“We are gravely concerned at the amendment now put forward by the Government. Not only does this not provide any improvement in the position of these workers, but it would place on the statute book a regime under which overseas domestic worker victims of

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human trafficking and slavery would be provided with less protection than other such victims within the existing National Referral Mechanism system.”

The hon. Lady says that that is not the case. I contend that if Amnesty International is criticising the Government, if the other organisations are doing so, if the House of Lords has said that the Government are wrong and if a cross-party royal commission which has looked at the Bill has said that the Government need to change their position now, the Government need to consider that.

There will be no right of appeal against a negative decision and no legal aid. Many of the people involved have limited English, are poor and vulnerable, and are being abused by rich and powerful people. The challenges are too great to place upon them. We have an opportunity today to give the House of Lords our support, to put in place this measure which will ensure that the visa is untied and that a level of protection is available. There is still the possibility of tackling issues to do with the minimum wage and other exploitation and to take both criminal action and civil enforcement action outside this Chamber through the anti-slavery commissioner and other aspects of the Bill. The hon. Lady has the chance to do that today, and I hope she will take it.

Karen Bradley: The right hon. Gentleman is very generous in allowing me to intervene. He hits the nail on the head when he talks about the vulnerability of the victims. We are talking about people who are in an incredibly vulnerable situation and about their chances of making a reasonable and logical decision to move to a non-abusive employer, when the risk is that they will go back to more slavery, more abuse and more servitude, and with the employer they have just escaped from being able to put somebody else into servitude. I think that that risk is too great for us to take. We need to help those people. We need to find them. I fully accept the challenges of finding victims and bringing this crime out into the open, but we are not going to do it if we brush it under the carpet and just let the victims change employers.

Mr Hanson: There is a disagreement between us, as ever. That is the nature of the debate that we have in the House. I support the Government in trying to tackle long-term abuse by poor employers. I support the Government in trying to drive out abuse carried out through pay and conditions. I hope the National Crime Agency, the anti-slavery commissioner and others will work hard to do that. The difference between us today is the question of the tied visa for employment. The House of Lords, the Committee chaired by my right hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead, and the charities and organisations outside the House that are working on this issue believe that the Government should accept the Lords amendment. So do I.

Mark Durkan (Foyle) (SDLP) rose

Mr Hanson: I was about to commend my point of view to the House, but I cannot resist an intervention from my hon. Friend.

Mark Durkan: Does the right hon. Gentleman recognise that the Minister has said that the employers could go on to employ someone else and subject them to abuse? Does that not expose the risk of the tied visa system?

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The abuse that the Minister is referring to is an abuse that stems from the tied visa. That is what we need to eradicate.

Mr Hanson: I am eternally grateful that I allowed my hon. Friend to intervene and I am grateful for his support in Committee when we debated this matter. He has helpfully cemented the central argument that the tied visa is a wrong-headed approach. There were challenges before April 2012; undoubtedly there will always be challenges in this type of situation. However, the tied visa exacerbates it. We have to make this change. I hope that the Government will listen, but if they do not—

Emily Thornberry: Governments have been talking for years about bringing in a modern slavery Bill. Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is unfortunate that in the last gasp of this Government, they have brought a Bill before the House that will still not address one of the most important aspects of modern slavery?

Mr Hanson: I remind the House that in taking the position that they have today, the Government are rejecting the cross-party recommendation from my right hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead and his Committee; rejecting the discussions we had in the Modern Slavery Bill Committee that resulted in a nine-to-nine vote with the Chair casting his vote in favour of the Government; rejecting the will of another place, where a cross-party group of MPs led by Lord Hylton tabled this amendment; and rejecting the advice of every organisation involved in dealing with this issue outside this House.

That is for the Government to determine. I am simply saying that if, by the end of this debate, they do not change their mind, I will ask my right hon. and hon. Friends to support the House of Lords amendment and, if that is defeated, reluctantly accept the Government’s late, compromise, dragged-out proposal.

Caroline Nokes (Romsey and Southampton North) (Con): Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for the opportunity to speak in this debate on amendments to the Modern Slavery Bill—a critical Bill that will have far-reaching consequences for those who seek to abuse, and indeed have abused, and those who have suffered from that abuse. I was pleased to able to serve on the Committee that scrutinised the Bill, and I can honestly say that it did so in depth and very carefully. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Minister for her commitment to this issue and her determination to get this vital piece of anti-slavery legislation on to the statute book.

I recognise that amendment 72, tabled by the noble Lord Hylton, has the very best of intentions, but as my hon. Friend said the most important thing is to get this Bill on to the statute book before Parliament is dissolved in just over a week’s time. If we leave it any later—if the Lords continue to press these amendments—I fear we will lose the Bill altogether and its important work will be undone. Abusers will be safe from the law, while the poor and vulnerable they abuse will have less protection under it.

Mr Hanson: Let me assure the hon. Lady, on behalf of Her Majesty’s Opposition, that we will do nothing to stop the passage of this Bill if the Lords accept the amendment in due course.

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Caroline Nokes: I thank the shadow Minister for that assurance.

My constituents who have contacted me on this issue want to know that there will be additional evidence of legal employer-employee relationships and a confirmation that employers will be forced to pay the minimum wage. The current rules stop employees changing employer, and vice versa, during the term of their visa. Amendment 72 would permit someone on an overseas domestic worker visa to change employer without having to go to the authorities.

Michael Connarty: Is the hon. Lady aware that under the previous Government, who brought in the three-year visa, people could change their employer, but her Government took that right away? Will she apologise to her constituents for that?

Caroline Nokes: I thank the hon. Gentleman for making that point. Let me make the point that his Government had 13 years in which to introduce such legislation. In fact, we have had to wait 200 years for a piece of modern day slavery legislation.

Emily Thornberry: Does not the hon. Lady agree, though, that a modern slavery Bill ought to be more than just its title and the campaign behind it? It ought to be good law that will be able to affect the lives of the most vulnerable. Does she not agree that this Bill falls down on that in some important respects?

Caroline Nokes: Of course we all want this to be good law, which is precisely what the Minister intends. We do not want loopholes that enable slave masters to find new victims; we do not want these slaves to be without the protection we are seeking to give them.

Karen Bradley: Has my hon. Friend reflected on the fact that when the Modern Slavery Bill becomes the Modern Slavery Act and we can say to employers applying for the visa, “If you bring your employee into the United Kingdom and abuse them, you will be subject to life imprisonment”, that will be a big deterrent that should prevent abusive employers who intend to bring in employees and treat them as slaves from doing so?

Caroline Nokes: I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. Of course she is absolutely right—it is a massive deterrent, and we must have it on the statute book.

Chief Constable Shaun Sawyer, the national policing lead on modern slavery, and Ian Cruxton, the director of the organised crime command at the National Crime Agency, have expressed concern that the Lords amendment would inadvertently undermine the fight against modern slavery—a fight that we all agree has to be won. I therefore hope that my hon. Friend will advise the Lords to withdraw their amendment, well intentioned as it may be, to ensure that the Bill gets on to the statute book in this Parliament, that those guilty of modern slavery will not be allowed off the hook, and those suffering the misery of it will be given protection and hope.

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1.45 pm

Mr Frank Field: Despite what my hon. Friend the Member for Islington South and Finsbury (Emily Thornberry) said, there has not been a long campaign for this Bill. That is a myth, because it started two summers ago. It is worth registering our thanks not only to the Government but to the whole House and to their lordships for getting the Bill into shape and through to this stage. Nevertheless, however slow anybody listening to this debate is, I think they will realise that there are differences between both Houses. I was immensely pleased by the statements made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Delyn (Mr Hanson).

For domestic workers, the issue we are dealing with is 100% about how they are going to be treated and whether they escape; the totality of the Bill will mean very little to them. Yet we do need to keep our eye on the totality of the Bill, which is immensely important and one this Government will be remembered by. We are clearly going to vote on it today, but I hope that when it goes back to their lordships, they will weigh up the distinct advantages the Government have offered us today on the basis of a simple rejection of the Lords amendment. I also hope that at that stage, disagreements can cease so that the view expressed by the hon. Member for Romsey and Southampton North (Caroline Nokes) is expressed by the whole House in wanting the Bill to receive Royal Assent next week and be put safely on to the statute book. Then, in the new Parliament, we can have an inquiry into this aspect of the law, and whoever is in government can add to the existing Act and we will not have to debate whether we need another Bill.

Heather Wheeler (South Derbyshire) (Con): I approach this debate with, perhaps, a different viewpoint from some other people in the Chamber. The midlands is a thriving area—the beating heart of the economy, in my humble opinion. It is very interesting to see the aspect of modern day slavery that can show itself in tarmacking gangs and farm gangs. It is absolutely disgraceful that such things are going on in this day and age.

I thank the right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr Field) for what he said about the Bill. It will be groundbreaking legislation that any Government ought to be, and certainly my Government will be, proud of. It is crucial in all respects, because we need to put a big message out there that our country looks after vulnerable people, that it is a country of law and order, and that nobody should come here thinking they can employ people and abuse them. That will not be tolerated by my Government, my country, and my people.

I am very proud of this Bill. I disagree with the Lords amendment and agree with the one we have tabled in lieu. The important thing is that people feel comfortable and confident that they can go to first responders and be looked after. I almost wish that we did not need to have this Bill, but I am incredibly proud that we have brought it in. It will be a very special day when it gets on to the statute book.

Fiona Mactaggart: I am very sad about this debate on Lords amendment 72. For some time, we have debated the treatment of overseas domestic workers. Before the Government changed the immigration rules, I wrote a report called, “Service not servitude”, and we have debated it since then. I am glad that we are debating it

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in the context of modern slavery because, horrifyingly, a shocking number of overseas domestic workers have to submit to slave-like conditions.

I am sad, however, because although Government amendment (a) in lieu looks as though it gives rights to such very vulnerable victims, it actually offers them less than other victims of modern slavery, which is very distressing. There is the proposal to give someone a six-month visa. A number of my Slough constituents who for one reason or another are subject to immigration control have only six months left on their visa. The Minister will know that Slough has a pretty buoyant employment market, but it can be impossible, even for constituents in a category which means they are almost certain to have their visa renewed, to find a new employer in that six-month period. Why? Because no employer wants to employ someone who only has six months left to stay. Unless the employer is offering a tiny little temporary job, it is very unusual for someone in that situation to be able to secure new employment.

Let us look at the Government’s record. We have heard much about it in relation to the Bill’s introduction, but what about overseas domestic workers? This Government, along with that of Panama, Sudan, El Salvador, Malaysia, Singapore and the Czech Republic—think of having them as comrades—is one of very few Governments in the world to refuse to support the International Labour Organisation convention on decent work for domestic workers. Why do I bring that up? Because the exploitation of domestic workers does not always amount to enslavement: the courts have sometimes decided that people who are vilely exploited are not enslaved, and are not eligible for some of the existing protections under the regulations on trafficking. If we are ambitious for world-leading legislation, one thing we must do is to ensure that workers are not paid less than the minimum wage, or are exploited or made to work ridiculous hours or in dangerous conditions. All those things would be protected if we had signed up to the ILO convention, but——guess what?—we did not. The Government have form on that.

The Minister tells us that there will be tough guidance on interviewing people separately to ensure a sort of pre-entry protection against modern slavery. I am really glad about that, but I remember being told that there was tough guidance on people carrying their own passport through immigration control. Indeed, there is such guidance for immigration officers, but in speaking to victims who are overseas domestic workers, I have yet to find one who did so. I am afraid that the Minister’s tough guidance just does not work.

The guidance is not sufficient protection, and neither is the six-month visa, while the failure to sign up to the ILO convention is another example of inadequate protection. The Minister has cited senior police officers who believe that her proposed changes will increase the number of overseas domestic workers willing to be police narks. Well, it might, but it might not. As we know from the evidence of battered women and all other victims of abuse, the best way to encourage victims of abuse to give evidence is to focus on the support and advice they need.

Kalayaan, with which I have worked for a scary number of years, is the organisation with the pre-eminent record in doing so. It has a real record of working closely with such women, and in providing them with

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the kind of advice that best enables them to get their rights, such as they exist. Under the old system, it regularly helped women domestic workers to get their passports back, because—guess what?—their employers used to steal them and hold on to them.

Such support will not be provided by the Minister’s amendment (a). To suggest to people, “Oh, you get support if you become a police nark, and as long as you support this, or on condition that you do that”, is not the way to enable people to get control over their own lives, which the Minister said she wanted to achieve.

Heather Wheeler: I love the passion with which the hon. Lady speaks about this issue, but I really think she is missing the big picture. If we do not do something about this, new people will be enslaved day in, day out in such domestic situations. There has to be a change, and what she is offering will not give us that change.

Fiona Mactaggart: Actually, Lords amendment 72 would make exactly the change that the hon. Lady says we need. It would support victims and trust them to take control of their own lives, whereas, frankly, there is a real risk that the Minister’s amendment (a) will infantilise victims. I know from working with victims of abuse that the best way to make them agree to be witnesses and to give them control over their own lives is to support them in taking the lead, not to tell them that as long as they collaborate, they can get this, that or the other.

I welcome the involvement of the hon. Member for South Derbyshire (Heather Wheeler) and I am glad to see other people focusing on this issue, but those of us who have focused on it for a long time and who argued that ending the ability to switch visas would produce the kind of kafala system now common in Britain have been proved right. We are very sad to have been proved right, but I am glad that Members from every party, including Conservative Members, have regretted their former decisions and recognised that what the Lords are seeking is a better way to protect such vulnerable victims than the proposal the Minister has tried to sell us. If we trust and protect the victims in such a way, we will significantly reduce the level of slavery in Britain today.

Michael Connarty: The Minister has become much more skilful at arguing her brief than she was at the beginning of the process on the Bill. We forgave her for reading her text line by line in the beginning, but we will not forgive her for what she has done today. She rose to excuse a police-drafted clause with a fixation on criminality and catching bad people. Catching bad people is fine: I totally support it, as I have in the campaign that I have run for a long time and since long before there was engagement by the Minister or her colleague, the hon. Member for Norwich North (Chloe Smith), who is sitting smiling on the second Bench. The reality, however, is that if we substitute the rights of victims with the overarching demand to catch criminals or bad people, we sometimes sacrifice the victims in that pursuit. Government amendment (a) takes the that line.

If an overseas domestic worker coming forward in relation to an employment situation is not paid, are they a slave? If they are held by somebody who has their passport but does not give it back and does not pay them—perhaps feeds them, and perhaps does not beat

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them—they are still slaves. Are the police likely to take information from those people to pursue the employer? Probably not. Will those people be able to leave their employer and say, “I want to go somewhere where I will be paid and treated correctly; where I will be treated with respect, not as a slave, but as a worker”? A worker expects to be treated properly. If people are treated badly by their employer who has brought them to this country, it is still slavery as far as I am concerned.

Karen Bradley rose

Michael Connarty: Is that slavery as far as the Minister is concerned?

2 pm

Karen Bradley: I say again that, yes, I want victims to provide information that enables us to catch the perpetrators and increase the number of prosecutions. However, when somebody comes forward and is referred to the national referral mechanism, it does not require the involvement of the police at any point in the process. The UK Human Trafficking Centre and UK Visas and Immigration make those decisions at the moment. As the hon. Gentleman knows, we have reviewed the national referral mechanism and will be piloting the use of panels to make those decisions. Those will not be law enforcement bodies. Law enforcement will be involved only if people can provide evidence that will enable us to catch the perpetrator. If somebody goes through the national referral mechanism and gets a conclusive grounds decision, they will be granted a minimum of six months to stay and work in the country for any employer. That does not need to involve the police at any stage in the process.

Michael Connarty: The Minister did not answer the question that I asked. If someone is not paid and their employer holds their passport, are they enslaved? I ask her to clarify that. It seems that she is not willing to speak about that. Of course, that is not likely to lead the police to prosecute the person who kept their passport and kept them in a domestic home in the UK. We might be talking about longer than 15 days. The Minister mentioned people who live with the staff of embassies. She did not elucidate on that point, but that is where some of the worst malpractice has happened.

Amendment (a) states that leave to remain will be granted to an overseas domestic worker

“who has been determined to be a victim of slavery or human trafficking, and…in relation to whom such other requirements are met as may be provided for by the rules.”

It goes on to specify what the rules must provide for. My concern is for the victim. My second concern is to create the conditions in which the victim wants to deal with an abusive employer. It might not be someone who beats them up. It might be somebody who refuses to pay them or who gives them just a small allowance like pocket money that is not adequate to live on, which is what many domestic workers get when they come here. Will we prosecute those employers? I hope we will, because that is a breach of our laws.

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Karen Bradley: The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. That is a breach of our employment laws. HMRC is pursuing the employers of overseas domestic workers to ensure that they pay the national minimum wage and observe our employment laws. However, where somebody is the victim of slavery, qualifies under the national referral mechanism for specialist support and gets conclusive grounds, amendment (a) will enable them to work here for six months.

Michael Connarty: Amendment (a) is deficient. Lords amendment 72 is simple and states that people can

“change their employer (but not work sector) while in the United Kingdom”.

That is the first choice they should be able to make. If a domestic worker who comes here is a victim and is not treated properly, they should be able to move to another employer while their visa is running. That was the basis of what was put forward by the Joint Committee on the Draft Modern Slavery Bill. That was the basis of what was proposed in the Public Bill Committee. However, it was not carried. We know about the deficiencies in the Liberal view at that time. I hope that the Liberal Democrats have changed their mind. Today, we can support the simple Lords amendment and carry the spirit of what was recommended by the Joint Committee.

My second point on the protection of victims is about the way in which we encourage people to take up the right to stay. The hon. Member for Romsey and Southampton North (Caroline Nokes) said that nothing had been done in that respect. In 2009, the Labour Government brought in a three-year visa that allowed domestic workers to leave unacceptable or abusive employers, including the kind of employer I have described who does not pay wages or respect people properly as workers. The current Government overturned that and closed that door to people.

It is unlikely that the people I have met through Kalayaan and other organisations who work with these victims will go into the national referral mechanism, because they have an aversion to formal institutions. We know that. Through the Human Trafficking Foundation, we have talked to 60 or 70 non-governmental organisations, all of which have the same problem: the victims do not trust the institutions of the state in this country. Whether we like it or not, the Government’s proposal says that if people are willing to be a witness and help the police to prosecute their former employer, they will get support and be able to stay for up to a year. That is not the way to do it. The way to do it is to allow people to move employer and to create a structure that allows them afterwards to go willingly to those organisations that are willing to give them a bit of muscle if they feel aggrieved enough about the abuse they have suffered.

Most people who have not been paid or have just been paid pocket money are not likely to want to pursue their employer, but they have the same right to move as someone who is willing to go up against an employer who has beaten or stabbed them or treated them abusively. Why should we distinguish between these two sets of people? Legally, they are not being treated as they should be as workers, or are we to distinguish between foreign workers and our workers?

Heather Wheeler: I wonder whether the hon. Gentleman genuinely misunderstands what is going on here. He is an experienced Member, but I wonder whether people

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really understand that what he is saying is that if somebody comes here on this sort of visa, he will give them carte blanche to go and do something else.

Fiona Mactaggart: That’s not what we’re saying.

Heather Wheeler: That is exactly what the hon. Gentleman is suggesting. He is going into realms that are not to do with protecting people from modern slavery, which is what the Bill is about.

Michael Connarty: As I am the person who forced the Prime Minister eventually to sign up to the directive on human trafficking, which he had refused to do for several months, during which he wiggled and wriggled, I do not have to apologise to anybody and I do not need it explained to me what the Bill is about. It is a good Bill, but it could be improved immensely. I do not know whether the hon. Lady has read Lords amendment 72, but it says that people should be able to

“change their employer (but not work sector) while in the United Kingdom”.

It is quite clear that it is about people going from domestic work into domestic work. I hope that the House will agree to the amendment.

Finally, I want to question the whole idea of creating this rather tortuous process. It has always been a problem that the Government have seen the Bill as, first and foremost, a criminal Bill to chase people who abuse others through human trafficking and slavery. Many of us hold the view that we should first protect those who are enslaved or abused and then convince them to become witnesses and to help in that secondary programme. If we get the two things back to front, what happens? The victims do not become witnesses and the people who abuse others escape, as they have been escaping. I believe that if we agree to amendment (a), we will have another tortuous process that will become another barrier that makes people stay away from the institutions, because it is not about protecting the victims; it is about the Government’s obsession with catching the bad people.

Emily Thornberry: I remember welcoming the Government’s move to opt into the EU directive on human trafficking in March 2011. I learned this afternoon that that was the result of the work of my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk (Michael Connarty). I congratulate him on that.

It seemed to me that the Government were putting themselves in a contradictory position by signing up to the EU directive on human trafficking. The European Court of Justice has said that any country signing up to the directive

“must refrain from taking any measures liable seriously to compromise the result prescribed.”

It seems to me that signing up to a directive is about more than putting our country’s name to a piece of paper; we must sign up to the spirit of it, too. As I have said, the European Court of Justice has said that we must not go backwards.

I read with interest the speech of the former Attorney-General, the right hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield (Mr Grieve), to City university about the role of UK law as a model for combating human trafficking and slavery, in which he summarised the progress that had been made. I was very concerned that

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it was entirely contradictory for the Government on the one hand to sign up to the directive and trumpet the work that had been done to combat human trafficking and slavery, yet on the other hand to change the immigration rules to make life much more difficult for domestic workers. That seemed a complete contradiction, so on 30 April 2012 I wrote to the former Attorney-General to point that out. He referred me to the Home Office, which wrote back. I am glad that it has moved on from the position that it adopted on 16 June 2012, when it stated:

“The position is that, if an ODW has been granted a visa to come to the UK to work for their overseas employer while that employer is visiting the UK, the ODW will have leave to remain in the UK in line with that granted to the employer—ie, up to 6 months’ leave (the maximum grant of leave for visitors). If an ODW leaves their employer during the time of the visit to the UK, the ODW will retain whatever time remains of the original leave granted and so will not be in the UK illegally during that time.”

That did not seem terribly generous. Let us suppose an overseas domestic worker came with a visa to stay in the UK for a certain amount of time. If they left their employer because of abuse, they could remain until their visa ran out but then they had to go. The letter continued:

“The ODW will not be entitled to work for another employer, but they will not be in the UK illegally unless or until the leave expires.”

As I said, we have moved on from that, but it seems that alarm bells have been ringing about abused and exploited overseas domestic workers for many years. Many of those who have raised the alarm have spoken today in the House, and many organisations outside have done so. The Government have spent a number of years preparing such a Bill, and I am disappointed and surprised that, to try to get the Bill through the House today, they are putting this matter back for yet another review. Many people with much greater experience in this issue have been assisting the Government as best they can for some time. They have coalesced around this amendment in the House of Lords, and although I listened carefully to the Minister when she explained why the amendment is not satisfactory, I still do not understand. Not to accept the Lords amendment seems to fly in the face of the collective common sense in this place.

Perhaps I can add my ha’pence worth. We have heard a great deal about how important it is for victims to give evidence against their employers in court, and that to encourage them to come forward it is important they understand that their continued presence within the United Kingdom will be dependent on their giving evidence against their employers, or assisting the police to ensure that those employers are prosecuted. I hear and understand that point, but it makes no sense.

Fiona Mactaggart: My hon. Friend is a lawyer and has court experience of these matters. Will she comment on advice I have received from Parosha Chandran, which suggests that where leave is granted as a result of someone coming forward, a prosecution might be more difficult to secure? Although 29 victims of slavery have had conclusive decisions referred by Kalayaan, there has been only one successful prosecution for domestic worker abuse.

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Emily Thornberry: My right hon. Friend—it is a pleasure to say that—is absolutely right, and in a way she predicts the point I was going to make. In my former manifestation as a criminal lawyer, we always looked for what might be the primary motivation for why a witness would be giving evidence. If we could cross-examine a victim and say, “You’re only saying that to stay in the United Kingdom. Your continued presence within the United Kingdom is dependent on you co-operating with the police. You’re gilding the lily; you are making up lies and doing what you can to remain here,” that would undermine the credibility of the witness. In the end, any prosecution for slavery will be entirely dependent on the evidence of that woman. That is why witnesses need to be empowered, and why it must be clear that a witness has come forward entirely freely and honestly, so that we can have a powerful prosecution. That is the way to combat modern slavery in the context of overseas domestic workers.

2.15 pm

Paul Blomfield (Sheffield Central) (Lab): I commend the Minister for the passion with which she spoke earlier about the vulnerability of victims. I do not doubt her integrity or motives, and I am grateful for the time that she found to talk to me and the policy director of Focus on Labour Exploitation—that is one NGO in the long list cited by the shadow Minister, my right hon. Friend the Member for Delyn (Mr Hanson), that shares the concerns about the way the Government are approaching this issue.

A number of Government Members have spoken with equal passion about the importance of getting the Bill into statute, and the Opposition share that. The simplest way would have been for the Government not to have challenged Lords amendment 72, because it helps to ensure that our efforts to combat modern slavery are not undermined by an immigration system that ties workers into slavery.

We are now agreed across the House that the tied domestic worker visa effectively gives all power to employers and none to their vulnerable employees. It forces domestic workers who are exploited by their employers to make the unenviable choice between breaching their visa conditions or staying with an abusive employer. As was mentioned earlier, there have been three reviews on this issue: the first was by the Centre of Social Justice, which so often has the ear of the Government; the second was by my right hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead (Mr Field); and the third was by the joint legislative Committee on this Bill. All reviews came to the same conclusion: the tied domestic worker visa strengthens the hand of the slave master against the victim of slavery. The Government should not ignore those reviews and should recognise that Lords amendment 72 seeks to address the concerns raised. The amendment is not a silver bullet; it simply wrestles a small amount of power back to the domestic worker from her or his employer—that is all. If accepted, however, the amendment will help to prevent many cases of abuse.

As was mentioned earlier, those with an interest in these issues struggle to understand why the Government are so unwilling to accept the amendment. The Home Secretary has suggested that the Bill seeks to be “world leading”, but that was our pre-2012 position on this issue. My right hon. Friend the Member for Slough

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(Fiona Mactaggart) cited the kafala system that has led to countless cases of abuse in Lebanon, and NGOs used the pre-2012 UK overseas domestic worker visa as an example of best practice. We were commended for immigration rules that recognised

“the particular vulnerability of migrant domestic workers to exploitation and incorporate fundamental protections as a result.”

Later that year, we lost those protections, and the amendment seeks to restore them. If the Bill is to be taken seriously as a genuine effort to tackle modern-day slavery, Lords amendment 72 should stand unchanged.

Many of us are concerned that the Government are proposing not only to reject the amendment but to insert their own amendment that would provide domestic workers with the right to remain in the UK, but—this is an enormous but—only if they are determined to be a victim of trafficking by the authorities. I understand the Government’s reasoning, which the Minister has outlined, in seeking to secure prosecutions, but the protection of victims and securing prosecutions are not mutually exclusive aims.

Karen Bradley: The hon. Gentleman is making a powerful speech, and I thank him for mentioning Focus on Labour Exploitation, which is now part of our stakeholder group working on modern slavery. I want victims to go into the national referral mechanism to give them the support they need and to ensure that those vulnerable people who have been subjected to the most horrendous abuse get the right level of expert support. I want them to go into the NRM, so that we ensure that we give them back control of their lives. We have gone through a review and I fully accept that the NRM needs changes, but the new reviewed NRM is designed to give people the support they need.

Paul Blomfield: I understand what the Minister is saying, but let me explain why I think the Government’s approach is problematic. The Government’s amendments would mean that a domestic worker will have to take the risk of presenting to the authorities to gain the determination of being a victim of trafficking. The domestic worker would have to do so without legal advice, as legal aid would be granted only once referral is made. Secondly, they provide for no immigration enforcement action to be taken against domestic workers, should they breach immigration conditions, again only if they are found to be a victim of trafficking or slavery. That will do nothing to allay the genuine fears of domestic workers that, if they put their heads above the parapet to seek assistance, they could face deportation.

My hon. Friend the Member for Islington South and Finsbury (Emily Thornberry) has made it very clear how the criminal justice system might treat victims in that situation. Indeed, they would face deportation if they decide they do not wish to go through the NRM, which should be their right. Therefore, far from achieving the desired result the Minister seeks to outline, the amendment risks achieving the absolute opposite: stopping victims coming forward and reducing the chances of prosecutions.

Mr Jim Cunningham (Coventry South) (Lab): If my hon. Friend were to consider, for example, normal industrial relations, it takes a lot for somebody—an individual who is an ordinary citizen of this country—to

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come forward and make a complaint about an employer. It must be 10 times worse for somebody whose immigration conditions are tied to an employer to come forward. The Minister may understand that point, but she is not addressing it adequately.

Paul Blomfield: My hon. Friend makes the point very powerfully: there is enormous pressure on victims not to come forward. The Government’s position is indicative of their whole approach. It puts the responsibility on victims to come forward to secure prosecutions to end trafficking. Unlike Lords amendment 72, which places the emphasis on how best to protect victims, the Government are instead trying, with their amendments, to refocus on the need for victims to do the authorities’ work for them. It almost suggests the victims are guilty of something if they do not want to take this enormous risk. The Minister is shaking her head, but the Government’s approach does not take account of why victims are scared to come forward, nor does it recognise that trafficked people are frequently trapped in a trafficking situation because of a fear—real or perceived—of authorities. Traffickers prey on that fear to hold victims in exploitative situations.

Fiona Mactaggart: Another problem with the Government’s proposed amendments relates to people who are exploited but not enslaved. For example, a woman domestic worker is more vulnerable to sexual exploitation, because she works in the private family home and so on, but she would not benefit from these protections because she could not enter the NRM. She is not enslaved, but she might have been a victim of sexual exploitation or rape. There is no mechanism to protect her.

Paul Blomfield: My right hon. Friend makes a very powerful additional point on why the Government’s approach is flawed.

My overriding concern is that, despite the Government’s stated commitment to tackling modern slavery, the Bill is still far too dependent on the victims rather than the state to identify the perpetrators of trafficking and slavery. That is not only morally wrong; unfortunately for the Government, it is also illegally flawed. The European Court of Human Rights has held that the state has a positive obligation to protect victims of trafficking and to investigate potential trafficking situations. Lords amendment 72 brings us much closer to meeting that positive obligation. It provides victims with a clear safety net: the ability to leave an exploitative situation without hesitation.

We all need to play our part to combat the horrific crime of modern slavery, but the agencies of government are legally obliged to take a proactive role in identifying potential cases. It seems that in the absence of an effective prevention strategy to meet that aim, the Government are depending on victims to pick up the slack when they really need proactive labour inspection and enforcement. That is a point I will make further, if I have the opportunity, in relation to Government amendment 77.

Mark Reckless (Rochester and Strood) (UKIP): I am grateful for your indulgence, Madam Deputy Speaker. I entered the Chamber during the speech by the right

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hon. Member for Delyn (Mr Hanson), who made some compelling points. I intended only to listen to the debate before making up my mind between the Government’s and the Opposition’s approach, and I am pleased that the differences seem to have narrowed. There appears, at least in the Home Secretary’s amendment, to be something of a spirit of compromise. I am surprised by the temperature of the debate on both sides of the House, because Parliament is acting in one of its better ways.

This debate has risen up the agenda very strongly in recent years. I do not think the Government should be criticised for putting a Bill through Parliament only just before Dissolution and I do not think the Opposition should be criticised for not having acted during 13 years in government. Politicians and society as a whole have turned their minds to this issue only recently. As far as I am concerned, I do not think I turned my mind to it before 2011. I apologise if I have got this wrong but it may have been a report from MigrationWatch UK that drew my attention to the sharply rising numbers of people—I think they were referred to at that time as being in the domestic servants category—coming into the country. The report asked whether that was right and appropriate.

The Government’s changes to the visa in 2012 were, overall, positive and they reduced the time that somebody could be an overseas domestic servant. It strikes me as understandable, if not necessarily right, that a family from overseas visiting this country for a relatively short period and who have a long relationship with the people who have been working in their household might wish to bring those people with them. They may be very well-off and used to having a level of service from particular individuals. What struck me as much less reasonable was for that relationship to persist for a very long time: very wealthy families coming to this country and permanently continuing to have staff who had previously worked for them, or bringing in new staff from their country of residence and using only those staff rather than employing people domestically.

In terms of immigration control, I fear there is something about the overseas domestic servant category that is liable to exploitation. I wonder whether there are shades of grey or whether there is a lack of clarity on where precisely the line is drawn when one moves from service to servitude and then to slavery. To try to change the law to mitigate, reduce and minimise—it would be wonderful if we could eliminate it—that exploitation is the right thing for this House to do. Moving from people being employed in that way for very long periods to a maximum of six months strikes me as definitely the right thing to do.

What the Government have done is really positive. Whether it is right to see this more from the criminal justice perspective, or whether we should simply allow people to switch to different employers in a more liberal way, as the House of Lords wants, is a difficult question. However, I believe there is a sincerity of approach on both sides of the House and that we have moved on hugely.

I assume the Lords amendment will be defeated in a Division and that the Government’s alternative amendment will pass. I hope that if the Lords come back again, it may be to find perhaps even further compromise, or to take some of the positives of the Lords approach and to

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consider some of the criticisms that the Opposition have made of the Home Secretary’s amendment. However, I agree that what is absolutely key is to pass the Bill.

We still need to focus on the diplomatic domestic service category, where people can work still for up to five years although I think it used to be six. I think that the prospect of prison is likely to have a persuasive effect on an abusive employer who employs someone in a private household for six months, although it will be a challenge to communicate to both overseas domestic workers and the families employing them that that consequence is a real one. In the diplomatic sector, however, given diplomatic immunity, I fear that that incentive might not be so great because the period that people are in service is much longer. I worry that, given the Government’s understandable concern for our relationships with foreign countries, we might not come close to eradicating servitude, if not modern slavery, in those categories. We must continue to focus on that area not just in legislation but through our foreign relations.

2.30 pm

In conclusion, I strongly support the Bill’s passage. Despite its genesis, I supported our acceptance of the human trafficking directive, and I believe that what the House and campaign groups have done on this subject over the last few years should be commended.

Mark Durkan: Unlike the hon. Member for Rochester and Strood (Mark Reckless), having been here throughout this debate, having sat through the Public Bill Committee and having been present for all the Bill’s other stages in the House, I am not surprised at the heat generated by Lords amendment 72 and the Government amendment to it.

I will not rehearse the issues raised in Committee. Instead, I will concentrate on some of the issues heard this afternoon. It has been argued that because this is such an important and welcome Bill, it is untoward to argue over amendments. It is an abuse of the procedural requirements of this place for Government Members to suggest that anybody pressing a point in relation to these amendments threatens the Bill at large or would be happy to see it frustrated or set aside. The attempt, here in this Chamber, where we talk about being mature legislators, to create the impression of an abuse of process and a scaring process should give us pause for thought about what is at play in these amendments.

The Government amendment provides that if an overseas domestic worker wants to exit a position of slavery, they can do so only if they participate in the national referral mechanism. They will have to engage in a process they might not know about or understand, and they might have their own particular fears, misgivings or hang-ups. They will have been subject to intimidation, having effectively been employed as chattels of their employer, courtesy of the kafala-style system that operates for domestic visa workers. The idea is that these victims—people on the margins of the margin—should have confidence that their position will be transformed by the national referral mechanism. I wish that were the case.

The Minister has emphasised that the Government amendment aims to ensure that when a domestic worker leaves a situation of slavery, that can help to ensure

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prosecution. The national policing lead and the director of crime command for the National Crime Agency have been quoted as saying that the Lords amendment would be at fault because it would undermine the capacity of the authorities to secure more prosecutions. When I asked the Minister about the experience of the national referral mechanism in terms of the number of conclusive decisions made compared with the number of successful prosecutions, she did not answer, although the right hon. Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart) subsequently gave us an indication. In quoting the figure from the legal advice to Anti-Slavery International, she gave the example of Kalayaan, which supports victims, and mentioned that 29 conclusive decisions had been made. However, there is only on record one conviction of an overseas domestic worker employer, so the link between the national referral mechanism and successful prosecutions is not strong. For that reason, the argument used by Government Members—that supporting the Lords amendment would undermine or wash away any prospect of prosecution—is entirely false.

I understand that the Minister will probably argue that that has been the case with the national referral mechanism historically—we all accept that it has had its flaws—but the reform of the mechanism that is to be implemented follows last autumn’s publication of a review, and of course that review will be subject to pilots that will have to be implemented and then evaluated, which will probably take a year or more. Separately, as we heard from the right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr Field) and others, we know that the Government have instituted a review of tied visas by James Ewins. If the Government are conducting a review of tied visas, and if we have acknowledged that there are issues with the national referral mechanism—issues that I hope will be addressed by the reforms that are to take place but which are as yet untested and unproved—surely it would be reasonable for the Government to accept the Lords amendment and then revisit the issues around tied visas, first, following the review and evaluations of the changes to the national referral mechanism, and secondly, after the review by James Ewins has reported. At least victims on overseas domestic worker visas would then have the autonomous right to escape their victimhood.

It is interesting that in one of her interventions today the Minister said that the reason the Government amendment rested so much on the victim co-operating with the national referral mechanism was to give victims control. Surely victims would have control if they could vacate their exploitative employment autonomously and then have the right to seek alternative employment. If the Government are worried that the abusive employer might then escape scrutiny and employ somebody else, that brings us back to the hole in the bucket, dear Liza, of this whole question: the tied visa system is a licence to employers to exploit and abuse employees. If the Government’s best argument against the Lords amendment is the likelihood of employers using the device of the tied visa system simply to repeat the same abuse, the Government should be questioning their position more fundamentally, rather than relying on their amendment.

Mark Reckless: Is the hon. Gentleman not concerned that subsection (b) of the Lords amendment, which would allow workers in these categories to extend for up to 12 months each time, might create a sub-category of

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foreign domestic servant, separate from the domestic labour market, and that would make exploitation more likely?

Mark Durkan: As any evidence emerges, we will have to consider what it suggests about this sector of employment in general and individual employers in particular. This goes back to some of the arguments the Government have used in support of their own amendment and against the Lords amendment. If a domestic worker were to change their employer under the visa entitlement the Lords amendment would give them, it would be known to an authority, and the authority should be duly asking questions. It would then be for somebody else—perhaps not the victim—to notify the national referral mechanism and for issues to take place there.

In separate interventions today, the Minister seemed to make different arguments. On the one hand, the Government amendment was defended on the grounds that it would lead to more prosecutions of abusive employers by ensuring that victims co-operated with the national referral mechanism and therefore that their victimhood would translate into active cases. That is what we were being told by the policing lead and the National Crime Agency. Then, in another intervention, the Minister made the point that the national referral mechanism was not of itself hidebound in achieving prosecutions and not necessarily police or prosecution-driven in any way. We cannot have both arguments being used in contradictory ways here.

I ask the Government to listen to their own arguments and to think about some of the things they are relying on in respect of their own amendments. They should think again about pressing those amendments; the chances are that they will have to revise them in the light of subsequent reviews and evaluations. The sensible thing to do—and most in keeping with the spirit claimed for this Bill, as being “world-leading” legislation—would be to accept the Lords amendments and, if necessary, qualify them by revisiting the issues in the light of subsequent reviews.

Karen Bradley rose—

Madam Deputy Speaker (Mrs Eleanor Laing): With the leave of the House, I will call the Minister briefly to speak again and answer the debate.

Karen Bradley: Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. I am grateful that you have given me the House’s leave to respond to the points raised.

I am grateful to all right hon. and hon. Members who have spoken in the debate. I know, as do we all, that there is a shared desire across this House and the other place to protect all victims of modern slavery. I will endeavour to address as quickly as I can the specific concerns raised, but I first want to note the point made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Meriden (Mrs Spelman) about the pre-legislative scrutiny committee’s various recommendations. She made the important point that the vote and recommendations for the committee took place before the Bill was published and the Government amendments were framed—before the review was announced and before the amendment in lieu we are debating today. I want to put on record my thanks and to pay my tribute to the members of the pre-legislative

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scrutiny committee, the Bill Committee and Members in the other place who have helped the Government to amend the Bill, making it a stronger and better Bill as a result.

The right hon. Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart) talked about not ratifying the International Labour Organisation’s convention on domestic workers. She will know that we do not believe that ratifying it would strengthen the extensive measures we already have in the UK to prevent slavery and human trafficking. We believe we go further in respect of slavery and human trafficking than the convention asks for. It is important to strike the right balance between protecting vulnerable workers and ensuring that aspects of employment law which can carry criminal sanction are not extended to private households. Ratifying the convention would require the imposition of unnecessarily onerous obligations on, for example, people employing home helps or personal carers, and would be neither practical nor proportionate.

The right hon. Lady also said that she did not consider a six-month visa for victims to be sufficiently long. The Government’s initial intention is to grant a six-month visa to enable victims to earn some money and begin to rebuild their lives as they plan their return home. We believe this to be an appropriate period. It is of course the maximum time for which an overseas domestic worker visa is usually issued—they are issued for six months, and we will proceed with six months. We will of course consider any recommendations that James Ewins makes in his review as to whether the period should be varied, along with other evidence put forward. Six months is the minimum, and it can be amended in immigration law.

Sir Andrew Stunell: I appreciate the Minister’s giving way and I know she is working hard in this area. If six months is the minimum, will she describe the circumstances in which that would not be the automatic figure? In what circumstances might a period longer than six months be granted under the guidance she is suggesting?

Karen Bradley: If the right hon. Gentleman will forgive me, I would have to say that it depends on the individual circumstances. Perhaps I shall write to him with some examples, if that would be acceptable.

The right hon. Member for Slough also made a point about people carrying their passports through the border. If she has evidence that people are being treated in this way while going through the border, will she please supply it to us, because I would like Border Force and others to look at that and act on it.

The hon. Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk (Michael Connarty) expressed his view that the Bill is not victim focused. I disagree: I think it is. The Bill before us has changed significantly from the draft Bill published in December 2013, and almost all the amendments made in the other place are in support of victim protection. I thus feel strongly that we have made it a victim-focused Bill.

2.45 pm

The hon. Gentleman also made a point that was reiterated by the right hon. Member for Delyn (Mr Hanson). I was confused. [Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman seemed to imply that, irrespective of whether someone on one of these visas was being abused, they should be

17 Mar 2015 : Column 679

allowed to change employer.


The argument was that if somebody came to the UK and all the terms and conditions were fulfilled and all the expectations met, that was still not good enough and they should be allowed to change—


Madam Deputy Speaker (Mrs Eleanor Laing): Order. Members have put many questions to the Minister during a long debate. She is now answering them, and the House should have the courtesy to listen to her.

Karen Bradley: Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker.

As I was saying, I am slightly confused. It worries me that we are having a debate about immigration when we should be debating slavery, which is what this Bill is about.

Chloe Smith: Does the Minister agree that we seem to have heard the Labour Front-Bench team and the hon. Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk (Michael Connarty) being what some might call soft on immigration, in the sense of opening up this debate to all workers? The hon. Gentleman said explicitly that this was not just about victims, but about everybody.

Karen Bradley: My hon. Friend makes an important point. I have been confused. I thought we were discussing modern slavery, yet I have heard that this is about opening up immigration rules.

Michael Connarty: The Minister is setting up a straw man to knock it down. In the specific case I mentioned, someone is brought to this country and not paid—or given only pocket money, which many of the Kalayaan victims tell me is what happens. They are not physically abused, locked in a cupboard and fed the scraps the dog does not want—they are just not paid. There is a kafala system, in that the domestic visa and passport are held by the employer. Is such a person enslaved or not? I would say yes; does the Minister say no?

Karen Bradley: The hon. Gentleman will know that it would depend on the individual circumstances. It is clear, however, that in the situation he describes, British laws have been broken, so I would expect action to be taken to ensure that that was rectified. The point remains that the right hon. Member for Delyn, speaking for the Opposition, said that he wants the tie to be removed for all employees, even if they are not being abused. That sounds a strange and surprising position to take, given that there is so much concern about loopholes and other ways through which immigration rules can be flouted.

Michael Connarty: In taking evidence about Qatar in the Committee I chair at the Council of Europe, I heard about a case mentioned by the Union of Construction, Allied Trades and Technicians, in which people had their passports taken off them by their employers and were not paid. The person giving evidence said that these people were slaves, and I agree. If that is happening in Qatar and the same is happening in this country—people not being paid by their employers, who are holding their passports—I would say that it is an exact example of slavery in the modern world.

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Karen Bradley: As I have said, I cannot get drawn into individual examples. It would depend on the individual circumstances and on what has been said. Clearly, however, the law has been broken in that case, so action should be taken.

The hon. Member for Islington South and Finsbury (Emily Thornberry) accepted that workers were abused in the previous system—but then seemed to suggest that she wanted to go back to such a system. That is not acceptable. She also talked about the EU directive. We are confident that we fully meet all our obligations under the EU directive for all victims of trafficking, including those on overseas domestic worker visas.

The hon. Member for Sheffield Central (Paul Blomfield) made the point that this issue is very complicated, and he is absolutely right that there is no silver bullet. If there were, we would not have between 10,000 and 13,000 victims of slavery here in Britain today. That is unacceptable and shows why the Modern Slavery Bill is so important. We need to ensure that it is enacted, so that we can take action against the perpetrators and protect the victims.

The hon. Gentleman questioned the use of the term “world-leading”. Let me give the House some facts about countries with similar immigration systems. In Australia, the domestic worker visa allows a person to work only for the named employer. The employee cannot become unemployed or work for someone else. In Canada, only the diplomatic route allows a change of employer, and the change must be approved by the Protocol Office. In the United States, overseas domestic workers may work only for a diplomat, an international employee or a visitor. Those who accompany visitors must certify that they will not accept other employment while working for the employer. In Ireland, workers are expected to leave at the end of their employment. It seems to me that we are not out of step with international comparators, and that we can be proud of the fact that this is a world-leading Bill.

The hon. Gentleman also mentioned the independent review. Its terms of reference are available, and I will forward them to him if he cannot find them in the Library or elsewhere. The review will consider the issues and what the best solutions are, so that victims can be helped and further abuse prevented.

The Government acknowledge that some domestic workers may have been employed abroad with terms and conditions that do not accord with United Kingdom law and expectations. However, the requirement to prove, as part of an overseas domestic worker via application, that there is a pre-existing, ongoing employment relationship outside the United Kingdom provides the best assurance available that an established employer-employee relationship is in operation.

As for the hon. Member for Rochester and Strood (Mark Reckless), I am grateful for his support for the Bill. I am not sure whether he supports the amendment, but I will say to him, rather cheekily, that if I see him in the Lobby today, it will probably mean that I am seeing him more frequently than I did when he sat on my side of the House.

The hon. Member for Foyle (Mark Durkan) talked about prosecutions and the focus of the Bill. Its focus is on finding the victims, but we will not protect them if we do not catch and convict the perpetrators. That is

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absolutely vital. The two strands of this work cannot be disaggregated; they are both important, but victim protection is at the forefront of what we are doing.

I know that some Members feel that the overseas domestic worker visa should not be linked to a single employer. The Government have taken their concerns as seriously as possible by holding an independent inquiry. There will be a report by the end of July, and changes to the visa can still be made under the immigration rules without the need for further primary legislation. However, if we simply accepted the Lords amendment now in its entirety, we would be ignoring the advice from law enforcement practitioners and the designate independent anti- slavery commissioner.

I urge Members to support the motion. The amendments in lieu will encourage more overseas domestic workers who are victims to come forward, they will allow law enforcement to lead to the investigation and prosecution of more abusers, and they will help vulnerable victims to rebuild their lives.

Question put, That this House disagrees with Lords amendment 72.

The House divided:

Ayes 276, Noes 209.

Division No. 178]


2.52 pm


Adams, Nigel

Afriyie, Adam

Aldous, Peter

Amess, Sir David

Andrew, Stuart

Arbuthnot, rh Mr James

Baker, Steve

Baldwin, Harriett

Barclay, Stephen

Barker, rh Gregory

Bebb, Guto

Beith, rh Sir Alan

Bellingham, Mr Henry

Benyon, Richard

Beresford, Sir Paul

Berry, Jake

Bingham, Andrew

Binley, Mr Brian

Birtwistle, Gordon

Blackman, Bob

Blackwood, Nicola

Boles, Nick

Bone, Mr Peter

Bottomley, Sir Peter

Bradley, Karen

Brady, Mr Graham

Bray, Angie

Brazier, Mr Julian

Bridgen, Andrew

Brine, Steve

Brokenshire, James

Brooke, rh Annette

Browne, Mr Jeremy

Bruce, Fiona

Buckland, Mr Robert

Burley, Mr Aidan

Burns, Conor

Burns, rh Mr Simon

Burrowes, Mr David

Burstow, rh Paul

Burt, rh Alistair

Burt, Lorely

Cable, rh Vince

Cairns, Alun

Carmichael, rh Mr Alistair

Carmichael, Neil

Carswell, Douglas

Cash, Sir William

Chishti, Rehman

Clark, rh Greg

Coffey, Dr Thérèse

Collins, Damian

Colvile, Oliver

Cox, Mr Geoffrey

Crabb, rh Stephen

Crockart, Mike

Crouch, Tracey

Davey, rh Mr Edward

Davies, David T. C.


Davies, Glyn

Davies, Philip

Davis, rh Mr David

de Bois, Nick

Dinenage, Caroline

Djanogly, Mr Jonathan

Dorries, Nadine

Drax, Richard

Duddridge, James

Duncan Smith, rh Mr Iain

Ellis, Michael

Ellison, Jane

Ellwood, Mr Tobias

Elphicke, Charlie

Eustice, George

Evans, Graham

Evans, Jonathan

Evans, Mr Nigel

Evennett, rh Mr David

Fabricant, Michael

Fallon, rh Michael

Farron, Tim

Featherstone, rh Lynne

Field, rh Mark

Foster, rh Mr Don

Fox, rh Dr Liam

Francois, rh Mr Mark

Freeman, George

Freer, Mike

Fuller, Richard

Garnier, rh Sir Edward

Garnier, Mark

Gauke, Mr David

Gibb, Mr Nick

Gillan, rh Mrs Cheryl

Glen, John

Goldsmith, Zac

Goodwill, Mr Robert

Graham, Richard

Grant, Mrs Helen

Gray, Mr James

Grayling, rh Chris

Green, rh Damian

Greening, rh Justine

Griffiths, Andrew

Gyimah, Mr Sam

Hague, rh Mr William

Halfon, Robert

Hames, Duncan

Hammond, Stephen

Hands, rh Greg

Harper, Mr Mark

Harrington, Richard

Harris, Rebecca

Hart, Simon

Harvey, Sir Nick

Haselhurst, rh Sir Alan

Heald, Sir Oliver

Heath, rh Mr David

Heaton-Harris, Chris

Hemming, John

Henderson, Gordon

Hendry, rh Charles

Hinds, Damian

Hoban, Mr Mark

Hollingbery, George

Hollobone, Mr Philip

Hopkins, Kris

Howarth, Sir Gerald

Howell, John

Hunter, Mark

Huppert, Dr Julian

Hurd, Mr Nick

James, Margot

Javid, rh Sajid

Jenkin, Mr Bernard

Jenrick, Robert

Johnson, Gareth

Johnson, Joseph

Jones, Andrew

Jones, rh Mr David

Jones, Mr Marcus

Kawczynski, Daniel

Kelly, Chris

Kirby, Simon

Kwarteng, Kwasi

Lancaster, Mark

Latham, Pauline

Leadsom, Andrea

Lee, Dr Phillip

Leslie, Charlotte

Lewis, Brandon

Lewis, rh Dr Julian

Liddell-Grainger, Mr Ian

Lilley, rh Mr Peter

Lloyd, Stephen

Lopresti, Jack

Loughton, Tim

Lumley, Karen

Macleod, Mary

Main, Mrs Anne

Maude, rh Mr Francis

Maynard, Paul

McCartney, Jason

McCartney, Karl

McIntosh, Miss Anne

McLoughlin, rh Mr Patrick

McVey, rh Esther

Menzies, Mark

Metcalfe, Stephen

Miller, rh Maria

Mills, Nigel

Milton, rh Anne

Mitchell, rh Mr Andrew

Moore, rh Michael

Mordaunt, Penny

Morgan, rh Nicky

Morris, Anne Marie

Morris, James

Mosley, Stephen

Mulholland, Greg

Mundell, rh David

Murray, Sheryll

Murrison, Dr Andrew

Neill, Robert

Newton, Sarah

Nokes, Caroline

Norman, Jesse

Nuttall, Mr David

Ollerenshaw, Eric

Opperman, Guy

Ottaway, rh Sir Richard

Parish, Neil

Patel, Priti

Pawsey, Mark

Penrose, John

Percy, Andrew

Phillips, Stephen

Pickles, rh Mr Eric

Pincher, Christopher

Poulter, Dr Daniel

Prisk, Mr Mark

Pugh, John

Raab, Mr Dominic

Reckless, Mark

Redwood, rh Mr John

Rees-Mogg, Jacob

Reid, Mr Alan

Robathan, rh Mr Andrew

Robertson, rh Sir Hugh

Robertson, Mr Laurence

Rogerson, Dan

Rudd, Amber

Rutley, David

Sanders, Mr Adrian

Scott, Mr Lee

Selous, Andrew

Sharma, Alok

Shepherd, Sir Richard

Simmonds, rh Mark

Simpson, rh Mr Keith

Skidmore, Chris

Smith, Chloe

Smith, Henry

Smith, Julian

Smith, Sir Robert

Soames, rh Sir Nicholas

Soubry, Anna

Spelman, rh Mrs Caroline

Spencer, Mr Mark

Stanley, rh Sir John

Stephenson, Andrew

Stevenson, John

Stewart, Bob

Stewart, Iain

Stewart, Rory

Streeter, Mr Gary

Stride, Mel

Stuart, Mr Graham

Stunell, rh Sir Andrew

Sturdy, Julian

Swales, Ian

Swinson, Jo

Swire, rh Mr Hugo

Syms, Mr Robert

Tapsell, rh Sir Peter

Thurso, rh John

Timpson, Mr Edward

Tomlinson, Justin

Tredinnick, David

Turner, Mr Andrew

Tyrie, Mr Andrew

Uppal, Paul

Vara, Mr Shailesh

Vickers, Martin

Walker, Mr Charles

Walker, Mr Robin

Wallace, Mr Ben

Watkinson, Dame Angela

Weatherley, Mike

Webb, rh Steve

Wharton, James

Wheeler, Heather

White, Chris

Whittaker, Craig

Willetts, rh Mr David

Williams, Mr Mark

Williams, Roger

Williams, Stephen

Williamson, Gavin

Willott, rh Jenny

Wilson, Mr Rob

Wollaston, Dr Sarah

Wright, rh Jeremy

Wright, Simon

Young, rh Sir George

Zahawi, Nadhim

Tellers for the Ayes:

Gavin Barwell


Tom Brake


Abbott, Ms Diane

Abrahams, Debbie

Alexander, Heidi

Ali, Rushanara

Allen, Mr Graham

Anderson, Mr David

Ashworth, Jonathan

Austin, Ian

Bailey, Mr Adrian

Bain, Mr William

Banks, Gordon

Barron, rh Kevin

Beckett, rh Margaret

Begg, Dame Anne

Benn, rh Hilary

Benton, Mr Joe

Berger, Luciana

Betts, Mr Clive

Blackman-Woods, Roberta

Blenkinsop, Tom

Blomfield, Paul

Blunkett, rh Mr David

Bradshaw, rh Mr Ben

Brown, Lyn

Brown, rh Mr Nicholas

Brown, Mr Russell

Bryant, Chris

Buck, Ms Karen

Burnham, rh Andy

Byrne, rh Mr Liam

Campbell, rh Mr Alan

Campbell, Mr Gregory

Campbell, Mr Ronnie

Caton, Martin

Chapman, Jenny

Clark, Katy

Clarke, rh Mr Tom

Clwyd, rh Ann

Coffey, Ann

Connarty, Michael

Cooper, Rosie

Cooper, rh Yvette

Corbyn, Jeremy

Creagh, Mary

Cruddas, Jon

Cryer, John

Cunningham, Alex

Cunningham, Mr Jim

Cunningham, Sir Tony

Darling, rh Mr Alistair

David, Wayne

Davidson, Mr Ian

Denham, rh Mr John

Docherty, Thomas

Donaldson, rh Mr Jeffrey M.

Donohoe, Mr Brian H.

Doran, Mr Frank

Doughty, Stephen

Dowd, Jim

Durkan, Mark

Eagle, Ms Angela

Eagle, Maria

Edwards, Jonathan

Elliott, Julie

Ellman, Mrs Louise

Engel, Natascha

Fitzpatrick, Jim

Flello, Robert

Flint, rh Caroline

Flynn, Paul

Fovargue, Yvonne

Francis, Dr Hywel

Gapes, Mike

Gardiner, Barry

Glass, Pat

Glindon, Mrs Mary

Goodman, Helen

Green, Kate

Griffith, Nia

Gwynne, Andrew

Hain, rh Mr Peter

Hamilton, Mr David

Hancock, Mr Mike

Hanson, rh Mr David

Havard, Mr Dai

Healey, rh John

Hendrick, Mark

Hepburn, Mr Stephen

Heyes, David

Hillier, Meg

Hilling, Julie

Hodge, rh Margaret

Hoey, Kate

Hood, Mr Jim

Hopkins, Kelvin

Hosie, Stewart

Howarth, rh Mr George

Hunt, Tristram

Irranca-Davies, Huw

Jackson, Glenda

James, Mrs Siân C.

Jamieson, Cathy

Jarvis, Dan

Johnson, Diana

Jones, Helen

Jones, Mr Kevan

Jones, Susan Elan

Kane, Mike

Kaufman, rh Sir Gerald

Keeley, Barbara

Khan, rh Sadiq

Lammy, rh Mr David

Lavery, Ian

Lazarowicz, Mark

Leslie, Chris

Lewell-Buck, Mrs Emma

Llwyd, rh Mr Elfyn

Long, Naomi

Lucas, Caroline

Lucas, Ian

MacNeil, Mr Angus Brendan

Mactaggart, rh Fiona

Mahmood, Mr Khalid

Malhotra, Seema

Mann, John

Marsden, Mr Gordon

McCabe, Steve

McCann, Mr Michael

McCarthy, Kerry

McCrea, Dr William

McDonagh, Siobhain

McDonald, Andy

McDonnell, John

McFadden, rh Mr Pat

McGovern, Alison

McGovern, Jim

McGuire, rh Dame Anne

McInnes, Liz

McKechin, Ann

McKenzie, Mr Iain

Mearns, Ian

Miller, Andrew

Mitchell, Austin

Moon, Mrs Madeleine

Morden, Jessica

Morrice, Graeme


Morris, Grahame M.


Mudie, Mr George

Murphy, rh Paul

Murray, Ian

Nandy, Lisa

O'Donnell, Fiona

Onwurah, Chi

Owen, Albert

Pearce, Teresa

Perkins, Toby

Phillipson, Bridget

Pound, Stephen

Qureshi, Yasmin

Raynsford, rh Mr Nick

Reed, Mr Jamie

Reed, Mr Steve

Reeves, Rachel

Reynolds, Emma

Robertson, Angus

Robertson, John

Rotheram, Steve

Roy, Mr Frank

Ruane, Chris

Ruddock, rh Dame Joan

Sarwar, Anas

Seabeck, Alison

Shannon, Jim

Sharma, Mr Virendra

Sheerman, Mr Barry

Sheridan, Jim

Simpson, David

Skinner, Mr Dennis

Slaughter, Mr Andy

Smith, Angela

Smith, Nick

Straw, rh Mr Jack

Stringer, Graham

Stuart, Ms Gisela

Sutcliffe, Mr Gerry

Tami, Mark

Teather, Sarah

Thomas, Mr Gareth

Thornberry, Emily

Timms, rh Stephen

Turner, Karl

Twigg, Derek

Twigg, Stephen

Umunna, Mr Chuka

Vaz, rh Keith

Vaz, Valerie

Walley, Joan

Watson, Mr Tom

Weir, Mr Mike

Whiteford, Dr Eilidh

Whitehead, Dr Alan

Williams, Hywel

Wilson, Phil

Wilson, Sammy

Winnick, Mr David

Winterton, rh Ms Rosie

Wishart, Pete

Woodcock, John

Wright, Mr Iain

Tellers for the Noes:

Nic Dakin


Graham Jones

Question accordingly agreed to.

17 Mar 2015 : Column 682

17 Mar 2015 : Column 683

17 Mar 2015 : Column 684

Lords amendment 72 disagreed to.

Government amendments (a) to (c) made in lieu of Lords amendment 72.

17 Mar 2015 : Column 685

Clause 1

Slavery, servitude and forced or compulsory labour

Karen Bradley: I beg to move, That this House agrees with Lords amendment 1.

Madam Deputy Speaker (Mrs Eleanor Laing): With this it will be convenient to consider Lords amendments 2 to 71 and 73 to 95.

Karen Bradley: These are the amendments that the Government introduced in the other place to improve the Bill. They focus particularly on strengthening the provisions on support and protection for victims. They were broadly welcomed across the parties in the other place and they also deal with many issues raised in debates in this House. I shall not go through them in detail now but will, with the leave of the House, respond to specific points at the end of the debate. I hope that right hon. and hon. Members will feel able to welcome them.

Diana Johnson (Kingston upon Hull North) (Lab): I thank the Minister. I was a little taken aback by the brevity of her opening remarks, considering the number of amendments that have been proposed. I may not be as brief as she was, because there are several points I want to put on the record.

It is important to stress again that the Labour party has always supported the introduction of this important Bill. We recognise that human trafficking is a heinous crime and that its complex nature demands specialist legislation, but it has been a little difficult at times fully to understand the Government’s approach. When the original Bill was first published, many charities, organisations and lawyers shared the view that the Government had failed to provide the level of support for victims that we all wanted to see. There were also some large gaps: for example, at the outset it contained nothing on supply chains.

Progress has been made in Committee in this House and in the other place. I pay tribute to my noble Friends the right hon. Baroness Royall, Lord Rosser and Baroness Kennedy for their work in ensuring that we received this much improved Bill today. I also pay tribute to the work done in the Committee that considered the draft Bill. Tribute has already been paid to my right hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead (Mr Field) for the work that he and all the members of that Committee did on a cross-party basis to make a set of recommendations that we have been able to consider, question and argue for as the Bill passed through the House.

I want to comment on some of the progress that has been made through the Government amendments in the other place. The position of anti-slavery commissioner has been transformed; it originally seemed to me that they would be nothing more than a Home Office civil servant with a remit exclusively covering prosecutions and with no independent overview of their work programme. Even though that change has not gone as far as we hoped—we hoped for something more akin to the Children’s Commissioner—we are pleased that the commissioner will have control over their finances, will be able to appoint their own staff and promote good

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practice across the world and that public bodies will have a duty to co-operate with them. Most of all, I am pleased that the commissioner’s remit will include the support available to victims and survivors of trafficking and exploitation.

There have been significant improvements in the formulation of the statutory defence for victims of slavery who commit crimes in the course of their enslavement. The original defence did not recognise the unique nature of child exploitation and the fact that a child cannot consent to their own enslavement. The Opposition therefore welcome the removal of the compulsion element of the statutory defence in relation to children, but we think that a problem remains not just in the conviction of perpetrators of slavery but in the prosecutions and charging decisions. We are disappointed that the Government have not suggested an amendment to require the Director of Public Prosecutions to issue specific guidance on charging in cases of human trafficking victims. Whichever party is in Government after 7 May will need to consider that again.

Another big area on which there has been movement is that of child advocates. Although the new system introduced by the Government is not the system of child guardians required by the EU directive on child trafficking, which was called for by the Joint Committee on the draft Bill and the charity coalition involved in the Anti-Trafficking Monitoring Group, some improvements have been made. I pay tribute in particular to my right hon. Friend the Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart), who championed child advocates forcefully in the Bill Committee.

We now have an assurance that advocates will definitely be brought in and that they will be independent of other statutory bodies with responsibility for the child; that they will have access to the necessary and appropriate information; that they will be appointed as soon as is reasonably practicable where there are reasonable grounds to believe that a child may be a victim of human trafficking; and that they will have the power to appoint and instruct legal representatives where appropriate.

I also welcome the practical moves in relation to the Gangmasters Licensing Authority and the fact that we will have a Government report looking at the GLA’s work and a possible extension of its role within 12 months.

On another positive note, we are very pleased with the significant progress that has been made on the reporting requirements placed on large firms in relation to their supply chains. The Government could never claim to be genuinely committed to eradicating slavery in the UK if we did not address slavery in the supply chains of our large companies. It was absurd that the Government did not include supply chains in the original Bill. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk (Michael Connarty), who has done so much to champion this issue over many years. I am pleased that his tireless efforts have paid dividends in changing the Bill.

The Opposition were clear from the outset that we wanted a reporting requirement that was comprehensive, that allowed direct comparability between companies and that included an enforcement mechanism. Although we welcomed the moves originally announced by the Minister on Report, we still wanted them to go further. She will remember that we were particularly critical of

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the Government for repeating some of the mistakes that have hampered the transparency of supply chains legislation in California. It has not always been clear which companies that legislation applies to, and it has been hard for non-governmental organisations to find out which companies ought to be complying and whether they actually are complying. Moreover, when two reports were looked at side by side, they were often not directly comparable.

That is why we made it clear that the reporting requirement has to contain clear instructions as to what a report has to have in it. A large firm may have 100,000 suppliers and it will be able to fill a report with good practice, but what we need firms to do is to create a fair evaluation that addresses the key issues, which means that we have to specify the key things to be addressed in the report.

We welcome the guidance as to what a report should contain and we hope it will encourage best practice, but we still think that that should be compulsory guidance rather than just a steer. We would also have liked it to contain a requirement for companies to report on what work they are doing to support victims who are found in their supply chains. I recognise, however, that the Bill has come a long way and I thank the Minister for the way in which she has dealt with the changes to it over the past few months.

3.15 pm

Before I finish, I want to address two areas on which there has not been as much progress as the Opposition would have liked. First, on protection for victims, although I welcome Lords amendment 46 and the introduction of some civil legal aid for victims, and Lords amendment 61, which introduces enabling powers to put the national referral mechanism on a statutory footing, that does not represent the proper system of recognising and supporting victims which we need..

The Government’s report on the national referral mechanism identified numerous failings that need to be addressed. However, whatever improvements are made to internal processes, we still need a transparent and rigorous system that is open to challenge. That is why we need a statutory national referral mechanism. We hope that the Minister intends to use that enabling power as soon as possible.

Finally, I want to turn to part 1 of the Bill and the offences of human trafficking and exploitation. I welcome Lords amendments 1 to 4. Indeed, I tabled a version of Lords amendment 3 on the first day of the Bill Committee in this place. Those Government amendments, however, are very minor and do not address the severe structural deficiencies in our legislative response to human trafficking. The human trafficking offences have developed in an ad hoc manner over the past decade. The Bill consolidates the existing offences, but it does not cover the gaps in current practice, which were clearly presented to the draft Bill Committee by the police and to the Public Bill Committee by two expert lawyers.

All the evidence is backed up by some shocking statistics. In 2013, the police identified 2,744 human trafficking victims, including 602 children. They were involved in different forms of exploitation. However,

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despite the identification of 2,744 victims, there were just 104 prosecutions and 48 convictions. Most shockingly, the Government could not identify a single prosecution where the victim was a child. Despite that, the Bill contains no specific child offences and no specific offences of exploitation.

That is a huge lacuna, yet throughout the passage of the Bill the Minister has been immune to arguments to amend it from charities and lawyers, and immune to evidence from the police and even to the terrible statistics I have just given. It is a great shame that the Bill has failed in that regard, but I am pleased to say that a Labour Government would introduce specific offences of child and adult exploitation if we found ourselves in government in the next Parliament.

In conclusion, it has been a great pleasure to work for the best part of a year on this important Bill, which has been improved hugely during its passage through Parliament. I reiterate my thanks to Members on both sides of the House for their work. I also thank the many charities and voluntary sector bodies that have worked on the issues involved. These groups work with victims in very difficult circumstances and have done a huge amount to use their front-line experience to inform the work of this House and to improve the Bill.

Mr Burrowes: This is an important Bill, which the whole House can be proud of. Throughout its passage there has rightly been robust scrutiny by the Joint Committee and the Bill Committee, of which I was proud to be a member, and by both sides of the House, but I believe that it is fit for its purpose of increasing prosecutions and supporting victims.

I welcome the Lords amendments, which in many respects reflect the work in the Bill Committee and in all parts of the House to try to ensure that we did the very best we could in the limited time available to make this a world-class Bill, as the Home Secretary sought. I thank her for her lead, and the Prime Minister, and in particular the Minister for her diligence and care in dealing with these matters.

I want to draw particular attention to these because they reflect the debates we had in the Bill Committee. In many ways, we go through this process and all end up in the place we want to be. In particular, the Bill now makes it explicit that one of the personal circumstances that may make someone vulnerable to slavery is the fact that they are a child. Throughout the passage of the Bill, we have all wanted to make sure that child victims are central, that there are prosecutions when there are child victims, and that the Bill gives a proper tailored response. I therefore welcome this crucial amendment, which we have sought from the outset, and which I and others have campaigned for.

I do not accept that it is necessary for a specific child exploitation offence, however. I think the Bill can deal with prosecutions in relation to child victims, and the explicit reference to children in clause 1 now is particularly welcome.

I tabled an amendment and joined Members on both sides to ensure that exploitation measures had as wide an effect as possible, and that that was covered in clause 1. I drew attention in Committee, and others have done so since, to things such as begging or pick-pocketing and ensuring that such exploitation-type offences were

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covered by clause 1. It is important that such work and services now qualify as exploitation. The Government were previously concerned that the definition was going to be too wide, but in the Bill Committee we said from the outset that it was possible to use the definition set out in clause 3. Lo and behold, that is where we have got to, and the Lords and the Government have accepted that that is an appropriate addition.

We all wanted to be as clear as possible on the issue of consent, to make sure that this Bill was in step with our international obligations and case law. Also, we all wanted to make sure there was a specific understanding in the Bill that a victim’s consent to any of the alleged conduct does not preclude a finding that they have been held in slavery or were required to perform forced labour. We wanted to make sure that the wording did not have the perverse impact of ensuring that a child victim did not achieve the prosecutions they deserved, and now it is clear that a victim’s consent should not preclude any findings of their being held in slavery or forced labour.

Another area that has been mentioned is the independence of the anti-slavery commissioner. It is very welcome that the combined efforts of both Houses have led to a point where no one can be in any doubt about the independence of the commissioner, who has the word “independent” at the beginning of their title, as the Bill Committee was able to achieve. I pay tribute to those in the other place on both sides, and refer in particular—to be slightly partial—to Lord McColl of Dulwich, who played a key role alongside others in following up the hard work done by the Joint Committee and the Bill Committee. They all worked to ensure that there was the appropriate budget and staffing. Resources are necessary to make sure that this works and to make it clear—the Government amendments make this clear beyond doubt—not only that the child trafficking advocates are independent but that this is going to happen: yes, there is piloting, but this is going to happen. There is now a duty to ensure that these detailed regulations come to pass and that there is an appropriate sharing of information, and the public authorities must co-operate. All in all, this is a very welcome addition to a Bill that we can all be proud of. We can be proud of it because of the effect it will have on the ground, in making sure that there are prosecutions and that there is proper support for victims.

Several hon. Members rose—

Madam Deputy Speaker (Mrs Eleanor Laing): Order. Before I call the next speaker, it will be obvious to the House that we have limited time left. Three of the Members who have indicated that they wish to speak now have spoken at some length on the last group of amendments. If Members wish to hear what the Minister has to say in response to their questions, I hope they will have the courtesy to leave a few minutes for her to reply, in which case no one should speak for more than three minutes.

Anas Sarwar (Glasgow Central) (Lab): I do not intend to speak for very long at all, Madam Deputy Speaker, but I just want to touch on a few aspects, particularly around the supply chain amendments and how they relate to our commitment as a country and as a Government to our international development obligations. It is right

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that we seek to increase opportunity right across the world, but we have to accept that many of the systems we adopt domestically perpetuate poverty and the cycle of deprivation in some of the poorest and most vulnerable places around the world. One example of that is supply chains.

This debate comes between Fairtrade fortnight and the anniversary of the Rana plaza disaster, when 1,200 workers lost their lives putting together garments, many of which were going to be worn in Britain. That is why these amendments are so important, and I welcome many of the changes that have come from the Government, although I agree with the shadow Minister, my right hon. Friend the Member for Delyn (Mr Hanson), that they could have gone a lot further.

The fact that 80 billion garments a year are produced globally, that there are 168 million child workers and that 85 million of them are working in hazardous conditions and that over 4 million aged between four and 14 are working in India alone shows the scale of the challenge. If we are to be serious about our international obligations, we must make sure our domestic legislation helps to shape and fight for the right things across the world. We must ensure that everyone has access to a decent job, fair pay and the right to join a trade union.

On that point, it is unacceptable in the midst of such a debate, in which I welcome many of the Government’s proposals, that we see the ideological scrapping of central budget support for the International Labour Organisation, which helps to promote workers’ rights around the globe. If we come into government on 7 May—as I hope we will—I am sure we will reverse that funding cut, and I hope a Government of any other colour would do so, too.

I want to say a bit about the sustainability of putting not only voluntary but mandatory entitlements on companies. Companies must meet their full obligations and there should be some kind of certification mechanism for well-behaved companies to be recognised, but bad practice must be exposed and outlawed. That will give the public the same confidence that they have about cocoa, chocolate and wine through Fairtrade fortnight. We should have the same confidence about all those things we acquire from across the globe.

I see that my three minutes have arrived, Madam Deputy Speaker. In closing, I welcome the Government amendments. They could have gone a lot further, but let us hope that this is the start of an opportunity to improve life chances of workers not just here, but across the globe.

Michael Connarty: I echo the positive and cautionary comments that my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Diana Johnson) has made today. We have done much to progress this issue, but we still have a long way to go. I want to mark the fact that we did not take the advice of Lord Judge and Peter Carter and that we will not have a cascade of serious offences, so that people will know exactly what they are being judged on and so that judges will know what we want them to do, rather than having to interpret the previous collection of crimes. That, for me, is the most important thing.

I want to talk also about the Connarty-Mactaggart clause. We might even be able to call it the Connarty-Mactaggart-Bradley clause if the Minister were to attach

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herself to it. If I were to put that in alphabetical order, I would have to put the Minister’s name first, but I do not want to do that as the issue was initiated by my right hon. Friend the Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart) in her ten-minute rule Bill and by me in my private Member’s Bill.

I thank the Minister for putting into amendment 73 the six areas of information that an organisation’s slavery and human trafficking statement must include and disclose. The amendment also states that the board of a company must approve such a statement and that it will have to be signed by a director. That provision came from debates in the Bill Committee and in the Joint Committee. Those provisions give strength to what we have been trying to do.

3.30 pm

Lords amendment 74 will ensure that statutory guidance may provide more information on slavery and human trafficking. We might have to change this provision in the future if we see malpractice, because there will be malpractice as some people try to avoid this provision. Lords amendment 83 deals with the definition of turnover. One of the issues that we had was the size of company that would be caught in this mandatory process, and I hope that we will find a way to include small and medium-sized enterprises, as California has done, because they want to be included. My hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow Central (Anas Sarwar) talked about commending such organisations, but I still want to see the introduction of a kitemark for companies that comply with this law, so that people will know that they have been audited for human trafficking.

I am sorry to tell the Minister that I must mention one omission from clause 51. Subsection (9) states:

“The duties imposed on commercial organisations by this section are enforceable by the Secretary of State bringing civil proceedings in the High Court for an injunction or, in Scotland, for specific performance of a statutory duty under section 45 of the Court of Session Act 1988.”

That power will have to be devolved at some point, because it is a matter that should be dealt with in the Scottish courts even though it is coming from a UK Bill. I would also plead for the public to be able to say something about this. They, too, should be able to hold companies and other organisations to account.

I should like to thank the Minister. Although we have disputed some of the finer points and I have tried to push her in certain directions, she has been an absolute stalwart. We began by forcing the Government to sign up to the human trafficking directive when they seemed reluctant to do so, but we have moved to the point at which we now have a fully-fledged Bill. We might improve on it in future Parliaments, but it is one of which we can be proud today. I thank the Minister, the hon. Member for Enfield, Southgate (Mr Burrowes) and all the other Members who worked so hard on the Bill in Committee.

Paul Blomfield: I want to speak briefly to Lords amendment 77. I support it, but I have some concerns about how the consultation relating to the Gangmasters Licensing Authority was described by Ministers in the other place, first in relation to the consideration of changes to enforcement and licensing activity and, secondly, in relation to intelligence sharing and interaction with

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other agencies. On the first, it is important to emphasise that the interest shown in the role of the GLA throughout the passage of the Bill has been due to its status as a model of best practice internationally. Its strength lies in fulfilling the very letter of the new International Labour Organisation protocol and the recommendation to the forced labour convention—which this Government voted for just last year and intend to ratify shortly—calling for improved labour inspections and enforcement of labour laws as key prevention measures.

Will the Minister assure the House that consultation on changes to enforcement and licensing activity will give due consideration to the success of the GLA’s licensing and enforcement activity in its current form? I emphasise the words “in its current form”. General law enforcement is not a GLA responsibility and, should the GLA’s meagre resources be diverted into criminal investigations and crime control, as was suggested in the other place, its critical licensing and intelligence-gathering role would be compromised.

Much of the GLA’s strength lies in its ability to build relationships of trust with workers during its detailed intelligence-gathering work. Critically, that intelligence is often anonymous and relies on workers trusting that the GLA is independent of the Government. Vulnerable workers have expressed considerable mistrust for the GLA where it is considered to be too close to border security or the police. So will the Minister assure the House that the consideration of a role for the GLA in intelligence sharing will not pose challenges to its intelligence-gathering function?

At the recent GLA national conference in Derby, the Minister said that the review would ensure that the GLA would

“target the ‘right’ businesses, the ones who break the law, the ones who exploit their workers and the ones who subject them to servitude and slavery.”

I think everyone would agree that it is important to target the right businesses, but we want to ensure that the Home Office does not allow its emphasis on prosecution to obscure the complexity of the fight against modern slavery. We do not need another National Crime Agency or a new UK Border Agency; we need the Gangmasters Licensing Authority’s good practice in issuing and monitoring licences and in gathering intelligence extended to other sectors.

Throughout the debate on the Bill, businesses have made the point that many of them want to do the right thing, but that they cannot trade ethically and effectively police their supply chains here in the UK without adequate labour inspection and an enforcement framework. Recruitment agencies try to operate within the law but find their margins impossible and so undermine labour rights to save money. Gangmasters, whose business model depends on paying less than the national minimum wage, are overworking people and taking cuts for substandard accommodation. So we need a labour licensing, inspection and enforcement regime that offers assurances to good business, reduces the temptation to shave away at the corners of workers’ rights and absolutely outlaws the descent into forced labour.

Fiona Mactaggart: The Minister will not be surprised to find that I want to ask for more—I feel like Oliver sometimes—but let me start by saying thank you to all the members of the pre-legislative scrutiny Committee,

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to the members of the Public Bill Committee and to the Minister, because we have made real progress—I say that to Members from all parties. The Minister has often said that this is the first UK Bill to deal with modern slavery, but it will not be the last. So one thing I should like her to commit to—she has time in this debate to do so—is a review of the effect of this legislation within three years of its commencement. We are passing so much here that we need to test whether some of our anxiety about whether it will work, and some of her confidence that it will work, is well founded. Such a review would be a good foundation for looking to the future.

The second thing I want to ask for relates to Lords amendment 61, where the power to make regulations about victim care is explicit, but it is only a power to make regulations. There is a risk that for many months after this Bill victims of modern slavery in England will be less well cared for than victims of modern slavery in the other parts of the UK, which have passed legislation including powerful mechanisms for victim care. So will the Minister commit now—I believe that she is willing to do so, but it would be helpful if the commitment was made on the Floor of the House—to take the earliest opportunity to introduce regulations to ensure high standards of victims’ care following the review of the NRM.

My final point is about the Connarty-Mactaggart-Bradley issue, which is about supply chains. I really welcome the fact that supply chains are provided for in the Bill. The Minister will have noticed the debate in the House of Lords, which told us to learn from California about having no central spot where supply chain reporting happens. I have been struck by the keenness of companies on having a central spot, because good-quality companies will benefit from this legislation on supply chains. They are keen to ensure that there is proper comparability between the reports of different companies. The Minister could now say—it does not require legislation—that she will work with the commercial and voluntary sectors to try to establish a single repository for those reports, because if we do that, customers will be able to hold companies to account.

Karen Bradley: With the leave of the House, I should like to respond briefly to the comments that have been made. May I start by saying that I am pleased the Bill has been so well received by Members from all parts of the House? I am grateful to all the right hon. and hon. Members, both here and in the Lords, who have worked so tirelessly in assisting the Government to make the Bill as effective as possible. We have had some animated debates and differences of opinion, but I think all right hon. and hon. Members will agree that the Bill today looks very different from the one first presented as a draft Bill in December 2013.

I wish to pay specific tribute to my colleagues Lord Bates and Baroness Garden, who steered the Bill through the 95 amendments we are discussing today, and to the shadow Ministers, both here and in the other place, who worked constructively with the Government to make sure we get the right result: by the end of prorogation, a Modern Slavery Act—something of which we can all be incredibly proud.

Some specific points were raised. I welcome them, but do not have much time to cover them. Briefly, many of them, particularly those raised by the shadow Minister

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and others, were debated in the other place, and there is much on the record about our position. Let me just say that we will continue to consider those points. From my point of view, the Bill is a means to an end; it is not the end itself. It will enable us to identify more victims, using the anti-slavery commissioner and the victim support that we have outlined, but that cannot be the end. We have a long way to go, working on the strategy and working with partners, to ensure that the measures are implemented on the ground.

I pay tribute to all members of the pre-legislative scrutiny Committee and the Bill Committee, including my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, Southgate (Mr Burrowes), whose work on trafficking and child trafficking advocates has put us in the position that we are now in, and he should take great credit for that. I also pay tribute to the hon. Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk (Michael Connarty) and the right hon. Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart) for their work on supply chains, which they did for many, many years before the Bill was introduced. They know that we wanted to do this in the right way; we wanted to have the right evidence to get the Bill right. I can tell the right hon. Lady that we are consulting on the statutory guidance, including on how best to make statements available online. We are working with the voluntary sector and businesses specifically on a website or a comparison tool for statements.

This Bill is important and historic, and I am incredibly proud of it. For the victims of those most heinous and horrendous crimes, we have done something very good today in this place.

Lords amendment 1 agreed to.

3.43 pm

Three hours having elapsed since the commencement of proceedings on consideration of Lords amendments, the proceedings were interrupted (Programme Order, this day).

The Deputy Speaker put forthwith the Question necessary for the disposal of the business to be concluded at that time (Standing Order No. 83F)

Lords amendments 2 to 71 and 73 to 95 agreed to, with Commons financial privileges waived in respect of Lords amendments 20, 45 and 61.

Business without Debate

Delegated Legislation

Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 118(6)),


That the draft International Tax Enforcement (Monaco) Order 2015, which was laid before this House on 16 January, be approved.— (Dr Thérèse Coffey.)

Question agreed to.

Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 118(6)),


That the draft International Tax Enforcement (Macao) Order 2015, which was laid before this House on 16 January, be approved.— ( Dr Thérèse Coffey.)

Question agreed to.

17 Mar 2015 : Column 695

Committee on Standards (Reports)

3.44 pm

Kevin Barron (Rother Valley) (Lab): I beg to move,


(1) this House takes note of the Sixth Report from the Committee on Standards, on the Standards System in the House of Commons, (HC 383);

(2) with effect from the beginning of the next Parliament, the following changes to Standing Orders be made:

Standing Order No. 122B (Election of Chairs of Select Committees)

Line 10, leave out ‘and’.

Line 11, at end insert ‘; and

(f) The Committee on Standards.’.

Line 70, after ‘Accounts’, insert ‘or the Committee on Standards’.

Standing Order No. 149 (Committee on Standards)

Line 20, leave out ‘ten’ and insert ‘seven’.

Line 20, leave out from ‘and’ to ‘lay’ in line 21 and insert ‘seven’.

Line 26, leave out from ‘sub-committees’ to ‘and’ in line 27.

Line 34, leave out ‘five members who are Members of this House’ and insert ‘three members who are Members of this House and three lay members’.

Line 36, leave out from ‘three’ to end of line 37 and insert ‘of whom at least one shall be a Member of this House and at least one a lay member’.

Line 38, leave out paragraph 7.

Standing Order No. 149A: (Lay Members of Committee on Standards: appointment, etc.)

Line 5, at end insert–

‘() The period of appointment of a lay member shall be specified in the resolution of the House for appointment and shall not exceed six years. The appointment of a lay member is not terminated by any dissolution of Parliament.

() No person who has once been a lay member may be appointed for a further term’.

Line 6, leave out ‘first’.

Line 23, leave out paragraphs 6, 7 and 8; and

(3) notwithstanding the provisions of Standing Order No. 149A, as amended, lay members who were members of the Committee on Standards in the 2010 Parliament shall cease to be lay members at the end of the current Parliament but be eligible for re-appointment in the next Parliament, and paragraph (3) of that Standing Order shall not apply to any such re-appointment.

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): With this we shall consider the following motion, on the code of conduct and guide to the rules relating to the conduct of Members:


(1) this House approves the Third Report from the Committee on Standards, on The Code of Conduct, (HC 772);

(2) with effect from the beginning of the next Parliament, this House approves the revised Guide to the Rules relating to the Conduct of Members annexed to that Report;

(3) the Code of Conduct for Members of Parliament be amended as follows:

(a) leave out Paragraph 2 and insert

‘The Code applies to Members in all aspects of their public life. It does not seek to regulate what Members do in their purely private and personal lives’.

(b) leave out paragraph 17; and

(4) previous Resolutions of this House in relation to the conduct of Members shall be read and given effect in a way which is compatible with the Code of Conduct and the Guide to the Rules relating to the Conduct of Members.

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Kevin Barron: I am delighted to open this debate, which represents the fulfilment of a great deal of unsung and often thankless work by the Standards Committee.

I should like first to talk about the proposals for changes to the composition of the Committee. Those were recommended in the sixth report of this session, which the House is asked to note. The report was put before the Committee by the Standards Sub-Committee, which was set up in response to the reflections of the lay members of the Committee on their first year in office.

The lay members have prepared a further note covering their experiences after two years in office. That will be published shortly, and I have no doubt that the new Committee will find it as useful, if as challenging, as we found the first one.

The Sub-Committee was chaired by Peter Jinman, one of the lay members, and the House, like the rest of the Committee, has much reason to be grateful to him and his colleagues. Although the report was prepared by the Sub-Committee, it was adopted without demur by the main Committee. Contrary to any fears that may have been expressed before the lay members were appointed, this agreement between the lay and elected Members of the Committee has been typical.

The lay members were appointed to the Committee in 2012 when the Standards Committee was separated from the former Standards and Privileges Committee. Their introduction was intended to strengthen the independent element in the standards system. The first independent element, of course, was the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards. As the report makes clear, her role remains crucial and undiminished and her independence in her field is unaffected.

In the event, the lay members have changed the Committee in ways that were not all expected. By bringing their outside experience to bear, they have encouraged the Committee to rethink its working methods. They have given it the self-confidence to suggest moving away from being a largely reactive body that comes into play when it receives a memorandum from the commissioner and towards being one that seeks to play a clearer and more positive role in standards setting.

The position of the lay members is not always understood. The fact that they cannot vote or propose reports or amendments is sometimes used to suggest that they are in some way ciphers or stooges. I want to say to the House, and to the people listening outside, that that is absolutely not the case. Not only do the lay members play a full part in debate, but any one of them has, by Standing Order of the House, the right to append an opinion to any report of the Committee.

Moreover, given that it is essential that one lay member be present for the Committee to be quorate, they have an effective veto over the transaction of business. Fortunately, neither opinion nor withdrawal has ever been necessary; the lay members have gained their points by discussion and persuasion, and the Committee’s work has been greatly strengthened as a result.

We have recommended that the number and proportion of lay members of the Committee be increased. That brings the House’s system closer into line with the regulatory systems for professions such as the law and medicine, and it is way ahead of lay input in the Parliaments of Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the USA, none of whose equivalent Committees has any lay members whatsoever.

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At present the Committee consists of 13 members— 10 MPs and three lay members. We propose that the overall size of the Committee be increased from 13 to 14, of whom seven should be lay members. That will also give us an opportunity to have more diversity in the Committee. Instead of the current quorum of five elected members and one lay member, we propose that the new Committee’s quorum should be three elected and three lay members. If agreed to, our proposal will also permit the term of office of lay members to run over a Parliament, making succession planning smoother. All those changes should strengthen the position of the lay members even further as well as allowing the Committee to experiment with different ways of working.

We also propose that the next Chair of the Committee should be elected, as the Chairs of most other Committees of the House now are. In principle, I think that is an excellent idea. On the other hand, I must warn any prospective candidates that, if elected, they will be in for an interesting and sometimes rocky road. None the less, it is a job worth doing, and one that is crucial to maintaining and improving the reputation of the House.

The report looked in some detail at the current system. It made a few suggestions for changes in practice by the commissioner and the Committee but found that the system was generally proportionate, the process fair and the sanctions appropriate. Some Members might think that our report spends too long setting out the existing system. We did that because we found that it was often misunderstood, and not only outside the House, but within it, and we wanted to help remedy that. Understanding of the system is not helped by the media coverage of parliamentary standards issues, some of which verges on the biased. I will give one example. The House has put restrictions on the remit of the commissioner. The Committee accepts that those should be reviewed from time to time, but none the less for the time being they are in place and the commissioner must abide by them.

The sixth report pointed out that many complaints to the Commissioner for Standards fall outside her remit. This applies particularly to what might be called level of service complaints, when a constituent feels that a Member did not help them as the constituent asked. We suggested that time, resources and frustration might be saved, not least for complainants, if constituents could be helped to understand better what MPs can and cannot do, what they may reasonably be expected to do, and when some other person or institution should be approached first.

Following publication of the report, one newspaper carried the headline, “MPs no longer want to help constituents with their bin collections and street repairs”. We do live in an elected democracy. Any such suggestion is ridiculous. Insult was added to injury in this case because the Committee had held a press briefing at the time of the report’s publication and Committee staff had already explained the recommendation to the journalist concerned. The misrepresentation was deeply disappointing, if not predicted from some quarters.

Misunderstanding of the system is not restricted to the media. There is widespread ignorance even in the House on occasion about what our system is. The Committee believes that the House authorities should do more to promote understanding of parliamentary standards—for instance, by making the website clearer. The Committee accepts that it, too, could do more to

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help the media and the public to understand its reports, in particular the process by which they are arrived at. We have made some suggestions for our successor Committee and to the commissioner to consider how this might be done, though any Committee will be careful to avoid getting drawn into argument about specific cases.

We are glad that plans have been made to make the induction of new MPs more effective.

The House is committed to reviewing the code of conduct and guide to the rules once in every Parliament. I now come to the proposed changes referred to in the first motion before us. These have been a long time coming, as they were first proposed in the Committee’s third report in the 2012-13 Session. Indeed, it was mainly the delay in bringing them to the House that led the Committee to recommend that its reports should be debated within two months of publication. Still, better late than never, and I am pleased that any difficulties seem to have been resolved and that the Government are now able to bring changes forward. This means that the revised code and guide will be in force at the beginning of the new Parliament. This will be crucial in assisting people who get over the wire, both those who are Members of the House now and new Members coming into the House. It will be enormously helpful if the proposed changes are agreed to.

The proposed change to the code of conduct reverts to the position as it was before 2013, making it clear that the code does not seek to regulate what Members do in their purely personal and private lives. We understand that this change meets the approval of Members.

The proposed changes to the rules make the rules on registration simpler, clearer and more consistent, tighten the rules on lobbying and make it clear that previous resolutions of the House are to be read in a way that is compatible with the code and guide currently in force. In this way they allow the House to respond to the recommendations of the Group of States against Corruption, otherwise known as GRECO, a Council of Europe body of which the UK is a member. Like the lay members, the GRECO report holds a mirror up to the House, and we should consider carefully the recommendations it contains. The recommendations and the Committee’s response to them are printed in our third report, to assist the House.

As the sixth report makes clear, the maintenance of high parliamentary standards is a matter for each and every one of us, whatever parliamentary position we may hold. There are many different sorts of leadership in the House. Standards are not a matter for the Committee on Standards alone: it is important that political leaders understand the system, and do not inadvertently undermine it by appearing ignorant of the rules. These are the House’s own rules, agreed in debates like this, and we should all respect them.

3.54 pm

The First Secretary of State and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr William Hague): It is a pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Rother Valley (Kevin Barron) and to pay tribute to his work and that of his Committee. I believe that both the motions before us, if agreed, will serve to increase confidence, inside and outside the House, in the regulatory system that we work under.

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Let me deal first with the motion relating to the standards system in the House. I pay tribute not only to the Committee but to the sub-Committee, which did a lot of work on this. I particularly commend its lay members, who led the review, for the production of a thoughtful and balanced report. The report proves the value of including an outside perspective at the heart of our self-regulatory system. That, in itself, makes the case for broadening that outside perspective. These matters—the design and application of the standards system—are, of course, for the House collectively. The Government are fully supportive of the efforts of the Standards Committee and others to secure a system that is transparent, clear and effective. I believe that the motion is consistent with this objective.

The Government support the maintenance of an independent parliamentary commissioner for standards with the discretion to accept or reject a complaint for investigation, as she sees fit. It is right that a complete separation be maintained between the investigation of a complaint by the commissioner and the Committee’s role in considering her report and recommending any sanctions to the House. I am pleased that the Committee did not recommend a new adversarial procedure with lengthy and legalistic procedures. That would not have served the interests of the House or its Members, or improved its reputation in the eyes of the public.

The Committee’s most striking recommendation, as the right hon. Gentleman discussed, is the increase in the number of lay members from three to seven—the same as the number of MPs on the Committee. He told us how much of an asset it has been to have the services of the three lay members. Quite apart from the value they bring to the Committee from their differing backgrounds and experiences, their presence provides an effective answer to those who criticise the standards system on the grounds that it is Members judging each other. The achievement of a balance of external and internal members of the Committee will serve to provide it with a wider range of views and greater authority in this House, and, I hope, create greater confidence in the system outside this place.

It was notable that the lay members did not see the need to have a vote to be an effective presence on the Committee. The report explains that the

“existing position of the lay members is strong, contrary to some external portrayal.”

We have to be guided by the Committee on this point. It is difficult to imagine that it will want to publish reports with which its lay members disagree. However, the ability of lay members to record a contrary view is an important part of the present system that will be enhanced in the new one. Making lay members full members of the Committee would have introduced an element of legal uncertainty into its proceedings, as has been set out by the Procedure Committee and the Joint Committee on Parliamentary Privilege.

The one recommendation directly for the Government relates to the scheduling of reports for debate. The Committee recommends that debates should take place within two months of the publication of reports. The Government have been very responsive in scheduling debates on the Committee’s reports on the conduct of individual Members. The conclusions of reports of this

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nature have always been brought before the House within a matter of days. I believe that any Government in the next Parliament will want to continue to bring forward substantive reports on the conduct of Members that require a decision of the House at the earliest available opportunity. I would certainly recommend that to my successor.

I am pleased that the Committee plans to take on a wider role in the promotion of ethical conduct of Members of Parliament, drawing on best professional practice and the experiences of other legislatures. The new lay members of the Committee, when appointed, will give this role added resonance. The House can look forward to the Committee’s role developing further in the new Parliament.

I turn briefly to the second motion, on the code of conduct for Members and the guide to the rules. I am very pleased to be able to bring this issue before the House before Dissolution. It is important that Members elected to the new Parliament be subject to a clear code of conduct that they can read as soon as they are elected, and that they have the benefit of a guide to the rules that is fully up to date. I am particularly pleased that by updating and improving the guide to the rules, we can implement the outstanding recommendations of the Council of Europe Group of States against Corruption in so far as they relate to the House of Commons. The successful passage of the Government’s Recall of MPs Bill also meets its recommendations for disciplinary sanctions that are proportionate and dissuasive.

Thomas Docherty (Dunfermline and West Fife) (Lab): On the code of conduct, the Leader of the House will be aware of the controversy in recent days about whether a Minister adequately explained having a second job. Does he feel that the Government now need to revisit the ministerial code of conduct so that Ministers, such as the Minister without Portfolio, have clearer guidance on what they should or should not declare?

Mr Hague: My immediate answer is no. Those rules are clear. The Minister concerned has said that he spoke in error, and I do not think there has been any suggestion that he broke the rules.

I believe that the updating of the guide to the rules is uncontroversial, and it should be supported by the House. The wording of the code of conduct has proved quite a difficult nut to crack during this Parliament. The debate in March 2012 revealed disquiet in some quarters of the House—let me put it that way—about how the code could be interpreted. That resulted in an amendment that, in the Committee’s view, led to a disconnect between the powers of the commissioner to investigate certain complaints and the provisions of the code.

As Leader of the House, I have been conscious of the need to secure a high degree of consensus on the code’s wording and interpretation before putting it before the House for a decision. That has taken a little more time than we all wished, but I hope and believe that we have got there in the end. The Members who have taken the time to do that have shown a good deal of forbearance, but that was the right approach. I pay tribute to the right hon. Member for Rother Valley for his perseverance in chairing his Committee on this matter, and to colleagues from across the House for their co-operation. That is

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why there has been a delay in holding this debate, but we have been able to have it before the end of the Parliament.

I hope and believe that this debate will illustrate consensus on the wording. The new code proposed by the Standards Committee strikes the right balance between respect for the private life of Members and our obligation to uphold the code in all aspects of our public lives. I hope that the code will command the confidence of the public. On that basis, I am very happy to support the motions.

4.2 pm

Ms Angela Eagle (Wallasey) (Lab): I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Rother Valley (Kevin Barron) and his fellow members of the Standards Committee, including the lay members, on the two reports the House is considering today. I thank them for those reports, which each represent an important step forward and provide welcome clarity on the standards system and the guide to the rules.

I concur with the Leader of the House that it is important to agree the changes in advance of the new Parliament, in which the new Members will need clarity. We are all content that we have just managed to get in under the wire in doing so. The situation is complex: we have many structures of rules that Members are expected to follow, and they have become more complex and divergent over time. It was therefore important for my right hon. Friend the Member for Rother Valley to be able to look at how to simplify some of the structures. We have the Electoral Commission and the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, both of which are independent, but there are also—quite rightly—the rules of the House of Commons, which the Standards Committee has looked at.

The first motion is on the report from the lay members of the Standards Committee. It suggests some sensible changes to improve public trust in the standards system. As I said in my evidence to the Committee’s inquiry, we need a system that is predictable, simple and transparent. It is helpful if the system is intelligible to members of the public as well as to colleagues, many of whom will have seen the rules change multiple times over their years in the House. In my experience, Members tend to remember the rules as they were when they first came into the House and do not always manage to follow the myriad changes that occur as their time in the House lengthens. Many people have been caught out inadvertently by the evolution of the rules, which they have not noticed, because Members tend to respond to the rules that were in place when they first came into this place.

In my evidence, I said that we needed to remove the Government’s majority on the Standards Committee. I note that that is not proposed in the motion, but I hope that we can return to it. It is vital not only that the Committee act fairly—that goes without saying—but that it be seen to act fairly. We must avoid any perception among the public or others that Government Whips can affect the outcome of an inquiry.