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Baroness Blatch: My understanding is that we shall be setting them out in an order.

The Lord Bishop of Oxford: Perhaps I may speak on behalf of my colleague the Lord Bishop of Ripon who has been in the Chamber until recently and will be returning very shortly. I should like to thank the Minister on his behalf, and on behalf of many people outside this place who are concerned about the matter, for being so receptive. She has indeed given us very good news.

Baroness Williams of Crosby: I should also like to express my thanks to the Minister. However, I have one further request to make as regards the administration of this part of the clause. Will the Minister consider the possibility of undertaking a certain amount of study when the Bill has become enacted after, say, a year of its operation, to ascertain whether the advice has been understood by employers and whether they believe the legislation is working well; and, indeed, whether it is clear as to who can and who cannot be accepted safely?

As the Minister knows, there has not been a great deal of study and research on the matter. There has, of course, been a little by the Institute for Public Policy Research, but there has been a great deal more in the United States, some of which has been quite disturbing in terms of employers' fear of such legislation. It would be most helpful if the Minister could at least consider the possibility of some research being carried out by the Home Office on the matter when the legislation has had a chance to operate for a while.

Baroness Blatch: I am attracted to the request made by the noble Baroness, although I cannot at present commit the Government to very specific research. However, I can tell the noble Baroness that we certainly wish to monitor the legislation because we know that there are anxieties about it. Indeed, it represents a new

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burden on employers and we want to be certain that it is not too burdensome for them and that it is well understood; and understood for good reason.

However, if the legislation is not working, we shall very soon become aware of that fact. Indeed, employers will certainly be fairly vocal in articulating just how it is not working if that proves to be the case. Certainly, in principle, we shall want to monitor the situation but I shall have to come back to the noble Baroness on the matter of specific research. Nevertheless, it is an interesting request.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: I confirm that I shall not press the amendment. I am grateful to the Minister not only for her original response but also for her offer to consider the matter between now and the next stage. I shall seek an opportunity to meet and speak with her if that is possible. However, I must repeat that we are only discussing drafting amendments here; we are not talking about the content of the clause. Indeed, we shall still have to press ahead with our amendments in that respect. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 81 to 83 not moved.]

Lord Hylton moved Amendment No. 84:


Page 6, line 10, after ("question;") insert--
("(aa) he was employed as a domestic worker and 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: I am glad that the Bill gives us an opportunity to do something to protect a most vulnerable, abused and exploited group, nearly all of whom are women and concentrated mostly in Greater London. I refer to bonded domestic workers, admitted to this country outside the Immigration Rules under the Home Office concession of 1981 (the year in which work permits were abolished for domestics). Those people are tied to a single named employer and normally accompany him when he comes to England for a visit or a longer stay. If the worker leaves the employer, for whatever reason, he or she very soon becomes an illicit overstayer and liable to immediate deportation.

Such employers, who are usually wealthy, in the main come from Middle Eastern countries, though sometimes from further away. I regret to have to say that many of those employers have not hesitated to abuse their position in most disgraceful ways. There have been many cases where the employer had two, three or more domestics while in the Middle East, but only brings one to London and then expects that one domestic to do the work previously shared among several. Low wages and non-payment of wages, sometimes for periods of years, are common. Working 16 to 18 hours per day, with no weekly day off, is quite normal. Holidays and time to attend religious services are frequently refused. Domestics are not always provided with beds and sometimes have to sleep in passages, kitchens or bathrooms. In addition to such intolerable conditions,

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bonded domestic workers have often been subjected to brutal and degrading verbal, physical and sexual violence and exploitation.

Over the past 15 years, a small handful of such employers have been convicted of criminal offences and fined or imprisoned. Somewhat more often, successful civil cases have been brought. The highest award, to my knowledge, was £300,000 in exemplary damages awarded to a Mrs. Swami who had suffered severely at the hands of two Kuwaiti princesses.

Legal sanctions alone have not stopped those evil practices and are most unlikely to do so in future. Therefore, Government action has been and still remains necessary. Following representations, information leaflets were introduced in 1991. These were supposed to be given to employers and employees before they left to come to Britain. Employees were also supposed to be interviewed by consular officials so that their rights on arrival in Britain could be explained to them. I am sorry to say that those measures have not proved very effective. In the past four years, some 1,000 domestics escaped from abusive employers and were then seen by the Commission for Filipino Migrant Workers. Only 165 cases had received the information leaflet, and sometimes even that had been confiscated by the employer.

In December 1994, after more complaints, Her Majesty's Government brought in new arrangements including a model form of contract. The commission already mentioned has monitored the results. In the seven months from July 1995 to February this year, there were 126 cases. In only 42 of them had the domestic signed the contract, but in only 10 of them had the domestic been able to retain a copy of it. In the other cases, the employer kept all the copies as, indeed, they often keep, quite illegally, the passports of their workers. Many workers had signed the contract without reading it, and in all 126 cases the terms of the contract had not been honoured. Once again, we see a non-effective safeguard.

Those who have worked on and studied such problems over the years have come to the conclusion that the only worthwhile remedy is to untie those domestic workers from the moment of their arrival. That is the objective towards which I believe we should continue to strive, if Britain is to continue to enjoy the benefits brought by rich overseas visitors.

However, the present amendment does not go anything like so far. It would merely allow a bonded worker who provided credible prima facie evidence of,


    "substantial physical abuse or deprivation, or serious economic exploitation",
to take a new second job without running the risk of deportation. I submit that that would be a worthwhile safeguard. Its existence would become known to employers, and could be pointed out to them by means of leaflets or otherwise. It would materially help the workers, most of whom are not able to pay for tickets to return to their home countries. In any case, when they are paid, they are usually sending money to their countries of origin in order to support relatives and families who themselves are often in desperate poverty.

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Therefore, this is a modest amendment which is designed to mitigate conditions of domestic slavery, which have been allowed to develop in a country which we are proud to claim to be a free one. The drafting is the best I have been able to find with, I should add, the invaluable help of the Public Bill Office. It would not surprise me if it were in some way inadequate. I may say, however, to the Minister that she has an immediate escape route. She knows I am always trying to be helpful. On Tuesday I offered her successively a lifebelt and an olive branch. The escape route in this case lies in Clause 8(3). If the Minister will undertake that abused and exploited domestic workers will be specified in an order to be made by the Secretary of State, I will happily withdraw the amendment. Meanwhile, as Parliament exists for the redress of grievances, I beg to move.

Baroness Seear: I support the amendment. We have all seen evidence of this problem and the noble Lord has spoken of the people affected by it. There is no doubt that the proposals put forward by the noble Lord will alleviate the position considerably. In particular it is important that these women who are so badly treated by their employers should be free to obtain other employment. They are tied to a particular employer and if they leave that employer they then become illegal immigrants. That binds them in a situation which it is no exaggeration to say--sometimes the word is used loosely--constitutes slavery. We should give them the right not to become illegal immigrants if they leave that bonded employment. They should be free to seek other employment. After all, this is not the kind of employment for which people queue up. These people are domestic servants who do the kind of work which is not sought after by a great many people in this country. It would make a great deal of difference if this change could be brought about.


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