Statement of Changes in Immigration Rules

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 8:00 pm on 25th November 2008.

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Photo of Baroness Williams of Crosby Baroness Williams of Crosby Liberal Democrat 8:00 pm, 25th November 2008

My Lords, I intervene briefly to say that this is a spectacular own goal by the Government. The point made by my noble friend Lady Sharp of Guildford is central: looking at the development of universities as they come to terms with global research and the global exchange of information, it seems incredibly absurd to make it so difficult to exchange fellowships and scholars between universities. Indeed it has long been the pride of the United Kingdom that it was more open to people from other universities throughout the world than almost any other country. We gained immensely from that in scientific research, in cross-cultural new ideas and innovation, and not least—and this may appeal to the Government—in very strong links with educational publishers and providers in this country who then supplied a great many exports abroad which were central to the extension of our own ideas of education to other countries, not just to a small number of highly developed countries but also to a great many countries in the Commonwealth.

The right reverend Prelate and his colleagues drew our attention to the difficulty of bringing religious teachers and religious priests to this country. I find it incredible. If one wants to cross racial and cultural barriers, the commonality of belief—in Christianity in this case, but there are other examples such as Buddhism, to which my noble friend Lord Avebury referred—is one of the central ways in which globalisation can become civilised and values become commonly held. It is extraordinarily short-sighted that we should make this so difficult as well. I know of no evidence showing that people in this situation have exploited their position, become illegal immigrants or acted as people bringing in other persons.

I refer briefly to the remarks of the noble Baroness, Lady Turner of Camden. For many years I lectured in the United States, at the John F Kennedy School of Government of Harvard University, on the subject of migrants who took up roles in domestic service. One of the largest groups in this category was people from the Philippines. There was a necessity for these people to find jobs outside those islands because the birth rate and the rate of job increase simply did not match one another. There were many extremely disturbing true stories about what had happened to domestic servants from the Philippines, many of them educated young men and women who went to other countries, including some very wealthy and developed countries, as domestic servants. I could regale the House, though will not, with statistics on the number of Filipino domestic servants who came back not alive but in coffins because of the way in which they had been treated by their employers. It is incredible that we should not only allow that but make it easier for people to exploit their domestic servants when—in another part of the Government, and I pay due respect to this—there has been a huge attempt to deal with the trafficking of young women for sexual or other purposes.

You do not need to know a great deal about domestic service to know that it opens the door to an explanation for trafficking that is just as bad as trafficking itself. There are many examples of misuse and abuse of domestic servants, not least in diplomatic embassies, though I hate to say so. I will not address any specific cases though some may spring to mind.

The Government have a responsibility for those who are the most vulnerable and least protected and who have the fewest rights among us. Domestic servants round the country can continually be threatened and put under intimidating pressure so that if they complain, ask for proper wages or make it clear that they want their legal rights—to holidays, to Sundays and all the rest of it—they can be blackmailed with the threat that they will have to go back whence they came, and often they are the main supporters of their families. That case comes up time and time again. That this exploitation should be allowed to happen by a Government who have committed themselves to trying to treat fairly all groups in society is appalling.

I hope that the Government will stop and think again and that the other departments of government which have a great commitment to our own country's position internationally—the departments dealing with trade, business, foreign affairs and, not least, international development—will bring pressure to bear on the Home Office to rethink this. In the long run this will only bring a great deal of contumely, and deservedly so, on this country.