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Part of Bill Presented — Modern Slavery Bill – in the House of Commons at 2:03 pm on 10th June 2014.

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Photo of Julian Huppert Julian Huppert Liberal Democrat, Cambridge 2:03 pm, 10th June 2014

I am very sorry to hear the hon. Gentleman attack these people. I look forward to his meeting some of the apprentices he thinks are bogus. He can come to see them and the programmes that they think are making a difference in enabling them to get training, to set up their own businesses and to make money, and tell them that he thinks what they are doing is bogus. I do not have the exact number of how many apprenticeships are for three years. I am sure that he can find out, but I find it depressing that he is so obsessed with attacking what the Government are doing about apprentices that he will attack the people who are making something of their lives by doing apprenticeships. Unfortunately we saw for many years—this predates the last Government—that apprenticeships and vocational education were simply not given the importance and standing they deserve. That is something we absolutely have to change.

Let me move on to some of the Home Office Bills. We have a Serious Crime Bill. Serious crime costs us something like £24 billion a year, so it is essential that we make more progress in dealing with it. We have huge problems with our confiscation legislation. Matrix Chambers has said:

“The confiscation legislation of the United Kingdom is complex and difficult to construe.”

That is absolutely right. We should be making sure that we can recover more money. That has been a weak link for a long time.

It is right to clarify the Children and Young Persons Act 1933—something for which Liberal Democrat Members including my hon. Friends the Members for Mid Dorset and North Poole (Annette Brooke) and for Ceredigion (Mr Williams) have long campaigned—to make it clear that emotional cruelty that is likely to cause psychological harm to a child should be an offence. The current law on neglect is outdated and goes back to Victorian times. It is right to transform it.

Extending FGM-related offences to acts done outside the UK by UK nationals and residents is also very much welcome. My hon. Friends the Under-Secretary for International Development and the Minister for Crime Prevention have been working very hard on this issue. We should finally take action on female genital mutilation.

We also see progress on a sensible drugs policy aimed at reducing harm, which should be our aim for all of what we are trying to do through our drugs policy. We see decisive action on trying to deal with the cutting agent. A huge amount of the harm caused by illegal substances is, in fact, caused by the cutting agent with which they are mixed. By taking action against them, we will make a difference to people’s lives and stop the harm. I hope we can go even further. I am looking forward to the international comparative study on drugs policy and on new psychoactive substances, on which my hon. Friend the Minister for Crime Prevention is also working hard. We should do what works, and what will reduce the harm caused to thousands of people around the country—not do just what sounds as though it is tough. We need to do things that actually make a difference.

That is also the case with modern-day slavery, on which I hope we will see cross-party agreement. We are definitely not dealing well enough with trafficking at the moment; we have to get it right. UNICEF estimates that something like 10 children a week are being trafficked into the UK, which is simply unacceptable. It is right that the Government face scrutiny by the Joint Committee. I wish all Bills could go through a proper scrutiny process because I think this House is at its best when it discusses things rationally, rather than there being two sides having a row.

I was pleased that there were various things we did not see in the Queen’s Speech. We did not see another immigration Bill. We have already had some discussion of this, but immigration, like many issues, is not always about passing more legislation; it is about getting things right. To my mind, the biggest problems surrounding immigration are not about our laws; they are about whether the right decisions are made—by what used to be the Border Agency, but is now back in the Home Office—correctly and promptly. Bringing back exit checks will, I think, make more difference to public certainty and the control of our borders than any piece of legislation we could propose in this area.

There is much more I could say about data retention directives and cybercrime, but I would like to raise one issue about which I have been concerned. I have spoken to a number of colleagues about it—my hon. Friends and also, for example, Anne Milton. I was approached by someone about the issue of revenge porn, which is happening more and more often. People take naked or indecent images of partners and then, once the relationship ends, they share them online, publishing them very widely—to the great mental torment of the people concerned. It is mostly but not always women who have agreed to have an explicit photo taken, but never agreed for it to be broadcast to all and sundry on the web as a means of revenge. It destroys people’s lives because of the psychological effect, the shame and the great humiliation caused when these images can be seen by anyone. The problem is getting worse, as Women’s Aid, the National Stalking Helpline, UK Safer Internet Centre and everybody increasingly accept.

Talking recently to a constituent of the hon. Member for Guildford, I was shocked to discover that there is currently no sanction to deal with this problem. At the moment it is not a criminal offence to share the image because the photo was taken legitimately. Consent was given for the photo or the film, but not for it to be shared. Typically, the problem is not covered under the harassment legislation, which requires something to have happened more than once, but once the image has been published online, it is broadcast for ever more. Reputable websites will take down these images when asked, but the person involved has to ask each website to do so, and for that to happen they normally have to prove that it is them in the photo, which means going through the rather humiliating process of taking a photo of oneself with a sign and sending it off. That makes the whole process much worse.

I do not often call for new criminal sanctions—it is not my natural style. In this case, however, I think we need to make a criminal sanction available when people share indecent images in the knowledge that consent would not have been given. I hope that the House will look further at this. It will need careful work to get the details right, ensuring that we do not accidentally criminalise activities that should be allowed, but we do need to take action in this area.

It will be an interesting year. I do not think this Parliament is over. If it focuses on scrutinising what is happening and ensuring that we look carefully at legislation rather than rushing it through in an effort to pass more and more Bills, that would be helpful. Over the last four years, we have contributed to a more liberal and fairer Britain, but there is much more to do. Some of it will happen this year; some of it will happen in later years.