I beg to move,
That this House has considered modern slavery and victim support.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship today, Mr Betts. The debate is on an important subject and I am pleased to see that the chairman of the all-party parliamentary group on human trafficking and modern slavery, the hon. Member for Gedling (Vernon Coaker), is here, as well as my hon. Friend the Minister and the hon. Member for Swansea East (Carolyn Harris), ready to engage us with speeches about what it is right to do. I thank them for attending.
People are often surprised to learn that modern slavery exists in the UK. When I talk to them, it is quite peculiar that they do not quite recognise it. However, once they are aware of it, they are surprised to learn it is not happening out of sight. There is a disconnect between the sense—mostly historical—of what slavery is, and surprise at the idea that 136,000 men and women in the UK are the victims of what we would term modern slavery. The victims are in full sight, not hidden from us. It is just that we do not see them. They are the women in suburban salons, who are beaten to get them to do work they are not paid for, the men who work 20 hours a day in unlicensed car washes where illnesses from chemicals can result in death, or those whose families back home are regularly threatened so that they will stay to do the work.
Some years ago, the Centre for Social Justice, which I set up, produced a report called “It Happens Here” and, I am pleased to say that, in that wake of that, the United Kingdom became a world leader with the passing of the Modern Slavery Act 2015. I believe that it was the gold standard for legislation to eradicate human trafficking. However, that does not mean we can afford to be complacent. I was proud of the Government when they passed the Act, and I remain proud that we are the nation that has given the lead, but I believe that if we are not careful there could be a tendency to believe that what we have done is enough, and that there is nothing more we can or should do to improve on it.
I want today to focus on victim support, which I think is the weakest element of the 2015 Act, although others’ views may differ. The Act does not establish a statutory framework for care services. Nor does it provide a clear pathway for victims to move from exploitation to recovery. In England and Wales the Government provide victims with a limited period of care on a non-statutory basis while the authorities decide whether the person is a victim—but then the support ends. To address those weaknesses Lord McColl and I are sponsoring the Modern Slavery (Victim Support) Bill. It has passed all necessary stages in the House of Lords as well as its First Reading in the Commons. Unfortunately, it is still awaiting a date for Second Reading. I remain frankly perplexed as to why the Government will not, in general terms, think about adopting the measures in the Bill and in doing so reaffirm the UK’s position as the world leader in the fight against modern slavery.
The Modern Slavery (Victim Support) Bill would amend the 2015 Act in two crucial ways. First, it would put into law victims’ entitlement to support throughout the critical period when evidence to ascertain whether modern slavery has taken place is being collected. That is an important point. The provision would give people a sense of security. Secondly, the Bill would introduce a statutory duty to provide victims with ongoing support and leave to remain for a period of up to 12 months.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend on securing this important debate on an issue that we should not forget. Does he agree that if we provide more support for the victims of slavery over a longer period, there will be an opportunity to gain more intelligence, leading to the further prosecutions that are so vital to stamping out this evil practice?
That is absolutely right. It is a matter of balance—it is not only about supporting someone but ascertaining who has done what, and making sure that there are prosecutions. As my hon. Friend points out, we must ensure that practical and effective victim support is in place to prevent re-trafficking, while redoubling efforts to prosecute traffickers.
To be fair, over the past two years the Government have matched commitment with action, allocating the necessary resources, but I believe that they are not getting value for money, owing to restrictions in the 2015 Act. In 2017 a report by the Select Committee on Work and Pensions concluded that although the Act was a great step forward it did not establish a pathway for victim support. The National Audit Office noted:
“The Home Office has no assurance that victims are not trafficked again, potentially undermining the support given through the NRM”.
The national referral mechanism is the gateway for adult victims to receive support, and the NAO makes an important point about what is happening to people, and whether it happens to them again and again. It is vital for us to establish that. There is significant evidence of victims with a positive conclusive grounds decision being left homeless and destitute, and therefore at risk of being re-trafficked at the end of the NRM process. Not only are victims at risk of re-trafficking, but limited support creates a barrier to increasing conviction rates for traffickers. If we want to get after them, we need to reduce those barriers.
A Cabinet Office report has concluded that the lack of sustained support for victims is a key factor affecting the bringing of successful prosecutions, so I would like to ask my hon. Friend the Minister what steps are being taken to respond to that report. It is not the view only of the Cabinet Office. Many police forces will say the same. I accept that the Government have recognised some of these challenges and they announced new plans for victim support in October 2017. However, having talked to those involved in supporting people who have been trafficked, I believe that the proposals do not address the primary problems.
The extension of the move-on period following a positive conclusive grounds decision from 14 days to 45 days still leaves insufficient time for victims to establish a stable foundation for the future. In particular, it is not long enough to enable non-UK nationals to apply for and be granted discretionary leave to remain, which in turn gives victims access to housing, benefits and other services for a period of 12 to 30 months. The Government have stated that rather than a period of leave being provided to all victims, leave to remain should be provided only on a discretionary, case-by-case basis. However, there is evidence that victims fall through the gaps. A victim who is later granted leave to remain can even become homeless while waiting for a discretionary leave decision to be made, because the 45 day move-on period is not long enough to bridge the gap.
I do not want to seem ungrateful, because I believe that the Government’s heart is in the right place. However, the extension to 45 days will in all likelihood just postpone the point at which a victim faces homelessness, and not prevent it. If prevention is what we are after, we should try to achieve it. I therefore ask the Minister what information she has about the length of time taken for a discretionary leave application to be processed and how she proposes to guarantee that no victim will fall off the edge of support while waiting for a decision.
I understand that there are plans to offer up to six months’ access to drop-in services and improve local authorities’ response to victims. That appears on the surface to be helpful, but I am none the less concerned that it will meet the needs only of victims with a right to stay in the UK. That will leave an awful lot of people without such protection. Importantly, charities that support victims and that have left the NRM have told the Home Affairs Committee that drop-in services
“will not be sufficient for somebody who has more complex needs, who needs much more intensive intervention”.
I saw the chairman of the all-party parliamentary group nodding at that. It is a fact that there is now strong evidence coming in from the charities involved in this.
I have a third question for my hon. Friend the Minister. Can she explain, when she has the opportunity, what types of support the drop-in services announced in October 2017 will provide, and whether they will be open to those victims who do not have leave to remain in the UK? That is a critical question.
The Government have, I believe, expressed concern that offering all confirmed victims leave to remain for 12 months could create what they called a “pull factor”, increasing false claims and potentially creating a loophole in the immigration system. I have sympathy for my Government’s view, yet I believe those fears are well overstated. After all, victims cannot refer themselves in to the national referral mechanism; that can only be done by a designated first responder, which is an accountable organisation. It is also the role of the two-stage national referral mechanism process, as specified, to filter out any false claims that are not immediately identifiable by first responders.
The Government have also cautioned that false claims may be made by foreign criminals to avoid deportation. Yet, surely, if one really thinks about it, anyone seeking to avoid deportation by claiming to be a victim will be able to enter the NRM, irrespective of what support is or is not available after the NRM process. That argument does not seem to stack up when one considers it.
In the case of confirmed victims who also have criminal records, it is important to balance their vulnerability as a victim with the need to protect the public. That is precisely what the victim support Bill does, through an exception that excludes serious sexual and violent offenders who pose a genuine and immediate threat from receiving leave to remain. That is made clear in the Bill that Lord McColl initiated in the Lords and that is still sitting without, I think, much chance of a Second Reading in the Commons.
The suggestions that people will game the system mask the sad truth—this is perhaps the most dangerous part of what I am saying—that many victims are very reluctant to disclose their genuine circumstances or identify as a victim because of threats from their traffickers. We should not underestimate that: those threats and that fear and the system making them worried mean that they will not disclose those things to the authorities.
The Home Office is aware of that. After all, as I understand it, it has been made explicitly clear in the guidance provided to frontline staff, which is an interesting point. Surely the far greater problem is the sizeable number of people identified as potential victims who do not consent to enter the NRM each year. That must be the giveaway as to where the problem arises. Persuading victims to provide the police with information about their traffickers is often difficult, with a perceived lack of long-term protection as a key factor.
Of all that I am saying today, this is the bit that worries me the most; we are forcing many people to dive down again, back into that black place, because they are genuinely scared of what will happen and they believe the protections are simply not there. It is our purpose in this place to speak for them.
A support service that leaves people at risk of further trafficking cannot be cost-effective. The National Audit Office highlighted this in its 2017 report, saying the Home Office has
“no assurance that victims are not trafficked again, potentially undermining the support given through the NRM”.
That is an important point; the NAO is basically opening up the question of whether this really works and, if it does not work, how it can be cost-effective.
I genuinely welcome the digitised NRM system that is being introduced—it is a good move—but recording that victims have been re-trafficked is only a start and cannot be a proper answer to this problem. The issue is ultimately one of prevention, ensuring they are not vulnerable to re-trafficking, stopping that as early as possible and giving them that assurance.
To conclude, although I understand that time is running out for the victim support Bill to receive a Second Reading in the Commons during this parliamentary Session—time is running out for quite a lot of other things as well, it must be said—the legislation is none the less incredibly well suited to inclusion in the Queen’s Speech later this year. I would love nothing more than for the Government to look to adopt the provisions and recommendations in the Bill. It is not a single-party issue but a cross-party one, as I hope will be reflected in the comments made by my colleagues on both sides of the House.
I ask my hon. Friend the Minister to give this matter serious consideration. Such a Bill would show a genuinely compassionate Government, as I believe them to be, who have every right to be proud of their record but none the less seek to reaffirm their commitment to eradicating modern slavery. I hope she will also make time to meet me to discuss the proposed section 50 regulations prior to their being tabled.
I am committed to ensuring that the necessary steps are taken to ensure that the Modern Slavery Act is effective and offers victims the support they very much need. We have made a good start, but we should not sit back. We must to recognise that all we have done is to expose the problems that exist within the system. If we exist for anything in this place, ultimately, we exist to be the spokespeople for the most vulnerable, who have nobody else to speak for them. That is why I asked for this debate.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Betts. I congratulate the right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr Duncan Smith) not only on securing this important debate, but on his excellent presentation and the content of his remarks. I must say that I agreed with every single word.
There are many officers of the all-party parliamentary group here supporting the right hon. Gentleman, and they will no doubt make their own contributions, but I want to start out by echoing what he has just said; this is not a party political issue. From my other challenges to her, the Minister will know that although the Modern Slavery Act was a tremendous, landmark piece of legislation, and it would be ridiculous not to say so, it would be remiss of us not to say that there are issues we need to raise. We are not doing that to be negative; we want to challenge the system by saying, “Come on, wake up and let’s do things a bit quicker.”
I will put the matter in context for those who watch our debates. Here we are in this beautiful Parliament, in this wonderful room, yet half a mile away—a quarter of a mile, even—there will be people who are victims of trafficking and slavery. It is unbelievable in 2019 that that is the case. When the right hon. Gentleman spoke with such passion, it was to say to the system, “Surely we can do better.”
The statistics that the National Crime Agency released just a week or so ago are stark. They represent huge increases. I know we can say that that is because of greater awareness and such things, but when we have figures showing a 36% increase in the number of referrals in a year, there is no doubt that they signify a growing problem in our country.
I say to the Minister that it has come to something when the starkest increase in those figures is in the identification of child victims of exploitation. It is unbelievable to see that the referrals for children rose by 48% in comparison with 2017. They come into the care of the state, and many of them are, as the right hon. Gentleman said, going missing. Of course nobody wants that to happen, but when ECPAT UK—Every Child Protected Against Trafficking—is telling us that, according to its research, 15% go missing at least once, and 190 went missing permanently, it is a national disgrace. It is not that the Minister wants that to be happening, but it is a wake-up call for all of us to say that we should do more and do better.
Victim support is a crucial part of this. I say to the Minister that I cannot for the life of me understand why the Government are to an extent resisting Lord McColl’s Bill. Everything that the Government do is to try to improve victim support. If people have a conclusive grounds decision under the NRM, they will get 45 days. For most people, it is just impossible for their immigration status, even if it is a case of special discretionary leave, to be sorted out in that time, so they go into a twilight world. That is the reality.
I say to the Minister again that the whole system is bedevilled by the clash between the desire to support victims, and the immigration system. I think that we have to be a bit braver as a country and say that of course we want a fair and effective immigration system, and one that works, but we are not going to have a system that, because that is our priority, puts victims of trafficking and slavery at risk. There is a policy clash, and I know that the Minister is aware of it. I suspect that she goes and argues that and perhaps does not get the response that she wants, because in my mind I can hear her arguing what I am saying and others in government saying, “Unfortunately, we have to be careful, because it will be a pull factor and people will be swarming into the country on the basis of saying that they are victims of trafficking.” That is nonsense, and the Government need to sort it out. I very much support Lord McColl’s Bill.
I shall conclude my remarks to keep to six minutes, but I want to challenge the Minister. Section 49 of the Modern Slavery Act 2015, which relates to guidance about supporting victims, has still not been enacted three or four years after the Bill was, so the statutory guidance has not been dealt with. I know that the Minister is to consult on it and that different groups are interested. I should have declared at the beginning of my speech my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests about my links to the Human Trafficking Foundation. I just say to the Minister that there is a desire for broader consultation on the matter with the sector, and I think that that is important.
Finally, if we look at the child victims of trafficking in the system, it is astonishing to see that the majority of those children are British. The majority of trafficked children referred to the national referral mechanism are British. Surely it is a wake-up call to all of us, when we lecture the rest of the world, that we have a real problem ourselves—generally, because of county lines, and because of the experts. All of us know that this is a very real challenge. The children of our country deserve better and the victims of this country deserve much better support than they are getting at present. That is the challenge for all of us, and I know that the Minister will take it forward.
It is a huge pleasure to follow my right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr Duncan Smith) and the hon. Member for Gedling (Vernon Coaker), who chairs the all-party group. I have the honour of being one of his vice-chairs, and if I may say so, he does a very good job indeed in leading the group.
William Wilberforce was and remains one of my heroes and inspirations for coming into politics. As my right hon. Friend said, it is unbelievable that the practice that Wilberforce campaigned against so forcefully, over 40 years, all those centuries ago is still so prevalent today. I believe in social justice, and this could not be a more significant social justice issue, as the chair of the all-party group so powerfully said.
I have worked with many non-governmental organisations in this space. I shall mention just a few: the International Justice Mission, Hope for Justice, STOP THE TRAFFIK and the A21 Campaign. There are many others. If there are some organisations represented behind me in the Public Gallery that I have not mentioned, they should consider themselves praised as well. They all do brilliant work and we need every single one of them in this fight.
This issue got a little more real for me when in leafy south Bedfordshire, in a wonderful village in my constituency one Sunday morning, 200 police officers went on to a Traveller site and liberated 24 victims of modern slavery, 19 of whom were British, just to follow up the point made by the chair of the all-party group. What was even worse was that the same thing happened again on that site on two subsequent occasions. We are here this morning to stop re-trafficking. In my constituency, I have had that example of where this has happened again and again on the same site. That is not something that any of us should stand for.
I declare a slight family interest, in that my daughter Camilla is doing sterling work, as a medical student, to explain to other clinicians the role of the national health service in spotting victims of modern slavery in order to bring it to an end. That is so important and I will explain why. A few years ago the all-party group met a young English learning disabled man who had been kept as a slave on a Traveller site in Wales. He broke his leg during that time and was taken to a hospital in Wales. No one spotted that he had no English family with him. Irish Travellers were dealing with his care; they got him in and got him out and did not take him back for any of his physiotherapy. He was then held prisoner, effectively, as a slave, for many more years. We met his parent in the all-party group, and one thing that they asked for was that national insurance contributions for his time in slavery be credited to him so that he did not lose out on his state pension. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister might update us on that issue; I have mentioned it to her before. I think that she was battling with the Treasury on it and perhaps she will have good news for us later. What happened to that young man was a disgrace.
That goes to the heart of the debate. It is about stopping people being re-trafficked, whether the same thing is being done again and again just at one site, as happened in my constituency, or whether the wonderful clinicians and other people—the doctors, nurses and healthcare assistants—who work in our NHS are failing to take an opportunity to spot that someone is a victim of modern slavery. That is why this issue matters so much.
My hon. Friend talks about medics having a responsibility, but we, too, have a responsibility. I am sure that many of us unwittingly go to car washes and nail bars where there are undoubtedly victims of slavery. We need to be more aware of that and get that message out.
I go to more car washes than nail bars, but my hon. Friend is absolutely right. Actually, I can think of one place that I go to and I feel guilty that I have not yet checked what is happening there. I think that there is a campaign—perhaps other hon. Members will speak about it—whereby we can check; I think that there is some sort of certification scheme. It would be a good thing for all of us to make those checks.
I think that we will get more prosecutions if we have a longer period of safety for people. I note that England and Wales are behind Scotland and Northern Ireland. As a proud Englishman as well as a proud Brit, I am not happy with that; I want us to be among the best in this country. I note the comments of the National Audit Office, which are sensible and measured. It is looking across Government and looking at what works and at value for money for the taxpayer. The NAO wants change. There is also the Crown Prosecution Service and the cross-party Select Committee on Work and Pensions; all are making the same points.
It strikes me that we have a proud tradition of giving asylum in this country, and rightly so—it is part of what makes us civilised—and asylum is given on the basis of a well-founded fear of persecution, but for the people we are discussing, it is not a case of a well-founded fear; they are actual victims. They have actually suffered persecution; there is not a fear that it might happen. Of course, for some asylum seekers, it has also already happened. Why do we treat victims of modern slavery, who have been persecuted, worse than asylum seekers who have a well-justified fear? Of course, giving asylum is the right thing to do, as I said, for asylum seekers. We know that the individuals we are discussing today cannot self-refer; they will go through all the proper immigration procedures.
I was pleased to see, in the Free for Good briefing that we were sent, that there is an onus on the home countries of foreign victims of modern slavery to do their bit to provide a safe, independent future for those victims in their home countries. That may not be possible for everyone, but we should put pressure on some of the home countries, whether it be Nigeria, Vietnam or wherever. Perhaps people need a new identity. Perhaps they need help to move back to a different part of their home country so that they are safe there as well.
I am grateful to speak on this most important subject. I congratulate the right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr Duncan Smith) on securing this debate and on his outstanding introduction. My only criticism is that he did not leave much for the rest of us to add—he truly was brilliant. I encourage people who read the transcript to share his speech far and wide, so that people can understand where we are, how we got here and where we might go.
It is important that, when we meet people in the course of our normal work, we say that this is happening under our noses. My hon. Friend the Member for Gedling (Vernon Coaker) mentioned that it is happening close to here. We walk past it and drive past it. We might unwittingly go into such establishments. It happens on our estates. It behoves us to make a stand and say that it is unacceptable in all of its forms in our community.
There is a high level of understanding of this across the House and everybody is appalled, but we have to ask whether we are doing enough. As the right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green said, we brought in world-leading flagship legislation but, three years on, has it done what we want it to do and could we develop it? That does not imply criticism of Ministers or the Home Office. In many ways we are pioneers, but that means we will have to learn along the way, by looking at what we can do better.
I echo the call for Lord McColl’s Bill to have Government time in the Chamber. If we cannot, what is the hold-up? We know that 45 days passes in the blink of an eye for people recovering from this incredibly traumatic experience. My hon. Friend the Member for Gedling touched on the practicalities of entering the system. From our personal casework, we know that 45 days is no time whatsoever to help people to unpick exceptionally difficult trauma and understand, having had all their agency removed, what they wish to do with their life. For many people, 12 months would feel like a tight period of time, but it would give those individuals better time for proper reflection.
Not everybody would need that. I was with a brilliant charity in Nottingham a few weeks ago—the Micu Bogdan Foundation—which specialises in support services for Romanian men, specifically in helping Romanian men go home if that is what they wish to do. Some do not want that, but many do. To have that quick contact and then leave is absolutely fine, but we need to put the victim at the heart of that, and to finally hear their voice after they have had it taken away for so long. To give them that agency back is a profound thing for us to do. I am interested to hear the Minister’s reflections on rights to work. We have a high level of political consensus that work is important for an individual to build their life around and give them dignity, so I am not convinced that having someone sat staring at four walls and reliving a trauma is the most effective way to help them rebuild their lives.
I know the Minister has put a lot of personal investment into reforming and improving the national referral mechanism. When I talk to victims, I always ask them about their experience in the NRM after I have asked them about their experience being trafficked and exploited. The two experiences are eerily similar. They say, “I don’t really know what’s happening. I don’t have a choice over where I am living. I have been moved at short notice.” That will not do. We need clarity in the NRM. The system might be complicated because of the nature of investigations, but we have to get at least a little more dignity into it. I know the Minister is committed to that, but I would be interested to hear a little bit more on it.
We should welcome the review of the Modern Slavery Act chaired by the right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Frank Field). That is a good sign that there is a genuine desire for dialogue and improvement in the Home Office. I hope we look at what comes out of that. I recently left the Home Affairs Committee, where the hon. Member for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East (Stuart C. McDonald) does outstanding work on these matters. I hope that, when the slavery report comes out, the Home Office will listen and try to improve.
There are many causes for optimism. I am pleased that 85 councils have signed the Co-operative party’s charter against modern slavery. I am a proud Co-operative party MP. I bug the Minister a lot on the enforcement and monitoring of section 54 of the Modern Slavery Act. We are moving, but I would like us to be moving a little bit quicker. I hope we hear more about what the Minister plans to do with those who do not comply, but big business—a turnover of £37 million or more—is only one part of it. The collective purchasing power of local Government is absolutely massive. Having local authorities come together to say, “We don’t want to be part of this either and we will ensure that we are not,” and holding themselves to that section 54 standard is very good, but Ministers may want to consider whether the public sector should be covered by it more generally.
There is a lot to reflect on. In a positive spirit, we should be proud that we have world-leading legislation, and that other countries have picked up the banner and sought to do the same. Three years on, it is important to say that we share a view that we want to get victims out of their difficult situations, and help them to rebuild and live a full and happy life. We now need to ask whether what we are doing in statute promotes that. As I said, that does not imply criticism—it is just time to develop the legislation.
Two days ago, 25 March, marked the International Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade. Tragically, slavery is not merely an historical relic. In fact, more people are in slavery today than during all the years of the transatlantic slave trade between the 15th and 19th centuries combined. A staggering 40 million people globally are victims of modern day slavery. That excludes tens of millions of child labourers.
Through the Modern Slavery Act 2015, the UK sought to take a lead in tackling this tragic scourge of our age, but there is unfinished business. Trafficked victims need more support, hence I fully support the Modern Slavery (Victim Support) Bill, and the excellent speech and work of my right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr Duncan Smith). The Bill seeks to improve the assistance and support for victims over a 12-month period, which is still short given the trauma they have experienced. Much support is needed, such as safe accommodation, financial assistance, medical help, counselling, a support worker, appropriate information, translation and interpretation services, legal assistance and help with representation.
I want to focus on the fact that helping victims to rebuild their lives in this way should give them increased stability, confidence and trust with the authorities, so that they can engage with police, prosecutors, courts and others, which can be daunting even for those who have not been through a traumatic experience. That is essential, if we are to prosecute and convict the perpetrators of this terrible crime of selling a fellow human being, and to deter others from doing the same.
I am pleased to see the Minister in her place. In a debate in this Chamber on 9 October, 2018, she said:
“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”.—[Official Report, 9 October 2018; Vol. 647, c. 82WH.]
I would be grateful if she could update us on that work. Without better engagement and enforcement, we will never see this trade stop. That will require better engagement with the victims.
Reducing modern day slavery requires a far greater increase in the number of successful prosecutions of traffickers. In many cases, victims have vital information, which can be the key to achieving convictions. However, unless they are well supported, and have stability and confidence in their future, many will be simply too afraid to engage with the police. It can take a significant time for them to begin to trust enough to engage with prosecutions.
We need to increase the number of successful prosecutions. The National Audit Office report, “Reducing modern slavery”, said that
“victims agreeing to act as witnesses and then being available for the trial”
is a key complexity of bringing modern slavery cases to court. In January, a representative of the Crown Prosecution Service told the Home Affairs Committee that a Cabinet Office deep dive into the reasons for the low number of prosecutions highlighted the
“lack of sustained support for victims”
as a key factor. The former Independent Anti-slavery Commissioner stated that
“one of the best forms of intelligence and information is from the victims, and if we are continually letting them down, how are we ever going to get the prosecutions and the confidence of victims to come forward?”.
The Work and Pensions Committee has recognised that a lack of sustained support is a barrier to successful prosecutions and leaves traffickers at liberty to exploit future victims. Last year, Nusrat Uddin, a solicitor with experience of representing victims of modern slavery, undertook research into the different support systems available for victims in the UK and other countries. Her report highlights:
“The prosecution process can be a long and complicated process and without this support in place, victims struggle to engage”
with the criminal justice system. After comparing different systems, she concludes that
“both the US and the other European countries offer long term support workers”
for as long as victims of trafficking require. Since the enactment of the Modern Slavery Act 2015, she continues,
“there has been increased funding announced for law enforcement dealing with trafficking, however this research shows that funding will be futile without appropriate investment in support services.”
Cases have been reported of victims becoming homeless after leaving a safe house and of the police being unable to trace them to take evidence. Those findings are echoed by case studies shared with the Home Affairs Committee by a representative of the Snowdrop Project in December, who reported that a survivor who had given evidence against his traffickers had said:
“If I wasn’t being supported right now, I wouldn’t think about going and giving evidence against my traffickers”.
His traffickers were eventually sentenced to a total of 43 years in prison—convictions that would most likely not have happened if the man had not been given support through the process.
We need the Government to make sustained support a priority, not just because it is right for victims, but because it is vital to increasing prosecutions and stopping criminals exploiting more vulnerable people. It is a matter of promoting justice and stopping one of the gravest injustices of our, or any, age.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Betts. I congratulate the right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr Duncan Smith) on securing this debate on a vital issue and on the timeliness of having it during the week of the International Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Gedling (Vernon Coaker) for his work as chair of the all-party parliamentary group.
We have already heard about the inadequacy of domestic legislation on victim support, and we all know that referrals of suspected victims of modern slavery in the UK have risen dramatically in the last five years. Between 2017 and 2018, according to the National Crime Agency, the number of potential victims of modern slavery referred by the West Midlands police to the national referral mechanism rose from 85 to 117—an increase of 32%—of which 28 were exploited as minors. Of the 45 referred by Birmingham City Council in 2018, 38 were exploited as minors, which is the most in any local authority. We cannot afford to be complacent about this problem.
I welcome the important steps that Birmingham City Council is taking to tackle modern slavery, including producing a modern slavery transparency statement to comply with section 54 of the Modern Slavery Act 2015, which requires transparency in supply chains. Can the Minister tell us what the Government are doing to ensure that they are compliant in all their procurement and outsourcing? The 2015 Act gave courts the power to make reparation orders against anyone convicted of modern slavery offences, which requires them to pay damages to those who had suffered at their hands. Can the Minister tell us how many such orders have been made, what the total sum paid in reparations is, and what the average payout has been?
According to Hestia’s report this week, prosecutions for perpetrators of modern slavery offences remain low, with only 7% of recorded cases of modern slavery being referred to the Crown Prosecution Service. Does the Minister think that is good enough? What steps are being taken to ensure that perpetrators of modern slavery face justice?
Reparations are not enough; the support required for survivors is more than just monetary. Unless modern slavery is tackled head on, local authorities will continue to have to pick up the pieces, and our already stretched local support services will obviously face additional pressures. Survivors deserve the best care and the Government cannot continue to abdicate responsibility by palming that off. First, however, we need to identify potential victims, so frontline staff need training and expertise on signs and indications, and they need a clear and obvious route to report potential cases to be investigated.
Victims deserve the ability to rebuild their lives following the statutory support period that they are entitled to. Initiatives such as the Co-operative Group’s Bright Future programme seek to help victims back into work. Will the Minister support the extension of that scheme to other co-ops and businesses?
Modern slavery is not just an issue in the UK. Alliance 8.7 is the global partnership to end forced labour, modern slavery, human trafficking and child labour around the world and it estimates that around the world 40 million people are in modern slavery and 152 million children are in child labour. Gender-based inequalities and discrimination are the primary causes of slavery for women and girls, according to Urmila Bhoola, UN special rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery. Of the 5 million people who are victims of forced commercial sexual exploitation, more than 99% are female. Meanwhile, men are more likely to be victims of forced labour in construction.
We can take steps domestically and internationally. What discussions has the Minister had with colleagues to ensure that businesses operating in the UK detail all the actions taken to investigate their global supply chains for modern slavery and labour violations, including forced labour?
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Betts. I thank my right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr Duncan Smith) for securing the debate.
Modem slavery is no less abhorrent than the appalling inhumanity of earlier centuries. In that era, Robert Burns described, “Man’s inhumanity to man”, which still exists to this day. As has been mentioned, William Wilberforce’s name is synonymous with the anti-slavery movement, having devoted much, if not all, of his life to the cause. In 1807, he finally convinced Parliament to prohibit the slave trade, although it was not until 1883 that there was what we believed to be a total abolition of slavery. It is unforgiveable that parts of our society have regressed to such an extent that that outlawed practice appears to have been resurrected.
Today’s victims have their personal identity documents seized by traffickers to entrap them, and they are intimidated with threatened violence should they seek freedom from what I describe as the blight of bondage. That prevents victims from reaching out for the help that should be there for them. It is unacceptable that human trafficking involving men, woman and children happens at all, that it is rife throughout many parts of our country, the United Kingdom, and that those from both within and outwith the UK are subject to it.
In 2017, there was a 38% rise in the number of trafficking referrals to Police Scotland, which I applaud for having a dedicated human trafficking unit. The force has issued advice to landlords and letting agencies to raise awareness that trafficked people often live in or are forced to work in rented properties. However, we must be alert to the potential for human trafficking on our doorstep, as has been said, and we must ensure that we as members of the public are proactive in reporting any suspicions to our respective police forces. The police cannot do it alone—they need our help to gather intelligence.
It is to be welcomed that the Scottish Government have issued “Slavery and human trafficking: guidance for businesses” and are providing funding to Migrant Help and TARA—the Trafficking Awareness Raising Alliance—which are two organisations that provide welcome support to victims of trafficking. In 2017, the Prime Minister launched a call to action to eliminate modern slavery and human trafficking. I am pleased that the call was endorsed by more than 75 other countries, which have pledged to act to eradicate such repulsive practices. Pressure must be applied on other countries and nations to end modern slavery.
I trust that all Governments will continue to play their part in tackling predatory traffickers, including by ensuring that they are swiftly brought to justice and receive sentences proportionate to their crimes, and that they will ensure that the victims receive appropriate support to recover from what I can only imagine must be a horrific set of circumstances to experience and live in. I reinforce that by specifically asking the Minister to work with others to bring an end to the scourge that is modern slavery and to introduce legislation to assist in achieving that worthwhile and important goal.
I congratulate the right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr Duncan Smith)—I nearly said “north London”, to be quite honest—on securing this debate. I also thank the Minister, as I know she takes this issue very seriously.
I will echo some of the points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Gedling (Vernon Coaker) about the non-party political nature of this debate. I have been to a number of debates on this issue in this House where, regardless of political party, of where a Member comes from in the country and of our personal politics, there is a clear understanding that this is a problem that we can tackle. Collectively, we have the ability to tackle it and Lord McColl’s Bill gives us the vehicle to tackle it. If we can make progress with that, we will take a huge step forward in securing equality and justice for those people who have suffered at the hands of some of the most unscrupulous people in our country.
I also agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham North (Alex Norris) about the work being done by the right hon. Members for Birkenhead (Frank Field) and for Basingstoke (Mrs Miller). The Modern Slavery Act 2015 was a starting point; it was never an end point. It was never meant to be the be-all and end-all of the process. It was introduced to say, “We have a problem. Here is how we can start to fix it, but this has to evolve over time to reflect the nature of the problem that we have in this country.”
I fear that modern slavery on a small scale—the individual cases—does not necessarily get the traction that it deserves. I will just tell a little story, if I may, about a constituent of mine, who contacted me regarding concerns that he had about social care. He is an elderly gentleman who lives in a very nice part of my constituency. He did not want to sell his house to go into residential care, so he told me that he had read about a scheme, one that he thought was very sensible and very logical, whereby he could have somebody come from abroad who could live in his house, who he would feed and give a bit of pocket money to, and in return they would help him with his domestic care arrangements. In his mind, that was a perfectly acceptable, almost magnanimous, thing that he could do to help somebody from overseas who he knew was less fortunate than him. I talked him through it, explaining that that was actually modern slavery—that was somebody who would be in tied employment to him. He did not see it like that. He does now, I hasten to add, but at the time he saw it as a way both to help somebody and to get some of the help that he needs.
As we talk about the process going forward, we need to be very clear that, as my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham North said, the big companies will be covered by the 2015 Act and by the declarations, but these smaller situations, where individuals do not realise that they are perpetrating a crime and the victims do not realise that they are being subjected to a crime, need to be teased out.
The hon. Member for South West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous) talked about asylum seekers versus those who are victims of modern slavery. I think the reason for that is because somebody can self-refer to the asylum programme but they cannot self-refer to the modern slavery referral mechanism. Could the Minister say whether that is something that the Government will look at?
I will not take up any more time, Mr Betts, but all I will say finally is that we know, because we have debated this in this Chamber and in the main Chamber on numerous occasions, that there is a growing problem, a growing need for change and a growing opportunity for change. Organisations such as the Co-operative party, whose charter has been signed by many cross-party councils, show that there are practical solutions to offer help. The Co-operative Group, through its Bright Future programme, offers job to people who have been found to be victims of modern slavery. However, these are all ad hoc things that are being done in spite of Government rather than with Government.
All I hope is that, at the end of this debate, the Minister can take back to the Government and the Leader of the House the message that some time to debate Lord McColl’s Bill is all we are asking for, so that we can make progress and help those people who need our help most.
I thank all Members for their co-operation; that is very good indeed. We move on now to the Front Benchers, who will have 10 minutes each, so that there are a few minutes for the Member who secured the debate to wind up at the end.
It is good to see you in the Chair, Mr Betts. I pay tribute to the right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr Duncan Smith), not only for securing this debate but for the work that he and Lord McColl have done on their legislation, and indeed for his very powerful and comprehensive speech.
I also pay tribute to the all-party parliamentary group on human trafficking and modern slavery, which is chaired very ably by the hon. Member for Gedling (Vernon Coaker) —I pay tribute to him and all his colleagues from the group. I have to say that, on the very rare occasions that I make it along to a meeting of the APPG, the knowledge and expertise on display puts me to shame, but I share the APPG’s commitment to the cause, as all hon. Members do, which has been demonstrated by the range of excellent and comprehensive speeches we have heard.
It is appropriate to pay tribute, as the hon. Member for South West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous) did, to all the fantastic groups providing support to the victims of these awful crimes, as well as campaigning for reform. As hon. Members have said, it is tragic that this range of crimes is so prevalent in the 21st century in the United Kingdom. The figures and the historical perspective provided by the hon. Member for Congleton (Fiona Bruce) were horrifying.
The Modern Slavery Act 2015 was welcome and world-leading. Of course, it was very quickly followed by equivalents—indeed, almost replicas—in Northern Ireland and Scotland. The review of the legislation announced by the Government was therefore also welcome and, as anticipated, the reports produced by the review group have been both thorough and helpful. However, as I understand it, the scope of the review does not address head-on the issue of support for survivors, so this debate is a timely and welcome way to fill that gap.
Members have raised a number of issues, primarily about immigration status and the possibility of a statutory support scheme, so I will address those first of all. Regarding immigration status, the starting point has to be the Work and Pensions Committee report on modern slavery, which made powerful points about the complexity and the dubiety surrounding victims’ immigration status and their access to support after going through the NRM process. Some victims will be recognised as refugees; there will be a smaller number of non-European economic area nationals who obtain discretionary leave automatically; and there will be a similarly small number of EEA nationals who can apply for that discretionary leave. Other EEA nationals will find it difficult to show that they are exercising treaty rights at all and will have significant difficulty in accessing benefits. Many more victims will have no immigration leave at all.
During the course of the Work and Pensions Committee inquiry into modern slavery, Baroness Butler-Sloss, who is obviously an expert, told the Committee that the lack of any form of automatic entitlement for victims of trafficking while they take even basic steps to rebuild their lives is a “ludicrous situation”. The previous anti-slavery commissioner pointed out that there is precedent in the two years’ leave given to victims of modern slavery who are here under the immigration rules as domestic servants.
The Committee recommended that all confirmed victims of modern slavery be given at least one year’s leave to remain with recourse to benefits and services. Even though that is not what every single victim would want, as the hon. Member for Nottingham North (Alex Norris) pointed out—he is very sadly missed on the Home Affairs Committee—it would provide significant support and encouragement for victims of modern slavery.
Add to that the simple fact that, if imminent removal from the country is a realistic consequence of coming forward as a victim of trafficking, it makes it harder to encourage them to come forward in the first place, and therefore it also makes it more difficult for us to be able to prosecute the traffickers and the perpetrators of these crimes. For all those reasons, we support the recommendations of the Work and Pensions Committee on automatic immigration status.
I support the assessment of the right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green of the pull-factor arguments sometimes put by the Government. I add the simple point that we should build our system around fear of what those who want to abuse it might do. First and foremost, the system has to be built and shaped around the needs of victims, and it is an open-and-shut case for automatic immigration leave.
Members have highlighted the fact that there is no statutory provision for support in the 2015 Act. Such a provision was written into the slightly later legislation in Northern Ireland and Scotland. That highlights the benefit of going second, when it is possible to reflect and build on what has gone before. Groups working on behalf of victims believe that the statutory underpinning of support is helpful, and the Government should address that and look to replicate it.
The Human Trafficking and Exploitation (Criminal Justice and Support for Victims) Act (Northern Ireland) 2015 came before the Modern Slavery Act 2015—it was passed in January 2015—yet we had that statutory provision for support beyond the 45 days. However, he will know that that support is constrained—it is provided only if a victim has leave to remain in the United Kingdom. While recognising that immigration matters are still reserved matters, we see that any future change would have a knock-on impact, so that the service provision in Scotland and Northern Ireland—albeit that we are ahead of the curve at this stage—would need to be replicated for victims who do not have entitlement to remain.
I am very grateful to the hon. Member for correcting me and he makes a valid point about how all these things are rolled up together.
On the hon. Gentleman’s point about the length of support, the Government have moved from 15 to 45 days, which is very welcome. The Scottish Government recently consulted with victims and groups that support them, and opted for an extension to 90 days. I am not engaging in a bidding war here, but simply making an attempt to best reflect the complex process of recovering from the trauma of being trafficked. There is a good case that a period of 90 days better allows people to move on from the NRM process to access housing, to apply for social security, and to apply for discretionary leave, to which Members have referred. We may need to go further in Scotland, but it is about looking at the evidence and seeing what works best.
This has been mentioned, but I hope that the Government desist in their drive to cut support to those who are going through the NRM, which was struck down in court late last year. In my view, the level of support for asylum seekers is outrageously low. If the Government want to level the rates, they should be levelling up and not down, and saving themselves money by strengthening the right to work for asylum seekers and those going through the NRM, as pointed out by the hon. Member for Nottingham North.
The Chair of the all-party parliamentary group on human trafficking and modern slavery, the hon. Member for Gedling, highlighted the number of kids who are going missing. The review panel has only just published its third interim report on support for children. At first glance, it seems to acknowledge that the Government have done good things, but also makes positive recommendations about what can be done better. It mentions the acceleration of the roll-out of independent child trafficking advocates, and the length of time they are allowed to engage with children.
Although beyond the scope of the review group support, it was noticeable that it appears to be positive about the fact that, in Northern Ireland and Scotland, all unaccompanied asylum-seeking children had access to a guardian, so that support arrives even before NRM decisions. That does not address the fact that the majority of child victims are UK citizens, a point made by the hon. Member for Gedling, but it flags up the possibility that providing support for kids who are going through the NRM is one way of stopping so many of them from going missing.
There are a million other issues that we could have touched upon and have not, such as national insurance, public awareness raising, asking people to be vigilant, legal aid, reparation procedures, police and frontline training, and so on. In reality, we probably need an afternoon in the Chamber to discuss all aspects. I recognise again that there is commitment across the House to tackling this problem and a genuine desire to get as close as possible to eliminating it. We will continue to revisit the subject and keep pressure on the Home Office to deliver, but I recognise that there is commitment from every part of the House. I thank the right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green again for bringing the debate.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Betts. It is also a pleasure to speak from the Front Bench in support of my friend, the right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr Duncan Smith). We have campaigned together on many issues and I congratulate him on his excellent speech.
During my time as an MP I have spent many hours working with vulnerable groups, from prostitutes to victims of trafficking. I have heard some terribly heartbreaking stories about victims of modern slavery, who have been exploited, terrorised, trafficked and stripped of their rights. Not 10 miles from here I cried with a woman who was forced to sell sex, and whose children were used as a weapon against her to prevent her from reporting the situation. In every nail bar in the country that I visit, I check, like Miss Marple, to see whether there are any signs of trafficking. That is not because I am nosy—although I am—but because it is so easy today for people to be trafficked and forced to do work that they should not be forced into doing.
Support and assistance for potential victims of modern slavery does not have statutory underpinning. That creates several issues, not least the fact that vulnerable individuals are left open to potentially being re-trafficked. That is why it is vital that significant support is available to these individuals, to help them in their devastating situations and stop them being re-trafficked.
Figures, which Members will be aware of, released by the National Crime Agency a couple of weeks ago showed that the number of reported potential trafficking and modern slavery victims had risen by 36% in a year. A hugely worrying trend in that increase was the alarming number of young people. Referrals for minors who were potential victims rose by 48% on the previous year’s records; that is partly down to children being forced to sell drugs as part of the county lines phenomenon.
ECPAT UK reported that children make up nearly half of all victims of modern slavery in the UK. They are involved in labour exploitation, sexual exploitation, domestic servitude and organ harvesting. Central Government fund an annual £9 million contract for the delivery of specialist support in England and Wales to adult victims. That is not enough to support the adults and children who are victims or potential victims of modern slavery, and the Government must properly resource and fund services to do that.
Worryingly, the Human Trafficking Foundation has highlighted the lack of records about what happens to victims once they have left the referral mechanism. The fact that hugely vulnerable individuals are being lost from the system demonstrates the real danger that they will be re-trafficked, and the fact that they can just disappear highlights the worrying lack of support for these victims. There are currently no guarantees for those who seek help, so it is important that steps are taken to guarantee support for potential and confirmed victims of modern slavery. The National Audit Office concluded that currently the Home Office can offer no assurances that victims are not re-trafficked.
There needs to be a strong, co-ordinated response from all services to tackle modern slavery, and our police forces are at the forefront of that. In 2018, police forces referred 2,084 individuals, but they and other support services must be properly resourced. They must have sufficient funding to support victims and punish the perpetrators of these degrading crimes. It is a matter of urgency that we commit to do more to support survivors of modern slavery, trafficking and domestic violence, to prevent them from being re-trafficked. We must do more to protect the most vulnerable in society.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Betts. I thank my right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr Duncan Smith) for securing this important debate on support for victims of modern slavery. I thank all right hon. and hon. Friends and Members for their collaborative contributions and for challenging me, the Minister, as they are right to do. I thank them for the tone of the debate; it was as is usual in this arena, particularly with Members who are committed to and interested in this subject.
We all agree that modern slavery is a heinous crime, and protecting victims of modern slavery is a responsibility that the Government take extremely seriously. Colleagues have been kind enough to describe the Modern Slavery Act 2015 as a landmark piece of legislation—it is—but we do not rest on our laurels, and we are always looking to improve on it. I hope colleagues understand that a host of measures support the implementation of the Act. As proof, if it is needed, colleagues can take our decision earlier this year to commission an independent review of the Act. The final interim report was published last week. The reports have been extremely interesting and useful, and I will talk later about one in particular.
I am keen to mention the Prime Minister’s call for action at the United Nations. She challenged the rest of the world to pay the same attention to modern slavery as we do, and to join us in our efforts to tackle it. She has set the ambitious target of ridding the world of modern slavery by 2030. Sadly, we all recognise that modern slavery is a crime that knows no international or geographical boundaries.
The hon. Member for Nottingham North (Alex Norris) rightly challenged me on the transparency of supply chains, as set out in section 54 of the Modern Slavery Act 2015. He may be interested to know that after the debate I will be dashing to another part of Westminster to open the 2019 international conference on tackling modern slavery, forced labour and human trafficking in public sector supply chains. At the recent G20 meeting, the Prime Minister announced that the UK would become the first country to publish a modern slavery statement for central Government. We will be publishing that statement later this year, and it will cover work done by all central Government Departments. That is a significant step forward.
My hon. Friend the Member for South West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous) challenged us to look at our own supply chains, whether in car washes or nail bars. He was right to mention car washes. I have on my phone the app “Safe Car Wash”, and a very useful app it is too, although I confess I clean my car less frequently than I get my nails done. The hon. Member for Swansea East (Carolyn Harris) is right to ask questions as her various beauty treatments are performed. Funnily enough, when I was talking to our new independent anti-slavery commissioner, we discussed nail bars. As the beauty industry may or may not know—I do not know whether the letter has gone out—I will be challenging it to ensure that the products employed in its name are used in salons that meet our expectations for the way they treat their members of staff, and the efforts they make to tackle modern slavery.
Similarly, I had the pleasure of visiting Paris just before Paris fashion week for a conference hosted by our British ambassador. The world’s fashion industry, from haute couture all the way through to wonderful high-street brands such as Zara, was in the room to talk about how it can ensure that its supply chains are transparent. As a result, a number of British businesses are designing apps that can help consumers decide whether to purchase an item of clothing, depending on what the app tells them about the transparency and compliance of supply chains in the business that made it. All sorts of things are going on to enable us, as individuals, to do our bit to ensure we do not inadvertently support modern slavery.
Colleagues have rightly and understandably mentioned Lord McColl’s Bill, and I thank Lord McColl for his continued vital work in this arena. I understand that he is supporting the review with his expertise, and I am delighted to hear that. I am sorry to say to Members present that the Government do not support the assertion that victims should be automatically granted leave to remain for 12 months. Consideration of whether an individual is a victim of modern slavery and any decisions as to their immigration status are, and must remain, separate. Such decisions are made on an individual, case-by-case basis, and modern slavery is a broad umbrella term that covers a wide spectrum of crime. As we have heard, victims can have very different experiences and needs, so it is right that our approach to granting discretionary leave takes account of that.
We have concerns that a blanket policy of discretionary leave to remain risks incentivising individuals to make false trafficking claims, diverting support and time away from genuine victims. Indeed, on occasion, caseworkers hear very similar stories from victims, which lead them to think that a claim may not be legitimate. However, we are concerned with ensuring that the immigration system runs alongside the national referral mechanism as efficiently as possible. Non-EEA nationals will receive a conclusive grounds decision at the same time as their discretionary leave decision, unless they are claiming asylum; if they are, they will be considered for asylum before they are considered for discretionary leave, because asylum has its own different forms of leave. All victims are supported until they receive a conclusive grounds decision, regardless of how long that takes—the minimum is 45 days, but it may be longer—and confirmed victims get a further 45 days after that. Non-EEA nationals will receive a conclusive grounds decision and a discretionary leave decision, and they will then have 45 days of support.
Hon. Members rightly and understandably raised concerns about re-trafficking, which is one of the great fears of those who work to support victims, whether in the charitable, third sector or law enforcement space. A number of the reforms I will speak about aim to reduce the risk of re-trafficking. For example, we have extended move-on support from 14 days to 45 days so that victims have more time to transition out of NRM support. We are also testing six new approaches with six local authorities, of which Nottinghamshire is one, to identify best practice in linking victims with local services at the end of the NRM process. That is to increase resilience and guard against further exploitation.
I thank the Minister for the contribution she is making, and I ask her to reflect on whether it is possible for us to collect data on what happens to people when they leave the system after 45 days. At the moment, that data is not collected, so we are unaware of what is going on and what happens to people in those circumstances.
The hon. Gentleman has raised that point with me before; I take his point, and I am alert to it. The process will be complex, but that is not a reason for not doing it, so I am looking into that issue.
There have been reforms to the national referral mechanism, and we have already begun to improve the support that victims receive. As I have said, we extended the period of move-on support in February. Victims now receive 45 days of move-on support, in addition to the minimum 45 days of support received during the recovery and reflection period.
The hon. Member for Gedling (Vernon Coaker) challenged me about the statutory guidance under section 49 of the Act. Guidance is in the process of being drafted, and it has been shared with NGOs. I am keen to get this done as quickly as possible; the hon. Gentleman asked me whether we could have a wider consultation, but frankly, I think we need to get this done. We have shared that draft guidance with NGOs for their feedback, but I am also mindful of the judgment in the case of K & AM v. Secretary of State for the Home Department. I would rather get this done than wait three months, or however long a public consultation takes. However, if colleagues have any observations about the guidance, that would be welcome and gratefully received.
We are identifying more victims than ever before. Last week, the National Crime Agency released the 2018 NRM statistics, which were chilling: 6,993 potential victims were referred to the NRM in 2018, representing a 36% increase since 2017. We are obviously pleased that there is greater awareness of the NRM and how we should treat victims of modern slavery, but it leaves us with the great challenge of how hidden this crime is and the need to help the many thousands of victims who are coming forward. Sadly, we also know about the impact that the phenomenon of county lines is having in this area, which is a subject that many Members have raised. I will address that issue when I come to talk about children.
During proceeding’s on Lord McColl’s Bill and in subsequent conversations, the Home Office has consistently referred to pull factors as the reason why it cannot make some of the recommended changes. When I was Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, that argument was constantly used, but I was never able to track down the evidence for how those pull factors work; quite often, assumptions are made. I wonder whether, if there is evidence of pull factors, the Minister would be prepared to publish it.
The difficulty I have is that, frankly, there are parts that I cannot publish for operational reasons. There is also emerging evidence of people being trafficked into this country to commit benefit fraud; I recently had a discussion about that with the former Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Truro and Falmouth (Sarah Newton). We are conscious, as well, that this is an emerging typology, which we are looking into with the help of the National Crime Agency.
When I was Secretary of State, I went on operations related to that issue—it was in existence even then—and I do not recall that it was cited as a pull factor. Benefit fraud is about people being trafficked, with their families back home being threatened. They are brought through for their names and their details, then dumped into prostitution without any details, and claims are made on their behalf. Those people are forced to come over here, and therefore they do not declare or anything like that. That issue was never used as an example of a pull factor; it is clearly a criminal activity, and we have to crack down on the gangs that are doing it. I do not quite see the pull factor for this relatively small number of people, compared with other matters.
Caseworkers are going through cases, and there are strands of applications coming in with very similar stories. I am limited as to what I can say on this occasion, but I will write to my right hon. Friend within the confines of operational matters.
I am also very sceptical about the pull factor argument. Even if we were to accept that there is a pull factor, is the key point not that safeguards are in place? People cannot self-refer, and a decision has to be made about whether they are a victim before they get any automatic leave. Is that not sufficient to protect against abuse? Why should we be building the system around fear of abuse, rather than the needs of genuine, recognised victims?
We are not building the system around abuse. We are building the system around the fact that, as has already been mentioned, the largest cohort of referrals to the NRM are British. Modern slavery exists in and of itself, and it sits separately from the asylum system. We must ensure that we have support for victims of modern slavery, as we do through the national referral mechanism. Questions of immigration are in addition to the support they will get through the national referral mechanism. Not every victim of modern slavery or human trafficking is a non-EEA national. The statistics, sadly, show that very clearly.
We are launching a digital system later this spring to help to make our delivery of support much more efficient, and that will help first responders to ensure that victims get into the system as quickly as possible. We are seeing faster decision-making times than ever before. We have more than doubled the number of caseworkers working on the NRM. The single competent authority launched in its shadow form in January 2019 and is on track to be fully launched in April. That single, expert unit will make all NRM decisions, regardless of the potential victims’ nationality. That will be a significant step forward, and I hope it will help victims once they are in the system.
In this part of her speech, will the Minister say something about the review process of the Modern Slavery Act 2015? Deliberations are complete and will be with the Government, including measures or recommendations about victim support. For the benefit of the debate, does she know what the consideration of that will be, when the Government expect to respond and whether that response will be published for Parliament so that we can all look at it and discuss it?
I am extremely grateful to the hon. Gentleman, who has helped the review with his expertise. I cannot recall the date off the top of my head, but we have been considering the interim reports as they have been published. We do not want to rush; we want to get it right. Alongside the work on the statutory guidance we are drafting, I am clear that we want a response in good time. We are not going to hang around, but we want to get it right. I very much want to publish it, because Members will want to look at our response.
I must thank the reviewers—the right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Frank Field), my right hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke (Mrs Miller) and Baroness Butler-Sloss—and the secretariat for their work in formulating the reports, which have been incredibly thoughtful and focused in their recommendations. I am considering each interim report. I do not know whether the reviewers want to tie all the reports into one big report at the end, but we will be responding soon.
We are conscious of the responsibilities to ensure that the next victim care contract meets the expectations of everyone involved in tackling modern slavery. It will include landmark reforms such as places of safety, which will provide up to three days of immediate support to victims rescued out of a situation of exploitation by law enforcement. It will include an inspection regime for safe houses. We are working with the Care Quality Commission to develop that, and it will be underpinned by the slavery and trafficking survivor care standards. I am grateful to the sector for its work in drawing that together. In providing support to victims, we must remember that every victim’s journey is different. I visited a safe house recently, and that point was re-emphasised to me by every person and resident I spoke to there.
I reiterate the question I asked the Minister about the re-crediting of national insurance contributions to British citizens who have been victims of modern slavery so that they do not lose out on a full pension. I understand that she may well not have the answer now, but will she please write to me and place a copy of that letter in the Library of the House to let us know where negotiations with the Treasury have got to on that matter?
I thank my hon. Friend for that observation. If I may, I will write to him about that. He raises an important point.
In terms of post-NRM support, the new victim care contract will include drop-in services, which victims will be able to access for up to six months after leaving the NRM, and weekly signposting on health and wellbeing services. I am conscious of the question that my right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green posed about indefinite leave to remain, but I am afraid that I cannot comment because of the outstanding case going on at the moment. We are piloting new approaches with six local authority areas to identify best practice in such support.
Many colleagues spoke about the perilous situation that child victims find themselves in. County lines are very much a factor in the increase in children being referred into the national referral mechanism. We have rolled out independent child trafficking advocates to one third of all local authorities in England and Wales, in line with the commitment I made in July last year. We have adapted the system to reflect the fact that children of British nationality who are members of county lines often have different needs from children who perhaps do not speak English and have come from overseas.
I am conscious of the time. I very much welcome the findings of the independent review of the Modern Slavery Act on ICTAs, in particular. The recommendations in the report are child-focused. We are considering the recommendations for improvements that we can make to the service. I confirm that the Government are committed to rolling out that important additional support nationally.
Colleagues mentioned prosecuting offenders. Those were important comments, but I make a slight plea. I know that Members will bear with me if I make the observation that one reason why the withdrawal agreement is so important is so that we have the implementation period—[Interruption.] I have to say it. In the implementation period, all our law enforcement partnerships will continue, and that is so important in tackling modern slavery. Apologies to everyone who thought they were going to escape the ‘B’ word.
I am grateful for colleagues’ contributions, and I look forward to continuing to work with them on this important topic.
I have only a very short time, so I will try to speed through the two points I want to make. I will not follow my hon. Friend the Minister and talk about the provisions of the withdrawal agreement; I simply want to focus on the debate and two issues that it raised.
The 12 months of support proposed by the Modern Slavery (Victim Support) Bill will surely give victims greater support and stability. It is interesting—my hon. Friend the Member for South West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous) raised this point—that unlike someone granted asylum, someone who is confirmed to be a victim of modern-day slavery has no automatic entitlement to ongoing support and residency. Almost the most important point is that we are therefore not able to check that they are safe. They will not come forward to give evidence, we will not get prosecutions and by not coming forward, they are more likely to slide back into being re-trafficked.
I simply thank my hon. Friend the Minister for her response. I hope that we can continue to engage, and I hope that we will continue to make the case that there is more to be done, including with the new Bill. I hope that she will adopt many of the provisions from Lord McColl’s Bill into the Queen’s Speech, as requested. I would be happy to discuss that matter with her.
Motion lapsed (Standing Order No. 10(6)).