Clause 11 - Forfeiture of land vehicle, ship or aircraft

Part of Modern Slavery Bill – in a Public Bill Committee am 10:30 am ar 9 Medi 2014.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Karen Bradley Karen Bradley The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department 10:30, 9 Medi 2014

I thought nothing less.

The amendment raises important issues about the balance of property rights and property owners’ responsibilities not to allow their assets to be used in human trafficking. It relates to circumstances where the trafficking offender themselves did not own a ship or aircraft or was not the director, secretary or manager of a company that did, but where the actual owner of the ship or aircraft—or the manager, director or company secretary of a company that owned the ship or aircraft—knew or ought to have known of the intention to use the ship or aircraft in the commission of a trafficking offence. The provision is effectively a safeguard for dealing with larger, and so more valuable, ships or aircraft, as smaller ships or aircraft used in trafficking can be forfeited regardless of the knowledge of the owner.

I am grateful for the opportunity to set out why I believe it is right for individuals who ought to have known that their ship or aircraft was being used in human trafficking to be at risk of forfeiting that ship or aircraft. First, the focus of the Bill is to bring modern slavery out into the open and to encourage individuals to act to tackle that horrific abuse. The amendment suggests that, even when faced with evidence that any reasonable person would recognise as signs of human trafficking, an individual remains free from any responsibility to take any action to stop exploitation being carried on through his or her assets. It seems reasonable that an owner of a ship or aircraft who is faced with obvious signs of human trafficking should take steps to stop their own asset being used to carry out such a crime—for example, by reporting their suspicion to the authorities. If the owner opts to turn a blind eye, it seems reasonable that he or she puts himself or herself at risk of seeing that ship or aircraft detained and ultimately forfeited.

Secondly, the test set out in subsection (5)—

“knew or ought to have known”— is a widely used test in legislation, in particular in the field of criminal law. It appears in the legislation on sexual offences, and the test of “knows or ought to know” also appears in clauses 1 and 2 of the Bill. Without the second arm of the test—“ought to have known”—defendants can argue that they did not know what was taking place even in scenarios where it is unfeasible that they could have been unaware that their property was being used to commit a human trafficking offence. That would make it extremely difficult for the power to be used in practice, and we need to ensure that the Bill delivers meaningful and effective powers for law enforcement to improve its response to modern slavery.

Finally, the forfeiture power is based on an existing power in relation to trafficking for sexual exploitation, in section 60A of the Sexual Offences Act 2003. I am not aware of any practical problems with the unjust use of that power. The test is an objective one: if a reasonable person ought to have known, the test is met. The ordinary meaning in English is often used in law as well.

Given that clarification, I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will feel able to withdraw his amendment.