Tax Avoidance and HSBC


5.18 pm

Lord Newby (LD): My Lords, I will now repeat in the form of a Statement the Answer given by my right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer to an Urgent Question in another place. The Statement is as follows.

“The allegations about tax evasion at HSBC Swiss are extremely serious. They have been the subject of extensive investigation by HMRC. Money has been recovered for the Exchequer and HMRC continues to be in active discussion with our prosecuting authorities.

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Both the chief executive of HMRC and the Director of Public Prosecutions have confirmed that they have the necessary resources to carry out their work on this. If they need more resources, they will get them.

The House should know, however, that in each and every case the alleged tax evasion—both by individuals and the bank itself—happened before 2006, when the shadow Chancellor was then principal adviser on tax policy and economic affairs to the then Labour Government. The news that the French had got hold of files with the names of the bank accounts became publicly known in 2009, when the shadow Chancellor was sitting on these Benches, in government, and the files were requested and recovered by HMRC before May 2010, when he was a member of the Cabinet. He wrote to me last week asking me five questions about my responsibilities. I will repeat the answers that I have given to each one directly, and in return he can answer the questions about his responsibilities.

First, he asked me about what he called ‘the selective prosecution policy’ pursued by HMRC and a decision made by Ministers. The answer is: yes, it was. The Inland Revenue’s overall approach to prosecuting cases of suspected serious tax fraud was set out in col. 784W on 7 November 2002 by the then Chancellor of the Exchequer, the right honourable Member for Kirkcaldy. It was confirmed again when HMRC was created in 2005, again by the right honourable Member for Kirkcaldy. What I have done is increase resources for tackling tax evasion and, as a result, prosecutions are up fivefold. So I have answered for my responsibility. Perhaps he will answer for his and tell us: did he have a hand in drafting the selective prosecution policy under the last Government?

Secondly, he asked me in his letter when I was first made aware of the HSBC files, what action I took and whether I discussed it with the Prime Minister. I first became aware of the existence of these files in 2009 when a story appeared in the Financial Times. I was the shadow Chancellor at the time, so I could take no action, and I could not discuss it with the then Prime Minister at that time because we were not on speaking terms. So that is what I knew. What did he do, as a Cabinet Minister, when he heard about these revelations, and did he speak to the Prime Minister about them?

Thirdly, he asked why we appointed Stephen Green to the Government. We thought that he would do a good job as Trade Minister—and so did the Labour Party, which welcomed his appointment. But the trade job was not Stephen Green’s first public appointment: that was when he was appointed by the last Government to be not just a member of the then Prime Minister’s business council but its chair, a post he continued to hold after the existence of the HSBC files became public and after HMRC negotiated to receive them. So I have explained why we appointed Stephen Green to our Government: why did he appoint him to his Government?

Fourthly, he asked about discussions with Stephen Green about tax evasion. I can confirm that the Cabinet Secretary and the director-general for ethics at the Cabinet Office carried out the background checks for ministerial appointments that were put in place by the last Government and that Stephen

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Green’s personal tax affairs were examined by HMRC on behalf of the House of Lords Appointments Commission, again using exactly the last Government’s procedures. Those are the procedures we followed when we appointed Stephen Green. What procedures did he follow?

Finally, he asked me, ‘Why did you sign a deal with the Swiss authorities in 2012?’. He does not need my explanation—listen to the shadow Chief Secretary. This is what he said at the time:

‘We support the agreement signed by the UK and Swiss Governments to secure billions in unpaid tax’.

He is right—billions in unpaid tax never collected under a Labour Government.

Under this Government, tax evasion is at the top of the G8 agenda. We have collected more money, and prosecutions have increased five times over. Ahead of the Budget, I set the Treasury to work on further ways to pursue not just the tax evaders but those providing them with advice. I say to anyone involved in tax evasion, whatever their role: this Government are coming after you. Unlike the last Government, who simply turned a blind eye, this Government are taking action now and will do so again in the weeks ahead. So I am happy to answer any time for our record on tackling tax evasion: now let him account for his”.

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

5.23 pm

Lord Davies of Oldham (Lab): My Lords, a highly political Statement from the other place a month or so before the general election I suppose is to be anticipated. But the Chancellor did not answer the questions, and it is for this Minister to answer the questions before this House. Once the information was available of the 1,100 names involved in tax evasion or avoidance, the Chancellor confirmed that the “selective prosecution policy” was a decision of Ministers. There has been one prosecution—I repeat, one prosecution—since then, despite the fact that the Government also gave the assurance to the Public Accounts Committee that at least another dozen would follow. None has. The country will be staggered to discover that the Government are moving at this pace to deal with these issues, particularly when it is known that the French Government have prosecuted a multiple of cases with success. What is our problem?

Secondly, why was the noble Lord, Lord Green, appointed a Member of this House and a member of the Government when the Government already knew the position of these files? It is not, as the Government said, because no Chancellor seeks to get indications of the personal taxation of a Member of this House—we all understand how improper that would be. But it is the role of the noble Lord, Lord Green, as chairman of HSBC during this period that led to the bank being subject to £1.9 billion in fines; that is why we need an explanation of why the Government carried on with this appointment.

Finally, on the question of the deal with the Swiss authorities in 2012 which prevents the UK actively obtaining similar information in the future, why was this declaration signed by the Government? What advice was given about how it would impede the

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ability of HMRC and the Government to act in the future? The Minister thus far has given no adequate explanation of that.

5.26 pm

Lord Newby: My Lords, the noble Lord asked about the selective prosecution policy and why further prosecutions have not been taken. In the case of the HSBC people, the French authorities placed restrictions on the way in which we could use the data so that we could pursue only tax evasion, which greatly circumscribed what we could do. That restriction is in the process of being lifted by the French authorities within the last few days, so there is the possibility of going after more people in future.

The noble Lord contrasted our prosecution position with that of France. I am afraid that he is misinformed. In France they are pursuing prosecutions, but, as yet, there have been none. HSBC Geneva has been indicted for money-laundering offences, but the case has yet to proceed to court.

The noble Lord asked about the noble Lord, Lord Green. I have nothing further to say about the procedures followed by him; they were perfectly straightforward and proper. I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Green, may be asked to appear before the Treasury Select Committee in another place—and, if he does, he can be asked questions which may be appropriate to his time as chairman of HSBC.

The noble Lord was very dismissive about the deal with the Swiss authorities that has yielded more than £1 billion. That is £1 billion more than the Labour Government even set about trying to get from people who had bank accounts in Switzerland. Frankly, to be dismissive of it bears no investigation whatever.

Finally, the Government’s pursuit through G8 of the automatic transfer of tax information, which has now been agreed by 90 countries, will mean that the kind of activities that were happening in Switzerland simply will not happen in future, because all transactions and money placed in Swiss bank accounts will automatically be disclosed to the British tax authority.

5.29 pm

Baroness Williams of Crosby (LD): My Lords, does my noble friend agree that the issue before us is much greater than the particular case that has been raised? The City of London was for long regarded as having the greatest integrity and as one of the most honest financial centres in the world. To this day it plays a large part in the economy of this country. Does he agree that it is absolutely crucial that the integrity and honour of the City of London must be rebuilt? Sadly, it is not only about the case of HSBC and the allegations of money-laundering—incidentally, money-laundering in areas which are clearly criminal, such as the laundering of money from drugs and trafficking. Does he also agree that it is crucial that the Government should pursue their policy of mounting a vigorous attack on those who avoid or escape paying their taxes?

I should like to ask my noble friend two questions, because no doubt he shares with me the view that it is absolutely critical that the City of London should be

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seen as a centre of honour and not a centre of rather clever dodges to escape the law, both national and international. The first question is whether the suggestions made by my noble friend Lord Macdonald that what we are now seeing adds up to something of a conspiracy does indeed provide proper grounds for prosecution. The second question is whether, in the light of Mr Stuart Gulliver’s response and indeed admission that he himself was a client of the Swiss bank, and that in addition he is now considering the right to receive the great bonuses coming up from the considerable profits of HSBC, it would be sensible for the bank and its shareholders to consider very carefully whether those substantial bonuses should be paid in full. I say that given the record of HSBC not only in this matter but, equally disturbingly, in the heavy fines it has had to pay for being part of the so-called forex scandal earlier last year.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton (Lab): My Lords, before the Minister replies, can he inform the House of how many minutes are available for Back-Benchers?

Baroness Williams of Crosby: My Lords, I am waiting for a reply from my noble friend.

Lord Newby: My Lords, there are 10 minutes for everybody, so let me be brief. I agree with my noble friend in her core view. I have not read in any detail what my noble friend Lord Macdonald has said, but HMRC has made it clear that now that the restrictions on the use of the information from France have been lifted, it is looking closely at that new information and will refer cases to the CPS for prosecution as appropriate. I think that bonuses at HSBC are matters for its board and shareholders.

Lord Foulkes of Cumnock (Lab): My Lords, that really was an astonishing and disgraceful Statement. I heard it in the House of Commons, and it was outrageous how the Chancellor tried to portray Labour as the friends of the tax evaders. If that is the case, why is it that £5 million has been given by HSBC to a political party—not the Labour Party but the Tory party? Why is it that there are three Peers who are either members of the board or advisors to HSBC—not Labour Peers but Tory Peers? Perhaps I can remind the Minister that in the July my noble friend Lady Royall and I raised a question about the appointment of the noble Lord, Lord Green of Hurstpierpoint. The noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, and others pooh-poohed the question and said that there was no need to worry about it. Now we are being told that we did not raise it at the time. I raised it because the noble Lord never turned up at the House, and that is why I dubbed him the Scarlet Pimpernel. He really has to come and face the music about his role as the chair of HSBC.

Lord Newby: My Lords, I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Green, like many other noble Lords, will read the noble Lord’s comments with great interest.

Lord Soley (Lab): My Lords, does the noble Lord recall that about two weeks ago I raised with him on the Floor of this House the question of the governance of banks and reminded him of the Bank of England’s criticism of the failure of that governance? There can hardly be a better example of the failure of governance

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than what has happened at HSBC. It is one thing to say that these organisations are so big that they need to be broken but, frankly, they are not so big that they cannot be better managed. The managements of these banks need to provide reports on the quality of their management. They need to give those reports to the Chancellor of the Exchequer so that they can be placed before both Houses and we can keep an eye on these organisations. They are now becoming a disgrace to the public where once they used to be regarded as one of the great strengths of the United Kingdom.

Lord Newby: My Lords, the important thing to note is that the problems that we are now looking at—never mind who was in government—arose before the new regulatory regime was in place, before the banking industry itself set up its new standards body, and before there was the kind of scrutiny of what is happening in the banks that there is now. Everyone agrees that there needs to be a change of culture in the banks, including many who are in senior positions in those banks. I agree completely that Parliament has a role to play in calling the banks to account, and I hope that both Houses will continue in it.

Lord Foulkes of Cumnock: My Lords—

EU Council


5.35 pm

The Lord Privy Seal (Baroness Stowell of Beeston) (Con): My Lords, with the leave of the House, I will now repeat a Statement made by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister in another place. The Statement is as follows:

“With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a Statement on the most recent European Council, which covered Ukraine, the eurozone, terrorism and extremism.

On extremism, let me first address the case of the three British schoolgirls from east London leaving their families and attempting to travel to Syria. All of us have been horrified by the way that British teenagers appear to have been radicalised and duped by this poisonous ideology of Islamist extremism while at home on the internet in their bedrooms. They appear to have been induced to join a terrorist group which carries out the most hideous violence and believes that girls should be married at nine and women should not leave the home. Their families are understandably heartbroken and we must do all we can to help.

We should be clear that this is not just an issue for our police and border controls. Everyone has a role to play in preventing our young people being radicalised, whether that is schools, colleges and universities, families, religious leaders or local communities. That is why we have included a duty on all public bodies to prevent people being radicalised as part of our Counter-Terrorism and Security Act, and of course stopping travel to join ISIL is vital. When people are known risks, whatever their age, they go on our border warnings index and we can intervene to prevent travel and seize their passports. But what this incident has highlighted is the

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concerning situation where unaccompanied teenagers like these, who are not a known risk, can board a flight to Turkey without necessarily being asked any questions by the airline.

We need new arrangements with the airlines to ensure that these at-risk children are properly identified and questioned, and the Home Secretary and the Secretary of State for Transport will be working with the airlines to bring this about. First, whenever there are concerns, police at the border should be alerted so they can use the new temporary passport seizure powers to stop people travelling. Secondly, given reports that one of the girls was following as many as 70 extremists online, this case underlines the importance—this was covered at the EU as well—of the work we are doing with social media companies. We have made progress with these companies which are working with the police and the Home Office to take down extremist content online. And at the EU Council we agreed to do this across the European Union. But we also need greater co-operation over contacts between extremists and those who could be radicalised. Internet companies have a social responsibility and we expect them to live up to it.

Thirdly, we need to continue to press for our police and security services to have access to passenger name records for as many routes as possible in and out of Britain, and we need this to happen right across the European Union, which was the subject of the most substantial discussion at the European Council. These records provide not just passenger names but also details about, for instance, how the tickets were bought, the bank accounts used and who people are travelling with. This is vital information that helps us to identify in advance when people are travelling on high-risk routes and often helps us to identify terrorists.

I raised this explicitly with my Turkish counterpart in December and we will continue to press to get this vital information wherever we need it. Until recently, and in spite of British efforts to get the issue prioritised, discussions on these passenger name records in the EU had been stuck. But following the terrible attacks in Paris and Copenhagen, it was agreed at the European Council that EU legislators should urgently adopt, and I quote, “a strong and effective” European passenger name records directive. That was probably the most important outcome of this EU Council. What I would say is that we have to fix it. It would be absurd to have the exchange of this information between individual EU member states and other countries outside the EU, but not among ourselves.

Most of the people travelling to Syria do not go there directly. They often take many different routes within the EU before even getting to Turkey and so we need this information badly. The European Council also agreed that law enforcement and judicial authorities must step up their information sharing and operational co-operation, and that there should be greater co-operation in the fight against the illicit trafficking of firearms.

Turning to the situation in Ukraine, I met President Poroshenko ahead of the Council. He thanked Britain for the role we have played in ensuring a robust international response at every stage of Russia’s illegal aggression. We were the first to call for Russia to be

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expelled from the G8. We have been the strongest proponent of sanctions, and a vital ally in keeping the EU and US united. President Poroshenko welcomed the diplomatic efforts that had been made leading up to the Minsk agreements, but he agreed that it was essential to judge success not by the words people say but by the actions they take on the ground.

We should be clear about what has happened in the 10 days since the Council. Far from changing course, Russia’s totally unjustifiable and illegal actions in eastern Ukraine have reached a new level, with the separatists’ blatant breach of the ceasefire to take control of Debaltseve made possible only with the supply of Russian fighters and equipment on a very large scale. It is clear what now needs to happen. The ceasefire must be respected in full by both sides. Heavy weapons need to be drawn back, as promised. People have to do the things they have signed up to. All eyes are now on Russia and the separatists. Russia must be in no doubt that any attempts by the separatists to expand their territory—whether towards Mariupol or elsewhere—will be met with further significant EU and US sanctions. Russia must change course now—or the economic pain it endures will only increase.

In the coming days, I will be speaking to fellow G7 leaders to agree how we can together ensure that the Minsk agreements do indeed bring an end to this crisis. We are also looking urgently at what further support we can provide to bolster the OSCE mission, and the International Development Secretary is today committing an additional £15 million to support the humanitarian effort. However, at this moment, the most important thing we can do is show Russia that the EU and America remain united in being ready to impose an ever increasing cost if the Russian Government do not take this opportunity to change course decisively.

Turning finally to the eurozone, immediately before the Council started, I met the new Greek Prime Minister, Alexis Tsipras. With him, and then again at the Council, I urged all those involved to end the standoff between Greece and the eurozone over its support programme. We welcome the provisional agreement subsequently reached last Friday evening. Britain is not in the eurozone, and we are not going to join the eurozone. But we need the eurozone to work effectively. The problems facing Greece and the eurozone continue to pose a risk to the world economy and to our own recovery at home. That is why we have stepped up our eurozone contingency planning. Prior to the Council, I held a meeting in Downing Street with all the key senior officials to go through those plans and ensure that vital work continues apace. This crisis is not over.

Protecting our economy from these wider risks in the eurozone also means sticking to this Government’s long-term economic plan. It is more important than ever that we send a clear message to the world that Britain is not going to waver on dealing with its debts and that we retain the confidence of business—the creators of jobs and growth in our economy. We must continue to scrap red tape, cut taxes, build world-class skills and support exports to emerging markets. We must continue investing in infrastructure. Today’s figures show that in 2014 the UK received a record

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level of lending from the European Investment Bank to support the infrastructure projects in our national infrastructure plan. I hope the shadow Chancellor will cheer when we win European money for British infrastructure—for the roads, the bridges and the railways that we need.

Today, we have the lowest inflation rate in our modern history. We have the highest number of people in work ever and we have the biggest January surplus in our public finances for seven years—putting us on track to meet our borrowing target for the year. Put simply, we have a great opportunity to secure the prosperity of our nation for generations to come. We must not put that in jeopardy. We must seize that chance by sticking to this Government’s long-term economic plan. I commend this Statement to the House”.

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

5.44 pm

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon (Lab): My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness the Leader of the House for repeating the Statement made by the Prime Minister in the other place.

I start by expressing our deepest sympathy to the families of those killed in Copenhagen. We absolutely condemn these atrocities—in Copenhagen, and Paris before that—and stand with all of Europe against those who seek to undermine or attack our most cherished values and propagate intolerance, anti-Semitism and all other forms of prejudice. It is clear that effective co-operation on tackling terrorism across the EU, including intelligence co-operation, will be vital to securing the safety and security of our citizens. The statement from the Council itself was right to mention the importance of Europol and Eurojust. The European Council said that there would be action to step up information-sharing and co-operation with our European partners. Can the noble Baroness tell us how that is going to happen? What action is being taken to progress the establishment of a European PNR with the European Parliament? I know that the noble Baroness mentioned this, but as the Statement said, the process is stuck. It is stuck in the European Parliament, but Labour MEPs, for example, are in favour of it, and I wonder what the Government are going to do to ensure that the measure is agreed at the earliest possible opportunity.

The noble Baroness rightly spoke of the deeply disturbing news at the end of last week of the three young schoolgirls going to the region for potentially the wrong reasons. This reinforces the need for action. The Statement mentioned the importance of work being undertaken at the moment in relation to social media. We welcome the progress that is being made with the companies that are working with the police and the Home Office to take down extremist content online and the fact that it was agreed at the European Council to do this across the European Union. Would the noble Baroness agree that here in the United Kingdom the Prevent programme needs to be strengthened, with a stronger role for local communities, and that more action should be taken to directly challenge the warped ideology and lies being propagated, particularly, as I mentioned, through social media?

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Turning to the fight against ISIL in the region, I condemn unreservedly the barbaric murder of 21 Egyptian Coptic Christians by ISIL-linked extremists. Our thoughts go to the families and loved ones of those killed as well as, of course, to the Christian community in the region. Our sympathies are with the Egyptian people at this time. These latest brutal acts of violence simply reinforce the importance of our efforts, alongside our allies, to counter the threat posed by ISIL in the region.

We will all be increasingly concerned about the growing number of attacks within Libya specifically. It was right to take action to protect civilians and prevent a massacre in Benghazi in 2011, but, tragically, Libya looks as if it is coming perilously close to being a failed state. Are the Government satisfied by the post-conflict planning and the work that is being done? Does the noble Baroness agree that for stability to be restored in Libya, the UN-led process towards establishing a transitional Government must be followed? If so, what further steps can the UK, along with allies, now take to support this approach?

I must make clear, following the exchanges at Question Time, that the Opposition have not changed their position on the situation in Ukraine. We are doing what an Opposition should do, which is asking questions of the Government—that is what Parliament and the people of this country would expect us to do. As efforts have intensified to resolve the crisis in Ukraine, the fighting on the ground has continued and the costs of Russian aggression are mounting. Here in the UK, reports of Russian planes flying into the UK’s area of interest are concerning. It is unnecessarily provocative. We welcome the joint initiative by Chancellor Merkel and President Hollande for peace in Ukraine, and support fully the conclusions of the Minsk agreement. But why were the UK and the Prime Minister not involved in this initiative? Their absence was extremely disappointing.

I am sure that the noble Baroness will have read the excellent but disturbing report by your Lordships’ European Union Committee, The EU and Russia: Before and Beyond the Crisis in Ukraine, and I wonder what lessons the Government will take from the report in future discussions on Ukraine with our European partners. As the US has said, Russia’s continued support of ongoing separatist attacks in violation of the ceasefire in eastern Ukraine is undermining international diplomacy and multilateral institutions—the foundations of our modern global order. Therefore, if in the coming days Russia fails to meet its obligations under the terms of the Minsk agreement, such as withdrawing heavy weaponry, does the noble Baroness believe that the EU is prepared to implement and agree further sanctions, and will the Government commit to being willing to take action? President Putin must understand that he risks further isolating Russia on the world stage if he continues to display belligerence and aggression in the face of established international laws and norms.

Finally, turning to Greece, we welcome the deal agreed last week between the Greek Government and eurozone members. Will the noble Baroness tell the House what steps the Council is taking to deliver the necessary reforms across the eurozone so that Greece’s

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economy can grow again? Do the Government agree with the investment plan put forward by the European Commission, and specifically with the proposals put forward last week by the noble Baroness’s noble friend Lord Hill for unlocking Europe’s growth by creating a capital markets union? Given that the four-month extension for Greece runs out in June, what preparations are being made within the eurozone to secure a long-term financing deal so that we do not face this crisis again?

In the past month across the world we have experienced attacks on our fundamental values and freedoms. These attacks aim to spread fear and divide us, but they will fail. They will fail because the British people are united in rejecting extremism and because we have faced down these kinds of threats before and will do so again. We must remain united and strong in the face of such threats.

5.51 pm

Baroness Stowell of Beeston: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, for her comments about the atrocities in Paris and Copenhagen and the rise in anti-Semitism. I certainly share her views on all the dreadful actions that have happened over the past few weeks in Europe. She asked some specific questions about measures to tackle terrorism. She asked in particular for information on what further work will be done to promote the information-sharing that was agreed at the Council. This is something that should be progressed through the established law enforcement authorities, such as Europol, Interpol and Eurojust.

The noble Baroness asked for an update on the timetable for agreement and implementation of the passenger name record measure. I certainly welcome the points that she made about the support for this among her own party’s European Parliament Members. This was a big step forward at the European Council. It was very much led by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister. It was agreed that movements should be made now in order to ensure that legislation is drafted and prepared within Europe, and we will certainly be pressing hard for that to take place and to be progressed as soon as possible.

As to measures back here at home to deal with terrorism, the noble Baroness made some points about the Prevent programme. I think it is worth reminding the House that we commissioned a report by my noble friend Lord Carlile about what was happening in this area. He was clear that this Government’s approach to splitting the programme for Prevent, which deals with deradicalisation, from the work that is led through the DCLG to encourage integration was the right thing to do, and that our approach in this area is working well and is an improvement on what went before. She also asked what measures we have taken to increase the protection for people who may be affected or may be being radicalised via social media. Clearly, the steps that were introduced in the recent counterterrorism Bill were a big step forward in that area.

On Libya, I certainly share the noble Baroness’s remarks about the appalling murders of the Coptic Christians. She asked whether the Government were satisfied with the post-conflict situation in Libya. I can be clear that, no, we are not satisfied with the

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situation. What NATO and our allies did was stop the murderous attempt by Gaddafi to kill his own people, and in doing that we gave the Libyans a chance to build a better future, which sadly so far has not been taken and we need to help them take that opportunity. She will know that in our efforts in this area we are also working with a former colleague of hers, Jonathan Powell, to see what more is possible to support Libya and to achieve the settled future that it so rightly deserves.

The noble Baroness asked about Ukraine and what might happen if Russia fails to meet its Minsk obligations. Indeed, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for clarifying that the Opposition support our efforts on sanctions, because it is very important that we all stand together on sanctions. She asked about the way in which the rest of Europe is approaching sanctions. We have to continue to apply pressure and ensure effort among our European partners so that we are all consistent and united in demanding that those sanctions are kept in place and that, where necessary, they will be strengthened in the future. We all need to ensure that we use what influence we have with all our contacts in the respective member nations on this. It is worth saying that my right honourable friend the Prime Minister was the first to call for a strong approach on sanctions. He was the first to call for Russia to be expelled from the G8. He has been very much in the lead in that area.

Finally, the noble Baroness asked me about Greece and what prospect there is for a long-term financing deal for Greece. We are still some way away from a long-term funding deal. As the House knows, Greece is required to publish today its proposals for reform. We believe there will have to be some give and take on both sides. At the European Council meeting, it was clear that those other countries that have taken the very difficult decisions in order to meet the demands put on them by the eurozone were not supportive of greater flexibility being given to Greece. But clearly the most important thing, as I said in the Statement that I repeated, is that the eurozone continues to be secure in terms of its impact on the British economy. We very much hope, therefore, that agreement is reached between the eurozone and Greece swiftly to that end.

5.58 pm

Baroness Ludford (LD): My Lords, the Statement repeated by my noble friend the Leader put a welcome emphasis on European co-operation against terrorism. Is she as glad as I am that the two-year campaign waged by some to pull the UK out of the European measures and institutions that she mentioned, including Europol and Eurojust, did not succeed? That would look entirely ridiculous in the current circumstances.

The passenger name record—PNR—directive is of course a matter of dialogue between the Council and the Parliament. But are the UK and the rest of the Council committed to progressing updated data protection measures for law enforcement access to PNR and other data simultaneously with the PNR directive and expansion of data collection? Certainly in my time that was emphasised by the European Parliament; it is the proposed directive on law enforcement access.

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On Ukraine, my noble friend mentioned, slightly obliquely, the need for EU solidarity and the possible challenges involved. Can she assure us that some very candid words are being spoken to that minority of EU member states that appear to be undermining EU solidarity in respect of Putin’s aggression, including the hosting last week by Viktor Orban of a visit from President Putin? Given that Orban is in the same political family as Chancellor Merkel and European Commission President Mr Juncker, is this not the right context for some full and frank exchanges with Budapest and other capitals?

Finally, on the European economy, can the UK act as a bridge—

Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con): My Lords, I draw noble Lords’ attention to the Companion, which states that questions following a Statement should be brief and not the occasion for debate.

Baroness Stowell of Beeston: In that case, it is probably right for me to respond to the points made by my noble friend.

On Ukraine, it is essential that we in Europe are united in our demands of Russia and our support for Ukraine in having a secure future for its people. That is what we are seeking to achieve and we are applying pressure on others. Although there may not have been as much enthusiasm in the past for sanctions when this approach was first adopted, it is clear now that because the sanctions are having a real effect and because we need to judge Putin on his actions and not his words, the sanctions regime must remain in place and if necessary be strengthened further. That is what my right honourable friend will ensure.

Lord Anderson of Swansea (Lab): My Lords, Russia has annexed Crimea. It has created another frozen conflict. We in the West appear to accept that this is permanent, just as we have done in Georgia with South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Now that Russian surrogates have taken over sections of eastern Ukraine along the border, is there not again a serious prospect that this will become permanent and that President Putin, notwithstanding the pressures put on him, will be prepared to pay the price for yet a further Russian victory over the West, particularly, as has been said, as there is a real danger of flakiness on the part of some of our EU partners?

Baroness Stowell of Beeston: I think I have already made it clear that because President Putin has not delivered on his words and we must judge him on his actions, which so far have not met his words, we are strong and united within the European Union and alongside America in our demands of him and in making sure that he meets the terms of the Minsk agreement. We will continue to apply sanctions, which will stay in place until he meets the terms of that agreement.

Lord Higgins (Con): My Lords, I welcome the reference in the Statement to the Government’s eurozone contingency planning. Could she perhaps elaborate on that? Is it not apparent that despite all the bailouts,

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concessions and negotiations and so on, there is no way in which Greece will become competitive at the present exchange rate and will at the end of the day need to leave the eurozone? In those circumstances, it is crucial that it should be done in an orderly way, which will be a very difficult task involving exchange controls and so on. It is essential that our Government, because we have an interest in this issue, co-operate to make sure that there are contingency plans for an arrangement whereby Greece can withdraw on an orderly basis.

Baroness Stowell of Beeston: I do not share my noble friend’s view that Greece will leave the eurozone. Certainly all efforts are being made by the eurozone’s other members to ensure that Greece remains in the eurozone. It is in everyone’s interests—those of the countries that are part of the eurozone and those of the United Kingdom—that the eurozone continues to operate securely. My right honourable friend the Prime Minister held contingency planning meetings with senior officials none the less because that is the right and prudent action for him to take. We are working on the basis that the eurozone will continue.

Lord Davies of Stamford (Lab): My Lords, I spent last week in Ukraine with a small, three-person IPU delegation. I encountered everywhere the deepest disappointment, anxiety and in one or two cases actual despair that whereas the Ukrainian army had been taking serious fatalities in the east of Ukraine defending its country, the western world has declined to supply it with the effective defensive weapons that it so obviously needs. Is it not the case that, quite apart from our obligations under the Budapest agreement and quite apart from our general commitment to peace and justice in the world, we have a very strong national interest, which we share with our NATO partners, in ensuring that over the long haul and irrespective of whether Mr Putin happens to be respecting the ceasefire agreement this week, Ukraine maintains a credible self-defence capability and remains a viable state? If either of those two things ceases to be the case, we shall have much greater problems than we currently confront. Is it not time that the Government looked at the possibility of taking the lead in agreeing to supply effective defensive weapons, including where necessary lethal weapons, to the Ukrainian armed forces?

Baroness Stowell of Beeston: The noble Lord is right to highlight the terrible casualties that have taken place in Ukraine during the past few months—it has been absolutely dreadful. We believe that the right course of action is via a diplomatic route, which is the direction that we have been taking. We continue to work very hard in that way. We recognise that the people of Ukraine want our support, because they want their country to operate in the same way as the rest of us in the West are able to. We have not ruled out the supply of weapons, but we do not believe that it is the right course of action for us to take at this time.

Lord Hylton (CB): Will the Government try to mobilise all kinds of media around the world to establish the truth of what has happened in the Ukraine and to

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present that to the people of Russia over the heads of their Government? Will they also try to unmask the lies arising from all sides but especially from Moscow?

Baroness Stowell of Beeston: The noble Lord makes an interesting point. In some of the background reading that I did over the weekend about Ukraine and Russia, I was intrigued to learn that the people of Russia, notwithstanding the propaganda, do not put responsibility for the situation in Ukraine at the feet of the western world. While the noble Lord is right that we need to ensure that the people of Russia are very much aware of what is happening in Ukraine, I think that they are perhaps more aware already than we give them credit for.

Lord Spicer (Con): My Lords, talking about actions not words, when can we expect the brave speeches about Russia to be backed by effective action on our defences?

Baroness Stowell of Beeston: Is my noble friend talking about—

Lord Spicer: Perhaps I may rephrase the question. When can we expect the brave speeches about Russia that we hear from our side to be backed up by proper changes in our defences?

Baroness Stowell of Beeston: Our defences are absolutely secure, and there is no issue of concern there. It is worth reminding the House that we are meeting the 2% of GDP guideline for our defence spending, and we are one of only four NATO countries to do so. The Prime Minister has already committed to a real-terms increase in defence equipment spending by 1% over the next 10 years and said that there will be no further reduction in the Army, so our defences are sound.

Lord Judd (Lab): Although it is clearly right that we must stand absolutely firmly together in refusing to yield to the ruthless pressure by the Russians, and that we must also resist the pressure by the militant extremists in Ukraine itself, is there not at the centre of all this a real issue of the Russian community in Ukraine—its sense of identity and security? Amid all our priorities at the moment, how much thought are we giving to how that issue can be resolved in the long term?

Baroness Stowell of Beeston: Over many years now, there has been support for the people of Ukraine. The start of the agreement between Ukraine and the European Union goes back as far as 2007. That programme has been ongoing for many years; it is not a new initiative. In making that possible, it was always clear that it was not a trade-off for Ukraine: that it could have a stronger relationship with Europe at the same time as retaining its ties with Russia. It does not have to give up one to have the other; it should be able to have both.

Lord Howell of Guildford (Con): My Lords, Russia is of course an Asian power as well as a European power. I wonder whether any consideration has been given, in putting short-term pressure on Mr Putin—which is clearly right—through finance and sanctions, to

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talking to the rising powers of Asia, which carry considerable weight. With their co-operation, much more effective results will be achieved to bring Russia to a more sensible frame of mind. Was any consultation with Beijing, Tokyo or the other parts of Asia considered during the EU meeting?

Baroness Stowell of Beeston: My noble friend has huge experience in foreign affairs. I will have to check on his particular question; I fear that I do not have a clear answer to give him at this time.

Lord Kerr of Kinlochard (CB): It was encouraging to see that the Prime Minister has agreed with his colleagues that there should be a “strategic rethinking” of our approach to Syria. What strategic rethinking are we doing on Syria? What is our strategy in Syria, other than repeating the mantra that Assad must go? It is clear that American policy is changing. The Americans appear to have a strategy. Do we?

Baroness Stowell of Beeston:Our approach to Syria has been consistent throughout—certainly with regard to the threat of ISIL, which we have to ensure is tackled at source. As the noble Lord knows, we have a significant commitment to the effort focused on Iraq. Clearly, we are not supporting the effort in Syria militarily, but we are doing a huge amount by way of humanitarian aid, and that will continue.

Baroness Williams of Crosby (LD): My Lords, as my noble friend will know, in the past few days there has been a dramatic further fall in the value of the Ukrainian currency, the hryvnia, against the dollar. It has fallen by more than a third and is now about half its value only a few weeks ago. Given that, and given that there is a real prospect that the Ukrainian economy could break down, can she tell us whether there was discussion at the Council about the state of Ukrainian economy, the rising debts it has, especially in energy, and what emergency action might be taken by the European Union in the event that the hryvnia becomes an unacceptable currency?

Baroness Stowell of Beeston: I can tell my noble friend that the IMF agreed in principle on 12 February that Ukraine qualified for an extended fund facility. That is a four-year programme worth $17.5 billion. We are clearly supporting the Ukrainian Government in delivering the reforms that they have committed to under the association agreement and the IMF programme, so that they are in a strong position to use that support from the IMF and get themselves on a secure footing for the future.

Lord Soley (Lab): Does the Leader of the House accept that there is acute concern about the lack of stability on the front line, if you like, between various European Union member states and applicant states and Russia? That has been growing for a considerable time. There is concern that European Union policy is not as clear as it ought to be. We need to give serious attention to that. Perhaps, so that we can have a louder voice on that, the very good report produced by the

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European Union Committee on those relations ought to be debated in this House before it rises. Can she help us to achieve that?

Baroness Stowell of Beeston: The report, to which the noble Lord refers, by the European Union Committee of this House was a comprehensive, serious piece of work. I was grateful to study it over the weekend; I thought that its publication was timely.

As for a debate on it, the usual process is for the Committee Office to respond to my noble friend the Chief Whip’s usual call out for what proposals it wants debated, so we would expect to hear in the first instance through the Committee Office, but my noble friend will of course want to liaise constructively.

The main thing about Europe, Ukraine and threats to others is that, yes, absolutely, we must be united; we must have a united force strength against Putin. Putin wants us to appear not to be united. We must present a united front. That is there. Via NATO, we are committed to protecting the Baltic states, should there be any attempt to threaten them in future.

Lord Cormack (Con): My Lords, I wish to follow up the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Soley. I ask my noble friend, as Leader of this House, to ensure that we have a debate on the report and the wider situation. This is the gravest international situation that we have had in years. This Parliament will come to an end in four or five weeks’ time. It would be quite wrong—indeed, shameful—if this House, with all its expertise, did not have the opportunity for a full day’s debate. Will my noble friend absolutely guarantee that that will happen?

Baroness Stowell of Beeston: I can absolutely guarantee that if the committee, having produced its report, proposes a debate on that report via the Committee Office in the normal way, we will find time for it. We will find time for debates on committee reports, because we are committed to doing that. I urge the noble Lord and other members of the committee to make their request via the Committee Office in the normal way.

Modern Slavery Bill

Modern Slavery Bill

Report (1st Day) (Continued)

6.18 pm

Clause 8: Power to make slavery and trafficking reparation orders

Amendment 8

Moved by Baroness Garden of Frognal

8: Clause 8, page 5, line 11, leave out “Crown Court” and insert “court”

Baroness Garden of Frognal (LD): My Lords, in moving Amendment 8, I shall speak also to Amendments 9 to 15, 18 to 25, 32 and 33, 100 and 101, and 103 to 105. This large group of amendments makes minor changes to ensure that the Bill works effectively in light of wider legislative change.

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Amendments 21 and 22 remove the limit of £5,000 for fines imposed by magistrates on breach of a slavery and trafficking risk or prevention order. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, for raising the issue of removing the limit to this fine in Committee. I am also grateful to the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee for its analysis of the delegated power and suggestions for changes. The regulations needed to accompany Section 85 of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 have now been approved by Parliament. Commencing Section 85 will remove the cap on all fines in the magistrates’ courts of £5,000 or more.

These amendments assume that Section 85 will be commenced by the time this Bill reaches Royal Assent, removing the limit on fines in the magistrates’ court. If this is not the case, then transitional arrangements can be made by order. I hope that noble Lords will agree that these amendments give magistrates the ability to respond more flexibly when sentencing, given the particular nature of a breach of a slavery and trafficking risk or prevention order. In addition, the removal of the delegated power ensures that we have addressed the concern about the previous provision raised by the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee.

Amendments 8 to 15, 18, and 103 to 105 relate to reparation orders. This Government believe that the criminal justice system must give greater priority to providing victims of modern slavery, who have been used as commodities, with reparation for the distress, abuse and suffering that they have been subjected to. That is why the Bill will introduce bespoke reparation orders, which will ensure that courts give appropriate priority to compensating victims of modern slavery and have the necessary tools to do so. Currently, confiscation orders may be made only in the Crown Court. Given that reparation orders can be made only where there is a confiscation order, the Bill currently makes provision for reparation orders to be made only in the Crown Court.

However, Section 97 of the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005 makes provision to enable magistrates’ courts to make a confiscation order in certain circumstances, and work is in hand to give magistrates’ courts these powers. We want to make sure that any court that has the power to make a confiscation order in relation to a modern slavery offence also has the power to make a reparation order in favour of any victim of that offence. Government Amendments 8 to 15, and 18, will ensure that magistrates’ courts that make a confiscation order will also have the power to make a reparation order.

Government Amendments 103 to 105 make minor amendments to the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 that are intended to clarify how certain sections of that Act are to apply in relation to a slavery and trafficking reparation order.

Finally, Amendments 19 and 20, 23 to 25, 32 and 33, 100 and 101 are technical amendments to reflect the introduction of new offences and civil orders in Northern Ireland through the Human Trafficking and Exploitation (Criminal Justice and Support for Victims) Act (Northern Ireland) 2015, which received Royal Assent on 13 January. The UK Government have

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worked closely with the Northern Ireland Executive to ensure that our respective legislation creates a robust, joined-up response to modern slavery across the UK. This proposed group of amendments supports this effort by ensuring that the Independent Anti-slavery Commissioner, the slavery and trafficking prevention and risk orders, and the maritime enforcement and transparency in supply chains provisions all work effectively in light of these recent legislative changes.

I hope that noble Lords will agree that this group of amendments makes minor, but necessary, changes to ensure that the Bill works effectively in light of wider legislative changes and will therefore support these amendments. I beg to move.

Amendment 8 agreed.

Amendments 9 to 12

Moved by Lord Bates

9: Clause 8, page 5, line 14, leave out “the Crown Court makes a confiscation order” and insert “a confiscation order is made”

10: Clause 8, page 5, line 16, leave out “Crown Court” and insert “court”

11: Clause 8, page 5, line 19, leave out “it has made a confiscation order” and insert “a confiscation order has been made”

12: Clause 8, page 5, line 42, at end insert—

“( ) “the court” means—

(i) the Crown Court, or

(ii) any magistrates’ court that has power to make a confiscation order by virtue of an order under section 97 of the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005 (confiscation orders by magistrates’ courts);”

Amendments 9 to 12 agreed.

Clause 10: Slavery and trafficking reparation orders: supplementary provision

Amendments 13 to 15

Moved by Lord Bates

13: Clause 10, page 6, line 43, leave out “Crown Court” and insert “court (within the meaning of section 8 above)”

14: Clause 10, page 7, line 4, leave out paragraph (e)

15: Clause 10, page 7, line 29, leave out from “order” to end of line 30 and insert “that could have been made under section 8 above by virtue of the confiscation order”

Amendments 13 to 15 agreed.

Amendment 16

Moved by Baroness Young of Hornsey

16: After Clause 10, insert the following new Clause—

“Civil remedies for modern slavery

(1) A victim of modern slavery may bring a civil action against any person who commits an offence against that victim under sections 1, 2 and 4 (or who knowingly benefits financially or by receiving anything of value from participation in a venture which that person knew or should have known has involved an offence under sections 1, 2 and 4) for the recovery of damages, injunctive relief, and any other appropriate relief.

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(2) It is not a defence to liability under this section that a defendant has been acquitted or has not been investigated, prosecuted or convicted under sections 1, 2 or 4 or has been convicted of a different offence or of a different type or class of offence.

(3) An action under this section must be commenced no later than 6 years after the later of the date on which the victim—

(a) left the situation of modern slavery; or

(b) attained the age of 18.

(4) This limitation period may be extended where the civil court considers it just and equitable to do so.

(5) An action brought under this section may be stayed by the civil court either on its own volition or at the request of the prosecution until the resolution of any criminal proceedings against a defendant which arise from the same act in respect of which the victim has made the claim.

(6) Damages awarded under this section shall be offset by any compensation paid to the victim for the same act pursuant to section 8 (reparation order following a criminal conviction for a relevant offence) or an award paid to the victim for the same act by the Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme.

(7) This section does not preclude any other existing remedies available to the victim under the laws of England and Wales.

(8) There shall be the provision of legal aid to enable a civil claim under this section to be brought.

(9) In a successful action under this section, in addition to any award of damages or other relief, the victim’s costs shall be recoverable against the defendant.

(10) This section shall have the same extra-territorial effect as sections 1, 2 and 4 .”

Baroness Young of Hornsey (CB): This amendment is intended to close a gap in the law, which currently does not provide sufficient avenues for all victims of modern slavery to seek remedies for damages and the suffering that they have endured. Again, I have to thank Parosha Chandran and Klara Skrivankova for their contributions in working on this amendment. I would also like to say how much I appreciate the work of all the NGOs which have contributed to our work on the Bill. They have done a fantastic job.

Very few victims have been able to receive remedies and compensation so far. This civil remedies amendment would provide an effective means to reduce the financial profitability of slavery, create a further deterrent effect and enable victims to be adequately compensated for the harm done to them. This proposed new clause does not seek to replace the existing remedies, such as those provided in employment law, but to add a more effective route to remedies that has been absent in English law and that, as experience from elsewhere shows, can be an effective means to enabling victims to get redress.

Those victims who have suffered physical harm will still of course be able to use existing remedies, but Amendment 16 is targeted at those for whom such routes remain out of reach. These are, for example, cases where there is an absence of direct physical harm but that involve debt bondage, abuse of an individual’s position of vulnerability, psychological control, threats of denunciation to the authorities, extortionate recruitment fees, and the threat or carefully nurtured fear of violence. Such actions are recognised in international definitions of trafficking and seen as indicators of forced labour. These are the very circumstances experienced by many victims of modern slavery, especially those exploited for their labour. This provision would, for example, allow a civil claim for forced labour to be brought against businesses or a gangmaster which have used

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and demeaned eastern European or British men for the purposes of slavery or forced labour, which have abused the men’s vulnerabilities to exploit them for profit and also imposed on them bonded debts via extortionate recruitment fees or accommodation charges for filthy living conditions, and which have failed to pay wages owed.

As I pointed out in Committee, when I brought forward an earlier iteration of this amendment, a further significant advantage of a civil remedy is that it is not dependent on criminal prosecution of offenders and can be brought where no criminal investigation has taken place. It was put to me during the debate in Committee that this proposed change in the law might not be necessary as the existing law is sufficient. I was grateful at that time for the helpful comments made by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay, my noble and learned friend Lady Butler-Sloss, who is supporting this amendment, and my noble and right reverend friend Lord Harries. I also thank the Minister for taking the time to write to me about this matter after the debate.

In his letter of 8 December 2014, the Minister took the view that there exist common law and statutory torts, which may be relied on in civil proceedings for damages. I have consulted a number of legal experts on this matter—experts on the issues of human trafficking and forced labour, as well as experts on civil and tort law outside these areas. The advice I have received was unanimous: that the existing remedies are inadequate as they do not provide appropriate routes to redress for all victims. The various examples from civil law described in the Minister’s letter are unable to give due weight to the factors and circumstances encountered in situations of trafficking and slavery. None reflects the elements of control and exploitation inherent in such situations or the subtle means of control assumed over victims by traffickers. One might consider that false imprisonment comes closest to reflecting the element of control over an individual’s life. However, the traditional focus in jurisprudence is on the restraint of physical liberty, and there is no guarantee that the more insidious and very common forms of restraint, such as the confiscation of a passport or the use of vulnerable immigration status to control victims, would be found to amount to false imprisonment. Similarly, the types of individual instances of assault, battery or harassment that can arise in a forced labour scenario may be inadequately represented by existing torts. The long-term nature of abuse and the elements of control of the vulnerable may be quite different from those that arise in other situations.

6.30 pm

In the US, a civil remedy for victims was introduced in 2003 after the finding that the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act 2000, a federal law, criminalised human trafficking and contained numerous provisions for victim protection but did not include a civil liability offence. This important omission was soon recognised and was remedied by the introduction of a federal right of action for survivors of trafficking in 2003. Under the US Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act 2003, a victim may bring a civil action against the perpetrator in court and recover damages.

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Having spoken to a number of experts here about this issue over the past few weeks, I have found a remarkable consensus on this issue. I have received advice and letters from some 12 legal practitioners, who all agree that existing remedies have been shown to be inadequate. All the lawyers have had clients in whose cases the absence of direct civil remedies against traffickers has prevented them from bringing civil damages claims owing to the uncertainty of the law and the lawyers’ unwillingness to subject already vulnerable and often traumatised clients to experimental litigation that has no clear outcomes for them.

To reiterate, some victims, especially those who are trafficked for sexual exportation or subject to physical violence, may be able to access some of the existing remedies. However, there are still too many of those affected by modern slavery in this country who cannot. The amendment offers a simple, streamlined, cost-effective and common-sense solution to the current gap in the law. However, we recognise that there is a huge amount of complexity around this issue, and that has been demonstrated by the assumptions that people have made about what is available and what can work. We recognise that it is not possible to change the law quickly. I am seeking confirmation from the Minister that he will be able to meet me, the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, and a small number of practitioners from the field to discuss this matter further, because clearly something here is not working in the way that it should. I beg to move.

Baroness Hamwee (LD): My Lords, I have added my name to this amendment, as I did to its predecessor amendment in Committee. Anticipating today’s debate, I had a quick word with the Minister, who helpfully—perhaps he seized on it as a way through today, at any rate—agreed that the noble Baroness, I and others may be let loose in the Home Office in discussions with officials. This is a complex issue. It is right to take considered steps, but steps do indeed have to be considered. The short point, as the noble Baroness said, is that people working in the field—I may say that those I have met are no slouches—argue forcefully for a specific course of action. Given the energy that they put into assisting victims by means of their legal work, I take very serious note of that. I am happy to support the amendment but, more importantly, because this is not something that is going to be solved in a 15-minute debate, to continue the discussion at the Home Office, and I am grateful to my noble friend for that.

I have tabled Amendment 17—I suppose it is allied to this one—about claims in the employment tribunal. Again, I am not seeking a solution today. My amendment, which really is adequate only for the purpose of raising the point, asks the Secretary of States to consult the appropriate people with regard to access to the tribunal by victims of modern slavery. I mention the national minimum wage in particular. If there is an employment contract, a claim must be brought within three months and is limited to two years’ arrears. I mentioned the two-year limit to a colleague in this House and said I was concerned that victims of slavery were prejudiced by it. He said, “Well, if we extended it beyond two years, other groups would want it to be opened up”. I thought that if it was not immediately obvious to

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someone steeped in what the House is doing that a victim of slavery, servitude or forced labour was unlikely to have been able to have access to an employment tribunal until that situation had finished, then this was something that had to be dealt with in detail and very carefully.

There are new regulations, which have just come into force, providing that from July the two-year restriction will apply. I understand that the Deduction from Wages (Limitation) Regulations were introduced to answer concerns expressed by business over unexpected and unquantified holiday pay claims; they were not aimed at victims of trafficking. Clearly they will affect victims of trafficking, but those victims are not mentioned in the impact assessment that BIS provided for the regulations.

There are other issues, too: for example, there is the family worker exemption, where someone treated as a member of a family is not entitled to the national minimum wage or to any payment at all, but the Court of Appeal—I have had an example of this—has regarded someone who worked 14 hours a day and slept on the dining room floor as being treated as a member of the family. That would have been an overseas domestic worker, and of course I am aware of the review of overseas domestic worker visas, but there are particular issues around the national minimum wage that we must not lose when we are dealing with other parts of this jigsaw.

I appreciate that there are a lot of stakeholders with a great range of interests in employment rights and the danger of unintended consequences is high, which is why I framed my amendment as I did. However, the victims of modern slavery have themselves suffered unintended consequences. All the Minister needs to do to my Amendment 17 is to say yes.

Baroness Butler-Sloss (CB): My Lords, I have also put my name to this amendment—as with the two noble Baronesses who have spoken, for the purpose of further consideration, not for the purpose of being part of the Bill at the moment.

There are two points that I want to make. The first is that there is clearly a gap. The second is that this would give an opportunity to victims who cannot have the satisfaction of the trafficker prosecuted—or indeed if the trafficker or slave owner is actually acquitted—none the less to take civil proceedings under a different and less onerous standard of care. The criminal law, as I am sure everyone in this House knows, requires the jury or the magistrate to be satisfied so as to be sure, but in the civil courts—the High Court, the county courts or the small claims courts—it is sufficient to have the balance of probabilities. So it gives an added opportunity to those who have suffered to get some redress, even if it does not go through the criminal courts. It is for that reason that we seek the opportunity for the Government to have a look at this to see whether something can be done at a later stage.

Baroness Kennedy of Cradley (Lab): My Lords, I add my voice in support of Amendment 16. I will be brief. There is no need for me to repeat the arguments for having a civil remedy in the Bill as this case has

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been eloquently and well made by the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Hornsey. I just want to emphasise three points. First, we have a duty to give victims of slavery every type of support to help them rebuild their lives. That is why I support this amendment. Effective civil remedies for modern slavery are another tool that we can agree that will help victims gain access to the justice they so rightly deserve. Through our debates in this House we have been increasing and developing the right provisions to support victims of slavery, which has rightly moved up the agenda. Amendment 16 is an essential element of the package of support. Survivors must have the right to pursue civil compensation claims and to recover damages from their abusers for offences carried out against them.

Secondly, like others, I worry that the current civil law is inadequate for the victims of modern slavery. The criteria for existing civil claims which can be brought against perpetrators seem too narrow for slavery victims. Not all victims of modern slavery have been subjected to physical or sexual assault or false imprisonment. The law is highly complex, and the circumstances of each enslavement situation are highly complex. Increasingly there is no physical violence but there is extreme emotional and psychological manipulation. We therefore need civil law to cover all the complexities of a modern-day slavery situation.

Thirdly, and finally, we need to learn the lessons from the US and not repeat its mistakes. As the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Hornsey, mentioned, the US Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act of 2000 did not include a civil liability offence. That was soon recognised as a glaring omission, so in 2003 a federal right of action was introduced for survivors of trafficking. Let it not take us three years to recognise that more needs to be done. The amendment is before us here and now. I hope the Government will take the opportunity before them to respond favourably to this amendment now, or soon through discussions in future.

Lord Rosser (Lab): My Lords, I will be brief. The noble Baroness, Lady Young of Hornsey, has once again made a powerful case in her amendment. We support the principle of a civil remedy for victims of modern slavery against a person who commits an offence against that victim or who benefits financially. As the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, said, civil proceedings are likely to be less of an ordeal for victims than the criminal courts and cases will be determined on the lower threshold of balance of probabilities rather than beyond reasonable doubt, which increases the prospect of a successful outcome for the victim.

In Committee, there was some discussion about whether there was already recourse to relevant and appropriate civil law remedies for all victims. There was clearly not unanimity of view on that point. The amendment would clear up any doubt by putting a clause in the Bill providing for civil action and remedies for victims of modern slavery, and if the Government are going to oppose this amendment all the way down the line, they will need to be rather more convincing than they were in Committee in persuading the House

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that adequate civil remedies are already available and that that view is not open to serious doubt. I hope that the Minister will be able to respond in a helpful way.

6.45 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Bates) (Con): My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Young, for moving this amendment and giving us the opportunity for a debate. As my noble friend Lady Hamwee said, we have agreed to continue dialogue on this issue with the Home Office and the Independent Anti-slavery Commissioner, who has expressed an interest in this area. This is also an opportunity to put on the record some remarks on our position, which the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, invited us to do. In doing so, I do not want to detract from the fact that we agree that this is something at which we need to look carefully.

Since Committee stage, we have been looking very closely at civil remedies and modern slavery, and have been exchanging letters about the details with Peers, as the noble Baroness, Lady Young, said. Amendment 16 seeks to enhance civil remedies by creating new torts equivalent to the offences to be created under Clauses 1, 2 and 4. I assure the House that we believe that civil remedies in tort already exist for victims of trafficking and slavery to claim damages from perpetrators through ordinary civil law and the Human Rights Act. Damages can, for example, be recovered for loss or damage caused to victims under the torts of intimidation, harassment, assault, unlawful imprisonment, negligence and breach of duty. We have been unable to identify a modern slavery scenario that would not involve at least one of those torts. Given the serious nature of modern slavery, we consider that it is likely that a court would be able to establish that, on the balance of probabilities, at least one of those civil wrongs had taken place. Accordingly, we are currently of the view that the existing civil law already provides the necessary civil remedies for modern slavery cases.

Once a tort has been established, the court can award damages to the victim. Noble Lords previously expressed concern that such damages may be insufficient in light of the terrible experiences that the victim may have suffered. However, aggravated damages are available in relation to a number of civil torts, such as assault or wrongful imprisonment. This means that where the court, taking into account the defendant’s motives, conduct and manner of committing the tort against the victim, feels that the defendant has aggravated the victim’s damage by injuring his proper feelings of dignity and pride, aggravated damages may be awarded. Given the particular nature of modern slavery, we would expect most modern slavery cases to give rise to aggravated damages, which seem particularly apt for such situations, given their focus on the injurious and degrading effect on the victim, and consider that the availability of such additional damages will enable courts to ensure that victims receive an adequate remedy fully tailored to the particular effect on them.

The Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 retained civil legal aid for damages and employment law claims for trafficking victims to support them in making such claims, and an amendment

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to the Bill will extend this legal aid provision to all modern slavery victims. I believe this amendment has been widely welcomed.

Amendment 17 would require the Secretary of State to complete a consultation on access by victims of modern slavery to the employment tribunal to make claims, including for payment of the national minimum wage. I assure noble Lords that all employees and workers in the United Kingdom are entitled to protection under our employment law, and those working legally in Great Britain will have access to the employment tribunal. In some circumstances this will include modern slavery victims. However, given the criminal nature of modern slavery, some victims will not have been in legal employment and therefore cannot benefit from all the same protections as those working under legal contracts. For example, access to an employment tribunal would be possible only in certain cases of discrimination. This is because, as a general principle, a court or tribunal will not enforce an illegal contract.

Where victims are eligible to make claims through the employment tribunal, there is a two-year restriction, which my noble friend Lady Hamwee referred to, which applies to most claims for unlawful deduction of wages, including underpayment of the national minimum wage. However, in practice, the majority of national minimum wage claims are handled by a separate enforcement route via Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs. This route is not affected by our changes, and the national minimum wage can still be claimed for up to six years via HMRC enforcement. HMRC investigates every complaint made to the Pay and Work Rights Helpline. In addition, HMRC conducts risk-based enforcement in sectors or areas where there is perceived to be a higher risk of workers not getting paid the legal minimum wage.

An action founded on a civil tort to claim general damages would not be subject to a two-year limit and can usually be made up to six years after the cause of action accrued. In these cases, the amounts of the damages will be based on the individual circumstances of the case and may be higher than the level of wages that should have been paid, although this may be a factor considered by the court in assessing the amount of the victim’s loss. We are committed to doing as much as possible effectively to enhance support for and protection of victims of modern slavery, which includes ensuring that they receive compensation for the horrors that they have experienced.

While our current analysis is that the existing law provides sufficient access to civil remedies for victims of slavery and trafficking, these debates are providing very valuable information in exploring how civil remedies apply to modern slavery cases. We will continue to look carefully at the evidence put forward in the debates, including today’s Report stage debate, in future policy-making. Given the need to explore further the important points raised, I hope that noble Lords will agree that this is not an issue to address through the Bill at this stage. As I have given undertakings, which I mentioned at the outset, to continue the discussion but to put on the record these additional remarks, which represent the Government’s latest position on this issue, I hope that that will provide reassurance for

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my noble friend and for the noble Baroness, Lady Young, to consider withdrawing her amendment at this stage.

Baroness Young of Hornsey: I thank the Minister for his reply, and for agreeing to meet us. However, it is interesting that there clearly is some kind of a problem here if all these practitioners, who are very diligent and very committed to the people with whom they work, cannot seem to find their way through what already exists. That takes me back to 2009, when we were looking at what became Section 71—which we often refer to now—of the Coroners and Justice Act. At that time, a number of arguments were put forward against doing anything about criminalising forced labour and servitude. It now seems impossible to think that anyone would argue against that, but the Government of the time felt that there was sufficient recourse through the civil courts, and we now know better than that. I reiterate part of what the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy, was saying: we do not want to wait another three years before we get round to thinking, “Oh yes, there is something else—we can do a little bit better”. I therefore hope that we will come to some sort of agreement about a more productive way forward. In that context, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 16 withdrawn.

Amendment 17 not moved.

Clause 13: Interpretation of Part 1

Amendment 18

Moved by Lord Bates

18: Clause 13, page 9, line 43, at end insert—

“( ) In sections 8 and 10, references to provisions of the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 include references to those provisions as amended or otherwise modified by virtue of an order (whenever made) under section 97 of the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005 (confiscation orders by magistrates’ courts).”

Amendment 18 agreed.

Schedule 1: Slavery and human trafficking offences

Amendment 19

Moved by Lord Bates

19: Schedule 1, page 44, line 27, at end insert—

“Human Trafficking and Exploitation (Criminal Justice and Support for Victims) Act (Northern Ireland) 2015 (c. 2 (N.I.))

7A An offence under section 1, 2 or 4 of the Human Trafficking and Exploitation (Criminal Justice and Support for Victims) Act (Northern Ireland) 2015 (slavery, servitude and forced or compulsory labour; human trafficking).”

Amendment 19 agreed.

Clause 30: Offences

Amendments 20 to 22

Moved by Lord Bates

20: Clause 30, page 22, line 20, at end insert—

“(e) a slavery and trafficking prevention order under Schedule 3 to the Human Trafficking and Exploitation (Criminal Justice and Support for Victims) Act (Northern Ireland) 2015 (c. 2 (N.I.)), or

23 Feb 2015 : Column 1467

(f) an interim slavery and trafficking prevention order under that Schedule to that Act,”

21: Clause 30, page 22, line 31, leave out “not exceeding £5,000”

22: Clause 30, page 22, line 35, leave out subsection (5)

Amendments 20 to 22 agreed.

Clause 34: Interpretation of Part 2

Amendments 23 and 24

Moved by Lord Bates

23: Clause 34, page 23, line 36, at end insert “(except in section 30(1)(f))”

24: Clause 34, page 23, line 42, at end insert “(except in section 30(1)(e))”

Amendments 23 and 24 agreed.

Clause 37: Enforcement powers in relation to ships: Northern Ireland

Amendment 25

Moved by Lord Bates

25: Clause 37, page 27, line 26, leave out paragraphs (a) to (c) and insert—

“(a) section 1 of the Human Trafficking and Exploitation (Criminal Justice and Support for Victims) Act (Northern Ireland) 2015 (c. 2 (N.I.)) (slavery, servitude and forced or compulsory labour);

(b) section 2 of that Act (human trafficking).”

Amendment 25 agreed.

Amendment 26

Moved by Baroness Garden of Frognal

26: After Schedule 2, insert the following new Schedule—

SchedulePublic authorities under a duty to co-operate with the CommissionerLaw enforcement and border security

A chief officer of police for a police area in England and Wales.

The chief constable of the British Transport Police Force.

The National Crime Agency.

An immigration officer or other official of the Secretary of State exercising functions in relation to immigration or asylum.

A designated customs official (within the meaning of Part 1 of the Borders, Citizenship and Immigration Act 2009).

Local government

A county council in England or Wales.

A county borough council in Wales.

A district council in England.

A London borough council.

The Greater London Authority.

The Common Council of the City of London.

The Council of the Isles of Scilly.

Health bodies

A National Health Service trust established under section 25 of the National Health Service Act 2006 or section 18 of the National Health Service (Wales) Act 2006.

An NHS foundation trust within the meaning given by section 30 of the National Health Service Act 2006.

23 Feb 2015 : Column 1468

A Local Health Board established under section 11 of the National Health Service (Wales) Act 2006.


The Gangmasters Licensing Authority.”

Baroness Garden of Frognal: My Lords, I will speak also to government Amendments 42 to 45, 106, 107 and 110 to 113. Amendments 108 and 109 should more logically be taken at a later stage, as they refer to later provisions.

I pay tribute to the work of the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee. Its excellent report has suggested a number of improvements to the Bill, and the Government have responded positively. This group of amendments relates to the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee’s recommendations on the duty to co-operate with the Independent Anti-slavery Commissioner. The committee recommended that public authorities to whom this duty would apply should be listed in the Bill, that additions should be made to this list via regulations subject to the negative procedure, and that public authorities should be removed from the duty only where regulations have been made via the affirmative procedure.

Accordingly, the amendments set out the list of public authorities, which operate either across the UK or in England and Wales only, and which will be under a duty to co-operate with the Independent Anti-slavery Commissioner as soon as the provision is commenced. Those include all the first responders under the national referral mechanism: the police, the National Crime Agency, the Gangmasters Licensing Authority, relevant front-line staff in the Home Office, and local authorities. We have also included National Health Service trusts, which are also highly relevant to identifying victims. Where relevant we have consulted the Welsh Government to ensure that they are content with that list. To ensure that health professionals are not under conflicting duties regarding confidentiality to patients, these amendments specify that they are not required to supply patient information to the commissioner.

Noble Lords will note that the list relates only to authorities that can be specified by the UK Government without breaching the Sewel convention. We have consulted the Scottish Government and Northern Ireland Executive on the committee’s recommendations, but they wish to add public authorities through regulations to ensure that the Scottish Parliament and Northern Ireland Assembly are appropriately consulted. I stress that this is an initial list; I am sure that noble Lords can identify other bodies which might prove relevant in future. I am happy to commit to keeping this list under review and looking carefully at points made in debate. We will be able to add to the list through regulations subject to the negative procedure.

On the second element of the committee’s recommendations, that group of amendments also specifies that a public authority can be removed from the duty only via regulations subject to the affirmative procedure, except where the amendment is in consequence of the authority having ceased to exist. This is an important safeguard as it means the scope of the duty to co-operate with the commissioner cannot be narrowed without careful parliamentary scrutiny. Additions to

23 Feb 2015 : Column 1469

the duty can be made through regulations subject to the negative procedure. Scotland and Northern Ireland have agreed to follow the same process, and that is also reflected in the amendments. I beg to move.

Baroness Butler-Sloss: My Lords, perhaps I might add two names. I am very happy with these amendments, but I wonder why neither the Crown Prosecution Service nor the College of Policing is included in the proposed new schedule. I suggest that that should be looked at.

Baroness Garden of Frognal: I thank the noble and learned Baroness. Yes; we have identified public authorities that we consider have a key role to play in supporting the commissioner in delivering his functions. However, I stress that this is an initial list, and we are more than prepared to look at additions to it. We will keep it under review, and will possibly consider ahead of Third Reading whether we should have greater ability to tailor the duty to the particular functions or legislative framework of a future public authority, as we have done with National Health Service trusts and patient confidentiality. The noble and learned Baroness raises two other possibilities, which we will look at ahead of Third Reading, and I thank her.

Amendment 26 agreed.

Clause 40: The Independent Anti-slavery Commissioner

Amendment 27

Moved by Lord Warner

27: Clause 40, page 30, line 40, at end insert “and may bring any matter to the attention of either House of Parliament irrespective of other provisions in this Act”

Lord Warner (Lab): My Lords, Amendment 27 is in my name and in those of the noble Lords, Lord Patel and Lord Alton, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Derby. I shall also speak briefly to Amendment 29 in this group, which is in the same names.

I begin by acknowledging the efforts made by the Minister to respond positively to the many points raised in Committee by Members of this House from across the Benches. The House will recall that in Committee there was great concern that the Bill did not go far enough to ensure the independence of the Independent Anti-slavery Commissioner. Simply to call the commissioner “independent” was not sufficient if the Bill did not fully reflect that description. The Government have eventually, after a struggle, recognised those concerns to some extent in their Amendment 28. However, I gently draw the Minister’s attention to the fact that it does not even go as far as the rather modest collective amendment we have put down as Amendment 29.

Unfortunately, there is a somewhat grudging flavour to Amendment 28, which makes me retain my concern about the extent to which the commissioner remains clearly on a leash—even if, admittedly, on a slightly longer one—from the Home Office. That is why I

23 Feb 2015 : Column 1470

have tried to provide an override provision in Amendment 27, which would enable the commissioner to,

“bring any matter to the attention of either House of Parliament irrespective of other provisions in this Act”.

That means exactly what it says. If the commissioner at any time considers that he or she is being thwarted or nudged away from airing publicly any significant concern that he or she has, he or she can draw upon the provisions in Amendment 27 to access either House of Parliament to ensure that the issue is brought into the public domain.

7 pm

The amendment is not directed at any particular Home Secretary but is a provision based on what some of us have observed in Governments of all or any political make-up as reluctance to have difficult or embarrassing issues surface publicly. My colleagues want to ensure a stronger legal bulwark against any such temptation.

It is clear that Parliament has used such a bulwark elsewhere in relation to the Children’s Commissioner, whose functions are set out in the new Section 2 of the Children Act 2004 brought forward last year in the Children and Families Act 2014. New Section 2(3)(e) gave the Children’s Commissioner exactly the same access to either House of Parliament at any time he or she considered it necessary when discharging his or her functions. It states that the commissioner may,

“bring any matter to the attention of either House of Parliament”.

Therefore, not that long ago, this Parliament gave a commissioner with responsibilities for very vulnerable people—in that case, children—an absolute guarantee of access to Parliament should the need arise. Paragraph 436 of the Explanatory Notes to the 2014 Act makes it absolutely clear that the Children’s Commissioner can do this either through his annual report or by other means, such as writing to the chair of a relevant Select Committee. To put it graphically, if I may, if a Minister tries to gag the Children’s Commissioner or censor his utterances, the commissioner can go straight to Parliament.

We should also remember that other countries with equivalents to the anti-slavery commissioner give the person direct access to Parliament. The rapporteur from the Netherlands made clear to the Joint Select Committee on the Bill her ability to do this. She saw it as an important way of giving confidence to people outside that they could bring their concerns to the rapporteur.

As we discussed in Committee, the commissioner needs the trust and confidence of a wide range of agencies and interests if he or she is to be successful. That trust and confidence will be damaged, as the Joint Committee said, if there remain doubts or perceptions that the person’s independence is shackled by the Executive. No amount of warm words from Ministers can remove those doubts and perceptions. A statutory guarantee is required and Amendment 27 gives that guarantee. Having accepted that position in relation to the Children’s Commissioner as recently as last year, I hope that the Minister can do the same for the anti-slavery commissioner by accepting my

23 Feb 2015 : Column 1471

amendment, which is framed in exactly the same way as the Children and Families Act 2014. If the Government are prepared to agree to Amendment 27, I will be strongly inclined not to press my Amendment 29. I beg to move.

Lord Alton of Liverpool (CB): My Lords, as the noble Lord, Lord Warner, indicated, I am one of those who put my name to the amendment, and I am very happy to add my support to it in a short intervention this evening. Before doing so, I endorse what the noble Lord, Lord Warner, said about the thoughtfulness and thoroughness of both the noble Lord, Lord Bates, and the noble Baroness, Lady Garden of Frognal, in dealing with Members from all sides of the House during the passage of this legislation, whether in the series of meetings organised in your Lordships’ House or in the face-to-face meetings with some of us who participated at the Home Office. We are all grateful to them for that. It is exemplary and it should recommend itself to other Ministers who are keen to facilitate their legislation through Parliament. This, of course, does not mean that we have always been of one mind or that we are necessarily going to agree about Amendment 27 to Clause 40.

The issue is the accountability of the Independent Anti-slavery Commissioner. I suspect that it may be one of those issues where we will not find agreement because it cuts right into lines of accountability through the Home Office. Departmental issues may take precedence over what I think may well be the private views of members of the Government but which they may not be able to voice here this evening.

The amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Warner, is commendable for its clarity. However, as he also indicated, it is a shrewd amendment, not least because it is based on the Children and Families Act 2014. If what we did a year ago was right in that context, surely it is right to follow exactly that precedent here again this evening.

It seems to me that one of the most important things is to recognise that, however good the nature or good will of individual Ministers, they, and even Home Secretaries, come and go. We are in a period where we face a general election. There may be a different set of Ministers—perhaps from the same party or maybe from other parties—in the very near future, so assurances given on the Floor of your Lordships’ House in the course of debate, even though they are given in good faith, cannot carry over in the same way that legislation carries over. Parliament does not come and go, unlike individual Ministers, and that is why it is so important that we place these words on the face of the Bill.

There have been plenty of precedents where uncomfortable, inconvenient and untimely issues have arisen, and departments have endeavoured to shelve them or kick them into the long grass, to suppress them or simply to ignore them. This amendment would prevent that. If we deemed such a provision to be necessary to protect children, surely it is necessary to protect victims of slavery, many of whom will in any case be children.

In a letter to me just a couple of days ago, on 20 February, the Independent Anti-slavery Commissioner, Mr Kevin Hyland, said:

23 Feb 2015 : Column 1472

“My independence will be unwavering, whether that be toward law enforcement, government, the private sector or indeed any organisation”.

I repeat:

“My independence will be unwavering”,

in the direction of government, as he specifically states. Either he is independent or he is not, and this amendment gives him the parliamentary access which will guarantee him that unwavering independence. I hope that this evening the Government will indicate either that they will take this matter away and look at it between now and Third Reading or that they will recognise the spirit in which the amendment is being moved by the noble Lord, Lord Warner, and give some guarantees to the effect that he is seeking.

Lord Rosser: While the government amendment is welcome in extending the remit of the anti-slavery commissioner and allowing the commissioner to appoint his or her own staff, there are other areas where there still appear to be constraints on the commissioner's independence.

The commissioner must still seek prior approval of strategic plans from the Home Secretary on his or her activities and areas of focus, and annual reports may also be subject to redaction before they are laid before Parliament and published. Apart from the impact on the commissioner’s independence, it is not clear within what timeframe this checking and seeking clearance has to be undertaken in order to avoid the prospect of delays, for example, in the publication of a report or the approval of a plan or programme. The delaying of the publication of reports by the Home Office is an experience apparently not unknown to Mr Vine, the Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration.

Annual reports from the anti-slavery commissioner may be redacted on the grounds that material may jeopardise the safety of an individual, prejudice an investigation or, in the view of the Secretary of State, be against the interests of national security. Perhaps the Minister could say how frequently it has been necessary to redact reports where the same conditions and criteria as it is proposed to place on the Independent Anti-slavery Commissioner’s reports already apply in relation to comparable commissioners or bodies.

As has been said, following the passing of the Children and Families Act 2014, the Children’s Commissioner can bring any matter to the attention of Parliament. And again, as has already been said, the Explanatory Notes to the 2014 Act state that the commissioner might do this, for example, through annual reports to Parliament or by writing to the chair of a relevant Select Committee. Under the 2014 Act, the Children’s Commissioner must as soon as possible lay a copy of his or her annual report before each House of Parliament.

In his letter of 16 February, the Minister said that,

“the Government’s intention has always been that the Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner will be independent”.

But it appears that there are varying degrees of independence—or lack of independence, depending on which way one wants to look at it. Perhaps the noble Lord could say whether the Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner will be in the same position

23 Feb 2015 : Column 1473

when laying his annual report before each House of Parliament or writing to the chair of a relevant Select Committee as is the Children’s Commissioner under the Children and Families Act 2014—and, if the answer is no, why that should be the case.

Lord Bates: The noble Lord, Lord Rosser, put a direct question to me that other noble Lords have asked. It is because the nature of the information often involves serious crime and young children, and there are matters that may not be appropriate. That is something that is applied to other organisations—for example, with Borders and Immigration, with which the Independent Anti-slavery Commissioner shares an office.

I shall make some contextual remarks and thank the noble Lord, Lord Warner, for returning to this issue. He acknowledged that we have been on a journey with this Bill. The word “independent” was not in the Bill when it was in the other place. That was added and then, rightly, your Lordships asked what it actually meant in precise terms and whether the person has the right to appoint their own staff, or whether they should be able to draw them just from within the pool of the Home Office. Then we found out and were able to confirm that he had already been appointing staff from outside in his designate position, and that he had brought in people from NGOs working in this area to assist in this role.

One point that was helpful in the discussion when Kevin Hyland, the designate commissioner, came to speak to Peers, was that, from his own role, he wanted to be closely aligned to the Home Office because he felt that it gave him a certain amount of authority in dealing with modern slavery—not just within the Home Office but across government. We now have a cross-government strategy, which we have published. He felt that that was very important and that the fact of reporting to the Secretary of State at the Home Office would strengthen his ability to get the changes he wanted in engaging with police officers and other agencies. From his own point of view, he saw no contradiction—to pick up the point of the noble Lord, Lord Alton—and he wanted to be unwavering in how he put forward his case and reacted to his role, as he put it in his letter. I emphasise that that came out on 20 February; I do not think that anybody in the Home Office was consulted about it—and, of course, it was absolutely welcome. He wants to build a strong relationship with parliamentarians and to engage in that process.

The idea of any of us who have had the privilege of meeting Kevin Hyland thinking that he would be anybody’s poodle, let alone on a leash, is something that we do not accept. We want to make sure that he has a very serious statutory role to perform, charged by and answerable to the Secretary of State. His task is to ensure that victims are protected and perpetrators prosecuted. Under previous groups, we talked about how that might be done. This is a very good example of how that might be moved forward.

7.15 pm

I know that there are concerns that reports are reviewed by the Secretary of State, but there is another element here, which I want the noble Lord

23 Feb 2015 : Column 1474

to be cognisant of in pursuing his amendment. Amendment 27 would effectively allow the commissioner to report to Parliament about anything without the important necessary safeguards which would avoid inadvertently jeopardising national security, putting victims’ lives at risk or undermining an ongoing prosecution. Moreover—I ask the noble Lord to think very carefully about this point—Amendment 27 would legislate outside the legislative consent Motions passed by the Scottish Parliament and Northern Ireland Assembly, which were agreed specifically on the basis of the current powers to safeguard matters of important public interest. The amendment would leave a Bill that, if passed, would breach the Sewel convention, and put this critical UK-wide part of the Bill at risk. That is a very serious point for the noble Lord, Lord Warner, to consider.

I have tried to make the point to the noble Lord that, in welcoming his amendment, we have introduced our own amendment, which guarantees the commissioner’s independence of role over his budgets and recruitment of staff and also ensures that it is open to any committee to request the commissioner to come and speak to it. It is entirely within its ability to do that, and any Member of Parliament is entirely at liberty to communicate directly or to meet him, as has already been the case on many occasions. We simply underscore the importance of that role, and have this hesitation only in accepting the noble Lord’s amendment at this stage—it could put at risk some of the prosecutions being brought forward, if information should be inadvertently released. Given that we are dealing with matters of organised crime, that would be a very serious matter, which I know will weigh heavily on the noble Lord, Lord Warner. I ask him to keep that in mind.

Amendment 29 would entirely negate the effect of these essential provisions by allowing the commissioner to report to Parliament about any matter and override existing statutory information safeguards and restrictions on disclosure, such as those in the Data Protection Act 1998 or the Official Secrets Act 1989. I urge noble Lords not to effectively remove the critical and proportionate safeguards set out in the redaction provisions. I must also bring an important issue to the noble Lord’s attention, in the Sewel convention. That is very important to bear in mind. He is aware that the Government cannot support amendments in breach of the Sewel convention. To raise such a controversial constitutional issue at this stage in the life of a Parliament would put at risk important provisions for a UK-wide commissioner.

Given these serious risks, and my assurance that the commissioner will already have his annual reports laid before Parliament and be able to appear before parliamentary committees, I hope that the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw his amendment and support the government amendment to strengthen the independence of the commissioner.

Lord Warner: My Lords, that was all very interesting. I thought that there was a certain amount of scrabbling around by the Minister at the end when he went into the Sewel convention and letters of consent. He seemed to be struggling to put the old arguments together—and

23 Feb 2015 : Column 1475

I can see that there has been some burning of the midnight oil in the Home Office to try to scratch together some of these arguments. It was interesting to hear the Minister talk of us going on a journey. It certainly has been a journey; it has been a rather hard slog through a lot of mud to try to get a bit more independence into this person’s role. I agree with him that this has been a journey. However, I have considerable doubts about whether it has been successfully completed.

I am genuinely grateful for all the work that the Minister has put in since the Bill came to the House, and I very much share the views expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Alton. However, that does not alter the fact that we are legislating for the future, not just for now. I have heard nothing in the Minister’s arguments which convinces me that this House should not include in the Bill an ability for this commissioner that is the same as that of the Children’s Commissioner to have direct access to Parliament when the need arises. I say to the Minister—

Lord Bates: The noble Lord claims that he heard nothing, but what does he say to the point about the Sewel convention? It is a serious constitutional point about how this proposal would affect the Scottish Parliament and the Northern Ireland Assembly.

Lord Warner: My Lords, if I may be allowed to finish what I was going to say, it would probably be helpful to the Minister. I am not one simply to reject out of hand some of these constitutional issues. However, we are also concerned about the position in this country—England—as well as the position in Scotland and other parts of the United Kingdom. We have the largest population and we are probably dealing with the largest number of enslaved, exploited and trafficked children. If the Government consider that this amendment needs to be amended between now and Third Reading, they could do so and have negotiations with the Scottish Parliament, the Northern Ireland Assembly and so forth. People have these discussions with other government departments when there is a reasonable period of time in which to do so.

In conclusion, on the basis of what I have heard, I see no reason for not testing the opinion of the House.

7.23 pm

Division on Amendment 27

Contents 154; Not-Contents 178.

Amendment 27 disagreed.

Division No.  1


Adams of Craigielea, B.

Adonis, L.

Ahmed, L.

Alton of Liverpool, L.

Anderson of Swansea, L.

Andrews, B.

Armstrong of Hill Top, B.

Bach, L.

Bassam of Brighton, L. [Teller]

Beecham, L.

Best, L.

Bhattacharyya, L.

Birt, L.

Blackstone, B.

Blood, B.

Bradley, L.

Brooke of Alverthorpe, L.

Brookman, L.

Browne of Belmont, L.

23 Feb 2015 : Column 1476

Campbell of Surbiton, B.

Campbell-Savours, L.

Carlisle, Bp.

Carter of Coles, L.

Cashman, L.

Clark of Windermere, L.

Collins of Highbury, L.

Crawley, B.

Davies of Oldham, L.

Davies of Stamford, L.

Dean of Thornton-le-Fylde, B.

Donaghy, B.

Doocey, B.

Drake, B.

Elder, L.

Elystan-Morgan, L.

Falkland, V.

Farrington of Ribbleton, B.

Faulkner of Worcester, L.

Foster of Bishop Auckland, L.

Foulkes of Cumnock, L.

Gale, B.

Giddens, L.

Golding, B.

Gordon of Strathblane, L.

Goudie, B.

Gould of Potternewton, B.

Grantchester, L.

Grey-Thompson, B.

Griffiths of Burry Port, L.

Grocott, L.

Hanworth, V.

Harris of Haringey, L.

Harrison, L.

Hart of Chilton, L.

Haworth, L.

Hayter of Kentish Town, B.

Healy of Primrose Hill, B.

Henig, B.

Hollis of Heigham, B.

Howarth of Newport, L.

Howe of Idlicote, B.

Howells of St Davids, B.

Hoyle, L.

Hughes of Stretford, B.

Hughes of Woodside, L.

Hunt of Kings Heath, L.

Hylton, L.

Jones, L.

Jones of Whitchurch, B.

Judd, L.

Kennedy of Cradley, B.

Kennedy of Southwark, L.

Kerr of Kinlochard, L.

Kilclooney, L.

King of Bow, B.

Kingsmill, B.

Kinnock, L.

Kinnock of Holyhead, B.

Kirkhill, L.

Layard, L.

Lea of Crondall, L.

Lennie, L.

Liddell of Coatdyke, B.

Lipsey, L.

Lister of Burtersett, B.

McAvoy, L.

McConnell of Glenscorrodale, L.

McDonagh, B.

Macdonald of Tradeston, L.

McFall of Alcluith, L.

McIntosh of Hudnall, B.

MacKenzie of Culkein, L.

McKenzie of Luton, L.

Mallalieu, B.

Mar, C.

Masham of Ilton, B.

Massey of Darwen, B.

Maxton, L.

Meacher, B.

Mendelsohn, L.

Mitchell, L.

Monks, L.

Moonie, L.

Morgan, L.

Morgan of Drefelin, B.

Morgan of Ely, B.

Morgan of Huyton, B.

Morris of Handsworth, L.

Morrow, L.

Nye, B.

O'Loan, B.

O'Neill of Clackmannan, L.

Patel, L.

Patel of Bradford, L.

Pendry, L.

Pitkeathley, B.

Prescott, L.

Prosser, B.

Quin, B.

Rea, L.

Reid of Cardowan, L.

Richard, L.

Robertson of Port Ellen, L.

Rogan, L.

Rogers of Riverside, L.

Rooker, L.

Rosser, L.

Rowe-Beddoe, L.

Royall of Blaisdon, B.

Sandwich, E.

Scotland of Asthal, B.

Sherlock, B.

Smith of Basildon, B.

Smith of Gilmorehill, B.

Snape, L.

Soley, L.

Stoddart of Swindon, L.

Stone of Blackheath, L.

Symons of Vernham Dean, B.

Taylor of Warwick, L.

Temple-Morris, L.

Thornton, B.

Touhig, L.

Tunnicliffe, L. [Teller]

Wall of New Barnet, B.

Walpole, L.

Warner, L.

Watson of Invergowrie, L.

Wheeler, B.

Whitaker, B.

Wilkins, B.

Worthington, B.

Young of Hornsey, B.

Young of Norwood Green, L.


Addington, L.

Ahmad of Wimbledon, L.

Allan of Hallam, L.

Anelay of St Johns, B.

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Blencathra, L.

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Chisholm of Owlpen, B.

Colwyn, L.

Cooper of Windrush, L.

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Cotter, L.

Craig of Radley, L.

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Deighton, L.

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Eaton, B.

Eccles, V.

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Eden of Winton, L.

Elton, L.

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Farmer, L.

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Fellowes of West Stafford, L.

Fink, L.

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Fookes, B.

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Glasgow, E.

Glenarthur, L.

Goddard of Stockport, L.

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Griffiths of Fforestfach, L.

Hamwee, B.

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Helic, B.

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Hodgson of Abinger, B.

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Horam, L.

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Howe, E.

Howe of Aberavon, L.

Howell of Guildford, L.

Humphreys, B.

Hunt of Wirral, L.

Hussain, L.

Janke, B.

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Jolly, B.

Jopling, L.

Kakkar, L.

Kirkwood of Kirkhope, L.

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Lamont of Lerwick, L.

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7.35 pm

Amendment 28

Moved by Lord Bates

28: Clause 40, page 30, line 43, leave out subsection (4) and insert—

“(4) The Secretary of State—

(a) must before the beginning of each financial year specify a maximum sum which the Commissioner may spend that year,

(b) may permit that to be exceeded for a specified purpose, and

(c) subject to paragraphs (a) and (b), must defray the Commissioner’s expenditure for each financial year.

(4A) In this Part, “financial year” means—

(a) the period beginning with the day on which the first Commissioner takes office and ending with the following 31 March, and

(b) each successive period of 12 months.

“(4B) The Commissioner may appoint staff.”

Lord McColl of Dulwich: My Lords, I support Amendment 28. Before I set out why I think the independence of the commissioner is of central importance, I want to place on record my thanks to the Minister for hosting so many meetings between Committee and Report to hear the views of Peers and to help to update us with the latest thinking from the Home Office. In relation to the clauses that we are discussing, I thank the Minister for arranging a helpful meeting with the commissioner-designate.

I welcome the amendment, because it will provide a solid foundation for the independence of the commissioner, not only in fact but in appearance. I commend the Minister for listening and responding to concerns expressed by your Lordships during the debate and for taking on board the recommendation of our Joint Committee on the draft Bill with regard to this central issue of the statutory safeguards for the commissioner’s independence. Indeed, I believe that I recognise the text of the amendment from our committee’s alternative Bill. I was pleased to hear from the commissioner himself about his vigorous determination to be an independent voice and to challenge, on the basis of evidence, those who were not meeting the necessary standards of action. I am also pleased to know that he had been involved in appointing his staff team.

The amendment will protect the independence of the commissioner for the long term, beyond the tenure of the present commissioner or the present Home Secretary. The amendment establishes clearly that although the commissioner, his office and activities are funded by the Home Office, that funding is through a budget allocation which the commissioner can apportion as he sees fit. The original text creates a dependency for the commissioner on the Secretary of State for the

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most basic equipment, and suggests that his office is embedded in the Home Office. That is no different from any other unit within that department, and it gives the Secretary of State the power to determine what office accommodation, equipment and facilities he or she considers necessary for the commissioner’s functions, with the only requirement being to consult the commissioner. This creates the possibility for pressure to be applied to the commissioner, influencing what he is able to do through providing or not providing certain resources. The amendment removes this possibility by empowering the commissioner himself to determine how his budget is allocated within limits set by the Secretary of State.

When the Joint Committee on the draft Bill considered these questions, we were particularly concerned not only about actual undue influence on the commissioner’s activities but about the need for the commissioner to have credibility with the many different groups, agencies and partners that he will have to engage with in his work. A degree of financial independence is key to establishing a clear separation between the commissioner and the Home Office, which the amendment accomplishes.

The amendment also gives the commissioner the power to appoint his own staff. This power is also central to establishing the independence vital to the commissioner’s reputation and effectiveness. It ensures that the commissioner will be able to gather a team with the requisite skills to fulfil his plans and objectives, rather than depending only on staff available from within the Home Office. The ability to appoint staff will also strengthen the credibility of the commissioner’s team as there will be less concern about the ability of staff members with loyalty to the Home Office to offer critical analysis of the Government’s policy.

If the commissioner is not able to demonstrate clear distance between his office and the Home Office policy machinery, the resulting damage to his credibility, and by extension to his reports and recommendations, could be paralysing. Amendment 28 will ensure that this will not be the case by creating a statutory framework that creates and protects that independence. Vis-à-vis the plea made by the noble Lord, Lord Warner, that the commissioner should have access to Parliament, the commissioner—he is a very strong man indeed—can readily ask MPs or Members of this House to ask questions in the House and to initiate appropriate debates.

To protect the independence of the commissioner for the long term, we must ensure that the statute that creates the post lives up to our aspirations of independence. Amendment 28 does this. I offer the Minister my wholehearted support for this amendment.

Lord Bates: I am tempted to say very briefly that I of course agree with every word that my noble friend has said. He comes to this with great authority and respect, having been, as I said before, one of the people who generated the whole idea for the Bill. I know he is passionate about getting this right. I think that Amendment 28 goes a long way to address and meet some of the concerns that were legitimately raised by the noble Lord, Lord Warner, in the previous debate and which I understand.

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I am glad that Amendment 28 will be made, because it is vital that everyone out there in the NGO community, and police officers, law enforcement and everyone else involved in this work, recognises that the commissioner’s independence is unwavering, as the noble Lord, Lord Alton, put it—and, as Kevin Hyland himself put it, that he has absolute credibility in his background, having been a police officer leading on the prosecution of these areas. None the less, he wants to have a very strong working relationship with the many parliamentarians in both Houses who care passionately about this subject. Amendment 28 will ensure that that happens.

Amendment 28 agreed.

Amendment 29

Tabled by Lord Warner

29: Clause 40, page 30, line 43, leave out subsection (4) and insert—

“(4) The Secretary of State shall, within the approved budget—

(a) allow the Commissioner to appoint any staff he considers necessary for assisting him in the exercise of his functions; and

(b) ensure that he has such accommodation equipment and facilities as he considers necessary for the exercise of his functions.”

Lord Warner: Briefly, as I am slightly provoked by the comments made by the noble Lord, Lord McColl, on Amendment 28, I was well aware that the commissioner could put people up to ask questions. I did not doubt that. However, it seemed to me that the issue—this is still a shortcoming of Amendment 28—was that Parliament should put beyond peradventure the commissioner’s independence. I am not going to move Amendment 29, but I suggest that it gives the commissioner more independence than the wording of Amendment 28. I am not going to progress this argument any further, but I want to put on record that I am not convinced that we have gone as far as we could have done. In the mean time, I will not move Amendment 29.

Amendment 29 not moved.

Consideration on Report adjourned until not before 8.45 pm.

Disabled People: Hotel Facilities

Question for Short Debate

7.44 pm

Asked by Baroness Thomas of Winchester

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they will take steps to ensure that more hotels in the United Kingdom have better facilities for disabled people.

Baroness Thomas of Winchester (LD): My Lords, I tabled this Question in October, having been thoroughly frustrated in booking various hotels away from London over the past year that did not have adequate facilities for a disabled person such as me.

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Other disabled people tell me the same story. It is not just hotels for holidays, but hotels for work assignments and weekend conferences, which are not necessarily in holiday locations.

In 2010 the campaigning group of young disabled people, Trailblazers, published a report, All Inclusive?, which investigated their members’ experiences of travel, both here and abroad. It found that one-third of young disabled people said that the accessibility of bathrooms was the biggest challenge for them, and six out of 10 said that most hotels were inaccessible and did not cater to their requirements. On the whole, I absolve the big hotel chains, which mostly take facilities for disabled people seriously. No, the hotels I am talking about are the ordinary, smaller ones up and down the country that do not have a familiar name attached.

At the outset, I must make it plain that I understand that there are many different disabilities, but that I shall focus on the one I know best—that is, people with mobility problems. I hope that other speakers may address problems with other disabilities.

I am sure all of us speaking this evening will have our own tales of woe. I recently stayed in an upmarket hotel in Cambridge, which I was assured had disabled facilities. It had—almost—but the lavatory had a swing-down arm with no corresponding rail on the other side, making it unusable by me and anyone who has to lever themselves up. It had a handle high up on the opposite wall instead. The remedy—to put a rail on the other side of the swing-down rail at the same height—would have cost a few pounds. Yes, I reported it to the hotel staff, but it probably has not been changed. Could I have reported it to someone more senior? Yes, almost certainly, because I suppose that the hotel was technically breaking the law in not complying with Part M of the building regulations. In fact, I have to take my own facilities round with me in my car, which is why I cannot go to places by public transport.

I hope that the DWP is listening to this part of my speech, because it is why I am so passionate about trying to change the very unfair “moving about” descriptor in the personal independence payment assessment, which may render thousands of those with Motability cars ineligible for them when the bulk of the reassessments are done from October. But that is a debate for another day.

The first thing one needs is to be able to get into the hotel. Luckily, many hotels have some kind of side or back entrance that can be used if there are steps in front, but others rely on ramps for one, two or even three steps. Some ramps are fine, but many hotels do not realise that they cannot be too steep and they must be strong and reliable, otherwise they are dangerous. Once inside, if there is no bedroom on the ground floor, there must be a lift. Last year I was solemnly told by one hotel that yes, they had a disabled bedroom but it was on the first floor. Had they got a lift? No.

Once in the bedroom—through a door wide enough for a wheelchair—the next thing many disabled people need is a bathroom that is a wet shower room with no steps, even if it is in quite a small space. Showers over the bath are no good, and a lavatory with a fashionably

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low pedestal is no good to many of us, even with a drop-down rail. Again, it may not comply with Part M of the building regulations.

So what is Part M? Accessibility requirements for disabled people are clearly set out in this part of the building regulations and British Standard BS8300, including heights, widths, levels and manoeuvring spaces. While the Disability Discrimination Act and now the Equality Act require reasonable adjustments to be made, the basic level of access provision in Part M for hotels is: level or only slightly sloped surfaces; readily available contact with reception, including from outside; a lower counter provision with a seat at reception; reasonably wide doors; accessible toilets suitable for wheelchair users for restaurant, bar and function room users; and 5% of wheelchair-accessible bedrooms with wheelchair-accessible en suites. These basic facilities have been required since April 2004, but there is no doubt that thousands of hotels around the country are not meeting this basic level. What is being done to enforce the duty to make reasonable adjustments, as set out in the Equality Act? In other words, who checks to see that Part M and BS8300 are being met? Why are so many hotels allowed not to have these facilities?

I gather that even new buildings do not always pass through the building control system properly. New buildings should get building regulation approval when the number of accessible bedrooms, and their accessibility, have to be approved. But many local authorities do not have an access officer who advises building inspectors, especially these days when money is so tight, and the alternative approved inspectors do not necessarily follow the guidelines. What is the industry doing about this parlous state of affairs?

VisitEngland, which took over from the English Tourism Council, is at least trying—but I would like it to try harder. It acknowledges that the overnight accessible tourism market is now worth £3 billion to the economy in England. This figure may include those disabled people who have to stay in hotels for their employment, and I wonder whether this is part of the problem. In other words, this is not just a tourism problem within the budget of the DCMS but one also for the Office for Disability Issues, which comes under the DWP. I hope that they talk to each other about the whole question of accessibility.

The ODI has an excellent Accessible Britain campaign but I wonder whether it is well enough known and whether there are links to it on the main tourist websites. VisitEngland would like hotels to produce an access statement, but only its star-rated accommodation is required to complete it. It also manages a voluntary national accessibility scheme. I would like VisitEngland, or someone, to be much tougher on those hotels which are not part of any scheme, particularly as it says that overnight trips by disabled travellers and their companions have increased by 19%, with spend up by 33%, over the past four years. This should show all hoteliers the potential of making their hotels fully accessible, with the population getting older and more disabled. Many visitors from abroad will expect good facilities for disabled people.

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DisabledGo is another excellent organisation which publishes useful access guides to hotels but cannot do anything about hotels that do not make reasonable adjustments. It stresses in particular the need for all hotels to train their staff appropriately to give a good welcome and proper information to disabled travellers.

One particularly British problem is that many hoteliers will plead listed-building status as a good reason for not even trying to alter their facilities. But Martin Affleck, an architect and well respected access adviser, says:

“In my experience, too often historic gradings are used as an excuse not to consider anything. Access consultants and architects can apply the standards to existing premises and, if there is an issue with their historic fabric, can often find solutions and alternatives that will be acceptable to English Heritage and local planning officers”.

Here I make a plea to English Heritage. I ask it to please give hoteliers every help it can in making reasonable adjustments to listed buildings for disabled facilities. After all—dare I say?—people are more important than buildings. Perhaps my noble friend could tell me if VAT applies to alterations to listed buildings if they improve facilities for disabled people. If it does, perhaps the Treasury should be persuaded to change this rule.

Finally, one of the most shocking things that I have heard from those who talk to hotel managers is that they do not want any of their rooms to look “medicalised” because it puts non-disabled people off. One Member of your Lordships’ House has had that said to him, so he has generously agreed to support a design competition, in my name and with charitable funds, which aims to improve the definitely non-medicalised design of hotel rooms for disabled visitors, working with the hotel industry in the UK. I look forward to the rest of the debate and the to Minister’s response.

Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth (Con): My Lords, perhaps I may respectfully remind Members that this is a time-limited debate with six minutes for noble Lords.

7.55 pm

Lord Touhig (Lab): My Lords, I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas of Winchester, on securing this debate, which has come at a most opportune time. Today, the House has returned after a short break and I am sure that I am not alone in having had a few days away. It was a break which I arranged without any problems or difficulties whatever. However, that is not the case for many handicapped people or those with learning difficulties. A simple thing such as booking a holiday can become a nightmarish experience. Why is that? It is because so many of our holiday destinations and tourist attractions are unfriendly and unwelcoming to people with a handicap or a learning disability. Only today, I was reminded of a case last November when two friends—one autistic and the other deaf—tried to book a weekend break in a seaside bed and breakfast but were turned away. They were told that their disabilities would disturb the sophisticated clientele.

However, there is much more. In the excellent Library paper provided for this debate, we see that two-thirds of Britain’s top 100 tourist attractions are not fully accessible to those with a handicap and using a wheelchair.

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This means that we are treating 11 million disabled fellow citizens as second class. They may not enjoy something that we all take for granted. The Library paper tells us that this group has a spending power of £80 billion, so by failing to meet their needs, many businesses are losing the opportunity of securing this income.

Hotels and businesses should look at providing facilities for disabled people and those with learning difficulties as an investment, and not as a burdensome cost. The National Autistic Society, of which I am a vice-president, has produced a useful pamphlet on autism-friendly facilities. This is a valuable resource for families and individuals with autism. However, what is noticeably absent from the list is the large hotel chains. The families of those with autism should not have their holiday choices limited by the fact that too few hotels are prepared to accommodate them. We need to encourage all hotels to have their staff trained in dealing with people with autism and to advertise that fact on their websites. Some of the changes that may need to be made could be simple, such as having a quiet room made available, or sensitivity training for their staff. These changes will not only improve the lives and experiences of disabled people and those with autism but will expand the clientele of these businesses—which I am sure they must be looking for.

As the hospitality industry continues to expand, valuable work opportunities are created for disabled people, and those with learning difficulties and autism in particular. By employing disabled and autistic people in our hotels and tourist attractions, we not only provide work opportunity but can move towards creating a more comfortable environment and a fairer society. These disabled employees would have a unique sensitivity to the needs of those requiring accommodation and would put disabled and autistic guests at ease when they are approaching a new and perhaps unknown environment.

One glimmer of hope, and an excellent example, comes from the InterContinental Hotels Group. I recently had a conversation with Mr Ross Cowie who had been its work-based learning manager. He told me that just over a year ago, the company, working with Riverside employment and Stoke-on-Trent City Council, introduced a training scheme for disabled people and those with learning difficulties, including autism. It engaged 12 people at its Stoke hotels and offered training in a range of skills leading to NVQs, including maths and English.

Its ambition was to be able to offer full-time jobs at a later stage, and the programme gave trainees skills and enabled them to work in the hotel industry. Mr Cowie told me that the scheme had been very successful and that two trainees had already been offered jobs. More than that, full-time staff at the hotels were hugely supportive and, indeed, some asked to change their shift patterns so that they could spend time working with people who were on the scheme. Surveys of both staff and guests produced a positive response. Indeed, guests were complimentary and the company hopes to continue and increase this programme.

Programmes such as these not only give opportunities for disabled people and those with learning difficulties and autism, but ensure that the hotels involved benefit

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from having employees who can empathise with guests in the same situation. The project embarked upon by the InterContinental Hotels Group is not the light at the end of the tunnel—but at least schemes such as this show us where the tunnel is.

8 pm

Baroness Campbell of Surbiton (CB): My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, for securing this dinner debate on access to hotels.

Disabled people are a significant proportion of the population with the same desires and the same legal rights as everyone else to travel on business or enjoy a holiday away. For many disabled people, finding hotel accommodation before the 1980s was nigh impossible. They had to rely on family and friends or strangers to help them over all the obstacles. I remember my parents hauling me and my wheelchair upstairs to the bathroom in every cottage we rented. It exhausted them. So much so that they needed another holiday without me afterwards to recover. No children’s camp was accessible so I was placed in a hospital, of all places, whenever my parents and sister ventured abroad. I was the only member of the family without a suntan.

Things only began to change in 1985 with the introduction of building regulations requiring new hotels to be accessible for disabled people. Unfortunately, the access requirements were, and remain, pretty basic, but a growing number of hotels began to accommodate disabled guests. Enforcement was minimal and, although the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 provided a framework for enforcement, it was only when the Disability Rights Commission was created in 2000 that disabled people had a means of pursuing their rights.

As a commissioner of the DRC, I saw significant changes as a result of our promotional work, putting the hotel industry in little doubt of its legal obligations. For the first time disabled people were acknowledged as customers who could no longer be ignored. Matters improved again 2004 when organisations that supply services to the public were required to make reasonable adjustments to overcome physical obstacles to their premises.

So where do we stand today? Some hotels do take access seriously—for example, the Premier Inn and Holiday Inn chains, where disabled people can reasonably expect an accessible welcome. A handful of hotels have gone further and provide electric hoists to help people transfer from bed to toilet or bath.

This initiative resulted from a campaign by a disabled woman, Sue Maynard-Campbell. She organised an overnight seminar for representatives of the InterContinental Hotels Group in London. She explained that she could not join them for dinner as she had to drive to Yorkshire and return the next morning because, “Not a single hotel in the city could meet her need of a hoist”. They were shocked into action.

It is true that most larger or modern hotels, not old ones, now offer ramped access and accessible toilets of sorts for wheelchair users. However, wheelchair users make up just 4% of disabled people. Those with sensory impairments, learning disabilities or mental health conditions may also require modifications, often at low or no cost. A considerate attitude, for example, costs nothing.

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Unlike the DRC, which allocated significant resources to helping the hospitality industry improve access, the Equality and Human Rights Commission has limited funds and competing priorities. Recent reforms to the judicial system and cuts to legal aid make it more difficult to challenge lack of provision. Disabled people now rarely assert their rights through the judicial system. The cost and complexity of taking a case to court and the low level of damages available are serious deterrents. Hence, little changes.

The EHRC conducted some non-enforcement work on leisure industry discrimination last year, including an information-gathering exercise into website accessibility, accessible rooms and bathrooms and guests accompanied by assistance dogs. I understand the response was positive and many hotels said they were planning changes. Sadly, the EHRC decided to pursue other priorities in its forthcoming business plan, which will undoubtedly affect the speed of change.

The loss of recent impetus in creating a fully accessible hospitality industry was highlighted last August in research published by the Department for Work and Pensions. Evidence revealed that it was easier to arrange holidays for disabled people overseas than in Britain. Thousands of customers were being turned away from hotels and self-catering accommodation because there were not enough accessible rooms to meet demand.

My own experience bears this out. Last week I tried to find wheelchair accessible accommodation in north Devon, on the coast, to go away with my friend who dared to also be in a wheelchair. There was only one option in the entire county and none by the sea. Rarely will you see any cottage that offers more than one wheelchair-accessible room. So you are really stuffed if your husband is also a wheelchair user.

Mark Harper, the Minister for Disabled People, said the research shows that,

“improving the accessibility of hotels and self-catering apartments and tourist attractions for disabled travellers is a no-brainer”.

Will the Minister tell us what measures the Government are taking to remedy the situation? It is not sufficient that the Government simply conduct research which confirms what we already know. Can the Minister also inform us whether the department is now monitoring the hospitality industry to identify the reasons for its failure to comply with the clear provisions of the Equality Act? Does the Minister agree that there has been a significant slowdown in the industry’s awareness of what needs to be done to achieve inclusive hospitality? If so, can she inform us what the Government’s strategy is to resolve this?

Disabled people have been repeatedly told by this Government that they must work harder to become part of the British workforce. However, to do so, many of us need to use hotels for meetings and overnight stays, and in order to work hard we also need to rest and play. Work, rest and play are vital to one’s well-being. I hope today’s debate will help to tackle this critical issue.

8.07 pm

Lord Addington (LD): My Lords, this is one of those debates where you suddenly realise that whatever

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you were going to say about the theme would probably be said better by other people and you end up repeating certain things.

One such thing is that we have been working on this legislation for a long time. You get an idea that you are getting older when something you were in on is celebrating its 20th anniversary—in this case the initial DDA. That Act goes back 20 years and still we have not managed to get into the infrastructure of the leisure industry most of what we use. Effectively, we are talking about a failure of legislation which, generally speaking, had the support of the entire political structure. I have not heard anyone say that we should get rid of disability access rights, and yet we still have not really got in.

New-build hotels have had a degree of success but we come back to the major problem—I was told at the time that this was the only way we could do it—of reasonable adjustment. When I started looking at this issue I discovered that no one knows what reasonable adjustment really is—end of story. Small hotels do not know whether they are covered by it. What is a reasonable adjustment for two rooms in an old Victorian house? Everyone thinks it is a wheelchair. If noble Lords look, they will see four people in wheelchairs here, but with very different needs. There is no such thing as one person in a wheelchair. The noble Lord, Lord Touhig, has already pointed out that not all disabled people are in wheelchairs. The people we are dealing with just do not know what the law requires them to do.