Modern Slavery Act 2015 Debate

Full Debate: Read Full Debate

Lord Coaker

Main Page: Lord Coaker (Labour - Life peer)

Modern Slavery Act 2015

Lord Coaker Excerpts
Thursday 26th October 2017

(3 years, 11 months ago)

Commons Chamber

Read Full debate Read Hansard Text
Lord Coaker Portrait Vernon Coaker (Gedling) (Lab)
- Hansard - -

26 Oct 2017, 12:44 p.m.

I beg to move,

That this House has considered the implementation of the Modern Slavery Act 2015.

First, may I refer to my declaration in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests? I thank the hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Mrs Grant) and all the other colleagues who have helped to bring about this Backbench Business debate. I also thank the Minister for her attendance. As Members, we are all united by our desire to do as much as we can to tackle the scourge of modern slavery.

Over 200 years ago, politicians described slavery as an activity

“so enormous and horrible, that there was no parallel to it in the annals of the world.”—[Official Report, 16 March 1807; Vol. 9, c. 133.]

Wilberforce said it was

“our duty to put a stop as speedily as possible to the traffic and sale of our fellow men”.—[Official Report, 17 March 1807; Vol. 9, c. 139.]

Yet, here we are in 2017, and slavery still exists in our country. That horrible reality demands more than our emotional outrage; it demands even more action on our part.

Just 15 years ago, many MPs would have suggested that slavery perhaps did not exist, but thanks to the campaigning of many people in this House, including our former colleagues Anthony Steen and Fiona Mactaggart, much has changed in our approach to the issue. Referrals to the Government’s mechanism for identifying victims—the national referral mechanism—rise year on year, with a 17% increase in 2016. The number of prosecutions also rises annually. We have a Parliament and, to be fair, a Prime Minister with a genuine desire to tackle this issue. We have what was regarded as—and what is, to be fair—a trail-blazing Act, which offers life sentences for traffickers and provides a statutory defence against criminality for victims. We have additional funding going to the police, as well as international aid and safe houses.

The commitment of all of us who work in the House, and indeed of those who work in the Home Office on this issue, cannot be doubted. However—I hope the Minister will accept this in the spirit in which I mean it—it is important that we challenge where we are and look at the things that still need to be done if we are to take this issue forward. Too often, what we say does not happen in practice.

Many traffickers are not getting caught, and, in many circumstances, those who are caught receive minimal sentences. Many slaves are not being freed, and when they are, many are lost, and that includes children, as the Minister knows. So the challenge, first, is for us to try to find the victims, and more potential victims are being identified. Some 3,805 were identified in 2016, and I should point out that 1,227 of them were children—in our country, in 2017.

However, that is still a long way, as the Minister will know from her office’s estimates, from the 10,000 to 13,000 slaves in this country. We have to ask why that is and why victims are not coming forward. First, some of the people who should identify them, such as the first responders, often do not recognise them. Local authorities have a duty to identify, but many do not, and there has been little funding to train their staff. As the 2016 National Crime Agency data show, many local authorities find no one at all.

The second reason is that we often have little to offer victims when they are found. We ask them to stop living under a trafficker’s roof—risking repercussions, threats or violence—and then to enter the system. If adults do consent to enter the system, they face time-limited support, fears as to their immigration status, and long-term uncertainty, even if they are found to be victims at the end of the process. Should we be surprised, therefore, at the small numbers? And if we are not surprised, what are we going to do to increase the numbers?

At its heart, the national referral mechanism relies on traumatised people, who have often known only betrayal, immediately agreeing to go into a Government system. If they do not, they have to fend for themselves. A small minority may be supported by non-governmental organisations, but the rest receive no support. One NGO outside the national referral system found that three fifths of survivors will go into the national referral mechanism if they are given a preliminary period of support of, say, six weeks. Will the Minister therefore recognise that we need to do more to ensure that victims feel safe and secure entering the national referral mechanism, and what does she propose to do?

However, there are other problems. The statutory national referral mechanism recovery and reflection period of support is 45 days, but that is not adequate. Frequent delays mean that, on average, the process is actually 95 days. It can take longer than that just to access legal or health support. Safe, suitable accommodation is not a given. There is no minimum standard. Section 50 of the Modern Slavery Act provides powers to introduce regulations and support, but those powers have not yet been implemented. Entire families could be housed in one room, sometimes hours away from any of the services they need. There is not enough specialist accommodation, and not just for those with children. Traffickers often target those with learning difficulties or addiction issues, and yet our services for survivors oddly do not. Will the Minister give us her thoughts about extending the amount of safe house provision for those with specialist needs? Would she consider introducing care standards along the lines of recommendations published by the Human Trafficking Foundation and supported by the Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner to guarantee that survivors receive high-quality support? The lack of support is a real challenge for the system.

The Minister will know that the UK has no data on what happens to victims beyond the 45-day period, and no system to ensure that survivors do not fall back into exploitation. We spend £10 million each year on providing short-term support, only to end the support once the decision is made on whether the person was actually trafficked. The Modern Slavery Act, unlike other Acts, does not explicitly place a duty on the state to provide support or state the victim’s entitlements. Rather, section 49 says that these will be set out in guidance. Can the Minister say when that guidance is set to be published?

Jim McMahon Portrait Jim McMahon (Oldham West and Royton) (Lab/Co-op)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

26 Oct 2017, 12:51 p.m.

My hon. Friend may know that this is a very important issue for the Co-operative party. Is it not the case that people who have been entrapped into slavery do not stop being victims at the point when that has been identified but find that it can take many years to recover and rebuild their lives?

Lord Coaker Portrait Vernon Coaker
- Hansard - -

26 Oct 2017, 12:59 p.m.

I thank my hon. Friend for raising that absolutely crucial issue. Often at the end of the statutory 45-day period of reflection, there is a period of further support that people may be given, but the evidence shows that the vast majority of people who enter into that fall back into exploitation or are re-trafficked. Something needs to be done to deal with this.

The police say that they have often referred the same individual into the national referral mechanism multiple times.

Christine Jardine Portrait Christine Jardine (Edinburgh West) (LD)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

26 Oct 2017, 12:52 p.m.

With regard to tracing perpetrators, and indeed achieving all our anti-slavery aims, throughout the UK, including in Scotland, how will these processes continue to function effectively—or will they function effectively at all—once we have left the EU, given that that is likely to mean that we will also have left intelligence-sharing agencies such as Europol and Eurojust?

Lord Coaker Portrait Vernon Coaker
- Hansard - -

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)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

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
- Hansard - -

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.

Paul Blomfield Portrait Paul Blomfield (Sheffield Central) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

26 Oct 2017, 12:55 p.m.

One of the critical issues is inspection and enforcement within the labour market. Does my hon. Friend agree that resourcing that is crucial? A recent report by Focus on Labour Exploitation, a charity of which I am a trustee, detailed how far we are lagging behind other European countries in International Labour Organisation-recommended levels of resourcing. Is he concerned that we have only 0.4 inspectors per 10,000 workers while Poland has twice as many and Norway over three times as many, and that we allocate just £7.69 per worker for enforcement while, closer to home, Ireland spends twice as much? Does he think that the Minister needs to address this issue in her response?

Lord Coaker Portrait Vernon Coaker
- Hansard - -

26 Oct 2017, 12:55 p.m.

My hon. Friend puts the point very well. There is a need to look at the whole area of labour force enforcement. The co-operation between the Gangmasters Licensing Authority, the Home Office and so on in sharing data and information is important.

The Minister may want to consider an additional point about awareness. Only last week there was a case in the area of my local authority, Gedling Borough Council. The case is in the public domain. Just outside my constituency, people found a victim of labour exploitation working on their farm, Hammond farm. They were found by a person being made aware by a chance remark that caused them to question what was happening. Part of this is about enforcement but it is also about trying to raise awareness so that people may question what is happening and try to report it to the appropriate authorities. We might want to consider how we do that.

Alex Chalk Portrait Alex Chalk (Cheltenham) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

26 Oct 2017, 12:56 p.m.

rose—

Lord Coaker Portrait Vernon Coaker
- Hansard - -

I will give way, but before I do, let me say that I have been in this House a long time, and we give way a lot and that is fine—I do not mind doing it—but Members cannot have it both ways if I then speak for a long time.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

26 Oct 2017, 12:56 p.m.

I might be able to help everybody. I am sure that you want to finish within 15 minutes—

Lord Coaker Portrait Vernon Coaker
- Hansard - -

From when?

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Deputy Speaker
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

26 Oct 2017, 12:56 p.m.

From when you started. The benefit of that is that I will be putting on a time limit of seven minutes and I will not have to reduce it to six—I do not want to do that. Are you sure you want to intervene, Mr Chalk?

Alex Chalk Portrait Alex Chalk
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

26 Oct 2017, 12:57 p.m.

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.

Lord Coaker Portrait Vernon Coaker
- Hansard - -

If you will nod at me, Mr Deputy Speaker, when I need to start thinking about finishing, that would be good.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Deputy Speaker
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

26 Oct 2017, 12:57 p.m.

Okay.

Lord Coaker Portrait Vernon Coaker
- Hansard - -

26 Oct 2017, 12:57 p.m.

Thank you.

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.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Before I call the next speaker, let me say what a pleasure it is to see Anthony Steen in the Lower Gallery for this important debate.

There is a seven-minute limit on speeches from now on. I call Helen Grant.

--- Later in debate ---
Sarah Newton Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Sarah Newton)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

26 Oct 2017, 2:42 p.m.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Mrs Grant) and the hon. Member for Gedling (Vernon Coaker) for securing this really important debate, and I am delighted that Anthony Steen is present.

As the Prime Minister has said, slavery is the gravest human rights abuse of our time, and we all share a moral duty to stamp it out. That duty really should transcend party politics. We have come a long way in the two years since the Prime Minister introduced the Modern Slavery Act, but the Government absolutely recognise that we are on a journey, and there is much more that we want to do.

I have very little time to respond to the debate, so I shall concentrate on reforms to the national referral mechanism, because I wish to make some important announcements. I will, though, get back to colleagues who have raised very important points, and I will continue to work with the all-party group. I look forward to further meetings to discuss further reforms in more detail.

Following the meeting of the modern slavery taskforce last week, several improvements to the NRM were announced. To improve the decision-making process, a new single, expert unit will be created in the Home Office to make decisions about whether someone is a victim of modern slavery. An independent panel of experts will be created to review all negative decisions, adding significantly to the scrutiny that such cases currently receive. A new digital system will be developed to support the NRM process, to make it easier for those on the front line to refer victims for support and to enable data to be captured and analysed to better aid prevention and law enforcement.

There are things we want to do to improve support for adults before, during and after the NRM process. It is paramount that victims’ rights and entitlements are robustly protected, which is why the Government will invoke section 50 of the Modern Slavery Act and set out in regulations the support to which victims are entitled. We will also launch a consultation on the preparation of statutory guidance under section 48 of the Act on the identification of and support for victims of slavery. Such a regulatory framework will ensure that victims know what they are entitled to, and that those who work with victims are clear on their roles and responsibilities.

It is vital that victims have access to support immediately upon their rescue from situations of exploitation. The Government are introducing places of safety for adult victims for the first three days after they are identified by public authorities, before they make a decision about whether they want to enter the NRM. During that period, potential victims will receive advice and support to ensure that they understand their options and what entering the NRM will mean for them. If a potential victim opts to enter the NRM, we must ensure that the care they receive is consistent and meets minimum standards, regardless of where in the country they are being cared for. That is why the Government will adopt the Human Trafficking Foundation’s trafficking survivor care standards as a minimum standard for victim support.

Moving on from the NRM can be a challenging and difficult time for some victims as they leave the security and sanctuary of a safe house and reintegrate into society in the UK or return home. In many cases, the existing 14-day move-on support period does not give enough time for support to be provided properly, so we will extend the period to 45 days, thereby guaranteeing that confirmed victims will receive a minimum of 90 days of Government-funded support. Further, we will extend by a week the period of support for those who are not confirmed as victims, making it nine days. For all confirmed victims who have left the NRM, we will run weekly drop-in centres in partnership with the Salvation Army, so that victims can continue to receive ongoing support and advice.

As part of the refocus I have described, and to enrich the support we give to victims, we wish to make sure that we consider the victims who are in the asylum system. As Members will know, and as was said in the debate, a vast number of victims of slavery are identified by UK Visas and Immigration staff when they are looking through applications and spot people who might also be victims of slavery. It is important that we ensure consistency among people receiving comparable Government support, with respect to their day-to-day living expenses, while also ensuring that the victims of modern slavery receive specialist services, regardless of where they are accommodated, to enable them to begin to recover and rebuild their lives. For those victims of modern slavery who are in asylum accommodation, specialist services are provided through identified outreach support workers, who ensure that victims receive the same expert counselling, medical care, legal aid and other assistance as they would if they were in NRM safe houses.

As we move towards the implementation of the specific improvements to the specialist support arrangements available to all victims of modern slavery that I have announced today, we also plan to align the arrangements for covering basic living costs with those in place for asylum seekers, while continuing to ensure that the specific additional needs of certain people are catered for. We want to build on our work to identify victims of modern slavery properly, so we will also consult on strengthening the first responder role, by among other things looking at the criteria for becoming a responder and making sure they are properly trained.

Lastly, on our final objective, we want to improve the support for child victims. We will continue to roll out the independent child trafficking advocates nationally and to test new and innovative ways of supporting trafficked children, including specialist accommodation. The £2.2 million we granted as part of the child trafficking protection fund will test what specialist support for children works. We will also consider how to make the NRM decision-making process as child friendly as possible, including by looking at how we communicate NRM decisions to children.

We believe that this package of reform will significantly improve the current NRM and put victims’ needs at the centre of the process. We are grateful for the work of the Work and Pensions Select Committee, the Independent Anti-slavery Commissioner, organisations across the third sector and indeed Members of this House. As we deliver the changes I have announced today, I will work with those organisations and Members to ensure that victims experience these improvements as soon as possible. I want no one in the House to be in any doubt that the Government are totally dedicated to preventing this appalling global trade in human misery and to ensuring that victims of modern slavery receive the support they need and that offenders are brought to justice.

We have today heard examples of the great work being done around the country to raise awareness of modern slavery and sent out powerful messages that, despite all our differences on many other issues, the House of Commons is united and committed to ending modern slavery. We in this House and those beyond the Chamber all have a role to play. It is clear to me that only by working together can we stamp out this most horrendous crime against our shared humanity.

Lord Coaker Portrait Vernon Coaker
- Hansard - -

26 Oct 2017, 2:52 p.m.

I thank everyone who has taken the time to contribute to this massively important debate from across the country. I also welcome the Minister’s comments and the reforms she has announced—I think I have had a greater impact as co-chair of the all-party group than I had as policing Minister. [Laughter.] The serious point is that the changes she announced to the NRM, particularly around the extension of the period for which support will be available, are very important. Other extremely important changes are those around aligning the living costs available to victims vis-á-vis people in the asylum system and around awareness raising, particularly with respect to first responders.

There are other things, of course, that arose in the debate that we will need to discuss, but for now I just want to thank the Minister for her response and to say to her that the all-party group will continue to challenge the Government, not because we wish to be underhand, but because it is only by challenge that we can address what we all agree is a heinous crime. As we speak, there are still unknown thousands of children, women and men in sexual or labour exploitation. It is 2017, not 200 years ago during the abolition debate. We need to do more. The Minister has made some welcome comments today, and the House is united in doing all it can to stamp out this modern scourge.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved,

That this House has considered the implementation of the Modern Slavery Act 2015.