With this it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments: No. 99, in clause 27, page 14, line 8, at end add—
‘(5) Where a person is guilty of an offence under sections 57 to 59 of the Sexual Offences Act 2003 (c. 42) or section 4 of the Asylum and Immigration (Treatment of Claimants, etc.)Act 2004 (c. 19) the provisions of section 28 shall apply.’.
No. 100, in clause 28, page 14, line 16, at end insert
‘or is guilty of an offence under sections 57 to 59 of the Sexual Offences Act 2003 (c. 42) or section 4 of the Asylum and Immigration (Treatment of Claimants, etc.) Act 2004 (c. 19).’.
The purpose of these amendments is to amend the Sexual Offences Act 2003 to increase the penalties for some offences relating to trafficking specifically for the purposes of sexual exploitation. In our most recent debates we have discussed the extent and the seriousness of all people trafficking. One of the particularly unpleasant subsets of people trafficking is trafficking for the purposes of sexual exploitation. What we seek to achieve with these amendments is to send an even clearer signal than we are sending atthe moment of how much we deplore this particular trade.
We are pleased on these Benches that the Government now agree with us. They have signalled their intention to sign the European convention against trafficking and I can only reiterate what I said in previous debates—that signing the convention and increasing penalties for this crime are an important step forward. They enable the House to send a very clear signal that this type of crime needs to be hit hard now, at the point when it is growing so much. Without this type of measure and without both effective policing and stern sentencing it is likely to grow.
It is one of the inexorable side effects of increasing globalisation and of people’s increasing ability to move about the globe, and in particular to move from relatively poor countries to relatively rich countries, that opportunities open up for criminals as well. One opportunity that we know they are exploiting hugely is the ability to traffic young women and girls for sexual purposes. One of the most terrifying and vivid statistics I have seen is that five years ago 15 per cent. of prostitutes working in Britain were foreign-born; the figure now is 85 per cent., so only 15 per cent. are British-born. There has been a complete reversal in a very small number of years in that particular unfortunate group. That shows the extent of the increased criminality and why it is so important to act against it.
Amendment No. 99 would subject all those found guilty of trafficking people for sexual exploitation to the risk of automatic deportation. Amendment No. 100 is consequential and in effect puts the words of amendment No. 99 into clause 28. We are therefore seeking to increase the penalties for people trafficking for this particular purpose.
The Committee has already debated the appropriate length of sentence before a person is eligible for automatic deportation. That is a very important debate to be had about this Bill. What we are seeking to do with these amendments is to add this peculiarly unpleasant offence to those provisions. It seems to us that one of the most effective signals we can send—because it is practical, not just sending a signal—is that if a person has committed a serious immigration offence, which this kind of trafficking certainly is, then it is reasonable for this country to withdraw its hospitality from that person and add them to the group of people who can be automatically deported.
The purpose of these amendments is simply to encourage the Government to move in a direction that I know they want to move in anyway. It seeks to toughen the Bill. It seeks to make these important provisions even more rigorous and robust. I therefore commend them to the Committee.
We made it clear in the IND report, “Fair, effective, transparent and trusted: Rebuilding confidence in our immigration system” that we are committed to working with overseas partners to tackle the challenges of global migration, which includes implementing measures to tackle cross-border crime. In that regard, we have ratified two important United Nations protocols: the protocol against the smuggling of migrants by land, sea and air, and the protocol to prevent, suppress and punish trafficking in persons, both of which came into force on 11 March 2006. In addition, our intention to sign the Council of Europe convention on action against trafficking in human beings, to which the hon. Member for Ashford referred, was signalled by the Prime Minister on 22 January. It will build on our strategy to combat human trafficking by providing minimum standards of protection and victim support.
We have always said that we are wholly sympathetic to the objectives behind the Council of Europe convention, which will provide greater support for all victims of trafficking and support the fight against organised immigration crime. We did not want to sign the convention until we had fully assessed the risk associated with the provisions and how we might implement them safely while maintaining effective immigration control. Signing the convention now means that its implementation can be monitored under the UK action plan on human trafficking, which we will publish in the next few months.
We have already done good work to develop an effective enforcement response to this horrendous crime. Last year, we established the UK Human Trafficking Centre, which will become a central point for the development of police expertise and operational co-operation. We continue to support adult victimsof human trafficking through an investment of£2.4 million in the Poppy project. The scheme provides safe shelter and support to assist in the recovery of adult female victims who have been trafficked into the UK for sexual exploitation.
As we have already discussed, trafficking is almost always a form of organised crime and should be dealt with using criminal powers to investigate and prosecute offenders for trafficking and any other criminal activities in which they engage. The 2003 Act introduced wide-ranging offences for England, Wales and Northern Ireland, covering trafficking into, within or out of the UK for sexual exploitation. A further, UK-wide, offence of trafficking for exploitation, which includes trafficking for forced labour and the removal of organs, was introduced by the Asylum and Immigration (Treatment of Claimants, etc.) Act 2004. Those offences carry a heavy maximum penalty of 14 years imprisonment on conviction on indictment.
In broad terms, the existing trafficking provisions make it an offence to facilitate arrival in, travel within and departure from the UK of a person whom the facilitator intends to exploit or whom they believe to be likely to be exploited. The offences currently cover acts of facilitation that are committed within the UK and, where the perpetrator is a British national, such acts that are committed outside the UK. The clause will enhance the existing trafficking offences to ensure that they cover acts committed after a person has disembarked but before they have arrived in, or been granted entry to, the UK. That will catch those traffickers who operate within the secure area of our ports, as we discussed during our consideration of the facilitation clauses. The clause will also extend the extraterritorial scope of trafficking offences to cover acts of facilitation that are carried out overseas, irrespective of the nationality of the perpetrator. The clause applies the same extension of scope to trafficking as we have agreed to apply to facilitation.
I should like to bring to the attention of the Committee an amendment that we have tabled in respect of the application of the provisions to Scotland. To the extent that they relate to devolved matters, it is for the Scottish Executive and the Scottish Parliament to decide what approach to take.
Following the introduction of the Bill it was noticed that subsections (1) and (2), which amend the Asylum and Immigration (Treatment of Claimants, etc.)Act 2004, relate to devolved matters in so far as they apply to Scotland. Subsections (3) and (4), which make similar amendments to trafficking offences in the2003 Act, do not apply to Scotland as the provisions of that Act do not extend to Scotland. The application of subsections (1) and (2) to Scotland in the introduction was an oversight and we will remedy it by tabling an amendment to limit the extent of the provisions to England, Wales and Northern Ireland.
I am just pondering on whether the Minister has considered the alternative prospect of trying to persuade the Scottish Executive to play ball this time and to go along with the Government’s policy, which they so signally—and embarrassingly for the Government—failed to do in the first part of the Bill.
It is important to emphasise to the hon. Gentleman and to the Committee that the UK Government and the Scottish Executive are united in their condemnation of those individuals who seek to benefit from the exploitation of vulnerable persons by manipulative, coercive and violent means. The Scottish Executive and the Home Office worked together closely on the development of the UK action plan to tackle human trafficking.
The Scottish Executive is considering whether similar amendments could be made to the 2004 Act offence as it applies in Scots law and to similar offences such as section 22 of the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Act 2003 and sections 9 and 12 of the Protection of Children and Prevention of Sexual Offences (Scotland) Act 2005. The hon. Gentleman will know that the forthcoming elections in Scotland make it difficult to introduce appropriate measures at this time.
I am sure the hon. Gentleman has a grasp of the concept of time, although we would not know it from his last remark.
I am not sure whether the hon. Gentleman, speaking from a sedentary position, was inviting me to speculate on what goes over his head and what does not, but I do have a concept of time and must move on.
The amendments relate to a very serious topic on which there is some consensus, but we need to discuss the detail of the proposal. Amendment No. 98 would increase the sentence available to the magistrates court from six months to 12 months. The offences in sections 57 and 59 of the 2003 Act are triable either way and like all such offences will be amended when custody plus commences to allow magistrates to impose sentences of imprisonment up to 12 months.
It would be wholly inappropriate for the Bill to purport to allow magistrates courts a higher level of sentencing for these offences than is within their jurisdiction, but I take note of the substance and the content of the amendment. If magistrates courts hear cases that they think are too serious to be punished adequately, they should commit them to the Crown court, where the full maximum penalty of 14 years imprisonment will be available. That would be a way forward.
On amendments Nos. 99 and 100, which refer to the automatic deportation of prisoners convicted of trafficking offences, there will be three ways in which a person can be deported on conviction of one of those offences.If he is sentenced to a period of imprisonment of12 months or more, the automatic deportation provisions will apply. If the automatic provisions do not apply, he can still be considered under existing deportation arrangements, either on conducive grounds or as a result of a court recommendation for deportation. Moreover, sections 57 and 58 of the 2003 Act are included in the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002 (Specification of Particularly Serious Crimes) Order 2004, known as section 72. If a foreign criminal is imprisoned for those offences, the automatic deportation provisions will apply.
I hope that that gives the hon. Member for Ashford sufficient reassurance on the important points that arise from his amendment, and that he will feel able to withdraw it.
I congratulate the Under-Secretary on two things. The first is her entirely realistic assessment of the Labour party’s chances in the forthcoming Scottish elections—she hinted that the Government feel that they might be dealing with a different flavour of Administration there.
‘(5) In section 4 of the Asylum and Immigration (Treatment of Claimants, etc.) Act 2004 (c. 19) after subsection (5) add—
“(6) If there are reasonable grounds to believe that a person has been the victim of trafficking in human beings, that person shall not be removed from the UK until the process of identifying the person as a victim of an offence has been completed.
(7) If an unaccompanied child is identified as a victim of trafficking, the Secretary of State shall—
(a) provide for representation of the child by a legal guardian, organisation or authority which shall act in the best interests of that child;
(b) take the necessary steps to establish the identity and nationality of the child;
(c) make every effort to locate the family of the child when the Secretary of State determines that this is in the best interests of the child.
(8) If an individual has been identified as a victim of trafficking the Secretary of State shall allow a recovery and reflection period of not less than 30 days. During this period it shall not be possible to enforce any expulsion order against that person. During this period, the Secretary of State shall authorise the persons concerned to stay in the UK.”’.
We have been discussing the Council of Europe convention and the Under-Secretary will recognise chunks of it in the amendment, which I hope she will treat as a probing amendment. We simply seek to establish how soon we can sign up and ratify and therefore, more importantly, how soon those who are suffering trafficking into this country can look forward to the protections afforded by the convention.
As I have said, we welcome the fact that the Government have signalled their intention to sign up. If the amendment were agreed, it would insert into the Bill key elements of the convention. That would be a clear statement of intent. The fact that this Bill is before the House at the moment should enable us to enjoy the benefits of signing up to the convention more speedily than might otherwise be the case, as it could be used as a vehicle through which we can do so. Many other European countries have already signed up. I hope that the Under-Secretary will regard the amendment as a gentle and friendly push in a direction in which she wants to move anyway. I shall be interested to know the Government’s proposed time scale for moving from their very welcome declaration of intent to sign up to the convention, to action.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his probing amendments and for his approach on these matters. It would send entirely the wrong message if we could not reach agreement on issues such as this, and I am heartened that we are able to do so. I can tell him that we seek to sign very shortly, but I cannot give him an exact date. Of course, upon signing, we will be able to implement the convention. He is right that his amendment provides for some key measures from the convention, but we could probably implement those sooner by signing the convention than by waiting for the Bill to be enacted, although, of course, we can implement some of those measures without legislation or the convention.
To assist the Committee, I shall provide some information about measures that we have taken already and comment on the hon. Gentleman’s amendments. On proposed new subsection (6) to section 4 of the Asylum and Immigration (Treatment of Claimants, etc.) Act 2004, we have provided staff with guidance for identifying victims of trafficking at the earliest possible stage. The Home Office has developed an online tool kit aimed at practitioners to increase awareness of trafficking and to provide training on identifying and handling potential victims. That is being provided for all regional enforcement officers.
On reaching a decision to pursue repatriation of an individual, consideration is given to our obligations under immigration laws and the Human RightsAct 1998, including any risk that those individuals face on return and humanitarian or other reasons for allowing them to remain in the United Kingdom. On proposed subsection (7) to section 4 of the 2004 Act, when the IND encounters children and identifies child protection concerns, they are referred to local authority children’s services, in line with the IND’s existing procedures.
Any child aged 17 or less, in the UK, who cannot be cared for by a parent or established care giver must be accommodated by a local authority children’s services department. Those departments are charged with the responsibility for the care and well-being of children in the UK, as set out in the 2004 Act, and reinforced by statutory guidance subject to independent inspection. The support is mandatory, regardless of immigration status, and is automatically given to any children granted refugee or subsidiary status. To support the identification of children in need, the immigration service has also provided specialist training to about 600 operational members of staff in the United Kingdom. The message that children arriving in the UK might be here as a result of coercion or criminal activity, including trafficking, is central.
As we have always said, we are wholly sympathetic to the objectives of the Council of Europe convention, which will provide greater support for all victims of trafficking and support the fight against organised immigration crime. The convention will build on our strategy to combat human trafficking by providing minimum standards of protection and victim support. As I have outlined already, we have done some very good work to develop an effective enforcement response and last year we established the UK Human Trafficking Centre.
The convention provides the framework for victim provision to be enhanced for victims of sexual exploitation and to be created for victims of forced labour. That will also improve the effectiveness of our enforcement strategy. The measures in the hon. Gentleman’s amendment are extremely important. As he said, two of them are taken from the convention, which we will sign and implement as soon as possible. As I have said, however, we have already taken some significant measures to afford protection and care to victims of trafficking.
I am grateful for the Under-Secretary’s explanation. As she said, there is absolutely no division between the two sides of the House over this very important convention. I am delighted to hear her say that the Government will proceed to action very shortly—that is the phrase that she used. We await that eagerly. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.