MPs from across the House used a Westminster Hall debate to push for further support in law for victims of modern slavery. Tabled by the Rt Hon. Iain Duncan Smith MP, he outlined why victims of modern slavery need more support and highlighted how Lord McColl’s Modern Slavery (Victim Support) Bill would fulfil this need.
The legislation would ensure all confirmed victims in England and Wales would receive accommodation, counselling, healthcare, a support worker and legal advice for at least 12 months after the authorities grant victim status.
The Modern Slavery (Victim Support) Bill is sponsored by Lord McColl of Dulwich and Iain Duncan Smith MP. It passed the House of Lords easily and is now waiting for a Second Reading in the House of Commons. But without Government support, the Bill will not become law due to the lack of parliamentary time available to debate it.
This debate was therefore crucial in highlighting to the Government that the Bill has widespread support from across the House. Through CARE’s protest alongside the Free for Good campaign they are aware the public back the Bill.
The Bill has widespread support across the House. Here’s a snapshot of what MPs from across the House had to say:
“I remain frankly perplexed as to why the Government will not, in general terms, think about adopting the measures in the Bill and in doing so reaffirm the UK’s position as the world leader in the fight against modern slavery.” – Iain Duncan Smith MP
“We need the Government to make sustained support a priority, not just because it is right for victims, but because it is vital to increasing prosecutions and stopping criminals exploiting more vulnerable people. It is a matter of promoting justice and stopping one of the gravest injustices of our, or any, age.” – Fiona Bruce MP (Con)
“Members have highlighted the fact that there is no statutory provision for support in the 2015 Act. Such a provision was written into the slightly later legislation in Northern Ireland and Scotland. That highlights the benefit of going second, when it is possible to reflect and build on what has gone before. Groups working on behalf of victims believe that the statutory underpinning of support is helpful, and the Government should address that and look to replicate it.” – Stuart C. McDonald (SNP)
“Support and assistance for potential victims of modern slavery does not have statutory underpinning. That creates several issues, not least the fact that vulnerable individuals are left open to potentially being re-trafficked. That is why it is vital that significant support is available to these individuals, to help them in their devastating situations and stop them being re-trafficked.” – Carolyn Harris MP (Lab)
“I say to the Minister that I cannot for the life of me understand why the Government are to an extent resisting Lord McColl’s Bill. Everything that the Government do is to try to improve victim support. If people have a conclusive grounds decision under the NRM, they will get 45 days. For most people, it is just impossible for their immigration status, even if it is a case of special discretionary leave, to be sorted out in that time, so they go into a twilight world. That is the reality.” – Vernon Croaker PM (Lab) – Chair of APPG on Human Trafficking
Watch Iain Duncan Smith MP here:
The Minister’s response
Responding on behalf of the Government was Victoria Atkins MP, Parliamentary Under-Secretary for the Home Department. You can read her response in full here.
Ms. Atkins addressed concerns that the Government had about implementing Lord McColl’s Bill, which mainly had to do with granting victims of modern slavery the right to remain as the Government feared there would be false claims.
However, MPs challenged the Minister on this, and she was not able to provide examples. Stuart McDonald MP also made the point that people cannot self-refer: “I am also very sceptical about the pull factor argument. Even if we were to accept that there is a pull factor, is the key point not that safeguards are in place? People cannot self-refer, and a decision has to be made about whether they are a victim before they get any automatic leave. Is that not sufficient to protect against abuse? Why should we be building the system around fear of abuse, rather than the needs of genuine, recognised victims?”
Just last week we reported that there has been a huge surge in modern slavery cases, which add fresh impetus for the Government to act to introduce further support for modern slavery victims. Therefore, whilst today’s debate brought clarity on why the Government have been stalling on supporting the Modern Slavery (Victim Support) Bill, their response was disappointing.
We are pleased that Lord McColl’s Bill still receives widespread support from MPs, and we thank Iain Duncan Smith for arranging this debate, which highlighted this to the Government.
CARE will continue to work alongside Parliamentarians to push for greater support for victims of modern slavery.