Modern Slavery Act 2015 Debate

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Modern Slavery Act 2015

Hannah Bardell Excerpts
Thursday 26th October 2017

(3 years, 11 months ago)

Commons Chamber

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Lord Coaker Portrait Vernon Coaker
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26 Oct 2017, 12:53 p.m.

I very much agree that there will be real challenges for the system in leaving Europol, Eurojust, and the other systems involved. As the debate progresses, we will have to ensure that if we do leave the European Union, as the hon. Lady says, we look to see how we replicate those systems within whatever deal is done. That is crucial for these victims. I totally agree with her point.

We have heard that each time survivors have left safe houses, they were made destitute again and targeted by traffickers. How destructive and destroying that is for the police, but also life-destroying for those survivors. We have to accept that the short-term system of support fails us all and we all need to look—the police, Government, all of us—at what more we do for victims. A refugee granted asylum receives five years of leave to remain in the United Kingdom. Surely if a person has been recognised as being enslaved, that should entitle them to some sort of similar provision, if not for five years.

Hannah Bardell Portrait Hannah Bardell (Livingston) (SNP)
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26 Oct 2017, 12:54 p.m.

I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on bringing such an important issue to the House. He is making an excellent speech. Does he agree that our domestic justice system—particularly the UK justice system—is not set up to deal with these matters, and that the burden of proof is so high for a conviction that very often the person goes free? Leave to remain is dependent on a conviction when the two things should be absolutely separate.

Lord Coaker Portrait Vernon Coaker
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26 Oct 2017, 12:54 p.m.

That is absolutely crucial. Often the victim is placed in an immigration situation where they are regarded as a victim of trafficking and yet have no certainty about their status in the UK. I know that the Minister is looking at that, but it is a real problem in the way that the system operates at the moment, as the hon. Member for Livingston (Hannah Bardell) points out.

The Work and Pensions Committee has made recommendations along these lines. Lord McColl’s private Member’s Bill, currently in the Lords, does the same. We cannot continue to lose so many survivors, many of them going back to the same traffickers. As Wilberforce himself said:

“You may choose to look the other way but you can never again say that you did not know.”

It is for us, as legislators, to say, “What are we actually going to do about this?” Survivors need time and assistance.

--- Later in debate ---
Tony Lloyd Portrait Tony Lloyd (Rochdale) (Lab)
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26 Oct 2017, 1:50 p.m.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Eastleigh (Mims Davies) on her speech. It is good to see passion on both sides of the House in this debate. Indeed, for probably the first and only time, I want to place on record my recognition of the value of the Prime Minister’s role when she was Home Secretary in bringing forward this legislation, not only for itself but also because it showed leadership on an issue where leadership is fundamental. Whether at national or local level, it really does make a difference.

I will begin on the same track as my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Yardley (Jess Phillips). When I was Greater Manchester’s police and crime commissioner, a brothel was raided and one of the women there was asked whether she had been trafficked. She denied that vehemently until taken into a room on her own when she said, “Look, I have been trafficked. I need you to drag me out of here in handcuffs, with me fighting and kicking and screaming, because I need to demonstrate to my traffickers that I am not a willing accomplice with the police.” This woman was no sex worker; she was a sex slave. In that case, the police were able to work with her so she could pursue a different ambition.

My hon. Friend the Member for Gedling (Vernon Coaker) said that he perhaps did not do enough when he was police Minister, but I do not think any of us were talking enough about slavery at that time. Even when I first began to have conversations with the then chief constable of GMP and the current chief constable, I do not think we in Greater Manchester had a proper understanding of what slavery was all about. However, although Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary’s report was critical of policing, it did say that there were some bright spots, and that Greater Manchester was one of them. I say that with some pride, not in myself, but in the people who have made that work, because there has been leadership from the very top, by the current chief constable, Ian Hopkins, and the previous chief constable, and by Ross Jackson, the chief superintendent who has direct line responsibility. I also want to mention Detective Sergeant Deborah Hurst and her team; it is a dedicated and small—there are only four or five of them—team of officers committed to this role. They have taken the time and care to understand the subject, and therefore have been able to infect—so to speak—the whole of Greater Manchester Police and beyond with an ambition to make a real difference.

GMP has trained 120 victim liaison officers. They make a considerable difference, because it is important to work with people who have been through the trauma of enslavement. The enslaved who are in Manchester speak many different languages, and the police often face cultural differences. There are other, sometimes very simple, issues facing women in prostitution, such as the basic needs for toiletries and clean underwear, so it is essential that there are now trained liaison officers who recognise the need to go through the journey with those who have been enslaved.

Members on both sides of the House have talked about the need for a wider partnership, and that has a number of impacts. Different agencies such as probation, immigration, the police, the Border Force and the local authorities are fundamental partners in making a protective system and a protective service that work. Partnership makes a real difference in that regard. Building partnerships also opens up the conversation about the different forms of enslavement that there are in our society, because it is everywhere. It is obvious in some aspects of prostitution and sometimes, as my hon. Friend the Member for Stockport (Ann Coffey) mentioned, with children being entrapped and taken across county lines, but enslaved people can be found in almost any occupation and area of activity. We need to recognise that, and raise public and corporate awareness of the fact.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bristol East (Kerry McCarthy) mentioned the criticism of the Avon and Somerset police force. If a few police officers put on nail varnish to bring home to the public that there might be people who are enslaved in our nail bars, that is not such a terrible thing. In fact it is sensible, because it is saying to the public, “Please be aware; please think about situations when people around you might be enslaved.” At the moment there is a duty to notify, but it is still circumscribed, and I ask the Minister to consider extending that concept.

Members have talked about facilities for people after their enslavement. First night accommodation is often an issue: where do people go on the day when they are sprung from their captivity? I paid, not from taxpayers’ funds as such, but as the PCC for the safe place of such emergency accommodation, but we need to look at the issue of ongoing accommodation and work with the voluntary sector to make sure that provision is in place. Both empathy and the provision of institutional support are of great importance.

I shall finish on a positive note, however. My hon. Friend the Member for Gedling talked about the need for compensation. Alexandra is a Hungarian woman who was tricked into coming to Greater Manchester by the offer of legitimate work. In fact she was forced to work as a street sex worker—I use that term, if my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Yardley will forgive me, as I cannot think of a better one—on the streets of Manchester. There was nothing voluntary about that, but fortunately the police were able to work with her to such good effect that she came back from Hungary to take part in the subsequent prosecution. The Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority awarded her compensation, and she is now living with her son in Hungary, happy and free.

Hannah Bardell Portrait Hannah Bardell (Livingston) (SNP)
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26 Oct 2017, 1:57 p.m.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Gedling (Vernon Coaker) on securing this important debate, and also congratulate the hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley (Jess Phillips), who has a huge amount of experience and passion; we are lucky to have someone with her background in this place.

Just this week, a highly critical report found that police forces are failing to tackle modern slavery and human trafficking because the cases are often too difficult and senior officers believe the public lack sympathy for the victims. This report should concern us all as we consider our international obligations and how we support those who have endured trafficking and modern slavery.

Sadly, I have my own constituency experience. As the hon. Member for Rochdale (Tony Lloyd) said, when we come to this role we have an idea of what we might and might not deal with. I have to say that I did not expect to deal with the issue of modern slavery in my constituency of Livingston, and the case we have dealt with has been deeply distressing, both for my constituent and my constituency staff.

My constituent was trafficked from Nigeria to London at the age of 14 and subjected to horrific abuse, including rape, before she escaped to my constituency. The Metropolitan police worked incredibly hard to bring charges against her kidnapper, but told us that the burden of proof in these cases is often so high that they are not able to charge anyone. Unfortunately, the Home Office was predicating her leave to remain on the conviction of her abuser, which in itself highlights the flaws in the Home Office’s internal processes. I recognise the work that has been done by the Government on bringing in the Modern Slavery Act 2015 and the work that they have been doing subsequently, but my constituency case highlights some of the challenges and flaws. One of the officers in the Met who was dealing with my constituent’s case identified some of the issues, saying:

“I would advise that the burden of proof in a criminal case is far higher (beyond all reasonable doubt) than in a civil case (balance of probability). In light of this, I would suggest that any outcome of the criminal case should not adversely impact on any immigration appeal.”

I know that the Prime Minister, when she was Home Secretary, commissioned a report which found that

“slavery remained under-reported, but the operational response was improving.”

However, the review said that there were

“problems, including a lack of consistency between law enforcement and criminal justice agencies and poor quality intelligence at all levels.”

As things stand, due to the interventions from my office, my constituent now has a year’s temporary leave to remain and the right to work, but the clock is ticking. We need the Home Office to review its own processes and this case. Yes, the case might have been difficult, but those officers who worked on it fought tooth and nail for my constituent, and I want to pay tribute to the Met police today and put on record how grateful I am for the work that they and local police officers in West Lothian did to protect her when she was very scared. She was scared to send her children to school, for example, because she was worried that her attacker might come to Scotland and seek her out.

It beggars belief that anyone could lack sympathy for the victims, but that is what the report states. Anyone at home listening to the details of my constituent’s case and those of others would surely find it difficult not to have sympathy for them. At the age of 14, Temitope George was given some clothes, taken to an airport in Nigeria and told that she was going to leave the country. The woman who took her told her not to talk to anyone, and to do as she was told. She was brought to London and taken to a woman’s house, where she was told she would be staying and looking after the woman’s children. She asked the woman when she would be going back to school. That was the first time the woman slapped her. She also asked about her mother, but she was told to speak only when she was spoken to and that she was not allowed to make any friends.

Temitope George’s daily routine involved getting up at 5 am, getting the children ready for school, taking them to school and collecting them, and doing the shopping, cleaning and cooking. If she went out on an errand, the woman who was holding her would spit on the floor and tell her that she had to be back before the spit had dried or she would be beaten. She ran everywhere as she was frightened of being late. She was beaten on a daily basis, she had her head flushed down the toilet, and she was often privy to what we believe were drug deals in the house. She also had a kettle of boiling water poured over her chest. The details are very distressing, but my constituent gave me permission before I came to the House today to share them. I have not shared them publicly before, although I have raised her case, and I am grateful for the work that has been done by the Home Office today.

Temitope George was terrified that she would be killed and that no one would know she was there. She was told that if she ran away, nobody would believe her and that there was nowhere for her to hide and she would not be found. She said that there were often men hanging around, and when she eventually escaped at the age of 17, she was homeless and spent some time on the streets. She was held at knifepoint and raped in north London. She eventually managed to escape to Livingston with her now husband. They started a new life there. They got jobs and had three beautiful children, but when she applied for indefinite leave to remain, she was told that she could not work and had to leave her job. Since the Home Office’s intervention and the granting of temporary leave to remain, she and her husband have returned to work. Her husband recently won an award for social entrepreneurship. As I have said, it seems incredible in this day and age that anyone could face such persecution and terrible treatment. However, that has been the reality for my constituent and I ask the Minister to work with me and look again at my constituent’s case because it is so distressing. She has spent a significant number of years in Livingston bringing up her children and contributing to society there.

The Scottish Government have done a huge amount of work on these issues and recently published their trafficking and exploitation strategy, which identifies how to support victims, find perpetrators and disrupt activity. I know that the Scottish Government are hugely committed to that work, and I would encourage the UK Government to look at the good examples that are being worked on there. It is the duty of all Members in this House, and indeed of all Governments, to do everything we possibly can. The flaws that exist within the legal system and in the Home Office are real, and these are real constituency cases. I hope that the Minister is listening to us and that she will do all that she can to ensure that the flaws in the system are sorted out.

Darren Jones Portrait Darren Jones (Bristol North West) (Lab)
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26 Oct 2017, 2:04 p.m.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Gedling (Vernon Coaker) on bringing this important debate to the House. It goes without saying that human trafficking, sexual exploitation, forced labour, organ harvesting and servitude—to name but a few forms of modern slavery—are criminally deplorable, and for many people they go unseen. It is for this House and for others to make it clear that slavery continues to exist at every level of our society, including in my constituency. As my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol East (Kerry McCarthy) said, in July this year the Avon and Somerset constabulary raided a nail bar in my constituency, arresting four people on suspicion of human trafficking and slavery offences. In greater Bristol, further such raids have taken place in recent months.

A constituent came to see me at one of my first constituency surgeries as a new MP. She was tearful, she had little English, and she was unable to communicate the sheer disempowerment and lack of dignity that she had suffered through sexual exploitation in another part of the country. However, thanks to the Modern Slavery Act 2015, the modern slavery helpline and other organisations, she was being supported, even though the visa process at the Home Office was going very slowly. I know that the Minister is aware of that case.

Car washes and nail bars are a common location for these activities, and vigilance and local knowledge are required. I share other Members’ concern that the papers have reported a so-called backlash against the Avon and Somerset constabulary for raising this issue on social media in a way that communicates to people in their daily lives and asks them to keep an eye out for these activities. Along with my hon. Friends the Members for Bristol East and for Bristol West (Thangam Debbonaire), I too have proudly painted my nails today in support of the Avon and Somerset police’s “Let’s Nail It” campaign. Perhaps I am the first male MP to have painted nails in the Chamber. I should add the cautionary note that this is not an endorsement for Eddie Izzard’s candidacy for Labour’s national executive committee.

We know that much more needs to be done, but in the face of continued severe cuts to our policing, the job is becoming more difficult. I often stand here and say that Bristol is leading the way, and I am proud to say that that is also the case on this issue. In 2007-08, Andrew Wallis and friends in Bristol started conversations that led to the establishment of safe houses in 2011, a resettlement service in 2013, the Anti-Slavery Partnership in Bristol, and the headquarters of the national charity, Unseen, which now provides the national modern slavery hotline.

In true Bristol fashion, we are also innovating in the way we do things. As the hon. Member for Erewash (Maggie Throup) has mentioned, the “Transparency in Supply Chains” report—the TISC report—is the world’s largest open data register, helping to track and monitor compliance with the Modern Slavery Act 2015. It was built by Jaya Chakrabarti and friends in Bristol, and it provides a compliance solution that can prevent modern slavery. There is little point in legislating without enforcing. We have already heard about the difficulties for the police in enforcing the legislation in local communities due to funding cuts, and the TISC report has a growing list of more than 2,264 companies that continue not to comply with their reporting obligations under the Act. I do not know whether the Minister has seen the TISC Report, but if not, I would be happy to arrange for a copy to be sent to her. I hope that, in her summing up, she will set out what she will do to ensure that companies get in line, comply with the legislation and take this matter seriously.

Finally, I want to draw the Minister’s attention to the issue of construction projects. Where projects are entirely privately funded, the checks and balances built into public procurement process are often bypassed, and with the use of sub-contractors who sub-contract to sub-contractors, or the use of umbrella companies who sign the deal but do not directly employ workers themselves, the situation becomes much more complex. It is often at the depths of the sub-contractor chain that exploitation can take place. I raise this matter because I have significant construction projects in or near my constituency, including energy plants, Hinckley Point C and its supply chain, tens of thousands of new homes, expanding retail projects and major infrastructure upgrades in Bristol. I understand from trade union officials, who play a vital role in checking whether exploitation is happening on the shop floor and on the ground, that there are concerns about unethical working practices in my constituency that, in their view, approach modern slavery. I am working with them on that.

Learning lessons from the Welsh Government, who have addressed unethical working practices and modern slavery together to create ethical workplaces for constituents, I will begin work on a new project next year that will seek to eradicate unethical working practices and modern slavery from my constituency. To the individuals and companies who exploit or enslave my constituents and to those that exploit and enslave others within my constituency, let me be clear: you are on notice; you are not welcome; and we and our partners will ensure that you are prosecuted. But in order to do that work properly, I must work with businesses, trade unions and community groups and with important innovations such as the TISC report. We need proper Government enforcement, proper funding for policing and proper support from the Home Office for those who have been enslaved. I make a final plea to the Minister to set out how the Government, in the face of all the challenges, will ensure that the Modern Slavery Act—a good piece of legislation—is enforced properly and how we can work with partners to ensure that that is the case.