I knew the Home Office was a troubled Department, but today's Telegraph front page brought home just how out of touch with reality their civil servants can be. They quote the evidence given by the Director of Enforcement and Removals, Dave Roberts. Here are three of the questions he was asked, together with his replies:
Q. How many people are living in Britain illegally?
A. I haven't the faintest idea
Q How many failed asylum seekers are not removed?
A. I haven't got that figure.
Q How many people have been told to leave the country?
A. I don't have that information.
Any Minister appearing before a Select Committee is briefed up to the hilt. To do as Mr Roberts did yesterday demonstrates an appalling arrogance and if John Reid has anything about him he will demand his head on a platter. Mr Roberts did however say one thing of value. He told the Committee that the embarkation controls in 1997 (one of Labour's first acts in power) meant that it was "impossible" to say whether a person who entered the country had left and "tracing indiviudlas at the level of individulas is not an effective stragegy". The answer is simple. Reintroduce embarcation controls, something David Davis has been calling for for some time. According to another witness yesterday, Jonathan Portes from the DWP, NI numbers are not leant to prove entitlement to work, so Job Centre staff issuing them make no checks about the applicants' immigration status. It simply beggars belief that illegal immigrants are handed a National Insurance number without any check on their entitlement to be in the country. Is this what Tony Blair meant by "joined up government"? John Reid faces a huge challenge to sort out the Home Office and get rid of the endemic institutionalised attitudes displayed so graphically by Dave Roberts yesterday. We'll soon find out if he is up to it.