“Slavery?” I hear you cry. “In this day and age?”
Sadly, slavery is still very much with us. And it’s not a problem found only in far away countries. It’s happening right here, right now, in Britain.
The extent of the problem and proposed remedies were set out in the Report of the Modern Slavery Bill Evidence Review, chaired by Frank Field MP and published on 16th December 2013.
The government is now proposing new legislation to tackle the problem. As part of the process of preparing this legislation, a Joint Committee on the Draft Modern Slavery Bill has been established, of which I am a member. The Bill was published last December and the committee’s role is pre-legislative scrutiny, to consider and report on the draft Bill. We will take written and oral evidence and make recommendations in a report to both houses of parliament this April, which will feed into the final bill that will be placed before parliament.
The potential value of this Bill is that it provides the opportunity for legislative consolidation to encapsulate all modern slavery issues, so that the legislative source of prevention and prosecution of offenders and protection of victims can be available to those who need to implement the legislation in a single source.
Although the draft Bill is a welcome step forward, however, it has many shortcomings. I am particularly concerned about the failure to deal adequately with the need to protect child victims of trafficking. It’s not just that 40% of victims of trafficking are children but also that child exploitation has specific characteristics and special needs.
Other shortcomings of the Bill include:
- It merely replicates or brings together existing legislation rather than create a consolidated offence.
- It fails to distinguish adequately between ‘modern day slavery’ and ‘trafficking’, which are related but distinct problems.
- It does not distinguish adequately between victims of trafficking and offenders of immigration laws, leaving the former open to prosecution instead of protection.
- It does not protect victims of trafficking from being prosecuted for crimes they have been forced to commit by their exploiters.
To help improve the draft Bill, I would like to hear your views. I can then feed these into the scrutiny process and help shape the Bill as it appears in its revised format. Given the April deadline, the committee is working to a short timescale, so the sooner you can send your views the better. Parliament’s formal call for evidence expired on 10th February but you can nevertheless feed your ideas to me at [email protected].
* Dee Doocey became a Liberal Democrat peer in December 2010. She was formerly a member of Richmond Borough Council, the London Assembly and the Metropolitan Police Authority.