Modern Slavery (Victim Support) Bill [HL] - Second Reading

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 2:58 pm on 8th September 2017.

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Photo of Baroness Massey of Darwen Baroness Massey of Darwen Labour 2:58 pm, 8th September 2017

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 Is there not a risk that it could be repealed by Ministers without reference to Parliament?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.