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Clause 1 - Director of Labour Market Enforcement

Part of Immigration Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 9:30 am on 27th October 2015.

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Photo of Emma Lewell-Buck Emma Lewell-Buck Labour, South Shields 9:30 am, 27th October 2015

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Bone.

I will speak briefly about amendment 55, which has the modest aim of making it explicit that the new director of labour market enforcement should have a duty to stand up for those who are at risk of exploitation. This amendment has been tabled because Labour Members believe that if such a position is going to exist, whoever holds it should be responsible for enforcing all aspects of labour market law and not just some of them.

If they accept this amendment, the Government will signal that part 1 of the Bill is truly about improving labour market enforcement and not simply about grabbing headlines to bolster their credentials of being tough on immigration. If the Government are willing to make that commitment, I think we will all welcome the creation of the new director.

The amendment is important because without it there would be a worrying ambiguity in the new role of the director, which could see the resources allocated to the director directed primarily at illegal migrants in work rather than at those who employ them.

There is a tonal shift in the Bill towards criminalising the employee over the employer, which is concerning because it seems to focus on the symptom rather than the cause; the focus appears to be on the workers rather than on the organised gangs who traffic and exploit them. That approach will not have a lasting impact on illegal labour market activity in Britain. The reason is simple: if workers are arrested and deported, employers will find others to take their place. If you strike at employers, however, that market soon disappears. There is even a risk, as witnesses told us last week, that an emphasis on criminalising workers will actually be counterproductive in fighting illegal working. If people fear that they will be harshly punished if their immigration status is discovered, that can be used by their employers as a threat, driving them even further underground and opening them up to worse forms of exploitation.

The Government therefore need to make it explicit that the new director will have powers and duties that allow them to act in all areas of the labour market and that the role will be used to tackle exploitation at its source. Without that commitment, the director is unlikely to be an effective office because it will be limited to clearing up the symptoms, rather than the root causes, of labour market exploitation. Such an approach might bring some great headlines for the Home Secretary, but it will do little to prevent trafficking and abuse or to reduce the number of illegal migrants working in this country. I am sure that the Minister will agree that if public money is going to be spent establishing a new agency, we need to be sure that it is going to get results, and that is why he and his colleagues should back this amendment today.