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Volume 739: debated on Thursday 18 October 2012


Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking, to coincide with Anti-Slavery Day, to raise awareness among relevant agencies and the general public of the possibility that individuals they encounter may be the subject of modern slavery.

My Lords, I am sure the House will be aware that today is Anti-Slavery Day, which is an important day. However, human trafficking is not just a one-day issue. As the activity of the interdepartmental ministerial group on human trafficking shows, the Government are not complacent, and cannot be in the light of today’s report. The Government are committed to tackling this issue on a continuing basis.

My Lords, I welcome the publication of the report, which shows that increasing numbers are being detected. That may of course be because increasing numbers are being reported. There is a widespread view among people that trafficking does not happen in their neighbourhood. What advice do the Government give if one suspects that a man working in a restaurant or a young woman working in a nail bar is the victim of trafficking?

They should report any suspicions of trafficking to the authorities: either the police or their own local authority. There is a lot of cross-agency working to tackle this issue. I think the noble Baroness is correct: this is an increasing problem and one that will need increasing effort to try to contain.

My Lords, 17,000 Royal Naval sailors died suppressing the slave trade. Indeed, in 1966, as a midshipman I was on a small coastal minesweeper that arrested a slaver. I am sure that the Minister would like to make sure that this fact is known globally as well as within certain parts of our own community. In celebrating Anti-Slavery Day, perhaps he would wish well the celebration this weekend of the 207th anniversary of Trafalgar and the death of Admiral Lord Nelson.

The noble Lord gives me a tall order but one on which I am happy to oblige. Of course, we celebrate Trafalgar and indeed Lord Nelson’s contribution to that victory. This country has been at the fore in seeking to tackle slavery, but our history has different shades on this issue. It is very important that we recognise it as a global problem today. That is why we are working abroad in India and the Asian sub-continent to help to make sure that modern slavery still does not happen in these times.

My Lords, can the Minister assure us that in the negotiations on the repatriation of some elements of the European Union directives on joint home affairs and justice issues, our Parliament and our Government will give special consideration to making sure that all the orders affecting slavery or trafficking will be very carefully considered before they are repatriated? The straightforward reason is that all the evidence on trafficking is that it is Europe-wide, indeed worldwide, and is not restricted to this nation.

My noble friend is right to point out that this is a Europe-wide issue, which is why co-operation is directed Europe-wide. There is a directive to which we are fully signed up, and we will work together with our European colleagues to make sure that we tackle this crime, which is pan-European and in which this country has a vested interest in trying to repress.

Will the Minister accept that nearly 20 years ago, when I was a Member of the other place, I had a constituency case involving a young woman who had been brought into this country allegedly as a servant by a wealthy family? She had been kept for two years as a slave. I do not believe that it was an isolated incident. What measures do the Government take to ensure that families who bring servants into this country from overseas are treating them as employees and not as slaves?

I heard a voice say, “A good question”, and it is indeed a good question. It is an abuse that is a form of slavery, which this Government cannot tolerate. Let us be clear; this is not an easy area. Those involved in trafficking can be cunning and deceitful, and there is widespread use of false documents and fraudulent job offers. We need to be clever in the way in which we handle the issue, which is why we are using information and intelligence to catch these people and why cross-agency interaction is so important.

My Lords, can the Minister tell the House whether his department has any intention of introducing independent monitoring to make sure that the cutting of red tape in small businesses and commercial organisations does not impact on the progress that we have made so far in cutting down trafficking and slavery?

I am the Minister in the Home Office responsible for the red tape challenge, so I will bear that point in mind. It is a challenge within the Home Office because, in essence, we are a regulatory department. We would want to do nothing that made the risk of human trafficking the greater.

In view of that context and the figures on trafficking for labour in the paper this morning, will the Minister please assure us that there will be no further restriction on the role or resources of the Gangmasters Licensing Authority, and indeed that its scope will be improved by extending it into other sectors?

I do not know whether I can say that there will be no change to the scope of the Gangmasters Licensing Authority. The noble Lord will know that forestry workers have already been taken out of scope. Indeed, the reforms of the Gangmasters Licensing Authority, which fall more under my previous brief than the current one, pose a new challenge to the organisation to focus on areas with the greatest risks, and this is one of them.