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Asylum and Immigration Bill

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 (1A) 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

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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

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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

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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.

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