Examination of Witnesses (Questions 120-130)
Wednesday 7 May 2003
Mr Michael Paske, Mr
Bob Fiddaman, and Mr David Brown
Q120 Alan Simpson: But in the absence
of there being any particular sanctions on your own members, is
it not the case that it is just much easier if they do not even
bother to ask the questions about legality?
Mr Paske: I cannot accept that,
I am sorry. As I say, the majority of the members of my organisation
are towards the larger side of the horticultural business, if
you take it that side, so they are substantial businesses. Where
there may be problems, as I tried to bring out in my evidence
earlier, is where that labour is subcontracted or, indeed, where
some smaller farmers who literally have not got the time perhaps
to do the checks and balances that I do in my businesses, I can
recognise the fact that there may be abuses within that system.
I am not for a moment going to say that these abuses do not happen,
I am sure they do happen, but the fact of the matter is that it
is in my interest to make sure that they are stamped out where
they possibly can be.
Q121 Alan Simpson: Can I finally
say that this issue for me goes back to the point raised by Michael
Jack that on some issues the NFU is absolutely razor sharp in
the evidence that it is able to produce to justify an intervention
case that you expect or want the government of the day to act
upon, but on this as an issue the union has been remarkably silent.
Mr Paske: I am sorry, I cannot
agree with that because, as I said to you before, every time this
issue is raised we are told that there is insufficient time to
bring in statutory powers. That is something which we are being
told and I can go back over the 12 years and every time the issue
has been raised that has been the answer that we have been given.
Q122 Alan Simpson: So if Mrs Day
is right and 50% of the farmers just do not take an interest or
do not ask the awkward questions you, as a union, would be quite
happy to say that effectively if your farmers are involved in
some sort of Del Boy delivery system of an off the back of a lorry
process that exploits labour you would be in favour of tough legislation
that would stamp it out?
Mr Paske: I would.
Q123 Alan Simpson: Including sanctions
on your own members if they were involved in that?
Mr Paske: Absolutely so.
Q124 Mr Breed: Just to wrap it up
and see if you can agree with what we are trying to do, because
if after all these years we are going to try and move the situation
forward and make the Government understand it is an issue which
is important enough to change legislation then it is important
to actually try and ensure that they understand the seriousness.
From what I have heard since I have been here you do not believe
as a union that the current situation, the current legislation
as it is enforced, is sufficient in any way to actually tackle
whatever the size of the problem. Whatever we have got at the
moment it is not sufficient and that is why you want statutory
regulation. We agree on that?
Mr Paske: Yes, we do.
Q125 Mr Breed: The evidence to suggest
that a statutory registration scheme will be policed more effectively
than the current legal framework, we have not got a handle on
that. What we are saying is that if there was that statutory registration
it would require firm enforcement but what we have got is the
evidence from SAWS that the Home Office are prepared to see that
work effectively when the legislation is in force, so hopefully
if we do get the right registration and licensing scheme in it
can be properly enforced. What we are stumbling on a bit is the
magnitude of the problem and to a certain extent that is where
the Government has to decide its priorities. Our problem is that
the evidence is that the problems associated with gang masters
are a result of the inadequate legislation as opposed to a failure
to enforce the existing legislation and it is an area that is
inevitably hazy because we cannot demonstrate what size it is.
To a certain extent, because it is underground and everything
else, we are not going to get the firm evidence, and even today
we have seen a certain reticence in people coming forward, but
in your view from all you see and what you have heard and everything
else you still believe that it is a sufficiently large enough
problem for statutory registration and licensing to be part of
primary legislation. You believe whether it is growing or diminishing
that it is of sufficient proportions to demand that.
Mr Paske: I would much prefer
to see that, absolutely, yes.
Q126 Mr Breed: In terms of the competition
law and everything else, and I know there are problems with the
European Union and everything else, even if those are resolved
it would not be your view that we could continue on any sort of
voluntary code basis, that is not going to work, it has to be
a more tough statutory basis.
Mr Paske: I am afraid to say so
because all the voluntary schemes which you and I are familiar
with just do not work as effectively as they should.
Q127 Mr Breed: On the supermarket
side, from your particular viewpoint do you believe that the supermarkets
are actually having any effect? We know that they have influences
down the chain and everything else but do you think that they
have an effect on the prices that are paid for temporary labour
in this case? We know they have an effect, and I personally believe
they do have considerable effects on certain areas, but is there
any real evidence to suggest that they are having an effect on
the continuance, if you like, of these schemes which we want to
Mr Paske: The fact of the matter
is the prices that the supermarkets are paying are extremely competitive
so we have to look at every cost in our business and see if there
are ways that we can reduce those costs. To answer your question
specifically, I do not think that is having a major effect on
the cost that we are paying for labour.
Q128 Mr Breed: If the supermarkets
all of a sudden, totally out of character, were to pay fairer
prices, do you think that would have any particular effect on
this or would that sort of money disappear into the gang master's
pockets rather than into
Mr Paske: That would be my belief.
I would put that question to my colleagues as well.
Mr Brown: Just to come back to
the earlier evidence, certainly in my dealings with growers virtually
every major retailer, if not every major retailer, puts in place
some kind of ethical audit on their suppliers and it is growing.
It is not just the two who were named earlier on, certainly others
are doing this.
Q129 Mr Breed: Right the way down
as far as the person who picks the bit of fruit at the bottom?
It does not stop at the packers?
Mr Brown: They will look to the
packer and then from the packer down to the grower to show evidence
of what they do to check. It is actually where some of the forgeries
have come out, it must be said.
Q130 Mr Breed: So you would agree
if the supermarkets suddenly did decide to pay slightly higher
to try and reflect that, it is pretty unlikely to change anything
in terms of the current situation, the money would just disappear
slightly before it got to the person it was actually meant for?
Mr Paske: Again, I go back to
the anecdotal evidence that why we are concerned is that there
does seem to be some very serious criminal activity coming into
this whole area. It would be naive for me to sit here and believe
with that type of person getting involved we could sort it out
Chairman: This particular gang master
thinks we have had enough for the day. Thank you very much indeed
for giving evidence to us. It is obviously a very interesting
subject and we are discovering more all the time. We may want
to come back to you, you may want to come back to us, but until
the next time, as they say, thank you very much indeed.