I am grateful for the chance to sketch out a little more of this territory than I have had the opportunity to do so far. I also respect the way that the hon. Member for Ashford is probing in this territory. Given the events of last spring, it is absolutely right that a degree of scrutiny is brought to bear on this area, which includes asking whether the right level of resources is being applied.
In direct answer to the question by the hon. Member for Ashford, the increase in resources in this part of the IND’s business has been about tenfold over the last year. So, about 600 or 700 people are now working in this particular area. That increase in resources has been an important part of the changes that the Home Secretary has made over the last 12 months. For me, the question now is this: how do we ensure not only that we have increased the number of people who are doing the job but that they are able to operate a process that is far more efficient, so that the overall productivity and output are much higher? In broad terms, that is what the Bill is designed to achieve.
At the moment, around 72 per cent.—nearly three quarters—of foreign national prisoners that we write deportation orders for appeal against the orders. Although 55 per cent. of those appeals end up being dismissed and a further 25 per cent. end up being withdrawn, they involve the IND in a long drawn out process of taking those cases through the appeal system. What we want to do is effectively to certify the cases, so that those appeals can be held abroad. We know that that has a dramatic impact on the number of appeals that we receive. There is a degree of precedent that we can learn from, which is the number of overseas appeals made against asylum decisions; in those cases, we have certified people’s claims as being clearly unfounded and therefore reported them. As I said a moment ago, only 238 appeals have been lodged from abroad in about three and a half years, between November 2002 and September 2006.
Therefore, what we have done over the last 12 months has dramatically increased the level of resources in this area. What we are now seeking to do in the Bill is to increase dramatically the efficiency of the process.
Yesterday, the hon. Member for Ashford not unfairly criticised the stream of management speak that he hears coming from my office. I did not take offence. However, if he will permit me one further foray into that territory, it is important that the way that we set objectives for the IND is right and puts the prioritisation of harm reduction centre-stage. Over the next 12 months, I will personally oversee the design of new objectives for the IND, and tackling harm, particularly the harm caused by foreign national prisoners, will be at the centre of the objectives that I aim to recommend to the Home Secretary. I hope that that is in direct answer to some of the questions asked by the hon. Gentleman.
There are a number of technical issues that it is important to draw out. Amendments Nos. 126, 10 and 140 create constraints on the precise date, time and moment when the Secretary of State might issue a deportation order. It is perfectly reasonable to expect the Home Office to undertake the issue of deportation orders in advance and substantially in advance of somebody being released from custody. We are currently operating at about four months; our target is to get to six months by spring and we are on track to hit that target.
The problem, however, in setting a specific point in the calendar or in the sentence when the deportation order is to be issued is that it may get in the way of our ability to deport people. If, for example, somebody is serving a 20-year sentence, we would want to write a deportation order towards the end of their sentence as the situation in that person’s country may be so unstable that if we were to try a deportation order the court would throw it out. Waiting for a while can sometimes help us issue a deportation order, taking into account conditions in that country which may be more helpful. It may increase our ability to deport people home.
The hon. Member for Hertsmere raised a second issue about the feedback to the courts. There are challenges with the way that the amendment has been drafted. We do run into issues with writing back to courts. If we do not issue a deportation order within 30 days we end up snowing the courts with a large amount of paper and notices, often involving information that will cause us problems under the Data Protection Act 1998. The necessity is not there in the way that the hon. Gentleman tries to describe it because if we want the degree of flexibility and latitude to write deportation orders in order to deport more people we may very often find ourselves in a situation where we repeatedly have to write to judges to say, “We have not done it yet because...” All we are trying to do is to pick the point in the sentence when we maximise our chances of getting people home.
The point that the hon. Gentleman makes is, however, absolutely right. When I talk to immigration judges—which I try to do as often as they let me—very often they do express concern about the misalignment between the removals process and the court process. We explicitly said in our enforcement strategy, published a week or two ago, that we would seek to bring that alignment in. We do have to explore further measures for feeding back news about individual cases to the courts. One of the ways that we can do that is through the new single inspectorate, because it is vital that the judiciary in this country have confidence in the system so that they can continue to ensure that justice is done.