19 October 2020
Sir Iain Duncan Smith urges better support and protection for confirmed victims of modern slavery

Sir Iain Duncan Smith calls on the Government to provide financial support for confirmed victims of trafficking and modern-day slavery and introduce new legislation in this respect to protect them and to prevent them falling back into exploitation.

Sir Iain Duncan Smith

I am grateful to be called to speak at this particular point, Madam Deputy Speaker. It was the Centre for Social Justice, which I set up and had the fortune to chair, that published the original document that pushed the Government into passing the first modern-day slavery legislation, a matter of which they are rightly very proud, and that made the UK the first country in the world to bring forward such legislation. That legislation now needs overhauling. That has been the case for some time. 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. I am pleased that the Government have moved on the issue of European economic area nationals and recognised that there was some contradiction in what they were proposing in their guidance. I notice that a paragraph was inserted into the guidance after Lord McColl’s amendment had been passed, which, had it been there originally, might have meant that there would have been no need for this particular amendment. Two contradictions were made but I do not have the time to go through them now, so Members will have to read about them themselves. None the less, I am pleased that the Minister said from the Dispatch Box that the Government have now rectified that matter and that non-EEA and EEA nationals will now be treated the same when it comes to discretionary leave to remain. That is a really important move. Having spoken to the Home Secretary and got that guarantee from her, it is a great pleasure to hear it from the Dispatch Box.

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. They are not in the same boat as pure asylum seekers. In fact, those people can get a much longer period of time; whereas somebody who has genuine problems and who has been abused finds their time curtailed. 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. We need to think about this very carefully, so I have an ask of the Government—I said this when I intervened on the Minister. He needs to make sure that the change to the guidance is included and seen in the other place and that, critically, Lord McColl and others recognise that this has been done and that it is not just a gesture.

Secondly, I ask the Minister seriously—he said he was prepared to do this—to bring all this together in a new Bill that deals with the problems that we have now found. This is a good Bill, but we now find problems coming through relating to the abuse of people who are confirmed as having been brought in under modern-day slavery conditions and who we need to give support. I recognise that the Government are worried about people using modern-day slavery provisions as a route in, but the numbers coming in and getting a claim are so tiny that we can surely manage this. I understand the position in respect of failed immigration and people on asylum, but this is a very peculiar group that needs our care. If the Minister can commit to a discussion about future legislation with myself, Lord McColl and others in this place who would wish to be part of that, we may be able to make some progress on that.

 7.00 pm

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?



Earlier Intervention

Sir Iain Duncan Smith (Chingford and Woodford Green) (Con)

My hon. Friend knows that I spoke overnight to the Home Secretary and we agreed that this was an anomaly and needed to be sorted, so I am pleased that he now commits to doing it. Will he also, however, commit to having a full and proper set of discussions with Lord McColl, me and others about the possibility of introducing modern slavery victims support legislation to iron out many of these anomalies?

Kevin Foster

I thank my right hon. Friend for his constructive intervention. Yes, certainly; I am more than happy to engage with him about how we can look at this process. He will realise that it is not just in this area where there has traditionally been a difference, because EEA nationals have freedom of movement rights, so it would be odd to grant them status under immigration rules, but I am certainly happy to have that conversation. I also reassure Members that we would consider someone’s being held as a modern slave as reasonable grounds for a late application to the EU settlement scheme. I say gently that it would be unhelpful to have two very similar sets of criteria, one under the immigration rules and one under policy, so we do not accept Lords amendment 9.