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

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 3:21 pm on 8th September 2017.

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Photo of Lord Anderson of Swansea Lord Anderson of Swansea Labour 3:21 pm, 8th September 2017

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.