HC Deb 28 April 2004 vol 420 cc1103-5W
Mr. Simmonds

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what steps his Department is taking to monitor the activities of gangmasters employing illegal workers. [157578]

Mr. Browne

All employers in the United Kingdom are subject to the requirements of section 8 of the Asylum and Immigration Act 1996, the law on preventing illegal working. Any employer who is found to be employing an illegal worker and acting in contravention of their legal obligations under section 8 may face the possibility of a criminal charge and prosecution.

On 16 March we announced changes, via secondary legislation, to strengthen the security of the document checks employers must carry out on prospective employees under section 8 to establish a statutory defence from prosecution.

The changes will make it easier for compliant employers to ensure that their workforce can work in the UK, and for the Immigration Service to identify and prosecute the small minority of non-compliant employers who knowingly or negligently employ illegal workers.

The United Kingdom Immigration Service (UKIS) is responsible for monitoring and tackling illegal migrant working, and conducts regular enforcement and educational visits to employers on section 8. UKIS adopts an intelligence led approach to carrying out illegal working enforcement operations relating to gangmasters, as it does to employers in other sectors.

UKIS are fully involved in regional Operation Gangmaster and more generally have invested greater effort in illegal working enforcement activity, including where agricultural labour providers are concerned.

In terms of overall illegal working enforcement activity across all commercial sectors in the United Kingdom, there were 446 UKIS operations in 2003. In the first nine months of 2003, UKIS reported carrying out 16 operations specifically aimed at farms and packhouses where labour providers were involved.

By the beginning of 2004, UKIS had significantly increased activity in this area. In the four-month period from the beginning of November 2003 to the end of February 2004 UKIS reported carrying out 18 enforcement operations at farms and packhouses where labour providers were involved. These operations led to the removal of over a 100 immigration offenders. A further 11 operations involving labour providers are also scheduled or being planned.

Earlier this month, two major investigations involving the police supported by UKIS resulted in the conviction of gangmasters for very serious criminal offences. In March, six labour providers with the company Ultimate Source were convicted at Kings Lynn Crown court of various offences in connection with the supply of illegal workers. On 16 March, the labour provider and his son were found guilty of charges including conspiracy to defraud and facilitating the entry of illegal immigrants into the UK. Both have been sentenced to seven years imprisonment.

The Government are also working closely with my hon. Friend, the Member for West Renfrewshire (Jim Sheridan) to ensure that the Gangmasters Bill will achieve its objectives and introduce a licensing scheme which we can support. The Government have suggested a number of amendments to enhance the Bill and with those changes we believe it will significantly strengthen our attempts to curb the exploitative activities of gangmasters.

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