Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

The Countess of Mar: My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Carnegy of Lour, has made some very valid points. I, too, remember the Manpower Services Commission, the Youth Opportunities Scheme and all sorts of other schemes that have been given a whirl, so to speak. I used to serve on a committee with a lady who would start off by saying something like "Wouldn't it be nice . . . ". We always knew that "Wouldn't it be nice . . . " meant that something totally impractical was coming out. That is what I am reminded of in this case. We have seen in the Daily Mail that everybody is upset that we are providing all this accommodation and food for all these people who should not be here anyway, so let us make them work for their food. Well, that is fine, but at what cost? I keep trying to extract from the Minister what the cost is.

There will now have to be a management team in every local authority area that has failed asylum seekers. Whether they have one or one hundred does not make any difference; the management costs will be the same. The costs per job may be different, but the management costs of setting up the framework will be there and it seems likely to me that they are going to be expensive. We need to know how much the Government expect it to cost. There are all sorts of other instances from which they can extrapolate figures. Maybe it is just 'Wouldn't it be nice . . . '.

Lord Rooker: My Lords, I shall address the points that the noble Baroness, Lady Carnegy of Lour, made about what were not perhaps the halcyon days of the Manpower Services Commission. I just ask her to remember that the Home Secretary, David Blunkett, entered the House of Commons in 1987. He entered as leader of Sheffield City Council. Therefore in the early 1980s I think he was more than well aware of the Manpower Services Commission, since as I recall its headquarters were in Sheffield. I, too, remember the criticisms in the early 1980s and some of the make-work schemes, and the way the MSC was really taken for a ride by lots of false community groups who went out and printed notepaper and created a group overnight, and got their handouts.

However, we are not living in the same world. Today some 28 million people are working in this country, but back in the early 1980s anyone would have said that that would be impossible to achieve. It is also virtually impossible today to be better off on benefits than working. We are living in a different world, one in which careful and sophisticated research is undertaken into training for genuine economic activity. That is not to criticise the MSC, which was a pathfinder operation
 
28 Jun 2004 : Column 29
 
in those early days. I do not knock it. At the time there was a crisis with 3 million people unemployed. Something had to be done. However, the experience of the past decade or so, stretching back to the days before the present Government, means that we have enough expertise to ensure that we can provide good and purposeful activity.

I do not have individual figures for the costs. Indeed, even though the amendment is probing in nature, it is worth pointing out in response to what was said about the use of the words in other legislation that we do not believe that the proposed wording in the amendment would alter in any way the meaning of the clause, and is therefore unnecessary. Parliamentary counsel concurs with that view.

We want the Secretary of State to have some flexibility. We do not want to be restrictive at this stage. Community activities will not be limited to one particular task to be performed by everyone. Local authorities may or may not be involved. We have not conducted any consultation at the present time. This is a late addition to the Bill and, while it is not a unique procedure, it is unusual to recommit to the Committee stage. But we thought it best to raise and debate the issue in Parliament and then conduct the detailed consultations. However, we would certainly want to utilise any available skills of those affected and we would seek their views and preferences on the nature of the activities that would be most suitable for them.

As I said, however, there is no practical difference between the wording in the Bill and that of the amendment. The Secretary of State would be responsible for determining what activities would be suitable, and it is not that he would be able to act on a hunch. He could not get out of the wrong side of the bed one morning and decide to impose restrictions or suggest other activities. He must act reasonably in all cases. If not, his actions would be brought before the courts and subject to judicial review. It is not that he could act on a whim.

At this stage, and on the narrow issue of the wording and how the Secretary of State can lay down what might be thought of as suitable activities, I am quite happy to have this looked at again for the next stage, Third Reading, to clarify why this flexibility is needed.

I have not talked about work, accommodation and so forth. I was not thinking of a plumbing gang, or one of electricians, or a group knocking down walls and rebuilding staircases. The work may involve decorating or clearing rubbish, or perhaps cleaning stair and hallways, or maintaining gardens. It may also involve environmental work in the immediate vicinity of the failed asylum seeker, or assisting a local support group involved in similar activities, perhaps relating to the community to which the asylum seeker belongs. But, as I said, we have not conducted any detailed consultation; that is to follow. However, at this late stage, we have a radical and important proposal—I do not deny that—dealing with the policy point of ensuring that when asylum seekers go home, as they will
 
28 Jun 2004 : Column 30
 
eventually, they are not able to say to their compatriots, "You can always get something for nothing in the United Kingdom". That message will stop.

Baroness Anelay of St Johns: My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords who have supported my objective here, which was to probe further what the Government are seeking to achieve by this policy proposal. The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, made the very proper point that some people among the target population will have skills that could be of real benefit to our community, but will not be in a position to use them because their stay over here will either be short or its length will not be determined. They will be difficult to manage effectively because they will not be able to say for how long they will be able to commit themselves.

The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, mentioned doctors in particular. We will all have seen the press reports over the past couple of weeks claiming that there is a considerable number of doctors among failed asylum seekers who could be of assistance, but who at the moment are not able to give anything back to the community. However, if the Government are able to make use of those skills in a constructive and cost-effective way, I do not think that any Member on these Benches would have qualms about the policy. We seek only a clearer picture of the kind of work that the Government are going to direct.

My noble friend Lady Carnegy took our minds back to the days of the Manpower Services Commission. I accept the historical case and the points made by the Minister, but I think that my noble friend sought to point out that whatever are the activities undertaken by failed asylum seekers under this scheme, they cannot be artificial, otherwise the scheme will not carry any credibility among the public, who will be paying for its management. It is important that the activities are of real benefit.

The noble Countess, Lady Mar, referred to the fact that the costs will be borne around the country. Someone will have to manage failed asylum seekers, even if there is only one such person in an area, on one occasion over a period of five years. A management team with the appropriate skills will have to be set up and those skills maintained because they cannot be allowed to fall away. Those probing questions were very valid.

The Minister looked first at the actual wording of the amendment, as must all Ministers, and responded by saying, as he did in Committee, "Bad luck, don't think that this adds anything to the Bill because it means exactly the same as the wording we have already". It is intriguing to note that on certain occasions in the past the Home Office has agreed to the addition of the words "reasonable grounds for believing"; but I shall not quibble on that. Provided that the Government intend that there should be a reason for the Secretary of State to believe that there will be a benefit before he makes a direction, that would satisfy me. My amendment seeks to probe the nature of the new beast of directed labour.
 
28 Jun 2004 : Column 31
 

The Minister said that the Home Secretary wants flexibility. The department is looking forward to considering how to develop the policy and will put it out to consultation. But the difficulty here is that, when the Home Secretary was asked by the press why he was doing this when the announcement was first made, his response was clear: because the Government had time to recommit it to the House of Lords and the procedure could be dealt with in this place. That is certainly a good reflection of his view of this House and I am pleased that he values us so highly. I shall remember that on the next occasion we engage in ping-pong. Given that he values us so highly as to make recommitment possible, I hope he will remember that the recommitment of these clauses will work effectively only if we have something that we can scrutinise properly. At the moment, I feel that I am tugging at cotton wool and not getting very far.

However, given that the Minister has, as always, properly and generously said that he will look again at these issues before Third Reading, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.


Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page