Let me be absolutely clear, I am committed to supporting victims of modern slavery to help them recover from their exploitation and to support the prosecution of their exploiters. Furthermore, the Government’s core principle is, quite rightly, that the entitlements provided to victims are based on their needs, delivering a firm but fair approach, which provides temporary leave to remain where it is needed, while reducing any opportunities for the system to be misused.
As I am sure you are aware, the Modern Slavery Act 2015 has played a key role in transforming the UK’s response to modern slavery on a national and international level. The Act provides police and law enforcement agencies with the necessary powers to bring perpetrators to justice and enhances protections given to victims. You may be interested to know that the Act has resulted in a significant increase in law enforcement activity against the criminals behind this abhorrent crime.
This country is a world leader in the fight against modern slavery. However, I was alarmed by Home Office research from 2018 which highlighted the devastating economic and social costs of modern slavery. It is estimated that modern slavery costs the UK up to £4.3 billion a year and each modern slavery crime is second only to homicide in terms of harm to its victims and society.
That is why the Modern Slavery Act must be as effective as possible and I welcome that it remains a key priority for the Government. Since October 2016, £15 million has been invested (including £1.4 million in 2021/22 alone) to strengthen the police response through the Modern Slavery and Organised Immigration Crime Programme. This funding has supported the police to develop bespoke capabilities to improve forces’ understanding of modern slavery and drive forward work to increase modern slavery prosecutions, as well as building new capability for forces to respond to organised immigration crime.
I was also pleased to see that the Government commissioned an independent review of the Modern Slavery Act, to ensure our legislative framework continues to be truly world-leading as the forms of modern slavery and nature of exploitation faced by vulnerable people evolve over time. It is good news that the Government accepted the majority of the recommendations made in the review. Further information on this can be found at the following link - www.gov.uk/government/publications/government-response-to-the-independent-review-of-the-modern-slavery-act.
I welcome the fact that following the Independent Review, the Government ran a public consultation on proposals to enhance transparency and push compliance with the legislation forward. It is also good news that the consultation sought views on proposals to expand the law to cover the public sector. As you may be aware, the legislation requires businesses to publish statements outlining what action they are taking to tackle modern slavery and forced labour in their supply chains in the UK and overseas. You may be pleased to hear that the Government has committed to introducing a package of measures to strengthen and future-proof the legislation.
This ambitious package includes: extending the reporting requirement to public bodies with a budget of £36 million or more; mandating the specific reporting topics that statements must cover; requiring statements to be published on the new Government digital reporting service; setting a single reporting deadline and taking forwards options for penalties for non-compliance in line with the ongoing development of the Single Enforcement Body for employment rights. These measures will require legislative change and therefore I look forward to Parliamentary debate and will work to ensure the package of measures announced is passed in order to protect the most vulnerable people.
Furthermore, for the first time in primary legislation, the Nationality and Borders Bill will set out the circumstances in which confirmed victims will receive temporary leave to remain. Clause 53 sets out the circumstances in which a confirmed victim may qualify for a grant of temporary modern slavery-specific leave. This approach provides victims and decision makers clarity as to entitlement, in line with the UK’s international obligations. Crucially, this includes providing clarity that temporary leave to remain will be provided for any length of time necessary to enable victims to engage with authorities to help to bring their exploiters to justice. Given the provisions already contained within the Bill, I did not think it is necessary to support New Clause 47.
I am absolutely resolute in my determination to ensure this horrendous crime is tackled. It is welcome progress that the Government is identifying more victims of modern slavery and doing more to bring perpetrators to justice than ever before. Continued support of victims and survivors is a clear priority. I will push the Government to ensure action is taken to help these individuals rebuild their lives.
However, a blanket policy of granting discretionary leave risks creating the incentive for some to make false trafficking claims in an attempt fraudulently to obtain leave to remain. This suggested approach would put support for those who truly need help at risk. Having said this, of course, granting leave to remain is appropriate in some cases. However, the individual circumstances of a case should be central to the decision. I do not believe a decision on whether leave is granted should be determined by someone’s nationality.
Unfortunately, a combination of time constraints and commission rules meant that it was not possible to claim all Fund for European Aid to the Most Deprived (FEAD) funding before the deadline. However, I am very grateful for the European Commission's support in our efforts to tackle modern slavery.
I know my colleagues in the Home Office continue to work hard alongside the commission to secure funding for victims of modern slavery and for those being resettled in the UK.