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

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 3:41 pm on 8th September 2017.

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Photo of Lord Shinkwin Lord Shinkwin Conservative 3:41 pm, 8th September 2017

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, 24 August, marked the anniversary of William Wilberforce’s birth. As he said in the other place on 12 May 1789: “The nature and all the circumstances of this trade are now laid open to us; we can no longer plead ignorance, we cannot evade it”. In 2017, 210 years after the passage of his historic Abolition of the Slave Trade Act, his call to action applies today as much as then. It can be neither ignored nor evaded. I agree with other noble Lords that, in supporting the Bill, the Government would be continuing his wonderful work. May William Wilberforce’s spirit guide our deliberations until the Bill has become law, as it surely deserves to.