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

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 4:24 pm on 8th September 2017.

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Photo of Baroness Williams of Trafford Baroness Williams of Trafford The Minister of State, Home Department 4:24 pm, 8th September 2017

My Lords, I join other noble Lords—I think every noble Lord—in thanking my noble friend Lord McColl for introducing the Bill and the opportunity to have what has been an excellent debate. I welcomed all the opportunities to listen to noble Lords’ contributions, in particular the poignant recollections of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Derby and my noble friend Lady Newlove’s eloquent description of the things victims have to go through and the assistance they need to begin the process of rebuilding their lives.

I also thank the Church for the work it is doing and the other organisations for the work they are doing, including the Co-op, which has been mentioned so many times. The Government fully support the work the Co-op is doing. I am particularly proud that the Co-op’s project is up and running in the north-west, but it is also looking to expand and I wish it well. It works really well in delivering the government-funded victim care contract, City Hearts. Through this, we know victims have secured employment with the Co-op.

I do not like to start a speech with disagreement, but I disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Prescott, who made the link between migration and modern slavery. Human trafficking and modern slavery are particularly brutal forms of criminal exploitation, but they are not immigration issues. We are focusing on tackling the traffickers who perpetrate the brutal crimes and rescuing the victims regardless of how they came to be exploited, not necessarily through migration.

Modern slavery is a hidden and complex crime, but the UK has taken world-leading action to lift the lid. I am grateful to noble Lords who referred to the Modern Slavery Act 2015, which gives enhanced support and protection for victims, as well as providing law enforcement agencies with the tools they need to tackle modern slavery, such as a maximum life sentence for perpetrators. We also successfully argued for the establishment in 2015 of UN global target 8.7 to end modern slavery by 2030.

For all potential victims the Government provide access to a tailored and personalised support service that exceeds the requirements of international law. The Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings that noble Lords have referred to requires that we provide 30 days’ support to all potential victims of trafficking. Instead, we provide to all victims of modern slavery—not only victims of trafficking—this support for a minimum of 45 days, with most victims receiving support for more than double that minimum period. I hope that clarifies the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, who also pointed out the difference between England and Wales in matching Scotland. As I said, on average most identified victims in England and Wales are in receipt of support for 119 days. We therefore feel we are more than matching the work that has been done by the devolved Administrations.

My noble friend Lord McColl, the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, and the noble Lord, Lord Morrow, and others talked about victims after Brexit. It is an important consideration. I reassure noble Lords that victims’ rights will be upheld and guaranteed after Brexit. We are considering how best to do this as part of the NRM reform.

The noble Lord, Lord Elton, asked whether we are doing enough under Articles 12 and 13 of the Council of Europe Convention. I am pleased to report that the support we are providing meets and exceeds some of the UK’s obligations under these articles.

We appreciate the necessity continually to assess the needs of victims and to provide the support that they require. To that end, the Home Secretary has committed to reform of the NRM, the system we use for identifying and supporting victims. Following a review of the NRM in 2014, the Government tested new approaches through an 18-month pilot. The pilot finished earlier this year its evaluation will be published shortly.

The noble Baroness, Lady Howe of Idlicote, asked about the guidance. That has been paused until the NRM reform is implemented. We are using findings from the pilot, along with the recent report by the Work and Pensions Select Committee on support for victims and the 2014 Home Office review, to shape proposals for long-term reform of the NRM. Officials are now consulting widely with a range of stakeholders, and I value this opportunity to incorporate the views of Peers into this work. It has provided a further opportunity for us to reflect on the existing support and assistance we offer to victims, to consider how best to ensure that victims receive the support they need, and to debate what the long-term offer for victims should be.

On the first point, I am reassured that the assistance and support set out in the Bill broadly reflect the support already provided by the Government to potential victims. For example, all potential victims currently have access to safe accommodation, financial assistance, medical advice and treatment, counselling, a support worker, translation services, independent legal advice and support to return to their home country. Victims’ needs are complex and one size does not fit all. That is why, when victims come into support through the NRM, their individual needs are assessed and a tailored plan of support is put in place according to those needs. In terms of ensuring that victims have access to support, discussions are already in hand on the statutory guidance required under Section 49 of the Modern Slavery Act. This guidance will, as I say, be completed when reforms to the NRM have been confirmed but, in addition, the Government understand the importance of ensuring that the rights of victims are set on a legislative footing.

Section 50 of the Modern Slavery Act gives the Secretary of State the power to make regulations on the identification of and support for victims. I note that my noble friend’s Bill seeks to make exercising this power a requirement. I assure noble Lords that we are considering the most appropriate way to enshrine victims’ rights in the context of the NRM reform programme. Finally, to address the issue of long-term support, the Government are committed to supporting victims and helping them to rebuild their lives. However, I must be clear that the Government do not accept that all victims of modern slavery should automatically be granted one year’s leave: we take them on a case by case basis. It is critical to the Government that victims of modern slavery have options and are supported in considering their future, but we must not assume that all victims wish to remain in the UK. Indeed, many who have been trafficked to the UK would far rather be supported to return home with dignity.

Where leave to remain is granted it is normally for those who are supporting the police, those who need access to medical and counselling support that is not available in their home country, and those who are pursuing compensation for the exploitation they have suffered. Other victims of modern slavery will already have leave to remain in another capacity, and the Government are committed to supporting those who do not qualify for leave to remain to return to their country of origin to rebuild their lives.

The noble Baronesses, Lady Massey of Darwen and Lady Benjamin, talked about child victims, a subject not articulated in the Bill. Child victims of modern slavery receive support through local safeguarding structures, alongside other vulnerable children. However, the Government recognise that they have particular needs and that is why we are committed to rolling out independent child trafficking advocates nationally. We have also funded £2.2 million-worth of projects aimed specifically at supporting trafficked children and reducing their vulnerability to being exploited.

I again thank my noble friend Lord McColl for bringing this issue to the House’s attention. I have looked forward to the debate today and look forward to future ones on this topic.