Anti-Slavery Day takes place on the 18th October each year and given that Parliament was closed on Sunday, yesterday was the first opportunity after the day to raise the subject. There was a debate yesterday that was under the title of Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill and so it was not really related to it. Sadly the comments that came from several of the contributors were deeply disturbing. One came from John Redwood early on which demonstrated not only how little he understands the theme but the positive aspect of his call got no response from Kevin Foster who is the The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department.
JR: Does the Minister accept that paying people from the local labour force better, and paying for their training, is a much cheaper solution than building lots of houses to invite migrants in, and a much more popular one?
It would certainly be fantastic if the current Government was willing to adopt this call, although given how the Conservative Party has responded to matters such as increasing the pay of NHS workers, one wonders if Redwood is on the right side of understanding. Add to that the fact that our economy has benefited enormously from EU and other immigrants and that very few people were unemployed prior to the COVID-19 situation and the way he has voted makes one wonder what he is willing to support. However Foster’s response was equally unwilling to respond to the issue of pay levels.
KF: My right hon. Friend points out that in a time when we have large numbers of people affected by the current economic situation, we need to focus on our own UK-based workforce when it comes to filling needs.
However along with this rather disturbing question and answer, another MP who has also done a great deal of damage in the past spoke up about slavery and this was fantastic, given that on Sunday there was the Anti-Slavery Day. His name is Iain Duncan Smith and the speech was over 1100 words long so I have slimmed it down to focus on some of the best elements. It is really encouraging when an MP who has done a lot of damage, stands up and says some goodness. Thank you for that Iain Duncan-Smith.
The recent report, “It still happens here: Fighting UK Slavery in the 2020s” states: “For many, having no recourse to public funds poses further barriers to moving people on safely, putting victims at risk of homelessness and destitution, and making it more likely that they will fall back into exploitation and trafficking.” The one thing that we can learn from recent events in places such as Leicester, where we have uncovered the most appalling abuse of individuals who have been victims of slavery, working for a pittance and living in terrible accommodation, is that we really do not want to see that repeated in the UK. That is the point that I want to make in my speech today.
There must be some kind of recourse to public funds for victims of modern slavery, which will make them more secure than they are at the moment. We need to make that case in legislation…..There has always been a problem with discretionary leave to remain and it was made worse by a Minister back in 2017 saying that there must be exceptional or compelling reasons to justify granting it. The bar has been set too high, and it is really important for us to recognise that people who come here having suffered the real persecution of slavery need to have a little more consideration shown for their position….That is why we need to look further than just at what the Government are doing here. I recognise that, perhaps today, this Bill is not the right way to try to press this matter forward, but I do say to the Government that there is another way.
I recognise also that the problem on that score is that a confirmed refugee can get five years’ leave to remain, but a confirmed—I repeat “confirmed”—victim of modern slavery gets no leave to remain at all. It seems to me that we have got ourselves in a twisted position, not because the Government—or any Government—want to be there, but because we have an anomaly, which we now need to rectify. That is the point that I really want to make in the short time available.
It is expensive for us to take someone through the national referral mechanism, conclude that they are genuine victims of modern slavery, but not provide adequate care. Those people remain very vulnerable and are quickly re-trafficked. As I said earlier, Leicester is a very good example of that, but there are other cities in the UK where people are drifting into these terrible conditions because they have nowhere else to go, or, for that matter, going into the national referral mechanism but facing uncertainty over ongoing care. They do not have the capacity to give evidence in court against their traffickers and that is the one thing that we want them to do. We need to be able to prosecute the traffickers to make sure that they never do it again.
I just want to end by saying this: it is the mark of a civilised and decent society that when people have been tortured and persecuted and they flee—to this country of all countries—they get treated well. Why? Because that is who we are. Everybody from Karl Marx through to Garibaldi came to the UK when they ran into difficulties and were persecuted. Can we please today give our commitment that we will open our doors and welcome those people who are proved to be victims of modern-day slavery?