Clause 21

Part of Employment Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 2:15 pm on 16 October 2008.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Pat McFadden Pat McFadden Minister of State (Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform) (Employment Relations and Postal Affairs), Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee 2:15, 16 October 2008

I agree with most of what the hon. Gentleman has said, but there is another side that we have to consider. He referred to some of the earlier  deliberations on the Bill and to what happens when “the inspector calls”—I think that that was the phrase he used. The amendment would mean that rather than having a series of inspectors calling about different legislation, they would be able to talk to one another in a way that they are legally prohibited from doing at the moment. I accept what the hon. Gentleman says about small businesses not wanting repeat visits, but I think that the provision could result in fewer repeat visits rather than more. I appreciate the difficulties of the small business—I represent the Department of business and, of course, we want small businesses to prosper. We fully appreciate their value.

However, we must also place ourselves in the shoes of the vulnerable worker, who does not know, and legitimately cannot be expected to know, what to do if they face problems at work—for example, if an agency supplied them to an employer and charged them illegally for finding them work, and they were possibly not paid the minimum wage or the holiday and other pay to which they were entitled. Surely we should try to improve the current situation, in which a person can find themselves having to phone different Government helplines to try to report the problems. As far as they are concerned, they just want to report their problem to the Government. They do not know that the agency standards inspectorate is part of BERR and that HMRC is part of the Treasury, or about friendly and proper agreement about the enforcement of the minimum wage.

Through a lot of the work on vulnerable workers, we are trying to transfer more of the burden of navigating the system from the vulnerable worker to the Government. That is certainly in the interests of the vulnerable worker, but I stress that it is also in the interests of good and legitimate business. The hon. Gentleman asked us to work with sensitivity. I absolutely believe in working with sensitivity, but there must be a tough edge to law enforcement on these areas, because we are dealing with vulnerable workers and an overall theme of the Bill is that enforcement has to get tougher.

I took issue with the hon. Member for Solihull, who is not with us today, when she raised the idea that, with the resources of the minimum wage inspectorate, the chances of inspection were once every 300 years. We do not want an inspection regime that simply sends people round the country for no reason into legitimate businesses that are obeying the law, paying and treating their workers properly and so on. We want it to be risk-based and targeted, in the interests of business and of the taxpayer. We will operate with sensitivity, but we are also determined to enforce the law. The new clause will help us to do that more effectively.