» Tuesday, March 30, 2004

Beverley Hughes

Asked to explain why the FCO had suspended the Civil Servant involved in the latest allegations against Beverley Hughes, but yet had not known enough about his claims to inform Home Office, the PMOS said that he had no intention of getting drawn into a discussion about who knew what, when, where. These were clearly grave allegations which were being taken seriously by the Government. The test was the Government’s response to them. As David Blunkett had said this morning, Ken Sutton would be examining the claims regarding Romania and Bulgaria and he had asked officials to fly there today. In so far as those questions were relevant, he could look at them. The fast-track process in operation in Sheffield had been stopped on 8 March. All ECAA applications from Bulgaria and Romania had been suspended as of today. The investigation that Mr Sutton would carry out would look at the work that NCIS had already done in relation to this issue. Mr Blunkett had also announced that a new hotline for staff was being set up to enable them to tell Ministers where they had concerns – if, indeed they had any – about practices regarding immigration applications. He was not going to comment in detail on internal staffing procedures at the FCO. These were matters for local managers. However, as Beverley Hughes had made clear yesterday, she had only been made aware of the full contents of the e-mail last night.

Questioned as to whether the Prime Minister continued to have full confidence in Ms Hughes, the PMOS said yes, absolutely. The position today was no different to the position yesterday, last week and the week before. It was important for people to recognise that Ms Hughes, herself, had said repeatedly since taking on her brief that she was not – and never had been – complacent about the challenges facing the Government on asylum and immigration issues. This was clearly a difficult issue, which all countries were having to face up to. We had never pretended that all the systems and legislation we had in place were perfect. That was why there was further legislation going through the House at the moment in respect of appeals. That said, it was important not to overlook the very considerable progress that had been made in this area in the last few years, such as the dramatic reduction in the number of asylum applications, for example. Ms Hughes had been instrumental in this. Where problems were raised, they were obviously looked at seriously. The Sutton investigation into Sheffield had been announced to the House the day after the initial allegations had first appeared. As the Home Secretary had indicated today, there would now be a further investigation into the latest charges.

Asked if he would agree with the appearance of an Immigration Service running out of control, the PMOS said it was important to wait and see what lay behind the latest allegations before rushing to judgement. The Government was obviously taking them seriously. The Sutton Inquiry into the Sheffield case had concluded that the allegations that had been made against Beverley Hughes were groundless. It was clear that certain actions had been taken which shouldn’t have been taken without reference to senior management. Regarding the further allegations last weekend, it was important to note that Ms Hughes had reported to the House five times about the investigatory processes for tackling backlogs – in response to an Urgent Question on 8 March, the Home Affairs Select Committee on 9 March, a Written Ministerial Statement on 12 March, Home Office questions on 15 March and then again on 26 March. As had been made clear, the process had been used in the past. Moreover, the vast majority of those to whom it would have applied were already in the country lawfully and had therefore already been checked. As the Home Secretary had pointed out yesterday, tackling backlogs was something which successive Governments had had to do. This Administration was certainly not the first. Put to him that the measures which had been put in place following the allegations appeared to show that Ms Hughes was not in control of her department, the PMOS said he would disagree. They showed that the Government was taking the allegations seriously. Both the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary worked closely with Ms Hughes. They had a clear understanding of her talents and her abilities and believed that she was a first-class Minister.

Questioned as to why the various processes which had already been investigated by Ken Sutton had not been reinstated despite his conclusions that there had been no wrongdoing, the PMOS said that the fast-track processes being used in Sheffield had been stopped because the actions had been taken without reference to senior management. Today’s announcement related to the fact that all ECAA applications from Romania and Bulgaria had been suspended to ensure that we could get to the bottom of the latest allegations, which had referred to fraud and, in some cases, organised criminality. Asked if other fast-track processes were still continuing, the PMOS said that the fast-track processes identified in relation to Sheffield had been stopped on 8 March. The processes in relation to the stories at the weekend were part of the backlog reduction process which had been taking place under successive Governments and were different.

Asked when and how the Government had first become aware of the e-mail from the Civil Servant at the British Consulate in Bucharest, the PMOS repeated that he had no intention of getting into a discussion about the who, what, where, when of this particular issue. The FCO had taken action by suspending an individual. That was a matter for the Department, not for him. Other questions could be looked at as part of any investigation. Questioned as to why Ken Sutton had been asked to carry out a further investigation when his previous inquiry had been dismissed as a ‘whitewash’, the PMOS said that anyone who was familiar with this particular field would know that Mr Sutton was clearly a man of integrity and was someone with very great knowledge of all the different issues. Just because he hadn’t given the conclusions in his previous inquiry that some people had wanted to hear did not mean that his report was a ‘whitewash’. Asked if Mr Sutton’s initial inquiry had uncovered the problems relating to Bulgaria and Romania, and if so why he hadn’t done anything about them sooner, the PMOS said that as he understood it, the inquiry into Romania and Bulgaria related to allegations of fraud and criminality. We were not talking about simple fast-tracking processes.

Asked if the Government continued to stand by Ms Hughes’s statement to the House on 8 March that there was no question of staff being instructed to grant leave to people using fraudulent documents, the PMOS said that Ministers were not in the business of telling their staff to process applications on the basis of fraud and criminality. Of course they weren’t. Nevertheless, charges and allegations had been made and they were being taken seriously, as you would expect. Put to him that the police should be investigating allegations of fraud, the PMOS said that as David Blunkett had pointed out this morning, NCIS had already been investigating this particular area. Consequently, any further investigation or inquiry would want to look at the work they had already carried out.

Asked for a reaction to suggestions that immigration officials were constantly being pressed by Ministers about the importance of time, hence the fast-tracking of applications, the PMOS said that time-honoured procedures focussing on reducing backlogs had been adopted by successive Governments. However, a decision to carry out a particular exercise which had been made by staff in Sheffield had been taken without reference to senior management. As he had made clear, that was no longer happening and new procedures had been put in place.

Asked if the Prime Minister was concerned about the number of Civil Servants who were willing to blow the whistle and whether it was the failure to prosecute them that was encouraging them, the PMOS said that he hadn’t heard anyone make a connection between the two. As the Home Secretary had said today, if people had concerns it was obviously important for the Government to find a way in which they would be able to express them. That was why he had announced that a hotline was being set up. In any event, people were able to raise concerns with their line manager if they believed that something inappropriate or wrong was happening. Asked if the hotline meant that the Government would no longer suspend Civil Servants if they came forward, the PMOS said that it was up to line managers to handle personnel issues. It would be odd if he was to intervene in individual cases or set out ground rules about what should or should not happen. Today’s announcements were a recognition of the fact that people working in the Immigration and Nationality Directorate carried out a very difficult job. It was important for us to continue to learn from their expertise on the ground, which was why they would now additionally be able to use the hotline to raise any concerns they might have.

Asked if David Blunkett had been indicating today that it was the intelligence and security services which had uncovered the problems in Romania and Bulgaria, the PMOS said that he had no intention of commenting on the detail of a particular case. Suffice to say that the issue had come to light as a result of independent information, rather than accessing a personal e-mail account. Asked if he was suggesting that the Civil Servant concerned in Bucharest had not volunteered the information, the PMOS repeated that he had no intention of getting involved in the internal procedures of another Department.

Briefing took place at 11:00 | Search for related news

No Comments »

No comments yet.

RSS feed for comments on this post.

Post a public comment

(You must give an email address, but it will not be displayed to the public.)
(You may give your website, and it will be displayed to the public.)


This is not a way of contacting the Prime Minister. If you would like to contact the Prime Minister, go to the 10 Downing Street official site.

Privacy note: Shortly after posting, your name and comment will be displayed on the site. This means that people searching for your name on the Internet will be able to find and read your comment.

Downing Street Says...

The unofficial site which lets you comment on the UK Prime Minister's official briefings. About us...


March 2004
Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat Sun
« Feb   Apr »

Supported by


Disruptive Proactivity

Recent Briefings



Syndicate (RSS/XML)



Contact Sam Smith.

This site is powered by WordPress. Theme by Jag Singh