Modern Slavery Bill — Second Reading (Continued)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 7:15 pm on 17th November 2014.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of The Earl of Listowel The Earl of Listowel Crossbench 7:15 pm, 17th November 2014

My Lords, this has been a remarkable and moving debate. We have heard about the charities that are doing such remarkable work and the debate has made me think about the work that the Government have done in this area. The noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, mentioned the Poppy Project, which reached out to the woman in Yarl’s Wood and rescued her from what must have been an appalling experience. We heard about the exploitation of young women and girls who were taken from foreign countries and brought to this country for sexual exploitation. I thought about the remarkable work of the coalition Government in terms of their commitment to international development and the education of girls. The millennium development goals recognise the need to educate children in the developing world. Of course, if girls can read and write, they are far less able to be controlled by others and they have access to the internet and to knowledge.

The debate has also made me think of an experience that I had as a teenager working in Greece, picking oranges. It was an interesting experience. A rumour went round that some of the employers were confiscating passports. We just turned up at a café in the morning and were hired or not. I guess that I was bit vulnerable back then.

The debate has also made me think principally of the young men whom I have known who have come to this country as children, separated from their families. They may not have been trafficked, but they are still extremely vulnerable. I remember particularly one young man who arrived here from Eritrea. His mother was Eritrean and his father was Ethiopian. At the time, the two nations were at war with each other. He was here with his sister as a child. He was a remarkably bright and diligent young man. He worked hard, got good A-levels and went on to University College, I think, read civil engineering, qualified as a civil engineer and was eager to return to his own country to make a difference as it recovered from the civil war. He kept up with his home language, Amharic, and was an altar boy in the Coptic church, not far from here.

I remember another young man, an Albanian in a hostel, with whom I used to play chess over several months. His father was a teacher. He was a bright young man and yet, meeting him with some of the people whom he came across in London, I worried that he might be drawn into a gang of criminal culture. The point that I want to make is that these young people have great potential and it is a criminal waste to allow any young person’s potential to be wasted. I have met other young people—again, perhaps, not trafficked—who have come to this country and have not had the support that they have needed and have ended up in mental health institutions.

I therefore warmly welcome this Bill and am most grateful to the Minister for introducing its Second Reading. I welcome the work of the campaigning organisations, the parliamentary groups and parliamentarians who have done such good work in bringing the Bill forward.

Much has already been said about children. The Bill offers an important opportunity to protect child victims of trafficking. I would like to remind your Lordships of further facts about children. The International Labour Organization has conservatively estimated that 5.5 million children are trafficked every year—that is 26% of total victims. In the UK, we have seen a significant increase in the number of children identified as potential victims of trafficking. At least 10 children are trafficked every week in the UK, but many remain undetected. The real scale of trafficking is likely to be substantially higher.

Trafficked children are alone, frightened and traumatised, facing uncertain futures and often struggling to access the support that they need. It is therefore imperative that we do all that we can, both through legislation and through practice, to ensure that those children, whether British-born or migrants, are safe, protected and able to rebuild their lives. I am keen for us to move forward, beyond even the welcome measures in the Bill, to strengthen the protections of these young people, in particular with regard to the child trafficking advocates, so I welcome the enabling provision in the Bill. However, I am worried that, unless advocates are given legal powers, they will lack the ability to step in at times when they are most needed, to hold authorities to account, to instruct solicitors on behalf of a child and to truly to represent that child’s interests. If those children are to have faith in their advocates, they need to see that their advocates have clout, that they can make a difference and that they will not disappoint them.

The Northern Ireland Assembly has just introduced provision for that in the human traffic and exploitation Bill, to which the noble Lord, Lord McColl, referred, and I hope that the Government will soon follow the Assembly’s lead. An advocate who can instruct a solicitor to act in the child’s best interest is needed because trafficked children do not disclose that they have been trafficked, as they have been manipulated by their trafficker, are afraid of what the trafficker will do to their family, or have not understood or psychologically accepted that they have been trafficked. That may particularly be the case if they were trafficked by a family member. That means that, if the victim of trafficking were to instruct a solicitor, it could be contrary to their best interests, safety and protection and it might protect their trafficker.

In Committee in the House of Commons, the Minister explained that the advocate would act as a litigation friend. However, that does not go far enough, as my noble friend said. A litigation friend cannot instruct solicitors or act in immigration, asylum or criminal proceedings. There are also issues with local authorities; I am very aware of that from my work as vice-chair of the all-party parliamentary group on young people in care. Again, being able to instruct a solicitor can help children to get services from local authorities that they might not otherwise be able to access. I am therefore keen to see that power of instruction and for us to reach out to all separated children, because often we do not identify that they have been trafficked until it is too late and they have been taken away from their care home or foster care.

At the same time, I recognise that the Government have come a long way with the Bill—I heard the concerns expressed by my noble and learned friend Lady Butler-Sloss, who said that we need to acknowledge how far the Government have come. I will therefore look to my noble and learned friend for a cue on how fast we have to move forward with these issues. In conclusion, once again, I very much welcome the Bill and I look forward to the Minister’s response.