Good morning. May I remind all Members and witnesses that today’s oral evidence sessions must stay within the scope of the UK Borders Bill. I would ask that Members and witnesses keep questions and answers concise and in order. Our first evidence session must finish at 9.40 am, and I have to warn the Committee that, if necessary, I will interrupt whoever is speaking to call a halt to proceedings atthat time and will do the same when the knife fallsat 10.25 am.
Welcome, Mr. McLardy. Would you briefly introduce yourself to the Committee, and then I shall ask my colleagues to begin their questions.
Gordon McLardy: I am Gordon McLardy, director of risk management for National Car Parks. Our business is very diverse; we cover more than car parking. We carry out on-street enforcement; we have bus routes; we work for the DVLA; we cover insurance, clamping and removal. My interest in today’s proceedings is that we employ a lot of migrant workers, so we have a bit of experience to offer.
We benefit enormously not only from your own advice and the good practice that you have put in place but from the contribution of the group.
In the UK Borders Bill, the Government propose a dramatic simplification of the complex way in which migrants can identify themselves and prove their entitlement to work. By way of introduction, could you say a little about the virtue of these clauses or the arguments against them? The Committee would benefit from understanding the practical difficulties that you encounter in identifying migrants and proving their entitlement to work.
Gordon McLardy: Currently, the section 8 defence is not complicated, but can be perceived as complicated. It is very time-consuming for employers to check through the relevant documentation. At NCP we do employ quite a lot of migrant workers, with quite high turnover in certain areas of the business, and we find a varied amount of either fraudulent documentation, which is absolutely spot-on and really good quality, or very poor quality documentation, where someone may have cut out the picture and stuck a different picture on. You do get a variety of documentation, which makes it difficult for employers.
We do a number of TUPE transfers for new employees. Of course, when you do that you are relying on the previous employers to have done the thorough checks, and in our experience that is not alwaysthe case—so much so, that in the illegal migrant community that we come across now and again, we sometimes find the sharing of identification, where some unfortunate individuals might find that with that identity comes previous convictions, which they were not aware of. We face a variety of issues. Some are easy to overcome; some are not, so much so that on occasion it can be easier—although we do not do that—not to employ someone from another country. It is much less easy to check on someone from outside the EEA. It can be quite fraught with a number of pitfalls.
Today there are something like60 different documents that somebody could proffer in order to provide evidence of entitlement and identity. Would it be easier if there were just one?
Gordon McLardy: In principle we fully support that, on the basis of the biometrics documents proposed, because it would be far easier for any employer to do that very simple check. Obviously there are issues around whether that can be enforced or not, but again that is probably for the experts to iron out. But, in principle, that would be a dream for any employer.
Your witness submission is fascinating in getting to grips with the scale of the problem that the Bill is meant to address. You say that you employ 6,000 staff, about half of whom are foreign nationals. As a broad guess, how many of those 3,000 foreign nationals are illegals, who should not be working here?
Gordon McLardy: As opposed to giving you a guess, I can tell you what we did in 2005. We had a turnover of about 3,300 staff; of those staff, just over 6 per cent. warranted further investigation; of that 6 per cent., something like 3 per cent. were illegal workers. So you are talking in the region of about 100 staff out of 6,000.
Gordon McLardy: That is typical of the ones where you get to the point of checking documentation. We also do pre-employment checks. We do employment drives and we turn up and check documentation there. Those figures do not take into account the fact thaton some recruitment drives 60 per cent. of the staff disappeared once we started looking at documentation carefully. Depending of course on the sector and work you are in, there is a high proportion out there with illegal documentation.
May I ask you to expand on one of the things that you said, when you noted that there is no provision in the Bill for the Government to require businesses to make identity checks on foreign nationals who are using a biometric document? Do you see that as a big weakness?
Gordon McLardy: I think so. If you are going toput biometric documentation in place, it should be mandatory. Currently, all our staff at NCP have internal ID cards. The documentation checks, whether they are for a migrant worker or someone indigenous to the UK, are exactly the same. People hold the documentation; they expect to hold the ID card; they expect to have the checks. For us, unless you make it mandatory, we would be failing in our duties to reduce the documentation. You then have different levels of check again.
Gordon McLardy: Absolutely. Everything is possible, of course, but I am sure that within the designingof the biometrics these things will be looked at and designed out. Even if they are not, you are still reducing the opportunities for illegal workers. Even if you cannot completely eradicate forgeries, you are still reducing the opportunities for them to come to the country.
Are there particular issues for your industry on the different entitlements to work for people in the immigration system, for example those who have indefinite leave to remain? There is sometimes a lack of clarity about who has an entitlement to work and who does not. Do you think that some of the changes will help with that?
Gordon McLardy: I think some of the changes will. Again, it goes back to the biometric documentation. From that you will get a right to work or not, or a limited right to work and so on. The easier it is, theless documentation to check—at the moment thereare additional checks that we have to do, and any reasonable employer would do them. Some unscrupulous ones may not.
Do you feel that the onus should be on employers to carry out these checks, and what would you say to employers who feel that it is not up to them? Whose fault should it be for hiring illegal workers? Is it the worker who has done wrong or the company for hiring them and not checking?
Gordon McLardy: I think it is a partnership. There is a partnership between Government and employers. If we can get the borders and the checks right and limit and streamline migrants coming into the country, and if everything possible has been done to do that, it is down to the employers to play their part. We all have a part to play and my advice to any employer is, “You have that part to play.” Forget illegal workers—it could be someone who has joined to steal or whatever. The onus is still on the business to reduce the opportunities. It must sit squarely with businesses.
I note that in your submission you said that you are concerned that the identity checking service that comes in in 2007 could be overloaded by employers who just cannot be bothered to carry out any checks at all.
Gordon McLardy: When I wrote that documentation I had not actually sat down with the chaps and looked at where they are moving the trial to. The check in Sheffield will be used initially, I understand, just to check someone who has submitted documentation and is in the system somewhere. It is just to clarify whether that person is legit. These are legal workers, or tendto be legal, otherwise they would not be doing the checks—illegal workers would not even bother to go through that way. Of course, it is initially about ensuring that you expand the opportunities for employers to use that service and expand the service provided. Initially it should not be a big problem but, if we move to increase the checks available, there could be quite an overload. That could open up opportunities, perhaps for private bureaux around the country to offer that service to employers, which would be welcome.
Gordon McLardy: Provided that we have the front end right and the Government have done everything that they can to get the documentation and checks right; provided that all those things are right andthe tools are there for employers, a £2,000 fine for a multi-billion-turnover business is nothing. It is not effective. You have to pro rata it against the size of the business for a fine to mean something. A fine of £2,000 would mean something to me, but to other employers it might not. The fine has to fit the size of the business; otherwise, the larger operations can turn a blind eye to it. The odd £20,000 fine would be neither here nor there. It is important that the fine fits the crime.
May I clarify my understanding of the scale of the problem? You gave two statistics: first, that 6 per cent. of your work force are going to warrant further investigation.
Gordon McLardy: This was pre those checks; I am sorry. The statistics that I gave you initially were from when the documentation on the staff was coming through the system. The other statistic was fromwhen we go to recruitment drives. These are chaps coming along to be interviewed and considered for employment within the NCP. A large proportion of the migrant workers turn out to be illegal.
Mr. McLardy, you presented the argument for a much simpler way of checking with admirable clarity. How widespread do you think support is among the business community for a much simpler way of checking people’s eligibility to work here?
A little bit later on this year, the Government will consult on whether to introduce fines for employers that do not enforce checks, and if so, at what level. Is that a good opportunity to test the business community’s sentiment on whether to make these checks mandatory?
Gordon McLardy: Before we get to enforcement, I think you need to do a trial. You could take money off them or you could make an example of them and counsel them, as opposed to fining them, because there is always an argument that they do not have the support or the tools to do the job. But I do still believe that the checks should be mandatory.
We heard from the Immigration Advisory Service about what it believes to be the adequate level and type of biometric data that would help in its work. It believes that fingerprinting would be sufficient. Do you believethat fingerprinting represents adequate biometric documentation? You talked in your evidence about your business being able to pick up on trends in the emerging risk of documentation fraud. Will you tell us what some of those emerging risks might be?
Gordon McLardy: You tend to see patterns when looking at documentation—you might have a time when passports from France are coming over—so you tend to see patterns when you analyse the database. Another issue is the sharing of IDs. With businesses of our size, when you look at the payroll system, you see that people are sharing the same bank account and the same address. People with the same name and date of birth have appeared in different places. From our own system, we can see if the picture fits. If it is the same date of birth, you tend to find that these are different people. Fingerprints are certainly a huge step forward, but will only be adequate provided that there are facilities to use the cards to identify whether the fingerprint and the card belong to the same person. It can only help.
Gordon McLardy: There are massive business costs for us. It costs £1,200 to put an enforcement officer on the street. There is more chance that an illegal immigrant will leave early—if we catch them later on, or for whatever reason. There might also be other reasons that they are in your employ. The turnover rate, therefore, tends to be higher. There is a huge business case for getting it right up front and getting the right people in the right job, so that the turnover reduces—3,000 people times £1,200 is a lot of money.
In your written submission, you mentioned the difficulties of working with the police and immigration officers and of getting them to take your concerns seriously. How do you suggest that that relationship could be improved?
Gordon McLardy: First, there is clearly a resource issue with enforcement officers. There are not enough of them. That is quite clear. They have a huge task to do. The frustrating thing for an employer is that a large group of illegal workers remains. We would like to take them off the street because otherwise they either go to another employer or try to get another one of our contracts. That just perpetuates the problem.
The issue with the police is again largely down to education. I am not sure that they have a great understanding of immigration issues. They might be busy, depending on the force at the time and so on. So there is a need for greater awareness in the police and certainly for greater resources among enforcement officers. I believe that there is also a need for account managers, or whatever you call them, within the enforcement service in order to get closer to the industry, and different aspects of it, so that you have someone who understands the industry and can support it in cutting through some of the red tape. That would certainly benefit all industries.
I should like to follow on froman answer that you gave to my colleague, Mr. Reed. IfI have understood correctly, your company has a relatively high staff turnover—higher than most companies.
And you made it clear that having a single secure document would be simpler for your company and, you think, for other companies too. What about the cost? Surely, you must have an estimate of how much it costs you now to carry out the kind of checks from front end to back end that you have to do. What does that cost your company?
Gordon McLardy: I do not have a number that I can give you. Clearly, labour time would have to be costed in. There is also our gatekeeper system, database set-up and so on. From a hardware point of view, the costsare not huge. We are talking about £4,000, £5,000, £6,000—something like that. There is also the time invested in staff so that they can understand what is a genuine document and what is not. Time must be put into it, but again, I would rather invest the money up front, and there is a clear business case for doing that. It will reduce turnover and we see the benefit of that.
Again, industry must play a part. Yes, there will be costs and the industry should pay for some of that investment—I shall probably get shot when I get back. I would rather do that and pay some money up front, than get fined. Furthermore, it is not good business for stories about private companies to be spread all over the papers, saying that they have been raided and lost 30 or so workers. It is right that everyone should play their part. But please do not repeat that to my chief executive.
What is your opinion of the pull factor that the opportunity to work illegally has on people who might try to enter and work in the country illegally? Is it a draw that some employers do not do any checks?
Gordon McLardy: I think that most reputable employers will do some checks. The unscrupulous ones, who do not necessarily pay taxes, will not do any, but they know exactly what they are doing. There is a clear divide between those who genuinely just do not want to carry out checks or pay taxes and so on, and those who perhaps do not understand them, or think that they will not get fined so there is no deterrent. It is a mixed bag.
Gordon McLardy: They clearly do; we have a system at the moment that lends itself to the illegal workers. The checks are not robust enough and we do not enforce well enough, for whatever reason. Clearly, there is an opportunity. There is a market out there for forged documentation, and these chaps do that.They get into communities in which they share the documentation time and time again.
You mentioned the joined-up approach with other agencies. Could you say something about the problems in respect of that? You mentioned TUPE-transferred staff.
Gordon McLardy: You have protection undersection 8 of the Asylum and Immigration Act 1996 on TUPE-transferred staff because you rely on the other employer doing the checks. We personally do those additional checks, although we do not have to. Of course, you find that other employers may not have been as robust as you, so you end up inheriting a work force that is far from fit for purpose. There are issues around that, and perhaps that loophole needs to be closed. Were you to be transferring over, regardless of who the employer is, the check should be exactlythe same; otherwise, you end up at the point of discriminating against a certain element of the work force.
Gordon McLardy: Absolutely. There is an untapped well of information from employers. If the link between employers and the enforcement agencies is clearly there, when we establish whether we have illegal workers they can be dealt with. I have come across cases in which we have done locker searches and found four passports for one individual. There is a business and an underclass of illegal workers with which we need to deal. If they are doing their jobs properly, employers can help to detect them, and provided that enforcement is fit for purpose, that can only benefit everyone.
I am interested in what you have just said because it suggests that a system is already extant that would help the authorities track down terrorists, multiple passport holders and so on, but that it is not being effectively used. Obviously, there are laws against that type of thing. Why are those laws not being enforced properly? Is it because of problems with employers or with the enforcement authorities?
Gordon McLardy: From what I can see, there is no joined-up approach to sharing information, whether it be the police forces, the enforcement agencies or whoever. I am sure that data protection has a part to play in all that. Freedom of information is, perhaps, not as it should be. But there probably is not—in fact, there is not—a central database that collates that information and allows employers to feed into it, whether for addresses or employees that we have identified. You then get a pattern.
You find that illegal immigrants go to a certain area within the city. I shall use Islington as an example, because I know it. They will congregate around those areas because they know people who will get them accommodation, forged documentation and so on. There is a huge amount of intelligence that could be shared and used.
You say that it should be shared, but intelligence about whom? You say that illegal immigrants congregate, but how do you know that someone is an illegal immigrant? I am slightly nervous that—
Gordon McLardy: They are people we have come across and whose documentation we have checked. Regardless of what a person looks like, documentation is the acid test. If the documentation is sound, they have a legal right. If it is not sound—some forgeries are really good and some are very amateur—the person is clearly an illegal immigrant. One has to assume that they are, because their documentation is not genuine.
Gordon McLardy: It varies with the situation. Generally, on pre-recruitment days or recruitment drives, the people disappear and leave. They say, “I’ll come back with the documentation. I just need to wash my hands,” and they will be away. If we find them on the site, we absolutely call the police. They do not always turn up, for whatever reason—they have a huge job to do out there. Enforcement officers may not have enough staff and will get round to it. It depends on the priorities. For a while, the priorities have been around failed asylum seekers.
Can I infer from your evidence that you believe that there needs to be much better joint working between the immigration service, the police, local authorities and others, and that, secondly, we need a big step up in the resources that we provide for enforcement against illegal immigration?
Welcome, gentlemen. I remind the Committee that I have to adjourn proceedings at10.25 am and will have to interrupt whoever is speaking at that time. Would you like to introduce yourselves, gentlemen?
Throughout the Bill, there are measures to strengthen the powers of the immigration service and its partners to tackle the kind of exploitation of migrant workers that we often hear about. To begin these questions, I would be interested in your perspective on the extent of exploitation of migrant workers in this country. Are there sufficient sanctions and powers to tackle that exploitation today?
Jack Dromey: I think that there is an acute and growing problem. It varies from region to region and sector to sector. It might be helpful to give examples. I have three very good, or rather very bad, examples.
The first example is in the rural economy. It is welcome that the Government, with all-party support, brought in the Gangmasters (Licensing) Act 2004 and established the Gangmasters Licensing Authority, but it was in the rural economy that we saw an outrageous example of the worst kind of exploitation. What happened at Morecambe bay was an awful symbol of that. It will take time to work that process through; the next stage is effective enforcement of the Act. There is no doubt, however, that right now there is a ramp-up in particular areas of the country, because of the seasonal nature of production and demand. There are still rogue gangmasters operating, who pay workers below the national minimum wage and even then charge them for housing and transport. Those workers work in unsafe conditions.
The second example, which is a serious and growing problem in the food industry more generally, is the growth of a two-tier labour market. The numberof directly employed workers, who have better employment conditions, is falling. They are still in the majority, although only just in some factories, but the number of agency workers, who are overwhelmingly migrants and the newly arrived, with poorer employment conditions, is growing. That is bad news. It sees the exploitation of the newly arrived and the undercutting of workers here for generations, and it creates division that we have to contend with the whole time and damages social cohesion. Therefore, equal treatment of all workers in those circumstances is crucial.
The third and final example, here in London, is of building and cleaning. The work force in Londonis overwhelmingly—certainly in the inner-London boroughs—in building and cleaning. One could give many examples, but just one from last year would suffice. It was a company called Blue Diamond that had exploited the notion that Bulgarians could come here who were self-employed in order to bring hundreds of Bulgarian cleaners from remote villages to London. It paid them the national minimum wage, but they then had to buy their own safety equipment—they had no safety training. Incidentally, I am pleased to say that to the credit of the infrastructure company, that contract was terminated.
The problem varies depending upon industry and locality, but if one could summarise, it is bad news for migrant workers who have arrived—and our country and economy need migration—but it is also bad news for those who have been here for generations. Both are threatened by a failure to act.
There are a number of measures in the Bill that make it easier for the immigration service to pin down and identify businesses that may be breaking the rules. For example, there are provisions to allow the immigration service to access Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs data. We have already heard evidence suggesting that where businesses are employing people illegally, they are also breaking every other rule in the book. They are not paying the national minimum wage or operating healthy and safe conditions, and they are often not paying their taxes either. I am interested to know whether that is your experience? Are businesses that you see as exploitative also breaking other rules? Is there a case for stronger sanctions against those businesses, whether they take the form of seizure of property or cash, in order to deter that sort of exploitative and abusive relationship?
Owen Tudor: We certainly find that that is the case. You are right—a bad employer is a bad employer. They are not suddenly good at doing other things. In particular we focus on, as Jack has, the minimum wage deductions, working time abuses and things like that. We welcome the steps that the Government are already taking on enforcement of the national minimum wage. It seems to us that it would be worth a little bit of what I think you are outlining: the Al Capone strategy of using other means to tackle generally bad behaviour. There are other measures we would want to see in relation to temporary agency working. Jack has mentioned self-employment and tightening up on what constitutes self-employment and how you determine that. That would also be useful, and I think that sort of joined-up approach would be quite welcome.
Jack Dromey: To be frank, we are very uneasy about the emphasis of the approach. You tackle bad employers—that is for certain—but let us have our eyes wide open to the consequences of what is already happening and what is going to happen all the more as a consequence of the obligation that you are placing on employers through clause 23 in particular. We are running across more and more examples of workers, who are normally racially profiled within particular categories—for example, in building and cleaning—who are being asked in at short notice to prove who they are and whether or not they are here legally. The impact of that is very significant on the workers concerned. It is, incidentally, chilling as the majority are here legally.
The impact is also going to be to force more and more workers out of employment into the worst areas of the black economy characterised by super-exploitation. For example, there are already 340,000 undocumented workers in London, according to the Mayor. The problems associated with that number growing are very significant and we might come back to that later on. I can understand the desire, which we share, to tackle bad employers. That is why the Gangmasters (Licensing) Act 2004 was such good news. You have to have your eyes wide open to the consequences of what will happen in workplace after workplace as a result of clause 23.
Omer Ahmed: It is also important to recognise at what point employers seek additional information to clarify immigration status. They are happy to do it at the outset of employment and are happy to accept documentation at that point. Despite subsequent guidance from the Home Office that they should not pursue it beyond that point, we find that when workers put forward issues to do with health and safety or quality control—for example, when working on the underground—only at that point, when they seek to enforce or promote some type of employment right, are they suddenly asked to produce evidence of their entitlement. That is the type of abuse that workers face. We consider that the proposals will strengthen the hands of employers in that context without any adverse consequences on employers by way of sanctions, in as much as the proposals provide for sanctions. For example, there is no commensurate sanction to the seizure of wages on the employer. That is a serious imbalance in the proposal that needs to be looked at.
Jack Dromey: Seven days ago here in London, a big issue affecting 200 cleaners about whether there would be compulsory redundancies was satisfactorily resolved by the cleaners and the union. But 24 hours later a letter went to all of them that was absolutely appalling, and said, “You are to come in, in batches, and we will see each one of you individually over the next seven days. Please bring with you the following documents: one, two, three, four, five. If you do not provide all five documents within seven days you will be sacked.” Be mindful of the consequences of your actions.
That is very useful. My last question is about trafficking and human smuggling. That is an area on which the TUC and the Transport and General Workers Union have commented in the past. We have heard that up to three quarters of illegal entrants into Britain are in the hands of organised crime. The Bill proposes tougher sanctions and stronger measures to track down those traffickers, wherever on the planet they perpetrate that crime. I would be interested in your perceptions and impressions about whether the law needs to be tougher on trafficking and smuggling.
Owen Tudor: I think it does. Sean and I gave evidence to the inquiry of the Joint Committee on Human Rights into trafficking, which produced an excellent report a few months ago. Trafficking is obviously an abhorrent crime and tough penalties are needed to deal with it. Our concerns are often more about what we do with the victims of crime, because our experiencewith trafficking—limited though it is, because we tend to deal with the more organised sections of the economy—is that one of the key problems is identifying it and managing to find out who the culprits are. Often, our concern about trafficking penalties is that you need to ensure that the penalties will encourage the people who have been trafficked to come forward to the authorities to give evidence. Sadly, our experience is often that precisely the opposite happens. The trafficked are unwilling to come forward because of their fears about what will happen to them. This probably goes for all forms of undocumented work: we need to find penalties that penalise the criminals rather than the victims. All too often,the undocumented worker or trafficked person is the victim and feels—and sometimes is—penalised.
Jack Dromey: We have had examples of exactly that—workers who have been trafficked into this country and are members, who have escaped the clutches of the traffickers, but are terrified to speak out. That is partly because they sometimes fear the traffickers, who operate in their countries of origin and could, they fear, threaten their families and communities, for example, but it is also because of the consequences for those workers personally. That goes to the very heart of what you do about workers of that kind and how you bring them out of the twilight world that they are in. The main thrust of the Bill—and of public policy generally—of going after the traffickers is welcome and should be strongly supported. These people are barbarians. The impact of their actions is grotesque. To talk to their victims is, believe you me, to hear the most harrowing stories, so the Government are right.
Omer Ahmed: While we are looking at trafficking, and the need to move away from the idea that those being trafficked are beneficiaries and towards recognising that they are victims—as has just been mentioned—it is also important to look at the economic issues. Trafficking is not happening in an economic vacuum; it is happening because there is demand. We need to look at what we are doing to dampen down that demand, and in fact to eradicate it. Something for which we have been strongly pushing for some time—and which we would very strongly ask the Committee to look at—is the consideration of the 500,000 or so legacy asylum cases, involving people who are unable to take up employment or are prevented from doing so, and who are effectively destitute. Bringing those people into the employment market would, arguably, significantly reduce the demand at a stroke. That needs to be looked at, because we cannot say that we are operating in a free market economy but at the same time ignore the demand side pressures that cause trafficking to flourish. The traffickers will argue, “We are providing a commercial service.” Abhorrent as it appears to all of us, that is the basis of trafficking, so we must do whatever we can to dampen down the demand side.
I want to pick up the point that you made about the Government having their eyes open to the effect of the legislation. I assume that,by toughening up rules on biometrics, penalties on employers and so on, the Government want the 340,000 illegal workers in London whom you mentioned to go back. That is the logic of the Government’s position. You disagree with that, do you not?
Jack Dromey: Fundamentally, yes. At its most absurd, there is the svelte voice of reaction, Sir Andrew Green, who I understand did not turn up to see you earlier this week. He said to me last year on the “Today” programme that all you had to do was clamp down on the employers and these workers would drift away. I am not quite sure whether the notion was that they would drift away on the boats in which some of them had come to our country. The simple reality is this: of course you need to sort out the immigration and nationality system. It is right that there should be the integrity and physical safety of our borders, and it is right that there should be clear laws relating to fair, managed migration. Of course it is right that you should be tough on those who abuse our hospitality and commit serious crimes. We should never deport somebody to their death, but as far as I am concerned, if somebody commits murder or rape, they should be deported.
But what do you do about the residual army of good men and women, many of whom have been here for many years? I know hundreds and hundreds of them personally, because we have thousands of members in that category. The Bill will potentially add to the problem. I could give you example after example of people who are pillars of the economy, pillars of the community and pillars of their local churches, and who have put down roots, brought up kids, sent them to school, got married and, often, bought homes. They live in this awful twilight world. So we must sort the system out—I absolutely accept that. However, sooner or later politicians of all parties, including the Conservative party, must end this myth that somehow you can hunt down an army of half a million people—and growing—and deport them. It is impractical, and to be frank it is also immoral.
I know, and I was interested to hear the answer. The logic of what you have just eloquently said is that the more effective that the Bill is, the worse the problem that you identify will become.
I was interested in what you were telling us about the agencies that recruit people, particularly from eastern Europe; you mentioned Bulgaria and Romania. That is recruiting people so as to get around the restriction that they can work here only if they are self-employed?
Jack Dromey: It is very interesting. Yesterday I addressed a seminar at the Bulgarian embassy. You will obviously be aware of the transitional arrangements—the rather peculiar transitional arrangements—and the three categories of people who are able to work now. One category is the self-employed, and there is this barmy notion that the self-employed are doctors and architects. In fact, what was very interesting about the discussion yesterday was that this is a loophole that has been exploited, in the way that I described when I talked about what Blue Diamond did.
Jack Dromey: They go over and recruit vulnerable people to bring them here. This particular company set up an agency itself to do it. The agency went over, brought the workers here and then said, “You are self-employed.” There is evidence of that happening on a widespread basis.
I would like to make two quick points. First,there are many companies that approach their responsibilities in a reputable way. Yesterday, there was an excellent presentation by a guy who brought over 1,300 Polish bus drivers for First Bus, and I must say that the way that he had gone about that was exemplary; there should be no criticism at all of what I thought was a very progressive approach.
The other point that I would like to make is that there are a number of things that are not in the Bill and that are not happening more generally. If one wants to act to end this problem of the exploitation of agency labour, one thing that would greatly assist that process would be expediting legislation here in Britain to ensure equal treatment of agency workers and the directly employed.
Owen Tudor: One of the problems, of course, is that if these people are self-employed, they are not being paid wages at all; they are being paid a sum, and it then becomes very difficult to disentangle what is being paid to them and what it covers, in terms of an hourly rate or something like that. All too often, we find that they do not get paid at all and that they are left for weeks on end without getting paid anything. As Jack said, very often they face deductions. As a rule of thumb, what seems to come through, time and time again, is that you find people being brought in on agency contracts.
We know that the genesis of this was that the Government wildly underestimated the number of people who were likely to come from Poland in the first wave of people from accession countries; we got hundreds of thousands, rather than 13,000. So these restrictions were introduced in the light of that. However, what you are telling us is that they are not working very well, and that they are stimulating this cottage industry of agents going over there to find self-employed people.
Jack Dromey: They have been good for our country. It was interesting to see the PricewaterhouseCoopers study that nailed many of the myths about those good men and women: their age, the fact that many go back, they do not draw on social services or state benefits anywhere near as much as this country’s workers do more generally, they are good, reliable workers, good people and the economy needs them.
Do you know what would be really helpful? I say this to all parties but to the Conservative party in particular: why do we not start celebrating the benefits of migration? Of course, we must deal with some problems that undoubtedly exist, but why do we not all start celebrating the benefits of migration? And why do we not attack the politics that saw big, one-page adverts in papers yesterday for Migration Watch, saying that “a migrant a minute” comes to Britain? It is like, just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water, there is a migrant a minute arriving on our shores. Disgraceful. I would hope for better political leadership.
I shall try to return to what the consequences of the Bill might be and to understand its implications. I am very lucky: I have a very competent caseworker who understands immigration law. To me, it is one of the more complicated areas. Given those complications, you are saying that the Bill might increase the size of the twilight zone, or perhaps create a midnight zone of no regulation at all. Is that what you are saying?
Are you also sayingthat controlling immigration, substantially through employment and employers, could give employers a keyhole surgery approach to immigration, with which they can act in an arbitrary manner that is not in the interests of the work force, using the excuse of immigration regulation?
Jack Dromey: Yes. We have experience of employers tolerating people they—we are pretty sure—know to be undocumented workers until the point at which those workers decide that they want their rights. The employer then suddenly discovers that they are illegal immigrants and turns them over to the authorities, earning Brownie points for being an allegedly good employer. I think that that comes under the category of bad employer.
The more you get employers to police the immigration system, the less you will get workers who are the best advocates of decent employment in that workplace, and the less they will have the power to ensure that that happens.
Jack Dromey: Yes. There is a lot of anxiety among employers about it. I remember speaking at a seminar last year. It was a Chatham House rules event, however the chief executive of one of the two biggest agencies in Britain made a very interesting contribution. He said that he had real problems because no one quite knows who has the right to work and who does not, and that employees of his agency had been arrested as a consequence. That was a company that genuinely wanted to operate regularly.
Only yesterday I had a meeting with some of the major contract cleaning companies here in Britain, expressing their anxiety about the consequences for them. They also recently met Ministers to express that anxiety. I am all in favour of going after bad employers, but because of the way that the Bill is constructed, we are concerned about the consequences and that the Bill might be abused in the way that we indicated in the example about the 200 cleaners. They suddenly stood up for their rights, with a satisfactory outcome, and they are all being told—each one individually—“Come in and prove who you are, and bring these documents: one, two, three, four and five. If you do not, you will be sacked.” That cannot be right.
In essence, you are saying that, given the complexity of the situation, having biometric data may mean that you know who someone is, but you still do not know whether they are allowed to work?
Owen Tudor: You talked about the system beingvery complicated. It is complicated partly because—this is why we use the term “undocumented workers” very often rather than “illegal working” or “illegal immigrant”—we are often talking about people who entered the country entirely legally. The Bulgarians and Romanians are an excellent case in point. Their presence in the country is entirely legal because they are citizens of the European Union and are allowed to be here. They may not be allowed to work here though, depending on which sector they are in. That might become a little complex because industrial reality sometimes does not fit simple industrial classifications.
You also have large numbers of people who are undocumented workers for part of the week, but not the other part, because they are students who have worked longer hours than they are supposed to, and things like that. Many people slip in and out of having the right documents because it may be a matter of whether their work permit has expired, and so on. It is very complex in that sense. An indication of who someone is and their ability to enter the country is not the same as an indication about whether they are a legal worker.
Owen Tudor: We would prefer to see measuresthat encourage greater regular, formal employment generally. One of the key problems that we see is the conflation of migration policy with employment policy. It just gets very difficult to put those two things together. I am not entirely certain what you can do with a Bill that is about migration to deal with the problems that you have got in employment. Our main concern is that immigration status is not the same as employment status.
Some of my questions may have been answered, so I am just trying to gather my thoughts. I will start with the 200 cleaners whom you mentioned, Mr. Tudor. Before you arrived, we listened to a guy from the NCP, who seemed to feel that the one document—the biometric immigration document—would help him to work out who is here legally and who illegally, and therefore who can work legally. He felt that that would help, because there are currently up to 60 documents that people can present. I take your point that whether you are here legally is different from whether you can work here legally, but surely the first step toward clarity in that whole process is to find out who someone is. The guy from the NCP talked about working with all the other agencies, when we know who people are, to establish whether those people can work here legally. Do you not see that the biometric immigration document would help in that regard?
Owen Tudor: I understand that point, but my understanding of the steps that NCP currently takes to deal with potential recruits—I have heard its presentation in other settings—is that its concern, to be blunt, and I do not criticise it for this, is more to make sure that its system is absolutely watertight in terms of the law. Its system is directed not at ensuring that it gives employment to people who would be good employees, but at ensuring that it has fulfilled the requirements of the law in making sure that it employs no one whom it should not.
Owen Tudor: It is good for the company, if the approach is merely that it wants to ensure that it is not liable for having done something wrong. We generally prefer employers to be operating in the spirit of employment law, rather than just ensuring that they cannot be criticised. I entirely understand their approach, because if I was in their position, I would not want to be doing something that would land me in court. It is not about whether they have a good work force or whether the workers are treated right or not; it is just about making sure that they fulfil the legal requirements. I am willing to accept that biometric data will make it easier to fulfil the legal requirements for which the Bill provides, but that does not answer the question about whether this is a good thing or not.
Omer Ahmed: May I just add something to that? A biometric card presented to an employer is only evidence that that person has given a biometric card. It may contain information about what they are entitled to and what they are not entitled to, but we still face a problem. Employers are currently taking documents that, for want of a better word, they clearly know do not belong to the person, and they are happy to use them. There is no indication that the Bill will change that.
Where someone turns up with somebody else’s biometric card, which says that X, Y or Z has theright to employment, the employer uses that, and enforcement measures are subsequently taken by the immigration service, whereby it is determined that the card does not match up with the person, the effect would still be almost entirely on the worker. There are no balanced sanctions in respect of the employee. The proposals would not make a huge difference to the way that the labour market currently operates and would not put an end to the abuses.
It is also important to examine the group of people to which the biometric data relate. They relate to people from beyond the European Union. From our own experience, we know that the majority of these people will be people from ethnic minorities—from Africa and Asia. A range of issues to do with race, equality and discriminatory practices need to be addressed. Real dangers may arise as a result of some of the powers that are suggested in the Bill.
Equally, the proposals do not set out the cost of obtaining such biometric data. Where are we going with this? Are we saying that we now wish to create a specific financial barrier to entry to the UK? I am now thinking of some of the figures that were provided to the general public on the costs of identity cards. Let us consider what it might cost somebody travelling to the EU from Asia or Africa. We are seriously talking about a new set of discriminatory barriers, because thiswill effectively mean that people seeking to enterthe UK from Africa and Asia will have to pay a disproportionately higher amount than would normally be the case for those from more prosperous states. That must be considered.
I am sure that the Minister will come back on those points. I am also sure that the levels have not yet been set and are being considered. That was spoken about the other day.
I want to return to a couple of your points. You are saying that somebody could get hold of a biometric card that does not relate to them. I am sure that such a card would have a photograph on it. Are you saying that it would be a forgery and that biometric cards could be forged?
Omer Ahmed: No. There are indications that there are security issues, but we do not need to go into those at this stage. The current situation is that people are presenting passports containing somebody else’s photograph to employers, who are accepting them. There is nothing preventing the same process from being adopted with biometric cards. In which case, the entitlement of a person to work will only ever be raised at the enforcement stage, or at the stage at which, as we have been hearing with respect to the cleaners, that person seeks to assert a basic right of employment or a basic worker’s right in respect of health and safety, for example. At that point, it may well turn out that, suddenly, the employer recognises that the photo on the biometric card is not the—
Jack Dromey: I understand the argument about biometric cards being put forward by the Government, but I do not think anyone should pretend that biometric cards solve the problem of identity “just like that”, to quote Mrs. Thatcher quoting Tommy Cooper. We have only to look at what happens now in relation to passports. I understand the argument being put forward, but I am not quite sure if it is the cure-all that has been suggested.
Owen Tudor: The other problem is that, in a sense, we understand the need to assist NCP in doing what it does more cheaply, because it is doing good things and they ought to be assisted, but our concern is that the problem of undocumented work and employers employing people who are undocumented is not, generally speaking, about good employers that are somehow fooled and unfortunate enough to end up employing an undocumented worker. That is not our experience of trafficking, for instance, and it is not generally our experience.
Our experience is that some people set out to employ undocumented workers because it is cheaper than employing someone who is going to be able to enforce their rights, and so on. Therefore, making it simpler for good employers to do their job of checking who is available will not do much to deal with the problem of those employers that decide that they are going to ride a coach and horses through the situation in the first place.
This is a bizarre story, but I honestly swear it is true: we have come across Portuguese workers in the east midlands, who have a perfect right to work in this country with no restriction whatever, who are buying forged Brazilian passports so they can demonstrate they are undocumented workers. That is because certain groups of employers in the east midlands specifically target employing undocumented workers, but would not take them if they were Portuguese, because then they would have rights. That is the sort of problem we are encountering and I am uncertain that issues about biometric data will actually solve that problem.
I recognise that the Minister might be feeling that it is not the job of the legislation to solve every problem at a stroke, but those are the sorts of problem we are finding with undocumented workers, not the sorts of problem that NCP will find are more easily dealt with through biometric data.
On a point of clarity, you referred to clause 23, which is about arrest, and said that there were all these employees who would be frightened because of it. Are we talking about employees who can work legally who may, for whatever reason, be worried that they cannot prove it or about people who are working illegally, whether they are illegal immigrants or not?
Jack Dromey: I can think of half a dozen examples we have dealt with in the last three months alone, Sharon. A lot of people are acting in advance of the Bill. In circumstances where employers sense that the obligations on them are being tightened up, often, in the way that I have described—for example, the 200 cleaners who stood up for their rights—there is a chilling effect on people who are here legally due to their being asked to come in and prove who they are. That was not the case on at least two occasions but, believe you me, you want to see the impact it has on people. I have seen at first hand people who have nothing to fear in tears over the consequences of that.
We recognise the problems that Government are having to grapple with, but that is why we keep saying, “Can we all be aware of the consequences of our actions?”
I will stick to one question. I am slightly confused by the evidence being given. There are obviously lots of problems with how the system works now with regard to checks on the legality of workers. If you are not happy with what is proposed in the Bill, how would you like to see the system operating? Do you accept that there is a need for checks on the legality of workers or are you advocating an amnesty for the illegal workers who are in the country? What would you like to happen?
Jack Dromey: That question goes to the heart of the issue, and it is not easy to answer. First, it is clearly preferable for people to come here legally and work. Secondly, nobody doubts the importance of the integrity and physical safety of our borders. Thirdly, it is important that we have clear rules on managed migration. How do we get the balance right? We understand the thrust of the Bill, and we would say in evidence that, on the one hand, it has to be constructed in terms that recognise its consequences and that, on the other, all parties need to face up to the simple question, what is to be done about people who have been here for years? How do we bring them out of the twilight world in which they live?
It is absolutely necessary to sort out the immigration and nationality system with clarity—that it is what employers want, and we are in favour of it—but you have to be careful about the consequences of your actions, and you have to deal with the historical problems.
I accept that. In my constituency surgery I see people such as those you mention, particularly those from Afro-Caribbean countries who have overstayed for 10 or 12 years and have children who were born in this country but who now face deportation. That is a difficult situation. However, if we do not tighten up the law, it will continue in years to come. Would it not be better to prevent people from staying, working and settling? It is as though we are leading them astray with a false promise that they will be allowed to do that, although the problems arise as a result of their having come—or overstayed—illegally in the first place. How would you address that?
Omer Ahmed: We would not use the word “amnesty”, but there certainly needs to be regularisation. It is impossible to say, “We are going to close the borders and then deal with the problem,” but it might be possible to do it the other way round—deal with the problem, then secure the borders much more firmly. The proposals would mean tightening the borders but not dealing effectively with the 500,000 legacy cases and the additional hundreds of thousands of illegal or undocumented workers. The numbers are huge—significantly higher than those that have been mentioned.
We also need to bear in mind the desire, which was mentioned earlier, to prevent the rights of indigenous workers from being driven down. One outcome of how the labour market is structured is that the indigenous worker is under enormous pressure. By that I mean that wherever bad practices exist and unscrupulous employers are allowed to flourish, it is not just the migrant workers who are affected. It has a massive effect on the indigenous workers. They are the ones who are being told that they need to toe the line.
We are not trying to say that the law should not be changed and migration should not be managed, but there has to be a reasoned view about the status of those who are here. It is crucial to know whether people can be physically removed. That is a logistical, financial and moral question as well as a legal one. Is it physically possible to remove all the people we are talking about?
Jack Dromey: It is absolutely right that we should raise legitimate concerns such as those—about the impact that the legislation might have, the impact that existing legislation is having, the problems that we have to contend with in the world of work and the problem of the army of undocumented workers that will ultimately have to be resolved. However, we do not want to send a message that because we have raised those legitimate concerns we are opposed to everything in the Bill. We are not.
There is an important public policy debate to be had on how to sort out the mess that is the immigration and nationality system, how to have clarity on who has the right to work and who does not, and how to clamp down on bad employers. We do not disagree with the objectives of public policy that lie behind the Bill; the question is how to construct legislation that works.
You said earlier that there are hundreds of thousands of people who work in low-paid jobs in London. I think we all accept that, even if the figures are hard to understand. The jobs are mostly in the service industry—cleaners, people working in restaurants and shops, and domestic servants.
The principle behind the Bill is that it will be harder to come to this country and work illegally. If that succeeds, which is a slightly separate question from the general principle that we are discussing, one of two things will happen. Either people will have to pay more for those services—they will have to pay more money to the shopkeepers, waitresses, waiters and so on—or people might start to move out of London to obtain those services in a place where they are more affordable. Is that not quite a good thing from the point of view of those who are in low-paid jobs? Their wages are bound to rise if the Bill succeeds.
Not as a result of this one Bill. In general, however, if the Government are successful in reducing the number of illegal workers who enter the country, the wages of low-paid workers will rise, will they not? That is supply and demand.
Jack Dromey: If there are fewer people in undocumented situations in the informal economy or the trafficked economy, then yes. It is not necessarily a matter of rising wages—there will be less exploitation. It might simply be that the people who profit from low wages will have to profit slightly less.
So, instead of talking about the general principle of whether the Bill is good or bad, we should probably accept that the principle of restricting the number of people who come to the country and work illegally is a good one, and merely consider ways to improve the Bill.
Jack Dromey: I repeat what I said to Kerry McCarthy. We need to sort out the immigration and nationality system, and we need clarity on who can come and work. It is legitimate to safeguard the integrity of borders and to have proper, managed migration. The debate can sometimes be polarised, but we do not differ from some of the fundamentals of the Government’s approach on those principles.
I shall not pick at everything that has been said, but we have three concerns. First, we have to have our eyes open to the consequences and think through what they mean for the legislation that can be framed and how it can be implemented. Secondly, we ultimately have to tackle what politicians of all parties have been reluctant to tackle: what to do about people who have been in the country for years and how to sort that situation out. Our view is that sensible regularisation measures should be used. Thirdly, on your point about exploitation, David, we need to address other things that should be done to end it. There will not be equal treatment tomorrow of agency workers and of the directly employed, although, funnily enough, there is a Bill on equal treatment coming up tomorrow. If Parliament supports it, dramatic progress will be made. I hope that you do—the Bill is admirable.
If, as I hope, all of us are concerned to protect the interests of the newly arrived and of workers who have been in the country for generations, let us also—at the next stage—tackle things that are not in the Bill. I hope that they will be covered tomorrow.
Time is short. It has been useful for us to be warned to be aware of the hundreds of thousands of people who are here illegally. We have heard some hints on what you would like to happen to those people, and you mentioned regularisation. May I use the final 30 seconds to pin you down on that, because you said that we need to sort it out?