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Lord McIntosh of Haringey: I support the spirit behind the amendment but I doubt whether it achieves what the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, wants it to achieve because it does not give anyone the right to be employed. It simply excludes them from the reporting conditions in Clause 8. I am sure that, if not the wording, certainly the position of the amendment will have to be re-thought. However, the nobility of spirit behind the noble Lord's moving speech and the way in which he has pursued this humanitarian issue for a number of years deserve the highest praise.
Baroness Rawlings: This amendment--like several previous amendments from the other day--points to a confused understanding regarding genuine victims, who I believe, are protected by our law. I quite understand why the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, is concerned about the matter. In an ideal world his suggestions make absolute sense. However, we have a law to deal with the situation where such a domestic worker is maltreated. Some of these workers appear with great ease to sell their stories to the tabloids. However, it would surely be wrong if one of these foreign employees abused a special concession under our law. I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Seear. If these people have a genuine case--which they often do--it would make sense to
Earl Russell: The point the noble Baroness, Lady Rawlings, makes--that these people enjoy the protection of our law--is of course quite fair, and in an ideal world they might be able to take advantage of it. However, what emerges in court over and over again when these cases are heard is that the victims of this type of treatment did not dare ask for the protection of our laws for fear they might be found to be illegal immigrants. Here again we are in the area we discussed on Clause 7; namely, the question of what priority should be given to the chasing of illegal immigrants. We all agree that it is an offence, and we all agree that something should be done about it. However, I think that the sort of cases described by the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, constitute a far worse offence than that of the victims being illegal immigrants. The offences in effect amount to wrongful imprisonment, often malnutrition, physical cruelty, and exploitation sometimes of a quite gross sort. One of the reasons I am worried about the matter is that if a greater pressure is applied against illegal working, that would close up the only loophole by which these people can escape. They are sometimes employed in the most unsavoury ways.
A case was reported in the newspapers on 9th March. The offending man has since been sentenced to three-and-a-half years' imprisonment. For once I have some sympathy with the Home Secretary's desire for longer sentences. This person brought over women from northern Brazil--a remote and not particularly well informed area of Brazil. Many of them believed that they were being recruited for child minding. What in fact they were being recruited for was work in prostitution. The man took their passports and papers, locked those documents in his safe and took away all their earnings except £20 a week. He levied on them the most exorbitant charges for food and rent and for many other items which I shall not mention now. That is the sort of thing we mean when we talk about exploitation. We must stop it, and we should not allow the fear of being prosecuted as an illegal immigrant to prevent people in this position from making the escape they richly deserve.
Baroness Gardner of Parkes: I have great sympathy with the amendment. We all feel sad about the people who are in this terrible position. However, I take the point my noble friend made that the amendment might create a loophole. There must be some other answer. I ask the Government to try to find it. Perhaps these people could be given the right to stay for a certain period or given a work permit for a certain period. There may be ways around the problem. It is a problem we should genuinely try to solve. However, we do not want to create the loophole to which my noble friend referred because that could become a means whereby people came over here and tried to establish themselves. I ask
I do not know what the legal position is. If, as the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, said, these people are bonded servants, I do not know whether under our law they are tied in some way to their employers and whether we can help them. I have great sympathy with the motivation behind the amendment. Certainly, I have every sympathy with the people--as has been said, they are mainly women--who have suffered such ill treatment. I should like to think that the Government will consider some way of trying to solve the problem.
Lord Avebury: I am delighted to agree with the noble Baroness in her suggestion that another answer should be found to a problem so well highlighted by the noble Lord, Lord Hylton. That answer was contained in his speech. I do not quite understand why he did not go further and put it before the Committee. If we abolished the permit-free employment which was introduced in 1981, none of these problems would arise. I ask the Government whether they will not take the opportunity of this Bill to do just that, bearing in mind the other objectives which are sought to be achieved.
We are saying that we do not want people to be employed in sweatshops at sub-standard wages by unscrupulous employers. We are even taking measures to criminalise that kind of behaviour by employers. However, at the same time we have selected this particular group of immigrants--if I may use that term without causing any offence--to be completely exempt from all the regulations that apply to employment. We are saying that they may come here as domestic servants of persons who are otherwise granted leave to remain. They do not need any permission. They can come here at will, at the whim of the employer who proposes to use them as domestic workers. In many circumstances they are worse off than the people who are employed in the sweatshops we heard about earlier in our proceedings. There is no protection under the employment laws or any other sanctions except, as the noble Baroness pointed out, the criminal law. But those individuals have to have the ability to use that criminal law. Many do not speak English. The noble Lord, Lord Hylton, will recall a case, for example, where a woman fled in desperation from a house and fortuitously came across someone who spoke her own language. She appealed to that person to save her from the ordeals that she was undergoing as a domestic slave.
Many years ago, an Eritrean woman rushed out of the house late at night after being severely ill-treated by her employer. By providence she ran into a fellow Eritrean in the street and appealed to her to save her from the situation. The lady to whom she appealed took her immediately to the police station and the matter was dealt with under the criminal law. She did not speak a word of English; she was extremely lucky to come across a fellow countrywoman who was able to put her in touch with the agencies of law and order. That would not happen often.
The noble Lord, Lord Hylton, and my noble friend Lord Russell, referred to cases which probably form the tip of the iceberg. We do not know how many tales of misery and dejection lie behind locked doors of houses in which the fat cat employers are enjoying their opulent existence at the expense of these wretched women.
I appeal to the Government to go that extra mile beyond the suggestion in the amendment. Let us abolish permit-free employment and make the people who wish to bring in domestic servants comply with the ordinary employment law of the United Kingdom.
Baroness Blatch: There is a great deal of misunderstanding here. However, I wish to say from the outset that this is a very sensitive issue. The noble Lord, Lord Hylton, knows that we have discussed this issue on many occasions. The Government have done a great deal to ease the passage of people coming into this country on this concessional scheme, to which the noble Lord referred.
The amendment would add to the list of those categories of immigrants in respect of whom an offence could not be committed by an employer. One effect of the amendment would be to exempt the employer. Another effect would be to give free licence to someone who came in under a specific scheme to work for someone else. It would be implicit that he would have a permit to work, a permit to stay and a permit to be here legally. That is a very real loophole, as my noble friend Lady Gardner of Parkes mentioned. The new category would be those employed as domestic workers where a police officer, doctor or solicitor has certified that the person had suffered substantial physical abuse or deprivation, or serious economic exploitation as a result of what is described in the amendment as "previous bonded employment".
The amendment would therefore allow abused or exploited domestic workers to be employed in a domestic capacity by another employer without the new employer being liable for employing a person not permitted to undertake the work in question.
However, it would not affect the position of the employee, who would not have permission to work for the new employer. In undertaking such employment, the employee would therefore either be in breach of their immigration conditions or an overstayer. I know that it is the domestic workers themselves about whom some noble Lords are, in fact, particularly concerned.
The Government deplore the fact that there are cases where overseas domestic workers have been abused or exploited. However I can assure the Committee that the scheme for admitting domestic workers with their employers generally works well and to the benefit of the workers who would otherwise lose their jobs. We do not believe that the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, is an appropriate response to the cases of abuse that do occur.
As the Committee is aware, the current arrangements for the entry of domestic workers to the United Kingdom, which operate as a concession for those accompanying their existing employer, are designed to minimise the scope for abuse. Domestic
The entry clearance officer also ensures that the domestic worker receives and understands a leaflet explaining his or her rights in the United Kingdom including where to go for advice or help. A copy of the leaflet is also given to the employer under cover of a note making it clear that overseas domestics have full rights under our criminal and employment laws.
We sympathise with the situation of domestic workers who have been abused. There will always be a risk of abuse. But we are satisfied that the procedures we have set in hand guard against abuse so far as possible. As I have said, any domestic worker in the United Kingdom who is the victim of criminal activity has the full protection--as do all citizens--of the criminal law. Where serious criminal offences are committed, it is right that heavy penalties should be available to the courts.
But I should make it clear that no other overseas national coming to the United Kingdom for employment, whether under the work permit scheme or in a permit free category, or under any other concessionary arrangement, is allowed to change employers as of right.
It would not be in the interests of a firm and fair immigration control to allow overseas domestic workers to take up alternative employment here while their stay is subject to conditions as a matter of right, even in those cases where there has been significant abuse. We do, of course, consider individual applications in the light of any compelling compassionate circumstances.
The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, raised the point of slave labour. Genuine domestic servants, as opposed to what is described as slave labour, have the protection of employment legislation. The example given by the noble Earl, Lord Russell, would not be caught by the amendment on the domestic worker scheme because the employment was clearly illegal, not for immigration reasons but because of the general criminal law. Again, criminal law and employment law would apply to these people. Slavery has been illegal in this country since the 18th century. If slavery is the issue, that is clearly caught by the law.
The real effect of the amendment would be to license easy immigration into the country--not only for an individual to come here, but to stay and to work here. That is a loophole that we could not allow. We shall continue to consider ways of eliminating and dealing
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