Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee

Session 2003-04
19 May 2004
Embargoed until 0.01 am on Thursday 20 May Gangmasters (follow up): Committee publishes its report

Embargoed until 0.01 am on Thursday 20 May Gangmasters (follow up): Committee publishes its report

The Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee has today published a report which follows up its earlier inquiry, concluded in September 2003,* into the activities of gangmasters.

The main conclusions of the Committee are:

  • That the Government has failed to respond sufficiently urgently to the problem of illegal activity on the part of some gangmasters, despite the findings of our last report

  • That Government action is being driven by external events - specifically Jim Sheridan MP's Gangmasters (Licensing) Bill and the tragedy in Morecambe Bay

  • That despite our recommendations the Government is no closer to having a clear picture of the scale and nature of the problem, and that without that picture it is very difficult to develop policies to respond to the issue

  • That although there is evidence of an increase in enforcement activity at grassroots level, the central Government structures put in place are overly complicated and hinder co-ordination, leading to muddle and confusion about who is responsible for this matter

The Committee recommends that structures are simplified and streamlined, and that a single Minister is given responsibility for the issue.

The Committee also makes recommendations relating to the Gangmasters (Licensing) Bill. But it notes that the Bill is not a panacea. Much greater commitment on the part of the Government is required to ensure that the problems of illegality are properly addressed.

On publication of the report the Chairman of the Committee, Michael Jack MP, will say:

"In spite of some activity by the enforcement authorities, since our last report the problems of illegal gangmasters remain, as witnessed by the tragedy at Morecombe Bay. It is still regretfully the case that no one Minister has yet been put in charge of both policy development and enforcement in order to ensure that the full weight Government is brought to bear on this problem.

"It is clear that this lack of a concerted approach by Government  still leaves many thousands of people vulnerable to both exploitation and personal danger. The fact that illegal gangmasters continue to trade is deeply unfair to those legitimate providers of temporary labour who want to play by the rules.

"It appeared to the Committee that in spite of our first report it was only the events at Morecombe Bay and the introduction by Jim Sheridan MP of his Bill to license this trade that has resulted in any kind of concerted Government action to deal with this problem.

"Temporary workers operating in safe conditions and paying their taxes are of vital importance to British agriculture and horticulture today. If this labour is to operate safely in the future then the Government needs to get its act together fast and appoint a Minister with sufficient seniority to ensure that the elimination of illegal gangmasters becomes the story, rather than the tragedies of those who work for them."


* The Committee published a report in September 2003 entitled 'Gangmasters' (HC (2002-03) 691). The Government response was published in December 2003 (HC (2003-04) 122.

At the time of publication of its earlier report the Committee said that it would return to this subject in Spring 2004 to assess progress made. This new report is the result of that inquiry. The Committee took evidence in March 2004 from Jim Sheridan MP, Geraldine Smith MP, the Transport and General Workers' Union, the Association of Chief Police Officers, a legitimate gangmaster, and Ministers from Defra, Home Office and the Department for Work and Pensions.

Members of the media wanting further information are asked to call 020 7219 3263.