A modern-day slavery Bill announced in the Queen’s Speech today has been welcomed by the Police and Crime Commissioner for West Yorkshire.
The bill aims to strengthen powers to punish perpetrators while offering more protection to those held in servitude and forced to work.
Measures include increasing the maximum penalty available for slave drivers and human traffickers from 14 years to life, and giving courts new powers to order perpetrators to pay financial “redress” to victims.
Mark Burns-Williamson, who has been spearheading the creation of a national working group to tackle human trafficking head on, said: “I have written to the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners (APCC) about my intention to organise and lead a national working group which would enable us to share best practice across the country and implement it locally.”
Mr Burns-Williamson held a county-wide conference in Leeds earlier this year designed to develop an understanding and raise awareness of the signs of slavery and trafficking.
He said: “Human trafficking is an issue which exists within West Yorkshire and that fact cannot be ignored. By working together, we can better support victims and target the perpetrators of this horrendous crime and practice.”
The bill also aims to enhance protection and support for victims, including the creation of a statutory defence against crimes they were forced to commit while enslaved other than serious sexual and violent offences.
Public bodies including the police, councils and immigration personnel will be obliged to notify the National Crime Agency about potential victims of slavery under the law and an anti-slavery commissioner will be appointed.
Last month, two Hungarian men were jailed after luring some of their countrymen to the UK and forcing them into slavery.
Janos Orsos and Ferenc Illes masterminded a sophisticated scam that saw victims work 60 hours a week in Bradford, Dewsbury and Wakefield for as little as £20.
Allan Doherty, a former chief superintendent in Bradford and a director at anti-human trafficking charity Hope For Justice, described the case as “sickening” and said human trafficking was a “significant and unacceptable problem in Britain in the 21st century”.
Last October, a court heard how four human traffickers from Bradford sold a 23-year-old woman as a slave.