My Lords, we have always said that refusing long-term failed asylum seekers the right to work is economically illiterate and gratuitously damaging in human terms. It deprives society of the contribution that they can make with their skills and abilities and it is absolutely demoralising for the individuals concerned, whose only alternatives are to live on the charity of friends or relatives or to work illegally.
In the case of Zimbabweans, which I have mentioned previously, the Government are legally unable to deport such people for the time being, even if it were not inconceivable that anyone could be sent to a country that has so totally disintegrated so that literally millions are having to flee merely to stay alive. The Zimbabweans who manage to get to the UK are in limbo—some for a number of years because their cases date from the time when the policy was to allow all Zimbabweans to remain irrespective of the outcome of their appeals. Even now the practice is not to return Zimbabweans while the lawfulness of the policy is being tested in the case of AH, which I understand may go on in the courts for some while to come.
Meanwhile, tens of thousands of exiles here have reached the end of the line with their asylum claims and although they are likely to be the most active and intelligent among the population of Zimbabwe, they can do nothing to develop their skills in this country so that, when Mugabe is finally toppled, they can make a full contribution towards the rebuilding of their own country.
The best way that the UK can prepare to help them when that day comes is by encouraging the exiles to work now and, wherever possible, to upgrade their qualifications. That was the view of the JCHR and, indeed, it went further. It stated in its report on the treatment of asylum seekers:
"We consider that by refusing permission for most asylum seekers to work and operating a system of support which results in widespread destitution, the treatment of asylum seekers in a number of cases reaches the Article 3 ECHR threshold of inhuman and degrading treatment".
The committee went on to recommend that asylum seekers should be allowed to apply for permission to work when their asylum appeal has been outstanding for 12 months or more and the delay is due to factors outside their control.
We propose that where there is evidence that an asylum seeker will not be able to leave the UK for 12 months or more, he or she should be granted limited leave to remain for 12 months, with a permission to work attached to it. We strongly endorse that JCHR recommendation and put it forward as a useful proposition for us to adopt in the amendment.
According to a Home Office estimate of July 2006, there were then some 450,000 legacy cases; that is, cases where claims for asylum or leave to remain had been made but not determined and where they were not being dealt with under the new asylum model. Those cases were dumped into a newly formed legacy directorate with 1,000 staff who were to prioritise them and, where the claimants were selected, write to them sending a questionnaire so that the files could be updated and sent to a caseworker. All the cases were to be disposed of by 2011, five years from the date of the Home Secretary's original announcement. If every one of those disposals resulted in voluntary or compulsory departure immediately the decision was made, if the decisions were made evenly throughout the five years and we assumed that only half the legacy cases were able to work, barring those people from jobs will, by 2011, have lost the economy 2.5 times 225,000 person-years of work. If one values each person-year of work at the modest figure of £10,000, the total loss to the economy of preventing these people from working will amount to £5.6 billion.
I invite the Minister to agree with that calculation and accept our amendment, which would allow these people to work while their cases were being decided. I beg to move.