Clause 1 — Slavery, servitude and forced or compulsory labour

Oral Answers to Questions — Justice – in the House of Commons at 2:45 pm on 17th March 2015.

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Photo of Eleanor Laing Eleanor Laing Deputy Speaker (First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means), First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means

With this it will be convenient to consider Lords amendments 2 to 71 and 73 to 95.

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

These are the amendments that the Government introduced in the other place to improve the Bill. They focus particularly on strengthening the provisions on support and protection for victims. They were broadly welcomed across the parties in the other place and they also deal with many issues raised in debates in this House. I shall not go through them in detail now but will, with the leave of the House, respond to specific points at the end of the debate. I hope that right hon. and hon. Members will feel able to welcome them.

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

I thank the Minister. I was a little taken aback by the brevity of her opening remarks, considering the number of amendments that have been proposed. I may not be as brief as she was, because there are several points I want to put on the record.

It is important to stress again that the Labour party has always supported the introduction of this important Bill. We recognise that human trafficking is a heinous crime and that its complex nature demands specialist legislation, but it has been a little difficult at times fully to understand the Government’s approach. When the original Bill was first published, many charities, organisations and lawyers shared the view that the Government had failed to provide the level of support for victims that we all wanted to see. There were also some large gaps: for example, at the outset it contained nothing on supply chains.

Progress has been made in Committee in this House and in the other place. I pay tribute to my noble Friends the right hon. Baroness Royall, Lord Rosser and Baroness Kennedy for their work in ensuring that we received this much improved Bill today. I also pay tribute to the work done in the Committee that considered the draft Bill. Tribute has already been paid to my right hon. Friend Mr Field for the work that he and all the members of that Committee did on a cross-party basis to make a set of recommendations that we have been able to consider, question and argue for as the Bill passed through the House.

I want to comment on some of the progress that has been made through the Government amendments in the other place. The position of anti-slavery commissioner has been transformed; it originally seemed to me that they would be nothing more than a Home Office civil servant with a remit exclusively covering prosecutions and with no independent overview of their work programme. Even though that change has not gone as far as we hoped—we hoped for something more akin to the Children’s Commissioner—we are pleased that the commissioner will have control over their finances, will be able to appoint their own staff and promote good practice across the world and that public bodies will have a duty to co-operate with them. Most of all, I am pleased that the commissioner’s remit will include the support available to victims and survivors of trafficking and exploitation.

There have been significant improvements in the formulation of the statutory defence for victims of slavery who commit crimes in the course of their enslavement. The original defence did not recognise the unique nature of child exploitation and the fact that a child cannot consent to their own enslavement. The Opposition therefore welcome the removal of the compulsion element of the statutory defence in relation to children, but we think that a problem remains not just in the conviction of perpetrators of slavery but in the prosecutions and charging decisions. We are disappointed that the Government have not suggested an amendment to require the Director of Public Prosecutions to issue specific guidance on charging in cases of human trafficking victims. Whichever party is in Government after 7 May will need to consider that again.

Another big area on which there has been movement is that of child advocates. Although the new system introduced by the Government is not the system of child guardians required by the EU directive on child trafficking, which was called for by the Joint Committee on the draft Bill and the charity coalition involved in the Anti-Trafficking Monitoring Group, some improvements have been made. I pay tribute in particular to my right hon. Friend Fiona Mactaggart, who championed child advocates forcefully in the Bill Committee.

We now have an assurance that advocates will definitely be brought in and that they will be independent of other statutory bodies with responsibility for the child; that they will have access to the necessary and appropriate information; that they will be appointed as soon as is reasonably practicable where there are reasonable grounds to believe that a child may be a victim of human trafficking; and that they will have the power to appoint and instruct legal representatives where appropriate.

I also welcome the practical moves in relation to the Gangmasters Licensing Authority and the fact that we will have a Government report looking at the GLA’s work and a possible extension of its role within 12 months.

On another positive note, we are very pleased with the significant progress that has been made on the reporting requirements placed on large firms in relation to their supply chains. The Government could never claim to be genuinely committed to eradicating slavery in the UK if we did not address slavery in the supply chains of our large companies. It was absurd that the Government did not include supply chains in the original Bill. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend Michael Connarty, who has done so much to champion this issue over many years. I am pleased that his tireless efforts have paid dividends in changing the Bill.

The Opposition were clear from the outset that we wanted a reporting requirement that was comprehensive, that allowed direct comparability between companies and that included an enforcement mechanism. Although we welcomed the moves originally announced by the Minister on Report, we still wanted them to go further. She will remember that we were particularly critical of the Government for repeating some of the mistakes that have hampered the transparency of supply chains legislation in California. It has not always been clear which companies that legislation applies to, and it has been hard for non-governmental organisations to find out which companies ought to be complying and whether they actually are complying. Moreover, when two reports were looked at side by side, they were often not directly comparable.

That is why we made it clear that the reporting requirement has to contain clear instructions as to what a report has to have in it. A large firm may have 100,000 suppliers and it will be able to fill a report with good practice, but what we need firms to do is to create a fair evaluation that addresses the key issues, which means that we have to specify the key things to be addressed in the report.

We welcome the guidance as to what a report should contain and we hope it will encourage best practice, but we still think that that should be compulsory guidance rather than just a steer. We would also have liked it to contain a requirement for companies to report on what work they are doing to support victims who are found in their supply chains. I recognise, however, that the Bill has come a long way and I thank the Minister for the way in which she has dealt with the changes to it over the past few months.

Before I finish, I want to address two areas on which there has not been as much progress as the Opposition would have liked. First, on protection for victims, although I welcome Lords amendment 46 and the introduction of some civil legal aid for victims, and Lords amendment 61, which introduces enabling powers to put the national referral mechanism on a statutory footing, that does not represent the proper system of recognising and supporting victims which we need..

The Government’s report on the national referral mechanism identified numerous failings that need to be addressed. However, whatever improvements are made to internal processes, we still need a transparent and rigorous system that is open to challenge. That is why we need a statutory national referral mechanism. We hope that the Minister intends to use that enabling power as soon as possible.

Finally, I want to turn to part 1 of the Bill and the offences of human trafficking and exploitation. I welcome Lords amendments 1 to 4. Indeed, I tabled a version of Lords amendment 3 on the first day of the Bill Committee in this place. Those Government amendments, however, are very minor and do not address the severe structural deficiencies in our legislative response to human trafficking. The human trafficking offences have developed in an ad hoc manner over the past decade. The Bill consolidates the existing offences, but it does not cover the gaps in current practice, which were clearly presented to the draft Bill Committee by the police and to the Public Bill Committee by two expert lawyers.

All the evidence is backed up by some shocking statistics. In 2013, the police identified 2,744 human trafficking victims, including 602 children. They were involved in different forms of exploitation. However, despite the identification of 2,744 victims, there were just 104 prosecutions and 48 convictions. Most shockingly, the Government could not identify a single prosecution where the victim was a child. Despite that, the Bill contains no specific child offences and no specific offences of exploitation.

That is a huge lacuna, yet throughout the passage of the Bill the Minister has been immune to arguments to amend it from charities and lawyers, and immune to evidence from the police and even to the terrible statistics I have just given. It is a great shame that the Bill has failed in that regard, but I am pleased to say that a Labour Government would introduce specific offences of child and adult exploitation if we found ourselves in government in the next Parliament.

In conclusion, it has been a great pleasure to work for the best part of a year on this important Bill, which has been improved hugely during its passage through Parliament. I reiterate my thanks to Members on both sides of the House for their work. I also thank the many charities and voluntary sector bodies that have worked on the issues involved. These groups work with victims in very difficult circumstances and have done a huge amount to use their front-line experience to inform the work of this House and to improve the Bill.

Photo of David Burrowes David Burrowes Conservative, Enfield, Southgate 3:15 pm, 17th March 2015

This is an important Bill, which the whole House can be proud of. Throughout its passage there has rightly been robust scrutiny by the Joint Committee and the Bill Committee, of which I was proud to be a member, and by both sides of the House, but I believe that it is fit for its purpose of increasing prosecutions and supporting victims.

I welcome the Lords amendments, which in many respects reflect the work in the Bill Committee and in all parts of the House to try to ensure that we did the very best we could in the limited time available to make this a world-class Bill, as the Home Secretary sought. I thank her for her lead, and the Prime Minister, and in particular the Minister for her diligence and care in dealing with these matters.

I want to draw particular attention to these because they reflect the debates we had in the Bill Committee. In many ways, we go through this process and all end up in the place we want to be. In particular, the Bill now makes it explicit that one of the personal circumstances that may make someone vulnerable to slavery is the fact that they are a child. Throughout the passage of the Bill, we have all wanted to make sure that child victims are central, that there are prosecutions when there are child victims, and that the Bill gives a proper tailored response. I therefore welcome this crucial amendment, which we have sought from the outset, and which I and others have campaigned for.

I do not accept that it is necessary for a specific child exploitation offence, however. I think the Bill can deal with prosecutions in relation to child victims, and the explicit reference to children in clause 1 now is particularly welcome.

I tabled an amendment and joined Members on both sides to ensure that exploitation measures had as wide an effect as possible, and that that was covered in clause 1. I drew attention in Committee, and others have done so since, to things such as begging or pick-pocketing and ensuring that such exploitation-type offences were covered by clause 1. It is important that such work and services now qualify as exploitation. The Government were previously concerned that the definition was going to be too wide, but in the Bill Committee we said from the outset that it was possible to use the definition set out in clause 3. Lo and behold, that is where we have got to, and the Lords and the Government have accepted that that is an appropriate addition.

We all wanted to be as clear as possible on the issue of consent, to make sure that this Bill was in step with our international obligations and case law. Also, we all wanted to make sure there was a specific understanding in the Bill that a victim’s consent to any of the alleged conduct does not preclude a finding that they have been held in slavery or were required to perform forced labour. We wanted to make sure that the wording did not have the perverse impact of ensuring that a child victim did not achieve the prosecutions they deserved, and now it is clear that a victim’s consent should not preclude any findings of their being held in slavery or forced labour.

Another area that has been mentioned is the independence of the anti-slavery commissioner. It is very welcome that the combined efforts of both Houses have led to a point where no one can be in any doubt about the independence of the commissioner, who has the word “independent” at the beginning of their title, as the Bill Committee was able to achieve. I pay tribute to those in the other place on both sides, and refer in particular—to be slightly partial—to Lord McColl of Dulwich, who played a key role alongside others in following up the hard work done by the Joint Committee and the Bill Committee. They all worked to ensure that there was the appropriate budget and staffing. Resources are necessary to make sure that this works and to make it clear—the Government amendments make this clear beyond doubt—not only that the child trafficking advocates are independent but that this is going to happen: yes, there is piloting, but this is going to happen. There is now a duty to ensure that these detailed regulations come to pass and that there is an appropriate sharing of information, and the public authorities must co-operate. All in all, this is a very welcome addition to a Bill that we can all be proud of. We can be proud of it because of the effect it will have on the ground, in making sure that there are prosecutions and that there is proper support for victims.

Several hon. Members:

rose—

Photo of Eleanor Laing Eleanor Laing Deputy Speaker (First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means), First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means

Order. Before I call the next speaker, it will be obvious to the House that we have limited time left. Three of the Members who have indicated that they wish to speak now have spoken at some length on the last group of amendments. If Members wish to hear what the Minister has to say in response to their questions, I hope they will have the courtesy to leave a few minutes for her to reply, in which case no one should speak for more than three minutes.

Photo of Anas Sarwar Anas Sarwar Shadow Minister (International Development)

I do not intend to speak for very long at all, Madam Deputy Speaker, but I just want to touch on a few aspects, particularly around the supply chain amendments and how they relate to our commitment as a country and as a Government to our international development obligations. It is right that we seek to increase opportunity right across the world, but we have to accept that many of the systems we adopt domestically perpetuate poverty and the cycle of deprivation in some of the poorest and most vulnerable places around the world. One example of that is supply chains.

This debate comes between Fairtrade fortnight and the anniversary of the Rana plaza disaster, when 1,200 workers lost their lives putting together garments, many of which were going to be worn in Britain. That is why these amendments are so important, and I welcome many of the changes that have come from the Government, although I agree with the shadow Minister, my right hon. Friend Mr Hanson, that they could have gone a lot further.

The fact that 80 billion garments a year are produced globally, that there are 168 million child workers and that 85 million of them are working in hazardous conditions and that over 4 million aged between four and 14 are working in India alone shows the scale of the challenge. If we are to be serious about our international obligations, we must make sure our domestic legislation helps to shape and fight for the right things across the world. We must ensure that everyone has access to a decent job, fair pay and the right to join a trade union.

On that point, it is unacceptable in the midst of such a debate, in which I welcome many of the Government’s proposals, that we see the ideological scrapping of central budget support for the International Labour Organisation, which helps to promote workers’ rights around the globe. If we come into government on 7 May—as I hope we will—I am sure we will reverse that funding cut, and I hope a Government of any other colour would do so, too.

I want to say a bit about the sustainability of putting not only voluntary but mandatory entitlements on companies. Companies must meet their full obligations and there should be some kind of certification mechanism for well-behaved companies to be recognised, but bad practice must be exposed and outlawed. That will give the public the same confidence that they have about cocoa, chocolate and wine through Fairtrade fortnight. We should have the same confidence about all those things we acquire from across the globe.

I see that my three minutes have arrived, Madam Deputy Speaker. In closing, I welcome the Government amendments. They could have gone a lot further, but let us hope that this is the start of an opportunity to improve life chances of workers not just here, but across the globe.

Photo of Michael Connarty Michael Connarty Labour, Linlithgow and East Falkirk

I echo the positive and cautionary comments that my right hon. Friend Mr Hanson has made today. We have done much to progress this issue, but we still have a long way to go. I want to mark the fact that we did not take the advice of Lord Judge and Peter Carter and that we will have a cascade of serious offences, so that people will know exactly what they are being judged on and so that judges will know what we want them to do, rather than having to interpret the previous collection of crimes. That, for me, is the most important thing.

I want to talk also about the Connarty-Mactaggart clause. We might even be able to call it the Connarty-Mactaggart-Bradley clause if the Minister were to attach herself to it. If I were to put that in alphabetical order, I would have to put the Minister’s name first, but I do not want to do that as the issue was initiated by my right hon. Friend Fiona Mactaggart in her ten-minute rule Bill and by me in my private Member’s Bill.

I thank the Minister for putting into amendment 73 the six areas of information that an organisation’s slavery and human trafficking statement must include and disclose. The amendment also states that the board of a company must approve such a statement and that it will have to be signed by a director. That provision came from debates in the Bill Committee and in the Joint Committee. Those provisions give strength to what we have been trying to do.

Lords amendment 74 will ensure that statutory guidance may provide more information on slavery and human trafficking. We might have to change this provision in the future if we see malpractice, because there will be malpractice as some people try to avoid this provision. Lords amendment 83 deals with the definition of turnover. One of the issues that we had was the size of company that would be caught in this mandatory process, and I hope that we will find a way to include small and medium-sized enterprises, as California has done, because they want to be included. My hon. Friend Anas Sarwar talked about commending such organisations, but I still want to see the introduction of a kitemark for companies that comply with this law, so that people will know that they have been audited for human trafficking.

I am sorry to tell the Minister that I must mention one omission from clause 51. Subsection (9) states:

“The duties imposed on commercial organisations by this section are enforceable by the Secretary of State bringing civil proceedings in the High Court for an injunction or, in Scotland, for specific performance of a statutory duty under section 45 of the Court of Session Act 1988.”

That power will have to be devolved at some point, because it is a matter that should be dealt with in the Scottish courts even though it is coming from a UK Bill. I would also plead for the public to be able to say something about this. They, too, should be able to hold companies and other organisations to account.

I should like to thank the Minister. Although we have disputed some of the finer points and I have tried to push her in certain directions, she has been an absolute stalwart. We began by forcing the Government to sign up to the human trafficking directive when they seemed reluctant to do so, but we have moved to the point at which we now have a fully-fledged Bill. We might improve on it in future Parliaments, but it is one of which we can be proud today. I thank the Minister, Mr Burrowes and all the other Members who worked so hard on the Bill in Committee.

Photo of Paul Blomfield Paul Blomfield Labour, Sheffield Central 3:30 pm, 17th March 2015

I want to speak briefly to Lords amendment 77. I support it, but I have some concerns about how the consultation relating to the Gangmasters Licensing Authority was described by Ministers in the other place, first in relation to the consideration of changes to enforcement and licensing activity and, secondly, in relation to intelligence sharing and interaction with other agencies. On the first, it is important to emphasise that the interest shown in the role of the GLA throughout the passage of the Bill has been due to its status as a model of best practice internationally. Its strength lies in fulfilling the very letter of the new International Labour Organisation protocol and the recommendation to the forced labour convention—which this Government voted for just last year and intend to ratify shortly—calling for improved labour inspections and enforcement of labour laws as key prevention measures.

Will the Minister assure the House that consultation on changes to enforcement and licensing activity will give due consideration to the success of the GLA’s licensing and enforcement activity in its current form? I emphasise the words “in its current form”. General law enforcement is not a GLA responsibility and, should the GLA’s meagre resources be diverted into criminal investigations and crime control, as was suggested in the other place, its critical licensing and intelligence-gathering role would be compromised.

Much of the GLA’s strength lies in its ability to build relationships of trust with workers during its detailed intelligence-gathering work. Critically, that intelligence is often anonymous and relies on workers trusting that the GLA is independent of the Government. Vulnerable workers have expressed considerable mistrust for the GLA where it is considered to be too close to border security or the police. So will the Minister assure the House that the consideration of a role for the GLA in intelligence sharing will not pose challenges to its intelligence-gathering function?

At the recent GLA national conference in Derby, the Minister said that the review would ensure that the GLA would

“target the ‘right’ businesses, the ones who break the law, the ones who exploit their workers and the ones who subject them to servitude and slavery.”

I think everyone would agree that it is important to target the right businesses, but we want to ensure that the Home Office does not allow its emphasis on prosecution to obscure the complexity of the fight against modern slavery. We do not need another National Crime Agency or a new UK Border Agency; we need the Gangmasters Licensing Authority’s good practice in issuing and monitoring licences and in gathering intelligence extended to other sectors.

Throughout the debate on the Bill, businesses have made the point that many of them want to do the right thing, but that they cannot trade ethically and effectively police their supply chains here in the UK without adequate labour inspection and an enforcement framework. Recruitment agencies try to operate within the law but find their margins impossible and so undermine labour rights to save money. Gangmasters, whose business model depends on paying less than the national minimum wage, are overworking people and taking cuts for substandard accommodation. So we need a labour licensing, inspection and enforcement regime that offers assurances to good business, reduces the temptation to shave away at the corners of workers’ rights and absolutely outlaws the descent into forced labour.

Photo of Fiona Mactaggart Fiona Mactaggart Labour, Slough

The Minister will not be surprised to find that I want to ask for more—I feel like Oliver sometimes—but let me start by saying thank you to all the members of the pre-legislative scrutiny Committee, to the members of the Public Bill Committee and to the Minister, because we have made real progress—I say that to Members from all parties. The Minister has often said that this is the first UK Bill to deal with modern slavery, but it will not be the last. So one thing I should like her to commit to—she has time in this debate to do so—is a review of the effect of this legislation within three years of its commencement. We are passing so much here that we need test whether some of our anxiety about whether it will work, and some of her confidence that it will work, is well founded. Such a review would be a good foundation for looking to the future.

The second thing I want to ask for relates to Lords amendment 61, where the power to make regulations about victim care is explicit, but it is only a power to make regulations. There is a risk that for many months after this Bill victims of modern slavery in England will be less well cared for than victims of modern slavery in the other parts of the UK, which have passed legislation including powerful mechanisms for victim care. So will the Minister commit now—I believe that she is willing to do so, but it would be helpful if the commitment was made on the Floor of the House—to take the earliest opportunity to introduce regulations to ensure high standards of victims’ care following the review of the NRM.

My final point is about the Connarty-Mactaggart-Bradley issue, which is about supply chains. I really welcome the fact that supply chains are provided for in the Bill. The Minister will have noticed the debate in the House of Lords, which told us to learn from California about having no central spot where supply chain reporting happens. I have been struck by the keenness of companies on having a central spot, because good-quality companies will benefit from this legislation on supply chains. They are keen to ensure that there is proper comparability between the reports of different companies. The Minister could now say—it does not require legislation—that she will work with the commercial and voluntary sectors to try to establish a single repository for those reports, because if we do that, customers will be able to hold companies to account.

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

With the leave of the House, I should like to respond briefly to the comments that have been made. May I start by saying that I am pleased the Bill has been so well received by Members from all parts of the House? I am grateful to all the right hon. and hon. Members, both here and in the Lords, who have worked so tirelessly in assisting the Government to make the Bill as effective as possible. We have had some animated debates and differences of opinion, but I think all right hon. and hon. Members will agree that the Bill today looks very different from the one first presented as a draft Bill in December 2013.

I wish to pay specific tribute to my colleagues Lord Bates and Baroness Garden, who steered the Bill through the 95 amendments we are discussing today, and to the shadow Ministers, both here and in the other place, who worked constructively with the Government to make sure we get the right result: by the end of prorogation, a Modern Slavery Act—something of which we can all be incredibly proud.

Some specific points were raised. I welcome them, but do not have much time to cover them. Briefly, many of them, particularly those raised by the shadow Minister and others, were debated in the other place, and there is much on the record about our position. Let me just say that we will continue to consider those points. From my point of view, the Bill is a means to an end; it is not the end itself. It will enable us to identify more victims, using the anti-slavery commissioner and the victim support that we have outlined, but that cannot be the end. We have a long way to go, working on the strategy and working with partners, to ensure that the measures are implemented on the ground.

I pay tribute to all members of the pre-legislative scrutiny Committee and the Bill Committee, including my hon. Friend Mr Burrowes, whose work on trafficking and child trafficking advocates has put us in the position that we are now in, and he should take great credit for that. I also pay tribute to Michael Connarty and Fiona Mactaggart for their work on supply chains, which they did for many, many years before the Bill was introduced. They know that we wanted to do this in the right way; we wanted to have the right evidence to get the Bill right. I can tell the right hon. Lady that we are consulting on the statutory guidance, including on how best to make statements available online. We are working with the voluntary sector and businesses specifically on a website or a comparison tool for statements.

This Bill is important and historic, and I am incredibly proud of it. For the victims of those most heinous and horrendous crimes, we have done something very good today in this place.

Lords amendment 1 agreed to.

Three hours having elapsed since the commencement of proceedings on consideration of Lords amendments, the proceedings were interrupted (Programme Order, this day).

The Deputy Speaker put forthwith the Question necessary for the disposal of the business to be concluded at that time (Standing Order No. 83F)

Lords amendments 2 to 71 and 73 to 95 agreed to, with Commons financial privileges waived in respect of Lords amendments 20, 45 and 61.