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

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 3:26 pm on 8th September 2017.

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Photo of Baroness Redfern Baroness Redfern Conservative 3:26 pm, 8th September 2017

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 1 November 2015, local authorities have been playing a large part in notifying and engaging with the Home Office to enable central Government to gather statistics on this barbaric problem. They glean information to be fed through to other agencies such as the police, who are able to build up a more complete picture of the nature and scale of modern slavery, as well as enhancing intelligence for UK enforcement agencies but also for agencies abroad.

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.