My Lords, this Bill is an essential addition to the Modern Slavery Act, a measure which has already been a great success thanks to the support of many people, not least the Prime Minister herself. I shall begin with a brief overview of what my Bill does before moving on to explain why I believe these new measures are necessary.
My Bill would amend the Modern Slavery Act with two primary effects. First, proposed new Section 48A would put into law victims’ entitlement to support during the reflection and recovery period, while the competent authorities are deciding whether there is evidence that they have been a victim of modern slavery. Secondly, new Section 48B would create a statutory duty to provide confirmed victims of modern slavery with ongoing support and leave to remain for a period of 12 months. New Section 48C sets out the main types of assistance and support that would be provided to victims, and stipulates key aspects of how that support is to be provided.
In April, the Home Secretary wrote:
“We must be better at getting immediate support to victims when they are at their most vulnerable. Otherwise they just slip through the net, to be abused all over again, and we lose any opportunity to gain information on the criminals who exploited them in the first place … We also want to make sure that victims are able to rebuild their lives. Our aspiration to help these people is in the right place—but at present, the provision of support may yet not be”.
With this, I agree entirely. My Bill provides a way to make these aspirations a reality by putting the principles for victim support into legislation.
The UK is a signatory to the Council of Europe convention and EU directive which require us to provide support when a victim is first identified, during the so-called reflection and recovery period. My Bill ensures that there is no doubt that victims should receive these international rights by creating a legal framework with minimum standards. This will provide certainty for victims and for the organisations that support them.
“to enshrine in law … the right to a recovery and reflection period”, in its first report on the UK in 2012 and repeated this recommendation in October 2016.
Victim support rights are also included in the EU directive. Your Lordships will remember, possibly, that I was a strong proponent of the EU anti-trafficking directive when it was being developed. I was pleased when the Government opted into the directive, and more so when the Modern Slavery Bill was introduced. However, although the Modern Slavery Act has brought into national law most of the directive’s provisions, it does not include the measures which guarantee support for victims. It is uncertain at present what the status of the directive will be once the UK has left the EU; presumably, its provisions will no longer have effect. This lack of clarity creates risks for victims which should not be entertained.
Scotland and Northern Ireland have introduced a legal duty to provide support to victims while the NRM decision is being made. It cannot be right that victims in England and Wales have fewer protections than those in Scotland and Northern Ireland. My Bill will create equality of access by setting out a clear approach to caring for victims in England and Wales through Brexit and beyond.
My Bill will also ensure that we have consistent standards of support. New Section 48C sets out clearly what support and services victims should have access to and establishes standards for their provision. For example, assistance should be provided only with a person’s consent and should be based on the individual’s particular needs. These minimum levels of support are all drawn from our international obligations.
I turn now to an issue which has come to prominence over the past year: the support available to victims following a positive conclusive grounds decision. Front-line agencies are advising us that the current system is not meeting our objectives to recover victims and protect them from further exploitation. As the anti-slavery commissioner has said:
“Supporting a potential victim until the conclusive decision is made and then ceasing support so abruptly could be damaging for the victim and negatively affect their recovery”.
Ending support just 14 days after the NRM decision without establishing access to services and suitable housing for the following period puts victims at risk and interrupts their recovery. Research by the Human Trafficking Foundation found that,
“the current options for housing and support in the post safe house period are not sufficient for survivors of modern slavery. If there is no effective strategy to prevent re-victimisation then generational cycles of abuse and exploitation of vulnerable people may continue unabated.”
Front-line support agencies have highlighted cases where confirmed victims are destitute and sleeping on the streets, are refused access to welfare benefits or housing, and have then engaged in prostitution because they were not entitled to any form of support. The anti-slavery commissioner raised these concerns with the Work and Pensions Committee in another place last year. The committee inquiry report which followed highlighted that despite its other achievements, the Modern Slavery Act did not secure a pathway for the victims’ recovery. The committee went on to recommend that,
“all confirmed victims of modern slavery be given at least one year’s leave to remain with recourse to benefits and services … this would allow time for victims to receive advice and support, and give them time to plan their next steps. This would not prevent those who wish to return home from doing so”.
A similar recommendation has been made by the GRETA report, which urged the UK authorities to,
“make further efforts to ensure that all victims of trafficking are provided with adequate support and assistance, according to their individual needs, beyond the 45-day period covered by the NRM”.
The committee recognised that not only is there a moral case for providing longer support, but that doing so also benefits the criminal justice system, because providing support can help to bring the perpetrators of these terrible crimes to justice. The anti-slavery commissioner told the committee that victims are often the best source of intelligence and that they would be deterred from even coming forward and making accusations against their abusers if they believed they would not be supported.
Victims are vulnerable, often fearful of reprisals from their traffickers and anxious about the future. If they are not given guarantees of housing and food, and access to other support, how can we expect them to feel secure enough to provide information about the people who abuse them? Yet without their input, it may be impossible to bring successful prosecutions against the criminals who perpetrate these horrible crimes.
The Government will no doubt wish to highlight that there are options for longer-term support through the existing discretionary leave to remain, which I shall refer to as DLR, for which confirmed victims of modern slavery can apply. However, there is significant evidence that many victims are falling through the gaps of this scheme, because of three key problems.
First, DLR is available only in three narrowly defined circumstances, one of which, known as “compelling personal circumstances”, is given a much narrower interpretation than that in the Explanatory Note to the Council of Europe convention. In all, just 123 of the victims positively identified as victims of trafficking in 2016 were granted discretionary leave to remain.
Secondly, because DLR is not automatically available for every victim, a separate process must be instigated, which can begin only after the conclusive grounds decision. The anti-slavery commissioner has said:
“This significantly delays the process, and ultimately pushes victims onto the streets while they await a decision on their DL application”.
Although safe houses can ask for an extension to the victim’s stay pending this decision, that extension is not always granted. This cannot be acceptable.
Thirdly, the process of applying for DLR varies for different victims and in different circumstances, which leads to confusion of course. Where the application is being made because a victim is helping police with their investigations, the police must make the application. Sadly, it seems not all police forces are aware of this responsibility. One charity told the Work and Pensions Committee:
“Investigating police forces are not well versed in immigration matters and often do not know what DL means let alone how to apply for it or that they are responsible for this application”.
Even if forces are aware, processing the application takes time away from the investigative role that the police are uniquely tasked with. I suggest to the Minister that we would do better to relieve the police of that responsibility by giving all victims the option of a limited period of leave automatically, as my Bill does.
I will take a moment here to stress that my Bill provides only a limited period of leave. It does not provide an automatic grant of indefinite leave to remain. Indeed, I would not support such an open-ended commitment. The Bill provides a 12-month period for victims’ rehabilitation, not permanent residency. The possibility and length of any extension is at the discretion of the Secretary of State.
I know the Government have expressed concern that giving all confirmed victims automatic DLR would create a “pull factor” for traffickers or false claims. However, the Work and Pensions Committee rightly said:
“It is not clear … how such a pull factor would operate”, and that it is,
“unsubstantiated by evidence”.
Traffickers do not exploit people with the aim that they should escape and receive benefits.
Moreover, the NRM is designed to filter out such fraud, and it is expert at so doing. The suggestion that automatic DLR might lead to a greater number of false referrals to the NRM forgets that a victim cannot self-refer. It is not in the interests of the professional first responders who make NRM referrals to knowingly making false referrals. I do not believe making support available after the NRM period would lead to such unprofessional conduct.
The Government have also expressed concern that an automatic entitlement would lead to victims with criminal records being allowed to remain in the country. I share the Government’s concern to protect the public from anyone who poses a threat, which is why I have included an exception for such people in my Bill. However, we must be cautious about assuming that everyone with a criminal record poses a risk. A criminal record can be one of the factors that makes a victim vulnerable to exploitation. A balance needs to be struck between protecting the public and denying help to a vulnerable victim simply because they committed an offence in the past.
Yes, the Bill will increase the number of victims who receive DLR and access to benefits and housing, but it will also help more victims on to the path to recovery. Some will not want to take up the offer of longer support and will return home before the end of the 12 months. Most victims do not want to live on benefits but want to regain their place in society by accessing training, education or jobs. It is just that they need help to do so. Here I must make a brief mention of the Bright Future partnership between the Co-op and charity City Hearts, which is an example to businesses who want to offer work experience to victims.
I have set out the case for further reform to benefit the well-being of victims of modern slavery. In doing so, I remind your Lordships that the Government should be applauded for setting the foundations for this next step and commended for the great strides forward that have been taken in tackling this crime over the past few years. Today I offer my Bill as a next stage in the development of the Modern Slavery Act so that we can lead the world in addressing this crime. I very much hope the Government will see in the Bill a great opportunity, and that they will embrace it and make it their own. I beg to move.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord McColl, on his Bill, which would extend the rights and compensation for those suffering under modern slavery. It is right and proper. Indeed, I could not say anything else, since I was a Member of Parliament for Hull for 40 years, following in the footsteps of William Wilberforce, who passed anti-slavery legislation through this Parliament.
However, I hope that the noble Lord will not mind, since this is an extension of our national law, if I take it into the context of the international framework, which is having some influence on mass migration in our world, which leads almost to the acts of slavery about which he talked so eloquently. I want to talk about that international framework against the background of my experience. I will particularly refer to environment legislation which, while geared to deal with the climate change problem, has consequences in developing countries which lead to people taking desperate means to find a job somewhere else. That is understandable and we see it on the television every day.
As the Council of Europe rapporteur, I deal with climate change and have been dealing with it since 1997 when, as Deputy Prime Minister, I led the negotiations for the successful Kyoto agreement. That set the global architecture. Since then, we have had the Paris agreement, which established a national policy under which all countries are committed to a national target to cut carbon. Where it fails, I think, is in the completion of a new concept that I have developed within the Council of Europe and in UN climate change negotiations of a commitment to a national registry system.
I will explain that. Basically, it means that we have a subnational concept. We have the international framework and the national framework, but more can be done to assist in the environmental problem and the migration that comes from it by acting between developed and developing countries. I call it a subnational agreement, which means that you can make an agreement at a lower level, not necessarily having to find national or international agreement, but working within that framework. You could call them regional agreements if you like, but, it is the same business. It is where two parts of the global economy work together, one a developed country and one a developing country, to use the expertise in one area to help similar areas in other developing countries.
I can think of two examples based on what we learned in the Humber from the development of the Humber estuary. Estuarial development affects many developing countries, so our expertise, whether in fishing, trade, nuclear power or renewable energy—now with Siemens and wind power—can be used to help developing countries meet their low-carbon targets. We have made two agreements, which involve the universities, the local authorities, public and private industry getting together at the subregional level to see how we can help those countries to develop. One is between Hull and Morocco, which is an agrarian economy, although it has a lot of renewable power as well. We have helped Morocco develop its agriculture industry, make water savings of 30% and reduce its carbon output. That is a legitimate target for it. The second, which we are most excited about, is with Ghana. Ghana now has a connection with Hull, and the River Volta now has an estuarial development. The River Volta is 200 miles long, with 100 villages on it, and we have suggested that if they develop the estuarial economy, we will provide the boats, built in Hull, we will provide the finance and develop the commercial contact between the villages, which is important to help them to develop their economy—which is crucial—in a low-carbon way. Indeed, we are quite proud of that, and we are working very hard to achieve it. The first boat has gone—we call it the medical boat, because it enables villagers to contact the medical centre by a boat that is built in Hull. The rest of the fleet, which we are financing and developing, will help to develop the commercial economy and reduce carbon. This was referred to by Kofi Annan, the former Secretary-General of the UN, at a conference in Hull on Saturday, when he said that this was one of the most important developments and that,
“estuarial development on the Humber with similar regions in Africa”, is a pioneering, subnational co-operation. That is exactly what it is and that is what we can do more of. It needs to be in the national and international framework.
In Hull we are a pioneering city—we are proud of that, and we have a summit on slavery taking place in two weeks’ time. We lead the world in that; it is important that we follow new initiatives in a co-operative way to do something about the mass migration that leads to slavery.
My Lords, I too thank the noble Lord, Lord McColl, for his persistence and inspiration in keeping this on the agenda and bringing this Bill before us today.
I declare a number of interests. I was on the Select Committee that helped to craft the legislation, which was a good foundation—but all the evidence shows, and some of us realised this at the time, that it needs to be developed with further investment, as we learned from victims and the adjustments of the police and other statutory authorities. I declare an interest, too, as chairman of the advisory panel of the Independent Anti-slavery Commissioner, to whom the noble Lord, Lord McColl, referred and who is doing some amazing work, helping us to see where the foundations can be strengthened and developed.
The noble Lord, Lord Prescott, has pointed to the fact that this is a perfect storm in the number of vulnerable and desperate people who are attracted and often tricked into coming to our country and into slavery. We have to push back upstream, as the saying goes—and it is great to hear what is happening in Hull. Next Monday, the Independent Anti-slavery Commissioner will release a report after he was asked by the Government to visit Vietnam and look at the relationships with cultures from which people are exported into slavery and to provide contacts for people to return. He is also looking at how economies can be developed to encounter this storm of vulnerable people.
We have heard how the Independent Anti-slavery Commissioner has been working with the Work and Pensions Committee, making suggestions to the Government about the NRM. All this is evidence based and putting victims at the centre, which is what this Bill is about and why I think it is the next obvious step for us to take.
My third declaration is that I am involved with the Clewer initiative with the Church of England and other partners, which is being launched formally on
Second Reading is about matters of principle, and I want to highlight two or three principles that are important to consider and invite the Minister to reflect on them with us in looking at the proposals before us. The first is about numbers. The Minister in the other place has recognised that the numbers quoted are grossly inadequate. We are looking at a vast problem affecting almost every community; even in rural Derbyshire we discover evidence of people in slavery. So the resource implications will be huge, and we have to face that. How will we resource the needs of victims as we improve our ability to identify them, pushing back against crime and helping them to recover?
The key principle that I want your Lordships to think about is recovery. This is not just about rescuing people—it is recovery. I have had the sad privilege of meeting and working with a number of victims: women who have been raped 10 times a day, who asked for drugs to save them from the pain; people in domestic servitude, who sleep on the floor and are on call 24/7, trapped in a house; and 16 or 20 men in the city of Derby, living in a two-up, two-down house with one bathroom, a bus to work and a bus back, who have £5 a week to spend and whose passports have been confiscated. We meet people like that, from whom the very humanity has been knocked out. They are broken and their ability to think of themselves as human beings is very weak indeed.
The crime works and is such a successful business because they are good at recruiting people who are vulnerable anyway: those who are homeless or who have emotional or mental health problems. This is why resourcing is so important. People in that state do not just need a quick system—at the NRM we are realising that we need more time, resource and benefit cover—they also need loving, basically, and that is really hard to do. One thing the Clewer initiative is about is finding how people can voluntarily go the extra mile and step up. In my diocese, we provide support for the police with premises for interviews. Our Mothers’ Union puts together toiletries to give to people to make them feel that their body is worth caring for. We try to provide volunteers to sit with victims and to provide accommodation, with the Red Cross and others, when the system is creaking and people are falling between the cracks.
I invite the Minister to help us think about this. There are enormous resource implications and there has to be a judgment about how it is to be delivered. How are we going to balance asking the statutory authorities and the benefit system to do what they can in the right timeframe to give people a chance to rediscover their humanity? How are we—especially the Government in their guidance to statutory bodies—going to encourage partnership with things like the Clewer initiative and other voluntary and faith groups, which can provide such a precious extra dimension by saying to people, “You are a person”; “You can be loved”; “You can have a future”? They can go the extra mile when technical resources are often constrained. I hope the Minister will help us reflect on how the voluntary and faith sectors can partner with statutory provision to provide much better resources for recovery.
My Lords, I pay the warmest tribute to my noble, and very longstanding, friend Lord McColl, for his tremendous work in preparing for this Bill. He has a long track record of social responsibility and enlightened policy-making, and a real commitment to the vulnerable. Everyone in this House hugely respects and admires him.
Modern slavery is a brutal form of organised crime, in which people are treated as commodities and exploited for criminal gain. It takes a number of forms, including sexual exploitation, domestic servitude and forced labour. In many ways, it has come upon us as a great shock. It is rather like when we first uncovered the breadth and depth of child sexual abuse. Many of us had worked in this field for many years, in welfare organisations and the churches, but nobody really understood how insidious, widespread and covert this was, as a real social ill of the modern world. Modern slavery is a similar threat and scourge.
I am proud of the Modern Slavery Act 2015, and proud that the Prime Minister gave it such personal commitment. Great strides have been made. This is a world first: we should be proud of that but continue to work on what we have achieved. As the noble Lord, Lord Prescott, said, we should see the international context more fully.
The work of the Independent Anti-slavery Commissioner, Kevin Hyland, is really showing results in such a short space of time. The report, Victims of Modern Slavery, by my first boss, Frank Field, the chairman of the DWP Select Committee, is hugely influential. As he says:
“The Modern Slavery Act was a pioneering piece of legislation that proved the UK’s commitment to eradicate the horror of modern slavery. The Act established new protections for recognised victims but what it did not do was establish a pathway for their recovery”—
I agree with the right reverend Prelate’s emphasis on the word “recovery”.
“The journey from being a victim to becoming a survivor is unique for each individual and without the right support in place, it is a journey many individuals cannot make”.
The challenge now is for the Government to think as imaginatively as possible. Without doubt, my noble friend has given the Government an agenda for action and the criteria that need to be addressed. Whether this is done through primary legislation, secondary legislation or regulation, I am happy to debate, but the direction of travel has been forcefully identified.
The noble Lord, Lord Prescott, referred to the Wilberforce Institute for the study of Slavery and Emancipation. Having been the chancellor of the distinguished University of Hull for 11 years, I reinforce the comments he made about Hull’s link with the campaign against slavery, William Wilberforce’s birthplace, the institute next door to his home and the Wilberforce House Museum. It is a remarkable institute and I am delighted that last year it won the Queen’s Anniversary Prize for its research into slavery. It draws together experts in the humanities, law and social services. Kevin Bales, who has done the pioneering work on the meaning and measurement of contemporary slavery, was present at the ceremony along with many others. They were closely involved in the Modern Slavery Act 2015 and looked particularly at another pioneering aspect of legislation whereby UK companies with a turnover of over £36 million must report annually on the steps they have taken to ensure that modern slavery does not feature in their supply chain or business. That is a new requirement and the efforts to deliver that in practice and ensure that companies address it in the most effective way rather than simply signing off a certificate is work in progress—more can be done.
The noble Lord referred to the conference on eradicating contemporary slavery to be held in two weeks’ time. I hope that the Minister will pass on her best wishes to the Home Secretary who will speak at that conference—the Wilberforce World Freedom Summit—in two weeks’ time, as will the President of Ghana, so perhaps the noble Lord can catch up on the River Volta and other matters when he is there. The noble and learned Baroness, Lady Scotland—the Secretary-General of the Commonwealth—will speak at the conference, as will the noble Lord, Lord Haskins, who will talk about what employers can do. This is an exciting and ongoing programme which is very much part of today’s discussions.
It is clear that there are real inadequacies in the provision for survivors of modern slavery. People are vulnerable and are left homeless, without access to public funds, often in a city they do now know. Destitution makes people once again susceptible to the offers of traffickers, who claim that they can find them employment or housing when they are in desperate situations. We have to keep people safe and benefit in due course from their commitment to society.
I was delighted that my noble friend mentioned the Co-op because this is a shining example of an enlightened employer making a practical difference, with 30 placements this year for victims of slavery, with support with a buddy leading to paid employment. This is surely what Section 172 of the Companies Act is all about—how businesses can play their part. The latest estimates are that there are 21 million victims of slavery in the world, with 13,000 in the UK. The right reverend Prelate suggested that that was an underestimate.
“You may choose to look the other way but you can never say again that you did not know”.
We do know, and it is the job of legislators, public bodies, philanthropic bodies, the faith community and employers to work together to rid us of this appalling scourge.
My Lords, I am proud to lend my support to this Bill put forward by the noble Lord, Lord McColl, who has a long history of working to ensure that those affected by human trafficking are suitably protected. I salute him for all his efforts. The Government, too, must be congratulated on introducing the much needed Modern Slavery Act, which has raised the awareness of this evil practice and ensures that more perpetrators are apprehended and punished.
The Prime Minister quite rightly called modern slavery,
“the great human rights issue of our time”.
With this declaration in mind, we must seek to go further, if we truly want to rid the UK—and indeed the world—of slavery in its modern forms. We must examine the contexts and situations that make people vulnerable to exploitation, be they girls in the British care system, women from Nigeria or men from Romania. We as a modern society need to truly understand what modern slavery entails, as was so eloquently set out by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Derby. So alongside our new, more robust criminal legislation, it is vital that we evaluate how we treat the victims of this most awful, degrading, wicked and cruel crime, which involves mental, physical, emotional and sexual abuse and which abuses human dignity, destroys confidence and self-esteem and ruins lives.
Unsurprisingly, many of the vulnerable victims of this hideous crime are children. More than a third of the 3,805 victims of modern slavery in the UK identified by the National Crime Agency in the UK last year were children. So we must raise our game in this area and reach out to help those young people whose lives have been blighted by the misery, abuse and exploitation of modern-day slavery. They need intensive levels of dedicated and specialist support to help to rebuild their lives so that they become young, active and healthy adults. Presently, for child victims in the UK, this is not the status quo.
I understand that the response to children trafficked in the UK is often severely lacking and inconsistent. Many young victims receive minimal support and are even put at risk of being retrafficked by unscrupulous criminals because of failures in their identification and care. A report by ECPAT UK last year showed that nearly 30% of children identified as trafficked went missing from care at least once, with many never being found. Budget cuts mean that local authorities are struggling to meet the needs of this particularly vulnerable group of children.
We cannot and must not allow this to continue. To truly help these children we must address the failings in the identification and support systems that currently exist. Children of all nationalities who have been exploited should be guaranteed access to specialist care and support. Childhood lasts a lifetime, so if we do not provide this type of support we are building up enormous problems for the future, especially mental health problems, which cause instability, anxiety, a total loss of confidence and lack of trust in humanity.
I therefore intend to put down an amendment in Committee to ensure that this important Bill on victim support includes specific provisions for the specialist support that child victims also need. In the long term, failing to act will result in both a financial and a moral cost to our society. We need to have the moral courage and determination to support children, who are victims of modern enslavement through no fault of their own, and to give them hope for the future.
My Lords, I am very pleased to be able to speak alongside so many distinguished speakers today. I thank the noble Lord, Lord McColl, for his excellent speech and for bringing this important Bill before us. Of course, it is always a pleasure to hear and follow the noble Baroness, Lady Benjamin. I will focus on one aspect of the Bill: the benefits of providing victims with a support worker, or an advocate, as they make their way towards recovery —a provision found in proposed new Section 48C(1)(e).
Noble Lords will recall that the Modem Slavery Bill was preceded by a report commissioned by the then Home Secretary—the current Prime Minister—produced under the chairmanship of Frank Field. The resulting publication informed the Government’s approach to developing their Modem Slavery Bill. The report was entitled, Establishing Britain as a World Leader in the Fight against Modern Slavery: Report of the Modern Slavery Bill Evidence Review. Its title summarises many of the sentiments that have already been expressed by your Lordships. We want Britain to be a world leader in the fight against modem slavery, as it was nearly two centuries ago.
In that report was a recommendation that is encapsulated in this Bill,
“that a ‘survivor support pathway’ should be developed in the UK in order to ensure that outcomes for survivors are improved and that their long-term recovery is protected and maintained ... there is a significant need for ongoing support beyond the 45-day reflection period”.
It was also recommended that there should be a special, short-term temporary residence visa and work permit for confirmed victims where needed.
The need for individuals to receive personalised support has been recognised for some time. The evidence review recommended that part of that support could include a “mentor”, who would ensure that the individual, for example, gained access to work and housing. The noble Lord’s Bill proposes in the section that I quoted that victims should have a support worker to walk alongside them through the journey of recovery. That is a sensible proposal because individuals in vulnerable situations need someone to be their advocate, to encourage them and to help them through the maze of options that they face. A victim of trafficking is in such a situation: possibly in a new country, not able to understand the language and having to navigate a complicated system of benefits and housing just to get back on their feet.
The notion of a support worker is not mere speculation; some charities already offer this kind of assistance. City Hearts, for example, is a charity that runs an integration support programme—a very innovative and effective initiative. We know from our own personal experiences through life that we all need somebody who cares about us and is invested in our future. Trafficking victims have every good reason to doubt that individual care exists, but compassionate support shows results. The evaluation report that I have just mentioned includes feedback collected from victims on their experience of having an individual coach. The comments include, “I want to say thank you for being the one who believed in me”, and, “Thank you for all your support, for not giving up on me”.
Much good work is already being done by NGOs to support victims using varying models of a support worker. We need to give them extra tools to equip victims to finish the recovery process. This Bill would provide those tools and it is widely supported by NGOs. I very much hope that the Government will regard the Bill as an opportunity to fill a missing element of the Modern Slavery Act and that, in doing so, the United Kingdom will be recognised as a world leader in caring compassionately for victims.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord McColl, for pursuing the important issue of modern slavery and I support him.
I was struck, over the summer, by how much appeared in the media on cases of trafficking and modern slavery. Of course, trafficking results in modern slavery, whether it be in domestic work, cannabis factories or prostitution. Modern slavery is a moral and ethical issue, not just a legal one. I have learned first hand how victims of modern slavery, including child victims, have been duped, exploited, treated cruelly and abused physically and mentally. They need all the support they can get to recover and build lives without fear, as many noble Lords today have said. I declare two interests: I am a member of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe and I chair its sub-committee on children. I am also a patron of the University of Bedfordshire child trafficking unit.
The Anti-Trafficking Monitoring Group states very clearly the importance of the Bill. It will ensure that victims receive longer-term support and stability to transition from “victim to survivor”. I stress the importance of “from victim to survivor”. The noble Baroness, Lady Benjamin, has commented today on the limitations of the Bill referring only to adults, and I will come to that myself in a few minutes, but I will support and discuss any possible amendments to include children in the Bill.
Is the Minister concerned about the UK’s exit from the EU in relation to victim support rights? Some feel that the EU trafficking directive, with its support and assistance measures, is at risk, even though it may move into UK law through the withdrawal Bill at the point of exit. Is there not a risk that it could be repealed by Ministers without reference to Parliament? Will the Minister comment?
On European recommendations, the Council of Europe’s Group of Experts on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings produced an evaluation report in 2016 repeating criticisms and recommending again that the UK should enshrine in law applicable to Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, the right for victims to a recovery and reflection period as defined in Article 13 of the convention. I will not go into details of the convention, but the Council of Europe’s views back up those of the anti-slavery commissioner, who requested that the Work and Pensions Committee set up an inquiry into the support and benefits available to slavery victims. The committee recommended that victim recovery should allow time for victims to receive advice and support and give them time to plan their futures. UK NGOs quote cases where slavery victims are subject to further exploitation and re-trafficking and have taken drastic measures to survive, such as prostitution. They need time to recover, and to make the transition from the victim situation to that of a human being as we would accept it.
I believe that a Bill such as this should also apply to children, by which I mean young people aged 18 or under. All victims of modern slavery are vulnerable, but children are more vulnerable than most. As the UN Convention on the Rights the Child points out, the welfare of the child is paramount. Children who are trafficked and sold into slavery are in the most appalling place. They are unsupported, have no money, do not understand systems and are already terrified by the ordeal of being trafficked. Eventually, some may end up being looked after by the local authority. They are the lucky ones, although their situation may not be ideal. They often go missing from care because of those conditions.
The ECPAT report “Heading Back to Harm” highlights the problems of such children and the limitations of the systems around them. The Modern Slavery Act recommended that they should have an independent child trafficking advocate. I agree. Such a system is currently being trialled in three sites in England and Wales and I look forward to the results of those trials. Including children in the Bill would highlight their plight and enable us to make recommendations for improving how they are treated and how systems might better support them. I hope that we can look at that and give the Bill our full support.
My Lords, I am delighted to be taking part in the debate on this Bill and I congratulate my noble friend Lord McColl on introducing such a wonderful piece of legislation. He has been an ardent campaigner on behalf of the victims of modern day slavery and I pay tribute to his tenacity and resolve in seeking to eradicate this terrible crime. The Prime Minister has described modern slavery as,
“the great human rights issue of our time”.
I agree with that sentiment. The Modern Slavery Act 2015 is a huge step forward in tackling this pernicious crime. It sends a clear message that in the UK, modern slavery, human trafficking and exploitation in all forms will not be tolerated.
None the less, it has become abundantly clear to many of us that sadly, this legislation does not go far enough. While it strengthens the criminal justice response to the criminality that underlies modern slavery, it falls short in protecting victims and supporting them as they recover from their ordeal. There is so much more that we need to do before we can honestly stand up and say that we are providing all such victims with the care and support they truly deserve. By care, I mean robust and professional support that gives them a pathway from being a victim to becoming a survivor.
My colleague Kevin Hyland, the Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner, has done much to tackle this crime, but even he suggests that the estimates may be the tip of the iceberg. The head of the Metropolitan Police’s anti-slavery unit has said that the number of suspected victims in London alone is expected to leap by 60% this year. We are looking at victims who have come through the process already and who have been to hell and back: destitute, having suffered terribly at the hands of their captors, and so traumatised that their emotions are held behind a brick wall to protect them.
This debate shines a light on the victims who are going through or have gone through the national referral mechanism, which I think sounds cold and feels very mechanical to the victims. Of course, we in this Chamber are well versed in what entitlements a victim should receive. These include support, housing, counselling and medical assistance. Once they are formally recognised as having been “trafficked”, they have just two weeks before they must leave their safe house and fend for themselves. I have been told that this is described as “falling off a cliff-edge”. It is totally unacceptable on both the emotional and the practical level to feel like this because it severely undermines the work of those responsible for bringing the abusers to justice.
I stand here as someone suffering personally from trauma and anxiety, so to hear all this is truly shocking. The stark reality is that victims will often be grappling with shock, anxiety and uncertainty about what happens next. Ongoing counselling and emotional support is a very long process. It is not like the buzzwords that we hear about 45 days being needed for “recovery” and “reflection”. Those two words have a long journey behind them.
As the Victims’ Commissioner for England and Wales, I travel around the country speaking to victims because only then do I get a true picture of what they are going through daily. I want to finish by reflecting their voices, because we are here today to make it better for these victims and help them survive what they have gone through. I met a beautiful young girl from Albania who was very quiet and wanted to talk to me on my own. As the mother of three daughters, what I heard over the next 10 minutes broke my heart. This young lady, whose name I will not repeat for security purposes, was born in Albania. She was born disabled and ostracised by her community and hidden from her own people. She was trafficked, brutally attacked and severely raped. She went to the police, who listened to her account but did not believe that the rape had taken place, so she signed a form which she did not understand, because she wanted to get away from there.
She managed to get through the mechanism and she is now in a house where she thinks she will be safe. She has already been bullied by people from different countries. She needs specialist care and when I met her she was struggling to walk after having had an operation. She is sharing a single room with someone else and has been told that she must put up and shut up. This should never happen in our society today. She is beautiful and disabled, and she needs care and support, but we are commissioning landlords who do not understand. She was told to shut up, and that they do not work at the weekend. It was okay to ostracise her in another community that had nothing. As a mother, listening to her story broke my heart, so I went back and spoke to the person who commissioned her care—I will not say who it was.
It is important to note that we are talking about support for a lifetime. We get these victims over one hurdle, the trial in court, but their journey begins only once they are in a safe house in a healthy environment. My noble friend has brought forward an important piece of legislation, and we need to do more.
My Lords, I find the last speaker a very difficult one to follow, with the experience that she has related to the House. I too congratulate the noble Lord, Lord McColl, on bringing forward his Private Member’s Bill on human trafficking and modern slavery. I note that many of his previous proposals were adopted by the Government in the Modern Slavery Act, which is testimony to his success. I fully support his new Bill. My own experience of navigating a Private Member’s Bill—now the Human Trafficking and Exploitation (Criminal Justice and Support for Victims) Act (Northern Ireland)—through the Northern Ireland Assembly is that listening to the experiences of victims of trafficking is vital in developing appropriate legislation.
I said on Report on the then Modern Slavery Bill that the objective of the victim support section in my Bill was,
“to ensure that victims of human trafficking who have entered into the NRM process have a statutory right to access support”.—[
I am still of the same opinion that it is vital for the provision of assistance to be set out in statute. It makes it crystal clear what victims are legally entitled to. It gives victims and support agencies the ability to challenge the actions of the state if it has failed to provide effective support. It also ensures that the support provided to victims cannot be withdrawn or restricted by government if, for example, it faces budgetary challenges or if international legal obligations change, which they no doubt will after Brexit.
The call for assistance and support to be mandated by the Modern Slavery Act has been comprehensively set out by the noble Lord, Lord McColl. I am left asking myself: why have the Government failed to address these deficiencies to date, and have sought to justify the much weaker legislative position on victim care in England and Wales? I am grateful for the Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner’s support for the legislation in Northern Ireland. He said, earlier in the year, that Scotland and Northern Ireland have legal frameworks that,
“provide much more flexibility to the organisations managing the NRM support provision … This allows them to provide a holistic approach offering individually tailored support to victims of human trafficking. As the UK’s Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner, I believe it is essential to ensure consistency across the whole of the UK, following the good practice of Northern Ireland and Scotland in supporting victims”.
The anti-slavery commissioner used the word essential. I hope the Minister will be able to agree that it is indeed essential.
There is a further convincing argument for why the Government should support the noble Lord’s Bill—in a word, Brexit. I am an advocate of Brexit. However, I also was a strong advocate of ensuring that the EU human trafficking directive was fully incorporated into UK law. Indeed, it was a prime objective of my Bill to do so. So, while I stand for Brexit, I also stand for victims of modern slavery and am committed to ensuring that victims receive the best support and assistance that the UK can give them.
Until the EU directive came into force, victims had no legal rights to seek redress if the necessary support was not provided. In its recent briefing on Brexit and trafficking, the Anti-Trafficking Monitoring Group said:
“As a Directive, its provisions can have direct effect in national law when they are unconditional and are sufficiently clear and
An example can be given from the significant 2015 case of AK v Bristol City Council, which raised questions regarding the UK’s obligations under the directive. The claimant was a Lithuanian national and a confirmed victim of trafficking. As an EEA national, she had not applied for leave to remain, but was deemed ineligible for benefits and became destitute. On going to court, Bristol City Council, initially unwilling to provide support, agreed to provide short-term accommodation.
This court case raises two important points about the status of victims after Brexit. The first is that the clarity that has been provided by the directive about what support and assistance should be provided to victims before and after an NRM decision will be lost without anything to replace it: at the moment, there are no government regulations or guidance to give any certainty for victims in England and Wales. Secondly, the ability of victims to seek redress through the courts will be lost. No one, least of all victims themselves, wants to see victims having to go to court to secure access to support, but we must acknowledge that the lack of consistency and transparency about what support should be available to victims in England and Wales, especially in the period following the NRM, has made it necessary to rely on such rights in court.
We have a situation where the services offered beyond the NRM vary from case to case and where local authorities are unclear about their responsibilities—something picked up by the 2016 Haughey review into the Modern Slavery Act. It is time for the Government to act to give long-term certainty to victims in England and Wales, to fill the gap that exists in the Modern Slavery Act.
Let me say, for the information of the House, that the section of my Bill on victim support was supported unanimously by the Northern Ireland Assembly. I hope that it will be able to be said of this House too that it supports the Bill of the noble Lord, Lord McColl, unanimously. It may be proper, in advance, for me to offer an apology to the Minister, the noble Lord, Lord McColl, and your Lordships’ House, because when I look at my boarding pass and my times, I think I may be away before the Minister speaks. I trust that she will understand and I look forward to reading what she has said.
I hope that I will help the noble Lord avoid that embarrassment by keeping my remarks very short, as I expect others will. I was reluctant to take part in this debate when I was asked to do so, because I thought I did not know enough about it. Then I started thinking about the situation in which these unfortunate victims find themselves and I find it impossible to stay out of the fray and not to say what a marvellous job my noble friend has done in bringing this forward and remark on the extreme thoroughness of his introductory speech, which could actually stand on its own. However, since then I have heard a great deal more.
Yesterday I sat through a two and a half hour debate on overcrowding in prisons and cheekily spoke in the four minute gap—in my case it was an 18-second gap—to point out that this was all very marvellous, but actually it was the second problem, and if we solved the first problem we would not need to deal with criminals if we stopped them becoming criminals. The noble Lord, Lord Prescott, has said exactly the same thing more elegantly—and far more entertainingly and forcefully—than I did on this subject: tackle the difficulty at its roots and, as a globe, we can solve it as an international situation.
In the meantime, my noble friend’s intervention is timely and necessary: people fall through. It is the machinery that is wrong, as I understand it. Even the Home Office rules themselves point out that:
“There is no automatic grant of leave to remain if there is a finding of fact that a person is a victim of human trafficking or slavery, servitude and forced or compulsory labour”.
They say that nobody actually has a duty to protect them. Then we find that the duty to get DLR after a decision rests with the police. It was really shocking to hear from the anti-slavery commissioner, in his evidence to the House of Commons Work and Pensions Committee, that some police forces and police officers did not even know that it was up to them to make the DLR application.
At this point I recall my long-term interest in policing, as an ex-Police Minister, and ask again whether the sale of Bramshill College, the closure of the police staff college some years ago, shows yet another lack of consistency in police staffing—which I use in the military sense, staff officering. This has gone by the board because there is now no central development of uniform practice throughout our police forces. That is a relevant question, which should be asked on every occasion when such lacunae arise.
I think this question has already been raised but I ask the Minister to confirm whether or not the criteria for—I cannot remember the phrase—special personal circumstances agreed in the Council of Europe convention to which we are bound by signature are actually satisfied by our arrangement for the treatment of those people. I think the convention is called COLETA for short.
I reaffirm my enthusiasm for the Bill. I do not want to display my lack of knowledge of the total circumstances. There is a cry for compassion for people who have been snatched, tricked, seduced or kidnapped out of their way of life, however unsatisfactory, which at least was stable and in their home territory and among people who spoke their language, and find themselves here with no common language, common experience or knowledge of how to apply for help. Compassion cries out loudly and I am so glad to hear that the diocese of Derby is rising to the occasion. I shall inquire in my own diocese what we are doing.
My Lords, we have had a series of remarkably well-informed speeches. I am always impressed by the reservoir of knowledge, experience and care shown in this House. Clearly, we are dealing with one of the major scourges of our time—a scourge which may well increase because of growing pressures.
I was interested in the speech of my noble friend Lord Prescott, looking at the upstream pressures which are likely to increase, such as the likely population increases in Africa, as projected by the UN. For example, the population of Nigeria, currently one of the major sources of those who are trafficked, is likely to rise to 410 million by 2050, making it the third most populous country in the world. These pressures are only likely to increase, added to by desertification, climate change, and so on—the point made by my noble friend. This certainly adds to the fact that, yes, we have to deal with the victims in the UK and, yes, the UK has to be a leader in dealing with this scourge in every way. But equally, we have to recognise that if we do not go to them in terms of aid, development and trade policy, they will come to us because there will be teeming masses of desperate people who just want to get out of their country to look after themselves and, perhaps more importantly, their families. Yes, we must look after the victims in our country as effectively as possible, but we must see this in the wider international context.
That is why I was ready to support the noble Lord, Lord McColl—dare I call him my noble friend?—in this initiative, as indeed I was in 2015. I support this Bill, which builds on the work he did in 2015. I recognise that the Act, however important, is now showing its inadequacies regarding support for vulnerable victims. I do not intend to cover the ground that has been covered so well but will make one, as it were, confession: I did have a hesitation, which I conveyed to the noble Lord, Lord McColl, about the danger of the Bill being abused for immigration purposes. I gave him an example, drawn from Scandinavia, of a teenager from west Africa whom I had met. Using a lawyer’s scepticism, when I spoke to her, it was pretty clear that there had been a degree of collusion between her and those who had brought her to that Scandinavian country. That scepticism may not have been well placed but it led me to think that there is always a danger—given, may I say, the fall of human nature—that any good provision may well be open to abuse and that perhaps the advocates of the Bill had been too ready to dismiss the dangers.
At that, I passed my concerns and hesitations to the noble Lord, Lord McColl. I say in an apologia that he has wholly satisfied me on the safeguards that have been set out, in the sense that there is no self-referral. First, the referral must come from a police officer or person similarly placed. Secondly, there is a rigorous procedure under the NRM after the first respondent has referred them to it. Thus the NRM will, I hope, ensure that a thorough check will separate, dare I say it, the sheep from the goats. We also know that any evidence of abuse will lead to questions about the whole system. My own final plea is that the NRM will continue, first, to act with humanity but also to respond in a worldly-wise way to what is often a rather wicked world, where people are ever ready to abuse the best provisions that are made. I support the Bill.
My Lords, I too am pleased to speak in support of my noble friend Lord McColl, whose Private Member’s Bill proposes four new amendments. These amendments to the Modern Slavery Act 2015 will, I feel, give confidence to victims to come forward knowing that there will be new assurances of protection, with further assistance and support in the now and during a further time for reflection and recovery.
I never would have imagined taking part in a debate on slavery in 2017. These extra measures will support and raise awareness for those people being enslaved day in, day out in 2017, which has to be welcomed. Since the provisions regarding the Independent Anti-slavery Commissioner commenced on
Yet despite concerted efforts in this country and across the world, the appalling reality is that human trafficking is one of the fastest-growing international criminal activities. Traffickers need to be aware that there will come a time—it cannot come soon enough—when there will be nowhere to hide from justice. It is so important to have strong, robust vetting procedures at airports and ports to prevent traffickers entering this country. Unfortunately, the evidence is there to inform us that this is a direct culmination of the increasing level of international travel, which brings those unwanted fresh challenges.
It is incumbent on all enforcement agencies to have an overall statutory duty to safeguard children, which includes responsibility for preventing and mitigating the risks, especially to those vulnerable children whom we know on so many occasions go missing. Enhanced protection measures and support, as proposed in new Section 48C, would provide even safer accommodation, together with the need for strong support from social workers—or possibly, more appropriately, a legal advocate or guardianship. We hear all too often, as has been stated today, that children who go missing can disappear without trace. They are rarely seen again.
Due to the hidden nature of the crime, it is difficult accurately to assess the extent of the problem. There are estimates, of course, but I am sure the actual figure must be considerable and the problem even more widespread—the National Crime Agency believes there are tens of thousands of slaves in Britain, in every UK town and city, and in our communities.
We can only imagine the involuntary domestic servitude in private residences creating day-by-day extreme vulnerability and isolation for those victims. We have to understand what a very difficult area this is for agencies to inspect, even though we know those domestic workers, especially women, face many forms of abuse, harassment and exploitation, including sexual and gender-based violence. We need to help and find them, and further encourage communities to come forward to provide evidence to help prosecute perpetrators.
It is disappointing to hear that unfortunately, prosecutions for slavery and trafficking slumped last year despite a warning that there are tens of thousands of victims across Britain. I am therefore pleased to support the four proposed new sections of the Modern Slavery Act 2015, to give confidence to those enslaved to come forward, find the help they need, have a right to a future and rebuild their lives. Today is a great opportunity to help them now.
My Lords, I am delighted to be able to participate in this Second Reading, and I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord McColl, on his Bill. I apologise for not attending the helpful briefing the noble Lord organised, but I have read the blog he has penned, which has been published by the Co-op for its millions of members to read this morning. I declare an interest as a Co-operative as well as a Labour Member of your Lordships’ House and that the Young Foundation, the research and innovation institute in Bethnal Green, of which I am currently CEO, is working with the Co-op at the moment.
As the noble Lord explained in his compelling and detailed introduction of the Bill, it is vital that victims of modern slavery be supported in order to help them rebuild their lives. Like others, I congratulate the Government and the Prime Minister on the Modern Slavery Act, but it is a job only half done if the means to support new lives is not provided at the same time. Not to do so is, as the noble Lord, Lord McColl, said, not giving victims proper support and thus endangering the progress of their recovery.
I want to talk about the work that the Co-op is doing in this regard, which has been mentioned by several other Members in this debate, and then I have a question for the Minister. I knew that I could be confident that my noble friend Lady Massey and the noble Baroness, Lady Benjamin, would talk with eloquence and passion about trafficked children, so I knew that I did not need to go into that territory. In spring this year, the Co-op launched Bright Future, which is an employment pathway to make the journey from victim to survivor by moving into permanent employment. The goal of Bright Future is to provide a pathway to paid employment and a route to wider integration into society for victims of modern slavery. In 2017 the Co-op will offer at least 30 people who have been rescued from conditions of slavery in the UK the opportunity of a paid work placement and, if they are ready, a guaranteed job. Central to this programme is the dignity that paid, freely chosen employment provides. Without this, there is a real chance that people could fall back into the hands of those who have exploited them and for the terrible, unspeakable cycle of enslavement to begin again.
The British Co-operative movement has taken innovative and progressive action on social and economic issues for almost 200 years. This is but the latest such action. The Co-op is working in partnership with others, including City Hearts, the anti-slavery charity mentioned by the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Carey.
UK businesses are perfectly placed to provide employment opportunities for the more than 13,000 victims —we know that is an underestimate—of modern slavery rescued in the UK every year as they seek to rebuild their lives. I am proud that the Co-op is leading in a field that other businesses can follow. I hope other businesses will recognise the potential of the model the Co-op has developed, and consider how they might adopt and adapt it for their purposes. The aim is to share the learning and to have at least five of the Co-op’s key food suppliers in 2017 supporting Bright Future. Imagine if all the large UK retailers adopted programmes like this and used their supply chains—the inroads that would make for those 13,000 victims identified at present. What a positive future that could offer them on the vital journey from victim to survivor.
The Co-op intends to increase the number of charity partners involved in Bright Future. In addition to City Hearts, it is also now working with the charity Snowdrop, which mentors and supports survivors in Sheffield. The Co-op is committed to doing this because we believe that working in partnership with others, including our competitors, is an opportunity to achieve more for the communities we serve throughout the UK.
The research launched by the Co-op today reveals a real appetite among responsible businesses to support victims by providing employment opportunities. However, unfortunately, the 45-day support currently available is not sufficient for victims to get to be work ready—other Members have mentioned this, and the Minister must be in no doubt at all that the contents of this Bill are very important to make this work. An extension to a year would increase victims’ chances of building a new life and reduce the risk of retrafficking. Businesses want to help but need enhanced victim support to do so. Would the Minister care to respond to this suggestion and would the Government consider making this possible?
To help the noble Lord, Lord McColl, in the passage of this Bill, which I strongly support, it is also very important that noble Lords recognise that piecemeal amendments to it will not help its passage: it needs to stay pretty much as it is now. I call upon the Government to support and enable the Bill.
My Lords, I support the Bill of the noble Lord, Lord McColl of Dulwich, which has the intention of strengthening the Modern Slavery Act 2015. I will briefly recall the struggle for that Act when I was a member of the APPG on Modern Slavery, a struggle that was led with great distinction by the noble Lord, Lord McColl, and the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss. At the time it seemed to me that the crucial thing was to create a situation in which the police understood that this was a real problem and to get that idea across. I think that we are at the beginning of a real change and that there has been a degree of success. Noble Lords may recall that 20 years or so ago—a generation ago—domestic violence was not perceived in the way that the police now perceive it, as a serious problem, and we are trying to achieve a similar change in the police mindset.
These provisions to strengthen the 2015 Act have a particular importance because, as the noble Lord, Lord McColl, said, most of the information comes from victims. This is a difficult crime to detect, because the police normally expect certain types of fairly obvious symptoms—this bank has been robbed or this person has been punched—and in many cases in this area the symptoms are not obvious in that way. Therefore we have to encourage all the other means possible for the police to be able to gather as much information as they can.
A feature of modern slavery is that people may arrive in this country without knowing that they are going into a constrained situation and without knowing exactly what will happen to them when they arrive. The border agency might look at, say, an 18 year-old Romanian woman and think, “Perhaps there might be a problem here”. But that Romanian woman is not in a position to say, “When I get to my destination in London, I will be in a constrained, essentially enslaved situation”. This is a difficult area for the agencies of the state to get to grips with. We must therefore do whatever we can. The provisions in the Bill of the noble Lord, Lord McColl, allow us to do something that is good and helpful in that respect.
An issue mentioned by the noble Lord as well as by the noble Lord, Lord Morrow, is Northern Ireland. In this case it is a pleasure to say that the example of the Northern Ireland Assembly is exemplary and sets the standard for the rest of the UK to adhere to. I am not sure that at every moment in the last several years I have thought that I would be able to say that but, as I am able to say it, I have just said it. A lot of that is to do with the work of the noble Lord, Lord Morrow. As the noble Lord, Lord McColl, says, we cannot continue to have a situation where the standards in Scotland and Northern Ireland are higher than in the rest of the UK.
I want to allude to one difficulty. Two nights ago, the noble Lord, Lord Morrow, will have heard, as I did, a former Secretary of State, the noble Lord, Lord Hain, talk about the difficult situation that we are entering into post Brexit regarding the border. The noble Lord said that he feared a great increase in trafficking. I hope that that does not happen. I was glad to read in the Irish Times today perhaps the first report that I have seen that there is some optimism that we may be able to put together a civilised understanding with the EU about the border. The truth is that over the last few years the number of reports saying that people are smuggled over the border and that Belfast is a hub for trafficking people into the rest of the UK has dropped off considerably. That is in part because of the work of the noble Lord, Lord Morrow, and in part because the Police Service of Northern Ireland has been ahead of the curve in many respects in its work in this area. All I am saying is that we need to keep an eye on this. I hope that in the end the concerns of the noble Lord, Lord Hain, are not justified, but we need to keep an eye on that aspect of this problem.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Bew. I, too, congratulate my noble friend Lord McColl on introducing this important Bill.
I want to make four points. First, I agree with other noble Lords that David Cameron and Theresa May in particular are surely to be commended for once again putting Great Britain at the forefront of the fight against slavery. In her then capacity as Home Secretary, the Prime Minister said at Second Reading of the Modern Slavery Act 2015:
“Let us act now—together—and send a powerful message to all traffickers and slave drivers that they will not get away with their crimes: we will track them down, prosecute, and lock them up, and ensure that the victims of their appalling crimes are returned to freedom”.—[Official Report, Commons, 08/07/14; cols. 178-79.]
It is the last part of that essential equation—freedom from fear of becoming homeless, destitute and vulnerable to further exploitation from traffickers—which I, like other noble Lords, believe my noble friend’s Bill would help to address. The Bill builds on the excellent lead already provided by the Prime Minister because it recognises the importance of another message: the one that we send to victims of trafficking, as well as the one that we send to traffickers themselves.
Secondly, as we have been told, the need for action is urgent. I have heard from one of the many supporters of victims in the UK, the Medaille Trust, about the difficulties that it faces in providing support beyond the current reflection and recovery period of 45 days, particularly, as has been mentioned, in relation to obtaining benefits and accommodation. In short, I am told that the current situation is unintentionally leaving victims potentially more vulnerable. The Bill enables us to address the unfinished business of the landmark 2015 Act.
That brings me to my third point: Brexit. I understand from front-line organisations that our exit from the EU may increase the difficulty of accessing support if the rights of victims are not clarified, which is exactly what the Bill would do. Brexit provides the impetus to strengthen the existing legislation. The Bill provides the means to do so.
For me, the Bill is about affirming British values. I have just read my noble friend Lord Hague of Richmond’s excellent biography of William Wilberforce, whom other noble Lords have mentioned. Barely a fortnight ago,
My Lords I, too, congratulate the noble Lord, Lord McColl, on introducing this significant Bill so effectively. It reminds us that this abhorrent practice is still tragically widespread in this country and, as I have personally witnessed, in many other countries around the world.
I recently had the privilege of becoming friends with a young woman, Caitlin—that is a pseudonym. Her life story has just been published in a book entitled, Please, Let Me Go, in which she courageously describes how, from the age of 14, for many years she was groomed, sexually exploited and trafficked around this country by gangs of men. She says:
“I have flashbacks all the time. It started when I was so young and to be honest, I’m not even sure it’s over. They have done so much damage to me—emotionally, physically, psychologically, that I think I am probably broken beyond all repair”.
She also describes serious failures by the police and social services to help her in her desperate need.
Even for those victims who are able to receive more appropriate support, the provisions in new Section 48B are needed because so much evidence shows that the positive impact of the current support and protection is undermined by its sharp cut-off after such a short period. Article 12 of the Council of Europe’s convention on trafficking is clear that victims need support for their physical, psychological and social recovery far beyond the reflection and recovery period. This need has also been advocated by the Council of Europe’s group of experts report in 2016, by the latest United States State Department Trafficking in Persons Report 2017, and by the Government’s NRM review in 2014.
New Sections 48B and 48C will ensure that victims are connected with the support and services they need during the year after they are identified as a victim, to help them to reintegrate into society here in the UK or in their country of origin. The services will include safe accommodation and counselling and/or medical treatment; there will be an opportunity to learn language or job skills and even gain work experience. But without that year’s support, there are so many risks that victims will be exploited once again. As Caitlin says in her poignant book:
“I was trapped. I’d been raped so many times, abused by hundreds, if not thousands... And I always came back—they always brought me back”.
The book describes in heart-wrenching detail the vulnerability of victims to persistent, brutal and repeated rape, abuse and sexual slavery and trafficking in this country.
I turn briefly to the situation for victims from abroad. A 2010 report from the International Organization for Migration reported that,
“trafficked persons, on return to their countries of origin, are often met by similar economic and social situations which made them vulnerable to trafficking in the first instance”, and,
“trafficked persons are vulnerable to re-trafficking relatively soon after exiting a trafficking situation”.
The 12-month support period promoted by this Bill will provide time for a risk assessment of the situation a victim might be returning to in their country of origin and will enable a victim to be connected to local support networks in their home country before they return.
During the Modern Slavery Bill debates, I was very concerned about the situation of the tied visa for overseas domestic workers. Sadly, the new visa arrangement still leaves them with inadequate time to find a new position and apply for the new visa in the 14 days they can stay in the safe house. This Bill would also help fill that gap. The Modern Slavery Act introduced significant measures, but it is now essential to build on these by helping people make the transition from victim to survivor, to reintegrate into society and to be enabled to lead full and more rewarding lives. Therefore, I am very pleased to support the Bill wholeheartedly.
My Lords, I begin my remarks by thanking and commending my noble friend Lord McColl, for once again bringing the concerns of vulnerable and marginalised survivors of modern slavery to the attention of this House. My interest in this Bill comes from its clear objective: to ensure that we have a framework of support for victims which truly responds to their needs and puts their interests first.
Many people in our society face challenges and disadvantages, but victims of modern slavery are among some of the most vulnerable. The experience of being trafficked or exploited not only takes from them their autonomy and sense of self but leaves them materially exposed, with no home, no source of income, no prospect of work, no protection and no community. The support provided to victims during the national referral mechanism can only ever be an immediate response to a crisis situation. The NRM offers assistance to people at the point of extreme vulnerability, when they are identified as being a potential victim, when the police have raided the place where they have been exploited or when they have managed to escape the control of their traffickers. Individuals are offered a safe home, regular meals, support workers and access to medical care. All of this is a vital immediate response to victims experiencing such a crisis.
I welcome the establishment of this support formally through proposed new Section 48A in this Bill, which will ensure that victims of trafficking in England and Wales have similar rights to support to those in Scotland and Northern Ireland. However, we also need to look at the long-term impact of the support framework. There is no doubt that we must provide assistance at the point where a person is first identified as a possible victim. But if the support we provide does not set them up for long-term recovery, all we are doing is to provide a brief respite from one situation of vulnerability before returning them to another perhaps equally exploitative situation.
I am also concerned by the evidence that, as my noble friend Lady Cox has just said, the current framework does not offer victims the support they need to make the transition from victim to survivor. The Centre for Social Justice, of which I was previously executive director, highlighted this problem in its report, It Happens Here. It says:
“In essence, significant support for a victim of modern slavery ends when the decision has been made over their trafficking status. Aftercare provision in the UK must develop a wider response that is victim-centred, forward-looking and which aims to give the survivor the best possible chance at an independent and self-sufficient future”.
It seems to me that this is precisely what Section 48B of the Bill sets out to do.
By providing victims with guaranteed access to services, benefits, and accommodation for one year, victims will have an opportunity through that period to re-establish their skills and their sense of identity and confidence, enabling them to move forward into an independent future. We need to understand that many will not make this journey without that support as they are still dealing with the impact of trauma and anxiety. Support workers in safe houses work hard to try to put things in place for victims when they leave, but the 14-day transition period is simply is not enough. The Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner said, earlier this year, that 14 days,
“is often not enough time to establish safe and secure pathways to mainstream services”.
The Modern Slavery Act injected much-needed energy into efforts to tackle this terrible crime, but we now need to continue that work in respect of victim support structures. We need to build on the national referral mechanism to create a statutory framework that will not simply give victims short-term protection only to leave them with no help to rebuild their lives. We need to create a wider system that will take people out of dangerous situations, provide a safe haven for them away from their exploiters, and set them on a path to a new future.
The Bill in the name of the noble Lord, Lord McColl, expertly rises to this challenge and provides a very welcome and necessary stage two to the excellent work that the Government have accomplished through the Modern Slavery Act. I encourage the Government to see the Bill as a great opportunity and to seize this opportunity to make it their own. I commend the Bill to the Minister, with my wholehearted support.
My Lords, I was very pleased to speak in support of the noble Lord’s important victim support amendments to the then Modern Slavery Bill: Amendment 78 on Report on
“The quality of identification and support for victims is a critical issue”.
Unfortunately, the Government did not support the proposal by the noble Lord, Lord McColl, to put the provision of support in primary legislation but, instead, promised us regulations which could be brought into effect through Section 50 of the Modern Slavery Act, and mandatory guidance through Section 49.
“The regulations will include the international obligations we have discussed, including the type of victim support set out in the Council of Europe conventions. To distil this down to a fine point ... when the guidance comes forward in statutory form, will it spell out what is going to be provided? I can say unequivocally that the answer to that is yes”.—[Official Report, 4/3/15; col. 228-29.]
However, over two years later there is no published guidance on identification or support, nor have any regulations come to this House yet. I am not saying that the Government have done nothing about victims’ care: they have run a pilot to assess new methods of operating the NRM which was completed in March. However, it is not clear to me that there is transparency on whether the minimum international standards set by the anti-trafficking convention are being met, nor whether there is any audit of those standards around the country. As far as I am aware, there have been no inspections by the Care Quality Commission of providers who support modern slavery victims. If the Minister is aware of any inspections, I shall look forward to hearing about the outcome.
In his speeches in 2015, the noble Lord, Lord McColl, made a very compelling argument about why support for victims should be assured in primary legislation, as it is in Northern Ireland and Scotland. Now that the legislation has been passed in both Northern Ireland and Scotland, the imperative for similar rights in England and Wales is even greater than in 2015. Putting the details of support in legislation provides a platform for guaranteeing consistent standards of care for all victims. In this context, I very much hope that the Government will support the new Section 48A that the noble Lord proposes for the reflection and recovery period, and new Section 48C on the details of the support that should be provided, including the requirement for regulations setting out minimum standards.
I am conscious that the Prime Minister wrote in her introduction to the background notes on the gracious Speech in June:
“The UK is taking an ambitious approach to tackling modern slavery. We are advocating for better international coordination to deliver commitments made and ensure governments and international agencies prioritise interventions and resources to tackle modern slavery, bring perpetrators to justice and support victims”.
In this context, and mindful that in April next year the Heads of Government of the 52 member states of the Commonwealth, and indeed other Commonwealth Ministers, will come to London, I am concerned that we might face some international embarrassment if the rights of victims of trafficking to support in England and Wales are not comparable to those in the rest of the UK.
The noble Lord, Lord McColl, has always been on the pioneering front of modern slavery policy, and his proposal in new Section 48B that there should be guaranteed support beyond the 45-day reflection and recovery period has significant support beyond this House. The conclusions of the Work and Pensions Committee in the other place have already been referred to. Its view that there is a need for action to secure a pathway for victims’ recovery is one with which I completely agree.
I sincerely hope that the Government will embrace this vital Bill introduced by the noble Lord, Lord McColl, as the next step in providing a world-class support service for the victims of modern slavery.
My Lords, the number of speakers in today’s debate seems to tell a story as far more of us are present in the Chamber than was the case during the passage of the Act. Some noble Lords will recognise that comment. That, I think, reflects the increasing awareness of the importance of uncovering and addressing what the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, called a scourge.
I, too, thank the noble Lord, Lord McColl, and the many organisations and their dedicated staff and volunteers who work with and for the victims of slavery. They will have contributed to the Bill both directly and through their work. However, let me add that the noble Lord is a role model for us all in his quiet, effective persistence.
It is a mark of the importance of the 2015 Act that it has prompted the arguments advanced for further proposals. I know that the noble Lord, Lord McColl, is, rightly, engaging in the art of the possible, so let us get the Bill enacted. Then we can turn to further issues, ranging from a name change for the national referral mechanism, mentioned by the independent commissioner, to perhaps a single-stage process, to which he also referred, to a specific actionable tort to enable compensation to be awarded to victims. The latter is constrained at present. In a recent report entitled Human Rights and Business, the Joint Committee on Human Rights said that the Government’s approach is,
“weakest in the area of access to remedy”.
Clearly, discussion must be had and action taken with regard to children.
As a society that has failed to see slavery in its midst—or perhaps seen it but failed to recognise it—we have a responsibility to its victims that extends well beyond the point of release. As the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, said, this is a moral and ethical issue. Modern slavery demands modern standards of support and protection and an up-to-date understanding and application of a trauma-informed approach.
We have just had six weeks’ recess, so it must be fresh in our minds how little 45 days is—I am in no way making an analogy with our situation. The term “reflection” in this context is so inappropriate for most victims. Processing traumatic events and adjusting to a new life demand a very different lexicon. I doubt that in many cases it would feel as though recovery had even begun within 45 days. The noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, said that “the words have a long journey behind them”. I might plagiarise that description. Without effective support, 45 days is certainly too short. The uncertainty which victims experience must do its own damage, both intrinsically and because, I suspect, it adds to the distrust of officialdom which I am sure some victims feel.
The Anti-Trafficking Monitoring Group briefed noble Lords, and said of the current situation regarding discretionary leave that while it is,
“theoretically available to victims, there have been consistently low numbers of victims who have successfully applied for it”.
It talked about the,
“lack of clarity and consistency on what is deemed to be ‘particularly compelling personal circumstances’”— the term used in the guidance—
“and uncertainty felt by some organisations regarding whether individual victims of trafficking should be applying for”, discretionary leave. Anything that reduces the workload of the Home Office, which has to consider discretionary leave, must be a good thing, because it seems to be impossibly overloaded at the moment.
There is a very big mismatch, too, between the numbers who go into the NRM and the convictions of perpetrators. I have been critical of the use of the term “hostile environment” by the Home Office, but I would be entirely happy to see a more hostile environment for perpetrators—which should mean a benign environment for victims.
Consistent support and certainty will help victims, who need time to tell their story. It would also help the police, who currently seem, from discussions I have had with those involved in the system, to be forced into taking statements too soon. The fact that a victim changes his story does not necessarily mean that what has been reported is a deliberate falsehood. A statement given before a victim is really able to give it can be gold dust for the defence, which will pick up inconsistencies. Support for the police in the process may be for another day.
There is also the issue of a victim remaining in the UK to give evidence. That decision should, to my mind, be quite separate from whether a victim, as a victim, should have “assistance and support”, as described in proposed new Section 48B. That term is defined in proposed new Section 48C, and I wonder—although I am not expecting an answer today; it might be an issue to be explored in Committee—whether that extends to re-establishing contact, and indeed relationships, with the victim’s family.
On the detail of the terminology, the term “necessary” intrigues me. I know that it is used in the Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings, where Article 14 requires a residence permit to be issued to a victim where,
“the competent authority considers that their stay is necessary owing to their personal situation”.
I am not entirely sure what that means. It is certainly less restrictive than personal circumstances being “particularly compelling”, as in the Home Office guidance, but I wonder—again, perhaps for later in the passage of the Bill—whether the term “necessary” has been developed in case law or otherwise. I mention that because I am concerned that proposed new Section 48A(7) may be more restrictive than we thought it to be.
Before I leave the question of support and the term “support”, although it is not a matter for legislation, we should not ignore the importance of support for the organisations and individuals who do the supporting.
The briefings that we have received—and I think also the Commons DWP Select Committee and certainly its chair—have been rightly dismissive of the notion that what the Bill envisages could be a “pull factor”. I admit that I am not particularly imaginative but I simply cannot begin to imagine how allowing a year’s leave to remain, with some entitlements dependent on a conclusive-grounds determination of slavery, could “pull” somebody into slavery in order to access that leave. The organisation Hope for Justice points out that the more generous visas—more generous than in this country—granted by other countries have not done so.
I have referred to society’s responsibility to the victims of slavery. The shortfalls in the current system give rise to a lot of concern about victims’ vulnerability to being retrafficked. What a failure on the part of society is retrafficking. Our responsibility is extensive and it must extend to restoring to victims support and dignity. From these Benches, we give our wholehearted support to the Bill.
My Lords, as other noble Lords have done, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord McColl of Dulwich, on bringing his Bill forward and on securing such an early spot in the ballot for Private Members’ Bills. That certainly bodes well for the future. It is a good Bill. As we have heard from the excellent speeches today, there is considerable support across the House for it to become law, and I am delighted that that is the case. Every single speaker from every Bench today has spoken in support of it.
Like my noble friend Lady Thornton, I am a Labour and Co-operative Party Member of your Lordships’ House. The Co-operative Party and the Co-operative Group are fully supportive of the Bill and are ready to give the noble Lord, Lord McColl, any assistance they can in order to secure this legislation. A swift passage through this noble House will help the Bill enormously on its way to the statute book.
As we have already heard this afternoon, the Modern Slavery Act 2015 is an excellent piece of legislation. When she was Home Secretary, the Prime Minister brought the legislation into law. It has been welcomed in all quarters, and rightly so. The draft Bill, the Joint Committee and the consensual approach by the Government to the parliamentary proceedings were enormously helpful in securing that legislation. Having said that, the significant omission in the legislation is its response to victims, which my noble friend Lord Anderson of Swansea referred to.
The noble Lord, Lord McColl, was right when he told the House that the needs of victims must be at the forefront of efforts and we must work to restore the dignity, health and opportunities that abusers have taken from the victims. The noble Baroness, Lady Bottomley, also referred to the need to develop a pathway for abused people to move from being victims into recovery. The noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, made a powerful case in support of victims, as she always does in this House. The noble Baroness, Lady Stroud, again spoke of the need to have a framework to help the move from victim to survivor.
In both Northern Ireland and Scotland, legislation passed at Stormont and Holyrood means that help and support to victims is provided during a reflection and recovery period, so the legislation in both Northern Ireland and Scotland is superior at least in that respect in comparison with what applies in England and Wales. The noble Lord, Lord Morrow, who is no longer in his place, spoke about the Bill that he took through the Northern Ireland Assembly and how that Act provides for victims’ care. I support his call for the legislation in England and Wales to be updated. The noble Lord, Lord Bew, also made that point in his contribution. The Bill corrects that and is very welcome. It brings England and Wales into line with best practice and delivers the equality of access that the noble Lord, Lord McColl of Dulwich, referred to in his contribution.
The Bill will guarantee all confirmed victims of modern slavery a minimum recovery period with casework support. As we have heard in this debate, at the moment, once a victim has been confirmed by the competent authority, government-funded specialist support quickly ends. That position is unrealistic and potentially very damaging for the victims. Vulnerable people are left at risk of destitution or the nightmare of returning to the hands of the traffickers and being subjected to horrendous abuse in a vicious circle.
The Human Trafficking Foundation, in its excellent briefing, highlighted how the existing provisions are failing victims in legal cases where individuals have been found by the UK authorities to have been trafficked and were co-operating with the police but were then left destitute. There is also a case referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Morrow, where, in November 2016, Bristol City Council accepted that local authorities in England and Wales had a responsibility to provide welfare support to victims or would be in breach of their obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights and the Convention on Action Against Trafficking and/or the EU anti-trafficking directive. The noble Lord, Lord McColl, referred to that when introducing the Bill. This came about after a trafficking victim brought legal action because she was only able to provide for herself by engaging in prostitution.
We have further heard about the findings of the Work and Pensions Committee’s inquiry into modern slavery, which was published earlier this year and is critical of the lack of support for victims. The committee recommended that all confirmed victims of modern slavery be given at least one year’s leave to remain with recourse to benefits and services. The committee was also very clear that it found no evidence that granting 12 months’ discretionary leave would create any sort of pull factor. It would be fair to say that it is just not plausible to believe that it would.
The noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Carey of Clifton, spoke of the need for individuals to receive personalised support as they begin the process of recovery. The noble Baroness, Lady Cox, also made an important point about the risk of retrafficking and how important the 12 months’ support is.
The Independent Anti-slavery Commissioner Kevin Hyland, who was mentioned many times in the debate, has also called for more support for victims and has highlighted the fact that the present system is not serving them well. If it is not serving these victims, that is a major failing of our present legislation and must be rectified. When you consider the horrendous abuse and threats that the victims of modern slavery have endured, and the risk of threats and violence to them and their families, it takes great courage to come forward to the authorities. They put themselves at risk of further suffering and not being properly supported.
The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Derby rightly drew the attention of the House to the evidence-based policy that underpins the Bill following the work of the anti-slavery commissioner, the Work and Pensions Select Committee and those who work in the charity sector on behalf of victims.
The noble Lord, Lord Shinkwin, stressed the need to complete this unfinished business and properly support victims. I fully support him in that call.
The Bill would ensure that victims, when identified, would have guaranteed access to front-line specialist support that includes any necessary medical treatment, safe accommodation and further long-term support to take the victim through the next stage of the recovery process where understandably very serious and complex needs can be addressed.
I particularly want to pay tribute to the work of the Co-operative Group in helping victims through its Bright Future initiative. Along with other charities, the Co-op is supporting individuals who have been granted special leave under the present system by providing work placements in its businesses and helping to equip people with the skills they need. As the noble Baroness, Lady Bottomley, said in her contribution, the Co-op is an excellent example of what a good employer should be doing.
While I am on the subject, I commend the Co-operative Group on how it has worked to prepare its statement on modern slavery and the work it has done to ensure that its supply chains are free of this evil. I am proud to have been a member of the Co-op for 40 years, which is as long as I have been a member of the Labour Party. It has set an example of best practice for business and all should be aspiring to it.
The benefits of granting an automatic right to leave would, as I mentioned earlier, help with the long-term recovery programme and rehabilitation programme and would also prevent retrafficking. It also would further strengthen the original Modern Slavery Act and empower victims to co-operate fully with police investigations and help to secure convictions of the people involved in this evil crime. Victimless prosecutions are possible, but the testimony of victims can provide compelling evidence to put before a jury in order to help secure a conviction, as the noble Lord, Lord McColl of Dulwich, told us, and as was referred to by the noble Baroness, Lady Redfern. There is the further argument that the automatic grant of leave would free up valuable resources to be used in other ways to deal with this horrendous crime.
My noble friend Lord Prescott referred to the international framework and how that affects modern slavery and the challenges that we are all seeking to combat today.
Every Bill before your Lordships’ House can of course be improved by amendment, and I have moved many amendments here. It is also widely accepted that Private Members’ Bills have an honourable tradition of dealing with issues that have widespread support but perhaps not always the support of the Government. They can also be narrow in their scope because they deal with particular issues. The process of going through Parliament is a precarious one for Private Members’ Bills without the active support of the Government, so I hope that amendments are tabled only if there is no other way of seeking changes; namely, that they cannot be delivered through regulation or another mechanism. The last thing anyone would want is for this Bill not to become law because it had been dashed on the rocks and lost through amendments in Committee or on Report. As my noble friend Lady Thornton said, piecemeal amendments would cause problems. People should think very carefully before they seek to move amendments to the Bill.
This has been an excellent debate on a truly important Bill that will strengthen an otherwise excellent Modern Slavery Act. I hope that when the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Trafford, responds to this debate imminently, she will be able to indicate that the Government are supportive of its aim and will give it their wholehearted support, and if necessary give it government time to secure it. As has everyone else, I thank the noble Lord, Lord McColl, for his campaigning, his tenacity, his compassion and his defence of the victims of this truly horrendous crime, and his steely determination to get this Bill on to the statute book.
My Lords, I join other noble Lords—I think every noble Lord—in thanking my noble friend Lord McColl for introducing the Bill and the opportunity to have what has been an excellent debate. I welcomed all the opportunities to listen to noble Lords’ contributions, in particular the poignant recollections of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Derby and my noble friend Lady Newlove’s eloquent description of the things victims have to go through and the assistance they need to begin the process of rebuilding their lives.
I also thank the Church for the work it is doing and the other organisations for the work they are doing, including the Co-op, which has been mentioned so many times. The Government fully support the work the Co-op is doing. I am particularly proud that the Co-op’s project is up and running in the north-west, but it is also looking to expand and I wish it well. It works really well in delivering the government-funded victim care contract, City Hearts. Through this, we know victims have secured employment with the Co-op.
I do not like to start a speech with disagreement, but I disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Prescott, who made the link between migration and modern slavery. Human trafficking and modern slavery are particularly brutal forms of criminal exploitation, but they are not immigration issues. We are focusing on tackling the traffickers who perpetrate the brutal crimes and rescuing the victims regardless of how they came to be exploited, not necessarily through migration.
Modern slavery is a hidden and complex crime, but the UK has taken world-leading action to lift the lid. I am grateful to noble Lords who referred to the Modern Slavery Act 2015, which gives enhanced support and protection for victims, as well as providing law enforcement agencies with the tools they need to tackle modern slavery, such as a maximum life sentence for perpetrators. We also successfully argued for the establishment in 2015 of UN global target 8.7 to end modern slavery by 2030.
For all potential victims the Government provide access to a tailored and personalised support service that exceeds the requirements of international law. The Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings that noble Lords have referred to requires that we provide 30 days’ support to all potential victims of trafficking. Instead, we provide to all victims of modern slavery—not only victims of trafficking—this support for a minimum of 45 days, with most victims receiving support for more than double that minimum period. I hope that clarifies the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, who also pointed out the difference between England and Wales in matching Scotland. As I said, on average most identified victims in England and Wales are in receipt of support for 119 days. We therefore feel we are more than matching the work that has been done by the devolved Administrations.
My noble friend Lord McColl, the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, and the noble Lord, Lord Morrow, and others talked about victims after Brexit. It is an important consideration. I reassure noble Lords that victims’ rights will be upheld and guaranteed after Brexit. We are considering how best to do this as part of the NRM reform.
The noble Lord, Lord Elton, asked whether we are doing enough under Articles 12 and 13 of the Council of Europe Convention. I am pleased to report that the support we are providing meets and exceeds some of the UK’s obligations under these articles.
We appreciate the necessity continually to assess the needs of victims and to provide the support that they require. To that end, the Home Secretary has committed to reform of the NRM, the system we use for identifying and supporting victims. Following a review of the NRM in 2014, the Government tested new approaches through an 18-month pilot. The pilot finished earlier this year its evaluation will be published shortly.
The noble Baroness, Lady Howe of Idlicote, asked about the guidance. That has been paused until the NRM reform is implemented. We are using findings from the pilot, along with the recent report by the Work and Pensions Select Committee on support for victims and the 2014 Home Office review, to shape proposals for long-term reform of the NRM. Officials are now consulting widely with a range of stakeholders, and I value this opportunity to incorporate the views of Peers into this work. It has provided a further opportunity for us to reflect on the existing support and assistance we offer to victims, to consider how best to ensure that victims receive the support they need, and to debate what the long-term offer for victims should be.
On the first point, I am reassured that the assistance and support set out in the Bill broadly reflect the support already provided by the Government to potential victims. For example, all potential victims currently have access to safe accommodation, financial assistance, medical advice and treatment, counselling, a support worker, translation services, independent legal advice and support to return to their home country. Victims’ needs are complex and one size does not fit all. That is why, when victims come into support through the NRM, their individual needs are assessed and a tailored plan of support is put in place according to those needs. In terms of ensuring that victims have access to support, discussions are already in hand on the statutory guidance required under Section 49 of the Modern Slavery Act. This guidance will, as I say, be completed when reforms to the NRM have been confirmed but, in addition, the Government understand the importance of ensuring that the rights of victims are set on a legislative footing.
Section 50 of the Modern Slavery Act gives the Secretary of State the power to make regulations on the identification of and support for victims. I note that my noble friend’s Bill seeks to make exercising this power a requirement. I assure noble Lords that we are considering the most appropriate way to enshrine victims’ rights in the context of the NRM reform programme. Finally, to address the issue of long-term support, the Government are committed to supporting victims and helping them to rebuild their lives. However, I must be clear that the Government do not accept that all victims of modern slavery should automatically be granted one year’s leave: we take them on a case by case basis. It is critical to the Government that victims of modern slavery have options and are supported in considering their future, but we must not assume that all victims wish to remain in the UK. Indeed, many who have been trafficked to the UK would far rather be supported to return home with dignity.
Where leave to remain is granted it is normally for those who are supporting the police, those who need access to medical and counselling support that is not available in their home country, and those who are pursuing compensation for the exploitation they have suffered. Other victims of modern slavery will already have leave to remain in another capacity, and the Government are committed to supporting those who do not qualify for leave to remain to return to their country of origin to rebuild their lives.
The noble Baronesses, Lady Massey of Darwen and Lady Benjamin, talked about child victims, a subject not articulated in the Bill. Child victims of modern slavery receive support through local safeguarding structures, alongside other vulnerable children. However, the Government recognise that they have particular needs and that is why we are committed to rolling out independent child trafficking advocates nationally. We have also funded £2.2 million-worth of projects aimed specifically at supporting trafficked children and reducing their vulnerability to being exploited.
I again thank my noble friend Lord McColl for bringing this issue to the House’s attention. I have looked forward to the debate today and look forward to future ones on this topic.
My Lords, I say a very big thank you to everyone who has taken part in the debate, which I found inspiring, moving and encouraging. I thank the Minister for her warm words and encouragement, and look forward to the publication of the evaluation of the NRM pilot scheme. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, for his gracious acceptance of my reassurances regarding the possibility of abuse of the provisions. I finish with a word of thanks to the many charities that have given me advice, information and encouragement, and which share the stories of some of the victims. I applaud the work they are doing, caring so diligently for these victims, including filling in the gaps in our publicly funded provision.
I commend the Bill to the House and ask your Lordships to give it a Second Reading.
Bill read a second time and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.