I beg to move
I am glad to rise today, although much earlier than I — or, I suspect, the rest of the House — anticipated. That is the way things go sometimes. I open the debate by noting that, as Members will appreciate, the passage of this Bill has been a long journey for me. It is nearly three years since I decided to take it forward. It will be no surprise to anyone when I say that I am glad that the process is reaching a successful conclusion today. In my opening remarks I want to explain what underpins my desire to bring this Bill forward, before outlining my heartfelt thanks to the many individuals who played a significant role in seeing the Bill come this far.
Members may be aware that I am a practising Christian, like many others around the House today, and I have always strongly believed that every person is made in the image of God and therefore has an intrinsic dignity that must be respected. Human trafficking is a horrific abuse of a person made in the image of God. The process of bringing this legislation to the Assembly has made it abundantly clear to me that every Member of this House, regardless of their faith or lack of it, agrees that human trafficking is a heinous crime which needs to be tackled in this Province, even if there is some disagreement on how best to achieve that goal.
For me, taking action was very much motivated by my Christian faith and principles. I am not ashamed to say so. Others seeking to tackle this crime derive their motivation from another source. When I heard that this crime was taking place in Northern Ireland, I wanted to see what I could do to bolster our response as a country. As a Member of the Assembly, I was in a position to make a difference, so I looked into the subject and sought to see whether we could improve our response.
I brought this Bill forward because I believed that we in Northern Ireland could have a better legislative framework to tackle human trafficking and exploitation. From the start of the process, I had three main aims for the Bill. First, I wanted to improve support services for victims of trafficking and exploitation to ensure that those who have suffered from these crimes are appropriately supported and cared for. Secondly, I wanted to reduce demand for human trafficking and exploitation in Northern Ireland through a variety of measures. Thirdly, I wanted to ensure that perpetrators of these heinous crimes are effectively punished.
The Bill that we will vote on later today looks different in some respects from the Bill that I first introduced to the Assembly. The positive changes that have been made throughout the legislative process in the Assembly ensure that the Bill meets the aims that I set for it from the outset. I am also pleased that the Assembly has been able to agree on legislation that goes much further than the Modern Slavery Bill at Westminster. It is rare for us in the Assembly to lead the way in the United Kingdom in policy, but we clearly are doing so through this Bill, and parliamentarians at Westminster recognise that.
At this juncture, I urge Westminster parliamentarians to consider introducing the changes that we are making through this Bill during the passage of the Modern Slavery Bill. That is especially the case with regard to the introduction of guardians for trafficked and separated children and the statutory guarantee of support for victims of human trafficking. If the Assembly passes this legislation today, as I very much hope it will, victims of human trafficking will be better provided for in Northern Ireland than they are in other parts of the United Kingdom. The British Government would do well to reflect on that as the Modern Slavery Bill continues its passage through Westminster.
I urge Westminster to follow us in criminalising the purchase of sexual services. We, of course, have followed others in doing so, including Sweden, Norway, Iceland and now Canada. I will not dwell much today on the debate on clause 15. A lot of time has been given to it throughout the process, and it clearly has been the most divisive aspect of my Bill. However, I made that proposal because I believe, on the basis of the evidence that we have seen in other jurisdictions, that it is the most effective way of tackling human trafficking for the purposes of sexual exploitation and the exploitation of individuals involved in prostitution. I do not believe that this approach will solve everything, nor have I ever suggested that it would. In reality, as with many complex social issues, there is no perfect way of tackling the issues involved, but the evidence clearly suggests that the approach modelled by Sweden is the best available. It recognises the abuses involved in the prostitution industry and seeks to reduce the core driver for prostitution — the demand for paid sex. I can understand why certain Members opposed that approach. Some of the arguments made had some merit, but, on balance, I and the vast majority of Members of the House felt that it was the right way for Northern Ireland. It is an irony that what is allegedly the most controversial part of my Bill received the largest majority in voting: of those who voted, nearly 90% voted for it. That speaks for itself.
Before I close today, I want to put on record my thanks to a number of individuals for the work that they put in on the Bill. First, I again convey my thanks to the Minister of Justice and his civil servants for how he has worked with me throughout the passage of the Bill. I think that it is safe to say that the Minister and his team were sceptical when I first announced that I wanted to introduce the legislation. I can, of course, understand why that might have been the case. After all, I was a member of another political party and was looking to introduce legislation that affected the Minister's Department. However, I am very grateful that the Minister, over time, came to the view that he could support many aspects of my Bill, and he and his civil servants have worked constructively with me on its contents even though he disagreed with aspects of what I was proposing. It is to his credit that he was willing to put aside party difference to work with me on something as important as this subject. I can sincerely say that the Bill before the House today has been significantly improved as a consequence of the Department positively engaging with me on its contents. I also want to give special mention to one particular civil servant in the Department of Justice: Julie Wilson. She will no doubt be pleased to see the back of me after the Bill completes its passage through the Assembly. She had to deal with the complexities of working on the Bill when there was no real blueprint for how to go about it. She conducted herself with constant professionalism throughout and was always helpful to me as I sought to engage with the Department. It is very clear to me that she is a real credit to the Northern Ireland Civil Service. The Minister, as, I am sure, he will agree, is very fortunate to have her in his Department.
Secondly, I thank the current Health Minister and his predecessor for their positive engagement with me on aspects of my Bill. Both Minister Poots, as he then was, and Minister Wells were fully supportive of what I was trying to achieve through the Bill and did their utmost to help to ensure that the best provisions could be drawn up. I am grateful to them both for their support in this matter. I should further add that the civil servants in the Health Department did an excellent job in seeing good provisions come before the House.
Thirdly, I thank all the members of the Committee for Justice, who scrutinised the Bill while it was passing through the Assembly. I know that it was not easy for members to deal with some of what was discussed. The subjects of prostitution and human trafficking are not easy to handle. However, the Committee did a superb job in scrutinising the legislation and suggesting improvements that could be made to it. All members from across the parties gave the subject the attention it deserved. I believe that the Committee has shown itself to be one of the best, aside from the Committee for the Environment of course. It has proved itself on many occasions during the Bill.
I do not want to forget the work of the Committee staff. Having been Chair of the Committee for Justice, I know how exceptional they are. I am sure that the Committee would want to pay tribute to them for their work on the Bill. I also want to give a special mention to Paul Givan for his work as Chair of the Committee. I know that he will soon step down as Chair, but I want to thank him for his hard work on the Bill. He showed a sure hand in considering the legislation, and I have no doubt that he is destined for greater things in the months and years ahead. I wish him well. I hope that he enjoys his private Member's Bill process as much as I have, as he brings forward his Bill in the coming months. The one thing that I will say to him is that he has plenty of work ahead of him; I can tell him that from experience. I also want to mention the Clerk of the Justice Committee, Christine Darrah, who was totally professional in all her dealings with me during what seemed an eternity. It is almost three years since I started on this journey. I suspect that many got weary of me. At times, I felt weary; not of them, but in another way.
Fourthly, I thank the Attorney General and his staff for their assistance in bringing the Bill forward. The Attorney General was consistently available to me throughout the passage of the Bill and ever willing to consider the legal issues that arose with regard to it, and I hasten to add that there were many. I greatly appreciated his wisdom and insight with regard to the provisions of my Bill, alongside those of his staff. We in the Assembly are fortunate to have someone as bright, intelligent and gifted as the current Attorney General.
Fifthly, I pay tribute to the Bill Office, particularly Éilis Haughey and Damien Martin. The process of bringing a Bill before the Northern Ireland Assembly is a complicated one. Éilis and Damien did a fantastic job guiding my team and me through the process here at the Assembly. They were constantly helpful from start to finish and were always willing to help out in any way that they could. I am very grateful to them both for their work on this matter. Having such high-quality staff in the Bill Office really makes a difference in guiding legislation through this place. I must also name the person sitting to your left, Deputy Speaker: Patricia Casey. At the very early stages, her guidance, advice and support was invaluable as she sought to steer me and, at times, maybe settle me down when I thought that things were not going forward. I put on record my appreciation of Patricia also.
Sixthly and finally, I thank the many NGOs that helped to support me throughout the passage of the Bill. A considerable number of them contributed to the consultation on my Bill and gave evidence to the Justice Committee on its contents. I am thankful to every NGO that contributed to the process. Without a doubt, the Bill has been improved by their input. I single out a couple in particular. I am extremely grateful to Christian Action Research and Education (CARE) for its excellent briefings and advice throughout the many years of the Bill's development. Its expertise assisted me greatly as I sought to understand the issue of human trafficking here in Northern Ireland. Dr Dan Boucher, Mark Baillie, Louise Gleich and Claire Wilson-Thomas were superb. They were very professional. They did a mountain of research. Whatever words I might say about them here today will fall far short of what should be said.
To Members who are contemplating taking through a private Member's Bill I say this: make sure that you have the right team around you. I was, to some degree, envious of Departments because they seem to have unlimited resources. A private Member does not have that; they must gather their own team around them. Fortunately, I was able to do that. I gathered some of the best expertise available in relation to this matter.
I also thank Women's Aid, Ruhama and Survivors of Prostitution-Abuse Calling for Enlightenment (SPACE) International for their support with regard to clause 15. Those organisations do invaluable work supporting women in prostitution not only here in Northern Ireland but in southern Ireland. They are engaged in work that seeks to see society change for the better. I found the support of Sarah Benson, Geraldine Rowley, Rachel Moran, Louise Kennedy and Noelle Collins to be of great value throughout the process. I am so thankful to them that they were willing to so positively engage with me to see clause 15 become a reality. Their expertise and commitment were total. It was apparent when we spoke to them that nothing was too much trouble for them. They applied themselves to producing and providing a lot of assistance to get the Bill to the stage it is at today.
I record my gratitude to the Law Centre and the office of the Children's Commissioner. I am aware that the Children's Commissioner is not an NGO but a quango of a sort, but it seems fitting to consider it here too. The Law Centre and the office of the Children's Commissioner provided valuable expertise with regard to the introduction of a guardian for separated children. I hope that they take pride in knowing that they played a critical role in seeing that provision become law.
Furthermore, I mention Gunilla Ekberg, who is a world authority on the issue. She was an adviser to the Swedish Government when they were taking similar legislation through, and I was able to bring Gunilla on board with me. I knew that I was in the company of someone who had a deep knowledge and understanding of the issue. I am eternally grateful to her for all the expertise she brought so willingly. She gave of her time unstintingly.
To conclude my remarks today, I make one thing clear: legislation, in and of itself, will not make a difference if it is not effectively supported and enforced. Today may mark the end of the passage of the Human Trafficking and Exploitation Bill, but the most important part will begin once it comes into force. It is my hope that its provisions will make a real difference to some of the most vulnerable people in Northern Ireland, whether they are victims of trafficking for sexual exploitation or forced labour or other forms of trafficking. I will watch closely as the PSNI seeks to enforce the new offences and the Departments of Health and Justice seek to roll out the provisions in the Bill, assuming, of course, that the House votes for the Bill at this stage. I know that the Department of Justice and the PSNI will continue in their work to tackle these crimes. I hope that my Bill will assist their efforts in this area.
Go raibh maith agat, a LeasCheann Comhairle. I want to begin at Final Stage by commending the proposer of the Bill for his work. He talked about it being a three-year journey: with half remission, that would be a six-year sentence. In that respect, I think that he knows that it has been a long journey. From a party point of view, on behalf of the Sinn Féin members of the Committee, I commend him for the work that he carried out and all the briefings that he provided as he took the Bill through the process, particularly on what was formerly clause 6 and became clause 15. He has rightly mentioned the many people who supported him in what he called his team. Some of those people met us as a party, and they gave evidence to the Committee. We, too, appreciate that work. Lord Morrow has already said this, but we have to put on record the professionalism that the Committee staff and the Department brought to this at all times.
It was obviously a longer and more intense journey for the proposer of the Bill, Lord Morrow, but for us, as a Committee, it was also very detailed work. Many of the briefings were very informative. Lord Morrow said that, if you compared an initial copy of the Bill with what will be voted on this afternoon, you would see the differences that have been made. That, in itself, is a positive. One person had an intention, and then, when they engaged with other people, including the Department, that helped to shape the Bill and to make it better as it went through.
From our point of view, there was a number of very important aspects. Our visit to the Oireachtas Committee and its detailed report also informed us. Lord Morrow mentioned Jim Wells. Jim Wells's favourite person in life at that time was Pádraig Mac Lochlainn, so I think that Pádraig Mac Lochlainn goes away from this very heartened. One degree of disappointment in all this is that, at Further Consideration Stage, I said that I hoped that he would be invited to the DUP conference. That has come and gone, and he did not get an invite. However, I am sure that he lives in hope that he will be invited next year.
Lord Morrow talked about this when he was concluding. At the core of the Bill is an attempt to deal with exploitation; that is what we were all focused on. He said that there were issues on which people needed to be convinced and brought along on a journey. The way that it was carried out certainly helped people to do that. It was not seen as people being opposed to something for the sake of it; there were genuinely held concerns. The sponsor of the Bill did well in acknowledging, accepting and realising that and then working very hard to change people's minds.
Lord Morrow said that — we sort of know that the Bill will be voted through later this afternoon — it is now about testing its effect. If we set out to tackle exploitation in whatever form, we have to ensure that the Bill has an effect. We were guided by the answers to many of the questions that we asked about the Bill's intention, outcome and effect. We now wait for that effect as we go forward.
Lord Morrow mentioned the Committee's work. I pay tribute to the staff and the Committee Chair, who he said was now leaving. From a Sinn Féin point of view, throughout the Committee Stage, opinion was divided on many issues and aspects of the Bill but no barriers were ever put in front of members who wanted to tease out questions.
As a result, there were some long sessions. The Chair is to be commended for that approach. There is sometimes a tendency for people to want meetings to be over quickly, but we can say that that did not happen in the Justice Committee. That approach allows people to exhaust whatever avenue they want in interrogating or testing any piece of evidence. That was similar for this Bill.
We will certainly be supporting the Bill. In conclusion, I commend the proposer of the Bill for his work and, indeed, his courtesy throughout in all his engagements with the Committee and the party on separate matters. Go raibh míle maith agat, a LeasCheann Comhairle.
Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. On behalf of the Committee for Justice, I very much welcome the Final Stage of the human trafficking and exploitation Bill. I again place on record my congratulations to Lord Morrow and his team as we enter the final straight for the Bill. No one should underestimate the perseverance, hard work and commitment that it has taken to get the Bill to this stage.
Lord Morrow thanked at length a broad range of people for their support, as well as those who carried out the scrutiny of the Bill. However, it was Lord Morrow who had the vision and identified the need to try to do something. It was Lord Morrow who set himself the task of bringing forward a private Member’s Bill, which are very rare and difficult to navigate through the Assembly.
People will often ask themselves this question: what did you ever achieve in politics? What was your legacy? There is no doubt that Lord Morrow will be able to look back on this Bill as one of the most significant achievements of his political career and as a legacy that will stand the test of time. It is a legacy that is about helping the most vulnerable and giving a voice to the voiceless.
I think that that is a commendation that Lord Morrow is worthy of in the way that he addressed this issue and the tenacity that he showed, at times in the face of obstacles that were put in his way. The Department gave resources to try to undermine the work that was being done.
On the one hand, I accept that there was an engagement with the Minister on these issues, but there was also an attempt, particularly on clause 6, which is now clause 15, to undermine that aspect of it. Despite all that, Lord Morrow was able to navigate the Bill through the Assembly because the strength of the argument was overwhelming and convincing for Members.
As I said on numerous occasions, human trafficking is a heinous crime that devastates people's lives, which the Justice Committee heard at first hand. It needs to be tackled robustly and from every possible angle, which the Bill does.
While the Bill underwent extensive scrutiny and consideration during Committee Stage and the lengthy debates, particularly at Consideration Stage, and while a large range of amendments were made to it, the principles that Lord Morrow brought to the Assembly and the core of the Bill have not changed. In bringing this Bill forward, Lord Morrow wanted not only to provide a more effective legal framework to tackle and provide a deterrent to human trafficking and slavery offences but to provide the necessary support and assistance to victims of human trafficking. The Bill is very much an overall package rather than just the one clause — clause 6, which is now clause 15 — that attracted so much publicity.
When Lord Morrow first briefed the Justice Committee, he outlined that he wanted Northern Ireland to lead the way in protecting some of the most vulnerable men, women and children. He wanted other countries to look at us as a model for tackling the scourge of human trafficking. He also wanted us to adopt a maximalist approach that was in line with the spirit of the EU directive, not just the letter of it. I have no doubt that the Bill achieves both objectives admirably.
The Assembly should be proud of the Bill. Indeed, during the recent Second Reading debate in the House of Lords on the Modern Slavery Bill, a number of contributors praised the Human Trafficking Bill. Lord McColl of Dulwich paid tribute to Lord Morrow and described the legislation as "excellent" and "ground-breaking". Baroness Kennedy of The Shaws stated:
"I, too, would like to see a greater synergy with Northern Ireland and what is being drafted in Scotland. I think it right that we have been ousted by Northern Ireland’s progressiveness on this."
Given the importance of the Bill and the interest expressed in it, the Committee spent a considerable amount of time undertaking detailed and careful scrutiny of all the clauses, with the aim of ensuring that Northern Ireland has the strongest possible legislation to tackle human trafficking. That was not an easy task, and some of the oral evidence relating to personal experiences was very difficult to listen to. Those personal testimonies were very powerful, and they will stay in the memory of the Committee members who heard them.
The Bill will consolidate and simplify the legislative framework on human trafficking and slavery offences, and it will introduce new offences and penalties to strengthen the ability of the police and the courts to deal with the perpetrators. The Committee welcomes that approach, as it does the fact that the new offences will be triable on indictment only and the fact that a prosecution is not dependent on reporting or accusation by a victim and can take place even if the victim has withdrawn his or her statement.
The Committee also welcomes the fact that the Assembly supported the inclusion in the Bill of clause 7, which provides for a minimum sentence for human trafficking and slavery offences. The Committee is clear in its support for a robust sentencing framework that reflects the gravity of human trafficking and slavery offences and that indicates the seriousness with which such offences are viewed in Northern Ireland. The provision will send a strong message to the perpetrators of human trafficking.
The Bill also recognises the importance of providing appropriate training and resources for investigations into, and the prosecution of, human trafficking and slavery offences and places a requirement for the strategy provided for in clause 12 to cover those issues, which allows for a comprehensive multi-agency approach. That is a necessary element of the overall package of measures to tackle human trafficking and slavery.
Issues relating to whether a Northern Ireland rapporteur or the UK-wide Anti-slavery Commissioner was more appropriate to provide effective monitoring and accountability arrangements were raised and discussed during Committee Stage. The debates at Consideration Stage and Further Consideration Stage, as well as the debate on the legislative consent motion in the Assembly yesterday, also provided further opportunities to discuss the key issues, which I will not rehearse again.
Suffice it to say, the Committee supported the principle of having an independent body to monitor and report on the response to human trafficking in Northern Ireland. However, it is satisfied that the role and remit of the UK-wide Independent Anti-slavery Commissioner will provide for that and is therefore content for remit of the commissioner to extend to Northern Ireland. There is no longer any need for the Bill to provide for a separate rapporteur in Northern Ireland.
As I indicated, what is now clause 15 of the Bill attracted the most attention, the most comment and the most controversy, and much of the written evidence received by the Committee focused on it. We listened to oral evidence from a wide range of organisations and individuals, including some who are, or were, involved in prostitution, and held informal meetings with a victim of trafficking for sexual exploitation and a sex purchaser. We visited Sweden and met with the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality to discuss the findings of its report on a review of legislation on prostitution, which recommended the adoption of the Swedish approach of criminalising the purchase of sexual services.
The Committee agreed to support the inclusion of the clause, believing that criminalising the purchase of sexual services will curtail demand and lessen the incentive for human trafficking for sexual exploitation, thus reducing it and making Northern Ireland a hostile place for such activity. That stance was subsequently supported by the Assembly with an overwhelming majority. The Bill is much stronger as a result of the inclusion of the clause.
The Committee also accepted the importance of ensuring that support services be put in place for those who are in, have exited or wish to exit prostitution, and it is therefore pleased that the Bill includes such a requirement. One of the key strengths of the Bill is the assistance, support and protection that it will provide to victims and possible victims of human trafficking and slavery. This includes a statutory defence for victims of slavery and human trafficking who have been compelled to commit offences; support and assistance whether criminal proceedings are taken or not; the establishment of an independent guardian to assist, represent and support children; and the extension of the provision of special measures to victims of trafficking during the investigation and court processes. All these measures improve how victims are supported and treated and are very welcome.
Finally, I will move on to the commencement provision in the Bill. The Committee was the catalyst for the changes made at Further Consideration Stage. I am very pleased that, as a result, the vast majority of the provisions in the Bill will come into effect either on Royal Assent or within six months of it, and the requirement for the Minister of Justice to commence provisions with which he is not in policy agreement has been removed.
I would like to finish speaking as Chairman by thanking the members of the Committee for their commitment and diligence in carrying out the scrutiny of this Bill. I have been privileged to be the Chair of the Justice Committee and to oversee the scrutiny work for the Bill. The inquiry report that the Committee published into the experiences of victims and witnesses of crime was very important and will subsequently be legislated for in a forthcoming Bill, but this Bill is up there as one of the highlights of what the Justice Committee has had to deal with.
Some Committee members came to it, maybe, with different views and some, maybe, with hostile views, but as we listened to evidence, and as we sought to do our scrutiny work and get into the detail of it, I believe that people opened their minds and were prepared to listen to that evidence. As a result of that work — I believe that the Committee played a critical role in facilitating that — we were able to get to the point where there was overwhelming support for this.
The Justice Committee is very blessed in its membership. Undoubtedly, most of its members are some of the brightest in this Assembly, and they bring a particular skill set to the Committee.
I note that Edwin Poots has only just joined the Committee.
It would be unfair to apply that to him.
There are times when Committee members will raise issues that I do not necessarily agree with. Indeed, I may not always agree with the manner in which an issue is raised, but it is important that Committee members have the right to do that. At times, I have found that, even though I may not have always appreciated some of the tactics deployed, it unearthed issues that some of us had not thought about and revealed elements of the Bill that, maybe, we needed to consider and tighten up. Beforehand, I might have taken a very supportive role, but, as a result of some of the questioning, we were able to tease those issues out.
The Committee is one of the best in the Assembly because it nails down what the real issues are and puts its mind to focusing on those specific issues and tries to find a way to effectively deal with them. Other Committees can learn from how the Justice Committee carries out its work. Some may say I am biased on this issue, but the Committee is a model of good practice. It is a good Committee, because we get support from the Department of Justice officials. They supported the Committee as we scrutinised the Bill, and, as Chairman, I want to place on record my thanks for the work of the Minister and his officials in dealing with this.
I want to pay particular tribute to the work of the Committee staff and to Christine Darrah, the Committee Clerk. We, unquestionably, have been given the most professional support that was necessary, above and beyond what people may well expect in terms of the capacity that exists in this place to provide that advice to Committee members. There was not an issue that Committee members raised, from any perspective, on which Christine and her team in the Committee office were not able to provide information to allow us to deliberate on these issues. They did so, at all times, entirely impartially. I could not tell you what any view is of the Committee staff in respect of this Bill. I do not know; I have never sought to find out, and none of the staff have ever sought to tell me whether they supported the Bill or were against it. That is the entirely right way for officials to conduct themselves and provide that information so that Committee members can deliberate and come to the right position once they have sought that information. So, I want to thank especially the Committee staff for all their work on the Bill.
Finally, let me put on record my appreciation to all those organisations that came to the Committee and engaged with it. We produced a report of some 1,300 pages. We engaged extensively with individuals and organisations, and there is a broad body of work by the Justice Committee that I have no doubt many other jurisdictions will use as a reference point as they consider these issues.
At the very end of my contribution, let me reiterate my thanks and appreciation as an individual MLA on behalf of the Democratic Unionist Party to Lord Morrow. We are immensely proud of him for the way in which he has conducted himself over the past two and half or three years on an issue that I know has consumed every fibre of his being and every aspect of his day in dealing with this. As a party, we are immensely proud of the way in which he has conducted himself and has brought this legislation forward for approval. I commend the Bill to the House.
Even though the Business Committee is not meeting today, it has agreed that there should be a lunchtime suspension. I propose, therefore, by leave of the Assembly, to suspend the sitting until 2·00 pm, when the first item of business will be Question Time.
The debate stood suspended. The sitting was suspended at 12.36 pm.
On resuming (Mr Principal Deputy Speaker [Mr Mitchel McLaughlin] in the Chair) —