That the Bill be now read a second time.
My Lords, I have drawn number 2 in the ballot for Private Members’ Bills on my very first attempt, so I feel that I have been quite lucky. I am lucky, too, to have had such valuable input and support from my noble friend Lord Alton, my noble and learned friend Lady Butler-Sloss, the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, Anti-Slavery International, the Ethical Trading Initiative, the BMA, the British Retail Consortium and its colleagues from the sector, and Safia Minney, director of People Tree and fair trade activist. This Bill exists because of all of them and countless others who have helped me get to this stage. I also want to place on record my thanks to Nicole Mason and her colleagues in the Legislation Office for their invaluable skill of turning wishes into draft legislation.
It is worth while establishing some of the background to the Bill. In 2007, we commemorated the bicentenary of the abolition of the slave trade on British ships. At that time, I have to confess that I, like many others, was only vaguely aware that in the 21st century human beings were being traded, exploited, trafficked, brutalised and abused on an industrial scale across the world.
Later, in 2009, during the passage of the Coroners and Justice Bill, I worked with Anti-Slavery International, Liberty and fellow Peers to introduce an amendment that criminalised forced labour and domestic servitude. Most people had assumed that such acts were already crimes, but they were not. The then Labour Government were initially reluctant to accept the amendment, as they thought it unnecessary and the ground covered by other legal instruments, but thanks largely to the persuasiveness of NGOs, civil society and victims, they took on the general thrust of the amendments and inserted them into that Bill. It is important to note because it is one of the steps that set us on the path that we are on now.
In 2015, the landmark Modern Slavery Act became law in recognition of the fact that such crimes were widespread and that a concerted, robust effort was needed to identify, and serve long sentences on, the perpetrators. The Government are to be congratulated on the way in which they gained cross-party consensus on the Bill, enabling it to be passed swiftly into law.
During the passage of the Modern Slavery Bill, several noble Lords spoke on the section on transparency in supply chains—which I shall shorten to TISC. In advocating TISC here in the UK, frequent references to the California Act were made both in the other place and in this House. The Californian legislation set an important and significant benchmark for identifying who owns responsibility for the use of enslaved and trafficked people in the supply chains of a wide range of brands and companies across different sectors, whether that be food, fashion, textiles, homewares, furniture, construction and so on. In spite of initial doubts and to their credit, Ministers ultimately accepted the arguments for including a section on TISC in the Modern Slavery Bill, persuaded by the views expressed by substantial, reputable businesses which wanted a “level playing field” created through TISC and by concerned NGOs and civil society.
Part of the point of my retelling this history is that Governments can change their mind. I know that the Minister, who kindly agreed to meet me yesterday, has substantial reservations about the Bill that we are debating today, but I hope that we are set on a similar trajectory as described above; that is, from a position of doubt to one of engagement and collaboration leading to some significant improvements on TISC.
As I have already suggested, last year there was a real sense of a collective desire to get the Modern Slavery Act through Parliament on a tight schedule. That was because everybody wanted to make sure that the legislation was put to work as soon as possible and to make a declaration of intent that the UK would vigorously pursue the criminals involved in such appalling activities. I hope that we can still count on that collective will today as we consider this Bill. Whatever its limitations, I hope that noble Lords will not be surprised to hear that I am happy to work with your Lordships to improve it or even to discard parts of it should there be convincing alternatives. After all, we all have the same goal: to do what we can to eradicate these crimes.
For the likes of Marks & Spencer, John Lewis, Next, Debenhams and so on, the case is clear. TISC reporting is seen not as a regulatory burden but as an opportunity to embed humane, fair practices in their organisational culture and across the sector. It makes good business sense because some businesses are gaining an unfair financial advantage through the use of forced labour and failure to address enslavement and trafficking in supply chain operations.
Now to the Bill. The amendments that I propose to be made to Section 54 of the Modern Slavery Act are relatively simple and are welcomed by the Transparency in Supply Chains Coalition, comprising CORE, Amnesty International UK, Anti-Slavery International, the Dalit Freedom Network UK, FLEX, the International Justice Mission, UNICEF UK and Walk Free. The Bill has also been positively received by the British Retail Consortium and Kevin Hyland, the Independent Anti-slavery Commissioner.
Clause 2 inserts public bodies into the Modern Slavery Act. Many contract and agency workers end up working on government contracts and this type of labour is particularly vulnerable to exploitation. Anecdotal evidence from NGOs and trade unions points to worker exploitation on government construction contracts in the south-west of England, in recycling plants in the north-west and in London. Social care contracts are another area of concern. There have been cases of exploitation of workers in the care industry and allegations of widespread worker abuse by some key local contractors have been reported.
Clearly, what I propose is not totally straightforward. For example, it is apparently difficult to determine which local authorities would be subject to compliance with TISC measures, particularly with regard to calculating thresholds, and I know that there is an argument that says that public bodies are already well regulated in terms of ethical procurement practices. But I draw noble Lords’ attention to President Obama’s executive order 13627 of 2012, Strengthening Protections Against Trafficking In Persons in Federal Contracts, which sets a high standard for all federal agencies. The order prohibits contractors and their subcontractors from engaging in a broad array of trafficking-related activities, such as providing misleading information about work conditions, requiring employees to pay recruitment fees, and so on. To ensure compliance, contractors and their subcontractors must agree by contract to co-operate fully with contracting agency audits and investigations and, for contracts above $500,000, contractors and subcontractors are required to maintain a compliance plan. Any violation of the provisions in this executive order can result in termination of the contract and potentially exclusion from future federal contracts. This level of contract compliance with regard to TISC is far more extensive than what is contained in this Private Member’s Bill, and I wonder about the extent to which federal bodies can be said to be set up in a more complicated way than our public bodies here in the UK.
The insertion of public bodies into the Modern Slavery Act points to the potential of their combined purchasing power, of £45 billion, to contribute to a real change in behaviour from those operators in the commercial sector that are not on the high street and thus not instantly recognisable. At the heart of this clause is the question of how public bodies can use their purchasing power more effectively to root out enslavement and trafficking in their supply chains.
Clause 3 simply defines “public body” for the purposes of this Bill and the Modern Slavery Act. Clause 4 requires companies and public bodies to publish their statements in their company reports, lodging them with appropriate bodies such as Companies House or the Charity Commission. This means that all statements would be available in a central location and could be scrutinised alongside company accounts. Non-financial reporting is standard in annual reports, which have to be signed off by directors, and this addition should not represent a burden for those companies involved since they have to make the statements anyway.
As it stands, the Modern Slavery Act requires companies to put their statements on their websites. I am not arguing against that, obviously, but trying to enable scrutiny and monitoring of statements in as many publicly accessible places as possible. The publication of statements should ideally be linked to a list of companies that should be complying with TISC. That is precisely what is asked for in Clause 1(5), which requires the Secretary of State to compile a list of companies that should be compliant with TISC, to make it possible for NGOs, civil society and the general public to find the information required for effective monitoring. As I have just stated, the effectiveness of this measure would be enhanced by linking reports and statements directly to this list.
In the absence of any punitive measures for non-compliance, the Government expect that good, reputable businesses will encourage others to improve their efforts to rid their supply chains of enslaved and trafficked labour. The Government would also like NGOs, civil society and the general public to monitor and scrutinise TISC compliance, since there are no other mechanisms for doing so. Noble Lords will be aware that there is no mandatory requirement for companies to upload their statements to a government or indeed any other website. This means that that no one has any idea which companies have complied with TISC, or even how many companies should be complying. Of course, we know that most of the familiar high street companies will meet the £36 million threshold and comply, but what of other, less familiar businesses such as caterers, the construction industry, hotels and so forth? Will the Minister explain to the House how he sees the monitoring of TISC happening, given the lack of information available? I am sure, as he said to me yesterday, that requiring the Secretary of State to carry out this clause would be a difficult task, but have all the technological possibilities been explored and discarded? Is it really impossible to create a dynamic database of companies that can be consulted by the public, civil society and NGOs?
Apparently, one of the regrets of the creators of the California Act is that they did not build into the legislation provision for a central repository of TISC statements. This subject has been raised several times with the Government here with little by way of a positive response. What seems to be happening now is that several websites offering to host TISC statements have emerged claiming to be independent, with some charging fees of up to £5,000 and at the same time selling consultancy services to the companies concerned and offering to write the reports for a fee. That represents a clear conflict of interest. Given that of the 75 reports recently posted and analysed, only 22 met the minimum legal requirements of the Modern Slavery Act, and just nine met the minimum legal requirement and addressed all six of the criteria suggested in the Act, although obviously it is early days, this does suggest that there need to be examples of good practice in drawing up reports and statements. Monitoring is also needed to ensure that statement templates do not become more widespread. Apparently, several statements from different companies sound suspiciously similar. Clause 2, which inserts paragraph (1A), and Clause 3 both relate to due diligence and contracting authorities, and aim to strengthen existing guidelines and regulation for public bodies, as I have already noted.
One reason I have brought this Bill to your Lordships’ House is that I do not want us to settle into a complacent attitude which says, “We’re leading the world on this; let’s just see how things pan out over the next couple of years”, during which time, bad habits such as low levels of compliance and poor reporting become the norm. That would be unforgivable and a betrayal of victims. I beg to move.
My Lords, I strongly support this Bill and congratulate the noble Baroness on introducing it. As we know, modern slavery takes a number of forms: forced labour and domestic servitude; indentured labour; and sexual exploitation. The reality is that victims come in all walks of life and all sectors.
We were all taught at school that William Wilberforce abolished slavery but here in 2016, more than a century and a half later, we are still faced with products and services that come to us through our shops and daily lives which have in part been produced by what we now call modern slavery. The growing reliance on the internet and social media means that we should know what is happening all over the world, but still in the clothes shops and fashions, in the food we eat and even in our medical supplies there is a component that has been produced by what is, to call it by its proper name, slave labour and equivalent labour practices.
The Modern Slavery Act of last year was indeed a major step forward. I am sorry I could not play a more effective part in that Bill but I strongly supported it. It was a beacon of light shining on to a dark place. In many ways it put the UK at the forefront of nations attempting to deal with this problem. However, the commitments reflected in that Act need enforcement in the commercial sector and across the world if they are to be fully effective. While there is now a relatively high level of public consciousness, it is certainly not sufficient to rely on well-motivated consumers or the important consumer-led bodies and other organisations, some of which the noble Baroness referred to as supporters of this Bill, to enforce it. We have consumer organisations such as the Fairtrade Foundation and trade organisations such as the Ethical Trading Initiative. These are vital to public consciousness and have been vital in getting us this far—particularly in Britain and, with equivalent organisations, in Scandinavia. However, they need to be backed up by effective enforcement.
Enforcement comes in two forms: a legislative and direct regulatory form and an economic form through pressure on the supply chain from the most powerful point in the supply chain, which is usually the final commercial or governmental user. I will say a few words about regulatory enforcement in a moment but this Bill deals primarily with economic enforcement through the supply chain. That is why the original Section 54 of the Act required major commercial organisations of all kinds to report on the steps they have taken to try to ensure that their supply chains are as free as possible from dependence on any form of modern slavery. That could be slavery, trafficking or forced labour which occurred in this country. Frequently we forget that, but there have been some horrific cases in our courts and reports of what is happening in this very city and in the fields of our farming areas. The Act also covers abuse throughout the world.
Our supermarkets and clothes shops—Tesco and Primark as well as the more obviously ethical stores such as Waitrose and Marks & Spencer—now have an obligation to check their supply chains. That does not rely on outside pressure but is, as a result of the 2015 Act, a legal requirement on the retailer or final provider themselves. I am not claiming in any way, any more than the noble Baroness did, that this is fully effective. There are still many clothes in our shops and much food in our supermarkets that we have probably all bought even in the last week that is tainted by these practices. This Bill will further strengthen that requirement so that such companies are listed, their performance much more accessible and the requirement is more widely known.
At least there is already a clear obligation on such retailers and final providers, and campaigners and consumers can therefore hold them to account. However, it was a peculiarly strange omission from the original Act that an equivalent obligation and similar assurance do not apply when we use our GP or go to a hospital, attend university or schools, benefit from the protection of our Armed Forces or the police force, or when we walk by construction sites contracted by the Government. Yet all these contractors and procurers are in the very same markets most prone to abuse down the supply chain—the supply of mass apparel, food, furniture and construction. Indeed, during the passage of the Bill, the noble Baroness was assured by the Minister that public contracts would be dealt with in a different way. However, to my mind that has not been forthcoming.
Evidence for the need to include public procurement and contracting authorities in the requirement to vet their procedures comes from many sources. The need for public procurement to exclude from its supply chain organisations that have been clearly convicted of modern slavery and labour abuse is not even there. I particularly refer to evidence that came to me only yesterday from the British Medical Association. Other noble Lords may have seen that. I appreciate that the BMA is not necessarily the Government’s favourite organisation at this point but nevertheless it is a well-researched and effective report. It shows that in one quite large but obscure area—the procurement of surgical gloves—there are examples of severe labour abuses amounting effectively to forced and indentured labour, particularly in south-east Asia.
That BMA report on the working conditions surrounding the primary sector of the latex glove industry focused predominantly on Sri Lanka, Thailand and Malaysia. It is a damning insight into the living and working conditions of factory workers in those countries, with cases of severe exposure to safety hazards and retention of passports by the company so that people could in effect leave neither the company nor the country—it is mainly migrant workers who are employed. There is a long excerpt in the report from the examination of the situation in Sri Lanka, where the EPZ regions are designated by the Sri Lanka Government for special labour conditions. They are excluded from any of the labour standards that would apply in terms of ILO commitments in other regions of the country.
In terms of our procurement here in the UK, this area should already have been covered. NHS procurement rules and guidelines have, since 2009, been included in the code of conduct, which also includes a labour standards assurance scheme. However, it was due really only to BMA pressure that in December last year that assessment was applied to this trade in latex gloves. If that is one example, there must be myriad more examples in other areas of procurement by not only the NHS but also the major government contracting organisations both at local and national level. They really need to be included in the noble Baroness’s Bill, putting them on a par with commercial organisations.
Will the Minister put on record aspects of the other way in which we strengthen enforcement in this country—direct regulation? A Statement in June related to the extension of the role of the Gangmasters Licensing Authority, together with a changed name for that body. I have an interest in that field, having brought the GLA legislation through this House many years ago, but at that time—and since—its remit was limited. It has been made more limited by subsequent Governments. Both the coalition Government and this Government resisted extending the GLA remit from agriculture, fisheries and first-line food processing to other areas such as construction and catering where modern slavery practices are known to occur. The turnaround in extending the remit of the GLA is welcome and important but needs to be backed by resources and effective enforcement. In replying on the economic pressures on the supply chain, will the Minister also refer to what parallel steps are being taken by the Government on the GLA and by the Independent Anti-slavery Commissioner? What resources are being given to them? How will that more effectively close down some of the appalling practices of which we are all now aware? If the Minister is not in a position to do so today, will he please write to me and other noble Lords? Meanwhile, I strongly support the Bill.
My Lords, I am sure that the whole House will echo the questions just posed by the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, and await with interest the response of my noble and learned friend the Minister.
I may be the only speaker from these Benches in this debate but I am confident that most, if not all, of my colleagues would wish to thank the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Hornsey, for introducing the Bill and bringing this important issue once more before your Lordships’ House. I echo entirely her reference to 1807. My greatest parliamentary hero is William Wilberforce, who did so much to spearhead the campaign for the abolition of slavery. However, I am glad that he did not call it AST. I was sorry that the noble Baroness introduced yet another acronym into parliamentary jargon. I have been tempted many times to present a Bill to your Lordships’ House for the abolition of acronyms. I am further encouraged to attempt that by the noble Baroness’s speech this morning. Perhaps I will do so in the next Session of Parliament.
I listened with great interest to what the noble Baroness said and entirely agree with all her sentiments. However, I wonder whether the Title of the Bill could be improved by calling it just contract compliance rather than this extraordinary phrase which brings in the vogue word “transparency”, which everybody trots out and very few people completely understand. Transparency was always something you could see through, as far as I was concerned. What we want here is a Bill that we can all totally support, because it seeks to add yet another weapon to the armoury fighting the insidious evil—I use the words deliberately—of slavery in modern society. As the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, said, we are doubtless all of us occasionally unwillingly complicit in this through buying goods which have been produced by those subject to labour conditions that none of us—if we knew about them—could begin to tolerate, let alone condone.
There is, however, somebody who should be thanked in addition to the noble Baroness, because it was an act of courage, determination and vision to bring the Modern Slavery Bill before Parliament. On a rather appropriate day, I pay tribute to the Home Secretary, Theresa May, who was behind that. I very much hope that the steely determination and vision that she displayed in taking that Bill through Parliament will soon be available to the country in a higher office. All I would say in that context is that I hope we do not have to wait nine weeks as this country desperately needs an effective Prime Minister who is not a lame duck, and needs that Prime Minister soon. We should not wait upon the unduly protracted deliberations of a tiny fraction of the electorate. I hope that message will go forth from this House, and that we will soon see Theresa May, with all her experience and commitment to good causes, installed in No. 10 Downing Street. I do not think it is inappropriate to pay tribute to her today in this context. I hope very much that even my dear old friend the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, who himself is part of a party in search of a saviour, will realise that there is some sense in what I am saying.
The noble Baroness, Lady Young of Hornsey, has performed a very real service this morning. It is essential that loopholes are closed, if they exist, and that the circle is completed because we need a virtually cast-iron guarantee and assurance that any goods or products we buy are not the result of modern slavery. Of course, other aspects of modern slavery are even more sinister; one thinks of the sexual exploitation of the young. Forcing people to do things against their will and inadequately rewarding their labours, in whatever form these practices are carried out, should indeed have long been consigned to the dustbin of history. If we can ensure that the Act we already have on the statute books is made yet more effective by the noble Baroness’s endeavours, we shall all have quiet cause for satisfaction. I wish her every success in her endeavours. She made it plain that she is open to suggestions for amendments and improvements to the Bill. As one who has introduced several Private Members’ Bills over the last 46 years, I know that every private Member in either House needs expert support and help, and that almost no Private Member’s Bill is incapable of improvement. The noble Baroness was very generous in that regard.
I hope the Bill will have a successful and speedy passage through your Lordships’ House and that my noble and learned friend the Minister will articulate carefully whatever reservations he might have, so that we can work together to ensure that, as I say, this circle is completed and the Act that we already have on the statute books is made even more effective than it promises to be at the moment. I have great pleasure in giving the Bill my support.
My Lords, I cannot resist commenting on the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Cormack. First, public Bills put forward by government nearly always need amendment; it is unfair to single out Private Members’ Bills. Secondly, I would support any action the noble Lord takes to abolish acronyms. I spend my life having to ask people what on earth various letters mean, so that would be brilliant. However, I do not agree with his comments about the Bill’s Title, because the noble Baroness, Lady Young, whom I congratulate very much on bringing this timely and necessary Private Member’s Bill forward, quite rightly followed the wording of the Modern Slavery Act in that respect. If I may respectfully say so to the noble Lord, it would be madness to go out on a limb when we have the wording that is already in the Modern Slavery Act, and this Bill is intended to be a very necessary improvement to that Act. The Modern Slavery Act is a very good Act and I share the noble Lord’s view that Theresa May is much to be congratulated on having courageously brought it forward. We are all very indebted to her for the Modern Slavery Act, on which I worked. Noble Lords know that I am much involved in modern slavery elements in both the parliamentary group and the Human Trafficking Foundation.
The Government are to be congratulated on the innovative supply chain requirement in the Modern Slavery Act. However, I wish to make two points. First, a good Act can always be improved. I cannot see why, in principle, the Modern Slavery Act applies to large private companies and not to government procurement, government agencies and local government. An example is procurement by the Ministry of Defence, which is absolutely enormous. There can be no good reason in principle why the Ministry of Defence should not have a similar, but not necessarily exactly the same, requirement as private companies. Why on earth should the Government not have a similar requirement to independent companies to have this transparency made absolutely clear?
The big companies gave evidence to the Modern Slavery Bill pre-legislative scrutiny committee. They were entirely happy to have transparency but they asked for—and I use the phrase that the noble Baroness, Lady Young, used—a level playing field. They did not ask for government procurement to be included but it must have been in their minds. I cannot see why the Government cannot lead and show the world that not only do they expect private companies to do this, but they themselves will get involved. That would be wonderful message not only for the United Kingdom but around the world. I spent some time at the Vatican quite recently, explaining to 22 other countries what the Modern Slavery Act was about but I was not able to say that the Government were intimately involved in this very important part of it, which many other countries are interested in.
I do not think the noble Baroness, Lady Young, would be at all embarrassed by my saying that it is quite clear that Clause 1(2) could be improved, in particular to include—regarding the second issue I want to deal with—what sort of statement should be provided. We could look in Committee at providing a way that would be acceptable to the Government. The fact that this may need to be changed does not mean that we should not have it; that it the really important point of this Bill.
My second point, therefore, is that at the moment there is absolutely no way that we can tell whether companies are obeying the law and making the appropriate return under the Modern Slavery Act. We do not know which companies are obliged to make the return; we have no idea. There is no one to report to. It is very unsatisfactory to have a law where one does not know to whom it applies and whether those to whom it applies are complying. It is an extraordinary situation in the state of law.
There are various ways in which this could be remedied. One could have a requirement to file with Companies House, or a government department could compile a list of companies to which the public have access. I understand that the Government are likely to say that this would be extremely difficult and that it would change all the time, but if the Government bring in legislation that requires companies to comply, they really also ought to be able to know to whom the law is applying. I therefore do not see that that is a very good argument. A government department—not necessarily the Home Office—could receive statements sent officially by a company. We could have a genuinely independent, properly managed website—if one could find it; I take the point of the noble Baroness, Lady Young, about the various organisations offering what look to be really spurious suggestions of how they would manage a website, which would be to their financial advantage. I would be very unhappy about that.
I am particularly worried about not only the big companies that have to give this information but the extent to which they are able to manage and scrutinise the work of their subcontractors and the agents who have other subcontractors over whom the company that sells the product does not have proper control. This is an aspect we need to look at. We need to encourage companies to do due diligence, not just at their own level and that of their subsidiary companies, but at the level of their subcontractors who provide them with the goods that they sell.
There is of course an argument about the burden of regulation but it was, in my view, utterly destroyed in the Joint Select Committee on the Draft Modern Slavery Bill by the biggest of the companies that came to talk to us saying that it did not object to doing this. Interestingly, John Lewis, for instance, has a document that shows that it is complying with human rights, which is of course already a requirement for companies, and is putting a requirement to deal with modern slavery in that same document. That seems a perfectly sensible way of doing it but it may not suit other companies. So the burden of regulation is not a good argument. I do not think that it matters which way companies do it, so long as it is set out in a company document that is the responsibility of the main board and not of someone subsidiary. We need a consistent approach by industry, including government procurement. The wording of Clause 1(4) could be improved; it does not need to be in an annual report and accounts so long as it is in an appropriate document. Business could probably tell us what would be the more appropriate phraseology to use.
I end by saying that, next Wednesday afternoon, the Human Trafficking Foundation will hold a meeting to talk about transparency in the supply chain, at 5.30 pm in Committee Room 3. We will be discussing what large companies are expected to do and among the companies coming are John Lewis, Primark, Tesco and the British Retail Consortium. Am I really going to have to say to them that we held this debate, thanks to the noble Baroness, Lady Young, and that, at the end of it, the Government resolutely refused to have anything to do with it and were not prepared to involve government procurement as part of what big business is expected to do? That would not, I suspect, go down very well next Wednesday.
My Lords, I too thank and congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Young, and support these suggestions. I declare an interest in that I am the chairman of the advisory panel to the Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner and am therefore, among other things, quite heavily involved in some of these issues.
My first point is that the Modern Slavery Act recognised very clearly the importance of information, which gives power. If you hide information, people get the wrong kind of power to behave badly. Besides trying to press companies to behave well and have good practices, we need to remind ourselves that this is not simply to fight on behalf of victims—although that is of course the priority—but to fight against serious organised crime, which in itself is a very successful business model that is expanding all the time, as we speak. It is therefore in the interests of proper companies to help us all to push back against criminal business behaviour, which has these appalling human consequences and is also enormously damaging to the health of our economy and the well-being of business more generally.
The noble Baroness, Lady Young, mentioned that the Modern Slavery Act asks companies to provide information, in a self-regulatory way, about their performance in this area. The research that she mentioned shows very clearly that the Act highlighted six areas on which it would be sensible for companies to report, so that one could see that they were doing all that they could to fight slavery in their supply chains. The research done recently shows that only about 10% of the companies that have even filed any kind of report are looking at those six key areas, which are essential to give anybody a sense of how they are performing, what their aspirations are and where they might be going.
The desire to have companies report in the way that the Act has sketched it out is not working in terms of the performance and response of companies. As the noble Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, said, there is a big issue about how to get companies to pay attention to responsible reporting. One way, which I spoke about in the debates on the legislation, would be to make a small amendment to the Companies Act 2006 to simply require this degree of reporting. The Government were not keen on that; the Minister may want to comment on the latest thinking about that slight legislative change that would deliver some important steps in this direction.
If we are to maintain the understandable line that we do not want to burden businesses, but want them, for their own good, to develop good practice and create a positive business culture, how are we going to enable them to get over the line and work properly? Let me give noble Lords some encouraging signs and then end with a question for the Minister about a particular concern.
I do a lot in this area in Derbyshire, where I work as the Bishop. The University of Derby, with the Gangmasters Licensing Authority, offers a course on which businesses can send the people they employ to learn how to monitor supply chains, and how to organise supply chains and procurement contracts to develop good practice. That is one tool that is being developed. It is a simple one, but people in offices need to learn how to do it.
We have done some work with businesses in Derbyshire. I get the heads of businesses to meet the police, and when the police explain how unscrupulous agencies can filter people into the system and apparently give them a good deal, eyes are opened and they immediately see the importance for procurement contracts and for every kind of occasional supplier, down to the people who clean the windows in their factories. We must encourage businesses to recognise the scope of the crime and how vulnerable many of them are—especially the large ones—and show them the simple steps, such as this one, that can be taken.
Two weeks ago, the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury was in our diocese for a few days. He and I convened a meeting with business leaders, at which a number of significant businesses—JCB, Bowmer & Kirkland and other large businesses in our culture—signed the Athens ethical principles about having good auditing practices to try to stamp out slavery in the supply chain. This is another voluntary effort. It is great that those companies are signing up, and it is an example and a model for others. However, it is very patchy, and it depends on someone like me having the passion to get people into a room and help them to get on the same page.
Another ray of hope is the fact that, with the Roman Catholic Church and on behalf of the Church of England and the Anglican communion, we are working under the banner of the Global Sustainability Network. It is trying to help companies internationally and Governments in relation to their legislation to occupy this space creatively, learn from each other and develop good audit practices. This was much influenced by the Pope’s encyclical last year, Laudato Si’, which brings together care for people and care for the planet. With good auditing practices, businesses can show that they are being positive in both those areas. Such auditing can help them to perform better and it satisfies public demand better.
I have a concern about the mechanism, which was discussed during the crafting of the legislation, for some kind of central repository. As other speakers have said, how can we know what businesses are doing, and how can a good business—such as the businesses that have signed up to the Athens ethical principles in Derby—show how it is performing? There is a free market, and a number of operators in it are offering services to help businesses. If they divide up the market, it will be even more difficult for anybody to know what a particular business is doing, whether it has registered and whether it is meeting the right criteria.
I want to ask the Minister about two organisations based in Bristol, Semantrica and a charity that works for victims called Unseen, which offer services that people will have to pay for using. Some of the information will be publicly available, but some will be available only to those who pay for it. This organisation, which is backed by Google and Polaris—some large operators are involved—claims to work in close collaboration with the UK Government. I would be very interested if the Minister commented on what that means. Are the Government trying to develop an official arm? If so, it would be helpful to know what investment the Government are making, what other models they have looked at and what processes have been considered in discerning this as the way ahead. If the Government are not involved, what are we going to do about this growing unregulated market of people trying to offer central repositories? By definition, such repositories will be not central, but partial. They are themselves businesses that are trying to do good work, but they are making our task more difficult.
The organisations I have mentioned are linking a central repository with the provision of a helpline. We also talked about this during the crafting of the legislation. It is absolutely crucial to have a proper helpline both to identify victims and, within that, to identify bad practice in businesses. What are we going to do about inviting in the people who provide intelligence—for the police, for the Government and for others—that might help us to fight this crime and about developing practices to enable us to do so efficiently? Has this particular initiative, which claims to be supported by the UK Government, looked at the practices followed by other helplines and learned any wisdom from them? Do the Government have a view about the role of helplines in this whole enterprise?
This issue is very difficult because of its sheer complexity and volume. If, like me, noble Lords occasionally meet victims, they would not hesitate to do everything they could to help businesses beyond the front line of this terrible exploitation and abuse of human beings. If, as I sometimes do, they meet business leaders, they would not hesitate to help them perform responsibly in a system that allows them to do so, sets benchmarks for them and gives them a way of letting their customers know that they are trying hard in this area. People are anxious to do that, but they need the right tools and structures. I would be very grateful if the Minister commented on what kind of tools and structures the Government want to endorse, given that, as I said at the beginning of my speech, the initial research shows that performance on the aims—I understand them to be to encourage businesses to self-regulate and to develop this themselves—is very skewed, very unsatisfactory and not very helpful to anybody.
I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Hornsey, and the organisations that supported her and helped draft the Bill. When the original legislation was taken through the House, we received a number of assurances from the Minister and civil servants at the time that a proper reporting mechanism would be put in place, including for companies employing more than a certain number of employees. That could be done—we went back over it time and again—but at no point was it resolved. We were then told that it would come to the House, but so far nothing has come to the House except this Private Member’s Bill.
I do not want to go over all that my colleagues have said, but I will say that the Athens Ethical Principles is by far the best document for the Government to work on and to take to companies. This is partly a matter for the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and partly a matter for the Home Office, but let us not allow it to fall between two stools—which is a great game with Governments and civil servants. The reporting side of this—the company reports—should go to BIS. It is quite easy to do that in company reports, as everything else is put in, including the gender basis, fair pay and what people are being paid. So this is just an additional piece to be done. It should be done by the companies or their accountants, not by outside agencies, which have approached me and others for help in getting to speak to the Government to say that they can assist and that they can speak to companies.
I turn to the whole question of slavery. We know that anybody who has in any way been a victim or survivor of human trafficking never lives a long life. What are the Primarks of this world, which are selling dresses and other things for £3 or £2.50, paying the people in the supply chain? What is the person being paid in Bangladesh or other places from where it gets these clothes? If you unpick them, you eventually find where they were made. At present, it is very vague, and that is where the supply chain must be looked at.
In the same way, where does the fish going to all the supermarkets come from? In many cases, it comes from boats off Australia and New Zealand that people are never allowed to leave. It is for that reason that we are pressing this Bill, which has cross-party support. It is absolutely important that the House gives its support and that the Minister goes back to the civil servants who keep coming up with reasons why this cannot operate. We know that it can operate.
If only they had been to the places that we have seen. When I was chairman of the UN Women Leaders’ Council leaders a few years ago, we went to see some of the places where football shirts are made for top teams. I know of a manager, for example, who gets £75 million for this and that—I read it in the newspapers—at the same time as the team takes football shirts from places where they pay nothing for them.
That is what the Bill seeks to stamp out, and it should take in local authorities as well as government departments and quangos. Every form of organisation that procures goods should be part of this and it should not be limited by how many people they employ. It has to be the whole supply chain of our country.
My Lords, in today’s debate I shall make one point and ask three questions. I trust that noble Lords will forgive me if I repeat any points that have been made or if I make a point that is to be made by other noble Lords who will speak after me.
In 2014, the Home Office estimated that the number of potential victims of modern slavery in the UK alone was in the region of 13,000 individuals. I think we can all agree that the prospect of 13,000 individuals not having a life but effectively having some form of existence is a truly horrific thought. Because of the hidden nature of this appalling trade in human misery, this figure is almost certainly an underestimate. I know that all noble Lords would instinctively wish to support the legislation which brought about the Modern Slavery Act 2015—and, as such, I recognise and respect the efforts made by the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Hornsey, in introducing an important opportunity to consider the extension and clarification of the Act under her Bill, which would increase supply chain transparency by extending Part 6 of the Act to include public bodies. Public bodies—those organisations which receive taxpayers’ money—already have so many obligations which we almost take for granted, such as the public sector equality duty under the Equality Act 2010, that the Bill appears in most respects to be a simple and natural progression of an established practice.
Your Lordships will be aware that the equality duty ensures that all public bodies play their part in making society fairer by tackling discrimination and providing equality of opportunity for all. The equality duty has three aims. It requires public bodies to: have due regard to the need to eliminate unlawful discrimination, advance equality of opportunity and foster good relations between people. As a nation, we are conscious of discrimination and equality. Furthermore, we are concerned about the protection of the vulnerable, the poor and those in need. Surely people unfortunate enough to be trapped in modern slavery encompass all three of those descriptions. What taxpayer in the UK would feel comfortable knowing that any part of their hard-earned money was finding its way into the pockets of people who exploit others? Most of the comments so far today have touched on the commercial area of the Act, which is already covered, whereas the Bill before us is specifically about extending the obligation to public bodies.
I am therefore pleased to note that under Clause 1(3) and (4) public bodies which are “governed by public law”—in other words, a “contracting authority” or a “central government authority” under the Public Contracts Regulations 2015—must include a slavery and human trafficking statement in their annual report and accounts. I hope that I have interpreted the meaning of this proposal correctly, which is that public bodies cannot make use of Section 54(4)(b) of the Modern Slavery Act 2015 and simply issue a statement that they have “taken no … steps” to ensure that slavery has not occurred in their supply chain.
I see that Section 54(4)(b) can still apply to qualifying commercial organisations, but should the clause extend it to public bodies? Will my noble and learned friend the Minister touch on this point in his summing up? In addition, and on a similar theme, is he able to shed any light on the number of qualifying companies and organisations which are already subject to the Modern Slavery Act 2015 and which have not completed their slavery and human trafficking statement? Thirdly and finally, what is the number of such qualifying companies and organisations that have used Section 54(4)(b) to declare that they have not taken steps to investigate their supply chain in this way?
Before my noble friend Lord Smith sits down, I profoundly apologise to him for getting my Smiths confused and not realising that he was to speak in this debate.
My Lords, it is a great pleasure to support the Modern Slavery (Transparency in Supply Chains) Bill, a Private Member’s Bill, which is being promoted by my noble friend Lady Young of Hornsey. She is a formidable and effective parliamentarian with a long track record in contesting modern-day forms of slavery. Her eloquent speech today was an impressive extension of that record.
I support the requirements in her Bill which would be placed on commercial organisations and public bodies to include a statement on slavery and human trafficking in their annual reports and accounts, and the requirement for contracting authorities to exclude from procurement procedures economic operators which have not provided such a statement. With the United Kingdom Government awarding £45 billion of contracts annually, it is self-evident what leverage this policy could provide in forcing businesses to strengthen their slavery and trafficking statements. I was particularly pleased to see that, following the publication of the BMA’s report in March on the 150 billion medical gloves used globally, not least here in the National Health Service, the BMA is strongly supporting my noble friend’s Bill because there are significant concerns, as we have heard—the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, referred to this—about labour abuses in many of the factories which produce disposable gloves.
This is a very modest Bill and a first step to addressing the concern of the Transparency in Supply Chains Coalition that early indications are that the majority of initial,
“company statements on modern slavery in supply chains appear not to meet the Act’s requirements”.
I am also glad that the Bill is before your Lordships as it enables us to have a broader and wider debate today. It could be used, as others have suggested, to meet the real expectations which we all had of the 2015 Act. Thanks to my noble friend Lady Young, we have the opportunity now to plug some of the gaps left in the legislation. Although the Government opposed my own amendment in 2015 proposing post-legislative scrutiny, my noble friend’s Bill gives us an opportunity to do some of that. We have already heard the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, refer to the extension of the role of the Gangmasters Licensing Authority. We have also heard some concerns raised by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Derby, my noble and learned friend Lady Butler-Sloss and others about other issues in the Bill: everything from domestic visas to the national referral mechanism and the central repository, which was alluded to by the right reverend Prelate and which I will return to in due course.
Seven years ago, in 2009, I accompanied my noble friend Lady Young to see the then Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Bach, to support her amendments in Committee to the Coroners and Justice Bill, which sought to make it a criminal offence punishable by up to 14 years’ imprisonment to hold someone in servitude; and to make it an offence for a person to subject another to forced or compulsory labour where the victim had been threatened with harm if they did not perform the work. The noble Lord, Lord Bach, could not have been more receptive or helpful, and I hope that that will set the tone for the response given by the noble and learned Lord to my noble friend’s Bill today.
These abhorrent practices were the issues to which we all returned during the passage of the flagship Modern Slavery Bill. Like the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, I pay particular tribute to the right honourable Theresa May, the Home Secretary—I hope that that tribute does not do her too much damage—and to our own Home Office Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Bates, for their diligence and effectiveness in promoting flagship legislation which commanded support across both Houses and all sides of your Lordships’ House.
I might say in parenthesis that the noble Lord, Lord Bates, is due to return to the United Kingdom around 8 August, having walked a staggering 2,460 kilometres so far, from Buenos Aires to Rio de Janeiro, while raising money for UNICEF and awareness of the 2016 Olympic Truce. Although his sons tease him that he is more “Beer and Grills” than Bear Grylls, he and his wife have, through their earlier walks, already given more than £200,000 to charity.
Through the noble Lord’s work in government, a different gift will be the enduring legacy of the modern slavery legislation, not least the provision which requires businesses with a commercial presence in the UK and a worldwide turnover in excess of £36 million to report annually on steps that the business has taken to ensure that slavery and human trafficking are not taking place in its supply chains or any part of its own business. However, it was the noble Lord, Lord Bates, himself who admitted that, admirable though the Act was, it would never be the last word on the subject. The US State Department’s Trafficking in Persons Report, published only this week, refers to our legislation in the United Kingdom and notes:
“Media and NGOs report compliance so far has been incomplete, in part due to misunderstandings among businesses about what the law requires. Critics noted the lack of monetary or criminal penalties for companies that did not comply with the reporting requirement”.
It is obvious that there is a need for us to go further than we have done even in that admirable 2015 legislation. That need was underlined at a meeting held here, on Tuesday, in the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association room. Mr Kevin Hyland, the Independent Anti-slavery Commissioner, said at that meeting that the Act had been judged the world’s third-strongest response to this cancer of modern-day slavery, surpassed only by legislation in the Netherlands and the United States. Nevertheless, it is not perfect and is not a panacea.
During consideration of that legislation, at Second Reading, in Committee and on Report, I argued that modern slavery is, by its very nature, a global phenomenon. It cannot be tackled by one Government alone but requires a global solution and a concerted and coherent global strategy. We heard again from Kevin Hyland that, for every person trafficked in the UK, there are dozens of children in forced labour in Uzbekistan’s cotton mills, men and women enslaved in Mauritania, and Syrian children used as child labour in Lebanon. In addition, 90% of North Korean escapees are trafficked in China, women and children are exploited in bonded labour in India and Pakistan, and all over the world women and girls are trafficked into brothels. Your Lordships could recall, too, the fatal consequences of the collapsed garment factory in Rana Plaza in Bangladesh and ask themselves whether we are doing enough to deter suppliers that display such a fundamental disrespect for human rights.
On Monday, I met with representatives of India’s Dalit community—so-called “untouchables”—who form a significant proportion of the 21 million people the International Labour Organization says are in forced labour around the world, who in total produce an estimated $150 billion in illicit profits. Then there are the 45 million people estimated to be living in modern slavery by the Global Slavery Index. India and China are among the top five countries on that index. It was of course good that earlier this year Her Majesty’s Government ratified the Protocol of 2014 to the Forced Labour Convention, but perhaps the Minister will tell us when that protocol will come into effect and what penalties will accompany it.
Consider the abuses and exploitation of workers in such places as the cotton mills of Tamil Nadu in India. The mills in that region have supplied high-street retailers such as C&A, Mothercare and Primark. The Flawed Fabrics report, published by the SOMO Centre for Research on Multinational Corporations and the India Committee of the Netherlands, details many examples of forced labour abuses. Verité, an organisation promoting fair labour, estimates that 85% of migrant workers in Malaysia alone are in some form of forced labour. Modern slavery is so common in the fashion industry that each of us is probably wearing at least one garment that has been made with some element of forced labour. Modern supply chains are complex, many steps removed from the company, and operate across multiple countries with different approaches to workers’ rights. This year both H&M, the Swedish multinational retail clothing company, and Next found modern slavery during an audit of their supply chain, specifically in the form of Syrian refugee children working in Turkish factories.
On Tuesday, at our meeting, the commissioner reminded us of how Nigerian boys have been lured to England with promises of riches from playing football in the Premier League but forced into slavery once they arrive. Many people, often immigrants and migrants, are forced into economic servitude, often wholly unremunerated or on paltry wages. It is thought that in industrialised nations, some 360,000 people work in such exploitative conditions.
This is to say nothing of the barbarity which often accompanies enslavement—and outright genocide— of Yazidis and Christians in Syria and Iraq by Islamic State. Their plight was highlighted again this week through the harrowing story of an 18 year-old Yazidi woman, Lamiya Aji Bashar, who was enslaved, raped, tortured and left partially blind and permanently scarred. She was given wonderful help by our colleague, my noble friend Lady Nicholson, who played a central role in Lamiya’s escape. Two of the other enslaved girls who attempted to escape with her were killed. Her nine year-old sister, Mayada, remains a captive.
On Wednesday this week, along with my noble friend Lady Cox, who has done so much on these issues, I raised the genocide being perpetrated by Khartoum in Sudan’s Nuba mountains and South Kordofan, where enslavement of Africans has been systematic and routine. Just last month, Sudan bombed the St Vincent school in El Obeid. This town in Kordofan is also where, in 1877, a girl aged seven who had been kidnapped in Darfur was forced to walk for some 600 miles, and was sold and bought by slave traders twice before she even arrived there. She was forced to convert and even her name was taken from her. To ensure permanent scarring, a total of 114 intricate patterns were cut into her breasts, belly and right arm. Subsequently, she was bought by Italians and ultimately freed. She then gave her life to the service of others, and in 2000 Josephine Bakhita was declared the patron saint of Sudan. The outcome of this 19th-century story may suggest the triumph of hope over cruelty, but her story, as a trafficked child, is one being repeated even while we meet.
On Wednesday, Mende Nazer, a former slave from the Nuba mountains, was in Parliament. She has described how she was abducted from her home in the Nuba mountains aged 12, and suffered rape and other forms of abuse while working for a family in Khartoum. In 2000, Mende was sent by her host father with false documents to work in the UK. She lived as a house slave for four months at the home of the Sudanese diplomat Abdel Al Koronky in Willesden Green, where she was not allowed to stray further than the front door. She managed to escape and applied for asylum. Her first application was denied two years after it was submitted, but that decision was reversed in November 2002. Understandably, Mende was traumatised by the events of her childhood and adolescence, and struggled to adjust to being free. Her story has been told in the book Slave by Damien Lewis, the TV show “I Am Slave” and the play “Slave—A Question of Freedom”. Some Members of your Lordships’ House may be familiar with that play, as extracts were performed here. Mende founded the Mende Nazer Foundation, which works with Nuba communities to build schools, wells and water purification systems, and she continues to be a fierce advocate of peace and human rights for the Nuba community.
Our Modern Slavery Act is exemplary, but we must not get into too much of a self-congratulatory mode until we have persuaded every country and every sector of society to play their part. Yesterday, the Home Office Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Ahmad, wrote to me following up my Oral Question on 13 June, when I asked about the plight of 10,000 unaccompanied children who Europol say have gone missing in Europe. I am grateful for the letter, but it does not answer my question of what has happened to those children and whether that number is being added to. I will ask again, and repeat a question asked by my noble and learned friend Lady Butler-Sloss on an earlier occasion. How many of the unaccompanied children whom we said we would take have actually arrived in the UK?
This is important because the anti-slavery commissioner told us this week that there is a direct connection between this vast exodus of refugees and vulnerable children, and modern-day slavery and trafficking. Indeed, this week the Dutch media reported that hundreds of children are living in what they described as a modern Oliver Twist story, some held against their will and others in thrall to their handlers, as they are forced to beg and steal their way around European cities. Some are just eight years of age. Fagin, the Artful Dodger and Oliver Twist should be the characters of Victorian literature, not 21st-century Europe.
On Tuesday, Mr Hyland said that Rob Wainwright, the director of Europol, had told him that the figure of 10,000 is a conservative one and that the number is probably higher. Mr Hyland said that there is a “clear” link between trafficking and these crimes, and that it has become a “crime of choice”. I would be grateful if the noble and learned Lord would tell us what action is being taken by the Government about that and about the failure to refer the position of children through the national referral mechanism, especially where minors are involved, on to prosecution.
I realise that I have probably said too much in this debate and will bring my remarks to an end. I just want to press the Minister on something I raised in Committee and at Report and divided the House over, which is the national referral mechanism. The noble Lord, Lord Bates, said,
“we want to see these statements in one place so that people can monitor and evaluate them to ensure that the intended action takes place”.—[Official Report, 25/2/15; col. 1750.]
Sadly, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Keen, contradicted that answer in answer to a question from my noble friend Lady Young when he said:
“There never was an intention to establish any central monitoring system with respect to these provisions”.—[Official Report, 13/4/16; col. 256.]
I ask the Minister today, in advance of the opportunity to table amendments in Committee, kindly to outline the Government’s current thinking on the creation of a central repository and tell us which of those two ministerial statements represents the Government’s position.
We must take the Government at their word that they wanted this to be flagship legislation, which is why my noble friend’s Bill is so welcome. I hope that it receives support from right across your Lordships’ House.
My Lords, I was brought up in the shadow of two slave forts—I passed them every day on my way to school—and married a Barbadian descendant of slaves. My late grandfather was a campaigner against a particular form of fetish religion called Trokosi, which has to this day entrapped girls in a form of slavery to local priests in the Volta region. So, for me, this issue is intensely personal and I am extremely grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Young, for her work and to other Members of the House whom we have heard speak for their day-to-day engagement with this issue over a long period.
In introducing the Bill, the noble Baroness referred to her journey with this issue as having commenced in 2007. I hope that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Keen, will indicate sympathy and, more than that, resource for the Memorial 2007 campaign for a continuing monument to the victims of the transatlantic slave trade. We need as a spur to present action not to forget past wrongs. A memorial of that sort in Hyde Park, as is proposed, would be a huge resource for the ongoing battle against modern slavery. I hope we have more than words from the Minister in support of Memorial 2007.
Having said that, I want to draw attention to the ongoing issue of slavery in Africa. There are more than 6 million people held in bondage in Africa as we speak—bondage of various sorts. Slavery is a complex issue. We talk of the transatlantic slave trade and the Arab slave trade. The reality is that there could not be a slave trade and could not have been slave trades without the active involvement and complicity of people within Africa itself. One has to recognise in the complexity of the issue that slavery is both an economic and a cultural issue and has to be fought on both fronts if it is to be fought effectively.
This measure is essentially one of law enforcement and I support it as such. I support contract compliance. My experience in law enforcement and as a Treasury Minister has taught me, however, that government is always extremely reluctant ever to accept the requirements that it imposes on others. I have no doubt, because I have seen similar briefs in the past, that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Keen, has come armed with a whole sheaf of reasons why this will be unduly burdensome and unnecessarily expensive. I understand his predicament, but our experience of enforcement of equal opportunity law teaches us that, without contract compliance, you do not in the end get anywhere. For that reason, if only for that reason, the Bill ought to be accepted.
My second point is that, in dealing with the issue of transparency in supply chains, we must address this problem at source, however complex it is, both economically and culturally. I fear that at source this issue is often not given the priority it ought to have by law enforcement. It is not for us to point the finger and cast stones in that regard, because it took us long enough to give it the priority that we do today in this country. It is very important that in our discussions with African Governments and, I hope, the African Union we raise the issue of modern-day slavery as one for law enforcement, where we expect law enforcement in Africa to respond to offers of partnership, assistance and resource from us. Without partners on the ground, we will be unable to tackle this issue at source. People- trafficking in Africa—I have seen this myself—often goes on without any effective challenge on the ground at all. As part of concerted action against modern-day slavery, there needs to be enhanced dialogue with our development partners about this issue.
I ask the Minister to assure us that our high commissions and embassies in those countries most at risk have been tasked with this specific responsibility. High commissioners and ambassadors have a whole heap of issues to deal with day in and day out. I know from my experience that if you do not hear from London that it is a priority, it does not happen. When you as a high commissioner hear from London that it is a priority and that you are expected to report on it, believe you me, you do it. You and your first and second secretaries are engaged in that process.
There are three countries in Africa in particular where the evidence shows that you are very likely to be at risk from slavery. On the list of the 10 countries in the world most troubled by slavery in terms of the potential for individuals to get caught up in slavery, the three highest are in Africa. They are Sudan, Somalia and Eritrea. I ask the Minister to assure us—if he cannot now, perhaps he will write—that our missions in Sudan, Somalia and Eritrea have been specifically tasked to raise this issue with their host Governments.
I also ask the Minister to ensure that in our developmental dialogue with African countries the issue of rurality is taken on board. No one has a better record globally than DfID and this Government on this issue, but all too often people are driven into forms of slavery because the land itself is incapable of offering them any sort of living. Agriculture was until recently a neglected area of development. I declare an interest as the chairman of the Africa Enterprise Challenge Fund. DfID is changing all that, but we must ensure that we continue to urge our developmental partners to raise agriculture and rural development higher up their list of priorities. Then people will not be drawn into the trap of modern-day slavery, as they surely are even as we speak. Greater emphasis on that area is much called for.
I refer the Minister and the House to the work of the Independent Anti-slavery Commissioner, specifically in relation to what he calls targeted international collaboration. The noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Derby know this well, as they have served and are serving on the advisory committee of the independent commissioner. He has identified targeted international collaboration as one of his priorities. In relation to that, he made a couple of visits in 2015 to Nigeria, again tackling the problem at source. He sought there to develop what he has described as a holistic strategic plan that aims to tackle the issue at source, but he has called specifically for government to come behind this plan with resources. I ask the Minister please to give the House an update on how the talks with the independent commissioner are progressing, and to say whether the Government have identified resources to put behind such a strategic plan that will tackle this issue at source.
Finally, the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, made some reference to this in relation to William Wilberforce, but over the years this House has had to tackle the issue of slavery, and has done so with varying degrees of success. It has done so in circumstances in which sometimes it has been in the pocket of slave-masters and slave-owners, but at the end of the day it has always got it right. Is that not something special, and something to celebrate and commemorate? In 1816, there was a rebellion in Barbados led by a man called Bussa and a woman called Nanny Grigg. These two people were part of a rebellion that had been initiated because of the horrors of slavery, obviously, but because word had got around on the plantation that a Bill was to be passed in this House that would free the people. There was huge anticipation and the cry went out, “De paper come”, because that paper was to be the source of their liberation. The people rose; the people were disappointed because the paper did not come at that time, although it came later, and the rebellion was put down with tremendous savagery. We have an opportunity to write some words on “de paper” and to send it. Let us do that.
My Lords, I wondered whether to congratulate the noble Baroness on her place in the ballot but I do not think it is a matter for congratulation. It is not an achievement; it is luck, says she who came 49th. Introducing a worthwhile Bill, however, is a matter for congratulation and I congratulate her warmly on that. Like her, I acknowledge the work done in the private and professional sectors on this issue.
The Modern Slavery Act was indeed an important landmark, and Section 54 was very welcome for starting us on the road we have been discussing. The recent paper, Good Business: Implementing the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, which is as recent as last May, said:
“Companies understand the business case for respecting human rights and the benefits this brings. They understand that positive action, supported by due diligence, transparency and reporting”—
all three relevant terms today—
“can … help to protect and enhance a company’s reputation and brand value ... safeguard and expand their customer base … help them attract and retain good staff”.
I could continue with its list of nine points, which ends with a reference to supporting company ethics and values. I will come back to companies.
The moral issues—the last of those points—which underlie Section 54 extend beyond companies to the public sector. I recall many noble Lords, particularly the noble Baroness and the noble and learned Baroness, commenting on that when we debated Section 54. In any event, the line between the public and private sectors is increasingly blurred, but this is nothing new as a general concept for public authorities. We have equality duties, environmental considerations and more. I was a councillor when it first became common to include an environmental assessment of a proposition. There was concern then that this would become just a tick-box exercise, and maybe sometimes it has. Maybe it is because transparency in supply chains, TISC, is not a tick-box exercise for which you need only a statement—there is no statement—that the Government are rather cautious about this.
There are at least two sides to the moral aspect. “Do as I say, not as I do”, is not a very attractive way of going about things, and public bodies should have the highest standards. Earlier this week, I raised with the noble Baroness that local authorities were likely to have concerns about resources. This is not a new point to her, but I ask her today to give the House an assurance that, as the Bill goes forward—as I hope it will—she will consult local authorities, and specifically the Local Government Association. When the Minister responds, I hope he will confirm that the health sector, or certain parts of it—I am quite confused about this—would be covered by the clauses in the Bill.
In the commercial sector, we have said all along that it is crucial readily to identify the companies subject to the Section 54 duty because at present they are, in effect, anonymous. It is understandable that compliant companies feel they are not on the level playing field that has been referred to, and I know the Government consider it up to consumers to find out and to NGOs to do a good deal of leg-work. Frankly, both are unrealistic, and one has to acknowledge that consumers—I put myself in this bracket—often need spoon-feeding.
There is another aspect to this. Section 54 provides that the duties imposed on commercial organisations are enforceable by the Secretary of State bringing civil proceedings. The Secretary of State needs the information to be able to enforce the section in the statute. It is counterintuitive for the Government not to be working to find a way to give the infrastructure to the Secretary of State to enforce her own provision.
If the Bill is not the way to achieve transparency, including identification, I hope the Government can help us find the way that is. It is better not to be prescriptive about it, whether it is the annual report, annual accounts or whatever. It is about the transparency—about making the company’s position clear and accessible without insisting on it being a particular mechanism.
To come back to procurement, the sheer muscle, because of their size, that public bodies can exert is notable. We have the Public Contracts Regulations 2015, which I believe will bring the authorities that we are concerned about within their remit, through tracking Regulation 57(8)(a) back to Regulation 56. But what struck me in my failure to track that properly was that there is a heading to all this that says “Discretionary exclusions”. Regulation 57(8) states:
“Contracting authorities may exclude from participation in a procurement procedure any economic operator in any of the following situations”.
I would be grateful if the Minister could comment on that.
When we debated the Modern Slavery Act, there was much reference to consumer power and making your spending count. That applies, perhaps in spades, to public authorities. I very much dislike the much-used phrase in politics, “Isn’t it time that …” but the time came long ago to get this right. We cannot rewrite the past, but we can write the future, and I wish the Bill a very fair wind.
My Lords, I start my remarks today, as other noble Lords have, by congratulating the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Hornsey, on securing second place in the Private Member’s Bill ballot and on securing the Second Reading of her Bill today. Last year, the Modern Slavery Act became law; it is a good piece of legislation, and noble Lords on all sides of the House made important contributions to ensuring we have a sound piece of legislation that will tackle the exploitation of people through human trafficking and slavery. The Bill before us seeks to build on that landmark legislation and strengthen it further. The Bill has my support and, I wish it speedy progress through your Lordships’ House.
Worldwide there are estimated to be approximately 21 million people, or three out of every 1,000 people on the planet, in jobs that they were coerced or deceived into taking and which they cannot leave. Research undertaken by the International Labour Organisation found that the Asia-Pacific region accounts for the largest number of forced labourers in the world, at 11.7 million, which equates to 56% of the global total, followed by Africa with 18% and then Latin America with 9% of the victims. They also found that the lowest number of victims were in the developed economies and in the European Union, with 1.5 victims per 1,000 inhabitants. They found that 90% of the victims were exploited by the private economy, by individuals or enterprises. Of these, 68% are victims of forced labour exploitation in activities such as agriculture, construction, domestic work or manufacturing, and 22% are victims of sexual exploitation. Some 26% of the victims of forced labour are below the age of 18, and the majority are in their place of origin or residence, while those people moved across borders were more heavily associated with sexual exploitation.
The figures are truly shocking and the situation in the United Kingdom is on an unbelievable scale. As the noble Lord, Lord Smith of Hindhead, said, the Government’s own estimate puts the total number of people in slavery in the, UK at around 13,000, of which approximately 3,000 are thought to be under the age of 18. Some experts believe that this figure is a massive underrepresentation of the true figure, and the thought that there could be even more victims in the UK is truly shocking.
As I said, the Bill seeks to build on the Modern Slavery Act 2015. It has only four clauses and one schedule, but they are extremely important and seek to move our legislation in this area further forward. Clause 1 would bring public bodies within the scope of the Modern Slavery Act and require them to prepare a slavery and human trafficking statement every year. I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Hornsey, when she spoke of the widespread abuse of various services provided by public bodies through contractors and subcontractors. As the noble Baroness said, public bodies have a combined purchasing budget of approximately £45 billion per year. I also agreed with the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, when she asked why the obligation should not be extended to the public sector. Public bodies spend large amounts of public money purchasing goods and services, and this clause would put the same obligations on them as we are expecting commercial organisations of a certain size to follow. Surely it must be right that we require public bodies to publish a statement so that we can see what action they are taking to combat slavery in the supply chains they purchase from.
Clause 1 also requires the Secretary of State to publish a list of all commercial organisations that are required to publish a statement. This was a matter under much consideration last year, and for some reason the Government were resistant to being required to publish such a list. The compromise I recall was that we were told that some other body in the voluntary sector may publish a list. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Derby was right when he said that the Government should not hesitate in finding the tools for business to get these matters right. The Government should produce such a list and categorise it in sectors, so that it is as easy as possible to access the information; that seems the most sensible way forward. I hope the noble and learned Lord, Lord Keen of Ellie, will be able to confirm that the Government have reflected on this since last year and are prepared to move on it. It always seemed odd to me that, having required commercial organisations to produce these statements in their annual accounts, the Government were not prepared to bring them all together in one easy and accessible place. We learned today from the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Hornsey, that an industry has been created which creates hosting statements, provides model text and statements and charges fees for preparing them; that should concern us all. Again, I agree with the right reverend Prelate that good practice is to encourage business to act responsibly and to stamp out slavery through chains. So far, that is voluntary; we need the support of the Government at all times to help deliver that.
Clause 2 would require contracting authorities to exclude from the participation in the procurement process companies that had not produced a slavery and human trafficking statement when they were required to do so. Why would any contracting organisation want to do business with a commercial organisation that had fallen down on its obligations in this respect? Clause 3 would require the Secretary of State to produce guidance to comply with the changes to regulations brought in by the Bill. Again, it is important to ensure that proper clarity is given to contracting organisations so that they can be clear how they go about implementing these requirements.
The Bill is an important step in the fight against modern slavery in all its forms. It seeks to improve on legislation passed last year, which will always have to be kept under review to ensure we are at the forefront against the exploitation of human beings all around the world.
In conclusion, this is a very good Bill, as are the other Bills before us today. They are all to be referred to a Committee of the Whole House. I checked with the clerk, and it would be quite proper to refer some Private Members’ Bills to a Grand Committee, which would help to speed things along. We have only so many Fridays, and many Bills get lost here and do not have a chance because they get clogged up in waiting for days in Committee and on Report. Again, I ask the Government—I particularly look to the noble Lord, Lord Ashton of Hyde, when he goes back to talk to his colleagues in the Whips’ Office—why we cannot in future make use of the Moses Room and a Grand Committee and have these Private Members’ Bills there on Fridays. That would be a good step forward.
I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Hornsey, on her excellent Bill and wish it speedy progress through this House.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Young, for introducing this Bill and this debate. This Government are determined to tackle modern slavery and ensure that UK supply chains are not driving demand for slavery around the world. That is why we included a world-leading transparency in supply chains provision in the Modern Slavery Act, and why we welcome suggestions for strengthening our approach.
The provision in the Act requires all commercial organisations carrying on business in the UK which supply goods or services and have a turnover of £36 million or more to set out the steps that they have taken to prevent modern slavery in their business and supply chains. This transparency will allow consumers, investors and civil society, and indeed commercial organisations, to hold businesses to account and drive a race to the top.
The first proposal in the Bill is to extend the transparency provision to include public sector organisations as defined by Regulation 2 of the Public Contracts Regulations 2015. The Government fully agree that the public sector must play a full part in increasing the transparency of supply chains. Work to achieve this is under way. Several major public sector procurers have already introduced anti-slavery measures in their standard procurement procedures. For example, the NHS standard terms and conditions for goods and services suppliers include conditions on labour standards, and the Department for Health and NHS Supply Chain have also developed a labour standards assurance system that encompasses issues of forced labour for auditing suppliers in high-risk categories.
We agree that such good practice should be used more widely. That is why we are taking action to ensure that information on slavery and trafficking statements informs future procurement decisions by the public sector. We are amending the cross-government procurement selection questionnaire so that large commercial organisations wanting to do business with government will be asked whether they are compliant with Section 54 of the Modern Slavery Act. This will enable contracting authorities in the public sector to decide whether to exclude the organisation from the procurement process. The new questionnaire will be in place later this year.
We are not, however, convinced of the merits of the proposal in the Bill which involves applying to the public sector a provision that was specifically designed with private sector organisations in mind. The public sector already has different kinds of transparency requirements and accountability to Parliament, which means that it is held to account in a different way from the private sector. Public authorities are also already legally required by Section 6 of the Human Rights Act to act compatibly with the European Convention on Human Rights, which incorporates Article 4 prohibiting slavery, servitude and compulsory labour. Public authorities can therefore be challenged under the 1998 Act for acting incompatibly with convention rights, which private sector organisations cannot, and there are other ways to make progress that do not require primary legislation.
The Bill would also require all organisations to include their statements in their annual report and accounts. This would be a departure from the current provision, under which the Government have made clear that businesses can include their transparency statement in another publication or report, as long as it is clearly marked as their slavery and human trafficking statement and there is a link directly to the statement in a prominent place on the organisation’s website. The existing approach was very much based on a consultation with businesses and NGOs and reflected their desire to avoid a one-size-fits-all rule that could be restrictive. We remain open to feedback about this, but we would prefer to assess the impact of the provision in its existing form before considering any changes to the guidance.
This Bill would also require the Secretary of State to publish a list of all applicable organisations covered by this legislation. This is an interesting proposition. The Government are committed to doing everything we can to amplify the value of information in the slavery and trafficking statements. We want consumers, businesses and civil society to make informed choices that reward companies that take action to eradicate slavery. In theory, publishing a list of the commercial organisations which are captured by the duty by dint of their operation in the UK and their annual turnover could help with this. In practice, producing such a list is likely to be difficult and resource-intensive and may, in any event, not require primary legislation. We are prepared to look at this, but at this time we believe that no legislative change is needed.
The Bill would make it mandatory for contracting authorities in the public sector to exclude an economic operator from a procurement process, if it was established that it should have complied with Section 54 but had not. It would also require the Secretary of State to publish guidance for those public contracting authorities on how to comply with this requirement and with Section 54. We agree with the objective of this provision but do not think that legislating for more guidance is necessary. First, contracting authorities can already exclude an economic operator which has failed to comply with Section 54 of the Act. This is provided for under Regulation 57(8)(a) of the Public Contracts Regulations 2015, which was referred to by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee. The regulation is not absolute, as she observed. Secondly, the Cabinet Office will later this month publish cross-government guidance on social, labour law and environmental aspects of the public procurement regulations. This will help public sector authorities decide when and how to exclude economic operators. This guidance will be issued via a Crown Commercial Service procurement policy note which is binding on central departments, their agencies and non-departmental public bodies and which is recommended for the wider public sector. Thirdly, as I mentioned earlier, we are already taking steps to encourage compliance with Section 54 by amending the cross-government procurement selection process. We are confident that these steps will achieve the desired outcome.
I shall now consider one or two particular questions raised by noble Lords. The noble Lord, Lord Whitty, acknowledged that the United Kingdom is at the forefront of this form of legislation. He suggested that it may not be enough for us to rely on consumers and consumer organisations. Over and above that, we rely more particularly on peer pressure. That was underlined in the consultation process that preceded the original Act. There is a desire, particularly on the part of larger businesses, to ensure that at an economic level they are not unfairly prejudiced by the unlawful and disgraceful conduct of potential competitors. Therefore peer pressure plays a part in this process.
The noble Lord referred to the strange omission of public authorities but, with respect, the legislation was designed to apply to the private sector. I pointed out the distinction that arises under the Human Rights Act. Under Section 6, all public authorities are bound by the terms of the convention. He also asked questions with regard to gangmasters and the Gangmasters Licensing Authority. As the noble Lord may recollect, the Government used the Immigration Act 2016 to extend the remit and powers of the GLA. It will be renamed the Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority, and its new mission will be to prevent, detect and investigate worker exploitation across the entire economy, which will result in more scrutiny of companies from a law enforcement agency which can examine their supply chains. I hope that meets his concerns about the position of the GLA in that context.
I recognised the extent of its remit and asked what resources were given to it and to the other bodies involved in that area. Will the Minister reply to me in writing if necessary?
I will reply in writing as I do not have the figures available to me this morning. I am obliged to the noble Lord.
The noble Lord, Lord Cormack made a number of observations about the Bill and the future of this country. What I would concur in, at the very least, is that we should work to ensure the circle is completed as far as this legislation is concerned.
The noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, referred to the Bill as timely and necessary. I concur that, in a sense, it is timely because we should review such important legislation, but for the reasons I have given, I would not go so far as to say it is necessary at present.
I am sure we would all rather be defended by the Minister than prosecuted by him, but he gave us a glimmer of hope when he talked about the need to complete the circle. Will the Minister be kind enough to agree on the Floor of the House to meet the noble Baroness and all her supporters, those of us who have spoken and others, together with the Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner to see whether something could be produced that would complete the circle?
I am obliged to my noble friend. I have already met the noble Baroness, and I am obliged to her for making time for that meeting. I am perfectly prepared to meet again to discuss how we can address some of the issues raised by the Bill because the Government’s position is that, while we welcome some of the proposals, we do not consider that primary legislation is required to achieve these ends. I would welcome an opportunity to discuss those points further in due course.
I turn to the observations by the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss. She asked a number of questions about the burden of regulation and whether it was any longer an issue because, as she put it, in the consultation process the biggest companies said it was not a problem. We are not concerned with just the biggest companies, though; we acknowledge their role in this and the peer pressure that they can bring to bear, but this concerns every company with a turnover of £36 million or more and we have to take account of the burden upon all those companies, not just the biggest of them.
On the point about government procurement, I hope I have addressed that by pointing out that in a sense a parallel scheme is in place regarding procurement. I acknowledge the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, that the regulations do not carry an absolute. There are reasons for that. The code of practice will complement how and why those regulations should be taken into account.
Is the Minister aware, and he may not be, whether the Government have any plans to report publicly on the compliance with—“compliance” may be the wrong term for something that is discretionary, so perhaps I should say “observance” of—those regulations? In other words, will they report on how successful those regulations are? That is a matter of public concern, obviously.
I can understand the observation but, as the regulations are to be complemented by a code of practice that I believe is going to be brought into force in October this year, I do not think I am able to anticipate how compliance may occur. I will address in writing to the noble Baroness the question of whether there will be some form of requirement for compliance auditing in respect of that matter.
The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Derby raised the question of central repositories, and mentioned an instance of an organisation in Bristol. I am not in a position to go into individual cases at this time. As noble Lords are well aware, the Government have not launched an online repository, although we are aware of a number of proposals from third parties who suggest that they could develop a website to host these statements and to help people to search for them. I would like to complete a quotation that the noble Lord, Lord Alton, made regarding an answer I gave in April this year when I said:
“There never was an intention to establish any central monitoring system with respect to these provisions”.
That was in the context that there was never any government intention, which was perfectly clear. I went on to say:
“The Government have always been clear that it is for others to establish such a mechanism. We are aware of a number of organisations that propose to set up a central repository”.—[Official Report, 13/4/16; cols. 256-58.]
The right reverend Prelate went into some detail regarding a particular development in this regard, and I undertake to write to him on that matter because he raised a point that I am not in a position to address this stage.
The noble Baroness made the point, which was also made by other noble Lords, that these are early days. I remind your Lordships that this legislation came into force in October 2015, requiring companies to respond and to obtemper their Section 54 statement in their financial year from March 2016 onwards. We are at the very beginnings of this process.
That brings me on to a point made by my noble friend Lord Smith, who asked me a number of questions about the number of companies that have complied and the number that have relied upon Section 54(4)(b) of the Act and said they could not make a statement. It is simply too early to say what the position is regarding those matters. Those figures have not been collated and cannot be, because it is only from March this year that companies have had to address the question of compliance. I regret that I cannot provide figures at this stage.
The noble Baroness, Lady Goudie, raised the issue of local authorities and government departments. I hope that to some extent I have addressed the point that she was making by seeking to explain that the original legislation was designed particularly for the private sector, and that there are parallel provisions. They may not be regarded as quite as absolute as those that apply to the private sector, but there are parallel provisions that we have under the procurement regulations and which are being developed by reference to the code of practice.
I turn to the observations from the noble Lord, Lord Alton. Again, he referred to early indications of how the Act is being complied with. I underline that point: these are only early indications. We have to look further and consider how the Act is going to bed in. In my submission, it is too early to suggest that we should be tinkering with the legislation before we know how it is actually going to work in practice. He also alluded to the alleged lack of any monetary penalty for those who simply ignore the provisions of the Act. I remind noble Lords that the provisions are civil. The Secretary of State has the right to bring injunctive proceedings against a company that persistently fails to obtemper its Section 54 obligations, and if it still fails thereafter to obtemper those obligations it will be in contempt of court and liable to an unlimited fine.
Before the Minister leaves that point, he will recall that in fact the quotation was not mine; it was from the US State Department’s observation about the working of our Act. I believe it is important to get the question of penalties on the record so I am grateful to him for doing that, but will he return to the question of post-legislative scrutiny? He will recall that, when I moved amendments in 2015 on that subject, the Government opposed them. Is there not a strong case for at least saying that there will come a point where, just as there was pre-legislative scrutiny of this legislation, which was incredibly effective, there will be post-legislative scrutiny so that we can decide what is working and what is not? Then it will not be a question of “tinkering”, as he put it.
I am grateful to the noble Lord. I understood that he had quoted the US source because he agreed with it, not because he simply wanted to put it into play. Be that as it may, I also observe that there is provision for review under the terms of the Act, albeit a five-year period. I am not suggesting that we wait that long because, as I indicated, I am perfectly content to sit down with the noble Baroness, Lady Young, and discuss these proposals further. We are sympathetic to some of the suggestions, or at least to the aims, but we do not believe they require primary legislation. I am quite happy to discuss some of these aspects with her.
The noble Lord, Lord Boateng, referred to the fact that we must not forget the past or past wrongs. I entirely concur with that, but perhaps he can appreciate that I can give no commitment with regard to Memorial 2007. He asked a number of questions about the tasking of high commissioners and ambassadors with regard to these matters. If I ventured into the realms of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, I would fear for my future. I might fear for it anyway, but I hope the noble Lord will appreciate that I am not in a position to address questions that fall within the ambit of that particular department.
However, I have just been given this information: “18 minutes”.
I am grateful to the Minister but, having consulted his ministerial colleagues, will he undertake to write to me?
I will request that appropriate provision is made in order that the noble Lord can be written to.
I could not ask for more from a lawyer.
I am obliged to the noble Lord.
The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, raised a number of issues. One of them was how we identify those corporate entities or partnerships that have an obligation under Section 54. The obligation was designed to coincide with the definition of large companies under the Companies Act in the context of registration. I am not saying that that takes us very much further forward, but there is at least a litmus test that one can have regard to in that context. I do not seek to ignore the other points that she raised, but I hope I have covered them in the course of this reply.
The noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, asked about public bodies. Again, if I may, I repeat that they are subject to a parallel provision—albeit not identical, for obvious reasons—and that is being developed under reference to the code that I mentioned before.
In conclusion, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Young, for raising this important topic. The Government have listened and reflected carefully on the topics raised by her Bill. We are determined to lead by example on this issue and do everything that we can to prevent modern slavery in both the public and private sector supply chains in this country, and indeed overseas. While the Government are not persuaded that further legislation is the right approach at this stage, we welcome the ideas in the Bill. We will want to examine some of them in more detail and, as I have said before, I will be happy to meet with the noble Baroness again to do so.
Before the Minister sits down, may I ask two questions? First, as I understand it, it is being suggested that in the public sector the human rights requirement meets what is needed for modern slavery. If that is correct, why on earth was it necessary to have a modern slavery requirement for the private sector? Secondly, it is all very well for the Secretary of State to have the power to go to the County Court, but what he needs to know is, first, who the companies are and, secondly, whether they have in fact not complied. From what the Minister has said, I do not understand at the moment how the Government are going to find either of those points.
On the first point, the private sector is not subject to Section 6 of the Human Rights Act 1998, which is what I sought to explain earlier. On the second point—
The independent private companies are also caught by the Human Rights Act under the current legislation because they have to do a human rights report every year. I do not quite understand why the Government think that that is good enough for the Government but not for private companies.
As I say, the public sector is subject to Section 6 of the Human Rights Act; that was merely one aspect of my explanation as to why it was not considered appropriate to extend this legislation to the public sector. The other issues concern the Public Contracts Regulations 2015 and the codes and guidance that apply in that context.
As regards the Secretary of State having resort to the courts to bring a penalty, we will see consumers, NGOs and peer pressure bringing out the question of who is complying and who is not. I will give one simple example. If a retailer on the high street discovers that their competitor is retailing T-shirts at 50p each when they know perfectly well that they cannot be produced for anything like that sum, and they persist in doing so, they will detect that something is amiss. As the large corporate retailers observed in the consultation period, they want a level playing field and their one way of doing that is to ensure that their competitors comply with Section 54 and, if they do not, to bring that to the attention of the Secretary of State.
Before the noble and learned Lord sits down, I raised with him the position of minors and those who have been referred through the national referral mechanism when it has not led to any kind of criminal action being taken on their behalf. Will he agree to write to me on that subject?
The noble Lord also reminds me that he raised the question of children coming from Europe under the immigration scheme. He may appreciate that I do not have figures on these matters for the purposes of this debate, but I will be content to write to him on the point he has just raised.
My Lords, when I first looked at the list of speakers on the Bill, I was gratified, and I am now even more so. I know that it is customary to say what a wonderful debate it has been, but this morning’s debate has been exemplary. I am grateful to all noble Lords who have spoken, particularly as all noble Lords have given such wholehearted support to the Bill—or, rather, most noble Lords have.
However, I think all noble Lords will agree, including the noble and learned Lord, Lord Keen, that we want to do something more; we just cannot quite agree yet on exactly how we will do it. However, as I have said—and as the Minister has said—I am open to discussion about the contents of the Bill, the way it has been drafted, and whatever legislation and mechanisms might serve the same purpose. I also refer back to some of the earlier remarks I made when I said that, each time we have had some sort of impetus to develop this work further, respective Governments have initially said, “Oh no, we don’t need that because we’ve already got sufficient legislation and legal instruments to cover it”, and then eventually they give in because they can see that these gaps are there.
I absolutely appreciate that it is of course early days, as all noble Lords have said; noble Lords will forgive me if I do not go through the important points that they have made. However, as I also said earlier, I do not want us to sink into a kind of air of complacency about this. We need to keep up the momentum that was established via the Act and make sure that we continue to raise awareness.
There are many unanswered questions, and I am afraid that the Minister has not addressed in a satisfactory way many of the questions that were asked here. However, I hope that through discussion, compromise and collaboration, including those voices from the private and public sectors, NGOs and civil society, we will be able to get to a place with which we are all happy. I conclude my speech in reply by asking the House to give the Bill a Second Reading.
Bill read a second time and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.