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Bill presented

Fuel Poverty (No.2) Bill

Presentation and First Reading (Standing Order No. 57)

Dr. Alan Whitehead, supported by Mr. Paul Truswell, Ms Karen Buck, Mr. Martin Caton, Colin Challen and Mr. David Drew, presented a Bill to make further provision about fuel poverty; and for connected purposes.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 26 June, and to be printed (Bill 110) .

10 Jun 2009 : Column 815

Points of Order

1.32 pm

Daniel Kawczynski (Shrewsbury and Atcham) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. As chairman of the all-party group on first past the post, whose largest contingent is Scottish Labour MPs who have seen the chaos that proportional representation has brought to Scottish elections, may I say how frustrated I am that the Prime Minister did not consult my group and is bypassing this very important body of thought in the House of Commons?

Mr. Speaker: The hon. Gentleman is continuing with the statement and getting involved in a debate, and it is really not a matter for the Chair.

Mr. Christopher Chope (Christchurch) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. On previous occasions when a lot of people have been seeking to catch your eye on a statement, you have indicated that in consideration of the forthcoming legislation you would be minded to give preference to those people who have not been successful in catching your eye. Bearing in mind the importance of the statement that we have just heard and the fact that it affects all of us and our constituencies, will you advise the Government that they should allow consideration of this legislation to proceed without any guillotine or timetable? Will you also ensure that all Back Benchers who wish to participate in the debate can do so?

Mr. Speaker: That might be something that the hon. Gentleman could put to the new Speaker.

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Gangmasters Licensing Act 2004 (Amendment) Bill

Motion for leave to introduce a Bill (Standing Order No. 23)

1.34 pm

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

I shall always be proud that this Government gave their support to the passing and implementation of my private Member’s Bill targeting illegal gangmasters. That legislation sought to flush out those who were exploiting both migrant and indigenous workers, and despite the powerful arguments put forward at the time, the Bill covered only agricultural and related industries. I, along with the trade unions and legal gangmasters—we were supported by many of my colleagues who are here to support this Bill, and I remain extremely appreciative of their assistance—argued at the time that should that Bill prove effective, the unscrupulous gangmasters would move into other industries. The evidence suggests that that is exactly what has happened. The construction trade was the industry that we used as an example then, because of its diverse and mobile nature, and it is where we find illegal gangmasters working now. Those of us who worked in the construction and related industries are well aware of the dangerous environment that those on the job face, and I will return to that later.

Migrant workers who come to this country for legitimate work are often lured into the twilight world of illegal gangmasters, so I caution those who blame the workers and ask them to focus instead on the real villains: the illegal gangmasters. Anecdotal evidence from those who have suffered under those unscrupulous people suggests that they are experiencing the same despairing conditions as did those who were exposed in the agriculture industry—none more so than the Chinese workers who perished on the shores of Morecambe bay.

Despite the current financial situation, most commentators agree that we can build our way out of this downturn with major construction projects, such as the Olympic village, and related issues. What we do not need is a Morecambe bay-type tragedy in the construction of the Olympics. Health and safety matters are extremely important to those in the building trade and wider related industries, and people must have the fundamental right of returning home safely after their work.

Since 2007, there have been 120 fatal accidents in the construction industry. Again, there is evidence that illegal gangmasters supply unskilled labour to major construction companies and their subcontractors to carry out skilled and dangerous work without taking into consideration the safety consequences for the general public, others on the site and themselves. These gangmasters also undermine the legitimate employers who invest in training, and pay their taxes and national insurance contributions. That is particularly true of—and financially damaging to—small businesses struggling to survive and compete.

On the financial implications, there is increasingly tangible evidence that gangmasters, who are required to register, should also be tax-compliant and follow the
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VAT registration rules. In 2007 alone, the Gangmasters Licensing Authority identified more than £2 million in extra VAT payments for the Exchequer—the figure takes no account of additional income tax and the national insurance contributions now being paid as a result of the GLA’s work. So the Government have a vested interest in giving serious consideration to this issue, and I sincerely hope that they do so.

Members of the House should also be aware of the serious matter of community unrest; where genuine workers see others doing their work and not contributing to the community or wider society, social unrest and frustration is generated. That manifests itself, as has happened this week, in people turning to extremist parties such as the British National party, which are happy to exploit such situations. There is a political advantage in addressing this issue and demonstrating to the workers that we are on their side and on the side of good employers.

May I give the House just a flavour of some of the activities being undertaken by these gangmasters, by going through some case studies? A14 Vehicle Hire, which is based in Kettering, had its licence revoked with immediate effect after serious concerns were expressed over the safety of its workers. The GLA uncovered allegations of workers being housed in overcrowded and unsafe accommodation, and a number of houses were immediately closed by the local authority for breaches of gas and electrical safety regulations. Some 15 adults and three children were found in a four-bedroom house.

Timberland Homes Recruitment Ltd had its licence revoked with immediate effect on 6 May 2008.The company was based in Suffolk but sent workers to pick flowers in Cornwall and Scotland. GLA officers found serious abuses, including a threatening letter to workers stating that they were not free to leave before the end of the contract without paying £700, and that if they did not have the money, it would be recovered from the workers or their families in their home country. Some workers stated that they received £24 for a nine-hour day. No time-sheets were used, so pay could not be accurately recorded. The Vehicle and Operator Services Agency issued prohibition notices on six Timberland minibuses in Cornwall, but Timberland still transported workers to Scotland in the same vehicles. Timberland Homes Recruitment Ltd did not appeal against the
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GLA decision. It is no longer permitted to trade in the licensable sectors, but it is believed to be operating in the construction industry.

I shall give a second case study. Morantus Ltd, which traded as 247 Staff in Burton on Trent, supplied workers across the midlands to British Bakeries, Thorntons and Florette. A GLA investigation found that Robert Taylor, director of Morantus, forced migrant workers to live in run-down, cramped houses, and made them pay over the odds for that accommodation as a condition of finding them work. The officers found a room, measuring 2.8 m by 3.8 m, that housed three adults, two children and a baby; it had a double mattress, a single mattress and a child’s seat. Money was withheld from workers, and they were forced to sign standing orders under the threat of not receiving work. Workers were not paid the national minimum wage, and they were bonded to the accommodation; if they wanted to keep their jobs, they had to use, and pay for, the accommodation provided. Morantus lost its appeal against the GLA decision, and is now believed to be trading in the construction industry.

I turn to the subject of independent research. An independent report published in March 2009 by the universities of Liverpool and Sheffield, commissioned by the GLA, shows that the tough enforcement approach of the GLA makes for effective regulation. The researchers found that

That is why we would like the gangmaster licensing legislation to be extended to the construction industry.

In conclusion, the trade unions, the Federation of Small Businesses and the Federation of Master Builders are asking for help to get the industry through these difficult times. With a little bit of vision and support, we can bring about a change for the construction industry.

Question put and agreed to.


That Jim Sheridan, Mr. Michael Clapham, Alun Michael, Mrs. Ann Cryer, Mr. David Hamilton, Mr. Ian McCartney, John Robertson, Mr. Stephen Hepburn, Sandra Osborne, Mr. Jim Devine, Mr. Jim McGovern and Mr. David Anderson present the Bill.

Jim Sheridan accordingly presented the Bill.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 16 October and to be printed (Bill 109).

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Geneva Conventions and United Nations Personnel (Protocols) Bill [ Lords] (Programme) (No. 2)

1.43 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Chris Bryant): I beg to move,

The motion is fairly straightforward, but for the sake of clarity I might just explain one bit to the House. Paragraph 1 of the motion says that paragraphs 3 and 4 of the programme order of 1 April relating to the Bill shall be omitted. Hon. Members might not know what paragraphs 3 and 4 were; they might think that there is some dastardly plot afoot and that we are somehow seeking to undermine the House. The truth of the matter is that paragraph 3 was as follows:

and paragraph 4 said:

If the programme motion is carried by the House, we should finish by 4 o’clock. That will protect the minority parties’ Opposition half-day debate, which we will enjoy later this afternoon. Obviously, we wish to protect that. We therefore will not proceed with our discussions on the Bill until the moment of interruption. It is important that the two paragraphs from the original programme motion be struck down; otherwise, the House would be disagreeing with itself, and we all know that a

Without further ado, I commend the programme motion.

1.45 pm

Mr. David Lidington (Aylesbury) (Con): I welcome the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) to the Dispatch Box on his first outing as a Foreign Office Minister; it is good to see him in that post. I should like to place it on record that I have always appreciated the good humour and courtesy shown by the hon. Member for Lincoln (Gillian Merron) during her time at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. I particularly appreciated the way in which she dealt with the Opposition parties on the earlier stages of the Bill.

I have to say that I am a bit disappointed that the Minister has to defend a programme motion on his first such outing. We have, after all, been hearing incessantly over the past 48 hours about how the Government have changed, how they will listen, how they wish to consult, and how they will now try to make Parliament stronger in its ability to hold the Executive to account, yet we are faced with a programme motion on which, as I understand it, there has not been prior consultation with the Opposition parties. As the Minister well knows, the Bill is not the subject of party political contention, but Members have
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sought to raise legitimate questions about it. However, it is not a measure on which there will be a major partisan battle. I would have thought that, as an emblem of the promised change of heart to which the Prime Minister has said that he is fervently committed, we could have had, in place of a programme motion, a consultation between the representatives of the different political parties. I would have thought that we could have agreed on a sensible way to handle the further stages of the Bill and proceeded on that basis.

Chris Bryant: The hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well that the Procedure Committee is undertaking a report on timetabling. I wonder whether he will join his party in the views that it expresses in its evidence to the report—I suspect that that evidence will not say that timetabling should come to an end—or whether he will provide his own evidence to say that there should be no timetabling. My view is that there should perhaps be areas where we do not need to timetable. It was necessary to do so today purely and simply because we want to ensure that we protect the half-day debate for the minority parties. It is important that we protect that.

Mr. Lidington: The hon. Gentleman is tempting me to try to second-guess my hon. Friend the Member for Rutland and Melton (Alan Duncan) and my right hon. Friend the Member for West Derbyshire (Mr. McLoughlin), the shadow Chief Whip, which I shall not do. My view on timetabling and programming is that if it is to work and to be seen as the expression of the House’s decision on the priority that should be accorded to different pieces of legislation and to different stages of any one piece of legislation, it is important that discussions about programming and timetabling take place well in advance between the representatives of the different political parties represented in the House. A timetable should not be presented by the Government of the day as a fait accompli that everyone else is expected to swallow without dispute.

I remind the hon. Gentleman that when I was shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, we dealt with quite a lot of legislation that contained controversial and contentious points, but which did not involve matters of great dispute between the Government and Opposition, although the issues were important and contentious within Northern Ireland. We were sometimes able to agree to let a debate take place without the imposition of arbitrary guillotines or knives, and to find a way for Parliament, and particularly Members representing Northern Ireland constituencies, to express their points of view and represent the interests of their constituents, and yet for that business to be handled within a sensible and timely framework of debate.

I am disappointed in the Government’s attitude this afternoon. Unless the Minister can persuade me otherwise, I am minded to challenge the programme motion in the Division Lobby.

1.50 pm

Jo Swinson (East Dunbartonshire) (LD): Following our exchanges in the European Committee yesterday and in the Committee Corridor, I want to take the opportunity on the Floor of the House to welcome the
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Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant), to his job.

I echo the sentiments of the hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Lidington) regarding the Minister’s predecessor, now the Minister of State, Department of Health, the hon. Member for Lincoln (Gillian Merron), who built consultation into her approach to the job as Minister and was forthcoming with information on the Bill in its early stages. That is to be welcomed generally in Government, and most particularly on a Bill such as this, on which there is a certain degree of consensus and not much controversy. That cannot be said for many debates in the House at this time.

To my knowledge, it is true that there was no prior consultation about the programme motion. It was helpful that the Minister read out paragraphs 3 and 4 of the original order. When I looked at the motion, I suddenly thought, “Oh my goodness, what are the paragraphs that will be omitted?” I found the relevant piece of paper from 1 April and realised that these were not horrendous omissions, but were designed merely to protect the later debate, which I am sure that, as the Minister said, we will all enjoy. The changes were well intentioned and sought to ensure that the time of Opposition parties was protected.

There is only one further comment that I would make. I am not sure whether this is in the Minister’s gift, but perhaps he might be able to speak to his former colleagues in the Department of the Leader of the House, as it might have been helpful if the original paragraphs had been printed on the Order Paper. That would have made it simpler for hon. Members to see at a glance that there was no sinister attempt to stop debate on the Bill, and that the changes made sense. Although I accept the issues raised by the hon. Member for Aylesbury about lack of consultation on the programming, the motion makes sense and I am minded to support the Government.

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