House of Lords
Wednesday, 10 December 2014.
Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Sheffield.
EU: Justice Opt-ins
My Lords, there is no proposal for a European corpus juris. Any proposals to extend EU jurisdiction in criminal law would be subject to the UK’s existing justice and home affairs opt-in, which allows us to choose whether we take part. Those decisions are taken in full consultation with Parliament.
My Lords, with the 35 opt-ins to the European criminal law now in place, and with the powers that the European court has to make law, are we not now in very real danger of losing the presumption of innocence, the jury system, case law and habeas corpus?
We have been very clear that, as the treaty of Lisbon states, the presumption as regards criminal law should be that we operate by mutual recognition rather than harmonisation. We have taken very clear steps to say that, because we have the ability to opt in under the Lisbon treaty, we exercise that choice. That is the reason why the Prime Minister decided to opt out of 135 measures before opting back in to 35; otherwise, European Court of Justice jurisdiction would have extended to all of those. Therefore I recognise the noble Lord’s point, but the Prime Minister is arguing our case well.
My Lords, will the Minister not agree that, now that the Government have successfully rejoined the 35 key measures, it would make more sense to concentrate on some of the measures that we have in principle opted into but which have not yet completed their negotiating track? Can he therefore say what progress the Government are making in dislodging the blockage by the European Parliament on the passenger name record directive, which would be of great assistance in dealing with terrorism?
I do not have a direct answer on that, but I think that in principle what the noble Lord says is absolutely right. We have made our position clear and argued our case, and have avoided an operational gap by the decision we took on 1 December. Now we ought to get on and make sure that the measures we have opted into work well. However, I will write to him on that point.
My Lords, is not the depressing and worrying thing about the noble Lord’s Question that it is so ideological? It implies that when we look at legislation we ought first of all to be concerned about whether it is classified as European or as British legislation, rather than whether it is necessary, fair, reasonable and in the national interest. I think the whole House is united in appreciating the value of the European single market, but we would never have had a single market had we not passed the Single European Act, which I believe the noble Lord may have voted for in his time. Would it not be very reassuring if he could retrieve somehow the open-mindedness and pragmatism of his youth?
I disagree with the presumption that the Question was ideological. This is a matter of practical steps, case by case. That is why we think there is a case, in terms of securing our borders, for the European arrest warrant. We would be part of that. We would also be part of measures to tackle modern-day slavery and of cross-border legislation against cyberattack, but we will not be part of other things. I think that is very practical and pragmatic.
My Lords, forgive me, but we have not yet heard from the Liberal Democrat Benches, so we shall hear from the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, first. We have plenty of time for other noble Lords to participate in this Question.
Can the Minister confirm that the famous corpus juris was in fact purely an academic research report, not a European Commission proposal? Its only product has been the idea of a European public prosecutor, in which the UK is not participating. Can he further confirm that all other EU action against crime is firmly founded on mutual recognition, as promoted by the UK, and that there is no European jurisdiction or European criminal code?
The Government are rejoining 35 EU justice and home affairs measures. My noble friend Lady Smith of Basildon asked questions of the Government—raised, I believe, on four previous occasions—about how many of the justice and home affairs measures that the Government have opted out of have any value, or even apply to the UK, how many were being used in an operation prior to the opt-out decision and how many were harmful to the interests of the UK. Again my noble friend’s questions were not answered, which rather supports the point made by the Chairman of the EU Committee in the same debate, about the need for the Home Office to take parliamentary scrutiny and accountability seriously. Will the Minister now answer those questions, or is there a grim determination to ensure that, for these particular questions on opt-outs, the Government Dispatch Box will remain an answer-free zone?
It would help if the noble Lord had actually listened to the previous debates. On Monday we had the very same question: his noble friend Lady Smith asked me that question. I replied by referring her to Command Papers 8897 and 8671, which set out in exhaustive detail—enough even to satisfy the level of scrutiny on the opposition Benches—what our position is on every single one of those matters.
My Lords, we read in the papers this weekend that our right honourable friend the Prime Minister had assured the Turks that he was in favour of their accession to the European Union. Does the Minister know whether he told the Turks that they would have to accept in whole, completely and absolutely, corpus juris?
My Lords, will the Minister accept the grateful thanks of the United Kingdom Independence Party for the powers that the Government have already ceded to the corrupt and profligate octopus in Brussels? Are not those powers among the reasons for UKIP’s support from so many real people in this country?
In terms of the ideology referred to in the previous question, that is exactly where the ideology comes from. That sort of approach taken towards Brussels would make our people less safe, because we would not be able to secure our borders as we do and we would not be able to co-operate on crime and law enforcement measures. All those things would put the people of this country at risk. That is ideology; this is pragmatism.
Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe
My Lords, the Government are committed to strengthening the capacities of the OSCE, particularly in relation to its crucial role in the Ukraine crisis. In 2014, the UK has been among the largest contributors to the OSCE’s Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine, providing more than £3 million-worth of funding and equipment and seconding more than 20 UK nationals. Additionally, more than 170 UK election observers joined the two OSCE observation missions in Ukraine this year.
I thank the noble Lord for concentrating his reply on Ukraine. Would he agree that violations of the ceasefire and the presence of Russian military equipment and personnel, as well as the devastation of civilian areas and the onset of winter and diseases, all make the case for strengthening the OSCE’s mandate and personnel in the field?
My Lords, my noble friend will be aware that one of the great problems at the moment with the monitoring mission in Ukraine is that it also comprises Russian observers. He will also know that the border by which Russia enters Ukraine is about 100 kilometres long, but only 1 kilometre of that is actually monitored by the OSCE. Would he be able to tell us whether he believes that it is possible to resolve a conflict when one side to a dispute is engaged in assessing whether the other side is playing by the rules or not? That does not seem entirely fair.
My Lords, Russia is a member of the OSCE, which is one of the advantages of the OSCE. We wish that Russia were a more constructive member of the OSCE and we are very conscious of the heavy constraints under which the Special Monitoring Mission is now being forced to operate.
My Lords, one of the OSCE’s main purposes is to provide an inclusive regional instrument for early warning conflict prevention and crisis management. With this in mind, what more could the OSCE have done to prevent the conflict in Ukraine from developing?
It would be easier if we had all anticipated quite how the conflict might develop. Ukraine has many problems and its last Government were in some ways structurally corrupt. There is a great deal that Ukraine needs to change to recover its economy and provide a much better quality of governance. I have to say that the number of new Ministers in the new Government who have experience outside Ukraine and who are not part of this corrupt network is very encouraging.
My Lords, have the Government given some thought to the IMF announcement yesterday that Ukraine is going to need some billions unless it is going to collapse into bankruptcy? Russia will have won by default if that happens. Have we given some thought to that?
My Lords, we are acutely aware that Ukraine needs extensive and continuing financial support and the IMF is engaged in that—and we are talking about billions of pounds over the next two years. The IMF is leading on this and the European Union is a major player. We are conscious of the energy problems of Ukraine. People in Donetsk and Luhansk may possibly even freeze to death this winter if we are not careful. We are also providing assistance in energy sector reform.
My Lords, can we be clear that this is not just about Ukraine? There are other countries where Russia is doing something very similar: I, for one, would be worried about Moldova, given the electoral split in last week’s election. Are we raising at the OSCE the whole activity of Russia in neighbouring states by promoting dissent and, most importantly, providing support for it from outside, often with disguised troops?
My Lords, we have continuing, active and widespread dialogues with as many of those in positions of authority in Russia as we can. Those dialogues include Moldova and other frozen conflicts: in Azerbaijan, Nagorno-Karabakh, South Ossetia and Abkhazia.
My Lords, may I press my noble friend a little bit on his last reply to me? Given that Russia is a party to the conflict—in other words, it is conflicted in being part of the monitoring mission—have there been any discussions with the leader of the OSCE mission to ask whether the Russians might stand down from this particular mission while remaining members of the OSCE?
My Lords, 25 years ago the Berlin Wall and the iron curtain were torn down by the bare hands of eastern Europeans, because they respected the moral authority and values that we express in the West. After yesterday’s report about the violations of the CIA in pursuit of other wars, where does the Minister think that that moral authority stands today?
My Lords, that is a very broad question, on which we might possibly have a full debate. Clearly, the report on CIA violations does damage the reputation of the West, but I stress that on Ukraine, the EU is leading. In answer to the question that the noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch, has not raised on this occasion, it is not the case that the EU or NATO has tempted Ukraine to join. I was at a conference in Kiev in December 1991, when Ukraine had been independent for less than a month. The Foreign Minister declared as his opening statement that Ukraine had two strategic objectives for the next three years; the first was to join NATO and the second was to join the EU. I was asked to reply and explained that it was a little more difficult than he thought.
My Lords, since the noble Lord has mentioned me at such length, is it not true that President Putin offered a free trade agreement from Lisbon to Vladivostok in 2010 and that the EU responded with the offers that we all know about? Is it not true that Russia always made clear that it could not tolerate the Crimea going under the sphere of influence of Brussels and, eventually, NATO?
My Lords, the noble Lord obviously watches “RussiaToday” rather more than he watches the BBC. We are quite willing to discuss broader issues with the Russians. There are severe problems about negotiating a free trade agreement with a country in which the rule of law is so extremely weak.
My Lords, on behalf of the UK Government I would like to congratulate Malala Yousafzai and Kailash Satyarthi on sharing the Nobel Peace Prize today. Both have achieved a great deal. Malala is a truly remarkable young woman who has done much for girls’ and boys’ education globally and specifically within Pakistan. My right honourable friends the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister have publicly recognised her achievements, including the award presented today.
I thank my noble friend for her Answer. However, when Malala addressed the General Assembly of the United Nations she stated:
“One child, one teacher, one book and one pen can change the world”.
We have so often failed to recognise the dedication and risks that teachers take in some circumstances, as Malala’s teachers did. As DfID funds so much girls’ education in Pakistan, could Her Majesty’s Government consider creating some kind of scholarship for professional development, or award, in honour of this Nobel Peace Prize, to honour those teachers?
My noble friend is right to highlight the contributions that good teachers make. We all know that, and DfID is indeed committing significant resources to education in Pakistan. Probably the most important thing is to sustain that commitment, both in terms of trying to get girls into school and also good teachers into those classrooms for all of those children.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Berridge, as I tried—and failed—to get this as a Topical Question when the award was first announced. Her timing is superb, as we know, because Malala received her award this morning. Perhaps the best way that we can recognise Malala’s astounding achievement, as a very courageous young woman with a wise head on her shoulders, is to invite her to address both Houses of Parliament. There is an honourable precedent for this: we have had previous Nobel Prize winners. Although the Nobel Peace Prize has had a somewhat chequered history, on this occasion they have got it absolutely right. She is a superb role model for young women and girls in this country, in a situation where many women, unfortunately, are being enticed to sacrifice their lives in rather foolish missions to become jihadist brides. She is a wonderful example. We could invite the UK Youth Parliament as well. I welcome the Minister’s response.
I heard Malala at the Girl Summit in July, and she was superb. She had a fantastic grasp of the importance of education for women and girls. I point out that she is in her GCSE year. We need to ensure that she is not deflected too much, for her own future, from her own exams and studying.
My Lords, as has been mentioned around the Chamber, Malala has inspired many young people and young women around the world. She also expressed her concerns last year to President Obama. She said that,
“drone attacks are fuelling terrorism. Innocent victims are killed in these acts, and they lead to resentment among the Pakistani people. If we refocus efforts on education it will make a big impact”.
Do Her Majesty’s Government support what Malala has said? What are we doing to honour what she has said: to ensure that education is at the forefront, rather than conflict?
My noble friend will know that we put a great deal of stress on working in fragile and conflict-affected states. We fully recognise that development should be a driver towards peace and stability, which is one of the major reasons why we invest what we do in education.
My Lords, I was privileged to show Malala and her family around the Palace of Westminster and to talk with her about Pakistan. She is the most amazing young woman. Could the Minister confirm—maybe she cannot say in detail what is happening; if she cannot say it on the Floor of the House, maybe she would write—that we are ensuring that Malala is protected? She has been shot once; she is in an area of this country where we know that there are jihadists. I would like to know that our nation is looking after this amazing woman.
My Lords, what is being done to teach the teachers? The problem in Pakistan is that the teaching available beyond schooling is imperfect, to say the least, as far as women are concerned. Would it be possible to offer scholarships for some of those bright women to train as teachers in this country?
Again, the noble Baroness is well aware of the significance of this. We are putting a great deal of effort into teaching the teachers. For example, in Pakistan we are training 90,000 teachers a year in Punjab and 16,000 in KP. She will see the scale of that, but it is extremely important that the training we offer is high quality.
My Lords, does the Minister agree that tackling the barriers that women and girls face, not least to education, has to involve an urgent need to tackle the negative effects on their life chances of cultural attitudes, social norms, domestic duties, early marriage and pregnancy? Surely those elements dictate that access to education is made impossible.
My Lords, what steps does my noble friend think the United Nations can take to convince the people of Pakistan that the deprivation of women and girls’ education is costing their state and public enormous economic potential? Will that be something that she could draw to the attention of the Government of Pakistan?
My Lords, obviously education is key to women’s rights. The issue that we heard about last week was the London conference on Afghanistan. Can the Minister update the House on the outcomes of that conference, particularly for girls’ education and women’s rights?
In the OBR’s independent forecast of public spending, it has assumed a modest adjustment to the rollout for universal credit, which it says has a comparatively small impact on forecast expenditure. We maintain our determination to deliver the plan already set out which has been assured by the Major Projects Authority and signed off by the Treasury. The plan is on track. Universal credit will bring economic benefits of £7 billion every year.
Both eminent bodies, the OBR and the IFS, forecast that the policy of the Government is reducing the state to its lowest level since the early 1930s. That is utterly different from what the Minister is predicting. Is not that dire consequence possible? It is utter madness, is it not? Does the Minister dispute the conclusions of both bodies? What is his prognosis?
Well, my Lords, I will talk about universal credit and what it aims to do for the people who need support from the state system. It directs our funding far more efficiently to people who need that support. It produces economic benefits of £7 billion every year and it does so at an investment cost of £1.8 billion. That investment cost is down from the £2.4 billion that we originally envisaged.
One of the things that we need to do with universal credit is to make sure that everyone can take part in it. We are creating a system to do that through universal support, where we go into partnership with local authorities to help people, concentrating particularly on financial and digital inclusion. We then pull in all the other third sector companies, such as landlords, Citizens Advice and credit unions, to make sure that support is holistic.
I do not doubt the Government’s intentions or the Minister’s commitment, but this has to be delivered to work. To go back to the original Question, the OBR said at the time of the Autumn Statement that, despite having already been delayed repeatedly and reset last year, it was assuming an extra six-month delay on top of the Government’s current plans because of what it called “optimism bias” in the DWP. Just right now, as the Public Accounts Committee is hearing from the Treasury, it was confirmed by the chair that the Treasury has not signed off the DWP’s business case for universal credit. What can the Minister say to the House? Universal credit is running almost four years late. It is costing money to taxpayers and vulnerable clients. It risks, frankly, making a laughing stock of the department. What can the Minister tell us to reassure us and how can we believe him?
I re-emphasise that the Treasury has signed off the strategic outline business case. This plan is being done in a way that makes sure that we do it safely and securely—not the big bang method. As I said, it is being done more cheaply than originally envisaged. It is vital that we do not do the kind of thing that happened with tax credit when it was opened on one day and was a total shambles for millions of people.
Will my noble friend resist the carping criticism coming from the opposition Benches and take credit for the fact that when they were in government for 10 years they did nothing about the fact that some people were worse off in work than out of work? My noble friend and his colleagues are to be congratulated on taking very difficult and complex decisions to solve this problem and seeing more people coming into work as a result.
My Lords, I have developed an extraordinarily keen appreciation of why politicians do not like to do fundamental reform, but this reform is absolutely essential because the present system is a shambles. It does not encourage people into work or reward them systematically for doing that. The whole point of universal credit is that you join up the out-of-work and the in-work systems so that there is a smooth progression that everyone can understand.
My Lords, £40 million has been written off with IT in this system with a further £40 million being used on the old IT system. The useful IT life has now been downgraded from 15 years to five years. Given that this information was extracted painfully from the department by the NAO, is it not the case that warning lights have been flashing for two years and that only an objective assessment of the scheme will do in order to determine whether this architecture is fit for purpose?
My Lords, the NAO has recognised the savings to government of going the way that we are going, with a live service showing us how it works and a properly designed digital service coming out behind. The NAO has recognised that the savings to government of that approach are £2 billion.
My Lords, the Public Accounts Committee has pointed out that the Government are too trusting of quasi-monopolistic private providers such as G4S, which is to have a major role in the development of universal credit. Have the Government forgiven it for overcharging the taxpayer £130 million for tagging people who did not exist or had died?
My Lords, the Minister was given a very gentle question from his noble friend. Will he tell the House how much taxpayers’ money in this country is being paid to people to subsidise employers who do not pay a living wage, particularly those employers who fail to pay taxes properly here? I appreciate that this is a wide question. I would like a detailed written answer about how much each one of us is subsidising people who are tax shy.
Hereditary Peers By-Election
The Clerk of the Parliaments announced the result of the Cross-Bench by-election to elect two hereditary Peers in place of Viscount Allenby of Megiddo and Lord Cobbold in accordance with Standing Order 10.
Twenty-five Lords completed valid ballot papers. A paper setting out the complete results is available in the Printed Paper Office and online. That paper gives the number of votes cast for each candidate. In the first count, the successful candidate was Lord Russell of Liverpool. In the second count, the successful candidate was the Duke of Somerset.
My Lords, I shall now repeat in the form of a Statement the answer given by my honourable friend James Brokenshire to an Urgent Question earlier this morning in another place. The Statement is as follows:
“Mr Speaker, I am sure the whole House shares the Government’s deep concern about the situation in Syria, the suffering and hardship it is causing for millions of refugees and the enormous strain it is placing on the region. With 3.2 million people displaced into Syria’s neighbouring countries and millions more in need within Syria itself, this Government believe it is right to focus efforts on substantial aid to help large numbers of people who remain. This is a crisis of international proportions. Alleviating the suffering and seeking an end to the conflict are the best ways to ensure that the UK’s help has the greatest impact for the majority of Syrian refugees and their host countries. Ending the war, defeating extremism and ending the humanitarian crisis require both military pressure and a political settlement which replaces the Assad regime with a Government which can represent all Syrians.
The UK has committed £700 million in response to the humanitarian crisis. This significant contribution makes us the second largest bilateral donor after the USA. The UK’s support is helping hundreds of thousands of refugees across the region access vital food, water, medical care and essential supplies that are so desperately needed. UK aid has provided water for up to 1.5 million people per month and supported over 600,000 medical consultations. Last year, we funded 5.2 million monthly food rations.
Compared with aid, resettlement can only ever help a minority. We do, however, recognise that there are some particularly vulnerable people who cannot be supported effectively in the region. That is why, earlier this year, we launched the Syrian vulnerable persons relocation scheme to provide sanctuary for those displaced Syrians who are most at risk. The VPR scheme is the first resettlement programme run by the UK to target support for refugees specifically on the basis of their vulnerability. It is prioritising women and children at risk, people in need of medical care and survivors of torture and violence.
It is right that our resettlement efforts focus on the most vulnerable refugees, rather than operating a crude quota system. Arrivals under the scheme so far have included a number of children and adults with very severe medical needs who could not access the treatment they needed in the region. This Government have committed to helping several hundred people over three years, and that is exactly what we are doing. Between March and September, 90 people were granted humanitarian protection in the UK under the scheme. We continue to work closely with UNHCR to identify the most vulnerable cases displaced by the conflict in Syria and to relocate them to the UK. This is, of course, in addition to the many other Syrian asylum claims we consider under normal rules. Since the crisis began in 2011, we have granted asylum or other forms of leave to more than 3,400 Syrian nationals.
Resettlement can make a real difference to the lives of the refugees who can be supported effectively only outside the region. I am delighted to see those arriving under the scheme settling into their new homes and receiving the care they need, but we must not lose sight of the millions of Syrians who remain in the region. Our primary focus was, and still is, the provision of humanitarian assistance and aid to displaced people both within Syria and its neighbouring countries. Continuing our efforts to help them through aid must remain our highest priority”.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for repeating the Statement made earlier in the other place.
The British Government have rightly committed £700 million to help those affected by the conflict in Syria. It is the UK’s largest ever response to a humanitarian crisis and reflects the values of the British people. We, on these Benches, applaud the Government’s efforts in that regard.
At a conference in Geneva yesterday, the UN asked for countries across the globe to increase the places they could provide for a limited programme to help the most vulnerable refugees who struggle to survive or cope in the region. As I understand it, the Government have still to respond. This is now the worst refugee crisis since World War II. It is not about helping every refugee but about doing our bit alongside other countries. Will the Government accept that their parallel programme is not working sufficiently well and sign up to the UN programme instead? Will the Government immediately take vulnerable refugees affected by the conflict in Syria out of the net migration target? Finally, will the Government now agree to do more to help?
My Lords, I do not accept that the current vulnerable persons relocation scheme is not working. The first vulnerable victims arrived eight weeks after it was set up. So far, 90 people have been accepted into it. However, the programme is on track to deal with several hundred victims over three years, as promised. This is in addition to the other areas I mentioned that help the people most affected in that region, including the biggest aid package we have ever produced for any humanitarian crisis, and the political efforts to end the crisis in Syria. It is also in addition to the 3,400 people we have taken under the normal asylum rules.
The net migration figures are based on the UN definition of migration. The number of people we are going to accept under the vulnerable persons scheme and even the asylum rules is a tiny proportion of the figures. We account for those figures in the way that all countries do internationally.
My Lords, the Minister told us that there are 3.2 million refugees in the region. The generosity of countries such as Jordan, Lebanon, Egypt and Turkey contrasts with the lack of generosity of many other countries. Although Her Majesty’s Government have been generous with humanitarian aid, the number of vulnerable refugees—90—that the Minister mentioned to the House today is in stark contrast to that figure of 3.2 million. Only yesterday in Geneva, as the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, mentioned, the UN specifically asked that 130,000 should be accepted by developed countries. Will the noble Lord tell us what we are going to do to try to reach that target? We are now in the depths of winter, and groups such as the Yazidis and the other minorities that we have all followed over these past months are in freezing conditions. What are we doing to ensure that they are given additional humanitarian relief?
The noble Lord is right to highlight these issues. We take this very seriously and approach it in the way that we think is the best way of approaching it; that is, that humanitarian aid in the region is the best way of doing it. We accept that for very vulnerable people in special circumstances we can provide help in this country, but we think that providing £700 million to the region is the most effective way of providing our humanitarian aid, which will help people in that area. It provides basic things such as water and food, which can help the largest numbers of people, and it complements the UN’s programme because we take the people into this country that it suggests to us and we provide money in the area to deal with the people directly on the ground.
My Lords, is not this crisis continuing to destabilise the whole region? Is not the only long-term answer a proper political solution in Syria? Does that not mean that we have to talk sensibly and intelligently with the Assad regime, much as we might like to hold our noses while doing so? What has got to be smashed is the power of ISIS, and that cannot be done unless there has been an intelligent dialogue with the present Syrian regime.
I agree with my noble friend that ending the war and defeating extremism will be the way to end the humanitarian crisis in the long term. That requires military pressure and a political settlement. However, we feel that that requires replacing the Assad regime with a Government who can represent all Syrians, in order to prevent further conflict. We are looking carefully at the UN envoy’s plan for local ceasefires to freeze the conflict. We support his work and we think that plan, together with direct help from aid on the ground, is the best way of achieving this.
My Lords, of course the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, is absolutely right that the only solution in the long term is a political solution, but it is a longer-term solution. I hope the Minister listened very carefully to what the noble Lord, Lord Alton, said. It is winter; this is an emergency. There are enormous difficulties for those countries which have been so generous in the region, particularly Jordan and Lebanon. Their systems are at breaking point. They have three rotas of children in their schools every day; they cannot vaccinate children fast enough. This is a generous-hearted country. The £700 million is fantastic and I applaud the Government, but we need to offer more. We need to offer what the United Nations is asking us to do, which is to take more of these displaced people who are in real difficulty. If this country gave a lead on this, others would follow in Europe and there would be a far greater response to what the UN has asked us to do.
I agree entirely with the noble Baroness that this is an extremely difficult situation and I take her point about winter coming. The fact is that we regard aid on the ground as the most important way of helping those neighbouring countries which have all the problems she suggests. £700 million is not a small amount. It is the largest single aid figure we have ever given. I completely agree that it has to take place in the context of a political settlement. Taking vulnerable people and asylum seekers is important but, in terms of actual direct effect, in the short term aid on the ground is the best way of helping the neighbouring countries.
My Lords—order, order—we have not heard from the Liberal Democrat Benches so it is the turn of my noble friend Lady Falkner.
We need your voice, Dafydd. We need your voice.
My Lords, I obviously cannot go on with my question if the Cross-Benchers continue.
The Minister said that the Assad regime cannot be kept in place. Did he mean that President Assad cannot be kept in place and does he rule out in any future peace settlement any conversations that might allow some elements of the regime to take over in a transitional government? That is a change in position as far as I understand it.
Further to the question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, can the Minister tell the House who it is that Her Majesty’s Government recognise as the legitimate Government of Syria at the moment and whether that recognition is de facto or de jure, according to the principles of public international law?
Employment: Young People
My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall now repeat a Statement on preparing young people for the world of work made earlier today in the other place by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Education. The Statement is as follows.
“Ensuring that young people leave school or college prepared for life in modern Britain is a central tenet of this Government’s plan for education and a vital part of our long-term economic plan for Britain. It is the students of today who will be the workforce of tomorrow and on whom the future success of our economy—and everything that flows from that—will depend. That is why our plan is ensuring that every young person learns the knowledge, skills and values they need to be able to leave school or college ready to fulfil their potential and succeed in life.
This Government have done a huge amount to raise standards in our schools. We now have a million more pupils in good and outstanding schools—more than ever before—and 100,000 more six year-olds are now on track to become confident readers because of our focus on phonics. The number of pupils taking core academic GCSEs is up by over 60% since 2009-10, thanks to the EBacc. Critically, we now have the most highly qualified teaching profession ever, with more graduates from top universities choosing teaching than ever before.
However, I am clear that while helping every child to master the basics is vital, it is only the start. Schools and colleges have a broader role to play in preparing young people for adult life. That is why I recently allocated £5 million of funding to support new, innovative projects that build character, resilience and grit, because as much as I want the next generation to be able to solve a quadratic equation, I also want them to be able to make a compelling pitch for a job and to bounce back if things do not work out. It is also why, today, I am setting out an ambitious new approach to the way that we open young people’s eyes to the world of work.
It is widely acknowledged that careers provision in schools has long been inadequate. To date, we have encouraged schools and colleges to take the lead. We have placed a clear duty on them to provide students with access to impartial advice and guidance. But although we published an Inspiration Vision Statement in September 2013 and strengthened the statutory guidance to support schools and colleges in making this vision a reality, it is clear that many schools and colleges need additional support if we are to ensure that every young person, regardless of background or location, receives the life-changing advice and inspiration that they need to fulfil their potential and succeed in life. This is a view supported by a number of respected contributors in this area including Ofsted, the National Careers Council, the Sutton Trust, the Gatsby Charitable Foundation and the Education Select Committee of this House, as well as many employers, sector experts, and schools and colleges themselves.
There are, of course, some schools and colleges doing great things to ensure that their students access the necessary support, but too often provision is patchy. Already busy schools and teachers do not always have the time to give this the focus they should. Meanwhile, many organisations, including employers, offer excellent programmes for young people. The challenge before us is how to ensure that every young person in every part of the country is given access to them. I have consistently heard calls from both employers and schools and colleges to help them navigate this complex landscape and spread the good practice that is happening in some parts of the country to all. Today, I am answering those calls.
I am pleased to be able to tell the House that Christine Hodgson, chair of Capgemini UK and someone with a strong track record of developing young talent, will chair a new careers and enterprise company for schools. This will transform the provision of careers education and advice for young people and inspire them to take control of and shape their own futures. The company will support much greater engagement between employers on the one hand and schools and colleges on the other. It will ensure that young people get the inspiration and guidance that they need to leave school or college ready to succeed in working life. It will be employer led but work closely with the education and careers sectors, and it will act as an umbrella organisation to help employers, schools and colleges and other organisations navigate their way through the existing landscape. It will provide a vehicle to help other organisations co-ordinate their activities where appropriate.
The company will not itself be a direct delivery organisation or act in competition with the many existing providers in the market. Instead it will help schools, colleges, organisations and employers work together in partnership. The company will focus on the offer to young people, initially those aged 12 to 18. It will work closely with the National Careers Service, which will continue to support adults and young people and help the company bring employers, schools and colleges together.
It will be for the new company’s board to set its own strategy but we envisage that it will do a number of things. It will use relationships with employers—private, public and third sector—to break down barriers between schools and colleges on the one hand and employers on the other, and increase the level of employer input into careers, inspiration and enterprise in all schools and colleges. It will do this partly through a network of advisers who will broker strong and extensive links at local level. It will assist schools and colleges in choosing effective careers and enterprise organisations to partner with, including considering the use of quality marks. It will stimulate more and better activity in areas where the current provision is poorest. Last but not least, it will develop an enterprise passport to incentivise young people to participate in a wide range of extracurricular activities that boost their appeal to employers, as well as their enterprise skills.
The network of advisers and enterprise passport are ideas championed most effectively by my noble friend Lord Young, to whom I should like to pay generous tribute for his invaluable work in this area. His report, Enterprise for All, has informed our thinking about the way forward. I am also grateful for the support of my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills and his officials in ensuring that our work reflects the needs of employers and businesses and providing £1.4 million this year to ensure the company makes a strong start. Of course, it is important to say that this announcement builds on the work already under way in this area, such as the common online application portal being developed by my right honourable friend the Deputy Prime Minister and the Minister for Business and Skills.
The Government will support the new company with start-up funding in 2015-16, the cost of which will be met from the £20 million announced by my right honourable friend the Chancellor in last week’s Autumn Statement. Five million pounds of this will constitute an investment fund to support innovation and stimulate good practice across the country. In the longer term the company will sustain itself.
I am confident that the plan I have announced today will build on the excellent work that is already going on in some parts of the country, but will ensure it is replicated in every part of the country. It will herald a step change in the quality of careers inspiration, advice and guidance provided to all young people—paying no regard to ability, interest or background. It will help to realise our ambition of ensuring that every child leaves school or college prepared for life in modern Britain. We know that the ultimate success of our long-term economic plan for this country rests on the shoulders of the next generation, and we are backing them every step of the way. I commend this Statement to the House”.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for that Statement. I am inclined to say welcome, rather belatedly, to the real world. The noble Lord will know that throughout the changes to the curriculum that this Government have introduced, employers, including the CBI, have been saying that this has missed the point, and that the priority should be to get children to be work-ready for careers in the 21st century. Instead, the Government have presided over an education system that only works for half the country—with those young people who do not want a traditional university education left languishing without an alternative comparable vocational route. This is why, on these Benches, we have consistently made the point that we need a gold-standard vocational offer, on a par with academic qualifications, that will promote social mobility and deliver the skilled workforce needed for a stronger economy.
The fact is that Britain is falling behind other OECD countries in terms of technical skills. Meanwhile, employers are struggling to find the skills they need to succeed—particularly, as we have been hearing recently, in construction, manufacturing and engineering. This has not been helped by the low-quality, short-term apprenticeships that this Government have introduced.
Sadly, our main competitors in Europe offer up to four times as many apprenticeships as are offered in England, yet the demand here for these places massively outstrips supply. At the same time, we are missing out on utilising the public sector’s market power by specifying the requirement for high-quality apprenticeships for all significant government contracts.
Does the Minister now accept that if we are serious about improving young people’s work opportunities, we need a major overhaul of the apprenticeship system to provide new rigorous standards combined with respected qualifications? Does he agree that we need a new skills and training framework that is genuinely industry led, as we have proposed? Does he also agree with us that every child should have the opportunity to experience a quality work experience placement, co-ordinated by the school and not left to the individual pupil themselves to source? Does he agree that governing bodies should include local employers, and what is he doing to make that happen? Does he agree that destination measures, which chart pupils’ progress once they have left school, should play a much more important role in judging a school’s success?
I turn to the specific proposals relating to the careers service—a service which is widely acknowledged to have deteriorated under the watch of this Government. The Minister rightly lists some of the many bodies that have criticised the current provision, to save us having to do so. Indeed, over and over again in debates in this House we have been united across the Benches in raising concerns about the current careers service. I would therefore say to the Minister: what took you so long? While his department has been brushing off the criticisms, a whole generation of young people has been let down by an inadequate careers advice. Time and time again as I have visited schools around the country I have seen otherwise outstanding schools struggling to provide effective careers advice, with none of them providing regular face-to-face advice, which all the experts say is vital for quality guidance for young people.
Now we have this announcement today, which has all the hallmarks of a policy scrambled together to plug a gaping hole in the Government’s education plans. In the other place, my honourable friend the shadow Secretary of State for Education asked a number of questions about the status of this new company that I do not think were answered, so I am giving the Minister another opportunity. For example, what was the bidding process for the contract to establish this company? How will the cost be apportioned? Will it be provided free to schools? What will be the relationship with employers and local enterprise partnerships? In addition, I would ask: what is the timetable for this new advice to be provided to schools, given the gaps that we already know exist?
No one would deny that there is some scope for innovation in the provision of careers advice, but this is only one part of the challenge that currently exists. Young people are crying out for one-to-one individual advice, which I am not sure this proposal addresses. There is also a need to improve on the online careers service and to ensure that the phone line is free for mobiles and is Skype friendly. There are some basic practical hurdles that remain to be addressed. Perhaps the Minister could clarify whether these will be the responsibility of, and overseen by, this new company.
We all aspire to a high-class education system but this Government have made it more difficult for teachers to deliver and succeed. They have created a culture of criticism and confusion. That is why there is a continuing shortfall in filling teacher training places and why we face a critical shortage of teachers in the STEM subjects, which are crucial for our economy’s future. This is why our agenda for preparing young people for the world of work puts the teachers centre stage and will invest in them, help them to manage their workload and give them renewed professional status. This is why we are confident that, unlike the Government, we will prepare every child for the challenges of 21st-century living and working. Meanwhile, I would be grateful if the Minister could address the questions that I have asked.
My Lords, I am grateful for the noble Baroness’s support. I point out, though, that the previous Government’s attempt to get children ready for work resulted in 4,000 vocational qualifications, almost all of which were massively overvalued through the scandal of GCSE equivalence, were not valued by employers, rendered pupils no favours at all and resulted in this country slumping down the international league tables during the first 10 years of this century. The OECD told us only at the end of last year that our school leavers—Labour’s children—were the most illiterate and innumerate in the developed world. We have done a great deal to improve the standard of apprenticeships by involving employers of great stature in their design and advertising them much more widely.
Of course we support work experience. My good friend David Johnston at the Social Mobility Foundation, who has cross-party support on his board, is doing great work in widening work experience to pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds. The idea of getting more employers into governing bodies is something we have been expanding substantially in the department; we have formed the Inspiring Governors Alliance and we are working with big business. I have been most struck that with business we are pushing at an open door because of its willingness to provide us with governors, and we have a massive programme in place to expand this effort. We are bringing destinations into the accountability framework.
The noble Baroness harks back to a golden age of careers advice that I do not recognise. Of the previous system of careers advice through Connexions, the former Labour Minister Alan Milburn said that on his panel they could find hardly anybody who had a good word to say about it. On the concept of face-to-face careers advice being the gold standard, McKinsey’s conducted a study across Europe which found that face-to-face careers advice was in most cases virtually worthless compared to activity involving employers in or from the world of work.
On the status of the company, it will be a company limited by guarantee. Its precise strategy will be for its board to decide. We plan for it to be free to schools. It will involve LEPs and we plan to have it up and running by next summer. We believe that with this company, we will be able to build on our work with a number of excellent organisations that already exist up and down the country supplying careers advice to schools.
My Lords, I warmly welcome the Statement and express the hope that the new company will transform careers advice in schools, which at the moment is inadequate, ill informed and in many cases deplorable. Youngsters at 14 should have all the opportunities made available to them: whether to stay on at school or go to a university technical college, a studio school, a career college or even an apprenticeship. I am glad that businesses will be involved in this, because that will open up other opportunities to them. I hope that it will lead to a substantial increase in skills training in all schools.
My Lords, I hope that the Government have not overlooked the role that the trade union movement can play in providing and insisting on education, particularly for older children. The TUC has its own department, Unionlearn, which is highly respected and was formed deliberately to try to encourage education among people who somehow or other, during the course of their earlier career, missed out on it. It has worked consistently to try to improve and make available apprenticeship schemes right across manufacturing industry. My union, Unite, has done a great deal of work on manufacturing industry to ensure that there are proper educational arrangements for younger people and to encourage them—in particular, women—into training for engineering and manufacturing, which is vital for this country. I hope that the role which the trade union movement can play in this area, which can be assessed via the TUC, is not overlooked, because it is very important in encouraging people who have missed out on education earlier in their career.
I could not agree more with what the noble Baroness says. The involvement of the unions on this side of the piece is extremely important. I am delighted to be able to say that the careers company will have an advisory board, which will help it to design and implement itself, and Askel will sit on that board. I note the very good work that the NAHT has done in relation to Primary Futures. I was visiting a Primary Futures event at a school in Oxfordshire on Friday and noticed that one of the ex-presidents of the NAHT sits on the Primary Futures board. The noble Baroness’s points are very well made.
I, too, thank my noble friend for this important and worthwhile Statement. I also praise the Enterprise for All document. I particularly like the Fiver scheme for primary schools, which I hope will be extended. However, on the day that we hear the Association of Colleges saying that careers education is broken, my noble friend mentioned in his Statement that the Government’s plan for careers guidance has received support from organisations such as the Sutton Trust. Does he agree with the Sutton Trust’s recommendation that all pupils should receive a guaranteed level of impartial, professional advice in careers education, while schools should ultimately be held accountable for the quality of the careers guidance provided?
I certainly agree that schools should be held accountable for providing careers advice. Ofsted has made it clear that it will look at this very closely in its leadership category and we have strengthened the framework in this regard. I have already said that I do not think there is any one way of providing careers advice and I do not think that we should rely too much on one-to-one advice. Rather, we should involve the world of work much more in careers in the way we have been discussing.
My Lords, the Minister will know very well that the young people who find the transition from school to work most difficult are disabled young people, particularly those with learning difficulties. What is there in this package for this group and how will the new agency work with those organisations that are already attempting to provide very good projects?
The noble Baroness makes a very good point. I am aware of her experience in this area. As the guidance notes, the area where one-to-one careers advice may be particularly appropriate is for pupils with learning disabilities. We will ensure that the careers company makes sure that all pupils get the opportunities for careers advice that they deserve.
My Lords, I welcome the Statement addressing an issue which has been an area of such desperate failure in our education system for the past few years. Indeed, on the provision of advice by Connexions, I have not yet met a school which found that Connexions was useful or helpful to it in the work it was trying to do. Is it envisaged that this new company will enable employers to have an input into the syllabus for some of the major subjects of the curriculum? So often we hear from employers that what is taught is not helpful to them in employment. Will it go beyond their involvement in providing placements and advice, into some input into the syllabus for the main subjects?
I am grateful for my noble friend’s comments. Of course, we have involved employers greatly in the redesign of the curriculum, particularly, for instance, in computing. The involvement of employers in the syllabus and the curriculum of UTCs is central to that programme. I can see that this company would be a very good conduit for employers to make detailed comments to us about the context of the curriculum.
My Lords, as the Minister was speaking I could not help reflecting on the late, lamented Donaldson report, which was so surprisingly rejected by the previous Government. I seem to remember that it suggested that a valuable service would be provided if some census could be made of skills needs and skills shortages by industry, which could then be passed on to the education world so that the two could be matched. Can the Minister say whether such a census might be made a responsibility of the new company?
My Lords, the Minister mentioned England, but I sometimes think that the other countries—Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland—also have a contribution to make to any careers guidance changes. How do we make the best use of the successful schemes that have been brought in, not only in the countries of the United Kingdom but in the European Union? Have they anything to teach us? What is their best practice? What are their most successful experiments? Are moves being made to be in touch with other countries, not only in the UK but in the European Union?
Modern Slavery Bill
Committee (4th Day)
Relevant documents: 10th Report from the Delegated Powers Committee and 3rd Report from the Joint Committee on Human Rights
Amendment 86N had been retabled as Amendment 86P.
86P: After Clause 48, insert the following new Clause—
“Establishment and function of the National Referral Mechanism
(1) The Secretary of State must establish a National Referral Mechanism (“NRM”) to—
(a) identify trafficked, enslaved or exploited persons within the United Kingdom;(b) provide assistance and support to a person who may have been trafficked, enslaved or exploited from the time at which that person is first referred into the NRM until such time as a final and conclusive determination is made that they are not such a person; and (c) ensure that the rights of such persons are protected and promoted in a manner which discharges the Government’s obligations under the Trafficking Convention and the Trafficking Directive regarding the identification and protection of victims, including measures for assistance and support.(2) The Secretary of State must, in regulations, specify the procedures to be followed to implement the NRM and the procedures to be applied by the NRM including to give effect to the right to a renewable residence permit provided for under subsections (5) and (6).
(3) The regulations must provide for a right of appeal by an individual in respect of a decision in the NRM process that they are not a trafficked, enslaved or exploited person.
(4) An adult must give their free and informed consent to being referred into the NRM before a referral is made on their behalf.
(5) A person who is determined in the NRM process to be a trafficked, enslaved or exploited person shall be entitled to a one-year renewable residence permit permitting them to remain in the United Kingdom where one or other, or both, of the following situations apply—
(a) a competent authority in the NRM considers that their stay is necessary owing to their personal situation; or(b) a competent authority in the NRM considers that their stay is necessary for the purpose of the person’s co-operation with the authorities in connection with their investigations or criminal proceedings.(6) A residence permit for child victims shall be issued where it is in accordance with the best interests of the child and, where appropriate, renewed under the same conditions.
(7) The protection, assistance and support provided to trafficked, enslaved or exploited children (including those to whom the presumption of age applies) in accordance with the provisions in this Act shall be at least equivalent to the protection, assistance and support provided to adults, save that where other legislation provides for greater protection for children that legislation shall, to the extent of any inconsistency with this Act, prevail.”
My Lords, Amendment 86P is in substitution for Amendment 86N. The difference is in proposed new subsection (4). Amendment 86N refers to:
“A person (including a child)”.
Amendment 86P refers to “an adult”. This amendment was not meant to include a child. That is the difference between the two amendments.
The purpose of our amendment is to put the national referral mechanism on a statutory footing with its overriding role and objectives laid down in respect of persons trafficked, enslaved or exploited within the United Kingdom, including the right of appeal by an individual against a decision in the national referral mechanism process that they are not a trafficked, enslaved or exploited person. Despite the views to the contrary expressed by a majority of interested parties who participated in a recent Home Office internal review of the national referral mechanism, the Government have not been prepared to go down the road of placing the NRM on a statutory footing as it would, in their view, make it inflexible and unresponsive to changing demands.
No doubt that might be a problem if all the detail about the role and operation of the NRM were included in the Bill, but that is not what we are proposing. We are talking about the key principles and functions that the NRM should be seeking to address and deliver in respect of victim identification and support. The Joint Committee on the draft Bill recommended that the Bill should be amended to give statutory authority for the national referral mechanism in order to ensure greater consistency in its operations, decision-making and provision of victim support services. The committee went on to say that the statutory basis should also provide for a mechanism for potential victims to trigger an internal review and to appeal against decisions taken by competent authorities.
Among the arguments that, as I understand it, led the Joint Committee to make its recommendation were that the current arrangements led to arbitrariness of application and access for victims; that giving victims statutory rights would make claiming and enforcing those rights more straightforward; that a statutory footing gave greater transparency and accountability and would also raise awareness of the national referral mechanism among front-line agencies; and that having the NRM on a statutory basis would provide an opportunity to establish a clear review and appeals process compared to the present system of informal requests for decisions to be reconsidered. While judicial review offers a more formal route, it can be used only to challenge the way a conclusion has been reached rather than the merits of the conclusion, and judicial review is also likely to be expensive.
Since placing the NRM on a statutory footing should increase awareness and accountability within the system, it would also help to ensure that victim identification and assistance is prioritised across the board. The evidence suggests that the NRM is underused and is not as widely known about as one might expect. Many involved in dealing with victims of trafficking and modern-day slavery regard referral to the NRM as a non-mandatory process on which there is no training or scrutiny of decisions to not refer, even for children within the child protection system. Without a statutory underpinning of victims’ rights to identification and specialist support there is more than a possibility that practitioners will either continue to disregard the national referral mechanism entirely or see it solely as best practice as opposed to something to which victims have a right.
Referral into the national referral mechanism can be pretty significant for victims. Those who have a positive NRM decision may have a higher likelihood of a prosecution against them being dropped if they have been trafficked and forced to commit a crime, and, in turn, positive NRM decisions are used by police as corroborative evidence in prosecutions against traffickers. Specialist support and accommodation, and access to legal aid, are also often dependent on a positive decision within the NRM.
In the light of this and the significant known increase in the level and extent of trafficking and exploitation since the NRM was established, it is not clear why there is this apparent unwillingness on the Government’s part to place the NRM on a statutory footing and help to ensure that both the underlying principles of the system of victim identification and support, which are already set out in existing international legislation to which the UK is bound, are included in the Bill, and that there is greater accountability for those who fail to assist or refer potential victims of modern slavery for identification.
The preface to the recent review of the national referral mechanism stated:
“Since its introduction in 2009 the National Referral Mechanism has grown somewhat wildly over time”,
and that it is,
“now a complex system operating in a challenging and painful area of public life”,
“a difficult system to grip”.
“Many level criticism at the current system and we have found that it does need to change”.
The review drew attention to the fact that the number of potential victims who are referred to the NRM is low, given what we know about human trafficking. It also said that the current system is,
“fragmented and lacking an overall performance framework … and … cannot be described as efficient or effective”.
The review continued, saying that there was,
“insufficient accountability for the outcomes of the process or the appropriate management of the process itself”.
The review also heard the views of the voluntary organisations that work with victims of trafficking, which include calls for the,
“removal of responsibility for the National Referral Mechanism from the Home Office and the establishment of an independent body outside of UK Visas and Immigration and the Police … a desire to place the National Referral Mechanism on a statutory footing”,
“a right of appeal to challenge those decisions which are believed to be wrongly made”.
It is difficult to see how the extensive concerns and recommendations set out at the beginning of the review could be addressed and delivered effectively without putting the NRM or a similar body on a statutory footing and moving away from what seems closer and more akin to an internal administrative process. It is also worth pointing out that while the review was asked to look at six key areas, including governance of the national referral mechanism, it was not specifically asked to examine the issue of placing the NRM on a statutory footing.
The reality is that at the present time some 80% of referrals—I am sure that I will be corrected if I am wrong—on behalf of EU citizens as victims of human trafficking, which are dealt with by the UK Human Trafficking Centre, which is part of the National Crime Agency, are accepted. It is also true, I believe, that some 80% of referrals on behalf of non-EU citizens as victims of human trafficking, which are dealt with by UK Visas and Immigration, which is part of the Home Office, are not accepted. At the very least, decisions on non-EU referrals as victims of human trafficking, which involve issues of UK residence, should be dealt with as a statutory decision by a statutory body.
Our amendment does not in any case go into great detail that might, in the Government’s eyes, leave the NRM inflexible and unresponsive to changing demands, since it primarily sets out the overriding role and objectives of the national referral mechanism, provides for the Secretary of State to seek to specify in regulations the procedures to be followed and applied, and provides for a right of appeal by an individual against a decision that they are not a trafficked, enslaved or exploited person.
Not being on a statutory footing does not seem to be providing an effective and efficient national referral mechanism, in the light of the situation today on the incidence and nature of human trafficking and exploitation in this country. I hope that the Government will be able to respond favourably to our amendment, which I beg to move.
My Lords, I shall speak to Amendment 93, in my name, which adopts an approach similar to that of my noble friend’s Amendment 86P. I agree with what he said. We both agree that we should put the national referral mechanism on a statutory basis, as the Joint Committee recommended. I need to go over some of the same ground as he did, but there are also some other issues that I want to put into play in trying to convince the Government that a statutory basis is the right basis for the NRM.
Before I make my case, I should briefly explain why I am taking an approach different from that of the noble Lord, Lord McColl, in his Amendment 86M, which we discussed on Monday. I agree with him that Clause 48 is totally unsatisfactory, but I am not sure that it is right to put on the face of the Bill as much detail as there was in his amendment. That is why, in my amendment, I have gone for a set of regulation-making powers on given subjects.
My amendment is intended to give effect to the recommendation in the report by the Joint Committee on the draft Bill that the Bill should be amended,
“to give statutory authority for the NRM to ensure greater consistency in its operation, decision-making and provision of victim support services”.
Those are the critical reasons why this mechanism should be not an internal administrative system but one that has clearly been endorsed by Parliament. Our recommendation is clearly stated and set out in paragraph 82 of the Joint Committee’s report. My amendment would not hamstring the Home Office too much—I shall come back to that later.
Instead of laying out a lot of detail in the Bill, my amendment would enable the Home Secretary to make regulations in six key areas, and includes a provision for the inclusion of,
“such other matters as the Secretary of State considers appropriate to the new body”.
This approach to regulation-making gives the Home Office plenty of discretion for adapting the scheme as circumstances require. It does not fix for all time the role or the precise remit of the NRM. If we put a clause of this nature into the Bill, there will be plenty of flexibility in the regulation-making approach,
The six key areas in my amendment are the very ones identified by the Home Secretary as the subject of the Review of the National Referral Mechanism for Victims of Human Trafficking, as summarised in paragraph 2.1.3 of the report. I have not gone for widening the NRM’s role in any way; my amendment covers the topics that the Home Secretary said the review of the NRM had to cover. When Ministers set up that review, they knew that the Joint Committee would be recommending an NRM with a statutory basis. We came to that conclusion before we drafted the report and we informed the Home Office, so it did know that that was the road that we would traverse. There was plenty of opportunity for the Home Secretary to consider that issue in the context of the review. It is striking that, if we read the review fully, we find that it very much makes the case for putting the NRM on a statutory basis.
One point that I would draw attention to is in subsection (3) of my amendment, which gives effect to another Joint Committee recommendation, in paragraph 91 of its report, that,
“competent authority status be removed from UK Visas and Immigration”.
We saw a conflict of interest between determining immigration and asylum status and determining whether someone was a victim of trafficking. I will not detain the House with the evidence for that recommendation, but it is set out very clearly in paragraphs 84 to 90 of the Joint Committee report. The evidence and this amendment are absolutely consistent with the recommendations of the NRM review report at paragraphs 7.4.1 and 7.4.5. The amendment is drafted to be consistent with the findings of that review.
The Joint Committee heard a huge variety of evidence and arguments in favour of making the NRM a statutory-based mechanism, which were very much the same sets of arguments and evidence that was put before the review. We were told by Anti-Slavery International that the current arrangements,
“led to arbitrariness of application and access for victims”.
Others said that giving victims statutory rights would make claiming and enforcing those rights more straightforward and transparent. We were told that a statutory NRM was necessary for the UK to fulfil its international obligations as well as securing the most effective victim identification process.
Let me briefly illustrate the many concerns about a non-statutory NRM with the case of Ms O, who was a victim of trafficking, covered and cited in detail on page 61 of the Joint Committee report. Ms O was effectively kept in custody for nearly a year, despite the fact that people knew that she was a victim of trafficking. That is an appalling outcome for a person who was identified as a victim of trafficking, and that is what took place under a non-statutory-based NRM. All those issues are very clearly set out in the NRM review, which effectively makes the case, as I said earlier, for a statutory-based NRM.
I have spent much of the time in this Committee arguing for the Home Office Ministers and officials to get off the back of the anti-slavery commissioner and widen his remit. The NRM is a subject where the Home Secretary and her officials need to get more involved and design a statutory-based system that provides much more consistency and better identification and support for victims, has more credibility and speed of independent decision-making and is more fit to work alongside an Independent Anti-slavery Commissioner. I want the Home Office to get more involved, and I hope that in responding to the NRM review it will have a change of heart and commit to putting the NRM on a statutory basis.
I do not expect every “i” to be dotted and “t” to be crossed on this new system before Royal Assent but, before the Bill leaves this House, I hope that we can agree with the Minister the terms of a new clause that gives the Home Secretary regulation-making powers subject to the affirmative resolution procedure.
Finally, I have deliberately described in my new clause a “National Referral Mechanism replacement”. I do not regard the name, “national referral mechanism”, as particularly clear or helpful, and I would hope that we could find a better title, embracing words such as “slavery”, “victims” and “safeguarding”. How about the “Slavery Victims Safeguarding Authority”? Something along those lines would give a true indication of what this mechanism is actually all about. I support the amendment.
My Lords, my Amendment 96 is in this group. I start by saying that I entirely support the idea of the previous speakers that we should have a statutory national referral mechanism, although perhaps with more felicitous wording, as the noble Lord, Lord Warner, has just suggested.
My proposal is much more modest. The reason for it is this. At the moment we have a very poor double system. There is the UKHTC in Birmingham, which provides, as we have heard, an 80% yes rate to victims, as opposed to the UKVI, which says that only 20% get through. Clearly, that is unacceptable. We also have two reviews from Jeremy Oppenheim which, in my view, are absolutely excellent. As I understand it, the Government have agreed in principle to the fundamental and radical changes that the second, final review has asked for. However, it seems to me that there needs to be some time for consultation, for arranging to get these panels around the country and for arranging how, in fact, a new, better described NRM should work.
My proposal is that the Secretary of State should have the power to make regulations to establish this statutory committee, leaving it to the Home Office to work it out. However, in order to keep them up to the mark, the Secretary of State must report to Parliament within 12 months of the Bill becoming law, in order to say that they will actually do it. At the end of the day, we undoubtedly need a statutory system. But I believe that we need some leeway to work out how it should be. That is why my amendments, in my view, are very modest.
If I may respectfully say so, it would be very unwise of the Government not to listen to this. We have the two reviews of the NRM and we have what the Joint Committee has said, which has been set out so well by the noble Lord, Lord Warner—of course, I was a member of the committee. I totally support the proposals of our Select Committee and of the two reviews. All I am saying is that the Government should have a bit of time to think it over, but not so much time that the matter goes into what is sometimes called the long grass, because this really has to come. The current situation cannot go on for much longer because it is so patently wrong. That has been set out very clearly in the two reviews of the national referral mechanism.
I hope that, at the least, the Government will accept my amendment. I would have no objection to the Government accepting either of the other amendments that have come forward. However, I have no doubt that, one way or another, within the next 12 to 18 months, we will need to have a statutory mechanism for dealing with victim identification and support.
My Lords, I added my name to the noble and learned Baroness’s amendment for all the reasons that she has given. Never say never; in fact, let us say, “Let’s get on with it”—but let us get on with it in an appropriate way, which must include consultation. Jeremy Oppenheim’s review made very clear the lack of understanding of processes and the variability in standards across the mechanism. I found myself thinking, “Well, no wonder, because it is such a loose process that it is quite difficult to get to grips with”. When I first heard of it, a few years ago, it took me some time to understand just what this was about, given that it is so lacking in obvious governance arrangements and so in need of something against which one could appeal if one was dissatisfied with an outcome.
The two paragraphs—there may be more—of the NRM review that refer to the possibility of a statutory basis do not actually put it out of the question. Paragraph 8.2.14 says that,
“we believe strongly that to put the National Referral Mechanism on a statutory footing now would not guarantee”,
remedying the flawed system. At paragraph 8.3.1, it says:
“Although there is much support for … a statutory footing or providing a right of appeal, these may not be necessary if we have a well governed National Referral Mechanism”.
The prospect is certainly not dismissed by the reviewer.
I very much agreed with what the noble Lord, Lord Warner, said about the potential conflict of interest, which is addressed in subsection (3) of his amendment. Of course, the review gives figures that support the proposition, quite apart from the conflict of interest. I also agree with him about the possible approach to Clause 48. I prefer this approach.
Like others, I want to see the NRM as a multidisciplinary framework—I very much like that about the review’s approach—and not as a straitjacket. I hesitate to use this analogy, but if it is not a straitjacket—and it should not be—at the moment, frankly, it feels rather more like a loose-fitting cardigan with a little bit of unravelling here and there. I say to my noble friend, if the Government cannot agree the basis now, please do not close the door. Please leave the opportunity to get on with the work. Obviously this door would never be closed completely, but to put enabling provisions into the Bill would enable us to build as fast as possible on the recommendations of the review and move towards a statutory basis, perhaps having done a little more work by way of consultation as the noble and learned Baroness suggested.
My Lords, I will contribute briefly to the debate. I hope the Government will take the time to take seriously the NRM review. Jeremy Oppenheim has made some crucial insights, particularly about the 45 days being used as a period for deciding about judicial processes, not a period for nourishment and proper support. Therefore, we need to think very carefully about how we pitch the 45 days or whatever period it is, alongside a commitment to support victims on a longer timescale. He also made an important point about the concept of safeguarding, just referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Warner. I have spoken about this before in the House. It would be very helpful for everybody if we could connect what we are doing about slavery with the culture of safeguarding awareness. I very much support the suggestion from the noble Lord, Lord Warner, about what we call this mechanism.
Finally, from my experience as someone who works with the agencies and victims themselves, the value of a statutory approach is that it would provide consistency for all victims in the way that they are treated, and a proper, firm framework, which is what we need. Currently, some victims struggle because they are dealt with on the edges. If we are serious about the Bill, we need to have a firm and clear set of expectations and processes.
The Minister is aware that I have some continuing concerns since I withdrew my Amendment 29. Having listened to the debate on this amendment today, there is a word in the amendment that causes me great concern in the context of the story I recounted to the House. The word is “referral”. In the case of my story, referral would have come far too late: the children were in the middle of the Atlantic before anybody could have referred them. Those children could not have referred themselves. They were deposited at the quayside. We did not know who they were or where they came from. They were put on to a boat and they sailed away within three hours. As they could not have referred themselves, they were therefore wholly dependent on the authenticity and legality of some certificate to the effect that they were properly selected and briefed to become migrants. They are lost people, as far as I am concerned—a lost generation. There were 1,760 of them; I have been able to check up since.
Where this clause is wrong goes back to the point that I have been asking the Minister about since I withdrew my amendment. How have we got in here an absolutely legal authority for every child who is put into a migration situation? We have done this regularly about every 20 years for the last 250 years and we need to stop it. We need to outlaw ourselves from doing it any more. That was my concern when I recounted my story and I am not satisfied that the Bill in its present form locks that door once and for all so that we cannot prise it open again and do it.
In the circumstances I described, the travel arrangements could be made under the entire authority of the Australian Government and the Australian civil service in London. The children were coming from local councils that wanted to get rid of them and from orphanages that could not cope with the numbers they had. They put them in a truck and dumped them on the quayside at Tilbury. We put them on a boat and they sailed. Where is a referral going to come in to save those children from that fate? We have not made illegal the act of forced transportation. We have been doing it for 250 years and I am not satisfied yet that this Bill blocks it.
My Lords, we have had a very good debate on this important area and I will respond to each of the amendments in turn. Effectively, they seem to be almost in grades. It was rather helpful to the House that we almost had revision-max from the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, in his amendment and it progressively got a little bit lighter to the mere enabling which was put forward by the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss. The points were extremely well made and I will try to respond to them as best as I can.
The first point to make is that it is not quite the no-brainer that people have suggested. The national referral mechanism was set up in 2009 under the previous Government. It was not set up on a statutory footing. Therefore, it clearly was not an obvious omission at that point. We took the view that Clause 48 is adequate. I accept the comments that have been made about whether Clause 48, which refers to the issuing of guidance—by which is meant the national referral mechanism—is adequate. None the less, it is a point of discussion as to whether the flexibility of something not being on a statutory footing is balanced by the other side of having something in the Bill. We will come to that.
The second point to make is that much is rightly made of the good work of the Joint Committee which looked at this, took evidence and made recommendations. The very fact that the Home Secretary committed to a review and asked Jeremy Oppenheim to undertake it clearly reflects the fact that we were not satisfied with the way in which the national referral mechanism was working. That is why Jeremy Oppenheim was asked to undertake the review. A wide range of organisations and individuals were consulted. The noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, and the noble Lord, Lord Warner, were engaged in that process. Some 129 organisations were engaged in the review and their views were fed into the process.
My final point, before turning to the amendments, is that we have a substantial number of recommendations across the six categories as to where the system needs to be significantly improved. The review identifies the weaknesses and deficiencies that many noble Lords have referred to, particularly my noble friend Lady Hamwee.
I am grateful to noble Lords for tabling Amendments 86P, 93 and 96 and for allowing us to follow on from our excellent debate on Monday on the crucial issues of identification and support of victims. I reiterate that the Government share the desire of noble Lords to ensure that as many victims as possible are identified and properly supported. We are already taking decisive action to ensure that that is the case. Amendments 93, 96, and 86P each propose placing a referral mechanism for identifying and supporting victims on a statutory footing, but with slightly different approaches, as I have mentioned. For Amendment 93, this would be a replacement mechanism for the national referral mechanism currently administered by the UK Human Trafficking Centre. Amendment 96 seeks to place an enabling power in the Bill for the Secretary of State to make regulations to establish a statutory referral mechanism. Amendment 86P seeks to place the national referral mechanism on a statutory footing, including providing for all confirmed victims of trafficking, enslavement or exploitation to be entitled to a one-year residence permit.
I believe that the most important thing is that these victims are spotted and rescued in the first place. The best referral and support systems in the world will work effectively only if we find victims, who are so often hidden in plain sight up and down this country. That is why the Home Secretary commissioned a review of the national referral mechanism to ensure that victims can be identified quickly and effectively and be given the right support and assistance. As noble Lords will be aware, the review was published on 11 November and made a number of important recommendations. I know that, in taking the review forward, Jeremy Oppenheim consulted more than 100 organisations and the recommendations from the review take into account their views.
The recommendations in particular concluded that putting the NRM onto a statutory footing,
“will not change the UK’s commitment and obligations to abide by the trafficking convention or methodology with which it is implemented. Any process put on a statutory footing can become inflexible and unresponsive to changing demands and indeed improvements, due to the requirement to further legislate before making changes”.
Furthermore, the review noted:
“Pinning the National Referral Mechanism down now would not be an effective methodology particularly when the National Referral Mechanism is going through a period of significant change”.
It is absolutely right that we should fully consider the vital mechanism used to refer and support these vulnerable victims. But I am not convinced that putting it on a statutory footing will achieve our aim of improving the service we offer to victims. We consider the recommendations made by the review to be transformational and believe that they will overhaul the way in which victims are identified and supported and how those organisations responsible for identifying and protecting victims prioritise and co-ordinate their activities.
The noble Lord, Lord Warner, talked about the difference between the UK trafficking centre giving 80% of cases a positive conclusive grounds decision while UKVI gives only 20% positive decisions. Those figures are not quite right, but it is true that a lower proportion of total referrals have received positive conclusive grounds decisions from the UKVI than from the UKHTC in the past. There is a good reason for the difference. In positive decision rates, UKVI deals with very different cases where corroborative evidence may be harder to obtain. Quality reviews to date indicate that UKVI has been making the right decisions in these difficult circumstances.
The NRM review recommendations include the recommendation to move to multidisciplinary panels to undertake decisions on all cases. This is one of the recommendations that will be widely welcomed. Fundamentally changing the way in which potential victims are referred for support and the way in which decisions are made will ensure that good-quality, timely decisions are at the heart of what we do. That is because the process will have a high level of independent scrutiny and will involve multidisciplinary panels, as suggested.
Our initial response to the review is set out in the modern slavery strategy, which was published on 29 November. Given the fundamental change in approach that is being recommended, we want to make sure that our approach is sound and enhances the experiences of potential victims who are referred for help and support. We will therefore establish two pilots as quickly as possible to test the core recommendations relating to the identification of victims and to the referral and decision-making processes. We want to make sure that we get these pilots right. Officials are meeting a number of NGO representatives later this week to discuss early proposals.
Although I fully appreciate the purpose behind the amendments, I remain reluctant to make changes to the national referral mechanism or to set out its roles and functions in the Bill when we have wholeheartedly accepted the recommendations of the review which have been made in consultation with so many stakeholders. I can also reassure noble Lords that we either already provide, or facilitate access to, the types of support that are listed in the amendments. As noble Lords are aware, victims who are helping the police with an investigation already have access to discretionary leave of at least one year and one day. However, the Government also make provision for victims who are not assisting with an investigation. Where a victim requires a period of leave in the UK to recover from their ordeal, the point raised by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Derby, they will also have access to discretionary leave of at least one year and one day. Indeed, victims who require a longer period of leave—for example, due to ongoing medical treatment—can obtain discretionary leave for up to three years. I am sure noble Lords would agree that we would not wish to lose this flexibility to support victims by placing an arbitrary leave provision in the Bill.
We are aware of the key point made by my noble friend Lord James of Blackheath. He and I are in a detailed exchange of correspondence. Some of his points require quite a bit of research. I give my noble friend an undertaking that we will continue that research and revisit it on Report.
The noble Lord, Lord Warner, referred to a possible change in the name of the national referral mechanism. I can see some merit in that. We fully intend to review the name of the national referral mechanism in the light of the recent review of the referral process. The review recommendations already suggest changing the name of first responders to slavery safeguarding leads, which is rather in line with what the noble Lord said. That perhaps shows that his contribution to the review and engagement in it are feeding into some of the recommendations that we want to see.
All the way through this process we have always said that we are creating something quite new, quite radical and quite significant to protect victims of modern-day slavery. We have always been open to listening to your Lordships and to responding in due course. I have heard the points that noble Lords have made very clearly and with considerable evidence and I have made the case in response. Officials have not dreamt this up in an ivory tower—not that there are ivory towers in 2 Marsham Street of course—but in consultation with organisations representing victims. We are determined to make these changes and to get it right. We will keep this under review, we will keep talking and we will, as the right reverend Prelate invites us to do, reflect on this in the period between Committee and Report to see what evidence there is to go further.
Will the Minister take away a broader issue when thinking further about this? The way in which this country has dealt with difficult social problems has often started with administrative responses because that is the fastest way of dealing with a more immediate problem. That is why, in 2009, the previous Government started with an administrative system. But if one looks at the field of health—for example, human fertilisation or human tissue issues—at some point or another, the Government of the day have to get into some kind of statutory system. There are whole sets of issues about public accountability and the transparency of the decision-making, and there is an expectation that Parliament will intervene.
This is nothing to do with getting at the Home Office; it is the way we do business in this country. Perhaps the Minister might go back to his colleagues and talk about this. They should ask themselves: has this work in the area of modern slavery got to that point? I suspect it has. When you see the kinds of criticism of the present administrative system in the report, I think it has got to—or is very close to—the point where there will be a public expectation that the Government of the day, whoever they are, will put this system on a more statutory basis. It would be a shame if we missed the opportunity in this Bill to get the drafting such that we could move quickly to put it on to a statutory basis should, as I suspect will happen, that need arises.
I am grateful to the noble Lord for making that suggestion. That is exactly what we will do. I undertake to take it away and reflect on it. If we come back, it will be more along the lines that he is talking about, where we will set out some broad general principles rather than being too prescriptive. The luxury that we have is because when it was set up by the previous Government, it was not set up on a statutory footing—it was not all in the legislation—and therefore we have been able to undertake this quite fast-paced process of review and recommendation, which will enable us to move far more quickly to fixing the system along the lines that we all want to see.
I would just like to pick up what the noble Lord, Lord Warner, said. It seems to me that the Government could put forward a very general proposition in relation to the national referral mechanism or statutory safeguarding organisation without tying themselves to how it would work. That seems to be the way forward because you would then have the power to put in whatever was appropriate after you had had the pilot schemes, which I am delighted to hear the Government are proposing to do. The important thing is for the Government not to tie themselves too much but to be able to come back and produce whatever is needed in any subsequent legislation, into which one could slip in an appropriate amendment. There will be no shortage of that, I suspect, with a future Government. If I may respectfully say so, something needs to be there to enable the Home Secretary of the day to go forward without having to look for some primary legislation.
I accept that. I do not want to yield, as it were, to the position of saying that because we are being pressed by distinguished Members, we should give way on this. I have tried to put forward quite a robust argument as to why we have arrived where we have. We have before us a significant review of the national referral mechanism, which seems to address many of the concerns that people have recognised. That review, which everybody was in favour of and many people were involved in, came out against putting it on a statutory footing. We must take that into account but I give the assurance that, in the spirit that we have tried to keep all the way through this Bill, we will look at that very carefully and continue that discussion between now and Report.
I thank the Minister for his response and the indication that we can at least continue to discuss this issue, which is very helpful. As the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, said, the review argued for a well governed national referral mechanism, so in the light of all the criticisms that it made—no doubt quite rightly—of the present system, it is a question of whether one feels that can be achieved without it being on a statutory basis. I think a lot of people will feel, in the light of those criticisms, that we need to put it on a statutory basis. As the right reverend Prelate said, it would provide consistency and clarity for victims in how they were treated and give a clear framework. I think there is a lot to be said for doing that.
I acknowledge the point the Minister made: when the national referral mechanism was set up in 2009, it was not done on a statutory basis. Equally, the situation in relation to the incidence and nature of human trafficking and exploitation in this country has changed quite dramatically since 2009. Certainly, there has been a bit of an awakening as to what exactly has been going on. I can only repeat what the review said:
“The National Referral Mechanism has grown somewhat wildly over time. It is now a complex system operating in a challenging and painful area of public life”.
That would seem to reflect a view on its part that perhaps the situation has changed since 2009.
There are three amendments in this group, one of which the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, spoke to. That one does not suggest instant action since it refers to the Secretary of State reporting to Parliament within 12 months. I rather sense from some of the comments the Minister made that the biggest drawback to putting this on a statutory basis at the moment appears to be that the Government feel the situation is somewhat fluid with changes to the national referral mechanism, and they therefore feel that this might not be the appropriate time to put it on a statutory footing. I am not entirely clear—and I am not asking the Minister to respond at the moment—whether the Government object in principle to it being on a statutory footing. That is not the way it came over. I felt that the Minister was saying that the situation is fluid in relation to the NRM and this is not the appropriate time to do it. I hope I have not misunderstood him but I welcome his proposal that there should be further discussions about this, which is extremely helpful. In the light of that, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.
Amendment 86P withdrawn.
Amendment 87 had been withdrawn from the Marshalled List.
Clause 49 agreed.
Clause 50: Duty to notify NCA about suspected victims of slavery or human trafficking
88: Clause 50, page 36, line 39, leave out from beginning to “has” and insert “If a public authority to which this section applies”
I should point out that if Amendment 88 is agreed, I will be unable to call Amendment 88A by virtue of pre-emption.
My Lords, I shall speak also to Amendments 89 to 92 in this group. These relate to the duty to notify potential modern slavery cases set out in Clause 50.
Modern slavery is a largely hidden crime. If we are to improve our operational response, protect more victims and bring more traffickers and slave-drivers to justice, we need to get a better understanding of the scale and nature of the issue. The duty to notify will help us to achieve this. The government amendments flow from the publication on 11 November of the review of the national referral mechanism which set out wide-ranging recommendations on how the support and identification of victims of trafficking and slavery can be improved. On 28 November the Modern Slavery Strategy was published. It commits to piloting these recommendations with a view to implementation. One of the review’s recommendations is that NRM referrals should no longer be made to the National Crime Agency. Instead, a case-working unit should be set up within the Home Office with decisions on cases being made by regional, multi-agency panels.
Given this change, the NCA is no longer likely to be a suitable central point for the collation of information relating to victims of modern slavery—a function that is likely to sit best with the authority managing NRM referrals, which is likely to be in the Home Office. These amendments therefore change the duty so that rather than notifying the National Crime Agency, specified public authorities will notify the Secretary of State. In order to future-proof the provision, the Secretary of State would also be able to make regulations to alter who the notification will be made to. These amendments are essential to ensure that the duty to notify works effectively alongside anticipated changes to the national referral mechanism. I hope that the House will support them. I look forward to hearing from my noble friend Lady Hamwee, when she speaks to her amendments, and to responding at the end of the debate. Meanwhile, I beg to move.
My Lords, I have tabled Amendments 88A and 91A in this group. I take the point about pre-emption, but the reason for my amendments remains, and will remain if the clause is amended only as the Government propose. At the heart of this is my concern that it should not only be a specified public authority with a duty to notify the Secretary of State, or whoever else it might be, if the authority believes that someone is a victim of slavery or human trafficking. The clause provides that there must be notification if the public authority has reason to believe that a person is such a victim. However, should not all public authorities have that duty, rather than just specified public authorities? If the authority has no reason to believe that a person is a victim, the duty to notify is not triggered—but even if an apparently unlikely public authority comes across a victim, should it not give notification?
When I was trying to think of an example, the Highways Agency seemed to be one of those authorities. In engaging a contractor to undertake work on a motorway, the Highways Agency might well be concerned that with some of those operating machinery or doing the heavy work, the contractor has engaged forced labour. We know that the construction industry is a sector which is at risk, if I can put it that way. Surely, then, it should have a duty, just as a local authority visiting premises—for example, for environmental health—would have the same obligation. I am quite concerned that without any good reason—because, as I say, the duty would not be triggered unless there was a reason to believe—the Government are unnecessarily narrowing the provision in the clause.
I am grateful to my noble friend for speaking to her amendments, which gives me the opportunity to explain the Government’s approach on who the duty to notify will apply to. We thought carefully about how to define the duty to notify, and to which authorities it should apply. Modern slavery is a complex and hidden crime and we need to ensure that those who are charged with the duty to notify in the Bill have the appropriate expertise to discharge their responsibilities. If we extend the duty too widely, we risk placing a duty on public authorities that lack the necessary skills to identify victims of this complex crime.
We recognise that identification of victims is an area that needs further development. We have ensured that encouraging good practice in the identification of victims is part of the commissioner’s remit and have included statutory guidance on victim identification in the Bill. We will also work with public bodies to improve training and awareness of the issue. The flexibility of specifying public authorities to whom the duty applies means that when we consider that further public authorities have the expertise effectively to identify victims of modern slavery, they can be added to the duty.
The Government do not want to place a legal and administrative burden on public authorities unnecessarily. For example, requiring authorities which simply will not come into contact with victims to provide training to staff and set up data recording systems would not be an efficient use of public funds.
My noble friend mentioned the Highways Agency. If an authority such as the Highways Agency had concerns over modern slavery, it should call the police or voluntarily notify according to the process set out in the duty of notify, so it will have access to people who have more expertise in that area.
Given this clarification, I hope that my noble friend is satisfied that the Bill strikes the right balance between ensuring that the right bodies are subject to this duty and enabling flexibility for changes in the future. I hope she will feel able to withdraw her amendment.
My Lords, I certainly will not press the amendment today, but I wonder which is the chicken and which is the egg here. Of course, there is a concern about skills in identifying possible victims, but because this is an issue, it seems to me that it is all the more important that a duty to do something—maybe not to notify the Secretary of State, but to do something—ought to apply.
This is an unprocessed thought from when my noble friend was speaking. She said, rightly, that anyone who is concerned can go to the police. As we are talking about public authorities—and the Government have a relationship with public authorities—should we be thinking about guidance to all public authorities? As a minimum, it would say, “You may not have the skills, but all public authorities should be aware of this and if you have a concern, go to the police—if you think that there is nothing else you can do, always go to the police”. I think there is some scope—maybe not on the face of the Bill—for a bit more thought to go into the way we are operating our response to these issues.
I think that the Box has had time to process the thought that I did not. What I am saying is that I would be uneasy about leaving it there, because we have all identified that there is a problem that needs getting to grips with.
Indeed, my Lords. In my reply I mentioned that we are working with public bodies to improve training in awareness of the issue. There will be guidance for public authorities on identifying victims. So my noble friend is quite right to raise this as an issue, but the Government are already working towards that end.
Amendment 88 agreed.
Amendment 88A not moved.
Amendments 89 to 91
89: Clause 50, page 36, line 40, at end insert “it must notify—
(a) the Secretary of State, or(b) if regulations made by the Secretary of State require it to notify a public authority other than the Secretary of State, that public authority.”
90: Clause 50, page 37, line 1, leave out “The regulations” and insert “Regulations under subsection (2)”
91: Clause 50, page 37, line 7, leave out “The regulations” and insert “Regulations under subsection (2)”
Amendments 89 to 91 agreed.
Amendment 91A not moved.
92: Clause 50, page 37, line 9, leave out subsection (5) and insert—
“( ) The Secretary of State may by regulations specify the public authorities to which this section applies.”
Amendment 92 agreed.
Clause 50, as amended, agreed.
Amendment 93 not moved.
94: After Clause 50, insert the following new Clause—
“Protection from slavery for overseas domestic workers
All overseas domestic workers in the United Kingdom, including those working for staff of diplomatic missions, shall be entitled to—(a) change their employer (but not work sector) while in the United Kingdom;(b) renew their domestic worker or diplomatic domestic worker visa, each such renewal being for a period not exceeding twelve months, as long as they remain in employment and are able to support themselves without recourse to public funds;(c) a three month temporary visa permitting them to live in the United Kingdom for the purposes of seeking alternative emplyoment as an overseas domestic worker where there is evidence that the worker has been a victim of modern slavery.”
My Lords, in moving Amendment 94, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Royall of Blaisdon, and my noble friends Lord Alton of Liverpool and Lord Hylton for their support.
This amendment would provide vital protections for overseas domestic workers. The current lack of protection for these workers, far too many of whom are subjected to appalling conditions of domestic servitude, remains a serious omission from the Bill. Overseas domestic workers are predominantly women. They are currently bonded by Immigration Rules to their employer. In most cases, the employer’s name is written on the worker’s visa. The worker is totally dependent on their employer for their employment, accommodation and immigration status.
Both the Joint Committee on the Draft Modern Slavery Bill and the Joint Committee on Human Rights have expressed significant concern with this current bonded arrangement. The Joint Committee on the draft Bill claims that it,
“unintentionally strengthened the hand of the slave master against the victim of slavery”,
and concluded that,
“Tying migrant domestic workers to their employer institutionalises their abuse; it is slavery and is therefore incongruous with our aim to act decisively to protect the victims of modern slavery”.
The Joint Committee on Human Rights says that it regards,
“the removal of the right of an Overseas Domestic Worker to change employer as a backward step in the protection of migrant domestic workers, particularly as the pre-2012 regime had been cited internationally as good practice. We recommend that the Bill be amended to reverse the relevant changes to the Immigration Rules and to reinstate the pre-2012 protections in the Bill”.
However, the Government have remained strangely steadfast in refusing to make these recommended changes to the Immigration Rules to reinstate the pre-2012 protections for overseas domestic workers. We have therefore tabled this amendment, which would improve at least the minimum bargaining power of any employee—the freedom to resign their job. Without this opportunity, how can they challenge or question anything that their employers choose to do to them? I fail to understand why the current bonded arrangement for overseas domestic workers has remained in place for over two and a half years in spite of the widespread recognition of its disastrous impact.
It is true, as stated by the Minister in Committee in the other place, that abuse of these domestic workers took place prior to April 2012, a time when they had some protection in being able to change employer. However, this surely highlights the problem that workers employed in private households are particularly vulnerable to abuse and therefore need more protections, not fewer. The Home Secretary herself, in her foreword to the Modern Slavery Strategy, describes how:
“Domestic workers are imprisoned and made to work all hours of the day and night for little or no pay”.
This is indeed an apt description of the conditions found by Human Rights Watch in its report Hidden Away, published in March this year, documenting the conditions of domestic workers in the United Kingdom who had entered on the tied overseas domestic worker visa.
The excellent organisation Kalayaan, in its briefing Still Enslaved: The Migrant Domestic Workers who are Trapped by the Immigration Rules, gave statistics of the abuse reported to the organisation by 120 workers who were tied to their employers during the first two years since the introduction of the tied visa. Their accounts of their experiences are shockingly deplorable. The bonding of workers to their employers not only limits options for escape and justice but worsens their treatment during employment. For example, Kalayaan’s figures show that 71% of those tied to their employer reported not being allowed out of the house unaccompanied compared with 43% of those not tied, and 65% of tied workers do not even have their own room, often sleeping on the kitchen floor or in the lounge, with no privacy or time to themselves, compared with 34% of those not tied.
The Centre for Social Justice, in its significant report on trafficking in the UK, It Happens Here, recommended that overseas domestic workers again be permitted to change employer. Andrew Boff, Conservative leader of the GLA, came to the same conclusion in his report, Shadow City. As long ago as 2009, the Home Affairs Select Committee, in its report on trafficking, warned against the proposed bonded arrangement, stating that retaining the visa allowing change of employer and renewal if in employment was,
“the single most important issue in preventing the forced labour and trafficking of such workers”.
During the passage of the Bill through the other place, Members of all parties spoke in defence of overseas domestic workers. The vote was tied in Public Bill Committee, losing only to the chair. When Conservative MP and former Deputy Chief Whip, John Randall, explained at Report why he would vote for a Labour amendment to protect domestic workers, he said that he had,
“met too many victims to be able to say that it is a matter for another day”.—[Official Report, Commons, 4/11/14; col. 766.]
In your Lordships’ House at Second Reading, 13 Members raised deep concerns about the issue. On 20 November, I sponsored an event in this House at which three overseas domestic workers courageously described the horrendous treatment meted out to them in this country, which ultimately drove them to run away without a passport and despite having nowhere to go. To run away in a strange country without your passport or any money and with nowhere to sleep demonstrates how desperate those women were to escape. One woman spoke of how she never wanted to come to the UK from the Middle East, where she had been working, but her employer had not given her a choice, bringing her here to work for her son. She eventually escaped after the son threatened to kill her. Another spoke of how her male employer required her to massage him naked and subjected her to gross intimidation.
Under the current domestic worker visa scheme, when these women escape, they are breaching Immigration Rules. They should not have to make a choice between becoming criminalised or continuing to suffer abuse, which is what happens at the moment. Lawyers and charities working with those victims also spoke at the event I hosted. Very disturbingly, the message from those professionals, some of whom have supported domestic workers for a decade or more, is that since the rules changed in April 2012, there is little they can actually do to help. Many of those workers, including those identified as trafficked, on being told that they are in breach of Immigration Rules in the UK if they run away, just disappear or return to their employers, as it is better to earn a pittance than to earn nothing. There are usually debt collectors waiting in their home countries, and their families cannot survive without their remittances.
I am grateful to the Government for acknowledging the problem of overseas domestic workers in the UK, and the commitments that they have made to introduce some protections against abuse. However, those measures will not provide adequate protection without basic rights. I would therefore be most grateful if the Minister would explain how the Government envisage ways in which overseas domestic workers on the tied visa can realistically access employment rights when they are either living in the employer’s house or have escaped and are destitute, putting themselves in breach of Immigration Rules and at risk of removal from the United Kingdom.
The Minister has also provided assurances regarding checks on the information provided at the point at which visas are issued overseas. That policy is not new, but correct procedures have not always been followed, as documented in the Human Rights Watch report, Hidden Away. For example, if a worker is in a Middle Eastern country with an exit visa requiring them to obtain the employer’s permission even to leave the country, they may be too vulnerable to disclose abuse. There is clearly a need to improve checks but, again, that must be in addition to workers being able to leave their employment in the UK. The requirement that employers be made fully aware of their responsibilities seems rather inadequate in view of the fact that many such overseas domestic workers are found to have been trafficked for domestic servitude. If an employer prepared to keep a worker in servitude knows that the worker is tied to them in law, they will use that as a threat, warning the worker that if they go to the authorities, they will be removed.
Another government commitment—to improve the law enforcement response—is highly problematic if victims are too frightened to come forward. The tied visa has driven many overseas domestic workers underground. Previously, they applied to renew their visas annually, providing an opportunity to scrutinise their conditions of employment. However, the tied visa has given the abusive employer a ready-made defence in the courts, which is to respond with the accusation that the worker has fabricated accusations of abuse in order to remain in the United Kingdom.
The Government have also explained that they are piloting a scheme whereby overseas domestic worker visa holders will be given information cards with details of public authorities in case they need help. This is a good idea in principle, but it is unclear how a card will help if it is immediately taken away from the worker by the employer, together with their passport. Moreover, many such workers have no means to contact their family. Some employers, especially those with information about the families of workers back home, use the long arm of intimidation to threaten harm to those families.
On 6 November I tabled a Written Question asking whether the Home Office maintains internal management information on confirmed cases of trafficking for domestic servitude of non-European Union nationals broken down by visa type and, if so, what are those figures for the years 2009-13. The Minister’s answer, on 20 November, indicated that there is, apparently, no breakdown by visa type. Therefore, beyond the information made available by Kalayaan and Human Rights Watch reports, there is no comprehensive information on the plight of workers on the tied overseas domestic worker visa. Such information as does exist shows that many overseas domestic workers suffer shocking abuse.
The original overseas domestic worker visa was introduced in 1988, in response to well documented exploitation of such workers, in order to improve basic and important protections. This amendment is a very straightforward attempt to insert a new clause to enable the Government to reinstate those pre-2012 Immigration Rules. In conclusion, I sincerely hope that the Minister will respond sympathetically, especially in view of the findings of Home Office research indicating the sheer scale of underreporting of modern slavery in this country, and given the express acknowledgement by the Home Secretary, in her foreword to the Modern Slavery Strategy, that domestic service is an area of particular concern—a point I made at the outset.
I hope that the Government will find this amendment helpful and worthy of a positive response. I beg to move.
My Lords, with her customary clarity, passion and eloquence, my noble friend Lady Cox has set out the arguments for Amendment 94, to which I am a signatory and which other noble Lords support, too. I was very struck in the representations we received about this amendment by what was said by the Trades Union Congress. It supported the recommendations of the Joint Committee and particularly highlighted paragraphs 224, 225 and 227, to which I shall come in a moment.
Before referring to those paragraphs in detail I will simply make the point that a reinstatement of the position that my noble friend has described, the pre-2012 position, is what we should look towards; the one that was originally enacted in 1988, with very good reason. Her amendment also concentrates our mind towards those who are in domestic service attached to diplomats. We have heard from my noble friend Lord Sandwich and others during the course of these proceedings and during other debates about the particular circumstances that such workers often find themselves in.
Returning to the Joint Committee, it is worth the Government looking again at what the Joint Committee had to say. In paragraph 224, it said:
“The difficulties faced by this group of workers appear to have been compounded by changes made to Immigration Rules in 2012 which had the net effect of removing their right to change employer, and thus denying them one means of removal from an abusive situation”.
In paragraph 225, it said:
“Evidence we received challenges the assumption that such mechanisms provide adequate protection … Tying migrant domestic workers to their employer institutionalises their abuse; it is slavery and is therefore incongruous with our aim to act decisively to protect the victims of modern slavery”.
Paragraph 227 states:
“We recommend the Home Office reverse the changes to the Overseas Domestic Worker Visa. This would at the very least allow organisations and agencies to remove a worker from an abusive employment situation immediately. It would also enable the abuse to be reported to the police without fear that the victim would be deported as a result. This in turn would facilitate the prosecution of modern slavery offences”.
I do not think one can do better than to rehearse those arguments from the Joint Committee because it clearly looked at this issue in some detail and everything that is in my noble friend’s amendment would give statutory provision to what it said.
I was also struck by my noble friend’s comment about what happened in another place. David Hanson MP moved an amendment similar to the amendment moved by my noble friend. As she said, it was narrowly defeated in Committee on a Division only after the chair added his vote to the no votes—so opinion in another place is clearly divided. That is another good reason why we should revisit this issue.
Sadly, the Government have so far declined to accept the Joint Committee’s recommendations and have claimed that existing and planned measures will be sufficient to protect migrant domestic workers. They have put significant emphasis on the fact that theoretically all overseas domestic workers have the protection of UK employment law while working in the UK. While in theory that may be so, and in theory they can take a case against an employer to an employment tribunal, in reality and in practice that right is denied to domestic workers on a tied visa. In addition to barriers, such as cuts to legal aid, which we have already referred to, if they want to avoid breaching the Immigration Rules, tied domestic workers must take a case against their employer while remaining in that employer’s home. It is totally unrealistic for these workers to take any kind of legal action against an employer who has potentially trafficked them, exploited them and denied them their most basic rights while still living with their home.
The noble Baroness referred to the charity Kalayaan. It told me that of the 120 domestic workers that it had registered on the tied visa system in the two years since the April 2012 changes, fewer than five had taken an employment case and none had gone to a tribunal. Domestic workers often report to organisations such as Kalayaan that their employers confiscate their mobile phones or refuse them permission to make calls during working hours, which can be excessively long, thereby ensuring that they cannot access services such as ACAS.
I asked for an example to illustrate the situation, and I will briefly mention it. It is a case study of a young woman called Nerita. She was brought to the UK by her employer to work in their private household. She explained that she came from a poor family in south India and her husband, children and elderly parents are dependent on her remittances for their support. This is a very important point. If someone is dependent on the money that you are sending them, that plays into all the emotional arguments and the blackmail that can be used against people in that situation.
An agency found Nerita work with a family who lived in the Middle East. She described having to borrow the agency fee from various relatives. It took over a year to save the money on her meagre salary to repay the loan. She accompanied her employer to this country in 2014. Her conditions of employment changed little when she came to the UK. She worked seven days a week from 7 am until midnight. She was not permitted to leave the employer’s home unaccompanied. Her passport was taken from her when she started working for them and was never returned to her. She slept on a small mattress in the children’s room. Her salary was the equivalent of £150 a month while she was in the Middle East, but she was not paid at all during her time in the UK.
She described being regularly verbally abused by her employer. She was told that she should not speak because she was a servant. The employer also threatened to send Nerita back to India. Nerita speaks very little English and was not aware of the terms and conditions of her visa. Her family’s situation in India is desperate and she was distressed to learn that as she had come to the UK on a tied visa she could work only with the employer who brought to the UK—and then only for a maximum of six months. When she asked for Kalayaan’s support in getting her passport back, it had to explain that involving the police—the point referred to a few moments ago by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee—would almost certainly result in her being detained and her passport being confiscated until she left the UK. Kalayaan has spoken to Nerita about referral to the national referral mechanism, which we discussed earlier on, as a victim of trafficking. However, that would provide only short-term support for this very vulnerable woman. As she came to the UK on the tied overseas domestic worker visa, she will not get the justice she deserves. That is why we should support Amendment 94 in the name of my noble friend.
My Lords, I greatly regret that I have not previously been able to take part in this Committee, having had conflicting commitments, but I very much hope to be able to rectify that on Report. I wanted to be here today for this amendment. What we have heard illustrates quite clearly what a desperate situation this is. In the debate on the previous amendment the Minister referred to “hidden victims”. If ever victims were hidden, it is in this domestic and overseas area. As other noble Lords have said, people do not know that they are there. They do not get out; they have no way of drawing people’s attention to the fact that they are abused. There is clearly so much wrong here that we cannot just ignore it.
As a member of the Joint Committee I should say that the committee was in absolute agreement on practically every part of our report, but this part affected us very deeply indeed. We very much hope that if the Government cannot accept this amendment they will give way to some extent so that we can go back to the situation as it was. As it is now, organisations such as Kalayaan that are involved in helping these victims are working with one hand tied behind their backs. They cannot do anything although they very much want to. I have not put my name to the amendment but I very much support the theory behind it regarding the problems that exist.
I will read a very short part from one of the briefings that we have received. It is from the Immigration Law Practitioners’ Association, and although part of it has been referred to, it is worth repeating. It says:
“The government does not deny that overseas domestic workers need protection”.
Indeed, they do not. It continues:
“But it suggests that this can come from the police—
as has already been mentioned—
“ACAS, the pay and work rights helpline and employment tribunals”.
We are talking about people from poor families in India who, as we know, do not always speak English, so how on earth will they access ACAS? It is way out of the bounds of reality. As for employment tribunals, you can hardly get an employment tribunal if you work in this country, never mind if you come in on a tied visa. The briefing goes on to say:
“It places heavy demands upon a person in a situation of exploitation, enslavement and extreme poverty to reach any of these sources of help, let alone where they do not speak English and are isolated and alone; let alone when they are undocumented, fear removal and are reluctant to jeopardise”,
I shall refer just to the undocumented aspect. Clearly these people cannot get in without documentation and the appropriate visa. However, we have had plenty of evidence showing that the last time that some of these people see their documentation is when they come into the country. Their passports are whisked away from them as they leave the airport and they never know when they will see them again.
On Second Reading I asked if I could see the card, to which the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, referred, that is given to people who come in as domestic workers. Bear in mind that they may not speak much English and do not always come from articulate families, and that they may not be able to read or write. The card is headed:
“Know your rights when working in the UK”—
a starter for 10. It says:
“Your employer should give you a written contract of your terms and conditions”—
fine. It continues:
“If your employer provides you with accommodation, they are allowed to deduct up to £5.08 per day from your wages. No other deductions can be made by them unless you agree to it in writing first, and even then you should still be paid at least the UK minimum wage”.
It also says:
“You have the right to be safe at work”,
which of course they have. In the next section, “Help and advice”, it says:
“For advice on pay and work rights”,
they should ring a number. Then it states:
“If you are being forced to work or your employer isn’t willing to respect your rights”,
ring another number; and:
“If you are in immediate danger call the emergency services”.
Half these people have had not only their passports but their phones taken away. They have no access to phones. They have no ability to ring any of those numbers.
I do not know the answer to this aspect of the problem. I recognise that this is the Border Force’s way of trying to get some information to people as they come in. I have not made any inquiries about how it is handed out, but if it is just plonked in somebody’s passport—a passport that is then taken away—as they come in, that is of no use whatever. If they do manage to hang on to it, if they need it at some stage, one hopes that somebody will be able to tell them what it means—but that person is not going to be the employer, because that is the person they would be trying to complain against.
I am afraid that I have gone on rather too long about how badly I feel about all this. My question to the Minister is: when these people come in—they come in on specific visas, so they are perfectly identifiable—does the Border Force interview any of them before handing them this leaflet, to try to find out whether they understand what is going on? Otherwise we are doing nothing with the leaflet, other than playing a game by saying, “This is how we are welcoming you, and this is what you should do”, when they do not understand.
I am sure that the Minister will listen carefully to this. The changes made in 2012 have clearly had a very adverse impact. I understand why some of them were made—in immigration legislation, for example—but on the other hand, we are not talking about huge numbers; these are just miserable people.
My Lords, I fully support the amendment—as the Minister knows, because I told him some time ago. I take the view that the recent change in the visa for domestic servants is shocking, because it puts a relatively small number of people into an utterly impossible situation. They can choose either to continue to be a slave, or to be deported. That is just not acceptable.
However, if the Government are not disposed to do anything effective about the visa, they might be interested in some discussions that I have had with the creative and inventive researcher of Frank Field MP. He has come up with an analogy that the Minister might just find interesting. Women who come over here with a marriage visa and become the victims of domestic violence are entitled to what is called a DDV—destitution and domestic violence—concession. This concession allows them three months’ access to public funds while their cases are being sorted out by the Home Office, with a view to deciding whether they will be given the right to remain here, or whether, after those three months, they will have to go back.
I ask the Minister, at the very least, to say whether there is not a very close analogy between such a domestic servant and a woman coming over here with a marriage visa who then has to leave home because of domestic violence. Goodness me, some of the violence that women in domestic servitude suffer is probably worse than the domestic violence suffered by a woman who has come over with a marriage visa. I suggest that three months is too short a period for a victim of slavery, so I ask the Minister to consider the marriage visa and see whether the same conditions could apply, by analogy, to the visa for domestic servants. I ask for six months instead of three months for these women to sort themselves out, and for their cases to be sorted out by the Home Office. If at the end of six months they had to go back, that would be a rather different situation, because they would have had some time at least, with public benefit, to try to see what their future lives might be. The marriage visa analogy may not be as good as some other means, but I urge the Minister at least to look at it as a possible alternative.
My Lords, a powerful case has been made for the amendment, and I simply want to add my support. This is such an important issue, which goes to the heart of what the Bill is about. The Minister, in his letter to Peers after Second Reading, said that he shared noble Lords’ determination to stamp out all forms of modern slavery, including abuse of domestic workers. That is a welcome aspiration, which has been repeated in various forms in various places.
The centrality of this issue to the Bill is underlined by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation. On the basis of studies that it has funded, it writes that,
“there is most risk of forced labour where an individual’s work visa is tied to a particular employer. The most commonly cited example is the situation of overseas domestic workers who, since 2012, are again no longer allowed to change employers within the same category and hence become trapped in abusive situations”.
Evidence of the effects of being so trapped is, as we have heard, provided by organisations such as Kalayaan, which works with overseas domestic workers. I pay tribute to its work. Kalayaan argues that all the available evidence suggests that the change in the visa,
“has facilitated their exploitation and abuse, including trafficking”.
As the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, has said, Kalayaan details numerous ways in which the abuse experienced by overseas domestic workers who register with them has worsened since the change in the rules.
In their response to the Joint Committee on the draft Bill, the Government suggested that the previous rules “potentially encouraged abuse” because they enabled employers to bring domestic workers to this country for longer periods. Do the Government have evidence of such abuse? Or is this a hypothetical potential, which needs to be set against the actual evidence of abuse that has happened since 2012? In that time, as we have heard, abuse and exploitation has got much worse. It should also be set against the fact that the pre-2012 regime was cited by both the ILO and the UN Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights of Migrants as best practice. As the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, has observed, this was one reason why the Joint Committee on Human Rights, of which I am a member, regarded,
“the removal of the right of an Overseas Domestic Worker to change employer as a backward step in the protection of migrant domestic workers.
We recommended that the Bill should be amended to reinstate the pre-2012 position.
Given the clear evidence of how the removal of that protection has facilitated abuse, given the Government’s own commitment to stamp out abuse of overseas domestic workers, and given that I feel both Ministers are reasonable people, I hope that they will feel able to take this amendment away, think again, and bring forward their own amendment before Report.
My Lords, I conducted an inquiry into trafficking for the Equality and Human Rights Commission in Scotland, and it was extended beyond sexual trafficking to migrant workers and domestic servitude. I went to Scotland imagining that it was unlikely that I would come across cases of domestic servitude, because the experience I had had in this field had usually been in the diplomatic area, when ambassadorial families had brought to this country people who had then fled the domestic setting, claiming serious abuse. But one of the things that came to light was a particular case involving a very wealthy family who had businesses in Scotland but had originally come from the Indian subcontinent. They would regularly bring young girls from back home, where their relatives still lived, to Scotland to work for them and care for their children. We can well understand any family wanting to have someone to care for their children who, for example, speaks the language of the place they come from, can continue certain traditions, and can cook in a style that the family might find more appealing.
The shocking thing was that the young woman had fled from the home of this family and given an account similar to the ones that we have heard—sleeping on the kitchen floor on a mat, not being allowed out of the house, not having access to her passport, and so on. But it was even worse than some of the circumstances that we have heard, in that her family back home were the people who received payment, directly from accounts presumably kept alive back in Bangladesh. The problem was that she did not have access to money; she only discovered that she might have rights because, on one occasion when the family allowed her to accompany the children to the park, she met someone else from back home, who had a discussion with her about her circumstances and her rights. It was through the intercession of the other person that, in fact, police went to her house and the girl’s circumstances were discovered.
The circumstances extend beyond those that we might have imagined. It came as a surprise to me that, even in Scotland, there were families living very wealthy and comfortable lives, with people living in their households who are available day and night to rise and to care for their children and to prepare food in the wee small hours, when the father came home very late at night from business. This girl’s life was a misery, and she was frequently beaten by the wife of the family. I think that there are some serious circumstances here that we have to address, and I am not convinced by the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, and others that the circumstances that existed prior to 2010 were really much more effective. However, I am attracted to the suggestion from the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, that we could look at the analogy with the special provisions made for women who come to marry in this country, who are then met with abuse, because of the difficulty in returning immediately to their families. There are analogies there, and some creative thinking by government and others involved in this could find a remedy for those who are so severely abused.
My Lords, I, too, add support for the amendment moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Cox. This is a very important issue, affecting a group of extremely vulnerable workers, so it is right and fundamental that it forms part of the Bill. The change to the overseas domestic workers visa back in 2012, tying domestic workers to their employer, was too heavy-handed a response when you look at the number of domestic workers involved and the vulnerability of those workers. In 2010, visas issued to domestic workers accounted for just 6% of all employment-related visas issued. At the time of the change, the Government argued that this visa was a route to settlement that was abused. However, very few overseas domestic workers were granted the right to settle; between 2006 and 2010, an average of just 700 domestic workers a year were given the right to settlement. That figure taken as a percentage of the 2013 settlement figures represents less than 0.5%.
I understand, as the Government will argue, that because of their isolated working conditions this group of workers was vulnerable to, and suffered, abuse before the change in visa rules. But the research by Kalayaan, as others have said, has shown that abuse and exploitation has increased as a result of the new visa rules, figures that the Minister in the other place made clear are not disputed by the Government. This visa change has created the perfect storm, with work carried out in isolated conditions, employers having excessive power afforded to them and a legal system that offers absolutely no protection. It is therefore unsurprising that the abuse has increased.
The Minister will no doubt talk about having stronger pre-entry checks, a stronger written contract with explicit terms and conditions and more information given to overseas workers on their rights but, as the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, said, the effectiveness of those provisions has yet to be proven in practice. Also, these actions are not mutually exclusive to any other action; it is not a choice between stronger support mechanisms or a change in the visa rules—we should be doing both.
The amendment has a lot of support inside and outside this Chamber. Three parliamentary reviews have supported a change to the visa situation for overseas domestic workers. I hope that the Government can support it too, and include this amendment, or a version of it, in the Modern Slavery Bill.
My Lords, it happens here—it happens even in Scotland, as we have heard, that most civilised country.
A number of noble Lords have used words such as “unimaginable” but, like the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, I can only too well imagine the card—and I share her concerns about the card itself—being slipped into the passport as it is handed over. Of course, the passport is then very often taken by the employer.
I do not want to repeat the very powerful speeches made by so many noble Lords. I was grateful to hear from a number of people, including, most strongly and emphatically, from the three workers themselves to whom the noble Baroness referred, and at the meeting that she organised with Virginia Mantouvalou, who has written a report. Clearly, it is far too long to read here, but one thing particularly struck me. She gives the history of the overseas domestic worker visa and the diplomatic visa. When the concession was originally introduced, it was from concern to enable workers who had been with a family overseas to come here. The comment was made that it was for “a humanitarian reason”—to look after the domestic workers—and look where we have got to.
At that meeting, Kate Roberts from Kalayaan explained how her organisation could no longer help workers who managed to find their way to it, which must be a tiny percentage, because the organisation has to explain the problem with the Immigration Rules. Indeed, it often cannot help because of threats from employers to workers about criminalisation.
A number of noble Lords have also said that we must remember the realities. Measures such as dealing more effectively at the port of entry are important, but they are not enough. One thing that occurs to me on that is that, at the border on exit, when there is suspicion that a girl is being taken abroad for a forced marriage—the border officials are trained to recognise this—there are arrangements whereby they can be taken aside to be interviewed. The noble Baroness is right to point to that. I do not see why it should not happen in the other direction. We need to think about the realities. What people seem to be able to do to get around formal systems is almost beyond our imagining, and it is the realities that we need to fix on.
My Lords, I happen to have been involved with this situation, which allows serious abuses of incoming domestic workers to happen, since the early 1990s. I have never known such universal support for the need for a reform as we have heard today. I leave it at that.
My Lords, the name of my noble friend Lady Royall of Blaisdon is attached to this amendment. I certainly do not wish to speak at any length, because the arguments have already been made, but I shall reiterate one or two things. Under the tied visa system, introduced in the changes in 2012 to the Immigration Rules, overseas domestic workers who are being exploited no longer have the option of seeking other employment to get away from an employer who is exploiting them since they are tied to their employer for a non-renewable period of six months. Under the tied visa system, people who are being exploited are normally not willing to go to the relevant authorities because they fear that, if they leave their employer, the outcome will be that they will be deported as an immigration offender. If they are being paid anything at all—evidence suggests that more than 60% may not be—they will lose what may be a source of income being sent to support dependants in their own country.
One would have thought that the Government would have wanted to abolish the current tied visa system for overseas domestic workers, since tying migrant domestic workers to their employer institutionalises their abuse, as has been said already, and precludes acting decisively to protect victims of modern slavery. Of course, as also has already been said, it is unrealistic for such domestic workers to take any kind of legal action against an employer who potentially has trafficked them, exploited them and denied them their most basic rights while still living in the home of their employer.
The impact assessment that accompanied the 2012 changes stated that the ability of these workers—that is, overseas domestic workers—to change employer and access the UK labour market was,
“contrary to general Government policy on low skilled migration”.
However, the impact assessment also acknowledged the,
“vulnerability to abuse and exploitation”,
of these workers. I do not know whether the Government’s resistance to date to going down the road of this amendment is related, in the light of that comment in the 2012 impact assessment, to a view that it would lead to an increase in immigration. Perhaps the noble Baroness could say what, if any, increase in immigration the Government believe there would be if the amendment that we are debating is adopted. Reversing the 2012 changes for the overseas domestic worker visa would, at the very least, allow organisations and agencies to remove a worker from an abusive employment situation immediately. It also would enable the abuse to be reported to the police without fear that the victim would be deported as a result and that, in turn, would facilitate the prosecution of modern slavery offences, which, surely, is the purpose of the Bill we are now discussing. I hope that, in responding, the Minister will take account of what has been said far more eloquently than I can manage by so many of your Lordships in this Committee today.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, for introducing this amendment and speaking with such eloquence and acknowledge her expertise and campaigning work in this area. Holding anyone in modern slavery is totally unacceptable; I am sure that, around the Committee, we can all agree on that. Overseas domestic workers, like anyone else, deserve protection from modern slavery and support and help if abuse takes place. Noble Lords around the Committee have raised passionate concerns about some of the appalling situations that people find themselves in.
I shall set out why the main issue is not the nature of the visa that somebody has. Through both the Bill and wider policy changes, we will seek to provide protection to anyone who needs it, regardless of their employment type or any visa they may have. Obviously, we are focusing here on overseas domestic workers and seeking to strengthen their protections further.
The best way to prevent an abusive working relationship from being brought to the UK is to test its genuineness before a visa is issued. A number of noble Lords have raised these issues. Private household employers must prove to immigration officials that they have a pre-existing employment relationship of at least 12 months with their domestic worker, for example by providing pay slips or work records. All individuals applying to come to the UK on an overseas domestic worker visa must also provide evidence with their application that they have agreed in writing the core terms and conditions of their employment in the UK. That helps to establish that the worker is employed under terms that they find acceptable and allows us to ensure that these are appropriate. The evidence is to be provided in the form of a prescribed template—although, of course, I hear from around the Committee the concerns that these documents will not be adequately and legally kept to. The requirement for a written statement of key terms and conditions has been in place only since April 2012 and we believe that it could be improved to reflect international best practice. Officials have been working on a revised template to try to ensure that both employers and employees have an opportunity to see what standards are expected on both sides before workers come here and that they are aware of rights and responsibilities, including, sections on passport retention, sleeping accommodation and all the other things that noble Lords have mentioned, which so often are open to abuse.
As part of the visa issuing process, as has been mentioned, the Home Office has started a trial, through the Border Force, of handing personally to workers as they come in the form that tells them what their entitlements are. These forms are not just in English, which obviously would be of very little use to many of them. I agree that it is possible that they are snatched away by the employers and put in a passport, but this is the first step of making sure that workers will have in their hands documentation about what they are entitled to if they come to work in this country.
There are further protections in place for workers who are trafficked into the UK or exploited in the UK. If they are suspected to be victims of trafficking they can be reported to the national referral mechanism. There are mechanisms such as victim care contracts and, of course, they are entitled to legal aid if they are victims of trafficking. They will be granted a minimum of 45 days for reflection and recovery, which I think we discussed in our previous debates.
Let me be clear: if a domestic worker who is a victim of trafficking leaves their employment and seeks assistance, we do not consider that to be an abuse of their visa, nor will they be criminalised for doing so. All victims should feel confident that they can report any abuse they suffer to the authorities and that they will be believed, treated as a victim and supported. I was moved by the tale from the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of The Shaws, about the worker who just happened to meet somebody in a park and found out about this. How we get these messages to the victims themselves is a very difficult issue and I acknowledge the concerns around the Committee.
I am aware also of the suggestions that the level of abuse of overseas domestic workers has risen sharply as a consequence of the changes made to the visa rules in April 2012. Much report has been made of the reports by Kalayaan, the NGO that supports domestic workers, and the figures that it has produced—albeit from a very low sample. Home Office internal management information suggests that between May 2009 and July 2014 there were 213 confirmed cases of trafficking for domestic servitude involving non-EU nationals. Of these, only 41 were linked to overseas domestic worker visas—so we are talking about an average of 8 per year. If we look more closely at the figures, before we made the changes to the visa rules and added new protections, there were 16 confirmed domestic servitude cases linked to these visas. So, far from a rise in servitude linked to overseas domestic worker visas, the numbers fell after 2011 and have been stable since.
Of course, even one case of abuse is too many and should be tackled robustly by law enforcement. However, before we consider the specific needs of overseas domestic workers, it is important to see these statistics in some sort of context. The figures quoted by Kalayaan are based, as has been quoted, on 120 overseas domestic workers issued with visas after April 2012, who approached Kalayaan for help over a two-year period. During that period, we issued more than 32,000 visas, so the 120 workers who approached Kalayaan represent 0.4% of the total number of overseas domestic worker visas issued and only 0.2% of the total who were paid £50 or less. I go back to the point that even one case of abuse is too many, but it is important that we put these in the context of the number of overseas domestic workers for whom the systems appear to work.
I am grateful to the noble Baroness for giving way. Does she not accept that the figures that she has just given to the Committee are very dubious? How can evidence of this kind by collated? By definition, many of these will be people who are frightened out of their minds about going to any of the authorities. The Kalayaan figures demonstrate that: the discrepancy between the number of people who approached it and then those whom it was able to take on was a very tiny percentage. Is this not just the tip of an iceberg? By ignoring it we are not going to help the situation at all.
I entirely accept what the noble Lord says; it may well be the tip of an iceberg. However, I am setting out that the Government are trying to tackle this problem, in a way that previous Governments have, by the dual action of contacting the employers and the workers to ensure that both are aware, before they come to work in this country, of their rights and responsibilities.
I entirely accept the difficulty of identifying the people who are abused, but I assure noble Lords that anyone who is abused, once that comes to light, will be treated with the sort of help and support that one would expect from a country with our rich tradition of giving refuge to people who have problems. While working over here, they of course have the protection of UK employment law. Anyone who believes that they are being mistreated can take action to report it. As I say, the measures we are taking extend the ones that previous Government have taken. The numbers that are coming forward appear to be stabilising because we are taking measures to try to ensure that the employers and the workers have a full view of their rights when they come here.
I thank the Minister for giving way. Of course, everything that can be done ought to be done to show the employer and the person they are employing what their rights and responsibilities are. I am sure that she would be the first to admit that that is a relationship of power to powerlessness. When it comes from that kind of relationship, particularly if there is a prospect of a family being left behind—say, in India—who will get a regular monthly pittance, what would a signature on a piece of paper really be worth?
I think we are all agreed that that is a difficult problem and we are trying to find ways to tackle it. The power of the employer and the fact that people support family links back home make it extraordinarily difficult for people to complain about their employment.
I turn to the tabled new clause and its proposal that, if they sought new work, overseas domestic workers would be allowed to extend their visas and be granted a three-month temporary visa where there is evidence that they had been a victim of trafficking or slavery. This particular visa is designed for the sole purpose of enabling workers who are part of a household overseas to accompany their employers to the UK while the employer is working here. Allowing them to change employer is not compatible with the purpose of this particular visa. It would create an anomaly in the system if non-skilled, non-European Economic Area domestic workers could come to the UK with an employer and then change employer and stay here in a way that is denied to other non-skilled, non-EEA workers.
The noble Lord, Lord Rosser, asked me about the sort of numbers that we might expect. Between 2009 and 2013, on average 5,600 overseas domestic workers in private households extended their visas annually. We know that wages and working conditions in the UK are often more attractive than in the countries from which they may have come, so we would expect a similarly large number of workers to seek to remain here. The amendment would potentially allow overseas domestic workers to extend their visas indefinitely in 12-month increments, permitting all those who stayed in the UK for 10 years to become eligible to apply for settlement. It is arguable that this temporary, non-economic route should not have preference over those who choose to follow the official routes into employment in this country.
The ability to change employer does not necessarily protect against exploitation. Indeed, the long-term nature of employment and an ability to extend visas can, in some cases, facilitate abuse. It therefore would not necessarily provide protection against trafficking and other exploitation.
I thought the argument was that they had the power to change their employer. How does that make them more likely to be abused, if the reason they want to change their employer is because the employer who brought them into the country is abusing them in the kind of way that we heard from my noble friend Lady Kennedy?
It would enable them to extend their visas. It is the extension of the visa that would mean that they could be here longer and therefore possibly open to abuse for longer.
One other thing worth saying is that, of those who sought to extend visas before, there was a whole range of reasons as to why they wanted to do so. The fact that they were victims of trafficking or abuse was not necessarily the only or the main reason why people chose to change employers and to extend their visas. Of course, we recognise that there are huge risks to people who come here. In the Bill we seek to provide methods of having a more secure life for the people who come into our country and who are here because of the employment they have with a particular employer.
My Lords, forgive me, but I am boiling over sitting on the end of the Bench here. I am sorry that I did not speak to this amendment; it was for my noble friend to do so and he did so very well. Throughout the debate on the Bill, all noble Lords around the Chamber have been at one with the Government in trying to make it a better Bill and in trying to ensure that the lives of people who are suffering in servitude, slavery and bonded labour are made better. We know that that is what the Government want to do. We are talking about a very few people who are in a desperate situation. It is not due to the noble Baroness the Leader, and I do not often blame civil servants, but I cannot believe the guff that the Minister has had to read out. We are talking about people who are unable to make telephone calls or act on all the information that is given to them. These people are in desperation. We need to help them. Frankly, what the noble Baroness is saying is just not good enough.
If I may say so, I am not aware that the noble Baroness’s Government produced answers to this either. It is not a straightforward issue. We have been trying to take measures that will further create supportive situations for people who find themselves trafficked. As I have said, if they do find themselves trafficked they will be taken up, be given support and be given legal aid. I absolutely accept the difficulty of people in these situations to get access outside of their house and to escape an abusive employer. However, the measures we are putting in place are part of an effort to try to identify where things have gone wrong and where there are people living in abusive situations in our country.
I will touch on those in diplomatic houses. Very often the servants of diplomats come under a different area of protection from other workers. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office treats very seriously any mistreatment of domestic workers in diplomatic households. Of course, that requires immense sensitivity in dealing with people whose customs and norms are different. However, it now has set in place very strong systems so that diplomats can be withdrawn from this country if it is discovered that they do not conform to the standards of employment that we expect from them and from everybody in this country. I entirely share the anger of the Committee about people who come to this country and are exploited and victimised while here. We are seeking different ways; we are open to suggestions from all sides of the Committee as to what other measures we might—
I am grateful to the Minister. If she is open to suggestions, I wonder what she is prepared to say about the analogy with the marriage visa. Would she at least take it away and look at it with a possibility of allowing up to six months of public benefit while they sort themselves and the Home Office sorts them?
I apologise to the noble and learned Baroness. I think she is referring to the domestic violence concession, which is a three-month visa to allow people to come to the UK with an expectation that they will settle here and during those three months they must make an application to settle. That is specifically for those coming here to join family with the expectation of staying. Victims who are helping the police with an investigation already have access to discretionary leave of at least one year and one day, so they have an extended time over here to make their case, if they are already in contact with the police. I think from the suggestions that the noble and learned Baroness was making, they would probably already have had to make clear that they were victims of abuse. That would have become public and they would have found a way of making that known to the authorities.
We are obviously going to come back to this clause to try to set out ways of dealing with this issue. If noble Lords around the Committee who feel as anguished about this as obviously people do have clear suggestions as to how the Government could do more to help the situation so that we do not have anybody in the country who is a victim of abuse and slavery while in domestic employment, then we are more than ready to listen to them. We have already set and strengthened the systems of trying to make contact with the worker at the point of entry. After that, it may be very difficult to make contact with them, but when they are coming in at the point of entry they will have to present a passport and that is a moment when the authorities can make contact with them. We are also seeking to make sure that all employers who come to work in this country are fully aware of the compliance which they should make for the people whom they employ.
For the reasons that I have set out, we think that this clause would not necessarily strengthen the safeguards for the very people whom we are trying to protect. We all have the same aims in mind—to attempt to strengthen the protections for these people. I hope that, with the assurance that we will be addressing this again and discussing it further before Report, the noble Baroness will feel minded to withdraw her amendment.
My Lords, I warmly thank all noble Lords who have spoken in support of the amendment and have suggested creative alternative variations on the theme, as my noble and learned friend Lady Butler-Sloss has done. I find it a little hard to fulfil the characteristic courtesy of thanking the Minister. I am sorry, but I think that I rather felt sympathy for the reply that she was obliged to give. It seems to me that at the moment the Government totally underestimate the seriousness of the situation. They put forward remedial suggestions such as templates or providing information on arrival in the country. The nonsensical nature of the effectiveness of those remedies came out very clearly in the debate itself.
It has been shown again and again that these very vulnerable workers may well not have ways of understanding information that is made available, or it may be removed along with their passports. Frankly, those are not reassuring alternatives. The Government’s position totally underestimates the incredible vulnerability of these workers. They are trapped in these situations. There is also the whole aspect of the intimidation and abuse that they suffer and the intimidation and threats to their families back home—that is a very real long arm of intimidation which prevents many of them seeking help in the first place.
Figures were quoted, but figures really are a distraction. Kalayaan’s research may say 120, but one is one too many. Every case that has been reported is a situation of challenge to us in this country to do something effective about these immensely vulnerable people. The distance—the chasm—between the kind of de jure position adopted by the Government and the de facto reality of these immensely vulnerable people is a chasm that really has not been breached by the Minister’s suggestions.
I emphasise that all of us who have spoken share the conviction that the plight of overseas domestic workers in this country today is a very real and well documented form of slavery. It would be intensely ironic—ironic in the extreme—if we failed to use the Modern Slavery Bill to eradicate this form of slavery on our own doorsteps. I am sorry to say that I do not feel that we have received a very satisfactory reassurance from the Minister. I am sure that we will have to return extremely robustly to this issue on Report. In the mean time, I beg leave to withdraw this amendment.
Amendment 94 withdrawn.
Amendments 95 and 96 not moved.
97: After Clause 50, insert the following new Clause—
“Gangmasters Licensing Authority
The Secretary of State may make regulations to amend the Gangmasters (Licensing) Act 2004 to enlarge the functions, powers and duties of the Gangmasters Licensing Authority set out in section 1 of the 2004 Act.”
My Lords, this is another modest amendment to allow the Government to look at the Gangmasters Licensing Authority at an appropriate time to see whether the functions, powers and duties of the licensing authority should be extended to cover other areas, which are extremely obvious, where it is well known that there is quite a lot of slavery and trafficking.
Two particular areas that I have in mind are the construction industry and the hospitality industry. One area of the hospitality industry is the laundry. Almost every hotel uses outsourcing of its laundry. There are serious concerns as to what goes on in some of the laundries. There is no doubt at all that there are serious concerns about what goes on in the construction business, particularly with people working on sites.
A very obvious example of that was the Connors case in Bedfordshire, where a Gypsy family, the Connors, picked up out-of-work, homeless people from soup kitchens and homeless centres and took them, on the promise of £80 a day, to work on construction sites. These people were kept in appalling accommodation in caravans, first working on construction sites in England, and then a whole lot of them were taken across to Sweden where they were working in the northern part of the country. It was not until a young Swedish boy, who had also been caught like this, walked 500 miles to Stockholm and went to the police, who rushed to the area where these people were locked up—not being paid a single penny, in appalling conditions—that they were identified as slaves and victims, and they did not even know it. However, one of them gave evidence to the informal inquiry led by Frank Field MP, of which Sir John Randall MP and I were members at the request of the Home Secretary. This particular victim gave very clear evidence of what goes on in the construction industry.
I understand entirely the scarcity of resources, so I am not asking the Government to extend the powers of the Gangmasters Licensing Authority. Indeed, Paul Broadbent would be horrified unless he had proper resources to manage what would have to be a larger enterprise if these two areas were taken into account. What I do not want is there to be inability on the part of the Government, when they have the money to extend the Gangmasters Licensing Authority, to find the proper legislative process to be able to do that. To put the matter in current usage, rather than faffing around looking for the right sort of place, if you have the power to do it, you do not have to do it until you can, but the power would be there so that you could do it in subsidiary legislation later. I hope that the Government will listen seriously to what I suggest. I beg to move.
My Lords, I have Amendment 97A in this group, but I also support Amendment 97 in the name of the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, and Amendment 101A in the name of my noble friend Lord Rosser. Many people welcome the great job done by the GLA. In the sectors for which it is responsible, it has been extremely effective at raising standards and driving out poor performance. Ten years ago, given the context in which the GLA was established, limiting the sectors it covered made sense. But 10 years later the limit on the GLA remit now makes little sense.
Amendment 97A was recommended by the joint scrutiny committee, of which I was a member, to allow the remit of the GLA to be extended. As the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, said, many high-risk sectors fall outside the remit of the GLA, such as construction and hospitality—and I would add care and cleaning to that list. These sectors are high risk because they commonly use subcontractors, agencies and migrant labour. The work is seasonal and low paid, and workers often work on site and in isolated conditions. Therefore, these sectors need to be afforded greater attention and the workers need the extra protection given to them by the licensing regime of the GLA.
As I have said, the GLA is widely recognised as being effective and is often cited as an example of best practice. Many people have called for its remit to be extended to such high-risk sectors, which is why the Joint Committee looked at it in some detail and agreed. It would be a mistake not to consider it now or, as the noble and learned Baroness said, in the future, which is why I support Amendments 97 and 101A that allow for that. These amendments also would allow the GLA to be given greater powers. I agree. The GLA would have the power, for example, to enforce payment of unpaid wages and the ability to fine businesses which have deliberately evaded licensing.
The sentencing and penalties faced by unlicensed and exploitative gangmasters also need addressing. Some very ruthless people are getting away with comparatively small fines. In 2013, an unlicensed gangmaster was convicted of exploiting more than 60 Filipino workers on dairy farms in the UK. Despite having made more than £700,000 through exploiting his workers and housing them in appalling conditions, he was given a 12-month suspended sentence and was asked to pay £45,000 in compensation over three years. We must review the sentencing guidelines for GLA offences. We cannot have a situation where cruel gangmasters see fines, in the words of the GLA,
“as a hazard of the job”.
I hope that we can amend this Bill to address these significant issues, as when there is inadequate preventive action, abuse occurs.
My Lords, I shall speak to Amendment 101A in my name and that of my noble friend Lord Rosser, and I support the other amendments in the group. Like others, we are seeking an enabling power by regulations to allow the Secretary of State to expand the remit of the Gangmasters Licensing Authority into other sectors when he or she wishes to do so. In Committee in the other place, the Minister, Karen Bradley, said:
“The case has not been made for extending the GLA’s remit at this stage beyond the core areas the Act sought to address”.—[Official Report, Commons, 14/10/14; col. 480.]
I contest that point of view because, like other Members across the Committee, we have a deal of evidence to prove that there is a strong case for extending the GLA’s remit. But we are not forcing the Government to do that now; we are saying, as and when appropriate, please let us do it.
The introduction of legislation on gangmasters in 2004 has worked very well in protecting workers in the agriculture, horticulture and shellfish collection sectors. Widespread research from trade unions, charities and academics suggests that hundreds of thousands of migrant workers are routinely underpaid and overworked in dirty and dangerous jobs across the UK on farms, in care homes, providing cleaning services on the London Underground, in hotels and offices, and on construction sites, as others have said. Often employed by labour providers or gangmasters, many of these workers presumably have little idea of UK employment rights such as the national minimum wage, let alone the leverage to be able to claim them.
The draft Bill committee considered this in detail and recommended:
“The weight of evidence we received suggested that expanding the GLA’s powers and industrial remit would yield positive results”.
The TUC has described the GLA as,
“an example of an effective body that UK industry helped establish to manage and mitigate risks of slavery in the food and agriculture sector”.
In its report, Hard Work, Hidden Lives, it points out:
“Tighter regulation is needed of the sectors and businesses where risks are greatest. The GLA has demonstrated that it can effectively enforce standards in its sector and their approach could be applied to other sectors where vulnerable workers are exploited … The Government should be prepared to extend the GLA licensing regime—a proposal which responsible agencies back—to cover sectors characterised by vulnerable employment. The aim would be to ensure that an employer seriously exploiting workers and undercutting reputable companies would lose their licence to trade”.
Anti-Slavery International applauds the GLA for its model of good practice, which is widely recognised across Europe. Focus on Labour Exploitation, FLEX, points out that from the four Ps that the Government are using to tackle modern slavery—pursue, prevent, protect and prepare, with which we fully agree—prevention is addressed in the Bill only with regard to the new slavery and trafficking prevention and risk orders. It recommends that,
“effective prevention requires strong government led measures to enforce labour standards alongside business-led reporting requirements”.
Oxfam has researched this issue and has produced a report entitled Turning the Tide. It points to the other sectors that have been mentioned where action needs to be taken. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation said:
“Many have called for extending the authority and the resources of the GLA to cover all industries where there is known risk of exploitation and forced labour associated with labour providers. The evidence from the JRF’s programme points to the same recommendation”.
On 13 October, the Salvation Army, which has managed adult human trafficking victim care and co-ordination since being awarded the contract in July 2011, produced a report saying that, of the more than 1,800 victims of human trafficking in England and Wales since 2011, 42% of cases last year involved forced labour, against 38% that were sexual exploitation cases and 10% that involved domestic servitude. This means that, for the first time, forced labour cases grew at a faster rate than those of sexual exploitation. That is a very telling statistic.
Of the forced labour cases in which the charity had been involved, almost 80% involved men. Sometimes, when we consider this issue, we tend to think of it as a very female problem but it now applies to men as well as women. I had hoped that the new modern slavery strategy would provide us with some reassurance as to the future of the GLA and its ability to work in other areas. However, on reading the strategy, there appears to be nothing to indicate that the Government intend to look at expanding the remit of the GLA. I hope that today’s debate will encourage them to do so. The strategy focuses its attention on the new better business compliance partnerships, which are being established as part of this Government’s programme of work to tackle illegal working practices and the exploitation of workers. Of course, new better business compliance partnerships are all well and good, but they do not tackle the problem that we seek to resolve here by expanding the remit.
I do not really understand why the Government to date have not wished to move on this. As the noble and learned Baroness and my noble friend have said, we are not saying that the Government must do this now. This is an enabling power, so that in due course, when the money is there and when all the evidence that the Government believe is necessary is there—we think that the evidence is there now—they will be able to act so that these people who are suffering in bonded labour will have a way to get justice. These amendments contain only enabling powers. They would allow a future Secretary of State to diversify and to add the work of the GLA to other sectors if and when appropriate—no more, no less.
My Lords, I support these amendments. I see them as a corollary of our concerns about supply chains. Increasingly in my work, I am looking at issues concerning the corporate world and human rights. Many leading figures in the corporate world are anxious to address these issues because of the implications for their brand and damage to their reputation internationally if they are seen to be participating in activities which breach human rights.
Outsourcing is similarly an area where there are risks of high levels of abuse. There needs to be a real awareness that, as with supply chains, in outsourcing aspects of a business there is often a risk that those who are providing labour are going to be exploiting and abusive of those they are bringing in. As I mentioned, I chaired an inquiry in Scotland for the Equality and Human Rights Commission. The whole of the central belt of Scotland is a provider of soft fruits and brings in migrant labour from abroad. It was the Gangmasters Licensing Authority that helped to eradicate some of the abusive practices that were happening there. The workers were living in the most terrible circumstances and there were issues around not just what they were being paid but how they were being treated. It falls to the Gangmasters Licensing Authority to raise standards as well as to bring prosecutions. The inspectors within the GLA are often former police officers. I was very impressed with their commitment and with their evidence to the inquiry. As we have heard, this is moving beyond food and agriculture and into construction. It is also moving into care, as the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of Cradley, mentioned. In this area, the ill treatment of workers is great, as it is in the outsourced elements of hospitality, such as cleaning and laundry.
I urge the Government to look at this. I accept, as do others, that there are financial constraints and that there would need to be resourcing. I support the idea of enabling legislation so that when the time is right we will not have to take up more parliamentary time and the expansion of the Gangmasters Licensing Authority’s remit can be speedily introduced.
My Lords, I will intervene very briefly because I agree with almost everything that has been said. I was the Minister who brought in the Gangmasters Licensing Authority. At that time there was considerable scepticism as to whether we could use administrative means to clean up what was broadly recognised as an exploitative situation within horticulture and agriculture. I wished then that it had been slightly broader than that because, even more than 10 years ago, it was evident that some of these terrible practices extended to some other industries. Indeed, the same workers were being used. However, we decided to focus on horticulture and agriculture. The general message is that, although we have not entirely eliminated exploitation, bad living conditions and illegality from those sectors, they are a lot cleaner than they were. The effectiveness of the GLA is widely recognised.
The important point that has not really been emphasised is that the GLA has the ability to sanction the users of the labour. It is not just the gangmasters who are in the frame but the farmers and the horticulturalists as well, and that has driven a change of behaviour and attitude which has been backed up by those who use the produce—the retailers and the processors. There is a whole supply effect because the direct employer of labour that is being provided under these terrible conditions can be sanctioned.
This situation pre-eminently applies in parts of construction and it very evidently applies in catering and hospitality and in the care sector. If pressure is not put on the apparently respectable users of that labour then the sanctions, although not entirely ineffective, are less than complete. I recognise, as other noble Lords have done, the need for more information and more resources but we must use this legislation to enable the Government to extend this kind of approach to these other sectors at the appropriate point.
My Lords, I have added my name to Amendment 97 tabled by the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss. It is clear that the Gangmasters Licensing Authority is widely respected and its role in preventing the increase in forced labour is very effective. The sectors that we are concerned about have all been mentioned and so I do not need to repeat points that have been powerfully made. It is not just a question of extending the sectors covered by the GLA. We should also not overlook its powers and duties. For instance, I understand that the GLA does not have the power to recover arrears of pay on behalf of workers. That sort of power or function might be one for further consideration.
The issue of resources arises. My noble friend Lady Suttie, who cannot be here at the moment, commented to me that there should be some sort of cost-benefit analysis of the extension of the sectors because of possible savings elsewhere. We know how hard this is in government. The DWP, the Department of Health and even the Home Office perhaps would not readily concede this, although they might be involved in some sort of analysis.
I am sorry to see that the CBI is reluctant to consider an extension. Its briefing refers to the GLA being,
“most effective in those sectors in which it currently operates”,
and to focusing on not extending work to “low-risk areas”. As noble Lords have said, construction, care, catering and hospitality are high-risk areas. The CBI is concerned about scrutiny of the compliant rather than action against the non-compliant. The obvious answer is that when there is compliance there need not be too much of a burden.
The British Retail Consortium takes a different view and has briefed a number of noble Lords about the GLA being an example of an effective body in helping to manage and mitigate the risks of slavery. It supports a review of the role and remit of the GLA, including extending its investigative powers, as long as it is sufficiently resourced, into other, as it puts it, high-risk areas. It is obvious that there is, if not unanimity, quite a lot of support. This surely must be something that the Government could at least leave on the agenda rather than exclude it.
My Lords, I support noble Lords who have spoken in favour of these amendments, moved and spoken to so ably by my noble and learned friend Lady Butler-Sloss and the noble Baroness, Lady Royall.
At Second Reading, and indeed in the debate on my Amendment 32 about the proceeds of crime and creating a victims’ fund that could be used to resource the authorities that are involved in trying to police trafficking, I referred to the tragedy that occurred in Morecambe Bay, which led to the initiative of the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, in helping to create this authority. Noble Lords will remember that 23 Chinese men and women drowned in Morecambe Bay, having been taken there by gangmasters in order to go cockle-picking. A local fisherman, Harold Benson, said at the time that what happened was,
“not only awful beyond words—it was absolutely avoidable”.
However, the lessons of Morecambe Bay have not been fully learnt. As we consider this legislation, which provides us with the only vehicle to tackle these kinds of issues—it is timely, it is good legislation and it is an opportunity—the question for the House is: is there more that needs to be done? At Second Reading, I referred to academic work that has been done at the University of Durham, which identified not only the need to extend the mandate of the Gangmasters Licensing Authority but the need for more resources. In 2011, 30 miles away from Morecambe Bay, in the River Ribble—not far from where I live—17 cockle-pickers of eastern European origin had to be rescued when they were in precisely the same situation as those in Morecambe Bay. We have not overcome the problem. We have set up an authority to deal with it but we have not adequately resourced that authority or put sufficient powers into its hands.
Indeed, when I looked at the figures, I was struck by the fact that only 37 people are employed by the authority and they have to cover the whole of Great Britain. Between 2011 and 2014 its budget was cut by some 17% and in 2013—I asked for the numbers of convictions—only seven people had been convicted. That does not fill me with great confidence that it is able to do the job that it was asked by Parliament to do. The authority is a wonderful creation. It has been given reasonable powers but they need to be extended. It certainly needs more resources.
This enabling provision, which my noble and learned friend referred to as being a modest amendment, would provide Ministers with the necessary belt and braces in the future to do more as and when the authority feels it wishes to. Not to put such a provision in the Bill will lead, as my noble and learned friend said, to the messiness of having to come back to Parliament. As the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of The Shaws, told us, it would require parliamentary time. That seems to be the wrong way to go about this. We have the opportunity here to put something into the legislation that would give the Government the ability to act, and it is an opportunity we should seize.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble and learned Baroness for tabling this amendment, and to other noble Lords who have spoken with such concern about the issues around the Gangmasters Licensing Authority, particularly its remit.
This Government are committed to ensuring fairness in the workplace, tackling worker exploitation and encouraging and raising levels of compliance with workplace rights across all sectors. We are already doing this through the use of existing enforcement arrangements. We very much welcome the many comments that have been made in support of the GLA and its vital work. It has been operating for less than 10 years but it is a successful organisation doing excellent work in tackling harmful activity affecting workers who are particularly vulnerable to exploitation in the sectors that it currently covers.
We need to consider this carefully and ensure that in seeking to broaden the GLA’s remit, we do not risk undermining the good work that is being done already. As the noble and learned Baroness pointed out, it is a comparatively small body, with only 66 staff. It performs a targeted role in an effective way and has a positive influence in the broader fight against exploitation. We very much want that to continue.
Following the Red Tape Challenge exercise and the triennial review, the GLA is implementing changes that will lift unnecessary burdens on compliant businesses while enabling a stronger focus on enforcement action. It is important that both these aspects are developed and move forward together.
Amendment 97 provides for a very broad power, enabling expansion of the GLA’s scope, remit and powers. Changes in the scope or remit of the GLA may very well be sensible; that is something that we will wish to consider further and which the Government have said that they wish to keep under review. However, we are not convinced that Amendment 97 meets that need or is the appropriate way to deal with the issue at the moment.
The amendment is open-ended. The enabling power could be used to set up the GLA to tackle all forms of slavery, trafficking and exploitation far beyond employment. That is a very big step away from the GLA’s current remit, where it has been so effective. It would require a dramatically different organisational and funding model to achieve a much broader role, which would likely require further primary legislation, as has been alluded to. Amendments 97A and 101A focus specifically on the remit, enabling the current licensing regime to be extended to additional industrial sectors beyond agriculture and food. Noble Lords have mentioned a number of sectors where this would be particularly relevant.
I pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, who introduced the Bill in 2004 that established the GLA as a body to carry out a licensing regime and to take enforcement action against unlicensed activities. We need to progress on both these fronts. It would be interesting to discuss with the noble Lord why he did not seek to extend the remit from the two sectors that were mentioned in the original Act.
We have concerns about extending the regime to new sectors without clear evidence that that represents the most effective and efficient approach. Licensing affects the compliant business and the rogue gangmaster alike. The majority of gangmaster businesses are highly compliant small and medium-sized enterprises that are generating employment and economic growth for the UK. We would not want to burden them unnecessarily with regulation.
Simply extending the current licensing regime into new sectors would not necessarily improve efforts to tackle exploitative employers who flout the law. We need to focus on seeking and bringing to justice serious criminals who enslave innocent victims. So we wish to see a GLA with a strong focus on anti-slavery and worker exploitation that will support the Government’s broader strategy on modern slavery. We are working for that through an approach that builds on the GLA’s already excellent work.
I will set out some of the work that is already happening to develop the GLA. Bringing it into the Home Office has already increased collaboration and capability through easier contact with other law enforcement agencies engaged in addressing and disrupting serious criminal activity, including human trafficking for worker exploitation in the UK. The GLA is playing a full part in the better business compliance partnerships—a programme that will begin operation shortly. These pilots will look at more efficient ways of bringing together a wide range of compliance and enforcement officers locally. We expect the GLA to bring knowledge and experience to the problems identified in these areas to tackle worker exploitation and illegal working.
The GLA is working with the University of Derby to devise training and to develop an anti-slavery training academy for use by supply chain businesses. This will build on the GLA’s excellent existing collaboration with business in its regulated sectors. The GLA is well placed to tackle the serious worker exploitation that lies between the more technical compliance offences that fall to be investigated by HMRC and the serious and organised crimes that are addressed by the National Crime Agency.
My noble friend Lady Hamwee raised the concerns of the CBI, which we share, about the appropriateness of this measure and the expansion not just into other sectors but of the remit of the GLA. We have a very good working agency in the GLA and it is tempting to extend it beyond its natural remit too quickly and without due consideration of all the factors that would be required to make entirely sure that any extension was appropriate and as efficient as the GLA.
The noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy, mentioned the inadequacy of the fines and the sentencing. Sentencing is a matter for the courts and there have been some low fines issued against convicted unlicensed gangmasters, but she may be reassured to know that the first custodial sentence for an offence under the Gangmasters (Licensing) Act was imposed in December 2013 when a Lithuanian national was given seven years for operating without a licence. He ran an organised crime operation in Norfolk and controlled scores of workers brought over from his homeland, using tactics including debt bondage, psychological and physical intimidation, and violence. We have heard from other noble Lords of some appalling examples of the way in which workers can be treated by gangmasters. Fines have been increased for magistrates’ courts and Crown Courts, depending on the seriousness of the offence, so hopefully the levity of the fines is currently being tackled.
I can assure the House that there is a great deal of work going on within government to improve the work of the GLA and to consider its future. We will, of course, ensure that today’s contributions are considered during that work and we will further consider whether it might be expanded in sector or in remit. For the moment we do not feel that this particular legislation and these particular amendments are the best way of moving forward, but obviously we will discuss this again and I hope that meanwhile noble Lords will feel able not to press their amendments.
My Lords, I am very pleased to hear of the work that is going on. I do not know whether I missed it but is any work being undertaken to obtain the evidence of the need for an extension of the remit and an extension into other sectors? Many of us have been told about this but more evidence is needed. Is work being undertaken by the Government to satisfy themselves in response to the sorts of concerns that have been expressed? I accept that the Minister may not have that information now but I think that it is a question which it is appropriate to ask at this point.
My Lords, pursuant to that point, would the Minister also look at the evidence that I referred to earlier from the University of Durham, which looked at the mandate, the remit and the resources available to the gangmasters? In the case I referred to in 2013 they found that the gangmaster had given no safety equipment, issued no guidance and had no knowledge of the sea or the tides, and yet 17 eastern European workers were exposed to what was potentially a fatal situation in the Ribble estuary. Surely that demonstrates that something is amiss here and that we need to do more. Perhaps between now and Report we could look further at the empirical evidence that is available.
I, too, pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Whitty. He ought to be proud of his baby, which is very successful. It is doing extremely well and is very well regarded. It has been running for something like 10 years, so when the Minister talks about not acting too quickly, I wonder what period of time we need if 10 years is not seen to be very long.
I am actually asking for something very modest. I understand perfectly well that the wording that I have put forward may not be at all what the Government want. All I am really asking them to do is to lay down a marker for future Governments to have the power to do this. To have a power does not require the Government to take action. There is all too much legislation with all too many enabling clauses which we all know never come to fruition, so it is no skin off the nose of the Government to put something down that enables another Government, by regulation, to put forward extensions to the powers and the remit and the various things that the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, has suggested at some future appropriate stage. It might be in five years’ time or even 10 but it will be there and something can be done without the Government having to find a vehicle in primary legislation to achieve it.
We know that there are other areas that need something done. Whether it should be done under the umbrella of the Gangmasters Licensing Authority or whether, as the Minister says, that might dilute it too far, I do not know, but what is wanted is a vehicle on which to hang the ability to do something effective without having to find time in primary legislation to do it. I have suggested two areas: hospitality and construction. The food industry was also suggested, which is one that we should be equally concerned about. Why should they be excluded, other than by some sort of research, from the opportunity to be helped in the way that the Gangmasters Licensing Authority is able to do, by providing penalties and having a charge over these organisations? It seems to me very sad that the Government should shut the door on that.
Let me just reiterate that I am not asking Government to do anything. All I am asking them to do is to produce their own variation, which all parliamentary draftsmen prefer to the wording that comes from anyone else. I am just asking the Government to think about it and give themselves or any other Government the opportunity to do a bit of extra good on the Gangmasters Licensing Authority’s work at some future stage, which may be in three, five or 10 years’ time—but why not just have it there? That is why I have put forward this enabling clause, which I am quite prepared to accept is too broad. I knew it would not be accepted but it is the idea of it that I am putting forward. It is with the hope that the Government will take it away and at least look at it and not shut the door that I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.
Amendment 97 withdrawn.
Amendment 97A not moved.
Clause 51: Transparency in supply chains etc
97AA: Clause 51, page 37, line 27, at end insert—
“( ) A slavery and human trafficking statement by a commercial organisation must contain specific information in relation to the steps they have taken in the following areas—
(a) accountability for tackling modern slavery and forced labour, including policy commitments, resourcing and actions to exercise due diligence,(b) investigation, monitoring and auditing of modern slavery and forced labour risks in the UK and throughout their global supply chains,(c) support and access to remedy for victims of forced labour and modern slavery, and(d) training of staff and suppliers, and access to expertise and advice.”
My Lords, the movement the Government have made on this issue during the last stages of the Bill’s progress through the other place is welcome. We cannot accept products made using slave labour being sold here if we are determined to tackle modern slavery in this country. Over four out of five members of the public in this country want legislation on this issue, as do the overwhelming majority of companies themselves. The public will want to be satisfied that progress is being made to eliminate modern slavery in businesses and in supply chains, since awareness has arisen in the light of some high-profile cases that slavery or forced labour can be and is associated with the production of goods for major UK companies.
The public will want to be satisfied that the provisions of this Bill will lead to the end of products made using slave labour being sold on our streets. Although most commercial organisations are tackling this issue, it can be hard to see and measure tangible progress. There needs to be a way for consumers in particular to be able to judge the relative performance in this area of companies whose products or services they may wish to purchase. To achieve this, there is a need to introduce mandatory reporting requirements to ensure that companies adopt similar processes and approaches in reporting, which is what this amendment seeks to do. This will also help create the level playing field that responsible companies want to see and is the reason why so many companies are seeking effective legislation on this matter.
The Bill refers to a commercial organisation being required to prepare a slavery and human trafficking statement, which is defined as,
“a statement of the steps the organisation has taken during the financial year to ensure that slavery and human trafficking is not taking place … in any of its supply chains, and … in any part of its own business, or … a statement that the organisation has taken no such steps”.
The relevant clause, Clause 51, goes on to say that the Secretary of State,
“may issue guidance about the duties imposed on commercial organisations by this section”,
and that the guidance,
“may … include guidance about the kind of information which may be included in a slavery and human trafficking statement”.
Indeed, the Home Secretary’s title appears all over Clause 51.
While that clause goes on to say that,
“The duties imposed on commercial organisations by this section are enforceable by the Secretary of State bringing civil proceedings”,
it appears that the duty in the Bill in respect of preparing a slavery and human trafficking statement extends no further than producing a statement of the steps that the organisation has, or has not, taken. There is no duty imposed on what kind of information should be provided to substantiate or provide some specifics on the steps taken, since that requirement will be in the form of guidance which “may” be issued by the Secretary of State and which “may” be included in a slavery and human trafficking statement.
Thus, guidance, in effect, may not be issued at all. If it is—and the guidance may be specific or generalised—it is optional whether the kind of information that it suggests should be included in a slavery and human trafficking statement is actually included. Frankly, that is all pretty vague and woolly. It certainly does not ensure that companies provide sufficient information to be able to judge whether they are effectively addressing the issue of modern slavery in their own organisations and in supply chains and taking effective steps to ensure that, if modern slavery or exploitation exists, it is being eliminated.
If the Government believe that the prospects of civil proceedings will be rather more potent than I have suggested, perhaps the Minister could spell out the situations in which they could be initiated under the terms of the Bill, beyond a commercial organisation failing to produce a statement of the steps that it has, or has not, taken during the financial year to ensure that slavery and human trafficking is not taking place. Are the Government saying that, under the terms of Clause 51(9), civil proceedings can be brought on other grounds and, if so, in respect of which other duties imposed on commercial organisations by the clause?
Our amendment seeks to set out the specific information that must be provided in a slavery and human trafficking statement by a commercial organisation in relation to the steps that they have taken to ensure that modern slavery is not taking place. The requirement is information that must be provided, so if it is not provided that could be the subject of the civil proceedings. If the information is provided but suggests that very little is being done, that fact will be exposed in a way that would not happen under Clause 51 as it stands.
Our amendment would also better enable meaningful comparisons of the performance of different commercial organisations, in addressing and eradicating modern slavery in their own organisations and supply chains, to be made by consumers and other interested parties, including shareholders, relevant voluntary organisations and the media, in a way that Clause 51 does not provide. It would also better enable interested parties to examine whether what is said in slavery and human trafficking statements in fact represents an accurate assessment of the situation, or whether they are statements whose relationship to the facts is not immediately obvious.
The ability for interested parties to compare the performance in this field of different companies, and the knowledge that the content of statements which have to address specific points could be checked for their fairness and accuracy, will act as an incentive for commercial organisations to address properly the issue of modern slavery in their businesses and supply chains, because of the reputational damage likely to be caused if it is shown that their performance on this issue is poor, or that the slavery and human trafficking statements they produce—which, under our amendment, would have to contain the specific information laid down—are not as accurate as they might have been. That situation, and the pressure that it will place on commercial organisations to act, will not be there under the requirements of Clause 51. I simply ask the Government: how do they believe that the wording in Clause 51 provides a means of checking effectively on what some commercial organisations are doing in comparison with others, and of being able to check on the accuracy of the content of a slavery and human trafficking statement?
While Clause 51 is most welcome as movement on this issue by the Government, with its vagueness, its repeated use of “may” and its guidance rather than requirements, the clause is based too much on the “It’ll be alright on the night” approach. That is, frankly, not adequate on a matter as serious as this, involving the exploitation of and contempt for other human beings. This is something impacting on our own doorsteps, since it involves the goods and services that we buy. We need to get Clause 51 right first time. We need to place prominent emphasis on the position of those who are being exploited and to ensure that the terms and requirements in the Bill are strong enough to address and eliminate, over not too long a time, the evil that is modern slavery where it exists in businesses and in their supply chains. I beg to move.
My Lords, I support my noble friend Lord Rosser on this amendment. I feel extremely strongly about this as, throughout this evening, we have heard about not having enough money but we have to remember that we are talking about people. They are not robots or goods; they are human beings. It is really important to remember that when we talked earlier about the cost of implementing this, we are talking about saving people’s lives and ensuring that they have a life as good as we have, or even better.
The way I see this operating is that accountability in companies should be handled by their procurement department. Every large and small company has a procurement department or somebody who goes to the middle companies that they order from. We should not say that the middle people should be responsible. The companies should be able to tell us and, if necessary, go and inspect where and how the goods are made, and how the people are paid. They spend enough time on decorating, branding and PR, but instead of spending so much time and money on those things, they should spend it in their new procurement department. Some of them have these procurement departments; I see them as being as important as health and safety has become, thanks to the way that Governments have pushed that forward.
It is so that the companies can say, when the audit is done every year and in their annual report, that they have visited the factories and the building sites. It may be something that the construction industry here is responsible for in Bahrain, Beijing or Qatar. This should apply not just to companies but to government departments, when we are assisting as museums or parts of new universities are built abroad. What we are trying to say is that every company and organisation involved in labour or goods, abroad or here, should be audited and that the procurement department should be responsible. “May” is not strong enough; we have to say that this is to be done annually in the audit and that it can be inspected and questioned.
My Lords, at the end of Second Reading the Minister, referring to one noble Lord—but I think it might have applied to many of us—commented that he spent a minute welcoming the Bill and then several minutes asking for more. Clearly, this clause falls into that category.
I have tabled Amendments 97B to 97E, which come from a meeting that a number of us had with the Minister, after which we were looking for a peg on which he could hang the very helpful assurances given in that meeting. I appreciate that this is a developing area of work for the Government. As has been said, Clause 51 has not been in the Bill for very long. It is also clear that many colleagues feel that it needs to be strengthened. My amendments would provide a power for the Secretary of State to make regulations about the form of the statement and how it is to be reported—something that particularly concerned those who have spoken and features in briefings that we have had. They would also allow the Secretary of State to issue regulations about the duties imposed on commercial organisations, not just guidance.
I realise that the last of my amendments is not, in fact, necessary; it is covered by Amendment 97D. Amendment 97C which seeks to change “the Secretary of State” to “a Secretary of State” might seem a little odd—I know that “the Secretary of State” would be the right way to refer to any Secretary of State; you pick which is the appropriate Secretary of State depending on what you are looking at. It brings into the debate, however, not just the responsibility of the Home Office but the responsibilities and interests of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, BIS and DfID. I could probably go on, but those are the most obvious departments. As I said, in a meeting that obviously is not part of the public record of the Bill, the Minister was able to be very reassuring and give some interesting observations of his own on what goes on in supply chains. I will not steal his thunder by letting on what that experience and piece of work was, but he was very helpful and I hope that he can repeat some of that in public.
My Lords, the Government are to be congratulated on putting Clause 51 down. It is a very important clause and a huge relief to see it here after the Select Committee of which I was a member made considerable noise about it in its report. So it is very good. As the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, says, having said something is good, we always want a bit more. I follow on from what she is saying.
The amendments of the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, in particular, are those that I would support. There are two points that I am particularly concerned about. Who monitors the statements and to whom will the statements be given? What is being suggested—which might be a good idea—is providing a copy of the slavery and human trafficking statement to anyone who makes a written request for one. However, that requires someone to do it. It may be that in some relatively unknown company—which may not have a very good track record but may not have been exposed—no one would ask. I appreciate that there would be regulations, but my suggestion, as the Minister will remember, was that the commissioner should receive copies of the statement, and that the commissioner should monitor. He seems the most obvious person to do it.
The second point that worries me is the duties imposed. Clause 51(9) says:
“The duties imposed on commercial organisations by this section are enforceable by the Secretary of State bringing civil proceedings in the High Court”.
So far, so good, but what is the purpose of an injunction? Just bring civil proceedings. It should be much broader. Generally, injunctions are to tell people not to do something. There are mandatory injunctions, but they are rather limited in their use. I just do not understand why the only duty imposed on a commercial organisation by the Secretary of State would be an injunction. That ought to be looked at with rather more care, because why on earth can you not impose penalties or seek damages?
There are all these various regulators, both in the United States and the United Kingdom, which regulate banks and organisations and impose enormous fines. Why on earth can the Secretary of State not do that if there is an obvious example of a company that is not only not producing statements, but is not checking whether, right down the line of its supply chain, there is a company supplying it with the goods that it is selling which is acting as a slave owner? A penalty seems the most obvious thing.
I really do think that subsection (9) is utterly inadequate and something in particular that should be looked at. The commissioner should have some powers at least to look at these statements, but the Secretary of State should have much stronger powers to deal with defaulters. I ask the Government to look at this again.
My Lords, I thank noble Lords for their contributions to this debate—and the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, for moving his amendment—and for the wide welcome that has been given to the clause. I will bask in that statement of welcome just for a couple of seconds, because it probably will not endure for very long. As is the case not only in Part Six but in all parts of the Bill, I totally understand the impatience of the Committee and of civil society on this issue. There is a wrong that is happening out there and we all want to tackle it. We want to go after the perpetrators and stop the abuse as much as possible.
I will deal with some of the issues that have been raised in some general opening remarks and, if the Committee will bear with me, I will put some remarks relating to the Government’s position on the record. I am also conscious that we are now coming to three groups that look at the supply chain from slightly different angles. Therefore, some of the issues and comments will overlap.
I certainly subscribe to the view of my noble friend Lady Hamwee. I refer to my own experience in supply chains because I did my MBA dissertation in China, in Qingdao, where I was commissioned to research Nike footwear factories and analyse how they were performing against Nike’s standard and code—the apparel industry code, as I recall. We found some amazing stories, which made me very alert to the issues.
There is one issue that is worth putting on the record at this point. The noble Lord, Lord Rosser, mentioned the statistic that four-fifths of the public want us to go further and want more information on this. Although the factories were located in China, they were operated by Korean companies. Part of the reason those factories were being driven so hard was that the consumers were not prepared to pay the market price for the footwear. They wanted more and more features and more and more design intricacies, but they did not want to pay any more for them. Therefore, the price had to come down. The intricacies of the design meant that the level of injuries that workers received in these factories was substantially higher. So part of the debate here is about how to engage the consumers in this. Part of it is about providing information, but the other part is to say that they cannot be exempt from the process. Yes, it is something for government and for business, but it is also something for consumers.
That very helpful meeting was triggered by the timely debate initiated at the end of October by the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of Cradley, which came out with perfect timing because the debate was on or around the day when the new clause was published in another place. Then we had the follow-up meeting and a helpful discussion about what could be done, and some very good ideas were generated there. A lot of those ideas are now working their way through the policy machine to be tested for feasibility, perhaps to come back at a later stage of the Bill.
A number of the points that were raised then are effectively about whether we should be prescriptive in the Bill or try to engage with the industry and business to make them aware of the risks that they face of reputational damage, in an age where often the biggest item on a balance sheet is not a physical asset but good will towards the brand, which disappears very quickly when you find yourself on the front page of a newspaper or in a TV documentary, having not checked your supply chain sufficiently. That is also a reason why investors, such as major pension funds and public sector pension funds, should be looking at the companies that they invest in and asking the question: are their supply chains robust and checked? We should look at that area.
Meanwhile, we are engaging in a consultation. I know that there are many consultations; it is a good job that the noble Lord, Lord Warner, is not here or I think he would be intervening at this point. The reality is that it is a tough time out there for businesses and we want them to succeed and develop, so we want to try to take them with us as far as we can without being too prescriptive. We have been talking to a list of organisations and stakeholders, and it might be useful for the record to say that we are talking to the Ethical Trading Initiative—I know that that is something that the noble Lord, Lord Young, is involved in, as is the noble Baroness, Lady Goudie, who has done a lot of work in this area—the British Retail Consortium, the Engineering Employers’ Confederation, the Association of Labour Providers, the CBI, high street retailers including Next, Primark and Marks & Spencer and supermarkets including Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Asda and the Co-op. We have also been engaging with other NGOs, including Unseen and the Environmental Justice Foundation, as well as working with Deloitte and PricewaterhouseCoopers. I think that it is useful to place on the record that meaningful consultation is going on here to see how we can get the changes that we all want to see.
That consultation will formally start next month and follow the usual guidelines that we now have for consultations. It will last for three months; therefore, we will probably not see its results until the Bill has—we hope—received Royal Assent. That is why it is phrased in the present format about regulations coming forward with regard to how that will be applied.
I turn to the specific questions. The noble Lord, Lord Rosser, asked whether Clause 51 allows enforcement by way of injunction. So far in the Bill, I have learnt this much: when talking about matters legal, I had better take my own injunction and consult my colleagues at the Home Office in detail before responding on the record. I will respond in writing on that point.
The duties are a duty to prepare an annual slavery and human trafficking statement, and to publish it prominently on the organisation’s website homepage or, if it does not have a website, to provide a copy on request. It was that latter point that the noble Baroness referred to. Who is meant to see that? The many NGOs, which are doing terrific work in this area and being vigilant in monitoring organisations, trade unions and other organisations should all be paying attention to what that statement says and holding companies to account for it. Civil society and the media will also be able to look at it, and if it is not there then that raises another set of questions. The idea is to provide the information to the public domain in the first place and then allow people to scrutinise it further.
My noble friend Lady Hamwee asked what role the Government were going to play in this. There are two constructive roles that the Government can have. The first is through the interdepartmental ministerial group on modern slavery. I mentioned this yesterday and listed the departments; the noble Baroness mentioned the Foreign Office in her remarks, but it goes much wider than that. It includes the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and the Department for Education. I will not go through the whole list.
While the Minister is on the point about the interdepartmental group, will it recognise—I hope that it will—that British consumers have shown that they are willing to pay a higher price for an ethical product as a result of the fair trade campaign and fair trade labelling? Secondly, if I were a purchaser, which I am not, I would steer very clear of bricks made in Pakistan or matches made in India, knowing that many of them are produced by either bonded labour or child labour.
Those are very good points well made. My home town, Gateshead, is the proud home to Traidcraft, which does tremendous work in this area doing ethically sourced coffees and foods, which are often a particular problem, but I do not want to get into advertising around Christmastime otherwise I will get into a whole other set of problems. Ultimately the consumer has great power here, although perhaps they do not realise it. In the same way that they have the power to drive down prices and standards around the world, they also have the opportunity to drive them up through their purchasing patterns.
The interdepartmental ministerial group is one part of this but I want to talk about another important part: what the Government can do. The Government can do more by putting their own house in order. The Government are a huge procurer—I do not know whether that is the right term—and a major purchaser of goods and services. It is important that we do everything that we can to prevent modern slavery from infiltrating our public sector supply chains. Taxpayers’ money should not be allowed to drive demand for these heinous crimes. That is why we are already taking concerted action on this issue. Individual departments have already taken clear steps. For example, the NHS standard terms and conditions for suppliers have clear conditions on labour standards in the NHS supply chain, and it has developed a labour standards assurance system that encompasses issues on forced labour.
The interdepartmental ministerial group on modern slavery will help to encourage best practice across the Government and the devolved Administrations. Home Office standard terms and conditions already require compliance with the law, which will of course soon include ensuring that suppliers have complied with our transparency and supply chain measure. We are also strengthening the labour standards section within our annual corporate social responsibility assessment in order to seek specific assurances from the Home Office’s largest suppliers that they have policies in place to address the risk of modern slavery. In addition, we are currently seeking ways to go further and require specific assurances from suppliers about steps that they are taking to stamp out modern slavery, which is an approach that we hope to then roll out across central Government. As a result, we are already proactively going beyond the measures in the Bill to address this issue. This is a bit like what we are asking people to do: to make a public statement and then be held to account for it. I wanted to put that on the record and expect to be held to account for it, being careful not to tempt fate too much. It is right that that is where we start.
With that rather longer than expected introduction, aware that we have two further groups to come in this area of consideration and having put those points on the record, perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, would accept that as a response on the Government’s position on his amendment and consider withdrawing it at this stage.