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Lord Rooker: My Lords, it depends on the person's circumstances. If it is by nationality, then I cannot answer the noble Lord off the top of my head and I will take advice. But there have been occasions when people, who were not from Iraq or Afghanistan, could not be returned, even when their asylum claims failed,
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because of their particular circumstances. I not sure whether that would apply to a particular nationality in general. But I know from the time that I was at the Home Office that there are cases.
There is further work to be done. I freely admit that and I said so in Committee when we touched on consultation. I want to make it absolutely clear that there will be major consultation with the stakeholders before the regulations are laid and brought before this House. I could not come to the House with the regulationsassuming that this clause gets into the Bill and that it receives Royal Assentunless we had consulted on the practicalities, systems and processes that will be put in place. We will consider the precise form of this exercise but we recognise that many of the organisations referred to in earlier debates will be able to inform our thinking.
We do not have a closed mind on this or a secret scheme that we want to impose. We want to get the principle of the legislation on the statute book to give us the authority to go out to negotiate and consult with practioners who have experience. Some of them have had failed asylum seekers working for them on a voluntary basis so they will have experience that will help to shape the regulations. I repeat that the regulations will be subject to the affirmative procedure so that we will have a full and frank debate on them before the system comes in.
Parliament and the public need to make sure that the asylum and immigration processes are being managed properly. It is true that these are extra measures that were not in the Bill to start with. They are allied with and connected to the success in halving the number of asylum applications. The more balanced and proactive approach to managed economic migration is helping to achieve that end. But one single policy objective will not solve the problem. We need to do them all. That is why we have opened up other routes of managed economic migration in recent years so that there is no need for people to claim asylum when they are economic migrants after a job and a new life.
We think that requiring people whose asylum claims have failed to participate in community activity while the taxpayer is supporting them enhances the balanced approach. It helps to send the right signals down the line. We know that policy changes and sending signals down the line affect the flow of asylum claims. There is no question about that and we have known it for years. We recognise that there is a cost to the taxpayer in providing support under Section 4 and I freely admit that I cannot put a figure on it. The cost per job might be irrelevant at the present time. When the regulations come forward we shall have more information about finance which can be given to this House.
Nevertheless, we are legislating in principle and flexibly for the future and not just for present circumstances. As we are legislating for the future one cannot predict exactly what the costs will be. The failed asylum seekers who are unable to participate in community activities should contribute to the cost to
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the taxpayer by giving something in return while waiting to return home. All we are doing is asking a small number at presentwe hope that it does not growof recipients under Section 4 to make a short-term contribution to their keep.
The noble Lord asked about that and I have touched on the question of cost. As part of the consultation we shall have to provide information regarding the cost of the programme and how we deliver one which is flexible enough to meet the circumstances.
As regards Somalia, I was conscious of what the noble Lord said today and what he said at Committee. Since 31 March this year we have been enforcing the return of a small number of Somali failed asylum seekers to Mogadishu, as the noble Lord is aware. This is not a policy change. Since October 2002, when we ended blanket country-specific exceptional leave policies, all asylum applications from all nationalities are considered on their merits. That renders Somali failed asylum seekers removable. The returns started when we opened a route to enable us to effect returns to Mogadishu. We are not returning vulnerable categories and are returning only very small numbers to southern Somalia. That is the current situation; it is not a policy change.
I freely admit that these assurances are not much greater than I was able to give at Committee. It is a point of principle. In due course we shall have detailed regulations. Heaven knows how long they will be, but I expect that they will be in greater detail than the clauses on the face of the Bill as they have to show how the system will work, the cost and the appeal mechanism. I made it quite clear that funds will not be cut off just because someone cannot carry the appeal process through. I shall touch on this matter when we come to the other amendments. I do not want to go down that route at present because the first three amendments all deal with the same group of people.
Lord Avebury: My Lords, I have to disappoint the Minister if he hopes that the reply he has just given will satisfy us on these Benches. The only information we extracted from him, which was something of which we were aware already, was that there are compulsory returns to Mogadishu. I was very disappointed that the Minister was unable to give us any information about the composition or the nationalities of the people at present receiving Section 4 support. He could not even say whether there were any other nationalities among them apart from the Afghans and Iraqis I have already mentioned.
To make a half-baked proposal, as the noble Baroness, Lady Carnegy of Lour, described it, without any further information about the cost or the impact on the local authorities which will have to run the scheme, is grossly unsatisfactory. I ask for the opinion of the House.
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