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Baroness Blatch: The amendments seek to promote consultation and to ensure that employers are properly informed about what will be required of them because of this clause. However, neither amendment is necessary. I hope that I can explain why.
Amendment No. 92 would require the Home Secretary to consult the Commission for Racial Equality and organisations chosen by him as being representative of employers and employees before making any order under subsection (3).
While the Government have made clear their commitment to proper consultation with employers and others to ensure that the implementation of Clause 8 is as straightforward as possible, we cannot agree that there should be a statutory requirement to undertake such consultation on each and every occasion the order-making power is to be used. Such a requirement is
Consultation will take place where it will be helpful. As part of the consultation on the guidance that the Home Office will be providing for employers--and which we made abundantly clear in our consultation document would take place--I would expect that we will circulate a copy of any draft statutory instrument then available.
If any substantive comments were to be made at that stage then we would consider amending the statutory instrument. But given the purpose and likely content of the statutory instrument, we would anticipate that such comments would be unlikely. It is for Parliament to decide which documents should provide a defence for employers under this provision.
The key will, in our view, be keeping employers and others informed about government policy in this area--and giving employers time to prepare for any changes. These will clearly be the essential ingredients.
The same applies to the second of these amendments. Indeed, it is because we have already made clear our commitment to providing all necessary guidance to employers that this amendment is not necessary. It simply seeks to require us to do something that we have already made abundantly clear will be provided.
Employers would certainly have reason to complain if we had not made every effort to make available to them information which will enable them to be certain of what they need to do to ensure that they are not liable to prosecution. This would include information about immigration stamps and what they mean about a person's entitlement to work; it would include a list of EEA countries; it would include advice on how employers could ensure that they did not breach the Race Relations Act; and it would also include any other information that we established, through consultation, would be helpful to employers.
Baroness Seear: The Minister states that she will make information available to all employers. A few moments ago she told us that the provision applies to every housewife in the country who might wish to employ a cleaning lady. How will the Government get this information over? Does the Minister believe that everyone reads all the pieces of paper lying about all over the place? Whatever efforts are made, a vast number of people will know nothing about the provision.
Baroness Blatch: I remind the noble Baroness that every housewife in this country is subject to a great deal of statutory law which is not read in any detail, day in, day out, throughout their lives. We do not send them great screeds on every piece of legislation, but considerable publicity will be given to the Act as it comes into force. Housewives who employ people now
Baroness Blatch: I am making a serious point, housewives are already, as are husbands, subject to massive statutory obligations. They do not have every single statute in their homes; we do not send them everything. But the Act will be given publicity. Employers will be informed of their obligations under the Act, just as they are under any other Act such as the Criminal Justice Act and the Education Act. They lay obligations on people and as much publicity is given to them as possible. As the noble Baroness knows, ignorance is no defence under the law. People who employ cleaning ladies, domestic servants, waiters, home helps, whatever they are, will know that they have an obligation as an employer. One of the new obligations will be that they should not employ an illegal immigrant.
We will do our best to let employers know but, to take the point made by the noble Baroness, if we put the provision on the face of the Bill, we would be in difficulty with informing however many million housewives there are who may at some time employ someone. There has never been any intention other than that guidance should be made available so far as possible to all employers, or that it should be made available to them before the clause and any order under it come into effect. That is simply a question of common sense. I cannot advise that the amendments should be agreed to. I accept the principle and the importance of consultation, but I hope that the amendment will not be pressed.
Earl Russell: I do not believe that it is ever superfluous to require a government to consult, entirely independent of which party may be in office at the time. Governments instinctively leave things to the last moment and then do everything in a rush; and we are left to fit in with it as best we can. That has always been true and it probably always will be true.
I recall an occasion in 1993 when I believe the noble Baroness was at the Dispatch Box during the passage of the Education Bill. There were quite strong exchanges with the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Guildford who had been trying to get a response out of the Department for Education, as it then was. He said: "The problem is not that the Government will not meet our concerns; it is that we cannot make them understand that this is our concern". The noble Baroness was not in any way at fault and did everything she could to put it right. If she remembers that incident, she will understand why a requirement to consult may on occasions save a great deal of trouble.
She is also reluctant to have requirements placed on government. There again, we hear a voice, the voice of the Executive, absolutely regardless of party, time, place or anything else. The Executive is always ready to place
One cannot help occasionally feeling a real sense of incongruity about this. I hope that the noble Baroness will understand why I feel that sense of incongruity. Cannot she go just a little way to meet this?
Lord Lucas of Chilworth: Before the Minister replies, does the Committee feel, in view of the remarks made by the mover of the amendment, that my noble friend has answered basically the same question three, if not four, times this evening? We are going round exactly the same circle as we did two nights previously when the same question to my noble friend was addressed from different angles and she gave almost the same answer. It is abundantly clear what the answer is. Would it not be in the Committee's best interests to study the answers in the intervening period? If any matter remains unknown or unaccepted, Members of the Committee would have the opportunity, at perhaps a more reasonable hour of the night, to readdress the question.
Baroness Blatch: My noble friend reminds me of how repetitive the debate is, but it is my job to answer the questions. I have been in local and national government for a long time. I do not believe that I have ever known so much information made public, so much open government for parents and citizens through the Citizen's Charter programmes: from the health service to citizens, from the education service to citizens, from the Home Office to citizens, in information leaflets and in all manner of ways. Consultation is certainly a very big part of the work that I do.
If we have fallen down on the consultation we have done so far on this particular Bill or if we fall down on the consultation we have promised during the course of it and, subsequently, when it becomes law, then I should rightly feel guilty about the question that has been posed. The particular resistance to putting this on the face of the Bill relates to being so prescriptive. There will be occasions when we shall want to do something helpfully and quickly. Then we should be bound by a requirement on the face of the Bill to go through a particular process that would be decidedly unhelpful. It is better to have flexibility, and to take on trust that this Government are more open than any previous government have ever been. I hope that that will continue.
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: I do not accuse the Government on this occasion of any unwillingness to communicate with employers about the effects of this clause. I never have done. I accept that the Minister has acknowledged the necessity in particular for the kind of communication that is called for in Amendment No. 94. To that extent (I do not know whether she is familiar with the phrase that we use in the Labour Party) "warm words" are comparatively welcome.
The Minister made clear in her response to the amendment--that is why I do not apologise, even to the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, for moving an amendment which he believes is repetitive--the amount
In order to avoid saying it on clause stand part, I say now that I am in two minds about this clause. I am sorry for the employers who will have to comply with it. But it will not have any significant effect on the employment of illegal immigrants; and it will cause a huge wave of anger among employers, large and small, at the additional impositions that the Government are placing on them. I wish the Government luck with the implications both in electoral terms and in terms of the argument that will ensue from the enactment of this clause. They are welcome to it. It will cause them only pain if they allow it to go through as it is now proposed. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.