My Lords, we discussed this matter in Committee, but nothing that we have heard then or since has endeared us to the idea that failed asylum seekers should be compelled to take part in unpaid community service as an additional condition that they have to satisfy to be offered accommodation or to continue staying in that accommodation. Under proposed new subsection 4(6)(b) of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999 they must also comply with unspecified other conditions imposed by the Secretary of State.
As if that did not give the Secretary of State enough leverage over the failed asylum seeker, under proposed subsection 4(6)(c), the provision of any accommodation is a matter for his discretion,
"to a specified extent or in a specified class of case".
The people to whom these provisions apply have already had to demonstrate that they are unable to return to their countries of origin. Up to now that has meant Iraqis and Afghans because—the Minister will correct me if I am wrong on this—it was considered too dangerous to return to those two countries.
As far as I am aware, the provision has never been extended to any other nationality; I refer, for example, to Somalis, although Somalis were deemed to be unable to return to Somalia until fairly recently when the IND started surreptitiously returning them via Dubai in uninsured planes belonging to an airline nobody had ever heard of. From the beginning of 2002 to the end of the first quarter of this year, 7,630 Somalis had had their applications refused. Assuming that 20 per cent of those were unsuccessful on appeal, there are over 6,000 Somalis still living in the UK, even taking into account the handful of returns. None receive benefits or accommodation, nor are they allowed to work.
I should also like to mention the case of the Zimbabweans who are excluded from hard-case support under the 1999 Act. They are in a unique situation. On
The result is that since the beginning of 2002 around 3,700 Zimbabweans have been added to the pool of destitute former asylum seekers in the UK. Some may well be supporters of the regime who made false claims to escape the anarchy and the economic meltdown of Zimbabwe. If such individuals could be clearly identified, no reasonable person would object to their compulsory return. No doubt the Minister is aware of the allegations made on the BBC "Five Live Breakfast" report that a Birmingham-based group, Zimbabwean Community UK, has provided false documentation and national insurance numbers that allow supporters of the regime, including children of Mugabe's Cabinet Ministers and others, to pose as members of the opposition and falsely claim asylum. If that is true, ZCUK and its management are guilty of criminal offences. I hope its activities will be stopped and that the police will use their powers under Part VII of the 1999 Act to obtain any documents that may still exist relating to the false claims made through that organisation. The BBC should be asked to hand over any documents in its possession relating to the matter.
At the other end of the scale, we all know of Zimbabweans who have gone through the system unsuccessfully, even though an unbiased person looking at their claims would be at a loss to understand how they were refused. A torture victim whose father was murdered spent 10 months in Lindholme Detention Centre and was unable to prepare his case properly. The adjudicator rejected a faxed copy of his MDC membership card as a fake and when he managed to obtain the original in time for the tribunal he was told that it was inadmissible because it could not look at fresh evidence.
The Zimbabwe Association knows of a number of people in similar situations. I met one at the launch of Andrew Meldrum's book Where We Have Hope last Friday, a medical doctor who has not been allowed to practise in the UK. So when the Minister says, as he did on
None of that enters into the decision about hard-case accommodation. As the Minister explained in Committee, to qualify for this privilege a person must have been given permission to apply for judicial review; be unable to return because there is no transport service available; be awaiting travel documentation; be ill or pregnant; or be under rare or exceptional circumstances. I understand that only about 400 to 500 people qualify under one or other of the headings, although we have no statistics on the matter and no idea whether in future there are likely to be the same number or for how long they might remain on the books.
If the recipients are almost entirely Iraqi or Afghan, presumably once air services resume they will be shipped back to their countries regardless of deteriorating security situations and absence of employment opportunities in both countries. I note that 204 Iraqis and 165 Afghans were removed or went home voluntarily in the first quarter of this year. I should be most grateful if the Minister could explain under what circumstances a person belonging to either of those two nationalities still qualifies for hard-case accommodation. That would have a bearing on the future take-up and cost-effectiveness of establishing the schemes which are envisaged in Clause 10. If the total drops much below the present level, there might be only two or three people in a typical local authority area and, as the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, pointed out, the cost of the scheme might easily outweigh the benefits of the work these people undertake.
Local authorities will have to identify unskilled operations needing minimal induction and training; to discuss the choices available to trades unions; and to establish a programme for managing the forced labour, including training, supervision and reporting on any failures to comply with requirements. Setting all this machinery up for a rapidly changing labour force of two or three people in a particular local authority area sounds like a big money loser and it would be useful if the Minister could give us some idea of the arithmetic behind the introduction of Clause 10.
However, it is not only on the ground of probable waste of taxpayers' money that we object to the compulsory labour element in this clause; we say that it is inappropriate to impose what amounts to community penalties on people who, through no fault of their own, are unable to return to their countries of origin. That is a matter of principle for us. There are all sorts of practical arguments against conscripting a handful of failed asylum seekers in places such as Manchester, Leeds, Newcastle or Birmingham to dig old people's gardens or rub out graffiti. But even if they could be solved this is forced labour.
The Minister says that he is satisfied that the provision does not contravene Article 4.2 of the ECHR. If he turns out to be wrong, it would not be the first time that the Home Office has ignored the warnings of Parliament. I beg to move.