New Clause 37 - Protection from slavery from overseas domestic workers

Modern Slavery Bill – in a Public Bill Committee am 4:45 pm ar 14 Hydref 2014.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

‘(1) All overseas and domestic workers 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 for a period up to 12 months as long as they remain in employment and are able to support themselves adequately 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 employment as an overseas domestic worker where there is evidence that the worker has been a victim of modern slavery.’—(Mr Hanson.)

Brought up, and read the First time.

Photo of David Hanson David Hanson Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

I beg to move that the clause be read a Second time.

Unfortunately, the time does not do justice to the seriousness of the issue, but in the short time I have I want to say that the new clause again boils down to the recommendations of the Joint Committee on the Draft Modern Slavery Bill, on which the right hon. Member for Hazel Grove, the hon. Member for Congleton and my hon. Friends the Members for Linlithgow and East Falkirk and for Slough sat. It said in paragraph 227:

“We recommend the Home Office reverse the changes to the Overseas Domestic Worker Visa.”

That change is what the new clause proposes. I am trying to ensure that we have some consideration of that.

Time is extremely pressing, but I have tabled the new clause because since the changes that were made in April 2012, the 14,000 individuals who have been impacted by them—[Interruption.]

Photo of Mark Pritchard Mark Pritchard Ceidwadwyr, The Wrekin

If the right hon. Gentleman wants to continue, that is probably the best thing for him to do, but he may wish to do it at a pedestrian pace to help his own cause.

Photo of David Hanson David Hanson Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

I am grateful, Mr Pritchard. If we are not completing our time at 5 pm I will slow down. I was trying to fit a complicated argument into one minute.

Photo of Mark Pritchard Mark Pritchard Ceidwadwyr, The Wrekin

To help the right hon. Gentleman, a change to the finishing time depends on how quickly the Clerk can write and how quickly we can disseminate the information, but an amendment will have to be moved, so you will have to take a judgment.

Photo of David Hanson David Hanson Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

If the Government Whip is returning to his position, I will continue to talk for a moment. Once he is back in his position, I will make my argument with some delicacy. I see that he is now back.

Ordered,

That the Order of the Committee of 21 July be amended as follows—

(1) in paragraph (4), leave out “5.00 pm” and insert “5.15 pm”—(Damian Hinds.)

Photo of David Hanson David Hanson Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

I shall now try to be slightly more fluent than I was before the Whip moved that amendment, because this is an important issue.

As I said, the Joint Committee stated in paragraph 227 of its recommendations:

“We recommend the Home Office reverse the changes to the Overseas Domestic Worker Visa.”

New clause 37 would do that. It would revert the position to that prior to April 2012.

On 6 April 2012, the Government changed migrant domestic workers’ regulations so that migrant workers who were brought to the United Kingdom were tied to their employer for a non-renewable period of six months. I am very grateful to the charity Kalayaan and other organisations which have reviewed the impact on domestic workers since that change has been operational. What they found is extremely worrying: according to the domestic workers themselves, 62% of overseas domestic workers with tied visas have been paid no salary since that change. Furthermore, 85% are not given their own room to sleep in, 86% say their passport has been taken away by their employers, 96% are not allowed to leave the house unsupervised, 74% report having suffered psychological abuse and 95% are paid less than £100 a week. Those strike me potentially as the unintended consequences of the change made by the Government two years ago. By any stretch of the imagination, someone being brought to this country and paid no salary, given no room, having their passport removed, not being allowed to leave the house unsupervised and being effectively paid less than the minimum wage for their work is extremely worrying. The purpose of the new clause is to revert back to the position before April 2012.

Photo of Fiona Mactaggart Fiona Mactaggart Llafur, Slough 5:00, 14 Hydref 2014

When that change was made, the Home Office suggested that the reduction in the number of people found by the National Crime Agency as domestic workers was a result of that change. What is interesting in the NCA’s report last week is that the  number of people found in domestic servitude has increased faster since that change than in any other sector, probably, as a proportion of people who have been trafficked and exploited here. The Government’s own figures show that their change has increased the risk of people—children, women and adults—being in domestic servitude. That is why the new clause is so important.

Photo of David Hanson David Hanson Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. To support the contention we are both making, I add that I am warming to Mr Andrew Boff—the Conservative member of the London assembly who reports to the Mayor. In relation to the Government and their changes to tie the visa to an employer, Mr Boff said in his report on human trafficking:

“I don’t think it intends to be, but it is actually licensing modern-day slavery.”

That is the Conservative leader of the London assembly. The vast majority of people who come to the United Kingdom on tied visas end up working in London, where the domestic market is. Mr Boff is drawing that concern to our attention.

Liberty has made it clear in its briefing that it supports a change back to the pre-2012 situation. The International Labour Organisation and the United Nations special rapporteur on the human rights of migrants have also backed the pre-2012 rules as representing good practice. The Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe’s special representative on trafficking has recommended a reversion to the domestic worker visa pre-2012. Even the United States Department of State, which does occasionally employ diplomatic household workers, has supported that change. In the time we have, the argument cannot be developed much further.

Photo of Sarah Teather Sarah Teather Democratiaid Rhyddfrydol, Brent Central

I am conscious of not detaining the Committee but I wanted to put on record that I am very sympathetic to the points being made by the right hon. Gentleman. I am extremely anxious about the impact of tying these visas for overseas domestic workers. I will be very interested to hear what the Minister has to say. I know that work has previously been done on publicity, but I hope she will have more to say that might reassure us.

Photo of David Hanson David Hanson Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

There is a very strong argument to make. It would be one thing for the Minister to reject the recommendation, but it would quite another for Members who served on the Committee that drafted the Modern Slavery Bill to reject their own recommendation. It is very clear: that we should reverse the changes to the overseas domestic worker visa regulations. New clause 37 does that, so in a sense I reach out with a hand of friendship to those who served on the draft Bill Committee and say to them that they can do a service in achieving the objective of that recommendation by supporting the new clause today. I hope the Minister will reflect on this, bring back proposals on Report and give us some comfort so that we do not have to push this to a Division, but I reserve the right to do so should I receive an unsatisfactory response. I am grateful, Mr Pritchard, for the extra time that you and the Whip granted to debate this issue.

Photo of Mark Pritchard Mark Pritchard Ceidwadwyr, The Wrekin

I am grateful for any gratitude.

Photo of Karen Bradley Karen Bradley The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

I am grateful, also, that I am not having to do this without deviation, repetition or hesitation in “Just A Minute”.

Photo of Mark Pritchard Mark Pritchard Ceidwadwyr, The Wrekin

We do, however, have a bell in proceedings.

Photo of Karen Bradley Karen Bradley The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

New clause 37 would allow all overseas domestic workers the right to change employer once in the UK and to extend their visas. That could allow unlimited extensions to overseas domestic worker visas, with workers being entitled to settlement after five years. Like other members of the Committee, I am determined to stamp out all forms of modern slavery, including that faced by domestic workers. The measures in the Bill and in our wider non-legislative work will help to tackle all the perpetrators of these heinous crimes and better protect all the victims, regardless of their immigration status or type of exploitation.

I share the intention behind the new clause to strengthen protections for overseas domestic workers. However, we already have a range of specific measures in place to protect overseas domestic workers from abuse, and I want to highlight that we are looking at how to strengthen these further. I am working hard with colleagues in the Home Office to ensure that that goal is fully achieved. One of the practical steps we will be taking imminently is to pilot the provision of additional information to overseas domestic workers at the border as they enter the UK. This will involve providing a simple card with easy-to-understand information about their rights and where to seek help should they become victims of abuse. As a special treat, I can share copies of the card with members of the Committee, which I shall do afterwards they wish to see it. It is a small card designed for Border Force staff to give to the employee with the visa to make their rights clear to them. However, I am not convinced that the key to ending any abuse lies in the terms of the visa.

I am well aware of reports alleging that the changes we made in April 2012 to the overseas domestic worker visa have caused a steep rise in the level of abuse. Kalayaan, a reputable and good NGO that supports domestic workers, has reported continuing abuse in the form of underpayment. According to its figures, 60% of overseas domestic workers are paid £50 a week or less. Such treatment is appalling and entirely unacceptable, and I am determined to stamp out this kind of exploitation. Let us be clear: if somebody is being abused, in slavery, it does not matter what visa conditions they are here on. They need to be supported and the Modern Slavery Bill is designed to do that.

It is important that we see these statistics in their proper context. Of course, even one case of abuse is too many and should be tackled robustly by law enforcement. However, Kalayaan’s figures are based on 120 overseas domestic workers issued with visas after April 2012 who approached Kalayaan for help over a two-year period. During the same period, over 30,000 visas were issued, so the figure of 60% needs to be seen in the context of the far larger number of workers who do not report any such issues. The 120 who approached Kalayaan for help represent 0.004% of the total number of visas issued, so we cannot simply assume that it is the terms of the visa that lead to the abuse. In the years leading up to the changes we made in April 2012, overseas domestic workers were allowed to switch to a different employer.  However, there were still complaints by overseas domestic workers of abuse and poor treatment. For example, Kalayaan reported that on average 300 overseas domestic workers approached them for help every year until 2012, compared to the 60 annually under the new visa rules.

Photo of Fiona Mactaggart Fiona Mactaggart Llafur, Slough

The reason for that, as the Minister well knows, is that there is no remedy for people under the new visa rules: that is why they do not ask for help. Her own figures from the NCA suggest that the increase in abuse has happened; what is her answer to that?

Photo of Karen Bradley Karen Bradley The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

I take the hon. Lady’s point, and I do not want to say that the reason why the figures have gone down is that there is somehow more protection. I am not insinuating that in the slightest. The point I am making is that abuse has occurred in respect of a very small number of overseas domestic workers, whether they could change employer or not. Although it is true that the instances of domestic servitude have gone up, the vast majority of domestic servitude cases that the NCA reported on do not involve people in possession of overseas domestic worker visas. There is no evidence of an increase in the number of overseas domestic worker visa holders falling victim to slavery and servitude. One case is a case too many—I do not disagree with that—but I do not see evidence that the right to change employer would solve the problem.

It is therefore clear that that the change in the visa should not be assumed to be the key issue and that some unscrupulous employers were able to abuse that route in the past, even if workers were then allowed to change employer, which shows that the ability to change employer does not necessarily protect against exploitation. We must not fall into the trap of assuming that everyone who wishes to leave their employer does so for reasons of mistreatment. Prior to April 2012, when we made the changes, the majority of those seeking to change employer did so for reasons other than abuse. Reasons given included wanting a change, wishing to relocate to the countryside and wanting to work with a younger child.

We are committed to ensuring that protection for overseas domestic workers under the visa regime is robust. Although there are already protections in place, we are currently reviewing whether we can take further steps to ensure that visa applicants have appropriate terms and conditions in place in their contracts with their employer before they come to the UK. We must ensure that employers and workers are fully aware of the expectations we have of them.

It is also vital to remember that all overseas domestic workers have the protection of UK employment law while working in the UK. Anyone who believes they are being mistreated by their employer in any way has access to a number of organisations who can help, including the police, ACAS, the pay and work rights helpline and employment tribunals. We will do absolutely everything we can to protect overseas domestic workers during their short stays in the UK and investigate and prosecute any employers who are found committing these awful offences. I am confident that that commitment, in addition to the Bill, employment legislation and improvements to the protections built into the visa regime, represents the best way of addressing abuse of vulnerable workers, while maintaining a consistent and fair immigration system.

Photo of Sarah Teather Sarah Teather Democratiaid Rhyddfrydol, Brent Central

Will the Minister write to Committee members before Report about what she means by enabling people to have that information in their terms and conditions?

Photo of Karen Bradley Karen Bradley The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

As I said, I am happy to share copies of the card with my hon. Friend, and I will write to her about the other information. I hope the right hon. Member for Delyn feels able to withdraw his new clause.

Photo of David Hanson David Hanson Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

I do not think that giving people a card at the border is sufficient to maintain their rights. Often, the people who face the challenges we have been discussing, which prevent them from leaving the property, do not speak English. I therefore wish to test the will of the Committee.

Question put, That the clause be read a Second time.

The Committee divided: Ayes 9, Noes 9.

Rhif adran 18 Decision Time — New Clause 37 - Protection from slavery from overseas domestic workers

Ie: 9 MPs

Na: 10 MPs

Ie: A-Z fesul cyfenw

Na: A-Z fesul cyfenw

Question accordingly negatived.

Question proposed, That the Chair do report the Bill, as amended, to the House.

Photo of Mark Pritchard Mark Pritchard Ceidwadwyr, The Wrekin

I thank all Members for their attendance, contributions and courtesy. I also thank the Clerks, Doorkeepers and officials.

Photo of Karen Bradley Karen Bradley The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

I would like to thank all members of the Committee for the excellent work the Committee has done. The scrutiny to which the Bill has been subjected has often been challenging. However, it has always been done in the spirit of wanting to improve the Bill and help victims of these terrible crimes, so I am grateful for it. It has given us the opportunity to clarify our position on some issues and to revise it on others. Most importantly, it has made the Bill better, which is exactly what good parliamentary scrutiny should do, so I am immensely grateful. I thank the Committee Chairs for overseeing proceedings so effectively, the Committee Clerks and Hansard reporters for ensuring that everything ran so smoothly, and the Whips—it is the Government Whip’s first Bill, and has been a baptism of fire.

Finally, I again thank the members of the joint pre-legislative scrutiny Committee. Their detailed scrutiny of our draft Bill and the invaluable evidence they collected has helped to inform this Committee’s considerations and, I am sure, improved the quality of the debate. I am sure the work of the both the pre-legislative scrutiny Committee and this Committee will help to ensure that the rest of the parliamentary process is well-informed and produces a modern slavery Act that makes a major difference to the fight against these unspeakable crimes.

Photo of Diana R. Johnson Diana R. Johnson Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

I thank the Minister for the way she dealt with the Committee and the informative way in which she engaged with me personally, and for allowing me to be briefed by her officials.

I also thank all members of the Committee. This has been a high-quality Committee, and the standard of debate has been exceptional. We benefitted from having hon. Members on the Committee who have a great deal of experience and knowledge of this issue. I pay particular tribute to my hon. Friends the Members for Linlithgow and East Falkirk and for Slough. I also pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Member for Delyn and my hon. Friend the Member for Sedgefield for their support.

Finally, I pay tribute to Mr Crausby and you, Mr Pritchard, for chairing the Committee; the Clerks, who provided exceptional support to all members of the Committee; and the Doorkeepers, Hansard and everybody else who aided the smooth running of the Committee.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill, as amended, accordingly to be reported.

Committee rose.

Written evidence reported to the House

MS 23 Ethical Trading Initiative

MS 24 Doctors of the World

MS 25 Joseph Rowntree Foundation

MS 26 TRAC (Trafficking - Raising Awareness and Campaigning)

MS 27 The Rotarian Action Group Against Child Slavery

MS 28 Dr Virginia Mantouvalou

MS 29 Geoffrey Knipe

MS 30 EEF

MS 31 Hibiscus Initiatives

MS 32 Al-Khoei Foundation

MS 33 Association of Labour Providers

MS 34 Adam Simmonds, Police and Crime Commissioner for Northamptonshire

MS 35 Hope for Justice

MS 36 Dr Julinda Beqiraj

MS 37 The Information Commissioner