Clause 42 - Guidance about identifying and supporting victims

Part of Modern Slavery Bill – in a Public Bill Committee am 2:15 pm ar 14 Hydref 2014.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Karen Bradley Karen Bradley The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department 2:15, 14 Hydref 2014

I take my right hon. Friend’s point. Mr Oppenheim is looking at that issue and is aware of those concerns. I will repeat that point to him to ensure that the final report draws out all his conclusions on it.

The new clauses all call for the NRM to be put on a statutory footing, with the Secretary of State setting out by regulation the processes to be followed. They also call for the NRM to cover victims of slavery and human trafficking, and state that there should be a process to appeal and review decisions. As I have outlined, all these issues are being carefully considered by the NRM review. New clauses 22 and 29 also set out in great detail the type of support that should be provided. I reassure the Committee that we either already provide or facilitate access to all the types of support listed. In addition, we are currently re-tendering the contract for victim care services and have explicitly left arrangements in place so that it will still be possible to build additional support provision into the requirements for the new contract if the NRM review recommends it.

My hon. Friend the Member for Congleton talked about the time that should be given to victims. The difficulty here—and the review is looking at this—is what is the right number. Clearly, the international obligation is 30 days. England and Wales went beyond that, moving it to 45 days. There are many victims who spend a lot longer in the process and receive support for a lot longer. I have met victims who have been within the victim care contract arrangement for well over 12 months. That is because support needs to be tailored to the victim, because a UK national victim who has a national insurance record, an NHS record and so on may not need administratively quite as long in the NRM but needs just as long emotionally. We also see difficulties in getting UK victims into the NRM, because so much of the support that the NRM offers is aimed at those who have no homes, and need safe houses and support with their immigration and legal status and so on. UK victims may not need that sort of support; they may already have a home that they do not want to leave. So we are looking very carefully at how we make sure that the NRM caters for everybody.

It is true that at the moment the support available following the 45-day period may be less comprehensive than is desirable. The review is taking a victim-centred approach, focusing on the support that victims required throughout the period and beyond, and is looking at how we monitor outcomes for people post the NRM period. There is no mechanism by which we can today identify people who have been through the NRM to see what their life outcomes are—whether they manage to find employment or are re-trafficked and end up back in slavery or servitude. Clearly, that is not right and we need to look at that.

My hon. Friend also talked about minimum care standards. We take the issue of standards of care extremely seriously. We will look carefully at the care standards following the NRM review and as part of the re-tender of the victim care contract. We are committed to providing victims of these heinous crimes with consistent, high-quality care and support. The guidance will cover both slavery and trafficking victims, adults and children, recognising their particular needs and vulnerabilities.

New clause 28 specifically states that an identified trafficking or slavery victim should be entitled to a one-year renewable residence permit if a competent authority judges that that is necessary, due to their personal circumstances or to co-operate with criminal proceedings. I would like to reassure the committee that it is already the case that UKVI can grant discretionary leave for those reasons. The proposed change may actually restrict that ability. For example, at the moment UKVI could grant leave to remain for up to three years, if we knew that a victim needed medical treatment for more than 12 months. It would simply be unhelpful if they had to renew for another full 12 months after the first 12 months.

Therefore I think we already have some good measures in place on some of the points of detail, but I am keeping an open mind about all the provisions in these new clauses and awaiting the outcome of Mr Oppenheim’s review. Like all hon. Members here, I want to make the process better for victims wherever possible, so I hope hon. Members can agree with me that the best way to  do that is to await the outcome of the National Referral Mechanism review, which we commissioned for exactly that reason.

Finally, I turn to new clause 27, which also clearly aims at improving the identification of and support for victims. We all know the problem that the clause is intended to solve. Victims are often traumatised or manipulated to the point where they do not identify themselves as victims, and so will do little to highlight their plight, even when in contact with the authorities who could help them. That is tragic, and we must do more to ensure that victims are not missed in that way.

However, I do not think that simply putting a duty on public authorities is the right way to achieve our shared goal. The Bill is already introducing a duty on specified public authorities to notify the National Crime Agency of any potential victims of slavery or human trafficking, so we are already focusing its attention on this issue and ensuring that it is properly acted on. However, what really will make a difference to victims being identified and referred to the proper support services are practical steps to increase awareness and understanding. I do not think that front-line professionals miss victims because they do not regard it as their duty to spot them. They miss victims because the signs are often very subtle, and in some cases their awareness of what to look for is not high enough. That is why clause 42 is so important. It is also why we have launched a major communications campaign to raise awareness about modern slavery, and that is why we are taking action to include modern slavery in relevant training packages to front-line staff.

The College of Policing, for example, is creating training packages to ensure that front-line officers can recognise the indicators of slavery and trafficking, and the anti-slavery commissioner will have a role in improving training provision across the board.

I want the same thing as the Members who have tabled the new clauses. I want more victims to get identified and receive the support they deserve. The steps we are taking in the Bill and beyond are the right ones to achieve that. I therefore hope that hon. and right hon. Members will feel able to withdraw their amendments and that Members will feel able to support clause 42 standing part of the Bill.