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Lord Avebury: I should like to ask a question which arises out of something said by the noble Lord, Lord Renton, when he referred to the employer having reason to suspect that a person coming before him as an applicant for a job was an illegal entrant. The employer has no way of knowing whether the person presenting himself for a job is an immigrant or someone who is native to this country. The noble Baroness, Lady Gardner of Parkes, said earlier that she thought
I should point out that my noble friend sitting in front of me knows the person whom I have in mind; indeed, he is a mutual friend. If noble Lords met him and listened to him speaking they would certainly not be aware that he came from Melbourne. Therefore, if he presented himself to an employer, the latter would have to play safe and assume that he may be an immigrant and thus demand production of the relevant documents.
I am saying that the employer does not only have to make a prior judgment as to whether or not the person applying for a job may be an immigrant and therefore request sight of his national insurance number on his P.45. He will have to demand the P.45, or the equivalent document, from every single person whom he interviews. I should like the Minister to confirm that fact. I believe that that is an important burden upon employers and one which not all of them may realise. If there are only 10,000 illegal entrants, they may think that that represents a tiny fraction of potential employees and that they will easily be able to identify them by some para-psychological means. However, that situation only applies if, as we suspect, the employer takes into consideration the colour of the person's skin. We are not suggesting any one is racist in that connection. We are just saying that, on balance, if a person with a black skin comes before an employer to apply for a job, then it is more likely that he will be an immigrant than someone with a white skin, even though there are many immigrants with white skins who may not be so readily identifiable.
Therefore, to be on the safe side, the employer will have to check the documentation and record it in respect of every single person who enters his firm. Employers should be wise to that fact and not think that they will only have to deal with a tiny minority. I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Renton, put his finger on a point which has not really emerged during the course of our debates thus far.
Lord Renton: If I may say so, there is a simple answer for the noble Lord, Lord Avebury. There are all kinds of things which may cause the employer to wonder whether the person is a local resident, whatever the colour of his skin. I shall give Members of the Committee one example. Let us suppose that a man comes along seeking a job dressed obviously in Asian clothing, speaking very broken English and looking bewildered. The employer may ask him where he was last employed and the man has to say that he has never been employed before. The employer will then ask, "How long have you been here?" and the answer may well be, "Some weeks". That response may raise doubts in the employer's mind. I do not want to detain
Earl Russell: Does not the noble Lord, Lord Renton, realise that in everything except the time mentioned in that example the person he described might perfectly well have been born and bred in Bradford?
Baroness Blatch: Of course, that is absolutely true. That is why the securing of a document would actually make that fact obvious and would be a defence for the employer. In our guidance to employers we intend to suggest that, whatever their recruitment policy, they apply it right across all employees. It is also fair to say that about 90 per cent. of companies in this country--and that is a very high percentage--employ five or fewer employees. Indeed, it is only a very small percentage of companies that have 100 or fewer employees and even a smaller percentage, a tiny percentage, which have more than 100 employees.
Therefore, we can say that employers should apply the policy fairly. Further--and I shall not use my noble friend's example for the purpose of what I have to say--if an employer was simply applying the policy to someone with a black face, or someone with an accent or, indeed, someone whom he thought fell into the ethnic minority mould, then the Race Relations Act would apply. That would be a clear case of discrimination and would be caught by the race relations legislation; and quite rightly so. We believe that that should be fairly applied.
Of course, under this legislation it is open to an employer to carry out no checks, and not to avail himself of a defence. He can take the risk that someone may be picked up because he is so sure that his employment policies and recruitment policies are such that he does not have to do anything more. Many employers will have to do nothing more because what they do more than covers the requirements under this legislation. My own view is that if employers, simply as a routine measure, ask for national insurance numbers, P.45 numbers and some documentation that is specified, they have an absolute defence, with the exception of knowing that the people concerned were acting illegally in the first place. I think that Members of the Committee are seeing much more in this than there is. The amendment is neither desirable nor necessary.
Lord Dubs: I have listened with interest to the many interesting contributions on this amendment. Having listened to the arguments, I concede that two months may be too long a period. If the Minister had suggested that perhaps a month or two weeks would be an appropriate period, I would have accepted that that appeared to meet my main concern. I repeat that I accept that two months is too long a period. But having said that, the argument for some period of grace seems to me to be as strong as ever. I am not persuaded by the arguments I have heard. I shall develop that further. The Minister talked about unscrupulous employers. No one
I have discussed the Bill with small employers. They are concerned about how to tackle the detailed requirements they are asked to meet. Therefore it is not an idle statement to say that I am worried about the good employers who will find life much more difficult.
The Minister also referred to a situation where an employer may wish to employ a number of people, some of whom have the right documents but others of whom do not. Given what has been said this evening, and given the Government's policy, it is almost inevitable that an employer would say, "I shall choose to fill the vacancy, or vacancies, from among those people who have one of the documents." That makes sense, does it not? If it so happens that the people without documents are black and the people with the documents are white, there would be a basis for saying--
Baroness Blatch: If the noble Lord will allow me to say so, the distinguishing feature would not be whether they were black, white or green, but whether they had the right documentation or whether they did not. That is what would distinguish them. The fact that they may be Ukrainian, Afro-Caribbean or whatever would be an incidental factor. I have said that if employers discriminate on the grounds of colour, they would be caught by the Race Relations Act.
Lord Dubs: I had not finished the sentence that started with "If". I was going to say that if it happened, in the hypothetical example I am putting forward, that potential employees who are without documents are black, I do not suppose there would be a case for racial discrimination because the employer could defend himself from such an accusation by saying that he chose from among people who produced the relevant documents. That is, I think, almost self-evident. However, the problem is that by making it more difficult for employers, they will inevitably choose to employ those individuals whom it is easier to employ. Having looked with interest at the draft statutory instrument--that is to say, the specified documents as regards employment restrictions, which have been made generally available--I contend that it is more likely that black people will have difficulties in arriving with the relevant documents than will white people.
Lord Dubs: The Minister asks why that is so. I am about to explain that. They may have more difficulty because if, for example, they are asylum seekers and have been in this country for six months, after which they are normally allowed to take employment, the papers they need to obtain from the Home Office to
I shall give the Minister another example that does not concern a black person at all. It is perfectly possible for someone to have arrived from Ireland who would not need to have any of the documents we are discussing. Such a person would be in this country quite legitimately and would be entitled to work quite legitimately. However, he would not be able to produce the documentation we have been discussing because he simply would not have it.
I give the Minister a further example. Let us take the case of a school-leaver who is seeking a job and is willing to accept a fairly casual job in the catering industry, or in an industry of that sort. The school-leaver might have no documentation--at least, not the documentation specified in the schedule. The school-leaver might have a report (or some such document) from his or her school as evidence of education. That would not be evidence within the schedule. Therefore, such a school-leaver might have more difficulty.
This measure is called the Asylum and Immigration Bill. It would not be surprising if the effect of the provision were to make employers more reluctant to employ black people. If we give a short period of grace, I think that that would help matters along. We argue that it would make it easier for employers to do the right thing: to take someone on and to use, let us say, the two week period of grace to check the documentation and establish that the employer, in employing the person, was within the law.