Trafficking victims traumatised following Home Office delays on their status

Labour Party

A Guardian investigation has found that victims of modern slavery are being further traumatised caused by Home Office delays to confirm their status.

While the Government has stated that decisions on the legal status of such victims should be made within a 45-day recovery period under its programme, the National Referral Mechanism (NRM) the time guideline is not being met, the newspaper claims. However, The Guardian has learnt of people waiting more than six months for the visa and immigration authorities to process their cases. In one incident six West African men who were rescued by British trawlers in 2017 were still waiting to find out their fate in 2018. Interestingly, shortly following the Guardian had begun to make inquiries on the reason for the delay all six men were granted leave to remain.

This sort of delay is unacceptable and a period of limbo of this length while living, often in emergency accommodation, will inevitably increase anxiety for those who are in an already traumatic situation. We know delays in processes are common, a fact highlighted last year by report from the National Audit Office which was highly critical of the time it was taking to process victims.

Theresa May has stated that eradicating modern slavery and trafficking was a priority as both home secretary and prime minister. However, despite introducing legislation, the Modern Slavery Act 2015, the modern slavery strategy which supports it cannot be fulfilling one of its key obligations as highlighted in its 2104 report.

The report clearly states one of its key components as “Protect: strengthening safeguards against modern slavery by protecting vulnerable people from exploitation and increasing awareness and resilience against this crime.” Protecting victims is a priority and yet delays in processing their status is doing the complete opposite to its promise of protecting victims.

Slavery and trafficking victims need protection and support and not lengthy, complicated and drawn out processes which leave them in limbo for an unsatisfactory length of time. It is not acceptable and Theresa May who has extensive experience of the Home Office should address the issue immediately.

Letter published in Guardian

Labour Party

The Guardian has published a letter I sent following news that a former sex worker from New Zealand has been made a Dame in the Queen’s Birthday Honours for services to the industry. You can read the letter in full below and the edited version on the Guardian website is available here.

Dear Sir,

RE: New Zealand former sex worker becomes a dame in Queen’s birthday honours

It beggars belief that a former sex worker from New Zealand has been
awarded Dame Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to
the rights of sex workers.

Honouring Catherine Healy in the Queen’s Birthday Honours for her work
condones prostitution. It is something the new Duchess of Sussex, who as a
self-proclaimed feminist, will surely have a view on?

It is well known that pilot schemes in the UK, where designated safe zones
were tested, have not worked. Most notably in the Holbeck area of Leeds
where a decriminalised zone was created so women could work in apparent
safety. It was during this pilot, and within the decriminalised zone, that
the brutal murder of a sex worker took place.

Women remain vulnerable even if in a seemingly controlled environment.
It’s never safe to work as a sex worker and creating such zones does
nothing to protect women. At best it creates an unsafe ghetto in which to

To celebrate the activism of someone who has been so instrumental in the
decriminalisation of something that has such negative consequences on
vulnerable women and vulnerable parts of society is reckless. Normalising
prostitution is not something that should be celebrated, and it does not
help vulnerable women in any way.”

Sex work has catastrophic and devastating consequences on women’s lives.
Bestowing such an honour for work which can have such life long and
terrible consequences on women’s lives is wholly inappropriate.”

Yours Sincerely,

Mary Honeyball

Labour MEP for London. Labour’s spokesperson in Europe for gender and


Parliamentary log jam on Brexit legislation

Labour Party

A parliamentary log jam is going to affect the ability for the government to pass important legislation relating to Brexit, according to the Guardian.

Its report revealed today that almost half the legislation required for Parliament to vote on the final Brexit deal has yet to be introduced.

Despite Parliament sitting for 123 days since the last election it has yet to pass a single piece of related legislation. There are only a further 80 days where Parliament will sit before MPs are expected to vote on the final deal scheduled for October this year.

The obvious problem is that Parliament will be asked to vote on a deal which it has little knowledge of because it won’t have approved any of the crucial legislation. It’s completely unacceptable that MPs will be expected to vote on a deal that they do not have the full details of because it won’t have been finalised! It just doesn’t seem feasible to expect Parliament to commit to such a vote which can’t possibly be meaningful since the government has failed to introduce any vital legislation.

Theresa May promised this parliament would be a “busy legislative session” and yet, as the Guardian report points out, just four pieces of legislation have been passed from the Queen’s speech which is half the amount at the same point following the 2010 election.

You can read the Guardian’s full report here.

Northern Ireland remains an obvious sticking point after yesterday’s agreement

Labour Party

While Brexit Secretary, David Davis, grinned like a Cheshire cat following the announcement of yesterday’s agreement with Brussels on the transitional proceedings for Brexit, one fact remained: The uncertainty over Northern Ireland.

Although both sides seemed happy to announce the progress which had been agreed upon, the lack of agreement over the border issues between Northern Ireland and Ireland was the elephant in the room. This is a sticking point which all sides know only too well cannot simply be kicked into the long grass. Any future talks beyond what was agreed yesterday won’t progress unless this issue can be resolved.

Writing about yesterday’s developments, The Guardian’s editorial juxtaposed two significant European meetings which took place yesterday. The first concerned the joint position of EU foreign ministers in the wake of the Skripal poisoning and its editorial said it was: “sensible and constructive”. The second meeting was, concerned the Brexit negotiations and it said it was: “foolish and destructive”. The editorial continued: “Taken together the meetings illustrate the international wound the modern Britain is inflicting on itself and on Europe because of the Brexit vote.”

While some will be relieved that, seemingly, there is some progress, significant issues which cannot be underestimated remain: The question of the border in Northern Ireland is an obvious problem, already discussed above, which was no closer to being resolved. The other problem is the question of Britain being a reliable ally to its European neighbours, which was central to the Guardian’s argument.

As the Guardian pointed out Britain requires support from its allies more so now (after the Skripal poisoning) than it has for a long time. But as we embark on the road to Brexit, the concern turns to how Britain has weakened its own position in terms of its international strategic relationships.

The relationship between allies, by their very nature is dependent on responsibilities and trust which must be shared and the relationships equal, but as the Guardian states: “The principle of all for one and one for all is a reciprocal principle. That’s why Brexit is such a threat not just to Britain itself, but also to Europe’s essential and shared security interests.”

The Equal Pay Scandal: Latest Revelations

Labour Party

As the deadline for the reporting of gender pay inequalities gets closer (4 April) The Guardian has produced a useful tool which follows the latest companies to report its figures. It’s excellent weekly coverage offers an overview of the companies that have reported.

Last week some 2000 companies published its figures leaving 7000 companies yet to report.

The Guardian itself published its own figures which showed a median hourly gap of 12.1%. It’s editorial roles its just 7.4% but for non-editorial roles the gap widens to 17.2%. But the Group is being proactive and pledged to reduce the gap to attain a 50:50 gender pay balance in the top half of the organotin in the next five years. It is also planning to have in place mentoring and women in leadership schemes to help achieve its targets.

Other news groups also published figures. Perhaps the most significant was ITN which had a gender pay gap of 19.6% it was its bonus gap which was most staggering: 77%.

And in other sectors, the “big four” accountancy firms have re polished their results after facing criticism that the figures did not include partners pay, therefore not giving an accurate reflection of the gap.

You can read in more detail the latest Guardian update here.

And while on the subject of the gender pay gap, news has emerged which reveals that Wimbledon champion and Tennis commentator, Martina Navratilova, received 10x less for commentating on Wimbledon than her male counterpart John McEnroe for doing similar work.

The news comes ahead of a broadcast for BBC panorama due to air tonight ‘The Equal Pay Scandal’, and it details how the Corporation had told her she was earning a comparable amount to him, but subsequently found him on a list of BBC earners in the £150,000 – £199,000 bracket after the broadcaster published the figures it pays its top earners.

For commentating on the two-week Wimbledon championship Martina says she receives £15,000 while John McEnroe earns £150,000 for doing the same role. This is a shocking revelation. Surely the BBC will act swiftly to rectify this inexcusable situation? In its defence the BBC says that Martina earns less than John McEnroe because she appears on TV less than him. But as she herself said: “10x less?” Probably not.



Honeyball’s Weekly Round-Up

Labour Party

The Scottish Labour Party has elected a new leader, Jim Murphy. The Guardian editorial said he was the most experienced and high profile candidate, this is right but he will also be excellent in the role and will be able to meet any challenges head on.

It is true, he will be very good for Scottish Labour, of that there is no doubt, but as the Guardian editorial pointed out, he also has the best chance of both providing a united front from within the party and galvanising the Labour support across Scotland. Murphy’s role couldn’t begin at a more important period than now, just months away from a general election and I wish him very best wishes in his new role.

You can read the Guardian’s editorial here.

In contrast, Parliamentary chaos threatens to ensue in Sweden following the announcement of a snap general election. The last election in Sweden was just three months ago but the Prime Minister has called another one after failing to get the budget passed in the current government.

Worryingly, the dominance of the far right Swedish Democrats is a distinct possibility. The first exit polls in Sweden revealed that the far-right party was expected to end up being the third largest in the Swedish Parliament.

To give you an idea of what they are about, they refuse to engage or have dialogue with, anyone who doesn’t share their view that immigration needs to be slashed. Furthermore, the party was also founded as a white supremacist group in 1988.

The Guardian had an interesting analysis of the results and explored the possibility of the rise of this far-right group. You can read the analysis in full here.

Meanwhile Iceland’s foreign minister made a powerful call for world leaders to open their hearts to gender equality. The country’s foreign minister, Gunnar Bragi Sveinsson said other countries can learn lessons following Iceland’s successful work on combatting sexism. The country’s success is most evident in its first place ranking in a recent global report on gender equality.

Sveinsson’s comments, calling for world leaders to take gender equality more seriously, come ahead of a UN conference he is preparing to host in January.

You can read more on Sveinsson’s comments here.

A Feminist Political Party?

Labour Party

Sexism in politics: This was the subject of a discussion I had last week on BBC Radio 4’s PM programme. I was discussing the possibility of a feminist political party, with Guardian journalist Suzanne Moore who had posed the question in the first place.

Moore said that while we have a vibrant feminist movement today, this isn’t reflected in any political structure.

It is true that we have a strong feminist movement in this country which we need to tap into more. However, as I said during the interview I stop short at embracing the idea of a feminist political party because the only way to make any significant change is through the political process.

You can listen to the interview, and my argument,  with myself and Suzanne Moore here.

Labour to Put Women’s Safety at Centre Stage

Labour Party

Women’s safety is at the heart of Labour’s agenda, the shadow home secretary, Yvette Cooper, told Jane Martinson in the Guardian as she discussed plans to introduce a watchdog for women’s safety.

If elected Labour will appoint a commissioner to improve women’s safety, promising to “put violence against women and girls at the heart of its crime-tackling agenda,” which would be something akin to the children’s commissioner.

The remit of the watchdog would focus on the traditionally difficult to identify and prosecute crimes such as female genital mutilation and forced marriage.

Cooper said this government has let women down and this is absolutely right.

Signalling she is serious about the proposals Cooper said that a Labour Government would also introduce a violence against women and girls bill in its first Queen’s speech.

I have said before women must feel safe in the knowledge that they will be taken seriously if they report crimes made against them. It’s scandalous that conviction rates remain so low and that still, two women a week are killed by partners or former partners. Announcements like this indicate how a Labour government can really make an impact, precisely because it will take issues like these so seriously and really develop robust ways to address them.

Legislation, institutions, and prostitution

Labour Party

My article for Total Politics magazine on why I favour the “Swedish model”

This month police raided brothels and other sex premises in Soho. The operations, which came in response to sex trafficking and rape allegations, drew to the surface stark contrasts in attitudes towards prostitution. Pro-legalisation campaigners argued that immigrant sex workers in the area were employed safely, but senior officers took the opposite view, photographing the operation so that punters could see the “full story” behind the bohemian mystique of Soho.

As yesterday’s article in The Guardian showed, this is a discussion which is only going to grow over the coming months in the UK. Recently we have seen France vote to fine punters, as well as a growing awareness in Germany that their laissez-faire policies aren’t working. A debate is opening up across Europe, and Britain – which has thus far remained on the fence when it comes to this issue – will soon need to take a clear stance.

The basic choice is between all out legalisation, as practised in Holland and Germany, or the Swedish Model – which decriminalises selling sex but prosecutes buying it. As well as developments in France and Germany, Ireland has also shown signs of shifting the focus onto punters, and the extreme feminist group FEMEN have launched demonstrations against the Dutch system. The tectonic plates appear to be moving.

I am a strong advocate of the Swedish Model, and have written a report recommending it to the European Parliament. It is a system which has halved street prostitution in Sweden and made men significantly less likely to pay for sex. I believe it should be adopted across Europe.

Much of the opposition to the Swedish Model comes from men who want to maintain the status quo, such as those behind the shocking ‘Hands of My Whore’ petition in France. But there are also an articulate minority of female former sex workers who say that being a prostitute is a lifestyle choice. They advocate total decriminalisation, on the basis that selling sex can empower women, and that prostitution gives poorer women access to a ‘market’ they’d otherwise miss out on.

I personally believe that the sale of sex will always be a barrier to genuine equality – a demeaning last resort when people are desperate. Even if sex workers came from a variety of backgrounds – male, female, rich, poor, domestic, foreign – I would have serious reservations about legalisation. But as it is prostitutes are overwhelmingly women. In most cases they are foreign women or women from poorer backgrounds, who have usually been subjected to serious abuse before entering the industry.

Where decriminalisation has happened it has done nothing to change this, and I see no reason to believe it will. As sex trade survivor Rachel Moran puts it, “Prostitution is a crime against humanity. To legalise it is to condone this crime”. She says the real victims of the sex trade want to leave the job but are often ignored – a claim which is corroborated by the fact that, according to a 2003 study, 89% of prostituted women said they would leave the industry if they could.

In fact, with tourism, trafficking and freedom of movement making the sex trade increasingly international, I believe we are moving towards a less equitable state of affairs than ever. In France, for example, 90% of prostituted women are foreign compared with 20% back in 1990. And in Germany prostitutes are now also more likely to be from abroad, with mega-brothels built near border crossings increasing foreign custom. We are entering a new, globalised era of prostitution, in which relationships between buyers and sellers are becoming ever more imbalanced. The Dutch Model’s ‘open market’ approach – which increases trafficking and makes it easier for wealthy westerners to buy sex – will only tilt the power dynamic further in favour of men.

With a study finding that 49% of British men have travelled abroad for sex, and the majority of London’s prostitutes now coming from Romania or Bulgaria, we in the UK must think harder about where we stand. I hope that my work in the European Parliament will add to the groundswell of support for more progressive measures, and that Britain will be persuaded to follow France’s lead and go Swedish.

Discussing prostitution with Clive Bull on LBC

Labour Party

Last night I appeared on LBC’s Clive Bull show. It was a pleasure, as always, to take part in the programme. I thought a lively debate was had, with a wide variety of views.

I believe we need to change our system in the UK, so that we become more like Sweden, where buyers rather than sellers of sex are the ones prosecuted. I am pleased to see LBC – as well as newspapers like The Guardian – engaging with this issue. With a debate opening up across Europe, the British Government – which has thus far remained on the fence when it comes to prostitution law – will soon need to start making its position clear.

To listen please click below.