Report (1st Day)

Part of Modern Slavery Bill – in the House of Lords at 4:15 pm on 23rd February 2015.

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Photo of Baroness Howarth of Breckland Baroness Howarth of Breckland Crossbench 4:15 pm, 23rd February 2015

My Lords, I am somewhat bemused about where we are in this debate. My view has always been quite clear: we already have enough legislation. I think that some of these cases are already appearing before the courts under general children’s legislation.

As I understand it, CAFCASS has recently been involved in a situation where a child was begging. We have to remember that very often the people who are exploiting children are the children’s own parents or relatives. This child was being exploited and selling the Big Issue 12 hours a day on the streets. She was exploited by her father, who went to prison. That seems to be just the sort of case we are talking about, but prosecuted under quite different legislation—the children’s legislation concerning neglect. Maybe that is where we should also look. We should see where else action is being taken.

I listened to the noble Baroness, Lady Doocey, very carefully. I do not agree with her amendment but I am very much in sympathy with what she was saying in her speech. She identified some very important issues. One issue that perhaps we have missed throughout this debate is the one found in proposed new subsection (6) of the amendment, about vulnerable children who find themselves in difficulties because they do not understand what they are being expected to do, and even if they do, they have been so groomed or so frightened that they carry out whatever action is undertaken quite unconsciously; and even if it is consciously, they are in difficulties. We need to look at that and make absolutely sure that we are not going to be prosecuting children and young people when they are in those sorts of difficulties.

However, I am still of the belief that if we look at all the horrific incidents in the newspapers that have happened to children and young people recently—never mind all the ones that we in the profession know about: the thousands of children on child protection registers and the hundreds of cases that go through the courts every day—we know that there is legislation that could have protected those children. There is no doubt that the girls of Rotherham could have been protected by the legislation that is there. That is what the inquiry found: they could have been protected. So I disagree with my noble friend—