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Clause 1 - Director of Labour Market Enforcement

Part of Immigration Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 10:00 am on 27th October 2015.

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Photo of James Brokenshire James Brokenshire Minister of State (Home Office) (Security and Immigration) 10:00 am, 27th October 2015

I would point to the fact that immigration enforcement—the directorate within the Home Office that is responsible for the enforcement of immigration rules—is not one of the structures that the director has responsibility for. I will cover in turn the point about remit because there is an important aspect to this. When hon. Members have heard what I have to say, I hope that they will understand that the hon. and learned Gentleman’s concern about some sort of merger is not what this is about. We intend the director’s remit to cover labour market breaches, not immigration offences. The director and the enforcement bodies will work closely with Home Office immigration enforcement wherever labour market breaches are linked to illegal immigrants or people working in breach of their visa conditions, but that is an adjunct and not the purpose of the director.

I was asked why this measure was in an immigration Bill. There are two reasons. First, immigrant workers can be particularly vulnerable to exploitation by rogue employers, a point that has been flagged by hon. Members already this morning. I am sure that that will be a continuing theme during our consideration of the Bill. Secondly, by ensuring that workers are treated fairly, we are preventing businesses bringing in cheap labour that illegally undercuts the wages of people already in this country. Good labour market enforcement has knock-on effects.

Modern slavery has been a theme of some of the contributions this morning. With the Modern Slavery Act, Britain is once again at the forefront of the fight against the inhuman crimes of slavery and forced labour—the hon. Member for Sheffield Central and others made comments on this—but it is important to understand that exploitation occurs in many forms and can start with abuse of employment law. We must step in to protect not just the vulnerable—I will address the point about vulnerability—but also local workers and responsible businesses affected by those who are prepared to exploit cheap labour. That is why there is the need for this strategic approach and for the director to work with the different organisations that are in place. This is not a merger, as the hon. Member for Sheffield Central highlighted in his contribution, but rather we have an over-arching strategy of looking at ways in which we can promote good practice.

I would direct hon. Members to the consultation published alongside the Bill to set out some of those details. It says that:

The Director will lead and co-ordinate work to promote compliance by employers and labour providers with labour market legislation, and to encourage and enable people to report infringements and exploitation.”

We are conducting a consultation at the moment around the director. We look forward to receiving feedback and input so that we are able to reflect fairly and appropriately.

Our employment law framework guarantees decent minimum rights for workers, including from next April the national living wage for over-25s, and promotes fair competition between businesses. The majority of employment law is enforced by individuals taking their employer to an employment tribunal to seek redress if they believe they have been wronged. State enforcement bodies step in to enforce legislation where there is a higher risk of exploitation or vulnerability.

As I have indicated, clause 3 already defines the director’s role by reference to the legislation and enforcement functions that will be within his remit. It makes it clear that the three enforcement bodies for which the director will set the strategy are the Employment Agency Standards Inspectorate, HMRC’s national minimum wage team and the Gangmasters Licensing Authority. We want the director to bring co-ordination across the whole spectrum of breaches of employment law—from employers who do not know the rules right through to organised, criminal exploitation of workers. That will be the director’s broad remit. However, I am concerned about some of the pictures we see of organised immigration crime and organised criminality more generally that seeks to exploit labour markets and uses the front of employment. We are dealing with a broad spectrum, which ranges from vulnerability all the way to good practice and compliance. It is right that the director should have that remit—setting up strategy, commenting on the balance of resources across each of the three agencies and reporting to the relevant Secretary of State.