Clause 22

Part of UK Borders Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 2:45 pm on 15th March 2007.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Damian Green Damian Green Shadow Minister (Home Affairs) 2:45 pm, 15th March 2007

I beg to move amendment No. 97, in clause 23, page 13, line 21, at end add—

‘(2) In section 21(2)(a)(i) of the Immigration, Asylum and Nationality Act 2006 (c. 13) for “two years” substitute “four years”.’.

This is an attempt to help the Government by putting into practice some of the rhetoric that we hear from Ministers. On Second Reading, the Minister rightly made great play of the Bill’s importance in attempting to crack down on illegal employment and, specifically, on those who employ illegal labour. As I mentioned in my remarks on the previous group of amendments, that was the subject of some of the most arresting evidence from witnesses. Indeed, over recent weeks the Government have embarked on a range of activities, some of which will be useful, but others worse than useless, in order to crack down on illegal working—a worthwhile ideal. One can see what they are trying to do.

Amendment No. 97 would help the Government by increasing the maximum penalty for those who knowingly employ illegal immigrants from two to four years in prison. That is dear to the hearts of the Minister and the Home Secretary, which is why I am hopeful that the amendment will get a sympathetic hearing from Labour Members. It refers to the common difficulty that we have debated in this Committee and with the witnesses: is the real problem with illegal immigrants tricking employers into believing that they are here legitimately or with employers deliberately employing them precisely because they are illegal immigrants?

Given that the Minister has been so assiduous in quoting Sir Andrew Green, it is only fair that I quote Jack Dromey, who made a very interesting point. He said that he had heard about Portuguese workers in this country deliberately obtaining false Brazilian passports so that they can pretend to be illegal workers and take jobs below the minimum wage. If their employers had  known that they were legal workers, they would not have taken them. That shows the Alice in Wonderland state of some of our employment practices.

That tells us two things: first, some people are desperate to find work in this country but do not think that they can find any, even at the minimum wage, and secondly—this is significant for the amendment—some employers are ruthless and clued up enough to want to employ only illegal workers and would not contemplate employing legal ones. There is no difference of opinion on that in the Committee. We need to crack down on those people.

In parenthesis, clearly such activity might well promote illegal immigration on which, I am afraid, the Minister’s biometric passports and so on will have very little effect. We need a very strong deterrent for anyone wanting to indulge in such practices. The amendment would strengthen the Bill by sending out a clear message to the small number of irresponsible employers who damage the name of British business. Understandably, they are unpopular with trade unionists and employers organisations, who I know have been urging the Government to make sure that they crack down effectively on this type of illegitimate employment practice. This amendment enables the Government—indeed, enables the House—to send out a very clear signal of what we think about that type of exploitative employment practice. We think it should be unacceptable and we think that its consequences should be extremely serious. That is why we propose doubling the potential maximum penalty. I hope this finds favour with the Minister.