Modern Slavery Act 2015

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:44 pm on 26th October 2017.

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Photo of Vernon Coaker Vernon Coaker Labour, Gedling 12:44 pm, 26th October 2017

Thank you.

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.