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House of Lords

Tuesday, 16 June 2009.

2.30 pm

Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Bradford.

Migrant Workers: Employment Rights

Question

2.37 pm

Asked By Lord Harries of Pentregarth

    To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether, in the light of the report by the Ecumenical Council for Corporate Responsibility, Vulnerable Migrant Workers: The Responsibility of Business, the remit of the Gangmasters Licensing Authority will be extended.

The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord Davies of Oldham): My Lords, the extension of licensing was considered by the Vulnerable Worker Enforcement Forum, following which the Government concluded that the way forward was to prioritise effective enforcement of the existing law, not to introduce new regulation. They are doing this through a campaign to raise workers’ awareness of employment rights, the establishment of a single enforcement helpline and by strengthening the Employment Agency Standards Inspectorate which regulates agencies in sectors not covered by the Gangmasters Licensing Authority.

Lord Harries of Pentregarth: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply and for the steps which the Government have already taken. But I have a particular concern for those working in the domestic and cleaning industry, who are particularly vulnerable. If we take the European Union accession countries from 2004 and 2007, for example, something like 10 per cent work in waiting or catering and 9 per cent work as maids or cleaners. Does the Minister agree that there are particular vulnerabilities connected with these occupations which the GLA could usefully safeguard if its remit was extended to include them?

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, I have no doubt that the GLA could do useful work if its remit was extended, but the noble and right reverend Lord will recognise that the GLA has been in existence for only four years. It has a very important sector to cover—shellfish and food production. It enforces as strongly as it can the requirements in that difficult sector. There are others to which it might direct its efforts in due course, but the noble and right reverend Lord will appreciate that the Employment Agency Standards Inspectorate also has a role to play.

Lord Morris of Handsworth: My Lords, will the Minister reassure the House that where labour is supplied through gangmasters the minimum wage applies and is being paid? Will he also give an assurance that where a gangmaster loses the right to supply labour he or she does not reappear in another part of the country pursuing exactly the same activity?



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Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, I can certainly give a degree of reassurance to my noble friend about the work of the Gangmasters Licensing Authority. It very recently brought a prosecution about the failure of a gangmaster to pay minimum wages. I also recognise my noble friend’s additional point. I assure the House that the chief executive of the GLA is eager to ensure that it does its work thoroughly. We have every confidence that the GLA will enforce the law in the areas for which it is responsible.

Lord Burnett: My Lords, the Gangmasters Licensing Authority must first ensure the safety of workers and their freedom from exploitation. I am informed that more inspectors are needed to speed up the process of compliance. The authority also co-operates with HMRC to stanch the substantial loss of revenue through tax evasion and other tax frauds perpetrated by some gangmasters. How much tax has been recovered through the efforts of the Gangmasters Licensing Authority since its inception some four years ago?

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, I cannot give the noble Lord a direct answer to that question, because it is not the major issue for the GLA. The major issue for the GLA is, as the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, said, effective action and enforcement of the law, remembering, of course, that it was set up after the horror story of Morecambe Bay. The GLA is working with great effectiveness. Its demand for additional inspectors, which involves additional resources, is based on an increasing amount of work. However, I cannot give the noble Lord an answer on his detailed point about tax recovery.

The Lord Bishop of Bradford: My Lords, the church, not least in my region of Yorkshire and Humber, has played an essential part in supporting migrant workers, particularly those in rural areas, by providing social support, advice and information on rights, and access to healthcare. Will the GLA ensure that gangmasters and employers have a duty to make migrant workers aware of these services?

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, I am grateful to the right reverend Prelate and applaud the work to which he alluded. We do not rely only on gangmasters to inform their workers. We are concerned to use authorities to give workers the chance to exert their rights in circumstances where they might otherwise be grievously exploited. We are setting up a helpline at the end of the summer for migrant workers who have cause for complaint or anxiety, allowing them direct contact with a government representative who can take action on his or her behalf.

Lord Taylor of Holbeach: My Lords, I can confirm what the right reverend Prelate said. I have an interest in this matter as a grower and farmer. I use seasonal gang labour for flower cropping purposes. It is the responsibility above all of employers to make sure that people are employed on proper terms. However, the GLA appears to work well. How many successful prosecutions has it brought? Is the Minister satisfied that it is not performing a task which duplicates the

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inspection audits of multiple retailers and supermarkets, as well as of HMRC, which retains its own interest in this area?

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, HMRC certainly retains an interest in this area, as do several other government agencies. I can cite a number of recent successful prosecutions sufficient for the GLA to feel that it is able to make demands for additional resources based on the success to which the noble Lord alluded. We are pleased with developments since the GLA was established in the areas for which it has direct responsibility. We are conscious that there are other areas where migrant labour can be exploited and are paying attention to strategies that could be developed there. The noble Lord is right that part of this issue behoves employers also to respond intelligently, responsibly and constructively.

Lord Boston of Faversham: My Lords, is the Minister satisfied that the remit is sufficient to prevent, as far as is possible, another tragedy like Morecambe Bay? More generally, is not one problem that the immigrants, particularly those from east and central Europe, are having their expectations raised too high by gangmasters? Should that not be dealt with?

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, that may be the case, as it is obviously in the interests of gangmasters to raise those expectations. The noble Lord will also be aware of the Government’s position on immigration, which operates as some control over these factors. Expectations can be based on the assumption that the minimum wage will be paid because that is the law of the land, and the GLA, together with other agencies, is responsible for insisting on that.

Israel and Palestine

Question

2.46 pm

Asked By Viscount Waverley

    To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is their approach to the Middle East peace process should a two-state solution be unattainable.

Lord Brett: My Lords, we continue to consider that a two-state solution is the only realistic way to achieve sustainable peace in the Middle East. Our vision is of two democratic states—Israel and Palestine—living side by side in peace with secure and recognised boundaries. The Foreign Secretary reiterated this in his 21 May speech to the Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies. It is also a vision shared by a majority of Palestinians, Israelis and a number of members of the international community.

Viscount Waverley: My Lords, momentum must be maintained before further despair and greater poverty sets in with its inevitable consequences. Are the two states to be made up from the 1967 borders and not just in name and with no substance, or with the River Jordan as Israel’s border? Is not the West Bank already de facto an extension of Israel, with a divide and rule strategy through strict border controls, settlement policy

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and road layout networks, compounded by the inability of the Palestinians to either administer or deliver effectively?

Lord Brett: My Lords, the noble Viscount poses a number of questions. Certainly, the need for an early solution to this intractable problem is to be wished by all. The two-state solution that we envisage provides for a safe and secure Israel and a democratic and viable Palestinian state living in peace and prosperity with their neighbours. The reference to the de facto extension of Israel, I presume, is a reflection on the question of the settlements in the West Bank.

Events have moved on somewhat since the Question was put. We have had the remarkable speech of President Obama and the speech of Prime Minister Netanyahu only a couple of days ago. The Foreign Secretary, in responding to that, has welcomed the clarity from the Prime Minister of Israel that he sees the goal of an independent Palestinian state as an important part of the future of the Middle East. Fulfilment of all obligations includes a complete freeze on settlements as an obligation that needs to be applied to all parties in forming the road map.

Lord Janner of Braunstone: My Lords, the noble Lord is surely right that a two-state solution is the only hope. The national aspirations of both Israelis and Palestinians require a two-state solution as the only answer to the conflict. Does my noble friend agree that any proposal that disregards the right to self-determination, which he has referred to, of both peoples is doomed from the outset?

Lord Brett: My Lords, as I have said, it is a broadly international belief that the only lasting peace will come with a two-state solution. I believe that many people were disappointed by parts at least of the speech of the Israeli Prime Minister; but it is significant. He said:

“I turn to you, our Palestinian neighbours, led by the Palestinian Authority, and I say: ‘Let’s begin negotiations immediately without preconditions. Israel is obligated by its international commitments and expects all parties to keep their commitments’”.

That is a message of some hope—the first time there has been recognition from the current Israeli Government of the need for a two-state solution. That is what we should seek to build on.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, does the Minister recognise that Netanyahu’s refusal to budge on the question of further expansion of settlements remains a real stumbling block in the creation of a viable Palestinian state as part of a two-state solution; and has he noted the recent reports that a senior member of the Israeli Cabinet has just turned down the master plan for the further development of Jerusalem on the grounds that it “imposes too much Palestinian housing”?

Lord Brett: My Lords, although in his speech the Israeli Prime Minister said “no preconditions”, many people have seen preconditions in the remaining parts of the speech. There are serious obstacles on the road to peace; but, having been through the experience that we have in this country, we know that, at the start of a journey, the most important thing is to identify the destination, then get the parties around the table to see how obstacles can be removed or avoided. We should

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take the hopeful part of the message. It is clear that settlements remain illegal. They are in violation of international law. Therefore, the UK and international position remains the same—to tell the Israeli authorities, both privately and in public, that they should be dismantled.

Lord Steinberg: My Lords, would the Minister agree that Prime Minister Netanyahu has said that he and his Government will agree to a Palestinian state alongside Israel; but that it is also only fair to point out that President Obama, in the wonderful speech that he gave a few weeks ago, said that any democratic government must follow the will of the people, and the will of the people of Israel is for an undivided Jerusalem and no return of so-called refugees? Would the Minister agree with President Obama’s statement, and Prime Minister Netanyahu’s following it?

Lord Brett: My Lords, I certainly agree that the speech of the President of the United States was remarkable. What was also remarkable was his engagement early in his tenure as President. That shows a determination to solve something that will not be solved overnight; it may take a number of years. Therefore I believe that we should spend less time concentrating on the obstacles, and more time concentrating on how to remove the obstacles. What was said by Prime Minister Netanyahu was not the last word on this issue; just the latest word.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, it is very obvious that there is—

The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Baroness Royall of Blaisdon): My Lords, I am terribly sorry, we are into the 16th minute.

Sark

Question

2.52 pm

Asked By Lord Wallace of Saltaire

    To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is the constitutional and fiscal relationship between the United Kingdom and Sark.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Justice (Lord Bach): My Lords, Sark is an island of the Bailiwick of Guernsey—a self-governing Crown dependency. The Crown is responsible for its good governance. The States of Guernsey legislates for Sark in certain matters, but generally not without Sark’s consent. Sark has its own legislature with the power to reform its constitutional system. Sark has an independent relationship with the UK through the Lieutenant Governor of Guernsey, and legislation made by Sark must be assented to by Her Majesty on the advice of her Privy Council. Sark does not have a fiscal relationship with the UK.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire: Ah. My Lords, I thank the Minister for that interesting Answer. I recall that, in giving evidence to a Commons committee in December, he said that there was considerable ambiguity in the relationship between the Crown dependencies and the United Kingdom. I understood him to say that Guernsey is an autonomous dependency of the Crown, but not

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part of the United Kingdom; that Sark is a highly autonomous dependency of Guernsey; and that the island of Brecqhou is a partly autonomous part of Sark. If that is not ambiguous, I am not sure what is. Am I also correct in understanding that, whereas Guernsey pays for the Alderney breakwater as its contribution to the considerable services that the United Kingdom gives to Guernsey, Sark provides nothing to the United Kingdom? As for the owners of Brecqhou, whose newspapers campaign for British sovereignty, transparency and high taxation—they pay almost nothing to the United Kingdom.

Lord Bach: My Lords, I do not agree that Sark provides nothing at all to the United Kingdom. I was fortunate enough to visit Sark in February this year. If you do not happen to like motor cars, it is the most wonderful place to go because there is none. I was taken to my destination by what is described as the “toast rack”—I will explain later to noble Lords who want to know more—and by horse and carriage.

More seriously, Sark had its first democratic elections in December last year. I had the honour of meeting and talking to its legislature in February this year. Sark has a lot to offer.

Lord Maxton: My Lords, given the part played by the Daily Telegraph in the MPs’ expenses affair and the legitimate demand that Parliament and all public bodies should be open and accountable, does my noble friend not find it strange that the Barclay brothers, Sark’s most prominent citizens and the owners of the Daily Telegraph, were not prepared to appear before a Select Committee of this House to answer legitimate questions on the role that owners play in the working of the media?

Lord Bach: My Lords, it is now twice in two days that I must be careful how I answer a question because—and this is a serious point—the appeal of Sir David and Sir Frederick Barclay against the Secretary of State’s decision to recommend Royal Assent to the 2008 law is due to be heard by the House of Lords in its judicial capacity in mid-July. It would be much better if I say nothing at all about the subject.

Lord Dykes: My Lords, notwithstanding the obviously cautionary words at the end of the Minister’s response, I shall rephrase my question in a slightly different and more general way. Since the fourth estate is now so powerful and influential, and since the Daily Telegraph has had a very successful campaign highlighting expenses and other details, mainly of MPs, would it not now be logical, rational and fair for the British public and Parliament also to know the full remuneration details of the owners and journalists of the Daily Telegraph and of other areas of the media?

The activities of these particular owners on the island of Sark have already been referred to. Apparently certain interesting tax manoeuvres may be taking place there. Also, as the Minister has met the electors of Sark, who recently expressed clear views in an obvious way, will he have further consultation with them about what they think of the future of the island?



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Lord Bach: My Lords, the noble Lord will realise that I cannot really comment on anything that he has said. Much as I might want to, I cannot.

Lord Elystan-Morgan: My Lords, is not the constitutional position of Sark that it is part of Her Majesty’s dominions by virtue of her being the Duke of Normandy?

Lord Bach: My Lords, it certainly is. Her Majesty the Queen is seen as a direct descendant of the Duke of Normandy.

Lord Lester of Herne Hill: My Lords, is the Minister saying that the sub judice rule applies to this topic? I would be surprised if that were so. Can he indicate whether the constitutional renewal Bill will sort out the rather archaic and tangled constitutional relationship we have been discussing?

Lord Bach: My Lords, whether it is strictly sub judice or not I do not know, but I have been advised to be extremely cautious. That is the best response.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, the Observer on 7 June had a report that the Barclay brothers and their companies are planning to sell goods through the internet from a Sark base, thus avoiding the payment of VAT within the United Kingdom. We know that the Treasury has been much concerned about Channel Islands’ avoidance of VAT through small packages. Can the Government confirm whether this is the case and, if so, what action the Treasury may take?

Lord Bach: My Lords, I cannot comment in detail on what the noble Lord says. I can say that Guernsey has taken a number of steps to restrain the exploitation of the low-value consignment VAT relief by UK companies, including policy statements making it clear that Guernsey is opposed to the growth of so-called third-party facilitators on the island. The noble Lord is right. This has been a problem in Guernsey. As I understand it, the Government of Guernsey are looking at the issue with sympathy.


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