Bishop of Derby leads call for stronger powers for agencies tackling modern slavery

On 25th February 2015, the Bishop of Derby, the Rt Revd Alastair Redfern, tabled an amendment to the Government’s Modern Slavery Bill, during its Report Stage. The amendment sought to strengthen and improve the resources of enforcement agencies who may be required to deal with groups engaged in modern slavery and human trafficking. The amendment was withdrawn, following assurances from the Minister that the Government would bring forward its own proposals at Third Reading.

The Bishop also spoke in favour of a group of amendments to the Bill relating to the transparency of supply chains. 

Amendment 92 – Enforcement Agencies

DerbyThe Lord Bishop of Derby: My Lords, I thank my colleagues, the noble Lord, Lord Alton, and the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy, for their support for this amendment. I also place on record my thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Bates. With others, we have been extremely grateful for the patient and kind way he has listened to us, engaged with us and put on special meetings on various subjects. The point of this amendment is to highlight the fact that both the Government and many of us involved in this issue are learning a great deal as we go along. Therefore, there is a proper space for consultation, review and further learning to be done.

The point of this amendment is to seek authorisation for further consultation around two particular things. One is resources for some of the key agencies which will be in the forefront of putting this legislation into practice. There will be an enormous challenge and the resourcing issue, with tight budgets, will be enormous. We have discussed in previous debates the potential for using confiscated assets and the proceeds of crime to help resource the work of some of the agencies that will be putting this legislation into practice and can deliver what the Bill requires. This was discussed by the Select Committee and I hope the Minister will endorse further consultation about the potential for using confiscated assets and the proceeds of crime to help resource the implementation of the Bill.

The second area that the amendment explores is to help us ensure that the agencies which are in place at the moment can develop appropriately and be fit for purpose. I refer in particular to the Gangmasters Licensing Authority, which needs to have a realistic remit. It has enormous expertise, but it will need resourcing, as I have said, for further engagement in the new context, including how it links with bodies such as the Employment Agency Standards Inspectorate. We need to see how those bodies are going to work together: that needs exploring further if the Bill is going to be implemented effectively. The Employment Agency Standards Inspectorate will, of course, have a key role in helping us reach out to those areas where slavery operates through small-scale operations, not just the large businesses we are looking at in those parts of the Bill covering the formal supply chain.

So the amendment covers those two simple things. It explores how best we can use confiscated assets and the proceeds of crime to give resources to key agencies such as the GLA and the Employment Agency Standards Inspectorate, and it looks at how those agencies might co-operate so that we can do educational, proactive work so that the requirements of the Bill get disseminated through those agencies into their constituencies, and so that they co-operate most fully between themselves and cover as many bases as possible. This very simple amendment will build on the work of the Joint Committee and ensure that the principles of the Bill are delivered most effectively. It is about resourcing the agencies and about how they can best work together. It asks for authorisation for that consultation to happen so that we can pursue those two objectives. I beg to move.

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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Home Office (Lord Bates): My Lords, I am grateful to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Derby for having moved the amendment. He has been an integral part of the cross-party team that has been working so constructively on the Bill and taken us to where we are now. I particularly note, and offer my respect for, the work that he has done in the diocese of Derby in tackling the issues of modern-day slavery. It is an example of what could be done elsewhere as well.

Let me put on record the two difficulties that we have with the amendment. I do not think that, on the general principle, we are a million miles apart. What we had was a Gangmasters Licensing Authority, after the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, introduced legislation in this House in the wake of the awful tragedy that we saw—and it was working rather well. It was targeted at a particular group, where there was a real problem in the food processing industries and that sector of agriculture and fisheries. About 1,200 businesses a year are regulated, and there is a cost to that. They have to get their licence and pay between £1,000 and £2,000 a year, and when they are regularly inspected they also have to pay a fee for the inspection.

There is a discussion about this. I am sure that when the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, was introducing the Gangmasters Licensing Authority legislation, he was thinking that we did not want to impose this on everyone unless it were strongly proven that it was absolutely necessary to cover everyone, because there are some serious burdens placed on small and micro-businesses. I take the point that the noble Lord, Lord Judd, made about resources. Resources are scarce at present: there is a big debate, which I am sure my predecessors had when they were trying to secure the necessary resources for the changes being made in the national referral mechanism. That would account for a significant amount, and resources also have to follow the child trafficking advocates, the extension of legal aid and the office of the Independent Anti-slavery Commissioner-designate. I accept that.

Let me explain the difficulties to the right reverend Prelate. There are two difficulties with an enabling power on the GLA remit. First, such a power assumes that the main issue is with the GLA’s remit, and may not consider the broader landscape in terms of how we tackle abuse of workers. Secondly, even if we concluded that the answer to the problem was an extension of the remit, the enabling power would almost certainly not achieve its aim of avoiding the need for further primary legislation.

As has been mentioned, it has also been enormously helpful that we have been able to have discussions outside the Chamber, and build our mutual understanding of these issues. It is important that we look at the GLA’s role in the context of our overall approach to tackling abuse in the labour market.

The House will note that sectors not covered by the GLA are already regulated. Last year more than 53,000 callers were helped by the pay and work rights helpline, and more than 23,000 workers were helped to recover wage arrears by the national minimum wage enforcement team. In addition, employment agencies not covered by the GLA are regulated by the Employment Agency Standards Inspectorate, which between 31 March and 1 April 2014 brought seven prosecutions in the magistrates’ courts and in five cases secured convictions. The Employment Agency Standards Inspectorate also has a unique power to apply to ban those who have shown themselves to be unfit to run any employment agency, and there are currently 16 people on the list of people banned from running an employment agency. We need to make sure, through consultation, that we come to a coherent position and that these bodies work in a co-ordinated way to prevent and stop abuse.

I understand why an enabling power might appear attractive as a way of potentially avoiding the need for future primary legislation after a consultation, but such a power simply would not achieve the objective of avoiding the need for primary legislation. Any significant change to the GLA would be likely to require both reform of the Gangmasters (Licensing) Act 2004 and substantive changes to wider primary legislation related to how the labour market is regulated, such as the Employment Agencies Act 1973.

The enabling power would be limited to changes in the remit. I accept that it would be hard to justify a delegated power wide enough to allow for the types of enforcement powers the GLA might need in future. But a truly open and evidence-based consultation might well highlight the need for changes in the powers of the GLA that do not relate to the remit.

The amendment also focuses on the use by the GLA and others of the Proceeds of Crime Act. I should point out that the GLA already uses that legislation to identify proceeds of crime—a subject raised by the noble Lord, Lord Alton. Indeed, since 2010 the GLA has identified over £1.5 million in criminal assets through that route. I am sure that, like me, noble Lords will all applaud the GLA for its achievements in this regard. The GLA already receives a share of the assets recovered under the asset recovery incentivisation scheme: it has received £118,000 since 2010.

I acknowledge the points that have been made. When we prepare the consultation document we will reflect on today’s debate and see whether there are ways in which we can make greater use of the Proceeds of Crime Act, alongside increasing and making better use of our existing resources devoted to worker protection.

I shall now deal with one or two of the points raised in the debate. I have highlighted the problems we have with the amendment, which are technical rather than substantive in terms of the issue that the right reverend Prelate has raised. If he felt able to withdraw his amendment now, I would certainly give an undertaking to reflect further on it and consider whether we should look at this subject again before Third Reading. There are some drafting issues. What the amendment proposes is a review of one area under one Act, whereas we would like to see a wider consultation covering many areas and many Acts. To do that we need an approach different from that taken in the amendment. If the right reverend Prelate will take that into account, we shall be happy to come back to the subject.
The Lord Bishop of Derby: I thank the Minister for what I take to be an encouraging response. I do not know a lot of the details about delegated powers and primary legislation, and, as he said, there are possible technical issues with our proposals. However, I take heart from the fact that we are in the same direction of travel. We want to increase the resource potential for this work and to look carefully at how agencies such as the Gangmasters Licensing Authority can best perform. On that basis, and in the hope of further thought being given to this matter before the next stage, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment

Amendment 92 withdrawn.

(via Parliament.uk)

 

Amendment 93 – Transparency of Supply Chains

The Lord Bishop of Derby: My Lords, I support this group of amendments. I, too, welcome government Amendment 97, because we need a framework that people can inhabit flexibly and that sets out the framework very clearly but gives room for manoeuvre.

As for Amendment 98A, the modern tool for transparency is the website. A website is accessible to everybody in a very equal way. The Bill needs to balance two kinds of transparency. We are looking for transparency where there is bad practice—we want to shine a light on the oppression and abuse of people. We are also looking for transparency where there is good practice, especially good business practice in terms of employment and working conditions. We have to get both sides of the transparency issue up and running.

There is a serious point about resourcing the website. If it is located in the office of the Independent Anti-slavery Commissioner, that will give a clear message about what it is for. With a website, we can imagine that if people do not find what they want, or do not think that something has happened after it has gone up, they will send in their requests or their complaints, and that will be a big resourcing task to monitor, to respond to and to manage. Therefore, if it is to be run by the anti-slavery commissioner—I can see the value of that—it will, as others have said, need proper targeted resourcing, having measured the task. There may be other models for providing such a website. Whether one can have some equivalent of the Salvation Army and find someone to designate and manage it, there must be a public space that is accessible to everyone, which looks at what is going on and being achieved, shares good practice and exposes those who are falling short.

Finally, I again endorse use of the Companies Act 2006 because that gets into the DNA of how we expect companies to operate good practice.

(via Parliament.uk)