Schedule 1 - Enforcement powers in relation to ships

Modern Slavery Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 2:30 pm on 9 September 2014.

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Photo of David Hanson David Hanson Shadow Minister (Home Affairs) 2:30, 9 September 2014

I beg to move amendment 69, in schedule 1, page 33, line 18, at end insert—

‘(3A) Any person refusing to disclose such information shall be guilty of an offence and shall be liable on conviction to a fine not exceeding level 5 on the standard scale, or imprisonment for up to six months.”

Schedule 1 is an important part of the Bill. It gives enforcement officers the power to stop and board a ship, to require a ship to be taken to a port, and to search a ship or anyone or anything on it, including cargo. Paragraph 10(3) currently states:

“A person guilty of an offence under this paragraph”— which effectively means obstructing an enforcement officer, refusing to comply with instructions or providing false material—

“is liable on summary conviction to a fine.”

Between you and me, Mr Crausby, I confess that the amendment is a bit clunky, is probably in the wrong place and is not elegantly drafted. Nevertheless, its purpose is to tease something out of the Minister. If an individual is found guilty of hindering an enforcement officer by interfering with the stopping of a ship, the boarding of a ship, the requirement for a ship to be elsewhere, or the searching of a ship, anyone on it or its cargo, is it appropriate that they will be liable only to a fine for which the schedule does not even stipulate a minimum amount?

I have tabled amendment 69, which, as I said, is probably in the wrong place, badly drafted and inelegant, in order to ask whether or not we should consider a higher level of penalty than a fine, whether the Minister should consider a minimum fine, and whether the courts should have the option of considering a custodial sentence. We are talking about potential people traffickers being stopped. If a people trafficker perverts an enforcement officer’s role by not helping him to search the ship or not allowing him to search the cargo, that is a serious offence. If a ship is not stopped and further force is required, or people try to repel the enforcement officers who board a ship, what happens? Those are serious crimes that require a serious response, rather than simply making the guilty person “liable…to a fine”.

I have tabled my amendment not in the hope that the Minister will accept it, but to ask her to look at the principle. If she comes back with a further, stiffer penalty for those who wish to pervert the course of justice, she will have our support.

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

I would never call an amendment tabled by the right hon. Gentleman “inelegant”, “clunky” or “in the wrong place”—that was his description, which I will leave to stand.

Schedule 1 mirrors existing enforcement powers at sea and offences in force in relation to drug trafficking, which are set out in schedule 3 to the Criminal Justice (International Co-operation) Act 1990. The right hon. Gentleman suggests that there should also be the option of a custodial sentence over and above the maximum sentence set out in paragraph 10(3), which is a fine.

As currently drafted, the provision reflects how the same offence is dealt with in cases of drug trafficking. We consider the sanction to be proportionate to the nature of the offending behaviour if all that has happened is a failure to answer a question. However, in practice, the power is aimed at tackling modern slavery. If the individual has been engaged in a slavery or trafficking offence, the Bill ensures that they can be subject to a life sentence. Given that clarification, I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will be content to withdraw his amendment.

Photo of David Hanson David Hanson Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

The point I am making is that the offence under schedule 1 could include someone preventing an enforcement officer from boarding, entering, searching or doing things on a ship. That person could subsequently be found not guilty of a human trafficking offence, but they might still have tried to pervert the course of justice. I am not sure that a fine is the appropriate mechanism for dealing with that. We should consider setting out the possibility of further action: either a minimum fine or a minimum custodial sentence. That might be hard-line on this issue, but it is an important signal to send. The measure might reflect other legislation, but sending that signal is important. It does not mean that a court has to exercise the power, but the Minister might want to reflect on that. I do not intend to press the amendment, but she would have our support if she wanted to reflect on the amendment and go further, which would send a strong signal.

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

I appreciate the right hon. Gentleman’s kind offer, but we have based the offence and the sentence on existing powers. It would all depend on the facts of the case. I hope that anyone guilty of the serious crime that we seek to target with the Bill will be prosecuted under the Bill and be subject to life imprisonment, but I appreciate his words.

Photo of David Hanson David Hanson Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Schedule 1 agreed to.