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Baroness Williams of Crosby: I am pleased to support the amendment. I should like to add one or two arguments to those which the noble Lord has so ably put before the Committee. The first argument is that this clause as it stands, without amendment, puts employers in an almost hopeless position. Let us assume that employers intend fully to carry out the law as it stands. With one voice the law tells employers that they have an obligation to treat people of all races equally: to offer equal opportunities, indeed that they will themselves be in breach of the law if they do not offer those equal opportunities. Employers--I give credit to them--have in many ways led the attempt to get good race relations in this country. There are some outstanding examples of fine employers who have done their very best to promote men and women from the ethnic minorities to positions of responsibility and trust. Many of them have had a great deal of good service from those very same people.
The race relations law and the law of equal opportunities have served this country well. Many employers, especially small ones, are under such pressure that they cannot be expected to go in great detail through complex administrative forms. We are now telling employers that if they inadvertently employ someone who says to them that he or she has every right to be employed, and is in fact a black or Asian Briton, who then turns out not to be legally in this country, they will not be committing a civil offence--that is something I would understand--but a criminal offence. By this clause, we are criminalising decent employers.
Again, as I said on the last clause, I do not understand why we are so widening the reach of criminality to men and women who are decent citizens. It is a foolish thing to do. It turns away from support of the Government
The second part of my case is that the great threat to good race relations in this country comes, above all, from the levels of unemployment among young black and Asian men and women. That level of unemployment is broadly twice that of the white community. For young Caribbean men, it approaches 20 per cent. That means that many a young lad who comes out of school seeking a job--sadly many are seeking only unskilled or semi-skilled work--with every intention of leading a decent and law-abiding life, who already finds it difficult to obtain a job, will find it very much harder to obtain a job if the clause goes through unamended, because, as the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, said, many employers--I do not wish to suggest any bad intentions--will play safe by not employing someone who happens to have a different coloured skin. One cannot blame them when they run the risk of facing a serious criminal charge if they happen to employ that person.
My final point was made eloquently by the noble Lord. Sooner or later we shall have to move away from the term "immigrant" when used in relation to our black and Asian fellow citizens. They are our fellow citizens. Some of them are Members of this place and another place. Some of them play a distinguished part on the appointed bodies of this country. Unless we get out of our minds, and the minds of many of our fellow citizens, the idea that someone who has lived in this country for a generation, two generations or more is somehow alien because of the colour of their skin, we shall never be a successful multi-faith, multi-racial society, and it is important that we should be.
I conclude with the thought that that is not important for our country only, though it matters a great deal. It is important because one of the areas where this country still wields a great deal of influence is within the Commonwealth. Many citizens of Commonwealth countries have different coloured skins from those in our country. Countries such as South Africa, Zambia, India, Sri Lanka, and others, which look upon our country with friendship and wish to maintain close relations with us, will regard the way in which we treat race relations in this country as the acid test of our relations with them. Much more than our own country is at stake. It is our country's reputation, its relationship with the rest of the
Baroness Gardner of Parkes: I shall speak against the amendment, although I have sympathy with the point made. I do not know how many other Members of this place are, like me, immigrants as defined under Clause 12. I rather like being known as an immigrant. I often use that term about myself. However, I understand the point made by the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, that people have sensitivities about it. If we are going to mix up legal and illegal immigrants, there may be cause for the Government to look at that again. The next two amendments may be even more relevant.
I believe that it is important to have employment as a condition. I sit on an industrial tribunal and a few weeks ago I was amazed by a case that came before it. The applicant did not appear and I thought that there must be a good reason for that. The employer had the case heard in the applicant's absence and he told us that the man had presented for employment under one name but a week later had said that that was not his name and gave another name. He said that he would like to work under a work permit in yet a third name. The employer said, "Of course, I always have someone working in the name on that work permit. They have always been different faces and different people but the work permit has always been used".
The employer could not use that as a defence under the provisions of Clause 8 because he must have known that the documents were false if they were used by different people. Therefore, it is important to have proper restrictions on employers. I repeat that if we all had identity cards, we would have no problem because we would have only one identity and that would be the end of the matter.
I believe that there is serious exploitation of illegal immigrants who work almost on a slave basis for low wages. The clause would not allow people to get away with treating others as they do. Some people, because of their illegal status, are willing to work for anything and there is no sanction against the employer. The clause would provide a sanction against the employer because he must ensure that the employee has a proper work permit and works under good and fair conditions. In many cases that is not so, but we never see those employees in the industrial tribunals because they are in illegal employment.
The noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, mentioned the age limit of 16 and that reminded me of another case that I heard in the industrial tribunal. We would have found in favour of the applicant because the case concerned a boy working under age and unable to be considered under employment law--
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: I am grateful to the noble Baroness for giving way. I did not mention the age of 16; it appears in the Bill. Nothing in my amendment changes any of the powers in the Bill. It is
Baroness Gardner of Parkes: I thank the noble Lord. I leave the Government to decide whether the amendment is appropriate. I am emphasising the extreme importance of having proper employment restrictions in the Bill. It should be a criminal offence to employ someone illegally. The noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, mentioned the age of 16 and said that it had not appeared in other Bills.
Baroness Gardner of Parkes: Perhaps I misunderstood. I thought that he said that reference has not previously been made to the age of 16. One cannot have employment law relating to people under the age of 16 because they are not employable. Good employment protection would mean that people must abide by the law, which would be to our advantage.
Lord Avebury: As regards the age criterion in the clause, presumably it would be a defence for an employer charged under the Bill to say that he thought the employee was under 16. He would then be caught by other legislation but not by this Bill. He would be fined, or otherwise penalised, for employing the person under the permitted age, but he would escape from the penalties provided in the Bill for taking on someone who is illegally present or who is legally present but without leave to take employment.
I share the view expressed by my noble friend that to have the word "immigrant" on the face of an Act of Parliament is highly offensive to many people in this country and it should be avoided if at all possible. If the Government had put their minds to the matter it would have been feasible to have chosen a totally different way of catching the evil at which we are looking. I refer to the deliberate employment of people illegally in this country and sometimes at extremely low wages. Some employers are unscrupulous and employ such people, in some cases, virtually as slave labour. No one is condoning that or seeking to prevent the Government assuming adequate powers to stop employers exploiting such people in the way that has been described.
When one looks at the ways in which employers must comply with the provisions of the clause it is difficult to see why that could not have been spelt out on the face of the Bill. In the consultation document we read that the most straightforward check is that of a national insurance number. A P.45, which has a national insurance number on it, would provide an employer with an absolute defence against a charge under this clause. If we provided that, on taking on a new employee, every employer must see a P.45 on which there is a valid national insurance number, we would be putting the
It would mean that employers must look at the P.45 of every employee to see whether it contains a valid national insurance number. The cost of compliance with the provisions of the clause are estimated in the Home Office document, Prevention of Illegal Working: Compliance Cost Assessment, at £13.5 million initially and £11.5 million in recurrent costs. If we are looking at the absolute defence of checking a national insurance number I do not see that that is an onerous requirement to place on a potential employer--
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