Illegal migrants: the analysis the Home Office will not release
- 12 Sep 06, 12:21 PM
(....or How Freedom of Information Works, Part 96). On 13 June, Home Office minister Liam Byrne told MPs his mind was open on the proposal for an amnesty for illegal migrants. On 13 July he ruled it out. What had happened to make this change - a fairly major change if you are one of the 1/2 million people here illegally? Answer: "analysis". But will Newsnight viewers get to see that analysis? See if you can predict the outcome of this story...
In his original answer to MPs Mr Byrne assured them:
“The position I am in at the moment is really needing to understand in far more detail than I do at the moment the precise segmentation of people whose positions have not yet been regularised. I have commissioned some analysis because I need to understand issues like the length of stay already here, how many people have been here for X, Y and Z number of years, I need to understand where they come from, I need to understand what process their cases are in. […] To be frank with the Committee, it is too early for me to get into that question yet, because I have not got that analysis in front of me. I think the analysis will have a critical bearing on that question, I would have thought.”
Once he had seen the analysis, and made up his mind, Newsnight wondered whether the rest of us would be allowed to see it. Given it had "critcal bearing". So we put in a Freedom of Information request for a copy of said analysis, plus minutes of any meetings between Mr Byrne and officials leading up to his change of mind, and any briefing notes.
Two months to the day later, we have our answer. I am pleased to be able to inform you that the analysis does in fact exist. Any allegations that the decision had been taken on grounds of political expediency must be dismissed as scurrilous. However, the Home Office has refused to release the analysis. It has told us also that there are no records of any meeting between Mr Byrne and his officials on this matter, and no briefing notes.
The Home Office did accept there was a public interest in the public knowing more about the reasons why an amnesty was ruled out - but said future policy formulation could be damaged by revealing the analysis.
Anyway, at least we know now that there is a Home Office analysis that has convinced a minister to rule out an amnesty for illegal migrants. It had critical bearing on his decision. But there are good reasons why the government thinks it should not be released to the likes of you and me.