Report (1st Day)

Part of Modern Slavery Bill – in the House of Lords at 4:45 pm on 23rd February 2015.

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Photo of Lord Bates Lord Bates The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department 4:45 pm, 23rd February 2015

My Lords, it might be helpful at this point if I first speak briefly to my noble friend’s Amendment 6 to put some remarks on the record, and then return to Amendment 5, on which a number of other Members of the House will probably wish to comment further or to listen to particular points I will make.

When this case was raised by my noble friend Lord James at Second Reading and in Committee, it was a new chapter of this country’s history that I had not been particularly aware of, and a very regrettable one too. We went into some detail of this in correspondence and at a number of meetings with my noble friend, as well as with my noble friend Lord Freeman. It was quite a harrowing experience, and I know that for my noble friend the recollection is personally very harrowing. At the conclusion of those meetings, I said that I would put some words on the record regarding the Government’s response and previous Governments’ responses to what had happened as an acknowledgement of our apology, which I will come to. I hope that that reassures him that we believe we now have in place the safeguard, chiefly through the courts, of a court order being required for any child being moved outside this country. That is a significant enhancement.

On 24 February 2010, the then Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, made a formal apology in Parliament on behalf of the nation, expressing the nation’s regret for the misguided child migrant scheme. The Prime Minister spoke for all of us when he expressed his deep regret for those flawed policies and expressed sorrow that child migrants were allowed to be sent away when they were at their most vulnerable. Almost five years to the day since that apology was made, I am sure that noble Lords will join me and my noble friend Lord James in echoing that regret and that apology.

I want to take a little time to reassure your Lordships that the Government have taken action to support child migrants in regaining their true identities and reuniting them with their families and loved ones. We cannot undo the past but such action can go some way to repair the damage inflicted. I know that that is what my noble friend Lord James wants.

Alongside the formal national apology in 2010, the Government announced a £6 million child migrants’ family restoration fund to support travel and other costs for former child migrants who wish to be reunited with their families. Since its launch in 2010, the fund has provided more than 700 former child migrants and their families with support in travelling to be reunited. In September 2014, the Government announced that the fund will continue until March 2017. By then, the Government estimate that the fund will have helped around 1,000 former child migrants and many thousands of family members.

I also pay tribute at this point to the work of the Child Migrants Trust, which administers the fund. It is the key charity that focuses on family tracing, social work and counselling services for former child migrants and their families. I specifically pay tribute to the work of the trust’s director, Margaret Humphreys, who, like my noble friend Lord James, has done so much to raise awareness about this issue.

I reiterate that it is our belief that the legal guarantees are now in place to prevent any such activity ever happening again. Moreover, I believe that, together with the courageous apology made five years ago, the reparations and the work of the Child Migrants Trust, the guarantees go some way towards redressing the wicked wrong of the past. On behalf of this Government, I reiterate our apology for previous Governments’ involvement in that terrible episode.

It is right that chapters such as the one in 1944 but also those that went on until the late 1950s and even the early 1960s remind us to have an element of humility when we talk about child protection issues in this country. Therefore, I am grateful to my noble friend for raising the issue. I very much hope that the remarks that I have again put on the record and the guarantees that I have underscored will allow him to draw not only a legislative line but a personal line under this very sad chapter.

I turn to the child exploitation offence, which has been the substantial part of a very interesting debate, as it was in the previous stages of this Bill considered in your Lordships' House. The catalyst for that has been my noble friend Lady Doocey, whose description as tenacious I can say, as the Minister involved in this matter, is probably a bit of an understatement. She has taken on, engaged in and championed this issue in the best traditions of parliamentary work. I pay tribute to her and to the work that she has done.

In many ways, the debate that we have had on this issue highlights the difficulties that the Government have had in approaching it. The Government do not come from any position of an ideological or principled approach to this matter. Clearly, the amendments that we have made by the score to this Bill would suggest that, if we genuinely felt that this was something that, in the words of the noble Lord, Lord Palmer, would lead to one more successful prosecution, without hesitation we would support this amendment. That is without doubt. The contrary argument has been made by the DPP, the national policing lead and, of course, by the Independent Anti-slavery Commissioner, who was in charge of human trafficking until taking up his post.

The noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, referred to her conversations with Kevin Hyland, which are very much echoed by my own experiences with him, when he gave case after case where he feared that, if he had had to prosecute on a particular age-related offence, it could have meant that he was not able to get the prosecution. That is very much the argument for and against. One believes that it will secure an additional level of prosecutions, while the other view, which we have heard very clearly articulated by the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, the noble Baroness, Lady Howarth, and my noble friend Lady Hamwee, is that it could make it more difficult and we could be put in a position that people might get away with this and there could be fewer prosecutions rather than more.

I turn to the central point being put forward by my noble friend Lord Carlile, who asked why the law that was in place has not been used. Why have there not been more prosecutions? The argument was made that there has been only one—in fact, somebody said that there had not been any, but there has. I have an example of one, which the Crown Prosecution Service made successfully under Section 71 of the Coroners and Justice Act 2009, where there was a slavery, servitude and forced or compulsory labour offence involving child victims. The offence was used to convict a mother who sought to sell her baby for £35,000, and a man who acted as agent. They were both convicted and received sentences of seven and nine years respectively. The fact that those are all too few instances—I recognise that, and the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, said that it was a troubling concern—is in many ways a reflection of the fact that it is the practice of the law that is at fault here rather than the word and letter of the law. That is why it is very important that, in addition to the words that I put in my letter to the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, which I will happily repeat on the record here today, the most crucial element is what is going to happen in terms of the prosecutions going forward and what is going to happen with the training. We received a letter today from the Independent Anti-slavery Commissioner in which he talked about the very important role of providing training and engaging with the College of Policing. That is in addition to the measures that the Director of Public Prosecutions and the Crown Prosecution Service have announced they want to work together on.

The effect of the Bill will be measured and evaluated in post-legislative scrutiny or through the annual report to be laid before Parliament by the Independent Anti-slavery Commissioner. Someone will keep a tally and ask how many successful prosecutions are being brought forward and put on the record. Clearly, we are talking about something which is a quantum leap above the DVD/CD type of approach and is more of a systemic change. My noble friend Lady Hamwee is right: we are talking of a systemic change almost along the lines of what we have seen in tackling domestic violence in terms of understanding it, seeing it from a victim’s point of view and people being trained how to deploy the resources available under the law to achieve successful prosecutions. That process is augmented by other measures in the Bill.

I listened carefully to all the contributions, but particularly carefully to that of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge. The Bill contains a defence for victims, and children are included in that. We have introduced child trafficking advocates and are applying a modern-day strategy for the first time. We have introduced the control orders, which were mentioned, as well as the overhaul of the national referral mechanism to make it more effective in protecting children in particular. All these things are being introduced together with two elements, the first of which is the clarification which we have introduced through Amendment 4. I was very grateful for the support of my noble friend Lord McColl on that. That is very significant given that I refer to him as the father of the Bill. I very much appreciated his support on that amendment. Therefore, we have included a provision on exploitation and given a commitment and clarification in the letter which I wrote to the noble Baroness, Lady Royall. We have given a further absolute commitment that training and collaboration need to be provided and that your Lordships and the Government expect to see a significant increase in the number of successful prosecutions being brought, particularly as regards child exploitation. We have increased the sentences and tariffs available to the courts and we expect them to be used.

With those reassurances that I offer to my noble friend—I again acknowledge the commitment and tenacity that she has shown in highlighting this issue—I hope that there is sufficient on the record here and elsewhere to enable her to say that for the moment she is content to see how this issue progresses. We will keep an eagle eye on it as it goes forward to make sure that the arguments which have been put forward by the DPP, the Crown Prosecution Service, the Independent Anti-slavery Commissioner and the national policing lead are backed up in the number of successful prosecutions that are brought in future.