During a Westminster Hall debate on Wednesday, MPs called on the Government to make certain improvements in how modern slavery in England and Wales is addressed.
It follows the final report from the Modern Slavery Act Independent Review panel, which was published only last month. It said the Government must act quickly to improve the current modern slavery legislation.
Here is a brief summary of the key points from the debate.
Northern Ireland an example to follow on tackling human trafficking
DUP MP Jim Shannon reminded those present that Northern Ireland had led the way by introducing its own modern slavery legislation in 2015: “I was an advocate for the Modern Slavery Act 2015, having seen my noble Friend and colleague Lord Morrow. I am sure the Minister is aware of this, but I want to remind the House very gently. He broke ground in the other place with the Human Trafficking and Exploitation (Criminal Justice and Support for Victims) Act (Northern Ireland) 2015. It is my belief that it paved the way for the Modern Slavery Act 2015.”
CARE was privileged to play a major role in ensuring that Act was passed by the Northern Ireland Assembly.
Government must act to improve support for victims
Stuart C. McDonald for the SNP frontbench said that “the Government need to look again at support for victims” referring to an earlier debate in which MPs called for longer support to be provided. Vernon Coaker MP also highlighted the difficulties faced by victims who find themselves left without a stable immigration status and urged the Government to find a way to reconcile the needs of the immigration system with the needs of victims. CARE is supporting the Modern Slavery (Victim Support) Bill brought forward by Lord McColl and Iain Duncan Smith which will give confirmed victims 12 months of support and leave to remain in the UK.
Independent child trafficking advocates scheme must be extended
Vernon Coaker MP called for independent child trafficking advocates scheme to be rolled out nationally as soon as possible: “We come to independent child trafficking advocates. That has to be rolled out much more quickly and has to include not only trafficked children, but unaccompanied children, which is a demand of many of the non-governmental bodies.” Independent child trafficking advocates are vital to help protect vulnerable child trafficking victims.
Make it illegal to pay for sex
Labour MP Sarah Champion spoke at some length about the need to address the links between laws on prostitution and human trafficking. She called on the government to criminalise the purchase of sex, something CARE strongly supports: “Prostitution laws should be urgently updated to reduce demand for sexual exploitation by criminalising the purchase of sex, while removing all criminal sanctions applied to victims of sexual exploitation and supporting them to exit. That is the key way to tackle modern slavery of women in the UK.”
This call to address sexual exploitation was echoed by Carolyn Harris MP, who spoke for the Labour frontbench. When pressed by Maria Miller MP about whether Labour would support a sex-buyers law, she replied that it was a ‘work in progress’.
In response, Victoria Atkins said the Government was considering all the recommendations in the modern slavery act review and a formal response should be given before the summer recess.
She also stressed that the government is committed to rolling out the child-trafficking advocates scheme nationally as soon as possible.
On calls to prohibit paying for sex, the Minister referred to research the Government has already commissioned into the scale of prostitution across the UK. The Government are hoping the research will come out sometime this summer.
It’s heartening to see MPs put pressure on the Government to improve the modern slavery legislation in England and Wales. We strongly support both the roll out of child trafficking advocates and the introduction of a sex-buyers ban. Given the scale of modern slavery in the UK, with an estimated 136,000 victims, it is absolutely essential that we continue to look for ways to protect victims and bring perpetrators to justice.
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