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Jacqui Smith: We take seriously the responsibility of employers to carry out right-to-work checks for their employees, which is why the BIA and my hon. Friend
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the Minister for Borders and Immigration have already undertaken a consultation on what more we can do to ensure that employers who negligently employ people without a right to work face appropriate civil penalties and that those who knowingly employ workers without a right to work actually face much stiffer penalties. That will help to ensure that all employers live up to their responsibilities. Alongside that, we will continue to ensure that the BIA provides support and assistance to help employers to carry out that activity.

Mr. Peter Lilley (Hitchin and Harpenden) (Con): Has the Home Secretary asked herself why all the failures of her Department are in the same direction—the direction of lax application of the rules, failure to apply checks and failure to deport people? Is it not because, within the discretion granted by law, officials do what they believe their masters want them to do? Have they not reached the conclusion that this Government want to increase and allow the maximum amount of work and settlement in this country, while minimising the problems and minimising the numbers?

Jacqui Smith: The right hon. Gentleman is just plain wrong. As I spelled out to the hon. Member for Taunton a few moments ago, there has not been any failure of the processes during the course of this activity. There has been a tightening of the requirement to put alongside an application for an SIA licence a check for a right to work. That is not a statutory obligation: it is an additional operational safeguard put in by the Government and jointly adopted by the SIA and the BIA. It is an improvement of the position, not a blunder or a failure.

Mr. David Blunkett (Sheffield, Brightside) (Lab): I congratulate my right hon. Friend on her very clear statement. Will she confirm that, during the passage of the Bill that established the Security Industry Authority, no Opposition Member—then or since—raised the issue of transferring clear legal responsibility from employers to the SIA? Will she also confirm that in dealing with this issue in July, she took cognisance, first, of the fact that we need a robust and reliable biometric database to be able to identify those who should not be claiming and able to work in this country and, secondly, of the critical importance of not equivocating or agonising about the analysis, but actually to act? My right hon. Friend did exactly that and we should congratulate her today on the steps that she has taken.

Jacqui Smith: I did not have the pleasure of serving on the Committee that considered the Private Security Industry Act 2001. As my right hon. Friend says, however, I understand that the Opposition at no point argued for the things that they now argue should be in that legislation. In fact, as I have pointed out, they specifically argued for a proportional and light-touch approach.

My right hon. Friend is right: the changes made have been the result of improved operational activity between the Security Industry Authority and the Border and Immigration Agency, and of our not being satisfied solely with the statutory obligations on the
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Security Industry Authority—we have increased the obligations over and above those originally required in law. Our action has toughened the system.

Mr. Michael Howard (Folkestone and Hythe) (Con): When the fiasco first came to light, did the Home Secretary tell the Prime Minister? If not, why not? If she did, did the Prime Minister remind her of his promise to abandon spin and embrace candour?

Jacqui Smith: I did not tell the Prime Minister because there was not a fiasco; action was taken to strengthen the system, and there was an investigation to provide the evidence to allow an explanation to be given to the public. There was no fiasco or blunder; there was strengthened and improved action.

Chris Mole (Ipswich) (Lab): Will my right hon. Friend expand on how the introduction of ID cards for foreign nationals will help employers have certainty at the point at which they take people on? Does not the Opposition’s resistance to that proposal suggest that their concerns expressed today are more crocodile tears than real ones?

Jacqui Smith: My hon. Friend makes an important point. I am genuinely interested in how we can ensure that only those people who have a right to be and work in this country can do so. It is the responsibility of employers to check that, but it will be manifestly easier to do so if the people who have a right to stay and work in this country have ID cards. Frankly, arguing for tougher controls and attempting to criticise the Government, while being unwilling to support the things that will make the system stronger and better able to ensure that only those who should be here can work, is, to say the least, hypocritical. As my hon. Friend suggests, it has much more to do with political soundbites than serious politics and policy.

Mr. Andrew Robathan (Blaby) (Con): The Home Secretary stated:

among other things,

Will the Home Secretary explain how an identity check does not show immigration status and whether the person identified has a work permit? Surely we identify somebody so that we know what they are about, yet at least one in 10—possibly one in five—security personnel work illegally.

Jacqui Smith: As of 1 October, one of the things that we have tightened is the documents that must be provided to the Security Industry Authority to identify somebody correctly. The hon. Gentleman, however, identifies a problem: clever criminals can forge documents. That is why a Government-managed identity scheme for foreign residents will provide more certainty of identity. Given his question, perhaps he will support that.

Ms Dari Taylor (Stockton, South) (Lab): When a full analysis of the situation is made, does the Home Secretary believe that it would be appropriate to publicise a list of all employers who appear to be either ignoring or understating their responsibilities?

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Jacqui Smith: I would not want to make a commitment to the House that I was not clear that we could deliver. My hon. Friend, however, makes an important point: it is the employer’s responsibility to check the right to work of somebody employed in the security industry. To help them to do that, we have introduced 100 per cent. right-to-work checks, using records of the Border and Immigration Agency, from July this year. We have given the industry’s employers every assistance, which I hope they will take up, and I hope that they will live up to their responsibilities, which are clearly spelt out in law.

David T.C. Davies (Monmouth) (Con): The questions referred to in the statement were tabled in September 2006 in response to industry insiders who were telling anyone who would listen that that was what was happening. Why did it take the Home Office an extra seven months to discover something that a Back Bench Member of Parliament and anyone in the security industry knew about in September?

Jacqui Smith: As we made clear in response to the hon. Gentleman’s question, it is the responsibility of security industry employers to check the right to work of those people whom they employ. I have made that case clearly already.

Mr. Adrian Bailey (West Bromwich, West) (Lab/Co-op): I congratulate the Home Secretary on using the SIA, set up by this Government, to tackle this particularly difficult problem. What assessment has she made of the effect that the light-touch approach advocated by the Opposition would have on her ability to deal with this problem?

Jacqui Smith: My hon. Friend makes an important point. Up to 2003, it was of course the case that there was no regulation for people working in the security industry. It was this Government’s willingness to take through the Private Security Industry Act 2001 and set up the SIA that enabled us to identify and solve the problem and to strengthen the restrictions on those working in the security industry.

Pete Wishart (Perth and North Perthshire) (SNP): How many of the people identified so far have held high-security jobs in Scotland? What discussions has the Home Secretary had with Scottish Ministers? Can she confirm that even though she has known about this issue since April she has made no attempt to consult or inform Scottish Ministers, even though this is a serious and significant issue north of the border?

Jacqui Smith: No, I obviously cannot give the hon. Gentleman details about those people working in Scotland. Scottish Ministers will understand their responsibility, as do UK Ministers, for ensuring that employment law is appropriately applied.

Mr. David Clelland (Tyne Bridge) (Lab): Is not this the industry that, under the Conservative Government, was allowed to get away with paying wages of, on occasion, less than £1 an hour? Was it not our Government’s minimum wage policy that put a stop to that? Is it not now clear that certain elements of the industry are continuing to try to get away with paying derisory wages, and should not my right hon. Friend be congratulated on trying to put a stop to that again?

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Jacqui Smith: I certainly think that it is important that we support high-quality employers in the security industry. That is why one of the improvements that the SIA has been able to make is an assured employers scheme, which acts as a kitemark of high-quality employment practices, including as from 1 August the ability of employers to verify the right to work of those whom they employ. That is regulation that, as my hon. Friend points out, supports responsible employment in the security industry and has improved the industry as a whole.

Mr. Keith Simpson (Mid-Norfolk) (Con): Following the question by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard), can the Home Secretary tell the House on which date the Prime Minister was informed about this issue?

Jacqui Smith: The hon. Gentleman should listen. I said that I did not inform the Prime Minister because there was no blunder— [ Interruption. ] Action was being taken to strengthen— [ Interruption. ]

Mr. Speaker: Order. Let the Home Secretary speak. It is out of order for hon. Members to shout across the Chamber.

Jacqui Smith: Action was being taken to strengthen the system. Every day of the week, Ministers in the Home Office take action to strengthen and improve the system and we do not go running to tell the Prime Minister about it every time.

Andrew Miller (Ellesmere Port and Neston) (Lab): Perhaps I, along with Members from other parties who were on the Committee that passed the legislation, should apologise to my right hon. Friend for failing to spot a weakness in it. However, having taken out of the security industry crooks, vagabonds and other people with outrageous ambitions in their field, has not the SIA improved the security of places of work, including Government institutions?

Jacqui Smith: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Before the SIA, the security industry in this country was unregulated. Although many in the industry carried out good work, there was certainly an opportunity for those who were not interested in either the security of the people and places they guarded or the employment of their staff to get away with it. That is no longer the case thanks to the work of my hon. Friend and others who took through the legislation.

Mr. James Clappison (Hertsmere) (Con): Were the workers in question in possession of national insurance numbers, and should not their legal status have been verified before they were issued with such numbers? Does the Home Secretary share my curiosity that, since 2004, her Department has issued work permits for 270,000 non-EU nationals, whereas in the same period 896,000 national insurance numbers have been issued for non-EU nationals?

Jacqui Smith: This is another area where sharing intelligence across government—in this case between the Border and Immigration Agency and the Department for Work and Pensions—will be important
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for doing what the hon. Gentleman and I have as a shared objective: making sure that those people who are here and who are working have a right to be here and a right to work. Perhaps he will therefore also support our plans for ID cards for foreign nationals.

Rob Marris (Wolverhampton, South-West) (Lab): I congratulate my right hon. Friend on resisting the naive siren calls of Opposition Members who seem to think that the records of 250,000 licence holders working in 2,000 companies can be checked overnight. That is not possible. Will she assure me that she will continue to ensure that she takes enough time to act to address the issues her Department faces and to publish accurate information—to make speed and not make haste?

Jacqui Smith: I can give my hon. Friend that assurance. Although I have consistently pushed for work to analyse those non-EU residents who have applied for SIA licences and consistently pushed to speed up the work to find out which of them had the right to work, it has been fundamentally important to me that that work is done with accuracy and that I am able to report it fully when I am confident about its accuracy.

Mr. John Redwood (Wokingham) (Con): Since the Home Secretary reminded all public sector employers of their duties under the legislation, how many illegal immigrants have been found to be working in the public sector, and what action is she proposing to take about that?

Jacqui Smith: Never mind whether it is the public or the private sector, there is rightly continued enforcement activity, including, for example, the 3,700 successful Border and Immigration Agency enforcement operations against illegal workers last year. All that work would have been decimated by the Conservative party’s proposals in its manifesto at the last election to halve the money made available to the agency. It is a bit rich for Conservative Members to demand enforcement activity when they would have halved the agency’s ability to carry it out.

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Avian Influenza

4.13 pm

The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Hilary Benn): With your permission, Mr. Speaker, I would like to make a statement on an outbreak of avian influenza.

Last Sunday, Animal Health received a report of a large number of deaths in turkeys on premises near Diss on the Suffolk-Norfolk border. The premises house approximately 5,000 turkeys as well as around 400 geese and more than 1,000 ducks. The location was immediately placed under restriction, a veterinary investigation was carried out and samples were sent to the Veterinary Laboratories Agency in Weybridge, Surrey. Preliminary results received yesterday afternoon were positive for H5 avian influenza. Our contingency plan was immediately put into operation. A 3 km protection zone and a 10 km surveillance zone were established around the infected premises. No movements of poultry are currently permitted in those zones, although we are considering licensing necessary low-risk moves. Having acted on the suspicion that this was H5N1, I can tell the House that laboratory results earlier today confirmed that the virus strain was indeed the highly pathogenic H5N1.

The culling of all birds on the premises and the following up of any dangerous contacts will now take place—indeed, the culling has already begun. The health and safety of those involved in the operations are the priority and a strict approach is being taken. All workers on the premises already potentially exposed to infection have been given Tamiflu. All those who will be going to the infected premises will be given Tamiflu prior to commencing operations. Due to the nature of the premises, the work might take some time to complete.

The culled birds will be transported to a plant in Staffordshire in sealed, leak-proof containers that will be escorted at all times. That is the nearest suitable plant for rendering in these circumstances. It is the same plant that we used during the outbreak in February, which was also in Suffolk, and it is geared up to deal quickly with large numbers of carcases under biosecure conditions.

We have established both a national and local disease control centre, based in Bury St. Edmunds. We have also sent text messages to all birdkeepers nationwide, particularly to those in the zones who are on the poultry register. We will continue to work closely with Animal Health, local authorities and the industry on local and national communications.

In addition, following consultation with ornithologists and other experts, a wider restricted zone was established last night. The zone covers much of Norfolk and the whole of Suffolk, based on administrative boundaries. The housing of poultry, or their isolation from wild birds, is required in the zone. Movements in the zone can take place, but are not permitted out of the zone at present. We expect to make available general licences for low-risk movements out of the zone shortly.

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