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Mr. Carmichael: I shall not detain the House because, ever the optimist, I remain hopeful that we might still get to the final group of amendments, which I consider to be very important. However, I want to share a few thoughts about illegal working, and I commend the hon. Member for Woking (Mr. Malins) for tabling these amendments. They allow us to discuss and place on the record some of our concerns about what is a real problem in many sectors of modern commerce and industry. Illegal working is a problem for all of us. It has a pernicious effect on community relations and leaves many people in different industries without proper protection or remuneration. If it is allowed to flourish, it places those who play by the rules at a real disadvantage.
The hon. Member for Woking said that most of his amendments are probing, and I think that that approach is correct, but he added that he wanted to press amendment No. 10 to a vote. The hon. Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz) said that his resolution to support him had been tested, but mine has not. I remain resolute and I will support the amendment in a Division. Yet again, part of the reassurance offered by the Government is that a code of conduct will be put in place, but so far I am not aware that one has been produced. The Government say something similar increasingly often, but such statements provide no reassurance. Effectively, we are being asked to buy a pig in a poke.
The concept of civil penalties is superficially attractive, although I remain worried about some of the enforcement problems. What is the position of bodies corporate in relation to partnerships? In Scots law, partners are deemed to be jointly and severally liable, but it seems to me that the Bill could cause real injustice in that regard.
Moreover, the people most likely to be caught and to end up paying are those small business men or sole traders who have made some error that has brought them within the jurisdiction of the civil penalty scheme. However, they will not necessarily be the real villains of the piece. The real villains will find a means of escapeno doubt without much difficultythrough devices such as the veil of incorporation. I am therefore worried that the proposed scheme will not tackle the mischief.
Amendment No. 10 would reduce the test for establishing a defence and require traders to show that they had taken "reasonable steps" to comply with employment requirements. That seems sensible, and Liberal Democrat Members support it.
Mr. John Greenway (Ryedale) (Con):
I listened to the hon. Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz) with great interest. He and I entered the House at the same time and in our early days here worked together in the Home Affairs Committee. We looked at some of these matters then, and few of us can match his experience, given the ethnic make-up of his constituency and the many cases with which he has to deal. I am sure that what he said will have been of great value to the House.
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I want to deal with some of the issues that are under consideration in the Council of Europe's Committee on Migration, Refugees and Population, to which I was appointed earlier this year. They go right to the heart of the difficult question of the employment of irregular migrants. I concluded that what the Government propose in clauses 14 to 21which the amendments tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Woking (Mr. Malins) addressnamely, stronger criminal sanctions against employers who give work to irregular or illegal migrants, seems significantly out of step with the work of the Migration Committee and the advice it has received on future migration and employment trends.
As colleagues who follow economic trends will be aware, Alan Greenspan estimated recently that there may be between 10 million and 11 million irregular migrants in work in the USA, without whom, he said, the performance of the US economy would be adversely affected, particularly in relation to the rate of inflation. I understand that it is two years since any prosecutions were pressed against employers in the USA.
We know that irregular migrants are in work in the UKthe hon. Member for Leicester, East gave us one example. The clandestine nature of their employment can and does on occasion call into question the morality and ethical behaviour of their employers. On the other hand, some employers may unwittingly employ irregular migrants, especially through subcontractors in the agricultural sector or, as my hon. Friend the Member for Woking said, migrants who used false papers.
Keith Vaz: I agree with much of what the hon. Gentleman is saying. If an employer is going through a busy period and needs to fill a vacancy, when people apply for the job the first question he asks is not, "Can I have a look at your passport?", but, "Are you able to do this job?" That is why people slip through.
Mr. Greenway: Indeed. In the hon. Gentleman's community, he may know that the person in question has a wife and children to support, and I want to touch on the issue of the rights of a person in that situation.
For the reasons that I have given, I think that my hon. Friend the Member for Woking is entirely right to try to amend the Bill as he proposes. It would be wholly wrong for us to treat the unscrupulous employer and the unwitting employer in exactly the same way, as the Bill would do. Yes, there is discretion about whether prosecutions are brought and there is discretion in the court, but if we are serious about regularising the position of illegal migrants, which is really what the hon. Member for Leicester, East was saying in his third point, it is counter-productive to penalise the very people who are most likely to know or learn about the irregularities and do something to address them.If our economy benefits from the employment of irregular migrants, we need to ask whether the prosecution of employers is justified, beyond their failure to meet employment laws and obligations. In the longer term, however, it is much more important for the House to address the interests of the migrants themselves.
I listened with interest to the Minister for Immigration, Citizenship and Nationality when he introduced new clause 2 and discussed the question of
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there being no minimum wage for people in detention centres who work. He made his point extremely well; the questions relating to the right level of pay were interesting. He pointed out that people in detention centres have a choice about whether to work, but that if they choose to work they are not paid the minimum wage. I see his point of view, but those people are nevertheless irregular migrantsthat is why they are in detentionyet they are being given the choice and the right to work.
It may surprise some colleagues, as it certainly surprised me when the document arrived in my bundle of papers, that the Migration Committee is considering a report on the human rights of irregular migrants, which might include the right to work, or at least to accept employment. That is an extremely challenging concept. I have an open mind on the issue.
The hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, North (Mr. Henderson) serves on the Migration Committee with me, and we have had quite a good exchange of views on what many colleagues on both sides of the House would find a challenging concept. However, we must all address the issue raised by the hon. Member for Leicester, East. If someone with a wife and children has lived in this country for 10 years but is here illegally because he overstayed his holiday and is in a job, does he have a right to work or not? That is the question. People say no, but the very fact that that question is on the agenda indicates the direction of thinking on this policy.
The Migration Committee has been given three different academic studies on the European convention on human rights, all of which conclude that irregular migrants must have some kind of rights. The better option is to regularise migrant workers because, without them, the long-term economic future of Europe, let alone this country, is in question. However, that is a debate for another day.
All I would say is that if the rights of irregular migrants are as uncertain as many hon. Members and I think, we ought seriously to consider the extent to which the lawwhich is what the amendment is aboutseeks to penalise, including by imprisonment, employers who offer work to irregular migrants, especially in circumstances where the employer has unwittingly employed such persons. Amendment No. 10, tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Woking, is entirely reasonable in those circumstances, and it would greatly strengthen and improve the Bill if the Government were to accept it.
Mr. Hollobone: My constituents would not want the opportunity of debating these amendments to pass without my mentioning the very serious and growing problem of working by illegal immigrants in and around Ketteringa issue that I have raised with the Home Office in a number of written questions. I share the scepticism expressed by Labour Members about the need to introduce new rules and regulations without the enforcement of the current rules and regulations being nearly effective enough.
The immigrant community in Kettering is not large. Perhaps 500 or so mainly Sikh people represent a long-established and well-respected minority ethnic community in Kettering. However, there is growing
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disquiet about the increasing number of illegal immigrants, many from the Indian subcontinent, who are finding their way to Kettering to work illegally in many of the local establishments. There is a well-established, if tortuous, route to gaining illegal entry into this country, and my hon. Friend the Member for Woking (Mr. Malins) very graciously came to Kettering to hear the local residents' concerns about it.
I should like to take this opportunity to invite the Minister to come to my constituency to explain to members of the Sikh community, employers, police officers, immigration officers and others how the proposed changes in the Bill will address the growing problem of illegal working in Kettering. Having heard the debate so far, I am afraid that, on behalf of my constituents, I remain extremely sceptical about whether the Bill will tackle the problem in the way that it ought to.
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