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Asylum Seekers

8. Dr. Phyllis Starkey (Milton Keynes, South-West) (Lab): What his Department's policy is on returning failed asylum seekers to Somalia. [16784]

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Charles Clarke): As with failed asylum seekers of all nationalities, Somali claimants who have been found by the Home Office and the independent appeals process
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not to be in need of international protection and who therefore have no legal basis of stay in the UK are expected to return to Somalia. The Home Office works with the International Organisation for Migration to facilitate voluntary returns of failed asylum seekers to any region of Somalia. Where an individual does not return voluntarily, removal may be enforced. As with all countries, returns of failed asylum seekers are considered on an individual case basis, and the circumstances in the country are taken fully into account.

Dr. Starkey: I thank the Home Secretary for that clarification. Given that Somalia is the ultimate failed state, I am slightly disturbed that we are returning people there. However, if we are, I have to report that I have a number of constituents who are failed asylum seekers who have not been given any indication of how they are supposed to get back to Somalia or offered the route to do so, and who are simply being left unable to work and without benefits. I urge the Home Secretary to try to ensure that his policy is joined up on the ground, because at the moment it seems that we are simply trying to starve people back to Somalia, when we ought to be acting humanely and giving them the means to be transported back rather than left here in limbo where, I am afraid, they are tempted to move into crime and illegality.

Mr. Clarke: All the main applicant failed asylum seekers who were returned in the first half of 2005 to Somalia were voluntary returnees. However, I take very seriously what my hon. Friend has just said to me and I will ask my office to get in touch with hers in order to see how we can facilitate such voluntary returns in the case of her constituents.

Daniel Kawczynski (Shrewsbury and Atcham) (Con): The problem is that most of the Somalian Government are in exile in Kenya and fearful of returning to their country. Is the Secretary of State talking with the Foreign Office about its pursuing direct negotiations with the exiled Somalian Government in Kenya to try to secure their support in resolving the situation?

Mr. Clarke: We are in touch with the Foreign Office regularly on all cases, precisely to facilitate such situations. I emphasise again that the security of the circumstances in the country in question is of principal concern to us in deciding on any removal.

9. Jim Sheridan (Paisley and Renfrewshire, North) (Lab): What recent steps he has taken to tackle illegal working by asylum seekers in the UK. [16785]

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Charles Clarke): The Government are firmly committed to tackling illegal working from whatever source—overstayers, illegal immigrants or asylum seekers. Our strategy involves increasing enforcement, encouraging compliance by business, and developing joint working between a range of agencies responsible for enforcing workplace regulations. We have taken steps to strengthen the legislation on preventing illegal migrant working by reforming section 8 of the Asylum and Immigration Act 1996 and by supporting my
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hon. Friend's initiative on gangmaster licensing, on which he is to be highly complimented. We are also introducing new measures for a civil penalty regime and a tougher criminal offence for employers in the Immigration, Asylum and Nationality Bill, currently before the House.

Jim Sheridan: I thank my hon. Friend for that response. He will be aware that the Gangmasters (Licensing) Act 2004 was set up to protect asylum seekers or any other migrant worker from exploitation by unscrupulous employers, but I am concerned by reports reaching me of civil service interference with the smooth operation of the Act. Will he therefore assure the House that the Government will continue to support the Act in order to protect vulnerable workers, that the same level of resources will continue to be made available, and that any interference with or dilution of the Act will be brought before this House?

Mr. McNulty: I can certainly give my hon. Friend that assurance. He knows that all the Act's key provisions are now in force and that regulations establishing the Gangmasters Licensing Authority were made in March. The authority will drive out illegal employment practices by agricultural labour providers. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs consulted on the draft exclusions regulations in February and on the appeals regulations in March. The authority commenced work on 1 April and is preparing a consultation paper on licensing standards. Both DEFRA and the authority are working to ensure that licensing can be introduced from April 2006. None the less, I hear my hon. Friend's comments with concern and I shall ensure that we do what we set out to do through his Act.

Annette Brooke (Mid-Dorset and North Poole) (LD): What consideration has the Minister given to issuing temporary work permits to encourage legal working? One of my constituents, a talented athlete, is a failed Zimbabwean asylum seeker who has permission to stay in this country at least until February, but the notice specifically stated that he must not undertake any paid, or even unpaid, work during that considerable period.

Mr. McNulty: We are always considering such matters. The hon. Lady makes a fair point, but I repeat what I have said on a number of occasions: the asylum system is not a route for economic migration. Those whose claims are unfounded and who fail in the asylum system can and should use other routes, but only after they return to their country. People tell me that the asylum system is a welfare system, an economic system, or a labour market regulatory system, but it is none of those things. It is bounded by the 1951 convention and is rightly there for those who are fleeing political persecution.

Tony Lloyd (Manchester, Central) (Lab): Bearing in mind my hon. Friend's comment that the asylum system is specifically for those who fear persecution, what sense does it make for taxpayers, public spending or asylum seekers themselves if they cannot work in our society?
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Many asylum seekers could and would work and everyone would be better off if they were allowed to do so.

Mr. McNulty: As I said, we keep that matter under constant review. Clearly, however, our aim in the first instance should be to make the decision-making process from start to finish, all the way through to the point of appeals being exhausted, as quick as possible without losing the integrity of that process. I fully accept that it is not right or proper that, sometimes after four or five years, people have exhausted the asylum process but there is still no finality.

Mr. Humfrey Malins (Woking) (Con): Does the Minister accept that the offence of illegal employment is widespread and has increased dramatically over the past eight years under the Labour Government? They have sat back and watched the problem of illegal employment growing and chosen not to enforce the existing law, with only a handful of convictions in the past eight years. In view of the Government's poor track record in that respect, how can we have any confidence in either the Minister's desire or his ability to enforce the new criminal penalty set out in clause 17 of the Immigration, Asylum and Nationality Bill?

Mr. McNulty: That is a rather sad broken record. I hope that the hon. Gentleman's contributions will improve in the Committee on the Bill. A robust intellectual debate is needed on immigration and asylum policy. I hope that, like his hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (John Bercow), the hon. Gentleman will participate in that debate, rather than constantly throw out such drivel. As for his point on section 8, yes, of course it has not been terribly successful, in part because of the cumbersome nature in legal terms of the criminal dimension. It is right and proper that we, as a listening and responsive Government, review that provision and establish through the new Bill a civil penalty regime, which we think will address the problem. Make no mistake, we will deal promptly with illegal working. If the hon. Gentleman wants a serious debate, he should come and join us.

Section 30 Orders

10. Mrs. Claire Curtis-Thomas (Crosby) (Lab): What assessment he has made of the effectiveness of section 30 orders in Crosby; and if he will make a statement. [16786]

The Minister for Policing, Security and Community Safety (Hazel Blears): Merseyside police have designated one area in Crosby under section 30 of the Anti-social Behaviour Act 2003. The power enables police to disperse groups who are causing intimidation, harassment, alarm or distress and to return unsupervised young people in public places to their homes after 9 pm. The police believe it has been an effective tool in reducing instances of antisocial behaviour in the area in question.

Mrs. Curtis-Thomas: Yesterday, I was in a park affected by a section 30 order. It became apparent that a little girl of 10 and a little boy of six were there alone.
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Their parents had no idea where they were. During the afternoon, the little girl had had a bottle of beer thrown on her and sustained an injury. What will my right hon. Friend do to tackle parents who are not responsible for their children and leave them at the mercy of gangs of boys who we would prefer to see gone from our community? What will we do to ensure that the section 30 orders that we enjoy are sustained and become a normal part of our lives so that responsible and decent citizens can enjoy their leisure time in safety?

Hazel Blears: My hon. Friend knows that I visited her area relatively recently, when both of us talked to a group of young people in Crosby who were concerned that antisocial behaviour powers should be used to protect them from antisocial behaviour. One reason why they were unable to use their local park and other facilities was that gangs were hanging around. I assure my hon. Friend that not only are we urging the use of section 30 powers, we hope to have a renewed drive on parenting orders. We have issued 6,500 parenting orders and it is crucial that parents take responsibility. It is important that dispersal orders are followed up, with action taken by the police and local authorities, to give young people more constructive things to do with their leisure time. That will be another strand of our activity. My hon. Friend made the important point that it is for parents to take responsibility for what happens to their children and their families. We shall ensure that that happens, both voluntarily and, if necessary, through parenting orders.

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