Unpaid internships are a "stain on society" and exhibit similarities to modern slavery, peers have claimed in a debate that identified the creative industries as a sector where the situation is "particularly bad".

A private members' bill to ban all unpaid internships longer than four weeks was debated for the first time in the House of Lords on October 27, and follows a recent theatre industry report that said the percentage of people entering the sector through unpaid internships and volunteering has more than doubled in the past 20 years.

Conservative peer Christopher Holmes, who is behind the bill, said unpaid internships had led to the "perpetuation of pathways of privilege", in which young people secure unpaid work opportunities on the basis of being from a family able to afford it or through family connections.

"Unpaid internships are a stain on our society, a drain on social mobility and desperately Dickensian. They are something of the past that I believe should be firmly committed to that past," he said.

Holmes added: "Wilberforce slammed the door on slavery in the 19th century… how can it still be, in the fifth richest economy on the planet in the 21st century, that we are still asking people to give of their labour for no financial return?"

Labour peer Parry Mitchell went on to say that while interns can quit whenever they choose, they "have a comparison with modern slavery" because "they receive no payment for their labours".

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