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Modern Slavery Act 2015 (Code of Practice) Regulations 2016

Volume 771: debated on Wednesday 27 April 2016

Motion to Consider

Moved by

That the Grand Committee do consider the Modern Slavery Act 2015 (Code of Practice) Regulations 2016.

My Lords, I shall speak to the draft Modern Slavery Act 2015 (Code of Practice) Regulations 2016, which were laid before this House on 14 March.

The Modern Slavery Act 2015 includes important maritime enforcement powers for constables and enforcement officers to use when investigating modern slavery offences committed at sea. These provisions will give law enforcement officers at sea similar powers of enforcement to those available to enforcement officers in relation to drug traffickers. In summary, these are: the power to stop, board, divert and detain a vessel; the power to search a vessel and obtain information; and the power to arrest and to seize any relevant evidence.

The Modern Slavery Act enables law enforcement officers to use these powers in relation to certain ships in international waters, as well as UK territorial waters. It will also allow law enforcement officers in hot pursuit of ships to exercise their powers throughout UK territorial waters, so that they have the powers they need to catch the perpetrators of these terrible crimes. These powers are important because victims can be trafficked on vessels or subject to terrible abuse and forced labour while at sea. If law enforcement officers have to wait for vessels to return to UK territorial waters or to a UK port before they can take action, this can expose victims to extended periods of abuse and risk to life.

Before these new powers are brought into force, Schedule 2 to the Act requires that a code of practice is put in place for England and Wales for English and Welsh enforcement officers to follow when arresting a person under these powers. The Government have now prepared this code of practice, which was laid before the House on 14 March 2016 with the Modern Slavery Act 2015 (Code of Practice) Regulations 2016 and debated on 18 April in the House of Commons. These regulations are necessary to ensure that the code of practice will be in operation at the same time that the maritime powers in the Act are commenced.

The code provides guidance as to the information that should be given to a suspect at the time of their arrest. The code makes clear that suspects should be provided with a summary of their rights and warned if it may take more than 24 hours to bring them to a police station. The code will ensure that law enforcement officers take into account the particular needs of suspects and vulnerable suspects during detention periods. This includes ensuring that those detained understand what is being said to them and making arrangements to safeguard their health and welfare.

To ensure that the code will be practical and effective, the Government have consulted the law enforcement agencies that will use this code, representatives of the legal profession, the devolved Administrations, other external organisations and interested government departments. The Scottish Government and the Northern Ireland Executive have also drafted equivalent guidance or codes of practice for their law enforcement officers, and we have worked closely with them to ensure the codes are appropriately aligned.

The maritime powers in the Modern Slavery Act are essential if we are to ensure that our law enforcement officers can properly pursue the perpetrators of these terrible crimes. It is vital that these powers are used properly, particularly the power of arrest. That is why this code of practice and these regulations are so important, and I commend them to the Committee.

My Lords, I think the code of practice is absolutely excellent and I have no comment on it, other than to praise it. I am absolutely delighted that the Modern Slavery Act includes these powers on ships.

I hope the Minister will forgive me for raising an issue that is not strictly on board ship. I remain, with others, very concerned about smaller ports. I have two questions, but I do not necessarily expect the Minister to be able to answer them today. First, what are the powers and code of practice in relation to ports in England and Wales, particularly the smaller ports that have regular ferry services but are not in the larger group? Secondly, the particular port I have in mind, which those of us concerned with modern slavery are especially worried about, is Holyhead. Holyhead does not appear to have a very good organisation at the moment for checking those who are coming through, who may in fact be being brought in for forced labour or sexual or other exploitation. Perhaps I could be told at some stage what is going to be done, or is already being done, about the smaller ports, with a really close look at what is happening in Holyhead.

I thank the Minister for his explanation of the purpose and effect of this order, which brings into force a code of practice to be followed by constables and enforcement officers when arresting a person under the maritime enforcement powers set out in the Modern Slavery Act 2015. Without the powers in the 2015 Act, law enforcement authorities are not in a position effectively to police modern slavery offences that take place in international waters, and do not have the power to stop or divert vessels in UK territorial waters.

Human trafficking and modern slavery do not occur only outside the United Kingdom. The National Crime Agency has reported that last year 3,266 people, of whom 928 were children, were identified as potential victims of trafficking in the United Kingdom, with that first figure being a 40% increase on the number of potential victims in 2014. The United Kingdom is predominantly a destination country for victims of trafficking but it is also a source and transit country. Last year, potential victims of trafficking found here were reported to be from 102 different countries of origin.

Of course, our police and border forces need to have the most effective means available to pursue, disrupt and bring to justice those engaged in human trafficking. The code covers arrest and obtaining information. Is that power restricted to the ship or vessel on which it is suspected that slavery or human trafficking is taking place, or does it cover any wider geographical area or port facilities used, or about to be used, by the ship, or other vessels supplying or servicing the ship?

The Explanatory Memorandum states that the Government are,

“working with the Scottish Government and Northern Irish Executive with a view to commencing the maritime powers in Parts 2 and 3 of Schedule 2 simultaneously across the United Kingdom on 31 May 2016”.

I am not sure whether the Minister said that that objective had now been achieved or it is still to be achieved. If it is the latter, what would the consequences be if it was not achieved by 31 May 2016?

The Explanatory Memorandum refers to consultation that has taken place on the draft code of practice and states that, in response to comments made,

“the Code was amended to improve provisions for record keeping by constables and enforcement officers, and enhance the information to be provided to arrested persons on the period of time likely to be spent in transit to a police station or other authorised place of detention”.

Were any other suggestions or requests made in the consultation in relation to the code of practice that were not taken on board by the Government? If so, what did they cover?

Finally, were any issues raised by the Independent Anti-slavery Commissioner about the code of practice, and is he satisfied with the wording of the code and its consistency, for example, with other relevant codes of practice?

I am obliged to your Lordships. I shall begin by addressing the point raised by the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss—in particular in the context of her mixed metaphor. Border officials are maintained at ports, particularly ones where there are commercial operations going in and out of the country. The United Kingdom has more than 11,000 miles of coastline and the demands that that raises are considerable. To try and meet those demands, I understand that field agents are also deployed to respond to intelligence about arrivals in smaller ports. There is also a system of self-reporting that operates from some of these ports. However, with regard to the particular issues mentioned in respect of Holyhead, I undertake to write to the noble and learned Baroness to outline what our position is and what the views of the border officials are with regard to operations there, in light of the concerns that have been raised.

I turn now to the points raised by the noble Lord, Lord Rosser. With regard to the question of arrest and information, the powers of arrest are limited, as I understand it, to the vessel in question.

It was proposed that, subject to agreement with Scotland and Northern Ireland, commencement would take place on 31 May. Very recent intelligence suggests that there is still an issue to be bottomed out—if I can put it that way—with the Northern Ireland Executive over which jurisdiction would respond to any complaints regarding the conduct of a police officer who moved from one set of waters into another. In other words, if an English enforcement officer begins in England and Wales and moves into Northern Irish waters, are they then subject to the jurisdiction of Northern Ireland or do they remain subject to the jurisdiction in England? That has still to be resolved. If it cannot be resolved by 31 May then consideration would have to be given as to whether Part 3 of the Act could come into force on that date without the relevant code. That is being borne in mind.

On consultation, I am told that the consultation raised only a series of minor points with regard to the code and they were all taken into consideration.

With regard to issues concerning the independent commissioner and the code, the code was, of course, discussed with his office and he expressed that he was content with the code.

I hope that that deals with the points raised by noble Lords—

Can I pursue the question asked by the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, on small ports? In the news recently was a ship that was detained with a significant number of weapons on board. That highlights the problem, as it was landing at a very small and isolated area. Again, I do not expect an answer here because—I am not going to use my noble friend’s analogy—it is slightly outside the range of this. There is no doubt that traffickers will react and try every stratagem and device that they can. As the Minister pointed out, there are 11,000 miles of coastline, which is a lot to patrol. What strategy do border patrols, coastguards and so on dealing with this problem have? Have they thought about today’s technology? Drones come to mind—I do not say that facetiously. If I can slightly trespass on the good will of the Minister, I would be grateful if he could take that point into account as well when he responds.

I would be willing to write on this matter in general, but I do not believe it would be appropriate to disclose strategies that are being employed by field agents for the purposes of monitoring the coastline, as that would merely alert those seeking to avoid them to how we are seeking to identify them. Although I am perfectly willing to write, I suspect that the correspondence will be somewhat anodyne.

Motion agreed.