduced in November.

* Asylum claims rose 5 per cent in the first three months of 2006 to 6,455 compared with the final quarter of last year, because of a near-doubling of claims by Zimbabweans.

* In February the Government finally hit its target for removing more failed asylum-seekers than the number making unfounded claims.

* 392,000 people from the eight central and eastern European states which joined the EU in 2004 have come to Britain.