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Migrant Domestic Workers (Visas)

Volume 507: debated on Wednesday 17 March 2010

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the sitting be now adjourned.—(David Wright.)

It is a pleasure to be under your guidance, Mr. Benton, for what is probably the last Adjournment debate of my time in Parliament. I am particularly pleased to have the opportunity to praise the work of not only some superb non-governmental organisations active on this issue but those right hon. and hon. Members who have been more involved with the subject than I have been.

I am a member of the Select Committee on Home Affairs, which in 2008 produced a strong and hard-hitting report on the obscenity of human trafficking. The title of this debate refers to visa rights for migrant domestic workers, but it will become apparent that what we are actually discussing is a secret slavery taking place a stone’s throw away from this building. For the most abused groups of vulnerable workers, the dark ages are still happening, just around the corner from this mother of Parliaments. It is a scar on this country that such things occur within our borders; it is certainly a scar on the conscience of the diplomatic missions that use diplomatic immunity and their privileged position to treat fellow human beings in the most appalling, disgusting, dehumanising and disgraceful manner. It must stop. That will be the thrust of my contribution and, I am sure, the contributions made by other right hon. and hon. Members.

Before I come to the substance of the debate, I would like to thank Kalayaan for its work. Kalayaan is a charity offering direct support to migrant domestic workers. It was instrumental in arguing for the new migrant domestic worker visa, which has worked, as I will demonstrate, but which sadly does not extend to migrant domestic workers employed in diplomatic missions. Kalayaan runs advice sessions with a focus on immigration and employment, as well as an excellent community centre, which I had the privilege to visit the other week. It also runs activities for clients, including English classes, training, and confidence building workshops. It hosts a social area, too—a safe space where migrant domestic workers can meet other people and access advice and support away from the ever-watchful eyes of their wealthy employers.

The newspapers are full of criticism of my trade union, Unite—the old Transport and General Workers Union—of which I am proud to be a member, as I will be until my dying day. I pay tribute to the work of Diana Holland of Unite, who has made the issue of migrant domestic workers a personal crusade. I am delighted that she might be heartened, depending on the Minister’s answers—I know that he wants to agree with me—by the continued progress that we could make on the issue if we used the powers available to us.

The issue involves the abuse of some of the most vulnerable people in our country, if not our society—they are barely in our society. For many of us on the left side of politics, such issues are what brought us into public life and politics in the first place. However, of course, concern does not exist only on the left. We must acknowledge the huge contribution made by the hon. Member for Totnes (Mr. Steen)—I want to call him my hon. Friend—who chairs the all-party parliamentary group on the trafficking of women and children. It is probably one of our most active all-party groups and has an impressive track record, having organised an important meeting with the Minister on 24 November to highlight the abuse of migrant domestic workers and the workings of the migrant domestic worker visa system. His response is still sought.

I understand that the all-party group has set up 11 such groups in Parliaments across Europe. That is a genuine example of how the much-maligned all-party parliamentary group system can forge important links across national boundaries.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman—my hon. Friend, if I may call him that. We all feel great affection for the Minister. We enjoy his company and think that he does a jolly good job. It is true that on 24 November, I took a delegation of some of the most senior people in this House and the House of Lords, along with representatives from Kalayaan—a group to which I pay tribute—to see him and explain to him the terrible problem of domestic slavery among diplomatic overseas staff. He understood the point, and the group and I were left in no doubt that he would act on it. However, lovely as it is to see him here, I hope that he will be able to tell us that today is his opportunity to put matters right.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for that intervention. I remain optimistic that when the Minister hears the power of our arguments, he will cast aside the bleating and whining of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and other powerful vested interests, be forthright and join us as a brother in arms on the issue. I have no doubt about it; at least, I certainly hope that he will if he wants to stay on my Christmas card list.

Before 1997—this is not a party political point—migrant domestic workers had virtually no rights. They were brought into this country by wealthy foreign nationals, and probably by even wealthier British expats, who, I am assured, like continuity in their domestic servants. There was no specific visa. Migrant domestic workers were often given a bizarre “to work with” stamp on their passports. It was a grey area. Alternatively, they were brought in on tourist visas and encouraged to overstay, as they would then have absolutely no rights. Their passports were often confiscated, leaving them totally in thrall to their employers. Migrant domestic workers’ undocumented status effectively created a bonded labour scheme, which was undoubtedly a trigger for abuse.

In the 1997 manifesto, the Labour party committed to introducing a new migrant domestic worker visa that would allow workers independence from their employers. It was launched in 1998. I have no doubt that a Government of almost any political persuasion would have wanted to address the issue, but it is to the credit of this Government and the Minister’s colleagues that the visa was introduced.

The migrant domestic worker visa is now issued to people entering the UK accompanying an employer to work in the employer’s private household. It provides protection against abuse. It provides formal recognition of migrants as workers and allows them to change employers, although not their work sector. Migrant domestic workers are therefore no longer bonded to a specific employer. It was a civilising and thoroughly laudable change, introduced by this Government.

The visa may be renewed annually, provided that the worker continues to be employed full time as a domestic worker in a private household. It provides an escape route from bonded labour for people suffering abuse. I will cite some harrowing case studies later to illustrate what types of abuse occur. Nevertheless, migrant domestic workers across the piece still experience high levels of abuse and exploitation. There is now at least an escape route through the visa system, but that system does not apply to the staff of diplomatic missions. That will be the nub of my argument.

Things nearly went wrong. In 2006, the Government introduced the points-based system, which the Home Affairs Committee considered in some detail. For some reason, initial proposals were made to abolish the migrant domestic worker visa, which would have resulted in the loss of the current protection for migrant domestic workers, who instead would have had to enter the UK on a six-month, non-renewable visa that would tie them completely to their employer and give them no effective access to UK law. However, following campaigning by the all-party group and Kalayaan, the Government gave a welcome response.

In 2008, the Government response to a consultation on visitors to the UK gave a commitment to retaining the migrant domestic worker visa, at least until spring 2011. I shall read into the record the response from the Minister’s predecessor, my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Hodge Hill (Mr. Byrne):

“In our consultation paper, we set out the current arrangements for overseas domestic workers who accompany their employer to the UK, recognising stakeholder concerns that such workers may be the target of employer abuse and exploitation. We explained that research and analysis was being conducted into the route, following which we would consult further on future arrangements.

We are committed to ensuring that future arrangements concerning overseas domestic workers minimise any risk of abuse or exploitation. In addition, the current route will be preserved and then reviewed as appropriate after the first two years’ operation of the reformed immigration system and when we will have properly road tested our antitrafficking strategy.”

He confirmed that point in a follow-up letter to Diana Holland of Unite, so it is on the record that the Government are committed to that policy, at least until 2011.

Today, the Minister can not only commit this Government to the policy, but say that he will tie the hands of a future Government so that they have to continue with it, because it works. By tying the hands of a future Government, we might untie the hands of people who are forced into mediaeval, feudal slavery. I hope that he will rise to that challenge.

If hon. Members will bear with me, I wish to share some horrific case studies. I apologise for going on at length, Mr. Benton, but this is an important issue and I wish to put the case studies on the record. I am indebted to Kalayaan for this information. I will cite four examples: two from the domestic sector and two from the diplomatic sector. The names have been changed for obvious reasons.

The first case study gives proof that the visa works if the domestic worker understands the rights that they can access. It is the story of Rosy, who comes from Nigeria:

“My name is Rosy. Life was hard ever since my childhood. Fatherless at the age of 8, I had to help my mother to look after my siblings while she was away to work in the farm. I was an out of school youth at the age of 14 because my mother could not afford my education anymore. I had to face humiliation when my boyfriend left me pregnant. A teenage mum at 16, I was too young to face this kind of heavy responsibility but I had to be strong and brave. Without any qualification, I set off in another land in Nigeria in search for a job that would give my daughter and family a better life.”

She went on to work in difficult circumstances.

In 2004, Rosy was offered work in London for people who needed a domestic worker:

“The employer said that I will have the opportunity to be a British citizen and I will be paid 50 pounds per week which was higher compared to my 2000 Naire per month. I was reluctant to accept the job because I was too frightened that I will be all alone in a foreign land with no-one to turn to. But my dream of giving my family a better life had softened my heart to accept the job.”

This is the shocking part:

“My employer is a lawyer. I did not know anything about my legal rights in this country and I only had to depend and believe every single word or command that she has to say. My responsibilities were looking after her two children and fully in charge of all the household chores and in some occasions, looking after her extended family and friends. With long hours of work and no day off, I had to pray for midnight to come so that at least I could rest for a few hours.

My employer began to abuse me both verbally and physically. My ears were already numb from her shouting, calling me illiterate and stupid. Worst, more often, she would twist my ear, pinch and slap me for every little mistake that I had done. She would threaten me and say that the police will arrest me if I cry or talk to anyone. I cried every night and asked God, ‘Is this the life I deserve?’ or ‘Are all people in this country as heartless as my employer?’ or ‘Is it true that, in this country, I could not speak out and cry?’ I thought, gone are those days where people have to work as slaves but I was a slave, a modern slave in these modern days.

One day, I received a call from my brother back home. Worried that something bad was happening with my family back home, I rushed outside to buy an international phone card. However, my employer did not allow me to go outside without asking permission, and she discovered that I had disobeyed her golden rules. She was very angry and began to shout and beat me. She smacked me around my face, head and upper body while chasing me down the stairs. My left eye was bruised and bloodshot after this incident. As I could not bear the pain, I cried very loudly and our neighbour heard the noise and knocked on the door but my employer did not open the door.”

The lawyer did not open the door. Rosy goes on:

“One morning, the neighbour saw my bruised eye and asked about it. I told her everything and she explained to me that my employer had no right to abuse me and that I could report her to the police and most importantly, she said I had the right to speak out. I finally found answers to my questions. This kind and loving woman did everything to help me so that I could get out of that cage where I was treated, not as a human being but as an animal and a slave.

An organisation called Kalayaan helped me with everything I needed and referred me to the Kensington Law Centre who helped me pursue the case against my employer which I won in the Employment Tribunal.”

Hon. Members need to appreciate that without the migrant domestic worker visa, there would have been no opportunity to access the employment rights or the legal protection that other workers enjoy.

Rosy continues:

“I also received support from Liberty. The police’s initial response was that no crime had taken place because it was an employment issue. Thanks to Liberty, the police have now reopened the case and are investigating an allegation of trafficking against my previous employer.

Although the Employment Tribunal found that my employer withheld my wages, abused me verbally and physically and discriminated against me on grounds of my race, I do not feel that I have had justice for the way that I was treated. My employer is a lawyer and I wanted her to know that she is not supposed to treat people in the way she treated me. She should know that she is not above the law. I wanted the police to ask her why she did it and for her to be punished. Most of all, I do not want anyone else to have to go through what I went through.

I am now fully aware of my rights as a worker and as a human being, I dare to challenge and am always ready to face bravely any forms of abuse, discrimination, inequality and slavery in this modern world.”

That was Rosy’s story.

The next story is from the diplomatic sector. The name has again been changed for fear of reprisals. Aliah jumped at the opportunity to work for a diplomat posted to the embassy of a middle eastern country in London, but her dream job soon turned into a nightmare. She found herself trapped for six months in slavery with an employer who routinely abused her. She says:

“At first I was really excited to move to London and work for the diplomat and his wife. The plan was that I would live with the family and be a nanny to their young son. I hoped to learn English, and experience what life was like outside of my country. I thought I could earn some money so that when I came home I could study.

I moved to London with the diplomat a couple of weeks before his wife and child arrived. I quickly realized I had made a terrible mistake in taking the job. From the very first day I was treated like a slave, and it immediately became clear that the diplomat wanted more from me than just to look after his son. He sexually molested me and would become angry when I refused his advances.

In many ways life became even worse when the diplomat’s wife arrived. I was forced to work for 17 hours a day doing all the cooking and cleaning as well as the nanny work and was never allowed a day off. The wife would stand over me and criticize everything I did. She would get violent and throw things at me as well as shouting at me and calling me names.

I was completely trapped like this for 6 months. I was only ever allowed to leave the house to buy milk. I am embarrassed to admit it but I actually used to look forward to going to the shop. It was the only chance I had to see the outside world.

One day the diplomat got really angry with me. His wife had thrown me out of the house and when, after walking around for a few hours, I returned, the diplomat was drunk and furious. I was too scared even to answer as to where I had been, he became really violent, he threw me against the wall and started bashing my head against the front door. I was so scared that I knew I had to escape, when a car passed and stopped I seized my chance.

I ran straight into the street. I didn’t know anybody, didn’t have any identity documents and didn’t have any money. I was crying uncontrollably and bleeding from my head, I was lucky that a man who spoke my language spotted me. Eventually I explained to him that I needed his help and though he was a complete stranger he took me in and agreed to help me.

He took me to the police to report what had happened and they sent me to the hospital. The man then took me to see Kalayaan to see what could be done for me. They agreed to help me seek justice. Despite working for 6 months I had not been paid a penny. But apart from wanting my rightful earnings I really wanted to make sure that the diplomat and his wife were punished for what they did to me.

Lawyers helped me take the case to a tribunal, my employer never responded and on the evidence they had been given, the tribunal ruled in my favour and awarded me compensation for unpaid wages and sexual discrimination. The only problem is that obviously my employers have diplomatic immunity and the Embassy sent them home to avoid further embarrassment.”

That means that Aliah’s employers have escaped punishment and it is impossible for her to receive the compensation and justice that she deserves.

There are countless other cases. I have information about a lady called Chinue from Kenya who was beaten appallingly and psychologically abused by her employer. Luckily, she has been able to find work through the POPPY project and has put her life back on track again. Another case concerns Maria from the Philippines, who worked for the family of a diplomat in his home and agreed to accompany him to London. The conditions were nothing like she expected. She had to sleep on the floor in the hallway outside the bathroom, and she was made to sign something that stated she was receiving more salary than she was. She was forced to work for 18 hours a day, and she was shouted at and called an illiterate idiot or mountain folk by the diplomat’s wife.

Maria came to Kalayaan for advice when she discovered that her only choice was to return to the Philippines because her visa does not cover the diplomatic area. She was distraught at that news. Things got worse in the house. Two months later, Maria was physically attacked by the diplomat’s wife who tried to slash her with a kitchen knife, and Maria fled. She took a case against her employer, but settled for a very low amount because she wanted to move on with her life.

I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on obtaining this important Adjournment debate. It is good to hear the news that the Government will extend the visa scheme until 2011. I sympathise with the hon. Gentleman because we have had four similar cases in my constituency. Does he agree that it is essential we get this right, because we cannot operate some of our most essential services in Great Britain without these people?

I agree entirely. I thank the hon. Gentleman for his contribution and for confirming that the problem is clearly not just confined to London—unless he has moved constituencies. It is useful to hear that such an appalling situation is widespread, as it puts more pressure on the Minister to respond publicly.

The hon. Gentleman need not rush. There is plenty of time and everyone wants to hear what he has to say—I certainly do. May I just mention that the problem is not confined to women? Men are abused too. I recollect that a man who was a diplomatic driver for an embassy spent his life in a garage, where he slept. Does the hon. Gentleman know about that case?

Do I know about that case? I saw that case. I will not name the embassy because it would probably be inappropriate for me to cause an international incident in my last two weeks as an MP. However, I will say that it was a south Asian high commissioner’s residence. If people want to look at my interests in south Asia, they can probably work it out. I was invited to a very salubrious dinner at the high commissioner’s—we all get to go to such things from time to time. I was appalled to walk out of that residence in a palatial part of north London and see that the accommodation of the guy who picked me up—the driver for the high commissioner—was a garage. He showed me where his bed was. Such things are happening with impunity and they are an abuse of immunity.

As we know, the migrant domestic worker visa was introduced from 1998 onwards. People may argue that if we extend the visa to the diplomatic sector, large numbers of people would get protection, and possibly the right to settle permanently in the UK in certain circumstances. It was also argued—I think primarily by civil servants—that introducing the migrant domestic worker visa could lead to abuse and an increase in numbers. I am delighted to say that has not proved to be the case. If we consider the number of non-diplomatic domestic worker visas issued between 2005 and 2009, we see that the figure decreases from 16,908 to 14,897. Let us be clear: the process has not been abused. On extending the scheme to diplomatic staff, the numbers of diplomatic domestic workers visas that have been issued are: 235 in 2005, 324 in 2006, 253 in 2007, and 189 in 2008. Those are tiny numbers. There is no problem with extending the migrant domestic workers visa provision to protection for diplomatic staff. We are talking small numbers, but my goodness, we are talking high levels of abuse.

Figures on the people who were referred to or came voluntarily to Kalayaan—they can be found on its website in its excellent annual report—show that 17 per cent. reported physical assaults, 58 per cent. reported psychological abuse and 59 per cent. were not allowed out of the house without supervision. We allow our pets out of the house without supervision, yet fellow human beings are effectively being shackled in their place of work.

Has the hon. Gentleman had the opportunity to get in touch with the diplomatic service, because there is an organisation that represents diplomats as a whole? Has he taken the matter up with that organisation, because it sounds as if this is such an outrageous abuse that something should be done either by the law or by internal diplomatic activity? The people concerned should be ashamed of themselves.

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right: they should be ashamed of themselves. I will come to that point later. Unfortunately, I have not had time to take the matter up with organisations representing diplomats. I must say to him that the more I read of these case studies, frankly, the less I want to be in a room with organisations representing diplomats. However, I am sure that those who succeed me in this place will not let the baton drop until we remove the appalling levels of abuse that are happening not just in London but in other parts of the United Kingdom, as I have just heard.

In many cases, workers have absolutely no knowledge of their immigration rights and status. If their passports and papers are confiscated, the employer has the absolute whip hand. Such workers live in fear of criminal prosecution, deportation or any sort of threat—valid or otherwise—that the employer can choose to make. We outlawed slavery in 1833, which was an awfully long time ago. As far as I can see, what is happening is little better than a 21st-century system of slavery.

What needs to be done next? First, as I said, the Minister and his colleagues deserve great praise for not only tackling the abuse of migrant domestic workers in the past by introducing a specific visa, but wanting to extend it beyond the 2011 commitment given by his predecessor in the Government’s response. My first challenge to the Minister is that he takes this opportunity to offer long-term protection for this most vulnerable group of workers, beyond 2011. He can do that today; he can it read it into the record.

Secondly, as I have mentioned, appalling and completely unacceptable abuse is still occurring in some—not all—diplomatic missions in London right now. It is an affront to a civilised society and a scar on the conscience of nations whose representatives are still prepared to treat their fellow human beings as 21st-century slaves. What they do in their own countries is one thing, but what they do in our country is a matter for us and for this Parliament. Frankly, I do not give a flying fig about the representations from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office or the worries about upsetting important international partners. This is a domestic British issue, and it needs to be resolved.

We have confirmation from Government lawyers that extending the migrant workers domestic visa to diplomatic missions would not be in contravention of the Vienna convention on diplomatic relations. What diplomats bring in their diplomatic bags may be a matter for them, but how they treat fellow human beings and how they bring fellow human beings as workers into our country is a matter for us and for our legislative process. Migrant domestic workers suffering abuse at the hands of diplomats must be empowered to access the same employment rights as their counterparts in the domestic sector.

Will the Minister state today that he is prepared to bring an end to the disgraceful abuse of diplomatic domestic workers by a handful of embassies that clearly believe that human rights are a problem for someone else and not for them? Diplomatic immunity can never be used as a cover for feudal servitude, which has no place on this planet, never mind in the capital city of one of the most advanced democracies in the world.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Reading, West (Martin Salter) on his impressive and fluent speech and on raising a critical issue in the way he did, and I thank you, Mr. Benton, for calling me to speak. I will not speak for long, as I am supposed to be, if not looking after, at least involved in an Albanian delegation from the Inter-Parliamentary Union, at a meeting in the IPU Rooms. I hope it will not be seen as a discourtesy to hon. Members if I do not stay for the winding-up speeches, but I will be listening in every other way to what the Minister says.

We need not recite the problem, as the hon. Gentleman has explained it. I understand the Minister’s concerns and those of the Government. The issue, roughly, is that developed countries, such as those in western Europe, have staff coming in to assist people who need domestic help, which is nothing special. Between 14,000 and 16,000 people a year get domestic work visas, which do not entitle any of them to live in the UK permanently. I think they must renew the visas yearly—the Minister can correct me—and can go on doing so, although they must also report to the police annually. I do not think they have any right to settle here. The Minister’s advisers will be telling him whether I got that right, but I think I did, largely because he told me about it.

There is no problem on the domestic front, thanks to the Government’s decision to change the rules, as the hon. Member for Reading, West said, and until 2011 it is a totally safe arrangement. The hon. Gentleman asked whether it will go beyond 2011, and I believe the Minister should today state that it will be extended for another three or five years, because it has worked well and been a success.

The problem relates to the small number of domestic workers who come to the UK under a diplomatic visa, which is a restrictive visa, and who often arrive with the officials they worked for in the countries they come from. They might be chauffeurs, domestics or nannies, and often they arrive with a diplomat’s family. The allegation is that the family changes, in the manner of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, as soon as they arrive. One must have some regard for the notion that the domestic workers talk to other people and realise that they are getting a pretty rough deal by comparison. I am fully aware of that aspect of the situation, but another aspect is the abuse of domestics.

I pay considerable tribute to Kalayaan, which is a modest organisation that meets in a church in Notting Hill Gate. It has extremely effective staff who have done an amazing job over the years to attract people who are being abused. Kalayaan has become known as a place where abused people can get solace, support and practical help. I pay tribute to the organisation and its workers, who are outstanding. Its runs on a shoestring. In fact, the Government might consider supporting it a little, because they give £1.8 million to the POPPY project and £1.8 million to the UK Human Trafficking Centre, yet they give nothing to an organisation that actually works with people. Perhaps the Minister might respond to that comment in his winding-up speech, because I know he is listening carefully. The Government should be giving money to non-governmental organisations, and not just the big ones.

There is a small number of abused women in that situation. There are examples of rape, sexual abuse and physical abuse through punishment and assaults, and those are a minority. However, the visas prevent those people from moving employment, as there is a bar on moving. The result is that the only way they can escape is to be deported, because once they escape they have no status in this country and must be deported. That is the pattern, so they are between a rock and a hard place.

The hon. Gentleman is coming to an important point about people who are in an invidious position, sometimes in very difficult circumstances. They have been abused and then face an alternative that they believe could be even worse—if they are deported from the United Kingdom their situation may become even worse in their home countries.

That is the problem, and it is more than just that those workers come from poor countries. The real problem is that they go back having failed in the UK, and their small village communities think they are a pariah and that they cannot be employed because something must have happened. They cannot go back easily. They can go back easily once the diplomat’s family returns because that will look like they have been successful, but if they are deported by the British Government, which is the pattern, they have no future at all. That is the picture we have in this country.

Does my hon. Friend agree that much of the attitude that lies behind the behaviour of the diplomatic staff in question is in fact mediaeval? The hon. Member for Reading, West (Martin Salter) mentioned slavery, an issue on which my family were very much involved in the 19th century, along with other Quakers such as Fowell Buxton. They understood that the importance of ensuring that people had their rights was absolute. We have moved on from the whole culture of master and servant, which even I had to learn when I was training to be a lawyer. Do my hon. Friend and the Minister agree that it would be a good idea to ensure that the diplomatic service comes into the modern age and leaves that mediaeval culture?

We always stand in awe when my hon. Friend makes such suggestions. He is perfectly right to say that we need to change the master and servant concept. We are talking about quite a number of embassies and officials who treat their staff like animals, or worse.

It was remiss of me not to refer to the process by which we are all here. Would the hon. Gentleman pay tribute to the excellent piece in The Times in January by Alice Fishburn and Hattie Garlick highlighting the brilliant work of Kalayaan, and some of the case studies to which I referred? I put on the record my thanks to the staff in my office, including Sadie Smith, whom I do not treat like slaves, who drew the matter to my attention and suggested that it was something I might like to get involved in. It is a tribute to the way this Parliament works that a Member can spot an injustice and in a few weeks be here challenging the Minister. Long may it remain that way.

That is also a tribute to the influence and luck of the hon. Gentleman in managing to persuade the Speaker’s Office to pull his name out of the hat for this debate. I pay tribute to his skill in ensuring that it has taken place.

We are talking about hundreds of workers who have a diplomatic domestic visa, but not thousands. Indeed, it could be dozens a year, rather than hundreds, but every one is significant and important. Their lives are ruined as a result of what is happening to them.

When I visited Kalayaan some months ago, I met a girl who was so desperate because of her lifestyle that she escaped from the diplomat’s house and went along bus queues in the street asking for money for food. She was sleeping rough because she did not know what to do. We cannot have that happening in London or in Britain. Just a stroke of the Minister’s pen could change the situation. All we need to do is ensure that the diplomatic visa allows the domestic to move from an employer. That is all it would take, but they are barred from moving from their employer.

Is there perhaps another remedy? Diplomats found to be engaged in activities against the state—infringing our national security, for example—can be requested, in effect told, to get out. If there is clear evidence of abuse by individual diplomats, they should be sanctioned in the same way as other diplomats are sanctioned when they infringe our standards. We know that it is not all diplomats, all embassies or all middle east personnel who are involved, but simply a coterie of people who are thoroughly evil.

That is a perfectly good idea, but where does it leave the domestic? Do they go back with the shamed diplomat?

But the problem is that the domestic is linked to the diplomat’s visa, so if the diplomat is sent home, so is the domestic.

At the risk of engaging in a full debate on the issue, I believe that it is possible in such circumstances, for the sake of protecting the individual concerned, to deal with the problem. We find this so often in other areas of the law. My hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Damian Green) knows only too well that one can give protection to a person through asylum or something of that kind. It is clear that this problem has to be dealt with, and it is equally clear that there are remedies. It is the diplomat who is at fault, not the person who is the victim.

The problem with what my hon. Friend suggests is that it will bring into the equation all the paraphernalia of refugee status and asylum seeking—all that contraption. I know that my hon. Friend, who is a lawyer, likes to make things complicated, but this is a simple problem. If we simply move diplomatic domestic visas into the ordinary domestic visa group, we will not have the problem of the domestic being forced to stay with a diplomat who treats them badly.

It could be argued that we would be bringing in more domestics through the diplomatic channel who would then move to the domestic market to get away from the diplomat, but we are talking about tiny numbers. We are not talking about an increasing number: I believe that it was 18,600 in 2006 but is now down to about 14,000.

Surely what the hon. Gentleman suggests would deal with the symptom rather than the problem. The problem is the diplomat. We must deal with the problem while giving protection to those who suffer because of the actions of the diplomat.

That is right, of course, and I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. I am trying to find a solution for the victim, who is here in Britain, being abused by a diplomat with diplomatic privilege, and who is linked to the diplomat. Although one could say, “Send the diplomat back”, there is a difficulty with evidence. One of the problems is that victims of human trafficking and abuse will not give evidence, for understandable reasons. They are terrified that their family back home will be abused, but I shall not go down that line.

May I just inform the debate that in a significant number of circumstances, domestic staff in missions are not necessarily nationals of the countries for which they work? Therefore, their status in that country may be jeopardised as well. For example, if a Filipino person working in a middle east country transferred to the UK, their status and livelihood in the country of the mission must also be considered. I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman agrees with that point.

This is developing into a most interesting discussion, and all the points are valid. I am grateful to the Minister for his intervention and for his interest in and concern for the subject. No one has any doubt about that. We need to find a solution, but that is not being dealt with.

As the Minister knows, I went to see him in November with part of my all-party group on trafficking of women and children. I was with the distinguished hon. Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon (Dr. Harris), the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Clare Short), who is a vice-chairman of the group, and my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Bone), who is a treasurer of the group. I had support from the other House from none other than Baroness Nicholson of Winterbourne, who is another treasurer, and Baroness Butler-Sloss. All of us were saying, “Do something.”

I know that the Minister has been working hard on the problem, but he has failed, because, as of today, a solution has not been found. There are various solutions, but there is simple one to start with. We will not be able to change all embassy staff, and we cannot start sending all or even some of them back because we do not like them, but we can ensure that all diplomatic domestic visas are domestic visas.

I do not know whether the Minister can tell us how many diplomatic domestic visas are issued every year, but I believe that it is in the hundreds. The total number of domestic visas is in the thousands, so it would not be increased very much. In any case, the number has gone down by 4,000 in the past few years, so it would not be knocked back to what it was.

Every civilised western European country has domestic visas, and there is no problem with them. We have a problem because we have a particular group of visas that locks the domestic into the life and future of a particular diplomat—not even the embassy. Perhaps the Minister could think of a way round that gives the diplomatic visa to the embassy, not to the individual.

All I am saying is that the problem needs to be addressed. My solution is simple, it will not cost anything and it will not give anyone any other rights. All it will mean is that the diplomatic domestic visa, which in the past has prevented people from moving from their employment, would allow them to do so if they needed to. They would report to the police every year, just like everyone else. That is all that needs to be done.

I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Reading, West. He has the problem by the short and curlies. He will pursue it vigorously, as I shall. Kalayaan has been at the receiving end. It says, “What can we do? We are dealing with victims. What can we do about them?” It can give them love, sympathy and support, and there can be tribunal hearings, but that does not solve the problem. Instead, it allows the equipment and machinery that were there in the first place to remain.

Forgive me, Mr. Benton, if I do not carry on in my usual lengthy way. However, if my contribution has been lengthier than usual, it was because of all the excellent interventions that I have taken. I hope that the House will forgive me if I now go to see the Albanians. They have a big problem with human trafficking, although they may deny it. It is interesting that the chief of police in Albania says that the number of people who are trafficked is going down. It is not—they are just not finding them. That is the other side of the story.

I am on the European Scrutiny Committee with my hon. Friend, and have been for many years. He, too, is leaving Parliament, and I would like to place on the record the fact that his work in this field has been outstanding. Whatever criticisms have been made of him, they pale into insignificance compared with the fantastic work that he has done on human trafficking. I have seen him furthering his cause while we have been in other European countries for European Scrutiny Committee meetings. It has been a great pleasure and privilege to work with him in these matters.

I was just about to sit down, but I am glad I did not, because my hon. Friend’s response was kind and quite unprompted. I am moved by what he says and I am grateful to him for saying it.

I have given a full and deserved tribute to the hon. Member for Totnes for the excellent work he has done on this issue. I shall give him some comfort as well. Although I shall be leaving this place shortly, I shall remain a member of my trade union. I am going abroad for a few months, but I pledge to work with him, Unite and Kalayaan on taking the issue forward when I return to the UK.

May I thank the hon. Gentleman for his offer? I am most touched.

The problem can be dealt with. It is a problem that we do not see because it is all underground. There are more people today in domestic and human slavery than there ever were in the 350 years of the African slave trade. That is the scale of it. However, it is not seen because it is all submerged, whereas the African slave trade could be seen: it was a visible thing. We are talking about domestic slavery—it is actually slavery—although Wilberforce and this place were supposed to have abolished it. The Minister, whom we hold in great affection, must not be allowed to drag his feet. We must deal with this matter. He cannot blame the Foreign Office or anybody else. He must take the problem by the short and curlies and solve it.

I am most grateful to you, Mr. Benton, for your chairmanship this morning.

I, too, congratulate the hon. Member for Reading, West (Martin Salter) on securing this Adjournment debate. It is clear that slavery has been banned in this country for some time. Whether there is a claim under the European convention on human rights for anyone who has a diplomatic domestic migrant worker visa is an interesting question that Kalayaan may wish to consider. I understand that people have got ordinary domestic migrant worker visas after having had diplomatic ones—that might be a potential route in one or two cases—but the reality is that there is an arrangement that bonds an employee to an employer, which creates bonded or indentured labour, or slavery; there is no question about that.

The test of whether somebody is in that position is whether they can run away. If they cannot run away without suffering serious sanctions, there is a problem. Changing a diplomatic visa to a non-diplomatic visa would not necessarily extend the visa or increase the person’s other rights—it just gives them a chance to run away from slavery.

I congratulate Kalayaan on its work. In 2008, 27 diplomatic domestic workers were registered at Kalayaan, and in 2009 there were 24. That is a high proportion of the 200 diplomatic domestic worker visas that are issued per year; 253 were issued in 2007 and 189 were issued in 2008. If the arrangement is changed, the behaviour of employers will be modified, because the employer-employee relationship will be changed, and the employees will know that there is a mechanism by which they can establish their rights.

The hon. Gentleman highlights the statistics eloquently. About 200 to 300 visas are issued, and about 10 per cent. of people with those visas find their way to Kalayaan. We hon. Members know, from our casework, that only a tiny proportion of people who suffer from an injustice take action to try to remedy it. The problem could be considerably more widespread than the raw statistics suggest. Does he not agree?

That is true, and I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. People will be here for more than one year at a time, so there are perhaps 500 such people here at any time. We are talking about a high percentage of people being willing to take the risk of a sanction against them—that is the critical thing.

And their families. Those people are willing to, and do, take the risk of a sanction against them. We have quoted the figures of 16,000 and 14,000 ordinary domestic worker visas, and the numbers registered with Kalayaan for 2008 and 2009 respectively were 369 and 354. Although there are a lot more ordinary domestic workers, the relevant proportion is lower, which shows that the nature of the arrangement is different.

There are other issues for the Government to consider; for example, what are they doing about the national minimum wage in respect of migrant domestic workers generally? The Select Committee on Home Affairs understands that the UK Border Agency is issuing visas even though it knows that the minimum wage will not be payable. That sounds unacceptable. What are the Government doing to ensure that access is made available to the limited number of English language courses? Will the Government give us any estimates or figures on the extent to which people are trafficked into domestic labour? That argument takes us on to the points-based system. There is a real challenge in how the matter is handled, because we do not want to create a bond between employer and employee that prevents people from running away.

What steps are the Government taking to deal with fact that, outside the Gangmasters Licensing Authority sector, enforcement of employment law is at times non-existent—an issue that was raised in the Home Affairs Committee report? There is a difficulty with international law and diplomats—there is no question about that—but we come back to the fundamental point, which is the ability to run away. If people are not able to run away, their rights cannot be enforced. Given that only 114 employers have been prosecuted for employing illegal workers since 1997, can the Government tell us how many people, if any, have been prosecuted for offences relating to the ill-treatment of a migrant domestic worker?

What steps are the Government taking to ensure that where offences are suspected to have been committed, legal advice and support is given to the victims to aid prosecution, and to those who wish to bring employment tribunals against their employers? There is a problem with employment law when it comes to diplomatic missions, but there is also the question of whether we should be negotiating with foreign Governments, so that there is a sanction, not against the employer, but the state as a whole.

The Home Affairs Committee found that

“police do not always understand”

the “special status” of migrant domestic workers, and that

“the immigration authorities frequently fail to follow the correct procedures for issuing visas…that would help to identify abuse.”

What steps have the Government taken since the publication of that Committee’s report to raise awareness of those problems with the relevant authorities? The Committee states that the current rules, which are part of a two-year extension, will need to be in place for far longer than two years to ensure protection from exploitation for those people, as various hon. Members have said. What is the Government’s reaction to that?

This is a difficult area, but there is a basic, simple principle: we oppose slavery. Indentured labour is slavery. To avoid slavery, people have to be able to run away without suffering. There will always be an element of suffering, because people will not have a new employer straight away, but they should not have to jump off a cliff to run away: that is not acceptable. There has to be a mechanism for people to leave an abusive employment relationship—to run away from slavery—and not be punished.

May I, too, congratulate the hon. Member for Reading, West (Martin Salter) on securing this debate and on raising this topic, not least because although we are talking about one small corner of the wider area of trafficking and modern-day slavery, it is, as other hon. Members have said, often hidden and paid insufficient attention?

The Minister and I are both veterans of various debates in this place on human trafficking. I frequently observe that the debate is in danger of sliding into one about prostitution and sexual slavery, which is clearly a hugely serious issue facing us, but not the whole story. This is another part of the story. Those of us who have been talking about trafficking and modern-day slavery for many years are always grateful for the opportunity to expose other parts of the wider issue.

In his absence, I should like to pay tribute yet again to the work that my hon. Friend the Member for Totnes (Mr. Steen) does on the all-party group on the trafficking of women and children. That is a model of how to use an all-party group. Those bodies are often rightly excoriated for not contributing much to the enlightenment of humanity, but my hon. Friend’s group has not only exposed problems, but has shifted public policy, and one can pay no higher tribute. I sometimes think I have been paying tribute to him for so long in these debates that even when he has gone I will continue to do so from force of habit.

We often discuss trafficking for sexual exploitation, and that is important, but it is important to consider whether the same solution could apply to the problems in both the diplomatic and non-diplomatic spheres—an issue that has been raised significantly during the debate. There is a huge overlap, but there are clearly different solutions. My first thought on listening to the debate was about something that we could do across the board about domestic exploitation of migrant domestic workers. This country may have been insufficiently clear in sending out a message to those who want to come here from the rest of the world, whether to do a normal job or as diplomats, that it is entirely and completely unacceptable to treat domestic staff in the way illustrated in the examples produced by the hon. Member for Reading, West. I agree with him that the issue is not what is appropriate behaviour for a diplomat—or for anyone—elsewhere in the world, but how people behave in this country.

We all—the Minister representing the Government and all of us as parliamentarians—have a right to say that we in this country represent certain values, including decent behaviour, and abusing domestic staff in the way that Kalayaan exposed is unacceptable. I echo the tributes paid by many hon. Members on both sides of the House to its work. We can all do something to make it clear that people must assume British behaviour if they come here to live and work, whether as diplomats, lawyers or anything else.

I did not hold back in my criticism of abuse by diplomats, but the nub of the problem that led to the Government introducing the migrant domestic worker visa—we have illustrated that it is working well—was that it affected not just foreign nationals; plenty of British expats were happy to behave as feudal barons in their own homes, and they were part of the initial problem that was identified and that led to the visa. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that we should be tough on the diplomats, but should remember that some of our own have fallen short of the standards that we in Britain expect?

I will make a point about the rule of law applying to everyone, which has been brought home to me by the force of this debate.

We know that in the UK, exploitation of labour is common in certain spheres—agriculture, construction, contract cleaning, the care sector and, indeed, the domestic sector. There have been many tragic examples in addition to the terrible and chilling ones that we have heard this morning, such as the Chinese cockle pickers at Morecambe bay and the lorry full of Chinese workers at Folkestone. We must become more effective across the board at combating that.

Reference has frequently been made during the debate to the fact that the Government gave themselves two years after introduction of the points-based system to examine the matter to see what was happening, and I understand that they are gathering facts and research. I hope that the Minister will give us an update on what evidence he has gathered. In terms of whether the current visa system could be integrated into the points-based system, I am not entirely sure how widespread the evidence will be because, with the rest of tier 3 at zero, there will be no obvious comparators. However, I assume that the Government have collected hard evidence on the incidence and possible patterns of abuse, and how best it can be prevented. I look forward to hearing that.

The debate has brought home the importance of hard evidence. I know how difficult it is to get it when many of those who are most capable of giving evidence are prevented from doing so by understandable fears. The exchange between the hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley (John Hemming), and the hon. Member for Reading, West, was instructive because the debate proceeded on the assumption that what we are seeing, particularly in the diplomatic area, is the tip of the iceberg. The hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley, rightly said that we all assume from other cases of exploitation and abuse that we hear about in our surgeries that there are many more people out there in that situation than approach their MP or a pressure group about it, but we do not know that. As has been said, the numbers are very small. A few hundred visas are issued every year and a few dozen people approach their MP or a pressure group every year. To proceed in such circumstance with the assumption that we are seeing the tip of the iceberg and not the iceberg itself might be wrong. I am not saying that it is wrong, but we do not know, and we should accept that we do not know. Trying to make policy on the assumption that we are seeing the tip of a large iceberg is dangerous.

I hope that the Minister will tell us that his Department has obtained evidence of absolute numbers, and of the percentage of domestic workers who are brought here and then abused—a percentage on which the Department can reliably base future policy.

I hesitate to criticise a fellow Reading football club fan, and I know that the hon. Gentleman is supportive of the issue, but there is a certain strangeness in the argument that although it might be okay to right a wrong that affects 10 per cent. of people, the fact that we do not know whether it might affect 15, 20 or 25 per cent. is an excuse for doing nothing. Let me press the hon. Gentleman, as I pressed the Minister: would a future Conservative Government extend the migrant domestic worker visa to diplomatic domestic workers—yes or no?

I will come to that. The hon. Gentleman said that he was trying to tie down the present and future Governments, but it is sensible that the current Minister—and any future Minister, whether that is me or someone else—should proceed on the basis of hard evidence. Different solutions may be necessary, depending on the scale of the problem. It has struck me during the debate that people are saying that there is a solution. I suspect that there are two or three solutions. We all want to clear the problem up, and any sensible Government who want to eradicate it may have to take several different steps, which will have to be based on evidence of the scale of the problem.

The hon. Gentleman is saying that one instance is one too many, and that the Government must do something about the problem. That is true, but he has been in the House long enough to know that such reasoning is often not the basis for the best and most effective policy making. I want to ensure that we eradicate abuse, and to do so effectively we need better evidence than we have at the moment. That is why I hope that the Minister can produce that evidence.

Is there not clear evidence of bonded, indentured employment? That is the challenge that must be resolved.

That is certainly one of the challenges that must be resolved, but there are others, including the potential for things to fall out of the part of the system that we are talking about; that could lead to routes to settlement that the Government are very concerned about, and I have a lot of sympathy for them on that. There are a number of complex issues, and I repeat that we need to find solutions based on evidence.

The Home Affairs Committee has recommended that we keep what is essentially a special visa regime for the type of worker that we are discussing. That recommendation was treated with great reluctance by the Home Office when it introduced the points-based system. I appreciate the desire of any bureaucracy for a tidy system. God knows the immigration system is complex enough, and was complex enough before the introduction of the points-based system, so I can appreciate why those involved in running it wish to simplify it as much as possible and not to create special exemptions.

I am glad to have the support of the Minister on that, but he will be well aware that purity in pursuit of that aim is not possible and not practical. We have exceptions in corners of the system. We have, for instance, a seasonal agricultural workers scheme. In certain areas, it is sensible—

The Minister surprisingly mentions Gurkhas from a sedentary position. If I were him, I would not bring that subject up, but he has done.

The very serious area that we are discussing is possibly an area for exemption. I can give the hon. Member for Reading, West, some comfort, in that it has occurred to me that although it may not be ideal to have a special visa regime in this area, that may be the least worst option. It may contribute to greater complexity in the system, but it may be a possibility.

To return to the diplomatic issue, a worker should be given the right to run away from abuse, but that does not deal with the problem; the abuser is the person who must be looked at. I put it to the hon. Gentleman that if one worker runs away, another is likely to come and fill their place, so that abuse and exploitation will continue. Surely the solution is twofold: there must be protection of the worker, but there must also be prosecution of the offender.

I take that point. To move directly on to the point about diplomats, I share some of the impatience of the hon. Member for Reading, West, with diplomatic niceties in this area. Everyone in the debate, including him, was carefully tiptoeing around, not naming embassies or countries.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way. I was disappointed by his weasel words when he did not give a clear commitment on what he would do if he were fortunate enough to be the Minister, but on reflection, it is probably incumbent on me to say that it was at the residence of the Pakistan high commissioner of several years ago that I witnessed what I described. I hope that the situation has now been remedied.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for saying that, although I suspect that his colleagues may not be. It is interesting to observe that, on the whole, we have avoided naming and shaming, whereas in other areas we do not avoid that. I have seen lists of parking fines for which various embassies in London are responsible. That information is in the public domain, and it is presumably put there by arms of the British Government. Parking illegally is irritating, but it is much less serious than the issues that we are discussing today. The Government could consider that.

That answers part of the point made by the hon. Member for South Antrim (Dr. McCrea). If it is known on the diplomatic circuit around the world that if people come to this country and behave in the ways described, they will at the very least be removed from their country’s embassy or high commission in this country and sent back to their own country, presumably in some kind of disgrace, that will act as a huge and effective deterrent. Indeed, it might quite quickly wipe out that type of behaviour. That would do a huge amount of good for what may be dozens or hundreds of people—we do not know.

We should not give up on the criminal law and the criminal justice system. Everyone who is doing what has been described is committing a criminal offence in this country. To say that for various reasons it is difficult to collect evidence, and that we therefore have to find a new way of stopping people committing that criminal offence, seems to me a counsel of despair. I know that it is difficult for the police to collect evidence, but there are other areas of life where that is so. The hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley, made the point about the paucity of prosecutions for exploitation more widely. It would be interesting to know whether any prosecutions have taken place in the area that we are discussing.

I have a final detailed point. The issue must come under the Government’s general anti-trafficking strategy. One of the things that most worries me is that the Metropolitan police’s anti-trafficking unit has been absorbed into the clubs and vice unit. That sends a clear signal that that force is now looking at human trafficking purely as a sexual exploitation issue; the type of exploitation that we are discussing is therefore likely to fall below the radar.

One conclusion that I reach is that our current anti-trafficking measures are not adequate, particularly in the area that we are discussing. That is one reason why a Conservative Government would introduce a specialist border police force. My second conclusion is that we should not give up on normal legal procedures and on naming and shaming embassies if necessary. My third conclusion—I know that this will disappoint the hon. Member for Reading, West—is that the long-term solution depends on harder evidence than we have before us today, unless the Minister is about to produce some. Individual cases are clearly hugely distressing and shameful, even if there is not a huge number of them. The long-term solution must depend on that evidence, but I can assure the hon. Gentleman and the House more widely that if there is a Conservative Government after the next election, we will regard the eradication of modern-day slavery in this country as a very serious and important part of our work.

It is a pleasure to speak under your chairmanship in this important debate, Mr. Benton. The traditional congratulations to my hon. Friend the Member for Reading, West (Martin Salter) on securing the debate would clearly be inadequate today. I suspect that this will be his last Adjournment debate, so it is right and timely to pay tribute to him, as I did on the day that he announced his retirement from Parliament. His work as a Member of Parliament has been incredible. I am thinking of the successes he has had from the positions he has held on the Home Affairs Committee and the all-party group on Gurkha rights, where he played an incredibly helpful role. His membership of Amnesty International has guided his work. I checked before the debate and my hon. Friend’s declarations of political interest included India and Pakistan, so I have narrowed it down, but it was useful that he clarified the matter, especially as Pakistan day is next week.

I have a detailed prepared speech, but I think that hon. Members want me to answer two questions: one on domestic workers and one on domestic workers in diplomatic households. The hon. Member for Totnes (Mr. Steen) has had to leave us, but I undertook to provide answers to his questions. The hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley (John Hemming) had a detailed list of questions that I might not cover now, but if he remains unsatisfied on those questions, I will of course write to him with the information.

Let me clarify something. On the route for domestic workers that we have discussed with Unite and Kalayaan, which are represented in the Chamber today, the commitment was to look at the system within two years of the introduction of that aspect of the rules. That will take us to November 2010, which is slightly before the date that hon. Members were looking at. Let me make it clear that the Government’s policy objective is to review how the system is working. We have been given some figures today, and hon. Members will remember that the original fear was that there would be a pull factor and that the ability to transfer the visa might encourage people to use that route.

The hon. Member for Ashford (Damian Green) made a valid point about evidence, because there are two other criteria that one would need to look at. One is the effect on settlement applications and the desire in the Borders, Citizenship and Immigration Act 2009 to separate residency from automaticity of settlement rights. At the moment, people in the category we are discussing have rights to apply, but one needs to look at the effect of any proposals.

The hard information that my hon. Friend has given us shows, however, that the numbers using the domestic worker route are actually going down. There may be wider factors at play, including economic factors, although I have seen no evidence of that. Of course, that analysis assumes a rather little Englander view of the economic recession, because we remain a relatively wealthy country.

Let me just put on record the fact that the decline in the numbers applying for migrant domestic worker visas covered 2005, 2006 and 2007, when the economy was in much healthier shape than it is now. Irrespective of the economic circumstances, the general trend is down.

Yes, my hon. Friend is absolutely right. I will not repeat the figures, but what he says continues to be the case. Of course, there may be consequential changes in other areas of the immigration system, and the points-based system may have opened up other routes, although I have seen no evidence of that, particularly given that tier 3 is closed. Interestingly, the passenger arrivals data on the nationalities of domestic workers show that 36 per cent. of those in the category we are discussing are Filipino, 20 per cent. are Indian and 12 per cent. are Indonesian; their countries are the top three countries of origin, and they would not be covered by tiers 1 and 2 or, indeed, aspects of tier 5.

To answer the question, my commitment is that the Government will review how the system is working. We will not change our policy of providing protection to domestic workers. I would not wish to rule out the possibility that there may be a better way of providing protection, but there is no intention on the part of the Government to get rid of that protection. There is the caveat that one would need to look at the evidence, although that evidence would relate to how the system is working, not to whether it should be there.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that. I think that what he has said is progress. To be clear, the Government are saying that the protection will continue beyond 2011, in its current form or a new, improved form.

Yes. To repeat, the difficulty, as the hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley and others have said, is that although the Government are aware of a number of cases, there are strong reasons why cases would not come forward. Therefore, one cannot look just at the transparent evidence available to the Government. It is really a question of reviewing how the protection is working, not whether it should be there. I do not rule out another way of providing protection—it would be foolish to do that—but there is no intention on the part of the Government to remove that protection. Indeed, the conversations that we have had with Kalayaan and hon. Members have been aimed at improving the system as best we can.

The hon. Member for Ashford made a very wise point—he has obviously started to think about policy in detail. It is true that the great advantage of the points-based system is its simplicity. It is also true that although relatively small numbers take the diplomatic route—the numbers for entry and potential settlement via the domestic servant route are actually significant—that is the third such exception that I have dealt with today. There are many such cases of special interests—I will not say special pleading, because this cause is clearly valid. That, however, is the Government’s policy on the first question.

On the second question, I cannot give the positive answer today that I had wanted to give. The timing of the debate is fortunate from the point of view of raising the issue, but it is unfortunate from my point of view because the Government’s deliberations have not been concluded. Those are not, I hope, weasel words. Let me give some of the background.

I was asked about the figures. Complaints from diplomatic domestic servants are forwarded to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, which is aware of two cases involving allegations of abuse in the past 12 months. To emphasise the point, those are just the cases that the Foreign Office has been made aware of. As the hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley said, if someone cannot run away, they cannot be protected, and I think there is consensus in the House on that. I am not suggesting that there are only two cases of abuse; those two cases are the ones we are aware of.

It would be illuminating for hon. Members if I explained how the cases proceeded. Both complaints were referred to the FCO by the police. The first is the subject of a police investigation and a request for the waiver of criminal immunity to allow the diplomat to give evidence to rebut the allegations or to help to confirm to the police that there is a case to answer. In the second case, the police decided that no criminal offence had been committed. As has been suggested, therefore, there is the possibility, at the end of the road, that the diplomatic position would be withdrawn. As the hon. Member for Ashford rightly said, there is also the criminal justice route.

The question is whether the ability to transfer the visa to another employer would provide better protection for people we are not aware of because they have not come forward with complaints. We are undertaking investigations, but the issue is complicated because of our relationship with the diplomatic service and our reciprocal diplomatic arrangements. However, there is no question that we are putting those diplomatic relations above the interests of victims.

I can confirm that the Vienna convention does not preclude us from allowing a private servant to switch employment to outside the mission. The issue is the convention’s definition of interfering

“unduly with the performance of the functions of the mission.”

We have to be on strong ground on that point.

Of course, I understand the point that we should not put the protection of diplomatic relations above the interests of victims of violent, physical or, indeed, verbal abuse. We are working to solve the problem. Our policy is to look at the suggested solution of switching visas. As I said, the timing of the debate is fortunate in terms of raising the issue, but it is unfortunate for me in that I have not yet concluded my deliberations. However, my experience based on eight years as a Minister is that it is better to get things right than to respond to an Adjournment debate or a question in the House just because it might make my life easier now.