Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

I am concerned that this matter is not being taken to the Northern Ireland Assembly and I shall be interested to know what the Minister has to say about that. I think that there is this much of an answer to the noble Lord's question: I need a lot of persuading that it is right to vote for his Amendment 75A when those who might reasonably be taken to represent opinion in Northern Ireland have not been consulted. I do not say that because I have any special knowledge of Northern Ireland beyond what most other noble Lords have, as they have read the newspapers since being adults. I strongly suspect that the arguments that were powerfully adduced by the minority on 5 March 2008, although they lost the vote that day, are held with a great deal more force on all sides of the community in Northern Ireland than they are on this side of the water in England and Wales. Those arguments, which some may see as irrational, outdated or unnecessary, relate to the fact that the blasphemy law-even if unusable, as I agree it was when it existed on this side of the water-still stands for something in relation to the character of society and the Christian heritage, which, as I understand it, is much more passionately

28 Oct 2009 : Column 1179

felt on that side of the water than it is on this. Therefore, it makes me uncomfortable to see this Parliament, through this House and the other place, legislating on this kind of matter for Northern Ireland. I think that that distinguishes it from the other matters-I do not have them firmly in my head-with which the noble Lord, Lord Lester, links this.

Lord Lester of Herne Hill: My Lords, does the right reverend Prelate recognise that, because of those strong feelings, Northern Ireland has had a very strong statutory protection since 1987, unlike the situation in this country? In effect, the people have spoken by giving that protection.

The Lord Bishop of Winchester: My Lords, I hear what the noble Lord says and I do not deny his description of the state of the law in Northern Ireland, but it seems to me-again, as an onlooker-that taking into account what is still manifestly a fraught interreligious, as well as political, situation in Northern Ireland, it really does not behove this House or this Parliament to risk exacerbating that, which I suspect this matter just could. Although this may be a red rag to more than the bull of the noble Lord, I also have in mind the behaviour of this House and this Parliament in, as I remember them doing, imposing the sexual orientation regulations on Northern Ireland at a point when they had not consulted the Northern Ireland Assembly. It may leave a nasty taste if we do the same in this matter.

Lord Browne of Belmont: My Lords, first I declare an interest as a Member of the Northern Ireland Assembly. As the Minister is well aware, we are currently involved in negotiations on the devolution of powers on policing and justice to the Northern Ireland Assembly. As we have heard, there are strong feelings in Northern Ireland, particularly about Amendment 75A, and it is only right and proper that the people of Northern Ireland should be given the right of consultation on the progress on that issue. They should be fully consulted, so I am reluctant to consider that amendment.

Lord Bach: I am grateful to all noble Lords who have spoken, particularly for what seems to be the support of the House for the amendment that I moved earlier abolishing these offences. I am very grateful to have such wide support for that course.

I turn briefly to Amendment 75A, spoken to by the noble Lord, Lord Lester of Herne Hill, which would abolish the offences of blasphemy and blasphemous libel in Northern Ireland. We think that there are likely to be particular sensitivities around these offences there. There has been a long-running debate here in Westminster over those provisions, but we do not think that the people in Northern Ireland have had a corresponding opportunity to be consulted or to express their views. Inasmuch as the right reverend Prelate made that point, we concur with it. It might well be considered undemocratic to impose a change in the law in Northern Ireland on what is such a sensitive area if there has been no opportunity to have a say on the matter. We believe that the best forum to consider this area of law as it relates to Northern Ireland is in the Northern Ireland Assembly once it assumes responsibility for the criminal law.

28 Oct 2009 : Column 1180

Indeed, the noble Lord's own party is a strong supporter of devolution, so without saying that that is the view that it should come to on this issue, it is a point worth making.

I take the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Lester, about how this might seem something of an anomaly, so I plan to relay his points as well as those made by other noble Lords in this short debate to the Minister of State in the Northern Ireland Office in the next few days to see what efforts can be made to gauge views. If the result is that the Government stick to their present position on Amendment 75A, I shall of course tell the noble Lord so that he can table the amendment on Third Reading if he is minded so to do. For the moment, I ask him not to press it.

Amendment 67 agreed.

Amendments 68 to 73 not moved.

Amendment 74

Moved by Baroness Young of Hornsey

74: After Clause 64, insert the following new Clause-

"CHAPTER 4Servitude and forced or compulsory labour


(1) A person commits an offence if he or she holds another person in servitude.

(2) For the purposes of this section, a person (A) holds another person (B) in servitude if A severely restricts B's freedom of movement and choice of residence and subjects B to forced or compulsory labour.

(3) In this section, subjecting a person to forced or compulsory labour has the same meaning as in section (Forced or compulsory labour).

(4) A person guilty of an offence under this section is liable, on conviction on indictment, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 14 years."

Baroness Young of Hornsey: My Lords, I start by thanking all those in the House who have supported these amendments. I also very much thank colleagues from Liberty and Anti-Slavery International who first drew this important gap in the law to my attention. They have been extremely helpful; they have given lots of expert guidance, shared their knowledge and given very generously of their time throughout this process.

This gap prevents us dealing effectively with contemporary forms of forced labour and enslavement here in Britain. It happens in cities; it happens in rural areas; and it happens in coastal towns. Typically, it involves migrants, but not always; often women are the victims, although not exclusively. Victims may be subjected to unacceptable living conditions and forced to work for 12 or more hours a day. They are also frequently subjected to vicious psychological abuse and to threats which keep them effectively imprisoned. These offences sometimes include trafficked people or illegal immigrants, although not necessarily all the time.

Yesterday, in the debate on vulnerable migrant workers, my noble friend Lord Sandwich referred to the case of Patience. I shall not repeat her story, but I want to pay

28 Oct 2009 : Column 1181

tribute to her courage in detailing for a meeting of Peers and NGOs precisely the kind of abusive, coercive treatment that these amendments are designed to criminalise. Patience spoke powerfully and movingly of her years of maltreatment as a prisoner in the house of a lawyer who was supposed to be her employer. I do not believe that laws should be based purely on our emotional responses to particular predicaments, but I would defy anybody with even a vestige of humanity to listen to her testimony and not be moved to do something to address this gap in the law.

Since Committee, with colleagues from Liberty and Anti-Slavery International, I have had useful and productive discussions with the noble Lords, Lord Bach and Lord Tunnicliffe, and the Bill team. I appreciate officials' strenuous efforts to get to grips with this issue. They have now, we believe, found an effective, workable solution to this distinctive problem and, as a result, a new amendment will be inserted into the Bill using Article 4 of the European Convention on Human Rights as a vehicle. It will be tabled at Third Reading. I shall therefore not divide the House today.

The list of those who support the principles behind these amendments and the need for them includes the DPP, the United Kingdom Human Trafficking Centre, the CPS, the trade union Unite and the Gangmasters Licensing Authority, among others. There is also widespread support for these amendments across all the Benches in this House. We all want to ensure that those who coerce vulnerable people in this way will face the prospect of lengthy prison sentences. I beg to move.

Lord Tunnicliffe: My Lords, with the leave of the House, and in no way to suppress discussion, I think it might be helpful if I were to set out briefly the Government's position. I thank the noble Baroness for providing a further opportunity to debate this serious issue. We need to ensure that the criminal law meets the needs of victims, who we have always said should be at the heart of the criminal justice system. I thank the noble Baroness and the organisations that have also worked in this field, such as Liberty and Anti-Slavery International. They have done an important job in bringing this matter to the attention of the House. I am pleased that it looks as if we have reached agreement on the way forward in this important area.

As noble Lords will recall, we debated the issue of servitude and forced labour in Committee, and we said at that time that we wanted to consider this further. The behaviour at which the new offences are targeted is already covered by extensive legislation and regulations. There are a number of existing offences that may be relevant. They include offences of trafficking for labour exploitation, complicity in such trafficking, assault, false imprisonment, blackmail, harassment and a range of employment-related offences. Some of these offences rightly carry tough maximum penalties. However, we appreciate that justice may not be done, not least to victims, if there are real problems in bringing successful prosecutions that reflect the seriousness of this conduct. We are open to the suggestion that investigations and prosecutions might be easier if an offence existed that clearly encompassed all of the elements that comprise servitude or forced labour.

28 Oct 2009 : Column 1182

I promised in Committee that we would explore this issue further. I shall now explain what we have found out over the summer. We held meetings with the Association of Chief Police Officers, the Crown Prosecution Service and the UK Human Trafficking Centre, which is a multi-agency centre that provides a central point for the development of expertise and co-operation in relation to the trafficking of human beings. We also met the Gangmasters Licensing Authority, which was established to regulate labour providers in the agricultural sector. It provided us with some useful examples of cases that bear further consideration. We have also, as we said we would, contacted the Crown Prosecution Service; I understand it has brought this matter to the attention of the Director of Public Prosecutions. It agrees that it may be useful to introduce a further bespoke offence.

We have looked closely at the cases of which we have been made aware, and we are grateful to everyone who has provided us with these details. There can be no doubt about the appalling treatment and working conditions found in these cases, some of which were harrowing. They describe victims who have been trafficked for exploitation, threatened, assaulted and blackmailed. They also describe unsafe and overcrowded working conditions, illegal wage deductions and forged contracts.

4.30 pm

We have listened carefully to what has been said during this debate and particularly in our conversations before it. In light of that, we accept that improvements could be made to the current law through an additional offence in this area. That said, and as the amendments before us make clear, this is a complex subject. This would be an important offence that was subject to serious penalties, and it is important that it should be as clear as circumstances permit. With that in mind, we have reservations about the amendment, although this is not the occasion on which to go into detail.

We think that a slightly different approach is preferable-an approach that seeks to achieve the same aim but that relies for its core substance on Article 4, on the prohibition of slavery and forced labour, of the European Convention on Human Rights. This approach is used for the offence of trafficking for such purposes. Our proposed formulation would follow this approach but without the requirement that the person has been trafficked.

We discussed this approach earlier today with the noble Baroness, Lady Young, and are hopeful that it will offer a solution on which we can all agree. We need to finalise the details and are actively working on this. We intend to bring the result before your Lordships to consider at Third Reading.

Lord Henley: My Lords, the Minister has spoken. Indeed, there is a convention in this House that he can speak early on in the debate and that other noble Lords can come in afterwards. I think we are grateful that he spoke at this stage to set out the Government's views and that, although the Government have had a lot of time over the summer to consider these matters with the clocks ticking and the buffers ahead, they have decided to move a bit faster after their meeting this morning-or was it almost this afternoon?-with the noble Baroness, Lady Young, and are likely to

28 Oct 2009 : Column 1183

bring forward something that will be acceptable to her, to us and to others in this House who have added their names to this amendment.

We on these Benches support the general principles which the noble Baroness has put forward. We have come to this view after long and hard thought, because in the main we prefer not to add new offences to the statute book. However, if there are gaps, we certainly want them to be filled. At this stage, we support the noble Baroness and hope that she can make progress with the Government over the next week-or the next week and one day, depending on how long Report continues for-and that the Government will keep moving as they should.

Lord Thomas of Gresford: My Lords, my name is attached to the amendment. I thank the Government for their consideration of the issue and for bringing forward the matter at Third Reading in a way that is satisfactory to everyone, and I pay tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Young, and all the campaigning organisations behind her; they have done us all a considerable service. It is true, as the Minister said, that the laws on trafficking, false imprisonment, kidnapping and anti-slavery cover certain aspects. However, the Government now accept that they do not cover all the problems that can arise in this field, and it is good to hear that, with the support of the Director of Public Prosecutions and others, an offence will be brought forward that will plug whatever gaps there might be and make it entirely clear to those who "employ" labour that they must do so with great care.

Baroness Butler-Sloss: My Lords, I, too, have added my name to this amendment. I very much support what the noble Baroness, Lady Young, has done. It is greatly to her credit that she has pursued this. I have come rather late to see how important it is that this gap should be covered. I should declare two interests. One is that I am a vice-chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Trafficking. Trafficked women, in particular, are part of those who are put into forced servitude. I have also just become the mother of the acting-chairman of Liberty-I mean that I am the mother of the recently appointed acting-chairman. Your Lordships will understand my putting it the wrong way around. I thought I should declare that as an interest.

My point is that the amendment as it stands produces at trial, instead of at summary justice, two possible sentences of 14 years and seven years. I can see that there are objections to that and I am very happy with the various proposals put forward by the Minister at the meeting I attended earlier. It is a serious matter and the punishment should fit the crime. Therefore, the Government, in looking at the appropriate punishment, should go high rather than low.

Lord Lester of Herne Hill: I have nothing to declare by way of family friendship or kinship at this stage. I simply should like to say that, having listened to the other speeches, I fully agree. I regard these proposals as a way of fulfilling our positive obligation to give effect to Article 4 of the European Convention and other relevant provisions. I congratulate and pay tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Hornsey.

28 Oct 2009 : Column 1184

Lord Alton of Liverpool: I was pleased that I was able to speak at Second Reading and in Committee on these issues and was able to accompany my noble friend when she went to see the noble Lord, Lord Bach, to raise these important questions about servitude and forced labour. She has done Parliament a great service in the persistent way in which she has gone about this. But I should also like to pay tribute to the Government. In the first instance, they did not accept that there was necessarily a case to be made or answered about the scale of this problem. Their acceptance was as a result of my noble friend bringing before them specific examples of abuses that had occurred and the failure of existing offences to deal with those abuses. That was the genesis of the amendment that is being drafted for Third Reading.

If it had not been for my noble friend's determination and the courteous way in which she went about it, we would not be at this happy juncture today. At a moment when Parliament perhaps is held in rather low esteem in many quarters, it is as well to remind ourselves of our real purpose in both these Houses. It shows admirable determination, and the purpose of Parliament, when someone sees such a shameful injustice as people being held against their will and exploited in this manner. When that Member is able to get some minor injustice put right, that is the greatest justification for our being here.

The Lord Bishop of Ripon and Leeds: My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Baroness, Lady Young, for her persistence in this issue and the Government for their response. It is inconceivable that while in recent months we have spent a good deal of time celebrating the ending of the slave trade in the United Kingdom 200 years ago we have also been building up our knowledge of places where forced labour, which is slavery under another name, continues to be exercised in our own country. That may be in the instances of domestic service, which we have heard about, or in those instances of agricultural workers and migrants in our cities, which were emphasised by noble Lords in yesterday's debate on vulnerable migrant workers, inspired by the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries of Pentregarth.

There needs to be much more positive work done on this amendment. The work of the Gangmasters Licensing Authority has revealed many new examples of forced labour, of slavery. I am at the same time grateful for those and horrified by them. I am delighted that we are moving forward on this and have no doubt that this amendment or the version we will get at Third Reading will help in that.

The Earl of Sandwich: My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend on her perseverance. As she said, she and I met a domestic worker who was virtually imprisoned in her employer's homes, and it was only when the worker was able to make contact with a specialised organisation, Kalayaan, that she could take her employer to court. The offences were only assault and theft, but many worse things had happened. Even so, I am grateful to the Government for bringing forward their own amendment.

I want to point out that it has been shown in this and previous debates that it is international conventions that require the Government to come forward with a

28 Oct 2009 : Column 1185

new offence. As has been said, the current offences on trafficking were very welcome, but over time have been shown to be inadequate. There was agreement in last night's debate on the need for more effective enforcement, and the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Jones, especially drew attention to the low conviction rates. I was hoping that the Government could deal with that today, but there may not be time. It was with great satisfaction, therefore, that my noble and learned friend Lady Butler-Sloss and I heard from the Minister this morning that a new amendment will be tabled at Third Reading. Obviously it is too early to comment, but the Minister has already said that a lot of people have been working hard to get as far as this. I thank him and the staff of the organisations involved.

Baroness Young of Hornsey: I thank all noble Lords who have contributed to the debate, and it is gratifying to gauge the extent to which people support the underlying principles of these amendments. It is right to pay tribute to the Government for listening and in the end for responding positively to our concerns, and I wish to underline what was said by my noble and learned friend Lady Butler-Sloss about ensuring that sentences properly reflect the seriousness with which we regard these offences. I look forward to having sight of the government amendment when it is ready and I hope that the Government will take advantage of all the expertise that is available both within the House and outside to ensure that we have the right piece of legislation. With that, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 74 withdrawn.

Amendment 75 not moved.

Amendment 75A

Moved by Lord Lester of Herne Hill

75A: After Clause 64, insert the following new Clause-

"Abolition of blasphemy in Northern Ireland

The offences of blasphemy and blasphemous libel under the common law of Northern Ireland are abolished."

Lord Lester of Herne Hill: I want to move this amendment despite having already spoken at some length on the issue, but first I should like to make one or two observations and explain what I intend to do. I listened carefully to what was said in the previous debate, and my first point is that I am a great supporter of devolution. I believe that to the greatest extent possible, problems should be tackled at the regional or local level, or at levels within the great nations that make up this country. I do not believe in having harmonised, standardised solutions to all problems imposed from the centre. Therefore I understand entirely those who maintain that, when functions are transferred, surely the people making up the assemblies should have the opportunity to debate and decide upon important questions of ethical and legal significance.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page