HL Deb 01 July 1996 vol 573 cc1284-94

Proceedings after Third Reading resumed.

Clause 2 [Removal etc. of asylum claimants to safe third countries]:

[Amendments Nos. 3 and 4 not moved.]

Clause 4 [Obtaining leave by deception]:

[Amendment No. 5 not moved.]

Clause 5 [Assisting asylum claimants. and persons seeking to obtain leave by deception]:

[Amendment No. 6 not moved.]

Clause 8 [Restrictions on employment]:

Lord Hylton moved Amendment No. 7: Page 6, line 16, leave out ("subsection (2)") and insert ("subsections (IA) and (2)").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move Amendment No. 7 and to speak also to Amendment No. 8. The wrongs and injustices which these amendments address date back as far as 1981, when the Government allowed rich employers coming to the United Kingdom to bring with them domestic workers. These workers were tied to one employer and risked deportation if they left that employer for whatever reason. This system led to abuse and exploitation, which continue at the rate of several hundred cases a year, as I mentioned at Report stage.

I give examples of actual and typical cases. A is a Nigerian brought here direct by Nigerian employers in January 1991. She escaped from them in December 1995. During all that time she received no salary, was continually slapped and beaten by the employers and locked in their house. On average she worked 17 hours per day without a day off. B is from India. She worked in Qatar. Her Qatarian employers brought her to this country in June 1995. She received no salary for three months before and three months after her arrival. She signed an unread contract in Qatar which the employer removed from her as soon as he left the British Embassy. She had no day off or time off and worked from 5.30 a.m. until 1 or 2 a.m. the following day. C is from the Philippines. She was interviewed in London by a voluntary organisation on 1st May. She worked in London for four years without receiving any salary. Her visa expired in April 1996 but her employers did not renew it. She suffered rape five times while on her employer's premises.

The figures that I gave in Committee on 2nd May (at cols. 1795 and 1801) and the cases that I have quoted indicate that the Government's safeguards of interviews in the country of departure, leaflets and model contracts do not provide effective protection. In practice, employers make a mockery of them. I explained this to the noble Baroness Lady Blatch at Report stage on 24th June (at col. 748). All she could say in reply was that the workers were part of the family staff. Unfortunately, that does not always protect them from grave abuses, often amounting to slavery.

The noble Baroness was kind enough to say to me on 2nd May that the Government would continue to consider ways of eliminating and dealing with abuses. Two months have now passed. What is the result of that consideration? How do Her Majesty's Government propose to eliminate these abuses? For example, have they studied the ways in which vulnerable immigrant workers are protected in the Netherlands, Canada and other countries?

On Report I made the modest suggestion of an interdepartmental committee to study the abuse and exploitation of which I am complaining. No fewer than eight noble Lords have supported me, and no one has attempted to justify the present situation which has lasted 15 weary years, punctuated by cases like that of Mrs. Swami and the Kuwaiti princesses. On 24th June the Minister told me that the Government saw no need for an interdepartmental committee. She assured me that the Home Office, the Foreign Office and the DfEE were in constant touch. If that is so, why has adequate protection for desperately vulnerable people not yet been provided?

I have come reluctantly to the conclusion that the Government do not want to do anything and that they hope the problem will just go away. I have suggested a means of achieving realistic solutions to serious problems. If the Government will not adopt the obvious means, I urge your Lordships to accept my amendments, even if they may be ill-drafted, as a measure to obtain improvements to what is a long-lasting and intolerable situation. I beg to move.

Earl Russell

My Lords, Clause 8 makes the problem of which the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, complains much worse than it was before. You cannot escape unless you can work. So if the Government are not going to withdraw Clause 8, all they can do is accept the amendment.

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, this is another amendment that we debated in Committee and on Report. As I said on those occasions, I understand the intentions behind the amendments. I have to say, and put on record yet again, that I utterly deplore any abuse or exploitation of domestic servants of the sort described.

However, I remain of the opinion that it would not be right to accept the amendments that the noble Lord has proposed. They would place the people concerned in a privileged position compared to all others subject to immigration control. They would not, however, rule out the possibility of the sort of abuse we have heard about by the original employer or indeed the new employer, even though the new employer would not be subject to any penalty as provided for in this Bill. The only thing from which they would be exempt is employing that person.

I have explained on previous occasions the measures we take to ensure that those who accompany their employers to this country do so of their own free will and only when proper maintenance and accommodation are available for them. We also take steps to ensure that those domestic servants who seek an extension of stay are protected. Extensions are granted only when we are satisfied that satisfactory arrangements continue. Servants also receive a further copy of the leaflet they received with their passport before entry—addressed to them personally—to remind them of their rights and of the protection given by the law in this country.

We keep these arrangements under close review in conjunction with other government departments. However, I do not think that the proposed amendments are the right way to improve upon them. I hope therefore that the noble Lord will not press the amendment.

The concession for domestic workers was introduced in 1980 when the Department of Employment ceased to issue work permits to unskilled workers. It was felt that such workers would be disadvantaged if unable to come to the United Kingdom with their employers and might lose their jobs and, as a result, the concession outside the rules was created. Such domestics are admitted only if they meet strict criteria and are not permitted to change employers or escape enforcement action, except in the most exceptional compassionate circumstances. We are talking about 12,000 entry clearances issued to overseas domestic workers every year. If the noble Lord is looking for a real answer, perhaps I may suggest that it is to abandon the concession. He is concerned about these young people who are domestic servants for their employers and who want to remain in their employ. The concession, by and large, works well for most of the young people.

The concession works well, but since it was introduced there have been several highly publicised cases of domestics being abused. I can give examples which may coincide with those given by the noble Lord. For example, there is Cindy Dindial, whose employers were sent to prison; Helen Samuels, whose employer suffered a similar, although less severe fate; and Essaki Muttu Gopal, who was convicted of the manslaughter of his employer following prolonged abuse. These types of serious cases are few and far between, but the operation of the concession is kept under close review to ensure that the existing employer/employee relationship stays on the right lines when they are in the United Kingdom.

Apart from giving abused domestic workers free access to the employment market, the amendment would place an additional responsibility on police officers, doctors and solicitors. They would be left in the invidious position of having to make subjective judgments on what constitutes substantial physical abuse or serious economic exploitation and to be satisfied that those arose from the employment. That would be invidious. I have said before, and I repeat, that they have the full protection of the law, as does any citizen of this land. The only answer to address the noble Lord's concern would be to abandon the scheme. I do not make the case for abandoning the scheme.

Lord Hylton

My Lords, before the Minister sits down, will she make it clear whether she is making an offer, on behalf of the Government, to abolish the concession?

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, no, I am certainly not doing that. We considered the concession carefully. We believe that it is right. Where young people have been continually in the employment of someone in a foreign country and but for the concession would be left without a job in their country and they are willingly working for their employer—when I spoke earlier, I made the point that these are young people who come of their own free will rather than lose their job—this is an important concession. We stand by it.

The amendment would give the young people for whom the noble Lord is concerned a licence to work for another employer. If we take this amendment with another amendment to which we shall come later, they could be employed in any other form of work in this country. That is a licence we do not give lightly to anyone. As I said, the numbers are rather large: 12,000 people have recently come under entry clearance. It would be a concession that I do not advocate from the Dispatch Box.

Lord Hylton

My Lords, we now know where we are. It is not sufficient for the Minister to say that she utterly deplores these practices. We are seeking from the Government some means of preventing such practices from happening—by spot checks, by many different means, I do not know.

As for saying that my amendments would place people in a privileged position, after what they have endured that is small recompense. As for repeating what has been said over and over again, that while they are here with the first employer they enjoy the protection of the law, that is a dead letter. It is just not enforceable. It is not available to the people who are suffering these abuses.

As for extensions of stay, that may provide some opportunity to exercise legal rights, but I am much more interested in preventing abuses from ever happening. I should make it clear that when I moved Amendment No. 7, I spoke also to Amendment No. 8. I wish to take the opinion of the House.

8.19 p.m.

On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 7) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 90; Not-Contents, 76.

Division No. 3
Addington, L. Lockwood, B.
Archer of Sandwell, L. Lovell-Davis, L.
Ashley of Stoke, L. McCarthy, L.
Avebury, L. McIntosh of Haringey, L.
Barnett, L. Mackie of Benshie, L.
Beaumont of Whitley, L. McNair, L.
Berkeley, L. Mar and Kellie, E.
Bruce of Donington, L. Mason of Barnsley, L.
Callaghan of Cardiff, L. Merlyn-Rees, L.
Carmichael of Kelvingrove, L. Methuen, L.
Cledwyn of Penrhos, L. Milner of Leeds, L.
David, B. Monkswell, L.
Dean of Beswick, L. Morris of Castle Morris, L.
Dean of Thornton-le-Fylde, B. Murray of Epping Forest, L.
Desai, L. Nicol, B.
Donoughue, L. Ogmore, L.
Dormand of Easington, L. Plant of Highfield, L.
Dubs, L. Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L.
Ewing of Kirkford, L. Rea, L.
Falkender, B. Richard, L.
Farrington of Ribbleton, B. Robson of Kiddington, B.
Fisher of Rednal, B. Rodgers of Quarry Bank, L.
Gallacher, L. Russell, E. [Teller]
Geraint, L. Sandwich, E.
Gladwin of Clee, L. Seear, B.
Graham of Edmonton, L. Sefton of Garston. L.
Gregson, L. Sewel, L.
Grenfell, L. Shepherd, L.
Grey, E. Stoddart of Swindon, L.
Hamwee, B. Strabolgi, L.
Harris of Greenwich, L. Taverne, L.
Haskel, L. Taylor of Blackburn, L.
Hayman, B. Taylor of Gryfe, L.
Hilton of Eggardon, B. Thomas of Walliswood, B.
Hollis of Heigham, B. Thurso, V.
Howell, L. Tordoff, L.
Howie of Troon, L. Turner of Camden, B.
Hylton, L. [Teller] Varley, L.
Irvine of Lairg, L. Wallace of Saltaire, L.
Jay of Paddington, B. White, B.
Jeger, B. Williams of Crosby, B.
Jenkins of Hillhead, L. Williams of Elvel, L.
Jenkins of Putney, L. Williams of Mostyn, L.
Judd, L. Winchilsea and Nottingham, E
Kennet, L. Winston, L.
Addison, V. Blatch, B.
Ailsa, M. Blyth, L.
Aldington, L. Boardman, L.
Allenby of Megiddo, V. Bridgeman, V.
Belhaven and Stenton, L. Carnegy of Lour, B.
Biddulph, L. Chalker of Wallasey, B.
Blaker, L. Chesham, L. [Teller.]
Clark of Kempston, L. Mackay of Ardbrecknish, L.
Courtown, E. Mackay of Drumadoon, L.
Cranborne, V. [Lord Privy Seal.] Macpherson of Drumochter, L
Dean of Harptree, L. Marlesford, L.
Denton of Wakefield, B. Miller of Hendon, B.
Digby, L. Monk Bretton, L.
Dilhorne, V. Mountevans, L.
Dixon-Smith, L. Napier and Ettrick, L.
Downshire, M. Northesk, E.
Dudley, B. O'Cathain, B.
Elton, L. Oppenheim-Barnes, B.
Feldman, L. Peel, E.
Gardner of Parkes, B. Pilkington of Oxenford, L.
Gibson-Watt, L. Rankeillour, L.
Goschen, V. Rawlings, B.
Gray of Contin, L. Renton, L.
Harlech, L. Renwick, L.
Harmsworth, L. Rodney, L.
Harris of Peckham, L. Sharples, B.
Henley, L. Shaw of Northstead, L.
Hertford, M. Skelmersdale, L.
Hesketh, L. Strange, B.
HolmPatrick, L. Strathclyde, L. [Teller.]
Howe, E. Tebbit, L.
Inglewood, L. Teviot, L.
Kimball, L. Thomas of Gwydir, L.
Lane of Horsell, L. Trumpington, B.
Leigh, L. Wade of Chorlton, L.
Lindsay, E. Wakeham, L.
Lucas, L. Wise, L.
McColl of Dulwich, L. Wynford, L.

Resolved in the affirmative, and amendment agreed to accordingly.

8.27 p.m.

Lord Hylton moved Amendment No. 8: Page 6, line 24, at end insert— ("(1A) Nothing in this section applies to an employee who was employed as a domestic worker and in respect of whom a police officer, doctor or solicitor has certified that he has previously suffered substantial physical abuse or deprivation, or serious economic exploitation, arising from previous bonded employment.").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendment No. 9 not moved.]

Earl Russell moved Amendment No. 10: Page 7, line 13, at end insert— ("( ) Any employer who invokes this section in order to refuse employment to a person protected by subsection (2) shall be guilty of an offence, and shall be liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding level 3 on the standard scale. ( ) Any employer who invokes this section in order to refuse employment to a British subject shall be guilty of an offence, and shall be liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding level 5 on the standard scale.").

The noble Earl said: My Lords, Amendment No. 10 deals with the effects of Clause 8. Throughout we have argued that it will be a severe deterrent to employing people, especially black British people. If there is a threat put on employers one way, which I do not welcome, there must equally be a threat the other way; otherwise it will produce all the types of case I have already outlined of failure to employ black British and a worsening of race relations. I beg to move.

8.30 p.m.

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, perhaps I may say at the outset that I have an enormous respect for the noble Earl and I suspect that noble Lords opposite will support him on this amendment. However, I wish that noble Lords opposite had been as much against racketeering in the United Kingdom as they appear to be against racketeering abroad. I have spent a great deal of time at the Dispatch Box trying to persuade noble Lords to support us in our attempts to take measures against racketeering in this country.

These amendments before the House create new criminal offences in Clause 8 which seek to take extra-territorial jurisdiction.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, the Minister must not make assumptions about what Members of the Opposition think. We have not spoken on the amendment and I did not propose to do so. She must make no assumptions about our attitude.

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, perhaps I may be forgiven for making those assumptions because at previous stages of the Bill the noble Lord has shown some sympathy for measures which provide extra-territorial jurisdiction. This is not the first time that this matter has been before the House.

As I say, I should have more respect for the amendments had the noble Earl supported the Government in their attempts to deal with racketeering. Frankly, racketeering, wherever it takes place, is something up with which we should not put.

Earl Russell

My Lords, I have pressed the Government hard for proper financing of the Serious Fraud Office and I have not got it.

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, we have put two very practical measures in the Bill designed to do something about those who exploit the most vulnerable people in this country. We could not look to the noble Earl for support of that nor could we look to other noble Lords opposite for their support. Therefore, I find the amendment before the House very strange indeed.

The amendment would create two further criminal offences within Clause 8. It would become an offence: to invoke Clause 8 in order to refuse to employ a person "protected by subsection (2)"; and to invoke Clause 8 in order to refuse to employ a British subject.

The intention behind the amendment, as I understand it, is to deal with the concerns outlined by the noble Earl during Report stage—not today because he seems to be in something of a hurry—about cases where employers have, in recent years, misunderstood the entitlement to work of a range of people who were in fact entitled to work in the United Kingdom.

I certainly do not want to deny that mistakes have been made by employers in assessing eligibility to work. However, I do think it is misleading to suggest that those errors imply that employers will not be able to carry out the checks which they may wish to make as a result of the provisions of Clause 8.

At the moment there is inevitably some confusion. However, common sense suggests that the position will be very different once Clause 8 is enacted. It will be a straightforward matter for all employers to make any necessary checks of documents in the future because the Government will be providing employers with written guidance and a helpline facility, neither of which exists at present. The sorts of misunderstandings about eligibility to work which sometimes occur at the moment without such advice should not be taken to mean that employers will not be able to understand passport endorsements, where this is necessary, when clear guidance is available to them.

I find it difficult to envisage that employers will in the future refuse jobs to people who have provided them with one of the specified documents because of Clause 8. Clause 8 will provide a reason for asking for some documentation from all potential employees. And failure to provide any of the specified documents will provide a reasonable justification for refusing to take on a potential employee. But, when relevant documentation has been produced, there is no reason to refuse employment because of Clause 8. The guidance and helpline facility should guarantee this.

Even those who are British need to be prepared to produce one of the specified documents to back up their claim to be able to work. A documented National Insurance number, a British passport, a British birth certificate or a certificate of registration or naturalisation would all be satisfactory documents to establish that no offence would be committed in relation to the holder of the document concerned. It would be entirely unreasonable to render employers liable to a criminal offence if they are not prepared to offer employment to British people who do not produce one of the specified documents and who cite Clause 8 as the reason. Noble Lords opposite profess to be concerned about employers. In view of that, I find these amendments quite outrageous.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, I must repeat what I said and ask the Minister to address her remarks to the mover of the amendment and not the official Opposition.

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, I am sorry that the noble Lord is so touchy about these things. I base my assumptions on what he has said on Second Reading, in Committee, on Report and now at Third Reading. I should indeed welcome it if the noble Lord had a change of heart. Perhaps he will make that clear to the House.

If an assertion of nationality is not backed up by a specified document, how could it be reasonable to make an employer liable? Employers would have to take assertions of nationality at face value if that was the case.

The amendment tabled by the noble Earl refers to British subjects rather than British citizens. I assume that his intention was to refer to British citizens. For while there are still some people with the status of British subject, many of them are not in fact entitled to live and work in the United Kingdom. Perhaps the noble Earl will make that clear.

Earl Russell

My Lords, I had intended to refer to those who are British subjects and British citizens. But the words "British subject" have a long and honourable history and I am not ashamed to use them.

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, but the amendment does not say that. I must take the amendment at face value. The amendment refers to "British subjects".

I appreciate that the noble Earl is concerned that people from the ethnic minority communities will be unduly affected by Clause 8. As I have made clear before, employers will need to treat all new employees in the same way. I have made equally clear that this legislation is positively not a licence to discriminate. Employers will need to check all new employees—if they choose to check any—if they are to comply with the Race Relations Act.

We do not think that there will be the sort of problems which the noble Earl clearly envisages based on cases which have been brought to his notice. When employers have guidance about Clause 8 we believe that they will be able to implement it fairly and without undue difficulty. The proposed new offences are not necessary and would not be helpful—and their drafting is defective.

I repeat once more that there is an inconsistency because noble Lords wish to use the very same type of measure to make racketeering an offence abroad but refuse doggedly to make it an offence in this country. That is an inconsistency that this House should not accept.

Earl Russell

My Lords, the noble Baroness really must try to avoid imputing to people on the other side of the House agreement with opinions which she happens to hold.

She imputes to us opinions which she has asserted. She assumes that our motives would be what they would be were we to agree with her opinions. I must explain this to the noble Baroness because it is important that she should get it right. She says that she has brought forward in this Bill two practical measures to deal with racketeering. She therefore thinks that we support racketeers because we do not support her measures. Were we to believe that she had put forward practical measures to deal with racketeers, of course we would support her. We believe that the noble Baroness has done no such thing.

We believe that the noble Baroness has introduced measures which will enormously increase racial discrimination and which will catch only the honest men while being evaded by the racketeers. The noble Baroness must have read the report by the Glidewell panel that national insurance cards are on sale for £500 each in Southall. Racketeers will have no difficulty with this clause.

In general the noble Baroness must avoid making that mistake. She must assume that we have the motives which are appropriate to people holding our opinions and not to people holding hers. To do otherwise is the mistake of a bad politician.

Lord Elton

My Lords, I have become increasingly fascinated by this debate as it has developed. If the noble Earl is tempted to take the opinion of the House, he owes to the rest of us an explanation of what seems to me to be a very confusing procedure and how it will work. The debate should then be widened from one between himself and my noble friend on the Front Bench.

Earl Russell

My Lords, that is a fair request to which I shall accede.

On these Benches, we think that this procedure is mistaken but that, if it is mistaken, it must be even-handed. We believe that the proposal imposes a mistaken pressure on employers which encourages them to do something which in our view is illegal and should not be done. I accept that that is not the noble Baroness's view and we do not impute that intention to her. But we believe that the clause puts a great deal of pressure on employers not to employ black British. We do not share the Minister's confidence in the ability of employers to recognise such provisions as exceptional leave to remain. Indeed, there is ample evidence to the contrary.

If I may so put it, if you have to play on a pitch which is unfit for play, we believe that that pitch should be the same for both sides. The pressure on employers not to employ black people—and that is what the clause amounts to—should be equalled by a pressure on them to employ black British people against whom they are not allowed to discriminate by law. We do not think that the scales should exist; but, if they do, we believe they should be equal. I hope that the noble Lord finds that that explanation makes sense, whether or not it is acceptable. If he does not, I should be grateful if he would intervene again because I would like us to understand each other.

Lord Elton

My Lords, my difficulty is that, as I understand it, the noble Earl's speech is about protecting employees, whereas the effect of the amendment would be to protect those who are protected by subsection (2) of the clause which, as I read it, means employers not employees.

Earl Russell

My Lords, such a point necessitates a referral to my papers. I trust that the House will forgive me while I do so. I must admit that we on these Benches have always said that the time-scale within which this was being done was extremely short. Inevitably, our attention has been concentrated most heavily on the Government's amendment that we have been discussing.

Yes, on looking again at the clause, I now see what I have done. I thought that subsection (2) said that employers were protected in employing people who had those documents. My object was to deal with employers who refused to employ people who produced some of the legal documents. I believe that that is an exceptional intention but I accept that the amendment is defective.

However, employers have constantly refused to employ people who produced legal qualifying documents. Indeed, on Report I gave an example of a case, to which the Minister responded, where someone produced a German passport. Refusal of exceptional leave to remain is perfectly common. I tried to produce a draft amendment in order to prevent employers from refusing to accept perfectly good qualifying documents. I grant that I have done so in a hurry. As I said, I believe that the drafting is defective. I give way to the noble Baroness.

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, I am much obliged. I believe that there is also some confusion about the way in which the noble Earl introduced the amendment. As I understand it—and the noble Earl can correct me if I am wrong—he is suggesting making a criminal of an employer who does not recruit to his company a person who does in fact produce the requisite documentation. Under the Bill, which the noble Earl has criticised so vigorously throughout—as, indeed, have other noble Lords opposite—we do not even make a criminal of an employer who secures one of the authorised documents, even if that document subsequently turns out not to be in order. We would regard such an offence to be that of the person who submitted and proffered the documentation. Am I right in my understanding of the noble Earl's amendment?

Earl Russell

Yes, my Lords; I believe that we are getting closer to an understanding now. There is a problem with employers declaring people ineligible who have produced perfectly good qualifying documents, but clearly I am not addressing that in the right way. In the circumstances, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

The Earl of Courtown

My Lords, I beg to move that proceedings after Third Reading be now adjourned.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

House adjourned at a quarter before nine o'clock.