Modern Slavery Act 2015

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 1:30 pm on 26th October 2017.

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Photo of Maggie Throup Maggie Throup Conservative, Erewash 1:30 pm, 26th October 2017

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.