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Modern Slavery (Victim Support) Bill

Volume 799: debated on Monday 7 October 2019


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to facilitate the enactment of the Modern Slavery (Victim Support) Bill within the next 12 months.

My Lords, the Government have given serious consideration to the issues raised in the Bill from the noble Lord, Lord McColl, and to how to ensure that victims have the support they need to begin rebuilding their lives. However, the Government do not believe victims should be given an automatic grant of leave. Consideration of whether an individual is a victim of modern slavery and any decisions regarding their immigration status are, and must remain, separate.

I thank the Minister for her reply. Churches across the UK are providing some exceptional support to victims of modern-day slavery, such as Tamar at All Souls Church here in Westminster. On a recent visit to Tamar I was struck by how essential it was that victims were provided with assistance, healthcare, housing and mental health support. Can the Minister comment on what progress is being made to cost and evaluate provision so that victims can not only receive adequate care but recover in the best way possible?

I pay tribute to the ministry the right reverend Prelate describes, because I know that both the Church and the voluntary sector do a fantastic job in this area. Children can receive support through the independent child trafficking guardians that have now been rolled out in a third of local authorities in England and Wales—they are very welcome—and follow-on support, through the victim care contract, that victims can expect to receive after the trauma of their experience.

I am sure the Minister will agree that modern slavery cannot be confined to these shores; it is a global horror story. I welcome her statement, but did she by chance catch sight of the particularly painful programme that BBC Arabic put forward on modern slavery of children under nine under sharia law in Iraq? Is she aware that there have been cases of this kind—I know of them myself—here in the United Kingdom? May we spread our work and share it with other nations in the same way that the right reverend Prelate has offered?

I did see that programme, and it was very disturbing: children as young as eight and nine being married for an hour, effectively so that they could be abused. In this country we would call it child abuse, and of course those girls suffer even worse because it damages the rest of their lives.

My Lords, how do the Government respond to the claim that there is a loophole in current modern slavery legislation that is being exploited by county lines networks and that allows young people to pose as victims when in fact they are not?

The noble Lord raises an interesting point, because quite often in county lines those children are both victims and perpetrators of some of the offences. Interestingly, the majority of referrals into the NRM are from the UK and are suspected to be from county lines gangs.

My Lords, is the Minister aware that the University of Nottingham conducted a cost-benefit analysis of my Bill and showed that it would have saved £25 million in the past two years had it been implemented? A 12-month period of support would allow victims to get into work, supporting themselves and contributing to the economy.

I thank my noble friend for that question. He refers to a period of 12 months, but the two initial phases—when someone has received positive reasonable grounds, and conclusive grounds—each give a minimum of 45 days’ support. Together, that is a minimum of 90 days. Someone may well receive a longer period of support.

My Lords, the recent independent review of the Modern Slavery Act discussed the need to develop our domestic infrastructure to protect victims. The Independent Anti-slavery Commissioner has said that we should,

“ensure that all child victims of slavery are fully supported towards safety”.

The Minister mentioned independent child trafficking guardians. Is the piloting and evaluation of the scheme going so slowly as to jeopardise the full rollout recommended by the independent review?

Not that I know of, but we should note that when something is rolled out, it is important that it be done properly, in the sense that it is ultimately effective. To me, piloting and rolling out further seems to be the best way of doing this. I do not think it is too slow, but I do think we need to get it right.

My Lords, as a Labour and Co-op Peer and a member of the Co-op, I am delighted to support the Bill of the noble Lord, Lord McColl, which will bring the law in England and Wales up to the same standards that we enjoy in Northern Ireland and Scotland, giving victims 12 months’ support and assistance. The Co-operative Group has worked closely with the noble Lord on his Bill. However, it is certain to be lost in the Commons due to the usual suspects on the government Benches, who take great pleasure in wrecking Private Members’ Bills. Why will the Government not help to get this much-needed reform through to help victims of modern slavery, following the example of the Church, the Co-operative Group and others?

My Lords, in response to the independent review of the Modern Slavery Act, which was of course cross-party, the Home Office launched a public consultation. The proposals under consideration would require changes to primary legislation, and we at the Home Office intend subsequently to make any necessary legislative changes as soon as we can, with parliamentary time.