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Modern Slavery Offences

Volume 704: debated on Monday 22 November 2021

7. What recent assessment she has made of trends in the level of suspected modern slavery offences. (904267)

Modern slavery is a truly awful crime. Statistics for England and Wales show that police-recorded modern slavery offences increased by 2% in the year to June 2021, and live investigations also increased from 188 in December 2016 to 3,869 in October 2021. We are committed to tackling modern slavery and we have invested £15 million to strengthen the police response over the past five years.

Prosecution and conviction rates of perpetrators of modern slavery are surprisingly low. Evidence from Justice and Care’s victim navigator programme shows that with appropriate support more victims would have the confidence to help investigations, resulting in more prosecutions. Will the Minister please consider giving all confirmed victims at least 12 months’ support in the country so that they can feel empowered to engage with the justice process?

I thank the hon. Lady for her question; she has highlighted an important issue. The whole point of our modern slavery strategy is to be able to track down and prosecute those horrendous criminals who heartlessly traffic human beings into this country. The entire force of the Government’s policy making is devoted to that end.

Many people who are victims of modern-day slavery are those who have been illegally trafficked into this country across the channel. What are the Government doing to break up the criminal gangs dangerously smuggling people across the channel and bring an end to these illegal crossings?

I thank my hon. Friend for highlighting that. There are a range of measures in the Nationality and Borders Bill. I very much hope that Opposition Members will support those measures so that we can break down these criminal gangs. We are also working very closely with the police and we have invested additional funds in our courts system to catch up from the backlog of the pandemic.

I have heard what the Minister has said, and we can all agree that perpetrators of modern slavery are committing heinous crimes and must be brought to justice. With that in mind, I wonder whether Government Ministers have read the independent anti-slavery commissioner’s recent article entitled “Rushed borders bill will fail victims of modern slavery”. Will the Government urgently act to address the failings in the Nationality and Borders Bill before it effectively tears up the Modern Slavery Act 2015, letting down victims and letting perpetrators get away with their crimes?

I can assure the hon. Lady that I meet the independent anti-slavery commissioner and she plays a very important role in informing the Government’s policy. I can also assure her that the Nationality and Borders Bill is going to strengthen the Government’s response and support for the victims of modern slavery. We have a world-leading system to support and protect victims of modern slavery that we have backed with significant Government resources and investment. The legislation that we are passing will enable us to respond more compassionately to those victims.

While the Minister is absolutely right to say that we lead Europe on modern-day slavery, the question asked by the hon. Member for Swansea East (Carolyn Harris) goes very much to the heart of the matter: if we want more prosecutions, we need more victims to come forward. The way to do that is that if they are coming into this country irregularly they need a year of leave to remain here so that we can get at these—please excuse this if it is not parliamentary—evil bastards. Will the Minister reply to the hon. Lady’s question: can we have that year?

I can reassure my hon. Friend and all Members in the House that those victims who are working closely with the police and the Crown Prosecution Service are looked at on a case-by-case basis. Where they are assisting the police and the criminal justice system with their inquiries, they are permitted to stay in this country, and our legislation that we are bringing forward will clarify that further. [Interruption.] I have met victims of modern slavery, thank you, I say to the hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley (Jess Phillips), who is speaking from a sedentary position.

Order. Let us try to calm it down. We do not want another week like last week. When Members have asked their question, they do not need to continue.

I hope I have answered my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough (Mr Bone). I am happy to speak to him in more detail. I make it clear to the hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley that I have met victims of modern slavery. I have heard their stories, which are shocking, and we are putting all our efforts into preventing these crimes and dealing with the people who perpetrate them.