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Human Trafficking and Modern Slavery

Volume 754: debated on Thursday 12 June 2014


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what action they intend to take to combat human trafficking and modern slavery.

My Lords, this Government are taking a number of important steps to tackle human trafficking and modern slavery. The Modern Slavery Bill will strengthen protection of victims and bring perpetrators to justice. In addition, a comprehensive programme of activity is under way to improve the operational response, including better identification of and support for victims. The Home Secretary also launched the Santa Marta group, which brings together senior international law enforcement chiefs to tackle perpetrators.

My Lords, I warmly welcome the introduction of the Modern Slavery Bill earlier this week in the other place. I wish the Government well with its progress. However, it seems essential that the position of victims is at the centre of our discussions on this. In Scotland, there are more victims in jail than there are perpetrators. I mention that for two reasons. First, it seems that the independent legal advocacy required for victims is an essential part of the Government’s trial of advocates later this year. I would welcome a commitment from the Minister on that. Secondly, coherence across the United Kingdom on this between legislation here and that in the Scottish Parliament is also vital. If the Minister would commit to working on that coherence, it would be very welcome indeed.

I am very happy to reassure the noble Lord on that point; the Government have worked and are working very closely with the Scottish Government on tackling modern slavery. The Scottish Cabinet Secretary for Justice is a member of the interdepartmental ministerial group on human trafficking. We continue to work with all the devolved Administrations to assess whether the provisions of the Bill are applicable and can be extended during its passage to include devolved authorities. The noble Lord will know that providing a defence for victims is part and parcel of the Modern Slavery Bill.

Will the Minister join me in congratulating the Home Secretary on securing this Bill, which will do so much to eliminate this appalling, evil trade?

I am delighted to do so. I also congratulate my noble friend on seeing some seven years’ campaigning in this House brought to success in such a Bill. It is definitely a matter in which the Home Secretary herself is very much involved. I am sure that all noble Lords will welcome the Bill when it arrives here later in the year.

My Lords, I, too, congratulate the Government on the Bill, but will they reconsider their omission of the supply chain from its contents?

I do not want this to be a self-congratulatory Question, but the noble and learned Baroness has been instrumental through her leadership of the pre-legislative scrutiny in presenting the Government with opportunities to consider aspects of the Bill, many of which have of course been incorporated. Yesterday, the Home Secretary met representatives of the British retail industry. It was a very successful meeting. As the noble Baroness will know, we believe that the best way of tackling supply-chain abuse is through a code that all retailers will sign up to.

My Lords, how can the Government justify their stated belief that new offences such as child trafficking and child exploitation should not be included in the Modern Slavery Bill on the basis that they will be less familiar to the judiciary than existing legislation?

I know that the noble Baroness, who was also a member of the pre-legislative scrutiny committee on the Bill, has a particular point of view on this matter. It is the Government’s view that modern slavery is about not just children but also adults, and that the law on modern slavery needs to be clearly applied to everybody who is a victim of this dreadful scourge.

My Lords, as has been said, we welcome the Bill, but clearly we will give it very proper scrutiny in this House when it arrives, because there may well be things that we wish to add. Having said that, I am delighted that it focuses on victims and perpetrators, but looking at the situation at Iraq at the moment—we look with horror at what is happening in Mosul—what can be done on the ground to ensure that people are not exploited as they flee from these terrible conditions?

Yes, I think that the whole House is concerned about developments in Mosul and Iraq in general. They are creating huge problems, which I know my noble friend Lady Warsi will be concerned about seeking to alleviate—to the extent of our ability to do so. Of course, the Bill concentrates on a problem that is clearly within our control and up to us to deal with here, within the United Kingdom. That is the right place to start. I would not deny that modern slavery is an international problem that needs tackling on an international scale.

My Lords, the effect that the new Bill will have is at present quite uncertain. However, can the noble Lord give the House any figures for prosecutions of people either for trafficking or keeping others in sexual or domestic slavery?

The latest figures that I have show that the number involved is not large. There were 34 people charged with human trafficking offences in 2012, while 148 cases were recorded by the Crown Prosecution Service as being linked to human trafficking although another offence was charged. The whole point of the Bill is that we recognise that the piecemeal legislation by which we have tried to deal with this business is not adequate. That is why the Bill is focused on this particular problem. I hope that it will strengthen the ability of prosecution authorities to make successful prosecutions.