Modern Slavery Act 2015 Debate

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Modern Slavery Act 2015

Mims Davies Excerpts
Thursday 26th October 2017

(4 years ago)

Commons Chamber

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Jess Phillips Portrait Jess Phillips (Birmingham, Yardley) (Lab)
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26 Oct 2017, 1:37 p.m.

I thank hon. Members who brought this issue to the Backbench Business Committee—actually, I was on both sides; I just realised as I was saying it that I was thanking myself twice—as it is really important that we debate it.

Prior to coming to this House, I ran one of the services that operates safe houses and community-based support for victims of modern slavery. We largely focused our safe houses on women and children. I want to tell a few of the stories of the people I met while I was working there.

The vast majority of women now living in the safe accommodation provided through the national referral mechanism are there because they have been trafficked into this country for sexual slavery. It is not sex work; these people were slaves. I worked with women who forced to have sex with over 50 men in a day and were fed scraps from the table of their “honest Johns”. My hon. Friend the Member for Bristol East (Kerry McCarthy) talked about our need for vigilance. The idea, in a modern system of sex work, that we have an “honest John” who is saying, “Do you mind if I ask you where you come from? Are you here out of choice?” is a total fallacy and something successive Governments have failed to tackle. We really, really need to be tackling it now, because the number of women from different countries and originally from the UK who are prostituted, exploited and trafficked around the country is absolutely phenomenal. Hundreds and hundreds and hundreds have gone through the service I used to work for. If we do not tackle this head on we are letting down the victims of slavery, because some people maybe want to call it something more civilised, like “sex work”.

I also want to talk about some of the problems I found while working in that service. I worked very closely with the Home Office and, before that, the Ministry of Justice, which was originally responsible for this area. Everybody wanted success. There are still some major, glaring holes in how we treat the victim and how the victim goes on the journey. I wonder whether the Minister could feed back on the difference between those who are housed in safe houses and those who are housed in generic accommodation through the asylum system. Those who live in safe houses receive amazing service. Of course I would say that, because I ran up the curtains and made everything lovely: it was brilliant. However, there is a two-tier system for slaves in this country.

I remember visiting one woman who did not qualify for entry to a safe house because of her immigration status, and who was therefore in asylum accommodation. She was nearly nine months pregnant, but she looked considerably thinner than I was at that time. She was sleeping on a floor, and was being given one meal a day. I was there to offer her community support and give her some money. She wanted to move, and she was due to be moved to Nottingham that day, through the national referral mechanism. I said to her, “Normally I would kick off about this, because you are in the final stages of your pregnancy, you have had care, and you need to maintain the continuity of your care.” She cried, and begged me not to prevent her from being moved. As a practitioner who had a duty of care to a pregnant woman—a duty not to move her away from the continuity of care that she had been receiving from Birmingham Women’s Hospital—I found myself in a terrible dilemma. Instances such as that will have to be tackled.

My hon. Friend the Member for Gedling (Vernon Coaker), who chairs the all-party parliamentary group on human trafficking and modern slavery, raised the question of what happens after the end of the 45-day reflection and recovery period. I cannot say that I remember anyone needing only 45 days. The system allows people to apply for more days, and they always get those extra days, because the system is not mean in that sense. For those who are deeply traumatised because people have tried to take their organs, have enslaved them or have had sex with them 50 times a day, 45 days will never be enough. What happens to them afterwards, however, is of massive concern. They are lost from the services provided by organisations like mine, which was Black Country Women’s Aid. We tried to do all that we could to keep in touch with those outside on an informal basis, but such organisations do not have the necessary resources.

Those organisations are doing amazing and innovative things. I saw some of them at Speaker’s House last week, talking about the links between substance misuse and human trafficking. But, as part of the voluntary sector and with 178 people in service on a single day, they simply do not have the resources to be the system that follows those people afterwards. They deal with 8,000 people a year, across different services.

The Government must introduce a system to ensure that that drop-off does not happen. Sometimes it is due to repatriation. I think many people, especially those of us who deal with immigration cases, would be surprised at the number of people receiving human trafficking services who want to be repatriated, and that may be one reason for not being able to find people, and hoping that they are all right. However, it is necessary to tackle the trafficking of those who are still in the UK, and to aid their long-term recovery. The issue of criminal compensation must also be dealt with. A man who lived in slavery for 13 years, and whose aggressors were sent to prison for only two and a half years, is currently unable to gain access to compensation, which is a disgrace. He has also made no national insurance contributions.

We must look after people after the 45-day period, and create a system that works for all of them.

Mims Davies Portrait Mims Davies (Eastleigh) (Con)
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26 Oct 2017, 1:43 p.m.

It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley (Jess Phillips), who is a member of the Women and Equalities Committee, and who made a passionate contribution to this passionate debate. Some of the very difficult personal experiences such as those that she described really do hit home. I also thank the hon. Member for Gedling (Vernon Coaker) for securing the debate. He, too, made a passionate speech. Tackling modern slavery is extremely important, and I thank him for his work on the issue. I also thank Members on both sides of the House, and other individuals and organisations, who do so much in this regard.

I know that the Minister shares our strong concerns about exploitation and the safety of women and girls, and about the need to ensure that victims are identified and looked after, working with partners such as the NHS. As we have heard, the Prime Minister, in both her previous and her current roles, has been a leading example of those who speak of the need for us to step up our efforts to stamp out slavery internationally, in all its forms. As chair of the all-party parliamentary group for women in Parliament, I know how important it is that there are more women in all parts of the House than ever before, and that they are able to stand up and make themselves heard, as they have today.

Mark Tami Portrait Mark Tami (Alyn and Deeside) (Lab)
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26 Oct 2017, 1:45 p.m.

A few months ago there were some police raids in north Wales. People were being kept effectively as slaves. A common response was, “We never realised that this sort of thing went on here.” There is an idea that it only happens in London or other big cities, but it is happening throughout the country.

Mims Davies Portrait Mims Davies
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26 Oct 2017, 1:45 p.m.

I absolutely agree. Indeed, I have found the same in my constituency. I did not think that it affected Hampshire, but it does. We need to be vigilant. We need to focus on drug trafficking and criminal exploitation, which, as we have heard, happens in the agricultural sector. We must also tackle the sexual exploitation of vulnerable people, including, in my area, people with learning difficulties.

The Modern Slavery Act 2015 has been very welcome, but my hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Mrs Grant) made some excellent points about the need to make progress on the basis of that groundbreaking Act, and it would be very hard to disagree with what she said. The Act sent a strong signal to criminals about the vile trade that is going on, but, as with any Act, we have an opportunity to move forward. Nevertheless, the Act is already making a difference not just locally, but domestically and abroad.

Let me say more about what we are doing abroad, including the work done by the Department for International Development to ensure that we spend a minimum of 0.7% of our GDP on aid. It is important that that work is being seen throughout the world. We are putting in a great deal of work, around the world and indeed locally, but, as has been said at a roundtable on the issue, we need to focus on outcomes. It is crucially important for us to help those affected by modern slavery. We are spending about £150 million on tackling it, including a £20 million investment in the global fund, but it is also crucial to focus on outcomes, rather than just talking about change.

The Prime Minister has worked with the United Nations on this issue, and as we know there has been an event at Speaker’s House, so we all know what needs to be done. Church representatives have raised their concerns with me locally, in Eastleigh, and both they and representatives of Churches internationally seem to be very clued up.

Let me say more about my local experience. I particularly remember a constituency surgery at which I met the mother of a girl in her mid-teens, who was struggling to explain to her daughter that what she thought was a positive relationship was actually based on exploitation, and on doing things in exchange for sex or presents. We tend to think about large exploitative gangs, but sometimes this can be down to one or two people with a handful of young girls who interpret such relationships as positive.

Another issue of concern in my constituency is the exploitation by grown-up children of their parents or grandparents for drug money. In effect, they are making those parents and grandparents continue to go to work in order to fund their choices—to support people who may be addicted to drugs, and who are bludging off their families. They are forcing members of their own families to go on working when they do not need to, in order to fund a lifestyle choice. In that context too, we need to look more broadly at the 2015 Act.

Like other Members on both sides of the House, I think that more can be done. The Government have made some giant leaps forward, particularly in respect of the human aspects—the pain and suffering that we see—but business and communities also have a role to play. They need to seek this out, and not allow people to hide. There must be transparency in businesses and supply chains, especially the fashion industry. How do we know the circumstances in which the garments that we are wearing were made, and are we confident about what we think we know?

My constituency is on the Hamble river, and I recently went out on an operation with the Hampshire Constabulary marine unit on to Southampton water and across to the Solent. I thank all the police involved in such operations out on those waters, making sure they are doing the right thing to deal with slavery, because victims are being trafficked across, and without those members of the marine unit, we would not find out what is going on. They shared with me some grave concerns that they have, and said what needs to be done to enable them to help people who are sent in boats across the water.

I look forward to hearing the Minister’s comments, and welcome the opportunity that this House has to take the Modern Slavery Act 2015 forward and change the lives of so many people, just by opening our eyes.

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.