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Modern Slavery

Volume 751: debated on Wednesday 22 January 2014


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to combat human trafficking and other forms of contemporary slavery.

My Lords, the Government are taking decisive action to stamp out the appalling crime of modern slavery. We have published a draft Modern Slavery Bill which will consolidate and strengthen existing legislation to ensure that modern slave drivers face the full force of the law. In the spring we will also be publishing a comprehensive action plan setting out further measures to tackle this terrible crime.

I thank the Minister for his encouraging response. The Government’s proposed Bill is so urgently needed given that 27 million people are suffering slavery worldwide, and in the UK last year, more than 1,000 people were referred to authorities as potential victims of trafficking. These are just the tip of an iceberg of hidden suffering. Does the Minister therefore agree that the current 45-day reflection period of support for victims of trafficking is insufficient, leaving vulnerable survivors excluded from support and unable to give testimony that might facilitate prosecutions? Could he therefore indicate the Government’s proposals for improving aftercare for these victims?

My Lords, I should emphasise that potential victims of human trafficking identified through the national referral mechanism are given a minimum of 45 days tailored support, and this can be extended if the individual needs ongoing support due to the level of trauma they have experienced. Specialist support works with victims from day 1 to ensure that an appropriate reintegration strategy is in place post those 45 days. The scope of the national referral mechanism review, which is ongoing, will focus on identification of and support for victims, and is currently being finalised.

My Lords, in the final drafting of the new Bill, will the Government remember the most vulnerable groups, including domestic workers from overseas? Will they reintroduce the overseas domestic worker visa as a protection against trafficking and exploitation? Will they also study the report on trafficking in London by a Conservative Member of the GLA, Mr Andrew Boff?

I know Mr Boff, so I am grateful for that suggestion from the noble Lord. As he will know, because we have discussed this matter on occasions, we changed the rule to return the route to its original purpose: a temporary visa to allow domestic workers to accompany their existing overseas employers on a short-term visit to the UK. The previous approach allowed employers, including UK citizens, to bring domestic workers into the UK for longer periods. This potentially encouraged abuse. I have met the noble Lord, as he will confirm, but I have also met Kalayaan, which advocates change in this area, to discuss this issue, and I will continue to be ready to meet them.

My Lords, about four out of 10 victims of trafficking are children. An operation carried out jointly by the police and the UK Border Force found that about one-third of the unaccompanied children coming into Heathrow were deemed to be at risk. When are the Government going to start collecting data on the number of unaccompanied children who come through our ports each year so that we can tackle this heinous crime?

I know of the noble Baroness’s interest in this matter. We have data on unaccompanied young people seeking asylum. There were 1,125 who came in on that basis. We do not record data on young unaccompanied children who are not seeking asylum. Immigration officials will take action under Section 55 of the Borders, Citizenship and Immigration Act 2009 to identify and protect any unaccompanied child who is at risk. That section requires them to make arrangements to safeguard and promote the welfare of children.

My Lords, there remains a serious issue of slavery in the business supply chain that affects much of what we buy. Will the Minister pursue a business-friendly model to eradicate that slavery, perhaps on the basis of the California Transparency in Supply Chains Act 2010, because a few simple reporting requirements may be more effective than simply extending the powers of the Gangmasters Licensing Authority?

I am very interested in the right reverend Prelate’s suggestion. As my experience before I came here was very much involved in the supply chain, I know how important it can be to have companies interested and integrated in good practice at every level. This is an area where we are looking to work with the supply chain to drive out slavery in supply at cropping and processing levels in food cases, and in the manufacturing industry.

My Lords, in Committee on the Children and Families Bill, the noble Lord, Lord McColl, proposed that a guardian should be appointed for child victims of human trafficking, whether for sex or slavery. The Government rejected that. Will the Minister explain why, and will the Government reflect on their decision and look again at whether there should be guardians for child victims of human trafficking?

Yes, I acknowledge that the noble Baroness is right; the child guardian idea does not form part of the Modern Slavery Bill at present, but we are examining it. The Security Minister, my colleague James Brokenshire, will also meet the Children’s Society and the Refugee Council, which were co-authors of the independent review of practical care arrangements for trafficked children, to discuss their findings. We want to make sure that the arrangements we set in place, both through legislation and the corresponding action plan, really do tackle this problem.

My Lords, who is in charge of all this? Is it Frank Field? Is it Anthony Steen? Or is it a Minister in the Home Office?

My Lords, ultimately, Parliament is in charge, but, in terms of initiating the programme, the Home Office is introducing the legislation. I hope that, in due course, I will be able to introduce the legislation here. At the moment there is a draft Bill that is being subjected to pre-legislative scrutiny by a parliamentary committee, chaired by Mr Frank Field.