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Immigration Bill

Part of Bills Presented – in the House of Commons at 4:19 pm on 13th October 2015.

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Photo of Andrew Stephenson Andrew Stephenson Conservative, Pendle 4:19 pm, 13th October 2015

I am pleased to support the Bill, which will, I know, enjoy the support of many of the residents I represent across Pendle for the range of important measures it introduces and for those that it strengthens. There is, of course, deep concern that our migration system needs to be much better controlled in general and, perhaps above all, there is concern that politicians have failed to get to grips with the scale of net migration. That came across loud and clear on the doorstep during the election campaign, as has been said by many hon. Members.

Therefore I welcome the Bill as part of the Government’s ongoing work to restore trust in politics and to improve our immigration system for those who need it to work, both British residents and migrants alike. Not least, there is a concern about the harm that some migrants suffer when they arrive in Britain, only to be introduced to a life of exploitation and abuse. I wish to focus particularly on the Government’s proposals to tackle labour market abuses and illegal working—issues which, sadly, we have had to deal with in Pendle and across east Lancashire.

On 11 September—last month—one of Britain’s first interim slavery and trafficking risk orders was successfully applied for by Lancashire police and served on a man from Nelson in my constituency because of his alleged treatment of two migrants from Poland, whom he stands accused of exploiting and forcing into servitude. The case is to be heard in court next month so it may be best for me not to comment further until we know its outcome. However, I am encouraged that our police now have these powers given to them through the previous Government’s historic Modern Slavery Act 2015 to protect those at risk from modern slavery, very many of whom will be migrants forced to work or live in appalling conditions for appalling pay, if they are even paid at all. The Bill will help us to tackle such issues further.

Many in Pendle will be surprised to learn that under the current rules there is little to prevent a business found to have used illegal workers from carrying on its business. Some employers will continue to operate their business, and there is a risk that they may still use illegal workers, possibly not detected by immigration officers as they were not present at the premises at the time of the visit. The new powers for immigration officers to close down premises for up to two days, like the closure notices served on premises associated with nuisance or disorder, may often not be appropriate, especially if an employer is co-operating with officials or where it could affect a large number of staff who were working legally. However, these additional powers send the right message and could be useful in disrupting businesses that rely on exploiting illegal workers. Alongside making it easier to bring prosecutions against those who knowingly employ an illegal worker, this puts the responsibility on unscrupulous business owners and employers—exactly where it should be.

I welcome the proposal for a director of labour market enforcement. In 2013 I asked the then Immigration Minister, my right hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasury, to set out how many illegal working enforcement visits there had been on a yearly basis across the north-west of England. The answer showed that these visits fluctuate year by year, with hundreds more in one year than in the next. This feast-to-famine approach cannot be the best available, and reports of illegal working in the area I represent are, if anything, increasing steadily. It is therefore reassuring to know that there will be a central point for co-ordination of information and resources if we have the director. Illegal working does not come and go from year to year, so the efforts to keep on top of the problem should not do so either if we are to prevent illegal working and, most importantly, protect migrant workers from exploitation.

I am aware of the criticism that this role will not go as far as a fair employment commission would go, which has been proposed elsewhere. I hope the Minister can address how far the director’s remit should extend and whether it ought also to include local authorities with statutory responsibilities to enforce health and safety legislation and the Health and Safety Executive—a point that has been made by the Immigration Law Practitioners Association and a number of other groups.

The Bill builds on the reforms we have made to the Immigration Act 2014 to tackle illegal immigration from the bottom up. Both across the globe and here in the UK, we see that migrant workers are particularly vulnerable to labour market exploitation, and many find themselves living and working in dangerous and degrading conditions.