Clause 13 - Enforcement powers in relation to ships

Part of Modern Slavery Bill – in a Public Bill Committee am 10:45 am ar 9 Medi 2014.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Mark Durkan Mark Durkan Shadow SDLP Spokesperson (International Development), Shadow SDLP Spokesperson (Work and Pensions), Shadow SDLP Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs), Shadow SDLP Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Shadow SDLP Spokesperson (Justice), Shadow SDLP Spokesperson (Treasury) 10:45, 9 Medi 2014

I am delighted to follow the right hon. Gentleman in addressing this group of amendments. First of all, I note that the amendments in his name are, in many ways, complementary to the amendments that I have tabled. Although they overlap in large part, they diverge in other directions, but they are complementary rather than competitive. I am conscious that what I am proposing in amendment 58 is a field of work to be developed that would very much be the subject of the sort of memorandum that he is proposing in one amendment and the annual reports that he proposes in another. I will get to the details of amendment 58 shortly.

I shall start with amendment 57. It appears second on the amendment paper, but given that the Minister has addressed the issue of territorial jurisdiction in near waters by the UK, and that the right hon. Member for Delyn has discussed it too, I will begin with that amendment. Essentially, it is about the question not only of Northern Ireland and Scotland, but of the dependencies and territories—about which, more soon. At the minute, the wording of clause 13 seems ripe for confusion and uncertainty, so amendment 57 is aimed at clarifying some of that. The number of references in clause 13 to waters both in and outwith England and Wales gives rise to confusion about the applicability of the legislation.

I note fully that the Minister has again said that the Government want to work with the devolved Administrations in ensuring that overall arrangements are as strong and coherent as they can be. As I said about previous amendments, I do not think there would be any untoward anticipation regarding the interests or views of devolved Administrations, as long as they remain devolved. That depends on what happens soon in the case of Scotland. I do not think there is any untoward anticipation in our clarifying the legislation here.

Later in the Bill we will look at issues around the commissioner. Given that the Minister has set such store by the important role of the commissioner in ensuring that more is done to enforce proper pursuit and convictions, we need to be careful that in the criminal law aspects of the Bill we do not leave gaps and loopholes through which people can evade proper capture  and enforcement. We could end up creating difficulties for the commissioner with questions, doubts or gaps about their competence and the scope of the geographic competence of the agencies they deal with or look at.

Amendment 57 deals with all territorial waters of the United Kingdom, including its dependencies and territories. It is trying to ensure that we do not end up with questions about which part of the Irish sea a particular boat was in, or a boat’s whereabouts between Northern Ireland and Scotland, and therefore not around England and Wales. Given my background as an Irish nationalist and an MP in a border constituency, I am very conscious of the sensitivity of the definition of territorial waters and the historical claims of the Irish constitution. The aim is to ensure that, as a legacy of those uncertainties, we do not end up with doubts or gaps in this legislation. The aim is to make that good. I am confident that devolved Administrations, certainly the Northern Ireland Assembly and Executive, would want to be able to develop means and mechanisms under their own capacity that are compatible with the best purposes of the Bill. In relation to some of the enforcement issues of the law at this level, I think they would find it more than acceptable, proper and proportionate for this legislation to scope the issue.

Dependencies and territories are very important in this regard. I do not know whether other hon. Members followed earlier in the summer the Guardian investigation that looked at a number of problems that affected what should be UK territorial waters in the north and south Atlantic. I know that Anti-Slavery International—particularly its staff in the Bangkok office—supplied some of the information and background that assisted the Guardian investigation. In response to that, other concerns have been raised by other people. Anti-Slavery International has received very credible reports from people who have worked in environmental inspections in fisheries, who identified clear signs of forced labour on fishing boats in UK territorial waters in the north and south Atlantic. Their evidence and concerns corroborated recent Guardian reports and, indeed, other evidence gathered by Anti-Slavery International that included fisheries outside of Asia.

One person who brought evidence to Anti-Slavery International noted that fisheries in the waters of the Ascension Island overseas territory seemed to be poorly managed and that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office has been selling licences to Asian fishing vessels. There does not seem to be much oversight of environmental and safety issues and certainly not of working conditions. Those licences are being sold to vessels from Taiwan, Japan, China, the Philippines and Korea. Evidence has recently come to light of considerable concerns in south-east Asia about trafficking on Taiwanese boats and some cases of trafficking of Cambodian men into Taiwanese boats that went to fish off the coast of Africa. Korean boats have been similarly implicated, using Filipino, Indonesian and other exploited labour in New Zealand and neighbouring waters. If the Foreign and Commonwealth Office is selling licences in that context and there is a lack of oversight, it raises the question of how joined-up the Government’s stated commitment to have world-beating legislation and provisions really is, particularly if we leave gaps in the legislation about what happens at sea—not just in international waters  but in seas that the UK has some particular territorial responsibility for. It seems amazing to leave those sorts of gaps.

Amendments 57 and 58 are aimed at addressing that problem. Amendment 58 would ensure that

“trends in maritime trafficking and forced labour in the UK and international waters are identified and tracked” and establish

“means to ensure that intelligence and information on maritime trafficking and forced labour are communicated to the enforcement officers”.

The other provisions of amendment 58 are also aimed at ensuring that when issues or concerns such as those that I outlined arise, they are properly addressed and tracked. Later in the Bill, some of us have tabled amendments to ensure that the commissioner is able to look at just how robustly those other responsibilities are being observed.

Amendment 57 purely deals with the issue of territorial applicability, to make good the gaps in the legislation and to prevent any misunderstanding. When the right hon. Member for Delyn spoke to his amendments, he made the point about the language that appears around home states. The confusion arises as to whether the Minister is going to tell us that, for these purposes, the devolved Administrations count as home states or whether the reference to “home state” can be interpreted as territory, meaning that the devolved Administrations are to count as territories or whatever. It would be better to make that much more explicit and clear in the form of some of the amendments before us, rather than the unwieldy and confusing wording that is currently in the Bill.

I raised the issues about things happening in the waters around and in overseas territories in the south Atlantic and, to a degree, in the north Atlantic. The question is not only to clarify the geographic scope of the provisions, but to make sure that there are powers to deal with those issues. The way to deal with the sorts of problems that I have raised and of which Anti-Slavery International has evidence is properly to empower enforcement authorities to inspect and to follow up their inspections. It is not enough simply to provide that power; as in other clauses, we must ensure that there is direction behind it. I understand that the United States is starting to consider similar measures.

I do not believe that amendment 58 would go beyond what the Government want to do by over-prescribing powers or procedures. It would, however, frame the necessary responsibility in the legislation and make provision for proper follow-up so that we can deal with the evidence that we are receiving about such problems. If we ignore that evidence, we will be ignoring aspects of trafficking and forced labour in different parts of the world on the seas. Without such provision, the Bill will be less relevant than the Government claim it will be.