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Modern Slavery

Volume 648: debated on Monday 29 October 2018

The Government are tackling the abhorrent crime of modern slavery both at home and overseas. We have strengthened the law enforcement response and introduced new requirements for businesses to report on slavery in their supply chains, and are transforming the support we provide to victims. Internationally, we continue to work to stop modern slavery wherever it occurs.

I strongly welcome the steps the Government are taking to tackle modern slavery. Does the Minister agree that, as we leave the EU and bring in much tougher rules on unskilled immigration from the EU, we will need to be vigilant to ensure that it does not provide new opportunities for people traffickers who may seek to exploit those tougher rules?

Our determination to tackle modern slavery will be unaltered by our exit from the EU. On 6 September, the Government announced the introduction of a new seasonal workers pilot for horticulture, but we are of course very alert to the risks noted by the independent Migration Advisory Committee, which my hon. Friend outlined, and we will work with sectors, including the Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority, to ensure that migrant workers are protected against modern slavery and other labour abuse.

19. I welcome the fact that UK Border Force recently conducted spot checks at hand car washes in Wakefield, but the Environmental Audit Committee’s inquiry into the issue has heard that these criminals are breaking the law in other ways: avoiding their taxes, underpaying wages, and discharging chemicals into nearby watercourses. When will the Minister take a cross-departmental approach to tackling modern slavery, which is hidden in plain sight throughout the nation? (907313)

I thank the hon. Lady for chairing the Environmental Audit Committee’s inquiry into this important subject. It was a pleasure to appear before the inquiry some weeks ago. She is absolutely right: these criminals do not restrict themselves to exploiting human beings, but break every rule going. That is why we are leading a cross-governmental approach, having regard to environmental offences as well as offences of labour exploitation, such as failing to pay the minimum wage. We want the message to go out to these criminals loud and clear that we will not tolerate modern slavery, whatever form it takes.

Many businesses want to show more clearly how they are trying to tackle modern slavery in their supply chains, as some need to in law. Will the Minister’s modern slavery team talk to her equalities team and learn some lessons on how we are showing gender pay gap reporting, which is making that information more readily available?

I thank my right hon. Friend for the important work that she is doing on the review of the Modern Slavery Act 2015, along with the right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Frank Field) and Baroness Butler-Sloss. I hope that the review will help us to tackle the problem that some—although not all—businesses have with meeting their duty under the Act to report that their supply chains are slavery-free. We have started that work already: last week, in celebration of Anti-Slavery Day, we wrote to 17,000 businesses across the country setting out our expectation of their compliance with the law.

North Wales police was the first force in Wales to establish a modern slavery unit, working to combat human trafficking at Holyhead, which risks being a soft target for modern slavery gangs. What measures is the Secretary of State introducing to ensure that security at the port of Holyhead specifically is not compromised as a result of the UK’s leaving the EU?

I thank the hon. Lady for her commitment to this issue. As she knows, the Home Office is taking an in-depth look at the security of our borders as we leave the EU. However, our exit from the EU does not in any way affect our determination to tackle modern slavery, and to work with our international partners to stop slavery around the world.

The Council of Europe has been a real force for good through its proactive work to tackle modern slavery. It is entirely separate from the European Union, but will my hon. Friend confirm that we will continue to be at the forefront of the important work in that collaborative organisation?

I am delighted to confirm that not only are we at the forefront in terms of the Council of Europe, but the Prime Minister is leading the world through the United Nations’ global call for action to end modern slavery by 2030. We are very ambitious and determined in this regard, and the rest of the world is working with us.

On Anti-Slavery Day, ECPAT UK—Every Child Protected Against Trafficking—handed No. 10 a petition calling for specialist support for trafficked children. No Government funds are currently available for specialist children’s care, and that leaves children vulnerable to re-trafficking. The Government must commit themselves to giving local authorities additional funds. Will the Minister agree to provide those funds to protect vulnerable children?

The hon. Lady will know that we are committed to the introduction of independent child trafficking advocates, and I am delighted that next year a third of local authorities will have ICTAs to look after the most vulnerable victims of trafficking. However, we have noted that the crime type is evolving. We are piloting schemes for UK-trafficked as opposed to internationally trafficked children, because we appreciate that the needs of those two different sets of children must be encompassed.