Bishop of Derby welcomes Modern Slavery Bill during Queen’s Speech debate

“Our challenge will be: how does the state craft a strategy that delivers mercy?” – Bishop of Derby, 9/6/14

In the fourth response from the Bishops’ Benches to the Queen’s Speech, on 9th June 2014 the Bishop of Derby, Rt Rev Alastair Redfern, welcomed the Modern Slavery Bill and, as a former member of the committee that examined the draft bill, made some suggestions for how it could be improved even more.

Bishop of DerbyThe Lord Bishop of Derby: My Lords, I should like to offer some comments on the welcome proposal set out by the Government in the gracious Speech to introduce the modern slavery Bill. I had the privilege of serving on the Joint Select Committee with other Members of your Lordships’ House under the superb chairmanship of Frank Field MP, and we all came to an agreement on a number of important issues. I want to comment on and offer some suggestions as to how we might handle the debate on this important topic, not least because much of the world is looking to see the terms in which such a Bill might be couched and how it is introduced. As I begin, I should remind the House of the irony of this moment. There is a movement to talk more positively about equality, freedom, democracy and transparency, but all the evidence shows increases in inequality, violence against women and slavery at this time. It is a very serious issue.

Noble Lords probably know that slavery is the second most profitable crime. It involves 21 million adults and 5.5 million children across the world. People are treated like commodities. Let us think of a Thai woman quite near this place who until recently was working in a brothel and being raped 10 times a day, day after day. That is modern slavery. I could take noble Lords to a house in Derby that has people crammed into a room with very few facilities. They have no money and they are working and working; they are being exploited.

Slavery is an emotive issue. The Prime Minister said of slavery in April 2013, “We must crush it”. The question is how to tackle the issue. In taking a lead, the Archbishop of Canterbury and Pope Francis are doing a lot of work internationally, because it is an international issue. In April of this year the Pope said that we need two things to tackle modern slavery: strategy and mercy. Our task is to marry up strategy and mercy and to show how Governments can work with the voluntary sector, especially the faith sector, to offer the kind of mercy that provides face-to-face support for victims. When the Bill is introduced, I think next Tuesday, we must look at how it will help us to define what slavery and exploitation are, whether by way of example or legal definition. We will have to look at proposals for child advocates. Children in slavery need people to walk alongside them, but although this is important, it is also expensive. Barnardo’s is trialling some schemes and we will have to consider them. We also need to look at confiscation and compensation.

Some outstanding things are not mentioned in the proposals. One of those is the review of the national referral mechanism by which people are identified as being enslaved. We have to make sure that the legislation recognises that the national referral mechanism benchmarks what good care looks like. What does mercy look like in terms of benefits, housing, and the provision of opportunities to offer support and space to recover? Not much mention is made of supply chains. Many of us here in this Chamber are wearing garments that may well have included slavery in the supply chain that delivered them to us. We need a strategy for supply chains.

Not much has been suggested about overseas domestic workers, who, because they cannot change employers, are trapped in a very severe kind of slavery. There will also be an anti-slavery commissioner, and we will have to work hard to ensure that that person has some real authority to listen, to learn and to take the thing forward.

I suspect that as we debate this issue and look at the proposals there will be three kinds of sieving mechanisms. One will be economic: can we afford it? We are trying to recover economically. There will be a question for us all about the financial cost of mercy. There will be a second line of questioning about supply chains in terms of red tape on business and undermining business efficiency. We will have to look at the organisational cost of mercy. There will be a lot of debate about how this interfaces with immigration. Actually, fewer than 2,000 people were identified as being in slavery last year so we are not talking about great numbers, but we will have to look at the cost of strangers being made friends when they are so appallingly treated.

I hope that we will encourage legislation which enables a creative working relationship with the voluntary sector that can produce face-to-face support for victims and walk alongside and deliver mercy in a human way. But the mark of a civilised society is the quality of care for those in such horrendous need—think of that Thai woman, think of those people crammed in that house in Derbyshire. Our challenge will be: how does the state craft a strategy that delivers mercy?