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NHSBT invites all 17-year-olds in England and north Wales to become blood donors and concentrates on promoting to active blood donors the idea of bone marrow donation. It also works closely with other organisations to increase donations from black and minority ethnic groups.

As part of the “One Blood” campaign, working with organisations such as the African Caribbean Leukaemia Trust has produced good results. Through the scheme under section 64 of the Health Services and Public Health Act 1968, the Department of Health makes funding available to the African Caribbean Leukaemia Trust. I understand that in 2005-06 it organised 43 clinics and registered nearly 4,000 people with the Anthony Nolan Trust and the BBMR. That shows that our involvement with voluntary organisations is helpful, because often they have more reach, particularly if there are faith or cultural issues to overcome or, as the hon. Gentleman rightly pointed out, misconceptions about what bone marrow donation means.

We are looking forward to how we can develop the concept of the education pack. Work is going on to develop the pack, and Adam Crizzle is involved in that process, for which we are thankful. It is hoped that in 2007—probably in September, the start of the academic year—the pack will be launched. In the meantime, it will be developing and we will be thinking about ways in which we may be able to use some of the information that we have learned from the process. We may want to consider ways in which we can reach young people, particularly in other environments that they might be tuned into, to take the pack further and not have it just as a school-based policy.

Mr. Bone: Can the Minister help on this point? The Government have just passed regulations relating to transplants. Unfortunately, the issue of bone marrow has been caught up in those regulations, which means that anyone under 18 who wants to donate bone marrow must now be approved by a separate registrar, which is a hurdle. Will she consider that point?

Caroline Flint: I am happy to look at the point further and to write to the hon. Gentleman; I know that there are issues in terms of donations. I do not know whether this issue is appropriate in this case, but there are concerns about the question of adults as opposed to children and limited capacity in terms of donations being taken from them.

The situation has clearly been difficult for Adam, Jeanette and her children. I wish her and her family all the best and I hope that she is getting the best care possible at this time. I pay credit to the fact that, in that difficult situation, the family has taken the opportunity to be positive and constructive about what they can contribute to ensure that, for Jeanette and others, there are more possibilities of donation in the future. They should be very proud of that.

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Recruitment Agencies

12.58 pm

Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich) (Lab): My constituency is not altogether unique, although I believe firmly that it is the centre of the universe. It contains two major towns that are both linked and divided by their history. There is nothing quite as short as the collective memory of the people of the United Kingdom, but it is useful, when thinking about the problems of employment, to look back and see where we came from.

Crewe, for example, exists entirely because of the economic and political demands of the early 1800s and the railway industry. The developments of the not only turbulent but energetic Victorian engineers meant that the expansion of the railway required not only depots but provisions and a work force. At that time we manufactured our own trains; would that we returned to that in the present century, but that is another story for another day. However, Crewe was built between the early 1830s and the early 1890s precisely to provide a work force, a set of skills and a set of provisions for a burgeoning industrial situation. Indeed, large numbers of people in my constituency at that time would have been Liverpudlians, attracted by the wages and permanency of a job in the railway industry.

Nantwich, on the other hand, although it considers itself distinctly a cut above Crewe, owes its existence to a different industrial scheme. It provided salt, originally to the Roman army and probably to work forces across the county even before that. In other words, the United Kingdom has developed largely because of the economic demands of its population and the geographical results of that pressure.

When we consider employment, particularly the attraction of the United Kingdom for overseas workers, we sometimes forget that such migration has been going on not for years but for centuries. I suspect that the reason my hon. Friend the Minister does not have—if he will forgive my saying so—a southern English accent is that, like my parents and grandparents, he was attracted to the south-east of England largely out of political and economic necessity. That continues to this day. However, I have become increasingly concerned about the safeguards that are in place.

In the 21st century, the United Kingdom ought routinely to be able to protect its work force, particularly under a Labour Government, even a new Labour Government. We ought to be able to point to rules that can be defended in any court in the land as providing equity of treatment and safety in the workplace. Yet it has become increasingly clear, even in a stable backwater—whoops, wrong word—such as Crewe, that we still have the capacity to attract an entire work force who, on the face of it, have little in common with Cheshire.

In the past five years, we have incorporated within our numbers large groups of workers from eastern Europe. Those groups are largely Polish workers, but there are also people from other eastern European countries. Those workers are from a variety of professions and have a variety of skills. I have mentioned before my horror when I discovered that we had a neurosurgeon working in a yoghurt factory which has difficulty finding a full work force because many of my constituents do
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not particularly want to work there. It is a non-unionised establishment, which is not exactly indicative of the very best of what British industry can offer its workers.

I have had occasion in the past five years to notice not only the silent growth of the eastern European work force but the way in which they have been exploited. I have raised the matter in the House before because I was enormously concerned about not just the influx of workers who were facing real social problems but the behaviour of employment agencies in my constituency. At the risk of being boring and going over the same territory again, I say to my hon. Friend the Minister that employment agencies are growing fat in this land. In a society that thinks it can cheerfully move from having stable work forces to contracting out, employing temporary workers and attracting anybody who wants to come in and do the job without a long-term or permanent guarantee of protection, the middleman—it is always a middle man—will inevitably begin not only to supply workers but to dictate the terms and conditions under which they work.

I became concerned about the matter because as soon as a nation entered the European Union, agencies would quite legitimately go into an area to advertise for workers, making it clear that, in their view, there was a constant stream of employment, and thus attracting large numbers of people to Cheshire. There is nothing wrong with that, so long as the terms and conditions associated with the work that has attracted those workers are spelled out for them and the workers are at least guaranteed some equality of treatment.

What is the point of a society that insists on fair treatment and equal pay—at long last, dear Lord, it is accepted that we should have a minimum wage, which is something that I have long waited for—yet which manages, by avoiding many of our legal qualifications, to pay some people under the rates that are acceptable for everybody else? What is the point of a society that manages frequently to exploit—I use the word advisedly—the work force it has attracted?

I hardly need point out to my colleague the Minister that one easy way in which employment agencies can get round many of our laws is to declare that their workers are self-employed. That is an absolute abuse. Agencies advertise for people, bring them in, get them to sign contracts—now in the language of their origin, thanks to a grant from Her Majesty’s Government—charge them for transport, put them into their own property, much of which is overcrowded, dictate to them what work is available, provide the transport to take them to that work, bring them back if no work is available and manage to charge them for those services at rates that leave many of them virtually penniless at the end of the week.

Those agencies are, quite legitimately, waxing wealthy. One can see large numbers of people waiting outside their doors at the end of the week for some kind of settlement and know that they continue to encourage people to come not just to Cheshire but to the United Kingdom generally, because of the way our work laws are being interpreted. One also knows from the refusal—it is a genuine refusal—to allow the trade unions to get into contact with many such workers that the conditions under which the workers are employed are not those that most of us would find acceptable.

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There has been a targeted effort in my constituency to recruit a lot of foreign workers, but it is extremely difficult to get in touch with those who have sufficient command of the English language, and the problems that have been experienced in recruitment have been greater than with a normal work force. There is a growing feeling that our employment laws are being at best exploited, if not broken, that the protection offered to such workers is minimal and that local authorities are increasingly faced with problems, but also that only in some cases are Her Majesty’s Government taking active measures to assist.

The first thing that happens is that a local authority finds itself with the social problems associated with large numbers of workers, many of whom do not speak the language or understand what is available for them. Social services have then had problems involving migrant groups that have occasionally been reported for difficulties with small children and which, when inspected, have been found to be living in extraordinary conditions that are not conducive to a good home life. The numbers have grown in my constituency. I hesitate to point that out, because one London Member to whom I said that I thought I had well over 3,000 people pointed out that he thought he had nearly 30,000 people of different nationalities, which is rather a different size of problem. To me, however, it does not matter whether it is one worker or 30 workers being exploited; I have a responsibility to ensure that the situation is changed.

Crewe and Nantwich has responded well. It has not only designated individual officers, but done its best to deal with some of the social problems. However, the problems are now becoming bigger—there are problems of accommodation, language and inclusion in schools. In a county that is eternally seeking to shut down its primary and secondary schools on the assumption that we have fewer children, it is bizarre suddenly to find an influx of Polish children completely changing the numbers in a school almost overnight. All the careful planning and commitment of, in many cases, fraught negotiations between the local education authority and the parents are thrown completely to the winds when a large group of immigrant children appear out of the blue and need to be not only accommodated but integrated into the school stream, putting considerable pressure on the teachers concerned.

Today I want specifically to follow up the points I raised in my original Adjournment debate. I recently questioned my good friend, my right hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, South (Mr. Clarke), who has recently been in the news as a most vocal and intelligent contributor to the discussion of our political future. When I asked him what was happening between the Home Office and the Department for Work and Pensions about employment agencies and their recruitment policies, he said it was an urgent need that had to be addressed and:

He also mentioned the gangmaster legislation which we all welcome, but in the particular instance I am outlining it does not apply because, although people in
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my constituency are involved in agriculture, they are not operating in gangs. My right hon. Friend also said:

in this case, the Home Office—

I have a series of short and, I am sure, simple and easily answered questions for my hon. Friend the Minister. If it is true that at present migrant workers comprise at least 10 per cent. of the UK’s work force, and the Health and Safety Commission has set up, so far as I can see, five work streams to look at the evidence that is available, the numbers and the way in which people are being treated—so there is research and analysis, an action programme, a multi-agency joint enforcement pilot, work with the local authorities and the Gangmasters (Licensing) Act 2004—that is admirable, but I want to know what is happening. It is all very well having these working parties, but what are they doing to report back to the Government? How much joint working is there? Where is it happening and what are the results?

I am told that the particular joint workplace enforcement pilot mentioned in my previous Adjournment debate by the Minister concerned, was set up, operated for a fortnight and was then—I use this phrase advisedly—stood down temporarily. How long is a temporary stand down? What does it mean? Who is involved in that decision and why? If there is some point in getting Departments to work together—and I am sure there is—then why on earth, having set up something that looked as though it was going to come up with some answers, have we allowed it to be temporarily pushed into recess?

Just as important is the fact that the Government’s interest in these issues must include illegal and migrant working, because both of those are relevant. How many such workers are there here? Which of them are legal or illegal? To what extent are we getting accurate information from the various sectors concerned? Because of the appalling deaths of the young Chinese workers in Morecambe bay, agriculture and the food sector received a degree of inspection that they more than warranted, but they are not the only sectors that need to be investigated. What is happening in the health sector in a country that is encouraging large amounts of private health care? Many people working in that sector are low paid and inadequately trained, and increasingly they are foreign workers. This is almost inevitable, but what controls are there over their background, their training, their essential health, safety and welfare information and their ability to talk to the people they are supposedly looking after?

We know that there are large numbers of foreign workers in construction. One only has to go into my local supermarket to discover that whatever the language is that is spoken at the tills, it is not even the idiosyncratic English of south London. The construction groups which are making an effort to communicate basic principles of construction health and safety, targeting Polish and Turkish workers, ought to be asked to increase that work. They should also be asked whether their actions have been successful and how far they cover the work force.

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I could happily go on, but the multi-agency joint enforcement pilot is an example of the sort of things that should concern us. Perhaps the Minister will tell us today what the Government really want to do. If we are to continue to attract workers, we have a responsibility for them. We also have a responsibility to our own work force. We have a responsibility to our local authorities and to the people of this country to explain how our views of the economy are governed by our constant need to attract those people who previously came only from other parts of the United Kingdom, but who now come from all over the world. I hope that we will do that on a balanced, sensible and responsible basis and I want the Government to assure me of that today.

1.17 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Trade and Industry (Jim Fitzpatrick): It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair, Mr. Caton, and I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody) on securing the debate. As she said, she had a similar debate on employment agencies 364 days ago. She raised a number of issues then, which the Department has or is about to address, and I will update her on aspects of that in a moment. I took the opportunity to read that speech this morning and I hope I can reassure her about some of the progress, giving due acknowledgement to the seriousness of the matter. If we have further information and if I do not respond to all her points, I will write to her. However, I hope that I can cover most of them.

I start by stating clearly that the Government condemn any abuse or mistreatment of workers, whether UK nationals or migrant workers. We take very seriously such issues, and have and will mobilise the resources of the various enforcement agencies that have been established to tackle such illegal practices. I will say a little more about the enforcement agencies later.

I want to make it clear that the Government are keen to ensure that all workers, including agency temporary workers, have appropriate protections. We aim to do that by effective implementation and enforcement of the existing legislation and rights for the benefit of workers and companies.

We set out our plans in more detail—in particular, our intention to do more to protect vulnerable workers, crack down on the rogues and support good employers—in our recently published policy paper “Success at Work”, which I will discuss in more detail in a moment. However, it is important to remember that agency workers in the UK are already protected by specific legislation governing agency work and also share a number of key employment rights with permanent employees. All are covered by the national minimum wage, working time and health and safety legislation, and social security provisions such as maternity and sick pay.

In the UK, the Employment Agencies Act 1973 and associated regulations set the standards for the conduct of the industry. The current regulations came into force in April 2004 and include updated versions of pre-existing requirements and new protections, appropriate for today’s flexible recruitment market.

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The Department of Trade and Industry’s employment agency standards inspectorate is responsible for enforcing the legislation and follows up every relevant complaint it receives that indicates a possible breach. Inspectors also undertake targeted visits in those areas where infringements are considered most likely to occur.

Mrs. Dunwoody: Can my hon. Friend tell me how many inspectors there are in the north-west?

Jim Fitzpatrick: If my hon. Friend will give me a moment or two, I will come to that statistic.

In “Success at Work”, the Government announced proposals for a package of measures specifically targeted on those agencies that are most likely to mistreat those vulnerable workers and take advantage of them. We aim to do that so that the vast majority of agencies, which comply with their legal and moral requirements and would not dream of undertaking such practices, are not adversely affected. We want to target practices pursued by the rogue element of the industry, not the normal conduct of reputable agencies, so we will consult with a wide range of stakeholders to produce a package of proposals.

We propose action in five key areas. We are aware that some agencies mistreat workers in effect by making it a condition of offering them work that they pay for additional services such as accommodation and transport, often at exorbitant rates. Some agencies try to evade existing controls by providing services through associated companies in which they have a financial interest.

It is already an offence to make an offer of a job conditional on a worker paying for other services. However, we have promised to consider whether we should strengthen that by including a right of withdrawal, subject to an appropriate notice period, from any service after a work seeker has taken a job. We will also explore whether it would be possible to deal with associated companies without making it impossible for legitimate agencies to offer the option of services that we know workers value.

We also want to tackle cases in which vulnerable workers, especially those from overseas, are given loans to help them to take up temporary employment, with repayments at high levels of interest, which are deducted from their wages without the workers’ consent.

We already require that in the case of a loan provided by a UK agency to a work seeker to enable him or her to take up a position with a hirer, the work seeker cannot be required to repay a greater sum than the money loaned. While we are unable to control situations in which a work seeker takes loans at high levels of interest outside the UK, we will consider whether we could strengthen existing legislation—for example, by preventing loan repayments from being deducted from wages by a UK agency without the express consent of the work seeker.

We have noticed cases of heavy goods vehicle drivers without proper driving qualifications trying to gain employment and seeking to work longer driving hours than is legal. In a very few cases, we have evidence that agency staff colluded with workers to evade the law. Existing legislation already covers those issues, and legitimate agencies ensure that workers have appropriate qualifications and do not ask them to drive for an excessive number of hours.

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