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17 Mar 2010 : Column 262WH—continued

All I am saying is that the problem needs to be addressed. My solution is simple, it will not cost anything and it will not give anyone any other rights. All it will
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mean is that the diplomatic domestic visa, which in the past has prevented people from moving from their employment, would allow them to do so if they needed to. They would report to the police every year, just like everyone else. That is all that needs to be done.

I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Reading, West. He has the problem by the short and curlies. He will pursue it vigorously, as I shall. Kalayaan has been at the receiving end. It says, "What can we do? We are dealing with victims. What can we do about them?" It can give them love, sympathy and support, and there can be tribunal hearings, but that does not solve the problem. Instead, it allows the equipment and machinery that were there in the first place to remain.

Forgive me, Mr. Benton, if I do not carry on in my usual lengthy way. However, if my contribution has been lengthier than usual, it was because of all the excellent interventions that I have taken. I hope that the House will forgive me if I now go to see the Albanians. They have a big problem with human trafficking, although they may deny it. It is interesting that the chief of police in Albania says that the number of people who are trafficked is going down. It is not-they are just not finding them. That is the other side of the story.

Mr. Cash: I am on the European Scrutiny Committee with my hon. Friend, and have been for many years. He, too, is leaving Parliament, and I would like to place on the record the fact that his work in this field has been outstanding. Whatever criticisms have been made of him, they pale into insignificance compared with the fantastic work that he has done on human trafficking. I have seen him furthering his cause while we have been in other European countries for European Scrutiny Committee meetings. It has been a great pleasure and privilege to work with him in these matters.

Mr. Steen: I was just about to sit down, but I am glad I did not, because my hon. Friend's response was kind and quite unprompted. I am moved by what he says and I am grateful to him for saying it.

Martin Salter: I have given a full and deserved tribute to the hon. Member for Totnes for the excellent work he has done on this issue. I shall give him some comfort as well. Although I shall be leaving this place shortly, I shall remain a member of my trade union. I am going abroad for a few months, but I pledge to work with him, Unite and Kalayaan on taking the issue forward when I return to the UK.

Mr. Steen: May I thank the hon. Gentleman for his offer? I am most touched.

The problem can be dealt with. It is a problem that we do not see because it is all underground. There are more people today in domestic and human slavery than there ever were in the 350 years of the African slave trade. That is the scale of it. However, it is not seen because it is all submerged, whereas the African slave trade could be seen: it was a visible thing. We are talking about domestic slavery-it is actually slavery-although Wilberforce and this place were supposed to have abolished it. The Minister, whom we hold in great affection, must not be allowed to drag his feet. We must deal with this matter. He cannot blame the Foreign
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Office or anybody else. He must take the problem by the short and curlies and solve it.

I am most grateful to you, Mr. Benton, for your chairmanship this morning.

10.21 am

John Hemming (Birmingham, Yardley) (LD): I, too, congratulate the hon. Member for Reading, West (Martin Salter) on securing this Adjournment debate. It is clear that slavery has been banned in this country for some time. Whether there is a claim under the European convention on human rights for anyone who has a diplomatic domestic migrant worker visa is an interesting question that Kalayaan may wish to consider. I understand that people have got ordinary domestic migrant worker visas after having had diplomatic ones-that might be a potential route in one or two cases-but the reality is that there is an arrangement that bonds an employee to an employer, which creates bonded or indentured labour, or slavery; there is no question about that.

The test of whether somebody is in that position is whether they can run away. If they cannot run away without suffering serious sanctions, there is a problem. Changing a diplomatic visa to a non-diplomatic visa would not necessarily extend the visa or increase the person's other rights-it just gives them a chance to run away from slavery.

I congratulate Kalayaan on its work. In 2008, 27 diplomatic domestic workers were registered at Kalayaan, and in 2009 there were 24. That is a high proportion of the 200 diplomatic domestic worker visas that are issued per year; 253 were issued in 2007 and 189 were issued in 2008. If the arrangement is changed, the behaviour of employers will be modified, because the employer-employee relationship will be changed, and the employees will know that there is a mechanism by which they can establish their rights.

Martin Salter: The hon. Gentleman highlights the statistics eloquently. About 200 to 300 visas are issued, and about 10 per cent. of people with those visas find their way to Kalayaan. We hon. Members know, from our casework, that only a tiny proportion of people who suffer from an injustice take action to try to remedy it. The problem could be considerably more widespread than the raw statistics suggest. Does he not agree?

John Hemming: That is true, and I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. People will be here for more than one year at a time, so there are perhaps 500 such people here at any time. We are talking about a high percentage of people being willing to take the risk of a sanction against them-that is the critical thing.

Martin Salter: And their families.

John Hemming: And their families. Those people are willing to, and do, take the risk of a sanction against them. We have quoted the figures of 16,000 and 14,000 ordinary domestic worker visas, and the numbers registered with Kalayaan for 2008 and 2009 respectively were 369 and 354. Although there are a lot more ordinary domestic workers, the relevant proportion is lower, which shows that the nature of the arrangement is different.

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There are other issues for the Government to consider; for example, what are they doing about the national minimum wage in respect of migrant domestic workers generally? The Select Committee on Home Affairs understands that the UK Border Agency is issuing visas even though it knows that the minimum wage will not be payable. That sounds unacceptable. What are the Government doing to ensure that access is made available to the limited number of English language courses? Will the Government give us any estimates or figures on the extent to which people are trafficked into domestic labour? That argument takes us on to the points-based system. There is a real challenge in how the matter is handled, because we do not want to create a bond between employer and employee that prevents people from running away.

What steps are the Government taking to deal with fact that, outside the Gangmasters Licensing Authority sector, enforcement of employment law is at times non-existent-an issue that was raised in the Home Affairs Committee report? There is a difficulty with international law and diplomats-there is no question about that-but we come back to the fundamental point, which is the ability to run away. If people are not able to run away, their rights cannot be enforced. Given that only 114 employers have been prosecuted for employing illegal workers since 1997, can the Government tell us how many people, if any, have been prosecuted for offences relating to the ill-treatment of a migrant domestic worker?

What steps are the Government taking to ensure that where offences are suspected to have been committed, legal advice and support is given to the victims to aid prosecution, and to those who wish to bring employment tribunals against their employers? There is a problem with employment law when it comes to diplomatic missions, but there is also the question of whether we should be negotiating with foreign Governments, so that there is a sanction, not against the employer, but the state as a whole.

The Home Affairs Committee found that

the "special status" of migrant domestic workers, and that

What steps have the Government taken since the publication of that Committee's report to raise awareness of those problems with the relevant authorities? The Committee states that the current rules, which are part of a two-year extension, will need to be in place for far longer than two years to ensure protection from exploitation for those people, as various hon. Members have said. What is the Government's reaction to that?

This is a difficult area, but there is a basic, simple principle: we oppose slavery. Indentured labour is slavery. To avoid slavery, people have to be able to run away without suffering. There will always be an element of suffering, because people will not have a new employer straight away, but they should not have to jump off a cliff to run away: that is not acceptable. There has to be a mechanism for people to leave an abusive employment relationship-to run away from slavery-and not be punished.

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10.28 am

Damian Green (Ashford) (Con): May I, too, congratulate the hon. Member for Reading, West (Martin Salter) on securing this debate and on raising this topic, not least because although we are talking about one small corner of the wider area of trafficking and modern-day slavery, it is, as other hon. Members have said, often hidden and paid insufficient attention?

The Minister and I are both veterans of various debates in this place on human trafficking. I frequently observe that the debate is in danger of sliding into one about prostitution and sexual slavery, which is clearly a hugely serious issue facing us, but not the whole story. This is another part of the story. Those of us who have been talking about trafficking and modern-day slavery for many years are always grateful for the opportunity to expose other parts of the wider issue.

In his absence, I should like to pay tribute yet again to the work that my hon. Friend the Member for Totnes (Mr. Steen) does on the all-party group on the trafficking of women and children. That is a model of how to use an all-party group. Those bodies are often rightly excoriated for not contributing much to the enlightenment of humanity, but my hon. Friend's group has not only exposed problems, but has shifted public policy, and one can pay no higher tribute. I sometimes think I have been paying tribute to him for so long in these debates that even when he has gone I will continue to do so from force of habit.

We often discuss trafficking for sexual exploitation, and that is important, but it is important to consider whether the same solution could apply to the problems in both the diplomatic and non-diplomatic spheres-an issue that has been raised significantly during the debate. There is a huge overlap, but there are clearly different solutions. My first thought on listening to the debate was about something that we could do across the board about domestic exploitation of migrant domestic workers. This country may have been insufficiently clear in sending out a message to those who want to come here from the rest of the world, whether to do a normal job or as diplomats, that it is entirely and completely unacceptable to treat domestic staff in the way illustrated in the examples produced by the hon. Member for Reading, West. I agree with him that the issue is not what is appropriate behaviour for a diplomat-or for anyone-elsewhere in the world, but how people behave in this country.

We all-the Minister representing the Government and all of us as parliamentarians-have a right to say that we in this country represent certain values, including decent behaviour, and abusing domestic staff in the way that Kalayaan exposed is unacceptable. I echo the tributes paid by many hon. Members on both sides of the House to its work. We can all do something to make it clear that people must assume British behaviour if they come here to live and work, whether as diplomats, lawyers or anything else.

Martin Salter: I did not hold back in my criticism of abuse by diplomats, but the nub of the problem that led to the Government introducing the migrant domestic worker visa-we have illustrated that it is working well-was that it affected not just foreign nationals; plenty of British expats were happy to behave as feudal barons in their own homes, and they were part of the initial
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problem that was identified and that led to the visa. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that we should be tough on the diplomats, but should remember that some of our own have fallen short of the standards that we in Britain expect?

Damian Green: I will make a point about the rule of law applying to everyone, which has been brought home to me by the force of this debate.

We know that in the UK, exploitation of labour is common in certain spheres-agriculture, construction, contract cleaning, the care sector and, indeed, the domestic sector. There have been many tragic examples in addition to the terrible and chilling ones that we have heard this morning, such as the Chinese cockle pickers at Morecambe bay and the lorry full of Chinese workers at Folkestone. We must become more effective across the board at combating that.

Reference has frequently been made during the debate to the fact that the Government gave themselves two years after introduction of the points-based system to examine the matter to see what was happening, and I understand that they are gathering facts and research. I hope that the Minister will give us an update on what evidence he has gathered. In terms of whether the current visa system could be integrated into the points-based system, I am not entirely sure how widespread the evidence will be because, with the rest of tier 3 at zero, there will be no obvious comparators. However, I assume that the Government have collected hard evidence on the incidence and possible patterns of abuse, and how best it can be prevented. I look forward to hearing that.

The debate has brought home the importance of hard evidence. I know how difficult it is to get it when many of those who are most capable of giving evidence are prevented from doing so by understandable fears. The exchange between the hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley (John Hemming), and the hon. Member for Reading, West, was instructive because the debate proceeded on the assumption that what we are seeing, particularly in the diplomatic area, is the tip of the iceberg. The hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley, rightly said that we all assume from other cases of exploitation and abuse that we hear about in our surgeries that there are many more people out there in that situation than approach their MP or a pressure group about it, but we do not know that. As has been said, the numbers are very small. A few hundred visas are issued every year and a few dozen people approach their MP or a pressure group every year. To proceed in such circumstance with the assumption that we are seeing the tip of the iceberg and not the iceberg itself might be wrong. I am not saying that it is wrong, but we do not know, and we should accept that we do not know. Trying to make policy on the assumption that we are seeing the tip of a large iceberg is dangerous.

I hope that the Minister will tell us that his Department has obtained evidence of absolute numbers, and of the percentage of domestic workers who are brought here and then abused-a percentage on which the Department can reliably base future policy.

Martin Salter: I hesitate to criticise a fellow Reading football club fan, and I know that the hon. Gentleman is supportive of the issue, but there is a certain strangeness in the argument that although it might be okay to right
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a wrong that affects 10 per cent. of people, the fact that we do not know whether it might affect 15, 20 or 25 per cent. is an excuse for doing nothing. Let me press the hon. Gentleman, as I pressed the Minister: would a future Conservative Government extend the migrant domestic worker visa to diplomatic domestic workers-yes or no?

Damian Green: I will come to that. The hon. Gentleman said that he was trying to tie down the present and future Governments, but it is sensible that the current Minister-and any future Minister, whether that is me or someone else-should proceed on the basis of hard evidence. Different solutions may be necessary, depending on the scale of the problem. It has struck me during the debate that people are saying that there is a solution. I suspect that there are two or three solutions. We all want to clear the problem up, and any sensible Government who want to eradicate it may have to take several different steps, which will have to be based on evidence of the scale of the problem.

The hon. Gentleman is saying that one instance is one too many, and that the Government must do something about the problem. That is true, but he has been in the House long enough to know that such reasoning is often not the basis for the best and most effective policy making. I want to ensure that we eradicate abuse, and to do so effectively we need better evidence than we have at the moment. That is why I hope that the Minister can produce that evidence.

John Hemming: Is there not clear evidence of bonded, indentured employment? That is the challenge that must be resolved.

Damian Green: That is certainly one of the challenges that must be resolved, but there are others, including the potential for things to fall out of the part of the system that we are talking about; that could lead to routes to settlement that the Government are very concerned about, and I have a lot of sympathy for them on that. There are a number of complex issues, and I repeat that we need to find solutions based on evidence.

The Home Affairs Committee has recommended that we keep what is essentially a special visa regime for the type of worker that we are discussing. That recommendation was treated with great reluctance by the Home Office when it introduced the points-based system. I appreciate the desire of any bureaucracy for a tidy system. God knows the immigration system is complex enough, and was complex enough before the introduction of the points-based system, so I can appreciate why those involved in running it wish to simplify it as much as possible and not to create special exemptions.

Mr. Woolas: Hear, hear.

Damian Green: I am glad to have the support of the Minister on that, but he will be well aware that purity in pursuit of that aim is not possible and not practical. We have exceptions in corners of the system. We have, for instance, a seasonal agricultural workers scheme. In certain areas, it is sensible-

Mr. Woolas: Gurkhas.

Damian Green: The Minister surprisingly mentions Gurkhas from a sedentary position. If I were him, I would not bring that subject up, but he has done.

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