Clause 6 - Sentencing

Modern Slavery Bill – in a Public Bill Committee am 9:25 am ar 9 Medi 2014.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Karen Bradley Karen Bradley The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

I hope the Committee will forgive if I start by paying tribute to our former colleague, the hon. Member for Heywood and Middleton. I have just been talking to the hon. Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk, who was a close friend of his, and it is appropriate that the Committee should pay tribute to him for his hard work in this place and in his constituency. He will be sadly missed. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear.”]

Clause 6 complements and strengthens the penalties set out in clause 5 by ensuring that, where an individual continues to pose a risk of offending or reoffending, that can be reflected in the sentence they receive. The offences of slavery, servitude, forced or compulsory labour and human trafficking are some of the most serious and violent on our statute book, so it is vital that offenders who continue to pose a significant risk to others in relation to these offences are dealt with in the strongest possible manner to protect the public.

The clause amends the Criminal Justice Act 2003 to add modern slavery offences to schedule 15 and part 1 of schedule 15B, relating to violent and sexual offences. The offences listed in those schedules attract a strengthened sentencing regime to reflect their seriousness. The relevant provisions of the 2003 Act ensure that, where a person is convicted of a serious or sexual violent offence, including modern slavery offences, listed in part 1 of schedule 15B, and they have previously been convicted of an offence listed in schedule 15B and received a sentence of life imprisonment or more than 10 years, the court must impose a sentence of imprisonment for life. However, the court is not obliged to impose a life sentence where it believes particular circumstances relating to the offence, the previous offence or the offender would make it unjust to do so.

The clause ensures that an extended sentence can be given to any person convicted of a clause 1 or clause 2 offence where the court considers that certain conditions are met. The court must be satisfied that the offender poses a serious risk of causing serious harm to others through reoffending, and it must consider that the current offence is serious enough to merit a determinate sentence of at least four years or that, at the time the present offence was committed, the offender must previously  have been convicted of an offence listed in schedule 15B. Where the conditions are met, the court may impose an extended period for which the offender is to be subject to a licence. In the case of violent offences, that is five years; for sexual offences, it is eight years. In addition, the clause reflects the release arrangements for persons sentenced to an extended sentence under section 226A of the 2003 Act.

Offenders who have committed an offence listed in parts 1 to 3 of schedule 15B, or who have received a custodial term of 10 years or more, will be considered for release on licence by the parole board only once they have served at least two thirds of their sentence, and they will be released automatically at the end of the appropriate custodial term—the term imposed by the court as the custodial element of the extended sentence—if the parole board has not already directed release.

The clause means that those who continue to pose a significant risk to others through slavery and trafficking can be dealt with severely to prevent further offending and reoffending. I therefore hope that, when the Chair puts the Question, Committee members will feel able to support the clause’s inclusion in the Bill.

Photo of Diana R. Johnson Diana R. Johnson Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

May I start by thanking the Minister for her kind comments on the death of our former hon. Friend the Member for Heywood and Middleton? He was a member of the Panel of Chairs for a number of years and an active member of the Council of Europe, and our thoughts are very much with his family and friends at this sad time.

I have a few questions to put to the Minister about the clause. The first is about provisions for children to be tried in the youth court for offences under the Bill. The issue was raised in Lord Judge’s evidence to the Joint Committee. I raise that because, earlier in our sittings, we deliberated on the Rooke case, in which a whole family seemed to be involved in the abuse of Craig Kinsella. What steps should be taken against young people—children, as we define them as anyone under the age of 18—who are in a household where offences under the Bill might be committed and are, in some way, aiding or abetting those offences? Would it be appropriate for those young people to be brought to court and would those matters be heard in the youth court?

I want to ask the Minister about aggravating factors, which we have had quite a debate about in previous sittings. Will she explain whether guidance will be issued to the courts about the aggravating factors that we have looked at—for example, in cases involving children, sexual exploitation, people who are particularly vulnerable because of mental health problems, and cases of kidnapping and false imprisonment? What guidance would be made available to the courts on those factors?

When the Director of Public Prosecutions gave evidence to the Committee, she suggested that it would not always be appropriate to use the Bill to prosecute and that other offences could be used. I think she was saying that it is likely that other Acts of Parliament could be used to prosecute particularly those who force young people—children—to beg on the streets. If so, could the aggravating factors that we want to see used in respect of the Modern Slavery Bill be regarded as such when  prosecuting for other offences not covered in the Bill? One example, which I have given, is that of a young person being forced to beg on the streets and the CPS deciding, for whatever reason, that a prosecution can be made not under this Bill but under other legislation. Would it be appropriate to bring in those aggravating factors for lesser or alternative offences? The whole Committee will recognise that we want to ensure that the maximum sentence is given whenever possible and that, when sentencing, a judge can consider and draw upon aggravating factors.

Photo of Karen Bradley Karen Bradley The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

The shadow Minister asked about aggravating factors, but it should be put on the record that significant guidance will accompany the Bill to ensure that law enforcement and prosecutors understand the intention and recognise what Parliament wishes them to consider when taking cases through. Certainly, there will be guidance on aggravating factors and on all elements of offences and sentencing.

Photo of Fiona Mactaggart Fiona Mactaggart Llafur, Slough

I do, particularly on that point. In the previous sitting, the Minister clearly said that if children are involved in forced begging or similar, the Bill will catch them although, as we know, the clauses relating to that are unchanged from the present law. Chief Inspector Carswell, whom I referred to in the previous sitting, was shocked and greatly frustrated that in cases involving child criminality—children forced à la Oliver Twist to commit criminal acts in the street by their traffickers—the CPS had refused to prosecute. Will the Minister’s guidance ensure that the CPS prosecutes the traffickers, rather than the trafficking victims, which is what is happening at present?

Photo of Karen Bradley Karen Bradley The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

I have written in detail on the points about forced begging and pickpocketing that were discussed last week and all members of the Committee should have a copy of that letter. The clause is about catching the traffickers and the slavemasters, not criminalising the victims. There are clauses later in the Bill about victim protection, the statutory defence and other matters that ensure that it is clear to prosecutors and others that innocent victims who are forced into forms of criminality should have the protection they deserve under our criminal justice system. They also ensure that victims are not criminalised and that they can come forward and give the evidence we need to catch the bad guys behind it.

On the point about children criminally involved in slavery and trafficking, their cases will commence in the youth court, but will almost invariably be sent to the Crown court to be tried. Special measures will be available to the Crown court to protect child defendants.

Photo of Andrew Stunell Andrew Stunell Democratiaid Rhyddfrydol, Hazel Grove

My hon. Friend has mentioned that the guidance will make it clear that the traffickers of begging children will be prosecutable under the Bill, which I am sure the whole Committee welcomes. Can she clarify whether doing that when the child is not being prosecuted will make  the prosecution deliverable, or does it depend on the child also being prosecuted before the aiding and abetting part can come into play?

Photo of Karen Bradley Karen Bradley The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

If I may, I will complete my point about the other offences under which the cases may be tried and come back to that question.

Clearly, under criminal justice, the CPS is looking to get a conviction and will use whichever offence they feel is most appropriate in terms of the likelihood of getting the conviction and of the sentence that can be given with that offence. However, the court will consider all relevant circumstances when sentencing, including any of what the shadow Minister and others might refer to as lesser related offences.

To return to the intervention made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Hazel Grove, the answer is yes: the point of the Bill is to target the traffickers, and there is no requirement to prosecute the victim for us to prosecute the trafficker.

Photo of Michael Connarty Michael Connarty Llafur, Linlithgow and East Falkirk

May I just say, as invited by the Minister, a few words about Jim Dobbin for the record? Back in the 1980s when I was leader of Stirling council, we heard of a council called Rochdale that was doing wonderful work in devolving power to its local communities so we decided to go and talk to the people there. When I arrived, I discovered that the leader of the council was a Scotsman from Fife called Jim Dobbin. He had settled as a scientist in one of the hospitals there and had become involved in local politics. We were friends ever since. We—my wife, Margaret, and I, and Jim and his wife Patricia—would often take visits together so that we could spend some time outwith the official agenda to spend time together. They were a lovely couple with four lovely children, including Mary who worked for Jim for a time at the hospital and revealed that she, in an earlier life, had been a bass guitarist in a punk band. I saw pictures of her in which that respectable young woman was totally transformed. They are a lovely family, very close, and Jim was dedicated to them and very proud of them. Several of them are musicians and others are scientists.

Jim and Pat had grandchildren with a rare chromosome disorder that only occurs if both parents have the same chromosome alteration. That meant that the two grandchildren had a kind of sleeping sickness whereby their eyes suddenly shut, but in fact their body is shutting down on them. They have been under medication and one has had very serious operations to insert a metal rod into his spine to keep him upright, but they are very bright children and one has just been accepted to university. Jim was very proud of the family through all their troubles.

Jim was very stressed when I spoke to him on Friday because he had had what he said was the worst month of his life. He was going through the reselection process and had discovered some nasty things on the internet, which caused him great concern. He was selected unanimously to return to Parliament, which showed the confidence the people in his community had in him. When we heard the news of his death, we sent messages to Patricia, who will be absolutely devastated—she was in Poland with him when he died.

Jim was a great Member of Parliament and a dedicated Christian; the Pope made him a knight of St Gregory for his work. He sat on the Council of Europe with me and was the UK’s representative on the One in Five campaign against the sexual exploitation of children in Council of Europe countries, a crime that sadly keeps occurring in the UK and is rife throughout not just European but other countries. We have lost a great colleague and a wonderful man, and I am sure members of the Committee will send their condolences and warm best wishes to Patricia and the children.

Photo of Fiona Bruce Fiona Bruce Ceidwadwyr, Congleton

May I join the hon. Gentleman by extending the condolences of the all-party pro-life group to Jim’s family? Jim was a dedicated fighter for the lives of the unborn and the sanctity of all life. When I entered Parliament, he was chairman of the pro-life group, and latterly he and I have been joint co-chairmen. The group has lost a great fighter for life, and I pay tribute to all he did over many years for that cause. Over the weekend, he was described as a principled man, and he certainly exhibited his principles on that issue.

Photo of Michael Connarty Michael Connarty Llafur, Linlithgow and East Falkirk

I thank the hon. Lady for her comments. Jim was dedicated to that cause and many others. He led the campaign against the massive addiction of many people in the UK to prescription drugs. As a scientist, he had become aware of that problem and was trying to prevent people from being given prescriptions without having to visit a doctor, a practice that was becoming more prevalent, resulting in many people becoming addicted to prescription drugs.

Photo of Sarah Teather Sarah Teather Democratiaid Rhyddfrydol, Brent Central

I was also extremely fond of Jim, a fellow Catholic. I always found him kind and wise. He was extremely helpful to me when I had a constituent who was addicted to prescription drugs. He supported her attempt to get attention for what had happened to her. He did extremely good work. He is an example of an MP who stuck to a couple of causes and kept going doggedly, which shows how much difference somebody can make if they focus on one thing.

Photo of Mark Pritchard Mark Pritchard Ceidwadwyr, The Wrekin

Before I call Michael Connarty, I want to say that I am being lenient, first, because Jim Dobbin was a member of the Speaker’s Panel; secondly, because much of his campaigning was about the sexual exploitation of children, which is a key part of the Bill; and, thirdly, because it reminds us that people are remembered not for their titles—whether ministerial, shadow ministerial, non-ministerial or non-shadow ministerial—but for their principles and personal conviction, which Jim Dobbin had.

Photo of Michael Connarty Michael Connarty Llafur, Linlithgow and East Falkirk

Thank you, Mr Pritchard. I am grateful to you for saying that. Those sentiments are shared across the House.

Jim Dobbin was also a tolerant individual. Although I am a humanist, an atheist and a lapsed Catholic, he was one of my best friends. He probably offered a prayer or two to his God for my salvation; maybe it will be useful at some time in my life. He was a lovely man,  and a greatly happy person—he received tremendous joy from his family and his dedication to the causes that have been referred to.

I turn to the topic before us. The Minister’s assurances do not convince me; the evidence convinces me otherwise. Christine Beddoe, who for 10 years was the director of ECPAT UK, an organisation dedicated to challenging the exploitation, trafficking and enslavement of children, said in written evidence:

“The Home Office is becoming numb to these figures and Ministers must be alive to the practice of ‘normalising’ child abuse statistics when officials are briefing them on modern slavery. A referral to the NRM does not mean the child is safe from the control of their trafficker and even just one child abused is one too many.”

We would all agree with that. She reminds us that in oral evidence the Director of Public Prosecutions told this Committee:

“I do not think that cases are slipping through because the legislation is not there to prosecute; I think cases may not be brought before the courts because we have not got the evidence and we have not got the complaints in the first instance.”––[Official Report, Modern Slavery Public Bill Committee, 21 July 2014; c. 9, Q17.]

Christine Beddoe informed me that Chief Inspector Colin Carswell, whose evidence we referred to earlier, had indicated that two of his more recent cases had been thrown out of court because coercion could not be proved. That is one of the great problems. It would be impossible to sentence people under clause 6 if the charges cannot be brought to court and the conviction cannot be made. Sentencing becomes irrelevant. She also says in her written evidence:

“The so-called CPS lack of evidence is not a lack of evidence of trafficking or exploitation, it is a lack of evidence of threat, beatings and bruises that can be shown to the jury.”

That is exactly why the two most recent cases brought for child exploitation failed. It could not be proved, the evidence wanted by the court could not be shown.

Christine Beddoe reports that at a recent meeting with a senior police officer investigating organised criminal networks that traffic children, he said:

“Even though the law says there doesn't have to be coercion because a child cannot consent to their own exploitation they [CPS] are not willing to prosecute without it. We had evidence of movement and evidence of exploitation. CPS threw the case out and there were no other criminal charges we could use so the criminals went free.”

That is the reality of the collection of crimes that people are prosecuted for at the moment. The present Bill does not add to those crimes. It uses exactly the same laws as before and, therefore, they will fall.

Christine Beddoe refers to how

“This insidious trend of creating an image in the eyes of the law of ‘the perfect victim’ has far-reaching ramifications.”

If we are looking for key elements, which obviously we cannot present at different times, without an offence of child exploitation, that will always be the problem. She adds that the decision not to prosecute and the evidential threshold is the problem. If we do not change the law—the specific crimes—all the assurances given by the Minister are pointless. We will have no more prosecutions.

To give evidence of the numbers, in the five years to the end of March 2014, 1,620 children were referred to the National Referral Mechanism. How many more were not referred? Anthony Steen has often said, through his work with the Human Trafficking Foundation, that this is the tip of an iceberg. This is one fifth or one tenth of the actual numbers of children who are being abused and exploited at the moment.

The evidence from Christine Beddoe and the chief inspector in the Met responsible for pursuing this crime is that they cannot get to court or secure prosecution because of the evidential problem. That is because we do not have a specific crime of exploitation of children.

Photo of Karen Bradley Karen Bradley The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department 9:45, 9 Medi 2014

I feel I should respond to those points. I have also read Christine Beddoe’s evidence and take the point she makes. I want to say on the record that I find the idea that anybody could be numb to the child abuse statistics slightly insulting. I could not possibly be numb. I am a mother; I hear the stories of the victims. It would be impossible to be unmoved by the stories that are heard. The reason I want the Bill to become an Act is so that we can help as many victims as possible. We will come to many of the points Ms Beddoe made, because so much of what she says concerns what we will be discussing later: the need for a commissioner and ensuring that the practice of professionals on the ground lives up to what we in Parliament expect.

I do not want to re-run our discussions about offences from last week, but we need to put this issue in the context of the overall picture. The commissioner is a vital part of the jigsaw that will ensure that all those who come into contact with victims understand what Parliament wants them to deliver: protection for the victims and to gather the information needed to bring a prosecution that a jury will convict on.

Photo of Michael Connarty Michael Connarty Llafur, Linlithgow and East Falkirk

The point that has been made is that unless the Government put in the necessary crimes against children to try people under, no matter how much we are moved, we will be no further forward. I have one final quotation from Christine Beddoe:

“It is sobering to note that there have been no cases prosecuted under section 71—Slavery, Servitude and Forced or Compulsory Labour—of the Coroners and Justice Act 2009, where the victim was a child.”

There have been no prosecutions, yet that is all we are offering by way of protection for children in the Bill.

Photo of Karen Bradley Karen Bradley The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

As I said, I do not want to re-run the discussions we had last week about the offences. We spent considerable time on that and I am reflecting carefully on the point about consent made during the debate on clause 1, as well as ensuring that the guidance reflects the comments and intent of the Committee.

On children going through the NRM, we agree that that needs review, which is why such a review has been ongoing since April. It is vital that we ensure that the NRM is fit for purpose, because we owe that to victims. It has many deficiencies, but I am confident that the results of the detailed review will help to ensure that we can assist victims and provide them with the support they need.

Photo of Diana R. Johnson Diana R. Johnson Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

I know that the NRM review is ongoing and I understood that an interim report would be made available to the Committee for its deliberations. Is that correct and, if so, when are we likely to receive it?

Photo of Karen Bradley Karen Bradley The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

We will discuss the NRM review later. We are not working to a deadline just to produce something, because we want to get it right, but we intend to publish the document before the Committee reports the Bill. I hope that gives the shadow Minister some reassurance.

Finally, the point Ms Beddoe made about the DPP’s comments about evidence still stands. This package of measures is about ensuring that we have the evidence, because ultimately we are looking for prosecutions to be brought that convince juries of lay people that the person being brought to court is guilty of the most hideous and heinous crimes. We must ensure that evidence and information is gathered appropriately, in a way that protects the victim within court, and we must also look at policy issues in areas such as evidence gathering, so that we get successful prosecutions, because we all agree that, to date, there have not been enough of them.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 6 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.