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House of Lords

Monday, 26 March 2007.

The House met at half-past two: the LORD SPEAKER on the Woolsack.

Prayers—Read by the Lord Bishop of Peterborough.

Personal Statement: Lord Hunt of Kings Heath

The Minister of State, Department of Health (Lord Hunt of Kings Heath): My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall make a personal Statement on modernising medical careers.

I would like to correct a statement which I made to the House on 19 March about the medical training application system in answer to a question asked by my noble friend Lord Harris of Haringey. I said that doctors alone were involved in shortlisting candidates for specialty training. It has since been brought to my attention that in some cases other staff, including senior non-medical clinicians or senior deanery human resources staff, are involved in the process. Guidance was issued to the deaneries, and it was they who decided on the composition of the short-listing panels. Since my statement to the House on 19 March 2007, the independent review group has recommended that all applicants who were longlisted are to be invited to attend an interview for their preferred choice of training opportunity. This means that the shortlisting process is far less significant than it was.

I offer my unreserved apologies to the House for the inaccuracy of my initial statement.


2.37 pm

Baroness Cox asked Her Majesty’s Government:

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, before I respond to the Question, I think it behoves me to wish the Lord Speaker a very happy birthday on behalf of the whole House.

Contemporary slavery has long been a concern for us. As my right honourable friend the Prime Minister said, however, this bicentenary must be a spur for us to redouble our efforts to tackle all forms of modern slavery. Specific plans include a worldwide lobbying campaign on the ratification and implementation of international standards that prohibit slavery.

Baroness Cox: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that very comprehensive and encouraging response. Given that at least 27 million men, women and children around the world today are still suffering from some form of slavery, will the Government consider including

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in the measures that they are proposing the concept of linking economic and other kinds of aid to compliance with international conventions, especially for countries such as Burma and Sudan, the Governments of which regularly promote or condone slavery as systematic policy?

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, slavery was and is abhorrent, and we certainly have a responsibility to end this barbaric phenomenon. However, the UK’s development assistance is not conditional on a single issue but depends on a shared commitment to three principles: reducing poverty and achieving the millennium development goals; respecting human rights and other international obligations; and strengthening financial management and reducing corruption. Our partnerships with countries are firmly based on these principles, including working with their Governments to ensure that all the human rights obligations implicit in the MDGs are met.

Lord Archer of Sandwell: My Lords, does my noble friend recollect that, a few years ago, a number of leading carpet retailers imposed an unofficial ban on the import of carpets from certain states in India where it was known that they were produced by child slave labour? Have the Government considered the possibility of an official ban, possibly with our European partners, on specified products from particular areas that are known to employ slave labour, thus making slavery an uneconomic form of production?

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, I personally was not aware of the action taken by the carpet retailers. As I explained in my earlier Answer, it is not the Government’s policy to take such action. However, I will certainly look into this matter and write to my noble and learned friend. If retailers themselves wish to take such action, it is for them to do so. Although it would be difficult for the Government to take action, it might be possible, as my noble and learned friend said, to do so as part of the European Union, for example.

The Archbishop of York: My Lords, does the Minister agree with one of the findings of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation report on modern slavery in the UK—namely, that trafficking into the UK for sexual, domestic or child labour involves hundreds or even thousands of women and children; that most trafficked people enter the UK legally but become subject to forced labour through a mix of enforced debt, intimidation, removal of documents and inadequate understanding of their rights; and that the UK has tended to address trafficking as an issue of immigration control rather than human rights? If the Minister agrees, what plans do the Government have for taking a robust stance against the exploiters and providing proper resources for the enforcement agencies—given that, since passage of the 2004 asylum and immigration Act, there has yet to be a single prosecution for trafficking for labour exploitation?

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Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, the most reverend Primate is absolutely right about our abhorrence of human trafficking, be it of women or children. I am proud to say that my right honourable friend the Prime Minister signed the Council of Europe convention on trafficking on Friday, and we have issued a national action plan which is a very important step forward. Now we have to ensure that the convention is properly implemented.

Baroness Park of Monmouth: My Lords, what are the Government going to do with the African Union and ASEAN powers to persuade them that the new council on human rights in the UN ought to have at the forefront of its activity intervention in Burma and in Sudan? Quite apart from what the most reverend Primate said, that is where there is slavery today. What will we do specifically to require those blocs of countries, many of which are involved, to do something to end slavery in Burma and in Sudan?

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, the noble Baroness is right that slavery takes place in Burma and in Sudan. It is abhorrent and unacceptable to our Government and to many others. As she will be aware, we regularly raise this issue in the UN Security Council. Indeed, not very long ago, the UN Security Council members voted to add Burma to the council’s agenda. Although the matter was discussed and a vote took place, I am ashamed to say that the resolution was not adopted. We will continue to speak with our partners in the UN to try to get action in both Sudan and Burma. We have to end this practice.

Lord Lester of Herne Hill: My Lords, one example of modern sexual slavery is the forcing of people into marriages against their will. Is the Minister aware that the victim groups that we have consulted are heartened that the Government support the Private Member’s Bill on this subject for civil protection? I personally am heartened by the great progress being made with the Government in improving my Bill.

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Lord for those warm words. As my noble friend Lady Ashton has said, we welcome the Bill as a useful contribution to the debate. She is personally committed to seeing it through the Lords and to thinking about all the issues it raises.

Lord Clarke of Hampstead: My Lords, while it is right that we should recognise the history and the thing that we are celebrating at the moment, we should also recognise that modern-day slavery exists in this country in the form of women trafficked here and forced into prostitution. Is my noble friend aware that the Swedish Government have focused their efforts on prosecuting the pimps, the traffickers and those who use these slaves? Can we learn any lessons from that?

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, we are always open to learning lessons. My noble friend is absolutely right that we have to stop the demand for prostitution and thus for women who have been illegally transported for that reason.

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Lord Roberts of Llandudno: My Lords—

The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord Rooker): My Lords, we are well into the eighth minute. We must move on.

India: Dalits

2.46 pm

Lord Alton of Liverpool asked Her Majesty’s Government:

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, officials at the British High Commission have regular discussions on human rights, including rights for Dalits, with the Government of India. My right honourable friend Ian McCartney, the Minister of State for Trade and Investment, raised human rights issues during his recent visit to India and subsequently wrote to Anand Sharma, the Minister of State in the Ministry of External Affairs.

Lord Alton of Liverpool: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. Is she aware that 200 years ago William Wilberforce described what he called “the cruel shackles” of the caste system as,

With the launch this week of the film “India’s Hidden Slavery”, which highlights the violence, exploitation and discrimination experienced by India’s 167 million Dalits, will we work with the Government of India to challenge, not least through education, the persistence into the 21st century of this degrading and pernicious system, which threatens the social stability and economic progress of India? Does the Minister agree with India’s Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh, that,

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord and with the Prime Minister of India—it is indeed a blot on humanity. Discrimination on the basis of caste identity constrains the human rights, livelihoods and life chances of millions of men, women and children. It is a systematic injustice and a routine violation of the most basic human rights. For that reason, we are working with the Government of India to assist them in addressing the issue and in implementing the rather good legislation that they have but which is not yet being properly implemented.

Lord Avebury: My Lords, as one means of helping the Government of India, would the noble Baroness consider the suggestion made by a member of the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination that social data collected in India should be disaggregated by class, so that the

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relative disadvantage suffered by Dalits and Adivasis can be measured, particularly their relative attainment of the millennium development goals, compared with the population of India as a whole?

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, I regret that I do not have a specific view on the data mentioned by the noble Lord, but I will certainly look into them. One of the programmes that DfID is funding concerns data in respect of Dalits, so I hope to be able to give him a full reply, a copy of which I will place in the Library.

Lord Anderson of Swansea: My Lords, India is a vibrant, modernising democracy and a good friend within the Commonwealth. Should not our message be that, in so far as it does not deal sympathetically with the Dalit problem, that is not only wrong in itself but blunts India’s excellent record on human rights outside its borders?

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, my noble friend is absolutely correct. As I pointed out in my earlier response, it is why my right honourable friend has written to the Minister responsible in India. We raise this issue frequently and our High Commission regularly raises it with officials in India. It is a matter that we will not leave because it is a blatant injustice and has to be dealt with. The Indians are our very good friends and we want to work with them to help them to eradicate it.

Lord Harries of Pentregarth: My Lords, in view of India’s very rapid economic growth, does the Minister agree that there is an historic opportunity to ensure that the Dalits are included in this growing employment? Will she accept on behalf of government employees in India the Ambedkar principles of fair employment, particularly for Dalits? Will she encourage the many British companies now investing in India also to accept those principles of fair employment?

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, we certainly support the Ambedkar principles and we are encouraging all companies that have a relationship with India, trading or whatever, to support those principles as well. Our main approach on labour standards is via the UN’s Global Compact, which is an agreement, launched by Kofi Annan in 2000, between the UN and business to uphold and promulgate 10 principles covering human rights, labour, the environment and combating corruption, but the Ambedkar principles are very good.

Lord Desai: My Lords, is my noble friend aware that India has a policy of reservation, both in employment and for slots in higher education, for scheduled castes—the Dalits—and scheduled tribes? Does she agree that a more important task for India is to pay attention to primary and secondary education for the Dalits and others so that they can progress to higher education and good government jobs?

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Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: Indeed, my Lords, we applaud the policy of reservation for the moment, but we hope that one day, with more education opportunities for Dalits, it will no longer be necessary. For that reason, many of our programmes are to do with education, especially of women and girls in India.

Baroness Cox: My Lords, is the Minister aware that, in contradiction to India’s national constitution, nine out of 28 states have passed anti-conversion laws, which deprive people of the freedom to choose and change religion and deprive Dalits of the right to move out of the caste system?

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, I am aware of those anti-conversion laws. They are a subject of our regular dialogue with the Government of India and with states.

Immigration: Domestic Workers

2.51 pm

Lord Hylton asked Her Majesty’s Government:

The Minister of State, Home Office (Baroness Scotland of Asthal): My Lords, before making any change to the overseas domestic worker category, we shall consult on the future safeguards for those accompanying visitors to the United Kingdom. This consultation will include research and analysis to inform a targeted approach to identifying victims of trafficking at pre-entry and better understand any particular risks associated with those entering in a domestic capacity.

Lord Hylton: My Lords, I thank the Minister for her reply. Do the Government agree that there has been a huge improvement in conditions, principally in London, due to the freedom since 1998 to change employers? Are they aware that one voluntary agency has been getting more than 30 new complaints per month concerning the withholding of pay and passports, excessive hours of work and verbal and physical abuse? Surely everything should be done to prevent a worsening of the position.

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, we are conscious that the change we brought in greatly benefited domestic workers in this situation. I assure the noble Lord that that is a reality we will bear in mind. In taking this matter forward, we will consult widely to ensure that the new provisions adequately address these issues.

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Baroness Trumpington: My Lords, does the Minister see any similarity between this Question and the first Question today?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, that emphasises the need for us to take real care, particularly at the pre-entry stage, to ensure that those who may be improperly trafficked are better protected. I assure the House that that is at the forefront of our minds.

Lord Tomlinson: My Lords, does my noble friend agree that, welcome as the Prime Minister’s decision to sign the convention on trafficking is, it will be a great step forward if the Government now proceed to ratification so that that can be taken into account in making it binding on the member countries of the Council of Europe?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, I agree with my noble friend. The House knows that this country has a proud record; when we sign, we do so very seriously, with the view, the hope and the expectation that ratification can follow thereafter.

Lord Avebury: My Lords, in the consultation which the Minister has promised, will the Government take into consideration the views which were expressed in the Early Day Motion signed at the other end of the Corridor by a number of distinguished Members, including the chair of the Parliamentary Human Rights Group, as well as an article in today’s Guardian by Madeleine Bunting stating that the proposal will dramatically increase the power of abusive employers? Will the Government amend the rules so that for leave to enter in the capacity of a domestic worker, a person must at least have a contract of employment which provides for the minimum wage and statutory days off?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, I assure the noble Lord that we will take into account all issues that are properly raised in relation to this matter, but this provision has to be set in the context of the new, tiered migration system that we are adopting. We have said clearly that certain routes will change, but want to make those routes safe and appropriate so that people are not intolerably and improperly exploited.

Baroness Turner of Camden: My Lords, does the Minister agree that there is a shortage of people willing to act, for example, as carers, and that some people who have been brought here for domestic employment would be very suitable for that kind of work if only they were given the opportunity to stay?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, it was never intended that those allowed to accompany their employers to this country could use that as a means of settlement. We have taken real steps forward to make settlement possible for those who properly are able to come, and we will be careful to make sure that the safeguards are in place to prevent this being another route to abuse.

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