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3 Jun 2008 : Column 223WHcontinued
My hon. Friend the Member for Dagenham (Jon Cruddas) was right to say that the politics of the issue can be toxicthe debate feeds into some difficult political issues. Members, including my hon. Friends the Members for Islington, North (Jeremy Corbyn) and for Blaydon
(Mr. Anderson) and the hon. Member for Brent, East (Sarah Teather), raised some issues that I hope to be able to cover.
The issues are important, because any decent society and any good economy demands that all workers, whether they were born in the country or not, get decent treatment at work. Migration is not new. People have always sought to move around the world for a better life; it is not an ignoble ambition. People come to the UK in search of a better life. The starting point for any discussion of the issuescertainly on the Governments partshould be to acknowledge that there are some 3 million more people in work today, compared with 11 years ago, and all of them enjoy better employment rights in a number of ways than was the case more than a decade ago.
I start by mentioning the minimum wage. On coming to power, one of the Governments central ambitions was to put a decent floor underneath the labour market. Warnings of disaster emanated from the Conservative party, but they did not come true. However, simply beginning the minimum wage was not the end of the story; it is also about how things have been handled since it came into force. The minimum wage has grown, both in real terms and as a proportion of national average earnings, since it came into being almost a decade ago. The Low Pay Commission model has worked well. The Government are committed to ensuring that all workers who are entitled to the minimum wage get it.
Let me say something about enforcement and the resources for enforcementa point raised by the hon. Member for Buckingham (John Bercow). Last year we recognised that there was a legitimate issue. An extra £2.9 million per year, over the course of the current spending review, has been put into national minimum wage enforcement. We have seen some of the fruits of that, particularly over the past year. The money is spent in two areas: on the staff who enforce the legislation and on promoting awareness of the minimum wage. That is critical when dealing with migrant workers, many of whom arrive in the UK not knowing the employment rights to which they are entitled. For example, in the past year we were able to fund extra publicity in some non-English language newspapers, in radio advertising, and in a bus that visited 30 towns and cities throughout the United Kingdom, making contact with tens of thousands of people, to advertise better peoples entitlement to the minimum wage. However, that is not all.
Hon. Members have mentioned legislation. My hon. Friend the Member for Blaydon said that we should not fear legislating on such issues. We do not fear that. In fact, the Employment Bill, which is about to be introduced in the House, will address a number of these issues. First, where people are paid below the minimum wage, the system of arrears will be improved so that we no longer have a situation in which people are, in effect, giving an interest-free loan to a bad employer who pays below the minimum wage. Secondly, the penalty regime will be stiffened for employers who do not pay the minimum wage or who contravene the agency regulations. I look forward to holding Opposition Front Benchers to their indication that they will support the Bill when it comes before the House.
What the Minister said about interest gives me very belated gratification. As long ago as March 1998at approximately five oclock in the morning
during our debate on the Floor of the House on the Report stage of the National Minimum Wage BillI tabled an amendment to the effect that employers who were eventually forced to cough up in cases of non-payment should have to pay interest. Given that the Minister believes in the Low Pay Commission model, however, will he tell me why the Government are resistant to the idea that 21-year-olds should get the full adult rate? That seems to be a basic matter of fairness.
Mr. McFadden: The hon. Gentleman made two points. First, there was the issue of the interest-free loan, and we are, as I said, correcting that situation through the Bill that is coming before the House. Secondly, we take the Low Pay Commissions recommendations very seriously. The issue of 21-year-olds is probably quite marginal either way, but we will continue to examine it. However, we are also alive to the need to ensure that younger workers have a chance in the employment market, and that factor must be taken into account.
On resources, one of the issues that has been raised, including through the Governments vulnerable worker enforcement forum, which I chair, is where people go to report an abuse, how they do so and how any decision is enforced. In line with the Employment Bill, the Government have allocated £27 million over the coming three years to expand the work done by ACAS in resolving disputes at work. ACAS offers a high-quality service, which will now be expanded, and we want to encourage employees and employers to use it to resolve disputes at work.
My hon. Friend the Member for Elmet and several other hon. Members mentioned agency workers, and
the issue has been high on the agenda for a number of years. The backdrop is a European directive. My hon. Friend and I may not take exactly the same position on the matter, as I suspect his position is that we should have signed the directive that was put before us. We did not want to do that, however, because we wanted to achieve two objectives: fair treatment for agency workers, and the kind of flexibility for UK employers that has been important in ensuring that we have 3 million more jobs in the economy. Against that backdrop, we brought together the TUC and the CBI and negotiated an agreement to ensure equal treatment on basic pay and conditions after 12 weeks, with the possibility of local agreements outside that.
My hon. Friend asked specifically about occupational benefits. They are excluded from the deal, which is about basic pay and conditions. However, the agreement does secure our two objectives of fair treatment for agency workers and flexibility for employers. The story is not over yet, however, because we must now reach a satisfactory agreement in Europe that recognises the validity of the social partner agreement so that we can introduce the legislation to implement it. Those European discussions are going on at the moment.
The hon. Member for Brent, East said that she had not seen details of the agreement, but I remind her that there was a written ministerial statement. A copy of the proposals has also been published and is available in the Library.
Rights for migrant workers have been increased in many other ways. When the vulnerable worker enforcement forum publishes its findings, we will have more to say about this important issue.
Mark Pritchard (The Wrekin) (Con): I am grateful for the opportunity to bring this issue before the House. I begin by recognising the progress that Mozambique has made in many areas since 1992, after a long and savage 16-year civil war. I would also like to recognise the leadership of President Guebuza. However, the European Commission has rightly recognised that corruption is still an issue in many parts of the public administration of the current Government and, indeed, in many of the agencies of that Government.
I would like to counterbalance that by mentioning the European Commissions recognition that on many macro-economic issues there has been more stability in relation to and better management of some areas of public finances. Nevertheless, as the Commission and other European Union partners recogniseand as I hope the Minister will say laterthere is still much more to do. Corruption is still a cancer that eats away at the heart of some areas of the Mozambique Government and their agencies.
Through the Department for International Development, the British Government are the largest donors in Mozambique. The total aid programme is £60 million for 2007-08 and £41 million of that will go directly to Mozambiques Government. Running the machinery of the Mozambique Government is very much in the hands of the UK Government and, indirectly, the British taxpayer. DFID, quite rightly, has large programmes in health, education, and infrastructure to combat the problem of HIV/AIDS and to deal with many of the victims of the disease in that country. In fact, between 2008 and 2012, DFIDs five-year programme is worth about £240 million. The British Government and British taxpayers have put a not insignificant amount of money into Mozambique.
May I ask the Minister whether Her Majestys Government are confident that there are enough checks in place to root out and expose corruption in Mozambique and whether they have confidence in the willingness of the Government of Mozambique to deal with those issues? Where is the evidence of them dealing with such matters? I see that the right hon. Member for Streatham (Keith Hill), the former Parliamentary Private Secretary to the former Prime Minister, Tony Blair, has just entered the Chamber. The former Prime Minister did an excellent job with other partners on the Commission for Africa. The commission quite rightly recognised that corruption is one of the key issues facing aid and development programmes in not only Mozambique but many other parts of Africa.
We know that the current Prime Minister is, at least for the time being, a supporter of Mozambique and that he has a close interest in the country. If that extends to ensuring that the right financial controls are in place to try to reduce corruption, I welcome that. However, to date, there has been no evidence that the Prime Minister has publicly stated his concerns about that. Given his close interest in the country, that is perhaps a little surprising. I am not being adversarial or party political, I just think that the Under-Secretary of State for International Development, the hon. Member for Lincoln (Gillian Merron) should take this opportunity
to put the Governments position on that on the recordfrom the Prime Minister downwards.
A few weeks ago, in May this year, the European Commission warned that corruption and excessive bureaucracy were still problems facing Mozambique. On corruption in Mozambique, the World Bank said:
The harmful effects on corruption are especially severe on the poor.
diverts public money to rich elites; raids resources for poverty reduction; and distorts the economy - with the biggest impact felt by the poorest people
poor people bear the brunt of petty forms of corruption, having to pay a greater share of their income in bribes than rich people do.
Today, I shall focus not on the wider issue of corruption, but on police corruption in Mozambique. In particular, I shall consider the Amnesty International report on the Mozambique police entitled Licence to Kill. In that report Amnesty International identifies a
systematic pattern of human rights violations by the police and police impunity.
the use of torture and other cruel, degrading and inhuman treatment or punishment
can be seen in various parts of the country when the police come into contact with local people. The range of human rights abuses includes torture, extortion, beatings, taking bribes, violent interrogations, punishment without trial and the unlawful use of weapons. There is also evidence of police death squads, which I will come to.
I recognise that the Minister for the Interior in Mozambique and the Ministry generally have introduced some modernisation programmes, but they seem to be slow to reform the police or to bring about greater accountability. Those reforms and the transparency of the police need to be speeded up and made a high priority by the President of Mozambique.
I should like to put on record my thanks to the Government of Spain, who have over many years provided a great deal of funding to Mozambiqueit ceased two or three years agospecifically for police reform and to help to establish the police academy for officers. They need to be recognised and acknowledged for that. I hope that Spain, with the United Kingdom and other European Union partners, recognise that there is a problem in Mozambique. For the record, I am not talking about every police station or every police officer, but the problem is widespread enough for the Government to take action and to discuss the issue directly with the Government of Mozambique. It would be a helpful step forward if EU partners, the UK and Spain were to extend the funding for the police academy, and if DFID funding were linked to police and wider penal reform.
The Amnesty report also mentions the lack of mechanisms for internal police discipline, which needs to be addressed, and that there is an inadequate chain of command. Certainly, to date, we have seen inadequate leadership. The international community, through the report and this debate, the media and non-governmental organisations are reporting more on Mozambique, so there needs to be strong leadership of the police and the Ministry of the Interior, and an end to police impunity.
I should like to mention particularly the case of Abrantes Afonso Penicela, about whom the Minister will doubtless have been briefed. He was abducted by the police, given a toxic injection, beaten, shot in the back of the neck, doused with petrol, set alight and left for dead. Miraculously, he was able to crawl away from the scenesadly, he was half deadmake a call and get to hospital. He gave testimony and evidence to his relatives and the police about who was involved. Sadly, he died later that day. That brutal, savage and murderous act by police officers, whom Mr. Penicela named, has still not been investigated fully or conclusively. More importantly, no police officers have been arrested or charged, and there is no sign that they will be. I speak today for the justice that is required by the late Mr. Penicela, his family, Mozambiques constitution and laws and, indeed, by international norms as we know them.
In the brief time available I should also like to mention the Costa do Sol case. On the evening of 4 April 2007, three police officers took three detaineesSousa Carlos Cossa, Mustafa Assane Momerie and Francisco Nhantumbofrom a police station in Laulane, Maputo, to a sports field in the Costa do Sol neighbourhood, outside Maputo, where they shot and killed them. The officers say that they were shot while trying to escape, but an inquiry by the Mozambique procurator general revealed a different story entirely. An autopsy concluded that the three had been shot in the back of the neck at close range. In the words of the procurator general, they had been summarily executed by the police.
The autopsy findings were incompatible with the events described by the accused police but, despite an arrest warrant being issued by the office of the procurator of Maputo city, and discussions with the commander general of the police, it took quite a while before the police officers were arrested. There was much to-ing and fro-ing. They were originally arrested, but then other police officers released them. They were finally re-arrested, but to date they have not been brought before the courts. In the interests of justice and the rights of the families involved, a date should be set as quickly as possible to bring the police officers before the courts.
In the Costa do Sol case, the police alleged that they were simply
Miss Anne Begg (in the Chair): Order. According to my notes, we are debating the UKs aid programme in Mozambique. Unless the hon. Gentleman can link his comments with that topic, I am afraid that he has strayed quite far from the debates remit.
Mark Pritchard: I am grateful for your advice, Miss Begg, and can assure you that my comments are very much linked to DFID funding. If you will bear with me a little longer, I am sure that the picture will become clearer.
It is important that justice be heard in this place and, indeed, in Mozambique, for the victims of such savage crimes. In that case, the police suggested that they were acting under orders. Who gave those orders? They cannot hide behind that excuse.
My concern about DFID funding to Mozambique is that the country might well be regressing to disorder in some places if it fails to deal with important issues such
as those I have outlined. As the continent of Africas image and international reputation improvecertainly in the most partit would be embarrassing for the President of Mozambique if his country was to be one of the few sub-Saharan countries to let down the continent. I speak as a member of the executive of the all-party group on Africa, and as a friend of Africa and Mozambique. It is noteworthy that on 23 May this year, two of Mozambiques programme aid partnersSweden and Switzerlandreduced their aid because of fears of corruption in the governance of the country.
On replacing former President Chissano, President Guebuza promised to fight corruption, bureaucracy and poverty, but that promise is lacking delivery. With Mozambiques legacy of landmines and amputees, it would be historically embarrassing if the legacy of the current Administration was one of turning a blind eye to injustice and the plight of the poor. The Mozambique Government should be given a mutually agreed deadline by which police and penal reform should be implemented, and corrupt police officers arrested, charged and brought before the courts, and, if convicted, forced to serve full sentences as appropriate. People who have been imprisoned unlawfully should also be released immediatelytoday, in June 2008. I also believe that independent police oversight and human rights performance monitoring mechanisms need to be put in place.
Individuals or families affected by the actions of corrupt police officers and community police councils should be given reparation and compensation for their personal and financial losses and hardship. If that does not happen, DFIDs contribution to the country should be reviewed. The President needs to challenge the commander general, the procurator general and the Minister for the Interior to do their jobs and to bring those murderers and corrupt police officers to book. Do the British Government want to continue to walk by on the other side and allow British taxpayers money, through DFID, to fund a regime that allows death squadsas, indeed, has been admitted by someone in that very Administrationto roam the streets of Maputo and rural areas and, with impunity in many cases, murder, injure and disable people?
I support DFIDs funding programme in Mozambique, but I should like it to be linked to performance criteria to reduce corruption in the parts of the Administration where it occurs and, most notably, as was set out in the Amnesty International report, in the police. Justice must be done, and the British taxpayer demands justice for every pound spent in Mozambique. If the Mozambique Government will not act, I suggest that the British Government should take a note from the Swiss book and perhaps review their current level of funding.
David Simpson (Upper Bann) (DUP): I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on obtaining the debate. Does he agree that far too often decisions on aid are made on the spur of the moment? Surely, by fulfilling our obligations on Mozambique, we can prepare the way for a swifter and more comprehensive approach when, for example, Zimbabwes time comes, as it inevitably will.
The hon. Gentleman always makes helpful and pertinent interventions, and lives up to his reputation. I completely agree; justice can be done in
this case and, as he mentioned, I hope that the Minister will say that DFID funding needs to be linked to the reforms that I have suggested.
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