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Migrant Domestic Workers

Volume 475: debated on Thursday 8 May 2008

9. How many prosecutions and convictions there have been of employers of migrant domestic workers for offences associated with abuse of their employees in the last three years; and what steps the Crown Prosecution Service is taking to increase the rate of prosecution. (204034)

The Crown Prosecution Service does not hold data on prosecutions and convictions for employers of migrant domestic workers for abuse of those employees. It has prosecuted 285 people in the last three years for employing people contrary to their immigration status, which is important because employees are of course more vulnerable if they are being employed unlawfully. The CPS continues to contribute to the development of early identification and referral mechanisms for victims of labour exploitation, in the hope of improving the rate of successful prosecutions.

I have met a number of domestic migrant workers—women—who have been savagely abused. They have been raped and beaten, they have no rooms of their own, they work seven days a week—in effect, they are on call 24 hours a day—and they are terribly paid. Some of them have been trafficked. Does the Solicitor-General agree with me that the Home Office’s plan to change the domestic migrant visa so that it cannot be transferred from the single employer to another employer will actually drive trafficking underground and prevent those women from escaping the horrors of their domestic slavery, and that this Government are committed to doing something that will save those women, not make things worse? Will she say something about the Home Office’s plans, which, if they come into force, will make matters very much worse for such women and very much better for the employers?

I am not going to comment on a Home Office matter. However, I understand from ministerial colleagues that research and analysis are in place that should report this month—the hon. Gentleman probably knows that, given his role as chair of the all-party group on the trafficking of women and children—on the risks associated with the exploitation of overseas domestic workers, so that in due course, once we have proper research, we can consult on the overseas domestic workers route and how best to offer protection to exploited people.

Recently—in April—there was a plea of guilty at Snaresbrook Crown court to facilitating a young girl’s trafficking for domestic servitude; those involved will be sentenced on 16 May. There will be another prosecution in June, at Harrow, under section 4 of the Asylum and Immigration (Treatment of Claimants, etc.) Act 2004, concerning the exploitation of overseas domestic workers. So prosecutions do appear to be coming through.

But will the Solicitor-General take away the concern of the whole House and work with colleagues to make sure that there is a whole-Government approach to ensuring an end to the completely unscrupulous levels of servitude and exploitation by employers, which are on a mediaeval scale? Will she further try to ensure that Ministers introduce measures soon to make it more difficult for such employers to bring people into this country and undercut the conditions that ordinary British people would expect as only fair and just?

My hon. Friend makes a powerful point. As he knows, the problem with prosecuting on behalf of exploited employees is the difficulty in getting those employees to come forward. We have to work hard on that. He knows that Operation Pentameter 2, which started last October, has a focus on labour-exploited people. There have been discussions involving the Gangmasters Licensing Authority, which is likely to have the ability better to recognise unscrupulous gangmasters and to be involved in identifying cases. We are taking considerable steps to tackle the issue and all suggestions will be gratefully received on that basis.

We now come to Question 10 to the Solicitor-General. Before I call the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Carmichael) to ask his question, I remind him and other Members that the case involving the termination by the director of the Serious Fraud Office of its investigation into BAE Systems is sub judice and so should not be referred to directly.