As the hon. and learned Gentleman says, the amendment seeks to avoid discriminatory practices by employers through adopting a test of recklessness for the offence of employing an illegal worker. The Government’s intention of using the “reasonable cause to believe” test is to make the current test more objective and easier to prove. It is intended to capture those employers who have wilfully turned a blind eye to someone’s immigration status.
It must be emphasised that the test of “reasonable cause to believe” is not the same as negligence, as the hon. and learned Member for Holborn and St Pancras will well understand. The intention is to continue to apply the civil penalty sanction to those employers who are simply negligent; that is to say, those employers who act without reasonable care and skill in terms of not checking a person’s right to work, or not doing so correctly.
We judge that introducing a test of recklessness would not assist in increasing the number of prosecutions of those employers who flout the rules on illegal working. It would remain a subjective test and would require proof that the employer foresaw a risk that the person had no right to work, yet went on to take that risk and employ them. It is precisely the difficulties in establishing the state of mind of the employer that the Government are seeking to address in the Bill, by introducing an objective element to the test. Having “reasonable cause to believe” will capture circumstances in which an employer wilfully turns a blind eye to anything that would give them reasonable grounds to believe that the employee has no right to work.
In addition to being more difficult to prove, a test of recklessness would also potentially go too wide and be more likely to lead to discriminatory behaviour, which the amendment seeks to avoid. In our judgment, the Bill’s test that the cause to believe must be a “reasonable” one strikes the right balance between making the offence easier to prove and guarding against discriminatory behaviour.
I do not believe that the test of “reasonable cause to believe” will encourage further discriminatory behaviour on the part of employers, because they are already required to undertake prescribed right to work checks to establish a statutory excuse in the event of illegal working. That does not change.
The Secretary of State has published a statutory code of practice on avoiding discrimination while preventing illegal working. If an employer is simply negligent, they will be dealt with under the civil penalty scheme. What we are changing is our ability to prosecute those employers who choose not to undertake the necessary checks because they have reasonable grounds to believe that such checks will reveal that the employee has no right to work. That is in addition to our intention to continue to prosecute those we can show actually know that someone has no right to work— which is where we largely sit currently—as we can do now under the current wording of the offence. Obviously, however, it inhibits and limits that sense of having to prove the knowledge of the employer in those circumstances. That is why the change has been brought forward.
Having given that explanation, I hope that the hon. and learned Gentleman will feel able to withdraw his amendment.