Government’s Modern Slavery Bill will ‘fail victims and spare criminals’

Experts say May’s ‘vanity project’ does nothing for trafficked people whose evidence will be vital

Social Affairs Correspondent

The Government’s Modern Slavery Bill is being rushed through Parliament without proper consultation and will offer almost no help to the victims of the crime, sources close to the process have told The Independent on Sunday.

Touted as a historic moment in the fight against human trafficking, a draft of the Bill will be unveiled by the Home Secretary, Theresa May, on Monday, the day an evidence ¬review is published. The timing means the draft will almost certainly not ¬include the recommendations made in the review, which has been led by the Labour MP Frank Field.

Experts argue that the process has been rushed through, with only the briefest of discussions with lawyers and is a “vanity project” for Mrs May. Mr Field’s researchers are understood to have been working through the night to get the report ready for Monday, so those who drew up the Bill are unlikely to have seen its final version.

Christine Beddoe, a consultant on tackling the crime, said the speeded- up handling of the legislation had been “very odd”. She added: “This has all happened so fast that the consultation hasn’t been taken into account prior to drafting the Bill.”

According to an insider, the Bill had to be speeded up in order to get it into the Queen’s Speech in May.

Campaigners had recommended that the Bill enshrined better victim support and protection, but this is not expected to feature in the draft. Measures which had been hoped for included appointing guardians to help child victims of trafficking and extending the support available to victims beyond the 45 days allotted to process their case. 

Instead, the Bill will tidy up existing legislation, introduce tougher sentences, and appoint an Anti—Slavery Commissioner, whose responsibilities are still vague. It will also propose trafficking prevention orders, measures intended to restrict the activity of offenders after release.

Aidan McQuade, director of Anti-Slavery International, said: “ Victim protection has to be central in any realistic strategy to address trafficking and forced labour within the UK. Without that, you doubly victimise people, first by their traffickers and then by the authorities meant to ¬protect them. On top of that, you’ll end up with insufficient witnesses to carry prosecutions.”

Successful prosecutions for trafficking are still extremely rare; in 2012, only 39 people were prosecuted for trafficking-related offences. ¬Experts say that better support for victims is needed to bring these numbers up, rather than superficial changes to legislation.

A senior source in a leading human trafficking charity said that victim protection proposals had been -ignored due to concerns that the Government would be seen as nice to immigrants.

“The evidence gathered by Frank Field has not been listened to,” the source said. “There are no victim protection measures at all. My ¬assessment is that Theresa May doesn’t give a rat’s arse about slavery, but it’s in the news and if she can present herself as the next [William] Wilberforce, then she can have a go against Cameron. She’s not putting victim protection in this because that’s nice for Johnny foreigner.”

The source said they thought major amendments to add in more for victims were unlikely: “The line the Government keeps putting out is ‘no amendments, or it won’t go through’.”

Anthony Steen, the Home Secretary’s special envoy for human trafficking, has been consulted on the Bill. He called it a “ marvellous start”, but expressed reservations about its substance.

“The draft Bill is not going to be in itself a world trailblazer. It’s going to be a somewhat muted and limited Bill, but it is moving in the right ¬direction and it is committed to being in the Queen’s Speech.” He added: “This is an opportunity of a lifetime. We want to be a world leader and we won’t be unless we put the flesh on [the bones of the Bill].”

Mr Steen, who also chairs the Human Trafficking Foundation, said he wanted to make sure that better provision for victims was added into the Bill at a later date. “The best way to catch traffickers is by actually making victims feel safe,” he said.

“There’s no aftercare provision at all; after 45 days people are thrown on to the street. That’s what worries me most. I’m in touch with five victims who have got nowhere to go for Christmas. They’ve got nobody they can trust to go to.”

Giving police incentives to prioritise the crime is also essential to raising convictions, according to Mr Steen. ”Police find this not worth the candle,” he said, “and if they haven’t got an incentive to nail traffickers they probably won’t.”

Security Minister James Brokenshire said: “The Home Secretary and Security Minister have made clear a personal commitment to ending modern slavery. We need to make the Bill as focused and targeted as possible so that we have the best chance of making it law by the end of this Parliament. Legislation is only part of the answer to what is a complex and multi-faceted problem – the important thing is to get stronger laws passed that future governments and parliaments can then build on.”

“The Home Secretary and Security Minister have made clear a personal commitment to ending modern slavery. We need to make the Bill as focused and targeted as possible so that we have the best chance of making it law by the end of this Parliament. Legislation is only part of the answer to what is a complex and multi-faceted problem – the important thing is to get stronger laws passed that future governments and parliaments can then build on.”

Mr Brokenshire added: “The best way to both protect and reduce the number of victims is to disrupt and imprison the organised criminal gangs that lie behind the majority of the modern slave trade. The Bill will send the clearest possible message: if you are involved in this disgusting trade in human beings, you will be arrested, you will prosecuted and you will be locked up.”

Video: Theresa May on tackling slavery in the UK

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