Bishop of Derby calls for strong National Referral Mechanism to support efforts to tackle modern slavery

On 10th December 2014, the Bishop of Derby, the Rt Revd Alastair Redfern, took part in the Committee Stage of the Government’s Modern Slavery Bill. The Bishop spoke in support of an amendment to put a new National Referral Mechanism on a statutory footing, and also raised questions about how the Government’s approach towards tackling slavery could be better integrated with safeguarding awareness. The Bishop had previously spoken in the Bill’s Committee Stage, and his remarks can be read here.

Bishop of DerbyThe Lord Bishop of Derby: My Lords, I will contribute briefly to the debate. I hope the Government will take the time to take seriously the NRM review. Jeremy Oppenheim has made some crucial insights, particularly about the 45 days being used as a period for deciding about judicial processes, not a period for nourishment and proper support. Therefore, we need to think very carefully about how we pitch the 45 days or whatever period it is, alongside a commitment to support victims on a longer timescale. He also made an important point about the concept of safeguarding, just referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Warner. I have spoken about this before in the House. It would be very helpful for everybody if we could connect what we are doing about slavery with the culture of safeguarding awareness. I very much support the suggestion from the noble Lord, Lord Warner, about what we call this mechanism.

Finally, from my experience as someone who works with the agencies and victims themselves, the value of a statutory approach is that it would provide consistency for all victims in the way that they are treated, and a proper, firm framework, which is what we need. Currently, some victims struggle because they are dealt with on the edges. If we are serious about the Bill, we need to have a firm and clear set of expectations and processes.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office Lord Bates (Government Response): …Although I fully appreciate the purpose behind the amendments, I remain reluctant to make changes to the national referral mechanism or to set out its roles and functions in the Bill when we have wholeheartedly accepted the recommendations of the review which have been made in consultation with so many stakeholders. I can also reassure noble Lords that we either already provide, or facilitate access to, the types of support that are listed in the amendments. As noble Lords are aware, victims who are helping the police with an investigation already have access to discretionary leave of at least one year and one day. However, the Government also make provision for victims who are not assisting with an investigation. Where a victim requires a period of leave in the UK to recover from their ordeal, the point raised by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Derby, they will also have access to discretionary leave of at least one year and one day. Indeed, victims who require a longer period of leave—for example, due to ongoing medical treatment—can obtain discretionary leave for up to three years. I am sure noble Lords would agree that we would not wish to lose this flexibility to support victims by placing an arbitrary leave provision in the Bill…