Previous Section Index Home Page

I am afraid that it is not always possible for me to stand here and say that every one of the 31 recommendations has been delivered absolutely on
13 Jun 2007 : Column 775
time, because some of them depend on new technology, but we have made substantial advances and we will continue to do that. The key early recommendation, which was called the IMPACT nominal index, was implemented on time by the end of 2005, so it is not as if no progress was made in that area. However, we will attempt to ensure that we deliver the rest as soon as possible.

Mark Pritchard (The Wrekin) (Con): Is the Home Secretary aware of the robust research in the United States which shows that convicted paedophiles will often have previous cautions, warnings and even convictions for abuse of animals? In the context of the Bichard report and sharing police intelligence, will his Department look at those who have been convicted of abuse of animals and see whether there is any intelligence that can be shared?

John Reid: I was not aware of that, and I will ask our officials to look into it.

Mr. Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): The Home Secretary has just made an important statement and one would expect the press gallery to be packed. It is empty. Yesterday, the media had knowledge of what the Home Secretary has said today. When he sat down with his media advisers, did he say to them, “This is a really important statement, Members of Parliament should hear it first, there must be no leaks to the press,” or did he say, “Why don’t you brief this or that newspaper”?

John Reid: Actually, we did brief the press this morning and we had an embargo. I appeared in the media today but I kept it in very general terms. I have been discussing the issue, as have two other Ministers, for a year with innumerable stakeholders, some involved here, some abroad. It is not within my power to carry out prolonged scrutiny and consultation, yet make sure that none of that ever appears in the press. I can do many things, but I cannot square circles, even for the hon. Gentleman.

13 Jun 2007 : Column 776

Points of Order

1.25 pm

Mr. Andrew Robathan (Blaby) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker, as you will know, yesterday we discussed the Serious Crime Bill in the House, a serious piece of Home Office legislation, which involves burdens of proof and admissibility of evidence and which affects the liberties of all people in this country. Is there anything you can do to persuade the Government to inform their Back Benchers of the serious nature of legislation going through the House, because apart from a couple of interventions not one Labour Back Bencher contributed—

Mr. Speaker: Order. The hon. Gentleman knows that that is not a point of order.

Dr. Phyllis Starkey (Milton Keynes, South-West) (Lab): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker, in Westminster Hall, the hon. Member for North-East Milton Keynes (Mr. Lancaster) said in an Adjournment debate:

The claim was repeated in the local press and it obviously caused enormous concern to many of my constituents, as well as to those of the hon. Gentleman. Because of the seriousness of the figure, which represents nearly a third of the population, I checked with the local Milton Keynes primary care trust. It confirmed with me that the waiting list for NHS dentistry in Milton Keynes has been totally cleared as a result of the new contracts and the extra £500,000 funding, that no one in Milton Keynes is waiting for access for longer than a week and that new practices are actively taking on new patients.

Mr. Speaker: Order.

Mr. Mark Lancaster (North-East Milton Keynes) (Con): Further to that point of order—

Mr. Speaker: Order. I am going to rule that it is not a point of order, so there will not be a further point of order.

Michael Fabricant (Lichfield) (Con): It is on the record.

Mr. Speaker: The hon. Gentleman is right: it is on the record, and some of the points of order that he has raised are on the record, too, and they have not been points of order. The hon. Member for Milton Keynes, South-West (Dr. Starkey) is using the system of points of order to put the record straight. In future, if she wants to put the record straight and to rebut the case that an hon. Member has put, she can apply for an Adjournment debate. Then she will have at least a quarter of an hour on the Floor of the House to put the case. That would be the best way. I think that, in fairness, the hon. Member for North-East Milton Keynes (Mr. Lancaster) should have an opportunity to say something, but I know that it is not going to be a point of order.

13 Jun 2007 : Column 777

Mr. Lancaster: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. May I take the opportunity to apologise to the House, because now that the figures have been checked, it would appear that the 70,000 figure is not correct. According to the latest figures published, there are in fact 120,853 people, a massive 54 per cent. of residents in Milton Keynes, currently not registered with an NHS dentist. I make no apology for continuing to pursue that matter on behalf of my constituents.

Mr. Speaker: Order. This is not a debate on Milton Keynes.


Protection of Adults in Care (Prevention of Harm and Exploitation)

Mr. Paul Burstow, supported by Mrs. Joan Humble and Sandra Gidley, presented a Bill to amend the Human Rights Act 1998 to extend the definition of public authority to include any body acting pursuant to a contract with a public body to perform a function of a public nature; to confer new functions on local authorities in relation to persons in need of care or protection provided by such authorities; and for connected purposes: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time on Friday 29 June, and to be printed [Bill 123].

13 Jun 2007 : Column 778

Gangmasters (Licensing) Act 2004 (Amendment)

1.30 pm

Jim Sheridan (Paisley and Renfrewshire, North) (Lab): I beg to move,

As the House will know, gangmasters are labour providers who operate throughout the UK economy. The House will also be aware that in summer 2004 the private Member’s Bill on gangmasters received Royal Assent. With the indulgence of right hon. and hon. Members, I should like briefly to remind the House of what the Gangmasters (Licensing) Act is all about. It applies to all labour providers operating in the agricultural and shellfish industries and the food processing and packaging sectors. It requires all those gangmasters to be licensed, establishes the Gangmasters Licensing Authority to run a register of gangmasters and enforce a licensing scheme, and creates penalties of up to 10 years’ imprisonment for gangmasters who break the law. The Act had support from every political party and from across society, the endorsement of trade unions and employers, and even the backing of legitimate gangmasters. As legislators, we should be proud of the Act, especially as the passage of that landmark law coincided with the heart-rending loss of life that took place in the Morecambe bay tragedy.

The Act is performing four crucial tasks: first, it is protecting vulnerable workers from exploitation and abuse; secondly, it is driving rogue labour providers out of business by driving them into court; thirdly, it is safeguarding the future of the decent, law-abiding agencies which do well by their workers and play by the rules; and fourthly, it is ensuring that the Treasury is not cheated and defrauded of millions of pounds of tax and VAT by criminal gangmaster bosses. However, while I can rightly argue that the Act is good law, I am also forced to admit that it is a limited law, because it applies only to a narrow, albeit important, sector of industry. Two years on from its hitting the statute book, the impact of its limitations is becoming all too apparent, especially if we take a long, hard look at the UK’s construction industry.

Let us make no mistake about it—construction matters to this country. It employs more than 2 million people, contributes more than £70 billion a year to our economy, and is literally helping to build a better Britain—from terminal 5, to constructing the power stations that we need to deliver energy security, to providing the homes that we need to solve the housing shortage, to the construction of the Olympic village. In the context of the Olympics ideal, fragmentation and self-employment across the 9,000-strong work force would be a gangmasters’ gold rush which would compromise safety, drive down pay and conditions, and fail to deliver the promised legacy of creating skills and jobs for local people. The benefits of regulated employment can be seen from other Olympic examples. At least 13 construction workers died during the building of the Athens Olympic site in 2004, which relied on casualised self-employed workers. There was one fatality during the construction for Sydney in 2000, which used a direct employment model. We do
13 Jun 2007 : Column 779
not need another Morecambe bay-type tragedy that would tarnish the London Olympic games.

Sadly, UK construction has a darker side, where vulnerable workers are ripped off by unscrupulous labour providers, health and safety law is ignored by dodgy employers, and the lives of innocent, hard-working people are lost through criminal, but too often unpunished, negligence. If we look carefully into the long shadows of construction, we will detect the outline of a familiar figure—the rogue gangmaster. Yes, there are a huge number of decent labour providers who not only provide an excellent service to a construction sector dependent on a quality work force but abide by the law and treat their workers with respect, but there are also a growing number of rogue operators in the unregulated construction sector who operate in precisely the same shameful way they once did in the sectors now regulated by the 2004 Act. By that, I mean that they will break any law, cut any corner, undermine any good employer, evade any tax, exploit any worker, and use any loophole to earn a quick buck and make a quick getaway. The sad paradox for vulnerable workers and decent bosses is that construction is the fastest growing sector of the economy, yet it is also the least regulated. Although I would never argue for any industry to be overburdened with regulations that it does not need and which would not work, I believe that balanced regulation is as good for business as it is for workers. In other words, I am talking about regulation for a purpose, not regulation for its own sake.

Let me give a few examples of why construction is crying out for balanced and meaningful regulation. Construction workers are being forced to operate under bogus self-employed status so that their employers can avoid their tax and national insurance responsibilities. They are being redesignated as security staff so that they can sleep on site at night. They are being brought in from the EU and sent on to sites without the training or the language skills to understand health and safety warnings. Pay is plummeting as rogue employers force wages below the going rates. Fly-by-night gangmasters are driving down costs and putting legitimate labour providers out of business. Worst of all, health and safety laws are being broken to such an extent that deaths in construction rose by a staggering 25 per cent. last year. In fact, things are now so dangerous that construction workers are seven times more likely to die at work than workers in any other industry. With the greatest respect to our emergency services and our armed forces, whenever there is a death in any of those professions there is widespread reporting by the press and media. However, when construction workers lose their lives it goes largely unreported.

The number of rogue gangmasters operating in construction is growing at a rate of knots, but here is the irony: many have simply switched from providing labour to farms and food processing factories to providing
13 Jun 2007 : Column 780
labour to building sites and construction firms. Why is that? It is because the licensing, regulation and enforcement that would seek them out and lock them up in the food and agriculture sector is absent from the construction sector. Put simply, there is a legal vacuum in construction and the rogues have filled it. In construction, no law means no chance—no chance to protect vulnerable workers, no chance to track down the rogue operators, and no chance to bring them to justice.

If we take a moment to think it through, we can see that the absence of effective law in construction makes no sense at all. Where is the logic in a state of affairs where a labour provider needs a licence to supply a worker to a food processing plant but does not need one to supply that same worker to a building site? One does not have to be Einstein to know that there is no logic in that. A worker is a worker is a worker; a principle is a principle is a principle. Everybody is equal under the law or nobody is equal under the law. Members should not take my word for it; they should ask the Government. After all, Ministers support licensing and registration in other sectors, both in principle and in practice. When the Government have recognised a problem and witnessed exploitation, they have acted through the law. I ask them to do the same with construction.

I have admitted that the Gangmasters (Licensing) Act is limited in scope, but I have also argued that it is effective in practice. Its effectiveness brings me to my feet today. The Act offers a template, which provides a model for the way in which labour providers in the construction industry could and should be regulated. I am not alone in thinking that. Even the chair of the Gangmasters Licensing Authority, Paul Whitehouse, has argued the case for including construction in the remit of his regulator.

The law matters—it is what we do here first, last and always. It is why we were elected. Therefore, a failure to give the protection of legislation to vulnerable workers and decent bosses in construction is not merely a failure of law but an abdication of our core responsibility and solemn duty as Members of Parliament.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Jim Sheridan, Mr. Nicholas Brown, Mr. John Denham, Tony Lloyd, Anne Moffat, Mr. Jim McGovern, Mrs. Madeleine Moon, Mr. Peter Kilfoyle, Mr. Stephen Hepburn, Mr. Michael Clapham, Harry Cohen and Mr. David Hamilton.

Gangmasters (Licensing) Act 2004 (Amendment)

Jim Sheridan accordingly presented a Bill to amend the Gangmasters (Licensing) Act 2004 to extend its provisions to cover construction work; and for connected purposes: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time on Friday 29 June, and to be printed [Bill 122].

13 Jun 2007 : Column 781



13 Jun 2007 : Column 782

Next Section Index Home Page