Clause 8 - Offence of illegal working

Part of Immigration Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 4:15 pm on 27th October 2015.

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Photo of James Brokenshire James Brokenshire Minister of State (Home Office) (Security and Immigration) 4:15 pm, 27th October 2015

First and foremost, I underline the point that, for those who are in the country unlawfully, the priority will be to see that they are removed. That is the first line of approach that immigration enforcement would take. Secondly, the use of the DPP’s guidance makes it clear that it is generally not in the public interest to prosecute an adult victim of slavery or trafficking where the crime they committed was a direct consequence of their slavery or trafficking situation and they were compelled to commit the crime.

A wide debate took place prior to the Modern Slavery Act as to whether that was sufficient in its own right or whether additional provisions were required. There was an extended debate between the non-governmental organisations, the DPP, the Crown Prosecution Service and policing. On balance, it was judged that the further defence provided in section 45 was appropriate. However, guidance can be provided on what is in the best interests of justice in that determination. Clearly, this will be a matter for individual cases, but, as I have already indicated, the primary approach that we want to take in respect of people who are here unlawfully is to see that they are removed.

The offence is to strengthen the message that the Government and the country send. Also, we want a method of dealing with serious or significant cases where an individual may be seeking to absolutely frustrate the system. The offence can be seen as an appropriate and effective tool in the work of immigration and enforcement in conducting their work. I suspect there will be a point of difference between us on that and it may be for the Committee to express its view on the issues, rather than to try to suggest there is not a difference of opinion when there is.

All victims, regardless of their involvement in criminal activity, are entitled to the same level of protection and support through the national referral mechanism and are assessed against exactly the same criteria. Support is tailored to each individual’s need and can include accommodation or outreach support and access to medical, legal and psychological support. As many hon. Members will know, the Government fund the Salvation Army to provide that service through a network of specialist charities across England and Wales.

On the point about whether the measures will strengthen the hands of the exploitative employer, as has been postulated, that is precisely why we are taking tougher action in the rest of the Bill against employers who exploit illegal labour. We are changing the knowledge base required in relation to the subsequent offence, as well as strengthening the approach to enforcement through the creation of the new role of director of labour market enforcement. Where employers repeatedly flout the law, we propose to use new powers to close their business premises and apply special measures as directed by the courts. Again, it is about the broad context.

I know that traffickers and those involved in such criminality are insidious in some of the techniques that they use. They use a wide range of techniques to exploit their victims, including debt bondage, physical force or threats to put victims in fear. There is no way entirely to stop traffickers misleading victims about what will happen if they come forward; they will often use such direct tactics to intimidate. The Government are making identifying and protecting victims of modern slavery, and giving them the confidence to come forward, fundamental to our modern slavery strategy.

That is why the Modern Slavery Act introduced the new statutory defence for victims who commit crimes due to their exploitation. Last year, the Home Office set up a modern slavery helpline and website and ran a national television campaign, with which many people will be familiar, to reach out to victims and encourage the public to report suspected modern slavery. In many cases, it is happening under our noses, in our communities and across our country.

As I have consistently said during my involvement in the initial preparation of the Bill, we must shine a light into those dark places, to see what is there in plain sight but is somehow unseen by us. That is the reason for the practical implementation of the Modern Slavery Act and the work that we are doing through a number of measures through the commissioner. It is about raising awareness and knowledge within law enforcement, so that the signs of slavery can be spotted and victims given the support that they need. That includes setting up specialist teams at the border to identify and protect victims when they enter or leave the UK. We are taking a multi-faceted approach in a way that has not been undertaken before. That is not a partisan view; good work has been done across the House on confronting modern slavery, and I welcome the contribution made to that work by numerous Members over an extended period.

Because of all that complexity and the elements that I have highlighted, I am simply not persuaded that the proposals make the situation worse in the manner postulated. As has been said, it is often those with the right to be in this country who are held here and kept in appalling conditions. We want to shine a light on those dark places from which they cannot escape, often physically, due to the manner in which they have been enslaved. That is precisely the reason for raising understanding in law enforcement and more generally across the population of this country, in order to deal with these issues when they become apparent. I know that I should refer to the contribution that you have made over a number of years, Mr Bone, to get us to a position in which we can have this debate with much greater understanding of the issues concerned. It is significant.

I see the issue in the broader context of what we are seeking to achieve in the Bill in terms of dealing with labour market exploitation, but I do not see that as inconsistent with the important work that we have done and will continue to do to confront slavery, traffickers and exploitation, and to go after those causing human misery in our country. I am proud to be part of a Government who take these issues seriously and are seeking to make a difference in that way.