Many constituents have contacted me about the Government’s Nationality and Borders Bill.

I share concerns about the impact this Bill will have on those seeking asylum and who are victims of trafficking or modern slavery. It is for this and other reasons that I have voted against the Bill at every opportunity in the House of Commons.

The Bill will require potential victims of trafficking or modern slavery to provide information relevant to their claim within a specified period, change the reasonable grounds threshold, and introduce a new public order threshold, which includes denying protection to potential victims if they have committed a crime or acted in ‘bad faith’.

Organisations that work with trafficking, and modern slavery survivors, have raised concerns about these measures including noting that criminal exploitation is the most reported form of abuse for potential child victims. We know that victims, particularly children, may feel too traumatised to talk about their experience at an early stage. It is concerning therefore that, under the Government’s proposals, evidence given late could damage a person’s credibility.

The Opposition tried to remove all these measures from the Bill during its line-by-line consideration in Public Bill Committee.

However, the Government defended the measures and they were retained in the Bill.

The Government’s reforms risk weakening protections for victims of modern slavery, leaving greater numbers of victims without support and more gangmasters free to commit further crimes. Human trafficking and modern slavery are crimes and those responsible should face harsh penalties, which I accept that this Bill seeks to do through full-term life sentences for those convicted for human trafficking and increased sentences for perpetrators of modern slavery. However, these measures will not be effective if we withdraw support from victims.

When the Bill recently returned to the House of Commons for its final consideration on 7-8 December 2021, I voted for an amendment that would protect child victims of modern slavery. Disappointingly, the Government defeated it. I also supported amendments that would: introduce victim navigators for suspected cases of modern slavery, remove differential treatment, create an offence of human trafficking for sexual exploitation, ensure victims of human trafficking for sexual services are not punished for late provision of information, protect victims of human trafficking for the purposes of forced prostitution and introduce guidance on identifying human trafficking for sexual services. Sadly, the Government expressed its opposition to these measures and they were not voted on.

With the votes of Government MPs, the Bill passed its Third Reading in the House of Commons on 8 December 2021. It will now be considered in the House of Lords, where I hope some of the changes I would like to see can be secured.

Hilary Benn
MP for Leeds Central

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