I beg to move,
That this House
has considered the implementation of the Modern Slavery Act 2015.
First, may I refer to my declaration in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests? I thank Mrs Grant and all the other colleagues who have helped to bring about this Backbench Business debate. I also thank the Minister for her attendance. As Members, we are all united by our desire to do as much as we can to tackle the scourge of modern slavery.
Over 200 years ago, politicians described slavery as an activity
“so enormous and horrible, that there was no parallel to it in the annals of the world.”—[Official Report,
Vol. 9, c. 133.]
Wilberforce said it was
“our duty to put a stop as speedily as possible to the traffic and sale of our fellow men”.—[Official Report,
Vol. 9, c. 139.]
Yet, here we are in 2017, and slavery still exists in our country. That horrible reality demands more than our emotional outrage; it demands even more action on our part.
Just 15 years ago, many MPs would have suggested that slavery perhaps did not exist, but thanks to the campaigning of many people in this House, including our former colleagues Anthony Steen and Fiona Mactaggart, much has changed in our approach to the issue. Referrals to the Government’s mechanism for identifying victims—the national referral mechanism—rise year on year, with a 17% increase in 2016. The number of prosecutions also rises annually. We have a Parliament and, to be fair, a Prime Minister with a genuine desire to tackle this issue. We have what was regarded as—and what is, to be fair—a trail-blazing Act, which offers life sentences for traffickers and provides a statutory defence against criminality for victims. We have additional funding going to the police, as well as international aid and safe houses.
The commitment of all of us who work in the House, and indeed of those who work in the Home Office on this issue, cannot be doubted. However—I hope the Minister will accept this in the spirit in which I mean it—it is important that we challenge where we are and look at the things that still need to be done if we are to take this issue forward. Too often, what we say does not happen in practice.
Many traffickers are not getting caught, and, in many circumstances, those who are caught receive minimal sentences. Many slaves are not being freed, and when they are, many are lost, and that includes children, as the Minister knows. So the challenge, first, is for us to try to find the victims, and more potential victims are being identified. Some 3,805 were identified in 2016, and I should point out that 1,227 of them were children—in our country, in 2017.
However, that is still a long way, as the Minister will know from her office’s estimates, from the 10,000 to 13,000 slaves in this country. We have to ask why that is and why victims are not coming forward. First, some of the people who should identify them, such as the first responders, often do not recognise them. Local authorities have a duty to identify, but many do not, and there has been little funding to train their staff. As the 2016 National Crime Agency data shows, many local authorities find no one at all.
The second reason is that we often have little to offer victims when they are found. We ask them to stop living under a trafficker’s roof—risking repercussions, threats or violence—and then to enter the system. If adults do consent to enter the system, they face time-limited support, fears as to their immigration status, and long-term uncertainty, even if they are found to be victims at the end of the process. Should we be surprised, therefore, at the small numbers? And if we are not surprised, what are we going to do to increase the numbers?
At its heart, the national referral mechanism relies on traumatised people, who have often known only betrayal, immediately agreeing to go into a Government system. If they do not, they have to fend for themselves. A small minority may be supported by non-governmental organisations, but the rest receive no support. One NGO outside the national referral system found that three fifths of survivors will go into the national referral mechanism if they are given a preliminary period of support of, say, six weeks. Will the Minister therefore recognise that we need to do more to ensure that victims feel safe and secure entering the national referral mechanism, and what does she propose to do?
However, there are other problems. The statutory national referral mechanism recovery and reflection period of support is 45 days, but that is not adequate. Frequent delays mean that, on average, the process is actually 95 days. It can take longer than that just to access legal or health support. Safe, suitable accommodation is not a given. There is no minimum standard. Section 50 of the Modern Slavery Act provides powers to introduce regulations and support, but those powers have not yet been implemented. Entire families could be housed in one room, sometimes hours away from any of the services they need. There is not enough specialist accommodation, and not just for those with children. Traffickers often target those with learning difficulties or addiction issues, and yet our services for survivors oddly do not. Will the Minister give us her thoughts about extending the amount of safe house provision for those with specialist needs? Would she consider introducing care standards along the lines of recommendations published by the Human Trafficking Foundation and supported by the Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner to guarantee that survivors receive high-quality support? The lack of support is a real challenge for the system.
The Minister will know that the UK has no data on what happens to victims beyond the 45-day period, and no system to ensure that survivors do not fall back into exploitation. We spend £10 million each year on providing short-term support, only to end the support once the decision is made on whether the person was actually trafficked. The Modern Slavery Act, unlike other Acts, does not explicitly place a duty on the state to provide support or state the victim’s entitlements. Rather, section 49 says that these will be set out in guidance. Can the Minister say when that guidance is set to be published?
My hon. Friend may know that this is a very important issue for the Co-operative party. Is it not the case that people who have been entrapped into slavery do not stop being victims at the point when that has been identified but find that it can take many years to recover and rebuild their lives?
I thank my hon. Friend for raising that absolutely crucial issue. Often at the end of the statutory 45-day period of reflection, there is a period of further support that people may be given, but the evidence shows that the vast majority of people who enter into that fall back into exploitation or are re-trafficked. Something needs to be done to deal with this.
The police say that they have often referred the same individual into the national referral mechanism multiple times.
With regard to tracing perpetrators, and indeed achieving all our anti-slavery aims, throughout the UK, including in Scotland, how will these processes continue to function effectively—or will they function effectively at all—once we have left the EU, given that that is likely to mean that we will also have left intelligence-sharing agencies such as Europol and Eurojust?
I very much agree that there will be real challenges for the system in leaving Europol, Eurojust, and the other systems involved. As the debate progresses, we will have to ensure that if we do leave the European Union, as the hon. Lady says, we look to see how we replicate those systems within whatever deal is done. That is crucial for these victims. I totally agree with her point.
We have heard that each time survivors have left safe houses, they were made destitute again and targeted by traffickers. How destructive and destroying that is for the police, but also life-destroying for those survivors. We have to accept that the short-term system of support fails us all and we all need to look—the police, Government, all of us—at what more we do for victims. A refugee granted asylum receives five years of leave to remain in the United Kingdom. Surely if a person has been recognised as being enslaved, that should entitle them to some sort of similar provision, if not for five years.
I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on bringing such an important issue to the House. He is making an excellent speech. Does he agree that our domestic justice system—particularly the UK justice system—is not set up to deal with these matters, and that the burden of proof is so high for a conviction that very often the person goes free? Leave to remain is dependent on a conviction when the two things should be absolutely separate.
That is absolutely crucial. Often the victim is placed in an immigration situation where they are regarded as a victim of trafficking and yet have no certainty about their status in the UK. I know that the Minister is looking at that, but it is a real problem in the way that the system operates at the moment, as Hannah Bardell points out.
The Work and Pensions Committee has made recommendations along these lines. Lord McColl’s private Member’s Bill, currently in the Lords, does the same. We cannot continue to lose so many survivors, many of them going back to the same traffickers. As Wilberforce himself said:
“You may choose to look the other way but you can never again say that you did not know.”
It is for us, as legislators, to say, “What are we actually going to do about this?” Survivors need time and assistance.
One of the critical issues is inspection and enforcement within the labour market. Does my hon. Friend agree that resourcing that is crucial? A recent report by Focus on Labour Exploitation, a charity of which I am a trustee, detailed how far we are lagging behind other European countries in International Labour Organisation-recommended levels of resourcing. Is he concerned that we have only 0.4 inspectors per 10,000 workers while Poland has twice as many and Norway over three times as many, and that we allocate just £7.69 per worker for enforcement while, closer to home, Ireland spends twice as much? Does he think that the Minister needs to address this issue in her response?
My hon. Friend puts the point very well. There is a need to look at the whole area of labour force enforcement. The co-operation between the Gangmasters Licensing Authority, the Home Office and so on in sharing data and information is important.
The Minister may want to consider an additional point about awareness. Only last week there was a case in the area of my local authority, Gedling Borough Council. The case is in the public domain. Just outside my constituency, people found a victim of labour exploitation working on their farm, Hammond farm. They were found by a person being made aware by a chance remark that caused them to question what was happening. Part of this is about enforcement but it is also about trying to raise awareness so that people may question what is happening and try to report it to the appropriate authorities. We might want to consider how we do that.
From when you started. The benefit of that is that I will be putting on a time limit of seven minutes and I will not have to reduce it to six—I do not want to do that. Are you sure you want to intervene, Mr Chalk?
If I may. As somebody who has prosecuted offences of servitude in the past, I am extremely grateful to the hon. Gentleman for the passion that he is showing regarding this horrible offence which robs people of their dignity. Raising awareness is vital. Will he join me in paying tribute to the Salvation Army in Cheltenham, who last week held an event on this? We need to get the message out to people that everyone needs to be on their guard.
On the serious point that the hon. Gentleman has raised, of course I pay tribute to people like that in Cheltenham. I also pay tribute to all hon. Members of this House, who would, I know, wish to draw this heinous crime to the attention of the authorities in their areas to try to combat it.
Survivors need time and assistance to access justice but they also need access to compensation—something enshrined and recognised as critical by the Modern Slavery Act—because surely we do not want to make crime pay. Between 2004 and 2014, 211 persons were convicted of human trafficking and slavery, but according to the figures I have, only eight compensation orders were made for those crimes, amounting in total to £70,000. The Minister may correct me if, as I hope, I am wrong, but we do need to look at the whole question of compensation for victims. Where the courts order traffickers to pay, most do not pay up, having moved their assets abroad. That is something else we need to look at, and I would be grateful if the Minister could deal with it in her response.
Jean Simester, a tireless campaigner whom I met in Speaker’s House—as did the Minister—when she won an award from the Human Trafficking Foundation, provides a powerful example of how hard it is for survivors to access justice and support. Her son, Darrell, was enslaved by a Traveller family and worked day and night over 13 years with no pay. The police refused to recognise that her son might be at risk, so in the end he was found and rescued by his own family. Yet four years after being rescued, Darrell has still not had a penny of compensation, nor has he received the sort of support that we might expect.
I suggest to the Minister that while the Act focuses on criminal justice without prioritising support, we will not get the level of prosecutions, let alone convictions, that we would want. Broadly, prosecution and conviction rates are rising, but they remain far too low. According to the Crown Prosecution Service, 295 human trafficking prosecutions were completed in 2016-17, but the number of convictions actually fell, from 192 in 2015-16 to 181 in 2016-17. The police say that often the reason why cases fail in the courts is that many of the victims they uncover are unable to find accommodation or get access to benefits, so many go missing before they go into the national referral mechanism.
The police face many challenges, but this week’s report from Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary says that many victims of modern slavery receive a wholly inadequate service from police, and describes a host of concerns. I know that the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, Sarah Newton, and the Home Secretary have commented on the report, but it was an HMIC report: an independent inspector seriously criticised the way the police dealt with modern slavery. The criticisms included a lack of focus on victims and a tendency to refer those without legal status to immigration services—the point made by Hannah Bardell—and concern was expressed about the quality of investigation, with investigations being closed prematurely. The result, according to HMIC, was that we are
“leaving victims unprotected while offenders are not brought to justice”.
I will make a couple of further remarks before concluding, as I think you are encouraging me to do, Mr Deputy Speaker. I have not talked about children, yet we are seeing large numbers of children brought into the care of the state as a result of trafficking or suspicions of trafficking. As a recent report showed, many of those children abscond, leave or are taken away. It cannot be acceptable that in our country in 2017, we cannot protect children who are brought into the care of the state. It cannot be right. We need to understand and consider what more can be done.
It is important that we review the Act and consider both the sections that are yet to be implemented and what more needs to be done. In 2006, I was a Home Office Minister responsible for this area of work, and I had much of the responsibility for dealing with modern slavery for four years between 2006 and 2017. When I challenge the Government, it is a challenge to all of us. It is a challenge to what I did. It is a challenge to every one of us, to every local authority and to every police force. We have to challenge ourselves to do better. It is not acceptable that modern slavery still exists. It is a blight on the conscience of this nation. Although we have done a lot, there is so much more to do. Those who are enslaved deserve our support and our help.
I declare an interest as a trustee of the Human Trafficking Foundation.
First, I pay tribute to a group of mainly former parliamentarians and a former judge who remains a Member of the other place: Anthony Steen MBE, Baroness Butler-Sloss, the right hon. Clare Short, the right hon. Sir John Randall and the right hon. Fiona Mactaggart—not forgetting, of course, Vernon Coaker, who chairs the all-party group on human trafficking and modern slavery. Without their passion, foresight and commitment, we would not be in the position we are today in the cause of defeating human trafficking. I thank the Salvation Army and its partners for the incredible work they do at the coal face, looking after and supporting victims of this terrible crime.
For me, human trafficking is a scourge. It does not discriminate; it permeates across age, race, class and gender. It crushes self-confidence and self-esteem— prerequisites for aspiration, motivation and success. No civilised society should tolerate the exploitation of vulnerable men, women and children by predatory criminal groups. It creates victims who are often some of the most vulnerable members of society, separated from their families and friends, with no access to financial help or support.
As I speak today, I am reminded of a young man I met about three years ago, when I was the victims Minister. He dispelled many of the myths surrounding human trafficking: he was a man; he was British; and he was trafficked for forced labour. He bravely shared with me his story of absolute misery and how he was dehumanised and degraded. The meeting drove home to me just how important it is for the Government, local authorities and all our partners to work more effectively together.
Thanks to the efforts of many people, including our Prime Minister, some good progress has been made in combating trafficking. Indeed, the Modern Slavery Act 2015 is a landmark of success. We now have a wide range of laws to protect victims and a wide range of organisations to support them, but much more needs to be done. There must be far more focus on prevention by tackling the problem at source and working smarter at our borders. We must improve prosecution and conviction rates, improve data collection and deal with ongoing scepticism and the poor response still greeting victims when they try to report abuse. Sadly, that can come from people and organisations that ought to know better, such as the police.
The Government’s ambition is to eradicate all forms of human trafficking, and many millions of pounds have been spent on supporting victims. Our Home Secretary summed up the position well and candidly when she wrote in April:
“We must be better at getting immediate support to victims when they are at their most vulnerable. Otherwise they just slip through the net, to be abused all over again, and we lose any opportunity to gain information on the criminals who exploited them in the first place…We also want to make sure that victims are able to rebuild their lives. Our aspiration to help these people is in the right place—but at present, the provision of support may yet not be.”
Clearly, the Home Secretary recognises that more needs to be done. I will therefore focus my suggestions today on what can be done for a group of people the authorities accept are victims of human trafficking: those who receive a positive conclusive grounds decision.
First, the conclusive grounds decision must carry with it more status, weight and meaning. In my view, victims of trafficking fit into the same vulnerable group as refugees and victims of torture. It therefore seems right that conclusive grounds should carry with them the same 12 months’ residency permit. Not only would that provide the stability and assurance that victims need to begin to recover, but it would create a better environment for victims to assist law enforcement agencies in finding and prosecuting perpetrators.
Secondly, the paperwork received by victims with positive conclusive grounds must be recognisable and transferable. Frankly, the current form is flimsy, short and unhelpful. Instead, it should be recognised by other Departments and agencies and should allow access to appropriate services.
Thirdly, victims need advice from those who understand the system relating to accommodation, immigration and employment support—the system that, as a lawyer for some 23 years and now an MP, I often struggle to deal with. Victims with conclusive grounds should have access to caseworkers to help them to comply with the procedures and to access services.
Fourthly, victims need a roof over their head. I ask the Minister to consider introducing greater flexibility in the moving on of a victim from a safe house. The safe house, of course, should not be permanent, long-term accommodation, but the current cliff-edge approach of losing safe-house accommodation just two weeks after a conclusive grounds decision is failing and not satisfactory.
Human trafficking is a scourge. It is abhorrent and inexcusable, and every time I hear about an incident or meet a victim, I think, “What kind of world are we living in, and what can we do to make things better?” Every victim and witness of a crime needs to know that they will be offered all the help and support they need and deserve to move on in their lives and to bring perpetrators to justice. We can do better; we must do better.
Kevin Hyland, the Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner, stressed this week that using children to transport and sell class A drugs in county lines operations is a form of modern-day slavery. He said that the police and other agencies were not seeing it for what it is: the use of children and young people as commodities by criminal gangs. He said that more and more county lines were being discovered each day but there was often a lack of sympathy for the victims. He was responding to the HMIC report, “Stolen freedom: the policing response to modern slavery and human trafficking”.
The criminal exploitation of children to sell drugs in county lines operations is the next big grooming scandal. It has many similarities to grooming in the early child sexual exploitation cases in places such as Rotherham and Rochdale. The National Crime Agency says that 83% of police forces have reported activity in their areas, and I have been told by a well-informed police source that there could be up to 1,000 county lines operating from major cities throughout the country that have well-established criminal gangs, including London, Liverpool and Manchester.
Although the exploitation of children by organised crime to carry and sell drugs is not new, there is a huge and growing problem of children being groomed to supply class A drugs—crack cocaine and heroin—around the country. That usually involves a gang from an urban area expanding their operations by crossing one police force boundary, or more, over to more rural areas, setting up a secure base and using runners to conduct day-to-day dealing.
A county lines enterprise almost always involves the exploitation of vulnerable children and adults. As more and more county lines are set up, more and more children are being targeted and groomed to carry and supply drugs. For the criminal gangs, it is a very successful business: new markets bring more income, and using children and young people reduces the gang’s risk of detection. For the children and young people, it often ends in drug and alcohol addiction, violence and sexual and other exploitation. The children become criminals and the groomers and exploiters of other children. The extent of county lines is very difficult to map, as data are collected by various agencies and there is very little sharing of those data.
This week, I was invited by Greater Manchester police to help launch an excellent new campaign called Trapped, to raise awareness of how children and young people can get drawn into county lines. Children as young as 11 have been ferried from inner-city parts of Manchester to Blackpool and Barrow to sell drugs. Only this week, the police found a young boy in Blackpool who they said was relieved to be locked up and whose face was green, as he had been so badly beaten.
The Trapped campaign aims to raise awareness of all forms of criminal exploitation by gangs of young people and vulnerable adults. Key to its approach is working with schools, youth centres and housing and drugs services to prevent young people from getting embedded, or further embedded, in criminal gangs and to provide them with safe people to talk to.
Some children are vulnerable to being targeted because of chaotic family relationships; others because they are looked-after children. Some may be younger children whose older siblings have got caught up in drugs, while others may have parents who have become complicit in the use of their children by gangs, to help feed their own drug habit. Methods of recruiting children include offers of cash and goods, coercion with threats of kidnap and young people having to work to pay back a drug debt owed to a gang member.
I chair the all-party parliamentary group on runaway and missing children and adults, which is supported by the Children’s Society and Missing People. In March, we held a roundtable on county lines, taking evidence from victim’s parents, experts and agencies. May I thank the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, Sarah Newton for attending that roundtable? The report we produced made clear that children from all backgrounds are at risk of being drawn into county lines. Indeed, the parents who gave evidence did not meet the profile of a chaotic family. Their sons had become involved through friendships with other young people who had associations with gangs.
Pressure on young people is huge, and at the time of transition from childhood to adolescence, they are particularly vulnerable to pressure from peers. Young people can get drawn into what initially looks like a good offer, in terms of cash and lifestyle, but end up being trapped and coerced by some terrifying people.
Looked-after children in particular are targets for grooming by criminal gangs. Those placed miles away from their home areas can be especially vulnerable. There are additional difficulties involved in keeping children safe when they are placed far away. It is hard for social workers to give support from hundreds of miles away. It is concerning that since March 2012 there has been a 78% increase nationally in the number of children being placed in children’s homes outside their borough.
Parents whose children have been exploited expressed to our roundtable their despair at the response the system often gave to their pleas for help. I am concerned that the response of the safeguarding system is increasing the vulnerability of young people. The parent who is not supported will leave the child more vulnerable. Placing a child or young person in a children’s home that is being targeted by criminal gangs increases their vulnerability. Failing to assess risk in missing episodes appropriately will increase vulnerability.
There needs to be a more joined-up response from the National Crime Agency and at a regional and local police level. Criminal gangs are making millions from the exploitation and degradation of childrepn, and they are responsible for countless beatings, stabbings and murder. We need to disrupt the grooming of vulnerable children at a very early stage, while as prosecuting senior gang members. Preventing children from getting into gangs in turn prevents many more victims. We need to consider the better use of child abduction warning notices, and the national referring mechanism needs to be better understood, as it can be used to identify children as victims of exploitation, which in turn makes it easier to prosecute exploiters—who are hiding behind the children—under trafficking laws. That will also prevent prosecution of the child.
The exploitation of children by criminal gangs is increasing, and it is shocking that the message that organised crime is getting is that, provided that they use children and young people, we are powerless to do anything about it. We need to find better ways to work together and use available resources, and a better safeguarding response for children. Children should be our priority—
Last week the Church of England launched the Clewer Initiative, which is aimed at tackling modern-day slavery and draws on excellent work pioneered by the Bishop of Derby. This three-year project has been designed to help dioceses detect instances of modern-day slavery in their midst and provide appropriate support for victims. There are many tools available in the local community to help end slavery, and the Church, which is present in all communities, has an inherent responsibility to help lead those efforts. As the Archbishop of Canterbury has said:
“William Wilberforce convinced his generation that slavery was a sin. That belief has not changed. The sin lies in our ignorance to its existence around us.”
The Clewer Initiative takes its name from a group of sisters that was founded in 1852 to help marginalised women, but its legacy today will be to help address modern-day slavery. The campaign slogan is, “We See You”, and the aim at the heart of the initiative is to empower people like us to spot the signs of modern forms of slavery, which is happening all around us in our towns, cities and villages. Slaves can be right in the middle of the communities in which we live. We do not always know the signs and we are not sure about the right questions to ask. Modern slavery is a hidden crime, and for that reason we have to take seriously the injunction to know who our neighbour really is. Our neighbour could be a homeless man forced into work, or a girl kept in domestic servitude. Victims may be nearly invisible to us, so we have to develop sharper eyes in order to detect their needs, hence the campaign slogan, “We See You”.
The Clewer Initiative is designed to help dioceses develop strategies to detect slavery in their communities, by offering training and monitoring. Crucially, it gives people the correct contacts to reach out to if they spot signs of slavery and are worried that someone might be trapped in it. Nationally, the initiative involves developing a network of practitioners committed to sharing models of best practice and providing evidence-based data to resource the Church’s national engagement with statutory and non-statutory bodies. The project has taken best practice from Derby, and there are now 10 other participating dioceses: Bath and Wells, Chester, Durham, Guildford, Lichfield, Liverpool, Rochester, Portsmouth, Southwark, and Southwell and Nottingham. A further 14 dioceses are due to sign up later this year, and it is hoped that the Church of England’s 42 dioceses, or 12,000 parishes, will all become mobilised in the battle to eradicate modern slavery. Of course, as the landscape in each is so different, the approach and training will need to be contextualised, but there is no doubt that this approach can make a difference.
If we take the vanguard of this approach, the Bishop of Derby and his diocese—Bishop Alastair was on the Draft Modern Day Slavery Bill Committee, along with me and many other Members present—we see that the key is developing a strong working relationship with the key agencies: the police, the city council and others that can reach out and provide assistance to the victims. Within the Church, the Mothers Union has taken on the need to ensure supplies for victims by fundraising and producing emergency packs for them. There are many examples from the Clewer Initiative of each diocese taking the opportunity to help. I encourage every Member present and those who will read this debate to prompt their own diocese to find out what is happening in their locality.
Of course, none of this is to diminish the good work carried out across the country by secular non-governmental organisations in our community. I highlight the work of Soroptimist International of Great Britain and Ireland, of which the Solihull club in my constituency is a member. It has undertaken online and face-to-face surveys to understand how much the public know about slavery and human trafficking and what their perceptions are. The survey seeks to help the UK modern slavery training delivery group to assess the level of public knowledge in order to help to combat it. As of last week, 3,700 online surveys had been completed and more than 4,400 paper surveys returned.
When we made our bid to the Backbench Business Committee last week, one of the issues I wanted to raise was child trafficking. I was shocked to read the report in The Times, which Baroness Butler-Sloss described as “very disturbing”, about the scores of vulnerable minors who fall back into the hands of traffickers. More than 150 Vietnamese minors have disappeared from care and foster homes since 2015, with 90 others going missing temporarily. It would seem that many go missing within two days of entering care. How can we use the word “care” if children go missing that rapidly? In that report in The Times, Kevin Hyland, the Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner, expressed concern at the “frequency and speed” with which Vietnamese minors go missing and said that the case of a teenager taken from care not once but twice showed
“a lack of professionalism in the response to the plight of trafficking victims”.
I join Vernon Coaker and others who have spoken in impressing on the Government the need to go out of their way to tackle this terrible abuse of the most vulnerable of the vulnerable in our society.
It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair, Madam Deputy Speaker.
I welcome the Modern Slavery Act 2015, in particular section 54, on supply chains, which we had to fight quite hard for. Despite the legislation, as the National Crime Agency said earlier this year, modern slavery is steadily increasing. There are many industries in which modern slavery goes undetected, in everyday situations right under our noses. Twenty cases of modern slavery have been investigated in Bristol over the last year, including one involving eastern European workers who were exploited by a Bristol car wash and forced to work long hours for low pay. One had worked for 18 months without any pay at all, and it is believed that five others are in the same situation.
In July, police arrested four people on suspicion of human trafficking and slavery offences following a raid on a nail bar in Southmead in Bristol, in the constituency of my hon. Friend Darren Jones. Unseen, a Bristol-based charity that works to eradicate modern slavery and runs the UK-wide modern slavery helpline, is running the “Let’s Nail It” campaign, which aims to raise awareness and help to stop slavery in nail bars. I am happy to support the campaign—hence my bright pink nails today—as is Avon and Somerset police, which ended up being denounced by David T. C. Davies on the front page of The Sun for its efforts. However, it was right to do so: we need to bring people’s attention to what is happening right under their noses. Over the past 12 months, police in the wider Avon and Somerset area have dealt with 60 investigations and seen a significant increase in modern slavery-related intelligence. Calls to the helpline also went up following the awareness campaign.
However, the police need to be properly resourced. As my local police and crime commissioner and chief constable have said in their recent report, “The Tipping Point”, the police are being stretched to the point where they lack the resources to carry out basic policing functions, let alone mount investigations. Both the Gangmasters Licensing Authority and Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs have faced cuts to their capacity to deal with slavery offences. In 2014, the Migration Advisory Committee said that on average a firm could expect a visit from HMRC inspectors only once every 250 years.
Many of the calls about nail bars cite the physical or psychological state of workers, inappropriate sleeping accommodation on business premises, poor working conditions, lack of spoken English, cheap prices, cash-only transactions and concerns of abuse and violence—the workers seem intimidated by their bosses. Consumers need to be aware of these signs so that they are never unintentional supporters of organised crime. The Southmead nail bar raid was prompted by a tip-off from a member of the public who raised concerns about a woman’s welfare. Without that intervention, it could have taken a lot longer for the victim to be identified and taken to a place of safety.
People need to know how to spot the signs that modern slavery is happening in their community. Victims may show signs of physical or psychological abuse or appear withdrawn. They may have few possessions. They may always wear the same clothes and have no identification documents. They may all live and work at the same address. They may regularly be dropped off or collected for work either very early or very late at night. People need to be vigilant.
Finally, I want to say a bit about slavery in the food processing, fishing and agriculture sectors, which remains a huge issue. Unite the Union’s excellent “From Plough to Plate” report found that employers in those sectors are some of the worst exploiters of workers, with countless instances of abuse meeting the legal definitions of slavery and forced labour. Only last year, a group of 16 Lithuanian chicken farm workers won their case against two Kent-based gangmasters who had forced them to work under threat of violence and kept them in squalid living conditions. This was the first settlement of a claim against a British company in relation to modern slavery. In another 2016 case, two Lithuanian men had been trafficked to work in a meat processing plant. They had their pay withheld and were subjected to violence, but the traffickers were sentenced to only three and a half years in jail.
The Environmental Justice Foundation has done admirable work over the past five years in exposing modern slavery in Thailand’s seafood sector, uncovering widespread human trafficking and human rights abuses both in the pre-processing facilities and at sea. There have been examples of people being kept at sea for several years, being moved from ship to ship, and never reaching shore and being able to seek sanctuary. In April, the Environmental Justice Foundation reported that, despite reforms, forced labour continues to be widespread, citing the shocking statistic that 59% of Thai fishing workers had witnessed the murder of a fellow worker. Many more had been tortured and abused, and had wages, food and sleep withheld from them. This is directly linked to the supply chains of many major seafood companies around the world, including in the UK; millions of pounds of seafood products are imported from Thailand every year.
Moving on from seafood, another example, from just this week, is that two of Italy’s biggest tomato suppliers for UK supermarkets have been implicated in a range of labour abuses, in what have been described as “conditions of absolute exploitation”, with workers required to work 12 hours a day, seven days a week, with minimal pay and no access to medical care. These are just a few examples of something that is incredibly widespread.
In 2015, The Economist described the supply chain transparency requirements in the Modern Slavery Act as “light touch”, with only 12,000 commercial companies affected. The Government need to go further. Submission of a full and comprehensive statement should be legally binding on all companies, with penalties for non-compliance that go beyond naming and shaming, and greater criminal liability for cases when practices of slavery or forced labour are found in a company’s supply chain or products.
Specifically in relation to the seafood sector and the fishing industry, the Environmental Justice Foundation is calling for: transnational approaches for all countries—port, flag and coastal states—to ratify and implement fully the International Labour Organisation’s convention 188 on work in fishing; all countries to implement legislation to prosecute national citizens engaged in human trafficking on vessels registered to another country; and retailers and the industry to establish effective transparency and traceability across their whole supply chain, including committing to independent, third-party and unannounced auditing of their supply chains.
Cheap products and services often come at an unseen cost. We need to ask ourselves: just how come prices in the shops are so low? If it seems too good to be true, it probably is. Such products have no place on British shelves. Such services should never be used. We all need to play a role in suffocating slavery at source by exercising vigilance.
It is a pleasure to follow Kerry McCarthy, who made some excellent points. I also want to pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister for her dedication when Home Secretary in starting to rid our nation of the evil practice of modern slavery and leading the way globally through the legislation she introduced.
The UK Modern Slavery Act 2015 is world-leading legislation. It is of paramount importance that other countries follow our lead if it is to be truly effective. My right hon. Friend Dame Caroline Spelman highlighted the important role that the Bishop of Derby, Alastair Redfern, has played in driving the legislation to where we are today. My constituency is on the doorstep of Derby, and it was listening to the Bishop speak on the subject that inspired me to take more than just a passing interest in this issue. It is because of Bishop Alastair that I am here today speaking in this debate.
Bishop Alastair has been at the forefront of the fight against modern slavery, with the establishment of the Derby and Derbyshire Modern Slavery Partnership, before it developed into the Clewer Initiative. This collaboration of organisations across different sectors is drawn from both the city and the county. It aims to raise awareness and an understanding of what trafficking is, how traffickers operate and the experiences of victims. It is now seen as a model of best practice across the country. Nowhere is immune from the threat of modern slavery: it does not just happen in big cities. It is as likely to be happening in our local car washes and nail bars in our towns as it is in our major cities.
To give this important issue some context, research carried out by the Home Office in 2014 estimated that in 2013 the number of potential victims of modern slavery in the UK was between 10,000 and 13,000. Personally, I believe that this is an underestimate of the problem, as more and more people are becoming aware of this horrendous practice. More needs to be done to educate employers and their staff—I know work is being done on this—on how to identify people who may be modern slaves. A recent case in Derbyshire highlighted that issue. The figures represent not only victims trafficked into the UK, but British adults and children too. The National Crime Agency estimates that in 2013 the UK was the third-most common country of origin of identified victims. Modern slavery is happening on our doorsteps.
In today’s debate, I want to focus on the supply chain aspect of the legislation: the Transparency in Supply Chains—or TISC—part of the Bill. This aspect of the legislation applies to commercial organisations that operate in the UK and have an annual turnover over £36 million. Such businesses have to produce a slavery and human trafficking statement each year. The statement, which is placed on the company’s website, should set out the steps it is taking to address and prevent the risk of modern slavery in its operations and supply chains. As my interest in the subject has developed, I have read numerous slavery and human trafficking statements from some of our largest retailers and other businesses. I am saddened when I read some of the statements and realise that a proportion of businesses are still only paying lip service to the legislation and do not appear to really appreciate the important of making their supply chain slavery-free.
In the previous Parliament, I tried to introduce a private Member’s Bill that would have strengthened the current legislation. The Bill, which was first introduced in the House of Lords in May 2016 by Baroness Lola Young, a Cross-Bench peer, aimed to amend the Modern Slavery Act 2015 to require commercial organisations and public bodies to include a statement on slavery and human trafficking in their annual report and accounts, not just on their website. We came across one problem. As the annual report and accounts are legal entities, the inclusion of the slavery statement would have caused a legal headache. That needs to be looked at again.
At the time of the introduction of the private Member’s Bill, the Government recognised that the 2015 legislation was only the first step towards a solution to the problem. The legislation currently applies only to the private sector, not the public sector. To include the public sector is of paramount importance. The other part of the private Member’s Bill was to extend the requirements the private sector are under to the public sector. I find it quite disturbing that the public sector, which procures vast amounts of goods and services, is not included in the legislation. I feel this is a major flaw, which needs to be corrected. I was pleased that, at the time, the Home Office—I had meetings with the Minister who is in her place today; we have continuity, which is fantastic—agreed with the sentiment and aspirations of the Bill, and were developing policies in line with it. I look forward to hearing an update from the Minister on the progress we talked about when she responds to the debate. I am very proud that we lead the fight against modern slavery in this country and that this battle continues to be a priority for our Government.
I thank hon. Members who brought this issue to the Backbench Business Committee—actually, I was on both sides; I just realised as I was saying it that I was thanking myself twice—as it is really important that we debate it.
Prior to coming to this House, I ran one of the services that operates safe houses and community-based support for victims of modern slavery. We largely focused our safe houses on women and children. I want to tell a few of the stories of the people I met while I was working there.
The vast majority of women now living in the safe accommodation provided through the national referral mechanism are there because they have been trafficked into this country for sexual slavery. It is not sex work; these people were slaves. I worked with women who forced to have sex with over 50 men in a day and were fed scraps from the table of their “honest Johns”. My hon. Friend Kerry McCarthy talked about our need for vigilance. The idea, in a modern system of sex work, that we have an “honest John” who is saying, “Do you mind if I ask you where you come from? Are you here out of choice?” is a total fallacy and something successive Governments have failed to tackle. We really, really need to be tackling it now, because the number of women from different countries and originally from the UK who are prostituted, exploited and trafficked around the country is absolutely phenomenal. Hundreds and hundreds and hundreds have gone through the service I used to work for. If we do not tackle this head on we are letting down the victims of slavery, because some people maybe want to call it something more civilised, like sex work.
I also want to talk about some of the problems I found while working in that service. I worked very closely with the Home Office and, before that, the Ministry of Justice, which was originally responsible for this area. Everybody wanted success. There are still some major, glaring holes in how we treat the victim and how the victim goes on the journey. I wonder whether the Minister could feed back on the difference between those who are housed in safe houses and those who are housed in generic accommodation through the asylum system. Those who live in safe houses receive amazing service. Of course I would say that, because I ran up the curtains and made everything lovely: it was brilliant. However, there is a two-tier system for slaves in this country.
I remember visiting one woman who did not qualify for entry to a safe house because of her immigration status, and who was therefore in asylum accommodation. She was nearly nine months pregnant, but she looked considerably thinner than I was at that time. She was sleeping on a floor, and was being given one meal a day. I was there to offer her community support and give her some money. She wanted to move, and she was due to be moved to Nottingham that day, through the national referral mechanism. I said to her, “Normally I would kick off about this, because you are in the final stages of your pregnancy, you have had care, and you need to maintain the continuity of your care.” She cried, and begged me not to prevent her from being moved. As a practitioner who had a duty of care to a pregnant woman—a duty not to move her away from the continuity of care that she had been receiving from Birmingham Women’s Hospital—I found myself in a terrible dilemma. Instances such as that will have to be tackled.
My hon. Friend Vernon Coaker, who chairs the all-party parliamentary group on human trafficking and modern slavery, raised the question of what happens after the end of the 45-day reflection and recovery period. I cannot say that I remember anyone needing only 45 days. The system allows people to apply for more days, and they always get those extra days, because the system is not mean in that sense. For those who are deeply traumatised because people have tried to take their organs, have enslaved them or have had sex with them 50 times a day, 45 days will never be enough. What happens to them afterwards, however, is of massive concern. They are lost from the services provided by organisations like mine, which was Black Country Women’s Aid. We tried to do all that we could to keep in touch with those outside on an informal basis, but such organisations do not have the necessary resources.
Those organisations are doing amazing and innovative things. I saw some of them at Speaker’s House last week, talking about the links between substance misuse and human trafficking. But, as part of the voluntary sector and with 178 people in service on a single day, they simply do not have the resources to be the system that follows those people afterwards. They deal with 8,000 people a year, across different services.
The Government must introduce a system to ensure that that drop-off does not happen. Sometimes it is due to repatriation. I think many people, especially those of us who deal with immigration cases, would be surprised at the number of people receiving human trafficking services who want to be repatriated, and that may be one reason for not being able to find people, and hoping that they are all right. However, it is necessary to tackle the trafficking of those who are still in the UK, and to aid their long-term recovery. The issue of criminal compensation must also be dealt with. A man who lived in slavery for 13 years, and whose aggressors were sent to prison for only two and a half years, is currently unable to gain access to compensation, which is a disgrace. He has also made no national insurance contributions.
We must look after people after the 45-day period, and create a system that works for all of them.
It is a pleasure to follow Jess Phillips, who is a member of the Women and Equalities Committee, and who made a passionate contribution to this passionate debate. Some of the very difficult personal experiences such as those that she described really do hit home. I also thank Vernon Coaker for securing the debate. He, too, made a passionate speech. Tackling modern slavery is extremely important, and I thank him for his work on the issue. I also thank Members on both sides of the House, and other individuals and organisations, who do so much in this regard.
I know that the Minister shares our strong concerns about exploitation and the safety of women and girls, and about the need to ensure that victims are identified and looked after, working with partners such as the NHS. As we have heard, the Prime Minister, in both her previous and her current roles, has been a leading example of those who speak of the need for us to step up our efforts to stamp out slavery internationally, in all its forms. As chair of the all-party parliamentary group for women in Parliament, I know how important it is that there are more women in all parts of the House than ever before, and that they are able to stand up and make themselves heard, as they have today.
A few months ago there were some police raids in north Wales. People were being kept effectively as slaves. A common response was, “We never realised that this sort of thing went on here.” There is an idea that it only happens in London or other big cities, but it is happening throughout the country.
I absolutely agree. Indeed, I have found the same in my constituency. I did not think that it affected Hampshire, but it does. We need to be vigilant. We need to focus on drug trafficking and criminal exploitation, which, as we have heard, happens in the agricultural sector. We must also tackle the sexual exploitation of vulnerable people, including, in my area, people with learning difficulties.
The Modern Slavery Act 2015 has been very welcome, but my hon. Friend Mrs Grant made some excellent points about the need to make progress on the basis of that groundbreaking Act, and it would be very hard to disagree with what she said. The Act sent a strong signal to criminals about the vile trade that is going on, but, as with any Act, we have an opportunity to move forward. Nevertheless, the Act is already making a difference not just locally, but domestically and abroad.
Let me say more about what we are doing abroad, including the work done by the Department for International Development to ensure that we spend a minimum of 0.7% of our GDP on aid. It is important that that work is being seen throughout the world. We are putting in a great deal of work, around the world and indeed locally, but, as has been said at a roundtable on the issue, we need to focus on outcomes. It is crucially important for us to help those affected by modern slavery. We are spending about £150 million on tackling it, including a £20 million investment in the global fund, but it is also crucial to focus on outcomes, rather than just talking about change.
The Prime Minister has worked with the United Nations on this issue, and as we know there has been an event at Speaker’s House, so we all know what needs to be done. Church representatives have raised their concerns with me locally, in Eastleigh, and both they and representatives of Churches internationally seem to be very clued up.
Let me say more about my local experience. I particularly remember a constituency surgery at which I met the mother of a girl in her mid-teens, who was struggling to explain to her daughter that what she thought was a positive relationship was actually based on exploitation, and on doing things in exchange for sex or presents. We tend to think about large exploitative gangs, but sometimes this can be down to one or two people with a handful of young girls who interpret such relationships as positive.
Another issue of concern in my constituency is the exploitation by grown-up children of their parents or grandparents for drug money. In effect, they are making those parents and grandparents continue to go to work in order to fund their choices—to support people who may be addicted to drugs, and who are bludging off their families. They are forcing members of their own families to go on working when they do not need to, in order to fund a lifestyle choice. In that context too, we need to look more broadly at the 2015 Act.
Like other Members on both sides of the House, I think that more can be done. The Government have made some giant leaps forward, particularly in respect of the human aspects—the pain and suffering that we see—but business and communities also have a role to play. They need to seek this out, and not allow people to hide. There must be transparency in businesses and supply chains, especially the fashion industry. How do we know the circumstances in which the garments that we are wearing were made, and are we confident about what we think we know?
My constituency is on the Hamble river, and I recently went out on an operation with the Hampshire Constabulary marine unit on to Southampton water and across to the Solent. I thank all the police involved in such operations out on those waters, making sure they are doing the right thing to deal with slavery, because victims are being trafficked across, and without those members of the marine unit, we would not find out what is going on. They shared with me some grave concerns that they have, and said what needs to be done to enable them to help people who are sent in boats across the water.
I look forward to hearing the Minister’s comments, and welcome the opportunity that this House has to take the Modern Slavery Act 2015 forward and change the lives of so many people, just by opening our eyes.
I congratulate Mims Davies on her speech. It is good to see passion on both sides of the House in this debate. Indeed, for probably the first and only time, I want to place on record my recognition of the value of the Prime Minister’s role when she was Home Secretary in bringing forward this legislation, not only for itself but also because it showed leadership on an issue where leadership is fundamental. Whether at national or local level, it really does make a difference.
I will begin on the same track as my hon. Friend Jess Phillips. When I was Greater Manchester’s police and crime commissioner, a brothel was raided and one of the women there was asked whether she had been trafficked. She denied that vehemently until taken into a room on her own when she said, “Look, I have been trafficked. I need you to drag me out of here in handcuffs, with me fighting and kicking and screaming, because I need to demonstrate to my traffickers that I am not a willing accomplice with the police.” This woman was no sex worker; she was a sex slave. In that case, the police were able to work with her so she could pursue a different ambition.
My hon. Friend Vernon Coaker said that he perhaps did not do enough when he was police Minister, but I do not think any of us were talking enough about slavery at that time. Even when I first began to have conversations with the then chief constable of GMP and the current chief constable, I do not think we in Greater Manchester had a proper understanding of what slavery was all about. However, although Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary’s report was critical of policing, it did say that there were some bright spots, and that Greater Manchester was one of them. I say that with some pride, not in myself, but in the people who have made that work, because there has been leadership from the very top, by the current chief constable, Ian Hopkins, and the previous chief constable, and by Ross Jackson, the chief superintendent who has direct line responsibility. I also want to mention Detective Sergeant Deborah Hurst and her team; it is a dedicated and small—there are only four or five of them—team of officers committed to this role. They have taken the time and care to understand the subject, and therefore have been able to infect—so to speak—the whole of Greater Manchester Police and beyond with an ambition to make a real difference.
GMP has trained 120 victim liaison officers. They make a considerable difference, because it is important to work with people who have been through the trauma of enslavement. The enslaved who are in Manchester speak many different languages, and the police often face cultural differences. There are other, sometimes very simple, issues facing women in prostitution, such as the basic needs for toiletries and clean underwear, so it is essential that there are now trained liaison officers who recognise the need to go through the journey with those who have been enslaved.
Members on both sides of the House have talked about the need for a wider partnership, and that has a number of impacts. Different agencies such as probation, immigration, the police, the Border Force and the local authorities are fundamental partners in making a protective system and a protective service that work. Partnership makes a real difference in that regard. Building partnerships also opens up the conversation about the different forms of enslavement that there are in our society, because it is everywhere. It is obvious in some aspects of prostitution and sometimes, as my hon. Friend Ann Coffey mentioned, with children being entrapped and taken across county lines, but enslaved people can be found in almost any occupation and area of activity. We need to recognise that, and raise public and corporate awareness of the fact.
My hon. Friend Kerry McCarthy mentioned the criticism of the Avon and Somerset police force. If a few police officers put on nail varnish to bring home to the public that there might be people who are enslaved in our nail bars, that is not such a terrible thing. In fact it is sensible, because it is saying to the public, “Please be aware; please think about situations when people around you might be enslaved.” At the moment there is a duty to notify, but it is still circumscribed, and I ask the Minister to consider extending that concept.
Members have talked about facilities for people after their enslavement. First night accommodation is often an issue: where do people go on the day when they are sprung from their captivity? I paid, not from taxpayers’ funds as such, but as the PCC for the safe place of such emergency accommodation, but we need to look at the issue of ongoing accommodation and work with the voluntary sector to make sure that provision is in place. Both empathy and the provision of institutional support are of great importance.
I shall finish on a positive note, however. My hon. Friend the Member for Gedling talked about the need for compensation. Alexandra is a Hungarian woman who was tricked into coming to Greater Manchester by the offer of legitimate work. In fact she was forced to work as a street sex worker—I use that term, if my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Yardley will forgive me, as I cannot think of a better one—on the streets of Manchester. There was nothing voluntary about that, but fortunately the police were able to work with her to such good effect that she came back from Hungary to take part in the subsequent prosecution. The Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority awarded her compensation, and she is now living with her son in Hungary, happy and free.
I congratulate Vernon Coaker on securing this important debate, and also congratulate Jess Phillips, who has a huge amount of experience and passion; we are lucky to have someone with her background in this place.
Just this week, a highly critical report found that police forces are failing to tackle modern slavery and human trafficking because the cases are often too difficult and senior officers believe the public lack sympathy for the victims. This report should concern us all as we consider our international obligations and how we support those who have endured trafficking and modern slavery.
Sadly, I have my own constituency experience. As Tony Lloyd said, when we come to this role we have an idea of what we might and might not deal with. I have to say that I did not expect to deal with the issue of modern slavery in my constituency of Livingston, and the case we have dealt with has been deeply distressing, both for my constituent and my constituency staff.
My constituent was trafficked from Nigeria to London at the age of 14 and subjected to horrific abuse, including rape, before she escaped to my constituency. The Metropolitan police worked incredibly hard to bring charges against her kidnapper, but told us that the burden of proof in these cases is often so high that they are not able to charge anyone. Unfortunately, the Home Office was predicating her leave to remain on the conviction of her abuser, which in itself highlights the flaws in the Home Office’s internal processes. I recognise the work that has been done by the Government on bringing in the Modern Slavery Act 2015 and the work that they have been doing subsequently, but my constituency case highlights some of the challenges and flaws. One of the officers in the Met who was dealing with my constituent’s case identified some of the issues, saying:
“I would advise that the burden of proof in a criminal case is far higher (beyond all reasonable doubt) than in a civil case (balance of probability). In light of this, I would suggest that any outcome of the criminal case should not adversely impact on any immigration appeal.”
“slavery remained under-reported, but the operational response was improving.”
However, the review said that there were
“problems, including a lack of consistency between law enforcement and criminal justice agencies and poor quality intelligence at all levels.”
As things stand, due to the interventions from my office, my constituent now has a year’s temporary leave to remain and the right to work, but the clock is ticking. We need the Home Office to review its own processes and this case. Yes, the case might have been difficult, but those officers who worked on it fought tooth and nail for my constituent, and I want to pay tribute to the Met police today and put on record how grateful I am for the work that they and local police officers in West Lothian did to protect her when she was very scared. She was scared to send her children to school, for example, because she was worried that her attacker might come to Scotland and seek her out.
It beggars belief that anyone could lack sympathy for the victims, but that is what the report states. Anyone at home listening to the details of my constituent’s case and those of others would surely find it difficult not to have sympathy for them. At the age of 14, Temitope George was given some clothes, taken to an airport in Nigeria and told that she was going to leave the country. The woman who took her told her not to talk to anyone, and to do as she was told. She was brought to London and taken to a woman’s house, where she was told she would be staying and looking after the woman’s children. She asked the woman when she would be going back to school. That was the first time the woman slapped her. She also asked about her mother, but she was told to speak only when she was spoken to and that she was not allowed to make any friends.
Temitope George’s daily routine involved getting up at 5 am, getting the children ready for school, taking them to school and collecting them, and doing the shopping, cleaning and cooking. If she went out on an errand, the woman who was holding her would spit on the floor and tell her that she had to be back before the spit had dried or she would be beaten. She ran everywhere as she was frightened of being late. She was beaten on a daily basis, she had her head flushed down the toilet, and she was often privy to what we believe were drug deals in the house. She also had a kettle of boiling water poured over her chest. The details are very distressing, but my constituent gave me permission before I came to the House today to share them. I have not shared them publicly before, although I have raised her case, and I am grateful for the work that has been done by the Home Office today.
Temitope George was terrified that she would be killed and that no one would know she was there. She was told that if she ran away, nobody would believe her and that there was nowhere for her to hide and she would not be found. She said that there were often men hanging around, and when she eventually escaped at the age of 17, she was homeless and spent some time on the streets. She was held at knifepoint and raped in north London. She eventually managed to escape to Livingston with her now husband. They started a new life there. They got jobs and had three beautiful children, but when she applied for indefinite leave to remain, she was told that she could not work and had to leave her job. Since the Home Office’s intervention and the granting of temporary leave to remain, she and her husband have returned to work. Her husband recently won an award for social entrepreneurship. As I have said, it seems incredible in this day and age that anyone could face such persecution and terrible treatment. However, that has been the reality for my constituent and I ask the Minister to work with me and look again at my constituent’s case because it is so distressing. She has spent a significant number of years in Livingston bringing up her children and contributing to society there.
The Scottish Government have done a huge amount of work on these issues and recently published their trafficking and exploitation strategy, which identifies how to support victims, find perpetrators and disrupt activity. I know that the Scottish Government are hugely committed to that work, and I would encourage the UK Government to look at the good examples that are being worked on there. It is the duty of all Members in this House, and indeed of all Governments, to do everything we possibly can. The flaws that exist within the legal system and in the Home Office are real, and these are real constituency cases. I hope that the Minister is listening to us and that she will do all that she can to ensure that the flaws in the system are sorted out.
I congratulate my hon. Friend Vernon Coaker on bringing this important debate to the House. It goes without saying that human trafficking, sexual exploitation, forced labour, organ harvesting and servitude—to name but a few forms of modern slavery—are criminally deplorable, and for many people they go unseen. It is for this House and for others to make it clear that slavery continues to exist at every level of our society, including in my constituency. As my hon. Friend Kerry McCarthy said, in July this year the Avon and Somerset constabulary raided a nail bar in my constituency, arresting four people on suspicion of human trafficking and slavery offences. In greater Bristol, further such raids have taken place in recent months.
A constituent came to see me at one of my first constituency surgeries as a new MP. She was tearful, she had little English, and she was unable to communicate the sheer disempowerment and lack of dignity that she had suffered through sexual exploitation in another part of the country. However, thanks to the Modern Slavery Act 2015, the modern slavery helpline and other organisations, she was being supported, even though the visa process at the Home Office was going very slowly. I know that the Minister is aware of that case.
Car washes and nail bars are a common location for these activities, and vigilance and local knowledge are required. I share other Members’ concern that the papers have reported a so-called backlash against the Avon and Somerset constabulary for raising this issue on social media in a way that communicates to people in their daily lives and asks them to keep an eye out for these activities. Along with my hon. Friends the Members for Bristol East and for Bristol West (Thangam Debbonaire), I too have proudly painted my nails today in support of the Avon and Somerset police’s “Let’s Nail It” campaign. Perhaps I am the first male MP to have painted nails in the Chamber. I should add the cautionary note that this is not an endorsement for Eddie Izzard’s candidacy for Labour’s national executive committee.
We know that much more needs to be done, but in the face of continued severe cuts to our policing, the job is becoming more difficult. I often stand here and say that Bristol is leading the way, and I am proud to say that that is also the case on this issue. In 2007-08, Andrew Wallis and friends in Bristol started conversations that led to the establishment of safe houses in 2011, a resettlement service in 2013, the Anti-Slavery Partnership in Bristol, and the headquarters of the national charity, Unseen, which now provides the national modern slavery hotline.
In true Bristol fashion, we are also innovating in the way we do things. As Maggie Throup has mentioned, the “Transparency in Supply Chains” report—the TISC report—is the world’s largest open data register, helping to track and monitor compliance with the Modern Slavery Act 2015. It was built by Jaya Chakrabarti and friends in Bristol, and it provides a compliance solution that can prevent modern slavery. There is little point in legislating without enforcing. We have already heard about the difficulties for the police in enforcing the legislation in local communities due to funding cuts, and the TISC report has a growing list of more than 2,264 companies that continue not to comply with their reporting obligations under the Act. I do not know whether the Minister has seen the TISC Report, but if not, I would be happy to arrange for a copy to be sent to her. I hope that, in her summing up, she will set out what she will do to ensure that companies get in line, comply with the legislation and take this matter seriously.
Finally, I want to draw the Minister’s attention to the issue of construction projects. Where projects are entirely privately funded, the checks and balances built into public procurement process are often bypassed, and with the use of sub-contractors who sub-contract to sub-contractors, or the use of umbrella companies who sign the deal but do not directly employ workers themselves, the situation becomes much more complex. It is often at the depths of the sub-contractor chain that exploitation can take place. I raise this matter because I have significant construction projects in or near my constituency, including energy plants, Hinckley Point C and its supply chain, tens of thousands of new homes, expanding retail projects and major infrastructure upgrades in Bristol. I understand from trade union officials, who play a vital role in checking whether exploitation is happening on the shop floor and on the ground, that there are concerns about unethical working practices in my constituency that, in their view, approach modern slavery. I am working with them on that.
Learning lessons from the Welsh Government, who have addressed unethical working practices and modern slavery together to create ethical workplaces for constituents, I will begin work on a new project next year that will seek to eradicate unethical working practices and modern slavery from my constituency. To the individuals and companies who exploit or enslave my constituents and to those that exploit and enslave others within my constituency, let me be clear: you are on notice; you are not welcome; and we and our partners will ensure that you are prosecuted. But in order to do that work properly, I must work with businesses, trade unions and community groups and with important innovations such as the TISC report. We need proper Government enforcement, proper funding for policing and proper support from the Home Office for those who have been enslaved. I make a final plea to the Minister to set out how the Government, in the face of all the challenges, will ensure that the Modern Slavery Act—a good piece of legislation—is enforced properly and how we can work with partners to ensure that that is the case.
I appreciate the opportunity to speak in this debate on a subject that I feel strongly about. It gets to the very root of who and where we are as society. It tells us an awful lot about whether we truly are the peaceful, free and modern 21st-century democracy that we strive to be and support others to become and, as we have heard, there is much to be proud of. I am new to this place, but I am well aware of the 2015 Act that is under consideration today. It was described earlier as trail-blazing, and we should celebrate the fact that its protections for individuals are in law. We should celebrate the obligation for businesses to be transparent about modern slavery and the possible risk, and we should celebrate the greater legal powers for authorities to bring to justice those who do the awful things that we have heard about. However, as we celebrated Anti-Slavery Day last week, it is right to consider how the law is doing and how we can ensure that it delivers what we want it to. I therefore congratulate my hon. Friend Vernon Coaker on securing this debate, which I am proud to support, and on his work as chair of the all-party parliamentary group on human trafficking and modern slavery, in which Members across the House and in the other place are active.
I want to focus on two things: awareness, and what we might do to the current legislation. I will start with awareness, because I have already learned something during the course of this discussion—as one would hope. Dame Caroline Spelman highlighted a scheme that is apparently operating in my local diocese, so I will be seeking it out following this debate to see how I might be able to help. Having laid my ignorance on the table, I must say that I was shocked to read the results of the poll conducted by the Co-op group that show that one in five people in Britain have never heard of modern slavery and that two-thirds—this is critical—do not know how to spot the crime. Furthermore, the poll showed that a 10th of Britons think they may have come across a victim, yet half say they would not know how to react or who to talk to. That was a poll of 2,000 people, so something clearly must be done. There is a role for us, both here and as leaders in our community, but there is also an important role for businesses and local authorities to play in heightening awareness and using whatever power or influence they have to ensure that people know what is going on, how to spot it and what they might be able to do about it.
Local authorities seem a good place to start. Before I came to this place, I was a member of Nottingham City Council, and one of my special responsibilities was procurement. A monthly procurement committee sees an awful lot of important things commissioned from public, private and community and voluntary sector sources, and it is difficult to follow the pound through the process. As my hon. Friend Darren Jones said, it is difficult to know where things go next after the first commissioning process. Perhaps we could learn from the Welsh Assembly Government about their code of practice to ensure that local authority leads are able to follow the money properly and ensure that things are not happening that they would not countenance.
Similarly, outside of statutory services, there are innovative employment programmes, such as the “Bright Future” programme of the Co-op and City Hearts, an anti-trafficking group, which aims to offer proper work to victims of modern slavery to enable them to get their lives back to normal and be treated properly. Those are the sorts of things that we can do around awareness, and I want to associate myself with the comments from across the House about the Prime Minister’s lead on the Modern Slavery Act. She hoped that we would reimagine the British dream and told us that it was
“time to forge a bold, new, confident role for ourselves on the world stage…
Taking the lead on cracking down on modern slavery wherever it is found.”
Moving on to the Act, Maggie Throup said that she did not feel that the estimated 10,000 to 13,000 exploited people was accurate, and I share that view. The police think that it is the tip of the iceberg, and Britain’s anti-slavery tsar Kevin Hylands has described the estimate as far too low, so we know that we need to do more to find and help victims. A good place to start is to see whether the transparency obligation on any business operating in the UK with a global turnover of more than £36 million is working. I have been tabling written questions to Minister, not because I am seeking to show anyone up, but because I am trying to build up a picture of what has happened.
I know that the picture can vary in terms of how firms have treated that obligation and of what we as a Parliament understand as the aggregate impact. We need to look at the obligation and consider what we can do with the public sector. Is £36 million an effective threshold, for example? I am particularly concerned about the 2022 World cup in Qatar. At the moment, a loophole in the legislation means that there is no obligation to report on wholly owned subsidiaries operating overseas. People could be working on a construction project in Qatar, but there is no obligation to report on activities there, so firms may unwittingly be involved in things elsewhere that they would not countenance in Britain.
There are other things that we can do. Others have discussed the 45 days of support, but Scotland is moving to 90 days, so we should look to do the same or perhaps go further. We also need to put in statute what that offer of assistance and support ought to be so that there is no variation. As I said, we could also revisit the £36 million turnover threshold. Eventually—this touches on what my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol North West was saying—the other shoe has to drop for non-compliant companies. I might not say this myself, but I could understand it if people said that there should be some patience while firms get things right under this new, trail-blazing legislation. However, we are reaching the point by which accurate reports have to be completed, and the penalties for not doing so should be considerable. There is lots to do, and all those things would improve the legislation and our society’s approach to modern slavery.
The House may not know that I am one of the 38 Labour and Co-operative Members, and this topic is one of our key issues for this year and beyond. I will certainly be using my place in the Chamber, and all the other great opportunities that MPs have to raise matters both inside and outside the House, to ensure that we make the legislation as good as possible and that we shine light into the dark corners.
I congratulate Vernon Coaker and his colleagues on securing this timely and important debate. I thank all the right hon. and hon. Members who have taken part today for their thoughtful and powerful speeches.
I recently had the pleasure of visiting the impressive International Slavery Museum in Liverpool, which powerfully, shockingly and bravely sets out the close links between that fantastic city and the abhorrent historical slave trade, with Liverpool ships transporting half the 3 million Africans carried across the Atlantic by British slavers. As we have heard, many would think that a museum is the only place that someone could still find slavery in the UK today, and if this debate has drawn attention to the ongoing existence of slavery, that is a good thing. I am sure that the painted nails of Darren Jones will certainly help in that regard. It is genuinely beyond despairing that, 210 years after this Parliament voted to abolish the slave trade, we must face down a new and modern forms of slavery and trafficking.
We have heard already that the estimate of 10,000 to 13,000 victims in the UK is likely to be a grave underestimation. As others have eloquently outlined, the effect on each of those victims is immeasurable. We all hope that 2015 will be looked back upon as a turning point and as the year in which three different Parliaments with competency in this area took up that battle by passing legislation: here, then Holyrood, and then Stormont. That legislation has been widely praised and includes clear new offences, stronger powers, including over sentencing, prevention orders, risk orders, independent child advocates—the Minister may want to address when they are to be rolled out across England and Wales—and the duty to notify. All that makes a solid legislative platform on which to build.
Yet again, however, we have a salutary lesson that legislation in itself is not enough—just as the Slave Trade Abolition Act 1807 was only one step on the long route to ending the slave trade and slavery. In her one-year review, Caroline Haughey described the 2015 Act as
“inevitably a work in progress”,
but she noted that the Act
“has already had a positive impact on the response to slavery, and that it could have a far greater impact if used to its full potential.”
That is undoubtedly true.
I commend those who secured the debate for focusing on implementation. They could not have timed it any better, with Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary publishing its report earlier this week. One frustration with that report is that it almost feels as though the Haughey review has sat on a shelf and been allowed to gather dust. Haughey suggested that there is a need for specialism in police forces and that, for example, they should have single points of contact. She also pointed to the importance of intelligence capacity at regional, national and international levels and the need for tailored training and, especially, for more frontline police and criminal justice staff. The HMIC report makes it clear that that is just not happening in far too many places.
Like Ms Haughey, the HMIC report found pockets of good practice—Tony Lloyd referred to the Greater Manchester police force, which was strongly praised—but, overall, its conclusions cannot be described as anything other than incredibly disappointing. Victims are being let down at every stage, and police services need to do much more before they can be satisfied that they are responding coherently and successfully to modern slavery and human trafficking.
The four chief constables who appeared before the Home Affairs Committee this week acknowledged that the HMIC report has to be seen as a wake-up call, and I detect a willingness to address modern slavery. Two reviews have now set out what exactly has to be done, and we also need the Government to provide the resources and strategy to make it happen.
A huge range of issues have been raised today and, in my remaining time, I will briefly focus on two. First, what happens with the immigration rules if victims are discovered? The Select Committee on Work and Pensions published a report earlier this year that made powerful points about the complexity and dubiety of victims’ immigration status and its effect on their access to support after going through the referral process. Some people are recognised as refugees; a smaller number are non-EEA nationals who have obtained discretionary leave to remain without having to apply; and a similarly small number are EEA nationals who have been granted discretionary leave to remain, but only after applying. For many, there is no stability and lots of dubiety, particularly for EEA nationals, who will almost certainly find it impossible to show that they are exercising treaty rights here, which has a knock-on implication for their attempts to access benefits and support.
As Baroness Butler-Sloss told the Work and Pensions Committee, the lack of any form of automatic entitlement for victims of trafficking while they take even basic steps to rebuild their lives is a “ludicrous situation”. The anti-slavery commissioner pointed out to the Committee that there is precedent in the two years’ leave given to victims of modern slavery who are here under the immigration rules as domestic servants. Against that background, the Committee recommended that all confirmed victims of modern slavery be given at least one year’s leave to remain with recourse to benefits and services. I fully endorse that approach.
Apart from anything else, if imminent removal is a remotely realistic result of coming forward as a victim of trafficking, we will struggle to find any victims to support or any traffickers to prosecute. More generally, a stronger firewall needs to be established between bodies that are enforcing labour market standards and those that are enforcing immigration checks. The two often require vastly different approaches, leading to inconsistency. That will be an important issue for the new director of labour market enforcement.
Secondly, the hon. Members for Bristol East (Kerry McCarthy) and for Erewash (Maggie Throup) mentioned supply chains and the statements required from companies with a turnover of more than £36 million—that is one of the few provisions in the 2015 Act that applies across the UK. It is clear that those statements need to be significantly strengthened. Even by Home Office estimates, less than a third of companies that should be publishing statements are doing so. There must be a requirement to file the statements with a public authority and much greater clarity on what is required. Nil returns cannot be acceptable; otherwise these provisions will prove to be barely worth the paper on which they are written.
The 2015 Act is a welcome start, but it is only a start. If it is to become the turning point that we all hope it can be, efforts, strategies and resources need to be stepped up.
I am delighted to take part in today’s debate, and I thank the Backbench Business Committee and particularly Vernon Coaker, who led us off so powerfully, for providing us with the opportunity to debate the implementation of the Modern Slavery Act 2015. There have been many fantastic contributions from both sides of the House, including by my hon. Friends the Members for Livingston (Hannah Bardell) and for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East (Stuart C. McDonald). I also thank Jess Phillips for sharing her extraordinarily powerful experiences of working in this sector. The debate is better for her participation.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East said, we sometimes allow ourselves to believe that human trafficking and exploitation takes place in some other country, in some other culture and in some other time and place. However, as we heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Livingston, it is happening throughout our communities, and we all have a role in ending this exploitation.
The perfectly laudable Modern Slavery Act aims to rid the world of modern slavery, including commercial sexual abuse, forced unpaid labour, domestic servitude and organ removal. We are shocked when we hear about those crimes on the news, but we are deeply wrong and misguided if we allow ourselves to believe that human trafficking and exploitation do not take place here at home.
Two thirds of trafficking victims are women. However, human trafficking is committed against men, women, boys and girls, and it does not take account of a person’s nationality or citizenship. Indeed, travelling from one place to another is not a required action for there to be an offence of human trafficking in Scotland, and it does not matter whether the victim has consented.
Statistics from the National Crime Agency report that 3,805 potential victims were submitted to the national referral mechanism—the framework for identifying victims of trafficking or modern slavery—in 2016. As the hon. Member for Gedling said, that was a 17% increase on the previous year. Of those 3,805 victims in 2016, 150 were from Scotland, 123 from Wales and 33 from Northern Ireland. Behind those damning statistics are horrifying stories of lives being destroyed, of women being abused, of children being sexually exploited and of workers being forced to work without pay through fear of the consequences if they refuse.
Unfortunately, despite the implementation of the 2015 Act, the National Crime Agency warns about the scale of modern slavery and has stated that it is “far more prevalent” than previously estimated, with alleged victims as young as 12 being sold and exploited. However, the police seem to be failing or are unable to tackle the issue. I can accept the police in England and Wales are under Government funding pressures, but I am concerned that police forces are failing to recognise the crimes that make up modern slavery. That is leaving victims unprotected from the actions of those who would take advantage of them.
As has been mentioned, a recent report by Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary states rather bluntly that victims of modern slavery are being let down at every stage. The police are not investigating cases quickly enough, allowing the prolongation of abuse, with some referred victims also being dismissed at the start due to assumptions about their citizenship. I cannot believe that when a case of slavery is suspected, the authorities’ first response is to check the victim’s passport and immigration status, rather than providing a helping hand to stop the abhorrent abuse.
Cases of slavery or suspected slavery are also being closed without inquiries being made, and in some cases detectives have not even spoken to victims. Wendy Williams, the inspector of constabulary, spoke on this issue:
“We found inconsistent, even ineffective, identification of victims and investigations closed prematurely. As a result, victims were being left unprotected, leaving perpetrators free to continue to exploit people as commodities.”
That is simply not good enough. We are failing those who need our help the most.
The Prime Minister previously vowed that Britain would lead the world in ridding the problem of modern slavery. How close are we to achieving that admirable aim when, first, the problem is increasing and, secondly, we fail to take action when modern slavery is reported to the appropriate authorities? Although the Government’s intention to rid the world of modern slavery is laudable, we should be concerned that the implementation of that vision is failing.
As chair of the all-party parliamentary group on the white ribbon campaign, I take pride in being part of an international movement that stresses the important role that men can play in ending the abuse that too many women and girls face on a daily basis. Gender-based violence, including the abhorrent acts of trafficking and exploitation, affects every society, and we all have a moral responsibility to create a society where it is consigned to the history books.
Unfortunately, a rapid Brexit, particularly a no-deal Brexit, may have consequences for the Government’s ability to protect people from being the victim of modern slavery practices. A report by The Independent suggested that Brexit could dramatically curtail efforts by the police service to tackle slavery and human trafficking. Tamara Barnett, from the Human Trafficking Foundation, says that many lawyers working in this field make use of the EU to defend victims of trafficking because of the lack of safeguards provided in the Modern Slavery Act. Brexit will also make it harder for the UK to work with other EU partners to resolve the crimes that take place across national boundaries.
The 2005 convention on action against trafficking in human beings was a great example of European countries working together to protect people from being caught up in trafficking. Ryan Mahan, of the campaign group Every Child Protected Against Trafficking, has spoken about the importance of this law:
“Almost every significant trafficking victim-protection provision we have in law and policy in the UK has been implemented as a direct result of the Convention.”
Brexit will undoubtedly make it harder for us to tackle this issue, so, as other Members have mentioned, the Prime Minister has to guarantee that that security co-operation will continue following our exit from the EU. This must be a crucial part of the negotiations.
In Scotland, we are also taking seriously our responsibility to seeing a world free from modern slavery. The Scottish Parliament unanimously passed the Human Trafficking and Exploitation (Scotland) Act 2015, whose overarching objective is to consolidate and strengthen the existing criminal law against human trafficking and exploitation and to enhance the status of and support for its victims. The Act also strengthened the penalties that can be passed down, adopting a maximum penalty of life in prison.
Earlier this year, the Scottish Government published their “Trafficking and Exploitation Strategy”, which sets out how our country intends to eliminate this abhorrent crime from our society. It was developed in partnership with support groups and those who have survived human trafficking offences and aims to identify and support victims; detect perpetrators and disrupt activity; and address the conditions that foster trafficking. By listening and learning from victims themselves, the Scottish Government have been able to capture the physical and psychological damage caused by trafficking. This new strategy has been welcomed by important stakeholders, including Lord Advocate James Wolffe, who said:
“We welcome the publication of the Trafficking and Exploitation Strategy. Human trafficking is a serious and complex crime that presents unique challenges to investigators and prosecutors. This strategy will work hand in hand with the tools we have at our disposal to tackle this abhorrent trade”.
As Alex Norris said, the Scottish Government have also recently announced that the period of support for victims of trafficking in Scotland will be doubled to 90 days, demonstrating that Scotland is again leading the way in protecting the most vulnerable members of our society. The victims of human trafficking have been calling for that, and I encourage the UK Government to follow Scotland’s lead.
In conclusion, this has been a consensual yet challenging debate. One of the scandals of the modern age is that we have to debate this at all. Everyone—children, women and men, UK national or not—can be affected by these sick and abhorrent crimes. We should all be deeply concerned that this is still happening and furthermore that the problem is actually growing. Our response to helping those who are being abused is coming up short. Today’s debate should serve as a wake-up call for us to do more to rid our society and, indeed, the world of modern slavery.
I wish to start by congratulating my hon. Friend Vernon Coaker on not only securing today’s debate, but the excellent way he takes a lead on this important issue. I also congratulate my hon. Friends the Members for Bristol East (Kerry McCarthy), for Bristol North West (Darren Jones), for Rochdale (Tony Lloyd) and for Nottingham North (Alex Norris) on their excellent contributions today. I pay special tribute to my hon. Friend Jess Phillips and Hannah Bardell for bringing the real-life consequences of the evil practice of slavery into the Chamber today.
When this House passed the Modern Slavery Act 2015 it was a landmark piece of legislation that provided leadership on a global scale. However, the lack of subsequent legislation has meant that it now risks becoming less effective on key issues of the fight against modern slavery. I will start by setting the scene: 45.8 million people are enslaved worldwide—this can mean anything from forced labour to forced marriage and forced sexual exploitation. In the UK, one of the most well developed countries in the world, an estimated 13,000 people are in modern-day slavery—that is far too many.
As was mentioned by Maggie Throup, companies that have made statements under section 54 of the Act are in the minority; the majority have not done so. Where they have made a statement, the quality ranges from the very good—I would specifically name Marks & Spencer and the Co-operative here—to the almost worthless. Yet, Ministers have done nothing to address this, leaving businesses free to carry on and take no action, despite what this House legislated for. We must put into place a regime where this House can be confident that its wishes, as expressed, and the commitments in the Modern Slavery Act, will be fulfilled. So I ask the Minister: when will the Government publish a list of all companies that should be producing statements on their modern slavery policies?
We all acknowledge that the police do a fantastic job when they protect and rescue individuals from slavery, but the HMIC report published earlier this week was a stark reality check for us all. The report tells us that all too often the trafficker’s threats to the victims—that they have no means of escape, as they will not be believed—have sadly become a self-fulfilling prophecy. The reports biggest critique was that policing against modern slavery and human trafficking is reactive rather than proactive, so more must be done to support vulnerable people to ensure that they will not be placed in the hands of traffickers. It is vital that we learn how traffickers prey on their victims, so that we are able to be more effective with preventions and protections. Does the Minister agree that there is a real need to improve training for the police, to help them better understand how to identify victims and how best to respond to issues?
I want to move on to the problematic national referral mechanism. Adults are required to consent to their referral, but without appropriate funding, support and accommodation, and a suitable environment where they can get proper advice to allow them to make informed decisions, far too many turn to homelessness or, even worse, return to their traffickers. All too often, NRM forms are rushed, just to make sure that the person concerned has access to accommodation. That means that some forms are incomplete or contain inaccurate information, undermining the individual’s credibility. Legal advice and representation must be offered early to all potential victims, to support them in understanding their rights, and in giving them access to justice and a real opportunity to move on with their lives. Government support is withdrawn quickly after a conclusive groundwork decision is made, and non-governmental organisations are all too often having to pick up the pieces because of a lack of resources and awareness among local authorities. Safe house accommodation should be more flexible, with support diminishing gradually according to an individual’s needs; they should not just have the rug pulled from under them.
Not only is this lack of support detrimental to the individuals, but it makes it difficult for police and prosecutors to do their job. Police have spoken about losing survivors due to the lack of support, and NGOs have spoken about anxiety caused by an insecure immigration status and how that prevents survivors in dealing with their traumatic experiences. Victims are entitled to only 45 days of NRM support following rescue, and that is simply not enough. Regardless of how well organised that 45 days’ support is, it is still not enough. Many of those rescued want to regain control of their lives through schemes such as the Co-op’s “Bright Future” project, which gives them a pathway back to paid employment, but they cannot do so because either they have not had the support to get them ready for work or they do not have the legal right to work.
Victims continue to be denied access to the vital services that they need to recover and rebuild their lives. Authorities often prioritise immigration control over the safety of victims. That can leave adults and children vulnerable to going missing. Traffickers see these individuals as vulnerable, and they exploit the existing system using evil and despicable practices. I welcome the fact that the NRM is being reformed, but I hope that during the reform process organisations such as the Human Trafficking Foundation, ECPAT UK and UNICEF are listened to and their advice heeded.
Slavery touches our lives every day, whether we know it or not. No country is free from this horrific crime and no one is safe: women, men, youngsters and, worse still, children are vulnerable. Exploitation on any level is unjustifiable, but when it involves a child it is chillingly deplorable. I have a huge concern that no specialist support or accommodation for trafficked children is available under the NRM. I urge the Minister to address that as a matter of urgency.
We passed the legislation two years ago, but it has been left to go stale, through a lack of enforcement, additional legislation or desire. Victims of modern slavery and trafficking are still being criminalised for crimes they were forced to commit. There is no clear pathway or continuity of support for victims, and the inconsistent training and co-ordination of services that are in place to protect them can be a hindrance because of a lack of knowledge, appropriate training and funding.
We are dealing with the most vulnerable individuals. This is a modern scourge with historical roots. Too many people rely on us to protect them from danger and to offer them support, so we must make sure that the service we offer is robust, reliable and effective.
As the Prime Minister has said, slavery is the gravest human rights abuse of our time, and we all share a moral duty to stamp it out. That duty really should transcend party politics. We have come a long way in the two years since the Prime Minister introduced the Modern Slavery Act, but the Government absolutely recognise that we are on a journey, and there is much more that we want to do.
I have very little time to respond to the debate, so I shall concentrate on reforms to the national referral mechanism, because I wish to make some important announcements. I will, though, get back to colleagues who have raised very important points, and I will continue to work with the all-party group. I look forward to further meetings to discuss further reforms in more detail.
Following the meeting of the modern slavery taskforce last week, several improvements to the NRM were announced. To improve the decision-making process, a new single, expert unit will be created in the Home Office to make decisions about whether someone is a victim of modern slavery. An independent panel of experts will be created to review all negative decisions, adding significantly to the scrutiny that such cases currently receive. A new digital system will be developed to support the NRM process, to make it easier for those on the front line to refer victims for support and to enable data to be captured and analysed to better aid prevention and law enforcement.
There are things we want to do to improve support for adults before, during and after the NRM process. It is paramount that victims’ rights and entitlements are robustly protected, which is why the Government will invoke section 50 of the Modern Slavery Act and set out in regulations the support to which victims are entitled. We will also launch a consultation on the preparation of statutory guidance under section 48 of the Act on the identification of and support for victims of slavery. Such a regulatory framework will ensure that victims know what they are entitled to, and that those who work with victims are clear on their roles and responsibilities.
It is vital that victims have access to support immediately upon their rescue from situations of exploitation. The Government are introducing places of safety for adult victims for the first three days after they are identified by public authorities, before they make a decision about whether they want to enter the NRM. During that period, potential victims will receive advice and support to ensure that they understand their options and what entering the NRM will mean for them. If a potential victim opts to enter the NRM, we must ensure that the care they receive is consistent and meets minimum standards, regardless of where in the country they are being cared for. That is why the Government will adopt the Human Trafficking Foundation’s trafficking survivor care standards as a minimum standard for victim support.
Moving on from the NRM can be a challenging and difficult time for some victims as they leave the security and sanctuary of a safe house and reintegrate into society in the UK or return home. In many cases, the existing 14-day move-on support period does not give enough time for support to be provided properly, so we will extend the period to 45 days, thereby guaranteeing that confirmed victims will receive a minimum of 90 days of Government-funded support. Further, we will extend by a week the period of support for those who are not confirmed as victims, making it nine days. For all confirmed victims who have left the NRM, we will run weekly drop-in centres in partnership with the Salvation Army, so that victims can continue to receive ongoing support and advice.
As part of the refocus I have described, and to enrich the support we give to victims, we wish to make sure that we consider the victims who are in the asylum system. As Members will know, and as was said in the debate, a vast number of victims of slavery are identified by UK Visas and Immigration staff when they are looking through applications and spot people who might also be victims of slavery. It is important that we ensure consistency among people receiving comparable Government support, with respect to their day-to-day living expenses, while also ensuring that the victims of modern slavery receive specialist services, regardless of where they are accommodated, to enable them to begin to recover and rebuild their lives. For those victims of modern slavery who are in asylum accommodation, specialist services are provided through identified outreach support workers, who ensure that victims receive the same expert counselling, medical care, legal aid and other assistance as they would if they were in NRM safe houses.
As we move towards the implementation of the specific improvements to the specialist support arrangements available to all victims of modern slavery that I have announced today, we also plan to align the arrangements for covering basic living costs with those in place for asylum seekers, while continuing to ensure that the specific additional needs of certain people are catered for. We want to build on our work to identify victims of modern slavery properly, so we will also consult on strengthening the first responder role, by among other things looking at the criteria for becoming a responder and making sure they are properly trained.
Lastly, on our final objective, we want to improve the support for child victims. We will continue to roll out the independent child trafficking advocates nationally and to test new and innovative ways of supporting trafficked children, including specialist accommodation. The £2.2 million we granted as part of the child trafficking protection fund will test what specialist support for children works. We will also consider how to make the NRM decision-making process as child friendly as possible, including by looking at how we communicate NRM decisions to children.
We believe that this package of reform will significantly improve the current NRM and put victims’ needs at the centre of the process. We are grateful for the work of the Work and Pensions Select Committee, the Independent Anti-slavery Commissioner, organisations across the third sector and indeed Members of this House. As we deliver the changes I have announced today, I will work with those organisations and Members to ensure that victims experience these improvements as soon as possible. I want no one in the House to be in any doubt that the Government are totally dedicated to preventing this appalling global trade in human misery and to ensuring that victims of modern slavery receive the support they need and that offenders are brought to justice.
We have today heard examples of the great work being done around the country to raise awareness of modern slavery and sent out powerful messages that, despite all our differences on many other issues, the House of Commons is united and committed to ending modern slavery. We in this House and those beyond the Chamber all have a role to play. It is clear to me that only by working together can we stamp out this most horrendous crime against our shared humanity.
I thank everyone who has taken the time to contribute to this massively important debate from across the country. I also welcome the Minister’s comments and the reforms she has announced—I think I have had a greater impact as co-chair of the all-party group than I had as policing Minister. [Laughter.] The serious point is that the changes she announced to the NRM, particularly around the extension of the period for which support will be available, are very important. Other extremely important changes are those around aligning the living costs available to victims vis-a-vis people in the asylum system and around awareness raising, particularly with respect to first responders.
There are other things, of course, that arose in the debate that we will need to discuss, but for now I just want to thank the Minister for her response and to say to her that the all-party group will continue to challenge the Government, not because we wish to be underhand, but because it is only by challenge that we can address what we all agree is a heinous crime. As we speak, there are still unknown thousands of children, women and men in sexual or labour exploitation. It is 2017, not 200 years ago during the abolition debate. We need to do more. The Minister has made some welcome comments today, and the House is united in doing all it can to stamp out this modern scourge.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House
has considered the implementation of the Modern Slavery Act 2015.