Report (1st Day)

Part of Modern Slavery Bill – in the House of Lords at 4:00 pm on 23rd February 2015.

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Photo of Lord Patel Lord Patel Crossbench 4:00 pm, 23rd February 2015

My Lords, I rise to support the amendment moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Doocey. I have added my name to it. I will be brief as both the noble Baroness, Lady Doocey, and the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, who has just spoken, have made the case clearly and forcefully that the current law must be inadequate as there have been no convictions. I have heard the argument before that there is no issue with the law, but that it is the practice which is the problem, and that is why there have been no convictions. However, as the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, has just said, it cannot be that it is just the practice, it must be that the law is deficient in some way, otherwise there would have been convictions against those who commit this horrible crime against children.

The treatment of cases involving children must reflect that in international law children are a special case because of their particular vulnerability and so cannot consent to exploitation. As it stands, Clause 1 of the Bill does not state clearly enough that there is no need to show that force, threats or deception were present in cases of child exploitation. Subsection (3) of the proposed new clause set out in Amendment 5 makes the point that there is a need to include that in the Bill.

The noble Baroness, Lady Doocey, mentioned the letter written by the Minister to the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, on 16 February. It stated:

“Where a person deliberately targets a vulnerable person, such as a child, there is no requirement for any force, threats or deception to be used to induce the child into being exploited”.

This statement perfectly encapsulates what the Bill itself should state so that there are no grey areas and those prosecuting cases are 100% clear what the thresholds of proof are in children’s cases. Government Amendment 4 is welcome, but in my view it does not go far enough towards including that. The Government must formally commit to their intention that force, threats or deception are not required in children’s cases. A failure to improve the current Clause 1 offence leaves the Bill open to interpretation on this key issue, which would be a major disservice to child victims. They must be able to trust in our laws to protect them and ensure their access to justice for the heinous crimes committed against them. I hope that the Minister will be able to comment on that, if not in the Bill, then to state it clearly for the record that that is the Government’s intention.