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The Government are content to accept the amendments in principle. If the noble Lord, Lord Lester, is kind enough to withdraw them today, I can undertake to propose similar amendments in time for Report. Those amendments would, among other things, extend abolition of the offences to Northern Ireland and pick up some consequential amendments and repeals to various linked statutory provisions. We also intend to take the opportunity to abolish the obsolete offence of obscene libel. I hope that noble Lords will see this in some small way, especially after our earlier debate, as proof-if proof were needed-that the Government are in favour of freedom of speech.
Lord Lester of Herne Hill: First, let me say how grateful I am to everyone who has spoken. Secondly, this is something of a family reunion, after the quarrel that we had just before on another free speech issue. We have now come together from all sides of the family in this House.
Thirdly, I cannot resist saying that there is something hilariously ironic about this debate, compared with what is happening across the Irish Sea at the moment. In the De Valera written constitution of 1937, there is an unfortunate passage that states something about the need for seditious libel and blasphemous libel to be preserved. The Supreme Court of Ireland held that, because it protected only the Anglican faith and was too vague, there was no crime of blasphemy in Ireland. The Attorney-General of the Irish Republic has now apparently advised the Irish Government that, in order to comply with the written constitution, he must invent a new crime of blasphemous libel, including sedition; otherwise, he will have to have a referendum to amend the constitution. The Minister has said that, although the new crime will be unenforceable, he has to introduce it because of the constitution. As we on this side of the Irish Sea are clearing away the relics of the Star Chamber, by that curious route across the Irish Sea the Star Chamber is coming back into force for the moment. Therefore, what we do today and what will be done hereafter will be read with great interest by those who care for free speech, not only across the rest of the world but also in our close ally, the Irish Republic.
I am very grateful to the Government as well as to the Opposition for the way in which they have considered this. It is very good that we are giving effect to two Law Commission reports at long last. Of course, the way in which we do it is a matter that the Government and their advisers will deal with at the next stage. I therefore beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
(2) For the purposes of this section, a person (A) holds another person (B) in servitude if A severely restricts B's freedom of movement and choice of residence and subjects B to forced or compulsory labour.
Baroness Young of Hornsey: I shall speak also to Amendment 183. We tend to think that we have seen the back of such things, but contemporary forms of forced servitude and forced labour-what some identify as modern-day slavery-continue throughout the world, including, sadly, in the UK. However, no one specific criminal offence deals with this issue. Although many
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The necessity for these amendments arises largely from what is specifically a late 20th/early 21st century phenomenon; namely, the consequences of globalisation and the movement of peoples around the world. This modern form of oppression often involves young migrant women who are forced to work to pay off debts, whose passports are taken from them and who are physically and emotionally abused by their employer. Anti-Slavery International estimates that aside from the 5,000 people trafficked at any given time, hundreds of people in the UK today are being held in servitude or subjected to false or compulsory labour. The evidence contains recorded cases of domestic servitude as well as ad hoc cases from other industries. A study has been launched to try to discover the real figures.
Many of these people face physical and psychological abuse, including sexual abuse, are given no holidays and have their freedom of movement severely restricted. As I have said, none of us wants to create unnecessary legislation, but there is a real gap here. One might think that anti-trafficking criminal laws would apply. But while trafficking has been criminalised, that covers only the entry of people into the UK or subsequent travel in the UK. It does not apply where a person is subjected to forced labour conditions within the UK without having been trafficked.
Some common law offences may apply, such as false imprisonment. But that is particularly difficult to prove as the test for false imprisonment is so high. In fact, it is usually linked to kidnapping, which is rather different from the situation we are describing here. In many of these cases, the victim is not always physically prevented from leaving the workplace, but they are effectively prevented from doing so because of a myriad of reasons. For example, their passport may have been taken from them; they will be made homeless in a strange country if they leave and they may not know the language very well; they know that their family will suffer financial consequences if they leave; and they fear repercussions from their employer, the police or the immigration authorities and so on. In such circumstances, the common law offence of false imprisonment will not be effective.
The Human Rights Act 1998, in incorporating the European Convention on Human Rights, provides that no one is to be held in slavery or servitude and no one must be subjected to forced or compulsory labour. But the Act extends only to public authorities. In 2005, the European Court of Human Rights held that France was in breach of the European convention for not having criminalised servitude and forced labour, even though it had some other criminal offences which criminalised aspects of forced labour.
Liberty and Anti-Slavery International, which have very helpfully jointly provided information and briefings on this matter, have pointed out that the situation in the UK is almost identical to that in France, making it clear that the UK is highly likely to be in breach of the European convention. I quote from the independent
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"In our view the existing criminal law offences pertaining to trafficking, the slave trade, false imprisonment and kidnapping are not apt to cover all offences of servitude. In order for the United Kingdom to comply with its obligations under Article 4 ECHR and the ILO, clear, dissuasive and directly applicable statutory criminal offences of forced labour and servitude are needed which penalise and permit effective prosecution of those who subject others to abuse and oppression. Without them, the United Kingdom is vulnerable to successful challenges in the European Court of Human Rights. We are aware of two such challenges in the pipeline".
Of course, aside from our legal obligations there is also a clear moral obligation to try to protect victims of such horrendous crimes. Liberty and Anti-Slavery International cite the case of Zari, who came to the UK as a domestic worker from east Africa with her employer. When her employer died, she was taken on by the employer's cousin. The cousin asked for her passport to renew her visa, but it was never returned to her. Zari had to work seven days a week with no time off or breaks. She was ostensibly paid £100 per week, but after deductions for food and board-which comprised a mattress on the kitchen floor-she had barely £40 left. She was not allowed out of the house unaccompanied; she was insulted, beaten and sexually abused by the employer's husband. She managed to run away and tried to complain to the police, but they did not pursue an investigation. Getting the police to prosecute those who forcibly hold people in this way seems to be extremely difficult-a situation which is not helped by the lack of a clear offence criminalising this specific conduct.
We had a very helpful meeting with the Minister last week. He and his team argued that existing laws cover the kind of maltreatment of which there is evidence. The problem is that in order to bring a successful prosecution for some of these offences, it is necessary to put together a package of charges, which the police are not always in a position to do because of the lack of a clear legal steer regarding the exact offences committed. Again, I refer to the legal briefing with which we were provided:
This is why we feel it is essential that Parliament now makes it a criminal offence to hold another person in servitude or subject them to forced or compulsory labour, which the proposed amendments seek to do.
The first amendment would make it a criminal offence-punishable by up to 14 years' imprisonment, which is the same penalty as exists for trafficking-to hold someone in servitude. This requires that a person subjects another to forced labour and severely restricts their movements and where they can live. The second offence to be criminalised makes it an offence for a person to subject another to forced or compulsory labour where they know, or should know, that the person is not consenting voluntarily to performing the work, and the victim has been threatened with harm if
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We believe that there is an urgent need to create these offences to ensure that victims of these abhorrent practices are clearly and explicitly protected by law. In conclusion, I quote again from the independent briefing from Sir Ken Macdonald and Helen Mountfield:
I congratulate the Government on the very welcome legislation that they have introduced on trafficking. As I have said previously in the House, I am a vice-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Trafficking. The Government are much to be congratulated on the work they have done in that regard. However, there is a gap. Article 4 of the ECHR is not replicated in English law, which represents a serious gap. The problem is relatively small but it is real. Some people come into this country entirely lawfully and cannot be said to be trafficked. They are not being trafficked within the United Kingdom but they are being detained, sometimes against their will. As the noble Baroness, Lady Young, has just said, they are kept in situations where they are unable to leave. As she also said, there are various reasons why they cannot leave, one of which is debt bondage. Their families may have paid for them to come to this country and they are paying off the debt but working all hours, seven days a week with no time off and no opportunity to leave. It seems to me a stain on our legal system that we are in a similar position to France, which has been rightly castigated by the European Court of Human Rights at Strasbourg.
I have a copy of the opinion to which the noble Baroness, Lady Young, referred. I apologise for not having been able to attend the obviously very useful meeting with the Minister. The opinion of the former Director of Public Prosecutions is powerful. It says that the existing law does not cover the problems to which the noble Baroness and I refer. I take that opinion very seriously. With my eye set on trafficking, I have to confess that I had not looked at this problem until I received all the information. I have investigated it as far as I can and it seems to me that Sir Ken Macdonald's opinion covers all these points and that there is a gap. It is this country's duty to fill that gap. For that reason I support both these amendments.
Lord Lester of Herne Hill: Since, unlike the noble Baroness, Lady Young, the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, is a very distinguished jurist, I wish
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Baroness Butler-Sloss: I have not considered that. The noble Lord raises a very interesting point. However, a woman who is held in servitude or in some form of forced labour might face greater difficulties as regards knowing anyone who could help her. As regards forced marriages, usually there are other people around; for example people the girl has been at school with or people she may know because she usually, though not always, has contacts outside the family. However, I should have thought that most of the girls we are discussing are likely to be foreign, speak little English and have no access to their passports. They would be unable to find someone they could ask to help them to access civil proceedings. This situation seems to me very analogous to trafficking. It is accurately called a modern form of slavery. It ought to be seen as such and, unlike forced marriage, where there are good social reasons for not making that a criminal offence, this ought to be nailed as a criminal offence in the same way that trafficking is.
Lord Alton of Liverpool: I very much support the amendment standing in the name of my noble friend Lady Young of Hornsey. I have signed the amendment and was able to accompany her to our extremely helpful meeting with the noble Lord, Lord Bach, who went out of his way-as did his officials-to try to meet the very reasonable points that my noble friend has made today, which have been endorsed by the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss.
The two organisations referred to by my noble friend-Anti-Slavery International and Liberty, whose policy officer Anita Coles joined us at our meeting with the Minister-provided excellent briefing material. As the Minister himself pointed out during our meeting, organisations such as Liberty do not usually campaign for additions to be made to the law; they spend a lot of their time campaigning about things that the law does that they do not approve of. Indeed, the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, regularly says to us that we overlegislate. On an occasion such as this, the Committee should, therefore, listen very carefully when she says that there is a gap in the criminal law, and it is the criminal law that needs to be used.
In answer to the intervention that was properly made by the noble Lord, Lord Lester of Herne Hill, it is precisely because the police have been unable to intervene in the kind of cases that my noble friend referred to that there is a gap which is required to be filled for the police to be properly empowered to take the action that is needed.
The purpose of my noble friend's amendment is to target with new offences those involved in enticing or keeping migrants in forced labour or in servitude. No doubt many people will greet with incredulity the
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Although international jurisprudence outlaws slavery and forced labour, it is estimated that worldwide some 12.3 million people are in forced labour. Most notoriously, in countries like Burma and North Korea, vast numbers of people are used as industrial conscripts. However, even in industrial countries and democracies such as our own, many people-often migrants-are forced into economic servitude, often wholly unremunerated or paid paltry wages. It is thought that in industrialised nations some 360,000 people work in such exploitative conditions.
Although trafficking and outright slavery are outwith the law, there is no clear stand-alone statutory offence under United Kingdom law of holding a person in servitude or subjecting a person to forced or compulsory labour. By failing to place such an offence into statute, we are in breach of our obligations under international treaties to which we are a signatory-especially our obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights. Although legal redress may be possible via the common law, that is a route which the police will rarely use and, in any event, the offence of false imprisonment does not accurately reflect the nature of economic servitude-which is why my noble friend Lady Young is trying to amend this Bill.
Although this matter is not on a par with the transatlantic slave trade, Anti-Slavery International and Liberty point out that the Slavery Abolition Act 1833 officially abolished the slave trade throughout the British Empire, and trading in slaves remains an offence under the provisions of the Slave Trade Acts of 1824, 1843 and 1873. The only other statutory offence which specifically criminalises an aspect of modern-day slavery is contained in Section 4 of the Asylum and Immigration (Treatment of Claimants etc.) Act 2004. The section, as my noble and learned friend said, creates an offence of "Trafficking people for exploitation" and provides that a person commits an offence if he or she,
Exploitation is defined as including behaviour which contravenes Article 4 of the European Convention on Human Rights, as well as subjecting someone to force, or using threats or deception designed to induce him or her to provide or acquire services or benefits of any kind. However, while persons who subject others to slavery or forced labour are likely to be in breach of a number of different criminal offences-a point made to us by the Minister-and perhaps of licensing or employment laws, there is no free-standing statutory offence of subjecting a person to forced or compulsory labour, despite recent court rulings requiring criminalisation.
In 2005, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that the case of a Togolese girl forced to work as an unpaid servant in France-a case to which my noble friend referred-required France and other
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Liberty also recently highlighted the case of a woman whose passport had been confiscated by her employer. She became a virtual prisoner and was physically abused. It required the instigation of a judicial review before the police accepted that there was a breach of Article 4 and that charges should be brought against her employer.
Anti-Slavery International says that it knows of United Kingdom cases where persons were subject to forced labour, many of them in domestic servitude, including children. The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe gives further weight to these claims, making the point that this is not therefore an isolated example but that such servitude is systematic and taking place all over Europe in many developed nations. That is why there is no sense of criticism that the Government have failed to act; this is something quite new on our radar screens which now requires us to take this issue seriously. The Council of Europe said:
It set out the common features of domestic slavery as including the confiscation of passports, blackmail concerning immigration status, and virtual imprisonment. One particularly shocking case, to which my noble friend referred, involved Zari, a woman from east Africa who came to the United Kingdom as a domestic worker. I shall not repeat the details of the case but the most significant thing is that, after running away, she went to the police but, again, they failed to carry out an investigation. Zari is one of many in the UK.
I was particularly struck by some questions asked by a London charity which I drew to the Minister's attention during our meeting. It questioned men and women caught up in domestic servitude and discovered that 26 per cent had been physically abused, 72 per cent had suffered psychological abuse, 70 per cent had no time off and 62 per cent were not permitted to leave the house. The agencies campaigning on these issues say they also have evidence of servitude in other sectors, including agriculture, factory work, food processing, cleaning and hospitality.
The evidence clearly points to a glaring hole in our law and to the need to create a statutory offence criminalising the holding of a person in servitude and subjecting a person to forced or compulsory labour. Closing this hole would also remove the immunity from punishment that too many currently believe they enjoy. The Minister has told us that existing law provides adequate opportunity for the police to act.
This is an issue on which we now have counsel's opinion. A copy was sent to the Minister yesterday, so it will not have taken him by surprise. I have also placed a copy in the Library. It was delivered by Sir Ken Macdonald QC, the former Director of Public Prosecutions, and Helen Mountfield, both of Matrix Chambers. Perhaps I may place their opinion on the record. At paragraph 3, they say:
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