If I may. As somebody who has prosecuted offences of servitude in the past, I am extremely grateful to the hon. Gentleman for the passion that he is showing regarding this horrible offence which robs people of their dignity. Raising awareness is vital. Will he join me in paying tribute to the Salvation Army in Cheltenham, who last week held an event on this? We need to get the message out to people that everyone needs to be on their guard.
On the serious point that the hon. Gentleman has raised, of course I pay tribute to people like that in Cheltenham. I also pay tribute to all hon. Members of this House, who would, I know, wish to draw this heinous crime to the attention of the authorities in their areas to try to combat it.
Survivors need time and assistance to access justice but they also need access to compensation—something enshrined and recognised as critical by the Modern Slavery Act—because surely we do not want to make crime pay. Between 2004 and 2014, 211 persons were convicted of human trafficking and slavery, but according to the figures I have, only eight compensation orders were made for those crimes, amounting in total to £70,000. The Minister may correct me if, as I hope, I am wrong, but we do need to look at the whole question of compensation for victims. Where the courts order traffickers to pay, most do not pay up, having moved their assets abroad. That is something else we need to look at, and I would be grateful if the Minister could deal with it in her response.
Jean Simester, a tireless campaigner whom I met in Speaker’s House—as did the Minister—when she won an award from the Human Trafficking Foundation, provides a powerful example of how hard it is for survivors to access justice and support. Her son, Darrell, was enslaved by a Traveller family and worked day and night over 13 years with no pay. The police refused to recognise that her son might be at risk, so in the end he was found and rescued by his own family. Yet four years after being rescued, Darrell has still not had a penny of compensation, nor has he received the sort of support that we might expect.
I suggest to the Minister that while the Act focuses on criminal justice without prioritising support, we will not get the level of prosecutions, let alone convictions, that we would want. Broadly, prosecution and conviction rates are rising, but they remain far too low. According to the Crown Prosecution Service, 295 human trafficking prosecutions were completed in 2016-17, but the number of convictions actually fell, from 192 in 2015-16 to 181 in 2016-17. The police say that often the reason why cases fail in the courts is that many of the victims they uncover are unable to find accommodation or get access to benefits, so many go missing before they go into the national referral mechanism.
The police face many challenges, but this week’s report from Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary says that many victims of modern slavery receive a wholly inadequate service from police, and describes a host of concerns. I know that the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, the hon. Member for Truro and Falmouth (Sarah Newton), and the Home Secretary have commented on the report, but it was an HMIC report: an independent inspector seriously criticised the way the police dealt with modern slavery. The criticisms included a lack of focus on victims and a tendency to refer those without legal status to immigration services—the point made by the hon. Member for Livingston (Hannah Bardell)—and concern was expressed about the quality of investigation, with investigations being closed prematurely. The result, according to HMIC, was that we are
“leaving victims unprotected while offenders are not brought to justice”.
I will make a couple of further remarks before concluding, as I think you are encouraging me to do, Mr Deputy Speaker. I have not talked about children, yet we are seeing large numbers of children brought into the care of the state as a result of trafficking or suspicions of trafficking. As a recent report showed, many of those children abscond, leave or are taken away. It cannot be acceptable that in our country in 2017, we cannot protect children who are brought into the care of the state. It cannot be right. We need to understand and consider what more can be done.
It is important that we review the Act and consider both the sections that are yet to be implemented and what more needs to be done. In 2006, I was a Home Office Minister responsible for this area of work, and I had much of the responsibility for dealing with modern slavery for four years between 2006 and 2017. When I challenge the Government, it is a challenge to all of us. It is a challenge to what I did. It is a challenge to every one of us, to every local authority and to every police force. We have to challenge ourselves to do better. It is not acceptable that modern slavery still exists. It is a blight on the conscience of this nation. Although we have done a lot, there is so much more to do. Those who are enslaved deserve our support and our help.
I declare an interest as a trustee of the Human Trafficking Foundation.
First, I pay tribute to a group of mainly former parliamentarians and a former judge who remains a Member of the other place: Anthony Steen MBE, Baroness Butler-Sloss, the right hon. Clare Short, the right hon. Sir John Randall and the right hon. Fiona Mactaggart—not forgetting, of course, the hon. Member for Gedling (Vernon Coaker), who chairs the all-party group on human trafficking and modern slavery. Without their passion, foresight and commitment, we would not be in the position we are today in the cause of defeating human trafficking. I thank the Salvation Army and its partners for the incredible work they do at the coal face, looking after and supporting victims of this terrible crime.
For me, human trafficking is a scourge. It does not discriminate; it permeates across age, race, class and gender. It crushes self-confidence and self-esteem— prerequisites for aspiration, motivation and success. No civilised society should tolerate the exploitation of vulnerable men, women and children by predatory criminal groups. It creates victims who are often some of the most vulnerable members of society, separated from their families and friends, with no access to financial help or support.
As I speak today, I am reminded of a young man I met about three years ago, when I was the victims Minister. He dispelled many of the myths surrounding human trafficking: he was a man; he was British; and he was trafficked for forced labour. He bravely shared with me his story of absolute misery and how he was dehumanised and degraded. The meeting drove home to me just how important it is for the Government, local authorities and all our partners to work more effectively together.
Thanks to the efforts of many people, including our Prime Minister, some good progress has been made in combating trafficking. Indeed, the Modern Slavery Act 2015 is a landmark of success. We now have a wide range of laws to protect victims and a wide range of organisations to support them, but much more needs to be done. There must be far more focus on prevention by tackling the problem at source and working smarter at our borders. We must improve prosecution and conviction rates, improve data collection and deal with ongoing scepticism and the poor response still greeting victims when they try to report abuse. Sadly, that can come from people and organisations that ought to know better, such as the police.
The Government’s ambition is to eradicate all forms of human trafficking, and many millions of pounds have been spent on supporting victims. Our Home Secretary summed up the position well and candidly when she wrote in April:
“We must be better at getting immediate support to victims when they are at their most vulnerable. Otherwise they just slip through the net, to be abused all over again, and we lose any opportunity to gain information on the criminals who exploited them in the first place…We also want to make sure that victims are able to rebuild their lives. Our aspiration to help these people is in the right place—but at present, the provision of support may yet not be.”
Clearly, the Home Secretary recognises that more needs to be done. I will therefore focus my suggestions today on what can be done for a group of people the authorities accept are victims of human trafficking: those who receive a positive conclusive grounds decision.
First, the conclusive grounds decision must carry with it more status, weight and meaning. In my view, victims of trafficking fit into the same vulnerable group as refugees and victims of torture. It therefore seems right that conclusive grounds should carry with them the same 12 months’ residency permit. Not only would that provide the stability and assurance that victims need to begin to recover, but it would create a better environment for victims to assist law enforcement agencies in finding and prosecuting perpetrators.
Secondly, the paperwork received by victims with positive conclusive grounds must be recognisable and transferable. Frankly, the current form is flimsy, short and unhelpful. Instead, it should be recognised by other Departments and agencies and should allow access to appropriate services.
Thirdly, victims need advice from those who understand the system relating to accommodation, immigration and employment support—the system that, as a lawyer for some 23 years and now an MP, I often struggle to deal with. Victims with conclusive grounds should have access to caseworkers to help them to comply with the procedures and to access services.
Fourthly, victims need a roof over their head. I ask the Minister to consider introducing greater flexibility in the moving on of a victim from a safe house. The safe house, of course, should not be permanent, long-term accommodation, but the current cliff-edge approach of losing safe-house accommodation just two weeks after a conclusive grounds decision is failing and not satisfactory.
Human trafficking is a scourge. It is abhorrent and inexcusable, and every time I hear about an incident or meet a victim, I think, “What kind of world are we living in, and what can we do to make things better?” Every victim and witness of a crime needs to know that they will be offered all the help and support they need and deserve to move on in their lives and to bring perpetrators to justice. We can do better; we must do better.