I believe this is an important Bill which would strengthen the Modern Slavery Act 2015.
I am alarmed by figures from the National Crime Agency which show that the number of potential victims of trafficking and modern slavery reported to the authorities increased by more than a third in 2017. These are terrible, brutal crimes against the most vulnerable in our society.
The Modern Slavery (Victim Support) Bill passed its third reading in the House of Lords on 10 May and will now proceed to the Commons. The Bill would improve support for victims of this awful crime and I hope it will receive UK Government support and become law.
However, the Modern Slavery (Victim Support) Bill would extend only to England and Wales. Scotland has separate legislation dealing with modern slavery and human trafficking.
The Scottish Government has announced it is doubling the amount of time that victims of human trafficking are eligible for support from April 2018. The Human Trafficking and Exploitation (Scotland) Act 2015 also introduced a single offence and a maximum penalty of life imprisonment for people who are convicted. However, this Act was only the start in dealing with traffickers, as there is still much work to be done.
Last year, the Scottish Government launched its Trafficking and Exploitation Strategy and whilst I welcome this strategy, I believe we need to be confident that our local authorities and Police Scotland are supported and fully resourced if it is to be effective. This therefore means the Scottish Government must halt cuts to local authority and police budgets.
Indeed, whilst I welcome the work that the Scottish Government and other outside agencies have undertaken to raise awareness of human trafficking, I believe we must continue to ensure that communities across Scotland are aware of traffickers. We must take steps to ensure that there is no hiding place on the margins for those who wish to exploit vulnerable people.
I hope that the UK Government will support the aims of the Modern Slavery (Victim Support) Bill and I can assure you that I will continue to press for action to end modern slavery and to support the victims of these appalling crimes.