Law Minister 'Faces Fine for Failing to Check Illegal Cleaner's Work Papers'

Article excerpt

Byline: NicholasCecil Chief political Correspondent

ATTORNEY General Baroness Scotland today faced growing questions over her alleged employment of an illegal immigrant.

The Government's most senior law officer was under pressure to reveal what documents she checked before employing Tongan Loloahi Tapui as housekeeper at her [pounds sterling]2 million home in west London.

The Border and Immigration Agency was also urged to investigate whether Lady Scotland had breached employment rules which could result in a fine of up to [pounds sterling]10,000.

The Attorney General insisted that she had taken on Ms Tapui, 27, "in good faith" after seeing documents which led her to believe that she was entitled to work here. She sacked her yesterday after concerns were raised over her immigration status.

Even unknowingly employing an illegal immigrant can be an offence and it was unclear whether the minister checked the correct papers, as specified by the border agency, which include a passport or other documents.

Keith Best, chief executive of the Immigration Advisory Service, said that Ms Tapui's passport should have revealed to Lady Scotland whether she was allowed to work or remain in the UK.

He said: "It seems to me inevitable that if these documents are not the documents that are specified in guidance then she (the minister) will face a penalty from the Borders Agency."

Downing Street said Gordon Brown had "full confidence" in the Attorney General.

The revelations, though, are deeply embarrassing to her and the Government. Baroness Scotland was a Home Office minister in 2006 when tough new rules to clamp down on illegal working were taken through Parliament.

In addition, the case appears to expose a gaping flaw in immigration controls as Ms Tapui had a national insurance number despite apparently not being allowed to remain in the country.

Lady Scotland was paying national insurance and tax in relation to her employment. But MPs today warned that she must not be treated differently from anyone else.

Tory MP Patrick Mercer, who sits on the Commons home affairs select committee, said: "The border agency needs to look into this with some urgency. Ministers certainly can't be above the law." Ms Tapui is understood to have been looking after the home, which Baroness Scotland shares with her barrister husband Richard Mawhinney and their two teenage sons, for the past six months. …