The United Kingdom will finally sign up to Europe-wide measures to combat human trafficking, after being embarrassed by a campaign fought by Anti-Slavery International, campaigning website 38 Degrees and The Independent on Sunday. More than 46,000 people had signed the organisations' petition calling on the Coalition to sign up.
The Government had been criticised for failing to opt in to the directive earlier. Only Britain and Denmark had not signed up to it. The new laws bring better protection for victims of trafficking and increase the chance of successfully prosecuting the gangs that exploit them.
Immigration minister Damian Green insisted that by waiting until the final wording was agreed, the UK's interests had been protected.
More than 700 suspected cases of trafficking were referred to the UK Human Trafficking Centre, a multi-agency body, in the year to March 2010. Three-quarters of the victims were women and almost half the cases involved sexual exploitation.
Mr Green said he was writing to the Parliamentary Scrutiny Committees in the Commons and Lords to seek their views on the matter. "Applying to opt in to the directive would continue to send a powerful message to traffickers that the UK is not a soft touch and that we are supportive of international efforts to tackle this crime."
The announcement was claimed as a victory for Labour and women's groups. The shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper said: "It is thanks to pressure from women's groups, campaigners and ourselves that the Government has now listened and belatedly taken action."