Modern-day Slavery Debate

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Department: Home Office

Modern-day Slavery

Mr Gavin Shuker Excerpts
Tuesday 9th October 2018

(1 year, 10 months ago)

Westminster Hall
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Home Office
Darren Jones Portrait Darren Jones (Bristol North West) (Lab) - Hansard

I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent Central (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.

Mr Gavin Shuker (Luton South) (Lab/Co-op) Hansard
9 Oct 2018, 7:10 p.m.

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 the hon. Member for South West Bedfordshire (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.

Anneliese Dodds Portrait Anneliese Dodds (Oxford East) (Lab/Co-op) - Hansard
9 Oct 2018, 7:12 p.m.

I would like to endorse pretty much everything that everyone has said, but particularly the comments made by my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent Central (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 affects 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.