Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, we now reach a couple of probing amendments in quick succession, Amendments Nos. 2 and 3, which will look at the specific details of the Government's proposals. I am grateful to the Minister for saying that he would save his notes on the details until these amendments. In normal circumstances, I would happily have grouped them with Amendment No. 1. I was not in a position to be able to do so today because it struck me that the vote on Amendment No. 1 might be lost. Since it has been lost, if I had grouped my amendments with it, at Third Reading it could be judged that the issue had been decided, and I would not be allowed to bring back the amendments. The advice is always not to group them. I always seek advice on this from independent sources such as the Public Bill Office. One must always be careful. Therefore, my amendments have not been grouped.

It is important to look at the detail. The Minister has sought to pre-empt the questions by saying in the debate on Amendment No. 1 that he still does not know any answers. I hope that he might now know one or two, if not all the answers. I am probing the issue of what kind of purposeful activity the Secretary of State can order a failed asylum seeker to do under the provisions of Clause 10. In his previous remarks, the Minister said that with regard to the issue of the voluntary work that is or is not undertaken by those with a special category, he is not able to give details today. I am disappointed by that, because I would have thought that before the Government pushed ahead with introducing this skeleton proposal, they would have looked at alternative proposals already in place to see whether they were successful. The prime
28 Jun 2004 : Column 25
alternative would involve establishing whether provisions stating that one can do voluntary work have proved to be successful, and how much they cost to manage. The Government have failed to do that. They have simply pressed ahead with a policy of compulsion without proving either way if the existing policy of volunteering works. It looks again as though we have a headline without any story behind it.

What progress have the Government made, if any, since Committee stage in working out how the new policies will be put into effect? The noble Lord, Lord Rooker, said that the details will come in regulations. At this stage, the Government have a duty to explain to the House and to the public what reasons they have for bringing forward this policy and how it will operate.

Looking at Amendment No. 2 in detail, the Government's drafting of Clause 10(7)(a) gives the Secretary of State the power to direct a person to work at anything that appears,

My amendment removes the vagueness that is implied by "appears", and requires the Secretary of State to have some proper reason that the directed labour would be for the good of the public or part of it. The question must be what kind of directed labour the Government have in mind. So far, all that the Minister has said to the House is that it could be local to them. That seems sensible. He says that there could even be some running repairs on the accommodation that they are enjoying. I have seen many television programmes about houses of horrors. It sounds as if another television series could be spawned here about failed asylum seekers and what they do to their accommodation. How people's abilities are best used during the brief period that they hope to remain here before they are removed is a serious matter. At least, we hope that it is a brief period; they might hope that it is longer.

How will the Government decide whether the directed labour is for the good of the public or part of the public? Will they take into account the cost of managing that directed labour? Or will cost be a separate matter, and will they simply go for looking at the type of activity, whatever the costs of implementing the management of that? Do they expect the cost of managing each placement to be more or less the same as the cost of managing community penalties?

The Minister has recently said that the costs that he will be able to talk about today are the costs as they stand now and that things can change. Of course, numbers of failed asylum seekers can change. That is right; they can wax and wane, but surely the cost of managing schemes does not necessarily change if one has in mind the proper administration of these schemes. I am looking at the cost of the placement, not the global costs, which I appreciate will change according to the number of failed asylum seekers who may be subject to this direction. Of course, one must recognise that the Government do not necessarily have to direct all failed asylum seekers to carry out directed
28 Jun 2004 : Column 26
activity—just some may be involved. The numbers may change, but surely the management of the placement should be estimated.

My concern, as I mentioned in Committee, is simply that the management of this scheme may be out of all proportion to the benefit that may be gained by any part of the community. What discussions have the Government already had with the Local Government Association about their willingness to become involved? What have been the results of those discussions? Have the Government had discussions with any private companies about taking on the management of such schemes?

At Committee on recommitment, the Minister said the Government:

about what labour will be redirected. They want flexibility. He repeated the term flexibility again today, but it is only common sense that an individual should be asked to do only that work that is appropriate to them and within their capability.

I am not opposing that idea, but the Government have so far hidden their lack of policy about the scheme behind this general argument that in this clause we should write a blank cheque for whatever the Government think they might do at some stage in future. I beg to move.

Lord Avebury: My Lords, I dread to think what might happen to the accommodation if the failed asylum seekers are let loose on the plumbing or the electrics. I wonder whether the Minister, when he gives further thought to this idea, will conclude that to match the capacities of failed asylum seekers to tasks which are available within the locality, as he explained, and can be properly managed by the local authority will be extremely difficult.

People who have particular skills, such as the doctor I mentioned from Zimbabwe, who in any case is not eligible for Section 4 support, which does not apply to Zimbabweans, would not be able to work in the local hospital because the Minister carefully underlined the fact that none of this work is long-term in nature. So there will be people with skills that might be employed for the good of the community but which cannot actually be incorporated into these schemes because they are not of the nature that the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, has described.

As regards Amendment No. 2, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay of St Johns, the Minister said in another context on the last occasion that he did not think that,

Where it appears to the Secretary of State to be so, then he has to have reason to believe that it is so.

I have found examples of both usages in previous legislation. In Section 6 of the British Nationality (Hong Kong) Act 1990, a person shall not be registered as a British citizen if the Secretary of State has reason to believe that he is not of good character. Section 33 of the
28 Jun 2004 : Column 27
Companies Act 1989 allows the Secretary of State to withdraw recognition from a body that qualifies auditors in other jurisdictions where he has reason to believe that membership of the body no longer meets the required standards. On the other hand,

is a more common usage in immigration legislation, as for example in Section 22 of the 1999 Act, which allows the Secretary of State to make transitional provisions regarding a code of practice to avoid unlawful discrimination such as appear to him to be necessary or expedient. I an not sure whether it is necessary to spell out the equivalent of the two expressions, since on the basis of Pepper v Hart, a court would be able to make reference to the Minister's statement of 15 June.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour: My Lords, my noble friend is absolutely right to probe the Minister about what kind of jobs failed asylum seekers are likely to do under this scheme. When the Home Secretary gets the bit between his teeth, he does sometimes come out with some fairly draconian ideas. We need to look at this whole provision pretty carefully, when we know what it is.

In the mean time it is doubtless helpful for the Government to see what the problems and possibilities are. The most important point about these community activities is that they are seen by those failed asylum seekers who are doing them and by the public as genuine, useful, local projects. They should not be artificial. If work is made deliberately for this purpose it will be very disillusioning for everybody. The failed asylum seekers will be carrying the reputation of this country home with them, and it is very important that they do not have as the last thing they remember being made to do a useless job, on pain of losing support. It is very important that it is a serious, proper job.

As I mentioned in Committee, I go back in my public life as far as the Manpower Services Commission, in which I played a considerable part over several years. One of the problems then was measures for the long-term unemployed, and how to get genuine jobs from local authorities and voluntary organisations which people could see were useful. They were not necessarily jobs training them for the future, but they helped them by alleviating long-term unemployment and giving them satisfaction and a certain will to work when they could get a job.

It proved very difficult to do, and there was a lot of disillusionment when the public saw jobs being created which cost a lot of money to provide, to so little advantage for the community because they were artificial jobs. I think it is a problem that the Home Secretary should recollect; it occurred up to a point with the New Deal, although not in quite the same way. The Home Secretary is, luckily for him, a great deal younger than me and probably does not
28 Jun 2004 : Column 28
remember the problems there were. It would be worth looking back at the records to see what the problems were.

It may be that when the cost is worked out and the job satisfaction is, over a limited period, seen to be low for the participants while the disillusionment of the public is seen to be high, it would be better to have a voluntary scheme. That would be seen as something quite different and could in fact be cheaper. I hope the House does not feel I am wasting time by mentioning these facts, for I think they are relevant.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page