Under Government proposals announced on World Anti-Slavery Day, offenders who already have a conviction for a very serious sexual or violent offence will face an automatic life sentence. The current maximum custodial sentence for trafficking offences is 14 years.
The measure will be inluded in the Modern Slavery Bill, which was unveiled by Home Secretary Theresa May at the Conservative Party conference last month.
A total of 1,186 potential victims of human trafficking were referred to the National Referral Mechanism (NRM) in 2012, a 25 per cent increase on the previous year, of which 786 were women and 400 were men, 815 were adults and 371 were children.
The greatest number of potential victims referred came from Nigeria, Vietnam, Albania, Romania and China.
James Brokenshire, Crime and Security Minister, said: “Modern slavery is an appalling evil in our midst.”
He added: “The Modern Slavery Bill will also send the strongest possible message to criminals that if you are involved in this disgusting trade in human beings, you will be arrested, you will be prosecuted and you will be locked up.
“All this is a good start, but we need everyone to play a part – government, law enforcement, business, charities – if we are to consign slavery to the history books where it belongs.”
The Bill, which will be published this year in draft form for pre-legislative scrutiny, will pull together into a single act the offences used to prosecute slave drivers.
It will also introduce Trafficking Prevention Orders to restrict the activity and movement of convicted traffickers and stop them from committing further offences
A new Anti-Slavery Commissioner will be appointed to hold law enforcement and other organisations to account.
Mrs May has asked Labour MP Frank Field to lead a public debate in partnership with the independent think-tank Centre for Social Justice about practical and effective ways of ending slavery in the UK.
Experts from the UK and the international community - including senior police officers, lawyers and charities - will be invited to outline what they think should be included in the legislation.
The evidence sessions will be hosted by the CSJ over the next two months, while the Human Trafficking Foundation will bring in key witnesses from abroad to help draw on best practice.
Matthew Reed, chief executive of The Children’s Society, said: “The announcement of harsh penalties for traffickers is an important step forward, coming as it does on Anti-Slavery Day.
“But for the fight against this brutal crime to be effective, the victims of trafficking must get the support they need to be kept safe.
“Too many trafficked children, who are subjected to a range of horrific abuse, such as domestic servitude and sexual exploitation, are not getting the protection they need to keep them safe from further exploitation and abuse, including being re-trafficked.
“To be truly effective in tackling trafficking, the Government must make sure all unaccompanied children, including potential victims of trafficking, are treated first and foremost as children in need and are given a guardian to make sure their rights are protected.
“These children deserve to be kept safe so they can recover from the trauma they have suffered and rebuild their lives.”