Motion for leave to bring in a Bill (Standing Order No. 23)
I beg to move,
That leave be given to bring in a Bill to require the Secretary of State to take steps to eradicate slavery; and for connected purposes.
I must make it clear right from the beginning that I am not talking about being a Back-Bench Tory Member under the current whipping system. That is not what I mean by modern-day slavery, which is a much more serious offence.
My Bill would include, subject to debate, scrutiny and change in this House, the following provisions. First, it would include the consolidation and simplification of existing legislation under one Act. At present, trafficking offences are contained in three separate pieces of legislation: the Sexual Offences Act 2003, the Asylum and Immigration (Treatment of Claimants, etc.) Act 2004, and the Coroners and Justice Act 2009. This makes the legislation contrasting rather than complementary. It also serves to maintain the widely held misunderstanding of modem slavery as primarily an immigration—not a criminal—problem. Bringing all modem slavery and human trafficking offences under one Act would address the current confusion and misunderstanding in the justice system. Moreover, the symbolic message of enacting these provisions under the title “Modem Slavery Act” would itself help to raise the profile of modem slavery and send a clear message, domestically and internationally, that the UK takes this issue very seriously.
Secondly, I propose legislation for an “Anti-Slavery Rapporteur”. As an anti-EU Tory, of course, I could not possibly bring myself to call it that, so why do we not suggest “Commissioner” instead? Modelled on the Children’s Commissioner for England, the Anti-Slavery Commissioner would be statutorily obliged and empowered to represent the interests of victims of modem slavery, and in doing so, would fulfil the role of “critical friend” to the Government.
At present, the Government maintain that the Inter-Departmental Ministerial Group on Human Trafficking is equivalent to a national rapporteur and therefore fulfils the UK’s obligations in this respect under article 19. However, the group fails in this regard. I would argue that it is not possible for a group of Government Ministers to carry out this role: Ministers have many other competing responsibilities and can devote only a limited amount of time to this issue. The group meets only every six months and is often subject to change at reshuffles. Who knows, by the end of next week, we may have a new set of Ministers to deal with.
In addition, attendance at meetings is less than 50% and at the most recent meeting, apart from the Chairman, only two Ministers were present—a Minister for Wales and a Minister for Scotland—with seven Ministers giving their apologies. An Anti-Slavery Commissioner could replace the Inter-Departmental Ministerial Group, be more effective and cost less money.
Thirdly, the Bill would provide for duties on local authorities for the provision of support to adult and child victims. Imagine that a 25-year-old woman from a small village in Moldova has been offered an escape from poverty via a job in the UK working as a waitress, providing a chance to earn some money to send back to her family and provide family members as well as herself with a better quality of life. She arrives in London, but it becomes clear after a while that there never was a legitimate job opportunity. Her “contact” confiscates her passport and locks her in a room where she is beaten and repeatedly raped, and then sold into slavery as a prostitute. She is unable to escape her traffickers. After a few weeks, months, or even years, she is eventually found and rescued by the local police.
The Government currently fund a specialist support programme run by the Salvation Army, which has a network of subcontracted safe shelters. The system of care for adult trafficked victims is very good in the UK—so impressive that the Government have doubled their funding from £1.5 million last year to £3 million this year, despite the austerity. These safe houses offer adult victims the deserved chance to begin a recovery from the horrific mental, physical and emotional damage that they have experienced at the hands of traffickers. These victims have witnessed unimaginable horrors, yet are given an opportunity to be brought back to life.
Now imagine a 15-year-old girl from a small village in Moldova who has been trafficked into the United Kingdom; these stories have the same beginning and middle, but their endings are very different. The girl is enslaved—beaten and raped on a daily basis. She lives in constant fear of her captors, yet is totally dependent on them, with no way to escape.
The police discover the trafficking ring of which the girl is part. She is taken in by the local authority and put into social care as a “missing child”. However, she is given no special care and is not even identified as a victim of trafficking, and the home she is in is not secure. The traffickers know where she is and soon she disappears from care—trafficked back into her living hell, to be beaten and raped once more.
I find it almost impossible to believe that we can stand by and allow such a scandalous situation to continue for one moment longer. We must enact a solution to this outrageous state of affairs in the quickest possible manner. We must address the disparity in care between adult and child victims. We must provide child victims safe and secure homes that will offer them the same level of care and support that adult victims receive. Furthermore, child victims need to be identified and recorded as such by local authorities—a move that would certainly incur no extra cost, but would make a huge difference to the plight of the victims.
Although both the cases I have described are obviously horrific, by the nature of things the magnitude of damage caused to a child victim of trafficking is likely to be significantly greater. It is shameful that we have established, and continue to permit, a system that allows such children to be re-trafficked with such ease. We must learn from the examples of other countries such as the Philippines, which provides safe houses run by local non-governmental organisations and charities, partly funded by the state and designed specifically for the recovery of child victims and their integration back into society.
The fourth purpose of my Bill relates to the non-prosecution of victims. The Court of Appeal recently overturned the convictions of four victims of trafficking who had been prosecuted for crimes committed as a result of trafficking. Three were Vietnamese children forced to work in cannabis farms and one was a woman forced into sexual exploitation. Protection rights for victims are not set out in legislation; they are only in Crown Prosecution Service guidance. It is vital that that discrepancy be addressed. My Bill would bring in the presumption that victims of trafficking should not be prosecuted for crimes committed as a result of their being trafficked.
The Bill will also include clauses about several other issues: the return of foreign-national trafficking victims to their country of origin and their safe integration back into society; a duty to trace and confiscate traffickers’ assets; a requirement for large businesses to report on measures that they are taking to eliminate modern slavery from their supply chains; and a requirement for front-line public servants to receive targeted training relating to human trafficking.
There is a general public and political awareness of the horrific nature of modern-day slavery in the UK and across Europe, but it is not at the top of any Government’s political agenda. Although our Prime Minister has done a lot to improve the situation, having brought in a human trafficking strategy, set up an annual report, had a debate in Parliament, opened exhibitions and opened up Downing street, and although we are moving in the right direction, the British Government must be prepared to stand up to the individuals who perpetrate such evil crimes. They must take the lead on this most crucial of issues, as they did almost 200 years ago.
In 1833, the consequences of the Slavery Abolition Act reverberated around the world.
“You may choose to look the other way but you can never again say that you did not know.”
Those were the words of William Wilberforce in May 1789. I commend the Bill to the House.
Question put and agreed to.
That Mr Peter Bone, Angie Bray, Mr Christopher Chope, Tracey Crouch, Mr Philip Hollobone, Jeremy Lefroy, Peter Luff, Fiona Mactaggart, Greg Mulholland, Stephen Phillips, Jim Shannon and Keith Vaz present the Bill.
Mr Peter Bone accordingly presented the Bill.
Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday, 8 November and to be printed (Bill 90).