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Mr. McNulty: I will be specific at length afterwards, but I do not want to waste people's time now, as the hon. Gentleman did. In the broader spirit, rather than in my normal spirit, I commend the amendment to the House.

Lords amendment agreed to.

Lords amendments Nos. 7 to 10 agreed to.
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Clause 15


Lords amendment: No. 11.

4 pm

Mr McNulty: I beg to move, That this House agrees with the Lords in the said amendment.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: With this it will be convenient to take Lords amendments Nos. 12 to 16.

Mr. McNulty: These amendments are all, in the main, fairly minor and technical. Some go to points made by the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee; here, rather than elsewhere, we move from negative to affirmative procedure with some of the order-making powers, especially in amendments Nos. 12 and 13. Some dwell on—legalistic purists might demur at this—the issue of effluxion of time, which might be better put into English in the Bill, so it duly is, in amendment No. 15. Many of the other provisions simply repeat these technicalities or go to some of the consequences that should be reflected from the Equality Bill. I know that people always bristle and become deeply suspicious when a Minister contends that a series of amendments is minor and technical. They scurry off and read them in great detail, because they having the feeling that the Minister is trying to hide something. I can assure the House that in this instance all the amendments before us, which were agreed to by the other place, are entirely acceptable to the Government. In that spirit, I ask the House to accept the amendments.

Damian Green: I will not bombard the Minister with any more facts, because I know that under the bluster he is a sensitive flower who dislikes facts that he finds uncomfortable being put forward. However, I shall ask him a question. Unusually, I am happy to accept his assurance that the amendments before us are largely technical. Despite all the evidence, I wish to believe him on this matter.

The amendments are clearly designed to remove some of the ambiguities in the Bill. Perhaps the Minister could comment on whether he thinks that the amendments are sufficient to cope with public sector employers who fall foul of the Bill. For example, what penalty would fall on an NHS hospital trust that employed a chef who did not have leave to remain? Clearly that will be one of the practical effects of the legislation. We know that the NHS—it is probably the best example—is the biggest employer of immigrant labour in this country. The amendments seem to be designed, and rightly so, to catch private sector employers who are breaking the law. However, there is ambiguity about how the provisions affect the public sector, particularly that part of it which is undifferentiated. Will this be at trust level or at general NHS level? [Interruption.] I am grateful to the Minister for his desire to intervene.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. Before the Minister intervenes, I must say that none of the amendments relates to the public sector.

Mr. McNulty: I am not sure whether to continue with my intervention or to begin it again.
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The law in this instance, in this set of amendments and in this area generally relates to employers, period. There is no differentiation or distinction under the law.

Damian Green: I believe that to be the case. I apologise if I was misinterpreting the amendments. My understanding was the same as the Minister's, which is that they apply to employers whether in the public or the private sector. I assume that the Minister is saying that the effect on private and public sector employers will be the same.

I shall ask the Minister a specific question about the NHS. It seems that people can be employees of a hospital trust or of a primary care trust, but within that there is some genuine ambiguity about what will be the relevant authority.

Keith Vaz: The hon. Gentleman makes an important point about the number of changes to immigration law that have affected employers over the past few years. Does he agree that it is incumbent upon the Government to make employers aware of these changes? I know that the Minister has talked about the various seminars that he has attended on the changes being proposed to managed migration. It is important that employers, particularly small businesses, are made aware of what is happening. The penalties are extremely severe.

Damian Green: The hon. Gentleman is right. Like him, I have had meetings with trade groups, particularly from the restaurant trade, who make the point that many of their members feel remote from legislation and find it difficult to access information. They are therefore vulnerable when legislation is changed and the changes have a serious effect on their business. If the Minister is saying that there is no possible ambiguity I welcome his reassurance. However, perhaps we should deal with the matter privately in correspondence, as I believe that ambiguities remain in the Lords amendments.

John Bercow: The fact that the Lords amendments are silent about sectors does not in itself make them unclear or unintelligible, but does my hon. Friend agree that the hon. Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz) made a good point about the need to provide clarity for businesses, particularly small and medium-sized enterprises? The onus is on Ministers, not to ask companies to come to a seminar—frankly a small business does not have the time to attend seminars—but to ensure that a pithy and distilled summary is sent at Government expense to employers who want to comply but may not know how to.

Damian Green: That is right. Clearly, there are problems that affect small businesses in the private sector, especially those run by members of ethnic minority populations, so the Government have a significant duty to act. I am concerned that there is a dichotomy between the way in which the private and public sectors are affected by the Lords amendments. I hope that the Minister will try to reassure me that there is absolutely no difference and that there is no ambiguity in the Bill's provision as they affect parts of the public sector.

Keith Vaz: Briefly, may I reinforce the point made by the hon. Members for Buckingham (John Bercow) and
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for Ashford (Damian Green)? I appreciate the enormous amount of time and effort that the Minister devotes to these matters. He works assiduously on behalf of his constituency, and he is known throughout the wider Asian community as a champion of the ethnic minorities community, so that record makes it easier for him to introduce tough legislation on immigration.

I urge the Government, however, to take enormous care with the Bill's provisions, as there have been huge changes in immigration law in the nine years in which they have been in office. The House understands why they have decided to introduce those changes. The problem is partly inherited, but it is also caused by the huge number of people who have come to the country in the past 10 years or so seeking asylum, and by the large number of cases that have been turned down.

Enforcement is an issue, too. I have many ethnic minority businesses in my constituency, as do the Minister and other hon. Members, and genuine employers are under enormous pressure. As the hon. Member for Buckingham said, although we welcome the seminars and discussions offered by the Minister, employers find it difficult to find the time to attend those meetings. I fully support the proposal to issue a clear document to those businesses precisely to explain the changes in the law, so that there is no concern on their part that they may be acting unlawfully. They do not have time to attend seminars, or the resources to employ solicitors. I declare an interest, because my wife is an immigration solicitor—although I am not touting for business on her behalf. It is an expensive business, and it is the duty of the Government to ensure that the information is provided to such employers. I hope very much that that can be done.

I remember that when he was Minister for Europe, the present Secretary of State for Northern Ireland said that he could reduce the whole of the European constitution to, I think, 50 words. I do not know how, but if he could do that with the European constitution, the Government could make a real effort so that employers understand the enormous changes that will occur as a result of the Bill.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. I was anxious not to cut off the hon. Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz) in mid-speech, but this is not intended to be a general debate on clauses 15 to 26. It is about six specific Lords amendments. Also, when we have a timed motion before us, as we have now, there is a temptation and a tendency to stroll through the early amendments, and then we find the House galloping frantically towards the end. I hope that that will not happen to us today.

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