THE ILLEGAL LAND ARMY; MPs Accuse Ministers of Ignoring the Scandal of Hundreds of Thousands of Immigrants Working Illicitly on Our Farms
Byline: STEVE DOUGHTY
MINISTERS were yesterday accused of turning a blind eye to the employment of hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants on Britain's farms.
MPs said they were 'appalled' by the way the Government has ignored an entire industry that exploits immigrants and cheats both honest employers and the taxpayer.
In a report they said that despite promises of crackdowns, there is no political will to break the racket and no politician ready to take responsibility for years of failure to act.
The MPs found that a 'significant' number of gangmasters - agents who supply labour to farmers and packers - are employing illegal immigrants, dodging taxes and flouting employment laws. The workers are housed in appalling conditions, they said.
In a damning judgment, the MPs said Ministers have no idea how many illegal immigrants are employed in agriculture.
And while the numbers are certainly in the hundreds of thousands, our cities see hundreds of thousands more, working in trades such as building and construction, and in service jobs in catering and cleaning.
Home Office estimates put numbers of illegal immigrants working in Britain at 'several hundreds of thousands'.
The report from the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs select committee is a severe embarrassment to Ministers who have promised since 1997 to curb abuses involving illegal labour on farms. The MPs said that in practice their efforts had been 'woefully inadequate'.
The committee, headed by Tory chairman David Curry but which has a majority of Labour MPs, found that behind the repeated promises to act, in practice efforts to curb the gangmasters had been given no money and no staff, and no Minister was in charge.
Their report follows growing concern over the ability of gang bosses to exploit immigrant labour and break tax and health and safety laws with apparent freedom from the threat of prosecution.
There have been indications that the Government is deliberately ignoring abuses in the countryside in order to avoid pushing up politically sensitive asylum figures.
This summer immigration officers were directed to soft pedal investigations into illegal immigarnts because they are likely to make an instant application for asylum if caught.
The MPs gave no estimate of numbers of illegal immigrants working in the farm gangs. …