Modern Slavery

Attorney General – in the House of Commons on 18th March 2021.

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Photo of Tan Dhesi Tan Dhesi Shadow Minister (Transport)

What steps he is taking to increase the number of prosecutions relating to modern slavery.

Photo of Bill Esterson Bill Esterson Shadow Minister (International Trade)

What steps he is taking to help increase the number of prosecutions for modern slavery.

Photo of Michael Ellis Michael Ellis The Attorney-General

The Crown Prosecution Service continues to work with police and law enforcement agencies to prosecute modern slavery cases. Early engagement among prosecutors and investigators is central to a successful prosecution. When requested, the CPS will provide early investigative advice in such challenging cases to enable robust cases to be built. I should point out that the CPS now charges more than 75% of cases referred to it by the police.

Photo of Tan Dhesi Tan Dhesi Shadow Minister (Transport)

Shockingly, more than 19,000 human trafficking and slavery crimes have been left unsolved since the passing of the Modern Slavery Act 2015, with suspects having faced action in fewer than one in 20 cases. Even though the volume of offences has increased every single year since 2015, under this Conservative Government the prosecution levels for modern slavery charges have fallen abysmally. Will the Attorney General tell us how he intends to reverse this worrying trend, which has happened under this Government’s watch?

Photo of Michael Ellis Michael Ellis The Attorney-General

Actually, it was this Conservative Government—under the former Prime Minister, my right hon. Friend Mrs May—who passed the Modern Slavery Act. The hon. Gentleman will know that the Government have rightly focused enormous efforts on tackling this problem. The Crown Prosecution Service, for which I have superintendence responsibilities, prosecutes all cases that meet its appropriate guidelines, once the police have referred them to the CPS. All CPS areas have an appointed a modern slavery lead, who is dedicated to this matter and attends regular meetings with their local police force lead to try to work through the issue, secure safeguarding board involvement and review performance data. In other words, there is cross-work among the police, the Crown Prosecution Service and others to secure as many prosecutions and charges for this odious offence as possible.

Photo of Bill Esterson Bill Esterson Shadow Minister (International Trade)

The Government have been buying personal protective equipment from Brightway Holding, a company that is being investigated by the Malaysian Government for engaging in modern slavery. Workers are forced to live in squalid conditions and have to work 12 hours a day for up to 29 days without a rest. I heard what the Attorney General said about his commitment to enforcing the Modern Slavery Act in respect of supply chains in the private sector; will he now confirm that the Government will set an example and eradicate modern slavery, including the appalling example that I just described, from their own procurement practices?

Photo of Michael Ellis Michael Ellis The Attorney-General

I do not recognise the point that the hon. Gentleman makes. What he ought to do, if I may respectfully suggest it, is to look at what this Government have done. It is on the record that the Government are achieving those issues that we have been discussing, namely: an increase in available criminal offences; an increase in the means by which to prosecute; and more resources to the police and the Crown Prosecution Service in order to achieve the prosecutions. The Government are highly focused on that. If he wishes to write to me about the contract, we will refer it to the appropriate place.