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Modern Slavery Act 2015

Volume 765: debated on Monday 26 October 2015


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is their assessment of the readiness of companies and other organisations for the coming into force of the Modern Slavery Act 2015.

My Lords, we will be bringing Section 54 of the Modern Slavery Act into force later this week. Many businesses called for this provision, and we consulted on a turnover threshold and involved business in drafting associated guidance. The Government are confident that businesses will be ready. We have included a transition provision so that organisations will have time to digest the guidance before the first statements are due on 31 March 2016.

I thank the Minister for that reply. It was disappointing to read in last week’s debate that the Government now have no intention of launching an online central repository for the annual slavery and human trafficking statements but are hoping that an external provider will fulfil this role. Can the Minister confirm that this is the case and, if so, outline what the Government are doing to encourage an external provider to come forward, what guidelines and assistance will be provided to the external provider and whether, in the future, the Government plan to analyse on an annual basis information submitted via these statements?

When we had the debate on the regulations, the noble Lord, Lord Alton, raised this issue. I am confident that we will have an online repository in place. I totally agree with the noble Baroness that it is very important. Following the consultation, one of the consequences of setting the threshold at the lower end of the spectrum—at £36 million turnover—was to capture more companies in that. Therefore, it is a bit more of a challenge. However, we are considering a number of proposals that have been brought forward. I very much believe that, by the time this comes into force, we will have such a repository.

My Lords, are the Government aware that the majority of those who are working under slave conditions are working for private, family companies? It is essential that there is a way of finding out how young women in particular are driven into slavery without any human rights being respected.

I think that is right. There are two measures involved here. First, the new Immigration Bill will have a big focus on labour market enforcement, which will help in that regard. Also, if a private, family business has a turnover above £36 million, they will have to produce a statement saying what steps they are taking to eradicate modern-day slavery from their supply chain. These are all steps down the line. However, essentially, we need to also encourage more people who are victims to come forward and identify those employers so that they can be prosecuted.

My Lords, do the Government share my concern that, despite the Modern Slavery Act, Eurostar has still not put in place a system which ensures that unaccompanied children are escorted to and from their trains and are supervised during the journey? Is not the absence of such basic safeguards putting children at unnecessary risk from child trafficking?

I am certainly very happy to look into that further, if that is the case. Additional guidance has now been provided to Border Force enforcement officers to spot children coming into the country unaccompanied, or, for that matter, leaving the country. This is something that we need to look at very carefully. I will look into it and get back to her.

My Lords, last Monday, the Minister said that he believed that “imminently, if not already” a question relating to the compliance of supply chains under the Act in respect of its modern slavery conditions was being inserted into the cross-government procurement policy. Could the Minister now say definitely what the position is in this regard? Could he say whether the Government will produce regular statements, in line with the requirements for the private sector, on the steps they have taken to ensure that their own business and supply chains are slavery-free, and, if so, will it be a cross-government statement or will there be separate departmental statements?

There is an interdepartmental ministerial group on modern slavery, which meets and publishes quarterly reports—it published one just last week on its work on supply chains. The Home Office as it should, is ensuring that we lead by example across government in respect of supply chains. Of course, that question is going to be there in the checklist. It is there in a lot of cases already in departments, where they have obligations under human rights legislation to ensure that they check the status of people who are in their supply chain. We will continue to monitor that, and we will certainly continue to report on it.

My Lords, there is some research saying that nearly 50% of children who are going on to detention centres go missing within their first 48 hours within Europe. What are the Government doing to ensure that these children are not being trafficked?

I had not seen a report of that, but if the noble Baroness would draw it to my attention, I will certainly make sure that we follow up on it, because that is a crucial gap in the system if that is happening. I am sure that that is not happening in UK detention centres, but if she shares the information, I will ensure that it is thoroughly investigated.

The noble Lord’s own department has produced figures estimating that there are up to 13,000 victims of modern slavery in the country. Given the enormous workload in terms of enforcement, in terms of the work with private businesses and in terms of the work internationally in trying to reduce the flow of trafficked people into this country, is the Minister satisfied that, with a team of staff that is only going to reach seven, the Anti-slavery Commissioner has the resources necessary to carry out this important work?

The noble Lord will be aware that, last week, the Anti-slavery Commissioner produced his report—his strategy document—as he was required to do under the Act. He has set a very clear measure as to where he is focusing: the identification of victims, and the need to encourage prosecutions. As a former police officer, he is well placed to do that. In a lot of cases, it is not a resource question; it is an issue of will and intelligence to identify those people who are at risk to ensure that the perpetrators are tackled and those who are victims are helped.

My Lords, I just want to say that I should have declared that I am a local councillor when I asked my Question earlier on. I apologise and declare it now.