HL Deb 29 June 1995 vol 565 cc863-6

3.11 p.m.

Lord Archer of Sandwell asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they are satisfied with the additional measures announced in December 1994 to ensure that employers of domestic workers accompanying them on visits to the United Kingdom are fully aware of their obligations.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Baroness Blatch)

My Lords, yes. We believe that these are useful measures to help to remind the employers of domestic workers from overseas of their obligations.

Lord Archer of Sandwell

My Lords, since the avowed purpose of the measures is to ensure that the parties are aware of their obligations, will the noble Baroness reflect on the thesis of St. Paul that knowing what is right and doing what is right do not always coincide? Since the victims are left to pursue whatever legal remedies they may have on whatever advice is available to them, and since they are not allowed to take employment with anyone other than the employer against whom they are complaining, are the Government still not abdicating responsibility for the situation that they have allowed to arise?

Baroness Blatch

No, my Lords, the Government are not abdicating their responsibility. First, it is very important to understand the reasons why these people enter the country in the first place. They enter as specific workers of somebody making a specific visit to this country. Approval for entry is given on the basis that they come as employees of that employer. When they are here, they have full protection under the criminal law, and absolute protection under employment rights law. In addition, we have improved and tightened up the entry requirements. We make absolutely certain that the employee coming in is given, in his or her own language, access to help, information and advice, and contact points in this country. We make sure that they are given as much information about their rights as employees as it is possible for the Government to give. I believe that the Government have honoured their obligations to these young people.

Lord Gisborough

My Lords, does that also apply to all the ladies of the harem?

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, if the ladies of the harem are bona fide domestic workers of the visitor, if they have gone through the entry clearance requirements and conform to all the criteria, then yes, it would apply.

Lord Dean of Beswick

My Lords, in her reply the Minister referred to these people as having protection under British employment laws. The Minister must be aware that there have been reports of extremely low rates of pay, and of these people being outrageously exploited. Will the Government look into this matter and see if there is any way to prevent it?

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, the noble Lord raises an important point. The Government's responsibility is to make sure, by questioning and getting written assurances from the employer, how he will pay and whether he will look after the needs of the employees while they are here—in other words, providing them with proper accommodation and ensuring that they are fed. We do not, nor should we, enter into the contract between the employee and the employer. However, in interviewing the employee quite separately from the employer, which is part of the process, we try to ensure so far as is possible that the employee is freely entering into the contract with the employer. Therefore, once the contract is established, it must be a matter between the employee and the employer.

Lord Hylton

My Lords, will the Minister ask her right honourable friend the Home Secretary to consider why imported domestic workers sometimes kill their employers, even in London? Is it because they are driven to desperation by abuse and exploitation? Will the Home Secretary make it possible for such domestic workers to change their employer?

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, abuse is abuse, and the criminal law is there to protect people. We are doing what we can to make sure that the employees understand all the help, advice and information contact points to which they can go if they believe they are being abused. The prerequisite is to let them know at the point of entry what their rights will be when they arrive here, and when they arrive to avail them of all the protection that any citizen of this land should have. The Government are honouring their obligations. We cannot allow entry as a domestic employee of a specific employer to be a mechanism for coming into this country and taking jobs that are otherwise for the resident labour force.

Lord Avebury

My Lords, has not the Minister given the game away by saying that these rights are explained to the domestic worker at the point of entry? Do not the problems arise after the undertakings have been given by the employer, as she has described, and when nobody is there to check what is happening within the domestic environment? In any other form of employment, would not the employer be subject to periodic visits from inspectors to make sure that the undertakings had been honoured? Why do not the Government try to do the same in relation to domestic workers, so that months afterwards, when employees are having to endure a form of domestic slavery, they can at least talk to somebody outside the household in their own language?

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, as I explained, the Government have gone a very long way to make sure that young people who enter the country as domestic workers for a specific employer know their rights. They are given leaflets to help them. Other than that, they have the full protection of the criminal law and the full protection of employees' rights. The employers, too, have obligations. But it would create a bureaucracy that was disproportionately costly to have a policing system for every domestic servant in the land.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, the Minister gave a number of answers about the nature of the additional measures announced in December 1994. That is now more than six months ago. Will she tell the House whether there has been any decrease in the number of cases of abuse and mistreatment coming before the courts?

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, the noble Lord reminds me that it is very early days—only six months. I cannot give specific statistics, but if information is available I will certainly write to the noble Lord. The fact that we hear about such cases proves that the criminal law applies.

Baroness Seear

My Lords, the Minister said that we cannot have people coming in from outside taking jobs that local people want. Does the noble Baroness have any evidence that there are queues of people wanting domestic work in this country?

Baroness Blatch

No, my Lords, that was not the context of the question. They seek entry into the country as employees of a specific employer who is coming for a temporary stay. That is the reason that they are allowed to enter this country. We simply cannot have people who have entered changing their employer, and thus changing the terms upon which they entered. It would turn into a mechanism for entering the country and then becoming a general employee and taking work that properly belongs to the labour force here.

Baroness Robson of Kiddington

My Lords, will the Minister assure the House that the pamphlet to which she referred that is handed to these poor girls on arrival is printed in their own language, and not in English?

Baroness Blatch

Yes, my Lords, I can give that guarantee. More than that, it is explained to them and they are talked through it in their own language.

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