By MP John Hayes
William Wilberforce – the great Parliamentary leader of the 18th Century movement to abolish slavery – once said “you may choose to look the other way but you can never say again that you did not know”.
Last week the nation was reminded of the importance of Wilberforce’s noble campaign against great evil, as the Modern Slavery Bill – a key part of the Government’s new legislative agenda – was announced in the Queen’s Speech.
Modern slavery is no less appalling than the wickedness Wilberforce fought, destroying lives now as enslavement did then. A global crime – encompassing human trafficking, slavery, forced and compulsory labour and domestic servitude, it has a fainter echo in the exploitation and abuse featured in last week’s Lincolnshire Free Press.
In bringing forward the Modern Slavery Bill – one of the first Acts of its kind anywhere in the world – the Government is boldly taking tough measures to punish slave drivers and protect their victims.
Slavers will face the full force of justice, courts will be allowed to give life sentences to those found guilty, and assets seized from perpetrators will be used to provide reparation to victims.
The Bill will introduce an Anti-Slavery Commissioner to ensure law enforcement is fit to tackle these heinous crimes and, as I was pleased to emphasise in the Parliamentary debate on the Queen’s Speech last week, this will bring the international reach necessary to make the law effective across borders. The Government has already made great progress – by establishing the National Crime Agency, with a remit to track down organised criminals who are behind the slave trade; convictions for human traffickers going up last year. Stronger controls on immigration are also helping to restrict the flow of vulnerable people these gangs all too eagerly exploit. With non-EU migration cut to its lowest level since 1998, there were 82,000 fewer people arriving here from outside the EU last year.
Wilberforce led the way when the 1833 Abolition Act ended slavery throughout the Empire; nearly 200 years later Britain must lead the crusade against this evil trade in humans once again, putting an end to its modern incarnation.