Clause 42 - Guidance about identifying and supporting victims

Part of Modern Slavery Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 2:15 pm on 14 October 2014.

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Photo of Karen Bradley Karen Bradley The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department 2:15, 14 October 2014

My understanding is that the NRM review is looking at that to see how the guidance should be structured and tailored. The review is being led by Jeremy Oppenheim, who, as well as having extensive experience in the Home Office, has held roles in the voluntary and local authority sectors, principally as a director of social services and chief executive of a national charity. He is ensuring that the review of the NRM is independently conducted, that all the relevant options are being considered and that the recommendations are balanced.

I wrote to members of the Committee on 2 October to provide a copy of Mr Oppenheim’s interim report. I hope the report demonstrates how thoroughly he has been approaching this task, in which he has consulted more than 100 organisations. I am particularly pleased that he has visited safe houses and heard the experience of victims first hand. I visited some safe houses with him and heard how he used sympathetic questioning of victims to try to establish the difficulties in the process that they went through—for example, the number of different interviews.

My hon. Friend the Member for Brent Central talked about how victims recount different stories, and we saw that with our own eyes. Jeremy Oppenheim and I sat with a victim who gave us a slightly different account of her experiences to us from that which she had given to previous people she had spoken to—some of it was the same, but other elements were slightly different. That reflects just how important it is to allow victims the opportunity to develop their stories—by that I do not mean that they should change them, but as they become stronger and more able to talk about their experiences, more will be learnt.

We also need to ensure, however, that we are not forcing victims into recounting their story too many times, because as soon as discrepancies start to appear, so too will doubt for the authorities and we do not want that. We want to ensure that the authorities and those bodies who are carrying out the discussions with victims are doing so in a sympathetic and safe way, so that they can get as much as they can from them, clearly within the constraints of what the victims are able to talk about, understandably, to someone who is in effect a stranger.

Mr Oppenheim makes clear in his interim report that his review has been unashamedly victim focused, and that is how it should be. He has also held a workshop to consider the issue of children in the NRM and he states in his report that he has

“particularly considered child safeguarding processes.”

I am pleased that he has taken that approach, which gives me great confidence that his report will seek the best possible outcome for all victims of these horrendous crimes.

The review has not yet come to detailed conclusions on each of the issues being considered, which will be set out in the final report. However, we have a clear indication of the kinds of issues that Mr Oppenheim is considering: victim identification, access to support and governance of the NRM in particular. Those issues include improving the training of first responders, ensuring that all parties can have confidence in the expertise and objectivity of the decision makers, including whether a right of appeal would help in that regard, and whether the NRM should be placed on a statutory footing.

The shadow Minister asked about aspects that may be missing from the interim review. The interim report was clear that there is no need for a tighter, professionally managed entry to the NRM, multidisciplinary decision making and comprehensive oversight of the system. Those three aspects will address the concerns raised by the shadow Minister relating to the accuracy of decision making and any disparity between existing referral bodies and competent authorities.

With this thorough review well under way, I am confident that the final report will provide a comprehensive assessment of the current mechanism and make clear, practical and victim-focused recommendations to improve the system. I expect the report to be published before this provision is debated in another place to allow ample time for scrutiny before the Bill becomes an Act.

I know of the concern about how much scrutiny can be allowed in the two Houses, but the most important thing, from my point of view, is getting this report and review right. I do not want to rush it just to meet an arbitrary deadline. In the area of modern slavery, the process of getting to the end of a knotty problem often causes us to discover another 10 or 15 knotty problems on the way. This is not a simple issue that can be easily or quickly addressed, and it is absolutely right that we spend time ensuring we do it properly. I am therefore very reluctant to make changes to the NRM or to set out its roles and functions in the Bill at this stage, thereby pre-empting the review’s outcome. The whole point of the review is to ensure that as many stakeholders  as possible can contribute, so that a set of improvements can be suggested that take on a wide range of advice and consider all the evidence in detail.

We all share the objective of achieving best practice in identifying and supporting victims. I welcome the important contributions from Members on how we might achieve our common goal, but I do not believe that the best way of doing that is tying ourselves to one set of changes at this point without the benefit of the expertise and evidence that Mr Oppenheim’s final report will bring to the issue. I appreciate the thinking behind the detailed proposals in new clauses 22, 28 and 29, which are clearly designed with victims in mind. However, I am confident that all the issues raised are being fully considered by Mr Oppenheim and I will ensure that he is aware of the contributions made today.

My hon. Friend the Member for Brent Central and the shadow Minister asked about the decision making and whether the final review will look at the different roles of UK Visas and Immigration—I should make clear that it is now UKVI, not UKBA—and the UK Human Trafficking Centre. The interim review and the final review both cover decision making. The interim review states:

“My early thoughts are that a multi-disciplinary decision making process provides the best way of harnessing the professional expertise needed to make the trafficking or modern slavery decision.”

The identity of the decision maker has therefore been carefully considered. I know there have been concerns about the differences in the number of approvals given by the Human Trafficking Centre and UKVI, but some of those can be explained by the different groups of victims the two bodies look at. Mr Oppenheim is looking at the decision-making process so that there is certainty and comfort for all in the system that it is fair and quick. That is an extremely important point.