With this it will be convenient to take Government amendments (a) to (c) in lieu of Lords amendment 72.
As Members know, there has been considerable interest in the position of overseas domestic workers during debates on the Bill, both here and in another place. We have had excellent debates on this important issue. I am grateful to Members of both Houses for raising it, and I want to address it fully today.
At this point in my speech, I was going to wish Mr Field a speedy recovery, because he has been so instrumental in bringing us to this point in the Bill’s passage. I had not expected to see him here today, and I am delighted that he is present. I hope that he is feeling considerably better, and I look forward to hearing from him later in the debate.
That is a very ingenious way of signalling a desire to contribute, and the right hon. Gentleman might find that his desire is accommodated.
I look forward to hearing from the right hon. Gentleman, and it sounds to me as though you will be obliging with regard to that, Mr Speaker.
Holding anyone in slavery or servitude or trafficking them is an abhorrent crime, which this Government are determined to stamp out. Such abuse of anyone on an overseas domestic worker visa is totally unacceptable. This landmark Modern Slavery Bill’s core purpose is to make sure both that law enforcement has the tools to ensure those who commit these appalling crimes are caught and punished and that victims receive the protection and support they need to recover. This is crucial to our approach to overseas domestic workers. This Bill means those who traffic overseas domestic workers or hold them in servitude can receive a life sentence and that the slavery, servitude and forced or compulsory labour offence reflected the particular circumstances of vulnerable victims.
I applaud and understand what the Minister says about ensuring that those who enslave domestic servants should be given a life sentence. If that was to happen and the law enforcement agencies were to get involved with the employer, what would happen to the employee?
I shall address later in my remarks exactly what is envisaged through the amendment in lieu to give support specifically to people on an overseas domestic workers visa who are victims of slavery.
The Bill means that all victims of modern slavery will have major new protections such as the statutory defence to prevent them from being treated inappropriately as criminals. I understand and share the sentiment behind Lords amendment 72. When my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and I looked at it and considered how to respond to the Lords vote, our priority was to improve the protection for victims of modern slavery. I know that that is in line with the spirit in which peers passed the amendment and I am grateful for their careful scrutiny of the Bill. That common focus on supporting and protecting victims of modern slavery is why I am not simply proposing that this House should disagree with the Lords amendment. Instead, even at this late stage of the passage of the Bill, we are proposing to add additional protections for overseas domestic workers who fall victim to modern slavery.
It is essential that we get this Bill on the statute book before the Dissolution of Parliament next week. Although the amendments coming from the other place, including amendment 72, have absolutely the right sentiment, does the Minister agree that it is vital that we ensure this legislation gets on the statute book at the earliest possible opportunity so that these fundamental and important protections can become the law of the land?
I thank my hon. Friend for his comments. He is right: we are at a very late stage and we want this Bill to become an Act of Parliament. We want the Modern Slavery Act, the first piece of anti-slavery legislation for 200 years, to be on the statute book. We must make sure we achieve that, but in a way that provides all victims, including victims on an overseas domestic worker visa, with the support and protection they need.
The hon. Lady emphasised that she wanted, through the Government amendment, to give additional protections to domestic workers, but in fact I think her amendment has either confused her or is designed to confuse the House, because it actually reduces the protections that exist under the national referral mechanism. Has she looked at the National Crime Agency report about what happens to someone who has conclusive grounds? First, they are given 12 months’ leave to remain, but the Minister is suggesting that domestic workers get only six months’ leave to remain and cannot get access to public funds. Those two things are available to every other enslaved worker, but will not be available to domestic workers.
I am afraid that the right hon. Lady has misunderstood the amendment. The protections available to all victims of modern slavery who go through the national referral mechanism will be available to victims who have come here on an overseas domestic workers visa. That includes the discretionary right to stay for 12 months and one day if they are assisting the police with their inquiries. In addition, we are including in the Bill the provision for six months’ leave to stay and work irrespective of whether the person is assisting the police with their inquiries. That is a minimum of six months, in addition to the 12 months’ discretionary leave. It is in addition to the support that is available to all victims of slavery who go through the national referral mechanism.
The good progress in the Lords reflects the comments that were made in the Bill Committee. Will the Minister say a little more about the guidance and tell us what is going to happen on the ground to ensure that enforcement action will not be taken against overseas domestic workers who are going through the national referral mechanism? Will the guidance have proper bite to ensure that no inappropriate action is taken and that victims are properly treated as victims?
My hon. Friend and Fiona Mactaggart were strong and assiduous members of the Committee that scrutinised the Bill as it went through the House of Commons, which is when we started debating this issue. My hon. Friend is right to mention the guidance, and I shall explain more about that in a moment. It is absolutely clear that all front-line professionals need to understand that the visa situation of an individual is irrelevant in these circumstances: if they are a victim of slavery, they are a victim of slavery, and they will need the support that is available. As I have said, the amendment will give additional support for victims who are on an overseas domestic workers visa, and I shall explain why that is appropriate.
Before I explain the additional protections, which seek to address the important concerns raised in other place, I should explain to the House why I am deeply concerned that Lords amendment 72 will not protect victims, however well intentioned it might be. There is a real risk that it will achieve the opposite. I want to ensure that a provision to support overseas domestic workers who fall victim to modern slavery will help those vulnerable people get the help they need and allow law enforcement to take action to prevent their abusers from doing the same to another domestic worker. I do not believe that the Lords amendment would achieve either of those things. Members will have seen from my letter that those worries are shared by senior law enforcement officers working in this field.
I should remind the House that the overseas domestic workers visa allows visitors to the UK to bring their existing domestic staff with them when they visit the UK, for a maximum of six months. Separate arrangements apply for the small number of overseas domestic workers who work in diplomatic households. Around 15,000 of these visas are issued every year, and the data suggest that visits typically last for only about 15 days, so the vast majority of overseas domestic workers will be here for a very short time. To qualify for this short-term visa, there must be evidence of a long-term employment relationship between employer and employee.
Even before the Lords debate on Report, the Government announced that the safeguards would be strengthened. There will be a new standard contract, along with changes to the immigration rules to strengthen the guarantees that overseas domestic workers will be paid at least the national minimum wage, pilot programmes of interviews for applicants overseas and the provision of information cards at the border. Given the specific circumstances in which the visa is applicable, it is not possible to change employer during the short period that the workers are in the UK or to extend the visa as a route to settling permanently in the UK.
Lords amendment 72 would change that, allowing overseas domestic workers to change employer and stay in the UK indefinitely, potentially gaining settlement. The Government have listened carefully to the debates on this issue, and we are keen to take an evidence-based approach. As the House will know, the Government have announced an independent review of the overseas domestic workers visa, which is to report in July. The review will look specifically at the ability to change employer. It is being undertaken by James Ewins, a respected expert on modern slavery who served as a specialist legal adviser to the pre-legislative scrutiny Committee on the Bill.
The hon. Lady will know that there was abuse under the old regime. We wanted to ensure that we were giving maximum protection to victims. I shall shortly give the House some information from the anti-slavery commissioner designate, who is quite clear about the abuse of workers that he saw when he was working in the Metropolitan police. Those workers were here on the visa and were able to change employer, and they were trafficked and moved between employers by organised criminal gangs.
There was abuse under the old system, so going back to the old system is not the right answer. The answer is to find out what the problem is with the visa and to ensure that we are not importing abuse. That is what I am determined to do, and that is what I have asked James Ewins to look at. The measures in the Bill today are designed to give as much protection, support and information as possible to workers on this visa. By July, we shall have a full evidence base for the best way of supporting those employees, and that is the point at which changes should be made. They should be made when we have the evidence.
I am grateful to the Minister for her answer, but I do not really understand why the rules were changed in 2012 if there was no proper evidence to enable them to be changed properly to give people protection. Why are we debating the issue now, three years later? The Government changed the rules, and they made things worse. I do not understand why we are having this debate three years on.
The evidence is not that it has made things worse. Kalayaan, the leading charity in this area, was getting 300 victims of slavery coming through its doors each year under the old system. The figure is now 60 a year.
I want to understand what is happening with the visa and to ensure that we do not import abuse. The fact is that we need to find the evidence and we need to understand the problem. That is why we have instigated the review and why we are taking the steps that we are taking today.
The Minister has just indicated to the House that the person who will look at this issue was the adviser to the Modern Slavery Bill pre-legislative scrutiny Committee. As she will know, that Committee advised the Government to accept the changes that are being proposed today.
The right hon. Gentleman is an experienced parliamentarian, but he knows that there were problems with that visa prior to 2012. We need to root out those problems. We need to find a solution, but the way to do that is not to return to the system under which the abuse occurred. The answer is to find out how to stop the abuse in the first place.
I have been listening to what the Minister is saying. In the past, under the Labour Government’s visa arrangements, a large number of people reported being abused because they knew that they could leave a bad employer. The Minister boasts that the figure has gone down to 60, but that has happened because people are now trapped with the same employer and can do only one of two things: they can go home, or they can run away. They are not protected under the present visa system, and that is why the number has fallen.
The hon. Gentleman will also know that we have reviewed the national referral mechanism and that we are ensuring that it is being extended to all victims of slavery, not just to victims of trafficking. An argument that was always put forward about overseas domestic workers was that they could not qualify for the national referral mechanism because they had not been trafficked. We are changing that, with the Bill and the modern slavery strategy, to ensure that support is available to all victims of slavery. I want to make it clear that anyone who is here on an overseas domestic workers visa can come forward, confident in the knowledge that they will get the support they need and that they will not simply be deported, as the hon. Gentleman is suggesting. They will be able to go through the national referral mechanism. At the end of that process, they will be able to work in this country for a minimum of six months to help them to get back on their feet. When we have the evidence from the review, we will be able to determine our final, definitive position on the visa, but I want to make it absolutely clear to anyone who is here on the visa and to any victim of slavery that the Bill, which I want to see become an Act of Parliament, is there to support and protect them.
The Minister is moving the debate on, in that she is saying that a future Parliament will decide this issue. We have before us amendments that the Government hope the Lords will accept. The James Ewins review will presumably report after the election. I want to ask the Minister and my own Front-Bench spokesman, my right hon. Friend Mr Hanson, whether they will give a commitment that whoever is in government will implement James Ewins’s report.
We have asked for this review to take place and we look forward to the recommendations. I cannot commit a future Government, but the intention is that whoever is in government—I very much hope it will be the Conservatives—will implement the review’s recommendations.
Let me go back to the point Emily Thornberry made about what happens to the employee if an employer is prosecuted for slavery. What we are doing today is ensuring that the employee would receive help and support through the national referral mechanism, and the Government amendments add the new visa, which would allow the employee to work as a domestic worker after receiving a conclusive grounds decision. In addition, the employee may receive discretionary leave while helping the police with their investigation. So not only will the employee have the same protection as anyone else, but we will look at the right solution for an individual’s personal circumstances. They will have six months to work here and 12 months plus one day if they are assisting the police with their inquiries.
I tried to intervene on the point about Kalayaan, because I want to put on the record that Kalayaan would say the reason for the reduction in the number of people who sought its help was that the remedies available to them have gone away. Does the Minister share my concern that in primary legislation there is an entitlement to six-months’ leave, which may guide the courts and officers in what they do, but no entitlement to the one year she claims those helping the police with their inquiries will receive?
On the numbers, I accept and do not dispute what Kalayaan is saying. What I am saying is that through this Bill we are offering the support Kalayaan says it believes overseas domestic workers do not get. I can work only on the basis of the figures it has produced about the number of people who have come to it looking for support; that is the only evidence I have on this at the moment. I have the other evidence about people who have gone through the NRM having been on an overseas domestic worker visa, and they are far smaller in number than those going through the NRM for domestic servitude who are UK or European economic area nationals, or who are here completely illegally. I can work only on the evidence I have, which is why I have asked James Ewing to look at the point.
The right hon. Lady makes the point about the courts, but they are not determining whether somebody is given a conclusive grounds decision within the NRM. She knows we have reviewed the NRM and introduced, as we will discuss later, an enabling power to put the NRM on to a statutory basis, as and when we have completed the pilots. But it will not be the courts deciding whether somebody gets a conclusive grounds decision; it will be the decision makers within the NRM—those specialists, led at the moment by the Salvation Army, who run the care contract. So this measure will not make any difference to courts decisions or decisions about discretionary leave, but, as she rightly says, this will be the only set of victims who will have something in statute over and above what is available in policy. She should welcome that.
We are all united in wanting to ensure that victims have the confidence to come forward, knowing that they will be supported and not deported. But should we not all share the concern that amendment 72 contains a gap and a flaw, which is that the cycle of abuse could lead to those on domestic work visas changing employers and then not coming forward to the authorities? That issue has been taken up by, among others, the Organised Crime Command. We need to look at what we have before us. We can agree that there is a gap in Lords amendment 72, which needs sorting out.
My hon. Friend sums it up perfectly—I could not sum it up better. The problem we have with a system that just allows somebody to change employer is we are brushing the abuse under the carpet; we are not bringing it out into the light. That flies in the face of what we are trying to do through this Bill, which is find the victim.
I hope the hon. Gentleman will not mind but I am going to make some progress.
The victims of slavery I have met are incredibly vulnerable people. We have a duty to give them support, look after them, and make sure that they take control of their lives and make the right decisions. I have met too many victims in domestic servitude who were not on visas and who have gone from one abusive employer to another because they were not brought out into the open—we did not find those victims—and we did not give them the support they need.
Suggesting that somebody who has been through the kind of suffering we are talking about could just walk out and find another employer and their life will be okay is disingenuous; it does not reflect the realities of this horrendous crime and the vulnerabilities of these victims. I want to find these victims and give them the specialist support the NRM offers, and I want to make sure they then have control of their own lives to move forward and do the right thing.
I am trying to think about this in terms of the real world. It seems to me that the best way of escape for someone who is in servitude and being abused would be to find another employer, who could then be supportive. In those circumstances, someone could explain what had happened to them. Such a person is more likely to come forward in those circumstances than they are to come forward to the police when they are still in servitude and still being abused.
Let me be clear: this is not about coming forward to the police; it is about victims coming forward to a professional first responder who will refer them into the NRM. If someone chooses to give evidence that allows the police to instigate inquiries, they may be eligible for the 12 months and a day of discretionary leave. But what we are saying is, “You don’t need to come to the police. If you are a victim of slavery, you can come forward to a first responder—a professional—and a charity such as Kalayaan can help you by putting you into the NRM. And if at the end of the specialist support you are given a conclusive grounds decision, you will be allowed to stay and work for six months while you get your life back on track.” If the matter was as simple as someone changing employer, we would not have UK or EEA nationals being victims of slavery. It is not that simple to solve; it is a far more complicated problem. We are talking about 15,000 people who are, on average, here for 15 days. How do we make sure we find those victims? That is the challenge we face and that is what I want the review to deal with.
That is what happens to victims now. They are transferred from a caring organisation such as Kalayaan into what people see as a sterile organisation. Unfortunately, at the moment all the evidence shows that when people went to the police under the last Labour Government’s policy—the three-year visa— the police would send them to Kalayaan and it would then find their escape route. It was something people cared about, supported and had confidence in. Sadly, at the moment the official line—the police line, which is contained in the Government’s amendment—is not attractive to people who are in these situations. Whether the Minister likes it or not, escaping from an abusive employer and finding other employment where their employer does not abuse them is the solution for many people I have spoken to—the ones I met outside, when they presented me with flowers. Their solution is not to be put into some organisation where they are in an official system they do not trust.
I have enormous respect for the hon. Gentleman, but the way that he has painted the picture of the support given to victims in the NRM completely flies in the face of what those incredibly dedicated organisations that run the refuges and safe houses I have visited do. These are not sterile environments; they are caring family homes. They are places where people get incredible support and the opportunity to get back on their feet. I want to make it clear, for the record, that where people come forward as victims of slavery, whether they are on any visa or no visa is irrelevant; they should come forward to a first responder, not to the police. The first responder will refer them into the NRM, and just to be clear, it is the human trafficking centre or UK Visas and Immigration that currently makes the reasonable grounds decisions and, of course, the conclusive grounds decisions.
The Salvation Army runs the care contract and makes sure that those individuals who have been given a reasonable grounds decision and are therefore put into the NRM are then given the support they need. It does not matter—[Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman talks from a sedentary position about visas, but the visa does not matter; they will be put into the NRM and they will be looked after, not in sterile conditions but in very caring, supportive environment, with specialists who make sure that they have the support they need. If, at the end of the time, they have gone through the NRM and the decision is taken that they have a conclusive grounds decision that they are a victim of slavery, they will then be given a six-month visa to work. [Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman knows—
Thank you, Mr Speaker, and I do apologise for that.
It is important to make it clear that victims who go through the national referral mechanism and who have a conclusive grounds decision that they are a victim of slavery will, at that point, have the right to claim six months to stay and work here in the UK. Whether they take up that claim is entirely down to the individual. If that victim assists police with their inquiries, they will receive an additional year and a day discretionary leave.
Returning to my former point, the Government believe that, given the very different views on the effect of the visa tie, this independent review—the one being conducted by James Ewins—is a great opportunity for a careful and objective look at the issue, and we should not pre-judge its findings. It is particularly important that we allow the review to do its work, because I am deeply concerned that the approach in the Lords amendment will not encourage victims to report the perpetrators of these heinous crimes, so that they can be held to account, or help victims access the support they need to recover.
If an overseas domestic worker who has fallen victim to modern slavery on their short stay in the UK has the ability to change employer, the likelihood is that, if they can escape, they will simply look for another employer and not tell the authorities what has happened to them.
The perpetrator would then remain free to go on to abuse other domestic workers either in the UK or in their home country.
If we are to catch these very serious criminals and stop them offending again, we must incentivise overseas domestic workers who suffer abuse to come forward; it is absolutely crucial that we do that. My main concern is to ensure that victims, who are often deeply traumatised and vulnerable, receive the care and support they need to recover from the abuses they have suffered.
The hon. Gentleman, who was a distinguished member of the Bill Committee, knows that there are not enough prosecutions. But this Bill is designed to secure more prosecutions. Increased prosecutions combined with the reviewed national referral mechanism, which we will be piloting shortly and hope to roll out nationally very soon, will mean that we will get the evidence and information that we need. This is about not just legislation but the modern slavery strategy. We want all the agencies working together to ensure that we identify victims and treat them as victims, and that those victims get the support they need, so that they can give us the information we require to find the perpetrators of these awful crimes.
A victim who manages to leave an abusive employer and who is not receiving appropriate support would be very vulnerable and at risk of moving on to yet another abusive employer, leaving the original abuser free to abuse again. There is a real danger that Lords amendment 72 will allow abuse to go unchallenged. However good the intentions, that would not protect overseas domestic workers. It risks giving a free pass to the criminals who abuse them, creating the conditions for yet more victims. Quite frankly, if eliminating modern slavery was as simple as being able to change employer, we would have no UK nationals or EU members as victims as they could simply move on. As we all know, the truth is very different, and we have all heard the traumatic accounts of those abused by unscrupulous agricultural gangmasters or tarmac gangs.
This is a complex topic, and simplifying the issue to whether an overseas domestic worker can change employer risks doing a grave disservice to victims. That is not just the view of the Government. I have taken advice from the law enforcement professionals responsible for investigating modern slavery. Chief Constable Shaun Sawyer, the national policing lead for modern slavery, and Ian Cruxton, the director of the Organised Crime Command at the National Crime Agency, have both expressed concern that the Lords amendment would inadvertently undermine the fight against modern slavery because victims will not come forward.
The designate independent anti-slavery commissioner, Kevin Hyland, whom I met this morning said:
“There is clearly exploitation taking place under the current system which needs to be resolved. However, there was also abuse under the old visa system—I personally dealt with cases of slavery where victims of domestic servitude were sold multiple times under the old system. The suggested amendment won’t go far enough to deal with the core of the issue. It is not enough to go back to a system where we know there was abuse taking place. This is why I fully support the review led by James Ewins which will look at the abuse in broader terms. I expect it to make recommendations which will end abuse within this sector. I’m clear that all victims of Modern Slavery, regardless of their immigration status or the sector they are exploited in, must receive the same level of support afforded by the provisions in this Bill.”
I ask the House to disagree with Lords amendment 72 in the spirit of protecting overseas domestic workers. We have an independent review looking at the visa tie. It would be wrong to legislate and to decide on this issue today, ahead of that review, when the advice from law enforcement is so clear that that approach puts at risk the fight against modern slavery.
I want not just to disagree with the Lords amendment, but to use the Bill to strengthen protection for overseas domestic workers who fall victim to modern slavery. I want to provide them with the confidence to come forward, which will also help law enforcement to catch the abuser and to stop the abuse continuing. This Bill is about protecting and supporting victims, and dealing with abusers firmly.
Non-governmental organisations tell us that overseas domestic workers have real fears about approaching the authorities and accepting support from the national referral mechanism. Those workers worry that they may be treated as being in breach of immigration law and deported and that, if they leave their abusive employer, they will lose their livelihood and not be able to provide for families back home. The Government amendments are intended to address both those concerns.
We have already made it clear that if overseas victims of modern slavery come forward, they will not be in breach of their employment-related visa conditions for leaving their employer. But to put the matter to rest once and for all, the Government amendments in lieu will place a cast-iron guarantee in the Bill that guidance will provide that no immigration enforcement action will be taken against an overseas domestic worker who may be a victim of modern slavery for overstaying or breaching an employment-related leave condition as a result of escaping slavery. After discussions with interested voluntary organisations such as Kalayaan, I should like to highlight that that protection starts from the moment that they leave their employer to escape modern slavery and it will continue throughout the national referral mechanism process.
In combination with the statutory defence for victims in the Bill, overseas domestic workers can therefore have real confidence that victims of abuse will be treated as such. That will encourage victims to agree to come forward, to tell the authorities what has happened and to receive support to recover through the national referral mechanism. In addition, we will enable overseas domestic workers who have received a conclusive decision that they are victims of modern slavery to apply for permission to stay to work as a domestic worker in a private household. During their stay, they will be free to change employer if they so wish. The ability to work for this period will allow victims to earn some money to help them rebuild their lives when they return home.
The amendments will allow the Government to fix in immigration rules a maximum period of stay and provide comfort that that period will not be for less than six months.
It is intended that six months will be the standard visa duration, but the provision allows us to go further in future should we so wish. The independent review can consider whether that is the most appropriate possible period. A longer period could quickly be introduced by a future Government through the immigration rules with no changes needed to primary legislation.
Focusing that provision on victims of modern slavery will encourage victims to come forward to report the abuse that they have suffered, so that the police can investigate and prosecute those who have carried out the crimes. It will also mean that victims get the support and protection they need. The provision does not replace the ability of victims to apply for asylum or humanitarian protection or to have a discretionary period of leave in the UK for a longer period under the national referral mechanism process. That will allow them, for example, to help the police with their inquiries into the crimes they have suffered, pursue a compensation claim or to stay longer if they have compelling personal circumstances.
Any overseas domestic worker who is confirmed to be a victim will be able to apply for this new visa with very few conditions attached. We would expect that any work they do is as a domestic worker in a private household. We envisage that they should show us the contract they have agreed once they have a job, so that we can ensure that their terms and conditions are lawful to prevent them falling back into an abusive relationship, and we would expect them to maintain themselves without recourse to public funds.
There are very few circumstances in which we foresee a visa being refused. The House will understand that we need to retain the ability to refuse applications where there are public policy grounds for doing so—for example, when the applicant is a serious criminal. We would not expect those who have already benefited from a period of discretionary leave following a conclusive grounds decision that they are a victim of modern slavery to be able to claim that in addition to the time already spent in the UK.
I ask the House to focus today on the issue at the heart of the Bill: the protection of victims. I ask the House to pass this substantial additional support for overseas domestic workers who are victims of modern slavery and get the message out to overseas domestic workers that they can now come forward with even greater confidence if they suffer abuse. I am determined to work with NGOs, the Churches, the national referral mechanism and first responders to get that message out there. We will ensure that employers are aware that they could face life imprisonment if they abuse their staff.
I welcome this debate, which is the latest in a number of debates we have had on this issue. As the Minister knows, there have been long and detailed discussions in Committee, in the House of Lords and again today. Despite her valiant attempts today to convince the House of the Government’s position, she has not yet managed to convince those who work with the victims of overseas domestic worker abuse. She has not convinced the charity Kalayaan, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, Anti-Slavery International, Liberty, Unite the union or the House of Lords, and she has not convinced me, my newly right hon. Friend Fiona Mactaggart—congratulations to her—or my right hon. Friend Mr Field, whom I am pleased to see in his place.
I wish to speak in support of Lords amendment 72 and try once again, alongside my right hon. and hon. Friends, to convince the Government that it would be in the best interests of overseas domestic workers. Today we revisit the regulations on overseas domestic workers that the Government changed in April 2012. Although the intention behind that change can be debated, I think that even the Minister would accept that the consequences have been dire. Domestic workers who come here from overseas are now tied to an employer, which in practice means that those who suffer abuse will immediately lose their right to reside in the UK if they escape the situation and seek help away from their employer. I believe that that disincentivises them from seeking help from the authorities in the first place because they fear being deported, and that allows abuse to become widespread and perpetrators to carry on uncontested.
The charity Kalayaan has done a great deal of detailed work to support overseas domestic workers, and the Minister knows of the statistics it has collated. It found that, of the workers who contacted it, 62% of the domestic workers who came on a tied visa were paid no salary at all, compared with 14% on the original visa, 96% were not allowed out of the house unsupervised and 74% faced psychological abuse. Those statistics are a small snapshot of what is a deeply difficult experience for too many overseas domestic workers in the United Kingdom.
If it was only Kalayaan saying that, it would be an indication from a respected charity, but the Minister knows—we have had this debate before—that a number of organisations have been considering this for some time. The Joint Committee on Human Rights has echoed the call for the review that Lords amendment 72 would effectively give. It states:
“We regard the removal of the right of an overseas domestic worker to change employer as a backward step in the protection of migrant domestic workers”.
The Minister and the Home Secretary produced the draft Bill and, helpfully, established the Joint Committee on the Draft Modern Slavery Bill, chaired by my right hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead, to ensure that they looked at those issues and got the Bill right. The Committee included a number of notable peers from across the House of Lords: Baroness Butler-Sloss, the Bishop of Derby, Baroness Doocey, Baroness Hanham, Baroness Kennedy of Cradley, Lord McColl of Dulwich and Lord Warner. The Members from this House were Fiona Bruce, my hon. Friend Michael Connarty, my right hon. Friend the Member for Slough and the right hon. Members for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Sir John Randall), for Meriden (Mrs Spelman) and for Hazel Grove (Sir Andrew Stunell). That cross-section of individuals looked at the matter in detail and concluded that the overseas domestic workers visa has
“unintentionally strengthened the hand of the slave master against the victim of slavery. The moral case for revisiting this issue is urgent and overwhelming”.
It called on the Government to take immediate action.
The Opposition tried to provide that immediate action in response to the Government’s lack of response to that particular aspect of the Joint Committee’s report. We tabled an amendment in Committee and had a good discussion about it. Mr Speaker, you know how difficult it is for an Opposition to get even close to winning votes upstairs in Committee. On the day in question, the result of the vote was nine-all, so it was decided by the Chair, Mark Pritchard, who voted for the status quo, in accordance with precedent. The Government hand-picked a Committee but still ended up with a nine-all draw on an issue recommended on a cross-party basis by Members of both Houses. I think that shows the strength and integrity of the issue before us today.
Surely the Joint Committee’s point about the moral case for revisiting the issue has been taken up, because that is precisely what the Government have just ordered because of the complexity of the issue and the changes they have made. Surely the tight vote to which the right hon. Gentleman refers is evidence of the fact that both sides of the House want the issue to be looked at in great detail in the review.
Let me reassure the right hon. Lady that we seek to support the Lords in their amendment. If the House divides on the issue later today and the Division is lost, we will certainly support the Government’s proposals to carry forward the review, because we do not wish to see that stopped. However, I think that it is important to reflect on what the right hon. Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip, a former Government Deputy Chief Whip, said: there are too many victims for us to say that this is a matter for another day. The Government’s proposal would put the matter off for another day. I do not think that that other day should await the outcome of the general election; we should do it now. The Government have a clear view from the Lords, given the vote that was won by Lord Hylton, an independent peer, a few weeks ago, when the Government were defeated.
On the subject of waiting for another day, is there not a problem with Lords amendment 72? If a victim of slavery left their current employer and that employer was able to go on to abuse more victims, both that day and another day, the Lords amendment would do little to tackle that, whereas the Government’s amendment in lieu would do that, because it would prevent victims from being left for another day.
There is the National Crime Agency, there is legislation against abuse and, as Kalayaan has said, there is a large number of overseas domestic workers who are currently not paid a penny. If the hon. Lady found somebody who had left their employment, was able to untie their visa and move on and who could still pass on reports on the national minimum wage or other issues to the National Crime Agency, the Lords amendment would not stop that aspect being enforced. There is a national minimum wage now and it should be enforced. There is a National Crime Agency if people are undergoing abuse. The amendment would allow people to switch employers and ultimately, if they wished to do so, make a report and recommendations to a proper authority. At this point we need to get to the basics of how to untie the visa so that individuals can leave and avoid abuse.
The evidence that we took in Committee was that these are very frightened and vulnerable people who will run a long way from the authorities. Does the right hon. Gentleman think there is some merit in a mechanism whereby, if they require to take advantage of the concession, they are also required to clock on, so to speak, with the law enforcement agencies?
I might have been able to take the right hon. Gentleman at his word, had he not joined in the recommendation from my right hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead in the Committee. When I tabled in Committee word for word what he voted for in the draft Bill, he voted against it. With due respect to the right hon. Gentleman, he had his chance to put his case in Committee. We did not get this measure through the Bill Committee because he chose to vote with the Government, rather than for what he had recommended as part of the Joint Committee.
Lord Hylton said in the debate in the other place:
“There can be no doubt that domestic workers tied to one employer and living on his premises are extremely vulnerable.”
Baroness Hanham, a Conservative, said in the same debate:
“In this 21st century it is absolutely unacceptable that people are coming in to this country tied to an employer, unable to do anything for themselves and absolutely under the instruction of the person for whom they are working”—[Hansard, House of Lords, 25 February 2015; Vol. 759, c. 1690-93.]
Peer after peer, MP after MP, and my right hon. and hon. Friends in their submissions to date have said that the Government’s approach is wrong-headed and that they need to rethink it urgently.
If Lords amendment 72 is defeated, we will reluctantly not oppose the Government’s amendment in lieu. We will contribute to the debate. Should I be the Minister after May, which is entirely a matter for the electorate, I will revisit the principles that we are examining in relation to Lords amendment 72. As has been pointed out by my right hon. Friend the Member for Slough and my hon. Friend Emily Thornberry, the Government’s amendment gives someone who has been determined to be a victim of slavery or human trafficking through the national referral mechanism the ability to change their employer. It does not untie the visa for all. It means that overseas domestic workers would need to meet a high threshold to prove that they had been victims of modern slavery.
We are debating the Modern Slavery Bill, aren’t we? What we are looking at here is how we protect victims of slavery, irrespective of their visa. If we give somebody the right to come to Britain on one of these visas and then they are abused as a slave, I want to make sure that we give them the right support. That is what we are debating today and that is what I want to achieve.
I am grateful. There is no disagreement between us, but the issue for me is still the position with regard to the tied visa. I do not think that the Government’s proposal in the long term, following the review that was undertaken effectively on a cross-party basis by my right hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead, is sufficient for the purpose.
The right hon. Gentleman’s words belie him. Just a few sentences ago he said he wanted to unpick that visa knot for others. With the greatest respect, it is not those others that we are discussing today; it is the victims of slavery, as my hon. Friend the Minister has just said. Does the right hon. Gentleman want to do more or does he want to do what she outlined?
With due respect to the hon. Lady, under the Government’s proposal an individual would have to find a way to report themselves and to activate the national referral mechanism and get involved in that, at a time when they are working for an employer. The principle that I want to support is movement on untying the visa.
If somebody is unable to get to an authority to report themselves as a victim of slavery when there are helplines in place, and first responders, such as people in public bodies and others who are available, how does the right hon. Gentleman think they can change their employer?
It is important that they have the ability to do so.
I come back to my starting point. If the hon. Lady’s position is so strong, why are Kalayaan, Amnesty International, the anti-slavery organisations, Liberty, Unite the union and other organisations involved in supporting the people whom she is trying to protect saying to her today from outside the Chamber, “The Government have got this wrong.” The Government have indeed got this wrong. They need to support amendment 72 and ensure that we deal with the issue in a fair and appropriate way.
For example, let me give the Minister one quote from Amnesty International. Anybody in the House will accept that Amnesty International is a respected organisation. Amnesty said to me in an e-mail only last night:
“We are gravely concerned at the amendment now put forward by the Government. Not only does this not provide any improvement in the position of these workers, but it would place on the statute book a regime under which overseas domestic worker victims of human trafficking and slavery would be provided with less protection than other such victims within the existing National Referral Mechanism system.”
The hon. Lady says that that is not the case. I contend that if Amnesty International is criticising the Government, if the other organisations are doing so, if the House of Lords has said that the Government are wrong and if a cross-party royal commission which has looked at the Bill has said that the Government need to change their position now, the Government need to consider that.
There will be no right of appeal against a negative decision and no legal aid. Many of the people involved have limited English, are poor and vulnerable, and are being abused by rich and powerful people. The challenges are too great to place upon them. We have an opportunity today to give the House of Lords our support, to put in place this measure which will ensure that the visa is untied and that a level of protection is available. There is still the possibility of tackling issues to do with the minimum wage and other exploitation and to take both criminal action and civil enforcement action outside this Chamber through the anti-slavery commissioner and other aspects of the Bill. The hon. Lady has the chance to do that today, and I hope she will take it.
The right hon. Gentleman is very generous in allowing me to intervene. He hits the nail on the head when he talks about the vulnerability of the victims. We are talking about people who are in an incredibly vulnerable situation and about their chances of making a reasonable and logical decision to move to a non-abusive employer, when the risk is that they will go back to more slavery, more abuse and more servitude, and with the employer they have just escaped from being able to put somebody else into servitude. I think that that risk is too great for us to take. We need to help those people. We need to find them. I fully accept the challenges of finding victims and bringing this crime out into the open, but we are not going to do it if we brush it under the carpet and just let the victims change employers.
There is a disagreement between us, as ever. That is the nature of the debate that we have in the House. I support the Government in trying to tackle long-term abuse by poor employers. I support the Government in trying to drive out abuse carried out through pay and conditions. I hope the National Crime Agency, the anti-slavery commissioner and others will work hard to do that. The difference between us today is the question of the tied visa for employment. The House of Lords, the Committee chaired by my right hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead, and the charities and organisations outside the House that are working on this issue believe that the Government should accept the Lords amendment. So do I.
Does the right hon. Gentleman recognise that the Minister has said that the employers could go on to employ someone else and subject them to abuse? Does that not expose the risk of the tied visa system?
The abuse that the Minister is referring to is an abuse that stems from the tied visa. That is what we need to eradicate.
I am eternally grateful that I allowed my hon. Friend to intervene and I am grateful for his support in Committee when we debated this matter. He has helpfully cemented the central argument that the tied visa is a wrong-headed approach. There were challenges before April 2012; undoubtedly there will always be challenges in this type of situation. However, the tied visa exacerbates it. We have to make this change. I hope that the Government will listen, but if they do not—
Governments have been talking for years about bringing in a modern slavery Bill. Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is unfortunate that in the last gasp of this Government, they have brought a Bill before the House that will still not address one of the most important aspects of modern slavery?
I remind the House that in taking the position that they have today, the Government are rejecting the cross-party recommendation from my right hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead and his Committee; rejecting the discussions we had in the Modern Slavery Bill Committee that resulted in a nine-to-nine vote with the Chair casting his vote in favour of the Government; rejecting the will of another place, where a cross-party group of MPs led by Lord Hylton tabled this amendment; and rejecting the advice of every organisation involved in dealing with this issue outside this House.
That is for the Government to determine. I am simply saying that if, by the end of this debate, they do not change their mind, I will ask my right hon. and hon. Friends to support the House of Lords amendment and, if that is defeated, reluctantly accept the Government’s late, compromise, dragged-out proposal.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for the opportunity to speak in this debate on amendments to the Modern Slavery Bill—a critical Bill that will have far-reaching consequences for those who seek to abuse, and indeed have abused, and those who have suffered from that abuse. I was pleased to able to serve on the Committee that scrutinised the Bill, and I can honestly say that it did so in depth and very carefully. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Minister for her commitment to this issue and her determination to get this vital piece of anti-slavery legislation on to the statute book.
I recognise that amendment 72, tabled by the noble Lord Hylton, has the very best of intentions, but as my hon. Friend said the most important thing is to get this Bill on to the statute book before Parliament is dissolved in just over a week’s time. If we leave it any later—if the Lords continue to press these amendments—I fear we will lose the Bill altogether and its important work will be undone. Abusers will be safe from the law, while the poor and vulnerable they abuse will have less protection under it.
My constituents who have contacted me on this issue want to know that there will be additional evidence of legal employer-employee relationships and a confirmation that employers will be forced to pay the minimum wage. The current rules stop employees changing employer, and vice versa, during the term of their visa. Amendment 72 would permit someone on an overseas domestic worker visa to change employer without having to go to the authorities.
Is the hon. Lady aware that under the previous Government, who brought in the three-year visa, people could change their employer, but her Government took that right away? Will she apologise to her constituents for that?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for making that point. Let me make the point that his Government had 13 years in which to introduce such legislation. In fact, we have had to wait 200 years for a piece of modern day slavery legislation.
Does not the hon. Lady agree, though, that a modern slavery Bill ought to be more than just its title and the campaign behind it? It ought to be good law that will be able to affect the lives of the most vulnerable. Does she not agree that this Bill falls down on that in some important respects?
Of course we all want this to be good law, which is precisely what the Minister intends. We do not want loopholes that enable slave masters to find new victims; we do not want these slaves to be without the protection we are seeking to give them.
Has my hon. Friend reflected on the fact that when the Modern Slavery Bill becomes the Modern Slavery Act and we can say to employers applying for the visa, “If you bring your employee into the United Kingdom and abuse them, you will be subject to life imprisonment”, that will be a big deterrent that should prevent abusive employers who intend to bring in employees and treat them as slaves from doing so?
I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. Of course she is absolutely right—it is a massive deterrent, and we must have it on the statute book.
Chief Constable Shaun Sawyer, the national policing lead on modern slavery, and Ian Cruxton, the director of the organised crime command at the National Crime Agency, have expressed concern that the Lords amendment would inadvertently undermine the fight against modern slavery—a fight that we all agree has to be won. I therefore hope that my hon. Friend will advise the Lords to withdraw their amendment, well intentioned as it may be, to ensure that the Bill gets on to the statute book in this Parliament, that those guilty of modern slavery will not be allowed off the hook, and those suffering the misery of it will be given protection and hope.
Despite what my hon. Friend Emily Thornberry said, there has not been a long campaign for this Bill. That is a myth, because it started two summers ago. It is worth registering our thanks not only to the Government but to the whole House and to their lordships for getting the Bill into shape and through to this stage. Nevertheless, however slow anybody listening to this debate is, I think they will realise that there are differences between both Houses. I was immensely pleased by the statements made by my right hon. Friend Mr Hanson.
For domestic workers, the issue we are dealing with is 100% about how they are going to be treated and whether they escape; the totality of the Bill will mean very little to them. Yet we do need to keep our eye on the totality of the Bill, which is immensely important and one this Government will be remembered by. We are clearly going to vote on it today, but I hope that when it goes back to their lordships, they will weigh up the distinct advantages the Government have offered us today on the basis of a simple rejection of the Lords amendment. I also hope that at that stage, disagreements can cease so that the view expressed by Caroline Nokes is expressed by the whole House in wanting the Bill to receive Royal Assent next week and be put safely on to the statute book. Then, in the new Parliament, we can have an inquiry into this aspect of the law, and whoever is in government can add to the existing Act and we will not have to debate whether we need another Bill.
I approach this debate with, perhaps, a different viewpoint from some other people in the Chamber. The midlands is a thriving area—the beating heart of the economy, in my humble opinion. It is very interesting to see the aspect of modern day slavery that can show itself in tarmacking gangs and farm gangs. It is absolutely disgraceful that such things are going on in this day and age.
I thank Mr Field for what he said about the Bill. It will be groundbreaking legislation that any Government ought to be, and certainly my Government will be, proud of. It is crucial in all respects, because we need to put a big message out there that our country looks after vulnerable people, that it is a country of law and order, and that nobody should come here thinking they can employ people and abuse them. That will not be tolerated by my Government, my country, and my people.
I am very proud of this Bill. I disagree with the Lords amendment and agree with the one we have tabled in lieu. The important thing is that people feel comfortable and confident that they can go to first responders and be looked after. I almost wish that we did not need to have this Bill, but I am incredibly proud that we have brought it in. It will be a very special day when it gets on to the statute book.
I am very sad about this debate on Lords amendment 72. For some time, we have debated the treatment of overseas domestic workers. Before the Government changed the immigration rules, I wrote a report called, “Service not servitude”, and we have debated it since then. I am glad that we are debating it in the context of modern slavery because, horrifyingly, a shocking number of overseas domestic workers have to submit to slave-like conditions.
I am sad, however, because although Government amendment (a) in lieu looks as though it gives rights to such very vulnerable victims, it actually offers them less than other victims of modern slavery, which is very distressing. There is the proposal to give someone a six-month visa. A number of my Slough constituents who for one reason or another are subject to immigration control have only six months left on their visa. The Minister will know that Slough has a pretty buoyant employment market, but it can be impossible, even for constituents in a category which means they are almost certain to have their visa renewed, to find a new employer in that six-month period. Why? Because no employer wants to employ someone who only has six months left to stay. Unless the employer is offering a tiny little temporary job, it is very unusual for someone in that situation to be able to secure new employment.
Let us look at the Government’s record. We have heard much about it in relation to the Bill’s introduction, but what about overseas domestic workers? This Government, along with that of Panama, Sudan, El Salvador, Malaysia, Singapore and the Czech Republic—think of having them as comrades—is one of very few Governments in the world to refuse to support the International Labour Organisation convention on decent work for domestic workers. Why do I bring that up? Because the exploitation of domestic workers does not always amount to enslavement: the courts have sometimes decided that people who are vilely exploited are not enslaved, and are not eligible for some of the existing protections under the regulations on trafficking. If we are ambitious for world-leading legislation, one thing we must do is to ensure that workers are not paid less than the minimum wage, or are exploited or made to work ridiculous hours or in dangerous conditions. All those things would be protected if we had signed up to the ILO convention, but——guess what?—we did not. The Government have form on that.
The Minister tells us that there will be tough guidance on interviewing people separately to ensure a sort of pre-entry protection against modern slavery. I am really glad about that, but I remember being told that there was tough guidance on people carrying their own passport through immigration control. Indeed, there is such guidance for immigration officers, but in speaking to victims who are overseas domestic workers, I have yet to find one who did so. I am afraid that the Minister’s tough guidance just does not work.
The guidance is not sufficient protection, and neither is the six-month visa, while the failure to sign up to the ILO convention is another example of inadequate protection. The Minister has cited senior police officers who believe that her proposed changes will increase the number of overseas domestic workers willing to be police narks. Well, it might, but it might not. As we know from the evidence of battered women and all other victims of abuse, the best way to encourage victims of abuse to give evidence is to focus on the support and advice they need.
Kalayaan, with which I have worked for a scary number of years, is the organisation with the pre-eminent record in doing so. It has a real record of working closely with such women, and in providing them with the kind of advice that best enables them to get their rights, such as they exist. Under the old system, it regularly helped women domestic workers to get their passports back, because—guess what?—their employers used to steal them and hold on to them.
Such support will not be provided by the Minister’s amendment (a). To suggest to people, “Oh, you get support if you become a police nark, and as long as you support this, or on condition that you do that”, is not the way to enable people to get control over their own lives, which the Minister said she wanted to achieve.
I love the passion with which the hon. Lady speaks about this issue, but I really think she is missing the big picture. If we do not do something about this, new people will be enslaved day in, day out in such domestic situations. There has to be a change, and what she is offering will not give us that change.
Actually, Lords amendment 72 would make exactly the change that the hon. Lady says we need. It would support victims and trust them to take control of their own lives, whereas, frankly, there is a real risk that the Minister’s amendment (a) will infantilise victims. I know from working with victims of abuse that the best way to make them agree to be witnesses and to give them control over their own lives is to support them in taking the lead, not to tell them that as long as they collaborate, they can get this, that or the other.
I welcome the involvement of Heather Wheeler and I am glad to see other people focusing on this issue, but those of us who have focused on it for a long time and who argued that ending the ability to switch visas would produce the kind of kafala system now common in Britain have been proved right. We are very sad to have been proved right, but I am glad that Members from every party, including Conservative Members, have regretted their former decisions and recognised that what the Lords are seeking is a better way to protect such vulnerable victims than the proposal the Minister has tried to sell us. If we trust and protect the victims in such a way, we will significantly reduce the level of slavery in Britain today.
The Minister has become much more skilful at arguing her brief than she was at the beginning of the process on the Bill. We forgave her for reading her text line by line in the beginning, but we will not forgive her for what she has done today. She rose to excuse a police-drafted clause with a fixation on criminality and catching bad people. Catching bad people is fine: I totally support it, as I have in the campaign that I have run for a long time and since long before there was engagement by the Minister or her colleague, Chloe Smith, who is sitting smiling on the second Bench. The reality, however, is that if we substitute the rights of victims with the overarching demand to catch criminals or bad people, we sometimes sacrifice the victims in that pursuit. Government amendment (a) takes the that line.
If an overseas domestic worker coming forward in relation to an employment situation is not paid, are they a slave? If they are held by somebody who has their passport but does not give it back and does not pay them—perhaps feeds them, and perhaps does not beat them—they are still slaves. Are the police likely to take information from those people to pursue the employer? Probably not. Will those people be able to leave their employer and say, “I want to go somewhere where I will be paid and treated correctly; where I will be treated with respect, not as a slave, but as a worker”? A worker expects to be treated properly. If people are treated badly by their employer who has brought them to this country, it is still slavery as far as I am concerned.
I say again that, yes, I want victims to provide information that enables us to catch the perpetrators and increase the number of prosecutions. However, when somebody comes forward and is referred to the national referral mechanism, it does not require the involvement of the police at any point in the process. The UK Human Trafficking Centre and UK Visas and Immigration make those decisions at the moment. As the hon. Gentleman knows, we have reviewed the national referral mechanism and will be piloting the use of panels to make those decisions. Those will not be law enforcement bodies. Law enforcement will be involved only if people can provide evidence that will enable us to catch the perpetrator. If somebody goes through the national referral mechanism and gets a conclusive grounds decision, they will be granted a minimum of six months to stay and work in the country for any employer. That does not need to involve the police at any stage in the process.
The Minister did not answer the question that I asked. If someone is not paid and their employer holds their passport, are they enslaved? I ask her to clarify that. It seems that she is not willing to speak about that. Of course, that is not likely to lead the police to prosecute the person who kept their passport and kept them in a domestic home in the UK. We might be talking about longer than 15 days. The Minister mentioned people who live with the staff of embassies. She did not elucidate on that point, but that is where some of the worst malpractice has happened.
Amendment (a) states that leave to remain will be granted to an overseas domestic worker
“who has been determined to be a victim of slavery or human trafficking, and…in relation to whom such other requirements are met as may be provided for by the rules.”
It goes on to specify what the rules must provide for. My concern is for the victim. My second concern is to create the conditions in which the victim wants to deal with an abusive employer. It might not be someone who beats them up. It might be somebody who refuses to pay them or who gives them just a small allowance like pocket money that is not adequate to live on, which is what many domestic workers get when they come here. Will we prosecute those employers? I hope we will, because that is a breach of our laws.
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. That is a breach of our employment laws. HMRC is pursuing the employers of overseas domestic workers to ensure that they pay the national minimum wage and observe our employment laws. However, where somebody is the victim of slavery, qualifies under the national referral mechanism for specialist support and gets conclusive grounds, amendment (a) will enable them to work here for six months.
Amendment (a) is deficient. Lords amendment 72 is simple and states that people can
“change their employer (but not work sector) while in the United Kingdom”.
That is the first choice they should be able to make. If a domestic worker who comes here is a victim and is not treated properly, they should be able to move to another employer while their visa is running. That was the basis of what was put forward by the Joint Committee on the Draft Modern Slavery Bill. That was the basis of what was proposed in the Public Bill Committee. However, it was not carried. We know about the deficiencies in the Liberal view at that time. I hope that the Liberal Democrats have changed their mind. Today, we can support the simple Lords amendment and carry the spirit of what was recommended by the Joint Committee.
My second point on the protection of victims is about the way in which we encourage people to take up the right to stay. Caroline Nokes said that nothing had been done in that respect. In 2009, the Labour Government brought in a three-year visa that allowed domestic workers to leave unacceptable or abusive employers, including the kind of employer I have described who does not pay wages or respect people properly as workers. The current Government overturned that and closed that door to people.
It is unlikely that the people I have met through Kalayaan and other organisations who work with these victims will go into the national referral mechanism, because they have an aversion to formal institutions. We know that. Through the Human Trafficking Foundation, we have talked to 60 or 70 non-governmental organisations, all of which have the same problem: the victims do not trust the institutions of the state in this country. Whether we like it or not, the Government’s proposal says that if people are willing to be a witness and help the police to prosecute their former employer, they will get support and be able to stay for up to a year. That is not the way to do it. The way to do it is to allow people to move employer and to create a structure that allows them afterwards to go willingly to those organisations that are willing to give them a bit of muscle if they feel aggrieved enough about the abuse they have suffered.
Most people who have not been paid or have just been paid pocket money are not likely to want to pursue their employer, but they have the same right to move as someone who is willing to go up against an employer who has beaten or stabbed them or treated them abusively. Why should we distinguish between these two sets of people? Legally, they are not being treated as they should be as workers, or are we to distinguish between foreign workers and our workers?
I wonder whether the hon. Gentleman genuinely misunderstands what is going on here. He is an experienced Member, but I wonder whether people really understand that what he is saying is that if somebody comes here on this sort of visa, he will give them carte blanche to go and do something else.
That is exactly what the hon. Gentleman is suggesting. He is going into realms that are not to do with protecting people from modern slavery, which is what the Bill is about.
As I am the person who forced the Prime Minister eventually to sign up to the directive on human trafficking, which he had refused to do for several months, during which he wiggled and wriggled, I do not have to apologise to anybody and I do not need it explained to me what the Bill is about. It is a good Bill, but it could be improved immensely. I do not know whether the hon. Lady has read Lords amendment 72, but it says that people should be able to
“change their employer (but not work sector) while in the United Kingdom”.
It is quite clear that it is about people going from domestic work into domestic work. I hope that the House will agree to the amendment.
Finally, I want to question the whole idea of creating this rather tortuous process. It has always been a problem that the Government have seen the Bill as, first and foremost, a criminal Bill to chase people who abuse others through human trafficking and slavery. Many of us hold the view that we should first protect those who are enslaved or abused and then convince them to become witnesses and to help in that secondary programme. If we get the two things back to front, what happens? The victims do not become witnesses and the people who abuse others escape, as they have been escaping. I believe that if we agree to amendment (a), we will have another tortuous process that will become another barrier that makes people stay away from the institutions, because it is not about protecting the victims; it is about the Government’s obsession with catching the bad people.
I remember welcoming the Government’s move to opt into the EU directive on human trafficking in March 2011. I learned this afternoon that that was the result of the work of my hon. Friend Michael Connarty. I congratulate him on that.
It seemed to me that the Government were putting themselves in a contradictory position by signing up to the EU directive on human trafficking. The European Court of Justice has said that any country signing up to the directive
“must refrain from taking any measures liable seriously to compromise the result prescribed.”
It seems to me that signing up to a directive is about more that putting our country’s name to a piece of paper; we must sign up to the spirit of it, too. As I have said, the European Court of Justice has said that we must not go backwards.
I read with interest the speech of the former Attorney-General, Mr Grieve, to City university about the role of UK law as a model for combating human trafficking and slavery, in which he summarised the progress that had been made. I was very concerned that it was entirely contradictory for the Government on the one hand to sign up to the directive and trumpet the work that had been done to combat human trafficking and slavery, yet on the other hand to change the immigration rules to make life much more difficult for domestic workers. That seemed a complete contradiction, so on
“The position is that, if an ODW has been granted a visa to come to the UK to work for their overseas employer while that employer is visiting the UK, the ODW will have leave to remain in the UK in line with that granted to the employer—ie, up to 6 months’ leave (the maximum grant of leave for visitors). If an ODW leaves their employer during the time of the visit to the UK, the ODW will retain whatever time remains of the original leave granted and so will not be in the UK illegally during that time.”
That did not seem terrible generous. Let us suppose an overseas domestic worker came with a visa to stay in the UK for a certain amount of time. If they left their employer because of abuse, they could remain until their visa ran out but then they had to go. The letter continued:
“The ODW will not be entitled to work for another employer, but they will not be in the UK illegally unless or until the leave expires.”
As I said, we have moved on from that, but it seems that alarm bells have been ringing about abused and exploited overseas domestic workers for many years. Many of those who have raised the alarm have spoken today in the House, and many organisations outside have done so. The Government have spent a number of years preparing such a Bill, and I am disappointed and surprised that, to try to get the Bill through the House today, they are putting this matter back for yet another review. Many people with much greater experience in this issue have been assisting the Government as best they can for some time. They have coalesced around this amendment in the House of Lords, and although I listened carefully to the Minister when she explained why the amendment is not satisfactory, I still do not understand. Not to accept that the Lords amendment seems to fly in the face of the collective common sense in this place.
Perhaps I can add my ha’pence worth. We have heard a great deal about how important it is for victims to give evidence against their employers in court, and that to encourage them to come forward it is important they understand that their continued presence within the United Kingdom will be dependent on their giving evidence against their employers, or assisting the police to ensure that those employers are prosecuted. I hear and understand that point, but it makes no sense.
My hon. Friend is a lawyer and has court experience of these matters. Will she comment on advice I have received from Parosha Chandran, which suggests that where leave is granted as a result of someone coming forward, a prosecution might be more difficult to secure? Although 29 victims of slavery have had conclusive decisions referred by Kalayaan, there has been only one successful prosecution for domestic worker abuse.
My right hon. Friend—it is a pleasure to say that—is absolutely right, and in a way she predicts the point I was going to make. In my former manifestation as a criminal lawyer, we always looked for what might be the primary motivation for why a witness would be giving evidence. If we could cross-examine a victim and say, “You’re only saying that to stay in the United Kingdom. Your continued presence within the United Kingdom is dependent on you co-operating with the police. You’re gilding the lily; you are making up lies and doing what you can to remain here,” that would undermine the credibility of the witness. In the end, any prosecution for slavery will be entirely dependent on the evidence of that woman. That is why witnesses need to be empowered, and why it must be clear that a witness has come forward entirely freely and honestly, so that we can have a powerful prosecution. That is the way to combat modern slavery in the context of overseas domestic workers.
I commend the Minister for the passion with which she spoke earlier about the vulnerability of victims. I do not doubt her integrity or motives, and I am grateful for the time that she found to talk to me and the policy director of Focus on Labour Exploitation—that is one NGO in the long list cited by the shadow Minister, my right hon. Friend Mr Hanson, that shares the concerns about the way the Government are approaching this issue.
A number of Government Members have spoken with equal passion about the importance of getting the Bill into statute, and the Opposition share that. The simplest way would have been for the Government not to have challenged Lords amendment 72, because it helps to ensure that our efforts to combat modern slavery are not undermined by an immigration system that ties workers into slavery.
We are now agreed across the House that the tied domestic worker visa effectively gives all power to employers and none to their vulnerable employees. It forces domestic workers who are exploited by their employers to make the unenviable choice between breaching their visa conditions or staying with an abusive employer. As was mentioned earlier, there have been three reviews on this issue: the first was by the Centre of Social Justice, which so often has the ear of the Government; the second was by my right hon. Friend Mr Field; and the third was by the joint legislative Committee on this Bill. All reviews came to the same conclusion: the tied domestic worker visa strengthens the hand of the slave master against the victim of slavery. The Government should not ignore those reviews and should recognise that Lords amendment 72 seeks to address the concerns raised. The amendment is not a silver bullet; it simply wrestles a small amount of power back to the domestic worker from her or his employer—that is all. If accepted, however, the amendment will help to prevent many cases of abuse.
As was mentioned earlier, those with an interest in these issues struggle to understand why the Government are so unwilling to accept the amendment. The Home Secretary has suggested that the Bill seeks to be “world leading”, but that was our pre-2012 position on this issue. My right hon. Friend the Member for Slough
(Fiona Mactaggart) cited the kafala system that has led to countless cases of abuse in Lebanon, and NGOs used the pre-2012 UK overseas domestic worker visa as an example of best practice. We were commended for immigration rules that recognised
“the particular vulnerability of migrant domestic workers to exploitation and incorporate fundamental protections as a result.”
Later that year, we lost those protections, and the amendment seeks to restore them. If the Bill is to be taken seriously as a genuine effort to tackle modern-day slavery, Lords amendment 72 should stand unchanged.
Many of us are concerned that the Government are proposing not only to reject the amendment but to insert their own amendment that would provide domestic workers with the right to remain in the UK, but—this is an enormous but—only if they are determined to be a victim of trafficking by the authorities. I understand the Government’s reasoning, which the Minister has outlined, in seeking to secure prosecutions, but the protection of victims and securing prosecutions are not mutually exclusive aims.
The hon. Gentleman is making a powerful speech, and I thank him for mentioning Focus on Labour Exploitation, which is now part of our stakeholder group working on modern slavery. I want victims to go into the national referral mechanism to give them the support they need and to ensure that those vulnerable people who have been subjected to the most horrendous abuse get the right level of expert support. I want them to go into the NRM, so that we ensure that we give them back control of their lives. We have gone through a review and I fully accept that the NRM needs changes, but the new reviewed NRM is designed to give people the support they need.
I understand what the Minister is saying, but let me explain why I think the Government’s approach is problematic. The Government’s amendments would mean that a domestic worker will have to take the risk of presenting to the authorities to gain the determination of being a victim of trafficking. The domestic worker would have to do so without legal advice, as legal aid would be granted only once referral is made. Secondly, they provide for no immigration enforcement action to be taken against domestic workers, should they breach immigration conditions, again only if they are found to be a victim of trafficking or slavery. That will do nothing to allay the genuine fears of domestic workers that, if they put their heads above the parapet to seek assistance, they could face deportation.
My hon. Friend Emily Thornberry has made it very clear how the criminal justice system might treat victims in that situation. Indeed, they would face deportation if they decide they do not wish to go through the NRM, which should be their right. Therefore, far from achieving the desired result the Minister seeks to outline, the amendment risks achieving the absolute opposite: stopping victims coming forward and reducing the chances of prosecutions.
If my hon. Friend were to consider, for example, normal industrial relations, it takes a lot for somebody—an individual who is an ordinary citizen of this country—to come forward and make a complaint about an employer. It must be 10 times worse for somebody whose immigration conditions are tied to an employer to come forward. The Minister may understand that point, but she is not addressing it adequately.
My hon. Friend makes the point very powerfully: there is enormous pressure on victims not to come forward. The Government’s position is indicative of their whole approach. It puts the responsibility on victims to come forward to secure prosecutions to end trafficking. Unlike Lords amendment 72, which places the emphasis on how best to protect victims, the Government are instead trying, with their amendments, to refocus on the need for victims to do the authorities’ work for them. It almost suggests the victims are guilty of something if they do not want to take this enormous risk. The Minister is shaking her head, but the Government’s approach does not take account of why victims are scared to come forward, nor does it recognise that trafficked people are frequently trapped in a trafficking situation because of a fear—real or perceived—of authorities. Traffickers prey on that fear to hold victims in exploitative situations.
Another problem with the Government’s proposed amendments relates to people who are exploited but not enslaved. For example, a woman domestic worker is more vulnerable to sexual exploitation, because she works in the private family home and so on, but she would not benefit from these protections because she could not enter the NRM. She is not enslaved, but she might have been a victim of sexual exploitation or rape. There is no mechanism to protect her.
My right hon. Friend makes a very powerful additional point on why the Government’s approach is flawed.
My overriding concern is that, despite the Government’s stated commitment to tackling modern slavery, the Bill is still far too dependent on the victims rather than the state to identify the perpetrators of trafficking and slavery. That is not only morally wrong; unfortunately for the Government, it is also illegally flawed. The European Court of Human Rights has held that the state has a positive obligation to protect victims of trafficking and to investigate potential trafficking situations. Lords amendment 72 brings us much closer to meeting that positive obligation. It provides victims with a clear safety net: the ability to leave an exploitative situation without hesitation.
We all need to play our part to combat the horrific crime of modern slavery, but the agencies of government are legally obliged to take a proactive role in identifying potential cases. It seems that in the absence of an effective prevention strategy to meet that aim, the Government are depending on victims to pick up the slack when they really need proactive labour inspection and enforcement. That is a point I will make further, if I have the opportunity, in relation to Government amendment 77.
I am grateful for your indulgence, Madam Deputy Speaker. I entered the Chamber during the speech by the right hon. Member for Delyn (Mr Hanson), who made some compelling points. I intended only to listen to the debate before making up my mind between the Government’s and the Opposition’s approach, and I am pleased that the differences seem to have narrowed. There appears, at least in the Home Secretary’s amendment, to be something of a spirit of compromise. I am surprised by the temperature of the debate on both sides of the House, because Parliament is acting in one of its better ways.
This debate has risen up the agenda very strongly in recent years. I do not think the Government should be criticised for putting a Bill through Parliament only just before Dissolution and I do not think the Opposition should be criticised for not having acted during 13 years in government. Politicians and society as a whole have turned their minds to this issue only recently. As far as I am concerned, I do not think I turned my mind to it before 2011. I apologise if I have got this wrong but it may have been a report from MigrationWatch UK that drew my attention to the sharply rising numbers of people—I think they were referred to at that time as being in the domestic servants category—coming into the country. The report asked whether that was right and appropriate.
The Government’s changes to the visa in 2012 were, overall, positive and they reduced the time that somebody could be an overseas domestic servant. It strikes me as understandable, if not necessarily right, that a family from overseas visiting this country for a relatively short period and who have a long relationship with the people who have been working in their household might wish to bring those people with them. They may be very well-off and used to having a level of service from particular individuals. What struck me as much less reasonable was for that relationship to persist for a very long time: very wealthy families coming to this country and permanently continuing to have staff who had previously worked for them, or bringing in new staff from their country of residence and using only those staff rather than employing people domestically.
In terms of immigration control, I fear there is something about the overseas domestic servant category that is liable to exploitation. I wonder whether there are shades of grey or whether there is a lack of clarity on where precisely the line is drawn when one moves from service to servitude and then to slavery. To try to change the law to mitigate, reduce and minimise—it would be wonderful if we could eliminate it—that exploitation is the right thing for this House to do. Moving from people being employed in that way for very long periods to a maximum of six months strikes me as definitely the right thing to do.
What the Government have done is really positive. Whether it is right to see this more from the criminal justice perspective, or whether we should simply allow people to switch to different employers in a more liberal way, as the House of Lords wants, is a difficult question. However, I believe there is a sincerity of approach on both sides of the House and that we have moved on hugely.
I assume the Lords amendment will be defeated in a Division and that the Government’s alternative amendment will pass. I hope that if the Lords come back again, it may be to find perhaps even further compromise, or to take some of the positives of the Lords approach and to consider some of the criticisms that the Opposition have made of the Home Secretary’s amendment. However, I agree that what is absolutely key is to pass the Bill.
We still need to focus on the diplomatic domestic service category, where people can work still for up to five years although I think it used to be six. I think that the prospect of prison is likely to have a persuasive effect on an abusive employer who employs someone in a private household for six months, although it will be a challenge to communicate to both overseas domestic workers and the families employing them that that consequence is a real one. In the diplomatic sector, however, given diplomatic immunity, I fear that that incentive might not be so great because the period that people are in service is much longer. I worry that, given the Government’s understandable concern for our relationships with foreign countries, we might not come close to eradicating servitude, if not modern slavery, in those categories. We must continue to focus on that area not just in legislation but through our foreign relations.
In conclusion, I strongly support the Bill’s passage. Despite its genesis, I supported our acceptance of the human trafficking directive, and I believe that what the House and campaign groups have done on this subject over the last few years should be commended.
Unlike Mark Reckless, having been here throughout this debate, having sat through the Public Bill Committee and having been present for all the Bill’s other stages in the House, I am not surprised at the heat generated by Lords amendment 72 and the Government amendment to it.
I will not rehearse the issues raised in Committee. Instead, I will concentrate on some of the issues heard this afternoon. It has been argued that because this is such an important and welcome Bill, it is untoward to argue over amendments. It is an abuse of the procedural requirements of this place for Government Members to suggest that anybody pressing a point in relation to these amendments threatens the Bill at large or would be happy to see it frustrated or set aside. The attempt, here in this Chamber, where we talk about being mature legislators, to create the impression of an abuse of process and a scaring process should give us pause for thought about what is at play in these amendments.
The Government amendment provides that if an overseas domestic worker wants to exit a position of slavery, they can do so only if they participate in the national referral mechanism. They will have to engage in a process they might not know about or understand, and they might have their own particular fears, misgivings or hang-ups. They will have been subject to intimidation, having effectively been employed as chattels of their employer, courtesy of the kafala-style system that operates for domestic visa workers. The idea is that these victims—people on the margins of the margin—should have confidence that their position will be transformed by the national referral mechanism. I wish that were the case.
The Minister has emphasised that the Government amendment aims to ensure that when a domestic worker leaves a situation of slavery, that can help to ensure prosecution. The national policing lead and the director of crime command for the National Crime Agency have been quoted as saying that the Lords amendment would be at fault because it would undermine the capacity of the authorities to secure more prosecutions. When I asked the Minister about the experience of the national referral mechanism in terms of the number of conclusive decisions made compared with the number of successful prosecutions, she did not answer, although Fiona Mactaggart subsequently gave us an indication. In quoting the figure from the legal advice to Anti-Slavery International, she gave the example of Kalayaan, which supports victims, and mentioned that 29 conclusive decisions had been made. However, there is only on record one conviction of an overseas domestic worker employer, so the link between the national referral mechanism and successful prosecutions is not strong. For that reason, the argument used by Government Members—that supporting the Lords amendment would undermine or wash away any prospect of prosecution—is entirely false.
I understand that the Minister will probably argue that that has been the case with the national referral mechanism historically—we all accept that it has had its flaws—but the reform of the mechanism that is to be implemented follows last autumn’s publication of a review, and of course that review will be subject to pilots that will have to be implemented and then evaluated, which will probably take a year or more. Separately, as we heard from Mr Field and others, we know that the Government have instituted a review of tied visas by James Ewins. If the Government are conducting a review of tied visas, and if we have acknowledged that there are issues with the national referral mechanism—issues that I hope will be addressed by the reforms that are to take place but which are as yet untested and unproved—surely it would be reasonable for the Government to accept the Lords amendment and then revisit the issues around tied visas, first, following the review and evaluations of the changes to the national referral mechanism, and secondly, after the review by James Ewins has reported. At least victims on overseas domestic worker visas would then have the autonomous right to escape their victimhood.
It is interesting that in one of her interventions today the Minister said that the reason the Government amendment rested so much on the victim co-operating with the national referral mechanism was to give victims control. Surely victims would have control if they could vacate their exploitative employment autonomously and then have the right to seek alternative employment. If the Government are worried that the abusive employer might then escape scrutiny and employ somebody else, that brings us back to the hole in the bucket, dear Liza, of this whole question: the tied visa system is a licence to employers to exploit and abuse employees. If the Government’s best argument against the Lords amendment is the likelihood of employers using the device of the tied visa system simply to repeat the same abuse, the Government should be questioning their position more fundamentally, rather than relying on their amendment.
Is the hon. Gentleman not concerned that subsection (b) of the Lords amendment, which would allow workers in these categories to extend for up to 12 months each time, might create a sub-category of foreign domestic servant, separate from the domestic labour market, and that would make exploitation more likely?
As any evidence emerges, we will have to consider what it suggests about this sector of employment in general and individual employers in particular. This goes back to some of the arguments the Government have used in support of their own amendment and against the Lords amendment. If a domestic worker were to change their employer under the visa entitlement the Lords amendment would give them, it would be known to an authority, and the authority should be duly asking questions. It would then be for somebody else—perhaps not the victim—to notify the national referral mechanism and for issues to take place there.
In separate interventions today, the Minister seemed to make different arguments. On the one hand, the Government amendment was defended on the grounds that it would lead to more prosecutions of abusive employers by ensuring that victims co-operated with the national referral mechanism and therefore that their victimhood would translate into active cases. That is what we were being told by the policing lead and the National Crime Agency. Then, in another intervention, the Minister made the point that the national referral mechanism was not of itself hidebound in achieving prosecutions and not necessarily police or prosecution-driven in any way. We cannot have both arguments being used in contradictory ways here.
I ask the Government to listen to their own arguments and to think about some of the things they are relying on in respect of their own amendments. They should think again about pressing those amendments; the chances are that they will have to revise them in the light of subsequent reviews and evaluations. The sensible thing to do—and most in keeping with the spirit claimed for this Bill, as being “world-leading” legislation—would be to accept the Lords amendments and, if necessary, qualify them by revisiting the issues in the light of subsequent reviews.
With the leave of the House, I will call the Minister briefly to speak again and answer the debate.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. I am grateful that you have given me the House’s leave to respond to the points raised.
I am grateful to all right hon. and hon. Members who have spoken in the debate. I know, as do we all, that there is a shared desire across this House and the other place to protect all victims of modern slavery. I will endeavour to address as quickly as I can the specific concerns raised, but I first want to note the point made by my right hon. Friend Mrs Spelman about the pre-legislative scrutiny committee’s various recommendations. She made the important point that the vote and recommendations for the committee took place before the Bill was published and the Government amendments were framed—before the review was announced and before the amendment in lieu we are debating today. I want to put on record my thanks and to pay my tribute to the members of the pre-legislative scrutiny committee, the Bill Committee and Members in the other place who have helped the Government to amend the Bill, making it a stronger and better Bill as a result.
Fiona Mactaggart talked about not ratifying the International Labour Organisation’s convention on domestic workers. She will know that we do not believe that ratifying it would strengthen the extensive measures we already have in the UK to prevent slavery and human trafficking. We believe we go further in respect of slavery and human trafficking than the convention asks for. It is important to strike the right balance between protecting vulnerable workers and ensuring that aspects of employment law which can carry criminal sanction are not extended to private households. Ratifying the convention would require the imposition of unnecessarily onerous obligations on, for example, people employing home helps or personal carers, and would be neither practical nor proportionate.
The right hon. Lady also said that she did not consider a six-month visa for victims to be sufficiently long. The Government’s initial intention is to grant a six-month visa to enable victims to earn some money and begin to rebuild their lives as they plan their return home. We believe this to be an appropriate period. It is of course the maximum time for which an overseas domestic worker visa is usually issued—they are issued for six months, and we will proceed with six months. We will of course consider any recommendations that James Ewins makes in his review as to whether the period should be varied, along with other evidence put forward. Six months is the minimum, and it can be amended in immigration law.
I appreciate the Minister’s giving way and I know she is working hard in this area. If six months is the minimum, will she describe the circumstances in which that would not be the automatic figure? In what circumstances might a period longer than six months be granted under the guidance she is suggesting?
If the right hon. Gentleman will forgive me, I would have to say that it depends on the individual circumstances. Perhaps I shall write to him with some examples, if that would be acceptable.
The right hon. Member for Slough also made a point about people carrying their passports through the border. If she has evidence that people are being treated in this way while going through the border, will she please supply it to us, because I would like Border Force and others to look at that and act on it.
Michael Connarty expressed his view that the Bill is not victim focused. I disagree: I think it is. The Bill before us has changed significantly from the draft Bill published in December 2013, and almost all the amendments made in the other place are in support of victim protection. I thus feel strongly that we have made it a victim-focused Bill.
The hon. Gentleman also made a point that was reiterated by Mr Hanson. I was confused. [Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman seemed to imply that, irrespective of whether someone on one of these visas was being abused, they should be allowed to change employer.
The argument was that if somebody came to the UK and all the terms and conditions were fulfilled and all the expectations met, that was still not good enough and they should be allowed to change—
Order. Members have put many questions to the Minister during a long debate. She is now answering them, and the House should have the courtesy to listen to her.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker.
As I was saying, I am slightly confused. It worries me that we are having a debate about immigration when we should be debating slavery, which is what this Bill is about.
My hon. Friend makes an important point. I have been confused. I thought we were discussing modern slavery, yet I have heard that this is about opening up immigration rules.
The Minister is setting up a straw man to knock it down. In the specific case I mentioned, someone is brought to this country and not paid—or given only pocket money, which many of the Kalayaan victims tell me is what happens. They are not physically abused, locked in a cupboard and fed the scraps the dog does not want—they are just not paid. There is a kafala system, in that the domestic visa and passport are held by the employer. Is such a person enslaved or not? I would say yes; does the Minister say no?
The hon. Gentleman will know that it would depend on the individual circumstances. It is clear, however, that in the situation he describes, British laws have been broken, so I would expect action to be taken to ensure that that was rectified. The point remains that the right hon. Member for Delyn, speaking for the Opposition, said that he wants the tie to be removed for all employees, even if they are not being abused. That sounds a strange and surprising position to take, given that there is so much concern about loopholes and other ways through which immigration rules can be flouted.
In taking evidence about Qatar in the Committee I chair at the Council of Europe, I heard about a case mentioned by the Union of Construction, Allied Trades and Technicians, in which people had their passports taken off them by their employers and were not paid. The person giving evidence said that these people were slaves, and I agree. If that is happening in Qatar and the same is happening in this country—people not being paid by their employers, who are holding their passports—I would say that it is an exact example of slavery in the modern world.
As I have said, I cannot get drawn into individual examples. It would depend on the individual circumstances and on what has been said. Clearly, however, the law has been broken in that case, so action should be taken.
Emily Thornberry accepted that workers were abused in the previous system—but then seemed to suggest that she wanted to go back to such a system. That is not acceptable. She also talked about the EU directive. We are confident that we fully meet all our obligations under the EU directive for all victims of trafficking, including those on overseas domestic worker visas.
Paul Blomfield made the point that this issue is very complicated, and he is absolutely right that there is no silver bullet. If there were, we would not have between 10,000 and 13,000 victims of slavery here in Britain today. That is unacceptable and shows why the Modern Slavery Bill is so important. We need to ensure that it is enacted, so that we can take action against the perpetrators and protect the victims.
The hon. Gentleman questioned the use of the term “world-leading”. Let me give the House some facts about countries with similar immigration systems. In Australia, the domestic worker visa allows a person to work only for the named employer. The employee cannot become unemployed or work for someone else. In Canada, only the diplomatic route allows a change of employer, and the change must be approved by the Protocol Office. In the United States, overseas domestic workers may work only for a diplomat, an international employee or a visitor. Those who accompany visitors must certify that they will not accept other employment while working for the employer. In Ireland, workers are expected to leave at the end of their employment. It seems to me that we are not out of step with international comparators, and that we can be proud of the fact that this is a world-leading Bill.
The hon. Gentleman also mentioned the independent review. Its terms of reference are available, and I will forward them to him if he cannot find them in the Library or elsewhere. The review will consider the issues and what the best solutions are, so that victims can be helped and further abuse prevented.
The Government acknowledge that some domestic workers may have been employed abroad with terms and conditions that do not accord with United Kingdom law and expectations. However, the requirement to prove, as part of an overseas domestic worker via application, that there is a pre-existing, ongoing employment relationship outside the United Kingdom provides the best assurance available that an established employer-employee relationship is in operation.
As for Mark Reckless, I am grateful for his support for the Bill. I am not sure whether he supports the amendment, but I will say to him, rather cheekily, that if I see him in the Lobby today, it will probably mean that I am seeing him more frequently than I did when he sat on my side of the House.
Mark Durkan talked about prosecutions and the focus of the Bill. Its focus is on finding the victims, but we will not protect them if we do not catch and convict the perpetrators. That is absolutely vital. The two strands of this work cannot be disaggregated; they are both important, but victim protection is at the forefront of what we are doing.
I know that some Members feel that the overseas domestic worker visa should not be linked to a single employer. The Government have taken their concerns as seriously as possible by holding an independent inquiry. There will be a report by the end of July, and changes to the visa can still be made under the immigration rules without the need for further primary legislation. However, if we simply accepted the Lords amendment now in its entirety, we would be ignoring the advice from law enforcement practitioners and the designate independent anti- slavery commissioner.
I urge Members to support the motion. The amendments in lieu will encourage more overseas domestic workers who are victims to come forward, they will allow law enforcement to lead to the investigation and prosecution of more abusers, and they will help vulnerable victims to rebuild their lives.
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