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Lord Avebury: Hear! Hear!

Viscount Goschen: Much to the annoyance of the noble Lord, Lord Avebury. However, I hope he will realise that I do so in order to explain fully to him that his fears are groundless. Consultation did take place and the Government have acted within the provisions of the 1991 Act. There is nothing to worry about. Privatisation has been of great benefit to the ports already privatised. I understand there was some original uncertainty. But the Ipswich Port Authority has agreed that privatisation going

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forward with this order is the best course. I hope that with that explanation the House will approve the order. I commend it to your Lordships.

7.56 p.m.

On Question, Whether the Motion shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 72; Not-Contents, 16.

Division No. 3

CONTENTS

Attlee, E.
Balfour, E.
Belhaven and Stenton, L.
Blaker, L.
Blatch, B.
Boardman, L.
Brabazon of Tara, L.
Bridgeman, V.
Broadbridge, L.
Brougham and Vaux, L.
Burnham, L.
Carnegy of Lour, B.
Carnock, L.
Chalker of Wallasey, B.
Chesham, L.
Clark of Kempston, L.
Courtown, E.
Cranborne, V. [Lord Privy Seal.]
Crickhowell, L.
Darcy (de Knayth), B.
Dean of Harptree, L.
Denton of Wakefield, B.
Elis-Thomas, L.
Flather, B.
Gardner of Parkes, B.
Goschen, V.
Greenway, L.
Hacking, L.
Harding of Petherton, L.
Hardwicke, E.
Henley, L.
Hesketh, L.
Hogg, B.
Howe, E.
Inglewood, L.
Kimball, L.
Kingsland, L.
Kintore, E.
Lane of Horsell, L.
Lawrence, L.
Leigh, L.
Lucas, L.
Lucas of Chilworth, L.
McColl of Dulwich, L.
McConnell, L.
Mackay of Ardbrecknish, L.
Marlesford, L.
Miller of Hendon, B.
Monk Bretton, L.
Mountevans, L.
Napier and Ettrick, L.
O'Cathain, B.
Pearson of Rannoch, L. [Teller.]
Rankeillour, L.
Rawlings, B.
Reay, L.
Rennell, L.
Renton, L.
Renwick, L.
Seccombe, B.
Shaw of Northstead, L.
Skelmersdale, L.
Strathclyde, L.
Teviot, L.
Trumpington, B. [Teller.]
Ullswater, V.
Wade of Chorlton, L.
Wakeham, L.
Westbury, L.
Wharton, B.
Wynford, L.
Young, B.

NOT-CONTENTS

Avebury, L. [Teller.]
Beaumont of Whitley, L.
Geraint, L.
Hamwee, B.
Harris of Greenwich, L.
McNair, L.
McNally, L.
Ogmore, L.
Rochester, L.
Russell, E.
Seear, B.
Thomas of Walliswood, B. [Teller.]
Thurso, V.
Wallace of Saltaire, L.
Williams of Crosby, B.
Winchilsea and Nottingham, E.

Resolved in the affirmative, and Motion agreed to accordingly.

24 Jun 1996 : Column 670

The Earl of Courtown: My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now adjourn during pleasure until 8.10 p.m.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

[The Sitting was suspended from 8.4 to 8.10 p.m.]

24 Jun 1996 : Column 671

Asylum and Immigration Bill

Consideration of amendments on Report resumed on Clause 8.

The Deputy Speaker (Lord Strabolgi): My Lords, Amendment No. 67 was pre-empted. Therefore, I call Amendment No. 68 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey.

Lord Hylton: My Lords, with respect to the Deputy Speaker, I must ask why it is not possible to call Amendment No. 67 at this point? I understood that Amendments Nos. 65 and 66 were pre-empted. Is that the case?

The Deputy Speaker: My Lords, that was my original belief. However, I have since been told that Amendment No. 67 is pre-empted because Amendment No. 64 covers line 30 in the clause, which I believe overtakes "line 29" as referred to in Amendment No. 67. That is my understanding of the matter, but if the noble Lord has something to say then I shall call the amendment.

Lord Hylton: My Lords, if that is the case, perhaps I may speak to Amendment No. 67 when Amendment No. 104 is called.

Lord Strabolgi: My Lords, if that is what the noble Lord wishes to do, it seems to me to be a good compromise.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey moved Amendment No. 68:


Page 6, line 31, at end insert--
("( ) Nothing in this section shall apply to an employer who employs fewer than 20 persons.").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, Amendment No. 68 is a serious attempt dramatically to reduce the burden of Clause 8 of the Bill while reducing its scope very much less. I am encouraged to press the amendment now because of renewed support from the Federation of Small Businesses which wrote to me as recently as last Friday to confirm its support for the amendment.

The House will recall that originally, when the White Paper appeared in October of last year, a great deal of concern was expressed by employers about the provision in Clause 8 which states that employers should be required to act in effect as immigration officers and satisfy themselves that they are not employing illegal immigrants. The Federation of Small Businesses, the TUC and the Institute of Directors wrote a joint letter to The Times on 30th October 1995 saying that immigration policing in the workplace is not the job of employers and that checking immigration status is not straightforward and not always indicated by possession of a national insurance number, passport or other such documents.

Following a meeting between employers' organisations and the Home Office, the Minister, Mr. Kirkhope, expressed the Government's preference for a light regulatory touch to be applied in the new

24 Jun 1996 : Column 672

legislation. It is certainly not a light regulatory touch in Clause 8; it is a new criminal offence applying to all employers regardless of the size of their organisations.

I need to give the House only two figures to emphasise how serious a burden that would be and how much it could be reduced by the provisions contained in the amendment. Indeed, 97 per cent. of employers in this country employ fewer than 20 employees. Therefore, the burden on 97 per cent. of all employers could be removed by agreement to the amendment. On the other hand, those 97 per cent. of employers employ only 35 per cent. of the workforce. Therefore, 65 per cent. of the workforce would still be covered by this very modest fall-back amendment, if it were carried, at the expense of removing the threat from 97 per cent. of employers. I suggest to the House that that is rather good value for money.

The problem for small employers--and I spent many years of my life as a small employer, though only in the early stages as an employer with fewer than 20 employees--is that they already have enormous difficulty with VAT, PAYE and all the regulations with which they must comply regarding the very simple business of employing any person--that is, even one person, let alone five, six, seven, 15 or 19 employees. They are simply not familiar with the documentation required, which would be called into question if the provisions of the clause were applied to small employers. National insurance numbers, medical cards, old National Health Service numbers, P45s, student cards and even signed P46s are not legal documents in the sense that Clause 8 would require.

Anyone who wishes deliberately to mislead or defraud an employer can easily do so; indeed, there is no difficulty about inventing numbers, handing in the wrong forms or signing incorrectly or fraudulently. I see the Minister shakes her head. I give way.

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, I am much obliged. If someone produces a fraudulent document, the offence is not that of the employer; the offence is that of the employee. If the employer has assured himself that a P45, a national insurance number, a birth certificate or a P46 certificate has been submitted and makes a record of that fact, he has availed himself of the defence in Clause 8. As I said, the offence is that of the employee who has submitted fraudulent documents.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I accept what the Minister has said about fraudulent employees. Of course, she is right to say that Clause 8 provides an exemption. I am grateful to the noble Baroness for her intervention.

However, even in that intervention, the Minister referred to the fact that an employer may assure himself by means of such documents. It is that question of self-assurance which raises the difficulty. The fundamental point about the amendment is that it is not the job of the employer to check immigration status if, for reasons that we shall deal with in more detail on later amendments, it will lead to increased race discrimination against minority members of the

24 Jun 1996 : Column 673

community. The Federation of Small Businesses believes that if the legislation is put on the statute book unamended it will be unworkable.

Indeed, the Federation of Small Businesses goes further than I would go in that respect. It says that the whole of Clause 8 should be deleted. I am asking for a rather simple and modest amendment to be accepted which would remove from the scope of Clause 8 those firms with fewer than 20 employees. I beg to move.

Baroness Williams of Crosby: My Lords, I apologise to the Minister and to the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, for entering the Chamber a few minutes late. I was detained by what appeared to be an urgent message. I support what the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, has said. One of the great worries that noble Lords have on Clause 8 is whether it may cause discrimination against legitimate, perfectly settled, non-white members of our community. One of the disturbing points that I believe the federation of small businesses made is that there is a real danger of discrimination arising in this area. That is the belief of the federation, not mine. It points out that an employer with 20 or fewer employees is unlikely to have a great deal of understanding of, or time to study, regulations that may be made, and that he will not know a great deal about the documents that are produced. In that situation such an employer may find it easier simply to say that anyone who looks as if he might conceivably be an illegal immigrant should be excluded at the first stage. I repeat that is not my view; it is the view of the federation of small businesses.

I hope that the Minister will consider carefully that submission, and how far we can simplify the regulations. She has already dealt with that point in previous discussions in Committee. I hope that she can make this exception given the special problems and pressures of small businesses.


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