HL Deb 17 May 1993 vol 545 cc1534-6

3 p.m.

Lord Beaumont of Whitley asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they will set up an interdepartmental committee to consider safeguards against exploitation and abuse of individuals brought into the United Kingdom by visitors as domestic servants or part of a family.

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, in May 1991 we introduced tighter criteria for the exceptional arrangements for domestic servants after an interdepartmental review had been undertaken. We have no plans to set up a further such review.

Lord Beaumont of Whitley

My Lords, while thanking the Minister for that Answer, may I ask what the Government are proposing to do about a number of cases of abuse of human rights recently reported in the Independent which have caused considerable trouble and distress to a very large number of people in this country, including Members of your Lordships' House?

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, if there is an abuse of human rights, the correct method of dealing with it is to go to the police and to complain of such an abuse.

Viscount Tonypandy

My Lords, is the Minister aware that the people to whom reference has been made are easily blackmailed into silence and are not able to complain in case they have to leave the country? Does he agree that there is room for further examination of this question in case in this land, the mother of democracy, there is almost a form of slavery for these people from the Philippines?

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, I would certainly be horrified if there were any form of slavery. The people who are given permission to come in are those who have been with their employer in their country of origin for at least 12 months, so they should know their employer's behaviour. We issue them with a leaflet and the entry clearance officers inform them of what is likely to be the case when they come to this country, explain their rights and so forth. Of course, one can never prevent anyone from contravening the law whether that person comes from another country or is indigenous to this country.

Baroness Seear

My Lords, if the noble Earl had been in the Moses Room a fortnight ago at a meeting organised by the noble Lords, Lord Judd and Lord Hylton, he would have realised that something very near to slavery—if not slavery—is going on in this country. The noble Earl says that it is possible to go to the police, but some of these women are not able to get out of the houses in which they are locked, and their passports are taken from them. If they do get out and attempt to leave their employer, they can be deported as illegal immigrants. This is an absolute scandal, as I am sure the noble Earl will agree. We urge him strongly to look at the matter again and not to say that the existing law is operating because, indeed, it is not.

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, I recognise the concern of the noble Baroness. Anyone who restrains a person from so getting out is operating against the law. That happens to people in this country who are restrained by intruders and so forth. It is, of course, illegal to seize a person's passport, but all that one can do is to set the law and the standards and to say what is legal and what is illegal. The same applies in this case as to any other crime: it has to be pursued and notification has to be made to the policing authorities. I can see that that is difficult if a person is prevented from leaving a house, but that applies also to a person who is kidnapped in his own house.

Lord Molloy

My Lords, is the noble Earl aware that many of our British newspapers are carrying horrendous stories, including mental and physical abuse, of what is happening to some 20,000 home helps in domestic service who come from overseas? Is it not a disgrace to our nation? Will the Minister also take into consideration the fact that, as the noble Viscount, Lord Tonypandy, rightly said, some of these people are being treated in such an appalling manner because those who employ them know full well that what they suffer here does not matter because, whatever it is, it is not so bad as what they would suffer if they went back home? Can the noble Earl also say whether the Government really intend to give tax relief to people who bring domestics to this country under the pretence that they are assistants to help in their homes to suffer what they are suffering?

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, the noble Lord says that the newspapers are full of stories of 20,000 people who are suffering such damage. In fact, only 8,000 or so come here afresh each year. If the newspapers have information about 20,000 people, it is up to them to provide it to the correct authorities. When the noble Lord says that the people concerned know that they will be subjected to even worse procedures if they go back home, I can only tell him that when a person comes here—the majority come for six months—and requests to bring his servant with him, the latter is interviewed and his position and rights are exactly explained to him. One cannot do a lot more than that. Nobody will come to this country under those circumstances, which are outside the immigration rules, without having been in the employment of his employer for at least a year, so he knows what his employer is up to.

Lord Plant of Highfield

My Lords, the Question posed by the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, contains a reference to "exploitation". Can the noble Earl say whether the Government have a view about the nature of exploitation and, if so, what it is since many of their labour market policies, as I think will be illustrated in this evening's "Panorama" programme, suggest otherwise?

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, there is no question about it—the Government disapprove of the exploitation of anyone whoever they are and whatever country they come from if they are resident in this country.

Lord Beaumont of Whitley

My Lords, is the Minister aware that his comparison with kidnapping is not particularly apt since someone who is kidnapped almost always has someone outside who knows about their plight, whereas we are talking about people whose plight is not known? Will the Government do something about their immigration rules to ensure that people who are suffering this kind of persecution have a choice between incarceration by their employers where they are ill-treated or being deported if they complain?

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, with the greatest respect to the noble Lord, there is no way in which the Government can say that they can prevent employees being persecuted. All that one can do is to make the law so that those who do the persecuting are found to be criminal and incorrect. If the employee who suffers such persecution goes to the authorities, there is no reason for him to be deported unless, of course, he is here as an over-stayer, in which case that is a different matter.