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The Chairman of Committees (Lord Brabazon of Tara): My Lords, I should point out that if this amendment is agreed to, I will not be able to call Amendments Nos. 2 or 3.

Lord Mackay of Clashfern: My Lords, I thank the Minister who is to reply to the amendment for giving us such a practical demonstration of the fact that Ministers in this House speak for Her Majesty's Government as a whole and not for any particular department.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour: My Lords, I endorse what my noble and learned friend has said. The Liberal Democrats feel strongly about the suggestion that failed asylum seekers, while appealing or who for other reasons have not returned to their home country, should not be asked to do community work in return for accommodation. They feel it is forced labour. I said in Committee and I reiterate that this is a very tricky point. The public are likely to understand that people who are still in this country, having failed to get asylum, should be required to do something in return for accommodation.
 
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The trouble about the provision at the moment is that it is half-baked. The noble Lord almost admitted that, although he would not have used such an impolite adjective to describe the Government's current situation. There is a great deal we do not know about it, and we will probably deal with some of the detail when we discuss Amendment No. 2. As a general principle, I do not think it is forced labour. People are being asked to do this in return for being given accommodation by the people of this country when they have no real right to it. I should have thought that they would not mind that; such people will be extremely bored while they are waiting. They will not have anything to do, and it will be quite interesting to help the local community in which they live. So I do not share the Liberal Democrats' objection to this. But we do need to know a good deal more about the detail before we know whether it is a workable and good idea.

The Countess of Mar: My Lords, I have a certain amount of sympathy with the noble Lord, Lord Avebury. I remind noble Lords of my interest as a lay member of the Immigration Appeal Tribunal.

I have no objection to people having to earn their corn. There is no problem with that. What I am concerned about is the Minister's comparison of this sort of job creation, such as it is, with the New Deal. I asked him last time—he was unable to give me the answer, perhaps he can do so now—how much each job has cost under the New Deal, and I have a feeling that the cost of providing work for something like 500 people—I think the Minister said that in Committee—will be inordinate. I would be grateful if he could clarify that point before I decide.

Baroness Anelay of St Johns: My Lords, in Committee the Government were unable to give details of the justification for the new clauses that they were bringing forward at the eleventh hour in this Bill, by way of recommitment—particularly details of how the various policies would actually operate. I made it clear in Committee that we on these Benches do expect to be able to support the policy intention behind the 13 new clauses, but that we are still very concerned about the haste with which they have been drawn up, and the possibility that there could be flaws and unintended consequences. It is a case of the Government making up policy on the hoof.

Our concern has already been justified by the fact that the Government have brought forward further amendments today, to two of the new clauses which were accepted by your Lordships in Committee on recommitment. The Government say that the provisions of Clause 10 do not contravene the ECHR. Well, I hope that they are right. The Home Secretary certainly has a track record of charging ahead with flawed proposals that are then challenged successfully in the courts. That is bad for everybody concerned: bad for the reputation of Parliament; bad for the taxpayer for having to foot the bill, and bad for the Government overall, because it means people lose trust in what they are trying to implement.
 
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I do not, however, support Amendment No. 1 of the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, as I am still prepared to listen to the Government's justifications for the clause, and their plans to make it work. If I can be flippant for one moment, I would say that the Government got one out of 10 in Committee, if I am being very gracious. I hope that the score might go up today.

In that vein, I have tabled probing amendments of my own that follow consideration of this amendment. In Committee, I remarked that I understood that, under the current system, failed asylum seekers—and we are talking only about those who have failed all the various avenues of appeal open to them—who are in receipt of hard case support are already allowed to make a contribution to our community by taking up voluntary work. The Minister did not seek to contradict me on that point, so I assume that must be the case. I would be grateful if he could confirm that, and if he could tell the House how many of the failed asylum seekers have, over the past year or two, actually volunteered to take up voluntary work in order to give something back to this community from which they are getting support. Of course, these are people who should not be here and who are awaiting removal.

I would also be grateful if the Minister would give the House some indication of the experience the voluntary organisations have had in managing such persons. I raised these issues in Committee, so they do not come as a surprise to the Minister. I hope he has had a chance to consult his officials between then and now, and has a response. The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, was right to refer back to my concerns about costs in managing this. I will go into more detail in my Amendment No. 2. It has certainly been my experience that when voluntary organisations are managing people, they want them to be true, open-hearted volunteers, otherwise it becomes very expensive and difficult either to train them or to get any meaningful contribution out of them. It is a very difficult area for voluntary organisations.

The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, referred in his closing remarks to numbers and costs. I will deal with that in detail, on the more practical side of my amendments. But the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, has addressed the whole issue of principle about whether or not people should do what he calls "forced labour". I call it directed labour, but it is certainly a contribution to the community in recompense for the financial assistance and accommodation which that person has received here.

My noble friend Lady Carnegy of Lour was right to direct us to the fact that the public is likely to have some sympathy with the idea that people should give something back to a community which has been supporting them, when those people have no valid claim to remain here. It is also right that some persons cannot return, as yet, to their country of origin. The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, has mentioned Zimbabwe, and he has far better information about particular details of individual cases than most other Members of this House. As a class case, that is a prime example of a country to which it is difficult for people to return.
 
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My noble friend Lady Carnegy was also right to refer to public concern—echoed by the noble Countess, Lady Mar—when she talked about the issue of the New Deal. It is not just the Minister who likens this to the New Deal. The Home Secretary also did so in the press release that came out in April, when this idea was first vaunted after the so-called summit on immigration that the Prime Minister called at Downing Street. The difficulty I have with that attempt to liken this to the New Deal is that the implications for the people concerned are at the other end of the scale. For example, if you are going on the New Deal, it is holding out a hope for a better future in employment to you. This is certainly no New Deal, even in my eyes—I say to the noble Lord, Lord Avebury—because this is not a launch pad to success, it is a launch pad back to failure. I found that an extraordinary comparison.

A comparison that we do need is the one that the noble Countess, Lady Mar, brings forward, and that is one of costs and management. I shall return to the detail of that in Amendment No. 2. But the Minister has a duty to look at the whole principle of directed labour, and how that falls within all the rules by which we are governed through ECHR and other international agreements, as well as commonly accepted views about what you can and cannot force people to do with the ultimate penalty of withdrawing from them the roof over their head.

The Minister of State, Office of the Deputy Prime Minister (Lord Rooker): My Lords, given that the first three amendments are all on the same clause, are obviously not grouped, and a lot of general points have been raised, I will try to stick to the points relating to Amendment No. 1 so that I am not repetitious when I come to points relating to Amendment No. 2. There has been a decision to keep them separate, although they revolve around the same issue, notwithstanding the fact that the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, said that he was opposed to the whole point in principle. He made a speech that was slightly disconnected from the amendments, because he was raising other matters unrelated to the accommodation situation of failed asylum seekers in receipt of special hardship money—of which, as I said in Committee, there are about 500.

I respond first to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern. We are flexible Ministers, and it makes the job more interesting, no doubt about it. My colleagues in the other place do not quite understand it, but I am gradually educating them. I thank the noble and learned Lord for his remarks.

If there is an opposition in principle, then nothing I say is going to make the slightest bit of difference, even though I will try and meet the arguments—some of which, of course, are ones that I repeated in Committee. On the other hand, we need a system to work and, as I said in Committee, this system will be subject to detailed regulations which I am not, of course, in a position to share with the House at the present time. They will be by affirmative resolution, so this is not the last point in the primary legislation that we shall deal with this. We will have an opportunity in the detail of the regulations to look at all of the circumstances, because we have to do that.
 
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It is true that failed asylum seekers can volunteer at present. I do not have any statistics about it. There is nothing in this world to stop anybody volunteering for anything. By definition there would not be. There is obviously an issue about paid employment. People are not able to take paid employment, but that does not mean that they cannot volunteer. To my certain knowledge, some failed asylum seekers do volunteer in various parts of the country but I do not have any statistics. Of course, those people may not be failed asylum seekers subject to hardship money.

There are a lot more failed asylum seekers than the 500 covered by this clause. We must be clear about that as the statistics that the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, gave involved a substantially greater number than that. This clause concerns people who are in receipt of hardship funds under Section 4. The central point of principle of the amendment and the new clause is that people should not get something for nothing.

As I said in Committee, we are committed to offering support under Section 4 to those who cannot maintain themselves and who are not in a position to leave the UK immediately. They will be due to leave at some time in the future but when they will leave cannot be predicted. We discussed this matter in Committee. Where a person is complying with the necessary redocumentation procedures and is seeking to return home voluntarily but cannot because there is no viable route, we should not leave him destitute. That is what Section 4 money is for.

This provision is not a punishment. I made that absolutely clear. It is simply a requirement that those in receipt of that support put something back into the community. I did not give examples but I made it quite clear that the contribution would be expected to be local to the circumstances of the person concerned. He would not be bused around the country on, in effect, gainful employment as a result of this. It would be local to his living circumstances and maybe would even be related to his own community. I gave those examples. I do not think I have any more but by the time that we come to regulations we certainly will have. We expect the work to be carried out in the immediate environment of the person who is receiving support. Indeed, it could be the upkeep and maintenance of his own accommodation, which might be being done by someone else at present. It will be local community work. That is what we will delineate in the regulations.

Other points that were raised in Committee were touched on again today. All the activities will be of value. They will not simply be activities performed for their own sakes. The activities must be beneficial to the public or to a section of the public. That is what the clause requires. The value of the activities is more difficult. I mentioned New Deal but we are dealing with a different situation. I fully accept the point that New Deal is about prospects for the future. This is slightly different but we are demonstrating that there are people with expertise in developing programmes. They could utilise their experience to develop a strategy for giving something back rather than for getting people into long-term work because these
 
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people have no prospect of long-term work in this country. We will utilise people's skills. That makes good sense and I admit that we do not take account of them at present.

This is a slightly different situation for this narrow group of about 500. We are looking to put a flexible measure on the statute book that can meet circumstances that can change from time to time. We may be legislating for today and using figures based on today but we want to put something on the face of the Bill, and in the regulations, that can meet changed circumstances in the future. As a point of principle, that is what we are seeking to promote.

I also accept that there is a logical case for people to say, "Let them work and earn their keep". But since the time that I had day-to-day responsibility for this, we have repeatedly said that that sends the wrong signal. It sends the wrong signal so that people come here to claim asylum when basically they are economic migrants. That is why we have opened up many other managed migration routes so that people do not have to claim asylum or to put themselves in the hands of people traffickers. If we allowed paid employment, which has got a seductive ring to it, it would send the wrong signal to people in various communities. We want to maintain the distinction, which sometimes gets mixed up, between immigration and asylum. They are quite different.

I do not think that there is any argument, except perhaps from the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, that these are people who have been through the system and failed. I fully accept the examples that he has given. I do not deny them at all. But these are all people who have gone through the whole of the system and have no further prospect of any judicial or legal arrangements for making their claim for asylum. Their claims are finished and have been dismissed. They are at the end of the line. It is simply that for various reasons they cannot get on a plane or a boat to go back home and they cannot maintain themselves. I cannot say whether the people returning to their own countries are just going to Iraq and Afghanistan. It varies from time to time. I know from papers that crossed my desk when I was at the Home Office that there were people of other nationalities who could not be returned, even though they were failed asylum seekers. However, that was nothing to do with Section 4. There are other situations.


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