House of Commons
Tuesday 8 July 2014
The House met at half-past Eleven o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Business before Questions
Transport for London Bill [Lords]
Buckinghamshire County Council (Filming on Highways) Bill [Lords]
Second Readings opposed and deferred until Tuesday 15 July (Standing Order No. 20).
Oral Answers to Questions
Deputy Prime Minister
The Deputy Prime Minister was asked—
The House will know that on 10 June the Government launched online electoral registration, making registering to vote quicker and simpler than ever before. This is the biggest change to electoral registration in generations. Applying to go on the electoral register now takes as little as three minutes, and I can tell the House that it is proving to be a huge success. As of midnight last night, 93,000 applications have been made since 10 June, 93% have been made online, and 98% of those using the online service said that they were either satisfied or very satisfied with the experience.
The Minister will be aware of Mencap’s “Hear my voice” campaign, which is encouraging learning-disabled voters to engage with Members of Parliament in the run-up to the general election. He will also know that in 2001—the most recent election for which we have data—only one in three people with a learning disability exercised their vote. What more can the Government do to ensure both that this important group of voters are on the electoral register and that they exercise their voting right?
I completely agree with the hon. Lady, who will know that Mencap has been funded specifically by the Government to carry out its important work in making sure that we correct that figure so that everyone takes up their right to vote, including those with learning difficulties.
A disproportionate number of those not registered are among the 200,000 members of our armed services. Many of them are either not interested or are registered in places where they used to live or used to be based. What more can the Government do with the Ministry of Defence and our armed services to encourage our servicemen to register to vote and then, of course, actually to vote?
In the Sheffield city region, which, of course, includes Bassetlaw, students are particularly keen to vote at the next general election. What specific assistance are the Government giving to colleges and, in particular, further education colleges to ensure they can play their role in maximising the number of students who are able to vote?
I am sure there are lots of people in Bassetlaw who are very keen to vote, but it is hard to say whether they will vote for or against the hon. Gentleman. He is absolutely right that, in times past, a smaller number of students have been registered to vote in other places. That is why under the funding formula more money now goes to every place where there is a substantial student population, including Sheffield: £47,000 has been allocated to Sheffield city council specifically to drive up electoral registration.
Last time, I asked the Minister about the schools initiative advocated by Bite the Ballot. I welcome what he has told the House today about the early take-up of online registration, but does he agree that there is no need for an either/or option? May I press him again: can we not combine online registration with a duty on schools and FE colleges so that we ensure that we have a maximum number of young people on the new register?
The hon. Gentleman, for whom I have a great deal of respect, needs to update his brief. Online registration is now live. There is no point in going back to the system that prevailed in Northern Ireland when only paper-based voting was needed. The group most likely to take up the opportunity of electronic registration is young people. In fact, the latest figures show that 43% of those registering are under 30, so online is the way to go with young people.
The introduction of individual electoral registration will help enhance the accuracy of the register, with applications being verified against Government records. The Electoral Commission is conducting a study of the accuracy and completeness of the final electoral registers before IER, which were published in February and March. They were compiled entirely under household registration and the commission plans to report its findings in July. It will then conduct a similar study of the electoral registers when the transitional arrangements for IER come to an end.
Is the Minister aware that if when a voter presents at a polling booth a presiding officer has doubts about their identity, there is no process to substantiate the identity of that member of the public? Is it not time to consider what many other countries have done, including Northern Ireland in the United Kingdom, which is to have presentation of voter identification?
I understand the point my hon. Friend makes, but it is important to bear in mind the fact that there is a very low incidence of voting fraud in this country. I do not want that incidence, which is very small, to be used as a pretext to bring in a national form of identity cards, which would be a step backwards.
The precise figure for the number of times that there have been successful prosecutions for electoral registration fraud is one: there has been one case since 1999, and that was in 2007. Since 2007, there have been no cases of voter electoral registration fraud. Does the Minister think that the Electoral Commission has gone overboard with its recommendation for photo ID for voters?
I have said that I do not agree with that. It is perfectly proper for the Electoral Commission, as an independent body, to put forward proposals, but it is also important for them to be considered and debated in this House before they are in any sense approved. I have made my views known to the commission and to the House.
People said that the coalition would collapse within days, but we have proved them all wrong. As a Government, we have cut the deficit by a third and returned the economy to growth, cut tax for more than 26 million people, overseen more people in work than ever before, created 1.7 million apprenticeships, introduced a pupil premium to help the most disadvantaged schoolchildren—the list goes on. Bearing in mind the record of the previous Government, perhaps the question should instead be about how a single party could govern more effectively.
Actually, I tabled the question out of genuine curiosity. As the right hon. Gentleman is the Minister responsible for the functioning of the coalition, I want to know how it is possible for a policy such as allowing unqualified teachers, which was not in the coalition agreement—he fundamentally and profoundly disagrees with it, as does his party—can become Government policy.
The hon. Gentleman is right to point out that the Liberal Democrats in the coalition feel that all teachers—in whatever classroom, and whatever the nature of the school or the nameplate of the school—should be qualified or seeking qualification, which is what most parents expect. The Department for Education took a decision that, in its executive capacity, it was entitled to take, but in my view it will not stand the test of time, because most parents want to know that their children—their sons and daughters—are taught by properly qualified teachers.
In a spirit of fraternity with my right hon. Friend, would not the best way of improving our electoral chances, and indeed of improving the functioning of Government, be to end the coalition now and to let the Conservatives govern on our own?
The hon. Gentleman’s party did not win a majority last time; let us see whether it succeeds this time. I think that coalition Governments are likely to recur in future, just because of the volatility of British politics, and I remain enormously proud of what we have achieved in this Government.
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that those who do not particularly favour the coalition Government are taking industrial action on Thursday, including a large number of people on low wages who have been forced into acute hardship? Do I take it that the Deputy Prime Minister will condemn those people exercising their democratic rights, as his Tory colleagues will?
I point out to the hon. Gentleman, who is, as ever, livid in the delivery of his question, that the reason we have to make savings is the disastrous mismanagement of the economy by the Labour party. There is nothing fair or progressive about simply shrugging your shoulders, saying that no difficult decisions need to be taken on public sector pay and handing on this generation’s debts to the next generation. Government Members remain united, if not on all issues, on clearing up the unholy mess bequeathed to us by the people on the Labour Benches.
The local growth deals, which we announced yesterday—I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Minister who has been leading on this in Government—are one of the most significant transfers of money, decision-making authority and policy powers from Whitehall to localities around the country. I am delighted that, among the Government’s many other achievements, we have overseen the greatest wave of decentralisation for a generation.
Devolution and Decentralisation
4. What recent discussions he has had with his ministerial colleagues on the Government's policy on devolution and decentralisation. (904711)
I have had fruitful discussions with ministerial colleagues on the devolution of powers and funds to our cities, towns and counties, resulting in 39 growth deals, which I announced yesterday as part of our long-term economic plan. I am delighted that Blackpool features so strongly in the Lancashire growth deal, which takes £233 million from Whitehall and puts it into the hands of the business, civic, university and college leaders of Lancashire.
I welcome the £233 million that was announced yesterday, and I was pleased to be in Blackpool to do so. Will the Minister confirm that this is the beginning and not the end, not merely because I have a lengthy shopping list for my constituency but because we want all our great northern cities of Liverpool, Manchester and Leeds—and maybe even Sheffield—to form a real economic powerhouse to rival London?
My hon. Friend is right, and there is no greater champion of the north-west and Blackpool than he. I can confirm that such has been the success of the growth deals—three and a half times oversubscribed, with projects that bring in a lot of private sector funding—that we will proceed immediately to negotiate further such deals, and I am sure that my hon. Friend will talk to the authorities in Blackpool to further their case.
In his discussions, is the Minister reconsidering whether it would be wiser to have strategic, directly elected mayors in some of our regions so that we do not just give them the money, but have democratic accountability for areas greater than the current boundaries?
The hon. Lady and I share an enthusiasm for directly elected mayors. If we look around the world and at the example of London, and now Liverpool and Bristol, we see that it makes a difference to have someone with a mandate who can speak for the whole city. That is not the current Government’s policy, but various members of the Government have made statements in recent days that might form part of a future Government’s plans.
7. Is the Minister aware that the devolving of power, which has led to funding the smarter routes to employment project, the Woodside link road and the Leighton-Linslade engineering construction skills centre in my constituency, very much reflects the local priorities to improve skills, create more jobs and spread prosperity as widely as possible? (904714)
I agree with my hon. Friend. He elucidates the principle of the deals. It makes no sense for people in Whitehall to claim to know what is needed in a very local sense across the country. It is far better to give local people and local businesses the opportunity to make those decisions and to bring in private investment. You get a bigger bang for your buck that way.
Will the Minister explain why there was no representative from Liverpool there when the Deputy Prime Minister announced the Northern Futures board on Friday? Will he or the Deputy Prime Minister work with local MPs to ensure that Liverpool’s voice is not lost?
There has been no shortage of ministerial visits to Liverpool in recent days. I pay tribute to the mayor and the authorities across the north-west for the international festival of business in Liverpool, which has been a huge success and drawn people from around the world. We were delighted in the Liverpool growth deal to confirm that the second such festival will take place in two years.
I am grateful to the Deputy Prime Minister for that reply, but does he agree that there is a serious, pressing need for fewer MPs, sitting for constituencies with fairer, more equitable boundaries? Will he in future push for that reform as hard as possible?
As the hon. Gentleman will know, the legislation on the statute book will lead to a further review in the next Parliament, ahead of the 2020 general election, and it sets out the basis on which those decisions are made. There is an interesting discussion, not least in the academic survey published recently— just last week, I think—about precisely how such a review will be conducted in future so that communities are not split up and the integrity of wards is maintained.
Will the Deputy Prime Minister commit to look again at further boundary revisions? If, at a time when individual voter registration is being introduced, it turns out—it might or might not—that there has been a substantial fall in registration, will he commit not to press ahead immediately with further revisions?
As the hon. Lady knows, we are confident that we are doing everything we can—we are taking a belt-and-braces approach—to ensure that registration levels do not fall. We have learned from the experience of Northern Ireland and have worked on a consensual, cross-party basis to get this right, because all parties accept that we need to move to individual voter registration. I do not anticipate that the situation she predicts will arise.
Assuming that the next boundary review will be—we hope—on a UK basis, will the Deputy Prime Minister look at the unhappy experience of this Parliament and the exceptions that were granted for the Isle of Wight, and the northern and western isles? The manifest absence of any such willingness to appreciate the vast geography of the several constituencies of the highlands and islands of Scotland means that my constituency has one Westminster MP and no fewer than eight Members of the Scottish Parliament serving it. That cannot make sense.
I certainly agree with my right hon. Friend that, as the reviews occur in future, we shall need to be mindful, first, of the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for North West Norfolk (Mr Bellingham), ensuring that there is enough latitude in the rules so that boundary commissions are not forced to split up naturally formed communities; and, secondly, of the need not to create such unfeasibly large constituencies that it is almost impossible physically to represent them in this place.
Individual Voter Registration
As part of the transition to individual electoral registration, we are using data matching to confirm the majority of current electors on the existing register without their having to make a new application. The transition is being phased in over two years, which means that no one registered to vote at the last canvass will lose their right to vote at the general election in 2015. The Electoral Commission will have an awareness campaign; in addition, the introduction of online registration makes electoral registration much more accessible.
No, the hon. Gentleman is out of date. Of the applications made since 10 June, more than 90% have been successfully confirmed with Government data, so it is going extremely well. The electoral registration community around the country is pretty pleased with the progress.
I welcome the Minister’s good news about the take-up and about online registration. To go back to the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Blaenau Gwent (Nick Smith), is the Minister aware that more than 250 local authorities have not confirmed whether they have data matched their registers with central Government databases, as they were supposed to do, and that almost 100 have failed to conduct a door-to-door canvass at least once in the past five years of those who are not on the register? Will he look into that and tell us what he is going to do about it?
The right hon. Gentleman is getting ahead of himself. The new system started on 10 June. There is a big campaign in which every electoral registration officer will write to every household in the weeks ahead. They will then follow that up with the door-to-door canvass. After that is the time to see how they have performed. The right hon. Gentleman needs to reflect on the current rather than the past system.
I support the Deputy Prime Minister’s policy to get some of the most disadvantaged two-year-olds into free child care. However, does he share my concern that nearly two thirds of councils recently reported that they have vulnerable two-year-olds in poor quality settings? What is more, the Sutton Trust says that that is likely to get worse in September as the scheme is expanded. What assurances can he give that no vulnerable two-year-old will be in a poor-quality child care setting?
I am glad the hon. Lady takes such an interest, because providing that free pre-school support to two-year-olds from the most disadvantaged families is a progressive and significant policy. I believe she is referring to the data released on 26 June which, it is worth pointing out, were from a census carried out in January. We are obviously looking at the data very carefully. As it happens, there are now around 280,000 vacant child care places available around the country. As she will know, the offer to two-year-olds will be expanded to twice as many families, so we need to ensure that there is a funded place available to around 260,000. The demand and supply are there, but she makes a valid point that the care needs to be of a high quality and standard. I am keen to take on board any ideas she has about how we can ensure that happens.
T3. May I take the opportunity to welcome the “devolution revolution” represented in the growth fund announcement yesterday? Specifically, the announcement about the Henbury line—after a lot of pestering it shows that pester power can work—is very welcome. For local residents, having a loop line soon is an absolute priority, before housing in north Bristol creates absolute gridlock. Will the Deputy Prime Minister work with the local enterprise partnership to ensure that the public’s priorities are represented in the LEP’s priorities? (904695)
First, I am very grateful to the hon. Lady for the phrase “devolution revolution”. We should have used that yesterday—it would, perhaps, have given us even more coverage. On the Henbury loop line, she is right to say that this has been warmly welcomed by the local community. I pay tribute to all the work she has done to make sure that that is the case. In terms of the plans the local enterprise partnership comes up with, the whole point of LEPs is precisely that they speak on behalf of the community and that they do not represent a top-down quango approach. My understanding is that as part of the growth deal with the west of England, we have agreed to co-invest in several jointly agreed priorities, including the MetroWest project, which reflect local needs and local wishes.
With more people going to A and E, not least because of the difficulty of seeing their GP, the average time people spend in A and E has gone up, not down, despite what the Prime Minister tried to claim last week. Last year, nearly 1 million patients had to wait more than four hours in A and E—the worst year in a decade. Is the Deputy Prime Minister, like the Prime Minister, just going to deny this, or will he get his Government to do something about it?
What I find so curious about the right hon. and learned Lady’s line of questioning is that it comes from the party of Mid Staffs and the party that doubled the number of managers. This is the party that refused to commit to the £12.7 billion funding increase that this Government put into the NHS. Above all, it was her Government who entered into outrageous sweetheart deals with the private sector that meant that a quarter of a billion pounds of taxpayers’ money was handed over to private sector health providers without helping a single NHS patient.
Of course we need to work hard to support our A and E services. They are under greater pressure than ever before, but her party’s approach—cutting the budget, employing more managers and not more nurses, and handing out sweetheart deals to the private sector—is not the way to do it.
Does the right hon. Gentleman really think that the terrible things that happened in Mid Staffs were representative of the situation in our fantastic NHS as a whole? Shame on him! People will see that there is no chance of the Government sorting out the problems in A and E when they are just intent on pretending there is no problem. It is the same old story when the Tories are in power: the NHS is undermined and people suffer. Does he realise that his plan to differentiate his party from the Tories is doomed to fail while he is supporting the Tories on the NHS every step of the way and smearing the NHS as well?
If the right hon. and learned Lady’s Government were not responsible for Mid Staffs, which Government were? They were in power at the time. The reports made it quite clear that it was because of the manic approach to targets that health professionals in Mid Staffs and elsewhere were taking such false decisions. Does she deny that her party still has not supported our budget increase for the NHS? Does she still deny that it was her Government who gave sweetheart deals to the private sector, and imposed botched privatisation and competition on the NHS? We do not need to take any lectures from her on the NHS.
T5. I welcome the investment for Kent announced yesterday in the local growth fund proposals, but does the Deputy Prime Minister agree that the Government and the South East local enterprise partnership should give further consideration to supporting the Folkestone seafront development, a scheme that could have a major impact on the further regeneration of the town? (904697)
I know how keen the hon. Gentleman and many of his constituents are on securing funding for the Folkestone seafront regeneration. I know that he is disappointed that it was not included in the growth deal announced yesterday, which was, of course, a significant one. It is worth £440 million between now and 2021, and in his area it is principally focused on some transport projects. I simply urge him to carry on making the case for the Folkestone seafront regeneration because the growth deals announced yesterday were not the final word; we want to continue with this approach and I very much hope that the Folkestone seafront regeneration project will finally be agreed.
T2. Does the Deputy Prime Minister agree that if individual voter registration is to work, we are all, in part, responsible for making it work, including civic society? May I ask him, very politely and very nicely, if he will consider the Bite the Ballot schools initiative? I heard what was said about this earlier. The Deputy Prime Minister used to be a good democrat; will he actually come out in favour of it? (904694)
I have attended a session in a school in my constituency under the so-called Rock Enrol! programme organised by the Bite the Ballot team, an excellent team with whom I have worked over many years. They are brilliant people who organise motivational schemes for young people who, almost invariably, are much more interested in voting as a result. All of us, as constituency MPs, must play our part in working in partnership with the organisation in schools in our local areas.
T6. The Government have repeatedly stressed the importance of rail connectivity to economic development, and did so again yesterday in the excellent announcements on local growth deals. May I draw my right hon. Friend’s attention to a proposal in a consultation document from the Department for Transport that suggests the ending of three services between Cleethorpes and Manchester, which could have a detrimental effect on the private sector investment that yesterday’s announcements were aimed to attract? (904698)
The hon. Gentleman will be aware that we are currently considering options for services between Manchester and Cleethorpes in the new TransPennine Express and Northern franchises. So far the analysis of the journeys made by people has found that the majority of passengers from Cleethorpes are only travelling as far as Sheffield, or connecting at Doncaster or Sheffield for onward services. That is why we are considering the case for terminating the current direct services from Manchester at Doncaster, with a replacement service from Sheffield to Cleethorpes, but the consultation runs until August and I encourage him and anyone with an interest in this proposal to share their views through that process.
T4. The Deputy Prime Minister has previously brought forward proposals for the reform of the House of Lords that would have increased the percentage of bishops, giving them 12 out of 300 seats. Given that the Church of England is not the established Church in all parts of the UK and has shown a much less than enthusiastic approach to adopting UK equality legislation, particularly on women and same-sex marriage, will he consider in any future proposals he brings forward either reducing the percentage of bishops or removing them altogether from the House of Lords? (904696)
The representation of the Church in the current or a reformed House of Lords must, like anything in this area, be subject to cross-party discussions. I have my own views; the hon. Lady has hers. Personally I would like a completely directly elected second Chamber. That is a normal approach but, as she knows, her party, for reasons that only she can explain to me, decided not to support a reform that the Labour party was supposed to have made for generations. I say, “Shame on the Labour party.”
T7. May I press my right hon. Friend on ensuring that people who are in the military can be registered? May I make a practical suggestion, which is that responsibility be given to the adjutant on the base to make sure that all members of the military fill in the forms? (904699)
My hon. Friend raises an important point. Online registration is making registering to vote quicker and more convenient than ever before. It helps those based overseas, such as military personnel. He may know that we have removed the requirement for applications from overseas voters to be attested, except where identity cannot be established against the public record. The Ministry of Defence conducts extensive information campaigns with the support of the Electoral Commission every year to encourage service personnel and their families to register to vote. I hope that that will continue to raise the levels of registration among those personnel.
T8. I am not sure whether the Minister of State understood the question from my right hon. Friend the Member for Tooting (Sadiq Khan). Since 2008, it has been law that electoral registration officers must knock on the doors of householders who do not return their electoral registration forms. Since then, 98 EROs have broken the law, and West Devon has broken it five times. This breaking of the law has been tolerated by the Deputy Prime Minister’s Department and by the Electoral Commission. When is it going to stop? (904700)
The hon. Gentleman raises an important point, and there is obviously no dispute either that the law must be applied or about the importance of door-to-door canvasses. Under the system, the Electoral Commission has formally to request the Government to issue a direction that EROs should act where this is not being done. We have not yet received that request from the Electoral Commission.
T9. In May, the Deputy Prime Minister met Prime Minister Sharif of Pakistan. Did he raise with him the need to reform Pakistan’s blasphemy laws, which are often used to persecute and prosecute minority communities, including the Christian community? What was Mr Sharif’s response to such representations? (904701)
I did indeed raise a range of human rights concerns with Prime Minister Sharif during his recent visit. I know—I think this has been confirmed to the hon. Gentleman—that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister discussed Pakistan’s blasphemy laws with Mr Sharif during the same visit. I want to pay tribute, as I am sure all Members will, to those brave people in Pakistan who are pushing for debate and reform. We will not shy away from raising this issue with the Pakistan Government or Prime Minister Sharif. After his visit, if not before, he is certainly clear of the seriousness with which we treat the issue that the hon. Gentleman has rightly raised.
T11. Earlier this year, the Deputy Prime Minister said it was an exaggeration to suggest that rising food poverty was linked to the coalition’s welfare reforms, yet when the all-party inquiry into hunger and food poverty visited South Shields last week, we heard person after person say that benefit delays and sanctions had led them to rely on handouts. Does the Deputy Prime Minister think my constituents are exaggerating? (904703)
I think the hon. Lady is being extremely partial in her description of my views on this issue. Of course this is something that we need to take extremely seriously; no one wants to see people needlessly going hungry in our society. Rather than seeking to boil down the complex reasons for why people might go to food banks into a simple soundbite, she should recognise that under her Government, relative poverty was higher than it is now, unemployment was higher, youth unemployment was higher, more children were living in relative poverty—300,000 more than there are now—and more pensioners were living in relative poverty. Before she starts casting stones, she should look at her own party’s record in government.
“Finally” is the operative word for something that has bedevilled debate in Westminster for more than 100 years. As the hon. Gentleman knows, in January 2012 we set up the McKay commission to consider how the House of Commons should deal with legislation that affects only part of the United Kingdom. The commission’s report—an excellent one—was published in March, and the Government are now considering it in detail. I must point out to the hon. Gentleman that if this question were so straightforward to sort out, I suspect someone would have done it a long time ago.
T13. Under the Deputy Prime Minister’s flagship school meals programme, he pledged that every infant child would receive a hot, healthy school meal. How many children will be eating cold sandwiches in September because, once again, he cannot keep his word? (904705)
Even by the hon. Lady’s standards, it is a bit sour to try to undermine a policy that has not yet been implemented. It will be implemented in September and is a really progressive policy. All the evidence shows—as did the pilots conducted under the previous Government in Durham and parts of east London—that this will not only save families on low income a lot of money, but help to raise the educational performance of children from lower-income backgrounds and provide a powerful way of creating cohesion among young children as they share a meal together. We are working intensively with thousands of schools across the country at the moment, so I cannot give the hon. Lady a precise answer, but the overwhelming majority of those schools are already ready to provide this service. We are working with them over the summer to make sure that if there are any exceptions in the provision of those healthy school meals at lunch time in September, there will be only a very small number of them.
My right hon. Friend recently visited Solihull college in my constituency, and saw for himself the brilliant work that it is doing with skills and apprenticeships. Will he join me in welcoming the Birmingham and Solihull LEP growth deal, which will, among many other things, make an aviation engineering training centre a reality, and help Birmingham international airport to become the go-to place for the world’s airlines when they need engineering, maintenance and repair work to be done?
I certainly join the hon. Lady in paying tribute to everyone who worked on the growth deal in her area. Over the next few years, growth deals collectively will represent a transfer of £12 billion of Government money away from Whitehall—out of Departments here in London—and into the hands of local communities and local enterprise partnerships. That is a really big, bold act of decentralisation, which I think will finally break the back of the excessive centralisation from which we have suffered for far too long.
As the hon. Lady will know, special advisers play a very important role in all Governments. Of course they need to be held to account, and of course we need to be entirely transparent about how many are employed, what they are paid, and so on. We have taken unprecedented steps in publishing that information. Special advisers play a particularly important role in a coalition. We have two parties seeking to work—as we generally do—productively and co-operatively within the Government.
Does the Deputy Prime Minister agree that the growth deal for Coventry and Warwickshire will provide huge benefits through investment in advanced manufacturing at Ansty Park, which will complement the excellent work of the manufacturing technology centre which is already on the site?
I strongly agree with the hon. Gentleman, and I am delighted that so many Members are as excited as I am about the fact that the growth deals mark such a dramatic break from the past. Now, finally, people can take their economic destiny into their own hands, rather than having everything dictated to them from Whitehall.
T15. I represent a city that introduced free hot, healthy meals for all primary school pupils, which were then scrapped by an incoming Liberal Democrat council. Is it not the case that one in five infants will be in receipt of cold sandwiches from September onwards? Have we not seen enough of these half-baked promises from the Liberal Democrats? [Hon. Members: “Half-baked!”] The Deputy Prime Minister has got this wrong, and he needs to rethink it. (904707)
My head is swimming with the idea of a half-baked cold sandwich.
As the hon. Lady knows, the local Liberal Democrats objected to some of the plans of her local party because it was stealing from Peter to give to Paul. It was taking money away from low-income children in Hull to pay for that particular policy. We are giving schools far more time to deliver the free school meal commitment to children in the first three years of primary school than they were given by the pilot projects that were conducted by the hon. Lady’s party in government. We are providing an unprecedented amount of support. We have set aside a huge amount of money, and we are working intensively in schools. Instead of seeking to denigrate such a big, progressive policy, she should support it.
I welcome the emphasis on advanced manufacturing in Swindon and Wiltshire’s local growth deal, which was announced yesterday. That manufacturing extends well beyond Swindon, as I was able to show the Chief Secretary to the Treasury earlier this year. Does the Deputy Prime Minister recognise that we need to make investments to ensure that our local industry remains competitive if employers are not to go the same way as Dunlop, for example, in the automotive supply chain?
Of course I agree with my hon. Friend. One of the vital principles of rebalancing the British economy is getting away from the over-reliance on one square mile, the City of London, and instead catering for thousands of square miles across the country. That means giving as much equality of esteem to manufacturing as has traditionally been given to financial services. Under Labour, manufacturing declined three times faster than it did under the Thatcher Government, but it is now finally rebounding in a healthier way than it has for many years.
When is this coalition going to start breaking up? It is obvious that we have only nine months left for an election. At some point, the Deputy Prime Minister will have to make some announcement from that Box to say that it is breaking up.
I have an idea. There is a big march on Thursday, against pay levels, the wage freeze and everything else. Students will be on the march. The Deputy Prime Minister could join them. He could imagine that it is five years ago—he could take his little pledge card and promise them the moon. When is he going to do it?
I still marvel and admire the zeal and energy with which the hon. Gentleman delivers every question—well, they are not questions really; they are a sort of outpouring of bile. This Government will see the course through to the end of this Parliament. We have legislated for a fixed-term Parliament. That is an important constitutional innovation. As I said earlier, I personally think that coalition Governments of different compositions are more likely in future. That is why, among many other reasons, it is important that we do what we say and see through this Parliament from end to end until May 2015.
I understand that, to strengthen the coalition, there may be a reshuffle on Monday. How does that work? Does the Deputy Prime Minister have specific posts that he appoints, such as the post of Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills? Can he appoint only Liberal Democrats to those posts, or can he approach other Members? If so, does he have my mobile telephone number?
There is no better way to finish Deputy Prime Minister’s questions than with the hon. Members for Bolsover (Mr Skinner) and for Wellingborough (Mr Bone). I am afraid I do not have the mobile telephone number of the hon. Member for Wellingborough. I am not going to ask for it; I hope he does not take that too badly. He is a versatile politician, but I do not think in anyone’s wildest imaginings he could ever approximate a decent Liberal Democrat.
The Attorney-General was asked—
The Crown Prosecution Service delivers a reliable and consistent service, achieving an overall conviction rate of 85% or above in each of the past four years. The CPS is introducing new casework quality standards and standard operating procedures to seek to ensure that a consistent approach to quality is adopted across each CPS area.
I thank the Attorney-General for his answer, but prosecution and conviction rates for rape and other sexual crimes in particular vary widely across the country. What are the Government going to do to seek to ensure that all such crimes are prosecuted and convictions achieved, wherever the crimes occur?
There are indeed some regional variations, although overall when looked at in the round they are perhaps less significant than might be appreciated. However, the CPS has put a great deal of effort into prioritising cases of violence against women and girls, including rape. I am satisfied that, particularly when one looks at those areas that have had the lowest performances—London is a good example of this—the efforts that have been made recently, particularly by Baljit Ubhey, the new Chief Crown Prosecutor, should, with the reviews that have taken place, lead to significant improvements, and indeed they already have.
I am sure that the Attorney-General would like to join me in congratulating Durham CPS on achieving a conviction rate of almost 82%. What is he doing to support Durham in sharing that best practice, so that we can get an overall improvement in conviction rates, which is very much needed?
I seek to support Durham CPS in a number of ways. First, I go to visit Durham CPS; it has been a pleasure to visit its area offices. Secondly, I have a dialogue with the Director of Public Prosecutions on a monthly basis, and if necessary more frequently, when we keep the statistics under review. I have often said that statistics can sometimes become a bit misleading if one becomes obsessed with them, but they are a very good benchmark of quality. Linked to that is the feedback that we get. Equally, what I pick up through the unduly lenient sentence system enables me to evaluate whether the system is working properly in the case of court presentation.
For all those reasons, although I am certainly not complacent and I know that we constantly have to drive this agenda, I am satisfied that the CPS has performed outstandingly on overall conviction rates. On issues concerning rape and violence against women and girls, raised by the hon. Member for Luton North (Kelvin Hopkins), while I clearly have anxieties about areas where there may be lower rates, the performance overall seems, particularly in the hon. Lady’s area, to be very good indeed.
On his visits around different CPS offices, will my right hon. and learned Friend try to get a handle on whether there are regional variations in how we prosecute people who assault vulnerable people, particularly those with dementia? He will be aware of a constituent case of mine, where the public interest test was cited as the reason for not taking forward a prosecution of an assault on someone with dementia. That has caused great concern. Will my right hon. and learned Friend look into this?
Yes, I am happy to look into it. I am aware of the case, but my hon. Friend will not be entirely surprised that in addition to that I do not think I can give him an answer about the statistics. If we can find some figures on that type of offence to see whether there are variations, I will provide him with that information.
Not only conviction rates are important; referrals to the CPS also show huge variations. Cheshire tops the table, with 65% of rape allegations being passed to the CPS and 33% of domestic violence incidents being reported to the CPS, but in Warwickshire the figure is only 3.5%. Has my right hon. and learned Friend given any consideration to regional variations in reporting to the CPS?
The Government as a whole are giving a great deal of attention to regional variations in reporting. The Prime Minister and the Home Secretary have both made this a priority issue. Indeed, I am also aware that the Opposition have taken this issue very seriously, as we all should. There are reviews of why there might be inconsistencies in the reference rates. I wish to see those evened out. I also wish to see the agenda driven forward, as indeed I know does the Director of Public Prosecutions, and as did his predecessor.
In the period from 1 July 2013 to 4 July 2014 the sentences of 105 offenders were referred as unduly lenient and have either been heard or are due to be heard by the Court of Appeal. My office releases annual statistics for unduly lenient sentence referrals from the previous calendar year, and my office will release the 2013 statistics in the near future.
I am grateful to the Attorney-General for that answer. Can he clarify which type of offence has most often been referred to the Court of Appeal, and on how many occasions the Court of Appeal has increased the sentence? Will he confirm that his Department has received representations to review the sentence in the Rolf Harris case?
I can confirm that the Attorney-General’s office has received a request to review the sentence in the Rolf Harris case. I can give this clarification: for the same period, from 1 July 2013 to 30 June 2014, the type of offences most often referred to us are, indeed, sexual offences. That includes rape, indecent assault and assault by penetration and other offences. Thirty-one such cases were referred in that period, 25 of which have been heard, and all sentences have been increased. Six cases are yet to be heard.
I have referred cases from my own area to the right hon. and learned Gentleman’s office when I have thought that the sentence was unduly lenient. Is that a common practice? Does he receive that kind of information from large numbers of Members of Parliament?
I get some references from Members of Parliament. I do not have the exact figures, but in a given year we receive somewhere between 350 and 400 references. They come from everywhere, including MPs, and I would like to emphasise that if a Member of Parliament feels a sentence is unduly lenient, they should feel free to make such a reference. Each reference will be treated with equal weight, and whether I receive 600 references or one on one particular case, they will be given due consideration.
Of course, we all want fewer references and fewer referrals, and much clearer sentencing guidelines and sentences that are fit for purpose. Can the right hon. and learned Gentleman give me and the House an assurance that that will be the case when we get the much-heralded review of sentences for criminal driving?
If I may say, the evidence is overwhelming that we are moving to greater consistency in sentencing. The Sentencing Council and the progressive rolling out of sentencing guidelines is an immensely helpful tool to judges in ensuring consistency in sentencing. In addition, if the judge has not explained any inconsistency with the guidance, that usually provides a good basis for my making a reference in those cases which are referable. I think we are moving in the right direction, and that progress is totally supported by the judiciary. I therefore hope that, as we move to new areas in which guidance is provided, the need for me to make references will go down.
Child Abuse (Prosecutions)
4. What steps he plans to take to ensure that child abuse offences are prosecuted successfully. (904728)
The Crown Prosecution Service prosecutes child abuse cases robustly. In 2013-14, the number of such prosecutions rose by 440 to 7,998, with a conviction rate of 76.2%. Steps to prosecute the cases include piloting pre-recorded cross-examination of children, prioritising cases involving children aged 10 and under, and applying a new approach to child sexual abuse cases generally.
I am grateful for that answer. The Director of Public Prosecutions recently announced a series of measures regarding cases of rape because of the decline in referrals from the police to the CPS. Will such measures be considered in cases of child sex abuse, given that there has been a decline in referrals of such cases from the police to the CPS since 2010-11?
The emerging evidence is that the referrals are beginning to increase, which is good news. However, there are new guidelines, issued last October, for child sex abuse cases, which provide that there should be specialist prosecutors; a focus on the allegation, not the victim: early third-party material; and a challenging of myths and stereotypes.
Given that historic child abuse cases are being revisited because there is a chance of successful prosecution, can the Solicitor-General clarify the policy of his office and of the CPS on the destruction of documents, and what has been the policy over the years?
As my right hon. Friend will know, the Home Secretary announced yesterday an inquiry that will look into the way in which paedophilia and institutions have operated. A separate inquiry, which he knows about, is looking into the documents and dossiers, including those of my former hon. Friend Geoffrey Dickens. A lot of work is being done to discover the history. As far as the present situation is concerned, the Government are for maximum security and care in looking after documents and want to see transparency in everything they do.
May I press the Solicitor-General on that answer? He is aware that there is acute public concern at the suggestion that Government Departments, particularly the Home Office but also the Director of Public Prosecutions, failed to act on a series of child abuse allegations brought to their attention by the late Geoffrey Dickens MP. It has been reported that although documents outlined in those allegations were presented to the DPP in 1983, the CPS can no longer locate them. The Home Secretary has instigated an inquiry, but perhaps the Solicitor-General can clarify a couple of matters now.
What is CPS policy on document retention from the DPP’s office in the early 1980s, and does the apparent disappearance of the documents suggest that an exception was made to that policy, or was it breached? What explanation has the Solicitor-General received about the absence of the files? What steps has the CPS taken to try to recover the documents, and can he say what action, if any, was taken regarding the allegations by the DPP or the CPS in 1983 or at any time thereafter?
I do not think I will be able to answer all those questions, but I will certainly write to the hon. Lady when I have reflected on all the detailed points she made.
I want to make the point that the sort of decisions made in 1970 or 1998 occurred under a very different approach from the courts. I think the hon. Lady would accept that since that time the maximum sentences for indecent assault have been increased; the way in which corroboration is dealt with by the courts has changed; and the ways in which character evidence and historical allegations are looked at have changed. For now, I would say that in the current situation the Crown Prosecution Service makes the prosecution of these cases a top priority, and there are new guidelines and all the sorts of approaches I have already mentioned. We are living in a very different world, but I will write to her on the detailed points.
Will Law Officers take every available step to ensure that public servants and former public servants are not prevented, by terms of severance agreements or the Official Secrets Act, from providing information on which the inquiry is contingent?
The CPS is the principal prosecutor of domestic bribery, and the Serious Fraud Office has lead responsibility for enforcing the provisions of the Bribery Act 2010 in respect of overseas corruption. I hold regular meetings with the Director of Public Prosecutions and the director of the SFO to discuss issues affecting their respective organisations. I am satisfied that both organisations are well positioned to enforce bribery laws, as is well illustrated by the major investigations into cases of suspected foreign bribery that the SFO has commenced.
I do not think that the SFO does have to go cap in hand to the Treasury. The SFO can go to the Treasury for special funding. The difficulty has always been that some cases require a lot of funds, and if they are not being inquired into, the SFO is probably receiving more money in any given year than it needs. I accept that this is an issue, and the hon. Gentleman is right to raise it, but I am satisfied that the SFO has not been prevented by financing from investigating any cases it wishes. That is a good starting point.
7. What recent estimate he has made of the total value of criminal assets subject to Serious Fraud Office confiscation orders that are hidden overseas.
The Serious Fraud Office estimates that, as at today, approximately £32.1 million of criminal assets subject to confiscation orders in SFO cases are hidden overseas. Sophisticated criminals often transfer their assets to other jurisdictions and misuse legal ownership structures to make recovery difficult, but since 2009 the SFO has managed to recover £76 million for victims of crime.
Given the amount of money criminals have hidden overseas that is owed to the SFO, will the Solicitor-General support Labour amendments to the Serious Crime Bill to increase the power of prosecutors and increase penalties for suspects who hide their assets overseas?
As the hon. Lady knows, that Bill is part of the Government’s serious and organised crime strategy, and it includes measures to strengthen the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 and enhance our enforcement powers during the fourth parliamentary Session. Of course the Government will always look at what amendments are and whether they improve the situation, and I am sure that will be case in this matter, as always.
May I welcome my hon. Friend to Law Officers questions?
The Crown Prosecution Service works closely with the police and voluntary sector to ensure that vulnerable victims of sexual abuse and domestic violence are well supported. Special measures include: intermediaries; screening at court; and use of the video live link to help victims give their best evidence, supported by independent sexual violence advisers and domestic advisers who can guide them through the criminal justice process.
Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that new measures such as pre-recording evidence with vulnerable witnesses before a trial go a long way towards helping victims? Will he join me in thanking local organisations such as the Newark Women’s Aid and refuge which have campaigned on this for several years?
Yes, I am delighted to do so. I am also delighted to tell my hon. Friend that the Crown Prosecution Service in the east midlands is due to commence a pilot in Nottinghamshire shortly, whereby victims of domestic violence will be offered the chance to give evidence by video live link. A number of other measures have been put in place by the CPS to try to improve victims’ experience of going to court to give evidence in those very difficult cases.
Points of Order
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. The ministerial code of conduct makes it clear that Ministers must give accurate and truthful information to Parliament, correcting any inadvertent error at the earliest possible opportunity.
On 11 June, I asked whether the Department for Work and Pensions’ business case for the implementation of universal credit had been approved by the Treasury. In her reply, the employment Minister, the Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions, the right hon. Member for Wirral West (Esther McVey) said:
“The Chief Secretary to the Treasury has approved the UC Strategic Outline Business Case plans for the remainder of this Parliament (2014-15) as per the ministerial announcement (5 December 2013, Official Report, column 65WS)”—[Official Report, 30 June 2014; Vol. 583, c. 434W.]
When asked yesterday whether the Treasury had signed off the business case for universal credit, Sir Bob Kerslake told the Public Accounts Committee:
“I think we should not beat about the bush. It has not been signed off.”
This morning, in response to a parliamentary question asking whether the Treasury had signed off the business case, the Financial Secretary to the Treasury said:
“The Treasury have approved funding for the Universal Credit programme in 2013-14 and 2014-15.”——[Official Report, 7 July 2014; Vol. 584, c. 124W.]
In other words, the straightforward answer to the question whether Has the Treasury approved the DWP’s business case for the implementation of universal credit is no. That is the reverse of what the employment Minister said.
Mr Speaker, will you explain to the House the process whereby a Minister can correct the record?
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her point of order. Every Member of the House is responsible for the veracity of what he or she says in it. As she will be aware, and other Members will know, there is a procedure available to Ministers if they need to correct the record. It is open to them to do so by coming to the House and setting the record straight if they judge that appropriate. In so far as issues appertaining to the ministerial code are concerned, the House will be aware that I am not responsible for compliance with the code. That responsibility rests elsewhere. I think it is best to leave it there for now, and I am happy to see whether there is any development that causes the matter to be brought before the House again.
Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. Will you advise us on the rights of Back-Bench Members of Parliament in this regard? Evidence was given to my Committee yesterday by Sir Jeremy Heywood, Sir Nicholas Macpherson and Sir Bob Kerslake. When I asked whether the policy was on track, Sir Jeremy replied:
“In its current form, I believe it is.”
When I asked Sir Nicholas whether he had signed off the business case, he replied:
“I believe that at each key milestone of the reset programme there is a Treasury decision to take.”
Finally, after about six or seven questions, it was Sir Bob Kerslake who said:
“I think we should not beat about the bush. It has not been signed off.”
The important thing for Back-Bench Members is that we need to know who is telling the truth—the head of the civil service or the Minister. We need to have a mechanism that enables us to assess that. Smoke and mirrors have been used. Hundreds of millions of pounds are at stake, and millions of benefit claimants will have their future at risk. We, as Back Benchers, need to know the truth.
There are two responses to the right hon. Lady. First, by long-standing convention—and I think that it is a wise convention—the Speaker does not comment on proceedings in Committee until the report of a Committee has been published, so I will refrain from commenting on any of the exchanges to which the right hon. Lady helpfully drew my attention. Secondly, if there is a lingering uncertainty or confusion about a factual state of affairs, there are means by which these matters that are judged to be highly topical can be brought to the attention of the House. I do not think that I need to elaborate on what I have said. It will be well known to Members that there are mechanisms available to them, and it is up to them to decide whether to seek to use those mechanisms and for me to decide whether it is appropriate that they should. For today, we should leave it there. I hope that that is helpful to the House.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Yesterday, I raised a point of order about a ministerial visit to my constituency of which I was not given prior notice. The hon. Member for Stockton South (James Wharton) was also at the visit without informing me in advance. The hon. Gentleman said in the House last night that his role
“was to drop off my hon. Friend the Minister”.—[Official Report, 7 July 2014; Vol. 584, c. 63.]
It now appears in the local media that his role was more than that of a chauffeur, as the photographs suggest that he was an integral part of the visit. Have you received any indication from the hon. Gentleman that he wants to put the record straight and apologise to the House?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his point of order. I have received no such indication, although the hon. Member for Stockton South (James Wharton) is in his place and if he wishes to say something, it is open to him to do so. He is stirring from his seat.
Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. I stand by what I said yesterday. My role was to drop off the Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, my hon. Friend the Member for Great Yarmouth (Brandon Lewis), who was visiting Hitachi, that great investment that this Government have brought to the north-east, creating thousands of jobs and bringing in millions of pounds. I did not stay throughout the full visit. I dropped him off, spoke briefly to the media, got a quick photograph and left before the visit was complete. My role was to drop the Minister off, Mr Speaker. How may I most accurately put on the record my honest and well-meant suggestion to the hon. Member for Sedgefield (Phil Wilson) that rather than continually making points of order of this type in this place, which of course he is entitled to do, he would perhaps be better served asking Hitachi why they did not invite him to attend?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. I have listened to his explanation and I do think that we should operate in a fashion informed by common sense. My colleague in the Chair at the time that the hon. Member for Sedgefield (Phil Wilson) raised his original point of order about this matter said that
“we are all grown-up enough to know what the conventions imply about visiting another Member’s constituency.” —[Official Report, 7 July 2014; Vol. 584, c. 63.]
I have no intention of having a lengthy debate on the matter, but suffice it to say that the question of how long a Member was present on a particular visit is pretty immaterial. I do not doubt that the hon. Member for Stockton South (James Wharton) is a first-class driver. I have not benefited from his skills in that regard over the years, but I have no reason to question that he would be a very satisfactory chauffeur. If in fact he took part in the visit, I think he must know the logic of that. I appeal to Members, particularly in this sensitive time in the run-up to a general election, to take care to observe not merely the letter but the spirit of the convention about prior notification. I do not want to go beyond that, so let us leave the matter there. Let us try to ensure that we behave in a way that is seemly and the public would think is seemly. Let us leave it there.
Modern Slavery Bill
[Relevant document: Report from the Joint Committee on the draft Modern Slavery Bill, HC 1019, and the Government response, Cm 8889.]
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
In few other crimes are human beings used as commodities for the personal gain of others as they are in the appalling crime of modern slavery. Men, women and children, British and foreign nationals of all ages are forced, tricked and coerced into a horrendous life of servitude and abuse: women forced into prostitution, raped repeatedly, and denied their liberty; children groomed and sexually exploited for profit; vulnerable men conned into brutal and inhumane work in fields, in factories and on fishing vessels; people forced into a life of crime; and some people even made to work as servants in people’s homes. Throughout, there are accounts of sexual violence, beatings, humiliation, hunger and mental torture.
This crime is taking place, hidden from view, across Britain today. That it is taking place is an affront not just to those it affects, but to the collective human dignity of all of us. Modern slavery has no place in Britain, and like many people in this House and beyond, I want to see it consigned to history. But if we are to stamp it out, we must ensure that the police and the courts have the powers they need to bring the perpetrators to justice. More arrests and more prosecutions will mean more traffickers and slave drivers behind bars, but importantly, it will also mean more victims released from slavery and more prevented from ever entering it in the first place.
The Bill, the first of its kind in Europe, will ensure that we can effectively prosecute perpetrators, properly punish offenders and help prevent more crimes from taking place. Most crucially, it will enhance protection and support for the victims of these dreadful crimes. Tackling modern slavery will require more than legislation alone. I have always been clear that it will take a determined and focused law enforcement response, greater awareness among front-line professionals, co-ordinated police action internationally, close working with business and support from communities, charities and all faiths. But by passing a Modern Slavery Bill in this Parliament, we can take an important step along this road.
I will turn shortly to the specifics of the Bill, but in introducing it I want to pay tribute to all those who have campaigned tirelessly to bring this largely hidden crime out into the light. I want to thank the Centre for Social Justice, whose authoritative report “It Happens Here”, laid bare the plight of modern slavery victims in the UK. Members of Parliament on both sides of the House have helped bring forward evidence to support action, whether through the all-party parliamentary group or the pre-legislative scrutiny Committee or by asking questions in the House. I am enormously grateful for their valuable contribution. In particular, I thank the right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr Field) for his unsparing dedication to the issue.
I am 100% behind the right hon. Lady. We talk about preventing the exploitation of workers, and the Gangmasters Licensing Authority, which I brought in through a private Member’s Bill, has done an excellent job and proved itself. Does she have any intention of extending the GLA to other sectors of industry?
The Gangmasters Licensing Authority has indeed done a very good job and I want to see how we can build on the work that it has done. As a first step, we have brought the GLA from the auspices of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs into the Home Office to work alongside those who are working on the issue of modern slavery. We will be looking at a number of aspects of enforcement which relate to modern slavery, and looking at the GLA will be part of the work that we are doing.
Of course, I support the Bill, but I want to ask the Home Secretary about a specific instance, which over the past 20 or 30 years has provided some of the worst cases of slavery in this country—namely, people who have come to this country as a domestic employee with an international employer. That is why we introduced the domestic workers visa, which the Government have abolished. Will the right hon. Lady reconsider? That gave a tiny chink of freedom—an opportunity for people to get out of slavery and go to work for another employer.
I recognise the point that the right hon. Gentleman makes. It is a point that has come up in some of the deliberations of the Committee that has been looking into the matter, and it is a point that I have looked at seriously. There is a judgment to be made here. By definition, if somebody is in slavery, the chance of their being able to get out of slavery to go to work for another employer is pretty limited, if not non-existent. In changing the way that the visa operated, one of the things we did was to try to ensure that there was a proper contract between the employer and the individual who was being employed, but I recognise that this is an issue. I suspect that it will be subject to greater debate and discussion as the Bill goes through the various stages in this House and another place.
As the Home Secretary knows, we strongly support the legislation, but on that point, I understand that in its research the charity Kalayaan found that since the visas were changed, 60% of those on the new domestic workers visa were paid no salary at all, compared with 14% on the original visa. That is a worrying increase since the visa change. Has the right hon. Lady looked at that research?
Yes, we have been looking in detail at the research that has been undertaken. We have taken the issue and the points that have been made seriously. I suspect that this aspect will be subject to further, more detailed discussion as the Bill goes through its various stages in this House and another place. The number of people who were identified by the charity—which, by definition, can only look at those who come to it—is fairly small. We need measures that will protect those who are being brought in as overseas workers and will not open up some other avenue for people to be brought in. We need to enable people to work properly for an employer, not effectively be placed in modern slavery.
We all have the same aim. The question is which regulatory track makes most sense. I continue to believe that the current arrangement is the right one. I am sure that it will be subject to considerable discussion as the Bill goes through its various stages.
I welcome the Bill. I am sure that the right hon. Lady knows as well as I do that between 2,000 and 5,000 people a year are trafficked into this country. I understand that the Home Office is doing a review. Can she guarantee that the review will be published and acted upon?
The hon. Gentleman mentions some figures. The difficulty in all this is that we do not know the figure. The work that was done by the right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr Field) and others suggested that it might be 10,000. Fewer than 2,000 have been referred to the national referral mechanism, which is the only firm statistical measure, but we are all pretty clear that the figure is larger than that. I am reviewing the national referral mechanism, and the work of that review will be taken into account when I publish the Government’s strategy later this year. As I have said, this is not just about legislation. Other actions that do not form part of a Bill need to be taken to help the victims and pursue the perpetrators.
The current intention is that an interim report will be published, which should be available before the Committee stage is completed, but the final review will be published in the autumn alongside the Government’s strategy.
We have listened carefully to the findings of the pre-legislative Committee and, where practicable, we have addressed its key concerns. We can all play a part in tackling this scourge. As Bernard Hogan-Howe, the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, said at the modern slavery conference at the Vatican in April:
“We need to make combating human trafficking part of everyone’s consciousness. As with our fight against terrorism, prevention is better than cure. … Much misery and distress can be prevented if more of us pay attention to something that does not look or feel right, then care enough to do something about it.”
The Modern Slavery Bill will help ensure that we can tackle slavery in its modern form. With cross-party support, we have an opportunity to make a real difference to the lives of today’s victims.
The Secretary of State has published a Bill that goes in the right direction, but she appears to have ignored the fact that slavery that we benefit from happens outwith this country. In the supply chains of the goods that we buy, people are enslaved on a daily basis. We know about some of those people because of disasters that have occurred, but the slavery still goes on. The Secretary of State appears to have ignored those people, so she has cut off the greatest power that the Bill could have to reach out and stop them being enslaved on our behalf.
I am sorry about the tone in which the hon. Gentleman puts his question. The issue of supply chains has been raised by many people. We have not ignored the issue. I and other Ministers, including my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State have had a round table meeting with businesses and business—
I am answering the hon. Gentleman’s question, if he would like to listen to my answer. Not everything that we think we can do to tackle modern slavery will be in the legislation. Legislation is not the answer to everything, but we recognise the issue of supply chains. We have been working with businesses. Many big businesses already take this responsibility seriously and make every effort to ensure that they do not see slavery in their supply chains.
I was asked about supply chains in Home Office questions yesterday, and I made the point that companies have a social responsibility. Companies should consider their reputation as well as potential victims of slavery. We have held a round table with business. We are talking to businesses about the action that they can take to address the issue.
As we know, the Home Secretary wants measures on supply chains in the Bill, but No. 10 opposes them. Might she wish luck to those of us who intend to table amendments in this place and the other place so that on this occasion at least her will should prevail?
That is the sort of intervention that I had probably best pass over. We have already legislated to recognise the social responsibility of companies in relation to human rights in supply chains, even though this Bill does not contain a specific reference to supply chains.
Does my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary share my hope that the Bill will help Governments around the world to do something to tackle modern slavery in their own countries? As Opposition Members have said, this is a global business and if Britain can lead the way and help other countries to deal with it, that would be worth while.
My hon. Friend is right. One of the things that pleased me about the conference at the Vatican was that I could meet people from other countries—both those countries that are more naturally destination countries and those that are source countries—to talk about the work that can be done to deal with this problem. We have to deal with it internationally. That is why I am pleased that at the conference we set up the Santa Marta group, an international group of senior law enforcement officers who will meet again towards the end of this year in London, to share best practice to ensure that we do all we can to deal with this issue.
Has the Home Secretary received, as I have, a copy of the letter from the Ethical Trading Initiative, to which we spoke just before the last mini recess? It says that it wishes to have legislation on supply chains. That is a major change in attitude since I introduced my private Member’s Bill. It wants to see all the good companies supported by legislation so that the poor companies do not get away with undermining them.
The right hon. Lady is generous with her time. Just a few weeks ago, a lady in Northern Ireland discovered a cry for help letter sewn into a pair of trousers, which were made in China, from a leading high street chain. The letter detailed the atrocious working conditions in the prison where the garment was made. With longer and more complex supply chains, does the Secretary of State agree that the Bill needs to ensure greater transparency and accountability so that the products of slavery and forced labour do not find themselves on our high street shelves?
Across the House, we all share the same intention and desire to stamp out modern slavery, wherever it occurs. We all recognise that companies have a responsibility to look at what is happening in their supply chains. The hon. Lady talks about the increasing length and complexity of supply chains, which is one of the precise difficulties faced by companies today when it comes to any responsibility they have for looking at every aspect of their supply chain and ensuring that it is not involved in modern slavery. That is why we are sitting down with business to talk about the issue and how we can best address it. There is not a blanket approach of saying, “The only way to do this is X.” We are saying, “Let’s sit down with companies and talk to them about the issues that they are facing.”
In answer to the hon. Lady and my hon. Friend the Member for South West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous), of course we need to work internationally to address modern slavery. This House, and this Parliament, will take an important step by passing this Bill in the United Kingdom. The Bill will be an important sign, but the work will go on, and sadly I suspect that the work will have to go on for some years, to ensure that we stamp out modern slavery. That work is wide-ranging and is not just limited to what we may say or do in this House.
In the wake of the recent controversies, particularly the reports about the Thai fishing industry, the Prime Minister’s official spokesperson said that it is up to consumers whether they buy goods associated with slavery. That is clearly not good enough because consumers are not in a position to know that. Surely the Government need to go further. Will the Home Secretary dissociate herself from those remarks?
A wide range of actions need to be taken if we are to deal with modern slavery, but the hon. Lady should not underestimate the power of the consumer in some of these matters. The consumer’s approach to fair trade, for example, has sent an important message to companies about how they deal with certain issues. The consumer can certainly play a part in addressing such things.
I have taken a number of interventions, and I will now turn to the specifics of the Bill. Part 1 addresses offences, sentences, reparation and maritime powers. Traffickers and slave drivers must know that their crimes will not be tolerated and that they will not get away with them. They must know that they will be caught and sent to prison for a very long time. The Bill provides law enforcement with the powers it needs to take robust action. First, the Bill consolidates existing slavery and human trafficking offences, which are currently held in three different Acts of Parliament. That will make it easier for prosecutors and the police to understand the available modern slavery offences when investigating such crimes.
We will have two clear and distinct offences: one for slavery, servitude and forced or compulsory labour; and one that covers all types of human trafficking. Those are focused offences that build on tried and tested concepts that the police and prosecutors understand. Part 1 of the Bill is not simply a consolidation, however; it contains specific action to improve existing offences by making it clearer that the slavery, servitude and forced labour offence can be effectively prosecuted where the victim is vulnerable, for example a child. Part 1 also includes wording based on international definitions of trafficking, such as the Palermo Protocol, thus ensuring that it reflects internationally defined best practice.
Punishments will now fit the crime. Offences committed in connection with modern slavery are some of the most serious that can be committed, so the Bill extends the maximum available sentence to life imprisonment. That will ensure that the worst perpetrators can receive the lengthy custodial sentences that they deserve. Tough sentences will also act as a powerful deterrent to others.
Criminals and organised groups who trade in human beings do so for profit, and we were reminded of that only last week, when the gang leader of a criminal outfit was jailed along with his accomplices for trafficking more than 100 women to London. While he lived a luxury lifestyle, the women who were lured here on false promises of employment were forced into prostitution, held against their will and subjected to horrific treatment. Wherever possible, we must ensure that the illicit gains made from trading in human misery are seized. Both the Modern Slavery Bill and the Serious Crime Bill will strengthen our powers to recover assets. The Modern Slavery Bill makes both slavery and trafficking offences criminal lifestyle offences for the purposes of criminal confiscation under the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002, which means that convicted slavers and traffickers will be subjected to the toughest confiscation regime possible.
Will the Home Secretary assure me that, through reparation from the proceeds of such crime, there will be long-term support for the profound and enduring health consequences experienced by women subject to such exploitation, abuse and degradation?
My hon. Friend must be psychic. I was about to say that the treatment meted out to victims by traffickers and slave drivers is inhumane, degrading and often disturbing, and there can be no better use of the assets seized from a perpetrator than to provide reparation to their victims. Courts currently have the power to order convicted traffickers to pay compensation to their victims and can use money collected under a confiscation order to ensure that such compensation is paid in full. It is therefore unacceptable that in the past 11 years there have been only three such cases in which a criminal convicted of a principal offence of human trafficking has been ordered to pay compensation in that way. The Bill seeks to remedy that by creating a bespoke order for modern slavery offences so that, where a perpetrator has assets available, the court must consider making an order to provide reparation to the victim and give reasons if it does not do so.
The Home Secretary will be aware that successful prosecutions of cases involving children are very low. One of the reasons for that is encapsulated in a problem with the Bill, which is the omission of a specific definition of child trafficking. As she will know, children cannot consent to their own exploitation. I draw her attention to clause 39, which states:
“A person is not guilty of an offence if…the person is compelled to do that act.”
Children cannot consent to their own exploitation, and therefore that defence is no use to children. That is why I hope she will join me and many other Members on both sides of the House in supporting the inclusion of a specific definition of children trafficking in the Bill.
We have looked at that issue, which was one of the issues raised in the various discussions, including in the Joint Committee. We have not included a specific child trafficking offence because of the difficulties that that could lead to in a prosecution, such as arguments about whether an individual should be prosecuted for the specific child offence or for the more general offence. That is why we have taken a different approach. [Interruption.] The hon. Lady shakes her head, but she should let me finish my response. That is why we have left it with a general offence, but we make it absolutely clear—this specifically addresses the point that she raises—that the slavery, servitude and forced labour offence can be effectively prosecuted where the victim is vulnerable, for example a child. We are aware of the issues that she raises about whether it could be argued that a child is not able to give consent, and therefore whether they are able not to give consent, but that is explicitly covered in the arrangements in the Bill. There are very good arguments why there would be considerable difficulties in dealing with a specific child offence. Another issue that would be raised is that an individual’s age often cannot be proved. If we did not have a general offence, it would make a prosecution more difficult.
Is there not a case, therefore, for inserting the age of 18 into the Bill? Where there is a dispute in court about someone’s age, for the purpose of prosecution they are assumed to be a young person. Would it not give us an even harder cutting edge if, at a later stage, the Home Secretary accepted “18” to go alongside the definition of “young person”?
I am grateful to the Home Secretary for giving way, and I do not want to take up other people’s time, but this point is incredibly important. I worked with child trafficking victims for nearly a decade before I came to this place, so I know, and the Home Secretary knows, that children go through a gruelling process. They are often told by their trafficker to say certain things. They say things in interviews because they have been told what to say, or they say what they think the interviewer wants to hear. They often cannot cope with the processes that they are put through, so having a specific child trafficking offence in the Bill would ensure that those children are seen and recognised as what they are, which is children. They are not trafficking victims, immigrants or children who have been moved for the purposes of exploitation; they are children who have been abused. Including such an offence would send a powerful message that we need to get those processes right.
I absolutely appreciate the passion with which the hon. Lady makes that point, and the experience on which she draws in doing so, but we have taken evidence from a number of areas and heard a number of people point out quite forcefully the difficulty of a child-specific offence where age is uncertain. For example, in evidence to the pre-legislative scrutiny Committee, Riel Karmy-Jones, a barrister who deals with trafficking offences, said that
“problems arise over separate offences that pertain specifically to children—for example, when the age of the child is not easily determined and you end up relying on age assessments, which I have done in some of the Nigerian trafficking cases.”
In those circumstances, if we did not know the age of the child, we would end up in court arguing about whether the specific offence was right, rather than being able to rely on the general offence.
Similarly, Detective Inspector Roberts, when asked whether a child-specific offence would help, replied:
“Not as a separate offence. The legislation perfectly encompasses it, but I would share Mr Sumner’s view—
another police officer—
“about the sentencing guidelines certainly around children and it being an aggravated offence… I think wholly different legislation would be unnecessary and complicated.”
We want to ensure that prosecutors and the police can deal with this as sensibly and easily as possible so that we get more prosecutions, but the evidence indicates that trying to introduce a child-specific offence might complicate prosecutions rather than make them easier.
I am grateful to the Home Secretary for her response to my hon. Friend the Member for Wigan (Lisa Nandy), but will she consider giving herself the flexibility in the Bill to be able to bring forward regulations introducing a child-specific offence at a later date, rather than having to go through the process of introducing another piece of primary legislation?
That is a legislative device—I do not use the term in a negative sense—that we are using elsewhere in the Bill, but I say to hon. Members who have raised the matter that this is not just a belligerent point from the Government. We genuinely believe from the evidence we have seen, having talked with lawyers, prosecutors and the police, that the general offence will lead to more prosecutions, with the caveat I mentioned earlier about accepting when a victim is vulnerable—for example a child, as it is recognised that they might not have been in a position to have actively given consent and therefore should not be assumed to have given that consent—and that is being dealt with.
I will now attempt to make some progress on other points. The Bill also closes a gap in existing legislation whereby law enforcement officers are not always able to stop boats around the UK and on the high seas when they suspect that individuals are being trafficked or forced to work. There have been seven such occasions over the past two years. The Bill will provide law enforcement officers with clear powers to stop boats and arrest those responsible.
Tough sentences, seizing assets and closing loopholes are only part of the answer. The police and other law enforcement agencies must ensure the effective and relentless targeting and disruption of the organised crime groups that lie behind the vast majority of the modern-day slave trade. I have made tackling modern slavery a priority for the National Crime Agency, and work is under way to ensure that the law enforcement response at the local, regional and national level, and at our borders, is strong, effective and collaborative.
We are developing our capabilities to detect, investigate and prosecute modern slavery through better intelligence, better sharing of intelligence and more work upstream. For example, specialist safeguarding and trafficking teams are being rolled out at all major ports so that trained officers can help identify victims being trafficked across our borders, disrupt organised criminal groups, collect intelligence and provide a point of expertise and guidance for front-line officers.
We must ensure that law enforcement agencies have a range of effective policing tools, so I propose to take further action in the Bill. Part 2 introduces vital new tools, modelled on existing powers to stop sexual harm, to prevent modern slavery offences. Slavery and trafficking prevention orders will target convicted traffickers and slave drivers and can be used to prevent further modern slavery offences taking place—for example, by stopping an offender working with children, acting as a gangmaster or travelling to specific countries. Slavery and trafficking risk orders will restrict the activity of individuals suspected of being complicit in modern slavery offences. For example, they could be used to stop activity where there is insufficient evidence to bring a successful prosecution now but there is clear evidence of the risk of future trafficking or slavery offences being commissioned.
Modern slavery is a complex and multifaceted crime. To tackle it effectively, we need not only new legal powers but effective co-operation across law enforcement, borders and immigration, and local services. In the past, the number of prosecutions and convictions for those specific offences has not reflected the scale and seriousness of the problem. In 2013, for example, there were only 68 convictions. That is not good enough. We need a senior figure dedicated to the UK’s fight against modern slavery to strengthen law enforcement efforts in the UK and ensure that victims are identified and get effective support. That is why the Bill includes an anti-slavery commissioner to encourage good practice in the prevention, detection, investigation and prosecution of modern slavery cases. The Bill extends the role outlined in the draft Bill published in December so that the commissioner can work internationally to encourage co-operation against modern slavery and oversee the identification of victims.
I appreciate the Home Secretary’s generosity. It is essential that we have a cross-Government approach to tackling human trafficking, so will she explain why the anti-slavery commissioner will not be independent, as the children’s commissioner is, and will be situated in the Home Office?
The question of which physical office the commissioner will be situated in is still to be determined, but their role will be set out in a way that is similar to that of other commissioners. They will be independent and their annual reports will be laid before Parliament.
I am sorry to interrupt the Home Secretary, but the House might find it helpful to know that the independent commissioners in Finland and the Netherlands report to one Government Department, because ultimately they need a departmental head to argue their case for funding with their Treasuries, even though they roam across Government.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for that clarification. Some people say that the way the commissioner will be appointed means that they cannot be independent, but if they look at the people we have in other roles who are appointed in a similar way, such as the independent chief inspector of borders and immigration and the chief inspector of constabulary, they will see that they are fiercely independent, regardless of the method of their appointment.
The Home Secretary is being extraordinarily generous in giving way. Moving away from the independence of the anti-slavery commissioner and looking instead at their focus, she mentioned the problem of securing prosecutions, and one of the reasons for that must be the extraordinary vulnerability of trafficking victims. I wonder whether one of the core focuses of the commissioner in their first months might be to look at how we could better protect those witnesses when they go into our adversarial courts system.
If my hon. Friend will bear with me, I will comment on the protection of victims later in my speech. I think that it is important that the anti-slavery commissioner encourages good practice in the prevention, detection, investigation and prosecution of modern slavery cases as well as any work that is done to protect victims.
If the commissioner is to help increase prosecutions, they need to help to provide witnesses, who are the evidence givers in those prosecutions. I therefore support the hon. Member for Oxford West and Abingdon (Nicola Blackwood) in her plea to give the commissioner some responsibility for victims, which will assist the Home Secretary greatly in her ambition to increase the number of prosecutions.
The hon. Lady and I have discussed this important matter before, and I will talk about what we can do to protect victims. The strategy that the Government will publish as the Bill progresses through Parliament will be important, because not everything is about legislation; many issues relating to the protection of victims are about some of the other ways we can ensure that support is provided. Yes, of course we need victims to be willing to come forward in order to prosecute, but one of the areas that I do not think has been given sufficient attention in the past is the question of law enforcement, prosecution and the need to ensure that the police and prosecutors are sufficiently aware of these crimes and have a sensible legislative framework and offences framework that means they will be more likely to bring perpetrators to justice. The more perpetrators who are brought to justice, the fewer victims there will be in future.
As a vice-chair of the all-party group I am very happy to play a supportive role to the group’s chair. The question raised by subsections (3), (4) and (5) of clause 35 is about the Home Secretary’s ability to call for the commissioner to omit from the report anything the Home Secretary does not agree with. Given that people will base decisions on what she says in this House, can she give us a categorical assurance that, even if the commissioner criticises the Government’s performance, there will be no question of the Home Secretary being able to ask for anything to be omitted from her or his reports?
I suggest that the hon. Gentleman reread the Bill. The intention is not that the Home Secretary will be able to prevent the printing of something with which they do not agree, but that nothing that is published could be a national security concern or jeopardise ongoing criminal investigations. I would have hoped that every Member accepts the importance of that. There may be circumstances in which it would not be appropriate to publish certain information because of the impact it would have on an individual. Those are matters that will be discussed with the anti-slavery commissioner in their reports, but certainly we should ensure that their reports do not jeopardise criminal investigations, because we should all want to see more perpetrators being brought to justice.
Modern slavery is a crime that inflicts immense suffering and misery. At the heart of the Bill and all our work is the desire to ensure that victims receive the protection and support they deserve, as well as help to recover from their traumatic ordeal. We must also ensure that victims, who have already suffered so much, do not suffer again through the criminal justice system.
Victims of modern slavery are sometimes forced by organised criminals to commit crimes such as cannabis cultivation. Fear of prosecution can deter victims from coming forward to help the police with investigations and from acting as witnesses in court. It is vital that we give them the confidence to come forward without the fear of prosecution. The Crown Prosecution Service already has guidance in place to prevent the prosecution of victims who have been forced to commit crime, but I think we can, and should, go further.
That is why the Bill includes a statutory defence for victims. The defence includes substantial safeguards against abuse and it will not apply to a number of serious offences—mainly violent and sexual offences—which are set out in the Bill. However, even in cases where the defence does not apply, prosecutors will still need to look carefully at all the circumstances to see whether it is in the public interest to prosecute victims.
Helping more victims to testify in court is crucial in our fight against the perpetrators. We need to give victims—who can face threats and intimidation—greater assurance that they can access special measures, such as giving evidence by video link or behind a screen. The Bill therefore extends to all modern slavery victims existing provisions that help trafficking victims gain access to special measures.
Whether victims appear in court or not, we need to identify them so that they can receive help and support. As I said in response to earlier interventions, I have set in motion a review of the national referral mechanism, to ensure that the care and support provided is effective and that all agencies work together in the best interests of victims. The review will issue its final report in the autumn. In addition, the Bill includes a provision for statutory guidance for the identification and support of victims, to ensure a consistent and effective approach.
Modern slavery crushes lives and causes immeasurable damage to victims of all ages. One of the most heinous aspects of this crime is the exploitation and enslavement of children—robbing them of their childhood and casting a long shadow over their future. Child trafficking victims are exceptionally vulnerable and require specialist support and care. We are therefore putting in place trial schemes of child trafficking advocates, who will ensure that the child victims’ voices are heard and that they receive the support and assistance they need in relation to the social care, immigration and criminal justice systems. The Bill includes a power to place these advocates on a statutory footing, once the trials have established how we can best give trafficked children the support they need.
The Bill also ensures that where the age of a trafficking victim is uncertain and there are reasons to believe that they are a child, public authorities will presume that victim to be a child for the purposes of providing assistance and support.
Finally, we need to ensure that law enforcement has good data on this largely hidden crime, so that we can develop an effective, strategic response. We are therefore placing a legal duty on public bodies to report suspected victims of slavery or human trafficking to the National Crime Agency. Safeguards will be put in place to ensure there is no adverse effect on victims. Adult victims will remain anonymous unless they consent to having their personal details shared. Non-governmental organisations will not be part of the statutory duty.
Modern slavery is an evil against which this Government are determined to take a stand. This Bill provides a comprehensive range of measures to punish effectively the criminals and organised gangs behind this appalling crime, to ensure victims receive the protection and support that they deserve, and to help prevent other vulnerable people from becoming victims.
As I indicated earlier, however, I am under no illusion about the scale of the task ahead. Stamping out modern slavery will not happen overnight. I have made tackling this crime a priority for the National Crime Agency, and, as I also said earlier, we are working with international law enforcement agencies to target organised criminal gangs. The Santa Marta group is being led by the United Kingdom, and that will strengthen our response to modern slavery globally. This autumn I will publish a comprehensive strategy that will include cross-Government and law enforcement action to tackle modern slavery and set out how we will continue to support and protect victims.
Today I urge Members on both sides of the House to work together so that we can pass the Modern Slavery Bill in this short Session. We have a rare moment of consensus on the principle that action needs to be taken. We must not—for any reason—repeat the mistakes of those Parliaments that were asked to tackle the historic evil of slavery but found reasons to put off the issue. It took William Wilberforce almost 18 years to pass his Bill to abolish the slave trade, and another 26 years passed before Parliament agreed to abolish all slavery in the British empire.
We must not delay. Let us act now—together—and send a powerful message to all traffickers and slave drivers that they will not get away with their crimes: we will track them down, prosecute, and lock them up, and ensure that the victims of their appalling crimes are returned to freedom. I commend this Bill to the House.
I welcome the Bill and make clear the support of not only this side but both sides of the House for taking action against the horrific crime of modern day slavery and for the Bill’s passage through the House.
Last year, a 20-year-old woman was kidnapped from her rural home in Slovakia. She was trafficked out of the country and brought to the UK, to Bradford. She was kept captive for several weeks before being sold into a sham marriage. In her marriage, she was not allowed to leave her home and was raped repeatedly and beaten by five men, all of whom lived in the house. The barrister who prosecuted the case described her experience as like
“something from a 19th century novel by Dickens”,
and said that the victim
“was handled round the continent and this country like a commodity, a human slave.”
She was raped, beaten and enslaved and robbed of her most basic freedoms not in 19th-century Britain but in 21st-century Britain, which is why we need to act and why the Bill has such strong cross-party support and will be on the statute book soon.
I pay tribute, as the Home Secretary has done, to the members of the cross-party Joint Committee, including my right hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead (Mr Field), my hon. Friends the Members for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart) and for Linlithgow and East Falkirk (Michael Connarty) and the right hon. Members for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Sir John Randall), for Meriden (Mrs Spelman) and for Hazel Grove (Sir Andrew Stunell), who have worked so hard. I also pay tribute to the former Member for Totnes, Anthony Steen, who is the chairman of the Human Trafficking Foundation and has done so much work in this field.
The Bill builds on work carried out under the previous Government, including criminalising trafficking in the Sexual Offences Act 2003 and the Asylum and Immigration (Treatment of Claimants, etc.) Act 2004; the introduction in 2009 of the offence of forced labour, slavery or servitude, which recognised that slavery is not just about international forced travel; the national referral mechanism, which we introduced in 2009; and, of course, the creation of the UK Human Trafficking Centre.
The shadow Home Secretary is absolutely right to mention the horrific case from Slovakia, but does she recognise that many British citizens are being trafficked around the UK and, indeed, from the UK to other countries, and that we must capture that element of this horrific crime as well?
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. In fact, I was just mentioning the original introduction of the offence of forced labour in 2009, because it was introduced exactly for the purpose of recognising that the issue is not just about people trafficked across international borders, but about the appalling abuse and enslavement of British citizens or of people within their countries. That is rightly covered by part 1 of the Bill.
I commend the Home Secretary for her work, which has built on many years of cross-party work and support for action against the horrors of modern slavery. Because there is such strong support for the Bill and for action against slavery, I believe that there is strong support for going further. As the Home Secretary heard in hon. Members’ many points and questions, there is consensus on going further than the measures in the Bill. We want to debate such points and to point out areas where amendments could be tabled as the Bill goes through this House and the other place.
Let me begin with the measures in the Bill which we support. The Home Secretary has made a powerful case for consolidating and strengthening the law to make it easier to prosecute those committing this vile crime, as she is rightly doing in part 1. Many hon. Members will remember the shocking case of Craig Kinsella, who was held captive by a family in Sheffield and forced to work from 7.30 am to midnight for no pay. He slept in a garage and was starved, and he was beaten with a spade, a crowbar and a pickaxe. As the hon. Member for South West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous) has mentioned, such a victim was not trafficked into the country; he was a British national. He had even moved in voluntarily with the family who enslaved him, but he was still in slavery.
That is why it is vital that UK legislation should recognise the different forms of human trafficking and slavery, and should make it possible to prosecute those who enslave, abuse and exploit. It should not only cover those who have been moved across international borders, but recognise that consent can be complex. In complicated cases, the offence should not rely on a simple lack of consent, because people can be deeply vulnerable and slavery is complex in such circumstances.
The Home Secretary is right that the law should be strengthened and that penalties should be increased. We strongly welcome clause 5, which will give trafficking offences the maximum of a life sentence. Traffickers steal people’s lives and their humanity. It is the very worst abuse, so it should carry the most severe sentences. We also welcome the work on asset seizures and reparation orders, for which my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Diana Johnson) has called.
I commend the Home Office’s work to prevent enslavement and trafficking, including the work on prevention and risk orders. When there is evidence that someone is likely to commit an offence, we should be able to intervene in advance for the sake of the victims, rather than waiting until it is too late. We support the introduction of an anti-slavery commissioner to keep the pressure and focus on this dreadful crime. We welcome the statutory defence for victims, the concessions made so far by the Government on child guardians, and the duty to notify the National Crime Agency.
Measures on the presumption of age are extremely important, because we know of harrowing cases in which children end up being caught without the support they need simply because there is a dispute about their age. It is vital for the authorities to show some humanity in how they approach children in those cases. The Home Secretary is right that the Bill alone is not enough. It will of course need to be supported by much wider action in terms of training, co-ordinated action and leadership, and we support her determination to make sure that that happens.
I now want to set out the areas in which we hope the Home Secretary will go further. I know that she listened during the considerations of the Joint Committee, and I hope that she will now listen to the areas where we want to table amendments and to urge her to go further and take stronger action.
We want a stronger focus on victims. If we do not support the victims of human trafficking, we are leaving people to be abused and enslaved, and to be forced to work or forced into prostitution. Those who have been abused once by evil traffickers are at risk of being abused and betrayed again by authorities who either do not understand their experiences or simply ignore the abuse that they have experienced. That is why we need more work by border staff, the police, the criminal justice system, councils and voluntary organisations to identify the victims.
As part of that, the Bill should strengthen the national referral mechanism. In 2012, the UK Human Trafficking Centre identified 2,255 human trafficking victims, but the national referral mechanism identified only just over 1,000. At the moment, the national referral mechanism is an internal process of the Home Office—there is no transparency, and no appeal—but this is an opportunity to place it on a statutory footing to give it a greater ability and authority to support victims at the time they need it most.
On strengthening the national referral mechanism and the whole question of the speed with which we must move to protect victims, particularly young victims, does my right hon. Friend think we should look again at the idea of a pilot joint immigration and family court to address such matters at a very early stage?
I am very interested in looking further at that idea. My hon. Friend is right that the most complicated and difficult cases are sometimes hard for the legal system to address. It is obviously important to have clear frameworks of family law and of immigration law, but he is right that complex cases sometimes end up falling between the two systems and not getting the kind of recognition that they deserve.
We want the anti-slavery commissioner’s work to have more emphasis on supporting victims. The Bill talks of the anti-slavery commissioner’s obligation to identify victims, not of the need to support victims or to make recommendations to all Departments, not just the Home Office, on victim support, which would be helpful.
A matter that has puzzled me since I went to the launch of the Scottish report is a point made by the Justice Secretary there: when the Border Force changes people’s status from victim to criminal, those people very soon leave Scotland and end up in Yarl’s Wood, which is outwith Scotland’s jurisdiction. He told me that the problem is the Border Force, or what was called the UK Border Agency. How can we give some comfort to people in the devolved parts of the UK that they will be allowed to decide whether they are dealing with a victim or a criminal, and that they will not be overruled by the Bill and what is basically a UK authority, not a devolved authority?
My hon. Friend makes an important point, which goes wider than devolution. Wherever across the United Kingdom trafficking victims are identified, we must make sure that they are properly supported as victims of trafficking throughout the system, and that they are not simply identified by one agency as needing support as victims because they have been abused and enslaved, but end up being treated by another agency as criminals or illegal migrants, with the abuse effectively being multiplied because their vulnerability and experiences are simply not identified within the system. Such a purpose is vital. The Home Secretary is right that this is not simply about legislation, but about the way in which organisations operate, the training given to staff and how staff respond. My hon. Friend’s point is therefore extremely important.
That is particularly important for children, about whom many hon. Members intervened on the Home Secretary to raise concerns. Trafficking is an evil trade, but it can exploit weak systems of child protection. Of the 2,000 potential victims of human trafficking identified in 2012, 550 were children, but that is likely to be the tip of the iceberg. Some 65% of those cases were not recorded on the national system, which would have increased the protection of those children. Too often, they are treated as immigration cases, not as trafficking victims. Several of my hon. Friends made important points about the way in which such children can, in practice, be abused, including by being told what to say by their traffickers.
Most appalling of all is the figure that shows that almost two thirds of rescued children go missing again. They have been found, rescued by the authorities, put into care and they simply disappear again, presumably picked up by the same or other trafficking gangs. Already abused, they are let down by a system that is supposed to keep them safe.