House of Lords
Tuesday, 27 October 2009.
Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Ripon and Leeds.
Introduction: Lord Sacks
Sir Jonathan Henry Sacks, Knight, having been created Baron Sacks, of Aldgate in the City of London, was introduced and made the solemn affirmation, supported by Lord Winston and Lord Carey of Clifton.
Introduction: Baroness O’ Loan
Dame Nuala Patricia O’Loan, DBE, having been created Baroness O’Loan, of Kirkinriola in the County of Antrim, was introduced and took the oath, supported by Baroness Blood and Baroness D’Souza.
My Lords, the UK’s net expenditure transfers to the EU budget for 2010 will have no impact on infrastructure spending in the United Kingdom.
I thank the Minister for that reply and for the idealism that I know configures it. However, would it not be more sensible for us to spend £8 billion on ourselves rather than on other people’s infrastructure —wonderful roads and railways in Spain, Portugal and, not least, Ireland—while here at home we cannot even find the cash to dual carriageway the A1 to Scotland? Is it not time that we put British interests first?
Our membership of the EU does put British interests first. It gives us direct access to a community of 490 million people. The EU accounts for 20 per cent of world trade but 57 per cent of Britain’s trade. Some 3.5 million jobs in Britain are directly attributable to our membership of the EU, as is the fact that we receive over 25 per cent of all foreign direct investment coming into European countries.
My Lords, as the noble Lord, Lord Vinson, knows very well, the alternative to paying our dues to the European club is to get out. Would my noble friend not agree that it would have been more to the point if the noble Lord had asked that question directly so that we could consider the highly damaging consequences for Britain of that course of action, diverting not £10 billion but tens of billions of pounds of global investment from this country?
I cannot but agree with my noble friend, who expresses himself so eloquently on this subject. We are a significant beneficiary of being part of a larger, more prosperous and safer Europe. It creates jobs and trade and it gives consumers more choice and better prices. That is clearly in the national interest.
My Lords, the Minister said that 3.5 million jobs in the UK depend on our membership of the EU. Since we have a very significant trade deficit with the EU—a deficit that has grown hugely in the last decade—is it not true to say that there are more jobs in the EU dependent on trade with the UK than the other way round?
The European economies are much less globally focused than that of the United Kingdom and therefore we have a far higher proportion of our employment in the UK focused on meeting the needs of other countries in addition to those of the EU. But I repeat my assertion that the EU is a positive contributor to job creation in the UK and that is what matters to this country: people having jobs with secure employment prospects. I only wish that the Benches opposite could understand that.
My Lords, does the Minister accept that our contribution to the EU budget is a complete red herring when it comes to infrastructure expenditure in the UK? However, if we were concerned to increase infrastructure expenditure in the UK, does he agree that we could take a leaf out of the EU book—namely, from the European Investment Bank—and create a UK investment bank for long-term infrastructure expenditure that could attract funding both from institutions and from individuals?
I agree with the first observation of the noble Lord, Lord Newby, about the link between EU contribution and infrastructure. However, the EU, through the EIB and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, is a significant source of support for infrastructure expenditure. This year, EIB funding to the UK will exceed £3 billion, compared with £2.2 billion last year, and is likely to increase to £4.2 billion or so next year, largely as a result of the sterling efforts of my noble friends Lord Mandelson and Lord Davies. There are many cases where significant expenditure is taking place in the UK as a result of European support. I shall cite just one example. In my home county of Cornwall, the very exciting Wave Hub to create energy opportunities is being financed by European money.
My Lords, it is the turn of the Cross Benches.
My Lords, does the Minister agree that the maintenance of a single market of 27 member states of the European Union is hugely in the interests of the British economy and of Britain as a country? Will he continue to do all that he can to resist whatever protectionist tendencies there may be that might put it at risk?
My Lords, I will be brief. The questioner raised the issue of putting Britain’s interests first. If after Lisbon is agreed Mr Tony Blair decides to run for the presidency of the European Union, would that not be putting Britain’s interests first?
My Lords, while the surrender of the British rebate negotiated by my noble friend Lady Thatcher in the 1980s by Mr Tony Blair at the last European Council before he resigned as Prime Minister may have enhanced his reputation among other European countries, with whatever consequences may flow from that, what benefit has it brought the United Kingdom?
The disapplication of part of the abatement negotiated and agreed in 2005 was designed to ensure that the UK, along with other major European nations, made an appropriate contribution towards welcoming into the EU the eight countries that joined in 2006. I am delighted to see that our trade with those countries has increased by 40 per cent since they joined the EU.
Aviation: Air Quality
My Lords, the Government understand that the European Aviation Safety Agency has certified this product as safe to use. We shall be interested to hear the experiences of airlines which buy it. Meanwhile, our research is making progress, led by Cranfield University, to ascertain what substances, and in what concentrations, may be in cabin air during fume events. That information should help identify appropriate solutions if necessary.
My Lords, I am grateful for that Answer. Is the Minister aware that since June 2000 I have been pressing Ministers in both Houses to take this issue a great deal more seriously than has previously been the case? However, Ministers seem to have been in perpetual denial about the seriousness of this in terms of the health and safety of both cabin crews and passengers. Will the Minister now accept that the decision by BAe would seem to indicate that it now takes this problem a great deal more seriously than it has in the past because it is investing money in these systems? Taken with the Breakspear research into fume contamination and the chronic medical effects on crews and passengers, will he now meet a deputation of those most directly affected with concerned Members of your Lordships’ House?
My Lords, I commend the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, on the diligence with which he has pursued this issue, as he says, for nearly 10 years. However, he is quite wrong to imagine that the Government do not take it seriously. The Government responded to the report by the Committee on Toxicity in 2007, which said that the evidence was inconclusive and no connection between pilot ill health and cabin air could be proved or disproved, but that more research was needed. That was informed by BALPA as well. As a result the Cranfield study was set up, and we hope to get the first findings from that next year. We are not in any way complacent about the issue; we accept that some people experience unpleasant smells during the course of a flight and that there are occasional fume events that create those unpleasantnesses.
My Lords, I understand that these filters use an ionisation technique, which is brilliant for biohazards such as viruses and bacteria but is also being promoted as being good for taking toxic fumes out of aircraft. Have the units been tested when there has been a contamination event? If so, has the output from the filters been characterised?
I also pay tribute to the noble Countess, Lady Mar, for the part that she has played in raising this issue in your Lordships’ House on a number of occasions.
It is important that we know what is in a fume event when it takes place. The purpose behind the Cranfield study is, first of all, to establish whether there is anything there that needs to be dealt with. Until we know that, it would be premature for us to say that a particular filter was the right solution. We know that they remove volatile organic compounds, and they are very good at removing bacteria and viruses. We are also aware that organophosphates are present in hydraulic engine oil. We need to establish whether there is contamination from the engine oil into the cabin, and that is what the Cranfield study is looking into.
My Lords, is the Minister aware that Professor Helen Muir, who is responsible for the research of the Cranfield project, said last year in a magazine called Flight International that such fume events have occurred in the research? She goes on to mention,
“a wide range of volatile and semi-volatile organic compounds including benzene”,
and finishes by saying, “including organophosphates”. We know that organophosphates are extremely dangerous; Gulf War syndrome is one example of that, and we have seen shepherds affected by dipping their sheep. So why are the Government dithering when the health of tens of thousands of people is continually being affected by these events on commercial airlines?
The noble Lord, Lord Rotherwick, almost answered his own question by referring to the work that Professor Helen Muir is undertaking at Cranfield. She is an experienced and well respected expert on aviation safety. The examination being conducted there is being done with the co-operation of airlines. It is the only work of its sort that is being conducted in the world, and that work is well over half-completed; we expect to get the findings next year. We do not yet have conclusive evidence that there are organophosphates that are harmful to health, but if that turns out to be the case then action will be taken straight away.
My Lords, in 2007 the Committee on Toxicity said that fume events occurred in roughly 0.05 per cent of flights overall—that is one in 2,000. The most recent figures for 2008 show that 97 contaminated air events were reported to the CAA out of 1.2 million passenger and cargo flights by UK carriers. Twelve pilots out of 20,000 have lost medical clearance for reasons that they attribute to cabin air. With regard to passengers, out of 29,000 complaints put to the Air Transport Users Council since January 2001, one has related to air quality.
Cranfield is understood throughout the world to be a leading expert on air safety and air quality. The Government took the view that it was the obvious choice to carry out this work. This is an entirely independent study; there is no industry involvement in terms of funding.
My Lords, to be fair to the next Question, we ought to move on.
My Lords, high-alcohol wines are increasingly available as we import more wines from the new world which are stronger than those from France, Italy and Spain. It is important that people understand how strong their drink is, how much they drink, and the health risks.
Given that the average alcoholic strength of a bottle of wine has risen in recent decades from 11 to 13 per cent, with a commensurate rise in hospital admissions for those with alcohol-related problems, will my noble friend consider lowering the excise duty on lower-strength wines to encourage both sensible drinking and wider, broadened consumer choice?
My noble friend raises two different points, one of which is to do with consumer choice. It is indeed the case that consumers should be able to choose lower or higher-strength wines. However, it is not for the Government to decide what products retailers should make available. What we think is important is that people understand how strong the drinks are, what advice is relevant to them and the risks of regularly drinking above the lower-risk guidelines. My noble friend’s second point related to taxation. I can say with some accuracy that that is above my pay grade and is a matter for the Chancellor.
My Lords, I declare an interest as an adviser to a wine-producing company. Is the Minister aware that only from this month has the industry been permitted by EU regulations to reduce the alcoholic strength of wine for sale in Europe, but only by up to 2 per cent? Will the Government support the industry’s campaign to relax the rules further so that more lower-strength wines can be marketed legally in the UK?
The noble Baroness raises a very important point. The 2008 wine reform allowed EU producers access to wine-making rules used by third countries and new technologies used internationally, but, as she said, only to reduce alcohol in their wine by up to 2 per cent. We see this as an important development. I am pleased to tell the noble Baroness that we will continue to work within the EU to increase the scope for dealcoholisation of wines. Unfortunately, not all in the European Union favour these developments, because new technologies are seen as betraying traditions of European wine-making. So we have to recognise that old and new skills have to live side by side and that people must get every opportunity to improve their competitiveness in this market.
My Lords, may I assure the noble Lord, Lord Harrison, that I have just had the pleasure of sharing a bottle of red wine with 13 per cent alcohol in the Lords dining room, with really, I think, no ill effect to my health? Would it perhaps be sensible to say that the real answer is occasionally to drink one bottle with 13 or 14 per cent alcohol rather than two with 10 or 11 per cent?
My noble friend points to a very important matter. The way in which we tackle alcohol abuse, particularly the problems that we know face young people and their drinking habits, is through the education of those young people and their parents. We are absolutely committed to that. We have a youth alcohol action plan, providing advice for children and parents, along with a whole series of measures that we take jointly with the Home Office on these matters.
My Lords, not only does high alcohol intake lead to an increase in hospital admissions—it leads to a decrease in productivity, as my husband found yesterday with a student who was a little under the weather. When my husband asked what the matter was, he said that he was suffering from “wine flu”.
My Lords, I declare an interest in the subject, one that I hope will continue for a very long time. What is the department doing to encourage pubs to serve wine in 125 millilitre glasses—small glasses—so that people who want to enjoy a glass of wine and stay within the limits can do so safely?
The noble Baroness raises a very important point. Wine glass sizes are larger than they used to be, and the majority of pubs, bars and clubs now offer 175 millilitre or even 250 millilitre glasses by default. That makes it difficult to moderate intake, and it may influence less healthy drinking norms. The important matter is that customers should be able to go to pubs and clubs and should be able to ask for wine in the 125 millilitre measures. We are very concerned about that and are having a consultation with the Home Office about a mandatory code for retailers to do precisely that.
I shall start again. The Minister said that the alcohol industry would have labelling on all bottles, on a voluntary basis, on the danger of drinking while pregnant. The year 2008 has come and gone, and we now hear that wine is stronger. Will this be made mandatory?
My noble friend knows that we are very concerned about the health information on labels on alcoholic drinks. We know that it has been used only to a limited extent. We have been working with the industry to improve the uptake of the voluntary agreement and hope that the monitoring exercise conducted earlier this year will show an improved rate of compliance. We expect to be able to publish the results of this exercise shortly. I shall bring my noble friend’s concern to the attention of my honourable friend Gillian Merron; I recognise his concern and the fact that we debated this issue in 2008. Quite rightly, he wants action to be taken.
My Lords, has the Minister recently reread the proceedings in your Lordships' House on the Licensing Bill in 2003, when so many of the warnings given from these Benches have come to pass? What pressure is her department putting on the rest of the Government to review the provisions of that Act?
Universities: Modern Languages
Mes Seigneurs, le rapport est une contribution valable au débat sur les langues modernes. Or, in plain English—I thought that that would be a different way of introducing this—the report is a valuable contribution to the debate on modern languages and we look forward to considering the detail with colleagues responsible for schools. However, I reaffirm the importance that the Government attach to language learning at all levels. The Routes into Languages programme, which incentivises universities to work with colleges and schools, is already making a significant impact in turning around the decline of languages among young people.
I thank the Minister for that positive reply. Will he also acknowledge that improvements at university are linked to improvements at school? Will he assure the House that the Government will implement Professor Worton’s recommendation that a mandatory target be set by all schools that between 50 and 90 per cent of pupils should study a language until they are 16 and that the setting and meeting of these targets should be closely monitored by Ofsted?
My Lords, we are considering a range of options for boosting take-up at key stage 4, including making this benchmark mandatory. We are already taking action to incentivise language learning at key stage 4, such as the revised key stage 3 curriculum, the online Open School for Languages and our communications campaign aimed at young people and their parents. We have also commissioned research into the effectiveness of Lord Dearing’s recommendations. However, it is not the role of Ofsted to police the setting of targets and their compliance by schools, although I certainly endorse the view of the importance of universities in encouraging schools and colleges to participate in foreign languages.
Yes, my Lords, we have read that part. Certainly, the Worton report cites the CBI’s report Emerging Stronger: The Value of Education and Skills in Turbulent Times, which found that 74 per cent of employers are looking for conversational and associated intercultural competencies rather than language fluency. To succeed in a business environment, what is required is a knowledge and understanding of the culture in order to break the ice and to show cultural sensitivity in a business environment.
My Lords, the Worton report refers to tensions between pure modern languages departments and language centres in universities. Will the Government pay particular attention to the service role that language teaching has in universities, the importance of social scientists, natural scientists, engineers and others also picking up good language skills and the role in British universities of study abroad, which has been slipping badly in terms of the number of British students who are willing to spend an extra year studying abroad to pick up precisely the skills that business needs?
My Lords, we endorse the point about what goes on inside universities. Indeed, we would say that there needs to be more coherence between pure research and what goes on in other parts of the university. We are taking action to increase the numbers studying languages at a very high level. There is a £25 million initiative between HEFCE, the Economic and Social Research Council, the Arts and Humanities Research Council and the Scottish Funding Council, which aims to create a world-class cabal of researchers who will enhance the UK’s understanding of the Arabic-speaking world, China, Japan and eastern Europe, including areas of the former Soviet Union.
My Lords, given the importance of the early learning of languages—the earlier the better—when children can absorb languages like sponges, will the Minister be more specific about what plans the Government have to encourage universities to engage with primary and secondary schools to help to develop a language curriculum fit for the 21st century, which is recommendation 6 of the report?
My Lords, the noble Baroness is quite right about the importance of this. The £8 million Routes into Languages programme, funded by the DCSF and HEFCE, has created consortia of schools, colleges and universities in every region of England to work together to stimulate demand for language learning in secondary and higher education. More than 50 per cent of universities are taking part in that programme and doing so very enthusiastically. It has been very well received in primary schools, where pupils have been visited by young people from universities who are much closer to them in age. That is valuable work.
My Lords, does the Minister agree that the most important thing is that language learning starts in the earliest of years? That is when it really counts and makes a difference. Does not the example of bilingualism in Wales show how much of an education benefit it can be? It might even improve the Minister’s fluency in the French language.
I am so sensitive, my Lords, although I think that anything would improve my fluency. But I digress. The noble Lord is absolutely right. By 2010 we hope that all pupils at key stage 2 will be able to learn a foreign language and from September 2011 languages will become a compulsory part of the national curriculum, as recommended by our late lamented colleague Lord Dearing. We have trained over 4,500 teachers in primary languages specialism. A report published by Ofsted in January 2008 showed that trainees on the courses are being well prepared as future teachers of languages. We are providing £32.5 million of funding to local authorities in 2009-10 to support the delivery of primary languages.
Holocaust (Return of Cultural Objects) Bill
Welfare Reform Bill
Report (2nd Day)
62: After Clause 28, insert the following new Clause—
“Power to rename council tax benefit
(1) The Secretary of State may by order provide for the benefit referred to in section 123(1)(e) of the Social Security Contributions and Benefits Act 1992 (known at the passing of this Act as council tax benefit and referred to below as “the relevant benefit”) to be given instead, either generally or in cases prescribed by the order, a name prescribed by the order.
(2) An order under this section may—
(a) amend references to the relevant benefit in any Act (whenever passed) or in any instrument made under any Act (whenever made);(b) make provision about the interpretation of references to the relevant benefit in other documents;(c) make different provision for different areas.(3) In subsection (2)(a) “Act” means—
(a) an Act of Parliament,(b) an Act of the Scottish Parliament, or(c) a Measure or Act of the National Assembly for Wales.(4) The power to make an order under this section is exercisable by statutory instrument.
(5) Subsections (3) to (5) of section 175 of the Social Security Contributions and Benefits Act 1992 (general provisions as to regulations and orders) apply in relation to the power conferred by this section as they apply in relation to a power conferred by that Act to make an order.
(6) The first order under this section may not be made unless a draft of the statutory instrument containing the order has been laid before, and approved by a resolution of, each House of Parliament.
(7) A statutory instrument containing an order under this section to which subsection (6) does not apply is subject to annulment in pursuance of a resolution of either House of Parliament.”
My Lords, I will speak also to the other government amendment in this group. Today we return to an issue raised in Committee by my noble friend Lady Turner: the continuing problem of poor take-up of council tax benefit among pensioners. We have listened to the debate and examined the evidence—for example, the research provided for the Return to Rationing? campaign led by the Royal British Legion. We accept that many of the ex-service community aged over 65 would find it easier to maintain a healthy lifestyle if they took up their entitlement to the financial support available to them. In particular, as I am sure noble Lords are well aware, the Royal British Legion has focused on the impact that a simple name change—from council tax benefit to council tax rebate—could have on both take-up of the entitlement and, more widely, pensioner poverty.
I pay tribute to my noble friend, who has an amendment to move after this, and to the Royal British Legion for all its dignified efforts in highlighting this important issue. Improving the take-up of such entitlements as council tax benefit and pension credit is a key component of our strategy to ensure that pensioners in Britain no longer live in poverty. The Government have taken real action to tackle pensioner poverty, helping 900,000 pensioners out of poverty since 1998, but we know that we need to do more and are committed to doing so.
In Committee there was considerable support from all sides of your Lordships’ House for a name change along the lines suggested by my noble friend. As promised, the Government considered all the arguments carefully over the summer. Having done so, we agree that a name change, from council tax benefit to council tax rebate, would reflect the true nature of the benefit. A change has the potential to improve the take-up of this important entitlement. We respect that many pensioners, for various reasons, are reluctant to claim a benefit, despite the fact that council tax benefit is, in essence, a rightful reduction in the council tax that they are liable to pay, and despite the fact that claiming it could help to lift them out of poverty. This is something on which the Government intend to act. We believe that we should do whatever we can to remove any obstacles to claiming a rightful entitlement. Indeed, we are the first Government to mount a major programme of take-up activity across pensioner benefits. As such, I am very happy to state that the Government intend to make this name change to “council tax rebate”. I wish to put that clearly on the record.
As we made clear in Committee, though, the introduction of a name change is not a trivial matter for the 380 local authorities that administer the benefit. There are practical administrative implications and potentially significant costs to central and local government; for example, in making changes to IT and references to the benefit in all manner of forms and leaflets. We need to get this change right and therefore need to carry out further work to better understand how best to go about doing so and the implications. We will work closely with local authorities and key partners such as the Royal British Legion and Age Concern to carry out this work as swiftly as possible. Given the need for this further work, though, I am afraid that we can neither make the name change in this Bill nor set the precise timetable for doing so. The amendment we have tabled therefore provides an order-making power which will allow a name change to be made quickly once we have completed the additional work needed.
Noble Lords will be aware that the Delegated Powers Committee reported on the amendment before us. While content with the delegation in principle, the committee had concerns with the proposed arrangements for parliamentary control. As drafted, the power would be subject to affirmative procedure on its first exercise, and thereafter subject to negative procedure. The committee recommended that any order which changes the name of the benefit should be subject to affirmative procedure. It is not the Government's intention to chop and change their mind by choosing one name and then another. However, I am very happy to undertake to come back at Third Reading with a further short amendment to implement the committee's recommendation.
I know that this amendment does not fully meet our shared desire for this change to be made straightaway; neither does my noble friend’s amendment, which we will consider shortly. I hope that the amendment we have tabled and the strong commitment that we intend to make this change, and to do so as quickly as possible, are reassuring to my noble friend, all noble Lords and the Royal British Legion. I beg to move.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend for his statement in support of the amendment before the House. When I first saw the amendment, I was not very happy with it as I thought that it was not positive enough. I have been in touch with the Royal British Legion, which has issued briefing to me and, I believe, to other Members of the House. As far as I can see, all the amendment does is to commit to a change at some time in the future, but not necessarily immediately. It does not say what name would replace the term “benefit”. My noble friend rightly says that some veterans do not claim the benefit to which they are entitled because they do not want to claim a benefit. The British legion has made extensive inquiries, done a lot of research and holds the view that changing the name of the benefit to “rebate” would result in a large number of people claiming it who do not now do so. Therefore, the legion thought that Amendment 63 would be the simplest way to deal more immediately with the problems that these veterans and many pensioners have as regards claiming money which is rightly theirs, but which they refrain from claiming because it is called a benefit.
As the legion says in the briefing it has issued to many noble Lords, what’s in a name? The answer is:
“Dignity and respect for older veterans”.
This is very much what it is all about. I shall speak to Amendment 63 when it is called. I welcome the assurance given by the Minister that he will come back at Third Reading with something—I hope—along the lines that we have suggested; a simple amendment to change the word “benefit” to “rebate”.
In the mean time, I thank the Minister for the firm assurances that he has given, which I respect. I am sure that he will stand by what he has said to the House this afternoon. This amendment, standing on its own, does not go anywhere near far enough towards what the legion wanted. It simply wanted what is set out in Amendment 63.
My Lords, we welcome the government amendment. As the Minister said, the noble Baroness, Lady Turner, also deserves congratulations on bringing this issue to the attention of your Lordships. The Royal British Legion has been highlighting for some time the peculiar case of the benefit that is really a rebate. If the simple process of changing the description from benefit to rebate allows more pensioners to feel able to take up what they are rightfully owed, we welcome this as an important step to cutting pensioner poverty. We are pleased to take on trust what the Minister said about the commitment to making this change. My right honourable friend David Cameron has pledged to support this change, and I will be pleased to inform him of what is effectively cross-party support for the amendment.
I am sure, although I would not expect the Minister to admit it, that the change is probably the result of a titanic struggle in the Treasury, between that part that has to look after pensioner poverty targets and those who jealously guard the coffers. I am delighted that the Minister was on the winning side, and in this case the right side, of the battle. I hear what he said about the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee’s recommendations, and I am prepared to accept the consequent changes at Third Reading. With those remarks I, and we, reiterate our support for the amendment.
My Lords, for the sake of completeness, I shall make this all-party. The campaign that the Royal British Legion has run has been exemplary; but it is good at that. It is plugged into the local community and it does exemplary work. It has had success, and I am pleased for it that that is the case. I, too, pay tribute to the noble Baroness for taking the initiative and tabling her amendment.
I am happy to take the assurances that the Minister has made from the Dispatch Box about timing, delegated powers and all those matters. We need to be careful about the fact that this is not going to be as efficacious as some of us would like. It will help, and it is worth doing, which is why I am in favour of it, but it is not a substitute for take-up campaigns. The department must not think that, because it is renaming the benefit, suddenly people are going to run into the arms of the local authority and start making claims afresh without further campaigns at a national and a local level. That work goes on from time to time, and my experience is that the department tackles these things in waves. Sometimes a campaign is being run over a period of time and you can check its effectiveness.
I urge the Minister to go back to the department and say that what would make this a real success would be that around the rebranding—I do not mean that to sound diminutive of this change because I think it is worth having—there should be a sustained and concerted national and regional set of campaigns that say, “We are changing the name and we hope that will reduce the stigma”. Council tax is going to become much more of a burden on low-income households over the next three to five years. In our innermost hearts we all know this. Any Government of whichever stripe—or the department or the local authorities that are in charge of this—should take the opportunity of the change to run a sustained campaign of public take-up, irrespective of what the benefit is called: otherwise, in the next three to five years, council tax will become a real burden for many low-income families.
My Lords, did the noble Lord say that he was thinking about coming back at Third Reading with a shorter amendment to this effect? If he is, could he accept one of the concerns of the noble Baroness, Lady Turner, by putting the new name of the benefit into the new amendment?
My Lords, I am grateful for the support that the amendment has received from the noble Lord, Lord Freud, and his colleagues. There is no titanic struggle within government. We are all of one mind on this—as ever—and work in a joined-up way.
The noble Lord, Lord Kirkwood, said that it was not efficacious in every way, but that he does support it. He is absolutely right that, in itself, it is not all that we need to do. We have heard powerful arguments about take-up campaigns, so I will not use the time of the House to run through them. The aim is to enable people to make one claim with one phone call for council tax benefit and housing benefit. There will be home visits, and we have provisions in the Bill to use data to reach people more effectively. Those efforts must continue.
Let me make clear what I intend to do at Third Reading. The amendment that I proposed to bring forward has regard to the recommendation of the Delegated Powers Committee. At present, the power in the amendment will be subject to the affirmative procedure on first use, and negative procedure on second use, if there should be one. The Delegated Powers Committee recommended that the procedure should be affirmative throughout, and we will accept that recommendation. I did not propose—and would not wish to mislead my noble friend Lady Turner or the noble Countess, Lady Mar, by suggesting—that we would do anything further at Third Reading.
I will stress one point that we may revisit when discussing the next amendment of my noble friend Lady Turner. The option of simply putting a name change in the Bill does not have the immediate effect of changing council tax benefit to council tax rebate. Any such provision would need to be subject to commencement provisions. Under the Bill, those provisions are commenced when the Secretary of State judges that it is appropriate to do so. Moreover, the Secretary of State would commence them under a commencement order, which is not a parliamentary process and would not be subject to the affirmative procedure. The fact that an alternative name is written in the Bill does not mean that things would happen straightaway—the procedure would have to be introduced in a commencement order by the Secretary of State.
That is a parallel situation to introducing and using the power that we have in the amendment. The powers that we have in the Bill around commencement orders would enable transitional provisions to be brought forward, and would enable adjustments to secondary legislation, but they would not enable adjustments to primary legislation. There is a raft of secondary and primary legislation containing the term “council tax benefit”. Perhaps here I am pre-empting the debate that we will have later. The amendment would not be sufficient to enable us to do everything to introduce the change that we all want. It says nothing about how expeditiously the change could be made. There is probably a lot of legislation for which the Secretary of State has not commenced provisions. There is no compulsion on the Secretary of State to take this route.
Therefore, I honestly do not believe that it is as effective a route as the one that we have outlined in these provisions. I believe that these measures give the Royal British Legion what it wants—and, indeed, what we all want—in a way that is, with great respect, more effective than the amendment that we are about to debate. Perhaps we will come back to that shortly. I am grateful for the support for this amendment and believe that we have a shared view of what we want to achieve.
Amendment 62 agreed.
63: After Clause 28, insert the following new Clause—
In section 123(1)(e) of the Social Security Contributions and Benefits Act 1992 (c. 4) (income related benefits) for “council tax benefit” substitute “council tax rebate”.”
My Lords, I moved this amendment in Committee, when I had a very sympathetic response from the Minister, as we have had today. However, it seems that the text of his amendment does not go quite far enough. Indeed, I have been in touch with the Royal British Legion about the text and that is also its view. It thinks that the Government’s wording will not have a very immediate effect, whereas with the change that it recommends, as suggested in this amendment, there would be a chance of an immediate effect in the legislation, which is what the Legion is anxious to achieve.
I understand that the Minister is offering to come back at Third Reading but in his most recent statement he amplified what he meant by that and it simply would not involve referring to the text of my amendment. I cannot hold him to saying that he made a commitment to bring the matter back at Third Reading because clearly that is not what he did. One would not be able to hold him to that, nor would I attempt to do so.
If we could pass this amendment, it would make it very clear to everyone that that was what the House of Lords intended with regard to this benefit and the veterans. That is very important. Despite what has been said by the Minister and despite the support given for his Amendment 62, I do not see why we could not give some indication that what we were really after was the wording in Amendment 63. If that were on the record, it would clearly indicate to everyone that it is believed that veterans should be able to have their money via a rebate rather than a benefit. According to the research that the Legion has conducted, that would make an enormous difference to a lot of pensioners, many of whom are in relatively poor circumstances, and it would be of enormous benefit to a large number of people.
I should explain that I am a supporter of the Royal British Legion and the work that it does for veterans because I myself am the widow of a veteran. My late husband was a former RAF pilot who was a supporter of the Legion, and I know that he would want me to continue to try to achieve what the Legion is after here. I beg to move.
My Lords, just to encourage the Minister, perhaps I may remind him that recent polling for the Royal British Legion shows that 75 per cent of members of the public agree that renaming council tax benefit as a rebate might encourage more people to make a claim for it. That is an important indication.
My Lords, perhaps I may ask the noble Lord what the difference is between changing the name of this benefit and the name changes that have occurred with other benefits—sickness benefit right through to employment support allowance, and unemployment benefit right through to jobseeker’s allowance. How have those name changes taken place and what is the difference between changing their names and changing this name?
My Lords, I also strongly support the amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Turner of Camden. I feel very keenly that we should do anything we can to encourage and enable people who are poor and needy but are held back from applying by a very natural pride to claim what is their right as a rebate.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend for her amendment and all noble Lords who have spoken. Let me reiterate: we have a shared objective in encouraging greater take-up of the council tax rebate and recognising that a name change will contribute to that increased take-up, but it is not the only thing that will do so. We have to provide for it in legislation.
I shall start with the question raised by the noble Countess, Lady Mar, about what is different here from how we dealt with, for example, incapacity benefit and changed the arrangements to the employment and support allowance. That was done through a detailed legislative process. The noble Countess will recall that we had lots of debates in Committee and in your Lordships’ House. It was a full journey to deal with that legislation. I emphasise that simply putting a name change in the Bill in the way suggested of itself does not achieve anything. With those provisions there we would need to move further. We would need arrangements by which those provisions are commenced. Simply because they are proposed, as my noble friend suggests, does not mean that they will have immediate effect. Other things need to happen for them to come into effect.
I reiterate that it is not just a question of dealing with the general power of changing the name from council tax benefit to council tax rebate. There is a whole raft of other administrative, secondary and primary provisions that have the name in them which would have to be addressed. There is not provision in the Bill if the amendment were accepted to cover all those issues. I urge noble Lords to accept that doing it by way of the power that we have taken is a better process because it is subject to wider parliamentary scrutiny. In each case we have to work with local authorities and the British Legion. A lot of administrative work goes on behind all this—300-odd local authorities administer council tax.
I am persuaded by the process that the Minister is explaining to the House, but he might make more progress if he were to give some kind of timeframe when it would be possible to achieve this. I think it would be possible to do it from the beginning of the next financial year, which is a full six-month period. If he were able to give some indication to the House about how long it might take, he might have an easier ride in persuading the House that the amendment is flawed.
I understand the noble Lord’s point. I cannot give an absolute assurance because it depends on a lot of detailed work that needs to be undertaken with all the local authorities which, at the end of the day, administer the system. There are costs involved in changing IT systems; it is not straightforward. Whatever my answer to that would have been, in a sense it is the same whether you do it by way of power in the fuller way that we suggested in our amendment, or by the Secretary of State having to apply a commencement order but with lack of powers to deal with all the stuff that should surround it. That is the difference.
I should like to persuade my noble friend not to press her amendment as I believe that we are all on the same page on this. It would not be comfortable to vote against what the British Legion wants, but we do not need it as I believe that we have provided a proper, full and effective way forward to achieve what we all want. On that basis, I earnestly ask my noble friend not to press her amendment as I believe that we have achieved what she wants in the amendment that we accepted earlier.
I thank everybody who has participated in the debate, and my noble friend for the further assurances that he has given—in particular the assurance that apparently we are all thinking in the same direction and have the same objective. That is important, and I have registered it. I am grateful to the Minister for his comments.
In the circumstances, I shall not press the amendment today. However, there will be a further opportunity at Third Reading when another amendment may be forthcoming. It may not be what we want, but I shall not press this amendment today. Although I still feel strongly about it, we ought to respect the research done by the Royal British Legion, the amount of work it has put into its campaign, and its belief that a name change would assist an enormous number of people. Although that is most important, at this time I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 63 withdrawn.
Clause 31 : Relevant services
64: Clause 31, page 38, line 7, at end insert—
“( ) the provision of residential accommodation for P;”
My Lords, I shall speak also to the other government amendments in the group. As noble Lords will recall, during our debates in Committee I reaffirmed the Government’s commitment to align adult community care services with the right to control in the trailblazers. We made that commitment clear in the welfare reform White Paper. Adult community care services were excluded in the legislation to avoid duplicating existing community care and direct payments legislation.
During Committee, we listened carefully to the concerns noble Lords raised, and I recognised the importance of making clear in this Bill our original policy intent of aligning adult community care with the right to control in the trailblazers. That is why during the summer months we worked closely with the noble Baroness, Lady Campbell, and RADAR to develop this legislation. I believe that moving the exclusion for the purposes of the pilots effectively strikes the balance between putting in the Bill our commitment to alignment without compromising existing community care legislation.
We have developed these amendments in co-production with the noble Baroness, Lady Campbell, and RADAR, and I thank them for the work they undertook with us to enable these amendments to be tabled. I want to highlight how useful it has been to work with disabled people to get this legislation right. Without that input, we would not be where we are heading today. I am also delighted that the amendments have attracted support across the parties—the noble Lord, Lord Freud, and the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas of Winchester, have put their names to the changes and demonstrated the cross-party commitment that exists for this part of the Bill.
Turning to the amendments, there are three components that I believe are central to meeting the concerns raised here in Committee and also in the other place. First, Amendment 72 inserts Clause 36(3A) which removes the exclusion of adult community care services for the purposes of the pilot schemes. This is entirely in line with our original policy intent to test the effectiveness of alignment through the trailblazers.
Secondly, Amendment 73, which inserts a new clause after Clause 39, explicitly refers to the Secretary of State’s powers to issue directions under existing community care legislation. This is a key component because we can achieve the delivery of alignment through directions under existing enactments. Alignment means delivering the effect of the right to control to individuals in receipt of adult community care services.
Thirdly, Amendment 73 includes an order-making power that would enable the removal of the full exclusion of community care services at a later date, without recourse to primary legislation. A decision whether to remove the exclusion of community care services will be made once the trailblazers have been evaluated, and in line with decisions relating to wider rollout.
As we discussed during Committee, a decision will be taken on whether to extend the right to control based on the evidence from the trailblazers, in particular whether the trailblazers deliver better outcomes for individuals, better value for money for the taxpayer and are affordable. The Law Commission’s work on providing a clearer, more cohesive legal framework for adult social care will also be taken into account.
Community care is a matter which is devolved in both Scotland and Wales. Therefore the power to decide whether the exclusion of community care in relation to Scotland and Wales should be permanently removed will rest with the Scottish and Welsh Ministers, respectively.
The amendments demonstrate our commitment to alignment but take account of the Law Commission’s ongoing review of the legislation covering adult social care. They make clear the Government’s intention to deliver the significant improvements that disabled people are looking for in joined-up self-directed support. I beg to move.
My Lords, happy days! While many of us were having our summer holidays, the Minister and his officials were working—day and night, I am sure—over the summer with disabled people to bring back government amendments that truly reflect the aims and ambitions of the right to control. The amendments have been grouped separately, but I hope that the House will not mind if I speak very briefly to both. I was in the Chamber at 10.30 last night and, frankly, I have run out of puff.
Both amendments have taken my original amendments, the ones that I worked very hard on with disabled people and RADAR on social care alignment and right to control definition, and incorporate both of them more than adequately and, actually, far more than I expected.
This section of the Welfare Reform Bill has the potential to empower disabled people to become more active socially and economically by putting them in the driving seat of their support. There are hard times ahead for everyone who needs extra support to engage in their communities. More than ever, we need the right to control that support so that every penny is spent on what we know—what disabled people know—will make us independent and ready to take our part in society, whether that be work or other social responsibilities, such as bringing up families or volunteering. Both amendments take us towards that goal. They demonstrate a model of co-production between disabled people and government legislators and policy-makers. People think of co-production and think, “Is this a new buzzword by Jane Campbell?”. It is not because, for disabled people, co-production means simply that: we produce together. We are not just involved, we are not just consulted, we are there as equal partners in the outcome.
I pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie, and his officials for showing not only how co-production can be done, but actually genuinely doing it.
My Lords, we strongly support the amendments. My only regret is that the noble Baroness, Lady Campbell, is not wearing a T-shirt with “The Real Right to Control” emblazoned across it, as she suggested she would in Committee. I think she said that she would hand them out at Report. As she said, and as the Minister said, the amendments herald a real shift in power from the state to disabled people and pave the way for the right to control to become the genuine one-stop empowerment shop that we all want it to be. I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Campbell, the Minister, and RADAR, on working so hard to blaze a trail for the amendments. Let us hope that they are the shape of things to come. We on these Benches support the amendments.
My Lords, I am pleased to add my name to this set of amendments alongside those of the Minister, the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, of the Liberal Democrats and, most importantly, the noble Baroness, Lady Campbell of Surbiton. It is a pleasure to support her as she has been such a champion for change in this area.
This amendment pulls in one of the most important areas of plannable expenditure on disabled people, in the shape of community care services. It was always most peculiar to pilot a right to control that explicitly excluded this expenditure. An individual needs to have control of the full gamut of services in order to reshape them effectively; otherwise he or she will not be freed from dependency and bureaucracy. In fact, it makes far more sense to base the right-to-control approach on community care services, which are likely to be required on a sustained and long-term basis, rather than on the more transitory requirements surrounding support for disabled people to secure employment, where the Bill was proposing a right to control. The late conversion smacks of the resolution of interdepartmental differences and, perhaps, difficulties in achieving joined-up government—this time not between the DWP and the Treasury but between the DWP and the DCLG. Once again the Minister has come out on the right side.
Less congratulatory, I re-emphasise a point that came up last week in Question Time when the Minister asserted that we on these Benches are planning to close down Access to Work as a result of our strategy to streamline welfare-to-work programmes in our work programme. I was able to assure him then that that is not the case. He should really leave the detailed exposition of our strategy to us rather than extrapolating it himself. The key distinction to make here is that the main components of our work programme incorporate mandatory elements, just as the Government’s Pathways to Work and Flexible New Deal do. Clearly, welfare programmes that include mandatory elements are, at first blush at least, unpromising candidates for right to control. The programmes included in the right to control, such as Access to Work, are essentially voluntary, which makes them suitable for this approach. Clearly there is unfinished business here in terms of establishing the dividing line between voluntary and mandatory activity. I shall read with interest the Government’s response to the consultation process on defining the eligibility for the right to control which we are promised later this year.
To revert to the narrower matter of the inclusion of adult social care, it would be churlish to complain about the timing of the amendment. The Government have considered the matter and come up with the right proposal, which we wholeheartedly support. I must register our thanks to the noble Baroness, Lady Campbell, who has worked so hard with officials over the summer to obtain this result.
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have spoken in support of these amendments. I shall start, if I may, with the noble Lord, Lord Freud. I agree wholeheartedly with the phrase that he used regarding the noble Baroness, Lady Campbell. She has been a champion for change.
On the exclusion of adult community care services, as we sought to explain in Committee, it was never the intention that they should be excluded. There were issues about how that should be reflected in the legislation, and that point in particular has driven this change. We have ended up where we always wanted to be. I accept what the noble Lord says about Access to Work—we should leave the detailed exposition of his policies to him. Once the detail is in place, perhaps he will take the opportunity to do that.
I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, for her support. Returning to the noble Baroness, Lady Campbell, I think that co-production is, as she said, at the heart of this. She thanked me but, in terms of ministerial input, my colleague Jonathan Shaw has more responsibility in this area. The officials also worked very hard on it, perhaps while I was sitting on a nice warm beach somewhere. Perhaps we do not thank them enough except at the end of a Bill. So you must not congratulate me too much on this. I am delighted that we have ended up in the right place. I am particularly delighted that this has the potential to empower disabled people—to use the noble Baroness’s terms.
Amendment 64 agreed.
Amendments 65 to 67
65: Clause 31, page 38, line 13, at end insert—
“(4A) Subsection (4) is subject to section 36(3A) (which relates to pilot schemes) and to section (Power to repeal exclusion of community care services) (which gives power to repeal the exclusion of community care services).”
66: Clause 31, page 38, line 15, leave out from “services” to end of line 16
67: Clause 31, page 38, line 22, leave out from “services” to “and” in line 23
Amendments 65 to 67 agreed.
Clause 33 : Power to make provision enabling exercise of greater choice and control
68: Clause 33, page 39, line 16, leave out subsection (2) and insert—
“(2) Regulations under this section may, in particular, make provision for and in connection with requiring a relevant authority to take the following steps in relation to a disabled person (“P”) for whom it is obliged, or has decided, to provide, or arrange the provision of, relevant services—
(a) to inform P of the right to control conferred by virtue of the regulations, of the value of the relevant services to which P is entitled and of the choices available to P by virtue of the regulations;(b) to work with P to determine the outcomes to be achieved by the provision of the relevant services;(c) to work with P to prepare a plan (a “support plan”) setting out how those outcomes will be achieved;(d) to work with P to review and revise the support plan in prescribed circumstances;(e) if P so requests, to make payments to P in respect of P securing the provision of an equivalent service;(f) to the extent that P chooses to receive relevant services provided or arranged by the relevant authority, to provide, or arrange for them to be provided, in accordance with P’s support plan as far it is reasonably practicable to do so.”
My Lords, in moving Amendment 68, I shall also speak to Amendments 69 to 71.
In Committee debates on the Bill in this House, there was broad support for ensuring that the intended structure of the right to control was more clearly signalled in the Bill. The original wording of Clause 33 was deliberately broad to allow trailblazing authorities the flexibility to be innovative and to test the best ways of making the right to control work. It would have been sufficient to realise our commitments, but perhaps did not lay out those commitments as clearly as it might. Having listened carefully to the debates in Committee, we recognise that there is a balance to be struck between flexibility and clarity, which is why I bring this amendment before noble Lords today.
The amendments are designed to retain flexibility in the delivery of the right to control while reflecting clearly the commitments made in the welfare reform White Paper. It clearly indicates in primary legislation that the disabled person will be at the centre of the right-to-control process. As noble Lords have said, we have worked closely with the noble Baroness, Lady Campbell of Surbiton, in developing these amendments. Once again, my noble friend Lord McKenzie and I thank the noble Lord, Lord Freud, and the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas of Winchester, for demonstrating their support for the amendments. This kind of consensus underlines the importance that we all place on this policy.
Amendment 68 sets out the key components of the right to control process. In particular, it is a better reflection of our intentions in three key areas. First, the amended text makes it clear that authorities will be required to inform a disabled person of their right to control and the amount of money that is available for their support. This is entirely in keeping with our White Paper commitments, and will ensure that all disabled people in the trailblazing areas who are eligible for the right to control will be given the opportunity to access it.
Secondly, the amendment reflects our White Paper commitment to partnership working. It makes it clear that authorities will be required to work with the disabled person throughout the support-planning and review processes. This will ensure that the disabled person is truly at the centre of the process and that their support plan reflects their individual needs and ambitions.
Finally, the amendment reiterates the Government’s belief that disabled people should have choice and control over their support, whether they take a direct payment, choose to receive authority-commissioned services, or a mixture of the two. The amended text makes it clear that, where a disabled person allows an authority to arrange all or some of their support, the authority will be required to follow the individual’s support plan where reasonably practicable.
As the noble Baroness, Lady Campbell, said in the Committee debate on this clause, it is important that we get this right. As with all these things, we await the evaluation of the trailblazers, but I hope noble Lords will agree that this amendment is a real step in the right direction. I beg to move.
My Lords, I hope that this amendment is going to do something for the kind of case I have very much in mind, that of somebody with obsessive compulsive disorder. I mention a case where P—I take it that that is the patient—suffers from obsessive compulsive disorder and really can only work at home as self-employed. In the case I have in mind, P works in the field of journalism where she may earn nothing one week, £100 the next and then nothing for many weeks until she has built up a clientele. Will this amendment help her to work as much as she can without having to go back to square one and reapply for income support and any other benefits, thus having to fill in the forms again from scratch? I hope it does, but I would like to be reassured, or at the worst, to be told that it will not provide such flexibility. I think that the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie, knows the case I am talking about because I wrote to him about it right back in the early summer, but that is a long time ago now.
My Lords, once again we support this set of amendments, alongside the Government, the Liberal Democrats and the noble Baroness, Lady Campbell. We have just had the substantial debate on this issue when considering the previous set of amendments. This group makes it crystal clear that the disabled person, not the local authority, is in the driving seat when it comes to taking a decision on whether the right to control is appropriate. We welcome this clarity, just as we welcome a further step in giving people who live in difficult circumstances the freedom to run their own lives.
I thank noble Lords for their responses. In reply to the noble Lady, Lady Saltoun, I do not know personally the case she has raised, but I shall certainly discuss it with my noble friend the Minister. It does not speak directly to this set of amendments. However, I want to reassure her that there are arrangements in mainstream benefits for the averaging of benefit over the piece, and I would be delighted to ensure that we write to her on that basis. However, I do not think that her remarks speak directly to this set of amendments.
Amendment 68 agreed.
69: Clause 33, page 39, line 33, leave out paragraph (c)
Amendment 69 agreed.
Clause 34 : Provision that may be made about direct payments
70: Clause 34, page 40, line 12, leave out “(2)(d)” and insert “(2)(e)”
Amendment 70 agreed.
Clause 35 : Exercise of rights on behalf of persons who lack capacity
71: Clause 35, page 41, line 28, leave out “(2)(d)” and insert “(2)(e)”
Amendment 71 agreed.
Clause 36 : Pilot schemes
72: Clause 36, page 42, line 4, at end insert—
“(3A) Subsections (5)(a) and (6)(a) of section 31 do not restrict the power to make a pilot scheme; and accordingly a pilot scheme may relate to community care services.”
Amendment 72 agreed.
73: After Clause 39, insert the following new Clause—
“Power to repeal exclusion of community care services
(1) An order under this subsection may repeal section 31(5)(a).
(2) The power to make an order under subsection (1) is exercisable—
(a) in relation to England, by the Secretary of State with the consent of the Treasury, and(b) in relation to Wales, by the Welsh Ministers.(3) The power of the Secretary of State to make an order under subsection (1) is exercisable only if—
(a) the Secretary of State has previously made a pilot scheme that relates to community care services, and has in accordance with section 36(7) published a report on the operation of the pilot scheme, or(b) the Secretary of State has previously given directions under a relevant enactment with a view to enabling disabled people to exercise (either in England generally or in a specified area or areas) greater choice in relation to, and greater control over, the way in which community care services are provided to or for them.(4) In subsection (3)—
(a) “pilot scheme” has the meaning given by section 36(3);(b) “relevant enactment” means—(i) section 7A of the Local Authority Social Services Act 1970 (directions by Secretary of State as to exercise of social services functions), or(ii) section 47(4) of the National Health Service and Community Care Act 1990 (directions by Secretary of State in relation to assessment of needs for community care services).(5) The Scottish Ministers may by order repeal section 31(6)(a).
(6) An order under subsection (1) or (5) may make any consequential modification of section 31(4A) or 36(3A).”
Amendment 73 agreed.
Clause 40 : Regulations under section 33: control by Parliament or other legislature
Amendments 74 to 76
74: Clause 40, page 44, line 9, after “33” insert “or an order under section (Power to repeal exclusion of community care services)(1)”
75: Clause 40, page 44, line 12, after “33” insert “or an order under section (Power to repeal exclusion of community care services)(5)”
76: Clause 40, page 44, line 15, after “33” insert “or an order under section (Power to repeal exclusion of community care services)(1)”
Amendments 74 to 76 agreed.
Clause 41 : Interpretation of Part 2
Amendments 77 and 78
77: Clause 41, page 44, line 18, at end insert—
““community care services” means—
(a) in relation to England and Wales, community care services as defined by section 46(3) of the National Health Service and Community Care Act 1990 (c. 19);(b) in relation to Scotland, community care services as defined by section 5A of the Social Work (Scotland) Act 1968 (c. 49);”
78: Clause 41, page 44, line 26, at end insert—
““relevant authority” has the meaning given by section 32;
“relevant services” has the meaning given by section 31.”
Amendments 77 and 78 agreed.
Clause 43 : Report on operation of driving licence amendments
79: Clause 43, page 48, line 42, at end insert “or a travel authorisation”
My Lords, I am proposing this set of amendments, which I consider to be consequential on the first of them, Amendment 79, to achieve one simple objective: that the power of the Child Maintenance and Enforcement Commission to take away passports is subject to a sunset clause. This means that the arrangements will be brought into line with the way that the Government are proposing to proceed over the power to take away people’s driving licences. It will ensure that a proper report is made on how the arrangements are working in practice which this House can consider and on which it can take a view.
The subject was intensively debated in Committee and I will rehearse the arguments in as succinct a form as possible. The power for officials to remove people’s passports has been sought by the Child Maintenance and Enforcement Commission because the sanction has been found to be effective in other countries in persuading non-resident parents to pay up the child maintenance they owe. Great concern about this power has been expressed in the House. In Committee, my noble friend Lord Goodlad informed us that the Constitution Committee had concluded that suspending a person’s right to hold a passport should be the responsibility of judges, not civil servants. I will not repeat all the powerful arguments he made reflecting the views of the Select Committee, except to remind the House that the conclusion was based on a recognition that the right to leave and return to one’s country is recognised as a fundamental right in international law.
This Bill represents the second occasion on which such a provision has been included. Just last year, the Government withdrew a similar proposal in the light of these concerns. We on these Benches accept that the proposal is designed to tackle some of the most recalcitrant of non-resident parents and to be used only as a last resort. Our amendment is drawn up in this way to check that such wide powers are properly used. CMEC took over the responsibilities of the Child Support Agency less than a year ago, so we are not looking to invest a tried and tested agency with these powers. The Child Support Agency was widely and officially criticised for inefficiency; the concern is that CMEC will make mistakes and target with these powers an unacceptable number of non-resident parents who do not owe maintenance.
In Committee, the Minister tried to justify the different treatment of the powers over driving licences and passports. In his justification for a sunset clause on driving licences, he said:
“Clause 43 is intended to enable the DWP, the commission, the Department for Transport and the police to gauge whether there is any greater risk associated with an administrative as opposed to a court-based power to disqualify a person from driving, as well as evaluating its effectiveness in gaining compliance with child maintenance responsibilities”.
Exactly, one would reply. So why do not these arguments apply to passports? He said:
“I do not see a compelling case to justify piloting the travel authorisation passport power. That is because the concern raised by the committee”—
the Select Committee on the Constitution—
“primarily about the constitutional appropriateness of the measure, could not be addressed simply by a pilot in any event”.—[Official Report, 2/7/09; cols. GC 148-49.]
I imagine this distinction must puzzle the House as much as it puzzles me.
Surely the point of a pilot is to find out whether powers work or are subject to abuse. What is the difference? Do we not want to evaluate the effectiveness of the power of passport removal in,
“gaining compliance with child maintenance responsibilities”—
I use the Minister’s phrase exactly again—just as much as we do for driving licences? Is it perhaps because, in the case of driving licences, various government agencies need to get their ducks in a row? Are the administrative concerns of various government agencies more important than the genuine and powerful concerns of this House? No. The Child Maintenance and Enforcement Commission has not yet earned the right to be taken on trust. Let this House have the opportunity to examine how these powers work in practice. I beg to move.
My Lords, I support the amendments. If the noble Lord, Lord Freud, presses them, I will happily follow him into the Lobbies.
I took a slightly different route to reach the same conclusion. There have been significant changes to the workload in CMEC. When we set it up 18 months ago, one of the biggest changes related to the fact that the whole of Section 6, as it was then known—the people coming in through the income support route—was a vast administrative, bureaucratic weight that the old Child Support Agency had had to deal with. It never got off the bit; it was treading water the whole time trying to keep up with incoming cases that were not worth having. We had arguments about that.
The significance of the change is that CMEC should be a much easier administrative organisation to run. Therefore, the complaint that there was not the capacity to deal with the administrative on-cost of the extra time and effort involved in going through the court process in its entirety is now much less applicable, because the organisation has a much smaller administrative workload.
This would have been much safer if CMEC had worked for some time, not just a year or 18 months. The noble Lord, Lord Freud, is right: it is still in its relative infancy. It is a shame that CMEC’s quarterly statistics are published only tomorrow; it will be interesting to see how it is getting on and I look forward to reading them in some detail. I have no great expectation that the trends of residual debt and all the other things will have changed much. This will take some time.
If CMEC and the child commissioner had looked at this, run it for a few years and then come back to Parliament with some data showing a trend that we could follow that demonstrated that there were significant numbers of low-income families with children who were not getting support from parents who could pay but would not, that would have been substantially different. I yield to no one about the need to get that child maintenance to those hard-pressed families; anyone who took part in the passage of the Bill could see that the case was made that, in some cases, more urgent and active steps needed to be taken.
The House took a serious look at this and sent it back, so for CMEC to come back the following year and ask Ministers to try to promote it again is pushing its luck, if I may use that colloquialism. I slightly resent that. A two-year sunset clause is entirely appropriate; in fact, I would have liked a slightly longer one, but I understand the importance of keeping the driving licence and passport provisions in tune with one another with regard to the two-year period. However, if we are to go through the whole process of pursuing these non-resident parents, I think that it will take more than two years to amass a body of data that will be useful to present to the House to see whether the sunset clause should be triggered. Subject to the fact that I would have liked the period to have been slightly longer because we would have had more data to work with, it is right that the amendment should be tabled and I shall certainly vote for it. I hope that the rest of the House will as well.
My Lords, I am inclined to support the amendment. It is important that we make it clear to all potential fathers, particularly to young men, that they will suffer severe penalties if they do not pay their child maintenance—that means, if they have a child. The default situation at the moment seems to be that, if you have a child and you have not really made any commitment to it, then you just forget about it. The previous Government brought forward the child maintenance Bill, but it has not worked. Then there was the other Bill—I forget its name—which has not worked. We now have a third attempt to make this thing work and I reckon that it is about our last chance. It is incredibly important that young people, particularly young fathers, are given the strong feeling that it is the opinion of our society that a father is equally responsible as the mother for a child who is brought into this world.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Freud, for the amendment and I thank other noble Lords who have spoken. Once again, this has been a robust, if short, discussion.
I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, that we should send strong messages to people about their commitments to their children. On that basis, I am surprised that he would wish to support the amendment if it were to go forward.
I am grateful for the noble Lord’s clarification.
The noble Lord, Lord Freud, referred to somebody’s right to leave and return to their own country unimpeded. That is right, but we should remember and recognise, as did the noble Lord, that the provisions kick in only when there has been wilful default and every other avenue for collecting money from the non-resident parent has been unsuccessfully explored and where the individual has the resources to deal with their commitments. The individual has it absolutely within their power to pay up and to regain their travel documentation or their driving licence. If they think that their assessment is wrong, they can appeal to the magistrates’ court, which stays the proceedings.
The noble Lord, Lord Kirkwood, complained about bringing this back a year later. We said when we debated the provision in relation to the child maintenance Bill that we reserved the right to return to it. Effectively, we conceded the point only as a means of wrapping up the other issues that were still on the table. The noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, whom I see smiling, will remember our exchanges on that. We have never conceded this point.
The noble Lord, Lord Kirkwood, said that because Section 6 compulsion has gone, the organisation should be better able administratively to get to the courts. However, the other side of that coin should be an acceptance that CMEC will be more on top of getting the sums right and making sure that the collection procedures are as powerful as they can be. Therefore, there will be fewer residual cases to which the provisions might have to be applied.
While all sides of the House can, I believe, agree on the need for the commission to take robust enforcement action where arrangements to pay child maintenance break down, I acknowledge—it has been repeated today—the differences of opinion among noble Lords about the specific measures detailed in Clause 42 and, in particular, their effectiveness in securing compliance with child maintenance obligations.
I hope that I can seek to allay any such concerns by accepting the amendments in principle and thereby giving Parliament the ability to review the travel authorisation provisions in the same way as already provided for in relation to the driving licence provisions by Clause 43. While the wording proposed in the noble Lord’s amendment is adequate for this purpose, I should be grateful if he did not press it at this stage so that I can return to the House with a more suitable form of amendment at Third Reading. The amendment that we would look to introduce would ensure that a report on the operation of the driving licence and travel authorisation powers must be put before Parliament within six months of the end of a two-year review period. Based on the success of the measures, the Secretary of State would have the option of making the administrative system permanent or reverting to the existing court-based powers. Any decision to maintain the administrative system would need to be made by an order subject to the affirmative procedure and noble Lords would thereby have an opportunity to debate the success of the measures prior to a permanent administrative system being introduced.
The driving licence and travel authorisation provisions are two significantly different forms of enforcement with potentially very different impacts on the persons affected. It is therefore right that the piloting aspects be provided for in separate clauses. This will be the crucial difference between what we propose to bring back and what the noble Lord has tabled. It would enable, if required, a decision to be made in one way in respect of travel documentation and another way in respect of driving licences. There is some doubt as to whether that could be achieved by the existing wording, so it would be the essential difference in what we would bring back. I am satisfied that piloting the two provisions separately may enhance Parliament’s ability properly to review the outcome and to decide whether the commission should retain such powers permanently.
As has been referred to, the Government have until now resisted such an amendment. We consistently said that it was unnecessary, given that the primary aim of the driving licence pilot was to test the impact on road safety and implications for third parties, whereas the travel authorisation provisions contain no such risk. We stand by that view. However, we recognise the secondary objective of the pilot—the noble Lord referred to it—which is to measure how effective the administrative powers are in securing maintenance payments. On that basis, I am content that the travel authorisation powers should also be made subject to a pilot.
I do so in part in recognition of the long way that noble Lords opposite have come on this issue. It has been an interesting journey, from outright condemnation of the administrative approach during the passage of the Child Maintenance and Other Payments Bill, to supporting the Commons earlier in the passage of this Bill and now to making the proposal before us today. However, it would be churlish to press that point. While perhaps not always a coherent approach, I welcome noble Lords’ movement towards the Government’s position and so am content to make the change to the Bill that they propose. We are happy to move closer to their position on this point. On the basis that I commit to returning at Third Reading with a new amendment, I hope that the noble Lord will feel able not to press his amendment.
My Lords, I am delighted that the word “churlish” is to be banished from considerations in this House. I am not going to spend a lot of time on this. We have rehearsed the arguments on why it is desirable to give the House a chance to have another look at this matter. The Minister summed it up, although it was perhaps not what he meant to say, when he said that CMEC should be able to do things with less pressure on it now because of the variance in administration. That is exactly the point that we want to look at. It should be able to, but does it? In practice, what the Government propose—looking at a separate pilot in two years and six months, or as near to that timetable as you can get in getting Bills through—would satisfy our requirements to have the oversight. Accordingly, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 79 withdrawn.
Clause 43 : Report on operation of driving licence amendments
Amendments 80 to 83 not moved.
Schedule 6 : Registration of births
84: Schedule 6, page 93, line 28, after “subsection” insert “by regulations made by the Minister”
Amendment 84 agreed.
85: Schedule 6, page 94, leave out lines 12 to 19 and insert—
“(6) The Minister may by regulations provide that, except in such cases as the regulations may prescribe, where the mother is required by subsection (1) to give information relating to the father—
(a) the mother’s duty under section 2A to sign the register is to have effect as a duty to sign a declaration in such form as may be so prescribed,(b) the registrar is not to register the birth of the child until such time as may be determined in accordance with the regulations, and(c) the entry in the register is to be taken for the purposes of this Act to have been signed by the person who signed the declaration.”
My Lords, this group of amendments was first tabled in Committee but subsequently withdrawn following some confusion about the wording of the Births and Deaths Registration Act 1953, which they amend. That issue was clarified by my noble friend Lord McKenzie of Luton in his letter of 17 July, a copy of which may be found in the Library.
These are technical amendments, necessary to effect new Sections 2B, 2C and 2D in the Births and Deaths Registration Act 1953. These sections cover the processes to be followed in cases where unmarried parents are acting separately, because they cannot or will not register jointly in the usual, co-operative way. I explained in Committee the background to these proposals so I shall try not to repeat myself unnecessarily today.
In brief, the amendments seek to ensure that the processes to be followed by parents under our new proposals are as streamlined as possible. Under the joint birth registration provisions, most parents will register together, as they do now. However, in those exceptional cases when parents cannot or will not register the birth together, they may be required to provide information separately to the registrar. In some of these cases, the mother will give the registrar her required information in advance of the father providing his details. At this time, she will also give details of the father to the registrar, so that the registrar can contact him and require him to co-operate with the registration process. These amendments ensure that the mother will not be required to return again to the register office to sign the register once the father has been contacted. Instead, she will discharge her duty to sign the register by signing a declaration when she first attends. Therefore, when the birth is registered, once the father’s information has been obtained, the entry will be considered to have been signed by the mother.
We are currently in the process of developing detailed regulations—in close co-operation with the General Register Office—and it is essential that our regulation-making powers are sufficiently flexible to enable us to develop processes that are as straightforward as possible for those involved, particularly the parents themselves. We wish to avoid introducing, through these proposals, any unnecessary burdens for parents or registrars. For that reason, I beg to move.
Amendment 85 agreed.
Amendments 86 and 87
86: Schedule 6, page 94, line 45, leave out “and”
87: Schedule 6, page 95, line 2, at end insert “, and
(d) provide that in prescribed cases where the alleged father is not required by the regulations to sign the register, the entry in the register is to be taken for the purposes of this Act to have been signed by the alleged father.”
Amendments 86 and 87 agreed.
87A: Schedule 6, page 95, line 23 at end insert—
“(1A) The father of the child does not automatically acquire parental responsibility by virtue of his name being registered on the birth certificate under section (1)(a) if, following a declaration by him to the registrar under this section or section 10B, the mother makes a legal declaration in a prescribed form to the registrar explaining that she has reasons to fear for her safety, or that of her child if the father acquired parental responsibility.
(1B) Subsection (1A) applies only if the mother’s declaration is supported by an approved professional, to be defined in regulation.
(1C) The Secretary of State must, by regulations made by statutory instrument, define an “approved professional” for the purposes of subsection (1B).
(1D) A statutory instrument containing regulations made under subsection (1C) shall be subject to annulment in pursuance of a resolution of either House of Parliament.”
My Lords, this amendment is different from the one I moved in Grand Committee on the subject of joint birth registrations and has been suggested by the NSPCC—surely one of the most recognised authorities in the country on families who experience domestic violence, particularly against children. The principal difference in the two amendments is that the one I moved in Grand Committee would have precluded the father from being on the birth certificate if the mother said that she or her child was at serious risk of danger from the father. This amendment recognises that all children have a right to know their birth heritage, so the father's name would be registered, but he would not necessarily acquire thereby full parental responsibility if the mother believed that the father posed a risk to her child.
In the Bill, if the unmarried mother alone registers the birth and does not provide crucial information about the father such as his current address, he cannot be contacted and cannot be registered because no data will be considered by the registrar that cannot be verified. However, the loophole that we seek to close is this: if the father contacts the registrar separately and before the mother registers the birth, giving his name and address and, later on, when the mother comes to register the child's birth perhaps inadvertently she confirms the father's name, the father has acquired full parental responsibility. The mother might say, “Yes the father is John Brown but I don’t know where he lives and I don't want to know because he is a violent man”. The register might have no option but to say, “But John Brown came in yesterday and gave me his address, saying he was the father of the child. You have just confirmed that, so he has now acquired full parental responsibility. If you had come in before him, I could have taken into account the fact that you do not know where he lives and do not want to know because he is a violent man. But now you have confirmed that he is the father, we have his address and he has now automatically acquired full parental responsibility”.
Under the amendment and in order to close that loophole, if the father sought to register the birth separately and before the mother, the father's name would still be on the child's birth certificate but he would not automatically acquire parental responsibility. He would need to apply for that responsibility through the courts under Section 4 of the Children Act 1989. That is the first safeguard for the mother and child.
The second safeguard in the amendment is to ensure that the mother does not maliciously invent a story of domestic violence to stop the father from acquiring parental responsibility. We are saying that the mother would be required to make a legal declaration in a prescribed form to the registrar explaining that she had reasons to fear for her safety or that of her child. That declaration would be supported by an approved professional such as a midwife, health visitor, social worker, GP or other such person. Such approved professionals should have had training in child protection, domestic violence and abuse matters, and understand both the nature and effects of psychological and physical violence on mothers and children.
Turning to the Government’s arguments against this kind of safeguard, in Committee the Minister said that registrars do not wish to take on the quasi-judicial role of deciding who is and is not fit to exercise parental responsibility. We do not want that either. We are simply saying that, where serious concerns are raised by the mother, in the form of a legal declaration about violence or abuse, and are supported by an approved professional, it is safer for the child if the father applies to the court for parental responsibility. If the Bill is passed in its current form, the responsibility could pass to the mother to apply to the court to restrict the father’s exercise of his parental responsibility—not something that she would wish to be burdened with, having just given birth.
The Minister also said that registrars do not ask married mothers whether they prefer not to have the father’s name on a birth certificate, or whether they would prefer to limit the father’s parental responsibility. I found this an extraordinary statement, and one that does not recognise the serious concerns of those in the field, such as the NSPCC and Gingerbread. They are worried about this loophole in the Bill, which I have spoken about. The word “prefer” does not come into it if the father is violent or abusive.
Finally, the Minister said that if there is a genuine problem, the Government should take a proper look at the evidence that exists to address any problems in a coherent way. The NSPCC has many case studies to illustrate why it thinks that there is a problem, but this is not the place or time to read any of them out. The NSPCC says that the rights conferred as a result of parental responsibility can be manipulated and present a threat to children. Parents with parental responsibility have the right to a say in all important matters in relation to the child, including the child’s name, education, medical treatment and decisions about where the child lives. The case examples given to me clearly show that there are circumstances in which the courts consider that the potential to misuse parental responsibility is so great that it would not be in the child’s best interests for it to be awarded.
In general, courts are minded to award parental responsibility to unmarried fathers, since they can use other measures to address child protection. For example, the court may award an unmarried father a parental responsibility order, but refuse an application for contact and introduce a prohibited steps order to prevent him taking certain actions. The NSPCC is concerned that, under the Bill, fathers in the case examples that it has given would automatically acquire parental responsibility, even where registrars are informed about the mother’s child protection concerns, and without the opportunity for rigorous scrutiny and the introduction of other measures to protect the child that courts can introduce.
To sum up, the proposed exemption will affect only a very small number of unmarried fathers, where they have contacted registrars independently of the mother, and she has made a legal declaration—supported by an approved professional—that he poses a risk to her and her child. In these circumstances, unmarried fathers can still acquire parental responsibility by making an application to the court under Section 4(1)(a) of the Children Act 1989, as they are currently able to do. This is safer for children than automatically awarding parental responsibility when child protection concerns are raised. Registrars should inform fathers that the option to apply for parental responsibility is available to them. We would also encourage some flexibility so that, if the courts consider that it is inappropriate to award parental responsibility, fathers are able to reapply for parental responsibility at a later stage. I beg to move.
My Lords, I support the amendment. I remind the Minister that I took part at an earlier stage of the Bill. I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, and to the noble Lord, Lord Kirkwood, for taking up this issue on my behalf, as I was involved in the transatlantic airline bombing trial and was not able to be here. However, previously I spoke of my concerns about domestic violence and how elements of it could be addressed in the Bill. I thank the Minister for his sensitivity to the issue and for having addressed some of my concerns.
In light of the concerns expressed by noble Lords in Grand Committee, we looked again at how we could address their fears. Concern was expressed that vindictive mothers could block willing fathers from taking paternal responsibility. We wanted to find a formula that could address that, because such women exist and it would be silly to deny that. It is right and proper that the Government should seek to embody in law the responsibility that parents, especially fathers, must take for their children. Indeed, there is growing concern that insufficient attention has been paid to paternal responsibility in the past; we agree with that. However, our concern, and that of some major charities and organisations that deal with domestic violence, is the small number of cases in which violence is clearly involved. Research shows that domestic violence often rears its head when women are pregnant and that it often accelerates in the months before the arrival of a newborn.
We are concerned that a new mother who has just delivered a baby is expected to go through the courts to seek to remove the paternal responsibility, which is automatically inserted if the father has registered the birth. We are asking that the opposite should apply—namely, that a father against whom there is evidence of abuse has to be proactive in securing paternal rights. He should have to go to the court to obtain a remedy and to have his paternal responsibility invoked. The amendment would secure that. The father would automatically be given parental responsibility, but not if the mother made an independent declaration supported by an appropriate professional. Therefore, safeguards would be in place and the provision would be invoked only where the woman who had given birth really feared for her safety and that of her child and perhaps other children if the parental responsibility was automatically conferred on the declaring father.
I endorse what the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, said. No one imagines that this measure would be used in many cases, but in serious cases where there is a particularly controlling and abusive father one has to ensure that these steps are taken to prevent his using his declaration as yet another metaphorical stick with which to beat his partner. I ask the Government to look again at this measure. I say immediately that I am very conscious of how alert the Government are to domestic violence issues, but those of us who deal with these cases in the courts know that abusive partners and fathers often try to secure rights that perhaps should be limited. The amendment would put the burden on the father, rather than on the mother, to go through this process.
My Lords, I support the amendment. First, I apologise to the House that I have not been here so far during the passage of the Bill. This is a discrete issue about which I feel quite strongly. In principle, I support the registration of the birth of a child in the names of both parents, but there are a few exceptions. Those were raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, who set out the case for the amendment extremely coherently and eloquently.
A small minority of fathers misuse parental responsibility to the risk of the mother and child. I understand that in Committee the Government said that there was no risk to mothers and children from parental responsibility. I have to say that I disagree, from my own experience as a judge trying these very cases. I have tried a series of cases where, under the present law, fathers had to go to court and had to ask for parental responsibility. In a number of cases, I have had to say no. I remember one case vividly. It involved a girl from Liverpool whose father was a sexual abuser who abused her as a child. Her uncle was a sexual abuser who abused her and the child she bore. She went to live with a man who turned out to be a sexual abuser and she had to move again. She found yet another man to be the father to her child and he, too—can you believe it?—was a sexual abuser. The case came before me because he was violent to her and he was abusing the small child, and social services said that they had to take the child away from the mother. These cases happen.
I know of another case where the girl was living with a man who made her pregnant. He was extremely violent towards her. She ran away to a refuge, where she was anxious, for obvious reasons, that he should not know where she was and he should not come near her or the child, who was born while she was in the refuge.
Under the government proposals, if that man went separately to the registrar and asked to have his name added, he would automatically acquire parental responsibility. He would search the mother out and he might well be violent toward her. But it is perhaps more worrying that parental responsibility gives the man rights as well as responsibilities. He would have a right to tell her where he wanted the child to go to school. The importance of that is that, if he knew where the child was at school, he could be in touch with the mother and could be violent towards her, because he had found her. He could also be violent towards the child. Fathers, even fathers who love their children, are from time to time sufficiently violent that some children die. We have a record in this country of the death of something like two children a week by their father or stepfather. That is a very small minority, but the automatic granting of parental responsibility carries with it a risk from violent fathers.
It is the child who is more important than the mother, but if the mother thinks that she will be injured—she may be—or thinks that the child may be injured, the care that she is giving to the child is less good than it should be, because she is always fearful of what might happen to both of them, and so the welfare of the child suffers from that fear.
If the Government believe that the automatic granting of parental responsibility does not carry a risk for a small minority, I can tell them from my own experience as a judge that it really does. Whether this is the right formulation of the way to protect the mother and child, I do not know. I came late to this. I was alerted to the amendment and felt that I should express my view. I strongly advise the Government to look at this lacuna in their proposed new law to address the risk that another mother and child will be injured, or a child will be killed. This is a very serious matter and I support the amendment.
My Lords, I add my support and thanks for the changes that have been made and for the acceptance of the centrality of the welfare of children as the main concern of the Bill. I am concerned about violence among some minorities, particularly in cases of forced and polygamous marriages, where the women have very few rights. Women who run away with a child are considered to be dishonouring the entire clan and family. It is not unheard of for gangs of uncles and brothers to murder women who have been abused and beaten and to take the child away. Although these women and children are in a minority, they have rights and must be protected.
My Lords, I have listened with care to the arguments put forward by the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, and supported so ably by the noble Baronesses, Lady Kennedy and Lady Afshar, and by the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss. The amendment would prevent the automatic acquisition of parental responsibility by the man who makes a declaration to the registrar that he is the father, if the mother, supported by an approved professional, declares that she has reason to fear for her safety. The noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, rightly identified the fear of some women and it is understandable that she seeks to ameliorate it. However, I am not sure that this is the correct way to do it.
The point of registration of births is, first and foremost, to fill out the details of a child’s birth, including the details of both parents. Birth registration under this reading is not the mechanism or the place to prevent violence. An interesting conflict is developing here with evidence given in Committee by the noble Baroness, Lady Crawley. She said that the Government knew of no compelling evidence that registering the birth and acquiring responsibility make a man violent or exacerbate violent behaviour. That would seem not to be the same experience as the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, outlined in her hard-hitting testimony.
The Minister went on in Committee to say that the violence of these men must be dealt with independently of the birth registration system. I concur with that. Any violence or threat of violence must be dealt with quickly, fairly and comprehensively. However, I do not think that we will achieve that goal by adding into the mix an extra complication to the birth registration process. The issue of parental responsibility is fundamentally important. Responsibility should be removed only by the courts and not, as the amendment of the noble Baroness would allow, by a decision taken by the registrar of births, even if it is on the advice of a professional.
I am sympathetic to the motives of the noble Baroness—I am sure that we all are—but I cannot support the methods that she advocates in her amendment. However, there is an implicit challenge here to the Government to find a more appropriate solution to this genuine problem.
My Lords, I had not intended to speak to this amendment but, having heard what the previous speaker said, I thought that I should say that I feel strongly that an extremely good solution is being proposed by the noble Baroness. It is one that does not demonise fathers, because that is certainly not the intention, but I am afraid that those of us who have dealt with families in courts—I was the chairman of a juvenile court for more than 25 years—have too many examples of the sort of experience that we are talking about. This is a very moderate and, more to the point, very effective amendment. The NSPCC made its case extremely well in the briefing that it sent to us and I warmly support the amendment.
My Lords, I, too, come lately to this issue, but I have been listening to the argument. The argument for finding protection for the mother and child in these circumstances seems to be absolutely overwhelming and, if that can be evaded simply by the fact of registration, we need to do something about it. I agree with my noble friend that it is a challenge to the Government but, if they cannot bring forward a better way, I shall certainly support the amendment.
My Lords, I, too, support the amendment. As the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy, said, it seems unfair to expect the mother of a newborn baby to go to court to prevent the father of her child from having contact with her and the child. It is very important that in the first few months and years of his or her life, a child lives in peace and not in fear. I understand that the fear of the mother, even while the child is still in the womb, can be conveyed to the child, so it is very important that, where we can, we ensure that this does not happen.
My Lords, I thank noble Lords for this short but very important debate. We had an extensive debate in Committee on these issues surrounding domestic violence and circumstances where mothers fear risk of harm.
The provisions in the Bill are targeted at a minority of cases where parents who are not married to each other do not already register together. The birth registration system has never been used as a means to determine whether an individual deserves to be awarded parental responsibility and I believe that it would be wrong to seek to use it in this way. It would be particularly odd to do so only for this subset of unmarried fathers.
I do not believe that we have yet been presented with any compelling evidence for targeting this group of fathers in such a way. I inquired about this with the department, which has asked Gingerbread and the NSPCC for evidence of a specific link between the birth registration process, which brings parental responsibility, and violence by the father, but we believe that that has not been forthcoming.
My Lords, I understand that and I say to the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, that none of us wants to see vulnerable mothers or children without protection or safeguards in this process. That is why, as the noble Baroness will know, we have put exemptions in the whole birth registration process, so that if mothers fear for their safety or that of their children, they can use the exemptions. I was simply referring to what the department feels is a lack of hard evidence that the birth registration system is linked to the possibility of violence.
The problem is not the birth registration but the granting of parental responsibility which follows automatically from the birth registration. As that has not happened in the past with unmarried fathers, you would not yet have the link; it has not arisen.
I understand that. Of course I listen very carefully to the great experience of the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, in this matter. I would like to offer noble Lords who have spoken in this debate a meeting with Ministers before Third Reading so that they can bring their concerns to the department. Many who have spoken in this debate did not have an opportunity to be part of our discussions in Committee, so I should be very happy to offer the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, my noble friend Lady Kennedy, and so on, a meeting so that we can look at their concerns—specifically the use of birth registration and the parental responsibility that, as the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, said, follows. We can discuss the Government’s preferred alternative of going through the court system rather than using this process. We are happy to have that discussion.
I wonder whether I can clarify that. Is the Minister saying that she will offer a meeting to discuss ways in which the legislation can be amended to take account of these concerns? She started off by saying that there is no hard evidence. She clearly had not listened to the contribution of the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, when she said that. What would be the purpose of the meeting? Would it be to discuss how these concerns, which were already raised in Committee and on Report, could be addressed in practice?
I listened extremely carefully. Noble Lords would expect me to show great respect to the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, when she speaks, and of course I listened carefully. I was offering a meeting to discuss these extremely serious matters which I am sure noble Lords will want to discuss with Ministers. At this stage in the Bill, however, I am not of the opinion that I wish to accept the amendment moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas. Perhaps that clarifies the position.
So far we have not seen convincing arguments for adopting a different approach to this small percentage of fathers, particularly in light of the figures from the British Crime Survey which I quoted in Committee and which indicated that the women most likely to be affected by domestic violence are those who are divorced or separated from their husbands, not those who are single or co-habiting.
As for the risk attached to the acquisition of parental responsibility, a number of examples were mentioned in Committee—such as a dangerous individual being allowed to collect the child from school. While this is not necessarily a question of parental responsibility, perhaps it does highlight the need for some schools and other organisations to improve their practice. It is helpful for such examples to be brought to our attention. However, it does not follow that the question of whether or not unmarried fathers should be given parental responsibility should be determined through the birth registration process at the earliest stage of a child’s life. Decisions about removing or restricting parental responsibility are extremely serious and should be made only on the basis of clear evidence and by means of a process that is able to take account of evidence across the board.
That is why we believe that it is right that these decisions should fall to the courts. There are existing mechanisms for controlling the behaviour of dangerous individuals, be they men or women. We discussed those mechanisms in some detail in Committee, so I shall not take up the time of the House by repeating them. I want to make it clear that our provisions seek to avoid any action being taken by the state that may provoke an abusive partner. That is why, under our new provisions, no steps will be taken by a registrar to contact the child’s father in cases where the mother has stated that she fears harm as a result. However, at the same time, the provisions recognise the importance of a child’s right to know his or her identity, to be acknowledged by both parents and to know that both parents take responsibility for him or her. That is why they do not prevent a father coming forward of his own accord in order to have his name recorded as the child’s father.
When parents are married at the time of the child’s birth, both will be named on the birth certificate. In the case of births where parents are not married to each other, 85 per cent are already registered jointly. The policy will therefore affect only a very small percentage of unmarried parents. But these provisions are not about the parents. Although they do strike a fairer balance between the rights of each parent, they are about the child. Debates in Committee touched on the importance of a father being involved in his child’s life and the difference this makes in terms of outcomes. This is our focus.
Measures to ensure the safeguarding of children and vulnerable individuals continue to be a very high priority for this Government. With regard specifically to registrars, we shall be considering what action needs to be taken in the light of responses to the recent Home Office consultation on preventing violence against women.
The noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, set out her great experience in this matter, to which we listened with great respect. We believe that it is right that decisions to limit the parental responsibility of either the father or the mother should be taken by the court on the basis of all the relevant evidence before the court at the time.
The noble Baroness, Lady Afshar, said that we need to be aware of the rights of ethnic minority women and the need to protect vulnerable women. It is important that we remember that it is not single or cohabiting women who are most likely to be the victims of domestic violence; it is married women where joint birth registration is already required.
The noble Lord, Lord Freud, agreed with the Government that it is not the birth registration process that is needed for dealing with violent men; the avenue that is needed is the courts. My noble friend Lady Kennedy spoke of the importance of dealing with violent men. We anticipate that the majority of men who come forward independently of the mother will be men who genuinely want to play a positive part in their child’s life. But where this is not the case, we believe that the courts rather than the birth registration, and the parental responsibility process that is linked to it, should be used to deal with violent men. On that basis, I ask the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, to withdraw her amendment.
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have supported the amendment. We heard some powerful contributions, in particular from the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of The Shaws, and the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, who has great experience in these matters. Her speech was devastating to the Government’s case in addressing this loophole.
I mentioned a loophole which the Minister has not addressed at all. It is the circumstance in which the father contacts the registrar before the mother—the mother perhaps inadvertently having said that he is the father. The father, perhaps an abusive and violent man, then acquires full parental responsibility for the first time. I included in the amendment the safeguard that the mother must have a professional supporting her so that she does not make a malicious declaration.
I thought that the amendment produced by the NSPCC was extremely neat. This is a new situation. We cannot say that that has nothing to do with the birth registration, because the Government have made it part of it by putting it in the Bill. I am extremely tempted to test the opinion of the House, but I know this House. As the Minister has suggested a meeting, immediately everyone wants to go to the meeting to put the case, so I know that the momentum will have gone out of the vote. But I ask the Minister whether such a meeting might lead to a government amendment at Third Reading.
If it does not, I am still tempted to test the opinion of the House, but if the meeting is genuine with the possibility of an amendment, I will withdraw the amendment. I ask the noble Baroness to intervene to tell me whether there is the possibility of finding an amendment at Third Reading to reflect the debate that has taken place today. The comments made, especially by the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, who knows about the matter, should not be ignored.
I am not asking for a cut-and-dried guarantee, I am just asking for the possibility—as long as the noble Baroness does not say that it will just be a discussion, as long as there is the possibility of an amendment at Third Reading. If not, I hope that the House will agree that I have the right to bring back an amendment at Third Reading, although I know that the House is wary of amendments at Third Reading when there has been long discussion at the previous two stages. If I can be assured that there is the possibility of a government amendment or if they will accept my amendment, on that basis, I will gladly accept her offer of a discussion and will beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
The noble Baroness is entitled to raise an amendment, if she wishes to; she is entitled to test the opinion of the House if she wishes to. I certainly say to her that we would go to a meeting with a very positive attitude, but I cannot say any more than that.
Amendment 87A withdrawn.
Amendments 88 to 92
88: Schedule 6, page 95, line 32, leave out “and”
89: Schedule 6, page 95, line 35, at end insert “, and
(d) provide that in prescribed cases where the person is not required by the regulations to sign the register, the entry in the register is to be taken for the purposes of this Act to have been signed by the person.”
90: Schedule 6, page 101, line 30, leave out “2B(4)” and insert “2B(1), (4)”
91: Schedule 6, page 102, line 4, leave out “2B(4)” and insert “2B(1), (4)”
92: Schedule 6, page 102, line 7, leave out “2B(4)” and insert “2B(1), (4)”
Amendments 88 to 92 agreed.
Schedule 7 : Repeals and revocations
Amendments 93 to 96
93: Schedule 7, page 105, line 34, column 2, leave out “and (3)(a)” and insert “, (3)(a), (7A), (8)(aa) and (8A)”.
94: Schedule 7, page 106, line 33, column 2, at beginning insert—
95: Schedule 7, page 108, line 26, at end insert—
“Saving Gateway Accounts Act 2009 (c. 8) Section 3(2)(a).”
“Saving Gateway Accounts Act 2009 (c. 8)
96: Schedule 7, page 108, line 27, column 2, at beginning insert—
“Section (Lone parents)(1).”
“Section (Lone parents)(1).”
Amendments 93 to 96 agreed.
Clause 50 : Extent
Amendments 97 and 98
97: Clause 50, page 52, line 4, after “provisions);” insert—
“section (Power to rename council tax benefit) (power to rename council tax benefit);”
98: Clause 51, page 52, line 17, at end insert—
“section (Power to up-rate benefits following review in tax year 2009-10);”
Amendments 97 and 98 agreed.
Arrangement of Business
My Lords, now that the Welfare Reform Bill has completed its Report stage, the Question for Short Debate becomes the last business before the House today. That means that the debate will be time-limited to 90 minutes, rather than 60 minutes, and that speakers, other than those opening it and winding it up, are limited to 11 minutes.
Immigration: Migrant Workers
Question for Short Debate
My Lords, I am very grateful for the opportunity to introduce this short debate. I do so as patron of the Ecumenical Council for Corporate Responsibility. Its recent report on migrant workers focuses particularly on the responsibility of companies, but its concerns go wider than this to include government regulation in this field, which is our concern this evening.
As we all know, when workers are vulnerable, it means that their work is insecure and low paid and they are at high risk of employment rights abuses. A typical example is a London cleaner who said, “I work for an agency. I’m ‘self-employed’. They pay me £2.29 per room. I can’t clean enough rooms to make the minimum wage. There is no sick pay or holiday pay, and I have to pay for my own cleaning materials and uniform out of my wages”. Some 2 million people in this country are in vulnerable employment, and migrant workers form a very significant percentage of them. Most obtain work through one of the 17,000 employment agencies that form the largest and most fragmented agency sector in Europe and are worth some £25 billion. These agencies employ more than 1.25 million workers, about 4.5 per cent of the workforce. They are particularly relevant to migrant workers. More than 700,000 EU immigrants have entered the UK since May 2004, and a very good number of them are employed through these agencies.
Since the Morecambe Bay disaster in February 2003, when 23 Chinese cockle pickers were drowned, the Gangmasters Licensing Authority has been set up to prevent similar tragedies. Its remit covers the agricultural, forestry, horticultural, shellfish gathering, food processing and food packaging industries. There seems to be general agreement that in these sectors the GLA has had a significant impact. It licences about 1,230 gangmasters and has some 180,000 workers on its database. Abuses that were once quite common have been greatly reduced. There are still some further actions the GLA can take to ensure that its work is even more effective, but I shall not consider them in detail this evening.
However, the trade union Unite is concerned about two issues in particular. First, although the Government have signed up to the European directive, current drafts for implementation of that directive are still lacking in many areas. This means that unscrupulous employers can exploit loopholes. Secondly, it believes that there need to be much stronger linkages between the various employment rights enforcement agencies and greater resources and priority put on enforcement. In addition, there is still the major problem of unlicensed agencies in its sector; perhaps 25 to 40 per cent of gangmasters within its remit are at present unlicensed.
However, the setting up of the GLA has shown that in areas where abuses were once very prevalent, they have now been significantly reduced and curtailed. The implication of this is clear. Where there are abuses of vulnerable migrant workers in other areas, an effective means of stopping them exists. There are abuses in other areas of employment, particularly in the construction, hospitality and care sectors. Unscrupulous gangmasters, thwarted in their original areas of employment, have shifted their focus.
There is also the phenomenon of what have been labelled phoenix companies, whose licences have been withheld but which quickly emerge under another name to employ workers who are vulnerable. Many of those workers will be made to work for long hours on less than the minimum wage in unsatisfactory conditions, perhaps with exorbitant deductions for accommodation or transport.
There are many such examples. I shall briefly cite two, one of which is from the construction industry. “I was working 10 to 12 hours a day, seven days a week, as an apprentice plumber. I was being paid about £1.84 an hour. My employer said this was normal and I should be grateful. Then he attacked me because I asked for a copy of my terms and conditions”. One agency charged a worker £250 for his clothes: a pair of trousers, two T-shirts and a sweatshirt. He called it his Versace gear.
When this issue has been raised before, both in this House and in the other place, the Government have said that the Employment Agency Standards Inspectorate has the responsibility for dealing with such abuses and is capable of doing so. I do not like to be critical, and I know that the EAS inspectorate is currently running a £1.25 million campaign to raise awareness of employment rights among vulnerable agency workers, but, to date, Oxfam and other researchers have found migrant workers to have little or no knowledge of either the EAS inspectorate or their employment rights. Indeed, not a single migrant worker was aware of the EAS inspectorate before the visit of a researcher. The EAS inspectorate is still poorly resourced, with only one inspector for every 700 agencies. There is little support among businesses for its work because of the lack of enforcement, and it has succeeded in recovering very little money for illegally withheld workers’ wages.
This is a technical field in which I have no competence, but I can report that those who do—relevant trade unions, Oxfam and others who have done the research—believe that the only effective remedy for the abuses in the construction, hospitality and care industries is to extend the remit of the GLA to cover them. The GLA has shown that it works effectively, it has the confidence of businesses and, as a bonus, it actually recovers significant amounts of VAT for the taxpayer.
As I say, there is significant exploitation in the construction industry. Estimates of the numbers of construction workers with unclear employment status vary from 200,000 to 1 million. I shall cite an example of the kind of abuse that has been uncovered. “I’ve done jobs in all parts of the country: Leicester, Leeds, Manchester. You’re taken in the back of a van, and sometimes I don't even know where I've been when I get back. The vans are overcrowded, unsafe, uncomfortable. The gangmaster phones you and says ‘Come to a certain place, a certain road junction at 5 am’. So you go and wait. Sometimes you work for a week, including Saturday and Sunday, and might get just £50. You don't get a wage slip; it’s cash in hand. The transport to and from the jobs often eats up most of the money. Often you sleep on the site. The gangmasters have a way of hooking you in. You work for a week and they pay you, but next week they won't pay you. They ask you to come back next week and they pay you for this, but they still owe you one or two weeks’ wages so you can't really leave them”. There is also, of course, a great lack of health and safety among such vulnerable workers.
This kind of abuse is no less prevalent in the hospitality sector. Many hotels no longer employ people directly but prefer to go through an agency. One union organiser noted that the hotels must be aware of the exploitation because, “It’s happening so frequently right under their noses in almost every hotel”. One cleaner reports, “I’m cleaning rooms in a small hotel with 20 rooms. I got the job through an agency when I was still in Spain. The hotel pays me £25 for eight hours’ work. They pay me cash in hand, with no wage slip. I know they should pay me the minimum wage, but what can I do? The agency won't defend me or help me with this”. She is charged exorbitant prices for accommodation in a very crowded, unsafe house, and says, “It’s a big agency on the internet supplying people to work in hotels all over London”.
More research is needed in the care sector, but even there the research that has been done shows significant levels of abuse. We have to remember that we are an ageing population. In 2007, 28 per cent of those recruited to work in this sector were migrant workers, and it is clear that already there is some evidence of abuse.
In 2008, the Home Affairs Select Committee noted that outside the GLA sectors, enforcement is at best patchy and at worst non-existent. The GLA, whatever improvements are still needed, has shown that it can make a big impact. Just a couple of days ago I talked to someone whose company employs hundreds of migrant workers. He told me that the existence of the GLA had in fact totally transformed his relationship with migrant workers and he had confidence in the authority. There is a clear case for extending its remit to include the construction, hospitality and care sectors. I very much look forward to hearing what the Government have to say and to learning something from the other speakers in tonight’s debate.
My Lords, I thank the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries of Pentregarth, for securing this debate and introducing it with the kind of conviction and commitment that we have come to expect of him. Since those days in the 1980s when there was a lot of privatisation and liberalisation, much work has been done by successive Governments to protect employees, but sadly not in relation to the growing number of vulnerable workers. They have fewer rights, and even those they have are not fully enforced.
Vulnerable migrant workers are subject to exploitation at various levels. Illegal deductions are made from their wages, they are given false assurances about the nature of their jobs before they come to this country, many do not enjoy sick or holiday pay, and sometimes they are falsely classified as self-employed so that the normal regulations do not apply. In some cases, particularly in the hospitality industry, piece-rates are paid with the result that almost 18 per cent of migrant workers in this sector are paid below the minimum wage. All these are disturbing facts, but unfortunately migrant workers are not in a position to complain or to secure redress. That is because they do not know their rights, their language skills are limited, there is anxiety among both legal and illegal migrant workers over their immigration status, and they do not have the financial resources to prosecute those involved in exploitative practices. A great deal therefore needs to be done.
Happily, the Gangmasters Licensing Authority has been doing interesting work in this area, but it has its limits. In the next few minutes, I want to suggest six or seven different ways in which the work of the GLA could be improved. First, it is striking that between 25 and 40 per cent of gangmasters are not licensed, so something needs to be done to make sure that they are properly examined and licensed, and that unlicensed gangmasters are not allowed to operate. Secondly, the GLA shares information with the UK Border Agency. As a result, the information it obtains has to do with how migrant workers have come to this country. Naturally, these workers are fearful of how the information will be used and are not in a position to trust the GLA. It is therefore important that the authority’s task should have nothing to do with the immigration status of these workers.
Thirdly, the GLA needs greater resources than it has at present to conduct better in-depth assessments of gangmasters, collect intelligence on the worst forms of exploitation, and make more frequent unannounced visits. Fourthly, it should have the power to impose heavier penalties than it does at the moment. I gather that the GLA has already made several proposals in this direction and I hope very much that the Government will look upon them favourably. Fifthly, as the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, rightly pointed out, the remit of the GLA needs to extend into areas which at present are not covered. I have in mind the care, construction and hospitality sectors, especially construction and hospitality where many of these exploitative practices tend to occur. Sixthly, the trade unions should be more actively involved in inspecting workplaces, particularly those where vulnerable migrant workers are not in a position to complain and GLA inspections are not as probing as they could be. It is therefore important that trade unions should inspect workplaces and report cases of abuse.
Finally, we need to depend not only on the GLA—useful and important as it is—but to ensure that it is able to establish strong links with trade unions, voluntary organisations and migrant community organisations. All these organisations need to work together and co-ordinate their strategies in order to raise awareness of the rights that the migrant workers have and the abuses to which they are subject.
My Lords, I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Sheikh, is not in his place because he led a very interesting debate on this subject in which several of us spoke. My noble friend has made a strong case for improving the law. It is not easy to define vulnerability or the rights of vulnerable citizens, but when it comes to vulnerable migrants we must try harder.
During the passage of immigration legislation I have been primarily concerned with the rights of asylum seekers and, generally, I congratulate the Government on their migration policy. I was disappointed during the BBC’s “Question Time” that the three main political parties did not stand up to the BNP representative and proclaim the success of migration. We need to claim not only that numbers are coming down or that historically this country has a good reputation, but that by accepting skilled migrants today we are enriching our society and supporting our economy. We need to hear this message more often from the Government.
If there is any increase in support for the BNP—which I doubt because the programme will have put a lot of people off—then it does not help the Government to compete with the policies of the BNP and water down their stand against racism and in favour of migration. As a former member of the Independent Asylum Commission, I am fully persuaded of the case for certain categories of migrants from outside the EU to be allowed into the country with temporary work permits. I am thinking especially of skilled Zimbabweans, some of whom have sought asylum here. But they are not really asylum seekers; they are waiting patiently for a genuine political reform and economic stability in their country. Has the Minister detected any change in heart towards these people?
It seems that the backlog of so-called “illegal” immigrants and asylum seekers has defeated the Government. I have a lot of sympathy with the Strangers into Citizens campaign for an amnesty which would allow some of the more vulnerable irregular migrant workers to seek jobs legally and pay taxes like other citizens.
Tomorrow we continue the Report stage of the Coroners and Justice Bill and my noble friend Lady Young has again tabled her amendment proposing a new offence of forced labour or servitude. The use of the term “servitude” is not exaggerated; there are hundreds of victims of forced labour in this country, including domestic workers, some of whom are literally imprisoned in private houses. My noble friend has mentioned unscrupulous employers so I shall concentrate on the domestic group.
Much of what I say is guided by a recent meeting that my noble friend Lady Young and I attended with Patience, a migrant domestic worker originally recruited in Nigeria for a domestic position in London. She worked long hours, was given no day off and was never given the £50 a week originally promised. Her employer told her, “Your money is safe with me”. When she made a mistake she was pinched and slapped, and she was not allowed to leave the house even to buy a phone card to make a call home. She told us that her employer “beat me until I cried, so loud that a neighbour even knocked on the door”. However, hers is a success story because eventually she was able to make contact with Kalayaan, a respected NGO which helps domestic workers, and her employer was taken to the tribunal and eventually charged with assault and theft.
The Minister, more than any of us because of his long experience in this field, will be able to quote the International Labour Organisation conventions ILO 25 on forced labour and ILO 105 on the abolition of forced labour. ILO 25 states:
“The illegal exaction of forced or compulsory labour shall be punishable as a penal offence, and it shall be an obligation on any Member ratifying this Convention to ensure that the penalties imposed by law are really adequate and are strictly enforced”.
The Minister will know that the noble Lord, Lord Bach, wrote a letter to my noble friend on 13 October in which he tacitly recognised that the law needed to be changed but said that there was no compelling reason to change it. I accept that a new offence may be difficult to prove, but I also know that the current offences are proving to be inadequate. The Government have made great advances, such as the 2003 Act on trafficking and the gangmasters Act, which has also been mentioned, but I was surprised to read in the letter that there was no evidence that people are currently escaping justice, when case after case is being quoted by lawyers and non-governmental organisations. I was concerned to read that the Government apparently need to make a new assessment of the scale of the problem. We are always hearing Ministers retreat behind reviews and consultations when there are already specialised organisations with the evidence required.
I am impressed by the briefing provided by the ecumenical council because it displays a whole range of measures and opportunities that the Government could take up—for example, as the noble Lord, Lord Parekh, has mentioned, strengthening and extending the powers of the GLA. It must be sensible to ensure that the authority covers construction workers and other sectors but also to release it from its duty in immigration control, which is holding up a lot of its other work. The Migrants’ Rights Network has been lucid on this subject. Personally, I am not certain that the GLA would be able to handle domestic workers directly, but I know its work would be encouraged by my noble friend’s amendment.
The noble Lord, Lord Bach, is not convinced that the European convention requires the Government to enact a separate and specific offence, but Article 4 imposes on public authorities in the UK an obligation to protect people from slavery, servitude or forced or compulsory labour. I hope therefore that the Minister can say that the Government will think again before tomorrow evening when we return to this issue.
My Lords, I too am grateful to the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, for highlighting the plight of those in vulnerable employment in our country. Like the noble Earl, I am grateful for the work of the Migrants’ Rights Network in arguing for the need for the clear protection of workers’ rights at a time when there is increasing pressure to ensure that the immigration status of migrants is checked and checked again.
One of the results of making UK employers responsible for the immigration status of their employees has too often been that such workers have not been able to campaign freely for better conditions, or even for decent wages. The worker registration scheme is long-winded and taxing, and people come to fear that somewhere there may be an error in their documentation that could lead to their being thrown out of work altogether.
In seeking to involve migrant workers in the life of the local community, one of the most effective areas of integration is that of Integration Lincolnshire, set up in order to affirm the rights of migrant workers in that county and to ensure that they are seen as a group that has come and contributed greatly to the life of that community. I hope that the way in which people who come to this country contribute to its life and common aims and values will again be stressed.
However, rural workers in Lincolnshire lose their jobs simply because of the complexity and inefficiency of the system. Integration Lincolnshire has been concerned with people found camping by the River Witham in Boston, unable either to find work or to return home. Documents become lost in the system, and that complexity damages us all.
Like the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, and the noble Lord, Lord Parekh, I welcome the work of the Gangmasters Licensing Authority. However, even there, as so often in these areas, there can be unintended consequences. One of them is that gangmasters much less frequently have a policy of providing housing for those who come as vulnerable workers because that housing will be audited. I suggest not that the gangmasters licensing requirements be altered so that housing is not audited, but that there needs to be careful examination to ensure that family members not directly involved as gangmasters do not set up to provide housing of a much lower standard than the audit requires.
I stress the pressure that is on those who have protection needs. The time limitations make it increasingly difficult for such people to find stable, well paid work, so they quite unnecessarily become vulnerable in their work. One of the unintended consequences of the earned citizenship proposals is that the period of uncertainty is extended yet again, meaning that migrants with protection needs will find themselves in low-paid and temporary employment. They are not able to guarantee long-term commitment to employers or to higher education courses. The result is that community cohesion becomes less easy to achieve, because migrant workers with protection needs appear not to be willing to work. They are then viewed as lazy and as uncomfortable neighbours at exactly the point when they should be able to contribute to our wider society.
We are placing ever greater burdens on those who are keen to contribute to and want to repay our society through paid employment. I think of those in Leeds whom I meet who are trained in their own countries and who cannot access employment here—doctors, teachers, social workers—for whom the downward spiral begins again. Their very frustration leads to mental health problems and they find themselves either dependent on benefits or in secret, low-paid, vulnerable jobs with no security and without the protection which we rightly regard as vital to workers’ well-being.
I continue to believe that permission to work for asylum seekers awaiting a decision would be the most valuable key to community cohesion that the Government could introduce. I am haunted by thoughts of those whom I know who cannot legally work and whose support has recently been cut. Such permission would protect them from unscrupulous employers and dangerous working conditions. At present, people often find work of a sort and become extremely vulnerable in it. It would benefit the economy and communities to allow them to seek proper work, and it would significantly relieve the dangers to which so many noble Lords are pointing in this welcome debate.
My Lords, as ever the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, has given us the opportunity to debate something both topical and of human interest. I agree with the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, that one way in which to protect migrant workers’ rights is to encourage a culture of acceptance. We should be clear about the benefits that migrant workers create—the benefits to their country by virtue of the money that they send back, the immigrants who return home with newly acquired skills and the training and larger horizons that they acquire here, and the benefits to the host country by virtue of the economic contribution that they make and the social and cultural benefits of diversity. I agree that we are too small a country to afford an open-door policy but, equally, if immigrants stopped coming, we would become a much poorer nation and a less interesting place.
What are the facts? From 1995 to 2005, the standard of living in this country rose considerably, as did immigration. Some 55,000 foreign workers were granted the right to settle here in 1995. Ten years later, the number had risen to 179,000. Since 2004, an equally large number have come from the European Union member states.
Migration is often a search for greater opportunity. Nowadays many migrants are women, often leaving traditional societies to seek greater opportunities for themselves, as well as work. It is a mark of our success that they choose to come here. They get the protection mentioned by the noble and right reverend Lord.
My noble friend Lord Parekh mentioned illegal migrant workers. Of course, the situation is made more complicated by illegal immigration. Unscrupulous people exploit them and can do harm to migrants who are here illegally. But it is the exploiters—often their employers and the people traffickers—who do much of the harm. It is they who must be brought before the courts, as the Government are absolutely right to emphasise.
At the same time, I should like the Government to emphasise more the advantages of migration, particularly the freedom of movement within the European Union. Membership of the European Union gives us three basic freedoms: the movement of goods, of capital and of people. It is the freedom of people and migration within the European Union that European citizens value most. Ask your friends, especially those who are retired; ask your children and your grandchildren. What they value most is the right to study, live, work, marry and travel freely in the European Union. That freedom is valued throughout the European Union and it is a very important part of the migration equation. We should be hearing a lot more about it.
It is unimaginable that we would go back to the past. The genuine diversity, particularly in our cities, and the economic vitality brought about by immigration have become part of our way of life. The noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, is concerned about immigrant workers’ rights and gangmasters, as am I—not only from the point of view of the workers’ human and employee rights but because we need to continue to benefit from the economic, social and cultural contributions made by the immigrants who come here and from our fellow citizens who choose to migrate elsewhere.
Somebody once said that success is getting what you want and happiness is getting what you need. Let us have laws and regulations that make migrants happy and a culture that makes them successful.
My Lords, I am sure that I echo the sentiment around the House when I thank the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries of Pentregarth, for raising this important and rather saddening issue of public policy. We live in a society where immigrants are broadly unpopular. I speak as the granddaughter of four immigrants to this country: two refugees and two who were what might have been called—although they would have been surprised— migrant workers. I am also the daughter of a refugee mother from Nazi Germany. I have some family connection with these issues.
Like the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, and the noble Lord, Lord Haskel, I believe that skilled migrants can bring economic and other gain to this country—great cultural richness. Like the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Ripon and Leeds, I believe that allowing asylum seekers to work legally would do much for community cohesion and, indeed, for their own happiness. However, at the moment there is a sense out there among the public that people are being smuggled into this country to work either as forced labourers, in forced prostitution, for example, or simply to earn far more money than they would earn at home. You have a picture of crime, exploitation, fear and public suspicion.
That was, I fear, tragically true of the public response to the Chinese cockle pickers who were drowned on Morecambe Sands in 2004. The public felt sorry for the people but not at all sure about the practices of gangmasters. One can understand that. To set the story in its context—and this is what most of the public think when they hear about migrant workers, if they do not simply feel a deep unease—the gangmaster concerned was himself Chinese, he recruited Chinese cocklers, he provided the equipment and he apparently shared the profits. He was accused and found guilty of gross negligence, which led to the cocklers drowning, but he, along with his girlfriend, also helped people to breach immigration law. He had first got into cockling about a year earlier in Barrow-in-Furness and he was recruited into organising a cockling group by someone who offered to buy the cockles from him.
Here is the story. In order to extend his visa to stay in the country, he had registered at a London college, which offered English language courses, but he said that he never actually attended lessons. In his court appearance, he said that he had been instructed by the man running the college, Mr Chan, to familiarise himself with the buildings in case he was investigated by the immigration authorities. He said:
“I was told if the Home Office investigates that college, at least I know where is the college”.
Before that, he had made a poor living—he was himself exploited—in Merseyside washing up in Chinese restaurants. So here we have it—gangmasters, false college courses, tricking the immigration authorities and, of course, the deaths of the Chinese workers who were drowned when the tide came in. Those Chinese received considerable public sympathy, but their gangmaster and others like him did not.
We want the cheap food, yet cockling, fruit picking and other supplies to the food industry all too often come from exploited workers. ECCR’s research into nine large British food companies, ranging from Northern Foods to Morrisons, suggested that, while all take some responsibility for what goes on lower down the food chain, by no means all do anything to ensure migrant workers’ welfare. Nor do any of them incentivise the suppliers of food who use migrant workers to improve the conditions of those people. In the survey, Northern Foods, Sainsbury’s and Tesco came out way ahead, but even they—and there was some impressive practice—did not do huge amounts to help. Adding to that what we know about fake colleges and fake courses— that has been somewhat tightened up—and you have a recipe for keen exploitation of workers by others, people who are often migrants with few rights, little English, few friends and little knowledge of our system. That is why this issue is one that the Government have to take on sympathetically rather than simply arguing for firm action. Many of these people have been in this country and treated appallingly for many years.
These days, employers are increasingly involved in immigration enforcement issues. They are expected to check papers and, since the Immigration, Asylum and Nationality Act 2006, brought in by this Government, they find themselves subject to recorded increases in raids on workplaces and employer fines, especially since the new civil penalty regime for immigration check failures came into force last year. Because of all that, many employers are erring on the side of caution, as the Migrants’ Rights Network has reported, because they are so worried about getting it wrong and because the guidance—some 80 pages long—is rather complicated. Interviews for the Migrants’ Rights Network’s Papers Please report show that this may well mean that employers dismiss, or decline to engage, migrant workers who cannot provide clear and unambiguous evidence of a regular immigration status. This particularly affects refugees, migrants varying their leave and A2 migrants—Romanians and Bulgarians—whose need for documentation emerged as unclear while the interviews were being conducted.
The worst evidence comes from the cleaning and hospitality sectors, where vulnerable undocumented migrants often work in unsuitable and dangerous conditions, as many noble Lords have said. The report documented incidents that include employers forcing workers who could not produce adequate documentation to resign. They called in the UK Border Agency to ambush workers in the workplace and dismissed workers, withholding back pay.
All the emphasis on immigration enforcement in the workplace is clearly having a negative effect on vulnerable migrant workers’ capacity to campaign for better treatment and conditions. Papers Please suggested that immigration checks had been used by employers to disrupt collective action under the ongoing living-wage campaigns carried out by contract cleaners in various workplaces in London. It was alleged that this had been a factor in the raid on SOAS in June, when eight migrant workers were arrested and seven removed from the country as a result of the raid.
The Gangmasters Licensing Authority also requires employers to carry out a check, which may inhibit the GLA’s own ability to protect the rights and interests of those vulnerable and undocumented workers. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Ripon and Leeds has made it clear that we ought to think differently about this.
What needs to happen now? First, the Home Office needs to inform and educate employers about how to remain within the law on immigration without resorting to discriminatory practices, which is what we are seeing. The present information materials are far too geared towards fostering fear and mistrust of migrant workers and not enough towards the race equality implications of the regulations.
Secondly, the present reliance on holding an appropriate immigration status to access any employment rights enables vulnerable migrant workers to be exploited at will. This is not so very different from how, in my own Jewish community, some factory owners used to exploit the newcomers just off the boats in the sweatshops, as they were called, in the East End of London in the 1880s and 1890s. It must be possible for various employment standards agencies, such as the Fair Employment Enforcement Board, the national minimum wage inspectorate and the Gangmasters Licensing Authority, to ensure that employment rights are protected, irrespective of immigration status. Can the Government assure the House that they will look at ways of ensuring that that happens? In particular, will they consider removing the GLA’s present concern with the immigration status of workers in favour of a real and deep concern with the welfare of vulnerable people, as the noble Lord, Lord Parekh, has said?
Thirdly, can the Government ensure that the GLA’s remit is extended, as many, including Oxfam, Unite and various other unions, have suggested, at a minimum to the construction, hospitality and social care sectors, where abuse and exploitation are the norm? I have seen it with my own eyes in care homes, where migrant workers—now some 28 per cent of the workforce—who speak little English and work appalling hours for below the minimum wage are dispirited and living in poor conditions. They are then expected, by us, to care for our nearest and dearest.
There is one further point. Some organisations, notably the ECCR and Strangers into Citizens, are calling for one-off regularisation of long-term irregular migrant workers in the UK. Belgium is doing just this as a one-off action, running from mid-September this year to December. It is expected to bring thousands of undocumented migrants back within the scope of the protection of the law. Ireland, where I live for part of the year, has recognised the need to do the same. The Irish Minister for Justice, Dermot Ahern, announced on 15 September that bridging visas giving temporary legal residence for four months will be available for people who have become undocumented through no fault of their own.
Will the Minister assure the House that the UK Government will look at the moves being made in Belgium and Ireland and see whether we could do something similar? Will he also assure the House that he will take seriously the real and deep concern of us all that asking the GLA to consider the immigration status of employees is militating against the most vulnerable of workers, who are caught in a net not of their own making and are often very frightened?
My Lords, I join other noble Lords in thanking the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries of Pentregarth, for securing this important debate.
The subject of vulnerable migrant workers’ rights is attracting increasing attention. This is not just because of some of the well-publicised tragedies, such as the deaths of 23 cockle pickers in Morecambe Bay, which the noble Baroness, Lady Neuberger, mentioned. As she rightly said, opinion was mixed on that subject as people felt very sorry for the cockle pickers but were not at all sure that they should have been here. However, she also rightly said that this country benefits immensely from migration of all kinds.
I detect that we are talking about at least three sets of people: the transient workers; those who are here on a much longer term basis, who are basically settlers but are also subject to exploitation, partly as a result of having poor skills in relation to being able to protect themselves and their rights; and a third group, which can comprise some of the other two, most particularly the first, who have become involved in a web of illegal activity in that they carry out illegal activity but are also exploited. We should all be concerned about the growth in organised crime committed on our soil.
The point was well made, I believe by the noble Lord, Lord Parekh, that people who come to this country are often given totally misleading information about what they are likely to encounter and what their legitimate expectations should be. When they get to this country, they discover that the situation is extraordinarily different. Many of these people are not in a position to protect their rights as they have poor language skills, very little knowledge, and there is nobody to help them. As has been said on these Benches, we need to consider the whole question of helping people to acquire English language skills, which makes them more effective workers and helps them to protect themselves. They become more resilient citizens sooner and that must be in the general interest.
The scale of the challenge is significant. While net immigration into the UK last year was 44 per cent lower than in the previous year, the number of people who came in—more than 118,000—is still far from insignificant. It is a mistake to think that only illegal immigration, which I shall come to in a moment, results in the exploitation of migrants. The UK’s threat assessment for serious and organised crime says:
“Legal migrants are also vulnerable to various forms of exploitation, especially those from the new European Union … member states as they represent a large proportion of economic migrants and can work legally without a visa, therefore not requiring facilitation or false documentation”.
Paradoxically, this makes them more rather than less vulnerable to exploitative employers because they are easy to pick up. You do not have to do a great deal about covering your tracks; you can take them in because they are here legally. The Vulnerable Worker Enforcement Forum has found that poor language skills—this makes workers vulnerable even though they may be skilled—and a lack of awareness of their rights are key factors in the vulnerability of migrant workers. It is very important that we should not just care for these people but help them to help themselves. I would be grateful if the Minister could tell us how the Government are trying to raise awareness of workers’ rights in EU states before people come to the UK.
Many noble Lords have noted that there are also problems with organised immigration crime. A particularly vivid picture of that was painted by the noble Baroness, Lady Neuberger. People-smuggling and human trafficking are particularly odious forms of organised crime as they deal in human lives. People are treated like commodities, as if they were inanimate property. Exploitation is characteristic of both the immigration process and the subsequent treatment. Human trafficking is defined by the intention to exploit illegal immigrants once they are here. They do not bring these people in and then dump them; they bring them in to subsequently exploit what they can get out of them. Even when these individuals are willing participants in their own smuggling, the UK’s threat assessment notes that they can,
“become victims of trafficking during their journey or find themselves vulnerable to exploitation on arrival at their destination”.
We know this, and we need to try to do something about it.
The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Ripon and Leeds said two interesting things. First, he talked about people without skills, but secondly also in this category are people who are not necessarily being directly exploited by organised criminals, but who have skills and are not able to use them. They come here on a different basis and they find that there are barriers, such as doctors whom we cannot employ. They lose and we lose. Personal unhappiness, misery and decline can result. It seems to me that there is a lot that we could do in individual instances as well as in general policy to ease some of these difficulties.
The think tank CentreForum has said that there are an estimated 500,000 illegal immigrants in Britain, who are largely working in the underground economy. There are suggestions of amnesty for these individuals, which is a difficult issue. There are those who consider that it sends out the wrong message to give amnesty to such people, and others think that it is a humane way of dealing with the existing situation. I would be interested in the Minister’s comments.
I shall come to the question of those who are engaged in exploiting people. The UK is beginning to look like a rather attractive place to people who are involved in immigration crime. I will give some examples. Of the 19 people who were convicted of trafficking for sexual exploitation in 2008, four received suspended sentences. In that year, there were only four convictions for trafficking for the purpose of forced labour. There is a question mark over those convictions. The average sentence for human trafficking is just 4.69 years. The final figure to note is that of the 3,200 employers of illegal immigrants who were arrested in 2008, only 14 were successfully prosecuted. Do we not all think that part of the key to bringing down the levels of exploitation is to go after those who are really engaged in that exploitation? Some are themselves victims, but there are a significant number who are not victims and who are knowingly exploiting people. They are making money out of it and they do not care about the effects of their actions.
One of the keys to enforcement must be a more rigorous use of investigation and the judicial process. It is all very well laying a burden, as it is right to, on employers to make sure that their employees are there legally and have a right to work, but it is also important that the authorities follow up when they discover that illegality is going on. We need to use the courts. I would be grateful to the Minister if he could give us a commentary on the figures that I have just cited. The UK needs to get much more serious than it is at present about detecting and prosecuting organised immigration crime. The sentencing also ought to reflect our values about human life more closely than it seems to. It seems to me that in many respects the sentencing is not more severe than it is for property-related convictions.
There are some gaps in the law. Last year, the Government dropped measures to increase civil penalties for employers found using illegal labour that had appeared in the draft immigration and citizenship Bill. A number of noble Lords rightly mentioned that the Coroners and Justice Bill presents us with another opportunity to tackle these issues by creating a clear offence of holding a person in servitude or subjecting them to forced or compulsory labour. Matrix Chambers has confirmed how important this is, stating that,
“the existing criminal law offences pertaining to trafficking, the slave trade, false imprisonment and kidnapping are not apt to cover all offences of servitude”.
This point was mentioned by the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich. I would be grateful if the Minister will outline the Government’s position.
Discussion of the sex sector leads me to my last point. A number of noble Lords have talked about extending the remit of the Gangmasters Licensing Authority. One noble Lord rightly mentioned that the authority had been effective in reducing the level of exploitation in the sectors that it covered. Proposals have been made to extend the authority’s remit. We understand the motivation for this and are sympathetic to it. However, we must be careful, particularly in a recession, that we do not drive up costs in sectors such as hospitality, with its implications for waiters’ wages, and thereby drive more people underground to earn less. We must be careful how we do it, because costs are an issue.
Overall, we must seek a better policy balance between enforcing the law and treating individuals who are victims of these rapacious activities with sympathy and understanding. Will the Minister say how the Government will improve the enforcement of legislation in this area? There are other aspects to the problem, particularly ensuring that those who consciously, willingly and deliberately engage in exploitation of humans and are part of people-trafficking rings should suffer the penalties of the law. They are a big pull factor for illegal migration. If they are dealt with, we will be able to deal more readily with other policies that flow from their actions.
My Lords, I join in congratulating the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries of Pentregarth, on the timeliness of the debate. Protection of vulnerable workers is something that the Government are committed to. We must protect all vulnerable workers, including vulnerable migrant workers.
It might be useful to start with our definition. A vulnerable worker is defined by the Government as someone working in an environment where the risk of being denied employment rights is high, and who does not have the capacity to protect themselves from that abuse. Both these factors must be present. It could be someone who has a poor knowledge of their rights, someone who is not fluent in English or someone who is dependent on their employer for accommodation. If that worker’s employer exploits this weakness and the person has nowhere to go for help, they are vulnerable. If there is no human resources department to go to or union to talk to, they will be a vulnerable worker. The question for the Government is how best to protect vulnerable workers.
In the fascinating debate that we have had, a number of proposals have been made, which I will come to. However, if noble Lords will forgive me, I will avoid trespassing on matters that we will debate in the Coroners and Justice Bill in the next 24 hours—I would not be thanked by anyone for going down that road.
The Government are saying that there should be no hiding place for employers who exploit vulnerable workers and who are not prepared to obey the law. Migrant workers with an entitlement to work in the UK have rights like any other workers. We have launched a major programme to support vulnerable workers following the report of the business department’s Vulnerable Worker Enforcement Forum, published last year. The programme is being implemented to raise vulnerable worker awareness of basic employment rights, as was mentioned by one noble Lord, and to ensure that those rights are enforced effectively.
The first thing that we have done is to streamline access to the enforcement bodies, and I am delighted to see my noble friend Lord Young sitting in his place. In September he launched a new, free, single enforcement helpline known as the Pay and Work Rights Helpline. In case Hansard is read more widely than we imagine, I should say that the number is 0800 917 2368. This replaced five separate helplines, and the new line enables workers to obtain information and advice, and report abuses, all via one number. It covers the national and agricultural minimum wages, working time infringements and potential abuses of employment agency and gangmaster regulations—something that we have heard quite a lot about in this debate. As proof that some of the anecdotal evidence put forward tonight is supported by others, I am pleased to say that it is effective, as it receives 600 calls a day. On the other hand, I am not so pleased, as that shows that there is a real problem.
I was also pleased that when the helpline was launched it secured strong backing from organisations that do a lot of work with vulnerable people—Citizens Advice, the Trades Union Congress and others—which saw it as a very valuable new tool in seeking to protect vulnerable workers. It makes it easier for workers to report abuses and, of course, for the Government to respond.
An understanding of English is something that we wish to see. Now, under the five-tier system, people coming to Britain are expected to have basic English but that is not the case with many vulnerable migrant workers. Translation facilities in more than 100 languages are available for all who need them so that migrant workers can report abuses and we can take them on board and seek to resolve them. This measure is already showing success in raising awareness and is part of a major campaign, which extends beyond the telephone helpline that I mentioned. We are using national newspapers, as well as women’s magazines and radio advertising, and those are supplemented by face-to-face advertising in selected locations and specific ethnic-minority communities.
A strand of the campaign is aimed at new Europeans, by which I mean those who joined the EU some years ago—a point also mentioned by noble Lords—be they Lithuanians, Slovaks, Poles, Bulgarians, Latvians or what have you. Awareness-raising material has been produced in these languages and is being published in relevant media for those migrant communities. We are also focusing on spreading the message within communities by sending mail-outs to community leaders, business organisations and the relevant embassies.
We have also ensured that workers coming to the UK following the 2004 accession, and the subsequent accession of Bulgaria and Romania, have been provided with information concerning both their rights and their responsibilities. We have offered to work with the Governments of all the new member states—a valuable point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Jones—to ensure that people know before they go that this is not a country where the streets are paved with gold, and that people seeking to separate them from large amounts of hard-earned money in their own countries to be smuggled here are providing a totally false prospectus. To date, we have also produced leaflets in partnership with the Polish, Lithuanian, Romanian and Portuguese Governments aimed at ensuring that all potential migrants are aware of both their rights and their responsibilities before they leave their country. Indeed, we reinforce that on their arrival into the United Kingdom.
The noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Jones, asked what we are doing to toughen up enforcement of the existing laws. In particular, we want to see the enforcement of employment rights. We have strengthened the penalties for failing to comply with employment law in order to increase the deterrent effect. Provisions in the Employment Act 2008, which came into effect this April, introduced automatic penalties for non-compliance with the national minimum wage. These have already been used more than 80 times. In the first quarter of this financial year, HM Revenue and Customs, which enforces the minimum wage, identified over £2 million of arrears owed to more than 6,000 workers.
The Act also brought in changes making employment agency regulations indictable so they can be tried in a Crown Court, where tougher penalties are available. Perhaps that meets the concern that we need to move to tougher penalties and enforcement.
Significant effort has been put into the profile of the employment and enforcement agencies, particularly the Employment Agency Standards Inspectorate, which previously lacked visibility. We doubled the number of inspectors from 12 to 24. A major advertising campaign was launched which promoted awareness of agency-worker protections and the role of the EAS. It is carrying out intelligence-led blitzes and is having increasing success in returning money to workers who have had pay illegally withheld. Twice the amount has been recovered this year compared with the previous year.
Criticism was voiced by noble Lords about the need for more joined-up action and better and effective collaboration between the enforcement agencies. Action is being taken to address legal barriers which, in some cases, constrain the extent to which enforcement officers can share information with each other about potentially non-compliant employers. An amendment in last year’s Employment Act, which took effect in April, established an information gateway between the national minimum wage and employment agency inspectors. The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills is currently consulting on proposals for a legislative reform order to amend primary legislation to address the limited number of remaining barriers. We are already seeing better targeted and effective enforcement action with enforcement bodies increasingly acting as the eyes and ears for each other, and collaborating to make best use of the enforcement powers that are available.
It might be appropriate at this point to turn to the question raised by my noble friend Lord Parekh and the noble Baroness, Lady Neuberger, on the GLA interface with the UK Border Agency and exchange of information. The Government believe that the GLA needs to share information with the UK Border Agency on immigration status because it is likely that an immigration offence is being committed by the employer. Without that information, action would be difficult to take. There are new resource requirements for an extension of the GLA and in many other areas. The Government are putting new resources for compliance and enforcement from the migration impacts fund, which include around £3 million over two years to workplace enforcement bodies. The HM Revenue and Customs has a project establishing a dedicated team to respond to problems in hotspots where there is evidence that employers are using migrant labour to undercut legitimate employers by paying below the national minimum wage.
The HSE is undertaking projects to increase awareness of health and safety law among migrant groups, particularly in construction and agriculture. The GLA is taking on five enforcement officers to work in communities in Lincolnshire, Devon, Cornwall, Cambridge, London and the south-east to ensure that migrant workers’ employment rights are enforced. There is also a union modernisation fund commitment that supports the building industry unions in their work with vulnerable migrant workers. We have set out details of oversight, to ensure that those involved at all levels have part of the control of how we deal with the problem. A further employment enforcement board is chaired by the Employment Relations Minister in another place and brings together the enforcement bodies and the key external stakeholders, such as the CBI, TUC and Citizens Advice. It meets regularly to help drive the Government’s vulnerable worker programme and to encourage more joint working and collaboration between enforcement agencies.
The point was made several times about the extension of GLA licensing. There was broad support for that from a number of quarters. There was also considerable praise for the work of the GLA, which I would share. However, we have to understand that 25 per cent of gangmasters remain unlicensed and, ironically, in the industry that was the raison d’être for the creation of the GLA—the foreshore industry, as it came out of the tragedy of the cockle-pickers—90 per cent of gangmaster operations are still not licensed. A priority for the GLA is to move from registration to effective enforcement of the existing law, which means enforcement of the national minimum wage, employment agency status, work time, tax, health and safety, and all the other regulations that would apply irrespective of whether licensing is in place.
It would not be accurate to say—indeed, no one did—that employment sectors outside those covered by the GLA are not regulated. They are regulated by the Employment Agency Standards Inspectorate, part of the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills. They are also subject to inspections by HM Revenue and Customs, the HSE and other workplace bodies, irrespective of whether they are registered or not.
The EAS responds to all complaints and carries out targeted risk-based proactive inspections. It sees its approach of spot checks as the most intelligent way of dealing with the problems that exist. As regards taking the GLA model across all industries, the Government are not convinced that the licensing of gangmasters—for example, those operating in construction—would be a targeted, proportionate or effective way of tackling safety challenges in the construction sector. It would have only a minor effect on health and safety outcomes, as under construction health and safety legislation duty holders have a legal responsibility of their own irrespective of their employment status. Equal protection is provided to all. In particular, the principal or main contractor has responsibilities for ensuring the health and safety of all individuals who work on a construction site, irrespective of the formal employer. I am also told that it would have a limited impact because only about 3 per cent of construction workers are agency workers.
However, I want to reassure the House that the Government are keeping the issue in the construction sector under close review and are taking targeted steps to tackle the problem. These include joint consultation with HM Revenue and Customs on proposals for tackling false self-employment. The proposed tax changes will lead to a more appropriate treatment of workers and a culture of responsible employers applying employment rights. The HSE has recently recruited more than 20 new inspectors with construction industry backgrounds to support the work of existing inspectors.
There are many other points that I want to address but, recognising the limited time at my disposal, I will look to some that I have not covered so far. The major issue, which is difficult and has been around for some time, was raised by the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich—the question of an amnesty. There are those who favour it and those who believe that it is a one-off solution. Unfortunately there is a lot of evidence to suggest that the pull of an amnesty will only encourage more people to seek not only to be legal migrants but to be illegal migrants on the grounds that once you get in, at some stage you will be legalised. We know the difficulties that we already have at the borders and why we have a strong system of resisting entry to those who should not legally be allowed in. Therefore, the Government remain unconvinced that an amnesty provides a solution.
My noble friend Lord Haskel made a good point that is often lost in our discussions about the European Union. It is that we enjoy a two-way freedom. We hear that there is a danger of EU nationals coming here and perhaps threatening British jobs. I endorse the comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Jones, and others who said that this country owes a tremendous amount to migrants. I am the son of migrants, albeit from the Irish Republic, who claim to be part of Britain. I have to say that given my grandfather’s political sentiments, he would never have claimed that. However, my noble friend Lord Haskel made the point that we have a two-way street. Not only do 6 million people go on holiday to Europe every year, but more than 580,000 Brits work in Europe. British firms have some 47,000 British people working in all parts of Europe—in the new emerging countries and also in the older established EU countries. Therefore, when talking about migration, we often forget the advantages for workers in this country of being able to migrate to other parts of Europe.
An important point was made by the noble Baroness, Lady Neuberger—namely that there is a link between illegal migration, exploitation and crime. We saw it classically in the case of the cockle pickers, but it is not the only one.
Interestingly enough, in my previous incarnation as director of the International Labour Organisation in London, I had people saying to me, “Isn’t it disturbing”, when someone in Scotland who had exploited about 600 people was not put in prison for trafficking or for the exploitation. He went to prison for a considerable period—I think that it was eight years—but the point is that he was not charged with those offences for the simple reason that there were other offences for which he could be charged that would guarantee that he would spend a long time at Her Majesty's pleasure that were easier to prosecute than the charge of exploitation of workers.
That was to the chagrin of people who wanted to show that the law would protect workers. It had the effect of taking the person out of the exploitation and therefore releasing a lot of people from his evil grip, but there is the issue of crime. That is why we must continue to have both strong borders and a strong managed migration policy and, at the same time, recognise that people who come to this country are indeed equal in front of the law as legal migrants and have all the same rights, and ensure that those rights will be enforced as they would be for British citizens.
I know that I have missed a number of points. I will look very carefully at Hansard tomorrow and write to noble Lords on any of the points that I missed or, indeed, any points that would benefit from amplification.
House adjourned at 6.36 pm.