Bishop of Derby speaks during Modern Slavery Bill debate

Bishop of DerbyOn 1st December 2014, the Bishop of Derby, the Rt Revd Alastair Redfern, took part in the first day of Committee Stage for the Modern Slavery Bill. A former member of the Joint Select Committee that  undertook the pre-legislative scrutiny of the bill, the Bishop spoke in favour of three amendments to the bill – one relating to ensuring that the legislation is ‘victim focused’, the second – recommended by the Joint Select Committee and co-sponsored by the Bishop – to create a specific offence for child exploitation, where a child has been exploited but not moved or trafficked, and the third to make criminalise all paying for sexual services. Following assurances from the Government of further discussions, the first two amendments were withdrawn. The third amendment was withdrawn following the recognition the the Bill was not an appropriate place for changes to be made to the law on prostitution.

Amendment 1A

The Lord Bishop of Derby: My Lords, I echo what the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, said, and I welcome and endorse the Minister’s commitment to making this a victim-centred Bill. The key thing for me in this proposed amendment is the phrase “personal circumstances”. One of the facts that have come home to me very clearly in my work with victims and those who work with them is that this is not just about the terrible circumstances that somebody finds themselves in because they have been trafficked or enslaved. A very high proportion of those people start off, before they are ever enslaved, as vulnerable people—they have mental health problems, or are homeless, or have low self-esteem—who very easily get drawn into being dominated, trafficked and exploited. What is challenging, and what we should take seriously in the proposed new clause, is for the Bill to draw attention to the personal circumstances of each victim or survivor. In almost any case these people will be vulnerable and will need to be treated as we treat others, with our development of a safeguarding framework and proper procedures to care for those who need safeguarding.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Bates): …The Bill itself changed quite dramatically before it was published. When it went through the House of Commons, we added specific changes on children and an enabling power for the Secretary of State to set up child trafficking advocates. There is a change in the slavery offence so that the court may have regard to the alleged victim’s personal circumstances, including age. A number of provisions in this amendment relate to Clause 1(4), which says that,

“regard may be had to any of the person’s personal circumstances”.

The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Derby, who has immense experience and awareness in this area, talked about personal circumstances. Clause 1(4) mentions,

“age, family relationships, and any mental or physical illness”.

However, it is not limited to those, as it also refers to those,

“which may make the person more vulnerable than other persons”.

In other words, there is a catch-all element to Clause 1(4), in that regard may be had to a much wider group of circumstances. That is one change that was brought forward.

This has all been as a result of the parliamentary process. We have also introduced a statutory defence for victims who have been forced into criminality. Reparation orders have been introduced, to ensure that victims are properly compensated, and the Secretary of State is required to issue guidance to front-line professionals on identifying and supporting victims. Changes have been made to broaden the Independent Anti-slavery Commissioner’s remit specifically to include the identification of victims. Changes have been made all the way through, and there will be more changes. I shall not anticipate the details before your Lordships’ House reaches that point, but we have tabled government amendments, which will be debated in the next group, that seek to strengthen that element further…

Amendment 1A withdrawn.


Amendment 9 (co-sponsored by the Bishop of Derby)

The Lord Bishop of Derby: My Lords, I stand as an Anglican priest alongside the noble Lord, Lord James. We need to be reminded of that harrowing sequence of stories because they illustrate how easily children are exploited, even within the establishment and among the powers that be. I put my name to Amendment 9 and, at this stage, I want to endorse the points made by my colleagues on the Select Committee, the noble Baronesses, Lady Doocey and Lady Kennedy, based on the evidence we heard. I, too, found it very persuasive.

I am delighted that the Government have moved considerably in putting children more strongly in the wording of the Bill. As the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, said, there is precedent for specifying children, in the Sexual Offences Act. In response to the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, I would say that, clearly, we need improved training and practice. My point is that making children specific in this way will draw attention to the kind of training and practice that needs to be developed.

I endorse the importance of making children specifically visible in this legislation. There is a great temptation in our culture to treat children as young adults. From a very early age, they are economic agents and they dress as though they are 20 years older than they are. It is very easy for children to get lost in the whirl of society. We have heard the references to the terrible cases in Rochdale and other places. To protect children, it may be important to make them visible in legislation in a way that draws attention to their childlikeness. That would encourage the law, its practice and its training to take seriously the gravity of this offence.

Lord Bates: …I want to deal with some of the points that have been made and the case studies that have been given today. The offences provided for in the Bill have been changed three times already, especially those regarding children, who are particularly vulnerable in the circumstances of modern slavery, as was said by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Derby. We made changes after the Bill was published, following pre-legislative scrutiny. We made changes in Committee in another place after debate there, and today I moved amendments in the previous group to highlight this.

Our debate on this important issue effectively centres on whether this specific offence is needed, or whether it is already covered. There is then a second set of arguments about whether, given some of the practicalities surrounding securing a conviction in this area, we might end up in the perverse situation—which none of us wants—where it is more difficult to secure a conviction than would be the case using the general provisions in the Modern Slavery Bill or in other legislation…

Amendment 9 withdrawn.


Amendment 31

The Lord Bishop of Derby: My Lords, I, too, would like to support my colleague from the Joint Committee, the noble Lord, Lord McColl, and I associate myself with the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Browne of Belmont. In the context of the Bill, this is to do with supply and demand, as we have heard. I will not repeat it, but it is well known that serious research into the Nordic model shows the effectiveness of this kind of legislation. A strong argument was aired briefly in the other place about the market and people’s freedom to work in ways they choose, but I want to draw briefly on my own experience to explore the myth that prostitution can be simply a marketable form of employment.

I have been involved in work with people engaged in prostitution, as well as those who work with them. It is evident that almost everybody who I have come across or who colleagues work with are pathetic, abused and often drug-centred young women. Earlier this year I came across a Thai woman who was being raped 10 times a day in a brothel in Kensington, not far from here. That is what being able to purchase sex is doing to people. A few weeks ago, I met a woman who said, movingly, that before she managed to escape from prostitution, she used to ask for drugs because the pain of servicing all those people was so intense. She requested drugs, and was supplied with them. Something that has not been said but which ought to be noted in this debate is that a lot of research shows that a high proportion of those who purchase sex from prostitutes are married men. What does that say about our understanding of family and relationships? There is a strong case for taking seriously the proposal of the noble Lord, Lord McColl.

I recognise that there might be some real politics in terms of where the amendment would fit in the Bill and how this kind of legislation might arrive at being effective, but I endorse the amendment because it asks the Government to do some form of review. It would be good to do some research to see whether this kind of legislation would reduce significantly the numbers of those in sexual slavery. Would it reduce the demand that is out there on the streets? Would it reduce the numbers who are trafficked into this country like the poor Thai woman I have just spoken about? She was brought here with the promise of a good job, and then she ended up in the appalling situation of being simply a commodity for people to buy at will. Such a review would gather information from the many people who work with those in the sex trade and could receive comments from the public. We could ask for the views of organisations like the Association of Chief Police Officers, which has been mentioned. There are many people in this area who have experience and who could help us to build up a picture that would show us the outcomes if we proceed in this direction.

The passion that unites noble Lords across the Committee on this Bill is to free victims from being abused and treated like commodities—and, in a sense, such cheap commodities. It would be wonderful if we could at least try to review the effect that this kind of legislation would have. Evidence from other parts of the world shows that when a Government are bold enough to adopt it, it has enormously positive social consequences as well as a massive impact on the evil of sexual trafficking.

Baroness Garden of Frognal (Government Response): …The Policing and Crime Act 2009 took steps to improve the safety and support available for individuals involved in prostitution through the introduction of Section 17 engagement and support orders. That legislation provides the courts with an alternative to fining those convicted of loitering and soliciting: a requirement to attend meetings with a court-appointed supervisor. Engagement and support orders came into force on 1 April 2010. This is deemed to be an effective tool in providing support and access to services that might otherwise be out of reach, including medical care, housing and drug/alcohol dependency programmes. The right reverend Prelate mentioned the connections with other forms of drug and alcohol dependency. This is considered to be a more constructive long-term approach.

Such an approach is fundamental to our focus on minimising the harm that can be associated with prostitution. As such, it is part of our broader approach to violence against women and girls—an action plan that is kept under constant review. We support emphasis being put on supporting those who wish to exit prostitution, but legislation is not necessary to achieve this worthy aim…

Amendment 31 withdrawn.