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Martin Salter: Do I know about that case? I saw that case. I will not name the embassy because it would probably be inappropriate for me to cause an international incident in my last two weeks as an MP. However, I will say that it was a south Asian high commissioner's residence. If people want to look at my interests in south Asia, they can probably work it out. I was invited to a very salubrious dinner at the high commissioner's-we all get to go to such things from time to time. I was appalled to walk out of that residence in a palatial part of north London and see that the accommodation of the guy who picked me up-the driver for the high commissioner-was a garage. He showed me where his bed was. Such things are happening with impunity and they are an abuse of immunity.

As we know, the migrant domestic worker visa was introduced from 1998 onwards. People may argue that if we extend the visa to the diplomatic sector, large numbers of people would get protection, and possibly the right to settle permanently in the UK in certain circumstances. It was also argued-I think primarily by civil servants-that introducing the migrant domestic worker visa could lead to abuse and an increase in numbers. I am delighted to say that has not proved to be the case. If we consider the number of non-diplomatic domestic worker visas issued between 2005 and 2009, we see that the figure decreases from 16,908 to 14,897. Let us be clear: the process has not been abused. On extending the scheme to diplomatic staff, the numbers of diplomatic domestic workers visas that have been issued are: 235 in 2005, 324 in 2006, 253 in 2007, and 189 in 2008. Those are tiny numbers. There is no problem with extending the migrant domestic workers visa provision to protection for diplomatic staff. We are talking small numbers, but my goodness, we are talking high levels of abuse.

Figures on the people who were referred to or came voluntarily to Kalayaan-they can be found on its website in its excellent annual report-show that 17 per cent. reported physical assaults, 58 per cent. reported psychological abuse and 59 per cent. were not allowed out of the house without supervision. We allow our pets out of the house without supervision, yet fellow human beings are effectively being shackled in their place of work.

Mr. William Cash (Stone) (Con): Has the hon. Gentleman had the opportunity to get in touch with the diplomatic service, because there is an organisation that represents diplomats as a whole? Has he taken the matter up with that organisation, because it sounds as if this is such an outrageous abuse that something should be done either by the law or by internal diplomatic activity? The people concerned should be ashamed of themselves.

Martin Salter: The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right: they should be ashamed of themselves. I will come to that point later. Unfortunately, I have not had time to take the matter up with organisations representing diplomats. I must say to him that the more I read of these case studies, frankly, the less I want to be in a room with organisations representing diplomats. However, I am sure that those who succeed me in this place will not let the baton drop until we remove the appalling levels of abuse that are happening not just in London but in other parts of the United Kingdom, as I have just heard.

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In many cases, workers have absolutely no knowledge of their immigration rights and status. If their passports and papers are confiscated, the employer has the absolute whip hand. Such workers live in fear of criminal prosecution, deportation or any sort of threat-valid or otherwise-that the employer can choose to make. We outlawed slavery in 1833, which was an awfully long time ago. As far as I can see, what is happening is little better than a 21st-century system of slavery.

What needs to be done next? First, as I said, the Minister and his colleagues deserve great praise for not only tackling the abuse of migrant domestic workers in the past by introducing a specific visa, but wanting to extend it beyond the 2011 commitment given by his predecessor in the Government's response. My first challenge to the Minister is that he takes this opportunity to offer long-term protection for this most vulnerable group of workers, beyond 2011. He can do that today; he can it read it into the record.

Secondly, as I have mentioned, appalling and completely unacceptable abuse is still occurring in some-not all-diplomatic missions in London right now. It is an affront to a civilised society and a scar on the conscience of nations whose representatives are still prepared to treat their fellow human beings as 21st-century slaves. What they do in their own countries is one thing, but what they do in our country is a matter for us and for this Parliament. Frankly, I do not give a flying fig about the representations from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office or the worries about upsetting important international partners. This is a domestic British issue, and it needs to be resolved.

We have confirmation from Government lawyers that extending the migrant workers domestic visa to diplomatic missions would not be in contravention of the Vienna convention on diplomatic relations. What diplomats bring in their diplomatic bags may be a matter for them, but how they treat fellow human beings and how they bring fellow human beings as workers into our country is a matter for us and for our legislative process. Migrant domestic workers suffering abuse at the hands of diplomats must be empowered to access the same employment rights as their counterparts in the domestic sector.

Will the Minister state today that he is prepared to bring an end to the disgraceful abuse of diplomatic domestic workers by a handful of embassies that clearly believe that human rights are a problem for someone else and not for them? Diplomatic immunity can never be used as a cover for feudal servitude, which has no place on this planet, never mind in the capital city of one of the most advanced democracies in the world.

10 am

Mr. Anthony Steen (Totnes) (Con): I congratulate the hon. Member for Reading, West (Martin Salter) on his impressive and fluent speech and on raising a critical issue in the way he did, and I thank you, Mr. Benton, for calling me to speak. I will not speak for long, as I am supposed to be, if not looking after, at least involved in an Albanian delegation from the Inter-Parliamentary Union, at a meeting in the IPU Rooms. I hope it will not be seen as a discourtesy to hon. Members if I do not stay for the winding-up speeches, but I will be listening in every other way to what the Minister says.

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We need not recite the problem, as the hon. Gentleman has explained it. I understand the Minister's concerns and those of the Government. The issue, roughly, is that developed countries, such as those in western Europe, have staff coming in to assist people who need domestic help, which is nothing special. Between 14,000 and 16,000 people a year get domestic work visas, which do not entitle any of them to live in the UK permanently. I think they must renew the visas yearly-the Minister can correct me-and can go on doing so, although they must also report to the police annually. I do not think they have any right to settle here. The Minister's advisers will be telling him whether I got that right, but I think I did, largely because he told me about it.

There is no problem on the domestic front, thanks to the Government's decision to change the rules, as the hon. Member for Reading, West said, and until 2011 it is a totally safe arrangement. The hon. Gentleman asked whether it will go beyond 2011, and I believe the Minister should today state that it will be extended for another three or five years, because it has worked well and been a success.

The problem relates to the small number of domestic workers who come to the UK under a diplomatic visa, which is a restrictive visa, and who often arrive with the officials they worked for in the countries they come from. They might be chauffeurs, domestics or nannies, and often they arrive with a diplomat's family. The allegation is that the family changes, in the manner of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, as soon as they arrive. One must have some regard for the notion that the domestic workers talk to other people and realise that they are getting a pretty rough deal by comparison. I am fully aware of that aspect of the situation, but another aspect is the abuse of domestics.

I pay considerable tribute to Kalayaan, which is a modest organisation that meets in a church in Notting Hill Gate. It has extremely effective staff who have done an amazing job over the years to attract people who are being abused. Kalayaan has become known as a place where abused people can get solace, support and practical help. I pay tribute to the organisation and its workers, who are outstanding. Its runs on a shoestring. In fact, the Government might consider supporting it a little, because they give £1.8 million to the POPPY project and £1.8 million to the UK Human Trafficking Centre, yet they give nothing to an organisation that actually works with people. Perhaps the Minister might respond to that comment in his winding-up speech, because I know he is listening carefully. The Government should be giving money to non-governmental organisations, and not just the big ones.

There is a small number of abused women in that situation. There are examples of rape, sexual abuse and physical abuse through punishment and assaults, and those are a minority. However, the visas prevent those people from moving employment, as there is a bar on moving. The result is that the only way they can escape is to be deported, because once they escape they have no status in this country and must be deported. That is the pattern, so they are between a rock and a hard place.

Mr. Gregory Campbell (East Londonderry) (DUP): The hon. Gentleman is coming to an important point about people who are in an invidious position, sometimes in very difficult circumstances. They have been abused
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and then face an alternative that they believe could be even worse-if they are deported from the United Kingdom their situation may become even worse in their home countries.

Mr. Steen: That is the problem, and it is more than just that those workers come from poor countries. The real problem is that they go back having failed in the UK, and their small village communities think they are a pariah and that they cannot be employed because something must have happened. They cannot go back easily. They can go back easily once the diplomat's family returns because that will look like they have been successful, but if they are deported by the British Government, which is the pattern, they have no future at all. That is the picture we have in this country.

Mr. Cash: Does my hon. Friend agree that much of the attitude that lies behind the behaviour of the diplomatic staff in question is in fact mediaeval? The hon. Member for Reading, West (Martin Salter) mentioned slavery, an issue on which my family were very much involved in the 19th century, along with other Quakers such as Fowell Buxton. They understood that the importance of ensuring that people had their rights was absolute. We have moved on from the whole culture of master and servant, which even I had to learn when I was training to be a lawyer. Do my hon. Friend and the Minister agree that it would be a good idea to ensure that the diplomatic service comes into the modern age and leaves that mediaeval culture?

Mr. Steen: We always stand in awe when my hon. Friend makes such suggestions. He is perfectly right to say that we need to change the master and servant concept. We are talking about quite a number of embassies and officials who treat their staff like animals, or worse.

Martin Salter: It was remiss of me not to refer to the process by which we are all here. Would the hon. Gentleman pay tribute to the excellent piece in The Times in January by Alice Fishburn and Hattie Garlick highlighting the brilliant work of Kalayaan, and some of the case studies to which I referred? I put on the record my thanks to the staff in my office, including Sadie Smith, whom I do not treat like slaves, who drew the matter to my attention and suggested that it was something I might like to get involved in. It is a tribute to the way this Parliament works that a Member can spot an injustice and in a few weeks be here challenging the Minister. Long may it remain that way.

Mr. Steen: That is also a tribute to the influence and luck of the hon. Gentleman in managing to persuade the Speaker's Office to pull his name out of the hat for this debate. I pay tribute to his skill in ensuring that it has taken place.

We are talking about hundreds of workers who have a diplomatic domestic visa, but not thousands. Indeed, it could be dozens a year, rather than hundreds, but every one is significant and important. Their lives are ruined as a result of what is happening to them.

When I visited Kalayaan some months ago, I met a girl who was so desperate because of her lifestyle that she escaped from the diplomat's house and went along bus queues in the street asking for money for food. She
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was sleeping rough because she did not know what to do. We cannot have that happening in London or in Britain. Just a stroke of the Minister's pen could change the situation. All we need to do is ensure that the diplomatic visa allows the domestic to move from an employer. That is all it would take, but they are barred from moving from their employer.

Mr. Cash: Is there perhaps another remedy? Diplomats found to be engaged in activities against the state-infringing our national security, for example-can be requested, in effect told, to get out. If there is clear evidence of abuse by individual diplomats, they should be sanctioned in the same way as other diplomats are sanctioned when they infringe our standards. We know that it is not all diplomats, all embassies or all middle east personnel who are involved, but simply a coterie of people who are thoroughly evil.

Mr. Steen: That is a perfectly good idea, but where does it leave the domestic? Do they go back with the shamed diplomat?

Mr. Cash: It was the diplomat I was intending to deport, not the domestic servant.

Mr. Steen: But the problem is that the domestic is linked to the diplomat's visa, so if the diplomat is sent home, so is the domestic.

Mr. Cash: At the risk of engaging in a full debate on the issue, I believe that it is possible in such circumstances, for the sake of protecting the individual concerned, to deal with the problem. We find this so often in other areas of the law. My hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Damian Green) knows only too well that one can give protection to a person through asylum or something of that kind. It is clear that this problem has to be dealt with, and it is equally clear that there are remedies. It is the diplomat who is at fault, not the person who is the victim.

Mr. Steen: The problem with what my hon. Friend suggests is that it will bring into the equation all the paraphernalia of refugee status and asylum seeking-all that contraption. I know that my hon. Friend, who is a lawyer, likes to make things complicated, but this is a simple problem. If we simply move diplomatic domestic visas into the ordinary domestic visa group, we will not have the problem of the domestic being forced to stay with a diplomat who treats them badly.

It could be argued that we would be bringing in more domestics through the diplomatic channel who would then move to the domestic market to get away from the diplomat, but we are talking about tiny numbers. We are not talking about an increasing number: I believe that it was 18,600 in 2006 but is now down to about 14,000.

Dr. William McCrea (South Antrim) (DUP): Surely what the hon. Gentleman suggests would deal with the symptom rather than the problem. The problem is the diplomat. We must deal with the problem while giving protection to those who suffer because of the actions of the diplomat.

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Mr. Steen: That is right, of course, and I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. I am trying to find a solution for the victim, who is here in Britain, being abused by a diplomat with diplomatic privilege, and who is linked to the diplomat. Although one could say, "Send the diplomat back", there is a difficulty with evidence. One of the problems is that victims of human trafficking and abuse will not give evidence, for understandable reasons. They are terrified that their family back home will be abused, but I shall not go down that line.

The Minister for Borders and Immigration (Mr. Phil Woolas): May I just inform the debate that in a significant number of circumstances, domestic staff in missions are not necessarily nationals of the countries for which they work? Therefore, their status in that country may be jeopardised as well. For example, if a Filipino person working in a middle east country transferred to the UK, their status and livelihood in the country of the mission must also be considered. I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman agrees with that point.

Mr. Steen: This is developing into a most interesting discussion, and all the points are valid. I am grateful to the Minister for his intervention and for his interest in and concern for the subject. No one has any doubt about that. We need to find a solution, but that is not being dealt with.

As the Minister knows, I went to see him in November with part of my all-party group on trafficking of women and children. I was with the distinguished hon. Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon (Dr. Harris), the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Clare Short), who is a vice-chairman of the group, and my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Bone), who is a treasurer of the group. I had support from the other House from none other than Baroness Nicholson of Winterbourne, who is another treasurer, and Baroness Butler-Sloss. All of us were saying, "Do something."

I know that the Minister has been working hard on the problem, but he has failed, because, as of today, a solution has not been found. There are various solutions, but there is simple one to start with. We will not be able to change all embassy staff, and we cannot start sending all or even some of them back because we do not like them, but we can ensure that all diplomatic domestic visas are domestic visas.

I do not know whether the Minister can tell us how many diplomatic domestic visas are issued every year, but I believe that it is in the hundreds. The total number of domestic visas is in the thousands, so it would not be increased very much. In any case, the number has gone down by 4,000 in the past few years, so it would not be knocked back to what it was.

Every civilised western European country has domestic visas, and there is no problem with them. We have a problem because we have a particular group of visas that locks the domestic into the life and future of a particular diplomat-not even the embassy. Perhaps the Minister could think of a way round that gives the diplomatic visa to the embassy, not to the individual.

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