– in the House of Commons at 12:35 pm on 8th July 2014.
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
In few other crimes are human beings used as commodities for the personal gain of others as they are in the appalling crime of modern slavery. Men, women and children, British and foreign nationals of all ages are forced, tricked and coerced into a horrendous life of servitude and abuse: women forced into prostitution, raped repeatedly, and denied their liberty;
children groomed and sexually exploited for profit;
vulnerable men conned into brutal and inhumane work in fields, in factories and on fishing vessels;
people forced into a life of crime;
and some people even made to work as servants in people’s homes. Throughout, there are accounts of sexual violence, beatings, humiliation, hunger and mental torture.
This is a crime that is taking place, hidden from view, across Britain today. That it is taking place is an affront not just to those it affects, but to the collective human dignity of all of us. Modern slavery has no place in Britain, and like many people in this House and beyond, I want to see it consigned to history. But if we are to stamp it out, we must ensure that the police and the courts have the powers they need to bring the perpetrators to justice. More arrests and more prosecutions will mean more traffickers and slave drivers behind bars, but importantly, it will also mean more victims released from slavery and more prevented from ever entering it in the first place.
The Bill, the first of its kind in Europe, will ensure that we can effectively prosecute perpetrators, properly punish offenders and help prevent more crimes from taking place. Most crucially, it will enhance protection and support for the victims of these dreadful crimes. Tackling modern slavery will require more than legislation alone. I have always been clear that it will take a determined and focused law enforcement response, greater awareness among front-line professionals, co-ordinated police action internationally, close working with business and support from communities, charities and all faiths. But by passing a Modern Slavery Bill in this Parliament, we can take an important step along this road.
I will turn shortly to the specifics of the Bill, but in introducing it I want to pay tribute to all those who have campaigned tirelessly to bring this largely hidden crime out into the light. I want to thank the Centre for Social Justice, whose authoritative report “It Happens Here”, laid bare the plight of modern slavery victims in the UK. Members of Parliament on both sides of the House have helped bring forward evidence to support action, whether through the all-party parliamentary group or the pre-legislative scrutiny Committee or by asking questions in the House. I am enormously grateful for their valuable contribution. In particular, I thank Mr Field for his unsparing dedication to the issue.
I am 100% behind the right hon. Lady. We talk about preventing the exploitation of workers, the Gangmasters Licensing Authority, which I brought in through a private Member’s Bill, has done an excellent job and proved itself. Does she have any intention of extending the GLA to other sectors of industry?
The Gangmasters Licensing Authority has indeed done a very good job and I want to see how we can build on the work that it has done. As a first step, we have brought the GLA from the auspices of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs into the Home Office to work alongside those who are working on the issue of modern slavery. We will be looking at a number of aspects of enforcement which relate to modern slavery, and looking at the GLA will be part of the work that we are doing.
Of course, I support the Bill, but I want to ask the Home Secretary about a specific instance, which over the past 20 or 30 years has provided some of the worst cases of slavery in this country—namely, people who have come to this country as a domestic employee with an international employer. That is why we introduced the domestic workers visa, which the Government have abolished. Will the right hon. Lady reconsider? That gave a tiny chink of freedom—an opportunity for people to get out of slavery and go to work for another employer.
I recognise the point that the right hon. Gentleman makes. It is a point that has come up in some of the deliberations of the Committee that has been looking into the matter, and it is a point that I have looked at seriously. There is a judgment to be made here. By definition, if somebody is in slavery, the chance of their being able to get out of slavery to go to work for another employer is pretty limited, if not non-existent. In changing the way that the visa operated, one of the things we did was to try to ensure that there was a proper contract between the employer and the individual who was being employed, but I recognise that this is an issue. I suspect that it will be subject to greater debate and discussion as the Bill goes through the various stages in this House and another place.
As the Home Secretary knows, we strongly support the legislation, but on that point, I understand that in its research the charity Kalayaan found that since the visas were changed, 60% of those on the new domestic workers visa were paid no salary at all, compared with 14% on the original visa. That is a worrying increase since the visa change. Has the right hon. Lady looked at that research?
Yes, we have been looking in detail at the research that has been undertaken. We have taken the issue and the points that have been made seriously. I suspect that this aspect will be subject to further, more detailed discussion as the Bill goes through its various stages in this House and another place. The number of people who were identified by the charity—which, by definition, can only look at those who come to it—is fairly small. We need measures that will protect those who are being brought in as overseas workers and will not open up some other avenue for people to be brought in. We need to enable people to work properly for an employer, not effectively be placed in modern slavery.
We all have the same aim. The question is which regulatory track makes most sense. I continue to believe that the current arrangement is the right one. I am sure that it will be subject to considerable discussion as the Bill goes through its various stages.
I welcome the Bill. I am sure that the right hon. Lady knows as well as I do that between 2,000 and 5,000 people a year are trafficked into this country. I understand that the Home Office is doing a review. Can she guarantee that the review will be published and acted upon?
The hon. Gentleman mentions some figures. The difficulty in all this is that we do not know the figure. The work that was done by Mr Field and others suggested that it might be 10,000. Fewer than 2,000 have been referred to the national referral mechanism, which is the only firm statistical measure, but we are all pretty clear that the figure is larger than that. I am reviewing the national referral mechanism, and the work of that review will be taken into account when I publish the Government’s strategy later this year. As I have said, this is not just about legislation. Other actions that do not form part of a Bill need to be taken to help the victims and pursue the perpetrators.
Will the Home Secretary assure the House that the review of the NRM will be published before the Committee stage of the Bill?
The current intention is that an interim report will be published, which should be available before the Committee stage is completed, but the final review will be published in the autumn alongside the Government’s strategy.
We have listened carefully to the findings of the pre-legislative Committee and, where practicable, we have addressed its key concerns. We can all play a part in tackling this scourge. As Bernard Hogan-Howe, the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, said at the modern slavery conference at the Vatican in April:
“We need to make combating human trafficking part of everyone’s consciousness. As with our fight against terrorism, prevention is better than cure. … Much misery and distress can be prevented if more of us pay attention to something that does not look or feel right, then care enough to do something about it.”
The Modern Slavery Bill will help ensure that we can tackle slavery in its modern form. With cross-party support, we have an opportunity to make a real difference to the lives of today’s victims.
The Secretary of State has published a Bill that goes in the right direction, but she appears to have ignored the fact that slavery that we benefit from happens outwith this country. In the supply chains of the goods that we buy, people are enslaved on a daily basis. We know about some of those people because of disasters that have occurred, but the slavery still goes on. The Secretary of State appears to have ignored those people, so she has cut off the greatest power that the Bill could have to reach out and stop them being enslaved on our behalf.
I am sorry about the tone in which the hon. Gentleman puts his question. The issue of supply chains has been raised by many people. We have not ignored the issue. I and other Ministers, including my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State have had a round table meeting with businesses and business—
I am answering the hon. Gentleman’s question, if he would like to listen to my answer. Not everything that we think we can do to tackle modern slavery will be in the legislation. Legislation is not the answer to everything, but we recognise the issue of supply chains. We have been working with businesses. Many big businesses already take this responsibility seriously and make every effort to ensure that they do not see slavery in their supply chains.
I was asked about supply chains in Home Office questions yesterday, and I made the point that companies have a social responsibility. Companies should consider their reputation as well as potential victims of slavery. We have held a round table with business. We are talking to businesses about the action that they can take to address the issue.
As we know, the Home Secretary wants measures on supply chains in the Bill, but No. 10 opposes them. Might she wish luck to those of us who intend to table amendments in this place and the other place so that on this occasion at least her will should prevail?
That is the sort of intervention that I had probably best pass over. We have already legislated to recognise the social responsibility of companies in relation to human rights in supply chains, even though this Bill does not contain a specific reference to supply chains.
If we table an amendment to clarify the responsibility of companies to recognise modern slavery as well as human rights, we may be able to persuade No. 10 on that, may we not?
The right hon. Gentleman has been in the House long enough to know that it is open to Back Benchers to table amendments, and when they are discussed the Government will take a position on them.
Does my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary share my hope that the Bill will help Governments around the world to do something to tackle modern slavery in their own countries? As Opposition Members have said, this is a global business and if Britain can lead the way and help other countries to deal with it, that would be worth while.
My hon. Friend is right. One of the things that pleased me about the conference at the Vatican was that I could meet people from other countries—both those countries that are more naturally destination countries and those that are source countries—to talk about the work that can be done to deal with this problem. We have to deal with it internationally. That is why I am pleased that at the conference we set up the Santa Marta group, an international group of senior law enforcement officers who will meet again towards the end of this year in London, to share best practice to ensure that we do all we can to deal with this issue.
Has the Home Secretary received, as I have, a copy of the letter from the Ethical Trading Initiative, to which we spoke just before the last mini recess? It says that it wishes to have legislation on supply chains. That is a major change in attitude since I introduced my private Member’s Bill. It wants to see all the good companies supported by legislation so that the poor companies do not get away with undermining them.
The group to which the hon. Gentleman refers was part of the round table that I attended with businesses. It sits on the working group led by my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary.
The right hon. Lady is generous with her time. Just a few weeks ago, a lady in Northern Ireland discovered a cry for help letter sewn into a pair of trousers, which were made in China, from a leading high street chain. The letter detailed the atrocious working conditions in the prison where the garment was made. With longer and more complex supply chains, does the Secretary of State agree that the Bill needs to ensure greater transparency and accountability so that the products of slavery and forced labour do not find themselves on our high street shelves?
Across the House, we all share the same intention and desire to stamp out modern slavery, wherever it occurs. We all recognise that companies have a responsibility to look at what is happening in their supply chains. The hon. Lady talks about the increasing length and complexity of supply chains, which is one of the precise difficulties faced by companies today when it comes to any responsibility they have for looking at every aspect of their supply chain and ensuring that it is not involved in modern slavery. That is why we are sitting down with business to talk about the issue and how we can best address it. There is not a blanket approach of saying, “The only way to do this is X.” We are saying, “Let’s sit down with companies and talk to them about the issues that they are facing.”
In answer to the hon. Lady and my hon. Friend Andrew Selous, of course we need to work internationally to address modern slavery. This House, and this Parliament, will take an important step by passing this Bill in the United Kingdom. The Bill will be an important sign, but the work will go on, and sadly I suspect that the work will have to go on for some years, to ensure that we stamp out modern slavery. That work is wide-ranging and is not just limited to what we may say or do in this House.
In the wake of the recent controversies, particularly the reports about the Thai fishing industry, the Prime Minister’s official spokesperson said that it is up to consumers whether they buy goods associated with slavery. That is clearly not good enough because consumers are not in a position to know that. Surely the Government need to go further. Will the Home Secretary dissociate herself from those remarks?
A wide range of actions need to be taken if we are to deal with modern slavery, but the hon. Lady should not underestimate the power of the consumer in some of these matters. The consumer’s approach to fair trade, for example, has sent an important message to companies about how they deal with certain issues. The consumer can certainly play a part in addressing such things.
I have taken a number of interventions, and I will now turn to the specifics of the Bill. Part 1 addresses offences, sentences, reparation and maritime powers. Traffickers and slave drivers must know that their crimes will not be tolerated and that they will not get away with them. They must know that they will be caught and sent to prison for a very long time. The Bill provides law enforcement with the powers it needs to take robust action. First, the Bill consolidates existing slavery and human trafficking offences, which are currently held in three different Acts of Parliament. That will make it easier for prosecutors and the police to understand the available modern slavery offences when investigating such crimes.
We will have two clear and distinct offences: one for slavery, servitude and forced or compulsory labour; and one that covers all types of human trafficking. Those are focused offences that build on tried and tested concepts that the police and prosecutors understand. Part 1 of the Bill is not simply a consolidation, however; it contains specific action to improve existing offences by making it clearer that the slavery, servitude and forced labour offence can be effectively prosecuted where the victim is vulnerable, for example a child. Part 1 also includes wording based on international definitions of trafficking, such as the Palermo Protocol, thus ensuring that it reflects internationally defined best practice.
Punishments will now fit the crime. Offences committed in connection with modern slavery are some of the most serious that can be committed, so the Bill extends the maximum available sentence to life imprisonment. That will ensure that the worst perpetrators can receive the lengthy custodial sentences that they deserve. Tough sentences will also act as a powerful deterrent to others.
Criminals and organised groups who trade in human beings do so for profit, and we were reminded of that only last week, when the gang leader of a criminal outfit was jailed along with his accomplices for trafficking more than 100 women to London. While he lived a luxury lifestyle, the women who were lured here on false promises of employment were forced into prostitution, held against their will and subjected to horrific treatment. Wherever possible, we must ensure that the illicit gains made from trading in human misery are seized. Both the Modern Slavery Bill and the Serious Crime Bill will strengthen our powers to recover assets. The Modern Slavery Bill makes both slavery and trafficking offences criminal lifestyle offences for the purposes of criminal confiscation under the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002, which means that convicted slavers and traffickers will be subjected to the toughest confiscation regime possible.
Will the Home Secretary assure me that, through reparation from the proceeds of such crime, there will be long-term support for the profound and enduring health consequences experienced by women subject to such exploitation, abuse and degradation?
My hon. Friend must be psychic. I was about to say that the treatment meted out to victims by traffickers and slave drivers is inhumane, degrading and often disturbing, and there can be no better use of the assets seized from a perpetrator than to provide reparation to their victims. Courts currently have the power to order convicted traffickers to pay compensation to their victims and can use money collected under a confiscation order to ensure that such compensation is paid in full. It is therefore unacceptable that in the past 11 years there have been only three such cases in which a criminal convicted of a principal offence of human trafficking has been ordered to pay compensation in that way. The Bill seeks to remedy that by creating a bespoke order for modern slavery offences so that, where a perpetrator has assets available, the court must consider making an order to provide reparation to the victim and give reasons if it does not do so.
The Home Secretary will be aware that successful prosecutions of cases involving children are very low. One of the reasons for that is encapsulated in a problem with the Bill, which is the omission of a specific definition of child trafficking. As she will know, children cannot consent to their own exploitation. I draw her attention to clause 39, which states:
“A person is not guilty of an offence if…the person is compelled to do that act.”
Children cannot consent to their own exploitation, and therefore that defence is no use to children. That is why I hope she will join me and many other Members on both sides of the House in supporting the inclusion of a specific definition of children trafficking in the Bill.
We have looked at that issue, which was one of the issues raised in the various discussions, including in the Joint Committee. We have not included a specific child trafficking offence because of the difficulties that that could lead to in a prosecution, such as arguments about whether an individual should be prosecuted for the specific child offence or for the more general offence. That is why we have taken a different approach. [Interruption.] The hon. Lady shakes her head, but she should let me finish my response. That is why we have left it with a general offence, but we make it absolutely clear—this specifically addresses the point that she raises—that the slavery, servitude and forced labour offence can be effectively prosecuted where the victim is vulnerable, for example a child. We are aware of the issues that she raises about whether it could be argued that a child is not able to give consent, and therefore whether they are able not to give consent, but that is explicitly covered in the arrangements in the Bill. There are very good arguments why there would be considerable difficulties in dealing with a specific child offence. Another issue that would be raised is that an individual’s age often cannot be proved. If we did not have a general offence, it would make a prosecution more difficult.
Is there not a case, therefore, for inserting the age of 18 into the Bill? Where there is a dispute in court about someone’s age, for the purpose of prosecution they are assumed to be a young person. Would it not give us an even harder cutting edge if, at a later stage, the Home Secretary accepted “18” to go alongside the definition of “young person”?
We will consider the definition of “young person,” but that is slightly different from having a separate offence in relation to a child. We are considering the definition of “young person.”
I will give way once more. I am conscious that other people wish to speak.
I am grateful to the Home Secretary for giving way, and I do not want to take up other people’s time, but this point is incredibly important. I worked with child trafficking victims for nearly a decade before I came to this place, so I know, and the Home Secretary knows, that children go through a gruelling process. They are often told by their trafficker to say certain things. They say things in interviews because they have been told what to say, or they say what they think the interviewer wants to hear. They often cannot cope with the processes that they are put through, so having a specific child trafficking offence in the Bill would ensure that those children are seen and recognised as what they are, which is children. They are not trafficking victims, immigrants or children who have been moved for the purposes of exploitation; they are children who have been abused. Including such an offence would send a powerful message that we need to get those processes right.
I absolutely appreciate the passion with which the hon. Lady makes that point, and the experience on which she draws in doing so, but we have taken evidence from a number of areas and heard a number of people point out quite forcefully the difficulty of a child-specific offence where age is uncertain. For example, in evidence to the pre-legislative scrutiny Committee, Riel Karmy-Jones, a barrister who deals with trafficking offences, said that
“problems arise over separate offences that pertain specifically to children—for example, when the age of the child is not easily determined and you end up relying on age assessments, which I have done in some of the Nigerian trafficking cases.”
In those circumstances, if we did not know the age of the child, we would end up in court arguing about whether the specific offence was right, rather than being able to rely on the general offence.
Similarly, Detective Inspector Roberts, when asked whether a child-specific offence would help, replied:
“Not as a separate offence. The legislation perfectly encompasses it, but I would share Mr Sumner’s view— another police officer—
“about the sentencing guidelines certainly around children and it being an aggravated offence… I think wholly different legislation would be unnecessary and complicated.”
We want to ensure that prosecutors and the police can deal with this as sensibly and easily as possible so that we get more prosecutions, but the evidence indicates that trying to introduce a child-specific offence might complicate prosecutions rather than make them easier.
I will give way, but then I will have to make some progress.
I am grateful to the Home Secretary for her response to my hon. Friend Lisa Nandy, but will she consider giving herself the flexibility in the Bill to be able to bring forward regulations introducing a child-specific offence at a later date, rather than having to go through the process of introducing another piece of primary legislation?
That is a legislative device—I do not use the term in a negative sense—that we are using elsewhere in the Bill, but I say to hon. Members who have raised the matter that this is not just a belligerent point from the Government. We genuinely believe from the evidence we have seen, having talked with lawyers, prosecutors and the police, that the general offence will lead to more prosecutions, with the caveat I mentioned earlier about accepting when a victim is vulnerable—for example a child, as it is recognised that they might not have been in a position to have actively given consent and therefore should not be assumed to have given that consent—and that is being dealt with.
I will now attempt to make some progress on other points. The Bill also closes a gap in existing legislation whereby law enforcement officers are not always able to stop boats around the UK and on the high seas when they suspect that individuals are being trafficked or forced to work. There have been seven such occasions over the past two years. The Bill will provide law enforcement officers with clear powers to stop boats and arrest those responsible.
Tough sentences, seizing assets and closing loopholes are only part of the answer. The police and other law enforcement agencies must ensure the effective and relentless targeting and disruption of the organised crime groups that lie behind the vast majority of the modern-day slave trade. I have made tackling modern slavery a priority for the National Crime Agency, and work is under way to ensure that the law enforcement response at the local, regional and national level, and at our borders, is strong, effective and collaborative.
We are developing our capabilities to detect, investigate and prosecute modern slavery through better intelligence, better sharing of intelligence and more work upstream. For example, specialist safeguarding and trafficking teams are being rolled out at all major ports so that trained officers can help identify victims being trafficked across our borders, disrupt organised criminal groups, collect intelligence and provide a point of expertise and guidance for front-line officers.
We must ensure that law enforcement agencies have a range of effective policing tools, so I propose to take further action in the Bill. Part 2 introduces vital new tools, modelled on existing powers to stop sexual harm, to prevent modern slavery offences. Slavery and trafficking prevention orders will target convicted traffickers and slave drivers and can be used to prevent further modern slavery offences taking place—for example, by stopping an offender working with children, acting as a gangmaster or travelling to specific countries. Slavery and trafficking risk orders will restrict the activity of individuals suspected of being complicit in modern slavery offences. For example, they could be used to stop activity where there is insufficient evidence to bring a successful prosecution now but there is clear evidence of the risk of future trafficking or slavery offences being commissioned.
Modern slavery is a complex and multifaceted crime. To tackle it effectively, we need not only new legal powers but effective co-operation across law enforcement, borders and immigration, and local services. In the past, the number of prosecutions and convictions for those specific offences has not reflected the scale and seriousness of the problem. In 2013, for example, there were only 68 convictions. That is not good enough. We need a senior figure dedicated to the UK’s fight against modern slavery to strengthen law enforcement efforts in the UK and ensure that victims are identified and get effective support. That is why the Bill includes an anti-slavery commissioner to encourage good practice in the prevention, detection, investigation and prosecution of modern slavery cases. The Bill extends the role outlined in the draft Bill published in December so that the commissioner can work internationally to encourage co-operation against modern slavery and oversee the identification of victims.
I will give way to the hon. Gentleman, but I am being very generous in taking interventions and know that many Members wish to make speeches.
I appreciate the Home Secretary’s generosity. It is essential that we have a cross-Government approach to tackling human trafficking, so will she explain why the anti-slavery commissioner will not be independent, as the children’s commissioner is, and will be situated in the Home Office?
The question of which physical office the commissioner will be situated in is still to be determined, but their role will be set out in a way that is similar to that of other commissioners. They will be independent and their annual reports will be laid before Parliament.
I am sorry to interrupt the Home Secretary, but the House might find it helpful to know that the independent commissioners in Finland and the Netherlands report to one Government Department, because ultimately they need a departmental head to argue their case for funding with their Treasuries, even though they roam across Government.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for that clarification. Some people say that the way the commissioner will be appointed means that they cannot be independent, but if they look at the people we have in other roles who are appointed in a similar way, such as the independent chief inspector of borders and immigration and the chief inspector of constabulary, they will see that they are fiercely independent, regardless of the method of their appointment.
The Home Secretary is being extraordinarily generous in giving way. Moving away from the independence of the anti-slavery commissioner and looking instead at their focus, she mentioned the problem of securing prosecutions, and one of the reasons for that must be the extraordinary vulnerability of trafficking victims. I wonder whether one of the core focuses of the commissioner in their first months might be to look at how we could better protect those witnesses when they go into our adversarial courts system.
If my hon. Friend will bear with me, I will comment on the protection of victims later in my speech. I think that it is important that the anti-slavery commissioner encourages good practice in the prevention, detection, investigation and prosecution of modern slavery cases as well as any work that is done to protect victims.
I will give way to the chair of the all-party group on human trafficking and modern-day slavery.
If the commissioner is to help increase prosecutions, they need to help to provide witnesses, who are the evidence givers in those prosecutions. I therefore support Nicola Blackwood in her plea to give the commissioner some responsibility for victims, which will assist the Home Secretary greatly in her ambition to increase the number of prosecutions.
The right hon. Lady and I have discussed this important matter before, and I will talk about what we can do to protect victims. The strategy that the Government will publish as the Bill progresses through Parliament will be important, because not everything is about legislation; many issues relating to the protection of victims are about some of the other ways we can ensure that support is provided. Yes, of course we need victims to be willing to come forward in order to prosecute, but one of the areas that I do not think has been given sufficient attention in the past is the question of law enforcement, prosecution and the need to ensure that the police and prosecutors are sufficiently aware of these crimes and have a sensible legislative framework and offences framework that means they will be more likely to bring perpetrators to justice. The more perpetrators who are brought to justice, the fewer victims there will be in future.
As a vice-chair of the all-party group I am very happy to play a supportive role to the group’s chair. The question raised by subsections (3), (4) and (5) of clause 35 is about the Home Secretary’s ability to call for the commissioner to omit from the report anything the Home Secretary does not agree with. Given that people will base decisions on what she says in this House, can she give us a categorical assurance that, even if the commissioner criticises the Government’s performance, there will be no question of the Home Secretary being able to ask for anything to be omitted from her or his reports?
I suggest that the hon. Gentleman reread the Bill. The intention is not that the Home Secretary will be able to prevent the printing of something with which they do not agree, but that nothing that is published could be a national security concern or jeopardise ongoing criminal investigations. I would have hoped that every Member accepts the importance of that. There may be circumstances in which it would not be appropriate to publish certain information because of the impact it would have on an individual. Those are matters that will be discussed with the anti-slavery commissioner in their reports, but certainly we should ensure that their reports do not jeopardise criminal investigations, because we should all want to see more perpetrators being brought to justice.
Modern slavery is a crime that inflicts immense suffering and misery. At the heart of the Bill and all our work is the desire to ensure that victims receive the protection and support they deserve, as well as help to recover from their traumatic ordeal. We must also ensure that victims, who have already suffered so much, do not suffer again through the criminal justice system.
Victims of modern slavery are sometimes forced by organised criminals to commit crimes such as cannabis cultivation. Fear of prosecution can deter victims from coming forward to help the police with investigations and from acting as witnesses in court. It is vital that we give them the confidence to come forward without the fear of prosecution. The Crown Prosecution Service already has guidance in place to prevent the prosecution of victims who have been forced to commit crime, but I think we can, and should, go further.
That is why the Bill includes a statutory defence for victims. The defence includes substantial safeguards against abuse and it will not apply to a number of serious offences—mainly violent and sexual offences—which are set out in the Bill. However, even in cases where the defence does not apply, prosecutors will still need to look carefully at all the circumstances to see whether it is in the public interest to prosecute victims.
Helping more victims to testify in court is crucial in our fight against the perpetrators. We need to give victims—who can face threats and intimidation—greater assurance that they can access special measures, such as giving evidence by video link or behind a screen. The Bill therefore extends to all modern slavery victims existing provisions that help trafficking victims gain access to special measures.
Whether victims appear in court or not, we need to identify them so that they can receive help and support. As I said in response to earlier interventions, I have set in motion a review of the national referral mechanism, to ensure that the care and support provided is effective and that all agencies work together in the best interests of victims. The review will issue its final report in the autumn. In addition, the Bill includes a provision for statutory guidance for the identification and support of victims, to ensure a consistent and effective approach.
Modern slavery crushes lives and causes immeasurable damage to victims of all ages. One of the most heinous aspects of this crime is the exploitation and enslavement of children—robbing them of their childhood and casting a long shadow over their future. Child trafficking victims are exceptionally vulnerable and require specialist support and care. We are therefore putting in place trial schemes of child trafficking advocates, who will ensure that the child victims’ voices are heard and that they receive the support and assistance they need in relation to the social care, immigration and criminal justice systems. The Bill includes a power to place these advocates on a statutory footing, once the trials have established how we can best give trafficked children the support they need.
The Bill also ensures that where the age of a trafficking victim is uncertain and there are reasons to believe that they are a child, public authorities will presume that victim to be a child for the purposes of providing assistance and support.
Finally, we need to ensure that law enforcement has good data on this largely hidden crime, so that we can develop an effective, strategic response. We are therefore placing a legal duty on public bodies to report suspected victims of slavery or human trafficking to the National Crime Agency. Safeguards will be put in place to ensure there is no adverse effect on victims. Adult victims will remain anonymous unless they consent to having their personal details shared. Non-governmental organisations will not be part of the statutory duty.
Modern slavery is an evil against which this Government are determined to take a stand. This Bill provides a comprehensive range of measures to punish effectively the criminals and organised gangs behind this appalling crime, to ensure victims receive the protection and support that they deserve, and to help prevent other vulnerable people from becoming victims.
As I indicated earlier, however, I am under no illusion about the scale of the task ahead. Stamping out modern slavery will not happen overnight. I have made tackling this crime a priority for the National Crime Agency, and, as I also said earlier, we are working with international law enforcement agencies to target organised criminal gangs. The Santa Marta group is being led by the United Kingdom, and that will strengthen our response to modern slavery globally. This autumn I will publish a comprehensive strategy that will include cross-Government and law enforcement action to tackle modern slavery and set out how we will continue to support and protect victims.
Today I urge Members on both sides of the House to work together so that we can pass the Modern Slavery Bill in this short Session. We have a rare moment of consensus on the principle that action needs to be taken. We must not—for any reason—repeat the mistakes of those Parliaments that were asked to tackle the historic evil of slavery but found reasons to put off the issue. It took William Wilberforce almost 18 years to pass his Bill to abolish the slave trade, and another 26 years passed before Parliament agreed to abolish all slavery in the British empire.
We must not delay. Let us act now—together—and send a powerful message to all traffickers and slave drivers that they will not get away with their crimes: we will track them down, prosecute, and lock them up, and ensure that the victims of their appalling crimes are returned to freedom. I commend this Bill to the House.
I welcome the Bill and make clear the support of not only this side but both sides of the House for taking action against the horrific crime of modern day slavery and for the Bill’s passage through the House.
Last year, a 20-year-old woman was kidnapped from her rural home in Slovakia. She was trafficked out of the country and brought to the UK, to Bradford. She was kept captive for several weeks before being sold into a sham marriage. In her marriage, she was not allowed to leave her home and was raped repeatedly and beaten by five men, all of whom lived in the house. The barrister who prosecuted the case described her experience as like
“something from a 19th century novel by Dickens”,
and said that the victim
“was handled round the continent and this country like a commodity, a human slave.”
She was raped, beaten and enslaved and robbed of her most basic freedoms not in 19th-century Britain but in 21st-century Britain, which is why we need to act and why the Bill has such strong cross-party support and will be on the statute book soon.
I pay tribute, as the Home Secretary has done, to the members of the cross-party Joint Committee, including my right hon. Friend Mr Field, my hon. Friends the Members for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart) and for Linlithgow and East Falkirk (Michael Connarty) and the right hon. Members for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Sir John Randall), for Meriden (Mrs Spelman) and for Hazel Grove (Sir Andrew Stunell), who have worked so hard. I also pay tribute to the former Member for Totnes, Anthony Steen, who is the chairman of the Human Trafficking Foundation and has done so much work in this field.
The Bill builds on work carried out under the previous Government, including criminalising trafficking in the Sexual Offences Act 2003 and the Asylum and Immigration (Treatment of Claimants, etc.) Act 2004; the introduction in 2009 of the offence of forced labour, slavery or servitude, which recognised that slavery is not just about international forced travel; the national referral mechanism, which we introduced in 2009; and, of course, the creation of the UK Human Trafficking Centre.
The shadow Home Secretary is absolutely right to mention the horrific case from Slovakia, but does she recognise that many British citizens are being trafficked around the UK and, indeed, from the UK to other countries, and that we must capture that element of this horrific crime as well?
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. In fact, I was just mentioning the original introduction of the offence of forced labour in 2009, because it was introduced exactly for the purpose of recognising that the issue is not just about people trafficked across international borders, but about the appalling abuse and enslavement of British citizens or of people within their countries. That is rightly covered by part 1 of the Bill.
I commend the Home Secretary for her work, which has built on many years of cross-party work and support for action against the horrors of modern slavery. Because there is such strong support for the Bill and for action against slavery, I believe that there is strong support for going further. As the Home Secretary heard in hon. Members’ many points and questions, there is consensus on going further than the measures in the Bill. We want to debate such points and to point out areas where amendments could be tabled as the Bill goes through this House and the other place.
Let me begin with the measures in the Bill which we support. The Home Secretary has made a powerful case for consolidating and strengthening the law to make it easier to prosecute those committing this vile crime, as she is rightly doing in part 1. Many hon. Members will remember the shocking case of Craig Kinsella, who was held captive by a family in Sheffield and forced to work from 7.30 am to midnight for no pay. He slept in a garage and was starved, and he was beaten with a spade, a crowbar and a pickaxe. As Andrew Selous has mentioned, such a victim was not trafficked into the country; he was a British national. He had even moved in voluntarily with the family who enslaved him, but he was still in slavery.
That is why it is vital that UK legislation should recognise the different forms of human trafficking and slavery, and should make it possible to prosecute those who enslave, abuse and exploit. It should not only cover those who have been moved across international borders, but recognise that consent can be complex. In complicated cases, the offence should not rely on a simple lack of consent, because people can be deeply vulnerable and slavery is complex in such circumstances.
The Home Secretary is right that the law should be strengthened and that penalties should be increased. We strongly welcome clause 5, which will give trafficking offences the maximum of a life sentence. Traffickers steal people’s lives and their humanity. It is the very worst abuse, so it should carry the most severe sentences. We also welcome the work on asset seizures and reparation orders, for which my hon. Friend Diana Johnson has called.
I commend the Home Office’s work to prevent enslavement and trafficking, including the work on prevention and risk orders. When there is evidence that someone is likely to commit an offence, we should be able to intervene in advance for the sake of the victims, rather than waiting until it is too late. We support the introduction of an anti-slavery commissioner to keep the pressure and focus on this dreadful crime. We welcome the statutory defence for victims, the concessions made so far by the Government on child guardians, and the duty to notify the National Crime Agency.
Measures on the presumption of age are extremely important, because we know of harrowing cases in which children end up being caught without the support they need simply because there is a dispute about their age. It is vital for the authorities to show some humanity in how they approach children in those cases. The Home Secretary is right that the Bill alone is not enough. It will of course need to be supported by much wider action in terms of training, co-ordinated action and leadership, and we support her determination to make sure that that happens.
I now want to set out the areas in which we hope the Home Secretary will go further. I know that she listened during the considerations of the Joint Committee, and I hope that she will now listen to the areas where we want to table amendments and to urge her to go further and take stronger action.
We want a stronger focus on victims. If we do not support the victims of human trafficking, we are leaving people to be abused and enslaved, and to be forced to work or forced into prostitution. Those who have been abused once by evil traffickers are at risk of being abused and betrayed again by authorities who either do not understand their experiences or simply ignore the abuse that they have experienced. That is why we need more work by border staff, the police, the criminal justice system, councils and voluntary organisations to identify the victims.
As part of that, the Bill should strengthen the national referral mechanism. In 2012, the UK Human Trafficking Centre identified 2,255 human trafficking victims, but the national referral mechanism only identified just over 1,000. At the moment, the national referral mechanism is an internal process of the Home Office—there is no transparency, and no appeal—but this is an opportunity to place it on a statutory footing to give it a greater ability and authority to support victims at the time they need it most.
On strengthening the national referral mechanism and the whole question of the speed with which we must move to protect victims, particularly young victims, does my right hon. Friend think we should look again at the idea of a pilot joint immigration and family court to address such matters at a very early stage?
I am very interested in looking further at that idea. My hon. Friend is right that the most complicated and difficult cases are sometimes hard for the legal system to address. It is obviously important to have clear frameworks of family law and of immigration law, but he is right that complex cases sometimes end up falling between the two systems and not getting the kind of recognition that they deserve.
We want the anti-slavery commissioner’s work to have more emphasis on supporting victims. The Bill talks of the anti-slavery commissioner’s obligation to identify victims, not of the need to support victims or to make recommendations to all Departments, not just the Home Office, on victim support, which would be helpful.
A matter that has puzzled me since I went to the launch of the Scottish report is a point made by the Justice Secretary there: when the Border Force changes people’s status from victim to criminal, those people very soon leave Scotland and end up in Yarl’s Wood, which is outwith Scotland’s jurisdiction. He told me that the problem is the Border Force, or what was called the UK Border Agency. How can we give some comfort to people in the devolved parts of the UK that they will be allowed to decide whether they are dealing with a victim or a criminal, and that they will not be overruled by the Bill and what is basically a UK authority, not a devolved authority?
My hon. Friend makes an important point, which goes wider than devolution. Wherever across the United Kingdom trafficking victims are identified, we must make sure that they are properly supported as victims of trafficking throughout the system, and that they are not simply identified by one agency as needing support as victims because they have been abused and enslaved, but end up being treated by another agency as criminals or illegal migrants, with the abuse effectively being multiplied because their vulnerability and experiences are simply not identified within the system. Such a purpose is vital. The Home Secretary is right that this is not simply about legislation, but about the way in which organisations operate, the training given to staff and how staff respond. My hon. Friend’s point is therefore extremely important.
That is particularly important for children, about whom many hon. Members intervened on the Home Secretary to raise concerns. Trafficking is an evil trade, but it can exploit weak systems of child protection. Of the 2,000 potential victims of human trafficking identified in 2012, 550 were children, but that is likely to be the tip of the iceberg. Some 65% of those cases were not recorded on the national system, which would have increased the protection of those children. Too often, they are treated as immigration cases, not as trafficking victims. Several of my hon. Friends made important points about the way in which such children can, in practice, be abused, including by being told what to say by their traffickers.
Most appalling of all is the figure that shows that almost two thirds of rescued children go missing again. They have been found, rescued by the authorities, put into care and they simply disappear again, presumably picked up by the same or other trafficking gangs. Already abused, they are let down by a system that is supposed to keep them safe.
As my right hon. Friend knows, many trafficked children also believe that the trafficker is their friend, their uncle or their boyfriend. It is not just that they have been frightened into saying that; they genuinely believe it. I therefore hope that she will press the Home Secretary on her call, which I support, for a statutory system of guardians, because somebody has to be able to instruct the lawyer in a case where a child believes that they have not been exploited to ensure that the relevant person is brought to justice.
I will do that and I agree with my hon. Friend. We would like the law and the Bill to be strengthened on child guardians and child offences. Let me make a few points about that.
My hon. Friend is right that the situation for children can be complex, and often the adult who is abusing them is the only adult they know: the only adult with whom they have contact and who speaks their language, if they have been trafficked across borders.
Charities describe finding children who do not even know which country they are in. Some are sexually exploited in brothels or tend cannabis factories, like Deng, who was trafficked from Vietnam to work as a gardener in a cannabis factory. When police raided the house, Deng was arrested and spent almost a year in prison. On release, he fell back into the hands of traffickers, who regularly beat him so badly that he was hospitalised. Passed from local authority to local authority, his case was eventually assessed and an independent age assessment concluded that he was only 16 or 17. He had already experienced years of abuse, including a year of imprisonment at the hands of the British authorities. Children like Deng have their childhood taken by the traffickers. By 17, they have often been held by the traffickers for several years, moved through several countries and forced to grow up very fast, but they are still children in desperate need of care.
If those children know no other life and nothing of the UK, they can often return voluntarily to their traffickers because they feel that they have no choice. There is a real problem with the idea that a child could ever consent to their exploitation. That is why we believe that we should pursue a separate offence of child exploitation. I listened carefully to the Home Secretary’s points and, clearly, we do not want to make it more difficult to prosecute. I think that we have the same objectives, but I did not find her answers very convincing or clear on why creating such an offence would make it harder to prosecute. Of course, there will be cases where the age may be difficult to identify at the margins, but surely it is possible to draw up the law in a way that allows the prosecutor to decide whether the case is clear cut and can be prosecuted as a child offence or whether it is not clear cut and therefore should be prosecuted under the wider legislation on the basis that somebody is vulnerable.
If the Home Secretary has any overwhelming objections to that, she needs to explain them much more clearly. The Opposition simply cannot see why we should not pursue the Joint Committee’s proposals for a separate offence of child exploitation and why that would not help us all in our objective of tackling slavery, particularly the awful and extreme abuse of children.
We would also like a system of independent guardians to be introduced. They are a requirement of the EU directive that the Government eventually signed up to, and the system has been implemented elsewhere in Europe and shown to work well. After three years of campaigning, we welcome the Government’s pilots for child advocates and the enabling provisions, but we do not believe that they go far enough. The position is unclear, but the advocates do not appear to be the same as the child guardians for which a huge coalition of charities, including Barnardo’s, UNICEF and the Children’s Society, have called. During the Bill’s passage, we will seek to strengthen the powers given to child advocates, thereby establishing guardians who can act independently of local authorities and in the best interests of the child.
I raised those who are in domestic work conditions and are particularly at risk in an intervention on the Home Secretary. I urge her to look again at the domestic worker visa and the risks to those forced into domestic slavery, unable to escape. Earlier, I cited the evidence from the charity Kalayaan. The Home Secretary knows that when the tied visa was introduced, many, including Kalayaan, warned her that it would increase the risk of servitude and domestic abuse.
In addition to the figures that I cited earlier, Kalayaan also found that 92% of those on the new visa were unable to leave the House unaccompanied. That is slavery. The Home Secretary seemed to suggest that that was just a small number of people, but that is not the point. One of the examples that Kalayaan gave was the case of Rupa, who arrived in the UK with her employers. She had worked for them in India and had little choice about coming to the UK. Once here, she worked long hours and got no proper breaks. Looking after a baby, she was on call all the time. Like 85% of those interviewed by Kalayaan, Rupa did not have her own room, so she slept on the floor, next to the cot. For all that, she was paid just £26 a week and had her passport confiscated. Eventually, Rupa ran away and a stranger helped her find her way to Kalayaan.
However, because of the changes that the Home Secretary introduced to the visas, Kalayaan could do nothing. Under the old system, the charity would have contacted the police, had Rupa’s passport returned to her and helped her find other work. Now Rupa’s options were limited: to return to her employer or be deported. With a sick family to support in India, Rupa decided to return to her employer and a life of servitude. That is slavery. It is what the Bill should abolish. The Opposition will table amendments on the matter, but I hope that, if the Home Secretary has an alternative remedy, she will come forward with it during the Bill’s passage. We cannot have a situation whereby all the work that the House is trying to do to tackle modern slavery is undermined by visa changes elsewhere in the system.
We also need more action in the world of work. The Home Secretary talked about the importance of tackling the supply chain, and we agree, but again, we would like to go further. The Bill provides a great opportunity to build on the work of the Gangmasters Licensing Authority. We would like to consider how that can be extended to cover exploitation in hospitality, care and construction, and also how the law on exploitation in the workplace can be strengthened.
Slavery in the UK is only a small part of the problem. The Joint Committee was clear in its recommendations for stronger action on supply chains. Other countries are legislating on that, and there is a growing consensus that legislation that requires large companies to report on their actions to eradicate slavery in their supply chains will make a difference.
In the past few months, all hon. Members will have been shocked by, for example, the details of the investigation by The Guardian into the fishing industry. There were stories of men trafficked from Burma and Cambodia, forced to work 20 hours a day for no pay fishing for prawns for shops in the US and Europe, and also for British supermarkets. One rescued worker, Vuthy, a former Cambodian monk, said:
“I thought I was going to die. They kept me chained up, they didn’t care about me or give me any food… They sold us like animals, but we are not animals—we are human beings.”
Another said that he had seen as many as 20 fellow slaves killed in front of him, one of whom was tied limb by limb to the bows of four boats and pulled apart at sea. All Members will be horrified by such stories, but it is even more horrifying if that slavery, abuse and murder could be linked in any way with the goods that end up on shelves in our supermarkets. That is why we believe that the Bill should go further.
According to polls, 82% of the UK public want legislation on the matter. The charity sector is equally clear and the Joint Committee supported action. So, too, did the businesses that gave evidence to the Committee. Marks and Spencer said that legislation could play an important role. Amazon, IKEA, Primark, Tesco and
Sainsbury all gave evidence and said that they could support legislation. Many businesses have said that they do not want to be undercut by unscrupulous employers.
That is why the idea of a voluntary agreement simply does not go far enough. The Ethical Trading Initiative and its 80 corporate members that are campaigning for legislative measures in the Bill are right to do so. Perhaps the Home Secretary will let the Prime Minister know that the Opposition will table amendments on that. I hope she can persuade him that the House should be able to support that action, which so many businesses support. It will allow them and all of us to be ethical, and to recognise how far the problem stretches—it stretches not just across this country, but across the world.
There will be support from Government Members for the supply chain proposal. Those of us who defend a free market do not want the competitive distortion of those who are undercutting legitimate businesses through the abuse of their employees.
The hon. Gentleman is exactly right on that. That is why so many businesses and major retailers are supporting that proposal. They recognise not only that it is morally right, but that it is very hard for them to identify abuse among their competitors, and to identify when they are being undercut by something that is so immoral and criminal throughout the world.
I believe we can build a consensus in the country and in Parliament. We have rarely seen a Bill that has such overwhelming support from Members on both sides of the House. Let us be clear that we will work with the Government to ensure that the Bill passes within the limited parliamentary time available, but we will also push for it to go further, so that we can make a real difference in wiping out the horrendous practice of trafficking and enslaving men, women and children in this country.
Almost 230 years ago, a milkmaid from Bristol, Ann Yearsley, had her poem on slavery published. It tells of the anguish and woe of a woman taken away from her home country and sold into slavery. It talks of debasement and degradation. Parliament was slow to respond, and it was another 45 years after Ann’s poem was published before Parliament introduced the Slavery Abolition Act 1833. The Home Secretary rightly spoke of the rare moment of consensus. We need to seize that. We have legislation before us, and we need to build on it. We need to seize the moment with the legislation and make it go as far as we possibly can. Let us push to get those further improvements and safeguards, because we know that, in the end, it is about stopping evil people committing terrible crimes; ending the enslavement, abuse and degradation of modern-day slavery; and giving everybody the liberty and freedom that they should have a right to.
I am pleased to take part in this important debate on the Modern Slavery Bill, particularly as it has such cross-party support. The House will lead the way in Europe. I hope that many other countries follow our legislation.
Last Friday, I attended the launch of Derby’s United Nations bid to end human trafficking, which the Right Revered the Lord Bishop of Derby, Dr Redfern, very kindly hosted. On the previous Monday, he hosted a summit at which 80 mainly local organisations were in attendance. He explained that human trafficking was the second most profitable crime in the world. The crime of modern-day slavery is growing, and there is therefore a need to legislate against it. People are being treated as objects and commodities, and there is a need to respond.
In fact, Derby will be only the second UK city to be part of the United Nations global cities compact, if we decide to go down that route. I was not surprised to hear that large-scale human trafficking operations and widespread sexual and economic exploitation were taking place in Derby and Derbyshire. One of the most shocking examples of sexual slavery given at the talk were the findings of Operation Retriever, which happened some time ago. The operation unearthed a network of 13 men in Derby who would cruise the city streets in the hope of picking up, grooming and raping teenage girls, who were often vulnerable. Some of the girls were even imprisoned in the flats of their abusers, and subjected to acts of gang rape that were on occasion filmed. Although it is undeniable that the Derbyshire constabulary did a fantastic job in unearthing that terrible conspiracy, more should be done to assist care givers and Government agency staff in spotting the signs of sexual exploitation.
In Operation Retriever, the victims were internally trafficked. However, the later Operation Kern discovered that young women were being brought over from Latvia to work as prostitutes in Ripley. I welcome the preventive measures that the Bill will introduce, namely the police’s ability to stop and search aeroplanes, trucks and other vehicles they believe to be involved with trafficking, but there remains a huge disincentive—the risk of deportation —for trafficked foreign nationals to contact the police to alert them to their situation. In line with that, one thing that the Bishop of Derby has called for is a 24-hour hotline not run by the police that victims can call if they are being exploited. Although I am aware that such schemes exist, I believe that the Government should provide the organisations running them with more revenue to advertise their services, to prevent prolonged abuse at the hands of traffickers.
Although 79% of human trafficking involves some form of sexual exploitation, it can take many forms. In 2013, seven people were arrested for human trafficking offences and money laundering in Derby as part of Operation Atwood. Eleven Slovakian men were detained in several homes across the city in deplorable conditions, and had their identities used for fraudulent claims by their captors. Once again, the failure to recognise the signs of human trafficking led to the abuse of those vulnerable adults. It is shocking that no one identified it sooner.
The bar to fighting human trafficking and modern slavery is the identification of victims. Derbyshire constabulary has told me that one of its biggest problems is that the majority of trafficking victims it deals with are foreign nationals, many of whom do not trust the police in their own countries. The constabulary has trained its officers to gear their approach towards compassionate victim support, meaning that those vulnerable individuals will not feel intimidated to speak out for fear of reprisals or deportation. Many victims of modern slavery could be forced to commit crimes by their captors and are frightened to come forward for that reason. I believe that the Bill’s creation of modern slavery as a defence in such cases will encourage many more exploited people to tell the authorities about the abuse that they have faced without the fear of criminal prosecution.
An associated issue that Derbyshire constabulary has raised is that many victims cannot identify that they are being exploited, owing to the disparity between conditions here and conditions in their home nations. I was very pleased to hear that, in order to remedy that, the Derbyshire constabulary has started to produce leaflets in a variety of languages advising potential victims of their rights. I am also very pleased that the Derbyshire force has taken steps to work with partner agencies, and has started a poster campaign to notify them of the appropriate contacts should they suspect that an individual is the subject of some form of exploitation.
I am hopeful that the reforms to the law in the Bill will positively affect the lives of many thousands of particularly vulnerable people in this country. The new civil penalties against those convicted of modern slavery will ensure that their victims can survive financially after their ordeal, and the defence of modern slavery will encourage those vulnerable people to come forward without fear of reprisals.
The Bill does a great deal to help exploited people, but it must be supported by good policing and community engagement, as has been exemplified in Derbyshire constabulary’s excellent work in that regard. That is why I believe that the Home Office should do all it can to encourage awareness of the signs of exploitation in the form of media campaigns, and to encourage the appropriate training of the police force to incentivise victims to come forward.
Finally, I offer my appreciation to the Lord Bishop of Derby, Dr Redfern, for his thoughtful and thorough work in Derbyshire and the other place on modern slavery and trafficking, and for bringing this important issue to the attention of the wider community in Derbyshire.
Getting elected as co-chair of the all-party parliamentary group on human trafficking and modern slavery last July, with 332 votes to my opponent’s 196 votes, was a proud moment. I stood because I care passionately about this issue. Freedom from slavery is a fundamental human right protected by article 4 of the European convention on human rights. Up until that time, I had been excluded from contributing effectively to the main parliamentary vehicle for pursuing change to protect victims of a crime that, only a few years ago, we did not even believe was still being committed.
The founder of the all-party group was Anthony Steen. He deserves our praise for that work and for continuing his work, since leaving Parliament, through the Human Trafficking Foundation. It is thanks to its work and the efforts of many voluntary community organisations—not just the Centre for Social Justice, which the Home Secretary referred to—and campaigning groups, such as Croydon Community Against Human Trafficking and Justice for Domestic Workers, shelters run by the Medaille Trust and the Poppy Project, and research bodies such as the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and the UK Anti-Trafficking Monitoring Group, that people are becoming aware that we did not abolish slavery when we outlawed the transatlantic slave trade two centuries ago. The difference, as the Home Secretary said, is that instead of being in the public eye, slavery is now hidden.
The Bill should help to change that ignorance. I commend the Home Secretary for inviting a study of the issue, chaired by my right hon. Friend Mr Field, and allowing robust pre-legislative scrutiny of the Bill. I was glad to join that scrutiny. I am, however, disappointed that not enough notice has been taken of our unanimous recommendations. There is an international commitment to tackle modern slavery through three Ps: prevention, prosecution and protection. The Bill has mistaken those Ps and instead focused on another P—punishment—and felt that that will deliver the other three. Let me explain why it will not.
Part 1 of the Bill describes the offences. I recommend that Members read it. The language is intensely jargonish, which can and does confuse. How do I know that? These offences are exactly the same as offences currently on the statute book. Admittedly, they are in a number of different Acts at present—the Sexual Offences Act 2003, the Asylum and Immigration (Treatment of Clients, etc.) Act 2004, the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012 and the Coroners and Justice Act 2009—but, frankly, just bringing these offences together in one law and adding harbouring and receiving to transporting in the trafficking offence will not achieve the end we all want: to expand the number of cases covered. Everything else in the Bill is already explicitly in legislation or in case law.
My hon. Friend Emily Thornberry asked, on
In 2010, I secured a clause in the Police and Crime Act 2009, which criminalised men who pay for sexual service where the person they pay is subject to exploitative conduct. In the first year, only 49 people were proceeded against. I consoled myself with the fact that it was a new offence and only a part year, but in the next year only 17 people were proceeded against. In the next year, the figure was only nine. Police told me that they wanted to pursue the exploiters, but the other figures I quoted show that they are failing to failing to do that.
The Home Secretary has said that the reason she is pursuing the Bill is to lead the world. That can happen only if the architecture of the Bill works so that any police officer knows what these offences are. The plain fact is that they do not, and that is one reason why there have been so few prosecutions. However much we trumpet the Bill, it is unlikely to deliver more prosecutions.
Although it claims to consolidate legislation, it actually just jams existing and often poorly drafted laws into one place. The Government claim that there are more prosecutions, but on the whole they are for rape and kidnapping, not slavery or trafficking. There is a reason for that, and it is not just the length of the sentences that the different offences attract: it is that every police officer knows what those offences look like.
The problem with the Bill is that the offences are not well constructed and that will make them relatively hard to prosecute. It is not because there are few such crimes. The tiny number of prosecutions happened at a time when 1,355 people were identified as trafficking victims by first responders and referred to the national referral mechanism, and 444 were confirmed as such by the NRM. We know that the NRM underestimates—that is one of the reasons why the Home Secretary has announced a welcome review. It concludes that 76% of UK nationals, 29% of EU nationals and only 12% of non-EU nationals referred to it are trafficked: just one hint that the system is more obsessed with immigration control than justice.
My biggest fear is that the failure to outline in simple language what slavery and trafficking is, will mean we still fail to prosecute a huge majority of cases. The Bill introduces a maximum life sentence akin to murder, but in Britain 80% of murderers are prosecuted. We should expect the same proportion for this heinous crime, but that will not happen unless we change the Bill.
In addition to the failure to describe the offences in a simple and straightforward way, one other reason why the Bill will not live up to the high hopes of the pre-legislative scrutiny Committee to increase the number of successful prosecutions is that it fails to protect victims sufficiently. This is not rocket science. The annual report of the US Secretary of State into human trafficking around the world made a series of recommendations for the UK:
“Ensure that law enforcement priorities to combat organized crime are effectively balanced with a victim-centered response to protect trafficking victims; ensure that a greater number of victims of trafficking are identified and provided access to necessary services, regardless of their immigration status; consider introducing a ‘pre-reasonable grounds’ decision period in which potential victims can access services before having to engage with police and immigration officers; ensure that appropriate government officials interview all incoming domestic workers in private so they are familiar with their rights and protections in the UK;”— that theoretically happens at the moment, but in practice it does not—
“develop secure and safe accommodations for child victims and establish a system of guardianship for unaccompanied foreign children; effectively engage with multiple agencies to ensure child victims’ needs are assessed and met; ensure child age assessments are completed”.
We have to read two thirds of the recommendations to get to measures that are in the Bill.
Good quality victim services are necessary so that witnesses to this horrible crime, who are overwhelmingly its victims, are available to help prosecutions. Present arrangements, which give them 45 days housing and then too often forget and abandon them, usually with no access to counselling or other support, means that many victims run away rather than give evidence. They do not trust the police and they are frightened that their exploiter will wreak revenge on their families.
We need to do more to improve the protection of victims. The Bill includes a welcome statutory defence for people forced to commit criminal acts while they are enslaved, but that has been Government and Crown Prosecution Service policy for a long time. That has had to be put into legislation only because the policy was not being put into practice. The Equality and Human Rights Commission concludes that
“As currently drafted, the effect of the Bill is that a victim’s failure to object to their exploitation by means of threat, force, coercion etc would be relevant to any decision as to whether they had been trafficked. This would erode the protection for victims seeking redress by opening debate about the nature and degree of the threats, force, coercion etc. to which they were subjected. It is not clear whether this omission is an oversight or intention”.
Protection for victims is what is most urgently needed. They need security, knowing that they will not be turfed out of a shelter on to the street where, under new regulations, they face quizzing from landlords about their immigration status and, if they are EU nationals, they will not have access to housing benefit. They need help to find employment other than prostitution or whatever other degrading acts they have been forced into. They need psychological help to deal with the trauma they have experienced and, above all, children need a guardian who can be there for them, protect them and ensure that we stop losing them. The Home Affairs Committee concluded that nearly two thirds of trafficked children go missing from care and that almost two thirds of those children are never found. Why? Because their trafficker is the person they know and have been groomed by. The Government are not yet providing a tough enough alternative in the Bill.
The United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child has been explicit about the responsibilities that Governments have to provide guardians for unaccompanied and separated migrant children. This approach to guardianship is reflected in a number of European countries, most notably Belgium, Germany, the Netherlands and Sweden. They have led us; we are not leading them. Children who have been protected and nurtured are more likely to give evidence. They will not be terrorised out of it through threats to their families. The failure to protect victims will add to the poor design of the offences and mean that more traffickers get away with it.
If the Home Office had followed the advice of the pre-legislative scrutiny Committee, there would have been clear offences based on the concept of exploitation; there would be strong advocates with the power of guardianship for children; there would be a separate child offence, because children cannot consent to their own exploitation; and the Anti-Slavery Commissioner would have a duty towards victims. These are areas where the weakness of the Bill will mean that, in future, we fail to catch and convict some of the perpetrators of this crime.
As well as protecting victims and prosecuting offenders, there is a responsibility to prevent the crime. Opportunities to do that have been lost too. The orders in this Bill are one strategy, but they will not have a broad effect. We know—and recommended in the pre legislative scrutiny Committee—measures that will have a broad effect. One is effective protection for migrant domestic workers. When they had a fair visa, which allowed them to change employers if they were exploited, most were at least paid. Now, Kalayaan, the wonderful organisation that assists them, reports that nearly two thirds do not get any pay. They have their passports taken away, they sleep on the floor and they cannot leave the house.
In the tragic case referred to by my right hon. Friend the shadow Home Secretary, someone returned to a situation of domestic servitude because, under the present immigration rules, she had no escape.
Other forms of enslavement at work could also have been prevented by widening the scope of the Gangmasters Licensing Authority, and by requiring companies to ensure that their supply chain is free of exploitation. I moved a ten-minute rule Bill on this subject in 2012, and it is great to see the approach winning all-party support. But the Home Office needs to know that a measure that is supported by M&S, Sainsbury's and Tesco, because they do not want to have slavery in their supply chain and because they do not want to compete with companies that drive down prices by using slave labour, is a pro-business move. That is why California took action and why we should now.
The USA report sets out quite simply what we need to do in the UK. It also reminds us that the victims of slavery across the world are, overwhelmingly, women and children. They are more vulnerable and also easier to be turned into commodities, which is the essence of this crime. So whether it is children forced to cultivate cannabis or to beg, or women forced to have sex with men, it is about the exploitation of one human being by another.
I am glad that we have a Bill, but sad that after all of the thoughtful and non-partisan study of it, the Home Office has rejected so much of the advice it received and left us with a Bill that is too weak.
I rise strongly in support of the Bill. At the outset, I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary. There is much of her, it appears to me, in this Bill in terms of her determination to see that this Parliament and our country is at the vanguard of tackling this iniquitous series of crimes.
I also congratulate Mr Field on chairing the cross-party Committee and on the very thoughtful report that it produced. I also recognise some of those outside of this House—some of whom have been referred to—not least Anthony Steen. He is one of my forebears in the sense that he was the MP for Totnes and part of my seat encompasses part of what was his seat then. He has acted with great determination, veracity and integrity in the pursuit of this very important matter. The Centre for Social Justice has been mentioned and it is worth thanking also Philippa Stroud for her contribution to the issue.
Modern slavery is a very complex and difficult issue, in that it has many different forms. I welcome the fact that we have the term “modern slavery” and that we have got away from focusing simply on human trafficking, the term used prior to the Bill. We see that in so many guises, and across different international boundaries. We see everything from boys from Thailand in forced labour tending cannabis plants on farms, to Nigerian women forced into involuntary domestic servitude, to eastern European women forced into prostitution. We see a wide variety of forms of this dreadful series of crimes. If we turn the clock back more than 200 years and look at what William Wilberforce had to face, he had, as has been said already, a much easier target. The injustice that he was addressing was at that time legal and very visible. One of the great challenges with modern slavery is its invisibility, which is why it is important to provide the kind of transparency about which many MPs have spoken.
Another worrying aspect of modern slavery is not just its amorphous form but its sheer scope. The United Nations has made clear that, depending on how the figures are calculated, modern slavery as an international global business is valued either second or third behind the illicit drugs trade or the illicit arms trade. We know from the EU figures that there are perhaps as many as 880,000 people within the EU involved in and caught up by modern slavery.
There is one aspect of the Bill on which I would like to focus briefly, which is addressing modern slavery within the business supply chain. This has been raised by a number of Members already. I speak as someone who is a dyed-in-the-wool pro-business Conservative. I have set up businesses both here and in the United States and I am the first person to stand up and rail against unnecessary red tape and those actions of Government that get in the way of entrepreneurship, wealth creation and all the good things that follow from that. However, the essential tension between having a statutorily underpinned approach, requiring businesses to tackle the issue, or relying solely on a voluntary code is between the red tape on the one hand and how effective the measures will be on the other.
As was argued cogently within the Committee report, there is one compelling argument that dictates that we should seriously look at statutory underpinning. If we have a voluntary code and a number of businesses within a particular marketplace, there is a huge disincentive for any one of them to put their head above the parapet and to start looking seriously at this problem. The disincentive is obvious, as one of the first movers in that situation might quickly end up damaging their reputation, allowing others in the marketplace to capitalise.
Any statutory underpinning must, however, be proportionate. The hon. Member for Slough mentioned the 2010 Californian legislation, which we should look at closely, because it contains the element of proportionality. There could be a grace period of perhaps a couple of years, as suggested with cross-party support, before any such measures were brought into effect. The California Act applies only to very large businesses with turnovers in excess of $100. [Interruption.] I meant $100 million, and I am grateful for the correction. I would not want to get down into micro-businesses; only those at a higher level. The requirements within the California Act are not too onerous: it envisages the appointment of an individual to a board of a very large company, which is therefore required to have a focus on the issue; and it requires that the company’s efforts to track down and deal with modern slavery be made transparent and public, for instance on its website. Much in the Act could be looked at in detail with a view to its providing the basis for some action.
Will the Minister clarify the extent to which the Government are considering such action? What are the Government’s initial thoughts, and to what extent are they considering, outside the legislative forum, co-operation with the Commonwealth, for example, and other countries, leveraging our relationships to ensure that we maximise our efforts to deal with the problems of modern slavery?
We—the House, the Government and the Opposition—have an opportunity to put this Parliament and this country firmly in the vanguard of dealing with the iniquity of modern slavery. I wish the Bill every speed in getting on to the statute book.
In common with Mel Stride, I welcome the debate and commend the Government for allowing the draft Bill to be tested through pre-legislative scrutiny. Evidence was received from many groups who have direct experience of, and insight into, issues of modern slavery, not just through being witnesses to the crimes and their effects, but through providing protection and support for victims.
I commend Mr Field and all who were involved in the Joint Committee for their work in proofing the Bill at its pre-legislative stage. I wish, however, that their efforts had received a more positive reflection from the Government than is suggested by the Bill before us today. The Joint Committee did very good work, highlighting the need for greater clarity about the offences. It provided a good service, helping to tidy up and improve the complicated, sometimes turgid language of the Bill, drawing from the existing legislation that it seeks to consolidate, by providing a clearer suite of offences. Each specific offence must be clear and the different facets of the overall crime and evil with which we are trying to deal should be made clearer. That would lead to more competent and more cogent legislation in respect of the message it communicates and the problems it seeks to recognise and address.
I am not convinced by the Government’s arguments that it is only necessary to have a consolidation of existing legislation with a few minor add-ons, as identified by Fiona Mactaggart, rather than a more cogent programme as suggested by the Joint Committee. We also need to ask on Second Reading whether the Bill does enough to address the causes of the problem, or enough to protect the victims? Does it really justify the claim, which has been made, of its being world-leading legislation? We have heard from some hon. Members that in some major respects the Bill simply catches up with what is happening elsewhere, while in other respects it falls far short of that. It does not match the true working standards of legislation in other countries or indeed the structures and systems in place in other countries for achieving the role envisaged in the Bill for the anti-slavery commissioner.
The hon. Gentleman will, like me, be aware of other legislation pursued and brought forward in the Northern Ireland Assembly. I believe a Second Reading has taken place and that a Bill is before the Assembly for ratification. Does the hon. Gentleman feel that the Government should also take note of the Northern Ireland legislation, which covers trafficking and the sale of women for sex? Does he feel that that should be part of what the Government are considering today?
I think that that Bill has been subject to a number of different viewpoints in the Assembly, particularly in respect of the workability of its detail. Indeed, many of the campaigning organisations that have highlighted the shortcomings of the Modern Slavery Bill have also indicated their reservations about some of the language in the Assembly Bill, which they want to see improved, modified or qualified. Now that there are moves to legislate in a number of these areas, we want to make sure that the legislation is as competent and effective as possible.
Some of the provisions of this Bill are clearly UK-wide—for example, both the slavery and trafficking prevention orders and the slavery and trafficking risk orders are UK-wide, yet many other functions apply to England and Wales, making it an England and Wales Bill. The orders are rightly UK-wide and they can even have international or extra-territorial effects.
There is a case for saying that we need more joined-up legislation in this area, and I know that the Department of Justice in Northern Ireland, for instance, has already engaged in a consultation exercise and seems ready to take forward legislation that has a similar remit to this Bill. I imagine, however, that if a Bill in this form went before the Northern Ireland Assembly, it might be subject to amendments and could be successfully amended in some of the respects raised by hon. Members here that the Government are resisting. We could reach the odd situation whereby subsequent legislation in Northern Ireland that appears to mirror this Bill could be more than just a karaoke Bill, along the lines that we are used to in the Assembly whereby a Bill is simply replicated. The Assembly Bill could go further and embrace some of the suggested amendments that the Government have resisted here.
Does the hon. Gentleman accept that one important element that needs to be UK-wide is the ability to seize assets of criminal gangs to recompense the victims of the crime? Does he agree that that should apply regardless of which part of the United Kingdom the gangs operate from and regardless of which part of the United Kingdom their assets are held in? Their assets must be subject to seizure and then redistributed among the victims?
Yes, I do believe and recognise that. In case the hon. Gentleman is thinking that there is some kind of blur into issues surrounding the National Crime Agency, we have always been of the opinion that whatever arrangements are in place in respect of the pursuit and recovery of assets and ill-gotten gains should apply UK-wide. We want no weakening in that regard. The burden of our concern about difficulties involving the NCA did not arise from that, and does not centre on it, as I think both Home Office Ministers and the NCA itself are aware.
I accept that, in focusing on some of the Bill’s shortcomings, we may not be doing justice to some of the strengths that other Members have rightly welcomed, but I think that at this stage in its passage we need to urge the Government to think further and think better, given some of the answers that they have provided in respect of not just the offences issue, but the role of the anti-slavery commissioner. I am not persuaded by the Home Secretary’s presentation. I am not convinced that the commissioner, as described in the Bill, will be as robust and independent, in terms of drive and impact, as she has implied. Again, I think that we should look to arrangements that exist elsewhere, not least in Finland. We should be demanding an anti-slavery commissioner with similar scope, status and standing.
I appreciate that, as a Government Member observed earlier, we cannot create a body, or post, that is so independent that no Department or Secretary of State relates to it, in the context of, for instance, pursuing legislative proposals or being a channel for budget bids. Those of us who are calling for something more independent do not want a commissioner who would be so detached, and such a political and governmental orphan, that he would not have the necessary standing and leverage. We want that standing and leverage, in budgetary and legislative terms. However, we also want people to know that that status is entirely within the commissioner’s own independent right, is based on the authority of the role, and is not qualified by sensibilities or sensitivities on the part of a certain Minister in a certain Department. In particular, we do not want the suspicion to arise that those sensitivities are actually on behalf of a Minister in another Department or agency.
We should consider some of the grounds for qualification. In my experience, the issue of national security has been used to cover a very wide and loose variety of concerns. We do not want the work and the role of the commissioner—not just in terms of reports—to be limited or curtailed to that degree, and we hope that, as the Bill progresses, the upgrading of that work and role will go a great deal further.
Other Members have raised the issue of guardianship. I think that that is one of the issues that go to the heart of the question of whether the Bill does enough in regard to protection, although it is not the only such issue that is still outstanding. The right hon. Member for Birkenhead and the other members of the Joint Committee clearly identified the gap that continues to exist when they were considering the draft Bill. While it purported to do more in respect of prosecution and seemed to be trying do more in respect of prevention, it did not offer much in respect of protection and support. I think that the Bill in its present form is still short in that respect, and one of the most notable ways in which it is short relates to the glaring issue of child guardianships.
If child guardianships are not included in the Bill and we allow it to be passed without them, we, as a House, we will be saying “We think it will be all right on the night. We think it will somehow be OK.” When it comes to the treatment of children, we have been confronted by many derelictions, false assurances and false assumptions. It is claimed that children are being protected and their interests are being properly safeguarded, but we know that, in this respect, they are not. Other Members, including the shadow Home Secretary, have already referred to statistics showing how many children have gone missing for this reason, and have been brought back into the woodwork of exploitation, abuse and manipulated rights. If we are serious about the way in which the Bill regards children, we must ensure that guardianship is at the forefront and central to its provisions.
I ask Ministers to consider again the very logical arguments that have been advanced about the question of surer definitions relating to children. I do not think that there should be an “either/or” when it comes to whether we have a general defence or a particular offence. We know that, in plenty of other contexts, we can have both. If we are to entrust various other matters and means to the judgment, recommendation and guidance of the commissioner—and to law officers and others who are engaged with such matters—I do not see why we cannot trust people to cope with particular offences relating to someone’s status as a child, as well as with a general offence.
Let me make one final point about children and protection. We need to be absolutely clear that defence clauses such as clause 39 can extend to non-prosecution. We need to be certain that people can have the protection of not being prosecuted in the first place, rather than becoming part of the feeding line for potential case law through having to activate and use a defence. I believe that the House would want to offer those people a greater protection: a guarantee that the relevant legal officers could choose the option of non-prosecution, in full recognition of the conditions and circumstances with which they were dealing.
Over the weekend, I read the online comment that “only leftwing feministas care” about the Modern Slavery Bill. I can tell you, Madam Deputy Speaker, that it would be considered unparliamentary to repeat the first response that sprang to the mind of this right winger, but the second was that the person concerned clearly had no idea of the scale of the problem, what it involved, and the fact that it was fairly prevalent across the country and was probably happening within a mile of his own home—and I have no doubt that it was a he. I was pretty furious at that point, and the comment made me absolutely determined to try to speak in the debate.
The third point that sprang to mind, almost instantly, was: what if Twitter, or some other form of social media, had existed when William Wilberforce, who was certainly not left wing or, I suspect, a feminist, was pushing for the abolition of the slave trade? I am sure that the opposition and abuse that he received from certain parts of society would be just the same today, albeit within the 140-character limit; but I also wonder, given the power of social media nowadays—quite often as a force for good— whether his Bill would have been passed far more quickly than it was.
Wilberforce is a hero of mine, and I think that he should be a hero for most politicians, not necessarily just because he abolished a heinous trade but because he did so in the face of opposition and sustained attack over the course of half a century. It is embarrassing and shameful that, more than 200 years on, we are here, forced to discuss yet again a trade, a crime and often an industry that exploits vulnerable people on our home soil. I welcome the Prime Minister’s commitment, and the Home Secretary’s determination, to introduce a Bill to tackle modern-day slavery. They have been extremely well served by many Members on both sides of the House, and by the former Member of Parliament Anthony Steen, who has campaigned on the issue in the House and outside since 2006. His expertise is incredible, and I have no doubt that his hard work on the issue across the world has helped to produce the Bill.
I think it right for us to keep the Bill as simple as possible. While I sympathise with some of the points that have been made about supply chain transparency,
I am not yet convinced that the Bill is the right vehicle for decisions about that. For a start, it currently covers only England and Wales, and tackling slavery across the world via corporate statements might distract people from the problems that we face here at this very moment. If separate legislation were introduced—if, indeed, legislation were required at all—I would consider supporting it. However, I am not yet sure whether putting such measures into the Bill would slow its passage through Parliament—a point made by my hon. Friend Mel Stride.
The Bill needs to deal with the real problem we have in the UK. No one knows the exact number of people who are forced into slavery—it remains unseen and undetected. What we do know is that 50% of the victims found in the UK are in the south-east.
I have discussed the issue with Kent police, who, working in partnership with local authorities across the county, have made some good progress in tackling trafficking and other forms of exploitation, which they calculate as being second only to the drugs trade as income generation for criminals. However, it is welcome that the Bill strengthens their enforcement capability. Kent police made the point to me in a briefing note about some of their recent operations. They found men who worked at night catching chickens in large industrial sheds, doing 16-hour shifts and sleeping in mini-buses by day. The men had no access to health services and no safety equipment was made available. Current legislation made it difficult for the CPS to be completely satisfied that there was sufficient evidence to charge. Therefore, Kent police very much welcome the fact that the Bill will simplify that and that they might be able to press ahead with charges.
The hon. Lady highlights the difficulty with prosecutions, but given the fact that the Bill merely includes the offences in the current legislation why is she convinced that it will be more successful than existing legislation?
I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman’s intervention because I think that one thing the Bill will do is place a positive obligation on law enforcement agencies to carry out not only enforcement but preventive work. Bringing all the provisions together will simplify the position enormously. It has been welcomed by enforcement organisations such as Kent police, who deal with the issue regularly because the county is the gateway to the rest of the UK. That is hugely important.
I will come on to some other aspects of the Bill, but I want to mention a few more examples that Kent police have tackled in recent months. They build on the examples that Members have already mentioned. One operation found vulnerable Nigerian female children were being trafficked into the UK. They were subject to “juju rituals” that were carried out to control and instil terror into the three victims, one of whom was aged 14. The offender was caught and sentenced to 20 years’ imprisonment. It is clear that the sex industry is the reason people are being trafficked into the UK.
Kent police gave another example. They worked with an eastern European country on one operation. They found victims who were being forced to have “crystal meths” in order to allow them to be placed into prostitution and subjected to horrific sexual assaults. They managed to escape at the point of sale; they were to be sold to another crime gang, also based in Kent. What we are doing today will enable agencies such as Kent police to conduct their work: they have been doing that as much as they can already, but they will feel that they are being supported in the long term.
I want to say at the outset that I think this is a really good Bill, but I share the view that improving law enforcement and piracy legislation is not enough. I would like to make a few comments on strengthening the Bill to make it world class. I fear that the measures protecting victims are not enough. One of the reasons we do not know the scale of modern-day slavery is that victims are often too frightened to come forward. The measures in the Bill to provide protection for child victims are welcome, but almost every briefing paper that Members have received says that the provision of child advocates does not go far enough. Many call for a system of independent, legal guardianship that can support and protect children and is more in line with best practice elsewhere. I agree with those views. At the moment local authorities are ill equipped to support victims no matter how hard they try, and often victims will go missing from care. Although advocates will play an important role, the simple truth is that unless they have the right legal powers they will remain powerless truly to protect the child.
Child victims should be a priority but we must not forget the adult victims of slavery and exploitation. They also need protection, and I agree with the view that extending the period of reflection from 45 days to 90 might help with that. Furthermore, I agree with Anthony Steen that often the protection could be offered in their home country better than in the UK, which would not only help the victim, often non-English speaking, but be more cost-effective to the taxpayer. A financial bond could be offered, the cost of which would be significantly lower than the cost of providing housing, benefits, welfare, health care and, with some victims, police protection. I hope that that will be considered.
My other main concern about the Bill as it stands—it is the main concern of others, too—is in regard to the commissioner. The appointment of an anti-slavery commissioner is welcome but they should be independent of the Home Office and have a wider remit. At present the terms of the commissioner are significantly narrower than those of others in parts of Europe with much better practices. The autonomy of those in Holland and Finland should be considered best practice and converted into ensuring that the powers of the commissioner here include statutory powers to collect and request data, monitor trends and assess the impact, and then report directly to Parliament. More important, the commissioner should not be limited to looking at law enforcement; the role should also include monitoring and supporting victims and the prevention of slavery. Again, I hope that the Minister is taking these points not as a criticism of the Bill but as ways of strengthening it.
With that in mind, I want to mention the issue of freezing assets. The measures on freezing assets are fantastic in principle but I worry that they might not work in practice. At present, the time between arrest and issuing an order to freeze assets is too long and could therefore be too late. The UK should look at Italian practices where assets are frozen within 24 hours, meaning that suspected criminal organisations cannot move or protect their assets; they are frozen immediately, with compensation available if they are released without charge. We should look at that, too.
My final point is not a criticism but merely a query that requires clarification. It is probably borne from my misreading of the Bill. It relates to the clauses on the prevention and risk orders on prohibiting foreign travel. We know that many of the nationals who are involved in trafficking, either as perpetrators or victims, are from eastern European countries. Therefore, will the Minister clarify whether these measures comply with wider free movement principles of the European Union? I approve entirely of the principle behind the orders but it would be disastrous if they were unenforceable and not only hindered enforcement but put victims at risk.
This is a good Bill but it is not a world-class Bill. With Wilberforce’s legacy in mind, we as a nation should be taking the lead across Europe and the rest of the world. If the Bill is just about enforcement and piracy, we are making a small step forward, not the giant leap that we could. I hope that the Minister, who I know has worked extremely hard on this issue, will listen to those concerns, and see them not as a criticism of her endeavours but as a means of Parliament enabling her to strengthen the Bill. Outside the Chamber, we have the statues of Wilberforce, Pitt, Fox, Grenville and many others, who are honoured for the work they did over many years to abolish slavery. I urge the Minister to be bold and brave and to make the Bill to abolish modern-day slavery something the people whose statues are dotted around these hallowed corridors would be proud of.
I want to talk about what is not in the Bill, rather than what is in it, because what is in it is, on the whole, a real step forward. Hon. Members have rightly highlighted problems with the Bill, but we should not lose sight of the fact that it represents a huge step forward, and it is one that I did not think would be taken during the eight years that I worked with vulnerable children and young people, including many children who were caught up in trafficking and exploited horribly. We see a Home Secretary pushing forward measures that will help to protect and support those young people and to bring to justice the people who perpetrate these awful crimes against them; and we see a shadow Home Secretary urging her to go further. That is a good day for the House. I wanted to start by saying that, and I hope that the Minister takes my comments in the constructive way in which they are intended.
I do not think it will come as a surprise that I want to focus my remarks on children. I make no apology for doing so, because this is really about children; it is not about criminality, crime, trafficking or immigration. Too often what I have seen when working with children caught up in these systems is that every bit of their identity becomes taken over by something else, and we forget that in the middle of all this is a child who is alleging abuse. It would be inconceivable in any other situation that we would treat a child who is alleging abuse in the way that we treat many of these children when they come into contact with our systems.
I want to explain why, as I raised with the Home Secretary earlier, it is essential that there is a separate offence of child trafficking. I took her point that a small number of people hold a different view, but a vast range of agencies and individuals with a wealth of experience in this area are pushing, pressing, begging and pleading with her and her Minister to listen to why such an offence matters.
Children are different. They are different because they cannot consent to their exploitation by virtue of their age and maturity. That is a principle that has been established internationally for decades, and we should not seek to water it down in a Bill that is supposed to protect them. They are different, too, because they cannot cope with the sorts of systems that they end up in at the moment.
A separate offence of child trafficking would send a strong signal that these children need to be treated as children first and foremost—that they are vulnerable because of their age. It would also set in train a process that would be different. In the years that I worked with child migrants, watching them giving interviews to the Home Office and going through all the processes such as the national referral mechanism, which was established just before I came into this place, I was struck by the fact that children often make unreliable witnesses. They often do not have the information about what happened to them so they cannot answer basic questions about how they got here, who sent them, what their father did for a living. These are all questions that are routinely thrown at children who are coming through the immigration, trafficking and child protection systems, and they genuinely do not know the answers to them. They often also do not tell stories in chronological order, which can be extremely confusing for people interviewing them, and that is often then used by the Home Office to undermine their credibility—I have seen that on countless occasions. They tell stories as they remember them rather than in chronological order, as adults would do. They are coached by traffickers to say certain things as well, and they are deliberately targeted by traffickers because their age makes them vulnerable. They also have a tendency to say what they think is expected of them and what the adult wants to hear.
All these things mean that the process children go through has to be different. We have to make sure that we treat these children who are alleging abuses in the way that we would treat any other child. That is why a separate offence with a lower threshold for child trafficking, recognising the very particular circumstances around children, is essential.
This Bill refers to taking someone’s vulnerability into account, and it states:
“For example, regard may be had to any of the person’s personal circumstances (such as their age, family relationships, and any mental or physical illness) which may make the person more vulnerable than other persons.”
That is so weak as to be almost ineffective before it has even been passed into law. It says regard “may” be had, but regard must be had to those things, and it says age “may” make a person more vulnerable, but age always does. A child cannot consent to their exploitation and that is not at all clear in the Bill. If anything, this Bill makes the situation worse because it makes it incredibly confusing. Without this being changed, we are not going to get the truth from these children and we are not going to get the prosecutions that I am sure the Home Secretary genuinely wants.
With regard to a point made by my right hon. Friend Mr Field, this measure needs to go alongside a definition of what constitutes a child, because the Bill contains references to age in clause 1 and to being young in clause 3, so it is inconsistent and confusing. We have always been clear that for the purposes of the law, unless there are exceptions—and there are some exceptions—a child is somebody who is under the age of 18, and I do not see any reason why we would not make that clear in the Bill. It is confusing otherwise.
I take on board the Home Secretary’s point about the difficult issue of age assessments. That has been troubling Home Secretaries and Home Office Ministers and children’s Ministers since I was born. Certainly I know that there were debates in 1983—some Members might even remember them, but I will not name them—about whether it was appropriate or possible to determine children’s ages by X-ray, which is one of those awful debates that seems to resurface with alarming regularity every decade before it is rightly killed off because it is immoral and inaccurate.
There are two ways to solve the problem of age assessments. One is to have the presumption that unless there is good evidence to the contrary, that young person is a child, and I strongly welcome the measure that seeks to do that and congratulate Ministers on introducing it. The second way to do that is to do something the Immigration Law Practitioners Association spent several years working on in its report, “When is a child not a child?”, and that is to set up a series of regional age assessment centres that are capable of determining the age of the child, taking it out of the hands of immigration officers and local authorities—both of whom have an interest in the outcome because if the person turns out to be a child, local authorities have to support them, and if they turn out to be an adult, the Home Office has to support them—and putting it into the hands of children’s experts. That is the way to do it and I am very sorry that progress on that seems to have completely stalled. The Government would do well to look at it again if they really want to get the measures right for children.
There is no way of separating out what is happening to children who have been trafficked, and the trafficking systems and child protection systems that have been put in place, from what is happening in the immigration system. Not all of these children come through the immigration system, but, by God, an astonishing number of them do. When I worked for the Children’s Society with refugee and migrant children, we looked at the children in our projects who had been trafficked. We found that on average they had been in contact with eight or nine separate agencies or organisations before they came to us and we discovered that they had been trafficked. I say that not to claim that we were better than those other agencies, but because it made me wonder how many young people we were letting through the net—how many were going on to other agencies before this fact was discovered, and how many were never discovered to have been trafficked.
The immigration service is one of the key institutions that such children come into contact with, and the way they are treated in it has an enormous bearing on whether we ever end up identifying them as trafficked in the first place. My experience of children going through that process is that it is dehumanising, challenging and adversarial, and it works against people who are genuinely in fear of their lives, who have suffered exploitation and who have been trafficked.
Many years ago I did some training for the UK Border Agency and its staff in what to look for in terms of child protection and how to support vulnerable children who were coming into its systems. My findings surprised me. We had been pushing for a long time for better protection in law for those children. What quite often happens is that these children are seen as immigrants first and children second, and are therefore not treated properly and their concerns are not acted on. We managed to persuade the Government to extend measures in the Children Act 2004 to that group of children—and congratulations to them for doing that—so that the UK Border Agency also had a duty to promote and safeguard the welfare of children. That was a big step forward for those children. What I found when I went to do this training for the UK Border Agency was that there were staff there who were desperate to do more to keep children safe. They knew they were not getting it right. They knew that they did not have the tools, the skills and the knowledge at their disposal to be able to do that. I do not know how much that has changed, but I certainly saw it start to change before I came into this place. However, for as long as there are really tough immigration tipping-point targets that are used to refuse people entry to and to remove them from this country, and for as long as these children are part of those targets and statistics, I am not sure that those staff will ever have the space, time and confidence they need to offer a challenge when they see a child being treated badly.
This issue is relevant to this debate, because if we identify a child as having been trafficked and accept not just that they have been horribly abused, exploited and mistreated, but that they would probably be so again on their return, the right thing to do is of course to grant them status and leave to remain in this country, so that they do not have to go back and face the same situation all over again, which too many children do. That has an impact on the immigration statistics, and we are not going to solve this problem unless we take this group of children out of those statistics and targets altogether.
Having watched children go through the entire immigration process, I know that an adversarial process is not at all appropriate for those who are alleging abuse, yet that is what children who are claiming asylum and who have been trafficked are having to experience. It is absolutely horrendous to have everything about you—your background, your identity, your credibility—threatened, challenged and undermined, and it is simply not appropriate. The process is handled much better in other countries. Instead of an adversarial system, there is an inquisitorial system through which the claims the child makes are looked into, and supporting evidence is gathered and a decision is reached.
The national referral mechanism is a really important part of the process. However, I do not think that it works. I have to say that I have not worked closely with the NRM for three or four years, or had any such cases in my constituency, but I have had regular contact with those who do. There are real problems with the way in which children of particular nationalities are treated. I welcome the interim review, but I am concerned by the answer the Home Secretary gave to a question from my hon. Friend Paul Blomfield. She said that the review would come before the conclusion of the Committee stage. It is really important that the Committee have the opportunity to consider and debate the outcome of the review, because I suspect that it will highlight that there are problems with putting children through an adversarial system that is located in the Home Office and is immigration-focused, rather than child-focused.
As I have said before, it would be absolutely inconceivable to try to construct a system for children who are alleging abuse in which they can be challenged on every single aspect of their identity, and have to fight to prove their claims against people who have an interest in not granting them the help and support they need. That is one reason why the emphasis on guardians is so important. I welcome the progress that has been made in that regard. The Bill includes something on guardians, and Ministers, the shadow Home Secretary and the shadow Minister, my hon. Friend Diana Johnson, should be congratulated on pushing for this.
However, if guardians are to have any influence whatsoever, they must have a statutory basis. The Government have commissioned a pilot, which will determine whether guardianship should be rolled out, without granting statutory powers to those involved in the pilot. I worked closely for many years with the excellent Refugee Council’s children’s panel, and I saw how difficult and frustrating it was to be unable to make people do the things they ought to be doing for children because it had no statutory remit. The panel did amazing things through persuasion and persistence, but the welfare of children should not rely on the persuasion and persistence of a handful of committed but underfunded individuals in one charity. We need a proper system that works for those children, and such people should be appointed at the point at which any concerns have been raised. The truth is that it is not possible to get through the NRM without that support, which is needed from the moment somebody has raised a concern; that is when the guardian must be appointed.
I want to press the Minister on an important point that I have raised many times with her colleagues and my own party when we were in government. At the moment, children who are recognised, first, as children and secondly, as potential trafficking victims, go into the care of the local authority, but nobody has parental responsibility for them. As a result, there is nobody to instruct their lawyer. Let me give the Minister a personal example. While working in this field, I came across the case of an eight-year-old child who had been brought to the UK for, we think, organ harvesting. He thought that his trafficker was his daddy. That is what he said and what he believed, and he would not be told otherwise by anybody.
My hon. Friend Fiona Mactaggart talked compellingly about the many reasons why such situations occur. As she is aware, sometimes such children cannot acknowledge to themselves that they have been trafficked and exploited in that way because it is simply too earth-shattering to even begin to comprehend. Therefore, once they get it into their head that this person is their boyfriend, uncle, daddy or auntie, it can be incredibly difficult to get them to think otherwise. That eight-year-old child had a lawyer. He told the lawyer that the trafficker was his daddy and was looking after him, so the lawyer made that case in court because they were duty-bound to act on the child’s instructions. That cannot be allowed to carry on. That is why guardians have to have a statutory basis, so that there is someone with the expertise, knowledge and skills to act in the best interests of the child when they are incapable of acting in their own best interests, which, because of their age and vulnerability, they often are.
I have listened to the arguments made concerning the commissioner, and it is important that they are seen to be independent of the Home Office. The commissioner has to command the confidence of children who are going through this process and are struggling to come to terms with the fact that somebody has done this to them, and that they have perhaps gone along with this willingly and feel complicit in their own abuse. Such situations are harrowing, awful, and hard. These children are in a strange country, often do not speak the language and do not know whom they can trust. They need to look to the commissioner as a figure they can trust, and who is separate from the Home Office, which holds the balance of power over their lives. In many ways, it holds the keys to their future, because it can determine whether they are allowed to remain here with support until they have come to terms with their situation and can make a decision for themselves, or whether they will be sent back into the awful situation they faced before. If the commissioner does not have that independence, their role will be undermined from the outset.
Let me give the Minister an example of a lesson learned. The last Government established a series of children’s commissioners for the separate nations of the United Kingdom. The Children’s Commissioner for England was established as part of the Department for Education and Skills, as it then was. All the staff who worked for the children’s commissioner were originally based in Sanctuary Buildings and had DFES e-mail addresses. That immediately undermined their credibility and standing with the children, and the people who work for, advocate for and support them. Lessons were quickly learned from that. The then Children’s Commissioner, Al Aynsley-Green, was a good champion of that process, saying that we needed to be out of that building, have different e-mail addresses and be seen to be independent.
The hon. Lady is making a very good point. The contrast between the situation of the Children’s Commissioner for Wales and the Children’s Commissioner for England was very instructive. In fact, at the time, consideration was given to not allowing the Office of the Children’s Commissioner for England to join the European circle of children’s commissioners, specifically because of that lack of perceived independence.
Absolutely. I do not want to labour the point, but we did learn the lessons from that approach, and it would be a tragedy if we did not apply them to this most important of areas.
I absolutely support the Home Secretary in what she is trying to do, but these children are invisible—that is a feature of how this crime works, but it is also a feature of many of the systems they are put through when they come to this country. Children who are going through the immigration process are often not seen as children first, but as immigrants, trafficking victims, criminals or perpetrators. I have come across many children who were picked up in cannabis factories, one of whom was then prosecuted for the most unbelievable offence of circumventing electricity—I did not even know that was a crime. That tells us how far we have to go; it was recognised that this young man was a child, yet he was still going through a court process when myself and Chris Beddoe, a fantastic champion for children, who was at ECPAT UK at that time, came across him. Children are so invisible through this process and I say to the Minister that this Bill compounds that, not on purpose, but by accident, for all the reasons I have outlined.
As someone who has worked in this field for such a long time, I know that there have been many missed opportunities to get this right for children. I am concerned that there are children who have not yet been trafficked but who will be, because this is the sort of crime that continues day after day, year after year. There are children somewhere in the world to whom this is about to happen. If we get this Bill right, these perpetrators will be brought to justice, but if we get it wrong perhaps they never will be. Everyone in this House needs to think about that when we scrutinise the Bill. When I say to the Minister that a series of things are fundamentally wrong with the Bill, I say it in that spirit: we have a golden opportunity now to get it right for some of those brave, brave children who are going through this at the moment or who will go through this in the future. I know they will survive it and come out of it, because I have seen so many of them come through it, fight it and change their lives and those of so many others because of their bravery. But if we do not get this right for children, what an opportunity we will have missed.
Lisa Nandy speaks with both experience and passion, and highlights a number of harrowing cases involving children. I welcome this Bill because it consolidates the legislation, addressing a number of the cases she mentions. But it does more than that: it sends a powerful signal from the Home Secretary and the Prime Minister of the importance of this issue to the Government, and today’s debate shows the importance that Parliament attaches to it on a cross -party basis. May I take the opportunity to join other Members in paying tribute to the work of Mr Field, who chaired the Joint Committee, and of others on that Committee? They produced a good report, and I hope that the passage of the Bill will provide an opportunity for some of its recommendations, particularly those relating to the supply chain, to be given further consideration.
I wish to pick up on a point highlighted by my hon. Friend Tracey Crouch about the remit of the anti-slavery commissioner. The appointment will be a welcome one, and one understands the logic behind the narrow focus given to the post. I believe the Minister said that the Government were hoping that the appointment would put a rocket up the role of the law enforcement agencies. In part 3 of the Bill, clauses 35 and 36, the remit of the anti-slavery commissioner is defined quite narrowly when it comes to working with law enforcement agencies and I wish to highlight a number of practical areas where that remit might impose restrictions that I doubt would be the will of the House.
Housing legislation often requires private prosecutions to be brought against a landlord. It is well known that those who are trafficked are often trafficked into squalid accommodation—often houses in multiple occupation. It is beyond reason to expect the victims of trafficking, who often do not speak English, do not have financial means and do not understand the English court process, to initiate private prosecutions against their landlord. Instead, we need to have a vehicle whereby referrals can be made by the police to a statutory body in order to take forward those prosecutions on behalf of the victims. It strikes me that the commissioner would be well placed to be the repository for such referrals, so that if you become aware of victims in squalid housing in your constituency, Madam Deputy Speaker, the anti-slavery commissioner has a remit to take up those cases, which would often currently fall outside the express powers of law enforcement agencies.
There is a second area where there are gaps in the existing powers of law enforcement agencies and where the commissioner would be working with them. Although a new commissioner will redefine the role—I am sure that if the commissioner were someone of the calibre of Baroness Butler-Sloss, they would redefine it more broadly —we must remember that bodies such as the Gangmasters Licensing Authority are resource restrained and do not have many of the powers they should have. In Westminster Hall debates in June 2012 and 2013, I highlighted the fact that the GLA has no powers to issue civil fines—civil penalties. I was particularly pleased that the Migration Advisory Committee report earlier this year stated that there are insufficient resources devoted to key regulatory bodies such as the GLA. So this issue has been around for some time and it remains unclear, within the narrow definition in clauses 35 and 36, the extent to which the commissioner will proactively be able to champion the addressing of some of those deficiencies, which have been known to Ministers for some time but have still not been fixed.
Clause 37 allows the commissioner to
“request a specified public authority to co-operate”.
That is a very welcome addition to the Bill, but it is silent on the interaction between the commissioner and companies. Let me give just a few examples. I am reliably informed that in my constituency there are agencies where multiple payments to workers are paid into the same bank account. That would be a relatively easy issue for a bank to address, as it could easily conduct checks that would pick up such payments, but at the moment no such pilots are doing so. I would expect the commissioner to be proactive in that space, working with the banks.
Likewise, letting agencies will often let multiple properties to the same individual. The commissioner should be collecting data on that from letting agencies and should have the power to compel letting agencies to collect such data. Yet letting agencies are clearly not public authorities and so public authorities will not have those data, which should alert law enforcement agencies to where the HMOs are and where the high-risk houses are. We also know that many vulnerable people are paid in cash, and so existing minimum wage legislation is not being complied with because automatic deductions are made at source. Again, the commissioner’s role in ensuring that, across government, other Departments are enforcing legislation extends beyond the narrow remit set out in clauses 35 and 36.
All that speaks to a wider point. Although I am sure it is the Government’s intention for the commissioner to have a wider remit in terms of other Departments, at the moment there is a gap in knowledge. Let me give an example from my local schools. When a child is absent from school and the school becomes aware of difficulties, its natural first response is to go to social services, and that puts pressure on the parents. The first response of schools is not to think that the parents have been trafficked and need support, or that that those children are in a HMO. They do not think about the need to address the trafficking as opposed to addressing the fact that the parents are failing. Likewise general practitioners have access to information that should be alerting the law enforcement authorities, but many GPs are not trained to recognise the warning signs they should be picking up when it comes to getting those data and sharing them with the police.
Let me provide an example from my constituency. Cambridgeshire police had great difficulty getting any information on people with injuries as a result of violence from accident and emergency in King’s Lynn. Such information could have alerted them to problems in areas such as Wisbech, but issues of data protection and patient confidentiality were quoted at them. It became difficult for them to act on behalf of victims because of the silos in which the Government were operating. The commissioner’s role in looking at that data and at working with the Department for Education and the Department of Health is extremely important.
We should also extend our consideration to the practice in our courts. A number of Members have focused on how we support victims once they have been identified. At the moment a gap exists from the end of the 40 days in which people are protected through the national referral mechanism and the date of the trial. During that gap period people often find that they face intimidation, which puts the trials at risk. They are also subject to the risk of further exploitation. I am keen to hear what we can do, in conjunction with the Ministry of Justice, to fast-track the trials so that we reduce the risk of the trial being prejudiced. There will be those who will naturally be fearful of giving evidence, fearful of the language difficulties and fearful of the different court system. We must consider how we speed up the process to reduce the risk of the prosecution being thwarted.
Finally, the international remit of the ombudsman is flagged up in the very good report from the Joint Committee. Let me explain why that international remit matters. People come to the Cambridgeshire fens to work in the agricultural sector and they are often promised jobs that simply do not exist. We can go on the internet and see adverts for jobs with recruitment agencies that have already been closed down. The Gangmasters Licensing
Authority closed down those recruitment agencies and removed their licences, but jobs with those firms are still being advertised in countries such as Latvia. That is creating a pipeline of victims who are being brought into the country on false promises of a job that does not exist and of good accommodation that turns out to be squalid. They then quickly get into debt, which triggers the exploitation. The international remit of the commissioner is particularly important in addressing these fake adverts, which is why I hope that that recommendation will be taken forward.
This is an excellent Bill. It shows the Government’s commitment to tackling the problems of the most vulnerable in our society. I hope that, with the help of the right hon. Member for Birkenhead, some of the recommendations from the report will be taken on board as the Bill progresses through the House.
Like other Members, I commend both the Home Secretary on prioritising and championing this legislation, and the Government on providing the House with the opportunity to grapple with a problem that transcends any single Department. I share the comments made by Stephen Barclay about the need for joined-up action across Government.
The question before us today is how best to legislate in order to achieve the outcome that we all want to see. We need to look honestly at the Bill and address its weaknesses. Without such action, we will fail to meet the challenge set by Mel Stride when he said that he wanted this legislation to put us in the vanguard of fighting modern slavery.
Many hon. Members have said that victims must be at the centre of our response to modern slavery, and that is clearly right because they are at the centre of the crime. But experts in the field are clear that any effective response must address what my hon. Friend Fiona Mactaggart called, “the three Ps”—to prevent such action being exacted against another human being, to protect victims and provide remedy and restitution to those who have been harmed, and to prosecute those who have committed such acts. We need to be clear that without all three, any attempt to solve the problem will fall short. The weakness of the legislation is that the Home Secretary has apparently thought long and hard about the third pillar, which is prosecution, but has given insufficient attention to the first and second pillars, prevention and protection, on which this Bill has too little to say.
A number of Members, including my hon. Friend the Member for Slough, have talked strongly and passionately about the protections and assistance that victims require, and that is right, but I want to focus my remarks on the first of the three fronts on which modern day slavery must be fought, and that is prevention.
Prevention is included in this Bill only where a crime has already been committed, or a person is suspected of having committed a crime of slavery or human trafficking. The proposed slavery and trafficking prevention orders and slavery and trafficking risk orders in clauses 15 and 23 will enable the courts to place restrictions on the activities of those who have been convicted, or those who have been involved in an offence, but not convicted.
I acknowledge that those are positive measures, but surely they are too late to count as true prevention because, by definition, prevention stops an act from happening at all.
It is widely recognised that prevention requires a strong labour inspection system as a first line of defence against exploitation in the employment market. Experts in this area, including Focus on Labour Exploitation, of which I am a board member, are clear that effective monitoring and enforcement of labour standards is key to preventing acts of trafficking for labour exploitation. Indeed, many cases of labour exploitation have been uncovered in high-risk sectors such as agriculture and food processing by the Gangmasters Licensing Authority. For example, in the case of DJ Houghton Ltd, 29 Lithuanian men were found to have been treated like slaves. They were used to catch free range chickens for one of the UK’s largest processers of eggs and chickens. I am talking not about small players, but major companies.
Following its UK country visit in September 2012, the Council of Europe group of experts on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings advised the UK Government to
“step up their efforts to discourage demand for the services of trafficked persons...through strengthening the role of labour inspections.”
I welcome the fact that just last month, the UK Government voted in favour of a new protocol and recommendation to the Forced Labour Convention at the International Labour Congress that called for improved labour inspections. The Government themselves were acknowledging that that was an essential prerequisite. They also called for an enforcement of labour law as a key prevention measure. This is the elephant in the room with regard to the Government’ approach to modern slavery, because the same Government who are seeking to tackle this issue have launched a comprehensive attack on labour inspectorates; limited labour inspections; and, in their eagerness to slash red tape, removed vital protections for workers.
In a report published only today, the Government’s own Migration Advisory Committee has highlighted this issue as a major problem. It has said that, because of the resources that are available to pursue this essential work, employers can expect a minimum wage compliance visit once every 250 years, and, at the current rate, face prosecution once every million years. That is the Government’s own committee.
The Health and Safety Executive has had its funding reduced by 35% and has reduced its proactive inspections by one third since 2011. Cases opened by the national minimum wage inspectorate have fallen from a peak of 4,773 in 2007-08 to 1,615 in 2012-13 and, as we know, there are very few criminal prosecutions for failure to pay the minimum wage—only one in 2010-11 and one in 2012-13.
Does what my hon. Friend said earlier about the actual prosecution rate not give a new meaning to “a millennium goal”?
I could not have put it better myself, and I thank my right hon. Friend for his timely intervention and for all his work on this issue, for which he has won respect from those on both sides of the House.
It is all well and good for the Government to announce increases in fines for non-payment of the national wage, but without enforcement those increased fines exist only on paper. Instead of reforming the employment agency standards inspectorate, the Government effectively disbanded it in all but name in July 2013.
Modern-day slavery thrives in the UK, feeding off victims’ vulnerability, dependency and marginalisation. Victims are coerced through physical means, including violence, and more commonly through psychological means, including the abuse of power, deception and threats, as many Members have highlighted. Exploiters use vague employment relationships and arrangements as well as hidden costs, fees and debts owed by workers to trap people in precarious situations, preying on the vulnerability that pervades high-risk employment sectors.
Let me give another example. As we know, increasing numbers of construction workers in this country face the problem of false self-employment. Although the construction work force has been falling, the Union of Construction, Allied Trades and Technicians reports that the number of self-employed workers in construction rose by 37,000 between 2009-10 and 2011-12. It estimates that about half of those are falsely self-employed. That precarious employment status leaves construction workers extremely vulnerable to abuse, as employers are absolved of responsibility for their employment rights and entitlements. Despite recognising that false self-employment is a problem, the Government have reduced safety protections for two thirds of all self-employed workers.
I urge the Home Secretary to consider extending the remit of the Gangmasters Licensing Authority into industries such as construction. Hospitality, care and cleaning are vital sectors, as they are industries where there is a high risk of forced labour and exploitation that particularly affects women.
As I said earlier, the Home Secretary deserves credit for pushing the issue of modern-day slavery to the front of the political agenda, but political decisions taken elsewhere in Government will determine whether she is successful. However well meaning her intentions, the good work in the Bill risks being undermined by the Government’s consistent attack on employee rights and protections. It is disingenuous of the Government to say that they are combating modern slavery with one hand while the other hand is actively promoting the conditions under which that slavery can take root.
Worker protections have been sacrificed through measures introduced by the Government such as reduced health and safety reporting requirements, limits on health and safety protections for self-employed workers and the introduction of fees for employment tribunals. The enforcement of GLA licence violations has been undermined by the light sentences awarded in many labour exploitation cases. Offenders receive only small fines, convictions without punishment or suspended sentences and too often victims receive no remedies.
The prevention of modern-day slavery means ensuring that the cracks in our labour protection framework that permit widespread abuse against global workers are closed. To do that, we need an effective labour inspectorate that engages with workers to gather vital intelligence about those who exploit their vulnerabilities. We need a strengthened and adequately resourced GLA, acting as an intelligence gathering and enforcement agency with a remit extended to high-risk sectors such as construction, hospitality, care and cleaning. We need a GLA that can enforce unpaid wages and other payments due to workers to ensure employment law is effective in practice. Finally, we need a GLA that sits within the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, not the Home Office, with employment law enforcement rather than border control as its key priority.
I hope that the Home Secretary will work with Members on both sides of the House and organisations external to the House that want to strengthen the Bill in that regard. However, the debate in which the Home Secretary needs to engage most pertinently is not the one taking place in this Chamber but the one with her Cabinet colleagues whose agenda on labour market reform and red-tape cutting has directly undermined her attempts to address modern slavery with this Bill.
It is a pleasure to follow Paul Blomfield, particularly given his early remarks about the preventive work that needs to take place not just through this Bill but beyond it. Once reporting mechanisms are in place, perhaps we will have an opportunity to return to the issue in the House. Once we have taken the golden opportunity we have now to get the law right and make it effective, we should ensure that we continue the drive to eradicate modern slavery in this country and across all shores.
Like the whole House, I welcome this landmark Bill. As has been said, it follows in the footsteps of William Wilberforce, Thomas Clarkson, Thomas Buxton, Hannah More and others. It is a pleasure to be part of a Government who are leading the way in this and I commend the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary for that.
It is also pertinent to recognise that this landmark Bill follows cases that have taken place over the years, not least one that occurred in my constituency. On
From 2004 onwards, those girls tried unsuccessfully to get support from Enfield social services and from police officers. One said:
“It took all the courage I had to walk into Southgate police station and Enfield Social Services to ask for help in 2004 but they sent me back to my abusers and...blamed me.”
The case finally received court attention and the landmark ruling on the failure to investigate led to their receiving £20,000 in compensation. That is also something that we need to address seriously.
In September 2007—this issue has been picked up by others, showing the wide-reaching concern in this regard—Judge Herbert considered the initial immigration decision to deport those children, against which a successful appeal was granted, and found breaches of articles 2, 3, 4 and 8 of the European convention. Even though that is an historical case, it is relevant as we need to ensure that, in enacting this Bill, we learn the lessons from the past. His judgment said:
“At present we deport far more victims of trafficking and abuse than we prosecute traffickers. In this climate victims will simply not come forward.”
It also said:
“The cycle of deception and abuse will continue and we as a society will fail those children and undermine our immigration system as a whole.”
He went on to say:
“There would appear to be many children that remain in slavery in London, and in abusive conditions who are simply unaccounted for by any agency voluntary or otherwise.”
That was in December 2007 and there was no investigation by the time of the final landmark judgment in December 2008. We need to hear those words clearly and ensure that we are not letting down those children. We must not fail them. Such cases continue in Enfield, in London and more widely in our constituencies. We need to provide for accountability, enforcement and protection of victims.
I recognise that progress has been made. Since 2009 there has been the national referral mechanism, which has gone a long way towards identifying and protecting victims. In that regard I particularly welcome clause 44, which contains the important duty to notify the National Crime Agency about suspected victims of slavery and human trafficking. We should look carefully at the interim reports to see what further progress is needed to ensure that what happened in Southgate in north London, and in other constituencies, cannot happen again.
Sadly, we do not need to rely on historical cases to appreciate the scale and depth of modern slavery, and the scale and depth of depravity. Last week, in the case to which the Home Secretary referred, Vishal Chaudhary was sentenced to 31 years for trafficking more than 100 women to Britain. The victims came from Hungary and had answered job advertisements online for administrative, cleaning and babysitting work. Women were picked up from Stansted airport and delivered to brothels in north London, including in the borough of Enfield in my constituency. They were forced to have sex with up to 20 men a day and were raped repeatedly for profit. There was a call centre operating from Hendon. Women were treated as no more than a commodity. They were used, abused, punished and discarded. The business generated hundreds of thousands of pounds and a luxury lifestyle which led, thankfully, to rightful conviction—31 years in prison for the perpetrator—and a compensation order.
People such as the perpetrator in that case are vermin and we must bear down on them. They live a life of luxury, whether in this country or abroad, and we need to hunt them down wherever they are. We can do that through financial and other means. That is why I particularly welcome the provision in the Bill to ensure that we do that and that the proceeds of crime go directly to the victims. That reparation needs to be real and long lasting in order to recognise the physical and psychological impact of such abuse, particularly on women, although there are male victims as well.
The health impact is profound and enduring. Most trafficked women—eight out of 10—have been physically assaulted. Victims have been kicked while pregnant, burned with cigarettes, had their heads slammed against the floor or the walls, hit with bats or other objects, dragged across rooms by their hair, punched in the face, and more besides. In addition, they have suffered sexual violence and threats to themselves and their family. It is hardly surprising that 70% of women who have been trafficked in that way have mental health problems that go on and on, beyond the reach of statutory and voluntary services. They have multiple psychological issues that affect them probably for life. We must ensure that reparation goes to the heart of these concerns—to health impacts that continue year in, year out. I pay tribute to the many charities engaged in working with those victims across our constituencies.
Clearly, there are individual stories behind the statistics, but it should be recognised that the number of children in the UK identified as having been trafficked for sexual abuse has more than doubled in the past year. With children as young as 3 being trafficked into the United Kingdom for sexual exploitation, it is obvious that we need to do more to drive out the traffickers and support victims.
I commend the Bill and the work that has been done, and will continue to be done, beyond legislation by organisations such as the Salvation Army, Stop the Traffik and Hope for Justice, which yesterday reminded me of its work in partnership with the police. Such partnership work has improved over the years and helps to bring about successful prosecutions, such as the case I mentioned. A recent case in which Hope for Justice was involved was that of a gang that was forcing men and women into labour. They hung those people in front of a crowd, treating human beings like pieces of meat and telling them that if they escaped, they would be killed. The gang had no regard for human life. The victims worked 20 hours a day, seven days a week, they were beaten, their food was withheld, and they lived with 15 or so people crammed into a room. We must do all we can for such victims.
That is why it is right that a key aim of the Bill is to increase successful prosecutions. More needs to happen in relation to modern slavery, but crucially we as legislators can ensure that the law is effective. Hope for Justice said that successful prosecutions, of which there have not been enough, will make it clear that modern slavery is not tolerated in this country. Law enforcement is a crucial tool through which police investigations and prosecutions can effectively prevent modern slavery. There is no better place for prevention to happen than in the courtroom. Ensuring that that happens effectively enforces the law and, crucially, gives protection for the most vulnerable in its reach.
There is clear evidence of that internationally. I commend International Justice Mission for its work across many countries. It cites the example of the Philippines, where the partnership work between the police, prosecution authorities, local law enforcement agencies and local organisations in strengthening victim aftercare and representation, ensuring cases are properly heard, has led to a dramatic reduction of 79% in trafficking.
The United Kingdom can take a lead, as the Home Secretary said, in tackling modern slavery globally. That means cross-Government work involving the Department for International Development and building capacity in justice systems worldwide. When laws are enforced, it is clear across countries that trafficking is reduced. Increased commitment in the justice system leads to an increase in victim services, shelter, counselling and the wrap-around care that is needed. Effective prosecution must be part of that integrated plan to combat modern slavery.
As has been mentioned, preventive measures, the rescue of victims in which many charities are involved, the prosecution of perpetrators and the care of victims must all come together. The Bill does not seek to do that. It seeks to hold to account the perpetrators and to bring together the disparate laws to make prosecution effective. We will no doubt debate that in Committee.
I am not convinced of the need for a specific child trafficking offence. There is existing legislation that can be properly enforced. Although the Bill goes a stage further with revision, it recognises the relevance and the aggravating factor of age. We must ensure that there are no unintended consequences, as I know from my own experience—I declare an interest as a criminal defence solicitor. We need to avoid problems for both the defence and the prosecution. We should be razor sharp in ensuring that this is an effective piece of legislation.
We all talk about sending messages through the legislation that we pass. We must avoid the trap of this becoming a Christmas tree Bill that sends different messages to groups, non-governmental organisations and others. We must respect their lobbying and their concerns, but we must also be sure that the Bill gets the law effective and right, and that when cases come to court, the prosecutions can go through to protect the victims.
I welcome part 3 of the Bill on the anti-slavery commissioner and its focus on best practice in law enforcement, extending the remit to identification of victims and, crucially, co-operation and working closely with national and international partners. I shall wish to explore, perhaps in Committee, the value of greater independence and accountability. For example, ECPAT has said of the Finnish national rapporteur that
“Independence, autonomy and transparency are vital requirements for discharging the Rapporteur’s duties.”
Of the Dutch national rapporteur ECPAT again said:
“A precondition to the success of the role … has been its independence.”
Part 4 of the Bill is also very welcome. I congratulate the Joint Committee on its work, which has led to part 4. I welcome the introduction of child trafficking advocates and look forward to seeing the progress of the pilot led by Barnardo’s. I know that clause 41 is an enabling clause. I will be looking for a firmer commitment to the principle of child advocacy, which should not be contingent on the success of Barnardo’s. Members across the House wish to see that principle enshrined as a statutory principle. I will be looking at “may” becoming “shall” in clause 41. A guarantee of real, crucial independence of advocacy has been found to work well and to be best practice. We must break the cycle of repetitive victimisation, abuse and exploitation of children supposedly in the care of authorities.
I look forward to the enactment of the Bill next year —2015. It is an appropriate year, 800 years after the signing of the Magna Carta, as we celebrate the rule of law as a foundation of our democracy. We want to see the Bill ensure that the victims of modern slavery benefit from the rule of law. If the rule of law is effective, it protects citizens from being enslaved. That is a crucial principle at the heart of the Bill. Let us unite across the House in the remainder of the Parliament to ensure that the law is as effective as it possibly can be for victims. Let us also take heed of what is written in the Bible, which is what we want to follow—let us see the captive set free.
It has been a pleasure to sit here listening to the debate, not just for the quality of the speeches, though one would expect Fiona Mactaggart to give a commanding performance. The real pleasure for me has been looking at the Government Whip, who has had to take refuge, quite understandably. As the debate has gone on, the Government Whip has become greyer and greyer. I thought that, while we would put up a good fight in this House to amend and strengthen the Bill, the main changes would happen in the other place. After listening to the unprompted interventions and speeches, it has become clear that the Government will be hard pressed to hold the line they have drawn in the Bill that they have submitted for Second Reading. There will be a clear choice for the Home Secretary to make. Does she wish the Bill to remain her Bill, or will it become a Bill that the House begins to fashion in its own likeness? I will come back to that.
I see a Whip leaving the Chamber now. I hope that she is off to one of the places where this message needs to go—No. 10. It will be hard pressed to resist the changes the Home Secretary wants the House to make to the Bill before it leaves us and goes to the other place. I wish her well taking that message. I know that, in her own style, she will make the case we are making here.
Like others, I want to put on record the basis for my interest in this topic. It is the person who is sitting in the Box below the Gallery, Anthony Steen. I would not have been committed—
Order. We should not mention people in the Box, as much as we are tempted, and as great as the man that he mentioned may be.
I accept that I cannot mention the great man in the Box, at whom we are now all looking. Convention prevents me from drawing attention to his presence there or even to the fact that elsewhere, outside the Box, he is known as Anthony Steen. For it is he who ignited my interest in this area. Several hon. Members, including Mel Stride, made that point very effectively. In many ways, when he left this House he took out to the wider world the candle that he lit in this Chamber. To all intents and purposes, it is his Bill that we are debating today: no Anthony Steen, no Bill.
However, Anthony Steen is not the only person who ought to be thanked on the record. The hon. Member for Central Devon drew attention to how quickly the debate has progressed here. It has done so because of three women, the first of whom is Philippa Stroud. I can mention her because she is not in the Box, Mr Deputy Speaker. When she was at the Centre for Social Justice she decided that this topic ought to be investigated and initiated the inquiry that led to the report “It Happens Here”. She is a parent of the Bill. She convinced Fiona Cunningham, who was then the Home Secretary’s political adviser, that this was an important topic in its own right and one for which the Home Secretary ought to win time from her colleagues for a new Bill. Anybody who knows how Parliaments progress knows that, as a Parliament reaches its conclusion, parliamentary time becomes not easier but more difficult to command. We therefore naturally applaud the Home Secretary’s decision —for she is of course the third person. Philippa’s work, Fiona’s work, the work of the all-party group and the work of the person we cannot mention in this Chamber would have come to naught had the Home Secretary not made the crucial decision that there should be a Modern Slavery Bill. Although she has had to go to other meetings, she will take great heart from the fact that in two areas on which she has not been totally happy with the Bill as introduced—I think it is reasonable to say that—she will probably get her way.
Will the right hon. Gentleman join me in saying a word of thanks and gratitude to all the volunteers, whether they be church groups, individuals or community associations across this great kingdom, who have supported and pushed the Bill, giving it unstoppable momentum?
Indeed. The Bill is extraordinary because, when I first came to the House, I would have thought that if anyone was going to push, mould and lead public opinion and galvanise the numbers who have come to lobby us, it would be the trade unions. I remember a day quite early in my parliamentary career when the Churches had their first lobby on overseas aid. I went down St Stephen’s steps with a new Conservative Member, and before us was a mass of people who not only filled the area in front of St Stephen’s entrance but went along the road, over Lambeth bridge and back towards the hospital. I saw that younger Conservative Member thinking, “Wow! If the Churches can turn out in these numbers, they are clearly able to fight and punch way beyond the weight of Sunday attendance.” I willingly pay tribute to the role the Churches have played in helping to push this issue up the political agenda.
There are two issues on which I thought we would have to wait for decisive action in the other place, but I now think that we might get that action in this House. I am sure the Whips have taken back the message that the membership of the Committee now has to be even more controlled than normal; otherwise, the Government will lose control of the Bill in Committee. We might be able to take action on Report, when the results of the Committee’s deliberations come back to the Floor of the House.
Two areas of concern have been expressed. On children, Mr Burrowes did not say it, but when push comes to shove it is clear where his vote will be on this golden opportunity we are being offered to make not a really good Bill but a world -leading Bill—his colleagues might be with him on that. Similarly, the hon. Members for Cambridge (Dr Huppert) and for Central Devon mentioned supply chains, which is the second issue. Of course we will be clever and not rub the Prime Minister’s nose in it. We want merely to make a small addition to the Companies Act 2006, under which companies have to report on human rights. Would it not clarify matters if we said that companies also have to report on modern slavery?
Indeed, as the Bill proceeds and more owners of industry in this country realise the risk to which they are exposed through their supply chains, they will be the ones who say to the Prime Minister, “We want the protection of the criminal law. We do not wish, by inaction on our part, to be indicted for this most heinous crime of not paying the attention we should have paid, so far as possible, to clearing our supply chains of human slavery. We want to be able to stand up in court and say that we have fulfilled, in both the letter and the spirit of the law, what the British Parliament has laid down as our responsibility. We stand bravely in the accuser’s box to make our plea.”
The main point I wish to make is that although progress has been made very quickly—the Centre for Social Justice published its report only last Easter and already we have a Bill that is well on its parliamentary way, and well on its way to being improved still further—the truth is that much of the heavy lifting will have to be accomplished later. I am talking about the victims. We have a victim-centred Bill, but none of us should underestimate how big the job will be to try to repair some of the damage that victims have suffered as a result of by being enslaved, either in this country or elsewhere.
The all-party group on hunger and food poverty heard evidence on Monday from Jack Monroe, and it was immensely moving. She has a huge talent for the English language, yet even she had difficulty telling us how broken she had felt when having to feed her child from a food bank. Even now when she hears an unexpected rap at the door, she fears that it is the bailiff or a man coming to cut off her electricity or evict her from her home, even though she is now in calmer territory. If that can happen to someone in this country as a result of being subjected to hunger, it will take more than 45 days to make amends to people who have been broken and humiliated by the experience of being enslaved.
Therefore, we should go joyfully to the task of strengthening the Home Secretary’s hand and fulfilling her wish that this should be a world-leading Bill. As has been said, this could be one of the greatest issues for the Commonwealth since the fight against apartheid, giving it real purpose and the opportunity to change the world. However, let us not kid ourselves. Once the Bill is through and the Home Secretary has got her way, we will face the huge task of not only rescuing enslaved people, as the hon. Member for Enfield, Southgate said, but trying to put them back together again after being so abused by the wicked slave owners who until now have operated all too freely in our country.
It is a pleasure to follow Mr Field, and indeed all the right hon. and hon. Members who have spoken so well in this important debate. It is truly shocking that more than 200 years after William Wilberforce abolished both the slave trade and slavery throughout the British empire, we are back in the House of Commons having to enact a Modern Slavery Bill, because not only has the job not been done, but slavery around the world is worse today than it has ever been. The issue is at one and the same time completely global and very local. We have heard my hon. Friend Mr Burrowes talk about a shocking case in his constituency, and I will describe an example of modern slavery in my constituency later in my remarks.
When we consider how modern slavery is allowed to happen, we need to keep two words at the front of our minds: violence and fear. Wherever there is modern slavery, forced labour, domestic servitude or people caught in the sex trade, we find violence and fear. That is how the slave traders maintain their hold over their victims, often for many years and sometimes for many decades.
If we look at the global nature of this issue, we will see that, in the 400 years or so that the slave trade was in operation, some 11 million slaves were taken from Africa to be traded across the north Atlantic and elsewhere. Today there are a number of different estimates, but, given the nature of the issue, it is impossible to get accurate figures. In his book “The Locust Effect”, which was published this year, Gary Haugen, who heads up the International Justice Mission, estimates that some 27 million people are in slavery today around the world. That is well over twice the number of slaves taken out of Africa over a 400-year period. On the money made from this evil business, if we look at forced labour alone, Mr Haugen estimates a profit of some £7 billion accruing to the slave traders.
We need to think about where slavery is most prevalent in our world, in order to get an idea of its scale not only in the United Kingdom, which is the focus of this Bill, but in a global context. “The Global Slavery Index 2013”, published by the Walk Free Foundation, which is well thought of by President Clinton and former Prime Minister Tony Blair, among others, estimates that there are 14 million slaves in India—by far the biggest figure—and 7 million in Pakistan, with 1 million in the brick factories of Pakistan alone. It names China and Nigeria in third and fourth positions respectively. Other countries are mentioned, including Mauritania, which is the country with the highest proportion of its population—about 4%—in slavery. That gives a bit of context.
Around the world—in India and elsewhere—very few investigations and prosecutions are taking place, which is what happens when a country does not have a properly functioning criminal justice and law enforcement system. We must never take such matters for granted in our country, and I do not think our own international development work will be successful unless we put more effort into helping those countries to which we are sending UK aid to develop their own criminal justice and law enforcement systems.
To return to the United Kingdom—as I know you want me to do, Mr Deputy Speaker—I welcome the Bill and commend the Home Secretary and the Minister for introducing it. The new prevention orders, the establishment of the anti-slavery commissioner and the protective measure of a statutory defence for victims of slavery or trafficking are all welcome, and the child trafficking advocates are also an important addition to our armoury.
I know that the Government will reflect in a mature and sensible way on what is said in Committee. In their response to the pre-legislative scrutiny, the Government said on the issue of supply chains:
“We intend to build on the existing legislative framework, and work with business to establish what more can be done…and develop an evidence base on best practice.”
That is an open and excellent attitude to take.
In my own constituency early one September morning in 2011, 200 police officers from Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire turned up at a Traveller site just south of Leighton Buzzard and liberated 24 people who had been kept in slavery. Some of them had been there for 15 years or more. The youngest—one of my constituents—was only 17; I think that the oldest was 57. Of those 24, 18 were British citizens.
The victims had been picked up in the most appalling and callous ways imaginable. Many of them had been in homeless shelters or soup kitchens, and one had been about to commit suicide. They were promised friendship, work, accommodation and food, but of course none of those things materialised. The regime was very brutal. When they arrived, their heads were shaved, just as happened in the concentration camps. They were made to get up at 5 am every morning, and they worked all day on block paving and other manual and construction work. Indeed, some of them were trafficked from the United Kingdom to work in Scandinavia.
I commend Bedfordshire police for the effort they put in—they assembled 200 officers on a Sunday morning, which no police force does lightly—but the effort was more than justified, and what it managed to achieve was excellent.
After Bedfordshire police acted to take those people into safety, did they ensure that they had someone they could trust to look after them carefully, with their best interests in mind, because that is the real spirit of the Bill? Once we identify people in slavery, we have a real duty to look after them properly, care about them and put them back into society balanced and happy.
My hon. and gallant Friend is absolutely right. I can reassure him that the victims were placed in the very capable hands of the Salvation Army in Bedford, and they were very well looked after. I have since met several of the victims. Indeed, some of them came to this House and saw the exhibition in the Upper Waiting Hall organised by Anthony Steen and others. There are some good news stories, in that some of the victims are very well integrated back into society, and are free from the terrible experiences that they went through.
On the issue of reparation, which has been talked about today, I am pleased that the Government said in their response to the pre-legislative scrutiny report that they are committed to quicker and easier reparation. I want such reparations to go to the victims of crime, but I ask the Government to think about how we can get some of the money to the police forces that have undertaken major operations. It is not cheap to send in 200 police officers early on a Sunday morning, given the overtime costs involved. If we made sure that the police gained from slave traders’ illicit profits, that would encourage more chief constables and perhaps more police and crime commissioners to be more willing to commit significant numbers of officers to stamp out the appalling crime that we are all trying to get rid of.
Within Bedfordshire, we have Bedfordshire Against Modern Slavery, which was set up by an excellent councillor, Kristy Adams. I suggest that hon. Members try to encourage some form of grass-roots movement in their areas to combat modern slavery, working alongside the police, the courts, the local authority and central Government. We all have to be involved in this issue together, and the public need to be the eyes and ears of the police. For 15 years or so in my constituency, people worked openly in the community, block paving people’s drives. Did none of the customers of the block paving firm using these slaves think that something was wrong? I think that if people had been slightly more aware and had reported their suspicions to the police, we could have broken this evil slave ring much earlier. The public therefore have a role.
Businesses also have a role, and all decent businesses will of course want to make sure that their supply chains are free of any slave-traded products. The courts and the local authorities have a role to play. We have not heard much about police and crime commissioners, but they are key people up and down our country who have an important influence on how the police spend their time and what they prioritise. Perhaps the sad truth is that police and crime commissioners perceive that there may not be many votes in targeting resources at the issue. Perhaps organisations such as Bedfordshire Against Modern Slavery have a role in ensuring that police and crime commissioners know that the public, as well as Members of Parliament, care about the issue. We want the police to be fully involved.
I pay tribute to the many organisations outside the House that do amazing work to keep the subject on the agenda. The International Justice Mission does that amazing work around the world in mounting prosecutions in many countries where law enforcement is frankly not up to the mark. It has been responsible for liberating many people. Its UK chairman, Raj Parker, and Terry Tennens, its chief executive, deserve credit. Members of Hope for Justice were in the Palace of Westminster only last night, briefing MPs. They estimate that we have 10,000 victims of modern slavery here in the UK. Of course, it is incredibly difficult to get accurate figures—we simply do not know—but that is a shockingly large number, even though it is much smaller than in other countries. Finally, there is the Human Trafficking Foundation and Anthony Steen, who has been mentioned. To me, he is a modern, mini Wilberforce. Many of us are grateful to him for his continued efforts in this campaign, in which we are all united.
It is the done thing when one rises to speak to say that the previous speakers have been excellent. However, that is true of today’s debate. It is always difficult to single people out, but I worked with my hon. Friend Lisa Nandy in the previous Session. She had worked for the Children’s Society and is obviously knowledgeable and passionate. During an event at the Labour party conference she introduced me to some children who were in a vulnerable position, and I know just how much she cares about the issue. The Home Office should listen to what she has to say from that front-line perspective of working with children who have been affected by such issues.
As Andrew Selous said, it is shocking that we are discussing this measure so many years after the House debated the abolition of the slave trade and then the abolition of slavery. I represent one of the seats in Bristol, which of course has a historical connection with the slave trade. I was recently at a memorial for Tony Benn in the John Wesley chapel, the oldest Methodist building in the world, in the city centre. We were told that when John Wesley preached in the pulpit against slavery, riots were instigated by congregations of the other churches, which had been built by the slave traders, and very much supported the slave trade. As I said in my maiden speech, the church of St Mary Redcliffe rang the bells when the first attempts in Parliament to abolish the slave trade failed because the congregation thought that it was a good thing for the city.
Although we are very aware of the legacy, many people in Bristol would be unaware of the extent to which slavery still exists in this country. There was a horrifying case in the Bristol papers last month, when we found that people had been victims of modern slavery on our doorstep. Avon and Somerset police secured the conviction of a woman, who was sentenced for only three years, which is probably on the lenient side, for human trafficking and forced labour. She had lured 11 known victims from Lithuania to work for a pittance in Bristol. We were not sure whether they were told that they would have to pay for their travel, but the cost was deducted from their wages, which were much lower than the minimum wage, and their rent was deducted. They were not quite kept captive, but they were locked in the building without keys and could come and go only through windows. Their job was to collect those charity bags that are often delivered through doors and people are asked to leave them out filled with clothes. They were definitely exploited. They were not paid at all. If they asked for the wages they had been promised, they were threatened with eviction. As I said, the woman responsible has just been given a soft sentence of just three years. Only last week, we heard that four men were arrested in Cardiff and Bristol as part of another long-running police investigation into forced labour.
The Lithuanian case came to light after social services contacted the police. I congratulate the local agencies on bringing that case and securing the conviction. Some of the victims are being helped by the Salvation Army, as the victims were in the case highlighted by the hon. Member for South West Bedfordshire. The local police and crime commissioner has told me that Avon and Somerset police are focusing on increasing their intelligence picture and training staff to improve the response to human trafficking. They are working with Unseen UK. Many Members who have taken an interest in the debate will be aware of that charity—it is a national charity but is Bristol-based. The founder visited an orphanage in Ukraine. When he asked what would happen to the children when they left the orphanage, he was shocked to hear that many would be trafficked into the sex trade—some would be trafficked into forced labour, but most were trafficked into the sex trade. Unseen has done an incredibly good job, particularly in working with the victims of sex trafficking in Bristol and elsewhere.
The local police now form part of a multi-agency response through the greater Bristol anti-trafficking partnership, and are improving their early response for victims by training 100 first-response officers. As my hon. Friends the Members for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart) and for Wigan and others have mentioned, one obstacle is the time limit on funding for intensive support under the national referral mechanism. Many victims require much longer support than the 45-day recovery and reflection period. The Salvation Army does a wonderful job, but we cannot continue to rely on such organisations stepping in on a voluntary level. We need to ensure that those mechanisms exist. It should not depend on whether the places where the victims are freed from slavery happen to have an effective Salvation Army operation.
Some charities suggest that everyone who is rescued should have a guardian to ensure that they are properly looked after. Does the hon. Lady agree that it should not just be the Salvation Army, but a state-run system?
That is a valid point. The problem with leaving things to the voluntary sector is that provision can be piecemeal and ad hoc. In some cases, voluntary organisations will provide a brilliant service, which is exactly what is needed, but unless we put things on another footing, we can never be sure that people are not slipping through the net, particularly children—a point that my hon. Friend the Member for Wigan made strongly in her speech.
We must also look overseas to see the other end of the chain. In my capacity as a shadow Foreign Office Minister, I recently met the Pacific Links Foundation, a charity that works to combat trafficking in Vietnam and helps victims with reintegration services if they return there. The foundation gave harrowing accounts of boys trafficked to the UK to work in cannabis farms. Girls were trafficked for forced marriages or to work in brothels or illegal nail bars—sometimes, the illegal nail bars were also brothels. Protecting such vulnerable children requires international co-operation. We must also consider the poverty, and lack of education and opportunity, that leaves people vulnerable to trafficking in the first place. They can also leave people vulnerable to having their children trafficked—people can end up working with traffickers and allowing their children to be taken abroad. Pacific Links highlighted to me why it is so important accurately to identify trafficking victims as vulnerable people in need of support. Children returned to Vietnam without any support systems risk being trafficked again. They or their families could be liable for a perceived debt to the traffickers, or they could be rejected by their communities if they are known to have worked in the sex trade.
In the light of the information that Pacific Links gave me, I encourage the Home Secretary to respond constructively to the criticism that the Bill does not go far enough on specific protections for children, as my hon. Friends the Members for Wigan, for Foyle (Mark Durkan) and for Slough, and others, have mentioned. It is not a matter of having a specific provision relating to trafficked children in the Bill. We should also guarantee independent legal guardians, and ensure that children are not liable for prosecution so that they do not have to invoke a statutory defence.
While I welcome the general thrust of the Bill, the omission of any provisions to legislate against slavery in supply chains is noticeable. There has been a groundswell of support for robust action and increasing recognition that voluntary agreements are insufficient. I was contacted by many constituents, both in the run up to this debate and before the Queen’s Speech, supporting the campaign to legislate against slavery in the supply chain. They point out that many businesses back the Joint Committee’s recommendation for such legislation.
Since then, The Guardian has published its six-month investigation into the Thai fishing industry, which has been mentioned, with evidence that slaves have been forced to work for no pay and under threat of extreme violence, to produce goods sold in UK, US and European supermarkets. In 2012, the EU imported more than $1 billion-worth of seafood from Thailand. The paper reports that the workers were bought and sold like animals and held against their will on fishing boats. They included migrant workers from Burma and Cambodia. Other reports, such as the Environmental Justice Foundation’s “Sold to the Sea” report, provide similar accounts. A report by Finnwatch into Thai factories made allegations of forced and child labour, illegally low wages, excessive working hours, abuse by managers and unsafe working hours. A British man, Andy Hall, is currently facing prosecution in Thailand for his efforts to expose those matters.
I raised with the Home Secretary earlier the fact that the Prime Minister’s spokesman, when asked about the need to legislate against slavery in the supply chain, said that it is up to consumers to make a decision. The Home Secretary responded to me by drawing an analogy with Fairtrade. I would say that that is completely wrong. I am a great believer in consumer power, whether supporting products that are not tested on animals or supporting Fairtrade products. The difference is that we do not say that products not produced by Fairtrade means are completely unethical and immoral. I would argue that Fairtrade is the better alternative, but there is nothing horrific or criminal about the way the other products are produced. With slavery in the supply chain, it is patently obvious that there is.
Consumers simply do not know whether something is produced by slave labour. Yes, we can have public campaigns where we say, “Don’t buy Thai seafood because it might be linked to slavery in the supply chain and we think north American seafood is more trustworthy”, but most consumers will not know unless we have logos saying that something is produced by slaves or not produced by slaves. That sends out a message that something being produced by slaves is somehow all right, like going for dolphin-friendly tuna, but that is an invidious message to send. Consumer power is important in lobbying MPs, but we should first legislate against slavery in the supply chain.
Reports of labels being stitched into Primark clothes alleging sweatshop conditions have already been mentioned. The Rana Plaza tragedy has been spoken about in this House before. Labour Behind the Label, a Bristol-based national campaigning organisation, works to support garment workers around the globe. Consumer pressure is really important in highlighting these issues, but I do not think that we should leave to consumers the choice between something produced by slave labour and something not produced by slave labour. One way for the Government to step up to the mark would be by reinstating their support for the International Labour Organisation, which they withdrew when the coalition was elected.
After the report on the Thai fishing industry, Jenny Willott, then a Minister in the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, announced that the British Retail Consortium would make recommendations to eradicate human rights abuses from the supply chain. This requires strong leadership from Ministers and for the UK to send a strong message to our trading partners around the globe. The Government response to the Joint Committee said that they would
“work collaboratively with businesses to support them to eliminate forced labour in supply chains, in a way which does not place additional burdens on them”.
I am worried that the Home Office will say that it does not want to place an additional burden on business with more red tape as a way of wriggling around this. Businesses ought to care about whether there is slavery in their supply chain. If that creates an additional burden or onus on them to investigate their supply chain, well that is something they have a moral obligation to do.
As consumers, we need transparency and accountability from companies. Amnesty International has said that legislating for supply chain due diligence along the lines of the Californian Transparency in Supply Chains Act will help create a corporate culture in the UK that will be intolerant of modern forms of slavery and enable it to be rooted out of the labour market. I agree.
Finally, I hope that the Home Secretary will reconsider the decision not to protect migrant domestic workers. Each year around 15,000 migrant domestic workers visit the UK with their employers to look after their families and homes. They will come here legally with those families, and many will be completely happy in their work. But the Human Rights Watch report “Hidden Away” shows that some are exposed to abuse and exploitation with no protection from the British authorities. Some have been subjected to physical, sexual and verbal abuse, confined to their homes, isolated from any contact with their families back home and given no access to a phone. Their passports have been confiscated. They are paid far below the minimum wage and, in some cases, not paid at all.
Human Rights Watch is particularly concerned that two developments since April 2012 have left domestic workers even more vulnerable and isolated, and risk the Government neglecting their obligations to them under national and international law. The first is cuts to legal aid, which have cut off their opportunities to seek help and redress and mean that there is no longer even the threat of taking their employers to employment tribunals because they cannot afford to do so. The second is that migrant workers are now less likely to seek help due to the coalition’s tied visa rules, which prevent them from changing employers; something we have heard mentioned in the debate. The fact that they risk losing their immigration status if they leave gives the employer tremendous power over them, particularly as many migrant workers have heavy financial responsibilities at home and have no choice but to endure staying with the employer that is treating them incredibly badly.
The then UN special rapporteur on the human rights of migrants concluded after a visit to the UK in 2009 that the right to change employer had been instrumental in facilitating the escape of migrant domestic workers from exploitative and abusive situations. Reversing the bar, and going back to the situation that applied in 2009, on changing employer is a practical step that the coalition could take to protect workers. The Human Rights Watch report suggests that the Government are not prepared to look at the issue of tied visas and I would be grateful if the Minister responded on that.
The UK in 2011 was one of only nine states not to vote for the ILO domestic workers convention, which was supported by 173 Governments. The coalition then rejected recommendations during the UK’s universal periodic review to ratify the convention. Again I would be interested to hear from the Minister whether she feels there is any prospect of the UK signing up to it and joining the 173 Governments that have done so.
I do not want to end on a negative note. I am incredibly pleased and proud that the House is debating the issue and will bring it forward. I do not agree with the Home Secretary that we do not have enough time to make the Bill as good as possible. I think she was implying that we need to accept the Bill because it is at least a pretty big step in the right direction. I think we have plenty of time between now and the end of this parliamentary Session to make sure that we make the Bill as tough and strong as possible for those people who have been subjected to absolutely hideous treatment and to make sure that as few people as possible are subjected to it in the future.
It is a pleasure to follow Kerry McCarthy. I saw the report in the paper to which she referred and thought, like her, that a three-year sentence for the serious criminal behind those abuses was too light. Hardly a day goes by when we do not have yet another report in the paper of different forms of modern day slavery. I commend the Home Secretary, as previous speakers said, on having the determination to bring in a Bill on modern day slavery in the final Session of Parliament before a general election. I commend her also on the way in which she has built the consensus about which we have heard over the last four hours or so in the Chamber. She has built consensus with all parties to make sure that we get the Bill on to the statute book.
My right hon. Friend had the foresight to appoint Mr Field to chair the Joint Committee of both Houses, a decision for which I respect her. I thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to serve on that Committee. It is probably true to say, Mr Deputy Speaker, that you really would not have known from which political party the Members of both Houses hailed as they sat on the Committee due to their absolute determination to do their best in that pre-legislative scrutiny exercise.
If this Bill is to be world class, it must tackle the issue of modern day slavery on a global scale. When we as a country are implicated, it is no good turning our backs to where the majority of the slavery occurs. I shall, therefore, focus on the issue of the supply chain.
There are various estimates of the number of slaves globally—as high a figure as 30 million has been given, yet that is probably an underestimate. It is appalling to think just how profitable this despicable trade in human beings is, generating an estimated $150 billion each year. We must use the Bill to send a clear signal, not just at home but abroad, that criminals who perpetrate these crimes will not prosper in our country. We do not want them to prosper through any intervention of ours either inside or outside this country. The Bill will become the first Act of its kind in Europe, and tougher sentences for this human piracy will help send that strong signal. The Bill undertakes an important exercise in streamlining existing legislation and ensuring that there are no gaps in the law through which criminals can evade prosecution.
Through William Wilberforce, we have an important legacy to live up to; he had the courage and moral determination over years and years to ensure that this country got rid of terrible injustice perpetrated on poor people outside our shores. That is the spirit in which we need to look at supply chains and how they impact on people—abroad, but in ways in which we as a country are implicated.
Mindful of our reputation as one of the leading legal jurisdictions in the world—we have a proud history of the rule of law—we can do no less than pick up from where Wilberforce left off and continue his fight against this inhumanity, wherever it occurs. It can be a difficult issue for any Government. We obviously do not want to burden business unnecessarily, but I genuinely doubt whether British businesses out there would knowingly associate themselves with this blight on humanity. Despite our current efforts, however, businesses often do not have clear oversight of their complex supply chains. We saw that in the experience of Primark, caught up in the collapse of the factory in Rana Plaza. It might well have undergone due diligence on the seventh floor of that factory to establish that the working conditions were all right on the floor it had contracted for garment workers to work; it realised in hindsight, however, that it needed to go beyond that and to look at the floors above and below to see what was going on there.
As I say, not a day goes by without an example of modern day slavery taking place, and the problem with the supply chains should be properly exposed. I want to put a case study briefly before the House, and it is thanks to the Human Trafficking Foundation that I am able to do so. The person cannot be named, but is otherwise present.
Order. I may be able to help. He can be named, but we cannot point out that the person is present—that is the difference.
I think that the record will reveal to the wider world the true position. I am grateful to the Human Trafficking Foundation for bringing these cases to our attention.
One particular example shows why the supply chain issue must be tackled. It comes from the Islington law centre, and it concerns 10 Hungarian men who were trafficked to the UK. They were told that they would earn £250 a week with good accommodation and food, but they received only £10 a week and two packets of cigarettes. They were told nothing more until they had paid back the £400-worth of flight costs incurred in coming here. It was the equivalent of 40 weeks’ work just to pay that back. They worked first in a slaughterhouse, then a bed factory and then a tile factory. Interestingly enough, that bed factory was a supplier to the household name John Lewis, which terminated the contract when it found out, and the bed factory has now been closed. The labourers, the factory and John Lewis were all exploited by the traffickers, and in their own way they have all been victims.
Only one trafficker was arrested, because the others got away too quickly, and by the time that trafficker had been charged, all the assets had been transferred back to Hungary. That is a prime example of why we need the Bill. As for the issue of the supply chain, I doubt very much that a company like John Lewis would want to find itself in the same position again—to find that its very high reputation had again been damaged by the discovery that products which were on sale in its stores, and which we could buy, had been produced by slave labour.
We need to balance the debate. Is the Bill a burden on business? Does business want it or not? All the businesses that gave evidence to the Joint Committee made clear that they wanted a level playing field—that they wanted the law to change so that we did not have to depend on best practice, because it would be crystal clear that companies must undertake due diligence to ensure that no part of their supply chain could be touched by modern-day slavery.
The answer to the problem lies with all of us: Governments, companies, employees, consumers and shareholders, all working together. We need to require Britain’s public companies to engage with their shareholders on their supply chains in their annual reports by amending the Companies Act 2006, which would create the level playing field that the businesses that have been harmed say they want to see. That was what the Joint Committee recommended to the Government. From now on, British corporate governance and social responsibility ought explicitly to include human rights in supply chains. How companies deal with the issue in detail, along with their shareholders, customers and employers, should be left to their good conscience, but the requirement in law would be there. I certainly have faith that British companies will do the right thing; they usually do.
In the end, the change requires just five words. That way, Britain will not turn its back on millions of suffering people around the world. We will be able to shine a light on those shadowy areas through the time-tested strength of our great legal system, and we will challenge all nations that respect the rule of law to follow suit, and join Britain in consigning this horrific crime to the history books once and for all.
It is a pleasure to follow Mrs Spelman. Like other Members, she referred to horrific and harrowing cases, which are all the more persuasive because they arise from incidents that are occurring in this country today.
Benjamin Franklin said that slavery was
“an atrocious debasement of human nature”.
He said that a long time ago, and, as we know, it was a long time ago that William Wilberforce campaigned for the abolition of slavery. I think that it would surprise many of my constituents to know that it is still here, in all its grisly and awful reality. The Bill bears clear testimony to the fact that slavery, and the effects of slavery, are still to be found.
We in Plaid Cymru welcome the Bill, and strongly support it. It extends only to England and Wales, which explains the absence of my Scottish colleagues. People in my constituency probably wonder whether modern slavery exists in our area of far-flung rural north-west Wales. In fact, one of the largest cannabis factories in the United Kingdom was discovered in my constituency about 18 months ago.
We are glad that the Government have heeded some of the Joint Committee’s recommendations—although, as has already been said, only some. The Committee’s report argued in particular that the Bill could be improved by the addition of stronger provisions for the protection of victims of slavery, and specifically that the Crown Prosecution Service should be provided with guidance on the non-prosecution of victims. That point has been made again today, and I strongly agree with it.
The report also called for the Bill to provide for a system of guardianship for child victims of slavery, for a review of the visa status of overseas domestic workers and for an anti-slavery commissioner to be appointed independent from Government. I made that point earlier to Lisa Nandy, who made a persuasive speech. The report also called for the Government to look at legislation in California dedicated to tackling modern slavery in supply chains by requiring businesses to report on what steps they had taken to eradicate the practice. That matter has also been referred to by many Members.
The Committee report, published on
The report in particular called for provisions on victim care to be given a statutory footing; for changes to be made so that victims could access compensation more expediently; for the creation of a separate offence of exploiting and trafficking a child; for the anti-slavery commissioner to be independent from Government; and for the establishment of a statutory system of advocates.
We have heard that the Salvation Army is a fantastic organisation. I understand that it does not actually look after victims; it sub-lets that to other organisations. I understand from Anthony Steen that it would be a very good thing if our Government, rather than spending £25,000 a year looking after a victim in this country, gave £3,000 to the victim and the Government of the country from where they came to retrain those people and look after them properly. That would be a good use of taxpayers’ money.
The hon. Gentleman makes an interesting point. We have heard several times about the need to care for people who have been subjected to modern slavery. The Bill should also deal with that aspect. People are trafficked and people come to this country for non-existent jobs. They are driven by poverty and other factors, including low wages, in their own country. Equalisation of economies throughout western and eastern Europe would tackle that issue in the long term.
I am glad that the Government have agreed to introduce child trafficking advocates, whose role needs to be strengthened, and that they have conceded that courts should have the ability to have regard to certain characteristics that victims possess— such as their age, disabilities and family relationships—in assessing whether they were more vulnerable than others would be when a crime was committed.
The Bill does fall short, unfortunately, most notably in failing to compel businesses to take steps to ensure that no slavery is involved in their supply chains, as well as in failing to amend the existing rules concerning domestic work visas. The Bill has been criticised by UNICEF for failing to include adequate measures to protect trafficked children.
Stop the Traffik has written to me this week, and I think to all other MPs, on the issue. As Mrs Spelman has pointed out, according to the International Labour Organisation, forced labour generates about $150 billion every year, exploiting 21 million people. Of that huge sum, $43 billion can be attributed to non-domestic non-sexual forced labour in agriculture, construction, mining and manufacturing. We are talking about a huge amount of money.
We have heard about the case exposed in The Guardian, whichuncovered the use of forced labour by the Thailand-based company Charoen Pokphand Foods, which exploited men who were made to work against their will on fishing boats. Not amending the Bill to include a responsibility on businesses to ensure that no modern slavery occurs in their supply chains would be to perpetuate a fatal flaw. In the present situation, we cannot depend on consumers or, unfortunately, on companies to ensure there is not modern slavery in their supply chains.
The Joint Committee recommended that the Government should amend section 414 of the Companies Act 2006, which at present places a duty on companies to report on “social, community and human rights issues” at the end of each financial year. It recommended that “slavery” be added to the list of issues to be reported upon. Businesses’ reports should detail what steps they have taken to verify their supply chains as well as whether they have audited their suppliers and certified goods supplied by those suppliers. The Committee was supported in this recommendation by both Primark and Tesco, but unfortunately the Government have refused to amend the 2006 Act, arguing it is too early to say whether the provisions already in place are adequate.
On domestic worker visas, changes to the immigration rules in April 2012 mean that domestic workers in private households only have leave to stay in the UK for six months, and we heard further details on this matter from other hon. Members. Kalayaan, the charity that provides advocacy for migrant domestic workers, reports an increase in the exploitation of this group since the new rules came into force, and points to a number of alarming facts. Migrant domestic workers who are tied to their employers have been twice as likely to report having been physically abused by their employers, and 71% of those subject to the new rules are reported as being effectively imprisoned in the homes where they are working. Some 53% of those on the new visa have reported working more than 16 hours a day, as opposed to 32% of those who still have the right to change employer and remain in the UK. According to internal assessments conducted by Kalayaan staff, 69% of those on the new visa were trafficked, compared with 26% of those who are not tied. The Modern Slavery Bill evidence review panel is calling on the Government to “consider reinstating the rights” of overseas domestic worker visa-holders “to change employer”, but that has been rejected, as far as I can see, with the Government steadfastly refusing to change their mind.
Groups including UNICEF have highlighted the need to improve aspects of this Bill which seek to protect children. At least 10 children are trafficked every single week in the UK. UNICEF argues that the definition of human trafficking in clause 2 of the Bill should reflect the international definition of trafficking enshrined in the UN Palermo Protocol as well as the EU trafficking directive. UNICEF also believes that the Bill should be explicit in defining a child as a person under the age of 18, so as to ensure that cases involving children are always considered in a fundamentally distinct way.
Although the new statutory defence for victims of trafficking who have been compelled by their slavery to commit an offence is welcome, it does not go as far as the non-prosecution principle recommended by the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child in 2014.
Lastly, the enabling power to put child trafficking advocates on a statutory footing should be strengthened. UNICEF has argued that independent guardians with legal powers should be introduced for all separated migrant and trafficked children, and that the principles of guardianship should be included in this Bill, including that advocates must be independent from public authorities, and that they should have adequate legal powers and be able to instruct a solicitor on the child’s behalf.
The Bill before us today is certainly a step in the right direction, but the issues that I have highlighted, and those which have been highlighted in other speeches, must not be ignored. We owe it to victims of modern slavery to get this right.
I draw attention to my entry in the Members’ register as trustee of the Human Trafficking Foundation.
One of the problems with being called to speak in the middle and later stages of a debate is that all the things one wants to say have been said, but this is such an important issue that I think they bear repeating, and it is a pleasure to follow Hywel Williams because I will address again many of the points he made.
In the 17 years I have been in this place, I have seen the passage of much legislation—some of it good, some excellent and some less good—but it is an absolute privilege to speak in today’s Second Reading debate on the Modern Slavery Bill. The Prime Minister and in particular the Home Secretary should be congratulated on introducing it. We heard in her excellent opening speech the obvious sincerity and enthusiasm with which she is embracing this subject. I know that she and the Minister have engaged and continue to engage constructively with the issues we are raising now as helpful criticism of the Bill.
As has been said probably by every speaker today, a large part of the reason we have this Bill is the hard work and evangelical zeal of notable people both inside and outside Parliament. As we have discovered, no discussion of modern-day slavery can avoid mentioning my erstwhile hon. Friend Anthony Steen. In fact, this feels a bit like Banquo’s ghost. I remember sitting behind him on the Opposition Benches as he was putting through a private Member’s Bill to recognise anti-slavery day in the dying stages of the last Parliament. As a Whip, I was encouraging him to stop speaking because there was a danger that he might just talk out his own Bill. Anybody who knows Anthony well knows that, sometimes, getting him to stop speaking is the hardest thing. He is passionate, persistent and persuasive on this subject and always puts the victims first. However, unlike Banquo’s ghost, whose presence is all around us, he is very much alive and kicking.
There are others too in this House who took this issue on when it was very much a Cinderella issue. I have chosen my words carefully: Cinderella is a potent example of slavery and forced labour, one that ordinary people and children can understand. Unfortunately, as we know and have heard today, existences such as Cinderella’s have been going on for some time and have not been eradicated. Here, I should also mention my hon. Friend Mr Bone, Fiona Mactaggart, who always speaks passionately on this issue, and Michael Connarty, whom I hope we will hear from shortly. He speaks passionately about issues such as supply chains and the need for transparency, and he is a little bit like Anthony Steen, in that sometimes it is difficult to shut him up on this subject, but that is only because of his passionate determination to get his message across. That is something we in this House should be proud of.
Someone I became associated with on the draft Bill and during the Home Secretary’s evidence review was Mr Field, whom I found an inspiration. His reasonableness and ability to get things through without going over the top was remarkable. He is another person who should be noted on today’s roll of honour. I should also mention Lady Elizabeth Butler-Sloss, who will head the Government’s historical child abuse inquiry. I know she will do an excellent job, but I hope she will have time to deal with the Bill when it goes to the other place. Without her drive and abilities, the Bill would not be served well.
I came rather late to this issue, because I had other duties. The right hon. Member for Birkenhead referred to the job my former comrades do as Whips, but when we sit on the Bench silently it does not mean that we do not listen to what is going on. Our silence is not always for bad reasons; we absorb the debate. One thing I have found is that the more someone understands this issue, realising the enormity and barbarity of it, the more they become involved with it and they end up not being able to let it go. I would put myself in that position. One thing I was pleased to discover in the Bill, and generally, is that we are using the term “modern slavery”, because the term “human trafficking” does not quite convey exactly what we are talking about. To a lot of our constituents “human trafficking” might mean something a little different; it might just mean illegal immigration in some respects. As we have discovered, and as most in this House will know, we are talking about something that is far, far more than that.
I am not just congratulating the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, Karen Bradley, and the Home Secretary because I am hoping that by buttering them up they will listen more to our arguments; the Under-Secretary has only recently been appointed, she has been immersing herself completely in the subject and getting up to speed, and she has been a valuable asset to the whole process. I could also mention lots of non-governmental organisations here, but, as has been said, an amazing number of people out there in all sorts of sectors are involved in this field and they do a fantastic job. Again, they are powerful advocates, and the number of hon. Members who have spoken today having obviously been talking to their local NGOs, or to other NGOs that have been pressing their case, is testimony to that.
Like everybody else, I want the Bill to be the best we can produce. I believe it was Kerry McCarthy who said that there was no problem on the time scales, but I have to take slight issue with that. There is a problem with time scales, because we are off in August and we come back only briefly in September, after an extended period away because of the referendum in Scotland. We have to get the Bill out of this House—we are okay in this House because we have timetabling—and into the other House, which has lots of experts in lots of these fields and no timetabling. That is why we have to ration ourselves as to what we do and how we want to get it achieved.
We have heard about most of the things that most Members think we could improve the Bill with, the most obvious one being transparency in supply chains, which I shall speak about briefly—I have a feeling there is a better speech coming on that. Businesses would welcome that and the idea that we amend section 414C of the Companies Act 2006 to include modern slavery in the provision is a good start. One person who has not been mentioned and who is backing this is Sir Richard Branson—a powerful name to add to our campaign. One thing we have to get over to businesses is that we are not trying to penalise them; we are actually trying to help them. As my right hon. Friend Mrs Spelman eloquently said, they do not want to be tarnished or tainted with having slavery in their supply chain. It is not a matter of sneaking around, finding out, exposing them and then penalising them; we want them to have the ability to go down their supply chain. One problem with all these things is that they will ask somebody, who will ask somebody else, and somebody in some far-distant land may say, “Don’t worry about this, it is all okay.” We want to be able to give businesses the information that it is far from okay, because they may not have the resources to check all the way down the supply chain.
There are other things that we want to do on this issue, but they probably relate more to policy than to legislation, and we must not get the two confused. We have heard quite a lot about the work of Kalayaan and the change in the visa rules for overseas domestic workers. I have to say that a lot of those arguments are powerful, but there is a debate to be had on that matter, and I am not sure whether it should be in the Bill. I know that I get harangued for this view, but I just wonder why so many people are coming here to be domestic workers when possibly there are people here who could fulfil those roles. I am not sure; all I am saying is that we should debate this matter. Changing the visa rules had a detrimental effect, and we can see that, but we must look at it in more detail.
We have talked about the national referral mechanism and the 45 days. There is a review going on, and we should wait to see what happens with that. It is obviously bizarre to think that, after 45 days, a victim is in a fit state to be effectively thrown on to the street and to have us say, “That’s it. Job done. Off you go.” Different victims will need different assistance and different lengths of time.
A little while ago, my hon. Friend Bob Stewart said that some people might want to go back to their country of origin. We must remember though that not all victims are from abroad; there are also victims who are in the UK and UK citizens who are being trafficked abroad.
I went to Albania with Anthony Steen, because we wanted to see whether the many Albanians who have been trafficked here—they are one of the largest groups at the moment—could go back to their own country. Sadly, the state of the country is not conducive to people going back. There is still a huge stigma, certainly in some parts of the country, about people who have been trafficked and who have been used in the sex trade in particular. The idea that we could simply return people home is not right. We have to help these countries improve their infrastructure so that there is something for people to go back to.
My hon. Friend Tracey Crouch said that she had seen some comments on a blog—it is always unwise to look at the comments on blogs—that effectively said that these measures were for left-wing feminstas. Obviously, those people do not understand the issues involved. I say to them that if they had been lucky enough to speak to victims—I say lucky because when one speaks to them and hears what they have been through one’s life is suddenly changed—they would find that slavery is probably going on within half of mile of where they live. If they realised that, they would not say such things.
One problem is education. I often speak at local meetings; sometimes I am asked to speak on a subject that is close to my heart. It is probably easier in my constituency to talk about modern slavery than it is about HS2, the expansion of the airport or some of the other issues that might raise hackles. In those meetings, I have been pleasantly surprised by people’s reactions. It is almost as if their eyes have been opened. They say, “Yes, I know what you mean now.”
I spoke at St Margaret’s church in Uxbridge a few months ago. It was not a particularly religious meeting but it was held in a church. When I mentioned the subject, some policemen said, “Yes, we are looking at that. We recognise it.” A representative from the church said that they thought that someone was coming in who was a victim. One thing that each one of us in this
House can do is to be an advocate and get this subject out to the public—to our constituents and to our families and friends.
My son is an actor and he was part of a project that took a play called “Sold”, which was all about human trafficking and for which they had spoken to people involved, to the Edinburgh festival. All those young people, who knew very little about the issue beforehand, have become complete advocates, spreading the message. That is what we must do. We can pass legislation, help all sorts of people and do wonderful things, but unless the public can help us by understanding and recognising the problem, we will not be able to get it reported.
I am involved with another organisation, just in a casual way, called Just Enough UK, which is going around schools to explain the issue. It has used the Cinderella model as well as Fagin, with all the boys being made to steal. That still goes on. The youngsters—they are in primary schools as well as secondary schools—suddenly twig.
I am enjoying the right hon. Gentleman’s speech, but I think I need to intervene to point out that there was never a Fagin. Fagin is a mythical character. The true story, which was recorded in the courts, involved a group of Italian men who brought young boys who thought they were going to apprenticeships in Milan to the UK and trained them to steal. Anti-Semitism allowed Dickens to create Fagin as the Jew exploiting boys, and it is incorrect to repeat that.
I am only repeating what Dickens said. I am very grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his intervention, which I think makes another point entirely, but what I am saying is that a lot of people will be acquainted with the story of Oliver Twist, not just from the novel but from the musical. It might be regrettable that it has become a symbol of anti-Semitism, but the fact is that young people can understand the concept of youngsters being made to steal. We must ensure that young people are aware of the issue. They are incredibly observant and good at recognising strange behaviour among other kids and at seeing other things that are going on.
That is all I want to say at this stage. I look forward to the further stages of the Bill, because I think it can be improved. There are things that we have to do and I hope that the mood of consensual but friendly criticism can continue. So far, what I have heard and seen from the Home Secretary, the Minister and Home Office officials has been consistent with that. We will differ on one or two points and that is where there might be room for powerful debates, powerful arguments and powerful speeches. I am afraid that they are not my forte, but I might be able to do the right thing in the Division Lobby.
Sir John Randall highlights the importance of emphasising that this issue affects every constituency in this country and every Member in this House. Although on the one hand I think he is right to point out that people are sometimes not aware of it, at the same time the awareness of this issue around the country is why there was such strong lobbying from churches, NGOs, trade unions and individual members of the public as the Bill was prepared and as it reached Second Reading. I join those who have paid tribute to the many people inside and outside the House who have campaigned on the issue for so long.
Like many Members who have spoken, I want to see a number of major improvements to the Bill. In saying that, I do not want to detract from the fact that it has been introduced by the Government, as I recognise the major step that it represents.
Given my constituency, my initial concern is how the Bill will impact on Scotland and my constituency. As it stands, it does not apply to Scotland. It only extends to England and Wales because in Scotland the matters it covers fall under the responsibility and competence of the Scottish Parliament and the Scottish Government. A human trafficking Bill is expected to go through the Scottish Parliament shortly. It was brought forward initially as a private Member’s Bill by my Labour colleague, Jenny Marra, the Member of the Scottish Parliament for North East Scotland, and it has been adopted by the Scottish Government as a Government Bill, which they expect to introduce in the current Session.
I am glad that Bills are being promoted in both England and Wales and in Scotland, but it is clear that in this area, more than most, there needs to be seamless working between Governments and law enforcement agencies across England and Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. I understand from the Joint Committee report that the Scottish Government recognise that aspects of this may be covered by a devolved competence, but that they should be taken forward at UK level. I would welcome some comments from the Minister, if she has time, about how she envisages the legislation in England and Wales and in Scotland, and the responsibilities of the various law enforcement agencies, working together when the Bills, we hope, become law.
Those areas that I, like many other Members, identify as gaps in the Bill are ones which relate to UK-wide competence, not to devolved competence—issues relating to the supply chain in particular and the requirement for companies to report on such things in their annual reports, and the proposal to extend the remit of the Gangmasters Licensing Authority.
Does my hon. Friend agree that another area that might be worth revisiting as the Bill goes through relates to women who are referred to the national referral mechanism in connection with prostitution? Would it not be good if the Government looked at the current law to see whether it has an effect on trafficking?
That would be a valuable point to examine, although it is not one of the UK-wide matters to which I was referring. I am sure my hon. Friend makes an important point.
I do not wish to detract from the generally excellent report from the Joint Committee, but I see that although it recommends that the Bill should cover the Gangmasters Licensing Authority and the provisions in the Companies Act 2006, it does not say that the territorial extent of the Bill should be extended beyond England and Wales.
I do not suggest that a Committee with such prestigious members could have committed an oversight or an omission, but that proposition needs to be considered and it would have to be dealt with at UK level.
Issues relating to the supply chain have been identified by many of our constituents. They are rightly concerned that goods, products and services that we can purchase in the UK are produced under conditions which, by any definition, would count as slavery or something close to that. We should not miss the opportunity of addressing that while the Bill is going through the House.
I take the point that Members have made about not wanting to delay the Bill so that it risks not becoming law, but the proposals from the Joint Committee in relation to the GLA and to changes to the Companies Act are very limited in scope. I cannot imagine that they would do anything other than widen the appeal of the Bill, and I do not see how they would risk its passage in this House or the other place.
We have had examples in Scotland of exploitation and forced labour—the kind of work that the Gangmasters Licensing Authority is designed to address—in areas of activity not yet covered by the GLA. From a Scottish perspective, I support this change. That cannot be taken forward at Scottish level only, because of the way the devolution settlement is structured. That is a good reason why it should be dealt with at UK level, and the Bill is the place to do it.
Similarly, the proposal to amend the Bill so as to amend the Companies Act to require companies to include modern slavery in their annual strategic reports is sensible and proportionate, and the specific explanations suggested by the Joint Committee are ones that I support. Comments from many Members suggest that there is wide support for such a measure. This again is UK legislation under the Companies Act and it seems to be a missed opportunity at this time, when there might not be an opportunity under a future Government for us to have legislation on this matter for some time to come. It is an opportunity that should not be thrown away and a reform that should not be delayed. I suspect that one of the concerns in some quarters about including requirements on companies is that UK companies will be put at a disadvantage—a concern that our companies might lose out to other companies that are not being put under the microscope in the same way. However, as many right hon. and hon. Members have said, the good company that wants to be a world leader does not want to benefit from modern slavery or forced labour. We should not have fears in that respect. In any event, as the Joint Committee has highlighted, other countries have passed similar legislation. For example, legislation has been passed in California. I hope that, just as we were world leaders when we passed the Climate Change Act 2008 nearly seven years ago, this legislation will be followed in other countries. We will be contributing to a worldwide movement by setting an early example. Although I accept that this will be anathema to certain Eurosceptics in the House, it may well be that our legislation encourages European countries to adopt similar European-wide measures for their companies.
Modern slavery is a complex issue. It requires international action. We cannot solve this problem in the UK alone, but we should not reject the chance to take the action that we can when we can do so. No one in the House would want to congratulate ourselves on taking action to tackle forced labour and slavery at home while turning a blind eye to more extensive examples elsewhere in the world if we had a chance to do something about it. The amendments that I and colleagues have referred to today show how we can take action to require our companies to act in a more socially responsible manner and encourage better employment practices to oppose forced labour and slavery worldwide, and in so doing encourage other countries and other companies to do the same.
I join the many others who have spoken in wholeheartedly welcoming the Bill. Slavery is an abhorrent crime with no place in our society. Sadly, it exists in virtually every community. I join the tribute that many others have paid to all those who have been responsible for getting us to this point. Groups and individuals up and down the country have campaigned tirelessly to see this law introduced. I commend the work of Mr Field, with whom I have had the great privilege of working closely on the all-party parliamentary group on hunger and food poverty in recent weeks. I endorse what was said about his reasonableness and desire to find a way forward that brought together so many of the different points of view.
Soon after I was elected, I was walking home from this place with one of my new colleagues late one evening, and she said to me, “Who in this place has made a big difference over the past 15 or 20 years?” I paused for a moment and thought back over Cabinet Ministers on both sides. I will not say who I said, but she said, “No, it’s Anthony Steen.” I thought for a moment, and then she explained all the work on human trafficking that he had done and started here. She was right, and it is interesting that someone who had 36 years in this place, and who started the process of getting to where we are today, has gone on to make so much difference. He is a great example to many of us who came into the House four years ago.
The Bill presents a crucial opportunity for us to address trafficking in the UK, and it is important to ensure that it is sufficiently robust. I have listened to many arguments about some of the gaps and people’s aspirations for what should be in the Bill. I endorse my right hon. Friend Mrs Spelman for her analysis of the work that needs to be considered to compel companies to clean up their supply chains. I worked in business for 10 years, and there may be a compelling argument that we can set out best practice in some areas and, by moral suasion, get others to follow as consumers become gently more aware of the supply chains of different companies, but modern slavery is so important that it is necessary for us to consider carefully whether something more is required through amendments to the Companies Act 2006.
To avoid repetition, I will focus the substance of my remarks on a key challenge that the Bill must address: reducing the number of trafficked children who go missing. Between 2005 and 2010, we rescued just 942 trafficked children, despite UNICEF estimating that 10 children are trafficked here every week. It is deeply concerning that of those 942 children who were taken into care, it has been formally recorded that 301 went missing shortly afterwards.
The difference between the number of missing trafficked children recorded through the national referral mechanism and the number estimated by police and charities remains a key concern. The statistics suggest that around a third of children ran away, but the Home Affairs Committee estimated in 2009 that the figure was closer to 60%. Addressing that discrepancy must be a key role for the new anti-slavery commissioner and their office.
Victims of child trafficking have been let down for too long. They are often left in poor accommodation, within easy reach of their traffickers and fearful of the consequences of escaping from them. The only way to sever the links between traffickers and their victims is to ensure that victims receive personalised support. I therefore welcome the 23 independent advocacy schemes that the Government are piloting, and I seek assurance from the Minister that the schemes will be rolled out widely and quickly and that, if they are found to be successful, their successes will be highlighted. It is important that we get that right in all areas, and I fully support the Government’s approach of testing the schemes first. No matter how emotive the subject, it is important that we work on the basis of the best evidence for what works.
Advocates will have an important role, but as the all-party group inquiry into children missing from care found, specialist foster care placements provide the most effective escape for trafficked children. Even so, there must be effective, appropriate and sophisticated training, and the level of communication must be improved. The National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children estimates that 38% of trafficked children go missing from foster care placements. That can be addressed by ensuring that carers are aware that their children have been trafficked and by training them accordingly. There is a clear need to ensure good access to both local authorities and the police so that any problems can be addressed immediately. It is unacceptable that in some instances carers were not even made aware that a child had been trafficked. I hope that the isolated, poor examples we have seen in the past can be addressed through the advocates, who will provide a clear point of contact.
I have seen at first hand in my constituency what a difference outstanding foster carers make to the lives of vulnerable children. I therefore urge the Minister to ensure that the advocacy pilots interact appropriately with the work being done by Barnardo’s and various local authorities to train more specialist foster carers for exploited children. The pilot carried out by Barnardo’s with the Department for Education showed that children in foster care were half as likely to go missing as those in care homes. That shows that, when handled appropriately, foster care is often the best option. It is important that advocates can build on the success of that scheme.
Child trafficking is an abhorrent crime. I suspect that there is no silver bullet or single piece of legislation that can deal with every aspect of that evil in our society, but it is critical that we do not lose the momentum that has been built up over recent months. The system has not provided adequate support to children who have been trafficked to this country. I hope that this Bill, although it will come under considerable scrutiny in the months ahead—I recognise the concerns that several Members have about getting it through in time—will start to put that right. I welcome the fact that we are here today discussing this massive and vital step forward. I hope that the Government will listen to some of the observations on the transparency of supply chains so that we can make real progress and pass this legislation without delay.
It has been an enlightening afternoon—I have sat through most of the debate. I am sorry for those Members who did not get manage to get slipped away before I was called to speak; as Sir John Randall said, I can be pretty emotional and repetitive on this issue, but I make no apology for that.
I want to compliment Mrs Spelman, who became engaged in this issue when she stepped down as a Government Minister. Having taken an interest in the supply chains, she bolstered my determination to convince the Government that we need to change the law to bring companies into line with at least the situation that exists in California, if not something better, if we are really to make an impact and increase the scope of the anti-slavery movement that started more than 200 years ago, because slavery does not happen only in the UK. If we deal only with the UK, we might prosecute a few people and stop a few hundred people being exploited, but we will not deal with slavery, and this is called the Modern Slavery Bill.
I am glad that my hon. Friend Fiona Mactaggart has returned to the Chamber, because I thought that her speech was a tour de force that articulated the need for this Government really to deal with slavery. We should look at the documents. We had the draft Modern Slavery Bill and then the excellent report from the Joint Committee. As many Members have said, we could not really put a cigarette paper between the opinions and motivations of its Members, who were from parties on both sides of the Lords and the Commons. We then had the Government’s response to that report, and at the same time the Bill was published. I have to say that parts of the Government’s response to some key issues were so thin and poor that they had to be exposed, as I think they were in the speech made by my hon. Friend the Member for Slough.
On the question of whether there should be a specific crime of trafficking children, which I will come to later, I think that the strength lies with the Joint Committee, not with the Bill before us.
I want to talk first about the thanks we owe people. Every member of the Joint Committee requires thanks, because, in the same way as happens when people go on a foreign trip, we bonded over the common purpose of trying to improve the draft Bill. It is amazing how Committee members from all parties and different belief systems came together, but I am sorry that the Government have not taken into account the report in its entirety, so we have a lot to talk about.
Soroptimists UK invited me to speak at their conference. That is not an organisation that would usually take such a forward position on an issue of such massive import. I thank in particular Miss Billie Wealleans, the organiser of the Scotland north branch. The conference carried the motion that it would campaign this year to get the supply chains amendment inserted in the Bill. The conference came to the same conclusion as my hon. Friend the Member for Slough did in her ten-minute rule Bill, and as I did in my private Member’s Bill, which, sadly, was talked out.
The Human Trafficking Foundation and Anthony Steen have been mentioned. The previous speaker, John Glen, entered Parliament in 2010, but he missed the best part, because it was the energy of the generation before 2010 that brought us to where we are. Many compliments have been paid to people since the publication of the Centre for Social Justice report, “It Happens Here”, but that was way down the line—it was after my private Member’s Bill had been debated and talked out on the Floor of the House. It was the first time that a Conservative-led organisation took the issue seriously. It is led by someone who was a bête noire of mine when I was in local government in Scotland. To see it take such a forward position was heartening to me, but it was perhaps just a little late to save my Bill. ECPAT UK has done so much good work over 20 years, particularly, as the hon. Gentleman has said, on the question of children.
The Catholic bishops conference was fully behind my supply chains Bill. Unfortunately, that was not noted by Jacob Rees-Mogg, whom I believe is devout in that particular faith. The conference backed the Bill, but he volunteered—the Whips arranged it—to talk my Bill out on the Floor of the House. I pointed out to him that it was also supported by the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, particularly its then moderator, Albert Bogle. He told me that he was not afraid of the Church of Scotland, but that he was a little afraid of the fact that the Catholic bishops conference supported my Bill.
There is a wide range of support, including from individual bishops of the Church of England, including the bishop who sat on the Joint Committee, and Christian Action Research Education. They all hearten me because I am a humanist and an atheist. I am not just a humanist without a church; I am someone who does not believe in the whole nonsense of totem poles and pie in the sky when you die. I think you have to earn it every day, here.
Focus on Labour Exploitation has been mentioned, because labour exploitation is at the heart of the issue—the use, as the Home Secretary has said, of human beings as commodities whereby people can get rich by putting them in a position where they have no rights and where they are available for exploitation at the cheapest cost.
Other organisations include the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, UNICEF UK and the POPPY Project, which, as has been said, has been doing such stalwart work in rescuing trafficked women—mainly, I have to say, from our immigration service, which tends to put them in Yarl’s Wood, treat them like criminals and try to send them back home, where the facts show that they are re-exploited and re-trafficked again and again. We would not be sending them back to safety even if we put £3,000 in their back pocket, as Bob Stewart has suggested we should do.
Before the Centre for Social Justice published its report, “It Happens Here”, Andrew Wallis of Unseen UK was a stalwart supporter of my supply chains Bill, and I think he also supported the ten-minute rule Bill proposed by my hon. Friend the Member for Slough.
Anti-Slavery International has been doing such a stalwart job, but with its hands tied behind its back, because we lack the proper legislation. Aidan McQuade, who leads it, still thinks that the supply chains amendment we want, which is stronger even than the one in the Joint Committee report, is not good enough. He wants to use an equivalent of the Bribery Act 2010 to make it a criminal offence for the chief executive of a company to be found using exploited labour in its supply chain, which would be pretty tough legislation.
Walk Free, which was mentioned earlier, was set up by Andrew Forrest, who owns a company called Fortescue and lives in Perth, Australia. He gave evidence to the Joint Committee by satellite, but I have spoken with him in London. He set up an organisation when he found that his own company was using trafficked children in, I think, Nepal. He wanted 1 million members; then it went up to 5 million members; and Walk Free now has 7 million members worldwide, who are in his network and are taking up cases.
David Arkless of ArkLight, the former world president of Manpower—the most audited company in the US, as well as the most ethical company in the US—has to be thanked for the amount of work that he has done to spread the word, including by offering training to any company that wishes to do things to stop exploitation.
My question is: when we are going up a mountain—we are going up a mountain, because the Bill will be hard but, I hope, effective—why would we stop three quarters of the way up? Why would the Home Secretary want to stop and plant her flag somewhere on the mountain, instead of going to the top? Only at the top of that climb will we take on the work done 200 years ago and take it forward.
Many things have been said, and it has been hinted that the Home Secretary is involved in a contest against some dark force in No. 10 Downing street that is trying to stop the Government moving all the way forward on the Bill, particularly on questions such as supply chains. I once asked the Prime Minister, when he appeared to be reluctant to sign up even to the directive on human trafficking, where he had lost his moral compass. I suggest that both the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary, if they are looking for a moral compass on this issue, should follow the direction of my hon. Friend the Member for Slough and her all-party group, which has been working for a long time. The all-party group was founded by Anthony Steen, and apart from giving him his knighthood, which he has long deserved, they should take a lesson from it and go the whole way.
The first thing that troubles me is the definition. The six-step definition in the report has been dismissed as somehow too complicated. We took evidence from Lord Judge, who used to be one of the most senior judges in the land. His advice was: “If you want to do something and have a court do something, say what it is you want them to do; don’t muddle it up with complicated phrases.” However, as my hon. Friend the Member for Slough has pointed out, the Bill has a lot of complicated phrases—drawn from other Bills into one Bill—which do not simplify it at all, but probably complicate it for people.
For the simple definition in the Bill, we recommended that it cover the slavery of children and others, and that child exploitation offences should simply say:
“It is an offence to exploit a child”,
“It is an offence for one person to obtain a benefit through the use of a child for the purpose of exploitation.”
People recognise such a definition. We took evidence on the very simplest way to do it from barristers who have prosecuted and defended, and it seems to us that the Government have missed an opportunity to lay out a law that would be recognised and used properly. Those offences were part of what we called a hierarchy, all six parts of which built bit by bit into a clear definition of what we are trying to stop.
Another point is about the protection of victims, including when a victim is turned into a criminal. My hon. Friend Mark Lazarowicz may not realise it, but we need to change the attitude of police forces and of the Border Force.
We met a young woman when we visited POPPY, who said: “I was trafficked, I was brought here in a boat. I had never been outside Africa before. I ended up in Liverpool. I was put into prostitution and moved around the country. I ran away and I went to the police because I always had this idea that British justice would free me if I could reach the police station. They threw me in a cell. They treated me like a criminal. They said I’d done all this just to get into the country and they put me into Yarl’s Wood.” It was only when POPPY met that young woman that her life of exploitation could be pieced together and she could be rescued. She is now in college in London.
The police should not treat people who are trafficked as criminals, and that also applies to Scotland. It is one of those coincidences, but I had a cannabis factory in the house next door until about nine months ago. By a police blunder, they got away, although I had warned the police six weeks before they fled. If the person in the house—the farmer—had been caught, they would now be in Polmont young offenders institution. There are three young people in that institution at the moment who were trafficked from Vietnam and used as farmers. They were caught, but the big people who brought them here—the people who make the money—did not get caught.
Kenny MacAskill, the Justice Minister in Scotland, said to me when he launched the review—Baroness Kennedy sat on the inquiry—that the then UK Border Agency, now the Border Force, was the problem and that it criminalised people. I have to say to Kenny MacAskill that the Scottish police, for which he is responsible, criminalised those young men who are in Polmont for being farmers in cannabis factories. We need to change the police attitude and the Border Force’s attitude. That would affect Scotland massively, because it applies to the whole UK. The Border Force is not just for England, but for everyone.
Surely my hon. Friend’s point emphasises my point that there needs to be effective co-operation and liaison between enforcement agencies throughout the UK, no matter that separate legislation will be introduced for Scotland. That is precisely why we need to work together, and I hope that the Minister will speak about that in her response.
I do not in any way try to diminish my hon. Friend’s point, which he made very well. When I was outside Dungavel, which is basically Yarl’s Wood in Scotland, campaigning to have people released, I was told that it does not hold people for a long time. However, it is a little piece of English territory in Scotland because it is effectively run by the Home Office, not by any institution in Scotland. The point is that if we change the police attitude to the victims in England through the Bill, we will change it in all the other jurisdictions.
I have a plea, which I will not read out in full, from Graham O’Neill from the Scottish Refugee Council, who helped draft the Scottish Bill for Jenny Marra, our friend and Member of the Scottish Parliament who introduced the measure in Scotland. He said that,
“the biggest priority for Jenny and I is to secure at least a statutory right to assistance for survivors of modern slavery.”
They want that to be in our Bill, which would then be copied by the Scottish measure and would change the lives of victims universally.
ECPAT has written at length about the victims in its submission on the Bill. I will quote from it because it is a distillation of many years of work and advice to us:
“ECPAT UK’s work with trafficked children over the past decade has seen us campaign tirelessly for a system of legal guardianship in order to protect the best interests of children and uphold their rights. The Modern Slavery Bill has made provision for ‘Child Trafficking Advocates’, which represents a move in the right direction, but falls far short of a system of independent, legal guardianship that can adequately support and protect children and is in line with best practice across Europe and is recommended by international bodies.”
Guardianship is part of the directive that we signed up to—it is clear in the EU directive, but we have not implemented it correctly. ECPAT should be listened to on that. Independence is important.
The hon. Member for Salisbury spoke about foster care. It is not necessarily about foster care, but the fact that most of the children who are trafficked have language problems and, as people who have worked in this field for a long time said, feel closer to the trafficker than to the authorities. We must find a system that gives people someone who looks after them and someone they feel confident in, so that they do not wish to go to someone else who will re-traffic or re-exploit them.
Another issue is the independence of the commissioner. The Home Secretary assured me that only matters of endangering or exposing an individual, interfering with a possible criminal prosecution or questions of public security will be edited out by her. As I have long said, however, the commissioner must be entirely independent. The Bill must say that the Home Secretary shall provide those resources, shall give the commissioner powers, shall set them up independently, and that the commissioner shall be given rules to work to rather than having to go through the Home Secretary every time they want to publish anything, as they will live by those rules.
I have to disagree with Mrs Spelman, having been in the Netherlands and Finland a number of times. We have asked the ombudsperson in the Netherlands several times whether they are controlled by any Member of Parliament or Minister. They say, “No. I write what I see and I publish what I need to, and the Government have to take it into account, even if I am criticising the Government.” Interestingly, in the Netherlands, the ombudsperson was given the job of looking after both trafficking and child sexual exploitation, because there is so much confidence in that person’s independence. The Dutch are on to their second ombudsperson, and that situation remains. Until we change that provision, we have a problem.
The third and last thing I want to talk about—people expect me to talk about it—is the transparency of UK supply chains, because it is missing from the Bill. I do not know whether there is a problem at No. 10 Downing street, but someone is giving the Prime Minister such bad advice. He is running into his last year before the Government go to the polls. People will look at the Bill and say, “What made the Prime Minister be dragged kicking and screaming by Marks & Spencer, Tesco and Sainsbury’s to put something in the Bill that wasn’t previously there?” We know—I take it that people have good intelligence on this—that the Home Secretary wants to do something in the Bill about supply chains. Everybody knows. Eighty-two per cent. of people surveyed have said that they want a clause dealing with the transparency of UK supply chains in the Bill.
What Government would not go with the rub of the green in that situation? Only a Government who have some misguided idea that any kind of statutory regulation will somehow offend the public or the business community would do so. I cannot find that. I could find it when I tried to get a private Member’s Bill through, but it is much more difficult to convince people of an idea when it has not been given the blessing of Government time. When I spoke to the Ethical Trading Initiative, it said, “We want to see this.” The logic has been put forward by so many Members. Why should bad companies get away with it? Why should companies that want to rip off the public and sell them goods they know are tainted by slavery get away with it? Good companies do not want that, so we should level the playing field. I think Churchill wanted a minimum wage for that reason. He said bad companies undermine good companies, and the worst of companies undermine everyone.
It is quite clear that a narrative and a logic are leading the business community in that direction, as my hon. Friend Mark Lazarowicz and others have said, and as I have said all along. There is a kitemark on offer to companies that says, “We have the right kind of auditing. We are reporting on that auditing and we are getting rid of any errors we find.” When I was doing business economics at university, I was told that to find a problem was to find the jewel, because it would help people to improve their company. That is what the supply chains proposal is about.
Andrew Wallis of Unseen UK was dealing with this issue long before the Centre for Social Justice ever decided that it should take it up. I commend the CSJ for taking it up—it has taken it up later than Anthony Steen, later than the Human Trafficking Foundation and later than Unseen UK, but it has taken it up. Why will the Government not take it up? I do not understand what is going on.
I am going to say a word about domestic servants. There is absolutely no doubt that the Government have done something immoral in abolishing the domestic servant visa, as it was, when we find that 62% of domestic servants who come with people from other countries do not get paid a wage. Somebody talked about contracts. How can there be a contract with somebody who brings servants in as baggage with their family to look after their children and cook their food, and treats them so appallingly? The Government have abolished their right to leave their employer. All they can do is go home or stay with that employer. They are usually so tied in to families that they do not have a world outside. The little stipend they receive gets sent back to their families, who live in abject poverty in other countries.
Why will the Government not realise that what they have done has soiled their hands, as there are people enslaved in this country, under our very noses, with their complicity? Please do something about that. At least give us some sense that the Government have not completely lost their moral marbles.
I pay tribute to all hon. Members who have spoken in the debate. Many compelling arguments have been made. I simply want to add a few brief comments.
It is absolutely clear to all concerned that slavery is one of the oldest and worst crimes. It is a most appalling thing to deprive another human being of their liberty. Slavery has not been eradicated as a crime—this is the very reason we are here discussing it once again under its modern guise—yet nor has it stayed still. It is a crime that has been able to evolve with technological changes, and as the countries of the world have come closer together. Other Members have made the argument well that there are both international and domestic elements to this abhorrent crime. In saying that the crime has evolved, I make no particular distinction between those elements at this point.
It is right that we update how we treat the crime and it is right that we do that in a considered way. The consolidation in part 1 of the Bill is helpful and will allow for a higher chance of successful prosecution. With that goes a more effective disruption of business that can flow from slavery. That is an extremely important and very practical thing. The consolidation also allows for clearer sentencing. I welcome the addition, as I understand it, of a potential life sentence for this crime. If we look down the list of other crimes that we treat as worthy of a life sentence—murder, attempted murder, conspiracy to murder, manslaughter, rape, attempted rape, grievous bodily harm, armed robbery and firearms offences—all of them are concerned with the life and liberty of other human beings. It is right that we put slavery in the same category.
I also welcome the move in part 1 to make reparations and provide compensation to those who have suffered this appalling crime. That links to the very reason we might think of slavery as a serious crime: the life and liberty of other human beings. Reparations for “harm resulting”, as set out in clause 9(1), are perhaps merely an effort to put money where life and liberty are concerned, but it is the right thing to do inasmuch as we ever seek to do that in the legal code.
I am a Member from Norfolk. I grew up in west Norfolk and am well aware of cases of exploitation, abuse and trafficking of migrant workers in my county. The gangmaster Audrius Morkunas, a Lithuanian national operating in my county, was convicted earlier this year. Ten years ago, in Operation Absent, police officers from around the country including Norfolk constabulary collaborated to free, in the words of Norfolk constabulary,
“modern day slaves.” This is a crime about which we in Norfolk know all too much and the same would be true of other rural areas. This afternoon, I was discussing with my hon. Friend Stephen Barclay the way in which this crime is prevalent in our neck of the woods. I draw that example to say that modern slavery is prevalent in the sense that we can all see it under the surface of modern life in Britain.
I want to make one important point about the local and regional economy that we want to see flourish in this country. As a teenager, I worked in fields and factories in west Norfolk, where I grew up. In fact I may be alone in this House—I do not know—in having worked for a legitimate gangmaster. You may not think this of me, Mr Speaker, as I stand here today, but it is none the less the case. I worked alongside—and got to know as friends—various foreign workers at that time, Bulgarians in particular. I make no suggestion whatever of abuse at that time but it was easy for me to see how abuse could occur and how it could be perpetrated, particularly upon migrant workers. Good law is essential to protect those workers certainly, but also to protect the breadth of the local economy. When we talk about modern slavery being prevalent, it also does no good at all to our economy in Britain for people to perceive certain sectors of the economy as being the place where slavery occurs. Good law protects the victims who may be subject to genuine crime, but also protects the reputations of sectors of industry, such as agriculture, in Britain where we want to see good practice and good commerce thriving. That is very important and is something we care about, particularly in Norfolk where we value our agricultural industry.
I raise that as an additional argument to go with those that are being made about supply chains. Yes, there are lengthy supply chains that we want to be able to understand, but there are also some sectors of industry in this country that we want to see do well and where we want to see good law protect workers and customers.
On a local basis, I want to pay tribute to a charity operating in my constituency called Freedom. Hon. Members may be aware of it, as it was the charity that played an honourable role in the recent freeing of three slaves in Lambeth. Freedom took a phone call from one of the women concerned who had been held for 30 years in a household in London. That charity does extremely good work and I am extremely proud that it operates from a centre in Hellesdon in Norfolk, as well as other operations around the country. I want the provisions in the Bill to assist that charity and others like it to continue doing the very good work that they do.
Many of my constituents—whether they knew that that charity was based in Hellesdon or not—care very deeply about this Bill and about what it can do. I have corresponded with them in recent months, as have many other hon. Members. I know that the Minister has faced a few calls for improvements today within the Bill and I look forward to her comments on it. I wish to ask about part 4 of the Bill. Like others, I want this part to work and to function very well. However, there could be scope for determined criminals to use clause 39(3) and other clauses as a get-out. I would be interested to hear the Minister’s reassurance as to how she intends part 4 to be used to protect those who need it and not to allow it, in turn, to be abused.
I add my call to that of others for sensible co-ordination with other areas of law. It so happens that all these areas are close to the Minister’s responsibility, and I am sure that she will have in mind how best to co-ordinate the provisions of this Bill with those that regulate gangmasters and with newer rules that regulate forced marriages. The visa system is also relevant, and I am pleased to see in his place on the Front Bench the Minister for Security and Immigration. All those areas come together naturally with this sort of legislation.
I began by noting the importance of consolidation in this area, and I welcome the fact that this important Bill is also a concise one, providing a simple toolkit to begin what I hope will be Britain’s leading role in the world in this extremely important area of human progress.
I, too, welcome this Bill. Although it does not extend to Northern Ireland, I believe it is an important part of the framework for protecting individuals across the United Kingdom. I will have something to say about the Bill’s application to Northern Ireland in a few moments.
More than 200 years ago, slavery was accepted as part of the norm across the world. Christians in this country believed that it was wrong because all people were equal in the eyes of God. They found a champion in this House, which voted to abolish slavery. The power of the Royal Navy was used to stop international traders who continued to traffick people from Africa to America.
That manifestation of slavery was dealt with by this House. Where there are weak people and strong groups with no moral scruples, however, the exploitation of individuals will continue. More than 200 years later, we see that slavery is still being manifested in many ways. If this debate does anything, it will awaken many people to something that they perhaps did not know was occurring in the United Kingdom—slavery on our doorsteps.
I remember when the issue of slavery was raised in the Northern Ireland Assembly by my colleague, Lord Morrow, who found that people had been brought to the provincial town of Dungannon in his constituency, having been trafficked from other countries, used as prostitutes, beaten and held in captivity. I am sure that many people in Dungannon did not have a clue that was going on. Lord Morrow presented the evidence to the Northern Ireland Assembly, and is currently taking through a private Member’s Bill to deal with that particular issue.
I believe that the Government were sincere in their attempt to legislate, even with only one year of this Parliament left. As other Members have pointed out, a whole range of people have put great pressure on the Government to deal with this issue. I particularly welcome the Government’s recognition that those who are caught up in the slave trade need protection, and that if a case goes to a court of law people need to be sure that they can give evidence without intimidation. The court system and its advocates must help and guide people who might be strangers to our country through the process. We need tougher sentencing and advocates need to raise awareness of the problem with public authorities. I welcome all those aspects of what has been said needs to be done.
Like other Members, I make criticisms of the Bill not because of a sense of churlishness, but because of a sense that if we are to have legislation, and if there is a genuine desire for that legislation, we should ensure that it is effective. I hope that my comments will not be seen as being totally negative, or as being an attack on the Government because I do not believe that they are trying to do their best.
After the House has passed legislation, is it not vital that the courts step up to the mark and take the matter seriously as well? The sentences that are given often do not fit the crime.
I am pleased that the Bill enables sentences to be extended to life, which will give the courts an opportunity to deal properly with the criminals who are involved in the trade of slavery.
As a number of Members have pointed out, the Bill contains a notable omission. The best thing to do is to prevent slavery from happening in the first place. Paul Blomfield gave us a lot of information. How likely is it that companies that are using slave labour in the United Kingdom will be caught as a result of fewer inspections? I believe he said that there would be one inspection every 250 years, and that there was a chance of employers being convicted once in a million years. That is hardly going to focus the minds of those who use slave labour on the fact that the authorities are going to get them.
I know that one argument will be about the expense of inspections. As Chloe Smith pointed out, we know that certain areas and certain industries in the United Kingdom are more prone to using slave labour than others. If there are to be inspections, why can they not target likely employers? Some of them may have a record; there may be local knowledge. If such people are harassed, there may at least be a chance that they will desist from using the slave labour that they are currently exploiting.
It has rightly been said that the offences that have been specified are really just a gathering together of existing pieces of legislation. The fact is—and there may be a number of reasons for this—that the number of convictions has been very low. Even when people have been identified as engaging in the slave trade and using slaves, the percentage who are taken to court and are convicted is below a third. A small number of people are taken to court, and there is a small percentage of convictions. Moreover, given the complexity of the legislation, those cases often take a long time. A case in Northamptonshire involved 200 police officers; 13 arrests were made, and, three years down the line, there were two convictions.
As Michael Connarty pointed out, it is not that the Government do not benefit from good legal advice. I am not a barrister, but I know that legal advice has been sought on how the offence could be made simpler, more understandable and easier to prosecute. However, none of it has been included in the Bill. If we are to have effective legislation, let us not just gather together elements of legislation that have not been seen to be working so far; let us look at offences and define them in the Bill. Of course the Government may argue that consolidating the legislation and all the support that will be made available will increase the conviction rate, but if the legal opinion is that the plethora of laws at present causes complications, this is the time to change that.
The protection of children has been well highlighted. From her vast experience, Lisa Nandy made it clear that we need separate definitions and separate measures to deal with the exploitation of children. I cannot understand—the Minister did not make it clear—why a definition of children would cause complications and perhaps lead to even fewer convictions. If the reason is to do with establishing the age, there is an easy way to deal with that. If there is some concern about establishing the age, put the individuals in the general legislation. Where it is clear that we are dealing with children, let us have separate legislation and a separate definition of children.
The next issue I want to raise is in relation to other parts of the UK. The Joint Committee pointed out that, although private Members’ legislation does mirror the Bill, it does not totally mirror it. One easy option would be to ask the Northern Ireland Assembly to pass a legislative consent motion, so that the legislation would apply in Northern Ireland. The alternative is to take separate legislation through the Assembly, but given the length of time it takes to get some legislation through the Assembly, the legislation might be passed not in this Session of Parliament or the next, but the one after that. That gap causes great concern in one particular area: the seizure of assets and their use to recompense victims.
If assets are kept in Northern Ireland or Scotland, will it be possible to pull those assets in when someone is convicted of using slave labour in England and Wales, or will it be much more difficult? In Northern Ireland, we have an added complication. I know that Mark Durkan tried to dismiss the point I made earlier but it was also highlighted by the Joint Committee. The National Crime Agency is not able to operate fully in Northern Ireland because that is being blocked by the Social Democratic and Labour party and by Sinn Fein. That in turn creates a difficulty in dealing with the trafficking gangs, who may see places such as Northern Ireland as a haven from which they can operate.
Again, I make the point that the debate has nothing to do with the National Crime Agency and the wider issues in Northern Ireland. The SDLP’s concerns in that regard do not relate to the issue of asset recovery and never have.
The SDLP’s concerns may not relate to the recovery of assets from criminals but, because the National Crime Agency legislation cannot apply to Northern Ireland, the fact is that the issue is all tied up with the blockage that has occurred, owing to the attitude of Sinn Fein and the SDLP.
On the issue of corporate supply, the use of slave labour in the supply of materials from many developing countries is a multi-billion pound industry. It is worth while for slave traders to use slave labour, given the rewards. There have been impassioned pleas to the Government to include that matter in the legislation. There does not even seem to be any commercial argument against that, at least not from firms that want to demonstrate corporate responsibility. In fact, if anything they appear to be arguing that the market is flawed if we do not have legislation to protect firms who wish to do the right thing in respect of their supply chains, because otherwise they are undercut by the gangsters and the criminals.
I find it very odd that on one hand we will legislate for what goes into our food—for what is in a burger—but we do not seem to be concerned about how it is made, who it is made by or what conditions they work in. We do not seem to think it causes any difficulty for firms to have traceability for the ingredients, but somehow or other it creates commercial difficulties if we want traceability regarding the labour force used in making goods that are sold here in the United Kingdom.
Given that I did not hear any Members on the Government’s side resisting the calls from the other side of the House for transparency in corporate supply chains to be included, and given that major organisations in the United Kingdom have said they have no difficulty with this, but, indeed, they would welcome it, I trust that as this Bill goes through the House, that will also be included.
This is an important Bill. I commend the Government for bringing it forward, and I commend the Secretary of State for the energy she has put into it and the commitment she has made, but I hope the criticisms that have been made and the shortcomings that have been highlighted will be taken on board and addressed during the Committee stage.
First, may I apologise to you, Mr Speaker, and the Home Secretary for having missed the first 20 minutes of the debate, but it is good to be here and to be the 20th Back Bencher to speak? I start by saying that, I think for the first time in my life and quite possibly the last, I agree with every word Sammy Wilson said—every last dot and comma.
I congratulate the Home Secretary and the Government on bringing the Bill forward, and on the good intentions behind it and the hard work they have put into listening. I believe, as a Member of the Joint Committee, that it was good that there was strong interaction between Ministers, officials and the Committee, and the report we produced was a very good one. It is interesting that all the speeches I have heard from the Back Benches on both sides of the House have entirely supported elements, or all, of that Joint Committee report, and in summary what I might say, apart from repeat the contents of the speech of the hon. Member for East Antrim, is simply, “Please revisit the recommendations of the Joint Committee report that you haven’t felt able to accept so far, and see whether, in the light of this debate, you should consider them again.”
At the heart of this has got to be how we treat victims. First, we have got to recognise that they are victims. Secondly, we have got to give them the protection they need to make sure we get convictions of those who are organising and driving these evil webs of crime. We took plenty of evidence to show that victims live in fear often long after they have been liberated. Too often they finish up defecting back to their abusers or going back home and being recycled yet again as a victim. Too often cases collapse because victims’ evidence will not stand up and the Director of Public Prosecutions does not believe that a conviction can be secured with such witnesses, or if they do go to court, that the witnesses will not provide the evidence they should be able to provide. Lisa Nandy gave a specific example of a young lad of eight who insisted that his lawyer be instructed to give evidence that the man who was managing him was his father, not a trafficker.
We can see that there are fundamental problems with the current system and the Joint Committee recommended ways to tackle that. I will not rehearse them all, but it is a pity that, although the Government have moved on from the existing jumble of offences spread over many different statutes and got them into one place, they still have the jumble. That is one of the points on which attention needs to be focused. There is clearly a difference between being a victim as a defence against prosecution, and having a non-prosecution clause. Again, the Committee was clear on what it thought would be best in that regard, and I hope the Home Secretary, whom I am delighted to see is here listening, can reconsider.
Another aspect is the care of victims. There are many complex processes. As has been said, the police and social services may be involved—the immigration services are certainly likely to be involved—and that is three just to start with. It is difficult to imagine how those who do not speak the language—particularly the young person who has little education and perhaps no literacy, who is in awe of their slave master and comes from a culture where authorities are instinctively distrusted—can navigate that system. The evidence we took and the Committee’s proposals concerning advocates are very important in that regard.
I welcome the pilots that are being commissioned and I hope they will produce results, although it has to be said that a pilot that is evaluated after only six months is probably not going to give a long enough run for us to be really sure what we have got. When victims of trafficking are rescued and acknowledged— the acknowledgment process may be difficult—they have up to 45 days of support, on a contract that is organised very well by the Salvation Army. However, after the 45 days there is absolutely nothing, and no further support is available.
All these deficiencies can be put right, but who is going to manage the process of putting them right? At this point, I want to say a word or two about the anti-slavery commissioner. In her evidence to the Joint Committee and earlier today, the Home Secretary pointed out that this is going to be a world-leading model of how to tackle modern slavery, and I welcome that absolutely. However, I wonder whether we would recommend to the Governments of the Philippines, Bangladesh or Nigeria, for example, that they should have an independent anti-slavery commissioner who is a civil servant embedded in their ministry of the interior. It is not just about creating a credible system that will work for victims and will work here. If we are going to be world leaders in this regard, let us set an example and not create something that is obscured by a typically British fog of accountability, which we can usually get away with because our systems have integrity and our ministries have Chinese walls. All of that is true, but we could be proud to be an advocate of a worldwide system of anti-slavery commissioners that is independent of Governments. I hope the Home Secretary will be open to considering that.
I did not hear any Back Bencher say that they thought it a bad idea to extend this legislation to include supply chains. Some 16 of the 20 speakers said that they thought doing so was highly desirable, and were surprised that such a provision was not included. I hope that that straw poll of participants in this debate will be evidence that the Home Secretary and the Government take to heart. Perhaps she will want officials to draft a note of this debate and make sure that relevant members of the Cabinet in other Departments are aware of the opinions of this House. That evidence and the evidence given to us in the report show that if we do not regulate supply chains and we rely on Marks and Spencer, Primark, John Lewis and so on to have their own standards, we will be increasing the profit margins and the attractiveness of the slave labour sector. The cost of complying with their own voluntary codes will be an on cost for the products they sell to people, so relying on a voluntary code is increasing the profit margins of the slave owners around the world. Mr Field was rightly well commended by others, and he pointed out that we can do this by adding five words to the Companies Act 2006. These are five words that the industry wants and that this House wants, and they are five words that cost the Government nothing in public expenditure. I hope very much that we will see that provision as well.
Like everybody who has spoken, I could easily say another 100 things about the Bill, but I will not do so. I started by endorsing the Home Secretary’s initiative on this vital concern, and what I have said is not, in any way, designed to undermine it; rather, it is to help her to deliver a truly world-leading reform. I look forward to working with my Liberal Democrat colleagues, with colleagues on the Opposition Benches and with my coalition colleagues in Committee and in the House of Lords to make sure that that is exactly what we get.
We all welcome this piece of legislation. The Home Secretary said that it would lead the world in tackling exploitation, and I know that much has been said today about the role played by William Wilberforce and his attempt over many years to abolish the slave trade. Of course, as a Hull MP, I am always very mindful that William Wilberforce was a Member of Parliament for Hull, and we now have the Wilberforce Institute for the study of Slavery and Emancipation at the university of Hull to mark the amazing thing that he did.
The Opposition are very pleased to have the Bill’s Second Reading debate today. It was important to note that the Government produced a draft Bill first, and we had the benefit of pre-legislative scrutiny of that Bill. I wish to pay tribute to the Joint Committee that carried out that scrutiny: my right hon. Friend Mr Field; my hon. Friends the Members for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart) and for Linlithgow and East Falkirk (Michael Connarty); Sir John Randall; Fiona Bruce; the right hon. Members for Hazel Grove (Sir Andrew Stunell) and for Meriden (Mrs Spelman); and some Members of the other place. From reading their excellent report, it seems to me that they heard from witnesses from a wide range of charities, churches and other bodies. The proposals the Committee made greatly improved that original draft Bill.
The Government have accepted some changes proposed as a result of the pre-legislative scrutiny, but not as many as they need to accept. Given the contributions we have heard from Members from all parts of the House today, I hope that the Home Secretary and the Minister will look at again at some of the proposals in the report. I wish briefly to discuss some of the excellent contributions we have had today. We have had a wide-ranging debate, with lots of contributions. I wish to pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Slough as the excellent chair of the all-party group on human trafficking and modern day slavery and to agree with her compliment to the role that Anthony Steen played in ensuring that Parliament took this issue seriously. I know that we are not allowed to refer to him sitting in the Box, but I know that he has been listening carefully to our debate this afternoon.
My hon. Friend talked about the three Ps: prevention, prosecution and protection. She raised concerns about the Bill’s particular focus just on prosecution, and spoke about the need to have well-constructed offences and whether we needed to look again at the way the offences are currently drafted. She made the important point about the need for simple language to describe the offences to ensure that we push up the number of prosecutions. She also raised issues about separate offences for children, which I will come on to in a minute, and the role of the anti-slavery commissioner being strengthened, as well as the domestic worker visa and the Gangmasters Licensing Authority.
My hon. Friend Mark Durkan also talked about how important it was that there was the non-prosecution of victims, and he welcomed the statutory defence in clause 39, as did the right hon. Member for Hazel Grove.
My hon. Friend Lisa Nandy, who brings enormous experience to the debate from her work with trafficked children, made a passionate case for the improvements that she wants to see in the Bill. She spoke with great knowledge on the issues around age. In particular, she mentioned the idea that has been raised by the Immigration Law Practitioners’ Association in the past about having age assessment centres in regions around the country, which is something that the Bill Committee may wish to look further at. She said that this was a golden opportunity to get the law right on guardians for children.
My hon. Friend Paul Blomfield talked about prevention, and he argued very passionately for the GLA to have its reach extended to construction, the care sector and hospitality. My hon. Friend Kerry McCarthy, in her role as a shadow Minister in the Foreign Office, talked about her discussions with the Pacific Links charity and the international angle to this legislation. She also spoke very well about the consumer power issue only going so far, and the need for legislation on supply chains.
In his opening remarks, my right hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead said that it seemed from the debate that the Bill was one that the House very much wanted to fashion, and, given the number of ideas that were coming forward about how the Bill could be improved, he was absolutely right. The particular points he raised were around children and the supply chain and the need to support victims. He said that this was a good Bill that could become a world-class Bill.
My hon. Friend Mark Lazarowicz made the case for the cross-nation work that needs to take place within the United Kingdom. My hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk, who speaks with great knowledge and experience about the supply chain, referred to his private Member’s Bill. He expressed his views very strongly, saying, why stop when we are three-quarters of the way up the mountain. He said why not go to the top of the mountain and make this a world-class Bill.
I also want to refer to Tracey Crouch who said that she had read somewhere that anyone who is interested in this particular piece of legislation would have to be a left-wing feminista. I just want to say to her that we left-wing feministas welcome right-wing feministas too, and we think that the debate that has gone on across the House shows that there is cross-party support for this piece of legislation. She urged her Front-Bench team to be bold and brave.
There were many other contributions to the debate this afternoon. The need for more positive public awareness and public information was made by the hon. Members for Mid Derbyshire (Pauline Latham) and for South West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous). The hon. Gentleman also talked about the need for a global and a local perspective. There was a welcome for the duty to notify in clause 44 from Mr Burrowes. There were a number of contributions about the need for specific provisions around the supply chain. Mel Stride, who said that he was a dyed-in-the-wool pro-business Conservative, made the case for why there should be legislation on the supply chain and talked about the Californian Act and how that might be a sensible way forward.
The right hon. Member for Meriden called for the proposal on the Companies Act 2006, which was mentioned by the Joint Committee, to be brought forward, as did the right hon. Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip, and he told us that Richard Branson backed that idea, too. Hywel Williams and Chloe Smith also talked about the supply chain, and the hon. Lady talked about the use of agricultural workers and how important it was to ensure they were protected.
There is obviously a need for strong support for child victims and the case for that was made by John Glen. The case for strengthening the role of the anti-slavery commissioner was made by Stephen Barclay. The court’s ability to punish with sentences of up to life imprisonment was welcomed by Sammy Wilson, who also talked about the fact that the National Crime Agency does not operate in Northern Ireland.
We want to see improvements to the Bill in five areas. We think that there are some concerns about the drafting of the offences, as the definitions are not always consistent, but we want to work with the government to see whether we can improve them.
We will table amendments on a specific offence of child trafficking and exploitation. We also want to push the idea of having full child guardians. I listened with care to what my hon. Friend the Member for Wigan said about acting in a child’s best interests and that might be something that a guardian would be able to do whereas an advocate would not.
On the question of support for victims, we feel that the remit of the anti-slavery commissioner needs to be extended and that there needs to be more independence from the Home Office. We also believe that a statutory basis for the national referral mechanism should be included in the Bill. There are various other technical issues that we will want to debate in Committee, including the 45-day reflection period, reparations and the strength of the non-prosecution clauses.
Let me return to the issue of the supply chain. The Joint Committee called for provisions on the supply chain to be included, but no clauses in the Bill relate to it. We will table amendments to put that right and we believe that it is correct that large companies should show and report on what they are doing to eradicate slavery. We believe that that has widespread support from industry and business. We think that the point about domestic workers needs to be debated in Committee, as does the question of extending the GLA into other industries.
Many speakers in the debate have described the nature of modern slavery and, along with those mentioned in the opening remarks of the shadow Home Secretary, my right hon. Friend Yvette Cooper, and in my comments, we will table amendments that we believe are needed for the Bill to diminish the trade in this century. William Wilberforce told the House in May 1789 that
“we can no longer plead ignorance, we can not evade it”.
We can all agree that Britain can again play a leading international role in fighting slavery, as we did 200 years ago when Wilberforce was successful. If we get this legislation right, it will strike a huge blow for freedom, but it will be a tragic missed opportunity for slavery’s victims if we fail to produce a world-class piece of legislation. As William Wilberforce said:
“Accustom yourself to look first to the dreadful consequences of failure; then fix your eye on the glorious prize which is before you”.
This has been an excellent debate, which has shown the House at its best. I am grateful to all hon. Members who have contributed, and I take their contributions and suggestions in the spirit in which they were intended. I also welcome the cross-party support for the Bill.
We all want the same thing: to stamp out slavery and make it clear that there is no place for anybody who wants to abuse human beings as slaves in this country.
I hope that we can all work together to achieve that aim. The experiences of coming into contact with victims of modern slavery are always harrowing. I would describe my life before I took this job as the Minister with responsibility for modern slavery and organised crime as one of blissful ignorance. I had no idea about the scale of the problem, the extent of it, its depth or breadth, how it affects towns and cities across the country and how it affects all communities. The victims I have met and the stories I have heard have deeply affected me. Each one brings home just how difficult it is to tackle this crime.
Throughout debate on the Bill, we must remember the immense misery and trauma experienced by the victims of this crime. Held against their will, with no means of escape, they often endure rape, violence and psychological torture. That is why it is so unacceptable that slavery is still a fact of life in this country.
The Bill will make a real difference. It is critical to improving the law enforcement response to modern slavery. It will ensure that perpetrators can receive the sentences they deserve, including life imprisonment. It will strengthen our powers to recover their ill-gotten assets, and it will enhance protection for victims of this heinous crime. We cannot safeguard victims if we do not catch and convict the perpetrators. The actions that we are taking, both in the Bill and outside it—changes to policy, the trials and the reviews of existing mechanisms that we are undertaking—are all aimed at achieving that.
The Bill has the potential to be even more than a crucial step towards stamping out slavery in this country. It will send an important signal to the wider world that the time has come to take firm action to end global slavery. That message is even stronger after today’s debate because of the degree of cross-party support for the Bill and the commitment that right hon. and hon. Members have shown to the cause in their contributions. Today’s debate builds on the excellent work of the pre-legislative scrutiny Committee, which has helped to shape the Bill. I am grateful to the members of that Committee and welcome the important contributions today from Mr Field, my right hon. Friends the Members for Meriden (Mrs Spelman), for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Sir John Randall) and for Hazel Grove (Sir Andrew Stunell), and the hon. Members for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart) and for Linlithgow and East Falkirk (Michael Connarty).
During the debate a large number of Members identified areas where the Bill might adopt a different approach. I understand hon. Members’ deep commitment to using the Bill to make a difference on a wide range of issues and I will continue to work on both the Bill and the non-legislative ways in which we can tackle this horrendous crime. However, I urge hon. Members not to endanger the passage of the Bill in a very short Session of Parliament by trying to widen its scope. The Bill is a crucial first step, which will make a real difference to the lives of the victims of the appalling crime of modern slavery. By focusing on the very serious offences of slavery and trafficking, it will give law enforcement the clearest possible signal that Parliament wants these crimes stamped out, but it is a first step and I am determined that we will deliver it in the short Session that we have available.
Time is short, and I would like to cover as many points as possible. I give a commitment to all Members who made contributions that if I do not respond to them during this winding-up speech, I will write to every one of them and involve them all in the work that we are doing. I am sure that in Committee we will discuss in detail all the points that were made, and I commit to look closely at all the issues raised before we start the line-by-line scrutiny upstairs.
We heard from 21 Members in full contributions and interventions. We had contributions from the hon. Members for Slough, for Foyle (Mark Durkan), for Wigan (Lisa Nandy), and for Sheffield Central (Paul Blomfield), Kerry McCarthy, for Arfon (Hywel Williams), for Edinburgh North and Leith (Mark Lazarowicz), for Linlithgow and East Falkirk and for East Antrim (Sammy Wilson), from my hon. Friends the Members for Mid Derbyshire (Pauline Latham), for Central Devon (Mel Stride), for Chatham and Aylesford (Tracey Crouch), for North East Cambridgeshire (Stephen Barclay), for Enfield, Southgate (Mr Burrowes) and for South West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous), and from my right hon. Friends the Members for Meriden and for Uxbridge and South Ruislip, my hon. Friends the Members for Salisbury (John Glen) and for Norwich North (Chloe Smith) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Hazel Grove.
On the specific issues that were raised, I must start with the right hon. Member for Birkenhead. He has done tremendous work in this field and been a real leader. His work on the pre-legislative scrutiny Committee has been outstanding, but as always he pushed the envelope slightly with the Deputy Speaker in some of his comments and references. I know he will be forgiven for that. It was astute of him to spot that it was the women who were driving the measure through. The three that he mentioned show that it takes a woman to make these things happen on occasions. He also took an important intervention from Ian Paisley, who is not in his place, about the work of the NGOs and the charities on this matter. It is vital that we recognise that those organisations help to support the victims. They have amazing experience and they know how to make sure that the victims have the best support. It is our job in this place and in government to give the NGOs the support that they require and let them get on and do the work that they do so well.
The hon. Member for Wigan shared her great personal experience of the issue. I was very interested to hear all her contributions. I would very much like to discuss these matters further with her—not just the Bill but the NRM review and how we can deal with her concerns about children. I was interested in the work that she talked about with the former UK Border Agency, which, as she knows, no longer exists. I was at Gatwick last week to meet the anti-trafficking team there and it is clear from her description of the work that she did with UKBA many years ago that that work is now taken into account on the front line of Border Force, which is acutely aware of the difficulties of dealing with child victims of trafficking and ensuring that they are properly looked after and supported. I was impressed with the work that I saw and I would like to share that with the hon. Member for Wigan if possible.
The right hon. Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip claimed that he was repeating what had been said before. We all find that difficult to believe because he always gives a different perspective in what he says. I liked his comment that modern slavery was a Cinderella crime. I shall start thinking of the slavemasters as stepmothers and ugly sisters. That might help explain it to people outside this place who have not heard the victims’ stories that we have heard. His points about raising awareness and education and his comment that we should all become advocates for this issue were incredibly important. I am sure that we will all leave here happy to talk to our constituents and explain to them why this heinous crime needs to be tackled.
My hon. Friend the Member for Mid Derbyshire referred to the work of the Bishop of Derby, who was a member of the pre-legislative scrutiny Committee. As he is relatively local to my constituency, I know that he does an incredible amount of work. She said that there should be a hotline or place where people could go to report what they had seen. We are working with the NSPCC to develop an appropriate hotline, which we will launch later this summer. There will be one place where people know they can go to report instances of the crime that they have seen.
My hon. Friend the Member for Central Devon talked about what Wilberforce had to go through 200 years ago, but he made an important point about the difference between slavery then and today. Then it was a visible, acceptable crime. People did not actually think of it as a crime. It happened in front of them. Today, we all know that slavery is abhorrent; it is not something that we should tolerate in our society. Yet people do not know how to spot the signs of it; they do not know how to deal with it; they do not know where to go to report it. The Bill and other measures will help to address that problem.
My hon. Friend the Member for Chatham and Aylesford referred to comments on Twitter about this being an obsession of left-wing feministas. As a right-wing feminista like her, I am proud that it is our obsession. I also experienced a Twitter moment when I was asked last night why we have a Minister for modern slavery when slavery is illegal. That is a good point, and it perhaps brings home the deficiencies of social media. She also talked, as did my hon. Friends the Members for South West Bedfordshire, for Enfield, Southgate and for North East Cambridgeshire of the work of local police forces. From an operational and policy point of view, we need to work to ensure that local police forces know the signs of this crime, know where to report it and share intelligence so that we can prosecute the perpetrators and make sure that they get the punishment that they deserve.
My hon. Friend the Member for Norwich North talked about the situation in rural communities and how she had once been an employee of a legitimate gangmaster, which was interesting to hear. I am sure nobody in the House would have any ideas about the Whips Office being anything like that—my hon. Friend and I shared time in the Whips Office—but her point about rural workers and migrant workers is important. I recently visited Devon and Cornwall police, which has dedicated migrant worker police community support officers who work closely with the Gangmasters Licensing Authority and others to identify the signs of trafficking, slavery and exploitation. All that work is incredibly important, and we need to see more of it being rolled out across the country.
The hon. Member for East Antrim talked about the Bill raising awareness, which is also an important point. The more we talk about and consider the Bill, the more that people outside the House will see that the Government are concerned about the issue and are taking action. I therefore thank him for his contribution.
The hon. Member for Arfon highlighted the interesting disparity between income levels in the countries from which trafficking victims often travel. Again, one of the strange parts of the crime is that the victims of trafficking often want to be trafficked, if that makes sense, because they feel that they are leaving something worse to go to something better. It is only when they get to their destination, having committed an immigration crime by allowing themselves to be trafficked, that they are exploited as a slave. I am pleased that we have introduced a statutory defence in the Bill that ensures that anyone who has committed an immigration crime, not knowing that they would end up being abused as a slave, will be protected.[Official Report, 17 July 2014, Vol. 584, c. 7-8MC.]
The hon. Members for Edinburgh North and Leith, for Foyle and for Linlithgow and East Falkirk, and others, raised concerns about the devolved Administrations. Although the Bill has territorial extent only in England and Wales, it goes so far as to cover the devolved Administrations. We are working closely with the devolved Administrations, and we are ensuring that, where there are gaps that we know how to fill, the offence will be dealt with throughout the country, not just in England and Wales.
My hon. Friend the Member for Norwich North talked about the possibility of the statutory defence being used as a loophole. I reassure her that the defence will include clear safeguards. For example, the defence will apply only to victims of trafficking or slavery who have been compelled to commit the offence as a direct consequence of their enslavement or trafficking and where a reasonable person in the same situation would have had no realistic alternative but to act in a similar way. I look forward to debating all those issues and more in Committee. The victims should be at the heart of our further deliberations on the Bill, and I have no doubt that the true mark of the Bill’s success will be fewer victims whose lives are blighted by modern slavery.
If the House will indulge me, this is the first debate in which I have spoken for two years, as I have spent a significant amount of time in the Whips Office. The last time I was able to contribute to a debate was on behalf of a vulnerable constituent, and I was very proud to be able to stand up for my constituent in that debate. I am even prouder to return to speaking in this House to stand up for all the vulnerable victims of slavery and to see this crime being tackled and stamped out. This is my message to anyone out there who feels that they can abuse and use victims of slavery, “There is no home for you in this country. We will find you, we will prosecute you and we will lock you up.”
Question put and agreed to.
Bill accordingly read a Second time.