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Hull MP speaks in Modern Day Slavery Bill debate

Hull North MP Diana Johnson made the speech below, speaking from the Labour Front Bench, in the Second Reading debate for the Modern Slavery Bill.

The speech and wider debate, held on 8 July, can also be read at

Diana Johnson (Kingston upon Hull North) (Lab): We all welcome this piece of legislation. The Home Secretary said that it would lead the world in tackling exploitation, and I know that much has been said today about the role played by William Wilberforce and his attempt over many years to abolish the slave trade. Of course, as a Hull MP, I am always very mindful that William Wilberforce was a Member of Parliament for Hull, and we now have the Wilberforce Institute for the study of Slavery and Emancipation at the university of Hull to mark the amazing thing that he did.

The Opposition are very pleased to have the Bill’s Second Reading debate today. It was important to note that the Government produced a draft Bill first, and we had the benefit of pre-legislative scrutiny of that Bill. I wish to pay tribute to the Joint Committee that carried out that scrutiny: my right hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead (Mr Field); my hon. Friends the Members for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart) and for Linlithgow and East Falkirk (Michael Connarty); the right hon. Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Sir John Randall); the hon. Member for Congleton (Fiona Bruce); the right hon. Members for Hazel Grove (Sir Andrew Stunell) and for Meriden (Mrs Spelman); and some Members of the other place. From reading their excellent report, it seems to me that they heard from witnesses from a wide range of charities, churches and other bodies. The proposals the Committee made greatly improved that original draft Bill.

The Government have accepted some changes proposed as a result of the pre-legislative scrutiny, but not as many as they need to accept. Given the contributions we have heard from Members from all parts of the House today, I hope that the Home Secretary and the Minister will look at again at some of the proposals in the report. I wish briefly to discuss some of the excellent contributions we have had today. We have had a wide-ranging debate, with lots of contributions. I wish to pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Slough as the excellent chair of the all-party group on human trafficking and modern day slavery and to agree with her compliment to the role that Anthony Steen played in ensuring that Parliament took this issue seriously. I know that we are not allowed to refer to him sitting in the Box, but I know that he has been listening carefully to our debate this afternoon.

My hon. Friend talked about the three Ps: prevention, prosecution and protection. She raised concerns about the Bill’s particular focus just on prosecution, and spoke about the need to have well-constructed offences and whether we needed to look again at the way the offences are currently drafted. She made the important point about the need for simple language to describe the offences to ensure that we push up the number of prosecutions. She also raised issues about separate offences for children, which I will come on to in a minute, and the role of the anti-slavery commissioner being strengthened, as well as the domestic worker visa and the Gangmasters Licensing Authority.

My hon. Friend the Member for Foyle (Mark Durkan) also talked about how important it was that there was the non-prosecution of victims, and he welcomed the statutory defence in clause 39, as did the right hon. Member for Hazel Grove.

My hon. Friend the Member for Wigan (Lisa Nandy), who brings enormous experience to the debate from her work with trafficked children, made a passionate case for the improvements that she wants to see in the Bill. She spoke with great knowledge on the issues around age. In particular, she mentioned the idea that has been raised by the Immigration Law Practitioners’ Association in the past about having age assessment centres in regions around the country, which is something that the Bill Committee may wish to look further at. She said that this was a golden opportunity to get the law right on guardians for children.

My hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield Central (Paul Blomfield) talked about prevention, and he argued very passionately for the GLA to have its reach extended to construction, the care sector and hospitality. My hon. Friend the Member for Bristol East (Kerry McCarthy), in her role as a shadow Minister in the Foreign Office, talked about her discussions with the Pacific Links charity and the international angle to this legislation. She also spoke very well about the consumer power issue only going so far, and the need for legislation on supply chains.

In his opening remarks, my right hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead said that it seemed from the debate that the Bill was one that the House very much wanted to fashion, and, given the number of ideas that were coming forward about how the Bill could be improved, he was absolutely right. The particular points he raised were around children and the supply chain and the need to support victims. He said that this was a good Bill that could become a world-class Bill.

My hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh North and Leith (Mark Lazarowicz) made the case for the cross-nation work that needs to take place within the United Kingdom. My hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk, who speaks with great knowledge and experience about the supply chain, referred to his private Member’s Bill. He expressed his views very strongly, saying, why stop when we are three-quarters of the way up the mountain. He said why not go to the top of the mountain and make this a world-class Bill.

I also want to refer to the hon. Member for Chatham and Aylesford (Tracey Crouch) who said that she had read somewhere that anyone who is interested in this particular piece of legislation would have to be a left-wing feminista. I just want to say to her that we left-wing feministas welcome right-wing feministas too, and we think that the debate that has gone on across the House shows that there is cross-party support for this piece of legislation. She urged her Front-Bench team to be bold and brave.

There were many other contributions to the debate this afternoon. The need for more positive public awareness and public information was made by the hon. Members for Mid Derbyshire (Pauline Latham) and for South West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous). The hon. Gentleman also talked about the need for a global and a local perspective. There was a welcome for the duty to notify in clause 44 from the hon. Member for Enfield, Southgate (Mr Burrowes). There were a number of contributions about the need for specific provisions around the supply chain. The hon. Member for Central Devon (Mel Stride), who said that he was a dyed-in-the-wool pro-business Conservative, made the case for why there should be legislation on the supply chain and talked about the Californian Act and how that might be a sensible way forward.

The right hon. Member for Meriden called for the proposal on the Companies Act 2006, which was mentioned by the Joint Committee, to be brought forward, as did the right hon. Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip, and he told us that Richard Branson backed that idea, too. The hon. Member for Arfon (Hywel Williams) and the hon. Member for Norwich North (Chloe Smith) also talked about the supply chain, and the hon. Lady talked about the use of agricultural workers and how important it was to ensure they were protected.

There is obviously a need for strong support for child victims and the case for that was made by the hon. Member for Salisbury (John Glen). The case for strengthening the role of the anti-slavery commissioner was made by the hon. Member for North East Cambridgeshire (Stephen Barclay). The court’s ability to punish with sentences of up to life imprisonment was welcomed by the hon. Member for East Antrim (Sammy Wilson), who also talked about the fact that the National Crime Agency does not operate in Northern Ireland.


We want to see improvements to the Bill in five areas. We think that there are some concerns about the drafting of the offences, as the definitions are not always consistent, but we want to work with the government to see whether we can improve them.

We will table amendments on a specific offence of child trafficking and exploitation. We also want to push the idea of having full child guardians. I listened with care to what my hon. Friend the Member for Wigan said about acting in a child’s best interests and that might be something that a guardian would be able to do whereas an advocate would not.

On the question of support for victims, we feel that the remit of the anti-slavery commissioner needs to be extended and that there needs to be more independence from the Home Office. We also believe that a statutory basis for the national referral mechanism should be included in the Bill. There are various other technical issues that we will want to debate in Committee, including the 45-day reflection period, reparations and the strength of the non-prosecution clauses.

Let me return to the issue of the supply chain. The Joint Committee called for provisions on the supply chain to be included, but no clauses in the Bill relate to it. We will table amendments to put that right and we believe that it is correct that large companies should show and report on what they are doing to eradicate slavery. We believe that that has widespread support from industry and business. We think that the point about domestic workers needs to be debated in Committee, as does the question of extending the GLA into other industries.

Many speakers in the debate have described the nature of modern slavery and, along with those mentioned in the opening remarks of the shadow Home Secretary, my right hon. Friend the Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper), and in my comments, we will table amendments that we believe are needed for the Bill to diminish the trade in this century. William Wilberforce told the House in May 1789 that

“we can no longer plead ignorance, we can not evade it”.

We can all agree that Britain can again play a leading international role in fighting slavery, as we did 200 years ago when Wilberforce was successful. If we get this legislation right, it will strike a huge blow for freedom, but it will be a tragic missed opportunity for slavery’s victims if we fail to produce a world-class piece of legislation. As William Wilberforce said:

“Accustom yourself to look first to the dreadful consequences of failure; then fix your eye on the glorious prize which is before you”.

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