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Westminster Hall

Wednesday 20 July 2005

[Hugh Bayley in the Chair]

Asylum Seekers (Zimbabwe)

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the sitting be now adjourned.—[Joan Ryan.]

9.30 am

Alistair Burt (North-East Bedfordshire) (Con): I am grateful for the opportunity to raise the subject of asylum seekers and Zimbabwe, which has been much discussed in recent weeks. It is a pleasure to see the Minister. I am sure that I speak on behalf of all my colleagues who have contacted his office in the past few weeks when I tell him how grateful we are to the staff there for their courtesy and speedy responses, which really make a difference. The responses may not always be what we would wish for, but that is not their responsibility. The work of the Minister and his team is appreciated.

The situation in Zimbabwe is well known in the Chamber and outside: it remains desperate. I know that a number of colleagues want to speak about Zimbabwe, especially about the Home Office decision to continue to return to that country those whose asylum claims are not successful, and I shall allow them to do so in the next 90 minutes.

I begin by putting in a nutshell the British position as far as the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees is concerned. I received a letter from Bemma Donkoh, who is the representative to the UK, reminding me of the UN's current position. In it, she says:

It is interesting that she comments on the first UNHCR decision in March 2002, because that was rather similar to the decision made here to impose a moratorium on the return of asylum seekers to Zimbabwe. I wish to relate the decision to impose a moratorium, and the November 2004 decision to lift the moratorium, to current circumstances.

Rather surprisingly, the Home Secretary did not respond to the growing pressure from the press, interested parties and the world in general to reimpose the moratorium. In a statement, he gave a variety of reasons for not doing so, one of which was:

He did not claim that the situation in Zimbabwe had improved markedly since the moratorium was imposed in 2002, as that would have been patently ridiculous, so he sought to justify the decision to continue to return
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those whose asylum claims were not successful on the basis that the suspension had been misused and the process abused. I challenge that assertion.

Rather than announce to the House the lifting of the moratorium, the then Minister for Citizenship and Immigration, who is now the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, released a written statement, in which he said:

The two main grounds on which the Home Office relied in lifting the moratorium and keeping it lifted were its pull factor and the fact that the system was being misused. Let us therefore examine those grounds.

One might expect the pull factor to become evident first in a substantial rise in the number of Zimbabweans claiming asylum during the moratorium. That would be the obvious point to make but, strangely, on 27 June, the Home Secretary did not give the House the figures for the number of people applying for asylum during that period. Now, that might have been carelessness—he might not have picked them up when he left the office—but I doubt very much whether his officials would not have given them to him. It seems blindingly obvious that someone would take such figures with them when making such a statement, but the Home Secretary did not have them with him.

I, however, managed to get the figures for the number of people applying for asylum, because I was given them by the Zimbabwe Association, and they have been reproduced in the excellent Library pack for this debate. I subsequently asked the Home Secretary in a written question whether he would confirm the figures that I had, but his answer simply referred me to the Library. Although it took me only five seconds to find the figures, it would have been more helpful all round if the answer had simply included them. It would have been nice to see them in a written answer, but not including them presumably spared someone the embarrassment of having them in Hansard. Let me, however, repeat them.

In 2002—the year the moratorium was imposed—7,655 people from Zimbabwe applied for asylum. In 2003, the figure had become 3,295 and in 2004, it had become 2,050. At first glance, one might say, "Some pull factor!", because the number of people applying for asylum during that period actually fell. Those figures were confirmed by the asylum statistics in the Home Office statistical bulletin, which was published at the end of November 2004.

When the Home Secretary was challenged on the figures, he said that he would write to my right hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice and Howden (David Davis), and he subsequently did so. In his letter, he makes no mention at all of the number of people applying for asylum; instead, he deals with the percentages of claims and how successful they are. In doing so, he indicates that the number of claims accepted at the initial stage and the number of successful appeals had dropped. He says that it is

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The statistics published by the Home Office are not much out of line with those for other asylum seekers at that time. Page 4 of Home Office statistical bulletin says that the statistics show:

Across the board, therefore, it appears that the number of applications and the success rate for Zimbabwean asylum seekers were not much different from, and not out of line with, those of other asylum seekers.

Again, let us remember the numbers with which we are dealing. By 2004, we were dealing with just over 2,000 asylum applications from Zimbabweans, out of a total of 80,000. The country is hardly being overrun by Zimbabweans looking for protection.

Patrick Hall (Bedford) (Lab): Given the acknowledged growing political and economic pressure on people in Zimbabwe, does not the hon. Gentleman think it remarkable that the effects of that pressure are not being felt vis-à-vis the seeking of asylum in this country, and that the numbers are relatively small and appear to have dropped substantially in recent years?

Alistair Burt : That is quite extraordinary, but people find other ways to leave countries in these situations. They are certainly encouraged to do so by the decision taken by this country in 2002 to impose a visa requirement, and those leaving Zimbabwe now have to apply for visas to do so. It is hardly credible that someone seeking political asylum will turn up at the high commission in Harare and claim that that is why they want a visa to leave Zimbabwe. It is one way of encouraging the flow to reduce.

As statistics on the number of people being granted asylum on the first decision show a drop across the piece, perhaps the situation has something to do with the Government's targets. We know that, if the Home Office wants things to happen, occasionally the statistics turn out to prove its case. We are not always certain why, but unfortunately there is enough evidence of concealment in the operation of the Home Office in recent years. I shall not go back over the removals target that led to the building of Yarl's Wood in the first place and how that target was ridiculously optimistic even to officials in the Department, or over the problem of the Czech Romany Gypsies whose visas were prevented from being granted by order from the Home Office, but it seems remarkable that at a time when the Government wanted to appear tough on asylum decisions, the figures for those being granted asylum in the first instance fell. That is not my central point, however. It is that the figures for Zimbabwe seem more or less in line with others.

Accordingly, let us compare the situation when the moratorium was imposed with the situation in November 2004, when the decision was taken to lift it. What has changed? The situation in Zimbabwe is palpably no better and arguably much worse. The number of people applying for asylum has fallen substantially and the number of decisions being taken
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about whether, in the first instance, they are good asylum cases shows very little difference from the numbers across the piece. Why, then, was the moratorium lifted? What on earth are the reasons that encourage the Minister and the Home Secretary to persist with the current policy in the face of international opinion, opinion in this country and the opinion of the UNHCR?

If we go on from 27 June and consider the events of the following couple of weeks, we find a couple of interesting things. The first is the case of the mystery memo. On 14 July, a deportation case was, according to the press, thrown into confusion by a Home Office official who said that asylum removals had been stopped. Brought in as evidence—I have a copy of this in case the Minister has not seen it—was a memo from the Croydon enforcement unit dated 24 June. I shall return to the date in a moment. The memo says—I am interpreting the abbreviations used—that removal directions for 26 June and escorts are deferred and that the Croydon enforcement unit

As I said, that memo was dated 24 June. The Home Secretary's statement of 27 June, which stated the policy as we knew it to be and reasserted the policy of no suspension of removals to Zimbabwe, did not mention the memo. So what is this memo? Was it known to the Home Secretary on 27 June? I doubt that very much. Deliberate concealment of such a memo does not strike me as in any way credible, but who issued the memo, and why? What was its status and what is its status? The problem of the date is that it appeared to chime with a rumour that removals would not be encouraged during the G8 summit, because the world's press seeing an emaciated hunger striker in handcuffs being stretchered to an aeroplane to be returned to Zimbabwe was hardly likely to encourage the reputation that the Government seek. However, the Home Office subsequently said that the memo had no effect. I have never received a clear statement from a Minister on its status and what it means. If the Minister does not have a copy to hand, I am more than happy to pass one to him. I also have copies for his officials. Has the memo been countermanded? How was it issued? What on earth did it refer to?

There are real people behind all the political argument, the rhetoric and the discussions in newspapers and around the world. My constituency case involves detainees who happen to be women, because my constituency contains the detention centre at Yarl's Wood, where some of the detainees are women. The hon. Member for Bedford (Patrick Hall) and I have visited them. Their stories are sad and, I suspect, no different from those of many others seeking asylum in this country, about whom the Government must take hard decisions.

I restate that the Opposition understand, as we would, that tough decisions must be taken. We appreciate that in order to conduct an effective asylum policy, some people might be forced to return to countries to which they do not want to return. However, such policy has currency and effect only if it is based on justice and decency. That is patently no longer the case in relation to Zimbabwe, which is why the policy should
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be suspended and why the things that happen to detainees have a particular poignancy, bearing in mind the country to which they are being returned.

The number of detainees is falling. I understand, again from the debate pack prepared for us, that 134 were in detention on 7 June. That number had fallen to 105 on 5 July, and I believe, although the Minister might correct me, that about 60 people are currently detained. That reflects the fact that some detainees have been released on temporary admission, but that more have been released on bail. In other words, the courts are taking the view that it is not particularly wise at the moment to detain people with no prospect of their removal. I am delighted that the courts are taking that view, but it does throw their decision into sharp relief against the authorities' decision to remove people and place them in detention.

Most women who I come across in Yarl's Wood have not committed offences in this country or failed to comply with any regulations relating to their status, and most have reported regularly under any restrictions placed on them. What happened to them was that one day, when they went to sign on and report, they were lifted by the security services, dispatched to a detention centre, and sometimes given very early decisions on their removal. In some cases, they were not allowed to return home, to collect clothes, or even to speak to friends. That cannot be acceptable for people who have committed no offence and who have been living entirely in accordance with the rules set out by the country to which they have come.

I make a couple of pleas on behalf of those women. First, I remind the Minister of the concerns that have been expressed about the escort services, which take detainees from the place of their detention to their point of departure. Many detainees do not want to go, so it is a difficult job for the escort services to do. Allegations of mistreatment are not uncommon. There is nothing to protect one side or the other.

The Home Office has ordered closed circuit television to be introduced in the vehicles that take people to points of departure, but not all the detainees are taken in such vehicles. In the case of Yarl's Wood, many people are transported in private cars. There is usually one detainee—one woman—to three guards. There is no CCTV. If allegations of mistreatment are made, there is no independent observation of what might have happened.

Following an incident at Yarl's Wood that was reported to me, I asked the Minister:

That was coupled with another question, which he answered. He did not, however, answer my first, so I asked him again.

My second plea is to draw attention to the small acts of carelessness that affect the lives of these detainees who, as I said, might have been living absolutely normal lives in this country for several years before being put behind bars. Sometimes they are moved around the detention estate with little or no explanation, and such movement may disrupt bail hearings and relationships with lawyers, friends and supporters.
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I had a case of a woman who was moved from Yarl's Wood to Colnbrook in London for a week, then up to Scotland on the Sunday. As a result, she could not attend her bail hearing, which was scheduled for the following day in Birmingham. I investigated the situation, the Home Office apologised and said that a mistake had been made, and the bail hearing was reinstated for a few days later. Unfortunately, refugee organisations tell me that such instances are not rare. They happen all too frequently to be put down to an administrative mistake.

I shall not repeat to the Minister the embarrassing conversation that I had with an immigration service official one evening when I was investigating movements around the detention estate. When I asked why a woman was being moved, the reply was, "Reasons? We don't need to give reasons." That betrays an unacceptable attitude to detainees. The carelessness of the way in which they are treated is wrong. Accordingly, will the Minister do everything in his power to ensure that such attitudes are corrected and people are treated properly? Even if tough decisions have to be made, a degree of respect is necessary for those who, having committed no crime, are under lock and key in our country. We have allowed that situation to continue.

Patrick Hall : Although the majority of the women at Yarl's Wood whom we met recently said that they had been there or elsewhere on the estate for about four weeks, we came across people who had been detained for between four and eight months. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that it would be in everyone's interest to detain people for much shorter periods?

Alistair Burt : I agree. The hon. Gentleman has that right. Arrangements cannot always be made to dispatch people within a few days—that was what Yarl's Wood was first set up for—but one has to wonder why they are held in detention for a month or longer. I do not understand why they are not allowed to continue their normal business. Perhaps the cases of some of the people who have been in detention for a long time could be reviewed by the Minister. I would be grateful if he would comment on that.

Peter Bottomley (Worthing, West) (Con): Does my hon. Friend agree that it would be a good idea for the Minister to indicate whether we might have joined-up government on this subject, and whether we might have a Home Office and a Foreign Office Minister attend future debates so that MPs who are rightly concerned about the situation of Zimbabweans in Zimbabwe and in Britain can question both parts of the Government? We cannot have a clean look at the issue by pretending that it is just a Home Office matter or by talking only about the pressures that the Government are trying to put on Zimbabwe to get it back on to a better course.

Alistair Burt : My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. It is perfectly plain that the relationship between the Foreign Office and the Home Office must be close. There must have been discussions between the two Departments. Indeed, there have been rumours in the press that the Home Office and the Foreign Office are not as one in respect of the decision to return people to Zimbabwe. It would be interesting to have both Ministers available for questions at the same time.
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Mr. Bayley, you have been generous in allowing the situation in Zimbabwe to be included in the terms of the debate. It is a fundamental aspect of the decision of the Home Office not to reimpose the moratorium. I hope that the Minister will take note of what my hon. Friend said, and perhaps a joined-up debate might be possible.

John Bercow (Buckingham) (Con): Does my hon. Friend agree that the importance of what my hon. Friend the Member for Worthing, West (Peter Bottomley) said is underlined not least by the statement in June by the Home Secretary and by his speech on Second Reading of the Immigration, Asylum and Nationality Bill last week? In that speech, he vaguely referred to procedures for monitoring as best as one could the safety of those who are returned to Zimbabwe and other countries with similar problems, but his statement was studious in its ambiguity and lack of specificity.

Alistair Burt : I absolutely agree. My hon. Friend makes a valid point. Colleagues will refer to the situation in Zimbabwe and the inadequacy of the monitoring procedure. The issue is the balance of risk. In a sense, that is at the heart of this debate. Where is the risk in the situation, and who bears it?

The number of people who apply for asylum from Zimbabwe or who have escaped to other countries—particularly Malawi—in order to come here to apply for asylum is not terribly high. The risk that the Minister and the Home Office accept in reapplying the moratorium is that the pull factor might be reintroduced. Our argument is that the pull factor is low and it is better for the Government to bear that risk than to return people to Zimbabwe. The risk of damage to those people in Zimbabwe is substantially greater than the risk currently carried by the Government. The absence of an effective monitoring system—not through any lack of will, but purely through the circumstances pertaining in Zimbabwe—makes the risk to individuals rather greater than the risk faced by the Government.

Mr. Andrew Tyrie (Chichester) (Con): I am pleased that my hon. Friend secured this debate. Does he agree that the mark of a civilised society is an adequately functioning asylum policy and that, all in all, we certainly do not have one at the moment? That is illustrated by a case, of which he is aware, of my constituent, Miss Tande, who has just been instructed that she must make immediate arrangements to leave, even though what I consider to be almost overwhelming evidence has been put forward to demonstrate that she will be at risk if she returns. A former senior assistant commissioner with the Zimbabwean police has said:

Alistair Burt : My hon. Friend is right to raise that case. As he would suspect, and as many of us here know, it could be replicated a number of times. I know that other colleagues will wish to draw attention to it. The security of our asylum policy depends on both us and the outside world seeing it as just and decent. The problem is that it is being undermined because of the situation in Zimbabwe and the Government's decision.
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For the asylum policy to be re-established in all our minds as safe and secure, an urgent reappraisal of Zimbabwe is necessary.

To bring things up to date, as the House will know, a decision was made last Thursday by the Home Office that, pending the resumption of the judicial review hearing by Mr. Justice Collins on 4 August, there will be no further removals to Zimbabwe. Although I am grateful for what is obviously a common-sense decision, which would, in any case, have been enforced by the courts—I cannot see any judicial review of the case of any asylum seeker who is due for removal failing before 4 August—I think that the move is a grudging one. It is also wrong. It is not for the courts to make a decision about whether it is safe for the Home Office to return people to Zimbabwe; it is for the Home Office, the Foreign Office and the Government to make that decision. It cannot be right for the Government to hide their embarrassment behind the skirts of a judge's cloak before taking decisions on returning people, bound, in every sense of that word, to Harare.

I ask the Minister to say that he need not wait for the decision on 4 August and that he is going to reimpose the moratorium and stop people being returned to Zimbabwe for the period of time that it takes for that country to return to normal. Then, those people we have been visiting, who we know want to return to Zimbabwe, will have the chance to do so. They will be safe. The Government's asylum policy will be safe and perhaps the country's reputation for justice and decency will have been restored after the knock it has taken over the past few weeks.

Several hon. Members rose—

Hugh Bayley (in the Chair): Order. It may be helpful to colleagues if I say that I intend to start the winding-up speeches at 10.30 am. There are six Members seeking to catch my eye. If they were all to speak for an equal time, that would give them five minutes each.

9.59 am

Kate Hoey (Vauxhall) (Lab): I congratulate the hon. Member for North-East Bedfordshire (Alistair Burt) on securing this Adjournment debate and also on the fantastic speech that he made on the Immigration, Asylum and Nationality Bill. It was one of the best speeches that I have heard in the House of Commons.

I want to carry on from where the hon. Gentleman has left off and first of all challenge the lifting of the moratorium last December. The Foreign Office annual report on human rights, which came out in November 2004, says that the human rights situation in Zimbabwe remains in crisis. There are ongoing violations of human rights, including the stifling of opposition, police abuse, torture and absence of freedom.

That report came out a month before the moratorium was lifted. It seems to me that the only reason it was lifted is not the situation in Zimbabwe but the Home Office deciding that it needed to get its statistics down. The Zimbabweans have, on the whole, reported diligently when asked to. Some have been reporting weekly—sometimes daily—for more than two years. It seems that they were the easiest group to pick off. I hope that the Minister will assure me that that is not the case.
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What other justification can there be for sending people back to a country that is now in a much worse state than it was even last November when the report stated how bad it was?

I do not want to repeat all the things that I said in my Adjournment debate in the House following my visit to Zimbabwe, but I will say that it is clearly a much more sinister country than it was even last year. It is a country in which people are fearful about everything. Every aspect of their daily lives is monitored. There are security officers everywhere.

It is ridiculous to think that we can send people back to Harare on a plane from London and that the Central Intelligence Organisation will not be there waiting to receive not only the deportee but, usually, the Home Office officials who were sent to escort them. The first thing that happens is that the person is detained and questioned. We have evidence of that. The Minister and the Home Secretary talked about needing evidence of people being treated badly after being sent back. I challenge the Minister on how he expects that evidence to be provided.

The Home Secretary, perhaps intending to talk about all countries, talked about non-governmental organisations being the eyes and ears of the Government. What a shocking thing to say about Zimbabwe. The NGOs are under huge attack. They are terrified that they will be kicked out, and the idea that they are going to go round finding out what is happening to individual detainees who have been deported and then report back to the British high commission is nonsensical.

It is nonsense to think that an asylum seeker who has been sent back, beaten up, tortured and perhaps left to die—as some have been—will get up, dust themselves down and trot off to the British high commission to say, "Oh, British high commissioner, I've been badly treated and you sent me back." I do not believe that the intelligent officials in the Home Office believe that that will happen. We must put a stop to the deportations.

I have never been a great fan of lawyers, but, after the last three or four weeks, I must say, "Thank goodness for lawyers in this country". I will not use the word "brave", but we have had some forthright lawyers who have tackled the issue head on. Yes, politicians who make representations about particular Zimbabweans get listened to. We occasionally manage to stop someone being deported, but in the end it is the courts that have stopped it happening and forced the Home Office to stop deportations until 4 August.

I tell the Minister that, even if something goes wrong in the court case on 4 August and a permanent stop is not put on deportations, every single asylum seeker who is to be deported to Zimbabwe will be fought over tooth and nail in the courts. How much has been spent in the last month on the ridiculous attempts by the Home Office to send their senior officials to court to try to force people to be sent back to Zimbabwe, when they must have known that there was evidence that would stop those deportations?

John Bercow : I strongly agree with what the hon. Lady is saying. Does she agree that even if the NGOs in Zimbabwe were not terrified and could gather and transmit information, it would not be their responsibility to do so? Is it not the responsibility of
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Governments who remove people to ensure that they are safe where they have been removed to? It is a classic case of buck-passing.

Kate Hoey : I absolutely agree with the hon. Gentleman. Of course, he visited Zimbabwe the year before last and knows quite a lot about what is going on. I remind hon. Members that the Prime Minister last week talked about "the abhorrence" that we feel for what is happening in Zimbabwe. Who is speaking for the Government? Which part of Government is making the policy? The Prime Minister clearly feels that the situation is abhorrent, and yet somehow people continue to be sent back.

I want to raise the case of Naison Sani, who is being deported to Malawi tonight. He is a Zimbabwean, and that is another complicated issue. The Home Office refuses to listen. Many people, including Crispen Kulinji, did not travel here on a Zimbabwean passport. The only way in which this young man, Naison Sani, could get out of the country was on a Malawian passport. He is being deported tonight and has not had proper legal advice. The Minister will get a legal representation later today, and I ask him now to stop that deportation and to look separately at the question of people travelling on Malawian passports. They are Zimbabwean—the Home Office knows that. In cases such as that of Crispen Kulinji, the Home Office knows that they have been tortured; it still sends them back to Malawi.

I want to raise how we treat people in detention. I have visited Harmondsworth twice in the past three weeks. The second time was on 7 July, late in the afternoon, when I went to see two of the asylum seekers who had been on hunger strike for some time, Timbha Mqhubeli and Harris Nyatsanza. Both were in the medical wing and in a weak condition, particularly Timbha, who had been on hunger strike for nearly a month. He was very weak indeed. I said to the person in charge, "Why has he not been taken to hospital?" They said, "Oh, well, our doctor comes in every now and again"—I think that that was the phrase he used—"and at some stage he will say he should be taken to hospital."

We went back that night and got permission from the two of them to say that they wanted to see an independent doctor. Frank Arnold went in the next morning, saw them and immediately said that they should both be in hospital. The immigration department still refused to send them, and they had to go to court to get a ruling. That afternoon, at the last minute, while they were in court—presumably while the Home Office was still paying huge costs—the department agreed that Timbha could go to hospital that evening. Harris's case had to go back to court the next morning, and in the meantime the Home Office agreed that he, too, could go to hospital.

Timbha was sent across London in an ambulance, handcuffed the whole time, with three people guarding him. He arrived at the hospital, where, one of his Zimbabwean friends called to tell me, he continued to be handcuffed in bed. I phoned the detention centre at Harmondsworth and the man who answered said that they would look again at the security advice. He rang me back 10 minutes later and said, "We have looked at the security advice; we can take the handcuffs off and remove one of the wardens." Two wardens remained.
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The next morning the two wardens said that they had been told to sit at the foot of the bed and watch everything that that young man did. He could not do anything anyway—the idea that he was going to abscond! The doctor is making a formal report, because the detention centre manager had insisted that the patient be handcuffed in the ambulance and stay so after the delivery to hospital. That is despite the fact that the detention centre rules state:

as well as a list of other things. They also state that handcuffs should not be used


A doctor had done so, and when he contacted the centre manager he was told that it was because the recommendation had not been made by the centre doctor. However, the first doctor had tried to get hold of the centre doctor.

I know that I have gone into detail on one particular case, but my experience in dealing with these cases over the past three or four weeks has shown the shocking state of what is going on in detention centres. I urge whoever chairs the Home Affairs Committee—I cannot remember who it is—to suggest an inquiry into detention centres. These are huge issues that affect all asylum seekers, not just those from Zimbabwe.

John Bercow : I think the hon. Lady has in mind the right hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr. Denham).

Kate Hoey : Yes, all of us who have been involved in this matter will be writing to my right hon. Friend. Terrible things are going on in our detention centres. Zimbabwe is a special case; we have a particular responsibility for what is happening there and we have not done nearly enough.

Last week, New Zealand announced that all Zimbabweans who had managed to get to New Zealand would be allowed to stay. We are a much bigger country than New Zealand in terms of our economic power; if they can do it why cannot we? Every Zimbabwean I have met has been well educated and is capable of working and contributing to our economy—Timbha and Harris were teachers. They all want to go back to Zimbabwe but, because of the situation there and because they have been in detention here and the British Government are sending them back, they all risk being "lifted" when they arrive, whatever the Home Office says. If the Home Office says that it wants evidence of that, it means that it wants to see a dead body. I find that shocking, and I hope that this debate will highlight what is happening in Zimbabwe.

I plead with the Minister not simply to go along with the officials and the statistics, but to stand up, ask that the moratorium be reinstated and treat these people with the dignity and decency that they deserve.
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10.11 am

Patrick Hall (Bedford) (Lab): I will do my best to cut what I have to say so that I keep as near to five minutes as is possible, which will be difficult.

I congratulate my constituency neighbour, the hon. Member for North-East Bedfordshire (Alistair Burt), on securing the debate and on the measured way in which he presented his case. I visited Yarl's Wood twice recently on 8 and 15 July to meet the Zimbabwean female detainees who were due for removal, some of whom were on hunger strike. I met 16 women and formed a definite view that some of them were very politically aware. They were able to answer our questions from all sorts of angles and could only have come to that position, and developed that political awareness, by being politically active. Their fears of reprisals on return to Zimbabwe seemed to be reasonable.

There is no doubt that conditions in Zimbabwe are appalling and deteriorating. There is a rapidly growing danger for anyone who is, or is suspected of being, a critic of the regime and its leader. I have information from Zimbabweans living in Zimbabwe now who recently visited Britain for family reasons and whom I have met through mutual friends. These Zimbabweans are white, middle-class professionals who have never been politically active in Zimbabwe and are not members of any political party. For obvious reasons, I will not identify them, but I thank them for allowing me to refer to their views. I should like to have cited some of their experiences of day-to-day life, but I will not have time to do so.

In a nutshell, those people described a situation in which hundreds of thousands of people in Zimbabwe are at risk—that includes anyone speaking out against the regime, members of trade unions, members of NGOs, political opposition party members, of course, and groups concerned about the mass starvation, mass unemployment, house clearances and farm invasions. The risk is of death threats, of physical intimidation, including murder, of poisoning and harassment of all kinds. Telephone and e-mail tapping is the norm. People are followed by agents and others and subjected to repeat prosecutions for minor and bogus offences, such as blocking the pavement. They are held at road blocks and police stations by the police, the army, war veterans or ZANU-PF youth militia. The people I met cited examples of day-to-day harassment, which perhaps I shall be able to explain to the House on another occasion.

My friends—I do call them that—are clear about the risks that returned failed asylum seekers face. Whether or not those individuals were political activists, the very fact of them having sought asylum from the regime is seen as bad enough in the eyes of that regime; having sought asylum in Britain, of all places, is even worse. Anyone seeking asylum from Zimbabwe in white colonial Britain will be judged a traitor and deemed guilty, so the enforced returnees are regarded as political enemies by ZANU-PF. Of that my contacts have no doubt.

My contacts believe that returned detainees are routinely targeted. If they return to Harare on their own they are targeted at the airport by the Central Intelligence Organisation and are likely to be tortured,
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beaten up, held and dumped somewhere miles away, perhaps some days later. If they are met by large numbers of family and friends they will be targeted later, unless they go into hiding. Their families will be punished, especially if they live in rural areas where control by chiefs is strong.

Actions against them can result in losing the ability to buy food from the grain marketing board or losing access to the politically motivated food distribution system that operates in Zimbabwe. Children can be excluded from school as a punishment and Government employees can lose their jobs, be demoted or moved far from their homes at great personal inconvenience.

Of course, among asylum seekers from anywhere—including Zimbabwe—a proportion will be economic, rather than truly political in their motivation. However, surely the question before us is whether, whatever a person's reason for coming to the United Kingdom, it can, in all reason, be judged safe for any failed asylum seeker to be returned. The situation in Zimbabwe is well understood, and I do not understand how the return of failed asylum seekers to Zimbabwe, which is current Government policy, squares with what they themselves acknowledge. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary recently spoke in a statement about understanding the nature of the Mugabe regime, the abuses of human rights, the political persecution, and the denial of basic freedoms across the board, yet the Government still insist that it is safe to return failed asylum seekers to Zimbabwe.

I ask my hon. Friend the Minister to think again. In his statement to the House on 27 June, the Home Secretary said, among other things, that there were

that the Government would keep

and that a detailed review of the situation in Zimbabwe is taking place in the Government here.

On the first point, I agree that it is very difficult to obtain such evidence. Yesterday I spoke on the telephone to a Zimbabwean Member of Parliament who told me that no information is made available in Zimbabwe about failed asylum seekers being returned from the UK. Therefore, what happens to them cannot be measured. It is not reported.

However, the CIO has several offices at the airport in Harare. That organisation in the rest of the country takes part in and incites beatings and torture, and the dumping of people out in the bush. That is how it behaves. If it has officers at the airport, what must we think they are doing there? They threaten families and make people think carefully about complaining about what is done to them. Those people are more likely to go into hiding and keep quiet.

As a result of the way in which the regime operates, the definitive proof of ill treatment that the Government seek is unlikely to be obtained. However, I contend that on the balance of probabilities, returnees are highly likely to be at risk. Where does my hon. Friend think that the balance of probabilities lies? Where is his evidence that it is safe to return anyone to Zimbabwe?

As to the Home Secretary's other two points, what picture is the Minister receiving from people on the ground in Zimbabwe? Given the grave urgency of the
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situation there and the situation facing people in detention here, when will the detailed review referred to by the Home Secretary be completed? The parliamentary recess begins this week. When will the House have the opportunity to debate the outcome of the review and its consequences? Zimbabwe is on the brink of utter disaster. I urge the British Government to do the right thing and cease enforced removal to Zimbabwe until further notice.

10.20 am

Mr. Graham Stuart (Beverley and Holderness) (Con): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for North-East Bedfordshire (Alistair Burt) on securing the debate. It is invidious to pick out individuals, but I congratulate the hon. Member for Vauxhall (Kate Hoey) not only on keeping the subject at the top of the agenda but on speaking so powerfully about it. We have to be aware that Home Office Ministers have been under almost unprecedented pressure, and that must filter down to their officials. Perhaps the toughness of life in the Home Office over the past few weeks explains the inability to adjust to the emerging facts. As hon. Members said, it is not easy to run an asylum system in which there must be a balance between controlling economic migrants and people's desires to better their lives with the popular wish within this country for strict controls and asylum being given strictly to those most in need. It is not easy.

However, it is not denied that children are being deliberately bulldozed to death in Zimbabwe as a matter of Government policy. The Prime Minister recognises that the situation is abhorrent, and at the end of June the Home Secretary said:

He then went on to say that we are going to carry on sending people back there. It is not possible to align those statements and come to a conclusion.

On the train this morning, a senior business man said to me, "What is going to happen? Surely nobody is suggesting that we should send people back to Zimbabwe. Not now, as things are deteriorating all the time." I said that yes, that is the case, and a Minister will, under a lot of pressure, tell us why it is acceptable to send people back to a blood-stained tyrant such as Mugabe, in the full flood of his abuse of power. That is the invidious job that someone will have this morning.

It is all about the balance of risk. That is why I asked the Home Secretary to reverse the evidential test. That test should not be for people to show that they are coming to harm, but for the Government to show that people will not come to harm. That is the nub of what we are discussing today, about which hon. Members from all parties feel so passionately. We hope that there will be a change of heart, if not in today's debate, then as part of the process by which the Government recognise the situation and change their tack.

I should like to raise the case of Ashleigh McMaster, the daughter of a constituent of mine. Gary McMaster's farm in Zimbabwe was confiscated and he was branded an enemy of the state. His daughter applied to university and was told that she would have to join the National Youth Service before she would be allowed to go. The level of abuse within that service, including allegations
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of rape and other atrocities, is well known so, understandably, she did not wish to go into it. Mr. McMaster flew to Zimbabwe to try to get his daughter out, and was forced to use bribes to obtain a passport to get her into this country. That was two years ago. She is now 19, and is a bright young woman, but is in a highly nervous state. Her first application to remain was turned down, so she went to the adjudicator, who said:

That was the adjudicator's decision, which was then overturned on appeal by the Home Office. Gary and his daughter will be coming to Parliament later today, and I am grateful to the Minister, who has agreed to speak to me, when we can grab a moment, to discuss her case.

The recent death of the former Prime Minister, Edward Heath, raises an interesting reminder of one of the most distinguished acts of his political career. When the Ugandan Asians were being afflicted by Idi Amin, he took the politically unpalatable and difficult decision to admit them here, as was right and proper to do in the proud traditions of this country. Those traditions will be best served by the Government and the Minister having a change of heart, and refusing to allow anyone to be returned to Zimbabwe at the moment.

10.25 am

Annette Brooke (Mid-Dorset and North Poole) (LD): I start by congratulating the hon. Member for North-East Bedfordshire (Alistair Burt) on his clear and reasoned statement describing both the current situation and a possible way forward.

Back in January 2002, deportation was suspended owing to unrest in Zimbabwe. I say to the Government that I am really haunted by the unanswered question of what difference between the situation then and in November last year could possibly justify the recommencement of returns. That is just as true of the period since November. Surely no one could describe the situation in Zimbabwe as having improved.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Vauxhall (Kate Hoey) on raising these issues in such a timely way. Her points were well argued and related to the situation of the people, as well as the mechanisms that are failing so badly. In an Adjournment debate on 27 June, she gave a harrowing description of her recent visit: the destruction of homes, businesses and the economy, the continued abuse of power and the escalation of brutal activities. That is the background to today's debate.

I shall refer to a particular case, while making some general points. The case is that of Tendai Williard Chinhanhu, whom I shall refer to as Williard. Until last week, he was in Harmondsworth detention centre, where he had been since February 2004—a considerable time to be held somewhere when no crime has been committed.

I see two strands to Williard's case. I find it difficult to understand why he was not granted asylum seeker status in the first place. When I read the statement made by the Home Secretary in the House, I found it quite reassuring:
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Why were some of these people not granted asylum? Did they have adequate legal representation?

We then come to deportation. The hon. Member for North-East Bedfordshire demolished the pull factor argument that everyone would come flooding in if we had a blanket suspension of all removals. We must not get distracted by that type of argument.

To return to the case of Williard, interestingly, he is a runner and might have become an Olympic champion in other circumstances. He met members of the Movement for Democratic Change when he was running in other countries, such as Holland and Germany. He agreed actively to oppose Mugabe and began organising help to evacuate families from farms around Harare. He explains:

Williard went to his father's house—his father was eventually killed—and then he fled to London. He has spent some time in my constituency while in the country, and was an active and supportive member of Poole Runners until his detention. In one of his statements, he says:

I cannot express the situation any better than that, which is why I am using this individual case.

At the time of the election we all became aware of the heightened sensitivity surrounding asylum and immigration. The negative campaigning had an impact. I come from an area where there are relatively few asylum seekers, but it was a huge issue on the doorstep, perhaps because people did not have day-to-day meetings with asylum seekers. I was proud to stand on the doorstep and say that this country has a wonderful reputation for taking in persecuted people and looking after them. It is a proud tradition that we should continue and pass on to young people, and, yes, we should also sort out all the administrative problems facing the Government.

Not surprisingly, I have received a lot of representations about this very popular runner, several from young people. I want to convey an idea of the effect that the Government's action is having on the attitudes and beliefs of the next generation. A 15-year-old told me that until now he did not believe that in a modern country people could be sent to their death bed. Another writes:

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A 13-year-old writes:

I have received many comments from adults, but those from youngsters are the most moving. They show what our country is about; they show its future.

I ask the Minister what evaluation has been made of the deteriorating situation. What is preventing the Government from realising that the current policy is inappropriate? Why are we relying on the courts? We are told that individual cases are being looked at, but in how many have the Government decided to defer deportation? Does the Minister acknowledge that there are some failed asylum seekers in this country who, if returned, could face persecution for the simple reason that they applied for asylum from a regime that would not consider their rights if returned? I repeat an earlier question: what monitoring is taking place so that the Government can say, hand on heart, "Of course it is safe to be returned"? Surely it is not safe.

Another telling point was made. What message are we giving to Mugabe and his regime if we say that it is perfectly safe to return there? I find that incredible. On behalf of my former constituent—I know that he is staying somewhere else and dutifully reporting in at the moment—and all the other Zimbabweans in this country, I call on the Government not to wait for the court's decision, but to reintroduce the suspension of the deportations as soon as is practical.

10.33 am

Mr. Humfrey Malins (Woking) (Con): I join others in saying that this has been an excellent debate. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for North-East Bedfordshire (Alistair Burt) not just on the way he has spoken today, but on his truly outstanding speech on the Second Reading of the Immigration, Asylum and Nationality Bill a couple of weeks ago. I am grateful to all who have spoken today, particularly my hon. Friend the Member for Beverley and Holderness (Mr. Stuart) and the hon. Member for Bedford (Patrick Hall).

It was about 14 years ago that the hon. Member for Vauxhall (Kate Hoey) and I were on a parliamentary delegation to Zimbabwe. I came back from that visit optimistic and hopeful; I thought that Zimbabwe had a great future, although there were obviously worries. Those worries have increased over the years. We are grateful to the hon. Lady for her comments today. For many years she has taken an interest in Zimbabwe and the House owes her a debt of gratitude for her work and commitment. As I said, I was a little worried when I returned from Zimbabwe 14 years ago, but I am much more worried today. The whole House is worried. I cannot find an hon. Member who is not concerned about the position in Zimbabwe.
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During the past few weeks many of us have written to the Foreign Secretary following representations from constituents. The reply stated:

your constituent's

Patrick Hall : Just to add to the hon. Gentleman's point about the house and shelter clearances, my sources have told me that that policy is moving into the affluent suburbs, where officials are harassing people about, and removing, garages, garden sheds and satellite dishes. It is all part of turning the screw on people and putting them under pressure.

Mr. Malins : The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. My understanding of what is happening is exactly as he portrayed it. Yet there is a sense of helplessness in the House. What can we do to change Zimbabwe's awful regime? I believe—I think I speak for many of us—that it must be confronted head on. I hope that the EU can take tougher action and impose tougher sanctions, perhaps widening them to freeze the assets of those who bankroll Mugabe. The Government could consider taking the Zimbabwean Government to the United Nations Security Council and proposing a resolution to send UN observers to Zimbabwe to monitor not just food distribution, for example, but returned asylum seekers. There is a need for us in this Parliament and the Government to become even more involved in trying to improve matters there.

As some colleagues mentioned this morning, many asylum seekers from Zimbabwe have come here over the years. Some 15,000 came between 2001 and 2004, although the number has fallen this year. We are all interested in the fate of failed asylum seekers who have been returned to Zimbabwe. We know that some 95 were returned between January and March this year. Looking back at the number of applications from Zimbabwe for asylum in this country over the past five years, it is plain that many were refused. It is also plain that a huge proportion of those who failed in their claims were not removed from this country and must still be here. One of our concerns should be their distress and worry about the present uncertain policy and about what might happen to them in the middle of the night if an official chose to lift them and remove them.

The 95 who have been removed in the past few months are of great concern to us all, and I hope that the Minister will go into detail about his knowledge of what has happened to them and to others who were removed from this country earlier. Is he aware of any cases in which a failed asylum seeker has returned to Zimbabwe to face death, torture or other brutality?

That brings me to monitoring—having people on the ground in Zimbabwe to find out what is going on and, in particular, what may be happening to some of the failed asylum seekers who have been returned—and how the Government get their information. We know about the
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regular country reports that are produced. Some of us over the years have wondered about the standard of those reports, but we know that the report in April about Zimbabwe documented serious human rights abuses, and that the position has got much worse since then.

The hon. Member for Bedford referred to the campaign that has been going on for a while in Zimbabwe, which I think translates as "drive out the rubbish". It has involved forced evictions, terrible destruction and a motivation that many of us believe to be extremely suspect. The motivation is political and not, as Mr. Mugabe would have it, the restoration of sanity and order in urban and other areas through a cleaning-up campaign. We do not think that is what it is at all.

Others have referred to the numbers affected by that appalling campaign. According to the Department for International Development, a third of a million people were affected. However, the hon. Member for Vauxhall said to the House that up to 1 million people may have been displaced.

We had a no-removals policy. I remember very well when it was introduced. At the beginning of 2002, the then Home Secretary, now the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, introduced the policy of not returning failed asylum seekers to Zimbabwe. I was part of the shadow Home Affairs team then, and I remember that in discussions with him, he approached the matter sensitively and properly.

Incidentally, I say to the Minister that the Government have approached the matter sensitively, and there is more unity than political division between us in the sense that I hope to goodness that we are all seeking the same ends. We supported the no-removals policy, but we were concerned when it was withdrawn at the end of 2004.

There are several examples of no-returns in our asylum system and removals policies over the past few years. I checked the records to find that, over the past seven or eight years, we have had a no-returns policy for a period in relation to at least a dozen countries, including, interestingly enough, Turkey, from July 1999 to December 2000. It is true that our Government have from time to time said to themselves that a policy change is needed, and that we shall have a no-returns policy. Changing the position back at the end of 2004 might, as was said earlier, have been thought odd, given that the situation in Zimbabwe hardly got better during that period.

The Home Secretary said last month that he had considered whether to reinstate the suspension of forced removals to Zimbabwe, but had concluded that there were insufficient grounds to do so. By then the position was getting acute, but the Home Secretary said:

I do not think that over the years the Government have routinely monitored the treatment of those who have been returned. I recall, as the House will, the exchange in the other place between Baroness D'Souza
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and Baroness Scotland of Asthal about substantiated or unsubstantiated reports of ill treatment of individuals. I understand that the Refugee Legal Centre, among others, has evidence of the systematic abuse and torture of returned failed asylum seekers.

The level of concern has increased enormously in all parties over the past few weeks. Even now, there are large numbers of detainees on hunger strike. There are 70 or more applications before the High Court from people who are fighting removal. Only a few days ago, Mr. Justice Collins urged the Home Secretary to halt removals to Zimbabwe, pending the full hearing on 4 August. Following a case only a day or two ago, the Home Office decided to suspend forced removals to Zimbabwe until after 4 August.

I conclude with a few questions to the Minister. Do any other European countries have a no-returns policy? Can he tell us a little more about how the Zimbabwe issue affects asylum seekers in other European countries? Do those countries have many applicants from Zimbabwe? What do they do with failed applicants? Do they send them back? Is the Minister in discussion with any European Governments on what they are doing as regards a no-returns policy? Can he please try very hard to set up a system for monitoring failed asylum seekers who have been returned to Zimbabwe? We need genuine information about the burdens and the brutality that they may face. Monitoring is a very important policy, because we just do not know what is happening to some people, although we fear the worst. Will the Minister please now reinstate the no-removals policy and not just leave us in limbo?

10.46 am

The Minister for Immigration, Citizenship and Nationality (Mr. Tony McNulty) : Before I congratulate the hon. Member for North-East Bedfordshire (Alistair Burt), I caution the hon. Member for Woking (Mr. Malins), who speaks for the Opposition. There are no hunger strikes at the moment and there is no uncertainty about policy—a point that relates partly to the purpose of the debate. Clearly, many hon. Members want to change policy, but, with the greatest respect, I would not go around confusing things or throwing into the pot things that simply are not facts.

I congratulate the hon. Member for North-East Bedfordshire not only on securing the debate—that is customary—but on the nature of his contribution. These are emotive and sensitive issues, and I thank him for his kind words about my officials and others. Without wanting to make this a mutual back-slapping event, let me return the compliment by commending him on his courtesy and respect for those involved, who are doing such difficult work. I may contradict those remarks shortly, but I make them with the best of intentions.

This is, and will continue to be, a very emotive and sensitive matter. I know entirely where the UNHCR stands on it, and it has made that very clear. It is entirely fair to put that in the public domain. I hope to come on to some of the generalities of our policy, but the time that I have might be better spent focusing first on some of the serious matters raised by individual hon. Members, in particular the hon. Member for North-East Bedfordshire.
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The hon. Gentleman talked about escort services. He said that people were being escorted in vehicles, such as vans and cars, that were not equipped with CCTV, and I shall ensure that that ends. Indeed, I believe that it is ending and that the one contractor that still operates in that way is getting CCTV fitted. However, I shall write to the hon. Gentleman under separate cover to ensure that CCTV prevails and that it is the norm throughout all cases involving escorts. All the main contractors' vehicles are certainly equipped with CCTV, but, as he says, there are occasions when that is not the case.

I do not agree that we can go from admitting that there have been mistakes and careless acts within the detention estate to a broader, blanket condemnation of all that goes on in it. Detention is a key element of any asylum process. I profoundly disagree with the hon. Member for Chichester (Mr. Tyrie), who gaily slipped in, condemned our entire uncivilised asylum system and all who work in it, and then left. Although there are serious—almost life and death—issues to be addressed, they are not sufficient for any Member of this House to condemn the entire system and all who work in it because of errors or because they do not agree with a particular aspect of what we are doing. That is to malign public servants in a way that is beneath any Member of the House. I seriously traduce it.

The impression was given that maltreatment is the norm in our detention estate, but that is not the case. I would cheerfully welcome a detailed consideration of our detention estate by the Home Affairs Committee. Many dedicated, professional and committed people do difficult jobs, and it is not sufficient for any Member of the House to malign them on the back of one, two or more particular cases, however emotive.

Kate Hoey : Will the Minister give way?

Mr. McNulty : No, I will not. [Interruption.] I will come to my hon. Friend's points in a moment and may give way then, but I will not have the entire estate and the entire civil service body working within it maligned for some mistakes, carelessness, and—we have investigated this before—attitudes to asylum seekers.

Although it is a truism, I cheerfully state that people in our detention estate have committed no crimes. They are in detention for specific reasons, such as the fear that they will abscond, as a prelude to their removal, or because decisions on their cases will be made quickly. That is part of the system. They have committed no crimes, and are entitled to, and overwhelmingly receive, civilised and decent treatment. That is certainly the case in the parts of the estate that I have visited. Over the summer, I shall visit the rest of it. I happily undertake to raise with relevant officials whatever carelessness, mistakes and attitudinal matters need correction, but I suspect that they are limited and rare, rather than the norm, as has been suggested.

The hon. Member for North-East Bedfordshire asked about a missing memo. I say quite frankly that I have not seen it. I believe that it was generated from a local level. There has been no change in policy—I can say that with some integrity as I have been party to these matters throughout. In the first instance, some removals were deferred post-27 June, because we undertook to put in the final check specifically for Zimbabwe. The notion
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that removals were suspended for any specific reason, such as the G8 or any embarrassment that might be caused, simply is not the case.

Alistair Burt : I will leave a copy of the memo with the Minister. Will he write to me on whether there has been any inquiry into how that situation arose? I take his point that the policy had not changed at the time, but the memo obviously came from the Home Office, and clearly states:

How did it get written, and who sent it? We now know that it has no status, but the Minister cannot be happy that that sort of thing goes flying around in his name.

Mr. McNulty : I certainly shall deal with that in a letter because it is not the case. That sort of decision would have been taken by me or the Home Secretary, and it was not. I shall explore the matter outside our deliberations and I reiterate that there was no blanket suspension before or after G8 or any other event to save embarrassment or otherwise.

The hon. Gentleman asked for a debate on this subject with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in attendance, but if a Minister from the FCO were also here, the hon. Gentleman would hear the same refrain. The rumours in the press are just that: rumours in the press. I do not know what happened to it, but there was an innovation whereby three, four or five Ministers lined up to answer questions and hold mini-debates with a thematic approach in this place rather than in the main Chamber. I do not know whether we still do that, but, again, I would welcome such a development.

As I said, we are not hiding behind the skirts of a judge's cloak because of our embarrassment. The hon. Gentleman knows that. This is what today's debate is about; our policy on enforced returns has not changed, but we respect the judiciary's position as set out in comments made by two judges, Collins and Ouseley, on enforced returns, and we will not force failed asylum seekers to return to Zimbabwe before the hearing on 4 August, at which we, and I am sure everyone else, hope for some clarity at the very least. Hon. Members will know, however, that failed asylum seekers continue to return voluntarily to Zimbabwe, and that there are voluntary and enforced returns among those on the non-failed asylum seeker route. I place that on the record for the sake of balance.

We were asked why we had taken the decision now when we said that the policy had not changed after Mr. Justice Collins's comments. We took our decision to respect the judiciary's position as set out in comments made by both judges. It was said that the judges were about to impose a suspension anyway. In a blanket sense, they were not about to do so. I suspect, as my hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall (Kate Hoey) intimated several times, that a range of people would suspend legal and other activities by stealth until 4 August, which is entirely a matter for them. I intend to give way to my hon. Friend in a moment so that she can say something about that.
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We start from the premise that the asylum policy and returns must be based on the concerns, circumstances and all the other elements that relate to an individual rather than the collective.

Mr. Malins : Will the Minister give way?

Mr. McNulty : No.

Mr. Malins : Will the Minister give way?

Mr. McNulty : With respect, I have said no. I shall shortly give way to my hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall, and then my time is about done.

My hon. Friend suggested that our policy is all about statistics and picking off easy targets in an attempt to secure Government policy. That is fundamentally not the case, and I assure her that no one will be returned to Zimbabwe or anywhere else on my watch simply for the governmental convenience of achieving a target. I totally resent her imputation that that is the case.

Kate Hoey : The Minister should not resent people questioning what many members of the public believe to be the truth, but I am sure that the House will generally welcome his assurance. Will he, however, get to the crux of the matter and say why the policy changed, and whether he believes that it is now safe to send people back to Zimbabwe?

Mr. McNulty : The policy is very clear. As my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary stated on 27 June and in a written statement thereafter, we do not concede the case for a blanket suspension of removals to Zimbabwe. We shall deal with each individual on their own merits and, in the context of the asylum system, we shall not remove people to Zimbabwe whom we consider to be under threat.

Mr. Malins : Does the Minister know what other countries, such as France, Germany and other EU member states, are doing about this?

Mr. McNulty : So far as I am aware, those countries have no significant numbers of people—if they have any at all—from Zimbabwe, so the matter does not arise. I shall get back to the hon. Gentleman if I am wrong about that. I will meet a range of Zimbabwean-related NGOs in the next week or so under the auspices of the Refugee Council.

My hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall mentioned the case involving the use of Malawian passports. I have not had any representations about that. I understand that there will be no removals tonight, but I do need to see representations. It remains the policy that the focus is on the individual and that individual representations are judged on their merits. That is the most appropriate way to protect not only those who would be at risk, but the overall integrity of the asylum system.

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