Immigration and Asylum Bill — Repeal of section 8 of the Asylum and Immigration Act 1996 — 16 Jun 1999

Clause read a Second time, and added to the Bill.

Brought up, and read the First time.

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

Mr. Deputy Speaker:

With this, it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments: No. 150, in clause 15, page 11, line 7, leave out Clause 15.

9.30 pm

At the time when the 1996 Act was passed, the Government estimated that the increased costs to employers would total £13.5 million initially and £11.5 million in recurring costs. I should be interested to hear whether the Minister believes that those estimates have been borne out. The Government's proposals, which would impose a code of practice that is designed somehow to ameliorate the effects of section 8, might increase the costs to business. In any case, why should we believe that the new code of practice will be more effective in reducing discrimination than previous guidance issued by the Home Office?

I got the impression from the Minister that the new procedure would work as follows: in order to avoid direct discrimination, if any applicant for a job might conceivably have an immigration status that needs to be checked, the duty will be on the employer to check the immigration status of all applicants for the job. My constituency contains a university, and I know how common it is for foreign nationals to work in universities and apply for jobs in them. However, it would appear that for university employers--this point applies to many multinational and international companies as well--the way forward now is to check the eligibility for work under immigration rules of every applicant to each job. That is a huge burden, which is not outweighed by any potential benefits.

In respect of the benefits that could be attached to section 8, the Government's clear intention has been to send the message to employers that they should not illegally employ those who are not eligible to work. However, since section 8 came into force, there has been only one prosecution under its provisions. The Government have said that there are to be more, but it is clear that section 8 has not been used effectively.

The people we want to catch are the traffickers in human misery--the racketeers and gang masters who bring in people to work in the agricultural sector and other sectors. A more appropriate way in which to deal with them is under section 25 of the Immigration Act 1971 and, at the start of Report stage, we talked about strengthening the provisions of that Act to deal with such racketeers. I believe that we can take measures to deal with employers that do not involve burdening them with strict liability when they are found guilty of employing people illegally, given that that has been clearly shown to put employers off employing anyone other than obviously British white citizens, whose employment poses no risk to the employer under section 8 of the 1996 Act.

The CRE's verdict on section 8 is absolutely explicit:

"There is no evidence that section 8 has proved to be an effective deterrent to illegal working or racketeering. It is likely to have increased the employment costs of good employers, and it has encouraged the unscrupulous to discriminate. For ethnic minority job-seekers it has added to the barriers which they face."

That is a clear indictment from an expert front-line organisation which is responsible for dealing with such matters. I understand that my hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham (Dr. Cable) will refer to evidence from the CBI and the TUC, which both regularly deal with employment issues on the front line.

The case is clear. Some of the Labour Members present tonight were involved in the debates on the 1996 Act and they will remember the case that was made at that time. It has been proved that section 8 has had a discriminatory effect and there is nothing in the Bill to suggest that we can look forward to a period in which it will not continue to have serious negative effects. The Government should respond positively to the report of the better regulation task force, accept the amendment and repeal section 8. They should concentrate on hitting human traffickers with more appropriate measures, which now carry penalties of up to 10 years' imprisonment, rather than imposing a strict liability on all employers. That only leads employers to discriminate against people, many of whom have been British citizens for years or have a perfect right to work in British companies.

Question put, That the clause be read a Second time:--

The House divided: Ayes 39, Noes 334.

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Party Summary

Votes by party, red entries are votes against the majority for that party.

What is Tell? '+1 tell' means that in addition one member of that party was a teller for that division lobby.

What are Boths? An MP can vote both aye and no in the same division. The boths page explains this.

What is Turnout? This is measured against the total membership of the party at the time of the vote.

PartyMajority (No)Minority (Aye)BothTurnout
Con0 201.2%
Lab334 (+2 tell) 1081.0%
LDem0 33 (+2 tell)076.1%
PC0 1025.0%
SNP0 1016.7%
UUP0 1010.0%
Total:334 39058.5%

Rebel Voters - sorted by party

MPs for which their vote in this division differed from the majority vote of their party. You can see all votes in this division, or every eligible MP who could have voted in this division

Sort by: Name | Constituency | Party | Vote

Mike WoodBatley and SpenLabaye

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