Bishop of Derby speaks on protection for victims of trafficking and forced labour

On 25th March 2015 Bishop of Derby, Alastair Redfern, spoke in the House of Lords’ consideration of the Commons’ amendments to the Modern Slavery Bill.

Bishop of DerbyThe Lord Bishop of Derby: My Lords, I, too, pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, for his inspirational leadership on this issue. He has frequently expressed that this is a moral and a practical issue, which is why we take it so seriously. I am also grateful for the way that the Government have responded positively to the discussion around the noble Lord’s first amendment, for which I voted. However, I am afraid that I cannot support this amendment, for reasons much along the lines of the noble Lord, Lord Deben.

The issue is very complex. In the debate in the House of Commons, there were all sorts of complex strands, which are in the background of some of the statements being made in your Lordships’ House today. There is a discussion about the nature and the length of visas. There is also discussion about the scope and limitations of the national referral mechanism. We have heard today about the spouse’s visa and where that model fits in. There is discussion about the principles of domestic labour and employment law and about what particular provision should be made for overseas domestic workers. This is a complex issue.

I applaud the Government for appointing James Ewins to lead the review because all these issues need to be looked at in the round so that overseas domestic workers can be best supported and cared for. We need to let the review do its work and not foreguess it in the way that the amendment tries to do. I am batting for the review and trusting that it can be implemented by regulation. Therefore, I am with any future Government who are serious about this issue—as they should be on moral and practical grounds—and pursue it appropriately.

I am uneasy about the details of the amendment on two counts. There is a real danger, as the Minister alluded to, of separating the victim from the crime. It is important for future victims that any system of care and support for those caught up in this terrible crime, and oppressed and abused by it, can kick back into where the crime is coming from and how it is manipulated and engineered. There is a danger that this could encourage people to try to escape from it but not be invited to play a responsible part, if they can, in challenging the crime and seeking to stop it.

Again, I applaud the desire to offer other alternatives in terms of work—the James Ewins review could look at that—but we are talking about people who have come into this country on a particular and intimate relationship and who often have a particular dependency, as those of us who have had the harrowing experience of meeting overseas domestic workers who have been abused in this way will know. They are not migrant labourers who can easily get up and go and get another job. The situation is more complex than that and needs a more subtle and careful approach.

I cannot support the noble Lord on the amendment for those reasons. I hope that we will give James Ewins the opportunity to look at all the complex issues and to come up with a more joined-up approach that we can continue to gather round and support in the future.