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

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 3:58 pm on 8th September 2017.

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Photo of Baroness Howe of Idlicote Baroness Howe of Idlicote Crossbench 3:58 pm, 8th September 2017

My Lords, I was very pleased to speak in support of the noble Lord’s important victim support amendments to the then Modern Slavery Bill: Amendment 78 on Report on 25 February 2015 and Amendment 2 at Third Reading on 4 March 2015. On both occasions I raised concerns about consistency in standards of care. On 4 March, the Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Bates, said:

“The quality of identification and support for victims is a critical issue”.

Unfortunately, the Government did not support the proposal by the noble Lord, Lord McColl, to put the provision of support in primary legislation but, instead, promised us regulations which could be brought into effect through Section 50 of the Modern Slavery Act, and mandatory guidance through Section 49.

On 4 March, the Minister also said:

“The regulations will include the international obligations we have discussed, including the type of victim support set out in the Council of Europe conventions. To distil this down to a fine point ... when the guidance comes forward in statutory form, will it spell out what is going to be provided? I can say unequivocally that the answer to that is yes”.—[Official Report, 4/3/15; col. 228-29.]

However, over two years later there is no published guidance on identification or support, nor have any regulations come to this House yet. I am not saying that the Government have done nothing about victims’ care: they have run a pilot to assess new methods of operating the NRM which was completed in March. However, it is not clear to me that there is transparency on whether the minimum international standards set by the anti-trafficking convention are being met, nor whether there is any audit of those standards around the country. As far as I am aware, there have been no inspections by the Care Quality Commission of providers who support modern slavery victims. If the Minister is aware of any inspections, I shall look forward to hearing about the outcome.

In his speeches in 2015, the noble Lord, Lord McColl, made a very compelling argument about why support for victims should be assured in primary legislation, as it is in Northern Ireland and Scotland. Now that the legislation has been passed in both Northern Ireland and Scotland, the imperative for similar rights in England and Wales is even greater than in 2015. Putting the details of support in legislation provides a platform for guaranteeing consistent standards of care for all victims. In this context, I very much hope that the Government will support the new Section 48A that the noble Lord proposes for the reflection and recovery period, and new Section 48C on the details of the support that should be provided, including the requirement for regulations setting out minimum standards.

I am conscious that the Prime Minister wrote in her introduction to the background notes on the gracious Speech in June:

The UK is taking an ambitious approach to tackling modern slavery. We are advocating for better international coordination to deliver commitments made and ensure governments and international agencies prioritise interventions and resources to tackle modern slavery, bring perpetrators to justice and support victims”.

In this context, and mindful that in April next year the Heads of Government of the 52 member states of the Commonwealth, and indeed other Commonwealth Ministers, will come to London, I am concerned that we might face some international embarrassment if the rights of victims of trafficking to support in England and Wales are not comparable to those in the rest of the UK.

The noble Lord, Lord McColl, has always been on the pioneering front of modern slavery policy, and his proposal in new Section 48B that there should be guaranteed support beyond the 45-day reflection and recovery period has significant support beyond this House. The conclusions of the Work and Pensions Committee in the other place have already been referred to. Its view that there is a need for action to secure a pathway for victims’ recovery is one with which I completely agree.

I sincerely hope that the Government will embrace this vital Bill introduced by the noble Lord, Lord McColl, as the next step in providing a world-class support service for the victims of modern slavery.