Zimbabwe: Asylum Seekers

– in the House of Lords at 3:53 pm on 27 June 2005.

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Photo of Baroness Scotland of Asthal Baroness Scotland of Asthal Minister of State (Criminal Justice and Offender Management), Home Office, Minister of State (Home Office) (Criminal Justice and Offender Management) 3:53, 27 June 2005

My Lords, I would like to repeat a Statement made by my right honourable friend the Home Secretary in another place. The Statement is as follows:

"Mr Speaker, with your permission, I would like to make a Statement on the return of failed asylum seekers to Zimbabwe.

"Like all issues of removals, policy in this area is inevitably difficult and sensitive. On 16 November last year, the then Minister for Citizenship, Immigration and Nationality, the right honourable Member for Kilmarnock, announced the lifting of the temporary suspension of enforced removals of failed asylum seekers to Zimbabwe. The effect of this announcement was to make the process of removals to Zimbabwe the same as for every other country in the world. In short, the Home Office assesses cases on their individual merits, providing protection to those who need it and seeking to remove those who do not.

"This means that Zimbabweans who meet the definition of a refugee in the 1951 Geneva Convention are granted asylum. If they do not qualify for asylum, but there are other circumstances that make them particularly vulnerable and engage our obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights, they are granted humanitarian protection or discretionary leave. If their application is refused, they have a right of appeal to the independent asylum and immigration tribunal. If the appeal is unsuccessful, that means that it has been judged safe for that particular individual to return to Zimbabwe.

"I have considered, with the Foreign Secretary, whether, in the light of recent events in Zimbabwe, we should reverse last November's decision. We have agreed that recent events do not materially change our earlier decision, but that we will keep the situation, together with any new information, under constant review. As before, it is clear that there are Zimbabweans in need of international protection. In particular, members of the Opposition in Zimbabwe or others who establish that they have engaged in activities that will cause them to be persecuted by the Zimbabwean Government will continue to be granted asylum. In the 15 months to March this year, we granted asylum or discretionary leave at initial decision to 270 Zimbabweans with no substantiated reports of mistreatment on return.

"But not all Zimbabweans who claim asylum here genuinely face persecution. It is an important part of ensuring an effective and fair asylum system that those found not to be in need of international protection are removed from the UK. The blanket suspension of all removals to any country can only encourage those seeking to get round our controls for reasons nothing to do with their political activity or fear of persecution. Having a moratorium on returns to one country means that failed asylum seekers from other countries will mount legal challenges to get their country treated in the same way.

"That is why we are right to look at each case on its merits. We will examine with great care each individual case before removal and we will not remove anyone who we believe is at risk on their return. As part of this, we will remain in close contact with civil society and opposition parties in Zimbabwe. My honourable friend the Member for Vauxhall has sent us representations on a number of cases and I have asked my officials to examine these carefully, and of course we will consider other representations about individuals.

"A number of Zimbabweans are currently in our removal estate. As of this morning, 57 were declining to accept their meals in an effort to press their case for non-return. Conditions around their health and well-being are being carefully monitored and managed.

"Our policy on returns does not in any way change our categorical opposition to human rights abuses in Zimbabwe. There is no doubt that political persecution, abuses of human rights and denial of basic freedom persist in Zimbabwe, and we will continue to provide asylum to those Zimbabweans who need our protection. We will also continue, bilaterally and with our international partners, to push the Government of Zimbabwe to end human rights abuses there and restore democracy so that all Zimbabweans can, in time, return safely to help build a prosperous and stable country".

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

Photo of Lord Howell of Guildford Lord Howell of Guildford Spokespersons In the Lords, Foreign Affairs, Deputy Leader, House of Lords, Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs), Shadow Deputy Leader of the House of Lords 3:57, 27 June 2005

My Lords, I am extremely grateful to the noble Baroness for repeating this Statement from the Home Secretary. We all appreciate that this is a difficult area, one full of subjective judgments. But is it not clear that in this case something has gone badly wrong? Over many months, Members on all Benches and in all parties have repeatedly put questions to Ministers about the return of detainees and would-be asylum seekers. Indeed, Members of this House, such as my noble friend Lady Park of Monmouth, have repeatedly raised the issue with Ministers. To be fair, Ministers have repeatedly acknowledged that the situation in Zimbabwe is indeed appalling, that outrages are committed there and that a reign of terror persists in the country.

So we are again left asking, first, why there was a change of policy last November, when the moratorium that had previously been in place on returns to Zimbabwe was dropped; and, secondly, why there is now no change to that policy. As the Statement just repeated by the noble Baroness affirms,

"We have agreed that recent events do not materially change our earlier decision, but we will keep the situation, together with any new information, under constant review."

But the point is that the situation is changing and going very rapidly from bad to worse. What is the linkage and advice mechanism between the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and its assessment of things and the Home Office, which approves the decision to send certain individuals back? It seems that this is an area where joined-up government just has not happened, one where others perhaps less deserving are allowed to stay while people who are clearly from a very dangerous country are sent back. One is left to conclude that that is a double failure, something I know that governments dread—the point at which two policies that are not going well collide.

Is not the whole government system of control in these areas, which is meant to be fair, in fact unfair and a failure? Today's Statement indicates that no one at risk will be removed, but it is clear that people at risk have been and are being removed. It indicates also, by way of implication of the broader policy, that anyone not at risk will be removed. But clearly that is not so either. People whose position is very doubtful remain here. That is the first awkward area, and the Government are clearly struggling with it.

The second area relates to Zimbabwe itself. The policy of quiet diplomacy has not worked. We are the first to realise that it is easy to stand here and say that but also to realise that words are not enough. We are asking for the sanctions to be much tougher than they are and for the assets of those who are bankrolling the Mugabe terror regime to be frozen, much more vigorously than is happening at present. The path towards a UN resolution should be tried out. Could we at least publish a sample UN resolution, as we have done in the case of the Darfur horrors?

Could we not put much more effective pressure on South Africa, with which we have good and friendly dealings in many areas and which has strong ambitions in relation to joining the United Nations? Could we not use leverage on South Africa to face the fact that as Zimbabwe drags Africa down, it will drag South Africa down, and that this is not just a localised horror crisis but will engulf the whole of southern Africa?

Those two policies do not seem to be working very well. We need to know that there will be a much more effective grip on issues of immigration and Zimbabwean foreign policy so that we can at least be reassured that things will not get even worse than they are already.

Photo of Lord Dholakia Lord Dholakia Deputy Leader, House of Lords, Spokesperson in the Lords, Home Affairs 4:01, 27 June 2005

My Lords, I, too, thank the Minister for repeating the Statement in your Lordships' House. The first thing we need to do is to halt the deportation of failed Zimbabwean asylum seekers; recent events have clearly demonstrated that their lives would be in danger if they were returned.

I can well understand the Government's dilemma, but it is not a question of individual decisions affecting individual applicants for asylum. It is the situation that prevails in Zimbabwe and the pictures that we see repeatedly on television of what happens to the population there. Law and order have deteriorated to such an extent that there is no respect for the rights and liberties of individuals, let alone those who may be returned from the United Kingdom. We are not asking for a permanent halt to deportation. We are simply asking that until such time as the situation improves, these people should be allowed to stay in this country.

Today's Daily Mail contains an article by Matthew Hickley. He estimates that more than 15,000 Zimbabweans fled to Britain in the four years to 2004 and only a few have been granted asylum.

The plight of the poor, hungry and homeless cannot be underestimated. It is estimated that more than a quarter of a million citizens, including children and pregnant women, have been made homeless in recent weeks. The "Drive Out Trash" operation has involved soldiers and police in bulldozing entire suburbs in a crackdown on opposition supporters.

How many applications from asylum seekers from Zimbabwe are pending? How many applications have been successful and how many rejected? What assurance can the Government give regarding those likely to be deported to ensure that they will come to no harm if returned to Zimbabwe? Are the Government aware that dozens of Zimbabweans forcibly sent home from Britain in recent months have promptly been arrested by the president's secret police on their return and have disappeared without trace? How many asylum seekers from Zimbabwe are in detention at present?

I am glad that the United Nations is taking an interest, visiting Harare to see the devastation that has taken place. My right honourable friend Menzies Campbell was right when he said that it was entirely inconsistent for Jack Straw to condemn Zimbabwe's government so strongly when the Home Office was insisting that the country was safe for failed asylum seekers.

I find it difficult to accept the statement attributed to the immigration Minister, Tony McNulty, that there were no substantial reports of abuse of anyone deported to Zimbabwe since last November. How did he reach that judgment? The UK no longer has a link with Zimbabwe. Foreign journalists and BBC reporters are not welcome there. It would be useful to know the source of Mr McNulty's information. The task for the Government, bent on maintaining deportation targets, cannot be an easy one. We require compassion and the discretion already available in the immigration Acts to ensure that these should override all other consideration aimed at asylum seekers from Zimbabwe. Anything less would be a serious blot on our country, which has always extended a hand to victims of torture and persecution.

I conclude by mentioning a visit that my noble friend Lady Williams of Crosby and I made to an event organised by the Gatwick Detainees Welfare Group last week. I am told that there are at least 40 Zimbabweans detainees in Gatwick. We are trying to establish how many have spoken against the Mugabe regime in the past. Will the Minister give an undertaking that they will not be deported until normality is established in Zimbabwe and that proper representation has been made on their behalf by the parliamentarians? Will she also ensure that the in-country reports which are being considered by the immigration adjudication authorities are available to Members of Parliament to see how they interpret the situation in Zimbabwe?

Photo of Baroness Scotland of Asthal Baroness Scotland of Asthal Minister of State (Criminal Justice and Offender Management), Home Office, Minister of State (Home Office) (Criminal Justice and Offender Management) 4:05, 27 June 2005

My Lords, I assure both noble Lords how strongly the Government condemn what is currently happening in Zimbabwe. Noble Lords raised the issue with us forcefully and I can tell them that we currently have 134 Zimbabweans in detention and, as I mentioned in the Statement, 57 of those are currently in the difficulty that I explained. We have made every effort to ensure that the system that is in place is robust and fair and can make the proper distinction between those who merit our protection and care and those who, for whatever reason, fall outwith that system. My honourable friend the Minister with responsibility for asylum and immigration said on 24 June:

"Since returns were resumed to Zimbabwe last November, we have received no substantiated reports of abuse of any person returned to the country. We do, however, continue to keep the situation under review and will investigate any allegations of mistreatment of returnees".

Some information that I received today suggested that five individuals may have been treated badly on return. Attempts were made to contact all five and four of those so identified were contacted. Of those, none maintained that they had been persecuted in the way that was alleged although two of those individuals indicated that they had had to pay a bribe in relation to the airport. However, there is no substantiated information at the moment that what the noble Lord, Lord Howell, described as a wholesale persecution is taking place. But we take these issues are very seriously indeed.

I would also like to reassure noble Lords that there is no difference between the departments in our assessment of conditions in Zimbabwe. It is clear to both departments—indeed to the whole Government—that the conditions in Zimbabwe are wholly unacceptable, but the asylum decision making and appeal processes exist to determine the conditions that an individual applicant would face on return to their country of origin and whether that individual is in need of international protection.

There is no doubt that political persecution, abuses of human rights and denial of basic freedoms persist in Zimbabwe. The asylum system will continue to ensure that Zimbabweans who qualify for asylum will continue to receive the international protection that they need.

The noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, asked me about the numbers of removals. Between January 2004 and March 2005, 270 Zimbabweans were granted asylum or discretionary leave and 200 were removed from the United Kingdom. In 2004, we made decisions on 2,555 Zimbabwean cases. We granted asylum to 220 of them, discretionary leave to a further 25 and 105 were removed during 2004. In the first quarter of this year, 330 decisions were made on Zimbabwean cases. Twenty Zimbabweans were granted asylum, a further five were given discretionary leave, and 95 were removed. So I can certainly assure noble Lords that the greatest care and attention is given to such matters.

The noble Lords, Lord Howell and Lord Dholakia, know that the Government have put in real effort and energy in trying to reach an approach in relation to Zimbabwe that will be robust and will change behaviour. Noble Lords will know how difficult that is and will know too that it is of crucial importance to get the concurrence and support of other African states, particularly those in the region, on that matter. My right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary has shown real commitment and drive in that regard, and he and my right honourable friend the Home Secretary, Charles Clarke, are looking at the matter carefully. Both have gripped the issue and will continue to do that which we know needs to be done; that is, to put pressure on Zimbabwe to behave properly, but also to ensure that the individuals, about whom we must be concerned, have a proper determination and assessment of whether they are entitled to asylum—which, if they are, they must have. It has been our proud duty to give asylum to those who need it and to make decisions properly in favour of those who do not need it, on an individual case-by-case basis.

Photo of Lord Clinton-Davis Lord Clinton-Davis Labour

My Lords, I do not doubt for one moment the sincerity of my noble friend, but would it not be infinitely better, while uncertainty exists, for there to be a moratorium? After all, we are not detaining a large number of people. A moratorium on asylum seekers is justified, as long as there are doubts about the bona fides of Mugabe. Would my noble friend not agree that we cannot take a chance with regard to people like this? There is a great deal of disquiet in this regard, which is not confined to the Conservative or Liberal Democrat Benches.

Photo of Baroness Scotland of Asthal Baroness Scotland of Asthal Minister of State (Criminal Justice and Offender Management), Home Office, Minister of State (Home Office) (Criminal Justice and Offender Management)

My Lords, I hope that I have made it clear that I absolutely understand the anger—almost disgust—that is felt about what has happened to a number of individuals in Zimbabwe and that the Government share it. Noble Lords will know that the reason why we imposed the moratorium that was lifted in November was that we believed that it was justified and that at that time it was not appropriate or proper to return. We have continued to examine the information with the greatest care, and I assure noble Lords that the matter will continue to concentrate the minds of all those responsible for developing policy in this area. But the decision that my right honourable friends the Home Secretary and the Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw, have taken is that at the moment the individual case-by-case approach is the more appropriate. Noble Lords will know that, because assessments will continue, that may change, but, at the moment, that is the decision to which the Government have come.

Photo of The Bishop of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich The Bishop of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich Bishop

My Lords, I accept what the Minister says about the care and attention given to individual cases. I can see the argument there, but the concern in the mind of many noble Lords is over the level of general persecution in Zimbabwe at the moment. The reports today of people being driven into rural areas without food or medical attention and the estimates that the death rate is exceeding the birth rate by 4,000 a week must raise serious concerns about the general situation to which people are being returned. I should have thought that, in that light, we would want serious caution to be exercised at this time over the return of anybody into that situation.

Photo of Baroness Scotland of Asthal Baroness Scotland of Asthal Minister of State (Criminal Justice and Offender Management), Home Office, Minister of State (Home Office) (Criminal Justice and Offender Management)

My Lords, I can reassure the right reverend Prelate that serious consideration is given to the general conditions. As he will know, however, those conditions must then apply to the individual case and the question has to be asked, "In this individual's case, can he or can he not be safely returned?". There are those who can safely be returned, and it is right that, in those cases, that should happen. However, there are also those—such as members of the opposition party in Zimbabwe and others—for whom a return would clearly be difficult and taxing. Those are the issues that we shall continue to determine individually.

The Home Office is in close dialogue with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office on country reports, and we exchange information on conditions in the country on a very regular and close basis. It is clear to all that conditions in Zimbabwe are unacceptable; I do not in any way seek to undermine what has been said about that. However, asylum decision-making processes and appeal processes exist to determine whether it is appropriate to return in an individual case.

Photo of Baroness Williams of Crosby Baroness Williams of Crosby Liberal Democrat

My Lords, my noble friend Lord Dholakia, the noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford, and the right reverend Prelate have expressed their feelings in an extremely mild, controlled and rational way, and I congratulate them on that. I have stronger feelings about it than they have expressed, though they share those strong feelings. I ask the noble Baroness to consider two matters.

First, this morning, I established that among those on hunger strike at the removal centre of which my noble friend Lord Dholakia and I are co-patrons are a number who have been actively engaged in opposition to the Government of Zimbabwe and who are among those due to be removed. I should be happy to give the noble Baroness their names. However, I am not satisfied with treating it simply as an issue of individuals.

Secondly, only last week, I was teaching at Harvard a course called Leaders in Development which consisted of young men and women who are supposed to be high flyers likely to take over leadership in their countries, which range from South Africa to Kenya to Egypt. Most of them are African. They were very welcoming of the United Kingdom's becoming chairman of the Africa Commission and making Africa a high priority for the G8 and EU presidencies. If the message goes out to those African young men and women, committed to democracy, that the country that, they thought, they admired is returning scores of Zimbabweans to what the Minister herself described as utterly unacceptable conditions, what message will it send to other countries in Africa? What message does it send about our commitment to and belief in democracy? What message does it send about the values and principles that we are supposed to share with those in Zimbabwe who are due to suffer for supporting the principles that we in this Parliament have said time and again that we believe in?

I must beg the Government to think again. I must beg members of the party opposite to think again. I for one would be ashamed to be a member of a country that took part in an act of this kind, when it would be perfectly possible to continue to suspend deportations until such time as Zimbabwe satisfies us all that it is becoming a reasonable, civilised and democratic state.

Photo of Baroness Scotland of Asthal Baroness Scotland of Asthal Minister of State (Criminal Justice and Offender Management), Home Office, Minister of State (Home Office) (Criminal Justice and Offender Management)

My Lords, I absolutely understand the noble Baroness's passion. I do not have the specific details on the 40 people whom she and the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, saw at Gatwick; I can assume only that they have not yet made their application and been processed. I can only reassure her that, to date, very careful consideration has been given to the cases of all those who have participated in opposition activity in Zimbabwe. I cannot say what the determination will be; I can only give an assurance regarding what has historically been viewed as extremely important.

The noble Baroness can tell those who ask that question that this country—I say this with a degree of modesty—almost more than any other has raised its voice about what is happening in Zimbabwe. The noble Baroness will know that on occasion we have been vilified for so doing. However, we shall continue to do that. The efforts made by my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary continue this very day. I note that it is 20 past four; if I were not on my feet in the Chamber I might have had something to tell your Lordships. I do not know what position we shall be in. I certainly reassure the noble Baroness that this country will continue to raise its voice very loudly as regards democracy and stability and what is happening.

As regards the asylum process it is absolutely important that while the issues are in flux we continue to concentrate on individuals to ensure that each individual has their case properly looked at and is given the succour that they need, if they merit it. I argue strongly that the system that we have is fair and has ensured that a number of people are well protected.

Photo of Lord Hughes of Woodside Lord Hughes of Woodside Labour

My Lords, I accept fully my noble friend's assurances that every care is taken in examining individual cases and that some Zimbabweans will try to beat the system, but has my noble friend heard the statement attributed to President Mugabe that Britain is training spies, returning them as failed asylum seekers to be saboteurs in Zimbabwe, and that they will be dealt with? As that paranoiac regime and the minions who carry out President Mugabe's paranoiac activities continue, would it not be sensible to suspend deportations so long as Mugabe remains in being?

Photo of Baroness Scotland of Asthal Baroness Scotland of Asthal Minister of State (Criminal Justice and Offender Management), Home Office, Minister of State (Home Office) (Criminal Justice and Offender Management)

My Lords, of course I hear what my noble friend says. I can only reiterate what I have said on a number of occasions: we shall continue to look at the issue. However, we cannot control what Mr Mugabe does or does not say and we cannot control whether there is or is not truth in it. All that we can do is to look at the evidence, continue to assess the situation and make the best judgments that we can. The judgment as of today is that it would not be appropriate to raise the moratorium at this point. As I have reiterated on a number of occasions, that is very much something that will be kept under constant review.

Photo of Baroness D'Souza Baroness D'Souza Crossbench

My Lords, the Home Office Minister has said that there are no substantiated reports of ill treatment of individuals who have been removed to Zimbabwe. I would be grateful if the noble Baroness could tell us what constitutes a substantiated report.

Photo of Baroness Scotland of Asthal Baroness Scotland of Asthal Minister of State (Criminal Justice and Offender Management), Home Office, Minister of State (Home Office) (Criminal Justice and Offender Management)

My Lords, as I said, we were given the names of five individuals. Those five individuals were contacted. Four of them responded and were spoken to. The fifth was asked to come to a meeting but for whatever reason did not attend. That is the extent of the substantiation that we have had. We have spoken to the five individuals, who verified that they had not been subject to persecution.

We will of course take up as many issues as noble Lords or other agencies bring to our attention and deal with them as effectively as we can. However, we have to make our judgments on the evidence that we have and on the information that we determine to be sound. I can put before your Lordships only the information that we have to date.

Photo of The Earl of Onslow The Earl of Onslow Conservative

My Lords, those of us who think that the present Home Office has a track record of illiberality of which it should be sincerely ashamed but unfortunately is not would like to know about the following matters. First, the noble Baroness said that no harm had come to people who had been sent back. What about the lady who attempted to commit suicide by jumping out of her flat and broke her back? What about the fact that the situation has become infinitely worse over the past week or two, with the dreadful bulldozing and clearing of people from Bulawayo? If the Government are so keen to do something about the matter, why did they do absolutely nothing about it at the last European Council meeting, when the noble Baroness said that they were doing everything that they could? It seems to me that they could at least have discussed the matter, even if that in itself might not necessarily have achieved much.

Photo of Baroness Scotland of Asthal Baroness Scotland of Asthal Minister of State (Criminal Justice and Offender Management), Home Office, Minister of State (Home Office) (Criminal Justice and Offender Management)

First, my Lords, it would be impossible for me to say that no harm had come to any individual. All I can say is that we have no evidence to support any harm having taken place. Also, in relation to the efforts of this Government, noble Lords know only too well the energy that this Government have put into issues concerning Africa. Of course one does not want to go back over records, but since 1997 this Government have a proud record in supporting and facilitating democracy, freedom and liberty on the African continent.

Photo of Lord Dubs Lord Dubs Chair of Labour Peers

My Lords, I declare an interest, as for some eight years until the mid-1990s I was the director of the Refugee Council. While I was there, we were often desperately concerned that individuals were sent back by the then government of Britain. We attempted to follow up what had happened to them, and unfortunately in quite a number of instances they disappeared without trace. I am not talking about Zimbabwe—I am talking about other African countries where there was also a high level of repression and abuse of human rights at the time.

I know that my noble friend is in enormous difficulties in defending the position that she has to defend this afternoon. I understand that individual claims for asylum must be decided on an individual basis, but I put it to her that there are no satisfactory means of establishing whether people who have been returned are safe. My noble friend quoted five instances; but from the figures that she mentioned earlier a much larger number than that have been returned. My fear is that without proper media there and without the Government there—I am not sure whether UNHCR is there monitoring this—that people are being sent back into danger to face persecution, imprisonment, torture, and possibly death. That is not good enough.

Photo of Baroness Scotland of Asthal Baroness Scotland of Asthal Minister of State (Criminal Justice and Offender Management), Home Office, Minister of State (Home Office) (Criminal Justice and Offender Management)

My Lords, again, of course I understand what my noble friend says. We have received uncorroborated reports that a small number of failed asylum seekers may have been mistreated. There is no corroborating evidence about that. As noble Lords know, we do not routinely monitor the treatment of returnees to any country. We would not remove them if we considered that they were likely to suffer persecution on their return. However, as I have made plain on a number of occasions, we will investigate any reports of ill-treatment that are brought to our attention.

Photo of Baroness Northover Baroness Northover Spokesperson in the Lords, International Development, Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (International Development)

My Lords, in what way were those five in Zimbabwe contacted? Will she comment on the fifth case who did not respond? Given that the British Government have no representation in Zimbabwe, as has been pointed out before, were they contacted by telephone? Were those telephones tapped? Were those people free to say what had actually happened to them? Will she comment in more detail on those cases?

Given that a large proportion of the asylum cases that were originally rejected are then overturned on appeal, how can we have confidence in what the Home Office is doing on an individual basis? That is especially so as one of the cases that came to public attention this week was of a known member of the opposition party. How come that person was turned down in the first place?

Photo of Baroness Scotland of Asthal Baroness Scotland of Asthal Minister of State (Criminal Justice and Offender Management), Home Office, Minister of State (Home Office) (Criminal Justice and Offender Management)

My Lords, one of the beauties of us having a democracy is that we have independent courts that make independent decisions; they hear evidence and determine on it. This country cannot by executive decision decide the outcome of any individual case. Of course I cannot say what evidence went before the tribunal; and I cannot say the basis of the appeal. I can say that the system provides for proper representations and proper opportunities for cases to be determined, and then for an independent judgment at the end of the day by the court on the outcome, with a proper position in relation to appeal. That is a robust, democratic system.

Photo of The Earl of Northesk The Earl of Northesk Conservative

My Lords, are the Government really saying that the five individual cases that they have heard about, through some means that we are uncertain of, provide the Home Office with a sufficient evidential base to justify the policy, particularly against the background of the paranoia and savagery of that revolting regime?

Photo of Baroness Scotland of Asthal Baroness Scotland of Asthal Minister of State (Criminal Justice and Offender Management), Home Office, Minister of State (Home Office) (Criminal Justice and Offender Management)

My Lords, the base is not in relation to those five cases. I told your Lordships about those because that is the information that we have had, and that is the research that we have done. We rely on the integrity of the system now in place, which allows the acuity that we think necessary for the determination to be made in each individual case on whether a return is in compliance with ECHR and the 1951 convention.

Photo of Lord Wright of Richmond Lord Wright of Richmond Crossbench

My Lords, I must apologise for having not been present during the Statement. Does the Minister accept that a record of having been a member of the opposition in Zimbabwe is not, by any means, the main reason why someone might run into difficulties on return? In the present state of Mugabe's paranoia, particularly about the role of this country and the spies about whom he keeps talking, surely anyone deported to Zimbabwe against their will is liable to be treated with extreme suspicion, if not worse.

Photo of Baroness Scotland of Asthal Baroness Scotland of Asthal Minister of State (Criminal Justice and Offender Management), Home Office, Minister of State (Home Office) (Criminal Justice and Offender Management)

My Lords, I cannot comment on whether people would be treated with extreme suspicion; I certainly see that it may be the case. The problem is not that they are treated with extreme suspicion, but how they will be treated in terms of their freedoms and liberties and whether they fall within the categorisation that we have. That is a different matter. Those are issues on which we have evidence and, as I have said on a number of occasions, that have to be determined by the court.

Photo of Baroness Thomas of Walliswood Baroness Thomas of Walliswood Women, Non-Departmental & Cross Departmental Responsibilities

My Lords, for countries where there has been known evidence of repressive regimes, have we not been able to give people asylum simply because the regime to which they were to be sent back was too bad to allow any confidence in their safety? I am thinking of the days of the communist regimes, for example.

Photo of Baroness Scotland of Asthal Baroness Scotland of Asthal Minister of State (Criminal Justice and Offender Management), Home Office, Minister of State (Home Office) (Criminal Justice and Offender Management)

My Lords, that is why I talked particularly in relation to Zimbabwe. It was precisely why, before November last year, the decision about the raise was made. I think that I have now said about 15 times—maybe more; Hansard will determine it—that the issue will be kept under constant review. For all the reasons that I have given already, the decision—it has been made on the evidence currently before the Government—is that a moratorium is not currently justified. However, my right honourable friends will continue to deliberate on that and come to a decision.