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

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 3:37 pm on 8th September 2017.

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Photo of Lord Bew Lord Bew Crossbench 3:37 pm, 8th September 2017

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.