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Asylum Seekers: Democratic Republic of Congo

11.29 am

The Lord Bishop of Winchester asked Her Majesty’s Government:

The Minister of State, Home Office (Baroness Scotland of Asthal): My Lords, every asylum claim is considered on its individual merits, in accordance with our international obligations and taking full account of the conditions in the country concerned. Information obtained from a wide range of sources is provided to asylum decision-makers in country information reports, which are published on a regular basis. The latest report on DRC was published on 14 February 2007 and can be accessed on the Home Office website.

The Lord Bishop of Winchester: My Lords, the Minister and her department—including in the material that it publishes—always make Kinshasa sound like Dorking, in my experience. Have the Minister and her department asked themselves why every individual and body with first-hand experience of Kinshasa and N’Djili airport—and I was frightened there myself when I passed through it, and I am large and male—and who know the DRC, find the mantra-like assurances of the department simply incredible?

Will the Minister check what may be the answer to my question— the evidence given to me that all the assurances on which all the EU countries and the UNHCR base this advice is very probably based on the evidence of a single individual, who gains financially from it, and whose NGO, Voix des Sans-Voix, does not have a presence at N’Djili, although the Home Office regularly says that it does. Is the Minister aware that a country guidance case, listed for 28 March, will hear fresh evidence of ill-treatment, torture and rape of returned refugees, both at the airport and at associated holding centres? Will she say that returns will be ceased until that hearing at the end of March? Will she give an assurance that the safety of those returned this week will be carefully monitored?

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Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, of course I hear what the right relevant Prelate says about the DRC, and I share with him the concerns in relation to any country that has had difficulties. But I have to tell him that all the reports that we have—and they do not come from just one source—reassert and reinform the information that we have that there is no objective evidence that those returning to the DRC are being specifically targeted for abuse simply because they have sought asylum. The right reverend Prelate knows that that decision was arrived at by the EU Heads of Mission investigation and by all who have entered into this field. But I can certainly assure the right reverend prelate that we are anxious to make sure that the information on which we make the in-country assessments is genuine.

Lord Dholakia: My Lords, is there a memorandum of understanding between our Government and the Government of the DRC? Is the Minister aware that there is a considerable gap between the time when a decision is taken to deport and the time when a person is deported? In such cases, will she ensure that in-country reports prepared by NGOs are taken into account at that stage and that there is some system to monitor what happens to individuals when they are sent back?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, first, the noble Lord will know that we have a very detailed procedure in relation to appeals. For instance, in relation to all the 38 returnees most recently on a flight, all of them had an opportunity to appeal, 10 took advantage of the judicial review process, and the process was brought to an end. I assure the noble Lord that if any specific allegations in relation to returns are raised with us, they are investigated fully.

Viscount Bridgeman: My Lords, in view of the very wide concerns so well articulated by the right reverend Prelate, will the Minister further reassure the House by making available to it the detailed assessments made in this particular case?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, the in-country assessments are already available. They are on the website and can be seen. In relation to the individual cases, they form part of the data in relation to those individual cases. We are taking every step to ensure that the in-country assessments are as robust and real as we can make them.

Lord Dubs: My Lords, I should like to press my noble friend further on the difference between in-country assessments, which are generalised, and the fate of individuals against whom there may have been particular threats or persecution. I declare an interest: some years ago I was at the Refugee Council, where we tried to follow the fate of people who had been return to the Democratic Republic of Congo, and on one or two occasions we lost track of them. I fully appreciate the Government’s difficulties but is there anything they can do to reassure themselves and us that they can monitor the fate of individuals who have been returned in these difficult circumstances?

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Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, as my noble friend will know, we have to decide each case on its merits. There is an assessment whether each individual should or should not, could or could not, be returned in safety. That is why we are still granting asylum cases; there have been 45 grants of asylum and 80 of discretionary leave, and those matters will continue to be considered. The fall in applications from the DRC has been 47 per cent. I remind the House that the Democratic Republic of Congo has for the first time in 40 years its own democratic Government, and that 70 per cent of the people there voted for them. We would aspire to have that sort of figure in this country.

The Earl of Sandwich: My Lords, can the noble Baroness nevertheless confirm that army deserters from Congo who seek asylum face life imprisonment or death? Is the Home Office investigating that?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, I have no specific information on that matter; I am quite happy to take it back and to investigate what, if anything, we know about it. We are very clear that returns will be looked at individually and the risks explored appropriately.


11.37 am

Lord Grocott: My Lords, with permission, a Statement will be repeated later today on Bosnia-Herzegovina. It will be repeated by my noble friend Lord Drayson and we will take it between the two main debates.

Offender Management Bill

Brought from the Commons; read a first time, and ordered to be printed.

Business of the House: Debates Today

The Lord President of the Council (Baroness Amos): My Lords, I beg to move the first Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper.

Moved, That the debates on the Motions in the names of Baroness Valentine and Lord Lloyd of Berwick set down for today shall each be limited to two and a half hours.—(Baroness Amos.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Northern Ireland Policing Board (Northern Ireland) Order 2007

Pension Protection Fund (Pension Compensation Cap) Order 2007

Occupational Pension Schemes (Levies) (Amendment) Regulations 2007

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Occupational Pension Schemes (Levy Ceiling) Order 2007

Representation of the People (England and Wales) and the Representation of the People (Combination of Polls) (England and Wales) (Amendment) Regulations 2007

Local Authorities (Mayoral Elections) (England and Wales) Regulations 2007

Police (Northern Ireland) Act 2000 (Renewal of Temporary Provisions) Order 2007

Northern Ireland Act 2000 (Modification) Order 2007

Social Security, Occupational Pension Schemes and Statutory Payments (Consequential Provisions) Regulations 2007

Social Security Contributions (Consequential Provisions) Regulations 2007

Social Security (Contributions) (Amendment No. 2) Regulations 2007

The Lord President of the Council (Baroness Amos): My Lords, I beg to move the 11 Motions standing in my name on the Order Paper.

Moved, That the regulations and orders be referred to a Grand Committee.—(Baroness Amos.)

On Question, Motions agreed to.

Olympic Games 2012

11.38 am

Baroness Valentine rose to call attention to the actions needed to ensure that, in staging the Olympic Games, London and the United Kingdom secure a lasting legacy of economic and social benefit; and to move for Papers.

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, like most noble Lords, I was delighted, if somewhat amazed, when on 6 July 2005 London won the vote to host the Olympics in 2012. I am proud that the organisation of which I am chief executive, London First, contributed to that victory by helping to rally business support for the bid. I am still delighted. London’s staging of the

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world’s biggest sporting festival in 2012 is the best opportunity in a generation to transform the fortunes of a part of our city.

Since the heady euphoria of that day some 20 months ago, there has been much heat expended but little light shed on the costs of 2012. You will be relieved to hear that I do not intend to add to that heat. It is safe to say that some clarity on the costs would enable us all to focus more on the benefits—and we should focus on the benefits. Why did so many people support London’s bid for the Games? Was it to get one over on the French, to contribute more tax in order to pay for the Games, or to wave our plastic union jacks at the opening ceremony? No, we supported it for the benefits that the legacy could bring. There is an urgent need for clarity now on what those long-term benefits are, and whose job it is to deliver them.

What does our Olympic and Paralympic legacy include? It includes first, of course, the sporting legacy, both the tangible of the new facilities, and the intangible of the participation in sport; secondly, the opportunity to show off London and the UK to the rest of the world; thirdly, the transformation of east London; and lastly, the opportunity to train people in new skills. My primary concern rests with the last two of these points—the opportunity to regenerate one of the most interesting but disadvantaged areas of the country, and to equip its people with the skills for success. The first two points are important too, however.

I shall first deal with the tangible sporting legacy, which relates to pristine new facilities. The Athens and Sydney Olympic facilities have been branded white elephants by some, but they were disproportionate to the needs of those cities. After all, Athens and Sydney have populations of some 3 million to 4 million, in countries of 10 million and 20 million respectively, whereas London and the south-east alone account for 20 million people. Thus the planned facilities are entirely appropriate.

David Higgins, as chief executive of the Olympic Delivery Authority, is doing an impressive job of planning for these facilities, but his task would be made that much easier by resolving the chairmanship of that organisation. It needs a strong, independent-minded chair with solid business experience who can weigh up the complex web of stakeholder interests, while supporting David and his team in delivering those facilities on budget and on time. I am delighted that the Department for Culture, Media and Sport has recently advertised this position. I encourage anyone who fits this description, and wants to play a part in this historic event, to apply. I also encourage all your Lordships to work with the DCMS to hunt down this shy paragon.

The intangible elements of the sporting legacy are linked to inspiration from and participation in sport. Although it may be hard to believe now, I was once an Oxford athletics blue. Sport gives people an outlet; sporting role models are an inspiration. A successful London Games, Olympic and Paralympic, can expose more of our young people to these sporting role models, thus inspiring a new generation.

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If I may summarise in an indelicate way, sport helps to get us off our backsides. It helps address the current epidemic of youth obesity. This of course plays into employability, too. For young, disadvantaged adults in some of our cities, sport can provide the motivation to get up, get out and engage with a world beyond the streets, crime and anti-social behaviour into which they may otherwise drift. We want fewer couch potatoes and more runner beans.

In 2012, the eyes of the world will be on London and the UK. We must prove that we can deliver a big and complex project on time, and we must put on a world-beating show. I have every confidence that Paul Deighton, as chief executive of the London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games, will achieve just that, but the rest of the country needs to show itself off in the best possible light at that time, so that we can attract future visitors and investors to our country.

I come now to the primary area of my concern: the opportunity to regenerate one of the most interesting but disadvantaged areas of the UK, through both physical regeneration and local employment opportunities. The Games can provide a catalyst in transforming this area from a place where people have no choice but to live, to a place where people choose to live. I shall turn first to physical regeneration.

East London lies in the path of the huge growth of London to the east. The population is expected to expand by 700,000 in the next decade. That is like bolting on a city the size of Leeds to the capital. Many will settle in the Thames Gateway and will help to supply the growing workforce demands of the City and Docklands. Government need to fire the starting pistol for investment, thus releasing private sector investment, by funding and building infrastructure. At the moment, the Olympics are the responsibility of the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. If noble Lords think that regeneration sounds like a strange focus for this department, then I agree. It demands action from the Department of Health to build health facilities, from the education department to build schools, from the Department for Transport to build bridges, and so on. Top athletes achieve their goals through ruthless focus. You win at team sports by having an inspirational captain. What we need is a Cabinet-level Minister totally focused on achieving the legacy as well as the Games and who has the skills to lead a talented group of individuals from across all the agencies involved.

Finally, we must aim for a lasting impact on skills and employability. London has unemployment of 8.2 per cent at the moment. That is the highest of any English region and is shocking for a city which is currently booming to the point where it is threatening New York. Unemployment in the Olympic boroughs is far higher; indeed, in some wards less than 50 per cent of the working-age population is economically active. The Olympics will have succeeded only if those without work in east London and elsewhere win some of the jobs connected to the Games, from hard-hat plasterer to chef’s-hat caterer, from receptionist to translator. That success will be embedded if, having serviced the Games, they can take those skills and experience into permanent full-time employment. I would like to see between now and 2012 every

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employer in east London and beyond, in construction or catering, ask themselves, “What steps can I take, however small, to bring more of the unemployed on my doorstep over the threshold of my business?”.

The public agencies in turn need to put behind them their historic turf battles and work together to make these people just that bit more employable. Private and pubic sectors need to work together too, to find pragmatic solutions that suit both employer and employee. After all, working together is a guiding principle of both business and sport.

I began by looking back to 2005. If I may, I would like to take noble Lords back still further. We can and should learn from past experience, such as the rebuilding of London after the war. Coincidentally, the 1948 Olympics were a triumph for London—they also heralded the forerunner of our current Paralympics—as were the Docklands developments of the 1980s. I do not have some noble Lords’ memories of post-war London but I can just about remember the Docklands developments. So what are the learning points for our current Olympic project?

The London Docklands Development Corporation had independence, resources and influence. It was able to pursue its vision with the minimum of interference. I know that sometimes it seemed to ride roughshod over local sensibilities, and I am not necessarily advocating such a headstrong approach, but the LDDC was effective.

So where is the equivalent body with responsibility for regeneration centred around the Olympics? The relatively recently created London Thames Gateway Development Corporation oversees regeneration in the neighbourhood of the Olympic Park, but it has much less power, much less resource and much less influence over the long-term future of the Olympic site. To create a realistic catalyst for action, national, London and local government need to put their support behind a strengthened Thames Gateway development corporation, with an extended life to 2020. Answering the question about who is in charge of regeneration of this area between 2012 and 2020 is fundamental to locking in the legacy for east London.

What can we learn from the Millennium Dome? It is a beautiful building, built on budget and on time. Clearly, these measures alone are not sufficient for success. From the moment of the Dome’s conception, its future beyond 2000 was nobody’s responsibility. We must not repeat that mistake. Now the 02 is committed to employing local people in the repurposing of the Dome site, but far more benefits could have been achieved at much lower cost if the future of the Dome had been thought about and planned while it was being built.

These two examples lend themselves to a final point; that of the role of transport infrastructure in maximising regenerative impact. The original Docklands developments were unlocked by the Docklands Light Railway. Without the DLR, Canary Wharf would have been an unattractive investment location, separated from customers, workforce and community. Indeed, without the DLR, Canary Wharf simply would not have happened. Similarly, the Dome created a deadline for completion of the Jubilee Line extension, unlocking additional regeneration potential in both the Greenwich peninsula and the Isle of Dogs.

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At the risk of gaining a reputation for railing crossly about Crossrail, I return to it again. Without proper transport infrastructure in the gateway there is little opportunity for sustained investment in sustainable communities. Crossrail is far and away the most effective investment. It enables higher density housing to be built, accessible to the thousands of jobs in central London, and provides land value uplift, which enables imaginative and affordable master-planning of areas in the gateway.

To conclude, London and the UK fought hard to win the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games. They did so with good reason. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity not just to host the greatest sporting festival in the world’s calendar, but to bring lasting change to the physical fabric of east London and to the fortunes of some of Britain’s most disfranchised citizens.

If the Games are a success and their legacy endures, London and the nation will have much more than memories once the spectators, the journalists, the sportsmen and women, the medals and the torch have gone home. I beg to move for Papers.

11.53 am

Baroness Ford: My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for securing this very important debate. She is a powerful voice for business in London and when she tells us that the conditions and arrangements for proper business engagement with the 2012 Games are not right, we should pay attention to her.

Like the noble Baroness and very many other people in the UK, I am delighted that the 2012 Games will be held in London. I congratulate all those organisations, principally LOCOG, the Mayor and the Government, which secured the Games for the capital.

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