I beg to move,
That this House
has considered tackling modern-day slavery.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms McDonagh. Before I progress with my short speech, I need to place on the record my thanks to my hon. Friend Vernon Coaker, who cannot be present this evening because he is away at the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. His chairmanship of the all-party parliamentary group on human trafficking and modern slavery does so much to ensure that this issue is always at the top of the political agenda.
I also briefly place on the record my thanks to the Co-operative party for pursuing the matter so vociferously. The Co-operative party has ensured that modern slavery is now taken exceptionally seriously both inside this place and outside. As a result of its vociferous campaigning, 30 local authorities have signed up voluntarily to a modern slavery charter that takes them above and beyond the requirements of the Modern Slavery Act 2015, which I shall talk about later. Clearly, a concerted political effort can ensure that we get safety for people fleeing horrible circumstances.
I apologise for intervening on the hon. Gentleman so early on, but I wanted to put something on the record as well: the great contribution made in the other place by Alastair Redfern, the Bishop of Derby, as we took the Bill through both Houses to become the Act. Without his dogged determination, we would probably not be sat in this Chamber today having this debate. He has actually just retired as Bishop of Derby, at the end of August. I am sure that putting that on the record will be well received by him and the people who worked with him.
It is true that where we are today is the result of a collective effort and political will across not only this House but Parliament as a whole. That is demonstrated not only by the number of Members present today but by how the matter has been pursued through APPGs, private Members’ legislation and amendments to various other Bills.
Before my hon. Friend moves on, may I add another name to the list of the illustrious? Home for Good, a Christian charity, has been working so hard to raise the profile of the real dangers of certain institutions that look as though they are orphanages but are actually involved in the trade. Separation of children from parents—even from one parent—is a dangerous activity. Will he look at the Home for Good report and study it carefully? He will find it very helpful?
Indeed, he is my friend, but he is now only the second most famous person from Huddersfield following the debut of the new Dr Who. I do not know whether he has a sonic screwdriver, but we can sort one out for him.
My hon. Friend is right. A number of organisations and charities sent me briefing notes, and what I found interesting as all that information came into my office was the sheer volume of work being done quietly and diligently to ensure that this issue of our young people and others being abused and exploited is tackled. If we look at the work and try to quantify it, we can see that in addition to the efforts of Government and Parliament, civil society is once again demonstrating that it is a force for good.
This is a timely debate. Has my hon. Friend’s all-party group looked at the legislation that was passed some years ago after the tragedy in Morecombe bay and the problems with gangmasters? Has he any comments on that? I am surprised that we still experience modern-day exploitation— for want of a better term—in all age groups.
My hon. Friend must be somewhat prescient, because he has read ahead in my speech before I have managed to get to that point. I shall touch on it later.
I welcome the announcement by the Government of the review of the Modern Slavery Act, which will be ably chaired by my right hon. Friend Frank Field and Mrs Miller, as well as the noble Lady Butler-Sloss. That is a triumvirate of expertise if ever there were one. I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for being present this afternoon.
I want to talk about the processes in the Modern Slavery Act. It was a step forward in properly attacking and dealing with some of the horrible situations people find themselves in, but it also contained important preventive measures that helped to reduce modern slavery in all forms, whether sexual exploitation, domestic servitude, forced labour or criminal exploitation.
For me, one of the most important parts of the Act is section 54, which requires large companies with a turnover of £36 million or more to place on record transparency in their supply chains. Such modern slavery statements are a welcome process to deal with these problems but, if we are honest and up front, the implementation is simply not working properly. At a meeting of the Public Accounts Committee, on which I sit, the Home Office confirmed that it does not compile a list of companies that may be required to make a declaration, does not have a list of those that have done so and, importantly, does not maintain the database. Any further analysis of the information in the declarations is made by non-governmental organisations.
On that point, will my hon. Friend join me in congratulating TISCreport, which was developed and is based in Bristol? It has looked at the 18,000 companies with revenue of more than £36 million, and it is the only organisation that maintains a database of the companies that comply with section 54. The database is now searchable via a zoomable map. Will he encourage the Minister to engage with TISCreport and to allow it to help the Home Office in its endeavours?
My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. NGOs are doing some excellent work but, fundamentally, I believe that such work should be done by the Home Office and by Government—because we are talking about something set out in statute—rather than relying on the benevolence of third-party organisations.
Despite the work of the organisation in my hon. Friend’s constituency, and even though the matter has been progressed, I know that the Minister is aware of concerns about how section 54 is being implemented. Back in April I asked a question in the Chamber of a Department for International Development Minister, who confirmed that a hub was being set up. Will the Minister present today confirm what progress has been made on that hub?
What is really worrying, however, is that an investigation by The Guardian demonstrated that of the companies that had made a modern slavery statement, more than two thirds had failed to refer specifically to the risk of modern slavery. They had made a declaration, but it did not comply with the requirements of the Act. More worryingly, only 19% of all agricultural businesses that should be making a statement have done so, and that is an area in which exploitation could be rife.
Unfortunately, because everything is being done by third-party NGOs, the ability to compel necessary information simply does not exist. Until the Government introduce something on a formal statutory basis, more and more organisations will seek to put aside their responsibilities. The Co-operative Group, which I shall talk about later, has estimated that it is cheaper and easier for organisations simply to ignore the requirements than it is for them to produce the statements and submit them. There is no validation and so no penalty for failing to make a declaration.
The section 54 requirement also applies only to commercial organisations. The public sector, however, is a huge spender of money—billions and billions of pounds are spent in procurement—yet no public authority is required to make declarations to demonstrate their actions to reduce modern slavery. Were we to extend section 54 to cover public bodies and authorities, that might not stop certain aspects of modern slavery happening, but we would be able to have oversight of where the billions of pounds in public procurement are ultimately being spent, and Members could look for the impact on modern slavery.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that smaller businesses ought to be included in the overall remit of the Act? After all, they include nail bars and people working on tips. If we had a system whereby when a licence was granted by local authorities, businesses had to tick a box on their compliance with modern-day slavery rules, that would be a real step forward.
The hon. Lady is absolutely right. The current scope of section 54 is well meaning, and in some ways if it was implemented correctly it would have a huge impact on large organisations. But if we are being honest and up front, most of the places where modern slavery is perpetrated in the UK are small businesses that are not properly regulated. It is tied employment, with people living in a room above a shop and being told that their rent and board is all paid for as part of their salary but, “By the way, you can’t ever leave us.” Local authorities having a remit would be a way of tackling that. However, we must be clear that if we are to give local authorities new responsibilities, new funding must come with that, because simply asking local authorities to do more with their depleted amounts of money simply will not do.
Does my hon. Friend accept that modern slavery sometimes happens at an individual level? I have a case where someone was brought to this country for work, to look after someone’s care needs. Yet when the care was no longer needed, they got rid of them and refused to pay the money they owed, and that person is now completely rootless and needs support in this country. Does he see that as a particular problem?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right; I will touch on individual cases later on, where there should be greater support and strength for victims of modern slavery.
I thank my hon. Friend for making the important point about the contribution of local authorities. Local authorities are under incredible financial pressure, as he rightly outlined, but 40 local authorities have still signed up to the charter, one of which is my council, Liverpool City Council. In the spirit of the cross-party attendance at this debate, does he agree that it is vital that councils, no matter their political make-up, debate and adopt that charter as quickly as possible?
I could not agree more with my hon. Friend. It is sad that the council that I used to lead, which is now not run by our political party, decided not to adopt the charter because it is worried about being too political. I am not sure how we can be too unpolitical in tackling modern slavery, but unfortunately there are still some organisations and local authorities that see the issue as partisan. If only they looked at Parliament, where partisan issues have been put aside and everyone looks at this issue collectively to find ways of dealing with it across both Houses and across parties, they could learn some valuable lessons from us. My hon. Friend is right that where local authorities are going above and beyond they are making a real difference to individuals whose existence would otherwise be one of daily toil and exploitation. The more we can do to tackle that, locally or nationally, the better.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing the debate. Does he agree that for victims of modern-day slavery, rebuilding their lives is a challenge in itself? I pay tribute to the Co-operative Group and other businesses that are offering paid work placements for victims of modern-day slavery.
My hon. Friend mentioned the role of local authorities in providing a lead. The role of my own council, Sandwell, has been recognised with a public award, precisely for working with other agencies to tackle this menace. Councils and public bodies also have to be receptive to information; many people who live next to the places involved and sometimes go in and work in them provide information. The authorities—whether the police, the Home Office or the local authorities—have powers, but they need to be receptive to the information and use the powers they have, even though they need more.
As always, my right hon. Friend is absolutely spot on. I would add that local authorities have struggled with their existing requirements. If we are to give them more things to do, and I think we can, that has to come with the required funding. This is too important to do half a job badly; I would rather we did all the job properly. Once again, Sandwell Council in the west midlands demonstrates how that can be done. Having heard my right hon. Friend’s intervention, I am sure that other councils will look to Sandwell as a model to follow in future.
I will move on to one of the things that the Government could do to actively address all the points being raised. Baroness Young’s Modern Slavery (Transparent Supply Chains) Bill would extend the section 54 clauses to cover almost everything that has been discussed. The Bill would allow for local authorities, public bodies and smaller organisations, including commercial organisations, to be covered by the requirement to make declarations. The more information we have, the easier it will be to tackle this scourge. I ask the Government to do slightly more. They can no longer rely on non-governmental organisations and charities to enforce the will of Parliament as expressed through the Modern Slavery Act. There has to be direct Government responsibility for the collection and analysis of the data that they have asked to be produced.
I ask the Minister to update the House on the process for appointing the new Independent Anti-slavery Commissioner. That role has been empty since May. According to the Home Office documentation, a meeting should take place this week to shortlist candidates. I wonder whether we are still on track for that. Given the comments of Kevin Hyland about his independence as he left that post, I ask the Minister to reassure us that those comments have been taken on board and that the new Independent Anti-slavery Commissioner, whoever that may be, will have the powers, responsibilities and independence they need to do the work that we all know and agree is needed.
To move on from the processes, behind every statistic, case and referral there is an individual whose life has been turned upside down and torn apart because of modern slavery. The Walk Free Foundation estimates that there are 136,000 victims of modern slavery in the UK alone. To put that into context, that figure is equivalent to the population of West Bromwich, Gloucester or Worcester being enslaved in the UK. We should all we worried about that, because unless we tackle this root and branch, we cannot hold ourselves up as a compassionate society.
There is also an international element to the issue: £14 billion of goods are imported into the UK. We can all be pretty much guaranteed that some of those products will be made by slaves or people in servitude. Everyone here and watching at home—I am sure there are millions of them—can be almost certain that something in their home, wardrobe or car will have been made by a slave. Statistically, it is likely that at some point, every single one of us will have an item of clothing made by a slave, if we do not already. We must take that very seriously, because our obligations do not rest domestically; we should set the standard around the world. As our post-Brexit trade negotiations take place, we should ensure that an ethical trade policy that tackles modern slavery here and overseas forms part of our trade policy. If we can use our purchasing power to make the world a better place, we have a duty to do so.
The National Crime Agency statistics from the national referral mechanism suggest that roughly 1,600 referrals are made each quarter. In the first quarter of this year and the second quarter of last year combined, just over 3,200 referrals were made. Although the victims predominantly came from the United Kingdom, they spanned 87 different countries. In the UK, people of 87 nationalities made a referral to the national referral mechanism. What is good about the Modern Slavery Act is that the perpetrators are being prosecuted. Only last week, Zakaria Mohammed was prosecuted under the Act for drug dealing using children and county lines. Although the act of drug dealing itself should be punished—I do not think anyone would object to that—the fact that the use of exploited children in a servitude role was prosecuted sends a message that we are taking this seriously.
My hon. Friend has put his finger on the fact that some very wicked people organise this trade, and they are clever. People up and down the country—this is true even in the case of my pet subject of orphanages that are not really orphanages—are gulling ordinary, good people in this country into donating money for things that will be used for an evil purpose.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The people who perpetrate these crimes do not do so in a cack-handed way. They are organised individuals who exploit the most vulnerable people in our society purely out of greed. The more we do to prosecute and make examples of them, the more we will do to demonstrate that we take the issue seriously and to put people off.
Another recent case is that of Josephine Iyamu, who sex-trafficked workers from Nigeria to Germany. Because she was a UK national, we prosecuted her in this country under the Modern Slavery Act. Again, as internationalists—as a country that looks out to the world—our responsibilities do not rest at our doorstep. We have a responsibility for people around the world. In Leeds, the Cisar family were caught trafficking people for work and exploitation. Thirty-seven people were found in an enslaved situation, working on building sites for £5 a day. Some of the families had to spend their evenings begging for food because they simply were not able to provide food for their children. One of those 37 people was a one-year-old. If we are serious about tackling this issue, we should start with situations like that.
Another problem, which I am sure the Minister will be able to help us with, is what happens once someone has been identified as a victim of modern slavery. The national referral mechanism is non-statutory. Someone who gets a positive conclusive grounds decision has no legal status. They are simply someone we have almost taken pity on—we support them out of benevolence, not because there is a requirement in law for us to do so.
The Government promised last October to increase the duration of support for people who receive a positive conclusive grounds decision from 14 days to 45 days. I understand that that is still in the process of being worked up—it is not actually being implemented. Again, if the Government wished to demonstrate that they take that promise seriously, they could easily announce that they will bring it forward as soon as possible.
As I have told my hon. Friend, I will have to leave the debate to talk about sanctions in a moment. When we—Members of Parliament and Members of the House of Lords—scoped the original Modern Slavery Bill, the most stunning and terrible evidence we took was from people who had been enslaved. The idea that people get over such bondage easily was knocked sideways by all that. We were in tears listening to the evidence of people who had been broken by modern slavery, but the Government have only just begun to think about that issue.
We can see from that thoughtful intervention why my right hon. Friend is absolutely the right person to co-chair the review of the Modern Slavery Act. As I said, every statistic is a person whose life has been turned upside down. At the moment, an individual who is found to have been through modern slavery gets 14 days’ support. I do not know about anyone else in the Chamber, but that does not seem sufficient to me. In fact, 45 days really is not enough. The Government made that commitment last October and they should implement it now, but I ask that they do so as an interim step. As my right hon. Friend the Chair of the Work and Pensions Committee says, that would be a step forward, but it would not be enough to establish a pathway for recovery.
There is something the Government could do today to give some semblance of an impression that they want to do something about this issue. They could announce that they will support Lord McColl’s Modern Slavery (Victim Support) Bill, which has been through the House of Lords and has its support. If they guaranteed Government support for that Bill so that it could proceed in Government time sooner rather than later, I am sure that it would get cross-party support and be one of the fastest pieces of legislation to pass the House of Commons.
That Bill would extend support to 12 months—it would give people who have been through horrendous situations a year’s support. Someone who comes out of modern slavery and needs help should receive it because the state and the people want to give it to them, not because of benevolence and charity. Charity is a cold thing—it is self-selecting. The state should be there to provide help and support. I am sure the Minister will be able to indicate one way or the other whether the Government have any interest in supporting Lord McColl’s Bill. I am sure Opposition Members would be happy to vote with the Government if they did support it.
As my hon. Friend Jim McMahon pointed out, there are organisations doing work in this area. I am going to talk again about the Co-op Group’s Bright Future partnership. That organisation has brought together charities, providers and first responders to give people who have been through modern slavery a way into paid employment—a route back to dignity without waiting for charity. By 2020, more than 300 victims of modern slavery will have been given their lives back through that project. We should commend the Co-op Group for leading the way with that work. I know many other companies are looking at the Co-op Group’s work. All I can say to them is, “Go and ask, and help. They will help you become part of this life-changing partnership.”
We need to prevent people from falling back into slavery. The 45-day period does not give those who are entitled to be in the UK enough time to apply for the required benefits, and it does not give those who are not entitled to be in the UK time to apply for leave to remain. It simply sets them up to fail on day 46. As a society, we simply must not allow that.
I am conscious of the time, so I will wrap up with some very quick points. I am aware that the Minister has a file of information to inform her reply, but I ask her to focus on six very simple areas.
Just the six, yes. I have written them down, so it is very easy. Will the Government consider expanding section 54 to cover public bodies and smaller corporates? That would be a good step. Will the Minister update us on the Government’s role in creating a database to properly enforce and actively police modern slavery declarations? Will she update us on where the Government are with the Independent Anti-slavery Commissioner post and guarantee that person’s independence? Will she, as an interim measure, implement the 45-day support that her Government promised in October 2017? Most importantly, if she confirmed that the Government were willing to support Lord McColl’s Modern Slavery (Victim Support) Bill, we could all leave this place very happy people.
I will focus chiefly on the support that is available to victims of trafficking to help prevent them from being left homeless, destitute and at risk of being re-trafficked. I support the proposal that the Government should adopt the Modern Slavery (Victim Support) Bill.
Mention was made of the proposal to extend the move-on period from 14 days to 45 days. At the moment, that period is inadequate. It does not give people time to establish stable building blocks for their future. It is not long enough for non-UK nationals to apply for and be granted discretionary leave to remain, which gives victims access to housing benefit and other services. Extending that period to 12 months and offering victims accommodation and financial and other support, according to their needs, would enable victims to establish much more secure futures.
I know that the Government are concerned that that might prevent the removal of foreign criminals, but the Bill makes an exception for sexual or violent offenders who pose a genuine, present and serious risk to members of the public. The Government may also be concerned about cost, but the number of eligible victims each year would be very low. In 2016, just 1,133 people were confirmed as victims of trafficking with a positive conclusive grounds decision, so that proposal is unlikely to have a great impact on immigration.
Another concern is that people may self-identify as enslaved, but it is accepted that the opposite is ordinarily the case. Victims are often reluctant to come forward, for fear of retribution by their traffickers or fear of the authorities, or due to a perceived lack of long-term protection, which the Bill would address. In addition, victims cannot refer themselves to the NRM—that can be done only by a designated first responder organisation.
Finally, the proposal that the Government should offer six-month drop-in support, although positive, is inadequate. That period needs to be longer so that people can establish their futures.
It is only right that those who have experienced the appalling practice of modern slavery are provided with the support, tools and skills they need to get on in life. That is why I will focus my brief comments on Northern College in Barnsley and its “Free Thinking” programme, which is the first course of its kind. Earlier this year, it supported 14 survivors on a 10-week course, helping them to adapt to their freedom with tutoring in subjects such as English, maths and IT, and helping to restore qualities such as self-confidence and trust in humanity.
It was a privilege to visit the course and moving and inspiring to meet the survivors and hear their stories. Their own words speak of its success. One said:
“I’ve got more confidence… I can notice myself getting better and better every week that I come here.”
“I feel that I have really achieved something and that when I leave Northern College, I will feel able to apply for more…education. I am trying to move on from my past. This is a big step.”
Others have spoken of its impact on their families. There is an on-site crèche that allows parents to take part in the course, which has a positive impact on the children too.
Northern College has pioneered the course, but not without facing obstacles. Some survivors may meet the requirements for funding but struggle with complex rules. Others have no access to transport. The Home Office’s immigration bail regulations had been prohibitive for many survivors but, following my question in the House earlier this year, I am pleased that the guidance has been changed. I thank the Secretary of State for meeting me.
The “Free Thinking” course provides a blueprint for how we can make progress in addressing the terrible injustice of modern slavery here in the UK. I will end with the words of another survivor on the impact of the course:
“Sometimes I get down, but I’m very lucky to still be here. If I wasn’t here, my story would just be in the past tense.”
Centuries after Wilberforce abolished the slave trade, it is a disgrace that around the world today some 27 million people are in modern slavery. I have had three big instances of it in my constituency on Traveller sites. In the first, 24 people were released from slavery. Some of them had been there for a decade or more, and 19 of them were British citizens. It is horrendous.
The NHS in particular can do a lot more—it is not as good as it should be at spotting victims of modern slavery. The all-party parliamentary group on human trafficking and modern slavery met the parents of a young, English learning-disabled man who was taken to a Welsh hospital to have his leg reset after he had fallen off a horse while being held captive. He was taken back again, and no one thought to ask any questions about why he was brought in with a group of Irish people who were not speaking with the same accent as him.
Good work is going on in some Welsh academic institutions to ensure that training on modern slavery becomes compulsory in undergraduate and postgraduate settings and for all healthcare staff. It should have the same priority as child protection training within the NHS. That would make a huge difference, because the “Provider Responses Treatment and Care for Trafficked People” report by King’s College London showed that one in five victims of modern slavery comes into contact with healthcare professionals.
Last month, the Australian House of Representatives passed a modern slavery Bill that recognised orphanage trafficking, which has been defined as
“the active recruitment of children from families and communities into residential care institutions in overseas countries for the purposes of foreign funding and voluntourism.”
Mr Sheerman is right to raise this point. We need to be world-leading and to take on what the Australians have demonstrated.
Thank you for calling me in this important debate, Ms McDonagh. I congratulate my hon. Friend Gareth Snell on his brilliant presentation. This debate is timely, with Anti-slavery Day coming up on the 18th of this month.
The tragedy of slavery is that it is a condition of human making, driven by greed and a pernicious desire to profit from excessively cheap labour, happening in plain sight. Sadly, my constituency has not been immune. In 2015, we had our first—I hope it is our last—conviction for modern-day slavery. Hungarian workers were promised good jobs and somewhere to stay, working in bed manufacturing, but on arrival they were shoved into dilapidated houses, some with up to 42 men living in two-bedroom properties, forced to work 10 to 16 hours a day, five to seven days a week, sometimes for as little as £10 a day, making beds for John Lewis and Next. It is a vile, disgusting crime, preying on workers desperate to forge a better life for themselves and their families. Thankfully, after excellent investigation work by local police, the owner was rightly convicted and sent to prison.
I am proud that the parent company of my local biscuit manufacturer, Fox’s Biscuits—I worked there in my teens—2 Sisters, has signed up to the Co-op’s Bright Future anti-slavery campaign. That scheme has worked with more than 30 victims of modern-day slavery who are now in employment and able to rebuild their lives.
Of course, we all have a part to play. As consumers, we have a duty to prevent exploitation by realising that if something looks like a ridiculous bargain, somewhere around the world someone has been exploited. We must step up and be accountable, empower those vulnerable to slavery, promote access to decent work and support trade unions. I also encourage anyone watching who feels they have seen or heard something to use the modern-day slavery helpline if needs be. The most vulnerable are relying on us.
I take a particular interest in this topic because the police lead of the modern slavery taskforce is based in Exmouth in Devon, paid for from the police transformation fund. I commend the work it is doing, which I have been to see, to try to gather data and best practice and to share that. All credit to the Government for setting it up.
I have a couple of broader points. Modern-day slavery is very different from the old days of individuals in chains. It is less visible and tends to be psychology first—break the spirit and then the body. However, while everyone would say that slavery is a bad thing, people do not believe that it is happening in this country. There is a big challenge in getting the Great British public to accept that it is here; they cannot keep saying that it is not. Perhaps we need a Jamie Oliver to champion this cause.
The public have no idea what to look for. We have police guidance about looking for drawn curtains, but frankly if I were to knock on the door of every house in my constituency with drawn curtains, that would be quite a number. We need to do better. The reporting mechanisms do not include how charities and others, who are often more likely to come into contact with such individuals, can have a voice. That is an area to look at.
To get this right, we need clarity on what the Modern Slavery Act covers, because some economic crimes are better dealt with under employment and tax legislation, and other things are better dealt with under domestic legislation.
Businesses must recognise that there is a brand issue. Philips has been phenomenal in what it has done to unearth modern-day slavery issues. There are many programmes to help, but only the willing come forward, so more must be done to ensure that that changes.
We must move towards a victim-focused and less crime-focused approach, with not just the police and immigration authorities but others getting involved. Good job so far, Government, but there is more work to be done.
I thank my hon. Friend Gareth Snell for securing this important debate and for introducing another six tests to remember. I support every single one of them.
I will make a very short speech—not least because I have only two minutes—about the unintended priority that this became as a consequence of being the new MP for Bristol North West. I grew up and have lived in my constituency for most of my life, but I never knew that modern slavery was taking place on my doorstep; it was not until I was elected that I came face to face with it, both through constituents in my surgeries and as a result of raids in Bristol thanks to the excellent work of Avon and Somerset police. I now understand about Bristol’s excellent history with Unseen, which provides the national modern slavery helpline, which was established and is based in Bristol.
TISCreport, which I have already mentioned, is looking at supply chains’ compliance with the Modern Slavery Act. I should add that even though I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent Central that the Home Office should have a statutory responsibility to ensure that data is used properly, that does not mean that it cannot work with non-governmental bodies to ensure it is done in the best possible way.
In my final minute, let me say that this is not just a domestic issue but an international one. We in the United Kingdom have something to be proud of in our work at home as well as abroad. I had the pleasure of being in Nairobi for 36 hours with the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association during the summer recess, where I saw at first hand the impact that British money is having on the ground in Kenya not only in aid but in security. British police officers were working with Kenyan police officers to massively increase the enforcement potential in investigation on the ground, although interestingly there was a lack of resourcing for victim support—something that was pledged to change as a consequence of the CPA organising meetings between non-governmental organisations and Kenyan politicians.
My one question for the Minister—I am sorry to be the one to introduce the Brexit word—is whether the projects on the ground in Kenya and other countries that are co-funded by the European Union and the United Kingdom will continue to be funded in a no-deal scenario.
I thank my hon. Friend for securing this debate. I am extremely grateful to take part in it.
I was present in the 2015 Parliament, and I can attest to the Modern Slavery Act being a great leap forward, but it was an Act with a hole at the centre. I understand why Ministers at that time made the judgment they did, but achieving the Government’s ambition will be impossible unless we tackle the demand driving sex trafficking in our country, a form of modern slavery that almost exclusively targets women. As Andrew Selous and I can attest, in Bedfordshire alone 53% of modern-day slavery cases over the past four years have been about sexual exploitation. The majority of women who are put through the national referral mechanism are trafficked into this country for sex.
I chair the all-party parliamentary group on prostitution and the global sex trade. In our most recent report we demonstrated just how prolifically and how often women, mostly from eastern Europe, are trafficked around the UK, in a network of properties, in a revolving door of sexual exploitation organised by gangs to evade police detection. We talked about that in a previous debate. In that context, it is really difficult to understand why the review does not specifically target that point—perhaps the Minister can say something about that.
We know what we need to do: we need to support victims properly; criminal sanctions for soliciting on the street should be removed, to support women subject to street-based sexual exploitation in seeking help and exiting it; and demand needs to be tackled by making paying for sex a criminal offence in England and Wales. We should also target businesses that are profiting from the trade. Many countries around Europe have taken that approach, and we have seen the benefit. I hope that the Government will reflect on that as the review goes forward.
I would like to endorse pretty much everything that everyone has said, but particularly the comments made by my hon. Friend Gareth Snell. I will not repeat anything he said, but I will make three quick points.
First, we need to be aware that investigating modern slavery is enormously resource-intensive for police forces. We have heard reference to the entirely appropriate use of resources in relation to the disgusting county lines phenomenon, which sadly effects my city of Oxford, as well as many other places. We had a large trial associated with modern slavery in Oxford, Operation Rague, but the processes needed to build up the right evidence for trials involve intensive and expensive use of police resources. We need to acknowledge that, particularly in the context of such significant cuts to policing. In that regard, we also need sustainable funding for innovations such as the independent trauma advisory service, commissioned by Thames Valley police and operating in Oxford and Reading. It is working well but needs to put on a sustainable footing.
Second, we need to spread examples of good practice more widely. Sadly, my city had to learn about some of the problems the hard way. After Operation Bullfinch we learned quickly that agencies had not worked together in the way that they should have done to protect vulnerable people. That has led to the hotel watch scheme in Oxford and extensive training for city council officers. Other places should not have to go through that in order to learn from the experience.
Lastly, we need to acknowledge that private sector reporting is good for the companies that engage in it. The Business and Human Rights Resource Centre has shown that investors want this information and companies such as Marks & Spencer have shown that reporting is good for them and their customer base—people want to know about it. We need to make sure that the public sector is complying too, for example in its uniform suppliers.
I congratulate Gareth Snell for securing the debate. It is a timely opportunity to start contributing to the welcome review that the Government have announced. I congratulate all hon. Members for covering so much ground in so little time—I will try to do a little bit of justice to the debate.
I pay tribute to the work of the all-party parliamentary group. It is not just the chairs who have incredible expertise and commitment. At the few meetings that I have attended all the members have contributed fantastically, as has been illustrated by hon. Members’ speeches. It is also good to see that the Minister and officials are engaging. I think everyone is genuinely committed to doing their best to try and tackle this horrendous issue. Hon. Members have, quite rightly, paid tribute to the huge range of individuals and institutions that are doing tremendous work on this issue. We are dealing with horrible offences, as Tracy Brabin eloquently and powerfully set out.
The question we have tried to cover is how we can improve some of our response. The first issue raised was support for victims. There have been calls to put support on a statutory footing, as has happened in equivalent legislation in Northern Ireland and Scotland. The Government here may now want to do that. We have also talked about extending of the period for which support is in place to 45 days. After consultation with victims and NGOs in Scotland, the Government there have extended the period from 45 days to 90 days. We have to be evidence-led, and it may well be in due course that that is shown to be insufficient—the Government here may want to look at that as well.
That brings us on to the immigration rules. I used to be an immigration solicitor. I have to say, I find it incredibly difficult to understand what the status of victims is after they have been through the national referral mechanism. There is definitely a need for clarity and simplicity. I agree with the recommendation of the Work and Pensions Committee of an automatic period of leave, which could be for up to a year.
A number of hon. Members raised issues about training and the resourcing of frontline staff who will encounter victims of modern slavery. We heard about the police, and we have had reports from Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary as well as the Haughey review. There is a lot of work to on around sharing best practice from forces that do a very good job, such as Greater Manchester police. Some forces are doing it well, but can we expand that work? Other hon. Members mentioned local authorities and the health service as well.
Finally, there are a couple of issues that I will just mention in passing. We need to look again at the stage at which victims of modern slavery are entitled to legal aid, because they have big decisions to make before they have access to important legal advice. Finally, one or two hon. Members touched on Brexit. We could have a whole separate debate on the implications of Brexit for ethical trade, justice and home affairs co-operation and all sorts of other things, but I will leave it to the two other Front Benchers to expand on some of those points.
I will be really brief. I apologise to my staff, who spent hours writing my speech. I would rather the Minister actually responded to some of the issues.
I congratulate everyone who has spoken today. All I would say to the Minister is that we have heard the passion and concerns throughout the debate from right across the House, and the numerous briefings that we have all received are testament to the gravity of this dreadful situation. I urge the Minister to reflect on today’s debate, consider the depth of feelings and the emotions, listen to the concerns, make the appropriate safety net, and offer support for those who are not a commodity to be bought, sold and traded, but are human beings. We owe them the respect and dignity of ensuring that we provide for them.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairship, Ms McDonagh. Perhaps this is the new model for how we should do business in this House—we have had incisive and effective speeches in two minutes.
I congratulate Gareth Snell. I thank him and all the members of the all-party parliamentary group who are here today, as well as those who are not with us but are dedicated in their wish to help us all tackle this terrible crime. I also pay tribute to the Bishop of Derby, who retired in the summer, as mentioned by my hon. Friend Maggie Throup, and thank him very much for all the work that he has done on this important cause, not just in recent years but when the Bill was taken through the House. I am told that there is an application for a Backbench Business Committee debate on this subject. The Committee has not yet confirmed that there will be a debate, but I suspect after today that there will be. I do not want to prejudge the Committee, but I think the House has shown how important it views this issue as being.
I hope the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent Central and other colleagues will forgive me if I do not manage to answer every point in the time I have, because I want to leave time at the end for him to sum up. If I have not responded to some points, I will of course write to him and place a copy in the Library.
We have heard today the cross-party understanding in the House of the horrors presented by modern slavery. This terrible crime can be committed in various ways, yet every time we are told of another case of slavery I am surprised by the range of offences and the ability of human beings to be evil to one another. We saw the case this week of the gentleman who was found in Cumbria. It is beyond my comprehension, and everyone else’s, I am sure, how that person could have been treated in that way.
The Government are really proud of our introducing the Modern Slavery Act 2015, with the consent of Parliament. We are determined to ensure that that legislation remains world-leading in the face of the evolving threat, which is why we have commissioned an independent review of the Act to examine what is working well and what more can be done to improve its implementation. I am extremely grateful to my right hon. Friend Mrs Miller, Frank Field and Baroness Butler-Sloss for leading that work.
On to the support that we give victims, I hope hon. Members will forgive me for taking this opportunity to announce that the independent child trafficking advocate service will be extended to children in the west midlands next week, on Anti-slavery Day. These advocates provide invaluable specialist support to child victims of modern slavery, and new regional co-ordinators will help local areas to identify and support UK victims. That will be followed by a further roll-out in the east midlands in January and in the London borough of Croydon in April, meaning that advocates will be available in one third of all local authorities in England and Wales.
Next week, I will launch the UK’s day of action for the AMINA project, which aims to safeguard children from being trafficked across European borders. The project, in partnership with End Child Prostitution and Trafficking UK and Missing Children Europe, is a joint initiative between law enforcement, civil society and Government, and brings together agencies from across six countries to keep safe children on the move.
We continue to make significant progress in reforming the national referral mechanism, about which colleagues have expressed concerns today and in the past. The reforms will make a tangible difference to the experience of victims. We are already working with six local authorities to test ways to improve the pathways from central support into local communities, increasing victims’ resilience to future exploitation.
Victims get a minimum of 45 days of assistance before a conclusive grounds decision. The extended move-on period after a conclusive grounds decision—from 14 days to 45 days—will begin in early 2019. By April 2019, the new expert caseworking unit will manage all NRM cases, with independent multi-agency assurance panels reviewing its negative conclusive grounds decisions, and a new digital referral and caseworking system will underpin the improved decision-making process to make it easier for those who work on the frontline.
I welcome the fact that child advocates are coming to some areas of the country, but I find it curious that the Government seem to roll out a range of public services in only some areas of the country. We should evaluate the roll-out and, if it is worth doing, we should do it everywhere.
My hon. Friend knows the Government’s commitment to this issue. The new advocates will focus on UK victims because, as we have tested the ground with these schemes, we have discovered that the needs of children trafficked into the UK—from Vietnam, for example—are different from those of children trafficked within the UK and who are already UK citizens. The pilots in those three areas are aimed at seeing whether we can improve the system for children who are not from the United Kingdom while also helping children who are. That is particularly relevant with the development of county lines and children being used within those gangs, which has been referred to today.
Finally on the NRM, the new victim care contract will come into effect in April 2020. It will include additional support, such as places of safety in advance of entering the NRM for those removed directly from situations of exploitation by law enforcement, as well as drop-in centres for victims for up to six months after they have left the NRM, because we understand that people need time to make the important decisions on how they want to be treated.
The hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent Central rightly raised transparency in supply chains, on which we have world-leading legislation. I recently chaired a meeting of the business against slavery forum, which draws together chief executives of some of the world’s largest employers and organisations. We discussed what they are doing, what more can be done across business and how the Government can help with that. The forum includes organisations such as the Co-op, HSBC, Sky, Unilever, Vodafone, WPP, Barclays, BT, Associated British Foods and others, and there is real enthusiasm and energy in that group to help the UK tackle modern slavery.
However, too many businesses still fail to meet their basic legal obligation to publish transparency statements, or have shown that they are not taking serious action to tackle modern slavery. The Home Office will therefore over the next month write directly to the chief executives of 18,000 businesses considered to be in scope of the obligation. Those that persist in flouting their obligations can expect to face tougher consequences. The Government are also committed to tackling modern slavery in our own procurement. We are developing tools and guidance for contracting authorities in the public sector to help buyers mitigate against risks of modern slavery and to take action where modern slavery is identified.
Law enforcement is a vital part of this picture. We want to successfully investigate and prosecute those who ensnare human beings in their gangs or slavery networks. We have invested £8.5 million to transform the police response through the modern slavery police transformation unit. That unit has established the intelligence base to target perpetrators and has developed bespoke training for frontline and senior detectives.
We are seeing encouraging results, with more than 950 live investigations currently under way, which, to put it into context, is up from 188 in 2016. There have been some very good convictions recently, as has been referred to, including last week the first conviction under modern slavery legislation of a county lines exploitation gang involving children. We want the message to be loud and clear: if a criminal gang leader exploits children in that way, they are guilty of grooming and should suffer the social stigma that that conveys.
I will write to my hon. Friend on that. She will appreciate that the workings of the police transformation fund certainly cannot be explained in just two minutes.
I will move on to the international picture. The Prime Minister launched the global call to action to end modern slavery at last year’s UN General Assembly, with more than 80 countries now endorsing that pledge. It is an extraordinary, worldwide commitment that shows that those countries are determined to join us in tackling this terrible crime. We are supporting our international efforts with more than £200 million of UK aid, and we work closely with the countries from which the highest number of victims are trafficked to the UK. Later this week I will meet the Albanian Minister for human trafficking to build on our co-operation and to agree how we can continue to work together to tackle this abhorrent crime.
To answers the questions asked of me, first, Mr Hyland always struck me as being very independent as our Independent Anti-slavery Commissioner; I am always amused when it is suggested that he was not. Our recruitment of his successor is ongoing, and we are obviously keen to get the right person for the job as quickly as possible.
I am conscious of time, so if the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent Central will forgive me, I will write to him on the other points. I thank him for securing this important debate, and I very much hope that we will have the chance to debate this issue again soon in another Chamber.
I am good at winding up, Ms McDonagh. I thank the Minister for announcing that she will write to those 18,000 people. That is a good development, so far as I am concerned. I will write to her to try to pin her down slightly more on the early 2019 date; as we know, this Government think that autumn goes up to Christmas eve.
The appetite is there and the need is clear. The only thing holding us back is our political will. By our collective efforts, we can make a real difference in tackling modern slavery, particularly during this month.
Motion lapsed, and sitting adjourned without Question put (