Clause 58 - Trafficking into the UK for

Sexual Offences Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee am 11:00 am ar 18 Medi 2003.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Amendment made: No. 93, in

clause 58, page 28, line 36, leave out '(A)'.—[Mr. Heppell.]

Photo of Mr Hilton Dawson Mr Hilton Dawson Llafur, Lancaster and Wyre

I beg to move amendment No. 12, in

clause 58, page 29, line 12, at end add—

'(3) A person guilty of an offence against a person aged under 18 under this section is liable on conviction on indictment, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 14 years.'.

Photo of Mr Win Griffiths Mr Win Griffiths Llafur, Pen-y-bont ar Ogwr

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Amendment No. 222, in

clause 58, page 29, line 12, at end add—

'(3) A person guilty of an offence against a person under 18 under this section is liable on conviction on indictment to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 14 years.'.

Amendment No. 13, in

clause 59, page 29, line 27, at end add—

'(3) A person guilty of an offence against a person aged under 18 under this section is liable on conviction on indictment, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 14 years.'.

Amendment No. 14, in

clause 60, page 29, line 42, at end add—

'(3) A person guilty of an offence against a person aged under 18 under this section is liable on conviction on indictment, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 14 years.'.

Photo of Mr Hilton Dawson Mr Hilton Dawson Llafur, Lancaster and Wyre

I am grateful for the Committee's support for these amendments. Above all, I am grateful to the Minister and the Government for the clauses as drafted and the historic commitment to combat the trafficking of people into and out of the United Kingdom for sexual purposes. I firmly believe that there is a long way further to go, but it is outside the scope of the Bill to deal with trafficking for purposes of domestic servitude, which is a huge issue. It is also outside the scope of the Bill, but well within that of the excellent Green Paper on children's services that was published last week, to deal with the fact that we do not have an appropriate response to the needs of children who are trafficked into this country.

The clause is important and deals well with an appalling practice. However, it could be strengthened markedly in relation to children with the addition of the words in amendments Nos. 12, 13 and 14, which

would cover children who are trafficked into this country. I do not seek in any way to minimise the abuse that is heaped on adults who are trafficked into this country, but children require special special consideration. Children who are trafficked into this country could be further protected if the people who engage in this wicked crime were subject to a much longer sentence than the summary jurisdiction that would leave them facing only a six-month sentence. I do not want to go around the houses again on the length of sentences given, but it is important to emphasise the seriousness of the offence by ensuring that people who are convicted of it face a substantial period of imprisonment, during which time they will be unable to carry out further offences.

Photo of Humfrey Malins Humfrey Malins Ceidwadwyr, Woking

I support what the hon. Gentleman has said. He has argued the case very well and will know that our amendment No. 222 is almost identical. He alluded to other forms of trafficking that are outside the scope of the Bill, but trafficking itself is a very nasty offence. May I venture a few thoughts about its gravity? The hon. Member for Walthamstow (Mr. Gerrard) and I are familiar with the world of asylum. We know about the awful offences of trafficking that are carried out by gangs for reward in that connection, and we abhor that offence. We also know about trafficking for the purposes of prostitution and regard that as a very unpleasant offence indeed.

Trafficking for the purposes of prostitution is, perhaps, more serious, in that there is a position of domination over the person being trafficked. We grade the offences in our mind. We regard all forms of trafficking as appalling, but we might regard trafficking for prostitution as a harsher, nastier business than trafficking per se for the purposes of seeking asylum or settlement. I make those points only to illustrate that there are levels of gravity.

Photo of Neil Gerrard Neil Gerrard Llafur, Walthamstow

I understand the point that the hon. Gentleman is making. I believe that he is talking about the effects on the person who is brought into the country, because that surely is the distinction. In many cases of asylum or illegal immigration, it would actually be better to use the term smuggling, because the person who is being brought in knows full well what is happening. In a sense, it is a commercial transaction: the person who is brought into the country pays their money and that is the end of the business. One may not want to make so great a distinction as to the gravity of the offence as far as the trafficker is concerned, but there certainly is a distinction to be made about the person who is brought into the country.

Photo of Humfrey Malins Humfrey Malins Ceidwadwyr, Woking

The hon. Gentleman, with his vast experience, makes a good point. What I am coming to—rather laboriously, perhaps—is that trafficking for purposes of prostitution involves humiliation and degradation for the person being trafficked, but it is much, much worse in our minds if the person being trafficked is a child. To take a robust view—I mean this gently—we are not as aghast that grown-ups are trafficked for the purposes of prostitution as we are that children are trafficked for that purpose. There is a

distinction. Both offences are horrible, but the trafficking of children is absolutely appalling.

That is why it is fair to recognise the very special protection required for children by saying—I think that the hon. Member for Lancaster and Wyre has done us a service—that if a trafficking offence relates to someone under 18, it should only be triable on indictment. I can think of no circumstances at all in which such an offence would merit being tried summarily: that is, with a maximum punishment of a six-month sentence. When one is sentenced to six months in prison by a magistrates court, one does six weeks. I cannot think of a situation in which such a low level of punishment would fit such a grievous offence. I hope that the Minister will take that point on board and come back to us on Report if she thinks that there is a particular need for a particular punishment for offences relating to a child.

Photo of Beverley Hughes Beverley Hughes Minister of State (Citizenship and Immigration), Home Office, Minister of State (Home Office) (Citizenship, Immigration and Counter-Terrorism) 11:15, 18 Medi 2003

I do not think that there is anything between Government and Opposition in the Committee in terms of our attitude to people who perpetrate these offences and in terms of the intention behind the provisions in the Bill, which extend the definition of trafficking to activities within the United Kingdom for the first time. We share the abhorrence and want to put in place legislation that will help to bear down on people who conduct that traffic in children and adults—the latter are largely, but not exclusively, women.

We framed the provision to allow for summary trial because it is often in the nature of trafficking, organised as it is, to involve a long chain of people. Some will be distant from the actual activity, organising it; some will be the key operational people doing the trafficking. Others may, along the line, play a tiny part: they may accommodate a person for a night and give them food and drink, for example.

Hon. Members may say to me, ''Even in such a case, if a child is involved, we should be using the full force of the law and making a statement in the legislation.'' There is a valid argument in that, which I will consider. However, the summary trial provision was included to allow for the fact that there could be some people with a very peripheral involvement for whom it would arguably not be necessary to clog up the Crown court with a full trial and indictment.

Photo of Dominic Grieve Dominic Grieve Ceidwadwyr, Beaconsfield

What the hon. Lady says about clogging up the Crown court on the face of it is true, but equally, with an either-way offence, magistrates courts are clogged up: with, for example, plea before venue or arguments about where the case should go. So that takes more time; if the offence is indictable only, off it goes to the Crown court. Although I accept her point about clogging up the Crown court, other courts are clogged up by the procedural issues of either-way offences. In reality, it is almost inevitable that a case involving a child would be sent to the Crown court in any event.

Photo of Beverley Hughes Beverley Hughes Minister of State (Citizenship and Immigration), Home Office, Minister of State (Home Office) (Citizenship, Immigration and Counter-Terrorism)

Certainly I agree; that is the other side of either-way offences and all the cases would

start in the magistrates court. I take the hon. Gentleman's point. That was our reasoning; there is nothing between us in terms of our intent. I am happy to inquire further into whether we want to stick with that provision or whether there is an argument for accepting the spirit of the amendment. On that basis, I ask my hon. Friend the Member for Lancaster and Wyre to allow us time to do that and to withdraw the amendment.

Photo of Mr Hilton Dawson Mr Hilton Dawson Llafur, Lancaster and Wyre

I am extremely grateful to my hon. Friend. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Photo of Sandra Gidley Sandra Gidley Democratiaid Rhyddfrydol, Romsey

I beg to move amendment No. 182, in

clause 58, page 29, line 12, at end insert—

'( ) a person who has been subject to trafficking into the UK for sexual exploitation shall be granted humanitarian protection.'.

The amendment seeks to clarify the Government's intentions on the treatment of victims of trafficking and how that relates to the successful prosecution of trafficking offences. I could happily argue that any humanitarian protection provided should not be conditional on someone dishing the dirt on the trafficker. I raised that issue on Second Reading, and I was grateful for the Minister's reply.

I have been advised that there is a pilot scheme based in London, which caters for approximately 25 women at a time on a rolling basis. Although that is welcome, in the face of the scale of the problem it is a drop in the ocean. If we were writing a school report, we would say, ''Could do better''.

Earlier this year, I visited Italy and I was struck by the variety of humanitarian projects based around the country. They have sprung up to respond to needs. Some are local authority-based, several are organised by non-governmental organisations and a certain amount have central Government funding. There was an argument going on over there because there was a strong feeling that provision of help, aid and shelter could not be conditional on compliance.

I was also struck by the ability there to differentiate trafficking from all the other immigration and asylum issues, which are top of the political agenda in much the same way as they are here. Trafficking is regarded as separate and the public seem to understand its definition. Perhaps that could be worked on here. It is wrong to return women to their country of origin without providing them a means of escape from the circles that they were in, or from the people whose influence they were under and who suggested the trafficking. Very often, the women are victims because they feel that they have no other way. Often, we do not help the situation one little bit.

If we are talking about situations where help and protection is conditional on helping the police, a period of four weeks does not seem to be long enough. Any woman or child who fears traffickers might need longer before they feel comfortable and secure enough to be able to help the police in any inquiry. The amendment's aim is to find out more about the Government's intention. How will the pilot be evaluated? I would be happy if that information were

given to me in a letter. Perhaps we could consider greater provision in future. In the global scale of things, that would play a big part in reducing the problems that we face.

Photo of Neil Gerrard Neil Gerrard Llafur, Walthamstow

I welcome this part of the Bill. I am glad that the Government have taken up the issue of trafficking. We signed the convention in 2000 that said that we would do something about trafficking, and I am pleased that it appears in the Bill. In some ways, I would have preferred it to be in a criminal justice Bill, as that would have allowed us to deal with trafficking for labour. There is no doubt that that happens to a significant extent, and I hope that we will return to it in future legislation. I understand why a Bill dealing with sexual offences cannot cover it, but I hope we do not forget that aspect of trafficking.

Unquestionably, trafficking is becoming highly organised. The amendments raise the issue of how we deal with those organisations. A key part of that is that the people who have been trafficked should be treated as victims rather than criminals.

As I said on Second Reading, there is a surprising lack of hard evidence about the scale of trafficking, and who is involved in it.

It being twenty-five minutes past Eleven o'clock, The Chairman adjourned the Committee without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.

Adjourned till this day at half-past Two o'clock.